Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £103,000, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1932, for a Contribution towards the cost of the Department of His Majesty's Secretary of State for India in Council, including a Grant-in-Aid, together with a sum due to the Government of India in respect of the Navy, Army, and Air Force Insurance Fund.
§ 4.0 p.m.
The House in Committee has, on several occasions during the present Session, discussed matters of high moment in regard to constitutional changes in India, and to acts of policy which it is very difficult to discuss apart from legislative changes that are in contemplation or are under discussion. It is, I respectfully submit, most desirable that the Committee this afternoon should carry out what I believe to be the proper task of a Committee of Supply, and should examine and, if necessary, criticise the administration of British India in the past year since, despite the transference of subjects under the Government of India Act, a mass of highly important functions still remains to the Secretary of State, and his discharge of them ought to be discussed in Parliament with regularity and uniformity. I desire to say, in that connection, although it does not apply this afternoon, that one of the most serious causes of complaint which Indians in public life have had against this House is that, until quite recently, for over 60 years Debates on Indian affairs in Parliament were either very infrequent or were attended by 2292 scanty numbers of Members of the House of Commons, which amounted at the time almost to a scandal.
I remember reading a piece of satire which appeared in an Indian newspaper. It said that immediately Mr. Speaker or the Chairman had announced the subject of debate all the Members rushed from the House and all the journalists in the Press Gallery rushed from the Gallery with such speed, indeed, that one was injured in the door, and there was left in the House a mere handful of Members who had given their lives to the East, or were authorities on the subject. The newspaper went on to say that one of the journalists and one of the Members who had gone from the House met in the Lobby, and one said to the other, "Fancy asking us to listen to experts! These problems are not solved by intensive knowledge, but by the plain, blunt, common sense of the English people. Let us go on to discuss matters which really matter—whether Oxford or Cambridge is the better university, and what horse is going to win the Derby."
That was the rather bitter satire I saw in an Indian newspaper a few years ago, and it was not an unfair one when one considers what attitude the House of Commons used to take on Indian matters in the past. Whatever may be said about events at the present time, it is a matter of satisfaction that we have had frequent Debates and important issues raised. I think that one should draw a distinction between the successful endeavour which has existed ever since the War, and, indeed, before, to refrain from partisan differences on party lines in regard to the main aims and objects of policy in India, and the right and duty of the Opposition to comment upon and criticise specific administrative acts of commission and omission. In the last Parliament the present Prime Minister supported generally the late Government in regard to policy, but that did not prevent Members of the then Opposition Front Bench from criticising, often with severity, specific acts of administration.
There are a number of matters, all of them important, which have not been mentioned, or have been scarcely mentioned, in recent controversies on Indian affairs, and I want, by asking questions of the Secretary of State, to 2293 draw the attention of the Committee to some of them. There are happenings which have been brought forcibly, by their violence and menace, to the notice of public opinion here, and it is my duty to express the great anxiety we on this side of the Committee feel about them, and the reaction and reverberations which they have caused in India. Here I must ask the right hon. Gentleman to give a full and frank exposition of his views. To avoid making too great a demand on the time of the Committee, I shall put my questions regarding the first set of subjects in very brief and, I hope, concise form. But I must ask the Committee to allow me to deal more fully with the grave events on the Frontier, at Cawnpore and in Burma.
There is a group of subjects of the utmost importance to India, the most agricultural of all countries in the world, which are comprised under the heads of agricultural development and research, irrigation, railways, roads, social legislation, Post Office services, savings bank, and agricultural cooperation. I do not propose to refer to any of them this afternoon, because they are fully dealt with in the admirable volume which, I hope, some, at any rate, of the Members of the Committee have read, which is published annually—"The Material and Moral Progress of India." That report shows the vast-ness of the problem and also—which is very satisfactory—the slow, almost imperceptible, but steady improvement, at any rate until the crash in commodity prices, in the position of the cultivator, and it also shows the extent to which, as the Whitley Commission, so ably presided over by the late Speaker, pointed out, opportunities for further improvement lie in the hands of Indian legislators and Indian employers themselves. Further, it emphasises the fact which we should never forget in discussing the welfare of the agricultural people of India—the teak-like barrier which Indian customs and religious inhibitions oppose to modern agricultural methods.
I sometimes think that this country is the most backward of all countries in making known its achievements. Why do not we as a country "Tell the World" that the whole structure of railways, irrigation, agricultural co-operation and re- 2294 search, Post Office savings banks, social service", which stands between British India and disaster, owes its conception to British initiative? Why, in the second place, do not we show that it is being carried out by British-Indian, but pre-dominatingly Indian co-operation, despite the harassing efforts of non-co-operators to destroy it? One of the most satisfactory features of the present situation, to which hon. Members will bear witness, is that, in spite of the action of non-co-operators, thousands and thousands of Indians and Europeans are carrying out good work for their country, for which we should give them every credit.
I will make one passing reference to a very important matter which the hon. Member for the Combined English Universities (Miss Rathbone) has taken a prominent part in bringing to the notice of this House, and that is the question of the Sarda Child Marriages Act. That was an Act which was passed after long years of controversy, and I may say with considerable difficulty, further to raise the age of marriage in India. There have been previous Acts, but they proved largely ineffective. It followed a controversy, though it was not the result only of the statements made in Miss Mayo's book and the Joshi report—a very important document. I am sorry to say there have been suggestions in many quarters, to which the hon. Lady has called attention by questions, that the Act has practically become a dead letter in India, and what increased apprehension about it was the rather surprising reply which the right hon. Gentleman gave in answer to a question of mine on the subject. He said, as I understood him, that one had to trust to public opinion to bring about the enforcement of the Act. You will never get an Act of that kind enforced merely by public opinion. Had the then Government of India trusted to public opinion to make effective the clause against suttee in the Indian Penal Code when it was first introduced, it would have remained a dead letter. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will tell us that the local Governments in India are going to see that it is being enforced.
I turn to the subject of finance. The vast development programme of the Government of India and of the Provincial Governments in the past in actual opera- 2295 tion and in contemplation have always, as the Committee is aware, involved borrowing on a large scale, but nevertheless I would ask the Committee to note that when we left office the credit of India was not only better than it had been a few years before, but was actually, I think, second only to that of Great Britain. I have not the time to discuss the concatenation of events since, which have apparently frightened, I think unduly, investors here in Indian Government securities. Economic depression, the non-co-operation movement, and determined, though concealed, action by certain Indian business men, who have always objected to the rupee being pegged at 1s. 6d., have all contributed to that end. On my reading of Standing Orders, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to discuss the action which the British Government may take in certain circumstances, because it will involve legislation which cannot be discussed on this occasion, even if we knew the form in which that legislation will appear. Therefore, I think for the moment the matter can be left as it was by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition in his statement the other day. But I must, in justice to the administrative work of Lord Peel and the late Lord Birkenhead, make this observation, and that is that the "Birkenhead tone," which the Secretary of State was so disdainful about when he took office, succeeded in keeping the credit of India in a far better condition than it has been since the present administration.
There is one other observation on the subject of finance. There is talk of retrenchment in the public services. Until we know what form it takes, it is, of course, infructuous to criticise, but by an Act of Parliament passed through this House, about four years ago, the recommendations of the Lee Commission in regard to the covenanted services were given effect to, and it was unquestionably carrying out an obligation which the Secretary of State owed to those services. I presume that the Secretary of State is fully mindful of his statutory obligations, to the covenanted services, and that we shall be fully informed of any alteration. Whether it will require legislation or not, I am unable to say.
2296 I wish to say a few words about the Indian Army, the British Army in India and our military commitments. As the Committee is aware, India is almost the only part of the Empire possessing a land frontier that entails constant vigilance and care by soldiers and by civilian administrators alike. There have been some foreign and unfriendly observers who have described it as the Achilles heel of the Empire, and yet how amazingly little there is of informed public opinion here among responsible people about the problem. Incidentally, I have always wondered how the ultra-pacifists would meet the danger ever present on the North-West Frontier of India. Certainly, when a Mullah preaches a holy war against the Raj you have to take effective action, and quotations from the admirable League of Nations speeches of Lord Cecil and Professor Gilbert Murray would fail to convince the rebellious tribesmen of their error. There is an ever-present possibility of events occuring on the Frontier which would necessitate either major or minor operations. By minor operations, I mean tribal rising. It is a fact that the increased mobility of troops through mechanical transport and good roads, of which the Waziristan system is a magnificent example, should greatly reduce the dangers of sudden and fanatical tribal outbursts, and during the last few years that we were in office there was a period of marked tranquillity.
Since then we have had the virtual invasion of the Frontier Province on two occasions to within a few miles of Peshawar, and subsequent events are very disturbing indeed. I sincerely hope that the right hon. Gentleman is giving close personal attention to the reasons why there has been such a deterioration, which I hope is only temporary, in the last two years. I must press him for a clear and explicit statement as to why the most dangerous and subversive Red Shirt movement is permitted to continue unchecked in the Frontier Province. I have not time to go into it fully, but there is no question about the dangerous nature of the movement, and I wish to be assured that the apparent supineness on the part of the authorities is not a product of the Irwin-Gandhi conversations.
With regard to major operations, that is to say, possible conflict on the Frontier 2297 with Afghanistan or a greater Power beyond, the Committee should frankly face the situation. Save during the period from the early years of the present century to the middle of 1917, when it was to her advantage to be friendly with us, Russia, under whatever Government, has taken an interest for more than three generations in the gateway of India which can scarcely be said to be either of a theoretical or an academic character. Under Tsar and Soviet alike, this interest has waxed or waned in almost exact proportion to the state of Russia's military preparedness and internal preoccupations and embarrassments. I will leave the matter there, but I think that the Committee and the country should know the, it may be remote, but ever-present danger which exists on the North-West Frontier of India.
There are certain subjects to which I only want to refer in passing, but which required attention a few years ago in connection with the military efficiency both of the British Army in India and of the Indian Army, such as the state of small arms and ammunition, of hospitals and barracks—both of which were much behind modern ideas of sanitation—of housing, and of the mechanisation of the Army, and the provision of certain ancillary services. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to assure us that in all these matters improvement is continuing to be carried out, and that the difficult financial condition of India will not mean that this improvement will not continue.
I would like to ask, in passing, what exactly is the meaning of the rather cryptic references which have appeared as to the investigations which are proceeding into the apportionment of the cost of the British Army in India between Indian and British taxpayers 3 I understood that there was going to be some committee of inquiry on the subject, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to tell us something about it. Before I leave military matters, I want to say that I sincerely hope that the decision to create an Indian Sandhurst is based purely on military and not on sentimental or political reasons. It is very important that we should have an assurance on this point. When we left-office, His Majesty's then Government 2298 were by no means assured that any military advantage would be gained from an Indian Sandhurst, in view of the fact that the places at the British Sandhurst were not fully filled.
I think it is right that I should draw attention to the very great loss that the Indian Army and the India Office recently sustained in the death of Sir Alexander Cobbe, V.C., who had the unique distinction of having been twice Military Secretary at the India Office, and who held high military command in India. He gained the V.C. at any early age many years ago, and he was a man who, apart from his military attainments, might well be described as Sans peur et sans reproche.
I pass to the serious chain of events—or perhaps that is not the right term; perhaps I should say the serious events—which have occurred at Chittagong, in Burma, at Karachi and at Cawnpore. I must observe that the anxiety which the country feels about these events has been increased by what I think has been the undue reticence displayed by the right hon. Gentleman at Question Time. The Government of India seem to have kept him, if I may say so, insufficiently informed for weeks at a time about some things, and in one case, that of the Cawnpore casualties, obviously the information was at first inaccurate. Any statement with regard to casualties should in my opinion, if I may say so without impertinence, have been qualified by the statement that the exact number was difficult to determine. The impression left on my mind when the right hon. Gentleman gave those figures, which altered almost every day, was that they were the final figures, but of course the Commission found that that was not so.
Let me refer to the events at Chittagong, which have almost been forgotten, although really the matter is one of great importance. Here we have a very important port and terminus which taps the rich lands of Eastern Bengal. It has been known to have had a reputation for years past as the haunt of anarchists anxious to be as far removed as possible from the keen eye of Sir Charles Tegart, the famous police chief in Calcutta, and at the same time it is a place from which they could conveniently escape into the impenetrable jungle or over the frontier, if necessary, into Burma. I would 2299 ask why no British or Indian troops are stationed at Chittagong. It seems an obvious place where they ought to be stationed for purposes of internal security. The responsibility for the failure to provide this security garrison rests primarily with the Government of India.
I want the Committee to know what a serious event that was. The chairman of the Chamber of Commerce at Chittagong described it as the most serious incident in Bengal since the mutiny. The arsenal was looted, people were murdered, arms were stolen, and I have the best evidence from people on the spot to the effect that it was only owing to the most fortunate accident that the whole of the European and Indian officials in Chittagong were not murdered. It is most astonishing that, after such an event, there is still apparently no permanent garrison, though I see that armed police have been sent there for a time. I say definitely that, in view of what has occurred in the past, there ought to be a proper security garrison at Chittagong.
Passing to the question of Burma, I want to say at the outset that really this is a rebellion—there is no other term that is applicable to it—on a considerable scale. Of course, it can and will be subdued, but meanwhile valuable lives have been lost among the Government forces, and hundreds of misguided rebels have been killed and wounded. The recently published White Paper is a confession of failure on the part of the local Government to appreciate in the first instance either the significance or the scope of the outbreak, but personally I blame the Government of India and the Secretary of State, whoso business it was to insist on a proper display and use of force, far more than I blame the local Government. I believe that had that been done at the outset many valuable lives would have been saved.
I must make reference, because there is such a delicious irony in it, to one thing in this Burma White Paper. We are told thatThere have been a number of assaults on Indians in these districts, and burning of their field huts and straw stacks. There is no doubt that this trouble is largely economic. Until recently the average Bur-man found no difficulty in supporting him- 2300 self comfortably, and he then tolerated the existence of the Indian labourer in Burma. Conditions have now changed. In the first place, a number of Indians have settled down as permaent cultivators in Lower Burma districts, and …. economic pressure has compelled the Burman to take to coolie work more than he needed to do in previous times, and he is beginning to feel the competition of the Indian labourer, with which he finds it hard to compete, as the standard of life of the Indian labourer is much lower than his own.That is exactly the reason why Europeans in South Africa and Kenya, and to some extent natives also in Kenya, have for years past objected to the presence of Indians in their midst. I do not support their point of view. I, in common with everyone who has had experience of administration in India, wish to do everything possible to get this question, settled, but the resemblance between the two situations is remarkable. In South Africa, Indians are denied the franchise, and in Kenya restrictions are placed upon their voting, whereas in Burma, which is under the ultimate control of the Government of India, they are murdered, assaulted, robbed and driven out of the country by disaffected Burmans. In such circumstances, I think the talk of an amnesty in Burma is rather strange. I am not prepared to say, until I have further information, whether there ought to be an amnesty, but I hope that, if there is going to be an amnesty, the rebels will be made to compensate the Indians, perfectly respectable citizens, who have been maltreated and have had their possessions destroyed.
I desire next to refer to the question of Karachi. Last year a number of respectable Indians, as well as European officials and business men and their wives, were insulted and assaulted by a mob of persons who were not dispersed for, I think, a period of something like 30 or 40 minutes. Almost invariably, in such cases, the blame rests, not with the police—that splendid body of loyal and courageous men who have done so admirably throughout these difficult times—but with some far higher official, in the service of the Government of Bombay in this particular instance. Evidently, however, the Government in question did not think that the chief local official was to blame for this incident, for, soon afterwards, they promoted him to be one of their own number, that is to say, a mem- 2301 ber of the Government of Bombay. Without reflecting on anyone, I would ask the Secretary of State if any censure has been conveyed for this deplorable mismanagement in Karachi. Someone must be responsible.
In conclusion, I turn to what I can only describe as the tragedy of Cawnpore. It is not the first one connected with that town, but it has this in common with the former tragedy associated with the name, that it lit up, in my opinion, like a magnesium flame, the latent dangers and horrors that lie beneath the ordinarily peaceful surface of Indian life. It is impossible to discuss this question apart from the Hindu-Moslem question. That is, of course, a matter which should be approached with the greatest sense of responsibility. There is an old saying that no political party and no politician can afford to attack or defend the Catholic Church; and it is equally true that no British politician can, without doing grave mischief, support Hindus against Moslems or Moslems against Hindus. If he did, he would exacerbate a bitter religious strife. The growing habit with British politicians of all parties of supporting by letters and speeches Arabs or Jews, as the case may be, in their interminable wrangle in Palestine, has infinitely worsened the situation there. At the same time it is urgently necessary to face the facts and to state them.
I claim, in this regard, a somewhat unique experience. Apart from experience—which, of course, is not unique—gained with Hindu and Moslem troops during the War, when on several occasions I was attached to Indian troops, and also served with Moslem, that is to say, Arab, troops under Colonel Lawrence in Arabia, and apart from much travel in various parts of Asia and many friendships with Hindus and Moslems, I have had the experience, which is, I think, unique among Members of either House, with the exception, perhaps, of Lord Meston, of having, during the whole of the seven years that I was at the India Office, had the privilege—though I do not know that "privilege" is the right word, because I was representing the Secretary of State in this House—I had the opportunity of reading the inner history of all the various Hindu-Moslem attacks and 2302 troubles which occurred during that period, and I would like to say a word about them.
The differences between Hindus and Moslems are fundamental, and they are bilateral, in the sense that you have the most sincere and deep-rooted antipathy between one of the most theistic and one of the most polytheistic religions of the world. There is no doubt that certain practices of the Moslems are considered by Hindus on the one hand, and certain practices of the Hindus are considered by Moslems on the other, to be the most appalling blasphemy. Friends of mine, Hindu and Moslem, have said to me that certain practices of the one or the other made them sick not merely to see, but even to read about. [Interruption.] I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman from his experience can confirm it. On the other side you have fierce rivalry for place and power, which is made more intense when constitutional changes are under review or have recently been inaugurated. The worst outbreaks invariably occur after a period of disturbance caused by Congress, for two reasons, firstly, that authority has been defied, and sometimes successfully, and, secondly, that the Hindus vastly predominate in the Congress, and any success that they appear to achieve against the Government makes Moslems nervous about the possibility of a Hindu Raj succeeding the British Raj.
There is another point of view that must be frankly stated. I am not making an attack on anyone, but am simply stating the facts. Save for a brief period in 1921, Mr. Gandhi has never been accepted as a national leader by the Moslems as a whole. Therefore his spiritual enthronement by the less instructed organs of the British Press of the left drives the more excitable Moslems to frenzy. We have had two examples. I want the Committee to get Cawnpore in its proper perspective. There was a terrible outbreak in the Moplah Rebellion and something like 5,000 Hindus were killed by the Moslems, again as the result of events which occurred within the non-co-operation movement. Officers and governors have come back to this country and have retired with honour, and this appalling event, which did more harm in India than anything that has occurred for 2303 generations, has been entirely forgotten. Now we have a corresponding event. There are both originating and immediate causes of these outbreaks. In regard to the originating causes, since they are almost invariably due to some action or inaction for which the district authorities, or even the provincial or Presidency Government are not responsible, but for which Simla or Whitehall are responsible, I am disposed to take a lenient view, even when the district magistrate, as happened at Cawnpore, fails to deal with the situation arising from the immediate causes. His position is always a difficult one because, if he is slow to use force, he is criticised and if he gives orders to shoot, by killing a few people in order to save many others he is subjected to questions and attacks in the Assembly and in this House as well. In recent years the position of the local authorities has been made very difficult. There are many reasons given in this very interesting report of what it describes as the predisposing, but which I will describe as the originating causes. I cannot quote the whole, but I will refer to some of them. We are told that on a certain occasion a bazaar was closed on account of Mr. Gandhi's arrest. It explains that the Superintendent saw the Kotwal, who arranged with the Congress leaders not to interfere with the cars. We then have the comment by the commissioners, the people who wrote the report:We see in this the chief police officer of the city working hand in hand with the Congress leaders but the last word is with Congress.Then we find at the bottom of page 2, after a reference to the ordinances and the number of people who were arrested:The Moslems from the first had refused to join the movement. The effect of this was that as time went on the Moslems, in Cawnpore at any rate, came to look on the Congress organisation as practically a purely Hindu body.It describes peaceful Moslem students as a target of virulent attacks and found that:The civil disobedience movement in the manner in which it developed, accentuated the estrangement between the two communities.Later it says:It is in the increasing embitterment of feeling between the two communities that 2304 the cause of the outbreak has to be sought, and the cause of that increased embitterment is to be found in the course taken by the civil disobedience movement. This movement had openly aimed at paralysing Government.…Three months later the Congress leaders were released once more from gaol when negotiations with Mr. Gandhi began. The Moslems read in these negotiations a recognition by the Government of the strength of the movement, if not a surrender to it. … A number of witnesses have expressed the opinion that, owing to the "go-slow" policy of the Government during the civil disobedience movement and the criticisms aroused against the police during this period, they were reluctant to use force. These are considerations to be kept in mind.It is my duty, speaking from my own point of view, to say that, whatever was the good effect of the Irwin-Gandhi Agreement in other directions—and on balance it may be justified—it has, from information at my disposal, mystified and disheartened the police because they do not know what their duty is in regard to the activities of Congress to such an extent that law-abiding citizens are most seriously alarmed in many provinces. That is one of the most serious features of the situation, that law-abiding citizens are being interfered with all over the place in their ordinary activities. I must press the right hon. Gentleman to tell us what instructions have been given by the Government of India and the local Governments. I am sure that was not the intention of the late Viceroy. I am sure it is not the intention of the Government of India. I mean to hamper the police in maintaining law and older. But there is an uneasy suspicion in my mind that the result of the instructions which have been given has been to make it almost impossible for the police in some districts to carry on their duties.
What are these negotiations that are going on between the Congress leaders and others as to the meaning of that agreement? The Government know what the meaning of the agreement is. I do not think it is desirable that we should have these long drawn out negotiations. Not only is there this difficulty about the police as to knowing their exact position, but this agreement has, for the first time since we have been in British India, given authoritative sanction to arbitrary interference with the free buying and selling not only of British but of other foreign goods, in some cases from 2305 countries which have a most-favoured-nation Clause, such as Japan. The Secretary of State, helped by the methods of attack of some rather unskilful critics, perhaps even on this side of the House as well, has tried to mix up this matter of India's fiscal freedom with the question of the steps that have been taken by successive Governments in India to encourage the production and consumption of Indian goods. It has nothing whatever to do with it.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for INDIA (Mr. Wedgwood Benn)
In what paragraph is that?
I have not the paper by me. I refer to the fact that the Government have given their sanction to what they describe as "peaceful picketing." The right hon. Gentleman must not deduce from the indictment I am making of his administration that we on these benches are unsympathetic to his difficulties or believe that they cannot be overcome. They can be overcome by firmness and decision in administration, and neither connotes the use of force. What it means is that the Government must not shrink from meeting the apostles of violence and disorder by force if necessary. That is a lesson that is to be learnt from Burma and Cawnpore and all these other instances. The Government should bear in mind that most of Asia is in a very disturbed state. It is worse in countries which are indigenously governed, such as China, than in those that are governed by foreign Powers. The trouble in Korea and risings in Burma and Indo-China are less calamitous than the continued civil war in China.
One result of the new spirit of which we hear so much, and the existence of which I do not deny, has been a return to something like primeval savagery. I hope that is not the only result, but I am certain that a situation like that cannot be met by aspirations, however pious, or by the mere reiteration of such words as "good will." Good will is a most necessary thing in our relationship with India, but you cannot meet a situation like that by the reiteration of these phrases. To paraphrase Shakespeare, there are more things in Asia to-day than are dreamt of in the philosophy of the sob sisterhood of this country. The great mistake that Lord Morley made 2306 was to attempt to govern India by phrases. He said we were going to have conciliation in our dealings with India. The result was that in his period as Secretary of State we had the worst trouble that we have had for a generation. We had officers and high officials murdered and things of that kind. There are some officials in India who are far too apologetic in their utterances. They talk as if they were transitory and embarrassed phantoms instead of the guardians of a constitution which only Parliament can alter.
Let the Secretary of State be as sympathetic as he likes to the aspirations of Indians. No man ought to hold office who is not prepared to sympathise with Indian aspirations. But let him remember meanwhile the need for supporting and reassuring the splendid machine of Government, mainly Indian in personnel, which has behaved so splendidly during all these trying years. Let him remember also the huge number of responsible Indians of all classes who, although anxious for constitutional advance, are horrified at the antics of the extremists and the latitude that is allowed them. Many years ago a member of the Nova Scotlan Legislature was speaking on the subject of a boundary treaty with the United States. Someone complained that Canada had been let down and he rose and made one of the most bitter remarks that I have ever heard. He said, "Why complain. Is it not the teaching of history that Britain always pays more attention to successful rebels than to devoted loyalists?" Do not let the right hon. Gentleman have that as his epitaph when he leaves office at the end of this Parliament.
§ Mr. BENN
I will do the best I can to answer the important questions that have been put to me. Perhaps, in order that we may start the Debate with complete accord, including that of the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), I may say with what gratification we have noticed the brilliant successes of the Nawab of Pataudi. I regret that I cannot wholly congratulate the Noble Lord on the tone of his speech. I think that he lent himself to a degree of fervour and a certain harshness of view which, on the whole, will not help us all in the very serious and difficult and anxious 2307 days through which we are passing. But before I come to attempt to give a general survey of the situation in India I would answer, as in duty I am bound to do, the Noble Lord's informed criticisms of the administration of the last two years. The Noble Lord referred to the Sarda Act. I say, and I believe it is true, that the only force which in the end will destroy the evils of child marriage in India is the force of Indian public opinion. Circumstances are by no means the same as they were in the days long past, when the practice of suttee was prohibited by the Penal Code. I would remind the Noble Lord that Mr. Sarda himself introduced his Bill into the Assembly before Miss Mayo had written her book, and there has always been a great body of enlightened public opinion in India supporting this great reform.
While it is quite impossible to deny that the civil disturbances of the past year have not assisted in promoting the reform, it is also true that the form of the Act requires that the initiative should be taken by private individuals, and it is therefore true that in the long run we must look to Indian public opinion in the hope of securing this great and much needed change. So far as the hon. Lady the Member for the English Universities (Miss Rathbone) has been foremost in pressing this matter, I might perhaps remind her that the institution of marriage registers and various things recommended by the Joshi Committee but not incorporated in the Act are matters which involve provincial action and a certain measure of expense. I am far from agreeing that economy should stand in the way of great reforms, but we have to remember that at the present time, although India's general financial position is thoroughly sound, the state of the Indian Treasury is not very prosperous.
On that point I would answer the question of the Noble Lord in reference to the efforts which are being made by Sir George Schuster and an unofficial committee to secure retrenchment in all branches of Indian administration. I believe that these vigorous efforts will succeed in stabilising the Budget. I assure the Noble Lord that should any proposal made by the retrenchment committee involve any rights guaranteed by 2308 Statute, of course I shall be bound to come to this House to ask for the necessary changes to be made. I do not say that it will be necessary, and I do not say that it will not be necessary. I merely reassure the Noble Lord that it will be done, as it must be done, if necessary.
The Noble Lord had a good deal to say about the position on the North-West frontier. I think he was a little out of date in his fears about the Russian military menace. I hardly expected to hear in 1931 an echo of "We don't want to light, but by jingo if we do," in Debates in this House. I also regret that he should have spoken contemptuously of his Noble Friend Lord Cecil, and that he should have thought it necessary to speak in that way of the efforts in the West and finding an echo in the East to settle these difficulties by arbitration and reason rather than by force.
I did not attack Lord Cecil. I said that his views did not appeal to the tribesmen on the North-West frontier. Does the Secretary of State deny that?
§ Mr. BENN
I should say that the influence of views of that kind will be felt and that the spirit which imbues those views is the spirit which should imbue us on the North-West Frontier. The Noble Lord spoke about the activities of the Bed Shirts. Certainly the situation has given cause for anxiety. As I said in answer to a question the other day, the number of crimes on the North-West Frontier has increased. The situation is engaging the attention of the Chief Commissioner on the Frontier and the Government at Simla. The Noble Lord went on to ask what we were doing to safeguard the Frontier. I would remind him of what happened after the lamentable incursions of the Afridis into the Peshawar district last year. There was the disturbance in June and again in August, when the tribes came down into the neighbourhood of Peshawar. The action of the Government was not sensational, but it was certainly effective. They first sought a conference with the Afridi leaders, and then announced that they intended, in the Kajuri Plain, which lies to the west of Peshawar and is the passage by which the tribesmen pass 2309 down from the Tirah to Peshawar, to take the necessary steps to prevent incursions of this kind. Without fuss and without advertisement the necessary force was sent. Three posts were established and covering troops were provided. The troops have been withdrawn. The posts are there with water and men, and without any advertisement or sensational methods the door has been locked. I am certain that that development will be as satisfactory to the Noble Lord and the House as it is to the Government.
The Noble Lord also made reference to the capitation charge as between the Home Government and the Government of India on account of the training and pensions of troops. The Noble Lord is well aware that the late Government was in consultation as to the correctness of the calculation of those charges. It was in the days of his Government that the proposal was made for arbitration on the question whether the Government of India was paying more than it should on account of training and pensions. That arbitration has been agreed to in principle and the arrangements for it are proceeding, and coupled with it in the terms of reference, following the report of the right hon. Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon), is an inquiry as to what element of Imperial interest is involved, and on that account what contribution, if any, from Imperial sources should go to the Indian Exchequer. At this stage I would like to associate myself with the tribute paid to the late Sir Alexander Cobbe, who combined brilliance and great gallantry with singular modesty and charm. I am expressing the view of every one in the Office which he last adorned when I say how deeply I regret his untimely passing.
The Noble Lord complained that in April of last year, when the outrage at Chittagong occurred, there were no military troops there. On that I am incapable of expressing an opinion. It is obviously a matter that can be decided only by the people on the spot. The Noble Lord thinks there should have been soldiers there. The outbreak, lamentable as it was, was kept within bounds. Special legislation was immediately brought into force—the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act—and within a few months it was possible to withdraw a por- 2310 tion of the force, and the position in Chittagong to-day is satisfactory.
The Noble Lord passed to Burma and complained of the conduct of the campaign against the insurrectionists. The policy of the Government in this matter is plain. It is to endow the local Governor with whatever power and force he considers necessary, but at the same time to pursue diligently the treatment both of the economic and political forces which appear to be at the root of the trouble. The economic cause is well known. It is the disastrous fall in the price of Burma's chief product, paddy. Political causes were partly touched upon in the report laid before the House. I am not in a position even now to state exactly how it is proposed to treat the constitutional question in Burma. At the moment when the correspondence in which I am engaged with India and Burma is complete I shall naturally desire to tell the House what decision has been reached.
I will refer to one other point of detail, and then I will pass to a short survey of the situation in India as I see it. The Noble Lord seemed to think that there was in what is called the Irwin-Gandhi Agreement something which has legalised what was not legal before. I am sorry that I interrupted his speech, but I have frequently stated what is the fact, that there is nothing in this document from beginning to end which makes legal a single thing that was not legal before the document was drawn up. I hope that that plain and unqualified statement will illuminate the mind of the Noble Lord and give him repose from the anxiety which afflicts him.
I said that the Government's policy gave authoritative sanction to arbitrary interference.
It is well known that in India the method of preventing people from doing a certain act, called picketing or anything else, is for people to lie down in the road in front of a shop or a university, and so to prevent ordinary members of the public getting in. Till now the police have interfered 2311 on the ground that these people were causing obstruction. It is just as much obstruction as if people lay down in front of a co-operative store so as to prevent the sale of Russian butter. I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether it is not a fact that as a result of the Government's policy the police have had instructions not to interfere with these people.
§ Mr. BENN
The Noble Lord should read the Agreement. I repeat that there is nothing in the Agreement which legalises anything that was not legal under the ordinary law—I am not speaking of the ordinances—before the Agreement was made. Let me read the passage from the Agreement:Resort will not be had to methods coming within the category of picketing except within the limit permitted by the ordinary law. Such picketing shall be un-aggressive and it shall not involve coercion, intimidation, restraint, hostile demonstration obstruction to the public or any offence under the ordinary law.That is the Agreement. In the light of those words I cannot understand what the Noble Lord means when he suggests that some sort of legal sanction has been given to practices which previously were illegal.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Mr. BENN
I will get some special information and give it to the hon. Member. I have endeavoured to answer the specific questions put by the Noble Lord, and I would like now to attempt to draw a picture of the state of India as I see it to-day. The first thing to remember is the general conditions, the background against which events are happening, both the economic and political backgrounds. In a speech which I made here some weeks ago I attempted to describe the depression which had fallen upon India on account of the fall in commodity prices. Take, for example, the prices in the last 10 years. The general price of agricultural produce 10 years ago was 100 per cent. above pre-War prices, and to-day the price is somewhat below pre-War prices. Those are taking general, all-over figures. Then take another example, the price of raw jute. As 2312 between 1928–29 the price was 360; that has been reduced to a figure of 208 this year. That, of course, implies a great many things. It implies financial embarrassments for the provincial budgets. It implies great embarrassments for individuals. It means that the consumer is not able to purchase, whether imported or indigenous goods. It means that the peasant is in great difficulty in paying the rent due to the landlord or the tax due to the Government.
Let hon. Members take the case of the consumer first. I think the real truth is that the lamentable decline in the Lancashire trade in India is to-day almost entirely—I will not say entirely—due to the depression in the purchasing power of the Indian people. I think hon. Members who have read recent reports will see that they are giving too much credit to Congress activities in this matter, and the real fact is that the purchasing power has been so reduced that this state of affairs has been brought about. I published some figures in reply to a question, and they appear in the OFFICIAL REPORT to-day. Those figures compare the foreign market of Lancashire in India and elsewhere as between 1929, which was a comparatively normal year, and 1931. The total I gave was only quantities. I can give values, if desired. They do not show quite the same movement. But these figures show two things: first, that it is almost true to say that the position of the Indian market among foreign markets is not more unfavourable to Lancashire to-day than is the position of other countries. So far as the competition between Lancashire and Japanese goods is concerned, Lancashire, on account of the activities of the Lancashire exporter, is steadily and consistently overhauling her Japanese competitors.
So much for the economic background, which is the real background against which we are working. The real dangers are not political dangers. I do not think there is anything like the same fear of outbreak of a civil disturbance as there is of an outbreak of rural disorder. In the United Provinces, as those who have followed the recent reports know, there is a state of acute tension, probably due to political discontent all working on a state of rural economic depression—real 2313 poverty among the peasants and a difficulty in paying their dues. Now take the political background. There is no doubt that among the Hindus, eager for the realisation of their hopes, believing that all parties in this country are anxious at the earliest moment to fulfil the pledges which have been made to them, are in a state of tense expectancy. On the other hand, as between the two communities the Noble Lord has given a tragic picture of the secular antagonism which has so often led to grave occurrences between the Hindus and the Moslems. Cawnpore was one of the worst of recent such disturbances. In 1929, just before this Government assumed office, there were the Bombay riots, in which 184 were killed and there were 950 casualties. Cawnpore originated on account of the hartal following the execution of Baghat Singh. The Bombay riots, following some trade dispute between the mill-workers, saw 162 killed and 950 wounded. In 1927, as is shown by the return made to the Statutory Commission, 150 people were killed in 31 separate outbreaks throughout the length and breadth of India. In 1926, going a little further back, in the disorder of the Calcutta riots 140 were killed and 1,300 wounded.
So we always have to remember in looking at the elements on which we are working the grave potentialities for this religious strife. But there is no doubt that the other element mentioned by the Noble Lord is also present. The Moslems, numerous and powerful as they are, are in a minority and under all the constitutional changes which are taking place it is inevitable that they should be asking themselves how their rights and privileges and position are going to be safeguarded in the new situation, and so we have, added to the difficulties that have always existed between the two communities, this increased anxiety and tension.
Now I would like to repeat here, in order to make myself quite clear, the statement in reference to the Moslem claims which was made by the Prime Minister at the final plenary session of the Round Table Conference in January, 1931. The right hon. Gentleman said:The view of His Majesty's Government is that responsibility for the Government of India should he placed upon the legisla- 2314 tures, central and provincial… with such guarantees as are required by minorities to protect their political liberties and rights.Therefore, I hope that by a clear statement of that kind I shall at least do something to relieve the anxieties of the Moslems who fear that in some way in the changes that are about to come their position will be prejudiced. So far as the differences between the two communities are concerned it is not for me, with my limited knowledge, to prophesy, but, looking at the Conference and with such other observations as I have been able to make, one can detect elements of hope even here—the youth of these communities, the women of these communities, and, above all, the time when the question is settled and when we may hope at last for that relief of the tension between the two communities which exists on the whole, for example, in the Indian States, where no question of their respective political rights arises.
Now let me say a word about the story of the policy of the last few years. After all, Cawnpore, with its tragedy and its disaster, must be looked at in perspective; and the real question which the Noble Lord or any other critic is entitled to level at the Government is whether, on the whole, the Government policy for two years has been justified and right. The House will remember that in Christmas, 1929, the state of the political tension in India was great and increasing. It was in Christmas of 1929 that Congress met at Lahore and passed a series of defiant resolutions. We had, at the suggestion of the Simon Commission, ourselves two months before invited the leaders of all parties in India to attend a conference at which these matters could be discussed. We failed in the first instance, and throughout 1930, from May until the end of the year and even on until March, 1931, we had to face a state of political ferment and civil disobedience in India which was grievous. It had to be met not only by the powers of the ordinary law, but by a number of special laws adapted to the circumstances. I make no apology for that. It was the duty of the Government to preserve public order, but as a result of the conference, and of the impression gained by the delegates of the conference, and the desire and opinions of Members of all parties in this House, we sent back to 2315 India a series of qualified and authoritative missionaries, ambassadors of peace, who were able, with the brilliant assistance of Lord Irwin, to secure peace where there had been conflict. [HON. MEMBERS: "Cawnpore and Dacca!"]. We secured civil peace by the Irwin-Gandhi agreement.
§ The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Lieut.-Colonel Spender-Clay)
Does the hon. Gentleman rise to a point of Order?
§ Sir C. OMAN rose——
§ Mr. BENN
I withdraw, and I offer an apology to the hon. Member, but we are fighting for peace and all the time we are surrounded by wreckers and makers of difficulties. We are fighting for peace as an achievement, and the hon. Member must forgive me if I speak with some passion at the illustrations given as to where, here and there, we have not achieved what we tried to achieve. I say that for the whole of India, taken by and large, you will find peace where you found civil disobedience. You will find co-operation among men of good will where you found non-co-operation.
§ Sir C. OMAN
Does the right hon. Gentleman include the hartal at Calcutta this week which was attended by great trouble?
§ Mr. BENN
This is an effort at peace, and I challenge contradiction when I say that, on the whole, the efforts that have been made for peace have been 2316 successful. We have extended the area of good will. We have extended the area of co-operation. We are looking forward to the time when we shall have in this country representatives of all sections of Indian opinion who are also seeking for peace.
What is the alternative? After all, it is useless to challenge our policy unless you are going to suggest an alternative. [HON. MEMBERS: "The Simon Commission!"] The alternative was that you would have had no Irwin-Gandhi pact. You would have had a continuation of civil disobedience, and you would have had the delegates to the Hound Table Conference going back to India from their mission of peace broken-hearted, going back to find that they had failed in their efforts to produce an understanding between the two countries. The right hon. Gentleman in a recent speech spoke as if the delegates to the Round Table Conference had been pushed into the background. I remember the sentence well—"pushed into the background." Does he realise that now? [Interruption.] No, believe me, the right hon. Gentleman is wrong. Members of the British Indian delegation both Moslems and Hindus, and members of the princely order impressed upon the Government and upon the Viceroy that this task of conciliation should be undertaken, and, as I know, and many Members of this Committee must know from their personal experience, nobody has rejoiced more in the conclusion of that pact and the establishment of peace, than those distinguished men who came over to co-operate with us last year in the task. Had we not pursued this policy, what would you have had? You would have been pursuing a hopeless policy and lost what measure of co-operation we had achieved, and you would have sent India back into a state from which it would have taken years to recover.
There have been dangers and there have been failures. The hon. Member for Oxford University (Sir C. Oman) is quite right, there have been failures; Cawnpore was one. Cawnpore came at a time of the greatest possible difficulty. It came after the actual conversations between the then Viceroy and Mr. Gandhi had concluded, but before the Congress itself had given additional 2317 momentum to the movement for peace in India. And it showed that we cannot afford incendiaries. It pointed the moral emphasised by the report of the United Provinces Government that a political demonstration may easily turn into violent force. It showed, if I may respectfully say so, that it is not wise to use thoughtless language even in this country, in speaking of the Indian situation, It is a great discouragement and a great warning to people who indulge in rhetoric when they should be engaged in trying to assuage feeling. It is perfectly true that there was Cawnpore, but almost immediately after Cawnpore there passed the great festival of the Bakr'ld peacefully. I think that that is a great tribute both to the wisdom and to the judgment of the officials responsible for law and order in India, as it is a tribute to the efforts continually made by members of both communities to produce a better state of feeling between them. With that picture as I have attempted to draw it, what are the duties of the respective parties concerned—I do not mean of political parties, but the respective figures in this affair? First, as to the Government of India. There is no doubt that the duty of the Government of India at this time, as at all times, is to maintain law and order, nor is there anything in this document of the conversations between the late Viceroy and Mr. Gandhi which affects the operation of the ordinary law. I think that we can truthfully say—and I think Cawnpore makes it abundantly clear—that the maintenance of peace in the streets is primarily an Indian interest.
The second duty of the Government of India that we intend to fulfil is that we should rigorously observe the terms of the understanding come to on 5th March between ourselves and representatives of Congress. The Government here and the Government in India and the provincial Governments have it as a first article of policy that undertakings given by Lord Irwin should be fulfilled both in the spirit and in the letter. Let me say this also, both from what official information I have and from what private information I have, that that policy has, without exception been that of Mr. Gandhi himself. Whatever charges have been made against Mr. 2318 Gandhi, I do not think that anyone has ever charged him with breach of faith. He has his difficulties. I cannot speak as to all his supporters, but the accurate information at my disposal is that he is striving to fulfil the undertaking on his side and that to-day he represents in India a great force standing for peace. So much for those duties.
The duty of the provincial Governments, which they are attempting to discharge under difficulties, is to render what help they can to those suffering under economic distresses. In this year in the Punjab, despite the difficulty of bringing in revenue, no less than 80 lakhs of land revenue has been remitted and almost 30 lakhs of water rates. In the United Provinces in the three years since the first claim for additional police was made, no less than 102 lakhs of land revenue have been remitted. I mention these facts because I wish that it could be known more widely among those who are suffering economic distresses in India, what great efforts the Governments of the provinces are making to relieve their necessities. As far as we are concerned in this country, in the statement made by the Prime Minister the other day, the Government expressed in the most practical way its belief in the financial stability of India. I am glad to think that the unofficial committee which is co-operating with the finance member in a retrenchment campaign in India immediately responded, not only by sending a message of gratitude to the Government for the intention it had announced, but also stating its intention to co-operate fully in seeing that the position of the Budget, as far as it was within their scope, should be stabilised.
The other thing which is our duty is to say and do nothing which can fan from this side the flames of communal strife. I agree wholeheartedly with what the Noble Lord said on that point. It is clearly our duly to make what contribution we can on this side to atone this great difference. I think we should also bear testimony to the efforts which are being made by the best men both among Hindus and Mohammedans to wipe out this stain. I would ask hon. Members if they have time to read the report of the discussion on the Cawnpore occurrences which took place in the Legisla- 2319 tive Council of the united provinces and to read the touching tribute paid by the Nawab of Chhattari to the efforts of a Hindu who had sacrificed his life in trying to save Mohammedans. And if it is true of one Hindu, it is also true of Mohammedans. One feature of all these troubles is that the best men in both communities are constantly risking their lives and sometimes sacrificing them in trying to save those of another faith. The Nawab of Chhattari is, of course, a distinguished Moslem.
I said that during the last two years we have been trying to press on with a policy of peace. The great success which attended the Conference last winter was a source of real encouragement to us. In the Debate which followed, I said that the things that we needed were sincerity and speed. I wish we could have gone ahead faster with the preparations for the re-assembly of the Conference. Circumstances of which we were not master hindered that course, but nevertheless it is our hope that within a few weeks now, the Conference, not only with its old personnel but with added personnel, will assemble in London. In variety it will be a fully representative conference, Hindus, Moslems, Sikhs, Parsees, Christians, landowners, representatives of Labour, representatives of British commerce and Indian commerce, representatives of women, representatives of depressed classes and distinguished representatives of the princely order.
§ Mr. BENN
Certainly, if that question is put, I will answer it. I will answer it now although it rather disturbs the flow of what I was trying to say. The answer is that correspondence has passed between the leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Member for Bewdley (Mr. S. Baldwin), and the Prime Minister as to the personnel of the Conference. I am not quite sure what stage the correspondence has reached at this moment, but it did contemplate that the delegations of the parties might be strengthened. That, I understand, is what was contemplated in part at least of the right hon. Gentleman's letter. I can only say this, that the view expressed by the Government in the autumn of last 2320 year as to the composition of the Conference, that is to say that it should be made up of representatives of political parties, remains unchanged.
§ Sir SAMUEL HOARE
I think that we cannot leave the matter at that point. While obviously we cannot go into confidential conversations, it is not a sufficient answer to say that the Conference will be attended by party delegations. We have always made it clear that we are not satisfied with a purely inter-party delegation.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
The right hon. Gentleman has avoided giving a reply. What is the answer to the perfectly direct question put by my hon. Friend?
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I listened most attentively to every word. [Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman has given way. Are we then to understand that the answer is "no"? The answer to the direct question whether the Chairman of the Royal Commission will be a member of the Conference, is "no." Are we to understand that?
§ Mr. BENN
I would ask that in a Debate of this kind, I might be permitted to present my argument. I have done my best in spite of a natural inclination to the contrary, to refrain from interrupting other speakers. I conclude by saying that we have as a. result of the policy of the last two years extended widely the area of co-operation between this country and interests represented in India. We hope within a few weeks time to assemble in London the Conference fully representative of opinion in India, 2321 a conference which, in variety, in power and in influence will be incomparably the most important which has ever taken place in this city. We have striven, I hope with judgment, but certainly with sincerity of purpose for two years to pursue a path of peace and co-operation. Great issues turn on this Conference. This ship is setting out laden with great hopes and vast interests and I believe will have the prayers and goodwill of the best citizens of both countries.
§ Sir JOHN SIMON
The Noble Lord who opened the Debate and the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down have both necessarily covered a very wide area of ground. We are all greatly indebted to the Secretary of State for the review of the present state of India which he has given to us. I only intervene for a short time—much shorter than the time occupied by the last speech—and will confine myself to a single matter. I agree that the raising of a Debate of this sort at this time may be of great public advantage, provided that it is carried on throughout under the conditions of restraint and with that sense of responsibility which were so warmly urged just now. It is some preparation for the much closer study of Indian affairs which Members of this House will have to undertake, and ought to be undertaking now, for while I fully recognise the importance of the Round Table Conference, in the end it has to be the informed judgment of Parliament which will determine the decision which Parliament makes.
It is also right that we should have such a Debate, because it is a recognition of the responsibility of Parliament towards India. If you take the particular question of Cawnpore, those things which are commonly classed as questions of law and order, the administration and control of the police and the related questions about magistracy, are in the provincial sphere it is true; but they are at present in that part of the provincial sphere which is reserved and is not as yet in the hands of Indian Ministers responsible to the Provincial Legislatures. The Statutory Commission which this House and the other House unanimously appointed, and which made its unanimous report to Parliament, examined most carefully whether the time had not come, 2322 as it seemed to us, to go further and to abolish diarchy in the Provinces and to hand the control of law and order over to the Provincial Ministries. We came to the conclusion that, under certain conditions, that was the proper course for us to recommend. But as things are to-day the ultimate constitutional responsibility for law and order in India rests with the Government here. The Secretary of State was right in taking that responsibility on his shoulders and in giving us a very interesting statement. It is very necessary that all of us should speak on this subject with a real appreciation of the difficulties of the burden that rests upon the right hon. Gentleman's shoulders. I can honestly say for myself that I never for a moment forget them.
Another of our duties is to face the facts as they are, and, to my way of thinking, the value of the report of the Commission of Inquiry about Cawnpore is that it helps to concentrate attention on, at any rate, one aspect of the facts which none of us must overlook. In the presence of things of this importance and scale all personal questions, all partisan disputes, appear to me to be mere dust in the balance. I was very sorry that there was an intervention in this Debate which introduced my name. I am sure the Secretary of State will believe me when I say that I am not thinking about that at all. I am anxious, as far as my powers and knowledge go, to be of what service I can in examining as far as I can and expounding a situation of manifest gravity, to which I have given two or three years of my life at the behest of the House of Commons. Let us remember that our little disputes and controversies, what this man says and what the other man replies, will pass away. What we do personally will be forgotten, but what is being done now as between Britain and India is one of the great events of the world. That is the spirit in which all of us ought to try to approach this most difficult subject.
There is this further observation to be made. I agree with what the Secretary of State has said, that it would be a very grave error to examine this Cawnpore incident in isolation. It has to be put in its proper setting. We have to consider, as fairly as we can, what are the 2323 events in the same general category that have occurred before, what is the stream of tendency and what are the particular influences at work. Briefly, I will try to do that, as I understand them. The first large consideration which everybody ought to have in mind when examining the report of this terrible tragedy at Cawnpore, on the 24th March and the following four days, is this, as the Secretary of State has said, that the occasions when Hindu and Moslem tension have been carried to the point of violent outbreak have not been infrequent in India for many years. Indeed, we must go further. The truth is, that since the Montagu reforms the occasions when Hindu-Moslem tension has been carried to the point of violent outbreak have certainly not diminished. Probably in some instances of savagery and horror they may be said to have increased. That is no argument against reform—not in the least. I would be the very last to stand up in this House to say that, but it is a fact which we had better face that the efforts that have been made to advance India along its constitutional road have been accompanied by an increasing number of desperate encounters between these two great communities.
The figures which I had in mind before the Secretary of State spoke were these, that in the years from 1923 to 1927 450 lives were lost in communal disturbances and 5,000 persons were injured. It is right to add that these statistics include certain cases in which the Sikh community were involved. Shortly after Lord Irwin reached India there was a period of nine months in respect of which figures were furnished to the Legislative Assembly, from September, 1927, to June, 1928, when there were 19 serious Hindu-Moslem riots, which affected every province in India, except Madras. Let it be noted that this tremendously difficult situation that exists between the Moslems and the Hindus in India has no parallel, not even the faintest parallel, in the division, say, between Ulster and the rest of Ireland. There is no Ulster in India. The Mohammedans are not concentrated in one portion of the country to the exclusion of the rest. On the contrary, while you have in two of the Provinces, Bengal and the Punjab, an actual majority of the population who are Mohammedans—before the last census 2324 there were 25,500,000 Moslems out of a population of 47,000,000 in Bengal, and 11,500,000 Moslems out of a population of 20,000,000 in the Punjab—in all the other Provinces of India, except Burma, you have a very substantial number of Mohammedans, not enough to command the force of numbers, but always enough to make a very serious situation unless you can keep the peace.
When Lord Irwin reached India, to undertake five years of most strenuous and devoted work, one of the first speeches that he made was one in which he declared that this Hindu-Moslem controversy was clearly the dominant issue of Indian life. He made a speech which was reprinted in the Statutory Commission's report, at the Chelmsford Club at Simla, shortly afterwards, and I defy any man to read that speech—the speech of a deeply religious man appealing to the leaders of two great Oriental religious faiths—without being deeply moved. Twelve months later Lord Irwin again took up the subject in the Legislative Assembly. I have brought with me a copy of his speech, and I would ask the leave of the Committee to read three or four sentences from what he said. He recognised as clearly as any man could that upon the solution of this Hindu-Moslem controversy really depends the peaceful future of India. This is what he said, in his speech of 29th August, 1927:I am not exaggerating when I say that, during the 17 months that I have been in India, the whole landscape has been overshadowed by the lowering clouds of communal tension, which have repeatedly discharged their thunderbolts, spreading far throughout the land their devastating havoc. From April to July last year Calcutta seemed to be under the mastery of some evil spirit, which so gripped the minds of men that in their insanity they held themselves absolved from the most sacred restraints of human conduct. Since then we have seen the same sinister influences at work in Pabna, Rawalpindi, Lahore and many other places, and have been forced to live upon that abyss of unchained human passions that lies too often beneath the surface of habit and of law. In less than 18 months, so far as numbers are available, the toll taken by this bloody strife has been between 250 and 300 killed and over 2,500 injured.… United must be the effort if it is to gain success; and on the successful issue of such work depends the building of the Indian nation.The Secretary of State is, therefore, perfectly right when he asks us to put 2325 this Cawnpore incident in its proper setting and not to treat it as though it were some unexampled outbreak. It is a fearful example, with some special features, of the course of events which, unhappily, has marked the life of India from time to time for a good many years. I want to invite the Committee to consider what is the real cause of the trouble, and I will offer humbly such suggestions as I can. Of course, we all understand that the division between the Hindus and the Moslems is a division of a kind which has no sort of parallel and analogy in contemporary Europe. Even in mediaeval Europe, the division between the Christian and the Jew was not so deep. It is a division which is not merely limited to the difference of religious faith. It is a division which necessarily touches the social life of both these great communities at 100 points, and it is a division which is made the more intense because, as was said by the Noble Lord, the real truth is that the sincere and devoted adherent of one faith, almost as a matter of conscientious feeling, finds himself revolted by the practices of the other. Yet it is very important that this should be remembered—it has not been mentioned in this Debate—that all over India, in the villages of India, you will see the people of these two faiths living and working together. There is an immense amount of neighbourly feeling. They work upon local bodies together. I have seen them in the Assembly and in the corridors of the Central Legislature, and have been in very close contact with both.
Although it is true that the Moslem is a comparatively newcomer, both these great races have been in the continent of India for hundreds of years. In the last 20 years there has been a very great increase in the degree of communal crime. What is the explanation? There is no doubt about the answer. The answer is that this increasing tension is a manifestation of the anxieties and ambitions in both communities aroused by the prospect of India's political future. That throws a most tremendous burden of responsibility upon the India Government, upon the Secretary of State, and upon all those who are responsible for conducting the administration in India to-day. I am not saying that because these prospects of political ad- 2326 vance have been aroused they ought to be discouraged or dropped because of communal tension, but I do say that the duty which rests upon the Government of India and the Government here not only to hold the scales quite fairly but to satisfy the minority that they are holding the scales fairly, is a more serious responsibility than ever before. The contrast is very important. Many people who were acquainted with the conditions in British India a generation ago would tell you that communal tension as a threat to civil peace was reduced to a minimum, and the Secretary of State has said that you get but little indication of this phase of violent communal outbreak in the Indian States, undoubtedly because there is very little for one community to fear from the predominance of another.
That is the real problem on which the House of Commons should concentrate. How are we to conduct ourselves, being as we are, as the result of history and circumstances, in a position of the gravest responsibility, in the face of this increasing tension in which it is so important not only to act impartially but to satisfy each community that we really are doing so? The Hindus, quite naturally, claim the rights of a majority. They point justly to superior qualifications of education, wealth and accomplishments. The Moslems, monotheistic, iconoclastic, hate and despise the idols and temples of the Hindus, are proud of the splendid monuments of the Mogul period, not forgetting that they represent a race which once conquered a large part of India. The Moslem is all the more determined because of his backwardness and poverty to secure that there shall be an adequate representation and a full share of official posts for his own people in the future. Both sides are actuated by motives of which nobody can speak with contempt. There you have as difficult a situation, as complex and as intractable a problem, as has ever faced thoughtful men when dealing with constitutional affairs. That was the situation when the Bound Table Conference met. I am a friend of the Round Table Conference. I have never said a word to the contrary, and it is very striking that when these selected gentlemen came to consider how this was to be solved, in spite of good will and an obvious desire to help along the road, as yet no 2327 solution of this Hindu-Moslem business has been found.
The representatives in London of the Moslem community put it on record that they would not consent to framing any constitution for India unless the Hindu-Moslem question was settled. Lord Reading was most careful to put it on record that his conditional assent to certain matters was dependent on the same thing. I am not in the least holding it up as a criticism, but purely in order to make my point, but I desire to read a sentence in the report of the Round Table Conference itself from the Subcommittee on Minorities which recorded the extent to which they had been able to go:The discussion in the sub-committee has enabled the delegates to face the difficulties involved in the schemes put up, and though no general agreement has been reached, its necessity has become more apparent than ever.That was the situation when the Round Table Conference adjourned. There is one other unfortunate event to which I must refer before I come to the Blue Book about Cawnpore. I am endeavouring to trace the course of events rather than to make criticisms, certainly not to make any damaging or unfair references. There were two events in the beginning of March, 1931, before the Cawnpore outbreak. One was the release of persons who had been detained under the law for civil disobedience, and the other was the meeting between Lord Irwin and Mr. Gandhi which resulted in the conversations, and the paper from which the Secretary of State has read.
That is the course of events which has to be kept in mind when one studies this Report on Cawnpore. I hope that there are many hon. Members who can put their hands upon their hearts and say that they have read the document and studied it carefully. Not only is the body of the document one of great interest and importance, but what thereafter follows, as is the practice in Indian administration—what is called the "Resolution" of the Provincial Government of the United Provinces, which is the way in which in India a provincial government records its views upon the report of a committee, as though the Statutory Commission when it had presented its report to Parliament had had the good fortune 2328 to have that report considered and pronounced upon by the Government of the day. That is the ordinary practice in India. I ask hon. Members to observe the structure of this document. It describes in a very important part what it calls the predisposing causes of this outbreak, and it then goes on to deal with the immediate causes.
I ask the Committee to observe that it is a report from a body which included an Englishman m the Indian Civil Service, a Moslem, and a Hindu, a man very well versed in public life. It is a unanimous report. There can be no doubt whatever, if we are to accept what is stated in this document, that the Moslems of Cawnpore looked with the greatest suspicion upon the events which had recently occurred at Delhi. I am not saying that they were right, but the important thing here is that if you do not understand what the people were thinking you do not know whether their motives and intentions were good or that your policy was wise. The important thing is to see the reaction, and to take warning lest there might be a great misunderstanding. Turning to the report, I there read that in a place like Cawnpore, a great town with more than 200,000 people, the Manchester of India, with its cotton mills and leather factories, with a predominant Hindu population, a great many of the depressed classes, and a considerable Moslem population, that—the Muslims of Cawnpore at any rate came to look on the Congress organisation as practically a purely Hindu body.Mr. Gandhi, in his dealings with Lord Irwin, besides speaking in his own personal character, was the spokesman and representative of the Congress, and it is a very serious thing to read here that this important Moslem body in Cawnpore came to look on the Congress organisation as practically a purely Hindu body. It says:They could not understand why another community, as they had come to look on the Congress now, should be permitted to impose their will on them.On page 13 of the report, referring directly to the negotiations with Mr. Gandhi, which took place only a fortnight before, I read:The Muslims read in these negotiations a recognition by the Government of the strength of the movement, if not a surrender to it.2329 And the report goes on to say:Hindu opinion only was consulted, and Muslim opinion was ignored.The point is that this report, signed by people drawn from all the communities, states most clearly that that in fact was the reaction which occurred in Cawnpore within a fortnight after the conversations with Mr. Gandhi. The importance of it, as far as I am concerned, is that I want to urge the Government, with all my power, not to change any policy which they think is right, but to make as plain as words can make it that they are not content with pursuing a course which is a wise course, and which is pursued with a truly disinterested desire to promote peace and. accord, but that they are determined to make it plain to the Moslem population that the old British tradition of holding the scales perfectly fairly is preserved intact. I do not doubt that this has been the intention of Lord Irwin, and also of the Secretary of State, but no man can read this Blue Book without seeing that in the judgment of this Commission, and in the opinion of the Government of the United Provinces, there has been something here which ought without any delay to be made clearer than it is at present. The report says that in the view of the Moslems, after these conversations with Mr. Gandhi, the Hindus were regarded by the Moslems as taking a rather boastful and truculent attitude, and it asserts that in these circumstances and that degree of suspicion you have the actual immediate causes of this horrible outbreak.
If anyone wants to read how horrible such an outbreak was—I will not read the passage myself—let him get this Blue Book and look at page 24 and read a story of treachery, outrage and cruelty inflicted upon women and children, which makes one despair of human nature. So much for the report. What do the Government of the United Provinces say about it? The most distinguished Governor, Sir Malcolm Hailey, probably the most authoritative administrator in India, was not present in India at the moment when the Cawnpore business occurred, but later the Government of the United Provinces discussed the matter, and we have on page 62 a most important pronouncement. I ask the attention of the Committee to it. This 2330 pronouncement declares that in the view of the Government of the United Provinces there can be no doubt that the responsibility for the severity of the outbreak was the course taken by the civil disobedience movement.In the words of the Commission, the movement had openly aimed at paralysing the Government, but it had come to be regarded in Cawnpore…. as a Hindu movement with Muslim activity or passiveness in opposition.The Government of the United Provinces in pronouncing their own considered judgment on these terrible events think it right to point to the Delhi conversations early in March, 1931, and to trace between these events, however intelligible and well intended, some connection with what subsequently happened. It says:At a later stage of the agitation various ordinances dealing with civil disobedience were fully utilised and some 1,400 persons were convicted of offences arising under them. As a consequence, in the period immediately preceding the Delhi Agreement"—the Irwin-Gandhi conversations—outward respect for law seemed to have been re-established in the city.As a result of taking action in respect of civil disobedience, as a result of convicting a certain number of persons of offences, and imprisoning them they did, in fact, in this great city of Cawnpore, re-establish, at any rate, an outward respect for the law. Then the Governor and the Government of the United Provinces go on to say:But the general course of events during the period of agitation and the cessation of all police action which followed the conclusion of the agreement must have conduced to creating a dangerous mentality among many of the more turbulent and criminal elements of the city.I am bound to confess that I am most deeply disturbed by reading this document. It puts me in mind of the observation made by another most distinguished Governor, Sir Geoffrey de Montmorency, who only a short time afterwards, in the adjoining province of the Punjab, is reported to have said:Our toleration has only in the end bred licence.He proceeded to refer to breaches of the agreement arrived at between Lord Irwin and Mr. Gandhi and said that the 2331 response to this policy of tolerance and abstention from prosecutions, had beena spate of incitements to violence and breaches of the agreement.I have no sort of pleasure in calling attention to these matters but it seems to me that if we are going to discuss the situation that has arisen in India, it is not right entirely to ignore the view expressed by two of the most distinguished Governors under the British Crown. What is the real matter which might perhaps fairly be criticised? I am abstaining altogether from any general assault upon the policy pursued. But I do know that down to quite recently the Moslem community and the Hindu community were equally certain that the British influence in India was being exercised perfectly fairly between the two and it is not enough to say that we want to do that now. I say it with all respect to that most distinguished man, but Mr. Gandhi is not the whole of India. If it be true that, in the view of this Commission and the Government of the United Provinces, this outrage and this fearful outburst of atrocity and fury, was in any degree a reaction due to Mohammedan misunderstanding and suspicion, it really behoves us all and the Government most of all, to correct that misapprehension without loss of time.
This document throws a most powerful searchlight into a part of the Indian field which I do not think, on the whole, has been sufficiently explored. The propaganda which goes on in this country and still more that which goes on in America, is almost exclusively Hindu, and very persuasive, very intelligent and very persistent it is. I am proud to count among my friends many in that great community and I desire nothing so much as that they should play their proper part in the future government of their country. But I am sure of this: that the peace of India cannot be secured unless the Moslem community feels that it is adequately safeguarded. It would be a most profound error to imagine that the policy which confines itself to seeking to conciliate extremists and Congress leaders is going to produce peace. It is not. It is going to produce a sword and it is departing from the great tradition of British administration as far as it is exercised in India. There is no place 2332 in the world where yielding to extreme opinion, while disregarding minority interests, is more certain to lead to disaster.
Britain's greatest service to India and the one which I am avowedly proud to defend in the face of everybody is this. Not only has she held the balance even between the communities, but the minority communities have realised that that was what she was doing. Therefore, what I urgently desire to do, without seeking in the least to interpose contentious and it may be ill-informed criticism in matters which are entrusted to others, and about which I do not profess to have an intimate knowledge, is to beg the Government from the bottom of my heart to make it perfectly clear that in the whole course of the administration of the affairs in India to-day, minority communities, not only the Moslems but the others, may be made to feel that while Mr. Gandhi holds so large a part of the stage and is no doubt a very important figure, we are just as anxious as ever we were to make the contribution which we can make, and which I think we alone can make, to keeping the balance quite even between all concerned. This Hindu-Moslem quarrel which overshadowed the latter days of the Round Table Conference and threatens now to make shipwreck of so many hopes, must be appeased if any advance is to be made and the only point which I seek to urge is this: Whatever the Government thinks, in its judgment, is the right policy now to pursue, I hope that the Secretary of State will repeat and reaffirm—and I was very glad to notice his remarks just now—a perfectly definite assurance to the minority communities of India that we have not in the least departed from our traditional and sacred duty of securing that their interests are not going to be jeopardised in any future negotiations.
§ Colonel LANE FOX
It is always difficult for anyone to follow a speech delivered by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) and it may seem an impertinence on the part of one who went out to India as a member of the Commission under his leadership to follow him on this occasion, or to seek to add anything to the speech which he has just 2333 delivered. But I would like to take this opportunity of reminding the House of Commons that it is not so very many months ago since, by a unanimous vote, they sent that Commission to India with a very urgent duty and very important functions. It is also well, perhaps, to remind hon. Members that the decisions and recommendations of that Commission were unanimous. I also take this, the first opportunity I have had, of saying that all the members of that Commission owe the deepest debt of gratitude to our leader and chairman the right hon. and learned Gentleman who has just spoken. The amount of work which he did, the way in which he slaved night and day to get at the bottom of the difficult problems presented to us and to carry his colleagues with him and to conciliate all the various conflicting elements, was the chief cause of the Commission's success in the report which it was able to present to this House.
The right hon. Gentleman's speech has again illustrated the unanimity of that Commission. I find myself in considerable difficulty because many of the things which he said so well I had been hoping to say, though I could not have expressed them as he did. Still, there are a few points upon which I wish to offer some remarks. I feel sure that nobody at this moment can approach this question without realising the grave responsibility to which allusion has already been made. Far more harm than is perhaps understood in this country, is caused by unfortunate phrases, very often brilliant but all the more mischievous on that account, which are telegraphed to India and are taken in India to mean that the British people are not sincere in their declarations of friendship. Occasional expressions of contempt or hostility which come from some politicians in this country, may he regarded in India as expressions of the opinion of the British people as a whole. I hope that that impression will never come from the more responsible elements in this Committee because our future success, if there is to he any, in dealing with the Indian problem very largely if not entirely depends upon maintaining an atmosphere of goodwill which such utterances cannot fail to dissipate and destroy. The danger in the discussion of such matters as the Cawnpore trouble has already been mentioned. 2334 Anything said here which is unfortunately misleading in character may cause to start again those flames of communal hatred which I hope at the moment are dying down.
The Cawnpore report is a distressing document but if it has no other good result I hope it will bring home to the House and the country the grave danger of allowing any serious weakening of British authority in India. There are some in this Committee who, in the sincerity of their enthusiasm, speak as if we could at once hand over to India all that many Indians want, and all that Congress leaders ask. They at any rate, have an opportunity of considering, when they read this appalling document, the grave risks that may be run by trying to apply to India, before the time is ripe a policy which in the circumstances might result in weakening the authority which ought to exist there. I wish to point out that the report and all the accounts we have had of what happened in Cawnpore show that those riots were not against the British Raj. They were almost entirely of a communal nature and, so much has been said already of the depth of communal feeling in Cawnpore, that it is unnecessary to labour that point.
It is quite true, and we found it all through our travels in India, that the communal trouble, instead of getting better, seems to be getting worse, for the reason which the right hon. Gentleman gave, that as the moment approaches for the majority community to attain power and responsible government in British India, the risk to the minority seems to be getting greater. There is no doubt that that is why in the Indian States where no such change is imminent you do not have more communal trouble. It is not a sign in itself of the weakness of British government that such occurrences as that at Cawnpore take place. The fact that such horrible things can occur are not in themselves proof that the Government are not exercising their authority. They are mainly useful to us as a warning of the very grave under currents which exist. No doubt circumstances in Cawnpore conspired to make things worse than they need have been. There is no doubt that the police were not as active as they might have been. That is an instance of 2335 the personal factor coming in, and it is not for us in this House to judge who is to blame and who is not. It would be unfair for anybody with such limited knowledge as we must have to express an opinion.
I have heard it asked, and have seen it in the newspapers, why so much blame should be attached to the district magistrate, Mr. Sale, and why the District Commissioner should apparently escape all blame. It is suggested that this might be an instance of unfair leniency being shown to the Indian, and a scapegoat being made of the European. I imagine that the answer to that is that the Commissioner has an enormous district to deal with, and it is perfectly impossible for him to have direct responsibility for each place in it. Cawnpore is only one part of an enormous division, and the district magistrate is the person who is directly responsible for the maintenance of law and order in that place. I do not know enough, however, to apportion the blame, and I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that it is of the utmost importance that he should make it quite clear that he will see on all occasions that the Indian civil servants, to whom we owe such a lot, are always fairly treated. I am sure that he is as anxious as any man can be to see that this is so. In this case, of course, the excuse is made that the police force was inadequate, and that there was a want of liaison with the military; and this should be said in extenuation of what happened. We must, however, remember that Sir Malcolm Hailey does not seem to complain of the blame that is thrown on this particular magistrate and that he himself is a very distinguished member of the Indian Civil Service and there is no man in whom that service have greater confidence than Sir Malcolm Hailey.
The police are a provincial service, and we repeatedly found in the course of our travels throughout India that there was obviously a difficulty in maintaining the police on the standard at which they ought to be kept. The police throughout the country are notoriously underpaid and badly housed. The reason is that it is not a popular service for which to vote money. The public bodies want to 2336 spend money on education, roads and more popular subjects, and we were told in many provinces in India that there is difficulty in getting money for the police service. On page 41 of the Cawnpore Report, there is a description of howthe District Magistrate and the Superintendent of Police have both complained of the insufficiency of the police force in Cawnpore in normal times, a fact to which the European commercial community was also alive. In 1928, the then Superintendent of Police prepared a. very careful scheme for a permanent increase.At the end of the paragraph we are told,The Government reply was that 'In view of the present financial stringency the Governor in Council has dropped your proposal for an increase in the police in Cawnpore.'That illustrates the great need that will arise always in India, and especially when responsible government is more extended in the provinces. At present the police are a reserved service, but when they come to be, as is suggested by the Statutory Commission, and as has been endorsed, so far as it has gone, by the Round Table Conference, a transferred service, it is hoped that this comparatively unpopular service will be given a better show than it has been in the past. It may be very unfair to those in authority if you do not give them adequate means to carry out the duties they have to carry out. But as has been said, we must not base on the Cawnpore troubles any general argument against the Government of India or a further progress in constitutional matters.
I cannot discuss constitutional matters now, but it is only fair to the Government of India to say that while these serious troubles were in Cawnpore, there were no other troubles approaching them in the rest of India, and if the effect of Government action had been largely the cause of the trouble in Cawnpore, some similar results would have been shown in other districts. Such riots have been not at all an uncommon thing in the past, and there have been troubles of this kind in many districts in India. I remember a very distinguished official with whom I stayed in Lahore describing to me the horrible things he had seen in riots of this kind. He had seen bodies brought there with heads so smashed that they were past recognition, and he described to me the sort of thing that might at any 2337 moment blaze out in the case of communal trouble in Lahore or any part of the Punjab.
To talk as if we can govern India by bayonets alone, is to go entirely beyond the realities of the present situation. It is true that we must take care that the Government is strong, but strong in the sense of inspiring confidence in all the communities that we shall be able to hold the scales fairly between them. After all, what is strong government? It is government which has not only force it can use, but good will behind it. You must not mistake good will and weakness. You must not think that in order to get good will you must have weak administration. That is the last thing in the world I would suggest, and we cannot suppose that we can at this moment give everything that the Indians want, whether we think it good for them or not. We must protect them against their own weakness and maintain financial credit whether they think our methods of doing it are derogatory to their dignity or not. We must see that powers are given to them to maintain law and order, and see that respect is shown for the British trader and British trading rights. At the same time, we must do our best even more than we do now, to see the Indian point of view.
We must not use Cawnpore as an excuse for going back on pledges that have been given by statesmen in the past, or make it an excuse for a change of policy. We Britons would resent very much if we were being ruled by a foreigner, especially if we knew that he was more efficient than we were, and if he were constantly impressing that fact on us. There are many Members in this House who are reluctant to sing "Rule, Britannia," but there are very few who would not wish to sing that "Britons never will be slaves"; and it is fair to allow the Indians the same race consciousness that we have ourselves. There is grave danger in the use of phrases of contempt and disrespect towards things and people which the Indians respect, and such phrases of contempt and disrespect that they bitterly resent, and I hope that nothing in this Debate will take a line of that kind. After all, phrases of that kind help no one. They injure the cause of good will and unity, and make it far 2338 more difficult for those who are doing their utmost to maintain the rights of this country and the security of India. Their position is made far more difficult when these things are sent out to India and published as representative opinions.
We must in all that we do rule India with firmness but with sympathy. We must make her feel that we are prepared to be strong when strength is needed, as we are prepared to give no undue favour to any community, but that the standard of British justice will always remain, as it has always been, a high one in India. There are those who are beginning to doubt whether our standard of justice in India is as high as it was. We must try to eliminate that suspicion, because the only way by which we can hope to succeed in promoting success and prosperity in India and to make her a willing, prosperous and useful member of the British Empire, is by combining strength and firmness with sympathetic dealing.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
The Committee has had the pleasure of listening to what I would call a straight and honest speech, and I only wish that the right hon. and gallant Member for Barkston Ash (Colonel Lane Fox) will reconsider his decision to retire from Parliament, for his is the kind of speech on this question which is of use to the House. I cannot say the same of the speech that preceded it. The right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) seemed to be in great difficulty. Apparently, he disapproves very strongly of Lord Irwin, but he does not like to let it leak out. He is anxious to wound and yet afraid to strike. How the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) must have murmured,Infirm of purpose!Give me the dagger.But the right hon. and learned Gentleman will preserve that reputation for impartiality and remain a possible future successor to some Viceroy in India. All I wish to remark about that speech is that, however guarded and courteous and involved, it will do infinite harm in India, as a convenient example of the well-advertised British hypocrisy. Communal differences are so convenient. That is exactly the type of speech that is said to show our hypocrisy to the world.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
After listening to the speeches of Secretaries of State and Under-Secretaries, I have sometimes wondered whether the Government benches were any better than the benches opposite, but I am glad to find that on the subject of India we can get a sympathetic speech from the Government. The speech of the right hon. Gentleman is certainly the best we have had since the days of Montagu. I believe that, in spite of the sneers that are thrown at it, sympathy will do most good in India; and yet in listening to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, and, indeed, in listening to the whole of the Debate, it seemed to me that in the last nine months Indian freedom has slumped; that there is not to-day the same hope—or the same fear; that a change has come over the scene.
I think it is only right that we should make quite clear to India as well as to ourselves what sort of things have changed the outlook. There has been, of course, the change of opinion of a Maharajah or so—but I do not attach very much importance to that; there has been the non-enforcement of the Sarda Act—an unfortunate matter, making the humanitarian a little more doubtful; there has been a growing financial anxiety, increased, I am afraid, by the rash statement by Nehru that a free India would not pay interest on her loans; and there has been the terrible slump in raw materials, producing a poverty in India even worse than that which existed before, and accentuating the Congress demand for a demonetised rupee—a subject to which I shall refer later. In addition to all that there has been this growth of communal strife, a strife, however, which I do not think the Committee ought to exaggerate. After all, what took place in Cawnpore took place only a year before in Jerusalem and all over Palestine. This growth of communal bitterness seems to get worse as self-government gets nearer. It has made people wonder whether the intransigeant minorities, when they demand guarantees, will be satisfied with any guarantee except the continuance of British rule. That is the greatest trouble to us who really believe that it would be better for the British Empire as well as 2340 for India if we could see a free self-governing Dominion, friendly to us, in our vision of the future of the Indo-British Commonwealth.
In the few words I shall address to the Committee I wish to deal with two points—the economic background to the struggle, and the communal issue. The position taken up by the Indian Nationalist who wants freedom for India before anything else is that there should be a common roll of electors and that minorities should have the protection that minorities enjoy in this country. I think that view is perfectly right. The best protection for a minority is a vote on a common roll. What protects the Catholic minority here, what protects the Jewish minority here, is the fact that Jews and Catholics have votes for every Member of this House. If the Catholics and the Jews had communal representation in this House their protection would be infinitely less. I am perfectly certain that that is so, and that the ordinary Indian Nationalist, knowing that to be so, asks for a common roll, not only because it is democratic but because it is, in fact, the best protection for minorities'. But there is no getting away from the fact that the minorities do not believe it. The minorities will not have it. Every offer made is turned down. The minorities are afraid that if we go the next rulers will behave worse to them, and that is the real difficulty.
We must make up our minds whether we are to hold back the emancipation of India because of a nervousness which flatters our sense of our conduct in the past and our sense of Imperialism, but is, I believe, a mistaken point of view. The right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley pointed out that in the countryside Moslems and Hindus get along together. He might have pointed out that in the factories they get along together, that there is no quarrel where a man is faced with the ordinary struggle of getting his daily bread. The struggle comes from the top, from the people who want the jobs, from the people whose job it is to stir up bitterness. That is the worst of all communal representation. The man who is most extreme in the statement of his case against the rest is the man elected to voice those opinions in the Press and in the country, and instead of getting a moderate element, anxious not 2341 to offend, possible voters you get in your councils and assemblies people whose reputation, whose seats, whose existence depends upon the violence of their communal views. There is a cure for all this communal trouble. The hatred between Christian and Jew 300 years ago was every bit as bad as the hatred between Moslem and Hindu to-day—among the uneducated it is still as bad to-day; but, happily, as education and free thought spread, as they have spread in India during the last 40 years, it becomes more and more difficult to excite these communal differences. Along those lines only do I see a real hope of the abolition of this hatred of one caste for another that one finds in India.
Let us remember that there is no man in India to-day who has done more to break down the caste system than Gandhi. We look upon Gandhi as a protagonist of India against England, but in India Gandhi is the protagonist of the outcast, he favours doing away with communal differences and the building up of a real system of brotherly love. His principal work in India has been raising the outcast and trying to do away with the struggle between Hindu and Moslem, and it is a mistake to see in him an enemy of England. He is much more the friend of a united India composed of self-respecting people. I should say that in the spread of education, the gradual spread of the Western mind among the Indian people, and the breakaway from these polytheistic religions, together with the constantly growing influence of Gandhi, we have the best hope of breaking down these communal troubles. All I would put into the common pot is the view that the common roll is the best protection for a minority, and that the worst method of perpetuating caste and racial strife is to have a communal roll of electors and men elected on the councils whose business it is to antagonise the other sects instead of trying to smooth out the differences between them.
Let me come to the other point. All over the world there has been a terrific slump in the price of raw materials. It has not affected India or ourselves only, but also South America, Australia, Germany and elsewhere. In all those countries it has become more difficult to pay debts. When we see riots in Korea 2342 we may be sure that debts are at the bottom of it. Riots in Ceylon—debts! The old pogroms against the Jews—debts!
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
Well, in China I do not know whether it is the debts. One of the inevitable results of economic crises, as all history shows, is that in some way or other the people who are producing the wealth of the world find the burden of debt too much for them and turn upon the people who have lent them the money and rend them, or kill them off, or tear up their debts. In a modern nation one cannot murder the lenders of money, but what happens is that people demonetise their currency in order to get rid of their debts, or part of their debts. As the currency depreciates so the debts go down. They have done that in Australia, in South America—everywhere throughout the world; and the people who have lent them money hate them for it, but it cannot be helped. It always happens like that, and we have got to make the best of it. It is what is happening in India to-day. For years in India the Congress party have been largely dominated by the people who are exporters and manufacturers. Exporters and manufacturers, particularly those on the Bombay side, are passionately anxious to get the rupee down to 1s. 4d. or even 1s. or less, and I honestly believe that Gandhi has had more trouble over his heavy subscribers urging him to take that course than over everything else. They all want the rupee down—just as I think it would not be half a bad thing if we had the £ down—to increase their exports, to cheek their imports, to act as an additional tariff on all imports; and unfortunately the working classes in India do not appreciate that that means a higher cost of living to them.
This movement for the demonetisation of the rupee has been going on for years. On the top of this comes this frightful depression, when debts are a terrific burden. Therefore, we have not only an economic but a political plus economic interest driving in this one direction, and I think the existence of that difficulty is one which the people of this country and the India Office ought to take into account. Is it quite impossible to get off the gold 2343 standard in India? We are at present having to buy reverse council drafts. We have to make statements about the credit of India. The difficulties are getting worse. I can imagine nothing more popular in India with the Congress party, which includes most of the Indian people, than a fresh inquiry into this position. It is now six years or more since the great inquiry took place. I fancy that it would alleviate the situation if Indians here knew that we were taking their financial position into consideration, not merely guaranteeing it, but considering how we can strengthen that position, reduce their unemployment, increase the price of securities and stimulate the marketing of their agricultural produce. That is a suggestion which I beg the Secretary of State to take into account. I can assure him that, when the Round Table Conference meets again, the sympathetic character of his administration in India and the enormous admiration that the whole of the Indian people have for Lord Irwin, will have put the British Government in a much better position for dealing with the problems that the Round Table Conference will have to face. The position will be infinitely stronger, but I do beg him to think out clearly, before the Conference comes along, what it is he wants to develop in India. It is no use being vague about it. If the Bill cannot be drafted, at any rate let us have a much more precise picture. Let us do what is possible to soothe the irreconcilable minorities, but if necessary let us disregard, if they are unreasonable, the demands of those minorities.
If we are to see, as an outcome of this Round Table Conference, something of which all future generations in this country, and in India, will be proud, something which will go down in history like the Durham Reforms in Canada, then it is necessary that the Government should think out what they want, and should not throw their cards on the table and say, "We leave it to you to decide." They are not in a position to decide. Somebody must lay down the law as to what can be done, and what cannot be done, to secure the rights of the minorities, and to secure for the people of this country the conviction that their investments in India are as safe under an Indian Government as they would be under a British Government.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
My Noble Friend the late Under-Secretary of State for India delivered a speech which covered the whole field of Indian administration, and, although it was couched in the most modest terms and in that restrained language which we are all urged to use upon this subject at all times, it amounted none the less to a severe indictment of the policy of His Majesty's Government and of the Secretary of State for India. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) spoke of his sympathy for the great difficulties with which the Secretary of State has had to grapple. I do not feel the same as he. I think that many of those difficulties are of his own manufacture and are the manufacture of his friends. The right hon. and learned Gentleman for Spen Valley paid compliments in various directions. I am very glad he has not paid a compliment to me. After compliment there comes a pretty fierce thrust, to which the compliment is but an introduction.
I shall not take up any of the time of the Committee this afternoon upon compliments in any quarter. I am anxious to carry on the discussion from the point to which it was brought by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Spen Valley. He devoted the whole of his powerful and impressive speech, the most damaging speech, if you look beneath the compliments and all the safeguarding sentences, that has been delivered in this Parliament against the policy of the Secretary of State, primarily to the question of the Cawnpore report which we have before us this afternoon, and I think he was quite right to do so, because without this Cawnpore tragedy there would have been no Debate this afternoon. This was the starting point and main impulsion upon which this Debate was asked for. Although I intend, not at any length, to survey the general field of Indian life and Government, I shall begin by asking the Committee to follow the significance of the Cawnpore report in the same manner as the right hon. and learned Gentleman has done.
Let us look at the chain of causation; let us remount it link by link. First of all, about these massacres in Cawnpore. What is the cause of the massacres? I am going to say in the simplest terms. The cause of the massacres is the tension and hostility between the Hindus and 2345 the Moslems. They have been inflamed against one another. Why have they been inflamed? Why were they inflamed at this juncture? Here, again, there is no doubt whatever, if one studies the report before us, that they have been inflamed in Cawnpore by the action prolonged of the Hindus and Congress Party in the civil disobedience movement, and matters were brought to a bead by the pact between Lord Irwin and Mr. Gandhi, and the release of prisoners in large numbers which accompanied that agreement. That brought the matter to a head.
I was never one who thought that the Gandhi-Irwin pact was a wise or prudent or statesmanlike measure. I considered that it was a very grave perilous error in thought and in Government, and bitterly have we paid for it even in the short time which has elapsed. The right hon. Gentleman says that although it may have led to massacres here and there, or words to that effect, it has given peace over the greater part of India. It has not given peace. I will quote him an authority which he will accept, no less an authority than Mr. Gandhi himself. I am not quoting any British officials. Here is the highest authority of all, Mr. Gandhi. Let us see what Mr. Gandhi said about this pact which has brought peace.The Gandhi-Irwin arrangement is a pact or trucesaid Mr. Gandhi:It can never be a peace.That is Mr. Gandhi. This meeting and making of an agreement between His Majesty's chief representatives in India and the leader of a movement of civil disobedience was a direct precursor, and, as I assert, a recognisable and principal cause of the massacres which took place in Cawnpore. But let us look behind. Let us follow this chain up, in the reverse order in which events have taken place. What was the cause of the Irwin-Gandhi pact? There you come to the Bound Table Conference which was a direct cause of the Gandhi-Irwin pact. I do not see how Lord Irwin could have given effect to the sentimental expectation excited by the foolish outpourings of the Round Table Conference, unless he proceeded to release all the prisoners and to endeavour to come to some terms with Mr. Gandhi and the Congress Party 2346 and to erect them into a body with whom he might have a negotiation. I criticise the Act, but I quite understand that the Viceroy, following on all that had happened here, was bound to make some arrangements of this kind. Therefore, I say you need to see the cause of the massacre of Cawnpore, and you have to look at this other blunder of the Round Table Conference which raised all those hopes of responsible government as a mere interlude to Dominion status and seemed to infer that there could be no difficulty in giving effect to all those hopes in a very short time. Here are the two: This is the ancestor, the Round Table Conference; and here is the descendant, the lineal descendant, the report of the Cawnpore massacre.
Let us look at this report of the Cawnpore massacre. It is a working model of the kind of situation in which you are going to move generally in India. It is what you might call a cameo of disintegration. First of all, there is the atmosphere, this atmosphere where the high Government makes terms with lawlessness and disorder, this atmosphere where hopes are excited which cannot be fulfilled; this atmosphere where all the foundations of Indian life are unsettled by the suggestion that follows, that the great power which has given peace to India for two centuries is winding up its affairs, and is going to withdraw its governing, guiding, and protecting hand. That is the first fact and the first feature, which comes out of this report.
What is the next feature? It is the harassed British civil servant no longer sure of himself, no longer sure of his superiors. This civil servant, taught not to enforce the law evenly or fearlessly; taught that he must not interfere with Congress volunteers because they are covered by some agreement made on high; the harassed civil servant, I have no doubt typical of many hundreds of those who have hitherto upheld with so much success our name and authority in India, but now weakened, his prestige weakened, his confidence in himself undermined. That is the second feature which comes to our eyes in reading this report.
Then there is the hideous outbreak of horrible massacre. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Spen Valley spoke in terms which cannot be 2347 reproved about that; the treachery to which old friends and neighbours were exposed; asked into their neighbours' houses for safety and then butchered, women and children, in the most horrible fashion; an outbreak of primordial fury and savagery and of all those animal and bestial instincts. I should like the Committee to note the attitude of the British military authorities. British troops reside in a city of 54,000 inhabitants, and there are 66 men who march out in the first instance. More troops are gradually brought to the scene, but what is the attitude of the military authorities? They do not allow—and very properly so—their men to be split up into little detachments and spread about in the streets of the city. They feel they must keep them concentrated until at any rate they are quite sure it is not the white inhabitants who are likely to be the victims of mob fury. That is a most significant fact. The difference between the military authorities on the spot and the civil authorities which is referred to in this report is representative of the different point of view between the military and civil authorities throughout India—the civil authorities being involved in a continuous series of compromises and arrangements, which I have already described, with the forces of disorder, and the military authorities holding themselves as far as they can aloof and keeping the troops out of contact with the Indian mob or crowd in the streets, and their forces intact, in case a very much graver emergency arises. That is most instructive, and it comes from the pages of the report.
What is another feature of the report? There are the attempts to conceal the facts which were made by the Secretary of State. The account he gave of the casualties was intended to minimise the whole affair, and to-day he has endeavoured to minimise it by saying there had been other horrible occurrences of this kind. The report says that 400 or 500 persons were killed, but there are a great many authorities and persons in India who hold that is it much more like 1,000 persons who lost their lives in the streets and alleys of Cawnpore. Lastly, following the report, we see the Commission of Inquiry set up by the Govern- 2348 ment of India, which, after surveying the scene and writing a most able report, selects for blame and punishment, Mr. Sale, a British civil servant, who was in charge of the city—one white man almost alone with all responsibility. He is selected and held up for public censure which, I have no doubt, in one form or another, will mean the ruin of his career. What is his crime? His crime is that he has followed the example—perhaps a little too literally—set him from on high. It is very difficult for civil servants in India at present to act with the confidence of a Clive or Warren Hastings when all the time from above arrangements are being made with the forces of disorder to render the authority of those civil servants and their prestige alike enormously lessened. What has happened at Cawnpore, as set down in the Blue Book, is only what will happen throughout India on a far larger scale if British authority should be withdrawn. Language has been used—and most wrongfully and most deceitfully used—to suggest British authority is going to be withdrawn. The Lord Chancellor said:India will in future be governed by Indiansnot "in the future" mark you, but "in future." There alone you have a statement which is likely to cause every form of despondency and alarm. Mr. Gandhi has expressed his views on this question of communal strife—a saintly figure, as we are told by my hon. and gallant Friend to whose speech we listened with so much pleasure, who has devoted his life to assuaging communal differences—Mr. Gandhi, expressing his view on this question, said that if the British troops were withdrawn no doubt there might be trouble, but why should not Indians fight their own battles—their own battles, that is, against each other—which might end in the exhaustion or destruction of one or the other race? Can you wonder that the minorities are alarmed? This episode of Cawnpore is a shameful failure on the part of His Majesty's Government to protect the minorities. It is a shameful failure to give the ordinary primary protection to individuals and to minorities. Who are the minorities? We hear a lot about minorities. One of the minorities consists of 70,000,000 Moslems, another of the 60,000,000 Untouchables, and another of the 5,000,000 2349 or 6,000,000 Christians. There are several smaller minorities. There are the Eurasians, or Anglo-Indians, in a most pitiful plight, and, last of all, but not least, there are the British and their wives and children. Those are the minorities, and I say every one of them, from one end of India to the other, is at this moment quaking with fear or anxiety. I do not wonder at it.
The Secretary of State to-day tried to use words of reassurance. He read out a statement made by the Prime Minister saying that minorities would be protected by such guarantees as might be necessary. When any of us at any time in these long discussions has felt anxious and disturbed and has put queries to those who are conducting this policy, the only answer that has been given is "Oh, well, the case of minorities will all be carefully provided for and be entrusted to the supreme powers reserved to the Viceroy." I have said in this House that to put such burdens as are contemplated upon the Viceroy is to go beyond the limits of the capacity of the greatest men that we have known in this country, but that is always the stock answer to any misgivings which are put forward on behalf of the minorities. What does the present Viceroy say about his duties? I must read this quotation to the House. Lord Willingdon at Simla on 29th June:I am quite clear that the work the Viceroy has to do is much too heavy for a gentleman of my mature years, and I venture to hope that all those concerned, when they get over to London in the near future, will hurry on towards the completion of their labours in regard to constitutional reforms so that my life may more closely approximate to the four happy years I spent in Canada as a constitutional Governor-General and in order that I may be relieved of many of my constitutional duties.That is a very extraordinary speech to have been made and it is only following up, I admit——
§ The CHAIRMAN
I understood the right hon. Gentleman was quoting a speech. In so far as his quotation was concerned, I think it was in order.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
Far from criticising, I was proceeding to defend, because the Viceroy was only following the example which was set by the right hon. Gentleman. He was following accurately the line taken by his official superiors. Here is the right hon. Gentleman who two months ago in one of the Debates on India, when dealing with the question of the boycott of Lancashire trade and the constant suffering caused in Lancashire, said—I am not quoting his exact words—"Well, in a short time there will be an Indian Minister of Trade with whom all these matters can be satisfactorily arranged." Can you wonder that the Viceroy, therefore, is entirely justified in following up the line set by his official superior on the Treasury Bench? Then there is the Finance Member, Sir George Schuster, who, speaking on the Budget, said:In conclusion, he need only add that the present Government of India were in the position of managers of a business. A change in management was under discussion. In the case of a business, if he might continue the analogy, the parties concerned, if upright and sensible men, would surely say 'We must co-operate during the period of preparation.' He could hardly imagine that in such circumstances the new proprietors would say, 'Those whom we are succeeding are our enemies and we will try to trip them up at every turn.'Let me point out that every one of these statements—the last two are the only ones I am referring to now, and I am not referring to the Viceroy's statement except to read it—go far beyond any measure of agreement that has been reached between the two parties, and anything which Lord Reading has committed himself to on the constitutional question. I need not go into the safeguards and conditions which Lord Reading prescribed, but they were most elaborate and he has taken a subsequent occasion in the most public manner to reaffirm all those points and conditions, as the right hon. Gentleman knows. What right has the Secretary of State, or anyone serving under him, to use language putting possibilities which presuppose that all these difficulties will be surmounted and that before very long there will be a Dominion status or responsible Government in India? I do not at all wonder that the minorities are alarmed when they hear of all this, and still less do I wonder that British in- 2351 vestors are alarmed when they hear the Finance Minister speaking at Simla in these terms about a change of management and proprietorship at the same time that Mr. Gandhi and Congress are insisting upon repudiation at any rate of a large portion of the debt.
Can you wonder that the Government have been compelled to go forward and do what no other Government which has watched over the affairs of India has ever done, namely, to pledge British credit to sustain the credit of our great dependency? In bygone years, the credit of India was as good as that of Great Britain, and now at this overburdened moment we have to face another assumption of responsibility and new liabilities have to be put upon our finances. I should like to know what is the sense of talking from that bench almost in the same breath about Dominion status and guaranteed finance. The two terms are identically contradictory—responsible government and guaranteeing finance. There is no meaning whatever in such statements. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about Australia?"] We have not guaranteed there, and it is a remarkable case in point—the case of Australia which is tied to us by ties at least as close as those which bind us to the Indian dependency. How unfair it is of the right hon. Gentleman, and of those who speak in this sense, to Members of the Conservative and Liberal parties who have gone so far to help him on his path, to take this advantage and make declarations of this kind which are altogether premature.
There is a third feature of Indian administration to which I am bound to refer before I sit down. Since this process which has been called Indianisation has been proceeding, there has been a marked deterioration in the efficiency of the great Services. I am not going into them in detail, but in the great Services of forestry, agriculture, and so on, there has been a marked deterioration, which is very serious and grave, I am told, in some cases. It is quite certain that you will not get the same class of British Civil Servants to serve under natives in all these employments as you have hitherto been fortunate in obtaining. You may, indeed, get many British officers who will 2352 serve, but I doubt very much whether they will uphold the same high traditions upon which the whole efficiency of our rule is based.
This Indian question is not primarily a constitutional question. It is a question, as I have said, of apparatus, of machinery. Upon the efficiency of these great Services depends our power to lift the whole of this vast mass of helpless people in India above their present level, or above the level to which they would certainly sink if they were left to their own unaided care, and that deterioration is of the utmost gravity and consequence. We have had the Report of the Commission which has examined into the state of labour in India—the Whitley Commission. Certainly, that Report should be read by Members of this House with the same attention with which they have read these other publications. The shocking conditions which are revealed to exist in the mills throughout India—[Interruption]—are indeed most painful, and I am not at all surprised that hon. Gentleman should be eager to say that this disgraceful condition has occurred under British rule. Why did it occur under British rule? Because British rule has not been exercised with that thoroughness——[Interruption.] If the Viceroys and Governments of India in the past had given half as much attention to dealing with the social conditions of the masses of the Indian people, as they have to busying themselves with negotiating with unrepresentative leaders of the political classes for constitutional changes, if they had really addressed themselves to the moral and material problems which are at the root of Indian life, I think it would have been very much better for the working folk both of Burnley and of Bombay, of Oldham and of Ahmedabad, there would have been better conditions in India, and there would not have been the distress and misfortune that there is in Lancashire through competition based upon a labour status which is absolutely indefensible.
I am not going to depart from an attitude of hostility to the Secretary of State. I consider that the two years for which he has been responsible are two years of the greatest misfortune and retrogression that India has ever suffered in the lifetime of living man. The right hon. Gentleman has been treated with the greatest indulgence and 2353 consideration—too much, I hold. He has been denied nothing in the support given to him by other parties in the House, whether in regard to concession or in regard to repression. In every way he has been supported. I say that he and those who are acting with him are responsible for what is going on, and for what is going to happen. The responsibility rests with those who are having their way on this matter. It does not rest with those who consider that, in spite of every warning, we are advancing upon a fatal path.
The right hon. Gentleman is having his way; he is carrying all before him. By the fruits of his policy he must be judged. What are the fruits that are now apparent? There is the big injury to Lancashire, which is not in the slightest degree affected by any arrangement come to between the Viceroy and Mr. Gandhi. The boycott continues; trade is flagging, and. the distress throughout Lancashire is aggravated. In the second place, there is the broken credit of India, requiring this House to undertake to take upon its shoulders this enormous new burden. Thirdly, as set forth in this Blue Book, there are the horrors of Cawnpore. Those are, the results of your policy to-day. They are only an instalment, only a payment on account, a mere earnest of what is to come if you persist in pursuing this fatal path.
Where, may I ask, are we going? Where are we being led? Where are we drifting? Make no mistake about it; we are drifting towards a violent collision; we are drifting towards an utter deadlock in a few months time. Mr. Gandhi and the Congress have made it perfectly clear that they will not regard even Dominion status as adecuate. They seek, in one form or another, absolute, complete independence. They have been erected by the Government into a treaty-making power, quite unnecessarily and needlessly. You have brought these persons up and made them a power with whom you now have to negotiate, but who cannot guarantee the execution of any instrument which may be arrived at and by which you will be bound. On the other hand, opinion in the Conservative party and in the Liberal party—I do not care what is said in dispute of it—is steadily stiffening. I feel a very different 2354 atmosphere now from what there was in the days of the Round Table Conference. [Interruption.] I will continue to do my utmost to sustain that stronger and saner opinion. I was delighted to see the speech made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare) the other day in the country, using language of extreme, uncompromising firmness in regard to the maintenance of the safeguards which are so important and far-reaching; and the speech of the late Under-Secretary to-day was in the same key.
You have on both sides two parties, two forces, both poles apart and without really any adequate or hopeful basis on which they can sit at the same council board. The Hindus and Mohammedans have been inflamed against one another, not intentionally, but as the inevitable consequence of the steps that have been taken. As to the loyalty of the Princes, it has been distracted and confused by the spectacle of indecision which this great centre of the Empire has exhibited. You have settled nothing; you have unsettled everything. You have faced no difficulties; you have solved no problems. The right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley could have cited 20 points of cardinal importance in the proposals for a Federal Constitution, none of which has ever been faced. Where there have been differences between Indians and Great Britain, some adjustment has been made by Great Britain giving way; but as to differences between Indians themselves there has not been one concession, not one difficulty has been solved or surmounted. Nevertheless, on we go, moving slowly, in a leisurely manner, jerkily onwards towards an unworkable conclusion, crawling methodically towards the abyss which we shall reach in due course.
There is the position; there is the result of your three-party co-operation, there is the result of what is called keeping India out of party politics; there is the result to which we have been led by all the wiseacres and all the leading articles—vague, sentimental declarations of equivocal character, meant to mean one thing to Indians and another thing to Great Britain; disquietude caused throughout the Indian masses; the usual interminable delays which beset all 2355 Indian party deliberations; progressive degeneration of our authority throughout India; financial decline—all leading up at no great distance to a complete political deadlock. That, I say, is the position that is before us to-night; and remember that, when that deadlock is reached, you will have to begin all over again to rebuild in suffering all that you have cast away in folly.
§ Mr. FOOT
The right hon. Gentleman has just made an accusation as odious as was ever made in this House, an accusation that is utterly baseless and unworthy of the position that he occupies. He has made the accusation that His Majesty's Government are responsible for what has happened in Cawnpore, because of their shameful failure to protect the minorities there. It it were true that blood rests upon their hands, a great deal more blood rests upon his, because, while he was a Member of the Government, there arose the Moplab rising, in which thousands lost their lives and were injured; and, if the responsibility is to be cast upon the Government for what has happened in Cawnpore, was there no responsibility upon the right hon. Gentleman, who was then one of the most prominent Members of the Government of the day? In the time of the last Government, from 1924 to 1928 and 1929, there were a number of Cawnpores although not so intense and not involving so many casualties. Was there no blood upon his hands if these accusations are made against right hon. Gentlemen opposite? His suggestion that what has happened under the Irwin-Gandhi agreement is the cause of all this trouble, he must know to be untrue on his own statement. [Interruption.] On his own statement these things have been happening for years. Recent events might have been the spark which causes a flame, but he knows that this trouble has arisen ever since the Reforms were adopted in 1919, and he himself, as a party to those Reforms, must bear his share of the reponsibility. There is no one who has given any study to Indian conditions who does not say that this intense antagonism which has arisen of late between Moslem and Hindu is a recent development, manifesting itself after the Reforms of 1919. [Interrup- 2356 tion.] As one who has not lived in India, I will take my stand upon recorded history. Will those who contradict me, and who think that this is simply a religious difference, tell me why those difficulties do not arise in the States that cover one-third of the area of India?
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
In those States there is not the same political uncertainty as there is in British India.
§ Mr. FOOT
The reason is that until recent years, until the reforms came, with the prospect of power being placed in the hands of one community or the other, this antagonism did not arise. The Moplah rising was practically the first of these troubles in the South of India. Up to the time of the Moplah rising in 1921, these outbursts and antagonisms were practically unknown, and even to-day they do not operate where there is a great majority living side by side with a small minority. Has the right hon. Gentlman ever given his consideration to that, that these troubles and communal outbreaks mainly arise in those parts of India where the two communities are evenly balanced? They do not arise where the Mohammedans are in a great majority and the Hindus in a small minority. They do not arise in those parts of the country where the Hindus are in an overwhelming majority, but in those parts, like the Punjab and Bengal, where the communities are evenly divided and where there is manoeuvring for position for the acquisition of power arising from the giving of the Reforms of which the right hon. Gentleman was one of the authors. He spoke of the foolish outpourings of the Round Table Conference. I was a member of the Round Table Conference, and I throw it back upon him. There is no man who has been guilty of such foolish outpourings as the right hon. Gentleman throughout this controversy. If he had been carried away by his rhetoric, I could excuse him for some of the things he has said of late, but I cannot excuse him, inasmuch as he has now put these things in cold print. The right hon. Gentleman was a party to the Reforms that we are now considering and he committed his country to that policy in 1919. What did he say in a recent declaration at Liverpool? 2357Is there any other country in the world which would tamely submit to be pushed out of its rights and duties in the East? Would France be chattered out of Indo-China?Indo-China had nothing to do with it. It was the temptation of alliteration.Would Italy relinquish her North African possessions? Would the Dutch give up Java to please the Javanese? Would the United States be hustled out of the Philippines? All these countries assert themselves and insist that their rights and wishes in their own sphere shall be respected. We alone seem to be afraid of our own shadow. The British lion, so fierce and valiant in bygone days, so dauntless and unconquerable through all the agony of Armageddon, can now be chased by rabbits from the fields and forests of his former glory.In his speech at the Albert Hall he said:It is a hideous act of self mutilation, astounding to every nation in the world. The Princes, the Europeans, the Moslems, the depressed classes, the Anglo-Indian—none of them know where to turn in the face of their apparent desertion by Great Britain.I challenge every word of that statement. I heard the Princes speak round the table at the Round Table Conference. I heard them say they would come into a system of federation, but they would never come into it unless it were as a self-governed India. The right hon. Gentleman who makes himself their protector is making against the Princes the odious accusation of insincerity. I challenge him to take the speeches made at the Round Table Conference by the Maharajah of Bikanir or the one whom we call in this country Ranjit Sinjhi or the Nawab of Bhopal, who has played so splendid and conspicuous a part in recent months. In every speech they asserted that they claimed for their country the right of India to manage her own affairs. What right has he to attribute to them dismay at watching this hideous act of self-mutilation? In another part of his speech he referred to the Christians. What authority has he to speak for the Christian community? [An HON. MEMBER: "Only a Primitive Methodist could do that!"] Not only Methodists but representatives of every missionary association in India, men who have spent their lives there, like one who is a personal friend of mine who has spent his life working amongst the Depressed Classes and whose name is associated with the work, 250 of them, issued their 2358 statement only a few months ago and said:We have to face a situation that is marked by misunderstanding, distrust and bitterness. We recognise that many explanations may be advanced to account for this, but we would record our conviction that the main cause is to be found in the growing sense of ignominy in the minds of Indian people that the destiny of the nation lies in the hands of another people. To us the national awakening is a very real thing, and it is our belief that no settlement will be satisfactory that does not respect Indian sentiment and make for the recovery of national self-respect. We, therefore, urge that the principle shall be fully and frankly recognised, that the determining factor in laying down the lines of India's future constitution should be the wishes of the people of India.I tender that. What has the right hon. Gentleman to tender in claiming that he speaks for the Christians?
§ Mr. FOOT
The missionaries would at once repudiate the suggestion that their policy was altered by what Mr. Gandhi might have said in that respect. The right hon. Gentleman speaks of the Depressed Classes. How long have they been the subject of his care? He used on the platform at the Albert Hall a passage which would have touched the heart of anyone who thought his contribution was sincerely meant. He spoke there of the Depressed Classes, these people who have no helpers, the most defenceless people on the face of God's earth, being denied the use of the common wells and their presence polluting the streets. Why did he speak of them? He has been in Parliament for 25 years. When has he spoken of them before? When has he come to that Box, or stood on one or other side of the House—he has been on both—and drawn attention to their case? It is only when they become useful to him that he does so. The Depressed Classes have had to endure for centuries their indignities and troubles. Now they have reached their last indignity. They have become food for perorations. The right hon. Gentleman speaks about the rabbits and the British lion being chased from the wood. He, however, makes a cowardly attack on the Viceroy, who cannot answer for himself, in taking one sentence out of a speech which contained for the most part 2359 the declared policy of this Parliament. It is interesting to notice it because it bears out what one thinks when one sees the Order Paper of the House of Commons. It is something of a scandal and something of a reproach to our rules and conditions that there should be placed on the Order Paper, in the name of the hon. Member for Paddington (Mr. Bracken), the Motion:That, in the opinion of this House, the speech of His Excellency the Viceroy of India"—
On a point of Order. Is it in accordance with the Rules of the House to discuss a Resolution which is not before the Committee, but which is on the Paper?
§ Mr. FOOT
on 28th June, in which he stated that ho hoped to be relieved of many of his duties in the near future, and that his constitutional powers should be restricted to those exercised by the Governor-General of Canada, by means of an immediate adoption of constitutional reforms, is characterised by a spirit of levity and defeatism which must undermine the authority of the Government of India, and should be condemned.Our political acoustics are now so delicately adjusted that the merest whisper in Epping finds its immediate echo in Paddington.
§ Mr. BRACKEN
Will you allow me to say to the hon. Member that that statement that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) has anything to do with that Motion is untrue. Will you also allow me to say to him that he forgets that, not many months ago, his own Leader came to this House and denounced Lord Irwin in the strongest possible language for making a speech in favour of Dominion status. Finally, if I may borrow a metaphor from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), the slime of contemptible hypocrisy is over the assertion.
On a point of Order. An important constitutional point is here raised. The Secretary of State has already called attention to the fact that one cannot discuss the action of the Viceroy except by means of a substantive Motion. My right hon. Friend who spoke previously bowed to that Ruling, though there was no need to do so, because he was not going to criticise it. Now the hon. Member is proceeding to get round the Rule of the House which lays down that the Viceroy can only be criticised on a substantive Motion by referring to this Motion on the Paper. With the greatest respect to you, Sir, I have never before known the Chair permit anyone to refer to a Resolution on the Paper.
§ The CHAIRMAN
The Resolution was read out by the right hon. Gentleman who last addressed the House.
§ The CHAIRMAN
The hon. Member who is now addressing the House is quoting the Motion on the Paper. Up to now I do not think he has been discussing it.
That is not what the hon. Member is doing. He is proceeding to describe the circumstances in which it was put down. It is highly undesirable that this should be discussed and, if it continues to be discussed, we shall have to ask your permission to reply to it.
§ Mr. McSHANE
May I ask what right the Noble Lord has to say the hon. Member is about to discuss this? As a matter of fact he has not so far done so.
§ The CHAIRMAN
The hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Foot) was quoting a resolution. He is not going to discuss it, so far as I know, and he has not discussed it up to now.
The hon. Gentleman has no right to comment on a point of Order which was perfectly properly 2361 put by me. He has commented upon it in a characteristically offensive way. [Interruption.]
§ The CHAIRMAN
I would be obliged to hon. Members of both sides if they would cease these interruptions, which do not assist the Chair.
On a point of Order. I ask you, Mr. Chairman, whether the hon. Gentleman is entitled to comment on a point of Order which I put? It was a perfectly proper point of Order. You gave your ruling, which I accept. I ask you to protect Members of this Committee from what is most grossly unfair.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I heard what the hon. Member for Bodmin said and I do not think he meant any offence by it.
§ Mr. FOOT
I am quite willing to take from you, Mr. Chairman, or from the Deputy-Chairman or from Mr. Speaker any correction if there is any suggestion of my being offensive, but I will never take that suggestion from the Noble Lord. When I was first interrupted I was speaking about a Motion that had appeared on the Paper. It was not mentioned by me in the first instance, but was referred to in a speech by the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill). Now we are told that there is no association between the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for North Paddington (Mr. Bracken) and that one put the Motion down of his own volition on a Saturday, and the other thought of it for the first time on the Thursday. A very wonderful association between the two:Two minds with but a single thought, Two hearts that beat as one.We come back to what has been the subject of controversy here to-day. Cawnpore, of course, is something over which every man in this country should be distressed beyond measure. But was there any need for the right hon. Member for Epping to paint the picture blacker than it was. Although there was a public inquiry he is the first to suggest that that inquiry was not fair. Yet the Moslems of India in their papers say that they had a fair inquiry. The right hon. Gentleman suggested that the figures given at the inquiry were far short. The number mentioned in the report was 2362 something up to 500. The report gave a specific number, but the right hon. Gentleman speaks about conjecture. The suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman that there were many more is not borne out by the inquiry, and if there were more those who had the information to give should have given it. What could the Committee of Inquiry do more, than to publish to the world that the court was open for evidence? They sent round notices wherever people congregated saying that all who were qualified to speak on the matter were invited to come into court. In the court there were a Hindu and a Moslem sitting. But the court's figures are at once set aside for mere hearsay and conjecture by the right hon. Member for Epping. The right hon. Gentleman said that neighbours betrayed each other. What evidence is there of that? Why did he not tell the Members of this Committee that there were some bright gleams in the dark sky? Why did he not refer to a Hindu, one of the Congress leaders, who was injured in trying to prevent the looting of Moslem shops, and who lost his life in trying to do some work of rescue? Why was that not mentioned?
§ Mr. FOOT
It would have come with a great deal of grace from the right hon. Gentleman. He might also have mentioned the paragraph in the Report which states that in the midst of all, when blood lust was high and fierce feelings aroused, how neighbours shellered each other, how Hindus provided an asylum and protection for Moslems and how Moslems protected their Hindu neighbours. That was done in many instances. It would have come well from the right hon. Gentleman if, when he was painting the black picture, he could have found time to suggest that there had been these friendly and neighbourly acts.
The difficulty in regard to the communal question was touched upon by a master hand when it was dealt with by my right hon. Friend the Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) to-day. It is possible to exploit that difficulty, or we can try to understand it. My right hon. Friend has done that great service to us; he has helped us to understand it. As I say, we can exploit it, but it is a dangerous game. There are those in this 2363 country who in speech and in writings in the Press are stating that the Government is on the side of the Hindu Raj and is trying to saddle India with Brahmin domination. The man who writes thus is putting false coinage into currency. The false coiner of olden times had his right hand struck from his arm. The man who puts this false coin into political currency is much more dangerous. The right hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) spoke of a possibility of our having to deal with the question of the joint or communal electorate. That question ought to be settled by the communities themselves. It may, however, in the last resort have to be settled by the British Government. Is it not a matter of supreme importance that when that does come to be settled there shall be trust in the independence of the British Government? When groundless accusations are made by British people against the British Government they are lowering the prestige of the British Government, who may have to act as impartial arbiters.
That is my appeal against the rhetoric that is being used here and on public platforms. A metaphor which may be all right at the Albert Hall may be only a fresh faggot thrown on the flames in the back streets of Benares and other cities of India. Our difficulty is to understand the problem. I believe that this country has done immense service to India. I do not think that the historians of the future can record adequately what Britain has done. But we have now the opportunity to do the greatest service of all to India, and that is to help the Indians out of this trouble that they have not made in this generation, that we have not made, but which has come down as a legacy from many past generations. Surely we are not going to blame, even in the treatment of the untouchables—surely we are not going to put the blame upon certain castes and sects in India. Their conditions have come down to them year after year and century after century, and they are confronted now with a great difficulty, because the problem is to reconcile autocracy with democracy in India, and, what is more, to reconcile democracy and caste. That is the biggest problem that has ever confronted any community in the world. Because of that 2364 they need all the guidance that we can give. If we can give guidance at this time it may be the best service that this country has ever been able to render to India.
I believe that it is necessary for the majority community to be generous, as they can afford to be. The minority is entitled to security. What is ruining conditions in India is the appeal to fear, just as the right hon. Member for Epping is appealing to fear in this country. It was the right hon. Member for Bewdley (Mr. S. Baldwin) who, on 26th January in this House, said that the danger in this country was the division of the parties and that the danger in India was the antagonism between the communities. "Anyone," he said, "who wanted to destroy the settlement would try to break up the unity of parties in this country and to increase the communal antagonism in India." It is our duty to assuage and lessen that antagonism, to take a self-denying ordinance, and to put a seal upon our lips. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] If those cheers are directed against me, all I say is that I would lather go out of the House to-day for the last time than say one word that would add to the troubles and difficulties of India.
We are now on the eve of the reassembly of the Round-Table Conference and it will certainly be the most wonderful assembly the world has ever seen. Fifty or sixty years ago if there had been differences between India and ourselves some here would have said, "Fight it out." That is the policy that some Members behind me apparently would have welcomed. Either it has to be fought out now or settled by arbitration. What third course is possible? Fifty or sixty or a hundred years ago, if our position in India had been that which it. is now, we should have said, "We will fight it out." Now we say, "We will talk it over." [Interruption.] Does anyone object to that course? At the last Round-Table Conference there were gaps which at the next Conference will happily be filled. I want to see that Conference fully representative of every interest. I want to see the Depressed Classes of India with their fair share of representation. I trust that they will be given representation at that Conference commensurate 2365 with their needs. There ought to be, if anything, an added representation as far as the Depressed Classes are concerned. The other classes are powerful but the Depressed Classes are a weak minority.
Against a policy of fear let us set a policy of hope. This is, after all, a great Imperial question. Can we secure reconciliation in India, where there are three-quarters of the people of the Empire? This is first of all an Imperial question. It is the biggest enterprise that any country has ever faced. To think that there is a possibility of free fellowship, in years to come, with people three times as numerous as those of the United States of America, with a civilisation that differs at almost every point from our own—that is something which might be reckoned as the most wonderful achievement of the Empire. We are on the eve of this high enterprise, and the question is whether we can rise to the height of this great argument, and forget, if we can, these inflaming speeches, these differences amongst ourselves, and can see that the Conference when it reassembles shall achieve its purpose, that the defeatists and cynics of this country are condemned as they have been by European opinion throughout India.
If the right hon. Member for Epping wants to know, I suggest that he should not take the mild words that come from myself, but those of the great Indian newspaper, the "Statesman," of 18th June, 1931, and its appeal against the cynics of India and the cynics of this country who would seek to break down the Irwin-Gandhi agreement which is the hope of that country; or the right hon. Gentleman can take the letter of one of the greatest men in India, a man who held a conspicuous place at the last conference, a man who could take his stand with high distinction in any assembly in the world. I refer to Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru. Writing to me on 28th May he asked us not to be misled by the grievous events at Cawnpore, because he says that throughout the country as a whole so much peace has come from the Irwin-Gandhi Pact that there is no comparison between the country to-day and as it was twelve months ago. The question is whether we can understand the meaning of this Round Table Confer- 2366 ence, and against the policy of fear set the policy of hope. I commend to the House the words spoken by a wise man in this country a century ago, who advised us not to shrink from hope,from hopeThat paramount duty which Heaven laysFor its own honour on man's suffering heart.
§ Miss RATHBONE
If the few Members who are still in the House will listen to what I have to say with eyes of imagination as well as ears they will hear of a tragedy which is greater even than the tragedy of Cawnpore. The Noble Lord who opened the discussion (Earl Winterton) referred to the Sarda Act and asked for an assurance that it was to be effectively carried into operation. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State replied with courtesy, but he did not give the assurance which was asked. Instead, he reminded us that public opinion in India must be with us in this matter, and he said that the enforcement of the Act would need a register that would cost a certain amount of money. Now for the House to appreciate the irony of those replies I must remind them of the objects and history of the Sarda Act. It needs no rhetoric to embellish it. The Act lays it down that no girl in India shall be married under the age of 14, and no boy under the age of 18, and any adult person, whether bridegroom, parent or priest, who is responsible for an infraction of the Act may be subject to a fine of a thousand rupees or a month's imprisonment. This Act was the culmination of a long agitation conducted since the Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms chiefly by Indian politicians and social reformers. Before that, legislation had been directed to fixing the minimum age, not for the celebration of marriage, but for its consummation, usually known as the age of consent. This was fixed in 1860 at 10 years old, in 1891 at 12, and in 1925 at 13. These Acts were all completely ignored and very little attempt was made to make people aware of their existence.
In 1927, after a considerable agitation had taken place, the Government agreed to appoint a really strong committee. It was entirely composed of Indians 2367 except for one British woman doctor, and the chairman was Sir Moropant Joshi. The committee worked hard for a year and produced a remarkably outspoken and courageous report which exposed every consoling fiction which had been put up in extenuation of child marriage. It showed that nearly 50 per cent. of the girls in India are married before they reach the age of 15. It showed that consummation of marriage followed almost immediately after puberty and frequently before it. It showed the devastating effect of the practice was such that it was largely responsible for the enormous maternal death-rate in India, a rate which produces in the course of every generation of 30 years more deaths of mothers in child-birth than the whole death role of all the Allied forces during the War. This weighty committee sums up its verdict of results of early maternity in a passage so impressive that I will read a portion of it to the House:Early maternity is an evil and an evil of great magnitude. It contributes very largely to maternal and infantile mortality, in many cases wrecks the physical system of the girl and generally leads to degeneracy in the physique of the race. Let us compare the case of Sati which was prevented by legislation with the cases of early maternity. Batis were few and far between. They compelled attention by the enormity of the evil in individual cases, by the intense agony of the burning widow and the terrible shock they gave to humane feelings. But after all they were cases of individual suffering; the agony ended with the martyr. In the case of early maternity, however, the evil is so widespread and affects such a large number of women both among Hindus and Moslems. It affects the whole framework of society. After going through the ordeal if a woman survives to the age of 30 she is in many cases an old woman, almost a shadow of her former self. Her life is a long lingering misery and she is a sacrifice on the altar of custom.So that Members may judge for themselves whether the report exaggerates, I am going to ask that not only the report but the nine volumes of evidence on which it is based should be placed in the Library of the House of Commons. I hope Members will study this evidence which has been described by a well-known member of the Round Table Conference, Mr. Jayaker, as.a relentless story of cruelty and selfishness.2368 The issue of that report was followed almost immediately by the passing of the Sarda Act in October, 1921, but six months was allowed to elapse before it came into force, and the orthodox of all communities took advantage of the interval to marry off their infant children, some of them babies in their mother's arms, by thousands, not to say hundreds of thousands. That was melancholy, but it showed at least that the people of India knew the law and expected it to be enforced. But what happens? In the very first case brought under the Act, a man was sentenced to a month's imprisonment for marrying his infant daughter in defiance of his village headman's warning, and instantly the Government of the Punjab telegraphed to order the man's release. After that no more prosecutions were reported here until during the past two months.
The year we have passed through has been one of great difficulty. There has been considerable feeling against the Act and misrepresentation of it. If there had merely been a question of failure to administer the Act during the period of civil disobedience I should not have thought it necessary to refer to this matter publicly now. I abstained from doing so publicly during that period, though I frequently brought it before the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State privately. Nevertheless, one cannot but wonder what the effect on the prestige and authority of the Government must have been when they saw that they could break with complete impunity an Act so widely advertised. There is cause for perturbation in the statement which has been made to-day and the answers to questions given three weeks ago.
First of all, the right hon. Gentleman told us that the administrative provisions recommended as necessary for the enforcement of the Act were circulated to the provincial Governments, who he had no doubt were considering them sympathetically. When we remember that those recommendations were made over two years ago and were recommended as essential to the enforcement of the Act, can it really have required two years before the Government circulated these recommendations to the local Government? Now we are told that when the replies from the local Governments are received the Government will consider 2369 whether anything further can be done. Here we are faced with an evil which for Want of an effective administration of the law produces an enormous death rate of mothers, many of them young girls, who died in conditions of great agony, and the fact that the keeping of a register costs something is put forward as an explanation for the Government hesitating to take action. How can you enforce an Act if for two years no efficient effort is made to provide accurate vital statistics of births and marriages? The other point, even more alarming, about the replies of the right hon. Gentleman, is that the Government are prepared to have the Act repealed altogether. Last August, when the Act had been on the Statute Book four months, the central Government in India circulated to the provincial Governments a proposal to exempt from the Act all who could show conscientious scruples or special family reasons, two exemptions which together cover practically every case which' would come under the Act. Nothing came of that proposal for amendment, but now we are told that there are several amending Bills upon the Agenda of the Legislative Assembly. One is a proposal to exempt Brahmins, who are the chief offenders, and that is equivalent to killing the Act.
The right hon. Gentleman said we have to take public opinion in India along with us. May I remind him that public opinion in India is not all on one side? All the progressive men and women in India, nearly every leading Nationalist, all the women's organisations, demanded and agitated for the Sarda Act. The failure to enforce the Act is cited in America and elsewhere as a proof that the Government in India are indifferent to social reforms. We stand before the tribunal of the opinion of the civilised world in this matter. For five years I sat on the Child Welfare Committee of the League of Nations as a representative of the International Women's Organisation, and this was one of the questions we studied. When it came up it was boring to me to see the shoulder shrugging and whispering that took place among the representatives of the German, French, Italians and Spanish Governments. Afterwards, these gentlemen, meeting me in the corridors, used to ask polite questions as to what was the attitude of the British Government 2370 towards the great evil of child marriage in India.
Finally, I say we stand before the tribunal of our own consciences in this matter. We have been a century and a half in India, and during the greater part of that time in undisputed authority. What have we done during the whole of that time to cope resolutely with this evil? Granted that there were some risks, was not the subject important enough to take risks in an evil resulting in such an enormous death rate and so much cruelty and suffering? If we could not have exercised a strong hand in that matter, might not we have done something through constructive educational and hygienic measures to bring home to the people of India the great evil of this practice and the terrible effects on the vitality of their own race? I have spent many months in searching the records on the subject, and I can find no record of any such strong constructive action. But I have found proof that every Viceroy in India and every one of the great Governors of Provinces have rarely perturbed themselves over the question of child marriage in India. With regard to the philanthropic societies, most of them have been sorely hampered by lack of funds and of strong official backing. We hear every day of the need of safeguards for the minorities in India, but who champions the need of safeguards for women in India who are in a minority in respect of men of 7,000,000, mainly because of the huge death rate among the little girl-wives of India?
By the aid of much pertinacity we at last persuaded the right hon. Gentleman to insist on the presence of two representatives of Indian women on the Round Table Conference—two women in an assembly of 100 men. We have no assurance that there will be any augmentation of that number, and we have had no response to appeals which have been made to him from nearly all organised women in this country and in India that there shall be one woman upon the Federal Structure Committee into whose hands so much power is to be placed. I see no hope for the future of Indian women unless that future is to be guided by the women of India themselves. I beg of the right hon. Gentleman to put aside a little of his official reticence. When I have gone to him on the question, I 2371 have met with courtesy and sympathy, but with nothing else. I have failed utterly to find out what is being done in India on this subject and to obtain from him a single assurance, in public or in private, that the Government are trying to do anything in this matter. He has made it plain to-day that he can give no assurances whatever that the simple administrative provisions which were pressed forward in the Goschen report more than two years ago, and, in some cases, printed in capital letters, are to be carried into effect. We get lip-service, and nothing else. I beg the right hon. Gentleman to give an assurance that the Government will do everything that can be done to ensure the effective administration of the Sarda Act and, above all, that it will not be weakened, but, if possible, strengthened.
§ Mr. WARDLAW-MILNE
The hon. Lady the Member for the English Universities (Miss Rathbone) has a unique interest in and a great knowledge of the Act of which she has been speaking, an Act which is of most vital moment to the women of India. I yield to no one in my agreement with her continually expressed desire to see this Act applied in India, but it is fair to say that there are difficulties to some of which the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State has referred to-day which she will perhaps permit me to say she does not appear fully to appreciate. I entirely agree with her as to the desirability of the application of the Act, but it is absolutely impossible in India to apply an Act of this character unless you have with you the backing of the people of India. The Act was inaugurated, not by a Britisher, and not really directly as a result of the influence of the Government of India, but by an Indian, and there is, as the Secretary of State said to-day, a very strong feeling in India in favour of the Act. I am more than hopeful that what she has so earnestly desired will come to pass, and that the Government will find it possible to press forward the operation of the Act, but I think that it is fair to say that it cannot be made effective until the people of India themselves appreciate its value, and public opinion in India accepts all that it implies. There is a point in connection with that Act which the hon. Lady has pressed, and I 2372 should like to add my voice in support of what she has said. I think that the Government of India could do more than they are doing to make public the necessity of the Act and to make the facts underlying the passing of the Act more widely known throughout India. It is only in that respect that I feel they deserve definite condemnation. I do not think that as much has been done as could have been done in that direction.
With regard to the general questions which have been discussed to-day, one of the great difficulties of all Indian Debates is that one finds himself in part agreement with almost every speaker who takes part in an Indian Debate. There is always something with which one can agree, and although there may also have been something with which one disagrees, there has been no speech made here to-day with which I have not found myself, at any rate in some measure, in agreement. There are two cardinal facts which stand out from this Debate, and, in fact, from every Debate on India. There are two things which are absolutely essential as between this country and India. First, we should make it perfectly plain to India where we stand. There is continual misapprehension and misunderstanding as to where this country stands in connection with the reforms. And here I disagree with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bodmin (Mr. Foot) who, when he spoke, not intentionally perhaps, gave the impression that there was a day coming when we were going to hand over India entirely to Indians. That has never been stated in this country by any statesman. It is just that misconception, and, if he will forgive the expression, that rather loose way of expressing things that does harm.
§ Mr. WARDLAW-MILNE
It would be unfair to criticise unduly the hon. Gentleman, because he is not the only offender. I know of no statesman in this country who has ever stated that we are going to hand over India to the Indians at all. What we have stated over and over again—and I would ask the Committee 2373 to bear it in mind—is that this country is prepared gradually and steadily to extend self-government in India, by the co-operation with us of Indians in that Government. There is a vital difference between the two things. On the one hand, it is suggested that a day is coming when it will be wrong for the British to take any part in the government of India. I absolutely repudiate that. There never has been such an idea. On the other hand, we are anxious for the day to come when more and more Indians will be associated with us in the government of India—a totally different thing. There has been a great deal of loose talk throughout the country which has given the impression in India and to some extent in this country that we really intend something that no party in this House and no statesman in this country has ever suggested would happen. I occupy a position in which I am less committed on this matter than most. I happen to be the last person who gave evidence before the Joint Committee which sat upon the 1919 Bill, which afterwards became the Government of India Act. In that evidence, given on behalf of very large bodies in India, I was able to say clearly that, while a large number of the Europeans in India of that time would welcome the day when there would be increasing association of Indians in the Government of India, they thought that the reforms in the 1919 Act went too far and too fast. They were not against them, but they thought that they went too far at that time. Therefore, I am absolutely uncommitted on the point of view of those who have burned their boats, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) is accused of having done.
I do not in the least resent the progress that is being made. I have always welcomed the Round Table Conference, but I suggest that it is high time that we made it perfectly clear that there is no party in this country which looks to the day when there will be a Government in India necessarily by Indians alone. We have as much right in India as any nation or any section of the people of India. It is very hard to say who were the original people of India. There is nobody in India who can say that. Even the Hindus, who claim to be the people of India, cannot go back to India's beginnings, 2374 and the Mohammedans go back of course a much shorter time. What we have done for India will never be known. The historians will never be able to write it. We have done so much and made so much of India that we have a place in India which is second to that of no other race or nation that occupies that country. I am most anxious that it shall be made perfectly clear that we have no intention whatsoever of seeing ahead of us a time when the British shall not take their part, and a very full part, in the government of India, but I hope that the time will come when all sections of the Indian people will join with us in forming that Government.
The second point that has to be made clear is this. We are continually talking as if there was some great change taking place. I entirely agree with what was said by the right hon. Member for Epping, that there is an improper method of talking in India, which is doing a great deal of harm, not only among Indians but among officials, and the Secretary of State would do well to watch what is being said. Defeatist statements have been made, often by officials in India. That must come from a totally wrong impression of what our future position in India is to be, and I suggest very seriously to the Government that they should make their position a little clearer, the position not only of the Government but of this country. There is no real difference between us as to what is intended by this country and by all political parties in it. Although we may differ in regard to the speed by which we should reach the goal, the road upon which we are travelling is perfectly clear. If that was made clear in India, there would be much less likelihood of such trouble as we have had in the past.
My third point is this. During the period that the reforms are being discussed, while the Round Table Conference is sitting and while the various Measures which may be necessary after the Round Table Conference whether by joint committee or by legislation are in operation, it is the clear and definite duty of the Government of this country, whether that Government be Liberal, Labour or Conservative, to really govern India. The Secretary of State for India, in a speech in this House some time ago, said very definitely that what he was going to do was to govern. The one 2375 complaint that I have against him is that, up to now, he has not governed. He is not making it clear that he is governing India. That is doing harm. The idea that we are handing over to someone else is all wrong. We are not handing over to anybody. We have every intention, by conciliation, by what the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Foot) called arbitration—I do not care what word is used—to associate all those people of good will in India who will work with us in the formation of new proposals for the government of that country. That is a vastly different thing from giving the impression in India that our regime is passing away and that therefore we can release our hold upon the day to day administration. There are thousands of men of good will in India, but it is also true that we have to deal with what is largely an uneducated population, and while the control is in British hands it is our duty to see that the Government really governs and that peace and order is kept in India.
I want to turn from the major points that have been discussed to one or two matters which will illustrate exactly what I mean by the Government's want of governing power. In the village of Bhatawari, in the United Provinces, a Zemindar and six of his men were put to death the other day when they went to collect rents. In a case of that sort, why is no action taken by the Government? A panel of 22 villages of the Kaira district has "excommunicated" a village for the offence of paying land revenue, and has also fined certain village officials and peasants various amounts equivalent in some cases to one year's pay. What action has been taken? The Government must make it clear that they will not stand any nonsense of this kind. We must make it clear to these people that the British Raj persists. It does not in the least interfere with our desire to negotiate at the Bound Table Conference or to move forward in the path of progress, but our duty at the present time is clear.
Again, a statement was made by the Secretary of State, on the 22nd June, that he had been in communication with the Government of India with regard to the resolution adopted on the 11th June by the working committee of Con- 2376 gress, restating the policy of the Congress as to the prohibition of the sale in India of the existing stocks of foreign cloth. He said that the Government of India were investigating the significance of this resolution, but he could not say whether it involved a breach of the agreement of 3rd March, or not. It is surely perfectly clear to any ordinary person that that definitely is a breach of the agreement. Surely he should have no difficulty in deciding that. By this time however he must know whether it is his opinion and the opinion of the Government of India that it is a breach or not. If it is a breach, what action is he taking about it? A number of incidents have taken place in the last few weeks connected with the boycott which make it perfectly clear that the position in India is not understood. I find myself in agreement with the Secretary of State when he said:It is perhaps not thoroughly understood in this country to what extent the world depression, and particularly the drop of prices in India, has had upon British and other trades.I agree that that is a very large factor in the falling off of Lancashire's trade, but it does not alter the fact that where there are definite breaches of the Irwin-Gandhi agreement, the Government are apparently not taking action. It is no use talking about peaceful picketing. The statement which the Secretary of State read to-day showed perfectly clearly that under the agreement picketing in the sense of obstruction was prohibited. Are the Government taking any action? These are the things which make us criticise the Government. It is not their action or their attitude towards the Bound Table Conference, although there may be criticisms on details about that, but the fact that they are appearing to be giving up control, making it appear as though their time is passing and are anxious to hand over to someone else.
I do not think it is right to deal with certain statements made by the Viceroy when we have not the text of the whole speech before us, but at the same time there is a spirit abroad in India which is doing immense harm, and I am most anxious that the Government should bring it to an end at once. That brings me to the question as to what the Government are doing in the way of propaganda to make clear to the people of 2377 India the immense benefits which the British Raj has conferred upon them. Hon. Members who do not know India may think it is unnecessary to do that, because the people in this country, for example, know what benefits they themselves receive, or what they have suffered at the hands of various Governments. But that is not the case in India. In India you are dealing with a very inflammable and largely ignorant population and surely our side of the case should be put before them. Another matter with which I want to deal is in connection with labour conditions and the very excellent report we have recently had from the Commission so ably presided over by the late Speaker of this House.
§ Mr. WARDLAW-MILNE
I do not quite understand the hon. Member but perhaps he will give me a little time. I have not referred to the report of the Committee yet, all I have done is to refer to the Chairman, and I hope suitably. In a short time the House will be in Recess and I should like to know from the Government whether they intend in any way to implement this report, to do anything in connection with it before we meet again. I am not pressing them because I know their difficulties, but I want to know whether they intend to make it operative in any way before the House meets again. There are so many important matters dealt with in this report that it would take too long now to deal with them fully but there is one point which is worth referring to. A Mr. Fulay, said to be the Indian Works Technical Adviser at the Geneva Labour Conference, made a. statement a short lime ago on the conditions in the Indian coal mines, and he described them as horrible. I happen to have some little knowledge of the Indian coal mines and there is not one word of truth in that statement. The conditions in the Indian coal mines, taken as a whole, and considering the differences between this country and India, are better than they are in Great Britain. Statements of this sort are absolutely without foundation.
The Indian miner has better standing room, freer ventilation, goes and comes 2378 to his work just as he pleases, while the employers have statutory obligations in regard to housing, sanitation and labour welfare generally, which are really ahead of those in this country. There are maternity hospitals, playgrounds for children and educational institutions, all of which have been improved and enlarged during the last six years, although incidentally there have been no profits from the industry. I do not say that it is necessary to pay profits before these things are done. I do not suggest that improvements in the present conditions could not be made, but the kind of statement which was made at Geneva does us harm and I ask what action the Government have taken to put our side of the case before the world. The conditions may be bad or they may be good, but they are certainly not as described by this Indian Works Technical Adviser at Geneva.
There are two things in regard to the administration of India into which I desire to ask the Government to go more fully than has been the case hitherto. There are two things which make India poor. The first is the horrible conditions under which men are born, live, and die in slavery to moneylenders.
§ Mr. WARDLAW-MILNE
Not only under our rule but long before our rule. Conditions have been improved, I am glad to say, in recent years under our rule by the spread of the co-operative movement and by attempts to prevent the ryot getting more into debt. The general conditions however have nothing to do with the rulers. It does not matter who is the ruler of India you would still have to face the fact that the whole Indian mentality is such as to drive the people into debt to an ever increasing degree. It is well known that many Indian peasants spend more on one wedding feast than would keep whole families for a year. That is the kind of thing that has grown up through the centuries, and it is extremely difficult to eradicate. It is no use blaming it on to the Government, that is all nonsense. Nor is it fair to blame the Indians themselves for conditions which have grown up through long ages of custom. But much could he done by the Government in making the moneylending 2379 classes less exacting and bringing pressure upon them to relax the hold they have on the people. In the report of the Labour Commission there is a suggestion that there should be an exemption in future of the earnings of all workmen in receipt of less than 300 rupees per month for attachment for debt. I do not know whether that is possible. It is a far-reaching enactment, but if it could be done it would go far to help the position of certain of the Indian classes.
Another statement constantly made is that the conditions in the Bombay mills are disgraceful. That is not true. I have spent a good many years of my life closely connected with a large Government institution which has tried and done much to improve the housing conditions of Bombay. The greatest difficulties are in front of a movement of that kind. It is easy to build houses, street after street has been built throughout the city and suburbs of Bombay, but it is much more difficult to get the people to live in the new quarters. [Interruption.] If the hon. Member opposite would not interrupt me so much, he might learn something of the real position of affairs. The fact of the matter is that people who are living near the subsistence borderline in India are more than anxious just as they are in this country, to make a little extra where they can, and they prefer to live in the chawls to which they have been accustomed all their lives, and in which their fathers before them lived, where they can take in lodgers, and have overcrowded conditions, rather than go into better houses even at the same or even slightly lower rents, where the conditions are stricter and they are not allowed to take in boarders. All I ask the Government now however is the general question of whether it is their intention to implement the Labour Report in any way or to do anything about it before Parliament meets again.
The other matter which I refer to, as having more bearing on the poverty of India than anything else, is the awful fragmentation of land. It is difficult for people in this country to understand the extraordinary conditions owing to the subdivision of land. This subdivision of land largely due to 2380 the Hindu family system—which has many advantages in other ways—has been carried out to an extent which is almost unbelievable, and you may find a man owning little bits of land spread over 200 fields—a bit in each field. Sometimes these pieces of land are so small that they cannot be cultivated and this constant splitting-up of the land has meant that a large amount of it has fallen out of cultivation, because, literally, a man can in some cases only cultivate his own patch of land by standing on another man's land. The whole thing has become ridiculous, and the result is that in a country where 73 per cent. of the population are engaged in agriculture there is only work for the ordinary agriculturist for 150 days a year. Does anyone wonder that there is poverty with conditions like that?
These are extraordinarily difficult matters for any Government to deal with, but they are the two things which cause the poverty of India more than any others—the terrible hold of the moneylenders upon the ryots, and the preposterous fragmentation of land. If the right hon. Gentleman could tell us that he was going to tackle these problems, then we should feel that he was getting on to the real problems of India in a way which would be of some value to the people. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will make it clear, or that it will be made clear to India as a result of this Debate, that we have no intention of handing over India to anyone, that we are anxious, as we have always been, to associate Indians in ever-increasing numbers in the control and government of their own land. Secondly, I hope we shall make it perfectly clear that, until the day comes when our control is widened in the way I have described, we intend to carry on the government of India for the benefit of the people of India, of all classes, and that there is no question of any minority being put under the domination of any majority however enterprising or well educated that majority may be.
I speak with some knowledge of the subject when I say that it is beyond the power of Great Britain to force any measure of self-government upon an unwilling India. It is beyond our power to force the Moslem community to accept 2381 a position in which they think they are in danger. I do not suggest that any party in the House of Commons desires to do so, but let us make it clear that we could not do it, even if we wanted to, and that we do not want to do it. I hope that the Hindu-Moslem question will be settled in India. If it is left to us, as it may be, we must hold the scales evenly between all parties in India, as we have always done, and make it plain that, whatever the future government is going to be, there need be no fear on the part of any section of the people of India that they are going to be dominated by-others holding utterly different views on life and religion and many other matters. I trust that the result of this Debate will be a clearing up of the situation in India, and that when the Round Table Conference meets again, we shall find a closer appreciation of what this country means to do and less misunderstanding than in the past.
§ Miss PICTON-TURBERVILL
I am sure that a majority of hon. Members, including, I believe, quite a number on the Opposition benches, will feel very thankful for the devastating and effective reply given by the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Foot) to the mischievous speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill). It is not my intention to dwell on that speech, after the effective reply of the hon. Member for Bodmin, but there are one or two comments upon it which I would like to offer. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping read out, with a certain amount of scorn in his voice, a letter from Mr. Gandhi in which reference was made to the Irwin-Gandhi agreement as a truce. May we not be thankful, when we consider the condition of India 18 months ago, that there is at least a truce? Is not a truce often the herald of permanent peace? Instead of treating the truce with scorn, we ought to feel deeply thankful for it.
Perhaps the most audacious, I would say the most impudent part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech was that in which he dared to suggest that the industrial conditions in India to-day, as revealed by the Whitley Report, were due to the agitation of the last few years for Dominion status. Anything more fantastic has seldom been uttered in the House of Commons. The industrial report gives 2382 an account of the chawls in Bombay where the millworkers live. Just over 20 years ago, when I was in the university settlement in Bombay, I worked among these chawls and used to visit them, and nothing that I have read in the report indicates conditions any worse than the conditions which I saw 22 years ago in the Bombay chawls, long before there was any demand for Dominion status. I think the speech of the hon. Member who spoke of the conditions as having improved during the last six years was far more in harmony with the facts of the industrial situation in India than the fantastic, ludicrous, impudent speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping.
The Noble Lord who was Under-Secretary of State for India under the last Government inferred in his speech that disturbances on the Frontier had increased during the period of the administration of the present Government. Those who have any knowledge of pre-War conditions in India especially on the Frontier, will admit that, before the War conditions were less disturbed in India than they are to-day, but anyone who has lived on the Frontier knows perfectly well that in pre-War days hardly a year passed when there was not what the Army men used to call a "show" on the Frontier. If it was not Tirah, it was Waziristan, and if it was not Waziristan it was somewhere else on the Frontier. There was always some Frontier "show" as it was called in Simla, some expedition or some disturbance. The suggestion that there are more troubles now owing to the administration of the present Government is almost as fantastic as the suggestion that the present industrial conditions are due to the two years' administration of the Labour Government.
Even in South India there was disturbance in those days. I was in Bangalore when the Moplahs were disbanded and other disturbances took place even then. Surely it is unjust and unfair to suggest that the disturbances of to-day are due to the present Administration, when we remember the serious riot in Bombay in 1927, under a Conservative Administration, when 150 people were killed, and the serious riot in Calcutta in 1926 under a Conservative Administration when 140 were killed and 2383 1,300 wounded, but I would not put those disturbances down to the fault of the Conservative Administration. And it is grossly unfair to suggest to-day that the present disturbances are due to the present Administration.
Then there has been emphasis laid on the Hindu-Moslem differences. The hon. Member for Bodmin warned us that there may be great danger in exaggerating those differences although it would be foolish and idle to ignore them. Yet we cannot fail to know that the Nizam of Hyderabad, himself a Mohammedan, governs a province in which 10,000,000 out of 12,000,000 inhabitants are Hindus, and governs it peaceably. Everybody who knows anything about India, knows that the Maharajah of Kashmir is governing over countries where the vast majority are Mohammedans, and to suggest that the Moslems are all quarelling with Mr. Gandhi is quite out of harmony with the facts of the case. Everyone who knows the history of the co-operative movement knows that when Mr. Gandhi first initiated it, it was on behalf of the Moslems themselves in the Khalifat movement. Why should Members expect the Moslems and Hindus to agree? The Conservatives and Members of the Labour party do not agree, and why do they expect this complete agreement between the Mohammedans and Hindus? I do not underestimate the importance of their differences, but there is danger in exaggerating them. The hon. Member for Oxford University (Sir C. Oman) referred in an interjection to a hartel in Calcutta, and asked, "Is that peace?" If you look over the whole continent of Europe, which is as big as Europe without Russia, and has a population of 300,000,000 souls, to find where there is trouble, you are certain to find it in such a large continent, but there is no just reason to suggest that it is the fault of the present administration. The hon. Member who has just sat down spoke of quarrels in villages. I wonder if he is aware that there are 700,000 villages in India—close upon 1,000,000—and it would, indeed, be remarkable if, searching the whole of India with a microscope, you failed to find some trouble here and there.
2384 I want to say a few words on the subject of the boycott which has been referred to again and again. If there is anything more likely than another to prolong the boycott of foreign cloths in India, it is the agitation fostered by some hon. Members opposite which keeps alive the suspicion that the political connection of Britain with India is utilised to further Britain's own interests. If the boycott has not ceased to be effective, the responsibility very largely is that of the agitation—the unfair agitation—which has been carried on throughout the country by some Members opposite ever since the Irwin-Gandhi agreement was concluded. Those who have carried on this agitation completely ignore the fact that the failure of the consumption of British cloth imports to India has been due to the inability of India to buy, in view of the serious drop in the prices of India's raw product. It is well known that there has been an enormous drop in purchasing power throughout the world, and India suffers from it also. The Secretary of State for India gave some striking figures to show the reduced purchasing power. Here are a few facts concerning India's purchases from Britain during the last two years compared with the purchases from our own Dominions. They will show that the drop of purchases of English goods by the Dominions is even greater than the drop in the purchase of British goods by India. I wish hon. Members who are trying to make some agitation out of the boycott would face these facts; many of them, I am sure, wish honestly to face them. In 1929–30, India purchased 1,600 million yards of cloth from Britain. In 1930–31 she purchased only 772 million yards—less than half.
§ Miss PICTON-TURBERVILL
I will give the source of my figures. I will compare the purchases of Australia with those of India, and I beg hon. Members not to make capital out of what is a world loss of purchasing power. This drop in the purchases of British cloth in India has been made the subject of agitation, and has been produced by what is called the wicked boycott, but 2385 it is not due to the boycott. Australia bought £19,500,000 worth of cloth in 1929–30——
§ Mr. REMER rose——
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Miss PICTON-TURBERVILL
The hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to make his speech later. I will give the sources of these figures. They are perfectly correct. Australia bought in 1930–31 £9,000,000 worth of cloth. This is only half as much as the year before, which was £19,500,000, and is exactly the same drop in proportion as the purchases of India. There was, however, no protest about a boycott in Australia. I ask hon. Members to face these facts, for it is unfair to attempt to get an agitation over India because her purchasing power has dropped, just as the purchasing power has dropped in practically every nation in the world. Moreover, while the value of Australia's raw products fell 30 per cent., India's raw product fell more heavily. Yet some hon. Members are so bent on encouraging the boycotters in India, that they give the whole credit of the fall in cloth imports into India to the boycott. This is grossly unjust.
I am sure hon. Members will agree that the only real safeguard for the future, of British trade in India is good will among the Indians. The Noble Lord spoke of good will as a pious phrase. It is not a pious phrase; it is not a sentiment, but common sense. It is not only common sense, but an economic power. If you have good will with the people, they will purchase from you. Good will is not a pious phrase; it is scientific and economic common sense. There would have been far more force in the agitation that has been carried on since the Gandhi-Irwin pact if it had been followed by a real fall in the Indian imports quite lately, but there has been an increase in the last few months. There was an increase of imports of cotton pieces from 24,000,000 yards in February, to 33,000,000 in March, and 35,000,000 in April—a solid continuous upward grade. Hon. Members, if not in speech, at least in interjection, have scoffed at round table conferences. We ought to thank God that we have round table conferences to-day. If we throw back our memories and go back in history to see what 2386 happened in 1857, when India's last attempt to get her liberty——
§ Miss PICTON-TURBERVILL
I shall use both. Think what happened in those days. We may well be thankful that today, instead of resorting to the sword and having bloodshed, we have round-table conferences. It is most unreasonable to expect that all the complications of the different races of India should be settled in one or two, or even five or six, round-table conferences. They are the right path to tread, and without them there will only be further disaster.
I am going to approach something on which I speak with a certain amount of hesitation. There still exists in India a suspicion that if we do not govern on the system of divide and rule we do not fail to take whatever advantages there may be from the divisions and differences which from time to time divide the different Indian communities from each other. Can we deny that there has been some political capital made out of the tragic happenings at Cawnpore? Can anyone deny that the right hon. Member for Epping has made political capital out of the tragedy of Cawnpore? That can have only one result, that support will be given to the suspicion, and I say the unworthy suspicion, the untrue suspicion, nevertheless the very deep-seated suspicion in India that the British Government follows the principle of "divide and rule." Many things have been said in the House to-day, but as I began my speech so I will close it, by saying that the majority of the Members of this House will be thankful for the magnificent reply given by the hon. Member for Bodmin to the speech made by the right hon. Member for Epping. He is treading the path that ultimately will lead to permanent peace between the two countries.
§ Mr. PHILIP OLIVER
The hon. Member for the Wrekin Division (Miss Picton-Turbervill) has referred in her interesting speech to the agitation carried on in Lancashire about the boycott, and she has rather criticised that agitation, and yet I think one may say that in Lancashire we are faced with a conjunction of circumstances which has made that protest and that agitation almost inevitable and, I 2387 think, perfectly justified. Most of us will agree with her, and, indeed, with the Secretary of State, that a great deal of the distress in Lancashire is due to the reduced purchasing power of India.
§ Miss PICTON-TURBERVILL
May I ask one question? If you think it is justifiable to protest against the drop in the purchase of our goods by India, would you think it also justifiable to make a similar protest in the case of Australia?
§ Mr. OLIVER
The protest of Lancashire is not against the drop of our exports to India; the protest of Lancashire is against the tariff and against the boycott, which are two definite acts of policy.
§ Mr. OLIVER
I will tell the hon. Member in due course what I do support. We realise that this drop in exports is partly, perhaps largely, due to the reduced purchasing power of the Indian community, and we realise, happily, that during the past few weeks there has been a slight improvement in trade, but I think no one can deny that the last increase m the tariff, and, superimposed upon that, the boycott, have in their combination been very disastrous indeed to our trade. I want to point out to the Committee how that combination is significant. There is the tariff and there is the boycott, and what we in Lancashire are protesting against is the combination of the tariff with the boycott. The tariff has been continually increased against us, and whenever the tariff has been increased we have been told not only by this Government but by previous Governments that it has been increased because revenue is necessary for the Government of India. When, in the last Debate on this question, the Secretary of State was asked whether a protest had been sent out to India prior to the last increase in the tariff, he said that a protest had been sent out but that the Indian Government replied that the increase was necessary for fiscal reasons, and in view of that intimation from the Indian Government, he said, nothing further could be done.
2388 It is axiomatic, if the Indian Government are to obtain an increased revenue from an increased tariff, that goods must be imported into India. Unless the goods go in the revenue duty is not paid. But after the Government of India had increased the tariff against our goods, in order to balance the budget, a certain number of Indian statesmen, Indian citizens, decided to boycott those goods. If, as a result of the boycott, the imporation of those goods into India is prevented, those Indian citizens are defrauding the Indian Government of the revenue which is required for balancing the budget. If, on the other hand, those goods go into India and pay customs duty, and then Indian citizens organise themselves to prevent the sale of those goods, surely the Indian Government, perhaps involuntarily, are defrauding the importers of those goods who have paid the increased tariff upon them and are then prevented from selling the goods by a combination against them. I venture to say that is almost an immoral situation—that goods should be made subject to the tax, that when the tax has been paid the citizens should bind themselves together to prevent those goods being sold, and the Government, which has put revenue into its pocket should take no active steps to prevent that boycott being continued.
That is the position against which Lancashire protests and I venture to say, rightly protests. The whole thing is utterly illogical, because it is the Indian Government which imposes the tariff and an entirely different body, the Congress, which imposes the boycott. We have to suffer the shafts and arrows both of the Indian Government and the Indian Congress, and against that double imposition Lancashire rightly protests. Let no one suppose that when Lancashire protests against this state of affairs she is protesting against the grant of a free constitution to India. It is absolutely essential to realise that. I venture to say it is a matter of great and vital importance both to the future of Lancashire and the future of India. When we raise this protest we are not in any way attempting to stay the gradual but inevitable advance of free constitutional institutions in India. In fact, many people engaged in Lancashire trade see in the Gandhi-Irwin constitution a partial solution of the problems from 2389 which we suffer at the present time. Take the tariff, continually increased against us. I said in a previous speech, as I say now, that I do not altogether acquit the Secretary of State of the charge of not being sufficiently persistent in making representations to the Government of India on behalf of the Lancashire cotton industry. It is a charge I make against him, and a charge I make against his predecessors in office in successive Governments, but I realise the difficulties. He cannot ride roughshod over Indian opinion, he must respect Indian opinion and if he vetoed any desire in India for an increased tariff against our goods undoubtedly sinister motives would be imputed to us and the peaceful relationship between the Empire and India would not be enhanced.
It is because of those difficulties that many people engaged in Lancashire trade say that a free constitution will probably greatly assist our commercial relationship with India. If there is a free constitution our bargaining powers with India will not be less but will be greater. At present we are in the position of a trustee; then we shall be in the position of equals. Now the predominant consideration of the Secretary of State must be, I suppose, the interests of India; then the predominating consideration will be the interests of Lancashire. Then, as now, India will require loans from us, and financial assistance. If we are equal, we shall then be able to demand a quid pro quo, which we cannot do now when we are trustees. Then, in her constitution, there will be full representation of the consumers of India. Then, also, there will be full representation of Mohammedans, and there will also be represented the Indian States, who desire neither tariffs nor interference with the trade of Lancashire and the trade of India. Lancashire has nothing to fear whatsoever from a free constitution freely given to India. The whole genius of Lancashire, both in political opinion and in its history, favours the granting of free constitutions to other parts of the world. I desire to make it perfectly clear that, when Lancashire utters her protest, as she does against this juncture of a hartal and a tariff, she does not in any way utter a protest against the granting of a free constitution in India. She rather sees, in that 2390 granting of a free constitution, a solution of her difficulties. The same applies to the boycott. But Lancashire cannot wait. She must have temporary relief.
In so far as illegalities are being permitted, it is clear that the Government of India should supervene, and should require assurances. It is clear from the news which comes from India that illegalities are being permitted. A boycott is almost inseparably linked with intimidation of some kind. You cannot have a nice boycott. A boycott is almost bound to step over the bounds into illegality and some form of intimidation. There is no doubt whatever that there has been obstruction of the public, and we know that obstruction of the public is regarded in India as illegal. We say that, as the Government have taken the revenue on the goods by their increased tariff, the Government ought to be especially scrupulous to see that the law is not broken, and that no illegal restrictions are placed upon the free sale of the goods which have contributed to the revenue. In so far as the boycott consists simply of social pressure, we cannot expect either the Government here or the Government in India to take any action. We can only trust to the good will of Mr. Gandhi.
May I be permitted to say something on this point before I close? Behind the boycott there are three main motives: an industrial motive, a social motive and a political motive. The industrial motive behind the boycott is, of course, the complete protection of the Indian mill-owner. I want Mr. Gandhi for whom I have, as many people in Lancashire have, a great respect, to realise that he will not, by means of that boycott, be able to bridge the immense gap between the dilemma of the Indian peasant or the difficulties of the Bombay mill-owner. I ask him to remember that India, just as much as Great Britain, depends upon her export trade. She is one of the largest exporting countries in the world and, unless she exports, she cannot possibly import. I would ask Mr. Gandhi, who, I believe, is a humanitarian, to remember that in Lancashire we have had bad passages and that, though there are dark things of which we may well be ashamed, the wages and conditions in our mills compare at least favourably with those 2391 of the Japanese and the Indian mill-owners.
The social motive behind the boycott is always the desire to promote the use of hand-spun and hand-woven material. On that I can only say that Lancashire cloth does not, and never has, competed with the hand-woven cloth of the Indian peasant. Lancashire has no quarrel with Mr. Gandhi. We do not draw swords with him. We do not compete. The social object of the boycott is not aimed at us. It may be aimed against the coarser cloths of Japan, but not against the finer cloths of Lancashire. There remains only the political motive. The only political object behind the boycott is to force from, it may be, an unwilling Government, a free constitution for India. Why should that weapon be aimed at Lancashire? So far as Lancashire is concerned, the door is open. We rejoice that India should have a free constitution, and the continuance of this boycott can only embitter the hearts of those who desire the best in the future of the Indian people. I know that the remarks I have made on the boycott do not give any immediate suggestion of practical action to the Government, so far as the boycott is concerned. If it is legally carried out, we must appeal to the good will of the Indian people and of those who govern the Indian mind, and I am quite sure that the appeal, if made in the right spirit, will not be made in vain.
§ Mr. HAMMERSLEY
The last three speeches have not ranged over the wide field of administration in India, like earlier speeches, but have been mainly confined to considerations of trade taking place between India and this country. The hon. Member for the Wrekin (Miss Picton-Turbervill) made a certain suggestion from figures which she quoted. The first figures had relation to Lancashire trade in India. As I listened to those figures, it seemed a pity that she had not carried her researches a little bit further. The point of her argument was that, in 1929, the exports of Lancashire cloth were only 1,600,000,000 yards, and that, in the following year, 1930, they were approximately half that amount. She then gave the figures of our exports to Australia, and showed that the decline had been approximately the same. From 2392 that she went on to draw the conclusion that, if we had any consistency, we ought to be raising a protest against Australia, because Australia was not taking the same volume of goods. In point of fact, the boycott did not begin until the middle of 1930. If she had examined the figures a little more closely, she would have found that, in the first three months of this year, when we were getting the full effect of the boycott, we only exported to India less than one-third of the three months' figures for the previous year; so that the diminution that has taken place as a result of the full effect of the boycott is not one-half as the hon. Lady suggested, but more in the neighbourhood of five-sixths. Therefore, the whole basis upon which the hon. Lady based her argument was wrong.
It was in the middle of last year that the Congress Party, in considering their campaign of civil disobedience, thought it desirable to seize on this large volume of mutual trade which takes place between India and ourselves, and to utilise it as a method whereby political force could be brought to bear on the Government in order to deal with the constitution question. In utilising these methods of boycott, they used intimidation, coercion, obstruction and violence. It was frankly and admittedly at that time an illegal act. It was viewed by the Government as being illegal, and various magistrates in various parts of India took steps to deal with it. Loyal subjects of the Crown who, after all, were in the great majority, looked upon the boycott at that time as being, in their opinion, a temporary action which they hoped was soon going to come to an end. It must be appreciated—and this is a point I particularly want to make—that at the time the boycott was instituted by the Congress Party it was admittedly an illegal action. That was the position in March of this year. The boycott had, of course, been most injurious, but although it had led to a marked diminution of our trade, the resources of the Government were not exhausted. A new instrument of warfare, if I may use the metaphor, had been introduced, but it was quite possible to find a new means of defence.
At that time, however, the Government did not take any steps to institute a means of defence, but in March the agreement was signed. The words of the 2393 agreement were read out by the Secretary of State in this House, and if the intention of the agreement had been as was suggested in the form of words there could be no doubt that the agreement was, in form and in intention, admirable. It stated specifically that law and order were to be maintained, and that the freedom of action of the individual was to be safeguarded. Advertisements, propaganda, persuasion and all those methods of suggesting it was a right and proper thing for India to look after its own internal trade and home production were lawful, but it was not lawful to prevent by force the selling of British goods.
Since that time we have had an opportunity to examine in detail the working out of the agreement. The plain facts are that the agreement is not being carried out either in the spirit or in the letter. The evidence which we have had, and which was given in a previous Debate in this House, has conclusively shown that the agreement has not been carried out, that these forms of obstruction are still being persisted in and there is no basis for the statement made by the President of the Board of Trade recently in Edinburgh, that, as a result of the signing of the agreement, there was a marked improvement in that year's trade. The facts, indeed, are all the other way. I am myself a director of several spinning companies. In respect to two of these companies—they are both large companies, one with 100,000 spindles and another with two mills with 200,000 spindles—in each case, in previous years every pound of yarn which we used to spin was sent to India, but now we do not send an ounce. If it had not been for the great skill of the management in finding new markets and markets in the home trade, which it has only been able to do at the expense of other manufacturers, these mills would have had to close down, thus increasing the amount of unemployment in Lancashire.
The position now is that, as far as we can tell from reports from India, and from the knowledge one has from one's own evidence, the trade situation is no better, and there has been no change, but the position of the Government has changed because now, since the agreement has been signed, one does not have to judge the effect of political action by 2394 considerations of whether it is right or wrong, or whether it is done having due regard to the welfare of the people. We have to consider it in a kind of metaphysical atmosphere as to whether or not it can be brought within the terms of the Irwin-Gandhi agreement. Let me give a typical example. A Hindu woman and her daughter go to shop in order to purchase the daughter's wedding garment. The wedding garment is of cloth, and, in accordance with the custom of her caste, she desires the finer quality cotton, which can only be obtained from Lancashire. As she approaches the shop she is spoken to by two women who tell her not to go into the shop to purchase British goods. She and her daughter go into the shop and purchase this cotton cloth. They go back home followed by the two women, and when they get into the house the women explain to the daughter, who is naturally credulous and anxious, that if she does buy the cloth her marriage will not be fruitful. They work on her fears until she takes the cloth back to the shop, and the shopkeeper has to refund the money.
That ought to be dealt with, as a matter of fact, but, instead of being dealt with on those lines, when we argue it, hon. Gentlemen on the other side say it is only an extension of propaganda, and comes under the headings covered by the agreement. A new basis of government has been set up. We have to decide on a formula. We have to try to see whether or not action of this character can be brought within the sphere of an economic pact. There was the example the other day of the Congress Party exercising the boycott for what they describe as an economic end. You have a political party exercising a boycott for an economic end, and because the end is economic they say it comes within the terms of the agreement, and therefore the Government can take no action. According to the way in which you look at it, certain evidence is glossed over as an excusable piece of nationalist enthusiasm.
Is it right in circumstances like these, when great injury is being inflicted on so many people, that the Government of India should be conducted on these lines? Is there any other country in the world that has laid down this principle, as a kind of verbal casuistry, that you have to get something that complies with 2395 the wording of an agreement which is understood by one section to mean one thing and by another section to mean something which is quite different? True, the Government cannot be blamed for the hard facts of the economic situation, but I think the Government can be blamed for the fact, which they know, that the agreement on which they have pinned such faith has been used in this way. No wonder in Lancashire it is being said with some reason that the Government are conniving in an attempt not only to exploit the people of India, but also at the impoverishment of the people of Lancashire.
There is one further aspect of this trade problem I should like to touch upon, and that is in regard to silver. It is true, as the Secretary of State has pointed out, that at the root of all the difficulties which confront not only England but the world in general, there are these economic factors such as the lack of purchasing power. Undoubtedly, a higher selling price for silver would help very much. It is true that you could only deal with the stabilisation of the price of silver by some kind of international action. It is also true that we have agreed, if international action were taken, that we would send representatives. Some few months ago, the United States proposed to call a conference to consider this question of the price of silver, but since then they have been preoccupied with the Hoover Plan. I suggest that, in view of the large interests at stake, it would be desirable for the Government of this country to call an international conference. The main factor which is keeping the price of silver down in the markets of the world is one over which the Secretary of State for India has some control. No one knows when the Indian Government is going to sell silver. The Indian Government is continually selling silver, and this menace of large quantities of silver being thrust on the market is keeping down the price, impoverishing the purchasing power of the peoples of India, adding to the economic problems of the Government, and causing all the difficulties that are going to arise in connection with the refusal of peasants to pay rent. In addition to all that, it is having its repercussions in Lancashire. I sincerely trust that the Secretary of 2396 State will make some inquiries into this important matter, and will see whether or not he can take some action.
§ Sir ERNEST BENNETT
I should like to allude briefly to one or two features in the Burmese insurrection, which has not been referred to at all in this Debate, except for a brief remark by the Secretary of State. It is curious that it should have attracted so very little attention in the public Press, and even in this House. It is no exaggeration to say that, until the publication of this report, scarcely a Member of this House, even on the Front Bench, could have given a reasoned answer to the simple question: Why are the people in Burma in a state of revolt? You have these deplorable hostilities, covering an area roughly 600 miles by 300, with all sorts of unpleasant possibilities in the way of extensions to the North, and yet no one seems to be particularly interested in or concerned about the question, either in the Press or among the public generally. When I was in the House nearly 20 years ago, far more interest was taken in these questions of the relation between the Crown and the weaker and less developed races of the Empire, by men of all parties, like Alfred Lyttleton on the Conservative benches, and, on other benches, Morley, Dilke, Mackarness, Dillon and Keir Hardie. All over the House you could find people interested in these matters. To-day we have a Debate on India, and the Burmese revolt and all that it involves is hardly mentioned.
We have in this report some explanation of this mysterious revolt, and some explanation was wanted. In that charming book, "The Soul of a People," although the enthusiastic author may have put forward exaggerated opinions as to the qualities of his friends the Burmese, the point is made, and it can be corroborated by all those who know Buddhist countries, that it is contrary to the religious convictions of a religious people like the Burmese to engage in war. If they do engage in war, they do so, so to speak, in spite of themselves, and that is one of the reasons why revolts and wars in Burma have always been disorganised, because the religious forces, instead of giving encouragement and cohesion to such operations, have 2397 never lent themselves to the settlement of quarrels by arms. In other countries, the Churches always back up their people when they are engaged in war, but the Buddhists take a different line.
The Burmese, a most charming and attractive people in many ways, are driven to this fighting despite themselves, and almost despite their own convictions. At any rate, we have the causes very fairly and reasonably summarised in this report. One of them seems to be the capitation tax, which has always been an unpopular tax throughout the whole of history, and has now become practically obsolete. It may be a fair tax in some cases, but is always liable to be unjust. Another cause is that amidst all the economic misery which the Burmese share with the rest of the world, they have the added trouble and anxiety of Indian immigrants, whose standard of life is lower than theirs, and who are, therefore, content with lower wages. The main reason, however, is political. The report says:Another potent factor in the present situation is the rising tide of national feeling in Burma. The Burman has always been proud of his race. The War, and the political ferment succeeding the War, tended to foster national consciousness.Nationalism may be bad or it may be good, but it is one of the things that came out of the late War. All over the world, in addition to Burma—in Persia, Turkey, Egypt, India, and even in the West—we see the writing on the wall, and the only thing that we can do during the transitional period is to make the best of things, and gradually part with the old condition of affairs as agreeably as possible.
I want to ask the House to consider, in view of these admittedly political reasons, whether we are justified in the treatment accorded to Burmese fighting men who have been captured during the fighting? I feel strongly on this matter. I have made a rather special study of the laws of war, as exemplified in various conventions at Geneva, the Hague, and so on, and I am surprised and shocked to sec that these Burmese who are fighting openly and have been captured in action are being tried and sentenced to death in batches—15 on one occasion—while others have been sentenced to long terms of imprisonment, from imprison- 2398 ment for life downwards. That is truly out of date, and I hope I may have an assurance from the Secretary of State that none of these executions have yet taken place of men captured in fair fighting with unexampled courage against tremendous odds. I know that these men are being condemned in Burma on the ground that they are levying war against the King—that they are in a state of rebellion. [An HON. MEMBER: "Hear, hear!"] The hon. Member who says "Hear, hear" is living in the past. People in the 20th century have outlived the idea that you can punish with death these rebels who wear uniform and fight under organised leadership. At the time of the "black and tan" fighting in Ireland, we endeavoured to rope the Irish under the heading of rebels, and no doubt certain drumhead court martials tried rebels caught in fair fighting and shot them out of hand. But public spirit soon stopped that kind of thing.
§ Mr. BRACKEN
Does the hon. Member really believe that these people in arms against the Crown, killing loyal servants of the Crown, ought to be let off with impunity? If he does, he is giving no assistance to the Secretary of State for India.
§ Sir E. BENNETT
According to the laws of war accepted by this and every other country, men fighting in uniform, under recognised leaders, engaged in civil war, are not liable to be executed or sentenced to long terms of imprisonment. It is not what I believe. It is what international law lays down. These people are fighting for political objects. They may indulge in ambushes and night attacks on villages, but those things are perfectly legitimate methods of modern warfare. I do not wish to accentuate it any further than that. No one can deny to these rebels the possession of extraordinary courage. It is certain that they belive in something. I hope we shall not sink to the level of one or two portions of the report. It is said that the place where the rebellion originated is "a favourite resort of political agitation." That is not the kind of expression that ought to appear in such a document. What are we but political agitators in this Chamber, and paid ones too? The only reassuring thing about this is the state- 2399 ment that the Government are doing their best to make amends and to meet some of the admitted grievances of the people as regards taxation. If we amnesty these people from their long terms of imprisonment and threatened execution, that will be the best way to re-establish our credit in the country and to pave the way to a peaceful solution of the Burmese problem.
§ Colonel HOWARD-BURY
I will not follow the hon. Member beyond agreeing with him that "The Soul of a People" is one of the most delightful books I have read about Burma. One of the remarks in the report is that, if firm action had been taken at the start, the rebellion would not have spread over the country, and we should not be faced with the difficult situation we are in to-day. I sympathise with the right hon. Gentleman in the multiplicity of subjects that he has to face, but, when he is responsible for 300,000,000 people, there is bound to be a very large number of questions. He raised the question of the frontier of India. Troops have been there for many a month, and he knows what hot weather means in that part of the world. Many Members of Parliament go to India in the cold weather when there is a pleasant climate, but in the summer you get a temperature of 110 or 115, raised to a far greater extent because of the stony soil. They have spent month after month there, suffering severe casualties.
I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider the matter of giving a frontier medal to the troops engaged in these very arduous operations. When I was at Pindhi for some years, we desired to have some frontier show. In those days one was anxious, as a subaltern, to obtain a medal for a frontier show. They have had a very severe doing under difficult conditions and I will put in a plea that they should be given a medal. I saw the other day that there are to be reductions throughout India in the pay of all the services and I would put in a plea that the pay of the police should not be reduced. They are an insurance against riot and rebellion throughout the country, and their pay is pitifully small, I think six rupees a month. Surely the right hon. Gentleman cannot assent to a reduction. We want to have a contented police. I do not know whether people realise the 2400 amount of abuse that they have to suffer throughout the Indian Press, and they have to carry on day after day the most unpleasant tasks against their own religion and their own country. To reduce their pay would be a fatal mistake.
Some hon. Members have quoted instances where there were hundreds of casualties in previous years rather in the effort to minimise what happened at Cawnpore, but we are altogether responsible for these communal riots. We did not have them until we told them they were eventually to have Dominion status, when we gave them the idea that there would become a counting of heads and that the larger number of heads were going to rule. That accentuated the feeling between the two religions. The Mohammedans were in the minority, and they understood that they would be for ever in the minority under the domination of the Hindus. As long as we ruled over the two, there was no trouble. You might have had an occasional clash outside a temple when a Mohammedan procession passed, but it was on a very small scale. It is only in the last 10 or 15 years that this communal trouble has arisen. It is the same in Palestine. We have only had communal trouble there since we have taken over the Mandate, and for exactly similar reasons. Being responsible for it, we ought to keep the peace fairly and imperially between the two great religions.
At the present time there is rather an impression among many of the Mohammedans that we are leaning towards the Hindus. I would have that corrected, and I hope that the Secretary of State will give an assurance that he is absolutely impartial, and that though we have dealings day after day with Mr. Gandhi, who is held up as the person with whom to negotiate, and that though Mr. Gandhi is the person who in the public mind here is looked upon as the great man in India, yet we at the same time would negotiate with the leaders of Mohammedanism in the country. On reading this Cawnpore report we see throughout the fear of the Mohammedan that we are dealing the whole time with the Hindus, that we have relaxed the regulations against law and order in order to favour the Hindus. In the evidence of Mr. James in this report we find that he says: 2401We see in this the chief police officer of the city working hand in hand with the Congress leaders, but the last word is with Congress.Then later on there is this:Side by side with all this interference and obstruction the picketing of foreign cloth and liquor shops went continuously on.We give way, even though it may be in a small way, what is or what was considered illegal, and the right hon. Gentleman says that this Irwin-Gandhi Agreement is not against the law. But it is against what was the practice and the administration before. The practice was, when picketing went on in former days, for it to be considered as obstruction, and it was stopped by the police; but to-day you say that it is not actually against the law. It may not be against the law, but in former days we governed and prevented this sort of thing happening, because we knew that it might cause a disturbance. To-day by the Irwin-Gandhi Agreement we are prevented from taking any steps to stop this sort of thing. Throughout the report there is the idea that the Government were allowing to Congress followers freedom in law-breaking and a licence to interfere with law-abiding citizens that amounted to a great danger. But, most important of all, is the comment of the Governor of the United Provinces himself:The Governor in Council must now admit that ho might with advantage have directed a firmer and more consistent recourse to the penal and preventive sections of the ordinary law during the earlier days of the agitation. This is a matter of policy for which responsibility lies on the Government and not on the local authorities.That is a most important statement made by the Governor. There is one other point that I would raise very shortly, and that is the question of agrarian troubles. The right hon. Gentleman has told us that the agrarian situation in India is very critical at the present time. I look upon it as far more dangerous than what is happening in the towns, yet we have Pundit Nehru proceeding to a district in which agrarian distress is acute, evidently with the idea of preparing for an agrarian revolt. When the Deputy-Commissioner issued definite orders to try to stop any incitement of this kind he was told by the Governor of the United Provinces to withdraw two of the letters he had written. Surely 2402 you must, under these conditions, where you have millions of Hindu peasants—the material is terribly inflammable—take every step possible to keep the peace. Unless that is done I affirm that in future you will have far greater trouble than any you had in Cawnpore, seeing that 90 per cent. of the inhabitants of the country are engaged in some form of agriculture. I beg the Secretary of State to take firm steps so as to nip any trouble in the bud before it starts, and so to prevent greater disaster in future.
§ 10.0 p.m.
§ Sir S. HOARE
I am sorry that my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) is not at the moment in his place, for I wish to tell him that I always read with the greatest pleasure and profit his various literary productions. The last that I read was a contribution to a volume entitled, "If." The motive of that volume was that if certain things had happened the whole history of the world would have been very different from what it is to-day. As I have listened to some of the speeches in this Debate I have time after time applied that motive idea to recent events in India. It is perfectly possible to say that if there had been no Round Table Conference, if there had been no Irwin-Gandhi Agreement, things might have been a great deal better than they are to-day. But it would have been equally true to have said, living in this world of unchecked hypothesis, that if there had been no Hound Table Conference and no Irwin-Gandhi Agreement, things might have been a great deal worse. I suggest that at the present time we have not the data available upon which we can base a final verdict regarding either of these two events. Some hon. Members take one view about this and some another. Only history can decide whether it was wise or not wise to have a Round Table Conference in the winter, and whether it was wise or not wise for the Viceroy to enter into the agreement with Mr. Gandhi last March.
In the meantime I suggest that it is much more profitable that all of us should get as far away as possible from hypotheses, and address ourselves to the actual facts in a very difficult situation. Being a very unromantic and unimaginative person I can tell the Com- 2403 mittee now that my views have never changed with reference to the Round Table Conference. I have never disguised from myself the fact that we were faced with every kind of complicated difficulty. I have never disguised from myself the fact that the very basic condition of any advance is the admission of the safeguards that we discussed last winter. But I have also never disguised from myself the fact that it is much better to face these difficulties and not to ignore them. It is much better that all three parties should attempt to face them together, as long as they can do it together. It may be that in future it will not be possible to maintain co-operation between the three parties. Only the future can judge whether that will be so or not. Meantime that has always been the position that the Conservative delegates have taken up upon the Round Table Conference, and in view of what has been said to-day I think it my duty to say that our position has in no way changed in any of these respects from the position that we took up last year.
Let me proceed, following the same course of conduct, keeping equally close to the actual facts of the problem, avoiding so far as I can every kind of generality—let me proceed to the main subject of the discussion to-day, namely, the incidents that took place at Cawnpore. I do not wish to travel once again over the ground that has been so well covered by several much more competent speakers than myself. But I would, in the short time during which I am going to address the Committee, venture to emphasise one or two very definite features that emerge from that report, and I shall endeavour, as I always do in dealing with Indian questions, not to leave the matter in a purely negative state, but to make in a very humble way certain proposals that I believe, if adopted, would be useful in the interests of a settlement.
I begin with the first feature of the report, a feature which so far has been stressed by practically every speaker who has dealt with the question of Cawnpore. That feature is the bitterness of the Hindu-Moslem conflict. The Cawnpore massacre, as we have heard it very often stated this afternoon, was a direct result 2404 of this communal bitterness, started, as the report makes clear, by Congress propaganda. The result was that in the course of four days there were no less than 2,000 serious crimes registered, there were at least 442 deaths, and there were no less than 418 buildings burnt to the ground. This terrible series of events should make it plain to every Member of the Committee that the conflict between Moslems and Hindus is no mere sectarian or political controversy, such as we have heard about, but a racial and a religious cleavage which cuts through every side of the religious and domestic life of India. Such a cleavage cannot be bridged by paper compromises nor by political expedients. The only way, in my view, that it can be bridged is by what we call in Europe moral disarmament, that is to say, moral disarmament of the parties particularly concerned. Moral disarmament can only be brought about if there is at the back of it a feeling of greater security particularly in the case of the minorities concerned. I would therefore, and this is the third point I venture to make, emphasise as strongly as I can the appeal that has been made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) that the Secretary of State, speaking for the Government, should make it even clearer than he has made it before that, whatever may be the political arrangements of the future, safeguards for minorities are not in any way going to be ignored.
There is a further point I would like to make. I should like to make it perfectly clear that we Conservatives, and I believe, indeed, every party in the House, have no wish to maintain the British administration of India on a basis of Divide et Impera. Every hon. Member would like to see this bitterness allayed. We have no wish to exploit it in our own interests. We have no wish, indeed, to place any obstacle in the way of any further discussion, but I would like to say this to the right hon. Gentleman. I am afraid that the communal bitterness, try as we will, with the best good will in the world, will be found, when we come to renew the detailed discussion of these constitutional questions that we adjourned last January, will enter into every detail of this discussion, 2405 and that, though we may not wish it, it will block advance in every direction. I would, therefore, venture with great deference to appeal to our Indian friends and to put it to them that, unless they can, in some measure, allay the bitterness that has become so great in recent months, with the best will in the world, it will be extraordinarily difficult to make any advance when our discussions are renewed in the autumn.
I pass now to the second lesson that I would draw from the Cawnpore report. It is a lesson of a different kind, and it is that the prestige of the British rule, and the British raj is still as strong in India as ever it was, provided that British officials, civil and military, are confident of themselves and know that they have the Government of Whitehall and the Government of Delhi behind them. One of the most significant passages in the whole report is that which describes the arrival of the British troops upon the scene of disaster. I will quote to the Committee the actual words of the report, and they are very significant. I take them from page 42 of the report:The arrival of the troops had an immediately steadying effect within the area of their influence, and throughout the riots whenever and wherever the troops appeared their presence was a signal for peace.I take another extract from page 44:…. all the evidence goes to show that on the appearance of troops or police, oven in the smallest number, the crowd melted away. There was no disposition to attack authority.The story of Cawnpore was also the story of Shalapur, in the earlier months of the year. It shows that the British in India are still regarded not only as the unshakcable bulwark of law and order but also as the upholders of impartial justice between rival interests and warring communities. But in order that British prestige should continue to count there is one overriding condition that must be fulfilled. There must be no doubt in the minds of the British official, civilian or military, that the Government is behind him and that the Government is going to back him. He must feel, be he an official in high office or in a low office, that there is no break in the links of the chain that link the district to the province, the province to Delhi, and Delhi to Whitehall. He must 2406 feel absolute confidence that as long as he is carrying out the orders of his superiors the Government at Whitehall and the Government of Delhi are going to back him.
What light does this report throw upon this overriding need of the stability of the Government in India? As I have not very long during which I shall be able to speak, I will take a single case. I will take the case of the police as it is set out in the Cawnpore report. It is evident from the report that the police in Cawnpore were uncertain of their position. They felt the effects, the report states time after time, of the civil disobedience campaign. They felt the effects in particular of the picketing campaign. On page after page of the report there is evidence of the causes that went to make them uncertain in their position. I will quote to the Committee one or two sentences from the report itself. I take my first quotation from page 35:Complaints against the police range fom accusations of indifference to actual participation in the riots. The most prominent charge was one of general inactivity which can only be satisfactorily judged by splitting it up under different heads.I take the second quotation from page 38:They have given a number of instances and though some of them are capable of explanation, yet there is no doubt in our mind"—that is, in the mind of the commissioners—that during the first three days of the riot the police did not show that activity in the discharge of their duties which was expected of them. There may be some truth, too,"—I again quote from the report—in the theory advanced by some witnesses that the police had grown so accustomed to non-interference during the civil disobedience movement that they had neither the wish nor the will to intervene.I think that that charge is borne out by the actual statistics quoted in another part of the report where it is stated that on the first day of the riot on 24th March, only one arrest was made, on the next day only five arrests, and on the third day only two arrests, whereas in a not dissimilar not in Cawnpore not so many months ago—a riot, I quite agree, much less in extent; and that goes to strengthen the point I am making—no less than 250 arrests were made in the first 24 hours. Those figures seem to 2407 support what I am putting to the Committee, namely, that the police were uncertain of their position and that in the early days of the riot they did not take the resolute action that might have been expected of them. They had grown accustomed to doing nothing, or at least to going slow, during the civil disobedience campaign. It is clear from these passages that the loyalty of the police was dangerously strained by the uncertainties of the last few years. It is also clear, and it is a very important point to which the Committee should give their attention, that the demand of the authorities for an adequate number of police in Cawnpore had been turned down by the authorities. Let me quote a sentence from the report:In 1928, the then superintendent of police prepared a very careful scheme for a permanent increase in the civil police of three sub-inspectors, 12 head constables, 19 naiks and 289 constables.The Government reply was as follows:In view of the present financial stringency the Governor in Council has dropped your proposal for an increase in the police in Cawnpore.That was a very serious answer to make to a request based upon the actual facts of the situation and sent up by the superintendent of police, asking for an increase in the staff of the police. It is one of many cases, and I would ask the Secretary of State to give special attention to this position, in which the legitimate demands of the police have time after time been ignored in recent years. The night hon. Gentleman himself this afternoon said that it was the primary duty of the Government to maintain Taw and order in India. The key of that position is, obviously, the position of the police, and yet to-day, in addition to the grave political complexities with which they are faced, in addition to the uncertainties and obscurities of policy with which they are surrounded, there are grievances after grievances that ought to have been remedied years ago and that time after time in recent years have been ignored.
I attach such importance to this point that I would venture to give the Committee certain facts and details in support of what I am saying. Let the Committee observe the actual position of this very small force in this great sub- 2408 continent of India. The total police force in India amounts to-day to 780 gazetted officers, of whom 600, I understand, are British and 180 Indians, and 186,000 other ranks, dealing with 250 districts and a population of 250,000,000. I understand that in a district the total police force amounts to about the strength of an ordinary military battalion, about 1,000 or 1,200 men, spread over a vast district. A handful of men were responsible for areas as big as a British county. The police force had to deal with 250,000,000 of people, with public opinion more often than not against them and not on their side as is the case in Great Britain, and with only two or three gazetted officers in a great district area. Fancy, 1,000 or 1,200 men with only two or three gazetted officers! Further, all ranks, senior or junior, are equally badly paid.
I am aware that there has been a slight rise in the pay of the police during the last two years but, nevertheless, I am informed that the pay of an ordinary constable is less than the pay of an ordinary unskilled labourer. Moreover, he has few of the advantages possessed by every other police force in the world. His barracks are so bad as to be a public scandal, his work is so heavy that, as I am informed upon the best authority, in the last few months an ordinary constable very often has not been to bed more than two days in the week. His pay is miserable. There are no family allowances, and in most cases there are no married quarters. Behind this long series of grievances is the political uncertainty which is constantly preying upon him and making him wonder as to what he ought to do in difficult circumstances which may suddenly arise, as in the case of the Cawnpore riots. This is so overwhelming a case, so vital a case, in connection with all these constitutional questions which we are discussing, that I urge the Minister that the time has now arrived when they should be remedied.
Whatever the future may bring, whether it brings change or no change, the police force is going to be the key to the position, from either angle, and they should be properly paid, properly housed and properly equipped. In regard to equipment, let the right hon. Gentleman make an inquiry and he will find that it is absolutely antiquated. Take the single instance of transport, one of the first necessities of an efficient 2409 police force. I am informed that there is scarcely any police transport of any kind in India at the present time. Here are actual grievances which materially affect the problems we are discussing at every turn and which react upon incidents which led up to the massacre at Cawnpore and made it so terrible. I urge the right hon. Gentleman without delay to institute an inquiry, either by Royal Commission or whatever means he thinks best, into these grievances, and that whatever may be the political developments before us that this is one of the basic grievances which must be remedied without delay. I now come to the last point that I wish to emphasise in the Cawnpore Report.
I have dealt with the question of the police and British prestige, I now come to a more difficult subject but one upon which I feel it my duty to say something. I, like other hon. Members who have spoken in this Debate, have an uneasy feeling that the machine of the Government of India is running down. I do not desire to blame any individual. I do not desire to say that all this has started in the last few months. I realise to the full that when what appears to be a transitional period is in progress, it is difficult to go on with the same feeling of certainty and assurance as one would have if no such doubts arose in the minds of any of the officials. But, I venture to say to the right hon. Gentleman that, whatever may be the future, whether it be a future of change or a future of staying as we are, it is equally necessary that the machine of Government should run full blast ahead. Criticisms have been made of certain speeches recently made in India. As I said, I do not wish to criticise any individual but speeches of that kind do make us wonder whether high officials in India realise the absolute necessity of keeping the machine going at full blast ahead. Whatever the future is going to bring, I am quite certain that it is only by keeping the machine going at full blast, it is only by keeping the administration efficient to the highest point, it is only by showing to every section of the population of India that as long as we are in India we are going to rule that we can avoid a really disastrous breakdown taking place in the years to come.
2410 I venture to urge upon the Secretary of State that, even from his own point of view, the point of view, that is to say, in which he envisages changes taking place in the Government machinery it is more than ever vital and essential that he should give no ground for any official in India allowing the machine to run down; that he should give no ground for any official in India thinking that he will not back him to the full, be that official civilian or military, police or administrative, as long as he is carrying out his duty and the instructions of his superior officer. I say this in the interests of an Indian settlement. I say it in the interests of Indian peace. I am sure that nothing will be a greater obstacle in the way of a settlement such as we all desire, than the feeling that we are abdicating our responsibilities, surrendering our obligations, and letting the machinery of government run down.
§ Mr. RENNIE SMITH
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare) is not looking to me for a reply. May I say, however, that I have followed the speeches which he has made in public since he became a Member of the Indian Round Table Conference Committee and I have admired the way in which he has kept strictly to the undertakings, into which he and his party have entered in regard to this grave Indian issue? He has honoured his obligations with a strict sense of loyalty. That is appreciated not least by Members of the Labour party. What he has done stands in striking contrast to the attitude of his right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill). So far as a case can be made out for the improvement of the standard of life of the police, we can assure the right hon. Gentleman that he will have the support of every Member of the Labour party in trying to carry out such an enterprise. I only hope that when we put forward a claim for the improvement of the standard of life of other sections in-India, we may look forward to some co-operation from him.
I want to ask one or two questions with regard to the situation in Burma. Would it not be possible, in view of our having committed ourselves to the principle of separation for Burma, to expedite the treatment of the present Burmese situation? The informative report 2411 which has been published stresses both the economic and political conditions as cause of the present situation. There is a good deal of evidence to show that the principle of separation has been much questioned in many parts of India, and that it has played its part in leading to the present unhappy situation. I was glad my right hon. Friend said that he hoped at an early date to make a further statement on the Burmese situation, and I ask him to reaffirm the position which the Conference took up towards the conclusion of its labours a few months ago. We are not quite sure what is going on in the minds of the Burmese people. There are all kinds of movements and traditions and ideas, and one almost gets the impression that there is a submerged political organisation steadily at work.
In view of the great responsibilities that are to be thrown on the Government, would it be possible to strengthen the research department on the anthropological side so that we can get into closer touch with the mind and thought of the Burmese people? There seems a strong case for more people on the spot studying the ways of living of the people, their thoughts and political ideas. I have a great deal of material sent to me in regard to the economic conditions of Burma, and no one can take a general reckoning of the situation of Burma, which is comparable in many ways with the potato famine in Ireland in the middle of the last century, without realising the hopeless poverty of the people due to the 100 per cent. drop in prices of paddy in the last 18 months. This is a large factor in the present distresses. Suggestions have been sent to me by people working on the spot. I will quote a suggestion from a recent leading article in "New Burma," dated 10th May. The writer suggests that workhouses might be established where, in return for organised work, food, at least, could be provided, and that possibly an organised distribution of rice might be made through some kind of special relief fund. There are three or four other constructive suggestions put forward with a view to undermining the large part which economic discontents are playing in the present situation in Burma.
I would like to refer to the Whitley Report and its bearing on the resumed labours of the Anglo-Indian Conference. 2412 I think we are right in taking the view that that invaluable report is going to provide material which will be valuable for all members of the Conference. I draw attention to Chapter 25, which deals with labour and the constitution, and the part which organised labour in the trade unions may play. I would add to that the suggestion, put forward in the admirable speech, the outstanding speech in to-day's Debate, made by the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Foot), where he stressed the importance of taking care of those who are weakest and are most needy. I do not know how far it will be possible to incorporate in the new constitution certain trade union guarantees of a statutory character. I hope my right hon. Friend will be able to say that the Whitley Report will be taken into serious consideration and that something analogous to trade board guarantees for all those who will be outside the orbit of trade union organisation for many years to come will not be outside the purview of the Conference when it meets again.
In resuming my seat I would like to congratulate my right hon. Friend on the wonderful way in which, under his leadership and guidance, the public opinion of both countries has been developed throughout these two years. There have been fleckers on the surface, like Cawnpore and the present riots in Burma, but no one can survey the past two years without realising that there has been a growing body of co-operation among both British and Indian people. I want to assure my right hon. Friend that public opinion not only in this country but in the United States of America and on the Continent of Europe is rallying behind the policy which the Government are pursuing, and we hope we may live to see the day when he will Have established a constitution which will carry India a great stage further towards equality and towards the full status of a self-governing Dominion within the commonwealth of nations.
§ Mr. BENN
I will endeavour to reply to some of the points which have been put in the course of the Debate. First of all, I will not attempt to embarrass the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Foot) by adding to the numerous chaplets that have fallen on his deserving brow, but I am sure that his speech will be received in India with 2413 much pleasure as showing the feelings which actuate the masses of people of his political persuasion in this country. No less friendly, though coming from a different quarter, was the speech of the right hon. and gallant Member for Barkston Ash (Colonel Lane Fox), and I would like, if I may respectfully do so to one who is so much my senior in this House, to pay a tribute to the spirit of his speech as well as to what he said. That speech will be a very welcome message to India from that quarter of the House. Among the minor points raised in this Debate with which I cannot deal at great length is the question of my hon. Friend about the Whitley report. I must answer that by saying that it is much too soon to give any statement of what our intentions are on that matter. I think the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Wardlaw-Milne) raised the same point. As soon as the Government have had an opportunity of studying the report no doubt they will put forward proposals. His Majesty's Government share the hope of the distinguished chairman of the Commission that some outcome may speedily follow from his devoted labours.
The hon. Member for Central Cardiff (Sir E. Bennett) and the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Rennie Smith) raised questions about Burma. I can tell the hon. Member for Cardiff that, although sentences have been passed, so far as I am aware there have been no executions in connection with the Burmese riots, although I do not think the processes of law have yet been exhausted. I am certainly bearing in mind what he has said on this subject. As to the facilities for settling the future constitution of Burma, I repeat to the hon. Member for Penistone that I am not able to say anything yet. The hon. and gallant Member for Chelmsford (Colonel Howard-Bury) asked a question about the medal for the North-West Frontier operations. I can only give, as I gave before, the reply that the initiative does not primarily come from me. I should let the ordinary processes operate, and act with sympathy if such a demand comes from the right quarter. In connection with the speech of the hon. and gallant Gentleman, I think we should mention the name of Mr. Smythe and his conquest of Mount Kamet, and the typically British touch by which, when 2414 he got to the top, he allowed his bearer, who had borne the burden and heat of the day, to be the first to put his foot on the summit. That was a brilliant crown of an achievement of which we all feel justly proud.
Coming to other matters, I must refer to the very able contribution which was made to our Debate by the right hon. and learned Member for Span Valley, (Sir J. Simon) whose wide knowledge of the subject is recognised by every one of us, and by everyone outside. I gather that the point of his speech was that there should be no doubt that, whether in future constitutional arrangements or in day-today administration, that the Government would not permit the interests of minorities to be sacrificed. The same matter was touched upon, only in a rather different spirit, by the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill). Such assurances as were asked for can certainly be given. I did not gather from the right hon. and learned Gentleman whether he attributed the Moslem riot in Cawnpore to the Irwin-Gandhi negotiations. I listened with care to the question which he raised and I think he read these words from the Report:The Muslims read in these negotiations a recognition by the Government of the strength of the movement, if not a surrender to it. Several witnesses have also said that the Muslims were angered because during the long drawn out negotiations, congress opinion, i.e., Hindu opinion, only was consulted and Muslim opinion was ignored.There his citations ceased. I think, in justice to those who negotiated the agreement—and His Majesty's Government was fully behind them—I should add to the quotation of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the following words, which are consequent upon those which he read:We put this point to President of the Anjuman Islamia Maulana Abdul Kafi, who would be more in touch with real Muslim feeling in the town than politicians would be, and he was definite that the ordinary Muslim, the man in the street, was not affected at all by the Irwin-Gandhi pact.
§ Mr. BENN
The right hon. Gentleman must not generate more indignation than he can contain. The report says: 2415the ordinary Muslim man in the street was not at all affected.The Muslim man in the street. You see the point that we are discussing—the attitude of the Muslims, which was not affected by the Irwin-Gandhi Pact. The report goes on:What he held was that 'after the Irwin-Gandhi pact the Hindus considered they had achieved a success over the Government'"—Do you want any more?
§ Mr. BENN
—"over the Government, and wanted to subjugate the Musalmans.'Would you like any more? What emerges from a full study of the text is at least this, which I should mention in justice to the then Viceroy, that in the opinion of this distinguished man, whose view was accepted by the Commission, the ordinary Moslem was not affected by the Irwin-Gandhi conversations.
§ Earl WINTERTON rose——
§ Mr. BENN
I listened with pleasure and attention and without interruption to the Noble Lord's own speech and I will permit myself to exercise the right to continue my own without interruption. I wish to answer the speech made by the right hon. and gallant Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare). I am sure there will be a warm welcome among our colleagues in the Conference to the statement he made unequivocally to-night that the position which he and his party occupied in the Conference, and have occupied since the last meeting stands unimpaired to-day. I should also like to express my gratitude to him for his perfectly clear statement that there is no intention on the part of parties here to proceed on the principle of divide and rule. It is most important that it should be made perfectly clear that in this country there are no sides on the communal question at all. That was made perfectly clear by the right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley. Nothing could be more dangerous or disastrous to successful treatment of the Indian problem than that it should be supposed that people in this country are taking parts on one side or the other. I repeated earlier in the Debate the state- 2416 ment made on behalf of the Government, with the assent of all parties in the Conference, that in any constitutional changes that we made the necessary safeguards would be introduced to protect the rights of minorities. If it is necessary for me to repeat and to emphasise that again, I will certainly do so.
The right hon. Gentleman raised the question of the police and particularly the question of a shortage of police at Cawnpore. It is a very frank document which has been written by the Commission. The report of the very distinguished Governor, Sir Malcolm Hailey, who, of course, was not present in the United Provinces at all at the time of the massacre, is certainly as frank and honest a statement of the reasons and causes as anyone could possibly have composed, but I would remind the Committee, in justice to the United Provinces Government, that within the three years between 1928 and 1931, in which the Government had felt compelled to refuse the demands of the police for an increase in their numbers and expenses, that Government had been compelled to find no less than 102 lakhs or over £700,000 in relief and remission of taxation. Therefore, I am perfectly certain that no one would wish to regard too hardly or to judge too severely the position of the Government of the United Provinces in this matter.
The right hon. Gentleman opposite asked me as to the position of the police forces in India, and I have some figures which may be of interest to him and to the Committee. During the civil disobedience movement, it was necessary to make great additions to the police. For example, as illustrations, the numbers were Madras 600, Bombay 2,200, Punjab 900, the United Provinces 1,224 and so on. I am completely in accord with the right hon. Gentleman as to the necessity for maintaining public order, but I devoutly hope that, in the condition of civil quiet which prevails, it will be possible to dispense with these additional forces. [Interruption.] I am speaking of the additional forces. I have no information on this point; I merely know that they were raised as additional armed police in connection with the civil disobedience movement. We must also take into account, in this connection, the severe 2417 financial stringency which faces the Government of India to-day, and the prime necessity of seeing that their expenditure comes within the ambit of their revenue. I am tempted to say a word about the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping— [Interruption]. If the right hon. Gentleman means that he would like me to get some of the particulars which he named——
This is a very important matter. My right hon. Friend has asked whether the right hon. Gentleman will undertake a comprehensive inquiry into the position of the police, and I would ask if he will publish a White Paper based on the investigations made in the Provinces as to the pay and conditions of the police, and especially their housing conditions in the Provinces.
§ Mr. BENN
No; I cannot give any such undertaking. With regard to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Eipping, I do not take these effusions of his too seriously. [Interruption.] I commiserate with him on the fact that in the newest of new parties there are already divisions. The hon. Member for North Paddington (Mr. Bracken) is not in agreement with the right hon. Gentleman on the subject of his Motion on the Paper. I think that that is deplorable. [Interruption.] I understood that the hon. Member threw over his own Leader in this matter, and said that he had never consulted him. Apparently, Paddington and Epping are not in agreement. But I do not despair even of him. I have heard these perorations about Armageddon, and the nation rising in its might and the rest, at the time immediately following the War—at the time of the Irish trouble. I heard then the same phrases "We must crush them and put them down, that is the only way." The right hon. Gentleman himself, however showed great statesmanship; 2418 though he entered the Irish Conference with a dripping sword, he emerged with a dripping pen, and I am not without hope that even he, as he did in the Irish case, will come in this matter to a better judgment, and that the great prophet brought by the King of Moab from afar to curse the chosen people may remain to bless, accompanied by his faithful friend from Paddington.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again," put, and agreed to.—[Mr. T. Kennedy.]
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.