§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. T. Kennedy.]
§ 4.0 p.m.
§ Mr. STANLEY BALDWIN
I have to apologise to the House that on the occasion of one of the most important Debates which has taken place in it for some time I have to take up the time of the House for a few minutes with a personal explanation arising out of the statement which I made last Friday at 11 o'clock. The House may be aware of the fact that never before have I taken any notice of any personal statement about myself, true or untrue, which has appeared in the Press. I should never have dreamt of taking any notice of this one, had it not been for the fact that I felt that in the article in question were contained certain elements of danger to the situation as between this country and the Indian Empire. I felt it my duty to make the statement which I did. I shall now be as brief as I can.
On Friday, 20th September, the Private Secretary of the Secretary of State for India arrived at Bourges, in France, charged with a letter for me from the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister asked me to concur in the issue of a statement concerning Dominion status in the event of the Simon Commission being consulted and agreeing and the consent of all parties being obtained. The Prime Minister was pressing me to reply, as he was leaving very shortly for America. I was alone at Bourges when I got that message. What would anyone in my position have done? He could have done one of two things: He could have taken the coward's course and have said: "I will give you no answer." I took upon myself personal responsibility with some risk, as I have done, before and shall do again if necessary. I felt, I am asked to concur in a situation in which the Government and the Government of India and the Simon Commission concur, and in no other situation; it is not for me to consider what answer any other political party might give.
I was brought up in the traditions of the party to which I belong, and one of our traditions is never to let a friend down—and I Stand by it. I replied that so far as I was concerned myself I con- 1304 curred. I could not speak for my colleagues, because they were scattered; I could not speak for the party. When I got home, if the circumstances of the situation were that the other concurrence was obtained, I would do my best to persuade them to take my view. There was only one matter with which I could possibly state my agreement, namely to support the Prime Minister in the event of the Simon Commission expressing its approval of what the Prime Minister proposed to do. This agreement, in the circumstances, I was prepared to accord. There was nothing else that I was asked to agree to. I received no further communications from that date from the Government I took no further step in the matter, and it was not my duty to do so. Only when I returned from fulfilling a public engagement in Liverpool and met my colleagues of the late Cabinet on 23rd October, I learned for the first time that the Simon Commission had not approved of the publication of Lord Irwin's Note. Clearly an entirely new situation had arisen. I therefore called together the ex-Secretaries of State for India from amongst my colleagues, together with Lord Salisbury, and it was at once decided to write to the Acting Prime Minister, referring to the terms of the Prime Minister's letter to me of 19th September, and pointing out that in the altered circumstances I and my party could not agree to support the publication of the Note.
So much for the history of the matter up to that point. Now I must refer for a moment or two to the article which appeared in the "Daily Mail" on Friday, 1st November, and the denial of the accuracy of the statement of facts and implications of fact which I gave in the House on the same day.
(1) It was untrue to state that without their knowledge I had committed my colleagues to support the Socialist Government in granting full Home Rule and Dominion status to India. What I had done was to give my personal assurance that I myself would do what I could in regard to this matter, always on the condition that the Simon Commission approved. I expressly safeguarded myself by saying that I could not pledge my colleagues because they were scattered.
(2) It was untrue to state that the Shadow Cabinet of the Conservative party insisted that I should formally re- 1305 pudiate my personal pledges in the letter or that they required me to write a letter to the Prime Minister withdrawing the approval and promise of support for Indian Home Rule. I am quoting from the article. What actually happened was that as soon as I knew that the Simon Commission refused to take any responsibility for the publication of Lord Irwin's Note, I met my colleagues and told them the whole circumstances of my correspondence with the Prime Minister, and then wrote with their approval, and not under their coercion, my letter to the acting Prime Minister.
(3) It is untrue to say that the incident took place between Lord Irwin and myself at Aix; it took place between an emissary of the Prime Minister and my self at Bourges.
(4) It is untrue to say that I deliberately pledged myself and my party to support the scheme which Lord Irwin was concocting with the Socialist Government. I pledged myself alone, and that only conditionally upon the assent to the proposed publication being obtained from the Simon Commission. In this matter my colleagues and I acted in full agreement. Although the interchange of letters between the Prime Minister and myself took place on 20th September—the letter was written on the 19th—it was not until after 23rd October that I heard definitely that as far back as 24th September Sir John Simon had informed the Secretary of State for India that the Commission dissociated itself from the proposed publication by the Government of Lord Irwin's Note as to Dominion status. I only add that a later paragraph in this article says that I bear a responsibility which I shall find it hard to explain to my followers in recommending the appointment of Lord Irwin as Viceroy. Let me tell the House that when it became my duty to submit a name to His Majesty for the Viceroyalty of India, Lord Birkenhead, then Secretary of State for India, and I discussed that matter at length, and passed in review many names. It is a most anxious and grave responsibility when any Prime Minister has to find a Viceroy of India. It was only when we had considered many names that he suggested the name of Mr. Edward Wood. My first answer was, "I cannot spare him." He is one of my most intimate friends, not only politically but personally, a man whose ideals and 1306 views in political life approximate mostly to my own, a colleague to whom I can always tell my inmost thoughts. On reflection I felt that India must have the best that we could send. That was the reason why I agreed. I asked him if I might submit his name. I had great difficulty in persuading him. He was interested in his work, which he was per forming admirably. He did not want to leave his home and only took up that office with the high sense of duty that we all expect of him. I will only add that if ever the day comes when the party which I lead ceases to attract to itself men of the calibre of Edward Wood, then I have finished with my party. In conclusion, let me say that a friend of mine who knows more of journalistic effort than I, has told me that this article was merely a journalistic stunt. I am an etymologist, and I agree. I am glad to think that the word "stunt" is as little English in its derivation and origin and character as the whole of that article.
Let us pass away from this rather sordid subject and give our attention to a matter of the greatest import which can come before this House. To talk, as many people have been doing, of a crisis, is absurd. There is no crisis; there has been no crisis. To speak of the situation as one in which there are elements which require explanation and elucidation would be true. That is a very different thing. In our view, a blunder was made when a statement of policy was made without the assent of the Simon Commission, and we felt that for two reasons. We felt that there were two risks being run. I hope very much—I say this in all sincerity—that the Debate to-day may ease our minds with regard to those risks. The one risk was the risk of prejudicing the Report of the Simon Commission, and on that I hope that if my right hon. Friend the Chair man of the Commission thinks fit to intervene in this Debate he may be able to allay any anxiety which we have felt on that score.
The other risk is a grave one—the risk of misunderstanding in India. It may be that our second doubt may be relieved in the speech of the Secretary of State for India, but I am bound to ask him a question on this point in this House, because although it is true that all of us probably have read the Debate in an- 1307 other place, and while it is true that we are all of us as individuals cognisant of what took place, yet the fact remains that officially we have no knowledge of what took place in another place, and we must request a statement to be made to ourselves. I cannot put better in words what we want to know than to repeat what was put at the beginning of a long and thoughtful speech by Lord Reading in another place. I ask the Secretary of State for India if he will be good enough to tell us: (1) Whether all the conditions and reservations contained in the Declaration of 1917, and the Preamble of the Government of India Act of 1919 remain in full force and effect and applicable to Dominion status. (2) Whether this statement implies any change in the policy hitherto declared or in the time that this status may be attained. I think that it will be for the convenience of the House if the Secretary of State would tell us something of the proposed conference as far as he is able—as to its composition and its terms of reference, if any.
I should like to speak to the House rather more generally on this great problem of statemanship which lies before us. The mystery, the romance, the coincidence of real life far transcends the mystery and the romance and the coincidence of fiction. I would like at the beginning of my remarks to remind hon. Members of something that has always struck me as one of the strangest and most romantic coincidences that have entered into our political life. Far away in time, in the dawn of history, the greatest race of the many races then emerging from prehistoric mists was the great Aryan race. When that race left the country which it occupied in the western part of Central Asia, one great branch moved west, and in the course of their wanderings they founded the cities of Athens and Sparta; they founded Rome; they made Europe, and in the veins of the principal nations of Europe flows the blood of their Aryan forefathers. The speech of the Aryans which they brought with them has spread through out Europe. It has spread to America. It has spread to the Dominions beyond the seas. At the same time, one branch went south, and they crossed the Himalayas. They went into the Punjab and 1308 they spread through India, and, as an historic fact, ages ago, there stood side by side in their ancestral land the ancestors of the English people and the ancestors of the Rajputs and of the Brahmins. And now, after aeons have passed, the children of the remotest generations from that ancestry have been brought together by the inscrutable decree of Providence to set themselves to solve the most difficult, the most complicated political problem that has ever been set to any people of the world.
The fact of those migrations accounts for so many of those differences between us that make this problem peculiarly difficult. Those who left their Asiatic home and drifted west and north found that by the climatic conditions and the struggle for their existence it was their active, their political energies which were called for. And so it was from immemorial times the tropical climate, the comparative ease of growing enough on which to live, called out of the passive and the meditative qualities of that branch of the great Aryan race which moved down into India. You see those differences well examplified if you look at the well-known Hindu saying:Life is but a journey from one village to another, and not a resting place.Compare that with what I have read myself in the days when I was in business in an office in Manchester:This is a house of business. Do your business and go about your business and leave other people to do their business.The great danger and difficulty is that Mr. Ghandi would find it as difficult to understand that last quotation, as, I may say with profound respect, Lord Rothermere would find it to understand the other.
Our nation, as we know it now, is a young nation by the side of India. In 1,300 years we have been struggling to form a nation from many nationalities. It has been a hard fight. It has meant that our people have had to develop in the course of that struggle more and more a political sense, and they have been made by that struggle adaptable. In India, customs and codes exist which have lasted for 3,000 years and more, with the natural results that we find there a conservatism of which we in this country cannot dream. From our struggles we are a politically minded 1309 people; in India they are not. This great political experiment embodied in the Declaration of 1917 is one which our people have to consider at the very time that we are making a great political experiment of our own—when we are entering for the first time into complete democracy with manhood suffrage. It does not make our task any easier. No man can say yet whether we, with all that political strength behind us, are going to make a success of our democracy. We are here in this House to try and make it a success. Time alone will show whether the innate capacity of our race will rise to the occasion, and we shall be successful. The responsibility which is ours is thrown upon us at a moment such as I have endeavoured to describe.
In speaking of India, I am always apt to pay special regard to the views of those who have had experience of administration there, and I want to remind the House of some well-known words of Lord Reading which he used, if I remember aright, at the time that he read the King Emperor's message in India in the year 1921. Speaking of the high destiny which awaits India if she chooses to avail herself of it as a partner in the British Empire, he remarks thatAn auspicious start has been made, and it rests with her people to complete the journey."Journey," I think, is an apt word in that connection. Let us never forget that the whole of that great Indian peninsular had been for centuries the scene of invasions and of struggles, and that perhaps the best thing we have ever done, if we should do no more, is that for a space we have given her internal peace. We have given her justice and the rule of law. I pray that those three things—peace, justice, and rule of law—may accompany India and ourselves throughout every stage of that long and arduous journey which lies before us now. At the best, it is a difficult journey. Those who know most of India, whether they be Indians or our own fellow countrymen, know well how difficult is the journey that will have to be taken through the tangled jungle of creeds and castes, of Indian interests and of immemorial hate, and the travellers along that road, even as we have had to do in our time, must train for their journey. 1310 No greater dis-service can be done to India to-day than irresponsible criticism on the one hand or ignorant advice on the other. Now that this responsibility, laid upon us since 1917, is with us nothing is more necessary—and I give no advice to India on this—for us than that those who desire to play any part in the co-operation of India and this country should spare no pains to make themselves acquainted with her history in the widest sense, and the history of her religions and her civilisations. Only in that way can we realise some of those difficulties which will have to be faced. Only in that way can any advice which we may tender foe of the slightest use. Advice tendered with sympathy is good, but sympathy without knowledge is of little use. There should be sympathy and knowledge, and, may I add, if obtainable, wisdom.
We have promised India in our Declaration responsible government. Do we mean it, or do we not? I will say at once, that all classes in this country are agreed that that pledge shall be honoured in the letter and in the spirit, and it will be the most responsible task of the Commission of which my right hon. Friend is the Chairman to point out what steps at this moment it is desirable to take. Let me say this, in passing, and most sincerely: Never has a more responsible task been placed upon five or six Members of Parliament than has been placed upon that Commission. They have made great sacrifices to do their work, sacrifices financial and of health and time, and they have done it gladly because they believe that they are doing it in a great cause; but the strength of their right arm is weakened and their moral force is sapped if they cannot feel that all through, from the beginning, at the present time and until they present their Report, they have the united support of the people of this country. I hope that nothing will be said to-day from any quarter of the House that may in any degree, however remote, weaken in any sense that faith that they have in the sympathy, the goodwill, the understanding, and the concurrence of the whole of this House and of the whole country.
The weight of Parliament is behind them, not only in an Act of Parliament but in will, and I say, with confidence, 1311 and deliberately, that we trust them to day as we trusted them at the beginning. No man can say what the shape of the steps of that journey may be. Whoever it may be, whether at the present day, or in days to come, who has to consider those steps, I have no fear but that he will take into consideration the history, the traditions, the culture and the genius of India. It may well be, in the process of time and out of the depths of their own traditions and culture, there may be modifications of the democratic system as it has been evolved in the West; we cannot tell, but our own desire is that these things, as time goes on, shall be threshed out by sincere men representing both countries.
We have to show sympathy and patience, and we have to supply men for this task of the finest quality we have. I have spoken during the last two or three years at Oxford and Cambridge, and I have pointed out at private meetings of undergraduates that, although for a short time after the 1917 Declaration there was a feeling in the Indian Civil Service that perhaps the day had gone by when that Service would command, as it had done in the past, the best that we had got, and while I could understand that feeling, the fact was that never were better men required, and never would better men be required than in the future, and for this reason, that the task is infinitely more difficult. You want a first-class man to administer; you want an almost more than first-class man when his task is not only that of administration, but also of leading, advising, helping people along a path new to them, and difficult to anybody. There is work for the beat that we have got.
I should like to add a word on a phrase which has now been used by the Government of India, of course, on the instructions of the Government at home—the phrase "Dominion status." I have mentioned our anxiety at the employment of that phrase at this particular time. I am not a lawyer; I am a layman. As a lay man, I am always a little nervous about a definition, because in an amateur way I am a student of history, and I have noticed the damage that definitions have done in this world. It was attempting to define too strictly that split Christendom into fragments which have never 1312 been reunited. I have not a particularly quick or acute mind, and I am always a little bit nervous of definitions. What I would put to the House and to my hon. Friends behind me is this—when self-Government or responsible Government in India is attained what is to be the position of India in the Empire? None can say when responsible Government will be established and none can say what shape it will take. These things will be determined by forces which we cannot control, British, Indian and world forces, but can there be any doubt whatever, in any quarter of the House, that the position of an India, with full, responsible Government in the Empire, when attained, and whatever form it may take so far as the internal Government of India is concerned, must be one of equality with the other States in the Empire?
Nobody knows what Dominion status will be when India has responsible Government, whether that date be near or distant, but surely no one dreams of a self-governing India with an inferior status. No Indian would dream of an India with an inferior status, nor can we wish that India should be content with an inferior status, because that would mean that we had failed in our work in India. No Tory party with which I am connected will fail in sympathy and endeavour to help in our time to the uttermost extent of our ability to a solution of the greatest political problem that lies before us to day. I do hope, as I said before, that whatever expressions of opinion may be given in this Debate not a word will be said which, at a critical time like the present, may in any way weaken the authority, moral or otherwise, of my right hon. Friend's Commission, or the Government of India, in that great country. We politicians, politicians as we are—so much of our fighting is in the twilight, or in the mist—pass away before we know the result of our work. We are cumbered with many things, and occupied with the problems of daily life which press with greater or less severity on the multitudes of our own people, but here, in this problem, to the solution of which we have put our hand, we have a great ideal set before us, and we can not hope to live to see it realised. Our work must be done in faith, but let us build for the future with the same faith 1313 that we work for the present, so that when, perhaps, in long generations to come, there are men who will be putting the coping stone upon this building, they may, haply, not be unforgetful of those of us who toiled in faith among the foundations.
Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I would not have risen now, after the eloquent speech to which we have listened from the Leader of the Opposition, had it not been that I received an intimation this morning from the Secretary of State for India that he preferred that I should get up immediately after the Leader of the Opposition, and before he replied. I think that is a very admirable arrangement, especially as I have one or two questions to ask, which I hope he will be good enough to answer. The Leader of the Opposition began with a personal statement in reply to some newspaper criticism. I have also been subject to newspaper criticism in regard to action which I am supposed to have taken on this matter, but I do not think that I will bother the House to reply to any criticism of that kind, because if I began to reply to newspaper criticisms in this House I should have to ask for a special Session. But I think it is necessary, since the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition has set the precedent, to make one or two personal statements in reference to the part which I have taken in recent negotiations and in the reforms which have been the basis of those inquiries.
I did not receive from the Prime Minister the honour of a letter informing me what he proposed to do. There was a communication, I understand, from the Secretary of State for India, to Lord Reading, and Lord Reading informed me, and my colleagues were also in formed. That was somewhere about the end of September. The whole of our action, Lord Reading's, mine, and my colleagues, up to the very date, the very hour, when I put down the question to the right hon. Gentleman last Friday, has been confined exclusively to entreating the Government and entreating the Viceroy not to issue this Declaration until after the report of the Simon Com mission. We took no other step, although I had the honour of a personal interview with the Viceroy some weeks ago, before he went back to India, there 1314 was not even an allusion in the Press to that fact. I have had no communication, and I can speak on behalf of my colleagues as well, either direct or in direct, with the Press, in reference to anything which took place. We were consulted confidentially. We respected that confidence, and we only took public action when it was clear that the statement was to be made in spite of all protests. Then we thought it was our duty to take the necessary steps to bring it forward in the House of Commons. I think it is necessary for me to make that statement on behalf of myself and my colleagues.
With regard to my other personal association with this matter, I was the head of the Government that introduced these reforms. I presided over the Imperial Cabinet that sanctioned the terms of these Declarations in reference to the future self-government of India, and, may I say at the outset, that there is no question in so far as hon. Members sitting around me are concerned, of going back one single inch from these Declarations? These Declarations were considered carefully, not by a British Cabinet; they were considered during the War at Imperial Cabinets where there were representatives of every Dominion in the British Empire. India was also represented. They were made in the name of the King Emperor. His word was pledged, and no one that I know of means to go back on that word, or let it down. The honour of the British Empire is also involved. That will not be discredited. That is all I wish to say on the personal side.
I should like to examine for a moment what is the pledge which was given in this Declaration in respect of the ultimate goal of self-government in India, because the whole question, the whole issue, in so far as there is an issue, is whether by the Declaration which has been issued recently, the impression has been created in India that there is a change of policy, that we have departed from that pledge, that we have gone far beyond it, and that there is an absolutely new departure which was not contemplated in any of these pledges. What I am going to press for is a definite and clear statement in this House that the Government contemplate nothing of that kind. I should like to state, very definitely, what I conceive to be the 1315 pledge, given by, I think, His Royal Highness the Duke of Connaught on behalf of the King Emperor, and also by the Viceroy, but, before I come to the pledge, I should like, in explaining what I conceive to be its meaning, to recall a few fundamental facts in regard to India which will explain the nature of the pledge, and why full partnership was not conceded immediately. It was not due to any reactionary sentiment but owing purely to what the Aga Khan in a very remarkable letter to-day calls practical difficulties. What were those practical difficulties? The first was that never in the history of India had India or any part of it, any of its many peoples and nations, ever enjoyed the slightest measure of democratic self-government until 1919. The second is that 95 per cent. of the population is illiterate. What is the third? That there are as many different races, nationalities and languages in India as there are in the whole of Europe. To talk about India as a unit, as if it were one people, is to display an ignorance of the elementary facts of the case. There has never been unity in India except under the rule of a conqueror. In the letter to which I have alluded to-day, the letter of the Aga Khan, he refers to the case of Austria Hungary. That is a very ominous citation, because, although there were only half-a-dozen different nationalities in the Austrian Empire, it fell to pieces because of the weakness of the central authority. But in India there are at least 30 or 40.
All these facts had to be taken into account when you came to consider what measure of self-government it was possible to concede to India. What happened? The House will forgive me if I just give a statement of how this originated, and how the pledge came to be given. After the War, or rather during the War, there was a very deep sense of gratitude to India for the great and loyal support of all its peoples in a very great emergency. There was also throughout the world a very extraordinary resurgence of national feeling. In Europe, in Asia, and even in other parts of the world there was an extraordinary resurgence. I never agree with some Members on the other side who thought we made a mistake in giving definite recog- 1316 nition to that fact in Europe, and I think ultimately it will work out all right, though at the moment it is creating trouble. There was also the impulse of the dominating cry throughout the world about self-determination. These were the conditions in which we considered the question of self-government for India, and we decided in the Imperial War Cabinet, as it was then in 1917—this country with the Prime Ministers of all the Dominions present—that there should be accorded to the people of India a considerable measure of self-government, limited, restricted, experimental, tentative, but we promised, and this is where the pledge comes in, that gradually, if the experiment were successful, that we would ex tend it until India ultimately enjoyed full partnership in the Empire on equal terms with our great Dominions. A great ideal, a noble one, a fruitful one, partnership of the East and West in a great community of nations. [An HON. MEMBER: "Ultimately."] Ultimately, yes. We made it clear that the ultimate goal could only be attained by stages, and the length and number of those stages must be determined gradually from time to time by the success that attended the experiment at each stage.
May I call the attention of the House, if it is necessary, to the fact that this is the course that has been pursued in every Dominion of this Empire. Canada did not attain Dominion status immediately. It began with self-government of the provinces. It took nearly a generation before you had confederation. [An HON. MEMBER: "And rebellion."] No; rebellion had nothing whatever to do with it. It was a voluntary act, and, after very long reflection and discussion and careful adjustment between the provinces, it took nearly a generation be fore you converted self-government for the provinces into confederation for the whole of Canada, and even after con federation it took nearly another generation before Canada, attained what is now known as Dominion status. In Canada, you have only two races. In South Africa the same thing applies. You had provincial Governments there, and it took I do not know how long be fore those provincial Governments federated into a Dominion. You had two races there. In Australia, you had provincial Governments, and it took 1317 much more than a generation before that developed into anything in the nature of federation or a Dominion. These are the precedents inside the British Empire at the present moment. In the Act of Parliament which established the constitution under which India is now operated there was a definite promise to appoint a Commission at the end of 10 years to examine the results of the first decade and report—I am not reading the words, I am speaking from memory—whether it would be safe or desirable to make any further advance on the road of self-government, if so how, and how far, and whether any change in the direction of the road was necessary.
What has happened? I am going to ask the attention, if I may, of the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for India, because I am coming to what has happened in the last few days. What has happened? The late Government took steps to redeem that definite Parliamentary pledge. They appointed a Commission under the Statute. They did not delay. It was a Commission representative of all parties in this House and the country. The names were submitted to this House, and to the other House. It was in every sense of the term not merely a Statutory Commission, but a national Commission representing all sections of opinion, and there was complete unanimity on its appointment. It has been sitting—what is it, two years or about 18 months? It has visited India twice. It has consulted everybody there who was prepared to give assistance, and it gave all an opportunity of presenting their case. It has done everything that could be done in order to obtain full knowledge of all the facts; a singularly able Commission of men highly respected by all parties in the States. We were all waiting its Report with a view to be advised as to what further steps, if necessary, Parliament ought to take. They were considering their Report. I understand—I have no authority to say it, but I see from the papers—that the Report is expected early next year. Without waiting for the Report, while the Report is being considered, there is a Declaration issued with the consent of the Government, at a time, in such a manner, and with such an obscurity in some phrases, that it has created an impression in India that it 1318 is intended immediately, without delay, to confer full Dominion status on India, and that the joint conference which has been summoned is for the purpose of framing a scheme. What is much more important is to know what the view of the Government is. Let us see. Both political parties protested before the Declaration was issued. We have heard that from the Leader of the Opposition, and the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for India will not deny that we protested the moment we were consulted. There was a provisional assent given by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition subject to the assent of the Commission. Not merely was that assent not obtained, but—I am using now the words of Lord Passfield:they made it clear that they thought the Declaration was inopportune.That means that they were opposed to it. I am quoting nothing which has been said to me by any member of the Com mission; I am merely using the words which were used in another place. Two political parties protested. Up to the present all political parties have acted together. In 1917, the House of Commons was absolutely united in the steps which we took; there was no political party which dissented. In 1919 the Bill passed, not only without any protest by any political party, but with the support of all political parties. [An HON. MEMBER; "There was no Division!"] That is so, there was no Division. There was complete unanimity on the two great steps. The pledge which was given obtained the assent of all political parties, Conservative, Liberal and Socialist. The Commissioners were appointed with the full assent of all parties. The first time action has been taken which has divided the nation in reference to India, which has put against the Government of the day parties which in the aggregate re present a majority of the people of this country, is the step which has been taken within the last few weeks; and that is a very serious matter. An element of division has been introduced.
What was the ground of the protest of both political parties and of the Com mission? Our protest, I think, was on the ground that no declaration ought to be made until the Statutory Commission had reported. The thing was being examined. Whether anything ought to be 1319 done in India in the way of reform was the very subject matter of a Statutory Commission, and a Commission which had a greater authority than the Secretary of State for India, than the whole of the Government, even than the Viceroy upon that particular subject, because it was statutory. It was set up under an Act of Parliament, and upon this matter they were the only people who were authorised by law to express an opinion. [Interruption.] I do not mean to say that in dividual Members of this House could not express an opinion, but I mean the only official opinion that could be expressed unless Parliament reversed the Act, was the opinion of the Commission. Until the Act is reversed, the only people who are authorised to express an official opinion are the Statutory Commission set up by Parliament. [Interruption.]
§ Mr. HOLFORD KNIGHT
I desire to ask whether my right hon. Friend is representing to this House that the Simon Commission had authority to suspend action by this House?
Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
If my hon. Friend had only listened to what I said, he would have heard me say that until the Houses of Parliament reversed the authority which they had set up them selves, it was only that authority which could pronounce an official opinion on behalf of this country. What did they do? They protested. Both parties pro tested, on the ground—and as I under stand from Lord Passfield the Commission took the same ground—that it was inopportune. We certainly took the ground, and as I rather understand from what has been said in another place, the right hon. Gentleman opposite took the same ground, that a declaration made at this stage with regard to Dominion status would create an impression in India, which is a mistaken one, that there was some great change contemplated. I ask the right hon. Gentleman: Were they not right in their prediction, were they not right in their conjecture, that the effect of that declaration would be to create an absolutely false impression as to the intentions of the Government? [An HON. MEMBER: "No!"] An hon. Member says "No." I will just read a declaration made by the most important leaders of Indian opinion, the leaders of the Indian National Congress. As I under- 1320 stand, the Government wanted to influence the Indian National Congress which is to meet in December. The whole of the leaders of the Indian National Congress met to consider this declaration. They had with them men who were sup posed to be very much more moderate, and were not quite associated with the Congress; and this is their declaration:We hope to be able to tender our co-operation with His Majesty's Government in their effort to evolve a scheme for a Dominion Constitution suitable to India's needs.… Some doubt has been expressed about the interpretation of the paragraph in the statement made by the Viceroy on behalf of His Majesty's Government regarding Dominion status.Will the House kindly attend to the next words:We understand, however, that the conference is to meet, not to discuss when Dominion status should be established, but to frame a scheme of Dominion Constitution for India. We hope that we are not mistaken in thus interpreting the import and the implications of this weighty pronouncement of the Viceroy.What does that mean? It means that the leaders of the Indian National Congress, the whole of the leaders of the Swaraj movement in India, whether extreme or moderate, are under the impression that the joint conference is to be summoned, not to discuss when Dominion status is to be introduced, but actually to frame a scheme for the purpose of carrying it. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] That seems to be the view of hon. Gentlemen opposite. [An HON. MEMBER: "It does not say that!"] If hon. Gentlemen will follow what comes after this, it will be seen that they ask that immediate steps should be taken, before the scheme is ready, to prepare public opinion for it in the way of the release of prisoners and otherwise. What does that mean? They are clearly under the impression that it is the intention for the joint conference not to discuss whatever reforms may be suggested by the Statutory Commission, but to go beyond that and to frame a Dominion scheme for India. I say that that is a very serious matter, and if that is the impression in India and if that impression is correct, it is no use saying that there is no. change either in time or in substance. Why did the First Commissioner of Works issue that shout of joy? He did not do it because there was no change. He immediately danced before 1321 the Ark, but why did he do it? He did not do it because there were Tables of the Covenant which had been put there by my poor Government; he was under the impression that the right hon. Gentle man the Secretary of State for India and his friends had smashed those Tables and put in new ones—this pocket edition of Moses!
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for INDIA (Mr. Wedgwood Benn)
But I never worshipped the Golden Calf.
Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
The right hon. Gentleman has shown a very shrewd appreciation of what is known as "the main chance"; and the calf which has been sacrificed for him has its golden side. The right hon. Gentleman must take as well as give. I ask the right hon. Gentleman; in the face of that does he say that there is no impression in India that there is a change? Does he mean to tell me that his friend the First Commissioner of Works was not under the impression that a great change was heralded by this Declaration? Of course there was, and it is of the most vital importance that there should be an answer given. This is practically a challenge by the leaders of the Congress. They say:We hope we are not mistaken in thus interpreting the import and implications of this weighty pronouncement of the Viceroy.What does that mean? The question I want to put to the right hon. Gentleman is this; is that a fair interpretation of the Viceroy's Declaration? It is not merely that we are entitled to know it, but they are entitled to know it in India. Is it really so unreasonable that they should have thought there was a great change of policy? What has happened? The Viceroy comes over to this country, a thing almost without precedent, during his term of office. He comes here, and it is known, to consult the Government and leaders of public opinion here with regard to what is going to happen. It is announced that a very important deilverance is going to be made by him as soon as he returns to India. Is it conceivable to English public opinion, not only to Indians, that he is going to make a Declaration merely that there is no change, merely repeating what has been said before by previous Viceroys, and that there is no change at all in substance or in time. Indian opinion 1322 naturally thought that this was a great deliverance, and portended a very startling change of policy. I know that in the discussion in the House of Lords a Declaration was made by the Government, by Lord Parmoor, and I think Lord Passfield as well, which made it clear that, as far as the Government are concerned, there was no change at all.
I will tell you what I want. I am not going to say a word about Lord Parmoor. I have a great respect for him. He was an old Member of this House when I first entered it and I should not like to say one word which would be regarded as disrespectful. But Lord Parmoor is not the Secretary of State for India, he is not Prime Minister. Lord Parmoor is not associated in the slightest degree with the Indian Government, and, with all due respect to him, he is not known in India, and a Declaration by Lord Parmoor in the face of this manifesto by the Viceroy, upon which this interpretation has been placed, is not an adequate answer to what has been said by the Leaders of the Congress in India. Even the "Times," which has given a certain measure of support to the Government on this question, said the statement was so prolix and confused that the words which mattered were really embedded in so many words that the Declaration which was awaited by public opinion was completely buried. I am going to ask this. Will the right hon. Gentleman give the House a categorical statement that the interpretation placed by Indian leaders upon the declaration of the Viceroy is not accurate and that they have misunderstood the intentions of the Viceroy? That, I think, is vital. If you do not they will still continue to believe that that is the intention. I know it will be unpleasant in India that a Declaration of that kind should be made immediately, but not nearly as unpleasant as it will be four or five months hence when the Joint Conference comes together. It is far better that you should say straightaway really what the intention of the Government is, otherwise this very unwise pronouncement will lead to a complete catastrophe in India.
Let us examine for a moment what may happen if the Conference meets. If it meets in February or March, or after the Report of the Simon Commission, the question then will be, What are you going 1323 to discuss? If the representatives of the Government say, "We are here to discuss the Report of the Statutory Commission" the Leaders of a National Congress will say, "No, we are here to discuss the Viceroy's Declaration and that means Dominion Status"; and for the first time the Government will have to say, "We never promised anything of the kind, except as an ultimate goal." What will be the effect then? There will be charges of breach of faith, charges of perfidy, and that is the worst thing that can happen in the relations of this country and Indian. I am going to ask the Secretary of State to make it perfectly clear in his answer to-day that this is not the right interpretation of the Declaraion which was issued with his sanction and the sanction of the Government, that we adhere by every pledge which has been given in the name of the King and the Empire and do not take the view which has been declared in this very vital and important document that we are immediately going to set up a Dominion in India.
§ Mr. BENN
I am sorry, in one way, that I made the interjection I did just now, because I may have contributed something to producing an atmosphere which I am sure is wholly lamentable. I am standing here with an immense consciousness of the responsibility that rests upon one slenderly equipped, and I have been thinking all the time the Debate has been going on of what is going to be the effect of what is said upon Lord Irwin in India in the discharge of his duties. I should like to say that if we ever owed a debt to Lord Rothermere we owe him a debt for provoking the noble utterance of the Leader of the Opposition this afternoon. I will say, moreover, merely this, in reply to what I consider the most lamentable and mischievous speech which came from the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), who in his time has rendered great service to the Empire—
§ Mr. BENN
I say, it is only right that the people of India should know—I say it without any reproach or desire to give pain—that the right hon. Gentleman speaks for but a handful in this House. There are two things which I had hoped 1324 would have been kept entirely outside the realm of controversy to-day. The first is the position of the Viceroy in his task, and the text of the statement which he has issued. As to the Viceroy himself, it is perhaps impertinence for me to say anything after what the Leader of the Opposition has said, but I sat in this House much longer than the Viceroy and I have known him hare, and although my acquaintance with Indian affairs is recent and scanty, yet I am in touch with Indian opinion from day to day, and the Viceroy occupies in India by his character a position of respect and affection which is a real pillar of Empire. As far as the text of the statement is concerned I understand there is no challenge, either by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs or the Leader of the Opposition. The challenge is as to interpretation, as to meanings and opportuneness and questions of that kind.
The second thing I hope may be kept right outside the range of any controversy to-day is the authority and prestige of the Statutory Commission. Everyone in this House knows what sacrifice of time and other great sacrifices have been made by the members of the Commission in pursuing their task, and I should wish to be associated with any tribute paid by the Leader of the Opposition to the work of the Commission which we hope to see concluded to the manifest advantage of this House which appointed them. These two things, I hope, are not coming into the discussion. There has been criticism from the right hon. Gentleman and from Lord Reading in the House of Lords, which I will deal with to the best of my ability; but the two points I have mentioned, at any rate, I hope are lifted outside the realm of controversy.
As regards the Leader of the Opposition, he has been forced to give us a short personal statement relating to something which appeared in some newspaper. I should like to say that as far as any thing he has said touches me every word he has said I can corroborate from my own experience. He never approved the scheme which the Government pursued. Away and remote from his friends he was asked to give a contingent assent; contingent upon the assent of the other party and upon the participa- 1325 tion of the Simon Commission. What did he do? He backed his own Viceroy. The only and crowning blunder of the right hon. Gentleman is loyalty. I am afraid he will never make a great Leader as he seems to have a congenital incapacity for playing a dirty game. Now, the conditions on which the right hon. Gentleman gave his assent were never fulfilled. The conditions were that the Liberal party should assent also, and that the Statutory Commission should participate. Very well, on that I myself interviewed Lord Reading, and in my desire to show the greatest courtesy to the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs I inquired of him whether he would like to see me. I am anxious that the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs should not think I was discourteous to him.
Lord Reading made it perfectly plain from the beginning that he objected to this declaration on the grounds which he stated in another place on Tuesday, and which he placed most clearly before me in letters which he wrote to me and which he has read. From the beginning, Lord Reading has persisted in his opposition to the course which the Government wished to take—persisted on the grounds which he set out—and no one can say they are grounds without weight. In the second place, we learned that the Statutory Commission did not wish to be associated with the issue of any declaration, and, finally, the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, with his colleagues, ex-Secretaries of State for India and others, dissented most strongly from the course which the Government proposed to take. Therefore, we had first, Lord Reading from September onwards objecting; then the Commission not wishing to join in, and then the right hon. Gentleman opposite, on behalf of the Opposition, making the most strenuous objection. That was the situation which faced the Government in October. They wished to do this thing and they were faced with this powerful opposition. Before I say what they did, and why they did it, let me examine for one moment what it was that they actually proposed. They were proposing not to take a new step in policy but to take in effect administrative action, namely, to declare and interpret in unmistakeable terms the existing policy. 1326 The Liberals were against it, the Conservatives were against it, and the Commission were unwilling to participate. What did the Government do? They governed. The Government published on the pre-arranged date the pre-arranged text. That is what they did, and that is the gravamen of the charge which is made against them to-day, and against which it is my duty to defend the Government. Before I say why the Government acted as they did, I want to say one word about the declaration itself. The declaration was a restatement and an interpretation of the Montagu policy. Lord Irwin's statement must stand as it was drafted, and no gloss must be put upon it. It means what it says; no less and no more. The Montagu declaration was embodied in the Preamble of an Act of Parliament, and so long as that Act remains, the Preamble remains. If and when Parliament sees fit to alter the Preamble, it can exercise its sovereign rights, and do so. Inasmuch as this standing policy of the last 12 years has not been challenged. I need not support it by quotations from well-known authorities with which, of course, every student of these matters is familiar. The Montagu policy stands as a cardinal article of faith in British policy towards India.
There we were; that is what we pro posed to do and there was the opposition facing us. We decided to do it. Why? The first reason was this. We were advised to do so by the Viceroy, but let me make this perfectly plain. I should like to exalt the Viceroy in this matter, because he came to England as an ambassador of peace, and he has gone back to India as a messenger of appeasement.
We do not shelter behind the Viceroy. He offered advice and we were free to reject it. We did not reject it, because it agreed with our own convictions. Why did he offer this advice and suggest that this declaration should be made? He said in the first place that doubts had arisen in India as to the sincerity of British parties in the matter of the Montagu policy. Does anybody doubt that of recent years there had grown up a feeling, and that it had constantly been said, that British policy was altering, that the tone was altering, that sympathy was gone, that the days of Mr. Montagu were past. The Viceroy said that these 1327 doubts existed and that for the removal of these doubts it was necessary to issue a clear declaration of existing policy. We did so. The second reason he gave was this. He said, "The Statutory Com mission is going to report, and we want if we can to make a good atmosphere for the Report. We want to have an atmosphere of good will, and that will be better secured if we can clear up the doubts which exist in the minds of Indians who have been assisting the British Government and co-operating with us and helping the work of the Montagu schemes and remove the webs of mistrust which it is necessary to clear away." That was the purpose and these were the reasons alleged by the Viceroy and given to the Cabinet as reasons why we should take this course, and it was because those reasons appeared to us to be good and sound that the Government took the course which they did take.
Now the question arises—and it is a practical question—did we succeed? I do not want to speak about the atmosphere which existed in India. It has been growing steadily worse and worse, and I could give many quotations to show that, but let any hon. Member read the "Times" of the 19th March of this year and he will find an article from the Delhi Correspondent which gives a sad picture of the spirit that existed in India. I myself was faced in my attempt to discharge my duties not merely with crime. That is simple. Crime and incitement to crime do not cause disquiet. They will be put down by this or any other Government, but what was alarming was that responsible opinion did not, somehow, seem to come forward to reprobate crime, and that is a very unhealthy sign. The right hon. Gentleman has asked me a number of questions about what people think in India, and I would like to answer by giving him one or two quotations from authorities which I think the House will recognise as being good authorities, as to whether the Government has succeeded in the attempt to introduce a better atmosphere preparatory to whatever reforms the Statutory Commission may recommend. First, I take Reuter's telegram of the day following that on which the announcement was made:The response favourable to the Viceroy's announcement is wider than might have 1328 been expected. The effect of the statement may be summed up as having at a stroke removed the tension from Indian politics and reintroduced a spirit of confidence and trust between Government and governed and delivered a blow at the Independence movement which has hitherto been gaining daily adherence among Congress men.The "Times of India," not a Swarajist organ, says—The Imperial Government has made a generous gesture.and the London "Observer," which is not a Swarajist organ said—[Interruption.] This is not an article by Mr. Garvin. This is from the Delhi Correspondent—Lord Irwin's pronouncement has trans formed the Indian political scene. The reported indignation of the British Liberals at this announcement is simply not under stood by Europeans and Indians alike.Finally, let me read this telegram which was addressed to me personally, but which appeared in the newspapers, from the Vice-President of the European Association, Calcutta.We, the Council of the European Association desire you to convey to His Majesty's Government our firm support of the Viceroy's recent declaration. We consider that such declaration is not ill-timed, and that it clarifies an issue already clear to all competent observers. We consider that the Indian Statutory Commission has not suffered in prestige, but by its work has alone made possible the contemplated conference.We were told not to do it. We did it—with those results. That is the blunder. That is the grievous interference. That is the mischief that has to be repaired. I will venture to say, now that it is done and the results are manifest, that those results of goodwill and better understanding are appreciated and welcomed in all quarters of the House. Hon. Gentlemen say, "has there been a change?" I have answered the question about the Preamble quite explicitly. The word "policy" can be used in a loose and general way, and using it in the wide sense, I should say there has been a change. There has been a new spirit. A good deal of jocularity has been indulged in at the expense of the message of my right hon. Friend the First Commissioner of Works. I wonder if everybody had read that message. Lord Birkenhead, who is an expert in taste, saw fit to joke at the terms of the message. Well, my right hon. Friend the First Commissioner has an expansive 1329 manner—there is no doubt about that—but when he spoke about "love," I will say, "love" that is "goodwill" is the key-note of British policy. There has been an effort made to make the Indian people realise the position which they occupy in the British Commonwealth, to give them an assurance of equality. I wonder if hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite read the letter of Sir Stanley Reed which appeared in the "Times" yesterday. He is not an inexpert novice on India as I am. Sir Stanley Reed wrote in this letter—and nobody's experience of Indian affairs can be greater—The passion for equality in the eyes of the world is a dominating force in India; and if it is to be for ever denied, India will be driven out of the Empire.The first change has been a change of spirit. We have got rid of the Birkenhead tone, and also, as people in India do not always understand exactly what values are in this country, I will just remark, in the hope that my words may be passed on, that Lord Birkenhead occupies no official position whatever in the government of this country, and I understand he desires to be regarded as completely detached from British politics. I learn, though I know nothing about it, that he is engaged in some endeavour in the way of trade and commerce. The first change that is made is a change of spirit, but the second change is far more important; it is a change in policy which in reality is the central object of interest in Indian opinion, and that is the Conference. We appointed our own statutory Commission, and we all await its Report with eagerness. Naturally its report will carry vast authority. We await also the Report of the Indian Central Committee, prepared by Sir Sankaran Nair and his colleagues, who came forward at a time of enormous difficulty to assist the Commission. They came forward and undertook a task of great unpopularity among some of their friends, and I should like to bear testimony, if I might, to the work that they did; and when I informed them, at the desire of the Chairman of the Commission, that this Conference was to take place, they went further and said, "We are willing to do our best when our Report is finished to make the further effort of co-operation, as represented by the 1330 Conference, a success." I am grateful to them for that—very grateful.
The real interest in India is, as I said, in this Conference. The right hon. Gentleman opposite has asked questions about the Conference, and I should like to use careful words, because it is extremely important. Representative Indians will now have the opportunity of coming forward and expounding their views and pressing their solutions, supported by all the arguments and all the conviction which they can bring to bear. They will have direct access, and their views will be heard and considered, not at some remote stage when the opinion of the Cabinet is already declared, but at a stage when everything they say will be heard in time, with an open mind. The Conference is clearly described in the Declaration, which is as follows, if the House will forgive me reading it, because I am aware I must act with the utmost care in so important a matter:When the Commission and the Indian Central Committee have submitted their Reports and these have been published, and when His Majesty's Government have been able, in consultation with the Government of India, to consider these matters in the light of all the material then available, they will propose to invite representatives 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 the All-Indian problems. It will be their earnest hope that by this means it may subsequently prove possible on these grave issues to submit proposals to Parliament which may command a wide measure of general assent.Let me repeat what I said earlier about the Declaration, as it is commonly called, in reference to the Conference. The words mean what they say. They mean no more, and they mean no less. The Conference is to be fully representative of different parties and interests in British India and of the Indian States. Just one final word. I said that the situation has improved, and so it has.
Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I only asked one question, although the right hon. Gentleman said I had asked several. I asked whether he accepts the interpretation placed by the Nationalist leaders in India upon the meaning of this manifesto.
Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
The right hon. Gentleman has no right to say that. I was responsible, as head of the Government, for these reforms and for this pledge, and I have as deep a sense of responsibility as he has, and I think I am as patriotic as he is. I am asking this question in order to avoid difficulties, and as the right hon. Gentleman knows, in private—[An HON. MEMBER: "Nobody believes it!"]—I take no notice of that interruption. In private, for the last several weeks before it ever came to this House, I have been urging these matters, when I thought they would never be a subject of public discussion, and in order to avoid the difficulties which will undoubtedly arise if this interpretation is accepted in India with out a single word of repudiation. I am asking the right hon. Gentleman now whether he accepts this very grave interpretation in a formal document, a formal considered document, by the Indian leaders in regard to this Conference.
§ Mr. BENN
I should not have said that the right hon. Gentleman was cross-examining me in order to make difficulties, and I apologise to him. I should not have said that. I should have said that the question he was asking might make difficulties, and the answer to him is this. There is the statement. It is explicit and clear. Nothing has to be added and nothing has to be taken from it. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer!"] I have nothing to add.
Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
If it were clear, it would be clear to these extraordinarily able men who are the Indian leaders. They are all very able. They are asking, and they say at the end—they have practically asked whether they are right in their interpretation. They are practically asking it, and it is perfectly evident that it is not clear to them, because there is one interpretation that has been put here and there is another interpretation that has been placed upon it in India, and the interpretation placed upon it in India is far more important, if I may say so.
§ Mr. BENN
I have nothing to add, not one single word, to the answer I have given. The Viceroy's statement was very carefully drafted. It has been approved and it is published. I have made it perfectly clear to-day that both in respect of the declaration and of the conference it stands as it stands, and no questions of the right hon. Gentleman will lead me to add one word or take one word away, and I must beg him to regard that as my final answer.
§ Mr. BENN
I will say no more. I had some other remarks of a general kind to make, but I do not think I can make them, because I do not know that I can succeed, after the cross-questioning that has gone on, in doing what it is my main purpose to do, and that is to justify and explain what the Government thought it their duty to do and to do it in such a way as would not cause any misunderstanding or produce an atmosphere which would place difficulties in the way. I will simply say this, that the problems that face us are very grave. The right hon. Gentleman has spoken of the gravity of the task that lies ahead. There are obstacles in the path, but there are two ways of regarding obstacles. You can regard them as an excuse for abandoning a pre-determined purpose, or you can regard them as merely exciting a desire to overcome them. It would be a poor friend to the cause of Indian self-government who would deny the existence of real obstacles, both in substance and in time, but I say that it is the conviction, not only of this side but, I believe, of all parts of the House, that these obstacles, real as they are, can be overcome if they are approached in a spirit of sincerity and of good will.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Sir JOHN SIMON
When the Indian Statutory Commission was appointed its members made for themselves a rule, which we have most strictly and faith fully observed, that none of us would take a part of any sort or kind in any public discussion that might arise about Indian affairs until our Report was made and our task was done. My colleagues and I have very anxiously considered whether even in the present circumstances it would not still be better that no one should say any word with the 1333 authority of the Statutory Commission. I think it was Francis Bacon who observed that "an over-speaking judge is no well tuned cymbal," and as we have been endeavouring to discharge, and intend to go on discharging, the duties laid upon us by Parliament, which are really of a semi-judicial character, the House may be quite sure that the few words I am going to say certainly will not promote heat, but are solely designed in great sincerity and soberness to serve the underlying purpose which all of us in this House must put in the front of our minds. If I knew of any part of this House, any bench which is reserved for Commissions, any dock in which they might be put, I would be there at this moment with all my colleagues, for in this as in other matters we are a completely united body. We have come to the conclusion that the Chairman should ask to intervene for a few minutes, not for the purpose of joining in any criticism, in any cross-examination, in any comment, or in any explanation, but simply to make sure—I hope very much to make sure in India—that the reserve which the Indian Commission imposes on itself is in no way misunderstood. Anybody who has any close experience of Indian affairs, anybody who has any real appreciation of the enormous responsibilities which rest on the shoulders of the Viceroy, anybody who can estimate with knowledge the immense forces of mistrust and the opportunities of misunderstanding which it is the duty of all of us to try to dispel in India, will count, as I know this House always will count, any personal question, any little discussion as to whether "A" has acted quite consistently or as to whether "B" has managed a most difficult situation quite cleverly as dust in the balance as compared with the importance of Parliament acting together and in the right spirit in this matter. The Secretary of State—it is due to him that I should say so—was perfectly accurate when he said last week, in answer to a question, that in the matter of those words which have unfortunately raised this controversy, the advice of the Statutory Commission was not sought by the Government. I am not going further into that except to point out—and I hope 1334 that India will observe it—that the Commission is absolutely determined to do nothing which can be construed or misconstrued as the presentation of an interim Report. We are absolutely determined on that.
The Leader of the Opposition has explained what happened. It is enough for me to say that, when for the first time the Commission were informed that the Government contemplated a statement on the subject of the Montagu Declaration, the Commission came to the conclusion that we desired, preserving our wholly independent and judicial position, not to be associated with any such statement, and I so informed the Secretary of State on 24th September. From that moment, any responsibility of the Com mission in the matter ceased. It is, I think, really quite obvious, if the House will reflect, that the determination of the Commission to make no statement and to be associated with no statement which could possibly be construed as dealing with matters within their terms of reference—their decision not to do that prematurely or in advance of the discharge of their duty to Parliament, is the only right decision which they could make. We shall, I hope, early next year report to the authority by which we have been constituted. What is that authority? Let me be perfectly plain. It is exactly two years ago to-morrow since the announcement was made in this House and the other House and in India that this Commission, with the concurrence of all parties, had been constituted. It is a statutory body; it owes its authority to the unanimous vote of both Houses of Parliament and to a Commission from the Sovereign. I may as well make it quite plain that our function as a Commission cannot be either enlarged or diminished by any declaration or statement made by anybody whatever.
§ Mr. KNIGHT
I want to ask my right hon. Friend whether he is suggesting that this Commission is above the authority of Parliament?
§ Sir J. SIMON
I should have thought that by this time everybody would know that it was impossible to provoke me on the subject of the Commission. I was observing—and it was, of course, quite elementary—that the Statutory Com mission, acting of course under the terms of an Act of Parliament, has a particular function which nobody seeks, which no body in authority ever has sought either to enlarge or to diminish. Let me just point out this further, so that there shall be no misunderstanding. When the Commission wrote a little time back their letter making the announcement—which I am very glad to feel has met with universal approval both in Britain and India—that we contemplated in our Report dealing with the extremely difficult question of the relations betwen the Indian States and British India, and went on to suggest that after we had reported the Government might think it well—as they do—to appoint a conference including representatives from both the States and—British India, we were not inviting any body to extend our terms of reference, and nobody knows better than the Prime Minister that nobody in the House could extend our terms of reference. We were giving intimation, as our duty was, to the head of the Government that we thought that this course was the course which it would be proper to take, and we were indeed glad to know that the right hon. Gentleman's administration and both political parties in Opposition—and, as we now learn, very large bodies of opinion in India—most warmly suppport that suggestion. If I might clear this point away once for all, I would venture to read to the House one sentence from a letter which I wrote on behalf of the Com mission when we first reached India 18 months ago, and when our position was not as well understood as it is now. It was in the time of the late Government. This was the sentence, and it was, I believe, read to both Houses of Parliament when we were in India, and was the subject of a great deal of comment and interest in India, and it states the true constitutional position:The Commission is in no sense an instrument of the Government of India or of the British Government, but it enters upon a duty laid upon it by the King Em- 1336 peror as a completely independent and unfettered body.Every competent person understands that, and that will make it abundantly plain to the House that it was the only proper course for the Commission to take, as they did on 24th September, to explain to the Secretary of State that, whatever the Government might contemplate, it would be far better if the Commission were not associated with it. From that time to this, except indeed, when in common with all other men, we have deplored the prospect that there should be Parliamentary discussion on the subject, we have endeavoured, not without some difficulty, to go on steadily with the business which was put into our charge. Here I desire to make my only other observation. I hope that I may be allowed to say with out giving offence in any quarter of the House, which is not at all my object, that, whether in the opinion of this man or that, the Statutory Commission ought to have been consulted, we do not feel that cur position is such as to require either heated championship or abject apology. We are merely Members of Parliament known to all of you, called upon to discharge a very important task, and endeavouring to discharge it in all sincerity.
I would most earnestly ask Parliament to leave us to continue our work undisturbed without Parliamentary controversy, for after all we have a very heavy piece of work to do, and we at least have found that two years of very intense labour is not at all too long for the purposes of assembling and studying material and of preparing for Parliament such assistance as we can render. The Commission was formed upon a basis of complete Parliamentary agreement. We have worked for two years sustained by that support. I am most grateful for what has been said from the three quarters of the House to-day, for it re assures us that we have that support at this moment. It is owing to that sup port—and, I must be allowed to add, to the unfailing loyalty of all my colleagues—that it is possible to hope that the Commission will be able to turn out useful results. It is not my place to offer assurances or issue pronouncements or to make declarations, but I am sure 1337 that we have proceeded from beginning to end, as India knows well, with an undivided and sincere desire to serve not only India, not only Britain, but both together.
We know nothing within our body of party attachments. We recall with satisfaction that at a very critical moment when we first reached Delhi it was a telegram from the present Prime Minister, then Leader of the Labour Opposition, which did more than anything else to show India that the Statutory Com mission was the authorised agent of Parliament as a whole. So far from thinking that the incidents of the last few days have rendered our work less important, the Commission is confident that one outcome of these events is to make everybody realise that the future constitutional progress of India is one of the most complicated as well as the most important questions in the whole world. I think, further, everybody realises that an honest and sympathetic presentation of facts and considerations by a body which does not claim to be a body of supermen, but a fair specimen of both Houses of Parliament, representative of all political parties, is a contribution which it is worth while for us to endeavour to make, and a duty which the British Parliament desires us to continue to discharge. Of course it is use less 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, but, in fact, these things do not make the slightest difference in the determination of the Commission and of every member of the Commission to finish its task, and nothing that has happened will affect or deflect the completion of our duty or the character of our Report in the slightest degree.
§ The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Ramsay MacDonald)
I really do not rise to continue the Debate, but only, if I may dare to express the opinion, to ask, Has it not been carried far enough, not from our point of view, but from the point of view of the Indian situation? I was prompted to get up for another reason also, and that was to thank most sincerely the right hon. and learned Mem- 1338 ber for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon). There is no Member of this House who knows more intimately all the moving springs, all the ideas, all the intentions and all the delicacies that have had to be faced during the last few weeks regarding the Indian situation. There is no Member of this House who himself has had to face the kind of difficulties the right hon. and learned Member has had to face. Has he not convinced every hon. Member here, after he has made the speech he has made, and given the advice he has given, that it is worth while that this House should consider it very seriously? I also wish to say, as I am rather involved in this, that the letter to which the Leader of the Opposition referred, written by me to him, bore out exactly the meaning that he attached to it, and that it was perfectly well understod by me before I left for America, at a time when the whole situation was not finished, not worked out, that he was relieved from any obligation which he undertook when he wrote his reply to my letter. There is one other thing. It is part of the controversy, but I am dealing with it not in any controversial spirit, but only to contribute something which may meet the interjection which I overheard a minute ago. This was the position we were in regarding the Declaration. When the papers came before me first, there were two proposals joined. There was the proposal for the Conference and there was the proposal for the Declaration. As regards the proposal for the Conference, the House is still in unity. There is no dispute about that. On the matter of the Declaration, there is not the same unity. That is a very serious—
§ The PRIME MINISTER
—position, a position which has not to be faced lightly. What was the objection urged to the Declaration? I have been trying to charge my memory as hard and as honestly as I can, but I cannot remember that anybody ever suggested that the Declaration raised a new policy or effected any change in the position taken 1339 up by this House of Commons before. Let the House remember that. The Declaration was required because, as my right hon. Friend said, since 1917 and 1919, after 1919, propaganda had been started in India which asked the Indian public to believe that we had departed from our word. The Declaration was necessary, according to the statement made, in order that a better atmosphere and more confidence should be established pending the publication of the Commission's Report. But what was raised is this: Is it expedient that that Declaration should have been made now? That is the whole question. On one side there were very experienced men saying "No," but, as this House knows perfectly well, there was another view pressed very strongly upon us, a very responsible view, that the Declaration was not only expedient but was absolutely essential. It is all very well to raise questions and to put questions, but I put it to any hon. Member or right hon. Member who has been responsible for Government policy, who has had to take advice from those in whom he had confidence and from those who were bearing the burden and heat of the day in the territory of the Government concerned by the Government's decision; the advice was tendered to us in such a way that we accepted it and became responsible for it. I am not sheltering myself behind others; it is the Government's decision. The Government have come to a decision on advice. We came to the decision that it would not be inexpedient, that it would do no harm to the Commission, that it would be beneficial from the point of view of Indian public opinion, and by that decision we stand. I hope that with this explanation, given with great sincerity and with out any idea of raising any further controversy, the House will allow the authorities in India to handle the situation which has been created and, if I may say so, in no way to hamper them in the very difficult task which they are now facing.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.