HC Deb 05 March 1923 vol 161 cc2-4
2. Sir C. YATE

asked the Under-Secretary of State for India whether the attention of the Secretary of State has been called to the speech of Sir William Marris, the newly appointed Governor, before the United Provinces Legislative Council on the 29th January last, in which he informed the Council of his decision to release the political prisoners convicted last year, and in which he is reported to have stated that he thought it perfectly possible that some of those who were let out of gaol might attempt to revive a campaign of dangerous encitement; that amongst these prisoners who were released were Jawaharlal Nehru, son of Pandit Motilal Nehru, and also Mr. Gandhi's son, Devadas Gandhi; that most of the released prisoners are reported to have stated that they would go back to their old policy of agitation; and whether he can now state what reasons have been adduced by Sir William Marris for letting loose all these agitators to add to the unrest in the country?


I will circulate in the OFFICIAL REPORT a copy of the Governor's actual remarks which answer the last part of my hon. and gallant Friend's question. Sir Harcourt Butler had previously released 166 prisoners convicted of political offences, and Sir William Marris released 107 more (including the sons of Mr. Gandhi and Pandit Motilal Nehru), none of whom had been found guilty of incitement to violence, and 73 of whom had been convicted of offences under the Criminal Law Amendment Act which had, in the meantime, been withdrawn from operation in the Provinces. I do not know the foundation for the assertion that most of the released prisoners declared their intention to renew agitation, but the Governor's speech warned them quite clearly what would happen if they did.

Captain O'GRADY

May I ask whether, in view of the reactionary questions put, the Noble Lord will communicate with Sir William Marris?


The hon. Member ought not to use adjectives in his supplementary question.


Has the Noble Lord read the report of the meeting of the agitators when they were let out, and will he tell me when he will be in a position to inform us what is the reason given by Sir William Marris for his action?


I have just informed the hon. and gallant Member that I am sending him a copy of this speech this afternoon. The only reason I do not read it out is because it is too long for an oral answer.


The reason I asked was the reason adduced by Sir William Marris to the Government of India.


Is there any means of preventing these most unfortunate questions being put on the Order Paper?


Is there any limitation of the powers of the Governor to release political prisoners?


As regards the question of the hon. and gallant Member for Melton (Sir C. Yate), I think he will find there is contained in Sir William Marris's speech all the reasons he had put forward for the release of these prisoners. I will, however, ask my Noble Friend the Secretary of State if a telegram can be sent for the information asked for, although I think it will be found in the speech. With regard to the question of the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Hope Simpson), it is impossible, within the limits of an answer to a question, to describe what the powers are, but, as I have said before, discretion is vested in the local government, not merely in the local Governor.

Following is the telegraphic report of speech by, Sir W. Morris:

I am, if possible, for policy of peace and quiet. I wish to say no word about distraction and excitements of past except this that I am heartily glad they are to great extent over. I hope Province has before it period of recuperation and quiet growth. In that hope my Government have decided to meet wishes of this Council as expressed in their recent Resolution, and to release political prisoners who Were convicted last year in time of excitement, with exception of one man, whose utterances amounted to an attempt to instigate murder. I do not disguise from myself one moment possibility that this decision may be misunderstood in some quarters, nor risks which it entails. I think it perfectly possible that some of those who are let out of gaol may attempt to revive campaign of dangerous excitement. Well, we have had our experience and our warning, and we ought to know what to do if such attempts are made again. But I desire to say nothing minatory. I rely not so much on vigilance of Government or on powers of law as en good sense of people whose representatives you are. I am told by many gentlemen with whom I have talked this matter, that ordinary villager is thoroughly tired of such excitement and is no longer likely to listen to those who tell him that Government is tyrannical and offensive body, and that with its disappearance, and that of European officers, there will ensue millennium, when people will pay no taxes and Lind will flow with milk and honey. I hope that advice I have received is sound. At all events, we are going to make experiment, and I trust results will be as happy as our intentions are sincere.