HC Deb 13 July 1932 vol 268 cc1377-90

The House to-day has had a very remarkable experience, for an Adjournment Debate. We have occupied a good deal of our time in discussing, quite appropriately and properly, our domestic distresses. A group of our principal Ministers left these shores this morning to discuss one aspect of our Imperial problems, and we have just had a pronouncement from the Foreign Secretary concerning our foreign affairs. I am quite sure that the House will not grudge the remainder of its time for the discussion of our Indian problems. If we are not able to devote more time to the subject, I am sure that it will be of some consolation to the Indian people that this House adjourns for its holiday with the thought of India very present to its mind.

The circumstances in which we raise this subject justify our return to it as a final issue for consideration. During the past week-end a decision was taken in India by people whom we may regard as representative of moderate opinion. It was a decision of the utmost gravity, and I purpose in the course of my remarks to invite the Secretary of State for India, in view of this very grave decision, to indicate to the House what the next line of action of the Government is likely to be. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for India made an important pronouncement a fortnight or three weeks ago. He will appreciate that on that occasion we were not able to discuss it with that regard for detail that would have been right, because of the very short notice at which he made it. We asked for time to examine it, and since then we have been able to exercise our leisure hours in applying to the pronouncement more meticulous examination than was then possible.

In what light are we to judge that pronouncement? We have made it abundantly clear, ever since the beginning of this Parliament, and especially since the beginning of December, when the Prime Minister made a very important announcement at the Round Table Conference, that we would regard that statement by the Prime Minister, and the White Paper which embodied it, as the acid test of future action of the Government in relation to India. I think that the right hon. Gentleman will agree with me when I say that he, too, accepted that as a fair and proper standard whereby we might judge the work of the Government.

I submit to the right hon. Gentleman that there has taken place since then a very grave departure from the Round Table Conference method of discussing and settling this Indian problem. Briefly, there were four main stages, as the right hon. Gentleman adumbrated to the House. The first was that he proposed, in the course of the summer months, to announce the Government's proposals in relation to the settlement of the communal difficulty. I think I express the view of everyone when I say that it would have been infinitely more desirable if this difficulty could have been settled by the Indian people themselves, but the Government have decided to undertake the responsibility of issuing their own proposals in the absence of such an internal settlement, and I can only hope that the announcement which they make will be one which will heal the breach between these communal sections. In the official statement of the right hon. Gentleman, he made use of some significant words. He said: On the assumption that the communal decision removes the obstacles which have been impeding progress, they trust that, as soon as their decisions have been announced, the Consultative Committee will reassemble and will proceed continuously with its programme of work. The second stage, as I gathered, was the work of the Consultative Committee in India, but, if I understand it aright—and I would like to have this point cleared up—that is to be contingent upon the decision of the Government in regard to the communal difficulty removing the obstacles. If that is not the meaning of the right hon. Gentleman's words, I confess I do not quite see what their proper meaning would be, for he says that on the assumption that the communal decision removes the obstacles, the Consultative Committee will proceed to its examination of the problem in India. I want to bring home to the right hon. Gentleman the ground upon which some of us believe that the Round Table Conference method has been largely abandoned. He himself said, in the statement to which I have referred, that the Consultative Committee, when it embarks on its task, will proceed continuously with its programme of work. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) then said: In London? and the right hon. Gentleman replied: In India—bringing its collective advice to bear on the numerous and important questions entrusted to it many of which were not examined by the conference or its committees in London. I beg the House to notice the significance of those words. There were important problems that were not even touched at the Round Table Conference, and yet the Consultative Committee in India as I understand it, is to discuss those problems, and, as far as I can see, there is no prospect of any Round Table Conference ever being convened to discuss them jointly again. Not only is it true that certain problems, many of them important and of exceptional difficulty, are to be relegated to the Consultative Committee in India, but there is a scarcely veiled hint that the financial safeguards are to be discussed later in London. To be discussed with whom? These are the right hon. Gentleman's exact words: With a few individuals whose personal experience qualifies them to speak with authority upon them."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th June, 1932; col. 1497, Vol. 267.] I beg the House to observe what that means. I do not in any way challenge the wisdom of the right hon. Gentleman in discussing this problem with people who have experience of it, but the point to which I desire to draw the attention of the House is that these individuals will speak in their own private capacity, and not in a representative capacity; and the financial safeguards, after all, are a matter of fundamental importance from the point of view of the relations of the new India with Great Britain. When, therefore, a problem like this is relegated to discussion between the Consultative Committee and a few individuals, however exalted, we clearly have departed very substantially from the Round Table Conference method of discussing these problems.

When the Consultative Committee feels able to make recommendations we come to the third step, namely, the Joint Committee of Lords and Commons. The right hon. Gentleman reserved to himself that there might be an occasion when more full and formal discussions might be necessary. The Joint Select Committee is to have power, apparently, to confer with representatives of Indian opinion. What Indian opinion? The Round Table Conference was a discussion with almost every section of Indian opinion. Is every phase of Indian opinion to be discussed? Is every organ of opinion or vehicle of expression to have opportunity of access to this Joint Select Committee? If it is not, there, again, is a substantial departure from the method followed at the Round Table Conference. In that matter, I would direct attention to an important passage in the right hon. Gentleman's own speech. His Majesty's Government hope that by their present decision to recommend that this important task shall be performed before any Bill is introduced, they will facilitate Indian co-operation and ensure its effective influence in what is probably the most important stage in the shaping of the constitutional reforms and at a time before irrevocable decisions are taken by Parliament."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th June, 1932; col. 1498, Vol. 267.] If Congress opinion and every other form of opinion is to have no opportunity of expressing itself on what is admitted to be a most important constitutional stage, clearly we have moved substantially from the position taken up in regard to the Round Table Conference method.

The fourth step was to be the presentation of a Bill. I was very glad that the right hon. Gentleman announced that there was to be only one Bill and not two. In regard to this matter, again I ask what do these words mean? They intend that this Measure shall contain provisions enabling the Provincial constitutions to be introduced without necessarily awaiting the completion of all the steps required for the actual inauguration of federation. Whatever the right hon. Gentleman meant by it, it is clear that those words are capable of this interpretation, that you are to go ahead with provincial autonomy, leaving federation at the centre to wait for a more appropriate and convenient date. Whether my interpretation is right or wrong is a matter of comparative insignificance, perhaps, but the significant thing is this. Moderate opinion in India has interpreted this announcement as a departure from the Round Table Conference method. As a consequence, last Saturday and Sunday those who are regarded in this country as leaders of moderate opinion have declared that, because of what they regard as a departure from the well accepted method of the Round Table Conference, a method endorsed by this Parliament as late as the beginning of this year, they have decided to dissociate themselves entirely from co-operation for the future. The consequence clearly is that the right hon. Gentleman now finds himself almost entirely removed from any articulate political opinion in India. It is a grave situation, and one which, I am sure, the right hon. Gentleman must himself deeply deplore. I feel that this House ought not to disperse without hearing from the right hon. Gentleman himself his views 4.30 p.m. concerning this new situation which has arisen. It is an easy thing to say, "I told you so," but from the very beginning of this difficulty my hon. Friends and I have repeatedly warned the right hon. Gentleman of the growing alienation, not of extreme opinion, but of moderate opinion also, in India. We have been laughed at. We have been told that we know nothing at all about it, and now we have the facts staring us boldly in the face. The right hon. Gentleman cannot deny the statement which I have made, that on Saturday last important people for whose cooperation the Government have been extremely thankful in the past have now found it impossible to continue co-operation with the Government. It is a grave situation and one in which I cannot say that I in any sense rejoice. It is a situation which merits a public statement from the Government this afternoon before we depart for our respective places during the holidays. The right hon. Gentleman on the last occasion wound up his public declaration in these words: By a procedure framed on these lines, His Majesty's Government hope to ensure both rapid progress towards the objective in view and the continuance of the co-operation between the British and Indian represen- tatives on the one hand, and between the three British parties on the other, upon which so much of the success of the constitutional changes must inevitably depend."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th June, 1932; col. 1498, Vol. 267.] The right hon. Gentleman cannot be under any misapprehension concerning our point of view. There has been, in point of fact, during this Parliament little desire expressed for our co-operation with the right hon. Gentleman, but in any case, whatever has been true of the past, I can tell the right hon. Gentleman here and now that we hold ourselves entirely free to determine what our line of conduct may be whenever any future proposals are put up to us, so long as the method upon which our co-operation was first given, and given freely and wholeheartedly, namely, the method of the Round Table Conference, is abandoned by the Government.

The SECRETARY of STATE for INDIA (Sir Samuel Hoare)

I am afraid that questions of procedure very often lead to misunderstanding even among ourselves and I hope that. I shall be able to show during the few minutes during which I shall be speaking to the House that there are misunderstandings between the Front Bench opposite and this bench here. If that is the case between colleagues in this House, it is obviously much easier to happen between Indians in India and British representatives here. If across this Floor there can be misunderstanding, how much easier is it to have misunderstanding over a distance of 6,000 miles, and I hope to show in the course of my remarks that a good deal of the trouble, in my view, is due to a series of misunderstandings.

Let us first face the actual facts of the situation. The hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Morgan Jones) is quite correct in saying that certain distinguished Indian public men are gravely anxious as to the programme which I announced to the House 10 days ago. Three of them, Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru, Mr. Jayakar, and Mr. Joshi have, resigned from the Consultative Committee. They and 10 others, who met in Bombay on Sunday, have sent to me arid the Prime Minister a protest against our programme of procedure. At the same time, the House should know that I have had other communications from India, also from very representative Indian public men, repre senting more than one great interest in India, strongly approving of the procedure that I described 10 days ago. I say that this afternoon not in any way to underrate the disappointment that I feel owing to the action taken by Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru and his colleagues but to show that on this question there is a substantial body of opinion in India strongly behind the Government programme of procedure. I should be the last person to underrate the loss that we shall feel if Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru and his colleagues are unable to cooperate with us in the later stages of the constitutional programme. I had the pleasure of serving with these gentlemen during last autumn and during the preceding autumn, and I can testify to the great value of their political experience, their ability, and their knowledge of constitutional questions, acknowledged by every member of the Round Table Conference. I should be very sorry therefore if the period of co-operation between them and us is brought to a termination. I should be particularly sorry if it was brought to an end as the result of misunderstandings that might be cleared up.

We have not had too easy a time either here or in India since last December. Those of us who were ready to proceed with the constitutional programme have had our steps compromised at every turn by the complications brought into the scene by the campaign of non co-operation launched by Congress at the end of the year. At every turn the renewal by Congress of the non co-operation campaign has made our way more difficult here and I am sure that it has made the way of the Indian Liberals much more difficult in India. I venture to say that this afternoon to show how very difficult the course of events has been both for them and for us during the last six months.

Let us look at the position as it is today. For years past we have had a series of inquiries of every kind into almost every important feature of Indian life. I have satisfied myself that this continuous series of inquiries, necessary as I admit it was, has none the less been one of the most disturbing factors in Indian political life. No one has known what was going to happen. The officials of the Indian Government have been left in uncertainty as to the ultimate policy of His Majesty's Government. The Indian, whether he be a member of Congress, whether he be an Indian Liberal, whether he be a member of this or that community has never known from week to week or month to month what was going to happen, and that has had a most unfortunate effect not only upon the political situation but also upon the economic situation of India as a whole. Business men have been left in doubt as to the future. Everyone in this House will admit how disastrous, from a business point of view, is such a long period of long-drawn-out uncertainty. In view of this situation, I think admitted by every hon. Member in this House, I have received representation after representation from Indians to bring to an end this period of suspense. They have said to me by word of mouth, and in letter after letter, "Do let us now know where we are; do let the British Government produce its proposals and bring to an end this long-drawn-out period of uncertainty."

In view of these representations, it seemed to the Government that it was absolutely necessary to speed-up the procedure if we were to restore to India some measure of confidence in the future. Further, it seemed to us quite essential that we should speed-up the procedure if we were going to advance by one Bill rather than by two Bills. If we had adopted the alternative which many hon. Members on these benches would have desired, that we should have proceeded by two stages, have a provincial autonomy Bill first and a federal Bill subsequently, we might then have introduced our provincial autonomy and we might then have had a whole series of formal discussions going on about the centre, and there would therefore not have been anything like the same objection against a number of big formal and ceremonial meetings going on in London. But as I said to the House the other day, it was clear to me that it was the general desire of most politically-minded Indians that we should proceed by one Bill. Particularly was it the desire of those distinguished Indians who have now dissociated themselves from our programme. Particularly was it men like Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru and Mr. Jayakar who were most insistent on this procedure by one Bill. It was quite impossible within any reasonable time to proceed by one Bill if once again we were going to have these big meetings during the autumn and winter months. It was not that the Government had any ulterior motive. Nothing of the kind. It was simply that we came definitely to the view that if we were to proceed by one Bill we must speed-up the procedure on some such lines as I proposed 10 days ago.

Accordingly, we have attempted to adapt our procedure to the two overriding factors. There are two factors that over-ride all this constitutional development. The first is the factor I have just described of the necessity of speed, and secondly, there is a factor that in the ultimate resort it is Parliament that must take a final decision upon any Government proposals. That factor has been made clear from the beginning of the discussions of the Round Table Conference. It has been made clear from time to time by Lord Irwin when Viceroy, and subsequently in an interchange of correspondence between the right hon. Gentleman the Lord President of the Council, then Leader of the Opposition, and the Prime Minister. Somehow or other we have to adapt our procedure so that, on the one hand, we have speed and, on the other hand, we have the ultimate control of Parliament; and that by every means in our power we should maintain Indian co-operation.

Let me describe to the House how we are attempting to reconcile these somewhat divergent conditions; and in describing, the various steps we propose to take I shall he answering all the questions which have been put by the hon. Member for Caerphilly. Let me deal with a criticism not made by the hon. Member but by some of our friends in India—namely, that we have broken pledges which we gave in the White Paper. That is not the case in any way. The Prime Minister in his statement was very careful, and wisely so, to leave open the exact methods of future co-operation. He was wise for this reason, that nobody could foresee exactly what was going to happen in the months before us and, indeed, since December two very new factors have emerged on to the constitutional picture.

In the first place, in December we hoped that it would not be necessary for the Government to take a communal decision, but since the failure of the communities to agree amongst themselves we have had to undertake to make that deci- sion, and let me repeat lest there should be any misunderstanding that we intend to make it during the course of this summer. Secondly, we hoped in December that we should still retain the co-operation of Mr. Gandhi and his colleagues. Unfortunately both these new features have developed in the picture, and it shows, if any proof were needed, how very wise the Prime Minister was to give his pledge in general rather than specific terms. In any case what matters in a pledge of that kind is the spirit in which it is carried out, and the spirit in which we hope to carry it out is genuinely a spirit of co-operation. I know that many prominent Indians regard me as a particularly reactionary tiresome Conservative Secretary of State, unsympathetic towards all their aspirations and hostile to all their programme. I am sorry if that is the picture which they have drawn of me and which I dare say is due to faults of my own; but I do not myself think it is a true one.

In any case, let me suggest to my Indian friends the kind of way in which we still hope to get their co-operation. First of all, we are most anxious to have their continued co-operation on the Consultative Committee. We intended when the Consultative Committee was formed at the beginning of the year that it should be a microcosm of the whole conference. We made it as representative as ever we could of the whole Round Table Conference. We gave an undertaking that the reports of the various committees which went out to India should be put before them. It was clear to us that if the Consultative Committee would help us with its co-operation over this very wide field, not only would it be giving us very valuable help, but it would be enabling us here very much to speed up the programme and to introduce a Constitution Bill at a much earlier date. I still hope that with Indian co-operation the Consultative Committee may greatly help us over the very wide field that is covered by its agenda. The hon. Member for Caerphilly asked me what was meant by the phrase that was used in connection with the meeting of the Consultative Committee. The phrase was that, on the assumption that the communal decision was given, the Consultative Committee would then meet. I am not giving the exact words, but that is the substance. That phrase was inserted in our statement for this reason—


Here is the document.


"Assuming the obstacles were removed." That meant that the Moslem delegates to the Consultative Committee refused to go on with the discussion until the communal question had been decided, and until they saw whether the Moslem claims had been met. It was, therefore, necessary to put in a phrase of that kind. It means nothing more than that. It means that, assuming that the obstacles which impeded consultation with the Moslem delegates are removed, the Consultative Committee will meet. I hope that the Consultative Committee will meet and that we shall have the co-operation of distinguished Indians. Next there were to be consultations with individual Indians during the summer and autumn months. The hon. Member for Caerphilly said that these Indians would not be of a representative character. I am afraid they will not be representative in character any more than the members of the Round Table Conference were representative in character.

We have been dealing all along with prominent individuals, and we will deal with prominent individuals again, and our reason for proposing that these discussions should take place with a few individuals is simply this: The hon. Member quoted the case of financial safeguards. It was that which made us suggest this procedure. Many Indians last year took the view that discussions of financial safeguards in the nature of things would take place much better informally and confidentially between individuals. As financial and commercial safeguards are mainly a question for traders and business men and financiers, it seemed to us that by this means we might be better able to bring individual Indians into direct touch with the people who in many cases really matter much more than politicians. There was no more than that in our minds.

Let me pass to the next stage, to the Joint Select Committee stage. Our procedure there is an unprecedented procedure. We were anxious to bring Indians into consultation and co-operation with the Joint Select Committee before this House could take any final decision, and it is our firm intention to make that Indian co-operation and consultation as effective as ever we can during the stage of the Joint Select Committee. We believe that the Joint Select Committee will really be carrying on the spirit of the Round Table Conference; that it will be the spirit and the procedure of the Round Table Conference applied to the particular conditions of the time. Moreover, at the Joint Select Committee the Indians will have the great advantage, which they never would have had upon the Round Table Conference, of seeing the specific proposals of the Government. The specific proposals of the Government will be put before the representatives of this House and of another place, and will be put before the representatives of India, and discussion of that kind will be far more profitable than the necessarily indefinite discussions of a large body like the Round Table Conference where the Government is obviously not in a position to put its concrete proposals before the Conference, for the over-riding reason that the only place before which the Government can put specific proposals is Parliament itself.

I hope I have said enough to show that it is our most sincere desire at every stage that I have enumerated to retain Indian co-operation. I hope I have said enough to show that our only reason for changing the programme is our desire to speed up the procedure. I have heard no suggestion from any quarter as to any better means than those which the Government have suggested—the conditions being the need of speed, the need of co-operation between British and Indian representatives, and, lastly, the over-riding need that the ultimate court to which specific proposals must be referred is the High Court of Parliament. I should be glad to hear from British or Indian quarters any suggestions for fulfilling those conditions, and carrying out our programme more effectively, more expeditiously, and more sympathetically than the proposals which I made ten days ago.


May I ask the right hon. Gentleman two questions. First, does he propose to fill the gaps left in the Consultative Committee by the resignation of those three prominent Indian Liberals by appointing any other repre- sentatives of the same body of opinion—of moderate nationalist opinion? The second question is, Does he still mean to keep open the possibility foreshadowed in the last paragraph but one of his speech on 27th June? It may be that the course of discussions in the Consultative Committee may prove that matters will not be ripe for the formulation of definite proposals for the consideration of a Joint Select Committee without further consultation of a more formal character."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th June, 1932; col. 1498, Vol. 267.] He then went on to foreshadow the calling of a more formal committee in London. Does he still hold open that possibility?


The statement is exactly as I made it 10 days ago. As to the hon. Lady's first question, I cannot answer it to-day.


On a point of Order. I should like to enter a protest against the Rules of the House which, apparently, make it impossible for the discussion of Scottish affairs to take place on the Motion for the Adjournment.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at one Minute before Five o'Clock until Thursday, 27th October, pursuant to the Resolution of the House this day.