HC Deb 16 November 1931 vol 259 cc474-6

asked the Secretary of State for India if he can make any statement on the work of the Round Table Conference on India and its results to date; and whether it is proposed to suspend the Conference at the end of November with the object of meeting again in India at a later date?


I cannot conveniently, within the limits of an answer to a question, reply to the first part of the question, but briefly the position is that the Minorities Committee has reported failure to secure agreement on the Communal question, and the Federal Structure Committee has prepared a further report dealing with a portion of the subject-matter of its inquiry. These reports will probably be considered this week by the Conference as a whole. As regards the second part, I cannot at this moment give the exact date on which this session will terminate. As to the future, I must ask the hon. Member to await the statement which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will make at the conclusion of the proceedings of the Conference.


Is it not time the Conference ceased?


(by Private Notice) asked the Prime Minister whether, with regard to his offer to arbitrate upon the differences between the Hindus and the Moslems and other Minorities arising out of, or outstanding from, the Round Table Conference, be will say whether, in the event of his arbitration being accepted, any award that he may make will be binding upon His Majesty's Government and upon Parliament?

The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Ramsay MacDonald)

On condition that every member of the Minorities Committee agrees in writing to accept my proposal and pledges himself to support and work it until such time as an agreement has been reached amongst the Minorities themselves, I have offered to decide upon a scheme which can be put into operation at least temporarily. Should I be requested to do this, I shall do it with the approval of the Government.


May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether this departure is not entirely at variance with the declaration which he made to the Round Table Conference and to the public at large about four weeks ago, and, secondly, whether we were not promised that Parliament would be entirely uncommitted by anything that was arrived at by the Round Table Conference?


I cannot without any notice charge my memory with what my right hon. Friend has in mind as to what I have said, but that certainly cannot be so, because this has been in my mind for more than a month. With regard to what the right hon. Gentleman said about Parliament being committed, that is perfectly true, but when the Government makes up its mind to do a thing, it will put it before Parliament and use the usual Government efforts to see that Parliament supports it or passes a Vote of Censure upon it if it does not.


But is there not a very great difference between Government proposals being put before Parliament for legislative or other sanction which have originated from the Government and such proposals being put before Parliament which contain in them the elements of a treaty or a settlement to which the faith of both parties has been pledged?


I have not considered which is the right way—I do not quite follow—but whichever is the right way the Government will do it and put before Parliament its recommendations how to deal with the Indian situation, and those recommendations will follow upon the lines that have been already declared.


Will the right ion. Gentleman give some opportunity after the Conference is concluded—I understand he is to make a statement in a few-days—will he give an opportunity after that statement has been made for the House to discuss this Indian question?


Will the right hon. Gentleman make sure that the Government is not committed until it has placed the matter before this House and received the assent of this House?


The Government will only be committed to the extent and in the sense that all Governments are committed in conducting business like this, and the Government knows perfectly well that its commitment is not final and that it must receive the sanction of Parliament. I hope there is no doubt about that. All that I say is that if and when the Government is committed, and when it puts its recommendations before Parliament, it will take the usual steps to secure that Parliament will support it. With reference to a Debate, so far as the Government is concerned, it is perfectly well aware that it can do-nothing effective and final without the sanction of the House of Commons, and we would always welcome a Debate if things have gone so far as to make that Debate of any use and really helpful both to this House and to India.


Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that he has the nation behind him in his desire to settle this thorny problem?