Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [12th December]:
That this House takes note of the statement on India made on nth December by the Prime Minister and expresses its hope that a settlement of the present difficulties between Indian Parties will be forthcoming. —[Sir S. Cripps.]
§ Question again proposed.
§ 11.7 a.m.
§ Sir John Anderson (Scottish Universities)
I do not know whether there is still anyone present who thinks it unfortunate that we should be debating the affairs of India at this juncture. I confess that for my part I was surprised that the Government, with all their responsibilities, should have deprecated a Debate, and I was still more surprised to hear the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) and other hon. Members put forward the admitted gravity of the present situation as a reason for not having 0 Debate. In my humble opinion, any argument of that kind cuts precisely in the opposite direction. The Government have their responsibilities, responsibilities which may be discharged, and, indeed, must be discharged, to a considerable extent behind closed doors. Parliament and the British people have their responsibilities also, and to them the same consideration does not apply. I think it is important that the people of India should feel that Parliament is alert and alive to every development in a changing situation. I would also wish the Services to feel that we here are mindful of the heavy burdens they are being called upon to bear, burdens which are being aggravated and not lightened by the developments that are going on.
1480 I am troubled, I confess, about the condition of the administrative machine in India. Unlike some hon. Members who have spoken, I have no recent authentic information, but I seek reassurance from the Government. I would like to be assured that every possible care is being taken to maintain the administration in India in a condition to discharge effectively the responsibilities which still have to be borne as in the past. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Mr. Nicholson), who spoke last evening, I am surprised that of late so little attention has been given in public statements to this very important aspect of our affairs.
The responsibility for the course of events leading up to the present situation is widely distributed, but for my part, I feel able to bear my share in that responsibility cheerfully. Amid much that is very painful in the Indian situation, tragic and almost heartrending to those who have been closely associated with Indian affairs, I do not feel that we have anything with which to reproach ourselves. Mistakes there may have been, here and there, but on the whole, what has been accomplished by Britain in India will stand out in history as one of the most splendid achievements of the human race. Whatever our regrets, I think we can console ourselves with the thought that, stony though the path may have been, and though our progress may have been attended by hardship and misfortunes in various directions, the progress which has been made, the advances which have been made, towards full self-government in India were, in fact, inevitable.
If I may be personal for a moment, I remember speaking, in 1934, when I happened to be in this country during an interval in my term of office as Governor of Bengal, and referring to what I called the "irresistible march of social evolution." What I said was not very acceptable in certain quarters, and it looked as if I were going to receive a drubbing in certain organs of the Press, but I was fortunate, because it happened that on the very same day, that wise statesman Field-Marshal Smuts made a speech in another part of Scotland, in which he said practically the same thing, and for the moment I escaped. I cannot always hope to be so fortunate.
Looking back, one can trace very clearly the steps by which we have arrived at the present situation—some- 1481 times the advance has been rapid, sometimes it has been slow. It begins with the historic declaration of Queen Victoria, when she assumed the Imperial Crown, and goes on to Lord Ripon's scheme for local self-government in India, the declaration made by Lord Irwin, in the middle twenties, the Cabinet pronouncement early in the present war, and then to what we know as the "Cripps offer," the Amery statement of June, 1945, and the most recent Cabinet Mission. All, definitely and quite clearly, mark the stages in a process which, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade said yesterday, brings us to the culmination of a very long progression. It all serves to show that one community, democratically organised and ruled, cannot indefinitely hold in subjection another community ripe for self-government. An attempt to do so would, I suggest, involve a challenge to the basis of the community's own authority. That is a broad truth to which I myself would subscribe.
So far, we may be in general agreement, but our responsibility—I speak deliberately of responsibility and not interest— does not end there. We have to see to it, inevitable though these processes may have been, that the change in its final stage, the change to which we are deeply committed, is effected in the way best calculated to protect those interests with which we have become specially charged, and above all, that the change is effected in an orderly manner. I am quite sure that the Cabinet Mission had such considerations fully in mind. They went out, as we all recollect, with the warmest expressions of good will from all quarters in this House, and I would say that we must all admire their unsparing efforts in what must have been trying physical conditions.
Without appearing to be in the slightest degree patronising, may I say that I consider the plan which was evolved by the Commission and embodied in their Report as most ingenious, and constituting a very valuable constructive contribution? It was not a complete plan; there are many many details still requiring to be worked out. It was little more than a broad general conception, but I myself would give it full support, and I trust that even now, despite many discouraging signs, it may be found to provide a basis of agreement when the necessary details have 1482 been further elaborated. We must recognise that the plan, as presented by declarations that the future Constitution of India must be the work of Indians alone. I do not think that anyone would wish to reproach the Commission on that account; as things turned out, they had no alternative.
So far, I hope that I have struck no discordant note, but here I must join issue and be sharply critical. I wish at this point to speak of the proceedings leading up to the formation of the interim Government. In my last speech on the subject of India in this House in March, 1946, when the Commission was about to proceed to India, I called attention to the fact that the conception which was put forward in regard to an interim Government went beyond what had been contemplated in what we know as the "Cripps offer." I thought it necessary to enjoin caution. I have always, as I think my former colleagues know, had misgivings about this, but I do not think my misgivings were fully shared with those with whom I was associated, and I take my share of responsibility for previous steps taken towards the establishment of an Indian interim Government in anticipation of a full constitutonal settlement. I have had to recognise that there was a strong argument in favour of displacing men whose experience was purely administrative in favour of men whose position in Indian national life was likely to give confidence to a politically-minded community. I was always apprehensive lest the process of Indian nationalisation, as far as the Central Government of India was concerned, might be carried further than was consistent with the efficiency of the governmental machine within the existing constitutional structure. But I certainly had no idea that a fundamental change in that structure would be made without the authority of Parliament, and that, I suggest, is exactly what has happened. Let me develop the point.
If we compare the proposals put forward by Mr. Amery, with the authority, of course, of the Government as a whole, in June last year, we will see that what he proposed differed fundamentally from what the Cabinet Mission decided. He proposed that the selection of the new Indian Council should be made by the Viceroy on his responsibility from a list 1483 of names which would be submitted to him. The constitutional position, the status of the members of the Council, the powers of the Viceroy and the responsibilities of the Secretary of State were to be entirely unchanged. What has now happened? There has been, as far as I can understand, no process of selection. Certain Indian leaders have been included in the Viceroy's Council almost ex-officio as Indian leaders. They have gone through certain forms. I suppose that the oath of allegiance has been taken, but they are now acting as Ministers responsible not to the Viceroy but to the Legislature, and as party leaders. Can it possibly be suggested that the powers reserved for the Viceroy, which represent important safeguards insisted upon by Parliament, and expressing the ultimate responsibility of Parliament, can still be exercised in the same way as they could, and in practice were, in regard to people who were nothing more than Crown servants?
Can it be denied—I put this to His Majesty's Government—that this development has prejudiced and not advanced the prospect of a constitutional settlement? Can it be denied that the efficiency, the administrative efficiency, of the Indian Government has been gravely impaired? These are very grave matters, very grave indeed, I hold; and it is my duty to say frankly that a cardinal blunder was made when that change to which I have called attention was decided upon and put into effect. The right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) suggested that a cardinal blunder was made when Mr. Nehru, the leader of the Hindu Community, was permitted alone to suggest who should be the members of the Council. I go further, and I say that to allow representative Indians, nominated by political organisations, to constitute the responsible instrument on which His Majesty's Government and Parliament must rely for the discharge of responsibilities which still rest quite clearly on Britain and on the British Parliament, was a mistake, a blunder, of the first order.
We have to maintain orderly government in India. What we have in fact done by this change, which I criticise so emphatically, has been, in my judgment, to sweep aside, to abrogate, by administrative action safeguards which have hitherto been regarded as absolutely 1484 vital for the discharge of our responsibilities in relation to minorities and those other interests in India which we are pledged to protect. I would like to know what His Majesty's Government have to say in answer to that criticism, which is not a criticism, let me point out, of any Indian statesman but is a criticism of Ministers, and I hope that they will meet it. If I have not made the grounds of my criticism clear, I hope that I shall be asked, here and now, further to elucidate them. To me this seems to be an absolutely Vital matter.
§ The Minister Without Portfolio (Mr. A. V. Alexander)
I think that the whole point is—as the right hon. Gentleman has asked us whether we wish to challenge the point now—that no such fundamental change as he seemed to indicate by his words this morning was made. The powers of the Viceroy were left entirely as they were, backed by what was available to back them; but we did, and I think that we were right in the light of what was said during the preparation of the Cripps Commission, to consider that it was desirable to get the further support of political leaders in India at that time, and to widen further the popular support of Indian opinion in the direction which we wanted it to go. We and the Viceroy have all the way through this period of interim Government, sought to interfere as little as possible with the policy of the interim Government which has been set up, the first one from and September, and the second one, to which the Muslims have now acceded; but to say that the actual constitutional position has been changed would not be correct.
§ Sir J. Anderson
May I point out that the right hon. Gentleman has not in fact. addressed himself to my argument at all? I have conceded, as I am bound to, because I have been party to certain proposals, that there is an argument in favour of substituting representative Indians on the Viceroy's Council for tried administrators; but there is all the difference in the world, I suggest, between the proposal that was put forward ultimately in June of last year under which the Viceroy would make a selection from names submitted to him and what has now happened.
I know perfectly well that the provisions of the Constitution Act of 1935 have not been repealed. Of course they could not 1485 be. They stand. But my point is that you cannot possibly suppose that the Viceroy could exercise his powers in relation to Indian leaders, practically self-nominated, appointed practically ex-officio as Indian leaders, who were acting no doubt from their point of view quite rightly as party leaders, regarding themselves as directly responsible to the Indian Legislature, in the same way that you would expect those powers to be exercised in regard to persons, however selected, whose status was clearly understood by them to be that of Crown servants, which, of course, is the constitutional position. I suggest here that a change has been made. It is a subtle but profound change which must have a very important bearing on the practical issues with which we are concerned and the capacity of the Indian Government to discharge their elementary responsibility for peace, order and good government. I apologise if I have spoken with undue vehemence, but I feel it a point of extreme importance and one, indeed, that is fundamental.
I think it is agreed that amid all these disturbing changes that are taking place we remain clearly responsible for the maintenance of orderly government in India. Therefore, I ask for an assurance —because the right hon. Gentleman the Minister without Portfolio made an interjection yesterday when my hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Mr. Nicholson) was speaking which disturbed me—that the Government are fully alive to the necessity of seeing that the services are maintained in a state of efficiency, and that they recognise that it is upon them that the responsibility rests, the responsibility to Parliament and nowhere else, for the military, civil, police and all other services on which we have to rely for the discharge of the elementary responsibility of government in relation to peace and good order.
There are, indeed, many disturbing features but I do not wish to particularise. I do not wish to give illustrations which might be prejudicial under present circumstances, but, for example, the other day—and my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford referred to it yesterday—Mr. Nehru was reported as having given orders for the troops or police—I do not know which—to shoot. It was suggested—and I do not dissent— that it was to Mr. Nehru's credit that he should have given those orders, but why 1486 should the question of giving orders in those circumstances ever have arisen? What has happened? The responsibility for maintaining order is the responsibility of Provincial Governments. If a situation develops in which the police or troops unfortunately have to use firearms, that is a situation which should be dealt with by the constitutional authorities on the spot. I know what my feelings would have been when I was Governor of Bengal, where sometimes trouble, difficulties and communal disturbances arose, if someone came down from Delhi and gave orders to the police or even to the troops. I should have regarded it as a very grave reflection indeed on the manner in which I was discharging my responsibilities.
It is a responsibility which rests upon the Governor of every Province to deal in his individual judgment with any grave menace to peace and order in India. He cannot be relieved of that responsibility by actions of anyone, however eminent, however distinguished, however representative. Let me make clear that I am voicing no criticism whatever of Mr. Nehru in that connection. I am merely saying that it is to me disquieting that such an incident should have occurred and that apparently no one can draw from it the inference that I draw, namely, that in certain parts of India the authority of the constituted responsible people is breaking down. I am not going to say any more on that subject. I could multiply such instances, but I do not want to say or do anything which could possibly make a difficult situation more difficult.
We have this clear responsibility resting upon us, and we have to go on discharging it. I am not going to ask right hon. Gentlemen how long in their opinion we shall be able to go on discharging those responsibilities. If matters develop as they seem to be developing I think there must be some limit, but in my view we must see to it that when our responsibilities are handed over to another authority they are handed over in an orderly fashion. I am sure we have got to see that until they are handed over they are fully and conscientiously discharged. Any idea that we should go out of India and leave a vacuum or that we could go out of India and abandon the Indian people to disorder and chaos is to me utterly abhorrent. I most fervently hope that we shall find it 1487 possible ultimately to hand over our responsibilities intact to an authority properly constituted for the whole of India, representing agreement between the main elements in India's national life, at any rate acceptable to the main communities. But' I think we have to reckon with the possibility that that situation will not arise, and I have to ask, What then?
This is merely exploratory, but I think we have to take account of all possible contingencies. I think it might arise that we shall have to hand over authority to what is not a central Government representing the whole of India, but to some other authorities constituted I do not know how. That is something which it seems to me ought to be examined closely. I do not suggest that such a contingency is going to arise in the near future. I do not think we should be in too great a hurry in these matters. I think ample time must be allowed for reflection. I think nothing should be done in the interval, which might diminish the chances, however slender they may seem now, of a settlement on lines that we should all desire, broadly in accordance with the plan that was evolved by the Cabinet Mission.
We must be prepared for every contingency, and that brings me to say a word about Pakistan. The last sentence of the Prime Minister's announcement last week is very relevant in that connection. I do not wish to say more than is absolutely necessary, but I am bound to say that I personally, from such knowledge as I have of the Indian situation and of Indian affairs, would not regard partition in any form as intrinsically attractive. I agree in that respect with the comments of the Cabinet Mission. I can perfectly understand, however, that partition in some form might commend itself to sections of Indian opinion as preferable to something else which they would regard as still worse, but I would point out that there are very great practical difficulties. There are bound to be great difficulties with regard to defence. The economic situation, under any partition of India, must present many difficult features.
There are also special considerations affecting particular areas. The North-West Frontier seems to me to be a comparatively simple case. There are the North-West Frontier Province, Sind and British Baluchistan. The Punjab presents 1488 features which are deserving of special consideration under any plan, and I should very greatly hope that some way would be found, however the Constitution may ultimately shape itself, of keeping together the communities in the Punjab— the Sikhs, the Muslims and the Hindus. I was glad to learn from something that was said the other day that the responsible leaders of the Muslims have expressed themselves as sympathetic to that conception. But it is when we come to North-Eastern India that the conception of partition presents, in my view, the most formidable difficulties. Not only Assam—an area in which there is not a Muslim majority, although it is very closely linked ethnologically and economically with Eastern Bengal—but Bengal in the West contains a community which is predominantly Hindu, and the great city of Calcutta, which is the main and almost the only effective outlet for the products of Bengal, is 75 per cent. Hindu. I think that the arguments that might be advanced on the one side and the other in regard to the position in Calcutta, in relation to a partitioned India, present very formidable difficulties indeed.
On that note, I will leave this particular question. I most earnestly hope that we may have some further period of settled conditions in India during which further thought can be given to every aspect of this most baffling constitutional problem. I most earnestly trust that an ultimate solution will, somehow or other, be found which will preserve the constitutional unity of India which, I myself believe, is entirely due to the British participation in Indian affairs for the last 150 years. But it seems to me most important, in the interests, not of India alone but of the peace of the world, that the fundamental unity of India as a constitutional entity should be preserved. Therefore, I trust that nothing that I have said this morning may, in any way, impair the chance of solution. In my opinion, the prospects at the moment are not bright. Let us, however, all be agreed that we have to discharge our fundamental responsibilities for government in India until the constitutional change has been effected, and let us all be agreed that it must be a dominant consideration with us that we should hand over those responsibilities intact and in an orderly fashion.
§ 11.45 a.m.
§ Mr. Cove (Aberavon)
We have listened to a speech which, I am sure, the whole House will agree has been very interesting from a technical point of view. There is no doubt that I and other hon. Members here cannot pretend to emulate the right hon. Gentleman in his detailed knowledge and experience of Indian affairs, but it is interesting to observe that there seems to be complete unanimity on the Opposition Front Bench, while there is evident disunity between the Opposition back and Front Benches. We had more than one speech yesterday which disagreed with the point of view of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition'. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Anderson) now comes along with his technical knowledge and backs up the general point of view put before the House yesterday by the Leader of the Opposition.
I take it from the speech which he has just delivered, that the right hon. Gentleman is still carrying on the old Imperial policy which has dominated the party opposite in relation to Indian affairs— divide and rule, divide and conquer. An hon. Gentleman opposite shakes his head, but what have we had from the right hon. Gentleman this morning, and what did we have from the Leader of the Opposition yesterday? Not an appeal by the Government of the day for Muslims and Hindus to unite, but the pointing out of every difference and the stirring up of the minorities that exist in India. In his speech yesterday, the Leader of the Opposition mentioned every minority that existed in India. Indeed, it seemed to me that he tried to create new ones. He created a new one in demanding sectional autonomy for the Untouchables. That was the first time I had heard that demand brought forward on the Floor of the House.
This morning, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities played and toyed with Pakistan. It was, I gathered from his words, intrinsically attractive. What did that mean? It surely left a loophole for the right hon. Gentleman and the Conservative Party to support Pakistan in pointing out that there could be partition in various areas in India. He ended by saying that we ought to have, and that he hoped we would have, unity in India. Again, I 1490 ask him, What contribution has he or the Leader of the Opposition made in this Debate to achieving that unity? I cannot find anything to that effect, either in the speech to which we have just listened, or in the speech made yesterday afternoon by the Leader of the Opposition.
§ Sir Arthur Salter (Oxford University)
The hon. Gentleman has made a very serious suggestion to the effect that a responsible party in this House is pursuing a policy which has as its object the creation of a division between the Hindus and the Muslims. I have listened to the speeches, and it is perfectly obvious that, while some hon. Members of the Opposition have recognised the existence of differences in India, they have done so with regret, and obviously desire that these differences should be reduced.
§ Sir J. Anderson
May I say that I made it perfectly clear that I most ardently desired that a Constitution should be evolved acceptable to the main elements in India's national life, and that I should regard it as a misfortune if that result did not eventuate?
§ Mr. Cove
I am glad to have drawn that statement from the right hon. Gentleman. [HON. MEMBERS: "He said it before."] Those who read his speech in HANSARD tomorrow will see that a very general expression of unity has been made and that, when the speech is looked at in detail, there are in it the germs of partition and disunity which were fastened upon by the Leader of the Opposition yesterday. I hope that we shall have increasing evidence of desire on the side of the Conservative Party to co-operate with the Government in achieving unity and real independence for India within a measurable distance of time. Anybody who knows anything about the history of India knows full well that down the years we have encouraged communal differences—
§ Lieut.-Colonel Hamilton (Sudbury)
May I interrupt my hon. Friend to say that I deny that completely?
§ Mr. Cove
My hon. and gallant Friend does not deny the facts of history. 1491 As a matter of fact the other day I was reading a famous remark by Lord Morley to the Earl of Minto when he said, "You started this Muslim affair; I did not want to start it."
We can read this through the whole history of India. It is quite clearly stated that, for generations, as an Imperial Power we have fomented and encouraged communal differences in order that we might maintain our rule in India, but I am glad to see that with the advent of the Labour Government that spirit has gone. It has not gone from the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. I cannot speak on behalf of the Government, but I think I can say that the Government have shown a different spirit and approach to this problem which gives the impression—as the right hon. Gentleman opposite has realised—that we can no longer stay in India on an Imperial basis. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities mentioned the break-up of law and order in the various States in India, and while he supported and commended the action of Nehru he still had doubts, if not criticisms, as to the action which he took under the Constitution. Are not these disorders, if we look at them this way, evidence of the breakdown in India of British rule? Are these disorders not evidence of the fact that a complete new attitude and a complete new policy are desired? In his autobiography, Nehru mentions that the communal differences are only the mask for deep social and political differences which exist in India. Nehru at least knows more about India than my hon. Friends opposite—
§ Mr. Cove
That may be so. I quite agree, but I am quite sure that Nehru knows more than hon. Members opposite. I should like to quote from his autobiography to show that he not only sees the differences among Muslims but also the differences among Hindus. He says:Hindu and Muslim communalism is, in neither case, even bona fide communalism—In neither case, neither on the Hindu side nor on the Muslim side—but political and social reaction hiding behind the communal mask.Behind all those communal differences are the social, economic and political problems 1492 that face India. What in brief are those problems? Dire, distressing poverty, illiteracy, hunger, starvation, famine. Behind all these communal differences are those terrible economic and social problems, and I believe that if India is given independence and complete control over her own affairs those problems will unite the Indian people and sweep away the ephemeral communal differences that exist and have been fomented in the past. There is no Muslim poverty as such. There is no Hindu poverty as such. Both sections of the community are sunk in deep poverty, and after what? 180 years of British Imperial rule. It is time for us to get out of India and to allow the Indian people to solve their own difficulties. Quite frankly I believe that if there is cooperation here, India will achieve her independence under the leadership of the present Government by constitutional means. One hopes and prays that that will happen. Much has been said about the riots, but they are small in their effect in relation to India's huge population.
I want to ask the Government two questions. Why is it that in the present interim Government the Muslims are allowed, as it were, to be there without taking responsibility and without really cooperating with their fellow Hindus in that Government? It seems to be either political hypocrisy or a farce, and it is derogatory to the kind of government the right hon. Gentleman opposite wants that there should be allowed in that Government men who deliberately do not and will not co-operate. There lies squarely and fairly on the shoulders of the Muslim League the responsibility for undermining and making powerless, as far as they can, the central interim Government which exists in India.
§ Mr. Cove
I am not fomenting communalism. I am pointing out what has happened. I do not want communalism. It is stupid in the modern world to have deep, vicious differences over religious issues. I believe that there should be complete freedom in all matters of religion. Of course, we are suffering from the 1935 Act and what has happened in the past at the communal elections. We are ossified by our actions in the past. I do not want any religious differences. As a matter of fact, as a Socialist I can only concede to 1493 political government a secular basis, but I realise that at present that is quite impossible and for some time. I accept that, but I say quite definitely that as far as I have followed the British Press, and the statements made here by various prominent leaders, all the time there is insistence that Congress should make compromises, that it is Congress which must take the next step. The balance needs correcting, and it is the Muslim League and Mr. Jinnah who must take some step in order to achieve that unity which I gather we in this House all desire in order to achieve immediate and complete independence for India.
The Prime Minister stated in relation to this problem that no minority would be allowed to prevent the achievement of Indian independence. I wonder, is that the position now? I hope it is. The President of the Board of Trade made a famous speech some time ago, when he was in Opposition, in which he pointed out that to deny self-government because of the opposition of a minority was indeed to put the minority in the position of governing the destinies of India and of preventing the realisation of that independence which we all desire. I hope and pray that the Government will hold the balance evenly. As far as I can follow events, I believe that in order that that balance may be held evenly it is time the Muslim League made their compromises, and took their steps to achieve the unity and independence of India. The fact of the matter is that we, Britain, cannot uphold India by power. We have not the reserves of power in the modern world. We have lost command of the sea.
§ Mr. Cove
America has the biggest fleet the world has ever seen. The greatest factor in attaining and holding together the British Empire was sea power, and when sea power has passed from our hands, the prime factor in holding the Empire together has slipped from us. We have not power to hold the Empire together on the basis of power politics. What can we put in its place? We have not the power, we have not the reserves either of men or materials in the modern world—
§ Mr. Alexander
Might I interrupt for a moment? It is so important. I hope my hon. Friend for whom I have a great personal regard, will be careful in his 1494 choice of words on this occasion, and certainly not deprecate the spirit of the British people who were in a position of equal difficulty to that of which he is now talking in May, 1940.
§ Mr. Cove
I am aware of that, but the right hon. Gentleman has gone back to 1940. It is now 1946 and a war has occurred. There has been a terrific shift in the balance of power, and it is no good saying anything else. Let us face it quite frankly. It was not the American Fleet that dominated the world seas in 1940.
§ Sir Peter Macdonald (Isle of Wight)
Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that there is any danger from the United States Fleet to our position in India?
§ Mr. Cove
I am not saying anything of the kind at the moment. I am pointing out the stark, naked fact that this war has resulted in a depletion of power as far as Britain is concerned. If the world is to be ruled on the basis and principle of power politics, the point I am coming to is that we have to put something in the place of power. Power politics, as far as Britain is concerned, is an obsolete weapon and we have to put something in its place. The Labour Government in relation to India are trying their best to put something in its place. I want the wholehearted co-operation of the Opposition in this. Good will—
§ Mr. Cove
Brotherhood. [Laughter.] I am sure no speech of mine would prevent the hon. Gentleman, if he wanted to give it, from doing so. We want a new spirit. We shall desire and need the friendship of India in the future from many points of view. We shall need it for trade and industry and the general welfare of our people. The Labour Government, in their policy towards India, have shown that evidence of good will. I want to see the Labour Government strong and determined in the application of that spirit, and seeing that no minority shall spoil the great policy of liberation for our Indian comrades throughout the length and breadth of the Indian continent.
§ 12.7 p.m.
§ Lord John Hope (Midlothian and Peebles, Northern)
The hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. Cove) observed that any- 1495 one who knows anything about the history of the relations between this country and India knows perfectly well that we have encouraged communal differences. All I have to say to that is that if he had only asked somebody who did know a little about the history of India he would not have made that statement, [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] It is totally inaccurate. I shall confine myself to two facts in my remarks. The first is that we as a party are committed, and are proud to be committed, up to the hilt to the general policy of His Majesty's Government. Detailed criticism of the latter stages of that policy has been made, and with it I agree, but looking back through the trees to the wood, it is right to state that the broad policy which His Majesty's Government are trying to fulfil is the policy of the Conservative Party, of the Labour Party, and of the country. If any proof were needed of what I have just said, it may be partially found in the fact that those who in the past, sometimes from this party, have criticised what successive Governments have done, have never been able to put forward any alternative policy that was remotely constructive or possible.
The point of this Debate, as I think the House agrees, is that as much unanimity as is possible should be shown by this House. In that connection, I wish to remind hon. Members opposite of something of which it is only right they should be reminded. Whatever criticisms may have been levelled, never has the good faith of the party opposite been questioned from this side of the House. That is in striking and, I think, in direct contrast to the attitude which the party opposite felt it necessary to show towards my party when we were responsible for India. I say quite deliberately that if we had had the good will of Members opposite, as they have ours, now that they are responsible, a great deal of bitterness and sadness might have been avoided. If the good will and support which my party have given to the present Viceroy had been given in like measure, and like generosity, to the last Viceroy by Members opposite much sadness and frustration might have been avoided.
I hope that the House, with its customary generosity, will allow me to pay tribute to what the last Viceroy tried his best to do for India. He spent over seven 1496 years of the best years of his life in that country. I know as well as, if not better than, anyone in the House how he strove to help India on, to help her leaders on to a state whereby they might take responsibility over in that great country. To see him in his unswerving devotion to duty was an inspiration which those of us who saw it can. never forget. That is all I want to say about the commitments of my party and the general policy which he Government are now endeavouring to conclude in India.
The second fact which must be stressed —indeed, it has already been stressed—is the inescapable fact that although the British Parliament is de jure responsible for India, de facto political power has passed to Indian hands. It is true, constitutionally, that the Viceroy still has his veto but, by convention, which is so powerful, he is acting on the advice of Indian Ministers. I do not know whether that fact could have been helped or not, but it does exist, and there can be no remedy for the future of India without recognition of that fact. To state these facts dispassionately and calmly is a contribution which has been made from this side of the House during this Debate. I hope that His Majesty's Government will be able soon to let the Secretary of State's servants in India know where they stand. They are at the moment in an intolerable state. Those are the two main facts which I was anxious to put before the House, but before I sit down I would like to quote to the House two very remarkable tributes to this country which were made long ago, one by a Hindu leader and one by a Muslim leader. I hope that the hon. Member for Aberavon will take these words to heart. The Indian National Congress assembled, it will be remembered, for the first time in Bombay, in 1885. At that meeting Mr. Bonerji presided, and said this:I ask whether, in the most glorious days of Hindu rule, you could imagine the possibility of a meeting of this kind … would it have been possible, even in the days of Akbar, for a meeting like this to assemble, composed of all classes and communities, all speaking in one language? … It is under the civilising rule of the Queen, and the people of England, that we are meeting here together, hindered by none, freely allowed to speak our minds without the least fear or hesitation. Such a thing is possible under British rule, and under British rule only.The Muslim League was founded some years later, in 1906, and at its first meet- 1497 ing its leader, Sir Saiyid Ahmed, said this:Of such benevolence as the English Government shows to the foreign nations under her there is no example in the history of the world.Whatever the future may hold, and it is inevitably, and rightly, a future which the Indians alone can either make or break, that future will be approached, for it must be approached, in the light of a past of which we, who have so long been paramount in India, have no reason whatever to be ashamed.
§ 12.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Hopkin Morris (Carmarthen)
The speech to which we have just listened has given clear proof, if it were needed, of how anxious all parties are to see that a settlement of the Indian affair is attained. I think it is totally untrue to say that there is anyone so irresponsible in this House who would lightly say anything that would hinder or mar the possibility of that settlement. I have heard the Debate all through, and I do not think anyone could fail to be impressed by the speech made last night by the hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. Nicholson). It was a speech which revealed sincere anxiety for a settlement of this grievous problem. Times have changed. Reference was made this morning to Lord Morley. On 22nd November. 1907, Lord Morley recorded an interesting conversation which he had had with the Emperor of Germany, who was then visiting this country. They were discussing British rule in India, and the Emperor said, "British rule is there forever." Lord Morley later repeated that conversation to Lord Roberts, who received it with laughter, and said, "The Emperor little knows the reality of the facts." That was in 1907. We know the reality of the facts. How true and prophetic Lord Roberts' words were.
We are faced today with the grave duty of helping India on the road to freedom, but the differences are deep seated, and even the hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. Cove) recognised that. These differences between the various communities of India are spiritual differences. I believe that this is the real problem of India. The very essence of a political problem is how to adjust the beliefs of a people and the traditions of a people with their material welfare and happiness. That is the essence of political problems in all lands alike, and that is the essence of the problem in 1498 India today. How are we to bring these people with varying religious beliefs and varying traditions and conditions to work together? The material conditions over the whole vast continent of India may be very nearly alike, and that is something which will continually force them to work together and to help them to learn their lesson in the long run. We hope that lesson will be learned without bloodshed and with agreement; but learned it will be, sometime, though it may be that India will have to go through some suffering before that is achieved.
Can anyone doubt that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Anderson) was placing his finger upon the most serious problem, of which, I agree, the Government is fully aware? The Cabinet Mission were faced with it and they tried to deal with it. That problem is the threatened breakdown—not a complete breakdown, but a partial breakdown, perhaps—in the administrative services in India. That is the really serious problem in the present situation. There is, however, another factor in the present situation which we have to recognise. We have too great a tendency to confuse two things, in this country as well as in India—to confuse law with justice, and they are very different things. Justice is something which the mind of man has been seeking for centuries, and this is an old problem which has occupied the most penetrating minds of mankind for thousands of years. We have to solve that problem. The problem of law is a totally different one, and I cannot help thinking that it is a misfortune in India—and I am speaking of all political parties alike—that nearly all the political leaders are lawyers. It can be a misfortune to have no lawyers in a Parliament, though there has been such a Parliament in English history. It was the Addled Parliament, but it passed no laws. But it is possible to have too many lawyers. What gives stability to the political life of this country is that all grades of public life are always represented in it. All professions and all callings are represented, and the danger when there is one profession alone, is that that profession looks at matters from a purely professional angle.
§ Mr. Speaker
May I point out that there is only an hour and a quarter before the last speech from the Front Opposition Bench begins, and that one does not want more interruptions or longer speeches than are necessary?
§ Mr. Morris
I just want to make a point which I think is one of substance. I am not interested now in the causes which produced it, but I want to point out that these differences cannot be solved by referring them to a federal court unless there is a basic sense of justice underlying it common to all parties and accepted by all parties. When the proposals are put forward, they should not be examined as if they are only proposals for transferring all power to India. They should be examined substantially in the light of common justice and the common welfare of the country. We are seeking, I believe, wholeheartedly, Government and Opposition alike, a solution of this problem, and we are committed to the general scheme—every part of this House, and Liberals no less than the other two parties. We wish the Government well and we think that they have acted with good faith throughout. There may be details which are open to criticism, but they do not matter very much now What does really matter is the general sense of justice underlying the proposals, and the necessity that India shall be convinced that that is true, whatever parties there are, and that all interests will be carefully safeguarded. What we are seeking to do is to build up an India that shall be prosperous and that shall govern itself in the light of the prophecy of Lord Roberts.
§ 12.28 p.m.
§ Mrs. Middleton (Plymouth, Sutton)
No hon. Member of this House can think that any useful purpose has been served by forcing this Debate at this particular moment in Indian affairs, however guarded our tongues may be—no useful purpose to India, which should be our first consideration, no useful purpose to British-Indian relations, and, finally, no useful purpose to the ultimate welfare and happiness of mankind. I suggest that the forcing of the Debate has been in line with the attitude of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition 1500 to the problem of India, except for one brief period, over the last quarter of a century. I suggest, and I speak with a full sense of responsibility, that there is no one who is more responsible for mischief in the relations of this country with India than the Leader of the Opposition.
The failure of the Cripps Mission during the Coalition Government was no surprise to me, not because the people of India distrusted the President of the Board of Trade, or doubted his integrity in any suggestions which he might make, but because India was not prepared to accept a post-dated cheque at the hands of the right hon. Gentleman who was then his Leader. I think that the speech made in yesterday's Debate by the right hon. Gentleman has proved how right India was at that moment. I speak with some personal knowledge from memories firmly imprinted on my mind. During the Round Table Conference and the sittings of the Joint Select Committee, I was assisting, in the presentation of their-case, not those who accepted the Congress viewpoint, but moderate Indian leaders who wholeheartedly desired the maintenance of the British connection in India, as, indeed, a large section of Indian opinion sincerely did. I remember that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition gave evidence—at his own request, let it be noticed—to the Joint Select Committee, and I remember the attitude of mind that was revealed by that evidence. I remember very clearly how those with whom I was working at that time—who, as I say, had hitherto desired nothing more than the maintenance of the British connection—were overnight turned into flaming nationalists by the kind of evidence which the right hon. Gentleman and his associates at that time presented to the Joint Select Committee. What we heard yesterday in the right hon. Gentleman's speech was all of a piece with what happened at that time. If we had hoped for or believed in a change of heart, as indeed I had hoped, yesterday would have revealed to us that there was no change at all. I was reproved yesterday by the noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) for reminding the House of the period to which I am now referring. The noble Lord said it was a long time ago. Thirteen years may seem a long time in the life of an individual, even in the lifetime of the Father of the House, but it is a very short time 1501 in the history of a great people. India has not forgotten, even if the noble Lord desires to forget, what happened during that period of the Round Table Conferences and the Joint Select Committee.
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham)
I hope the hon. Lady is not suggesting that those of as who were members of that body did not do our earnest best, to whatever party we belonged, to arrive at a solution, because such a suggestion would be a very serious accusation to make against a number of distinguished people.
§ Mrs. Middleton
If the noble Lord had been in his seat when I started my speech, he would have known what I was suggesting. I am afraid I cannot repeat my speech in order to oblige him.
Reference has been made to "divide and rule." I have often heard it said by responsible people that we have maintained our power in India throughout the last two centuries by this means, by playing off one community against another. There does seem to have been some evidence of that policy in past years, though not in the immediate past. I once came up against that policy, or something like it, in actual operation in this country. It was in the period to which I have referred, during the sittings of the Joint Select Committee. At that time I happened to be in possession of information concerning the position of minorities, which information a group of Conservatives, of whom the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) was the leader at that time, desired to use for their own purposes in holding up Indian constitutional progress. I remember a telephone call which came to me one morning from a noble Lady, who at that time sat in this House for one of the Scottish constituencies. In more recent years she has sometimes been called "the red Duchess," though if she has ever been politically red at any time, then I am politically colour blind. I asked the purpose for which the information was needed, and the secretary who had telephoned to me—thinking perhaps that I was a Tory "diehard," like those whom she was serving—told me exactly why the information was needed. It was to support the "diehard" campaign which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford was leading at that time. Needless to say, in those circumstances I refused the information.
1502 Another illustration of the same campaign is contained in the columns of the "News-Chronicle" for 12th December, 1931—a copy of which I have with me if anyone desires to see it—which shows how the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bournemouth (Mr. Bracken), who at that time was the Member for North Padding-ton, Lord Birkenhead and the son of the present Leader of the Opposition, undoubtedly under the inspiration of the right hon. Gentleman himself, tried to round up the reactionaries in another place in order to defeat the policy of the National Government of that day for Indian constitutional reform. I am reminding the House of these matters because I want hon. Members to realise that the kind of speech to which we listened yesterday from the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition is in line with the policy which he has pursued over a very long period in relation to Indian affairs.
I pass to one or two other points which have been raised in the course of this Debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) referred last evening to communalism in the public services, and seemed to suggest that communalism was just now entering into the public services as a result of the Government deciding to grant to India her independence. But I remember 20 years ago writing to the India Office about the existence of communalism in the public services. There were offices which were not being filled, because there was not a suitable representative of the community to whom that office had been designated. This question of communalism in the public services has not arisen only in the last 12 months, or even in the last ten years. It is something for which the British nation is responsible. It has been a part of our policy in India throughout the whole period since the Minto-Morley reforms Nor is it correct to say that Pakistan as was said by the hon. Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson), is a development of the idea of separate electorates. It is nothing of the sort. Separate electorates were granted to India as a way of safeguarding minorities. Whether it was a good or a bad way I shall not argue this morning, but no one can suggest that Pakistan is a method of safeguarding minorities. It is a method of safeguarding majorities. In all the 1503 Provinces concerned with Pakistan, the Muslims are not in a minority at all, but in a majority. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Anderson) smiles. I was very interested in what he said—
§ Mrs. Middleton
I have in my hand the first document which was published, in India with regard to Pakistan. I know what I am talking about when I say this. It was never intended as a means of safeguarding minorities. Pakistan was intended as part of a Pan-Islamic movement. It was intended as a link with their Islamic brethren on the other side of the North-Western Frontier. I shall not argue whether it is a good or a bad thing, but I wish to draw attention to the fact that Pakistan was never a plan for safeguarding the interests of the minorities within India. Indeed, if what the Muslim League desired was to safeguard the interests of their co-religionists in other parts of India—who are intermingled in a fantastic fashion all over the face of India, as the Leader of the Opposition reminded us yesterday—the best way of achieving that purpose would be to remain in India with a strong central Government capable of safeguarding the interests of minorities throughout the whole of India. Nor did Pakistan blow up seven or eight years ago, as was suggested by an hon. Member yesterday. Pakistan was well-known at the time of the Round Table Conferences. When the Muslim delegates to the Joint Select Committee gave evidence they were questioned on this matter. Furthermore, I would remind the House that during the sittings of the Joint Select Committee questions were put by a former Conservative Member, Sir Reginald Cradock, on this very question, to the Muslim representatives. At that time, the representatives of the Muslim League said that it was a schoolboy scheme, that it had no real basis in Mohammedan opinion in India, and no support from any responsible Mohammedan leader in India. I can give anyone who is interested, the numbers of the questions concerned, if they want to look up the Report in order to verify what I am saying.
In conclusion, I want to say that a great deal of what has been said on this 1504 subject during the Debate is entirely misleading with regard to the nature of Pakistan, the purpose of Pakistan, and the results of Pakistan if it were achieved. The whole idea behind it was not to maintain the fundamental unity of India, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities seemed to suggest this morning. The whole idea behind it was to divide oft a part of India, and unite it with Mohammedan co-religionists on the other side of the North-West Frontier. I am very glad the present Government have been able, by the action which they have taken, to bring about a happier state of affairs, despite all the difficulties, in the relations between this country and India than has existed between ourselves and India over the whole period that I, at any rate, can remember in British-Indian relations. I congratulate them on what they have done, and on what they are still striving to do. I, personally, regret that this Debate has been forced on us at this time by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, because I believe it is bound to militate against the desire of His Majesty's Government to bring independence to India, and in bringing that independence to India to preserve British-Indian friendship on a lasting basis.
§ 12.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Maude (Exeter)
I hope the hon. Lady will forgive me for not dealing with the matter she raised, because I propose to deal with an interruption made by the right hon. Gentleman the Minister without Portfolio during the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Mr. Nicholson) yesterday. It appeared to me, if I may say so—and I do not say it in any horrid way at all—to be mournful. It is sometimes necessary in this House to show a reason for intervening in a Debate. We rely largely upon experts. Every now and again we also have the wonderful advantage of hearing some person like my right hon. Friend the Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Anderson), whom we all deeply admire and revere. Sometimes we can give reasons for speaking, such as the association of the noble Lord with a former Viceroy, and my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Sir S. Reed) having lived for years in India. I am becoming so accustomed to being scoffed at—not in this House, of course, but through political journalists—for being 1505 either a lawyer, or associated with the stage, that I would like to tell the House something on this occasion. I believe I have a claim to be heard. I hope the House will not think this presumptuous. It so happens that in June, 1858, my great-uncle, Captain Francis Maude, was awarded the V.C., and in September of the same year, Frederick Maude, his cousin, who was afterwards a Military Knight of Windsor, also received the Victoria Cross, both being for work in the Indian Mutiny. I learned that as a little boy, and since that time I have followed Indian affairs—not closely, I am not an expert—but from time to time I have been inspired to watch, and to see how, as the years passed, things got either better or worse.
I feel that this Debate should not pass without somebody, drawing the country's attention to the fact that India has been built up—and I have in my hand the "Annual Register" for 1945—to be a great force, for good or for evil, and that our responsibility and that of the Government, which we share in what we say today and in what we say to our constituents, is great when we consider the work that India has done and may do, either in association with Great Britain or in association with other Powers, or standing by herself. Let me quote from the "Annual Register" of 1945:India's contribution to the war effort, though impeded instead of helped by the strongest political party in the country was magnificent. The two-and-a-half-million men and women enrolled in the fighting and associated forces constituted the largest voluntary recruitment for war in history. At least another eight million Indians were engaged in auxiliary work for the troops; five million others were in war industries; and over a million were occupied in indispensable railway and other transport.The House must not give the impression that they consider that what is possibly passing away is not something of the utmost importance and a great force, possibly for good or for evil. Is India not like a beautiful ship of Eastern craftsmanship which has sailed under our pilotage for something like 200 years? Now she is to drop the pilot. In the ship there are one-fifth of the world's population as passengers. If the pilot is to be dropped, then I am sure we are right in saying the pilot must be able to look back to the ship and wave to the crew, who will themselves wave back; and the passengers will also wave and smile. In that way we may 1506 feel confident that the great ship of State will sail on properly, and not fall to pirates, or founder in a storm through bad navigation.
I now refer to the intervention of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister without Portfolio, during the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Farnham, because it seemed to me to be deeply disquieting. I was not in the Chamber when it happened, but I read it this morning. It occurred when my hon. Friend was asserting that India is on the verge of administrative collapse. "The Times" and the "Daily Telegraph" have both missed the point of what took, place. This morning, when I heard my right hon. Friend the Member for the Scottish Universities saying very much the same thing, I thought it was time to draw the attention of the House to that intervention. This is what happened yesterday. My hon. Friend the Member for Farnham drew attention to the fact that not only was India on the verge of administrative collapse, but that the Government had been warned, as he said,in speech after speech in the House … In not a single speech before the Cabinet Mission went to India, or since they returned have the Government even given us the impression that they are aware that the problem exists at all. I demand that immediate steps be taken to strengthen the administration. It can be done. It is becoming a byword all over the world that British administrations are breaking down. We have it in Germany, and we have it in India. If this Debate results in one thing alone, namely, in attention being focussed upon this, it will not have been in vain.It is vitally important that the country should understand what happened at that moment. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister without Portfolio then intervened. He did not intervene to deny what had been said. He intervened, obviously, to agree, for what he said was:I am always anxious to listen to the advice of one who is so interested in India as the hon. Gentleman. He knows why the run-down has taken place, largely during the war.And then he went on to say something which, to my mind, shows that the Government seem to feel themselves, as it were, powerless in this matter—with a horrible weakness and powerlessness, as though nothing could be done—for the right hon. Gentleman said:If he has any suggestion to make on how—1507 If my hon Friend, if you please, much as I admire him, had any suggestion to make—
—on how to recruit the Indian administrative service for a short period perhaps he will let us have his views.My hon. Friend at once, with his usual forthrightness, answered:My goodness, yes, I will."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th December, 1946; Vol 431, c. 1448–9.]I hope that this Debate will end with these matters being investigated by the Government. This is a grave situation. I doubt whether the hon. Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Mrs. Middleton) realises the urgency of the matter. One cannot perpetually drift, simply discussing a Constitution that one is hoping to see formed—not to be formed by oneself—but to see formed in any country. That is impossible.
What is, in fact, happening is, that we are not considering the very people to whom a message, I think, should be sent. I feel this strongly. They were spoken of only today. The people to whom a message should be sent are the Armed Forces —I think the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities was the first person to mention them—the Armed Forces; starting off at the top, with that lonely and magnificent figure, the Viceroy, and going down to the bottom, to the person who is magnificent in keeping calm, is wonderful at being an ambassador—and that is Tommy Atkins. I should like to send a message to them and say, "Well done. We are not forgetful of you, and we are enormously proud of you, and would like also to promise you that we will remember, and keep constantly in our minds our duty, not only to India, but to you, our friends, and also to the world."
§ 12.53 p.m.
Colonel Gomme-Dunean (Perth and Kinross, Perth)
I wish to speak with the utmost sincerity and friendship towards India, where I have served for a considerable number of years. I think it is a great danger for people to talk light-heartedly about India unless they really know it and, what is more, unless they really love it. I had the advantage of speaking the language reasonably well, and, therefore, of being able to talk not only to politicians, but to the humble folk who make up the vast majority of the 1508 population of India and for whom we are responsible. It is our responsibility to those humble people that I particularly want to emphasise. The only power that has stood between the hundreds of millions of working, toiling masses in India and those people who have fed upon them for thousands of years—the landlords, the moneylenders, and so on—has been the British power. The only people who have protected them in the last couple of hundred years have been the British; and the British are the only people to whom those Indians will turn, in real emergency, for help. I know that from experience. We have to realise that the Congress Party consists mainly of those moneylenders and those landlords, and all the rich people of India, who have trodden down those hundreds of millions for generations.
We are contemplating today handing over, what I maintain is a sacred trust, to the age-long enemies of the toiling masses of India. I am very sorry to have to say it, but I do not think the Congress Party today show any more likelihood of regarding their real responsibilities towards the poor peasants of India than they have ever done or than the class which they mainly represent has ever done. I beg the Government to realise that we, the people of Great Britain, and, particularly, those of us who have served in and loved India, feel, most deeply and sincerely, that we are handing over a sacred trust at this time to people who have no intention whatever of carrying on that trust for us. I beg the Government to let us hear that it is still not too late for something to be done to protect the masses of India, to whom the British man or woman is the ultimate hope of justice.
§ 12.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Rees-Williams (Croydon, South)
I should like to congratulate the Government on what they have done in very difficult circumstances during the last few months, and to congratulate the President of the Board of Trade on the very lucid statement which he made-yesterday. So lucid was it, that it has been difficult for anyone to carry the Debate much further from that point. Several speakers indeed have carried it backward, but very few have carried it onward. The noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) yesterday criticised my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. T. Reid) for not making practical suggestions. I always listen to 1509 the noble Lord with great interest, because he and I have suffered in common; we have a grudge in common; and, therefore, I always feel that one must regard what he says with considerable respect.
§ Earl Winterton
I am sorry to keep interrupting hon. Members opposite, who insist on referring to me. I should be interested to know what grudge I have in common with the hon. Gentleman. I have none so far as I know, and none in common with any Member of the party opposite.
§ Mr. Rees-Williams
The noble Lord said feelingly at one period in this House, that he had a grudge against the War Office because in the first World War they removed his arms and equipment as a Territorial officer. The War Office did the same thing to me in the second World War when I was a Territorial officer. I think, therefore, we have a grudge in common. Moreover, this shows that, in a changing world, there is one thing that has not changed, and that is the War Office. Now, I say that, because of that fellow-feeling that I have With him, I did listen with great respect and interest to what the noble Lord said, but he, I thought, failed to make any practical suggestion whatsoever in this matter—really, because there is no practicable suggestion that can be made, so far as I can see.
The British Government have put this responsibility squarely and fairly on the shoulders of the Indians themselves. What they have done has had an immense effect upon the world at large. I know that, because I have some connection with people in various countries, particularly in the Far East. Among the Indians themselves it has had an effect. At the beginning of this Parliament a few Indians, really responsible people, came here and met hon. Members on this side who were interested in this problem. They complained that India seemed to be receiving very little attention from the British Government, and that we British people seemed so immersed in our own affairs and in our own difficulties that we were not interested in the feelings of India. Well, they cannot say that any longer. The present Government have shown how deeply interested they are in the welfare of India, and how anxious they are for a settlement of this great problem. Right throughout the Far East 1510 what the Government are doing in India is having the greatest effect, and people who come to see me from the China coast and from the various Pacific possessions, not only our own but others', constantly inform me of the delight with which they have heard of the resolution of the Government. In the United States there has been great jubilation at the Government's proposals; only yesterday a distinguished American told me, "We shall have to find another stick now to beat you with; India has gone; you have resolved the difficulty we had with you over India."
There is one factor which so far as I can see has not been taken into account in this Debate. India is a big country, and the hon. and gallant Member for Lewes (Major Beamish), who spoke yesterday, refreshed our minds in regard to a number of factors relating to India. But India is not so big that you cannot fly across the whole country, in its widest part, in less time than it takes to go from London to Edinburgh by train, or in not much more time than it took me to come here from Croydon this foggy morning. That is a fact. Physical distance in India has been short-circuited. But however big a country it may be, we must see it in the panorama of the East, and in the East there is at this moment, as hon. Members are no doubt aware, a movement—or something which is not perhaps quite as defined as a movement, perhaps a feeling—like the Reformation in England. It is not due to the same causes as the Reformation in England, but it is having something like the same effects. There is a political stirring among the masses of the people who are feeling, for the first time, that they ought to have a share in government.
Democratic movements are growing up in all those countries in the Far East which are closely interlinked one with the other. These, in time, will undoubtedly break down communal differences; the masses in the East will realise that their oppressors and enemies are not the coolies of another religion, but the age-long oppressors, the moneylenders, the landlords and the priests. When that has been realised, and it is being realised more and more throughout the East—I am not only talking about India—there will be an enormous movement of the masses, and when that takes place, we shall be 1511 able to judge what the future of the Far East will be. To me Europe is comparatively unimportant these days; it is in the East that lies the future of mankind. If they settle their differences happily, those great countries, China and India, will run the rest of the world. If they do not settle them, if there are great troubles, then these trifling differences that we have in Europe, stupid little differences over places like Poland and Greece, will be no more important than clouds that pass over the sun.
We are not at the beginning of an era in India; we are at the end of an era. That is the point to remember. Throughout the East we are now seeing this great movement of which I, for one, cannot possibly attempt to forecast the end. Personally, I am delighted to be living in this era—it is the most interesting era in the history of the world—just as a person who lived in the time of Elizabeth must have been delighted that he could see the Reformation in Europe, with the great burst of energy which came out of it—if he realised that he was living in the Reformation. I realise that we are now living at the beginning of the reformation of the Far East, and we shall soon notice the burst of energy which will be released.
The only practical suggestion that we can make to the Government, therefore, is not to lose patience over what is happening in India, but to realise that what is happening is merely a temporary stage in this great movement of peoples. If they can keep their patience—it may have to be for years; a year or two is a trifle of time in the history of a great country—I believe that these movements will harden, as it were, into something much more definite than they are now. I know it is very difficult to put these things into words, because, at the moment, they are nebulous. I merely want to try to persuade the Government that what they are doing is right, not only in India but in our Colonies. I hope they will not let themselves be prevented in any way, from continuing on the same road by any criticisms that may be made from the other side or elsewhere.
§ 1.8 p.m.
§ Major Mott-Radclyffe (Windsor)
I do not think that anyone who has listened to the speeches made in this Debate is likely to underestimate the gravity of the situa- 1512 tion in India, over which hon. Members in all quarters of the House share equal concern. Recent events have reminded us of the loss of life and the extent of cruelty and suffering which communal strife can bring, and if it were to be unleashed on an even greater scale, who could measure the sum total of human misery involved? We are debating, during these two days, under a grave responsibility, lest any phrase carelessly used by any hon. Member should render an already difficult situation even more difficult, and for that reason I for one—and I should be surprised if at least some other hon. Gentlemen did not agree with me—very much regret the speech of the hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. Cove), whom I am sorry not to see in his place. It was a speech which I regard as wholly misleading and mischievous.
I think it would be most unwise if, as a result of this Debate, we were to seem in any quarter of the House to favour one or other of the great religious communities of India. The fact that throughout history since the British first went to India we have been able to hold the balance between these two great religious communities has enabled us to give to India a measure of stability and prosperity which would not otherwise have been possible. It would be, in my view at any rate, against all our traditions if we were to admit the right of a numerical majority to have full legislative powers without at the same time safeguarding the essential right of a minority—if "minority" is the right expression to use to describe a community of 94 million people. His Majesty's Government have done well to make their attitude quite clear in that respect. It would be equally illogical—and this was a point touched upon by the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. Rees-Williams)— if we were to express concern about minorities amounting to a few thousands in Trieste and elsewhere in Europe, and ignore the age-old terror of the Muslim community of domination by the Hindus.
We ought to ask ourselves, in the event of a complete breakdown of the present negotiations, which we all hope will be avoided, what exactly our obligations are. We should endeavour to avoid being accused by future generations, either of failing to do our utmost to arrive at a settlement which will give India the independence we have promised her, on on the other, that we have shirked our responsi- 1513 bility to the great masses of the Indian people, to whom we have brought security and justice and a standard of administration through the personnel of the Indian Civil Service, of which we may be justly proud. Since the Morley-Minto reforms, the policy of successive Governments has followed the same direction. The pace may have varied, but no one can accuse the Government today of being halfhearted, or of not persevering sufficiently in their attempts to get the two great communities to agree on a Constitution. We are in the position in which we are approaching the last fence. We have prepared the take off, we have even erected the wings, but the perspective in which both Muslim and Hindus view the size of the fence is outside our control. The size of the fence is measured by the degree of agreement or otherwise between these two great communities. I regret that the Government did not pull up Congress when Congress accepted the offer of 16th May on terms which at that time were clearly based upon a misrepresentation. The President of the Board of Trade, in his speech yesterday, explained that His Majesty's Government had taken legal advice on this point, which confirmed the view of the Government on the interpretation of the long-term proposal, so far as the method of arriving at the composition of the Assembly was concerned.
§ Mr. Alexander
When the hon and gallant Member says that we did not pull up Congress quickly enough, I would point out that in the White Paper it will be seen that we made a statement, on 25th May, completely clarifying our position on the point. It was done again in the correspondence of 26th June to Dr. Azad, who was then Chairman of the Congress.
§ Major Mott-Radclyffe
I am sorry if I misinterpreted the right hon Gentleman. My impression was that vital time was allowed to elapse between the date of the acceptance by Congress based upon a misrepresentation of the offer, and the statement of the Government, reaffirming an entirely different but correct interpretation.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give some indication, in the unhappy event of a complete breakdown of the negotiations, of the course he intends to pursue. Does he envisage Pakistan, with all its inherent difficulties, or does he take 1514 the view that, if the Muslim League refuses to come into the Assembly, our obligations towards the whole of India and the great mass of the population, who know nothing about politics at all, and are only anxious to be left unmolested to till their land, are such that we must maintain the status quo until the temperature drops? Either course is open to great pitfalls and dangers. To adopt the suggestion of the hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. Cove), and take the line of least resistance by walking out before we can get Hindus and Muslims to agree, leaving India in a vacuum and in the throes of communal strife, without safeguarding the rights of minorities, would indicate that our generation were unwilling to shoulder the responsibilities which are our inheritance and history have placed upon us. Such a course would have appalling repercussions not only in Asia, but in the Middle East.
I cannot divest myself of the feeling that so long as there is a Government in India for which we must take ultimate responsibility, I, as all other Members, shoulder 1–640th portion of the burden of maintaining, in the last resort, law and order in that great continent. We all earnestly hope that agreement will be reached, so that India can enjoy the independence which has been offered to her. I again stress the point, that if negotiations should break down completely, the right hon. Gentleman should indicate to the House what course of action he intends to adopt. In conclusion, I would utter one word of warnings I would urge that until the issue is clarified one way or the other, it is absolutely essential that the essential services in India, the Civil Service and the Army, should be maintained intact, if the whole machinery of government is not to break down. This involves a short-term policy of recruitment, of consideration of civil servants' pension rights, compensation and terms of engagement. Such matters are essential to maintaining the structure of government in India, so long as this House has any responsibility for it. Right hon. Gentlemen opposite have been singularly silent on this important subject, and I urge them to live up to their responsibilities and to break the silence before the conclusion of this Debate.
§ 1.18 p.m.
§ Commander Noble (Chelsea)
I am glad this Debate has taken place and has pro- 1515 duced the admirable statement of the facts which was given by the President of the Board of Trade yesterday. It has been a good Debate, and it has clearly shown that some hon. Members have a much better idea of the realities of the problem than others. I feel that many things that have been said today and yesterday could have been said in the Debate before the Cabinet Mission left for India. They were not said then because of the difficulties of the situation, and I feel that many things have not been said in this Debate for the very same reason. We should be quite clear where we are going, and I would like to support what was said on these lines yesterday by the hon. Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson). Affairs are getting more and more into the hands of Indians, as has always been intended, but not, perhaps, along quite the same route as was always intended, as was pointed out this morning by the right hon. Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Anderson).
As that power gets more and more into the hands of Indians, Members in this House will have very little knowledge of what goes on, although His Majesty's Government will still be responsible. The position may be reached when the policy in India, and the results of that policy, will have to be backed by British troops, while we in this House have very little to say on the matter. I think that we should be quite clear about that, and, therefore, do all in our power to see that this period of transition is as short as possible, and make quite certain that law and order is maintained until, to quote the President of the Board of Trade yesterday, we are able to hand over with dignity and completeness.
The hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. Nicholson) referred last night to the weakness of the administration in India. I think that it was a great pity that the Cabinet Mission, in their statement of 16th May, gave no date for the termination of the services of the Secretary of State for India. That would have given further confidence of the Government's sincerity, and would have been consistent with the alleged temporary nature of the interim arrangements proposed by the Mission, pending the evolution by the Constituent Assembly of a new Constitution. I feel that silence from Whitehall on this matter may have had an unsettling effect in India and may have caused a weakening of the 1516 administration. It leaves members of these services completely in the air as to their future. It is not only bad for morale, but obviously is a handicap to their work. It must make it very difficult for their subordinate officials, and for the general public, that no one knows what backing they have in India, if any, and for how long. I feel that there are great advantages in deciding when we are going to wind up this service. It will mean that those who remain are those who both want to remain and are wanted by the Indians to remain. It also means that greater responsibility will be gained by leaders of all parties from whom, presumably, India's new rulers will be drawn. I should say that it would make for much better mutual confidence, a better atmosphere, and, it is hoped, greater efficiency.
In conclusion, I should like to touch on a rather delicate matter. We all hope that India, when she has her independence, will remain in the Commonwealth, because we feel that it will be of great benefit to her and to the Commonwealth; but I do not know how the situation stands at the moment. Whether the Government have any assurance on this matter I do not know, but if they have no assurance, I think that we should reconsider the position of Indians at our higher staff colleges in this country. I do not know whether this matter has been considered. I imagine that it has, but I think it is a point that should be raised. Finally, may I say, as the right hon. Member for the Scottish Universities said this morning, that we all hope from our hearts that an agreement will be reached along the present lines, but we must remember that there are other alternatives, and bear them constantly in mind
§ 1.23 p.m.
§ Flight-Lieutenant Crawley (Buckingham)
The hon. and gallant Member for Chelsea (Commander Noble), like many previous speakers, mentioned the position of our civil servants in India. We must all have considerable sympathy with them, and, equally, sympathy with the Government in their very difficult task at this juncture of setting any definite time limit to their services. All that one can say with certainty is that these civil servants, when they leave India, will find no difficulty whatever in obtaining employment in this country, where men of 1517 their calibre—and they are, in my opinion, of the highest calibre—are badly needed.
My reason for rising in this Debate is a simple one. It seems to me that each of us in this House and everybody in this country has a personal responsibility to make up his mind on one point, that is, if—and we all hope this will not be so— there is no agreement between the parties in India, what course does he think that this Government should adopt? The right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) suggested two very broad alternatives. The first was that we should leave India; a policy which was suggested yesterday in a most courageous speech, although one in which I am not in entire agreement, by my hon. Friend the Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt). The second alternative is that we should stay in India, in the event of no agreement, to help and to protect the various communities in the many different systems which they may wish to adopt to organise their lives. Hon. Members opposite, I think, as a whole, tend to favour the second alternative. They have spoken quite rightly of our obligations and responsibilities.
I entirely agree that we have obligations towards the Indians and a great responsibility. The idea that we can leave India, it may be under conditions involving bloodshed on an appalling scale, is one that cannot be accepted. But the point which I think we must face is whether, should those circumstances arise, we can maintain the position, such as that suggested in the second alternative, alone. What would the problem be? The right hon. Member for Woodford suggested that the Indian franchise, in the recent elections in India, was not really representative, and, I think that he intended to imply that there were many millions of Indians who, in their hearts, would welcome the fact that the British might stay. That may be true to some extent, but the fact which we have to recognise is that, under our tutelage, Indian leaders have arisen who are able to sway the masses of the people in India, and, who, if there was no agreement between them in the future, would so sway that opinion. We should then be faced, not with passive resistance, but with violent resistance on an unprecedented scale, spreading over the continent of India in a way which has never occurred before. In the event 1518 of any such disorder, we, in the end, would inevitably be the main targets. It would not be merely communal disturbances, but also a violent movement against the British, who, for the best of motives, might be trying to settle and to prevent just that happening. I accept that we must, were such a situation to arise, do all that we can to prevent bloodshed. But can we, in fact, do that in our present position, with our manpower problem, and the whole of the effects of this war facing us, and with the problems of our reconstruction, which are so vital and so urgent? Have we the forces, and could we maintain forces needed to meet a problem on that magnitude? After all, our first responsibility is to the people of this country.
That brings me to my second and final point, that, if such a situation arose, it would be quite impossible to prevent it being raised in one or other of the organisations of the United Nations. It might be raised in many ways. It might be raised by a resolution of some representative of the Indian Government, by friends of the Muslim community, or it might be raised by any country as a matter concerning world peace. It would be right that it should be raised, because, although India is first our responsibility, if such disorders on such a scale arose, it would obviously—and everything that has been said about us and the minorities prove this to be so—be a matter of world responsibility. I would ask the Government, it this calamity, which we all hope, and, I think, still believe will not come, did come, what action are they contemplating in the United Nations? Are they thinking of the initiative which this country might take in the United Nations? Because nothing could be worse for the honour of this country than to accept pledges and obligations which it was not, in fact, able to carry out, and nothing could be worse for the people of India than failure to carry out those pledges.
§ 1.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Pickthorn (Cambridge University)
I hope that if I limit myself to one relatively very small point and say nothing about the general subject of our Debate it will not be supposed that I am unaware of the immensity of this moment. I am on this subject, as on so many others, amply provided with profound prejudices and superficial information, and I could make a general speech, but at this late 1519 hour and in an Assembly containing so many persons technically qualified, I hope the House will forgive me it I limit myself to what is for me almost a constituency matter. If I do so I hope that the House will not think that I am exclusively concerned here, or that I think my constituents would be exclusively concerned here with mere interests in the direct and material sense. Yesterday there was almost nothing said, I think, about the Viceroy's services and about other men of our race and colour who are serving India and, in doing so, are serving us. Today there have been references in some speeches, and I need hardly do more than underline the references which have been made. I think most of us have not made the effort of imagination—because there are just now so many human miseries in the world to be imagined and felt that the misfortunes, unhappiness, and frustrations of British servants in India appeal less obviously for sympathy than certain others—I think, therefore, that most of us have not made the effort of imagination to consider how very exhausting, and debilitating and discouraging must be now the work of a machine which almost everybody in the House, even on the other side, seems now to be willing to agree has been a great machine and has done a great and magnanimous work in the past—to go on being part of that machine when the best that can be said for it is that you are trying to run it down without any final and complete explosion.
I think in these circumstances it is more particularly laid upon us as a duty, and most particularly upon University Members, because a very high proportion of their constituents are in this position, to remind His Majesty's Government —who I am willing to believe are in need of no reminder—that these men's positions for years now have been of extreme difficulty and almost, indeed in some cases quite, of danger, and who are not now as fully assured about their future as they ought to be. I am told, for instance— I do not assert this positively—that military officers in India have been consulted about what they wish to do if the end should come, what alternative employments they would desire to seek, and so on; but I am told that that has not been done for civilian and police officers. I would suggest that that ought to be done at once if it has not been done, and I 1520 would be grateful if the right hon. Gentleman the Minister without Portfolio, who is to wind up the Debate, would tell us about that.
One second specific point, and this is the last thing I have to say. It is in regard to their rights to superannuation or pension in any form. If the right hon. Gentleman does not mind I would like to put this point directly to him. I do too temerariously assert it, but my strong impression—and I know the strong impression of many men in India—is that these men were legitimately persuaded that they had a guarantee from His Majesty's Government in the terms of their original engagement with the Secretary of State, and they are now wondering whether His Majesty's Government are still adhering to that engagement, or whether His Majesty's Government are going to say that this is a matter for the Indian Government old or new and you can trust them. If it is true—and I think it is true —that there is a considerable number of our countrymen serving in India who are dubious about that point, I would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that it is high time the thing should be made absolutely clear to everyone of them, and to us.
§ 1.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
I think that the outstanding characteristics of this Debate have been that on the one hand there has been considerable encouragement and hope expressed on this side of the House—I think I am right in saying that—while on the other side of the House there has been a great deal of destructive criticism. I venture to suggest that the only justification for this Debate would be the encouragement which it would give to the Indians in the great problem which they have before them and which they have to solve. For 25 years and more the Tories have poured out tens of thousands of words without realising Indian ideas. They have asked for this Debate and they have poured out a great many words during the course of it, but I do not think that they have made any great contribution to the solution of the great problem which confronts the Indian people. I notice that there are at present on the Tory benches seven Members of that party.
§ Mr. Hughes
One wonders whether that is any measure of the great interest they take in this problem.
§ Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)
Never mind talking about this side We are concerned with the other side of the House.
§ Mr. R. A. Butler (Saffron Walden)
Is it reasonable for the hon. and learned Member during the lunch interval without looking at his own benches also to make the comment he has? It is well known that this is the luncheon interval and I think it is most unfair to give a wrong impression outside of both sides of the House.
§ Mr. Hughes
I do not want to do or say anything unfair. I have been sitting here all the morning, and I have counted the Members on the opposite side—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Hubert Beaumont)
I think in the interests of the Debate that the hon. and learned Member should go no further with that subject.
§ Mr. Hughes
I pass from that. During this Debate there have been some interesting speeches and I wish to refer to four. Yesterday the hon. and gallant Member for Totnes (Brigadier Rayner) said that we could not go back on our word. I suggest that the whole tenor of this Debate and of previous Debates has been to show that that has not been the trouble. The trouble has been that the Tory Party in the past have not only gone back on their word but have not gone forward and have not taken any appreciable step towards solving the Indian problem. The noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Lord Winterton) pointed out yesterday that he has been making speeches on this topic for the last 25 years. I suggest that my criticism is just as true of him as it is of other hon. Members of his party. The trouble is that they have asked for Debates from time to time, as they asked for this one, but that, with the exception of the hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. Nicholson), who spoke yesterday, they 1522 have not made any serious contribution to the solution of these problems. Indeed, the only justification for this Debate would be the speech which was made by the President of the Board of Trade yesterday, which was a clear, unambiguous and general contribution. He is a person who has, possibly, done as much as any man towards the solution of this great problem.
But what of the speech made by the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill)? He held up his hands yesterday in impotent terror. He described the situation as a drama which was unfolding itself remorselessly. He depicted himself as a prophet of woe and, indeed, he painted a picture of himself which, one regrets to say, stands out in bold contrast with the picture which we knew of him when he led this country during the great war which has just finished. His approach to this problem is one which lacks courage, initiative and statesmanship. He, like the right hon. Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Anderson), who spoke this morning, offered no constructive criticism. Indeed, such observations as they both addressed to this House were observations designed, if not intentionally, and well calculated to cause dissension in India, to set man against man, section against section and Hindu against Muslim.
I suggest that all this is wholly evil. We should remember that there is another side to this problem, that this is the first Government which has made a serious attempt to solve the problem, that this Government offered the Indian people complete power to choose their own form of government, that it sent a Cabinet Mission to India to assist them in doing so, and that it recently invited Indian leaders to London in an endeavour to help forward that desirable end. I suggest that this is not the time in which to indulge in carping, unconstructive criticism, such as that to which we have listened from the Opposition benches during the last two days. It is a time in which to offer help, encouragement and good counsel to the Indians in the solution of their own great problem. I will finish by saying. that I hope that this will be done. I look forward to encouragement and hope from the Minister who will wind up this Debate, and I hope that, under God's guidance, the efforts of the Indians to find a solution 1523 of their own problem will be crowned with success.
§ 1.44 p.m.
§ Mr. R. A. Butler (Saffron Walden)
This important Debate is now drawing to an end, and if, in the Indian situation, there are many issues which are undecided, one issue, at any rate, has been decided. It is that we have held the Debate. Therefore, I need not devote any more time to discussing whether a Debate should be held or not. I think that the value of the Debate lies in the fact that we in this Parliament have had an opportunity of asserting the moral obligations of Great Britain. These moral obligations have been put forward from both sides of the House, and it has been stated more eloquently than I am able to do, that we are proceeding steadily towards the achievement of self-government in India, which has always been the goal of British policy.
The opportunities which I have had of meeting the Indian statesmen who visited London, on an all too short visit recently, have convinced me of the truth which has been present in my mind, in the work I have done during the whole of my life for furthering these objects, that there are no statesmen of higher quality in the world. That impression was confirmed during the period that I had the honour of serving at the Foreign Office, and had the chance of meeting statesmen of all nations. There is, therefore, no difference of opinion about the goal which we are setting ourselves. What I think is difficult, is to try to resolve the undoubted problems and complexities of the Indian situation. I think it is valuable that this Debate has been able to throw some light on many of those complexities and has brought to the forefront some of the very real problems which still face His Majesty's Government, and some of the facts which we must all face together.
This Debate has also been valuable because it has enabled the Opposition to interpret its views of the moral obligations of our country. We have always said in the past, and I have stated it from this Box in the previous short interventions that have been possible on Indian affairs, that self-government for India can only be achieved under a Constitution or Constitutions framed by Indians and to which the main elements in India's national life are con- 1524 senting parties. That has been our first stand. Our second stand has been that we can only transfer our ultimate control over India to a Government or Governments capable of exercising it. We cannot hand India over to anarchy or to civil war. Those sentiments were expressed by the Secretary of State in the Coalition Government. I have always stood by them, and I hope I shall always stand by them. The Government's last statement on the Indian situation gives evidence of the acceptance of the first of these obligations, namely, that a Constitution of Constitutions shall be framed which should be accepted by the main elements of India's national life and to which they are consenting parties.
I welcome the last statement of the Government and, in particular, the last part of it in which they say that it is not contemplated that any Constitution will be forced upon any unwilling parts of the country. I would draw the attention of the House to the importance of this statement, and to the repercussions which the statement may have upon the future constitutional development of the Indian subcontinent. I should, however, like to ask the right hon. Gentleman who is going to reply if he can clarify one or two points. The statement refers to a large section of the Indian population inhabiting parts of the country. These words are new to those of us who are versed in Indian affairs, and who have lived with Indian affairs. I notice that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade used rather different language, which, I maintain, is too narrow in its terms. I think that there may be confusion in India if this matter is not cleared up. He said:If the Muslim League cannot be persuaded to come into the constituent Assembly, then the parts of the country where they are in the majority, cannot be held to be bound by the result."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th December, 1946; Vol. 431, c 1354.]I maintain that this is too narrow a definition of the Government's statement. I do not think that the Government ought to confine themselves only to the Muslim League. It would be much fairer if we used the expression "Moslems" as a whole. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will confirm that the gloss which his colleague has put on the statement issued only a few days previously is, in fact, a limitation, and that the original sense prevails, namely, that communities and elements are in question, and not 1525 simply a league, a party or a representative of a community. If he would do that he would clear up a misunderstanding which may otherwise arise. I need not labour this point because it is well known that in certain parts of the North of India, not every Moslem belongs to the Muslim League.
I want further to comment on that statement because this expression "parts of the country "is a new use of the language which we have always adopted in the past. We on our side welcome the statement. We realise that great communities may shelter, and get together in the parts of the country which are their homelands, but we also realise that there are elements and sections of those populations which exist and persist in the other parts of India. We are not thinking only of the Muslim community. We are thinking also of the other minorities whose case has been put in this House and whose case will continue to be put. In the course of my remarks this afternoon I shall be referring to the minority problem, and I should like to feel that the Government's interest is, not only in geographical parts of India which might be insulated from the main troubles, but also in the elements of the population which are themselves minorities, but may not live in those parts.
I wish to speak, not only about the first of our obligations which I have read to the House, but also about the second, namely, that we can only transfer our ultimate control over India to a Government or Governments capable of exercising control. We cannot hand India over to anarchy or civil war. In stating the two obligations, I trust I shall not be regarded as old-fashioned. It is important for the Opposition to state its moral position. Many great statesmen and many of those taking part in these issues have stated their views, whether in India or in England. Leaders of Indian thought have expressed their views, and I think it perfectly reasonable for Members of the Opposition who themselves, and whose families in the past, have devoted their lives to India, to express their moral position at this moment. In explaining my own position and expressing what I believe to be the opinion of many hon. Members behind me, I turn my attention to the remarkable speech of the hon. Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) in the Debate yesterday. The 1526 hon. Member has had the opportunity which, alas, I have not had owing to my Parliamentary duties in this House— which are not necessarily always very exciting—to go to India, and to acquaint himself almost hourly with the situation. We must, therefore, pay full respect to what he has said in such a clear and definite manner. He used this expression:We must say clearly and unequivocally to India that, on a certain fixed day, we are going to leave India, with our troops and our officials, and with any British residents who wish to come with us, and we must do that before the administrative machinery has com pletely crumbled in our hands."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th December, 1946: Vol. 431, c. 1423.]The hon. Gentleman developed his case very fully. I take it that hon. Members have studied all his arguments and the reasons he gave in support of them. I can only say that such a policy does not recommend itself either to me or to my hon. and right hon. Friends on this side. I, personally, could not reconcile my conscience—nor could we on this side of the House—to such a policy whereby we should fade away in the night, and plunge in one moment from the culmination of our years of service, to the depths of indifference as to what is to happen next. It is most important that we should use this Debate to indicate a difference of opinion on that point—if a difference of opinion does in fact exist between us and the Government. I take the view that this may not be our most splendid hour, but it certainly is our most difficult and responsible hour. We have so to acquit ourselves, that we remain true to our pledged word, and yet do not evade the final responsibility of ensuring that our mission is well and honourably discharged. In order to be successful, it is essential that a proper understanding should be established between Parliament and the Indian peoples. No understanding can exist unless we all express what is in our minds, and certainly, if I may say so, there is no inhibition in expressing what is in their own minds on the part of Indian statesmen themselves. If I were to devote myself to some of the wilder statements of Pandit Nehru, I should be creating a bad impression and wasting the time of the House.
There is every reason why all points of view should be put quite clearly round the table, and no facts left unfaced. That 1527 is why I was so glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition putting his case with that realism which we always associate with him. If I may say so, I have seen people laugh and smile before at the arguments of the right hon. Gentleman when he predicted national difficulty and calamity. I think it most important to realise this eternal fact, that the more elemental and the more dangerous things become, the more the right hon. Gentleman's prescience, wisdom and experience are at the service of this House, and the more attention ought to be paid to his words—
§ Mr. Gallacher
Hon. Gentlemen opposite used to laugh themselves. They were Chamberlain's "stooges."
§ Mr. Butler
The Debate is being curtailed and it is most important that I should give time to the right hon. Gentleman opposite and for the Business which is to follow. We have to face two sets of problems together. There is the interim period to which I shall address myself first in which there will be far greater problems in India than faced Franklin or Jefferson or any of those great figures who made the United States Constitution. There, they were able to frame the Constitution in a comparatively reasonable and quiet atmosphere; the problem was cerebral rather than physical. In India the Constitutional Assembly is meeting in circumstances almost unprecedented either in the United States or in any of the Dominions. It is true that in the case of the framing of the Canadian Constitution, there was unsettlement and anxiety, but nothing to the extent of which we see examples in India at the present time. Second, I wish to address myself to the constitutional arrangements, upon which I have never yet had an opportunity of expressing an opinion.
Let me take first, then, the problems of the interim period. We should realise quite fairly and squarely, the responsibility which this House holds. We are acting at the present time under the 1935 Act, or, to be exact, the interim provisions under the 1935 Act. Therefore, this House has a definite responsibility. When we read some of the things which come from India we might imagine that was not the case, but I must remind the House quite clearly, that technically, morally and, I believe, in every way, this 1528 House is at present responsible under the 1935 Act for affairs as conducted at the centre. Not only is it responsible, but events have happened, as was witnessed in the speech of the right hon. Member for Woodford, which cast upon us a very serious responsibility at the present time under the 1935 Act in the Provinces. I am not now referring to the central Constitution. It is well known that there were provisions for the Governors to use their special responsibilities, and it is known that when the Governor uses his responsiiblity under the 1935 Act he is directly answerable to this Parliament through the Secretary of State for India. Now events have happened in the Provinces which have shocked the conscience of the country, and I think that the more the country understands what has happened the better. In some cases, and in some Provinces, notably Bengal, the powers of the Governor have not been used, and the Governor has been criticised for not using those powers. We know the terrible toll of death and suffering that has not necessarily resulted from that constitutional fact, but which has happened in Bengal itself.
The point I want to make to Parliament is this: That we, sitting here this afternoon, are responsible at the present time for many things that are happening in India, and if the Governor does not use his powers, in a certain sense we are also constitutionally responsible because, by the very non-use of his powers, by the permission which he tacitly gives for the situation to deteriorate in many an Indian Province at the present time, he is in that way implicating Parliament in events which Parliament bitterly regrets. I hope, therefore, that we shall get some assurance from the right hon. Gentleman who replies, that he, at any rate, and the Government realise the responsibility of Parliament for the events of today, and that we are given an account of how the Secretary of State, his Governors and others, propose to discharge their responsibilities in order to keep the situation quiet and sane at the present time.
This question of the discharge of our responsibilities leads me to consider for a few moments the means at our disposal for discharging these responsibilities. I was very glad that the senior Burgess for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn) mentioned the Services under the Secretary of State for there has not been suffi- 1529 cient mention of those Services during this Debate. They are working at the present moment under intolerable anxiety and strain. Certain decisions have been taken by the Government, for example, to end future recruitment. I shall not discuss that decision today but, in view of the responsibility of the Government's recent statement which I think slightly alters the position, it is essential that we should hear from the mouths of the Government spokesmen themselves some statement which gives confidence to those who are bearing the burden and heat of the day. We are receiving hundreds of letters from members of the Services about their position today, and I have an extract here which gives in human terms what some of the Services are feeling. I ought to know because my father was a member of the Indian Civil Service, and I expect, but for certain circumstances, that I might have been a member of it too. Of course, who wrote the letter is confidential, but he writes like this:We are in a frightful quandary. Our allegiance to the Crown demands a non-political dispensation of the law, etc., and yet we are in fact serving a political party which is enforcing its own programme… And the choice between sacrificing one's neck or one's pension is placed upon the individual! To add to one's difficulties, we are open to insult, publicly and in the newspapers. We are not allowed to stand up for ourselves, and no one else will do so on our behalf.[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] That is a typical human document representative of hundreds we are receiving on this side of the House, and it is essential that the Government should use language which encourages our servants in this most important moment in the history of their own Service and in the history of our country, and I trust that the Viceroy will do the same. The weakening or the discouragement of the administration only brings breakdown nearer, and is directly against the interests of those who desire to govern India themselves. Let me make that point quite clear. Those who are going to govern India in the future must have behind them a sound and good administration, otherwise the politician does not get a chance. I cannot expect that any final statement about status or conditions will be made today. I would like to take up the point made by the hon. Member for Aston, to whose speech I have referred previously, that some indication should be given about compensation on retirement. Is the decision to be made 1530 that the compensation is only given when the new Constitution comes in, or could some further statement be made to give encouragement to the members of the Services about their future?
I understand that there was a recent conference of Provincial Prime Ministers who asked the Secretary of State to send his decision on schemes for winding up the I.C.S. and the Indian police. I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the Secretary of State has yet made up his mind, and what answer is to be sent, because on the tone of his answer and the proposals he makes, much will depend. I notice that the ban on retirement on proportionate pension is to be raised on the 31st December. I am glad to see that there have not been more cases hitherto of retirement on proportionate pension, and it is most important that confidence should be given here so that the Services can adhere to their important duty.
If this personal issue of the feelings of the Services does not move the House, I want to refer very shortly to some reasons why the administration must be carried on. It is against a background of economic and social progress that successful political development can be pursued. There are at the present moment in India schemes for hydro-electric development, for irrigation engineering, for rural reconstruction and resettlement which are of vital importance to the country, and I think it is most important, therefore, that the administrative background should be present before which, on the stage, the politicians can play their part.
I now come to the question of constitutional reform upon which, as I say, I have never had an opportunity of expressing an opinion hitherto. It seems to me that the dominating truth has been put by the President of the Board of Trade in his speech. How can we reconcile the Congress demand for a strong unitary central Government with the Muslim desire for autonomy in certain areas? There is no doubt the Government plan has considerable ingenuity, and there would be a chance for this plan to succeed on two conditions: first, if the machinery proposed really functions; secondly, if the necessary spirit of co-operation is there. Both those conditions precedent are absolutely essential.
1531 Let us look first at the machinery and then at the spirit. When we look at the machinery, we find that the Constituent Assembly is, in fact, quite unrepresentative at the present time, and therefore any report we hear about motions on an Indian Republic, or any other matter, must be taken not to be representative of those who are absent from the Assembly itself. We naturally trust that it will become representative, and we naturally hope that the Muslims will join the Constituent Assembly on the basis of the decision put out by the Government in its recent statement. However, I desire to put two points to the Government in regard to the Muslim position. First, the British Government statement of 6th December does not lay down a time limit by which the Constituent Assembly should refer the fundamental point in dispute, namely, the voting by majority, to the Federal Court. Nor does it clearly say that the reference must be made before the sections begin to function. That is my first point, and I have reason to believe that the Muslim community attach great importance to the answer which the Government will give to that point.
In the second place, the statement is silent as to what His Majesty's Government will do if the Federal Court were to give a decision on the fundamental point which may be contrary to the interpretation and intention of His Majesty's Government. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will take this opportunity of giving the answers on those points and, if so, I think the cause which he has at heart will be very much furthered. If, however, he cannot give those answers today, I trust they will be made public on a future occasion. In passing, I may say that it really seems an extraordinary procedure under which, when a government makes a statement itself, it has to go to a Federal Court to have it interpreted. It is just exactly the same as if the Government came to this House with the King's Speech and then decided to send the King's Speech to the High Court to find out what they meant by what they had originally said. It is an almost Gilbertain situation, and while I attach importance to the Congress view that it wishes to be referred to the Federal court subjects which are in dispute, I think that a statement made by His Majesty's Government ought to bear the interpreta- 1532 tion that His Majesty's Government say it ought to bear.
Not only are Muslims absent from the Constituent Assembly, but there are other absentees, most important of all being the minorities, and, in particular, the Scheduled Castes. There is no part of the speech of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade that I thought less convincing and more reprehensible than when he skated over the manner in which the Scheduled Castes' representatives had been introduced into the Constituent Assembly. As I am a bit of an expert on franchise having served on the Franchise Committee, and framed a good many of these things originally, perhaps I may be allowed to skate over this matter by bringing it down to a few hard facts. The right hon. and learned Gentleman gave us an analysis of the Provincial elections. I have an analysis in this imposing folder. The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that in the primary elections for the Scheduled Castes the Congress candidates obtained only 29 per cent. of the votes, the Independents 44 per cent. and the Dr. Ambedkar Federation 26 per cent. My figures give 28 per cent. for Congress, but I am ready to accept the Government figure. That means that there is a large proportion of those first elected in the primary elections against the Congress point of view. The Congress point of view represents only 29 per cent. and yet, when we come to the constitution of the Constituent Assembly, there are 27 Congress representatives and only two representing the Dr. Ambedkar Federation. It seems a gross betrayal of the Scheduled Castes to turn them over from 29 per cent. in the primary elections to the vast majority that we come to in the Constituent Assembly.
§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Attlee)
I know that the right hon. Gentleman would not like to be inaccurate, but he no doubt understands that there were a large number of primary elections in which there was no contest.
§ Mr. Butler
Yes, I have the figures here. Primary elections took place in only 43 cases. I am well informed on this matter. I have compared notes with representatives of the Scheduled Castes on this point. The reason for that is that the Scheduled Castes are singularly unversed in election 1533 experience, and that they also have little money, a matter which should appeal to Members opposite. There is no doubt from what I have heard, that the Scheduled Castes found it difficult to put forward candidates in primary elections because they would have had to run in the next elections under this scheme thereby inducing double expense, which they can ill afford. The Poona Pact completely rigged all the elections, whether primary or a secondary, against the interests of the Scheduled Castes. The Government, by agreeing to a system whereby 27 out of 29 are Congress representatives in the Constituent Assembly, have sold themselves to a "rig." I have never been able to understand the facile acceptance, by the Labour movement, of the manner in which the interests of the poorest and most under-privileged section in India have been neglected and sold to their long-time predecessors, and I am astonished that the Prime Minister has been able to lend himself to this bargain.
§ The Prime Minister indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Alexander
Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that in the Provincial elections a very large proportion of independent Scheduled Caste representatives were elected, apart from the other categories he has mentioned? We had to act in the way we have acted to deal with an urgent situation. The franchise is not merely the Poona Pact but what the Government of 1935 thought was right in 1935. Would he suggest that we should have had a new basis, that we should have formed an entirely new franchise, which would have meant an India-wide compilation of a new electoral register, and perhaps have put off for a very long time any prospect of a settlement? Should we not face up to these points?
§ Mr. Butler
There was a 44 per cent. Independent election in the primary elections, but there is no doubt that the Scheduled Castes have been so terrorised by Congress discipline that many have decided to stand as Independents rather than to take the label of Congress. I am 1534 informed that those who have stood as Independents are much more friendly to Dr. Ambedkar's side than to the other side. As regards reforming the whole franchise, I realise that the right hon. Gentleman has put a strong point, but I do not think it is right that the real interests of the Scheduled Castes in the Constituent Assembly should be represented by representatives of Congress, and not by representatives of themselves. The Poona Pact has completely spoilt the intentions of the Franchise Committee, of which I was a member, and the Government ought not to have accepted that basis for the representation of the Scheduled Castes.
In order to be quite fair to the right hon. Gentleman I would say that the Government must have realised this point because, in the arrangements for the Constitution, they have laid down a system of an advisory committee for the minorities. They are reposing most of their confidence in obtaining justice for the minorities on this advisory committee, and the results it may bring forward. But this advisory committee might be entirely illusory if it were not for the statement of the Government on 25th May, which followed their statement of 16th May. On 25th May the Government said that there were two matters which were in controversy—which, I think, is a euphemism—and that these matters were to come before Parliament. The first was adequate provision for the protection of minorities, and the second was willingness to conclude a Treaty. If this matter of adequate protection for minorities is to come from the advisory committee it means that Parliament will have the last say on this question of the minorities. If the decisions about the minorities are to come from the advisory committee, can we have any safeguard that there will be something put into the Constitution which will not be easy to turn over, and change? The only safeguard is to see that the Constitution framed by the Constituent Assembly contains clauses putting limitations on the Constituent powers of the Indian Legislature, and prescribing conditions precedent to be fulfilled before alterations in minority safeguards are made. There are such provisions in the Australian Constitution, and if the right hon. Gentleman could give the minorities an assurance on that point, it would mean that if they have failed, as they have done 1535 in the electoral system, there would be some method, under the Constituent powers, to enable their position to be properly safeguarded.
I should mention, in passing, the position of the Indian States, which have not been mentioned at all in this Debate. I understand that the States are not expected to be present at the first meeting of the Constituent Assembly and, therefore, we must hope that the arrangement for a negotiating committee of the States will be proceeded with after the first meeting of the Constituent Assembly. Nevertheless, one has grave anxiety about the future of the States. I do not believe that the House has addressed itself to the full implications of the renunciation of the doctrine of paramountcy, or has realised the fragmentation of the Indian States which will result. I do not believe that it realises that schemes for confederations have not got very far. I do not believe it realises how very great are the complications of the Constitution which we are going to create over these 500 and more States, with possibly single entities on their own, and I do not believe that the House has realised what a little way the States have gone towards establishing representative institutions of their own. One feature of the doctrine of paramountcy is forgotten, and that is the doctrine of paramountcy always held that we had a special trust for the people of the Indian States themselves, as was frequently shown. I trust that, in their remarks about the Indian States, the Government will give the House their views today.
My concluding remarks are about the spirit which is necessary in order to make this Constitution work. If the spirit to which the President of the Board of Trade referred, the spirit of cooperation, is absent, the plan, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman himself said, cannot work, and the ingenuity of the plan can produce no result. Probably, it is the most complicated method of making a Constitution that the world has ever seen —the three-tier system of a central Constitution, group Constitutions and Provincial Constitutions. I remember how, when we were framing the Government of India Act, we had great difficulty in dividing up the lists of subjects between the Federation and the Provinces. Here, we have a far more complicated task, and 1536 have not only got to decide the union list but the group list and the Provincial list, and I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that the complexities are going to be immense, unless there is an absolute spirit of compromise and give-and-take.
Take the question of the Centre alone. We have heard a statement from Pandit Nehru that he considers that the powers of the Centre will grow, but we have heard statements from the other side that the powers of the Centre must be limited. Take the case of the Provinces. If a Province does contract out of the group— take the case of Assam—the constitution of the group would be ruined and the State would be far less viable than Pakistan, which has been so mercilessly shown up in the White Paper. The conclusion to which one comes is that, unless the spirit is there, this complicated and ingenious system cannot possibly work.
If the machinery is not properly functioning, if the Constituent Assembly is not constituted with the aid of the Muslims as envisaged in the White Paper, if the spirit is absent, then the Government will be faced with a very serious situation. I want to say to the Government that, if these things happen, as we hope they will not—because we trust that the spirit will be present, the machinery will operate fully and their ingenious plan have a chance of succeeding—if that does not occur, a further lead will have to be given by the Government. I trust that the Government will then take Parliament fully into their confidence. If a new initiative proves necessary, I maintain that it will have to be towards a simplification of the scheme which the Government have in mind at the present time, and it will have to take the form of a clearer acknowledgment of our responsibilities in the period prior to a successful issue out of all the negotiations. I say that because we are most anxious that the situation should not get out of hand, and many of the speeches in the Debate have indicated that, with a breakdown in administration and so forth, it may well be a case of events taking control of Government policy, instead of Government policy taking control of events.
There is still a chance of an orderly solution, but it depends how determined the Government are and how determined they will be, and how clearly the Govern- 1537 ment see the dangers in the path of their own plan. In so vast a continent as India, there is ample scope for the satisfaction of the ardent desires of the various peoples and creeds to achieve security, opportunity for self-expression and a chance to develop their own way of life. It would be natural if, in any new initiative, attention were focused first on achieving these aims within certain areas, or, to use the Government's own expression from their last statement, within "certain parts of the country," but, if there is to be a new initiative, if it be necessary, we must always remember that the areas or groups or parts, must be closely interdependent one on the other, and that our true aim must be "the fusion of divergent claims into mutual obligations."
My conclusion is that we cannot, at this moment, shuffle off our moral obligations. They remain; and upon their adequate discharge depends the future happiness of the Indian people. There is an old saying which comes from the days of the height of the Athenian Empire:Dost see how thy country, when reproached for wanting in decision, looks sternly at those who assail her? For she grows great in the midst of toils.Our toils must and will remain, and our purpose must remain constant.
§ 2.26 p.m.
§ The Minister without Portfolio (Mr. A. V. Alexander)
We have had now very nearly two days' Debate, as was requested by the Opposition, and, at the outset of my reply, I would like to say how grateful I am to many hon. Members in all parts of the House for the restraint they have exercised in their speeches during the Debate—a Debate taking place at a most crucial hour in the history of both India and its people as well as of the British Commonwealth— and for the obvious desire of the great majority of hon. Members to be helpful. I hope to refer to some of these speeches again more specifically. At the same time, I am bound to say that the Government have no reason, from the whole course of the Debate, to regret its advice to the House last Wednesday to postpone the Debate in the present critical circumstances, and I say that, if only for the speeches delivered by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition and for at least one remark put into a speech 1538 which was otherwise intended to be helpful by the noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton). Nevertheless, I should like, from this position in the House—
§ Mr. Alexander
I shall be coming to it. Speaking from this position in the House, I would ask responsible leaders of all parties in India to take note that the great majority of the speakers in this Debate desire nothing more than that India should achieve her freedom through a settlement based on the goodwill and cooperation of all concerned. The action which has been taken by His Majesty's Government and which has been pursued throughout their period of office to implement previous pledges of successive Governments to the Indian people, action which has obtained the support of the majority of hon. Members of all parties in this House, action which has been subjected to no really substantial criticism in this country and which has indeed received the approbation of all well-informed opinion throughout the world, has proved the good will of Parliament and of the British people towards India and her great population. While, therefore, I make no complaint that the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill)—I am sorry he is not at the moment in his place, because I am going to speak about him—emphasised the responsibility of the Government for the action they have taken, for which they have no reason whatever to be ashamed, I reject his assertion that it has not been a national policy or that our policy has not been endorsed substantially by the British people as a whole.
The right hon. Gentleman suggested that His Majesty's Government are responsible for the powerful impulse given to a great many tendencies which are dominant in the Indian situation today. I would like to know exactly what he meant to convey by that statement. Later in his speech he referred to a revival of acute and violent internal hatreds and quarrels in India as the dominating fact facing us today. If the right hon. Gentleman says that the action of His Majesty's Government in seeking to fulfil British pledges, to give freedom to India by endeavouring to get all Indian parties to cooperate in framing a Constitution for 1539 India, has given an impulse to those hatreds and quarrels, I reject his premises as completely false in the light of the facts. I would point to the dangerous position which had already been reached by the end of the war, and which might easily have produced much more serious results but for the efforts of His Majesty's Government and the Cabinet Mission.
The right hon. Gentleman cannot have failed to note the resentment in this House yesterday at his unfair attack on my right hon. and learned Friend the President of the Board of Trade. My answer is that my right hon. and learned Friend has never spared himself in his efforts to promote the good will and co-operation of both sides in the Indian controversy. He certainly rendered great service by his share in the production of the Cabinet Mission statement of 16th May; and I would add that those Members of the Cabinet Mission whom the right hon. Gentleman regards as so inferior to my right hon. Friend, and also His Excellency the Viceroy, who has laboured so hard for a peaceful settlement, certainly had a substantial share in the production of what will become a historic State document whose authors were unanimous. That statement of 16th May was approved by His Majesty's Government and met with a favourable reception not only in all parts of the House but throughout the world.
In replying to the Leader of the Opposition in a Debate on such momentous issues I wish, of course, to be scrupulously fair, and I welcome two or three passages in his speech. First, there is his support of my right hon. and learned Friend in his appeal to leaders of the Indian parties to abstain from violent propaganda and invective which might bring about a recrudescence of grave disorders in India. I welcome that from the right hon. Gentleman. I also welcome his references to the need for agreement and cooperation, and his hope that agreement will still be reached between the principal Indian communities and parties. This is what we have laboured, and will continue to labour, to secure. While the prime responsibility for assisting the Indian people to come to a peaceful settlement rests, of course, upon His Majesty's Government, I must point out that there has never been any serious criticism of the Cabinet Mission's statement of 16th May, and, having 1540 listened to all this Debate, I have yet to learn of any practical alternative plan which could be hoped to secure agreement and unity. We have been here for a day and a half. The Debate was demanded by His Majesty's Government's official Opposition. Generally, they have not been unhelpful, but where is the constructive alternative to His Majesty's Government's policy?
I now turn to the charge of the Leader of the Opposition, which was referred to in a rather different degree by the right hon. Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Anderson) this morning, namely, that His Majesty's Government committed a cardinal error when they invited the Congress Party, after having made other efforts, to nominate the members of an interim Government. I was deeply shocked to hear the right hon. Gentleman go on to say that this action precipitated a series of massacres over wide regions, unparalleled in India since 1857. It is difficult to place any other interpretation on this irresponsible statement than that it was the intention of the right hon. Gentleman to place the responsibility for the outbreak of those terrible fratricidal disorders upon His Majesty's Government and the Viceroy. If the right hon. Gentleman knew, as I must think he did, that the Commission of Inquiry presided over by the Chief Justice of India is now actually investigating the August riots, it surely was most improper for him to make such a charge or even an insinuation.
Let me, therefore, point out one or two salient facts. First, towards the end of July the Viceroy negotiated with the two main parties for the formation of a Coalition Interim Government to take the place of the official caretaker Government which was set up temporarily after the Cabinet Mission left. I stress the temporary nature of the caretaker Government which is referred to specially in those terms in paragraphs 37 and 38 of Command Paper 6861. On 29th July the Muslim League Council withdrew its acceptance of our statement of 16th May, and passed a resolution threatening direct action. In the third place, riots broke out in Calcutta on 16th August following the decision by the Muslim League Council to celebrate that day as "direct action day." As I have already indicated, the actual origin of these sad events is being investigated and, therefore, I will pass no further comment on them at present. In the fourth 1541 place, on 24th August, it was announced that the Interim Government would shortly be formed, consisting of 12 members comprising five Hindu members of Congress, one Congress Scheduled Caste, one Congress Muslim, two Independent Muslims, one Sikh, one Christian and one Parsee. The same evening, in a broadcast, the Viceroy said that the offer previously made to the Muslim League was still open for them to propose five names for places in a government of 14. That Interim Government did not take office until 2nd September. I do not need to make any further comment on the right hon. Gentleman's charge. I just repudiate it.
I now turn to the right hon. Gentleman's comments on the position of the Scheduled Castes. He asked whether it was the policy of His Majesty's Government that the Depressed Classes should be treated as a separate political entity. Several other hon. Members have asked questions on the same point. Under the Act of 1935, the Depressed Classes are, of course, treated as a separate political entity for the special purpose of representation in the Legislature. Whether or not separate representation of this kind should be given to the Depressed Classes in a new Constitution is a matter for the Constituent Assembly to decide. They will have the advice of the Minorities Advisory Committee on which, as the President of the Board of Trade said yesterday, His Majesty's Government hope that both the Congress Depressed Class organisation and Dr. Ambedkar's Federation will have proper representation. The Government do not consider that it is desirable or, indeed, in the interests of the Depressed Classes themselves, that they should attempt to influence the Constituent Assembly in this matter. Their view is, as the President of the Board of Trade said in opening the Debate yesterday, that provisions in the Constitution are the right method of providing safeguards for minority elements. I would remind the House that the Cabinet Mission, in their statement of 25th May, stated that when the Constituent Assembly completed its labours, His Majesty's Government would recommend Parliament to take the necessary action to enable the new Constitution to go into operation subject only to two matters, one of which, as was said by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. 1542 R. A. Butler), was "adequate provision for the protection of minorities." Both the major parties have declared their intention of providing for all proper protection of minorities in the Constitution, and we see no reason to doubt that the Constituent Assembly will do so.
I would next refer to the question of the right hon. Member for Woodford as to the validity of the present meetings of the Constituent Assembly.
§ Mr. R. A. Butler
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves that point, can he give me no further assurance in reply to the question I put about the Constituent powers, and the opportunity of altering the Constitution?
§ Mr. Alexander
I think we have provided the broad heads of what we thought might make a good Constitution, if it were agreed by a properly elected Constituent Assembly. Apart from that, we are going on with our policy of the Indian people making a Constitution for a free India. In my view, it would not be right for me to take the kind of line suggested by the right hon. Gentleman, except to make it perfectly clear, as we have done in our public statement, that we regard adequate protection for the minorities as essential. That position will have to be taken into account when we come to our report.
§ Earl Winterton
As the right hon. Gentleman has referred to me, it is right to ask him if he will deal with my point about the Constituent Assembly?
§ Mr. Alexander
I have not finished with the noble Lord yet. Perhaps he will wait. I worked rather late last night to make sure that I covered the points which had been developed in the course of yesterday's Debate. If afterwards there is any question he desires to ask, I shall be only too happy to try to meet the noble Lord.
I next wish to refer to the right hon. Gentleman's question as to the validity of the present meetings of the Constituent Assembly. The election of the Constituent Assembly was fully completed months ago. The summoning of the Assembly was postponed in the light of events—the renewed negotiations with the Coalition Government, and ultimately the inclusion of the Muslim League representatives in the Government on 25th October, as a result of which it was hoped the Muslim League representatives would participate in the 1543 meetings of the Constituent Assembly. The date for the summoning of the Assembly could, in our view, be delayed no longer, and 9th December was, therefore, fixed. The representatives of all the parties, all duly elected, were summoned for that date.
It then transpired that the Muslim League did not intend to join the Assembly. It was that decision of the Muslim League not to join which led to the invitation to representatives of both sides to come to London to meet us for the conversations held last week It is, I think, clear that the voluntary abstention of one body of representatives does not, of itself, prevent the Constituent Assembly from meeting and proceeding to do business. But in this connection, I again draw attention to our statement of 6th December after last week's conversations, and especially to the last paragraph, which the right hon. Member for Woodford quoted yesterday, and which has been referred to again today by right hon. Gentlemen opposite. At this juncture, therefore, surely all our efforts, speeches and contacts ought to be used to secure the participation of the Muslim League representatives in the Constituent Assembly. I trust that, in spite of some of the controversial questions between the right hon. Gentleman and ourselves, with which I have had to deal today, he will give his support to our efforts in that direction.
§ Mr. Alexander
I have referred to the speech of the noble Lord the Member for Horsham; he has been anxious for me to refer to it again, and I will do so now. I will tell him exactly what I wrote down last night, because I wanted to answer him. I am sure much of what the noble Lord said yesterday was intended to be helpful, but I very much deprecate his reference to what he termed his view and belief that the "final and irrevocable rupture between Congress and the League" was now present
§ Earl Winterton
As the right hon. Gentleman has said that, I feel it my duty to say here and now—though I do not pretend to represent any great position in this House, I have been a former Minister —that I base that statement upon infor- 1544 mation which has reached me from the highest quarters. I believe there is not the slightest chance of a permanent agreement between those two parties as long as the Congress Party refuses to acsept the view which Mr. Jinnah put forward on the main question of Pakistan. That is based upon the highest possible advice I can get.
§ Mr. Alexander
Hon. Members will see how that is important. My general comment is that it would have been advisable not to have had this Debate at all, rather than that sort of thing should be said. I recognise that most of the noble Lord's speech was certainly intended to be helpful. But at the very moment when we are trying to bring our last efforts forward to get the two sides to cooperate, he first of all says, in his speech yesterday, that it is a final irrevocable rupture, and today he gets up in the House and quotes some mysterious highest authority upon which he bases his statement.
§ Earl Winterton
I ask the right hon. Gentleman this question. If any hon. Member of the House of Commons has information of the highest character, and knows the fact is a fact, is he to be castigated for mentioning that fact to the House?
§ Mr. Alexander
I am only saying what at this juncture is incumbent on all of us. When we have already stated in the House that the leaders of both great communities who were here last week have expressed their desire for good will and cooperation, and when we produced our statement last week in the hope that we might make progress in getting them together to cooperate in a Constituent Assembly, I think it is nothing but disastrous for statements of that kind to be made at this crucial hour.
§ Mr. Alexander
It may be true in the opinion of the noble Lord, but it is not true in the opinions of those who are handling the negotiations.
§ Mr. Alexander
I think it would do a lot more good if the noble Lord—speaking, as he said yesterday, with long experience of administration in Indian affairs; and who although he referred to himself just now as 1545 not being perhaps of very great importance, will always be quoted in India as an ex-Minister in the India Office—would direct his comment to furthering the essential objective, of getting the basis of co-operation, as even the right hon. Member for Woodford advocated yesterday, between the two main sides, as the only hope of getting out of the situation in which we are at the present time. Rather than setting up, by verbal statements like that, a hard and fast barrier, he should help in furthering the progress of the negotiations.
I would here like to express my sincere thanks to the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies), the leader of the Liberal Party, for his most helpful and sympathetic speech. It was the kind of speech which the House would have expected from him on such great human issues. The speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Sudbury (Lieut.-Colonel Hamilton) was factual, based upon real experience and knowledge of India. I am particularly grateful to him, if I may say so, because of his tribute to the Indian Army which enables me to take this opportunity of saying how well the Indian Army has acted during the most terrible communal disturbances. I think it is one of the highest achievements of British rule in India that it has fashioned an Indian Army of great technical achievement, with an extraordinary amount of goodwill and fellowship between the officers and other ranks within it, not only British but Indian, and even the members of the different communities I myself had the opportunity of visiting several units and having real fraternisation with them during my recent visit to India. I agree with my hon. and gallant Friend. Not only are the British officers in the Indian Army very proud of the great Indian instrument they have trained and fashioned, but as I can say from my conversations with them they are most anxious to be able to hand over to the new India of the future that fine organisation unimpaired.
§ Mr. Churchill
Does the right hon. Gentleman mean he would hand over to a Hindu Raj Government the British officers in the Indian Army, and would encourage that whole machine to take united part in the service of one religion against the other?
§ Mr. Alexander
The right hon. Gentleman must not anticipate by putting words 1546 in my mouth I have not used, and am not going to use. I was giving the result of my own visit, of my conversations and fraternisation with Indian Army units when I was in India, and expressing the view given to me by senior British officers in the Indian Army, who are proud of their handiwork in fashioning this big organisation, who do not want to see it deteriorate in any way, nor used against a free India, but who are anxious to hand over the organisation they have fashioned, unimpaired to a free India of the future.
§ Mr. Alexander
I do not quite follow the actual purport of the right hon. Gentleman's question. I suppose that if the Indian Government of the future would like the services of British officers in connection with that Army, a free Indian Government will be free to invite British officers to serve in that Army of free India. Why should they not?
§ Mr. Churchill
But are the British officers in the great service which has been built up in India to be placed at the disposal of a Hindu majority Government? [Interruption.] All right. Hon. Members do not like it. But this is the point. Are they to be placed at the disposal of that Government, or encouraged to place themselves at its disposal, in order to enforce its will in internal matters upon the great minorities in India?
§ Mr. Alexander
I think the answer to the right hon. Gentleman is that we are engaged at this moment in trying to secure a Government of Indian unity, and certainly not a Government based entirely upon a majority of one community or the other. That is what we have been bending our energies to, and, therefore, I refuse to give an opinion now upon the right hon. Gentleman's last question We are bending our energies to get a united Government at the centre for India, by the cooperation of all the parties, and, therefore, I do not think the question arises at this moment. I am thankful to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Sudbury, because I just wanted to say this: that if the great communities in India would take this lesson for study, of how magnificently this Indian Army, officered by British, by Sikhs, by Hindus, by Muslims, 1547 has stood together during the communal outbreaks, and if the rest of the Indian parties would adopt the same unity, how quickly we should make progress in meeting the solution we need.
The hon. Member for Aylesbury (Sir Stanley Reed) spoke yesterday, as he always does on India, from an almost unrivalled experience, and also, I felt as I listened to him, from his heart, and because of his respect and affection for the Indian people of all communities and classes. On behalf of the Government and of the Mission of which I was a member, may I say how grateful I am for his tribute to our efforts, and for the encouragement he has now given by his speech yesterday to us to continue our efforts to secure co-operation and good will in India. I would also acknowledge the help of my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Mr. Richards), not only for his support in the Debate, but also for the work he did as chairman of the Parliamentary delegation. I thought that the main point of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Devizes (Mr. Hollis) was his plea on behalf of the minorities. I think that I have already covered that in what I have said. His reference to international control last night was clarified in his exchanges with the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. T. Reid), who made an interesting speech, and was. as always, logical and constructive.
The hon. Member for Erdington (Mr. J. Silverman) dealt with the difference of interpretation by the two sides of paragraph 15 (5). Immediately he referred to it I endeavoured to explain to him that paragraph 19 deals with the procedure by which the Constituent Assembly should arrive at decisions; whilst paragraph 15 contains recommendations of the Cabinet Mission as to the basic provisions of the Constitution which the Constituent Assembly is to frame. These are two entirely different and separate things, and, in our view, it is unreasonable to argue that one affects the other. That is why we have never taken the interpretation of these two sections which the Congress Party have placed upon them. The hon. Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson), who has had personal experience of India, made an interesting speech, I thought. I have already covered his point on minorities, and would only add that I agree with him, and it was our intention that the protection of minorities must be 1548 provided for in the Constitution. I understand that Dr. Ambedkar argued very strongly for that during the Cripps Mission. As for the use of British troops, mentioned by the hon. Member, I must refer him once more to the last paragraph of our statement of 6th December.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) made a thoughtful survey of the position and of the future possibilities. Some of the things that he said have been taken exception to by the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler), and I would only say to my hon. Friend that he can depend upon it that we shall give his speech full consideration. But I am quite sure that he would not wish us, at the present stage, to give final answers to all the questions he referred to, and I can well understand what was put by the right hon Gentleman opposite, that some of his conclusions would need a great deal of study, and time for thought—as the right hon. Gentleman opposite said—before they could be adopted. But I should like to take the opportunity of expressing my thanks to the hon. Member for the great help which he gave to the Cabinet Mission when he was with us in India.
That is all I can say about the questions which were raised in the Debate yesterday. I come now to the speech of my right hon. Friend, and my old colleague, who sits for the Scottish Universities, and who spoke this morning. I must say I thought he gave a very 'powerful survey of the history of the efforts of all parties and Governments, and of the manner in which those efforts have been carried towards the ultimate freedom of the Indian people. In part of his speech I was most intensely interested. I thought he was particularly frank with the House in the way he accepted, as he did, his share of the responsibility from stage to stage in so far as he had been a responsible Member of the Government; and his general sentiment towards the problem, and the desires he expressed on behalf of the Indian people and their freedom were, I thought, beyond reproach or criticism.
Then he came to a point where he said that he must be sharply critical of the proceedings which led up to the formation of the interim Government formed by the Indians. I tried to make the point to him this morning that, in spite of the fears which he expressed, there had been in fact no actual constitutional change, 1549 and certainly there could not be any constitutional change without the Government coming to Parliament for authority. The only point I would add, before coming to the question of the selection of the members of the Indian Government, is that not only has there been no constitutional change, but the suggestion that the present interim Government is responsible only to the Central Indian Legislature is not correct. It is not collectively responsible to the Legislature, nor is it bound to resign if it is defeated in the Legislature. That is the position now.
§ Sir J. Anderson
What I suggested was that, in view of the manner in which they had been appointed, they were acting as if they were Ministers responsible not to the Viceroy but to the Legislature. I know that that is not technically their position.
§ Mr. Alexander
It is not technically their position, and so far no difficulty has arisen with regard to the matters which are dealt with by the Cabinet collectively—it can be called the new interim Indian Government, the Cabinet, or the Council, whichever you like to call it. No difficulty has arisen with the conduct of business in that direction, and I would add that if some of its members choose to resign because their policy is defeated in the Legislature, or because of a vote of no confidence in the Legislature, there is at the same time nothing to prevent them from resigning. That, however, does not alter the position or the constitutional authority of the Viceroy, until such time as this Parliament approves of the ceding of sovereignty to India.
In regard to the right hon. Gentleman's references to the interim Government and the selection or appointment of its members, I have been refreshing my memory about the matter since he spoke, and I would say that in the case of the first interim Government which was formed on 2nd September, the Viceroy invited Pandit Nehru to submit names for his consideration so that he could make recommendations to His Majesty. The Viceroy, of course, retained full discretion with regard to his acceptance of the names, but in fact he was able to recommend the names which Pandit Nehru put forward, and there was no need for him to ask for further names to be submitted to him. The present interim Government 1550 was formed by the addition of five members nominated by the Muslim League to fill vacancies which had been reserved for the purpose, and two other vacancies which were created by resignations of existing members in accordance with an understanding reached with the Viceroy before the first interim Government was formed. Again, the Viceroy retained his discretion with regard to the names submitted, but saw no occasion to use it. I do not therefore accept the view—which was put, I am quite sure, in perfectly good faith this morning by the right hon. Gentleman opposite—that there has been a fundamental departure from the proper practice under the Constitution.
The right hon. Gentleman this morning, the hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. Nicholson) last night, the right hon. Gentleman who has spoken this afternoon, and one or two other hon. Members apposite have referred to the administrative services in India. I am very glad to have this opportunity of paying a tribute to the devotion to duty of the members of those services, and I do not at all object to what was said by the hon. Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn) this afternoon, although I think he was a little hard upon some of the hon. Members who paid tributes to the Viceroy yesterday. I accept entirely the spirit in which he brought this matter before the House today, and I am delighted to be able to pay tribute to those services, British and Indian, which have been called upon both during and since the war to shoulder their exceptionally heavy burden of work under unusually trying conditions. Upon the continuation of that patient and devoted service will depend, in a very large measure, the success of whatever settlement of the Indian problem is eventually reached.
Hon. Members have referred to the decision—I think the hon. Member for Farnham referred to it, last night—to abandon the scheme for recruitment to the Indian Civil Service and Indian Police of candidates with war service. The Government are only too well aware of the effect of this abandonment upon the services, which were in urgent need of reinforcement after many years of war without replenishment. The decision was taken on the unanimous advice of the Provincial Government, the Government of India and of the Viceroy. If the war- 1551 service recruitment scheme had been proceeded with, it would not have appreciably strengthened the administration of India in the immediate future, because in the time taken up in training and getting on with the scheme, we ought to have been well on the way to getting a final and free Constitution approved. At the same time that we were considering it, there was clear evidence that Indian political opinion would have regarded it as indicating that the Government's declaration to hand over control to an Indian Government was insincere, and we thought it was necessary to take every possible step to convince the Indians of our sincerity. Generally speaking, I think that the situation in India has never been better, for such a great majority of the Indians believe, fundamentally, in the sincerity of the offer made by His Majesty's Government.
Hon Members opposite also suggested that nothing had been done in regard to the future of members of the Secretary of State services. I can assure hon. Members that this question has been under active consideration by the Government and that a scheme of compensation has been drawn up, and that the possibility of further Government employment for those people, where desired, is present to our minds. The question of compensation, to which I referred, is at present the subject of correspondence with the Government of India, but I am not in a position to make any statement in regard to it today. I can give the assurance for which I was asked, that the Government are well aware of the responsibility in this matter, and are doing all they can to bring the negotiations to a successful conclusion.
§ Mr. Nicholson
Will the right hon. Gentleman answer this question, to relieve the very great anxiety he caused me and others by what he said last night? He did not contradict me in my analysis of the situation, when I said that the efficient administration was gravely impaired, but by his interruption he implied that the Government are completely impotent in the face of it, and not only had no plans, but felt themselves unable to form any plans for strengthening the administration at a time when a strain, such as never before, is being thrown on the services.
§ Mr. Alexander
I have already referred to the decision made on this matter, to which my hon. Friend referred last night, namely, not to recruit any more of the war service candidates which have been quoted. That was on the unanimous advice of the Provincial Governments, of the Central Government and of the Viceroy. I have already explained that, and I have nothing to add. We must not forget the Indian side in the future India which we all hope will get her complete freedom, and the services are being recruited and are going on the whole time.
§ Mr. Churchill
What does the right hon. Gentleman mean by "complete freedom"? Does he mean independence?
§ Mr. Alexander
I am always prepared to take instructions from such a master of the English language as the right hon. Gentleman. He knows a great deal about the choice of words. If "independence" means "freedom", it may well be that "freedom" means "independence," but we have always stated our view on this matter, in precisely the same terms as the right hon. Gentleman's Secretary of State for India, in June, 1945, in which he said that he hoped they would be able to get their complete freedom within the Commonwealth, or without it. We have not departed from that in the offer which we have made to India. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman, for whom I have such respect for his great leadership of this country during the war, will not make small debating points of that kind.
§ Mr. Churchill
In answer to the right hon. Gentleman, if he will kindly permit me in a courteous and friendly spirit, the expression "full freedom" requires more precise definition. I see that it was said the other day that India was going towards freedom and was being given her freedom. But, as a matter of fact, as far as freedom is concerned, they have had an immense measure of freedom. The question of independence is a different aspect of freedom, and it is necessary to distinguish between the two in the statements that are made. We are, at this moment, expecting to hear that the Constituent Assembly, with whatever validity attaches to it, has declared in favour of an independent Indian Republic. That is independent; 1553 whether it is freedom is a matter which only the future can show.
§ Mr. Alexander
At any rate, they will be free then to choose what shall be the Constitution of their Republic, and through that will translate freedom to their own people.
§ Mr. Alexander
History alone will prove that. What we have laid upon us is the duty, first, to implement the pledges which Government after Government have given to give India the opportunity to be free.
§ Mr. Churchill
Is the decision now being taken at Delhi by the Constituent Assembly in favour of an independent Indian Republic? Is that to be judged by the Government as the decision of a valid, authoritative, Constituent body, although it represents only one major community in India?
§ Mr. Alexander
I certainly will not be drawn into a statement this afternoon as to exactly what our position is upon decisions that have not yet been taken. We stand upon our scheme of 16th May with regard to procedure. We stand upon our interpretation of the position which we gave last week in our statement of 6th December, and we are confining our efforts, at the moment, to doing our best to persuade both communities to come together to avoid bloodshed and communal strife, and to get on with founding the Constitution of a free India. We will, in the light of our pledges and of the scheme of 16th May, deal with the decision of the Constituent Assembly properly and faithfully, according to what we have laid down, when they have taken the decision. I am not going to make any replies to hypothetical questions.
§ Mr. Nicholson
This is a vital question. Do I understand that the Government accept as a fact that the administration is gravely weak, and that for some months or years to come will have grave strains put upon it during the interim period? I think that the Government must accept that. Is their answer to that, that there is nothing which they can do about it?
§ Mr. Alexander
If the hon Member does not want me to answer, I will not I say that that position has been growing for years. We were seized of the danger ourselves and have had consultations and obtained the unanimous views of all the three Indian opinions to which I have referred that it was not possible to do it.
§ Sir J. Anderson
Do the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues realise that there are other methods of building up the Services than of continuing the normal process of recruitment which is becoming out of date? Will he have regard to the record and see what was done? I can give him the dates.
§ Mr. Alexander
I am glad the right hon. Gentleman mentioned that, because we studied it and we are prepared to do something upon those lines, if it can be shown to be acceptable to the authorities and of value in the time available. I do assure the right hon. Gentleman that we went into it with great detail and took the consultations I have already referred to. I am sorry that my time has gone quicker than I expected. I do not mind at all what the right hon. Member for Woodford likes to refer to as the cut and thrust of debate—the interruptions and answers I should like to say before I sat down—
§ Earl Winterton
I want to get this clear from the right hon. Gentleman. I understand that he has definitely said that he cannot give an answer to the specific question asked by myself, my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) and my right hon. Friend the Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J, Anderson). The question I put to him was:Will the Government be bound in those circumstances—by the circumstances I meant the fact that the Muslims were not present——by the decisions of a Constituent Assembly although Mr. Jinnah says he will not be a member of it because the word pledged to him was broken."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th December, 1946; Vol. 431, c 1397]I want to get the position quite clear. Did I understand the right hon. Gentleman to say that he was not in a position to answer that question?
§ Mr. Alexander
I said that we made our position clear in certain respects in the last paragraph in our statement of 6th December—that we would not contemplate, and Congress itself does not contemplate, enforcing upon an unwilling section of the country anything they do not accept. We come now to the reservation with regard to minorities in our statement of 25th May, which has been quoted by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Saffron Walden. We have agreed to leave the Constitution making to Indians, by Indians, for Indians, provided we get a proper protection of minorities. As we have said again and again, we want that to be put in the Constitution. We hope the Constituent Assembly will put it in the Constitution and that we will have a treaty to cover these matters connected with the handing over of power to the Constituent Assembly. These two things are fundamental to our statement, and as I said in reply to the right hon. Gentleman we adhere to the pledges we have given to the Indian people in the light of that statement.
§ Mr. Churchill
I greatly appreciate the courtesy of the right hon. Gentleman and his readiness to debate matters in the House, which, I may say, tends to clarify and simplify the issue. I do not wish to presume on his indulgence and good nature, but I should like to ask him this question, which is not hypothetical. Are we to understand that the Government at this present moment, today, reserve their decision as to the validity of the proceedings of the Constituent Assembly now meeting in Delhi?
§ Mr. Alexander
I am not going this afternoon to give a legal view as to the validity of the Constituent Assembly apart from repeating the process of events which I have already put before the House. What I said then was that our scheme provided for the election of a Constituent Assembly. The election for the whole of the Constituent Assembly by all parties was carried out months ago. I explained the reasons why it has postponed meeting for some time, and how we hoped that the accession of the Muslim League members to the Government would have enabled them to participate. We could no longer postpone the date of the 1556 assembly, and if the Muslim League abstain voluntarily from going there how can we prevent that fully elected Constituent Assembly, from which one section absents itself, from going on to do important business? That is my answer.
§ Mr. Churchill
I did not ask the right hon. Gentleman a hypothetical question, but I asked him a question of some moment. Is the issue of the validity of the Assembly and their proceedings reserved by the Government or not?
§ Mr. Alexander
I pay great respect to the long Parliamentary experience of the right hon. Gentleman. I have no doubt that he thinks that he has now got me on a direct question, but I still think that the question is hypothetical. At this moment, we are labouring to get the Muslim League to become members of the Constituent Assembly. I am not going to make any further statement on this point this afternoon and, if I may say so, I do not think that I am called upon to do so.
§ Mr. Churchill
The right hon. Gentleman has, in fact, answered the question, because he has said that the Government have no further statement to make this afternoon, which is another way of saying that they have reserved their opinion.
§ Mr. Alexander
The right hon. Gentleman is very clever in the matter of making commitments. He has had great experience of it in many quarters and in relation to many subjects. But I am not committed to the statement which he has just made. I shall leave it to the Government to decide what interpretation shall be placed upon it, according to the circumstances with which they are faced at the time. I apologise to you, Mr. Speaker, and to the House for having delayed it for a considerable time from getting on to its next Business. But the issue is so vital to the whole of the Indian people, to the future of the Commonwealth and to the peace of the world. I beg all the leaders of Indian parties and the people in this country, whilst thanking them for having so well supported our general efforts up to now, to bring freedom to the Indian people, to go on maintaining tolerance in this country and developing more tolerance in India among each other.
We have now given them a case on which they can proceed to make their Constitution, although it is perfectly true, as 1557 the right hon. Member for Woodford said yesterday, that a difference upon a question of procedure covers a great deal of strife, enmity and hatred behind it. I know that that is so, but the only real difference in the proceedings between this country and India at the present time is that between the Indians themselves on the question of procedure. Surely, we can now plead with them to come together in a Constituent Assembly and, in that Assembly, to make a Constitution which is free, but which also allows no damage and no harm to be done to the liberty of the minorities. If they can come to us with a Constitution like that, then I can say that this Government will carry out every word of their pledges to them and will recommend a cession of sovereignty to the body set up which provides that complete freedom for all communities and all minorities in its ranks.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
That this House takes note of the statement on India made on nth December by the Prime Minister and expresses its hope that a settlement of the present difficulties between Indian Parties will be forthcoming.