HC Deb 08 April 1937 vol 322 cc361-3
Mr. Attlee (by Private Notice)

asked the Under-Secretary of State for India whether he has any statement to make on the position in India?

The Under-Secretary of State for India (Mr. Butler)

I explained the main facts of the situation in India in my answer to the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Morgan Jones) on Tuesday. They are briefly that, in each of the six Provinces where the Congress had obtained a majority in the Legislature, the Governors took the correct constitutional course of approaching first the leader of the majority party and inviting him to form a Ministry. These invitations were, however, declined, the reason for the refusal being that the Governors were unable to give the undertaking which had been demanded as the condition of forming Ministries, namely, that they should promise there and then that they would not use the special powers conferred upon them by the Act. I feel sure that no doubt will be felt in any quarter of the House that it was impossible for any Governor to give the undertakings sought from him. Had he done so, he would have had to divest himself of the responsibilities specifically placed upon him by Parliament through the Act and the Instrument of Instructions, and also in so doing to have ignored the pledges given to minorities and others.

It is, of course, possible that the Provincial Congress leaders, in making this demand, were not conscious of its effects and implications, and that there existed such misunderstandings as were disclosed by Mr. Gandhi's statement issued on 30th March, which has been the cause of so much confusion both here and in India. If this is the position and if Mr. Gandhi or anyone else representing the Congress, recognising the real constitutional position as it has now been explained, were to express a desire in these altered circumstances to see the Viceroy, I have little doubt that His Excellency would be most willing to approach any such request with every desire to reach an understanding as to what the position of the Provincial representatives of the Congress really is. Meanwhile the King's Government is being carried on in these six Provinces by Ministers whose public-spirited action in assuming responsibilities in most difficult circumstances the House would, I am sure, wish fully to recognise.

This is the position, so far as it is possible to explain it within the limits now open to me. I can only express a sincere hope—which I am sure Members on all sides of the House will share—that further consideration will lead the representatives of the majority party in the six Provinces in question to reconsider their refusal to assume the responsibilities which their return by their constituents as the majority party in the Legislatures has imposed upon them, and that they will before long realise the magnitude of the opportunities available to them. If they do so, they may be confident, as they have already been assured, that they can depend upon the most cordial co-operation and support from the Governors.