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."—[NOTE: £36,500 has been voted on account.]
§ Sir PHILIP CUNLIFFE-LISTER
I make no apology for raising again in Committee the effect upon Anglo-Indian trade of what is commonly called the Irwin-Gandhi Agreement, but what is more correctly termed, as it is termed in the White Paper, the Irwin-Gandhi Conversations. There will be other questions of great importance arising upon this Vote which will require fully to be dealt with on another occasion, but I propose to-day to confine myself entirely to the question of the trade position. That is sufficiently important to warrant a full Debate in this Committee. It is widely important in itself, and its importance to Lancashire every Member of the Committee realises to the full. Anyone with any knowledge of English industry knows that a situation which affects unfavourably the great textile trades of this country will have its reaction throughout the whole field of industry.
When we debate this matter we do not debate it in any selfish spirit as a matter that concerns the interests only of English trade and of English people. The trade and commerce of England and of India have been bound together far too long and are far too closely interwoven for it not to be inevitable that anything which injuriously affects trade either on this side or on that must react on the 1206 whole trade of both countries, and react in both countries upon the humblest and poorest of the people. That alone would be sufficient cause for raising in the broadest way the issue that we are to debate to-day.
Another consideration almost equally important is involved. The outcome of the operation of this so-called agreement is being watched with anxiety in this country and in India, not only from its vitally important trade aspect but as a test of the spirit in which any agreement is likely to be carried out. I need say nothing of the importance to Lancashire of the Indian trade. Our exports of cotton goods to India, the most important of all our markets, have been steadily declining. Before the War, they amounted to 3,000,000,000 yards or more. In 1928 the exports had fallen to 1,500,000,000, and in 1930 they were below the 800,000,000 yards mark. In the first quarter of this year our exports of cotton piece goods from Lancashire into India had fallen to the nominal figure of 100,000,000 square yards. Last month I see but little improvement. The figures are just out. In April the exports were 39,000,000 yards against 84,000,000 in 1930, when the boycott was already in operation, and 159,000,000 yards in April, 1929. Nor is it necessary to elaborate the fact that when the whole of China is hopelessly disturbed the Indian trade is increasingly important to this country.
On the last occasion this matter was raised, I think the Committee will agree, in a very able and moderate way by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Hacking). I much regret that I was unable to be present, owing to illness, but I read the whole of the Debate. The Secretary of State for India stated that the figures that were given in that Debate as to past trade were irrelevant, because they related to what he called the pre-settlement period, whereas we were dealing with the post-settlement period. That is only half a truth. I think the figures of our past trade are strictly relevant. They are relevant as showing the measure of damage which our trade suffered before the settlement, and therefore they are relevant as showing the measure of recovery which we may hope to get in our trade if the agreement is what it is in- 1207 tended to be. No one will pretend that any complete recovery of our export trade is possible until Indian trade itself recovers and Indian exports command a better price, and can be exported in greater volume. I should be the last to wish to paint the picture too high. No one would attribute the whole loss of our trade to the boycott, but no one who knows anything of the situation can under-rate the enormous effect which the boycott and the picketing have had on that trade.
It is relevant to observe the comparison beween the trade of Lancashire and the trade of Japan in the period before the settlement and in the post-settlement period. That is important for two reasons. In the first place, the Japanese trade has suffered much less than ours. Before the War, Japanese exports to India were negligible. They were, I think, under 10,000,000 yards. They increased after the War to something like 560,000,000 yards in 1929, at a time when our trade was falling. Another important period to look at is the period during which the boycott was in operation. In that period, although our trade had already been falling, and the Japanese trade was rising, the decrease was far greater in the British trade than in the Japanese trade. Take grey goods alone. The falling off in Japanese grey goods trade was 29 per cent., and the falling off in our trade was 45 per cent.
I was struck by some figures that were given in the last Debate by the right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) regarding the imports into the Port of Calcutta in December in a boycott year and in December outside a boycott year. Those figures showed that our trade had fallen from 15,000 to 1,500 bales and the Japanese trade had only fallen from 13,000 to 10,000. If we note the whole of the textile trade of every kind, in some of which there is much less intensive competition from Japan, we find the same result. I have seen, and I have no doubt the Secretary of State for India has seen, a very interesting table prepared by the Manchester Cotton Spinners and Manufacturers' Association, in which they have taken the whole of the imports of textile goods of every kind into the port of Calcutta in the first quarter of 1929 and 1208 in the first quarter of 1930. In round figures, the results are these, that while the Japanese trade had fallen from 62,000 to 31,000 packages, a fall of about one-half, the British trade had fallen from 66,000 packages to 9,000 packages, a diminution of no less than six-sevenths. Those are very remarkable figures.
It is also relevant to observe that, so far as Indian interests go, so far as the production of Indian mills is a competing factor, it is the competition of the Japanese mills and the competition of Japanese imports into India that are a, far more serious menace to and competitor with the Indian mills than the varied and extensive exports from this country. But I should be giving an inaccurate picture to the Committee if I allowed it to be supposed that the boycott only applied to the Lancashire textile trade, vitally important as that trade is. It has applied to other trades as well. I am told by those who are engaged in the woollen trade, in regard to which there is comparatively little competition from Indian production, that the boycott has gravely and seriously affected the exports in the woollen trade. Let me take another industry, where it cannot be suggested that Indian production enters into the picture. If we take the electrical trade, very competently conducted in this country, with very competent selling organisations in India, an industry in which there is little or no Indian production, we find that that trade has been subjected just as much to the boycott, or to the attempt at boycott, as any trade. In May, 1930, the Electrical Merchants' and Contractors' Union in Bombay had a special meeting at which they passed a number of boycott resolutions, which they did their best to make effective. The first resolution was:All electrical merchants and contractors are prohibited from buying, stocking, dealing or using, any electrical goods of British made origin.There is nothing in that about general foreign goods. Then there are two provisos. The first is:That dealings already entered into may be carried out.The second proviso is perhaps the more interesting as it provides that dealings in certain articles, a list of which is given, which are not replaceable by other than British-made at present, are to be 1209 exempt from the restriction until such time as arrangements can be made for them to be otherwise replaced.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
The 9th of May, 1930. Another resolution provides that all merchants and contractors must close their current fixed savings and other accounts with the Imperial Bank of India and banks incorporated in Great Britain. They are to insure with Indian insurance companies. They are to give an assurance that no undue advantage will be taken by them of the situation for enhancing prices. It is interesting to know whether that proviso was followed up as keenly as the other provisos. The fifth resolution is to this effect:All electrical merchants and contractors must stop buying through any British individual, firm, agency or company, any kind of electrical goods.This extensive boycott resolution was set on foot and largely engineered by persons who are importers into India of foreign non-British materials. They are, so I am informed, the authors of these resolutions; and they have certainly had some measure of success. The official figures of trade into Bombay shows that in cables, where there is no Indian production at all, in February, 1930, before this resolution was passed, the non-British imports were only 16 per cent. of the whole, but by February, 1931, the non-British proportion of imports had risen to 44 per cent. That is a picture of the situation which no one will deny existed before the conversations between Lord Irwin and Mr. Gandhi. That being the position with which we were then faced, what has been the result of these conversations?
I am not going into the details of the terms of the so-called agreement. I should find them very difficult to construe. I have no doubt that technical and legal arguments could be advanced as to how far they do or do not contravene the letter of the existing law in India, though I must say that the old law in India was never designed to meet and never contemplated anything in the nature of the boycott and picketing which has been in operation during last year. I am not going to base my case to-day on such technical grounds, though 1210 I should like to ask the Secretary of State for India, in passing, whether or not the terms of Clauses 6 and 7 of the conversations are intended to supersede the law existing under the Calcutta Peace Act, which contains regulations about obstruction and the prevention of obstruction. I want to base my case, as anyone looking at the realities of the position would base it, not upon the technicalities of this agreement, but upon the realities of the position and the whole spirit in which it is being carried out.
On the face of it, under this agreement boycotting and picketing received surprising sanction. Within the letter of that agreement apparently almost anything might be done. But what affects trade, what matters in trade is not the motive but the act. Boycotting and picketing are ominous words. They denote a fight. It is the language and atmosphere of the lock-out and the strike. I observe that the hon. Member for Bolton (Mr. Albert Law) speaking in Lancashire had something rather definite to say on this matter. He described it as a dishonourable procedure. Can anyone conceive of a settlement of a trade dispute in this country where the whole paraphernalia of the fight goes on conditioned only by some subtle legal distinction as to motive. In India, in the crowded bazaars, in the conditions which obtain there, and which are so susceptible to coercion in any form, how meaningless are these finedrawn legal distinctions. Either there is freedom to trade, to buy and sell, or there is not. Everything depends on the spirit in which it is carried out. Is the individual free, or is he not?
The whole object of the agreement, of the conversations, must have been to improve the trade position and to make for this freedom. Indeed, that is the assurance of the Secretary of State for India. When we were debating this matter on the 25th of March, the right hon. Gentleman said:It is clearly laid down in this settlement that pressure and coercion are to cease. That is a very great gain to us—that those who have given up during a time of political excitement the sale or purchase of British goods must be left free and without restraint to change their attitude if they so desire."—[OFFICIAL REFORT, 25th March, 1931; cols. 411–2, Vol. 250.]1211 4.0 p.m.
I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman. If that means anything it means that traders, dealers, merchants and individuals, are to be as free in India to buy and sell where they like as traders and merchants and individuals in this country. The whole test of its operation is: What are the results? The President of the Board of Trade, who as inclined to view any truce through rather rosy spectacles, was not slow to express his opinion and to give what I am sorry to say in the light of after-knowledge and after events, has proved a singularly unfortunate and inaccurate statement of the position. The President of the Board of Trade, on 9th April, said—it was, I believe, in an interview at Edinburgh, and appeared in the "Manchester Guardian"—The provisional agreement in India has led to a notable improvement in Lancashire. Every effort is being made to dispose of the accumulated stock of Lancashire goods now in India, and to build up a working agreement as regards future export trade.I have not the faintest idea where the President of the Board of Trade got the information on which he based that very confident assertion. I do not know what he meant by it. I am sorry he is not here.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
If he is unable to be here, I hope that some explanation will be given of what was an important, and, I think, a very unfortunate statement. I want to know what he meant by efforts "to dispose of the accumulated stock"? I only know of one effort made to dispose of accumulated stock, that is the Export Agency Corporation—about which I shall have a word or two to say later—which is being promoted and financed by the Bombay millers in order to perpetuate the boycott. I know of no other. That statement of the President of the Board of Trade was at once challenged in Lancashire and in India. I regret that I can find little or no evidence that the position is improving in the way that the President of the Board of Trade has alleged, or, indeed, is showing any material improvement at all.
I want to put the case as fairly as I possibly can, and I think that the only 1212 way in which the Committee can get a fair appreciation of what the position is, is to take, not the opinion—and I do not say this with any offence—of politicians actively engaged in the controversy on one side or another, but to take the day-to-day experience of the people who are only too anxious to do business in this country and in India. I have seen, and I have no doubt the Secretary of State for India has seen, because he and the President of the Board of Trade must be in daily touch both with Lancashire and India, many a letter coming to great houses in Manchester from merchants, dealers, agents in India showing day by day and week by week what is the effect on the trade position in India. [Interruption.] It is very important that the Committee should get, without prejudice, a clear appreciation of what the position is, and I do not think it; can get it better than by these reports which are coming in, as I say, to these people who are only too anxious to do business if they can, and I will venture to read to the Committee a certain number of extracts. For obvious reasons, I shall give no names, but these letters have been supplied to me—and I have no doubt the Secretary of State has seen similar ones—by the Manchester Chamber of Commerce and great Manchester houses, who take full responsibility for the authenticity and the source from which every one of these letters comes. Let me give, in their language and not in mine, a picture of what has happened in the last two months, when people started with new hopes that trade might improve, and were, unfortunately, sadly disillusioned as time progressed. The first two letters I will quote came after the conversations which finished on 5th March, and before the so-called agreement had come to the Congress for ratification.Delhi, 14th March, 1931.The agreement arrived at lately has not been accepted with any marked feeling of elation or even relief as the pickets had been withdrawn only for a day and were reimposed again.Then, on 19th March, there is a longer letter from Delhi, and I will give it all, because I think it presents a graphic and very fair view of what is taking place. It is from a merchant in Delhi:The lady volunteers are still sitting on the cloth dealers' shops and are persuading the buyers not to touch foreign cloth, which they should think tantamount to blackest sin and curse. Thus by this method of peace- 1213 ful picketing they put every foreign goods' buyers to shame. This is, of course, a great hindrance to trade, which cannot revive and flourish under the existing circumstances. However, the last holdings can never remain unsold for an indefinite period, otherwise the dealers are sure to be ruined. They seem to be very much disgusted, and are quite unwilling to keep their goods any more locked up, so the retailers have commenced selling their holdings, and it is expected that the wholesale dealers will also follow their track soon. But, at the same time, repeated warnings have been issued by the Congress Committee to each and every dealer that no sympathy will be shown to them if they venture to import fresh goods, which will be mercilessly destroyed without the least warning to them. Under the circumstances, when repeated threats are showered by the Congress, the poor dealers are quite helpless to order for the fresh goods openly and publicly unless this sort of ban be entirely withdrawn. Open sales are yet impossible and out of the question.There is not much freedom from restraint there. Then we come to 26th March, which is also before the actual ratification:Calcutta, 26th March, 1931.A feeling of despair is coming over dealers about the future course of trading. Business that at first looked so promising when the Gandhi-Viceroy talks were over, is now further away than it was then.Then we come to the period after the ratification by Congress of the Irwin-Gandhi conversations, when you would expect a very definite improvement to have taken place:Calcutta, 2nd April, 1931.In spite of the ratification by Congress this week-end of the Irwin-Gandhi pact, active picketing was greater in Calcutta than it was for many weeks past. It was carried on mostly by parties outside Congress, but there is little doubt they are encouraged indirectly by Congress.The following is an extract from a letter from Bombay on the same day:The situation remains far from satisfactory and is, if anything, worse than before the so-called Truce.Then, on 4th April, a letter came from Cawnpore, giving a very vivid picture of life as it is:It is, we regret, a useless hope that as a result of the settlement between the Viceroy and Mr. Gandhi, the trade has improved or will improve. On the contrary, it is the reverse. We may explain it that by virtue of the settlement, picketing has become common law"—This is not a lawyer's letter; it is a merchant's letter—the letter of a practical man showing a practical result. 1214Previous to settlement we could sell goods in some parts of the country where the Congress had become weak, but now that picketing is a lawful act under certain conditions, these parts of the country are being closed to us.I would draw the attention of the Committee to what follows:The habits of our people are such that as soon as business is picketed, its course stops and it is suspended, irrespective of picketing being peaceful or unpeaceful.The following came from Bombay, dated 10th April:No doubt there exists at present a political truce. Still, the future is dark, and, as the main attack is on the British textile trade, in case of any untoward split traders from past experiences ought to be very careful before contemplating new trade.The next is from Calcutta, on 11th April:In Cawnpore the local Congress Committee have prevailed on dealers to sign a further pledge not to buy any Fresh foreign piece goods and to boycott those that refuse to give up trading in such goods.On 12th April one comes to a new phenomenon. A man is anxious to trade, but says, "I can only do business if my name and mark as an Indian trader are excised from the goods I am going to sell." Observe what that means. The trader's mark circulating through India is his great advertisement, and in an Eastern country that is much more real than here. I know, and anyone with experience of Oriental trade knows, that you sell by your mark. I have known a great brand of cigarettes that use to sell by putting up the picture of a cat in the market. It is the last thing the merchant wants to suppress. By the advertisement, the goodwill of his trade, he hopes to hold his customers and increase his clientele. This is the letter:Bombay, 12th April, 1931.Since writing you last on 10th instant, we want to draw your attention that our name should not be written on paper wrapper on pieces, or on semi-circles of pieces or on cases. That is to say it should not be known to anybody as to who has booked this business. If we book any new business in future, you should not write our name on good" in any way.The next day exactly the same thing from Delhi:Delhi, 13th April, 1931.The shipment samples should be made without our pattern card label. Our name, date of shipment, etc., should not appear therein. Definite instructions were given by the Delhi native firm that the package 1215 mark was to be changed so as not to indicate who the buyer was, and all names and trade marks of the Indian firm were omitted from the usual stamping and ticketing on the goods themselves.The claim is made by the Secretary of State that if the boycotting is continued, at any rate there is no prejudice against British goods. I am afraid that that is not so. Here is an extract from a letter, dated Calcutta, 16th April:The boycott and picketing is still as had as ever, as a result of which only odd bales are being delivered still, and there is as yet no sign of any immediate improvement, so far as British goods go. Japanese goods still move freely and, during the last week, we have again been delivering ex-jetty.Here is a description from Delhi, 18th April:The lady volunteers, who are walking in batches in front of the cloth dealers' shops, are seriously obstructing the sale of such goods. By humble adulations and continued persuasions they make the purchasers of the foreign cloth to change their mind. They make similar supplications and entreaties to the seller of the foreign piece goods and sometimes use threats even by resorting to social boycott, etc., with the result that the stocks of old goods now again remain unmoved and uncleared. Your good selves will no doubt be able to realise the effect of this peaceful picketing, which is as injurious as the continued violent picketing before the truce days.That is from Delhi, 18th April. Here is the freedom again! This is from Bombay, 17th April:The Bundhi on new business in Lancashire cloths has not been lifted, and those dealers who are members of the Local Piece Goods Association cannot undertake business without risking a fine of Rs. 100 per case if it is found out that they have contracted for new goods.I end with two quotations from two newspapers, neither of which would be accused of having any unfair bias in this matter. The first is from the "Times" correspondent on 27th April. He says:In Bombay the pickets are still interfering with the purchase of Lancashire goods, not only to the extent of boycotting dealers, but even to the point of molesting individual purchasers in the bazaars.Here is what the "Manchester Guardian" Bombay correspondent said on 28th April:The off-take of British goods is poor. Japanese imports remain heavy, averaging 6,000 packets monthly this year, and they are going into consumption quickly.That was two months after the conversations took place. In the same number 1216 attention is drawn to the fact that the boycott and the picketing are becoming intensive in Madras, which had been comparatively free from any such interference even before the so-called truce. I hope I have not wearied the Committee by giving these quotations, because it is only by getting a picture like this that we can really see what is happening in India, what is the position among people who care nothing for politics, whose only anxiety is to pursue their daily avocations and to carry on their trade. Every one of those quotations is from letters of people whose sole object is to be doing business—people who hoped that as a result of this agreement they would be able to do their business; people who believed in the words of the Secretary of State, that the pressure and coercion would cease and they would be left free, without restraint, to change their attitude or follow their attitude, if they so desired.
The Secretary of State on 8th May gave an answer which I paraphrase. He said that he had every reason to believe that the agreement was being implemented, and that he could say with certainty that discrimination against British goods as such, had in the main been withdrawn. I understand that the right hon. Gentleman was immediately challenged on that answer by the President of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce, and certainly from the information one can get from these Indian reports, unless in these last few days there has been some marked change in the situation, unquestionably that agreement, if agreement it is to be called, is not even being carried out in the letter, and certainly there is no attempt to carry it out in the spirit. Unless there has been a great change, the so-called truce is really a delusion and a farce.
I must allude to one other matter, because it is directly relevant and flows immediately from the conclusion of the conversations. I mean the attempt to found an export agency corporation for the export from India of cloth which had been imported into India by Indian merchants. I have no doubt whatever that the attempt to form that corporation is a violation and a breach of the whole spirit of the agreement. Let the Committee observe what is sought to be 1217 done. It is sought to push out of India goods which were sent into India to the order of Indians or by British firms to their depots—goods which remain unsold in India now because the boycott and the picketing have prevented their being sold. It is sought to force people to send these goods from India. And where to? To export them to compete with Lancashire goods in any other country in the world.
The worst part of the whole scheme is its conclusion. That is the proposal which seeks to bind participants in this corporation not to buy any further cloth from abroad. How can it be said that a proposal of that kind is not a direct breach of an agreement which was intended to leave people free from pressure and coercion, and free from any restraint to follow their own choice. In this matter I do not rest myself on my own view alone. I think it is plain that the late Viceroy himself took a very definite view on this matter. I am sure that no one was more surprised than the late Viceroy and the Secretary of State to find that as the first fruits of the conversations there was the attempt to form this corporation. I observe that in receiving a deputation of Bombay millowners a few days before he left, Lord Irwin spoke plainly and clearly. I am quoting from the "Times" of 17th April. Lord Irwin said:I particularly regret the tendency manifested in some quarters to regard the period of truce as an opportunity to reorganise their forces for a further struggle, since the state of mind it represents is not only inconsistent with the wholehearted discharge of the obligations which the settlement imposes, but contains the germs of further trouble.Exactly. Clearly Lord Irwin, like the Secretary of State, thought that the agreement meant a new spirit of good will and that freedom was to be introduced. The "Times" correspondent goes on:It is a cynical reflection that nearly all the Indian members of the millowners' deputation to the Viceroy met Mr. Gandhi and Mr. Vallabhai Patel in conference later in the day for the purpose of discussing the best means of carrying into effect the scheme for the re-export of the existing stocks of 'foreign' cloth in this country.What has happened since? It is quite clear that the millowners are extremely anxious to make the project succeed. 1218 The Secretary of State himself said a few days ago that as far as he knew the report in the "Times" was correct. What has happened? The Bombay millowners promised 3½ laks of rupees towards the corporation capital. Other mills, I understand, have been persuaded to subscribe a proportion. The articles of association of the company have been approved, the company is to be registered forthwith, and negotiations with the merchants have been begun. I am quite aware that the Secretary of the Department for Overseas Trade, a day or two ago quoted a telegram he had received from India as to the progress being made by the company, and stated that it was very likely it would fail. That is quite possible. It is going to fail because merchants are not going to take the terms offered to them, and probably because the goods which are lying to-day in India and which were exported for use in India, are quite useless for some other market. That is why the thing will fail, and not because there is a change of heart on the part of the Bombay millowners, who are doing their best to carry out the scheme. It is not going to fail because there is an increase of good will. Otherwise the boycott would be failing too.
I think that the attempt is ominous. Suppose that we had made a commercial treaty with a foreign country, made even the loosest of commercial ententes with a foreign country, and that the country had followed such an entente by setting up a corporation to export all British goods from that country's territory. What would happen? I know exactly. The British Ambassador would have been at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of that country the day after that company was formed and he would probably have said, "Is this the spirit in which the entente or agreement is implemented?" And he would have been fully justified in making such a representation. How much more does that apply in the case of an agreement or trade entente made within the British Empire! Last time the Secretary of State drew the analogy with the Empire Marketing Board. I do not think that that was very fortunate. I wish that the analogy was right. That may have been the intention. I only hope it may ultimately be the result. But what is the policy of the Empire Marketing Board? It is to buy 1219 your own goods first of all, to give your own people the first chance, and to give the Empire the second chance. That is the spirit and the policy of the Empire Marketing Board; it is co-operation between both countries.
How far that is from the realities of the present position! It is necessary that the position should be fully exposed and frankly debated in the House of Commons. Nothing is lost by a frank facing of the facts and a frank discussion. Reality will not prejudice good will. Good will must be based on facts and not on formulas. In the interests of trade, Indian trade and British trade, the two inseparably and indissolubly linked from generation to generation, there is no need to apologise for raising this issue and discussing it frankly—an issue that is just as much an Indian interest as our own. We are passing to-day through the gravest economic crisis this country has ever had to face. All countries are hit by it. The Government are ever preaching—they are right—the need for international co-operation in face of such a crisis. The most important form of international co-operation, and the most attainable form of international co-operation, is co-operation within the British Empire, where it-is the common interest of all its people.
§ Sir HERBERT SAMUEL
Some may hold the view that it might be better if the House of Commons were silent on this matter in these days, but that is not a view which is shared on these benches. The situation is too serious. The feeling in Lancashire is too widespread and too deep to allow the House of Commons to refuse to take cognisance of it, and therefore we on these benches are grateful to hon. Members above the Gangway for having brought this matter before the Committee to-day. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hendon (Sir P. Cunliffe-Lister) has stated a case, fully documented and very forcible, and has voiced the protest which Lancashire wishes to be heard in Parliament and in India as well. He has stated the facts as they affect that great industrial county. Since the cotton famine during the days of the American Civil War, there has fallen no such economic disaster on any district in this country. Indeed, I question whether, in the whole 1220 industrial history of the modern world, there has ever been an example of a great industry, wealthy, prosperous, and, on the whole, efficient, which has quite suddenly fallen into such a catastrophe of disaster as that into which the Lancashire cotton industry has fallen in our days. Half the operatives are unemployed; that great population, self-respecting, industrious, skilled and thrifty, is thrown into distress, and, if it were not for the Unemployment Insurance Fund, famine would be stalking through the villages and towns of Lancashire to-day.
We all know that, although a decline of British trade in various parts of the world has contributed, it is mainly, and, in by far the greater proportion, the loss of our Indian trade which is the cause of this disaster. Although it is true also that, in India, that decline is partly due to the very effective competition of Japanese enterprise and partly due, particularly in the last year or so, to the lessened purchasing power of the Indian people which enables them to buy less quantities of goods of all kinds from all countries, still, in the main, and on the whole by far the most important causes of the collapse of the Lancashire trade have been the Indian tariff duties and the Indian boycott. There was in the latest increase of the Indian cotton duties a preference given to British produce as against produce from foreign countries, but that was based upon a rather complicated system of duties and it applied only when the duties were ad valorem. There is an alternative duty, a specific duty of 33½ annas per pound, and owing to the fall in price of cotton goods the specific duty becomes operative because it is greater now than the ad valorem duty. There was no preference on the specific duty and therefore on the duty which is now being paid, not over the whole but over a very large part of the area of the import trade into India, the customs tariff consists of the specific duty and not the ad valorem duty and there is no preference on British goods. That preference has disappeared. That is an important new factor in the present situation.
When we come to envisage the causes which have given rise to the powerful currents of opinion in India of which we feel the formidable results, we see at 1221 once that they are several. Various motives have been brought into play, some worthy of respect and some not so worthy. There is the idealist philosophy which is personified in Mr. Gandhi and of which the spinning wheel is the symbol. His principle as I understand it is that man nowadays has become the victim of his own machines. He says, "Your Western civilisation, with its vast cities and noise and hurry, with its crowded industrial populations, often living under squalid conditions, engaged in incessant toil, subject to a wage serfdom in order to produce always-increasing quantities of cheap commodities—this is not and ought not to be the last word in the organisation of mankind. You Europeans attach too much importance to things and not enough importance to ideas and are basing your whole way of life on a wrong foundation. From all this the East was free, until you conquered us with your armies and your artillery and, now you impose upon us, or seek to impose upon us this materialistic, mechanistic civilisation. It is all wrong from the beginning. We Indians are essentially a population of poor cultivators living in villages, and now what little money the people have to spare they have to send away to buy things which they might themselves have made, and the life force of the villages of India is being drained away by the towns." That is what he says to us in effect, and it is as well, indeed it is essential, that we should understand the Indian point of view. He says, in effect, "Let us develop our own genius in our own way. Let us live simple lives in our own villages in touch with nature and with God." It is essentially the philosophy of Ruskin and Samuel Butler. It is often enshrined in movements here like the "Back to the land" movement, and the movement to encourage village arts and industries. It is fundamentally important that the people of Britain should realise the influence upon the mentality of India of that series of ideas.
In addition, and strangely different, there is the influence of the Indian mill-owners—the very men who are engaged in introducing these Western notions into India, the men who are creating in India vast industrial cities, with many of their evil characteristics. Indeed, the social 1222 conditions of a large proportion of their workers repeat the European factory system at its very worst stage. These mill-owners are strangely in active alliance with Mr. Gandhi, and Mr. Gandhi with them. Bombay and Ahmedabad are not frightened of the spinning-wheel. They are, indeed, ready to support it if the two together are able to shut out the competition which the Indian mill-owners cannot meet on equal terms—some would say in spite of the lower scale of wages, but I would say because of their lower scale of wages and the lower efficiency and skill of their labour forces. But the mill-owners now that tariffs have come into politics—as always when that happens—see their way to use political influence to raise tariffs more and more, in order to get great fortunes for themselves. They see their way and they say, "Why should we not follow it?"
Those are two forces, but there is a third. I would not be so unfair as to suggest that all those who favour Protectionist policy are those animated by self-interest. There are great numbers in India, and here, and all over the world, who are quite convinced that Protection is a right policy and the one which will strengthen the economic bases of a country and conduce to more employment. They, of course, exist in India as well as here. You have that force also at work there, and, it is not only powerful in itself, but it gives a kind of moral justification to those who have a direct financial interest, and who are enabled to feel that they may grow rich in a good cause. Unquestionably the troubles of this country consequent upon the Indian tariff, are largely due to the encouragement which that movement has secured from this country. I observe that on the last occasion when we debated this question a few weeks ago, hon. Members above the Gangway—the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chorley (Mr. Hacking) and others—were protesting strongly against the increase in Indian customs duties as being an injury to this country in general and to Lancashire in particular. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hendon to-day has said nothing on that subject.
I am sure the right hon. Gentleman does not wish to be unfair, and he will allow me to point out that it was said specifically, with the 1223 approval of our leader, that we did not bring the question of tariffs into the discussion at all on that occasion. [HON. MEMBEES: "Order!"] This is very important, and I hope I may be permitted to make my statement. The right hon. Gentleman should not suggest that there has been any alteration in our policy, and he will do us the credit of believing that what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hendon (Sir P. Cunliffe-Lister) said to-day is exactly the same as was said on that subject on the last occasion.
§ Sir H. SAMUEL
I said no word about alteration of policy. What I said was that on this occasion the subject was not mentioned but on the last occasion, when we were discussing precisely the same general issue, namely, the condition of affairs in India and its repercussions upon this country, many hon. Members above the Gangway, one after the other, raised that specific matter as being a most important matter in the whole case, and now, as then, it is necessary to point out that what is being done in India is only, in the main, what hon. Members above the Gangway seek to do for British trade in this country. It is really the arguments of Birmingham which are being repeated from Bombay almost word for word. It is not for the shouter to complain of the echo.
There is a fourth element in this Indian movement—a political element. There are large bodies of people in India passionately eager to secure the national liberties of their country. They see that armed revolt would be wrong, and they do not seek to proceed along those lines, but they have taken the economic weapon and they have said, "Here is the means by which we can achieve our end and bring a powerful influence to bear upon the people and Parliament of Great Britain." They go so far as to say, "If we have to buy foreign goods let them not be British goods." The right hon. Gentleman has pointed out that that has been an element in the movement. Thus we have these four powerful currents of opinion in India, which may be described as transcendental idealism, crude self-interest, economic patriotism and democratic nationalism—and Lancashire is the victim of them all.
1224 What course ought this country to pursue in these circumstances? There are various possible methods. If there was one criticism to be made of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hendon it was that he was not very specific as to the course which he would desire Parliament and the Government to pursue. There is no mistaking the view, however, of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill). There is no doubt about his policy or the vigour and energy with which he advocates it. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hendon has just used some vehement language, but his language ha6 been pallid compared with the full-blooded and indeed plethoric language used by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping in the Albert Hall and elsewhere—speeches in which every epithet was a superlative, and which showed an exuberance and extravagance of phrase which has not been heard since the days of Bombastes Furioso. There is no doubt about his policy. His policy is the big stick in the strong band. If 40,000 Indians were sent to prison as a consequence of the civil disobedience movement and have since been released—send them back if necessary! "If need be let it be 400,000! I do not think that we are likely to secure any hopeful results along those lines.
§ Sir H. SAMUEL
The right hon. Gentleman has spoken of "crushing Gandhism and all its works" and again and again he has used phrases in his speeches which clearly indicated the view that the strong hand, and if necessary the police, and in the background the military force, must be used.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
No. My argument has been that it has been weakness which is to blame for the 40,000 and the other evils, and that it would be possible to restore a good state of affairs with a minimum of misfortune.
§ Sir H. SAMUEL
It is always the advocate of violence that expresses those views, anticipating that coercion will speedily bring surrender, but I am quite certain that this House is not prepared 1225 to adopt a policy of Tsarism in India. There is the second policy, which is perhaps the worst of all, the policy of strong language followed by weak action. It was a wise saying in one of the letters of Walter Hines Page, the great American Ambassador, that "a Government which shakes its fist first and its finger afterwards soon falls into contempt", and I trust that in no circumstances would that course be pursued. The third policy, which I think would command the assent of the vast majority of this House, is to pursue with energy, efficiency and sincerity the lines of the Round Table Conference, to press those proposals to a conclusion. It is not only a matter with which it behoves the Government to deal, but it is also a matter for the nation as a whole. It is really nation speaking to nation.
The people of England may say to the people of India, "We are fully willing to recognise the reasonable claims that you make, based upon your own feeling of self-respect and upon your own patriotism. We agree that no trade policy can be imposed upon yon by force. We are willing to give full consideration to your legitimate feelings and interests, but then we ask in return, do not refuse to give the same consideration to ours. If we are ready to discard force in the settlement of political issues, and have recourse to reason and to good will, we ask you to put aside this weapon of the economic boycott, which is force of another kind. If, on the plea of liberty, you say that coercion is wrong in order to compel the introduction of British goods, coercion is equally wrong in order to compel the exclusion of British goods. And remember that we in this country are hard pressed in our world markets by active competitors. We do ask that there should be at least no hostile discrimination against our goods compared with other goods that come from overseas. We hear often of the most-favoured-nation treatment. Do not mete out to us the most-disfavoured-nation treatment."
And this last consideration may be addressed to the people of India. In order to secure a settlement of the great outstanding questions that have been in issue, it is essential that there should be a favourable atmosphere, and a favourable atmosphere not only in India 1226 but also in Great Britain, and, if events continue in India which cause an embittered and angry spirit here, that is not the atmosphere in which a final settlement is likely to be reached. Friendly conferences by all means, but it is difficult to continue in a friendly conference which is punctuated by slaps in the face.
As to the course that the Government may take, obviously their duty is to carry into full effect, both in spirit and in letter, the pacific measures that were envisaged in the Irwin-Gandhi conversations. One of the leading manufacturers in my constituency, a man who owns a number of cotton mills, which have all now been closed for many months on account of the cessation of Indian trade, was in India not long ago, in Calcutta, before the Irwin-Gandhi conversations, and on one occasion he endeavoured to deliver two or three bales to a dealer who was anxious to have his cotton goods. The pickets detected these goods on their way, the lorry was stopped, the driver was assaulted and left for dead on the road, and the goods were drenched with kerosene and burned. That was before the Irwin-Gandhi conversations. We need to be assured that such incidents do not and cannot happen now, and also that less overt and more subtle but often as effective means of coercion are not still being employed.
The right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken has mentioned the very striking figures of trade during this year in Calcutta. I will put, in a slightly different form, the same figures. From foreign countries last year, in the first quarter, there came 76,000 bales and from the United Kingdom 66,000. This year, from foreign countries, instead of 76,000, the number is 39,000, and from the United Kingdom, instead of 66,000, the number is 9,000. Whereas a year ago our trade in relation to foreign trade was in the ratio of 66 to 76, this year it is in the ratio of nine to 39. In addition the iron and steel trade and many other trades are most seriously affected by the continuance of the boycott. I notice that Mr. Gandhi a few days ago, when this question was actively raised in Manchester, made a public statement to this effect. He said:Picketing must be absolutely peaceful. If a bona fide case of intimidation, 1227 coercion, or threat was made out, I would have no hesitation in insisting on its suspension, for I know how important it is from our standpoint to carry out the agreement in the strictest manner possible.There may be very many cases in which Mr. Gandhi's influence, while it may have been potent to let loose these forces, may not be sufficiently potent to restrain them, and if there are cases in which the financial interests concerned, in order to meet the competition from this country, pay individuals to commit acts of violence, or to exercise pressure in order to attack the trade of their rivals, under the disguise of patriotism, there indeed, I believe, the Government would be not merely entitled but under the obligation to employ the strong hand and to use the power of the police in order to secure that that should stop.
For the rest, I hope the Secretary of State, when he speaks, will tell us what steps are now being taken to push on the measures that are necessary to implement the conclusions of the Round Table Conference. The machinery of government moves very slowly. The delay has already been long since the Conference in London adjourned, and the sooner these measures can be pressed on and the sincerity of both parties can be substantiated by actual achievement, the sooner it will be likely that these troubles in India will cease. This House, in dealing with these grave matters, must always be conscious—and every Member, I am sure, is conscious—of its dual responsibility. We are a democratic Assembly, representing the millions of people of the United Kingdom, and are responsible for doing what we can to promote their welfare and their interests, but we are also the Imperial Parliament, the trustee for the greatest Empire that the world has ever known. Can a democracy maintain a world-wide Empire? History has given no answer—yet. The testing time is now—and here. According to the wisdom, the sympathy, the restraint, the steadfastness with which this Assembly, in these days, deals with these problems, the answer will be "Yes" or "No."
§ Mr. BENN
I will deal, to the best of my ability, with the important points which have been raised by the right hon. Member for Hendon (Sir P. Cunliffe-Lister) and the right hon. 1228 Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel), and I trust the House will permit me to attempt to give perhaps a view of the situation of a rather wider kind than has been attempted, certainly, by the right hon. Gentleman facing me, though the right hon. Member for Darwen drew rather a wider picture. We have to remember that, grievous as is the distress in Lancashire to-day, there is also upon this House an equal responsibility for the welfare of the people of India, and it would be a disastrous thing if it were supposed in India that our attention was solely concentrated upon one part of the responsibility that we have to carry. It is sometimes imagined, in the speeches of, perhaps, less informed or less responsible individuals than those who have spoken to-day, that the whole of the trouble through which Lancashire is passing to-day is solely due to some political cause mishandled in India, and I want, therefore, to draw with a rather wider brush.
In the first place, it must be remembered that in the course of the last 10 years the whole of British exports have suffered a very severe decline. Therefore, if cotton exports have suffered, so have other exports. It is a matter for distress, but it shows that we must not concentrate everything on the one point of criticism, and even with cotton itself, severe as has been the decline in the Indian market, almost equally severe has been the decline in other markets. Whereas before the War we had an export of 7,000—I am speaking in millions of yards—by 1929 that had dropped to 3,600, and by 1930—this is the whole market; I am not speaking of India—the 7,000 pre-War exports had dropped to 2,400. Therefore, it must not be supposed, looking, as we must to-day, at the Indian situation, that we are doing other than just taking one small part of what is altogether a very distressing picture. Let me give an illustration on this point, because it is very important. Before the War, we had 60 per cent. of the Chinese cotton market, and in 1929 we had 22 per cent. of the Chinese market, and that is not solely because, as may be said, of the decline or chaos in China. It has been due to the fact that whereas Japan had 15 per cent. before the War, Japan had 66 per cent. in 1929. I merely mention these facts in order that we may 1229 see the whole picture in perspective and not be too apt to concentrate unfairly on one aspect of it.
The second point, which certainly must concern very deeply Members of this House who have upon them, as I say, this great responsibility for the well-being of the people of India, a point which has been dealt with by the right hon. Gentleman below the Gangway, but was hardly touched upon by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, is the severe economic distress from which India is suffering to-day—a population with an average annual income of 100 rupees, or about £7. But what are they passing through at this moment? Whereas in 1928–9 the value of their exports was 330 crores, in 1930–31 the value of their exports was 220 crores. That is 33⅓ per cent. decline in the value of the goods which they sent out. It may be said that prices have fallen generally. I will take a period from September, 1929, to March, 1931. Between those dates, the prices of exported articles fell by 39 per cent., and imported articles fell by only 14 per cent. There is a very wide margin, which must account for some of the decline in Lancashire trade which we are discussing to-day. I want to give some even more striking figures, because I am convinced that we are making a great mistake if we attribute to the political enthusiasm or passion that is undoubtedly sweeping over India to-day the whole of this decline which Lancashire is suffering. The cause of this trouble, as of very many troubles in India, is economic—unemployment, low purchasing power, and bad conditions of life. I want to give the figures of the principal crops, which show the great reduction in India's purchasing power, and of the income available for the purchase of Lancashire or any other goods. I will compare September, 1929, and March, 1931: Cotton, Rs.347: earlier figure, Rs.183; Punjab wheat, Rs.4 and Rs.1; jute, Rs.65 and Rs.31; ground nuts, Rs.51 and Rs.29: Rangoon rice, Rs.444 and Rs.177.
In the light of these figures we have a very large explanation of the severe decline in the export of Lancashire goods to India. It is not a full picture, but it is vital that we should understand these figures if we are to apply, as the Government wish to do, the right treatment to the difficulties with which they are 1230 faced. The result of this reduced purchasing power is two-fold. Persons do without things that they are used to having, or they drift from a better class article to a coarser article, which means from a Lancashire article to a khaddar or an Indian mill-made article; or they may pass from a higher class article, such as Lancashire produces, to a cheaper article, such as Japan produces. I have attempted to give a correct prospective of the situation as we see it.
I now come to the conversations between Lord Irwin and Mr. Gandhi. I want to make perfectly plain to the Committee that this Agreement, as recorded in paragraph 6, is a two-sided thing. It is not merely an undertaking to permit without let or hindrance the free sale of foreign goods, but it is an undertaking on the part of the Government on their side to encourage the production of Indian industry. Paragraph 6 sets it out very clearly. The Governmentapprove of the encouragement of Indian industries as part of economic and industrial movements designed to improve the material condition of India.Nobody would grumble about that as Government policy. What other policy could a Government adopt which professes to be governing in the interests of the people of India? I am certain that even the protective methods that have been adopted will be approved by hon. Gentlemen opposite. That is the positive side of the agreement. Then there is their side of the agreement, which says that there shall be adefinite discontinuance of the employment of the boycott of British commodities as a political weapon,And further thatthose who have given up during a time of political excitement the sale or purchase of British goods must be left free, without any form of restraint, to change their attitude if they so desire.First, I will take the positive side of the Agreement, that is to say, the enthusiasm and patriotism of Indians themselves for the improvement of the material condition of their own country. I would like to add a word to what was said by the right hon. Member for Darwen as to khaddar or village industries. We may think what we like of the philosophy at the back of this, but what use is it for us sitting here to pretend to discharge our duties to India if we do not attempt 1231 to see things as they see them? There you have a huge agricultural sub-continent, with people with an income of £7 a year and with many idle months; and they say that their salvation is in village industries. What man will not applaud that? They say that not only is it an economic advantage to gain a few annas by the spinning or weaving of cloth, but a moral advantage to a man that he should not be idle, but should be engaged in some work in his spare time. Furthermore—it may seem curious, but it has been put to me in this way—that there is a great equalitarian effect in making the rich man and the poor man sit down and occupy their spare time in the same way, namely, by manual labour and spinning. I remember very well a distinguished Member of this House, Mr. Wason, who used to occupy his spare time in knitting in this House. I do not think that the economic value of this khaddar movement is fully appreciated by critics in this House. Abdul Ghaffur Khan, the leader from the North-West, said at a khaddar exhibition, according to a report I read in an Indian newspaper:I beg you to support this and provide a morsel of food for our starving sisters"—pointing again to the fundamental truth that economic causes are at the root of very many of our Indian difficulties. I wish I had some comprehensive figures of the growth of this village industry. I can only say that, according to one organisation which records results in only one part of the field, there was a 68 per cent. increase last year in this movement, and I have been told that its value is 50 crores a year. As showing how important this is from the Indian standpoint, let me give this very interesting figure. The census shows that 6,000,000 people are interested in the cotton industry in India, and that 360,000 are interested in the milling industry. The people in the mills working all day are producing far more with the help of machines than the 6,000,000 in their part-time employment. But the figure shows how growing is the movement and how beneficent is its influence, and that it should receive, as it does receive, the support of the provincial governments.
I come to the case of the Indian mills. These in the pursuit of their enterprise 1232 are adopting the weapon of protection. Their influence in Congress is frequently exaggerated. In their dealing with Congress, as far as I can understand, they are precluded from weaving below a certain number of counts in order to leave a full scope to the village industries. They see in the tariff the means of extending their prosperity. Looked at from the point of view of Lancashire, where do we stand as regards this? The situation, as explained to me by mill-owners, is that if the economic condition of India can be improved, and the standard of demand can be raised, the Lancashire cloth will stand a better chance. If the mill owners in India attempt, as they do attempt, to produce the better quality goods, they will not be able to use Indian cotton and will have to go abroad for their cotton, as we have to go for our cotton. Consequently, they will not be in the specially favoured position that they are in to-day, taking the cotton of their own villages, ginning it, spinning it, and weaving it on the spot for the market which surrounds them—[Interruption.] They have been buying, I believe, from Uganda. Egypt and America. I merely mention that to show that it is greatly to the interest of Lancashire in competing with the Indian mills that this economic improvement should take place. So far, I have attempted to sketch the village industry movement and the mill owners' policy.
The next question is: what is the total demand, and with what supply have we been dealing? I believe that I am right in putting the total demand at about 3,750,000,000 yards, say, 4,000,000,000 yards. The production of the Indian mills, plus the khaddar movement, is in the neighbourhood of 2,500,000,000. There is, therefore, a margin to be made up somewhere, if the economic conditions of India were restored, of about 1,000,000,000 yards a year. However much one may sympathise with the village industries, and however much one may understand the desire of the Indian mills to absorb the whole market, it is a fact that for some long time to come there will be this big gap to be filled from external sources. The question is, from what source will it be filled?
I come to the question of the competition with Japan, which is another of the 1233 fundamental factors often overlooked in studying this problem. If anyone reads the report of the Far East Committee, which has just been published or is about to be published, they will find in six or 10 paragraphs some account of the reasons for the success of the Japanese mills in their international competition, despite the fact that in India in 1930 a preference of 5 per cent. was given to certain classes of British goods, Japan was able to leap over the tariff wall, which for them is higher than it is for us. Whether it be in the charges for their transport, or in the methods of their marketing, or the way in which they produce their materials, in some way or other they have become very powerful competitors.
When people speak about discrimination in the past in favour of Japan as against Great Britain, I would ask them to consider the question of Japanese prices. I have the figures between 1929–30, in which period the prices of Japanese goods fell by 18 per cent., and the prices of British goods fell by 6 per cent. in comparable articles. If these facts are so, and I have no reason to suppose that they are not correct, they show that, if we want to see the whole picture, we have not only to consider the poverty of Indians, but the keenness of Japanese competition. That is a matter which the Lancashire trade will have to consider for itself, I hope with success. Therefore, it is shown that if discrimination between British and other foreign goods comes to an end, there is a fair field and no favour, or, rather a slight favour of 5 per cent. in favour of the Lancashire product. [Interruption.] I know, but then it is hardly fair to treat what was a generous action on the part of the Indian Legislature as being of no value owing to a fall in price. In some respects the Japanese have had successes. I mentioned a general figure of price, and I could mention others, showing, for instance, that a year ago both Britain and Japan were putting grey goods on the market at the same price, 209 rupee per yard. In December the Japanese price had sunk to 167 and the British to 192, which is a reason for the Japanese success.
§ Mr. BENN
I am not concerned at this moment with the wages. I do not think that is a relevant point. I am dealing with the reason for the success which Japan has met with in the markets of India. It may be due to wages—I do not know, or it may be due to hours; but I would respectfully point out that those considerations are perfectly irrelevant to the argument I am advancing.
§ Sir CHARLES OMAN
Does the right hon. Gentleman think it is due either to high wages in England or to low wages in Japan?
§ Mr. BENN
The hon. Member must make up his own mind on that point. I do not want to introduce controversial issues. I am trying to give a faithful picture of the situation, in order that we may find some useful solution. Here are some very remarkable facts. The right hon. Gentleman suggested that we were suffering owing to the fact that the Indians wilfully selected Japanese goods in preference to British goods. That was the line of his argument. I want to give the figures for Burma. Rangoon is not affected by the civil disobedience movement to any considerable extent. It has problems of its own, but they are not associated with the Congress problems in India. These are the figures of Japanese successes in Rangoon in three classes of Lancashire goods reckoned in thousands of yards. In grey goods, the United Kingdom 23, Japan 924. In white goods United Kingdom 749 and Japan 1,969. In coloured goods the United Kingdom 531 and Japan 2,246. From the point of view of British trade those are lamentable figures. They do show that it is not the political reason that is at the bottom of this, and that we must seek for some other reason.
I am glad to say there has been some success on the part of our own people in this competition as between Great Britain and Japan, and whereas the imports in millions of yards in January were 36 for Japan and 23 for us, in March they had risen to 33 for us and 31 for Japan, and in April had risen to 35 for us and 32 for Japan. Actually in the last month, we increased our imports to India by 2—in millions of yards—whereas Japan only increased theirs by 8. I have always said that in the course of a few weeks it would be impossible to 1235 give a final result, but so far as these little straws go as indicating the way the wind is blowing they are such as will bring comfort to all of us in all parts of the House. So far there is no difference between the Members of any party in agreeing that the first thing to do is to see that our people get their fair share of the unsatisfied demand which must exist in India for many years to come. On that we are all agreed.
A second point on which we are all agreed, and with which I had intended to deal only it is quite unnecessary in view of the remark made by the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton), is that so far as tariffs are concerned the fiscal policy of India is governed by the Fiscal Autonomy Convention, which is not challenged in any responsible quarter of the House. In fact, I was gratified to remember when the meeting at the Royal Exchange in Manchester took place that the last and only previous meeting of the same kind was held to protest against the action of the right hon. Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) in connection with the same matter, which shows that so far as Secretaries of State are concerned the policy of the Fiscal Autonomy Convention is an established policy. But that is not to say that without laying hands, which nobody in a responsible position would ever suggest doing, on the fiscal autonomy of India that the British case has gone by default. On the contrary, a course of action, on the highest authority, was taken in 1930 when the Cabinet, meeting as a Cabinet, sent a message to the Government of India, as the Government of India, pointing out the difficulties that would be caused by the then projected rise in the duties. The answer we received as a Cabinet was a reference to the financial position of the Indian Budget, and our representations were not accepted. Beyond that it was impossible to go, in view of the Autonomy Convention.
We have dealt with Japanese competition, economic poverty and the tariff, and we come to the part of the subject which was stressed, without giving us much constructive help, by the right hon. Gentleman who opened the Debate. We are faced in India at the present time with a great wave of political passion, that is to say, a desire for the political 1236 emancipation of their own people, and it should be the policy of any responsible persons to do all in their power to improve relations and to prevent embitterment between the peoples of the two countries. It should be our duty to discount and restrain our extremists on this side, just as it is the duty of those who are co-operating with us in India to attempt to restrain and curb their extremists on that side, because otherwise not only will political solutions be more difficult to find but trade relations will be definitely deteriorated.
I am afraid that from the Lancashire point of view this Debate to-day will have done very little good. It has advertised the force of this weapon, it has done much to encourage those who otherwise, perhaps, would not have dreamed at this or any other time of pursuing these methods. Apropos of this I should like to read a passage from a telegram which appeared in the "Observer" of Sunday, 3rd May. I will read the relevant words:Many who have formerly regarded Mr. Gandhi as a faddist now announce their conversion to the view that he is the shrewdest of all Indian Nationalists in selecting the point of attack. British commercial circles rather impatiently ask how Lancashire can hope to sell more cloth by Churchillian methods.[Interruption.] I am not saying that in order to introduce controversy. I have not used a word of party controversy, and do not intend to do so. What I am trying to show is that all parties should continue to pursue a policy of appeasement as between the two peoples, as they have in the past. The complaint of the right hon. Gentleman opposite is this. He says, "Restraint is going on, it must be stopped." That is his case. The question is, what is the character of the restraint, what are the best steps possible to check it? Let us make one thing perfectly clear. There is nothing in the Irwin-Gandhi Agreement that affects in any way the ordinary operation of the law in India—nothing! The ordinary law regarding intimidation or coercion will be enforced, has been enforced and is being enforced, not only as a duty by the Government but with the good will of Congress, who are parties to the agreement with Lord Irwin.
It is not really with breaches of the law that we are dealing. We are dealing with methods described in the agreement 1237 as methods of persuasion, advertisement and education. One hears many stories, and some were echoed in the extracts which the right hon. Gentleman read, of ladies giving up their time to standing outside shops, and, without any interference of an intimidatory kind, appealing to purchasers not to go into those shops and not to buy their goods. I had a case given me by a merchant in Cawnpore, who told me that two ladies came and stood outside the shop of a merchant and as visitors came up they pleaded, in that wonderfully appealing and courteous way which Indians have, with the customers not to go in and buy the foreign goods—foreign goods, not British goods, because there never has been, so far as I am aware, since the agreement, any preaching against British goods as such. The shopkeeper said he rebuffed the ladies with many words of abuse and they went away, but in half-an-hour they had returned with the shopkeeper's wife and women members of his own family, and within an hour the shopkeeper had given up the sale of foreign goods altogether. Will the right hon. Gentleman or any other hon. Member on the other side tell me, in the face of popular passion of that kind, how we are going to deal with the position, except by seeking good will and understanding?
The President of the Board of Trade has been chidden because he held out too many hopes of a trade revival after the Agreement. This Agreement was not made with the prime object of securing a trade revival, but with a deeper object than that, and that was to restore relations of good will between the two peoples. "Seek first the Kingdom of God and all these things shall be added unto you"; and, as a matter of fact, for April India is the only market in cotton goods that shows an increase of imports from this country. The exports of cotton goods to all countries in March amounted to £3,161,000, in April the exports to all markets amounted to £2,888,000. That is a decrease; but the exports to India, which for March were £507,000, were for April £515,000. That is a very small increase, but a move in the right direction. Although I base no case, and never intended to base any case, for a great flood of imports, taking into account all the Indian movements 1238 of which I have been speaking, I do say that even on the material side the facts are certainly no worse than they were before the Irwin-Gandhi Agreement, a great achievement of statesmanship which no one on the other side of the House, I am perfectly certain, would desire to undo.
In conclusion, I would say this: We believe that the true way is the way of peace. It is just as hard to pursue peace as it is to declare war. It requires just as much patience and just as much courage. People are entitled to ask us, "Have you been vacillating or pusillanimous in the pursuit of peace?" Members here are entitled to have an answer. I say that since this Government came in, finding as it did, a sullen, resentful mood amongst the Indian people, it has steadily and faithfully pursued the path of peace. There are many things we would have done which we could not do, there are many compromises which had to be made because of the difficulties of the situation, but we have steadily pursued that goal. In November, 1929, when the then Viceroy made his speech, there was a little ray of sunshine, but it was dispelled. When he succeeded in persuading representatives of many classes, though not all, of Indian opinion to come to the Round Table Conference, that was a great achievement in co-operation. When those emissaries went back to India and persuaded other non-co-operating classes to come in, that was a great achievement; and when the greatest Viceroy of our time—and of many years—persuaded the leader, the acknowledged leader of a great body of Indian opinion to come to conversations, to come to a peaceful settlement, and to come to an agreement, which I am confident he intends to implement, I say that was a still greater achievement; and if we can exorcise the spirit of hatred and bitterness, if we are allowed to pursue the path of peace, that will lead to the greatest achievement of all. Understanding trust and respect which are the basis not only of public honour, but of material well-being.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I rise for the purpose of supporting the cogent and cumulative arguments which the late President of the Board of Trade has addressed to the Committee. He certainly did not indulge in that kind of 1239 rhetoric which excites the criticism of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel), but he confined himself to pile-driving by means of the assembly of substantial facts. Those facts have not been challenged in any quarter of the Committee, and they were, to a very large extent, supported by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen. The right hon. Gentleman, however, was oscillating between the making out of as good a case as he possibly could for Lancashire in the interests of a somewhat shaky seat, and a proper supply of the more simple forms of platitudes which he hoped would give satisfaction to and increase his influence with the party opposite.
Then we had the speech of the Secretary of State for India. I ask the Committee, I ask any of those who have been deeply concerned by the condition of Lancashire or by the state of India, whether it would have been possible to have had a more inadequate contribution to the solution of the problem. All that the Secretary of State for India did say simply minimised the evil by certain perfectly valid arguments so far as they went, but the right hon. Gentleman closed his eyes to the rest of the evil, and suggested that all our difficulties in India would be solved, and a remedy for our trade would be procured, merely by pursuing the policy of the Round Table Conference. The same argument was used by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen. I cannot see what good that is going to do for Lancashire, because, as we well know, the policy of Mr. Gandhi and the Indian Congress is the permanent exclusion of British goods in one way or another from India, either by a boycott or by a prohibitive tariff. The Secretary of State for India, on a recent occasion, did not use the argument which he has used to-day when he was asked what was the remedy for the difficulties of Lancashire, because he said that in a short time there will be an Indian Minister of Commerce responsible to an Indian legislature. Supposing this Indian Minister of Commerce proposed an embargo on British and foreign imports, and supposing he was supported in that policy by the Indian legislature, how is that going to help Lancashire? The Secretary of State will no doubt say that that is the 1240 way the constitution works, and that is how our principles work out when they are carried to their logical conclusion. The right hon. Gentleman will probably say, "India does not want our goods, and that is the end of it; Lancashire is ruined, and there is nothing more to be said about it." I think there is a very great deal more to be said about this matter.
Is it really our duty as British Members of Parliament to let things drift supinely into a position like that, and then turn round with a grin and say to a whole county which has been thrown into impoverishment, "We are sorry you are ruined and starving, but it all worked out quite logically and in accordance with our well-known principles and declarations. Our motives have been purely disinterested, and if you have been ruined, you must bear it"? Is that the whole duty of the House of Commons? Is that really the whole duty of the 40 Socialist Members of Parliament who sit for Lancashire? I think they will be expected by their constituents to do a little bit more than that. I say that it is our duty even to make some mental and moral exertion on this question, and not be content with the kind of answer which we have received. We must examine searchingly this logic and these principles which, by impeccable steps are, in fact, leading us to hideous disaster, involving cruel suffering to a great number of our people.
That is what, I consider, we have to do this afternoon, and I will try to face the difficulty. I regret the letter which has been published from the Leader of the Opposition in which he declares in the name of his partythat the Conservative party intended to use its fullest influence in support of British traders, and to insist that in any future settlement of the Indian Constitution there should be a fundamental provision prohibiting unfair discrimination against British trade.I must, however, point out that that principle and declaration—on which on this side of the House there is universal agreement—conflicts with the principle of full dominion status. It should be carefully borne in mind that in this Conference it is most important that hopes must not be excited which it may afterwards be found impossible to realise. At the present moment India has not got 1241 dominion status, and has not got responsible government. Parliament is responsible for the welfare, both of the people of India and the people of Great Britain. The Imperial Parliament has the whole responsibility at the present time, and, until we part with it, we have the power and the lawful right to act and work in the interests of both countries, and we are responsible for so doing.
Let me ask, is this boycott, or is a prohibitive tariff, in the interests of India, and are these things good for the Indian people? We know that they are not good for Lancashire, that they spell the doom of Lancashire, but would they be good for the Indian people? The Secretary of State for India is an inveterate Free Trader and one of the most able exponents of Free Trade. We know that the right hon. Gentleman cannot argue in favour of a tariff which goes to the extent of prohibition or a boycott, because he believes that that cannot possibly be for the benefit of the Indian masses. I feel certain that the right hon. Gentleman would be entitled to argue that this would be the exploitation of the many by the few, and would cause a rise in prices which the poor people would have to pay. What help is all this going to be to the poverty of the Indian people if they are made to pay higher prices? What help is Mr. Gandhi's idealism going to be to the Indian people, and how is it going to lift them from their poverty? All this is no remedy at all for the poverty of the Indian people.
The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that this boycott and this attempt to inflict a prohibitive tariff is something which is directly injurious to the well-being of the majority of the people of India. Even Protectionists are not logically compelled to dissent from that doctrine, because the incidence of a duty notoriously depends upon the relations between the importer and the home supply. Therefore, there is not in this particular instance any difference between the views of the Protectionists and Free Traders, and all the cheap scores and debating points made by the Secretary of State are only introduced for the purpose of saving his own face and darkening the counsels of Parliament. I have no hesitation in saying 1242 that there is scarcely any commodity whose exclusion from India would inflict more material injury on the Indian masses, or give more unjust favours to the Bombay merchants and mill owners, than cotton cloth. That would be a ramp, a swindle and a hold-up of the most cruel and scandalous character.
What ought we to do? Ought we to allow it? Ought we, while we remain responsible, to acquiesce in, to connive at, nay, to bring about, such an evil result to the Indian people? Ought we to divest ourselves of responsibility in order that such a result may be brought about? That is the question which is before the Committee. Many have pointed out the evil, but we have to address ourselves to what is our duty in the face of it. We have not heard this afternoon, but perhaps we shall hear, of the extraordinary profits of these Indian mill-owners. I believe that no class of capitalists in the world, in this present year of disgrace, of economic misfortune, has made such vast profits. I was sent a whole list from Lancashire of the profits of some of these Indian mills. [Interruption.] They are most staggering figures. And when we consider that these staggering figures for the profits of the mill-owners are coupled with conditions in the mills of India, at Bombay and Ahmedabad, which, it is common ground between all parties, are lamentably below the conditions which ought to prevail—when we put in juxtaposition the vast profits and the grinding conditions, the harsh and wrongful conditions, and when we see that a monopoly is to be given to these people, I do say that we have a right to plead that it is an Indian interest that should be prevented from doing this.
These Indian mill-owners who have made these great profits, and who have such unsatisfactory conditions in their factories, are the great financial supporters of Mr. Gandhi; they are the money power behind the boycott. When a man is paid weekly wages, as the hon. Member for Bolton mentioned in public the other day, to lie down on the pavement in front of a shop in order to prevent goods being sold, the money that pays those wages comes from those very mill-owners who have an immense interest in bringing about a cessation of the traffic. It is a Hindu and Brahmin movement, where superstition and greed are 1243 marching hand in hand to the spoliation of millions of people.
I should like to know what is the position of the Moslems in this matter. There are 70,000,000 Moslems. I am told—perhaps I may be corrected, but I was told on high authority that the individual Moslem, man or woman, class for class, on the whole, wears more garments than the individual Hindu. That is their habit and custom. Consequently, the Moslem is a greater individual consumer of cotton cloth than the Hindu, and all this boycotting process is being conducted in the main by the Hindus. What are we to think of a proposal which places 70,000,000 Moslems where they will be bled and exploited and made to pay through the nose by this group of Hindu capitalists who are the chief subscribers to Mr. Gandhi's party fund? [Interruption.] May this not cause further ill-feeling between these two religions? [Interruption.] Surely, we have come in contact with another of our principles and safeguards in our duty to protect minorities. Nothing could be more likely to lead to communal strife than for the warlike Moslems of India to feel that they are being made to pay for the garments that they wear in order to make vast fortunes for Hindu speculators and politicians, and that out of those vast fortunes, again, the funds are being provided to establish the political domination of their rivals in India. Therefore, I say that the safeguards which they have asserted, and our duty at the present time to minorities, oblige us to forbid and prevent such perilous exploitation, and the bloodshed and hatred which will follow from it.
I am speaking now of the effects in India, but surely we may say a word here for Lancashire, too. The Lancashire outlook is not a selfish one. Let me remind the Committee of the attitude of Lancashire in the American Civil War. There you had what was then the most prosperous part of oar Islands reduced to living upon the charity of the rest, because the Northern cruisers were blockading the Confederate States; but all the time that Lancashire was suffering these evils, her fidelity to the cause of the North was never changed. That is not a community who judge of these matters 1244 entirely by their self-interest, and I have no doubt that if it could be proved to be, and was obviously for the good of India, for the well-being of all those enormous masses of very poor people there, Lancashire, whatever her suffering, would make no complaint. But when it is clearly for the harm of India, as well as for her own harm, surely she is entitled to expect her representatives to bring the matter to the attention of the House of Commons.
So far my argument has applied equally to both Mr. Gandhi's alternatives, the prohibitive tariff or the boycott. But, surely, the boycott has additional vices of its own. It is a tyranny; it is a tyranny outside the law; it is a form of unofficial bullying of a very odious kind. The boycott is an essentially malevolent action. It is a wrong and wicked action. It is an action animated by a desire to injure, proceeding to a goal which injures, by steps which at every stage injure. The Hindu religion, with its thousands of castes and social gradations, has powers of compulsion over its votaries which can find no parallel outside Asia, or, perhaps, Africa. A man's whole life can be made intolerable, and his whole hopes of future life can be cut off, if he does not conform to the policy of his spiritual guardians, who are also his political guardians. The Congress party can put pressures upon their members, and not only upon their members but upon any Hindu who does not march with them—pressures which are almost inconceivable to us in the West and to Europeans; and they use these pressures to enforce a boycott which grinds the Indian population, which enriches their wealthy friends, and which ruins Lancashire; and then we are told, "Oh, well, there is nothing wrong in it." I see that the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. J. Wilson)—I used to know something about Oldham, and I have a great regard for Oldham, more regard than for its representatives—the hon. Member for Oldham said at the Textile Conference:They had as much right"—that is to say, the Indians—to the slogan 'Buy Indian Goods,' as the Conservatives of this country had to say 'Buy British Goods.'
§ Mr. JAMES WILSON
On a point of Order. It was the hon. Member for the Sowerby Division (Mr. Tout), not the Member for Oldham.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
It is quite right for the hon. Member to make a clean breast of it. Just let us look into this argument, which I have heard used in other quarters besides the one I have mentioned. How can you pretend that this Indian boycott has any resemblance at all to the "Buy British Goods" campaign? [Interruption.] If a number of people in this country choose to band themselves together and to agitate to purchase British goods or Empire goods, there is no objection to that; but if they band themselves together to prevent the sale of foreign goods—[Interruption]—if they band themselves together to obstruct customers from approaching shops, and to forbid shopkeepers to sell, their action becomes illegal, and can immediately be put down by the law. That anyone should pretend that there is the slightest resemblance between these innocent methods of encouraging the sale of home-produced commodities in this country or in India, and the kind of ruinous and cruel boycott which is being enforced in India, is most discreditable to those who do so. I really wonder that they can use such arguments.
What ought we to do? I submit that the policy which is being pursued is injurious to the people of India and ruinous to the people of Lancashire, and that we are responsible until we hand over our responsibility. What ought we to do? I say that we should do our duty. We should proclaim—[An HON. MEMBER: "Shoot them!"] No, I did not say that. I will come to the shedding of blood and the responsibility of the Government. [Interruption.] We ought to proclaim that, whether the boycott is economic or political in intention, it is illegal and wrong. We ought to make 6ure that the ordinances and laws of India are capable of dealing with this illegal and wrongful thing. We should enforce the law and those ordinances without fear or favour, not so much 1246 against the individuals who are hired for this purpose, who are paid weekly wages, as the hon. Member said, for this purpose, but against those who organise them—the ringleaders. We ought to take this course, and we ought also to carry out the policy which my right hon. Friend has laid down in his letter, and make sure that we do not vitiate that policy in any way by loose talk about full Dominion status, which is wholly incompatible with it.
I do not believe that there would be any serious difficulty if the matter were resolutely and patiently and calmly faced. I do not believe that there would be any grave or serious difficulty in altering this boycott in India. I have heard it said that it was rapidly breaking down when the negotiations with Mr. Gandhi were entered upon, but, at any rate, we owe it to all the parties concerned to discharge our duty. These self-imposed inhibitions and pedantries from which we are suffering, this long tangle of disingenuous formulas, have no reality except in our own minds. The problem would present no difficulties to any Frenchman, or any Dutchman, or any German, or any Italian, or any American, in dealing with a similar situation in one of their dependencies. We, in our helplessness and fatuity, are the laughing-stock of the world. [Interruption.] We are alone in our silliness, and Lancashire will be alone in her suffering.
Let me widen the scope of these discussions. The helplessness of the Government! I should like to know what are the principles that animate them in their maintenance of public order. I read in a Reuter telegram published in several of the newspapers a few days ago the following from Rangoon, dated 9th May:Fifteen rebels were sentenced to death and 56 to transportation for life to-day when the Pyapon Special Tribunal passed judgment on the 95 persons charged with waging war against The King last January or with abetting such a war. The remaining 24 were acquitted.The judge having referred to the fact that the tribunal imposed a lesser sentence in the majority of cases added thatstrong intimidation had undoubtedly been used by the leaders towards the rank and file, whose cruelty and ignorance had been abominably exploited.1247 As I read those words, I wondered whether these 15 men who are to suffer the extreme penalty of the law are the only ones in India to whom such a censure would apply. The same paper in which you read this tells us of the great dilemma which is occupying the minds of the authorities at Simla, whether Mr. Gandhi should be allowed the special privilege of driving to Simla in a motor car, a privilege which has been denied and refused to all the greatest reigning princes of India. There seems to be a considerable contrast between the methods with which the humbler followers and agents of rebellion are dealt with and the treatment that is meted out to successful and triumphant leaders. The Romans had a maxim in their great days which I have several times quoted:Parcere subjectis, et debellare superbos,which I will translate for the benefit of some of my friends on this bench "Spare the conquered, and war down the proud." As far as I can see, the attitude of His Majesty's Government is exactly the opposite. A successful leader of revolt whose aim is to drive you out of the country you treat almost with servility. I need not comment on this action, but, at any rate, it removes from hon. Members opposite any right to throw taunts at me of seeking by acts of terror to enforce order in India. I hold His Majesty's Government responsible for the miseries which the last two years have brought upon the people of India. The right hon. Gentleman pretended that great advantages had been gained—that there was a sullen mood when he came in and that, now they were all smiles. What a shameless misrepresentation! The boycott, and the scale that it has attained, is the fruit of weakness, the fruit of lack of confidence in our mission and in our duty, and in our power to eexcute that duty. It is only one of the fruits of all that evil policy of seeking peace. You have sought it perhaps in your hearts, but by your actions you have produced misery such as India has not seen for half a century. All your arrangements are steadily on the way to magnify and multiply that misery in the future.
This boycott is only one of the fruits. You have poisoned the relations between the Mohammedans and the Hindus. 1248 [Interruption.] Words will not do it. It is actions or inactions which produce these cleavages between these great communities of scores of millions. We are going shortly, I hope, to have a Debate on the massacre at Cawnpore. The right hon. Gentleman gave assurances, I understand, which I am sure he will act up to, that not a moment is to be lost in presenting the House with the results of the Commission of Inquiry which is sitting there. I do not wish to anticipate that Debate, which certainly will deal with one of the gravest and most horrible events that have ever happened. [Interruption.] I think there is no doubt that the events of Cawnpore far exceeded in horror anything that happened in the Mutiny if you take the treachery of old friends and neighbours killing each other, the atrocities, the out-rages, the butcheries, the mutilations, the violations—all the photographs that have been sent to me, taken on the spot, are so revolting that no paper would be able to publish them. That was a most fearful event, and that is the first fruits of Gandhism and of surrender to Gandhism. But that is nothing to what is coming. These great rabbit-warren cities, with streets two or three feet wide in some cases, and high houses in which enormous numbers of people live—if these primordial hatreds as between tribes of insects break out there, there will be scenes and events which the world has really passed long away from in its slow progress.
It is Mr. Gandhi who says in effect, "If England will not let me have a mercenary army who obey my orders, we shall have to fight it out and it will be a good thing that Indians should fight their own battles." He says one of these races will exhaust or destroy the other. This is the man—see what he has said about the missionaries—that you have by your policy made the one outstanding figure with whom you are now to negotiate the future. Where are you leading us now? You are leading us to an absolute deadlock. You have excited hopes and fears and passions in India which years of steady government will neither satisfy nor allay. You are seeking desperately to renew this parley with Mr. Gandhi and the Congress party in order to ascertain the terms on which you will be allowed to remain in India. We know what Mr. Gandhi's demand will 1249 be. Meanwhile opinion here, too, is hardening. Even in the speeches that have been made from the Liberal bench to-day there is very definite recognition of the grave aspect of affairs in India Lord Reading's speech in the House of Lords the other day was a speech which certainly constituted an almost complete bar to any further surrender in Indian politics. Here is Mr. Gandhi making his demand, and here is opinion hardening, and you have so stage-managed this, that you have made this man appear to be the sole representative and champion of India. You are trying to bring him here, and to bring him here with no common basis out of which an agreement is likely to emerge. If no sincere agreement emerges, and if there is a breakdown, you will then be faced, hampered by admissions, with your authority weakened, with all those difficulties now grown monstrous from which you recoiled while they were still small.
§ Mr. BROTHERS
The right hon. Member for Hendon (Sir P. Cunliffe-Lister) presented a picture of the conditions in Lancashire. He hung the picture in the shadow and only showed us the landmarks. He did not reveal the whole landscape. I listened to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel), as I always do, with great interest, but I disagree with him in the wisdom of this discussion. Up to the last speaker I do not think we could complain. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) is always entertaining and exciting but is never satisfying. We have to look upon this from the point of view as to whether these discussions tend to the benefit of the commercial relationship between Lancashire and India. The more I listen to the Debate, the more firmly I am convinced that it is not in the best interests of Lancashire. Things are said which are better left unsaid. We are exciting the passions of a race of people who in the main are illiterate. The language which is used in this House will be sent out to India. The difference in the translation will lead to further misunderstanding, and the day when we arrive at some satisfactory solution will be more remote as the result of this discussion. I have been a textile operative and a textile trade union official practically the whole 1250 of my lifetime. I visited India for the purpose of investigating the conditions of the textile workers there. I have interviewed Gandhi. I have listened to Lord Irwin opening the Bengal Parliament, and I know the very difficult task he had to perform, and I think we all agree that he did his duty nobly and well.
But in my opinion we are attaching far too much importance to Gandhi the man and too little to Gandhi the representative of the great masses of the people of India. Just as Lord Irwin is the spokesman for the Imperial Parliament, so Gandhi is the spokesman for the people of India. A better understanding can only by brought about by good will on the part of the people East and West of Suez. I entirely disagree with constantly having big public meetings in Lancashire, although I live in Lancashire and was born there. I believe that behind it all there is an element of seeking party political advantage. We must get away from that particular atmosphere. Along with the Secretary of State for War, I interviewed Gandhi, and travelled 6,000 miles over India. Therefore, I think I possess some knowledge of the psychology of the people of India. The people of India are a gentle race, notwithstanding all that has been said to the contrary. I disagree with the right hon. Member for Hendon that there is no improvement in the condition to-day as compared with the condition when the conversations took place. He quoted letters from merchants in Delhi which, I notice, were dated two months ago; not one of them was up-to-date. There are certain acid tests you can apply to find out whether or not there is any improvement in trade. One of the acid tests that I am able to apply is, that the calls upon our trade union funds are not as severe as they were two months ago. The second acid test is that the number of persons employed is greater than it was two months ago.
I will give some figures. I live in Blackburn. Blackburn used to have a China trade and an Indian Dhoti trade. The China trade went years ago. The Dhoti trade was dealt with more from Blackburn than from any other town. During the last seven weeks there has been a progressive improvement in the number of employed. If I take the case of Bolton, 1251 which I have the honour to represent—and I want the Committee to understand that I am not the man who makes certain statements—[Interruption.] Everybody must be responsible for his own statements. I could make out a better case for the improvement in Bolton if I chose to do so, but Bolton is a fine centre and is not typically an Indian trade centre like Blackburn. I want to confine my remarks mostly to that part of Lancashire which deals directly with Calcutta and Bengal and the other parts of India. In Blackburn, the percentage of unemployed in February was 52.4; in March, 46.8; and in April, 44. The returns for the Northwestern area, which includes practically the whole of Lancashire, show that the percentage of unemployed in January was 45.8; February, 43.1; March, 38; and April, 36.5. The decrease in the unemployed for the present month, as compared with last month, is 5.4 per cent. In Blackburn there has been a progressive decline during the last eight weeks. Every week has shown a decline in the number of unemployed textile workers to the tune of 3,294. Everybody in his senses knows that you cannot have a great upheaval in a country of the size of India, where all the people are excited, and then, when Lord Irwin and Mr. Gandhi come to an agreement, in a moment, find everything is calm. You cannot expect it. Only time will bring about better feeling. If one looks at the statement which was made by the Secretary to the Overseas Trade Department yesterday he will find that in December our exports were 20.3 million yards and in April 39.2 million yards. I do not want anyone in this Committee to believe that I am satisfied with the present volume of trade between this country and India, or between this country and any other country, but I am out to do everything possible to increase, and not to retard, our trade. I believe this discussion to-day will act as a brake on the wheel of progress towards the betterment of the trade of Lancashire.
The majority of the people in India depend upon agriculture. The Secretary of State for War and I saw the people on the land. We know that the people of India are very poor indeed, and that at least 80 per cent. of them are in debt. The tariff that has been put upon them by the Bombay cotton 1252 manufacturers—any tariff that is put upon agricultural workers—makes their purchasing power less than it otherwise would be. I believe that it is almost entirely due to the poverty of the people that the trade of India has decreased. The point I wish to make is that we in Lancashire are developing an inferiority complex. As a matter of fact, we are beginning to boast that ours is the most depressed area. Other people are taking us at our own valuation. We want more courage, more initiative and more vitality. These discussions are driving new capital out of Lancashire. We are frightening the investor away. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend over there, like many more people, probably, has had a taste, and he knows. I will conclude on this note, that I hope that by wise negotiations, and by putting our difficulties upon the table before the responsible heads of this country and the responsible heads in India, we shall be able to arrive at a-satisfactory solution of our difficulties.
Members of Parliament who represent Lancashire constituencies, on whatever side of the Committee they sit, will welcome this opportunity of a renewed Debate, and I am sure that other Members will not grudge it. We had looked forward with interest to hearing from the Secretary of State a statement of facts which we had been unable to get from him by question and answer at Question Time, but I am afraid that, in common with many other hon. Members, my feeling of expectation has been succeeded by one of disappointment. In his speech he told us nothing of any interest or value, and his attitude of complacency towards the whole problem is only equalled by the complacency of his Government with regard to unemployment. We asked him specifically what was the information upon which the President of the Board of Trade had based his speech. We had hoped that, possibly, he had some figures or some information not known to us which was a sure foundation for the somewhat optimistic remarks that he made. Unfortunately, our hopes have been falsified, and in the figures which were given by the right hon. Gentleman, we can find no reason for the optimism of the President of the Board of Trade. We know that in one or two cases there 1253 has been a slight improvement, but in other cases, as he said himself, the contrary has been the case.
We really wanted this opportunity to afford the Secretary of State a chance to give us the full information which he promised to give at the first possible opportunity. We want to know particularly whether the agreement which was signed by Lord Irwin and Mr. Gandhi is being carried out in the spirit as well as in the latter. I agree entirely with the right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) that there were several motives behind the boycott which was enforced against British goods. In the first place, there was the desire to protect their own industry, which is undoubtedly a growing one. There was a desire to foster a great national spirit. Both are very worthy motives, and I should like to see the Government give the same encouragement to those motives here as they do in India. Unfortunately, the dominating object behind the boycott is far more menacing than those two motives, and that is, to get by force what they are unable to get by reason.
We want to find out from the Secretary of State whether that last motive has disappeared, and whether the political boycott has ended and only the industrial motives remain? I should have hesitated to ask him this question—to my mind the shades of difference are too delicate for the naked eye—but the right hon. Gentleman in the last Debate we had on this subject stated that there was a very great difference; that the boycott as a political weapon is a discrimination against us, but the economic boycott is merely a discrimination in favour of Indian industries of industries themselves. He had no justification for that to-day. There is no reason to show that we are getting as good a show in India as the Japanese. He has given us various reasons why, owing to the poverty of the country, there is a more ready sale for Japanese goods than for British goods. But he has not explained why there seems to be no difficulty for the Japanese getting their goods into the market, while we find it impossible even to expose our goods for sale. I believe, as previous speakers have conclusively proved, that the political and industrial methods are so closely woven together that it is practically impossible to sepa- 1254 rate them. The right hon. Member for Darwen mentioned the all-important fact of the close co-operation between the Indian mill-owners and the Congress Committee. The Indian mill-owners buy their protection by subscribing to the Congress funds, and we find that action, which has a political advantage to the members of the Congress, has an industrial advantage to the mill-owners. There is no need to split hairs as to the exact difference between the political and the industrial boycott.
We were told that the agreement was made for one thing—the benefit of our mutual trade. One thing we did expect from the agreement was that we should have freedom of trade between this country and India, without any illegal qualifications. If that is not the object and if that is not going to be the result of the agreement, then the whole thing is a complete farce. It is true that the political boycott may have ended, but, if it has, I am afraid that it is not because of increasing good will on the part of the Indian politicians, but merely because the boycott is no longer necessary. I cannot help feeling that in regard to the part of the agreement between Lord Irwin and Mr. Gandhi which deals purely with the boycott, Mr. Gandhi showed himself a very able diplomat, because he was giving nothing away. I saw a paragraph in the "Observer" last Sunday which was meant to be cheering to Lancashire industry. It was headed:Improved Indian Situation.Boycott on new and peaceful lines.This is what it stated:The revival of picketing in piece goods in the bazaars in Calcutta during the week is quite different in character to the campaign formerly conducted by hired volunteers, often of the hooligan type. During the week the accredited members of the Congress Committee have passed through the bazaars and, with folded hands, said a few words to the stall-keepers in turn, urging the economic importance of stocking only Swadeshi goods. There has been no disturbance.Far from that being encouraging, I think it was most disturbing news. It shows that the campaign of intimidation has been so complete that violence is no longer necessary. As in the days of old the sight of the thumb-screw was quite sufficient to terrorise and unnerve the victim of that implement of torture, so at the present time as far as the boycott 1255 is concerned violence is no longer necessary. The eyes of Gandhi are sufficient; they are fixed upon the merchants of Calcutta. Those merchants are apparently made of less stern stuff than the electors of St. George's, and they have capitulated.
The Secretary of State made a great point of the fact that a large proportion of the fall of the imports of cotton goods into India was due to the very large increase in home production. That is undoubtedly true up to a point. During my visit to India last year I was very much struck by the efforts that they were making to increase the scope of their industry. They were installing the very latest machinery, and a great number of new mills were being erected. I read the other day that the purchase of cotton from Uganda by India had enormously increased and that of the 160 ginneries in Uganda, 130 of them are owned by India. That shows the extent of India's desire to increase the scope of its cotton industry. I admit that the difficulties which are caused by the increased competitive power of the Indian cotton industry must be overcome by own own cotton industry of Lancashire, working by themselves. It is obvious that our Lancashire goods are not going to sell themselves, and that greater effort will have to be put into their sale and into the pushing of them. That is all very well, but before you can try to persuade a customer to buy your goods you must have permission to expose them in the markets and in the shops. That is a point which the Secretary of State deliberately ignored, with one small exception, all through his speech. I realise that the problems of increased tariffs and the increased competitive power of the Indian cotton industry have to be met by our own cotton industry on their own initiative and working by themselves, but when one finds that markets are closed to us and that their entry is completely prohibited, it is only right and fair that our manufacturers should turn to their own Government for some assistance.
I will not go into the various examples of the serious position of our cotton trade, which were dealt with at length by my right hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Sir P. Cunliffe-Lister), but I would point out that those examples can be amplified over and over again. I was 1256 given a letter the other day from a mill of considerable scope, which stated that their agents in Bombay, only two or three weeks ago, had been forced to sign an agreement not to buy any more foreign cloth. Not only does that mean that that particular mill in this country cannot now supply those agents with any more goods, but they are left with a lot of stuff on their own hands that has been ordered by this firm. The same firm had a letter from their agents in Karachi stating that they had been forced out of business. One also reads of dealers in Cawnpore having been obliged to sign the Congress pledge. Lancashire does not ask for very much. We are only asking that we shall be able to carry on with a trade which has been of great mutual benefit to both countries for many years. No one can deny that.
It is an essential safeguard of any agreement which is going to be reached between us and India that both sides should have an equal chance of carrying on their commerce in each country. All that we ask is that we should receive in India the same fair play that we are prepared to give to any Indian trading in this country. We are told that Lancashire is making an exaggerated protest. Why must we always have this inequality of treatment? To advertise her grievances India may resort to any extreme of speech or action, and that is looked upon as a justifiable expression of a growing national spirit. Lancashire has one mass meeting and that is called undignified, making an unnecessary fuss and needlessly exaggerating the difficulties with which we are faced. If we do not look after ourselves in Lancashire, I should like to know who will do the business for us.
I will try to widen the scope of the Debate a little. As the representative of a Lancashire constituency, I feel that there is nothing more important than the prosperity of Lancashire, but I realise that the whole is greater than the part, and that we have to try to look at the picture and the problem as a whole. I am one of those, of whom there are many on this side of the House, who think that the present constitution in India is highly unsatisfactory. I made such study of it as I could during the months I spent in India, and I do not believe that a system of diarchy 1257 can ever be a good one. I believe that the constitution as it is now is unsatisfactory, and I hope only temporary. I would be perfectly prepared to try to go as far as possible to meet Indian aspirations, within certain well-defined limits. Those limits were laid down by the right hon. Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare) in a speech which met with the unanimous agreements I think of most people in the country and certainly of every one on this side of the House.
I do not think that people as a whole are worried about the Viceroy's responsibility for defence and foreign affairs. They feel that that point would be settled at a conference and that the moment the agreement was come to, it would ipso facto be carried out. There are two things about which they are much concerned. First of all, they feel that if we withdraw it is obvious that without the political pressure which we can assert now, the one idea of India would be to get as far away from us as possible, and all our people who are carrying on perfectly legitimate business with India would be hard hit. The other fear is that they are genuinely afraid of outbreaks of lawlessness. When they read with horror and abomination of various outbreaks that occur from time to time, people are saying to themselves that they very much doubt whether it is safe for us to give India any greater measure of responsibility with regard to law and order. Surely between the adjournment of the Round Table Conference and the next meeting between the representatives of this country and India would have been the time for India to show that she really was capable of running her own affairs, and that she was going to run them with an ample measure of goodwill towards us; but the results of the last two or three months have made us genuinely apprehensive of the future of India, and even apprehensive of bringing together again the Round Table Conference.
We on this side of the Committee make no apology for having introduced this subject this afternoon. The right hon. Member for Darwen said that the Government have a dual responsibility. We admit that. The Secretary of State for India is responsible for looking after the interests of India in this country, and particularly in this House, but he is 1258 equally responsible as the guardian of our interests in India, and it is because we feel that our interests in India are in very grave danger of being neglected that we have made arrangements for the Debate on this Vote to be raised.
I am sure that no hon. Member from whatever part of Lancashire he comes or whatever views he represents will quarrel with the tone and general approach of the speech of the Noble Lord. Discussion conducted in such a spirit is helpful to Lancahsire and helpful to that common interest which he stressed, and which Lancashire shares, and knows that it shares with the people of India. As a Lancashire Member, I feel that the speech of the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) was not helpful in the same way to the interests of either. The spirit of his speech is, no doubt, very largely the cause of the great difficulties which confront the present Government and all who care for either Lancashire or India.
I want to remind hon. Members of an elementary fact within the knowledge of all of them. This movement in India is not the child of the present Administration. The present Government came into office at a time of profound unrest, a deep stirring of national character, something which we must recognise as the awakening of that great congeries of peoples into something like a common consciousness. We should not forget in this connection that during the Great War we called upon India to feel itself a nation co-operating with us in what they, like ourselves, felt to be a great cause. India made a notable contribution by way of men and money and in the generousness of her response to our appeal she undoubtedly believed that it was possible for her to advance much more rapidly to a complete realisation of nationhood and to receive from us a much more constant steady and understanding assistance than has been the case. No one who has studied the course of the troubles in India since the War can think that we are now dealing with a movement in the boycott which can be brought to an end within a month. Probably it will take many months, perhaps years, but the point which is recognised in Lancashire, and which was recognised in the Resolution passed at the two great meetings one of which was 1259 held in my own constituency and the other in Manchester, is the need for sympathy with the legitimate aspirations of the Indian communities towards self-government.
That is indeed a tremendous movement and you cannot, even if you start on the right lines as I maintain the present Government have started, expect that a movement so vast and so passionate will be canalised in a short time. What I maintain is recognised in Lancashire in spite of the tragic difficulties of the present situation is that you must move in a question like this either towards the future or back, into the dark and difficult and tragic past. In the movement which has been initiated by this Government and supported by the late Viceroy, and which has been carried a step further by the Round Table Conference, you have started a movement which has a future. What I mean can be illustrated by the case of education. There are people for instance who think that there is a dark offset to the advance of education. I have argued with people, themselves highly educated, who consider it a doubtful benefit that agricultural labourers ever learned to read, because they say it makes them discontented. Their first reaction, they say, is to read the "Daily Mail." How much better, they argue, that they should quietly think and not be placed in a position in which their intellectual outlook can be coloured by political agitators. Yet we all know that in a big constructive movement you only get on by going through a period which in its growing pains may be actually more difficult than the time of stagnation, death and unconsciousness. It may be long, it will be painful; but its pains are those of life.
In this matter we have to consider and discuss the common interests of two great peoples, an issue which affects the broad Indian question and an issue which raises acute difficulties and loss to people in this country, and particularly the people whom Lancashire Members represent. I am certain that those who are supporting the policy of conciliation are at the same time pursuing the only line of policy which can ultimately give back to Lancashire that great trade which it once enjoyed. We have to accept that, 1260 and if we can accept it without any mutual recriminations so much the better. It is a little difficult for us on this side to hear with patience the attack made on the fact that nationalism in India, as elsewhere, tends to express itself through various aspects of a Protectionist policy. We cannot help thinking that this expression of nationalism has been assiduously, continuously and effectively taught them by those who, now that the weapon comes back upon them, criticise it sharply and point out with force that any Protectionist tariff is more valuable to the manufacturing interests than to the consumers of their produce, that it tends to raise prices to the consumer and that it is not a benefit to the working people. All that is quite true but those who have propagated this gospel cannot complain if it is taken up elsewhere. One of my constituents put it in a somewhat crude way when he said that what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the Gandhi. It is not a pretty way of putting it, but it has a painful sort of accuracy about it.
There is one other thing which Lancashire Members have to accept, a point mentioned by the hon. Member for Lancaster (Lord Stanley). In regard to the whole boycott movement, in regard to the whole nationalist movement and the exclusion of our goods from the Indian markets, we have to face the fact that until five or six months ago the account given by every expert observer as to the main difficulty with which Lancashire manufacturers and workmen had to contend was not some political cause in India, which was preventing his goods being allowed to enter, but the fact that in foreign markets generally we were up against competitors who since the War had taken advantage of the opportunity to reorganise their industry on modern lines and make it more efficient. The thing which we heard continuously stressed was the great drawback of Lancashire's inability to compete in terms of price with these world competitors. Hon. Members who read the thoroughly impartial journal the "Economist" and the most valuable contributions of its Manchester correspondent, know that he stresses that factor quite continuously.
Although there are differences as to how costs can be reduced there was, until 1261 quite recently, no disagreement in all sections of the industry as to this being the core of the problem. Exactly the same point was stressed in the report of the committee set up by the present Government to inquire into the condition of the cotton trade—whose report came out last July. Taking all factors into account, they came to the conclusion that reorganisation of the industry was the only means whereby it could meet competition and win back what it had lost, and that its present position was due not only to political factors but to an incapacity to meet competitors on price and consumers with a reduced purchasing power on price. This point was made and reinforced in the findings of the Thompson Commission, and it was also stressed the other day by the Prince of Wales in Manchester when he spoke of internal throat cutting as being the one thing which Lancashire must overcome if it was to capture new markets and recover its old markets.
If we are going to be fair to Lancashire and to India in this question which affects them both, we must recognise this vital contributory factor and it is incumbent upon Lancashire to do so in its own interests. It is easy and tempting, at a time so difficult, to turn away from a course which involves hard action, effort, sacrifice of old points of view, the acceptance of new corporate responsibility; to blame political causes; to look outside instead of inside. But I do not think Lancashire Members are really doing their duty to their constituents if at a time of such great difficulty in the industry we blind ourselves to the fact that the major causes of Lancashire's difficulty at the present time are causes with which it is possible for Lancashire itself to cope and that there is no possibility of recovery for Lancashire unless these difficulties are coped with by Lancashire itself. There is now, I believe, more readiness to lake this kind of internal action. Anyhow, I believe that the course of action pursued through all the difficulties and possible dangers by the present Government in its attempt to win the good will of India by conciliation and by recognising the equality in partnership between India and ourselves, is the only road of hope along which Lancashire can see a recovery of the trade that is so vital to her. We are lacking in our duty 1262 if we do not take the opportunity of backing up a policy which looks towards the future and includes the possibility of a market not only as great as that of the past but actually greater. A concentrated effort on the part of an Indian Government to raise the general level of Indian standards of life and consumption would create a demand for goods which would occupy all manufacturing countries in supplying those needs; and Lancashire's share, on those terms, might be greater in the future even than in the past.
§ Sir J. SANDEMAN ALLEN
I have listened to many Debates on India and I have not thought that I could intervene in any way to the advantage of the House. But to-day I feel that this is a very important question which affects the economic as well as the political situation, and whilst I realise that it must he approached with discretion I feel that it is important we should look the matter straight in the face. We have listened to three or four very interesting speeches from the Front Benches. We have had a clear statement of the difficulties from which Lancashire is suffering by the right hon. Member for Hendon (Sir P. Cunliffe-Lister) and it was so clear and definite a statement that I thought it was impossible for the Government to answer the points he made. We have had also a very interesting and rather amusing speech from the right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) who gave us a lecture on some of the topics and difficulties which underlie this question. One must realise, as many people are beginning to realise, that what I might call the sentimental side is governing this question to a certain extent. There are, of course, other causes; but the main issue we have raised to-day has not really been faced either by speakers on this side or on the opposite side of the House.
The issue we have raised is the very definite one of what is going on at the present moment. That is not an economic question; it is a political question. The point is that we have shown clearly that Lancashire is perfectly justified in its complaint regarding the hindrance that is being deliberately put upon its trade in India today. It is no use shutting our eyes to the facts of the case. We must bring it again to the notice of the public through 1263 this House, because it is one of the most serious questions we have to face at the present moment. We have heard an interesting speech from the hon. Lady as to how Lancashire can recover. Lancashire will take due note of that, and of the helpful remarks of the Secretary of State for India. Lancashire is fully alive to the price factor, which is a very serious hindrance to the development of our trade. We know that the reason it is such a hindrance is because we pay proper wages to our working people, and spend money on social services and taxation while other countries do not. Lancashire is studying how to deal scientifically with these and other factors, because there are a hundred and one questions to be considered all the time. Perhaps Lancashire has been a little slow in looking at those aspects, but necessity has driven the lesson home.
The real issue we are discussing is that in India to-day our people are positively prevented from trading, and that the Indian people who want to trade with them are equally prevented from doing so. There is no industrial dispute; it is a political dispute, and there is a political organisation at work there which is deliberately preventing people buying what they want. It is a hindrance to trade which should be faced and dealt with by the Government without further hesitation. I see their difficulties, but why should we go on month after month and see our trade drifting out to sea, and everything going wrong, instead of the Government facing up as far as they can to these matters? It is their responsibility, but it is up to us to share it as far as we can. I have no desire to press this matter on party lines. All that I want is the House to realise that Lancashire is absolutely justified in its complaint that the Government should face the facts of what is really going on and see in what way they can intervene. The Government are the responsible Government of India and of this country.
We have had the old red herring of Protection and Free Trade drawn across this Debate. We have been the last country to suggest departing from Free Trade principles. India has had the example of other countries before it all these years, and has seen how these systems work. India is to-day incapable 1264 of producing what the country requires, while we are suffering from the fact that we are capable, not only of producing what we require, but of supplying a large number of other people as well. We had this evening a very rhetorical and interesting speech from the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), but I am afraid many hon. Members opposite lost the point of what he was saying. Very many foolish people have been comparing the Indian position with the "Buy British" policy here. There is nothing more ridiculous than such a comparison. The "Buy British" movement is perfectly legitimate, just as it is perfectly legitimate for the Indians to say, "Buy Indian." Are we going to say that we shall pay people to conspire together to prevent shopkeepers selling foreign goods, to block up the doors of the shops and not allow people to go in, to pester every buyer and every shopkeeper in a complete and organised conspiracy to stop the sale of foreign goods? Everyone in this country would say that such a state of things was intolerable and ought to be put down in five minutes. Any law-abiding country would put it down, and the comparison is ludicrous. I protest against these people hoodwinking themselves and a large number of others with such an absurd and false comparison.
My reason for rising was to call attention to the fact that we have not yet had the real issue faced fairly and squarely. I hope before long we shall have some very definite statement as to what is to be done. It has been glossed over very cleverly by the Secretary of State for India, who is one of thy ablest debaters in this House, and I have heard no suggestion as to how to meet it. I am speaking for those in business and commercial circles, who are thoroughly distressed about the matter and who are anxious to know what it all means. The people of Lancashire cannot understand how it is they appear to be so slighted by those who are to look after their interests. I say, on behalf of everybody interested, that the Government should let us know what they are trying to do and what they are going to do to stop this outrage on law and order, and on everything which is the proper due of our position in that country, which we have made what it is. In spite of foolish talk from time to time about what we 1265 did 100 years ago, India owes an incomparable debt to the great administrators this country has sent out, and to the unselfish policy which this country has pursued in dealing with India in the last 60 years or more. Above all—and I hope nothing said in this House will appear to be an encouragement or incitement to the terrible communal bitterness and danger which have existed—we alone have held apart those nations and races which make up India. We have maintained the Pax Britannica there, as is known to everyone who really knows the truth, and is not blinded by this miserable propaganda which comes out of the East and other quarters. If these people would only listen to the truth, they would admit how much they owe to this great country. It is up to our Government to see that we get the rights that are our due, and that law and order are preserved in that great country.
§ Mr. PHILIP OLIVER
I am sure everyone will agree with the hon. Member for West Derby (Sir J. Sandeman Allen) that in this matter we must not shut our eyes to the facts. The important thing is the direction from which we look at those facts. Those of us who are Members of the Liberal party approach this subject very much in the spirit of the resolution which was passed by the members of the Manchester Royal Exchange a week ago. We sympathise with the natural aspirations of the Indian community towards self-Government, and we may even go further and say we devoutly pray that those aspirations may be realised, but, in the terms of the resolution:We fail to see how these aspirations can be assisted by imposing additional protective duties on the necessities of life of a population whose purchasing power is already too low.The attack on Lancashire has come from two quarters. The Secretary of State for India has spoken about the poverty of the Indians. We know India is poor, and the poverty of India has partly destroyed our industry. He also spoke about the competition of Japan, and we know that in the future we shall have to face an even greater activity from that source. In addition to these, there are two definite attacks that have been launched in the tariff and in the boycott. Different considerations apply to those two attacks. In the first place, 1266 let me say something about the tariff. It is a tariff which varies from 20 per cent. to 40 per cent. on the value of the goods. The tariff is equal to the whole of the weavers' wages in certain kinds of cloth, and in certain other kinds it exceeds the whole of the wages of all the parties who are employed in the making it is, therefore, a tremendously heavy tariff.
The Secretary of State for India has always said—and he said it again today—that he must look at this question as the trustee for India. I am prepared to agree with him. There are other Members of the Government who are, perhaps, trustees for Lancashire, but even the Secretary of State for India, when he looks at this matter as the trustee for India, must look at it as a trustee for the whole of India. The charge I bring is that I do not think he is doing it. It is doubtless in the interests of the Bombay millowners that this tariff should be increased, but they are only a small section of the community and perhaps they do not display capitalism at its best. I do not know that it is in the interests of the workers to be drawn further into the vortex of factory life. It is certainly not in the Interests of the Indian people as a whole. The Secretary of State for India told us to-day that India is passing through a severe period of economic depression. When her agricultural population is passing through a period of severe economic depression, is that the time to increase against them the tariffs on the things they desire to buy? The chairman of the Bombay Mill-owners' Association, speaking on 5th May, made use of these words:While a great deal of the loss of imports is due to the boycott campaign and to the higher tariff, a factor of undoubted importance is the incapacity of people to find money for their full requirements of cloth.If the poor people are incapable of finding the money for their full requirements of cloth, and if the Secretary of State for India is to be the trustee of these people, how is it he still further increases their incapacity by increasing the cost of the cloth they desire to buy? Of course if the Secretary of State simply acted as a trustee for India, we know that he would oppose to the end these proposals for an increased tariff. We 1267 have to ask ourselves, is he reduced to a state of unmasterly inactivity by what is known as the fiscal convention? Very little so far has been said of this. Everyone seems to be afraid of it, but I think it ought to be discussed this evening. If I may read what appears in the first volume of the report of the Statutory Commission, these are the words used:As a result of correspondence between two Secretaries of State, Lord Peel and Lord Olivier, and the Government of India, it is now settled policy that the Secretary of State does not interfere with the enactment of any tariff measure upon which the Government of India and the Indian Legislature are agreed. But as a Member of His Majesty's Government he cannot divest himself of responsibility for ensuring that no such Measure cuts across general Empire policy or is so unfair to any constituent part of the Empire as to bring India into conflict with it.We have to ask ourselves: Could these increases have been objected to on the ground that they are so unfair to Lancashire as to bring Lancashire into conflict with India? Both the Secretaries for State mentioned in the paragraph, Lord Peel and Lord Olivier, have been consulted upon this point. Lord Peel said that that must depend upon the circumstances of the case and the political situation at the time. That is, of course, a very wide and non-committal reply. Lord Peel means that in the troubled circumstances of the time probably it would have been unwise at any rate for the Secretary of State to have objected. Lord Olivier says quite distinctly that no such objection could have been taken. So on that authority we must assume that circumstances were not such as to give the Secretary of State a right to interfere.
But the right hon. Gentleman's responsibility is not ended there. Before a matter goes to the Legislature, Bills relating to Customs have to be referred for the approval of the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State is kept informed in advance before the Legislature is even consulted. All that is done in order to avert a clash between the Secretary of State here and the Legislature there. What we have to ask ourselves is, was the Secretary of State kept thoroughly informed? I believe he was. Did he make any representations? The Secretary of State this afternoon told us that in December, 1930, the Cabinet held a 1268 meeting, and on his advice sent a message to the Indian Government, and he has said that the Indian Government sent a reply stating that the financial position was such that the tariffs were necessary. After the receipt of that reply, says the Secretary of State, there was nothing more to be done. We have a right to protest that there was a good deal more that could have been done. If these are the only representations that are made by the Secretary of State when our industry is threatened, it seems to me that the Secretary of State and the Government as a whole are somewhat remiss in what they do and what they do not.
Why did the Secretary of State approve? He had a right to refuse sanction to this Measure before it was introduced. Did he consider the interests of the Indian consumers or consult the President of the Board of Trade or other Members of the Government who are responsible for the well-being of Lancashire? Unfortunately, the evil has now been done. Fortunately, again, it is only a temporary evil, and it can be undone. I would press upon the Government that representation should be made to the Government of India for the lowering of this tariff next year in the interests both of Lancashire and of India as a whole.
A few words about the boycott. It does not affect only the cotton industry. It is affecting very considerably the metal industries in the Black Country. There can be no doubt that since the Irwin-Gandhi agreement the boycott, so far as cotton is concerned, has become much more intensive in the Presidency of Madras. You have only to listen to any merchant to know that that is so. The "Manchester Guardian" on 28th April, in its commercial columns, said:Some of the letters from Bombay have mentioned a fairly steady retail off take and a more hopeful outlook, and this is surprising. But letters from Madras have contained an unpleasant surprise, namely, the news that picketing has increased considerably throughout the Presidency since the Irwin-Gandhi Agreement. Previously Madras had been remarkably free from pickets, and the change probably accounts for the noticeable dwindling of fresh business for that market during the last two or three weeks.That, of course, is subsequent to the agreement. Finns in the Midlands since the agreement are receiving instructions from their agents not to mark goods sent 1269 to India as "Made in Britain." Why is that? We are entitled to ask whether the boycott, economic and political—it is sometimes rather difficult to distinguish between the two—is being retained. I know that in Bombay there was a temporary cessation because of the withdrawal of payment of the pickets. But money was found and one would like to know from what source. The boycott has been resumed. There is, of course, nothing in the Irwin-Gandhi Agreement to authorise a boycott either economic or political.
In this matter I would draw the attention of the Government particularly to a thing which so far has not been mentioned, and that is Article 23 of the Covenant of the League of Nations. India signed that Covenant; it was the first recognition of the nationhood of India. That Covenant is the fundamental law of nations. It is above any agreement between Viceroy and Mahatma. It is important; it must be incorporated into any constitution which hereafter is given either to India or to any other Dominion. What is covenanted in Article 23? India covenants that she will make provision to "secure and maintain freedom of communication and of transit and equitable treatment for the commerce of Great Britain." India, of course, by attending that conference and signing that document received certain privileges as a nation, and as a nation, having received those privileges, she incurred certain obligations. There is the very positive obligation of "securing and maintaining equitable treatment" for our commerce. Anyone who knows the facts will admit that that obligation has been violated.
Whatever may be said about the boycott, it is not equitable against us or any other country. We are entitled to ask the Government what provision has been made by the Government in India to "secure and maintain freedom of communication and of transit' for Lancashire goods, and what provision has been made to "secure and maintain equitable treatment" for Lancashire commerce. Has the Secretary of State or anyone on behalf of the Government brought this obligation to the notice of the Government of India, or do we so lightly treat our international obligations that he regarded them as mere verbiage? 1270 It must be made perfectly clear in any future constitution for India or any other Dominion that this obligation shall be incorporated in that constitution. The right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill)—[HON. MEMBERS: "Where is he?"] I do not know where he is. He uses this House as a sounding-board for his magnificent orations and then he disappears. It is not for me to criticise him in his absence or argue with him in his presence. The right hon. Member for Epping used the factor of this boycott and the necessity of having some means of preventing it in future as being in direct conflict with Dominion status. It is not so at all. That is an altogether wrong view of what Dominion status is, now that we have the Covenant of the League of Nations. The Covenant has certain fundamental equitable doctrines implanted in it, and places upon us certain obligations, and any Dominion status or any status of any kind is now subject to this international agreement.
I apologise for having been so long, but there is one other matter I would mention. Anyone who is interested in craftsmanship and the crafts of the Indian villagers will wish that Mr. Gandhi may do well to extend the native hand loom and spinning wheel. It is a movement which will do much for the social and economic good of India. But that movement is undoubtedly being exploited, and Mr. Gandhi must expect no mercy from the Bombay millowners. If with his aid they are able to crush us, he in turn will be crushed by them, and when they have crushed not only Lancashire but Mr. Gandhi, I venture to suggest that they in turn will be crushed by the lawless elements which they are now using for their own purposes.
I have tried to look at this Indian question dispassionately, and the whole thing seems to me to be utterly foolish and a tragedy. It is not as if we had dulled our ears to the appeal of India. It is not as if, like Pharaoh, we had hardened our hearts. We have opened the gateway to conference, and they in turn have closed our mills, taken the bread from our people and, what is worse, they have poisoned the springs of good will when no real settlement can be made without good will on both sides. I trust that the strongest representations will be made to the Govern- 1271 ment of India to secure the ending of all boycott, both in fulfilment of international obligations and for the future well-being of the country.
§ Mr. SANDHAM
I have been interested particularly to-day in the spirit underlying the attack on the Indian question from the point of view of self-interest. I am reminded of the time when India was exporting textiles to this country, and of the time when this country put up a tariff against such imports from India. We used our efforts in those days to check and hinder the Indians, by regulations and duties which prevented the products of their labours coming into this country. We are blaming the Indians to-day for doing exactly the same thing. I was reminded of that recently when my hon. Friend the Member for Kennington (Mr. Matters) read the instructions for the Council of Trade, dated 1660. There was implied in those regulations the idea of what ought to be done with regard to goods imported into this country to the detriment of our industries. The effort represented by those regulations failed. Then British Imperialism got busy, and, later on, we conquered India. What for? Was it to succour India? No. Was it to help India in any particular way? No. Was it to milk India? Yes.
I know that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite will demur to that statement but let me relate an episode which I think will confirm the attitude which I am taking up on this issue. It is the experience of one who was termed "a brilliant and well-balanced Christian' in the days when the non-co-operative movement was at its height. He was at luncheon with a party of educationists from Britain and one of them said, "Are you not grateful for what we have done? Have not we done great good to India? Look at the railways, the telegraphs, the new roads and how the country has been organised and kept at peace. Should you not be grateful?" The Indian replied, "Yes, what you say is true and we are grateful, but there is one consideration which disturbs our gratitude. To illustrate my meaning may I say that I have some cows of which I take great care. I feed them well and give them a good home and, were it not 1272 for what I do, they would be roaming about the jungle, wild and uncared for. They should be grateful for what I do for them, but why do I do it?" There was a long and painful silence, and then an Englishman slowly said, "Do you mean to say that we do these things because we want to milk India for our benefit?" "I do," said the Indian quietly. Self-interest is at the back of all these things. To quote the blunt words of Lord Brentford, who at the time he made this statement was Sir William Joynson-Hicks, British Home Secretary:We did not conquer India for the benefit of the Indians. I know that it is said in missionary meetings that we conquered India to raise the level of the Indians. That is cant. We conquered India as an outlet for the goods of Great Britain. I am not such a hypocrite as to say that we hold India for the Indians. We hold it as the finest outlet for British goods in general and Lancashire cotton goods in particular.And the "Jix" of that time was a first-class, orthodox, conventional, Anglican, Christian, Tory—the knight defender of a pure Prayer Book and the sword of the Lord! Let us be under no misapprehension in regard to our utilisation of India. The fundamental difficulty in regard to India is the poverty of the peasants of whom there are 300,000,000. In consequence of that poverty, they are unable to purchase the things which they need just as the workers in this country are unable to purchase the things which they need. It cannot possibly be assumed that the Indian people, even at the present time, do not need Lancashire-made cloth. They do. A very great man with whom I only came in touch during the latter part of his experience in the House of Commons was the individual who propagated the idea of the inability of the working classes to purchase their requirements. He understood the situation. He was to my mind one of the biggest men I ever met, and certainly he was one of the biggest men with whom I ever came in contact in connection with the activities of the House of Commons. While this question is affected by the poverty of the Indians we are bound to realise its results on trade and particularly on the textile trade of Lancashire but this campaign to stampede the Government into repressive acts in India must be stopped.
§ Mr. BRACKEN
Will the hon. Gentleman say from whom he was quoting just now? Was it from a speech of the late Mr. Wheatley?
§ Mr. SANDHAM
The reference which I made was to the late John Wheatley, in connection with the development of the idea as to the lack of purchasing power on the part of the masses who produce. It was he who propounded that idea as far as my experience goes. I was about to say that the question of India has to be considered calmly and carefully. First we must recognise that the poverty of the Indian people is a great factor in creating the present difficulties. We have to consider the poor price which the Indian peasant receives for his products and we have to remember that India is predominantly agricultural. The result is that the peasant's capacity to buy is limited and, in consequence, Lancashire textiles are left on the shelves. In regard to this market, which is limited by poverty, the Indian manufacturer understands very clearly the ease with which he can exploit the nationalist aspirations of his fellow countrymen and we have had that fact brought forcibly to our notice.
Lancashire employers through their organisations invited Lancashire Members of Parliament to a meeting, for the purpose of pointing out the huge profits which were being made by the Bombay mill-owners consequent upon the tariffs which they had had put up against the entry of Lancashire products into India. The question was raised at that meeting as to whether it was possible to have the balance sheets of those Bombay mills indicating these huge profits and those balance sheets were duly presented to the Lancashire Members in volume and were very enlightening. It was pointed out in one instance that, in reference to the tariff, certain mill-owners were able to make £60,000 profit out of a £90,000 contract. We know where that would come from and where it would go to, and we know who are least able to bear the consequences of a tariff of that nature. But any repressive measures will only add to the opportunities for the exploitation of the peasants and workers as well as the customs.
The real way in which to deal with the situation is to encourage the development of trade union organisation and thereby 1274 increase the purchasing power of the workers. Instead of that, however, we have the unfortunate circumstance that some of the trade union leaders who are out for the development of organisation, are held for trial and that trial looks like being the longest trial in the history of the world. I would say at once: "release these prisoners and allow the workers to organise themselves." I would go to the extent of encouraging them to organise in the useful trade union fashion. I would further ask hon. Members to notice that the nationalist movement has shown no great enthusiasm for the campaign for the release of those trade union organisers who are in gaol—
The CHAIRMAN (Sir Robert Young)
It is a Rule that hon. Members should not read their speeches. I understood that the hon. Member for Kirkdale (Mr. Sandham) was quoting considerably for a time, but I was not aware that he was, apart from that, reading any great part of his speech. If he was, the hon. Member must understand that it is a Rule that a speech should not be read.
§ Mr. SANDHAM
I am not reading my speech. I have been reading quotations, but, as a matter of fact, I am not indulging in any greater facilities in that respect than previous speakers whom I have watched very carefully during this afternoon. It is my desire to keep within the Rules of the House. I am now about to refer to a statement of our present Chancellor of the Exchequer, who said that if the Indian people added half-an-inch to their clothes, all the mills in Lancashire would be fully employed. We have also the statement of a statistician that, if one penny per week were put on to the workers' wages in India, the demand for textiles would make every textile mill busy. My reply on the subject of the boycott is that we should not ascribe to the boycott effects which are not connected with it. I want now to quote from the "Times" of 11th May, where we find a statement headed "Boycott Better. A Question of Price." The article reads:The opinion is widely held in the Calcutta Market that Lancashire's talk about 1275 the boycott has been over-done. There was some picketing here during the last two or three days, but it was peaceful and negligible. Investigation in the bazaars in North Calcutta to-day found 50 Congressmen and three women perambulating and advising dealers and purchasers to sell and buy Swadeshi and not foreign goods. These are few, and the area is vast. Dealers who have been interrogated deny interference, importunity, or intimidation on the part of pickets. Some admitted to fear of a return to violent picketing.This view that the picketing is not a serious embarrassment is not confined to Indians. A European piece goodsman, writing in the Statesman, says that Lancashire has no need to fear the boycott if the prices are competitive. The opposition was formerly chiefly to Lancashire cloth, but the question of price was always involved. It is impossible to tell how much of it was political and how much was economic. Now, anyhow, Lancashire was talking excessively about boycott, picketing and duties. It would be more profitable to get down to the business of price reduction. Japan's recent headway was due to low prices when the purchasing power was low.If Lancashire is to maintain her place among her competitors in and outside India, then she must compete. If she can do this, it is considered in some quarters that, boycott or no boycott, she will stand as good a chance as any in her sales. There is no doubt that the overwhelming opinion against the boycott of Japanese goods had something to do with their release earlier than those of British origin and that was due to her ability to sell at low figures, even to the discomfort of the Indian mills.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
I noticed that, but did the hon. Member see the rather interesting commentary on that in the Simla dispatch which is on the same page of the "Times," dated 10th May, in which the Simla correspondent said:It is perfectly ridiculous for him (that is, Mr. Gandhi) to claim that there is no discrimination against British goods as such and that the boycott is merely the result of a general desire to support the Swadeshi article as against the imported brand. That may be his attitude, but it is most emphatically not the attitude of thousands of his followers, who are simply picketing British cloth in default of more violent methods of demonstrating their political views.
§ Mr. SANDHAM
I am not concerned about that for the moment. I am not giving this quotation with the idea that 1276 I am supporting the matter raised herein on the question of prices, because I will now indicate what the acting chairman of the Cotton Spinners and Manufacturers' Association in Manchester said quite recently. Mr. Gray said:We are not losing our China trade or any other trade to the Japanese because our manufacturing costs are too high.The Lancashire cotton industy is losing her trade because of a thousand and one unco-ordinated small units, all without cohesion, without nucleus, loose, higgledy-piggledy, rushing hither and thither, jostling, chasing, fighting, the whole curious phenomenon involving an enormous wastage of money, energy, time and power. I am giving these quotations with a view to indicating how far the people responsible for the carrying on of industry affecting cotton in Lancashire are absolutely lost with regard to sensible ideas. On the other hand, quite recently there has been an attempt on the part of a certain section of trade unionists in Lancashire to put before this country and this House their ideas in regard to what they consider to be the best handling of the situation. I am referring now to what was termed the irresponsible, rebel section of the operatives from Lancashire. After their visit here, considerable discussion arose among the Lancashire cotton operatives with regard to what was best to be done, the result and the effects of which we find this week in a very large conference being organised in Blackpool for the purpose of calling upon the Government to operate the ideas underlying its recent cotton report, namely, that an attempt of a State character should he organised with a view to introducing a national cotton control board and insisting on the reorganisation of the cotton industry before it is too late. I would refer hon. and right hon. Members who are interested in this matter to a Resolution, which still appears on the Order Paper, that was moved at that particular time at a meeting upstairs. I hope we may soon have an opportunity of discussing it at greater length.
I want to call to mind what happened when the Government of this country handed back their own country to the Boers after they had been defeated, and I submit that that is what ought to be done in regard to India, that the oppor- 1277 tunity of approach to this question should be developed on exactly the same lines. The need is not for repression but for liberty, and the measure in which the Government free themselves from Imperialist conceptions and act on Socialist lines will be the measure of success on the part of this country in regard to the Indian question. With the bonds from which India is suffering to-day entirely relieved, they will be able, and will doubtless be quite willing, to co-operate in trade and industry to the improvement of the position in both nations. Meanwhile, I suggest that the Government should, in a really sympathetic way, see what can be done to extend the idea of social services in India, to improve the lot of the peasant, to improve his economic position, and so to increase his purchasing power.
We want at the same time to try to help those interested in agriculture on the lines that the Russian Government are operating in Russia at the present time. There is something better than a spade for digging the land, and if we show to the Indians that we are willing to help them in that direction, I am quite sure that reciprocity will play its part later on. We also want to reduce land taxation and to place the landlords of India in exactly the position that they ought to occupy, namely, as people not to be allowed to exploit the interests of those who have to live from the land.
Under what is called the system of capitalism, this "every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost" theory, we know very well that there can be no guiding standard of ethics or morals, and the Bombay millowners are just as much entitled to extract profits to the fullest possible extent as are the millowners in this country; and it seems to me only a form of whining and bleating when we find representatives of mass capital in this country criticising the representatives of mass capital in India for doing what they themselves are prevented from doing under a set of circumstances over which they have no control. They have made any amount of profit from the cotton industry in this country, and I would remind the hon. Member for Blackley (Mr. P. Oliver) that if he will analyse the names of the cotton mill-owners in this country, he will find that a very large proportion of them are 1278 Liberals with the same capitalist outlook that the ordinary profit-seeking business man possesses. What we want is reorganisation of the cotton industry as the one method of settling this Indian difficulty, and if we can get that on lines indicated in that particular Resolution, I have not the least doubt that the Lancashire cotton trade of the past can not only be got back and equalled, but can be exceeded in volume, consequent upon the good will that would follow in its train.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Major-General Sir ALFRED KNOX
I do not propose, with the hon. Member's permission, to go into all his speech. He spoke primarily as a Member for Lancashire, and no doubt his speech will be appreciated by his constituents. I do not, on the other hand, see very much real relief coming to the Lancashire operatives from any suggestion that he has made. He said that it would be a good thing to raise the purchasing power of the Indian peasant, and with that everyone will agree, but I think that if the hon. Member had had some practical acquaintance with India, he would have found out how very difficult a problem that is. Among the hundreds and thousands of British administrators who have been through India in the last 100 or 150 years, I think he will believe me when I tell him that there have been many philanthropists and people with just as much idea of doing good as he-or I could possibly have, and if they have not found any practical measures for raising the purchasing power of the Indian peasant, it is, as the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) said, that they are overwhelmed by the constant increase in population, which makes it very difficult to raise the standard of living. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State that the difficulty with Lancashire, as with India, in not selling its goods is partly due to low purchasing power, partly to the economic slump in India and partly to the lower price of Japanese products. That is true, but the right hon. Gentleman, in his reply to the case which was put from this side of the House, did not take the trouble to reply to several letters which the right hon. Gentleman who opened the Debate read. 1279 pointing out the real facts regarding the boycott. The right hon. Gentleman at the end of his speech became a little angry with the extremists in India and the extremists on this side, as he called them. The right hon. Gentleman can call me an extremist if he likes, but what are we to do? We have some knowledge of conditions in India; I served there for 11 years. Are we never to raise our voices? Are we to allow the Government to do what they like with the Empire? We have a stake in the Empire as they have, and it is our duty to put our point of view. Whether the right hon. Gentleman or the House agrees with it is another question, but it is our duty to our constituents and the Empire to put our point of view.
I contend that the last few years and the last months have seen a constant decline in out prestige in India. That has been owing, as the Moslem Conference said the other day, to the utterly spineless handling of the situation by both the Government at home and the Government of India. They said that that spineless handling of the situation will result in the ruin of their country. That was a conference representing 70,000,000 Mohammedans in India. To go back a few months, at Christmas, 1929, you have the hauling down of the Union Jack at Lahore. You can do that sort of thing at the Marble Arch—it does not matter, for we are sensible people—but with an excitable population who look upon the flag as a symbol of our sovereignty, it is fatal to disregard signs like that. Then you come to Peshawar, where for 13 days the city was the storm centre of the whole Indian frontier, and was handed over to a local soviet, who were in communication with a rebel across the border telling him to come and loot because the British Raj was dead. We did nothing. I know the answer is that the local administrator's health had broken down, but did the health of Clive, and Warren Hastings, and those men who founded the Empire, break down? What would have happened, and how much Empire would we have gained in India or elsewhere, if the governors and leaders had been as spineless as our people have been in the last few months? Then you come to the instances where petrol was poured on Moslem policemen and set alight.
1280 The crowning tragedy was in Cawnpore. You have the Viceroy confabbing for about a fortnight with the leader of the most active seditious party in India, while 70,000,000 Moslems stand aghast and wonder at the weakness of our regime. When we want to make peace, we confer with the leader of the most active seditious party in India without regard to the Moslems, and the result we see in Cawnpore. The right hon. Gentleman has been asked to give the real statistics of the murders and casualties. He first told us that they were 240, and then he raised it to 290, but every letter that we get from our friends, whether soldiers or civilians, tells us that the number was 1,000, and some say 2,000, and that the number buried far exceeds 290. I know that the right hon. Gentleman answers our questions with strict courtesy always, but we are trying to get the truth so that the people of this country may know what is happening in India. Cawnpore is only a sign of what will come. I say without fear of contradiction that the possibility of giving further progress and reforms is made infinitely more difficult by the lapse from the maintenance of law and order and administration in the last 15 months.
I suggest that we should go back to the Simon Report. After all, the Statutory Commission was chosen from all parties, and it spent many months in India and went into questions thoroughly. I suggest that we might adopt that report with a single exception. Cawnpore and similar places have proved to anyone who reads that it is impossible to hand over the question of law and order to representative ministers in the Governor's Provinces. You ought to reserve that power to the Governor himself until you get a settled Government. Do not hand over the responsibility until there is a settled Government. Give autonomy, if yon like, to the nine Provinces., and see how it works out. Give them a chance of working it out for five years, or 10 years, or any time you like. Do not fix a time, but see how it works. If you do not do that, what are you going to do? You are going to hand over the Government of India to a Central Government responsible to a legislature. As our Front Bench and the Front Bench below the Gangway hope, this scheme will 1281 be guarded by safeguards, but how are you going to enforce those safeguards when you take your power away from India? When the Assembly at its first meeting will repudiate your safeguards, what are you going to do? Are you going to bring in the troops and kick them out? We do not do that sort of thing.
As has been truly said, you cannot take butter out of a dog's mouth. If you give these people this power, you will not be able to take it back. What will be the result? You will set up in India a Government that will not be as efficient as the Government to which they have been accustomed; it will be a Government that will become gradually more and more corrupt and inefficient, and it will not protect the rights of the poor people in the country. There will be propaganda against it. The politicians there, able speakers and tacticians every one of them, have not the moral fibre to control the many races of a continent like India. What will be the result? There will be Communist propaganda, and, if the Government are not true to the British tradition, and if they retire and hand over responsible government, we shall have a Communist state in India within our lifetime.
The hon. Member for Kirkdale (Mr. Sandham) belittled what we have done in India. Let me say in a few words some of the things we have done. We British went to India 300 years ago as a trading community, and because the whole of India was torn asunder, and we were the only stable community in the country, we got practically the whole of the continent under our control. Have we been true to our responsibility? We have kept law and order in that country through the hundreds of years since we went there, and we have protected the country against any foreign invasion. We have built 40,000 miles of railways and an enormous number of canals, and by their means we have conquered the famine which used to decimate millions of people. Look at the work we have done for health. As a young officer, I was in a regiment with Sir Ronald Boss, who experimented with and found a cure for malaria. Has not that cure done much for India? We have practically conquered cholera, and what have we done against bubonic plague? When we were trying to conquer that and 1282 telling the people to kill rats, the Congress agitators told them that it was some hidden idea of ours to spoil their caste. They have never helped us at all. When the hon. Member for Kirkdale speaks about the low standard of living of the people, I say without fear of contradiction that if we British had not gone to India, there are at least 100,000,000 to 150,000,000 Indians who would not be alive to-day. It is by our trade and our railways and canals that the continent has been able to support the enormous number that it does.
We have duties in India as we have rights. I have just spoken of our rights, and I often wonder if a Britisher in this era can have courage enough to talk of our right's, because we always talk of the rights of our enemies, but never of our own rights. I would like to say a word about our duties. Our duty in India is to those common cultivators, the people whom I have had an opportunity of knowing through months of recruiting in the broad plains of India. For five months I was commanding an outpost surrounded by barbed wire, without a single white man near. I have come to know these people; I have been their companion and talked with them about their families. They came to trust me, and it is for these people that I plead, If you are not true to your trust in India, you will hand over the Government to people who do not understand them. They are accustomed to be treated by men of the British race whom they know. Do not take away that protection. I would like to say, in conclusion: Do stop these round table conferences. I look upon every conference into which this Government go as another auction, a Dutch auction of the British Empire. Decide in your mind what you can safely give to India for the good of India and the Empire: pass this Measure through Parliament, and tell the Indians that that is what you give and that is what they are to have. We shall then stop this period of suspense.
§ Mr. ARTHUR LAW
I want to contribute a theory which I have not heard in the Debate. Every speaker has inferred that the great loss of our trade has been caused since the Labour Government came into office. The facts are that our exports to India in 1913 were 3,100,000,000 yards of piece goods, 1283 and that they had actually been reduced to 1,400,000,000 a year before we took office. In other words, the Lancashire cotton piece goods trade was reduced practically two-thirds from 1913 before this Government came in.
§ Mr. LAW
I am very glad the hon. Member accepts the accuracy of the figures, and does not challenge them. That brings me to say that I honestly did hope to hear a speech from the right hon. Member for Bewdley (Mr. S. Baldwin) to-day. In Manchester, in 1923, I heard him deliver a speech, and I found a copy of it in a book of speeches which I purchased. I wish to quote from that speech, because it gives the real position as between this country and India and other foreign countries. Speaking in Manchester on 2nd November, 1923, the right hon. Gentleman said:If I were connected with the cotton trade I should feel apprehesion about the export from Lancashire to the Far East of cotton-spinning machinery. It has, I hope, been a lucrative trade, but a trade not wholly beneficial to this country. Although for the time being it swells our export figures it is putting the weapon of competition into the hands of cheap labour; and at the same time that you have a condition of affairs in China that is making trading very difficult you are confronted in your greatest market in India with two factors: one, the poverty of your customers; and, secondly, and this is by far the more alarming of the two, India, which you have looked upon as a market for all time, is now able to control for all practical purposes her fiscal system.It is not the Labour Government who are responsible for the present fiscal system in India. That originated in 1894, and we were not in office then. In that year the House authorised the Secretary of State for India to put a tariff of 3½ per cent. on Lancashire cotton piece goods going into India. That was to make the Indian worker pay, out of the low money which he received, part of 1284 the taxation of that great country. In 1917 that duty was increased to 7½ per cent.—not by India, but by this country. It was the Secretary of State for India in this House who was responsible. He had the last word, in those days, as to whether the duty should be put on or not. In 1921 the duty was increased to 11 per cent. When complaint is made about the tariffs that are hindering our trade in Lancashire, I say let the people who put the tariffs on bear the responsibility. In all the speeches I make in Lancashire I say that I, as a member of the Labour party, am bearing none of the responsibility, because I do not believe in tariffs. In 1922 a general tariff policy for India was accepted by the home Government, and in 1924 a general tariff board was set up. It is a fact that we in this country, if we wanted to, could take off the tariffs in India. I believe it is a constitutional fact that the Secretary of State for India could, if he wished, take off the tariffs in India, Why did not the Conservative Government do so before we came into office? Because they knew they dare not. If once tariffs are put on it is not easy to take them off.
The hon. and gallant Member for Wycombe (Sir A. Knox) wants to abolish all round-table conferences, and says that we ought to show the Indian people what we are prepared to do for them. It is too late to do that. In the years of the War and since then the British Government took steps which they cannot retrace now. In 1917, when the Imperial War Conference took place to decide how to pursue the War to a successful conclusion, India was invited to attend, along with the rest of the Dominions. In the notes of the Conference the Dominions are described as autonomous parts of the British Commonwealth, and India as "an important part of same" That is in the report of the proceedings. India was told then that she could consider herself as an autonomous part of the Empire, in effect, as having Dominion status within the Empire. When the Peace Treaty was signed at Versailles in 1919 no Crown Colonies or Protectorates were invited to send representatives. It was attended by representatives of the home country and the Dominions, as separate entities, and India was invited. Representatives on behalf of India signed the Peace Treaty at Versailles, and India became, as a 1285 separate entity, not only an original member of the League of Nations but also an original member of the International Labour Office. I am going to claim that in 1917 and in 1919 India was, to all intents and purposes, declared to be a Dominion. India was also told that a commission would be appointed to draft a scheme—
§ Mr. LAW
The actual words in the declaration of the Imperial War Conference in 1917 were:and India as an important part of same.The Montagu-Chelmsford Commission was appointed to draft a constitution, a form of words to be embodied in a Bill, to give India Home Rule, just as we had to give Home Rule to the Irish Free State, and just as we had to do it in the case of South Africa. It was decided that India should enjoy the same right to impose tariffs as Australia, New Zealand, Canada and South Africa. The House gave India even greater powers than that. In 1921 the then Secretary of State for India decided that India had even the right to purchase stores from any country, such as was the right of any other Dominion. Let the House think what impression all this left on the minds of the people of India. It left the impression that at long last a form of Home Rule, a form of Dominion status, was in sight. Unfortunately, 10 years have elapsed since then; and what have the Indian people been reading in their Press and what have they been hearing British statesmen say in that interval? "No Dominion status for India; no form of home rule at all." Yet they had been promised it 10 years ago.
We lost America by those tactics, by trying to impose our will upon the people of what were then the North American States belonging to the British Empire, and refusing to allow them autonomy—to do something that they wanted to do. That was the reason why we lost the United States of America. They would still have been part of the British Empire if that lamentable action had not taken place—or at least they might have been. I remember in my early days the kind of speeches which were delivered at the Manchester 1286 Free Trade Hall when Home Rule was promised for years, and was not granted until the people fought for it. That is the kind of history which Indian students have been reading in their schools and colleges. I disagree with a good many of the statements which have been made in this Debate. Hon. Members opposite have been advocating the buying of British goods and the boycotting of foreign goods, and that is something which is having a repercussion in India. My own view is that you cannot force a customer to buy. Gamages would not have gone bankrupt if they could have forced customers to purchase their goods.
I think the best way to promote goodwill between the Indian people and ourselves is to make some effort to fulfil the promises which have been made to India by right hon. Gentleman opposite. Many promises were made when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) was Prime Minister and his Cabinet included a number of right hon. Gentlemen opposite. I think that the Round Table Conference should be called at the earliest possible moment. I know that some hon. Members have suggested that the Conference should not be called at all, but I hope the cable will break down when conveying such a message to India. A great deal has been said about the mill-owners in Bombay, but I would like to point out that a good deal of the money in the cotton industry in India is British money. It is really people in Lancashire who finance boycotts in India, and that is part of the capitalist game all the world over.
A week ago there was a meeting in the Royal Exchange, Manchester, which was attended by 7,000 people. If some of those 7,000 people would get off the back of the cotton industry it would flourish. Those 7,000 people are mainly brokers, middlemen, insurance people, and others whose only object is to buy and sell something which they have never seen and never will see. If you calculate the amount taken by those 7,000 persons at an average of £10 per week for 52 weeks in the year it will be realised what a huge sum they take out of the cotton industry, and the majority of them do nothing at all for the industry. I am personally acquainted with managers of mills and buyers and 1287 sellers who work for the mill-owners, and they serve a useful purpose, but I am referring to a body of men who do nothing but share the swag. If a large number of those 7,000 men would take a holiday for a few years and allow the cotton industry to be reorganised on sound commonsense lines there would not be the trouble that now exists in the Lancashire cotton industry.
§ Sir W. WAYLAND
The hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Arthur Law) spoke of the relationship of India with the League of Nations and referred to India as one of our Dominions. May I point out that India has been an Empire ever since 1887, and she has always been recognised as the Indian Empire and the phrase which has always been used has been "The Dominions beyond the seas and India." I think the hon. Member for Rossendale will now see that his reference was entirely wrong. I have been very much astonished after listening to the speeches made by the Lancashire Members because they seem to have adopted a defeatist attitude, which I am sure does not represent the opinion of Lancashire working men. They have all been speaking this afternoon as if they were representatives of the mill-owners in India, instead of the representatives of the men who have been working for years in the cotton industry in Lancashire, and who are out of employment to-day. The question we are supposed to be debating is whether the boycott of cotton goods in India is fair or unfair, and whether the Indian Congress and Mr. Gandhi have used unfair means to influence Indian merchants not to buy Lancashire cotton goods. The reply to that question is distinctly in the affirmative, and every bit of evidence we have leads us to the conclusion that Gandhi and his associates look upon this question not from the point of view of the Indian people but from the point of view of the political conclusions at which they desire to arrive.
Another objection I have, and it is a very strong one, is that nearly everyone on the opposite side talks about Gandhi as if he represented the whole of India. Does Gandhi represent the 70,000,000 Moslems in India? Does he represent from 40,000,000 to 50,000,000 untouch- 1288 ables? We know perfectly well that the 70,000,000 Moslems in India hate Gandhi and his associates, and would fight them rather than be dominated by them. We know that the untouchables have no love for Gandhi or his associates, and yet the 70,000,000 Moslems and the 50,000,000 untouchables, totalling 120,000,000 people, are supposed to have no voice whatever in the settlement of Indian questions. That is absolutely absurd and ridiculous, and we should not entertain it for a moment.
It is not true that hon. Members on this side do not believe in progress in India. We do believe in progress, but not in stupid progress urging people to run before they have learned to walk. The Indians at the present time are only capable of walking and not of running, and yet hon. Members opposite desire that the Indian people should run as fast as possible at the start. The hon. Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Hamilton) spoke of the tragic past of India. What a ridiculous assertion to make, unless, indeed, you look beyond the time when the British arrived in India. If, however, you look at what the British have done in India, you can only arrive at the conclusion that, as was said by one of my hon. Friends on this side, if we had not been in India and had not done what we have done, India to-day would certainly not be in the fairly prosperous position to which the British have brought her.
As to the boycott, there are boycotts and boycotts. One does not deny the right of any body or any person to boycott as long as they act fairly and within the law. An hon. Member opposite said this afternoon that the merchants in the bazaars have stated that they have not been in any way interfered with in the purchase or sale of cloth; but, as was said by an hon. Member on this side—truly, in my opinion—the simple reason is that they have been reduced to such a state of fear that they dare not buy any English cloth, and that is the reason why at the present moment there is no necessity for the so-called peaceful picketing which has resulted so disastrously to law and order in India.
What is the price of buying the good will of Gandhi and the Indian Congress? What utter foolishness it is to talk about trying to meet them when day by day and week by week you read in the newspapers speeches made by the 1289 leading Hindus and by Gandhi informing you that their ultimate aim, and the only aim to which they will agree, is independence for India. They do not even accept the position of Dominion Home Rule, except for the present. They do not accept any of the safeguards. They do not accept British rule at all. And yet we go on talking, begging, cringing, as this Government are doing, to these Indian agitators, trying to get them to come into line and talk fairly and squarely and justly about our rights as well as our privileges in India. My own opinion is that our present troubles are due to a weak Viceroy and a weak Government. Not only our present political troubles, but the thousands of lives which have been lost in India, must be laid at the door of that Viceroy and of the present Government. If Gandhi had not been taken out of prison, after he had been first petted and then put into prison, if he had been kept there, India to-day would be peaceful, or comparatively so. By letting him out of prison, by bending the knee to him, by begging him to do certain things in order to meet our wishes, by elevating him to the position of a god, not only have we not appeased him and his associates, but we are simply in the same position as regards their opinion, and that is that they look upon us with contempt. We have earned the contempt as well as the derision of the Moslems, and we have earned the silent contempt of the untouchables; and that is the result of the policy of Lord Irwin and the present Government.
§ Mr. FOOT
I much regret the note which has just been struck by the hon. Member for Canterbury (Sir W. Way-land). I believe I can express the opinion that the great majority of people in this country, irrespective of their party feeling, would repudiate entirely the suggestion that the Viceroy who has just returned after a period of exceptional difficulty has to bear so heavy a responsibility as the hon. Member has suggested. It is comparatively simple for anyone on the back benches to deal with these distant problems by speeches in this House; but had the hon. Member been by the side of the late Viceroy in a position of exceptional difficulty, I do not think he 1290 would have been inclined to make the accusation which has just fallen from his lips.
The hon. Member's attitude of mind is the attitude that has stirred India in past years to indignation. He suggested just now that there were Members speaking in this House as if they were not representing Lancashire constituents, but the Congress-men of India. In a certain sense we are representing the Congressmen of India. A Member may come into this House from a certain constituency, but when he comes here he is a Member of Parliament. In a certain sense I am a Member for Lancashire, and the grievances of Lancashire have to be thought of by the rest of us in this House as well as by those who come from Lancashire constituencies. In a certain sense every Member of this House is a Member for India. I remember that, when the election was taking place recently in the St. George's Division of Westminster, the "Times" newspaper said that the Conservative candidate there had made a very gallant attempt to explain India to Pimlico. That is the difficulty in this House, and that is the difficulty in this country; and, surely, there is a responsibility upon every Member, not merely to consider the claims of his own constituents here, but, as far as he can, to understand the case of the people who work in the mills of Bombay, the depressed classes to whom the hon. Member for Canterbury referred, and the people who live in the 500,000 villages of India.
There was a very distinguished Member of this House who fell under a very great affliction in the early part of his life, but, in spite of his blindness, he afterwards became a great student of Indian affairs, and was known in this House as "the Member for India." I refer, of course, to Mr. Fawcett. In a certain sense, every one of us has to be a Member for India. The suggestion which was made by the hon. Member for Canterbury, that we need not concern ourselves much about the needs and claims of these people 7,000 miles away, is altogether inconsistent with our claim to be an Imperial Parliament. It is our business as best we can in this matter to put ourselves in the place of the people in India. I remember, when the Round Table Conference was meeting, that at 1291 the Minorities Committee one of the Moslem delegates got up and said that he did not believe that the problems they had to meet could be solved unless the Hindu put himself in the place of the Moslem and the Moslem put himself in the place of the Hindu; and I wish to ask the Committee to look at some of these questions from the Indian point of view, so that at any rate we may have all the facts before us. I know that if we take up this attitude we may be misrepresented as leaving out of consideration the immediate and urgent claims of our own country. I was very glad to hear the courageous speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) to-day, in which he not only put the case for Lancashire and spoke of the grievances borne by the people there, but spoke, as I think with remarkable penetration and sympathy, about the condition of the people in India.
We had later on the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill)—in my opinion an inflammatory and mischievous speech. I only hope that, although it was received with cheers, it represents no substantial body of opinion in the House. I am sure it would not be welcomed by any European association in India. [An HON. MEMBER: "Query!"] At any rate, we can take what declarations have been made by European Associations in India, which dissociate themselves from the attitude taken up by the right hon. Gentleman. It was the "Statesman" of Calcutta which only a few weeks ago practically said, "For God's sake, keep silent in Britain. Give us a chance to deal with the problems that are arising from the last sitting of the Round Table Conference." Having read as best I can what has been said by the authoritative spokesmen of European opinion in India, I say there is no Association which, upon reading the right hon. Gentleman's speech, will not be anxious to repudiate it. Individuals can be obtained here and there, but, taking any authoritative European Association, I make that statement with some confidence.
The most dangerous part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech was that in which he made a very dreadful charge against the Government that they have 1292 poisoned the relations between Hindu and Moslem. It is a very dangerous game to try to draw a division between Hindu and Moslem. The fact that that difference has been exploited in the past is a charge which has been brought against us for many years. When that was suggested to-day, without any evidence, I thought it was a most dreadful charge to bring against any Government—it was not only against the Government, but against the late Viceroy. A charge of that kind should never have been made unless there was some evidence for it, and not a shred of evidence was brought to support it.
Then the right hon. Gentleman went on to deal with Cawnpore. He started by saying we were in the midst of an inquiry, and one would have thought that any man with an ordinary sense of responsibility would put a bridle upon his lips and keep quiet until the result of the inquiry was before him. But the right hon. Gentleman is so anxious to score his point upon this matter, whatever the results in India, that, basing himself upon evidence which he admitted was not conclusive, and upon an inquiry which he admitted was only now in progress, he said that we had in Cawnpore the first results of Gandhism and the surrender to Gandhi. At any rate, if that is true, no responsible man has the right to make that statement until the inquiry has been completed. I do not believe it is true. It is a statement which I should think would disentitle the right hon. Gentleman to any consideration in Indian opinion.
Will the House look for a moment at the effects of the boycott? We have been talking as if the boycott is a phenomenon which has only now come over the political horizon. It is not a new thing in India. It is not a weapon that was fashioned by Mr. Gandhi. It is a weapon that was used in India before Mr. Gandhi ever came into politics at all. Before his name was ever known in India as a public man, the boycott played a very considerable part in the relations between India and this country. It was when Lord Curzon, who was then the Viceroy, decided upon the partition of Bengal, that the boycott was fashioned as a weapon. Those who were opposed to that partition were anxious to discover a political weapon with which to attack 1293 our interests, and they looked for it in a place where we were most vulnerable. We were most vulnerable in the cotton industry, because that formed the main part of our exports to India, and it was at that time, long before Mr. Gandhi came into politics, that the boycott was resorted to as a political weapon. The older constitutionalists, the men who were the moderates in the Congress party, looked upon it as being a legitimate policy with which to draw attention to their grievances. The extremists of that time welcomed the opportunity to coerce this country into surrender, and those who are better acquainted with Indian history than I am will remember that Tilak at that time aroused a great agitation in the Deccan and, speaking as a Brahmin, invested the boycott with all the sanction of religion. That is when the boycott was used and it was very effective. It was revived by Mr. Gandhi as part of the non-co-operation campaign. It failed and was looked upon as a discredited weapon. Mr. Gandhi was put into prison and afterwards, when he reentered politics, he adopted the boycott again deliberately as part of the non-cooperation campaign.
To understand the boycott we must look at those classes that are concerned with it. My right hon. Friend the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) made a reference to the Bombay mill-owners. Of course, they have seen the advantage in it. They are ready to exploit the conditions. I have met some of them. They have been described here as if they are something between highwaymen and vampires, but I do not suppose they are much different from people of the same class in other parts of the world. There is nothing very remarkable about the Bombay mill-owners taking advantage of this situation. It is the experience of every country in the world. All interests that are hungry for Protection like to clothe themselves in the livery of patriotism. We may shortly be having the Report of the Licensing Commission. Supposing, as the result, there should be proposals to deal with the licensing question, you will find that the liquor interest will resist that proposal, but not on the ground of the defence of their trade. They will talk about the blow at the revenue and the 1294 liberty of the subject. To go back to an older example, when Demetrius found his trade in danger in Ephesus, he and his fellow-tradesmen made their appeal to the public. They did not talk about the danger of their craft. They talked about the danger to the City. They did not talk about the silver images they were making, but went out with the cry, "Great is Diana of the Ephesians!" All that the Bombay mill-owners are doing in making their appeal for the economic independence of their country is in line with what has been done by every capitalist organisation in the history of the world.
There are next the extremists. We have to recognise the position of the extremist. He is the enemy of the British Raj. He has frankly and openly declared himself to be the enemy of the British Raj. To him British sovereignty is a hateful thing. It is just as hateful to him as the sovereignty of Austria was hateful to Mazzini. I am not comparing the extremist in India with Mazzini. He believes his political aims can be accomplished through this economic pressure. He wants to hit us where we are most vulnerable, and he has taken up the weapon of boycott, which was thoroughly discredited and was a failure, and now he is finding it is not a failure, and every speech that is made in this House, every protest that is made, whether in Lancashire or on the Floor of this House, is an encouragement to the extremist in India, who goes to his people, who have before discredited the weapon and said it is not effective, and says, "You see how effective it is." The speeches which have been made to-day—I make this prophesy with complete confidence—like speeches which have been made on the Floor of the House before, will be used by the extremists in India to see that the boycott does not break down. Let me quote from the "Times of India" for April. That is the paper that represents the moderate British opinion. It says:It used to be said that the boycott was not only a bad, but an ineffective economic weapon. The boycott of foreign cloth has disproved that dictum as Lancashire knows to her cost; and the boycott typifies the national movement in all its strength, just as a hundred episodes of violence typify its weakness.1295 That was from the "Times of India." Will hon. Members allow me to quote from the "Bombay Chronicle," which takes the more extreme view? That paper, writing only a week or two ago, and referring to the numerous reports that came to India about Debates in this House, and the protests throughout the country against the boycott, said:The progress of the boycott so far should not dispose a single Congress worker to rest on his oars. Any relaxation now may mean the throwing away of the advantage gained after unprecedented sacrifices. That would he truly a betrayal. The success of the boycott should convince us now more than ever before of the potency of the weapon, and should stimulate our efforts to make the boycott even more vigorous hereafter than it was in the past when workers' attentions were diverted to a number of other activities.There is a third element, to which, again, my right hon. Friend made reference. One of the most significant movements in India in recent years is the Swadeshi movement. It is not simply a movement of Indian thought. Will hon. Members allow me to quote what was said recently by an Englishman, the President of the Madras Trades' Association? He is reported in "The Hindu," a Madras newspaper, of 26th March. This is how the President of the Madras Trades' Association spoke of the Swadeshi movement:During the past year, and as a result of national awakening and the increasing enterprise of Indian and European captains of industry, the Swadeshi Movement shows signs of developing greatly and will in time have a beneficial effect on the economic life of the country. This is a step in the right direction, and I hope it will have the continuous stimulus necessary to put forth vigorous constructive efforts for the promotion of indigenous industries leading, in time, to an increase in the standard of living generally.That is the opinion of an Englishman trading in India. The Swadeshi movement in India is a protest against economic dependence. The Indian believes it to be inconsistent with self-respect and the prestige of his country to be economically dependent upon Britain or any other country. The Indian believes that his country has been exploited by Britain. I am not expressing any opinion upon that, but it would be impossible to find any man who writes from the Indian point of view who does not believe that in past years the 1296 interests of India have been made subordinate to the economic interests of this country. They are not all extremists who hold that view. I had the honour of meeting at the Round Table Conference a prominent leader of the Indian Christian community, Mr. K. T. Paul, whose name is honoured in India. Since his return to India he has died, but I commend to the attention of the Committee a book that Mr. Paul wrote, "The British Connection with India," in which he expressed the opinion that in the past there has been the subordination of Indian interests to British interests economically, and he says:India is instinctively struggling to get away really from a condition which threatens her identity. To be economically dependent on another is not necessarily healthy for any nation on earth; for a vast people like us to be dependent on a vigorous, masterful, and wealthy people like the British is absolute folly. It has theoretical bearings which are of supreme importance to the soul of both peoples.9.0 p.m.
I commend Mr. Paul's words to the attention of the Committee Whether it is right or wrong, there the belief is, and it is no good lecturing these people about the advantages of the British connection. I agree with everything that has been said about the advantages of that connection. I think that Britain has given to India very great gifts, the gifts of a common language, the gifts of peace and the consciousness of unity. Those are things we can dwell upon, but when we talk to the Indian upon them, he replies that during recent years, and during the last century, there has been an exploitation of his country by England.
As a part of the Swadeshi movement, there is the Khaddar movement. I welcomed what the right hon. Member for Darwen said about the Khaddar movement. A short time ago—it was just after the Karachi resolution had been adopted—Mr. Gandhi wrote:The nation must achieve the boycott of foreign cloth, and see that the gospel of the wheel spreads through every village in India.I expect that hon. Members have done the same as I have in trying to understand something about this remarkable man, and have read what has been said about him. I have read his autobiography, and Members who have read 1297 it will have seen the chapter which he devotes to the Khaddar movement. He dwells upon the economic considerations and upon the desperate poverty of the people in India. Why the expenditure on intoxicating liquor in this country per head of the population is greater than the total income per head of the people of India. To-day it is seven or eight pounds a year, and, in addition to the problem of poverty, you have unemployment for half the year in the country districts. There is the association as Mr. Gandhi believes, of the rich and the poor, and the Khaddar movement is a protest against the industrialisation of the East. When I was speaking on India in this House on the last occasion, the hon. Member for Oxford University (Sir C. Oman) interrupted me when I mentioned Mr. Gandhi, and he referred to Mr. Gandhi's use of the word "Satanic" as if he ought to be reproved for using such a word. When Mr. Gandhi refers to Western civilisation as Satanic, he is not using a word of his own, but a word used by an English poet more than a century ago. We may scoff at the Khaddar movement as did the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping in depicting the Indian sitting in his hut turning his wheel as though he had been taken back to the Middle Ages. It would do a great deal more good to seek to understand this movement and to understand its significance than to scoff at it.
The whole assumption of this Debate, or at least the assumption underlying a great deal of the Debate, is that in the boycott there is something which is wrong and something which is a breach of faith with us. It is not so understood in India. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping said that Mr. Gandhi had asked for the boycott of British cloth. Since the agreement, Mr. Gandhi has been against the boycott of British cloth as such, but he has stood for the boycott of all foreign cloth, and he considers that that is being perfectly consistent with the arrangement with Lord Irwin. I have read one of the Indian papers in which they ask why there should be this attack upon their good faith. I ask Members of the Committee to consider what Mr. Gandhi says:I am for the boycott of all foreign cloth, and I ask my people to boycott all foreign cloth.1298 And he says:I take that line consistently with the agreement I arrived at with the Viceroy.If the argument to-day is proceeding on the assumption that Mr. Gandhi and his associates are breaking faith in boycotting foreign cloth, then it is an accusation which, I think, they would be concerned to deny. If any speech is delivered later in the Debate dealing with that subject I hope that the hon. Member will attempt to prove that those people in India who are boycotting foreign cloth, although it may be a mistaken policy, are breaking any agreement at which they have arrived.
I would commend to the notice of hon. Members the terms of the resolution that was adopted at the Karachi Conference, in which emphasis was laid upon the Khaddar Movement. We have these three classes and, as the right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) said, they converge, and it so happens that Lancashire trade suffers. If this movement came only from a group of Bombay mill-owners it would not last very long. I should not" be in the least afraid of the movement either in its effect upon this country or upon Lancashire if it depended simply upon a group of mill-owners in Bombay or elsewhere. It is much more deeply rooted than that. It is much more widespread. The pickets, as the right hon. Member for Epping told us, are very often women. Is it suggested that these women who have acted as pickets and who have stepped out of the seclusion of centuries to come into the forefront of political activity, are the paid puppets of greedy traders? I have evidence that ladies occupying the highest social position in India have associated themselves with this movement, believing, rightly or wrongly, that they are serving the best interests of their country in carrying on the boycott movement.
There is the movement, however much we may deplore it, and the question is, how are we to deal with it? You cannot deal with it by guns and bayonets. There is a difference between cotton and gun cotton. We must get away from the atmosphere of the speech of the right hon. Member for Epping, who talks about crushing Gandhism. When you do that you are talking about 1299 crushing your potential customers. Contemptuous reference has been made to Mr. Gandhi as a seditious fakir striding half naked up the steps of the Viceregal Lodge. That is not the way to encourage the Indian to buy a coat from you. When we are in that sort of atmosphere there is a temptation to take the short cut offered by the appeal to force and to fling the sword into the scale. If you talk about compulsion in India, the Indian is entitled to replyOn what compulsion must I? Tell me that?We are not going to help the situation by contemptuous speeches. One hon. Member went to my own county the other day and spoke to us about Mr. Gandhi I think one term he used about Mr. Gandhi was that he was a worn-out gaol bird. A former Member of this House who has held high office in the State spoke a few weeks ago and compared Mr. Gandhi to a political Jack-in-the-box, in and out of gaol. Whether there is any ground for these contemptuous references or not, they are certainly not likely to increase the chances of trade with this country.
§ Mr. FOOT
The attempts made by reactionaries in this country to drive a wedge between the Hindu and the Moslem is a most dangerous policy. Let me remind the hon. Member who interrupted me, if he is not already aware of it, that there was a Round Table Conference at St. James's Palace and that there were representatives of the Moslem community as well as the Hindu community. Apparently the right hon. Gentleman does not know that every Moslem taking part in that Round Table Conference demanded responsibility at the centre in India. The hon. Member apparently does not know that one of the leading spokesmen for the Moslem community virtually said this in the Round Table Conference:We, as Moslems in India, have had nothing to do with the non-co-operation campaign in the past, but if you refuse to us now the rightful responsibility that we ought to have in India, the right to govern ourselves, it means that we shall join forces with those that have been in favour of non-co-operation.
§ Mr. FOOT
I do not know how the Moslem representatives were selected, but I assume that they were representative of the Moslem community. Certainly, every Moslem representative at the Round Table Conference demanded that measure of responsibility. The Secretary of State told us of the potential demand for goods in India, and in so doing he showed us the line on which Lancashire should go. There remains a large potential demand. That demand cannot be satisfied by the mills of Bombay. You may double and treble the mills of Bombay, but they cannot satisfy that demand. Khaddar cannot satisfy it. There is a potential market there, and that potential market can be gained or lost. Emphasis upon that fact has been laid by the moderate political leaders in India. That potential market will be, in the course of years, perhaps the biggest market in the world. If you can raise the economic level of the Indian people you have a market affecting one-fifth of the population of the world. There are infinite possibilities there.
We have to remember that we have many friends in India, and we must see that we keep the friends that we have. We have enemies in India, and we ought to do what we can to turn those enemies into friends. That may be the view of a sentimentalist, but I want to know the alternative. If we are to accept the spirit of the speech of the right hon. Member for Epping, we are to prosecute those who carry on the boycott and put them again into gaol. There is nothing spectacular about the policy of trying to turn enemies into friends. There is no touch of Sidney Street about it. There is nothing of the pride and pomp and circumstance of glorious war about it, but it is the best way in the end. The position since the Irwin-Gandhi agreement was made has become very difficult. There has been a hardening of opinion. I do not know how anyone who studies the papers that come from India can avoid regarding with grave apprehension the communal differences that have arisen. Those who have been closely allied with the Government of India in past years will recognise that that gulf has to be bridged before any settlement is possible. 1301 To try and frame a constitution before that difficulty is settled, is like trying to build upon the very edge of the crater of a volcano. The most dangerous thing is to exploit the differences that exist, and I hope that there will be no attempt at this exploitation.
I was astonished to hear reference to the Depressed Classes. Do not let us exploit their case; they have to look to us for representation. Although the Debate has not been widened to that extent, I hope that there may be an assurance coming soon from the Government to the effect that in the setting up of the federal structure sub-committee there will be effective representation of the Depressed Classes. I have not time to make particular reference to the matter, but I would remind hon. Members of a meeting of that community which is reported in the "Madras Mail" of 16th April, which pressed for that representation. I have had the honour of receiving correspondence from the representatives of the Depressed Classes in India, during the last few months. I have received letters from correspondents whom I do not know and I have received other letters from those who were representatives at the Round Table Conference. They are all very anxious that in any responsible committee that is Bet up the Depressed Classes shall have adequate representation. I believe that that adequate representation is desired by His Majesty's Government and I press the claim again upon their attention.
Let me in conclusion make one reference to the concluding words of the right hon. Member for Epping, when he said that by what we had done we had made ourselves the laughing stock of the world. That was just as absolutely untrue as any other main statement in his speech. I challenge those who are his friends to find anything in the Press of the world which will support that accusation. Turn to the United States of America, and indeed to the Press of the world, and you will find that when that agreement was arrived at—instead of settling as we should have done in unhappy days our differences with India by the gun and the sword we tried to settle them by meeting round a table—all the papers of the world paid a great 1302 tribute to the part we played and to the lead we gave. This country was greater in stature after that effort. When India was discussed over a hundred years ago a great man, perhaps the greatest man in this House who ever dealt with Indian subjects, said:Depend upon it this matter is not indifferent to our fame. It will turn out a matter of great glory or great disgrace to the British nation. We are on a conspicuous stage and the whole world marks our demeanour.I believe that the world is watching today with intense interest this the biggest experiment in the history of our country. We have never had to face a task so great as the task of trying to set India on her own way to her own self-government, but I believe that work will be carried out in spite of the defeatists in India and here.
§ Commander OLIVER LOCKER-LAMPSON
The lesson of the speech of the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Foot) is that the boycott in India is to remain. The agreement between the ex-Viceroy and Mr. Gandhi is quite useless. If it does not induce any modification of the boycott why should it ever have been made? If it does not lead to peace it is a pity it should have been reached. There are two considerations which strike anyone in a Debate upon India and the first is this, that it is preposterous to call that lozenge of land in the Indian Ocean a nation at all. Why call it India? There is no such place, there should be no such name. How can you use one word to cover in conversation or to express in Debate the teeming differences of that congested continent? It is not in any sense of the word a nation—India is not one people. It is a ramping, raging mess-up of climates and nationalities and faiths and races. You might just as well call the zoological gardens England. The second undoubted fact about India is this, that no country so riven with discord and so backward in culture is entitled to govern itself yet. It is our purpose on this side of the House to see that India in the end governs herself. [Interruption.]
We must not begin a discussion on the principle of self-government. That involves legislation, and must come before the House. That will be the time to discuss that 1303 question. It cannot be discussed on this Vote.
§ Commander O. LOCKER-LAMPSON
It is obvious that India will ultimately realise greater freedom than she at present possesses, and if she wants to break away she ultimately will. But for the moment why should she be asked to walk before she is really able to waddle. It is our duty to teach India control, and to guarantee before all things order. It is not illegitimate to point out that up to now His Majesty's Government have not maintained order in India. Hon. Members opposite forget all that we have done for India. The other day Mr. Gandhi made a speech attacking our missionaries and saying that he did not wish to see them there any longer. In that connection I should like to remind the Committee of all that we owe to the British connection in India, and particularly to the missionaries. I remember the days when the car of Juggernaut was driven by Hindus through their villages and children thrown in front of it in the name of the Hindu gods. Only recently I read accounts of widow-burning. Who put a stop to that? It was the British connection, reinforced by the missionary spirit. Follow it up. Mr. Gandhi I believe was married at the age of 12 or 13. Child marriages were contracted at an earlier age still before we arrived upon the scene and started reform.
It is not for me to urge the claims doctrinally of religion. Let us leave out of the question all the dogmas of Catholics or Protestants and Nonconformists. The fact still remains that a Christian spirit has worked through our Government in India. [An HON. MEMBER: "Hong Kong!"] It may not be fully working in Hong Kong, but I hope the present Government, which is a Christian Government, will find a remedy for the grievances in Hong Kong. That spirit has for generations underlain British democracy, and the Christian doctrine of equality underpins the foundation of our rule. When Mr. Gandhi talks about tyranny and slaves, the truth is that he is living in a glass house. It is not for him to offer to release India from the so-called British yoke when he keeps 60,000,000 of his coreligionists in the foulest spiritual fetters.
§ Mr. FOOT
Surely the hon. and gallant Member will be fair to Mr. Gandhi and remember that he has protested against untouchability, and has said that it must be abolished. He has himself associated with the untouchables and has said that swaraji is impossible until the stain of untouchability has been wiped out.
§ Commander LOCKER-LAMPSON
I know that, and we all know that he has declared against untouchability. But he has never done anything in the whole of his life. [Interruption.] He has also declared against murder, but he has been in the end responsible for endless murders. He is not an honest liberator until he emancipates the people of his own religion. I am the last person in this House to advocate the use of force. Nothing would be more futile, just as nothing would be easier. We have only to think how easy it would be to press a button and set in motion an organisation which could crush opposition in India into a pulp. Nobody wants that, and nobody has ever suggested it. It was a crime on the part of His Majesty's Government to permit extensive boycotting and the conditions which produced riots in Cawnpore. The boycott must cease, and we must maintain order as a Government should in what is still a dependency of the Crown.
I should like to ask whether there is any truth in the persistent rumour that the Soviet of Russia is assisting agitation in India? It is worth noting that before the Government recognised the Soviet, the name of Mr. Gandhi had not been heard in India for years. But the moment Soviet agents were allowed to come here with sealed bags from Russia and special privileges, sedition raised its head throughout the British Empire. The long arm of Moscow reaches even to Calcutta. To-day the Red rouble is current in India, and Moscow money would be found even in the pockets of Mr. Gandhi if he happened to wear trousers. If Moscow is not advancing money, there are other interests which are. The local capitalists in India who produce shoddy goods at sweated prices desire nothing more than the expulsion of the British. Mr. Gandhi belongs to the shopkeeper class, and the millionaire mill-owners are backing him in order to get rid of our competition. Why did we start to rescue India from savagery if we are going to let her slip back now 1305 into the clutches of a hateful priestcraft, re-enforced by the vilest form of capitalist exploitation?
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I thought the hon. and gallant Member for Handsworth (Commander O. Locker-Lampson), having succeeded in upsetting the Russian Government, had turned his attention to India, but, apparently, his speech was only leading up to another attack, even on the India Office Vote, on his bete noire in Moscow. He will forgive me if I do not follow him in his arguments. Nor will I follow the speech of the hon. Member or Bodmin (Mr. Foot), except to say that I find myself more in agreement with him than usual, though I think he had better square yards with the right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) and the hon. Member for the Blackley Division of Manchester (Mr. P. Oliver). He was at variance with them on the main issue. We have seen one of those extraordinary changes that come over Parliaments. It has been exemplified in the first two speeches from the Liberal benches, though we were reminded of the position of that party in critical Divisions a few weeks ago. The Liberal party is beginning to have doubts on India, and it is because of Lancashire.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I leave the hon. Member to square yards, because the two speeches I refer to were diametrically opposed to his. I am sorry the Secretary of State for India was not here to listen to the speech of the hon. Member for the Blackley Division from the Liberal benches. It was the most reactionary oration I have so far heard. The speech of the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) was mild and the milk of human kindness compared with the speech of the hon. Member for Blackley. The reason is that Lancashire is being hard hit. I am sorry to think the hon. Member for Bodmin may be misrepresented in India as having encouraged, excused and apologised for the boycott, but Lancashire is being very hard hit, and we see the effect on the Liberal and Conservative benches. The speech of the right hon. Member for Epping was cheered by everyone on the crowded Front Opposition bench, with the one exception of the right hon. Member 1306 for Bewdley (Mr. S. Baldwin). An extraordinary change has come over the House. I did disagree with one small point in the speech of the hon. Member for Bodmin when he spoke about the boycott dating from the time of the Epistle of St. Paul to the Ephesians. He left out the Cromwellian period and came to St. Paul, but I would refer him to the 20th Chapter of Judges, where he will see what happened to the tribe of Benjamin:And all the people arose as one man, saying, 'We will not any of us go to his tent, neither will we any of us turn into his house.'Here is the earliest recorded example of the boycott I can find. It is an ancient weapon, and none the less painful for that. Undoubtedly, it is a most unfortunate position which has arisen, but that did not justify the speech of the right hon. Member for Epping. I resent very much, as a fairly old Parliamentary hand, that the right hon. Gentleman should come down to this House and make a flambuoyant and mischievous speech, and then absent himself from the Chamber for the rest of the Sitting. It is not respectful to you, Mr. Dunnico, or to the House or to Parliament. It is a growing practice which should be resented by all Members who have any respect for the traditions of Parliament. Nevertheless, I must refer to the gross inaccur-racies in the right hon. Gentleman's speech. He accused the Secretary of State for India of having elevated Mr. Gandhi to the highest position he has reached. That is nonsensical. During the time of the Coalition Government, Mr. Gandhi was in the Khalifat agitation. I was a Member of the House, and remember it very well. I had a great deal of sympathy with it, because I thought Turkey was beng treated abominably. Mr. Gandhi spoke for the united Hindu and Moslem nationalists, and he was in a far more powerful position than at present. Only a section of Moslems support him now.
The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the unfortunate events in Cawnpore. I do not want to go into details, but he referred to it as being the greatest massacre which had happened in India since the Mutiny. It was, at any rate, the terrible result of passions let loose, but there was a very calculated and deliberate massacre, in which the casualties 1307 were very heavy, in the days when he was a leading Member of the Government responsible for the Government of India, namely, the massacre and shooting at Amritsar. The right hon. Gentleman atacked the Indian capitalists and exploiters. They are probably the worst sweaters of labour in the world, but when did the right hon. Gentleman, during his long and variegated career, raise the cause of Indian labourers? He is making use of them now only as a political weapon. In this House we remember in former Parliaments we could hardly get a hearing for the Indian labourers. The present Lord Privy Seal and others of us have championed them in opposition. When Mr. Saklatvala was in the House, he raised that question, and what help did he or we get from hon. Gentlemen opposite? I remember Mr. Saklatvala being almost turned out of the House for protesting that there was no Supply day for India during a whole year.
It ill-becomes hon. Gentlemen opposite suddenly to discover that low wages are paid in Indian mills and long hours worked. They talk of all the good we have done in India in past years and the benefits we have showered on India, and yet in the next breath an hon. Member refers to the disgraceful condition of sweating in the Indian mills. We have nothing to be proud in the treatment we have allowed to the Indian labourer during the Industrial Revolution just beginning in India. I am very glad that the hon. Member for Bodmin pressed on the Secretary of State the need for having the depressed classes represented at the resumption of the Federal Structure Committee, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will pay attention to that matter. I hope also that he will be good enough to see that the Anglo-Indian community, 5,000,000 strong and mostly Christians, who have served us well in India, and without whom we could hardly have been able to carry on the administration of railways, posts and telegraphs in India, will be represented on the Federal Committee.
I do not know whether the Secretary of State is going to wind up the Debate. I am sorry that he did not wait to speak later, for he might then have answered the right hon. Member for Epping. My right hon. Friend spoke of painting the 1308 picture with a wide brush, but we heard little of future plans. I was delighted on Monday with his statement about the Indian Air Force. It is an administrative matter and one of those great problems by the handling of which our sincerity will be judged. As long as India has to bear the reproach that she is not able to defend herself, hon. Gentlemen opposite will have an excuse for preventing a full realisation of the national aspiration of the Indian people. I am not now talking about extremists or anarchists in India, but of the great mass of the Indian people who want this Parliament to fulfil its pledges to them. I was glad to hear from the Secretary of State that he is going forward with the formation of an Indian Air Force. Six Indian officers are already being trained at Cranwell. How long will it take at that rate. When is there to be an Air Force college in India? I have been talking in this House at intervals for two years on the subject of the training of Indian officers in India for the Army. There is the question of the North-West Frontier and aggression from the west and north beyond the frontier. Looking 50 years ahead one can see that the Air Force will have to defend the Indian plains from attack from that direction if it ever threatens.
I was delighted also with one sentence in the speech of the right hon. Member for Darwen. The speech as a whole was of the type of the tight-rope walker. Every Lancashire Member who supports the Government must walk on a tight rope. The right hon. Member pressed for the policy of the Round Table Conference to be carried as soon as possible to a conclusion. I hope that the Secretary of State will tell us a little about what is being done and why there is so long a delay. Every letter that I receive from India from those who wish this country well and yet are patriotic Indians who want a peaceful solution—every letter tells me that the continued delay is doing harm. What is happening? When are we to know definitely the date of the reassembly of the Federal Structure Committee? Are we really helping our friends in India to settle outstanding questions there? We have had too much Gandhi in this Debate—some very gross abuse of that very remarkable man and a great deal of unnecessary adulation. If Mr. Gandhi decides that he is unable 1309 to attend the Round Table Conference, I hope that the Conference will continue just the same, and that without swerving we will pursue the policy that we have set before this House and India.
Over a year ago I said in this House, and I repeat, that the solution of the Indian problem would be a test of nerves. I hope we will have the nerve to follow it through. I hope that we are not going to be put off by any apparent difficulties or the failure of any person, however distinguished, to come to the Conference. If the idea is spread in India that we will do anything to persuade Mr. Gandhi or other representatives of Congress to come here, a peaceful solution of the problem will be impossible. If it is known that we will pay any price in order to get the representatives of what is only one section, though a very large section, of political opinion in India, to come here and discuss these matters, we will never get a fair and just solution. There are two sections in the Congress, just as there are in most parties, as there are in the Conservative party in this country, and if the extremists in the Congress come to the conclusion that we are really on the run and that we will do anything to get their participation in the Conference, we shall defeat the end that we seek to accomplish.
We have heard a great deal about the boycott. I still think that that part of the Irwin-Gandhi agreement that permitted the continuance of the so-called economic boycott was a mistake. Events have proved it. Nevertheless the policy of the White Paper and of the conversations, apart from that, was absolutely right, and in any case we have to continue it. I think that the late Viceroy's policy was absolutely the right policy in all the circumstances, though I believe that a mistake was made over legalising and recognising the boycott. Of course it was difficult to foretell how it would work out. Nevertheless we have to go ahead now, and the question is what is to be done? I have listened to speech after speech on this subject. We cannot force our goods on India. The proposal of the hon. Member for Blackley that we should deprive her of fiscal autonomy I think was absurd. We have to make clear to India, once and for all, two things: First of all that the days when we looked upon India as a milch 1310 cow, to use the polite phraseology of someone on the Opposition side, have passed, and no responsible party in this House would think of pursuing any such policy of exploitation. In this connection I wish the Secretary of State would look into the question of publicity in India. There is at present no way of giving proper expression to our ease, and the vernacular Press distorts the Debates in this House and the policy of the Government in a most terrible way.
Then, secondly, we really ought to send a message from all sides of the House, and especially from the moderate section of the Conservative party in this House, that a continuance of the boycott, not in Mr. Gandhi's form but as actually carried out by means of social pressure and persecution, is upsetting public opinion in this country and poisoning the atmosphere for the very difficult negotiations that lie ahead of us. We of the Labour party have taken great political risks in connection with this question. The members of the Cabinet, every one of them, have taken their political lives in their hands as regards this matter, and this party has been prepared, and is prepared I believe, when it comes to the point, to fight for its political life on the Indian question for what we think is just and right. But we expect a generous response from reasonable people in India. It must be understood that we mean business. We must show India that we mean business, that is to fulfil our pledges and that we expect generosity and friendliness on the other side. While Indians can advocate the purchase of their own goods, let them remember that on the hoardings of this country we have posters issued by the Empire Marketing Board calling on our people to buy Indian goods as Empire goods in preference to foreign goods. I am sorry that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in replies to questions sometimes talks about British cloth as foreign cloth. It is not foreign cloth; it is British, and let it go in and compete fairly with other cloth. I believe that this question will have to be dealt with on the lines which I have tried, inadequately no doubt, to indicate, if we are to come to a fairly early conclusion of this difficult business. The suggestions which I have made to the Secretary of State have not been 1311 made in any unfriendly spirit and I beg of my right hon. Friend to do me the honour of considering them.
§ Mr. FIELDEN
As representing a constituency which is closely associated with the marketing of the cotton goods of this country, and as a spinner and manufacturer myself, I have been interested in listening to this Debate which seems to have spread over the cotton trade generally as well as the Indian cotton trade in particular. We have been told how we ought to manufacture our cotton goods, and how we ought to sell them, and no doubt the suggestions which have been made are valuable, although they are not novel. But they have not thrown any light on how the present position with regard to the cotton trade can be helped. It has been suggested by some speakers that the Indian part of the cotton trade is rapidly recovering, that workpeople are being called back to their looms and that the number of unemployed is rapidly falling. I can only say that on the Manchester Exchange we have no knowledge of these large orders which are said to be coming forward from India, and there do not seem to have been any large purchases of cotton on the Liverpool cotton market. Therefore, although we trust that those suggestions of improvement in the trade will materialise in the near future, we must in the meantime live on hope.
It has been suggested, and certain figures have been given to support the suggestion, that the export trade to India is improving. I can only say that in the first three or four months of this year the export of cotton cloth from this country to India was one-quarter of what it was in the corresponding period of 1929, and about one-third of what it was in the corresponding period of 1930, and that fact does not seem to contain much hope for the Lancashire cotton trade. The falling-off in the export of Lancashire cotton goods in the first four months of this year is, undoubtedly, due to a very large extent to the boycott in India. We regret that boycott, and we regret the action of the Indian Government in raising the duties against Lancashire cotton goods. But although we have regretted those things we, in Lancashire, have always felt that if all the other countries which manufacture 1312 cotton goods and export them to India were treated in the same way, we could not blame the Government. In those circumstances, while we might regret the fact that they had allowed these high increases of the duties, we could not say that we had been treated unfairly.
An agreement was come to between Lord Irwin and Mr. Gandhi some months ago and it was, undoubtedly, understood that, as a result of that agreement, the boycott on cotton goods would be removed, but that result has not eventuated. What the words of the agreement were I cannot say, but certainly that was the understanding. That was the accepted interpretation, but the boycott has not been removed. We know definitely that in the last few months Japanese goods have been able to get past that boycott and into India, whereas British goods have been stopped. We know also that the Indian mills cannot produce the quantity of cloth for which there is a demand at the present time in India. I do not say that that demand is a continuing demand, but there is a market in India for cloth and we cannot get our cloth there because of the boycott.
When this agreement between Mr. Gandhi and the late Viceroy—or the other way about—was come to, it was understood that the boycott would be called off, and we thought that the Government, having a new tool put into their hands in the form of that agreement, would do something to help the Lancashire trade. As far as we can find out, and as far as information has been vouchsafed by right hon. Gentlemen opposite, they do not appear to have done much in that direction. We in Lancashire are not satisfied that that power has been used by the Government to push forward Lancashire productions. We know that Lancashire productions are being treated in India entirely different from either Continental or Japanese production, and knowing that the right hon. Gentleman has this instrument in his hand—this agreement—we have a feeling that we in Lancashire are not having a fair deal.
§ Sir SAMUEL HOARE
The issue that we are discussing to-day is far greater than a Lancashire issue or even a British trade issue. Lancashire has a very strong case, a case that has just been 1313 made with great knowledge and experience by my hon. Friend the Member for the Exchange Division of Manchester (Mr. Fielden). Indeed, I do not remember in my experience any question that has so completely united Lancashire opinion, employers and operatives, Free Traders and Protectionists, Conservatives, Socialists, and Liberals, as this question of the cotton boycott. The Lancashire Members have a very strong case, a case so strong that I am certain that in the long run it cannot be ignored by this House or by public opinion outside. They come to us to-day, not as beggars to put their industry upon the dole, but as claimants for justice and fair treatment.
Suppose that their case was turned down, suppose that the Government here gave them no support—and let me say in passing that the speech of the Secretary of State for India was very cold comfort to them—and suppose that the Government of India, unsupported by the Government in Whitehall, ignored their demand for justice and fair treatment. I believe that even then, even in the face of almost insuperable difficulties, the enterprise and the hereditary skill of Lancashire and British trade would still in the long run find new markets for their goods outside India. But while Lancashire and Great Britain would have found new markets for our goods irrevocable damage would have been worked by the acts of Indian agitators upon any chance of a political agreement between Great Britain and India.
This is the real issue of our Debate. Is there or is there not sufficient good will in India to-day to make possible an advance on the lines that were discussed by the Hound Table Conference last January? Without this good will, without this good faith, no agreement is possible; without a willingness to give and take, without a respect for the spirit of an agreement even more than for the letter, without practical common sense that will try to work the very difficult machine of government, the proposals that we were discussing last January at the Bound Table Conference are no better than waste paper.
Let me recall to the House in a few sentences the nature of the constitutional scheme that we were then discussing, and hon. Members will see at 1314 once the bearing of these discussions upon the issue that we are here to discuss this evening. We were attempting to create the framework of the most complicated constitution that has ever been devised by human brains. We are dealing with a population of 350,000,000, composed of scores of different races and of different religions, and we were asked by almost every one of the Indian representatives to apply to this huge, heterogeneous territory principles of government that we have employed in this small, homogeneous, politically educated, thickly populated Great Britain. The problem bristles with difficulties on every side. How, for instance, could you have in India what we understand here by Parliamentary government when, if direct election were insisted upon, a single constituency would contain a population of a million, spread, it may be, over a tract as big as the whole of this country? How again could you have what we understand by responsible government in a country where there are no parties, and where some of the Ministers would be responsible to the Viceroy and some to the Assembly, while some of them would be elected by the British Indian constituencies and others nominated by the Princes and each of the great minorities, particularly the Moslems, would probably demand representation in the Cabinet proportionate to their numbers and influence in the country?
I have only to state questions of this kind to show to the Committee the exceptional difficulties with which we in this House and people in Great Britain and India are faced when we come to discuss the question of constitutional advance. They are far greater difficulties than any that confronted the framers of any of the other constitutions in the history of the British Commonwealth. Take, for instance, the case of the British North America Act, or the cases of the Commonwealth of Australia Act or the South Africa Union Act. Hon. Members will see at a glance that the problem in those cases was far simpler than the problem with which we are faced in dealing with India, yet I maintain that even in those comparatively homogeneous communities, even in those communities where the difficulties were obviously far less, without 1315 good will, without good faith, without common sense, not one of those constitutions could have worked at all. How much greater then is the need for this good will and good faith in the case of a constitution, as I have said, which is the most complicated that has ever been considered by the wit of man, let alone in the experience of the British Commonwealth.
During those discussions I was never convinced that the kind of system that would apply to this island would really work in the very different conditions of British India and of the Indian Commonwealth. I was not convinced, and I made my doubts perfectly clear at the time of the Conference—
The right hon. Gentleman is perfectly in order in indicating the magnitude of the problem, but it would not be proper on this Vote to discuss the practicability of it.
§ Sir S. HOARE
Of course, I accept your Ruling, but I think that you will see that in my next sentence I shall bring this back into direct relation with the issue we are discussing. I was saying that I was never convinced that this kind of constitution could work in India. I may be right or wrong, but I am convinced that, when the discussions are again resumed, I shall be right in one thing, namely, that a constitution of this kind is so complicated, that without good will it is impossible to expect it to work. If therefore, a section of Indian politicians attempt to exploit an agreement of that kind, as it seems to me a section of Congress have attempted to exploit the far simpler Gandhi-Irwin agreement, I am quite certain that there is no possibility of advance at the present time upon the lines of the Bound Table Conference, and that, whether we wish it or not, we shall have to postpone the question of that advance until the atmosphere is calmer and until common sense, good faith and good will have regained the ground that they have lost.
I do not raise these difficulties in order to put obstacles in the way of future advance. I raise them because, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Sir P. Cunliffe-Lister) said earlier in the Debate, I believe that it is much better to face realities, and that no true friend 1316 to the interests either of British India or of this country can afford to put his head in the sands and imply that difficulties of this kind do not actually exist. Since the Conference ended its sittings, we have had many causes for anxiety in this Parliament. Some of them have been alluded to in the course of this Debate. The question of safeguards, for instance, that played so prominent a part in our discussions, has, since the end of the Round Table Conference, been pushed in India into the background. The case again, of fair treatment to British trade has not only been ignored, but in certain cases has actually been repudiated. It played a prominent part in our discussions of last January, and in the report of the Federal Relations Committee a paragraph was inserted stating that agreement had been reached upon the basis of no unfair discrimination against British trade. Since then we have seen the instance of the boycott, and we have seen more than one member of the Bound Table Conference repudiate the agreement that we seemed to have reached last January.
Again, communal trouble has become far more bitter since the Conference ended its deliberations. The state of Burma has bcome, so far as we can judge from the scanty information at our disposal, very serious. At the time of the Conference, we were told that of all the questions we were to consider, the question of Burma was the simplest, and that we were only to agree to the separation of Burma from India, and the question would be settled. Since then we have seen a series of very disquieting events taking place in Burma, and the time has come for this House to receive far fuller information on the subject than we have received up to the present time. All this time, we have had the disquieting feeling that, while these serious events have been taking place in India, there has been a drift in Whitehall, and that there has been hesitation and vacillation where resolute action was urgently called for. How can you expect resolution at Simla and Delhi when there is this drift in Whitehall? When the Round Table Conference ended, the one need was for swift and resolute action. Our discussions had been ended in the middle, no details had been investigated, and only 1317 the framework of a scheme had been sketched.
From every point of view, it was all important that the Government should decide upon the next step to be taken, and should take it at once without uncertainty or hesitation. A policy of drift inevitably meant the evaporation of the good will which we were trying to create and the destruction of the moderates who represented India at the Round Table Conference instead of pushing on at once with the administrative work that should have followed the Conference, the Government lost time and opportunity that may never recur. They should at once, for instance, have set up inquiries without which the work of the Conference could not usefully proceed. What did they do? Nothing of any kind for many months. They should at once have decided upon their attitude towards the communal trouble. Without a settlement of that trouble, nine-tenths of our constitutional discussions are completely abortive. Are the Government going to intervene to settle the trouble or are they not? If they are going to intervene, let them say so. If they are not, how do they propose to deal with the hundred-and-one questions that depend upon a communal agreement, and must, if they are unsettled, make the Round Table Conference abortive.
The Government should at once have taken the federal issue a long step further. When the Conference adjourned, we did not know how many princes were coming into the federal scheme, when they were coming in, or upon what terms they were coming in. These questions are vital to any constitutional settlement, but what have the Government done since to bring them to a decision? This dismal drift has obviously had an unfortunate reaction in India. It has had an equally bad reaction on public opinion in Great Britain. Let the Government now bring this chapter to an end, and let them state clearly what is their immediate policy. Is it or is it not the intention of the Government to hold resolutely to the safeguards upon which the British delegations insisted in January, and to treat that question as finally settled, and not open to discussion when the conference resumes its work? It is inconceivable to me that the Federal Relations Committee or the 1318 Round Table Conference can resume its deliberations upon any other basis. Let the Secretary of State make this position clear to-night and we shall know where we are.
Secondly, is it or is it not the intention of the Government to insist upon the spirit as well as the letter of the Gandhi-Irwin agreement, and to use their full influence against the victimisation of Lancashire traders? It is very necessary that we should press those questions upon the Secretary of State. On 25th March he told us, as the right hon. Member for Hendon reminded us earlier, that it is clearly laid down in the Gandhi-Irwin settlement that pressure and coercion are to cease. Have pressure and coercion ceased? Up to now we have had no answer from the right hon. Gentleman to the overwhelming case made by my right hon. Friend. My right hon. Friend produced instance after instance of pressure and coercion being used. Does the right hon. Gentleman still adhere to the statement he made on 25th March, and, if he does adhere to it, what steps is he taking to implement the undertaking he then gave?
The Secretary of State made a speech full of statistics and figures as to the general course of British trade, but he will permit me to say that he made no answer to the charges about picketing and boycotting. I understand the right hon. Gentleman is going to speak at the end of the Debate. May I invite him to deal in greater detail with the actual cases brought to the notice of the Committee, exceedingly strong cases, so I thought, upon which he scarcely said a word in his earlier speech? Let me remind him once again that this question of trade boycotting and picketing is really the acid test as to whether or not there is sufficient good will and common-sense in India to make possible the kind of constitutional advance we were discussing last January. Then, again, is it the intention of the Government that the Federal Relations Committee should resume its deliberations in the near future? If it is their intention, when is it proposed that the Committee should start again, and how are the deliberations to be of any real use as long as the atmosphere of the communal controversy is as bitter as it is to-day? How, 1319 for instance, can we even discuss such questions as the franchise, the constituencies, the boundaries of the provinces, provincial autonomy, and, most important of all, the responsibility of the executive at the centre, until there is some measure of communal agreement? How can we usefully renew our discussion of all-India federation unless we know clearly and definitely upon what terms, in what numbers and at what time the Princes are entering the federal system.
Let the Secretary of State give us definite information on these all important points, and he will not only be making it more possible for Members of the Opposition to co-operate in the future work of the Hound Table Conference, but he will be helping to remove a growing feeling of doubt and depression that is weakening the nerve of the Government of India, and creating dismay among thousands of Britons and Indians who, while they are willing to work for constitutional agreement, are not prepared to endanger the foundations on which our splendid and beneficent work in India has been raised. By this means let us restore the spirit of good will that we were trying to foster at St. James's Palace last year. At the opening of the Pound Table Conference, the Aga Khan, speaking as the chairman of the whole of the British-Indian delegation, used the following words:We ask von to promise us the framework,"—he was addressing the British members of the Conference, and he proceeded:If the picture that we are to paint on it is unsatisfactory to any of the important minorities, or to the princes, or to a small section of the minorities, we will try again, and if we fail we will try again, and we will continue trying until we produce something that will be generally satisfactory. I for one am particularly anxious"—I am quoting the Aga Khan's exact words—that it shall be in a form that will ensure that not only every Indian minority but the British commercial element in India shall be satisfied that their interests are safe in our hands. As to the interests in this country"—here he is speaking of Great Britain—a united India could offer her far greater security as to her commercial interests than 1320 anything that she has at present; could offer her a long-dated treaty on the lines of the German-Russian treaty of 1904.I will repeat those words:Could offer her a long-dated treaty on the lines of the Russian treaty of 1904. For many years that would ensure your commerce fair and equitable treatment, and that would give your people a sense of security.That is the spirit that inspires those words with which we can all co-operate. Without it neither trade will flourish nor can any constitution envisaged on the lines of the Round Table Conference come to fruition. Let British India follow the lead of the Chairman of her own delegation at the Round Table Conference, and Great Britain will not be slow to respond to an atmosphere of friendship and co-operation, peace and good will, reason and common sense.
§ Miss RATHBONE
By your courtesy, Mr. Chairman, and that of the right hon. Gentleman, I am permitted live minutes in which to bring before the Committee an aspect of Indian administration which has not been touched upon at all to-day. I refer to the administration, or non-administration, of the Sarda Act in restraint of child marriage. It is a short time in which to develop a large theme. Briefly, the Act has a long history behind it. It was the outcome of a report which revealed the fact that nearly one-half of the total number of Indian girls are married before the age of 15, with results so terrible that we are faced with a maternal death-rate which has no counterpart in the present history of the world—a death-rate which involves the deaths in childbirth, on a moderate estimate, of at least 126,000 mothers per annum, or 14 in every hour of the day. That Act was the result of an agitation following the report of the committee to which I have referred, but, unfortunately, while it should have come into force on the 1st April last year, that date coincided with the outbreak of the worst period of civil disobedience. The result was that the Act was practically a dead letter, and the Government—it is not for me to judge them, but I think the fact is admitted—made practically no attempt to carry the Act into force.
It cannot be said, however, that the result of the Act was nil; it was far worse than that. The fact that this Act was on the Statute Book became widely 1321 known to the masses in India, and they believed, poor fools, that the Government meant business, and that the Act would be enforced; and so they hastened to marry off infant sons and daughters while there was time. When I mentioned to one of the most respected delegates at the Bound Table Conference that I had heard that there were thousands of these marriages, he interrupted me and said, "No, millions." That may not be literally true, but it shows the general impression. Therefore, there was the double evil of this enormously increased number of child marriages, which were likely to swell the future maternal mortality of India, and the loss to British prestige that arose from the knowledge that this Act could be flouted I with impunity.
My object in rising is to put this question to the Secretary of State. Now that, as he told us the other day, there is nothing that hinders the operation of the ordinary law in India at the present time, and the ordinary law has been put into force, does that apply to the Sarda Act, and do the Government intend to administer that Act; and, equally, is it in tended to carry out the important administrative provisions, such as better vital statistics and the issue of marriage and birth certificates, which were enumerated by the Joshi Committee as essential to the effective administration of the Act. I believe that this is a question which affects most vitally, not only the welfare of Indian women, but the prestige of British rule. I would further ask the Secretary of State whether the Government are not going to give to the women of India the chance to speak for themselves and to safeguard the rights of their own sex, by giving them representation on the Federal Structure Committee and on every other Committee that has to do with the formation and working of the future Constitution of India?
§ Mr. BENN
It is a matter of very great regret to me, although, of course, I am not in any way to blame, that the hon. Lady the Member for the English Universities (Miss Rathbone) should not have had a longer opportunity of ventilating this extremely important subject. However, I will give her all the information that I can concerning it. The Act came into force on the 1st April last year, and it is operated on complaint; that is to 1322 say, the initiative does not, as I understand it, rest with the Government, but rests upon a complaint being made within a certain time of an infringement of the Act, and when such complaints are made they will be attended to in accordance with the Act. I am certain that the other matters which the hon. Lady mentioned—the marriage register, notification of births and so on—will have been brought to the notice of the local governments by the Joshi Committee, and will have been sympathetically considered. I would add that for the operation of this and many other important and most desirable humane reforms we must look to the support of enlightened Indian public opinion. The author of this Act was himself an Indian, and there are signs that that opinion is growing; and certainly its growth and its strength to promote advance in matters of this kind will be fostered by the Government in every way that is possible.
As far as the personnel of the Round Table Conference is concerned, that matter is being carefully considered, and I would remind the hon. Lady that on the Conference last time, and on some of the most important committees, including the Minorities Committee, the Government invited the attendance of two Indian ladies, who discharged their duties to the admiration of all.
Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that the Act is being put into effective operation by the authorities responsible for so doing—that is the provincial governments?
§ Miss RATHBONE
Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us in how many cases the Act has actually been operated, because the one case that was reported to the Minister was one month, and a telegram was immediately sent ordering that the prisoner should be released.
§ Mr. BENN
If I am right in saying the Act is operated on complaints, perhaps the hon. Lady will give me time to make inquiries whether any complaints have been made. I must also say that misrepresentation has caused us a great deal 1323 of trouble, and in the case of the trouble in the North West, at Peshawar, it was largely misrepresentation of the purpose of the Act that was the cause of the disturbances that were created among the Mohammedan population in that quarter.
I should like to reply to the questions that were put by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare). First of all, I will deal with the question of the Agreement. The case is quite fairly stated in paragraphs 6 and 7 of the Agreement, which is a bilateral Agreement. We undertake to encourage Indian manufactures, and they undertake that persons must be left free, without any form of restraint, to change their attitude if they so desire. Further, boycotting is dealt with under paragraph 7. I repeat that there is nothing in the Agreement that permits any act to be done which is or has been at any time unlawful. The ordinary law operates, and if cases are brought to the notice of the Government, or to me, which imply an infringement of the law, I will undertake to see that they are investigated and that the law is put into operation. What I have attempted to show in my speech is that you are really dealing with a form of strong national feeling which does not and cannot come within the purview of the ordinary law. It is simply not susceptible to treatment. It is a psychology. The right way to deal with it is by creating a better feeling.
§ Sir S. HOARE
Does the right hon. Gentleman consider that the cases quoted by my right hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Sir P. Cunliffe-Lister) are in harmony with the pledge that he gave and with the letter and the spirit of the Agreement of 25th March?
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
It is not a question of what Mr. Gandhi wishes or is trying to do. This is a position for which the Government of India are responsible. Is it or is it not a fact to-day that people are being restrained 1324 from buying as they wish? That is the whole issue. It is a question of fact.
§ Mr. BENN
Perhaps in the circumstances comments of that kind may be put on one side. The right hon. Member for Chelsea spoke about delay at this end and failure to get ahead with our work. I should not be concerned to defend the Government or my Department if we had been guilty of delay, because I am just as eager as I know he is to pursue the work which we carried to such a successful point in the autumn and winter of last year. I would remind him of the dates. I do not want to make a defence because I want to get on, as he does, but I would remind him of the series of dates. On the 19th January, Conference closed; 5th March Irwin-Gandhi conversations were completed; between those dates the return of the conference delegates and the meetings that ensued; the Karachi meeting about the end of March, and then on the 18th April the change of Viceroys. We are now at the 13th May, so I think one can justifiably say events have moved rather rapidly. I do not think that a charge of wilful or careless delay can really be made against us, but the difficulties, as he knows perfectly well, are very great. We want as soon as possible to re-establish direct contact with the delegates who came to the Bound Table Conference. That was the secret of our success last time, and that, I am sure, is the secret of success in this problem.
The right hon. Gentleman asked me what is the basis on which the Conference is to be resumed. The basis on which the Conference is to be resumed is set out very clearly in paragraph 2 of the statement of conversations between the Viceroy and Mr. Gandhi. I will not read it, because it is very familiar. It is a carefully drawn paragraph, and is the basis on which conversations will be renewed 1325 between ourselves and the Indian delegates to the Conference.
§ Mr. BRACKEN
In view of the instructions given to Mr. Gandhi by Congress at their meeting at Karachi, which definitely cut across and totally denied the safeguards contained in this paragraph, can the right hon. Gentleman obtain an assurance, or a reassurance, from Mr. Gandhi that he does accept the safeguards, and, if he does not give such reassurance, will the right hon. Gentleman make up his mind that Mr. Gandhi is not invited to the Conference?
§ Mr. BENN
I am sure I cannot accept the hon. Member's advice. I am not called upon to explain everything which is said either in India or in this country. I am called upon to explain a document which is the official basis of the reassembly of the Conference. It is a document to which both sides were parties, and in paragraph 2 of that document, the basis of the resumed Conference is laid down, and beyond that I can say no more. The right hon. Getleman said that he was eager to get on with the work. We share his eagerness. There is a great deal of work to be done before the Conference can come to a fruitful conclusion. There is the very difficult question of the two communities. We desire that the Communal question should be settled by the Communities concerned. We do not regard it as a matter in which we should interfere as between the Mohammedans, the Hindus and the Sikhs. We wish them to settle the question among themselves. Some time must be given for them to make the attempt, and in the attempt to come to a just settlement they have our best wishes. The difficulty of a settlement is an inherent obstacle, for the existence of which we are not responsible.
Another question that requires attention is the problem with which the Princes have to deal in considering their place in the new federation. They have to consider not only the question of what are to be federal subjects but what is to be the structure of the centre. There is also the question of the allocation of seats as between the Princes themselves and the major States and the minor States. This matter was discussed in the Chamber of Princes, and the omens were good. The delegates who came to London as the representatives of the Princes had their 1326 actions endorsed, and the Chamber passed a Resolution empowering the delegation to go on with the work of the Conference. To that extent the progress is good. In the same way, the Chief of Sangli reported with regard to the smaller States. We have been industriously pursuing the matter. A questionnaire has been circulated with a view to gathering the opinion of the States on the important question of the allocation of seats between the minor and major States and between the States generally. We are not taking a hand in this work unless we are asked. We are quite willing to help if we are asked. In the meantime the Princes are considering the question among themselves.
A committee is either at work now or will very soon start to deal with the question of the Indian Sandhurst and the Indianisation of the Army. That, I think, answers the question put by the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull. It is recognised in India that this question, which is very near to the hearts of the Indians who came to the Conference, has been very promptly tackled. The hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull also asked me about the Air Force. That question is being considered by a committee, and the question of a training college, which is naturally germane to it, will be considered by the same committee. I hope that information will satisfy the hon. and gallant Member.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware that the Skeene Committee sat about five years ago on this question? Are we no further advanced?
§ Mr. BENN
The hon. and gallant Member must be aware that the Defence Committee of the Conference recommended that a committee should inquire into this matter, and the members of the Conference had no sooner got back to India than the Government announced that such a committee would be set up, and it has been set up. After all, we must have a plan if we are going to do the work.
§ Mr. BENN
I am trying to answer the questions which the right hon. Gentleman has put to me. [Interruption.] He 1327 has asked what has been done during this time and I am trying to answer him. A committee has been set up, or is about to be set up to deal with the arrangements of the North West Frontier. That is a question that is very dear to the Conference, and that committee is in process either of getting to work or is immediately about to begin its work. A committee has also been set up to deal with the severance of the Province of Sind from Bombay. That is a matter of great importance. Technical inquiries which do not involve deliberation—namely, the collection of material for the services of the Conference when it meets—have been actively pursued without remission since the Conference adjourned. I hope that I have been able to assure the Committee, not in any spirit of defence of my Department, but in order that it may be understood that we fully realise the desire which exists in all parts to get on with this work, that we have not been entirely inactive. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that any suggestion he may wish to make or any suggestion coming from the Liberal party for a quicker promotion of the work, or any suggestions for the hastening of the reassembly of the Conference, which has been a matter of communication and is at present a matter of daily communication between ourselves and the Government of India, will be welcomed and acted upon in the spirit in which I am sure they will be made.
§ Mr. BRACKEN
I am voicing the opinion of almost every hon. Member on this side of the Committee when I say that the Secretary of State has made no attempt whatever to answer the grave questions which have been raised during the Debate. The right hon. Member for Hendon (Sir P. Cunliffe-Lister) put to 1328 him very important questions which he has not had the courtesy to answer—[Interruption.] My right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) addressed quite a number of questions to him, which again he has not answered, and the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Ken-worthy) received only half an answer to a very important question which he addressed to the right hon. Gentleman—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. BRACKEN
The hon. and gallant Member, apparently, is easily satisfied, and he is definitely getting nearer and nearer to his main desire and objective—the Treasury bench—[Interruption.] There is one very important question which the Secretary of State for India has not answered—[Interruption.]
I hope hon. Members will keep order, but I also hope that less provocative statements will be made.
May I ask, Mr. Dunnico, for a Ruling as to which statement made by my hon. Friend was out of order?
My Ruling was that the attitude and method of addressing the House may easily be provocative.
Certainly it is, but the Noble Lord asks me to make a statement. The hon. Member accused the Minister of being discourteous. It is distinctly provocative to accuse any hon. Member of deliberate discourtesy.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
On that point of Order. May I ask you, Mr. Dunnico, to give a further Ruling as to how our 1329 Debates are possibly to be conducted under the new limitation which it is sought to impose?
If hon. Members will conduct the Debate under the Rulings I give, it will be very much more helpful and beneficial.
§ Mr. BRACKEN
I quite agree with you, Mr. Dunnico, that if any heat was engendered by me, your Ruling will probably have some effect on hon. Members opposite. There is this important question which has not been answered, and which I press the Secretary of State to answer. I do not in any way wish to appear discourteous to him, but I do ask him to give a plain answer to this question. He has quoted from the White Paper recording the conversations between Mr. Gandhi and Lord Irwin and has told us that, according to that White Paper, Mr. Gandhi does accept the safeguards with regard to finance, the control of the Army and other important questions. Since that White Paper was issued, the Congress party has met at Karachi, and at their meeting they laid down certain instructions which Mr. Gandhi must follow when he comes to London. Amongst those instructions is the statement that he must press for complete, independence for India.
It is a matter of high consequence to this House to know whether or not Mr. Gandhi is going to follow the instructions of Congress or the agreement which he made with Lord Irwin. So far, it has been almost impossible to obtain a definite assurance. Surely the Secretary of State can answer this question? Does he believe Mr. Gandhi still assents to the safeguard laid down at the Round Table Conference? This is not a party matter at all. Lord Reading, speaking in another place, said it was absolutely hopeless and futile for any Member of the Congress to come to London unless he did accept the principle of safeguards. I ask the Secretary of State for an answer to the question; does Mr. Gandhi accept these safeguards, and, if so, can he explain the instructions given to Mr. Gandhi at Karachi?
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
Are we to have noanswer? [Interruption.] The Secretary of State—[Interruption.] Do 1330 hon. Members really think that they benefit their case by interruption? Do they think they can silence debate by vulgar clamour? [Interruption.] Are we to have no answer from the Secretary of State? A perfectly plain question has been put. The right hon. Gentleman gets up and makes his little speeches packed with meticulous detail and carefully avoids any of the real issues—
§ Mr. MARLEY
On a point of Order. Is it in order for a right hon. Gentleman to take part twice in the Debate?
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
"Where ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise." [Interruption.] I must warn the Secretary of State that this habit which he has resorted to, of trying to stave off debate by a lot of trifling details, while all the time grave action is going on outside—[Interruption.] Hon. Members laugh, but why do they laugh?—the crackling of thorns under a pot—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. BENN
—some effort will be made by us all to restrain ourselves in the matter of temper. I am willing to answer courteously any question. The hon. Member has four times asked me the same question, once as a written question, once on the Adjournment, and twice today. He asks what is the basis on which the Conference is to re-assemble. That matter was a matter for discussion between Mr. Gandhi and Lord Irwin, and after the discussion the basis was described in a carefully drafted paragraph, No. 2, which stands as the basis on which the Conference re-assembles.
§ Mr. BRACKEN
I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. Does he not understand that the reason why I am raising the question is that since this agreement was signed, Mr. Gandhi has received, at Karachi, instructions entirely contrary to the spirit of the agreement? I demand an answer on that question, and if I cannot get an answer, 1331 I shall come to the conclusion that the Secretary of State is merely Mr. Gandhi's bell-hop.
That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."—[Mr. T. Kennedy."]
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.1332
§ The remaining Orders were read and postponed.