HC Deb 28 November 1917 vol 99 cc2180-8

Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER, pursuant to the Order of the House of the 12th February, proposed the Question, "That this House do now adjourn.'

Commander WEDGWOOD

When I was interrupted the night before last by the hon. Member for York, I was endeavouring to explain to the House that it was undesirable for the Home Office, under their new anti-Bolo inspiration, to raid the offices of the Home Rule India League and to seize the book to which I wrote the preface. I explained before that there is no objection, from my own point of view, to this book circulating in any country in the world, but seeing that it was limited to an edition of 1,000 copies, circulated only to Members of this House, and to Members of the House of Lords, I think the seizure by the Home Office was an act of pure obscurantism and of the most lamentable unwisdom —Prussianism. Here is a book which puts before the responsible public of this country the Indian point of view so far as the British Government of India is concerned. Surely we realise that before any assembly is capable of judging such matters as the government of India it ought to have both sides put before it. We are capable of judging whether or not the book trenches on dangerous ground. It is bad enough for the Home Office to try to decide what the people shall read, but when it comes to trying to decide what Members of this House shall read it is going beyond the limits set by any previous Government in this country. Listen for one moment to what the " New Statesman " says of this particular volume. They say: This is emphatically a book to be read by the Secretary of State for India himself as well as by members of the Council and the clerks in the India Office. It ought to be pondered over by every Indian civilian. That is exactly the conclusion I came to after having read the book carefully: that it ought to be in the hands of every man who goes out to help govern India. They should see the other side, in order to be capable of assisting the administration. By shutting your eyes to the native point of view, by accepting the doctrine of Rudyard Kipling, you enormously handicap the administration of the country. I have been told that by writing a preface to this book I have been responsible for encouraging sedition and assassination.



Commander WEDGWOOD

I am quoting.


Not quoting, but misrepresenting.

Commander WEDGWOOD

I have been told that I was responsible for a book which recommended assassination and sedition. The Home Secretary has been good enough to send me a list of passages which he regards as recommending assassination. Unfortunately, his Office has been careful to send me, not passages, but a series of pages —sometimes ten at a stretch —which he regards in that light. It is impossible for me, looking through these pages, to define exactly what he means by encouraging sedition and assassination. I want the House to understand the nature of this book. It is a passionate plea for self-government in India. Is there any Member of this House who is capable of writing a passionate plea for the independence or autonomy of any country in Europe who would not make out as strong as possible a case against the existing administration? You cannot agitate without painting in the blackest permissible colours the existing administration, and Lajpat Rai, who is incapable of advocating assassination, has undoubtedly painted in such colours the whole administration of India by the British.

One passage to which the Home Secretary calls my attention described the method by which the British Administration was spread throughout India in the eighteenth century, but that passage was simply milk and water compared with passages which might be quoted from Edmund Burke dealing with exactly the same period. The next passage to which the right hon. Gentleman calls my attention is the description by a modern India of the Six Repressive Acts passed in 1809. I myself in this House, and with the sympathy of this House, denounced them, and I can honestly say that the description by Lajpat Rai of these six Acts by no means exceeds the justifiable criticism which any Liberal might pass on those Acts. Listen to what he says in the passage described by the Home Office as being tendencious in the worst degree: The penal code has been amended to make the definition of sedition more comprehensive. The criminal procedure code has been amended to facilitate conviction and to accelerate trials. The Seditious Meetings Act has been enacted to make open propaganda impossible. The Press Law has been passed to muzzle the press. Spies and detectives have been employed out of number. Hon. Members who have read the memoirs of Lord Morley could quote from those memoirs statements about suppression of the freedom of the Press, equally violent and equally tendencious. Surely it is monstrous to say that a passage such as that, a mere statement of fact from the Liberal point of view, about suppression of the freedom of association, and freedom of the Press, should be condemned in this House, without any opportunity for defence in a Court of law, by the Home Secretary for this administration.

The gravamen of the charge against this book is that in the last half it proceeds to describe sketchily, photograhically almost, the various grades of Indian reformers and Nationalists. It takes those who believe in revolution —who do not advocate assassination, but revolution; then it refers to such men as Arabinda Ghose and Savarkar, men in whom politics are blended with a kind of religious fanaticism; then it deals with the terrorists, who believe in the bomb and the dagger; then with the Constructional Nationalists, of which one Lajpat Rai is one; then with the Congress Party, the reformists of the Gokhale kind. It deals with them, and puts before the people of this country the different classes of Indian reformers, with the ideals they have, and the methods they employ. If you are once to pronounce that it is not permissible to state in print in this country the facts about the various parties in India, or in any other part of the globe, you are obstructing the best opportunities we can possibly have of governing India not only in the interest of Indians but of the British Empire itself. I wish to illustrate in one word what Mr. Gokhale himself said about Mr. Lajpat Rai, because, to my mind, Lajpat Rai is an enormous asset to this Empire and ought rather to be encouraged than to be reprobated as an encourager of assassination. This is what Mr. Gokhale said in a speech delivered in the Council of the Governor-General after his deportation: Lajpat Rai was a religious, social and educational reformer who was loved and respected by large classes of his countrymen all over the country. It is the misfortune of all great reformers and all agitators —such as I myself am —to be reprobated and denounced by those in authority; but at least we might ask authority to use language which is in some measure governed by the responsibility of their position, and at the same time by the moral character of those who advocate more extreme doctrines than the Government of the day is willing to recognise.

I do not mind in the least about accusations against myself in this matter. The House knows me better, and is quite capable of assessing at its true value my charge against myself. What I am here to denounce and deplore is the attitude of the Home Office, and I suppose the attitude, one might say, of the India Office as it is bereft of the Secretary of State for India —the attitude of these two Government Departments, on which so much depends, towards a legitimate movement for self-government in India.

I think it is unnecessary for me to say anything about the constitutional question in India. Everyone here knows that India itself is in an extremely touchy state at the present moment. You have a raid like this carried out by the Home Office, with the consent of the India Office, but in the absence of the chief of the India Office. You have this carried out regardless of the effect that it will have on public opinion in India. I say that it is a lamentable thing to be done irresponsibly by the Government of the day, which does not really recognise its responsibility towards India at present. Anyone who has any connection with India knows that it is of the greatest importance at the present time that the mission of the Secretary of State for India should meet with the warmest and most accommodating reception, not only from the Indian people, but from the Anglo-Indians of India as well. We have here this irresponsible Government throwing into the midst of this amicable association in India this stupid bombshell of the arrest and seizure of a book which was only circulated to members of the Legislature of this country. Beyond the Indian question altogether, surely we have here an illustration of the employment of the Defence of the Realm Act which is utterly unjustifiable at the present time. The Defence of the Realm Act is meant not to have any influence whatever upon the future government of our great Indian Empire. It is meant to have influence on the conduct of the War itself. How does the seizure of a book dealing with the future government of India affect the conduct of a war in this country? This book does not get to India. There is no fear of that. No, Sir. This is a case where authority, having got a brief control of the police of this country, so far as it affects opinion in this country, has used that authority madly in order to put down anything of which the holders of that authority for the moment disapprove.

It is impossible to conceive that if we had a Liberal Home Secretary that we should have had this book seized under the Defence of the Realm Act. It is impossible to conceive that if we had a Liberal Home Secretary we should have had the Defence of the Realm Act extended so as to deal with a purely Indian question which has no effect whatever upon Germany or the War at all, except in so far as it is an example of Prussianism in our midst in this country. The book in question may be an example of all that the Home Secretary said. It may be that the book is a pernicious book, but everyone here who has had any education in British history and in British traditions knows that to strangle a book because some people in authority think it is bad is neither good politics nor good ethics. The advertisement which this book has got from this prosecution is far greater than it would get from any number of reviews or the illimitable expenditure of somebody's money. I believe this book was published at the expense of Lady Delaware. She was not prosecuted;: nobody will be prosecuted. But it is not merely that this prosecution involves an advertisement for a book which the Home Office believed to be seditious, but that this prosecution is a return to the days of the anti-Jacobin legislation of this country. It is a return to the days of Lord Eldon and Lord Erskine. I, for one, as an Englishman who venerates the traditions of this country, deplore the action of the Home Secretary, and trust that before long he will see fit to put a stop to this last burst of anti-Boloism, and substitute the traditions of England for the traditions of Prussia.


The hon. and gallant Member who has just spoken has, in the course of his speech, made some statements which I desire at once to deal with. I want at the beginning to endeavour to remove any misconception on one subject. As to the suggestion that the hon. and gallant Gentleman had encouraged, or would encourage sedition, or —a still more absurd hypothesis —assassination —I personally disclaim any such charge against the hon. and gallant Gentleman. Secondly, the action which has been taken has nothing whatever to do with the new Regulation to which he has referred. The seizure was made in the ordinary course of the application of the Defence of the Realm Regulations, issued now for a good many months. Thirdly, no one has suggested that we desire to stop a statement of facts, or a statement of what the hon. and gallant Gentleman has called the native point of view. He knows, and everybody in the House knows, that the action was 'not taken with any such motive. This book was brought to my notice by the India Office, who know something of India —perhaps more than my hon. and gallant Friend knows. They told me 'that this book was prohibited in India and that its importation into this country is prohibited, and for good reasons. I was told that it had been published in this country in a small edition. True, the edition was a small one, and I believe had already been mainly distributed; but if we had allowed even a small edition to pass without action, it would have been very difficult for us to take any action in regard to a second and larger edition which, I have no doubt, would very soon have been put into circulation.

I read the book carefully, and I came to the conclusion that the India Office were quite justified in the view that they had taken of the book. We may differ about the meaning of words, but no one, I think, who has read this book carefully through can doubt that it is intended to promote sedition and to encourage viler crimes. The hon. and gallant Gentleman has said that, apart from the preface he wrote —I think, unfortunately —for the book, he knew nothing whatever of the author of the book. I know a great deal more about the author of this book than he appears to do. The man was deported from India in 1897, and, I think, deported for good reason. During the War he has been partly in Japan and partly in the United States. He has had close relations with men who are known to the Government, and we have the best of reasons for believing that he has taken money obtained from Germany. I believe that this book was written during the War and for the purpose of helping Germany in the War, and of making trouble in our great Dependency of India. I know that a work written by this man has, during the War, been translated into German and published in Leipsig for reasons which we all quite well understand. This man, over whom my hon. and gallant Friend seeks to throw his protection, is, I believe, an agent of the enemy. In the light of that, or even without that knowledge, I should like any fair-minded, independent Member of this House to read this book, as I have had to read it, and say whether we are not right in holding that it is written for the purpose of encouraging sedition, and, in fact, condones murder, not once, but time after time. Anyone who remembers the recent history of India, the attempt upon the life of Lord Hardinge, resulting in the death of several persons, and the assassinations that have occurred in recent years in India at one time or another will see that to allow this book to be published would be to run a serious risk, and would be a serious dereliction of duty. I do not want to read much of this book to the House. It is very undesirable to follow the example of my hon. and gallant Friend and give it further advertisement, but just take one or two passages: We have the two movements, one representing force and the other peaceable agitation, side by side as has been the case in the history of similar movements in other countries.. One movement represents the more virile section of the population who believe in force, violence, and terrorism —



Sir G. CAVE continuing)

the other depends upon appeals to reason, justice, and conscience. Then the author describes various matters, including his own transportation and the attempt upon the life of Lord Hardinge which resulted in the death of a certain number of people, and in particular the author praises a man to whom the hon. and gallant Gentleman referred, Har Dreyal. The hon. and gallant Member represented this man as one who believed in constitutional government.

Commander WEDGWOOD

Not constitutional —revolutionary.


See what the author himself says about this man: They are to organise rebellion for raising the standard of revolt for carrying on a guerilla war. For the purpose of this rebellion or war they may do, and will do, anything that is necessary to be done. Otherwise they would neither murder nor loot.

To pass encomiums on a man who for his own purposes would indulge in murder and loot —

It being Half-past Eleven of the clock, Mr. SPEAKER, adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at Half after Eleven o'clock.