§ 4.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Wedgwood Benn
My purpose in rising is to offer some word of criticism of the White Paper which we have received on the Viceroy's recent statement, and, in particular, to see whether by debate in this House we can make some contribution to the prevention of any mischief which may follow it in the conduct of the war. If we criticise the Governor's policy, the overriding consideration in the mind of every hon. Member is how they can contribute to the successful issue of the war and, therefore, if I say anything which is critical, the House will understand that I do so always with that consideration in mind. It is a pity that a document of this importance was issued without consultation 1623 with the Leader of the Opposition and the Leader of the Liberal Opposition. In 1929, when the Labour Government prepared a similar document, I myself sent it to Mr. Baldwin, as he then was, by air in France, and discussed it not with the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) but with Lord Reading. I think it is desirable, although different parties have different angles from which they look at the Indian problem, that we should maintain a united policy in the treatment of the Indian problem. But there is the White Paper, and there is the reply of Congress and other Indian parties to it. It is a clumsy document. It has a certain Indian tinge. It is like an elephant. It is massive in proportions, clumsy in action, and followed by something very insignificant and unconvincing. It has provoked two penetrating questions from Mr. Gandhi, first, What are your war aims, and if they are to secure freedom then, secondly, are we to share in that freedom? Those are two questions which must be answered in this Debate.
Before I attempt to deal with those two matters I should like to remind the House that the participation of India in the war is no small matter. The contribution which India made in the last war has massive. The Princes, in accordance with the traditions of their order, showed then, as they are showing now, their loyalty to the King Emperor. The martial qualities of the Moslem forces have never been in doubt. There is this to be remembered, that the Moslems of India can enter this war with a better heart than they did the last war because we have three of the Great Mohammedan Powers, Iraq, Egypt and Turkey, actually in alliance with ourselves. The Mohammedans of India need have no fear that this war will be followed by another Treaty of Sevres.
Let me remind the House of what India did between 1914 and 1918; I think the figures were given 10 years ago. I find that India contributed in money and gifts alone over £146,000,000, in stores £80,000,000, and she put her ships, then under the Royal Indian Marine, at the service of the British Government. In addition, in the matter of men, over 1,000,000 Indians—I am not speaking of British troops in India—went to the front. I cannot do better than read a tribute 1624 which was paid to those services by the present First Lord of the Admiralty:There was another great part of the Empire which had not yet become a Dominion, but which moved forward under the Montagu scheme in the work which began with Lord Morley and continued by Lord Chelmsford, towards a great Dominion status. India was now coming into our affairs and councils as a partner, a powerful partner. We well knew how tremendous was the contribution which India made in the war of 1914, how, when there was no other means of filling a portion of the front by men from any other part of the world there came the two splendid Indian corps who were almost annihilated in the mud and the shell-fire of that terrible winter in Flanders. We owed India that deep debt and we looked forward confidently to the days when the Indian Government and people would have assumed fully and completely their Dominion status.In addition to all this material aid, we had at that time the strong support of the greatest of all Indians, Mr. Gandhi, then as now a true friend of this country and a champion of the cause for which we are fighting. It may be said that India was never consulted and asked whether she would join in the war. That is true, but from the German point of view on 3rd September, possibly before, India was a target for Germany. In justice to the Viceroy it must be remembered that Germany was then marching towards the East. But for Soviet Russia and the Turkish Treaty she might have gone far on that road. The Gestapo had gone from Berlin to Vienna, from Vienna to Prague and from Prague to Warsaw. It had to be stopped. We did not want it in London; nor did the Indians in Delhi. From the Viceroy's point of view he had to act very swifty. India was in danger, and he had a duty to perform in seeing that she was safeguarded. One of the minor benefits we get is a little sympathy in the opinions of Indians themselves. The veritable cascade of regulations which daily flood the Vote Office gives us some idea of what it means to be under instructions and subject to laws in which we ourselves have had no hand. We are like a man treading on an ant-hill and then seeing a lot of little busy and destructive bureaucrats ready under the soil. India lives under this kind of rule continuously.
But the main facts are that India was in danger and is in danger and. secondly, that morally there could not be a wider divergence than that which exists between the philosopsy of Herr Hitler and the philosophy of Mr. Gandhi. They say, quite rightly, "That is so, but we want 1625 to know how these principles apply to us." They ask, first, what is our goal in India, and, secondly, what we propose to do in order to prove our sincerity? I should like to say a word or two, first, about the goal and the definition. A good deal of unnecessary confusion has arisen on this matter. It has been said that the definition of Dominion Status is obscure and out of date, but I do not agree with either of those propositions. The declaration of 1929, which is now accepted and propounded by the Government themselves, came three years after the Imperial Conference of 1926. At that conference, the meaning of the words "Dominion Status" had been set out by a master of clear statement, Mr. Balfour. I would like to refresh the memory of the House by reading those words'. What was the status of the Dominions?They were autonomous communities within the British Empire, equal in status, in no way subordinate one to another in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs, though united by a common allegiance to the Crown and freely associated as Members of the British Commonwealth of Nations.I know of no definition that can satisfy any of the demands put forward to-day by Indian patriots more adequately than the definition of Dominion Status as given at the Imperial Conference in 1926 by Mr. Balfour, confirmed in the declaration of the Government in 1929 by Lord Irwin, and again confirmed to-day in the White Paper issued by Lord Linlithgow. But words are not everything. The Indians ask, "Why did you not put that in the Act of 1935?"I do not think that is material. What is material is the trend of agreed British policy, and in that we can all speak from our own experience. No one can have been in the House, as I have, for nearly 40 years, without being deeply impressed by the changes that have taken place—I do not say the revolution, because I suppose I am not sufficient of a historian. But in the lifetime of myself and the right hon. Gentleman the Lord Privy Seal, we have seen the thing happening. I have been so deeply impressed by it that I am sure it is the best answer to those doubts which exist in Indian minds as to what is our goal. What has been the regular record? It has been this—an advance towards freedom, made instinctively but tentatively; it has always been resisted by people of Indian interests; sometimes the resistance has been selfish and sometimes it has been 1626 due merely to genuine caution, but in the end it has always been accepted, and after that, it has always been a success; and when the success came, the policy was agreed to as the policy of this Government.
I think of two cases, nearly the whole story of which I have myself seen in the House, those of Ireland and South Africa. When Mr. Asquith put forward the Home Rule Bill in 1914, and Mr. Redmond stood in this House and pleaded for Home-Rule for Ireland, could the mass of people have foreseen that the road would lead to the Free State as it is to-day? It was opposed by the Conservative party, it was opposed by Lord Birkenhead, and then it was agreed to by the very leaders of the Conservative party in the Treaty of 1922; and on the basis of that definition we have to-day the Saorstat Eireann, which stands by her own free will in a position of neutrality without any voice being raised here in criticism or demur as far as this country is concerned. I do not know what more freedom could be enjoyed than that.
The case of South Africa is even more striking. There was the Boer War—a costly, foolish adventure which was opposed by everybody of good sense. I remember that on one of the first days when I entered the House in 1906, a youthful Under-Secretary, now by late appointment one of the junior Members of the Government, namely, the First Lord of the Admiralty, rose to explain to the House the terms of the Transvaal Constitution. The outgoing Government had concocted what was known as the Lyttleton Constitution, and then Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman gave us in its place the Transvaal Constitution, which was much more liberal. The right hon. Gentleman who is now First Lord of the Admiralty explained it to the House. It was on a Supply Day, and the reason was that we were very anxious to put it through in an Order-in-Council in that way so as to avoid any defeat in the House of Lords—which shows that there is some merit in Parliamentary procedure. Among the speeches that were made in opposition there was one by the then recently-returned Leader of the Opposition, Mr. Arthur Balfour. He denounced that constitution. He said it wasan experiment of the most dangerous description, the most reckless experiment ever tried.1627 I remember that he was replied to by Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman. Those were fighting days, we were debating under the Closure, and the record reads—
§ Mr. Benn
There was an Opposition of sorts. The record reads—in words that would have pleased my hon. Friend the Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern)—declared that the speech we have just heard from Mr. Balfour was most unworthy, provocative and mischievous"—and then the record reads:and in pursuance of the Standing Order, the Chairman put the Question.In the course of his speech, Mr. Balfour said:Would you trust General Smuts and General Botha? It is madness to trust them.It was the same Mr. Balfour who, in 1926, 20 years later, offered to General Hertzog, a worse rebel than General Smuts, in reply to a request by General Hertzog, the formula which I have read to the House. It was drafted and offered by Mr. Balfour himself. What came of it? The very man who was denounced from this Box as being untrustworthy was the man who in a free vote in a free Parliament brought South Africa into the war on our side. That is an accepted thing. There never could be any case which illustrates more clearly that these things had been tried, as I have said, tentatively, resisted honestly, accepted generally, and proved successful universally. That is the real basis, as I believe history shows, of the policy underlying the constitution of the British Commonwealth.
I believe sincerely that India stands on the same road. In 1929, the declaration to which I have referred was hotly resisted in the House; the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, Lord Reading in another place, and Lord Birkenhead, hotly resisted it. Later on, when the right hon. Gentleman who is now the Lord Privy Seal introduced his Act, he had a good deal of trouble from one of his colleagues, but that colleague is now a party to the declaration that the goal of British policy in India is Dominion Status. These things should be noted. They prove, as 1628 I think, that the course on which India's feet are set is the course to that same freedom enjoyed by the other Dominions of the British Commonwealth.
If you want it in words, if you want it in terms, go to the Channel Islands. There is no part of the British Isles so free, so disconnected from this country. They have their own Parliament, their own Budget, their own Defence Force. I am not sure whether they are even united to the British Crown. They always speak of "our Lord Duke" although Duke William conquered the neighbouring islands and became their king. But if you want the reality you will find it in the growth of freedom as illustrated in the examples which I have given. That, I consider, is the important thing from the Indian standpoint. Now the Indians come forward and they say, "Yes, those are your purposes, but give us proofs, give us pledges, give us action." I would put it in this way. People may say that the occasion is badly chosen, but if you are asking India to make heavy sacrifices, surely she is entitled to be assured that the cause for which you are fighting is also hers. It must be remembered, too, that this is largely a diplomatic and political war and that we ourselves stand at the bar of world opinion, and it is up to us to prove before the world that we are sincere in the professions which we make.
Lord Linlithgow in this statement has made some practical suggestions, and I propose to offer certain common's upon them. He first suggests, in order that Indian public opinion and Indian effort should be associated with the Government in this war, that the Princes and the major political parties in India should nominate panels from which he would select advisers for consultation. Well, that may be for a good or it may be for a worthless object. It is impossible to say. It may be anything. It may be like a committee to organise a fete—merely pleasant conversation on red carpets, and being bowed out by servants. Or it may be something involving real partnership, authority and responsibility. Everything depends on what this means. If it means the first, then I think the Indian leaders would be right to reject it. If it is the second I think they ought to consider it. I believe that it is in the Viceroy's power to nominate additional members 1629 of the Executive Council as Ministers without portfolio. If that be so, is it not possible that the members of these panels which are put forward by major interests in India, should be the group from which the Viceroy himself would select Ministers without portfolio as members of his Executive Council. I do not know whether that is possible or not, but I am making these suggestions because I am anxious that nothing should happen now between ourselves and India to hinder the conduct of this righteous war.
That is one suggestion. Then there is the question of the constitution of the Assembly itself. With a very natural desire not to have elections just before Federation came into force, the elections were postponed and postponed, and I think I am right in saying that it is now five years since there were any elections to the central legislature. Surely there cannot be any difficulty in having elections, even on the present franchise, or if possible, on a wider franchise, so that you could have at the centre, a reflection of what I believe to be India's keen moral interest on the side of the Allies in this conflict. These are suggestions made by me without having had much contact recently with Indian affairs, and without having the responsibility of any administrative office. From the Indian stand-point, there is the danger, too, that a make-shift of this kind might perhaps be an obstacle to greater, more important, more fundamental changes later, but that they will have to consider themselves.
I have another suggestion to make. There is to be set up, I understand, in London an Imperial War Cabinet and a very distinguished Indian, Zafrullah Khan, has been asked to become a member of that body. Distinguished as he is, I do not think that is sufficient representation for India. I think the load is too heavy even for his shoulders. If you are to have Ministers and even Prime Ministers from the Dominions, in London, then you should have representatives of the Princes and of the Moslems, and, if they are willing to come, of Congress, so that here in London they may associate themselves with the conduct of the war and with India's enormous contribution to our effort for victory. In these suggestions, and especially in the first suggestion put forward by the Viceroy, I think 1630 it possible that we may find what the Viceroy called "the germ of a fuller and broader association."
So much for the meantime. Now we come to the consideration of the future, that is to say, to the amendment of the Act of 1935. This is also admitted by Lord Linlithgow in the White Paper to be necessary and this, of course, is by far the most important thing to be considered. It is suggested, I think, in the White Paper that nothing can be done in this matter until after the war. That no legislation can be passed in this House until after the war, I agree. Mr. Gandhi says so himself, and I agree with him that it is impossible. But legislation and preparation are two very different things. Legislation is merely the Minister's conclusion to a great deal of negotiation conducted beforehand, and we have before our eyes the example of 1917 when, in the middle of the war, Mr. Henry Montagu went with the father of the hon. Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts) to India and themselves laid the foundations, in a report, of the Act of 1919. Anyone who reads that report will see that in the introduction it is stoutly affirmed that the presence of the Montagu Commission in India did nothing to hinder the conduct of India's part in the war. Moreover, anyone who has read Mr. Montagu's diary knows that the presence of that Commission in India did a great deal to stimulate India's support with the result's which we saw before the war ended.
It is necessary to review the facts, to make contacts, to establish accords if the final conference is to be a success. We ourselves have to do some very hard thinking, and here I would quote a proverb with which, I am sure, the Lord Privy Seal would agree, and which I might, perhaps, offer to the Home Secretary as an adornment for the next of those charming addresses with which he occasionally whiles away our time. It is "Fine words butter no parsnips." Fine statements about India's freedom will not help. We have to state where we stand and how far we are prepared to go, and what we are prepared to do to make a reality of the freedom of India. On this I would again offer one or two tentative suggestions. In the matter of finance and commerce is it not possible to give India control of her own affairs? Indeed, from the British trading point of 1631 view, is it not desirable that this half-competitor, half-trustee business should come to an end? I should like to have that question more freely explained. The hon. Member for Walsall (Sir G. Schuster) is in his place. There is no man in this House who knows as much, from practical experience, of this question as he does, and I hope that if he speaks, he will deal with it from the expert standpoint.
Then there is the question of Defence. The question of the Defence of India does not stand where it did even in 1930 when we had the Round-Table Conference. We need the maximum effort which India can make but you do not get the maximum contribution which India can make to the defence of the Commonwealth, unless Indian responsibility and Indian good will are behind it. It takes a long time, I am told to make a general—as the hon. and gallant Member for West Wickham (Sir A. Knox) will doubtless confirm— and I am told that the real difficulty about the Indianisation of the Forces in India is that you want trained officers and it takes a long time to make them. I think Indians will agree that in the work of such men as Sir Andrew Skeen and Sir Philip Chetwode a certain effort has been made to help them along this road. So far as the Navy is concerned, because it is the Royal Indian Navy and not the Royal Indian Marine, that must be very much more largely in Indian hands. The effect of putting it under Indian care— I do not say responsibility—has been most beneficial for that infant Force.
Finally—and this is more difficult, but I think I should name it—it must not be supposed that India is not affected by the decisions in foreign affairs which are made in this country. It is a very difficult matter, even in the fully developed Dominions, but India looks around, especially on our policy in the Far East, and sees what is happening in China. If there were some way in which India's opinion could be given weight, it would add enormously to the morality and strength of our foreign policy. On the other hand, there are the Princes who must be considered. They must consider seriously how far the honourable traditions of their order and the services that their houses have rendered to India can be harmonised with the irresistible surge of democratic government.
1632 The Hindus and the Moslems must also be considered. It is often said that Hindu-Moslem differences are fostered on behalf of the retention of British control. If that is so, and in the measure in which it is so, it is a crime, and it must cease, but that is not the whole truth. Anyone who has any contact with India must know that it goes much deeper than that. It is an Indian problem, as Mr. Gandhi says, but then India is not the only country with a minority problem. Every country in the world has a minority problem. Some countries have solved them, and some have not. Canada has solved a minority problem, South Africa has solved a racial problem, Ireland has not yet solved her minority problem. I look forward to the day when we shall see a united Ireland, but that will come from the solution of a minority problem, and in the same way, on a much more massive scale, India has this minority problem to deal with. When this Conference comes about, therefore, the Hindu-Moslem problem must be solved by Indians themselves, and we shall require a Conference that is fully representative of all interests in India. I would say that the Conference should meet in India, and that the task of any delegation which this House sends to that Conference should be, in broad terms, to set a seal on any agreement to which the Indians themselves may come.
Just a word about the threatened deadlock. We are told that the Congress Working Committee has instructed the Ministers in the eight Congress Provinces to tender their resignations. This is a very serious thing for us. We stand before the world, and a deadlock in India in the growth of self-government is extremely damaging to our prestige. I hope, therefore, the Government will be fully conscious of the fact that it is necessary to make every effort to prevent that deadlock. It is a problem for the Indian leaders too, for what is the fact; In these eight Provinces—we call them Provinces, but in wealth, in population, and in importance they rank with many of the major European States—you have Congress Ministers. They have Governors, and the Governor is given safeguards. A few years ago, when the Indian Congress were invited to form the Ministries, they hesitated for some time. There was another of those difficulties, because they 1633 said that they must have the assurance that the safeguards would not be used. No assurance of that kind was given, but what in fact has happened? The safeguards have never been used. When they were called paper safeguards, they were paper safeguards, and they were not used, because the conferment of responsibility brought with it a sense of power and made it totally unnecessary to use the safeguards. The Indian leaders in those Provinces have set in motion programmes and policies to bring social reforms into harmony with the spirit of their own people, and they have done much for those who elected and sent them to these Governments. Nobody is asking them to relinquish their task. Everyone desires that they should continue in their present responsibilities, and if, for some extraneous reason, they find it necessary to abandon those who have sent them to discharge those duties, then it is a very serious decision for them to take.
There is one other thing that I would say on this matter. India is asked to enter into the war, at the side, it is true, of Great Britain and France, and they have asked for a definition of our war aims. When we describe our war aims as the defence of our interests, I always think it is not only the most foolish, but the most untrue description of those aims that could be given. What do they care about them, and what do neutrals care about them? But if our war aim is defined as the defence of a great principle, you can rally, not only the Dominions and Canada, but the whole world, to your side, and, in fact, that is what it is. We are defending freedom for ourselves, and India is invited, not only to defend freedom for herself, but to defend freedom for those also who are weaker even than she is. The philosophy of India and the philosophy of Hitler are the two most different things you could have. Hitler stands for everything that the Indians hate. Hitler stands for a bureaucracy centralised and brutal, he stands for the suppression of religious thought, he stands for the eradication of individual culture, he stands for the domination of race, he stands for the conquest and subjugation of the weak, he stands for the deification of brute force. How can India, true to her own ideals, do anything but fight against that? It is not only that India is asked to come to the side of Britain; India has been asked to come to the 1634 rescue of the weak, and I always think in this matter, for ourselves and for others as well, of those victims within the Nazi prison house, not surrounded by walls; but by prison frontiers, the millions of Poles, Jews, Austrians, Czechs, Slovaks, Socialists, and Christians who are suffering. It is their hearts that beat when they hear that some champion of the freedom which they have lost themselves is on the move. They make the appeal to India, and I do not believe that the leaders of Indian opinion can be deaf to that appeal.
§ 4.59 p.m.
§ The Lord Privy Seal (Sir Samuel Hoare)
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Gorton (Mr. Benn) and I have very often confronted each other across the Table in the course of Indian Debates. We have sometimes disagreed, and disagreed very strongly, but we have sometimes agreed. To-night for a few moments, in a Debate that should assuage rather than stimulate bitterness, I hope we shall look back on the occasions on which we have agreed. I remember one of them when he and I, now, I suppose, eight or nine years ago, were defending in this House Lord Irwin from the criticism of those who said that he ought not to have consultations with Mr. Gandhi. He and I took the view, and I believe we take it still, that it is better for political opponents to meet, and that it is better not to regard government as a holy of holies into which only the orthodox can ever dare to enter. I am sure that he and I are agreed that to-day it is a matter of satisfaction that the Viceroy should see the leaders of the principal parties, and even the extremist party leaders like my fellow old Harrovian, Mr. Nehru. Let me say, in passing, what a remarkable institution must be my old school. In the course of a single generation it has produced Lord Baldwin, Mr. Nehru and my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty. But I must not be drawn aside into these meditations upon the old school tie.
I must come back, as I do with great pleasure, to the eloquent, sympathetic and helpful speech to which we have just listened. Since the right hon. Gentleman and I first took part in these Indian debates many events of staggering importance have taken place in the world. Catastrophes have come upon us, hopes 1635 have been frustrated, disillusionment has been common, and evil has triumphed in many parts of the habitable globe. It has been a black picture. But, black as the picture has been, there have been at any rate, some bright corners upon which we can congratulate ourselves. There has been India. In a world of tumult there has been this great sub-continent of 350,000,000 souls at peace within its frontiers. At a time when democracies were being destroyed in Europe we have seen eleven great democratic Governments come into being in India and join their forces with the democratic peoples of the world. This, surely, must be a matter of great satisfaction to every Member of this House.
Four years ago there were some who honestly thought that the Provincial Governments would be a failure. They asked us over and over again in the course of the long Indian debates, "Will these Governments be able to maintain their stability? Will they be able to control their finances? Will they be able, most important of all, to maintain law and order among the millions of human beings for whose security they will be responsible?" I am glad to think that, if some of our hopes were dupes, most of our fears were proved to be liars. To-day we can look at a world in which there have been great constitutional crashes, but in face of them there stands out in contrast this great constitutional success of provincial autonomy in India.
It was with this background that, on 3rd September this year, India and the British Commonwealth of Nations were faced with war. The crisis found India united in its determination to resist brute force. It found India united in the realisation that the danger was a common danger threatening every part of the British Commonwealth of Nations. It was in the circumstances of this unity that the Viceroy, who during the whole course of his career in India and during the years in which he was occupied in the Joint Select Committee's discussions has shown his whole-hearted and sincere desire for Indian good will and co-operation—it was at this moment that he took a step with the object of availing himself to the full of this united feeling and the common purpose that bound India and ourselves 1636 and the rest of the British Commonwealth of Nations.
As the right hon. Gentleman has just told the House, the Viceroy held a series of interviews with the leaders of Indian opinion, and as a result he made two definite proposals. The first was rather in the nature of a pledge. It stated clearly and definitely that at the end of the war, there would be a reconsideration of the constitutional problems in the light of the experiences of recent years. Secondly, with a view to availing himself of Indian advice and with the intention of bringing Indian leaders within his confidence, he suggested that a consultative committee should be formed to discuss with him the many problems arising out of the war and to bring him into close and constant contact with the trends of Indian opinion. Let me say a word about these proposals. The proposal for a consultative committee was made with the full desire to obtain the greatest co-operation with the principal bodies of Indian public opinion. The Congress, admittedly the greatest party in India, rejected it, and non-Congress India, representing, it must be remembered, many millions of Indians, substantially accepted it.
But, it may be asked, would it not have been possible for the Viceroy to have gone further and have made some kind of proposal which would have avoided this division of opinion between Congress and non-Congress India? This is the first question, and an important question, to which I will invite the attention of the House. If hon. Members are to follow its implications they must recall some of the most important discussions which took place in the Debates here on the Government of India Act. They centred round the pledge of Dominion status as the aim of Indian policy. These pledges were repeated time after time. They were re-affirmed in very precise terms in the speech with which I introduced the Second Reading of the Government of India Bill. I made it clear and I make it clear again to-day, that we stood by Lord Irwin's pledge, and when we spoke of Dominion status we meant what we said, and we did not mean some system of Government that deprived India of the full status of equality with the other British Commonwealths. There are no two kinds of Dominion status as some people seem to think. The Dominion 1637 status that we contemplated was the Dominion status just described by the right hon. Member for Gorton, the Dominion status of 1926. I went on to state that Dominion status is not a prize that is given to a deserving community, but that it is the recognition of facts that actually exist.
As soon as these facts exist in India, and, in my own view, the sooner they exist the better, the aim of our policy will be achieved. If there are difficulties in the way, they are not of our making. They are inherent in the many divisions between classes and communities in a great sub-continent. It must be the aim of Indians themselves to remove these divisions, just as it would be our aim to help them in their task. So far are we from wishing to divide and govern that we regard these divisions as a calamity and are ready to do our utmost to remove them. We have shown our good faith in this matter. We showed it in the communal award that we made as the first step towards the constitutional changes in 1935. At that time supposing we had wished to divide and conquer we might well have said, "Settle your communal differences first and until you have settled them there can be no constitutional advance." We did not take that line. At great risk to ourselves and in the face of much criticism, we made a communal award without which provincial autonomy would have been impossible.
But, in spite of our award, these divisions still exist, and until they are removed we have responsibilities to the minorities that we cannot repudiate. That was our position in 1935 and it is still our position to-day. We wish to see these divisions removed, but we shall never get them removed if we shut our eyes to their existence and refuse to admit that they are there. It is these divisions that have made so difficult the task of setting up responsible Government at the centre and achieving the great ideal of an All-India Federation. The Princes are afraid of domination by British India; Moslems are firmly opposed to a Hindu majority at the centre; the Depressed Glasses and other minorities genuinely believe that responsible government, meaning a Government dependent upon a Hindu majority, will sacrifice their interests. These anxieties still exist. I wish that they did not. But, as long as 1638 they do exist it is impossible for the Government to accept a demand for immediate and full responsibility at the centre on a particular date. If we did so we should be false to the pledges that time after time we have given in the most solemn words to the Moslems and the other minorities and the European community.
But, it may be said, "Supposing full and immediate responsibility at the centre is impossible, are there not definite steps that can be taken to show our good faith and make it clear to India that that goal is just as much in our minds to-day as when we made those pledges four years ago?" The right hon. Gentleman has himself made a number of suggestions this afternoon and I will try to deal with them. I take first one of them upon which he is under a misapprehension. He said that if we were contemplating in the near future an Imperial War Cabinet India ought to be represented by more than a single representative. At present there is no intention of setting up an Imperial War Cabinet of that kind. If and when the time comes I will certainly remember the observations he has made on the subject, and I imagine that they will be given extremely sympathetic attention.
Next, he said a word or two about a project that has been discussed more than once before. He asked, Could not it be possible to introduce into the Viceroy's Council political leaders who would hold portfolios for certain of the great Departments? This is not a new proposal. It was made, I remember, during the discussions at the Joint Select Committee. I think the Leader of the Opposition himself made it at one time. We went fully into it then, and at that time we did find ourselves confronted by certain difficulties in the way of its adoption. I do not enumerate these difficulties to-night. I wish to close no doors. I wish to explore every possibility within the ambit of the Government of India Act, and let me say, in passing, that I agree very much with what the right hon. Gentleman said as to the impossibility of having constitutional reform by statute in war time, or of contemplating another Government of India Act when we are in the throes of this terrible struggle. As I say, I do not elaborate the difficulties that are inherent in a suggestion of this kind. The right hon. Gentleman knows them as well as I do, but what I will say to him is that, as 1639 far as the British Government are concerned, we see no reason why, provided the difficulties are remembered, this proposal should not be very carefully reconsidered.
Let me return to the proposal for a consultative committee. As the right hon. Gentleman said just now, a consultative committee may mean anything or nothing. It may merely be a device for side-tracking opposition or an attempt to obtain real co-operation. Congress has, in my view, with undue haste assumed that the Viceroy's proposal for a consultative committee means nothing, and that it is merely a device for the purpose of postponing constitutional advance. The Princes, the Moslems and the other parties do not take this view. They believe that a body of this kind can be of real value to India, and that if it is set up it will prove a further step towards, and not away from, responsible government. I feel myself that the leaders of Congress have been too hasty in the repudiation of this proposal. Let them and the other political leaders clear up any doubts they have as to the scope of its work and the personnel that would be members of it, and if they do I believe that they will find it is the definite intention of the Viceroy to take Indian political leaders into his confidence on the many problems that arise out of the conduct of the war, and that it is his convinced belief that, if Indian leaders of different parties and communities, from British India and from Indian India, meet to discuss these manifold questions, their advice will carry the greatest possible weight with the Indian Executive and, perhaps even more important than that, their meetings by bringing together divergent interests will materially help to provide that basis of agreement among Indians themselves which is essential for swift constitutional advance.
I believe that the great possibilities of consultation of this kind have not been sufficiently appreciated. If they are fully used—and I give an undertaking that the Viceroy is anxious to make full use of them—they may well prove to be the bridge that is needed to carry Indians over the Great Divide of communal bitterness that at present stands chiefly in the way of constitutional advance. If this be the case these war-time meetings will 1640 make much easier the constitutional discussions that are bound to take place after the war. What a calamity it would be if for some reason or another they were not started. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the discussions which took place in the last war on the subject of constitutional advance and he mentioned the Montagu-Chelmsford discussions. He asked whether it would be possible for discussions of that kind to take place again.
I do not wish to give a final answer, but I would say to him that in certain respects the situation to-day differs a good deal from the situation which existed at the time of the Montagu-Chelmsford discussions. As regards the Centre the issues had not become so acute as they have to-day. I am thinking particularly of communal controversy. I would say further that, at any rate at the beginning of the war, it seems to me impossible that discussions of that kind could take place. The Montagu-Chelmsford discussions took place not until three years after the beginning of the last war. As I say, I would rather not to-night give a final answer upon a point of that kind. Nor indeed will I give him a final answer on another point which he has raised, namely, that there should be a general election in India. I would say to him that, at any rate at the beginning of the war, a general election would be almost impossible in India. The officials are working night and day on war work, and communal feeling would be very much aroused, I am sure, if an election were to take place at once. Again, I do not want to dogmatise or to use terms such as "in no circumstances," but I would say that a general election for the Central Legislative Assembly, would, in my view, be impracticable in the early days of a war.
Let me come back to the broad question of consultation. The Viceroy has not tied himself down to the exact method of this consultation. It is essentially a question to be settled between him and the political leaders. I am able to state that he is ready to discuss the method and the details with the leaders, and that he proposes without delay to send them invitations to meet him for these discussions. Until these and further discussions have taken place, I claim that it would be a blunder of the first magnitude to take up an irrevocable position. Let 1641 then the Indian Leaders weigh these possibilities. Let them meet and discuss them once again with the Viceroy and let them also ponder once again the alternatives. I dealt with one of the alternatives, that of the grant of full and immediate responsibility at the Centre, and I hope that I have convinced the House that in present circumstances it is not possible to accept an alternative of that kind.
I come to another alternative and I ask the Indian leaders seriously once again to ponder. I wish, indeed, I had not to make any reference to it at all. It is the alternative of non-co-operation under which the Indian Congress goes its own way and the British Government and the minority communities in India go theirs. If it came to this issue we should have no choice; the King Emperor's Government must be carried on and it would be carried on with efficiency, strength and justice, and we, like any other Government in similar circumstances, would give the Viceroy our full support; but let every man of good will in India and Great Britain contemplate the waste that such a chapter of non-co-operation would mean. There would be the waste of all our constitutional efforts over those many years of discussion, conferences, joint select committee and debates in this House; there would be the waste of all the efforts that we have made to bring to an end the grim chapter of non-co-operation and to make it easier for British and Indians to work together towards a solution of their difficulties.
When I went to the India Office I found non-co-operation in full blast. During the four years that I was Secretary of State, just as the right hon. Gentleman opposite who was my predecessor during his period of office, almost my sole effort was to bring British and Indians together and to put an end to this chapter of wasted effort and miserable controversy. I had hoped when the Act came into force that this dismal chapter would for ever be brought to an end; but here now in the face of the greatest crisis that has ever confronted the world, a crisis in which our danger is India's and India's danger ours, in which our determination to set up a new and better order in the world is as great as India's and India's is as great as ours, 1642 there is a grave risk of our drifting into a position in which we shall be wrangling with each other instead of fighting the enemy on a common front.
I am told, although I can scarcely believe it, that it is being said in some quarters in India that the British Government are searching for a conflict. I repudiate that suggestion with all the power that I have. The British Government want co-operation and not conflict. The British Government want to see the aim of their policy achieved and the conditions realised in which India can take its due place in the British Commonwealth of free peoples. Non-co-operation would put the clock back for years. Whether its promoters desire it or not non-co-operation leads to civil disobedience, to breaches of law and order and the vicious circle of riot and repression from which we had hoped to have escaped for ever. Until these things actually happen I will not believe that they can happen. I shall continue to believe that these great peoples, our own and the peoples of India, are faced with a common danger and inspired by a common ideal, and that the non-co-operation of any large section of the community would be a calamity and a futility of the first magnitude. Millions of Indians in British India and in the States agree with this view. They wish to co-operate with us as much as we wish to work with them. I quote the words of Mr. Gandhi who spoke three days ago. He said the Congress Partywanted to help Britain by giving her moral support, which was its speciality and the only thing it could give. Congress would not give this unless it was clear that Britain's political morality was wholly sound.I claim that our position is as sound as a bell. In good faith and with perfect sincerity we have started India upon the greatest constitutional experiment that has ever been seen in the world. We have long ago set aside Imperialistic ambitions, for we believe that our mission in the world is not to govern other people but to help other people to govern themselves. It was in this spirit that Parliament passed the series of great Acts which gave the Dominions their free constitutions. It was in this spirit that we passed the Government of India Act, 1935, under which of our own free will we transferred wide authority to Indian Governments. It is in this spirit that we 1643 intend to administer the Act and during the war to do our utmost to remove the divisions that stand in the way of its full achievement. When the war ends, and ends victoriously, as a result of the Empire's united effort, we mean to proceed at once to deal with the constitutional difficulties that have emerged in the experience of recent years. Non-co-operation, and non-co-operation alone, will stop this swift and steady progress. For those of us who have devoted years of our lives to the building of the new Constitution, often at some risk to ourselves, for those of us who are thrilled by the antiquity of the Indian civilisation and who are proud of the common effort that Indians and we have made to give India a unique position in the Continent of Asia, another chapter of strife, controversy and non-co-operation would come as a great human tragedy. Such a breach in the common front would be a repudiation at one of the gravest moments in the world's history of the call to both of us to resist the aggressor, to fight brute force and to build up a new and better order in the world in which we and Indians can go about our lawful occasions without the terror that now walks by day and night over so many parts of this suffering world. I quote the Prime Minister's weighty words of the 12th October:It was not with any vindictive purpose that we embarked on war but simply in defence of freedom. It is not alone the freedom of the small nations that is at stake; there is also in jeopardy the peaceful existence of Great Britain, the Dominions, India, the rest of the British Empire, France, and, indeed, of all freedom-loving nations. What-ever may be the issue of the present struggle, and in whatever way it may be brought to a conclusion, the world will not be the same world that we have known before. Looking to the future we can see that deep changes will inevitably leave their mark on every field of men's thought and action, and if humanity is to guide aright the new forces that will be in operation, all nations will have their part to play."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th October, 1939; col. 564, Vol. 352.]In this new world India has a great part to play, perhaps in Asia the greatest of any Asiatic country; a great part also in the British Commonwealth of Nations, for it will be the outward and visible sign that with us there is no racial discrimination; a great part also in the world at large, for India should stand out as the model of a League of Nations from which war has for generations been banished and in 1644 which the rule of law and justice has been firmly set. With this great hope before us, let us once and for all abandon the barren paths of non-co-operation, and help each other to win the war and to win the peace, and in this double victory to take a great step forward towards the fruition of India's hopes.
§ 5.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Wilfrid Roberts
It is with some diffidence that for the first time I join in a discussion in this House on the Indian question, for I have neither the long experience of the right hon. Gentleman who opened the discussion nor his rapier-like wit. If I may, I would like to add a little by way of a reminiscence. At the beginning of the last war I remember that many distinguished Indians came to the house where I was living, and one of those visitors who, perhaps, caught my boyish imagination most was no less a man than Mr. Gandhi. Most certainly in the last war the contribution of India to the effort of the Allies was a most magnificent contribution. There were difficuties then and they were overcome, and I hope, as we all hope, that the difficulties which arise to-day may also be overcome as happily. If we look forward to Indians making a great contribution to the cause which we believe to be of the utmost importance to the future of the world, we must also remember that that contribution is made by Indians, and that the entry into the war by India is a very important decision for them.
I listened to the right hon. Gentleman who opened the discussion pointing out the great strategical difficulties in any close consultation as to what action should have been taken at the beginning of the war, and I recognise that fact at once, but may I suggest it is natural that the Indians themselves feel in that great decision which was taken they should have the fullest consultation possible. I listened to the most important statement from the Lord Privy Seal, and I was very glad to note that on many points the door to future negotiations is still left open. In saying that, I think I am quoting a phrase from the same pronouncement by Mr. Gandhi to which the Lord Privy Seal referred. There is good reason to think that the difficulties, real as they may be at present, can be surmounted.
I, personally, would rather look, not to the dangers of possible conflict which 1645 the Lord Privy Seal discussed, the very real and disastrous damage which would be done to India and to the cause for which we are fighting by an internal struggle in India, but to the great possibilities, which I believe lie open at present to the Indian people and to ourselves, of overcoming those difficulties and making some progress towards the goal which all agree should be pursued for India. I believe there is an opportunity, because having studied the White Paper and all its premises, and having learned what I could from the newspapers and from private sources, it appears to me that there is no question that on the biggest issue there is a very great measure of agreement. There is no question that the vast majority of opinion in India is on our side in this war. Not only by word but by deed, approval of our cause has been expressed. There is a starting ground from which to proceed. I am very glad that the Lord Privy Seal has not refused to consider any possibility. I am not quite clear—but perhaps when I re-read his statement it will be made more clear to me—whether the discussions which might take place during the war will include the preparation of alterations to the 1935 Act. As I understood the Lord Privy Seal, he did not rule out that major question altogether. I hope my interpretation is correct, because it seems to many of us that such a discussion could take place just as well during as after the war.
In some ways the opportunity is perhaps greater now than it would be later, because there is, I believe, a fundamental unity in Indian public opinion, a fundamental agreement that anything less than victory for our cause would be a disaster, not only to England but to India. I was glad also to hear the Lord Privy Seal, in his earlier reminiscences of the occasions on which he had agreed with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Gorton (Mr. Benn), raising the question of consultations with all the parties representing different points of view in Indian life. I would say that consultation should be as complete as possible. We on this bench may find ourselves more in agreement with the views put forward by the National Liberal Federation in India. We naturally find the views of Liberals in India more in line with our own views. But if we are sincere when we say that we look forward to self- 1646 government for Indians in India, we must accept the verdict of elections, we must recognise that Congress holds a special position in India to-day, by virtue of the fact that, on the electorate created by the Constitution which was approved by this House, the Congress party has won a majority in eight out of the 11 provinces. I suggest, therefore, that, whether we agree with the internal politics of the Congress party or not, we should wish them to be fully consulted, and we should wish that they will be ready to co-operate as fully as any other party in India.
I have studied the long statement which Congress made at an early stage in the war, and I find much in regard to the past conduct of foreign affairs and the past struggles that have occurred in Europe and in Asia—in China and elsewhere—with which I and my party are in agreement. I would, if I may, say to the leaders of Congress that if we on these Benches find ourselves in agreement with their statement, we can assure them that, in our judgment, this war is the outcome of the progressive aggression of Nazi Germany which was the cause of the sufferings of many people, in Europe and elsewhere, for whom Congress has offered the same sympathy as we have from these Benches, and that the expression of opinion on foreign affairs that Congress has put into its resolution entitles us to expect that Congress will now come to our assistance fully and wholeheartedly, when we and others are the victims of that aggression which we have condemned in the past.
How are those ideals of self-government, which are common to many parties in India, to be worked out in practice? I would like to draw the attention of the House to the fact that Liberals in India are also at the present time not altogether content with the situation as it stands to-day. I have before me the resolution of the National Liberal Federation of India in which, in regard to several points, they suggest that they look to more progress being made than was outlined in the statement of the Viceroy. It says in clause 3 of this resolution:The Viceroy's statement ignores the urgent need to take immediate measures for the Indianisation of the Defence Forces in all their branches.1647 The right hon. Gentleman who opened this Debate referred to that matter. Again, this statement says:It leaves, at least (luring the period of the war and for some indefinite period thereafter, the Central Government irresponsible, as at present.That point, I hope, has been partly met by the statement of the Lord Privy Seal that discussions are possible. Lastly,' clause 5 says:A mere consultative council"—referring to the council which is to be set up—without any power of any sort is no substitute for the responsibility of the Gentral Government and will not satisfy anyone.Therefore, I particularly welcome the statement of the Lord Privy Seal that the precise form of the Consultative Committee which is suggested is still open to negotiation. We may hope that some step forward through this machinery may be possible. The agenda of subjects to be discussed by that Consultative Committee requires a great deal further definition. Perhaps we may see some progress being made in consultations leading up to the establishment of the Consultative Committee.
There is another important aspect of this question. We recognise the difficulties which prevent the introduction of full self-government in India, and there are great difficulties, but perhaps it is also worth while to recognise that considerable progress has been made, and is being made. It is a matter of congratulation for all concerned that the Viceroy can report that the provincial governments have worked very successfully on the whole, and in that work they surely have tended to break down the clear-cut demarcation between the Moslems and the Hindus in their joint ministries and in the actual day-to-day work of government. That is a matter for congratulation more particularly for the Indians concerned, and it leads me to believe—which is the main theme that I would dwell upon—that it is possible to translate the common agreement, which, I believe, exists, into a further step towards the attainment of the goal of self-government to which all parties in this House have agreed.
The last matter upon which I would touch is that a conflict would, I believe, 1648 be disastrous not only from the point of view of neutral opinion but more especially from the point of view of India itself. I hope that we may have learnt sufficiently to respect each other's point of view—the British and the Indian point of view—as to make further negotiations both possible and practicable. I deprecate attacks made in England upon any particular parties in India at the present time. I think we may accept the sincerity of all the great leaders of Indian thought and recognise that many of them are to-day faced with a very difficult dilemma. They are only too anxious and ready to assist us and to make our cause their own, as many of them have done already, but there is the problem that, while they are fighting for democracy, they have it not in their own country. Let us recognise that that is a difficult dilemma in which they find themselves, and may I ask them also to believe that our intentions are equally sincere in this country, that we wish to see the extension of democratic liberty, that we wish to succeed in India in demonstrating that peaceful means and methods of negotiation can lead to peaceful change and overcome the problem of minorities, which is not confined to any one country, and that we can, by peaceful negotiation, overcome these difficulties and demonstrate to the world that democratic methods can be effective in paving the way to a better future for their great country.
§ 5.59 p.m.
§ Sir George Schuster
It is a very great privilege to take part in this Debate so soon after the opening speeches of the two right hon. Gentlemen, both of whom have occupied the position of Secretary of State for India. As one who had to work with both of them through some of the most difficult times in the administration of India and the evolution of the Government of India Act, I would like, speaking in that capacity, to pay a tribute to what they did to advance India on a stage towards political freedom. I cannot believe that at any time in the history of our connection with India there have been two men who have worked more honestly or with greater courage for the furtherance of India's aspirations.
This is a Debate in which one must speak with great caution. It is so easy to say foolish things which may do harm, 1649 and so very difficult to say wise things which are likely to do any good. I think we ought to be particularly grateful to the right hon. Gentleman who opened the Debate for the way in which he dealt with the situation and for the constructive proposals that he made. There was only one note that he struck with which I would like to express some dissent. He seemed to imply that, just because it is so important for us to have India united with us during the present war emergency, we ought perhaps to consider doing things which we should not otherwise have done. I disagree with that entirely I believe that we ought to continue with our purpose in India, and our purpose in India is very much that which the right hon. Gentleman described, but I think it would be very dangerous if we were to think, just because there is this emergency, that we ought to accept hastily considered variations from that purpose.
We have heard a very interesting statement from the Lord Privy Seal. It is one that one would like to read carefully and reflect upon. I want to speak in rather simpler language, because it seems to me that what is important about this Debate is that it may be read in India, and therefore we should try to send from here some message to India of what is the real feeling of the British people on this question. If I were to try to express that feeling, speaking just as an ordinary member of the public who has not followed in great detail what has happened in India in the last few years, but speaking as one who has spoken very often about India to audiences in this country and also in Canada, I would say that the general feeling of the British people, in which I include the whole of the British Empire, is that in 1935 we irrevocably set India upon the path towards Dominion status, to be reached not in the distant future, but very soon. We regarded that as an irrevocable decision. Since then we have watched with great interest and appreciation the way in which responsible government has been operated in the Provinces. We have noted with appreciation the way in which Indian Ministers have risen to their responsibilities, and we have also been particularly glad to note that all those safeguards of which there was so much talk have never had to be called into operation. I believe, incidentally, that a great tribute is due to some of our governors in India for the way in which 1650 they have helped to launch this new Constitution in the Provinces. Their task has required great qualities.
Now, having watched these things, we are bewildered and disappointed that it has not been possible to set up responsible government at the centre. We do not quite know who is to blame. Some people tell us that the Government of India might have been more clever or more determined. Some people tell us that the Congress Party have been unreasonable in their demands. Some people fell us that the Moslems are frightened of the further step and that their experience of the working of the new Constitution in the Provinces has not diminished their fears. Some people tell us that the Princes have been holding back, disliking the new Constitution, disliking the prospect of the future, and thinking that perhaps there is still a hope of avoiding it. We do not know who is to blame. Perhaps no one is to blame. Perhaps the cause of this delay lies in the inherent difficulties of the situation. But, speaking again as representing the views of ordinary British people, I would say that we dislike this delay. We want to see the new Constitution advance a stage to responsible government at the centre, and if there is anything that we can do to diminish the difficulties, if, for example, by any modification in the safeguards which were imposed for the protection of British interests, we can make the task easier, we should be very willing to consider them. But there are certain things which we are not prepared to do. We are not prepared, for the sake of getting over a temporary emergency, to abandon the idea of a Federal India, that great all-India idea which seems to us to mean so much, and we also are not prepared to force a new Constitution on India which abandons the safeguards for the minority interests. We pledged ourselves to give safeguards for the protection of minorities and those safeguards cannot be weakened. That, I believe, is our view, and I think we could go on to say to the Indian leaders, "Cannot you now make one more effort to reach agreement? If a plan is agreed between you, even though it may be some modification of the scheme laid down by the Government of India Act, it lies in your power to get advance, even to-morrow, even while the war is going on."
1651 I believe that represents the view of this country. But, of course, when one faces realities, one has to recognise that there are those difficulties, that that appeal cannot be easily answered, and that there may be a considerable delay. In these circumstances what we need to do is not to change our purpose but rather to do all that we can to convince India of the honesty of that purpose. Let us then ask ourselves, What can we do to convince India of that? Pledges have been given, which have been repeated by the Lord Privy Seal to-day. When the right hon. Gentleman opposite said, "If pledges are asked for, why not give them?" I feel that the pledges have been given. They could not have been given more clearly than they have. The only question is how to convince all Indian parties that during this necessary period of delay we are not weakening in our determination to fulfil those pledges.
On that question I have tried to study very carefully what has been said by the various Indian parties since the war began. I think there emerges from their statements a fairly clear picture of what are the main things on which they wish to be satisfied. I think these are things on which all parties are agreed. It seems to me that there are four essential points. First, they wish to be satisfied that they will be consulted and kept in touch as the war proceeds if they are to be with us and not to remain entirely aloof; secondly, they wish to have a share in the shaping of any settlement reached at the end of the war; thirdly, they wish to be satisfied that the new world which we want to see after the war is the sort of new world that they want to see; and, lastly, they want to be satisfied that the place that we propose India should have in the new world is a place that will satisfy Indian aspirations. Cannot we do something to satisfy those needs? Take the first need, that of consulting and keeping in touch as the war proceeds. I was very glad to hear what the Lord Privy Seal said on that point, and the definition that he gave of the purpose of the Consultative Committee. I must confess, also, that I sympathised a good deal with what the right hon. Gentleman opposite who opened the Debate said, as to the desirability of bringing a few representative Indians over here during the war. That 1652 would be good for us, it would be good for them and it would be good for India. In case there should be developments as the war goes on and consultation with the Dominions becomes wider and more continuous, I hope the idea of bringing representative Indians over here will be considered.
Coming to the second need, the question of being consulted when the time comes for settlement after the war, I have a vision in my mind—perhaps an idealistic and unbusinesslike one—but let me state it. I feel that if after the war, when the time comes that we have to consider what the final settlement is to be, we could have sitting with us in London something like an Empire Parliament, it would be a grand thing. I believe, indeed, that if we had had such an Empire Parliament sitting here in 1918 there might have been stronger influences to prevent some of the things being done then which were done and which have led to so many troubles since. If we were to have such an assembly sitting as an Empire Parliament, perhaps in this House', there is nothing that I could think of that would be better than that we should have also a party of Indians sitting with us here. I saw the Indian delegation taking part in the Empire discussions at the Ottawa Conference and I and all those who were at that conference were tremendously impressed. The Indian delegation was led by an Indian who compared in ability favourably with anyone there. All the Empire delegates felt that the Indians made a great contribution to their discussions. And so I believe they would have a great contribution to make if and when the time comes that we have to sit down to consider what sort of part the British Commonwealth can play in shaping a new world after the war. To have Indians with us would be very good for us and very good for India. It would, more than anything else, show to India that we regard them as equals and that we want to see them taking their place as free members of the British Commonwealth of Nations. I wish that something could be said to show our purpose in this respect.
With regard to the third point, the conception of the new world that we and they want to see. That is a vague and wide phrase, but there are certain passages in the Congress Working Committee's statement of 15th September 1653 which clearly indicate their conception on this point. The statement says:If war is to defend the status quoof Imperialistic possessions, of Colonies and vested interests and privilege, then India can have nothing to do with it. If, however, the issue is democracy, a world order based on democracy, then India is intensely interested.The statement proceeds:The crisis that has overtaken Europe is not of Europe only, but of humanity, and will not pass like other crises or wars, leaving the essential structure of the present day world intact.It may refashion the world for good if certain conflicts and contradictions can he removed and a new equilibrium established.That equilibrium can only be based on the ending of the domination and exploitation of one country by another, and on the reorganisation of economic relations on a juster basis for the common good of all.Those are sentiments with which I wholeheartedly agree, and I believe they are sentiments which commend themselves to all parties in this country. I should like it to be more clearly stated than it has been—it would have a great effect on India—that, among our war aims, when we say we are fighting to prevent aggression, that implies that we recognise that we cannot fight honestly unless we make it clear that we ourselves do not seek to retain the benefits of past aggressions; above all, that we do not intend and we will not attempt to use political connections for the sake of economic advantage. That goes very deep into the whole question of war aims and the causes of war. If we want security in the future we must diminish the barriers to economic intercourse between nations which make their economic position dependent on territorial boundaries. Those are the things that lay the basis for imperialistic wars and conquests, that give meaning to phrases like "access to raw materials" and "lebensraum." For the sake of political peace as well as for economic welfare we must lessen the economic significance of political boundaries, and I hope we shall make it clear to India beyond a shadow of doubt that we believe in this and will work for it.
What is our position in India in regard to this matter? Looking back on the past, there is no doubt that we cannot say that what I have stated was the creed on which we acted. And I venture to assert 1654 that we have never made greater mistakes in our connection with India both for the future and also as regards our commercial interests at the time than when we have tried to use our political position in India for the sake of this country's economic advantage. We have suffered for it whenever we have tried to do that. But if we look at the position to-day we can fairly say that our record is a clean one. I do not think it is generally realised how far we have travelled from those days when we could be regarded as a country which was exploiting India for our own economic advantage. What do we mean by exploitation? What does Mr. Jawarhlal Nehru mean by "exploitation," for I think one can trace his hand very clearly in some of the phrases that I quoted from the Congress Working Committee's statement. He means surely that we are using India as a place to dispose of our own manufactured goods at a profit to ourselves. But what is really the position? I need only quote two sets of figures to illustrate that.
Before the last war, in the year 1913–14, India imported from this country goods to the value of £83,500,000 and exported to us goods to the value of £39,000,000, so that we then had a surplus favourable balance of £44,000,000. What is the position to-day? In the year ended March, 1939, India imported British goods to the value of £35,000,000 and exported Indian goods to the United Kingdom to the value of £41,250,000. So that to-day India has a favourable balance of £6,250,000. In the year 1913–14 India took 65 per cent. of her imports from us and sent 23½ per cent. of her exports to us. To-day we are on an exactly even balance. She takes 36 per cent. of her imports from us and she exports 36 per cent. of her exports to us. We have really got on to a basis of complete reciprocal fairness with India in our trading relations. As the right hon. Gentleman who opened the Debate suggested that I might say something on these economic questions, I would like to express the view that in all the negotiations we have had with India on matters of trade and commerce—and a great deal of time has been spent on them lately—we should really have been in a more favourable position to negotiate if India was an entirely independent country. If we were bargaining 1655 with them as independent parties we could use the enormous value of our market to India in asking for concessions. Our fiduciary relations to-day makes that more difficult and I therefore venture to assert that strictly in our own interests and on a commercial basis, the greater independence India had the better it would be for this country.
But, although that is the position as regards trade to-day one cannot get away from the fact that past history has left a deep imprint on the Indian mind, and in matters of finance they do feel that it is objectionable that these should be in the hands of an irremoveable member of the Viceroy's Council who is in fact always an Englishman. Although sometimes we may think that we know better than they do, and although the things we may do may be perfectly wise and right, there is irritation in the feeling that their views cannot be considered. In these times when all doctrines of finance have been subjected to revolutionary change and the wildest experiments can go on in all sorts of civilised countries, I must confess that I have a great deal of sympathy with Indians who say "Why should we not try some of these experiments?" I am not going to be bold enough to venture on any concrete suggestion as to how that practical difficulty can be got over, although there are certain definite things in my mind, but I would ask the Government to give very careful consideration to that point because there is nothing which has contributed more to a suspicion as to our methods in India in the past than the suspicion that we were using our political power for our own commercial and economic advantage. I believe that suspicion has in almost every case been unjust, but still it exists, and if it could be cleared away it would be a great factor in making them convinced of the honesty of our purpose.
I come to the fourth point, that India wants to be satisfied as to the sort of constitution she will have after the war. That has been already so fully dealt with that I will not dwell upon it longer. I was delighted to hear the Lord Privy Seal repeat some of the earlier passages and make it abundantly clear that we were pledged to Dominion status in the fullest sense. Nothing could be clearer than 1656 what was said by him to-day, and I hope the repetition of it will be broadcast in India and convince them of what we mean. But there still remains this great difficulty of arriving at some sort of agreement between the communities and States in India which will make the introduction of a federal scheme possible. If one is thinking of the kind of message one would like to see go from this House as a message to the people of India to-day, I would add this, that we want above all things the various sections and interests in India to get together in agreement so that it may be possible for us to set up responsible government at the Centre and that any section which makes unnecessary difficulties about reaching an agreement is certainly not improving its claim upon our consideration or its position in public opinion of this country.
I would add to that message a special appeal to India to attempt to give a lead to the world in that matter at this juncture of the world's history. We are all of us groping now—it came out clearly the other day when the House was debating war aims—for some idea of the future of the world which will put us on the road to something like a federal solution, or a state at least when countries are willing to see some diminution in their ideas of national sovereignty for the sake of international co-operation. Can there be any hope for the realisation of such an idea in the world if it cannot be attained in a single country like India? We do not under-estimate the difficulties. We look across the Atlantic and remember that with people of the same race it required four bloody years of civil war to establish a united federal government. We want to save India from a process of that kind, and we believe that with cooperation among the parties there, and with the willing help which will come from every section of opinion in this country, that something better for India is possible, and that in attaining that better ideal India will have given an example to the world which in itself will help her to obtain what she herself desires.
§ 6.28 p.m.
§ Sir Stafford Cripps
It is to be regretted that more Members of the House do not show an interest in this vitally important matter both to India and to our own 1657 country. It is due in a considerable degree to this lack of interest among Members of the House that our troubles arise on Indian affairs. If all those hon. Members and right hon. Members who generally occupy the benches opposite could have listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Walsall (Sir G. Schuster) I feel quite certain that they would have been prepared to regard the whole Indian problem with far more open minds than they usually do. A good many hon. Members have addressed appeals to the Indian people and to the Indian parties to be reasonable under the difficult circumstances of to-day. I believe it is more important to address those appeals to the Government and the people of Great Britain than it is to the people of India. I think the statements which have been sent out by the Indian Congress have been reasonable and dignified, setting out a point of view which they hold deeply and earnestly, and asking for the assistance of the Government to help them to solve a difficult situation.
I regret very much the final passages of the Lord Privy Seal's speech, the unveiled threat to use force and suppression if the Indian people should dare not to come to heel. I am afraid that is how that speech will be interpreted throughout India. Certainly, it was how the speech appealed to me as I listened to it. I think it showed a lack of appreciation of the new circumstances which have inevitably arisen with the coming of the struggle in Europe. Many hon. Members have talked about a new world, but we get very little definition of what that new world is to be. The problem of India, as I see it, is no longer a problem, as it might have been before the war broke out, of how this Government was to deal with a part, although a vitally important part, of the British Empire. The new developments in the world situation, and the avowed objectives of the British Government in declaring war, have made the treatment of India a test question in the eyes of the world, as well as of many people in this country and the people of India itself. It raises, indeed, the whole question of our future intentions as regards British Imperialism. The Government have declared themselves as being against all forms of aggression—in the words of the Prime Minister —whether directed against ourselves or others. We are stated by the Prime 1658 Minister to be looking beyond victory to the laying of thefoundation of a better international system which will mean that war is not to be the inevitable lot of each succeeding generation."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th October, 1939; col. 566, Vol. 352.]Those are vague and general statements of objective which disclose no clear purpose in our actions as regards India or other parts of the British Empire. They provide no answer to the question which Congress has propounded to this Government. What is meant by aggression; what is the better international system at which we are aiming; and above all, what contribution are we, as a country, prepared to make to the attainment of that new and better international system? It is not surprising that the people of India should not be satisfied by answers given in those vague phrases which are repeated in the Governor-General's statement, and which can at any moment be redefined at a later stage of the war in terms which may mean nothing more than the protection of the interests of British Imperialism and of Great Britain herself. At the present time, there are great posters displayed on all the hoardings of this country urging us to fight for freedom, and the need for maintaining democracy is being stressed in speech after speech in this House. Those phrases, too, are sufficiently vague if they have no application to India itself; and when one reads the Governor-General's statement—one of the most curious State documents, I should think, that was ever published, with its constant references to the future objective of the Government in India being "as at all times in the past it has been"—one is bound to recognise the fact that, so far as India is concerned, this new world of which the Government speak, this new international system, apparently has no relation to India itself. The Governor-General redefines the objectives in terms of statements made in 1935 and in 1929, as if the whole period that had elapsed since then had made no alteration whatever to the situation. The one new suggestion that is put forward in the White Paper is that the Governor-General should establish a Consultative Committee chosen by himself from panels of names submitted by the major political parties in British India and by the Indian Princes. But what is the object of that 1659 Consultative Committee? To use his words,the association of public interest in India with the conduct of the war and with questions relating to war activities.That seems to me to be little short of an insult to those people who the Governor-General himself admits have shown themselves to be fully capable of self-government. In another part of his document, he says:Whatever the political party in power in those Provinces, all can look with satisfaction on a distinguished record of public achievement during the last 2½ years.That is a very high compliment to the administrative ability and integrity of those Indian Governments which have been conducting affairs in the Provinces. To ask such persons to appoint a panel from which the Governor-General is to select whom he wishes to consult, not upon Indian affairs, but upon how best India can help this country in the war, seems to me to be treating them as inferiors, and to show a complete lack of understanding of what it is that the Indians are really asking for. The Indian people are not asking to be treated as good servants who may be drawn occasionally into consultation so as to keep them in touch with what is happening, but as persons who are as fully entitled as the inhabitants of Great Britain itself to that democracy and freedom of which we speak so freely in this country to-day.
When the Governor-General speaks in his document of resisting aggression and when we speak of insisting on putting back the status created by past aggression in such countries as Czecho-Slovakia and Poland, are we limiting that demand to those two countries or to Europe? Are we regarding it merely as a matter of our own safety, or of a particular Power-grouping which is to be created in Europe, or are we talking of it as a matter of principle, of right, and of justice? If it is that latter which we mean—I believe the great majority of the people of this country still so regard it—then we must be prepared to reconsider the situation that arises out of past aggressions of our own as well as those of other people, and upon that India forms a test question. On the basis of right and justice and principle, I should have thought nobody could have denied that India today is fully entitled to self-government. 1660 What answer have we to give now to that demand, admitting, as the Governor-General fully admits, the competence of the Indians to govern themselves, unless it be that our selfish desire to continue the exploitation of India as part of our Imperial monopoly is to override our conceptions of right and justice?
§ Viscount Wolmer
May I ask the hon. and learned Gentleman whether he has read page 18 of the White Paper?
§ Sir S. Cripps
I have read the whole of the White Paper. I do not know, without having it before me, which is page 18.
§ Sir S. Cripps
I have read the whole of the Appendices and the White Paper itself. The hoardings of this country at the present time bear a poster in these words:Freedom is in peril—Defend it with all your might.I should like to see that poster displayed in every village in India, but I am afraid that if the Indian Congress were to take such a step, it would be instantly suppressed by the Government of India; for the Indians would rightly read the word "freedom" as meaning Indian freedom, as in Great Britain we read it as meaning British freedom, and not as meaning the freedom of the Polish landed gentry or the Czecho-Slovak manufacturers. If, indeed, they were to start to "defend freedom with all their might" in the real literal sense of the words, I am afraid it would mean an undignified and speedy end to British Imperialism in India—a most unfortunate and disastrous way of bringing about a change of affairs.
The argument has been brought forward by the Lord Privy Seal that it is difficult to work out any satisfactory method of central self-government for India because of the communal difficulty. That, in my view, is not a valid argument. The same could be; said of Poland with its Russian, Jewish, German and Polish citizens. The same could be said of Czecho-Slovakia with its Sudetens, Czechs and Slovaks; and I cannot understand the argument, if it is put forward on the basis of democracy, which deprives a majority of its rights, in order to protect a minority. It may be necessary to modify some of the rights of a 1661 majority and to get them to agree to such modifications, as the Congress has willingly agreed, but you are not justified in taking away the rights of a majority because you assert that you desire to protect the minority. If you do so, you are, in fact, converting the majority into the minority.
§ Viscount Wolmer
Does the hon. and learned Gentleman maintain that any majority has the right to coerce a minority? For instance, would he say that a majority of 60,000,000 Germans has the right to coerce a minority of 30,000,000 Poles?
§ Sir S. Cripps
That, of course, depends entirely on what you mean by "coerce." Given a democratic system—and I understand the system which we have set up in India purports to be a democratic system —given that assumption, it is essential, if you are to have democratic government, that the minority should obey majority rule, and that is what happens in this country every day of the week. If you accept democracy, if you set up a democratic system, which is to ascertain which class, or caste, or party is in the majority, you must then accept the results of that democratic system, and, at the moment, whether you like it or not, the Congress Party is in the majority in British India. 01 course, it cannot coerce as long as you have a democratic system, but within the democratic system the majority is as entitled to get the minority to conform to its views, as the Government in this country.
Now we come to the question of a better international system. We are entitled to ask, as the Congress party has asked, what is that better international system to be? Does it mean a better system for the entire world, or merely a better system for Europe, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) seemed to indicate in his speech the other day? Does it envisage a system which, by doing away with the rivalries of Imperialism, will help to make the world safer for peace, or does it mean nothing more than the fitting together, in a new jigsaw puzzle, the battered remnants of Europe after this war and leaving the rest of the world to continue in the old methods and by the old steps? Again, India provides the test as to the answer which is to be given to that question. In 1662 my submission, no better international system can arise which continues to be based upon the domination by individual European nations of large colonial or other native areas in the world. That same system, if it is perpetuated, even with considerable alterations as between one country and another in dominance, will leave something which is an essential cause of future wars and we shall simply be waiting until this rotten international structure, sooner or later, falls about our ears and brings about our own destruction.
I believe that India has given a challenge upon this point which any country and any Government desirous of leading the world to peace must take up and answer courageously, in the direction that freedom and democracy, in their view, represent the right development and the immediate development of such great territories as India and other parts of the British Empire as well. If we are to do that we must, in facing this problem, make what some of us consider to be British interests secondary to world interests. If we are, indeed, to see a new world after this war, it cannot be built on the basis of preserving British interests at all costs where they come up against world interests, and, unless the Government are prepared to take a much more imaginative view of the future world situation and of this new international order, and realise that it means a great change as far as the British Empire is concerned, then I am convinced that we shall emerge from this war, not only in no better circumstances than those in which we emerged in 1918, but in far worse circumstances.
Before making one or two practical suggestions of what might be done to resolve the situation, I desire to mention one other matter. That is the effect upon the European situation and upon our difficulties in Europe, which our refusal to grant a further measure of self-government to India at this time is likely to have. I believe that effect will be shown in three ways. First, among large number of our own people it will demonstrate the unreality of the professions of this Government about the freedom and democracy which they desire and will, thereby, seriously diminish the unify and the force of our war effort. Secondly, I believe that among neutrals, and particularly in the United States of America, 1663 where there is very great interest in the Indian situation, it will reinforce isolationist and anti-British tendencies along lines which have been very well lemon-strated in such speeches as that of Senator Borah at the beginning of this week. We can ill afford, at this time, to antagonise neutral opinion or even to do anything which may make it more difficult for us to get that opinion firmly on our side. In the difficulties that will develop over the next months and probably years, the sympathy or hostility of neutrals may become a decisive factor in our success or failure. Thirdly—and this fact we must face fairly and squarely —a hostile non-co-operative India, with all the dangers of conflict in India which that is bound to bring, if tempers are exacerbated, is certainly not going to help us in our European difficulties, and may become a very grave hindrance.
§ Mr. Keeling
Does the hon. and learned Gentleman not also realise that if we do as he proposes and force a Congress Government upon India against the will of the 80,000,000 Moslems in India, we shall run a very serious risk of estranging the populations—almost exclusively Moslem—of our three allies, Egypt, Iraq and Turkey?
§ Sir S. Cripps
I am not suggesting that there are not dangers, nor have I yet suggested a means of meeting them, but if the hon. Member believes in democracy, how does he reconcile that with saying that the 80,000,000 Moslems are to determine the future of India, and not the far larger number of Hindus?
§ Sir S. Cripps
The hon. Member did say so by implication, because he said that our action is to be conditioned, not by the great majority, but by the fears of the minority.
§ Mr. Keeling
The hon. and learned Gentleman does not seem to realise that while democracy in this country necessarily means the protection of the minority —that is inherent in our democracy—the fears of the Moslems in India are based on their belief that under a democratic system in that country the minority would not be protected.
§ Sir S. Cripps
I am sorry the hon. Member thinks the minorities are necessarily 1664 protected in Great Britain. Consider the condition of the unemployed. They are not protected at all, but have had to put up with a great deal that they believe to be fundamentally unfair and unjust in the course of the last 10 years. If the hon. Member went and asked them, I think they would say that they have had a very raw deal as a minority in this country. Minorities always think they have a raw deal. When the hon. Member is a part of a minority in this House, as I hope he may be one day, he will no doubt be getting up and protesting at the raw deal that he and his friends are getting, and I shall not object in those circumstances.
§ Mr. Beverley Baxter
I am certain that the hon. and learned Member has no desire to give a false impression of what is influencing or may influence opinion in the United States of America. He says that if we do not grant these immediate reforms to India, it might intensify the feeling against us there, which is already not too good. The truth is—and I am sure he will agree—that in the United States of America for the last three or five years there has been a growing suspicion that we are no longer capable of leadership in our own Empire, and there have been so many speeches, I suggest, such as that to which we are now listening from the hon. and learned Gentleman, that the question is. Would he seriously mislead us to think that America does not want this country to be firm and lead the world, including our own Empire?
§ Sir S. Cripps
I think that probably the hon. Gentleman and myself are not in contact with exactly the same kind of opinion in America. Quite clearly, from what he says, we are not, and I am not surprised. What I suggested was that if we profess to be fighting this war for freedom and democracy and deny it to a part of the British Empire which, on our own admission and on the Governor-General's admission, is fully fit for self-government, the Indian people will say, "This is only another case of the British professing one thing and doing another." I believe we have to make up our minds, therefore, whether we are genuinely determined, not in words but in action, to give self-government to the people of India—and I believe that if we did so, we should be able to welcome that country as a great and powerful ally and friend for all the years in the future— 1665 or whether we are to ally ourselves with the reactionary Indian Princes, as we have been doing in the past, for a joint exploitation of the Indian people by the British Raj and the Indian Princes. If we choose the latter alternative in the circumstances of to-day, we shall only accomplish it by the force of which the Lord Privy Seal has already spoken this afternoon, and it may be that with the other difficulties in the world we shall find it difficult to supply an adequate force. I do not make these suggestions in order to compel action, because I believe, as the hon. Member for Walsall, I think it was, said, we must take action necessarily upon the basis of principle and not merely because we are frightened at the particular circumstances of the moment. Nevertheless, it will be stupid too to disregard the possibilities of those difficulties.
No one expects at a moment's notice that a new, free constitution can be forged for India. That obviously, technically, is out of the question and beyond the possibilities. What then ought our reply to be to the request put forward by the Indian Congress for the elucidation of our war aims and intentions as regards India? I suggest that it ought to be made, and made now, upon lines somewhat of this kind: We are wholly sincere in our advocacy of freedom and democracy, and our desire for freedom and democracy extends to people under British rule as well as people under the domination of Germany in Europe. The Indian people, therefore, can be assured that our immediate objective is self-government for the Indian people. As in the middle of a war crisis it is not possible for us to devise, in accordance with the wishes of the Indian people, a new constitution, we offer as an immediate step in that direction the following adjustment, which could easily be made, of the present constitutional position. First of all, we abandon all idea of Federation and deal with the problem as one for British India alone. The major parties in British India have expressed their views against Federation, and it is idle therefore to continue with that at the present time.
Secondly, we consent to the election of a new central Legislative Assembly for British India, elected upon the registers for the Provinces, exactly as they stand to-day, thereby obviating any necessity 1666 at this stage for reconsidering the communal position. I see no difficulty. The right hon. Gentleman has said that you cannot have an election in India. You can have elections in Quebec, so why not in India? If people are busy, put more people on. Surely we are not going to say that we will jeopardise the whole future of this country in India because people are so busy in India that they cannot have an election. That seems to me to be so fantastically unreal, in the face of the enormous dangers that exist in this situation, that it cannot, I am convinced, be anything except an excuse that is put forward by people who do not want an election in India to-day. If, as has been said, an election on that basis would produce too large a body, because the provincial electors are so many, create an electoral college from those people, and let them, from among their numbers, in the same proportions as in the parties, elect a smaller number to become the Legislative Assembly, just as we do here for a Standing Committee or matters of that kind. Thirdly, the majority parties in that Legislature should form a Government, which the Viceroy should then appoint as his Executive Council. It is true that, technically and in accordance with the constitution, the Executive Council would not be a Cabinet, but there is no reason on earth why our Government should not give an undertaking that the Viceroy would deal with that Executive Council, so appointed from the members of the majority of the Legislative Assembly, as if it were a Cabinet on all major matters; that is to say, he would accept their advice as the Crown here accepts the advice of the Cabinet when duly tendered to it.
On the basis of that immediate rearrangement, and on the basis of our pledge to grant full self-government after the war, we could, I believe, with safety and confidence, invite the whole-hearted co-operation of the Indian people in our effort to establish democracy and freedom in the world, of which determination we should have given an earnest by our willingness to co-operate with India in winning her own freedom and democracy at the earliest possible moment. That declaration would not only, I believe, win the support of all British India, but would be acclaimed throughout the world as a great act of a great and sincere democratic people.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Viscount Wolmer
I would not have risen but for the speech of the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps), which I venture to say would be regarded as wholly mischievous if we did not know the hon. and learned Member is wholly irresponsible. The unfortunate thing is that his words may carry more weight abroad than they are likely to carry in this country. I speak as one of those who moved Amendments to the Government of India Act and who voted against the Third Reading. We did so because we entertained certain apprehensions and thought that the Act went too far in certain directions, particularly in regard to federation. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal will bear me out when I say that from the day when the Bill became law those who voted against it have done nothing and will do nothing in any way to try and impede the working of the Act or to do anything to mar or hinder the chances of that great constitutional experiment.
§ Viscount Wolmer
It is quite easy to make speeches in this House, like the speech to which we have just listened, which would not help matters in the least. I do not intend to make a speech of that nature. I only want to say to the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol that I am convinced that, if the Government were so misguided as to follow the advice he has just tendered, there would be civil war in India in a very short time. I would like to repudiate altogether some of the pledges that he has foisted on to the British Government and the Viceroy, because the good name of this country is a matter of common concern to us all. I suggest that hon. Members should be very careful as to how they fasten on the Government pledges which either have not been given, or have been given with qualifications, or in a form which is different from that in which they have been quoted. That is a dangerous thing to do. The hon. and learned Gentleman spoke as if it had been officially admitted that India was fully fit for democracy in his sense of the term and that we were pledged to introduce full democracy immediately after the end of the war. No such statement has been made and no such pledges have been given.
1668 Surely the truth of the matter is that the Government of India Act was a tremendous move in the direction of democracy, a tremendous constitutional experiment. We then tried to do a thing which had never been done before. That experiment is still in process of being worked out. It is impossible for anybody after two and a half years of the working of a constitution to say that that constitution is either a success or a failure. Two and a half years is a mere momentary flash in the history of India. That great experiment is still being tested, and it is for every one of us in every part of the Empire to do everything we can to give it an absolutely fair trial. I thought that the statement of the Lord Privy Seal this afternoon approached the problem in exactly the right manner. There are certain pledges by which we are bound, and he reaffirmed them. Subject to these, he said that the Government and the Viceroy were prepared to consult with Indians of every shade of thought and race and to examine the working of the Government of India Act in the light of such experience of it as we might have.
§ Mr. Maxton
The Noble Lord thinks that this two and a half years is merely a flash in point of time in the history of India, but does he deny that the Provincial Legislatures, who have had experience of the actual working of the Act, feel now that they are ready for something bigger? After all, in our meaning of democracy it is their view that should dominate and not ours.
§ Viscount Wolmer
I thought that nothing was truer in the speech of the Lord Privy Seal than when he said that Dominion status was not a plum to be given to a good boy, but was an internal condition which was reached by development. The whole question in this matter is really whether we have the conditions in India which would enable India of itself to attain Dominion status. My hon. Friend who has just intervened is of opinion that India has reached—
§ Mr. Maxton
No, I am putting the point to the Noble Lord that the Provincial Legislatures, the people who have held responsibility for two and a half years, think that they are fit for something more.
§ Viscount Wolmer
The majority do, but, on the other hand, we have a verdict 1669 and an opinion in this White Paper to which I drew the attention of the hon. and learned Member. Appendix D contains a resolution passed by the Working Committee of the All-India Moslem League on 18th September this year. If my hon. Friend will read the Appendix, and particularly page 18, he will see a grave indictment of the whole system in the eight provinces dominated by the Congress party. I am not saying whether that is right or wrong, but the point I wish to make is that this is not a declaration by an irresponsible body, or by a weak body, or by a small minority. It is a declaration by a body representative of 90,000,000 of the people of India. I would remind my hon. Friend that these 90,000,000 comprise all the great fighting races of India.
§ Mr. Maxton
I do not admit that the fighting races are necessarily the best democrats. I admit that this body speaks with great authority for the Moslem population, but surely the Noble Lord would not accept it as being the authoritative voice of elected governmental India any more than he would accept the voice of the leader of the Roman Catholic Community in this country as being able to speak against the Government.
§ Viscount Wolmer
The whole criterion in these minority problems is how much toleration there can be between the majority and the minority. We have got our differences in this country, our different religions and creeds and violently different political opinions, but at any rate we have, it may be through our temperament or it may be through experience, developed the tradition under which the majority has its way but does not drive home its advantage against the minority beyond a certain point; and particularly it does not try to oppress any minority in regard to its religion. You could not work democracy in this country on any other basis, and you cannot work democracy in any other country in the world on any other basis, and the problem in India and certain other countries is that the minorities are not satisfied that the majorities in those countries have reached the same stage of toleration as we have achieved in this country. I do not say that the minorities are right, but that is the fear, and that fear can surely only be assuaged by time and by ex- 1670 perience under this great constitutional experiment that is now taking place.
§ Mr. Sorensen
May I ask the Noble Lord whether his objection to any further development of self-government in India is based entirely on the opposition of the minorities?
§ Viscount Wolmer
I would not say that the minority question was the only objection I had to the Government of India Bill in 1935; but that Bill having been passed I venture to say that you cannot go further or faster than the state of the minority question will let you. I do not mean by that that the views of the minority are to override the views of the majority in India, but I do mean that the minority question has to be settled on democratic lines before it would be wise, or safe, or prudent to extend democracy in India. Nothing would make me. and those who feel as I do, rejoice more than to know that this minority question was solved and that you could go the full length in constitutional development, because these stages of transition—and the Government of India Act does not pretend to be anything more than a stage of transition— are always difficult and delicate stages, and the sooner we safely get through them the happier everyone will be. I am not opposing democracy in India. I am not opposing the idea of democracy. I am just as much opposed to Nazism as the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol, but I venture to say to him that if he tries to impose democratic shibboleths and democratic catchwords on a community which has not yet reached the stage where that can be safely done, it will precipitate a great crisis in India.
§ Sir S. Cripps
Will the Noble Lord give us the evidence upon which he says that this cannot be safely done? I have seen no evidence.
§ Viscount Wolmer
I would refer the hon. and learned Member to the document which I have already mentioned, which is Appendix D of the White Paper. He will see there the very strong, very violent almost, criticism of the working of the constitution by the Hindus, which has been put forward by the representative body of the Moslems; when it is remembered that that body of Moslems comprises 90,000,000 people, embodying the great fighting races of India, and when it 1671 is also remembered that when we conquered India we did not conquer it from the Hindus but conquered it from the Moslems—the British Raj succeeded the Mohammedan Power—then I say that to plunge that country into full democracy without getting the good will of the Moslems as well as the Hindus would be to ask for trouble.
§ Sir S. Cripps
I quite appreciate what is said on page 18 of the White Paper, but what I was anxious to know was whether the Noble Lord has any evidence of any sort to support the allegations that are made. I can well imagine them being made by the Labour party in this country against the Government of this country, but has the Noble Lord any facts upon which to base his knowledge as regards that allegation?
§ Viscount Wolmer
The point is what the minority believes. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] If the minority believes that it is liable to suffer oppression in matters which are so sacred and vital to it that it is prepared to fight rather than to submit, then the minority will fight. The hon. and learned Member would be very ill-advised not to look at the matter from that point of view. It is not so much whether these accusations are right or not. The important thing is that the accusations, or criticisms, are made by a highly-responsible and representative body, and I think we are entitled to assume that those criticisms are sincerely made. The mere fact that a great body representing a great minority expresses such fears in itself and alone justifies, and, indeed, makes it incumbent on, the Government to act with the greatest caution.
I hope that I have not been tempted by interruptions to say something stronger than I meant to say, because this problem will not be helped by strong words on either side, but before I sit down I would put this consideration to my hon. and learned Friend in regard to his general dissertations on democracy! I understood him to say that any majority may always out-vote any minority on any question and impose its will upon it. I venture to suggest to him that under certain circumstances you may, in pursuing that doctrine, get a state of affairs which is very little different, as I tried to suggest to him during his speech, from the 1672 coercion of Poland by Germany, let us say.
§ Viscount Wolmer
Yes, and there are very few minorities that have been treated as Ireland has been treated by Great Britain. None of us need to be ashamed of the record of our country in Ireland, or in Scotland. It is really a question of how far a majority is prepared to exercise its rights without oppressing the minority. If the thesis of my hon. and learned Friend is right, now that Poland and Germany are one country everything is all right. They can continue as one country and Germany can continue to out-vote Poland in that area. Poland may legitimately, properly and morally be governed by 60,000,000 Germans in future outvoting 20,000,000 Poles.
§ Sir S. Cripps
I do not know whether the Noble Lord is wilfully misrepresenting my argument or has not been able to appreciate it; it is one or the other. What I said was that, as a condition of majority rule, you must have democracy. There is no democracy in Poland or in Germany, but, even a free democracy in Poland or a free democracy in Germany—[Interruption.] I think it is better that we should have only one person speaking at one time—if the Poles want to come under that same rule as the Germans they are perfectly entitled to do it.
§ Viscount Wolmer
The hon. and learned Gentleman says if they wish to come under that one rule; but what right would that minority of 20,000,000 Poles have to vote themselves out of a democracy?
§ Sir S. Cripps
The right they would have would be the right of all minorities, and the same right that Ireland has to get itself out of the Empire.
§ Viscount Wolmer
The hon. and learned Member would concede to any minority in India the right to opt out of the constitution which he has just sketched to the House?
§ Viscount Wolmer
I do not propose to argue the history of Ireland with my hon. and learned Friend. We are talking about 1673 India. The interesting and courteous interruptions of the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite have induced me to speak for much longer on the subject than I had intended. I only wish to say once more, on behalf of those who had doubts about this experiment, that while we cannot accept the optimistic phrases in the earlier part of the speech of my right hon. Friend, while we cannot admit for a moment that this great constitutional experiment is yet vindicated, and while we are gravely disquieted by appendices D and E in the White Paper, we shall do nothing in any way to try to impede or hinder the working of the Act, and we welcome the lines on which the Government are at present approaching the difficult developments that have occurred.
§ 7.2.3 p.m.
§ Mr. MacLaren
I will not occupy much of the time of the House, but I want to take part in the Debate because it is the first time that I have had an opportunity of taking part in an India Debate, although I have been connected with the Indian Congress movement since 1910. I have known, and had the pleasure and privilege of knowing, some of India's greatest living men of the time. The speech to which we have just listened was very entertaining and characteristic, but I wondered whether the interruption concerning the welfare of minorities was not a Heaven-sent argument given into his hands for attacking any advance being given to India at all.
We have heard this afternoon the speech from the hon. Member for Walsall (Sir G. Schuster), one of the most interesting contributions so far made. As I listened to his peroration I wondered, as he was outlining for us the future state of society where there would be no trade barriers, where nation would trade with nation and Nationalism would give way to Universalism and Federation, whether that speech was coming from the same gentleman who was part and parcel of the famous Ottawa Agreements. I say that in passing. I am sorry that he is not in his place, but perhaps he will notice my remarks in the OFFICIAL REPORT tomorrow. Apart from that illogical slip, as I considered it, his speech was very interesting and was a sound contribution to the Debate.
1674 I had the misfortune to be out of the House when the whole question of India was under review and was discussed, and the new Constitution was formulated, but I watched what was taking place and I read most of the verbatim report of the evidence submitted. I could not but admire the gallant stand which the right hon. Gentleman made throughout that period. I want to say here and now that I believe I am under a debt of gratitude to him. I had always looked upon him as more or less akin to the Noble Lord who has just spoken, adamant to all new ideas and entrenched and rooted in Conservative tradition. It was interesting and encouraging indeed to notice the way in which the right hon. Gentleman carried through that fight, if I may call it that, in the teeth of the opposition of his new colleague in the Cabinet.
In discussing the present situation with Indians and receiving correspondence from them, I find that they are apprehensive and suspicious. You will not infrequently hear this kind of remark: "What is happening now has a very strange resemblance to what happened with regard to the Irish question in 1914. The Irish were asked to suspend their demand for full Home Rule until the war was over. Then when the war was over, we remember what happened. Immediate steps were taken to make Home Rule an impossibility."[Interruption.] I hear an interruption. It should be remembered that the Indians have always taken a very keen interest in Irish politics and have watched what has happened respecting the Irish demand for real Home Rule. They are now suspicious that what is happening to them is on all fours with what happened to the Irish in 1914. We have heard a great deal to-day about the promises that have been made to India for the giving of full Dominion status. All the literature, over the past 20 years let us say, is littered with those promises. Can you blame Indians for being doubly suspicious on this occasion now that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) is sitting in the Cabinet? Even he, that trenchant opponent, on the last occasion when this matter was before the House made a very famous pronouncement, side-tracking a question that was put to him when he was cross-examined before the Joint Committee.
§ Brigadier-General Sir Henry Croft
May I interrupt the hon. Gentleman? It is only fair to my right hon. Friend, who is not here, that I should say that he explicitly accepted the solution of the Government of India Act. He took part in our fight, but all of us, from the day the Act was on the Statute Book, undertook to try to make it work, and my right hon. Friend accepted that and the full implications of the right hon. Gentleman in bringing in that Measure.
§ Mr. MacLaren
I will accept the hon. and gallant Gentleman's remarks. Suppose the hon. Gentleman who was not here was in India, and remembered what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping had done in the past, and said that Dominion status was a thing that could not be hoped for within the living memory of man. What is he to think now, even with all the protests of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping that he was willing to accept that that had been accomplished, if there suddenly comes a pause and he says, "There is a war on; hold up until it is over and your Dominion status is contingent upon the end of this war." When is the end of this war? Heaven only knows. That is what the answer would appear to be now. This is not a matter that can be bandied about lightly or dismissed lightly, and I would be the last person in this House in present circumstances to treat it as a light topic.
I have had reason to watch what is going on in Arabian countries, and even there if we are not careful we are dangerously near making first-class blunders. We must not on any account in present circumstances do anything that would seem to tend to inflame national or religious hatreds amongst these people. There is a strong religious cohesion or affinity between the peoples of Arabia and of India. It knows no geographical stricture or barrier. I am not saying that we should be tender with the feelings of people because we are in a dangerous situation, but in India there is fellow-feeling with the peoples of Arabia equally as there is fellow-feeling on the part of the people in Arabia with the people in India. When it is stated that we are entering upon this enterprise in Europe to give liberty and democracy to the peoples of Europe, and when, as has been said 1676 to-day, countries are asking us, and have been asking for a long time, for equality of treatment with other Dominions in the British Empire, what is more logical than that the people who are always ready to criticise anything we do should say, "What about India? What about certain parts of Arabia?" To say the least, in present circumstances I think it is incumbent upon the Government to expedite —I put it no higher—the development of Dominion status in India.
I have heard some talk to-day about the majorities and minorities in India. True, there are problems there, but sometimes we discuss majorities and minorities in India and rather get them out of gear. If India is almost the size of Europe and we are to compare India with Europe, it would be fair to say that there are as many minorities all over Europe as there are all over India. If we get the geographical relationship into mind, we get a better appreciation of what is meant by majorities and minorities. It would be fatal if we were to say that India should not raise in status to full Dominion powers until it had settled its internal religious differences. That is asking too much, because if Europe is to become a civilised federation, or league of nations if you like, only after it has settled its internal religious and racial differences, I am afraid the day for the emancipation of Europe is a long way off.
§ Mr. Loftus
Surely in the case of Switzerland religious differences have been adjusted literally centuries ago, and no trouble whatever has been caused.
§ Mr. MacLaren
I agree. If you can get your religious and racial differences reduced to the size of a pocket watch, the trouble does not arise, but with a country the size of India it is not so easily solved, and you should not use this argument that Dominion status with home rule for India is dependent upon the solution of their internal religious differences. I know they are there, and may I say in all fairness to the Government that majorities and minorities mean different things in India from what they mean here in Great Britain. We have seen in the past in our own history, and more especially in Ireland, what the religious differences have been. I think it is a queer arrangement that a member of a Northern Ireland constituency should be 1677 the custodian in this Debate to-day. In Ireland it was a sort of Christian internal difference, but in India it is entirely a wide difference between the Hindus and Moslems. As long as there is that mixture of violent religious differences—philosophical differences if you like—it makes the question of majority and minority in India a much more difficult problem than a majority or minority problem in this country. But we should not stress that too strongly, because I have heard one of India's ablest lawyers—
§ Mr. MacLaren
He makes more money at the Bar in one week than the right hon. Gentleman would in a lifetime. I am only putting that, incidentally, to show the type of man he is. I would not dare to say that the income of a barrister was not an indication of his great ability. Some people think it is an indication of something else, but I would not suggest that. Religious differences matter very little among intelligent or educated classes in India, but they are a very handy weapon to be used by people in England when they do not wish to make concessions of a wider form of home rule to India itself. Therefore, it would be well not to stress this point of religious differences, while admitting that they complicate the matter of majority and minority. Through the present occupants of the Front Bench, may I ask the Government not to make the Dominion status fulfilment contingent upon something called "the end of this War." That will be fatal. I have already referred to the affinity between the Arab people and the Indian people, and, if I may put it on the lowest plane, from the point of view of war advantages, it behoves this country to have as much support and loyalty on the other side of the Mediterranean as they can. Anything that would give rise to suspicion that the Government are adamant and will not make a full concession to Indian home rule until the end of the war, is bound to create a wide area of disaffection in countries other than India itself.
I resent much that has been said to the effect that India is in this war, and, because of that, we should be all out for India. I cannot, for the life of me, see that the fact that some Indians agree with our policy in this war has anything to do with this subject. It seemed to me, 1678 listening to some of the speeches to-day, that some Members had come round to a belief in Indian home rule and were prepared to advocate it to-day because they thought that by so doing they would be able to enlist a number of soldiers from India. That is a very mercenary basis for an argument, and I hope that when the report of the Debate is read to-morrow, by Indians and others, they will believe that some Members advocated freedom and the expansion of home rule for India, not because it was going to bring for Great Britain any particular gains in this or any other war, but because there was a feeling that the Indians have as much right to govern their own country as we have to govern ours, that things have happened in the past that we would rather have not happened, and that it is incumbent upon England to make the most speedy reparation for all that has happened in the past. Let it be known that we in this House are anxious to fulfil all the pledges made not merely by Viceroys in India but by Kings in this country, not for national advantage for ourselves, but because we believe it to be a right based on justice.
§ 7.42 p.m.
§ Sir Stanley Reed
When I became a Member of this honourable House, too late in life to hope ever to play a constructive part in it, I made a resolution that I would never speak for more than five minutes. I break that rule to-night, because the subject which is being discussed is very dear to my heart and the land it affects is one in which I lived for more than 40 years. From all the people in that land, high and low, I received a measure of kindness, generosity and friendship which so moved me that I would like to put before this House what I conceive would lead to greater happiness and prosperity in that land.
Very soon after I went to India I succeeded to a position where, perhaps, I had some influence in the moulding of public opinion. When that occurred I asked myself this very simple question: "What are we British people in India for? Never mind about how we came, about how that amazing chapter of events developed; what are we here for?" I had to face that position in 1907, I consulted those with great experience of the country, and those with great administrative experience. I never had more than one answer. The answer was 1679 "The destiny of this country must inevitably be self-government of this country by the people of this country; and it is only a question of how, and in what way, that destiny can be fulfilled." I welcomed that Declaration of 1917, which ran like a lambent flame across the uncertain atmosphere, and which, for the first time in our history, set out in concrete form what was the goal of our ambitions—that was, the establishment of responsible government in India. I have often heard, here and elsewhere, a lot of word-chopping about the difference between responsible government and Dominion status. If any man born of woman thinks that India can ever have responsible government without full Dominion status, he is living in a land of illusion. The two things are inseparably connected. Dominion status springs out of the internal form of government; it is shared by the other nations of the Commonwealth. It cannot be artificially imposed on a Government which is not based on the same responsible principle.
I fear that in this Debate we may have been led off the trail, mainly by the speech of the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps), which does not help us in the least. After praising the wisdom and sanity of the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall (Sir G. Schuster), the hon. and learned Member proceeded to tear that speech up and say it was nonsense. I would direct the attention of the House to what I regard as the cardinal point of the situation as it exists to-day, and to what we can do in this House, and what message we can send to clarify and make more hopeful the situation in India. I, for one, agree with the main principles of what was said by the hon. Member for Walsall. He speaks from five years experience in India, and a wide knowledge of administration. He suggested that there were four points on which India felt very deeply at present. The first of these was the question of her association with the conduct of the war, the second was her desire to have a part in the framing of any ultimate peace treaty which might be made, and the third was her desire to be associated with the definition of our war aims. I think those are objectives which can be achieved by the Government of the day without breaking up in 1680 any way the elaborate framework of the great Act of 1935. It is my belief that the greatest of all the four points was the one which the hon. Member mentioned last—the intense and passionate desire of all the people of India to know where they will stand in the Commonwealth when the war is over. That is where this House can do a great work of reconciliation at present.
It has been very rightly said that this House cannot now reconstruct the whole elaborate machinery of the Act of 1935. I doubt whether anybody in India believes that that could be done. It has been suggested from the other side—and it is a possibility which I hope the Government will consider—that if they cannot undertake reconstruction of that Act during the war, they might venture on an exploratory attempt, which will carry the knowledge that reconstruction is coming in the near future. Those who have studied the White Paper will know that there is a proposal that when the constitution of India comes under amendment it should be remitted to a constituent assembly. It has been said, by the Noble Lord and others, that the constitution has had only a few years in which to work. That is a proposition which I cannot accept, because the constitution is not functioning to-day; it is functioning only in part. It is functioning well in the Provinces, and in these Provinces—I speak from personal experience—we have seen a better and more progressive form of government. The constitution is lacking at the superstructure. You have no keystone as far as the central Government is concerned. It does not exist. There are no signs that it will exist, and you are carrying on under a form of central Government which pleases and satisfies none, and more particularly those people who actually constitute it to-day.
So that whatever one may say and think, the Act of 1935 has to be amended. It is my profound hope that, whenever it is amended, it will be amended on the federal principle. Very few people read the pregnant passage in the report of 1918, where Mr. Montagu and Lord Chelmsford could conceive of no form of Government in India except one on a federal basis. It is one of the rather tragic elements of the situation that the constitution, fashioned with such infinite care by Members of this House on all 1681 sides and members of the Joint Select Committee, has not even had a chance, because some of those who were most benefited by it, for one reason or another, have failed to work it out and make it operative. It is my conviction that, if that federal government had come into being, even on the rather too restrictive lines as provided for in the Act, we should have found it working towards the steady progress of India in happiness, contentment, prosperity and political development, just as we are seeing the Provinces working towards that end today. That rather belongs to the past, and it is not of the slightest value to attribute blame here or there.
The vital and essential issue before this House, is that at some time or other that constitution has to be amended, and my own view is that the sooner it is amended the better. What the Indian asks is that, in fashioning the constitution under which he has to live, he should have the major voice, and he asks for a constituent assembly, although I am not quite certain that he knows what a constituent assembly really is. What really matters is not what you call an assembly, but how it should be constituted and how it should be worked. With all the advantages of constitution-making in this country, when the delegates of India come into full contact with men of all shades of opinion in this House who have had intimate experience of the workings of constitutions—with all these advantages, I doubt whether you will ever have a constitution which is perfectly satisfactory and acceptable to the people of India, except one which is finally shaped in that country itself. In the shaping of that constitution and in the body which will have to shape it, all classes must be represented. If the Indian National Congress were a single all-embracing body the task would be perfectly simple. It could take that constitution and work it. Unfortunately, it is not an all-embracing body. It does not even embrace the Indian States, which comprise one-third of the area of India and contain one-quarter of the population. It does not embrace the 90,000,000 of Mohammedans, or the Indian Liberals who represent a volume that is far beyond the actual organised numbers, and it does not represent the interests which are set out in Appendix E to the White Paper which has been put before us.
1682 I would ask the House to consider whether, putting aside all these lamentable and extraneous controversial points which have been brought in, it cannot send from all sides of the House without exception a clear and definite message to India that this House is resolved that it does not resile by one fraction from the definite pledges to establish in India full responsible government with full Dominion status at the earliest possible time; and that if we cannot, for various reasons, take active steps in this direction during the war, then immediately on the conclusion of war—and if India wants a time table, not less than 12 months after the conclusion of the war— there shall be set up a representative body in India with which this Parliament will be associated, because we cannot entirely devolve all our responsibilities, to frame the principles of an amending Act. When that body has reached a substantial measure of agreement, giving to India its full status of responsible government and its full and equal position in the Commonwealth with Canada and Australia, this Parliament will immediately and gladly implement it, because it will regard it as the crown of glory of our connection with India and all that some of us have striven to do in love and affection for that land.
§ 7.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Sorensen
I am sure that the whole House will have appreciated the very sensitive and illuminating speech of the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Sir S. Reed). His speech, together with that of the hon. Member for Walsall (Sir G. Schuster), stands out in very striking contrast to certain other speeches which have been made in this House this afternoon. Although he is not now present, I must certainly contrast the speech of the hon. Member for Aylesbury with the speech made by the right hon. Member for Aldershot (Viscount Wolmer) and possibly the prospective speech to be made by the hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft). The distinction between the speeches to which I have referred and the speech which has been made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aldershot, and which may be made by the hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth, is one that we should keep well in mind. It means that there are on the Government side of the House many who are fully aware that, 1683 unless something is done, and speedily, to re-assure the people of India that we intend to implement our democratic provisions, there may be trouble in India and even beyond her frontiers.
Reference was made by the right hon. Member for Aldershot to what he alleged to be the mischievous speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps), that the suggestion of the hon. and learned Member, if carried into effect, would have meant civil war in India. I wish to retort very strongly and earnestly indeed that had the attitude of the right hon. Member for Aldershot prevailed in this House, it is certain that by this time India would have been in flames. Whatever might be the truth, one way or the other, concerning communal difficulties, the attitude of the right hon. Member for Aider-shot and others like him is not so much concerned with them. That is a secondary matter altogether. They are really concerned that the historic conception of Imperial domination over the coloured people of the world shall continue. It is, I hope, not ungenerous on my part— I do not mean it to be ungenerous—when I say they seize with avidity on Indian disruption or dissension in order to buttress that conception of Imperial domination. It would be much better if they were honest about the matter. We should appreciate it far more. The conception of Imperial domination may be held sincerely and conscientiously. I reject it, but we can appreciate it in those who are opposed to us.
A great deal of extravagant and misleading language has been used with regard to the existence of communal differences in India. It was insinuated that the All-India Moslem League represented the views of 80,000,000 or 90,000,000 Moslems in India. That is not entirely true. The All-India Moslem League is a very powerful organisation, but a large number of Moslems are not only supporting Congress directly or indirectly, but in many of the Provinces are working in hearty co-operation with it. Further, there are many members of the Moslem League who have made it quite clear that they wish for a further and drastic advance towards self-government. In a Committee Room of this House a well-known representative of the All-India Moslem League, an ex-president, confessed himself in general agreement with 1684 the aspirations of Congress and desirous to see the promises of self-government immediately implemented. I can only put it down to the ignorance of certain Members, if not to something more sinister, that they continually claim that the All-India Moslem League and the 90,000,000 Mohammedans of India are identical.
Apart from that, and many other illustrations which I could give, I believe the whole House to be profoundly grateful to the Indian Congress in particular because it has pressed us to face our responsibility respecting India. It is we who should feel gratitude to them because they have brought this matter once more to the forefront. I believe we should have had far less respect for the intelligence of India had India not brought this matter forward at the present time. It is true that the Indian Princes and others have spontaneously offered their services and their resources without qualification, but that does not represent politically-conscious India. The hon. Member who spoke last, who speaks with 40 years' experience of India, would, I am sure, assure his side of the House that to suggest that the Indian princes can represent politically-conscious India would be a travesty of the facts. It would be incongruous if we had to refer to the Indian princes, those romantic relics of Oriental despotism, as an inspiration for democracy, I am aware, too, that there is in various parts of the House some anxiety and resentment concerning the persistent attitude of democratic India, and the Indian Congress in particular. It may seem to some hon. Members, and to the Government, as if Congress is taking an unfair advantage by raising issues at an unpropitious moment, and those who feel that, I know, feel also—it is a perfectly natural although unwarrantable inclination—that we ought to tell India to be sportsmanlike, to behave itself and stand in the corner like a good boy who later on may have his reward. I believe that at this present time we must do infinitely more than that.
When one hon. Member suggests that we should nottake this emergency as being a particular call to us to implement our democratic professions, I beg to differ. From the lowest standpoint of strategy we are not on occasion above trying to satisfy the demands of other nations in order to secure their alliance and assistance. I did not notice any particular 1685 hesitation regarding Turkey. But, on higher grounds, it is precisely at this time that we must demonstrate to the world whether we are or are not sincere in our declaration that we are trying to safeguard democracy. Apart from the natural irritation that many may feel at India not being willing to be put in the corner, there should surely be an underlying appreciation of the fact that India is really calling to us to be true to our professions and to act with consistency. Moreover, if we have any respect for human dignity and self-reliance, it is infinitely better that India should reveal these qualities now in her vigorous demand rather than the qualities of servility and sycophancy. All she is doing essentially is to say to us, "If you want our co-operation will you treat us as equals? If you desire mutual aid from us, will you treat us with mutual respect?" That is an elementary demand and we should honour India for making it. She would be doing less than service to us if she did not make that demand and pursue it. Because she has done it we should be glad of the sign of virility and self-confidence and the emphasis on the principles that we ourselves profess.
It should be clearly understood that the action of the Indian Congress and its supporters is not in any sense to be taken as showing the slightest sign of sympathy with Nazism. They detest and abhor it. May I quote a paragraph from a statement from Congress on 15th September:The Congress has repeatedly declared its entire disapproval of the ideology and practice of Facism and Nazism and their glorification of war and violence and the suppression of the human spirit. It has condemned the aggression in which they have repeatedly indulged and their sweeping away of well-established principles and recognised standards of civilised behaviour. It has seen in Fascism and Nazism the intensification of the principle of Imperialism, against which the Indian people have struggled for many years. The working committee must therefore unhesitatingly condemn the latest aggression of the Nazi Government in Germany against Poland and sympathise with those who resist it.Nothing could be clearer than that. It would be misleading to suggest that any action which the Congress movement or its allies are taking is to be taken in any sense as condonation or support of Nazi aggression. It is precisely because of the identity of democratic India with the democratic aspirations of the West, and with the principles which we would pre- 1686 serve ourselves, that politically-conscious India insists on their reasonable and swift application to India herself. She is really trying to preserve Britain from compromising with the very evil which Britain denounces, and she is to be commended for it. She is taking the field in her own way to fight that same battle that the assembled armies of Britain and France are striving to fight to-day. We have, therefore, a moral obligation to respond to this Indian appeal to demonstrate our sincerity, and it is utterly inadequate merely to give comforting, familiar, nebulous assurances about the future. India is entitled to definite evidence that we mean to implement our professions, and it is entitled to have some evidence at the earliest opportunity.
Is it not true that at the outbreak of the war little if any attention was paid to India, politically-conscious India in particular? What sign was there that we regarded India as an equal? What indication was there that we approached India. as we approached Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the Union of South Africa? What indication was there that in principle we acknowledged India's right to be treated as equal with ourselves? In eight of the eleven Provinces of British India the Indian Congress has not only administered the laws of India for two and a half years but has done it with striking success. In those areas there has been very little complaint on the score of conflict between communities. Moslems, Hindus and other communities have borne testimony to the fair and just way in which Indian administrators have developed government in the Provincial areas.
Since then, in the last few weeks, the Viceroy has had many conversations. I agree that he has done his utmost to acquaint himself with the opinions of a large number of representatives of various parties and creeds in India. I believe he has seen some 52 representatives of various sections of Indian opinion. It is good that he has done that, but it does not alter the fact that the Indian Congress does represent by far the largest single political body in the whole of India. The Moslem League has its place, a very important place, and no one suggests that it should be ignored, but I would again emphasise the fact that the Indian Congress and the Indian Congress leaders of 1687 the moral and mental status of Nehru and others, would not suggest that any advance in Indian self-government should take place without the amplest guarantees being given to the Moslem and other minorities. If we gave them encouragement and opportunity we should find that that problem would solve itself just as it has solved itself elsewhere.
In the Provincial Assemblies the Congress majorities have been operating effectively, they have included not only Hindus and Moslems but others, and they have acted successfully. There are, of course, very great differences, but if we were fighting for freedom, if we really mean what we say when we declare that we believe in democracy, self-government and freedom, we should see to it that at the present time we made a great gesture to the whole world. The Indian Congress does not demand something impossible. The message sent by Mahatma Gandhi, published in yesterday's Press, makes it clear that the Congress does not expect an automatic and immediate implementation of any professions or assurances given, but what they are hoping and yearning for is that we should recognise that the Indian people are entitled to the application of that same principle which we say must be applied to the peoples of Poland, Czecho-Slovakia and elsewhere.
It may be that many in this House do not agree that the Indian people are yet equipped for the application of that principle. If they think that, let them say so, and if they do say so I would point out that it is virtually admitting part of the case made by our Nazi enemies. They have disfranchised the Jews on the ground that they are inherently an inferior lace. How, therefore, can we condemn that aspect of degenerate Nazi philosophy if we contend that the Indian people, with their age-long civilisation and their remarkable culture, are inherently incapable of governing themselves? That means that we are mocking democracy out of existence. We are putting forward a proposition which will eventually land us into the position now occupied by our enemies.
In the statement of the Congress Working Committee there is a paragraph which might surely be the essence of the war 1688 aims or the peace terms of this country and our ally France:The Working Committee of the Indian Congress wish to declare that the Indian people have no quarrel with the German people, or the Japanese people or any other people; but they have a deep rooted quarrel with systems which deny freedom and are based on violence and aggression. They do not look forward to the victory of one people over another or to a dictated peace but to a victory of real democracy for all the peoples of all countries and a world free from the nightmare of violence and imperialist oppression.That might very well be taken by our own British Cabinet as the basis on which to formulate the peace terms which we hope will soon be able to be implemented in a world that has at last finished with war. For that purpose, in the end, the Indian Congress is struggling. If only there had been a little imagination on the part of this Government, if, not belatedly, not under duress, but earlier, spontaneously, at the outbreak of the war, the Government had said to the world and to Germany: "So much do we believe in self-government, freedom and democracy that we are going to make a great step forward in that direction in India," that in itself would have done more to save and preserve democracy, more to undermine the evil genius of Hitler, more to destroy the attacks that are being made on democracy, than all the vast and powerful weapons that are being forged at the present time. It would have appealed to the soul of democracy. It would have had a response from the people of America. The people in America suspect that we are only half-hearted in our professions, and that we may only make democratic profession a means of suiting our own ends. I hope they are wrong.
I am willing to believe that Members of this Government mean what they say when they talk in terms of democracy and self-government, but we must do something more than merely make professions. If we demonstrate to the world our conviction that freedom is our inspiration, then India is one of the fields where we can demonstrate our sincerity. If we would have the good will of the world we must say clearly that India shall be free in her own self-government. That does not mean that immediately we must enter into vast changes of structure, complicated legislation and so forth, but it does mean that we must convince the 1689 Indian people, who are waiting and anxious to be impressed, that we mean what we say, and that when the war ends, we shall be ready to establish, with all its risks but with all its vast opportunities, central government in India, under the control of the Indian people, so that they, with other free peoples of the world, can help to make the world itself free from the nightmare not merely of war but of oppression and exploitation as well.
§ 8.19 p.m.
§ Sir John Wardlaw-Milne
When I came here to-day it was rather with a feeling of regret that this Debate was to take place, but, as I have listened to it, I have altered my opinion, and I am not at all sure that, taking the Debate as a whole, it will not have done good. I should like, first, to pay a very sincere tribute to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman who opened the Debate from the Front Opposition Bench. I am sorry that he is not in his place at this moment. His speech set the keynote for most of the speeches which have followed. Even if I do not agree with every word of his statesmanlike speech, I think it will do much good in India. Most of the speeches which have been made in the Debate have been of value, more particularly, if I may say so, the speech of the hon. Member for Walsall (Sir G. Schuster) and the speech of the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Sir S. Reed). There is not a great deal I want to add to what they have said, but there seems to me to be occasionally in some of the other speeches a curious idea that up to date we have denied something to India which we had already promised and agreed to; that we have in some way or other gone back on our word. I want to make it perfectly clear that such an idea is entirely wrong. The hon. Member for West Leyton (Mr. Sorensen) a little confused the issue, I think, when he said that the Indian people want a definite promise of self-government, while a few moments before he said that Congress leaders only wanted a form of government which secured the interests of the minority in every way.
The real fact is that there is little difference between what is wanted by the bulk of Congress members and what Parliament and the Government of this country have already agreed to. The ultimate aim is already agreed upon. The hon. 1690 Member for Aylesbury said most eloquently that the intentions of Great Britain in connection with India had been set out clearly over and over again. It is perfectly definite that our ultimate aim for India is Dominion status. It is no use the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) discussing these matters as if the conditions in India were the same as they are in England or on the Continent. If there is any comparison at all between the conditions in India and the conditions which existed in this country we should have to go back at least 400 years, and even then we should not get a true comparison. Even in the most disrupted State in Europe at the present or recent days there is a homogeneity which does not exist in India. There is in many cases a kingship of race, a common origin and also a kinship in religion. In India you are dealing with races completely different in origin, in religion, in speech and in habits, and in everything else. I do not say that the problem is insoluble or that it should not be met, but the speech of the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol does not help us at all, because it does not meet the real problem, and that is how to meet the special conditions which exist in India.
The Viceroy's declaration is a very distinct move forward from the Act of 1935 and, in listening to the Debate, it does not seem to me that it has been quite sufficiently realised what a definite advance the White Paper makes upon the Act of 1935. Let me try to make it clear in a few words. The Act of 1935 set up provincial autonomy with the scheme of Federation to follow and eventually leading to the goal of Dominion status. Now the Viceroy has definitely stated that at the end of the war it is the intention of His Majesty's Government to set about, if necessary, amending the Act of 1935 before Federation comes into operation at all. That is a very distinct move forward, which few people to-day have fully appreciated. The Congress party themselves are just as well aware as most of us of the dangers of any hasty action. I do not myself pay a great deal of attention to, nor do I want to stress in any way, the dangers of civil disobedience except to say that I think the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol again was hardly fair to the Lord Privy Seal when he referred to his remarks as being 1691 a threat. What the Lord Privy Seal said, as I understood him, was that even if the Congress party carry out their threat and their members resign His Majesty's Government has to be carried on. That goes without saying, and there are many constitutional lawyers in India who would be the first to agree. Whatever happens, His Majesty's Government in India must be carried on.
But I think that Congress themselves are to blame in one respect. Individual members of Congress from time to time have referred to the necessity for the independence of India. That has given rise, in the minds of a number of people in this country, to the idea that if Dominion status was granted to India immediately it would be used by Congress to sever their connection with the British Empire. I do not believe that that idea exists in India to any real extent, but unfortunately the continual harping on the word "independence" and not on Dominion status has given rise undoubtedly in some quarters in this country to the view to which I have referred. It is very unfortunate, because I am certain that such an idea is by no means widespread in India.
§ Mr. Sorensen
May I ask whether the hon. Member will recognise the striking difference between a declaration of independence by India on the one hand and a frequent assertion of the rights of a Dominion on the other?
§ Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne
There is a great difference, but I do not say it is intended. There may be a great difference in the use of the two terms, and it has given rise to difficult points, which have been debited many times, as to the rights of Dominions under the Statute of Westminster. I do not want to go into that now, but the statements which have been made do raise that point in the minds of many people who are otherwise quite favourable to Indian aspirations. The problem is to get such an arrangement between the majority and the minorities, not such a constitution as would enable the will of the minority to prevail, or alternatively that the majority shall be able to oppress the minority, but to get a working arrangement which will satisfy both. That can only come from India itself; it can never be imposed from this country. It cannot be too often stated 1692 that the day on which full Dominion status can be granted to India must be fixed by India herself; it cannot be fixed by this country. Only then will it be possible to see the fulfilment of our hopes. But I think that the Viceroy's statement has been interpreted in some quarters in rather an unfortunate way. Certainly, it marks a considerable advance. It announces also the setting up of two very distinct consultative bodies. One is to be for consultation on the measures which India can take to help in the war, in the prosecution of which, I believe, every person in India is entirely on our side. The other is to consider after the war what changes are required in the Act of 1935.
I know it is said in some quarters that the putting forward of the demand for a declaration regarding the date of Dominion status—for that is really what we are asked to do—is rather hitting below the belt; but there is, after all, nothing new in the demand for the date of Dominion status, because India has demanded that for a very long time, and it is very natural that, whether there is a war or not, she should ask whether the process cannot be accelerated, even while realising, as many Indians do, the difficulties that there are in coming to a decision. I do not take the view that it is hitting below the belt, but I do say that the problem really is whether to-day we can, any more than we could in 1935, prognosticate what that date shall be. Are we now any nearer to it than we were then? I have said that I do not think it is desirable to suggest that there is anything wrong in the demand which has come from India at this time. I would remind the House, however, that not many years ago there was in the House a very prominent Indian. Last year, I had the privilege of asking Mr. Speaker to accept for the House a portrait of the first Indian to sit in the House of Commons, that grand old man of India, Mr. Dadabhai Naoroji, and I am glad to say that that portrait now hangs in one of our Lobbies. Yesterday I was reading a book on the life of Dadabhai Naoroji, written by an old friend of mine, Mr. R. P. Masani, of Bombay; and I found two extracts from the speeches or writings of Dadabhai Naoroji which struck me as being very interesting at the present time. Those extracts refer to the position of India at the time of the outbreak of the 1693 Great War. Dadabhai Naoroji was then alive, and this was the message he gave to India, a message which I think India might perhaps like to remember to-day:The war in Europe. What is our— India's—place in it? We are above all British citizens of the great British Empire… fighting as the British people are at present in a righteous cause for the good and glory of human dignity and civilisation, and moreover, being the beneficent instrument of our own progress and civilisation, our duty is clear—to do our—eieryone's—best to support the British fight with our life and property.There were no conditions. That was written by one of the most fearless critics in connection with India that ever lived or spoke, a man who spent his life criticising the British Government as it was carried on in India in his day; and yet, when the time of war came, there were no conditions. I prefaced my remarks on this aspect of the problem by saying that I do not think that the fact that this claim has been made now is a below-the-belt method, but I think it is interesting to read this further extract to the House. Dadabhai Naoroji said to India:Appeal to the English sense of justice and fair play and take it for granted that England will do justice, when she understands. I have always done so.I will quote one other thing, although it is not in Dadabhai Naoroji's own words. His biographer writes that many people in India ask "what would Dadabhai do were he alive to-day"—this was written only a year ago—and he adds:Many fear that the ship of co-operation may founder on the rock of Complete Independence.After all, it is a question of definition and adjustment, and Mahatma Gandhi may be trusted, if called upon, to cut the Gordian knot.I have given these quotations, first of all because I have the greatest admiration for the fight which Dadabhai Naoroji put up for India throughout his life, and secondly, because I feel that it is contrary to the spirit of India as I know it— the generous spirit of Indians themselves —that they should even be thought to be using our necessities to press their claims at this time. I do not think any of us hold the view that it is unreasonable that the claim should be pressed, for it is not a new claim, but has existed for a long time. There is no hon. Member in this House who would not like to be able to put a date to the time at which Dominion status and self-government will 1694 exist in India. I repeat what I have already said, that the Viceroy's statement, perhaps the co-operation that may take place during the war on war measures, the body which it is proposed now to set up, the pronouncement that at the end of the war there will be a new examination of the problem presumably to see whether the date can be accelerated or fixed in any way, is surely a great move. I am very hopeful that the co-operation which Indians alone can give will bring that date nearer than many of us expected a few years ago. Of one thing I am certain at any rate, and it is that, whatever they may say to the contrary publicly, the people of India are entirely behind this country in the present fight. It is a fight for them, as it is a fight for us and for many other peoples. They will not set any price upon their loyalty, for that is not India's way, and I firmly believe that every message that can go out from this country of our generosity and our anxiety to work with India, to move forward, as far as is safe and reasonable, the date at which full Dominion status will be granted, will be an asset both to India and to this country. There is one last thing I want to say. It may be out of keeping to some extent with what I have said, and yet it must never be forgotten. I quote it in the words of Dadabhai Naoroji:I am a Hindu, a Mussulman, a Parsi, but, above all, an Indian.If and when India can say that, or even something like it, there will be no difficulty about Dominion status. Let it be soon.
§ 8.40 p.m.
§ Major Milner
Two things have impressed me about to-day's Debate. The first is that it has been conducted in a much more peaceful atmosphere than the Debates on the Government of India Bill. Secondly, we have had the advantage of hearing speeches from many hon. Members who, like the hon. Member for Kiddermister (Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne), have spent many years in India. I agree with almost everything which the hon. Member for Kidderminster said, except his concluding words which seemed to create a doubt with regard to the time at which Dominion status might be achieved by India. The hon. Member who preceded him, I was glad to note, expressed the hope which we on these 1695 benches feel that that status may be conferred on India at the earliest possible moment.
As one who had the privilege of visiting India and serving on the Franchise Committee which was set up following the Simon Commission—with the result that 36,000,000 Indians received and have since utilised the vote—and who regards his work on that committee as among the most satisfactory in his life, I desire to say a few words on the present difficulty in India. It is a situation which must cause great anxiety to all in this country, and in particular to all who know and love India. It is an unfortunate circumstance that so few people in this country know very much or think a great deal of the teeming millions of that country, most of whom, I fear, live in circumstances of almost indescribable poverty. No doubt this want of thought for India is due to the fact that our people have their own pressing problems at home, but I think it regrettable that more is not said and thought and known here about conditions in India.
I confess that on reading the White Paper I felt that the difficulties therein set out were far from being incapable of solution. It seems to me that all parties have approached this difficulty in a spirit of moderation and good will. The Congress party have laid it down that they have no wish to take precipitate action and the last few years have seen a greater appreciation among the Indian people of the provincial autonomy which they have been exercising for the last two and a-half years. During that period, too, those who opposed the grant of provincial autonomy must have appreciated the responsible and, for the most part, sensible use which has been made of it by the Indian legislators. What is it that the Congress party demand? Firstly, a statement of war and peace aims. Secondly, a promise that India will be granted self-determination after the war, and, thirdly, some transitional arrangement which will give Indians greater authority in the councils of India to-day. Surely those are not extravagant demands. The Indians are unfree themselves. We are asking them to fight and to suffer at our bidding in order to free others. Is it unreasonable that they should ask for such assurances as these? Is it unreasonable that they should be 1696 consulted on matters connected with the war in which they are ordered to take part?
I should not have thought that there would be any serious difficulty in giving a statement of our war aims which in my view need not be as precise as the Viceroy seemed to think necessary. I believe that a statement of aims which would satisfy the people of this country to-day, would probably also satisfy the people of India. The Lord Privy Seal went a long way. He said that we did not stand for Imperialism and that the great task of this nation was to help others, including the Indians, to govern themselves. I believe that though we may differ as to time and method, the people of this country do stand for those aims, and that no British Government could do otherwise than agree with them and make a plain declaration in those terms. I believe the Government could also say that we: stand for the eventual treatment of India as a free nation—as free as Canada, Australia or New Zealand, and I am sure the people of those Dominions would resent any suggestion that they were not free. In view of the repeated declarations by successive Governments in this country for the last 20 years there should be no real difficulty about this Government making a declaration of that kind and I was glad to hear the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Sir S. Reed), after an experience of 40 years in India, express the hope that it might be possible to agree that the future of India should be decided after the war by some freely-elected con stituent assembly—call it what you like— representative of all classes, communities and castes.
The Congress party, however, ask for something now. They ask not only for words but for some implementation of those words. Here I should have thought that it was not good enough to have a number of hand-picked men forming a consultative group with whom the Viceroy would be pleased to talk, behind closed doors about the war, when it suited him to do so. Surely, it is not beyond the wit of man to provide some closer association than that. Surely it is possible to co-opt representative Indians on the Viceroy's Council or something of that sort, as was suggested by my right hon. and gallant Friend on the Front Bench here. If these minimum steps were taken, I believe that a solution which would go far 1697 to satisfy Indian opinion would be arrived at and that the full support and co-operation of that great country would thereby be achieved.
I gathered from the Lord Privy Seal, who made, I thought, a very sympathetic speech, that in fact he did leave the door open, as Mr. Gandhi left the door open in the message which we read in the "Times" yesterday, to some compromise in this matter, and I hope that that will be so. I would like to say to the Lord Privy Seal that I am one of those who came back from India holding rather strong views about him at the time when he was Secretary of State for India, but I am bound to say that, from my experience in the course of the discussions on the Government of India Bill, I was impressed, and am still impressed, by the right hon. Gentleman's sincerity in this matter. I believe that he went a long way in that Bill, having regard to the difficulties in which he was placed, by, among others, Members of his own party, and that he endeavoured to steer a middle course and went as far as was possible in the circumstances. I should like even at this belated date to pay the right hon. Gentleman a tribute in that way.
In making these one or two comments and suggestions, I know and fully appreciate the communal difficulties that there are in India. A great deal has been said of them, but I believe they are far from being insoluble. In the matters with which the Central Government would have to deal, and certainly in the matters which have to do with the prosecution of the war, the problem might not arise at all, and, therefore, I hope that some steps will be taken in securing a closer association of representative Indians with the present Government of India than has so far been proposed. I hesitate to think of the alternative to some compromise in the present situation. Surely the resources of discussion and the possibilities of agreement are far from being exhausted, and I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that no effort should be spared to explore every possibility to the utmost.
I remember that when I went to India on the Franchise Committee a certain very distinguished gentleman—it would perhaps be a breach of confidence to mention his name, so I will not do so—one of the half-dozen living men with the greatest experience and knowledge of India, said 1698 to me, "Milner, I am an optimist. You go as far as you possibly can." That was, of course, in regard to the matter of giving the vote to the Indian people. I say to the Government to-day, "I am an optimist. Go as far as you possibly can." I believe that, if you do that, and if you bear in mind the great issues that are at stake, if you bear in mind the undoubted success of every step which has already been taken to that end towards self-government in India and elsewhere, if you bear in mind the millions of toilers in India who are at this time committed to our charge, if you bear in mind that our ideals, certainly in this war, are, as I am sure they are, the ideals of everyone in India—and I believe that the hatred of Fascism on the part of Indians is at least as great as our own—I believe that if you do that, India will not only be our loyal and helpful partner in the struggle in which we are engaged but will also be a source of strength in the better world which we hope will follow the war.
§ 8.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Gallacher
I must express my amazement at the sparse attendance in this House when the Lord Privy Seal was speaking and the lack of interest that has been shown since then. There is not only a crisis in Europe, but there is a crisis of the very first magnitude within the British Empire, and the Members of this House do not seem to be very specially interested in it. We have had very many nice sentiments expressed all over the House, but we can sweep aside the sentiments and face the actual reality, and the actual reality was stated in the latter part of the speech of the Lord Privy Seal. What is it that we are facing just now in connection with India? We are facing a situation in which, as the Lord Privy Seal said, it is either co-operation or conflict, and that is not something that anyone can neglect or that can be solved merely by the expression of nice sentiments. The question of conflict as it presents itself now is entirely different from anything that the right hon. Gentleman has known in the past.
The Indian National Congress is now the decisive political force in India and represents the great masses of Indian people who are striving for democracy, and for a better life than they have ever known before. Does the Lord Privy Seal consider for a moment that this great 1699 dynamic movement can be stopped through the expression of nice phrases or appeals from this House? It cannot. It is not in the nature of things. Here is a great movement which expresses itself in the manifesto which appears in the White Paper. The hon. Member for Walsall (Sir G. Schuster), who has had a big experience of this question—or so he says—endorsed the main ideas expressed in that document, but he forgot to tell us that this manifesto was issued in opposition to the statement of the Viceroy. Anybody who reads the manifesto can see that it represents what is actually required in India for the Indian people. Of course it is not what is desired by the Imperialists in this House, but it is what is required and is necessary for the masses of the Indian people. We are told here that there is a minority and communal problem, and that until it is solved it will be difficult to make any grant of self-government. But Congress understands, and the masses of the people understand, that India is entitled to its independence. Nobody has any right to deny that.
So far as the racial and religious problem is concerned, it is nonsense to say that that feeling is not stimulated. I read of the discussions in the House on the Indian constitution. Am I to be told that those violent, vicious enemies of progress in India are not using their influence to stimulate religious and racial feelings? In 1913 I was working in Belfast, when the trouble was on about the Home Rule Bill for Ireland. Will anybody tell me that the racial question was not stimulated when we had men like Carson, F. E. Smith and whole hordes of agitators of all kinds going over and stirring up the most fervent and vehement religious feeling in order to prevent that desirable Measure?
§ Captain Crawford Browne
The gentlemen whom the hon. Gentleman has mentioned did not go to stimulate religious feeling. It was the other way round; the people called on them to help them.
§ Mr. Gallacher
Did they go to prevail on the people not to take up arms against the Government or did they go to incite them to take up arms? I was there at the time. I know what happened there, and I know what is happening in India. Member after Member has said that the 1700 question of an understanding in India which provides the basis for democratic government can only be settled in India and cannot be settled from here. If India were given her independence, if we were to withdraw from India, the various sections in India would be in a position to settle these problems and to come to an understanding.
§ Mr. Gallacher
Only if that interference is withdrawn. If the interference from this side were withdrawn from Ireland and partition were abolished the religious problem in Ireland would not matter. The Irish people themselves would settle it.
I do not think my interruption was heard. I would ask the hon. Member to say whether, if we withdrew from India, he is satisfied that India would be allowed to settle her own problems. Does he not think some other Power would go in?
§ Mr. Gallacher
That has always been the attitude taken up by Imperialists who want to hold on to other people. I am positive that, if India were given her freedom, in the shortest possible time the Indian people would be organised to ensure that nobody else marched in. [HON. MEMBERS: "Russia."] Before you begin to suggest that other wicked people will march in for goodness sake have the decency to cease being wicked, and march out. I have been talking about the attitude of Congress. We are dealing with a movement which represents the masses of the people of India. Members here may take up an attitude of indifference, but history will call for a reckoning. Do hon. Members think that the Congress Committee will be affected by any of the sentiments expressed here to-day? If so, they are living in a fool's paradise. The Congress Committee cannot act apart from the great mass of the people that it represents, who desire freedom for India and for themselves, who want a better life for the Indian people than they have ever so far known. The Congress Committee does not represent only a little group of people who have taken up an obdurate attitude and who may change their attitude at request. It represents a great vital movement, the whole life of India. And so I say' that the question of Indian independence is 1701 a vital one at this moment. It has become a big issue and represents a real crisis within the British Empire and should be considered as such, and not as something that can be easily put aside.
In his introductory remarks the Lord Privy Seal said that we were now in a different situation from that which we were in when the Government of India Act was passed, that now catastrophe had come upon us and that hopes had been shattered. If the Government go on as it is going on at the present time there will be more catastrophes coming upon us and more hopes will be shattered. We have to look at this problem as the Congress people look at it, as people in neutral countries look at it, and as more and more people in this country are beginning to see it. Why has catastrophe come upon us? Because of the policy of the Government. When the Government deliberately, and in concert with other Governments, refused to make a pact with Russia and refused to defend Poland, when they decided that Poland was not to be defended, that was the signal for catastrophe coming upon us. That was the signal that they were not concerned with peace. Their whole attitude since the war started has made it clear that they are once again concerned about an Imperialist division of Europe and of the world. That will never satisfy the Congress leaders.
If we want to satisfy the Indian people we must ensure that there will not be conflict. Believe me, if conflict should come it will be terrible for the Indian people, and for the people of this country. We need to satisfy them; and to avoid conflict it is necessary that there should be the clearest possible statement of the peace terms on which this country is prepared to make peace, and, associated with that, a clear declaration, that applies now for the liberation of India. The Lord Privy Seal said that there was only one kind of Dominion status and not two; I beg his pardon, but there are two. There is the Dominion status that is enjoyed and the Dominion status that is dangled away in the future in order to obtain present service. Those two are entirely different. If we are to avoid conflict and to make it clear that we believe in democracy and freedom, the declaration should be made right now that India is free and that we wish to work in co-operation with the Indian 1702 people, not as their bosses, in working out the stages towards the fullest expression of freedom. At present the one thing that should be constituted is a legislative assembly.
§ Sir S. Reed
I hope the hon. Member will excuse me for reminding him, but there has been a legislative assembly in India for the last 65 years.
§ Mr. Gallacher
Of a particular kind, but when we talk of a Legislative Assembly of central government such as we are now discussing we mean a constituent assembly popularly elected, and that is entirely different from the hand-picked men that have existed in the past. We want to see such a Legislative Assembly right now, and the various stages being worked out, in order to ensure full expression of liberation for the Indian people. That is what is demanded by the Congress, representing the great masses of the Indian people, and that demand has to be faced.
It is no use talking or expressing the hope that history will start going backwards. There has been too much of that talk in the past. The Prime Minister and his supporters in this country tried to get history to go in a particular direction, but it refused to do so. They gave submarines to Germany to use in the Baltic against the Soviet Union. Now they are being used against Britain. Germany had no submarines five years ago. It was the policy of the National Government that provided them. The whole idea of arming. Hitler and strengthening him was to turn him against the Soviet Union. So with India. Congress has issued its statement, which represents the desire of the masses of the Indian people. I want to see a clear statement, not of how long we are prepared to carry on the war, but of peace terms based upon lasting peace in Europe, Democracy and freedom for India and all Colonial peoples. Only in that way will it be possible to get the co-operation which we all desire.
§ 9.10 p.m.
§ Mr. David Grenfell
At this late hour, in these nights of shaded lights and darkness with which we have become so familiar, it is a tribute to the House itself that the services of so many speakers have been enlisted in this Debate to-day. I would like to express my acknowledgment to some speakers in particular for the service they have rendered to the 1703 House, and I would mention three. The hon. Member for Aylesbury (Sir S. Reed), the hon. Member for Walsall (Sir G. Schuster) and the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne) are three men who, by their long residence and service in India and their keen attention to Indian government, are able to confer a very great benefit upon this House when they engage in a Debate of this nature. I have always been attracted to the subject of Indian government because I realise that here is not an ordinary country; here is the repository of an ancient civilisation with the beginnings of science and of art. It is a mixed community with many races, languages, religions, political ideas and social customs. This part of the Empire is so often spoken of in terms of contempt and condemnation, and I do not think we should use our time improperly by attributing to each other the responsibility for these troubles. They were not caused by this generation, but by the motives of generations which have gone before.
This Debate to-day has been devoted to the expression of opinion of the people of India who find themselves in a world crisis in which everybody is involved— India as much as China, and China as much as Japan. No one knows the extent or the direction of the forces which are now plain and which may become more in evidence than they are at the present time. The Indian people, I think rightly, have taken this opportunity of speaking, and much emphasis is laid upon the voice of the body called the Congress, a political body in India which is now, I think, half a century old and has reached a position of prominence in that country. I do not think, and I am sure most hon. Members do not think, that the interests of this country and of India are as contradictory as we have heard in some speeches today. Great Britain's interest is to ensure harmonious relations with India. India's interest is that she should enjoy the liberty of building up her own life. I would like to be able to enter into some detail on this question of poverty and exploitation, not only as regards India, but because I regard India as one of the worst examples; and the task of dealing with that cannot be undertaken by any but the people of India themselves, with all their social consciousness enlisted in the task.
1704 There is a tremendous change to be brought about in India. There has been a beginning. Some steps have been traced here to-night, but I believe that we are yet only in the initial stages. I do not think that it is wise to find too much fault with the tempo.It would be better for India, and better for the world, if all the backward countries could be given the opportunity, and assistance, to wipe out this blot of poverty, which is a menace to peace and a danger to mankind in general. India has yet to win her way. She has to win her own way. I will commit myself to this statement, that I believe India's right is to no less than complete independence and freedom. No one person is good enough to dictate to another. No one nation is wise enough and disinterested enough to determine the conditions of life in another. In India there are traditional barriers, political barriers, and barriers of misunderstanding and ignorance, that have to be surmounted. The mistakes of well-intentioned statesmen have to be undone. That is our task, and the task of India. We have to make reparations in our own way, without loss of time, if we are to do justice to ourselves and to the system of government that we have made our own. If men do not carry out their responsibilities, they cast doubt on the principles of government that they profess themselves.
Happily, our difficulties here are lessened by what I regard as the wonderful patience and friendliness of the Indian people, the wonderful way in which those people have borne with us when we have made mistakes, the way in which they have patiently organised, under extreme disadvantages, to play their own part, and play it well. I would like to mention Mr. Gandhi's name. I think he is a great man. He is one of the largest men, one of the broadest-minded persons, I think, in the world to-day. He is a politician, a leader; and I heard someone describe him as a good Christian. I am told that he does not profess Christianity, but a good Christian he is nevertheless; and, happily, a friend of this country. I have had the opportunity of speaking to him; and I am proud to have taken the hand of this man, whom I believe to be a great man. I believe that the Indian people are right in trusting him. I have also had the honour of taking the chair for meetings in London for Mr. Nehru.
1705 I believe him to be a devoted and steadfast leader of the Indian people: younger, and perhaps more radical, than Mr. Gandhi; but a man whom I would trust, and one who must play a tremendous part in the development of India. There are other leaders who are making for the development of India. It is amazing how patient these people are, and how desirous of being helpful are the majority of Indian people who come to visit us here.
Something has been said about democracy, and in criticism of the Congress party in India. If the vital elements in Indian life and in the politics of India accept Congress principles, we cannot quarrel with them, even though we may dislike them. The essence of democracy is not that the majority shall govern and coerce the minority, but that the minority is free to become the majority at any time. I will quote later some of the utterances of Congress itself contained in this document. They should be examined very closely indeed by those who criticise Congress. It has been said that Congress has no right to protest against India being declared a belligerent without consultation. I think that it has a perfect right, and there are precedents too. In 1922, a few weeks before I came into this House, there was a risk of war with Turkey over Chanak. The Prime Minister of those days entered into communication with two of the great British Dominions, and he was told by the Prime Minister of Canada that Canada would not be involved in war without the Canadian Parliament having been consulted. That did not come from India, but from a far more advanced Dominion. That was the position, and no one could quarrel with it. If it is right that Canada, Australia and New Zealand should be consulted, then it is equally right that India should be consulted in a matter in which she would have to give of her resources just as any other of the Dominions.
This protest, I think, was fully justified, but when we come to the position of Congress in regard to the war itself, we find that Congress condemns Nazi aggression in Poland and sympathises with those who resist it. That quotation has been read by one of my hon. Friends to-night and I shall not now read it, but I would like to call the attention of Members of the House to this remarkable statement, which appears on page 13:The Committee is convinced that the interests of Indian Democracy do not conflict 1706 with the interests of British Democracy, or world democracy. But there is an inherent and ineradicable conflict between democracy for India, or elsewhere, and Imperialism and Fascism. If Great Britain fights for the maintenance and extension of democracy, then she must necessarily end Imperialism in her own possessions and establish full democracy in India, and the Indian people must have the right of self-determination to frame their own constitution through a Constituent Assembly without external interference, and must guide their own policy. A free and democratic India will gladly associate herself with other free nations for mutual defence against aggression and for economic co-operation. She will work for the establishment of a real world order based on freedom and democracy, utilising the world's knowledge and resources for the progress and advancement of humanity.I do not think that I have ever read anything better on the subject, or that there is extant a statement on record anywhere that puts such a high and worthy aim in front of a nation which wants to be democratic. I commend this statement to the Prime Minister and those who speak for us. It might well be adopted by this country as a statement of peace aims and of the ideas of world order on which we want to enter when hostilities have been brought to an end. Congress speaks for the largest number of people in India, but it is not a rigid majority and it is not confined to one race. Congress speaks for every race in India. It speaks for men in various communities. It has widely-spread support and its general aims are approved by a very large number, and the eloquent words of the resolution go to show how deep the appeal is and how fervent is the response to the ideals of the movement.
There are three or four points in this report. One is that mention is made of the partnership between India and the United Kingdom within our Empire which may be carried to the end that India may attain its due place among our Dominions. That is a statement of what we all regard as the aim of the Government and the majority of Members of the House. Then comes the statement from the Governor-General on page 7:I am authorised now by His Majesty's Government to say that at the end of the war they will be very willing to enter into consultation with representatives of the several communities, parties, and interests in India, and with the Indian Princes, with a view to securing their aid and co-operation in the framing of such modifications as may seem desirable.That consultation, I gather, is not to 1707 begin until after the war. I deplore that very much. Why wait until after the war? There was an old saying about promises not certain of fulfilment between 1914 and 1918,"apres la guerre"—after the war. That does not look as if it was made for immediate fulfilment. I agree with someone who suggested a time limit of 12 months for the completion of deliberations by the committee, but I do not see why they should not begin now.
The third point was mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman who said he would pay attention to the suggestion that this committee might develop into something more than a consultative committee—one for keeping touch between various people engaged in carrying out the war tasks falling upon India. My right hon. Friend suggested that consideration should be given to the setting up of a panel. I hope we shall not have to wait for the setting up of this panel and I hope it will not be a kind of loose contact with A to-day, B to-morrow and C the next day. I should like to see some firm contact maintained—a panel of persons, representative people, as far as may be obtained, and a continuous contact maintained, with the portfolios suggested by my right hon. Friend to be placed in the hands of competent persons representative of India. I should like to see it made a working panel. I should like to believe that there will be no delay, that this new panel shall be brought into operation at once, that it shall not be broken up, that there shall be no change of personnel, that personnel should be continuous, with its functions and complete responsibility maintained till the end of the war. I should like the Government to start now.
The Minister rightly called attention to the possibilities of non-co-operation. He said, rightly, that he would deplore non-co-operation. So should I, and so would everybody. Nobody wants that, but the only alternative to non-co-operation is co-operation. Why do not the Minister and His Majesty's Government cooperate?
§ Mr. Grenfell
Then if you want to start co-operating, I hope you will say so to-night, and that the co-operation will begin. I should like, in conclusion, 1708 to make a general appeal. There is much more than a material link binding India to this country. There is a moral responsibility, a spiritual quality of friendship, which should not be ignored in dealing with these 300,000,000 of people, who are particularly sensitive. They respond to emotion and to things of the mind and spirit very readily. They are far older than we are in that sense. We are children compared with them in some of these qualities which belong to them, and which they had long before they came to us. I should like to see co-operation develop into the enlistment of the utmost measure of good will, sympathy and mutual understanding. I should like to see a revolution brought about, a change in India, a reborn India taking its place and playing its full part in the shaping of the new world, to bring more happiness, peace and security to India and to all of us.
§ 9.32 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for India (Sir Hugh O'Neill)
We have had a long discussion, and I think the House will agree that it has been extremely interesting. We have been dealing with a question of immense importance both to the British Empire and the world, and we have been fortunate in that we have been able, as the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) said, to enjoy the advantage of contributions from many Members of this House who have an intimate and close knowledge of India and its problems. First, we had a contribution from the right hon. Member for Gorton (Mr. Benn), an ex-Secretary of State, with a close experience and knowledge of India and her problems. We have had a helpful speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall (Sir G. Schuster), who by reason of the great position which he occupied in the Viceroy's Executive Council has an unrivalled knowledge of Indian problems. Other hon. Members have already paid tribute to the speech as delivered by my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Sir S. Reed) and my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne), both of whom have first-hand knowledge of the Indian problems. While I am paying these tributes of appreciation to hon. Members who have taken part in the Debate I might also add the hon. and gallant Member for South-East Leeds (Major Milner) who, as he told us, was a member of the Franchise Committee 1709 and thereby became acquanted with that particular aspect of the Indian problem.
India holds a very large portion of the human race. Great Britain has been connected with India either by commerce or by government for many centuries. It was in 1599 that the merchants of London formed an association to trade with India, and out of this grew the Honourable East India Company and our association with the governmental control of the country. I often think that in the controversies of to-day what Britain has done for India is rather apt to be forgotten. One cannot sometimes refrain from speculating as to what the state of India would be to-day if the genius of our administration had not been there to guide and control its destiny. There is one point above all others which stands out in this Debate, and that is, that it has been carried on with a spirit of real good will on all sides of the House; and that spirit of good will can also, I think, be found in the Viceroy's statement of 17th October contained in the White Paper which is the subject of our discussion this afternoon.
It seems to me that the only people who cannot see good will in the Viceroy's statement are those with a preconceived determination to be hostile, and there are such people. I cannot help remarking that such a spirit of hostility was exhibited in the Debate by the speech of the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps). Some critics of the White Paper, like the hon. and learned Member, both here and in India have read into the Viceroy's statement an interpretation which was never intended, and most of these critics have put up no constructive proposals of their own. Other critics, on the contrary, have given the Viceroy credit for good intentions, such critics as the right hon. Member opposite and other hon. Members to whose speeches I have already referred. When the Viceroy's statement was first published it was, on the whole, well received in some quarters which might have been expected to be lukewarm. Lord Snell, representing the Labour party in the House of Lords, said that in his view the statement of the Viceroy showed good will and represented a real advance. On the day after the statement was made the "Manchester Guardian," a paper which has always taken a very definite line in favour of Indian self-government, in a leading article said: 1710The statement issued by the Governor-General of India, and laid before Parliament as a White Paper, goes a long way to repairing the sins of omission committed by the Government since the outbreak of war. It is clear, conciliatory, and constructive; but it must be said at once that its value in meeting the legitimate aspirations of Indian opinion will entirely depend on the degree with which the assurances given will, be carried out, and the manner in which the machinery proposed will be worked.I think nobody will disagree with that. The same newspaper, in dealing with another aspect of the White Paper, in the same article, said:The documents containing the suggestions of various parties and groups are included in the White Paper, and the Viceroy has made an honest effort to reply to them. The new advisory body will function side by side with the Viceroy's Executive Council, and appears to be vested with restricted powers, but if it should contain on its board really representative leaders of popular opinion, as it ought to do, it may in practice turn out to carry very great weight indeed.I will give one more sentence of that quotation:Congress would be wise not to refuse the instalment now offered, lest by insistence on its larger demands it lose what is precious beyond constitutional forms, namely, the national unity of India.I do not think any reasonable person could deny that the Viceroy's statement does go a long way towards meeting some of the points raised in the pronouncements or manifestos of the different parties in India, which are also contained in the White Paper. One has to remember that this statement of the Viceroy was issued just after he had held a remarkable series of conversations and discussions with people representing all sections of opinion in India. As has already been stated in the Debate, the Viceroy actually interviewed over 50 persons, and the statement which he issued on 17th October must obviously be, to a large extent, the result of those discussions and conferences which had taken place immediately before. I think we must assume that any proposals which the Viceroy has made in his White Paper represent the attempt to reconcile as far as possible the views of different interests and different lines of political thought. For instance, if the Viceroy had had only one party to deal with, I imagine that the statement which he issued might have been different. I should like at this stage to say—and I am sure all hon. Members will agree with this—that we appreciate enormously the trouble, the patience, the tact and the 1711 industry displayed by Lord Linlithgow in these contacts and conversations with the Indian politicians.
I turn for a moment to the actual terms —or some portions of them—of the Viceroy's statement. He deals, first, with the question of war aims. That was one of the points very strongly emphasised in the Congress manifesto, and I do not think there is anything in what he says about our war aims to which any reasonable person could take exception. But with regard to the war aims, there is one point which I should like to mention. It seems to be largely held by members of the Congress party in India that our principal aim is a desire to maintain what they call Imperialism. What does "Imperialism" mean in the sense in which the Congress party use the word? Surely it must mean the domination of the weak by the strong, the over-riding of minorities, the denial of self-expression and of constitutional advancement, the rule of force. To say that we are fighting to uphold any of those things is manifestly absurd. They are the very things we are fighting against, and it was the raising of the standard of such principles in the world which forced the democracies into war.
My right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal referred in great detail to what have been called the pledges solemnly given on different occasions by those representing His Majesty's Government. There is the pledge of 1919 in the Preamble to the Government of India Act, the pledge of 1929 given by Lord Irwin when he was Viceroy, in which he said that the natural goal of India was the attainment of Dominion status, and, finally, the pledge given by my right hon. Friend himself when he was Secretary of State for India on the Second Reading of the Government of India Bill, in February, 1935. That series of pledges represents a clear, definite and settled policy on the part of the British Government, namely, that the attainment of Dominion status is what we desire for India.
There are people who say that no progress has been made since 1935, but if we pause and consider for a moment, we are bound to acknowledge that there has been very great progress, even since 1935. The Government of India Act of that year has been passed, and that in itself, surely, is 1712 an advance, but, perhaps more important still, responsible government has been established in the Provinces for over two years, and I think that by universal admission that responsible government has been successful. It has resulted in mutual trust and confidence between the Governors and their Ministers, and it has led to quite a successful administrative and governmental machine in those Provinces. We have been moving forward, and, after all, two years is not a very long time when you consider all the long history of the British connection with India.
The hon. Member for Gower asked a moment ago one or two questions with regard to some aspects of the White Paper, and I think perhaps it would be well if I were to refer to his points now. He said, "Why wait for an advance until after the war?" I think my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal made it quite clear in his speech earlier this afternoon that there is no adamantine finality about the White Paper with regard to that, and that it might be that before the end of the war constitutional discussions of some kind would in fact take place. Then the hon. Member referred to the new consultative or advisory group which the Viceroy has suggested in his statement, and he said that he hoped that that would start very soon. Surely whether or not that advisory group is to function and is to function soon depends upon the political parties in India themselves. If they will accept the suggestion and if they will co-operate, there is no reason that I know why that advisory body should not meet next week.
§ Sir H. O'Neill
That is undoubtedly a point, and a proper point, which would develop as soon as any discussions took place with the Viceroy, as my right hon. Friend indicated it was probable they would in the very near future. A great deal has properly been said to-day about Dominion status and the future constitution of India. On the whole Members have been full of restraint in their speeches and have said nothing to which any reasonable person could take exception, but there are some Members who still think that things are going much 1713 too slowly, and that the advance of India towards Dominion status should be much more rapid. With regard to that I would make these observations. You cannot rush into a great constitutional change such as is envisaged for India. You cannot disregard minorities, and here I should like to say how much I deplore what the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol indicated when he was dealing with that aspect of the question. Further, I would say that you cannot disregard the views of the Indian States if what you are aiming at is an all-India Federation. That, I think, is the goal which all of us in this House would like to see reached eventually.
In any constitutional advance of this kind you cannot proceed in accordance with the wishes of one party alone, however strong and well-organised, in a country such as India with all its conflicting races, creeds and interests. You cannot be neglectful of the defence of India. What would happen if, by some ghastly possibility, the British Empire were to suffer defeat in this war? What would then be the prospect for India? The Indian people know well enough that any chance they may have of constitutional advancement and development depends above all upon the association being with this country and not with any other countries which hold entirely different views of democratic progress from those that we hold.
My right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal stated that there is no reason why discussions and contacts which the Viceroy has established during the last few weeks should not continue. There is no reason why they should cease now, and, in my view, the Congress party have been over-hasty in calling out the Provincial Ministries so quickly before they have really given any full and proper examination of the proposals which the Viceroy put forward. The Government, here and in India, as my right hon. Friend so clearly said, do not desire conflict, and if anybody thinks that in India or here it is demonstrably wrong. What the British Government desire is not conflict but, above all, co-operation, and if they can get co-operation from the Indian people the advance is certain and sure. It would be nothing short of a colossal disaster if we were to throw away the work of the last two years in India, which has shown such promise for the future.
1714 On looking through the manifesto of the Congress party contained in the White Paper one cannot help being struck by one outstanding fact, namely, its detestation of the principles and practices of the Nazi Germany with which we are at war. I believe the same views are held by all other sections of opinion in the Continent of India. This unity of purpose has been apparent in many directions, not least in the numerous offers of help, both in men and in money, which have been received from the rulers of the Indian States, for which the Empire is profoundly grateful. The effort of India in the Great War was immense, almost decisive. I was myself in Palestine in 1918, and I had an opportunity of seeing at first hand the achievements of the great Indian Army there, whose march forward into Syria heralded the collapse of the Germanic Powers. It is beyond question that India's effort in this war will be as great. Is it too much to hope that all sections of Indian opinion may, even now, be able to give unstinted collaboration towards the prosecution of the war, in the knowledge that Britain's pledges stand and in a cause which is as much theirs as ours?
§ Mr. Edmund Harvey
Before the right hon. Gentleman concludes, could he make a little clearer one very important passage, as I understood it, in his speech in which he appeared to indicate that there was no reason why the scope of the consultative committee might not be enlarged, and that it would be possible that conversations in India, if they could be resumed at an early date, might lead to that? Am I right in that interpretation, because I believe it would be greatly welcomed in many quarters if it is correct?
§ Sir H. O'Neill
I am not sure that I exactly apprehend the hon. Gentleman's point. My right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal stated, and I think I also stated, that as soon as the various Indian parties would co-operate this advisory body would be set up, and that, in the meantime, there was no reason why further discussion should not take place between the Viceroy and Indian leaders.
§ Question, "That this House do now adjourn," put, and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at Five Minutes after Ten o'Clock, till Tuesday next, pursuant to the Resolution of the House this day.