HC Deb 22 March 1935 vol 299 cc1548-55

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

2.34 p.m.


I have two Amendments down to this Clause, but they are merely Amendments to secure information. Clause 91 is the first Clause which deals with the excluded and partially excluded areas. In it His Majesty's Government take power to alter the status of excluded and partially excluded areas, and I wish at this earliest opportunity to make it quite clear that I and many of my friends in the House desire that the backward tribes of India should remain under British control, and should not be controlled by the Governors of the various Provinces. The tendency of the Provinces is, and must always be, to bring the excluded areas into the same position as the rest of India, and I do not desire that they should be brought into the same position as the rest of India. These are tribes which are really aboriginal tribes, and, if they are dragged into the competitive system of industrial organisation—into the mills and factories of India—they will be ruined. The only chance for these people is to protect them from a civilisation which will destroy them, and for that purpose, I believe, direct British control is the best.

We have seen in other parts of our Empire the same process going on. The whole attitude of the settlers in Kenya, for instance, towards the population of Kenya is motivated by the same feeling that the more educated Indians have towards these backward tribes. They want to get them in as cheap labour. It is all part of the great labour problem all over the world, and, if these people are to be saved from the hell of civilisation as represented in more or less primitive countries, the only chance they have is British protection and British control, and to be free from the insidious advances of the rich people in the provinces to exploit and develop these natives. We talk about the Banias in India exploiting the peasants. My opinion is that the Banias are the backbone of India. It is not fair to put these tribes, for hundreds of years, I might almost say thousands of years, behind the Indian to-day into the unrestricted hands of people whose object must be to exploit their labour and to sell them cheap goods at prices they are not worth. The whole problem) of these aboriginal tribes is one that has exercised the minds of right hon. Members opposite and Government after Government for fifty years. We have devised, particularly in the West Coast of Africa, absolutely the best way of dealing with those people. They must be developed from themselves and not by being converted from good Nagas or whatever they are into bad Hindus. The whole of this process, the one chance of these back-ward tribes, depends upon being given protection and having the right to retain their access to land and the opportunity of developing without the interference of civilisation.

If only the backward tribes all over the world had managed to retain their land, they would have been in a far better position than they are to-day. If their education had been directed towards making them capable of living the best life under the old conditions, under communal tenure of land, with native law courts and native law subject, of coarse, to the decencies of Christian civilisation, there would have been some sense in it. I have not the slightest hesitation, after 30 years' experience of this problem, in saying that the best hope for backward tribes everywhere are the missionaries. The missionaries and the British Government together give these people a chance. Are we, under this Bill, going to surrender what is really the trust which is being put into our hands and hand it over to these Indian administrations? I have had an infinity of letters from India urging that they should be allowed to look after these people and stating that they would look after them as well as any Englishman could. Unless you have our experience of the last 50 or even 150 years in dealing with this problem, it is impossible to say that any other race on earth can look after them as well as we can.

Under this Bill the unfortunate aboriginal tribes of India, who were, after all, the original inhabitants of India before the Aryans and the Mohammedans came down and swamped the country. These people in India number, I believe, under certain estimates, 43,000,000, and we are only taking charge of some 13,000,000 under this Bill in any shape or form. If hon. Members will look at the Schedule they will see how few are the tribes which are to be protected at all. The excluded areas are: The North-East Frontier … Tracts. The Naga Hills District. The Lushai Hills District. The Chittagong Hill Tracts. Two of those are in Assam, the others are in the Central Provinces or thereabouts. Then we have the partially excluded areas which are much more numerous. We must not, in this Bill, sacrifice one tittle of our control over the development of these people. If 13,000,000 are all that we can save, let us save them. I strongly urge that, not only should they be protected from provincial administration but it should be the business of the Governor himself and not of any Legislative Council, and we should try and increase the number of tribes so protected. Many are spoken of as being criminal tribes. They are only criminal tribes in the same way as the Welsh or the Highlanders were criminal tribes, because they occasionally are provoked by the presence of civilisation. There is no reason why we should hand them over to civilisation. All that is required is that for another 20 or 30 years we should have administration by anthropologists and people whose whole trend is to develop and preserve all that is best in these native tribes. I am opposing this Clause in order that we may hear something from the Government as to their responsibility to these people. We are surrendering 350,000,000 Indians, and we are only taking charge of 13,000,000.

2.41 p.m.


I wish to emphasise the plea that has been made by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, not because I know very much about the tribes of India—I have not had the experience of many Members of this House—but I have had an experience which enables me to say that tribes similar to those we are discussing at the present time, are, under British rule, under a rule which I consider to be the best in the world. A few nights ago we heard a very humorous speech from the hon. Member for North Tottenham (Mr. Doran). He told us that we on this side of the House were always willing to attack our own people and our own rule, and to stand up for the rule of every other country hut our own. The hon. Member is not present now, but I want to say that, as far as I am concerned, the rule which I had the experience of seeing administered in Uganda a few months ago led me to the opinion that similar rule applied to tribes we are considering now in India would be beneficial to them.

Frankly, I cannot see any reason at all why the same kind of Government should not be applied in India as is, in fact, applied by the British Government in Uganda. In Uganda I saw a very simple people owning their own land and having perfectly free access to the land in almost every part of the country. I saw them working in the factories under conditions which, while perhaps I would not consider them satisfactory in every detail, were at any rate more satisfactory than in most, if not all of the places where British administration is carried out. I gathered in conversation which I had with them, and with those responsible for their Government, that they are, in fact, a happy people. Why are they a happy people? I gather that they are a happy people in the first place because the rule under which they are living at the present time is British rule, administered in such a way as to enable them to keep as close as possible to those old habits, under which probably for hundreds, if not thousands, of years they had been living. I found that they had free access to the land, that they were able to grow their own food and that, consequently, they had a certain measure of independence which otherwise they would not have had.

Further, in their dealings with their employers for whom they worked in the factories and ginneries, although they had no trade unions as we understand trade unions they had by some means been able to get in touch with each other and they were able to insist on what they considered to be reasonable conditions of employment. I also found that they were free from one of the curses of India, under which lawyers are able to induce simple people to quarrel with each other and to go to the law courts on matters of very little importance, with the general result that the only persons who benefit by the proceedings in the law courts are not the people who go to court, but the lawyers. In these circumstances, I came away from Uganda with the feeling that if the type of administration carried on there could be imported into India and other places where such administration is not adopted it would be very much better for the people concerned. It would lead to a much greater amount of friendship and to much more friendly relations between this country and those people whose welfare we are now considering.

2.47 p.m.


I am very glad that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman raised this most important question. It is a question which we all approach with the greatest possible sympathy. Moreover, it is a question that we all approach having in mind the fact that there is perhaps no part of our Indian administration of which we ought to be more justifiably proud than our administration of these backward races. Some of the greatest Indian administrators, some of the greatest experts, naturalists and historians have devoted their lives to the service of these backward tribes. I can assure the Committee that it is from that point of view that the Joint Select Committee approached the question and it is from that point of view that we have drafted the Bill. We realise just as keenly as the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Walthamstow, West, (Mr. McEntee) that these backward people will only be victimised if we try to impose upon them institutions which, while they may be suitable for more advanced civilisations, will do nothing but lead to their exploitation. We realise the great danger of imposing upon them anything in the nature of representative Government as we understand it. We realise the great danger of imposing upon them criminal and civil codes, and all that is connected with them, which, while they may be admirable for civilised communities, are extremely dangerous and injurious to these backward races.

That being so and after very full consultation with the experts in India we have scheduled certain districts for which the Governors will be directly respon- sible. Those districts are set out in the Schedule. They cover, in our view, the districts that ought to be withdrawn from ordinary Parliamentary institutions. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman is quite right in saying that they do not cover the whole population of the backward peoples of India, but they do cover the populations which are self-contained. One of the troubles with the other populations of the backward peoples is that they are scattered over the face of India. For instance, the kind of criminal tribes to which the right hon. and gallant Member referred are scattered over many districts of India, although in other respects those districts are fit for the kind of institutions which we are setting up.


There are in Bombay definite areas, not very large areas, in the hill country where the criminal tribes live. Those areas are not as large as Staffordshire.


The right hon. and gallant Gentleman will find that where-ever there is a substantial area of these people we deal with them, but the difficulty to which I have been referring is that of dealing with the scattered populations. Even there, however, we have not left ourselves defenceless. The Governor will have the responsibility of protecting them. In cases where we cannot deal with a self-contained tribe the minorities will not be defenceless. Where there are these enclaves we draw a distinction between the enclaves which are so backward that no kind of Parliamentary institution or Parliamentary legislation ought to apply to them, and they are set out in the Schedule. In the second category we have placed people who are less backward and to whom certain laws might from time to time be applied, but they will only be applied with the Governor's previous assent. In both cases, therefore, we have taken what I believe to be very full precautions.

The right hon. Gentleman raised a further point. He asked whether it was possible to transfer out of the excluded areas districts or areas to be administered by the Provincial administration. I think that is possible, provided that we take reasonable precautions in making it possible. It might well be that in the course of time, even chough the more conservative of us might not wish to see it, that changes will take place in some of these areas. There is bound to be infiltration from one district to another, and in the course of time we may be able to bring certain of these districts under the ordinary administration. In that case there ought to be power to make the transfer but the powers ought to be exercised in such a way that there is Parliamentary protection behind the transferred area. We ensure that the transfer can only be undertaken by an Order in Council, which has to obtain the approval of both houses. Therefore, I think that position is well protected.

Lastly, lest the Committee should think that we are apt to take rather an extreme view and to think that it is only British administrators who really know about these areas, let me say, in justice to many distinguished Indian administrators, that in recent years—and this fact was brought conspicuously to the notice of the Joint Select Committee—there has been developed a school of Indian administrators who have specially studied the kind of problems which are in the mind of the right hon. Gentleman and in my mind.


It all depends on who is their paymaster. If they are dependent for their salary or promotion upon an institution whose aim is exploitation, I do not care how good the people are, they cannot live up to it.


One of my troubles with the right hon. Gentleman is that he raises so many issues. So far as their pay goes, the pay is at the disposal of the Governor. I did feel it my duty to say, in justice to these Indian administrators that some of the greatest living experts upon these historical, anthropological and ethical questions connected with these tracts are some of the Indian administrators at present administering the tracts. We have made the position safe, and we have had in mind just the kind of doubts and anxieties expressed by the hon. Member for West Walthamstow (Mr. McEntee). Our safeguard is, first of all, the fact that Parliamentary institutions will not on any account apply to the totally excluded areas. In the case of the partially excluded areas they will only apply with the Governor's assent and the Governor will have a special responsibility in the matter.


Can the right hon. Gentleman give us some idea of the total population of the excluded and the partially excluded areas?


I could not do that just now, but I will certainly send the information to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman.

2.57 p.m.


If we agree to Clause 91 I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will treat sympathetically any enlargements we may wish to make to the Sixth Schedule. Certain of my hon. Friends and myself would like to increase the number of districts under the Sixth Schedule, and I very much hope that if we do agree to Clause 91 he will not consider that we are agreeing to it without intending to move Amendments with regard to the extension of the Sixth Schedule.


The hon. Member had made his protest, and we will deal with the matter when we come to the Schedule.