§ Mr. LANSBURY
The right hon. Gentleman may be quite assured that any proposal to interfere with the present arrangement would receive unqualified 603 opposition from this side. I never have thought the House of Commons was the sort of institution, with its present rules and organisation, to give full and adequate discussion to all the questions connected with the British Empire, and I think the right hon. Gentleman has not cleared up the essential point of the hon. Gentleman's contention. That is proved by the fact that on this afternoon one has to take the opportunity of raising questions connected with a population of over 300,000,000 people. It is very unfortunate that the House of Commons should have any say in the matter as to how the people of India should be governed, or how the administration of the law should be carried out in that country. Speaking for myself, I visualise the time when the British Commonwealth of Nations will consist of nations who are within that Commonwealth of their own free-will, and within their own sphere and their own nationality have absolute control of their own affairs and the only authority outside that should be an authority representative of those Dominions, to whom should be entrusted all those questions the hon. Gentleman is so anxious should be discussed to-day. I do not think the present arrangement is possible of continuation, and sooner or later there must be an Imperial, or, as I prefer to call it, a Commonwealth Senate, and this House will have no more right to interfere with its decisions than any other of its constituent parts. But that is a long way off, I have no doubt. I only wanted to say that, because I feel that that is a subject this House ought to discuss. It is no new view of mine, because during the discussions on the Home Rule Bill I tried, in a feeble sort of way, to put it forward as an alternative to the proposals that were then being discussed for only one part of the British Dominions.
I want to call attention to two or three matters about which I and others have been putting questions. With regard to the people who have been turned out of restaurants and other places in Edinburgh, I think the Noble Lord ought to look upon himself as the guardian of the interests of all Indians resident in this country, and although he has no power himself, and his Noble Chief has no power, and although it is true perhaps that the Government have no actual 604 power to interfere with the restaurant proprietors of Edinburgh, still I think, following the example of the French Colonial Minister under similar conditons, the Noble Lord and his Chief could let it be known that the sort of conduct which has caused so much resentment amongst the Indians attending the Universities in Scotland, that sort of discrimination, that putting up of the colour bar was something that could not be tolerated in the British Isles. It could not be settled without some legislation, because the Indians in India have to submit to some differentiation when travelling and otherwise which those of us who have taken any trouble to read and try to understand these questions know is very bitterly resented, and if when they come to this country the same kind of colour bar is going to be set up, you will only create still more discontent and hatred of British rule than exists at present.
May I say a word or two on a subject on which I have been asking questions for some weeks past in references to disturbances at Kalakati? There was a very terrible slaughter there because, as we are informed, the authorities were afraid the police might be overcome, and between the Noble Lord and myself there has been a long and rather argumentative controversy across the Floor as to whether the crowd was armed or not. I have taken a good deal of trouble to try to get at the facts and I am assured that the crowd was not armed except to this extent. It is the custom to walk about with rather long walking sticks, and those are the only arms they have ever been charged with carrying. This crowd of people was fired at at short range. About that there is no dispute, and the information we have is that it was fired on without any Riot Act being read or anything of the kind. The authorities on the spot have appointed someone to investigate. They have appointed one of the chiefs, as I understand it, of the. officer who ordered the firing. We on this side of the House—and I want the Noble Lord to take note of this—do not consider that that is a proper form of inquiry. We do not think that in this country, if a magistrate, say, in the Metropolis, had acted in this fashion, public opinion in London would have been satisfied if the Chief Magis- 605 trate of London had been appointed to investigate the doings of one of his colleagues. Although I understand the report of this officer is on its way, and that it has not been published because some legal proceedings are threatened, I want to give the Noble Lord clear notice that what we are asking for, and what we shall try to insist upon, is that an absolutely impartial inquiry shall be made into all the circumstances connected with these shootings. We demand that, because we are of opinion that whenever this sort of thing takes place: in India—and it takes place with lamentable frequency—impartial people having no connection whatever with the people who may be resporsible and into whose conduct an inquiry is to be made, should at the very earliest moment hold an absolutely independent investigation. I have been informed that the magistrate who was appointed to investigate the conduct of the official—another magistrate—who was in command, as it were, when the shootings took place, was one of those in authority over him. I want to ask the Noble Lord this afternoon whether he will not represent to his chief that an absolutely impartial tribunal shall be set up. We all know perfectly well the sort of feelings that the Indian people have exhibited over and over again in connection with this kind of incident.
I want to take the other case, which, I think, is an even stronger case for some action on the part of both the Secretary of State for India and the Viceroy. I hope the Noble Lord will not, in the case of the Bengal Ordinance, ride off with the statement that Lord Olivier sanctioned it and that, therefore, the Opposition is as much responsible as the present administration. It is a little more than 2½ years ago since the Ordinance was brought into existence, and it is over 2½ years since the town clerk of Calcutta, whose ease I first want to mention, was put into prison. I cannot believe that any Viceroy representing a Labour Government or any Secretary of State for India representing a Labour Government would consider that he was worthily carrying out the policy which a Labour Government would want carried out in India by continuing such exceptionally coercive measures as the Bengal Ordinance. It is even asked, what else 606 could be done? But before I say anything about that, I should like the House to understand who this man is and with what, as far as we can gather, he has been charged. He was the chief executive officer, and still is, of the Calcutta Corporation. The Calcutta Corporation is not a body representing a small town or a small number of people, but is, as everyone knows, a body representing one of the most important cities in India. All through his imprisonment, for 2½ years, he has retained the confidence of that municipality. I do not think the Noble Lord, or anyone representing the India Office, would charge that corporation, all of them, or even a majority of them, with being persons who are in favour of violent revolution or, with what is called at times, Communist revolution. Mr. Bose was arrested under the Bengal Criminal, Ordinance. He was imprisoned without a trial. In 1926 he was a candidate for the Provincial Council, and although the Bengal Government refused to allow him to send a draft of his election address to his brother for publication, he was returned as a member of the Bengal Council by a huge majority.
On the 28th January the Calcutta Corporation passed a resolution unanimously protesting against the continued imprisonment of Mr. Bose in view of the alarming condition of his health. Nothing happened, and a medical examination was made of him in Rangoon Prison in February by Lieut.- Colonel Kelsall, Chief Medical Officer of the Burma Government, and Dr. Sunil Bose. Their report was submitted on the 14th February. They considered that Mr. Bose was in an early stage of tuberculosis, and said he should lie placed under the best conditions as regards climate, food, rest, etc., to combat this disease. They concluded:We do not regard the conditions during confinement in gaol as conducive to the restoration of Mr. Bose's health.I want to point out to the House that with regard to a man suffering as this man has suffered, two and a half years' imprisonment, without trial, without ever being brought to trial, the greatest crime,, as it were, that you can commit against him is not to put him on his trial. The one thing that requires to be removed is the mental agony of being kept in prison under these conditions. I do not wonder that the doctors certified 607 that he was in the first stage of tuberculosis. I can assure the House that when you are in prison for political offences there is only one thing that irritates and oppresses you and wears you out, and that is the feeling of downright injustice under which you consider you are labouring in being there. I myself have experienced that for a few weeks after a trial, but this man has experienced it for two and a half years without any trial.
It is perfectly true, that after that Report the Government of India—I suppose the Governor-General and the Viceroy—made an offer to Mr. Bose that he could, under certain conditions, be removed. The conditions were, that he should go away and give an undertaking that he would not go near certain places. He was to be allowed to come to Europe and so on, but not to go back to India until the Indian Government allowed him to go back on the repeal, I suppose, of the Bengal Ordinance. He wrote to his brother and referred to the offer in detail. I will not read the whole of his letter—the Noble Lord has seen it, I am sure—which was published in the Calcutta "Forward" on the 19th April of this year. My point in reading this to the House is, that I want hon. Members to try to visualise the kind of man that we kept in prison without a trial. This is what he says in an introduction:I have pondered over every sentence. The offer lacks human element; it is unjust, it is unacceptable. I have not been able to persuade myself that a permanent exile from the land of my birth would be better than life in a gaol leading to the sepulchre.He goes on to say:When I read that I was required to undertake not to return to India, Burma and Ceylon I rubbed and rubbed my eyes and asked myself, Am I so dangerous to the existence of the British rule in India that a deportation from Bengal is not regarded as an adequate safeguard or is all this but a hoax?' If the former, then from one point of view"—and I call the attention of the House to this—it is somewhat flattering to a nationalist to be told that he is so much of a nuisance to the bureaucracy. But when I come to look at facts and analyse my life and activities before I was arrested, I cannot help feeling that my political complexion is not so red as some interested and malicious 608 people have led Government to think. I have not done political work outside Bengal and I have hardly any desire to do so, at least for some years to come—for Bengal is big enough for me and for my ambitions. I do not think that any other Government (whether the Government of India or any provincial Government) besides Bengal has anything to say against me, and so far as I remember, I do not think I left Bengal during the last six years. Why then this attempt to prejudice me in the eyes of other Governments by holding me up as a dangerous person and prohibiting me from entering India, Burma and Ceylon? Ceylon being a Crown Colony"—He enters into an argument as to whether they could keep him out of Ceylon, but I need not trouble the House with that. He goes on—There is one aspect of the hon. Member's proposal which struck me as particularly callous.That is the hon. Member who made the proposal in the Assembly as to the conditions under which he could go away.The Government know that I have been away from home nearly 2½ years and I have not met most of my relatives—including parents—during this period. They nevertheless propose that I shall go abroad for a period which will be at least 2½ or three years without having an opportunity of meeting them."—Then he goes on to say this, which is as important—Government seem to have clean forgotten the suffering to which they have subjected me for the last 2½ years. I am the aggrieved party and not they. They have locked me in for such a long period without any justification. I was only told that I was guilty of being a member of a conspiracy for importing arms, manufacturing explosives and murdering police officers, and was asked if I had anything to say. I wonder if the late Sir Edward Marshall Hall or Sir John Simon could have put up any other defence beyond saying Not guilty'—and this is exactly what I did. When the 'allegations' were presented to me a second time, I raised the question myself as to why I, of all persons, happened to be victimised by the police—and I think I was able to give a satisfactory explanation.That is all I need read of that. He goes on to say:How long will Government go on ignoring all moral obligations? If Government had allowed me to go home once, before I sailed abroad, had agreed to meet all my expenses in Europe and had permitted me to return without let or hindrance on my recovery there would have been something human about the offer.609 He concludes:Thank God I am at peace with myself, and I can face with perfect equanimity any ordeal that He in His wisdom may choose to visit me with. I regard myself as doing penance in my own humble way for the past sins of our nation and I am, and shall be, happy in my atonement. Our thoughts will not die, our ideas will not fade from the nation's memory, and posterity will be the heirs of our fondest dreams. This is the faith which will sustain me in my tribulation for ever and for ever.I cannot think that the man who wrote that document, which contains very much more than I have read, is the sort of man the British Empire ought to keep in prison under the conditions that he has been kept there. I cannot think that it is any answer to me for the Noble Lord to say that the man is now released. He is released because the Government dared not keep him in prison any longer for fear of his death. I want again to ask the Noble Lord to put on the Table of the House the Report of his own medical officers, who examined Mr. Bose before his release. The people of India and the people of this country who are responsible for this man being kept in prison have a right to know to what condition of health he had been reduced before the Government's hard heart had been moved to give the man his release. This is one of those cases, which will be remembered in India for all time, of downright persecution of a really good nationalist.
The Noble Lord may say to me, as he has always said to us when we take up cases of this kind, that we are not good patriots. I am as good a patriot as he is, or as anyone else in this House, but I disagree with the sort of policy which denies patriotism to other people. This man is a lover of his own country. He has probably agitated and probably organised and helped to educate his people in the doctrines of Home Rule and Nationalism. If he is as guilty as the Government have again and again said, they know him to be—
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for INDIA (Earl Winterton)
And Lord Olivier!
§ Mr. LANSBURY
Lord Olivier acted on the information that was given to him at the particular moment. If Lord 610 Olivier were now Secretary of State for India and if for two and a half years he had kept this man in prison, I am quite certain that if mine was the only voice in the House I should protest against its being done. The unfortunate thing for me is that I am getting old. I lived during the whole period of the Irish business, and I have seen this sort of thing done in Ireland, and in the end, after terrible slaughter and after terrible upheaval, I have seen the Noble Lord, who was one of the leading opponents of Home Rule for Ireland, being forced into the position of giving to Ireland a very much larger form of self-government than that which they demanded at the moment. This particular juncture in India, when the people of India are being told that the promise made to them by Queen Victoria many years ago that the British connection was only a connection to enable them to get self-government, and when the Indian people are asking for that pledge to be fulfilled, is not the time to treat a decent, honest man in the way that this town clerk has been treated.
The Government have no right to keep a man in prison without trial, in any circumstances, for such a period as this. Whatever Lord Olivier may have done, or whatever anybody else may have done in signing the Bengal Ordinance, the fact remains that this man has been in. prison for 30 months, and at the end of that period, because the man is nearly dead, he is allowed to be released. I want the Noble Lord to give us the Report of the four doctors, so that the people here and the people in India may know the condition of Mr. Bose when he was released. When we talk about prisoners of this kind, it is regarded as a humorous matter by hon. Members opposite. That is the attitude of mind which they take up towards political prisoners; but there is one thing to remember, and that is that history proves that those who come after get what the prisoners went to prison to accomplish.
I want to call attention to the others who are in prison under the same conditions. I do riot think that any of us should keep our minds only on one man who happens to be an outstanding figure among those who are in prison. I wonder if the House realises, from the answers given to me by the Noble Lord, 611 what is the position. He gave an answer on the 9th May last that according to information given in reports on the 30th January and 21st February last there were 16 men in prison tinder one Regulation. Five had been removed and placed under restraint in villages under the Criminal Law Amendment Act. Of the 61 detenus, 42 were in prison under the Bengal Ordinance. Four more had since been arrested and placed in prison. So this business of imprisoning people without trial or before a magistrate or a Judge and jury or anyone is still going on.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
That is a very good way of getting out of it. He was tried in secret. Two Judges went into the prison and the man was taken before them, without any counsel or anyone knowing what he said or what anybody said to him. That is a pretty fine thing to call a trial. That used to be called an inquisition in the old days. The Noble Lord knows perfectly well that. when I say these men are in prison without trial. I mean the sort of trial which the ordinary people outside call a trial.
§ Earl WINTERTON
That is not what I said. I was only correcting what was, unintentionally, a terminological inexactitude on the part of the hon. Member. He said the cases had not been considered. There is a distinction.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I do not think there is a distinction. I do not consider that two Judges going into a prison and having a man brought before them, as Mr. Bose himself said he was brought, can be considered a trial. He says that they charged him with helping in the manufacture of explosives and taking part in conspiracies to murder officials and so on, but no evidence was called in the prison. No evidence was nut to Mr. Bose. He was not allowed to call any evidence, and for exactly the same reason that he is not put on trial. If Mr. Bose could be told who were the informants against him—[Interruption.] That is the sort of argument. which the Czars used to put up. It was the argument of Lord Balfour. I have heard Lord Balfour a score of times at the Treasury Box make the same statement about the 612 Irish prisoners who were detained under the Coercion Act. The Noble Lord agrees with me that the prisoners I am speaking about have had no ordinary trial such as ordinary prisoners ought to receive.
The Noble Lord also said in his reply that there were 105 men arrested under the Bengal Ordinance who were still tinder restraint but not actually in prison. In February last there were 163, and if we take the figures of the present time there appear to be 167. These men ought to be released. They ought not to be kept in prison until they are too sick and ill to be kept there any longer. The Noble Lord will not deny that the prisons in England are much better than the prisons in India and under much more humane conditions. He will not deny that, although he may tell us, as he told I he hon. Member for Shoreditch (Mr. Thurtle) once, of tile playground that they had and of the games they played. He will not tell us this afternoon that Mr. Bose lived under those conditions, and I am certain that a very large number of the other men do not live under those conditions. These men have on many occasions gone on hunger strike. Men do not go on hunger strike except from a firm sense of injustice.
I want to ask the Noble Lord and the Secretary of State for India and the India Office to consider whether the time has flat arrived to altogether with this method of dealing with the situation in India. In 1929, a Commission has to be appointed. Somehow we have to make the people of India believe that we really mean that then shall have self-government, that we really do mean that they shall be a Dominion in the sense that Australia is a Dominion within the British Commonwealth of nations. There is only one way of doing that. Although the late Government may be charged, through Lord Olivier, with having imposed the Bengal Ordinance, I would point out that they appointed a Committee, not a final Committee, to survey the situation and to lead up to the appointment of the Commission which, according to the Reform Act, is due in 1929. Over and over again the Legislative Assemblies and Council in India have passed Resolutions demanding that we should set up that Commission now or, rather, when those Resolutions were passed. I think I am speaking correctly 613 when I say that the last Resolution which has come through asks that if the Government feel it to be impossible to appoint the Commission right off, they should, at least, enter into a round table conference with all the parties, the moderates, the extremists, and the people representative of all parties in India for the purpose of trying to arrive at some means whereby the terms of reference of the Commission, or the corn-position of the Commission, that will inevitably be set up, might be agreed upon.
I am saying this because the Noble Lord will do what he always does; he will say: "What are we to do when people break the law? What are we to do when violence takes place?" remember, and hon. Members will remember, that John Bright once said, "Force is no remedy." That has been proved in regard to Ireland, and I am confident that it is going to be proved true in regard to those places over which the British flag flies, where discontent and violence come uppermost in the demand for reforms which are denied by the Government at home. I think I am speaking the opinions of the party which sits on these benches when I say that we are as anxious to maintain the British connection with India as anyone in this House, and we are convinced that it can only be maintained by treating the people of India as equals, and as having the right to be masters in their own country. We want to see this Committee, this round table conference, set up by the Government in order to show the people of India that we are in earnest and because we do not want the noble Lord the Secretary of State for India to continue saying to them that they must be very good children and must behave themselves. We want the Government of India and the Secretary of State for India to treat them as equals and as people whom we want to be free partners with us in rebuilding the world. This policy of coercion, of imprisoning people without trial, and excusing or apologising for our officials when they make mistakes, is the very worst kind of policy to bring about any settlement of the disagreements which exists between this country and the people of India.
Earl WI NTERTON
I certainly do not complain in any way of the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) raising this question, and although I do not agree with any of the arguments he has used—in some cases he used exaggerated language—I say quite frankly that I consider it is a good thing that Indian questions should be raised in this House. Our Debates on Indian affairs are only too rare, and therefore I never complain when the hon. Member raises these matters from time to time, either in Debate or by means of questions. The hon. Member has referred to the somewhat delicate matter of the ban which has been placed by certain places of public entertainment in Edinburgh upon the entry of Asiatic and African persons. In regard to that I can only say that however much I regret circumstances, and I do most certainly regret them, they are not circumstances within the control of the Secretary of State for India or, indeed, as was made clear the other evening, within the control of the Secretary of State for Scotland, and I cannot do any more than leave the matter where it was after the Debate on the Adjournment the other night. Personally, I was glad to hear the expressions of opinion from both sides of the House deprecating what had been done. I agree with most of the speeches made on that occasion, although I perhaps agree with the speech made by the hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Dr. Shiels) less than with the speeches of the rest of his colleagues.
I turn from that to the main question raised by the hon. Member this afternoon. My first observation in reference to the question of the Bengal détenus and the special powers in operation there is that my Noble Friend the Secretary of State has never attempted to disguise the fact that these exceptional powers are in his opinion a regrettable necessity, but it is true to say that neither my Noble Friend nor the Government of India, nor any impartial observer of events in Bengal during the past few years, can regard them as other than necessary. The necessity for them has been abundantly proved. I must recall to the attention of the House once again—I can say very little fresh on this subject—the ascertainable facts—I use that phrase advisedly—on which these powers are 615 based. In the first place, in 1924, when they were first put into operation, there was and there had been for some time past an organised conspiracy in Bengal for the commission of revolutionary crime. The hon. Member spoke of one of these persons detained under these powers, Mr. Bose, as having been in prison for a political offence. I can assure him that no term could more incorrectly describe the offences for which that person has been detained. He is in prison for having broken the law in regard to revolutionary crime—
§ Earl WINTERTON
I do not intend to give way to the hon. Member at the moment. If he wishes to speak he can do so later on. The second fact which is ascertainable is that the Bengal Government and their police officers considered they were unable to guarantee law and order, and to prevent assassination on a widespread scale, unless they had powers to segregate persons who were responsible for organising and inciting this conspiracy. The segregation was two-fold. In the first place, it prevented them carrying out mischief which they would have undoubtedly carried out, with probably loss of life, and, in the second place, it prevented them from continuing to conspire together. The third ascertainable fact is that owing to the deep and noxious roots of this conspiracy the Bengal Government were convinced that if these men were tried by the ordinary processes of the law in open Court the lives of witnesses would be endangered, and the ends of justice defeated. Consequently, they took powers to arrest and confine, and control in certain other ways, the movements of any person reasonably believed to have. committed or preparing to commit or conspiring to commit any of certain scheduled offences under the existing penal code. This is subject to the scrutiny in each case of two Judges, who are to be satisfied that there is a lawful and sufficient cause for the arrest.
I have quoted almost the exact legal terms of the position in regard to them. I can only say, once again, that when I use the phrase "ascertainable facts" I mean that these facts were established 616 by the Government of Bengal in the first place, by the Government of India, and presumably were considered to have been established by Lord Olivier before he sanctioned the policy. I must say this. Unless the hon. Member, sitting as he does on the Front Opposition Bench, refuses to accept responsibility, which I think other members of his party do, for supporting the policy of the ex-Secretary of State for India in the Labour Government, I need say no more about the past. But I should like to be clear on that point, and I would gladly give way to the hon. Member if he desires to say anything. It was not clear from his speech whether he accepts the policy when it was put into operation by Lord Olivier. Up to now, hon. Members on the other side, including the right hon. and gallant Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood), have accepted the policy which Lord Olivier carried out as representing the policy of the Labour party.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
As so that I cannot say; but as the Noble Lord is anxious to know my own views, let me say that I should never support a policy of coercion. If I had the power I should not support a policy of coercion anywhere. I should apply remedial legislation to remove the grievances which appear to make coercion necessary.
§ Earl WINTERTON
I will not press the hon. Member any further. He has answered me courteously, but I gather that he differs from the majority of his party.
§ Earl WINTERTON
So far as the representatives of his party in another place are concerned, besides Lord Olivier, Lord Haldane and other members of the Labour party expressed agreement with the policy because they were members of the Government at the time. But what about the present and the future? I am afraid I can tell the hon. Member very little more than I have already told him in my answers to questions. I can give him the most recent figures I have, for which he asks. There are now 46 in gaol. compared with 70 three months ago, and 11 are in gaol under Regulation 3, compared with 16 three months ago. In addition, 99 are 617 under restraint in villages or in their homes. I have spoken of the regrettable necessity for these special processes, and I have said that my Noble Friend the Secretary of State has never concealed the fact that they are a regrettable necessity and, equally, that he was, and is, convinced that the powers are necessary. Let me paraphrase the, answer which I gave in reply to a question on 28th March of this year.
My answer contained a, copy of the statement made with the full authority of the Government of India and the sanction of the Secretary of State for India by Sir Alexander Muddiman in the Legislative Assembly on the 21st March. He said:The policy of the Government regarding those who have been detained under Regulation a, or the Bengal Criminal Law Amendment Act, in connection with the Bengal revolutionary conspiracy, has been and still is that the detention of no man should last longer than is essential to the interests of the public safety. The Government are convinced that a terrorist conspiracy is in active existence and that consequently it is not possible to take steps in the direction of the release of those about whom there is no reasonable doubt that they would utilise their liberty to resume their previous activities.He went on to say:They are, however, anxious to pursue as quickly as possible the gradual release of individuals whose conduct gives reason for hoping that they will not abuse their liberty. The Bengal Criminal Law Amendment Act provides for a considerable degree of elasticity in the treatment of those who are dealt with under it, and enables the Government to transfer from gaol to less strict forms of supervision persons whose past record and present conduct would not justify their unconditional release. Individuals of this class may be directed to reside in a particular village or in their own homes. The practical results of transferring men in this manner to village or home domicile are carefully watched, and tie Government are enabled to observe whether action taken is justified by events, and thus to determine the possibility of the further extension of such action.Sir Alexander Muddiman then went on to give what had been done under the Act, and in conclusion said:It must be understood that the practical results of this action, as exhibited in the conduct of the men thus placed in village or home domicile, require the constant attention of the Government. If it is ascertained that such men are reverting to terrorist conspiracy, the Government will not hesitate to deal with them again under their powers.618 One other point before I come to the particular case of Mr. Bose. The hon. Member may be surprised to learn that there was a certain amount of general consideration put forward with which I was in agreement, and with which most Members of the House were in agreement. Nobody likes any form of extra judicial power if it can be avoided, and neither my Noble Friend the Secretary of State nor the Government of India are anxious to have these powers a day longer than is necessary. There is one important historical aspect, and it is this. I wish I could persuade the hon. Member of this fact. If I could I should go away for my Whitsuntide holiday very much happier. These men are not there for nothing. They are not there for political crimes, but because they are guilty, up to the hilt, of taking part in operations which no hon. Member of this House would condone for a moment and which nobody in this country, except perhaps a lunatic, would condone for a moment. They are there for a crime which takes the form of assassination. Of that I am quite convinced, but I am afraid I shall not be able to convince the hon. Member. Lord Olivier is convinced, the late Viceroy is convinced, the present Viceroy is convinced, Lord Lytton is convinced, and I have no doubt that my predecessor in this House as Tinder-Secretary was also convinced. I have seen in practically every case what these men have been charged with, and the history of their connection with a particular crime for which they have been incarcerated. It is quite true that they have not been tried in open Court, and I have already given the reason for that. Had they been tried in open Court it is quite certain that the lives of witnesses could not have been guaranteed and that a great many people would have been afraid to come forward for fear of being murdered.
Let me say a few words about the historical aspect of this case. This revolutionary crime in Bengal—it is confined to a comparatively small area in India and has disappeared almost from the rest of India—is no new thing in Bengal. It has existed for a great many years past. Sometimes it has boiled up and at other times it has gone down. Someone may say, "Is it not a fact that it 619 has boiled up most under coercive measures, and that it has been less active when you have treated the people in the way that the hon. Gentleman would like them to be treated?" As a matter of fact, the exact opposite is the case. A number of people were interned during the war for taking part in revolutionary conspiracy, and in 1920 the then Viceroy, the then Secretary of State, Mr. Montagu, gave a general amnesty as a result of the passage of the Montagu-Chelmsford Act. So far from mending their ways, a number of them returned to their evil course—that of taking or attempting to take or threatening the lives of officials and private individuals. Several of the very people who were liberated in 1920 had to be reinterned in 1924. No impartial person looking at their record could fail to be quite certain that these people are revolutionary to their very bones.
The hon. Member spoke about Mr. Bose. Let me say at the outset that the fact that a man occupies an important position as the chief executive officer of the Calcutta Corporation does not determine that man's guilt or innocence. Whatever confidence the Calcutta Corporation might have in Mr. Bose, the members of that Corporation are not quite the reasonable and moderate people that the hon. Member suggested. I think he was paying them an extreme compliment in saying that they were moderate and reasonable, for they would be considered extreme even in some of the extremist districts in this country. The fact that they had confidence in Mr. Bose has really nothing whatever to do with the matter. Mr. Bose was imprisoned for having broken the law in regard to revolutionary crime. As to his release the circumstances are perfectly clear and there is no mystery about them. Mr. Bose's health was found to be unsatisfactory some time ago. While his health at that time was not such as, in the opinion of the Government, to justify his unconditional release, it was decided to make an offer by which he would be permitted to leave prison and reside under certain restraint for a certain period. Mr. Bose refused to accept that offer. I do not criticise him for doing so, for it was entirely his own affair. Consequently he was not released at that time.
620 Shortly afterwards, further investigation was made into the condition of his health, and it was found that he had not improved. I do not believe it is true to say that he is in a dying condition, but his health was not improving, and consequently the Government released him unconditionally. There is no mystery about it. They would have done exactly the same in the case of any other person, whether he occupied a high place or was lowly placed in private life. The Government would certainly not make any special arrangements because of the position which this gentleman occupies in private life. That is all there is about it. With regard to publishing the report of the doctor, I think it would be quite unusual. I have made some private inquiries in official circles in this country, and I understand that it would be quite unusual to publish the report of a medical officer when upon that report it has been decided to release any particular prisoner on the ground of his health. I do not know that even Mr. Bose would want the report published, but if he did I can see no reason for altering what is the usual procedure.
The next question I have to deal with relates to what happened at Kulakati. I am sorry to have to take up an uncompromising position, but I must refuse to agree to an independent inquiry, as I think it is wholly unnecessary. There was an inquiry into these matters by the Commissioner, the most important official in the district, and the report has been communicated to the Government of India. It is not intended to publish the report at present. Obviously, at the present time it would be quite improper to do so, because judicial proceedings are pending. What I will do is to recapitulate very shortly what occurred on this occasion. The events were very regrettable, undoubtedly, but my Noble Friend the Secretary of State, sees no reason in any way to doubt that the course which was taken by the authorities in the matter was the right course. What are the main facts of the case? This trouble arose, as so many other troubles do in India, not in the first instance from any action of the police, not from any coercive measures, but it arose from trouble between two rival bodies belonging to different religious communities. The Hindoos of the locality, on the 621 occasion of a religious festival on 2nd March, arranged to take a procession with song and music to a fair ground, where there is a Hindoo shrine that is the object of pilgrimages in the neighbourhood. It involved passing a Moslem prayer-house beside the road. The Moslems apparently objected to the procession passing their prayer-house, though it was not the time of morning or evening prayer, and they gathered in large numbers, led by a priest, to put their protest into action.
The Hindoo procession was halted some distance from the prayer-house, and attempts were made to reason with the excited crowd, many of whom carried, not "no arms of any kind," but sticks with iron ferrules. Anyone who has seen them, as I have seen them, knows that they are a very considerable weapon of defence. In addition to these sticks, they carried spears. I want the House to visualise the situation, which was one of the sort that the police are always having to deal with in India. The Indian police get little praise for their behaviour, but I am proud to say this on behalf of one of the most loyal and long-suffering bodies of men in the British Empire. Members of the Metropolitan Police are often commended for their conduct, but I would say, even in the presence of the Home Secretary, that the Indian police, on many occasions in India, show as much courage, discretion, tact and moderation as could be shown by the "A" Division of the Metropolitan Police in similar circumstances. These attempts to reason with the crowd, to get the people to cease from their provocative actions proved fruitless. As there seemed every likelihood of the small body of police available—there were 16 riflemen and two non-commissioned officers—being overwhelmed, the District Magistrate declared the assembly to be an unlawful one, and warned the crowd that unless they dispersed the police would fire.
On the prima facie evidence there is very little doubt that the district magistrate had to take drastic action to avoid the much greater loss of life that would have followed had the mobs got into conflict. Excited by the priest, who had been arrested by now, and by each other, the crowd yelled defiance, whereupon the district magistrate ordered one round each to be fired by the rifles. He believed 622 that if he did not do so his small force would be overwhelmed. Unfortunately in the din the order was misapprehended, and 37 rounds were fired by 14 rifles; 16 of the crowd were killed and 12 others wounded. I agree that it is to be regretted that this thing should have happened, but before anyone takes it upon himself to criticise the action of the police or the authorities he should await the result of the judicial proceedings which will probably follow. Until then I cannot say anything more.
The only other subject I want to mention is with regard to the Royal Commission. While the hon. Gentleman is quite entitled to put the question, I am equally entitled to say that I can really add nothing to what the Secretary of State has said in another place on more than one occasion and what I have repeated here on more than one occasion: and that is that it is impossible for me to make an announcement as to the date of the appointment or to add anything to what has already been said as to the conditions governing an acceleration of the date. I think the hon. Member said something about the composition of the Commission. As to that my Noble Friend would have regard to any views that might be expressed in any quarter of this House or in another place. He would consider those views when the time comes to make a submission to His Majesty as to the composition of the Commission, but until then it would be most unusual, and I think improper, to state in advance the names which are to be submitted to His Majesty.