§ Mr. T. P. O'CONNOR
I beg to move, "That this House do now adjourn."
It is only a overwhelming sense of public duty that has induced me to move the Adjournment of the House. The conditions in India are sufficiently serious to impose very great restraint upon every man with any sense of responsibility, but I felt, having given considerable and painful consideration to the question whether or not I was bound to put this Motion on the Paper, that it was my duty to do so. I am afraid I shall disappoint the House by saying that I am not going even to approach a personal attack upon my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Montagu). We have been old friends, and I hope will remain friends after this Debate. Nor do I mean to make any suggestion disagreeing with the general policy of my right hon. Friend in India. As a matter of fact, I am in entire sympathy with that policy, as are most of my friends. Nor am I concerned with the quarrel, the conflict between himself and his late colleagues. The terms of my Motion, I believe, permit the raising of that question, but I shall not raise it. The object of my Motion is to bring out the want of co-ordination, as revealed in the speech 2292 of my right hon. Friend, between different members of the Government, and especially between the late Secretary of State for India and his colleagues.
The publication by my right hon. Friend of the despatch from India I regard as a deplorable error of judgment, both in time and in terms. One effect, undoubtedly, of that publication and of the disappearance of my right hon. Friend from the Secretaryship of State for India has been to create a very perilous but at the same time a very unjust and inaccurate state of feeling in England. Undoubtedly the disappearance of so strong and ardent a friend of the liberties of the Indian people of a man who has given to them his time, his energy and his enthusiasm may very well be understood by them as approaching a desire on the part of the Ministry and this Parliament to go back on the reforms which my right hon. Friend has introduced in the Government of India. The speech of my right hon. Friend in Cambridge last Saturday certainly was calculated, though I am sure was not intended, to strengthen these misgivings among the natives of India, because, as my right hon. Friend put it, he was dismissed as a sop to what are called the Die-hards. That suggestion may or may not be true. I do not think it is a complete and adequate account of the situation. As I understood it, the reason of the disappearance of my right hon. Friend from the Secretaryship of State for India was that he was regarded, rightly or wrongly, by the head of the Government and his former colleagues as having made a deadly assault on the very just and proper principle of the collective responsibility of the Cabinet. The reason for selecting this particular moment for the publication of the despatch is admitted in the document itself. It begins:On the eve of the Græco-Turkish Conference, we feel it our duty again to lay before His Majesty's Government the intensity of feeling in India regarding the necessity for a revision of the Sevres Treaty.Evidently, therefore, the object of the publication of the dispatch at the moment was to bring influence to bear upon the actions of our representatives at that Conference and upon the decisions of that Conference. I come to the terms which the document demands. They are: The evacuation of Constantinople; the suzerainty of the Sultan over the Holy Places; the restoration of Ottoman Thrace, including Adrianople and Smyrna. 2293 I think, if Constantinople is evacuated to-day, a great deal of the credit or discredit of that action would be due to the strong opinions and actions of my right hon. Friend. The suzerainty of the Sultan over the Holy Places would bring us into conflict with Powers; which we have set up as their guardians. The restoration of Ottoman Thrace would mean the giving back to Turkey of large Christian communities. My point at the moment is not these terms. My point is the manifestation in their publication and in their character of that lack of co-ordination between members of the same Ministry on these questions. I am disposed to vary the old saying: "Physician, heal thyself," with regard to my right hon.' Friend, and to say: "Co-ordinate thyself." My right hon. Friend has complained of independent and individual action by his colleagues without consultation with the Cabinet or even without its knowledge, and that is a charge from which I find it difficult for him to escape. I compare these terms, for instance, with the declarations of the Ministry of which he was quite recently a member. I do not quote the declarations of my right hon. Friend the Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith), because he has ceased for some time to be a colleague of the late Secretary for India. I take the declaration of the present Lord President of the Council made on 11th July, 1918. On that occasion he said:His Majesty's Government are following with earnest sympathy and admiration the gallant resistance of the Armenians in defence of their liberties and honour, and are doing everything they can to come to their assistance.I have several declarations here by the Prime Minister. I will read only one. It is a declaration made on 22nd December, 1920:It is no use our purchasing the way out of our own difficulties by betraying other nations, and we are not going to purchase the goodwill of this General (Kemal Pasha) by having the feeling in the hearts of these people that we have betrayed them for our own convenience. We would not get the thirty pieces of silver. Who is to pay the thirty pieces? … We should be the Iscariots of the East."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd December, 1920; col. 1899, Vol. 136.]These declarations of policy were made, not by subordinate Ministers, but by the head of the Government, and, as far as I know, they were made in full consultation with the Government. My right hon. 2294 Friend was a Member of the Government when these declarations of policy were made, and if I mistake not he was actually seated in his place in the House when some of these declarations were made by the Prime Minister. If my right hon. Friend dissented from this policy I ask him why did he not express his dissent and why did he not resign at that moment?
My right hon. Friend, if he will allow me to say so, has the defects of his qualities. He is almost fanatical on the subject of Moslem influence in India. Like most men with these very strong and fixed ideas, I am afraid he is unable to see or hear or realise any other point of view. As we know from human history men of the kindliest feelings are capable of being obstinate, and sometimes even ruthless, in the carrying out of their convictions. It appears to me that this fixed idea of my right hon. Friend, with regard to Moslem feeling and what he considers the necessary results from Moslem feeling, has almost reached this point that if you carry his convictions, and his acts, and his words to their logical conclusion, the Turks, because Moslems, are therefore entitled to butcher Armenians, because Christians. That is an astounding doctrine. Even if I thought that was a fair representation of Moslem opinion in India, and I do not think it is—
Sir J. D. REES
May I ask your ruling, Mr. Speaker. If the hon. Member continues, either by quotation or in any other way, to present this case to the House, will an opportunity be afforded to those of us who totally repudiate it, to answer to-day, and is it not solely the question of co-ordination with which the hon. Member is supposed to deal?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I think the hon. Member was reciting what he claimed to be instances of inconsistent action on the part of different Ministers. As far as that goes, he is merely reciting facts in support of his case that there has been want of co-ordination. So far, I have not heard him transgress the ruling which I gave earlier in the day—that the merits of the various policies were not open to discussion on the present occasion.
§ Mr. O'CONNOR
I was prepared for the interruption of the hon. Baronet. I know that temperamentally he has no sympathy with any of these Christian races in the East, but one great fact 2295 about them is that they are inflexible. They could have purchased their property, their liberties and their lives for centuries by abandoning their principles as Christians, but they have not the flexibility of my hon. Friend, which enabled him to be a Liberal Member in one House of Commons and a Tory in another. Within the limits of the ruling which you have laid down from the Chair, Mr. Speaker, I am prevented from, going into the policy involved in this question, but may I put a few questions to my right hon. Friend the ex-Secretary of State for India? He has called for the evacuation of Smyrna by the Greek troops, and that, of course, involves the entry therein of the army of Kemal Pasha. Does he know that one of the men who is a high official in the Angora Government is one of the men responsible for the massacres of Mouche and Bitlis? I could give a list of five or six Turkish prisoners whom we had to deport from Constantinople because we could not get them a trial for their crimes, and who were exchanged for our own prisoners. Several of these butchers concerned in organised massacres are among the leaders of the army which my right hon. Friend desires to replace the Greek army.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The line which the hon. Member is following now would inevitably lead to a discussion on the merits of the policy proposed in the telegram sent by the Government of India. We have no evidence that the telegram published was endorsed by any of His Majesty's Ministers.
§ Mr. O'CONNOR
I hope I caught your ruling properly, Mr. Speaker. I need not tell you I shall endeavour, by every means in my power, to keep within it as closely as I possibly can. I think it would be within the limits of your ruling to make some observations on the effect of this despatch upon conditions in India. What is the very foundation of our Empire in India? I would regard with horror any removal of our power of keeping these distracted and divided races and creeds in order and to fulfil that Christian and sacred mission, our Empire must be based on the principles of equality, justice and liberty for all creeds and all races. I have a right to demand, and I do demand, from the Government in face of this 2296 challenge to them—as to the conditions and terms of which it is not my business to intervene—I do demand from the Government a clear and explicit statement that the policy, which many of their members have laid down again and again, is still fully adhered to and that they will not carry the principle of obedience to what is supposed to be Moslem opinion to the extent of abandoning the principle of the protection from massacre of the Christian people of the East. I ask them to give to the people of India the message, that the rule of this country everywhere will be based on the protection of the weak and the oppressed in every land.
§ Mr. A. WILLIAMS
I beg to second the Motion.
§ Mr. MONTAGU
I do not propose to take part in the Debate to-night on the interesting topic which my hon. Friend the Member for the Scotland Division (Mr. O'Connor) has raised, but I do ask the indulgence of the House for a few minutes while I deal with some of the very grave personal charges that have been made in the last few days against me. Perhaps I may first deal with the charge described by my right hon. Friend who leads the House as a minor charge, but which is, I think, the easiest to deal with. He says that I have complained of the statement which he made to the House announcing my resignation, and that I had no right to do so, because he had told me of its terms before he made it. Of course, what the right hon. Gentleman says is perfectly true. He had consulted me about the terms. I took no exception to them, but what did he expect? Did he expect that I should say to the right hon. Gentleman, "I have served with you for four and a half years, I have been in close and intimate relations with you and your colleagues; you might be kind enough, you might be generous enough, to put in one word of regret at the severance of this connection"? Would it have been any use to me if he had put it in at my suggestion? I took note of the fact of what he proposed to say. I left his room with a hope that he might say something, but of course I did not expect that he should tell me of the personal side of his remarks. I tell him now that I left his room, after what was, of course, a painful conversation, with immemorable recol- 2297 lections, unforgettable recollections, of his personal kindness, sympathy, and consideration. That attitude I shall always treasure, but I shall find it equally difficult to forget the scene in this House when, after four years of such close relations, that was all he could tell the House about our parting.
There is a time-table which my right hon. Friend gave to the House of the events in connection with the publication of this telegram. I make him a present of his time-table. As a matter of fact, he will find on inquiry at the India Office that I gave instructions verbally the very moment I saw the Government of India's telegram—I tell him that at this moment I do not remember the exact hour and date on which I saw it—at this moment, at the very moment when I saw that telegram, I gave verbal instructions that it must at once be circulated to the Cabinet. It is quite likely that, as he says—of course, I take it from him—delays occurred between my verbal instructions and the actual duplications of the telegram and its submission to the Cabinet, so that it was not till Saturday that they received the telegram. I do not think that that alters my argument at Cambridge, if he will forgive mo for saying so. It is true that before the Cabinet on Monday every single one of my colleagues had had, or ought to have had, that telegram in his possession for at least 48 hours—Saturday till Monday.
Now I come to the next and most serious charge, that I Committed the grave impropriety of referring to private letters and private conversation. Do not the right hon. Gentleman and the House understand that that is really my charge against the Government—that they said that. I had Committed a Constitutional outrage which unfitted me to continue as their colleague, that I had allowed this telegram to be published without consultation with them? And how do they deal with it? What action to they take? What does the Leader of the House do, what does the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs do to a colleague who has Committed this grave Constitutional outrage? Why, Sir, they deal with it entirely and absolutely by private correspondence and private conversation. That is what I complain of. That is the way in which it is done. This telegram was received by the Cabinet on Saturday. It was known by the Leader of the 2298 House and by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs that I had authorised the publication of this telegram. Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday I was seeing my colleagues every day, and not one of them ever said to me—of course, not on Saturday or Sunday, but on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday not one of them ever said to me—that I had Committed a grave Constitutional outrage. The only document, the only action that was taken was the private letter written to me by Lord Curzon. Let me ask my right hon. Friend this: Supposing I had gone to the public and said, "I Committed this Constitutional outrage, and the Government and no Member of the Government said anything," they would have said, "What a misrepresentation of the facts. Did not Lord Curzon write to you, and did not Lord Curzon tell you?" I had no choice.
Do look at it from my position. I have Committed a grave Constitutional outrage, not discovered, apparently, by His Majesty's Government until Thursday, when the Prime Minister returned to active business. During the whole of that time the only action taken by the Government is this private letter. I have never been given an opportunity, by those who believe so convincedly in the doctrine of joint Cabinet action, of confronting my colleagues or arguing my case to my colleagues. I saw the Prime Minister on Thursday. It was made plain to mo that I could no longer remain a Member of His Majesty's Government. Do have some thought of my position. You tell me I have Committed a Constitutional outrage, and the only action that you take—until you see the effect in the newspapers and what the Press tell you—the only action you take is by private letter, and then you tell me that I must not refer to that private letter at all. I say that I was justified, and could not avoid it. Remember this. I believed, and I cannot cure my mind of the belief, that this reason for my resignation was a pretext. I was there to prove that your action between that Monday and that Thursday was evidence that it was a pretext. Unless I took the only action that you have taken, Lord Curzon's private letter, and referred to it, I could not make my case, and, I say it with great respect and with great emphasis to the Leader of the House, that the fault lies in the methods of the Government, which 2299 dealt with what they say to-day is so grave a matter by no other method than a private letter and private conversation.
I have said, and I say it again, that, in my view, rightly or wrongly, the publication of this telegram was not a matter that I need bring before the Cabinet. It is obvious from Lord Curzon's letter that he took a different view. I shall never be able to understand, and I beg the House to see if they cannot get to-day some answer. Take an ordinary meeting of any Board of Directors, or of any Trade Union, or of any private business in the world, or any well-conducted affair. The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, the man primarily concerned in all this matter, knows that I have Committed a grave constitutional outrage, and he goes back to a Cabinet which is at that moment sitting, and, instead of saying one word about the grave constitutional outrage that I have Committed, he sits silent through that Cabinet, and contents himself with writing me a private letter that same evening. What is the explanation of that? Am I to raise it in the Cabinet? I do not think it is a Cabinet matter. He does. There is another Cabinet on Wednesday. By that time Lord Curzon and the Leader of the House had ample opportunity of acquainting their colleagues with the outrage that I had Committed. No reference is made to it at that Cabinet. What is the reason? Why is that which is alleged to be to-day so grave a constitutional outrage never mentioned by those people who are most affected by that outrage? Before passing from that, I would add that I agree with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that Lord Curzon could not have known on Monday, and I did not know that action taken at that Cabinet would be in time to stop the publication of the telegram. But I do say that, supposing a Cabinet discussion had taken place, and the Cabinet had decided that it was a grave constitutional outrage to publish this telegram, if a telegram had been sent to India immediately after that Cabinet: "Clear the line. His Majesty's Government takes strong objection to the publication of this telegram. If it is not too late, stop it." I believe, and I said on Saturday, it is an irony to reflect, that there was more than a chance that the 2300 publication, as it turned out, would have been stopped.
There is a more serious charge made against me than the fact that I referred to this private correspondence. I did not intentionally quote it, because I did not want the letter published. I had to refer to is because, as I have said, it was the only thing. But it is said I misrepresented it. Of course, that is the most serious charge, and I want to say about that that I do hope even my sternest critics in the House will acquit me of having done so intentionally, however low an opinion they take of my character, because the folly of intentionally misrepresenting such a document is obvious. It could not avail me, and I assure my right hon. Friend that I am profoundly sorry that for one moment there should have been any suspicion of a misunderstanding on that matter, and it never occurred to mc that there could be until I read my papers on Monday. Let me tell the House exactly how this very curious result occurred. It is said that I said Lord Curzon had asked in his letter not to bring this matter before the Cabinet. I made no such statement, and nobody who heard me at Cambridge on Saturday would think that I had. Let me convince the House by saying than it is all a question of punctuation, and let me ask the House first to consider an extended version of what I did say.
Will the House forgive me if I ask them to reconstruct the situation The point f was making to my audience was that on Monday, when Lord Curzon knew of this grave constitutional outrage, he did not think—something happened between then and Thursday which made him think—that I had done something which would prevent my continuation in office, because the ending of his letter was. for my purpose, the gist of his argument, which was, "Do not do it again," which clearly showed that he thought I was going to remain, and have an opportunity of doing it again. That struck me as the lamest and the most impotent ending to a letter which, on the face of it, is alleged to have come from a man who thought I was guilty of an unpardonable constitutional outrage, and in effect what I said to my audience was this—this is the extended version—Lord Curzon ended his letter with a request—a request to do what? Not to hand 2301 my resignation to the Prime Minister, not to recognise that it was impossible that I should continue in office with him; a request not to come with him to the Prime Minister, and discuss a matter which would render continuation in office impossible, but merely and only a request not to do it again.The House will see, if hon. Members look at it from the point of view of that extended version, that what I did say was this:Lord Curzon ended his letter with a request"—I was not quoting—What! Not to bring it to the Cabinet, but not to do it again or not to do it again without consulting him, or something of that sort.The House will observe it was a clumsy, loose, regrettable, rhetorical expression, but if hon. Members will look at the verbatim report which is published in the "Times" and the "Daily Telegraph," I submit that they will see that the imposition of the word "what," after the request, with a note of exclamation afterwards, shows that I was rhetorically saying to my audience: "He made a request, a request, what!" Not to bring it to the Cabinet, but to do something else. At the risk of wearying the House I will say one thing more. Think of the grammar. Supposing I had intended to say that Lord Curzon made two requests: (1) not to bring the matter before the Cabinet; (2) not to do it again. The proper conjunction between these two requests, would be "and." "He made a request not to bring it to the Cabinet 'and' not to do it again." But the word I used was "but," and the "but" coupled with "what!" shows to any impartial reader that I was not quoting Lord Curzon, but explaining to my audience how futile the remedy he suggested was to the gross constitutional outrage with which I was charged. I go from that because what occurred between Monday and Thursday is a pretence to the question of publication. I do not want to make any use in this Debate of the terms of Lord Curzon's letter. I did not want it published. I thought it was a very foolish letter. But what the House must remember, and what Lord Curzon forgot, is that for the purpose of this matter, and for no other purpose, the Government of India cannot be correctly described as a subordinate branch of His Majesty's 2302 Government. India is a State member of the League of Nations. The Treaty of Sevres was signed on behalf of India independently as well as on behalf of Great Britain and the Dominions. I think it is the greatest folly to suggest that a great dependency dominion or whatever you like to call it, which has been given Dominion status for this purpose, a party to the original Treaty, should not be allowed to express its views as to modification. I say if it is allowed to express its views what is the use of hushing them up? It is no use doing it after the Conference. The only time to be of any use is before a Conference. I think, with Lord Beading, that the people of India were entitled to know, and the people of Great Britain were entitled to know, what is the fear of publication of the views that were being put forward by the Government of India on behalf of the people?
It is not true to say that they were dictating to the people of this country. It is not true to say that they were dictating to the Government of this country. It is not true to say that they sought to determine the terms of the Peace Treaty. What they did seek to do was to have their views given the fullest weight or authority and taken into the fullest consideration. Of course, they would be the first to recognise that their views would have to be harmonised with other and wider views. All I have got to say, as I have said in debate before on this aspect, is that India is entitled to a predominant share in the peace with Turkey, because there is no other country whose well-being is so intimately affected by that peace. There is no country which played so great a. part in defeating Turkey as India did. I do not believe it will hamper the British Government. I believe it will help it. I believe that if it can only be made clear that it was said all along that those views have to be taken into account with the other views, and would not necessarily determine the action of the Government, and if the Government could have found it possible to publish my telegram in answer they would have seen that I myself recognised that it was impossible for the Allies to fulfil all the terms.
I have one last thing to say to the House. I am conscious of the right of the Leader of the House to say, as he 2303 said the other day, that if in my view the Government were not doing as I believe they should do, why did I not resign long ago? At the risk of being irrelevant, I should like to make good my case on that point. I did not raise the doctrine of Cabinet responsibility to which this Government has been carried as a charge against them. That was not my intention. I have been proud to be a Member of this Government. I rejoice in its achievements. I am proud to have taken some part in them. What I do object to is this: That this Government has exploited, above all other Governments, the doctrine of Cabinet responsibility and has used it as an excuse for asking for my resignation. Therefore I have no qualms on the ground of Cabinet responsibility, or its absence, in resigning from the Government. My reason for not resigning before was this: I fundamentally differed from my colleagues—and it is notorious—on their policy in the Near East; my colleagues treated me very considerately. I have been given one of the most difficult positions a man can have—the position of a Member of His Majesty's Government and the head of the Indian Peace Conference Delegation. I have used, I hope with moderation, and with a recognition of the difficulties, the right to freedom of expression on the affairs of the Middle East as they affected India. My position would have been untenable without that freedom. Moreover, rightly or wrongly, whenever I thought of resignation on this subject, I thought that resignation on this issue of any Secretary of State for India would have meant that he despaired of getting justice and just peace terms in conformity with our pledges, and that this would have had a disastrous effect upon the Moslem world. May I digress for a moment to say that I cordially agree with my right hon. Friend—and would emphasise it—that my resignation at this moment does not mean a rejection of the right of consideration of the terms put forward on behalf of the Moslems of India.
The third reason why I have never thought it necessary to resign till now was that until quite recently I had every right to think that I had the loyalty and confidence, not of some of my colleagues, but of all of them. Lastly, as I leave my work, may I say that the fascination of 2304 India's problems have obsessed me all my life—the Princes and the native States, each with their individual characteristics, the peoples of India, awakened and growing, often with ill-defined ideas; their races, their history, their views! A glorious conception I thought it was, and I think it is, of the British Commonwealth of Nations bound together by ties of freedom and mutual respect, and all its parts acknowledging no differences of race, or creed or constitutions or institutions, a country owing allegiance unswerving and devoted to one King Emperor, the grave dangers of being rushed on the one hand to chaos, and on the other being frightened to reaction, a record unparalleled in the history of the world for unselfishness and personal sacrifice of the British effort in India. I longed for nothing better than to devote myself so long as I could to these all absorbing prolems, and not to leave undone or half done at a most critical moment the work in which I gloried. I have parted this week from colleagues in the India Office and in India with whom I have worked for a term of years with uninterrupted accord, and I have laid down the proudest title that in my belief an Englishman can hold, the title of Secretary of State for India, which means the right in particular to serve the King, this Parliament, and India, and this is the unhappiest moment of my life.
Very briefly I want to submit to the House the views of the Labour party on this unfortunate question. Whatever view may be taken of the details, everyone will agree that this incident is unfortunate in the extreme. We recognise as Secretary of State for India the great work which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Cambridge has done, and the great contribution he has made to India, and the knowledge and experience he has brought to bear in his high office. In all this he has received no more whole-hearted support than from the members of our party, and we hope that the work he initiated will continue, notwithstanding his resignation. Secondly, we want to say that, as far as Labour is concerned, the revelations are at least a commentary upon the attack that has been made upon the Labour party. The one theme that has been dwelt upon in the country during recent months has been Labour's unfitness to govern. Only last week the Secretary of 2305 State for the Colonies said that he was not only proud to belong to this Government, which he stated was not only one of the best Governments ever known, but it was certainly the best of which he had ever been a member. On this subject he is at least entitled to respect, for he has sampled enough of them, and he knows all about them. Curiously enough, while he said that this was the best of all Governments, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Cambridge was also a Member of the same Government as the Secretary of State for the Colonies, and if we take the opinion we have heard expressed to-night and at Cambridge last Saturday by the right hon. Gentleman we shall be able to draw one conclusion, and that is that the trade unions could not be conducted on more loose lines than the Cabinet. In fact, if it was made public that the trade union executive was conducting its business in the same manner as has been made public by the speech of my right hon. Friend, there would indeed be justification for the statement of our unfitness to govern. I want to say frankly that I do not believe the explanation of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Cambridge is sufficient justification for quoting a private letter. I make no mistake about that, because I believe no graver injury would be done to public life or to any public man if a private letter, written under circumstances in which we all know private letters are written, is to be quoted.
§ Mr. MONTAGU
I understand the right hon. Gentleman's point of view, but my point is this: How much easier it would have been for me if I could have quoted the letter. The whole trouble has arisen because I could not quote it. It was a private letter and the whole of my case is that that is the way the Government ought not to have transacted its business.
My answer is that there was the opportunity and it is no use merely looking at the matter from a party point of view. There is a real constitutional issue involved. There was an opportunity to have come to this House of Commons and to have stated here the whole situation. That is why I am dealing with it now. I went into the other House yesterday and I heard Lord Curzon's statement. Having read my right hon. Friend's speech at Cambridge I felt that not only had a grave 2306 injustice been done, but also that it was a very serious thing that the construction, and I believe the only construction, that could have been placed upon his speech, namely, that notwithstanding the view of Lord Curzon on the matter, his Lordship had himself in the letter invited my right hon. Friend to deal with him privately in the matter, and not through the Cabinet. That was the view that every man reading that letter would take.
My right hon. Friend has explained that to-night, and he has intimated what was in his mind when he dealt with it, and I think the House generally is entitled to accept his explanation. On the other hand, the real view of the great mass of the British public is that when Lord Curzon spoke to my right hon. Friend on the morning of that Cabinet meeting, and heard from him for the first time that this telegram had been made public, he admitted that it not only shocked him, but, to use his own language, he considered that a very grave blunder had been Committed. If that was his view at that moment, what excuse or justification is there for Lord Curzon not immediately bringing it to the notice of the Cabinet? That, after all, is what the great mass of the British public want to know. It only shows, as I said earlier, that we at least have an example now, in the words of the Secretary of State for the Colonies, of how the business is conducted by this greatest of all Cabinets, and how they are prepared to act when matters of this kind are under consideration without attempting to deal, as they might have done, with the situation. This shows that whatever may be said in favour of a Coalition Government, nothing can be said for the absence of Cabinet responsibility that is revealed by the speech and the incidents we have already heard of.
Mr. CHAMBERLAIN (Leader of the House)
While in some difficulty in rising thus early, I feel that the House expects me to deal with what has been said. My difficulty arises from the fact that the hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. T. P. O'Connor), who moved the Motion, was evidently attempting and struggling to express that which your ruling does not permit us to discuss. My right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Montagu) was offering explanations. 2307 which I think were due to the House, as to his conduct and his speech. The real attack upon the Government, if attack there is to be, has only been mentioned in a sentence by the right hon. Gentleman who immediately preceded me (Mr. Thomas). That is my first difficulty. My second difficulty is that I have never been called upon to take part in a discussion so infinitely painful as that in which I am now engaged. There is one part of it, at any rate, on which I certainly desire to say the least that I can say, and it is upon that part which has reference to the private letter sent to my right hon. Friend by Lord Curzon, and the explanation which he has given of the use which he made of that private letter at Cambridge. The whole of the facts are before this House. The letter has been published, and the House will form its own judgment. To me at least it seems unnecessary that I should say a single word on the merits of that question as between my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire and my Noble Friend Lord Curzon. My right hon. Friend referred to that private letter without the consent of the writer, having, as he himself has told us, no desire that that letter should be made public. There are obvious reasons why a letter so written by one colleague to another should not be made public. It was not written for publication. I do not know exactly what the consequences of publication may be. My right hon. Friend must realise that one cannot challenge the honour of a colleague by reference to a private letter from him, and not by so doing call for and enforce the publication of that letter. That is all I am going to say about that lamentable incident.
I come now to what has been said by my right hon. Friend (Mr. Montagu) with regard to the opportunity which the Cabinet had of discussing this matter. Whatever my right hon. Friend says within his knowledge, let me say at once I accept. He says that at the first moment when he saw the telegram from the Viceroy, he gave directions for its circulation to the Cabinet. That I accept. But see what are the facts. The telegram was received in the India Office at 8 a.m. on Wednesday. The orders to circulate it were given on the Friday. I do not know how long it took to decipher the telegram, or what other matters occupied my right 2308 hon. Friend'e attention; but two days elapsed between the receipt of the telegram and the order to circulate it. It was not then marked for urgency, nor was there any intimation that the Indian Government wanted an immediate reply It was circulated in the ordinary course, by what is called the noon circulation on Saturday. The noon circulation on that day, owing to the multitude of papers, did not take place till 2.30 on Saturday afternoon. My right hon. Friend suggests there was time for the Cabinet to take the matter up. What time was there? At 7 o'clock on Saturday evening my right hon. Friend had authorised publication in a private telegram addressed to the Viceroy. My right hon. Friend says it was the obligation of everybody except the Secretary of State for India to bring this matter to the Cabinet, and that on the Secretary of State for India alone rested no obligation to raise the question. I am not going knowingly or willingly to represent my right hon. Friend on any point.
§ Mr. MONTAGU
I am very sorry to interrupt my right hon. Friend. My point was this: I did not think it was a matter for Cabinet discussion. I did not say it was everybody else's duty, and not mine. What I did say was that it was the duty of anybody who thought it was a matter for Cabinet discussion.
I accept the correction. My right hon. Friend circulated this telegram with a note which merely said—I am speaking from memory—"I circulate to my colleagues a telegram received from the Government of India." That is the way in which you give information to your colleagues. If the matter is of importance, or of immediate urgency, having circulated the telegram, you ask for the subject matter of the telegram to be taken into consideration by the Cabinet on an early day. My right hon. Friend did not do that. If the matter is of still greater urgency, or sometimes, if he thinks it is of less consequence, and that assent may be generally assumed, the common form adopted by all of us is to say, "I have received this telegram. I propose to send this reply, and I shall send it by such and such a date, unless before that date any Member of the Cabinet expresses his dissent." My right hon. Friend did not do that. The telegram which he had 2309 ordered on Friday—which was received in the India Office on Wednesday, which he had given orders to circulate on Friday, which was despatched to Ministers at 2.30 on Saturday, and which could not have reached the first of them till after that hour—was answered by my right hon. Friend before 7 o'clock the same day.
My right hon. Friend's defence, if defence there be, is not that he gave the Cabinet the opportunity to express dissent, but that he did not think it was a matter on which to consult the Cabinet at all. The answer had gone on Saturday to a private telegram, dispatched, or directed to be dispatched, by my right hon. Friend from the country. I cannot help saying that while he was in the country on that Saturday afternoon, as was I, he expected me to be aware at 2.30 of what he was doing. He does not consider that possibly I might be in the country too after a rather hard week. But that is a small matter, and I am almost sorry I mentioned it—no, I am not sorry, because, after all, it is of some importance, because every Member of the Cabinet does not receive a paper that is circulated the very moment it is circulated, or give it his immediate attention.
On Monday the telegram was in circulation, and had been read by all except the Prime Minister, who was unwell. I was presiding at the Cabinet in his absence, and Lord Curzon brought it to my attention. It was a telegram, he said, which it was obviously inexpedient, in the public interest, to publish. I said that I entirely agreed with him—that, of course, publication could not take place—and Lord Curzon then spoke to the Secretary of State about it. What is the Secretary of State's reply?But I have already authorised publication two days ago.Did my right hon. Friend hint to Lord Curzon that there was any possibility of stopping that telegram? No. Did he tell Lord Curzon, what was in truth the fact, that he had authorised the sending of a private telegram which announced that an official telegram of a fuller description would follow on Monday? Had he given a hint that there was a possibility of risk in the matter, had he given a hint to Lord Curzon, Lord Curzon would have brought the matter 2310 up in the Cabinet then and there. As it was, Lord Curzon received this astounding communication from my right hon. Friend, and he received it with an exclamation of despair when he knew that the telegram had been authorised for publication. My right hon. Friend said, "Why did not Lord Curzon at once announce it to the Cabinet?" Would that have been a satisfaction to cay right hon. Friend? Would it have been a congenial task to Lord Curzon? The mischief had been done; the action to be taken rested in other hands, and Lord Curzon left it there. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister first knew of the publication when he read it in the London morning papers of Thursday. I am told it was in the evening papers of Wednesday, but we do not read all the newspapers, because we have not time to read beyond what is necessary, so that I had not seen the publication in the evening papers. My first hint of publication was when I read it in the morning paper of Thursday, as was the Prime Minister's. I will tell the House exactly what happened. The Prime Minister sent for my right hon. Friend (Mr. Montagu), and the Prime Minister came immediately from that interview to me. In all the time—it is now nearly a year—that I have been most intimately associated with him, I have never seen him so disturbed about any public incident as he was about the publication of this message at that moment. He said he regarded it as a grave national misfortune.
Yes, Sir, certainly there was, but let me finish what I am saying. He regarded it as a grave national misfortune, and he could not fail also to regard it as wanting in that loyalty from one Member of the Cabinet to another which is essential to the smooth working of Cabinet Government. Here was a telegram, the publication of which could not but gravely affect the conduct of affairs in the hands of the Foreign Secretary. There is no tradition of this country which justifies a Departmental Minister publishing a document of that kind without reference to the Minister immediately concerned, and, in a matter of this importance, without reference to the Prime Minister as well, 2311 if not to the Cabinet itself. The right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Thomas) asks me was there not a meeting of the Cabinet? There was, but the mischief had been done, and Lord Curzon would not make himself the accuser of my right hon. Friend. What was done was done; it could not be remedied. No Member of the Cabinet knew what had been done except Lord Curzon, and he only imperfectly, because my right hon. Friend had told him that he had authorised publication on Saturday, but did not tell him that in the same telegram he said he was to send an official message on Monday, and did not give him a hint that there was the slightest possibility of arresting its publication, and preventing the whole of this deplorable incident.
The right hon. Member is wrong. We did not know at the Cabinet on Wednesday. I must here call the attention of my right hon. Friend and of the House to another matter. He circulated the telegram, but he never circulated his reply, so we were left wholly without notice from him of the action which he had taken. When Lord Curzon spoke to him, he conveyed to Lord Curzon as clearly as words could convey it, that it was too late to revoke the action which he had taken on his own responsibility.
§ Mr. MONTAGU indicated dissent.
My right hon. Friend shakes his head. He told Lord Curzon that he had authorised the publication two days before, but he gave no hint, and he had not an idea in his own mind—he confessed it to-night—that it was possible to recall that notorious telegram. For reasons not known to me, the Indian Government, who had pressed for immediate publication, held the telegram up for a day or two. My right hon. Friend took the whole responsibility of authorising publication. He neither consulted the Cabinet beforehand, nor informed the Cabinet that he had acted. The responsibility for that rests, not with the Cabinet, whom my right hon. Friend kept in the dark, but with my right hon. Friend himself. The right hon. Gentleman asked why no action was taken between his communication to Lord Curzon on Monday and Thursday morning. What 2312 is his description of the conduct of colleagues from whom he parted with regret, with whom he had worked so cordially, and whose reciprocal feelings to him I do not think he doubts. What is his description of their conduct? It is this:You did nothing until you saw the effect in the newspapers and what the Press told you to do.I think I have already dealt with that. The Prime Minister acted—and it was for the Prime Minister and for no other person—at the first moment that he became aware of what had been done; and, as regards the action of the Prime Minister, I am content, without another word, to rest upon the universal consensus of opinion of all who have held high responsibility, and of all the chief organs of public opinion which follow our discussions and criticise our conduct. Whatever reproaches may be made against the Cabinet, the Prime Minister was right to accept the resignation which my right hon. Friend tendered. The hon. Member for the Scotland Division—
§ Mr. MONTAGU
Would my right hon. Friend forgive me for interrupting him once again, to my great regret? I gather from his statement that he understands that the Prime Minister did not know of my action in authorising publication until Thursday morning?
§ Mr. MONTAGU
Has the right hon. Gentleman read Lord Curzon's letter?
§ Mr. MONTAGU
I must, in my own defence, say that, reading that letter, I am astonished.
If my right hon. Friend will read it again, he will see that it correctly represents the facts as I have stated them. Lord Curzon, at the opening of the Cabinet—before the Cabinet had begun—came to me, called my attention to the telegram, and said: "It will not do to publish this." I said: "Of course, it will not."
§ Major ENTWISTLE
Why did not Lord Curzon tell you
It was before he had spoken to my right; hon. Friend. My right hon. Friend then knew that his action was challenged. He justifies himself for the action he had already taken 2313 without consultation on the ground that Lord Curzon did not at once tell him or the Cabinet how wrongly he had acted. His action was challenged by Lord Curzon. Why did not he go to the Cabinet, and seek his justification, and ask for a verdict there and then? Knowing that his action had been challenged by one of his colleagues, why did he not circulate to the Cabinet the answer which he had sent to the telegram, which, as far as we knew, remained unanswered? My right hon. Friend cannot absolve himself from responsibility in this matter by trying to charge Lord Curzon with failing in his duty.
I was turning at that moment to the question which the hon. Member for the Scotland division has put. My right hon. Friend by Saturday had become convinced that the reason given for his resignation was a pretext, and that it was really because he was being sacrificed to the Die-Hard clamour and to the subservience of the Prime Minister and his colleagues to the Press. I am only going to make one comment on that. I am going to invite my right hon. Friend to read his letter of resignation, and say whether his Saturday's frame of mind, repeated here in this House on Wednesday, is compatible with the terms of his letter of resignation. It is an afterthought. It is not we who have changed; it is not the influence of the Press; it is my right hon. Friend who, deflected by his failure to find in any quarter a justification for the action he took, now reads into the decision of the Prime Minister and his colleagues a motive which, when it was first known, never suggested itself to his mind.
The hon. Gentleman (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) asks me—not in terms, but this is the form which I am going to give to it, with the permission of himself and the House—he asks me whether the resignation of my right hon. Friend indicates a change in the policy of His Majesty s Government. I deliberately avoid saying that there is no change since 1920, or 1919, or whatever was the date of some extract which he read. Circumstances have changed profoundly, and we have to act with our Allies, and take account of changed circumstances. But the point which is pertinent to this Debate is whether the acceptance of my right hon. Friend's resignation indicates change of policy on the part of His Majesty's Government, 2314 and to that I give an unhesitating negative. It was not because of the views of the Indian Government, it was not because of the expression of the views of the Indian Government by the Indian Government, that my right hon. Friend resigned. He resigned on a question of constitutional propriety and Cabinet responsibility, and because, in the exercise of that wide discretion which always has been and must be left to Ministers as to what questions they should consult the Cabinet about and what questions they should decide, departmentally, he had taken, in the opinion of the Prime Minister and his colleagues, a fatally wrong decision on this occasion.
I come to what, after all, is the theme of the hon. Gentleman's inquiry, namely, the question of Cabinet responsibility. I speak in the presence of one who has served for many years in the Cabinet, and who for many years presided over the Cabinet. I have some experience myself by this time, and I have consulted those who have much longer experience than I have. I say without fear of contradiction that it is quite impossible to lay down rules which shall define what matters may be settled outside the Cabinet without reference to the Cabinet, and what matters must be brought before it. Every Minister must exercise his own discretion. He must be judged, and must consent to stand or fall as he uses his discretion wisely or unwisely. But there is a certain class of question—questions of foreign policy occupy as a class a position different from any other—and I think the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith) will certainly not dispute what I say when I add that, in respect of those questions, there is probably always a clear and more constant communication between the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister than on any other subject of Government policy, and it is by them decided which of those questions they should settle in conference between them, and which are of such a character and of such importance that they should be brought before the Cabinet. It is, of course, always possible for any Member of the Cabinet to request that a subject may be made a matter of Cabinet discussion.
In all these matters there is no difference between this Cabinet and any Cabinet in which I have sat, or in which 2315 those with whom I have consulted have sat. But there is one difference between Cabinets nowadays and Cabinets before the War. Their work is enormously greater and, accordingly, in order that it may be got through, they have to devolve it more frequently on Committees than was the case before the War. Before the War one Cabinet a week was the normal rule, and that was intromitted for a period while Ministers took, I hope, a not unearned and certainly not unneeded rest.
Nowadays I suppose a week seldom passes without more than one Cabinet. I have known weeks in which there was a Cabinet every day, or almost every day, and holidays have almost disappeared. Under these circumstances we have to do what everyone has to do. We have to devolve a part of the business which in more leisured times was conducted by the body as a whole. We established Cabinet Committees. The greatest of those Committees was established as far back as 1903. It is the Committee of Imperial Defence, and I allude to that especially because when it was established, and long after it was established, there was no machinery by which its decisions were automatically communicated to the Cabinet, or to those who were concerned. Now the doing of all Committees are reported to the Cabinet. Some subjects are referred to Committees to advise them. Some subjects are referred to Committees to settle on behalf of them. But in every case, be it for decision by the Cabinet, or be it for the information of the Cabinet, with the possibility of any member of the Cabinet raising a discussion on the subject, the reports of those Committees are communicated to the Cabinet.
There is no lack of co-ordination. No human foresight, no set of rules, no perfection of machinery can prevent occasional errors arising as long as humanity remains fallible. What is essential, painful though it may be, is that when one such grave error is made, the necessary consequences should follow to bring home to all that that is not a course which is permissible, and that on matters of great gravity, concerning interests intimately, almost primarily, co-equally, at any rate, concerning interests outside the Department of a particular Minister, to authorise on his own and sole responsibility a course of action which his col- 2316 leagues cannot approve, he must take the responsibility and the consequences of the responsibility.
§ Mr. O'CONNOR
May I put the question I invited the right hon. Gentleman to answer earlier in the day? Is it the policy of the Government to take adequate steps, in accordance with their promise, for the protection of the Christians in the Near East?
I am not going to be led into a discussion which you, Sir, have more than once ruled would be out of order. The policy of the Cabinet is unaffected by my right hon. Friend's resignation. He did not resign on a question of policy. He resigned because his colleagues differed from him as to the propriety of his action in authorising the publication of a particular telegram. I have only one thing more to say. During many years my relations with the right hon. Gentleman have been intimate and cordial. If I thought that, by introducing other words into the statement I made in the House of Commons, I could have done anything to mitigate the pain of his position, or to give consolation to him, I hope he will believe that I should have done so. I am sure he does not now think—as his words at Cambridge would lead anyone to suppose he then did—that I deliberately courted a demonstration from the House against him. My right hon. Friend in the closing passage of his speech, told us once again how profoundly he was interested in India, how earnestly he has striven to servo her interests, and how deeply painful it was to him to sever his connection with that work. My right hon. Friend is not the only Minister who has had to resign. He is not the only Secretary of State who at a certain moment has found it is not compatible with his duty to remain in office. I sympathise with him, and I deeply deplore the misconception of his duty to the Cabinet and of the effect of his action on public affairs which rendered the severance of his connection with the India Office inevitable.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
As far as this personal and domestic squabble is concerned, I can assure the House that those of us who sit in this quarter of it adopt an attitude of passive and serene detachment. I would only say on that aspect of the 2317 case that I regard the procedure adopted by the late Secretary of State as incompatible with the elementary rules of Cabinet government. At the same time, I must express, not only for myself, but, I think, for a great number of those who sit behind me, extreme and sincere regret that a career which has been associated with so much good, remarkable, and, I believe, fruitful work in the interests of India and of the Empire, should for the moment have been checked. But I care nothing about these telegrams, these meetings of the Cabinet and so on. The incident has an importance which transcends all personal considerations. We have been accustomed during the last three years by right hon. Gentlemen who sit upon the Front Bench opposite to a succession of violent curves of policy, but none of them has been more complete and more clear cut than the curve which has taken place during the last week, when they have suddenly discovered and solemnly proclaimed to the world that there is such a thing as collective Cabinet responsibility. That is a most remarkable discovery. The relation between an individual Minister and his Cabinet colleagues is always a matter which must and does call for delicate handling. If a Minister on a matter of real importance finds that he cannot agree with his colleagues, or that his colleagues will not agree with him, there is only one safe rule—[An HON. MEMBER: "Wait and see!"]—and that is neither to wait nor see, but to resign his office.
I can speak in these matters with no inconsiderable experience. During the many years, more than any living man has had, that I have been at the head of a Government I have had the good fortune to have with me and under me gifted colleagues, some of them men of pronounced and irrepressible individuality. Nor can I deny that from time to time a certain amount of momentary embarrassment has been caused to the Administration by unforeseen and even unforeseeable ebullitions on the part of those talented and exuberant personalities. [HON. MEMBERS: "Name."] Everybody knows them; I will not specify names, dates or localities.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
No, I am speaking of ebullitions outside, sometimes within the 2318 Metropolitan area. Whether when I was at the head of the Government I was or was not a rigid and austere disciplinarian, I will leave it to others to say, but whatever admonition I may have felt it my duty, as I did from time to time, to offer in private or in the Cabinet, I never gave away a colleague in public. On the other hand, I would never, nor would any Cabinet of which I have been a member, or of which I have been the head, have submitted to the licence of reciprocal criticism and independent initiative which has been exercised during these last years by individual Ministers, and of which the Prime Minister himself set the first example. Let us look at what has been going on during the last two months. Ever since the scare of the February election—
§ 10.0 P.M.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
It seems to me that the right hon. Gentleman is going seriously beyond what is possible within the terms of the Motion. The only justification for this Motion is what has occurred quite recently—within the last few days. It does not open up a general Debate, going back to January or February.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
With very great deference, the question is one of the lack of Cabinet co-ordination, and may I not give an illustration of the evils of the lack of Cabinet co-ordination which has recently occurred?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
If the right hon. Gentleman will read the Motion on which the Adjournment is moved, he will see that it says:The serious lack of co-ordination in the action of His Majesty's Ministers which brought about the resignation of the Secretary of State for India.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
I am going, if I may, and if you will allow me, to point out that this is not an isolated incident, but that it is a practice of which this is the climax and culmination. I am always most ready to bow to the ruling of the Chair, but perhaps I may be allowed to give an illustration beyond the one which is immediately before us. We are talking about Cabinet co-ordination. I am entitled to draw the attention of the House to the circumstance that this is not an isolated case, and to point out that it is part of a series of instances of continuous Cabinet disorganisation. We 2319 have had a number of Cabinet Ministers—I think six or seven—making various announcements as to the policy, the functions, the justification, and the future of the Coalition. To reconcile the one with the other would tax the ingenuity, I think, of the most ingenious theologian who has ever tried, in the art of apologetics, to harmonise Scriptural texts. There are some Ministers who cannot even say the same thing on the same subject twice in the course of a single week. The Lord Chancellor, for instance. I think that I am confining myself strictly within the limits of the Motion before the House. Take the case, for instance—this is an example of Cabinet dislocation and disorganisation—of one of the most distinguished of His Majesty's Ministers, the present Lord Chancellor. He told us in the course of two successive weeks that he regards my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Sir G. Younger) one week as a mutineer and the next week as the salt of the Tory party.
There is a rule or custom, which I believe prevails on the turf, with the details of whose procedure I do not profess to be more than superficially acquainted, by which when an owner runs more than one horse for particular stakes he is expected to declare in advance which of his team he expects to win. I am now on the point of Cabinet responsibility. Which is it going to be? Cabin boy, or salt of the Tory party, or the Centre party, which, to quote a phrase of my Noble Friend Lord Morley, is the dark horse in the loose box? This is a very serious question and this Motion arises out of a particular instance which, in itself grave if not of serious or lasting moment, affords an opportunity and a pertinent opportunity to put to the Government this inquiry. Now that they have revived, as they have for a particular purpose, the obsolescent, almost moribund doctrine of Cabinet responsibility, which of these warring and competing police is do they mean collectively to adopt and to pursue? The whole thing is merely an illustration and a demontration of the moral and political impossibility of attempting to govern by a Coalition which has no common cement of principle or of party. The moral which I draw and which I submit to the judgment of the House is this. We should get back once for all to the 2320 old straight way when people were divided by real differences founded on conviction and on principle, which have led to the observance for generations past of the practical doctrine of Parliamentary government and of full Cabinet responsibility.
§ Mr. O'CONNOR
My object in raising the Debate has been sufficiently answered and, therefore, I ask leave to withdraw my Motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.