HC Deb 01 November 1934 vol 293 cc395-405

4.8 p.m.


I beg to move, That it is desirable that the publication of the Report and Minutes of Proceedings of the Joint Committee on Indian Constitutional Reform and of such further Records as may be laid upon the Table by the Committee shall take place simultaneously in Great Britain and in India, and that copies printed by His Majesty's Stationery Office be published in India at the same time that they are published in this country. The Joint Select Committee on India having finished their prolonged, and, I think I may justly say, arduous labours, the Report is presented to the House, and I have been directed by the Committee to make the Motion which stands in my name. I understand that the Committee requested the Lord Chairman to make a similar Motion in another place. I understand that unless this Motion be carried by the House, the moment that the Report of the Proceedings and Records are laid upon the Table, they will become available to any Member of the House. There would follow inevitably piecemeal publication, or publication of extracts and summaries in this matter, and India and Burma, which are immediately concerned, would be dependent upon such telegraphic reports as might reach them for a knowledge of what the Report of the Committee actually was. It was the unanimous opinion of the Joint Select Committee, which was not always unanimous, that it would be a great misfortune if the document were published first in this country, and if India and Burma were dependent on telegraphic summaries for their knowledge of it. Accordingly, the Committee directed me to make this Motion in order that publication may take place simultaneously here and in India and in Burma. I understand that if this Motion is carried, the Report will be available to Members of this House some time probably in the late afternoon of 21st November, and that it will be generally available in large numbers to the Press on the next morning. It will be simultaneously available in India and in Burma.

The Lord Chairman, on behalf of the Committee, put himself to considerable trouble to ascertain the earliest moment at which simultaneous publication could be arranged. The House will, of course, remember that both in the case of the Report of the Statutory Commission, which was unofficially known as the Simon Commission, and in the case of the White Paper, such simultaneous publication was made, but they were not papers in the possession of Parliament, and no question of Privilege could be raised, and the Lord Chairman, having consulted the authorities of the two Houses, ascertained that if, in anticipation of the judgment of Parliament, he had allowed copies to leave this country, or took steps to secure simultaneous printing in India, he and any others who were responsible would have come within the Privilege of Parliament. As neither their Lordships wished to go to the Tower nor members of the House of Commons to the Clock Tower, we did not think it proper to take that risk.

That, I think, is all that it is necessary to say, except to add that, that being granted, the Lord Chairman, on behalf of the Committee, made inquiry to see whether it was possible to shorten the intervening period by the use of aeroplanes, but it appeared that that would not only involve a very considerable, and probably the House will think unjustifiable additional expense, but that, even so, very little time—I think only two or three days—would have been saved. Therefore, that course was not recommended. Those are the only reasons for which, under the direction of the Joint, Select Committee, I make this Motion to-day.

4.14 p.m.


No one, I think, could possibly object to the principle of the Motion which my right hon. Friend has just submitted to the House. We quite understand that the Joint Select Committee, after their arduous labours, are most anxious that the people of India shall learn the blessings which are to be conferred upon them at the same time as the glad tidings are imparted to both Houses of Parliament in this country. Nevertheless, although the precedent may be quite satisfactory, the extra delay, although it may be we have no means of preventing it, is serious. There have been very long delays already. I am only going to pursue my argument on this matter along the theme of time and the consequences of delay. I am not even going to dwell upon the inconveniences which undoubtedly will result if this Indian controversy in its graver aspects should be so prolonged as to tread upon the heels of a General Election. On the contrary, I shall confine myself to the immediate practical time-table which lies before us between now and Christmas.

There is to be, as I understand, publication on the 21st or 22nd; that is to be the date of the simultaneous publication. Then, before Christmas, we are to have a meeting of the Council of the National Union of Conservative Associations, in accordance with the promise which was made, and which was so scrupulously interpreted, by my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council. If such a meeting is to give full and careful attention to the matter, this very bulky report ought to be spread wide through the country at the earliest possible moment. There ought to be three weeks before such a meeting in order to do that, after the publication of the report, and I doubt very much whether it will be possible in the time-table to fit that in. There would certainly be a disadvantage if the study of the report is cut down to, say, only a fortnight. After the Council of the National Union of Conservative Associations has met, we are, I understand, to have a three-days' Debate in the House upon the general approval or disapproval of the report. It is quite clear, therefore, that we have no time to lose.

I think, also, that everyone would wish, and that the Government would wish, to terminate as quickly as possible this present very unsatisfactory state of affairs—this unsatisfactory phase where the Government have to go about assuring their supporters that they are committed to nothing, and all the time events are moving swiftly forward in the sense of committing them very much. Also, I think that Ministers know all about the report. It is quite obvious, from speeches delivered by the Attorney-General, that they are very well informed. I dare say my right hon. and learned Friend has been so busy defending liberty that he has not fully appreciated the natural deductions which could be drawn from his remarks, but certainly it appears that he knew what was in the report, and was strongly advising people to have great confidence in it. Anyhow, I am only using this argument—which would very quickly lead me out of order if pursued it—on the point of time, to show how essential and important it is that the delay should be shortened to the smallest possible compass. Has it been shortened to the smallest possible compass? I am not making any assertion at all; I am simply asking for greater reassurance. My right hon. Friend suggests that everything has been done with the maximum of speed; he said that an aeroplane would be of no advantage, and so on. I am bound to say I should have thought that, if the report were signed, as it was signed, I believe, yesterday—


It was approved; it was not signed. The Report of a Select Committee of either House does not have signatures appended to it.


Well, at any rate it was approved. If it was approved and received its final release from the Committee yesterday or to-day, it would have been possible for a duplicate attested copy to have been included in the aeroplane which leaves on Saturday, the day after to-morrow, and this would have saved at least the difference between the air and the sea journey. Then the report could have been reprinted in India in a few days—in no longer time than it takes to print it here—and could have beers circulated then, saving 10 days. That might be a great convenience when we were discussing this matter, as we shall' be discussing it, at the Union of Conservative Associations, and also generally-for the convenience of the House and of the public. Perhaps my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will tell us whether it was not possible to save that time, because undoubtedly we ought to have the fullest possible opportunity of considering a matter of this kind.

There is only one other point which I venture to make in this connection, and that is as to the manner in which the report synchronises or does not synchronise with the elections which are taking place in India. I am bound to say I should have thought that a report of this character ought to have been in the possession of the Indian democracy before they gave their votes at the election which has now, I believe, already almost begun. I should have thought that it would have been entirely the wish of the Government to secure that course. My right hon. Friend will no doubt tell me that he has no power to control the working of the Joint Select Committee. I shall not argue that with him to-day, but at any rate he had perfect power, in consultation with the Viceroy, to arrange for such a minor postponement of the Indian elections that this very important document from their point of view would have been before them before the elections had begun, and when there was time for them to digest the whole matter. But, as far as I can gather, the way in which this thing is working out is that the bulk of the elections will be over before this report is made public in India. I gather that some of the most important Provinces will have voted before the report is made public. The United Provinces poll before the 20th November; the Central Provinces before the 20th November; Assam before the 14th November; the North-West Frontier Province—the key Province—before the 17th November. I should have thought that it was very inconvenient — most inconvenient — to throw this document, upon which so much interest centres, into the stormy field of Indian politics in the actual midst of the elections, and not to have arranged that at any rate all the facts were before the Indian electorate at the time when they were electing the Members for the new Legislature.

I am certainly not going to suggest that this mischance has been planned; but what would have happened if, when we were introducing the Irish Constitution, we had managed to let the actual facts of the agreement out in the middle of the election of the Dail; or, going further back, if, when we were planning the Transvaal Constitution, we had managed to bring that document out at the moment when the people of the Transvaal were already engaged in their poll. It would, I think, have been thought to be a rather unfortunate handling of the affair. I do not at all suggest that it is designed. If it were designed, it would be a bad design. But, if it has been unintentional, all I can say is that it falls very much below the standard of management in technical and tactical matters that we have been accustomed to look for in my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for India.

4.26 p.m.


I rise merely to express our agreement on this side with the Motion which has been moved by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain). I am afraid that it would be beyond my province to go into the question of the effect of the meeting of what I think is called the C.N.U., and which seems to have become analogous to the T.U.C. The present Government have to refer to some outside authority before they can act. I will leave that entirely aside. I will also leave the technical question of whether as a matter of fact one could have done anything by the use of the Air Service to the Secretary of State for India, who has had a very long experience in the air, and doubtless knows all these details. I would only say that, as one who took part in the long sittings in the Joint Select Committee, I am sure everyone on the Committee wanted to make greater haste, and, if I may, I would express our satisfaction that we are at the end of our labours. I hope this discussion will not be unduly prolonged, because it seems almost like the addition of just a little footnote to a rather long volume of work.

4.27 p.m.


I desire to associate myself and my hon. Friends with the request which is now being made. The course proposed is the proper course. Publication of this document here some time before it was published in India would arouse natural and proper resentment, and the problems with which we have to deal are problems which need as far as possible the elimination of all resentment. I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) is so impatient for the publication of the report. I should have thought, looking at his public declarations, that he would have been very much pleased if it had been delayed for a period, not merely of a couple of weeks, but a couple of years, or even a couple of centuries. We hope that he will restrain his impatience, and that, when the document is published on the 22nd of this month, it may command a larger measure of approval than his recent speeches have led us to expect.

4.28 p.m.


As a member of the Joint Select Committee, I would like to say a few words in support of the Motion. I agree with my colleagues that it is desirable that the report should be issued and published simultaneously in both countries. The delay that has occurred is not great compared with the time which has necessarily been taken by the Joint Select Committee, and I do not think that any member of the Committee had in his mind any idea of making the date convenient for the elections in India. I am not going into other matters, but I certainly hope that, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) suggests, after the publication of the report ample time will be given for its discussion both before and outside this House. I know it is often said that it has taken a long time from start to finish before the new Constitution has been reached, but, after all, it is a very formidable task in which we have been engaged, and we are not always so prompt even with our own affairs in this country. I think that on the whole the new Constitution for India would win the race as compared with the time taken over Waterloo Bridge.

4.30 p.m.

The SECRETARY of STATE for INDIA (Sir Samuel Hoare)

The four speeches to which we have listened, I think, will convince the House that this Resolution does not show the hidden hand of an unscrupulous Government. It is rather a Resolution at the invitation of a unanimous Committee composed of all sections of opinion both in this House and in another place. Indeed, as I listened to my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), I could not discover that he disputed the conclusion at which the Committee arrived, namely, that simultaneous publication is in the circumstances inevitable. That being so, he will pardon me for saying that I could not understand why he made the speech to which we have just listened. It seemed to me that there could be little other motive in his mind except generally to create an atmosphere of suspicion about the actions of the Committee and the motives which led them to their action.

Let me at once dissipate the suspicions from the mind of any hon. Member in the House wherever he may be sitting. First of all, so far as precedent is concerned, this action is strictly in accordance with the former practice of both Houses. Secondly, I should have thought that any sensible or reasonable Member of either House would have objected strongly to the Report coming out one day here and then coming out in garbled editions day by day and week by week in India. I should have thought further—here I am in some conflict with my right hon. Friend—that there was no one in the House, much less in the Government, and least of all myself, who is anxious to see any further delay. We are all convinced, most of all the Secretary of State for India, that this very unsatisfactory period in which the hands of Members of the Government are tied and the hands of other people are not always so closely tied had better come to an end as quickly as possible. I therefore should have been delighted if we could have brought the long proceedings to a termination far earlier than the date that we have in mind.

There have been delays. A good deal of the delay in the Committee was due to the inquiry of the Committee of Privileges last summer, and even now it takes some time to make the mechanical arrangements for simultaneous publication in India and in this country without breaking in actual fact Parliamentary privilege. I was astonished, remembering that my right hon. Friend is the guardian of the privileges of the House, at his suggestion that we could send out a copy from here by air and that it could then be printed in India. I will inform him that we inquired of the experts in Parliamentary procedure both in this House and in another place, and they were unanimous in saying that that would have undoubtedly been a great breach of Parliamentary privilege.


Does my right hon. Friend suggest that the House would not now authorise such a proceeding?


This, surely, is the simple course, to take no risk lest a document of this kind should be disclosed in any shape or form until it is published both here and in India. I deprecate the suggestion he made that my right hon. Friend the Attorney-General was already in possession of contents of the report. He seemed to suggest that he had seen it. Nothing of the kind. My right hon. Friend sitting next me has just confirmed that he knows no more of the contents of the report than the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping. That being so, I deprecate these suspicions and innuendos about the work of the Committee. Let the House rest assured that we all of us wish to see this report published here and in India at the earliest possible date, and in our view, and in the view of the Committee, 21st and 22nd November are the earliest dates at which there can be simultaneous publication here, in India and in Burma.

The question of the dates of the Indian elections never entered into the mind of any member of the Joint Select Committee. No one could have said last summer when the Joint Select Committee was going to make its report. It was, however, necessary as early as last May to settle when the elections should take place, and without breaking any confidence I can tell my right hon. Friend that the Viceroy and I agreed to the elections being held at or about this time as long ago as the early part of last summer, at a time when no one had the least idea when the Joint Select Committee was going to report. I claim that that completely disposes of any suggestion made by the right hon. Gentleman that there was some collusion between me and the Viceroy to avoid what he was pleased to call the democracy of India—a new phrase, or shall I say, rather a phrase that came out of an earlier chapter of my right hon. Friend's political career. Be that as it may, let the House take it from me that, so far from there being any collusion between the Government of India and myself as to when these elections should be held, they were fixed last summer at a time when no one knew when the Joint Select Committee was going to make its report. I think all these suspicions might have been avoided, and J think my right hon. Friend himself might have thought it unnecessary to make the speech he has just made if he had accepted the invitation that the Government and I pressed upon him now 20 months ago that he should be a member of this Committee. If he had been a member he would have known that there was not the least foundation for any of the suggestions and suspicions to which he has just given expression.

4.39 p.m.

Brigadier-General Sir HENRY CROFT

I think some Members, at any rate, did not quite understand the right hon. Gentleman's interpretation of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill). It occurred to me, and I believe to other Members, that my right hon. Friend rose for the purpose, if possible, of securing that this publication should be speeded up in India. That is a very proper suggestion. Everyone who has been reading the Indian Press for the last year knows that this question is one that has been mentioned in every newspaper in India. Whether the Report is going to be published before the Election or after has been common discussion throughout the whole of the Press. Although everyone will recognise the fact that immense difficulties have occurred and that the Select Committee, undoubtedly most wisely, have decided to do everything in their power to arrange for simultaneous publication in this country and in India —it is the obvious thing to attempt to do—at the same time I must assert, what I believe is correct in principle, that, in fact, Parliament alone can decide these questions, and it is only a matter of courtesy and convenience and wisdom to give simultaneous publication in India, and I think it really meets the point that he has raised. I will stand corrected if I am wrong, but I do not think there would have been any impropriety in this document being printed in India had it been thought wise so to do.

I must say, although we are assured that it could not be helped, it is really a deplorable fact that this momentous decision will be announced after practically all the Parliaments are elected except two or three. It would have been undoubtedly a very much happier outcome of this long protracted inquiry if the people of India had known before the elections took place the broad principles that were embodied in this great document. I can only ask hon. Members to consider for a moment what would happen if an election were taking place in this country and the whole question of the Constitution was in the melting pot, and they only saw the results perhaps two or three days after the elections had taken place.

4.42 p.m.


It seems to me most extraordinary that many Members seem to be under the impression that there is an exact comparison between India and England. They are talking about India as though it were a country that had the right to control its own affairs. We are only giving them a temporary opportunity of expressing their opinion. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) comes forward now as the champion of the rights of the people of India to know exactly where they are going to be. We remember the days when he was the champion of the people of England not knowing where they were going to get. Some of us believe in democracy in India as well as in England. I do not pretend to be the leader of any party, but, if democracy is a good thing for the workers of Great Britain—


That does not arise on this Motion.


I hope the time may arrive when the people of our Dominions—



Resolved, That it is desirable that the publication of the Report and Minutes of Proceedings of the Joint Committee on Indian Constitutional Reform and of such further Records as may be laid upon the Table by the Committee shall take place simultaneously in Great Britain and in India, and that copies printed by His Majesty's Stationery Office be published in India at the same time that they are published in this country.