§ Mr. BROCKWAY
I beg to move,That this House welcomes the evidence of the co-operation of Indian representatives in the settlement of the constitutional question and relies upon the Government of India to encourage good will by the sympathetic conduct of its administrative and executive functions, particularly in relation to the expression of political opinion.I realise that the discussion which I am opening this evening may have very serious consequences, and that every word uttered here, while it may influence English relations to India, is likely still more to influence Indian relations to England. Within a few days of this discussion, very critical decisions will be taken in India, decisions which will largely determine whether the new policy which was recently announced will have successful results. I can assure the Secretary of State for India that I appreciate the effort which he is making, with the whole-hearted alliance of the Viceroy in India, in order to settle the constitutional question with good will between the Indian and the British representatives, and I hope that no word which I utter to-night will make that task more difficult.
The situation in India is serious because, ever since the War, there has been a growing alienation between the representatives of Indian political opinion and this country. Even in 1919, when the Montagu reforms began to operate, there was a strong body of Indian opinion which declined to co-operate in those reforms; but during the last two years the situation has become still more serious, because, in addition to that section of Indian opinion which declined then to co-operate, even the Moderate and Liberal parties in India during the last two years have joined the non-co-operation movement. If the constitutional question in India had had to be settled with that alienation 1502 between Indian and British opinion, the task would have been almost impossible, either for the Viceroy or for the Secretary of State, and the greatest tribute to the policy which has been pursued during the last few months is the fact that, for the first time since 1919, there is evidence of representative Indian opinion seeking to co-operate in the settlement of the constitutional issue. To-day we not only have evidence that the Moderate and the Liberal parties are prepared to co-operate, but we have very good evidence that even a large part of that section of Indian opinion which declined to co-operate in 1919 is now looking towards the possibility of co-operation in the settlement of this issue.
The Motion which I am moving begins by welcoming that fact. I think, however, that the House should recognise that, though the position is more hopeful than it has been for many years, there are still three essential things which must be done if there is going to be wholehearted co-operation upon the Indian side. The first of those essential things is that, when the round-table conference comes to meet, the Indian representation at that conference shall be, as far as it is humanly possible to achieve, really reflective of Indian opinion, and I would urge the Secretary of State for India, in preparing the plans by which India is to be represented at that conference, to do his utmost to secure that politically alert opinion in India shall be represented at the conference in such a way that it will have the confidence of the Indian people.
The second essential is that the necessarily rather vague language which was used in relation to the objective of Dominion status in the declaration of the Viceroy should be interpreted in such a way that the Bill which is discussed by 1503 the round-table conference shall definitely embody the principle of Dominion statue. I do not suggest that it will be possible to introduce a Bill which will make the transition from the present Government of India to Dominion status in a few months, or in a year, but I do suggest very strongly that that Bill should be one in which the advance towards Dominion status should be accepted, that it should be one in which there will be progressive and automatic development towards Dominion statue, and that we shall not again have to come to this House, that we shall not again have to have further Commissions, which will mean that the whole constitutional issue of India has to be threshed out again.
The third essential thing, if these hopes of co-operation are to be realised, is that there should be a definite ending of the political prosecutions which have been carried out in India during the last two years. Upon this matter there has been a suggestion that those prosecutions are limited either to acts of violence or to speeches which are an incitement to violence. I think I shall be able to show that that is not the case. But even when there are actual acts of violence, or definite incitements to violence, I want to urge upon the Secretary of State for India the adoption of two principles. The first is that the decision to prosecute should be taken very carefully, and the second is that, when the decision has been taken, the prosecution should be carried out with scrupulous fairness to the Indian people. Unless those two principles are adopted, the effect of prosecuting even for the expression of violent opinion is to make national heroes in a country where there is grave political and economic discontent. I am perfectly sure that I shall have the support of the Secretary of State in that respect, because his own declared opinions on the matter leave no reason for doubt. I have been interested in reading, for example, an article which he himself contributed to the "Contemporary Review" in January, 1026. He was then commenting upon Justice Swift's summing up in the Communist trial. Justice Swift had used these words:If you come to the conclusion that the language tends to subvert the Government 1504 and the laws of the Empire, if you think that is what the language moans, then you will not only be within your rights but it will be your duty to find the prisoners guilty.The Secretary of State for India, in the "Contemporary Review," made this comment:These are very comprehensive words. What is meant by 'laws of the Empire'? How would such an interpretation affect, for example, the Nationalist party at present in South Africa, who have declared for secession?. … Most people would concur in the view that the weapon of prosecution for sedition should not be brought out except in the most urgent case of public necessity.The principle which the Secretary of State for India expresses there is the principle which I am urging upon him now. I am not arguing that there should not be prosecutions in cases of violence, or incitement to violence; I am only arguing that a prosecution should be decided upon with very great care, and that, when it has been decided upon, it should be carried out with scrupulous fairness. There is one illustration of these two principles to which I want to draw the attention of the House. They are illustrated in the trial which is now proceeding at Meerut. The charge in that trial is:Waging or attempting to wage war against the King, conspiring to deprive the King of the sovereignty of British India, or to overawe the Government by criminal force or the show of criminal force.That trial is sub judice, and, therefore, I only make this comment, that it seems to me that the trial is placing out of all due proportion the effectiveness of the campaign which has been urged, and generally I would put this point to the Secretary of State for India. Experience all over the world shows that, if Communists are left alone, they are so stupid in their propaganda that they defeat themselves. There is the case of China, where their stupidity has meant that they have estranged even the left in the Nationalist movement—
§ Mr. BROCKWAY
Their attitude in India is having the same effect, and I want to put it to the Secretary of State for India that there is a danger, by the very prominence of these trials, that more propaganda will be done on their 1505 behalf than they would be able effectively to do themselves. Generally speaking, I would say that the conditions in India, of political subjection and of economic poverty, and the repression which has existed in India, are likely to make many more Communists than all the propaganda of the Third International. To that I would add that not only does there seem to me to be some doubt as to tile wisdom of the trial, but that the proceedings have actually been unfortunate in certain respects—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
We cannot discuss the proceedings in a trial which is now going on. That would be quite out of order.
§ Mr. BROCKWAY
I want to be very careful about that point, and, therefore, Sir, I will first ask your guidance. All that I was going to raise as a matter of discussion was the transference of the trial to Meerut, the refusal of bail to the prisoners for eight months, and the absence of any trial by jury. If you rule these matters out of order, I will not proceed upon them.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
It is a very sound principle of Order that, when trials are proceeding, references to them and discussion and criticism of them in this House would be out of order.
§ Mr. MAXTON
On that point of Order. Have there not been many rulings in this House that, while one could not, when a case was sub judice, discuss in this House the merits of the question, it was always in order to discuss the procedure in the matter? I suggest to you, Sir, that my hon. Friend the Member for East Leyton (Mr. Brockway) is now only discussing the question of procedure, and not the merits of the case.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
To discuss the general procedure and method of trials in general would be quite in order, but not of a specific trial.
§ Mr. BROCKWAY
I will leave it at that, having expressed my view upon those three points. The point that I want to urge is that the trial at Meerut was only symbolical of a much wider campaign in India, and that in India during the last two years there have been, under Sections of the Indian Penal Code, and more particularly under Section 124A of that Code, repeated prosecutions, and that those prosecutions have gone much 1506 beyond any attempt to suppress violence or even incitement to violence. Perhaps I may read to the House the actual terms of Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, under which these prosecutions have taken place. It reads as follows:Whoever by words either spoken or intended to be read, or by signs, or by visible representation or otherwise, excites or attempts to excite feelings of disaffection to the Government established by law in British India, shall be punished with transportation for life or for any term, to which fine may be added, or with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years, to which time may be added, or with fine.I am aware that Dr. Whitley Stokes in his book, "Anglo-Indian Codes," gives an explanation of that in which he would modify its effect, but, unfortunately, that explanation has no statutory power.
There has been a series of trials in India, of which I think my right hon. Friend will be aware, beginning with the case of the Bangobasi newspaper in 1891, when Sir Comar Petheram was the judge presiding, what is known as the Tilak case, which went to the Privy Council, and where Justice Strachey's summing up at Bombay was endorsed, and again in the case of the Queen Empress v. Arrba Prasad, which has very much modified the explanation given in that book. Indeed, it is not too much to say that the total effect of those judgments is that anyone in India is guilty under this Section who uses words calculated to create a disposition towards dislike or contempt or hatred of the system of Government, even if the words did not in fact create such a disposition and even if they were true. I will leave to others the elaboration of some of the many cases which will be brought before the House showing that, under that Subsection, many Indian politicians have been arrested and imprisoned, not for acts of violence or of inciting to violence, but for the expression of political opinion, which, in my view, ought to be regarded as absolutely legitimate. In addition to that, there has been a special Act passed during the last two years known as the Public Safety Act. I am wrong in saying it was passed, because it was rejected by the Indian Legislation Assembly, but it was certified by the Viceroy. That particular Act has ceased to operate and I should like to ask the Secretary of State whether it is the intention pf the Indian Government to renew the Public Safety Ordinance.
1507 It seems to me, on this issue of political prosecution, two developments are necessary if the attitude of co-operation which is beginning to show itself is to be encouraged. The first is that there should be a limitation of the prosecutions to violence, or to incitement to violence. During the past year there have been twice as many prosecutions of this character as there were last year. I welcome the fact that, since the Viceroy's Declaration, their number has decreased, though I regret to see there have been a few instances. I know it may be argued that strong language, quite apart from attempts to incite to violence, may endanger safety, but if strong language or incitement to violence endangers safety, that is the strongest possible indictment of the system of administration in which that kind of public opinion exists. The second thing that I suggest is essential is that there should be a review of the cases now in prison. That review, it seems to me, should cover two categories of offenders. It should cover old offenders who have been in prison for a very considerable time, and it should cover those who are in prison only for the expression of political opinion on the lines I have outlined. As far as the first is concerned I would particularly draw attention to the recommendation of the Punjab Jails Committee, an official committee of the Punjab Government, which recommended that there should be a release of the Lahore conspiracy prisoners of 1915, offenders imprisoned during the War who have been kept in prison ever since, and, secondly, that there should be a release of the martial law prisoners of 1919. I urge that on the ground of the very long period of imprisonment which they have undergone. As far as political expression is concerned, I would urge that there should be a review of the cases during the last year or two, so that where there has been imprisonment for the expression of political opinion, apart from violence, those cases should be reviewed. I would put to my right hon. Friend the words which have been given in an interview which appeared in the Press to-day by Pandit Malaviya, one of the most honoured of the Hindu leaders:The Indian leaders are requesting a political amnesty but do not wish the release of men guilty of political murders and 1508 acts of violence. It is recognised that such as these must remain in prison, but it is urged that prisoners' cases should be reviewed for the purpose of releasing men imprisoned only for expressing opinions.I would strongly urge that point of view on the Secretary of State.
The position in India is full of hope, but there is still uncertainty. In my view, the decision we take, and the decisions which India takes in the next few months, will be of tremendous importance, not merely in the relations of Britain and India, but in the relations of the white and coloured races all over the world. Everywhere subject peoples have a new sense of national existence. Everywhere they are seeking education. Everywhere they are seeking political and economic liberty. There is no force on earth that can prevent that movement of liberty from ultimately reaching its achievement. The problem that is before us is whether that achievement is to be reached by our recognising and encouraging it or by the maintenance of domination, followed by rebellion. The decision we reach in relation to India in the next few months will be a decision which will have tremendous influence upon the whole of that vast problem in the immediate future. There are to-day new forces at work in India which are of much greater significance than the mere demand for political emancipation. They are forces which are demanding cultural emancipation, spiritual emancipation, and economic emancipation. India has been described as decadent. To-day India is the most renascent nation on the face of the whole world. Anyone who goes to India finds it in a ferment of new ideas, finds social reform movements, educational reform movements, women's movements, movements for the equality of the various castes rising up in a degree which we can little recognise here. That Indian movement for human liberty is absolutely irresistible. The issue before the House is whether, with our responsibilities and with our opportunities, we shall co-operate with that movement of liberty and allow it expression which will not bring it into conflict with this country. I want, in conclusion, to say a word to my own friends in India. They have reason to be suspicious and to doubt, but I know the new spirit that is finding expression in our own Government at home and in the Viceroy. I beg the Indian 1509 people to respond to that spirit and I beg our own Government to be courageous in its expression.
§ Mr. HORRABIN
I beg to second the Motion.
I realise, as my hon. Friend said he did, the fact that any words used in this House on a subject like this may have repercussions far away, and that it is incumbent on anyone speaking on this subject here to choose his words very carefully, and with a due sense of responsibility. I hope that from that far and away most important point of view I shall not offend. I want to express, I believe in the name of the majority of Members of the House, satisfaction at the evidence of the desire of considerable bodies of Indian opinion to co-operate in the solution of the constitutional problem in India, and to express satisfaction equally at the very clear evidence of a new spirit on the part of the Government of India, that new spirit which was expressed so finely in the Viceroy's declaration, with its frankly expressed desire to break through the webs of mistrust which have lately clogged the relations between India and Great Britain, that same new spirit which the Secretary of State voiced so clearly and unequivocally in the House a short time ago. We on this side, at all events, are not surprised that the evidence of that new spirit should come soon from this Government when we remember the words used by the Prime Minister only last year in presiding over the British Commonwealth Labour Conference in London. He said:I hope that within a period of months rather than years there will be a new Dominion added to the Commonwealth of our nations, a Dominion of another race, a Dominion that will find self-respect as an equal within this Commonwealth. I refer to India.8.0 p.m.
In that sense this is not surely a new spirit at all—not even as new as 1917. The Act of 1833, passed while still the East India Company ruled, and the Royal Proclamation of 1858 both quite clearly declared for equality of opportunity for the people of India, and some of the very best servants of the Crown who have worked in India, men like Sir Thomas Munro of Madras, or Lord Bentinck or Lord Lytton distinguished servants of this country in India, have always admittedly and professedly 1510 worked for that ultimate goal of equality of opportunity and fellow-citizenship under the British Crown of the two races. That Birkenhead tone to which the Secretary of State referred was indeed a retrogression to the spirit and the attitude of the men who a century and a half ago lost the American colonies to this country. I do not know whether that eighteenth century attitude could have been more clearly expressed than it was on one occasion by the Noble Lord the late Home Secretary when he used these words:We do not hold India for the Indians. We hold it as the finest outlet for British goods in general and Lancashire goods in particular. We conquered it by the sword and by the sword we should hold it.The same Noble Lord characterised as "cant" any other view. That is a fine expression of the 18th century attitude. One might almost suggest that a much earlier century, in fact a pre-Christian century, is characteristic of an utterance of that sort. Words uttered in a spirit such as that have resulted in an entire lack of trust, or, to use the Viceroy's words, in "webs of mistrust in India." It is hardly surprising that such words should have led to that result. It is a fact, and we all know it, that not merely the so-called extremists in India but the great bodies of Liberals, independents and moderates to-day manifest that same distrust in the British Government as their more left-wing fellows. I will quote some words which I came across the other day in a periodical dealing with affairs in the East; words written by one who certainly cannot be classed as an extremist. They are taken from an article written by Sir Phiroze Sethna, a member of the Viceroy's Council of State, a leading hanker and an ex-president of the Indian Merchants' Chamber. Sir Phiroze Sethna, writing in the "Asiatic Review" quite recently, while arguing that the British connection must be maintained, says that Western influences must continue to operate, and insists on the necessity of making substantial constitutional advance, or otherwise such hostility may be created against the British connection as to imperil its continued existence. Governmental machinery, he goes on to say, must be reformed and re-adjusted so as to win 1511 for the British connection the unanimous support of the Indian people. These are not the words of an extremist or of a political agitator; they are the words of an Indian at present prominently associated with the British rule in India. I want to point to the significance of the words he chooses to use "re-adjusted so as to win for the British connection"—not to regain butto win for the British connection the willing support of the Indian peopleI suggest that words such as those from such a man are of enormous significance as indicating the nature, extent, and depth of the distrust felt in India at the present time.
To come to the more specific point raised in the Motion which has been moved by my hon. Friend, that distrust has surely been made abundantly manifest by the widespread sympathy shown in India for the accused in such conspiracy trials as have recently taken place at Lahore and Meerut. Whole classes of people, and whole sections and castes of people do not spontaneously express in all sorts of ways their sympathy with violence, with outrage, with murder unless there is some very deep underlying reason for such an expression of sympathy. The very fact of the widespread character of the sympathy expressed in India in view of these cases is evidence of the nature and extent of that distrust. I want to urge upon the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for India that now surely, more than ever before, is the time for the clear manifestation of such qualities as vision and courage on the part of the Government in relation to India. I want to urge that some quite unmistakable gesture, some definite act which would symbolise the new spirit to which he has pledged himself and to which the Viceroy has pledged himself in regard to India affairs; that there should be some definite act or gesture which should make that abundantly clear to the Indian people. It would be good statemanship at this time and would repay this country and the men responsible for it a hundredfold.
I want to remind hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House that the party to which they belong has always quite clearly and quite definitely stood for an 1512 amnesty for political prisoners in India, and that only two years ago, at the annual conference of this party, a resolution was unanimously adopted asking for the release of all political offenders who were in Indian prisons. I want to make it clear, as the Mover of this Motion has already done, that in making that appeal we are not appealing, any more than our fellows at that party conference were appealing, for any less rigorous treatment of clear cases of violence or of clear and definite incitement to violence. We are asking that there should be very careful consideration, indeed very careful reconsideration, of every case which involves merely freedom of political expression and free expression of political opinion. This is a vital matter at the present time. I can think of nothing for which we ought to pray more in relation to this particular problem than that we should win the good will of the Indian National Congress and their support for this policy of co-operation. Is it conducive to the gaining of that support from the National Congress that a member of the executive committee of that body, numbering only some nine or ten men, is in prison on a charge of this kind? I do not want to allude to whole lists of cases, though it would be perfectly easy to do so, illustrating the kind of cases we are asking should be reconsidered and treated differently in future in order to help to break away from this web of mistrust.
I should like to refer to a case that has been mentioned more than once in this House—the case of Mr. Ramananda Chatterji, the editor of a monthly leading English journal. There appeared a book entitled "India in Bondage," by an American missionary. That book was published in serial form and ran through that journal for a period of two years. It then appeared in book form early this year, and no steps were taken. But on a second edition being issued, the publisher, Mr. Chatterji, was arrested and sentenced to three months' imprisonment, or pay a fine of 1,000 rupees under Regulation 124A. I understand that at the trial the prosecuting counsel, or probably the defending counsel, read from the book certain passages quoted from the writings of the present Prime Minister, and the magistrate informed counsel that if the present Prime Minister had used or written those words in India be would have been liable to prosecution for 1513 sedition. I understand that the writer of the book, the American missionary in question, has offered to withdraw the book as a whole if any critic can point to serious mis-statements of fact or even to exaggerated statements. It is that sort of thing which we feel is helping in no small measure to exacerbate that distrust which is making so difficult a real full-hearted co-operation at the present time. I might mention the fact that a list of books has been published in this country as having been banned by the police in one district in India, including poetic works of a Poet Laureate of this country and a poet who was an eminently respectable Poet Laureate, Robert Southey. I have not seen any explanation as to what particular part of Southey's works came under the police ban, but I am sure the ghost of the Poet Laureate must be anxiously awaiting some explanation.
I take up one page of a newspaper and glance across the headings at the top of it. It is a page of an Indian newspaper published in English: "A religious preacher sentenced to one year's rigorous imprisonment." Two columns afterwards: "A professor sentenced to one year's rigorous imprisonment." In the next column: "What is sedition? Editor sentenced to one year's rigorous imprisonment." I do not want to touch on the details of those cases, but I wish to urge that almost all of them—although there may be facts which do not come out in newspaper reports—are definitely cases in which the question of the legitimate expression of political opinion arises, and in regard to which the question of incitement to violence or murder produced long legal arguments during trial. We ask that in cases of that sort the benefit of the doubt should be given to the prisoner rather than against him. We urge that at all costs there should be avoided the sort of deadlock which comes about by one side regarding as necessarily innocent every person charged and the other side regarding as necessarily guilty every person charged.
I want to touch on the particular point of view in relation to this question which has a special appeal to my hon. Friends on this side of the House. There is in this country, up and down the movement with which Members on this side of the House are associated, much anxiety and 1514 apprehension as to the freedom of trade union organisation and trade union propaganda in India. The workers of this country feel that these fundamental rights of the workers in every country in the world must be very carefully safeguarded and that, in circumstances such as have obtained in India hitherto, those elementary rights of the working classes, nowhere more needed than in India, should be free from the suggestion that they themselves are seditious. I stress the side that arises out of this view of the question, and emphasise what I am sure many hon. Members must feel, as I do, that important as the political issues in India are, they are entirely overshadowed, or will be overshadowed, by the tremendous economic issues.
We are conscious of the appalling condition of the great mass of the people in India. We remember that that mass represents something like one-fifth of the total population of the world. We know something, from first-hand knowledge of our fellows who have been out there and have seen it, of the utter degradation of the industrial conditions in some of the important centres of India. We realise the danger of those low standards to our European standards. We realise, as human beings, the danger of a vast population so lacking in stamina, so lacking in the possibility of resistance to disease, that they may at any time become a sort of distributing plague centre for the rest of the world. That is the situation in India that is of more importance than any other to those of us who are associated with the working class movement, and I urge on the Secretary of State that, in order to meet that terribly urgent problem, nothing should be left undone to ensure the maximum of good will on the part of those involved in the solution. We welcome the pledges which the Viceroy and the Secretary of State have given, and we urge the Secretary of State and the Government to make it still clearer to the peoples of India that a new spirit has arisen and a new era of real co-operation has dawned.
§ Brigadier-General CLIFTON BROWN
I find myself in somewhat of a difficulty with regard to the Motion, but I regard it as applying to the case which I have in mind. Hon. Members opposite will agree with me that in the great problem 1515 of India, which the Secretary of State and the Simon Commission have to face, there are many different angles from which it can be approached. All these angles have to be dealt with, and they constitute the most important problem that the House and this country have had to face for many a year. I hope that no words that I say will raise any awkward question for the Government, the Secretary of State or the Simon Commission. The other day I read the comments of an Indian paper respecting the Debate which took place in this House, and they said that the wisest words spoken in that Debate were spoken by the right hon. Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) when he said:It is useless to pretend that the incidents leading to this Debate have not for the time being added to our own difficulties, through no fault of our own."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th November, 1929; col. 1337, Vol. 231.]The Motion says:That this House welcomes the evidence of the co-operation of Indian representatives in the settlement of the Constitutional question.The Indian representatives are of many kinds, many races and many religions, and I think the Viceroy's Proclamation followed the right lines, when he said that the Government would inviterepresentatives of different parties and interests in British India and representatives of the Indian States to meet them, separately or together as circumstances may demand, for the purpose of conference and discussion in regard both to the British-Indian and all-Indian problems.I hope that in this scheme of cooperation the Indian representation includes the representatives of the Indian States—the Princes of India. I do not think that it is realised the great political power that the Princes of India have. I do not think that it is realised that the Treaties that we have with the one-third of India which is governed by the Princes, which Treaties were made by Queen Victoria and confirmed by King Edward and the present King, present a problem which is one of the most difficult if we want the question of the real representation of India dealt with in a proper manner. The problems of the Indian States require careful and sympathetic treatment. In the first place, they want definitely to know what real co- 1516 operation will amount to with the Government of India, in connection with any further proposals towards altering the Constitution, and I submit that their susceptibilities in this direction must be satisfied before we can get any real cooperation in India. They want to be sure that the Government of India will not usurp other powers than those which have been agreed to in their Treaty rights.
Secondly, they are at the present time unhappy about some of their fiscal relations. While the Government of India can put on a protective tariff and alter the fiscal relations, the Indian States, who have to pay more for their ploughs and machinery, get nothing back out of the taxes which the Government of India have levied. They fear that their Treaty rights may be handed over to British India. That is a big problem which must be carefully dealt with. The other day, I received a letter from a friend of mine in India. He said that he wished people who are in a hurry about India would think before they act:Most of them know so pitifully little of the problems out here and of the conditions that we live and move and have our being in. They do not grasp that the vocal politically-minded class represent one-fourth of one per cent. of the whole of India.The politically-minded class, some of them are the Princes, are a very small minority, but they are a very vocal minority and cannot be ignored. It often happens that the politically-minded who speak out lead the others. If you do not know the people of India, if you have not lived amongst these 300,000,000 people for several years, you fail to realise their tremendous ignorance on political matters. At least 90 per cent. of them cannot read or write, and when they are led, as they were in the Mutiny by some scare about greased cartridges, by something which affects their religion, you cannot pay too much attention to the small number of politically-minded people in India.
Small beginnings have great endings; and the politicians of India are quite entitled to put their needs before the Government of India and before the people of this country. While I hope we shall do all we can gradually and slowly to press forward in fulfilment of the promise we have given, we must go slowly for many years before we can 1517 reach the goal of self-government for India. The very people who are now crying out for self-government for India would be the first to cry out for a return of the British troops and the British régime in India if it was withdrawn. I believe the co-operation of all Indian representatives is necessary, particularly in relation to the expression of political opinion, and if we go steadily along the line we are trying to go and get the support and co-operation of all classes of opinion, not least the co-operation of the Indian Princes and Native States, we shall stand a good chance of solving the biggest problem that this country has to face.
§ Mr. BROTHERS
The hon. and gallant Member for Newbury (Brigadier-General Brown) has made, I think, a really good case for the Motion of the hon. Member for East Leyton (Mr. Brockway). I have been in India, and the people of India are a very lovable race. They may be excitable, but so are all non-educated people, taken in the mass. They are not to blame for that. If they are not able to state their case before a Commission, or if they have not the vote, it is not their fault; it is our fault. We should try to cultivate a better spirit between the two nations. Mere government by fear will not do. We have to realise that they are a nation just as we are a nation, and if we approach the problem in that way we shall do some good. I do not think we ought to consider the question of right as regards India merely from the point of view of trade, but rather on the basis of justice. I am specially interested in the cotton trade, and I know that the unrest in India has a very detrimental effect on the cotton trade of Lancashire, where many of our people are now unemployed. I had the privilege and the good fortune to be in the legislative assembly at Delhi on 2nd February, 1927, when they were debating the question of political prisoners. I listened to the debate for the whole of the day, and heard the arguments for, and the defence of Sir Alexander Muddiman, the Home Member, as he was called. I am speaking from memory, but I remember pretty well all the incidents, and I believe that the case for keeping political prisoners in prison was not made out. The Motion was:This Assembly recommends the Governor-General in Council that he be pleased imme- 1518 diately to release from prison or bring to trial all the detenus under detention under the Bengal Criminal Ordinance (Amendment) Act, 1925.On a division the Ayes were 63 and the Noes 50. I quite realise that at times it may be difficult to obtain witnesses because of fear, but that is no reason why these prisoners should not have a fair trial. I have been making inquiries to-day, and I believe the Bengal Ordnance is not now operative, and I will, therefore, not go into that matter. I hope the Secretary of State for India will give this Motion due consideration in the interests of this country and in the interests of the people of India.
§ Colonel HOWARD-BURY
On reading the Motion put down by the hon. Member for East Leyton (Mr. Brockway) I was rather surprised to see that a change had been made from political prosecutions in India to the very much more moderate Motion dealing with the political situation in India, and I confess that I think the Secretary of State for India must have been behind the Mover of the Motion when he made it in these particular terms. They are so moderate and so different from what we were originally led to expect under the title "Political prosecutions in India." The first part of the speech of the hon. Gentleman certainly alluded to certain political prosecutions which are taking place at the present time. He referred especially to the Meerut case, and I see in to-day's paper that a Mr. Kelkar, who is a member of the Central Legislature, is to head an appeal to Pundit Motilal Nehru and Mr. Gandhi asking these two leaders to secure an amnesty for certain persons and generally for all the Meerut trial prisoners.
§ Colonel HOWARD-BURY
The hon. Member says, "Hear, hear," but does he realise the accusation against these men? Does he realise that they are in a very different position from those who were amnestied under the Gandhi-Reading Conversations, that they are accused to-day of conspiring to deprive the King-Emperor of the sovereignty of British India, that they plan to hold the means of communication throughout the country, and that they are acting under instructions from Moscow, and are working for a general strike?
§ Mr. THURTLE
On a point of Order. For the guidance of the House in subsequent debate would you state, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, whether it is in order to discuss the Meerut trials, in view of the fact that they are still in progress?
I do not see where the subject comes in under this Motion. The hon. and gallant Member has referred to the Mover of the Motion, but I did not hear the speech of the Mover of the Motion.
§ Mr. BECKETT
Further on that point of Order. The hon. Member for East Leyton (Mr. Brockway) asked at the beginning of his speech, whether he would be in order in dealing with the Meerut trials, and Mr. Speaker advised him that it would not be in order, and the hon. Member left that subject at once.
§ Colonel HOWARD-BURY
The hon. Member for East Leyton was dealing with the procedure of the trial, which is quite a different matter.
If the hon. and gallant Member was in the House at the time he knows that Mr. Speaker ruled the subject out, and I must ask him to follow that ruling.
§ Colonel HOWARD-BURY
Then I shall not allude further to that case, but to other eases which hon. Members opposite would have amnestied, though they are in a totally different class from what could be considered political prosecutions. We have had evidence time after time that there are subversive organisations working in India, and that they are financed by foreign money. I could read extracts, one after the other, from the official Russian organ, the "Pravda."
I do not see how that comes within the Motion. The 1520 Motion asks for "Co-operation of Indian representatives in the settlement of the constitutional question."
§ Colonel HOWARD-BURY
I want to deal with the last part of the Motion, in which occur the words "particularly in relation to the expression of political, opinion." Hon. Members have alluded in their speeches to these prosecutions and have claimed that those concerned are representatives of political opinion. With all due respect to your ruling, I want to point out that these are cases of revolutionary activity, and that they have nothing whatever to do with political opinions. Hon. Members opposite would have an amnesty for these prisoners, but I want to prove that these prisoners are in a totally different category from ordinary political prisoners or those who express a rather more violent opinion as to what should be done. These agitations are definite attempts to overturn the Government of the country by violence, with the aid of foreign money. With due respect I suggest that when proclamations are issued to the peasants of India, illiterate people as they are, with a great respect for the written word—
§ Colonel HOWARD-BURY
That is true, but there is one man in every village who has to make out the taxes for the village, and he can read and write. To him is handed one of these documents and he reads some such statement as this:Peasants of India. Confiscate the land, hurry to the firing line to destroy the Imperialist colonial system India must be liberated!That sort of thing is read out and the peasants believe everything. Even in this country one often finds that because a statement has been seen in a newspaper it is looked upon as a fact. You have these inflammatory documents circulated:The soil of India is rising in flames in the attack on British Imperialism.What good is that sort of thing going to do in India? These peasants are easily roused by people who go around with these inflammatory documents. How many lives have been lost in India as a result? During the Bombay strikes there were the Communist agitators. Are they to be amnestied? We have to realise 1521 that the politically-minded people of India are but a quarter of 1 per cent. of the vast population of India. We are apt to pay far too much attention to that very small but very noisy minority. The hon. Member for Bolton (Mr. Brothers) knows India, and no doubt he has travelled widely in India. He spoke of India as a nation. India is not a nation; it is 40, 50 or 60 different nations, all speaking different languages, with four or five different religions. It is impossible to look upon the country as a single nation.
The hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) is to visit India. No doubt he wishes to come back with a certain amount of information, but what information is he likely to get in five or six weeks? He will travel around and meet various members of the different political parties, who will express different views to him. But is he going to travel through the country? Is he going to see the vast masses of the people who are not vocal? Will he learn their views? He would learn far more if he travelled with some Commissioner or Deputy-Commissioner on a tour from village to village, and saw how justice was administered, how the villagers looked to the Commissioner as the representative of law and order—often one white man amongst a million. The natives bring even their religious questions to him for decision, so great is the confidence that they have in him. Have those millions any idea of what "dominion status" or democracy means? Not the slightest. They have had no political education whatever. If you talked with them their conversation would be of their crops, good or bad, the rainfall, or the price of bread, and of nothing beyond that. When you bring an agitator amongst them he puts new ideas into their heads and stirs them up, and instead of a peaceful community you get a community—
§ Miss WILKINSON
Does not the hon. and gallant Member go to Chelmsford and stir the people there, or try to?
§ Colonel HOWARD-BURY
The hon. Lady went there, and I read the report of her speech with much interest. She said that she and her party were going to tire us out, but I think that we should tire her out, because we are not accustomed to an eight hours day, as hon. 1522 Members opposite are. Whether one goes to the aborigines with their bows and arrows, or to the cultivators in the United Provinces, one never hears a word of politics spoken. They are a happy and contented people. Why bring discontent all of a sudden to them by introducing politics? The Maharajah of Benares said the other day:The ever-indulgent British Government, eager to reward India for its war service, made a fateful announcement in 1917, anticipating the actual state of things by at least half a century, and trying to build a twentieth century constitution with materials of the Middle Ages.That, I think, is true. It is very much what is happening in this vast country with all its possibilities. I have travelled with the pilgrims to the sources of the Ganges; I have met pilgrims who have walked for three or four or even five years to go to the sources and to bathe in those waters as they come out of the glaciers, many thousands of feet above the sea level, and they have poured blessings on the British Raj which enabled them to walk in peace through the length and breadth of the land. That is what the British Government have brought to India. We gave a definite promise in 1917 and we amplified it in 1919, and in the East when we make a promise we carry out that promise, be it right or wrong, be it wise or foolish. It is fatal in the East to break your pledge or to whittle it down. The people there trust the man who keeps his word, and we have always kept our word and we intend to keep our word. The pronouncement of the Viceroy the other day was but a restatement of what has been said before in the past 10 or 12 years.
All those who appreciated the Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms of 1919 are however disappointed with what has been done. They have been disappointed by the opposition of the Assembly to further measures introduced by the Government of India to ensure the maintenance of order and the elementary rights of law-abiding citizens. Again we find that the trouble created by these Red Communistic agents has played havoc with a great Indian industry, and the spectacle is witnessed to-day of the leader of the Swarajist party threatening to inaugurate another widespread and subversive movement unless his demands are granted. In India we can never afford to give way to violence.
§ Colonel HOWARD-BURY
I quite agree. It is a fatal mistake, but, unfortunately, there has been a, tendency on many occasions for Governments to do so as being the easiest way out of a difficulty at the moment. It always creates further difficulties however in the course of time. We come to the present situation. We have an independent Commission and what it is expected to do is to present an unbiased report. It is not to formulate legislation. The Commission consists of members who have not been associated with India, who had no preconceived ideas about India, but went out there with open minds to hear everything which was to be said by all parties. Now, more than at any other time, when this Commission is due to report, we want a conciliatory feeling in India which will welcome that report. We want Indian appreciation of the kind of reformed government which is possible and practicable. Unless we can get the co-operation of Indian leaders and parties, of the native States, and of the European associations, these reforms, whatever they may be, will be made unworkable. What we need at the present time is the most conciliatory policy possible, and I think in the Viceroy we have to-day one who is doing much by his actions to conciliate all parties in India. The "Times" paid this tribute to him the other day:It is difficult to describe the respect in which Lord Irwin is held. Though I have waded through oceans of newspaper mud I have never seen a single unkind or doubting word said about the Viceroy. Against his sincerity, even the most violent extremists seem afraid to say a word.I think we are lucky in having such a man at the head of affairs in India at the present time. This Motion seems to correspond with certain conditions which were formulated at the Delhi meeting of the Congress leaders for acceptance at the round-table conference. It welcomes the co-operation of Indian representatives and relies on the Government of India to encourage good will by the sympathetic conduct of its administrative and executive functions. The first of the demands of the Congress leaders was a demand for a policy of general conciliation. That is being carried out to-day by the Government of India. But they make a second demand, and that is for a general 1524 amnesty, and I think that would be an extremely dangerous policy at the present time. The amnesty of prisoners accused of revolutionary activities ought not to be tolerated in India. We must be firm somewhere. We must uphold law and order, and as long as we are in India we are responsible, not only for the few, but for the teeming millions who are affected at all times by disturbances—and as a rule those who Are killed and wounded in disturbances are not those who cause the disturbances.
At the same time, I think we are entitled to ask the leaders in India to refrain from suspicion and accept the conditions such as they are. Their co-operation will determine the rate of advance, and, as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Newbury (Brigadier-General Brown) has said, we ought to hasten slowly. Events in the East move slowly. India for a thousand years did not advance, and to bring the fruits of Western civilisation suddenly to a country where more than 90 per cent. of the population are illiterate would be fatal. They do not understand Western civilisation and Western ideas of government. India is a vast country of which over one-third belongs to native States, and with a population speaking more than 40 different languages. How are you going to institute any form of Dominion status there? Give them self-government bit by bit. Educate them slowly up to the time when it may be possible to give them full self-government, but it will have to be a slow process. What India wants most of all, and what is even more important than Dominion status, is racial equality within the Empire. That is their demand and that is what they really want.
It is not so much the form of Government about which they are concerned as the demand that they should be considered as racial equals throughout the Empire, and if you grant them that concession and then, bit by bit, give them the forms of government which they need, you will go a long way towards conciliating all the inhabitants of India. While doing that, and while backing up the Viceroy in his conciliatory policy we ought to assure ourselves at the same time as trustees for that country, that law and order are being upheld with firmness. We ought to prevent subversive elements going into that country and 1525 creating disturbances such as have happened at Bombay and Calcutta. While welcoming this Motion, I ask the Secretary of State for India when he makes his statement, which I know will be a conciliatory one, to assure us at the same time that those who are accused or have been proved guilty of revolutionary crimes will be dealt with firmly, and that there will be no sign of weakness in the Government of India in that respect.
§ Major GRAHAM POLE
I am very glad, indeed, that my first speech in this House should be on a subject that has been very near my heart for at least the last 20 years. During that time I have gone out to India on seven or eight different occasions, and I have toured it from North to South and from East to West. I have lived in Indian homes, I have met Indian people, and I have been in Indian villages. I have also gone among the others, the military men, the Indian civil servants; but if I desired to see India, I would not adopt the advice of the hon. and gallant Member for Chelmsford (Colonel Howard-Bury) and go round the country with a Commissioner or a Deputy Commissioner. He is the last man with whom I would choose to go round and see the conditions of the country. I would go round with an Indian who belonged to the place, who knew the place, a kind of thing that was impossible to do 20 years ago. Even a much shorter time ago than that, if you travelled in a railway train with an Indian, or drove in a motor car with an Indian, you were supposed to be lowering the British Raj.
I was very glad to hear the hon. and gallant Member for Chelmsford say that what we really required was racial equality within the Empire for India, but what we require first is racial equality in India for Indians. There is no racial equality in India to-day, but it is getting better than it was. Only a few years ago there was anything but racial equality there, and there is one thing to the credit of the Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms, and that is that they have made for racial equality, because in the Indian Legislative Assembly and the Indian Legislative Councils Indians and British meet on equal terms. In Bombay, if you are a white man, you go on arrival to the Bombay Yacht club and 1526 lunch there, but if you are an Indian, it does not matter if you are a Maharajah, you dare not go in there. There was one man, an English solicitor's clerk, who took me in there, and he said to me, "This to us is sacred soil." That is the kind of spirit that we want to get out of India altogether and out of those who go to India and live in India.
My great difficulty in taking anything from those who have lived in India, especially if they have been in the Services, as actual fact for India, is that they go out to one province, spend 20 years or more in that province, and learn the language there, but they do not move from that province. They know the conditions of that province to a certain extent, but they do not know the conditions of other parts of India, and I have found the most appalling ignorance among civil servants in India about the conditions in other provinces in that country. You have also this difficulty, that whenever a man is in an official position, it is not very easy to get an Indian to speak to him quite frankly and openly, as he will to one who is not in an official position. We have heard that India for 1,000 Years has not advanced. India in the last 20 years has advanced—
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Major POLE
You had the first signs of that advance when, an Eastern nation going to war with a Western nation—Japan with Russia—and the Eastern nation being victorious, it made every Eastern hold himself straighter. It made every Eastern feel that he was able to be on an equality with the Western. Then the Great War came, and you had Indians brought into Europe to fight white people, put on an equality with white people, asked to fight white people, and they did fight white people. Then during the war we promised them responsible government. It has been said, and quite truly, 1527 that there is nothing new in the Viceroy's statement with regard to Dominion status. There is nothing new. That was practically promised during the War in the Montagu statement in this House in August, 1917, but although we all understood that that meant Dominion government at some time, and that we were going to have progression towards Dominion government, it is also the fact that while Lord Reading was Viceroy of India, and when there was a debate in the Indian Legislative Assembly on the attainment of Dominion status by India, the Home Member of Lord Reading's Government got up in that House—a very able and clever man—and gave a very able and clever speech to prove that what we had said did not mean what they all understood and what we had all understood, up to that time, that it meant. He said that responsible government did not mean self-government, that it did not mean Dominion status at all, that Dominion status might follow, but that it did not necessarily follow; and in any event, he said, that was a further and a final step.
It was that statement that made the Indians again wonder if they could put any belief or trust in the British Government. The hon. and gallant Member for Chelmsford said we always have carried out our promises in the East and that we have kept our word. I wish we had. I wish that were in the least part true in India. Let me read what was said by a very distinguished Viceroy of India. The late Lord Lytton, when he was Viceroy of India, writing to the Secretary of State in an official despatch on 2nd May, 1878, in regard to official promises that had been made to India, said:We all know that these expectations never can, or will, be fulfilled. We have had to choose between prohibiting them and cheating them; we have chosen the least straightforward course … Since I am writing confidentially, I do not hesitate to say that both the Governments of England and of India appear to me, up to the present moment, unable to answer satisfactorily the charge of having taken every means in their power of breaking to the heart the words of promise they had uttered to the ear.
§ Colonel HOWARD-BURY
Is not that like the present Government have done in regard to their election promise?
§ Major POLE
This is far too serious a subject for the light, flippant way in which it is treated by some of the Members on the Tory benches. There are only four Conservative Members present at this important Debate, and I think the hon. and gallant Member might treat it with the seriousness which the subject deserves. The present Viceroy's statement has met with a wonderful response throughout India, and it has effected this complete change of feeling because they believe in it. They think now that that spirit that even animated that declaration in the Assembly during the Viceroyalty of Lord Reading, when the promise of Dominion status was tried to be explained away, has gone. The Indians feel that now they have a Viceroy in whom they can absolutely trust, whose word they can trust, and they want to see India go, not slowly, as we are always being told from the benches opposite that India must go, but they want and I want to see things go on as quickly as they can. I do not say it will be this year, next year, or when it is going to be, but I do say that we should go on as quickly as it can be made to go on, as quickly as we can get the Indian people to work with us. To urge them to go slowly is a fatal doctrine if you really want cooperation from the Indians with you.
The Indians now believe that this is an earnest of the desire of the Government to help them to go on as quickly as they can, an indication that we mean to deal with the problem of Indian self-government, in a manner consistent with our belief in their right to Dominion status as an equal partner in the commonwealth of nations, at the earliest moment that it can be achieved. None of us is going to pretend that there are not difficulties in the way; there are a thousand difficulties in the way. No one knows that more than the Indians themselves, and no one will have more difficulty in clearing away those difficulties than the Indians. The real difficulties are not on this side; they are in India, and only the Indians can get rid of them. Mr. Gandhi, a man who is tremendously reverenced in, India, who has been the leader of the Non-cooperatives there, writing in his paper "Young India" says:Let me repeat what I have said before in these pages that I am dying for co- 1529 operation. My non-co-operation is a token of my earnest longing for real co-operation.Then he goes on to say:I can wait for a dominion status if I can get real dominion status in action; if, that is to say, there is a real change of heart, a real desire on the part of the British people to see India a free and self-respecting nation, and on the part of the official in India a true spirit of service.That is really what we want, a real spirit of service. I heard it said 15 years ago in India that the real objection to the Indian Civil Service in India, as an Indian told me, is three-fold. In the first place, it was not Indian; in the second place, it was not civil; and in the third place, it was not a service, because they are masters. I do not say that is true to-day. I have the greatest admiration for members of that service, among whom are relatives and friends of my own. The reason why we are there is not the "Daily Mail" reason, or the "Morning Post" reason. These papers have told us that we are there, not as trustees for the downtrodden masses, as we have been told so often from the Conservative Benches, but as trustees for the capital invested by British people in India. I hope that the Secretary of State can point to the signs that Mr. Gandhi looked for in regard to dominion status, and I believe that he can. One of the promises that was broken was that made in 1924 when the Reforms Inquiry Committee was set up. At that time the Prime Minister, who is now also Prime Minister, said that we really meant that to be a business committee, and that we meant to act on the result of their work. Just before the Committee reported, the General Election came and a Conservative Government came back into office and power. Although believing in continuity of policy, they forgot all about it in this case; that promise was absolutely broken, and nothing from that day to this has happened as the result of that inquiry.
We had a tremendous amount of opposition in this country, chiefly from the Conservative Benches, to the Viceroy's statement and the dominion status declaration. There was nothing new in that; it was what we had believed in ever since 1917, and what Members of all parties have said. But what they did not attack was the round table confer- 1530 ence, which was proposed by the right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) and accepted by all parties. The most British of British papers which supports the British cause in India, the "Statesman" of Calcutta, said that they were amazed at the opposition in this country to the Viceroy's statement. They said that when Lord Birkenhead was at the India Office he had not attended to his work there. This paper which normally supports the Conservative party, said that they were very glad that Lord Irwin and the present Secretary of State were trying to save what they could from the "wreck of the Birkenhead." I have heard that same Noble Lord, when he was Secretary of State for India, make a speech in another place in which he twice referred to Indians as "natives." A Secretary of State for India should at least have known that that word was banned by the Government of India years and years before, and that no Government official in India would be allowed to use it, because it has the same connotation in India as the word "nigger." That is the man in whose hands their destinies were placed. Even the "Morning Post" says that if you are to go ahead with the dominion status declaration of the Viceroy, you will soon have to open a fund for Anglo-Indians; and by Anglo-Indians the "Morning Post" means Europeans living in India, but everyone there knows that it means Eurasians.
The "Daily Mail" points out that one-ninth of our exports go to India, and it asks us to keep a firm hand on India, and to rule India by force practically, so that we can get more exports to India. The best way to do that is to have a friendly India, an India that wants to trade with you. Now that their fiscal policy is in their own hands, we cannot force them. I spoke last night to an Indian official of some 20 years' standing about trade with India, and he said that in his own part of the country his was practically the only English motor car. He said that it is not that the Indians do not think English motor cars are good, but that the mood in India has been such that they will not buy a British thing if they can get another. That is very serious. What we want is a change of mind on the part of the Indians, and we can only get that 1531 if we have the spirit which is conveyed in the Viceroy's declaration and in the Secretary of State's speech in this House. It is no use if that spirit is only in the India Office and in. the Viceregal Ledge. It must go right dawn through all the officials in India, through all the local government, and through all the officials of the local government.
I would like to mention the case of sedition that has been referred to, and to say that many of the things objected to there were published in other journals in India, and the local government did not think it worth while—and very wisely—to go against the editors. In the Punjab the editor of the "People" of Lahore published many of the passages objected to. The editor of the "Indian Review" in Madras published many of the things that were objected to, and he has since been appointed by the Government a member of the Council of State. The Madras Government and the Punjab Government did not seem to think, therefore, that it would do very much harm. I hope we shall have that same spirit animating not merely the Secretary of State and the Viceroy but the Provincial Governments and the executive offices all the way down.
There is only one other thing to which I want to allude, and that is the question of sedition in India and what prosecutions can be brought. A very famous Section under which many of those prosecutions have been brought, Section 124a of the Indian Penal Code, has been quoted in full by my hon. Friend who moved the Motion, and so I shall not quote it again, but under that if you bring Government into hatred or contempt in India, or, indeed, if you bring any class into hatred or contempt, you can be prosecuted for it. If the "Daily Mail" of London had been published in India, its editor would have been had up for sedition for his leading article of yesterday. It dealt with the £6,000,000 of Indian Treasury Bills that we put upon the London market here. The leader was headed, "Do not lend the money," and said:This is the precise moment when the Indian Nationalists are threatening disorder and bloodshed if they are not given Dominion Home Rule in the New Year.1532 That is absolutely false, and they know it is false, and any paper that writes that kind of thing at a time when we are trying to get better trade between this country and India—well, it is a pity we have not Section 124a here, because if the Government here could put the editor of the "Daily Mail" and its proprietor into the dock and put them away for three years, which is the penalty in India, I think it might do quite a great deal of good, and they richly deserve it for many of the things they say. They go on to say in that leading article that Dominion Home Rule must destroy the whole financial stability of India. If the "Daily Mail" wrote that about a commercial company that was advertising for £6,000,000 or £6,000, they could be brought up in the Law Courts and could be dealt with very severely for damaging it. They could not get away in India, and yet they are allowed to get away here. Under the wonderful regime under which we live, the "Daily Mail" can say almost anything it likes. Then they say:It is a disastrous mistake on the part of the Viceroy, Lord Irwin, to raise false hopes of Rome Rule by his rash declaration last October, and his irresolute attitude has strengthened all those subtle forces which, as Mr. Churchill said yesterday in his vigorous speech to the Essex Unionists, are now so busily at work undermining British authority in India.I think that is trying to bring the Viceroy of India and the Indian Government into contempt, if not hatred. We owe a great deal to the Conservative party for having appointed Lord Irwin as Viceroy of India. I think there never was a Viceroy whom India appreciated better and who appreciated India better than Lord Irwin. He has got that insight, that imagination, that is so lacking in the West—at least unless you happen to come from Scotland or Wales.
§ Major POLE
Or Ireland. I apologise. Ireland has imagination. I think our Secretary of State for India also has that imagination. He has got more of it lately, because he sits now for a Scottish constituency. I think those two together have done a tremendous thing, not merely for India and not merely for this country, but for the peace of the world. They are working together and we ought to do everything we can to back them up in that work, and to induce our 1533 friends in India, with whom our words can have any weight, to believe in their sincerity, to realise that they really mean this, that they are going through with it, and that they intend to help India in every way that India can be helped; further to bring the Indians to realise that the greatest of our difficulties are in India, and that we look to them to help us; and to urge them to come over here to this Conference, urge them to believe in us, urge them to co-operate with us. Those of us who can help in that way will be doing a tremendous work for the peace of the whole world.
§ Sir PATRICK FORD
Far be it from me to question the wisdom of the Chair in allowing debate to take any course that is not strictly within the four corners of the Motion, but having listened with great interest to the hon. and gallant Member for South Derbyshire (Major Pole), whom I have met in contest before now, I think I am justified in asking the Chair to accord to me a similar latitude if I seem to stray from the exact words of the Motion.
§ Sir P. FORD
I would like to mention that it is not my maiden speech. The Motion seemed to me to be a very harmless and general sort of Motion, to which we could all agree, but whilst I congratulate the hon. Member upon a most interesting speech I must take exception to some of the implications in that speech. I do not think that anything done by the present Government or suggested by the Opposition has at all conflicted with the general idea of this Motion. If I am in order I will read it:To call attention to the political situation in India; and to move, That this House welcomes the evidence of the co-operation of Indian representatives in the settlement of the constitutional question and relies upon the Government of India to encourage good will by the sympathetic conduct of its administrative and executive functions, particularly in relation to the expression of political opinion.Having read that Motion I feel confirmed in my belief that the whole discussion is rather beside the point, because there is no doubt that all that this Government and the previous Government and the Viceroy, who has been so justly eulogised by the hon. and gallant Member and who was appointed by the late Government— 1534 all that they have done has been, to my mind, to call rather too much upon the expression of opinion in India. If I arouse for a moment any harsh feeling by saying I think they may have done too much in calling upon the expression of opinion in India, I would like to point out that I have, through family relationships, been connected indirectly with the Government of India—through a cousin twice removed, I admit. A cousin of mine was not only a member of the Viceroy's Council but was successively the Governor of two important provinces in India. I believe he was the only Governor to whom in both of those Provinces the natives, if I may use the term, put up a statue in commemoration of the good work they consider he did for India.
I am a native of Scotland and I do not mind being called a native, and why the natives of India should object to being called natives I do not know. I am not, therefore, talking with any bias against those who were born in India, but when we talk of getting on as rapidly as possible towards Dominion status and as quickly as we can to changes in the constitutional Government of India, it must be remembered that the Indian peoples—because there is no single Indian people—are as old a growth in civilisation as our own, perhaps an older one, that there are thousands of different dialects, tribes and peoples in India, and we cannot assume, if we hand over the Government to a section that is more vocal than powerful, that we are doing justice to India. I think a great many people in this House do not recognise the vast size of India geographically, the differences of conditions, climatic, traditional, ethnic and otherwise, the vast difference there is between all the sections of the people of India.
To whom are you going to hand over India? Apparently, to the people who are most vocal; but what about the Ryots, the peasants of India? What about the Indian Princes, who have been very loyal to this Empire? Are the Bengalis, who are virtually the main spring of this agitation, the true representatives of Indian natives? We, who have vast responsibility, whether we obtained our Empire in India by influence or by conquest, or both, are left with a great trusteeship for law and order and equal justice. I would like to indicate this. 1535 There are the Ghurkas and other regiments of that type. I would like to give perfectly directly the opinion of the natives who belong to these hill tribes. There was an Indian officer whom I knew quite well in one of the native regiments and he was, as it were, a father and elder brother to his men. When he came to this country, they wrote to him and asked him to look after certain of their interests. Two of these men came to him and said: "We have a dispute about some land and would like a Sahib officer to give a decision." He said: "That is not my function at all; I am entirely in the Army. You go to the Civil Service Wallah." They said: "That is all right; if we can get a real Sahib we trust him. But we are poor men and we may have to go through a great many Civil Service Wallahs who are not Sahibs, and we cannot afford to do it."
That is the attitude of the least vocal but by far the greater number of the people of India. They do not believe in this Bengali attitude that you must have an Indian Civil Service running India. They believe in a Sahib, and if we withdraw that protection from what they well know is the danger of tribal or party feeling on the part of the native rulers of India, they feel that they will be deprived of their appeal to a justice which they regard as above suspicion. We must remember that, while it is perfectly right that the educated Indian, whether he be Mohammedan or Hindu of the North or the South, or any of the innumerable sects, castes and religious differences of opinion and tradition, should have a fair chance of representing his views, it is impossible in India to-day, and it will take years and generations before you can get a general belief in India in the rule of any one section of Indians. I cannot see how, in any Parliaments we might have there, you would get a belief, in the majorities that might arise in those Parliaments, that genuine justice would be done and that all the different sections would feel that they were properly represented. It is a different thing in this country because, making all allowance for differences of accent and intonation, we speak the same language, and have, broadly speaking, the same body of tradition; but in India there are traditions, religions and sections of opinion entirely different. The 1536 whole tradition of India has been government by a dominating race that has imposed equal justice, as far as possible, on all sections. None of the dominating races has gone so far as our dominating race has gone in giving incorruptible, even justice to men, women and children of whatever tribe, caste, religion or section they may be.
Therefore, I maintain that we are faced with a very difficult constitutional question in India, and only the efforts which, under us and by us, have been made for the real and genuine education—not merely a sort of babu type of education that produces a ridiculous false culture, but the real and genuine education of all the peoples of India—only the effort we have made and that has been made by the Indians themselves under our rule, has produced a real, widespread grasp of education and of the subjects that really affect India. We have in this country today a great electorate which really has, through the education which it has demanded for itself and which has been given to it, the intellect and the trained intelligence to grasp political questions. Until we had that state of affairs—which we are far from having in the teeming millions of India to-day—we have a mockery of democracy, and, what is more likely, a domination of the more lowly tribes and castes in India. If instead of a beneficent holder of the ring who sees fair play, we withdraw and precipitately give Dominion Home Rule to India, we do not get what are our western ideas of Dominion Home Rule, but we shall get chaos and domination of a far less fair-minded dominating class than we have got to-day. I admit the logic of the appeal which has been made to us from the opposite benches, but do not let us make the mistake of giving a gift before the people are sufficiently educated to benefit by its acceptance. Let us go slowly and carefully. There is nothing in the Motion we are discussing, as I read it, which is in any sense a censure upon the present Government or upon any past Government, but I do think that there is a distinct section of people who, however excellent their intentions may be, want to force the pace. You would not give a box of matches to a child to set fire to a heap of wood shavings if near those shavings there was a quantity of gun-powder; but when that child had acquired sense and wanted a 1537 good fire at which to warm himself, you might give him matches without any risk.
In matters of this kind you have to proceed slowly and carefully, and while I do not disagree with this Motion, I want to make it quite clear that it should not be interpreted in the sense which was suggested by the last speaker. It has been suggested we should co-operate as far as possible with all that is really representative, educative, and progressive in India, but we should not force the way before the great mass of opinion in India is educated up to a realisation of the great and responsible burden of Dominion status, which is one of the greatest responsibilities that can be placed upon any people.
§ Mr. THURTLE
I would like to take this opportunity of being the first hon. Member on this side of the House to extend my congratulations to the hon. and gallant Member for South Derbyshire (Major Pole) for the excellent speech which he has just delivered. It was an extraordinarily well-informed and able statement of the Labour point of view with regard to India, and I am sure that every hon. Member of this House will feel that the hon. and gallant Member will be a great acquisition to this House in our Debates on India which must take place in the clays to come. The hon. Member for North Edinburgh (Sir P. Ford) has been trying to establish two propositions. One of them was that British rule in India has conferred extraordinary benefits on that country. I understand that the hon. Member for North Edinburgh is a Scotsman, and therefore he must have a deep sense of nationality, but I wonder whether it has ever occurred to him that the Indian people and Indian nationalists may feel that bad self-government is preferable to the kind of government which they now possess.
§ Sir P. FORD
My argument was devoted to showing that while we may have to be divided into three kingdoms in this country, we still possess the status of nationality. On the other hand there is no Indian nationality.
§ Mr. THURTLE
The people of India include many different races, but they are living in their native country, and it seems to me that, diverse and scattered though they may be in character and 1538 race, they still have a better title to rule India than the British. The hon. Member for North Edinburgh argued that there was only a very small percentage of the Indian nation which was really sufficiently educated to be able to take charge of the Government of that country. I submit that, small as the number of the politically-educated and politically-minded Indian people may be, they are certainly much better equipped, and they have a much better title to govern India, than the people we send over to India from Whitehall and other places.
§ Mr. THURTLE
I am not qualified to express the views of the Untouchables. As far as I know I think there are about 40,000,000 of them in India.
§ Mr. THURTLE
Twenty-eight millions is a considerable number, but that is only a comparatively small proportion of the whole, and the Untouchables apart, if we take all those peasants who are not politically educated and politically minded, we shall find that they will always follow the educated Indian in preference to the British. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] You only need to see some of the great demonstrations in Calcutta and Bombay to notice that although these people are not educated, the educated leaders are looked upon as expressing the hopes and aspirations of the great Indian masses.
I want to direct attention most particularly to the terms of this Motion. We welcome the fact that there is evidence of co-operation of the Indian representatives with those who are seeking to give India greater self-government, and that evidence has arisen because of the proposal to establish a round-table conference. I think that was a wise and necessary piece of statemanship, because it is an open secret that the Simon Commission, which went out to inquire into the constitutional position of India, did not command the confidence and support of the representative opinion of India. You can take the most extreme or the most moderate political organisations in India and you will find that all of them are united in resenting the fact that a Commission should he sent to 1539 India to find out how much or how little self-government should be conceded to the people of India.
The Indian nationalists say that they ought to have self-government as a right. They say: "We are prepared to join with you as equals at a round-table conference to find out the best means by which that right can be conceded to us." The present Government, with the assistance of the Viceroy, have seen the reason of that demand; they have seen the equity of it; and, because they realised that it was essential that the co-operation of all the organised opinion in India should be obtained, if any success was to come out of this inquiry, they have called this round-table conference. But even now it is not certain that it is going to be fully responded to by the representatives of Indian opinion. A very important conference is to take place at Lahore on the day after Christmas. There the great Indian National Congress is to decide whether or not it will take part in this round-table conference, and there are elements in that Congress which are suggesting that they should refuse to have any part or lot in the conference. The position has been complicated and made much more serious by some blazing indiscretions on the part of so-called responsible statesmen in this country. There was a Debate only a few weeks ago in another place, in the course of which a statement was made by an ex-Secretary of State for India, and, as an ex-Secretary of State for India, his words carry tremendous weight in India.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I must remind the hon. Member that it is not in order to quote from statements made in another place.
§ Mr. THURTLE
I was only saying that a statesman who has held very high office in the Government of this country was responsible for a statement a few weeks ago to the effect that India—
§ Mr. THURTLE
I will put it in this way. It has become known in recent weeks in India that there are statesmen in this country of high standing—or perhaps I ought not to use that term in connection with the statesman to whom I am referring—there are statesmen well known 1540 in India who hold the opinion that India will not be fit for self-government for 100 years to come. To put myself perfectly in order, I would draw attention to the fact that the Leader of the opposition in this House a few weeks ago said that it would be many generations before the goal of Dominion self-government was attained by India. I want to submit to the House that, in the present critical situation in India such statements as that are highly mischievous, because you have in that country a great mass et ardent youth fired with this great ideal of national freedom, and you are telling them, from responsible mouths in this country, that not they in their generation, not their children, not their children's children, can hope to see the day when India shall be a free nation. I submit that for responsible statesmen in this country to talk in that fashion is to incite young Indian Nationalists to leave the path of constitutionalism and adopt other and much more deplorable methods.
It is a. remarkable fact that the great subject of study in India in these days, among the youth and the politicians of that country, is the subject of the struggles of Ireland for freedom. You find them reading all the details of the way in which Ireland, from 1914 onwards, fought and struggled by various methods and in various ways to achieve national freedom, and that is sinking into the minds of these young people. An Indian law student came to see me a few months ago. He seemed to be a very rational clear-headed young man, but he told me that he had been over to Dublin, and somewhere in Dublin, as I understand, there is a great cemetery where large numbers are buried who fell in the struggles for Irish freedom. He told me that he had been in that cemetery and, had seen those graves, and he said: "My opinion is that the British Government is not going to give us justice, and that we have got to pay the same price for our Indian freedom." I would remind the House that, if the unhappy day does Dome when the Indian people resort to the kind of things which happened in Ireland in the days that are past, the blood which will be shed in India will be a vast ocean compared with that which was shed in Ireland in those days.
As against this idea that India may have to wait 100 years or 10 generations 1541 for her freedom, I want to urge that there is no reason at all why India should not get her freedom within a comparatively short space of time. She did get one thing out of the discussion which took place recently in this House, and that was an honest admission from the Conservative side of the House that there was to be eventually absolute equality for India so far as Dominion status was concerned. The Leader of the Opposition himself admitted on behalf of the Conservative party that the idea of any inferiority in the status of India in the British Commonwealth of Nations is unthinkable. Therefore, it comes down to this, that the question which is dividing us is as to the time at which this status shall be attained, and I want to submit that, contrary to what has been said, there is nothing in the existing Constitution, there is nothing in the existing enactments, which would prevent India from getting Dominion status after the Simon Commission has reported. I know that that view has been questioned, but may I draw the attention of the House to the real facts of the case? This situation is governed by the Preamble to the Government of India Act, 1919, which speaks of:The gradual development of self-governing institutions, with a view to the progressive realisation of responsible government in British India as an integral part of the Empire.It goes on to say:And whereas progress in giving effect to this policy can only be achieved by successive stages … it is expedient that substantial steps in this direction should now be taken.It is, therefore, perfectly permissible to argue that that Act of 1919 was one substantial stage in the direction of Dominion self-government. Let it be remembered that nothing is specified as to the number of these successive stages; they may he 10, they may be only two. One stage was taken in 1919. It continues:And … the time and manner of each advance can be determined only by Parliament.I submit that, if the representatives of India come to this round-table conference, as I hope and pray that they will, if they come there and argue their case for Dominion status, and are able to convince this Parliament of the justice of their demand, there is nothing at all in the constitutional situation to prevent 1542 Parliament from deciding in its wisdom that the very next step shall be the final step, and that, after that, India shall be a free self-governing partner in the British community of nations.
There is only one other point that I want to dwell upon and that is in connection with the last half of this Motion, which deals with the conduct of administrative and executive functions, particularly in relation to the expression of political opinion. Anyone who is familiar with the history of India for the last few years, must realise that things have been happening there which are not a credit to the British Parliament. It is a great boast of the British people that they believe in freedom of opinion. It is a great boast of the British people that they do not believe in clapping people into gaol and keeping them there without a fair trial. But in the past few years there has been a great deal of that kind of thing happening. People have been taken by the police, put into gaol and kept there two and three years without any sort, of trial. That kind of thing is altogether contrary to our ordinary conception of British justice. The excuse that was given in those days was that, if those men were released, great harm would come to the Government of India. In time all these people who were interned under the Bengal Criminal Ordinance have been released, and all these alleged potential criminals have been free for many months, and it is impossible for the Government of India to point to a single one as having taken advantage of his freedom and committed any act of violence or any seditious act.
That kind of treatment of the Indian people is bound to arouse intense resentment, and I support the appeal that has been made to the Secretary of State to use his influence in the strongest possible manner with the Government of India to get that sort of policy stopped. I should like to warn him that he is not likely to get much co-operation from some of the officials in India in this kind of policy, because in the past years officials have been saying to Indian nationals: "You may protest against this kind of thing, you may say it is due to a Conservative Government, but you will get no different treatment under a Labour Government." If only to keep up to that kind of attitude, there will be 1543 officials who will seek to thwart the Secretary of State if he attempts to introduce into the Indian system of justice a better conception of British justice.
I assure my right hon. Friend that there is a desire on the part of the great bulk of the Indian Nationalist Movement to come forward and co-operate in getting self-government, but they will not do it unless they can be convinced that there is a different attitude of mind prevailing in the British Government now from what prevailed during the last Conservative Government. I should like to ask him to do one thing amongst others. There should expire at the end of this year an instrument of oppression called the Bengal Criminal Ordinance. I should like him to-night, before this National Congress takes place at Lahore, to announce that it is not the intention of the Government to have that Ordinance, which empowered the Government of India to imprison people without trial, re-enacted. I should also like him to assure us that he is going to consider the cases of those people who are at present suffering imprisonment and release every possible one who is imprisoned because of his political opinions. No one on this side asks him to release any man who has a case proven against him of violence. If he will release those who have been imprisoned purely for political opinions, I am sure he will create such a response as will decide the National Congress to send its representatives over to the round table conference and do their best to hammer out a constitution which will give India self-government.
§ Sir SAMUEL HOARE
I welcome the chance of saying a few words in this Debate, for I cannot help remembering that the most interesting and the pleasantest incident of the whole of my life was a visit I made to India by air two or three years ago, a visit very interesting in itself, but pleasant also for the fact that it gave me a chance of renewing on the spot many personal friendships that I made with Indians both at school and at the University. When I heard there was going to be a Debate this evening I was afraid we should have a second chapter of the Debate that ended rather hurriedly some weeks ago. I do not know how that Debate struck most Members, but it left 1544 the unpleasant impression upon me that for the first time for several years the unity of the party in front towards Indian questions had been momentarily broken up. I hope and believe this Debate is going to show India that the unity of parties towards Indian questions is reconstituted, and I hope it is also going to send to India a unanimous message of good will at a very critical moment in the history of both Great Britain and of India itself. I think the House can congratulate itself that the Debate up to this point has gone, on the whole, in the direction we all desire. We listened with great interest to the very able speech of the Mover. I cannot say I agreed with any detail in it, but I can tell him, and I am sure it was the opinion of everyone who heard it, that we were much struck by its ability and its sincerity. We were very much interested also in the maiden speech of the hon. Member for South Derbyshire (Major Pole). It was the kind of speech that makes us hope we shall often have an opportunity of hearing his interventions in debate in the future.
I can say for myself, and I believe for the Members of my party, that we are perfectly prepared to support the Motion. It is in two parts. The first states the satisfaction of the House at the increasing signs of goodwill and cooperation in India. There can be no differences of opinion upon a proposal such as that. The second half of the Motion I myself should have thought was quite harmless, and I should also have thought that it was unnecessary. It is something in the nature of a reminder to the Secretary of State and to the Viceroy to carry out their duties in a very responsible task. I should have much preferred to have left it to the Viceroy, without any reminder from this House, to deal in his own way with the question of political prosecutions and the kind of implications suggested in the second part of the Motion. I should have preferred that in this Debate nothing should have been said upon the question of these prosecutions, and particularly upon a trial that is actually sub judice. We are prepared, and I believe the great majority of the Members of this House are prepared, to leave questions of that kind to the discretion of the Viceroy. After all, the Viceroy is not a hard-faced, rigid, narrow-minded 1545 man. He is a man in whose judgment, sympathy and wisdom all of us have the greatest confidence. The hon. and gallant Member for South Derbyshire was amongst the first to pay tribute to those qualities in his speech this evening. It is certainly much better for us in this House not to attempt to interfere with the discretion of the Viceroy in questions of this kind. We have no reason to distrust him. It is much better to leave the subject in his hands and to trust to his wisdom and to his sympathy in dealing with it.
As the question has been raised, let me only say this, in addition to what I have just said. I would ask the Secretary of State for India when he comes to reply to make it quite clear in his speech, as I understand he has already made it clear in the answers to questions in the House, that he has no intention of bringing pressure from Whitehall to bear upon the Viceroy in dealing with the question of a political amnesty or the prosecution which is now actually sub judice. Hon. Members on this side of the House will be relieved to hear him repeat in this Debate the intention which he has already stated in answer to questions, namely, that he is prepared, as we are prepared, to leave this question to the uncontrolled discretion of the Viceroy and the Government of India.
I come to the first part of the Motion, the part which deals with the welcome signs of increasing goodwill and cooperation amongst representative individuals and representative organisations in India. I think that if I had been drafting this Motion I should have made it even wider, and I should have included in it not only the Indian representatives and the Indian organisations which are showing increasing signs of goodwill, but I should have included in it also the European association, the representative organisation of the British subjects who are living and working in India,. There is no feature in the present situation in India so significant as the remarkable unanimity which has been shown during the last few weeks upon the proposal made by the Viceroy for the Conference after the issue of the Simon Report; a unanimity, as I say, not only of representative Indian individuals and representative Indian organisations in British India, but a 1546 unanimity also of the Indian princes and of the European Association, the association which represents the body of British opinion amongst British subjects living and working in India. One and all have welcomed the proposal of the conference. One and all are agreed that the conference, if wise use is made of the opportunity that it affords, is going to play a most useful part in helping us to solve the difficulties with which we are confronted. I would suggest that, from the point of view of this House, and from the point of view of the British Parliament, we also can give the conference a unanimous and a very definite welcome. I believe that there are many questions which we shall have to discuss in the next year or two upon which the conference can give us very valuable help, questions that no doubt suggest themselves to many hon. Members, questions, for instance, like those dealing with the treatment of minorities, one of the most difficult of all Indian questions; questions, again, such as those connected with the relation of the provinces to the Central Government, and questions like those connected with the relations of the Indian States to British India.
On questions such as these it would be of the utmost value that we should have at our disposal, when we come to consider future legislation, the opinion of a representative body such as we hope the conference will mean, and particularly if that opinion is the agreed opinion of representative individuals and representative organisations in India. Indeed, so important does the conference appear to be, so essential a stage does it mark in the processes through which we must pass when we come to consider legislation in the next year or two, that I hope the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for India will seize the first opportunity of taking the House into his confidence with reference to the conference. I do not mean that here and now he should make a definite statement about the details of the conference. I agree that the time is premature for that. I do not mean to suggest that he should say anything that would embarrass the Viceroy in making the arrangements which he will have to make for bringing the conference into being, but I do say to him that he should, and I feel sure he will, as soon as a decision has been arrived at, take the House into his confidence 1547 and let us know the relevant details about the conference in time for the House of Commons to express its opinion upon them.
We do not wish to be faced at the eleventh hour with a decision given at so late a moment as to make it impossible for this House to express its opinion. We particularly want to know what the Terms of Reference will be for the Conference, what the representation will be upon it, and what will be its general procedure. I hope that the Secretary of State to-night will be able to tell the House, quite definitely and categorically, that he will give us information upon all these very important points at the earliest suitable opportunity. By that I mean at a time that will give the House a chance of expressing its opinion upon the decision at which he and the Viceroy will then have arrived. If the Secretary of State can give us that undertaking—an undertaking that I do not press him to carry out prematurely, and upon which I do not press him to make a detailed statement to-night—I see no reason why the message of this House to India to-night should not be a unanimous message.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition stated to the House the other day the views of the party that I represent towards the question we are now discussing. I can assure the Secretary of State for India that the members of the party for which I am speaking are only too ready to take their part, a sympathetic part, in helping to solve the difficulties with which Great Britain, the Empire and India are faced. On that account, I somewhat regret the attack that the Secretary of State made the other day, which was repeated to some extent by the hon. and gallant Member for South Derbyshire this evening, upon the administration of Indian affairs during the period that I was a Member of the late Government. The right hon. Gentleman will remember example after example which go to show that we were only too anxious to obtain the co-operation of representative Indians, whenever the opportunity arose. There was the case of the Central Indian Committee. We were glad to see that Committee set up. There were the Committees of representative Indians which were set up by the Provinces. There again, we were only too 1548 ready to welcome Indian co-operation. Looking back over those years I cannot remember a single case, whether it was at the League of Nations at Geneva or whether it was at the Imperial Conference, in which we were not ready, and in which we could not have been more ready than we were, to welcome, without any reservation, the presence of Indian representatives in our Conferences.
That, it seems to me, is an illustration of the way in which Conservatives look at this problem. No questions connected with the Empire interest Conservatives more than questions connected with India. Indian tradition and history appeal to us in a very distinctive and arresting manner. Holding these views, we are only too anxious to take our part tonight in sending a message of good will to India, and to help in the years to come, with Indian co-operation, to work out the framework for the future Government of India; to remove any suspicions which may at the present cloud the relations between ourselves and India and bring about a state of affairs which will not only mean prosperity to Great Britain and India but also strengthen the forces of civilisation throughout the whole world.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for INDIA (Mr. Wedgwood Benn)
We are all entitled to congratulate ourselves from the Indian point of view on the Debate to-night. I should like to thank the hon. Member for Leyton East (Mr. Brockway) for the terms in which he moved his Motion. I know how strongly he feels about some of these things, and I realise that in the interests of unity as between ourselves and India, and in the interests of the plans we have in hand at the moment, he was stating his case with great restraint to which I bear tribute. I will not dwell upon the brilliant speech of the hon. and gallant Member for South Derbyshire (Major Pole)—he is on his own ground in this Debate—but I should like to thank the right hon. Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare) for enabling us to say that the House of Commons is engaged to-night in the not unworthy task of showing by a unanimous Motion a gesture of response to that very remarkable spirit of unity which has been exhibited in India in welcoming the Viceroy's Proclamation, a welcome which was associated with a list of names so 1549 long and so diverse that I imagine it will be almost unparalleled in recent history.
There is a vast amount of good will in this country towards India. I do not suppose that they attach more than due weight to some of the newspaper articles which have been written about Indian affairs. I hope not. I do not think they are worthy of notice, except that it may be necessary to direct the attention of people overseas to the fact that they count for nothing in this country. The spirit of good will which exists is proved again in that remarkable manifestation at the recent meeting of the European Association, to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred, and also by the more recent happening, a few clays ago, when the Baltic Exchange for the first time elected two Indian members on terms of absolute equality with British members to the exchange. To this spirit of good will, which is the one thing at which we should aim, the unanimous passing of this Motion by the Imperial Parliament will make no mean contribution. The hon. Member for East Leyton and the hon. Member who seconded the Motion made reference to cases of political prosecution in India, and to cases in general. He laid stress particularly on the case of Mr. Ramananda Chatterjee, who was proceeded against in connection with a book called "India in Bondage." The character of that book is the subject of inquiry by the High Court, and, therefore, he will forgive me if I make no comment upon it, or, for the same reason, upon the Meerut proceedings.
As regards the other cases, he mentioned a recommendation of the Bengal Jail Committee and two other cases. I would say, as I am bound in any case to do, that I will go most fully into the matter if he will give me precise details of what he has in mind. I would like, in passing, to make this reply to my hon. Friend who seconded the Motion: There is no object of policy dearer to the heart of the Government of India than the promotion of a real trade union movement in India. It is a very difficult task. There is very little to work on. There are organisations which are more an ad hoc strike committee than a real union, but the work of the Whitley Commission, which we owe to right hon. Gentlemen opposite, will largely and mainly be 1550 directed to forming the basis on which a real trade union movement can be built up in India. It is no good attributing, as some people do, the riots and disorders in Bombay entirely to the wickedness of the Communists. Those who know sufficient, those who know the conditions under which labour lives and works in India, know that one has to go a good deal deeper even than the unwholesome activity of Communists to find the real causes and the real cure.
As regards the prosecutions in general, would remind my hon. Friend who moved the Motion that, in response to complaints which have been made about the treatment, not only of prisoners, but of those under trial, the Government of India have convened a conference between the provincial Governments and the Government of India, and that that conference is at present considering the matter in co-operation with unofficial opinion both of the Assembly and the Provincial Councils; so that the matter, which has been made the subject of much complaint at times, will, we hope, find a satisfactory solution. I am in great hopes that, with the new spirit abroad in India, we are closing what must be to us a very painful chapter. I am hoping that it is coming to an end. My hon. Friend and I are in agreement, and in agreement with Indian opinion, on two things at least: First of all we are all working to one definite, ascertained and advertised goal. That is to say that the difficult task of government is not merely a harsh and barren negative. We have the comfort of an active and responsive policy. The second point is this: Neither he nor I nor thoughtful Indian opinion desires this Government or any Government to weaken in the maintenance of peace. Especially at a time like the present, when constitutional changes of the greatest magnitude are being considered, it is essential that public order should be maintained. I believe that that statement will find a welcome and agreement widespread among Indians as well as ourselves. I wish that the task were not always on white shoulders, and I am glad to think that at this moment, in one Province at least, though only for a time—the Central Provinces —we have an Indian Governor who is charged with this difficult but necessary duty.
1551 But I recognise, and I know that my hon. Friend recognises, that the real basis of order is not the police. The real basis of order is public good will. In this country it is not the uniformed constable who keeps order, but every citizen in mufti who keeps order, and Government is maintained on the basis of the co-operation and good will of the people. I believe that we are moving towards this state of affairs in India also. In answer to a question put by my hon. Friend I may say that I am informed by the Viceroy that at the moment he sees no circumstances which necessitate the re-enactment of the Public Safety Ordinance. As regards freedom of expression of opinion, my hon. Friend is very jealous of that principle, and so am I. It is not only desirable that we should have the freest expression of opinion in India, but at the present time it is a most helpful thing. We need it for our assistance in the task which we have before us. But we will look at these political campaigns as they would appear to realists, and to realists I would say this to-day—the winning card is argument and the losing card is non-co-operation. The winning card is argument particularly at this moment, because, by a startling change in procedure, to which I will make reference later, the Government have called a conference and have invited the Indian peoples to use argument as the means of achieving the purposes which they have in view.
The goal of British policy in India has been declared to be the achievement of Dominion status, and it may well be said —and a passage from Mr. Gandhi has been quoted—that words are not enough. It may be asked: "Can you show us any deeds to prove the sincerity of the new spirit of which you speak?" With the leave of the House, I desire to answer some questions which have been put in the course of the Debate, and, for that purpose, I must trace briefly in outline the history of some Indian events in the course of the last 10 years. In 1919 plenipotentiaries on behalf of India signed the Treaty of Versailles, and India became, as a separate entity, an original member of the League of Nations. That was a very significant stage in her history. In 1919 also a joint Parliamentary Committee met to examine the Montagu- 1552 Chelmsford Bill and the Report of that Committee, which is not long, is well worth study. There are two passages to which I would draw special attention. They said:Only in exceptional circumstances should the Secretary of State intervene in matters of purely Indian interest when the Government and the Legislature in India are in agreement.That is on the general question, and to that principle I have attempted to conform in all the administrative decisions which I have had to make. They went further than that, particularly in reference to tariffs. In regard to this matter they said:India should enjoy the same liberty to consider her interests in tariff matters as Australia, New Zealand, Canada or South Africa—mentioning each of the Dominions existing at that time. As an opponent of tariffs I would never stir one inch from that definition of principle, because the principle of self-government is far greater than what I would call a matter of fiscal common sense. Nor would any Secretary of State attempt to lay a finger upon this principle of tariff autonomy which has been established in practice for 10 years in Indian affairs. There is Dominion status in action. There is a Dominion attribute which has now become part and parcel of the rights of India.
Take again the question of purchase of stores on which I have been questioned several times. In 1921 it was moved in the Legislative Assembly that, in the purchase of stores, the Government of India should buy in the market that seemed to them best without regard to pressure from the India Office. That Resolution was accepted by the Government of India and was accepted by the Secretary of State and is a principle to-day. It is because of that Resolution that I have replied to those questions which have been put to me on this subject to the effect that, in this matter, India must judge in India's interest. Much as we would welcome work for our people, much as we believe, as one speaker has put it, that by having the good will of the Indian peoples we shall find a readier market than by keeping them down by force—much as all this is true, it is not for the India Office to exercise pressure in the British interest upon India, or to hamper or curtail 1553 India's freedom in making decisions in what she considers to be her own interest. In a word, the meaning of these things is this. They are not only Dominion status in action, as my hon. and gallant Friend said, but they show that the idea of the exploitation of India in the British interest has gone. It is past and done with. We have had 'some speeches quoted to-night by Members of this House, which I think were made a long time ago. I do not think you will find anybody in a responsible position to-day who will deny that in these domestic and economic respects to which I have referred India is already coming into possession, at a growing rate, of the attributes of Dominion status.
I do not know whether I ought to refer, as the Debate has been conducted upon what I am tempted to call a high level, to Lord Rothermere and the articles which have appeared in some of his newspapers, but I would like to say this, that if those articles were ever reprinted in book form—their merits hardly justify it—the book should be called, "How to lose India." There was one special article referred to by my hon. and gallant Friend to which I should like to make reference. The Government of India came into the market yesterday for £6,000,000 worth of 12 months' bills. Lord Rothermere publishes an article in his newspaper, the "Daily Mail," headed, "Don't lend the money." Who is asking for it? A part of the British Empire, and he publishes an article headed, "Don't lend the money." That is the new patriotism; that is the new Imperialism. I must mention the sequel Lord Rothermere has achieved considerable success in what I may call the humbler spheres of domestic literature. His advice to servant maids in love might be useful, might be amusing, his hints how to take stains out of table-cloths might be invaluable, but as for his financial advice, well—"Don't lend the money," says Lord Rothermere. What was the answer? £6,000,000 was asked for, £8,500,000 was offered!
§ Sir JOHN FERGUSON
How was the money to be spent? Perhaps he had in mind the fact that large contracts for rails and other railway material had gone to Germany, to the loss of about £300,000 in British wages.
§ Sir J. FERGUSON
That information was in reply to a question which I put to the right hon. Member a few days ago.
§ Mr. BENN
Now let me pass for a moment from these domestic and economic questions to try and answer the question put by my hon. and gallant Friend as to whether we can show Dominion status in action. India, as everyone knows, has in London, an Indian acting as High Commissioner, and is thus in the same position in that respect as the other Dominions. India has Indians in every part of the world, finding the Government of India a valiant champion of their interests as British citizens, and recently the Government of India sent out to South Africa, to negotiate in regard to Indians in South Africa, one of the most distinguished members of their Government, Sir Muhammad Habibullah. India has played a large part in international labour matters, and the record of labour legislation in India in the last 10 years is a remarkable one. Sir Atul Chatterjee, a most distinguished Indian, is the present High Commissioner in London. India has a seat on the governing body of the International Labour Office and her own delegation, and she is free to, and frequently does, take a view different from that of the British delegation if their interests happen to clash.
At the last gathering of the League of Nations, the late Government caused the Indian delegation to be headed by an Indian for the first time. I would add that the more Indians it is possible to have upon the delegation to the League of Nations, the greater weight will India pull at Geneva, and the more will her national status be raised. Let me give further recent illustrations in answer to my hon. Friend who asked with regard to Dominion status in action. There was last week an International Air Navigation Commission Indian representatives attended and received a separate vote, exactly as the representatives of South Africa, Canada and the other States received. There has recently been held in London a most important conference dealing with Dominion legislation. India 1555 was represented by a special delegation of its own, and sat side by side with Canada, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, the Irish Free State and the rest of them, though in point of fact, at this stage there were only certain matters dealing with shipping that directly concerned the Indian representatives. In the next few weeks, when the Five-Power Naval Conference meets in London, India will be represented by her own delegation. It is true that I have the honour of being one of the British delegates, but I shall not be at the head of the Indian delegation. She will be represented by her own delegation, and will thus make her own voice heard.
§ Mr. BROCKWAY
These representatives of India are at present all appointed by the Viceroy in Council. Cannot the Secretary of State for India try to secure more adequate representation of India itself by giving the Indian Legislative Assemblies some power in the appointment of these representatives?
§ Mr. BENN
That is a suggestion that I will certainly note, and I am much obliged to my hon. Friend for raising it. In the meantime, do not let us miss the moral of what I am saying, that, just as in the history of every Dominion, it has not been a matter of legislative change, but of use, custom, want and tradition, which have built up these powers, the same procedure is proceeding rapidly in the case of India to-day. Therefore, I think I may say—and I am not speaking of our own administration, but of every administration as well—that in deeds as well as in words, we have tried to prove the sincerity of our faith when we say that we desire to see India reach Dominion status. People often ask, has there been a change in policy? To some extent I have answered that question in what I have just said, but there is, of course, the great change in procedure to which reference has been made by the right hon. Gentleman and many others—I mean to say, the calling of the Conference. In one sense there is no change. When the Prime Minister replied to the Leader of the Opposition in the published correspondence, he stated quite clearly that, as far as the Statute is concerned, there is no change. The Statute remains, and it is outwith the power of anyone except Par- 1556 liament, to change a policy which is embodied in a Statute.
In this matter of procedure there has been a great and important change which has been repeatedly asked for by leaders of Indian opinion in India, namely, this Round Table Conference. I was very glad indeed to hear the right hon. Gentleman exalt the importance of this Conference. He is right. It is a very important Conference. We are the servants, more particularly this Government are, of the House of Commons, and of course the House of Commons will be told timeously about the composition of the Conference, its terms of reference, and so on. The right hon. Gentleman was good enough to say, and I thank him for it, that he would not press me for more details at this moment, the reason being that plans are by no means complete. There are one or two things I can say about the Conference. We desire to see the Conference called at the earliest possible moment. At the same time, time is required for preparation. There is much matter to be received and to be considered. There is the Report of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) and his Commission, there are the opinions of the Government of India, there are the views of provincial Governments. All these matters must be duly considered, so that the Conference meets clothed with full knowledge. Let me make one thing clear about the Conference. It is partly in reply to the same question put by the right hon. Gentleman opposite.
The Conference is to be fully and fairly representative not of one section but of all sections, so that we may have there a real representation of political opinion as it finds itself in India. The Conference will meet with free hands. Some one asked whether they would consider the Bill. They will not consider it, they will not even consider draft proposals. They will meet absolutely free, and the Cabinet will certainly decide, settle and propose to the Conference nothing. The Conference is intended to be a free conference which permits every section of opinion to come forward and express itself and support its views with whatever argument may appear to the speaker to be most impressive.
§ Colonel HOWARD-BURY
Will there not be the recommendations of the Simon Commission which will have been considered by this Government and by the provincial governments? Will not that be the terms of reference of this conference, or are they to be left a completely open field to re-open the whole Indian question again?
§ Mr. BENN
The hon. and gallant Member is asking me the question which I could not answer for his leader. The clearest definition of the function of the conference which we have been able to arrive at will be found in the Viceroy's Proclamation. Of course the matter that has been referred to by the hon. and gallant Member will be available to the Conference. So will the report of the Indian Central Committee, and so will many other relevant documents, including the opinions of the Government; all those matters will be available for the conference to discuss, and to formulate its views.
And the report of the Nehru Committee most decidedly. All these matters will be available. This Conference is not intended merely to be a sop to Indian opinion, a sort of douceur to please India, but to bring the light of Indian opinion to bear upon the problem and to help us in the solution of our difficulties, and to help Parliament when Parliament comes to examine and pass the Bill. We invite the co-operation of Indian opinion in this Conference.
There is one concluding word. There are many difficulties to be faced; there are great differences of opinion, wide gulfs and divergencies, not here but in India. We regret the differences, they are obstacles on the path which we wish to pursue, but we cannot solve them, and I express the devout hope that when the time comes for the Conference it may have been found possible amongst the Indians themselves to compose their differences so that we may have gentlemen coming here speaking with authority and speaking with unity. It is only in that way that we may get the maximum assistance and guidance for this House in its difficult task. I believe it is not too much to say that in this matter we are entering upon a 1558 new era, we are attempting to enter what may be the greatest chapter in the history of the British Commonwealth, namely, a free and voluntary association of a great self-respecting nation in partnership with the British Commonwealth for the promotion of the good of the world.
§ Mr. WELLOCK
I have heard the speech of the right hon. Gentleman with great satisfaction. But we are facing a new situation in regard to India. I am one of those who believe that the situation in India is mainly a psychological question. The history of the last hundred years has been such that we have now a mentality in India that requires definite action of the kind taken by my right hon. Friend in order to bring about a friendly disposition. I have been very much afraid during recent months that a situation might arise such as existed from 1920 to 1923 or 1924. We all remember how on those occasions the Montagu Reforms were heralded by action which put India into a ferment. Conditions existed which engendered suspicion. We had the Rowlatt inquiries, the Press Acts, the refusal to permit assemblies in various parts of India and the prohibition of Indian people going into certain parts of the country. We had a situation where Indian leaders were put into prison in large numbers, and it was considered one of the most heroic things for a young man of that time to be put in prison. It has taken many years to get out of that condition, but in the last 12 months or so we have found ourselves getting away from it, and I am glad that my right hon. Friend has taken such action in India as has prevented a return to the conditions we had from 1920 to 1924.
I welcome this Motion, and particularly that part of it which rejoices at the cooperation that is taking place. I have found from my correspondence during the past few weeks that there is a very marked change in India. The atmosphere has very definitely changed, and I am quite sure in my own mind that the decision of India in the next few days will be such as we in this country are desirous of finding. No reference, I think, has been made in this discussion—and I think I have heard the whole of it—to the part of the Viceroy's Proclamation which deals with the question of Indian States. The Labour Government 1559 has enunciated for the first time a policy which brings India into the ambit of discussion and considers the question of India as a whole, and when this conference meets in London, as I hope it will, with a full representation from India, I hope the whole question, not only of Dominion status, but of bringing the Indian States into the ambit of that discussion, will he realised in a very complete way. If that view of the situation is cleared up the whole possibility of what can be done in India will be laid before us, and we know that nothing will be excluded from the conference, which will meet in the course of next year, or, possibly, the next few months, which concerns the future welfare of India. I hope that India will send to that conference the best representatives she can, and then I am sure we shall obtain better results from that conference than we have succeeded in doing in the past. I am sure that every hon. Member of this House will welcome the statement which has been made this evening by the Secretary of State for India, and we shall look forward to the time when India will send her representative to this country and when we shall be able to enact such laws and establish such relations between this country and India which will have the effect of solving permanently the vexed question which is in our midst to-day.
§ Miss WILKINSON
I want to raise a matter which has not been raised during this Debate. The discussion to-day has necessarily been confined to constitutional questions, but I think we might appropriately turn our minds to some of the social questions which are affecting India so much to-day. I think it is unfortunate that the health of the people and infant mortality throughout the whole of India has not received greater attention from this Government, and from the whole of the Indian administration. It is very extraordinary that infantile mortality in Bombay amongst the Bombay mill hands is little short of a tragedy and may be described as appalling. That is a terrible state of things, and while we talk about the constitution, it does seem to me important that we should consider these little ones who are dying off like flies. The condition of the mothers in India and the lack of medical attention are not pleasant facts which any Gov- 1560 ernment can contemplate. We have been the governors of India and complete autocrats there for 150 years, and it is a terrible commentary on our rule that in 1929 after 150 years of British rule, this appalling state of affairs should continue. While India is being made the shuttlecock of two opposing factions, and while I am in sympathy with the national aspirations of India, I feel desperately that more ought to be done to bring before the people of India the necessity for doing something more for the women and children.
That this House welcomes the evidence of the co-operation of Indian representatives in the settlement of the constitutional question and relies upon the Government of India to encourage goodwill by the sympathetic conduct of its administrative and executive functions, particularly in relation to the expression of political opinion.