HC Deb 01 March 1934 vol 286 cc1416-26

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Captain Margesson.]

11.1 p.m.


Let me express my great regret at the absence, owing to indisposition, of the Secretary of State. But I have no doubt that he will be defended with great ability, and I am sure that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will give me my deserts. The matter to which I wish to direct attention concerns the Secretary of State, the Governor of Bombay and ourselves. On 20th February there appeared in the "Times" newspaper, a cabled message from Bombay, the accuracy of which there is no reason to doubt, giving an account of an address by the Governor to the Legislative Council of Bombay. In that address the Governor urged the Members of the Council if they believed in the principles of the White Paper to come out in open and definite support of the White paper. On reading that I instinctively felt that this was not the course for a servant of the Crown, a high official who was the representative of His Majesty's Government, to take. His words, addressed to the Legislative Council in full publicity, would undoubtedly be taken by the Indian public as the settled policy of His Majesty's Government. I therefore drafted a question to the Secretary of State, without consulting anyone. I say that now because I was amused in the "Times" newspaper of this morning of being one of a group who are anxious to embarrass the Government. I did it from conviction.

There was a little difficulty about the question because there was some doubt whether the Governor was not one of those persons who was protected from such questions. But we found a precedent in a question that was asked by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) on the subject of the famous speech on Dominion status of the Viceroy, Lord Irwin, a question which asked, among other things, whether the Simon Commission was consulted before that speech was made. That was regarded as sufficient precedent and my question was asked. The question was as follows: In view of the fact that the principles and details of the White Paper are sub judice, will the Secretary of State inquire upon what grounds the Governor of Bombay has urged the members of the Legislative Council of Bombay to come out in definite and open support of the White Paper policy? My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wycombe (Sir A. Knox) asked a similar question, and the Secretary of State replied: It appears from a newspaper report that the Governor of Bombay, in the course of his address to the Legislative Council, appealed to Indian public men to support the general principles of the White Paper proposals openly if they did in fact approve of them. I can see no objection at all to such an appeal. It is fully understood in India that the White Paper proposals are under consideration by the Joint Select Committee and are subject to approval by Parliament."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th February, 1934; cols. 730 and 731, Vol. 286.] If the Secretary of State had offered, shall I say, a conciliatory explanation, if he had said that the zeal of the Governor had outrun his discretion, or something of that sort, I was prepared not to take the matter further. But when he said that he saw no objection at all to such an appeal, I felt it necessary to take the only step I could, and that was to draw attention to the matter on the Motion for the Adjournment. I cannot agree with the Secretary of State that the people of India understand that this matter is subject to the report of the Select Committee and to the decision of the House. May I for a moment consider the reasons why there has arisen this ambiguous position with regard to the White Paper. In the Debate on the Motion to appoint the Joint Select Committee the Secretary of State dwelt upon the fact that for the last 100 years we had been leading India in a Western direction and Westernising India, or at any rate the Indian intelligentsia. That may be a perfectly fair argument, but the right hon. Gentleman went on to say: To-day I venture to press it on the House"— that is the Westernising of India— even more strongly than I would press upon the House any explicit pledge in an Act of Parliament. The pledges of the past leave full liberty to Parliament"— I would like to emphasise that point— in the choice of the time and manner of constitutional advance. I accept this principle. Although it was Lord Curzon who with his own hand wrote the words about responsible government into the Declaration of 1917, our hands to-day are free to take what course Parliament in its wisdom thinks proper in pursuance of that declaration. Later, he spoke of "moral obligations rather than explicit pledges." Would that the Secretary of State had remained in that mood. But what happened? Later he said: I ask the House to give the Government their help in setting sap a strong and wise Committee."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th March, 1933; cols. 698 and 718, Vol. 276.] Did he set up a strong and wise Committee? It is strong and I hope it will be wise. But no one could say at any rate that it is an impartial Committee. He placed upon that Committee a considerable majority of eminent persons who had already pronounced strongly in favour of the White Paper and that majority included the chairman. We were told that there were certain eminent people who were opposed to the White Paper and were invited to take their places on the Committee but refused——


I must remind the hon. Member that he is now referring to a decision of the House in reference to the appointment of this Committee.


I do not know then whether I should be in order in referring to the Indian delegates. There were added to the Committee certain gentlemen from India, able and eloquent, who were called delegates. The Princes, I suppose, appointed their own representatives, but the others from British India, of whom were they the delegates? Were they the representatives of any large bodies in India? Were they not rather appointed by the Secretary of State himself in conjunction with the Government of India? Then the Secretary of State tells us to wait for the report of these gentlemen on the Select Committee. He had already told us to wait for the White Paper. We have had a succession of admonitions to wait There is the White Paper. There is a series of proposals. We are, more or less, intelligent people who can form our own opinion upon the proposals in the White Paper.

When the Secretary of State tells us to wait, I beg leave to ask, Are those who feel profound anxiety about the proposals of the White Paper to sit still, to sit silent, while doctrinaires at home and high officials in India are carrying on an energetic propaganda in favour of the White Paper? Is it intended to create a feeling of fatalism and defeatism, to create such an atmosphre as to produce the conviction that the proposals of the White Paper are inevitable? I would appeal to the Secretary of State to go back to his earlier and better mood, to convince us, if he can, but not to try to drive us. I have some hope of a better issue out of these troubles. The Members of the Select Committee are honourable and patriotic. They have heard the weight of evidence, they have Ireland and Ceylon before their eyes, and they must realise the baffling complexities and immense responsibilities of their task. Their terms of reference include not only examination of the proposals of the White Paper, but to consider the future government of India, words which give them the right to consider the whole theme of Indian constitutional reform. My most earnest hope is that the report of the Select Committee will be of such a nature as to unite all supporters of the National Government. That Government was placed in power to save this country, not to wreck the Empire.

11.12 p.m.


I should like to add my voice, as one who is entirely bewildered by the present situation on account of the contradictory statements of the Secretary of State for India on the one hand and, on the other, the statements made twice by the present Governor of Bombay. In his reply last Monday the Secretary of State said there was no need to worry because the masses of the people of India fully understand the situation. If, after months and months of giving our minds to this problem, many Members of this House find themselves bewildered, and we are told that the masses of the people, the uneducated masses of the people in India, fully understand the present position, I can only say that my admiration for the prescience, knowledge, and understanding of statecraft of those illiterate masses reaches no bounds. On the one hand we are told by the Secretary of State that the whole question of the future constitution of India is sub judice, and on the other hand we have the Governor of Bombay, who has twice made statements, one the appeal in his speech to the Legislative Council of Bombay and the other a written statement to the Boy Scouts of Sind, both of which are, in my opinion, highly improper. His message to the Boy Scouts of Sind——


On a point of Order. I desire to ask whether the Rule which says that there shall be no criticism of the representative of His Majesty in India, which means the Governor-General, also applies to the Provincial Governors. The hon. Gentleman has just said that the statement of the Governor of Bombay is highly improper. If that observation were applied to any statement made by the Governor-General, it would clearly be out of order.


On that point of Order. Is it not within the competence of any hon. Member of the House to put a Motion upon the Paper commenting on or criticising the action of representatives and officers serving under the Crown? If they think it right and proper, and if they are permitted to put a Motion on the Paper, surely a discussion of this kind is not out of order.


I submit that there is no Motion on the Paper, and that it is very improper that this matter should be brought before the House of Commons at all.


It is true that criticism cannot be made of the Viceroy without a Motion, but that does not apply to the other Governors.


Is it in order to make an indirect attack on the Governor-General by directly attacking a statement of the Governor of Bombay?


I see nothing out of order in that.


I thank you for your Ruling, Sir. What I was trying to say is that the written message by the Governor of Bombay to the boy scouts of Sind, in which he referred to them as "future citizens of an independent province," clearly prejudged the issue and presupposed that the White Paper will be accepted in its present form regardless of anything that the Joint Select Committee may say or do. The House is entitled to know whether these two actions on the part of the Governor were made on the authority of the Secretary of State, and, if so, I believe the House is entitled to a full explanation. If, on the other hand, he made these statements on his own responsibility, I suggest, with all respect, that the Cabinet should request him not to repeat such indiscretions. I will not go so far as some hon. Members might and say that the Governor should be withdrawn. That statement referring to the scouts as "the future citizens of an independent province," shows that the Governor has clearly made up his mind prematurely, and that he believes that His Majesty's Government have also made up their minds. What is important in that respect is that he is in a position to know. The hon. Member for Windsor (Mr. A. Somerville) said that at Conservative party meetings a section of the party have again and again been told that we must not prejudge the issue. In view of that fact, I should like to suggest that this House and the party are entitled to a full explanation of these two voices—the one in India and the other in this country.

11.17 p.m.


There is, as you have pointed out, Sir, a Standing Order of this House which prevents any Member criticising the Governor-General of India except by way of a formal Motion. The hon. Gentleman who has just spoken has described as highly improper the language of the Governor of Bombay. I want to reply to him and to those who support him, that their criticism, made in the way in which it is, of the Governor of Bombay, is also highly improper. If they wish—and my hon. Friend has powerful support from below the Gangway—to criticise him, they should have the courage to put down a Motion criticising the Governor's policy.

11.18 p.m.


The House will sympathise with the Secretary of State, who is unfortunately indisposed. May I inform the House that fortunately his indisposition is slight, but it has been thought wise for him to stay indoors for at least to-day. He has asked me to apologise not only to the House but to the two hon. Members who raised this point. In his absence I should like to come straight to the issue which has been raised by hon. Members. It is whether the Governor of Bombay, in certain statements to his Council, has prejudged the issue of Indian constitutional reform. I maintain that the action of hon. Members in bringing this question before the House this evening is premature. The hon. Member for Windsor (Mr. A. Somerville) referred to the fact that he based his decision to raise this matter upon a Press report. The Press report gave the general sense of the Governor of Bombay's speech. We have taken an immediate opportunity to find out the exact words which were used by His Excellency the Governor of Bombay and when hon. Members have heard the actual words he used, I feel sure they will have a clearer appreciation of what he intended to convey. I cannot, of course, read the entire speech, but I will read selected sentences. After starting this paragraph with some words in approval of the attitude of members of his council in that they were taking to constitutional methods, he said: I hope, therefore, that I can count upon your support of the policy at present adopted"— I wish to underline the words "at present adopted"— in the matter of constitutional progress in India. I believe that this council is at heart in favour of what is described as the White Paper policy. I do not mean that it is entirely satisfied with all the details, but that it accepts its general principles. I want to draw attention to the following words: If that is so, I would urge you gentlemen to come out in definite and open support of this policy and to avoid the idea that, by expressing condemnation of the policy as a whole, you can secure the desired modifications in detail.

Viscount WOLMER

Will my hon. Friend be willing to publish the whole of that document?


I think it should be sufficient that I have read what I have read, which is the apposite portion of the Governor's speech in reference to the point. I am concealing nothing from the House, and have no wish to hide anything, and I am treating the House with the frankness that it deserves.

The hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. Donner) said the question was whether the Governor had acted on the authority of the Secretary of State. I may say the relations between the Governor of Bombay and His Majesty's Government are exactly those relations which you would expect with a man on the spot who is thoroughly trusted in every way by the Government at home. We had no knowledge of the speech which the Governor intended to make, and the first occasion on which we saw the words he used was when we received this cable informing us of the contents of his speech. I can only say, with the authority of my right hon. Friend, who has instructed me to say this, that the speech has our unqualified approval.

The hon. Member for Windsor raised an anxiety which I believe, in his mind, to be a genuine one. He said he thought that by the words which were used by the Governor of Bombay a genuine misunderstanding would be created in the minds of Indians. I believe that if the hon. Member were able to study the political atmosphere in the Bombay Presidency itself, or, indeed, in India as a whole, he would find that such a speech as this has created absolutely no misunderstanding. He will have noticed already in the "Times" of to-day a report that the announcement that there has been criticism of the Governor has created indignation in Bombay and in other circles. I would refer hon. Members to those words which I have read out in which he states, in his last sentence: You can secure the desired modifications in detail. That will show that the Governor himself had in mind the possibility of modifications of the White Paper policy, and I believe there is no misunderstanding in India as to the possibility of modifying the White Paper scheme. I believe hon. Members will realise this if they try to understand the anxiety which many Indian politicians and those who are interested in the future of their great Continent at this critical time feel at the present moment. That anxiety largely arises from the fear that the scheme of constitutional reform, in which some of their members take a part, and which some delegates from India helped to frame, should not be modified to an extent which is repugnant to them at present in the Joint Select Committee. The Governor's action, I maintain, in making this statement to his Council, was only to ask those members of the Council who frankly believe that this is the best policy to support it. He used the words, I would remind the House, If that is so, I would urge you, gentlemen, to come out in definite and open support of this policy. I cannot myself see why the House should be critical of such action. It is well known that Indians who believe in, and find themselves fundamentally in favour of this scheme are frightened of coming out into open support of it in case by doing so they may not be able to secure modifications in the sense that they desire. Many of them have believed that by condemnation they may be able the better to achieve the modifications that they desire. I believe that there is nothing in the condemnation of the Governor of Bombay. I have said that we support the action which he has seen fit to take. I do not see that there can be anything wrong in a Governor coming out into the open in support of the policy of the Government. I believe that it is a perfectly natural thing for a Governor to express his views. This is the policy of the Government. It has been the policy of the Government, and we are not ashamed of it. We decided, having framed that policy, to submit it to a Joint Select Committee. We took the exceptional course of setting up that Joint Select Committee before the introduction of a Bill, so that the whole scheme should be considered in toto and in detail by an impartial Select Committee. I am very glad to say that that is actually happening at the present time. May I welcome the remarks of the hon. Member for Windsor when he said that he saw hope in the possibility of the Joint Select Committee attending to this matter in a thorough and painstaking way, and paying attention to the terms of their remit in the most general way. I am perfectly conscious, serving as I do as a member of that Committee, that the Committee is setting to work in the way that the House would desire; it is conducting its labours in a thorough and painstaking manner, and I feel convinced that the hope which the hon. Member feels in the future will be justified when he reads the Committee's report.

In conclusion, I would congratulate the House on the absence of any personal animus towards the Governor of Bombay himself. He is a personal friend of many of us in this House, and our loss is Bombay's gain. I believe that it is at the same time not in the interests of the representatives of the Crown in India that they should be submitted in this particular way to this form of criticism. The new Governor of Bombay has been there only a short time. In that period he has endeared himself to the citizens of the Presidency town, and I am perfectly convinced that he will endear himself to the citizens of the Presidency as a whole. He has done his best to bring sections of British and Indian opinion together, whether they be political or commercial, and I would only ask the House to give him an opportunity to develop that great work upon which he is engaged of bringing our two nations more closely together, and finding the greatest common measure of agreement between our two great countries.


In the minute that remains I would only like to urge my hon. Friend or others who agree with him to take immediate steps to place a Motion for an Address upon the Order Paper in view of the grossly unfair and unsatisfactory reply we have received to-night.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-nine Minutes after Eleven o'Clock.