HC Deb 09 June 1920 vol 130 cc561-4

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Commander Eyres-Monsell.]


May I ask the Leader of the House what business will be taken to-morrow?

Mr. BONAR LAW (Leader of the House)

It was the intention to have had the India Vote of Supply to-morrow, but it is known that a great deal of the discussion would have been as to the position of General Dyer, and, as that has been submitted to the Army Council, there can be no free discussion in regard to a matter which is sub judice. We propose therefore to postpone that vote, but it will be taken at the earliest possible moment, and I hope that it may be possible to do so next week.

In its place the business to-morrow will be: The first Order, the Firearms Bill; the Ecclesiastical Tithe Rentcharge (Rates) Bill; the Imperial War Museum Bill, Report; and the Dangerous Drugs Bill; and, if there be time, any other Bills on the Paper.


I think the House will have some reason to complain of the fact that this Debate, which was anticipated, is not to take place. The complaint, which I think we are justified in making, is that the Government ought to have foreseen, when this arrangement was made, that the course of action which General Dyer has taken, well within his rights, would necessarily preclude a Debate taking place in this House, in which His Majesty's Ministers could take part. I am sure that no hon. Members would wish to make any statement in this House which would prejudice the right of General Dyer to have a fair hearing before the Army Council. Whatever point of view hon. Members may hold, I am quite sure I am voicing the feelings of all of them when I say that they would desire to do nothing that would prejudice the exercise of his right to lay his case before his superiors in the Army. But I do say to my right hon. Friend that, in view of the great public interest which has been aroused not only here, but in India, he should exercise all the powers which he possesses to expedite that hearing, so that their decision should be given at the earliest possible moment, and so that the House should be at liberty to exercise its function of criticism on the whole of these proceedings.

I suppose the proceeding before the Army Council would not necessarily be of a lengthy character, that a statement will be made by the officer concerned, and that the Army Council will be able, after a quite brief consideration, to come to their decision or, at any rate, to take such action as will liberate His Majesty's Ministers and the House to the free discussion of the matter. There is one other point—about the occasion on which the discussion will take place. We are anxious to discuss other matters on the Vote for the India Office than that of the Amritzar affair, and I would suggest that the Government should give us a day, and that it should not be a Supply Day for that purpose. I do not press for an answer now, but we will urge our views on the matter through the usual channels.

There is another matter I wish to raise. Has the Government any information which, as I hope, will wholly discredit the rumour that has appeared in the Press to-night, of a reverse to British forces in Persia?


As regards the last question of the right hon. Gentleman, we have no information whatever to justify the statement which appears in the Press. I feel quite confident that there is no foundation for it. But its possible basis is this, that some time ago in pursuance of the policy which we have carried out throughout of limiting our commitments as far as possible in the East, we removed a very small garrison from Resht. I think that is the sole justification for the statement.

As regards the India Debate, I quite agree that there must be no unreasonable delay, and I can promise that there will be none on the part of the Army Council. We must give General Dyer a reasonable amount of time to state his case. I have discussed this matter with the Secretary of State for War this afternoon, and he can fully undertake that a very few days at the outside will be required, after the statement is received, to enable the Army Council to come to a decision.


May I ask whether the House will have an opportunity of seeing General Dyer's statement before the Debate takes place, or will it be a private document; and is it proposed to make it a full-dress Debate, or how is it proposed to introduce it?


May I ask the Leader of the House if he can give us a day for the discussion of the Amritsar question, and take the India Office Vote upon another occasion, because there are many other things to discuss on the India Office Vote?


I did not think it necessary to reply to that question, because the right hon. Gentleman (Sir D. Maclean) said he would press it through the ordinary channels. If it be the wish of the Opposition to have two days of Supply on this—[HON. MEMBERS: "No"]—then we will duscuss that elsewhere. I do not think it is reasonable, and, indeed, I should be surprised, if a statement to the Army Council was ever made public. Therefore, I can give no promise.

Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY

Will the right hon. Gentleman use his influence to prevent ex parte statements being made, while this case is sub judice, by high Indian officials in the Press?

Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-nine minutes after Eleven o'clock.