§ First Resolution read a Second time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."
§ Sir Hugh O'Neill
On a point of Order. This Debate takes place on the Report stage of the Estimates for the India and Burma Services. How far would it be in Order, Sir, to go into general constitutional questions in India; or must we confine ourselves strictly to the administrative changes which were notified by the Secretary of State the other day?
§ Mr. Speaker
We cannot go into constitutional changes in India. That is obviously a matter which will need legislation.
§ The Secretary of State for India (Mr.Amery)
On Tuesday of last week I made a brief statement on the recent expansion of the Viceroy's Executive Council and on the formation of an All-India National Defence Council. The purpose of to-day's Debate, as I understand it, is to enable me to explain, in somewhat fuller detail, the nature and purpose of these measures, and to afford opportunities for their discussion in relation to the general Indian policy of His Majesty's Government. In order to understand that policy, it is essential that the Committee should keep clearly in mind the fundamental change which has come over the whole Indian problem since those long discussions which preceded the passing of the present Government of India Act six years ago. The whole issue in debate in those days was whether, and, if so, how far, this country could, or should, transfer its authority for the government of India as a whole to Indian hands. That was the issue as between Indian political leaders and this House. That was also the issue on which we ourselves were most keenly divided. That issue, as an issue of principle, has passed outside the field of 1681 controversy. It is to-day a matter of general acceptance that India should, as soon as is practicable, attain to Dominion status, or, as I prefer to describe it, to free and equal partnership in our British Commonwealth. How far that policy is to be expedited, what provision will still have to be made for the carrying out of obligations imposed upon us by the past or by India's present dependence of this country for her defence—those are matters which, however important in themselves, are still matters of detail and method rather than of fundamental principle.
To-day the major issue is not whether India should govern herself, but how is she to govern herself; under what type of Constitution is it possible to preserve her unity and yet secure freedom and reasonable self-expression for the varied elements which compose her national life? Six years ago that issue had hardly loomed over the horizon. We knew, of course, that there was a communal problem, and we assumed that we had met it by providing a separate communal franchise. We knew there were the hesitations of the Princes as to their powers, and we provided specially favourable terms to induce them to come in. But we and Indian political leaders alike took it for granted that the Central Government of India should follow the customary lines of our British system of responsible Parliamentary Government, and the Act of 1935 was framed on that assumption.
The course of events since then, experience in the actual working of responsible government in the Provinces, has raised the most formidable queries as to the possibility of that system in India, at any rate so far as the Central Government of India is concerned. We must remember that our system of government here, which we rightly prize as the most flexible and efficient form of democracy in the world, that system which seems to us so natural and so easily workable, does depend entirely for its working upon certain indispensable conditions. It postulates a party system in which loyalty to party is never the supreme loyalty, but is always in the last resort subordinate to a sense of loyalty to the national interests as a whole and to responsibility for the working of Parliament. That system of ours is based on majority decision, because it assumes that the majority is in every case the result of free discussion, and that the 1682 minorities to-day will very probably be the majorities to-morrow. Where these conditions do not exist, where party loyalty and party discipline override all other considerations, where party executives outside Parliament are the only arbiters of policy and the real rulers where the minority always remain the underdog —there our system ceases to be workable and other methods have to be devised to preserve freedom and democracy.
In India, experience of party government has, rightly or wrongly, convinced great and powerful elements in Indian national life that their rights and their liberties would not be assured under the central provisions of the present Act, or, indeed, under any amendment of it, but would still leave the executive control of all India in the hands of a Government dependent upon a Parliamentary majority from day to day, a majority which in turn obeys unswervingly the dictates of an outside body. This reaction against the danger of what is called a Congress Raj or Hindu Raj has gone so far as to lead to a growing demand from Moslem quarters for the complete breaking-up of India into separate Hindu and Moslem dominions. I need say nothing to-day of the manifold and, to my mind, insuperable objections to such a scheme, at any rate in its extreme form. I would only note this, that it merely shifts the problem of permanent minorities to somewhat smaller areas without solving it. It is a counsel of despair and, I believe, of wholly unnecessary despair, for I do not doubt that there is enough constructive ability and enough good will among Hindus and Moslems, and enough Indian patriotism, to find a constitutional solution which will give fair recognition to all interests.
That, at any rate, was the conclusion embodied in the declaration—a far-reaching declaration—which His Majesty's Government made in August last, and which was announced to India by Lord Linlithgow. Responding to the widespread criticism of the Act of 1935, which was imposed upon India by Parliament here, it invited Indians, by agreement among themselves, to devise the framework of the Indian Constitution in accordance with the social, economic and political structure of Indian life. While the resulting new Constitution could not, in our view, be set in operation in the midst 1683 of our present struggle for existence, the declaration promised every help to enable matters to be brought to a conclusion with the least possible delay after the war, as well as to promote every sincere and practical step that representative Indians might take, meanwhile, to arrive at agreement.
Let me make that point clear. The problem is not an easy one, and even if there were no war, finding an agreed solution would be bound to take time in India, as it has everywhere else. All the more reason then, it seem to me, for Indians to get together now to make a beginning on this high inquiry. It is an essential matter for them, because it affects their relations among themselves and also because the right and the responsibilty for doing so come naturally with the claim to self-government. That declaration came as a welcome assurance to Moslems and other important elements that their fate would not be settled over their heads by some bargaining between the Government here and the Congress Party. On the other hand, it is perfectly true that it did come as a shock not only to Congress but also to many other moderate elements in India and even here, because it made clear that a new stage must inevitably intervene before India could obtain her goal. It is not infrequently the climber's fate in the high mountains when, after hours of arduous toil up steep and difficult rock he reaches what he believed to be the summit, only to find that the real summit lies further back, separated, very possibly, by a narrow and treacherous ridge of snow or ice. He finds that a new effort, less strenuous perhaps but calling for even greater skill and a new technique is still required of him before the final victory. Just so it seems to me there is to-day a call on Indian statesmen for a new and different effort for a new technique of consultation and conciliation with each other rather than that of addressing demands to this House or belabouring the Government of India.
In these new conditions of technique civil disobedience cuts no ice because it bears no relation to the real issues. On the other hand, I need not say that I welcome most sincerely the resolution which was passed at Poona by a conference of non-party leaders urging their 1684 Chairman, Sir Tej Sapru, to take steps immediately to initiate an examination of the problem of the future Constitution of a united India. No Indian statesman is better qualified than Sir Tej Sapru to address himself both to the actual constitutional problem itself and to the many personal elements which have to be brought together and reconciled before a solution can be found. In this connection I should like to correct a misapprehension which, judging by the terms of another resolution passed by the same conference, seems to have been entertained in some quarters. It is that in insisting upon agreement between the principal elements in India's national life, we were thinking only of the major political parties. The main elements in Indian national life include not only political organisations and the great religious and cultural communities of India; they also include geographical and administrative entities, the Provinces of British India, more especially those which have not thrown away the responsibility for self-government, and the Indian States. Nor is the substantial agreement which we wish to see achieved necessarily dependent on the fiat of party leaders.
That brings me to the other half of the policy announced last August. Having deliberately, and I venture to say rightly and even necessarily, remitted to Indian hands the framing of India's future constitution, His Majesty's Government wished as an interim policy, and within the framework of the existing Constitution, to associate Indian leaders more closely, more intimately and more responsibly with the government of their country during the war. We wished to do so in order to emphasise the undoubted unity of purpose between India and ourselves in the present struggle against the evil forces which are just as hateful to every section in India as they are to ourselves, and also for the defence of India's own existence. At the same time we also cherished the hope that in the process of working together for the common cause Indian statesmen would find new bonds of mutual understanding and of union which would help towards a solution of their constitutional problem. Our interim policy was, indeed, conceived as the most practical contribution we could make at this stage towards the goal in view. It prejudged no constitutional issue. It committed no-one who co-operated in it 1685 to anything beyond his individual cooperation in the war effort. But it would afford a wider range of administrative responsibility and experience to Indian public men and be, at any rate, an earnest of our desire to see the Government of India increasingly entrusted to Indian hands.
It was with these objects in view that Lord Linlithgow was authorised to enlarge his Executive Council, so as to make it comprise a majority of Indian members, and at the same time to set up a War Advisory Council which would serve as a means of contact between the Central Government and the local war effort all over India, including the Indian States. For his enlarged Executive Council the Viceroy naturally turned, in the first instance, to the leaders of the political parties. He could hope, by enlisting their co-operation, to secure automatically a wide measure of support from the Legislature, as well as from the political organisations throughout the country. In that hope Lord Linlithgow was disappointed. Congress rejected co-operation out of hand, refusing even to discuss the matter, and launched their futile campaign of challenging imprisonment by the delivery of speeches calculated and intended to impede the war effort. The other main parties, Moslem and Hindu, while accepting in principle, put forward conflicting claims and stipulations which it was impossible for the Viceroy to reconcile. In the end, Lord Linlithgow was compelled reluctantly to admit that even his unwearied efforts— and I may remind hon. Members that they have been carried on ever since the beginning of the war —to bring the party leaders together could not succeed in face of their mutual jealousies and suspicions.
That did not mean an abandonment of his policy. As I stated last August, the Viceroy was determined, if the leaders remained uncooperative, to go ahead, prepared to work with those who were ready to work with him and with each other. On every hand, too, evidence reached Lord Linlithgow of growing public annoyance in India with purely partisan manoeuvres and of a growing sense of frustration that these manoeuvres should be allowed to prevent the great body of competent and able Indians, willing to co-operate in the war effort, and thus express the desire of the vast 1686 majority of Indian people, from serving their country in its hour of need. The conference that met in Bombay last March, under the chairmanship of Sir Tej Sapru, clearly voiced that sense of frustration. So did our last Debate in the House. Their demands, though expressed in a form, as I ventured to point out in the Debate on 22nd April, open to serious practical objection, still expressed a spirit with which both the Viceroy and myself were largely in sympathy, and to which we were resolved to give effect.
Accordingly, Lord Linlithgow, leaving the parties to pursue their own controversies, decided to address himself directly to those Indian public men who, as individuals, were by their ability or their essentially representative character best fitted to strengthen the Government both in the actual work of administration and in the eyes of the public, and to appeal to them to come forward and, putting India first, play their part in the conduct of India's defence. How rightly he judged the public temper and the character of Indian public men will be apparent from the fact that, with hardly an exception, all those whom he approached in the first instance as the men best qualified for the task that he had in view, responded unhesitatingly and without regard to previous party affiliations.
India is at war, and the menace of war may well draw closer to her frontiers, both from the East and from the West within the next few months. Consequently, the governing consideration in the expansion of the Viceroy's Executive —his War Cabinet, if I may use the term —was necessarily efficiency. From that point of view there was, in any case, the strongest justification for the separation, under war conditions, of portfolios which had been previously combined, as well as for the creation of special new departments, such as Civil Defence and Information.
I notice that the Viceroy has been criticised in some quarters on the ground that he has not appointed the new Indian members to the so-called key posts of Finance and Defence. I do not think that criticism will find much echo in the House, where we fully realise the extent to which, in war time, at any rate, Supply and Labour, Civil Defence and Information are vital departments. For these undoubtedly key positions, Lord Linlith- 1687 gow has selected the men whom he believed individually best fitted for the work in hand—a great industrialist like Sir Hormusji Mody for Supply; experienced ex-Ministers and administrators like Mr. Rao and Sir Firozkhan Noon for the Departments of Civil Defence and Labour; an elder statesman of unrivalled experience and authority like Sir Akbar Hydari for Information; an independent and courageous party politician, of the Left, I may say, like Mr. Aney for a lighter department but for the work of the Legislature. Two further appointments were made necessary by the promotion to the Federal Court of Sir Muhammad Zajrullah Khan, succeeded by another eminent lawyer, Sir Sultan Ahmed, and by the transfer of Sir Girja Bajpai to the very interesting newly-created post of Indian Agent-General in Washington, attached to the British Embassy, with the rank and status of Minister Plenipotentiary—a fresh indication of India's growing importance and status—succeeded by Mr. Nalini Sarker, recently Finance Minister in Bengal. To attempt to make so small a body as the Executive representative of all the different elements of India's national life would obviously have been impossible. The important thing was to find a team of individual competence and ability and willing to share the collective work and responsibility of the Executive, and in this, I venture to say, Lord Linlithgow has definitely succeeded.
The old Executive contained, apart from the Viceroy, four European and three Indian members. In the new Executive there will be eight Indians to four European members, a majority of two to one, a development which marks a change, not perhaps in the form, but at any rate in the spirit of our Indian administration. The National Defence Council, on the other hand, will, except for the presence of one representative of the European commercial community and another of the resident Anglo-Indian community, be entirely Indian in composition. This National Defence Council is essentially a body representative of all the elements, communal, local, political, of the whole national life of India; of India in the fullest sense of the word, for on it will be nine representatives of the Indian States whose Rulers have shown 1688 their patriotism and their loyalty in such full measure during the present war. The 22 members from British India include representatives not only of the different Provinces and communities, but also of industry, commerce and agriculture. Labour is effectively represented both by Dr. Ambedkar, the unwearied champion of the scheduled castes, which include so large a proportion of the most depressed elements of the working classes, and by Mr. Jamnadas Mehta, who represents the railway workers. Nor must 1 pass without mentioning the inclusion of a representative of the women's interests in the shape of the Begum Shah Nawaz. It would, I think, have been difficult by any process to secure a better cross-section or microcosm of India's national life in all its rich variety.
It may be said that this is not a truly representative body because its members owe their position to the personal invitation of the Viceroy and not directly to popular election, and also because the largest and most highly organised political party has deliberately excluded itself. It is, I think, worth while pointing out, in answer to that criticism, that of the 22 British Indian members' no fewer than 16 are elected members of their legislatures, including four Prime Ministers, and if those great Provinces, Bengal, the Punjab, Assam and Sind, with a population of more than 100,000,000 souls, are not represented by their Prime Ministers, I do not know who could claim to represent them. It is perfectly true that Congress, in its present mood, is not represented, but a very considerable proportion of the members—and this applies to the Executive Council as well as to the National Defence Council—have been closely associated with Congress in the past, and, if they have recently differed from the political tactics of the Congress High Command, that does not mean that they are in any sense less genuine in the strength of their national convictions. The National Defence Council is in no sense a collection of "Yes-men," scraped together by the Viceroy in order to produce a facade of Indian support. It is a body of patriotic Indians who have readily come forward to help their country at a critical juncture. This National Defence Council is an advisory body, and its main purpose is to bring the war effort in the Provinces and States, as well as in the ranks of commerce, industry and labour, 1689 into more direct and effective touch with the Central Government. It will meet periodically under the Viceroy's chairmanship, both to be informed of, and to discuss, the course of events and the policy of the Government, and to convey to the Government the suggestions as needs of the localities or interests they represent.
There will thus be a continual contact and exchange of views and information both ways, between the Viceroy and his Executive, and the Provincial or State Governments, local war committees or industrial organisations, which should be most helpful in guiding and in stimulating India's war effort. I might add further, as an instance of the anxiety of the Indian Government to procure the closest possible contact with public opinion and to strengthen the Indian element in the administration, the creation on the initiative of the late Commander-in-Chief, General Claude Auchinleck, since confirmed by General Wavell, of a Defence Committee of the Legislature in order to keep members in touch with the work of the Defence Departments, and the appointment of a very able Indian official as joint secretary of that Department. These measures have not brought about any change in the existing Constitution of India. Even if it were possible to change the basis of powers and authority in the middle of a crisis so menacing to India's very existence, no such transfer would be feasible without some measure of agreement, such as, unfortunately, does not exist to-day, as to the kind of constitution under which the various main elements of India's national life would be willing to work together.
The immediate object of these measures has been to increase the efficiency of government, and at the same time to make fuller use of a vast and so far untapped reservoir of Indian ability and patriotism. At the same time they are an earnest of our desire to transfer to Indian hands a steadily increasing share in the control of India's destiny. They mark a change in the spirit, if not in the letter, of India's Constitution. Above all, I hope, in all sincerity, that the coming together of all these distinguished representatives of every element in India's diversified and politically conflicting life may have made, at least, a beginning in breaking the political deadlock between Indians which has assumed so disquieting 1690 and, on the face of it, increasingly intractable a character. If Indians can drop considerations of party and communal rivalry in order to protect India from external danger in war, surely it should not be impossible for them to come together to find ways and means of saving her from the even greater danger which threatens her from internal strife, and of removing, in the process, the main obstacles to the attainment of her rightful position as a free and equal partner in the British Commonwealth.
It is in that hope—not overstated, I trust, for I fully recognise all the efforts of good will and of sheer constructive thought that must yet be made—that I commend to the House the measures which we have taken. I should not wish to quarrel for a moment with those who, either in this House or in India, think these measures inadequate because they do not involve those direct constitutional changes which seem to me, for the reasons I have given, impossible to bring about at this stage without intensifying India's internal difficulties. All I would ask is that the young plant which the Viceroy has with such unwearied care seeded and set in the ground, should be given the opportunity to grow, and the opportunity to fulfill the immediate task for which it was intended, and, it may be, also to develop latent possibilities of further benefit to India in directions we cannot yet foresee. Meanwhile I hope, whatever criticisms of the general policy of His Majesty's Government may be expressed— and they naturally and properly will be expressed in this House to-day— that nothing will be said which can be calculated to discourage the men who have come forward to serve India, or to weaken their hands in the high task to which they have set themselves for India's sake.
§ Mr. Ammon (Camberwell, North)
I observed in the Press a few days ago a statement to the effect that there was some difference of opinion in the House as to the advisability of holding a discussion on the Indian situation. I think the House will agree that the speech to which we have listened alone justifies that this matter should come under consideration. I accept the right hon. Gentleman's injunction that, whatever is said by way of criticism, nothing shall be said which will in any way create the feeling that we are 1691 criticising the Government or trying to hamper the efforts that they may make to find a solution to the problem. The House is indebted to the right hon. Gentleman, not for the first time, for the clear and lucid statement which he always makes, and we are fully apprised of all that is involved in the setting-up of this new body. This is the third time since August, 1940, that the subject of India has come under discussion, and very much the same question as we are now considering, and really, in effect, so far as settling the general question of discontent in India is concerned, we are no nearer a solution now than we were then. It is a matter for regret that we should now find ourselves in that position.
In spite of any criticisms that I may level, I hope and trust that the new suggestions will be given a fair trial. I hope they may meet with all the success that the right hon. Gentleman thinks they will, but he himself has given us rather cogent reasons why they are not likely to, for he admitted, first of all, that the Pakistan and/or the Congress solution will be a difficult one and could not be applied, because of the difficulty of getting any common agreement, as we can do in a country like our own, based on popular selection and popular election. These things at the very outset indicate that he does not hope really at bottom that he has found any solution of the problem which we are considering. In spite of all that he has put forward and all the appeals that he has made, the statement of Sir Tej Sapru still stands. There never was a time when the Government of India were less in contact with the people of India than at present. That was quoted in the last Debate that we had, and further evidence in support of it has come from quite impartial quarters. I was very interested to note that recently, at a conference of the Methodist Church in this country, at the instigation of those in touch with the missionary movement in India, a resolution of far-reaching importance was carried indicating the dissatisfaction and discontent still obtaining in India and, what is more, calling attention to the very dangerous situation that then obtained. This is the largest Protestant body operating in India. It is a powerful body of opinion in this country and still more powerful in the 1692 United States. They have made some statements which cannot be ignored, simply because these people are in touch with the ordinary life of the common people and to a large extent know their reactions and their point of view. I want to quote one or two points that they put forward in the resolution, which was carried only last week: They say:Owing to the severe and unexplained limitations of news in the Press the British public is in general unaware of the extreme gravity of the Indian situation. In a country the overwhelming majority of whose people are by conviction opposed to Hitler and the totalitarian view of life more than 5,000 people, including seven Prime Ministers and nearly 20 Cabinet Ministers, the President of the National Congress and Mr. Nehru are in prison. It is recognised that reasons may be given to explain this situation but they do not alter the fact that it points to a failure in statesmanship for which it is hard to find excuse.That is an expression of opinion evidently held by large numbers of Indians and voiced by people whom we should call normally non-political. They went on to indicate that there are some things that could be done immediately, over and above what the right hon. Gentleman has suggested, to get a better public opinion in that country. For instance, they say you. would do a good deal to improve public opinion if there was a frank acknowledgment in this country, and by this Government, of our mistake in committing India to war without consulting her— that is still a very sore point with many people in India— and if it was definitely declared that it is our intention to grant Dominion status in the Statute of Westminster sense immediately after the war. I understand the right hon. Gentleman said it was the intention to grant Dominion status after the war, but what do we mean by that? Is it to be on the lines of the Statute of Westminster? If it is not, I am very certain that India would not agree to be in any inferior position as a Dominion to any of the other Dominions.
§ Sir Stanley Reed (Aylesbury)
Sixteen months ago the Viceroy in Bombay declared categorically and definitely that the form of Dominion status to be offered to India was in the terms of the Statute of Westminster, and he made that statement with the full sanction and authority of this country.
§ Mr. Graham White (Birkenhead, East)
Did not the Secretary of State say that there were no grades of Dominion status, that there was only one form of it?
§ Mr. Ammon
This amounts to little or nothing unless there is with it, as regards the conference now meeting of those classes not in the ordinary political sections, a clear definition of India's postwar status, including a declaration that within a brief specific period after the end of the war India should enjoy the same freedom as Britain and the Dominions. We have had statements over a long period of years that certain things would be done x years hence, but there has never been anything definite as to when it will be made possible for it to become operative. That is a thing which is really worrying India, and to meet it would go a very long way towards smoothing the path and making it impossible for those who are so concerned to stir up trouble. Another suggestion that was made by this conference has, I think, to a large measure been met. They ask for something much like the proposal we now have before us to be implemented. They also point out that the duty of the Government is not discharged with regard to India if by any means they have not been able to come to an agreement between the two parties. That surely places upon the Government the necessity of finding some measure by which they can arrive at a solution of the problem.
The right hon. Gentleman has said that Indians are not excluded from the chief executive posts in India. Whatever might be the importance that the right hon. Gentleman attaches to the positions to which he has referred, it goes without saying that in India the posts of Defence and Finance are considered the outstanding and important positions. Why should he seek to keep the Indians away from those important posts? It is because we seek to do the right thing very often in the wrong way that a great deal of hostility is unnecessarily continued. I am not sure that the Viceroy is expected 1694 to act upon the advice that he receives from this Council. The Lord Privy Seal advised me on one occasion that the Prerogative of the Crown still runs in this country, equally as it does in India, but not in quite the same way. When you have a free Parliament elected by a free people who are in essence the real Government, the Government are not the same as one placed in the position of the Indian Government; so that this proposal is to a certain extent discounted by the fact that their authority is to a large extent limited by a power of veto which can be exercised by the Viceroy.
As the right hon. Gentleman left the position just now, we are still in the old position of having the warring sections, and, although he has managed to get together a large number of eminent Indian gentlemen to help see India through during the war, India cannot altogether rid herself of the idea that after all the main concern is not so much to help Indians as to help us during the war situation. We have brought that about, unfortunately, by the manner in which we brought India into it from the beginning. Instead of bringing her in freely, understanding and appreciating the position, every step we take seems to point out that we are trying in some way or other to bring India in to help us out of our difficulty, regardless of her own point of view. I want to pay a high tribute to the gallantry, bravery and valour of the Indian people during the present struggle. It would be churlish and stupid to ignore it, just as it would be not to recognise that the proposal which the right hon. Gentleman has brought before us is a considerable advance in the endeavour to arrive at a better understanding.
We are still in the position, however, in which India has yet no definite and clear understanding as to when she is likely to regain her full freedom. Numbers of the most eminent citizens are incarcerated, and I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman can do a great deal if he takes his courage in his hands and chances the result of letting the political prisoners out of prison and showing that in present circumstances we are prepared to trust them. I think he would find that it would be worth while. After all, a person like Mr. Nehru is a person of some standing and consequence. I rate him much higher in his desire for co-operation with this 1695 country than I do Mr. Gandhi. Mr. Ghandi is fundamentally an anarchist and is not likely to arrive at agreement with anyone. Mr. Nehru is a statesman, and if attempts are made to bring him into full co-operation, I believe that in present circumstances he will readily co-operate with us. We have still to regard the tremendous mass of illiteracy and economic degradation that exists. About 90 per cent, of the people are affected in this way. It is no use our feeling a spirit of complacency as we do when we hear statements made like that of the right hon. Gentleman. They show that we are endeavouring to do the right thing, and we feel a sort of smug complacency with ourselves that we are acting generously and broad-mindedly. These people, however, are Indian people, who are not in the same position as we are. They are not free people as we are, but take entirely different views. As the right hon. Gentleman said, their views with regard to free institutions are entirely different from ours. It is no good arguing this case as if we were arguing it with people who have the same training, background and environment as people in Europe.
Another way has to be found. It might be that the right hon. Gentleman has made a step in that direction, that he has found that cross-section of middle enlightened opinion that may grow and spread and help us towards a better understanding and association between the two peoples. I trust that may be so, and nobody will be more delighted than myself if it proves to be so. However generous these proposals may appear and however gladly we accept them, the main problem still stands unsolved and untouched. India still feels that she is not free, that she has not the same political rights as other countries, and that she is being treated very much as a subordinate people. These are the things for which somehow or other we have to find a solution. I want the right hon. Gentleman clearly to understand that the position he has put before us still leaves unsettled and unsolved the condition of affairs voiced by the conference to which I have referred and by Mr. Tej Sapru, that the Government of India were never further apart from the people of India than they are at the present time.
Now that is a very serious situation, and we cannot possibly expect that we shall 1696 get the maximum effort from India while the position is like that. While I agree that India may well be warned that, bad and difficult as she may feel her position to be now, if by any mischance the British Empire were to go down in this struggle her present disorders and troubles would be as zephyrs compared with the tornado that would burst upon her, bringing her trouble, disaster, enslavement and degradation, nobody can say that we ought to hide behind that possibility. We have a position of trust, we have taken it upon ourselves, and we have to do our best to meet our obligations. So I say to the right hon. Gentleman, while acknowledging the difficulties of the situation and without wishing to say anything likely to exacerbate feeling in India, or give an impression that there will be a very strong division of opinion here while the war is in progress, that we cannot afford to ignore the present position of affairs.
We have to realise that, excellent though it may seem on the surface, the formation of the committee to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred will still leave the major problems unsolved. The persons selected are not, after all, representative of Indian opinion. They have been selected by the Government in spite of what has been said, and although they may be drawn from this stratum and the other stratum I cannot see that they will be other than "Yes" men in the sense in which we usually understand that term. Eminent as these gentlemen are, there is going to be no criticism from them. We feel that the Government might have taken their courage in their hands and gone a step further. They should have said "We want to help during this time of trouble and threatened war in India and actual war in this country, and we are willing that Dominion status should be given on full terms"— and say when, in what number of years, 5, 10, 15 or 20 years.
If we were to do that the impression would be created that we are more in earnest. As the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Sir S. Read) remarked to me some time ago, "It is not so much that they doubt us when we say that it will be given as that they feel that we shall be so taken up with the multiplicity of other affairs with which we are concerned in this House that the matter is likely to be overlooked and set aside." If a 1697 definite date were set there would then be an obligation which would be met automatically as and when it arises. Such a step would, I am sure, help to weaken the more partisan views which now divide the country in the manner with which we are all familiar. It would in time make these people realise that they will have to face the responsibilities which will be coming to them, and all would then be ready to take their part and show their intention to take over and carry on the work. The position is aggravated by religious differences and differences of race and language, but India has to be treated as a whole, and the attempt to treat it otherwise would simply mean that there would be more factions.
That is the problem for our statesmen, and I venture to say that we have not taken advantage of the opportunity which is presented, because war does to a large extent bring peoples together in common defence. We might have cashed-in on this situation better than we are doing. It is not too late even now for the right hon. Gentleman to say, that not only are we showing an earnest of our desire now to get a better understanding with the peoples of India—what he called the cross sections rather than any particular section —not only are we willing to give Dominion Status, but in a certain time we will hand over to the people of India the responsibility, meanwhile exercising all the power we have to train them and make them fit for that day when it shall arrive.
§ Lord Erskine (Brighton)
I do not think the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State will be disappointed with the reception which the proposals of the Government have had or at the response which his speech will meet with in India. The hon. Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon) said that we were no nearer to a solution of India's problem than we were two years ago. On the whole that is a true statement, but he went on to say that that showed there was a bankruptcy of statesmanship in this country. I do not agree with that remark. Is the hon. Member quite certain that there has not been some failure of statesmanship in the continent of India as well? We cannot impose a solution; we are doing our best, but we must have co-operation; and I fail to see how any British Government can be accused of a failure in statesmanship in 1698 finding a solution to the Indian problem when it is so difficult, at any rate at this moment, to get the two great parties in India to co-operate with us. He also said that in his view there never was a time when the Government of India had been more out of touch with the people. It is over a year since I left India, and I know how quickly one becomes a back number, but at the time I left India I do not think it was true to say that the Government of India were out of touch —
§ Lord Erskine
I am very sorry to have misunderstood the hon. Member, but I do not think that the Government of India are so out of touch with public opinion. I think the fact that they have been able to procure these very representative gentlemen from all classes and creeds of the India community to sit on the Executive Council and on this new Defence Council does show that there is a very great body of opinion which is prepared to co-operate with the Government of India at this time. I do not think that anyone who reads the names on these lists or who knows the individuals will say that they are not all of great ability and in touch with their own communities. I think that the policies announced by the Viceroy in the White Paper will be regarded in India as an advance. It does give Indians a majority on the Executive Council and it also does bring fresh minds to co-operate in India's war effort through the National Defence Council, but of course, this advance in the Viceroy's Executive Council is not so great as it would have been had Federation come into force. I often think it was a great pity that Federation did not come into force much earlier.
I know the very great difficulties there were in bringing it into being. I know how the present Viceroy passionately longed to get that part of the Government of India Act into working order. But various circumstances prevented that happy conclusion and it would appear that it is unlikely that the Federation, over which this House spent so much time two or three years ago, will come into being. Indeed, as the Secretary of 1699 State has said, all sorts of divisions of thought appeared among Indian politicians while the Provincial Governments were in working order and Federation had not yet been set up. All sorts of doubts and difficulties arose but I do think that had we been able to get Federation into being before the war India might well have settled down. Nevertheless it is no use crying over spilt milk. We have got, with good will, to think again.
In regard to the National Defence Council, I do think it an excellent idea to associate as many leaders as possible in India with the conduct of the war. It is also very pleasing to see so many of the leading Mohammedans consenting to take an active part—the three Prime Ministers of the Punjab, Bengal and Sind especially, all men of high standing in the Moslem world, and I feel that the Viceroy has done well in the men he has selected to serve on this Council. In fact, as we all know, only Congress and the Moslem League are left out, and the names on those lists shows very clearly that Congress and the Moslem League cannot truthfully claim to represent all Hindus and all Moslems in India, otherwise a list of names such as has been presented to-day could never have seen the light. There is an enormous amount of moderate opinion in India, but, on the whole, it is unorganised. Its leaders have no great organisations through which to work. This remark does not refer to the Justice party in Madras, to the United party in the Punjab, or to the party now in power in Bengal, but there is, all over India, a great body of moderate opinion which has no organisation through which to work and which cannot make its voice heard. India is, on the whole, still a country of villages. About 90 per cent. of the population live in those villages. Many of them are very poor, just struggling along and depending far more on a good monsoon than upon all the politics in the world. People who visit the Presidency towns often get a rather one-sided view of the Indian problem. The great India which lives in the country districts is not yet so much interested in politics as the India which lives in the towns.
That is not by any means to say that there is not a rising national feeling in India. There is. It has been growing with 1700 education and we should not object to it. After all, our whole connection with India has tended to the wish that India should become a self-governing country. It is our own policy. Great British administrators of the early East India Company days, like Sir Thomas Munro, who was the founded of the Raiyatwari system in Madras, expressed the view that when the time came when Indians would desire free institutions, it would be one of the most glorious tributes to the British race. There is no doubt that there is this growing national feeling, and there is no doubt that we are trying to meet it. The long Debates on the Government of India Act, and the great care taken with it showed that we were really desirous of making a transfer of power. But do not let us run away with the idea that the whole of India is, at the moment, one seething mass of politicians. As a matter of fact it is not, and in the country districts, as I have said, the people are far more interested in the monsoons than in politics.
I understand that the present position of the Congress party is that they will not co-operate in the war effort but that Mr. Gandhi does not desire to embarrass the British Government in the conduct of the war. It is a great mistake to think that all members of the Congress party are extremists. There are all sorts and conditions of men who call themselves Congressmen, just as there are many different views in the various parties which compose this House. Perhaps there are even greater differences of opinion in Congress than in British political parties. Many of the Congressmen are people of great moderation but they are, for the time being, tied up by a very strong party discipline—a much stronger discipline than any of us in this House have ever known. The fact that many of the Congressmen are far from extreme was shown by the great reluctance of the different Provincial Governments to resign when they were called upon to do so by the high command of the party. They would, I am sure, have preferred to have continued governing their Provinces.
It is a pity that the high command of the Congress party took the attitude which it did take. The Congress Provincial Ministries were. on the whole, carrying out their 1701 duties very well. The Ministry in the Province with which I was connected was a very able one, and it was carrying out its duties in a way which, I think, surprised some of those who thought that the Constitution would be a failure. It was the over-riding of the local wishes of the various Congress Ministries and Congress parties by the Congress high command which brought the Provincial Constitution to disaster in so many Provinces. There was certainly a very healthy political ferment going on in the Provinces and in the Provincial Government under the 1935 Act. There is no doubt that great advances were made during that period and also that many measures were undertaken which no British Government could have touched. The Government of Madras, for instance, legislated to allow untouchables to enter the temples. That was not a matter about which any British-controlled Government could have legislated. It was a matter on which Indians only could legislate for themselves and that is why I am profoundly disappointed that that Constitution which was started with such great hopes has, in so many Provinces, fallen to the ground.
On the other hand, those Provinces which are still working the Constitution and which have not Congress majorities are functioning most efficiently—the Punjab, Bengal and the two others. I do not believe that the populations of those Provinces wish to change the Constitution as it is now.
The present position is certainly difficult. We cannot force Congress or the Moslem League to co-operate, but there are many people in both those parties who are feeling a sense of frustration. They believe that if only they were back in the offices they left, they could do much good for their own communities and for India. It is true that 90 per cent. of the population of India passionately desire a British victory, because they know only too well what the alternative would mean. 1 was glad to hear the Secretary of State say that he would not believe that the policy put forward by Mr. Jinnah was a practicable one for India. For many centuries India has been trying to achieve unity and it practically achieved it for a short period under the Mogul Empire. The British Raj has finally achieved that unity. It would be a most reactionary step to split India once again into two 1702 parts. The sub-continent is one geographical unit bounded by the Himalayas. It is separated from Asia and surrounded by the sea. It may well be that there is a cauldron of populations in India, and that there are many religions, races and languages. For centuries the ideal of India has been unity. Let us not lightly cast that unity away. I do not believe that many of the leaders of the Moslem League are really attracted by the idea of a separate Hindu India and a separate Moslem India.
I believe that the solution can be found, but it would not be in Order if I went into any proposals at this moment which involve legislation. In passing, I would say that I believe a solution will be found in the granting of greater powers to the Provinces and having a lighter centre. The Provinces are great States, and in many of them there are more than 50,000,000 people. They have their own democratic Governments. I believe that our conception of a Government at Delhi ruling the whole sub-continent is one which may be compared with the position when Rome ruled Europe from Rome. As soon as the hand of Rome lightened, owing to Rome's own difficulties, the great nations of Europe as we know them to-day carved themselves out of the Roman Empire. As Roman rule ceased in Europe, all central direction also ceased. I do not want to see that happen in India. I want to see some central direction maintained, as it is essential. Perhaps a solution of Moslem difficulties will be found in greater powers for the Provinces with, at the same time, a light Federal Centre.
What can we do to alleviate the present situation? Nobody likes it, and we all want to see it cleared up. We have to exercise great patience and good will. I am sure that a better day will dawn. Moderate men will gradually assert themselves. The men who have accepted to serve on these two committees are all of moderate outlook. They are all men who have come forward to help India in its time of need. I believe that more moderate men of all parties will be desirous, in this time of war, to help India forward to self-government. If His Majesty's Government continue their present policy of conciliation and friendliness, I believe it will not be long before Congress and the Moslem League will be 1703 prepared to play their part in the government of India.
§ Mr. Graham White (Birkenhead, East)
I have not, like the Noble Lord who has just spoken, had the good fortune of practical experience in Indian affairs. We heard the Noble Lord with pleasure and interest. I can only allow myself or rather make myself speak on this subject from my deep conviction of the responsibility which lies on every Member of this House in regard to Indian affairs. As on other occasions, I profoundly regret to-day that the words of the Secretary of State could not have been heard in India. I have been led reluctantly but inevitably to the belief that no words will carry to all parties in India the conviction that we really mean what we say in regard to Dominion status and that we are determined to carry it out. If the right hon. Gentleman could have been heard, I believe that he would have convinced India, as he has convinced this House, that we are not only irrevocably committed to give India the same freedom that we enjoy ourselves, but that our honour is bound up with the fulfilment of that promise. Not only that, but the mission that we have in the world to maintain and extend freedom will fail unless we are successful in carrying out that promise of Dominion status.
I wish we could bring ourselves into closer relations with India. We are enjoying in this country the heartening presence of representatives of the United States, the Dominions and, let us not forget, Russia. It would be of great importance if we could have here representatives of all sections of the Indian people. They could see for themselves that we are sincerely determined to carry out the policy which has been announced. If words will not convince them, perhaps actual contact would do so. They could report back to India upon the sacrifices we are making, and could see with their own eyes the actual meaning of the war and learn to wonder at the sufferings we are undergoing and the sacrifice we are making, and the marvellous detachment which enables some Indians to consider their own domestic affairs at the present time, without relation to the emergency which exists elsewhere. We might hope that Mr. Gandhi himself and Mr. Jinnah 1704 could send representatives, and that Sir Tej Sapru and all parties in India might be invited to come or send representatives. I find myself asking myself, when I read reports coming from India, how much nearer the tide of battle has to come to the frontiers of India before they realise that there, as here, we must for the time being abandon many of our deeply-held convictions and beliefs, our party loyalties, and submit them to that greater loyalty which will alone enable us to gain a victory for freedom against tyranny.
I am not one of those who think that what has been taken here is an unimportant step. The establishment of the enlarged Viceroy's Council is a matter of great consequence, and I do not agree with my hon. Friend the Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon) when he said, or seemed to say, that these people were in some way "Yes-men." Anyone who looks through the list of names of those who have accepted the Viceroy's invitation to serve on the Council will realise fully that these are not men who would lend their names, reputation or time to anything which was not a matter of great consequence to India, and still less would they lend themselves to an organised hypocrisy, because that is what these bodies would be unless they in truth carried out every word which the right hon. Gentleman has said about them. I myself think they may be most important, and will have a big part to play in bringing all sections of the Indian people closer to the Central Government. I welcome, like the right hon. Gentleman, the resolution of the recent conference authorising the organisation of a Commission to consider the necessary steps to examine the main lines of India's permanent Constitution on the basis— and these words are really important:of the unity and integrity of the country, equality of status with Great Britain and the Dominions, and the promotion of international harmony and good will.I am not quite clear in my own mind just what the status and function of that body will be. I rejoice that it should be set up, but I hold the conviction that no Commission in India can reach a permanent solution, or a final settlement of India's constitutional government, unless it carries with it the great masses of opinion represented by Congress. To achieve that end, I believe we must have a political amnesty, so that many of the men 1705 who are at present languishing in gaol, men of ability, could make their contribution.
The proposals which we have welcomed in this House to-day have met the fate which must be meted out to any proposal which falls short of the ultimate goal. They are in the nature of a half-way house to the final objective which we have in view for India. It is rather like the simile which my right hon. Friend used about the mountain. When we arc ascending a mountain, it is to the top we look the whole time, if we can see it, but it is sometimes no bad thing to look back on the way we have come, for encouragement can be obtained from that. It is a method which is not sufficiently frequently adopted, and we might well adopt it in regard to India. In this case we do not measure the merit of any particular proposal in the light of its own individual purpose; the Indians in particular regard it in the light of the final objective they want to achieve. That is perhaps why the right hon. Gentleman's proposals, which we have welcomed in the House to-day, did not bring the praise which one might have hoped they would as a step in the right drection.
That leads me to the observation made by Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru at the recent conference, who deplored be complete absence of evidence of broad-minded statesmanship in the British Government and pleaded for an act of faith. "Dominion status has been promised since the last war, and there must necessarily be a time limit." We cannot remain in any half-way house in this matter, and I think we have to make it quite clear that we are engaged in a continuous march. A Commission has been set up to consider constitutional problems in India, and I think we should most earnestly consider whether we should not set up a parallel committee in India which could consult, when desired, with the Indians. I would also suggest that a small Commission should be set up in this country of persons who are versed in all constitutional and electoral matters, and I would let it be known in India that these, the most qualified persons we could find, would be at their disposal with all their experience.
Dominion status also carries with it an implication that we do not speak about sufficiently. It carries with it the neces- 1706 sity to contemplate withdrawal from India. The English services have been too long and too deeply embedded in Indian life to be withdrawn easily. In peace-time they could not be withdrawn overnight, still less in war-time. Are we preparing, and have we in mind the necessary stages for withdrawal? If we have not, the proposals for Dominion status will fail to carry conviction. I think we should at once offer to pay for the training of the supplementary personnel which would be required for taking over services which we now administer, and for coping with the immensely difficult series of problems which India, like the rest of us, will face when the war is over. I think we ought to be prepared to go further and meet the expense of training the higher personnel in this country or in the Dominions, or, if they prefer, in the United States of America, and also we should still subsidise the further development of Indian universities and technical colleges. These are some of the points which I think might well be studied now, otherwise the problems with which India will find herself faced at the beginning of peace will be something with which it will be impossible to cope. India is undergoing a rapid industrial development at the present time which we hope will contribute to her strength in peace, and we profoundly welcome her contribution to the war. That very effort itself will create new problems in peace-time, problems of changing over industry from a war basis to a peace basis, and we should be prepared and even anxious to give every assistance in the training of Indians to face these problems.
I have already said that I do not think there are any words which can be said either in this House or anywhere else which will really carry complete conviction, but I would like to associate myself with what has been said by another hon. Member in regard to unity. But we do not want mere acquiescence; we want the whole-hearted support, and the enthusiastic support, of the 400,000,000 people of India in this effort. I think we ought, in spite of all the obvious disadvantages, to give careful consideration to the proposal made for a time limit. There is something to be said for it. It would have to be a sufficiently long one, certainly not less than 10 years for complete withdrawal. It would have to be quite clear, 1707 too, that the last withdrawal to take place would be that of the military forces. If we were asked to stay longer, I think we should not stay longer than 15 years or whatever time might be chosen. If this is necessary to bring India wholeheartedly to our physical and moral support in fighting this battle, there is no risk which should not at least be considered. I am fully conscious of all the difficulties, all the risks and all the dangers there might be before us in India, but I am quite certain of one thing; there is not one of these risks and dangers which would not be modified and simplified if we could but get the confidence of the Indian people. Also, there is no danger and no risk which is to be compared with the certain danger and risk of standing still.
§ Mr. Gordon Macdonald (Ince)
One good result following the issue of this White Paper is that it has given the occasion for this Debate. I have felt for some time that it was necessary to have some Debate on India. There are those who disparage Debates on India from time to time. That is a big mistake. I realise the possibility of things being said which would be unwise, but if speeches have their dangers, I sometimes think that silence also may have its pitfalls. This is one of the cases where that would be so. I do not want, by any means, to belittle this White Paper and the suggestions contained in it. To belittle it would be as unfair as it would be unwise to exaggerate. There were one or two sentences by the Secretary of State which rather worried me. I did not think that his references to Congress were as well phrased as they usually are. I know it was unintentional, but, quite frankly, I think that to refer to Congress in the way in which he did— the withdrawal of the different Ministries— was not quite up to his usual standard.
I have found a tendency, not altogether in this House, but in some parts of the Press, not to be quite fair to Congress. That is not wise. It is not going to help us. It is not for me to try to justify here all that Congress has done. I would not do so. I think that Congress has made mistakes, but I do deplore this tendency, because it tends to give the impression in India that we are more sympathetic towards the Moslem League than to Congress. That will not help us. It is difficult to hold the balance fairly. I hope that when 1708 the Secretary of State replies later he will try to put that right. It was unintentional, I know, but it might not be so regarded in some quarters in India. I was more worried still by a reference I saw in the current issue of the "National Review." It was an article under the title "India Deadlock" by a Mr. J. C. French. I do not know him, and I have no desire to know him from my reading of this article. He says:The cause of the deadlock is Congress.— I do not think that is correct—The Congress Party is Hindu but does not include all Hindus, for the Hindu martial races who enlist in the Indian army are conspicuous by their absence. Brahmins (Priests), Kiasts (Clerks), Banias (Moneylenders), are its chief supporters. In 1937, by its skill in political intrigue, it got majorities and established Ministries in the parliaments of seven out of the eleven Indian Provinces, frankly announcing that its intention was to wreck and not to work the Constitution. Since 1930 every Congressman has taken a yearly oath demanding independence for India and separation from the Empire. In October, 1939, to avoid taking part in the war effort, it made its Ministers resign, and a year later, in October, 1940, under the guidance of Mr. Ghandi, it started an agitation against it, and all its leaders are now in gaol.I do not think references of that kind by anybody, anywhere, will help us. I cannot quite understand the reasoning of the Secretary of State to-day. He told us that this body of men included in the White Paper was a very fine body of men, who, though they do not represent any specific section of the parties in India, were representative of the various cross-sections of India and included four Prime Ministers. I do not know if he has had the opportunity of reading an article in the "New Statesman and Nation." The writer knows very well these men who have been appointed, but he does not seem quite so complimentary as the Secretary of State. Since these men are well-known, it is not for us in any way to reflect on their integrity or ability. But this article is rather good, and I would suggest to the Secretary of State that he might spend some time during the week-end reading it. In referring to the fact of the four Prime Ministers, it mentions that a number of ex-Prime Ministers are in gaol. I would suggest to the Lord President of the Council, whose knowledge of India, I always feel, exceeds the knowledge of most Members of this House, that if this personnel is so excellent, could it not be trusted a 1709 little further? If they are such a fine body of men cannot the Viceroy accept their advice? Why does the Viceroy, with such a fine body of men whom he has chosen, tell them to come along but not to forget that he will over-rule them if he thinks it necessary. I should have thought that such a fine body of men, which the Viceroy has chosen, would have his confidence to such an extent that he would have said to them that whatever they decided in Council he would accept.
§ The Lord President of the Council (Sir John Anderson)
Is my hon. Friend referring to the War Advisory Council?
§ Sir S. Reed
Might I remind the hon. Member that the Viceroy's Executive Council is a statutory body? Every member has statutory rights, which are clearly defined. It is true that the Viceroy has the power of veto, but, if he exercises it, he must report it to the Secretary of State, and, if the Secretary of State agrees, that brings it to the Floor of this House, where it may be challenged.
§ Mr. Macdonald
If the hon. Member had continued a little longer, he would have made a very good speech in the Debate. I was referring to both Councils. I realise that the Viceroy does not exercise his veto senselessly. The probability is that he would in the majority of cases agree with his Council. If this White Paper was intended as a step forward, or to give the impression in India, that it is a step in the direction in which we have promised to go, it would not have been unwise to have said so. This Council has the confidence of the Viceroy—which very largely means, not entirely, of the British Government—to such an extent that I will accept that position. When he came to the reasons why questions of Defence and Finance are excluded, it seemed to me that the Secretary of State was arguing that they are not quite so important. If that is so, what is the reason why they should not be included? That is the impression I pot from the speech of the Secretary of State, but it may be that the Lord President of the Council had a different impression. We are told that questions of Supply and Labour are important questions in this country. Are they not equally important in India? If they are included, why not the unimportant questions of Finance and Defence? The Secretary of State 1710 was not quite up to his usual standard when he put that forward.
We in this House know that this is a step forward—no one would deny it—but it is a very short step. Why have so short a step? We are told that we cannot do anything until the different parties in India come to an agreement, but let it be understood that everything we have done in India has been done without the consent of India. We have never had agreement in India for anything we have done there. Why then keep trotting out this argument? Indians believe that we use it because we know that the parties are irreconcilable and will never get together. If we are always using this argument, it undermines confidence, and there is need for confidence, not only in this country, but in India. What is wrecking the whole business is that Indians know we have not much confidence in India. India has less confidence in us. Is this White Paper going to restore confidence?
The Secretary of State has said that India must realise that before long the. war may be nearer her boundaries than it is to-day. It has been said that Congress is under Russian influence, and, quite frankly, I think myself there is something to be said for that view, but at the moment Russia is our Ally, and I, for one, am very pleased that she is our Ally. She is doing a good day's work for us. Will not that modify Congress views to some extent? Because of that, could we not be a little bolder? I do not ask for a general amnesty of political prisoners, because I know the risk of that, but I do ask for an investigation. I think there are some men in prison in India who ought to be released, and I think that the release of these men would help to restore confidence. I am quite certain that keeping them in gaol will not help the war effort as much as releasing them. I would ask the Lord President of the Council to consider whether he could not advise the Secretary of State to be bold in this matter of the release of prisoners. Again, why should not Congress be allowed to meet? I am quite certain that Congress would decide to support the war to-day. I know these are risky things, which are easily said in the House of Commons, but I think we have to take risks. The constant repetition, the 1711 almost nauseating repetition, that we stand for Dominion status will have to be translated into action, otherwise the Indian people will get tired.
I quite agree that it is very easy to criticise the Secretary of State, and that his task is a difficult one, but not all the difficulties are in India. I hate to mention what I am now going to say, but I think it ought to be mentioned by someone. I mentioned it some few months ago. The Prime Minister of this country has not been very progressive where Indian policy has been concerned. We here almost adore him as a leader in time of war. I do not think we could have a better leader in time of war than the Prime Minister. I think the indebtedness of the nation and of civilisation to the present Prime Minister is very great. But it is no use blinding ourselves. He has a past where India is concerned, and that past is known in India. The very fact that he is Prime Minister to-day, coupled with the lack of a forward policy creates the suspicion that he is responsible. I am not going through the names of all the members of the War Cabinet one by one and trying to place them— the Lord President of the Council will know each one's position— so I confine my attention to the Prime Minister. Would the Lord President of the Council consider a request from a humble back bencher that he should suggest to the Prime Minister that he might seek an opportunity, either in this House or elsewhere, of making some declaration of a progressive kind, so that India might hear it and the world might hear it? That, in my opinion, would have a great effect.
We applauded the other day, quite rightly, the news that Russia and Poland had come together. I would like a declaration by the Prime Minister, couched in his own masterly phraseology, that he himself stood for a more progressive policy, that he undertook quite definitely that when the war was over, when India had helped to win the war, certain things which we were pledged to give would be given within a reasonable period. I am quite certain that the Prime Minister, with his past record in regard to India, must come out quite openly on this issue or he will be suspect by India. I hope the Lord President of the Council will make the suggestion to the Prime Minister that 1712 he should seek a suitable opportunity of making a declaration of this kind.
I do not think we ought to stress too much that India would be worse off if we lost the war. That is unnecessary. India realises that, and India realises that British rule, although not all she wants, is far superior to the rule of any other nation. I think we have done well for India. I am not one of those who disparage the British connection with India, for it has been advantageous and beneficial to India. Let me put it to the Lord President of the Council that India realises we have to win this war for the sake of India. Indians do not want us to tell them that they will be worse off if we lose the war. What they want to know is what they will gain if we win the war.
They say, "We fought with you side by side 20 years ago. As a result, there grew up a certain amount of confidence between us, which brought a big step forward. We are fighting side by side again. Are you prepared to give an undertaking that a similar step-— perhaps a greater step—will be taken in India to that which was taken as a result of the last war?" I ask the Lord President of the Council to persuade his colleagues in the War Cabinet to consider whether the time has not come when we in this country, could do more than we have done to show India that we are not only talking, but are taking definite steps in the direction in which for many years we have promised to go.
§ Sir George Schuster (Walsall)
I am sure we all appreciate the speeches we have heard from the opposite benches, though we may not agree with all the details of what has been said. If I had been following my hon. Friend the Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon), I should have attempted— although I entirely agree with the objects of his Speech— to traverse a good many of his detailed statements. It is a little late to do so now, but there are three points he made with which I would like to deal. One of his references was to the illiteracy and poverty of the Indians. None of us who have been in India can fail to be conscious that an improvement in their condition is one of the greatest tasks which lies before any authority that is responsible in India. I would remind hon. Members that since the introduction of the 1713 1935 Act, the powers over all those measures which most nearly affect the education and the agricultural advancement of the people have remained with the Provincial Governments, which have complete and utter freedom.
§ Sir G. Schuster
Money is always a great difficulty, but I submit— and this is a subject on which I have thought a great deal — that if there is a progressive policy, the economic conditions will improve themselves. The point I wanted to make was that those Indian Ministers who had that responsibility in seven Provinces threw it all away. That has been one of the most tragic features of the recent situation.
To turn to another point, my hon. Friend referred to his disappointment that the portfolios of Finance and Defence had not been put into Indian hands. I have already expressed in this House the view that I should be glad to see an Indian Finance Minister; indeed, I went further and said that I wished I was myself in India so that I might have had the chance to resign my position and serve as Under-Secretary under some Indians that I know. But when my hon. Friend makes the point that these two portfolios are key portfolios, I would remind him of the point made by the Secretary of State— that we should remember that we are in war conditions and consider the relative importance of these Portfolios as we know them here. Perhaps I might bring the point home by saying that if we take the initials of the dominant ministers we might almost call our Government a "B.B.C." Government. If you look at the new appointments for India you will find that the two "Bs" there are in Indian hands— and they have no "C." I refer, of course, to the Minister of Labour and the Minister of Supply as the two "Bs." Those are two key positions in India as they are here.
To take a third point, which brings me to the main thread of my own remarks, my hon. Friend said, or rather quoted statements from others to the effect that the Government of India has never been more out of touch with the people of India than they had been recently. He did me the honour of suggesting that I myself had said something to that effect. I cannot 1714 remember whether I said exactly that, but I must confess that my feeling in the past has been one of considerable disquiet that the Government of India were in fact too narrowly official and out of touch with the people of India. That was one of the things that made one feel that we ourselves were in the wrong. But the great point is that that has been entirely changed by the new proposals that we are debating to-day. Therefore, when my hon. Friend says that we have made no progress on the road since we last discussed India, I suggest that he is entirely wrong. I regard this as an immense advance. It has made the Government of India truly representative, and has brought them into a position where they can really fairly claim to command the respect of the Indian people. Therefore I should like to congratulate the Secretary of State and the Viceroy on having brought this measure through. 1 naturally do so with added pleasure, because it is exactly the measure that I myself recommended some months ago. The great thing is that they have got these men to come forward and serve in the Government or on the Advisory Council. I am proud to say that I think I can call all those who have joined the Executive Council personal friends of mine. They are certainly not a team of yes-men. They have all made their reputations in the world outside— both in politics and business— by their independence. Indeed although I hope I can claim their friendship, and although they certainly have my respect, they were mostly my political opponents, and I learned to respect not only their independence but also their power of language. And now I feel that they have never shown greater courage than in coming forward, at this supreme crisis, to serve their country.
So far, so good. But it is only so far. Let no one say "so far and no further." Where do we stand now? What are the possibilities of this new move? What more remains to be done, by us and by Indians? It is necessary to clear the issues. Otherwise, we get nothing but confusion and muddy waters in which political agitators can fish with success. Let us be quite clear that this step is not offered as a solution for the fundamental problem of India. It is only a provisional measure, dealing with the war emergency. The fundamental problem remains. I want to consider what that means, and what steps 1715 we ought to take. First then, while this is only a provisional measure, it touches the issues which are of immediate, practical, vital importance to India. I do not think that enough has been made of that in the speeches up to now. I, myself, writing on the subject in May, said that I thought there were two supreme, immediate needs in India: first, to get a representative team in the Government; and, secondly, to make India appreciate her own danger as well as the supreme opportunity which mobilising her full war effort would give her. I said that if we had the first, we could secure the second, and that by securing it we might create an entirely new atmosphere in India. Co-operation in a common task, of which the urgency and the opportunity were appreciated might arouse an enthusiasm in which political and communal quarrels might be forgotten and pacifist preaching come to appear so unrelated to reality that both the doctrine and the preachers would fade into insignificance.
I felt then, in May, that it was impossible to suppose that India's full war effort could be mobilised if we had, responsible for the Government of India, nothing but a small official team. I felt that if India was to put her whole heart into the effort, it must be an Indian effort, led by Indians and preached to the country by leading Indians at great public meetings. I thought, What a story could be told! Here is India's chance to make herself strong—strong enough to stand equal to all the great countries of the Commonwealth—with which we hope to see her share equal status—including Britain herself. Here is an opportunity to build herself up into a great industrial Power. Such a story, I thought, could never be told effectively by a small official team. But now I think it can be told, as I want it to be told, by the men who have come in under this new plan to sit on the Viceroy's Council or be closely associated with the Government on the Defence Committee. I do hope that the opportunity will be taken and that they will go about the country preaching to India—not that they ought to come to help us in "our" war because "our" defeat would be their disaster—but to tell Indians that this is their war just as much as ours. That is a point which I think has not been sufficiently brought out in 1716 the speeches which have been made so far to-day. It is a point which needs to be made all the time.
Now we have the team, I hope they will tell the story, and in addition to that, I hope they will keep their eyes on the economic problems of the future, because every day decisions are being taken in India which will affect India's economic future. I have always wanted to feel that when these decisions were being taken, they were being taken by a Government really representative of India, by men who knew that they would be there to deal with the results in the future and to make any readjustments which would be necessary on a return to peace. In considering this question of India's war effort, there are some points I wanted to mention, particularly in the presence of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. If I were an Indian, the questions which I would be asking now would be: Has the conception of India's war effort been on a wide enough scale in the past? Has Britain given all possible help? Is it right that so much of the expenditure on the establishment of factories in India and in the payment of Indian troops fighting overseas should be borne on the British Budget?
It may seem strange to suggest that such a question should be asked, but if I were an Indian, I would say to myself, "This is my war and my opportunity of taking my share of the responsibility of fighting for the freedom of my country side by side with the British fighting for theirs." As I have raised this question, I would like to let Indians know that there are Members of this House of all parties who have been greatly interested in the question of whether India has been given sufficient chance to develop her own industrial capacity so that she might become one of the great arsenals of the peace-loving democratic Powers. And after saying that I would like too, to pay a tribute to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for India, for his response in this matter. A deputation of Members of all parties went to see him the other day, and at the meeting the Minister of Aircraft Production and the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Supply were present. We had an extremely frank talk on the subject, and I came away with the conviction that everything possible was being 1717 done to see that India gets the advantage of her great opportunity for her industrial development and that we are really helping her to the utmost extent we can. I may add that I also came away with the conviction that we had perhaps been rather slow in making a start to get on to these lines.
Now I want to turn to the most distant future—the fundamental problem of the post-war position. First let me say that although this is only a provisional measure, it must have a lasting effect. The Viceroy's Council can never be the same again. Thinking of the Council Table, as I knew it, how different will the scene now be with twelve members, eight of whom are independent Indians, sitting round it. Although there is no constitutional change, the whole spirit of the Government of India must be changed. That is a thing from which there will be no going back. Secondly, let us remember that in the handling of the. war emergency and the postwar position, India and this country are intimately mixed up. As I have already said, things must be done every day which will affect the distant future. But the great thing about the present war atmosphere is this: It gives us the chance to make a fresh start in creating better relations, as we feel we are cooperating together, in the face of common danger. Hitler has, at least, done this for us. He has brought us all closer together. He has brought all classes in this country closer together; he has brought this country and the United States closer together, and he ought also to be bringing this country closer to India. So I want to say to everyone who has anything to do with India now, "Do not waste this opportunity of working in the right spirit with India and with Indians."
Can we do more to take advantage of that opportunity? I believe we can. Like the hon. Gentleman the Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White), I have always pleaded that we should try to get representative Indians to this country now. We have Dominion representatives here, so why not really representative Indians, sitting with members of the War Cabinet? I want them here to get to know the spirit in which this country is fighting the war and what the people of this country are going through. If they knew our atmo- 1718 sphere, I think they would report back to India things which would remove the suspicions that exist. They could be told how strong are the representatives of the party opposite and what influence they have, how idiotic it is to talk of this war as an Imperialistic war, how strong is this feeling among all our people that we must work for a better world and for the freedom for all nations; how firmly we believe in all the ideas that Indian patriots cherish. I want that message to be taken back to India by people the Indians can trust. I believe that more could be done in that direction. Let me turn to another point; is it impossible, now that the deadlock has been broken, to get the Provincial Governments working again? I would ask my right hon. Friend to follow up that line. I know the difficulties, but there is a chance of a favourable response to this last move. I want the most to be made of it, and it would be an immense relief to know that constitutional government was working again in all the Provinces.
Lastly, and above all, I want to see that we do not put the whole problem of India's constitutional future on the shelf. We must try to get on with the hard brain work which is necessary if there is to be set up a new Constitution, complete with all its details, which is to take the place of the Constitution prescribed under the 1935 Act. That is a tremendous job. I agree that we are powerless to move in this direction unless Indians themselves will co-operate.
We cannot do it ourselves alone. We tried to do it, in the 1935 Act, and they would not have it. They said it was a task for Indians and ought to be settled in India. With this the Secretary of State agreed. That was a tremendous concession. They were told that it was their task. Now the Secretary of State is accused of showing bankruptcy in statesmanship because he said it was their job and not his. I have never been able to understand the reasoning of hon. Members who make accusations on that ground. But, even admitting that it is an Indian task, my plea to my right hon. Friend is that he should do his utmost to help Indians to get on with that job and should put to them again that what is necessary now is to set up a small constituent committee to hammer out the details of the 1719 constitution in advance, in the way this was done, as he himself must so well remember, when the Union of South Africa was set up. That is what India needs.
The answer to that may be that a great many of the men who ought to sit on that small constituent committee are in gaol. If that were the answer, I should find myself in agreement with what has been said by hon. Members opposite; if we were to find that the Congress party and other political parties were ready to make a fresh start and to take part in discussions in that spirit, I would plead most strongly with the Government to grant a general amnesty, to say, "This is a new start," and to let these men out so that they might get down to constructive work for the future. Of course, to say that they should be let out without any assurance that the moment they get out they will not again start making the sort of speeches for which they were imprisoned is an impossible proposition. There must be on the Indian side some recognition that the time has come to make a new start. But let us do our utmost to encourage such a start. I suggest that we should find out, by discreet contacts behind the scenes, whether, if we were to make a helpful gesture, it would receive a response. If we did find that it would, then at all risks let us make the helpful gesture.
Something has also been said about the importance of giving a time limit for the setting up of the new constitution. I thought that what the hon. Member for East Birkenhead proposed was in itself a condemnation of the proposal. I cannot imagine what the feeling in India would be if they were told that there was to be a definite time limit of 10 years or 15 years. They would be horrified. They would say that they do not know how long the war will last, but that they want to see their new constitution as soon as the war is over. And I want to see it, too. I should hate to commit myself to the statement, and I am sure my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State would feel the same that the period of birth of India's new constitution is to be 10 years after the war. On the other hand, how can anybody promise a definite date when the setting up of the new constitution must be based on some action on the 1720 Indian side? I agree, however, that we ought to do everything possible to convince the people of India that we are just as anxious as they are that the course on which we have set ourselves shall be a constructive success, that we are not clinging to power, and indeed that it would be a failure and a negation of all the principles for which we are fighting the war if we had to go on without fulfilling our purpose of setting up a constitution giving India free and equal Dominion status.
Those are some indications of the spirit in which I approach this problem. The hon. Member for Ince (Mr. G. Macdonald) suggested that it might have a very good effect in India if a statement to India could be made by the Prime Minister. Obviously that would have an enormous effect, and I have been so bold myself as to put forward a similar suggestion in the Press. I feel strongly that it is worth considering. If I may quote my own words, I said that if the Prime Minister would speak to India— now at this crisis—that might have a transforming effect. He need give no message of weak concession or political bargaining. He need only tell the truth—truth as to the urgency of the peril-—truth that this is India's war as much as ours—truth as to the greatness of India's opportunity —truth as to the British people's desire to see India grasp this opportunity to rise to her full stature, and then take her place as one of the most powerful partners in our Commonwealth—a British Commonwealth now, but to be enlarged, it may be, to a wider family of free nations when the war is over. I wish that those thoughts, phrased in the brilliant language of the Prime Minister, could go across the air to India. And so I come to the end of what I want to say. The thoughts which, above all, we want to get across to India are that this is a war of right against wrong, that it is India's war just as much as ours, and that in the emergency of this great conflict there is a challenge and an opportunity to make a fresh start in approaching all our joint problems.
§ Mr. Ridley (Clay Cross)
After rather more than a year of self-imposed silence, I feel that I ought almost to apologise for rising to address the House, and certainly for rising to speak in such an im- 1721 portant Debate. There are present so many hon. Members who have an intimate knowledge of India and the problems of India that a Member who, like myself, has been able to study those problems only imperfectly, on the basis of a long-distance objectivity, must feel at some disadvantage. I was moved by the concluding part of the speech of the hon. Member for Walsall (Sir G. Schuster), when he said that the present circumstances provide us with a challenge and an opportunity. It was, I believe, George Bernard Shaw who said of Lord Rosebery that he never missed a chance of losing an opportunity. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State would not desire to do as Lord Rosebery did.
I want to make one or two modest suggestions to the Secretary of State. The first is that he should, for the benefit of world opinion, restate with clarity and precision the British purpose in relation to India. Secondly, I suggest that he should give some generous regard to the appeals made by many hon. Members, including my hon. Fried the Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon), to consider, if not a general amnesty, at any rate a substantial release of political prisoners. Thirdly, I suggest that he should, in addition to the White Paper proposals, on the basis of which this Debate is primarily arranged, consider making it clear to Congress and to the Moslem League that if at any subsequent date they desire to accept seats on the Viceroy's Executive Council, steps will be taken to place seats at their disposal. Fourthly, I suggest that he should himself seriously consider making personal contact with the leaders of Indian opinion. It is some measure of the respect which the House has for the right hon. Gentleman that, I am sure, it would welcome warmly some announcement by him that he was seeking to make personal contact with the great leaders of Indian opinion; but with Mr. Nehru still in gaol, that would be an impossibility.
In my political experience I have seen many great changes of opinion and attitude, but I have seen no greater change than that which has taken place in relation to India, and it is some measure of the degree of that change that, on a matter about which there have been the most widely divergent views, sometimes expressed in the most violent 1722 language, the House should to-day discuss the problem dispassionately, reasonably and with an evident desire to find a basis, not for disagreement, but for common agreement.
The House may well be proud of the fact that under present circumstances it is possible for this Debate to be conducted with a succession of well-reasoned speeches. Before I come to the suggestions I wish to put to my right hon. Friend, I should like to make one or two observations of a general character. This I believe to be a most important Debate, and millions of people will be listening to it. The hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White) wished that the speech of my right hon. Friend could be made more widely known, but for my part I wish that all the speeches made during the Debate could be made known to the world. I feel sure that one of the results of that acquaintanceship would be to resolve many doubts which now exist. Many people in India, in the oppressed countries of Europe, and of no less importance, and in some senses of more importance still, many people in the United States are taking an interest in to-day's Debate. It would indeed have been most unfortunate if speeches here were calculated to produce, or were even likely to produce, the idea that the major responsibility for the existing deadlock rested on this country. That, I think, would be most unfair. To seek at this time to apportion blame would be unprofitable, even if blame could be fairly apportioned. I do not think Great Britain can be portrayed as an Imperialist Power unwilling to relinquish its iron will on a subject people. I do not believe that to be the case.
The changes which have taken place in Indian policy in this House and in British politics during the last quarter of a century have been remarkable both in principle and in practice. The 1919 Act, the Royal Commission, the Round Table Conference, the 1935 Act, the extension of Provincial powers, the Viceroy's offer last year, the repeated declarations about Dominion status, unimportant as separately on each occasion they may have seemed, are now seen to be a link in a chain of great historic importance. Dominion status is now our policy, and it is an immediate post-war objective. The present deadlock arises out of what must 1723 be admitted to be a most unfortunate occurrence. We declared India to be at war instead of finding some way of enabling her to make her own declaration, whatever that declaration might have been. But, to allow that to stand in the way of co-operation between India and ourselves is to reduce it to a point of punctilio. I hope the Secretary of State will find some way of saying something to meet Indian opinion on this very important question.
I agree with the hon. Member for Walsall in regard to the realities of the war in relation to India. The simple fact is that the only hope for a free India and a self-governing Dominion lies in a British victory, and a Nazi victory would extinguish that hope for a generation, for a thousand years— no one can say for how long. We are considering a White Paper —and I do not for a moment wish to minimise what it will do—which at best must be regarded as no more than an interim arrangement, after which we must consider where we go from here and how we go. In any disagreement between two sets of people there must be an accommodation somewhere, and to strive to find it must obviously be a mutual and not a unilateral attempt. If the leaders of India neglect to warn their people of the realities of the present war situation, a terrible responsibility must subsequently rest upon them. But that does not mean that British statesmen should now sit still and fold their hands in satisfaction with what has been attempted. I do not think that that is the view of the Secretary of State, and, therefore, I venture to make four minor suggestions.
There is no matter of first-class political importance about which there has beeen so much misunderstanding, and about which there has been such an inadequate supply of knowledgeable information, as in the case of the Indian situation. I am satisfied, however, that enough declarations have been made to satisfy most Indian people. I ask the Secretary of State to consider the desirability of restating, with great clarity and precision, the British purposes in relation to India, and the steps that have been successfully and successively taken towards that end. He should make it known to both Congress and the League 1724 that if at any time India wishes to occupy places on the Executive council, he will reconsider the position and endeavour to find places for them. I endorse the point put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for North Camberwell for the release of prisoners. I recognise, with other Members, that government cannot be sustained if lawlessness is allowed to go unchecked, but in this matter justice has been served by the act of arrest. The length of sentence after the act is relatively unimportant. Therefore, authority having been asserted, a generous gesture might now be made in the hope that reason might find a way out of the situation which all of us would -wish to see in India.
Then I suggest that the Secretary of State might consider the desirability of making some personal contacts. It has been suggested that Mr. Nehru might be invited to come to London, but I do not believe that London or Delhi are the places for the type of conversation I have in mind. I suggest that Cairo, both in the geographical sense and in other senses, would be found to be a desirable meeting place. It would have some symbolic advantage as a kind of half-way house. I feel sure that if the Secretary of State could see his way clear to try and make personal contacts of that kind on the basis of the release of leaders of political opinion, he would carry with him the good wishes of every Member of this House. We are pictured sometimes as being ready to fight for democracy in Czechoslovakia but willing to stifle it in India. I believe that to be a grotesque travesty of the situation. British policy in the last few years has provided all the necessary evidence of our good faith and intentions in this matter. My right hon. Friend may be assured of support from all quarters of this House in whatever further step he thinks it desirable to take in an effort to end the deadlock and to make our position clear to the world and those who do not understand what the real situation is. But whatever steps the Secretary of State may take, it will be of no avail unless there is reciprocity in India and every friend of India will do his best to encourage the growth of reason in this matter.
§ Sir Stanley Reed (Aylesbury)
I should like to refer to one point that the hon. Member for Clay Cross (Mr. Ridley) made. That was the very wise suggestion, 1725 or hope, that the words of the Secretary of State and a reasonable report of the proceedings of the House should be seen in India. If he will take the trouble to look through the Indian papers in the Library he will find that the last Debate in the House was reported to the extent of many pages in the leading Indian newspapers, and he may be assured that every word that falls from the Secretary of State and a very substantial proportion of the words of back bench Members are reproduced in the Indian Press.
I wish to touch upon one or two aspects of the discussion. As far as I can see, the only criticism which has been offered of the measures now explained by the Secretary of State is that they are no solution of the major constitutional problem and that they will not satisfy the full aspirations of India as to her future status. It is no part of the scheme adumbrated in the White Paper to offer a solution of the Indian constitutional problem. It is an interim scheme; if it were offered as a solution, I would not offer my countenance to it for one moment. But the Secretary of State has made it clear that these are interim proposals to deal with an interim period and that they do not pretend to be any substitute for the great basic constitutional changes which have ultimately to be made.
Let hon. Members opposite realise how very far these proposals go. It is always impossible to appreciate their full bearing on the situation without some detailed knowledge of the working of the Indian constitutional machine. I believe I heard the hon. Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon) say that the functions of this executive Council were advisory, and he rather inclined to think that they were limited. That is not so. The Viceroy's Executive Council is a full cabinet. Every member of it has definite ministerial responsibilities and a strong constitutional position. The usual practice is that the full Council meets at least once every week, and probably more frequently now it comes to collective decisions. It is in an important body of this description, with these Ministerial responsibilities, with this share in Cabinet decisions, members, and distinguished members, of the Indian community have been invited to take part, and with great courage, wisdom and patriotism have agreed to take part. 1726 It is true that the Viceroy has a power of veto, but in 35 years' experience of India I have never known that power exercised. For 30 out of those 35 years there were always distinguished Indian publicists on the Executive Council. Not one of those eminent men, many of them men of strong national leanings and opinions, ever found his views so far over-ruled by the Viceroy or his colleagues that he has felt compelled to tender his resignation. Now this greatly enlarged Executive Council, with its substantial majority of Indian members, each one with these statutory rights and Ministerial and collective responsibilities, has the assurance' based on history and practice, that only under the most paramount circumstances would they ever be collectively overruled. With some knowledge of India and of the working of the Indian Constitution, I cannot possibly see how the Secretary of State and the Viceroy could have gone further without a great and complicated change in the Constitution of India itself. I have never found anyone, either in this country or India itself, who maintained that this is the moment when we could sit down to that gigantic task or that this is a time when it can be approached with any reasonable prospect of a permanent solution.
I listened with no little regret to the suggestion of the hon. Member for North Camberwell that these new Ministers will be "flexible" in their great positions. I have known most of them for many years. I have worked in harmony with them and in strong opposition to them. These are not only distinguished men drawn from many walks of life, but they are men of markedly independent views, men who have not hesitated vehemently to oppose the Government of India when they thought it wrong. They have now taken their courage resolutely in hand, against the hostility of a certain section of organised public opinion, to associate themselves definitely with the Government in the great task before them. I ask my hon. Friend to accept the assurance that the very last course they are likely to adopt is an attitude of passive acquiescence in Viceregal or official policy.
The other point that I should like to put is this: There has been a strong plea from certain quarters that this measure should be accompanied by a general amnesty for 1727 those who are now in gaol for the defiance of authority. In all these cases there has been a challenge to authority. There has been a deliberate exercise of the determination to obstruct the Government in its war effort and to divert those anxious to co-operate in that effort. I think we may rest assured that no one was more reluctant to take these punitive steps than the very distinguished gentleman who now holds the office of Viceroy. This position is as repugnant to everyone on this side of the House as it is to hon. Members opposite. This is a measure which we should all rejoice to see corrected tomorrow, but the real point was put by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall (Sir G. Schuster) —it is that the amnesty that we should like to see carried through can only be done if that challenge to authority is abandoned, and we shall not be confronted with the humiliating position of having a genearl release, followed by a further defiance, followed by a fresh assertion of the rule of law.
§ Mr. G. Macdonald
What does the hon. Gentleman really mean by an acceptance of that authority? What have these prisoners to do to get an amnesty on this condition?
§ Sir S. Reed
They simply have to say they accept the Government by law established and will abandon their efforts to persuade people who are anxious to take part in the war effort not to do so. Do not judge conditions of India exactly as they are in this country. Remember that in India there are burning communal fires, damped down for the time being but always ready to flame up. Go to the Library and see the events recorded in the last week for which papers have been received. Communal riots in Bombay, communal riots in Ahmedabad. Hardly a District Magistrate sleeps at night without wondering what is going to happen on the morrow. May I ask hon. Members to look at the pictures from Ahmedabad, ordinarily a peaceful and law-abiding industrial city, largely peopled by Jains, to whom every form of human and animal life is sacred? Yet Ahmedabad was partly devastated by arson and 60 to 70 persons were done to death in dispute which broke out through what we should regard as a mere triviality.
How has this civil disobedience movement arisen? As I see it, because the 1728 Committee of the Indian National Congress could not come to an agreement among themselves, and they therefore left all authority in the hands of Mr. Gandhi. With him civil disobedience is a creed, and as recently as 8th April he declared that it was a position he could not abandon and a policy he could not withdraw. These circumstances have to be taken into consideration before we press on the Secretary of State and the Viceroy a particular course in regard to the hapless condition, when we find that men for whom we have profound respect, men with whom we have worked are now in gaol for political offences. If the Viceroy and the Secretary of State can take any step to remedy that position, none would rejoice more heartily than those who have worked in India; but in view of all the circumstances, I, for one, cannot take the responsibility of pressing on them at this difficult and dangerous juncture a course which they may consider is not justified.
As an interim policy I welcome the step which the Viceroy and the Secretary of State have taken. I express my profound appreciation of the courage they have manifested and the still greater courage with which they have invited the co-operation of men who have taken a dynamic and never a passive attitude in public life; and appreciation also of those Indian friends who have come forward to take this active part in the governance of their country at the present time. My profound hope and belief is that through this middle course they have broken the stagnation which used to depress me so much, and that we may be working towards the fuller expression of our desire for Dominion status for India, to which my right hon. Friend has devoted all his time and energy. Although his statements as to the goal of our policy are crystal clear, I hope that he will not hesitate to repeat them in emphatic terms if he finds doubts exist.
There are three points that must be borne in mind. One is a point which I have put before the Secretary of State on more occasions than one. The 1935 Act, which represented six or seven years of continuous labour in India and in this House, is dead. As far as the Provincial Governments are concerned, I think that it provided a useful and workable administration, and we need not tinker with it; but so far as the centre of administration is concerned, it has to be entirely 1729 recast, not only in form but in policy, and on a basis different from the rather timid attempt to adapt our Parliamentary practices to Indian conditions. We took seven years to hammer out that Act. How long would it take to hammer out the new Act? Therefore, I regard it as of paramount importance— and I am glad to have the support of my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall—that the Secretary of State should now consider earnestly setting up a small body in India to go into the vast new problems, sort them out and, if possible, issue interim reports, so that when the time comes to implement our definite guarantee of Dominion status we shall have the material ready for prompt decision.
The next point is the question of the time limit within which the new Constitution shall come into force. There is nothing in a way more illogical than a time limit, but there are few things that are more necessary in present conditions in India. There was a time limit in the Act of 1919, under which it was to be reviewed at the end of 10 years. It is interesting to know how that novel provision came to be made. When Mr. Montagu was in India discussing the formation of the diarchy Indians always said the same thing. They said, "We are prepared to accept this in a transitional stage, but what guarantee have we that what is a transitional Constitution will not, with all the preoccupations of Parliament, become a permanent Constitution? Parliament is busy with a thousand things which it cannot easily put aside, and on a question like India few have any specialist knowledge." It was in deference to that strong feeling that the novel Clause was introduced into the Bill of 1919, and it had a tremendous effect in the more favourable reception of that scheme when it was embodied in the Act and put into force. If that was desirable in 1919, how much more desirable it will be when we come to the end of the war! If Parliament has normally many questions to decide, what will be the position when we come to settle the colossal problems of the peace? I often lie awake at night thinking that it is not so much the problems of the war as the problems of the peace that will cause us great anxiety when we approach these problems desperately tired and weary, with a thousand things to do and only 24 hours 1730 in the day in which to do them. Therefore, it is even more important in regard to the great changes that will have to be made in the Federal Constitution of India that there should be a reasonable time limit if it is humanly possible to devise it.
There is yet a third view. It was put by the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. G. Macdonald) and is supported to a certain extent in the House, and that is— and I say it with the deepest respect to the Secretary of State—that he should consult with the Prime Minister as to whether the Prime Minister cannot send his own personal message to India. The Prime Minister is associated, or was associated, with a certain definite line of thought in regard to Indian polity. I am not concerned to say whether it was the right or wrong line, but it was different from the line which the Government of the House took with regard to India. In view of his position in this House, in the country, in the Commonwealth, and in the world to-day, it is a matter to be carefully considered whether the Prime Minister cannot find it in him to send -a personal message to India at this time, when this change is being made, to give them the assurance which I think they so ardently desire and which, I feel, would have a most beneficial effect.
I give my complete and wholehearted support to the interim policy which has now been announced. I think we should pay our tribute to the Secretary of State, the Viceroy and the Indians coming into the new Executive and on to the War Advisory Council, and give them the assurance that so far as we are concerned nothing will be lacking to give them all the support which may be demanded in the exercise of these new powers and new opportunities, not only for prosecuting the war but for promoting the happiness, progress and future development of India. Very often in dark days in India, when one saw "as through; a glass, darkly," I found consolation in words once used by a Member of this House who held a minor post for a short time. He said in regard to these Indian problems, "We have one golden rule, to ponder the path at our feet and look straight on." Let us not only ponder the path but look straight on. Let us take measures now and let us prosecute them actively, until the time comes to implement our definite determination to see India a free and equal part with us in 1731 the Empire, enjoying that Dominion status which is the highest form of independence we can conceive. Let us follow the path, keeping our eyes permanently fixed upon that goal, and take the steps courageously, resolutely and in good heart which will lead us steadily and surely to it.
§ Mr. Wedgwood (Newcastle-under-Lyme)
I always have the good fortune to follow the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Sir S. Reed) and always do so with the greatest appreciation of his speech. I entirely agree with him that the Act of 1935, so far as it affected the Provinces, was admirable, and that so far as it affected the centre it is dead— and the problem in future is how to create something acceptable as a Federal Parliament in India. The noble lord who was until recently the Governor of Madras said in his speech, and it was cheered in the House, that he was grateful to the Government for preserving the idea of Indian unity. I should like to have it on record that I disagree with that. I think there are countless objections to the unitary idea in India. Of course, from the democratic point of view decentralisation is always an advantage, but particularly in India. For the more you have the Government centralised the more you get political parties divided on Imperial issues like getting Dominion status or getting independence, issues which obscure true politics. Whereas Provincial politics deal with more practical subjects which the people understand and the politicians have to line themselves up on issues of practical importance to their Provinces, that is only one of half-a-dozen reasons which I could give, if I had time, for begging the Government to consider not this idea of concentrating on unity but rather, in their new scheme, whenever it comes about, developing the Provinces so that they may become States, and thereby securing better government and a better atmosphere.
The scheme which we have before us to-day is associating Indians with ourselves in the government of wartime India. It is all to the good, but I would ask the House to remember that the great feature of the Montagu Declaration of 1917 was that whereas up till then we had been consistently advancing by associating more Indians with ourselves, that Declaration contained a sentence which revolutionised 1732 our policy. It was the sentence which said that those Indians associated with ourselves should be henceforward responsible to the people of India. Here there is no responsibility. It is a war measure, but it cannot be expected that it will arouse much enthusiasm in India. It is a stopgap measure, no doubt very useful for our war effort, but it does not meet the principal complaints of advanced political opinion in India. I think that the Government, in introducing this measure, ought first to have set free the people in the gaols.
People generally do not understand what is the position of these people in the gaols now. I think I am correct in saying that they could come out to-morrow if they would sign a declaration to say that they were sorry and would not do it again. It is very nearly that. But to save their faces they will not sign, and therefore they are detained. I think that is a most foolish position. Provided the Government know, without any written declaration from them, that those people regret their folly in getting into gaol and will not be likely to repeat their defiance, they should say, realising how much weaker the position of Mr. Gandhi is to-day than it was when those people went to gaol, "Don't let us have any more of this nonsense. Come out."
If they had done that first they would have got Congress members associated with the Indian Government. They would have been able to draw upon a much wider and more experienced number of people, and they would have saved those who did accept office from the slur cast upon them that they had accepted office although other Indians were in gaol, while they had done nothing to get them out. Suppose you invert the position. Suppose the English were under the Nazis here and a lot of our people had gone to gaol. Suppose the Labour party had been put in gaol by the Nazis, not because the Labour party wanted to go there, but because its members felt that they must make a protest. If the Nazi Government had gone round on the benches opposite and selected 20 or 30 people to come in and assist the Nazis in the government of the country while the Labour party were in gaol, we know quite well that anybody who was fool enough to join in that Government would immediately become the most unpopular people in Eng- 1733 land. The position is not so bad in India because we are not Nazis, but you are making these people who help us unpopular quite unnecessarily. It is difficult: for a man to do his work well when he knows that he is being pointed at and jeered at all the time because he accepted office while a number of his colleagues, no doubt from mistaken motives, were still in gaol. If you wanted your policy to be a success and to get the best people into the Government, the best the Government could have done would have been to let these people out of gaol first. The next best thing would be to let them out now.
There is another matter which has not yet been touched on to-day. I have recently been to America, and at meeting after meeting some emissary of "America First" would get up and say: "What about India? You have put them all in gaol. You do not practise Democracy there." It is upsetting, because most people there have no idea that every Province in India is self-governing— as self-governing as each United State. For 20 years, education in India has been entirely in Indian hands. Because there is an agitator or two telling them lies, the American people do not realise that for the last 50 years our relations with India have made a tremendous advance, due to British honesty and British justice. There may have been one or two exceptional instances, Jalianwallah, and possibly the Mutiny, but on the whole our record has been good. Our enemies in America naturally use everything they can to rouse contempt of us and to make the thinking people in America believe that Imperial Britain is not really fighting a war for freedom. If we could get those Indian people out of gaol it might not make a great: difference to the war effort. I do not believe that India would produce one more gun or one more rifle, but if we got them back into the provincial governments they could be learning their business rather than getting more disgruntled and bitter in gaol, and our enemies would be silenced.
What makes me think that they might be let out now, without signing a declaration, and that they would behave admirably if they were let out, is that when I review the situation I think their policy has failed. There was the same policy with Civil Disobedience before, and people went to gaol in the same way. There 1734 were far more of them then, up to 24,000 I believe, but the campaign collapsed. One after another the people in gaol signed and came out, and the whole thing broke down. You may have exactly the same breakdown now. You will get one person after another signing and coming out. It is all a question of time, and it is now also a question of realising that the danger for India is growing. Every time the Nazis get nearer to the North-West Frontier each of these people in gaol thinks "I am a fool to be here." However terrible a Nazi victory would be for Britain, it would be 10 times more terrible for India, so why wait?
The Secretary of State has been good enough to let me send to Mr. Jawaharlal Nehru, who is in gaol, my memoirs, and my anthology "Forever Freedom," and the Viceroy was good enough to pass them on to him in gaol. The other day I received a most friendly letter from Mr. Nehru, and I sent it to the Secretary of State. There was not one word in it of complaint or bitterness. He was arguing out the great question of whether you can get progress best by Individualism or Collectivism, and how we might stand up morally to the Nazi evil and defeat the dangers in the present situation. The letter might have been written by a Briton here in London instead of by a man in gaol in India. He did not say anything about coming out. Naturally he would not do so. It was impossible to conceive that the man who wrote that letter would ever do anything against Great Britain if he were let out. As a matter of fact, he got into prison not because he attacked the Government but because he attacked the landlords of India, in which matter I entirely agree with him. His is a case in point. I need hardly tell the House that if Mr. Nehru comes out of prison the others will all come out. They will all follow him, because he is more popular even than Mr. Gandhi. Mr. Gandhi is practically an anarchist: he does not want to take part in government himself and does not want any of the others to do so. Mr. Gandhi is unique; Nehru a statesman.
The way out, for a Secretary of State who wants to keep India wholeheartedly behind our war movement, and in this business of killing Nazis, is obviously to say: "Come along. Get out." He would shoo them out of prison as Lincoln did at the end of the Civil War. He 1735 said: "No prison for them; out." It is not only the easy and sensible thing to do but also the right thing, from the point of view of winning the war and of our British traditions. We have made many sacrifices of face in the past and our history also contains many rebels. Every reform has been secured by rebels, who have been condemned to prison in their lives and canonised after death. If it had not been for our extremely rebellious ancestors we should probably not be speaking here to-day. These people have imbibed from us, during the last 120 years, just these same doctrines. We realise that people who will break the law to their disadvantage, and who will take what comes to them for the cause which they believe to be right, have learned that from us. Let the world learn from us that we realise the advantages and the nobility of that spirit, and that we will no longer treat as criminals people who for some conscientious scruple prefer to go to prison rather than sign a paper to say that they are prepared to be good citizens. Good citizens! They know that they are good citizens, they know that they are the best of citizens. It is better, as well as wiser, to trust people of that sort rather than to imprison them.
§ Miss Eleanor Rathbone (Combined English Universities)
I agree with a great deal that was said by my right hon. Friend, and I am sure we are all glad to see him back apparently in as robust health as he was before his rather perilous adventure. There has been a great measure of common agreement throughout this Debate, with the one exception I think of the hon. Member for Camber-well North (Mr. Ammon) who opened the Debate from the Opposition Bench. Every hon. Member who has spoken of the new arrangements made for the enlargement of the Viceroy's Council, and for the setting up of the Defence Committees, has realised the great importance of these measures in the direction of an interim solution of the Indian difficulty. There has also been very general recognition of the things which are still left to be done, and particularly of the fact that no enlarged Council, however competent, will fully restore the situation in India so long as the great Congress party—the majority party—and the Moslem League stand out.
1736 There is a good deal of agreement also as to the possible steps. Let me take one, of which there has been considerable discussion, namely, whether it is not possible to find some way of building a bridge by which the imprisoned members of Congress can be brought out, and can be brought out to co-operate. I cannot see myself how you can have an unconditional, universal amnesty without any kind of terms, nor do I think that any terms which would mean humiliation, or a definite confession of error on the part of the imprisoned people, could possibly succeed. Is it really beyond the power of the Government to find such a bridge, a way out that will involve neither capitulation of the Government side nor humiliation on the side of the prisoners? There are so many strange features in the situation which could give an opportunity for the prisoners— not to climb down, but to walk over a bridge. There is the changed situation about Russia. I think we all realise that Communist sympathies have had a great deal to do with the intransigeant attitude of Congress. The changed situation may well have brought about a change of heart there, and I think the most recent Indian telegrams that have reached us show that the change is having an effect among the non-co-operators. Then there are the new proposals themselves, and on the whole the moderately favourable reception given to them. A great deal has happened since the movement for going to gaol began, and if a bridge can be found, it will have great advantages.
I am sure the continued imprisonment of these men has a disastrous effect in regard to the misrepresentation of the situation which is going on in the United States and to which my right hon. Friend referred. There is also the fact that as long as these men are in prison they will never be changed from the introverts which they are now—with their eyes always turned inwards upon themselves and upon India—to extroverts who for the first time see the world, the war and all that it means as they are. An Englishman who was in India throughout the last war, and who is now in the Army, said only the other day how he had spent the whole of the last war in India, and how even he found it sometimes difficult to realise that there was a war on. At any rate it did not come home to him; he was in a civilian position. If it is difficult 1737 even for Englishmen in India to realise what the war stands for, how much more difficult must it be for Indians behind prison bars, with limitations even upon the extent to which they can receive letters or read newspapers, listen to broadcasts, and so forth. What can they do but sit and brood; what can imprisonment do but confirm that terrible obsession with past grievances, wrongs and affronts which is the curse of the Indian situation? If they could be brought out, it would be easier to get them to help us.
I agree heartily with those who have urged how valuable it would be if some leading representative Indians could be brought over here. They would in that way realise the realities of war far better than if the proposal which was greatly in favour some time ago was adopted, namely, that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State should go to India. To bring Indians here would not be inconsistent with the setting-up of an expert constituent body within India such as has been suggested to work out the technical questions connected with the beginnings of the future Constitution of India. If Indians were brought over here to some kind of conference, it would to a great extent make it much easier for us all. Personal contact is what is very much needed. It might also help in this way: when the Indians saw the extent to which men of different parties in this country and in all the Allied countries had been able to get together and put aside their differences, the same spirit might be created in them. It has, I think, been a great eye-opener to us all to see the extent to which the realities of war have enabled the countries which have taken part in it to forget past differences. What could be more astonishing than the fact, made known only yesterday, that even the Poles and the Russians have been able for the time being at any rate to put aside past differences, and unite in the face of a common enemy?
Several hon. Members have spoken about the possibility of a time limit to "the future Constitution. I shall be deeply interested to hear the Government's reply. I merely want to put the question, for I feel it is a matter on which I have no right to express an opinion. Is the difficulty such that no definite time limit for the granting of Dominion status can be given without any sort of guarantee on the other side?
1738 Speaking as one who ardently desires that every possible step should be taken to prevent the Indians from feeling that there is anything insincere about our promises—that we are making excuses for putting them off—we have learnt too much from experience with regard to Ireland to feel that it is quite safe to make all the concessions on one side in the hope that this will bring about an attitude of good will, to put the future of India entirely in the melting pot without a better indication of what result that would bring. As for a time limit, I would agree to a time limit as to when discussion should begin, but it is difficult to see the advantage of a time limit for the actual granting of Dominion status. What Indians have to be taught to learn, what they have not already realised yet, is the inevitability of gradualness. Many of us do not realise the difference between Indian mentality and our own. Congress, when faced with the very considerable advances brought about by the Statute of 1935, flung them back in our faces. Now they say it is a mere insult that we have offered them.
We have learned in our long experience of generations of the gradual building up of democracy that when we get a concession we take it with as much gratitude as we think it deserves, and make it a foothold to try and work for more. We do not throw it back as an insult, and as something not worth while. Expanding contact between us and Indians might make them realise that, in asking them to accept independence, freedom, step by step, we are only asking them to submit to the process through which we have gone, which has made us the most firmly based, because the most deeply rooted, democracy.
There is one more definite point I wish to make. I have noticed one curious fact, that many of the Indian Congress speakers and writers, even while willing to go to prison, in order to persuade others to have nothing to do with the war, at the same time feel a deep distress because they think that we are not sufficiently active in our preparations in the war. I would like the Secretary of State to deal with that point, if he can. I had a letter recently from a prominent Congressman, well known here, who, while defending the attitude of Congressmen with regard to the war, throws it in our teeth that the treatment of the war situa- 1739 tion by the Indian Government has shown that they were less anxious to win the war than to prevent the full development of India. He says that the treatment of Indian shipping has been a public scandal, and suggests that it is deliberately delayed for fear of any future competition with the great British shipping lines. Again, he says, even in the making of aeroplanes after the outbreak of war, an offer worked out by Indian industrialists to start an aeroplane factory through the agency of an American firm was, first, deliberately ignored, and then turned down by the Government of India. He says that all that was necessary was the decision of the Government of India, and that that decision was asked for by cable. It was stated that in nine months after permission being given, aeroplanes could be supplied. He goes on to say that there was no acknowledgment or answer, and that, finally, the offer was turned down. It would be interesting to be told exactly what happened.
I would like to add my voice to the various suggestions made on the question of whether some appeal could be made either by the Secretary of State or, better still, by the Prime Minister himself, some appeal that would go beyond all the useful but arid questions of machinery which have hitherto been dealt with, which would go beyond and above the question of concessions of a little less here and a little more there. The Indians are a race who are influenced by idealism as great as our own. Those of them who differ from us are as passionate patriots in their own way as we are in ours. If there were addressed to them something that would go beyond the question of machinery, a call to the common effort to help to save the world, and then to help us to arrange the future of the world which they would have helped to save, no one could do that as well as the Prime Minister. We must not forget that, because of his political past in the matter of India, he does rest under a certain cloud of suspicion in Indian eyes, which no one, so well as he, could disperse.
§ General Sir George Jeffreys (Peters-field)
May I venture to join in the chorus of congratulation to the Secretary of State on the wise and statesmanlike measure that has been taken in this particular matter under debate? I had myself hoped 1740 that the appointments to the Executive Council might have been a permanent feature, or a semi-permanent feature, of our dealings with India and not be merely considered as a war-time measure. By these nominations, men of proved ability and reliability can be obtained, and although they differ among themselves in class, race, creed, yet they are willing and can be depended upon to work together to give good service under the Viceroy for the common end. The National Defence Council should, in my view, be of very great value. I was particularly glad to see the names of some men on it, men of my own acquaintance in India, who, though men of outstanding ability and loyalty and experience, would, in the normal course, have very little chance of being included in the Government because of differences of, usually, creed, sometimes, race. Without mentioning names, I would like to refer to distinguished Mohammedans in predominantly Hindu States.
In former Debates Members have urged, if I remember, the immediate increase of the Indian Army up to 2,000,000 men. This is a very desirable object indeed, but there are qualifications. One of them is the fact that if the Army were to be increased immediately to 2,000,000, the men might be there, but the equipment and the arms would not, and an army, however great, which is not armed and equipped up to the most modern standards would be of very little use in this war. There is a further qualification, which is that the Army in India is not really—I was going to say, a national Army, because India is really not a nation, but a subcontinent—a sub-continental Army. It is, in fact, recruited only from certain so-called martial races and classes. It is sometimes forgotten that very large portions of India contribute no men at all to the Armed Forces and that a very large proportion of the Army in India is recruited from the Punjab and Northern Provinces. Still, no doubt, there are untapped sources, and I am aware that since the war began new corps have been raised on the basis of former Territorial corps in parts of India which have of recent years contributed no recruits at all to the Indian Army.
There are untapped sources in martial and even in what have been regarded as non-martial races, but, speaking generally, very few of those non-martial races are of 1741 any use to the Indian Army. They would, however, be of very great use in munitions production, and I venture to think that it is far better from our point of view that that should be the case. It is no use trying to make a man who has not the slightest martial tradition into a soldier, but on the other hand there are immense numbers of men in India who have not the slightest desire to be soldiers or the slightest aptitude for soldiering who might be very useful in the field of munitions production. It is perhaps fortunate that the problem which exists in this country of competition between the factories and the Fighting Services for men scarcely exists in India. Before this war there were Government arsenals, and very good arsenals too, and there was an excellent cordite factory. There ought to be very little difficulty in greatly extending the capacity of those factories and in adding fresh factories in suitable places. I believe that is the way in which a great part of the population of India can make a most useful contribution to the war effort.
The possibility of supplying not only all the Indian Forces but all the Imperial Forces in the East and Middle East from India is one which I hope and indeed feel fully confident is engaging the attention of my right hon. Friend and of the Indian Government. The difficulty of supplying our Forces in the Middle East entirely from England is well known. It makes immense demands on shipping, and the time occupied in transport is very great. I am only too well aware that this is a matter which cannot be dealt with properly in a short time, but it does seem to me that very great development might take place and ought to take place in the capacity of India to produce not merely munitions— that ought to be comparatively simple— but machines such as tanks and aeroplanes. That output could supply not only the Forces serving in India but the Forces in the Middle East and the East generally, with an immense saving of shipping and of effort to the Mother Country.
There is one other field of supply which I think might be considered. Possibly it has been considered since I left India some five years ago. I refer to the supply of fresh meat to the Forces. The supply of fresh meat for the British Forces in India and for the Mohammedan troops— Hindus, of course, are not meat eaters— has always presented a very great prob- 1742 lem. There are cattle in India which are slaughtered, but they are of poor quality, and the meat has very little nutrition in it. For some reason or other the Indian Government in the past have always fought shy of cold storage and of the import of fresh meat from Australia, which seems an obvious source of supply. There are difficulties about that, I know, because the Mohammedan soldier is very greatly concerned not to eat meat that has not been killed according to Mohammedan custom, but it might be possible to send Mohammedans to Australia to see that the meat is killed according to Mohammedan custom and then to establish large storage depots into which we could put meat that might make all the difference between success and failure in operations on the Frontier.
We have heard a great deal of criticism of Indian policy, both in this House and outside it, which I sometimes feel— perhaps I am presumptuous—is based on insufficient knowledge of India. I am far from making any claim myself to expert knowledge, but from service in India I have some knowledge of the fundamental conditions there and of the difficulties which are inherent in differences of race, of language and of creed and in the immense distances, which are sometimes not sufficiently considered. I only claim myself to know just enough about India to know some of the fundamentals and to realise how very much there is that I still do not know about India. Towards the end of the last war the Secretary of State went to India. Whether that visit was in the public interest or not I believe is a matter of opinion, but I would suggest that if it were at all possible—and I am no judge as to the possibility—it certainly would be a good thing if his duties permitted my right hon. Friend to go to India.
If he could see India for himself, and, as my Noble Friend the Member for Brighton (Lord Erskine) remarked, not only see the Presidency towns but the country districts— the India in which the ordinary Englishman or Scotsman who goes to India serves, the India of the country districts, which enormously outnumber the towns—I believe that might be of immense advantage at any rate to this House and to the Government. I feel it is almost presumptuous to make such a suggestion, and I would not have 1743 done it if it had not been done by my hon. Friend opposite who recently spoke. I would venture myself to say that not only ought my right hon. Friend to look at India through official spectacles, but through the spectacles of others than those who sit in Government houses.
We have heard a great deal about India and Indians, and about Indian feeling. People use the word "Indian" far too freely. India is not a nation; it is a collection of many nations. India is a sub-continent. I will venture to give one instance from my own experience, to show how people in India regard the matter. A few years ago I went to inspect a Punjaubi regiment in the Madras Presidency. I asked the commanding officer, as I was accustomed to ask the commanding officer of any regiment I inspected, whether it was a British or an Indian regiment, "How do your men like this place?" The answer was not quite what I expected. He said, "They are all right here; but, of course, you know, it is foreign service." I must confess that I had not thought of it as being foreign service, but he went on to say that they were 1,500 miles from their own homes, that they did not understand a word of the language of the local people, with whom most of them differed in creed, and with whom they differed in race, in outlook, and in physique. I could understand then that it was, very literally, foreign service. If there were any Southern regiments, which there were not, it would equally have been foreign service to them to serve in the extreme North of India.
You can compare India, in regard to extent and conditions, not with any country in Europe, but with Europe itself, with Russia taken off. I do not believe that if we had to go and serve in Italy or in Germany— I am speaking of normal times— we should feel that it was anything other than service in a foreign country. If we came to have a Government of Europe, is it possible to conceive that if it were an elected Government it would be elected on any other lines except racial lines predominantly, and religious lines in some degree? There might, for instance, be a Latin bloc, certainly there would be a German bloc, and perhaps a Scandinavian bloc. What other blocs there would be I do not know, but there 1744 would certainly be, right through Europe, no division of parties as we understand it. There is no such division right through India. Congress is not merely the largest party in India; it is, with the exception of the Moslem League, almost the only organised party. It is just because of its organisation that it has acquired the importance and the influence which it undoubtedly possesses. But when all is said and done, I believe that Congress represents something like 6,000,000 out of the 350,000,000 people of India, and those 6,000,000 are all Hindus.
§ Captain Godfrey Nicholson (Farnham)
Did my hon. and gallant Friend see the statement in the "Times," that Congress has only 1,500,000 members?
§ Sir G. Jeffreys
I did not see that statement, but I daresay it is quite right. The point I was going to make is that the membership of Congress has increased and decreased in recent years in exact proportion as the Government have attached importance to agitation by the Congress leaders. India is a country where nothing succeeds like success, where prestige counts to a degree which we can hardly realise. Congress was most influential and had the greatest membership when, under the leadership of Mr. Gandhi, some 10 years ago, it was apparently successful in defying the Government. The mere fact that its leaders were not pulled up by the Government gained it increased influence. In an illiterate country that sort of thing counts for a very great deal. As my Noble Friend the Member for Brighton has told the House, the Congress party has a certain number of fanatical members and a lot of members who are very lukewarm. These lukewarm members drop off or come in according as Congress influence increases or decreases.
We have heard various appeals for the release of political prisoners in India. I hope, most sincerely, that those appeals will not succeed. If the people detained under Section 18B in this country were released, it would have very little effect on the country in general. If the Congress leaders, who are infinitely more dangerous and vitriolic and anti-British, were to be released, that would be hailed as a signal that the Government were relenting towards them. It would be the greatest mistake that could be made. Jawaharlal 1745 Nehru is a dangerous, seditious and anti-British revolutionary. He is now in prison, and I hope that he will remain there, at any rate until a more safe time. Sentiment is one thing; practical politics is another. When all is said and done, the Viceroy, with the aid of this new, influential, and, I am certain, very wise Council, has to govern India. It has not to be governed by revolutionaries, however well-meaning hon. Members may think them. I hope that my right hon. Friend will be firm in this matter; otherwise, a wholly wrong impression will be given to the people of India. An enormous number of the people of India, far from taking an intense interest in politics or in war matters, are, because of their remoteness, quite indifferent to them. India is unlike England in that the enormous majority of its people live in the country and not in the towns, but it is like England in that most of the political feeling exists in the towns. The country dwellers, although political consciousness is spreading among them, still take very little interest in politics. All they want are good seasons, good conditions, and freedom from oppression, whether by landlords, by people of other races and creeds, or by those of higher caste.
The question of education has been mentioned. It is a reflection on our government of India in the past that we did not tackle education in a different way. We have done a great deal for education in India. We have given India a considerable system of higher education, but we have never laid a foundation of general primary education. It is very difficult to give good higher education where you have no basis of primary education on which to build. I hope that in future that may be dealt with, although it must be a slow and gradual process. When we have a far greater measure of education among the peoples of India than we have now, I think it is possible that the feeling towards political matters will be different from what it is now, and much more balanced and sensible than it is at present.
One or two speakers have mentioned the possible withdrawal of our military Forces from India. I sincerely hope the Government will do nothing of that kind. I do not believe for a moment that the peoples, of India—and I am by no means certain that Congress themselves—want to see our Forces withdrawn, because it is the British 1746 Forces who have been the means of preserving law and order among the various peoples and races. If, indeed, it were at all likely that the country might be split up into its component parts, they might possibly again save the situation. We have heard a certain amount about Pakistan and about the Congress Government. I do not think either of them is at the moment in the realms of practical politics. When I was in India it was— and I have no doubt still is— common and rather loose talk among many Mohammedans of the North to say, "If you hand over the Government of India and withdraw British Forces, then we will not merely split, but we will pay a visit to Southern India which would not be a visit of peace." The Northern races have always considered themselves, and in fact. it is so, as descendants of the conquerors of India and it would be extremely likely that they would pay a far from peaceful visit to the south if British Forces should ever be withdrawn from India. In conclusion, I would like in my humble way to congratulate my right hon. Friend on his wise and statesmanlike measure which, I believe, will make for better government in India, both in peace and war and will, I hope, last longer than some hon. Members appear to anticipate.
Mr. Cove (Aberavon): It would be presumptuous on my part to say that I am in the least an authority upon India but I hope I shall not be as mischievous in my statements as the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Petersfield (Sir G. Jeffreys) was in his remarks. I imagine that some of those remarks, instead of helping to secure co-operation and confidence between this country and India, will have the opposite effect. I have looked at these proposals arid have applied one or two tests to them. One is: Do these proposals of the Government fulfil the ideals and objects for which we are fighting this war?" We have elevated the principle of nationality to a very high position in the battle which is in progress. We have declared that we are fighting for the independence of the peoples of Europe. Well we should get more reality in other people's minds if we applied that principle to the peoples of Asia, and in particular the peoples of India. I profoundly believe that our attitude towards India now will be a test case of our sincerity. American and Russian opinion will be influenced by it, as will progressive 1747 opinion in this country, and I make my plea to the Government that the principle for which we have entered this fight and are carrying on this war, should be applied to India. I think a breath of fresh air would blow through the world, if we reassured representative Indian opinion that we were sincere in our desire for a measure of independence for India.
The second test I apply is this: Have these proposals created the good will and confidence we desire to see? Has there been a favourable reaction in India from any body of representative opinion? As far as I have been able to ascertain, the bulk of representative opinion in India has received these proposals with dismay. The reaction in India has been so violent as to create difficulties and exacerbate feelings, rather than calm them. Even moderate opinion in India has given them a lukewarm welcome. Sir Tej Sapru himself made it clear that there can be no hope in India of working towards constructive ideas while we hold so many Indians in gaol. He said:They cannot forget the internal situation of the country. They will have to undertake and press for a policy of conciliation. It can be no pleasure for any one of us that many thousands of our countrymen should be in gaol. I do feel most strongly that, so long as thousands of these men are in gaol, so long will Indian men be diverted from constructive channels to fruitless channels.That is Sir Tej Sapru's opinion. Even from the moderate end you must go a step further in appeasing—to use a word I do not like—Indian opinion if you want the moderate elements to be enthusiastic about your cause. I do not know whether I have gained the right impression but one of the ironies of the situation is that Nehru is in gaol because he belonged to the party that wanted to assist us in fighting this war. He took the view that if there was a guarantee of independence from the British Government, then India should throw herself heart and soul into the war effort. As a matter of fact, I believe I am right in saying that that attitude of Nehru brought Gandhi the pacifist into Congress.
We have left the Congress movement in the hands and at the dictate of pacifist Gandhi by not releasing men like Nehru, who are prepared to assist us in the war effort. Even as a matter of expediency in fighting the war and in getting the aid which we desire from India, we must give 1748 to these men in the Congress party, who are our friends as far as our ideals in this war are concerned, who hate Nazism and want to defeat Hitler, guarantees of our sincerity in regard to the national independence of India. A first essential step to convince Indian opinion that we are sincere in our ideals is to release these men immediately. Why do not the Government release them? Is it because they are afraid that these men will upset the war effort? In my submission, the real reason the Government are not prepared to release them is that they stand for certain constitutional rights for India and for Indian independence. Clearly, that is what Indians think. Anybody who has followed Indian opinion knows that simply to release these men from prison, but not to give them freedom to agitate for what they desire, is not what Indians want. The release of these men is the test of our sincerity on Indian independence.
As far as I understand the proposals, they are not constitutional proposals, because they make no constitutional changes, but merely administrative changes. The fundamental issue is a constitutional and not an administrative one. As I understand the proposals, there is no democracy in them. The members of the Executive Council are not responsible to any popular Legislature, and until that condition is realised, there will still be an autocracy in India. Why should we desire this autocracy in India? I believe that India's heart would warm to us in the measure that we gave freedom to India. There would then be no necessity to put these men in gaol. I cannot see why the Government do not take immediate steps to have a real national government established in India now. They should give India definite promises and not vague promises. Anybody who has read the Government's statements and the analysis of them by Indians will realise that our promises are indefinite and vague, lacking definiteness both in substance and in time. Let us be definite, and take those steps that would rehabilitate us with India and which, I profoundly believe, would help us to win the war, and not only win it, but win it for the aims that we have in view—national independence and no subjection of one race to another. There is in India a test case, and I ask the Government to act in a truly democratic spirit.
§ Sir Hugh O'Neill (Antrim)
When the Debate began, I was rather doubtful whether the Report stage of the Vote would give an opportunity for that wide discussion which is desired and which has, in fact, taken place, for you, Mr. Speaker, have allowed a wide discussion; and, after all, the administrative matters which we are immediately considering could not really be properly debated without relation to the policy which largely governs them. With regard to the wider constitutional question, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State referred to the Viceroy's declaration of August, 1940, as being the greatest advance on this issue which has taken place in recent years. That declaration made clear, in effect, that whatever form of Constitution Indians could by agreement devise among themselves within the British Empire, and subject to certain over-riding considerations which arose out of our long association with India, would receive the imprimatur of His Majesty's Government. That promise has been re-stated again to-day by my right hon. Friend, and he has made it perfectly clear that the aim and hope of the Government is the free and equal partnership of India within the British Empire. I think it is worth remembering that that comes from a Government the head of which was in the past associated with the most strong opposition to the India Act, 1935, and a Government also which contains in its ranks most of those who have always been known for their strong sympathies with Indian administration. Surely, those promises, coming from such a Government, cannot and should not fail to command the respect and attention of all right-minded people in India.
My right hon. Friend made what was to me a very interesting observation, and I think it was the first time that it has been said in so many words by a Minister actually in charge of Indian affairs. That was when he said that our system of democratic Government in this country, as we understand it—that is to say, an executive responsible to Parliament—might not be suitable in the future Indian constitution. I think that is right. I think that what has happened in recent years and months has tended to prove that the Indian mentality might not be suitable for exactly the form of democratic constitution which we operate in this country. It may be that when the Constitution comes to be 1750 framed for India, it may have to approximate perhaps more closely to the Constitution of the United States than to those of the British Empire, with an executive not quite so closely associated with the Legislature as we understand in our British constitution and within our Imperial conception.
I do not think there is anything more. which can usefully be said at the moment on the constitutional issue, except perhaps this. Several hon. Members have made a point of what they call the necessity for a time-limit in connection with the grant of Dominion status to India. I do not quite know what they mean by that. As was very aptly pointed out by the hon. Lady the Member for the Combined English Universities (Miss Rathbone), it might be very dangerous, and, indeed, it might almost be impracticable, to make a definite time-limit within which you are going to grant Dominion status. Surely that must depend upon the considerations of the time. You cannot expect us to say here, to-day, that in five years' time, whatever happens, India will have received Dominion status. It depends on many things. Would it be possible, for example, if the differences among Indians were the same in five years time as they are to-day? It would not. Therefore, it is surely far better, instead of saying you are going to give a constitution within a definite period of months or years, to state, as the Government and the country have stated, and will continue to state, that there is no obstacle-to India's attainment of free and equal partnership in the British Empire, other than such differences as may exist among Indians themselves.
Regarding the administrative measures, with which we are more immediately concerned in this Debate, I think it is interesting to recall that in the pronouncement issued by the Viceroy in August, 1940, the expansion of the Executive Council was put forward as the policy of the Indian Government and of His Majesty's Government together. With the creation of this War Advisory Council, the Viceroy made every effort to get Congress and the Moslem League to take part in the expanded Executive Council, without success, however, and I think it was in November, 1940, that a further pronouncement was made by the Viceroy, after consultation with His Majesty's 1751 Government, to the effect that he was not justified in proceeding with either of those administrative changes owing to the lack of support from the political parties. I am very glad that that negative attitude, which was the policy last November, has been changed, and that we have now come round to the positive policy which has resulted in the formation both of the expanded Executive Council, and also of the National Defence Council. After all, there is no harm in showing those who will not co-operate that there are others who will, and I do not at all agree with some hon. Members who have stated that the members of this new War Council and of the expanded Executive Council will be nothing but "Yes-men." My right hon. Friend says that they will be nothing of the sort, and I am sure he is right. But it is most unfortunate it should go out to India that there are Members in this House who think the new Members of these Councils will be mere "Yes-men," because it will, to a certain extent, tend to undermine their authority in India and depreciate the body with which they have agreed, with such patriotism, to co-operate.
My right hon. Friend pointed out that the expanded Executive Council would now have an Indian majority. I think that is a very important and far-reaching fact and marks a very' definite stage in the progress of Indian constitutional development. I am glad to see that two of the members of the expanded Viceroy's Council are Sir Firazkahn Noon, who is Member for Labour, and Mr. E. Raghavendra Rao, who is Member for Civil Defence. For the last few years both have been doing, in their respective spheres, excellent work in this country, one as High Commissioner, and the other as one of the advisers at the India Office. I have the friendship of both, and I, personally, wish them well in the new offices they have undertaken. Complaints have been made that we have not put Indians into the offices of Finance and Defence, and Members say that that shows that we do not really trust the Indians as we should. My right hon. Friend has pointed out that at the present time offices such as that of Civil Defence are just as important as the portfolios of Defence and Finance. I agree that India is coming into the actual picture of the war. Apart from any other consideration, it would, 1752 in my view, be most unwise and dangerous to swop horses while crossing the stream and to alter suddenly the whole complexion of these portfolios of Defence and Finance at this very critical juncture. As I see it, that does not in the least cast any slur upon the capacity of any Indian to administer one of those offices. It is simply that the practical considerations which face us at the present moment make any such change undesirable, and. indeed, impossible.
I should like to say a word about the new National Defence Council. First, I think it is worth noting that the title of this body has been changed since the last official announcement was made. Formerly—I believe, in the pronouncement of last November—it was referred to as a War Advisory Council, but now it is called the Indian National Defence Council. I think that is significant. It means that the war is coming so close to India that it is imperative for India to set up a Council for her own national defence. Therefore, this National Defence Council in present conditions becomes of first-rate and supreme importance. As far as I know, it will be the first all-India body which has ever assembled. If Federation had come about, you would have had an all-India body at the centre. Otherwise, I think this will be the first, and it contains Indians of standing and. prestige, men who command respect and who represent many phases of Indian life and thought. As my right hon. Friend pointed out, one of the most significant facts about it is that it contains the Prime Ministers of the four Provinces which are still carrying on self-government. Among those Provinces are two, Bengal and the Punjab, the greatest in India, and it serves to remind us, what many people are apt to forget, that even to-day the four Indian Provinces are still satisfactorily carrying on the self-government which was given them in the Act of 1935.
I should like to ask one or two questions about these proposed changes. I am very glad to hear that the new War Defence Council will meet under the chairmanship of the Viceroy. Until my right hon. Friend said so I do not think that that had been made clear. I take it that it means that the members of the new War Council will not be in a kind of watertight compartment, but that they will actually be brought within the execu- 1753 tive of the Indian Governmental machine. Are they to meet at definite intervals, or only when the Viceroy summons them? Will the Commander-in-Chief be entitled to be present at their meetings, and also representatives of the other Defence Services? It seems to me that, if this new War Council is to be a really useful body, doing work which will be helpful to the war effort and to the Viceroy, it must be something in the nature of, shall I say, the Committee of Imperial Defence in this country and it must have close touch with the heads of the various fighting Services and generally must be in close touch with the Viceroy and his Executive Council. India's contribution to the war has already been very great, and I think it will be greater still, not only in the field but also in the sphere of industrial expansion for war production. The achievements of the Indian regiments and the gallantry of Indian soldiers have been referred to and have been beyond all praise. These new administrative changes, by associating Indians in a greater degree than ever before with their country's war effort, may possibly be the germ from which may grow the future development of the Indian Constitution.
§ Mr. Amery
The Debate has ranged over the whole constitutional field. I certainly cannot object to that; on the contrary I welcome it, but I hope it will make a similar Debate super flous when it falls to my lot after the Recess to deal with a one-Clause Bill extending, subject to decisions taken otherwise, the maximum permissible life of Provincial Governments—a Measure which has already been introduced in another place. As to the discussion to-day, I should like to say a word on a point raised by the hon. lady the Member for the Combined English Universities (Miss Rathbone) in connection with India's war effort. We and the Government of India are anxious to develop India's industrial and munitions production to the very fullest extent. There is no question of obstruction at this end to prevent India developing her industry. As regards shipbuilding, within the capacity of existing yards they are all turning out as many craft as they can, always subject to the fact that the machinery has to come from home. These are relatively speaking small craft. The problem whether India at this time can 1754 successfully embark on the building of larger merchant ships and whether, in fact, it is possible to convey to India all the machinery and material required, and so get an economy of production, is under earnest consideration.
Similarly, it is entirely a mistake to think that the creation of an aircraft industry in India has been obstructed and prevented. It is a matter to which I directed my attention within the first week of holding my present office and a matter in which the Viceroy has shown the greatest keenness and eagerness. The creation of an aircraft industry, as we have observed in our own case here, is a slow and difficult' matter. It is a matter of years to produce an aircraft engine, and even the actual creation of the airframe requires many tools and materials which were not exising in India at the beginning of the war. All the same, in spite of the fact that every engine here or in America seemed booked up for years, the Viceroy. proceeded, with the help of private industry, to create at any rate a small aircraft production industry, whose first planes are already in the air. Within the limits of what is possible I can assure the hon. lady that we shall do all in our power to develop the Indian aircraft industry.
§ Mr. Amery
The Government, which is itself a partner in this industry, is doing its best to get the engines and materials, but it is limited by the terrible competition for all these materials everywhere else. At any rate, India is getting more than we thought possible a little whole ago. That gives me an opportunity of saying a word about Indian industry. His Majesty's Government do not look jealously upon the development of Indian industry—far from it. We fully realise that the development of India's resources in every direction, industrial as well as agricultural, are essential to her prosperity and to the foundation of her security and that free position in the world which we wish to see her attain.
1755 Let me turn to the subject of this Debate. On the actual question of the new Executive and National Defence Council, comparatively little has been said. What has been said has, I think, been in approval. My right hon. Friend the Member for Antrim (Sir H. O'Neill) asked one or two questions to which I am glad to respond. The Council will meet under the chairmanship of the Viceroy at regular intervals every alternate month. It will have an opportunity of investigating, and hearing statements from the Commander-in-Chief or the executive councillors concerned, about the work of their Departments as well as of making suggestions with regard to the work of those Departments. It will in that way get the fullest confidential information about the progress of the war and will be able to convey to the Centre— to the Viceroy and his Executive—the needs and suggestions of the Provinces, of industry and of labour, as well as to convey back to their constituents the point of view of the Centre. The only criticism I have heard—and I regret that I heard it—of this new National Defence Council was from the hon. Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon) who suggested that the Council would be a body of "Yes-men."
§ Mr. Amery
It does not require election to make a man an independent person. The process of election often whittles away independence. As regards the four Prime Ministers of Provinces enjoying democratic self-government, who have joined the National Defence Council, as Prime Ministers—with the assent of their colleagues and presumably with the assent of the elected majorities that support them —they are, surely, in the position of elected representatives. With regard to a large number of the other members, they are not only elected representatives of the people in their own legislatures, but a number of them are men who hold the same views about India's future and who share the general policy of Congress, but have not agreed with Congress in their recent tactics.
The hon. Member for Ince (Mr. G. Macdonald) suggested that I had spoken 1756 unkindly or unfairly about the Congress party. It is far from me to do so. I realise to the full how great over the last two generations has been the part played in India by the National movement, of which the Congress party has been the chief exponent. One might say, indeed, that to-day the ideals of Congress, as advocated over all those years for India, are the ideals we share for India ourselves. It is not on that issue that we criticise Congress. I would criticise it, as in a great part of India its former and present members are criticising it, for tactics which I believe injure those ideals. If Congress had helped to make possible the carrying through of the Federal provisions of the present Act, can anyone doubt that India, from the point of view of self-government, would be far more advanced than it is to-day? Can anyone doubt that Congress would have enjoyed a more powerful position in the government of India than it is ever likely to enjoy again?
Similarly, as to the war position, the hon. Member for North Camberwell suggested that we ought to stand in a white sheet because of the way in which the war was initiated in India and for the lack of some address on our part to the Legislature as was done in the case of the legislatures of the Dominions. As far as the constitutional position is concerned, India was at war immediately we were at war. There is more than that. When the war was in the offing, Congress, which had blamed us for not being more warlike over Abyssinia and for appeasement at Munich, protested vehemently against any reinforcements being sent from India to threatened positions abroad; and to show its disapproval of our whole policy ordered its Members to absent themselves from the Legislature. They were, therefore, not present to be consulted, but those who were present certainly showed no disapproval, either of the fact that India was at war or of the emergency legislation which the Viceroy brought before them. During those weeks the Viceroy made' every possible attempt in consultation with Mr. Gandhi and the various political leaders in India—he saw some 50 in a few weeks—to bring them together in support of the war in India's defence. At the outset Mr. Gandhi was willing to give his wholehearted support without bargaining. He was overruled by what I cannot regard as wiser influences within the executive of his party.
1757 In pursuance of that policy that party deprived the greater part of India of the wide measure of self-government which it was enjoying and has since then embarked on what I can only describe as a futile campaign of deliberately compelling the Government to put into prison leading politicians for saying things which, inevitably, in time of war bring the ordinary man into prison. I have been appealed to from more than one quarter to make a general gaol delivery. At this moment Mr. Gandhi is insisting that those who are let out of prison shall promptly go back again. As a matter of fact, half or more of those who have offended against the law are dealt with by being arrested and let go; others receive comparatively light sentences. It is no question of laying down the condition of a written pledge as a pre-requisite of any individual's release, but so long as the situation remains as it is, the Government are unable to do otherwise than they are doing, that is, to let those who insist on going to prison have their will, and I may add that it is a will whose wisdom is being more and more doubted by large numbers of adherents of Congress itself.
The hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. Cove) said that this was the test case of the issue for which we were fighting this war, and demanded that we should at once, or at some definite date, give India that national freedom for which she asks. Under what Constitution? To whom? That is the very question that is at issue. There is no India as there is a Belgium or a Holland. India is much more like Europe than it is like any one of those individual countries. As I tried to explain throughout, it is not a case of our unwillingness to give self-government to India but of the absence of any willingness among Indians themselves to agree upon the terms on which they will govern themselves, either India as a whole or, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyne (Mr. Wedgwood), whom we welcome back to-day, has said, as separate units. The whole essence of our policy is to invite, to urge, Indians to come to an agreement.
I heard a certain amount to-day about the failure of statesmanship. I also heard applause of the statesmanship of Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru in initiating a discussion upon an examination into what India's 1758 future Constitution should be. That is our statesmanship. That is what we invited Indians to do a year ago. I am glad that now, after 11 months or more, Indian statesmanship has responded, but I think some acknowledgment should be given to our statesmanship for giving the lead, and I hope that lead will be further followed. As for the statesmanship of destroying self-government where it existed and embarrassing the war effort with no particular aim in view, is not that also a costly failure? Meanwhile, in the absence of a possibility of constitutional advance on the broad issue because there is no agreement, we have taken interim measures which do affect the spirit of India's administration and Constitution, and during this interim period we do aim to create the atmosphere, the spirit, which will make a solution of India's constitutional difficulties a possibility. The difficulty in India to-day is not so much a formal one as one of spirit and atmosphere— the impossible positions relative to each other into which the party leaders have got. I am glad to think that, regardless of party leaders and in defiance of party discipline, patriotic Indians have come forward to work together for India's defence, and if they can work together for her defence from dangers outside, they are also capable of working together to find India's salvation at home.
§ Question, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution," put, and agreed to.
§ Mr. SPEAKER then proceeded, pursuant to the Order of the House this day, to put forthwith the Questions.
§ " That this House doth agree with the Committee in the outstanding Resolutions reported in respect of Classes I to IX and the Unclassified Services of the Civil Estimates, the Revenue Departments Estimates, the Navy Estimates, the Army Estimates, and the Air Estimates."