§ The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Ramsay MacDonald)
I beg to move,That this House approves the Indian Policy of His Majesty's Government as set out in Command Paper, No. 3372 (Indian Round Table Conference), presented to Parliament on let December, 1931.In answer to a question put by my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), I indicated the course the Government proposed to take regarding their policy with reference to India, and I rise now to fulfil the pledge that I then gave. The statement which I made to the Round Table Conference yesterday had the full authority of the Cabinet, and we now wish, having communicated that statement to the House, to ask the House by its vote to associate itself with that policy. Perhaps, as this is the first time that an Indian Debate has taken place in this Parliament, it will be convenient for hon. Members, especially those who come to us for the first time, that I should give them a slight reminder of how the present situation has arisen.
From time to time declarations, which did not amount to specific pledges, have been made by the representatives of this country; sometimes the Monarch, as in the case of Queen Victoria, sometimes the Government representatives, and sometimes the House of Commons have made it perfectly clear that the intention of this country is to lead India up to a position when it can make itself responsible for its own government. These statements did not always amount to pledges; they did not go beyond a statement of intention. No Member of this House, as a representative, can throw off from his shoulders the responsibility of carrying them into effect when opportunity arises, and from time to time as the opportunity widens; he cannot throw off the responsibility to fulfil those declarations, intentions and pledges.
I do not go further back than 1919, when this House passed the India Act. There was a Preamble to that Act which defined the policy of Parliament, not of a Parliament, but the continuing policy of whatever may he the governing authority of this country. That Preamble was a pledge that Parliament's intention in 1102 passing the 1919 Act was to make a decisive and distinctive step in the gradual development of self-governing institutions in India. Parliament was so well aware of what it was doing that it provided by the same Act that at the termination of 10 years from the passing of the Act, Parliament should set up a Statutory Commission to review the situation in India and to make observations and recommendations regarding its future. That was the origin of what is known as the Simon Commission. I wish to emphasise that the expression "gradual development" must not be interpreted by this House as something that it can fulfil at its own leisure. Those words must be interpreted to mean that this House, vigilantly and carefully watching the progress of affairs in India, is prepared, when that progress reaches a certain stage, to take advantage of it to increase the amount of self-government that India enjoys.
There is another thing that I should like to observe. The political capacity in India is solid and widespread, and has enormously increased within recent years. No one who sat at the Round Table Conference since November last year and listened to the debates can doubt that. I wish to emphasise that those debates were not conducted, so far as the Indians were concerned, by people who had, as is too frequently alleged, a veneer of western education. They were conducted by leaders of all communities, by men who were there in a representative capacity, and who could speak for every class and every community in India from the princes down to the untouchables. It was representative, and it was remarkable in its representative character. Every time that I had the pleasure of sitting in the Chair, the debates would have done honour, so far as grasp of subject and of the intricacy of solution were concerned, to any assembly of specialists who belong to this country and who were regarded as specialists of their subject in this country.
The Act of 1919 was admittedly temporary as were the Morley-Minto reforms that went before it. I remember being in Simla on the day when the last meeting of the old Council was held, and when Lord Minto bade farewell to 1103 the colleagues with whom he had been working up to then. After the Council had dispersed an Indian who was present turned to me and said with a smile, "Lord Morley, I see, has been delivering speeches which declare that so far as he is concerned this is going to be the last word in the evolution of Indian self-government." He added: "I hope you are making no mistake about that; this is the first word, not the last word." The Indian was right. We have gone from stage to stage. Every step we have taken has had its critics, and quite rightly so.
This is a tremendous experiment in self-government—a tremendous experiment; and yet those of us who have been sitting to deal with this subject from day to day, trying to get enlightenment from something of the same kind that has been done before, have found on important problem after important problem that the hand of no draftsman and the brain of no draftsman has hitherto pioneered a way for us in the work we are doing. I say that not for the purpose of impressing you, and not for the purpose of supporting what I really must feel is the over caution and the super-criticism of my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping. I say that to brace you up to face a problem which you must face. Face it with courage and with resource, and I feel perfectly certain that with the human material with which we have been working for over a year, and with our own capacity to adapt institutions to political ends, we shall succeed in our task, and our success will be hailed as one of the great contributions this nation has made to democratic institutions and to human liberty.
When the Simon Commission was set up the intention of the Government, when it received the report, was to proceed to draft a constitution upon, that report, to bring it before this House, and to send it to a Joint Committee of both Houses, and that when that Joint Committee was examining the details of the constitution as drafted Indians should be invited to come over here practically in the position of witnesses. They would not be cooperators in consultation. They could express their views as a witness expresses his views, but that would be, roughly, the position they would hold. The Com- 1104 mission went on with its work. It appreciated the great problems with which it had to deal. On 16th October, 1929, practically two years after the Commission had been appointed, I received a letter from the Chairman in which he said that in view, particularly, of the close connection between the problem of British India and that of the Indian States, and the importance of consultation with the States before reaching final decisions, he urged upon me the desirability of setting up—these are this words:Setting up some sort of conference after the reports of the Statutory Commission and the Indian Central Committee had been made, considered and published, and their work had been completed.I should explain that the Indian Central Committee was set up to work concurrently with the statutory Commission, and it did good work too. In this Conference His Majesty's Government would meet both representatives of British India and representatives of the States, not necessarily always together, for the purpose of seeking the greatest possible measure of agreement on the final proposals which it would later be the duty of His Majesty's Government to present to Parliament. I considered at the time that that was a very important departure. We had had enough information to know before that time that such a departure might smooth the way to an agreement between Indian public opinion and our own, and I certainly was not at all averse to responding favourably to the request which the Chairman of the Commission made to me. But I took the precaution of consulting the leaders of the other political parties before replying—the Conservatives and the Liberals, consulting them generally, for I never asked them to commit themselves to anything, that would not have been fair. I just wished to know if there was anything in the proposal to which essentially they would object. As the result of the interviews I was encouraged to write this reply. I said that we were deeply sensible of the importance of:Bringing the whole problem under comprehensive review and under conditions which may promise to secure as great a degree of unanimity as may be practicable.I went on:When your Commission has submitted its report and His Majesty's Government 1105 have been able, in consultation with the Government of India, to consider these matters in the light of all the material there 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 all-Indian problems. It will be their earnest hope that by these means it may subsequently prove possible on these grave issues Lo submit definite proposals to Parliament which may command a wide measure of general assent.4.0 p.m.
That is the origin of the Round Table Conference. When the preparations were being made for the meeting of the Round Table Conference I was exceedingly anxious, as I still am to-day, to drag India out of the field of party politics in this country. Our then predecessors, the late Conservative Government, were good enough to consult both the Liberals and ourselves on the appointment of the Simon Commission, and they having set me that very good example I thought I could not do better than follow it. Consequently, in the preparations for the Round Table Conference, when we were discussing some of the important points, I again resorted to consultation with the leaders of the Conservative and Liberal parties. The result was that it was agreed that the Parliamentary delegates who went to the Round Table Conference should be a three party delegation. The separate parties were not bound by the decisions of the others, but they were bound to do their best to co-operate, and whenever it was possible to speak with the same voice, that that form of address should be adopted. Again, I must report to this new House that none of us who then represented the Government of the day have had any reason to regret our decision or to quarrel with our part in it. [Interruption.] I hope that the one Government is as successful as the united Parliamentary representation was at the Round Table Conference. We shall have a great deal to hope for, and a long period of office.
When the invitations to the Round Table Conference were sent out, we wished that every section of Indian opinion should be represented, including the States. We were fortunate in getting a very full representation of every section and party with the exception of Con- 1106 gress, which refused to come, and the Round Table Conference assembled on 12th November, 1930. One of the biggest problems that faced us straight away was the question of authority and responsibility at the centre. The Simon Commission had reported in favour of provincial autonomy, and stopped there; but it had a vision beyond that, and it did foreshadow a federated centre. Everybody felt that a federated centre of British India alone was a somewhat risky experiment. Fortunately, on the very first day when the Round Table Conference got to business, the representatives of the Princes informed us that they were prepared to come into the Federation. That at once gave us a prospect of others coming in. The Princes declared that they were willing to sit at the Round Table Conference to discuss all the political problems raised at the Round Table Conference, and to discuss them not merely as interested parties who were to remain as spectators, but to discuss them as rulers who were prepared to come in as part and parcel of the Federation of India, and take their place in the central authorities that might be created if the Government desired that that should be so. That changed the whole outlook, and put the question of a central federated Government with executive and legislative responsibility and authority on to a completely new foundation.
Then we examined a great many questions, one after another. I will not take up the time of the House in going over the ground, because it is only a question of how many Houses there should be, of how many parts the Legislature should consist, how many States should come in, the question of safeguards, the question of defence, the question of security for our civil servants, the question of commercial discrimination—question after question was part and parcel of the problem examined. Difficulties were stated, points of view recorded and a very considerable mass of detailed examination made by one of the committees which has been of special value to us—the Federal Structure Committee, over which my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor presided with so much distinction and with so much success. The Con- 1107 feresce then adjourned, and it was decided that it should meet again in September this year.
I am perfectly willing to confess, had I foreseen in January and February this year the political issues which this House and the Government would have to face, the very Critical political issues, the very absorbing political issues, which had to face in August and September last, I should not have consented to the Round Table Conference meeting in September, because the problems of the Round Table Conference really demand the undivided and undistracted attention of whoever is going to preside over the Conference as a whole, or whoever is going to preside over one of its important committees. But the meeting was held. We have added very considerably to the discussion of the subjects that must be discussed and settled before a constitution can be granted, and yesterday I made a declaration, which was published in the form of a White Paper, regarding which the Resolution I am now moving has been drafted.
Very briefly—because there are two days for Debate, and plenty of opportunity to get more details—I will try to put before the House the general situation as it is at the present moment. The Round Table Conference itself never was a body which as a whole could deal with intricate details. If I may repeat what I said yesterday morning in the very early hours, the Round Table Conference was an assembly where the temptation to make speeches was absolutely irresistible, and when a body of men have to settle down to discuss such subjects as the relations between an executive and a legislature in a centralised India, the relations between one community and another, from the point of view of representative democracy, a body of 80 or 90 men and women making long speeches, so long that when they were confined to half an hour the chairman always rejoiced that brevity was established—that is not the body to deal with these problems, but that is the body to make the nature of the problem clear. That is the only body which, speaking on behalf of every interested section in India, could put the problem in its full and larger sectionalised detail before the representatives of this Parliament.
1108 The great value of the Round Table Conference was that it enabled every one of us who attended that body to understand (1) what is the Indian mind; (2) to try to translate that mind into a working constitution. What are the big problems that must be successfully solved by whatever authority of this House of Parliament is charged with the responsibility, first of all, of producing a draft constitution? That piece of work was magnificently done by the Round Table Conference. What is the next stage? It is quite obvious that the next stage is the detailed examination—constructive examination, not destructive examination—of small bodies approaching more to the size of an executive, without executive powers, mainly on the spot. Therefore, the contributions made by the Round Table Conference are now coming into the stage of close examination, and we hope from the Conference yesterday that several committees should go out to India to deal with those subjects.
There are three points which the Round Table Conference itself has asked should be specially examined. The most important one is that of franchise. What is to be the enfranchisement? Is it to be the same in every province, for instance? I am not suggesting by putting a question. Please make no mistake about that. Because I put a question I must not be supposed to be doing more than that. But that is one of the questions. For the purpose of election should the village Panchayat be used? Is the system of Proportional Representation specially fitted for Indian conditions? Is a common register possible? And so on. These questions of detail, questions which relate to Indian conditions which must be fitted into a scheme of Government, ought to be dealt with by men, if possible, accustomed to that kind of work, and committees of that character will go out at the beginning of January, as far as we can possibly arrange it, and over each of those committees we propose that some one of some authority, soma distinction, in this country should preside.
§ Sir AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
Is my right hon. Friend assuming that election to the Central Legislature will be direct election? Are we to understand that from what he said?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
No. I am very anxious that neither my right hon. Friend nor anyone else should assume that by my statement we have taken a decision upon it. If I cared, I could go through a long category of problems, which it is quite clear will have to be settled, regarding election to the central authority. If indirect, through provinces? Special constituencies? The provinces being represented directly or not? These questions will have to be settled, and this Committee, will make, I hope, a decisive contribution for the guidance of the Government first and Parliament afterwards as to how those questions are to be settled and embodied in the Constitution. There are one or two important problems outstanding. The first, undoubtedly, is the problem of communal representation. I tried my best, and one night I got them so near that only one communal seat stood in the way of a complete agreement, but I have failed up to now. Yesterday an appeal was again made to the communities to go and settle the question among themselves, but if they fail again—and I am not sure they will—they have not only had an influence on us, but I think we have had some influence on them, too, and after having impressed on them the necessity for settling this among themselves, I think they are going home with a firmer determination to come to an agreement to which all communities will assent. But supposing they fail? The Government take the view that- it is not justified in allowing a failure of this kind to stand between them and the putting into operation of a constitution which is otherwise roughly and generally agreed to. It would never be forgiven. After all, one has got to take political consequences into one's account practically in relation to facts and not in relation to fears like those of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping.
Let the House imagine this situation. We agree on reserved subjects, or are practically and generally agreed on them. We agree about central authorities. The Princes have agreed among themselves as to bow they are going to enter, what power and representation they are going to have, and when that is all done the communal question is still unsettled by agreement among themselves. If the Government turn round and say "Until that is settled, we can do nothing at all," 1110 there is not a political platform in India which would not ring with denunciations that would carry conviction that the Government, from the very beginning of their negotiations with Indian representatives, never meant to carry out their pledges and promises, and never meant business. So far as I am concerned, I am not going to be party to a position such as that, especially when, as a matter of fact, you have got a system, however imperfect, working at the present day. You have set up a system in India which provides for communal representation. [Interruption.] Do not let us allow our minds to run in the direction we personally want, and not tackle the problem in front of us. The suggestion is that the Government should make it perfectly clear that, although everything is decided, if this problem is not settled then, it will do nothing. It is asked to do that although, as a matter of fact,, the problem does not prevent representative institutions now working in India.
I cannot say what we are going to do if this responsibility has to be faced by us, but the Government might, for instance, say to the Indians when the Constitution is otherwise ready and they have asked us to say how it is going to be worked so far as representation is concerned, "We decline to make a permanent decision, but we equally decline to allow you to bar the way for taking responsibility upon yourselves, and shoving it on to other shoulders when trouble arises. Therefore, the decision of the Government is that the present system of representation, necessarily adapted here and there to new conditions, shall be fitted in -with the machine, and it shall be used to work the machine until such times as you yourselves are in a position to fit a better part into the machine." That may be the action or it may not be the action. I cannot commit the Government. I say it is absolutely impossible for hon. Members of this House to vote and think or act on the assumption that under existing conditions in India the Government can possibly take up the attitude that, short of communal agreement, no constitution can be worked.
There are also very important outstanding matters relating to the details of the States' representation. We have now had an assurance that the States meant every word they said at the 1111 beginning of the Round Table Conference, that they are busy working on problems —problems very difficult to handle, for hon. Members who know India well know what a tremendous range of variety, power and authority is comprehended in the group of States that are the Indian States. But, again, the Government have said that every assistance they can give to the Princes to come to a conclusion regarding the conditions in which they will enter federation will be given. The third important point is the point of the franchise. I will say no more about that than what I have already said. The whole question of how representation is to be built, and upon what basis, will be referred to a very authoritative committee for our guidance, and the guidance of the Indians themselves, and in those committees the Indians will cooperate.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
No. The Indian States are separate States, and they must be allowed to govern themselves in their domestic affairs. I did not mean to deal with this, but just for the consolation of my right hon. and gallant Friend and those who show the same enthusiasm as he does I will say that it is not by imposing outside authority that these changes will be made, but by the co-operation and companionship of States, and in particular of those that have already taken steps to deal with those matters.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
May I ask whether those committees are going to report back to the Round Table Conference?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I was just coming to a point that covers that. As regards contact, in the meantime it is going to be kept up between the Government and those committees. I asked the Round Table Conference yesterday if they would agree to my nominating, in consultation with them, a sort of Committee of Consultation which would enable us to keep in contact with Indian public opinion while those inquiries are being made, and while their reports are being digested, and to that they have assented. There is another class of subjects known as safeguards, and there is 1112 a great deal of agreement upon these subjects, like defence, finance, foreign affairs and so on. Those are the three important ones, but there is a fourth of very great importance, too, that is, the question of commercial disabilities. All these subjects have been before the appropriate committee, the Federal Structure Committee, and although I cannot report that there is complete agreement, the position of the Government has been made perfectly clear regarding them. Do not make any mistake about that. There is a very substantial amount of agreement on subjects like defence, and as regards foreign affairs, it is almost 100 per cent., and the others in varying satisfactory degrees.
There was a question raised regarding the method of conducting these negotiations. I want to tell the House without any reserve that I am perfectly convinced that the work which has been done could never have been done by any method except the method of co-operative consultation, and I say further that if any Government here were to try to change that now, it would destroy all chance of continuing agreement and cooperation with India itself. The method by which the Round Table Conference has been handled is the only method that will enable India and ourselves to come to an agreement to work that agreement in harmony, and to use that agreement for the benefit of India itself, and also for the honour and good of the whole community to which we belong. Arising from that is the question of the relation between the negotiating Government and this House, and here again I do not think that Members ought to be left in any doubt about what that relation must be. The Government must conduct those negotiations. There is no question of the nature of this which the House of Commons can conduct by periodical Debate and periodical Resolution. I would like to enunciate a rather old-fashioned doctrine, but one which I think is still very sound. We sit on this Front Bench because, rightly or wrongly, the Government—
§ The PRIME MINISTER
My hon. Friend will change his opinion soon—because the Government has been elected 1113 by a majority in this House of Commons, and those who sit here have presumably the confidence of the majority of the House of Commons. Having that majority, the Government is charged with the duty of conducting negotiations, and those negotiations have to be carried on from Parliament to Parliament. Otherwise, it is quite impossible to maintain for this nation its status among the nations of the world. I myself once had the duty—a very unpleasant one, I must confess—of carrying through this House a Motion to ratify a Treaty which had been negotiated by a predecessor of mine, and with large sections of which I was in absolute disagreement. I have also, with the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs in the late Government, had to take up certain declarations made on Dominion affairs with which we were not in agreement. Nevertheless, there they were. The Government of the day had agreed to them; we were their successors; and they were part and parcel of the estate to which we were heirs and into the management of which we entered. The right hon. Gentleman may have changed his opinions, but we did not.
That is the method of government, and here, regarding India, the Cabinet must carry on these negotiations, the Government must carry on these negotiations, until a point is reached when a proposed agreement is initialed—a very well known stage in the negotiation of treaties. When the parties to the negotiations initial it, then, at that point, the House of Commons is asked whether it agrees or whether it disagrees. If it agrees, that is all right. If it disagrees, I think most Governments would regard the disagreement as a vote of no confidence, and would take steps accordingly. I just wish, in a sentence or two, to refer to the Amendment. I do hope—and I hope I am not appealing to deaf ears—that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping and the other hon. Members whose names follow his on the Order Paper will be content with the opportunities of Debate, and will not carry this to a Division, or will not move the Amendment. I will tell them why. This Amendment was quite obviously drafted before the White Paper was published—
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I assumed from the contents of the Amendment that it was drafted before the White Paper was issued. Then I hope that all I require to do is to give my right hon. Friend this assurance. The first point is this:Provided that nothing in the said policy shall commit this House to the establishment in India of a Dominion constitution as defined by the Statute of Westminster.There is no Dominion constitution defined by the Statute of Westminster. I would like to draw the attention of my right hon. Friend, on that point, to this fact, that the Statute of Westminster, in the terms of the Statute itself, can only apply to the Dominions specified in it. Therefore, before anything is done to Burma, India, or any other section that has advanced across the boundary of the absolutely subject State and has been put into the category of self-governing States—not one of them can be subject to or can enjoy whatever privileges the Statute of Westminster confers without specific legislation in this House.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
Nobody ever suggested that a constitution for India could be set up without an India Bill.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
My right hon. Friend is quite wrong about that. I am not referring to the India Bill at all. The only way in which India could be brought under the Statute of Westminster by the Bill which we contemplate would be by a specific Clause in that Bill. But I do not contemplate that; I contemplate a Bill which would go through giving India the powers adumbrated in the White Paper. But that alone would not bring it under the Statute of Westminster. If India is to be brought under the Statute of Westminster, a Clause to that specific effect must be in the Bill; or, if it is not there, and India is going to enjoy the liberties and the powers of the Statute of Westminster, then another Bill adding the name of India to the list of Dominions 1115 in the Statute of Westminster will require to be passed by this House of Commons.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
Do I understand my right hon. Friend to say that there are two methods, the one a Clause in the India Bill and the other an Amendment of the Statute of Westminster?
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
The first alternative is not. Then I was right in my interruption about an India Bill.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
As to the interruption, yes. I said that that was one of two ways; but my right hon. Friend's interruption really meant that powers could not be given to India which would bring it under the Statute of Westminster. I say that no power is given to India—and this is the point; my right hon. Friend must not run away from it—no power that is contained in this White Paper, no power that is foreshadowed in this White Paper, nothing that can develop from this White Paper or on the lines of the White Paper, would put India under the Statute of Westminster.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Let me deal with that interruption, because, after all, this is not our only audience to-day. In the ordinary way I should let that go, but I say this, that the White Paper and the powers foreshadowed in it have been accepted as promising at any rate by the Round Table Conference, and that the question of the application of the Statute of Westminster, although not dealt, with here and not in contemplation by the Government, is not a question that is barred for ever; but, if India comes under it, and when it comes under it, it will be by precisely the same considerations, precisely the same machinery, and precisely the same method as Canada, Australia, and New Zealand have come under it. That interruption will be used in India as meaning that India is being put in an inferior position. It is not accurate, and I hope India will not have any misconception of the position.
§ Mr. MAXTON
The Prime Minister took my interruption very seriously, and I also do not want it to be misunderstood in India. I merely made it to indicate to this House and to India that, in the assurances which the right hon. Gentleman was giving to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping, in reply to an interruption, he was pointing out and making the case that it was almost impossible for the Indian people, under the contemplated legislation, to secure complete independence.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
There is no intention of it, and India does not want it. Moreover, if this is going to be a subject of controversy in India, 'there are provisions in this White Paper which withhold for a transition period powers from the Indian Central Government which the Dominions enjoy. Everyone knows that, and the Indians agree to it. Therefore, nobody must make that observation serve as a stick to beat this Government with, not here, but in India.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
It is rather important that we should understand what the right hon. Gentleman really means. We understand that there are certain reserved subjects which it is agreed will ultimately be unreserved for the India Legislature. What I want to ask is: Do the Government, when they talk about Dominion status, intend at any period, is it the view of the Prime Minister and the Government, that India shall attain, and you want her to attain, full Dominion status the same as the other Dominions?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
The point is a perfectly clear and simple one. I am dealing with the situation as it is to-day. I say, regarding the Statute of Westminster, two main things. First, the Statute of Westminster, in the way that it is drafted, applies only to Dominions specified in it. Secondly, so long as this transition stage lasts which is contemplated in the White Paper and agreed to by the Indian representatives, the Statute of Westminster cannot apply to India. When Parliament deals with the reserved subjects, when the time has come to remove the reserve from them, then the Statute of Westminster may be the subject of an Amendment such as has been alluded to by my right hon. Friend. I am sorry that these inter- 1117 ruptions have taken up so much time. The second point in my right hon. Friend's Amendment is:Provided also that the said policy shall effectively safeguard British trade in and with India from adverse or prejudicial discrimination.That is exactly what we are standing for at the present moment. What, moreover, has it to do with the subject of an agreed Resolution, agreed to at the end of the first phase of the Round Table Conference? It is raised on a very slender point; it was raised again the other day; but still the right hon. Gentleman cannot carry anyone into the Division Lobby with him on the ground that there is any doubt as to the position of the Government on this point. The third is:And provided that no extensions of self-government in India at this juncture shall impair the ultimate responsibility of Parliament for the peace, order and good government of the Indian Empire.That is one of the subjects safeguarded.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say the various provisions in this Amendment are agreed to by the Government.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I thought that was the purport of what the right hon. Gentleman had been, telling us.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I say the safeguarding provisions are governing conditions. These have been stated at the plenary Conference by Government representatives and have been fought out in the Federal Structure Committee by Government representatives. You cannot ask people to disagree with them on that point.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I was asking the right hon. Gentleman, will he permit the insertion of those very principles for which he says he has contended? I was asking whether he would not accept the Amendment and assert these principles with which he says he is in agreement.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
If there was anything in the Amendment that really was germane to the present position, I should certainly consider the acceptance of it. I certainly am giving my own very firm decision in the matter that those conditions put down, "Provided that 1118 nothing" and so on, shall be put in. I say, in view of the statements contained in the White Paper, those conditions are not of a nature to justify anyone voting against the policy declared in the White Paper. We stated our position in the White Paper to the Conference yesterday. I put myself in the hands of this House. Suppose I was to accept an Amendment which weakened, apparently, although not in fact, the position taken up by the Government yesterday. If this House asked us to undo what was 'done yesterday, I should certainly be no party to it. But there is one thing I should like to say. There is the expression here "good government." That expression is so very vague and general that I exempt that from what I have said—ultimate responsibility for peace and order certainly in the provinces as well as in the centre. I am not quite sure what the right hon. Gentleman means by good government. The night before last there was a very remarkable and helpful speech delivered by Mr. Jayakar. I should like to quote a sentence or two from it. He said:I thought it was my duty to speak quite frankly from my point of view. I think it is a very great opportunity for your country. The question is whether you will take hold of it. Everything depends on the way you make your choice. We can only watch you make your choice. The privilege of making it is yours. Young and old in India are watching on the tiptoe of expectation to see what is going to be the issue of this conference. Is it going to be success or is it going to be failure—failure in the sense in which I have spoken? I do hope that Providence will enable you to decide that it will be success.I beg and I pray of this House, by its Debates during these two days, and finally by its decision in the Division Lobby, should that be necessary, to help the Government to make its work a great and an abiding success.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
Anyone wile rises to take part in this Debate must do so, I think, with a sense of very deep responsibility. The issues involved in the Indian problem are enormous. On their successful solution depends not only the future well being of the 370,000,000 people in India., not only the future of our own country, but I believe the future of the world. I believe the solution of the questions between Europe and Asia will depend very largely on what is done by 1119 this country in its dealings with India. I think what is said in this Debate may very well have effects far beyond our imaginings. The statement that the Prime Minister has made to the Round Table Conference is obviously one of very great importance. It is one of those statements that mark a stage in the progress of negotiations between this country and India. The Government have reaffirmed certain principles. They have recognised the principle of responsibility to be placed on an Indian Executive responsible to a Legislature at the centre and also responsibility in the Provinces. They have reaffirmed their belief in an all-India federation, and this House is asked to approve this policy.
This reaffirmation of the principles laid down at the beginning of the year is welcomed by us and is all to the good. We want these principles to be affirmed by the Government and by this House and to be approved by the people of this country. But we want something more than this, and I think we have to examine rather carefully what has been said in this White Paper and what has been said by the Prime Minister with regard to what is to be done in the future in carrying on these negotiations between the people of this country and the people of India. The Prime Minister has not merely brought us declarations of principle. He has reported progress to this House. He has reported what has been done at the Round Table Conference. He has reported progress. But I was not certain whether he asked leave to sit again. That is a vital question. He was not clear, and I want to get a very clear answer to this specific question. In paragraph 14 of this White Paper it is stated that a working committee of the Conference will remain in being in India and that there will he reports of committees which are going to be set up to go into certain details. Then it says:But in the end we shall have to meet again for a final review of the whole scheme.I want to know whether that means that the Round Table Conference remains in being, that these reports are to be made to the Round Table Conference and not merely to the Government or to this House.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Obviously, the Round Table Conference will remain, and in the end we shall have to meet again for a final review.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
The right hon. Gentleman did not suggest any report to the Round Table Conference, and he was not, I think, quite clear when I asked him this specific point. It is satisfactory to know that the method of negotiation through the Round Table Conference is to continue and that this is an interim process during which certain committees are going to report.
I want to say a word or two on how I view this Indian problem. This is the first occasion on which I have taken part in a discussion on Indian affairs since I was a member of the Indian Statutory Commission, and it makes me all the more careful in what I shall say, because anyone who has had the experience of sitting down to a problem for some two or three years realises to the full the difficulty of any particular subject and, when one gets a subject like India, one realises the enormous complexity of the problem involved. One knows that problem seems to overlap problem. You come up against a particular difficulty which may be derived from history. You come up against another difficulty derived from race and another from climate. You switch off from that perhaps on to a constitutional question. The Indian problem is like a tangled skein. As soon as you take up any particular thread and think you are getting it straight, you find that perhaps you have pulled four or five so tight that you cannot undo them.
I am not for a moment going to suggest, as I think one or two interrupters did, that nothing has been accomplished by the Round Table Conference because everything has not been accomplished. We know that an immense amount of work has been done on this extraordinarily difficult subject. At the same time, I think one has to approach the problem with a certain degree of humility. There are various stages of knowledge of India. I have only reached the second stage, when one knows how little one knows. I cannot possibly compete with the easy dogmatism of knowledge that belongs only to inspired people like Lord Rothermere and the right hon. 1121 Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill). I realise something of the difficulties. In the Indian Statutory Commission Report, at the beginning of our sittings, we emphasised the need for facing the facts. We said: "You have the facts of the Indian situation. They are stubborn facts which no amount of rhetoric or appeal to abstract principles can alter." Some of those facts can never be altered—facts of geography, facts of climate, and facts of history. Those facts have to be faced. They have to be taken into account. But the most. important fact of all is the state of public opinion of the Indian people. We emphasised that in our report, and I would like to quote it to show how clearly that was in our minds. We said:Just as it would be useless to elaborate a theoretically perfect constitution without reference to the other conditions of the problem, so it must be recognised that representative institutions depend for the success of their working, not so much on their logical excellence, as on their ability to attract and make use of the forces of public opinion.In these constitutional matters the prime fact is the state of mind of the people for whom the constitution is intended and by whom it has to be worked. That brings me to the first point that anyone should bear in mind in taking part in this Debate, and that is, that the Indian problem is not a static problem. You cannot say that because you knew the Indian problem 20 years ago you know it now. You cannot say that because you knew all the factors three years ago you know all the factors now. The problem is constantly changing. The problem that faced Lord Ripon, the problem that faced Lord Morley, the problem that faced Mr. Montagu is not the problem that faces the Government to-day. The problem that faced us on the Indian Statutory Commission when we reported two years ago is not precisely the same problem that faces the Government to-day. That is true of any movement of this kind, a nationalist movement. I remember, in our discussions on the Indian Statutory Commission, our Chairman making the point very emphatically; the point about the Indian Nationalist movement was that, like all nationalist movements, it did not stand still. It was constantly on the move. If we are trying to deal with the situation as we find it to-day, we must 1122 bear in mind that characteristic of all nationalist movements. It has a very close bearing upon this problem, because we have to remember what has happened with regard to other nationalist movements in the past.
Nationalist movements seem to follow a fairly well-defined course. You get the idea of a few enthusiasts, and you perhaps get a small body of the intelligentsia, but as the progress goes along the Nationalist movement tends, like a snowball, to grow and grow. Nationalist movements tend to increase and to intensify, but very often it means that unless a Nationalist movement is dealt with on wise lines it tends to move further and further left and further and further away from constitutional action, and further and further towards direct action. You can trace that out in the history of the Irish movement; in the movement from Butt to Parnell and from Parnell to De Valera. You can see it in almost any Nationalist movement, and you have to bear it in mind when you are considering and dealing with a Nationalist movement to-day. We have had examples of being too late in dealing with these movements before, and that is why I want to emphasise that the important point to remember is that you cannot, when you are dealing with a problem like this, say: "I will lay it down now and wait a few months or a year or two and then take it up again and deal with the problem." Problems of nationality do not wait like that. You cannot take them up again just as they were before. If you miss the right time for dealing with a problem of this kind, you may have missed the chance of dealing with it at all.
I said that the problem that faces us to-day in this Debate is different from the problem which faced us when we wrote the report of the Indian Statutory Commission. Events are moving with extreme rapidity in India to-day. One found how opinion had moved even between two short visits to that country. I was greatly struck when the Round Table Conference assembled, when I met many friends I had met in India, to find how their views had changed in that short period. What a movement of opinion there was. We noticed, in dealing with this problem, that change from the state of affairs with which we had to 1123 deal in the Indian Statutory Commission's Report. We foreshadowed some of that in our report. We suggested the need for bringing in the Indian Princes. At that time it was hardly thought of and was considered to be an extremely tentative experiment. We were warned that if we made the suggestion in our report we might find that it would put off the day of a greater Indian Federation. One of the most remarkable things is the way Indian Princes have come forward and how in a short space of time the ideal of an All-India Federation has forced itself to the front. We could not anticipate that at the time of our report.
We further had the declaration of policy made by the Government and the assembling of the Round Table Conference, which was again suggested by the Chairman of the Indian Statutory Commission. The Round Table Conference has again made an extraordinary difference in the situation. You have had over two years of talk, two years of work, and two years of the spread of opinion, and, to my mind, India is more politically self-eon-scious to-day than it was two years ago. I believe that political thought and political propaganda have extended to a far greater degree in India than they had at the time when we were visiting it. We suggested then that Indian political thought might soon be spreading from the towns to the villages. That has already taken place, and so one at once sees that the situation to be dealt with cannot be dealt with on the exact lines laid down by the Indian Statutory Commission.
I have never taken the line that the Indian Statutory Commission's Report was a divinely inspired gospel which was to be adopted under pain of excommunication. The Indian Statutory Commission's Report was an honest attempt to help India by an investigation of the facts and the suggestion of possible solutions. I regarded it as a building to be erected. We knew that many of the stones would be thrown at us, but we hoped that a good many would appear in the final edifice of the Indian Constitution. I think that that has been borne out. We at that time suggested that it would have to take the responsibility in the Provinces and later in the centre. Since then we have had a Government 1124 declaration of responsibility at the centre, and we have had an entire change of the situation by the fact of the Indian Princes coming in. The outstanding difficulty in dealing with the responsibility at the centre was the fact that you had two Indias, one the India of the Princes, the other British India. The fact that they are now within sight, I believe, of a constitution on a Federal basis makes possible that responsibility at the centre which we thought could not come for some time. Therefore, I say that for my part the Report we made has not been cast aside. It is being amplified and brought up-to-date by events themselves. I have never in the least suggested, as some people have, I think, wrongly, that the Indian Statutory Commission's Report has been brushed aside. As a matter of fact, it has been utilised as a, jumping off place for further advance, as one always expected that it would be.
We have to-day the situation as told to us by the Prime Minister. I think that one must recognise, first of all,, that it is absolutely impossible to go back. When you are dealing with negotiations of this sort, you get to a certain stage. There are people who say: "Oh, we have gone too far; let us go back." The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping has suggested more than once in his speeches: "Let us call a halt; let us find a retreat." The right hon. Gentleman had made many retreats in his time, and most of them have been disastrous, but I am quite sure that any attempt to retreat from what has already been done with regard to India would be more disastrous than any other retreat. It is no good thinking that you can easily build a half-way house if no one is going to live in it. The difficulty we of the Indian Commission were in was that it was very difficult to form what I might call a watertight half-way house. You could not get a logical structure at all. In fact, given the conditions in India, if you want advance at the centre, it can only come about by methods of negotiation and agreement wherein the people who are going to work something which is not absolutely the last word in the constitution accept the position and are ready to welcome it. That is the position we have reached now, and I think the Government chose absolutely rightly in taking the method of the Round Table Conference, the method of negotiation.
1125 I believe that the only possible way of getting a successful issue of this very difficult problem is by employing the method of negotiation. There are enemies to India's peace awaiting from both sides—from the extreme left and from the extreme right. I think that they are both short-sighted, and I believe that the mass of intelligent opinion in this country and the mass of intelligent people in India can, given good will, obtain a solution that will get us over those enormous difficulties. I fully recognise what those difficulties are. Some of them are set out in the White Paper. There is the Hindu-Moslem difficulty. No one who has seen India can doubt the reality of that difficulty. It does no good saying: "Here is a difficulty. We cannot settle it; therefore we will do nothing." You have to live with that difficulty. You will not cure it by saying: "You are a bad boy. You must go away. We cannot do anything for you." You have to face the facts of the situation. There is also the constitutional difficulty. You have the difficulty of the minorities. All these difficulties exist, and they exist to be overcome. They can only be overcome by continued negotiations. From our point of view, we recognise very fully the right of India to self-government. I was very sorry that the right hon. Member for Epping put forward the questions that he did and that he has put down an Amendment demonstrating to my mind his total failure to grasp the essentials of the Indian problem. The essential point of the Indian problem is the demand for equality of status. Let me again quote from the report of the Indian Statutory Commission. We said:The political unsettlement which is most widespread among the educated Indians is the expression of a demand for equality with Europeans, and resentment against any suspicion of differential treatment. It is a great deal more than a personal opinion; it is the claim of the East for the due recognition of status.In this country we English, at all events, are apt to take a very insular outlook. We are essentially a people who are practical and who muddle through, but we do not make nearly enough allowance for the part that sentiment plays in the world. We think that if you have the substance, it does not so much matter what it is called. That is not so with other races. Anyone who has studied, 1126 say, the negotiations with our various Dominions will see that some members of the British Commonwealth of Nations feel enormously the importance of subjects over which some of us can hardly realise that anyone could be excited—minute points of status and nationality. But these things have to be borne in mind. In every nationalist movement you will find that there are these questions. I believe the biggest question outstanding here is the question of status and self-respect, and that that is the great feeling which animates the Indian movement.
I was sorry that the right hon. Member for Epping began to play about with the Statute of Westminster. He has followed up what he did in the Debate on the Statute of Westminster, in which he entirely ignored the substance and went all out for keeping some shadowy words which would preserve his self-respect. I think that at the back of his mind he is, perhaps, not like the rest of the practical people here, because he has at the back of his mind something that flatters his national self-respect in some kind of feeling of Imperial domination. That is not understandable to me. I do not understand that sort of national self-consciousness. We must make allowance for that. Above all, we have to recognise India's demand for status and self-respect, and until that is met we cannot elaborate the details of their Constitution. It is not a thing that you can argue about; it is simply a thing that exists.
The next point that I would like to emphasise was brought out in our report, and it is the second point on which we on these benches are particularly concerned. The first point is that India should have her self-respect and her status recognised, and that she should be mistress in her own house. We have to make allowance for these things, and we have to take account of the transition period. The second point is brought out in the Statutory Commission's Report:Until the demand for self-government can be reasonably met, enthusiasts for various reforms make common cause, and every disappointed element attributes all the evils which they attack to the absence of self-government. In our view, the most formidable evils from which India is suffering have their roots in social and economic 1127 customs of long standing which can only be remedied by the action of the Indian people themselves.I believe that statement to be profoundly true. I believe that India is suffering from a variety of economic and social ills that will require a giant's hand to remove them, and I am certain that that giant's hand cannot be an alien hand. It can only be done by the people of India themselves. Every national or nationalist movement derives its strength partly from the idea of nationality, but it is almost always based on economic evils which, either justly or unjustly, are attributed to the lack of the power of self-determination. The Irish Nationalist movement derived its strength very largely from the land system in Ireland. In India you have the landlord system, the money-lender system, modern industrialism, all kinds of evils which you may say we were not responsible for introducing, but which we are powerless to remove at the present time, which we must acquiesce in, and which can only be removed when India takes in hand her own responsibility for dealing with her own problems.
I have much sympathy with many administrators who, having worked in India for a long time, are deeply concerned about the condition of the people of India, and particularly the people among whom they have worked. They fear that their work may be abolished if India gets responsibility, I have every respect for their work but I think that, once you have got away from the position of an autocratic government acquiesced in by the people of the country and you have changed over to a Government which is not acquiesced in, which is not actively supported by the people, but is met with active hostility, then the kind of work that was done in their day cannot be done in that way now. It must he done in a different way by India herself.
I would again refer to the report of the Statutory Commission on a point which we feel needs emphasis. I refer to the question of safeguards. I want to see safeguards for the people who are economically and educationally backward in India. I want to see that their political rights are looked after. There are the urban workers, the peasants, the people of the backward classes, and the 1128 depressed classes. There are men and women in the Nationalist movement in India who have done great work and have sacrificed themselves for the sake of the people in a far lower status than they are—poor and depressed people, but nationalist movements generally tend to appear more radical and more reforming than they actually are. We have seen many nationalist movements on the continent of Europe which used to appeal to the British democracy, but when they have got their freedom they have proved oppressors in their turn. I hope India will avoid that.
It has been said to me over and over again by Indians: "We do not want to exchange a white oligarchy for a brown oligarchy." That brings me to the question of the franchise. In any Constitution that is set up you must put the depressed classes, the poorest of the poor, in a position in which they will be politically sufficiently important to make it worth while for politicians to do something for them. I do not say for the moment that you will get many of them taking part in the Government, but I want them to have that potential political power. It is absolutely vital and essential that they should have that power. It is not for me to work out the details, but the position has to be safeguarded in regard to the urban workers, the position of the peasants, and above all, the position of the depressed classes. Under any Constitution wherever we hand over power to the Indian people, it may be that a comparatively limited class will obtain the power at first, but let us be certain that we have a potential power in the hands of the masses of the people. I mention that point because our respected colleague, the late Mr. Vernon Hartshorn, was particularly interested in it and worked very hard in connection with it. We must all recognise the dangers of extra-Parliamentary action if we do not make provision in the Constitution for the masses to get political power. Experience has already shown how it is possible for a few to move the many in India. If we want anything like stability, we must make full provision in the constitution for the masses of the people.
On the general question, I believe that the path of safety is the path of bold advance. We have still the kind of stuff 1129 that appears in the Daily Mail" and the Rothermere Press. I would like to ask those people what is their alternative to 'steady advance? Either you are going to get agreement, either you are going forward on the path that we have been following so long, or you must have an alternative. When we were on the Indian Statutory Commission and we discussed various points, we often found some point on which we could not get what anybody regarded as a satisfactory conclusion, but the logic that always brought you down at the end was: "What is your alternative?" I would ask the gentlemen who say, "Stop these conferences, send these people packing home, let us have the strong hand in India"—what is their alternative? The strong hand. I should like to know how many of these strong-handed gentlemen are actually going out to India. I think it would be a good experience for them to live and work there. As a matter of fact, there is no alternative worth looking at to the policy that is being followed—the policy of negotiation. I want to ask one question on the White Paper. In reading this White Paper and in listening to the Prime Minister's speech, I felt that I wanted a little reassurance. It is all very well to lay down general principles. It is an admirable thing, and a very necessary thing when you are beginning to frame, a constitution, but there is the question of the elaboration of details to which the Prime Minister referred. To my mind, that is not the next point which comes up. The first thing is to get your general principles and, secondly, you must get your heads of agreement. It is useless to think that you can set up committees of experts to elaborate details until you have come to a decision—in this case by agreement—on definite lines of policy. I was a little disturbed, by the Prime Minister's remark in which he suggested that the sittings of the Round Table Conference were only for the purpose of hearing evidence. I did not conceive that the Round Table Conference was for the purpose of hearing evidence. We heard evidence month after month in India. The whole point of the Round Table Conference was to work out the heads of agreement—
§ Mr. ATTLEE
I took down at the tin, in writing what the Prime Minister said, but I am glad that he did not say so. I confess that I was rather disturbed. As a matter of fact, there is a considerable way to go before you get to the elaboration of details by experts. In my experience that is a very late stage. You get your general idea and then come down to the practical proposals, which have to be worked out in the rough before the details can be added. A lot more time was required for the Round Table Conference. For some weeks, partly due to the General Election, its time was consumed over comparatively minor points, but when it came to the essentials it was only a matter of days. I should have liked the Round Table Conference not to have gone into vacation now, but to have continued and brought to this House the heads of an agreement, fixed and definite; then you could have put your experts to work out the details. The lines of the policy which has been taken are absolutely right, and I want to be quite sure that the method of negotiation is going to be pursued throughout until the very end. We should allow nothing to separate India and ourselves on that point.
Here let me issue a word of warning. There may be at times difficulties in India. There are always people who will make trouble. The right hon. Member for Epping has his counterpart in India of people who believe in physical force. I hope that the Government are going to keep firm on the line of negotiation all the way through, whatever happens. We had a wonderful example of how to deal with these difficult matters from Lord Irwin. No one had a more trying time in India, but he never lost his faith in negotiation. We cannot allow the negotiations now proceeding at the Round Table Conference to fail. It is one of the big, vital matters which face the men and women of this generation; and the Government if they remain firm will rally the country to them. I believe that with patience the difficulties can be settled. I believe that British and Indians, disregarding the extremists on either side, can hammer out a solution, and I am absolutely certain that any attempt to go back and tear up the whole thing will 1131 merely end in bloodshed and ruin. When you come to deal with questions of this sort, you are always faced with the case of the Sibylline books—if you refuse them when you have the chance, you will be glad of them later on. Now is the time to get the greatest possible measure of agreement between British and Indians, and I hope that the Government will go forward in the spirit of the declaration at the beginning of the White Paper.
§ Earl WINTERTON
I was much impressed by the suggestion of Mr. Speaker at the commencement of this Parliament that old Members of the House should endeavour to confine their remarks into as short a space of time as possible and, therefore, I will occupy only a few moments in what I have to say. The hon. Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee) will not think me impertinent if I say that he has taken up a good deal of time in telling us many things which we knew quite well before, and as there are a very large number of Members who desire to speak, I doubt whether a speech of 40 minutes was in the best interests of the House as a whole. I do not quarrel with many of the admirable sentiments put forward by the hon. Member; at the same time, I do not think they have much relation to the immediate question before us, namely, the announcement that has been made by the Prime Minister.
I was not surprised that the Prime Minister spoke in a somewhat listless and, for an important occasion, to a not very full House. It is clear that the announcement of His Majesty s Government is not of a nature calculated to produce much enthusiasm in support or much indignation in opposition. The fact is that in this Debate there is very little scope for rhetoric either from the right or the left, because the announcement made leaves us in the same position in which we have been for the last two years. To-morrow, I understand that the big guns are going to boom across the Gangway. I understand that the biggest and strongest gun is going to boom at the Foreign Secretary, and that the Foreign Secretary is going to shoot back. All I can say is that they might just as well use blank ammunition, because there is nothing to fight over in this announcement. It simply repeats the announcement made by the Government last year.
1132 At the same time, I am grateful that this announcement has been made. I have always pressed for it, and I drafted and moved the Resolution which was passed by a certain committee of this House asking that an announcement of the policy of the Government should be made in the House. But there is nothing in the announcement, I submit, which in any way alters the situation. It is inherent in the declaration of 1917 and in the Preamble to the Act of 1919 that India at some future date should have responsible self-government; and that, obviously, means responsibility at the centre. I do not want to go back, but it is well that the House should realise the extent to which we are bound by past commitments. It may be that the pledge of 1917 was given in unfortunate circumstances. There was no hint given to the public before it was made, and there was no opportunity of testing the views of the country. Many of us who were Members of the House at the time were on Service, the attendance of the House was very attentuated and composed largely of those who were too old to fight or who found it more convenient and more commodious to sit on the green benches than to be at the Front like the rest of us. I am not complaining of their action; I am merely pointing out the circumstances in which the announcement was made. The fact remains that it was a pledge which binds this country and all subsequent Parliaments; and no one can suggest that it can be in any way set aside. That pledge meant no more and no less than the conferment by this House of responsible self-government at some time thereafter to be determined.
What is the announcement of to-day? I ask the House to agree with me that the announcement made by the Prime Minister yesterday was of exactly the same character, and that it meant no more and no less than the conferment of responsible self-government on India at some date hereafter to be mentioned. When that date will be we do not know, nor does the Government. It is clear from the Prime Minister's speech that no immediate legislation is intended, or is possible. One, two or three years may pass, possibly the whole time of this Parliament, before the amending Bill to the Government of India Act is brought in. I do not want to say anything 1133 unfriendly, but I will venture to make a prophecy, I think a safe prophecy, and that is that the date of the introduction of the Bill to confer the next stage of self-government on India will not be until the Government themselves decide what the safeguards for minorities are to be, and what the safeguards for finance and other things are to be. These matters will never be settled by Indians in committee or conference, either alone or in consultation with the representatives of the British Parliament.
I do not wish to minimise the work done by the Prime Minister in connection with the Round Table Conference. Every hon. Member irrespective of party should be grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the strenuous efforts he has made, for the sacrifice of leisure with a real risk to his health, to make the conference a success. At the same time the right hon. Gentleman always gives me the impression that he loves conferences almost as much as he laves committees. I am saying this in all friendliness and, I hope, without any discourtesy. No doubt he loves them because he is so successful in them because of his charming manner and good management. His political motto or slogan might be "Conferences, committees, commissions." But if there is going to be a Bill for a major constitutional change passed by this Parliament, and while the right hon. Gentleman is Prime Minister, he and his colleagues will have to face what has been termed "the irrevocability of decision." They will have to find a solution themselves for the minorities question and for safeguards; no one else will do it for them. There will have to be responsibility at Downing Street, as well as at St. James's Palace. I would add that I do not advocate or deprecate such a course—the introduction of a major Bill. All I point out is the common-sense point of view, that if the Government are going to bring it in, it will be they who will bring it in, and they who will make the decision.
For that reason I must confess that I do not see much good in setting up more committees unless they are to have limited action. The hon. Member who has just spoken and who did such excellent work on the Simon Commission knows that for years what we have had 1134 to face is an interminable vista of consultations, reports, evidence and things of that kind. It has been going on for four years, and yet how much nearer to a solution are we on the minority question than we were when the hon. Gentleman went to India? I hope that the Government will exercise some care in setting up these further committees, under, as the phrase goes, "distinguished Englishmen." They may not do much harm. They may help to elucidate certain points that are still lacking. But I should have thought that all that required to be done was to come to a decision on the available information that is now before the Government. I do not think they will do much good.
I see that the Lord Chancellor in one of his most exuberant bursts of sentiment compared himself with the architect of the Taj Mahal. I would remind the Noble Lord that the architect of the Taj Mahal took 10 years to execute his work, and that at the end of it he was blinded so that he might not be able to produce anything of the same character again. That was not because the great Emperor who had the Taj Mahal built did not like it, but because he wished that it should never be copied. I hope that the Noble Lord will not spend 10 years in committees on India, and at the end of that time be mentally blinded. I cannot imagine anything more likely to have that result than interminable conferences at St. James' Palace.
For many years before the late Labour Government came into office, in various quarters the idea of the Round Table Conference had been mooted. It was suggested from the very start of the reforms. Almost directly after the reforms were brought into operation, those who were discontented with the working of the reforms suggested that there should be a Round Table Conference to consider the whole matter. Until the late Government accepted the idea, successive Governments, two Conservative Governments and one Coalition Government, turned down the idea because it was held that you could never get a body of Indians, representing the extraordinary divergence of races, religions and classes in India, to reach agreement on any salient points of a new constitution. Everything that has 1135 happened at this Round Table Conference has proved the correctness of that view. The Prime Minister said yesterday that the Round Table Conference "has not failed." I think he should have added the words, "except that it has not reached agreement on any of the major issues which must be solved before a constitution can be framed." But I am not saying for a moment that the Conference has not had some good results. I think it has. I think that the Prime Minister was fully entitled to claim for it the results that he did. The rough idea of an All-India Federation has been evolved. Without such a Conference it would have been very difficult to have obtained that.
The Conference has taught a much-needed lesson to the public here and in India as to the difficulties in the way of India's rapid advance to self-government. It has taught a much-needed lesson to all, including those in this House, that this question will never be settled by emotional and rhetorical statements about the need for self-government, or about the way in which everything has changed, and all that sort of stuff. Not by that alone. That is no doubt the sugar on the cake that pleases Indians when offered by those who are popular with them on the Front Bench, but such statements do not solve the problem. This Conference has brought right into the centre of the stage the cruel are lamps, which have shown up the real nature and gravity of the problems to be solved before India can go on to the next stage of self-government. Those problems have not been solved by the Conference and they still remain for solution.
Thirdly—and there the right hon. Gentleman has done as much as anyone —the Conference has promoted really good feeling between individual Indians and individual and distinguished members of different political parties in this country. I am sorry that my right. hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) is leaving the Chamber, because I had one or two remarks to address to him. I see that he is returning. I shall stand for only a short time between him and his tea. I say to him in all friendliness, as I have already been 1136 friendly to the Government, that I do not think there is anything in the Prime Minister's announcement to which my right hon. Friend can take exception. With all respect to him, I venture to support the appeal of the Prime Minister that he should not proceed in bringing forward his Amendment, which is a work of supererogation. "Responsibility, with safeguards" involves no departure from the original pledge made in 1917, for which the right hon. Member for Epping, in common with every other Member of the House, was responsible. Everything depends on two definitions that are at present lacking, that is to say, when is that government to be given and what is the nature of the safeguards? They cannot be defined in this announcement, and I cannot see why everyone should not support the announcement. Everyone is committed to it by what happened in 1917 and again in 1919.
One other matter that I must mention is the Burma Round Table Conference, of which I am a member and which is, indeed, in the midst of its plenary sittings. I trust that if and when the Burma Conference shows a concensus of opinion in favour of a particular constitution for Burma, and the Government accept that opinion, they will next. Session present a Bill to Parliament and pledge themselves to give effect to the decision that is reached. I hope that the Government will give us some assurance on that point before the end of the day's Debate, because some of us have to make our second reading speeches at the Conference to-morrow, and we want to know where we stand. I suggest that it is not in the interests of good relations between Great Britain and India that the new constitution of Burma should wait on the long discussions that are obviously still in the offing in regard to the next step in India. I should like a definite pronouncement by the Government spokesman on this point. If the answer is unfavourable, I do not think there is much good in going on with our Conference, because the Conference is intended to suggest to the Government a solution for the future government of Burma, and if the Government accept that solution legislative effect should be given to it, apart from what may be happening in connection with India.
1137 To return to my original subject, there is no doubt that the Prime Minister's announcement leaves the constitutional position in India for the next two or three years in a state of great fluidity and uncertainty. No one can tell exactly what form the new Bill, when produced, will take. It cannot be produced for at least two years. I do not think that that matters so much, provided that the present administration at the India Office and at Delhi continues the excellent work already begun, of making it clear that the millions of quiet and peaceful Indians will have proper protection from the authorities in going about their lawful occasions. I think that Lord Willingdon and the Secretary of State have made a most excellent beginning in that regard, and, although I know it is a rather delicate subject to handle, I must say that I do not believe there has aver been a more calamitous period in the administration of India within a generation, than the period from June, 1929, to September of this year. It was a lamentable experience.
§ Earl WINTERTON
My right hon. Friend's historical recollection is at fault. I did not protest as aggressively as he did, because I thought that 'my form of protest would be more effective than his. It is all very well to talk about the need for good will, but we have to remember those who suffered in those days. It was not, except to a small extent, the handfuls of Europeans in India. The people who suffered were the millions of law-abiding Indians who wanted to carry out their ordinary avocations and were prevented from doing so. I have not the least doubt that British sentimentalists at home and abroad wrought great havoc in those days. There is a peculiar type of sentimentalist who is to be found in this country only. He believes that you can show sympathy to the perfectly legitimate aspirations of a people who are partly in subjection to another people, only by condoning or ignoring the law-breaking and the insolence of some of its inhabitants. It is a fatal point of view. I am sure that the exact opposite is true in India. I have seen dozens of Indians, not only Moslems but Hindus as well, who have complained bitterly of the in- 1138 convenience, the discomfort, the loss of money and the danger to which they were subjected by the weakness of the administration in those years.
Let us try to appreciate the point of view of these people. Take the case of the ordinary Indian, the man in the street, rich or poor. Has he not a right to demand from any Government that it shall not, for the sake of sentiment, tolerate a state of affairs which makes it impossible for him to carry on his business? I hope that that era has gone by. I hope that if any person, including the most celebrated opponent of all of the Government, in the next few months breaks the law, there will be no negotiations with him on the part of the Viceroy or the Secretary of State, but that the ordinary law will operate. I am glad that this announcement has been made. A reiteration of the good intentions of this country towards India has been made, and quite rightly. It is now beyond the possibility of doubt that our intentions have not altered since 1917. I am equally glad that it has been accompanied by announcements of the equally good intentions of the Government to take stern steps against those who disturb the peace of the King-Emperor and menace the lives of his subjects.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. CADOGAN
The Prime Minister's statement is likely to create some concern in sonic quarters of the House, but I think, on the whole, it will bring a sense of relief to the majority of Members. I confess that the reaction which it has upon me is one of mild perplexity, and that is perhaps the condition of mind which the Prime Minister intended to produce in the House. I fail to see in it any occasion either for reassurance or for alarm, until we are more conversant with its implications. It was, no doubt, incumbent upon the Prime Minister not to be too explicit, and perhaps it would be very injudicious of any hon. Member to ask him to be more intelligible, in virtue of this fact, that any conclusions to which the Round Table Conference may be said to have come, depend upon conditions which have not yet been fulfilled and contingencies which have not, yet arisen. The statement obviously divides itself into two sections. One is devoted to a forecast of future procedure, with which, 1139 may I say in all humility, I agree in existing circumstances. The other is devoted to an affirmation of the right hon. Gentleman's pronouncement made last year and I hope he will forgive me for saying that I think it requires further elaboration. But in this connection I congratulate him upon what he has said in regard to his pronouncement. I think he must have had the Report of the Simon Commission on the table when he wrote it. The right hon. Gentleman says:I want no more general declarations which carry us no further in our work.I hold strongly the view that there is little to be gained by these abstract declarations, and I should have thought that Indians themselves would have ceased to attach any importance to meaningless phrases which are as great a hindrance to a concrete solution as the communal question itself. At one time it was the phrase "Dominion status," now it is the phrase "responsibility at the centre," which put up an effective barrier to calm and logical reasoning. I have studied the reports of the Round Table Conference with the most sedulous care and although on every possible occasion when "responsibility at the centre" can be pressed it is pressed by all and sundry of the delegates no explanation is vouchsafed to us as to how that responsibility can be fitted in with the circumstances, the requirements and the conditions of a federated India. It is surely of the greatest importance that, before the House subscribes to that phrase, we should know exactly what it means.
I share now with only two other Members of this House what has come to be the invidious distinction of having committed myself to views which have been embodied in the report of the Statutory Commission. That report was presented to His Majesty some three years ago although I suppose that, according to modern standards, three years is an appreciable period for anybody to remain consistent in his political views, I am obliged to confess that nothing which has happened in India or in England during that time has offered me any inducement to depart from the views contained therein. On the contrary, every- 1140 thing that has happened in both countries has confirmed those views. It would surely be putting rather too heavy a tax on the credulity of this House, and indeed too heavy a tax on the credulity of the Indian intelligence, were I to affirm —and this would be the only ground on which I could possibly go back on anything to which I had attested in that report—that some mysterious, some psychological change had come over the vast unsophisticated populations of India, 80 per cent. of whom have probably never even heard of all these questions which agitate the minds of the small section of the political intelligentsia, and that they had eaten of the fruit of the tree of political knowledge and had been miraculously enlightened. That would surely be an insult to the intelligence of the House.
I notice that in a recent speech Mr. Gandhi claimed to represent 85 per cent. or 95 per cent. of the inarticulate peoples of India. Apart from the consideration that the discrepancy between his two rival claims—if my arithmetic is not at fault —represents a population of 30,000,000, the fact that they are inarticulate makes it impossible either to confirm or to refute his statement. The fact remains that the vast majority of the Indian populations are not aware of what agitates the minds of those who have been sitting at the Round Table Conference. I do not put that forward, as some do, as a reason why we should not amend the Government of India Act. I do not put it forward as any reason why India should not develop her institutions with a view to the progressive realisation of responsible government. But I do put it forward as a contributory reason why this House and the Government should dispassionately examine the lines of advance laid down by the Report of the Statutory Commission.
It is obvious to me that those who criticise that report have either never read it, or, if they have read it, have been unable to appreciate our attitude. It is said that our recommendations were reactionary. Indians, if I may be allowed to say so, labour under the extraordinary delusion that unless you adopt a slavish imitation of the Constitution here in England, you are retarding their progress; that if you do not agree to a per- 1141 feet facsimile of the Constitution here being translated over to India, it is an affront to their dignity and a reflection upon their capacity to govern themselves. There could be no greater misconception of the situation, and no greater fallacy. The Commissioners in their report were most solicitous to explain that, quite apart from the consideration that the amorphous and heterogeneous populations which compose India might not be in a condition of readiness for such an innovation as responsibility at the centre, in any case responsible Government as it exists in England might not be the suitable or appropriate form to be adopted in an Indian Constitution.
I would go as far as to say that, even if the populations of India were as advanced in education, socially and politically, as ourselves, responsibility as we understand it might not be the most suitable form for India. What does this expression "responsibility" mean? It is highly important that we should understand it and I want to be more categorical than previous speakers. If I may be allowed once again to call the attention of the House to the contents of the Statutory Commission's Report—and I do so with the less reluctance, in view of the very little consideration which has ever been given to it even by those who set up the Commission—I would point out that the Commission argued on the assumption that "responsibility" connoted the responsibility of an executive to a legislature, and, what is just as important for our argument, the responsibility of a legislature to an electorate. We tried to point out that the conditions for such a form of responsibility are not now present in India and may never be present in India. An executive, drawn from a single party, which depends for its existence from day to day on the votes of members directly elected by an electorate—those conditions, I say, do not exist and may never exist in India.
In the second place, presuming that your legislative assembly is to number some 460 members, which, according to the franchise we suggested we did not think an unwarrantable estimate, each member would represent some 500,000 voters—obviously an area and population much too unwieldy to enable any great contact to be established between the 1142 member and the constituents. If we take into consideration that they are to have communal separate electorates, we have this extraordinary situation—that a member might have to conduct an electoral campaign over an area the size of Scotland. We were careful to demonstrate that responsibility of this sort is inseparable from an organised party system both in the House of Representatives, or whatever you like to call the assembly, and in the constituencies. It depends also for its success on close contact between member and constituents. As to "responsibility with safeguards" which I prefer to call by a name not too pleasant in Indian ears, namely, diarchy, we came to the conclusion that the responsibility for the subjects with which the Centre is concerned cannot be departmentalised. I am only giving these details to show that our proposals were not put forward on reactionary grounds.
For these and other reasons—particularly the difficult and complex question of the financial relations of the Centre to the Provinces which I have not time to go into now—we decided that the Constitution of India should be on a strictly federal basis, federal units and not ordinary constituencies being represented in it, and that responsibility as we understand it in England would not be the appropriate form of responsibility for India. We are told that there is a unanimous requisition for responsibility from all the delegates at the Round Table Conference. That is the only subject apparently on which they are all agreed. It is the one common denominator which is apparent in all these conflicting elements, but I invite the House to exercise the utmost caution before they accept that view. The demand put forward by the various sections for responsibility, is put forward in various ways. In the first place, you have the extreme Congress men who ask for immediate responsibility without any conditions. Then you have the moderate Hindu element who ask for responsibility subject to safeguards. Whether that is responsibility or not, depends, of course, upon the extent and measure of the safeguards. Then the minority delegates representing, I suppose, over 100,000,000 people in India, ask for responsibility on conditions which they must see are not very likely to be fulfilled.
1143 I am not impugning the sincerity of the Moslems, the depressed classes, the Europeans, the Sikhs and other minority communities, but I put it to the House that there is a great discrepancy between accepting proposals upon conditions which are not likely to be fulfilled, and accepting proposals absolutely without any "ifs" or "buts." Then the Princes, who have, throughout the deliberations, made every sort of concession and offered to make every kind of sacrifice in order to help India to realise a federal system of government, also ask for responsibility, but they have not been very explicit as to what that demand really signifies. Bearing these facts in mind I am not so impressed as some hon. Members with the apparent unanimity and enthusiasm of this demand for responsibility which seems to be now a sine qua non of any amendment of the Government of India Act.
Until more definite conclusions are come to as to what it really means among the British and Indian delegates, and until they explain how it is going to be woven into the texture of a federated India, I see no reason to depart from the view unanimously accepted by the Commissioners that provincial autonomy with indirect election to a Central Legislature of a federated India., a Central Legislature which will contain within itself the power to evolve self-government, is the right line of advance. White holding these views, I am obliged to say that I fully admit that you cannot force a form of constitution upon a people who will not accept it or work it; at the same time, I believe that the reason they do not accept it is that they do not trust that the British Government is as good as its word, rather than any logical claim of reason. It is indeed deplorable that all our efforts have been unsuccessful in dispelling this illusion. That is, I am quite sure the Prime Minister will agree, the black tragedy of the situation. I believe that if the Prime Minister and his colleagues could succeed in dispelling this mistrust, they would render an incalculable service to the Indian Empire. I see that in the White Paper, in the first paragraph, the right hon. Gentleman says:we have won … confidence in, and respect for, each other.1144 I wish that that was altogether true, because later in the White Paper he refers to the offer that he made to the Indian delegates. They refused it, he says, for whatever reason. The Prime Minister knows what the reason was. It was that the Indian delegates did not trust provincial autonomy or think that the British Government meant business and that it would lead eventually to self-government. That, in my opinion, is the real difficulty, and if the Prime Minister can remove that distrust, I believe he will have gone a long way towards solving the whole Indian problem.
In the meantime, what is the best course? Surely, we must all admit that the best course, the wisest course, under the existing circumstances is what the Prime Minister has decided, namely, to continue along the lines of friendly conference and commissions, but I should like to put in a caveat to the right hon. Gentleman to turn a deaf ear to any suggestion that the functions of the Imperial Parliament should be limited merely to giving its imprimatur to anything which an outside body is going to dictate. I am sure that he appreciates that the extreme limit of the authority of any outside body, be it a Round Table body, be it a Royal Commission or any other conference, is submitting, with all due respect, its recommendations to Parliament, which Parliament has the right to amend, accept or reject just as it deems fit, but I say that in virtue of the speech made by the late Secretary of State for India at the Round Table Conference at the last plenary assembly.
I note that Sir Francis Younghusband appealed to us, to Parliament, not to leave the impression upon the Indians that we were more concerned with our own self-interest than with the aspirations of India to self-government. I fully respond to that appeal, but I do protest that we are not here, those of us who are genuinely anxious to see a right solution to this problem, influenced so much by self-interest and our own material interests as by the interests of those millions for whom we are the trustees. There is nothing I resent more than the insinuation that because we counsel caution, therefore we are actuated by reactionary motives or self-interest. We have a formal responsibility to India 1145 which we cannot, with a light head or with a light heart, disregard.
I do not lay claim to the long and intimate familiarity which some hon. Members, who, I hope, will address the House during this Debate, have with the Indian peoples, but, both in a private and in an official capacity, I have made immense travels throughout the length and breadth of India, and I have been afforded exceptional opportunities of being intimately associated with all sorts and conditions of Indians. That experience, too exiguous as it may be to enable me to speak with any authority in this House, has certainly left me with an abiding affection for the Indians.
My appointment to the Indian Statutory Commission raised in me hopes that I might be of some service in elucidating the problems which are involved in this constitutional difficulty; and, if I may be allowed a personal note, it was to me the keenest disappointment that the result of three long years of steadfast and unremitting endeavour, exclusively devoted to what we imagined to be the best interests of the Indians themselves, far from achieving, had frustrated that ambition. But I can assure the House that no feeling of resentment, if ever such a thing was present in my mind, would hinder me from wishing God speed to those who have taken on the work where we left it off, and have now to face up to the inexorable facts and the perplexities and difficulties which we had to encounter, and praying that they, both Indians and English alike, will arrive at decisions yielding results which will be for the lasting peace and prosperity of the Indian Empire.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
I very rarely have the opportunity of commiserating the Prime Minister, but on this occasion I do so, and with a whole heart. He has thrown himself into the solution of the Indian question. During the last three years he has made it his child. He has worked hand in glove with Lord Irwin and with the late Prime Minister in attempting to bring a real solution of the Indian problem a step forward. One method after another has been adopted. I remember that the question of the Round Table Conference came up in the first Labour Administration, and he has now finished a Round Table Conference. 1146 He has done his best with the Round Table Conference, and that conference has failed, and it is just as well that we should look facts in the face. It has failed. It has not produced the heads of agreement which were necessary if there was to be any agreed legislation, and I am confident of this, that the next step forward will have to be taken now by the British Government taking the full responsibility upon themselves. It is perhaps as well that these stages have been gone through, because the problem: is one to which so many eyes were closed, and the consultation with India had become more especially necessary because Indians were excluded from the Statutory Commission. Now we have had that Conference. We have got no agreed report, and the position is clear in that we realise the real difficulties in the way of giving Home Rule to India.
Far from sharing the view of the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl' Winterton), I regard the declaration of August, 1917, as being the finest act of statesmanship that Great Britain has produced, but I will point out to the House that it was produced in the War, that it was produced by Edwin Montagu after having got the individual approval of every member of that tortured War Cabinet, and that it was a gift to India, recognised on the Indians' side by giving their sons to die in the War; and we are bound for every reason to carry through to its ultimate conclusion that famous declaration. But while saying that, we have also to realise what, we are learning from these Round Table and other conferences. Has it not struck hon. Members as almost inconceivable that there should have been no agreement come to at that Conference, not between English and Indians, but between Indians themselves? The difficulty, the difference between communal representation and the common roll, important as it is, could not alone account for the breaking down of that Conference, and I believe myself that, faced with the immediate prospect of a complete change in the Indian Government, with the removal of England as, supreme and the substitution of India as-supreme, the immediate approach of that possibility has frightened the minorities to such an extent that the minorities themselves will invent difficulties in order to prevent the achievement of Indian Home Rule.
1147 The point of view of the Mohammedans is one with which I strongly sympathise. I am a Unitarian, and I dislike a multitude of gods, whether Trinitarian or not, and I quite see their point of view. Politicians in India are very like politicians in this country. Politicians are always anxious to get somewhere, but never very pleased when they get there. I always think that they treated Moses very kindly in killing him off before he got to the promised land; and politicians, even in this country, sometimes prefer a, grievance to responsibility, and the responsibility of controlling India in its present condition is one of which any Indian may very well be a little bit nervous. But it would be a mistake, now that it is up to the Government themselves to make their own conclusions as to what is to be done in India, to assume that those minorities are really so passionately devoted to that absurd and antiquated system of a communal electorate. It is not so much the nature of the safeguard. What they want to preserve is a certain absence of responsibility, coupled with a real change of heart on the part of the rulers.
I do not know whether the House recollects, if it is permissible to go back into history for a moment, that two or three years ago the dictator in Egypt came to this country, as very many Ministers do. Some go round the world, and some take a trip to England at the Government's expense. He came here for the sake of his health, but he had to see about the perennial Egyptian grievance of the Treaty. He was naturally received at the Foreign Office, and the Foreign Office naturally discussed with him the possibility of a Treaty. He gave what he considered were impossible conditions, and the Foreign Office, by some horrible blunder, accepted his conditions and gave him the Treaty just as he asked for it—a thing which would have been inconceivable to the mind of Mahmud a month or two before. He could not help taking that Treaty. He did not want it; it was the last thing he wanted. He took the Treaty back to Egypt, and he lost his job as dictator. The Egyptians would not touch the Treaty. We have not got it yet, although the Treaty was far more than had ever been proposed before or asked for by the Egyptians themselves.
1148 6.30 p.m.
Many politicians prefer a good grievance which keeps them in power rather than the satisfaction of that grievance. It is human nature all over. It makes it all the more essential that His Majesty's Government should now make up their minds. I admit that I, possibly alone in this House, hate the Round Table Conference. I dislike intensely the federal solution. I dislike the thought of India, my democratic India, being converted into an oligarchy of Indian Princes. It is exactly as if we combined this House of Commons with an overwhelmingly large number of rich men from the House of Lords, and then said that that was making the world safe for democracy. In the Indian governments, in the Central Government and certainly in the provincial governments, the landlord has special representation. A landlord can vote for everybody; he has two votes, so he votes for a landlord as well, so that they have an overwhelmingly powerful mass of rich, educated people representing India's inarticulate masses in the Delhi Assembly. It does not please me to think that this so-called step forward is to convert the Delhi Assembly into something far more reactionary than they have now and than we have ever had in this country.
I do not believe that it is a step forward in the least. I believe that the federal solution, as long as the Indian States are governed with complete irresponsibility, is really a very reactionary step, and I am quite certain that that view of mine is felt, whatever may be expressed, by Indians such as Srinivasa Sastri and Mahatma Gandhi. You cannot find enthusiasm in India for a step in that direction. That is not the vital question, however. The vital question is that all the suggestions made now are that elections to this so-called responsible body of the centre should be made indirectly. That is the Simon Commission's Report, and that is the whole idea. It is really remarkable that there was one thing on which the Round Table Conference was completely unanimous. It was completely unanimous, even including Mahatma Gandhi, on the fundamental principle that the Indian working man was not to have a vote. Fear is again here. They are even more afraid 1149 of Bolsheviks in India than in this country—and that is "going some.",
The responsibility lies with the Government now, and no longer with the Round Table Conference. I would remind the Prime Minister that one of his late colleagues, perhaps one of the ablest of them, was sent on a Commission to settle the constitution of Ceylon in company with other Members of the House. They heard evidence and produced a report, and recommended a definite constitution for Ceylon. Every member of the Ceylon Legislature accepted that constitution as an advance, but said that they would not stand it because it did not give them home rule. It did not give them a complete responsible Government such as other Dominions had. They were very loud in that view, but when you go into it, you find that their real objection was that the Drummond-Shiels Commission recommended universal suffrage. Endless negotiations went on between the Colonial Office and the Ceylon Representative Assembly, and finally after enormous difficulties, and only by the skin of the teeth of the vote of the working man representative in that Chamber—Jayatilaka—they accepted a constitution which the Indian provinces might very well be glad to accept, coupled with the universal franchise which the late Government insisted upon being embodied in the constitution.
There you have a, precedent, the British Government standing for a truer democracy than you will get from the rich Indians, the Indian Princes, and the various leaders of public opinion in India. Before we hand over responsibility to the centre and hand over provincial responsibility, I would beg His Majesty's Government to see that there is retained the power of the electors over the elected. I know all the difficulties in the way, such as the enormous constituencies, but in direct election has never been used in this country. It destroys the hold of the elector over his representative. It would be a tragedy if we took the step of starting election to legislatures by indirect election. By all means see that the local panchayats or local boards are elected, but do not make them the basis of election for the provincial councils or far the Legislative Assembly. Do see that the people who are going to be ruled have some chance of governing themselves. I 1150 know perfectly well that the views of Mahatma Gandhi are the same as mine. [Laughter.] He will not say so, but I know that they are. His views about the rights of the peasants to have a vote, and his fears as to what will happen if only rich Indians get elected on these councils and assemblies, his expectation of what will happen if politics are no longer divided on nationalist and communal lines and come to be divided on economic lines—these are as certain as the general view that everything that Mahatma Gandhi is aiming at is that it shall be the responsibility of the Governor to the governed that shall effect that complete change of heart which has always been the main object of his politics and philosophy.
There is a man who, above everything else, is trying to break down caste and says that the worst caste is the division between white and coloured. He knows that that can only be broken down if the white man has to go to the coloured voter as his master. His view of democracy is not a wish to govern India, but to break down class distinctions between mankind and to create a real brotherhood. I think that the Prime Minister knows Gandhi better now than he did. It is very difficult indeed for anyone who is at the head of a political movement to expose his real soul round the Conference Table. What really matters is that the new Provincial Governments—I wish there could be 50 provinces instead of 10—should consist of people responsible to an electorate, and therefore really capable of dealing with those multitudinous evils which every one of us knows exist in India. When you read Miss Mayo's book, when you see the poverty, the conditions in the mines and the factories, and the slums in India, it is not enough to say, "We will not be responsible any longer; we will leave it to the Indians elected in their own assemblies on a franchise such as we had in this country before the great Reform Bill." If we say that, we shall be neglecting our duty and depriving the proletariat of India of the chance of rectifying those ills which civilisation has created for them.
The Government have really a great chance in India now, and I beg them not to take this opportunity of the collapse of the Round Table Conference, and the 1151 collapse, as I hope, of the idea of a federated India, to let the matter slide. They must lay down the law. They must, regardless of the inconvenience it may cause to India or England, do a little thinking for themselves and, as we have done in the past, rely upon this House to produce the Constitution for the countries over which we have at some time or other exercised our sway. We have managed to do the right thing in Canada 'and in Australia; we managed at last to do the right thing in Ireland. None of those countries has any grievance against us now or any real right to a grievance.
We have achieved that which no Empire in the past has ever achieved. We have found out how to perpetuate our influence in the world, to perpetuate even our power—our power for good—and at the same time to combine Empire with freedom. Rome fell, Alexander fell, Philip of Spain fell, Louis XIV, Napoleon and all the Empires in the past crumbled away through concentration on power at the centre. We seem to have learned the art of budding off free peoples, and it will not do to think that we have done our job when we have budded off the white communities. We have a chance of budding off the coloured races where the birth-rate is not going down, where education, though slow, is spreading, where western civilisation is working out through all its grievous present to something freer and better. It is our business to help that forward. We can do it better than others. We have tried to get Indian co-operation. We shall not get Indian co-operation, but we ourselves must devise a scheme and, conscious of our own rectitude, take whatever risks may be.
Mr. C HOTZNER
This is the first occasion on which I have had the honour of addressing this House. I have come to it late in life, but I trust hon. Members will grant me the same kindly indulgence which they always extend to younger men. Most of my working life has been spent in India. I have been a Member of the Indian Civil Service for more than 30 years, and during the last years of my service I had the honour of occupying a seat on the bench of the High Court of Calcutta. I may therefore, perhaps, though with all diffidence, claim 1152 to have some slight knowledge of India, and particularly of Bengal. I have listened to the Debate to-day with the greatest possible interest. No doubt all that has been said will be echoed in the whispering galleries of the East, and I feel that there will be some disappointment in India over the conclusion at which His Majesty's Government have arrived that the time is not ripe at present for any further grant of what was recommended in the Simon Report, namely, provincial autonomy. It is said in the White Paper that the Round Table Conference did not desire provincial autonomy, and I daresay that may be so, but I think there are many people in India who will have hoped for some definite advance on the part of His Majesty's Government towards that goal which has always been the aim and object of this country.
Certain safeguards have been laid down as being essential. There is one very important minority, however, for which no safeguards have been provided in the White Paper, and that minority is composed partly of the Indian Civil Service, without whose aid and co-operation in future no advance, in my judgment, is possible, and partly of that very gallant body of men the Indian Police, on whose loyalty and fidelity the future administration of India must rely. The Indian Civil Service numbers at the present time not more than 1,000 men, partly Indian and partly Englishmen. Those who know what has happened in India will all agree that, had it not been for the loyal and devoted service which the Indian Civil Service gave during the period when diarchy was in force, whatever success has been attained under diarchy could never have been attained. They have put aside their own feelings, which in very many cases, as I happen to know, were not in favour of what was going on, and have loyally carried out the instructions which were conveyed to them by the higher authorities. I hope that when any future constitution is prepared due safeguards will be inserted for the benefit of these loyal members of the Service, who have carried on their work under circumstances of grave difficulty, and, in later days, I am sorry to say, grave danger.
If I may venture on a personal reference, from the days when I was a young 1153 officer, I remember that the peasant always addressed the district officer as "Incarnation of justice" and "Protector of the Poor." There was no irony in those phrases. The ryot of to-day still believes that the white district officer is his one protection from oppression and injustice, and I should feel sad to see the day conic when that high standard of justice, which has been the distinguishing mark of the British official in India, should be allowed to fall away. Let me add one word about the Indian police. In India they are frequently maligned, especially in the law courts. If I may again venture to sound a personal note, I have had a great deal of experience of criminal trials, both as a session judge and also as a member of the special tribunals which are sometimes appointed for the trial of anarchist crime. Whatever may be the truth of the case made by the prosecution, the defence often is that the whole case is a concoction by the police. That argument sometimes prevails with juries, and makes it difficult for a conviction to be had even in cases where there should be a conviction. It is not the case, however, where there is a special tribunal.
The important thing to which I would like to call attention is that the police in India are not only detective officers in the sense that they have to investigate offences, but they are preventive officers, and they also have to act as officers of the Crown in disturbances. It is a difficult and arduous task, sometimes, for an Indian policeman to stand up against a hostile crowd, and the way the Indian police have behaved during, all the troubles that have occurred has merited the praise of every thinking person. There is no doubt about their courage and their loyalty, and if I were asked why it is they have been loyal, brave and enduring in the face of contumely, danger and sometimes personal boycott which in India means a great deal more than one can conceive in this country, I should say it is because they know, or have known, that at headquarters they had Englishmen upon whom they could depend. They know perfectly well that whatever happens they will get the support of their superiors if they do their duty. Once that confidence has gone, then I am afraid the trust that we and all people in the East have in the loyalty of the 1154 Indian police will also go. That is a reason why we should be so careful to see that nothing happens to interfere with the future well being of the Indian police. I believe that on them depends to a very large extent the future of India, because if we again have anarchy raising its ugly head there, as it may do at any moment, it is upon the Indian police, and upon them alone, that the safety of the whole countryside will depend. In conclusion, I would say that in my opinion the one thing we have to aim at in future is that while we see that India advances by constitutional methods, the English administration, whatever part of it is still considered necessary, should be in no way weakened.
§ Sir REGINALD BANKS
It is with great pleasure that I have the opportunity of being the first to congratulate the hon. Member for the Upton Division (Mr. Chotzner) upon a maiden speech informed with knowledge and with common sense, and adorned by an admirable eloquence in the manner of its delivery, such as is not too often the characteristic of a first effort. In rising to address a few observations to the House I have two objects in view. My first is to appeal to the House to give its approbation to the policy which has been placed by the Prime Minister before the Round Table Conference. I suppose that each Member of the House has his own view of his own duty towards his constituency, dependent, of course, on what he may have promised or pledged himself to in the recent election. I gave to my constituents one pledge and one alone, which was to support the National Government, and I conceive that it is my duty to carry out that governing and overruling promise unless I should find myself differing from them upon a question of principle so deep and so fundamental that it would compel me to offer my resignation to my constituents. I am glad to think that nothing in the White Paper before us this afternoon places me in so awkward a dilemma. My second object, however, is this. There are some passages in the text of the White Paper which, in my opinion, are fraught with a certain amount of danger unless their meaning be more closely elucidated as a result of this Debate. I desire modestly to communicate some of the dangers I fore- 1155 see, and to offer some criticisms which I hope will not be thought captious or unjustifiable.
First of all, I accept as a sound constitutional proposition the observations which were made by the Prime Minister about Cabinet responsibility, but I associate myself with the hon. Member for Finchley (Mr. Cadogan) in saying that I think it is extremely necessary for us to remember that Parliament is free and Parliament is sovereign. We as the House of Commons are constitutionally bound only by the acts and declaration of preceding Parliaments, not by any statements or declarations which may at 4ny time have been made by Viceroys, Ministers and Conferences or Committees in any centre. The word "safeguards" is constantly employed, and it must be borne in mind that Parliament, in passing the Act of 1919, safeguarded itself by prescribing very carefully the procedure that was to be followed in the future consideration of this great problem. That procedure has already been outlined by the Prime Minister this afternoon. At the end of 10 years a Statutory Commission was to be set up —not a Royal Commission, not one of those ordinary commissions which are appointed mainly in order that a subject may receive decent interment, but a statutory commission, differing in that respect from those other bodies. This Commission has produced that amazing document, the Report of the Indian Statutory Commission, probably one of the most important and able State papers ever printed, which has been received with a degree of consideration, interest and approval by the public such as I do not think any State paper hitherto has enjoyed.
That is the document which Parliament in 1918, by anticipation, prescribed as the basis of our judgment in the years to come. If I were to take a pedantic point of view, I might go so far as to argue that that is the only report and the only document which we are strictly entitled to consider in this House at all. I do not want to be pedantic; it will not do to be pedantic. The course of events contemplated by the Act of 1919 has completely changed. The Round Table Con- 1156 has held its sessions, and that is a fact of which we in this House—to use a legal phrase—are bound to take judicial notice. We must also take notice of the fact that this Conference is in no sense a constituent assembly, that it possesses no statutory powers, and that its conclusions can in no sense bind the Imperial Parliament. As a corporate body it has no locus standi and no more corporate authority as a body than any one of the delegates to it taken individually. Without being discourteous enough to mention any names, there are a good many delegates to the Round Table Conference who claim a representative position which they would find it extremely hard to justify in fact. I hope it will be recognised and recorded here to-day that the committees which the Prime Minister proposes to set up in India, which it is quite right he should set up, as committees are probably the best machinery he could adopt for the further consideration of this problem, will not be statutory committees, and that the utmost they can do is to offer evidence and make recommendations for the consideration of the Imperial Parliament.
When all is said and done we, the Imperial Parliament, have the awful responsibility of framing a constitution. If we do amiss, we shall have the blame for any calamities that may result. It follows, therefore, that if this be our responsibility, our freedom and our sovereign power shall not be limited, fettered, or circumscribed in any way whatsoever. In one most important particular that freedom is specially safeguarded and mentioned in the Statute with which at present we have to deal, the Act of 1919. Let me remind the House of the words in the Preamble of that Act:Whereas the time and manner of each advance can be determined only by Parliament. … and whereas the action of Parliament in such matters must be guided by the co-operation received from those on whom new opportunities of service will be conferred, and by the extent to which it is found that confidence can be reposed in their sense of responsibility.That Act is not repealed. It describes our constitutional position at this moment. We may ask ourselves whether the record up to now of some of these gentle- 1157 men, who are supposed to represent Indian opinion, has in the past been such that confidence can be opposed in their sense of responsibility. Take those two points, the time and manner of advance, bearing in mind the fact that we have got to decide. I am inclined to think that the general language of the statement before us, its general tenour, conveys an impression that all you have got to do is to get some unanimous conclusion of a conference or some unanimous recommendation by these new committees and, once you have got that, complete and responsible self-government for India is a matter of a few short months. If that is not the meaning it would be more prudent for the Prime Minister or one of his colleagues to say quite clearly that, while that freedom and responsibility are our ultimate goal—we take that promise in all seriousness—there are at present fundamental differences between India and Canada, for example, which it is not at all likely will he removed in the course of a few short months, or even a few short years.
There is the question of finance, there is the communal question still waiting a solution. I was going to say that the communal question is peculiar to India. It may be said that there was a communal question in Ireland. Perhaps there was. You had between Protestant and Roman Catholic in Ireland divergencies of tradition, religion and outlook which in some way may be compared to the difference between Mussulmans and Hindus in India. But you would have to multiply that question a thousand-fold in order to get the divergencies and difficulties with which you are confronted in India. Comparatively easy as it was in Ireland, it never was solved, and to this day you have to have two parliaments in Ireland. Then there is the minorities question. I am adopting a phrase which I heard from the right hon. Gentleman whose name we associate always with this remarkable report. He said that one of the essential differences between our own politics in this country and any political system that the ingenuity of man can devise for India is this. No doubt it will be a great consolation to the Leader of the Opposition to bear him say so. Here in this country the minority of to-day is the majority of to-morrow. It is not crystallised and stereotyped for ever. In India 1158 that is not the case. The Mussulman minority, the minority of the depressed classes, and the others are permanent fixed minorities, which under any constitution you can devise are never going to get an opportunity of being returned as a ruling majority in any Indian assembly. Therefore, you have here in this country an organised stable party system, with the opportunity always of the underdog of to-day being the top-dog of tomorrow, which enables us here to have an executive responsible to an assembly democratically elected. I do not propose to be tedious by going over the arguments on that point, which the hon. Member for Finchley stated with such conspicuous clearness and lucidity this afternoon.
I am bound to say that all of us, who have been following the debates and reports of the Round Table Conference, are tired of the amount of time, the amount of discussion concentrated on this question of responsibility at the centre. They all seem to be obsessed with the importance of the centre. That is important enough, but it seems to me that what they have been doing is to argue about the decoration and the design of the intricate mosaic of the dome to be erected over their heads while shrinking from dealing with the more important matters of the foundations and the drains. That is not the way in which the Statutory Commission dealt with this matter. The Statutory Commission put first things first and did so rightly, because I do not believe that in any federal country in the world one can find that a house similar to this has been built in such a topsy-turvy way.
I propose to deal with only one of those questions about which the problem of safeguards arises, a very crucial problem indeed, and probably the most difficult obstacle in the pathway of complete responsibility for India. I refer to the problem of defence. It seems to me that people in India are divided into two groups. There are those who know nothing at all about India and those who know rather too much. The first group are apt to he idealists and think that, because a thing works in Wigan, it is bound to work in Peshawar; the other group tend to be reactionaries and think that, because a thing works in Wigan, it is bound to fail in Peshawar. I belong 1159 to neither of these two groups. Of course, I say that only to give importance to my position as one who does not know much about India, but can at least back my opinions with some personal experience. I happen to be one of the few amateurs whose War service was performed entirely in India, and who had the interesting experience of commanding Indian troops on the North-West Frontier in a very exciting time, so that, although I am not saturated with the traditions and prejudices of the Service, I know something of the difficulties.
Let us contrast the position with regard to India and with regard to, say, Canada. These are facts that will remain, not for a month or two or for a year or two, but probably for a lifetime or two. Between the United States and Canada there is, a frontier line of something like 3,000 miles which does not require a single sentry, a single gun or a single fort, for the simple reason that an attack upon the Dominion of Canada by the United States of America is absolutely inconceivable. It is a very different thing when you come to deal with the North-West Frontier of India. That Frontier is a constant menace; it always has been throughout history, and it is so to-day. If you look at the history of the last 50 or 60 years, you find that on the average we had a war on the Frontier about once a year, although some of those are little wars and fade into insignificance beside the world War. My own battalion, the 2/5th Gurkha Rifles, who had the good luck to come practically unscathed through the fighting at Bagdad, on one pleasant afternoon when ex-King Amanullah let loose his men, had six British officers and 150 men of that battalion practically wiped out. That is the sort of thing which is constantly happening on the Indian frontier unknown and uncared for by Indian politicians or British politicians. If you are going to take care of that problem, you must have a first-rate defence force to do it.
Then we come to the consideration of the British Forces in India. The British Forces in India are there for two reasons: first of all, to maintain internal safety and law and order in India. It is no use blinking the fact. Everybody who has served in India—and among my other 1160 experiences I was a private serving in the sinister city of Cawnpore—knows the anxiety which prevails at the seasons of religious festivals lest there should be a shindy between Mussulmans and Hindus. When such a shindy occurs as in Cawnpore—and it seems to me that in that recent case the Hindus were on the aggressive, and the Mussulmans the sufferers—it is really asking more than we can expect to ask of Hindu troops that they should fire on their own co-religionists at a moment when fanatical feeling runs so high. The only person that can be trusted, the only person whom the inhabitants trust and thank God for, is Private Thomas Atkins and that will continue to be the case.
There is another reason why the British Army such as it is—and it is lamentably small—must remain in India. I do not believe that there is an Indian officer, however proud of his own battalion—and I am proud enough of my association with the Gurkha Rifles—who will not admit that it is a wise practice, which we adopted during the War, in every Indian brigade of having three Indian battalions stiffened by one English battalion. No one can say that they were superior to regular British troops. If they were, we should not he in the position of drawing those battalions from our erstwhile foes. If you put aside the question of the British Army, and come to the Indian Army, even if it were possible to withdraw the British Army from India, which it is not, we should have to maintain our responsibility at the centre. We must have a first-rate fighting force to deal with frontier problems, and we have to ask the question: where are you to get that fighting force? There is not any particular county or class in India from which alone an adequate number of good soldiers can be drawn. A man may be a Quaker and have religious convictions against fighting, but once you overcome those convictions, those men are just: as gallant fighting men as any other class. That is not so in India, although there are certain races and certain places where you can look for good recruits. The recruiting figures speak for themselves. Take the Punjab, with a comparatively small population of about 5,000,000. The Punjab itself provides about 54 per cent. of the Indian 1161 Army, and 62 per cent. if you include the Ghurkas who are the subjects of an independent sovereign State and who come voluntarily into our Army. Bengal with a population of 47,000,000 does not contribute a solitary combatant to the Indian Army. It is sometimes said that it is not good policy to recruit soldiers from Bengal. I remember very well about the year 1916 or 1917 how a Bengal double company of 250, enlisted from a population of 47,000,000, were inaugurated with a great flourish of trumpets, and quite a number of other ceremonies to mark their gallantry in coming forward, but their performances in the field of battle did nothing to shatter our preference for the Sikh and the Punjabi.
Another difficulty in India is that the class of Indians who fight best are by no means the best at passing examinations. The best soldiers will not face the examination, and this is one of the difficulties which it is necessary for every soldier who wishes to become an officer to surmount. Even if India was without British troops, and the Indian people were of opinion that they could find adequate men for their own defence in their own country, they would still have to look to a very few Indian races for her soldiers. Imagine the state of things in this country if we found ourselves entirely incapable, physically and spiritually, of finding enough men who would make good soldiers, and if we had to rely for our defence upon a few isolated districts as is the case in India. Suppose, for instance, that we could only get satisfactory recruits from Scotland. No doubt, in those circumstances, the Scottish people would feel that they were in a position to become dictators in this country, as people in that position are entitled to think if they possess the only fighting men. The fighting races in India are the Sikhs, Rajputs, and the Mahrattas, and these fighting men do not feel in any sense that they are fighting in defence of India, and they fight simply because they are fighting men. These men are proud to serve under their ex-enemies, and they appreciate the fact that the best men to lead them in the field are British officers. That is one of the problems which will have to be faced before we can give complete responsible self-government.
1162 I would like to say a few words about safeguards. I do not quite know what is meant by safeguards during the transitional period. The value of a safeguard depends entirely on how long the transitional period is going to last. We have had much experience of safeguards in the past. We have had statutory safeguards before, but when the parties concerned change their views and get more power those safeguards are not worth the ink with which they were written. It is well known that the Indian Mahout ties a piece of grass string to the leg of his charge and says to him that he is tied up and cannot move. So long as the elephant believes that story the grass string constitutes an adequate safeguard, but once the elephant ceases to believe that story he snaps the string. It is because these safeguards may snap that we feel we must reserve to ourselves some power to provide for adequate protection in any contract or treaty. When you reserve certain power, if you are not ready to enforce those powers to the extent of shedding blood, it is no use thinking that you are going to enforce them by shedding ink. I hope hon. Members do not think that I am using language of exaggeration, but I put these views forward in the hope that some of them may receive the consideration of the Prime Minister, whose sincere, consistent, and arduous work for the cause deserves the deepest gratitude from every quarter of the House. I put these views forward, confident that they reflect opinions which are widely shared by many of the Prime Minister's most faithful and loyal supporters.
§ Mr. KIRKPATRICK
On this occasion, I have to make the usual apologies, and ask the indulgence of the House in addressing hon. Members for the first time. I think the remarks which were made by the hon. and learned Member for Swindon (Sir R. Banks) about the Bengali are calculated to do harm. Let me say here and now that when I was younger and started my business career in India, I then had a feeling of prejudice against certain classes, and particularly against the Bengali, but after living up country in other parts of India I met both Indians and Englishmen who assisted in increasing my prejudice against the Bengali. When I got back to Calcutta and met and got to know 1163 Bengalis in business and as friends I learnt to know and like Bengalis as among my best friends.
§ Sir R. BANKS
I entirely agree with what the hon. Member has just said. I did not wish to say anything prejudicial about the admirable people of Bengal, but what I said was that I did not think Bengal was a place where you could hope to recruit any great number of effective soldiers.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Mr. KIRKPATRICK
I accept what the hon. and learned Member says. I am not pro-Bengali or pro-Moslem. I am sure we are all sympathetic towards all classes in India. The dominant issues which I felt it was my duty to consider when returned to this House were: our indigent people, our industries, and our India. I say "our India" advisedly. I feel sure that the whole of the work of the Round Table Conference, and the efforts of the Government to do its best for India, will have the effect of keeping India within the Empire, not as a completely subject race, but, as far as possible, under conditions associated with our best traditions. I regret to see the Labour benches so empty at the present moment. I do not know whether that is due to their lack of interest in Indian questions, or an index of the ignorance of the Labour party generally as to the conditions in India. I know what the policy of the Labour party was in Lancashire during the recent election when the leaders pointed out that you "could not force an unwilling people to buy Lancashire goods." What the Labour party said on that subject in their propaganda is contrary to the truth of the case. One member of the Labour party, the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton), predicted that within a few years time we should have left India altogether. I do not think remarks of that kind will have the effect which the hon. Member for Bridgeton has in mind, because he must have known that his remark would have the effect of drawing the attention of the people to the very remote possibility of our ever leaving India. The people of India know, as certainly as they could know anything, that we have 1164 no intention of ever leaving India. If the people of India knew for certain that we were going to leave India, I, having some knowledge of Indian mentality and some Indian friendships, believe that there would be far fewer claims that we should leave India, and far less agitation in that direction The more shouting that there is to us to leave India, the more it means that the people know that we are not going to leave. The great Montagu-Chelmsford reforms were brought in on the backs of those loyal civil servants of India to whom reference has already been made, Indians as well as British. I claim that our native Indian civil servants are in every way as loyal as our British Indian civil servants. Every Indian official that I have met, from the highest to the lowest, has as one of his qualities outstanding extraordinary loyalty, whether he be a Judge of the High Court, a deputy-commissioner, or one of those soldiers whom my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Swindon seems to know so well. Loyalty is in the bones of all Indians. Every Indian wishes to be loyal and be true to his salt. It is born in him, and we want to do everything we can to maintain that loyalty towards the British connection.
The only way to obtain the real, friendly loyalty of India is by friendship and sympatlhy. The one thing that we must maintain is that which is indicated by the word "Izzat," which means "status." If we lose our Izzat or status, we lose India. We hold India by the maintenance of status, which includes our reputation for fair dealing and honesty of purpose. However much we may criticise the White Paper which has been laid on the Table of the House—and I, for one, could criticise it, though I will not do so now—it indicates on the face of it honesty of purpose and a desire to meet the situation. I would that the question of law and order were included, as I had hoped might he possible, in the safeguards. I should like to see the British merchants of India face the position. A defeatist policy, however, has followed the Montagu-Chelmsford reforms; there has been vacillation and weakness on the part of Governments ever since, stultifying the position all round. British officials have been affected, and British business men in Bombay and Calcutta have been affected, by this ex- 1165 traordinary policy of defeatism. There has almost been a "cut-and-run" policy among the business men of Bombay. The business men of Calcutta have, perhaps, reached what they think is their last ditch; let us hope that the side of the fence on which they fall will be the right side.
I am prepared to accept the whole position as laid down in the Round Table Memorandum. There are difficulties and trouble ahead, but I have confidence that the National Government, whom we are supporting, will see the whole matter through. The two things that we want in India are "guts" and brains. We can do without the brains, but we must have "guts." "Guts" in government are appreciated by all classes in India. The Englishman is the only individual, the English community is the only community, that can hold the scales of justice between the various communities in India. The Englishman, whatever his community or class or religion may be, must remain there. I am in favour of as complete an Indianisation of the Services as is possible compatibly with British ideas, but we must always have a definite leavening of British officials. I believe that the opportunities in India for Englishmen of all classes, both in business and in the Services, are as great to-day, and offer as good chances of reward, as has ever been the case before. I thank the House for the indulgence with which they have listened to my remarks.
§ Mr. EDWARD WILLIAMS
I am sure that I am expressing the view of the whole House in congratulating the hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Kirkpatrick) on his maiden speech. I sincerely trust that we may have the benefit of his extensive knowledge in our Debates in the future. In rising to address the House this evening, I feel that a responsibility rests upon me which I shall endeavour to observe. I am the successor of the late right hon. Vernon Hartshorn, who was called upon, as most Members of the House will recollect, to serve with certain other hon. and right hon. Members on the Indian Statutory Commission, and I shall endeavour to place before the House the point of view which I think he would desire to express if he were here this evening, namely, the 1166 point of view of the workers and of their relationship to the new Constitution that will have to be propounded. Previous speakers have dealt with the problem of defence and with other matters that will have to be considered judicially, but my purpose to-night is to deal with the workers' aspect, and particularly the trade union aspect, in India, and I desire to put a few specific questions to the Prime Minister or the Foreign Secretary as to what precisely is likely to happen in this regard.
There are four specific points with which I desire to deal. It is known that the leaders of the Labour movement in India have placed their case before the Round Table Conference, not only on this occasion but last year. Their first claim was for adult suffrage. They also placed before the Conference a declaration of rights, and, thirdly, they claimed that there should be a reservation of certain seats, and that these should be allocated upon a population basis. Fourthly, they claimed that, whatever legislation might go through the Federal Legislature with regard to Labour conditions, those conditions should apply in precisely the same manner to Federal, Provincial and State legislation.
Those four points have been placed by the trade union leaders of India before the Round Table Conference. In dealing with the first point, I think it is essential that the House should realise that the franchise is now based upon a very high property qualification. I am informed that no one in India has a vote to-day unless he has an income of about 3,000 rupees, or about £150 a year, and that there are not more than from 7,000,000 to 8,000,000 people who to-day have a vote. We are anxious, on behalf of the enormous number of workers in India—roughly about 6,000,000, apart from the Untouchables—to know whether some provision of some kind will be made so that, if adult suffrage be impossible, at any rate the income qualification may be scaled down so low as to enable substantial masses of the people to obtain the vote. It was recommended about two years ago, by a sub-committee dealing with the franchise, that not less than 10 per cent. or more than 25 per cent. of the population should have the franchise if it were to be accorded on a population basis. I should like to have a 1167 specific reply as to the method that will be adopted in permitting the mass of the working people to obtain the vote.
§ The SECRETARY for MINES (Mr. Isaac Foot)
In order to make that question clear, may I ask whether the committee to which the hon. Member has referred was that which was appointed in association with the Round Table Conference 12 months ago? He spoke of a committee two years ago.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
I am sorry; it was 12 months ago. It will be appreciated, from what I have said, that the vote to-day is almost entirely in the hands of capitalists, landlords, and people of that kind, and in this connection the House should appreciate that not only the classes to which I have referred—people who have an income of £150 a year—have the franchise, but, in addition, special constituencies are allocated to the wealthy. In addition to their having a vote, special constituencies are allocated to capitalists and landlords, while no special constituencies are allocated to the workers. It is true that there are a few workers who are nominated Members of the Legislative Assembly, but they are not representative of special constituencies such as are allocated to the other classes to which I have referred. The Whitley Commission dealt with this matter in its recently issued Report on Indian Labour Conditions. They said:The trade unions are weak and young, and the Government of India, being the largest single employer of labour, has always tried to suppress the interests and rights of the workers.The Commission, therefore, have recommended a more liberal policy in the direction of the development of trade unionism and of its representation. With regard to what the Prime Minister said this afternoon in dealing with the communal problem, we on these benches hope that there will be no such thing as a kind of separatist vote—that is to say, that the Hindus, Moslems and Christians will not, as minorities, be given a separate right of franchise. We hope that in this transitional stage all these distinctions of caste or race or religion will as far as possible be obliterated, and that economic and social factors will be regarded in preference to any others. While the trade union movement is not substantially 1168 strong, it is composed of all these religious and racial sections, and it is still an economic unit, and, as an economic unit, we are anxious that it should have representation. The Prime Minister has announced in the White Paper that there will be a Franchise and Constituencies Committee sent to India early in the new year. We are hoping that upon that committee specific representation will be given to the workers in order that the features which concern the workers' interests, in particular, will be stressed and that their claims and their point of view in relation to industry, to the franchise, and to whatever may be pertinent to them, can be brought forward.
It is well to realise the terrible conditions that obtain in India. There are people working for 14s. a month, and there are women working in certain trades for as low a wage as 10s. 6d. a month. Medical evidence was given before the Agricultural Commission a few years ago that five or six million people are dying every year from preventable diseases. These problems should be tackled. Further, it is hoped that, in the setting up of a central Legislature, any enactments that may be passed by it will apply to the provincial and the State Legislatures likewise. I am sure the Under-Secretary will appreciate how difficult it would be if an Act of Parliament regulating hours in coal mines were passed through a provincial Legislature and did not likewise apply to State Legislatures. The employers in the States would at once complain of unfair competition. It is, therefore, essential that any enactments dealing with labour conditions which are passed in the central Legislature should apply to all provincial and State Legislatures as well. That is the only way to prevent internecine competition as between the States and the provinces.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
Yes, that there should be an endeavour to see that any legislation that goes through the Central Legislature should apply in the States as well as in the provinces. The position is the same as it would be here if we 1169 had Home Rule in Wales and in Scotland and certain Acts were placed upon the Statute Book by this Parliament which would apply perhaps to Scotland but not to Wales. The Scottish employers would immediately complain of the unfair competition of the Welsh coalowners. So that we hope that legislation will apply throughout the whole of India, both to States under the control of Princes and to the provinces. That is the only way in which it is possible to give to the Indian workers something like reasonable conditions of employment. We hope that the recently published report of the Whitley Commission will be borne in mind by the people whom the Government are sending to India to continue the work of the Round Table Conference. We appreciate that the Round Table Conference, as such, is postponed and that whatever is done will be reported back to them. May I read a paragraph from the Report of the Whitley Committee to indicate the conditions that obtain:Due to insufficient wages, the workers are heavily involved in debts. In order to keep the body and soul together, the workers have to borrow money at very high interest, which exceeds sometimes 75 per cent. Very often they have to pay off their whole year's earnings to the money lender. The unhappy dumb millions are thus kept as bondslaves to capital. Take another human tragedy. There are factories in India, which are known as unregulated factories, in which there is at present no inspection or control under any Factory Act. Here you may find small children, as young as five and six years' old working for long hours in cramped positions and often under most unsanitary conditions. There are many factories that have no intervals for meals, rest days and working from 10 to 12 hours daily. Take, for instance, in indigenous cigarette factories where the young boys are paid 2d. a day of 10 to 12 hours. In carpet factories young boys are handed over to the proprietors by their parents or guardians in return for a loan. They must work for any hours required by the master. In the coal and the salt mining areas women may be seen carrying heavy loads on their heads in the scorching sun. Bribery for employment plays a great part in the factories. In India the illiterate workers are easy victims in the hands of these jobbers.That is published in the Whitley Commission's Report, which is obtainable in the Vote Office. There are the deplorable conditions of these teeming millions. There are 50,000,000 of the most degraded of humanity—the Untouchables. It is 1170 really a standing scandal to civilisation. We cannot claim that we are a civilised race unless we are prepared to do much to alter the deplorable conditions that apply to these masses of people. There are roughly 60,000,000 attached to industry. We hope the Government will bear them in mind and the necessity for giving them representation, so as to enable the Committee to devise ways and means to safeguard their health and welfare.
These are a few of the views that we are placing before the right hon. Gentleman, and we hope we shall know from him precisely what he proposes to do, firstly, as to what representation will be given upon the Committees which have now to be formed, and which will meet in India to the workers, so that they may bring forward their claims and that the immense crime of inhumanity and wrong can be dealt with immediately. We do not for a moment desire to oppose what the Government are placing before us. We hope they will continue this good work. We trust that it is just the first step and that ultimately it will culminate in giving to India what India desires for itself, and that is self-government. We cannot hope to control India from here. We hope, meanwhile, that we shall elicit all the co-operation. The co-operation must come not only from the Princes and other eminent people at the top, but from the workers' leaders at the bottom. We have to visualise the restiveness and reckless-mindedness that is beginning to develop. Unless one appreciates that these things are but the repercussions that follow oppression, certainly in the very near future action will be taken by extreme elements which may lead ultimately to a horrible catastrophe. We are desirous of avoiding these things, and if proper representation can be given to the people who are trying to harness all those forces, and if we can avoid any breakdown in machinery by obtaining their co-operation, it will be a good thing for Britain, and certainly a good thing for the Indian people.
§ Mr. HOLFORD KNIGHT
I keep in mind the admonition, which you made to the House on your re-election to the Chair, Mr. Speaker, that speeches in this assembly should be curtailed as much as possible. I rise for a few minutes 1171 to make some observations upon a matter to which for some years past I have given considerable attention. I also bear in mind the observation which was made, I think, by the Prime Minister himself, if I remember rightly, that the true audience of this Debate is not in this assembly; it is in the great Indian land in which there are millions of men and women drawn from all classes; all castes and all creeds looking to this House in the hope that at last it has under its consideration the enormous problem of India. We have reached this position after a considerable body of service. It is a service as distinguished and as devoted as any which has been given to any transaction with which this House has been concerned. Observations have been made here to-day which might be read elsewhere as setting up contested claims in regard to the inquiries which have taken place with reference to the Indian business. I listened to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Swindon (Sir. M. Banks), whose return to this House is a matter for general congratulation, with very much interest. Some of his observations might have been more happily expressed. In particular, I think that his references to the authority of the Round Table Conference were not as happily stated as they might have been.
I would remind the House of another large body of work which was conducted in our name in regard to India to which on this occasion reference should be made. None of us would desire to overlook the considerable service which was done for us, the whole country and the whole Empire by the work of the Simon Commission. I deplored the complaint, apparently started some two or three years ago, in some quarters, that we were not paying the attention to the Simon Commission which it undoubtedly deserves. I hope that this occasion will end any such feeling with regard to the Simon Commission. That remarkable inquiry was conducted with the greatest ability. It resulted in the accumulation and presentation of data invaluable in the deliberations that have been presented before us, and no one in this House would desire to mitigate in any way the rightful claims of that Commission to the praise of this assembly.
1172 With regard to the Round Table Conference, I hope that no expression in this House will be used which will diminish in any way the authority which attaches to the proceedings of that great assembly. I am certain that the expressions used by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Swindon, who, I am glad to see has resumed his seat, with regard to the Round Table Conference were not intended to carry any disrespect to that assembly, or attach to its deliberations any want of authority. Technically, it is true that that conference was not set up by this House as was the Simon Commission, but even in this discussion cannot we leave technicalities aside? I plead with the House not to be diverted in this fashion. Let us face such facts as are before us frankly. The first fact with regard to the Round Table Conference is that it was the most distinguished assembly drawn from all classes in India, from the highest to the lowest, which has ever served this House by so devotedly carrying through its deliberation at much personal inconvenience and with the greatest possible advantage.
What is the claim which this discussion is intended to elucidate? It is a claim which has progressed during the last 10 years, indeed since the termination of the War, with increasing authority. It is a claim that the relationship between India and this country should be reviewed and readjusted on a basis similar to that of the other Dominions. That claim has received unexpected support. I confess that I was surprised and delighted to see the support given to that claim by their Highnesses the representative Princes of India. When I first heard the news that they were prepared to join in a scheme for an all-India Federation, I confess that I did not at once credit its truth, but at the proceedings of the Round Table Conference the representatives of the Princes wholeheartedly joined in the demand, and I observe that one of their Highnesses at one of the concluding sessions of the Round Table Conference this week reaffirmed the view of the Princes, namely, that the claim for equal status was pressed by all classes of the community. It is a matter which requires technical definition. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) has 1173 an Amendment upon the Paper in which, I hope, he will not persist after the invitation of the Prime Minister this afternoon, and which raises technical points connected with Dominion status. It is admitted—the Prime Minister himself stressed the point—that the demand of India at this moment is for complete Dominion status. Let us not quarrel about terms. It is admitted that the connection between ourselves and India must be reviewed, and it is admitted that there must be a transition period. It is also admitted that certain safeguards must be contemplated and provision made for working out those safeguards. The Government are proposing to set up a series of committees to that end.
To-day we are asked to support a Motion approving of the policy which His Majesty's Government are presenting to this House at the conclusion of the work of the Round Table Conference. It is a matter of great satisfaction that that policy is agreed to by representatives and leaders of all parties in the country. The National Government, comprised as they are of leaders of all the great parties, are able to-day to present to this House a policy which was formerly presented by their predecessors. It is a great gain that by a re-discussion of these matters leaders of the Conservative and Liberal parties have come into the general scheme which is now being presented to the House by the Government, although I am bound to say—I think I detect a smile—there never was any doubt as far as the Liberal Ministers or the representatives of the Liberal party were concerned that they were in agreement with the policy. After considering all the old troubles—and it is on record that respected Conservative leaders did not altogether see eye to eye with the policy put forward by the previous Government—it is a matter for great satisfaction to-day that the Motion approving the policy is promoted in the names of all the political parties. That is a great fact in the history of the connection between ourselves and India.
I say with the deepest possible respect that I do not pretend to speak as one who is especially familiar with Indian business, but I have been concerned with India for a good many years. I have enjoyed the friendship of Indian leaders 1174 of all parties, and for many years I have watched the progress of this demand with the greatest interest. I am most anxious not to say any word which, in India, may cause affront or disquiet, either in regard to the Indians themselves or to the great Services that have been so valuable in conducting affairs in that country. But I am convinced that if this House can rise to an opportunity of this kind, recognising the differences of points of view and showing a readiness to consider those differences, and also exhibiting that temper of sympathy which is looked for in India by all classes and approves this Motion, it will do a piece of work which will redound eternally to its credit.
§ Mr. M. W. BEAUMONT
I rise on this occasion to voice a point of view which I do not think has yet found utterance in these Debates, namely, that of those who dislike intensely and distrust the whole of the tendency of recent policy in India, but who yet feel that there is no alternative but to support the Motion moved by the Prime Minister. I am one of those who, perfectly frankly, have distrusted the whole of the advance towards self-government in India. I distrust, and disbelieve in, democracy in this country, and a fortiori I distrust it, and disbelieve in it in India. But there is one thing which, I think, could be worse for India than the application of democracy, and that would be if this country were to break its word. I deplore the Declaration of 1917, but it was made, it was endorsed, and it cannot be gone back upon. It is for that reason that when the Government of India Bill comes before the House we shall try by our votes and by our attitude to amend it in such a way as to reduce what we consider to be the dangers. Nevertheless, we realise that it is essential that, at this juncture, the Government should push on with the work to which they have set their hands.
There are certain hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who wish to put limitations, Amendments, and alterations in the Motion. I wish to say to them that it is useless and definitely harmful to waste the time of the House and to endanger the relations of India by trying to go back on what has been already done. There is nothing in the Prime Minister's 1175 statement and nothing in the White Paper to which this country and this House is not already committed up to the hilt. Because of that, I shall ask hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who feel, as I do, the danger of this policy, to realise that we must face up to what has been done and to what we may consider to be the mistakes of our predecessors. We have to go along this line—possibly liking it very little—readily, willingly and without shrinking. It is no use trying to quibble over words, or minor points. We must, whatever our private feelings may be, realising the line we have to take, wholeheartedly support the Government. I trust, therefore, that my hon. and right hon. Friends will not embarrass those who sympathise with them by forcing us to vote against them if they press the Amendment to a Division to-morrow.
§ Dr. O'DONOVAN
As a novice, in his first speech, it is due from me that I should give some reason why I intervene in this Debate, which seems to be monopolised by politicians. We are considering a White Paper on the Indian Round Table Conference and in it we are told that it is necessary to guarantee the observance of certain obligations, and those obligations are amplified by the explanation that they coverthe guarantees required by minorities to protect their political liberties and rights.There are occasions when the sons of Hippocrates must raise their voices and tell politicians of all colours that no votes for political liberties are of the slightest value to dead or dying men. If there is one thing in which this country should take great pride it is the service that my profession of white men has rendered to our Indian brothers. I say, as a doctor, that, without distinction of race, without distinction of colour and without distinction of political outlook, the one great boon that England and Western civilisation has given to India has been the boon of life. I need only recall a few instances. One disease that almost every Anglo-Indian suffers from, years after his return, a disease which sweeps through India generation after generation, carried by an insect so small that you can destroy it between two fingers, is malaria. So potent is malaria that it reduces fertile plains back to the wild jungle and reduces the strength of man to something 1176 subhuman, so that he can no longer contest for life with the forces of nature. It is entirely due to white medicine and to the medicine taught in the schools of Europe that India sees a prospect of being freed from, that great scourge.
There is another appalling disease that renders men unfit for work, or fit only to die in the ditch, or to live on the charity of their fellows. I refer to hookworm disease, which in some parts of India afflicts from 60 to 70 per cent. of the population. That disease has been the subject of study and investigation in the British and Continental schools of medicine, but to the study of that disease my Indian colleagues have practically contributed nothing. Hon. Members will also remember the dysentries that lay men low. In the Royal Society of Medicine, in its tropical section and in the Tropical Hospital in Endsleigh Gardens, these diseases are studied, and the benefit of that research is at the disposal of every Indian hospital. Were English medicine and the English connection to be abruptly cut, and were the only rights to be safeguarded the rights of political liberty, the only people who would suffer would he the Indians.
May I call attention to the condition of the lepers? We have heard of the untouchables, but there are thousands and tens of thousands of untouchables to whom no politician will give the touch of a helping hand; those of whom the old Psalmist said: "They have hands, but cannot touch; they have feet, but cannot walk; they have eyes, but they cannot see."
But they have understanding, and they can understand. Leprosy can be controlled, and if modern medicine and medical research are allowed their full gambit, leprosy can be abolished. The research upon leprosy is initiated in Western civilisation. It is one of the obligations that we owe to the Indians to see that nothing should be hastily done to amputate the beneficial connection between western medicine and Indian traditions. Need I mention the ghastly question of cholera?—a disease which is most prevalent in India. Indian medicine in its history is completely empty of any records of the study, investigation and cure of cholera. Because of that disease and the investigation of it, many of my professional brothers have died and 1177 many more, doubtless, will die, and will die gladly, and it is sad that in the White Papers and in conferences the work of my brothers of the medical profession should be almost unrecorded.
Another disease which is as prevalent in India as here, is tuberculosis. It is quite likely that its great prevalence in India is due to the system of enclosing their womenkind; the custom of centuries which leads to stunted growth, early death, and death in childbirth. That custom will not be broken by politicians, and I fear it will not be broken by missionaries; it can only be broken by a great increase in medical education throughout the Indian Empire.
One of the most extraordinary features of the situation is the keenness of Indian students to come to study in England; the mother and mistress of the teaching of medicine in these modern days. So numerous are the Indian medical students that the deans of our medical schools are hard put to it to find places for them. That is a proof that we have much to give to India, and there is a great duty upon politicians to do nothing by playing down to the politics of the healthy to prevent this help being freely offered. Although I have never been to India the diseases of India have been impressed upon my mind and upon the minds of my colleagues from our earliest medical days. Malaria was known in the days of Hippocrates, and among those who have studied it are Sir Ronald Ross and Sir Patrick Manson. So intimate is the knowledge which the London Medical Schools have of the medical needs of India that I feel I may speak on this subject, not as a stranger, but as one to whom these things are an everyday matter. I thank hon. Members for their indulgence in allowing me on this important occasion to put before politicians the fact that politics are mere phantoms unless they are directed first to the health of the people, which is of far greater importance than either votes or status.
§ Mr. E. T. CAMPBELL
The duty falls upon me, and it is a very pleasant one, of congratulating the hon. Member for Mile End (Dr. O'Donovan) on his very interesting speech. I have lived 21 years in the tropics and I cannot say that I have had all the complaints to which he 1178 has alluded. He did not mention one very important complaint, colonel's liver. Hon. Members who have made the journey to the East will have met colonels and majors who have been suffering from this complaint, and disagreeable fellows they were as a rule. There are some of them in this House, and, although they have never been to India, they have a liver. We have seen the White Paper for which we have looked with interest and listened to the speech of the Prime Minister, and I think that the majority of hon. Members are satisfied with the position. The Amendment, I hope, will not go to a Division. It cannot do the Movers any good, and it would certainly do a great deal of harm if it went to a vote. Many people in India and also in this country imagined that with the return of a National Government, whose principal supporters are Conservatives, that there would be a stop in the progress towards self-government in India. That is entirely untrue. Anyone who has been in the East will realise that the important thing for a Britisher is never to go back on his word; a promise that has been given must be fulfilled; and no one who calls himself a white man ever forgets that. He may not have wished to have said what he did, yet, having said it, he must stick to his word. I was never in favour of the Montagu-Chelmsford agreement of 1919, but the prime movers of the Amendment are the very people who agreed to the agreement of 1919.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Mr. CAMPBELL
No, not all of them; but I am referring to the prime mover, the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill). I hope the Amendment will not be carried, indeed that it will not go to the vote. In saying that it must be understood that I am very anxious that the safeguards should be agreed upon before any further steps are taken. The Prime Minister told us to-day that there was a great deal of agreement in regard to safeguards. That may be so, but we shall get on far better and far quicker when we know that there is entire agreement. I mean safeguards in regard to defence, the Army, and the Navy, which is sometimes forgotten when 1179 we are discussing India, the police, and the Indian Civil Service, which has done so much for India and upon which the future of India depends. Then there is the question of external relations and financial safeguards. In this connection I should like to suggest the following fundamental propositions which have already been before the Federal Structural Committee. First, that it is essential that the financial stability and credit of India should be maintained. Secondly, that the financial credit of any country rests in the last resort upon the confidence of the investor, actual and potential. Thirdly, that one result of the connection which has subsisted between India and the United Kingdom has been that her credit in the money markets of the world has hitherto been in practice closely bound up with British credit. And fourthly, that a change in her constitutional relations with the United Kingdom which involves a certain severance of the financial link between the United Kingdom and India would disturb confidence and so place the new Indian Government and Legislature at a grave disadvantage.
Then there is the question of commercial discrimination. We have to remember that a great deal of the prosperity of India is the result of the pioneer work of people from this country, most of them Scotch like myself, who have gone out and built railways, provided irrigation and started businesses; and they want to feel that these businesses are safe, that having invested their money in India they can be perfectly sure that whatever may happen as regards the Government of India their businesses will not be jeopardised. Let me now turn to the question of publicity and propaganda. I received a letter from a friend of mine who has just returned from India. He says:During my private visit to India last winter when in the course of my shooting expeditions I came in contact with hundreds of simple villagers in remote places. I was struck by the utter lack of propaganda to counter the insidious lies and distortions of the truth spread both orally and through the medium of the vernacular press by those who are evilly disposed towards British rule. I was frequently asked 'Sahib, is it true that the English are clearing out of India? Are they going to desert us poor folk and leave us to be oppressed by the Indian officials? If this is not true, then why do 1180 you Sahibs allow them to come amongst us and tell us such things?' That they were bewildered is beyond all doubt.I want to ask what is being done by the Secretary of State for India in regard to publicity? Many admirable measures have failed, both in this country and in India and in other parts of the world, for want of publicity, and because they have been intentionally or otherwise misunderstood. In India this aspect is very important, and it has been lamentably neglected. I want to make three suggestions. The first is to strengthen local provincial newspapers by making it cheaper to send Press telegrams within a local area of, say, 300 miles; secondly, to cancel the present multiple telegram concession. Thirdly, to register all agents and confine the privilege of sending messages at Press rates to duly registered agents, as is done in England.
Without a reliable Press, garbled accounts of all happenings are bound to spread, and those of us who have been in the East realise how quickly gossip does spread. I remember that when there was a mutiny in Singapore we heard of it in the Dutch East Indies almost before it had started. How the news spread we do not know to this day. But news spreads like wildfire, and my idea is that we should overtake it. As long as it is good news it is all to the good, but bad news and gossip spread generally a great deal faster than good news. The Prime Minister's declaration must convince our Indian friends of British good faith and sympathy. Let them remember, however, that only by their co-operation can they achieve any measure of self-government. The more restraint they show the sooner the Government of this country will be justified in giving them what they want. Let them remember that as long as violence and murder continue in India, so long will we in the House of Commons be compelled to vote against self-government, which many people in this country are anxious to see and to which all of us are committed at some time or other. In general I agree entirely with these proposals, but I think that we must be careful. I hope that my Indian friends, now that they are returning to India, will remember that if they can only lead their friends in India to behave as they themselves behave in this country, they will far sooner get the confidence of all 1181 people in this country than by carrying on as they have carried on in recent months in India.
§ Mr. HAMILTON KERR
I must crave the indulgence of the House as one who is still a novice in its time-honoured methods of procedure, and I must especially crave it on this occasion when so many right hon. and hon. Members, with very wide experience of Indian affairs, have lent weight and brilliance to the Debate. But, having the honour to represent one of the leading cotton spinning towns of Lancashire intimately connected with India, and having also had the interesting experience of travelling in several parts of that vast continent, I am urged to say a few words. I think we must welcome the Prime Minister's declaration that this country is proceeding towards the goal of the Federation of India. But I conceive the all-important factor to be the time factor. There is a great deal of misleading propaganda abroad to-day, especially in the United States. For I have heard some lecturers compare the Indian Swaraj movement to that of the American colonists in the eighteenth century who strove for liberty against the autocratic Government of Lord North. I think we can say, without casting any aspersions, that the shrewd independent colonists of the New England States were of a very different political and cultural mettle to the people whom we have to deal with in India to-day. They had inherited our democratic traditions; they were the descendants of those who had fought to overthrow the autocracy of the Stuarts. But in India democracy is as new to the soil as is the British race.
The Prime Minister referred to the Panshayat system among the Hindus, a system under which village elders discussed small and unimportant matters. But we can find no single instance throughout the history of India where democratic forms of Government have carried with them any measure of responsibility. Surely the one essential foundation—you might call it the central bastion of democracy—is the idea of the equality of the individual. But the whole philosophic and religious foundation which shapes Indian society is based on the inequality of the individual. The Code of Manu, devised during the second and third century of the Christian era, 1182 definitely crystallised Indian society into four grades. In all these various compartments, separated from each other by ancient traditions, prejudices, and social customs, we find that it is very difficult for democracy to take root. Because, if we look at India, it resembles almost a honeycomb, where each little particular section is divided from the others by walls of prejudice and ancient custom. Among the Brahmins I believe there are 800 sub-castes who may not even intermarry and much less dine amongst themselves.
To what, then, does the democratic movement in India owe its origin I believe that there are three fundamental and all important causes. The first is the Russo-Japanese war, when European prestige, founded on material predominance, suffered a severe blow. On the battlefields of Manchuria, where the Japanese gained the ascendancy, the East discovered that it could produce just as efficient armies, generals, and equipment as the West. Then I believe that the Treaty of Versailles, Which set the fashion throughout Europe for self-determination and caused the dismemberment of such nations as Austria and Hungary, and led to the creation of such anomalies as the Polish Corridor, opened sources of trouble which passed to the East. Lastly, and more intimately connected with Lancashire, we have had the decline in the price of silver which not only reduces the purchasing power of millions throughout India, but means a low price for their commodities. And in consequence of the poverty entailed, political agitation gains a lever.
We have to remain true to our English traditions, to the great tradition of trusteeship advocated by Burke in Mr. Fox's India Bill. We have always been true to those traditions in the past. Except for those few exceptional Nabobs, caricatured in the novels of Thackeray, who, rich in the plunder of the Indies, flaunted their wealth on flunkeys and magnificent carriages, we have loyally maintained our trust. We have, in the first place, stamped out the organised brigandage known as dacoity. We have removed the custom of female infanticide and Sutti, whereby a widow was forced to jump on to the funeral pyre of her husband. We have supplied bridges, and hospitals, and sanitation and good roads, 1183 and now we have come to the second phase of our obligations, and that is to devise a constitution which is suitable to the soil of India. We must not give a freedom which will destroy freedom: such a freedom as Tennyson describes in those famous lines of Locksley Hall 60 years after:Freedom, free to slay herself,And dying, while they shout her name.We must not give freedom to those people in India who will abuse the privilege. Let it be one of the foundations and principles which will guide us, that the material prosperity, liberty and security of the meanest individual shall in no way be prejudiced by any advance or concession which we give to the agitators. I believe that if we keep up to those principles we shall always retain a firm affection in the minds of the Indian masses.
There is an ancient tradition which has now strangely come true. Some 300 yards to the north of where the Viceroy's house, built by Sir Edwin Lutyens, now stands in New Delhi is the tomb of a Sikh prophet. He died just about the time when Clive, as a clerk in the service of the East India Company, came to Madras. He knew nothing of the English save as traders, working along the fringes of the coast. But he prophesied that the English would rule India from that very spot where the Viceroy's house stands. And when you enter the present Viceroy's house you see that the capitals of each column there are four stone bells. An ancient Indian tradition tells that the ringing of a bell in the palace of the Emperor announces the fall of his dynasty. But these bells, being of stone, will never ring. Thus I believe that we must keep before us these fundamental conceptions: firstly, that that India with its caste system is not yet ripe for democratic institutions because democracy demands the equality of the individual; and, secondly, that in any concessions we make, or in any advance that is made towards more representative institutions, we shall embody the ideal that not even the meanest person in the whole of India shall suffer at the hands of his superiors.
§ Miss RATHBONE
It is my pleasant duty to congratulate the hon. Member 1184 for Oldham (Mr. Kerr) on his maiden speech, which showed a great amount of research into a subject with which his constituency gives him a natural connection. I believe that even in this House of young men lie is one of the few young enough to be likely to see the full growth of that tree of which we are this year sowing the seeds in India. I am one of those who heaved a sigh of relief on reading the Prime Minister's statement, because I had feared that the Government might have been impelled by reactionary forces behind it to go back on the pledges given to the people of India. I do not under-rate the dangers and difficulties of the task which the Government have set themselves. There is no path which they could have chosen which is not encumbered every yard of the way with difficulties and dangers, but there is worse than danger—there is dishonour, whether of the cruder or the subtler kind. It would, indeed, have been a misfortune if the Government announcement to-day had given even the shadow of a possible excuse for the charge that they were keeping their promise to the ear, but breaking it to the sense. I do not see a word or line in the statement to give any shadow of plausibility to such an interpretation. But when there is ill-will, and lack of scruples, charges of bad faith can be spun out of thin air. What matters is what proportion of the people of India are likely to believe such charges.
My object in rising is to speak of a certain factor in Indian conditions which seems to me likely to affect vitally the chances of securing that atmosphere of good will without which no Government can work successfully. In India, as in every country, the root cause of discontent is poverty. National pride and in some cases personal ambition may have produced the nationalist leaders of India but their power to kindle the great mass of Indian peasants, those illiterate villagers who for generations have endured so much, so patiently—to kindle them not only into nationalism but into revolution—is due to the desperate poverty, to the pitiful ill-health of the people. And, because that is so, the power of the purse—words which have, I am afraid, an ugly sound—may, I believe, be a beneficent and healing power, if wisely and generously used.
1185 Those who have talked much with Indians—whether obscure or prominent Indians—must have noticed how incessantly they harp on the argument that India is held down and kept back by the burden of keeping up an Army and a civil administration with a standard of pay out of all proportion to that of their own people. That view may he exaggerated. It may be made the excuse for things which are due to quite other causes, but, at least, justification can be found in many official statements for the view that at any rate a part of the cost of the Indian Army might rightly be contributed to by Great Britain or the Empire as a whole.
For example, we have the statement in the Simon. Report that the North West Frontier is not merely the frontier of India but is an international frontier of the first importance from the military point of view to the whole Empire. Again I notice that my colleague in the representation of the combined English Universities (Sir R. Craddock) in a very able maiden speech made the plea that it ought not to be necessary to reduce the pay of the Indian Civil Service because the wealthy classes in India were taxed so lightly. Might not that argument be applied with even greater cogency to the starvation of the social services. Starvation is perhaps the wrong metaphor in that connection because you cannot starve what has never drawn breath. In a large proportion of the Indian villages in which the great majority of the people of India live the social services except for some insufficient schools are practically non-existent. It is hard for English people to realise what that means.
This House is full of new Members many of whom in their elections paid little attention to the question of India. They now find themselves Members of a House to which, technically and constitutionally at least, is committed a final decision on India's destiny. May I suggest to those new Members a simple experiment which may bring home to them the answer to the question: Why is there discontent in India? Let them take any of the books which deal with the life of the masses of the Indian people—not books written by politicians or tourists but any of the recent Blue Books, such as the Linlithgow Report on Agriculture, 1186 or the Whitley Report on Labour, or the Joshi Report on Child Marriage—though the last needs strong nerves on the part of the reader. Let them try to visualise the kind of life which is indicated by the dry facts in those documents. They may find it hard, because not to many is the faculty given to visualise life from figures. To those who have that rare and uncomfortable faculty it often seems that a single line of vital statistics, an average or a percentage, contains more tragedy, more sobstuff, more cause for tears than all the tragedies of Shakespeare and Aeschylus.
Let us take just one or two crumbs at random from these reports. Let us take the fact that the average life of an Indian is 25 years, as against 54 for an Englishman, that they have a death-rate of from 30 to 35 per thousand, that in the area of Ahmedabad—the area occupied by the working classes.…presents a terrible picture of squalor."—I am quoting from the Whitley Report—Nearly 92 per cent. of the houses are one roomed; they are badly built, insanitary, ill-ventilated, and over-crowded,etc. Even in the large towns few sick people, even those fatally ill, ever see a doctor, and certificates of death are usually guesswork, given by a non-medical registrar. When one imagines what life under those conditions means, can one wonder that the minds of the Indian peasant are like dry tinder, on which one spark may raise a conflagration, and I suggest to the last speaker that in that abject poverty and ill health, rather than the interesting historical facts of which he reminded us, may be found the root causes of India's discontent. Therefore, when those committees are set up to consider the financial and defence problems of India, I trust that they may find it possible to devise such arrangements as will cause some relief from the burden of defence, of the Army, and of civil administration, so as to make it possible to quicken the terribly slow pace of social reform, in education, in health, in agriculture, and, above all, in the conditions of marriage and maternity. All thoughtful and progressive minds in India are agreed in the desire to quicken the pace of those reforms which are held back by the problem of finance.
1187 But there are, behind the progressive politicians, reactionary forces of which we bear comparatively little. There was a speech made a few days ago at the Round Table Conference, unreported so far as I saw in any paper. I had my attention drawn to it by an English woman journalist. It was a speech by the Maharaja of Darbhanga, and it affected me, I must say, rather like the faint premonitory rumblings of an earthquake or a thunderstorm in a tropical country. I will read a single passage from it:The tendency of Indian Legislatures has of late been to dabble with problems of social reform adversely affecting the religious ideas and traditions of the Hindu community at large. Religious matters or social reforms should not be allowed to come within the purview of Legislatures. These questions should not be allowed to come before the Legislatures but should be left alone to the leaders of the community or to the care of time and the advance of society in the line of reform by itself. Any such step is regarded as unauthorised and wounds the feelings of those who hold their religious traditions in sacred esteem.That may be a view which is much less heard of than the view of progressive politicians in India, but there is a real danger that the time may come when, in a reaction against Western culture, that view may become effective in India unless it is carefully guarded against in the future Constitution. I am told that the Maharaja of Darbhanga is a young man of 23 years of age, very wealthy, the owner of many palaces, and the leader of one of the strictest sects of orthodox Brahmins.
Let me say something which I am sure the authorities of the Round Table Conference were too tactful to say, and that perhaps can only be safely said by a mere back-bencher and free lance, like myself. So far as this constitutional change goes, I believe and hope that in a very short time, a few years at most, India will become a free and equal partner in the British Commonwealth of Nations. But real equality cannot be brought about by law-makers. It is a thing of the spirit. Until the working classes of India are set free, not only politically but economically, until they have secured education and all the other conditions of healthy and self-sufficient life, India will be like a cripple with only one arm. And until the women of 1188 India are set free in fact, and not only in theory, and until they have been able to emancipate themselves from the cruel customs which have weighed on them so long, India will be like a man with one leg, and in the councils of the world India may be accorded a position of complete equality of constitution, but, if she obeys the advice of the Maharaja of Darbhanga, there will always be those who when this claim of equality is made will wear the smile of people who say very little, but who think a great deal.
I suppose I have got more Indian constituents than any other Member of this House, except other University Members, and nearly all my Indian constituents are men, but I must confess that in what I have been saying I have been thinking mostly of the women of India. In all recent committees and conferences on Indian affairs, unstinted tribute has been paid to Indian women:The Indian woman"—says the Simon Report,is pivotal.… the whole texture and strength of the national life are largely dependent on the contribution which women make to it.I make no charge of deliberate neglect of women, either by the British or Indians in India, but we all know that in every Legislature and Administration in the world those who get their needs attended to are those who are strongly organised, articulate, skilled in putting forward their own claims. The women of India are far more out of sight than the women of this country. They have, it is true, their organised women's movement, which is splendidly active and vigorous in proportion to its size. They have eloquent leaders. We have all heard of the part that the women of India have taken recently in the non-cooperation movement, brought into it often by a genuine impulse of patriotism, whether wisely or ill-guided. But we cannot ignore the fact that, judged by every test that can be applied, the poverty, and the illiteracy, and the ill-health of India, which weigh heavily on the men, weigh far more heavily on the women, and with more disastrous results. That is due to causes which it would be inappropriate to discuss here, but they all point to this, that if it is to be possible for the women of India not only 1189 to secure attention to their own most urgent needs, but to fulfil their natural functions as the guardians of the domestic and social life of the nation, they must be enabled to take their full share in the framing and working of their own future constitution.
I will ask the Prime Minister to tell us whether in those committees that are going to be set up, those small working committees that are to get down to business, there will be the women represented as well as the men. It is not for British women to dictate to Indian women as to how they shall use the power so entrusted to them. They must fulfil their own destiny. But British women cannot forget that they too have a responsibility, indeed a double responsibility, first, because ours is the oldest and strongest women's movement in the world, and we feel we must share with others the experience which we have gained in that movement, and, secondly, because as British citizens we realize that, rightly or wrongly, whatever the future may be, British domination has been; and if there is much in the present social conditions of India, now that we are about to hand it over, of which Indians themselves feel a kind of shame, so that they are reluctant to have alien eyes fixed upon it, they ought to remember that it is our shame as well as theirs, and because that is so, we cannot divest ourselves of our sense of responsibility. Many of us recognise that there is much more that might have been done in the past to remedy the conditions of life which we all now deplore in India if there had been greater knowledge and sympathy between the two peoples.
Now perhaps the last service we can render to India is to see that we hand over the estate to those who will manage it in future in as good a condition as possible, and, above all, to see that we hand it over to the guardianship of those who shall be really representative of the people of India, not a narrow oligarchy of class or caste or sex, not that thing which is sometimes even more oppressive than an oligarchy, a democracy so ill-organised, blind and unwieldy that it is like a bull with a ring through its nose to be led about by anyone who can get hold of the cord. The Lord Chancellor has reminded us of the need for patience.
1190 Patience there must be, but it must be the patience of those who will neglect nothing that is necessary to achieve a perfect result, but will never lose an unnecessary minute of time, because they are driven on by the compelling consciousness that there are in India millions of the population who are badly fed, badly housed, overworked and oppressed by old, cruel customs. Only when the political question is settled will those who care for the real India be free to turn their attention to those ends to which constitution making is only the means, that of bringing about conditions in India which will secure the happiness and prosperity of the whole people, the common people, of India.
§ Sir R. CRADDOCK
The hon. Member who has just spoken, who shares with me the representation of the English Universities, is extraordinarily optimistic as to what will be the consequence if we grant constitutional reform. She apparently blames the British raj because the millennium has not already been introduced and because there are no social reforms. While the provincial revenues represent only 7s. per head per annum, how can anyone organise modern social services such as we have in England for a population of 350,000,000? I cannot help feeling that some of the speeches recently delivered, interesting, sincere and enthusiastic as they were, departed from the realities of the situation. It is said about me that I am a back number and a reactionary. One Indian paper said:Sir Reginald Craddock having now emerged from his well-deserved obscurity ….It might have said "rest," but it did not. The same paper, referring to myself and some other old administrators of India, said:Of course, fossils of this kind carry no weight.Then it went on to say a little more, but I was comforted by the final sentence, which said:But we must watch these dangerous fossils.If you are a fossil, it is rather a satisfaction to be thought a dangerous one. The Indian problem has become—I emphasise the words "has become"—the most difficult one that any nation has ever been called upon to solve. It has 1191 become so during the last 14 years. Before that time we had our difficulties, we had anarchical conspiracies and rebellions on a scale which was small for a country of that size, and how can you expect that there shall not be some disturbances of that nature? We had famines and pestilences, and the brave way in which the poor people bore themselves and endured them cannot be too highly commended. I do not share the opinion of the hon. Lady who spoke last that these people are irretrievably and hopelessly unhappy and are thereby ripe for mischief directly the instigator comes along. I think there can be few people who have talked to the villagers of so many villages as I have. I have reckoned it up, and in the 27 years that I was in the Central Provinces I discoursed with the people on the spot in 7,000 odd villages.
Although I may be considered out of date, I am bound to say that that is not the opinion held by a great many Indians. I do not like saying these things about myself, but I must defend myself against this charge of being a reactionary. Only four years ago, just before the personnel of the Statutory Commission had been decided upon, I had a latter from a friend of mine, a Brahmin and an ex-President of the National Congress. I had not heard from him for a great many years, and I was not even sure that he was alive. I had a very friendly letter from him reminding me of our old contests in the Legislative Council, and he ended his letter by saying:If the Statutory Commission is appointed, there will be no one whose appointment on it will give me greater pleasure than yours.That was a bit of testimony to one who is called a reactionary. He was not a reactionary; he had only recently been President of the National Congress, and he had opposed the Government nearly all his life. Since I had the honour of being elected to this Parliament, I had another letter, which came only by the last mail. The gentleman who wrote it had served on both the central and provincial legislatures, and has been a stout opponent of the Government. He said:The absolute accuracy of your facts and the knowledge of our country make me delighted that you have been elected to Parliament.1192 and he added that all Indians not infected with the Gandhi Congress microbe would be as glad as he was. I am only quoting this because I am defending myself against a charge. If I thought that self-government in India could possibly work to the happiness of the people there, I should be only too delighted to assent to it at once. It is because I feel that a great deal of all this well-meant talk, though sincere, is only talk, and that the granting prematurely of any system of self-government in India would be disastrous, that I have been anxious to curb and check as far as one man can by his advice the movements in that direction.
I consider that Mr. Montagu's announcement in 1917 was a most unfortunate one. It may be that it is correct to hold it as a pledge. I do not object to pledges at all if they can be fulfilled. The pledge to give to the Indians an increasing association with every branch of the administration was not only due to them, but even overdue, but when it comes to saying that a pledge was made to give India responsible government, I object, because I do not like giving pledges about things which it is impossible to fulfil. The reason why that is impossible of fulfilment is not through any ill-will on our part, but simply because all we can give them in fulfilment of that pledge is a paper constitution which may bear the name "Democracy," "Responsible Government," or whatever you will, but will, in effect, be a complete sham throughout the country. It will not give them democracy or responsible government. It will give them bondage and an oligarchy of men from whom we have been so long protected.
We have allowed India to get out of hand; and I must say that I think it is absolutely true that the major part of the trouble has arisen in England and not in India; the fact being that a great many well-meaning people who know very little about the country, who do not perceive what the situation is, who do not understand the meaning of some of these movements, have given encouragement to movements which have only ended in disappointment and, indeed, in danger. So far as this declaration of the Round Table Conference goes, it is hedged round with distinction after distinction, with qualification after qualification, all sound, no doubt, but all capable of being argued in different ways. One person will argue 1193 one way, and another in another, and in the end we shall find that we have been committed to things which we do not anticipate.
I wish to point out how the development of these movements has come about. The Montagu pledge, such as it was, had no time limit. It never suggested that responsible Government could be obtained in so short a time. Indeed, as the hon. and learned Member far Swindon (Sir R. Mitchell Banks) has pointed out, the Act laid down clearly the conditions under which any further advance should be made, but in the talks at the Round Table Conference those conditions appear to have been lost sight of. We are told that we are pledged to responsible government, both at the centre and in the provinceswith such provisions as may be necessary to guarantee during a period of transition the observance of certain obligations and to meet other special circumstances, and also with such guarantees as are required by minorities to protect their political liberties and rights.Those were qualified also.In such statutory safeguards as may be made for meeting the needs of the transitional period, it will be a primary concern of His Majesty's Government to see that the reserved powers are so framed and exercised as not to prejudice the advance of India through the new constitution to full responsibility for her own government.All these qualifications will admit of being interpreted differently. It will be said when you put on your usually reserved powers, "But this interferes with the progress of India; this is contrary to what you said about not prejudicing the advance of India." The transition period, too, is a very difficult matter. It can be a subject of argument. After a year or two they may say, "The transition period is over,"—or it may be five, 10, 15 or 20 years, or five generations. Safeguards for a transition period are always difficult to define, and very difficult to uphold.
When we examine the events of the last three years it will be found that there has been a great landslide from the position we took up a short time ago. In 1927 the Statutory Commission was appointed and went out. Then the trouble began. It seems slight to them now, and it did not seem much to us then, but it was a serious trouble. The chosen delegates of a sovereign Parlia- 1194 ment were treated with contumely and insult. That contumely and insult should have been better restrained by the measures taken by the authorities. It may seem nothing to us in this country, but even here I do not think we should like the delegates of Parliament to be treated with contumely and insult in any place to which they had been sent. In India the effect was very marked. It was not the people—they did not know what it was about. A barber in Calcutta, when asked why his shop was closed, said, "I do not know. They keep on saying 'Simon, Simon,' but who Simon is God only knows. All I know is I have last two or three days' earnings." The truth is that those people are so ignorant that they can be moved by inflammatory statements and by intimidation such as would affect no self-respecting men in England. There is a good deal of "popular clamour" which has no substance in fact.
We are told that we must give responsible government at the centre, provincial autonomy and all these new things, but as a matter of fact we should not be breaking any pledge if we found that it was impossible to give them. An attempt is being made to persuade the English people that we are constantly breaking our pledges. We are an easygoing people, and, when we hear that, we pick up our ears at once, and, without waiting to see whether we have broken a pledge or not, we say: "We have broken a pledge; we must not break a pledge; we must not do this or that." That is what those who accuse us of breaking pledges are guilty of. John Bull, honest, straightforward John Bull, is no match for Brahmini bull. When it comes to dealing with the subtle wits and clever machinations of the National Congress, that little Soviet which has been set up in India, a handful of men, mostly Brahmins and Baniyas—the Baniyas are the class that lends money and the Brahmins are the priestly class—our honest negotiators and talkers have no more chance than Adam and Eve had with the serpent. There was an apple in this case also.
The apple of discord was thrown among the people of India by Mr. Montagu. Up to that time there was no difficulty whatever in governing the country—none at all. We had our 1195 troubles, as I have said, but Hindu and Moslem lived peaceably together as neighbours. Now and then they had a row, or riot, but those were local, and there were none of these bloodthirsty pogroms which have been happening since. These people felt that at all events they were being governed impartially, they were perfectly happy and they did not at that time want any change. But when this apple of discord was thrown in, then it became an entirely different question. From that moment the question was: If the British are not going to govern us, then who is going to govern us? That question has separated the peoples of India ever since Mr. Montagu, no doubt with the best intentions, threw in that apple of discord. Then there has come the Round Table Conference. I have great respect for the people who belong to it for many of them are my friends, but they have talked and I do not know that very much has resulted from that talk. One of them who left the other day said to me: "The more we are together, the further apart we grow." Another said to me: "How can we get any further as long as the British Government are only bent on placating implacable enemies?" I cannot help feeling that the Prime Minister, when he gets really old, will perhaps, looking back on the Round Table Conference, quote that quantrain of Omar Khayyam:Myself when young did eagerly frequent Doctor and saint, and heard great argument.About it, and about, but evermore came out,By the same door that in I went.During the last three or four years the administration of the law has been miserably and lamentably weak. What has it been done for, and why was all this weakness permitted? Why now do we depart from our proposals? They said to us, "If you would only say 'Dominion status' all would he well." We said Dominion status, and then there was the civil disobedience, and all was not well. They said, "A round table conference will put all matters right." You have had the Round Table Conference and we are still in the same position. Anyhow, it did not pacify them. Now they have said, "We are not content with provincial autonomy; we must have 1196 responsibility in the centre." Finally, now they say, "We do not want provincial autonomy unless you give us responsibility in the centre." We have therefore reached a deadlock. All this loss of prestige, if you like to call it so—and I believe in the word "prestige," because it means being held in honour—was borne with and submitted to in the vain hope of placating the National Congress and of inducing Mr. Gandhi to come to London. Mr. Gandhi has come to London and I ask, Was it worth all those things that have gone on during the last two or three years? Was it worth the deaths of so many people who would have been alive but for the feebleness in enforcing the law? Was it worth the millions of damage and loss of revenue? Was it worth those insults to the British flag which passed by unnoticed—the Union Jack being trampled in the mud while the police dare not intervene? Was it worth all those things?
As to Mr. Gandhi, I do not wish to probe into the sincerity of any man by looking into his mind, for no one can do that. All I do say is that he has tried to fill a most difficult role. I think the House will agree that it is very difficult for a politician to be a professional saint. I wonder whether it is not even more difficult for a saint to be a politician? This House will know something more about those difficulties than I, a new Member, can possibly know, but, at all events, Mr. Gandhi adopted both these roles. It is impossible to say whether he came here as a saint or politician. He was a sort of benevolent Dr. Jekyll one day and a fierce and almost malignant political Mr. Hyde the next. On alternate days he explained away what he had said the clay before. He is a perfect master of subtlety, and has a greater passion for inconsistency than any other man I have ever met or heard of. With his alternate fluctuations over six days there was one day left, and that was his day of silence, when no one on earth knew whether he was Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde.
This matter is a very serious one indeed. There are many hon. Members in this House who think they are really doing what they ought to do, and what 1197 British men should do, in conceding all these points to the people of India. My contention is that the pledge we gave was not to one section of India, but to the whole people of India. What did you do? You promised responsible government. What is the meaning of responsible government? I take it to mean democratic government. From all we have heard to-night that is the meaning that is attached to it. Now democracy in India is an absolute impossibility until the Hindu religion has absolutely disappeared from the land. Such a thing is incomprehensible and incredible. That religion has stood for 30 or 40 centuries. It has many blemishes on it, but in many respects it is a very fine religion, and it induces people to perform certain duties. His religion is the finest discipline to which any Indian is subject, and you simply cannot abolish the Hindu religion in the hope of introducing democracy. The Hindu religion is the complete antithesis of democracy, and when a Brahmin or any other high caste says he is an advocate of democracy, you really cannot attribute sincerity to him.
Why is it that the Brahmins and the high caste Hindus are the only people who say, "Let us have no communal electorates for us. All we want are general elections. We want democracy"? Do you suppose these Brahmins and high caste Hindus want to be governed by the poor low-caste people and by the depressed classes? It is incredible and impossible. Hon. Members may perhaps not have heard that after hearing what was said at the Round Table Conference several of the high-caste Hindus met in the Madras Presidency and said that if they were going to have Swaraj they would be able to put further restrictions and chains on the depressed classes. One of the things they laid down was that those people should not be allowed to wear any garments above the waist. It is sheer mockery to suppose that the depressed classes will be looked after by the higher castes. I do not say there are not some sincere men of high caste who consider untouchability wrong, because some of them have passed a resolution saying they would abolish untouchability. How can you abolish it by resolutions on paper? This House might as well say, "We will abolish all 1198 betting and gambling in England," and then go on to say, "Now we have become a really moral nation, for we have abolished betting by resolution, and no more betting and gambling can take place." That is the kind of value that attaches to a resolution of the description I have mentioned. That has no binding effect at all, and it would be no use to protect the untouchables from being ill-treated because you cannot do it. You cannot accomplish that end by safeguards; it can be done only by changing the feeling which exists among the people themselves. I remember in 1924, when I was in India as a member of the Lee Commission, we heard witness after witness tell us of those out-of-the-way courts where the Brahmin judge or magistrate would not let the untouchable witness come into the court at all, and he had to stand outside the court and be examined by message. Of course in the larger towns, where there was more supervision and publicity, they could not carry out those restrictions.
The House must remember that this untouchability is really part of a religious faith, and it is supposed that a man is born an untouchable because of his sins in a previous life. If you reason with the Brahmin and say, "It is disgraceful that you do not associate with this man because he is an untouchable," he will reply, "How can I associate with him. He has been born into that state of life, and I cannot interfere with the discipline and decrees of Providence. It is not up to me to interfere with the decrees of Providence." That is the basis upon which untouchability exists, and you cannot alter their religion or interfere with customs of that kind merely by promulgating a Resolution. In these circumstances, people cannot help having a certain amount of affection for these people and sympathise with them in their simple life. The people of India number about 350,000,000, or one-fifth of the population of the world, and they provide material for 20 or 30 nations. When we speak of not giving responsibility at the centre it is not a technical manoeuvre, but we have to recognise that there are these nations. They have only come together by the cement of British rule, and without if they will fall apart again.
1199 You may claim that the Bengali has an inherent right to govern Bengal. The same would apply to the Madrasi. In all these cases the people belong to their own country. If they ask for provincial autonomy, then they are asking for something which is more reasonable, but, if they ask for power to govern at Delhi, that is another question, and you might as well argue that the inhabitants of Portugal have a right to govern Latvia. The Portuguese have not the same right to govern Latvia as they have to govern their own country. In this way, the whole question of responsibility at the centre is seen to be on a different plane. In regard to provincial autonomy, the Statutory Commission recommended that law and order should be transferred. That sounds eminently reasonable, but until you know how this is going to work you cannot tell whether it is going to be dangerous or not. Anyone who has studied the system in India will agree that the transfer of law and order is an extremely dangerous thing. The Statutory Commission only recommended it with great hesitation and reluctance, and they did so because they did not recommend responsibility at the centre. Hon. Members cannot understand this question unless they have been in India and have studied the thing on the spot. I am afraid that what is going to be done will break up the services altogether, because they will not be there. What sort of police will there be? How on earth can the police serve the provincial Government if it is controlled by the kind of people who are running the Congress? To whom are they to be loyal, the Viceroy, the British people or the Government under which they serve, that is, the provincial Government? These propositions do not appear to have entered into the minds of many of those who, quite honestly, are advocating reforms in India.
We are always being told that nationality is irresistible. That seems to be the point of which Lord Irwin has been persuaded. I yield to no one in my respect for Lord Irwin, but I think he made profound psychological errors, and he exemplified the truth of the old Indian saying, "It is always darkest under the lamp." In Delhi, the Viceregal Court has its attractions, and the 1200 tendency, as I know from having been in Simla, always to say "I respectfully agree with your Excellency," is very strong. It is merely human nature. I am not accusing these men of anything in the nature of failure to do their duty; there are Vicars of Bray, after all, in every community; but the real trouble about the Council, the Secretariats and so on in India, has been of late years that the men who have gone there, having been taken away early from the Provinces, have got one appointment after another in Simla, instead of the salutary rule being followed that, when a man had been at headquarters at Simla or Delhi for three years, he went back to refresh his mind in the district or the division. Now you have men there at Simla and Delhi who know no more about the country in general than the people at the India Office. I am not insulting the people at the India Office in saying that; I am merely pointing out that they live in Whitehall, and are always dealing with papers and documents, and, if you go on dealing only with documents, and not seeing the real life that is behind them, you are very probably living in an imaginary world.
That is the position. An enthusiastic, high-minded Viceroy goes out; he is persuaded by the people around him; he is overborne by the atmosphere of Simla and Delhi; and, after having been there for two or three years, he thinks that India is the Legislative Assembly, and the Legislative Assembly is India. Having got those two facts before him, the man in the district or in the Province, and all the things that are going on there, become dim and far away and cannot be seen. In that way the whole administration grows weaker and less in touch with what is really going on. The ordinary law was not enforced as it should have been. There is a law of sedition in India, and it provides for the punishment of people who hold up the Government, as constituted by law in British India, to contempt and hatred. That law has been deliberately allowed to remain in abeyance for three years, and the result has been the bloodshed, rioting, and all those events which have been the natural consequence of not restraining the Press.
Anarchists are made by this Press. I have had to deal with anarchy. I was 1201 dealing with it for many years, and I know the effect that the Press has had when it has not been restrained. The Press has invoked the Goddess Kali, to whom goats are sacrificed, and has said that the time has come to sacrifice "the white goats," namely, the British. That was the invocation on which these young men were worked up. It was infinitely sad that men of so much promise should be worked up by cunning people into that state of exaltation and emotion in which they became murderers. I know that the Press has been responsible for that. How do I know it? I know it from the lips of the anarchists themselves. One after another these boys in the Andamans have said to me, "What put us astray were these papers." They mentioned the names of the papers—[Interruption.] It was much worse than the "Daily Express" or the "Daily Mail." I have never known the "Daily Mail" to encourage assassination. If hon. Members opposite knew these papers, or read them in translation, as I did for years, they would know what I mean. The "Daily Mail" certainly has never written anything which would cause people to commit murder or political dacoities. After all, a movement must be poorly supported if it is necessary to commit daeoity and robbery in order to keep its funds going.
I do not care what people may say who have no acquaintance with the country, but a Press Act is always necessary in India, because evil may he done by the Press which it is impossible in any other way to restrain. The mind of the public in England, the storehouse of British opinion, contains asbestos and a few damp squibs; but the storehouse of the public mind in India is crammed with petrol and high explosives, and obviously different rules about naked lights are necessary in India from those which are sufficient here. It was the neglect to restrain the Press in India that brought all the other evils in its train. The dire consequences that have followed have been the direct result of weakness in administering the ordinary law. Only once during my 40 years of service have I had to put into force a special Act or special repressive measure. I do not want repressive measures but I do know that, if you enforce the ordinary law as it should be 1202 enforced, the need for the repressive measure very seldom arises.
I want to make an appeal to hon. Members not to be hurried in their action into doing things which may have disastrous consequences hereafter. It is easy for anyone to be liberal and magnanimous, and to ignore the fact that other people are going to suffer when we have made a magnificent gesture. I do not know whether hon. Members recollect the story of the boy scout who went to bed having forgotten to do his good turn for the day. He got up and gave his white mouse to the cat. That parable has an application to what I am asking hon. Members to bear in mind. I ask them not to make magnificent gestures to the cat at the expense of the mouse. You may make a magnificent gesture of liberality to certain small sections of tee public, but that may mean death to someone else. I ask this House to consider well and carefully before it decides that all these things, like provincial autonomy, responsibility at the centre, and so on, are just light things to be given away, and not to give them away without reflection as to the terrible consequences of disorder, chaos and suffering which they may entail.
Having lived for some years in India, I thought possibly at one time I might have something of value to contribute to the Debate. Now, having found the number of Members who have spent their lives in the service of India, I feel rather diffident about following the last speaker. He seemed to me to introduce a breath of realism after the somewhat sentimental but delightful suggestions made by the hon. Lady below me. No doubt they balance each other in the representation of the Combined Universities. It was rather indiscreet of the hon. Lady to refer to India from the point of view, as it seemed to me, of the student's room in her university. She said the lack of social services in India was the fault of the finance of India, and also that there was a lack of knowledge and sympathy on the part of those who administer the country. From my small experience, that is not so. The real interference with the development of the social services is the caste system, and a priestly caste system at that. We all know that, where the urine of that sacred animal the cow is 1203 regarded as a panacea for many diseases, social services cannot progress as we should like. You cannot remove the caste system and you cannot remove the priestly system, and that is your greatest obstacle to bringing the social services up to the level at which we should like to see them.
§ Miss RATHBONE
I said nothing about lack of knowledge and sympathy among the English now in India. I said had we known as much in the early years of our rule in India as we know now we should be able to render greater service.
I do not wish to enter into an argument with the hon. Lady. Perhaps her recollection is better than mine. I should like to make one or two remarks about the Prime Minister in regard to the White Paper. I think everyone in the House must admire and applaud the right hon. Gentleman for the amazing tact, skill, pertinacity and ingenuity that he brought into the negotiations at the Round Table Conference. That he has failed—and he has failed—is no fault of his. I think we should all pay him that great tribute, for no man could have done more, and no man feels the fact of his failure more than he does. He did not realise perhaps, not having an intimate knowledge of India, that at the very bottom of his initial difficulty was the inherent communal question and, until you have solved that, you cannot, as the last speaker said, bring together these divergent interests into a common community with any regard for the interests of a common people. It is no good expecting the Moslem lion to lie down with the Hindu lamb, especially when the lion knows that he is stronger and especially when he is in a minority, and that is one of the reasons why I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman not to try to press a constitution on the lion. The Mussulman is our friend in India. The Mussulman knows his master, and he knows an honest man, and he has found them both in the Civil Service and the police service and in the officers in the Indian Army. If anything is to be got out of this Round Table Conference, it must be by the will of the people taking part in the Conference, and the mere suggestion that the Prime 1204 Minister has made that this Parliament might evolve and devise a constitution for the Indian people and force it on them by law would be one of the most fatal things for the future peace of India that we can visualise.
There is one point that I should like to bring to the attention of the House—the only point that we can consider now. Are there any advantages to be gained out of having failed? In my belief there are, if the Prime Minister had succeeded in bringing about, in this peaceable, persuasive atmosphere of London, some sort of agreement, would not the great chance have been that, when the agreement was taken home to India, the same result would have happened as happened in Ireland when De Valera broke off the Treaty brought back by Collins And refused to acknowledge it? We know what has happened in the past, and I suggest that the Prime Minister, had he succeeded in making a settlement, might have incurred more odium and brought more dislike and hostility towards the British people than we can ever incur through failure. At any rate, the onus of that failure is on the Hindu and the Mussulman. It is on the people who constituted this Round Table Conference, and, therefore, we, as British people, can say we offered all our help, we offered all our suggestions, we made every contribution and every effort to bring about, through the mouth of our Prime Minister, a solution, and it is you who have failed to come to a solution, and, therefore, our hands are free and we can hold up our heads, as we have always been able to do in India.
There is another thing that we are disquieted about, and that is the Prime Minister's statement that autonomy cannot be started in the provinces. I believe it would be one of the best things that could happen for the future government of India if autonomy could be started in the provincial centres. The Indian will have gained experience without that experience costing India or ourselves too much. Everyone who has been in India and has read the reports of the Round Table Conference, and watched the reports coming home from India, knows that the mill owners and big landowners want to have autonomy at the centre. They want to have authority at the 1205 centre. Naturally, it means authority over the military, over foreign policy, and, above all, over fiscal policy. If they get tariffs, they know that it means wealth for them. They are too shortsighted to see that in a few years time, having got this authority at the centre, having got this complete control, they would have the people coming down from the hills and their ill-gotten wealth would not be left to them for very long.
We have not to consider the mill owners, but the people of India, those vast unvocal millions, the peasants, that so few visitors, even visiting Royal Commissions, see. They want the security of knowing that their interests are being looked after by their judge, their counsel, their father and their mother, and that is the District Officer or the British Commissioner, as the case may be. They know they will get justice from him. They are by no means certain that they will get it from any Brahmin or Indian who may be set in power over them. There are too many of these young men who have come over here and got a superficial education but have not absorbed the tradition of government. They have not absorbed the real traditions of our Britishers during centuries of development of intelligence. They go back to India, and the only benefit they have received is a glib tongue and a superficial knowledge of politics and policy. They harangue these peasants of the towns and cities, and these poor people are taught to believe that they are going to get everything they enjoy under Great Britain plus this illusory self-government.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for India will bear all those matters in mind, and will not, perhaps, be led away too much by promising too much. In the future consideration that will be given by those committees set up in India and by the consultative committee to which the Prime Minister referred, I wonder how they will conflict with the Viceroy's powers. Will there be any confliction with, or any diminution in, the powers of the Viceroy through the setting up of the consultative committee? Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will make mention of that matter when he replies. I hope that these committees, when they are taking this matter into 1206 further consideration, will utilise their efforts and their opportunities in getting autonomy started in the Provinces. I feel sure that there is no future for India at all if authority in the centre and autonomy in the Provinces are to be started at the same time. The hon. Member for the English Universities (Sir R. Craddock) has made it clear in a lucid, logical and intelligible manner what actually would be the position if authority at the centre were started to-day. It is impossible. Everyone who knows India knows that it is impossible. Let the Indians see that we mean what we promise them. Give it them, if you like, by force—though I dislike the word—in the Provinces. Let them see the difficulties of administering the Provinces, and then they will not perhaps be so urgently clamouring for the full authority at the centre.
I wish to say a word or two in regard to Mr. Gandhi, whom I am very glad to have had the opportunity of seeing over here. We have seen him, and known him and heard him. I will not say any more about that. He made a claim for control of the army the other day. Could anything be more absurd than claiming control of an army which one day very soon may have to control him? I think that that sort of speech was a dangerous speech to make in this country, and far more dangerous for the people of India to read. Or possibly it is a good thing, because it will make them see exactly what may take place.
In conclusion, I want to refer to the question of Indianisation, which, I hope, will be pushed on in the services which are suited to it, and retarded in those services where Indianisation is not suitable. The point we have to consider is not the few but the many. We have to consider the vast millions of people of India who have to live their lives under bad or good government. Bad government and bad administration can be developed too rapidly in the Indianisation of Indian services. We want to do the best for the people, and to get the best Government and the best administration. That can only be done by walking slowly and gradually, and with the permeating influence of British officials, and by keeping the British administration behind as strong as possible.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for INDIA (Sir Samuel Hoare)
A new Parliament unlike all its predecessors has been gathered together. The unprecedented size of the majority is the outward expression of the national demand for action. Just as in some countries that are used to dictatorships the demand for action has shown itself in Fascism and Bolshevism, so here with our Parliamentary traditions it has taken the form of a great Parliamentary majority. To-day this House of Commons is probably the most omnipotent political body anywhere in the world. May I ask it resolutely, calmly, and dispassionately to consider one of the gravest questions with which we shall be faced during the years of our existence? A decision upon Indian policy cannot be avoided. Will it or will it not succeed in building a new bridge between England and India in friendly partnership and mutual understanding? It has often been said that the House of Commons takes little interest in Indian affairs. I hope that that charge will not be justified against this House of Commons. Certainly, if to-day's Debate is significant of the future, I think that we may say that, we have among us many new Members whose contributions to our Indian Debates should be of great service.
To-day we have had three interesting maiden speeches from hon. Members who spoke with first-hand knowledge of Indian problems, the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Upton (Mr. Chotzner), the speech of the hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Kirkpatrick), and the speech of the hon. Member for Mile End (Dr. O'Donovan). Then there was the speech of my hon. Friend the junior Member for the English Universities (Sir R. Craddock). It was not his maiden speech, and therefore I cannot congratulate him upon making a maiden speech, for I had that pleasure only a few days ago. It was a very informative speech. Indeed, it was almost omniscient. I was very glad of that. It is something to have in this House someone who knows all about India when as he told us just now that the Secretary of State and the India Office know nothing about it at all! Perhaps he will pardon me for saying that, while I listened with great interest to his speech, I did somewhat regret, I will not say the attack, but the 1208 criticism which he made against the Viceroy's advisers, Be that as it may, it is a subject for congratulation that we have among us so many new Members who are ready to take so useful a part in our Indian Debates. Let that be symptomatic of a further interest. Let hon. Members, whatever be their opinions, follow this Indian question closely and constantly, and, if they think fit to criticise the action and policy of the Government—these questions are much too grave for platitudes, reticences and generalities—certainly as long as I have the honour to hold the office I hold to-day, not only shall I not resent reasonable criticism, but I shall welcome it, particularly when it comes from bon. Members who, owing to long association with India, have a perfect right to speak from their own knowledge and give the House of Commons the advice which is founded upon their experience.
Of all controversies, the most difficult controversies are those in which both sides are right. When all the right is on one side and all the wrong on the other, it is very easy to come to a simple verdict. When, however, the balance is evenly held and there is a great deal to be said on both sides, the decision, the course of action, is by no means so easy to take. Such a controversy is the Indian controversy.
On the one hand, there is the long partnership, spreading over more than 100 years, between Great Britain and India—a splendid record, a record as splendid as can be found in any chapter of history. We have given to India a unity that it never possessed before. We have given to India peace and justice. We have driven away the spectre of famine, and we have provided opportunities of advance that they would not otherwise have had for the teeming millions of India's population. From the day of small things, when our only officials were revenue collectors, when our only interest was trade, when Warren Hastings was an assistant warehouse clerk and Stamford Raffles was earning a few shillings at a desk of the East India Company, our partnership has developed to such an extent that it now enters almost inextricably into every branch of the life of British India. Such associations, the result of nearly two centuries of splendid endeavour, cannot 1209 be destroyed. Such a partnership, of the utmost value, as I believe, as much to India as to ourselves, must not be dissolved. That is the first factor in the situation.
I come to the second factor. It is of a different character. It is not associated in its origin with the British connection at all. It is an integral part of that great wave of nationalism which, particularly in recent years, has swept over the world from one end to the other. It is part of the same movement that we have seen in Europe, in such countries as Poland and Czechoslovakia. It is part of the same movement that we have seen in Asia, in Turkey, in Iraq, in Arabia. We should be the last people in the world to condemn it. Through almost all our history we have encouraged national movements. In the case of India it is due more to us than to any other cause that there is the national unity that we now see there. Here then, in a sentence, is the core of the whole problem. We have to reconcile the obligations of this long British partnership with India with the legitimate aspirations of Indians to take a greater part in their own government. That is the problem which faces us, that, in a sentence, is the problem we are discussing to-day.
I have now been interesting myself in Indian questions, in office and out of office, continuously for more than a year, and, if I may with all deference give the House a piece of advice founded upon my own experience, I would say to hon. Members that, in trying to make this reconciliation between these two controlling factors in the Indian problem, they should follow the advice so wisely given by the Prime Minister at the Round Table Conference yesterday, and in this House of Commons this afternoon, and keep clear of phrases and generalities. Phrases and generalities, it seems to me, have done more harm in our attempts to find a reconciliation between the two views, the British and the Indian view, than almost anything else, and, so far as I am concerned, I have always tried to avoid the use of high-sounding phrases and have tried to address myself constantly and continuously to the actual facts. A year ago we were wrangling about the phrase "Dominion status." I hope that we shall not get into a similar wrangle about the phrase "responsibility at the 1210 centre." Responsibility at the centre to some people appears to be one of the Ten Commandments that you must always observe, and to others it appears the unforgivable sin that you must never commit. In point of fact, it is a very difficult form of government which we first introduced here, and which we have subsequently seen introduced into other parts of the world.
So far as India is concerned, all three parties are equally committed to accepting the fact that responsible government is the ultimate objective to which all of us are working. It is therefore not a question of whether India is to have responsible government or not, because we are agreed that at some time in the future it will have responsible government; the question to which I invite the attention of the House is not whether India is to have responsible government or not, but when it is to have responsible government and in what conditions. The Prime Minister's statement and the deliberations of the Round Table Conference throw much light upon the answer that we can at present give to that question.
Let me say, in passing, that so far as the Round Table Conference is concerned I do not admit the justice of many of the criticisms that have been made against it during the course of this Debate. I believe that, though it may have failed so far in finding agreement upon many fundamental questions and a great many details, yet it has played a useful part, and the Indian controversy will never be quite the same again. Speaking for myself, I can honestly say that it has been a great opportunity and a great privilege to me to sit there day after day and week after week with a number of prominent Indian representatives, and to exchange views with them. Very often it was a difficult task. The representative of the Government was in a peculiarly difficult position, and very often my Indian colleagues may have thought me hypercritical, and it may be unnecessarily reserved, but I can assure them and I can assure the House that during those long sessions I learned a great deal, and I believe they learned something too. I am sure that controversy, if controversy there be in the future, is never going to be as bitter as in the past, as a 1211 result of the associations and the friendships we have made during these long weeks.
I have said that by the way, and I must come back to the point at which I left my argument, namely, the present position of the Government, and, I believe, of the great majority of hon. Members in this House, towards an advance to responsible government. The Prime Minister's White Paper clearly sets out the position of the Government. We state clearly and categorically in that document that we accept what the Prime Minister said on behalf of the last Government last January. We are prepared to make an advance to responsible government both at the centre and in the provinces upon certain definite and specified conditions. There are two conditions in particular, and even though most hon. Members know all about them I must, for the sake of clearness, repeat them at this part of my speech.
The first condition is that the responsible government at the centre must be an All-India government, representing both British India and the Indian States. The second condition is that certain obligations which have resulted from our long association with India must be safeguarded, and must be safeguarded, as I think I shall show later, just as much in the interests of India as of ourselves.
The whole basis of our discussions during the last 12 months has been that the constitution that we are considering must be an all-India constitution. As the world grows more closely knit together, as time and distance are eliminated, so it becomes quite impossible in a sub-continent like India for one section of it to be isolated from the other sections, and I am quite sure myself that whether it be in the interests of the Princes and the Indian States, or whether it be in the interests of British India, the future of India must be the future of India as a whole upon an all-India federal basis.
It is the fashion to say that an all-India federation has, during the last few weeks, drifted away to a very distant and very vague background. Let me say categorically that that is not the case. Necessarily, differences have emerged. 1212 What else could we expect when dealing with 600 Indian States varying in every detail of their governments, varying from the great State of Hyderabad, as big as some of the great Powers of Europe, to a small State, it may be of a few acres, with a revenue of a few rupees. Of course there must be differences to be adjusted when one is dealing with a body of individuals and States whose interests and conditions are so very varied. None the less, I can tell the House that the idea of All-India federation definitely still holds the field. Only at the last session of the Round Table Conference the Chancellor of the Chamber of Princes, His Highness the Nawab of Bhopal, speaking for the Chamber of Princes, and Sir Aqbar Hydari, speaking for Hyderabad, the greatest of the Indian States, said that not only was it an ultimate ideal, but it was a practical factor in the problem, and that they were going back to India to surmount those differences and to make it possible for the Indian States and Princes to take their part in the All-India Federation. So much for the first of the two conditions on which we are prepared to advance towards responsible government.
Let me now come to the second condition, the safeguarding of the obligations that have grown up during the long years of our association with India—obligations, let me say again, that must be satisfied just as much in the interests of India as of ourselves. I have more than once in this House stated those obligations. I venture to state them once again. I shall state them shortly and it may be rather abruptly. I hope that none of our Indian friends will think, upon that account, that I wish to be peremptory about the details or about the machinery for ensuring them. If I state them shortly, it is because I have not an unlimited time during which I can address the House.
First of all, until India is in a position to defend herself, our command of the Army must be clear and undisputed and our control of foreign affairs must be reserved. Secondly, our relations with the Princes must be retained by the Crown. Financial stability must be effectively safeguarded, and so ultimately must be internal security. Minorities must be 1213 protected. There must be no unfair economic or commercial discrimination against the British trader, and the rights of services recruited by the Secretary of State must be safeguarded.
I said just now that those were obligations which must be protected just as much in the interests of India as of ourselves. Let me tell the House why I think that is so. I will take the case of the Army. Surely until India can defend herself, it is to the advantage of India to be protected from the ravages of invasion, to which, before the British occupation, she was so often subjected. It is therefore immensely to the advantage of India, if India is to develop and if India's new Constitution is to mature, to have the protection of the British Army. Then again, with finance, surely it is to the advantage of India, particularly in this difficult period—and any period will be difficult when you are embarking on constitutional changes—to have behind it the steady support of British credit. Nothing would do India greater harm than to have its credit shaken. Nothing would do India greater harm, particularly in these difficult days of constitutional changes, than to shake the confidence of British traders to whom India owes so much in the past and to whom, I believe, India will owe so much in the future for the capital it so greatly needs for its own development.
I know I have said enough in the two examples that I have taken to show that when we speak of safeguards we are not creating obstacles for the purpose of blocking India's constitutional development. We are thinking much more of the protection that is urgently needed for India no less than ourselves. These safeguards are not shackles upon India's future; they are rather stays, without which the new Indian Constitution will lack the sure and safe stability that it will so much need.
If these obligations can be satisfied, if, on the one hand, we can set up an All-India Federation, and if, on the other hand, we can ensure these necessary reservations, I am prepared to make the advance, both in the centre and in the provinces, that is foreshadowed in the Government White Paper. Indeed, I go so far as to say that I believe that a Government set 1214 up under such conditions as I have mentioned might very well be a stronger Government than the Government that we have got in India at the present time.
I do not make the least criticism against any official high or low in the Government of India. I think that they are carrying out their difficult task with magnificent efficiency, but what does strike me, coming fresh to the India Office in the course of the last few weeks, is that the Government of India as it is at present constituted is vulnerable in two directions. First, it appears to me to be over-centralised. In the old days, when the problem of Government was a simple one, and the needs of the governed were very few, it was possible to rule a great continent with a highly centralised machine. I suggest for the consideration of hon. Members that they should give their attention to this side of the problem and ask themselves whether, now that the problem of government has become so immensely complicated, the time has not arrived when there ought not to be some kind of decentralisation. That is the reason why I, and I think the great majority of Members in the House, have always been anxious to see this decentralisation carried out in the way of provincial autonomy.
There is another consideration, and if hon. Members will take it into account, they will appreciate its significance. The Government of India to-day is a Government composed of official and nominated non-official members. Almost every politician in the country, to whatever party he belongs, is in the happy position of being in totally irresponsible opposition. That leaves the Government in a very vulnerable position. I look forward to the time when the Government will no longer be in so vulnerable a position, and when, with the ebb and flow of politics, the opposition might be subjected to that salutary check, the hope or risk of being in office itself. I am only suggesting these two lines of thought; I do not wish to dogmatise upon them. What I wish is that hon. Members, in approaching this problem, should give them their most careful attention.
If my survey of the situation is correct, I would venture to say that our 1215 objective should be the following. First an All-India executive and legislature, and I hope that neither that executive nor that legislature will be too big. They should both be designed for the exclusive purpose of carrying out certain clearly marked federal duties. Secondly, autonomous provinces, in which each province shall be given the greatest possible freedom for its individual development; and, as the basis of the whole structure, safeguards without which British and Indian safety and credit cannot continue. That should be our objective. That is the objective of the Government White Paper. That is the Government envisaged in the White Paper.
Here let me turn aside for a moment and say to my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) that I do not quite understand the bearing of his Amendment upon the statement as I understand it. No doubt to-morrow he will elaborate his views when he comes to address the House. Let me only say to him to-night that, knowing the views that he has so brilliantly and so frequently expressed in this House and in the last House, I am a little bit nervous as to whether we and he mean the same thing. One of my great causes of regret during the last few months is that he and I have not always seen alike upon Indian questions, and I would like to be quite clear, before we end the Debate, whether he and I understand the statement and his Amendment in the same way. I do not want to press him now, but let me suggest to him the kind of doubts that are in my mind at any rate. If his Amendment is intended to be a derogation or a diminution of the Government statement, then quite obviously we could not accept it. If it is not intended to be a derogation of the Government statement, then I do not quite understand what it does mean. For instance, there is the passage about the Statute of Westminster. I really do not know what he means by that. The Statute of Westminster has no more to do with the statement of Government policy than the man in the moon. Secondly, there is his point about commercial discrimination. I have said quite clearly that we insist, as one of the safeguards that must be made, that there shall be no unfair discrimina- 1216 tion against the British trader. Perhaps to-morrow he will let us into his confidence and tell us whether there is more in his mind than that. Thirdly—what is the third point? [Interruption.] Thirdly, there is the point about law and order.
§ Sir S. HOARE
I hope very much that he and I are in agreement. What we mean is not that the British Government or the Government of India should intervene in the day to day details of Indian administration. If we meant that it would be a mere farce to talk about any transfer of responsibility at all, either at the centre or in the provinces. What we mean is that in extreme cases there must be an ultimate power somewhere, and that ultimate power would reside in the provincial governors and the Viceroy. That is what we mean, and perhaps to-morrow he will tell us whether he and we mean the same thing. I very much hope we do.
Now, having stated as well as I could the objective of the Government policy, let me, in conclusion, suggest to the House the way in which I think we should approach it. I have noticed in the course of the Debate that there has been a good deal of suspicion in the minds of many hon. Members lest this process of procedure by conference should side-track this House and Parliament as a whole. Let me say clearly and definitely that there is not the least intention in the minds of any member of the Government of side-tracking this House in any way or in any direction. This House must have the final say. This House is a sovereign Parliament, and any Bill that passes on to the Statute Book must stand the fire, at every stage, of discussion both in this House and in the other. Let, therefore, no hon. Member think that he or this House are being pushed out of the picture, and that one of these days we are going to wake up to see some document signed, sealed and delivered behind our backs that we have got to accept at a moment's notice.
Having said that let me, however, add that I think hon. Members, in their own interests, would be wise not to discourage this method of consultation and con- 1217 ference. I would suggest to them that if we are discussing and legislating upon Indian constitutional questions, it is much better that when we come to our Debates we should have for our consideration the views of representative Indians. I think it would help us a great deal, particularly if we had the agreed views of representative Indian opinion. Moreover, in proceeding by this method of conference and consultation we are not adopting any method peculiar to India or Indian affairs. The method of procedure by conference is a method that seems to me to be adopted in dealing with almost every big national and international question at the present time. When the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs goes to Geneva and discusses the Manchurian question or Disarmament, this House is not abdicating its powers. When, again, in a few months time the Imperial Conference meets to discuss the vital question of the Empire's economic future, we, here in this House, are not divesting ourselves of any of the powers of a sovereign Parliament. I would, therefore, venture to suggest to hon. Members that they would do well not to discourage, but rather to encourage, this method of procedure, always remembering, as I have said more than once in my speech to-night, the final word must rest with them.
As to the committees—and I have been asked a question or two about the committees that are going to report—there again the House is in no way losing its ultimate control. These committees are committees with a definite term of reference to undertake certain inquiries that would have been quite necessary if there had been no Round Table Conference at all. For instance, we would anyhow have had to have a committee about the franchise. That would have emerged directly out of the report of the Indian Statutory Commission. Let me say this about the franchise, as I understand certain anxieties were created earlier in the Debate. Definite instructions will have to be given to the Franchise Committee as to how they are to work. The Prime Minister, when he spoke of the status quo in electoral matters, said inferentially that obviously such arrangements as the system of separate electorates, where it 1218 at present exists, could not be altered. I say that to show that the Franchise Committee will have to have some definite instructions. So also with the other inquiries. Two of the other inquiries connected with the relations of the Indian States with British India—particularly in matters of finance—those Committees are absolutely essential not only to the Round Table Conference, but even more to this House if we are to come to an intelligent decision when at some time in the future we discuss the question of changes in the Indian Constitution. I hope that I have now said enough to reassure the House, and to enforce the final appeal which I venture to make to them.
§ Sir S. HOARE
I would like to do anything that the Noble Lord asked me, but I cannot answer his question tonight.
To-night, I am asking the House of Commons to throw the whole weight of their unprecedented authority behind this attempt to reconcile the British and the Indian point of view, and I am asking hon. Members to keep constantly in mind the factors which I have emphasised in this speech, and to help us in finding reconciliation between Indian aspirations and Imperial needs, between two points of view, both of which are right, and between two great civilisations, each of which, though it may differ from the other, can claim an ancient existence, a splendid history, and a brilliant future.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned," put, and agreed to.—[Captain, Margesson.]
§ Debate to be resumed To-morrow.
§ The Orders of the Day were read, and postponed.