§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Holdsworth.]
§ 8.5 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for India (Mr. Amery)
I hope that I may claim the indulgence of the House, not only because this is the first time, after a long interval of years, that I speak from this Box, but because of the importance and difficulty of the subject with which I have to deal. To keep one's balance steadily along a knife-edge of ice in the high Alps is a much easier task than threading one's way, without stumbling or offence, through the intricate, pitfall-strewn maze of the present Indian situation. So I trust that before hon. Members enter upon a discussion of the important statement made by the Viceroy 871 last week, they will bear patiently with me while I endeavour to say something about the background of political controversy and deadlock which led up to that statement. It is only in that way that the full significance and purport of Lord Linlithgow's initiative and the decision of His Majesty's Government in this matter can be rightly understood.
Five years have passed since the passage of the Government of India Act. That Measure was the fruit of a long series of commissions and conferences and many stirring Debates in this House. It was, in itself, a remarkable feat of constructive statesmanship on the part of Parliament and, so far as the Provincial part of the Act is concerned, it presently came into operation and is still being worked successfully in four out of 11 Provinces of India. If it is temporarily suspended in the other Provinces, that fact has not been due to any failure on the part of the Provincial Ministries to carry out the responsibilities entrusted to them, or to any conflict between them and the Provincial Governors or the Central Government; but to purely extraneous causes of which I shall have something to say in a moment. Whether the Federal provisions of the Act might have worked equally well, if they could have been brought into operation promptly is, perhaps, an open question. What is certain is that the delays involved, inevitable as they may have been, have afforded occasion for the development of a volume of adverse criticism and of opposition, in face of which their enforcement could no longer serve the purpose for which they were originally devised. It is essential to keep in mind that this opposition comes from different quarters, and indeed, is based on opposite reasons. The constitutional deadlock in India to-day is not so much between His Majesty's Government and a consentient Indian Opposition, as between the main elements in India's own national life. It can therefore not be resolved by the relatively easy method of bi-lateral agreement between His Majesty's Government and the representatives of India but only by the much more difficult method of multi-lateral agreement, in which His Majesty's Government is only one of the parties concerned.
Let me say a word about this problem. There is, first of all, the Indian National 872 Congress. Its leaders repudiate the Act of 1935, at any rate in its Federal aspect, as a denial both of India's right to immediate complete independence and of the principles of democracy. It was in pursuance of that repudiation, and because India's consent was not formally invited before she was committed to war that they called out the Congress Ministries in the Provinces. Their demand has been that India's independence should be recognised forthwith, and that Indians should devise their own constitution in a constituent assembly elected by universal adult sufferage over all India, including the Indian States. In the last few weeks they have declared their willingness in the meantime to join in the war effort through a National Government commanding the confidence of the elected members of the Legislative Assembly.
The Congress leaders are men animated and inspired by an ardent national patriotism. They have built up a remarkable political organisation, by far the most efficient political machine in India, of which they are justly proud. They have striven to make that organisation national and all-embracing. If only they had succeeded, if Congress could, in fact, speak, as it professes to speak, for all the main elements in India's national life, then, however advanced their demands, our problem might have been very different, and in many respects far easier, than it is today. It is true that they are numerically much the largest single party in British India. But their claim, in virtue of that fact, to speak for India, is utterly denied by very important elements in India's complex national life. These other elements assert their right to be regarded, not as mere numerical minorities, but as separate constituent factors in any future Indian polity, entitled to be treated as such in any discussions for the shaping of India's future constitution.
Foremost among these elements stands the great Moslem community, 90,000,000 strong, and constituting a majority both in North-Western and North-Eastern India, but scattered as a minority over the whole sub-continent. In religious and social outlook, in historic tradition and culture, the difference between them and their Hindu fellow countrymen goes as deep as, if not deeper than, any similar or corresponding difference in Europe. 873 That need not and does not preclude pleasant social intercourse or fruitful political co-operation. It has not, in fact, prevented individual Moslems taking an active part in the work of the Congress Party. But as a body the Moslems have stood aloof. Their quarrel with the scheme of the existing Act is not that it fails to give that clear majority rule for which Congress asks, but that, on the contrary, it gives too great powers to a Hindu majority at the Centre. They will have nothing to do with a Constitution framed by a constituent assembly elected by majority vote in geographical constituencies. They claim the right in any constitutional discussions to be regarded as an entity, and are determined only to accept a Constitution whose actual structure will secure their position as an entity against the operations of a mere numerical majority. The same, though in a lesser degree perhaps, applies to the great body of what are known as the Scheduled Castes, who feel, in spite of Mr. Gandhi's earnest efforts on their behalf, that, as a community, they stand outside the main body of the Hindu community which is represented by Congress.
The Indian Princes, again, with territories which cover a third of all India, and which include nearly a quarter of its population, constitute another entity or group of entities which refuses to be assimilated to the simple democratic formula propounded by Congress. They object to the existing scheme as interfering too greatly with their existing powers. They naturally object even more strongly to the proposed Constituent Assembly or any Constitution which might emerge from it. Yet they are an essential element in any Indian Federation. What is more, they can make a most valuable contribution to it. In many ways their territories are the most characteristically Indian part of India. They have equally much to gain from closer contact with the rest of India in constitutional as well as in economic development. But it is idle to suppose that such a development can take place overnight or that it can be forced upon them before they can be allowed to play their part in a federal scheme. It is essential to keep these differences in mind when we talk of finding a solution for India's constitutional problem. They are, at the moment, still unbridged. I refuse 874 to regard them as unbridgeable. Underlying them, after all, there is the fact that India is a self-contained and distinctive region of the world. There is the fact that India can boast of an ancient civilisation and of a long history common to all her peoples, of which all Indians are equally proud. Is there any Indian who is not proud to be called an Indian? Is there any Indian, of any community, who has not felt a thrill of pride in the thought that he is a fellow countryman of a man like Rabindranath Tagore, who was so uniquely honoured by Oxford University the other day? Underlying them, too, is another unity, a unity not merely of administration, but of political thought and aspiration which we here can justly claim to have contributed to India's national life. India cannot be unitary in the sense that we, in this island, are unitary, but she can still be a unity. India's future house of freedom has room for many mansions.
In no respect has the essential unity of India's outlook been shown more clearly than in the attitude which all parties and communities have from the outset of this war taken up in their detestation of Nazi aggression and in their endorsement of our common cause. The greater our difficulties, the graver the disasters that befel the Allied arms, the clearer has been the realisation in the minds of the Indian public that our cause is India's cause, the stronger the wave of sympathetic emotion for this country in its single-handed fight, the more widespread has been the feeling that a purely political deadlock, affecting the issues of to-day and to-morrow, ought not to be allowed to stand in the way of India's contributing a united and whole-hearted effort to the cause upon whose victory depends the preservation of all her ideals and the fulfilment of all her aspirations. It is in this atmosphere that the Viceroy felt that the moment had come for an initiative which should at the same time enlist all the elements of political leadership in India behind her war effort, and also make, at any rate, a beginning in breaking down the existing political deadlock, and so pave the way towards the early achievement of that goal of free and equal partnership in the British Commonwealth which, to quote the eloquent closing words of his statement, isthe proclaimed and accepted goal of the Imperial Crown and of the British Parliament.875 The immediate offer contained in the Viceroy's statement is that of an expansion of his Executive Council as Governor-General, so as to include in it leading members of all the main political parties, as well as the establishment of a wider War Advisory Council on an all-India basis, associating with the conduct of the war representatives of the Indian States and of other interests in the national life of India as a whole. The enlarged Executive Council will, of course, under the existing Constitution, still be responsible to the Governor-General, and cannot be responsible in the strict constitutional sense to the Legislature. The Congress have asked that a provisional National Government should be set up at the Centre, which, though formed as a transitory measure, should be such as to command the confidence of all the elected elements in the Central Legislature. In inviting a certain number of representative Indians to join this Council, the Viceroy will naturally take appropriate steps to ensure that the new members do in fact represent the opinion of the parties from which they are chosen. If, however, the Congress claim is that the members of the Viceroy's Council should be dependent on the support of the elected members of the Legislature, it is, in fact, a demand for changing the whole basis of the Government of India in the middle of the war. More than that, if the House has followed the analysis which I have attempted to give of the attitude of the different elements in India to the constitutional problem, it will realise that it is a demand which raises the whole unresolved constitutional issue and prejudges it in the sense favoured by Congress and rejected by the minorities. There can be no agreement on a Government responsible to the Legislature until there is agreement on the nature of the Legislature, and upon the whole structure of the Constitution.
The Congress demand, therefore, in present circumstances is not a practical demand. The Viceroy's offer, on the other hand, does present to Indian leaders the opportunity of taking an immediate, effective and important part in the government of India and of bringing their influence to bear on the conduct of the war without prejudice to their several political positions. They will commit themselves to nothing, except to working together in the present emergency for the 876 safety and good of India and for the common cause in which they all believe. I still hope that they will all be willing to take their part, in spite of the discouraging attitude shown in Congress quarters. If it should, unfortunately, not prove to be the case, Lord Linlithgow will, of course, still go ahead, prepared to work with those who will work with him and with each other.
The Viceroy's immediate offer, however, does not stand by itself. His initiative has been concerned, as I said just now, not only with India's fuller participation in the actual present war effort, but also with paving the way towards the speedier attainment of the goal at which we are aiming. May I say a word about that goal—Dominion status, as it is commonly described, or, as I prefer to describe it, free and equal partnership in the British Commonwealth? It is not, as is so often suggested when Dominion status is contrasted with full independence, an inferior or dependent status. The status of a Dominion—or of this country, for that matter, for our status in the Commonwealth, although not, perhaps, our stature, is the same as theirs—is one not inferior to that of nations that perforce stand alone, but superior. How many so-called independent nations are really free to live their own lives as they will, even when they are not directly overrun or dismembered by more powerful neighbours? We of the British Commonwealth enjoy something more. We enjoy the security, the prosperity, the friendship, the enhanced dignity in the eyes of the world, which come to each of us as the result of our free and equal association. There is no higher status in the world than that. That is the status which we have declared to be the goal of our policy in India.
Our declarations, however, have apparently still left in certain quarters doubts as to the sincerity of our purpose, and have raised, not unnaturally, the question both of the time when and the method by which we mean to fulfil them. It is to that question that the Viceroy, with the full approval of His Majesty's Government, has now given an answer, which marks, I think, a notable step forward on the path to the accepted goal. May I quote here the most significant passage in the Viceroy's statement? 877There has been very strong insistence that the framing of that scheme"—that is, the new constitutional scheme for India—should be primarily the responsibility of Indians themselves, and should originate from Indian conceptions of the social, economic and political structure of Indian life. His Majesty's Government are in sympathy with that desire, and wish to see it given the fullest practical expression, subject to the due fulfilment of the obligations which Great Britain's long connection with India has imposed on her and for which His Majesty's Government cannot divest themselves of responsibility.The recognition of these obligations is not an impairment of status, but only a recognition of facts, historic or geographical, which differentiate the present position of India from that of other Dominions. As the late Lord Balfour pointed out in his remarkable exposition of the nature of British Commonwealth relations, in the constitutional report of the Imperial Conference of 1926:The principles of equality and similarity appropriate to status do not universally extend to function,and he instanced, in particular, the functions of defence and foreign policy. It is in respect of these, for example, that the position of India, both in virtue of her historic military organisation and of her geographical position, differs from that of the Dominions. But the difference that arises from these and similar obligations is one of degree, and not of kind. For in the case of every Dominion there has always been some measure of adjustment, formal or informal, to British obligations. Subject to these matters, the desire of His Majesty's Government is that the new Constitution of India should be devised by Indians for themselves, and should—may I quote the words again?—originate from Indian conceptions of the social, economic, and political structure of Indian life.That task is to be undertaken with the least possible delay after the war bya body representative of the principal elements in India's national life.That means a body constituted in agreement between the representatives of these elements. It does not mean a body set up on lines which may commend themselves to one particular element, however influential, but wholly unacceptable to the minority elements. His Majesty's Government have made it clear that they 878 could not contemplate the transfer of their present responsibilities for the peace and welfare of India to any system of government whose authority is directly denied by large and powerful elements in India's national life. In this matter too, there is no departure from the principles which have governed the coming into existence of every Dominion Constitution. In every case in the Dominions there has been antecedent agreement, not only between the geographical units, but also between the main racial elements—English and French in Canada, Britain and Boer in South Africa—both as to the method of framing the Constitution and as to the Constitution itself. Agreement, consent, is, indeed, the foundation of all free government, of all true democracy. Decision by majority is not so much of the essence of democracy as a practical convenience, which presupposes for its proper working an antecedent general consent to the Constitution itself. It has, indeed, in most federal Constitutions been limited in various ways in order to safeguard the separate interests of the federating elements. To describe the need for such agreement as a veto on constitutional progress is, I think, to do an injustice to the patriotism and sense of responsibility of those concerned. Agreement means not veto by any element, but compromise. And willingness to compromise, in India as elsewhere, is an essential test of that sense of responsibility on which free government must be based.
On the other hand, within the limitations imposed by the necessity of securing agreement, the whole constitutional field is open to re-examination. It may, indeed, prove to be the case that it is by entirely novel departures from the existing scheme, whether in the relation of the Centre to the Provinces or to the States, or in the methods of election and representation, that an agreement can be reached which is unattainable within the framework of the existing Act, based as it is on the traditions of India's administrative past and on our customary British constitutional conceptions.
So much for the question of method. There is the question, no less insistently asked, as to the date. Here the answer given by the statement is also clear. The decisive resolution of these great constitutional issues, the actual setting up of a new system of government, cannot come at the moment when we are all engaged 879 in a desperate struggle for existence. How soon it can come after the war is essentially in India's own hands. The experience of every Dominion has shown that these fundamental issues are not lightly or speedily settled. What I have told the House of the complexity and difficulty of India's peculiar problems does not suggest that her experience in this respect will be essentially different from that of others. There is always an immense amount of preliminary discussion, inquiry and negotiation which has to be got through before the real decisive meetings take place. There is absolutely no reason why any of this indispensable preliminary work should wait for the end of the war. The more completely and thoroughly it is done now, the wider the agreement reached now as to the form of the post-war representative body, as to the methods and procedure by which we should arrive at its conclusions, and as to the principles and outlines of the Constitution itself, the more speedily can everything be settled after the war is over. So far as His Majesty's Government are concerned, they have offered to welcome and promote in any way possible such preliminary friendly discussion and investigation and have equally promised to lend every aid in their power to hasten decisions on all relevant matters when it comes to the subsequent task of finally settling the Constitution. They can do no more. The responsibility for securing a speedy as well as a satisfactory result rests upon Indians themselves.
I submit that the Viceroy's initiative represents a sincere effort on our part to make such contribution as we can towards the smooth and speedy attainment of the desired goal. Others must also make their contribution. No one element or party can hope to get all that it wants, or at least to get all at once. If we agree upon the end, let us all work for it with sympathy, understanding, patience, good will towards each other. That, at any rate, is the spirit in which His Majesty's Government are resolved to persevere in the carrying out of the policy which they have now defined. So far as we in this country are concerned, we have every reason to be proud of what we have contributed in the past to the history and to the life of India. But I, at any rate, believe with Lord Macaulay that the proudest day of our history will be the 880 day when we see India joining, a free and willing partner, in the brotherhood of the British peoples. As for India, she will give, I know, her effective answer to tyranny and aggression in the field of war. But she can give an even more conclusive answer in the field of constructive statesmanship. In a world threatened by all the evil forces of hatred and destruction, of partisan and racial intolerance, there could be no more hopeful portent, no more assured omen of the ultimate victory of our cause, than that the leaders of India's millions should in peaceful agreement resolve not only their own perplexing discords, but also afford yet one further example within our British Commonwealth of the power of good will to reconcile freedom and unity, and through our Commonwealth to bridge the age-long gulf between Europe and Asia. Then, indeed, could we say with justice that the dawn of a better day for the world was heralded in the East.
§ 8.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Ammon (Camberwell, North)
I would like to begin by offering my respectful congratulations to the right hon. Gentleman on his return to that Box and on the very able and helpful speech he has delivered at a time when it is most needed. It is somewhat of a coincidence that, once before, when I spoke at the Table I was on that side and he was on this and I have recollections of the kindly help I received from him when I was being sniped at from other quarters of the House on account of what was known as the question of the five cruisers. May I say, too, that many of us here regret this evening the absence of my right hon. Friend the Member for Gorton (Mr. Wedgwood Benn), who, in October last, made a memorable contribution to a Debate on India and did a great deal of work while he filled the office of Secretary of State for India.
The right hon. Gentleman has just said, quite truly, that the gap between this country and India is not unbridgeable and that statesmanship and patience may do very much to bring us within measurable distance of complete understanding and of a greater harmony than has been known for a very long time. I shall not, however, follow the lines which the right hon. Gentleman took. I propose to confine myself to the White Paper and 881 what arises therefrom. Nothing is to be gained by recrimination and by raking up past differences which we may have had over the Congress Party. We must all recognise the sincerity and patriotism of the Congress Party who have, from their point of view, built up a powerful political party in India and have done much to keep the position of their people before this country and the world. It would be asking too much of human nature to expect that the Congress Party should not endeavour to get as good terms for themselves as they can if they give their full weight to aid us in the present crisis. While it is true that we are responsible for self-government, and to seeing that it is applied so as to ensure a stable and peaceful government, I think the statement issued last week in the name of the Governor-General of India takes us a very considerable step in that desirable direction. It is an invitation to the people of India to co-operate with us in this time of crisis and help us to see it through, so that, later, we may be able to build up a better understanding and a system of government that will be acceptable both to the Indian people and ourselves.
The right hon. Gentleman, I am glad to say, has gone a good deal further than I expected and in some measure has answered some of the questions I intended to put to him. I am sure he means it to be understood that in appointing Indians to the Executive Council and to India's War Cabinet which will supervise the conduct of the war, they are not being invited to help only in an advisory capacity but as real partners and as people who are to be considered on an equality with the rest of those who sit in the Council chamber. I[...] India is to lend a hand and accept her share of responsibility in our struggle, she would do well to seize this present opportunity and exploit it to the full, because if the door is partly open, it is for India to push it open still more widely. India has the right to ask that the number of representative Indians shall be sufficiently large to ensure that Indian opinion will be heard with effect and give their people confidence. She has a right to ask that she will be welcome, not as a poor relation but as an honoured member of the family circle acting in a real executive position and not merely in an 882 advisory capacity, recognising, however, that there are certain limitations which go with co-operation and that we have all an equal right to be heard and considered. That recognition must be given without equivocation. As regards her claim to independence, I would rather use the word "inter-dependence." We have too many independent States just now, causing a good deal of trouble in the world. Interdependence is the term we use when we talk about the British Commonwealth, in which we realise each and all that we have a common object and that we are all partners on equal terms, no one claiming a superior position over the other.
As far as India is concerned however, we have to face difficulties and problems which do not present themselves in our relationship with other Dominions. The first thing we have to realise is that the rights of minorities cannot be lightly swept aside. Consideration must be given to the views of 90,000,000 Mohamedans, the States of the ruling Princes and the depressed classes in India. On the other hand, it is only fair to point out that the minorities cannot definitely hold in check the legitimate aspirations of the majority. Therefore, the peace and well-being of India cannot be brought about simply by the application of coercive measures. It is true that the announcement of the Governor-General leaves the door open for the possibility of composing the differences between the opposing sections. Here is an opportunity for all to come in, and co-operate on grounds of equal status and see how far it is possible for Indians, devoted to their own country, to find common ground on which they can meet and pool their resources in order to give new life, hope and vision to their own country. How effective that co-operation can be made, rests entirely with the Indians themselves. The Congress Party especially, if they will use it, have an opportunity that may not occur again.
I speak particularly for my own immediate friends in this House who have a special feeling for India. If the Congress Party will act in the spirit of the right hon. Gentleman's speech, they can then go forward to a wider and larger experience of co-operation. Other Dominions have come into the Commonwealth after consultation with their people, but in their case the problems 883 were not so great as they are here. In Canada and Australia there was a more or less homogeneous population, but in India there are many conflicting opinions and problems which, somehow or other, seem calculated to arouse the worst passions and sentiments of mankind—linguistic, racial and religious problems. For, by the irony of fate, no greater troubles are caused than those connected with religious questions, just as you can never raise a bigger row than by the mention of the word "peace."
I think, perhaps, it would be helpful if His Majesty's Government would make it clear at the outset that representation on the post-war body is not to be merely nominal, but such as will give full weight to Indian opinion, and that decisions arrived at by the representative body will not be overridden by the British Parliament. By that time India will have gone through the whole preparatory process, because it is as well to remember, as the right hon. Gentleman has already said, that it is not necessary to wait until the end of the war before we can begin exploring and trying out the ground for future discussion and agreement after the war. My right hon. Friend the Member for Gorton mentioned that in his speech in this House in October last, when he pointed out that legislation and preparation are two different things. There is nothing to prevent us getting on with the preparatory work, even though we are at war, and, as he said:It is necessary to review the facts, to make contacts, to establish accords if the final conference is to he a success."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th October, 1939; col. 1630, Vol. 352.]That was supported by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Antrim (Sir H. O'Neill) who then spoke for the Government and said that it might be well before the end of the war that constitutional discussion of some kind should take place. I understand that the right hon. Gentleman opposite does not in any way dissent from that, but regards it as a reasonable course of action. I am aware that some soreness exists in India because they feel that they were placed in an entirely different position from the rest of the British Commonwealth when they were not consulted, as were the other Dominions, at the beginning of the war. That was, admittedly, a mistake, but I do 884 suggest to our friends in India that this offer goes a long way to make good that omission, and there is no object to be served, either for the good of India or the good of civilisation, by using language that is likely to exacerbate old grievances, instead of recognising the common object and the common foe that we are up against to-day.
There is one unmistakable fact which stands out clear and unchallengeable, and must be taken into account by every responsible body in India, namely, that should Britain not emerge fully successful from this struggle, then all hope of India's freedom goes, and the Congress Party and every other body in India will disappear from any active participation in the life of that country. And is it unfair to point out that the struggle in which we are now engaged, almost alone, is India's struggle as much as ours, and that our soldiers and sailors and our gallant airmen are bearing the full brunt and weight of India's struggle? We have a perfect right to ask that India shall share the responsibility and wholeheartedly accept the offer that is now made to her; then, after the experience of comradeship and friendship in arms we may carry our relationship forward yet another step in order to enter into full and equal partnership. And let there be no mistake or misunderstanding as to the meaning of the words "Dominion status." How can it be anything short of what we really understand is the right meaning of the word "independence"? Would anybody venture to tell Canadians and Australians and South Africans they were not fully independent? Yet they accept the position of partners, and consultation and discussion take place, not on the lines that "I stand alone for my position and my point of view," but in order to get the best common measure of agreement for the whole body of the Commonwealth. Mr. Gandhi has well said that:We do not seek our independence out of Britain's ruin.It would be well to ask our friends in India to recognise that, and to remember that there can be no independence for India along such lines.
We join with the right hon. Gentleman in asking India in the name of those who have shown through many years, real friendship and a real desire to help forward India's cause not to lose this opportunity. On the other hand, I hope we 885 shall get from the right hon. Gentleman the assurances I have asked for, namely, that Indians shall come in, not as mere advisers, but as members of the Executive whose word shall carry as much weight and authority as that of others, and who sit down not as poor relations but as members of the family itself. So I conclude by saying that, while we in this country are engaged in a life and death struggle to maintain liberty of thought, speech, and opinion, and the right to worship as we will here in the West, we send out a call to our brethren in India to unite in a like crusade in the East so that, from the rising of the sun to the going down of the same, freedom shall stand.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Graham White (Birkenhead, East)
I wish to express my thanks to the right hon. Gentleman for the very important statement that he has made. I do so, not because of the historical review which he set before us with such conciseness and ability but because I believe that there was ringing through his speech the best answer that could possibly be given to those elements of suspicion which he says are still lurking in some quarters in India. There were three things in the statement which seemed to me to be of great importance. One was the statement that he refused to regard those deep-seated differences of outlook and tradition between the Hindu and the Moslem community as unbridgeable. There ought to be no question of last words in this controversy, either from the English or the Indian side. If we are to take up an intransigent attitude of that kind, it may well be that the opportunity of a peace which will enable us to bring our ideals to fruition, will completely pass away.
I think the right hon. Gentleman took us somewhat further to-night than the statement of the Viceroy. I am particularly grateful to him for having given us a new definition of our aims and policy, in regard to India. We have always spoken of Dominion status. He has, in a simpler and a happy phrase, said that what we wish for India is the same kind of freedom that we enjoy for ourselves. I do not know that we can aim at anything higher than that. I do not know that we have anything higher, in which to offer to co-operate with India than 886 that. If there is still suspicion of us in India, and of the bona fides of the offer which is now being made, our record in the matter of freedom, though we have made mistakes, and no doubt shall make them again, is not a bad one. It is the finest and highest record in regard to freedom which human history can show. Who in 1900 or 1901 would have said that within two years South Africa of her own free will would stand, a united nation, with us in two great wars? This question is of the greatest possible consequence even in the present conflict, because India's cause and India's battle is ours. It is the cause of world freedom, neither more nor less, and we recognise with gratitude that India has made, and is continuing to make, a great contribution to our war effort. It is of the greatest possible consequence when we consider the strategical position of our Forces in the Near East. My belief is that, if a final settlement of the terms of a Constitution for India cannot be made in war time, a practical task for every element in India and in this country is to devise a working agreement by which we may work together for our common cause. I believe that is furnished by the right hon. Gentleman's statement to-night. I believe there lies before Congress in the first instance, and perhaps in a somewhat lesser degree before the Moslem community, a great opportunity for the cause of world peace.
There is an analogy in my mind which I hope it is not far-fetched or without significance. I think there is a certain resemblance here to the political and constitutional conflict which was raging from one end of this country to the other at the outbreak of the war in 1914. At that time women were demanding political liberty in no uncertain voice. The campaign was widespread and was voiced with the greatest vehemence. It was being conducted, too, with a degree of violence which would have shocked the apostles of non-co-operation in India. The leaders of the movement realised that the cause of freedom was in jeopardy and they turned to and devoted themselves to making that freedom secure, and, by so doing, did the best possible service they could have done to their own cause. Some of them were very violent people—Mrs. Pankhurst and Lady Millicent Fawcett—but they all took the same view. 887 Lady Millicent Fawcett said, "We have buried our bone but we know where to find it." I do not think they ever had occasion to look for it, because their service was of such a nature that at the end of the war women's freedom was won, and no one has ever regretted it. I do not know whether the House thinks that I am drawing a far-fetched comparison but I believe that if Congress, the Moslem community and the other communities buried their bone, they would not have occasion to look for it again and brandish it in the face of the world. I think there is a great opportunity lying before them.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to a matter in which, undoubtedly, there has been some suspicion in India. That is about the date and the progress towards the issue of our policy. He said there was no reason why preparation for the scheme for a Constitution and consideration of the machinery by which it is to be brought about, should wait until the end of the war. I see no reason why those eminent and representative Indians who are to be called together on the Executive Government and on the Advisory Council should not comprise some of the people who would also be charged with the development of constitutional affairs. I associate myself with the request for some definition of the functions which will be fulfilled by those who are to be brought into the new Executive Council. The House will be entitled to assume that they will not all be Ministers without Portfolios. That is a matter of very great importance. These are matters which can be discussed, if political elements in India are prepared to consider this proposition from a practical point of view. If there are any still suspicious, if there are those who still doubt the bona fides of this country in carrying out its avowed purpose, let them put it to the test. Let them take all that is offered now. Let them take up the offer which is made to them, and work it to the utmost limit. It is no good saying, as Mr. Gandhi, for whom I have the greatest respect and admiration, is reported to have said this morning:The Secretary of State's statement soothes the ear, but does not dispel suspicion.If there are those who are suspicious, let them test the sincerity of those of whom 888 they are suspicious by taking them at their word and seeing how far they can go. Mr. Gandhi is alleged to have said:Britain cannot claim to stand for justice if she fails to be just to India.Is there anybody who does not agree with that statement? We are pledged, and we are fighting now with our backs to the wall for justice. Nobody with any intelligence believes that we are fighting an Imperialist war. Mr. Gandhi went on to say:India's disease is too deep to yield to any make-believe or half-hearted measures.I agree. But it is something more than suspicion that is required. At a great moment in India's history such as this, the Congress policy, in its practical aspect, is, I understand, to do nothing wilfully to embarrass Britain. It would be a fatal mistake at the present juncture of affairs in India for Hindus, Moslems, the scheduled classes, or anybody else, to let their policy halt at that stage. There is a great opportunity before Britain and India at the present time. Let us grasp it and go forward.
§ 9.12 p.m.
§ Sir Hugh O'Neill (Antrim)
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has certainly inaugurated his tenure of office by a very eloquent speech which I think very greatly impressed hon. Members in all parts of the House. He comes to the office of Secretary of State for India as one of the greatest experts in this country on all matters connected with the structure of the British Empire and all the component Dominions of that Empire. Political changes are swift in these modern days, but if it should happen that my right hon. Friend is still Secretary of State for India at the time when India eventually becomes one of the Dominions of the Empire, it will be a very remarkable achievement and the crowning success of his great career within the sphere of British Imperial politics.
My right hon. Friend said—and I think said truly—that the Viceroy's statement constitutes a definite advance on what has previously been said on the Indian constitutional issue, and I am glad that he started his statement by re-emphasising the pledge of granting Dominion status. There was a time not very long ago when it would not have been at all accepted as axiomatic in this 889 House that Dominion status was the eventual goal of Indian constitutional development, but I think that to-day there is very little criticism in this House of that standpoint. There has been a tendency recently, and certainly on one or two occasions last Autumn, for people in India to talk about Dominion status of the Statute of Westminster variety, and they seem to think that is the only kind of Dominion status worth having. As far as I know, there is only one kind of Dominion status in the British Empire, and that is what my right hon. Friend so well defined as free and equal partnership within the British Commonwealth. That is the kind of Dominion status which is now fairly universally recognised as being what India will eventually achieve within the Empire.
There are one or two matters on which I would like to put questions to the Secretary of State. The hon. Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon) and the hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. G. White) have already dealt with one point which I should like to emphasise, and that is with regard to the proposal to take certain Indians into the Viceroy's Executive Council. How many new members of the Executive Council is it proposed that there should be, and, emphasising what the hon. Member for East Birkenhead asked, are they to have definite portfolios in the Viceroy's Council, or are they merely to be extra members of the Council? How far, before the Viceroy's proposals were made, was it ascertained that prominent Indians will agree to accept posts in the Viceroy's Executive Council? I presume that soundings must have been taken. I am afraid my right hon. Friend is right in thinking that there may not be much prospect of Mr. Gandhi or any of the Congress representatives coming in, but I hope he has a reasonable foreknowledge that a certain number of prominent Indians representing other sections of opinion will be willing to take part.
I should like also to ask a question about the new War Advisory Council. My right hon. Friend did not say very much about that. What are its functions to be? How many members are to compose it? Are they to be drawn geographically from all the Provinces of India, or are they, like the new members of the Executive Council, to be 890 chosen on political grounds? Is this new Council to consist of British members as well as Indian members? The new members of the Viceroy's Executive Council are to be Indians. That is quite clear. In regard to the War Advisory Council, the Viceroy merely said that he has been authorised to establish a War Advisory Council to meet at regular intervals and to take representatives of the Indian States and other representatives of the national life of India. Will they, therefore, be British as well as Indian? I shall await with interest what my right hon. Friend may have to say on that point, because I think the proposal for the War Advisory Council is one which requires rather more explanation than my right hon. Friend has given to the House.
Turning again to the body of the Viceroy's statement, I am glad that he has re-emphasised the question of the minorities. After all, it is one of the great problems in India, this existence of the vast Moslem minority and other minorities, and the more often we in this House and the representatives in India of His Majesty's Government can lay stress upon the fact that you cannot fail adequately to consider the minority problem, the better. I am glad, therefore, that the minority question has again been emphasised in the Viceroy's statement. After all, we in this House under the British Constitution are accustomed to our system of party government by the majority party, and that form of government—our conception of democracy—has been evolved over centuries of time in this country. It is the kind of democratic government which undoubtedly best suits the British character, the British people and British representative institutions, but whether government by party majority is the best form in which democracy should be expressed in an Eastern country such as India is another matter. It may be that the conception of democracy in India, when a future Constitution has been drawn up and is functioning, may not necessarily be government by the majority party, but may be some form of government by a combination of majority and minority, which we in this country cannot ourselves visualise as a good form of democratic government, but which may quite possibly be the eventual 891 solution of this minority difficulty in India.
My right hon. Friend, very naturally, laid special emphasis in his speech on that part of the Viceroy's statement which deals with what is to take place, after the end of this war, towards shaping the future Constitution of India, and as the Viceroy said in his statement, it has long been insisted in India that the framing of the future scheme should be primarily the responsibility of Indians themselves. And that principle, as my right hon. Friend very clearly brought out, has now been accepted by His Majesty's Government. That, I think, is a tremendously important advance. It does definitely go further than any other past declaration of the British Government in this Indian constitutional problem. The few months I spent in the India Office, during last year and at the beginning of this year, convinced me that sooner or later it would be inevitable that the details of the future Indian Constitution would have to be settled by Indians themselves. Up to now that standpoint has never been definitely accepted by His Majesty's Government, and now for the first time the Viceroy, on behalf of His Majesty's Government, definitely lays it down that it will be the policy that the details of the future Constitution shall be settled by Indians themselves. But when we come to consider how this is to be done it is a very different matter.
It is very easy to say that the future Constitution shall be settled by Indians, but how you are to do it is difficult to visualise at the present time. We know that the Congress Party have for long demanded the setting up of a Constituent Assembly elected by a majority, and that, of course, has never been approved by the Moslems or the representatives of Indian States or the other minorities. But what kind of body exactly this future body is to be, I find it very difficult to see. How will its decisions be reached? Will it decide by a majority? I suppose it is to be composed of all the different sections in India, including the Indian States. When we remember present acute differences which exist in India between the different political parties, it will certainly be a very remarkable achievement if, when the time comes after the war, it is found that this Constitution-making Assembly or body will be at all easy to form.
892 As my right hon. Friend made it quite clear, when His Majesty's Government said that the future details of the Constitution are to be settled by Indians themselves, that is quite rightly and very properly subject to the qualification that there are certain matters with regard to which His Majesty's Government must themselves have the final decision. Defence and external relations are the two main points which must be outside and beyond the competence of the Indian body to deal with, and there may be other matters, such as the Indian States. I suppose, if the Indian States' representatives take part in the discussions, there can be no agreement without their consent, but if that should not be exactly what happens, it is quite clear that one of the greatest responsibilities which the British Government have in India is their responsibility to the Indian States which have contributed so much to the structure of India, and, indeed, towards helping the British Empire in its times of difficulty. In the meantime, I do not know whether my right hon. Friend could indicate whether or not there is any prospect of the Provincial Governments being reconstituted, whether there has been any advance in that direction, or whether we must continue to face a condition of affairs in which so many of the Provinces are being governed by their Governors without any legislative responsibility.
There was a time not many months ago when it looked as if, when this country was faced with a great crisis in the war, India might take advantage of that crisis and start a campaign of civil disobedience and of the creation of difficulties for this country in her administration of India. I am glad that that is not what has happened. The civil disobedience campaign which was threatened by Mr. Gandhi and others more extreme than he, is apparently called off by the statesmanlike action of Mr. Gandhi, Mr. Nehru and other leaders of Congress. To that extent I think it is only right that there should be some word here of appreciation of their action in having refrained from embarking on a campaign of civil disobedience. I say that with perhaps special emphasis since on the last occasion when I spoke on India in this House it fell to me to announce, on behalf of His Majesty's Government, that, if there were a 893 campaign of civil disobedience in India, the Government of India, backed by His Majesty's Government, would have to deal with it with every force which they could command. Therefore, I am extremely glad to know that up to now civil disobedience has not materialised, and I hope that it never will.
When the National Government was formed a few months ago there were people in India who thought that a Government under the leadership of the present Prime Minister was bound to be a reactionary Government with regard to Indian affairs. We all know of the views which the Prime Minister held at the time of the Act of 1935, when he took a very strong line in opposition to that Measure. But times change, and views change with them. Whether the Prime Minister himself has altered his views on India or not, I do not know, and very few people do know, but, at any rate, it is quite clear from the speech of my right hon. Friend and from the Viceroy's statement that the views of His Majesty's Government as a whole, far from having become more diehard, have certainly become more emphasised in the direction of further constitutional advance in India. I think that the Viceroy's statement and the very eloquent speech of the Secretary of State do undoubtedly indicate a definite advance along the road of Indian constitutional development towards the goal of Dominion status within the Empire, the fulfilment of which depends more upon co-operation and agreement among Indians themselves than upon any other conceivable happening in Indian affairs.
§ 9.36 p.m.
§ Sir Frederick Sykes (Nottingham, Central)
May I, as one who has been concerned with Indian administration, ask the indulgence of the House for a few moments to make a few brief re-marks in this discussion? It is now nearly seven years since I left India, but my interest in Indian affairs, in which I was engaged five years, has never dimmed, and if I cannot speak from entirely fresh experience, I can at least claim a background of experience as a setting to my subsequent study of Indian developments. I should like at the outset to congratulate the Government, and particularly my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, on the statement they have authorised the Viceroy to make, and also the Secretary of State upon the 894 extraordinarily clear statement he has made to us this evening May I interject one other small note? It is that as I rise for the first time since my return to this House I may perhaps be permitted to add that I bring with me the eager and wholehearted support of the electors of Central Nottingham for the Government's war policy and war measures. I am indeed proud to be re-enlisted as a Member of this House.
The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister has said for us all that our policy is to wage war, but I submit that the waging of war does not exclude service to the cause for which we took up arms. It is for that reason that I welcome so cordially this expression of intentions for the constitutional future of India. I think it is a proof of our steadfast faith with India, which cannot be more plainly brought out than by this statement which has just been made and issued at a time when we are encompassed with great anxiety and danger. In India the response to the Viceroy's offer, as I have read, has not been entirely whole-hearted, but I submit that criticism, where it has been expressed, is more concerned with the terms of the offer than with the spirit which informs it. There has, I think, been a wide recognition of the deep sincerity and value of the Viceroy's appeal for unity in India; unity as the essential condition of India's welfare and development, and as the urgent need to enable her to take her full share in the struggle for the preservation of those ideals upon which her future, like our own, depends.
The statement obviously makes a tremendous advance over the Act of 1935, which was framed, as we all know, however sympathetically and conscientiously, by the Imperial Parliament. We still retained the right to define and regulate India's constitutional advance; but now, to-day, we propose that the framing of a Constitution for India should be, to the fullest practical extent, the responsibility of the Indians themselves. As an earnest of our sincerity, we invite representative Indians to join with us on the Executive Council of the Governor-General, and to serve as equal Members, I understand, on a War Advisory Council, representative of both British India and the Indian Princes.
One reservation we are bound to make. It is that we cannot surrender our respon- 895 sibility to ensure that the future Constitution adequately safeguards the position of the various minorities and the elements which constitute the Indian whole; but I do not think that this is a limitation upon Indian unity. It is rather, surely, its pre-condition. To live and let live is the governing principle of any democratic-working Constitution, and its importance, I feel, grows in proportion to the diversity of races, faiths and traditions that make the mosaic of the community. I want to plead, therefore, that we, in this House and in the country, should be strong and united in this belief, and that we should be clear, and persuaded, to whatever party we belong, that our trust for the welfare of the Indian peoples, as well as our devotion to the ideals of freedom and fair dealing, determine us to stand by this condition. Without it, we should, I feel, betray all for which we stand and have stood in India.
By our unanimity we shall help to convince all sections of Indian opinion that this stand is based upon sincere principle, that it is directed to the advance and progress of India herself, and that it is by no means a convenient cloak under the cover of which we are conspiring to deprive India of self-government. As we all know, too often the echoes of controversy in this country reverberate in the Indian Press, and encourage the Indian political opposition to doubt the genuineness of our intention. Let us adopt, therefore, this statement of policy which has been made to-day, and support consistently the spirit of its practical proposals. By so doing, I believe absolutely that we shall best be serving India's own interests.
We all know that the war has quickened the desire for unity among Indians themselves. The tremendous and brutal threat of Nazi aggression, with its philosophy of universal subjection and exploitation, has distracted Indian opinion. I think there is no doubt that the war has compelled Indians to take a wider outlook, to consider the position of India in the world rather than the position of India alone, and to reassess the advantages of India's membership of the British Commonwealth. I think to-day most Indians realise that the future of India and the preservation of her ancient culture depend no longer upon bargains or bitter opposition to the British Raj, 896 but that the destinies of India are being shaped by the course of the life-and-death struggle in which we are all involved. As the Viceroy said, India has already made a mighty contribution to the common cause and is anxious to make still greater contributions. She may ask how. The answer is, I feel, by resolutely seeking to promote her national unity within the British Commonwealth. It is India's duty to herself to realise this truth, and it is her duty and common sense to play the fullest part she can in the general struggle. There is surely no longer any possible doubt that India is not being dragged into this struggle but that she is there of her own volition in order to safeguard her own freedom. First, then, she must come in for her own self-preservation.
May I first emphasise the reality and urgency of the present threat to India? The war, as we all know, has now spread to the Middle East. It is true that the battle of Egypt has not yet begun, but Italian forces are driving against our troops in British Somaliland in an effort to reach Berbera. Why? Because if we should be driven out of Somaliland, the Italians would control the western coast of the Red Sea, south of Port Sudan, and would be able to menace directly Aden and Arabia. If Aden, the backdoor to the Mediterranean, were bolted before the Battle of Egypt began, India, Australasia and the Far East would be cut off from our strategical centre in the Middle East. Lack of passage for reinforcements and materials would affect the course of the Battle of Egypt, and if the enemy should get a foothold in Palestine and immobilise Syria, the threat to India would become immediate, and help for her could only be slow and difficult. I think it is a truism to say that the frontiers of India are now on the Suez Canal. Therefore, the time and the need are now. I feel that we should send a clear message to India that we need her help as she needs ours. The safety of India and of the British Commonwealth are inseparable, and we are equal partners in trying to break down the menace to the British Empire throughout the world. To help herself, India must help the common cause with the whole of her strength. To do this, she must strive to unite her peoples and put aside the differences which there have been in the past and which have blocked her political progress. 897 By doing so now, she will not only make herself capable of exerting her maximum power, but she will also prepare herself for the day when Indians, in friendship with each other and with a single purpose, will assume the responsibilities of full self-government as a willing partner with the nations of a victorious British Commonwealth. I feel, too, that if our message from this House is strong and clear, it will be for India to choose her path. I believe also that in choosing that path she will choose the right way, that leads towards her safety and her welfare.
§ 9.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Sorensen (Leyton, West)
I am quite sure that every Member appreciates the earnest and eloquent speech of the Secretary of State this evening. Whether we agree with everything he said or not, we recognise that he is trying to serve India and Britain alike to the best of his ability. I hope that before his term of office is finished we shall see an advance towards that reconciliation of the two countries which I am sure he has at heart. Up to now we have had a series of exhortations to the Indian people which have been as sincere as that of the Secretary of State himself, but they have been exhortations on our part to the Indian people. It is very unfortunate that there is no representative of Indian feeling here to-night. He might have shattered what he felt to be our complacency. Some Indians feel that although the mountain has been in labour, while it might be an exaggeration to say that it has brought forth only a mouse, certainly it has not produced an elephant but a curious mixture, of which one part is a war-horse. Who can doubt that this White Paper has been inspired partly by the exigencies of the war itself? We are anxious that India should accept this Statement in order that she may assist us to carry on our war effort.
It is natural and right that we should make that plea, but it is right to recognise that when we make that plea we make it, as British people, to another people who are not British, but a different entity, a different nation. We must not assume that the criterion of British psychology is the one by which we must judge Indian reactions. Her reactions may be very disturbing. We may feel disconsolate because the Indian Congress 898 have not welcomed with open arms this earnest attempt to meet the situation. But that is not the point. If we are trying to treat India as being equal with ourselves, we must recognise that she has a point of view which is not our own. Our job is not to lecture her or to tell her that she must be reconciled to our point of view, but to recognise her dignity and equality, and to find out how we can reconcile our point of view with hers. Unless there is mutual recognition of dignity and equality, we shall not go very far. There are far too many Members of this House, and of the general public, who assume that the problems of India are either too big or too small for us to bother about during a war. I welcome this statement, because it shatters that superficial assumption. We are dealing with a country whose population is larger than that of the whole of Europe. It is well to appreciate that the largest single party of India, the Indian Congress party, is undoubtedly disappointed with this Statement.
If I may sum it up, I think I may interpret their feeling as being this: The statement simply repeats what is already known; it proposes an extension of Indian liability, without corresponding democratic responsibility; and it leaves future development shrouded in dangerous ambiguity. It is not surprising, and from our own British standpoint, it may he regrettable that Mr. Azad, the Moslem President of the Indian National Congress, has declined to meet the Viceroy and has condemned the statement that has been made as both abortive and unacceptable. I may not necessarily endorse that attitude. That is not the point. The point is that Mr. Azad is speaking on behalf of a party, which, it has been acknowledged to-night, has reached a high degree of efficiency as well as possessing a considerable following in India. Mr. Azad, in that responsible position, has felt himself bound to decline, at this juncture at least, the invitation of the Viceroy to meet him to discuss this matter.
I have said that from our British standpoint it may be regrettable. We are, as we all appreciate, grievously burdened, and any frustration of our hopes and plans inevitably disturbs us, but we would do well to remember that what may disturb us, especially now, does not necessarily disturb the Indian people in 899 the same way. They have their development, history and outlook, and although the psychology of the Indian people and the politicians of India may seem incomprehensible to us, it is well to realise that our psychology may seem almost incomprehensible to them. That is why I stress the important fact that we are two nations and two communities. The matter is relatively simply, if we hold that we are not equal or that a divergence could be settled by the imposition of our British will upon the Indian will. That inevitably would mean political oppression and bloodshed, which is an all too familiar and historical method of solving the strange problem of the divergence of human wills. In any case we have ourselves accepted the foundation of democracy, and whatever may be said by hon. Gentlemen on this or that side of the House in reference to the undoubted difficulties and complexities of applying democracy through the various communities of the world, the fact remains that that is our standard.
We are fighting this war because we believe in democracy. If we contend that there must be a restriction on the application of the principle of democracy, then that argument could just as well be employed by some of the terrible despots in Europe in extenuation of their suppression of democracy in Europe. Democracy must change its form from age to age and place to place, but that is very different indeed from the suggestion that democracy, in the way that we understand it here, is incapable of application in India because of her undoubted problems and complexities. We knew that all the time. When we brought forward the Government of India Bill, which ultimately became the Government of India Act, we were aware of all those complexities, and surely our task is to recognise that it is precisely those difficulties and complexities that call for a vindication of democratic principles at this juncture in the history of mankind. If we cannot solve these problems, and if we do not look out, we shall find ourselves on a pilgrimage to Berchtesgaden to worship at the shrine of those very evil things that we are seeking in this war to destroy. The essential issue, as I see it at this juncture, is that India, whether she agrees with our policy or not, is in fact in the common fight of all lovers of freedom in the world. 900 We should be grateful to India and compliment her and offer her our congratulations that she is saying at this moment in history, on behalf of 350,000,000 peoples, "If the strife in the world is now between despotism and democracy, well, then, vindicate that principle in India." Otherwise, there will be an inclination in certain quarters to draw a distinction between our profession of democracy in Europe and our practice of that profession in Asia. If we are to ride off on the excuse, either through British interests in India, or because of the powerful complexities in India, that we cannot apply democracy to that country in any richer way than we are doing now, then that will be looked upon as a mere moral evasion of the difficult task that confronts us at the present time.
I therefore come to the actual proposals outlined in the White Paper, and I must say it would be helpful if we could secure from the Secretary of State to-night some further and more explicit interpretation of the two main proposals which are in the statement before me. In the first place, there is to be an enlargement of the Governor-General's Council, and I echo the requests of other speakers tonight by asking by how many the Council is to be enlarged. I believe there are now seven on the Council, of whom three or four are Government nominees. Will the Council be enlarged to 15, or are we to find that only two or three will be added, who will still be in a minority? Will Indian democratic representatives predominate, or will these representatives not be democratic at all but purely nominees of the Governor-General, without any real relationship with democratic Indian opinion itself? Will the new members actually be nominees of the Governor-General, or is it impossible to visualise and consider the possibility of nomination from parties in India, or at least some kind of relationship to any kind of democratic responsibility? Will the Executive Council, enlarged as we are told it will be, be free to reach and implement decisions, or will it be merely an advisory committee to have its advice overthrown at the will of the Viceroy and, presumably at the will of this House?
What relationship will the enlarged Viceregal Council have to the proposed representative body to be set up after the war? Will there be relationship or no 901 relationship at all? Are the two proposals in some way dynamically connected? Will the Governor-General's Council have power to prepare for this democratic body, or is one to be an ad hoc body to cease when the war ends and the other a body to start de novo with all the difficulties of no preparation by the Viceregal Council itself? The B.B.C., the other night, broadcast a talk by a notable spokesman who actually claimed that this Executive Council will be similar to our British Cabinet. I do not know whether the Secretary of State will endorse that view, because it is quite incorrect and misleading. Our British Cabinet has a responsibility to a democratically elected Parliament, but this enlarged Viceregal Council has no responsibility whatever to any democratically elected body. The decisions of our Cabinet can be freely reached and implemented without unrepresentative interference, but this body, to be enlarged to an indefinite number, will not only be unrelated to any kind of democratic body but will be liable to interference by the Viceroy himself or an extraneous body. Therefore, I think it is misleading in the extreme to try to impress the British public with the idea that the Viceroy's Council is on all fours with the British Cabinet.
Turning briefly to other problems, there is first the representative body to be set up after the war. The reference is extremely vague—I am sure the Secretary of State will admit that. Possibly he was purposely nebulous, and I do not necessarily blame him for that. But the very ambiguity of the proposal can act either way: it can act for good, and it can act for ill. This phrase:a body representative of the principal elements in India's national life in order to devise the framework of the new constitutioncould be interpreted as meaning merely a new Round Table—of course, with a fresh tablecloth. Equally, on the other hand, in spite of the criticism of a Constituent Assembly, it could also mean that. There are times when ambiguity may be a necessary part of diplomacy, but it is also a very dangerous part, and I would ask the Secretary of State to make it clear that he does not mean by this phrase merely a new Round Table, with fresh abortive discussion, for, if so, I am quite sure, with new or old tablecloth, Indians will not sit round it. 902 On the other hand, I ask him, Will he rule out entirely the possibility of this body being virtually a Constituent Assembly, or some similar body? If at least he will say to-night that he does not rule that out, that may give some encouragement to virile Indian opinion. I think the House is entitled to ask whether this phrase can cover the latter as well as the former. Otherwise, we shall have as many interpretations of this phrase as there are political bodies in India and in this country. Again, I think we are entitled to ask what is meant by "the principal elements in India's national life." Will they be democratically elected or determined, or will they include those commercial and industrial elements that are related to this country?
Then again, we are entitled to ask whether this representative body to be set up after the war will be purely advisory, or will be authoritative. I am very glad indeed that my hon. Friend the right hon. Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon) did suggest that if this body is set up, it should be made quite clear that the decisions and conclusions which it reaches shall not be over-ridden by the British Parliament. I did hear, I think, a slightly audible grunt of disapproval from a bench behind me, but if that grunt of disapproval was an echo of silent disapproval on the Government Bench, all that I can say is that I regret it. I ask, therefore, that the Secretary of State should make it clear that if and when this body is set up and reaches certain conclusions, however drastic they may be, they shall be implemented without British interference—they shall be implemented because they are the conclusions of a free Indian body. Unless that is done, I am afraid that aspect alone of the projected representative body will be sufficient to endorse the criticism of it put forward in many directions.
Might I suggest, on the other hand, this? The time has arrived for even bolder and more courageous advance than has been suggested heretofore by Members of this House. If the Government want a settlement—and I believe they do—and if they are equally prepared to be as bold and resolute in the settlement of problems in India as they are in regard to the war in the West, might I suggest, first of all, that we should visualise the establishment of a truly national Indian Government, with powers and functions 903 equal to our own? One or two words have been dropped to-night discouraging the idea of independence. I must confess I detect a certain confusion at times. We are assured that Dominion status really means independence, that our Dominions are quite free to enter the war or not, and we have the illustrations of Ireland and South Africa. But, if that be so, why do they cavil at the word "independence"?
I want to see the greatest measure of inter-dependence between the nations of the world, but it must be a free interdependence, freely entered into. I hope very earnestly that, if India were as free as we are, India would freely choose to co-operate with us, even as I desire that other nations should freely co-operate with us. The old idea of insularity, segregating ourselves from the rest of the world, is a myth of the nineteenth century which is dying and deserves to die. International co-operation of a partial or a world character alone can supplant the evil designs of new but baser world social order which emanate from certain countries abroad. The alternative to despotic organisation must be based on free choice, and I see no reason why we should hesitate to talk of independence. It is an entire misnomer to say to Indians that they shall be perfectly free provided they choose Dominion status. That is a qualification of the very idea of freedom which is more than a paradox and which makes it nonsense. Why should we hesitate to say that the same sense of independence which we enjoy is the independence which we desire for India herself? Add to that the desire that she will in her wisdom and vision enter freely into the warmest co-operation with us, as we desire to enter into co-operation with her.
Is it impossible to suggest the conversion of the Viceregal Executive Council into a responsible democratic Government? What would happen? What happens with parties in this country? An election is held, and the majority party forms the Government. Why cannot we apply the same principle to India? We appreciate the rights of minorities, and I entirely agree that a democracy which ignores the rights of minorities cannot live. We appreciate that fact and always have done, though there have been on occasions some back- 904 slidings. Do we say to ourselves that, because there is a minority in this country who might possibly wish still to retain the feudalistic idea of government and organisation, Parliament must never meet, and Governments must never be formed, and we must submit to some foreign Power to dictate what we shall do? Whatever minorities they may be which still believe in some feudalistic or Fascist rule, we say to them, "You are minorities. Your legal rights shall be appreciated, but the majority party must govern." I suggest that we should apply that to India.
Therefore, I hope yet that it may be possible for the Viceregal Executive Council to be that responsible democratic Government, that real Cabinet, responsible in turn to the people, who shall have the power to compose the differences that exist. Let that Cabinet and that Government be free to negotiate on a basis of equality with our own British Government respecting immediate needs and future development. Finally, give to that body the task of preparing the responsible Assembly to which reference has been made and which will be put up after the war, with power to lay the foundations of India's freedom and independence of the future. This, I believe with all my heart and soul, would bring an instant response from the peoples of India and open up a vista of free and equal cooperation and mutual respect in place of the dissensions and resentments, the apprehensions and frustrations which unfortunately prevail now. I know the task is a very difficult one. I know that our need in this country is very great, but the greatness of the need calls for greatness of vision. I know there are problems that cannot be solved in a moment, and that certain technical changes are undesirable, but I am convinced that India would not press for those technical changes at the present time. What India wants is not merely eloquent and sincere words, but bold and courageous deeds, so that she can be treated as an equal. Certainly, she was not treated as an equal at the beginning of the war. I do not believe that India bears any grudge in that respect, but she says that if we are now penitent, we should show it by works and not merely by words.
The plan which I have briefly outlined to-night, though it involves no elaborate changes, does contain a deep and 905 emphatic change of mood which, if we accept it, will lead to a shaking of the moral complacency that is in the world at the present time. Mr. Gandhi, that great pacifist who, in the end, I am sure, will rank high up in the pantheon of the future, when many of the tawdry great men of the dictatorship countries are forgotten, has made a plea that if the best British and the best Indians were to come together earnestly and sincerely, they could find a formula mutually agreeable to both. In that spirit I make a plea to-night, as an Englishman, asking that we should recognise the equal status of Indians and on that basis show the world that we in this country fight for freedom not merely on the battlefield but in the world of the spirit as well.
§ 10.17 p.m.
§ Dr. A. V. Hill (Cambridge University)
I had not intended to intervene in this Debate, and my intervention will be very short. I have not been in India, and I have no special knowledge of India; I feel almost impudent in speaking on the subject. I have, however, been privileged to have many Indian friends in the special fields of science and medicine, and from them I feel I know a little about the Indian people. From what I know, I am convinced that that people is particularly responsive to friendliness and frankness. I should not have intervened had I not been deeply moved by the friendliness and wisdom which were so evident in the speech of the Secretary of State. I think that we here do wish to do the just and friendly thing by India. I know that in those fields in which I have any special acquaintance with India and Indians, we and the Indians can and do co-operate. I happen to be secretary of a society, the Royal Society, to which many Indians, I know, have been proud to belong, and to which we in this country are proud at intervals to elect them. We admire their imaginative powers. I am proud myself to belong to the Indian Academy of Science.
What I am saying is not so much being said to you, Mr. Speaker, or to this House, but to my friends in India. It has never occurred to their colleagues here to doubt their sincerity. I do not believe they have ever doubted ours. Certainly, they have not behaved as if they did. Will they realise that just as scientific people in our two countries can 906 and do co-operate, and trust each other and work to the same ends, so co-operation and trust are possible between much wider groups in India and Britain? India has great gifts to bring to the special fields in which my friends in India work. I know that they are ready and glad, and, I think I can say, they are proud—as we are—to co-operate in those fields. If my friends in India hear this appeal to-night, I hope they will tell their countrymen. I do not believe they are without influence there; and what can be done in science and medicine can be done in other fields of co-operation. I do not believe that the details of this offer are of one-tenth of the importance of the spirit in which it is made, and the spirit in which it is received, particularly in dealing with people like those of India. I believe that the spirit in which the offer has been made is friendly and generous, and I hope and believe that the spirit in which it will be received, will be just as generous.
§ 10.21 p.m.
§ Major-General Sir Alfred Knox (Wycombe)
I should like, if I may, to congratulate the hon. Member for Cambridge University (Dr. Hill) on his excellent maiden speech, and to express the hope that the House will have many opportunities of hearing him. I congratulate the hon. Member especially on the fact that he had the courage not to ask for any special consideration. Very rightly, he placed confidence in his own powers. The hon. Member for West Leyton (Mr. Sorensen) alluded to the very eloquent speeches we have had to-night, from the Secretary of State and the other speakers who followed. He said, very rightly, that if a member of the Congress Party were here to-night, he would have been struck by the general complacency. I am not a member of the Congress Party, but I cannot help being struck to a certain extent by that complacency.
I sincerely hope that the Congress Party of India will accept the proposals of the right hon. Gentleman. There are one or two questions I should like to put and to which I hope we may have a reply later in the Debate. Can the right hon. Gentleman give us a definition of Dominion status? The hon. Member for West Leyton seemed to think that there was very little difference between Dominion status and independence. The 907 right hon. Gentleman the Member for Antrim (Sir H. O'Neill) spoke with enthusiasm about Dominion status. I wonder whether he was thinking of Dominion status as practised in the Irish Free State? He said that during the time he had been in office he had become convinced it was necessary for the Indians to frame a Constitution. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman should not be allowed to go to Dublin, because he might come back with very strange ideas from the point of view of his Ulster friends.
I should like to repeat the question of the hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White), namely, whether the right hon. Gentleman can give any idea of the number of officials or Indian gentlemen who would be invited to join the Viceroy, and whether or not they would have portfolios. I understand these gentlemen will be nominated. There is no possible machinery, as the hon. Member for West Leyton seemed to suggest, for electing them. In view of the difficulty of getting papers it is hard to obtain information, but from what we understand the war effort is going on fairly well. I would remind the House that the war effort during the last war did not depend on the politicians. It has been pointed out since, that of 619,000 who volunteered for active service in addition to the Regular Forces in India, no less than 350,000 came from the Province of Punjab, with only about 22,000,000 inhabitants, and not ruled by Congress at all. I could name six other Provinces now ruled by Congress which have produced about 92,000 troops. Congress does not go into the life of the Indian people to anything like the same extent that hon. Members think it does. They seem to think that Congress is leading the Indian people in every way like the strongest political party in this country can be said to lead this country. There are elements in India who really do not care much about politics, but who have a great idea of fighting for what they consider the Empire.
I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman to tell us something more about this Round Table Conference, or, as the hon. Member for West Leyton seemed to suggest, this Constituent Assembly. I do not read that into the Viceroy's declaration. I should like to 908 know what that Conference consists of. I understand from the right hon. Gentleman that it consists of representatives of every phase of life in India. That means not only every phase of Indian political opinion, but every phase of Indian life in every way. There will be representatives also of European interests in India now. It will, therefore, be representative of every phase of Indian life, not only political and social, but commercial. I should like to have a reply to the suggestion which seemed to be made from the Front Bench on this side that once this Conference had made its recommendations, they would not be upset by Parliament. I hope that their recommendations will come before both Houses and be debated. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Antrim wondered what the attitude of the Prime Minister was to this White Paper, and he talked of what he called the reactionary movement of five years ago. If I have any right to speak for that band of Members in both Houses who fought against the principles of the Government of India Bill, 1935, I would like to say that I resent the term "reactionary." Many of us were conversant with people of all classes in India, especially the peasant—the ryot. Our anxiety was to see that he got a fair deal, and that he was not handed over in the name of pseudo-democracy to people who did not understand him. That is what we fought for. I am not ashamed to be a diehard. It is an honoured name in the Army, and it would be an honoured name in politics if people only knew what its origin was. A diehard is a man who believes in his own principles and stands up for them and is not ashamed of them. I should like the right hon. Gentleman to answer these questions, because, as we have heard, half statements in the House are liable to be quoted later, to the public detriment.
§ 10.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Vernon Bartlett (Bridgwater)
I hope to take up less than three minutes of the time of the House, and I only venture to stand up because I happen to be one of those Members who in the past have criticised the slowness with which the Government have brought India along the road towards Dominion status. I want nevertheless to say on this occasion how very much I hope that all the principal parties in India will accept 909 to-night's Debate and the document upon which it is based as a real, genuine step forward. There are two or three hard practical facts which I feel have not been brought out sufficiently in this Debate. Several hon. Members have pointed out that it is no more to the interest of India than of ourselves that we should be defeated. I do not think people realise sufficiently the extent to which we are now involved in two wars as a result of the disappearance of France from the battlefield, one war West of Gibraltar and one war East of Suez. It seems to me essential that while Great Britain must be the centre from which we fight the war West of Gibraltar, India will be the centre from which we fight the war East of Suez, and that does mean that we cannot—we cannot—afford a breakdown in India now.
The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State said in his speech this evening—which made me for one wish that we had a microphone in this House, because I believe that if it had been heard in India it would have done a great deal of good—that we have in this country at the present time a Government which does represent the main currents of opinion in this country, and it seems clear that that Government is not at the present time going any further in the direction of independence for India. But this document does mark a great step forward, and I do hope that the responsible parties in India will realise that fact. The progressive parties in India, who want to make rapid progress towards independence or Dominion status, whichever it is, and I personally sympathise with them, cannot get any further by refusing the offers contained in this document. If they were to refuse these offers, they would only be losing, I fear, many friends over here, because many people here who sympathise with the Indian march towards Dominion status will feel that they are only weakening our national effort at a time of the greatest crisis we have ever lived through. India can get much more by accepting, and it seems to me that, as far as the future is concerned, this Viceroy's document is as good as anybody could reasonably expect.
I do hope that, in winding up the Debate, the Secretary of State will be able to make it a little clearer that if the miracle should happen, if, while the war 910 is still on, the principal groups in India can work out the basis of their future status, we shall not then say, "Well, nothing can be done until after the war is finished." It is surely impossible, if that were to happen, that we should say, "You must wait till the war is over," but it might be helpful if the Secretary of State could make that clear at the present time. Obviously the reasonable elements in the Congress Party are going to have a very difficult time if they accept this document, and if, as I hope, in response to the tone of this Debate, all the Indian parties do sink their partial interests and affections because they realise that we are up against a common enemy, I trust that we in this House will in turn show our gratitude, and personally I believe, after hearing the speech of the Secretary of State, that we should in that way show our gratitude.
§ 10.34 p.m.
§ Sir Stanley Reed (Aylesbury)
I shall follow the example of the hon. Member for West Leyton (Mr. Sorensen) in one respect, and that is that I shall not address any exhortations to the people of India in my few remarks to-night. But I am not going to follow him in another respect, and that is to suggest that by a stroke of the pen the whole existing Constitution of the Government of India should be radically scrapped and a new one set up in its place by Executive order, because that is really the purport of his recommendations with regard to the Executive Council of the Governor-General. I am sure that my right hon. Friend, with his brilliance, insight and knowledge, must be strengthened by the conviction that he has behind him, in the policy towards India which he has adumbrated, the whole-hearted support of almost every element in this House, for a great development of the Indian Constitution.
The ground has been cleared, of recent months, to an extraordinary extent. We all accept the goal of Dominion status in India, with the full implications as of the Statute of Westminster. If a majority of the peoples of India do not like Dominion status, I for one would never boggle at the word "independence." I prefer "Dominion status," or rather, as the White Paper puts it, a free and equal partnership, because I regard it as something far higher than independence. It 911 contains all the pith and substance of independence, and embodies the greatest freedom of political development, in constitutional structure, and at the same time brings to the preservation and the security of their social order all the strength of the Commonwealth, of which, in any part of the world, it must stand in urgent need now and in the years before us. If we follow Lord Salisbury's advice, and look at large-scale maps, we shall have to ask ourselves over and over again what independence would mean to any part of the Commonwealth at the present time. So we accept that goal now so clearly defined and bend our energies to the consideration of the step immediately before us, of getting the whole-hearted support of India for the prosecution of the war.
We have this two-fold Measure: an expansion of the Governor-General's Executive Council and the formation of a War Advisory Council. With all respect, I hope that my right hon. Friend will turn a very deaf ear to suggestions about the Executive Council, poured upon him by the hon. Member for West Leyton (Mr. Sorensen).This body is an administrative and not a debating body. The idea of expanding it to large proportions is impracticable. The proposal is to bring into that high executive body representative men, commanding the widest possible public confidence, who could not be elected but must be nominated by the Viceroy on the advice and recommendation of the principal representative organisations whose members will take an equal part in bringing to those deliberations a freshness and knowledge which come from contact with the problem, without undermining the whole Constitution of India as by law established.
We all cordially approve proposals to set up a War Advisory Council. It is one of the misfortunes of our long connection with India that we have too long excluded all Indians, outside the Administration, from any knowledge of the great problems of defence and of foreign affairs. When we hand over a greater measure of responsibility to the Indians, they would otherwise take over these immense problems, without the knowledge and training which come from inside experience. On these grounds, I warmly commend those two wise interim Measures. It is clearly 912 understood and laid down in emphatic terms, in the White Paper, and endorsed by the Secretary of State for India tonight, that these are interim measures. Everybody recognises the necessity of an interim period, including the leaders of opinion in India, and its Radical side of politics; we are all agreed that, amid the tremendous problems of war it is inconceivable that we should bring ourselves to the immense task of actually framing a new Constitution. A valuable part of the White Paper is this definite assurance that the new Constitution will be primarily framed by Indians in India—that it will be their duty and primarily their responsibility to develop a constitutional framework for their great country. I hope, however, that when that body is constituted, assistance will be given by a representative body of this House, because I think it would have something to give from its rich experience here which would be of the greatest benefit in assisting the Indians to frame the principles of their own Constitution.
I would ask my right hon. Friend to give serious attention to this point. He and others have spoken of the atmosphere of suspicion which obtains in India. It may be entirely unreasonable. However, it is painfully obvious that it does exist to some extent, and we have to ask ourselves why it exists and what we can do to get rid of it. If the hour were not late, I might touch upon some of the disappointments which have led to this unfortunate survival of suspicion in India. The hon. Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon) asked a very pertinent question: What is to become of the recommendations or the conclusions of this body when they were reached? When he said that he thought they ought to be substantially implemented by Parliament, an hon. Member behind him said, "Oh!" From my knowledge of India, I think that in many respects that is one of the biggest questions which we have to face at this time. If you are going to ask India to accept an interim form of government and to throw her whole enthusiasm and energy into the prosecution of this war, with a promise that later on a body will be set up to frame a Constitution of their own but without any assurance that the principles of that Constitution, if they carry a general measure of agreement, will be implemented by this House, are you not 913 doing the very thing which is least likely to dissipate suspicion and which may, indeed, intensify it? The final decision must rest with this House. I would ask my right hon. Friend to consider whether, in winding up this Debate, he cannot give the assurance that the essential principles of the Constitution, framed by so representative a body as he forecast, if they are reached by a substantial measure of agreement, shall be implemented by this House. It may be argued that one Government cannot bind its successors; and that one Parliament cannot say what a later Parliament will do. In normal circumstances that might be correct. But this is not a normal Government or House of Commons. We have a Government more representative of all elements in this House and the country than any of us have known in our political experience. Surely such a Government can give this assurance!
There is another point which I wish to impress upon my right hon. Friend for his consideration. We know to-day the very great and almost priceless service which India is rendering to the prosecution of the war in the East. I was in India during the whole of the last war, and I remember only too well how such manufacturing facilities as existed were strained almost to breaking point, to provide material for Mesopotamia and East Africa. Now, in their factories they are pouring out a great volume of material for our forces in the East, which must be of enormous value. Behind the clash of politics lies an intense interest in our war effort; a full appreciation of the moral purposes of our great crusade, and a great desire to assist it to the point of victory. In this inevitable interim period, are we to allow all that to remain fluid, with the possibility that as much will flow in the wrong direction as will flow in the right direction?
It has been said that the preparation for the final constitutional adjustment was mainly a question for the Indians themselves. With all deference, I say that that is not so. That is entirely opposed to the whole conception of government amongst the people of India. The people there expect the Government to govern: they expect the Government to administer, and they expect the Government to lead. They think that in this matter the Government should lead 914 opinion towards the creation and the carrying through of the preparatory work, leading to a great representative Assembly after the war, which will put the seal on that work. That is entirely my own opinion, and whenever I meet Indians who have studied these questions I find that they are of exactly the same view, that the Government should give a lead, and that the preparatory work should begin now. That has been crystallised in the scheme, which I have no doubt my right hon. Friend has seen, which was drawn up by that very great and distinguished Indian, Sir Sikander Hyat Khan, the Chief Minister of the Punjab. He has outlined a scheme for a representative body to undertake that preliminary work. I do not know whether hon. Members have seen it. He urged reconstitution of the provincial Ministries and the appointment of their Prime Ministers as a nucleus and that there should be representatives of the Congress, the Muslim League, the Hindus, the Liberal Federation, the Sikhs, the Christians, the Indian States and the Europeans with a few nominated members, making a body of 31 in all; and that they should sit under the leadership of the Viceroy, in order to study the preliminaries, and, through that, not only to pave the ground for the work which is to be done, but to assist in dispelling the suspicion that we are not in real earnest in our desire to carry the programme through.
To ask the Viceroy, with his tremendous preoccupations, to undertake that work, is, I think, asking too much of him, but there is one man in India who is eminently fitted for it, Sir Maurice Gwyer, the Chief Justice of the Federal Court. Apart from his legal knowledge, he commands tremendous confidence in India, and he is fitted to lead a preliminary inquiry of that sort, which would not only he valuable in itself, but would, I am certain, implement substantially the undertakings which have been given. If that preliminary work were started without delay, those forces in India would no longer entertain the suspicions which rather obscure Indian views. The interesting point in that speech which may have struck some Members for the first time was when he spoke of India as the bridge between Great Britain and the Far East. Look at the map of Asia and of the World, and the cultural and 915 political significance of India becomes more than ever apparent. It has drawn its inspiration from our literature, our science and our political thought and history. It stands to-day as one great representative of these great principles. I am sure that no one realises more clearly than India how intensely her whole future is bound up in the victory of Great Britain in this war. I find no dissenting note in India in appreciation of the purposes which lay behind us in the war, and therefore I have ventured from my own experience to make these few suggestions, which I think, may carry us still further forward in that unanimity of thought, purpose and action to which my right hon. Friend has set his great abilities, and behind whom we stand in assisting him to the maximum of our power to carry them through.
§ 10.52 p.m.
§ Major Milner (Leeds, South-East)
I do not propose to detain the House very long, but as one who, some in years ago, visited India as a representative of the Government of this country and of this House, and who has since taken part in the Constitutional discussions, I should like to add a few words to what has already been said. Like most of those who have spoken, I wish to pay tribute not only to the eloquence of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for India, but also to his understanding and to the human view that he seemed to take of the matters committed to his charge. I am sorry to say that I cannot pay the same compliment to the right hon. Baronet the Member for Antrim (Sir H. O'Neill), who has now returned to his seat. He seemed to endeavour to put up as many difficulties as possible. I sincerely hope that he did not acquire that art or knowledge in the India Office. If I may say so, without offence, I attribute it perhaps to his Ulster extraction.
This is not the occasion for long speeches but for such constructive support as we can give in this House to the undoubted effort which the Government are making, and have made since the commencement of the war, to obtain a settlement in India to the great advantage of India itself, and, in my view, to the advantage of the common cause for which at heart, I believe, India stands with us. I do not think the desirability 916 of such a settlement will be denied anywhere in the world except perhaps in Germany and Italy. The White Paper which we are discussing to-night is the third White Paper which has been issued since the commencement of the war. Each of those White Papers, in my view, marks a further advance and surely the very fact that the Government are persevering, is evidence of their concern in regard to the matter. I think in India and here we must all recognise that the tone and spirit of the White Paper are excellent and an improvement on the tone and spirit of some previous White Papers on India.
There are, however, two or three matters in which I think some help may be afforded. I wish it were possible—and I hope it may be at no distant date—for the Government to re-state their war aims and especially disavow what is known as Imperialism, which, I know, has been previously disavowed. Some statement appealing particularly to India would, I feel, be a great help not only there but throughout the world.
Mr. McKie (Galloway)
Would the hon. and gallant Gentleman state a little more clearly what he means by "Imperialism"?
§ Major Milner
If my hon. Friend will forgive me, I much prefer that the Government should re-state their war aims rather than that I should begin to do so now. As I was saying, I think it would also help if the Government could give the assurances which were asked for by my hon. Friend the Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon) and the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Sir S. Reed), than whom no one has a greater knowledge of India. They were: Do the Government intend to implement whatsoever decisions may be come to by the representative body which is to be called together? Then I think an effort ought to be made to call that representative body together now or, at any rate, as soon as possible.
I do not think there is any justification for the words "conclusion of the war" which appear so prominently in the White Paper and, I believe, so prominently in the minds of Indians who have read them. Is it not possible to devise some means whereby the added members of the Viceroy's Council could have some representative capacity now in the sense 917 that they have been nominated or selected by those whom they represent? I cannot believe it is beyond the capacity of the right hon. Gentleman and his advisers to devise some means whereby assent, not, indeed, election or nomination by various bodies in India, could be obtained for Indians to act as additional members of the Viceroy's Council. To the Indians—if I may presume to address them, and I hope I still have some friends there—I would say I feel sure that they need have no fear as to the term "Dominion Status." The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Wycombe (Sir A. Knox) is, I think, the only diehard left in the House—
§ Major Milner
At any rate, my hon. and gallant Friend is dying hard. The exact meaning of the term "Dominion status" may trouble him, but I hope it need not trouble the Indian people. The right hon. Gentleman himself has, to some extent, defined it as a free and full partnership, and I would ask them also to recognise something in our tradition. It is, as we all know, our habit to proceed step by step. Our own Constitution, our own freedom, have been built up in that way, and, once having gone forward, we have never reversed our steps.
§ It being Eleven of the Clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—.[Mr. Grimston]
§ Major Milner
I hope therefore that the Government will meet the wishes of those who speak for the Indian people to the greatest possible extent, and I believe that anything they can do to that end will be reciprocated. And to the leaders of Indian thought I would respectfully suggest what in my view might be the very greatest and most valuable measure of statesmanship possible. If India could come into our present struggle with a full mind and a full heart, I believe that that would do more than anything else to break down every barrier which at present stands in the way of all that the Indian people desire. We are fighting not only for our own lives and our own freedom, but for the lives and freedom in the widest sense of all peoples, and certainly 918 of those in India. India's destiny, like our own, is in the melting-pot, and I plead for the fullest measure of generosity, co-operation and statesmanship on both sides in the present situation.
§ 11.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Lipson (Cheltenham)
I do not think this is an occasion for long and controversial speeches, because I think everyone should be careful not to add to the difficulties of my right hon. Friend. He has himself emphasized how very great the difficulties are in the way of the settlement of the Indian problem, and he has also shown us that he does not propose to dwell too much on those difficulties, because he is optimistic enough to believe that the problem can be solved. He himself, by his very wise, sympathetic, helpful, and constructive speech, made a very valuable contribution towards peace in India.
My hon. Friend the member for Bridgwater (Mr. Bartlett) regretted that it had not been possible for the speech of my right hon. Friend to be heard in India. I suggest that there is an even greater contribution which my right hon. Friend can make to the settlement of the Indian problem than he has made hitherto, and that is that he should himself go out to India and meet the representatives of the various Indian communities and find out whether it is possible for a way out of the present impasse to be found.
I believe there is nobody more able or more likely to do this than my right hon. Friend. I make no reflection on the Viceroy or anybody else who is to be responsible for the negotiations in India, but I believe that if my right hon. Friend could adopt this suggestion, it would have a great psychological effect, and he would be able to convince the representatives of Indian opinion of the sincerity of our intentions, and he would have the opportunity of understanding, through coming face to face, the Indian point of view perhaps better than we do now. For there is an Indian point of view, and obviously if we are to settle this problem, we have to realise that. There is a saying of the Latin poet with which my right hon. Friend will he familiar, namely, that it is lawful to be taught even by an enemy. One of the lessons we can learn in successful negotiation from Hitler is that, if you really want to 919 arrive at a settlement with some other Power, you must send your best and most capable representative That is something that Hitler has done, and he has achieved success over us because we have not followed that practice. I want to ask my right hon. Friend whether he will not give careful consideration to the suggestion I have made. I believe there never was a time when we were more necessary to India or India more necessary to us. I believe there never was an occasion when the atmosphere for a peaceful settlement of the Indian problem was better, and we never had a Secretary of State for India who was more fitted by character and tradition to solve the problem.
§ 11.6 p.m
§ Mr. Amery
I rise with the permission of the House to answer some of the questions which have been addressed to me and to clear up, if I can, some of the points with which obviously I did not deal adequately in my opening speech. A number of questions have been addressed to me in regard to the numbers, composition and powers of the enlarged Executive Council. As regards numbers, that, of course, must depend to some extent on the nature of the response that is made to the Viceroy's offer, but in any case that involves an appreciable enlargement of the present numbers of the Executive. The new members will be on a footing of entire equality with existing members of the Council. They will hold definite portfolios, and they will exercise the responsibilities both of their important departmental work and of the influence which they will naturally, exert in the collective discussions of the Viceroy's Council. They are not, of course, nominees of parties, but, on the other hand, obviously it is implicit in the whole purpose of the Viceroy's policy that they should be representative of the parties from which they are selected, and they will, no doubt, be selected after discussion and consideration of names informally submitted. They will not, in a strict constitutional sense, be responsible to the Assembly, but, clearly, if there is the response which the Viceroy hopes for and if all the leading parties are represented, the Executive will enjoy a wide measure of confidence and support in the Assembly. On the other hand, I cannot accept, for reasons which I have already given, the suggestion of 920 the hon. Member for West Leyton (Mr. Sorensen) that the enlarged Executive can be converted at a time like this into a Parliamentary Ministry responsible to a majority in Parliament. That involves a complete inversion of the present Indian Constitution and, what is more, prejudges all the constitutional problems which are still entirely unresolved as between the parties. That is not in present circumstances a practical suggestion.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Antrim (Sir H. O'Neill) raised the question of what is to follow in the case of the Provinces. That naturally must depend again very largely upon the nature of the response at the centre, and the way the new development at the centre works out. Clearly, that will have its effect upon the Provinces and must be judged in the light of the results at the centre. My right hon. Friend also asked questions about the function and numbers of the War Advisory Council. That will be a considerable larger body, with some 20 or more members. Its function will be to bring together a wide range of experience and special knowledge all over India, in order, on the one hand, to inform and advise the Government of India as regards the conduct of India's war effort and the development of India's resources, and, on the other hand, to stimulate further the war effort in the various fields, geographical or industrial, from which the members of the Advisory Council will be drawn.
§ Mr. Amery
Obviously, the European industrial and commercial community is a community of considerable importance and, I imagine, entitled to be considered at any rate for representation on this wider body. The great thing is that this wider body should assemble for the assistance and guidance of the Government of India their special knowledge in every important field of India's national life and in turn exercise their influence upon the war effort in every field. Many questions have been asked about the nature of the constitution of the future body that is to consider and frame the Constitution of India after the war, described in the White Paper asa body representative of the principal elements in India's national life.921 I pointed out in my speech that that must mean a body arrived at by agreement between those principal elements, but so long as that agreement is achieved, it is not for me here to prescribe the nature of that body. In answer to the question addressed to me, I would certainly say that there is no type of body that is ruled out, provided it is agreed upon by those principal elements and is in that sense representative of those elements. As to the position of that body and its recommendations, I think the White Paper does make perfectly clear what it is. It is to bea body which is to devise the framework of the new constitution, and His Majesty's Government, in sympathy with the desire that the new constitution should be the responsibility of Indians themselves and should originate from Indian conceptions of the social, economic and political structure of Indian life, are prepared to give to that desire the fullest practical expression, subject to due fulfilment of certain obligations.Clearly that does not mean that this body will be a mere Round Table Conference or Commission whose views may or may not be taken into serious consideration. Its object is to start a new Indian Constitution in the same spirit as that in which the Constitution of the Dominions was done. In each case it was agreement among the various elements in the Dominion that created and brought about the main framework of a Constitution.
That Constitution was then discussed, and in certain particulars in every case there were adjustments and modifications, not by dictation, but, if I may quote the words used by Lord Zetland in another place not long ago, by discussion and negotiation. Of course, in this particular case there is a number of points arising out of our historic obligations which will require such adjustment and discussion if they are not fully provided for. The whole intention is that the work of this body shall be taken seriously and that it shall provide the main framework of the future Constitution of India.
§ Mr. Amery
Yes, Sir, exactly as in the case of the various Dominions. Our endeavour is to apply the same method which has been followed in the case of the other Dominions. In each of those cases the Constitution came before this 922 House for discussion and was given the constitutional ratification which this House is entitled to give. My right hon. Friend also asked a question in regard to the Princes. Our obligations to the Princes in so far as they have not fully entered into the new Constitution scheme will, of course, remain unaffected. These are standing obligations just as in the case of the Dominion of South Africa, where there was an obligation in respect of certain territories continuing after the creation of the new Dominion.
As to the intermediate preparations for the meeting of that body, I think the hon. Member for West Leyton asked whether the enlarged Executive were to be a body to begin preliminary work. They certainly have not been selected for that purpose, and have very definite and important duties which they are to perform. At the same time, I would quote the words of the White Paper:His Majesty's Government hope that in this process"—I am talking of the process of co-operation in the war effort by the enlarged Executive and by the War Advisory Council—new bonds of union and understanding will emerge, and thus pave the way towards the attainment by India of that free and equal partnership which remains the proclaimed and accepted goal of the Imperial Crown and the British Parliament.In the atmosphere of co-operation, instead of differences which have been intensified by what I might call a long-range political cannonading of the parties at each other, we may get another perspective, in the light of the greater consciousness of India's unity in the world. If that task of investigation, study and discussion is begun now, the further it is carried, the more thoroughly it is worked out, obviously the more speedily can the actual reconstruction of the Government of India take place afterwards. Clearly we cannot recast the whole of an Empire in the midst of a life-and-death struggle. This must be something which must arise out of agreement with the Indians themselves. That does not mean that we should wash our hands of it and set it aside. On the contrary, as the White Paper again says, His Majesty's Government will not only welcome, but promote, in any way possible, every sincere, practical step that may be taken. We shall certainly make every 923 effort to encourage the horses to go to the water, but it may not always be in our power to make them drink.
That brings me to one note which very largely ran through the speech of the hon. Member for West Leyton. I entirely agree with him that it is our business to try to understand India's outlook and deal with it, not from the point of view of a superior dealing with an inferior, but as equal dealing with equal. On the other hand, I think he greatly oversimplified the problem when he suggested that this was a question of whether the will of this country should be imposed upon the will of India. It is far more a question of reconciling conflicting wills in India. At present that conflict of wills is still unresolved and still very serious. We must not underestimate the seriousness of those difficulties, or believe that they can be brushed aside by treating India as if it were a homogeneous country like this, and as if those great elements, elements running into tens of millions, can be regarded as those continually fluctuating minorities with which we are accustomed to deal in this country. They are stubborn facts that have to be fitted somehow into the composite mosaic of India's future Constitution. At the same time, I believe sincerely that there is enough of a wider patriotism and of statesmanship in India to resolve these differences and these difficulties. It is to that statesmanship in India that we have to look in these matters. We can contribute our share of statesmanship, good will and understanding. I am well disposed to 924 believe that India will also contribute her share and that, out of our joint efforts there may emerge something of which Britons and Indians alike can be proud for generations to come, and which may make its contribution, not only to the permanent strength and prosperity of our own British Commonwealth, but also, by its example, to the regeneration of a distressed world.
§ 11.25 p.m.
§ Miss Rathbone (Combined English Universities)
Before my right hon. Friend sits down will he be good enough to answer one more question or listen to one more plea? It is a note which has not been struck before this evening. When he is choosing or advising the Viceroy as to the choice of those representatives of the national life of India, as a whole, he will not, I am sure, forget the importance of having the women of India represented as well as the men. He will remember, I hope, the often-quoted words in the report of Sir John Simon many years ago that the women of India hold the key of progress, and their influence on the future life of India would be uncalculably great. Does not that view hold at the present time, and is it not desirable that what might prove to be a reconciling influence should be brought into these new discussions?
§ Question, "That this House do now adjourn," put, and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-six Minutes after Eleven o'Clock.