§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for INDIA (Earl Winterton)
I beg to move "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
It will be for the convenience of the House if I explain the procedure which is necessitated by the provisions of the Government of India Act, 1919, and if the names of the Statutory Commission which was announced by the Prime Minister in the House on the 8th of November, are to be submitted to His Majesty in the near future. In the first place, in order to achieve this it is necessary to alter the provisions of the Government of India Act, and that is what this Bill does. In Section 84A of the Government of India Act the Statutory Commission is to be appointed "at the expiration of ten years," and this Bill proposes to substitute for those words the words "within ten years." In addition to that, under the provisions of the Act it will be necessary to ask Parliament to concur in the submission of names to His Majesty, and as announced in connection with Government business last week a Resolution to that effect will be tabled by myself and discussed next Friday. But it is not possible to Table the Resolution until this Bill has been passed and received the Royal Assent. The Resolution will be in the form that the House is asked to concur in the submission of names to His Majesty. It is not for me to attempt to forestall your ruling, Sir, when the Resolution comes under discussion, but I think it safe to assume that on that Resolution it will be possible to discuss not only the composition of the Commission, that is to say its personnel and its procedure—which will entirely follow that laid down in the Act—but it will also be possible to discuss its projected procedure, the incidence of the expenses of the Commission and other kindred matters.
On this Bill, as I submit, a very narrow point is at issue, namely, whether the 1634 date in the Act of 1919 shall be altered so as to allow of a Commission being appointed within the next two years, rather than in December, 1929, as it would have to be appointed if the Act were not so altered. The announcement made in both Houses and in India to the effect that a Commission was going to be appointed has happily met with no opposition. The opposition, of which I shall not speak on this occasion, is directed solely to the form of the Commission, and, indeed, until the hon. Member for North Battersea (Mr. Saklatvala) put down an Amendment on the Paper yesterday, I was not aware that there was any opposition to this Bill concerning the alteration of the date from any quarter in the House. It is therefore not necessary, in view of the very narrow provisions of the Bill, to say much in moving its Second Reading, but I would make one or two brief observations. In the first place, I would point out to the House that there is no particular magic in the date which was put into the Government of India Act. The Act, as it stands to-day, provides that a Commission is to be appointed at the expiration of ten years from the passing of the Act. That period was selected primarily in order to test the completed labours of three successive Legislative Assemblies. In fact, if the Commission is appointed—if the names are submitted to His Majesty within the next week or so—the time table will be this: the third Assembly under the Government of India Act will complete its period, and the third Parliament will come to an end, some time in the Spring of 1929. That will be at a time when the Commission will probably have finished taking its evidence and, I presume, before it has written its report. In that way, I can claim that this Bill, though making a change in the letter of the parent Act, does not affect its spirit.
Only one other point arises to which I feel I ought to call attention. The Joint Select Committee of both Houses—which is recognised in this country and in India as being unsurpassed in authority as an interpreter of the policy of the Act—recommended that there should be no material change in the constitution within 10 years. On that point, I have a two-fold answer. In the first place, that particular recommendation had reference to an earlier recommendation of 1635 the Montagu-Chelmsford Report to the effect that after five years' experience of the working of the Act, proposals should be invited for modification in the direction of transferring subjects which had previously been reserved where it was considered necessary to do so, and also, if necessary, of re-transferring to the reserved side subjects that had been transferred. In effect, the Joint Select Committee did not accept that recommendation. It was made clear at the time of the passing of the Act that it was not going to be accepted, and it has not been carried out. The second part of my answer—as to any suggestion that in any respect this alteration would affect the spirit of the Act of 1919—is that, in fact, no change is likely to be made, as the result of the alteration of the date, until well after the 10 years' period has passed. It may be contemplated that the Statutory Commission will not report until, at least, well on in the summer of 1929, although I hesitate to make a prophecy. Presumably, the Parliament of that day would not be asked to deal with any alteration in the Act until the following year, which would be 1930, or more than 10 years after the passing of the original Act. In conclusion, I would only add that I think it has been fairly clear from statements which have been made from time to time by my Noble Friend in another place, or by myself speaking at this Box, that in certain circumstances it was intended to accelerate the date of the Statutory Commission. For example, my Noble Friend, on 30th March last, speaking in another place, said:I hazard the suggestion that 10 or even five years hence it will have become difficult to recognise that a choice between 1927, 1928 or 1929 as the date for the initiation of this inquiry should have been one to arouse grave controversy. However that may be, I decline, as I have stated, once before to make myself the slave of a date.I myself, speaking in this House on 17th June of this year said:I do not think the Committee could really ask me to make any announcement on the question of the Commission except to say that the interval remaining before the time when under the Act the Commission has to be appointed is now so rapidly diminishing that the question of the precise date on which the Commission will assemble is fast becoming one in which, 1636 one might say, matters of practical convenience bulk as largely as matters of policy."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th June, 1927; cols. 1448–1449, Vol. 207.]It is clear from those two quotations what we had in mind at that time. The Governor-General and the Prime Minister in this House and my Noble Friend in another place, have fully explained the reasons which have led His Majesty's Government to decide that a Commission should be appointed now. I need not elaborate that statement be-cause I am confident that few, if any, in this House or in India would object to the acceleration. I am equally sure that it will be for the convenience of everyone, and I submit that in accordance with the rules of Debate arguments for and against the names which my Noble Friend is going to submit to His Majesty should be reserved for the Debate on Friday on the Resolution which will ask the House of Commons to agree to the submission of those names.
§ Mr. RAMSAY MacDONALD
I rise to support the Motion for the Second Reading of the Bill which has been moved by the Under-Secretary of State for India. As he quite truly said, the issue raised by the Bill is very narrow and very specific. Unless this Bill is passed the House cannot possibly recommend His Majesty to appoint the Commission which has recently been announced. I believe the necessity for this Bill arises really from a fault in the drafting of the original Act. This House, I believe, never meant to tie itself down in the way in which it finds itself tied down and it is in order that the Commission may be appointed two years earlier than the time provided for by the wording of the existing law, that this Bill has become necessary. That, I understand, is the only point before the House and the question at issue of the two years is surely perfectly plain. When the Montagu-Chelmsford reforms, as they were called, got legislative effect, everybody recognised that we were taking a step, concerning which we would like to experiment before finally committing ourselves to the system embodied in those proposals. There were certain proposals in the Montagu-Chelmsford reforms which were very interesting as constitutional and legislative experiments, but they were just as doubtful in the matter of their possible 1637 success, as they were interesting as experiments. I think what the House in-tended to do was to secure that the experiment should have a sufficiently long run before any revision took place, so as to enable the House to be enlightened as to the practical working of those reforms.
In supporting the Second Reading of this Bill, I submit that if we had experience for the next 20 years of the Montagu-Chelmsford reforms we would not add one new particle to our knowledge of their practicability. Their operation has enabled us to see where they are working and where they are not working. At any rate, it enables us to appoint a Commission to inquire into them and to make that inquiry sufficiently thorough to guide the House in any further changes they may seek to make. Therefore, I think the Government are very wise in asking us to pass this Bill and to anticipate the period which is at present the statutory period. I find that as early as 1924 we went into this matter to see if, even then, we were not in a position to present a report to the House on the subject. Very unfortunate things happened in India in that year, which made it quite impossible to approach this question with any prospect of success and we had to leave it alone. Now I think the time has come for an inquiry. I would like to say one word in conclusion. In supporting this Bill we are in no way tying our hands in regard to the Debate on Friday next when, I understand, a Resolution is to be moved for the appointment of the Commission itself. Then we shall have to express our views and, in agreeing with the Government that the time has now come to appoint a Commission, the House I hope will recognise that we are not in any way anticipating the position we may take up on Friday regarding the Commission itself. With that explanation, I propose as my hon. Friends behind propose to support the Resolution which has just been moved.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I rise on behalf of the party which I represent to support the remarks of the Leader of the Opposition. We, of course, reserve any further remarks which we may have to make on the general question until the Debate on the Resolution on Friday. It 1638 is quite obvious that this short Bill is a necessity and, as such, we desire to support it.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
The Government seem to be fated constitutionally always to do the worst thing in the worst possible way. I wonder why it is that they have only just discovered that it is necessary before appointing a Commission to pass this legislation? Why is it we have never heard of it before? It is simply carelessness, but it is unfortunate carelessness, because we are now discussing a Bill which, as the Leader of the Opposition has said, ought to be absolutely non-controversial, and we are discussing it in an atmosphere which could not possibly be more controversial. It is not merely that we are passing an amending Bill to the Government of India Act, which enables us to do the sensible thing a little earlier, but we are doing it with the knowledge before us of the use the Government intend to make of it. It is impossible, therefore, to discuss a Measure of this sort without appreciating the intentions of the Government and the results of this action which they are about to take. I quite appreciate that on Friday next we shall be in a better position to discuss the composition of this lamentable Commission and its operations, but we are bound to have that at present before our minds in discussing this Bill to-day, and I would like to ask the Noble Lord who has introduced this Bill why he has not to-day replied to the question to which he alleged he was going to reply to me, and why he has not told the House who is going to pay for this Commission?
§ Earl WINTERTON
I expressly said I would reply when dealing with the Resolution. In the speech I have just made I mentioned specifically that I was going to deal with that on the Resolution: I could not deal with it to-day, as it would be out of order.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I was consulted about this matter, and I let it be known that it would not be in order to discuss that on this Bill, but that the whole matter would be open on Friday.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
I hope we may get some explanation from the Noble Lord on Friday as to who is going to pay. May I refer to one other point. How glad we should have been to see a Bill of this amending nature brought in only eight months ago! It seems to me that the time for the appointment of this Commission has been most unfortunately chosen. For years we prayed for the day when this Commission would be appointed. We wait until we have a valuable contribution to literature by Miss Mayo circulated. We have the Commission appointed when everybody's mind is full of that book. I do not think that is precisely the atmosphere I would have chosen for a Commission which is to decide on the future government of India. There is one word more about that. We have always been hoping that when this Commission was appointed, that when the day came for judging of the results of these 10 years, and for framing a truce between two great peoples, we might get a settlement made by people who could deliver the goods, by plenipotentiaries who would deal as equals round a table. Instead, we are being offered a Commission which will report in due course, first of all to the Government of India and then to the Government of this country.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
That is just the point which will be open for discussion on Friday. It will be open to hon. Members then to disagree entirely with the methods of the Government in appointing the Commission. We really cannot go into that on this Bill.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
I rather gathered that the Ruling on this Bill was to be pretty strict, and I am quite prepared to meet your views, but I do submit we cannot very well discuss any Measure in this House without at the same time discussing the results of that Measure. I would point out that the Noble Lord, in introducing this Bill, told the House that, as we had already been informed by the Prime Minister, the Viceroy and others of the procedure proposed, therefore it was unnecessary for him to mention it in this House. But I submit to you, Mr. Speaker, that merely by that reference he has enabled us to discuss those questions which were raised in the Viceroy's statement, the 1640 Prime Minister's statement, and in the letter of the right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon).
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I do not think so, because it would be possible for the House to debate entirely on Friday the proposition of the Government or to substitute another proposition for it, and we cannot have that discussion on this Bill. This Bill merely enables the House to consider the other matter later on.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
Surely it enables the House, or the Government rather, to do something, and we have the right to discuss the use to which they intend to put that enabling power.
§ Colonel WEDGW00D
We will take this as an exceptional case, and that it will not be a precedent for other Measures introduced by the Government. In this case we are, confined to discussing the date, and nothing but the date. I say the date is the wrong date, and that, although up to now it was eminently desirable to hasten the appointment of this. Commission, certain things have transpired making it most undesirable that it should be appointed now, making the season wrong, the method which the Government have chosen unfortunate, and as the use to which they intend to put this. Measure is likely to do more harm to, Anglo-Indian relations than anything, we think, the right hon. Gentleman's Government have yet done, we should do much better in refusing to appoint any such Commission to go into affairs in India until we have sure and certain knowledge that Indian representatives in their Assembly welcome this change in the Government of India Act. Without knowing that the other party to the bargain approves also of this expediting of the appointment of the Commission, I think we should be doing wrong in giving-our approval to this change in the Government of India Act.
§ Mr. SAKLATVALA
I beg to move, to leave out the word "now," and, at the end of the Question, to add the words "upon this day three months."
When the Noble Lord was introducing they Bill, he showed a little surprise that I should be prepared to offer opposition 1641 to the Bill as it stands. While I admit that the issue is a very narrow one, I do not believe anyone of us can deny that the significance of the Bill is a much wider one than the mere wording of the Bill indicates, and I think the Noble Earl, when he made the sweeping assertion that it is merely shifting the date, that there is no opposition in this country or in India, misinformed himself as well as the House, and that there is bitter opposition in responsible Indian circles capable of expressing themselves against this Bill. If the right hon. Member chooses to test the veracity of his statement here, he may well follow the suggestion of my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) and test the introduction of such a Bill in the Indian Assembly. He would soon find out that there would be furious and almost unanimous opposition to the step being taken now.
I may explain why this Bill, which looks so innocent and harmless, which, even in the characteristic Parliamentary hypocritical manner, looks so generous and charitable, is merely a trap for the people of India. If this Bill had been introduced in 1923 or 1924 it would have had a different aspect—a genuine repentance on the part of this House for passing the India Act. If it were made to stand over till the end of the period, people would be more content to believe that, after all, the British Parliament had made a sorry mess of the job in 1919. But to introduce the Bill at this stage is to make an attempt to deceive the Indians and the world that India is about to obtain a measure of freedom which the British Parliament is expediting. The moving of the Bill to-day in the form in which it is moved means a sort of justification, a sort of expression of success of all that has happened since 1919 up to now; whereas the same Bill moved in 1923 or 1924 would have been a frank avowal to this House of the complete failure of what was enacted in 1919, and the desire to eradicate that failure. To-day it does not mean that. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition is supporting the Bill, I suppose, taking it as a non-contentious Bill. I have no right to speak in his name, but perhaps he will permit me to remind him of one incident. I remember the statement of the Indian deputation 1642 that had come over from India in those days, an official, weighty deputation, to deal with this Bill. The one point which in those days I frankly admit they regretted was that the present Leader of the Opposition was not in the House. Not only that but knowing some of his views at that time, our Indian comrades from abroad had gone to the length of making a special petition and a representation to give the right hon. Gentleman a seat on that Commission, and they still believe that, in not acceding to that wish, a great blunder was made, because he was at that time full of certain views and ideas which would have been helpful.
Members of this House are under the impression that a desire was expressed by the Indians themselves for an earlier appointment of the Commission. I think the House is mixing up two things. The Indians greatly desire, not a Commission that would justify the India Act, but a sort of round-table conference to clear the air, to dissipate some of the views which so-called British rulers of India are holding about India and Indians, and not the appointment of a statutory Commission under the Act, as if the Act had operated normally and had now reached the stage which to-day's Bill intends to convey to the world. There are no issues which can be explored with any usefulness by any such Commission, and therefore to expedite such a Commission is merely enacting a farce earlier.
The issue is perfectly clear. Is Great Britain determined to carry on an antiquated, savage system of rule of another country and another people, or is Great Britain prepared to let the people of every country manage their own affairs in a friendly way or even a hostile way if they choose so to do? I have said it previously, and I do not think to-day's Bill destroys the position, that there is no such thing as Committees and Commissions being appointed, granting stage by stage freedom to conquered nations from their conquerors. Other nations should be free to do what they like, or the conquerors should sit tight on their necks. The early appointment of the Commission does not get rid of the belief that the only purpose of the Government is to put a hypocritical cloak on the system of tyranny that exists in India—a tyranny which, in the name of commonsense and justice, ought to be abolished as quickly as possible. I 1643 suggest to the Government that they should be bold enough to withdraw the Bill, and that if they are not afraid of the truth they should appoint, not a statutory Commission under the Act, but an independent Commission composed entirely of Indians. Let those Indians come over to this country and cross-examine you and listen to your witnesses and advise this House as to what is the exact position. The Bill precludes all such chances of preliminary negotiations and hastens the appointment of a Commission which is hated by the Indians, which is not required by them, which is only serving a dishonest and hypocritical purpose of Imperialism and is not intended to advance the freedom of a conquered country which you have no right to govern. I therefore move the rejection of the Bill.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I beg to second the Amendment.
I want to state one objection that I have to the Bill. I want frankly to admit that, as far as the party of which I have the honour to be a member is concerned, its almost unanimous wish is that the Bill should be passed. As far as I am personally concerned, I hope it never will be a crime to hold an opinion different from that which the great mass of my party may have. I second the Amendment because I think the bringing forward of the date of the Bill is bad tactics from the point of view of India and of the Government of this country. The Government are ante-dating the Commission because they want the Commission to be set up now. I suggest that equally as important as the setting up of the Commission is the Government which sets up that Commission. One cannot separate the Commission from the persons who appoint it. I confess frankly that I have never spoken in a foreign affairs or an Indian Debate before. Possibly one does not give these questions a great deal of thought, and possibly there is a lack of opportunity to 1644 do so or a greater lack than that of some of one's colleagues. But, looking at the matter from the Labour point of view, I would emphasise the fact that here is a Government ante-dating the appointment of a Commission and that if the appointment had not been ante-dated a General Election was bound to occur in the meantime.
What would happen at such an election is to me plain, namely, that whatever may be the fate of other parties there is only one fate awaiting the present Government. Even the most optimistic of the Government supporters know that their party can come back only in very reduced numbers, and that the new Government would therefore not control the House with the same overwhelming numbers as the present Government can command. My point is that a General Election must occur before the date appointed under the first Act. Therefore, if a change of Government were to take place after the election what would happen? After all, a Government stands in relation to its Colonies and Dependencies as it stands in relation to this country. A Government that stands low in the estimation of its own country must in the nature of things stand low in the estimation of the Colonies and Dependencies. If that be the case, it can be said that there is no Government standing lower in the estimation of the masses of the people than the present Government now stands. Therefore, it seems to be utter folly for a Government that has earned the contempt of the masses to undertake the appointment of the Commission when no one can have any faith in the appointers of it. A person comes along and makes an appointment. That person has a record criminal and despicable. Who can have faith in such a person who makes any appointment?
We are asked to have faith in this Commission. It would have been much better to have waited until after the next General Election. This Government has outlived its mandate. It is appointing this Commission and ante-dating the appointment for no other reason than that it knows there will be too great a risk in waiting until the proper date. It wants its friends on the Commission now; it wants its lackeys, and it has got them. Its servants are to be appointed; its gillies are going to do its work. My 1645 opinion, quite frankly, is that the Government, having lost the confidence of the country, having lost the faith of the great mass of the people, have lost the faith of our Dependencies and Colonies. It would have been much better to have waited until the General Election and until the Government had received a new mandate on a new Government had taken its place. Then there could have been appointed a Commission which would have held justly the confidence of ourselves at home and of the great Indian people abroad.
§ Miss WILKINSON
I want to oppose the appointment of this Commission at this date for a reason that was briefly suggested by the right hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood). It may seem quite a trivial matter, but such an appointment is unfortunate at a time when a certain book has been published. I want to suggest that such a situation and such an atmosphere have been created by that book in India and in this country, that it is most unfortunate that the proposal for the Commission should come forward at this time. Every Member of Parliament—this has been duly noted in India—has received a copy of that book.
§ Miss WILKINSON
In that case, if Members on the Government Benches have not received their copies, my case is all the stronger. It is quite evident that the people who distributed the copies of this book without any name attached to the delivery and straight from the publishers, felt that they had no need whatever to distribute it among Members on the Government Benches. The books have been distributed among Members of the Opposition. The book I am referring to is "Mother India." There was a meeting held in London yesterday at which there were present a very large number of influential women called together by one of the large women's societies. I was amazed at a body like that being so bitterly anti-Indian as a result of that book. In fact, when one of the Labour women present tried to put the point of view of Indian opinion, she was actually hissed in a gathering which included one Duchess, several Viscountesses—[Laughter]. I am glad I 1646 am managing to amuse hon. Members opposite. One is at least glad to receive sufficient of their attention. I would point out, however, that these matters, though in a House like this, several thousand miles remote from India, they may be a subject of mild jokes, are regarded very desperately by 300,000,000 of the King's subjects. I would therefore suggest that the subject be treated with something like the gravity that it deserves. At that meeting, where, as I say, every kind of women's cause was represented, the atmosphere showed clearly how terrible, from the Indian point of view, have been the results of that book. There is a general feeling that the book was not written without Government connivance, to say the least of it.
§ Colonel HOWARD-BURY
On a point of Order. Has this book anything to do with the Bill before the House?
§ Miss WILKINSON
I merely want to suggest, on the question of time, that this book has been written and that it is generally believed that the writer, an American journalist, received a great deal of official encouragement in the writing of the book. I propose to raise that matter more fully if I have the opportunity. Merely on the question of time, the Government has chosen its opportunity well from its own point of view, and those who are concerned with the publicity department both of the Government of this country and the Government of India have laid their plans well in order to create the atmosphere that they want. I suggest, however, that from the point of view of the position of those who care for all the working masses of India, this is not the time for the appointment of the Commission after that book has been published, and therefore I oppose the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ Mr. WALLHEAD
I rise for the purpose of supporting briefly the Amendment, and I do so because I believe the Government have played their cards very badly indeed. [Laughter.] I mean badly from their own point of view. We 1647 know too much now for what this Bill is to be used. That is the main point of my objection to the Bill. We know the use to which the Government propose to put the Bill. All the world knows; India knows. If it is desired in India, the best the Government could do would be to withdraw the Bill entirely and bring in fresh proposals. I believe there is some truth in the statement made by my hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan). He stated that the Government are pressing this matter forward now because they wish to obtain the control of the Commission that they appoint. They can see that if they waited another two years for the expiry of the statutory period, they would not be in the same position as they are to-day to control that Commission. I believe their control of the Commission will be bad. It is already proved up to the hilt that that Commission cannot possibly succeed, and it is because I think the Opposition is making a mistake in giving the Government facilities for proceeding with this Bill that I support the Amendment.
§ Mr. SCRYMGEOUR
I do not wish to give a silent vote on this question, and I confirm the statement made by the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. Wallhead) that it is the situation which has been previously presented by the Government that constitutes a very strong ground here, as well as in India, for the rejection of this Bill. I reckon that if we, on this side, are substantially with the feeling in India, which is decidedly pronounced, a feeling of resentment regarding the composition of the Commission, then our duty logically should be to reject this Bill now.
§ Mr. STEPHEN
To my mind, the Measure might be regarded either as an act of generosity or with suspicion. It all depends on what is going to follow, and from what has already taken place it appears to me that the Government so far have not been very successful in handling the situation. It is quite evident already that there is a certain amount of suspicion with regard to the altering of the date. There is not a feeling in India and among many of the people in this country that the Government are absolutely disinterested with regard to the alteration of the date. It is very unfortunate indeed that there has 1648 been this atmosphere of suspicion, and I say without the slightest doubt that the Government themselves are responsible for the creation of that atmosphere. I would like to suggest that the Minister should take the opportunity now presented to him to make a more definite statement that the Government are going to be far more anxious than they have shown themselves so far to be to take a big step towards satisfying the aspirations of the Indian people. The Government have laid themselves open to the objection that they were anxious to have the appointment of this Commission and that the sole reason for introducing this Measure was that they should have the appointment of the Commission.
Apart from a very small section of the constituencies of this country, the Government have lost all respect on the part of the people of this country, and I think there is much to show that the Government's reason for altering the date was simply this attempt on the part of the Conservative party to have a certain amount of influence with regard to the developments that would have been necessary if the Act had been allowed to fulfil its natural operation and the Commission had had to be appointed later. If this alteration in the date is going to be successful and for the good of India, I hope the Minister and the Government will take the opportunity of showing that they are coming to the consideration of Indian problems with a new heart and with a greater desire to satisfy those aspirations of the Indian people. At the present time there are in India people in gaol for no real reason at all, people who have never been into Court, and I suggest to the Government that along with this Measure there should be the release of all those political prisoners in India, thus creating an atmosphere of good will which would enable us to believe that something of real value might come from the alteration of the date and the appointment of the Commission.
§ Mr. MAXTON
There seems to be a disposition in the House to rush the discussion of this Measure, and I think that is quite a wrong way of approach to this very serious subject, because while it is true that there will be a discussion on the general composition and work of the Commission on Friday, this, after all, is the effective bit of legislation. I agree 1649 completely with the hon. Member for North Battersea (Mr. Saklatvala) and the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) that the Government are making a most unholy mess of their whole approach to dealing with this Indian situation. I believe that they have got Indian opinion absolutely wrong, and I know that they have certainly got British working-class opinion absolutely wrong. That may not be a very serious consideration to right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite, but it would be a serious consideration to any Government who really were genuinely anxious to put the condition of India on a footing that would be a pride to the British people instead of on a footing that makes us hang our heads for shame.
But I must say to my hon. Friends who have moved and supported the Amendment that I personally hope they will not push it to the Division Lobby, because I do not conceive that it is the function of the Opposition or of any section of the Opposition to endeavour to take the Government out of the messes into which they put themselves. When I see them in a position such as they are in to-day, my whole desire and anxiety is to push them further in, so that as soon as possible the whole country will wake up to the realisation, which has been very forcibly impressed upon those of us who have an opportunity of observing them from day to day, but which is not so obvious to those who live more remote from the House of Commons, that this particular group of men who are managing the affairs of the country to-day have no real, genuine desire for the well-being of the citizens of either their own homeland or any part of the Empire, including the great nation of India, which has been steadily misruled by right hon. Gentlemen in this Government and their corresponding predecessors of the past. Disgraceful and shocking has been their whole attitude towards the Indian people, who have been regarded merely as serfs to pour wealth into the laps of British capitalists.
Mr. DEPUTY - SPEAKER (Captain FitzRoy)
I am sure that the hon. Member realises that he is going far beyond the question now before the House.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I will finish very speedily. I believe the worst feature of 1650 all is the attempt to push forward the date of this Commission, so that it will be discussed throughout India when there is great public excitement and when the Commission will probably be met by antagonism and boycott, and witnesses refusing to give evidence, and all the difficulties that make this present time more ineffective than any other time during the two or three years that lie ahead. Their first duty before introducing this Bill was to have taken a wide review of Indian public opinion, to have consulted all representative Indian sections before announcing their Commission, to have found out what the Indian commercial classes wanted, what the Indian working classes wanted, and to have endeavoured in some way to introduce this Measure at a time when they had the maximum of support instead of, as is the case to-day, at a time when they have the maximum of antagonism. I hope the Government will proceed, and I hope the result will be their very speedy downfall.
§ Question, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House will immediately resolve itself into the Committee on the Bill.—[Earl Winterton.]
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I really must protest against this Motion. I have taken no part in the discussion, and I was prepared to vote for the Second Reading of the Bill, but I have not heard of any arrangement made through the usual channels. A Bill like this should not be taken immediately, and may I point out that the private Member of this House has certain rights? He may wish to put down Amendments. It is a bad principle to rush the Bill in this way, and I protest against it, and hope the noble Lord will not persist in his Motion. I was prepared to support him, and I have a right to ask him not to rush the proceedings.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
Surely there are other days. We are not going to die today, and I hope there will be no undue rushing of this Bill.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Earl WINTERTON
I do not think any difficulty need arise. There is a very 1651 small point at issue which was supported officially by hon. Members on the benches above the Gangway by their own leaders, and in these circumstances I thought it was reasonable to take it to-day; but I have had private assurances from the Leader of the Opposition and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury that it would meet the wishes of the Leader of the Opposition to take it to-morrow. The Government are prepared to take it to-morrow, but I hope the Bill will be passed through all its stages to-morrow so that we may take the Resolution on Friday. There has to be a Royal Commission signifying His Majesty's Assent before we can take the Resolution, and it is desirable that the Resolution, on which the real debate will arise, should be taken, on Friday.
§ Mr. MacDONALD
There is no doubt about this. I am supporting this Bill; I hope the House is under no misapprehension about that. I am sure it was an oversight, as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury knows, when a Resolution like this is moved, that at any rate the Opposition is always warned of the fact, and although I am supporting the Bill, and will continue to support the Bill right through every stage, I do expect to have notice. No notice was given to me, however, and I was taken by surprise when the noble Lord moved his Motion. I, therefore, hope he will not proceed now.
§ Earl WINTERTON
I am obliged to the Leader of the Opposition, and I apologise to him; and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion I have just made.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for To-morrow.—[Earl Winterton.]