§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for INDIA (Earl Winterton)
I beg to moveThat this House concurs in the submission to His Majesty of the names of the following persons, namely, Sir John Simon, Viscount Burnham, Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal, Mr. Cadogan, Mr. Walsh, Colonel Lane Fox, and Mr. Attlee to act as a Commission for the purposes of Section 84A of the Government of India Act.Before I come to the general subject matter of the Resolution, I should like to reply to a point that was raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) in regard to the cost of this Commission. He asked me 10 days ago if I could state on whom the incidence of the cost would fall, and I promised to give him a reply in the course of this Debate. The answer to his question is that under the Government of India Act the cost is borne by the revenues of India, but His Majesty's Government have decided to make a contribution of £20,000 to the cost of the Commission.
Anyone standing in my place and moving this Resolution must feel a sense of responsibility and must feel that it is his earnest endeavour to avoid saying anything which could exacerbate any feelings which may have been aroused in India by the form of the Commission. I hope and believe that the effect of the Secretary of State's speech in another place yesterday, and the speeches which will be made from this Bench to-day will be to allay apprehensions in India so far as those apprehensions were based upon honest doubt as to the procedure of the Commission and will present the matter in a more favourable light, although the Viceroy's announcement, in my opinion, contained full and generous recognition of India's legitimate claims.
I think at the outset it is necessary that two cardinal points in this matter should be grasped and appreciated, that is to say, if common ground is to be reached between His Majesty's Government and their critics, though it is not easy to divide even these two principles into two separate conceptions. The first of these is that upon Parliament lies the respon- 2216 sibility and the ultimate decision upon the issues to be raised by this inquiry, a responsibility which it can neither share with nor hand over to any other authority. The second point is that the composition of the Commission and every detail of the method contemplated for its inquiry, in fact the whole of the statement made in this House by the Prime Minister on 8th November and by the Secretary of State in another place, form one integral whole which stands or falls together.
May I, in dealing with these two points, first of all ask the House to take its mind back to the circumstances under which the Act of 1919, commonly known as the Montagu-Chelmsford Act, was passed. It was passed without a Division in this House with the assent of all parties I am not quite sure, but I think it was passed nemine contradicente. At the time of its passage there were Indians who repudiated the preamble of the Act and denied the right of Parliament to determine the Constitution under which India should be governed. Advocates of this point of view demanded at that time, and still demand, That the plenary responsibility for the peace and good government, the moral and material progress of British India, which was directly assumed by the Crown in 1858, after many previous years of de jure and indirect exercise, should be abruptly discarded in all but form. Whatever the future may have in store, that is not a tenable conception today for those who accepted the Act of 1919, and, as I have already said, that Act was at the time of its passage accepted and has been since supported in principle by all parties in the House. Indeed, individual repudiation of the Act has been confined to a very few members in this House, either those who are here at the present time or have been members in the past. Parliament, I respectfully submit, would be doing not a right but a wrong thing by divesting itself of its responsibility at this stage by in fact repudiating its duty under the Act.
There is, I think, a great deal of what I can only call falsified history in regard to the situation the British found when first they went to India and when first they assumed responsibility for governing any part of that country. It is 2217 suggested by these writers of what I describe as false history that we found in India at that time a unitary system of government. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is not, indeed, going too far to say, as my hon. Friend said in another place yesterday, that we saved India at the time from going into a welter of anarchy, and, when we assumed this responsibility, we assumed it as trustees, for the present and for the future, of the Indian people, especially as trustees for the various minorities of that country, religious minorities, minorities of people who as the result of the Indian system were subjected to a degraded standard of life because of the conditions imposed upon them by custom, and that trusteeship has been upon our shoulders all the time that we have been in India. As I understand the position, by the declaration of 1917, and by the Act of 1919 which implemented that declaration, we stated clearly and emphatically—when I say "we" I am not speaking of any particular Government; I am speaking of the people in this country, through the Government of the day and with the support of all parties of the day—that we were prepared gradually to hand over that trusteeship to the Indians themselves as and when they were in a position to exercise it with due regard to the interests of all concerned.
Attempts have been made—I do not want to get too wide of the Resolution I am proposing, but it is necessary to refer to this matter—to draw a comparison between the conditions prevailing in India and the conditions prevailing, for example, in Ireland or Egypt. I believe anyone with any knowledge of those three countries will say such a comparison would be profoundly fallacious. Both Egypt and South Ireland are far more homogeneous than the great sub-Continent of India has ever been. Let me give only two examples of that. If you examine the situation in Egypt you will not find that the felaheen of Egypt, the ordinary peasant of that country, has the cringing awe in the presence of others of his own country that the depressed classes in India, for example, have in the presence of a Brahmin or high caste Hindu. Theoretically, at any rate, in a country 2218 like Egypt, where the predominant religion is that of Islam, everyone is equal before the religious law. Again, take the case of Southern Ireland. I do not think that there has ever been in the history of Southern Ireland such bitterness between Catholics and Protestants as is to be found between Hindus and Mohammedans in many parts of Southern India. I say that with no intention to move Indian feeling, because in a debate of this kind, where really, if I may say so, very high matters are being discussed, we must, at the very outset, face facts and be prepared to come to a reasonable decision.
Having to the best of my ability explained the undoubted legal and constitutional position, I come to the question of the composition and probable procedure of the Commission itself. In considering that, we ought, rightly and properly, in the first place, to consider what the intentions of the framers of the Act of 1919 were, and what the intentions of Parliament were when they passed that Act in regard to the composition of the Commission. The Act is silent on the point. It merely lays down that Members are to be selected with the concurrence of Parliament. My noble Friend in another place yesterday, speaking not so much as the Secretary of State for India, but as a great constitutional lawyer, hazarded the opinion that what Parliament had in mind was a Commission of the composition which is laid down in my Resolution. It will not have escaped the attention of the Members of the House, if they read the Debate, that there was a very striking confirmation of that statement from a distinguished and Noble Lord who held high office in the Government of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aberavon (Mr. MacDonald), and who was himself an ex-Viceroy of India, Lord Chelmsford. He agreed with Lord Birkenhead in the latter's view—[Interruption.]The Leader of Opposition says, "so did Lord Olivier" That had escaped my notice. I was more concerned with Lord Chelmsford's view because he was joint author of the Montagu-Chelmsford Report, and was Viceroy at the time. Obviously, it is very desirable, and that must, at any rate, have been in the mind of Parliament when the Act was passed, that the Commission should not be unwieldy in 2219 numbers and that Members, though necesarily differing in their outlook towards the Indian problem, arising from differences in their political views, should be moved by the same fundamental conception of the duty which the Act of 1919 laid upon them.
I ask the House to consider this question: Would a mixed Commission satisfy those two considerations? Before I proceed to discuss that, I should like to say a word or two about a proposal which has been made in some quarters for one or two representative Indians on the Commission. No Indian or European who knows India could for one moment suppose that two Indian gentlemen, of whatever position or intellectual attainments, could possibly represent all the various political, religious, racial and economic factors which go to make up British India. Such an idea is indeed, fantastic, and, if they were not representative, of what posssible value could they be? I put this question with great deliberation, because, as I say, there have been suggestions outside that one or two Indians, at any rate, should have been put on the Commission. They would not satisfy Indian opinion; that is made clear from the very start. They could do no more to aid the Commission in its findings than will be done by their numerous fellow-countrymen, who at all stages of the Commission's work will assist them with evidence and advice. They could not, in my opinion, do as much to influence the Commission to their point of view as will the properly accredited representatives of the Indian Legislatures, who will have every opportunity, as I shall show later in my speech and as, indeed, has already been made plain by the Viceroy, of presenting and emphasising their case. I would say with confidence, no one in this House or in India would be satisfied with one or two Indians.
Let us turn to the other question, a proposal which on the face of it has more to commend it,—although I think I shall be able to show that it was rightly rejected,—than the proposal for one or two representative Indians. That is the proposal of the mixed Commission. I do not know whether the House is aware that at different times during the period since the reforms have been in operation in India the following separate Indian 2220 interests have successfully demanded separate recognition in some or all of the Legislatures. I should like to quote the list to the House: Hindus, non-Brahmin Hindus, Mohammedans, Sikhs, Christians, Landholders, representatives of commerce and industry, university graduates, Labour, the depressed classes, the cotton trade, Aborigines and the inhabitants of the backward tracts. Supposing for the sake of argument that one deleted six of these interests, and let only six representatives sit on this mixed Commission which has been advocated, would it be easy to find a single representative who would command the confidence of the component parts of each of the six remaining groups? Would one Mohammedan, one Hindu, one non-Brahmin Hindu be found to satisfy the claims of his co-religionists in every Province of India? I cannot think for one moment that that would be so, and, indeed, we have striking evidence from the statements which have been made again and again by different members of these various communities and interests to which I have referred, that it would be impossible so to satisfy them.
Take the 60,000,000—I think that is about the figure-of the untouchables who have made it plain that they are not going to boycott the Commission whoever else does. I ask the House to give attention to this point, which is really of fundamental importance. Would they feel much confidence in a Commission which, if it were not to be so large as to be ridiculous, could only contain one of their representatives but would certainly contain more than one representative of those whom they regard as their enemies? How would opponents of our scheme—and I presume opponents of our scheme are in favour of a mixed Commission-get over that difficulty? What about the Anglo-Indian community and the British commercial community which are not mentioned in my list, and many others to which one could refer. I think it has never been suggested by the most extreme that the British commercial community in India is not entitled to be considered in all matters affecting the future of India; but take the Anglo-Indian community, they would surely be entitled to be considered for representation on such a mixed Commission.
I say with confidence that a mixed representative Commission of Indians and
2221 of Europeans, official and unofficial, resident or lately resident in India, would be a physical impossibility if it were to conform to the two postulates which I have laid down, on the one hand of not being unwieldy in numbers, and on the other hand of having a reasonable prima facie chance at the start of reaching agreement. Opponents, if there are any in the House this morning, may say that they can produce such a Commission. All I can say is that I cannot share that opinion. It certainly is not an opinion which is shared by anyone who knows India, and it is not snared by a very large number of Indians. I have had an opportunity which not many have had of occupying the office of Under-Secretary of State for India for nearly six years, and I have naturally come into touch with a great many friends of Indian and European opinion. My noble Friend, the Secretary of State has been good enough to consult me, and before he held this office I discussed it with Lord Peel. I am quite convinced that I have never, while sitting at this Table or while sitting on the Back Benches, supported any Commission regarding which I was more certain that the right decision had been reached than in regard to this Commission to-day. I am convinced that a mixed Commission is utterly and absolutely impracticable.
There is one further suggestion, which has not been made in this House, but has been made outside. While the majority of the responsible Press have shown their intense desire to adopt a reasonable attitude on this question, one or two newspapers have made the most fantastic proposals. It is sugested that if you do not have Indians on the Commission or British civil servants settled in India, you should have one or two experts who are resident in this country. How could we with any semblance of logic put on the Commission ex-Viceroys or Governors in this country, and exclude Indians and Europeans in India who are spending their lives there? One suggestion, and a particularly fatuous one, was made in a Sunday newspaper, that Sir Frederick Whyte should be put on the Commission. I have great admiration for Sir Frederick Whyte. He was a Member of this House at one time and perhaps he may be sitting on the Benches opposite in the future. He is a personal friend of mine. But is it really sug- 2222 gested that Sir Frederick Whyte, who spent five years in India as the first President of the Legislative Assembly, is more entitled to be on the Commission than people who have spent their lives in India? To consider the idea of putting on one or two experts of that kind, is only to dismiss it.
Now I come to the actual Commission and its functions. If my contention be accepted, that the responsibility of Parliament is supreme, for the reasons which I have mentioned, is it really contended that Parliament cannot carry out its obligations under the declaration of 1917 and its obligations under the Act of 1919 of surveying and revising the Indian Constitution through the agency of a Commission to report to "the King in Parliament" for the necessary action? Is that the contention, even when the procedure of the Commission, so far as it can be laid down in advance, entails not merely evidence from Indians, not merely advice from a Joint Committee of the Central Indian Legislature, and from committees of the various Provincial Councils, but provides that delegations from India shall be invited before legislation here is passed, to confer in the most formal manner with a Joint Select Committee of both Houses?
We should indeed have "a puir conceit" of ourselves if we think that Parliament cannot produce a Commission to carry out this task. It is absurd to say that the Commission containing representatives carefully chosen from this House and another place, with a Chairman who, if I may be permitted to say so, is in the very centre of the front rank of reputation here and in the great profession which he adorns outside, is not an instrument by which Parliament is able to discharge its responsibilities? It is perfectly possible, in my opinion, to be a realist in this matter of high policy without abating one jot or tittle of consideration for and sympathy with the ideals of Indians in public life.
What are the plain, real facts? Of the 300,000,000 or so of persons in India, barely 2,000,000 can affect by their votes the action of those in public life in India to-day. Is not Parliament to listen to these people who are outside the electoral system of India by obtaining their views directly through its own representatives, which Members of this Commission will 2223 do? I would like to put this direct question. Are the hon. and right hon. Gentlemen from the Front Bench opposite who are going to be members of this Commission lees likely to be sympathetic to the Moslem minority or the millions of untouchables than a Brahmin or a member of the Indian majority? The untouchables and the Moslems do not think so. Evidence accumulates from day to day that the raging, tearing propaganda against this Commission by certain persons who have always been in opposition to the Government in India—I am not blaming them; they are entitled to do it—does not represent the real views of a very large number of the people in India who take interest in these matters. We have had several resolutions in the last two days cabled home to the Press from various organisations and individuals, saying that they are not going to boycott the Commission. There is a letter in the "Times" to-day from a young Indian whom I happen to know. I have not seen him or had any communication with him for at least four months, so that I cannot be the instigator of the letter. It is a very remarkable letter, in which he, speaking from the Moslem point of view, makes it abundantly clear that there is not going to be any question that the Moslems will boycott the Commission. If that be true of the untouchables and the Moslems, it will be found equally true of other communities and other interests in India.
Surely it cannot be contended that the chosen representatives of the Indian electorate who will form the Select Committee of the Central Legislature to meet the Commission are likely to find a lack of sympathy on the part of those who are really in one sense their colleagues, since the Indian Central Legislature is affiliated to the Empire Parliamentary Association. At this point, it is necessary to say a few words about the functions of the Joint Committee of the Central Legislature and the Committees of the Provincial Councils. There seems to be some misunderstanding on this point. Obviously, much must be left to the Commission itself to settle. We cannot tie in advance their hands. As the House is aware, it is a very novel procedure which is provided by the Act of 1919. I think it is an unprecedented procedure by which the House of Com- 2224 mons and another place are asked to concur in the submission of names to His Majesty. As a general rule, the Government announce that a submission will be made to His Majesty, asking him to appoint a Royal Commission on such and such a subject, the terms of reference are given, and, beyond one or two questions across the Floor of the House, there the matter ends. But in this case we have, under the Act, to come to Parliament and ask Parliament to concur in the submission of names to His Majesty. Therefore, it is open to the House in the course of debate to make all sorts of suggestions in regard to the Commission; but it is obvious, and I think there will be general agreement on this point, that it would be most undesirable to try to tie too closely the hands of the Commission or to dictate in any way to its distinguished Chairman.
I have said that I will try to make one or two points clear in regard to the Committee of the Central Legislature—I have called it the Joint Committee, because it will be representative both of the Council of State and the Legislative Council—and the Committees of the Provincial Councils. They will be more than mere witnesses. They will be able to prepare a case for further self-Government as it appears to them in the Central Legislature and the Provincial Councils respectively and present it to the Commission. They will be available for consultation by the Commission on those proposals. Take a concrete example of what might possibly happen under these proposals. The Committee of the Central Legislature presents proposals to the Commission for their idea of a revised constitution. After full consultation the Commission are unable to accept it, or are unable to accept the whole of it. It is then open to the Central Legislature to send their deputation home to argue their case on the floor of a Committee room upstairs before a Joint Select Committee of Parliament, and only after this full exposition of the case can His Majesty's Government produce their Bill in this House and another place. It is true that this Government cannot bind its successors, but it is inconceivable that any party in this House would depart from a promise so given.
I say with the greatest deliberation that never has any part of the Empire, prior 2225 to receiving partial responsible Government or full Dominion status, had such an opportunity afforded her representatives for influencing directly the Parliament of Great Britain. It was not done in the case of Canada, in the case of Australia, or in the most recent case of all, when responsible Government was granted to Rhodesia. You have a Parliamentary Commission, the direct agency of Parliament itself, in order that Parliament may be informed as to how the situation stands. You have over and above that a conference with Parliament itself, through the deputation which can come home. We have had some vague complaints—I am not referring to the Leader of the Opposition—that we ought to have consulted Indians in advance of a Commission as to whether they would accept this form of Commission or not. Apart from the fact that responsibility in this matter must rest with His Majesty's Government, we are consulting them in the freest and fullest manner through the Commission in advance of the thing that really matters—legislation to revise their constitution. The other day when I was preparing the notes for my speech this afternoon I happened to glance up and see on a calendar on my desk the following quotation from an American poet, which seems to me rather appropriate to this occasion. It is:Still o'er the earth hastes opportunity, Seeking the hardy soul that seeks for her.The "opportunity," through the appointment of this Commission, is there in abundance for India, and especially for her sons and daughters in the public life of their country. I refuse to believe that they will not take it. I refuse to believe that they will not assist Parliament in the most formidable task which perhaps can be put upon our shoulders of revising and reinforcing the constitution of an Empire within an Empire, which India is. It is my earnest hope in moving this Resolution that the result of the Debate this afternoon will be to send this Commission of Members chosen from Parliament to India with the utmost expression of goodwill from this House, and with the knowledge and belief that it can perform with efficiency the great task which has been laid upon it.
§ Mr. RAMSAY MacDONALD
I rise in the name and on behalf of my colleagues to support the Resolution which has just been moved. At the same time, we offer most sincerely some advice, which we hope may be accepted, in order to make the procedure more acceptable to the Indian people than it would be otherwise. I do regret that there has not been more consultation between the Government and representative Indians for the purpose of clearing away difficulties. If I might echo part of the debate of yesterday, I would say that I think in this respect the Government has repeated the mistake it made before it entered into the Geneva Naval Conference. I am sure that had Indian opinion and leading Indians who make as well as voice that opinion been possessed of the sympathetic ideas which the Under-Secretary of State has just enunciated, we might have been relieved of a good deal of criticism that has been passed upon the Government scheme. What this House has to do is to recognise quite frankly the widespread suspicion that exists in India, and I hope this debate will do much to remove that suspicion or at any rate a substantial part of it. If we could remove that suspicion I am convinced that it would be for the good of India as well as for the honour of ourselves. The first point dealt with by the Noble Lord was the question of the Royal Commission, an ordinary old-fashioned Royal Commission.
I stand before the House as one who has been a member of a Royal Commission appointed to inquire into Indian affairs. I sat under the Presidency of Lord Islington for over two years. I went twice to India as a member of that Commission to inquire into the public services of India. I saw a good deal behind the scenes, and I took a somewhat active part in the negotiations that had to be undertaken in order to get the Report of that Commission anything like unanimous. The subject referred to us was a very large and important one, but nevertheless it had the great advantage of being confined and specific. It was a question of the public services of India, beginning with the Imperial Services, the Indian Civil Service and going on to that large group of provincial services, everyone of which presented a different problem but did not give rise to large fundamental and deep- 2227 seated political questions. I confess that my experience on that Commission convinced me that a Royal Commission to inquire into the Indian Constitution would not be an efficient body. If there were nothing else to be done we would have to appoint one, but I think it is the duty of the Government, as indeed it was our duty when we were a Government, to consider whether a better system of finding out what Indian opinion and Indian needs were, ought to be instituted.
One of the great difficulties of a mixed commission, a Royal Commission, is the difficulty of selection. So far as the right hon. and hon. Friends who sit with me and belong to the same party as I do are concerned, we have never approached the problem relating to the constitution of a country, we have never criticised the action of Governments of a country without keeping in our minds in the most prominent and important position the question of minorities. How minorities are dealt with, what the relations between majorities and minorities are, are fundamental and essential to the good government of any country. Therefore it would be absolutely impossible for us to support any Commission or any inquiry selected in any way conceivable, unless we had assurances that upon that Commission and that inquiry the needs of the minority were adequately secured. When we lay down that fundamental proposition, then for the purposes of discovering how it is to be satisfied we proceed to survey, not the minority, but the intricate and numerous sections of the minority in India. The Commission that would evolve from such a consideration would be so unwieldy that no Government could light-heartedly select it as its instrument for making an inquiry.
There is another consideration that follows from that. Without, of course, in any way suppressing or distorting opinion, it is very desirable that when the inquiry is finished we should have a report that will really guide us. What is going to be the report we would get from a Royal Commission appointed in the same way as the Royal Commission of which I was a member some years ago? It is absolutely impossible to get a report from such a Commission. You will get reports, but then what happens is that you have your majority report and a whole series probably of minority reports. You will also 2228 have a series of reports that are signed, with various paragraphs in them asterisked, and footnotes, I should imagine amounting to a very considerable number, will be appended; and then this House, instead of getting guidance, and the Joint Parliamentary Committee that is to be set up as the second stage in this inquiry instead of having some sort of well-sifted and co-ordinated evidence and guidance, would itself have to regard the various sections of the Joint Committee as though they were so many witnesses. The reports of such a Committee or of such a Commission will not carry this House beyond the position of being a body listening to witnesses.
I would like the evidence, if it is at all possible, to be sifted in such a way that it could be co-ordinated and embodied into some sort of composite scheme that will, so far as human intelligence and human ingenuity can, meet the various points of view and present to us a common picture, a common photograph of the needs. That is not possible if this House appoints a Commission such as the one I have in my mind in making these remarks. It will give us a minimum of guidance instead of a maximum of guidance. It, is perfectly true, as I think Lord Olivier said in another place yesterday, that when we were in office in 1924 this question was before us. We were never able to mature it or to produce a scheme; we were never able to say quite definitely "This is the way that we are going to approach it." But I can say this, that as a result of a variety of considerations, conversations and consultations, our minds had turned in the direction of using the Parliaments of the two countries as the inquiring body. We never went further than that, but that was the direction that we were beginning to explore as a result of a weeding out of various obvious proposals as to how the matter should be dealt with.
There is one thing I should like to say in this respect. If there is anything that representative democracy holds in high esteem it is the Parliament of its representatives. Parliaments are not exclusive bodies. They may have been, but those of us who believe in democracy, those of us who believe in an organised public opinion created for the purpose of making that opinion effective in administration and legislation, must, of 2229 necessity, hold Parliament as the highest expression of that public opinion in any country. When we support, as I do and my colleagues and party, the suggestion that the Parliament of this country as the representative and the custodian of the people of this country in all political and constitutional matters, should say to the Parliament of India, "We are going to regard you as the representative 0f Indian opinion. We are going to recognise you, having an authority like to our own, having a function and position like to our own in your country." And when we want to know what is going to be the constitution of India in the future, when we want to know what the opinion of political India is, even imagining India to be a political unity, when we turn, to the Indian Parliament, we say to it "We appoint a Commission; you appoint a similar body, and the two Commissions working together in harmonious co-operation with each other are going to report to the House of Commons, what the line of the new constitution is to be, what the principles of the new constitution should be," then I say that, instead of insulting public opinion in India, instead of belittling the political intelligence of India, we are doing it the greatest homage that one Parliament can do to another, or one nation can ever do to another, with which it is in political relationship.
Our concern, therefore, having cleared those matters, is the relative status of the two bodies. That is what it comes down to—the relative status of the Commission which we are to send out to India, and the Committee or Commission, whatever name you like to call it by—in that respect I do not mind very much by what name you call it, because I am after substance and not baptismal certificates—the real problem that we have to solve and it is a problem which Indian public opinion rightly and properly insists that we should solve, is what is to be the relative status of the two sections of the inquiry that has to be set up. I think the Prime Minister's statement a few days ago was a little unfortunate in that respect. I think a good deal of the misunderstanding—I hope it will be misunderstanding after this Debate—that has arisen in India was owing, not to the spirit of intention of the statement, but owing to the form of the statement. I listened to that state- 2230 ment myself and I turned to my colleagues who sat by me and said, "That is a very unfortunate statement, if the Government mean to give any sort of recognition to a people who are very sensitive on points of self-respect." The impression which the right hon. Gentleman conveyed to me, and I am sorry to find it was the impression that Indians have taken up, as well as a great many people here, was that we were appointing a Commission to go out to India to meet a Committee appointed by the Indian Legislature and that the chief work of that Indian Committee was to prepare a report and hand it in writing to our representatives. The suggestion was that there was to be from the very beginning, a marked relationship of inferiority between the two bodies.
Although nobody could resist the constitutional and historical survey of the position of the Indian Parliament which was made by the Under-Secretary, the less that aspect is emphasised the better. What should be emphasised, as one or two sentences which I was very glad to find in the Under-Secretary's statement do emphasise, is exactly the opposite, namely, that this Parliament here is sincerely determined that there should be no sense of inferiority and no relationship of inferiority imposed upon this Indian Commission, but that one Parliament is honestly and sincerely desirous of consulting another Parliament as to what is the best course to adopt. I am sorry, therefore, that this Debate did not take place earlier. I am sure if the Secretary of State had made some sort of statement earlier of a larger, more liberal, more generous character, much misunderstanding would have been removed. The Secretary of State yesterday made certain references, not to negotiations, because they were not negotiations, but to consultations which he and I and some of my colleagues had over this matter. I want to say quite candidly and frankly, although we are in no way responsible for these proposals, that in the course of those conversations and those explorations as to the meaning and intention behind and below the verbal expressions that have been made the declarations made in this House and elsewhere, I found in Lord Birkenhead's mind a sincerity of desire to pursue a liberal policy, and to treat the representatives of the Indian Legislature in
2231 the openest and most friendly and most co-operative way. It is absolutely impossible to devise a formula to ensure this and make it clear to India. We have tried our hands at it and we have failed. It is also impossible to produce a programme of operations. That also has been tried and the attempt has failed.
There are, however, one or two essential points, and I am sure if the Indians had an assurance upon them, it would remove a very large number of their objections and a very large part of their suspicion. I am glad that the first point which I have noticed as a result of those conversations has already been met by the Under-Secretary. We advised most strongly that if the wording used by the Prime Minister, in making his announcement, implied that the status between our Commission and the Indian Commission was to be the status between a Commission and the witness of a Commission, that impression ought to be removed at once. We must have no idea in our minds, and I hope the Commission when it goes out will not have a particle of an idea in its mind, that the representatives of the Indian Legislature are simply going to present a written report and temporarily wish "Good day" to our Commission, leaving our Commission to examine and discuss that report among themselves; that later our Commission will call back the Indian representatives to sit at the other side of a table and answer questions put to them for the purpose of illuminating their proposals. That is not our intention, I am perfectly certain, and it should be made clear that it not our intention. I hope the intention is—and I am sure if this intention is not carried out, the Commission that we are going to appoint to-day will not be as successful as it could be if properly handled—to go to India, and to see at once our colleagues appointed by the Indian Legislature, to get their statements, to exchange views with them, to negotiate with them—as a matter of fact to regard them just as honourable Members opposite sitting on a committee would regard Eon. Members from this side of the House sitting on the same committee, using their common experience and common intelligence and common ideas for the purpose of producing the very best report a committee can produce.
2232 There is another point. In the examination of witnesses there are certain witnesses and certain evidence which our Commission must examine for themselves. Nobody who understands India would deny that that must be so, but, on the other hand, there must be a considerable number of witnesses—and I think, on the whole, the most important witnesses who will present evidence of a larger public character—regarding whom the case is different. Now in the examination of those witnesses, I would strongly urge our Commission to agree to have the Indian Commission sitting with them the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) presiding over the joint sitting and the Indian representatives having exactly the same rights and privileges and status as the members of our own section. The adoption, wherever it is possible, of the idea of joint sessions will, I think, remove a large amount of Indian suspicion, that being done in such a way as to secure to our Commissioners the absolute right, the previously announced right, so that there can be no dispute about it, of saying in respect to this, that, and the other witness or subject, "We are going to take evidence upon these matters ourselves." As a matter of fact, on the Royal Commission to which I have referred and of which I was a member, that idea—not quite in that form, as circumstances were not precisely the same, but that idea in so far as it was applicable to our duties—was pursued, and nobody ever offered the least objection to it.
There is a third point—and I am sorry that a rather foolish observation was made about it yesterday—the question of reports. That is a question that has been raised. Some people say that the Indian Commission could not make a report itself; others say that we ought to authorise it to make a report. My own position and that of my Friends is the good, sound, constitutional position. So far as this House is concerned, we cannot give the Commission of the Indian Legislature any right to make a report, nor, on the other hand, can we withhold from it the right to report. It is not our Commission. We are not responsible for it. It is not responsible to us. Therefore, what objection is there to our letting it be known at once that, so far as the Indian Commission is concerned, it can 2233 make a report if it likes and it can refrain from making a report if it likes? Its report will be made in the proper way to the body to which it owes its origin, and that body can deal then with that report with exactly the same freedom as we ourselves will deal with our report. I think that, if that position is quite clearly understood, another large block of suspicion will be removed, but as I say, we cannot possibly by a programme of allowances or disallowances, we cannot by a formula, lay down our intentions in that respect. What we have to fall back upon is that by every word we say here to-day, by every statement we make, and more particularly by the forms in which we choose to embody our ideas, we convey to the Indian people and to the Indian Legislature that we are sending forth our Commission of Inquiry in the spirit of good fellowship and co-operation, in order that it may get the facts and the opinions and the reflections of the best Indians, so that it may present to us the very best and most useful report that it can produce.
There is one other subject to which I will address myself before I sit down, and I do it because I think it is a subject about which this House and any Government in this country ought to have very clear ideas. The Under-Secretary of State referred to certain claims that were made, and one which he specified was this—I paraphrase him, and perhaps I make his point a little more absolute than he himself made it—that in dealing with people for whom we have been responsible in days gone by, we have now reached that point in their evolution when the time has come for us as a Parliament and a nation to say to them, what many of us have had to say to our children who have grown up, "You are going out into the world; I have done my best for you whilst you were under my wing, and whilst I was responsible for you; and now, take the responsibilities of manhood upon yourselves, and God bless you in your future career." A nation like ours, that has taken upon itself the responsibility for peoples—primitive peoples, subject peoples, people who have fallen under our custodianship and trusteeship by accident, people whom we have brought there by force of arms—a nation like ours, in these democratic days when the spirit of nationality and self-indepen 2234 dence has become so powerful in the world, must make up its mind again and again to put itself in the position of the parent who blesses his departing child; and how are we tot do it? It is said in this respect that if we were wise, if we were enlightened, if we were liberal, if we had really good fellowship and goodwill, we would say to India, "Go, and go just as you like yourselves."
That is not good, that is not wise, that is not fulfilling the best service we can do to India, and, what is more, that is not guiding the destinies of a growing world aright. We must all have pursued the evolutionary line. I do not know how many Members of this House have read that Very interesting book that at one time was very popular in India, that rather fantastic novel called "Anandamath, "written by Bankim Chandra Chatterji, a book, I may say parenthetically, in which the "Bande Mataram" was first written. This is a book which deals with the wars of Warren Hastings and with the Hindu rebellions that rose up out of those wars. There, in the end, the hero says, "India, for its own sake, for its own good, must pass under English dominion, but a time will come when"—he is assured, as he retires from the field of activity into the monastery of contemplation—"the work of England will be finished and when once again India will step out with self-respect, holding its head in the air because it once more can govern itself."
When that time comes, the departure must be with the full cognisance and the full freedom and goodwill of this Parliament, and, therefore, at this moment when a new departure is taking place, it is not right, it is not the good moral way, it is not the way that goes furthest and leads to the greatest good, for us simply, as it were, to throw India out of our doors. It is for us to say to India, "Come with us. You have got your Parliament, such as it is; you have got your self-government up to the point which it has reached; we are prepared now that another stage should come, and at that stage, at the threshold of that stage, you and we shall consult together, and you and we shall go out together with our full consent and the completest blessing that we can give. I therefore urge the Government, urge the Commission—that has quite rightly got a 2235 large area of freedom in handling left to it and not prescribed by the Government—I beg the Government, and I beg the Commission to go out in the spirit in which I have been trying to address the House, to go out to remove Indian suspicion and to gain a complete cooperation; and with that prayer I hope the whole House will wish the Commission Godspeed in the great work on which it is about to enter.
§ Sir ROBERT HAMILTON
We are taking to-day a new and most important step in the evolution of our relationship with India, and I think the whole House owes a debt of gratitude to the Under-Secretary of State for his very clear, fair, and reasoned statement of the past history and the present position of affairs. I must say that I think the Government have not done themselves justice in the way that their proposals were announced to the world. When a new scheme is put forward, a scheme of such importance as this, it is perfectly natural, and to be expected, that it will attract criticism from every quarter. But the criticisms that were immediately fired at the Government scheme were largely based on insufficient information, and I think, as the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken said, it would have been largely to the advantage, not only of this country but of India, if the statement to which we have listened this morning from the Under-Secretary could have been made earlier. The variety of criticisms which have come from every quarter are only natural. It is an old saying, tot homines, quot senteritise, and I think the test we ought to apply, in considering the proposals put before us this morning, is whether we are satisfied that the proposals of the Government are adequate, are sincere and honest, and are likely to effect the object they have in view.
If we are satisfied on that point, I think it is our duty to withhold criticism as far as possible. Some criticism certainly must be made, and ought to be made, but on an occasion of such importance to India as this is, when India will be looking to see what the atmosphere of this Debate is, I think we should go as far as we can to limit our criticisms to the scheme which is actually before us, not in order to destroy it, but, if possi- 2236 ble, to improve it and to help it, because, as the Under-Secretary rightly said, the responsibility for this step is, and must be, ours. That being so, I think we may be satisfied that a delegation chosen fairly and equally to represent the different bodies of opinion in this House, is one that is fully qualified to consider with a free and open mind all the views that will be put before it in India. I may say that, speaking on behalf of the party with which I have the honour to be associated—[HON. MEMBERS: "Where are they?"]—That is why I am here speaking on their behalf. I may say that we intend to do what we can not to hinder but to help the Government.
I should like to emphasise the very great importance which the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition attached to the freedom and independence of the Commission representing the Central Legislature of India. I think that the more the scheme is studied, the more it stands out that that delegation or Commission, the representative body of the Central Legislature of India, should be assured, and should understand as far as we can make them understand, that they are conferring on equal terms with the Commission going out from this Parliament. I think that is of the very greatest importance, and I am sure, if it be thoroughly understood in India that we desire that the representatives of opinion in India, the representatives of political opinion from the Central Legislature, are to have an equal status to confer, deliberate and come to conclusions with the Commission going out from England, it will go a very long way to remove the hostile opinion which exists in certain quarters of India to-day. We all trust that that hostile feeling will diminish as the full importance of the desire on the part of this House is understood in India, that we are determined, as far as possible, not only to arrive at the fullest expression of opinion from every section of Indian political opinion, but, having obtained that opinion, that we intend to confer with the Indian representatives as to the best way in which we are to go on and build the next brick in the edifice of Indian entry as a portion of the community of nations represented by the British Commonwealth.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
Never before have I needed so greatly the indulgence of this House. It is true that I have 2237 often been in a minority, but on this occasion I am in the unfortunate position of being in a minority of my own party as well,; and, although one of the most offensive and incorrect charges that are made against the Labour party is that they are a pledge-bound party, yet everyone must admit that there are occasions when both national unity and party unity seem to demand a united voice. In spite of that, I am anxious, to-day, to impress upon this House that it would be better that this Commission should not go out to India. We are obviously, by the sending out of this Commission, digging a gulf between the peoples of Great Britain and the peoples of India—a gulf in which hope and faith lie buried, where a modern Curtius might say: "Gladly would I leap into the gulf." But it cannot be closed in that way. The gulf that is developing can only be closed by increasing understanding and sympathy between the two great races forming the British Empire. At the present time, people in this country are feeling that the Indians are irrational and childish, and those who have read "Mother India" probably possess even stronger feelings, and the people in India in the same way are thinking of us as faithless, false and hypocritical.
We have, both in India and in England, got to change that feeling if we are to make any sort of success in the future partnership of the two races. It seems to me that this Commission is just driving us apart and creating misunderstanding, and that is the first reason why, in spite of everything, I feel bound to make this speech. After all, one of the great advantages of the English Parliament, as for all parliamentary assemblies of a similar character, is that, however strong public opinion may be, you always find some crank or fanatic to get up and support an unpopular cause. Sometimes in the end they prove right, but it does add to our strength enormously in the world and to the reputation of the British Parliament that people who think they cannot get justice can generally find somebody in the House of Commons to put up their case for them. It is in that spirit that I would like my colleagues to look upon what I am going to say.
2238 We must realise that all these speeches made to-day on this question are really beside the point to a very large extent. We cannot now, in this House, alter in any degree the boycott of this Commission that is going to take place in India. Nothing said to-day will change the opinion of people in India who have already stated their opinion. We cannot change the mind of Sir Tej Bahadur Sapon, or Sir Sankaran Nair about this Commission or their determination to boycott it. We cannot affect the views of those prominent Moslem leaders, Dr. Ansari or Mr. Jinnah and Sir Abdur Rabin, men who in the past have been constant supporters of the British action of co-operation as opposed to non-co-operation. We cannot change the opinion of men like Sir Chimanlal Setelvad, who, ever since I have had any connection with India, have always represented the moderate pro-British element, the so-called sane element in India. Parsees—I am not referring to rebel Parsees, but to respectable, wealthy Parsees—are to be found in the same category of Indians who will not accept this Commission. Mrs. Besant and C. F. Andrews are on the same lines. You cannot expect these people, after any number of speeches today in favour of the Commission, to change their minds about it and cooperate, when once they have laid down the principle that they will not. That being so, is it not rather futile to discuss the question of whether a Committee appointed by an Assembly or the other Committees appointed by Legislative Councils in India ought or ought not to have greater powers? The first consideration is, will they be set up at all? And, if they will not be set up, what good can come from the Commission?
What I want to do is to try and make Members understand why it is that the Indians have taken this perfectly outrageous step—I mean outrageous from our point of view. They have been throughout all these years since the Government of India Act was passed expecting this Commission. It has been the one beam of light that they have had in politics, and they have built up altogether fantastic hopes of what that Commission, when it is appointed, can do. Whenever they conceived the Commission they thought of it as something which would be definitive and on which Indian
2239 leaders and English leaders would cooperate in constructing a definite scheme of reform, a definite next step forward. When the Labour party were in office, we discussed whether, by, taking ex-Secretaries of State of India and ex-Viceroys of all parties, we could form a committee which, in conjunction with Indian leaders would be in the position to "deliver the goods." It did not take place for various reasons, but it has been that sort of committee that the Indians have ever had in their minds.
You must remember that these people are far more alive to certain parts of British history than we are. They remember perfectly well a certain meeting in Downing Street with Michael Collins and the Irish leaders and Lord Birkenhead and other British leaders—a round table conference which established peace, and, though not very reputable from our point of view, seeing it was a surrender to force, at any rate it did start another Dominion in the Empire on self-governing lines. They see, therefore, that all their hopes of a settlement in which they are the consenting party come to an end, and, instead, they have this Commission.
I do ask the House to consider for one moment the powers of this Commission. It is suggested that the Commission from this side should meet with a Commission established by the Legislative Assembly. Let us suppose for a moment that the Assembly does consent to set up this body to consult with the Commission. May I say here how strongly I support the recommendation of the Labour party that that Commission should have equal powers with the Commission sent out from here, not merely in hearing evidence but in reporting to their own Assembly; and that that report should be on an equal footing when the Joint Select Committee of the two Houses here have the other report before them. If we could get that, I believe it would make a great difference even now in India, but we cannot get it, and it is because we cannot get it, that I beg hon. Members to think twice before they support the Government.
Our British Commission therefore joins with the Commission appointed by the Indian Assembly. The Commission is elected by the Indian Assembly and by the Council and State. I gather that each body will elect separately to that 2240 Commission, but the Commission is going to bring before the Statutory Commission only one section of the question which is to be discussed. They can deal only with the questions concerned with the Central Legislature. After they have discussed with them on equal terms, the Commission will then go off to the other dozen Legislative Councils throughout India and discuss their own set of problems with the Committees or Commissions of each of those Councils. In fact, you are not giving and cannot by the facts of the case give, to the Commission of the Central Legislative Assembly anything like the same scope and powers as you are giving to the Statutory Commission from this side which has necessarily to deal with a dozen Committees dealing with further sections of the same problem. Our Royal Commission, having heard all the views, having the sole voting power in deciding on their own Report, report to the Government.
The Government then pass the scheme on to the Joint Select Committee. The less the authority of the original Commission the more the power of the Joint Select Committee of Lords and Commons to water down the proposals of that Commission. A Royal Commission consisting of ex-Secretaries of State and ex-Viceroys! What they say "goes." But this Commission? A Joint Select Committee, as I have known it, is a body consisting of an equal number of Lords and of Commons. The representatives of the Commons represent the proportionate strength of each party in the Commons, and the representatives of the Lords represent the proportionate strength of each party in the Lords. Hon. Members can see what that must mean. It will be overwhelmingly conservative and reactionary. There will be on the Joint Select Committee a considerable number of extremely interesting but extinct "dug outs." This is the body that will proceed to water down the report. Stage after stage goes on until, ultimately, the India Office have to frame their Bill. All this is a long, long process. It will be many years before all those stages are gone through, and I venture to tell the House, what all Indians I must be thinking, that what legislation is introduced into this House for the benefit of India in 1930, or 1931 or 1932, will not depend upon the report of this Commission, but upon the actual state of 2241 affairs in India at that time. Therefore, they are feeling that the Commission is playing with the question at issue.
Then there is the slight of the exclusion from the Commission of any Indians, the depriving of any Indians of the privilege of helping to shape—the actual shaping, not advice—the future constitution of the country. That is particularly galling at the present time. The Leader of the Opposition rightly said in his speech that India will take its proper place in the family of nations composing the Empire when it can step out with self-respect, and I am coming to think more and more that the creation of self-respect in India is a necessary, preliminarry to self-government. But the very fact that Indians are now resenting being treated as inferior, kept outside the Commission and forced into the position of petitioners for justice, petitioners for instalments of liberty, is an indication that self-respect is developing, that they are no longer prepared to be treated as unequal partners in the British Empire, one above and the other below the salt. Too long have the Indians been charged with having an inferiority complex, and it is only by making certain sacrifices that they can eliminate that charge.
At the present time they are smarting exceptionally under "Mother India," feeling that they are despised for all manner of reasons. Everyone who has read "Mother India" must think less of a people who could treat women in that way; the abomination of child marriage and husband worship is all shown up in that book, and anybody reading it must have a feeling of nausea. Poor India! All India tarred with that brush. All the people are feeling it, and yet I know that every one of my friends in India has done more to stop child marriage, and caste, and husband-worship and superstition and all those things denounced in that book, than has the British Government. Gandhi and Lajpat Rai, week after week, fulminate against these abominations. We pride ourselves on having abolished suttee 100 years ago. We might have gone on a bit since then. We ought not to allow a charge against a nation broadcast in that way to go through without paying our testimony to the fact that there are in India to-day men, the leaders of political and ethical thought, who are as determined to stop these practices in their own country as 2242 is any man in England or woman in America. As for superstition and idolatory, I would like to state here and now that, with one exception every friend I have in India is as good an Agnostic, or a Unitarian, as any Member of this House; but their work is not made easier or their feelings considered when they are classed indiscriminately with the superstitious and idolatrous uneducated of India. They feel those charges more than we should do.
On the top of all these charges, on the top of the sneers in countless reviews, comes this scornful treatment by the British Government—the complete neglect of Indian representation on the Commission, the sending out on that Commission of men with an open mind. There is a great deal that is good in having an open mind as long as it is not an empty mind, but the open mind necessarily implies people who have shown no sympathy with Indian views in the past, who are not interested in India. That makes it all the more difficult for Indians to accept a body with this membership and with this constitution as though it were a gift for which they should be grateful. They do not want gifts at any price. What they want is justice, and seeing the nature of the gift, they lose their temper; and then they do in India precisely what we should do in this country if the circumstances were reversed. Every Member in this House knows that that is so. Nothing is more soul-destroying than to ask for favours from people who have never shown any interest in you.
There is one final word I should say. I have always opposed the non-co-operation of Indian politicians. Nothing could be more futile. Non co-operation in the working of the machine for the control of government in India injures nobody but the people who refuse to help in the working of it. But a refusal to petition foreigners for favours is a very different thing. What are the Indians losing if they do not give evidence before the Commission? Are they losing anything at all? The actual information required by the Commission can be got voluminously from the numerous Reports supplied by and to the Muddiman Commission. They can have reports from every Province in India. Consequently, information will not be lacking. And, if 2243 they want Indian views, they can get them galore from the Indian Press Indians cannot help remembering that not six years ago we sent out from this country to Egypt a precisely similar Commission known as the Milner Commission. That Commission when it got to Egypt was completely boycotted by the Egyptian people, and when the Commission returned they recommended the reversal of the annexation of Egypt and a restoration of Egyptian independence. It is true that this has not worked very well. The Indians know it, though we have conveniently forgotten it.
I do not myself think that it will matter much what the Commission recommends. Probably the Indians are thinking along the same lines. Also everybody knows perfectly well that if the Commission has before it a lot of evidence from one point of view and none from the other point of view, being normal Englishmen they will be inclined to be more suspicious and critical than if they had heard both sides. I am confident that evidence, often consisting of one set of gentlemen blackguarding another set of gentlemen, is not much use to any gentlemen. If the evidence be one-sided the Commission will be able to make up their own minds, and will not be unduly swayed by that evidence. The Indians who are boycotting this Commission will not do themselves any harm in the long run, and we shall better respect a people who have even an excessive dose of national dignity. I myself think that good comes out of everything, and, although at the moment we are driving apart two peoples who should be together, yet it may be necessary in order that we should under stand better their pride and fortitude, and that they should better understand politics and parties and their points of view in this country. It may be better in the end that this crisis should have arisen, so that in the long run a knowledge of each other may come which can be the only foundation for real co-operation.
§ Mr. WARDLAW-MILNE
While I think the whole House will realise the sincerity of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) in regard to the views he has expressed, I cannot help thinking that on reflection he will realise that the speech which he 2244 has just made is one which will do no good in this country and may do immense harm in India. I fully appreciate the fact, and I think the whole House appreciate the fact that the Commission which are going to report will merely give advice to this House and that the legislation which will take place, whether it is 1930 or 1931, must be based to some extent upon the condition of affairs in India at that time. Surely the right hon. and gallant Gentleman does not wish to give this House the impression that the people of India do not wish the appointment of this Commission. If that be the view which he has intended to convey, I can only say that there is scarcely anyone else in this House who shares that view, and probably nobody in India. For years the people of India have steadily pressed for the appointment of this Commission at an earlier date, and it seems to me incredible that anyone should suggest to-day that the people of India are against the appointment of this Commission. Whatever the people of India may think of the personnel of this Commission they certainly do not believe that the British Parliament is doing anything against the interest of India in appointing that Commission at the present time.
Leaving aside such matters as the recent issue of publications in this country dealing with conditions in India I think the House has to consider to-day only one real point and that is whether the Commission which is proposed is the best for the purpose of giving us advice, as to the future course to pursue in the progress of India, and whether we can in any remarks made in this House today help to convince the people of India that we want their whole-hearted cooperation in giving the best possible advice to the Parliament which will have to decide the future constitution of India, a year or two hence. Anyone who listened to the speech of the Leader of the Opposition must have felt the greatest gratification at his desire to send out a message of the utmost good will and co-operation to the Indian people and when the right hon. Gentleman made that statement I am sure he was ex-pressing the views of all parties in this House. I believe myself that although there have been misunderstandings the speeches which have been made to-day by the Under-Secretary of State for India and the Leader of the Opposition
2245 will do much to dissipate these misunderstandings and will convince the people of India that the Commission we are sending out has been sent to impartially consider the whole of the problem and it will get the best possible advice in India.
Leaving aside such difficult expressions as "equal rights" I think it is desirable that we should do everything we possibly can to emphasise the importance of the Committees that will be appointed by the Indian Legislature to co-operate with, help and assist the Commission. If that be done I believe that we shall have accomplished exactly what the people of India wanted us to do. We shall have brought forward the date of the appointment of the Commission and have appointed an absolutely impartial body who go out with free and open minds to find out to the best of their power what India is ready for and requires. We have adopted, as far as it is our power to do so, the best possible means of co-operation with the representatives of the Indian Assemblies, both central and provincial. Lastly, we have given every opportunity for the findings of the Commission and the evidence placed before it to be placed before the representatives of both Houses of Parliament in the hope that, as a result of the labours of our own members and of the representatives of the different legislative bodies in India and with the assistance and good will of Indians of all kinds, we may have before us a scheme which will be satisfactory to all parties, and one which will help India steadily forward in the path leading to her taking her rightful place in the free councils of the Empire. I earnestly trust that, in spite of the opposition that there may be at the moment in certain parts of India, there will arise in the course of the months to come a growing conviction that there has been nothing done in connection with India in the past more whole-heartedly intended to benefit India than the appointment of this Commission, and that no Measure which the Government could have passed could have held out to India more than this will do the hand of co-operation and friendship and hope for the future.
§ Mr. SCURR
In regard to an important Debate of this character—perhaps one of the most important that we have had this Session, on account of the 2246 future effect on the British Empire—I very much regret that the Debate has not taken place very much earlier than today. I think that, if the speeches which were delivered in another place yesterday, and the speech of the Noble Lord the Under-Secretary this morning, could have been delivered before the announcement of the appointment of this Commission, a very large amount of the misunderstanding which prevails in India at the present time would have passed away. I do not in any way blame those people in India who at the present time are threatening to boycott the Commission in every possible way. They feel, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) has said, that they have been slighted, and I think that all the way through, in everything that has been done by successive Governments of this country to .try to conciliate Indian feeling, they always seem to have taken the wrong road. Even at the time when the Morley-Minto reforms were coming through, there was the imprisonment without trial of Indians who, after all, were only putting forward their views in regard to the government of their country; during the time of the Montagu-Chelms-ford reforms we had the tragedy of Amritsar; and now to-day, when the Government are attempting to meet a certain view of Indian opinion in advancing the date of the Commission, they are putting forward their proposal in such a way as to make the Indians think they are being treated as inferior people.
There is one suggestion that I would make to the Noble Lord, and I trust sincerely that the Government of India will take it into consideration at this moment. If they want to show that they are really sincere in wanting to consult Indian opinion in order to bring about lasting peace and fraternity between the two nations, I suggest to the Noble Lord that the advice should be tendered to the Government of India to release immediately those Bengal prisoners who at the present time are detained under the Bengal Ordinance. If there be anything that is exasperating Indian opinion at the present time, it is the constant detention of all these prisoners for political offences without charge and without any evidence in public against them. A considerable amount of the evidence in these 2247 cases is the evidence of police officials, and, possibly, of agents provocateurs—
§ Earl WINTERTON
Perhaps the hon. Member will indicate, in the course of his speech, what possible relevance that can have to the question of the Commission. I mention this purely out of courtesy to him, because I do not think it would be in order to reply upon it.
§ 1.0 p.m.
§ Mr. SCURR
I can assure the Noble Lord that one of the things I am very desirous of doing is to help the work of the Commission. I would point out to him that the detention of a large number of leading politicians and leaders of Indian public opinion, under this Bengal Ordinance, is exasperating Indian opinion, and that a mighty and powerful country like this could quite afford to make a generous gesture and to release those men, and so help to create an atmosphere in India which would allow the Commission to operate. I also want to press very strongly the point of view which has been put forward by the Leader of the Opposition in regard to the sitting of what I may term the two Commissions. I agree that, so far as regards the Committees appointed by the Indian Legislature, those Committees ought not to report to this Parliament. It is not their business to report to this Parliament, and it would be an impertinence on the part of this Parliament to ask them to report to it. On the contrary, they should report to their own Houses, so that we may be able to get what is really Indian opinion on all these matters, and by that means be able to hammer out a real Constitution for the country. I am quite unrepentant. I have always taken the view that we ought as speedily as possible to give to the Indian people full Dominion status, and I am only supporting the Commission at the present time because I think it will be a step on the road that will lead to getting that Dominion status a great deal more quickly than many of the other means which have been proposed. I conclude by repeating that I deeply regret that the statements made yesterday and today were not made before. I can only trust that the work which the Commission will do, especially if they accept 2248 the suggestions which have been put forward on behalf of the Labour party in this House, will be of deep and lasting benefit to the people of India.
§ Mr. SPOOR
As the one Labour Member who was included among the Joint Committee in 1919, when the reforms were first discussed, I feel rather a special and somewhat personal interest in the question that we are considering to-day. First of all, I would express my regret that I am, probably not for the first time, in entire disagreement with my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood). He and I were in India in 1921. We spent a week attending the National Congress there, and both of us had an opportunity of meeting, not merely representatives of the National Swaraj movement, but Indians who reflected all shades of opinion in that country. There was one rather redeeming sentence towards the end of my right hon. and gallant Friend's speech, when he told us that he believed that good came out of everything. Although some of his fears may be justified, and some of his anticipations may, unhappily, be realised, I sincerely hope that out of the proposal which is before this House to-day some good will come. I remember, when we were considering the matter in 1919, the very violent discussions that we used to have regarding the bringing forward of the date of revision of the reforms. I remember moving an Amendment to reduce the period from 10 years to two years. That failed. I moved another Amendment to reduce the period from 10 years to five years, but that also failed. Now, at long last, we have on the part of the Government a tardy recognition of the very genuine demand that is being made by the Indian people that these reforms shall be again considered.
In the Debates in the Committee of 1919, we were opposed by gentlemen like Lord Sydenham, a man who has a very real knowledge of Indian affairs and Indian Commissions, but whose attitude was and I am afraid still is, hopelessly reactionary. There has been a change in the opinion even of the Government, and personally—and I think that now I can speak for the great majority of the Labour party—we are prepared to do 2249 anything that will accelerate what we believe to be so necessary. When the Noble Lord the Under-Secretary was speaking, he talked about the unrest in India, and the complexity of the life of that country—I am not sure that one can describe it as the national life of the country; he spoke of the tremendous difficulties that faced any statesman, either here or over there, and he appeared to me to put that forth as the justification for the exclusion of Indians from this Commission. All of us who have in any way studied the Indian question realise the immense difficulty of getting Indian representation which is real, Indian representation which will reflect the ambitions, the hopes, and the desires of the vast millions who make up the life of that country. At the same time, we on these benches believe that it is possible for the elected representatives of India, as shown in their Legislative Assembly, to select a body of men who could work on absolutely equal terms with the British Commission, and, if that be done, it seems to me that we shall be able to take a step forward towards a solution of this tremendous difficulty.
One of the difficulties is that more than 90 per cent, of the Members of this House, and certainly more than 90 per cent, of the people of this country, know nothing about India whatever. The smallness of attendance at Indian Debates shows the appalling lack of interest that Members of various parties take in this question. Yet there is nothing more vital, not only to the stability and security of the British Empire, but to the stability and peace of the world, than the connection which we hope will continue to exist between that great country and our own. There is a certain mentality unhappily possessed by certain Britishers which appears to prevent their understanding at all the Indian mind and the Indian point of view. I remember on one occasion, when I was going out East, travelling with some merchants of Calcutta. One of them told me that he had been in business in Calcutta for about 30 years, and it was his proud boast that he had never been in an Indian's house. I said, "You are apparently prepared to take an Indian's money, but you are not prepared to recognise him as an equal and as a friend." That mentality, possessed I do not believe for one moment by all 2250 Britishers there, but possessed by some civilians, and in the Army, has been responsible for more misunderstanding between that country and ours than anything else.
Then we had the publication of this extraordinary book By Miss Mayor I do not know the particular organisation which has directed that propaganda pamphlet. It is a very skilfully written book. It is very well documented. I am told it is one of the best sellers in the country. Whatever may have been the motive that inspired it, whatever may have been the intention in the mind of the writer or of those who directed her and instructed her, undoubtedly that book is going to render much more difficult a solution of the problem with which this Commission has to deal. As my right hon. and gallant Friend said, it nauseates with the rather terrible facts that it records, but anyone who knows anything about the Eastern world knows that it is only one side of the story. I have not read the book that has come out in reply to it, but from what little knowledge I have of India I know that it does not adequately represent Indian life. We have to remember—we Westerners are rather arrogant in our ideas—that the Eastern mind, Eastern tradition, Eastern religion, Eastern philosophy, all these things are quite unlike our own. What we have to do is to try to put ourselves into the position of these people who I am not prepared to admit are an illiterate people. I know technically about 93 per cent, of the vast population of that country are regarded as illiterate. At the same time I have met, amongst many Hindus who could neither write nor read, men and women of real intelligence and real understanding. We remember that that country has had a civilisation for hundreds of years, a civilisation quite unlike our own, a civilisation which has made to world thought and to world peace an immense contribution.
To-day, we are setting up a Commission—and regarding the personnel of the Commission, I am not going to say anything at all—to go out to India merely to ascertain the facts of the situation and to report to this House. I most sincerely trust that the advice tendered by the Leader of the Opposition will be acted upon by the Government. I hope they 2251 will do everything in their power to remove any suspicion or distrust that may exist in India, and that they will do everything in their power to secure cooperation on absolutely equal terms between the Indians and ourselves. Only thus would it be possible to get anything like the advance which every sane man and woman in this country so desires. I believe if this Commission fails, if we do not succeed in establishing a real and sane understanding between that country and our own, it will not only precipitate disaster within the British Empire, it will precipitate disaster in the whole world. When one thinks of the reaction which will take place throughout the whole of Asia one can visualise a state of affairs which certainly none of us would desire to see. I sincerely hope the speeches that have been made to-day will induce the Noble Lord to take the advice that has been tendered to him, to give readily and freely those conditions of equality of status which we believe are absolutely essential to the success of this scheme. If that is done, I believe we shall be able to secure that maintenance of connection between India and our country which is not only the hope of sane men in all parties in this country but, I believe, is the hope of sane men who lead political opinion in India itself.
§ Mr. THURTLE
I want to address a few observations on the form and proposed procedure of this Commission, but I should not like to elevate form to a position of paramount importance. There has been a lot of discussion and rather bitter controversy as to the form of the proposed Commission and its method of procedure. While I am willing to concede that that is a matter of considerable importance, my own view is that the spirit that is behind the whole scheme matters much more than mere form. Therefore, although I am going to dwell upon certain aspects of the Commission and its proposed procedure, I should like the House to bear in mind that what I think is of fundamental importance is the spirit that is behind what is now proposed. If members of this Commission were really animated by a passionate desire to see India liberated at the earliest possible moment, if they would go out to India with that spirit at the back of their 2252 minds, if they would listen to the evidence in that spirit and would finally draft their Report to this House in that spirit, and if this House would eventually consider legislation arising from the Report in that spirit, then a great deal might come from this Commission. But, lacking that passionate desire all round for dealing out justice to India in the matter of self-government, I do not care very much what form the Commission takes, it will not be of material importance.
There is this point to be borne in mind in connection with the form of the Commission. If the Commission are going to meet with any success at all, it is vital that they should obtain the co-operation of the Indian people, and it is in that connection that I want to make one or two observations. I think it is fairly clear from the comments of the Indian Press and from the comments of the representative Nationalist opinion in India, that the form of the Commission, as it is proposed at the present time, is not likely to command the cooperation of India, and, without that, however zealously they may do their work, they will not be able to give us a really representative picture of what India wants in connection with the next step.
I would like to join issue with the Under-Secretary of State with regard to the question of Indian representation. I do not say that it is a matter which can usefully be discussed now perhaps, because the Government have already made up their minds that there is not to be any Indian representation on the British Commission. But I do say that the case for that has never been fairly argued and never been fairly met. The reason which has been given both in another place and in this House for not conceding Indian representation is the I great diversity of sects and sections of opinion in India, and I submit that that aspect of the question has been pushed to a point where it becomes patent dishonesty. For instance, in another place yesterday, Lord Birkenhead, in discussing this question of the conflicting bodies of opinion in India, went to the extreme point of instancing the Christian body in India, and suggesting that they might have had a legitimate claim to representation on the Commission. It is really grotesque for Lord Birkenhead or 2253 anyone else to suggest that the Christians in India have a claim to that extent. The population of India is 300,000,000, roughly speaking, and the total number of adherents to the Christian religion in India is something like 500,000; so that the proportion of Christians to the whole of the population of India is as one to 600. It is really grotesque on the part of Lord Birkenhead to give that as an illustration of the difficulty of getting representatives on a Commission to inquire into this problem.
§ Mr. THURTLE
I am relying on the very same figures as were contained in a statement made in this House the other night by—I am not quite certain of the constituency he represents—but a member of the Government who was speaking in connection with the Indian Church Measure. He used these specific figures.
§ Earl WINTERTON
It was my Noble Friend the Assistant Postmaster-General (Lord Wolmer), and he is an expert on Indian matters, who was speaking in his private capacity and who understated the figures. That is all.
§ Mr. THURTLE
If the Government had had a desire to get Indian representation, they could have done so if they had given notice about six months ago that they wanted to get Indians on this Commission and had put the onus of selecting their representatives upon the Indian people. If they had said to the most representative body of India, the Indian National Congress, "Now we want you to decide among yourselves and to find out what is the representative view of the Indian people." If they had said to that representative body, as they do, in certain cases, to the Trades Union Congress in this country when an industrial matter is under consideration, "We want you to select the names of two representatives who shall speak in the name of the Indian National Congress upon this Commission which is going to inquire into the Indian Constitutional problem." If they had put the onus on the Indian people, I think there would have been no difficulty in the Congress supplying representatives for that purpose. Therefore, I submit that they have never really faced fairly and 2254 squarely the question of giving Indian representation on the Commission
I would like to refer to the tendency to exaggerate the differences which exist in India. I believe in the rights of minorities. I would be the last man in the world to deny that minorities must have fundamental rights respecting their liberties safeguarded. But I think that the talk about the rights of minorities coming from the Government side of the House is suspect. We have to be realists and practical men in this matter. Just as minorities have rights, it has still to be recognised that they are minorities and that they cannnot expect to dictate to the majority what .the policy shall be upon broad issues. When I hear the Noble Lord and other people dwelling upon the rights of the untouchables, dwelling upon the rights of the non-Brahmins, and dwelling upon the rights of the Mohammedans, when I hear the Noble Lord and his Noble Friend in another place laying great stress upon that aspect of the Indian problem, I cannot help thinking that they are using that as a screen for the continuance of British domination of India. There is an old motto, which we know very well, about "Divide and Conquer," and it seems to me that it is a variation of that particular theme.
I want to deal with a point which was put with admirable force and persuasive logic by my right hon. Friend, the Leader of the Opposition, that if we are even now going to save the situation and get Indian co-operation we must seek to give this Indian Committee equality of status with the British Commission. I do not profess to be an expert on Indian matters at all, but I do know this—and it may be a thing which is peculiar to oppressed people—that as a result of my connection with the Indian people I have found that. there is some strange and very strong inferiority complex in the Indian mind. They feel very keenly a sense of inferiority with regard to the British, and therefore their self-respect is very much injured if, in a piece of public policy like this, they are put in a definite position of inferiority. We would gain tremendously if we could meet the point put forward by the Leader of the Opposition and say that in every respect—even with respect to the sending of a Report to the British Parliament—the Indian Committee should 2255 be put on a footing of equality with the British Commission. If that be done, I am quite certain, in spite of the present rather hopeless outlook, that there will be a good possibility of our obtaining the co-operation of the Indian people..
I would like to reinforce a point made I by the hon. Member for Mile End (Mr. Scurr), in order to create the right atmosphere, with regard to the political prisoners under the Bengal Criminal Ordinance. No Measure has so incensed the people of India in recent years as that particular enactment. They are still smarting under a sense of outraged constitutionalism that certain of their very best subjects should be still languishing in gaol untried and not likely to be tried because of the provisions of that Ordinance. At the present time when, apparently, India is in a peaceful state, it would be an excellent gesture on the part of the Government if they would say: "We want your co-operation with this Commission. We know that your co-operation is essential and vital if the Commission is to be a success. Therefore, as an earnest of our desire to give fair play and justice to the Indian people, we are prepared to release every one of these political prisoners."
I should like to emphasise what the Leader of the Opposition said in regard to the right of India to self-government. Let us make no mistake about that. We fought the war for the rights of oppressed peoples, for the rights of nations to control their own destinies, and I believe the great mass of people in this country believe implicity in the rights of nations to control their own destinies. We in this House must face up to the fact that the Indian people have an absolute right to govern themselves in the way they think best. If they make blunders in the course of that government, it is their affair, but, right or wrong, and whether they do it ill or well, they certainly have a right to control their own affairs. We ought to have in mind whenever we consider the problem, that there ought to be no limitation in regard to the giving of that right, except to this extent: if a body of impartial, honest investigators, who believe that India ought to be given that right at the earliest possible moment, find that there is some insurmountable 2256 stumbling block like the military situation they can come back and tell us so; but apart from any insurmountable obstacle we ought to see that India gets self-government. I discussed the military question, which Lord Birkenhead said yesterday is quite insurmountable at the present time, with representative Indians, who told me that even so far as the British Army is concerned, and although British domination has beaten their martial spirit and taken away from them the aptitude for military affairs, they are prepared to see the British Army go out of India almost immediately.
We ought to recognise the complete right of India to self-government. I would go even further and say that we ought to recognise not only the right of the Indian people to self-government within the British Empire but if we are really democratic we ought to be prepared to go beyond that I do not say that the Indians want to go beyond that. I do not know whether they want to remain as a free and equal partner in the British Commonwealth; if they do, well and good, and I am sure we should be rejoiced to have them, but if they want to go beyond that and they say: "We want to be entirely free and independent, without the slightest kind of connection with the British Empire," it seems to me that we have no moral or democratic right to deny them that complete freedom.
I sit down, as I began, by saying that it depends entirely on the spirit which animates the Commission, whether it is a success or not. If by judicious alterations in the scheme and by an earnest appeal to the Indian people we are able to get their co-operation, if the Commission will go out to India believing that India ought to have self-government at the earliest possible moment and will listen to evidence in that spirit and will come back home to write its Report in that spirit, and if the British House of Commons will act upon the Report in that spirit, then I am quite certain the Report will do good, but if that spirit is lacking then, in my opinion, the appointment of the Commission, and all its subsequent labours, will be a waste of time.
§ Mr. PILCHER
There are a few points in the speech of the hon. Member for Shoreditch (Mr. Thurtle) to which I 2257 should like to refer before I approach my general treatment of this enormous subject. He has suggested that there was a real possibility that the Government could have accepted the nomination of two Indian members of the Commission by the Indian Congress as representative of that vast conglomeration of races which we all know as India. I should like to say something which may possibly convince my hon. Friend, because it is perfectly sincere and based on knowledge. I have attended an annual meeting of that Congress. It is a very big movement, one is prepared to admit that. The meeting which I attended was 10,000 strong and was held in a great tent, where places were allocated for delegations from most of the different racial aggregations in India; but I do assure my hon. Friend that in that meeting there was nothing of a real representative democratic character as we understand the word. There was a great deal of talking going on on a distant platform in the vast assembly, but there was no real participation in the procedure of that meeting, as we understand it. That meeting was typical of the whole organisation of the Congress of India. Its purports, certainly, to be representative of the different great racial groups, but in fact the task is an impossible one and the Congress does not achieve it. More particularly does it fail to achieve it because at various periods in its history it has deliberately and of choice driven out of its ranks the more moderate men as the problem of Indian constitutional advance has become more and more difficult. It is not a representative body in the sense that my hon. Friend understands it, and it is inconceivable that the home government, even if it had been proposed to put Indian members on the Commission, could have accepted as really representative of India two members selected by such a body.
I do not think the Criminal Law Ordinance is germane to the discussion of the great problem upon which we are engaged to-day. I would remind my hon. Friend that the very experiment which he now proposes has already on one occasion been made and it had no good effect at all. The conspiracy was driven underground for a time and it was driven abroad, but it broke out again and we were once more back in the same position. When the Rowlatt legislation—Mr. Justice Rowlatt was a Judge of the 2258 High Court-had been repealed in response to such an appeal as my hon. Friend has made to-day, the whole trouble recurred, and we had to do the same thing over again. The Bengal Ordinance to which he refers is merely the result of a repetition of the old trouble after such an amnesty as he asks for to-day had been conceded.
My hon. Friend has rather suggested that some of the sympathy expressed here and in another place for the Indian minorities is of an artificial character. He has produced once again that old tag, "divide and rule." Let me give him one quotation to show how genuine is this problem of the minorities and the submerged classes in India, and also to convince him that people like myself and many others connected with India, who know these difficult problems, are absolutely sincere when we press for the protection of minorities in the times to come. When Mr. Montagu and Lord Chelmsford made their tour of India prior to the production of their report and the initiation of the Montagu-Chelmsford scheme, which we are now discussing, they received, at Delhi or Simla, representations made personally by representatives of various groups all over India. Among others they received a delegation representing one group of outcasts numbering 6,000,000 from Madras. They received representations from other groups of outcasts, but let me read to the House what the representatives of this particular group said to Mr. Montagu and Lord Chelmsford:The caste system of the Hindus stigmatises us as Untouchables. The caste of the Hindus could not, however, get on without our assistance. We supply the labour and they enjoy the fruits—I recommend this to the attention of the Labour party—and give us a mere pittance in return. Our improvement in the social and economic scale begins with and is due to the British Government, Britishers in India, British officers and merchants, and last but not least. Christian missionaries. The British love us and we love them in return.You have to answer a case like that, the case of these outcasts which number 60,000,000 out of a population of 260,000,000, before you cease to take the most elaborate precautions for the protection of these poor people, who for a long term of years have relied on the presence of the British Government for protection from injustice and cruelty. It 2259 seems to me that the great problem we are now considering falls under three heads. First, there is the question of the time of the appointment of this Commission; whether the present moment is opportune and the best that could have been chosen. The second is the personnel of the Commission which has been chosen, and the third the procedure, the very interesting and original procedure, which has been outlined by the Government by which the Commission shall proceed in its operations.
With regard to the date of appointment, it might be urged that that question is now settled by the fact that we have passed a short Act this week and that we are now engaged in discussing the personnel of the Commission. Let me say a word on that subject. I gathered the other evening in the course of the Debate that hon. Members on the Labour benches were aware that in 1924, when I was a member of the Assembly, I voted against an advancement of the date at which this Commission should be appointed and this inquiry instituted. In 1924 things were very different from what they are now, and it is the considerations which have altered one's views, as between 1924 and now, to which I desire to refer. In 1924 we had had three years' experience of the working of the Montagu-Chelmsford scheme, and during the whole of those three years we had fortunately more or less complete co-operation between the Legislatures and the Government of India as the extreme Swarajist element had stood out of the Councils You had good results. Since 1924 we have had much greater experience of the working of this scheme. We have extracted from that sponge, shall I say, every drop of essence there is in it.
We have tried the reform scheme under adverse and favourable conditions. We have tried it for two or three years under the influence of the most remarkable speech made by the Duke of Connaught in the Assembly at its first opening in 1921, when he referred to the differences which had sprung up between the Indian people and the British and pleaded that we should forget the past. We have worked the scheme under the influence of the storm and stress due to the Swarajist agitation. We have tried it with a Mohammedan majority and with 2260 a Brahmin majority. We have tried it in Bengal without co-operation and with co-operation. In two of the Provinces it has been found necessary to suspend almost the Constitution. We have experienced the working of this scheme under all kinds of imaginable conditions, and it seems to me that the present is a very appropriate time, especially in view of the growth of the Hindu and Moslem differences and the fearful exacerbation of Indian feeling which has sprung up from these troubles, to wind up the first chapter of Indian reform and see whether we cannot get on to firm ground for the inauguration of the next chapter
Let me say a word with regard to the personnel of the Commission. I am absolutely convinced, having heard Lord Birkenhead in the House of Lords yesterday and the Noble Lord in this House today, that the Government in choosing the members of this Commission have been actuated by the best of motives. I am not myself convinced that it is the best Commission for all possible purposes we could have had. I am not absolutely convinced that it would not have been better if we had had a Commission of specialists, people who really knew the country and who started with some preliminary knowledge. I think I could very easily nominate a smaller Commission of four or five members, on which India would be represented, of men of great eminence whom India would respect. I think it would have been possible to have found an expert Commission of that character which would have produced a Constitution in a relatively short time which India might have accepted as the second stage of her journey. But the argument that the Commission must be of a Parliamentary character carries enormous weight. Those who have read the Montagu-Chelmsford Report, and realise the real objects of that reform—which I propose to discuss in a moment—must be impressed by the extreme desirability of having a Parliamentary Commission, and when you are going to have a Parliamentary Commission it is better that the men appointed should approach the problem with absolutely fresh minds. I am convinced of the necessity for a Parliamentary Commission by the results of the Montagu-Chelmsford scheme after many years.
2261 The whole idea of the Montagu-Chelmsford Report was to associate Parliament in a much closer way—in another way to disassociate it more—with the development of this constitutional experiment in India. The Report is full of lamentations regarding the fact that Parliament has not paid as close attention to Indian affairs as it used to pay in the old days. I confess that when I listened to an hon. Member on the Liberal Benches when he spoke on this colossal problem, I reflected there was only one member of the Liberal party in the House—only one representative of what I suppose is undoubtedly the great Whig tradition, which originally associated this House so closely with the government of India. There were Fox's famous India Bill, Burke's association with the political struggles of that day over Mr. Pitt's Bill, Burke's subsequent association with the trial of Warren Hastings for misdeeds that Hastings was supposed to have committed outside the jurisdiction of the High Court. It was the action of those great Whig and Liberal leaders which was responsible for making this House the supreme authority in regard to the English administration in India.
What we are really concerned with, when considering the appointment of this Commission, when considering the revision of the Montagu-Chelmsford scheme, is the question of the desirability of modifying that responsibility which the influence of Burke and Fox did so much to fasten upon this House. We are all aware of the history of the British traders who went out to India from the days of Elizabeth onwards. They assumed greater and greater responsibility, and in the 18th century great wealth began to accumulate. It was brought home, and it was at the sight of that wealth that this House, the forerunners of ourselves, first decided to assert positively that the British House of Commons must be the sovereign authority in regard to the proceeding of Englishmen overseas out of the jurisdiction of the High Court. So grew up the responsibility of the British Parliament for India's good and the behaviour of Englishmen in that country, and for the good conduct of the administration. That is all that for generations the Indians had to which they could appeal, the responsibility asserted by this House in 2262 those famous Acts, and in the course of those seven long years of the Warren Hastings trial. It was to that they appealed, and appealed with absolute confidence.
It is only in the last 10 or 15 years that any doubt has sprung up in the mind of the average Indian as to the absolute justice of this House in dealing with Indian subjects. Then the problem arises as to how Parliament is to divest itself of some portion of that responsibility placed upon it for India's good. There was this long chain, from the House of Commons to the Secretary of State for India, from the Secretary of State to the Viceroy, and then from the Viceroy less and less strong to the various legislatures which had grown up in 60 or 70 years. It was extraordinarily inconvenient that at the bottom of the chain the top end of the chain must always be considered, yet Parliament could not assert its authority and/ exercise its responsibility for India's welfare unless there were constantly this consideration of what the Secretary of State at home and Parliament might consider was for India's good. It was to relieve the pressure of that chain, especially where it galled, that the Montagu-Chelmsford scheme was brought into operation.
The idea was—and it is important to realise it to-day—to substitute something in India for the responsibility which had been vested in this House for 150 years or more, to find in India another body, if possible to create a body as reliable as Parliament itself when India's good was being considered, when the condition of the masses and the untouchables and the Mussulman minorities was being considered. The problem was to try gradually to construct in India a body or bodies which would exercise just as sound a responsibility as Parliament, and take that responsibility just as seriously. We have had only the first stage of that process so far, and we are now considering the personnel of a Commission which is to go out and ascertain how far such bodies have come into existence. That is the real point of the inquiry. We are very much inclined to go off at a tangent and to discuss "Mother India" and the condition of Indian widows and many things of that kind, which, although germane to the discussion in a sense, are yet a little distant. What we have really to consider, and the Royal Commission 2263 has to consider, is whether bodies and an electorate have yet come into being which are capable of appreciably exercising just such a responsibility and control over the Indian Government in the interests of humanity and progress as this House has exercised for the last five or six generations. That is the problem on which the Commission will be engaged, and I suggest that that should be the touchstone of all our considerations of the competence of this Commission.
I would like to discuss the question of the procedure allocated to the Commission by the Government, judging from the statements of the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State. I would like to consider that procedure in the light of this important function of the Royal Commission. It has to go to India to find out whether the Indian Assembly and the Councils of the various provinces and the electorate are really capable of exercising control over Indian administration and maintaining it at the level which we regard as efficient and decent administration in this country. I listened with very careful attention to the speech of the right hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. MacDonald). May I say, without presumption, that I thought the first part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech was admirable? The ideas of the average thinking man in India could not have been better expressed than they were by the right hon. Gentleman in the first part of his speech. But I grew very doubtful indeed when I heard him discuss the functions and position of the Committee of the central Legislature which is to co-operate with the Royal Commission that we are sending out
I want to make this quite clear. This Commission is going out to review the conduct and the capacity and the efficiency of these Indian Parliaments, That is its prime object—to find out whether they are elected by people who understand why they are electing, to find out whether the members of those Assemblies do really hold themselves responsible to the electorate, and obey the electorate, to find out whether the Ministers chosen by those bodies do really hold themselves responsible to those Parliaments and through those Parliaments to the electorate. It is these Councils, these Parliaments in 2264 India, whose conduct, record, growth and development are to be considered by the Royal Commission. In the House of Lords yesterday, there was a reference made by Lord Birkenhead to the jury character of this Royal Commission. He recalled the old phrase that the opinion of 12 good Englishmen is better than anything else in the world. It is much more competent than any one of the jury, and can arrive at a decision on practically anything. I suggest that sometimes juries have to be of an expert character.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. James Hope)
I would remind the hon. Member that it is a standing rule that speeches made in the other House may not be quoted, unless it is done merely for purposes of information. It is not in order to criticise or to answer them.
§ Mr. PILCHER
I did not intend to indulge in any criticism, and it was rather with a view to some elucidation that I mentioned the matter. My real point is that the Commission, whether in the character of a jury or in the character of a body of experts, has to examine the record, the efficiency and the capacity of these very bodies whom it has been decided to associate in some measure with the inquiry. With that degree of association of the parliaments in India with the Commission, I am in thorough agreement. It seems to me the proposal now made, that the Imperial Assembly should make suggestions to the Commission and that a committee of the Legislature should remain in contact with the Commission, is the nearest thing we can get to the round-table procedure which has so often been demanded in the Indian Assembly. I am certain that when the proposal is thoroughly understood in India, and when it is realised how much power and opportunity the Assembly and the Councils will have of stating their case to the Committee, the boycott movement will die down.
I do not attach importance to the suggestion that the Indian leaders will not change their minds and that, having asserted that there is to be a boycott, they will stick to it. I have followed the careers of these leaders much too long not to realise that, sooner or later, when they appreciate the real implications of this proposal, they will come round to a 2265 more rational and sensible position. But the Commission has to inquire into the procedure and so forth of these Councils. The Councils are under examination, and, in a court of law, apart from the person whose conduct is under examination, a great many other witnesses appear. It will be valuable to hear what the Members of the Legislature think, and I agree that they are the most important exponents of the views of a large number in the community—though not so large a number as some Members of this House seem to believe. The total electorate for the Central Legislature is just about one million people and the total number enfranchised for all the Councils together and the Assembly, does not exceed seven million people, which is not a very large number in an India of 260,000,000 inhabitants. The difficulties in the way of enfranchising more people are very large. Only 7 per cent, of the population, or some 20,000,000, can even profess to be able to read a postcard. The franchise is, therefore, very small, and I suggest that the Councils and the Legislature elected on such a franchise by such small numbers, competent though they are, important though they are, necessary though it is to consult them as far as we can, cannot for two reasons be the only people whom the Royal Commission will have to examine. It is their conduct and the procedure of Ministers in those bodies, and the attitude of those bodies towards the electorate, and the competence of the electors themselves, which have to be examined, and you cannot get the whole inside story of what happens at the elections from those bodies alone.
It seems to me that a body such as the Central Legislature, whose conduct and record are under examination, cannot occupy, as the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition seemed to suggest, a position vis-a-vis the Royal Commission as if they were two Houses of a sovereign Parliament. They cannot expect, and I do not think they would ask a position of something very like equality as compared with the Royal Commission. It has been suggested that the committee of the Central Legislature would have the right to present a report and the Leader of the Opposition conveyed the suggestion that they might have the right to send that report home. I suggest that that view is hardly con- 2266 sistent with the right hon. Gentleman's earlier suggestion that at all costs we must have a unanimous report. We listened with great interest to his recollections of his own experience in connection with the Public Services Commission, which took so long to produce its report and the proposals of which were never put into force owing to the War. While the committee of the Legislature ought to be permitted to send in its report and ought to be encouraged to consult the Royal Commission, in the closest relationship with that body, I suggest it should be the duty of the Royal Commission to present to the Joint Select Committee of the two Houses of Parliament at home the ultimate report which that Committee will have to consider.
These are the main considerations which I put before the House in regard to the Royal Commission. As one who has lived in India for some years, I would like to utter my own private and personal appeal, and I am sure the same appeal will be made by every speaker in the House. My appeal is to the leaders in India to reciprocate the spirit of accommodation and consideration which the Home Government have displayed in the appointment of this Commission. I am perfectly certain, for the reasons I have already given, that in the circumstances, given the findings of the Montagu-Chelmsford Report and the conditions under which the whole experiment began, the Home Government have attempted to appoint the most suitable Commission for the purpose. The essential is reciprocity on the part of Indian opinion and the Indian leaders. I am certain if this ebullition of misgiving and doubt declines, as it ultimately will, the people of the two countries and the leaders of the two communities will realise that it is essential for them to co-operate, if the progress of India in the near future is to be assured.
§ Mr. PETHICK-LAWRENCE
I do not propose to follow the hon. Member who has just spoken in the long exegesis of the Indian situation to which he has treated us. But, with regard to that part of his speech which was more germane to the Resolution before the House, I will only say that though, towards the end, he pleaded that our Indian friends should co-operate in working this Commission, I believe the tone of superiority which, quite unwittingly, he imported into 2267 his speech will militate more against that wish than he realises.
Now with regard to the actual Resolution and the attitude of the Government, I am one of those who are profoundly disturbed at the way in which the Government have handled the whole of this question. I think they have succeeded in alienating and antagonising opinion in India to an extent which is almost unbelievable. When we realise that it has been the wish of our Indian fellow subjects for a long time past that a change in their present Constitution should be accelerated, and that the Government are by way of taking a step towards that, it might have been expected that they would have secured the sympathy, support, and co-operation of the people in India. They have not done so, and they have not done so because they have not adopted those courses which would have secured that sympathy and support. If it had only been an extreme section of opinion in India that was against them over this. I think we might have said it was only natural that that extreme section should be against them, because they would have been against any course of action that the Government might have adopted; but, as a matter of fact, we find a very considerable part of nearly all the sections in India, including sections that have been quite moderate and well disposed to the British Raj in India, joining in a chorus of disapproval of what the Government have done. That is most unfortunate, and I think the manner in which the Government have acted is responsible for this very regrettable result.
India, up till the coming into effect of the Montagu-Chelmsford reforms, was a country entirely governed by the Government of this country. I believe that we all visualise a time when India is to be entirely self-governing, not excluding from that expression the form of Dominion self-government which it is the proud boast of our Empire to have secured for the different parts of our self-governing Dominions. As I visualise it, the task which lies before any body of people at the present time is to discuss the necessary machinery to effect the transition from the old to the new, to see the ways and means by which a country governed mainly by Great Britain shall become a self-governing part of the 2268 British Empire. If the matter is approached in that spirit, and if all the steps are taken in that spirit, I believe we not only ought to but shall secure the support and co-operation, not only of all parties in this House, but of the other main parties to the transaction, namely, the Indian people themselves.
What we are in fact doing is making a contract between the people who are handing over and the people who are taking over, and obviously both parties are essential to that contract or bond, and without the concurrence and assent of both parties that scheme must inevitably break down. The point that comes to my mind is this: Does the present proposal admit of that interpretation, does it admit of the interpretation that what we are really doing is appointing a body from this House to look at it from our point of view, the point of view of the people who are handing over power, and at the same time creating a body in India to represent the people who are taking over power? Does the scheme of the Government admit of the interpretation that that is in effect the nature of the transaction that is being proposed? After very carefully considering the proposal of the Government, I am bound to say that it is possible to put that interpretation upon it. Therefore, I have no intention of opposing, by a vote, the scheme which is being recommended by this Resolution to-day. But I am bound to say that it has another interpretation. It has an interpretation that what we are doing may be described by the French phrase "Be haut en bas," and that we are not attempting to make a bargain as between equal persons deciding how a transitional stage shall be reached, but, in the words of the hon. Member for Penryn (Mr. Pilcher) we are appointing a Commission to inquire into the conduct of the Indian Legislature. If that is the idea, the whole spirit is taken out of the business, and the thing is simply a fake and a sham. In that event, I fully agree in the view of our Indian fellow subjects, that this procedure is not worth their attention. But I have not arrived at that opinion at the present time. It all depends on the spirit in which this thing is worked. If it is worked with the most liberal interpretation which it is possible to put upon it, I think that for our Indian friends to boycott it would be a mistake; if it is 2269 going to be worked in the other kind of spirit, if it is in effect a fake, I think their attitude of desiring to boycott it will be justified, and I think the Government will have led the members of our party into a trap in getting us to agree to this Commission. But I hope that, whatever may have been the idea originally, it will be worked in the spirit in which we, on these benches, interpret it.
That is all I have to say on the major issue, but there are just two questions on points of detail which I should like to put to the Prime Minister. Part of the machinery which is being set up is, I understand, to be that there is to be a Special Committee appointed in India by the Indian Legislative Assembly, which is to consist solely of elected members of the two Houses of what is, in effect, the Federal body in India. It has been suggested to me that there are certain men of very great weight in India, Mr. Gandhi himself in particular, and others, men who have shown by their past that they are not only men of great weight but men of considerable judgment, and that it might be that Indians might wish to have these people represented on the Committee. Possibly the actual form may preclude that, but I would like to ask the Government whether it is possible, under the scheme which they visualise, that men such as that should form, if the Indians desire it, part of the Committee, either directly or co-opted for that purpose.
The second question that I want to put to the Government relates to our Commission which is being appointed from this Parliament. I quite appreciate that our Commission consists of the names which we have before us and is confined solely to Members of the two Houses, but I presume that there will be certain expert advisers on this Commission appointed either in this country or out in India. Will the Government secure that women are included as well as men among any such expert advisers as they have? It is of the utmost importance that the point of view of women in India should be taken into account, as well as the point of view of men, and owing to particular customs in India, it would be in many cases very difficult for women to be approached to come directly before a Commission of men. Therefore, it is highly desirable 2270 that for many of the technical questions in which women are concerned in India, there should be women included in some advisory capacity to the Commission as well as men. Those two questions are the particular points that I wish to put to the Prime Minister, and to which I shall be very much obliged if he will reply.
§ Sir JOHN POWER
I think I voice the opinion of a good many Members of this House when I say we welcome the appointment of this Commission. We have a very responsible part to play towards India. We require information on a variety of subjects, and I cannot think we can find any better method of getting that information in a way we can understand than by a Commission appointed by Parliament. The Commission will consist of Members of this House and another place. They understand our difficulties, and I think they understand the points on which we wish information, because it is a great experiment upon which we have started in India. India is not exactly a nation; it is a series of nations. There are more nations in India than on the Continent of Europe, more languages, and more religions. The religious question is one of the most important, and more difficult than in any other country in the world. All these things have to be reconciled, and there arises the question which this House will have to decide. Can you impose, or can a country of that magnitude, with a population of nearly three times that of the United States of America, successfully work, a democratic system? That is the problem that will be put before this House in the course of time, and for which we shall require a great deal of information.
A few words fell from the Leader of the Opposition as to the esteem in which Governments are held. I have always imagined that the esteem in which a democratic Government was held was a reflection on the electorate, that is to say, that a Government receives esteem in so much as the people it represents are sufficiently educated, and it occurs to me that the principal requirement for a democratic Government is education. I cannot see how any democratic Government can function unless there is a large number of its electorate that have education, intelligence and sufficient sense of morality to put the interests of the community in front of their own private in- 2271 terests. We want some information from this Commission as to how far such a state of things exists in India. At the present time it is an experiment. The electorate of British India, I think, is 7.4 millions out of 247 millions in British India. That is a very, very small proportion. In any case, education in India has not reached a pitch we could all wish to see. I believe that only 9 per cent. of the population is literate; the others are illiterate. Again, there is the question of the status of women in India—a very serious and far-reaching problem. It affects not only us, with our Western ideas of civilisation, but one of the reasons—to give my personal opinion—education at the present time is so small in India is because no nation has in the past been able to conduct what one might call mass education without the help of women teachers, and the position of women in India does not allow them to function in such a capacity.
Upon all those matters we require information, and this Commission which is going out is composed, not of men who have already formed their opinions, who have already taken their stand in regard to the Indian question, who have spent their lifetime in India, and who have become, as everyone does become who has spent his life in India, prejudiced, but it consists of a body of men chosen with great care and of considerable capacity who are able, with the aid of expert advice which will be afforded them, to form an opinion such as this House would be able to form if placed in a similar position. We shall get the kind of advice we want from this Commission when it has sifted all the evidence placed before it. I can only say that if there be any refusal on the part of the Indians to assist us in our well-meant endeavours to solve a very great and difficult problem, I should say it would not help to convince this House of Commons that India was fit and ready for a further step in self-government. Self-government is a fine phrase, but I take it that the best self-government is that which has the least self in it, and which looks for the good of all, and not of anyone in particular. Therefore, I can only imagine that if India will not co-operate with us—and I refuse to believe they will not do so—in our great responsibility, it would weigh with us in our judgment as to whether 2272 India was or was not fit for a further step in democratic government.
§ Mr. SAKLATVALA
I beg to move, to leave out from the word "House," in line 1 to the word "to," in line 4, and to insert instead thereof the words
"resolves to invite the Pundit Motilal Nehru, of the Legislative Assembly of India, to the Bar of the House to explain Indian sentiments and to guide the House, as provided for in the Preamble of the Government of India Act, 1919, before concurring in the submission to His Majesty of the names of persons."
I hope the House will not attribute to me any maliciousness, because to-day I can speak only as one of the conquered and enslaved subject races. Let me assure the House that I bear no malice to any persons in this House or outside this House, but I always prefer, when I give expression to the faith and feelings of those who are crushed and those who are oppressed, to speak in plain, blunt language. Not that I mean to hurt, but I refuse to weigh and choose words which mean nothing. I do submit that this House to-day, with that very mistaken notion, that because the Labour party leaders and the Government leaders combine for a couple of hours on a particular issue, they can make no mistake, are making the gravest mistake. They are insulting and hurting the people of India with the Government scheme, as well as with all the suggestions made from the Labour Benches. There is nothing but downright insults and injury to the people of India. I realise my other responsibility. I stand here representing the interests of the British electors who sent me. I stand here as representing the vital interests of the workers of this country, who show sufficient confidence in me, not one electorate alone, but all over England, Scotland, Wales and even Ireland, wherever I have the pleasure of going and mixing and speaking with the people. I say that this Resolution to-day is one of the gravest injuries, and almost an act of treachery to the working class of Great Britain, apart from the injury it is going to inflict upon the Indians.
It is not merely from any narrow nationalist point of view that I am expressing any sense of injured feelings or anger. May I remind the House that within a few days of my first entry here, when the Irish Free State Bill was before this House, and when that same 2273 Imperialist conspiracy of every British ruler combining, irrespective of his conscientious belief to the contrary, new as I was in experience, almost nervous as I was, I felt it my duty to move the rejection of that Bill, and so do I feel again to-day, as one of the conquered races that know the curse of imperialism, that know the evil to the rulers as well as the ruled of one nation ruling another. I am very sorry that the Government had no other spokesman than the Undersecretary of State for India. The Noble Lord has got many good qualities, and yet, at the same time, his good qualities, from certain points of view, are at times exceedingly unfortunate.
What is the position that you are taking up to-day as the imperialistic dictator of an ignorant people? The position when analysed and bluntly exposed to the eyes of the world is this, that you enter into a conspiracy; you pretend that you have no political principles on which you can act, and you pretend to deceive the world that there are no conscientious objections against Imperialism, against exploitation, and against many of the evils of Great Britain ruling India, and that you are all unanimous; at the same time you make every diabolical effort—I do not mean to apply that word to the personality of the Under-Secretary, but to the effort which he made—to show that while you are united, India is disunited, scattered into hundreds of fragments, and not only disunited but almost un-unitable. While you make a hideous picture of the Indian people you try to make a virtuous picture of yourselves, and you know that both are untrue.
The Under-Secretary opened his remarks by saying that there was welter and chaos when the British rulers went to India, and that they consolidated the conditions. May I ask the House just to review the historical position from 1910 to 1914? There was the Kaiser in Europe. He also felt the same thing, namely, that among the European communities there was such a welter and chaos that one strong man was required to rule the whole of Europe. He also felt like coming forward as the trustee and guardian of the small nationalities in Europe. He failed. You succeeded. That is the only difference, but the claim of the Kaiser and the claim of the British 2274 kaisers is equally preposterous from the ethical standpoint and the point of view of national rights.
The Under-Secretary then told us about, the trusteeship of minorities and one thing and another, and he made a big picture. There are Hindus, Mohammedans, Sikhs, and Parsees. We have heard it often and often, but may I ask whether this Bill, whether the Imperialist rule in India, whether this Commission intends to give one religion to India? Is that your object? Is that what you are doing? If you are merely "chewing the rag" because there are many religions in India, how does that entitle you to go as pirates into somebody's land and establish a rule? Will that make less religions? You will only make one more. What is the meaning of frivolously talking about all these irrelevant things? If you tell me that this Commission is going out to India and the unmistakable result is going to be a unification of religions, I will be ready to support it; but merely to talk about all the differences of religion in India and then argue from that that Great Britain is entitled to rule the whole of India, is an old time deception that an enlightened world can no longer swallow.
If I may be permitted just to give something from my memory of a personal character in this matter. In 1902 a plague was having devastating effects all over India. It was to be taken in hand not merely as a grave problem, but as something to save human lives. There was a Professor Haffkin in those days who was the first man who, with some measure of success, gave out an anti-plague serum for inoculation. His experiments were being conducted on a large scale. I was then associated as secretary with an important committee of welfare workers-The Governor of Bombay, who was then himself staying out of Bombay, immediately sent a telegram to Professor Haffkin to go to him with certain facts and figures because the matter was becoming of vital importance. Professor Haffkin asked me to go and assist him. I gave up my work in the office, and I went to the place where he was staying, and that was his European Club. People talk about untouchability! Although I had facts and figures at my disposal which were the result of months of 2275 study, and the professor had only four or five hours at his disposal, I was actually prevented from entering the white man's club. Yet a representative of that race to-day talks nonsense about untouchability among the Hindus. Ultimately, when it could not be helped, the messenger of the club, after telephoning to various Government officials, took me to the backyard of the club, led me through the kitchen and an underground passage to a basement room, where the professor was asked to see me, because I was not a white man. That happened 25 years ago.
I got the Indian newspapers last Monday, and there is an example quoted of a European officer of very high position, a Britisher and his wife, who were travelling in a first-class railway carriage. They had only reserved their own seats, and a Mohammedan of very high rank, occupying a very high position in the Government of India, had his seat reserved in the same carriage. When he wanted to enter the carriage the British officer would not allow him to sit in another seat in the same carriage. He held the door of the railway carriage so that the railway officials were unable to open the door, and that Mohammedan official had to take his seat in another carriage. Yet a man of that British race here to-day stands up and pours contempt upon the Hindus for insulting the Mohammedans. Talk about depressed classes and untouchable classes! What is this Commission going to do? If it was going out tomorrow to abolish untouchability I would assist it, but the Government say, "No, that is not our business.' Then why keep on "chewing this rag" about untouchability and depressed classes?
In 1919 you gave self-government—liberty, equality, fraternity—to the people of India. You, the Heaven-born guardians of the depressed classes, what did you do? You have not enfranchised 2 per cent. of the depressed class of the population. If you were sincere in your belief, why did you not give the people full political franchise? What is the trouble of the depressed classes and the untouchable classes? Sixty millions of people untouchable! Do not tell such cock-and-bull stories everywhere every time. Sixty millions of people suffering from untouchability! Why, you are a 2276 population of 45,000,000 in this country, and if that is considered quite sufficient to touch, surely these 60 millions are sufficient.
What is the good of talking nonsense like that? Sixty millions of people are not suffering from untouchability, but from the great curse of British Imperialism, which keeps them illiterate and uneducated. Why did you not do your duty by these people? Why did you not give them education? You say, "Where is the money to come from? We cannot do it. They are an Asiatic people, full of religious superstition." I have come from a second visit to Russia, and I unhesitatingly say, I say it seriously and most earnestly, that the British people ought to go and learn from Lunacharski how in six years he has taken in hand all the Asiatic peoples of the Soviet Republic and turned illiteracy into literacy producing a good, scientific, well-educated people. [Laughter.] Yes, those who are too blind to see with their eyes, those who are too deaf to hear with their ears, may laugh, but the fact remains that when the political tyranny of the Tsar was removed, and when real freedom came to the people of Russia—[Laughter.] Yes, when real, genuine freedom came to the people of Russia the first effect was that the Asiatic peoples, who under the Tsar had been kept illiterate and ignorant, all got a good education, in some respects even better than and higher than the elementary education given in the schools in Britain. I was not alone when I went to Russia. There were 120 British men and women with me. Every one of them is as good as if not better than those who have been roaring with laughter here. What I saw they have seen, and what I believe they believe. They will come back to tell this country about it.
Political rights and depressed classes! Mohammedan minorities, Sikhs and Parsees! It was your duty to grant them political rights, so that minorities could protect their own interests. What did you do? According to your own statement, only 7,000,000 people out of 247,000,000 have the right to vote. That is how you have protected minorities. This Commission is to go out not to protect minorities, but to decide how to keep minorities under the thumb of a still smaller minority, namely, the British rulers. When we talk of the rights of minorities it is the same story again: 2277 "Oh, they are illiterate, they are superstitious, they have different languages and different religions." Let me go back to the illustration of Russia. In Russia the Asiatic tribes not only had different languages but for 18 groups 18 new alphabets had to be created; but with good will what have the Soviet rulers of the people achieved? There is a political vote for every man and woman at the age of 18, and the Asiatic peoples exercise the vote, with very great advantage and without any trouble. Yet the Noble Lord stands up here to-day and says, "We are ruling India because there are depressed classes of Mohammedans and minorities." It is all bunkum and non-sense. The oppressors of India ape here. You are responsible as a country—not you personally, Mr. Speaker, I mean the country is responsible—for all that ill-picture which has been painted of India, and then you gibe at the people of India and tell the world that they are peculiarly bad and superstitious and ignorant, and that their women do this and that and the other. The women of India are as good sisters to the women of Britain and to the women of China as anybody else. Deprive the women of this country of their political rights, and of their education and they would come down to the same low level as the illiterate, uneducated women of India.
What is wrong in India is not the religious and social customs. What is wrong is the presence of British rule, which prevents the introduction of modern thought, modern evolution, modern education and scientific methods of evolving a peoples' political, economic and social rights. That is what they are suffering from. You are sending out this Commission not to unify religions, not to produce touchability, not to drive away superstition and ignorance with learning and literature, not to drive away slavery by giving political rights to the people, but you are sending out this Commission to find out how the British nation can tell lies to the world at large, and hypocritically pretend that the British are carrying out their trust in India. It is all non-sense and you all know it. It is not your fault. The Romans did the same thing once upon a time, when they were ruling your country. My ancestors, the Persians, did the same thing when they were ruling the Jews, the Assyrians, and the Turks. We are all subject to the same 2278 failing. Whenever one country governs another, it always talks of acting on behalf of minorities, just as the League of Nations pretends to-day, but it always tramples upon the rights of majorities. Who are the majority amongst the people of India? Never mind the Hindus and the Mohammedans, because religious differences exist in all nations of the world. The majority of the people of India are peasants and agriculturists. The majority of people in the large cities are industrial workers. What rights have you given to them? What is your blooming Commission going to do for them? What instructions will it have? What is the purpose of this country's rule in India? To keep talking of minorities and to trample upon the rights and the progress of the majority. Because the Mohammedans are a minority in India—80,000,000—that is a justification for 40,000,000 Britishers to enslave 220,000,000 Hindus. That is the logic of what the world is asked to believe.
The Leader of the Opposition put forward certain schemes. I do not want my colleagues in the Labour party to misunderstand me. I do wish to offer criticism, but not because of any personal differences of opinion. I have no right to presume to any higher wisdom or any clearer thought than any of my colleagues on the Labour Benches. I do not wish to offer criticism as to how the Indians will look upon the action of the Labour party. I know the effect of it will be disastrous for the working Hindu and the British and the Indian workers who will have to work side by side for the benefit of both. The position India may take is that in this country we have a Labour party. When that party meets at Blackpool they have one voice, but when the same party meets at Westminster they embrace the Conservatives, and the Conservatives shake hands with them and pat them in the back. That is the position. It is not necessary for the Labour party to insist upon any artfully got-up harmony between the political parties when they are dealing with subject races. That is disastrous to the Labour movement, although it may be all right in a Parliamentary Debate. The Leader of the Opposition suggested that great advantages might accrue to India through these Committees being set up. All I can say is that the putting of more sugar on the propositions of these Committees will not make the Indian 2279 people swallow them more easily. I do not say that the wisdom of Indian politicians is unerring and that Labour politicians in this country are always right. When you are dealing with a fundamental question like the one we are now considering, if you believe that you have only to put a little more honey, sugar and cream on the top of it in order that India will swallow it, then you are making a disastrous mistake. On these matters the Indian mind has a little more penetration than the Western mind.
The Leader of the Opposition stated that he thought there was some possibility of good results from this Commission, but why did he say that? In my view the Commission will only create confusion. The Commission may help you for the moment, but it means war in the future. Why are you pinning so much faith upon the work of this Commission? Let hon. Members imagine two Courts of law trying one prisoner. Here you have two bodies dealing with the same question from opposite points of view which are quite irreconcilable. The members of these bodies are opposed to each other. Consequently you have two groups of human beings studying one problem from two opposite directions, and they vainly imagine that this is not going to lead to future conflict but to future harmony. I think the Leader of the Opposition has made one very valuable suggestion. The Under-Secretary of State for India said he could not make the British Commission representative of Indian opinion, and he mentioned the cotton industry, the peasants and the Mohammedans, and they were dealt with from social and industrial points of view and represent all nationalities. We have been told that the function of the members of a commission is not to represent sectional opinions, but during the process of cross-examination to bring out the different points of view before the Commission. If there had been one or two or even 20 Indians on that Commission, which at present does not contain one woman or one Mohammedan, you would then have had representatives full of knowledge of India which the British members of the Commission cannot possess. They would have examined the situation, and would have suggested a new law.
2280 The suggestion-made by the Leader of the Opposition is the fantastic idea of two Committees sitting together with equal rights of cross-examining witnesses but he refused to pursue that suggestion to its logical conclusion. You do not find an ordinary lawyer in a Court of law undertaking the cross-examination of witnesses and the study of a certain position, and then simply leaving the case to the mercy of someone else to sum up the results of his cross-examination. What is now suggested means that the Indian Committee will take all the trouble, if they are foolish enough to do so, of cross-examination, and then leave it to the British Commission to direct the jury in Great Britain as to the position just as they like, and the Indian Committee will have no voice in the conclusions which are to be drawn from their own cross-examination. That is a farce, a fantasy and a packed affair which does not meet the difficulties. That is not statesmanship, and it is far from Labour politics. What is more it is not the view of the workers and the peasants of India. As far as any good is likely to accrue from the Report of the Commission, that Report might as well be represented to the Emperor of Japan or the Governor-General of Korea. We have been told that Parliament is the only tribunal which ought to judge in regard to the right Government for India, because the Legislative Assembly in India has no parliamentary constitutional power. If that is so, why waste the time of the Indian legislators writing out reports. Even without the inquiry to be held by this Commission, you could get those reports sent by post, and any man in the street might write a letter to the Select Committee. There is no reality in all these things. The whole position is unreal. It is lamentable to think that an Imperialistic nation like Britain still persists in pursuing this unnatural and antiquated method of governing the destines of another country. This Commission, if they are honest, can only investigate as between Imperialism and anti-Imperialism.
Yesterday this House had one of its usual futile, sentimental debates. I am not going to give you any trouble, Mr. Speaker, in calling me to order on that point. I am not referring to the Debate as such, but there was one important inference to be drawn from that Debate, 2281 from all that talk of disarmament, of Protocols, of formulas on paper, of previous preparations and after preparations—nothing. The Leader of the Opposition did place his finger on one essential factor that should make for war or peace. He said that people would give up arming, that people would give up fighting—I use that phrase in reference to the Indian situation as meaning a political fight in the future—people would give up fighting, people would give up arming, if only every one had a sense of security against the other. The Commission that is being, appointed to-day—let us not be blind—is not driving, but it has driven, all sense of security from the mind of each and every politician, from every school and every thought in India.
There is no longer that sense of security among the Indians in this Commission. You can put forward another Committee with its restricted rights, you can do what you like, but, even if they have some sense of security in that Committee, it is not going to restore any sense of security in your part of the country. You can make as many speeches as you like, you can have any kind of concordats between yourselves and the Front Bench of the Labour party, or the Back Bench of the Labour party, but that is not going to restore a sense of security in the Indians. Every Indian politician has now the feeling that this roving Commission comes to insult us, to offend us, to deny to us our natural, undoubted right to rule our country.
What on earth is a British Commission to find out in India in regard to whether Indians should rule in their own country, any more than if you had the impudence to send a Commission to France to-morrow to see whether that country should be run by Frenchmen or whether the British should go there to take care of the minorities in Alsace-Lorraine? The fundamental feature of it all is that this House is making a mistake. You believe that you can jump over this difficulty, but, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) pointed out, you are not jumping over the difficulty, but are rather jumping into a gulf, into a chasm, and getting engulfed in it rather than jumping across it as you are expecting to do.
An honest Commission should be composed of two sections. One section 2282 should be frankly and brutally Imperialist. There are not two ways of ruling another nation. There is not a democratic and sympathetic way, and also an unsympathetic way. There is only one way of ruling another nation, and that is that you must dominate it, and must have an effective weapon in your hands for preserving your domination, especially when you are dealing with a people that is entirely alien from you, and more especially when you are dealing with a country which has nine times the population of your own. Any Commission that you may send out is only going to decide how that weapon must be kept efficient up to the very last moment.
Of a real Commission one half should consist of these honest Imperialists, and the other half must be candid, open-minded, outspoken anti-Imperialists. Let that anti-Imperialist section of the Commission prove to the people of India, as well as to the people of Great Britain, what a curse it is in modern times for the workers of Britain, for the workers of India and for the peasants of India, to have these Imperial ties, and not only that, but, if I may again refer to the hypocritical Debate that we had yesterday, what a curse it is to the peace of the world when the representative of the British Admiralty can go to Geneva and say, "I have the sacred duty of guarding 85,000 miles of the sea." You guard 85,000 miles of the sea, and another man is afraid of your guard, so he also has to guard as many miles as he possesses, and the peace of the world is disturbed. Give up those 85,000 miles of the sea which belong to other people, and stick to your own few thousand miles, and the problem of disarmament is solved at once. That is the only solution. To-day, to-morrow, 10 years hence, 20 years hence, at any time, the Commission that requires to be appointed first is the Commission of Imperialism versus anti-Imperialism, and not a Commission appointed by camouflage.
The Noble Lord says that he will take care, that he is already taking care, that the Committees appointed in India will be democratic Committees. How? Because they are going to be taken from the elected Members of the House. That is taking a mean advantage of the notorious 2283 ignorance of the Members of the British Parliament. The British Parliament has the characteristic that ignorance is not only bliss, but is a great stepping-stone to a political career. I wish the Noble Lord would give the history of those elected Members to this House. It misleads the Members of this House when he talks of the elected Members of the Indian Legislature as if they were all elected by the same process by which we are elected Members here. There are elected Members in the Indian Legislative Council who are elected by no one but a few electors of Bombay—cotton mill owners of Bombay. There are representatives who are elected by no one except the Chambers of Commerce; there are representatives who are elected by no one but certain University Senates, and the University Senates themselves are not elected, but are nominated by the Government. There are elected Members representing the landlords, who are elected by a couple of hundred landlords.
There is a Second Chamber. What is that Second Chamber? It is like what the House of Lords would have been if the Prime Minister had dared to come out with that fancy scheme of his here, but on a worse scale. I am sure the Noble Lord knows that the majority of the elected Members of the Second Chamber have a constituency of about 200 of their fellows, and the one who wears the largest number of pearl necklaces and diamond necklaces round his neck is elected by 200 other Johnnies who wear fewer pearls and fewer diamonds. And we are told here that that Commission which will be appointed in India will express the voice of the people of India. A little while ago the Under-Secretary told us that it is impossible for any representative to express the voice of the people of India; but when it is the mill-owners, and the industrialists, and the magnates, and the landlords, and the zemindars, and the princes, then they represent, not only the voice of the people of India, but all that is perfect in democracy, all that can be imaginable in the world as expressing the sorrows and grievances and sufferings of the people.
Let me seriously and earnestly appeal to this House that you have all gone mad, and mad, and mad. You think in the ease of Ireland, you think in the case of India, in the same terms in which you 2284 are apt to think in the case of Canada, Australia and, partly, the white population of South Africa. You are quite welcome to that great unity with Australians and Canadians, but your unity with Ireland and India cannot be compared with that unity. I have submitted to this House on a previous occasion that it is most unfortunate that one undiscriminating term, "the British Empire," should be made applicable to two distinctly different things—the unity with self-governing Dominions of your own kith and kin, and the unity with enslaved nations of a culture and disposition that are alien from yours altogether. I again submit to this House that there was a time when the outside world believed that the British Parliament was a democratic institution. Now the outside world has grown wise and knows that the British Parliament is the dictatorial power that denies the elementary rights of franchise, of education, of self-defence, of self-arming, to 400 millions of Hindus, Mohammedans, negroes and Chinese in this world. The world has seen that this British Parliament is only democratic when it suits it, and it is the most autocratic haughty, Imperialist institution that dictates to the, people of the world. Since the War, and more especially since the Russian revolution, we know that this British Parliament is making frantic efforts to deceive the world that the unity with India and Ireland is also something similar to that unity with Canada and Australia. The world knows it. British Parliamentarians know it. They send out a Commission to grant freedom to the people of India, and if anyone has the spirit of freedom in India they will soon get hold of him and put him into prison without charge and without trial. If anyone is likely to say anything about that Commission the Under-Secretary will make a report to someone, "Do not let this fellow go out to India, otherwise he knows the truth about us."
I again say this is an attempt to deceive the world and that the world can no longer be deceived. If you say you are prepared to hear an Indian Commission, if you say you are prepared to hear more than one member of the Legislative Council it will be too late to show that preparation after passing this Resolution and appointing this Commission. If you mean well towards your own people, if you want to save the British working 2285 classes from that abominable competition of exploited labour in the East by British Imperialism, if you want to take care of human interests, if you want to have any sense of honour, any regard for liberty, for freedom, and for democracy, do not appoint this Commission. Ask my friend the Pundit Motilal Nehru, the one man out of many who happens to be here. Hear him. The Noble Lord said I was talking erratic nonsense which no Indian believes in. Every other Member who talks in this House at all talks with the full authority of the Indiars—I am the only one who does not—especially those on the Government Bench, who have not only the authority but the blessing of the Indian nation. In my Amendment I am suggesting that here is one who the Noble Lord says is an elected representative, one of the leaders of Indian opinion, and I still suggest that if you want to save your faces, if you want to give up deceiving the world, the one way out is to listen to the voice of India through another Indian and then judge for yourselves whether you are not doing a most criminal thing to-day in appointing this Commission.
§ Mr. SCRYMGEOUR
I beg to second the Amendment.
I do so in the first place in order that I may give my special opinion concerning the situation as it confronts the House to-day. I am quite well understood to have entirely different views from those of the hon. Member for North Battersea (Mr. Saklatvala) on the position he occupies as a representative of the Communist party, but we are not considering the question of Communism at all to-day. We are considering this proposed Commission as it has been submitted by the Government and advocated from the benches opposite. In the preliminary discussion we had a statement by the. Under-Secretary that there had been a requisition from the Legislative Assembly of India that a Commission should be appointed. Firstly, I think that statement has been well established, and an hon. Member on this side of the House who has spoken to-day gave personal testimony as to his knowledge of that being the fact.
But the real question is: Why this united composition of the Commission? I understood that there was a very marked diversion from the Government on the part of the Labour party on such 2286 an outstanding question as this. I have learnt to believe that their attitude was to afford the Indian people the earliest opportunity and the fullest scope for a clear expression of actual Indian opinion. I am firmly agreed with the hon. Member for North Battersea in the particular point which he made to-day, that the case submitted by the Noble Lord concerning the variety of religious opinion and conviction does not at all meet the necessities of the case. As he has well said, it is not a matter of their religious opinions but a matter as to how their Government is to be conducted and as to how the Indian people are to obtain and exercise the authority which they rightfully claim tot take part in the conduct of their own affairs. We in this country are having demands made of this kind, particularly in our own land of Scotland, and we know even in that connection the sort of Imperialism which is prevalent.
A remarkable feature of the Labour party's position to-day is this, that on the very earliest announcement of the Commission there was the outstanding fact that two Labour representatives were appointed on that Commission. That, I submit, at the very outset, damaged the influence of the Commission in India, where it was felt that Labour would certainly stand by them in getting a thoroughly representative Commission that would guarantee a proper investigation of the situation. Interviewed, like other Members of the House, by the Press of India as to what I thought about it, I expressed the view, and I am expressing it now that there ought to have been directly appointed, or, at any rate selected by the Government, representatives of Indian opinion. It is very remarkable also that the two members whose names were given as representing the Labour party on the Commission were the Secretary of State for War in the Labour Government and the Under-Secretary of State for War in that Government. What does that signify? It certainly signifies that there is great concern about the united opinion in this House that Imperialism is to be kept well to the front. How is that going to help us to solidify that unity of spirit to which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aberavon (Mr. MacDonald) directed our attention to-day. If we are going to win the hearts and minds of 2287 the people of India, surely we ought to translate our words into actions. It seems to me as an independent Member of the House that here we have the Opposition in this particular connection giving the frankest confidence concerning the action of the Government. They are indicating that there is no reason to fear but every reason to support them in this House, believing that their proposals will be carried out in the spirit to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred.
I am perfectly entitled to ask: What guarantee have we that this Government, which we have heard so frequently condemned from Labour platforms as unworthy of confidence and which cannot be relied upon for its pledges, can be relied upon in this matter? Are we to believe from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aberavon that he and his party are now satisfied? I am not inside the Labour party, but as a reader of the Press I am familiar with the fact that there has been an effort to try to sugar the surface in regard to this matter. There has been an effort, as the hon. Member for North Battersea said, to smooth the pill and to provide the jam so that they might take the castor oil. I do not like castor oil in its raw form, and I do not like it in its camouflaged form as presented in this House. My experience of the House of Commons for five years now has been that I have more and more reason to doubt the realism of our political partisanship. There is far too much stage performance, far too much of the full-dress debate and far too little of realism, and it is because of my sympathy with the great body of the Indian people, and the great need there is among our own people to have evidence of the genuineness of our professions as politicians that I support the Amendment to-day.
We have had another proof to-day of the subtle method whereby we profess to the world that we are anxious to do what is right to other nations, while we are misleading our own people to such an extent that there is a growing feeling in our own country that they cannot believe politicians. The situation is very unsatisfactory, and I cannot feel confidence in the assurances which have been given by the Government. On those grounds I am supporting the Amendment. I wish to 2288 make it perfectly clear, as far as I am concerned, that I do not think the Commission will work in the way it might have done had it been presented in a fair and frank way, with two decisive elements in India considering the problem, one representing those who are out and out Imperialists, and those who favour an expression of the full rights of the Indian people. In that way we should have got a clear understanding of what is the mind of the Indian people, and we should have been able to act in a way that would have been much more likely to satisfy not only the people of India but our own people that we really mean the things that we have said.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The Amendment which has been moved must be disposed of before we can proceed further with the general Question.
§ Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question," put, and agreed to.
§ Main Question again proposed.
§ Miss WILKINSON
I rise to make a personal explanation. I wish to read a letter which I have this afternoon sent to Sir John Simon, and I am particularly anxious that the terms of the letter should get into the Indian Press:
§ "Dear Sir John Simon,
§ In the 'New Leader' of to-day's date I state that you had acted as the legal representative of the Indian Princes in the course of your legal work. I made this statement on the authority of one or two Members of the House, including a barrister not of my own party. Since the paper was published, I have received proof that this is not the case, and that in fact you had withdrawn when asked to act as adviser during the summer.
§ May I say how terribly sorry I am to have made this statement? I not only unreservedly withdraw and apologise, but I wish to make that apology as public as possible, in order that not the slightest misconception may remain. The fullest apology will appear in the next issue of the 'New Leader,' and I am making a statement to the representatives of Indian papers this afternoon. If you would like anything else to be done, I am entirely at your service.
§ The only possible ray of light is the fact that as this opinion was apparently widely held, my apology and withdrawal may have the effect of stopping the rumour.
§ Believe me,
§ Yours faithfully,
§ ELLEN WILKINSON."2289
§ Mr. LANSBURY
The subject we are discussing this afternoon is one which every man of my age has heard discussed by speakers of all parties in this country for the last 30 or 40 years. The fact that to-day we are discussing the appointment of a Royal Commission to inquire as to the next step to be taken in the granting of definite responsible government to India shows the tremendous advance that has been made from the speeches which used to be delivered in this House years ago, and shows that at any rate in thought the British public and British politicians have moved considerably ahead. The dispute that has arisen between my friends in India and some of my friends in this country as to whether or not this proposal to set up a Commission should be supported or not is a dispute entirely on machinery. There can be no question in the minds of anyone as to what the Commission is to inquire into. It cannot be, as the hon. Member below the Gangway has said, into the good behaviour or otherwise of the Legislative Assembly or the Council.
§ Mr. PILCHER
May I explain why I used the word "conduct"? It was not used in the ordinary sense of good or bad conduct, but in connection with actions.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I think it was a very unfortunate expression indeed. The point I want to make is that there can be no division of opinion as to the object of this Commission, because the Duke of Connaught, when announcing to the people of India the Montagu-Chelmsford reforms, definitely said that this was the first step along the road towards the adoption of self-government; that the Montagu-Chelmsford scheme was undertaken in order to start India on the road to complete self-government. Therefore, the object of sending out the Commission must be to inquire how we can accelerate the rate of progress, which all people who know India think must be undertaken. The question as to whether it should be a mixed Commission or no Commission at all, or whether it should be, as we on these benches would very much like to see, a Commission from this country with a Commission in India, both acting along parallel lines and meeting and discussing whenever necessary; whichever of these proposals is adopted, I am quite certain it would not satisfy some of my friends.
2290 I have been told already that no Commission and no Committee will satisfy the Indian people or those who speak or profess to speak on behalf of the Indian people. I think that those who make that statement are not speaking either on behalf of the Indian nation or in the best interests of the Indian nation, and for this reason. The Commission or the Commissions that we are proposing are, in my opinion, whether the Government intend it or not, the fulfilment in practice of a demand which I understand the Indian Assembly itself has sent forward, namely, that there should be a round-table conference between representatives of this country and representatives of the people of India. If I am wrong I hope I shall be corrected by the Prime Minister when he replies. I understand that the first duty of the Commission, when it arrives in India, is to meet the Committee appointed by the Assembly, and that together they will discuss the objects which the Commission has undertaken in India.
I listened in another place to Lord Birkenhead and I understood from his speech that it would be within the province of the Commission to hear from that Committee definitely their proposals for the future in regard to the development of self-government in India. If, when the Commission arrives in India, the representatives of the Assembly have themselves prepared what they consider is the next step towards responsible government, it will be able at a roundtable conference with the Commission to discuss the matter, and, if possible, convince the Commission that that is what ought to be adopted on behalf of the Indian people. It seems to me that to say that the Commission is mere camouflage if such a procedure is adopted, is to say what on the face of it is absolutely untrue. I have read very considerably the articles and speeches that appear in Indian newspapers of all kinds. I get a very large number of them. If during the last year, there has been one note more predominant than another, it has been that of the necessity for a round-table conference. This procedure that we are supporting is a procedure which in fact does bring about that round-table conference. The fact that it is a Commission from this country and a Committee from India does not seem to me to alter the fact one bit, be- 2291 cause if there were to be a round-table conference and you sent special delegates from this country and did not call them Commissioners, I cannot see that that would make any difference whatever.
The next thing I want to say is that those who, like myself, are supporting the proposition this afternoon have not, as the hon. Member for North Battersea (Mr. Saklatvala) and some others have suggested, climbed down, and are not giving up or going back on the principle laid down at Blackpool or anywhere else. I learned most of what I know about India long years ago from listening to Henry Fawcett, and afterwards, W. S. Caine, Charles Bradlaugh and others—men who were looked upon in those days as the real spokesmen of India in this country. I learned from them and I believe it to be absolutely true that no nation has the right to rule and dominate over another nation. I have also learned enough of the history of my own country to know that at one time we were divided into seven kingdoms and that we won our way through that stage to the position we are in to-day, not because our fathers waited until we had elementary education and until all of us could read and write, but because we had an innate love of freedom, which compelled our fathers not to assent to government from outside.
When I hear the Noble Lord the Under-Secretary here, and the Noble Lord the Secretary of State in another place, talk of the number of nationalities in India and the ignorance which prevails in India, I cannot help thinking that these are not reasons why we should claim the right to continue our domination in that country. The strongest reason for getting away from that view and for seeking to try to carry out that view, is the argument of our own country. Our country is much smaller than India and I think we are no more intelligent than the average intelligent Indian and our country won its unity in another way. There are only two ways in which it can be done. Our fathers had to use force and violence and armaments of one kind or another to win their freedom. The people of India at present lack one thing; they lack the power of armaments—scientific weapons and so forth. To some hon. Members it may appear only an idle dream but I have always felt that the coming of the working people of this country into 2292 politics, will alter the outlook of the nation upon life at home and life abroad. I have always had the idea—call it a dream if you will—that because our own working class have had to fight, politically and industrially, to secure the position which they hold in the councils of the nation and because they have come through that struggle and have reached their present position, we shall want to bring freedom to the people of India, Egypt and the other countries under the domination of Britain, without the intervention of war or force of any kind.
The difference between myself and the hon. Member for North Battersea, and between myself and those who say that India must fight her way, must carve her way out, is that I believe the world, especially in regard to our own country, has outgrown that way of doing things. We, on these benches, believe that we are going to win industrial and social freedom for ourselves through this very cumbersome machinery of Parliament and all that Parliament involves. I believe that we can allow the people of India to get freedom for themselves if only we can make them believe that we honestly believe what we say when we tell them that we want them to have absolute freedom to rule their own land. If we were able to start at this moment without any history behind us, with no conditions that have been made for us by the past, the task would be relatively easy, but we have to face the facts of life as they are, and as things are to-day we are bound to try to find out how best we can bring the people of India into line with ourselves and how best we can give them the opportunity of securing the freedom which we genuinely want them to obtain.
The only other thing I want to say is that under this scheme—and I am repeating it because it needs emphasis, and if I am wrong I hope the Prime Minister will correct me—the Committee that is appointed in India can, of itself, take evidence wherever it pleases, can arrange its own course of action without interference from this House or from the Commission, because it is an Indian Committee, appointed by the Assembly, that it will meet the Commission at Delhi, and that they will discuss all the questions involved in the inquiry which they please, that when the British Commission has done its work and returned to this country, the Committee in India can, if it 2293 pleases, report to the Assembly in India, that the Assembly in India can, if it pleases, send that report to the Viceroy for transmission to the Secretary of State, and that then it can come before this House. But in any case—and this is what I consider the most important thing of all—as I understood the Noble Lord in the other place and the Noble Lord today, that Committee will count as a Joint Parliamentary Committee, and that Joint Parliamentary Committee will be an ad hoc Committee appointed by the Government of India, and the Committee that comes from India is to sit with that Joint Committee to discuss with them, to assist them with their witnesses, but, chief of all, if there is a united body of opinion in India that is behind any set of proposals which united India wants to put forward, those proposals will be put forward at that Joint Committee.
Therefore, in the last resort, at the last moment, before any legislation has been framed or any scheme formulated, the voice of India will be heard clearly and on equal terms with the British Commission. I am vain enough to think that the Labour party would have managed the initial procedure much better than it has been managed by the present Government. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO!"] That is a matter of opinion. The point I want to urge on my friends, if I have any, in India, or in this country who belong to India, is this, that there can be no argument at all with those who believe you can get nothing from this House, those who believe you can only fight Great Britain in order to win freedom for India. It is no use trying to argue with them, but those who can proceed along constitutional lines, who believe that the Montagu-Chelmsford reforms, limited and miserable in their scope as they were, were the beginning of a new era, in my view ought to join in doing their very best to make this proposed Commission and the proposed Committee as successful as possible. I believe that whether they call themselves Tories, Liberals or Socialists, if the British people can, by the means and methods we have been discussing here to-day, transform a system of domination in India into a system of real self-government, free and independent partners of a great British Commonwealth, we shall have accomplished something of which our children and grandchildren will be 2294 proud, and which has never yet been done by any other nation in the world.
§ The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Baldwin)
I, as every Member of this House, must welcome the tone of the Debate to-day and the general acceptance of the proposal which has marked the proceedings of that Debate. There have been only two or three Voices raised against the proposal, and we are all very pleased to see the hon. Member for North Battersea (Mr. Saklatvala) back in his place. It is quite evident that during his absence he has made no speech against the Government of the country which he was visiting comparable to the one which he has delivered to-day, or we should most regretfully have had to do without his presence. When speaking of liberty, he must have lost for the moment his keen sense of humour. I felt that never had there been an exhibition more patent to this world of the height, depth, breadth and strength of British liberty than the sight of the hon. Member delivering that speech in the British House of Commons. There is only one word more that I want to say about liberty. When I want information about liberty in Russia I shall go to Trotsky, and not to the hon. Member.
I am afraid that, to a certain extent, at this stage of the Debate, I must repeat and re-emphasise some things that have been said already, but I think they should be presented clearly to this House in the last speech made on the subject of the appointment of the Commission. What has been criticised in this House has been less the Commission itself than the form of the Commission—the form in which the Government intentions were stated. For that we have been blamed. In India, where the misunderstanding was greater, and, I think, was genuinely greater, the Viceroy's announcement gave a full statement of the policy embodied in the procedure, and if that procedure in that statement was not reduced into more close and definite terms, the very reason of that was the reason indicated by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, which is, the necessity of leaving the Commission itself as free a hand as possible until they arrived on the spot. Therefore, we are only giving the framework, and within that framework the Commission are left free. They can pursue as many of the lines of procedure, 2295 which have been suggested to-day, as seem to them on consideration wise and practicable, only providing that such procedure is within the framework and does not prejudice the responsibility, and the ultimate responsibility, of this Parliament.
I do not know whether it is necessary to say this, but I think perhaps, after some observations which have been made in this House, it may be as well that I should say this: Let Indians dismiss from their minds any thought of inferiority. They will be approached as friends and as equals, but the responsibility of Parliament remains, and no procedure which suggests that that responsibility can be formally shared with representatives of another Parliament will really advance the inquiry. But, subject only to that proviso, we can, and do, identify ourselves with the closing words of the Leader of the Opposition. That there should have been any misunderstanding is particularly regrettable, because it has led to premature rejection of the proposals by distinguished statesmen in India who have worked and co-operated with the Government during some very difficult years since the reforms first came into force.
We regard the scheme as the most effective means of satisfying the proper ambition of such men to take part in the settlement of the constitutional future of India, and I take this opportunity of assuring them that His Majesty's Government earnestly desire that their opinion, and the opinion of every man of goodwill, Indian or British, who has anything to contribute to the very difficult problem of India's future, shall be accessible to the Commission and shall be given the fullest weight in their conclusions. The Debate has shown the extreme difficulty of the preliminary question of deciding how best the great problem could be brought into focus for the decision of Parliament. At the risk of repetition, I desire to remind the House that procedure by investigating Commission is imposed upon us by Act of Parliament, and, so far as we are concerned, any other method is out of court. The Act imposes a great duty upon us. In order to discharge that duty we have a duty to ourselves, and we must inform ourselves of the facts before attempting to come to a decision. There must be few Members who took part in the reforms in Parlia- 2296 ment in 1909 who fully realise all that was implied in that Act and the responsibility that would lie in later years on Parliament. On the present occasion, it is more than ever our duty to make sure that Parliament, and every party in Parliament, shall have first-hand knowledge from its representatives of the weighty matters that it is going to decide when the time comes.
I lay stress on one part of the scheme on which not very much has been said to-day. When the Commission has reported, but before Parliament is committed in any way to its recommendations or to the Government view upon them, we contemplate that the main questions for settlement shall be referred to a Joint Committee of Parliament, and that the Indian Legislature shall have an opportunity, by means of delegations, of examinging the proposals and of discussing them thoroughly with this Joint Committee. The Secretary of State for India, in a speech in another place, said:The Indian people will in this way be given an opportunity of taking part in the framing of their Constitution which has never been given in the whole of history to any peoples in a similar position.This in itself completely refutes the suggestion that the scheme belittles the right and the capacity of Indian statesmen to contribute to the solution of the great question at issue. The Commission has been chosen, as to part of it, from members who share in our daily work. On this point, I do not think that I can do better than read to the House the brief statement made by my right hon. and learned Friend who is going to be chairman of this body, a statement which has already appeared in the Press, but which, I think, is worth reading to the House of Commons. In a letter to his constituents, he said:The British Parliament has a tremendous responsibility to the peoples of India. It is a responsibility which cannot be denied or evaded, for it is rooted in history and in the facts of the world to-day. If, therefore, the future of India is to be one of peaceful progress—as all men of good will, both in India and in Britain, intensely desire—this can come about only by the action of the British Parliament combined with the co-operation of India itself. Both these are provided for by the scheme of investigation and consultations, of which the work of the Commission is the first stage. The Commission does not go to India with any idea of imposing Western ideas or constitutional forms from without: we go to listen, to learn, and faithfully to 2297 report our conclusions as to actual conditions and varying proposals from within. When the Commission has reported, the scheme provides for that full and final consultation between representatives of the Legislatures of India and Britain which is the essential condition which should be fulfilled before reaching the decision on which so much depends.I would, call your attention to these last words:The task of the Commission calls for the highest qualities of sympathy and imagination, as well as for endless patience, strict impartiality, industry and courage. I enter upon my part in this duty intensely desiring to be of what service I can to India and to Britain, and, while I am deeply conscious of my own shortcomings, I am going to do my best.That is the spirit in which this task is being undertaken, and perhaps it makes the best preface to the brief reply I must give to the two or three questions which have been asked. The hon. Member for West Leicester (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence) wished to know, "Is it possible under the Government scheme for persons not members of the Indian Legislature to be included in the Committee to meet the Commission, by co-optation or otherwise?" The answer to that is that we have no intention of dictating to the Indian Assembly how they should do their own business. Whatever is within their power, whatever they can do by their own Standing Orders, or, if they think fit, by altering those Standing Orders, they are at liberty to do it. Then there was the question as to whether women would be included among the expert advisers. I think I can leave that question with the words of the right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) in our ears at this moment. They have complete freedom to take the best means which they consider possible to attain their ends. The first answer I have given really answers the question put to me by the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) who has just spoken. I cannot say what the first proceedings of the Commission will be in India, how soon the Indian Legislature will have appointed their Committee, and whether it will be there when the Commission first arrives, nor can I say what steps they will take because they are perfectly free to make their own arrangements.
I will only say this, in conclusion. When I began I said that I thought the tone of the House realised the gravity 2298 of the matter which we had in hand. It is indeed an unprecedented path that we are walking upon. No similar path has ever been explored by any Government or any body of men before. I rely, as I am sure all of us do in all parts of the House, for success to be achieved, on that instinctive sense of justice which is planted deep in the hearts of every Briton. The Leader of the Opposition spoke quite truly of the way in which we do our work on Parliamentary Committees when we are removed from the immediate controversial arena. The Englishman, the Briton owing to his training, his character, his history has one rare gift—and I do not always praise ourselves—he has that rare gift that when he finds himself acting in a judicial capacity he can bring an unbiased mind to the discharge of his duties, and dissociate himself from all the external paraphernalia of controversy, in which we take so much delight on the Floor of this Chamber. I have faith that this Commission chosen from typical Members among ourselves will discharge its duties with that high courage and sense of responsibility which we look for when our countrymen are showing what they are capable of. It was Milton who said many years ago in very strenuous days:When God wants a hard thing done, he tells it to his Englishmen.No harder thing has ever been told to Englishmen than has been told to us in this matter. But we shall do it with courage, with faith, with strength, and with hope.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
That this House concurs in the submission to His Majesty of the names of the following persons, namely, Sir John Simon, Viscount Burnham, Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal, Mr. Cadogan, Mr. Walsh, Colonel Lane Fox, and Major Attlee to act as a Commission for the purposes of Section 84A of the Government of India Act.
§ The remaining Government Orders were read, and postponed.
§ Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 3.
§ Adjourned at Four o'Clock, until Monday next (28th November).