Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £95,695, he 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, 1934, 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."—[Note.—£37,500 has been voted on account.'
§ 3.37 p.m.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for INDIA (Sir Samuel Hoare)
Some months ago an Indian boy was asked in an examination paper the following question: "What are the duties of the Secretary of State for India?" Being a very intelligent young man he replied in this manner. "The Secretary of State appoints and disappoints the senior officials." Whether or not that answer was altogether accurate, I do not think that it was entirely exhaustive. The duties of the Secretary of State for India do not end at that particular point, and one of his duties not covered by the young Indian's answer is the duty, year by year, of coming to this Committee and giving an account to hon. Members of the events which have taken place during the last 12 months in the Indian Continent. I welcome this opportunity. I welcome it the more as it gives me a short respite from the battlefield of constitutional controversy, and because it also gives me a short respite from my very onerous duties on the Joint Select Committee, where, according to one of my colleagues in the Government, I am fast qualifying in the future for the lucrative career of an expert witness when politics have either finished with me or I have finished with politics.
If I had made this speech a year ago, and still more if I had made it two years ago, I should have been compelled to 1550 give a very prominent place, perhaps the predominant place, to questions connected with law and order. I am glad to say that the state of affairs is now so much changed for the better that I no longer have to give the prominence to questions of that kind that I certainly should have given to them 12 months ago. Ask to-day any administrator, British or Indian, as to the kind of questions that chiefly interest the people among whom he is living, and I believe that almost without exception he will give this answer: "the questions that are interesting my district to-day are not questions connected with civil disobedience, or law and order, but questions connected with the general field of administration, particularly improvements in the social and economic field rather than questions in the political field." That is a very significant change for the better.
Thanks to the efforts of that great body of officials in India, British and Indian, influenced from the top by the cheerful confidence and indefatigable energy of the Viceroy and passing from one end of the administration to the other, covering the whole field of activities of that splendid police service, and laet, but not least, backed in recent months by a growing body of public opinion expressing itself in practically every one of the Provincial Councils of India, civil disobedience has now become a matter of altogether secondary importance. To-day, therefore, I am able to leave questions connected with law and order to the end of my speech and am able to ask the attention of hon. Members to the other fields of administrative activity, in particular to certain definite achievements that have been won in the face of many difficulties in those fields of administration by the governments of India during the last 12 months.
I suppose that the three questions that most interest everybody in the world, and particularly the inhabitants of a great agricultural continent like India, are not political questions but questions connected, first, with health, secondly, with the weather and, thirdly, with the crops. I propose to say a few words on each of these questions in relation to India's problems. I begin with the question of health. The most prominent impression that is left on the mind of anyone who 1551 travels in the East is the very low standard of health as compared with the standard of some countries in the West. An almost incredible amount of suffering and inefficiency in many of these Eastern countries is due to the low standard of health. Any efforts, therefore, that are successful in raising the standard of health redound not only to the credit of the men who make those efforts but in a special manner to the future prosperity of the country in which those efforts are made.
In India we have a very fine record in the field of health administration: I am not sure if hon. Members always realise the debt of gratitude that for many years past not only India but the whole world has owed to the pioneer work of the Indian Medical Service. Many of the most notable achievements in the field of surgery and medicine have been due to the experiments and the experiences of officers in the Indian Medical Service. During the last 12 months, in spite of many exceptional difficulties, the difficulty, for instance, of finding the funds necessary for medical research and medical administration, the record has been, on the whole, very satisfactory. Let me give the Committee two examples. A great Institute of Preventive Medicine has just been opened in Calcutta. Its foundation is due in the first instance to the beneficence of Mr. Rockefeller, and its maintenance comes within the responsibility of the Government of India. I believe that the work of this Institute is going to be of immense value in the preventive field in India in the future.
The other illustration is taken from certain experiments that have been recently made in India with a view, first, to controlling the spread of malaria and, secondly, to preventing the relapses of the patient after the patient has begun to recover. It may not be in the mind of every hon. Member that the scourge of malaria is so great in India that probably in any given year there may be as many as 10,000,000 people being treated for it. It is probably within the mark to say that between 1,000,000 and 2,000,000 people die from malaria in India every year. What an appalling scourge; and what an opportunity for the development of medical science I am glad to be able to tell the Committee that a new 1552 drug has been discovered called atebrin, and as far as my advisers can judge it looks as though it will be most effective in preventing a relapse, which has always been the danger of malaria epidemics. I take those two instances and I give them to the Committee—I could give them many others—to show how very active are the efforts of the Indian Medical Service in the field of health and how year after year they are meeting with the success which they deserve.
I pass to the second question which I said was always in the minds of everyone who lives in the West or the East, and particularly in the minds of people who live in a country dependent for its existence on agriculture—namely, the weather. Neither in England nor in India can we control the weather, but we can to a great extent control its effects. Take the case of India. It is within the memory of every hon. Member that India. was periodically subjected to terrible famine due to drought which swept away millions of its population. I am glad to think that, as a result of the work that has been carried out in the field of irrigation, that chapter is for ever ended. We cannot control droughts, but we can insure, by a system of irrigation, that the canals shall still be filled with water even in the dry seasons.
I am glad to be able to report that in this the centenary year of our irrigation programme in India we have made still further advances, about which hon. Members no doubt would like to hear the details. Work is being continued on various irrigation projects, four of which at present in hand cover an area of more than 1,000,000 acres, and by the time these various works have been completed the total area irrigated by Government works in British India will be 40,000,000 acres, nearly four times as much as it was 50 years ago and nearly 10,000,000 acres more than it was only four years ago. India will then have an irrigated area twice as large as that of any other country in the world. Water was admitted this year into the canals of the great Lloyd barrage system in Sind, and the first year's results have been satisfactory, the total area at present affected being over 1,000,000 acres. That again is another very conspicuous illustration of the beneficent work, month by month, sometimes unknown to any one here, which is being carried out by the officers 1553 of the Government of India, be they seniors at the top or juniors in the remote districts in which they live.
I come to the other question which suggested interested everyone even more flan political questions—questions connected with the crops. I am glad to be able to report that so far as the crops are concerned last season in India they were satisfactory and the prospects this year are also satisfactory. Up to date the monsoon is strong and plentiful rains are falling over the greater part of India. Great developments take place in India. Let me give hon. Members an illustration. A great development has recently taken place in the encouragement of sugar industries in India. I am told that within a short time something like 50 sugar mills have been set up in India, and it is satisfactory to note in passing that they are finding British machinery much better adapted to their purpose than foreign machinery. As far as we can judge, India in a comparatively short time will be making the sugar that it requires for its own purposes and will no longer be dependent on the imports of sugar from foreign countries.
Perhaps the most difficult problem that faces the agricultural community in India, apart from the question of prices, and I am coming to that in a moment, is the question of land revenue and land taxation. Hon. Members will realise how serious is a problem of that kind in a country in which rents and land taxation are fixed over a long period of years, perhaps as long as 30 or 40 years, and fixed upon the assumption that the prices of agricultural produce are going to remain fairly stable. Then comes the moment when prices suddenly slump, and the agricultural worker is faced with a burden of taxation which is two or three times as heavy and the fact that prices of commodities are two or three times lower than they were three or four years ago. That is the problem which is facing the agricultural provinces of India. Thanks chiefly to the far sighted initiative of the provincial Governments, and particularly of certain of the provincial Governors, a readjustment has been made to meet these very difficult conditions, and it seems to have been accepted as a fair readjustment by landlords and by tenants.
I will give the Committee the most conspicuous example of the kind of readjust- 1554 ment I have described. I take the case of the great agricultural province—the United Provinces. The Government there took a very bold action and persuaded the landlords to reduce their rents by no less than 4½ crores. At the same time, the Government has itself reduced its land taxation by one crore, and in order to carry this readjustment into effect in the space of three months the Government had to readjust the taxation values of no less than 6,250,000 separate agricultural holdings. What an enormous task, and with what success it has been carried through: With no commotion, with the general acceptance, as I understand, both from the landlords and from the tenants, this gigantic operation has been carried through by 'the officials of the United Provinces Government, and, so it seems, has laid to rest causes which a year or two ago if they had been ignored might have led to serious and even revolutionary consequences.
I come from the actual question of the crops and the weather to the other very important question—the question of prices. I suppose that no country in the world has felt the slump in agricultural prices more seriously than has India. India is one of those great tracts of the world that responds very quickly to changes in prices. When prices go up, India very quickly regains her prosperity. When prices fall, India feels seriously and acutely the slump in commodity prices. I wish I could make a more optimistic report to the Committee about prices than I can. The latest statistics up to April last show a continued decline. None the less, there are grounds for hoping that those for May and June, when they are available, will contain some indication of improvement. The reports have begun to be more encouraging, and several of the commodities in which India is interested have risen in price. Although the general tendency is one of decrease, the decrease in the case of imports into India from the United Kingdom—and I would draw the attention of hon. Members to this fact—is very small, and the proportion of the total imports coming from the United Kingdom has shown a marked increase in the last few years. In 1931, it was 28.4; in 1932, 37 per cent.; and in the first four months of the present year, it has risen to 41.4.
1555 The Ottawa Agreement came into force only on 1st January, and its full effect is not likely to be felt for some time. Nevertheless, it is striking that the proportion of imports into India from the United Kingdom rose steadily from 37.5 in January to 45.7 in April. There has even been some improvement in imports of cotton piece goods, the figures for the first five months of 1933 being 261,000,000 yards, as compared with 237,000,000 yards in the corresponding period of 1932. The general index for India's exported articles stood in 1932 at 84, based on 100 per cent. pre-War, as compared with 151 in 1926 and 148 as recently as 1929. This Change accounts for the fact that the value of imports for last year was only a little over half of the value of imports in 1928–29. It serves to show that the recovery in the price of primary commodities is the principal need of the economic situation in India to-day, and if this could be achieved, the revenues of the country would rapidly expand, and opportunities would again present themselves for advances in all directions where national development is needed.
Lastly before I pass from this branch of the subject, it is satisfactory to note that trade in India is more and more resuming its normal course undisturbed by political agitation. I will quote to the Committee a sentence or two from the last report of the Senior Trade Commissioner in India—a report which was issued only two months ago. These are his words:There seems no doubt whatever that the political agitation and the boycott campaign has now spent itself, and is a negligible factor. On all sides one observes signs of improvement in political and racial feeling. This is undoubtedly due to the firm policy of the Government of India, and the growing realisation on the part of Indians of all classes and all shades of political thought that within the short space of a year or two their political ambitions will very largely be met.Whether or not every hon. Member in this Committee agrees with those concluding words—and I see that one or two of my hon. Friends seem to express some dissent—I am sure we shall all congratulate ourselves upon the fact that trade is now resuming its normal course, and is not held up by the intervention of political boycott.
1556 Let me complete this part of the picture by a few observations in another important field of government—the field of finance. There, again, I can draw the attention of hon. Members to many evidences of very substantial improvement. Take the Budget position first of all. The revised Estimates for 1932–23 show a surplus of two crores, corresponding almost exactly to the Budget Estimates. This was achieved after allocating nearly seven crores from revenue for reduction of debt. A small surplus is budgeted for in the current year. This surplus again assumes an appropriation for the reduction of debt, and allows also of course for the restoration of hall: the pay cut. If this situation is compared with most other countries, the comparison is in India's favour, and when it is realised that as recently as 1931–32 there was a revenue deficit of 11¾ crores, the Government of India may look back with satisfaction on the improvement that has been brought about, although this improvement has, of course, entailed high taxation and severe retrenchment.
There has been an even more striking improvement on the credit side, shown not only by the advance in the price of Government securities in India, and by the fact that borrowing has been effected at declining rates, but also by the reduction in the disparity between the prices of Indian and British Government securities on the London market. The differences in the percentage yield of British and Indian securities at three dates, taken in 1931, 1932 and 1933, were 1.78, 86 and 84. That is to say, in a very short space of time the disparity has been halved. A substantial part of the improvement in the prices has of course been due to general influences, particularly cheapness of money, but those influences would not have produced such results had it not been for the increased confidence shown in the Indian financial position and the financial future of the country. The Government has been able to reap great advantage from the situation. There has been a large reduction in short-term debts both in London and in India. Since the repayment, in 1932, of £11,250,000, the balance of the 5 per cent. loan then maturing. £13,000,000 6 per cent. bonds have been repaid, the last block of these having been discharged last month. Considerable progress has also been made in the funding and con 1557 version of the short-term rupee debt. Since June last year Rs. 94 crores of Treasury bills and rupee loans maturing in the next few years have been converted into long-term securities. The amount of Treasury balances now outstanding is 18 crores compared with over 80 in September, 1931, and between 1st May and September of this year loans to the extent of 22 crores are also under repayment. I hope I have said enough to emphasise to every hon. Member in the Committee that a great change for the better has come over Indian credit a ad over the general financial position of India in the short space of a comparatively few months.
I come now, as I said I would come at the beginning of my speech, to questions connected with law and order. I purposely left over this part of my speech to the present point, as I regard it now as of secondary importance to the kind of questions on which I have just been commenting. Here, again, I think I can report substantial improvements since last I made a speech of this kind to the House. The improvement in the general state of feeling towards the Government was shown in particular by the way in which the Central and Provincial Legislatures passed legislation to replace the ordinances. It is also shown by the general lack of interest in the civil disobedience movement which has fallen to so low an ebb that the extension of it at the beginning of Mr. Gandhi's recent fast made little or no practical difference. There are now, I think, one-fifth of the number of civil disobedience prisoners.
§ Sir S. HOARE
Something over 6,000, only one-fifth of the civil disobedience prisoners that there were a little more than a year ago. There are only one-tenth of the civil disobedience prisoners that there were three or four years ago. At the present moment the great majority of the Congress Committee are not in prison at all, and it is significant that even after this great reduction of numbers the general support of law and order should be daily becoming stronger and stronger. A sign of the times is the fact that in Bombay about 150 English cloth shops, which only recently were closed as a result of the boycott, are now reported to be open. A further sign of the times is the report that a few days 1558 ago large crowds assembled at towns of the Surat district, which was formerly a stronghold of civil disobedience, in which to witness the hoisting of the Union Jack on the municipal buildings by the Collector of Surat, in pursuance of a Resolution passed unanimously by the municipality.
The position of the Government is firm and clear, but on the Congress side there are divided counsels and many uncertainties. Their present embarrassment is a measure of the success of the Government. The attempt to hold a Congress meeting in Calcutta in the spring was a fiasco. The last meeting that took place in the course of last week in Poona was, it seems from all accounts, an equal fiasco. It seems that counsels were divided and that there was a great body of support within the Congress itself anxious to see an end put once and for all to the civil disobedience campaign. Summaries of the Indian Press that have been telegraphed to me show clearly that there was a strong feeling amongst the rank and file of Congress against the continuance of an unlawful and unconstitutional programme.
According to these reports—at present we have no other detailed account of the meeting—Mr. Gandhi set himself against these counsels of reason and moderation. At the beginning of his fast he had still continued to maintain a threatening attitude to the Government. I assumed that he was ill and out of touch with public opinion. Now, however, it appears that in the teeth of the opposition of many of his most trusted supporters he has declared himself in favour of a resumption of civil disobedience as a means of extorting terms from the Government. In these circumstances there is only one course open to the Government. We have said that we are not prepared to negotiate, and we shall maintain our refusal to negotiate. Once again Mr. Gandhi wishes to put himself in the position of negotiator with the Government of India, a negotiator who carries in reserve the unconstitutional weapon of civil disobedience to back his arguments. Let me repeat that there can be no question of making a bargain with Congress as the condition of their accepting the ordinary obligations of law abiding citizens. I will read the Vireroy's answer to Mr. Gandhi, who had 1559 requested an interview. I am sure that all reasonable people who support constitutional methods will agree with it.His Excellency has directed me to say that if circumstances were different he would gladly have seen youI pause on that point. There was no question whatever of unconditionally refusing Mr. Gandhi an interview.but it would seem that you are opposed to the withdrawal of civil disobedience except on conditions, and that the interview that you seek with His Excellency is for the purpose of initiating negotiations with Government regarding those conditions.It also appears to have been decided that unless Congress reaches a settlement with Government as a result of these discussions civil disobedience will be resumed on 1st August. It is hardly necessary to remind you that the position of the Government is that the civil disobedience movement is wholly unconstitutional, and that there can be no compromises with it, and that Government cannot enter into any negotiations for its withdrawal.On 29th April, 1932, the Secretary of State stated in the House of Commons that there can be no question of making a bargain with Congress as a condition of its cooperation. The same position has been consistently maintained by the Government in numerous subsequent statements. If Congress desires to resume its position as the constitutional party and to put an end to a movement that has caused grave injury and suffering to the country, the way is open to it, as it has always been, and it is within the power of Congress to restore peace by withdrawing on its own initiative the civil disobedience movement. As, however, Congress is not willing to take that action, an interview with His Excellency would be to no purpose.That telegram has the full concurrence of His Majesty's Government.
I pass finally to a very serious phase of the law and order problem, the phase of terrorism in Bengal. Terrorism in Bengal has been a shameful and devastating disease now for many years. From time to time it has lain dormant. Then it breaks out again, as it broke out again two or three years ago with redoubled virulence. It is one of the most difficult problems which the Government of India in general and the Government of Bengal in particular have to face. Difficult as it is I think that I can report to the Committee to-day definite signs of an improved condition of affairs. There was a time not so very long ago when law and order had almost ceased to exist in certain districts in Bengal, in which official Indians as well 1560 as British could not go out except. at the risk of their lives, in which it had become almost impossible to obtain the information about terrorist plots without which it is impossible to deal successfully with them. About 18 months ago we reconsidered the whole position, and we determined, particularly the Government of Bengal and the officials in Bengal, to launch against terrorism a, campaign that would not only hold it in check, but would go far to eradicate it altogether.
At first the Government of Bengal had to act almost exclusively under the exceptional powers Ordinance. I am glad to think that in recent months the Provincial Council of Bengal has come out in support of the Government and has given it the necessary legislative enactments in place of the temporary Orders. It was necessary to reinforce the power of law and order. It was necessary, for instance, to draft troops into certain districts of the Presidency. It will be a matter of satisfaction, though not of surprise, to the Committee to know that the effect of the entry of troops has been almost instantaneous. Backing up the civil authority and the civil authority backing them up, their efforts have resulted in the steady restoration of law and order in some of the dangerous districts of the Province.
§ Sir S. HOARE
Yes, without any bloodshed or scarcely any bloodshed. What is equally significant is the fact that sources of information are now once again open to us, and week by week and month by month the Government of Bengal is making more and more successful progress in breaking down terrorism and in exposing the terrorist plots. During the last few weeks there. have been remarkably successful achievements by the police and the military as a result of which we believe that we have now got level with this terrible threat; and with the constant and unremitting pressure that we intend to apply now and in the future, and in the further future, whatever may be the constitutional changes in view, we believe that we shall succeed in freeing Bengal from one of the most terrible and shameful plagues that have devastated any part of the British Empire.
1561 So remarkable do we consider the achievements of the responsible authorities, military and civil, that as a special mark of recognition His Majesty the King has approved of the immediate confirment of the Companionship of the Order o: the Indian Empire upon Mr. Arthur Sheldon Hands of the Indian Civil Service, district magistrate of Chittagong, and Captain Thomas Ivor Stevenson, Second Battalion 8th Gurkha Riffles, Military Intelligence Officer in the Chittagong district.
I hope I have now said enough to interest hon. Members in the administration and achievements of the officials, military and civil, of the Government of India. We have all been passing through very difficult times, and they most of all, especially the junior men among them who have been living and working in remote districts, far away from contact with their own friends and ordinary associations. I believe we have all learned useful lessons in the difficult times through which we have been passing. I remember a wise observation of Emersolfs:Bad times have a specific value. These are occasions a good learner would not miss.I do not believe that we have missed the lessons of these difficult times. I believe that we have come to realise more clearly than ever the strength and the weakness of our system of Indian Government. Facing these difficulties, the officials on the spot have shown themselves true to our traditions and history and I can claim, without being either hypocritical or sanctimonious, that they have consistently and continuously been guided by a sense of moral duty. In one aspect that sense of moral duty may be thought to have been a weakness. There might have been a temptation to them and. to us to follow in the way of the dictators, to smash all opposition, to give up any attempt at co-operation and ruthlessly to proceed upon the road of autocracy. That is not the line that has been taken in these difficult months by the Government of India or by any of its officials. Simultaneously with our rigid enforcement of law and order we have consistently followed the path of co-operation with our friends in India, whether it be in the field of administration or in those other fields that we cannot discuss here this afternoon. I take no credit 1562 for any of these achievements myself but I claim that the record that I have exposed to the Committee this afternoon is a fine record. It is a well-deserved testimonial to the sincerity and integrity of purpose with which these men have faced their difficult problems. I claim that it is also a tribute to the success that has, so far, crowned their efforts. Two thousand years ago King Asoka set up, from one end of India to another, a, series of columns each bearing this inscription:For what do I talk. No other end than this. That I may discharge my duty to the living beings.That is the motto of our administration in India. Our past and present records justify it. Our future record may, if we are just and wise, still further enhance it.
§ 4.37 p.m.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I beg to move, to reduce the Vote by £100.
I should like to remind those of the Committee who remain that the subject-matter which we are discussing concerns a country as large as Europe without Russia, and with a population of 300,000,000 people. It is a population the vast mass of which ever since the beginning of the British connection and before, has lived on the verge of starvation. It is a, population cursed by disease, by privation and everything connected with penury and want. It is a population which is governed from the outside and that population, living under those conditions, is called upon to pay tribute to an alien power which claims the right to rule and control it. The position of the Indian masses is very similar, only on a much more enormous scale, to that which confronted the Irish people during the long years of their agitation for self-government. The late Lord Balfour said of the agitation in Ireland that it was a social revolution in the guise of a political agitation and he went on to develop that argument by showing, as the Secretary of State for India has shown to-day, that economic causes are at the root of almost every political agitation.
The Secretary of State in the whole of a long statement—and I do not complain of its length—has not given any hope of economic improvement for these masses of whom 10,000,000 suffer from malaria and 2,000,000 of that number die of that disease. He said nothing to bring 1563 hope to the mothers of the million children who die at birth in India. He said nothing to give hope to the people in the Bombay mills or in the wretched, miserable, beastly hovels in which many of them are forced to live. He tells us that we are going to improve the growing of sugar. The right hon. Gentleman cannot have been attending the World Economic Conference which is engaged in the task of cutting down the world cultivation of sugar and I am ashamed that a Minister should come here with a statement such as he has made this afternoon under that heading. He knows better than I do, and many Anglo-Indians in this House know better than I do, what is really wrong in India. It is the fact that, of the wealth which the Indian people are able to produce, a considerable portion is drained away to this country.
§ Sir S. HOARE indicated dissent.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head but will he tell me where the money came from to build the India Office or the magnificent palace in Aldwych?
§ Mr. LANSBURY
Never mind about irrigation. Will the right hon. Gentleman answer the question which I have put to him? Will he also say who is paying for New Delhi while the housing of the masses of the people, of which the right hon. Gentleman himself is ashamed, goes untouched? It is all very well to tell us of an odd thing here and there that has been done, but the cold brutal fact remains that, after nearly a century of British rule, the masses of the people in India live on the point of starvation and great numbers of them die from preventable diseases. The right hon. Gentleman also knows that out of India each year there goes an enormous amount of wealth, just as in the case of Ireland in former times, the absentee landlords drew their rents from Ireland and spent the money in London and on the Continent and elsewhere. Absentee landlordism was looked upon as something to be ashamed of in the end, when the late General Gordon and the late General Buller showed up the iniquities of the system.
1564 I wish that some civil servant who goes to India would show up the terrible drain on the resources of the Indians for the maintenance of the British Army and of the whole administration, and the amount spent in this country on pensions and on services that are carried on here. It is often said of us when we ask that money should be spent on various purposes, that you cannot spend the same money in two different ways. Ruskin, I think, put it that two people cannot have the same thing. If the resources of the Indian peasantry are spent on maintaining a British paid army and a British paid administration they cannot at the same time have the resources to spend on themselves. Therefore, while listening to the right hon. Gentleman I wondered whether he really believed that we were on the up-grade in regard to our relationships with and our administration of India. In this matter I think I am as reasonable as he is. I should be very glad to know that the people of India were being raised in their economic and social standards of life. I am not talking of the relatively few who are able to be sent here by winning scholarships or by being paid for by rich men. I am thinking of the millions in the villages and of the thousands living in those rotten, miserable, despicable places around every one of the industrial centres. I have not heard a single word this afternoon from the right hon. Gentleman of any hope for those people.
Then he takes credit to himself and his administration that they have in effect crushed the Congress. He has not used the word "crushed," whatever may be his opinion and that of his advisers, and I quite admit that they are in a much better position, from the official point of view, to deal with that question than I am, but I too have been in communication with Indians who are in this country attending the constitutional committees, and there is not one of them whom I have met., not a single one of them, who takes the view of the right hon. Gentleman. They say it is perfectly true that, as was said by that Polish or Russian general who wired to his lord and master the Emperor, "Order reigns in Warsaw." It did, at the point of the gun; and when the right hon. Gentleman says there is no expression of public opinion now in India in favour of the Congress, of course there is not, because you do not allow it.
1565 People cannot express their opinion. They are not allowed to do so. He knows perfectly well that if anyone were to take up the cause of the Congress and advocate the policy of the Congress, he would be put in gaol. They are only allowed to print what the right hon. Gentleman considers it is constitutional and proper to print, and, therefore, all the improper things, from his point of view, are stamped out. In those circumstances, to say that he has won through and got public opinion on his side is, in my judgment, sheer nonsense.
I heard that story from that Box years and years ago. I have heard it concerning trade disputes, concerning disputes in Ireland, concerning disputes in. this country, where people have resorted to unconstitutional means. I think the right hon. Gentleman was in the House during the suffrage agitation, and I remember Mr. McKenna and the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), when Home Secretary, standing at that Box and saying, "We have got them all in prison now, and the whole business is settled." Any sort of man who has got the power of Government and force behind him can crush any movement that he sets himself out to crush. I do not believe that the Congress movement is anything like crushed in India to-day, and I think that the right hon. Gentleman, and the Government, and this House will speedily learn that that is so. In his treatment of Mr. Gandhi, the right hon. Gentleman has taken the line that he cannot in any circumstances negotiate with Mr. Gandhi until he, in fact, comes in a white sheet and says, "Well, I have given up all that I have believed it was necessary for me to do." Then, if he does that and comes, as an apologist, Lord Willingdon will graciously discuss with him.
I would like to put it to the right hon. Gentleman that that is not the policy that was adopted towards Lord Carson. There is nobody in this House, Tory, Liberal, or whatever he may call himself, who would deny the fact that Lord Casson, and the late Lord Londonderry, and the whole of the chiefs of the Tory party organised an army in Ireland, armed it, drilled it, and equipped it, and in the end, without his withdrawing one bit—and I always admired Lord Carson for standing for what he believed to be right—Lord Carson forced this House, forced Parliament, to allow His Majesty 1566 the King to summon a conference, without any conditions, and with Carson's army in the field, in order to debate with this arch-rebel and his colleagues as to how they could get out of the difficulty that confronted them. The right hon. Gentleman to-day, in the most cold-blooded manner, says that Mr. Gandhi shall not be negotiated with. It may be a matter of humorous indifference to the Under-Secretary of State, but when he has lived as long as Mr. Gandhi, and done as much for the world as Mr. Gandhi has done, he will be entitled to smile at a statement such as I made just now; and the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State, I am sure, will live to be ashamed of the statement he has made here to-day, and so will the Government.
There is not a civilised Government in the world that would have treated in that way the offer of Mr. Gandhi, who asked, not that he should discuss whether or not civil disobedience should be withdrawn, not that he should discuss any conditions whatsoever, but—and the right hon. Gentleman knows it—all that he asked was that the Viceroy should see him and discuss whether it was not possible to find a way out of the present situation; and the only answer that he has got is the answer that the right hon. Gentleman has given to-day. I think, as I have already said, that that answer is a disgrace, and if that is the final word, I am quite sure that it will band the Congress men together in more determination against the policy of the Government and the right hon. Gentleman. It is impossible that they can accept a. situation of that kind. I have already mentioned Lord Carson. In the case of Mr. Parnell, when outrages quite as bad as some of those that have happened in Bengal by the terrorists were happening in Ireland, the late Mr. Chamberlain conducted negotiations, while Mr. Parnell was in prison, in order to try to put. an end to the difficulties, and there was-no pledge from Mr. Parnell at the beginning. They just went in and discussed the matter and came to an agreement; and I believe now that it would be possible to arrive at an agreement if the Viceroy and the right hon. Gentleman would unbend in ever so small a manner.
The right hon. Gentleman said that the people generally are on his side. He 1567 really is living in a fool's paradise, and I do not understand the right hon. Gentleman, with the means of getting information that are at his disposal, making such a statement. Here is a letter which I have had sent me to-day in order to put before me the views of two leading men in the constitutional committee, and I have also had an opportunity of discussing the matter with Mr. Joshi and other friends who take a similar line to Mr. Tej Sapru and Mr. Jayakar. Here is their letter:(We) understand that you are speaking in the House of Commons this afternoon, and we therefore should like to put our considered opinion before you on the subject of Mr. Gandhi's request to the Viceroy. We find from the Times' of to-day that Mr. Gandhi has sent the following telegram to the Viceroy:'Will His Excellency grant an interclew with a view to exploring possibilities of peace?'That is all that Mr. Gandhi has asked; that is the only thing that he has asked.'Will His Excellency grant an interview with a view to exploring possibilities of peace? Kindly wire.'We do not read in it any threat of any kind.I should not think anybody else would either. They go on:We understand, however, that the request has been refused. We should be very glad indeed if you could draw attention to the terms of the telegram, and press for a further consideration of the matter, so that Mr. Gandhi would have a chance of putting his views before the Viceroy. It would be most unfortunate if he was denied the opportunity of seeing the Viceroy. We should not allow the answer to the question put by Mr. Gandhi to be prejudiced by tendencious telegrams which have been appearing in the Press during the last two days.I would call the attention of the Committee to the fact that most of the right hon. Gentleman's commentary on this was only gathered, as I understood him, from the newspapers. There has not been time to get any official statement, and I take it that he has no official statement, that he could not get one, as to what actually happened at the meeting of the Congress. Mr. Jayakar and Mr. Tej Sapru asked that we should not allow the tendencious telegrams in the Press to influence in this matter. They go on to say—and it is not only these two, but others who have seen me say exactly the same thing: 1568It seems to us inconceivable that a leader occupying the position which Mr. Gandhi does in the national life of the country should be denied the opportunity of seeing the Viceroy, for the purposes of exploring the possibilities of peace in India.I want to call attention to the difference between the sentiment and spirit of this letter and the spirit of the right hon. Gentleman. If we are to believe his statement to-day, everything is peaceful now in India. We have nothing more to worry about, everything is quiet, and the caravan will go on its way without the dogs barking in the future. The right hon. Gentleman led us all to believe that he has won his point, smashed the Congress campaign, and now everything will be well. Here are two men, who have never taken the extremist view on this subject, who are here at, great danger to their political reputation in and others taking part in the discussions that are being held, and they are unanimously of opinion that the right hon. Gentleman is quite wrong in thinking that he has now done with Mr. Gandhi, that if he only keeps him in prison, or puts him in prison when he thinks it necessary to do so, the Congress campaign is all at an end. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to reconsider the position, and to ask himself whether this attitude of mind that he has taken up is not one which has again and again failed in the object it has sought to attain. Again and again in India, again and again in' other places, Governments and Ministers have made exactly the statements that the right hon. Gentleman has made, and then, in a very-short space of time, they have had to withdraw and take up some other attitude.
I would call attention to the further fact in connection with this question, that this is not new. Ever since the first mutiny in India, right on till now, there have been continual risings, large and small, in the life of the Indian nation, and they have all taken place because the Indian people were not satisfied with the conditions under which they were living. The men and women on the North-West Frontier, the men and women throughout the agricultural areas, have again and again had "No rent" campaigns. The right hon. Gentleman took credit to himself to-day that the Government had dealt with some of the grievances con- 1569 nected with the collection of taxes. He knows perfectly well that one of the causes which brought about the breach between Mr. Gandhi and the Viceroy was the fact that just before Mr. Gandhi landed, one of the provinces had embarked on a "No rent" campaign. That "No rent" campaign was partially dealt with and a settlement was arrived at along the lines for which the right hon. Gentleman has taken credit to-day, but everyone knows that those changes would not have taken place but for the strike against rent. The right hon. Gentleman knows that perfectly well, and he knows, too, that the quarrel between Mr. Gandhi and the Viceroy was very largely due to the action of the Congress in. relation to that "No rent" strike. That being so, it is surely late in the day for the right hon. Gentleman to come to us and say, "Look what I have done; give me credit for what I have done."
I would have been willing to give the right hon. Gentleman more credit if he had taken the further step of instructing the Viceroy to interview Mr. Gandhi and bring about a settlement. Where is the dignity of Lord Willingdon in this matter? Who is the Viceroy, or who is the right hon. Gentleman, that they should ride the high horse in this fashion? Why should not the humblest Indian, even if he is in revolt against the Government, be seen by the Viceroy? The right hon. Gentleman saw Mr. Gandhi when he was in this country. It was only when he got across the water that the Viceroy, for whom the right hon. Gentleman speaks in this House, took the action that he did. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to take hack that definite "No" which he gave us this afternoon, and to say that he will fall into line with everybody else, Tory or Liberal, who has ever had to administer a great country like India or a small country like Ireland, and will take advantage of the olive branch that has been held out without any condition whatever. Mr. Gandhi has not made any conditions. All that the right hon. Gentleman knows about the Congress discussion has been gathered from the newspapers, which always publish very tendentious statements on these matters. I ask the Secretary of State again to reconsider the whole matter, not merely from the point of view of the people in 1570 India, but from the point of view of the people in this country.
There is a definite clear-cut public opinion in this country which believes that the reason why the Viceroy does not see Mr. Gandhi is more or less a personal one. I do not subscribe to that, but I think that the right hon. Gentleman's speech to-day, and what I cannot help feeling is the rather contemptuous way in which he has treated this business, give rise to a suspicion that the attitude taken by the authorities is, "We have got this wretched man down, and we are going to keep him down." That is not the attitude which the right hon. Gentleman took up when Mr. Gandhi was here. Let the Committee remember that he was then the honoured guest of the Government, he was received by His Majesty, and he was treated decently and reasonably. Mr. Gandhi responded to that treatment while all the time keeping his point of view, as the right hon. Gentleman did his. It is only when he gets to India that he is treated in the manner in which he has been treated. It is not the Government that has now made the first offer; it is Mr. Gandhi—the bruised, beaten and battered man who conies forward and says: "Let us meet together without any conditions at all, and let us try and find a way out." In such circumstances a real, genuine and decent conqueror would immediately hold out his right hand.
The right hon. Gentleman has boasted of his achievements in crushing Congress. That being so, an ordinary British spirit should lead him to say, "Now we will meet you; we will shake hands and try and find a way out of this dispute." We did it with Botha and with General Smuts. General Smuts is now here as one of the leaders of the British Commonwealth of Nations at the World Economic Conference. Only a few short years ago he was in the field against us. Botha, de Wet and Smuts rode in the Royal Procession in this country after their crushing defeat because the British people felt that the Dutch people had had their fight and that we had fought our dispute with them in the worst possible way, and that when it was over they should in the best possible way establish friendly relationships. Why cannot we do that with Mr. Gandhi? Why should the Government have any false pride or be afraid of the 1571 diehards in this House? I am sure that public opinion in this country would support the Government right to the end.
I want to say a few words with reference to the Meerut prisoners. I know it is like talking to a piece of wood to talk to the right hon. Gentleman about the Meerut prisoners. He is like Lord Carson. He made up 'his mind, but he never got to that Box in the fashion that the right hon. Gentleman has done. He was a bigoted Orangeman and took a very bigoted point of view and held to it. I can always admire a tenacious opponent, but in this matter we have the well-being of 300,000,050 people at stake, and we ought not to be wooden in our opinions or steel our minds against allowing their conditions to appeal to us. Just as we have appealed to the right hon. Gentleman for Mr. Gandhi, we appeal to him again for the Meerut prisoners. It will not be our fault if he stands pat. It will be his disgrace, not ours. He may ask, as was asked on the last occasion, what the Labour Government did or did not do. Nearly two years have passed since the Labour Government went out of office. I will submit to any censure that I have earned as a Member of that Government, but I am speaking now two years after the event.
These prisoners were tried in Meerut to escape the possible inconveniences of trial by jury. They have been in prison or on bail for four years. No act amounting to conspiracy has been proved against the accused. Acknowledged or presumed sympathy—in some cases denied—with Communism has been taken as sufficient ground for conviction. It is as though Englishmen were sent to gaol for being or being presumed to be members of the Communist party. When the late Lord Brentford was Home Secretary, I asked him whether preaching Communism was a crime, and again and again it has been said that it is not. The present Home Secretary, when answering me in connection with Tom Mann, declared that everybody was free to preach whatever theory of government they chose, and that they would only be prosecuted when they took some overt action against the Crown.
I challenge anyone who speaks for the Government to-night to bring forward a single charge that was either brought against these men or proved. The main 1572 evidence for the convictions was the organisation of strikes. We have here the hon. Member for East Woolwich (Mr. Hicks) who has helped to organise strikes. Everybody honours him. We also have the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall) and the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. D. Grenfell) and several more who ought to be in prison if organising strikes were a crime. We cannot have one law for. the Indian trade unionist and another law for the English trade unionist. I am told that this wretched prosecution has already cost over £250,000. They have had hundreds of thousands of documents and all kinds of hearsay evidence, and in the end sentences were passed, not for doing anything, but for organising strikes which at the time were perfectly legal, however inconvenient to the authorities. I know the Minister of Labour hates a strike in this country because it gives him a lot of trouble, but he does not think of clapping the leaders in gaol because he knows that we would not allow him. In India, however, the right hon. Gentleman and his officials do it.
These men were sentenced to three, four and five years rigorous imprisonment and to periods of transportation for five, seven, 10 and 12 years, and in one case for life. The right hon. Gentleman talked this afternoon as if peace reigns in India. He knows perfectly well that we shall get no peace in India while workmen are treated in this fashion. There will be no peace either while the Government are obliged to open such wretched prisons as the Andaman prison, which, unless they are very much improved, are death traps for all who go there. Assessors were appointed to assist the judges at the trial. They unanimously indicated their opinion that in six cases the prisoners were not guilty, but only one of these was acquitted. In seven other cases the assessors declared by four to one that the prisoners were not guilty. but only two were acquitted. These facts seem to us to afford clear evidence of a Judge Jeffreys spirit and a determination to convict anyhow. We contend that the sentences are savagely severe. No account has been taken of the fact that the trial lasted for four years. I will not weary the Committee with the story of the adjournments and the length of the speeches. One learned counsel for the prosecution spoke for a month or two, and then complained that nobody inter- 1573 rupted him. I should think that he bored them to tears. This is the manner in which justice is administered in India. We are not in Soviet Russia, but two British engineers were being dealt with at this trial.
§ Sir S. HOARE
As the right hon. Gentleman seems to be addressing me personally, I will intervene to make this one observation. This case is at the moment. or will be in a week or two, under appeal. I can only express my regret that the right hon. Gentleman should deal with i', in the way that he has in view of that fact.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I know, and it may, when it comes up for appeal in a week's time, be adjourned for another three months, and then the Crown will want to put forward another lot of stupid evidence, and it will be adjourned until Christmas; and probably by this time next year we will be debating it, as we have been debating it at any time during the last four years. If the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to say so, I do not blame him for the Indian law. It has grown up, and there it is. It ought to have been repealed long ago, and I understand the right hon. Gentleman is hoping to repeal it. If he is, for goodness sake do not let these men suffer because we have not repealed it. He teals me that the case is coming on for appeal, but I know that, and I am deliberately making this appeal to him. I do not see why these men should be kept in prison a minute longer. I do not think they should have to submit to the sort of administration of justice which the document I hold in my hand proves they have had to submit to, and I know that in his heart the right hon. Gentleman does not agree with it any more than I do. There is m4 a Member of this House who would say it ought to take four years to bring about results in a trial anywhere. I would not have mentioned Russia but for the fact that we imposed an embargo on Russia because of two Englishmen. There are two Englishmen in this case, but this House is not bothering anything about them, we cannot get a settlement of their case.
This is a case in which, on the advice of his responsible Minister, who is the Secretary of State, His Majesty ought to instruct the Viceroy to send the two Englishmen home and discharge the 1574 other prisoners. They have been punished more than enough. The trial ought never to have started, and that it ought to have been stopped a long time ago, but we should probably have been turned out by the Liberal and Tory parties if we had put that proposal forward when we were in office, as we were in the Campbell case for interfering with the course of justice there. But I do not want to make any point about that. You can score off me, if you like about what ought or ought not to have been done by the late Labour Government. Here are these men, two years almost after the Labour Government left office, still in prison, still subject to another trial, which may take months and mouths. In these circumstances I ask the Committee to vote for the reduction of 1100, so that the right hon. Gentleman will know that he is to instruct the Viceroy to open up talks with Mr. Gandhi on no conditions whatever—just discussions with him as to whether it is not possible to find a way out of the present situation, and also to advise His Majesty to release the Meerut prisoners.
§ 5.19 p.m.
§ Mr. BERNAYS
Whatever the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition may say, it was clear from the speech of the Secretary of State for India that the position in India has improved in the last year, both politically and economically, and I suggest that the congratulations of the House are due to the right hon. Gentleman for the way in which he has handled the Indian situation, and particularly for the way in which he has on most matters been able to take with him the greater majority of the Members of this House. It is significant of the change in the situation in India that the controversy is now centreing round, not a declaration of further war but a settlement of peace. I find it difficult to support the demand put forward by the Opposition that Lord Willingdon should see Mr. Gandhi. It seems clear from the telegram that Mr. Gandhi has in mind some kind of pact on the lines of the 1931 Pact.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
Would the hon. Member please quote from Mr. Gandhi's telegram anything that conveys that impression?
§ Mr. BERNAYS
If the right hon. Gentleman had any other information on the situation, I wish he had given it to the House.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
The right hon. Gentleman, when he was speaking, depended on the Press telegrams. I am depending on Mr. Gandhi's own statement.
§ Sir S. HOARE
I depended both on the Press telegrams and the telegrams from the Government of India.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
Can the right hon. Gentleman quote us anything he has received from the Government of India showing any statement by Mr. Gandhi that he asks for an interview for any other purpose than to explore the possibilities of peace?
§ Sir S. HOARE
It is perfectly open to Mr. Gandhi to make a denial of the statements attributed to him by the Press.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
This is rather important. Mr. Gandhi has sent a telegram, which was read out. No other telegram, so far as the right hon. Gentleman or I know, has passed. What right have any of us to say what is in Mr. Gandhi's mind, other than what he himself has said?
§ Sir S. HOARE
It seems clear that the whole of last week at the Conference Mr. Gandhi supported the movement for continuing civil disobedience. If we are incorrectly informed, let Mr. Gandhi make his own denial.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
Then let Lord Willingdon see him. Who is Lord Willingdon that he should not meet him?
§ Mr. BERNAYS
The interruptions of the right hon. Gentleman have really strengthened my point. Whatever the object of Mr. Gandhi in seeing the Viceroy, the fact remains that the civil dis- 1576 obedience movement is still in existence. If he calls off the civil disobedience movement I understand the Viceroy will then see him. It is not a question, as the right hon. Gentleman says, of Mr. Gandhi coming to Lord Willingdon in a white sheet. It is a question of Mr. Gandhi coming to Lord Willingdon without a revolver. The right hon. Gentleman talked about Mr. Gandhi as the honoured guest of the Government in this country. I agree that he was an honoured guest of the Government in this country, and what did he do within three weeks of being the honoured guest of the Government in this country? He threatened to call on the civil disobedience movement. I can speak myself as a personal friend of Mr. Gandhi. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Well, I probably know him considerably better than hon. Members opposite. However, I will withdraw that assertion in the case of the right hon. Gentleman, because I will not compete with him in the knowledge of Mr. Gandhi. I fully agree with a great deal of what the right hon. Gentleman has said. Mr. Gandhi is a very remarkable man, perhaps one of the really remarkable men of the world, but at the same time, when one examines his actions since the making of the Delhi Pact in March, 1931, one can only come to one conclusion, and that is that Mr. Gandhi has been extremely unhelpful.
§ Mr. BERNAYS
I did tell him. The hon. Member cannot deny what was said by me in my conversations in private with Mr. Gandhi. The civil disobedience movement is still in existence. The Government has always taken the line that it cannot negotiate under the threat of violence. Why should this Government—this Government, at any rate—abandon that attitude now? After all, a large proportion of the Congress is now prepared, apparently, to call off the civil disobedience movement. The right hon. Gentleman says that if the Secretary of State refuses Mr. Gandhi's request it will band the Congress against the Government, but at present the situation seems to be that half the Congress is banded against Mr. Gandhi. If the Government accepted the proposal of the Leader of the Opposition they would be in the absurd position of opening negotiations 1577 with a man who is at the present moment the greatest obstacle to peace. In any case, these negotiations with Mr. Gandhi have already been tried once. Who broke the pact of 1931? It was not the British Government, but Mr. Gandhi. It was not the Government who fired the first shot, it was Mr. Gandhi, and really he must bear a great measure of responsibility for what has happened since. Not that, I in any sense question the wisdom of the Gandhi-Irwin Pact at that moment in Indian history.
I think that Lord Willingdon's policy is often contrasted unfairly with that of Lord Irwin. The one could not have succeeded without the other. It was a very different civil disobedience movement that Lord Irwin had to face in 1931—very different. I happened to be in India at the time. The European community were living almost under siege conditions. Two or three times a week the leading business men had to leave their businesses to act as special con-tables, there were riots and bloodshed everywhere. If I may use a seasonable metaphor, it was bodyline bowling of the most vicious character that Lord Irwin had to face, and it was Lord Irwin who, by his efficient batting, took the sting out of that bowling and prepared a comparatively easy wicket for Lord Willing-don. In other words, Lord Willingdon could not have succeeded with his resolute Government if India as a whole had not realised that Lord Irwin had gone to the full limit of conciliation. It is vital that we should realise that fact. There is no support in India for making the present position permanent. Resolute government can obviously be no alternative to self-government, and that is why it is so important that we should do our utmost to detach the best elements of Congress.
There is, I think, some misunderstanding here as to the nature of Congress. It does not consist merely of irresponsible revolutionaries. It contains in its ranks some of the best element of young India—ardent, full of sacrifice, ready to serve. The Constitution that does not secure their co-operation will be doomed from the start. By that I do not mean necessarily the actual co-operation of the Congress party. It is at least arguable that the Congress party has outlived its usefulness. It was a propagandist body. The Labour party in this country soon 1578 discovered when they came into office that it was impossible to run the State with the methods and the mentality of the Independent Labour party. The personnel of the Congress is a different thing. I regard it as most important that they should be given every encouragement to foresake their old allegiance, and to come in and work the new constitution. How can that be done? I suggest, not by long-negotiated pacts with a man who now, apparently, has reverted to extremism, and on that very subject is at variance with the majority of his followers. In the name of common sense why should we prop up the declining prestige of Mr. Gandhi at the expense of men who worked from the start by our side in producing the new constitution?
I fully agree with the right hon. Gentleman in all that he said about social conditions in India. The poverty of the country is appalling. It is terrible to realise that there are something like 200,000,000 people in India who never have more than one meal a day, and there is something in the charge that could be brought against our rule in India, that we have been too much concerned with being policemen and not enough with being social reformers, even when you take into consideration irrigation, railway work, and so on, that have been carried out. We cannot entirely blame ourselves for what has happened. We have not had much co-operation from the Indians in the direction of social reform. They have been more engaged in political agitation than in social reform. I remember a lady telling me in Delhi—she was engaged in baby-welfare work—that she had lost all her workers because all the people who used to come and help her were now engaged on political agitation for the Congress. We hope that that situation is now over, and that there will be, when self-government is formed, the necessary driving force that comes from public opinion to make a better India, not merely for the politicians, but for the peasants.
§ 5.33 p.m.
§ Mr. MAXTON
Anything that I have to say is not dissimilar from what was said by the Leader of the Opposition. I was brought to my feet by an interruption made by the Secretary of State for India, during the speech of the Leader 1579 of the Opposition, wherein he suggested that there was something improper in raising the question of the Meerut prisoners while their case was the subject of appeal. That reminded me of a document which came into my hands this week, and which I was proposing to raise with the right hon. Gentleman, through ordinary correspondence, but when I found him so touchy on the question of discussing the Meerut prisoners while their case was under appeal, I felt that it would be quite appropriate for me to raise the matter publicly in Committee.
I have here, sent to me from India, a copy of an official publication called "The Review of the Week." I do not know its exact status. It is published from Lucknow, and is dated 26th April, 1933. It bears the imprint of the Assistant-Superintendent in charge of the Government Branch Press, Lucknow, and it deals with various Governmental activities. It talks about rural uplift in various districts, and general uplift. presumably as distinct from rural uplift. It contains extracts from speeches in the Press, and suggestions for promoting education in rural areas. One of these suggestions that interested me, as an ex-teacher, was where it said that the teacher's chair should be inexpensive, and that it is not absolutely necessary that he should have a chair and a table, because, in their surroundings, those pieces of furniture looked incongruous. "A rope is another necessary article for the school"—and so on, pleasant little bits of information like that. In the middle of all this is a paragraph headed "Communique," and it gives a complete account of the sentences imposed on the Meerut prisoners. It says that they were convicted of a conspiracy to deprive the King Emperor of his sovereignty of British India. That is not unlike the charge which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) has made against the policy of His Majesty's Government, because, pursued to its logical conclusion, it would deprive the King Emperor of his sovereignty in India.
Right at the end of this paragraph of details about the Meerut trial and sentences, is thrown in, in black print, in this Government publication, while these men's cases are awaiting appeal, and without any interruption of the 1580 general purport of the paragraph, these words:The following are the figures of the persons exiled or hanged by the Soviet Government in Russia from 1917 to 1930.The hon. Member for North Bristol (Mr. Bernays) talked about body-line bowling, or something of that sort; surely it is not the thing that, while the cases of these men are the subject of appeal, public prejudice should be aroused in a Government publication circulated through the community. The matter was taken up on the spot, and the responsible official has said that it was a typographical error that that particular matter had slipped into that particular place. These men have undergone a terrible trial lasting for four years, and they are living with sentences of from four years to 15 years hanging over them. They are preparing their appeals for submission to a higher court. To start making their position more difficult still by deliberate propaganda of this description seems to be more like the things that we deplore in Germany to-day than the characteristics that we are wont to attribute to British justice, or even to British sportsmanship.
I back up the appeal of the Leader of the Opposition that the Minister should alter his attitude now, after the expiration of all this time and after the men have already suffered very heavy penalties—one of their number having died during the course of the ordeal—on a charge which might be levelled against any person who is in opposition to the Government in power, if, added to the ordinary political opposition, there is an intention in the propaganda to bring about fundamental social changes. That is not limited to political agitators in India. For a Government to treat these men as criminals and convicts of the worst type is a degradation of the whole of humanity in the period in which we are living. The right hon. Gentleman has paid tribute to the Viceroy for the state of peace that exists in India as compared with conditions two or three years ago, and he has had the full support of the hon. Member for North Bristol, who, I suppose, is the official spokesman to-day for the Liberal party. I do not understand this particular phase of modern Liberalism. It becomes more difficult to understand every day that 1581 passes. When a Liberal spokesman gets up in this Committee and approves of the suppression of free speech—
§ Mr. BERNAYS
On a, point of Order. May I ask the hon. Gentleman in what passage of my speech did I approve the suppression of free speech?
§ Mr. MAXTON
Is it unfair—if it is unfair I will withdraw—to say that when the hon. Member pays tribute to the position in India to-day, compared to what it was two or three years ago, when that position has been achieved by the suppression of political parties, the imprisonment of leaders and the shutting down of free propaganda in Indian home-rule, he is giving approval to the suppression of free speech in political life? I cannot see that that is unfair.
§ Mr. BERNAYS
Will the hon. Member be kind enough to be corrected by me. He does not make a distinction between free speech that is an incitement to violence and free speech that is not. What has been suppressed is the free speech that is a direct incitement to violence, precisely as it would be here.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I still fail to recognise that as Liberalism. I see, sitting in an obscure position on the Front Opposition Bench, the Leader of the Liberal party. In his palmy days, long before he was Prime Minister and when he was a great agitator, in the days of Limehouse and so on, the description that the hon. Gentleman gives to agitation in India is exactly the description that the Conservative party gave to the speeches of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). He was inciting to sedition and revolution, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) was one of his lieutenants.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
The hon. Gentleman has no right to suggest that I incited to sedition and revolution.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I do not think I had got very far away, but there are right hen. Members of the House who are touchy about their past. I was not trying to be offensive to either the one or the other; I was paying them the highest tribute that I can pay to Members of 1582 the House, because I think a lot more of the agitator than I think of the statesman.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I only wish that the two right hon. Gentlemen could resume the role of agitator. It may be true that neither the one nor the other ever overstepped what they regarded as the limit, but Governments who watched them doing it believed that they were over the limit. I do not believe that you can make the qualifications about liberty that the Lion. Member tries to make—
§ Mr. BERNAYS
May I ask the hon. Gentleman what is the difference between the way in which the present Government are handling the Indian situation and the way in which the Labour Government handled it?
§ Mr. MAXTON
That brings me to another point of the hon. Member's speech. He must not try to make me responsible for the actions of the late Labour Government. He knows that my present position in the House of Commons is due to the fact that I did not approve of and support the policy of the late Labour Government. He said himself, further, that it was in the early months of their period of responsibility that they discovered that they could not govern in this country on the principles of the Independent Labour party, and so they prepared to govern on the principles laid down by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) and those who sat below the Gangway in those days—with the results that are upon the nation now.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I think they did not resign for the same reason that the present Government do not resign. They lived on in the hope that they would have some stroke of luck. Every Government is like that, as the hon. Member will realise more and more the longer he is in the House. When a Government gets into office it remains in office for two reasons. One is that it believes that the alternatives to it are too horrible to contemplate and the other is that it thinks that, if it just allows time 1583 to pass, things are bound to get better. In the case of the late Labour Government, things got worse. At the moment, the Government are having one or two little strokes of luck. There is a slight boom in trade, and they are allowing themselves to be led away by the belief that we are in a new era of prosperity. They know that it has come upon the world, just as the economic blizzard came upon the world, as an ad of God, but, if that prosperity should continue, they will naturally take credit to themselves for having achieved it. It is however, a temporary thing.
That is exactly what the Labour Government thought. In Indian policy, as far as I see it, there will certainly be no substantial difference between the last Conservative Government, of which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping was a Member, the Labour Government which followed it, and the National Government which is now in power. The point to be noticed here is this: You may have squashed the principal voices calling for national independence in India; you may have hammered into acquiescence the beginnings of a working-class movement demanding relief from their poverty; but does any intelligent person in this Committee believe that, at this time in the world's history, you have destroyed the desire for national independence in the heart of the Indian people, or that you have crushed the desire among the common people of India for relief from their poverty and for a better social order'? Those two things are there in the minds of the people of India. You can suppress, you can imprison, you can issue your ordinances, you can govern strongly; but you cannot crush that national desire in the minds of the Indian people, and you cannot crush the development of a working-class movement which is insistent that there shall be new economic orders and new social orders in the future differing in a revolutionary way from those under which people have lived in the past. Mere suppression, mere bullying and imprisonment, are not essentially different from the terrible example we have been seeing in Germany in the last months. The attempt to rule by crushing the voices of your political critics does not solve one single essential prob- 1584 lem. The problems still remain to be solved, and will remain to be soved.
I thought there was something pathetic in the Secretary of State's review of what has been done during recent years in the way of the economic development of India. It was a pitiful token, when, as the Leader of the Opposition said, you have there a country as big as Europe, leaving out Russia, a population of hundreds of millions, a fertile soil, a good climate, great national resources, and, after hundreds of years of British occupation, you can point to no real development of the wealth production of the country that is going to give to the people of India more than a starvation level of existence. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman, while he made his speech to soothe the consciences of the Committee, will not allow his own conscience to be soothed, but will go to his task at the India Office determined that while he is there some serious attempt will be made to show the Indian people that British rule in India has not been a mere tyranny of an exploiting nation over an exploited nation, that we have not gone there merely for treasure for ourselves.
I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on one thing, and with this I close. I congratulate him on having come to the House of Commons to present his own Estimates. It has been rather unusual in recent times with Members of the Cabinet; they have usually passed it on to the Under-Secretary. No one here will deny to the Secretary of State for India the credit of having appeared here himself and stated his case. I, for one, hope that, should he remain in that position, and the present Government remain in office until this time next year, on that occasion, when we are discussing the Estimates for India, there will be something better to record, both politically and economically, than it has been possible to put before us to-day.
§ 5.55 p.m.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I am sure that, however we may differ about India, the vast majority of Members in the House, wherever they sit, will feel how frightfully out of balance has been the summing up of the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) on the British contribution to Indian progress. When I listened to those impressively uttered 1585 sentences, which did not seem to me to form at any point the remotest contact with reality or truth, delivered in that charming manner which always impresses the House, I could not help feeling how difficult must be the task which lies before any British Government who are endeavouring to convince people who hold the hon. Member's views of the merits of their administration and of the value of their mission in the East. The hon. Member spoke as if nothing but exploitation and tyranny had been the characteristics of British rule, and as if there was nothing to show for it except, as I gathered, the canals and so forth of which the Secretary of State spoke today. But in 50 years 100,000,000 more people have come into being in India. It may well be, as I said to the House on another occasion, that it would have been better had fewer new people come into being, and if a greater measure of subsistence had been possible for the great mass of the people than has been, so far, within our power to achieve; but no one can possibly say that a country whose population has increased by almost two-thirds in quite a short time is a country in which there is an undue pressure by an alien Government upon the updraught of national life.
I do not rise to follow the hon. Member in his remarks, but, in the few words which I shall venture to address to the Committee, to congratulate the Secretary of State and His Majesty's Government upon the very satisfactory administrative tale which they have to tell. The right hon. Gentleman told us of progress of every kind in the last two years in India. That was most gratifying to Members of every party, and all that I can venture to say is that it seems that the progress which he has described marks, according to his statement, the arrival of a British Government in India, not by any means at its goal, but at a very satisfactory resting place at the present time. Most of all was his speech satisfactory when he spoke of the improvement in law and order. He not only told us how there was a great diminution in the number of persons in gaol for civil disobedience, but the most satisfactory point of all was the very distinct measure of assistance given to the Government by Indians themselves in the passing of legislation to avoid the 1586 necessity for the re-enactment of the special ordinances. All that was satisfactory, and no one could deny to the right hon. Gentleman the great credit which is due to him and to Lord Willingdon for the reconstruction work in social order which they have achieved without bloodshed and without any violent commotion or tumults, but simply by firm and patient administration of the law.
But what a contrast this procedure has been to the policy of the late Government! The hon. Member behind me made a desperately far-fetched effort to make out that they were both parts of one tremendous whole. I cannot see any contrast greater than the contrast between the Gandhi-Irwin Pact and the answer which the right hon. Gentleman read out with justifiable pride which the present Viceroy has sent to Mr. Gandhi. It is impossible to place in juxtaposition that Treaty which was negotiated only two years ago and the answer which Lord Willingdon has so properly sent to Mr. Gandhi on this occasion, and of which the House, I gather, almost unanimously approves, except for the Socialist party, without seeing that, here you have a contrast as vivid and as absolute as the contrast between oil and vinegar, or black-and white. There has been a great change. That is the point which I desire particularly to impress on the Committee. When more than two years ago I and others criticised very strongly the policy of the Socialist Government, it was not only upon the constitutional issue on which they had embarked that we dissented. It was as much, in some ways even more, upon the administrative weakness which was throwing India into disorder. We all remember that there were horrible events at Cawnpore, there was the occasion at Lahore when the British flag was torn down and solemnly burned by the India Congress, and there was the disobedience campaign of Mr. Gandhi. All these processes were accompanied by continued degeneration of law and order throughout India, causing the utmost anxiety, more particularly as this process of immediate administrative degeneration was accompanied by what looked like a veritable landslide in the constitutional sphere.
At any rate, in the administrative sphere the right hon. Gentleman has com- 1587 pletely reversed the policy of the late Government. Instead of inviting Mr. Gandhi to negotiate a sort of treaty with the Government of the King Emperor, he has been refused access until he places himself within the law. That process redounds enormously to the credit of the administration. What is the use of pretending that there has not been a great change, and what would be my justification if, having seen that great change made in the direction that I urged, I should sit silent and not get up and offer my congratulations, unwelcome though I have no doubt they will be to my right hon. Friend, for having taken the advice that I offered two years ago, for having digested the reproof that I administered two years ago to his predecessor and for having accomplished this great task—this is a most important point—without any serious or horrible incidents such as may easily occur in collisions between the police or the troops and the people. Where are all those tales that we used to hear of it being impossible to reestablish order or deal with Mr. Gandhi and the Congress movement without sending out a division of troops from home—without terrible events on the spot? When we suggested to Mr. Wedgwood Benn that law and order should be maintained, that you should not make treaties with law-breakers, and so forth, when it was suggested that you would have to suppress this Congress movement of civil disobedience, the answer was that it was easy to use machine guns and artillery, but horrible massacres would be perpetrated upon the helpless civil and working-class population. There was no truth in all that. All these were defeatist tales of weakness and falsehood to lead us to take decisions which were not warranted on the merits and were not justified upon the facts. All that has been completely exploded, not by any arguments that any of us delivered but by two years of administrative achievement, the effects of which are now before us and are indisputable. It is simply straightforward, firm administration of law and order, the avoidance of bargains struck between the Viceroy and a man in quasi revolt which have been sufficient to change the entire picture of India from the melancholy, formidable and lamentable state which it presented two and 1588 a-half years ago, to the extremely satisfactory condition—I hope not too optimistically stated—which the Secretary of State has laid before is to-day.
What of this talk about the present Central Government of India being an organism so inefficient that it had to be changed for something quite different? We have been told again and again that the present system is a very bad one, and that the Central Government is very inconvenient and must be replaced by something better. Here you had the most difficult situation you could possibly have. You had the country thrown into great disorder by the weakness of administration of Mr. Wedgwood Benn and, I am sorry to say, the late Viceroy. You had at the same time an important constitutional change bruited about everywhere and pushed forward. You could hardly have a more difficult situation in which to restore order without bloodshed, but it has been done. This despised Central Government machine, which we are told is so bad that it must. be swept away, has proved an effective engine smoothly and easily to change the whole situation and to re-establish a perfectly satisfactory condition of affairs. I am entitled to draw this moral from my right hon. Friend's speech. He has enormously improved the situation and swept away many of the evils. He has done it without any of the disasters that were foretold. He has done it with the existing machinery of Central Indian Government, and he has done it by adopting methods pressed upon his predecessor by many of those to whom in other aspects of the Indian constitutional question he finds himself opposed. [Interruption.] I never said so. I draw my own moral.
But I should not like the Secretary of State's speech to go out to the world as if it was a proof that the policy that the Government have been pursuing is the same policy as that of the late Socialist Government. It is the opposite policy, and it has been completely successful. [Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman is premature in interrupting me. In administration it is the opposite policy. In the constitutional sphere, which we are not allowed to touch upon, it is the same. My argument will presently be, having had this success in reversing the policy of the late Government in the administrative sphere, why do yourselves 1589 out of the possibility of an equal advantage if you reverse it in the constitutional sphere? I say it is an entirely different policy. It is within the rights of my right hon. Friend, and it is essential to the argumentative position of the Government, to contend that this great o improvement has not been effected by the forces of repression—has not been effected by locking up 60,000 people, that these events have merely been administrative incidentals, and that the real thing that has pacified India has been the hope held out of the great constitutional changes embodied in the White Paper policy. No one can decide about that. It is a matter of assertion and counter-assertion. The right hon. Gentleman quotes some anonymous civil servant or someone, not improperly at all, in his support to show that this peaceful condition which is being re--established is due to the hopes of the Indians that their national aspirations will be realised, or words to that effect. He is entitled to say that, and to say what a great help it has been in restoring order to have this constitutional discussion going on in the meanwhile; but it is equally open to those who disagree with him to argue that his achievement is all the greater because, in spite of the extremely disturbing and subversive suggestions which have been continually made about the departure of the British Raj from India, and all the lcose and vain talk that has been indulged in upon that matter, and all the hopes which have been roused, many of which are not going to be fulfilled, he has been able to restore peace and order without any serious difficulty.
There are the two views. No one can say which is proved right to-day. We shall see. But, arguing from the experience of the past, I would most solemnly urge that, just as he profited so much in the administrative sphere by taking the advice that we tendered to him and to his predecessor so, if he follows the same path in constitutional reform, he may reap another harvest. It is in my opinion a very dangerous and sinister fact that the right hon. Gentleman and the Government, and those who support the present constitutional proposals, should use the well-earned credit that they have gained by pursuing a policy of one kind in the administrative sphere in order to gain confidence for a departure of a totally different kind in the constitutional sphere.
1590 If the right hon. Gentleman had followed the policy of Mr. Wedgwood Benn, if Lord Willingdon had followed the policy of Lord Irwin, I have not the slightest doubt that this great Conservative majority in the House of Commons would have brought the policy to a standstill. But he has confronted Parliament; he has confronted the country with great administrative success, and then he misuses it by a perversion of the real facts. He has misused all the prestige he has got by this action in order to urge us on to courses which are totally different in spirit and which, if carried into effect, would rob him and rob his successor by the very means by which he has succeeded.
I have no more to say except this. The fact that order and peace have been restored in India is no ground for abandoning constitutional reform in India. On the contrary, it liberates the cause of constitutional reform from the hideous danger with which it was intermingled in the time of the late administration. Never has there been a more favourable opportunity for proposals for constitutional improvement and reforms in India since law and order have been restored by considered, sober and sedate methods. Certainly we must persevere in that course. Those who are represented as diehards and obstructives in this matter simply because they rest themselves in the main upon the reports brought to this House by the Statutory Commission, do not in any way draw from the re-establishment of piece and order in India the conclusion that nothing should he done and that no forward movement should be made. No, the conclusion which I would draw from it, with all the modesty I can, is, just as we have been right on the question of the method of dealing with disorder in India, so the wise and prudent limits which we assign to constitutional progress at the present time, will mark the best path which the right hon. Gentleman can follow in his future conduct of Indian affairs.
§ 6.17 p.m.
§ Mr. HALES
I welcome the opportunity of addressing the Committee on the eve of my departure for India, and no doubt the subject of conversations with the leaders of public opinion will be the progress of the' White Paper. There seems to be an impression which 1591 is almost universal that the White Paper policy which is now being put through is that for which India is asking and will be accepted with the greatest satisfaction. That is not so. It may also astonish the Committee to know that the criticisms of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) are mild in comparison with those which emanate from all sides in India. The Secretary of State for India is looked upon as a gentleman who intends at all costs to prevent the nationalisation of India and who by the communal award is to set up what are practically watertight compartments so that there can be no nationalism in the true sense of the word for many years to come. During my visit to India last year, when I stayed five months and travelled all over the country, that view was expressed by everyone with whom I came in contact.
Various speakers have referred to the question of the giving up of civil disobedience and taking from that the idea that it is a sign of weakness. That is not the fact. Congress to-day is thinking of the question of whether a negative policy of non-co-operation and civil disobedience is advisable, or whether it should drop that negative policy and adopt one of a, more positive kind and capture the legislatures. Although Congress cannot be said to represent the whole of India, we must not forget that it is the only organised body in India which is really efficient and effective. No matter what Government there is in England, whether Liberal, Labour, Conservative, National or whatever it is which has to deal with the matter, it cannot neglect or ignore the Congress if any stable Government in India is to be satisfactory. We have in the White Paper a number of safeguards.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN (Captain Bourne)
I must point out to the hon. Member that he must not discuss the details of the White Paper, because they require legislation and should not be discussed in Committee of Supply.
§ Mr. HALES
It would be interesting for the Committee to know the opinions of the leading Indians from information which I have received in the last few days. Mr. Jayakar, one of the leading Liberals in India, says: 1592It seems to me that all the undesirable features of the result of the Round Table Conference have been repeated in the White Paper, and nearly all the suggestions made by Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru and myself to the Secretary of State are to he found in the document.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
The hon. Member is now trying to introduce by a side wind what I ruled that he must not do, and that is discuss the details of the White Paper.
§ Mr. HALES
I was wishing, is possible, to put forward the Indian point of view, so as to give the Committee my impression of the prevailing opinion in India to-day. The view in India of what would be satisfactory is that much more rapid progress should be made in the control which the Indians desire in the immediate future. Yesterday Dr. B. S. Moonje, the working President of the Hindu Mahasaba, came to see me on the subject of the Army. He suggested that within a limit of at least 30 years the whole Indian Army must be within Indian control. That is only one instance—and I could mention many more—of what the Indians desire, and indeed demand. There is one aspect of this problem which seems to have received very little attention, and that is the question of Burma. As the Committee well know, a poll was taken as to whether Burma should come into the Federation or remain outside. It was a great surprise to many people when it was found that by no less a majority than three to one Burma decided to remain within the Indian Federation. Although every arrangement had been made for the separation of Burma the Government. are now confronted with the fact that it is entirely opposed by the vast majority of the Burmese people. One sees there conditions which are totally different from those of India. The cost of living is very much higher, and the result is that a great amount of Indian labour is imported annually so that costs can be kept down in many of the industries.
I would draw the attention of the Committee to a fact which is very rarely thought about in this country. We are attempting at a distance of 6,000 miles to come into close contact with the people of India. I feel sure that a visit, extending for months if necessary on the part of our leaders here in order to come into contact and daily conversation with the 1593 various leaders in India would result in the rapid working out of a constitution which will be satisfactory to all concerned. There is at the present time a very great desire in India for a settlement of this vexed question. On all hands, especially among the trading community, the wish is expressed that India should have her rights, at the same time preserving to a very large extent the control of Britain. That was the almost universal expression of the leaders with whom I came in contact last year. It is a pity that some means cannot be found of getting into close contact. Whether or not it is possible for the Viceroy to see Mr. Gandhi, surely there are means of sounding opinions on the other side to see whether some via media could not be found which would bring about the much-desired solution. As representing many commercial interests in this country and for the last 16 years travelling continuously in India the volume of trade between the two countries is the criterion by which the opinion of Indians may be gauged. We are India's best customer and she is ours, and it would be almost criminal if civilised intelligent men could not in this twentieth century devise some means of bringing about a satisfactory settlement to which all could subscribe.
I shall be leaving for India next week in the hope that at least I can do my little bit to assure the Indian people, that although a National Government is in power it is anxious to bring about a settlement. There is very good feeling in India towards England. On all hands it comes out when least expected I ask the Committee to do everything possible to try to bring about a much-desired solution of this great problem, so that within a very few months such a condition of affairs may be achieved that once and for all there may be a, thorough understanding between England and India to the mutual advantage of both countries.
§ 6.28 p.m.
§ Mr. CHARLES BROWN
During the last four years I have listened to many Debates in this House, on the subject of India, and I have never before ventured to take part in any of them, but I do not offer any apology for doing so this afternoon. The question of India is a fascinating subject to anyone who takes a wide and general interest in human affairs. The people of India, their religions, 1594 philosophies, customs and habits of life are all of absorbing interest, to those who are interested in the various groups of mankind as they strive to work out their destiny, and it is obvious from what has been said in this House from time to time, that the human factor of western civilisation on India has resulted in cultural and industrial changes Which are far-reaching in their character and significance.
I wish to make reference to some of those social and economic questions which the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for India told us now loom very much larger as subjects for discussion and concern in India than the political and constitutional issues which have been debated recently. I do not know whether I shall carry the Committee with me in general agreement when I say that the day is past when we should merely look upon India as a land where there are opportunities for the investment of capital, where there is any amount of cheap labour available which can be very easily exploited or a place where one can find careers for the sons of the upper middle and professional classes from this country. We have gone beyond the time when we look upon India in that way, and I hope the Committee will take the same point of view.
The Secretary of State was justified in contrasting the situation as it exists to-day with the situation of a year ago. He more or less congratulated himself on the change that has taken place during his term of office. On the other hand, the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) was justified in pointing out that the policy which he has advocated, having more or less been adopted has, on the surface, achieved results which, he said, would be likely to accrue from his policy, if that policy were put into operation in the sphere of administration. The right hon. Member for Epping was right in stressing that point. I do not know whether the Secretary of State regards what has taken place during the last 12 months as resulting from the policy for which the right hon. Member for Epping stands, but the right hon. Member for Epping was certainly entitled to make that point.
The Secretary of State referred to other matters of great importance, such as health, the weather and crop prospects. He told the Committee that in the sphere of health administration we 1595 have a very fine record in India. I do not want to dissent very strongly from what he said on that point. Our record might very well have been much better than it is. There is a great deal that we could have done that we have left undone. The right hon. Gentleman went out of his way to create the impression that we were benevolent rulers at work in that great country, doing everything we possibly could to lift the people from low standards of life to higher levels, and that no stone was being left unturned to accomplish that object. I do not know that I quite agree with him about that, but I will not pursue that point further in this part of my speech.
Dealing with the subject of crops, he referred to the fall in agricultural prices and the economic difficulties that had been created for the agricultural population of India on account of that fall. He told us of the difficulty of raising the land revenues, consequent upon that fall in prices and gave us an instance in the United Provinces, where he referred to crores of rupees. If I am right in my estimate of the value of a crore of rupees, it is worth £750,000. He said that the landlords had been persuaded to reduce rents to the extent of £3,000,000 in the United Provinces. While he was making that point, I could not help feeling that the Government might try to bring similar influence to bear upon the landlords in this country. It seems to me that the landlords in India can easily be persuaded to do certain things, if we take the right hon. Gentleman's statement at its face value.
I have been looking into some reports in regard to the conditions in India. While the right hon. Gentleman was right in reminding us of the things that have been done, I am going to speak of things that we have not done and which we might have done. Many reports published concerning India, written as they are from certain standpoints, stress what has been done by British administration in that country. The increase in population has been referred to by the right hon. Member for Epping. He regarded that increase of population as a tribute to British administration in India. If it had not been for British administration, as he led us to infer, there might not have been that huge increase in population. During the last 10 years 34,000,000 1596 have been added to the population of India. It is interesting to note in some of the reports the attempts that are made to apply scientific knowledge of the Western world to certain matters that need attention in India.
Because of certain interests of my own, I am particularly concerned with some of these subjects. There is the question of improving agriculture by experiments in plant-breeding of various kinds, which are being carried on with beneficial results. In regard to rice, millet, wheat and tobacco experiments in regard to plants are being carried out with the idea of augmenting the Indian crops of these commodities. I read that statement with a great deal of interest, but as long as the existing social order or the existing economic system remains, it does not seem to me that very great benefit will accrue to the great mass of the people there from what is being done in that connection. Steps are being taken in regard to controlling pests, and also in animal husbandry.
Certain industrial experiments have taken place with the idea of establishing new industries in India. In a recent report it was stated that the importation of paper into India is likely to be checked by Vile development of the paper industry in India. When reading a paragraph like that, one cannot help wondering what is going to be the reaction of a process of this description being established in India. It is likely to have adverse effects on similar industries elsewhere which even now cannot find markets for their goods. I read in one report that the curtailment of the production of turpentine in America had stimulated the production of turpentine in India. When I pursued the matter a little further I found that the curtailment of the production of turpentine in America had been due to the abnormal fall in price, and that the fall in the price of turpentine in America had stimulated the production of turpentine in India. I do not see how these two processes going on in different countries are in any way mutually complementary. They are mutually antagonistic, and in the end they cannot result in any benefit to either country concerned.
The right hon. Gentleman was right in calling our attention to what has been done in regard to irrigation. He sought to create the impression that most of this 1597 is being done almost from a humanitarian and philanthropic motive; that we were there with the benevolent idea of helping the Indians. Let us take the question of irrigation. In a chapter in a recent report where the question of the increasing area brought under irrigation was described, we were told that the return on the capital invested in irrigation schemes brings a safe 5 per cent. That is not an exorbitant rate of interest, but it rules out any idea that this is merely being done for philanthropic, benevolent and humanitarian reasons. It is being done because in those areas, in the circumstances which exist, we find profitable sources of investment for capital which cannot be used elsewhere.
I am quoting from a report on The Moral and Material Progress of India, for 1930–31. That report goes on to tell us that, there may be legitimately described as industrial workers in India somewhere in the region of 20,000,000. Those people are engaged in factories and transport. India is now classified by the League of Nations as one of the eight most important industrial countries in the world. The report goes on to say:Admittedly, the state of the labouring classes in the large industrial towns, such as Calcutta, Bombay, Madras, Rangoon, Cawnpore, is in many ways unsatisfactory. There is yet a vast amount to be done in such matters as the provision of medical facilities, proper sanitary arrangements, workmen's insurance, etc.There are other remarks about the working of the Factory Acts in India. The report also states that the number of factories has increased from 7,863 to 8,129, and that the factory population is 1,553,000, of whom more than 250,000 are women. It is evident that the process of industrialisation is going on relatively rapidly in India and that inevitably will create in India a new series of problems, which always arise when an industrial civilisation is superimposed upon an agricultural civilisation. There have been certain tentative attempts to deal with the new situation. An Indian Trade Union Act was passed in 1926. That Act grants privileges to and places liabilities upon registered trade unions. The liabilities of the unions are that they must frame and supply copies of rules and that there roust be audited accounts. The executive of the unions must have 50 per cent. of people on them whose members are actually engaged in the industry con- 1598 cerned, and the unions must confine expenditure to certain specified objects. In return the officers and members obtain protection from liability for breaches of contract in connection with acts done in furtherance of a trade dispute.
This is a point I want to put to the Secretary of State. There seems a strong disinclination on the part of the employing classes in India to recognise the trade unions, although they are now legal institutions. The provision that the union executive shall consist of 50 per cent. of members actually engaged in the industry with which the union deals is important when you find that in cases where there has been an industrial dispute the members of the executive of the particular union working in that factory have been instantly dismissed because they are members of the executive of the union. I want to ask the Secretary of State whether, in spite of the passing of the Trade Union Act, 1926, there is any disposition on the part of employers to recognise the trade unions which have been formed? As a corollary to that Act there was passed the Trade Disputes Act, 1929, which sets up courts of inquiry and conciliation boards, but the awards of the conciliation boards are not binding on the parties concerned. Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether these conciliation boards are working, and, if so, with what result?
In India, as in any other country, where there is industrialisation, strikes are a, characteristic feature of industrial life. In 1930 there were 148 strikes in India involving about 196,000 men. I shall he told that there were fewer strikes in 1930. That is perfectly true, but they did not involve a, fewer number of persons. I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman to tell us whether any real effort is being made to settle disputes through the Trade Disputes Act, 1929 Now I turn to the question of hours and labour. The recognised hours of labour in India are 60 per week. A good deal has been said recently about reductions in the hours of labour. President Roosevelt is saying something about it, and there is a discussion in certain industrial countries about a 40-hour week. The Royal Commission on Labour in India, which reported in 1931, recommended the establishment of a 50-hour week. I want to know whether steps have been taken to implement that re- 1599 commendation. In that report I find this passage in connection with the jute mills association:The restriction under the Factories Act to a 60-hour week has undoubtedly been very beneficial to labour. Workers have more leisure, especially at week-ends, and general efficiency has considerably increased. The restriction has had little or no effect on the jute industry, the increase in the efficiency of the workers making up for the restriction of working hours.That statement corroborates the experience of all industrial countries where long working hours have been steadily reduced. The reduction of working hours has increased the efficiency of the workers and, probably what is more important to hon. Members, has not seriously damaged the interests of the employers. But, as the process of industrialisation proceeds in India, the productions of India will come increasingly into competition with goods manufactured in this country and in other parts of the British Empire, and it might be that the long working hours, the worst conditions, the lower standards of life in India, as it becomes increasingly industrialised, will imperil the standards of life of the workers in this country. It may imperil the standards of life of the cotton operatives in Lancashire and, therefore, I want the Secretary of State to tell us whether there is anything afoot in India to reduce the length of the working day. That is one of the most effective methods of raising the standards of life of the working classes. We know what has been the effect on the workers of shortening the working day in other parts of the world.
Let me call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to one or two matters in regard to wages. Industry in India does not appear to remain located in one place; it tends to move to areas where labour is cheaper than in the area where it was first established. You may establish an industry in a locality and the pressure of public opinion may lead to the standards of life of the workers being gradually raised. But India furnishes an almost unlimited supply of cheap labour and, consequently, if you get stable political conditions there will be a tendency for capital to be invested. The textile industry which has been located in the vicinity of Bombay now shows a tendency to move to Southern India. And look 1600 at the wages which are being paid in Southern India! Women workers are in receipt of wages from 15s. to 24s. a month. I want to impress that upon hon. Members. Men workers get from 20s. to 30s. per month. We just understand that this process is calculated, in regard to certain industries, to undermine the standards of workers in our own country. A weaver in Bombay with two looms was receiving from 65s. to 80s. per month. In the new mills in Southern India a weaver working four looms is receiving 35s. per month. This tendency of industry to move from a locality where pressure of public opinion and organisation has raised the standards of life and wages, to other localities where cheaper labour is available, has meant a good deal of demoralisation of the original workers, and also the demoralisation of the new batch of workers who are taken on.
There is another matter referred to in the Report of the Royal Commission on Labour in India—the money-lending system. I confess that until I read the report I did not know very much about it, but chapter 13 of that report reveals an appalling state of affairs—appalling to me, at any rate. Let me quote one passage:We are satisfied that the majority of the industrial workers are in debt for the greater part of their working lives. Seventy-five per cent. per annum is a common rate of interest. The basis of the rate of interest is one anna per rupee per month, and rates of interest are reported as high as 225 per cent.But how are these industrial workers recruited? India is an agricultural country, and they come from the rural districts to the towns. They have to borrow their railway fare to get to the place where they hope to get employment, and they have to pay a jobber to get them a job in the mill. Then, under the system of paying wages which operates in India, they do not get any for the first six weeks. Wages are paid monthly, but not at the end of the month; it is sometimes a fortnight after the end of the month. So that these people go into industry with this burden of borrowed money for railway fare, paying somebody in the mill to get them a job, and then having to live for six weeks on credit before they receive any wages at all. It is an atrocious system, and we are entitled to ask whether the right hon. Gentleman has considered this economic 1601 question. In his speech he stressed the point that the political issues had faded into the background, that civil disobedience does not now occupy the public mind, and that it was questions dealing with social and economic problems which were being discussed. In that case will the right hon. Gentleman tell us what is being done in regard to this social and economic question? He took pride also that he had almost restored law and order. I hope he will take a little pride in trying to remedy some of the social and economic abuses which exist. The Royal Commission, on the question of money-lending, recommended:The recovery of any amount advanced to meet travelling expenses should be made illegal, and other advances to workers before actual employment, begins should be irrecoverable in the courts.Has anything been done to implement these two recommendations? The report also says:Employers should adopt a weekly system of payment.Has anything been done in that connection? Have the Government any schemes in mind for the establishment of co-operative banks with a view of eliminating the moneylender from the Indian economic system? As the right hon. Gentleman has restored law and order, cannot he turn his attention to these social and economic questions? If his success in one direction is as pronounced as he claims it to be, we may hope that he will be equally successful when he turns his attention to these other matters.
It may seem somewhat ridiculous to talk about unemployment in regard to India, but I wish to say a few words about it. I know that there are no statistics available on which one can base firmly any point one puts forward. We have been assured that the system which prevails is more or less as follows: The agricultural workers go in and out of industry. They work for some time in the factories and then, as there is no pension or insurance system, they return to their villages, having meanwhile lost their contact with the land. They go back after a spell of work and, perhaps not, having earned enough money to pay off all their debts, they have to be maintained by their families and relatives in the villages to which they return. I do not know if 1602 the Government borrowed the idea of the means test from India, but the method now employed in this country is very similar to what happens in India. The industrial workers, no longer wanted in industry have to be maintained by their families and relatives. I do not know if it is any good asking a Government which adopts that system in this country to abolish it in India, so I would urge them to abolish it here first and then in India. The system which I described is virtually what is happening in India at the present moment.
My last word is in regard to education. Many a time in this House, when constitutional questions have been discussed and suggestions have been made that Western reforms of government should be applied to India in any form, I have listened to hon. Members say that it is utterly ridiculous to make such suggestions in regard to a country where there are 350,000,000 human beings, most of whom are illiterate—they can neither read nor write. They say that it is utterly ridiculous to apply Western ideas and forms of Government to a community in which that is one of the outstanding facts. In that connection the Statutory Commission issued in September, 1929, an interim report on education which I read at the time with a great deal of interest. I was looking into it again the other day, and I found that they said on that subject:The Indian boy and the Indian girl are not lacking in innate intelligence and in capacity to benefit by that training of body, mind and character which a well-planned system of education can give.In the opinion of those who wrote that report, there is therefore no innate defect in the Indian character which makes it impossible for them to benefit by a really efficient educational system. What is being done in regard to development of education in India? The innate capacity is there, and every Member of the Committee will agree that one of the roost dangerous things in this world is ignorance. I would like to quote some figures on the subject of education from a document recently presented to the Joint Select Committee. They show that, out of the provincial revenues for 1933–34 totalling £59,000,000, a little over £8,000,000 is to be spent on education. That does not seem a vast sum of money for the teeming population of that country.
1603 In conclusion, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman and his Department will now use as much energy in improving the social and economic position of the masses of the Indian people as they have used in crushing and stamping out a political movement. If they do that, it will in the end redound far more to their credit and honour than destroying the Congress party and the Congress movement. It is a sheer illusion on their part to think it is destroyed. They may suspend its activities temporarily, but they cannot indefinitely keep down the opinion of more than 300,000,000 people. There is one thing they can do. The right hon. Gentleman laid great stress on the fact that people in India were now much more than formerly loyally co-operating with him and his Department in the work they were doing. In his future activities he should concentrate his attention on social and economic issues, and seek the loyal co-operation of those in India who will do all they possibly can to improve the working conditions, raise the standard of life and lift the people out of the darkness into the light and knowledge. Then he or some future Secretary of State for India can well come here on another occasion and, in presenting his Estimates, claim that our association with India has been of a highly beneficial character to the crowded millions who inhabit that great country.
§ 7.7 p.m.
At this moment Parliament is under a greater responsibility in regard to Indian affairs than at almost any other time, and it is only natural that hon. Members should show anxiety in regard to these matters. Labouring as we are under this feeling of anxiousness, the whole Committee heard the Secretary of State, when he opened the Debate, with a feeling of extreme relief in that he was able to give a review as hopeful and as satisfactory as was the case. There is no doubt that it was an extremely satisfactory statement on Indian affairs during the last year. It is particularly satisfactory to learn of the gradual breaking down of the civil disobedience campaign. It was suggested by the Leader of the Opposition that the only reason for that was that it had been stamped out. I would 1604 suggest, on the contrary, that this campaign of civil disobedience has died down far more because the people of India are always happier and more contented when they are under a strong, firm administration than when they are not. I suggest, therefore, that under the administration of the last two years this civil disobedience campaign has waned to a great extent. That, I believe, is the explanation of this extremely satisfactory change.
It is always hard for us in this House to arrive at an opinion on any matter connected with India and to have the feeling in our minds that we know we are right, because almost all of us are without practical experience of Indian affairs. A number of hon. Members have lived in that country for years and worked there in a number of different capacities, but, none the less, the majority of hon. Members only know the country, as I do, from hearsay. We now feel a great responsibility and a great anxiety as to whether we are right in any conclusions at which we may arrive. The only way in which the situation can be looked at is that we must regard ourselves in the light of a jury and, to the best of our ability, arrive at our conclusions on the evidence which comes to our notice in many ways.
The right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), in congratulating the Secretary of State on the highly improved condition of law and order in the country, drew the conclusion that, though it was possible under the existing situation to make that very important improvement in administration, it was therefore, he suggested, none the less impossible to advance constitutionally by the same means. Here I know I am getting near dangerous ground, and I hope I may not transgress the rules of Order. There is no doubt that in almost everything it is impossible to stand still. One always has to advance or to go back, and it is hardly ever possible to stand on the same ground. I believe, in the case of India, that is in very general terms the position at which we have to look. For very many years Government after Government, administration after adminstration, have made declarations and promises all tending to indicate to the people of India the desire of this country to further a more responsible form of government within the country. I doubt whether that can be put off indefinitely. Surely, if it be 1605 the case that it is the course of wisdom to grant to the Indian people some form of central government, then the obvious and the only way in which an advance of that kind could be contemplated would be with safeguards of a nature adequate to the welfare of India and the interests of this country.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
The hon. Gentleman is now going into details of the White Paper, which I ruled earlier must not be discussed.
I must not pursue that argument any further. It may be that a change in the form of administration in India would, for a time, involve a downward tendency in many of the departments of administration. One realises that in the East and in India, wherever a local administration is operating, there are great apathy and a very large measure of corruption under the administration, but I suggest that the only way in which objections to that would or could be met is by the foundation of public opinion, and I believe that only by increased representation will a factor of that kind arise satisfactorily. One cannot compare East with West, this country with India, but none the less it is admissible to say that any one who casts his mind back 100 or more years in the history of our own country will find a state of administration that was corrupt and infinitely more inefficient than that which we know to-day. It is the force of public opinion over a number of years which has brought about the change and improvement.
All the anxiety which has been expressed, not only in this House but on all sides, as to the interests of this country and the repercussion on other parts of the Empire in the event of Indian affairs going seriously wrong, is perhaps a little overweighted, not because those considerations are not of the highest importance, but because we tend to overlook what is, I know, the extremely real regard and feeling for the interests of the Indian people. Three hundred millions of people are indeed our responsibility. They have become so over a great number of years; whether we like it or not, this country and this House bear a. great responsibility for the welfare and happpiness of that huge and extremely diverse population. I believe that in anything which we may do in this 1606 country for the future of India, we shall have the backing, and on the whole the co-operation, of the Indian peoples. It may be that they have no extreme loyalty to this country. They are not of our race. It may be that their loyalty would not arise from any reason of kinship. What I believe is and always has been the foundation of it is that all these races have the utmost respect and regard for a nation which has always maintained a fair and trustworthy form of government, and in whose word when given absolute confidence may be felt. That, coupled with the maintenance of law and order, peace and tranquillity, makes up the reason for the loyalty which we have had in the past from the Indian peoples, and these things will, I believe, maintain it in the years which are to come.
§ 7.23 p.m.
Duchess of ATHOLL
In the few minutes left I have only time to deal very hurriedly with one or two matters which have recently come under my notice and which arise out of the speech of the Secretary of State. My right. hon. Friend praised the health administration of India, but he said very little about the administration of the hospitals. I have had brought to my notice lately by a very senior officer of the health service in one of the Provinces, an officer who has recently retired, the fact that an increasing number of hospitals have passed under the control of local authorities, with a very grave loss of efficiency. That cannot be a surprising statement to anyone in this House who has studied any of the reports as to the work of many of the local authorities in India. The Secretary of State praised the Indian Medical Service. There we shall all agree. But my right hon. Friend did not remind us how largely the Indian Medical Service is being replaced by the provincial medical service, or the British medical officer in the Indian Medical Service by the Indian. It has lately been said to me by more than one person who has lived long in India that Indian rank and file are sometimes found to be very reluctant to go to a hospital of which the presiding officer is not a European, because, while there are many Indians who make admirable medical officers on the technical side, they do tend to be below the British standard in the administration and control of a staff. I am told that very often 1607 there is great reluctance on the part of Indians to go to hospitals that are not managed by a British medical officer for fear they will not get proper attention from the subordinate staff.
The Secretary of State spoke of the lessening of the evil of terror in Bengal. I am sure we all wish to do the fullest justice to the most courageous and energetic efforts of the Governor and all those, British and Indian, who have worked with him. But do Members of the Committee quite realise what the position still is as regards the precautions necessary for the safety of members of the services 4 Members of the Indian Civil Service and of the police in Bengal have been ordered always to carry loaded revolvers. Magistrates and superintendents of police go about with armed guards, and judges and magistrates sit in their courts with loaded revolvers on their desks and an armed guard at the door. Therefore, although it may be that things are better than they were a year or six months ago, do not let us delude ourselves with the idea that life is quite easy and pleasant and safe for those who are carrying on the work of government in that Province. Nor let us run away with the idea that terrorism is confined to Bengal, though it is much more prevalent there than elsewhere.
Then I wish to raise a point with regard to defence. It is unnecessary for me to point out how immensely important the railways must be in a country of the vast size of India, or how our troops on the frontier and elsewhere must depend on the efficient working of the railways for their security and supplies. The rising in the Punjab in 1919 brought home to the Government of India the need for securing a disciplined British reserve for the management of the railways, in case there should at any time be a failure of the Indian staff to run the railways efficiently and loyally. For that reason I understand that formerly the Indian Government trained every year some officers and men of the Royal Engineers in the management of locomotives on the Indian railways In reply to a question some weeks ago I ascertained that for the last four years no such officers and men have been trained in the management of Indian locomotives. This is at a time when, from figures supplied to me in answer to another ques- 1608 tion, I learn that the number of Europeans and Anglo-Indians in the railway service has very seriously declined. When the Under-Secretary of State replies I hope he will tell us whether the Commander-in-Chief is satisfied that, with a decreasing number of Europeans and Anglo-Indians on the staff of the railway, and without any of the trained British reserves to man the locomotives, the defences of that great country can be adequately secured.
§ 7.29 p.m.
§ Mr. E. WILLIAMS
I do not propose to deal with the constitutional issue but I would like to draw the attention of the Minister to some matters of an industrial and economic character—
§ It being half-past Seven of the clock, and there being Private Business set down by direction of the Chairman. of Ways and Means, under Standing Order No. 8, further Proceeding was postponed without Question put.