§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn." [Mr. Mathers.]
§ 11.43 a.m.
§ Mr. R. A. Butler (Saffron Walden)
We are very much obliged to the Government for giving us facilities for this discussion before the Mission of Cabinet Ministers and their advisers proceed to India next week. The rules of the House make it impossible for us unduly to enlarge on this discussion which is being held on a Motion for the Adjournment. Nevertheless, this is a valuable opportunity afforded to Parliament to express some views at this stage, and for His Majesty's Government to tell us a little more than they have done in the Prime Minister's statement of 19th February about the purpose of the Mission and what it hopes to achieve.
It has always been the practice in this House to regard India as a subject upon which our views on all sides of the House are put into a common pool. It has been a tradition of Parliament throughout our history that the affairs of India both excite and receive the maximum attention. The Government of the day have frequently found that it has been well worth their while to take the House and the country into their confidence. The Prime Minister will remember that before the previous Mission of the President of 1414 the Board of Trade, the plan upon which he was expected to enter into discussions with the Indian leaders was published for all to read. It was, therefore, possible for us to follow the events in India with some knowledge at our disposal. I ask the Prime Minister today whether he can make any statement which will further enlighten us on the likely terms of reference, or, to put it in general terms, on what sort of instructions the Mission is to have, in order that we may be better informed than we are at the present time. Of course, I realise that there must be limits upon what the Prime Minister can say. I hope, however, that he will tell us as much as he can.
My first task is to state, on behalf of the Opposition, that we all wish to create by our intervention the necessary felicitous atmosphere in which the Mission may achieve some durable results. We would not, however, desire results to be achieved at any price. India can proudly boast with the most ancient civilisations, that her history extends over the centuries. No solution which is reached in a hurry for the sake of a solution can have any chance of ultimate success. This is not to say that we do not recognise the urgency of trying to satisfy the expectations of the Indian people. India's war record, to which we should all desire to pay our tribute, and the standing of Indian statesmen, which many of us have experienced at first hand on many occasions, necessitate an early advance towards that goal of self-government to which we are all pledged. We trust that the Mission will go to India in a positive mood or, if we prefer so to describe it, a positive state of mind. I do not doubt, looking at the right hon. Gentlemen opposite, that that will be the case. They should go proud of Britain's record in India and of the fact that we have, on repeated occasions, made offers to India which are eloquent of our sincerity. There is no manner in which the success of this Mission could be more definitely prejudiced than if its members were to become victims of that propaganda which says that Britain has not carried out her pledges. Offers such as that carried by the President of the Board of Trade in 1942 have been made from time to time, but they have always foundered on the inability of the Indian peoples to come to an agreement between themselves, or on the refusal of this or that section of 1415 Indian opinion to accept what was put forward. As a further earnest of our intentions it will, we hope, be helpful to have representatives of the British Cabinet in India at this important time.
It may be convenient if I remind the House that the best summary of our intentions towards India as a nation is included in the speech made by Mr. Amery, the former Secretary of State for India, in the House of Commons on 14th June of last year. He was then dealing with the statement of interim policy announced by the Government, and his speech ran as follows:As the statement makes clear, the offer of March, 1942, stands in its entirety. That offer was based on two main principles. The first is that no limit is set to India's freedom to decide for herself her own destiny, whether as a free member and partner in the British Commonwealth or even without it. The second is that this can only be achieved under a constitution, or constitutions, framed by Indians to which the main elements in India's national life are consenting parties." —[Official Report, 14th June, 1945; Vol. 411, c. 1838.]This was brought together and epitomised in the King's Speech at the opening of the present Parliament, which contained this passage:In accordance with the promises already made to My Indian peoples, My Government will do their utmost to promote in conjunction with the leaders of Indian opinion the early realisation of full self-government in India.We accept these principles of policy and trust we may be told by the Government that the Mission will assist in establishing machinery through which such a policy can be achieved, namely, the setting up of a constituent body composed of representative Indians. Anyone who understands and feels the tense atmosphere which prevails in India at the present time must realise the urgent need for finding a way out, a way along which the Indian people themselves are prepared to march forward. We cannot march for them, but we can all march together. All concerned with the conduct of affairs in India are equally anxious that a move should be made, whatever may be their particular arduous duty at the present time and in whatever service they may be functioning. I should like to make it clear that we are not only definitely pledged to accept any solution which commends itself to Indian opinion, but that it is emphatically in our own interests to bring about a radical im- 1416 provement in a situation which is one of the utmost gravity.
The Ministers will, no doubt, also advise the Viceroy as to the best method of bringing into effect the interim policy which was described on 14th June last year, namely, the reconstitution of the Viceroy's Council on a broad basis, substituting Indian leaders for the present official members. We had a word about that on the Bill, the Second Reading of which has just been taken, and it will be interesting to hear whether there is any further enlightenment we can receive from the Government. Will it be the case, for example, that the general lines of the statement on 14th June are still adhered to and, for example, that the portfolio of External Affairs in this interim period will pass over in this manner?
May I now make one or two observations about certain subjects of crucial importance and about which we feel particularly on this side of the House? First, anyone who has been living with the Indian problem for a long time must realise that the Mission will be brought sharply up against the main issue as to whether India is to be divided or not. In fact, the Mission will have ever before them the Muslim claim that the only way in which Muslim culture, civilisation and security can be assured is by the establishment of Pakistan. This is not the occasion for an examination of the merits or demerits of such a plan, upon which opinion must be sharply divided on all sides. Whatever decision may be reached, it cannot be out of place here to state that the unification of India has been achieved over the last century and a half by long patience and constructive statesmanship. Whatever arrangement may be made, it is hoped that any final solution will not be arrived at which is unmindful of India's need for some central nexus which will facilitate the handling of questions of all-India importance.
We have recently witnessed a hopeful augury for the future in the example given by representatives of the main parties in their decision to co-operate in dealing with the central food problem, and in the Bill which the hon. and learned Gentleman brought forward this morning definite powers were sought to retain authority at the Centre for dealing with this sort of vital problem which cannot be left to the units themselves alone. May I say —and I feel sure that I shall be expressing the 1417 opinion of everyone in this House—how deeply we feel for India in facing the economic and social problems which beset her at the present time, and which cannot but obtrude themselves on the attention of His Majesty's Ministers? We should also be grateful to hear of any statement that can be made of the interest which His Majesty's Ministers may well take in the very necessary development of India both industrially and in the agricultural sphere.
The next issue which particularly affects my right hon. and hon. Friends is that of the future of the Indian States. These States and their rulers are bound to the Crown by Treaties and engagements of various sorts which have been hallowed by long and scrupulous observance. We must insist that any solution which is planned would ensure that we keep our word with the Indian princes, and that their peoples are given every opportunity to enjoy forms of enlightened and progressive government according to their tastes.
Then there are in India those minorities whose plight and whose future we discussed at such length during the Debates on the Government of India Act, whether they be the depressed classes with their large numbers, the Indian Christians, the Anglo-Indian community, whose services in an emergency are always pre-eminent, and many others who must find their place in any future scheme of constitutional development worked out by their fellow-countrymen. Can we be assured that His Majesty's Ministers will ever have the interests of these minorities at heart? There is also a body of men upon whose devotion to duty India's future depends. These are the members of the Civil Service of all grades, of the police forces, who have lately been strained and stretched to their utmost capacity. It is of the utmost importance that these men should know that the interests of themselves and their families are amply safeguarded, that their depleted ranks will be supplemented through new recruitment, and that an effort will be made to give them as great a certainty of outlook as possible in the present troubled state of affairs.
The last matter which I shall mention is the proposed treaty which may eventually be signed between the constitution-making body and the British Government. I think it would be simpler if I borrowed some words from my right hon. 1418 Friend the Prime Minister on this matter which he used in his broadcast of September of last year. He said that we should not seek in that treaty to provide for anything incompatible with the interests of India.
It would be too much to ask the Government to give us today their final answers on all these points; indeed, were they to do so, there would be little advantage in sending a Mission to India at all, and I do not doubt that the right hon. Gentleman would himself be disappointed. We can say, however, that unless some of these questions are resolved in a satisfactory manner, it were better that the Mission had never set out. It is on questions such as those I have mentioned, and on many others which time forbids me to mention, that Parliament will wish to be kept informed. Here I feel I am speaking not only for those on this side of the House, but for all Members of Parliament interested in this important matter. We realise that Ministers must have latitude in their negotiations. We trust, however, that they will remain in close contact with the Cabinet, and that Cabinet responsibility will stretch over, and overcome, the distance which separates the Ministers from their Government at home. We trust that the Cabinet, in its turn, will keep Parliament fully informed and in the picture, so that, when we finally come to consider Indian questions in the future, we may all have profited by the initiative which the Government have thought it right to undertake to deal with this most important affair.
§ 11.59 a.m.
§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Attlee)
I would like to thank the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler) for his very helpful, wise, and constructive speech. He has, as we all know, given great service on Indian affairs for many years, and he comes of a family that has given many most distinguished public servants to India. I think that the tone in which he addressed the House is just what is needed today at this critical stage in the relationship between these two countries at a time, as has been said, of very high tension. I find from my Friends in this House who have been out to India and returned, from letters received from Indians, and from Englishmen in India of all points of 1419 view, complete agreement on the tact that India is today in a state of great tension and that this is indeed a critical moment. I am quite sure that everyone in this House realises the difficulties of the task which my right hon. Friends have undertaken in conjunction with the Viceroy, and that no one will desire to say anything whatever that will make their task more difficult. The right hon. Gentleman said that the Mission should go out in a positive mood. I entirely agree and that, indeed, is the mood in which my right hon. Friends are undertaking this Mission. It is a time emphatically for very definite and clear action.
I do not intend to make a long speech today, and I do not think it would be wise to do so. In particular, I think it would be most unhelpful to review the past. It is so easy to go back over the past and, in accordance with one's predilections, apportion the blame for past failure in the long drawn out discussions there have been on this extraordinarily difficult problem —the problem of the development of India into a completely self-governing nation. Over such a long period of the past it is so easy to say that at this stage or at that stage opportunities were missed by the faults of one side or the other. I think also, as my right hon. Friend said, it would be a great mistake to stake out the claims of rival communities; we may be quite sure that will be done anyway.
I have had a fairly close connection with this problem now for nearly 20 years, and I would say there have been faults on all sides, but at this time we should be looking to the future rather than harking back to the past. This alone I would say to hon. Members, that it is no good applying the formulae of the past to the present position. The temperature of 1946 is no: the temperature of 1920 or of 1930 or even of 1942. The slogans of an earlier day are discarded. Indeed, sometimes words that seemed at that time to Indians to express the height of their aspirations are now set on one side, and other words, other ideas, are substituted. Nothing increases more the pace of the movement of public opinion than a great war. Everyone who had anything to do with this question in the early days between the wars knows what an effect the war of 1914–18 had on Indian aspira- 1420 tions and Indian ideals. A tide which runs slowly in peace becomes in wartime vastly accelerated, and especially directly after a war, because that tide is to some extent banked up during the war.
I am quite certain that at the present time the tide of nationalism is running very fast in India and, indeed, all over Asia. One always has to remember that India is affected by what happens elsewhere in Asia. I remember so well, when I was on the Simon Commission, how it was borne in upon us what an effect the challenge that had been thrown out by Japan at that time had had on the Asiatic people. The tide of nationalism that at one time seemed to be canalised among a comparatively small proportion of the people of India—mainly a few of the educated classes—has tended to spread wider and wider. I remember so well, indeed, I think we put it in the Simon Commission Report, that although there were great differences in the expression of nationalist sentiment between what are called the extremists and the moderates, and although in many circumstances there might be such a stress on communal claims as might seem almost to exclude the conception of nationalism, yet we found that Hindu, Muslim, Sikh or Mahrattah, the politician or civil servant —among all of them that conception of nationalism had been growing stronger and stronger. Today I think that national idea has spread right through and not least, perhaps, among some of those soldiers who have given such wonderful service in the war. I should like today, therefore, not to stress too much the differences between Indians. Let us all realise that whatever the difficulties, whatever the divisions may be, there is this underlying demand among all the Indian peoples.
The right hon. Gentleman did not suggest that the Government should publish any exact terms of reference of the Mission. We have set out the general purpose, and it is our intention that they should be given as free a hand as possible. There will be matters, undoubtedly, on which it will be necessary to refer back for a Cabinet decision, but in the rather fluid position at the present time when we desire to get the utmost co-operation and good will between all the leaders of Indian opinion, it would be unwise to try to tie down those who are going out too rigidly. Indeed, the obvious reason 1421 for sending out Cabinet Ministers is that we send out persons of responsibility who are able to take decisions. Of course, there must be an area in which there may have to be a reference back.
The right hon. Gentleman stressed the great part India played during the war. It is worth while recording that twice in 25 years India has played a great part in the defeat of tyranny. Is it any wonder that today she claims—as a nation of 400,000,000 people that has twice sent her sons to die for freedom—that she should herself have freedom to decide her own destiny? My colleagues are going to India with the intention of using their utmost endeavours to help her to attain that freedom as speedily and fully as possible. What form of Government is to replace the present regime is for India to decide; but our desire is to help her to set up forthwith the machinery for making that decision. There we are met sometimes with the initial difficulty of getting that machinery set up. We are resolved that machinery shall be set up and we seek the utmost co-operation of all Indian leaders to do so.
The right hon. Gentleman quoted the statement that had been made with regard to India's future. India herself must choose what will be her future Constitution; what will be her position in the world. I hope that the Indian people may elect to remain within the British Commonwealth. I am certain that she will find great advantages in doing so. In these days that demand for complete, isolated nationhood apart from the rest of the world, is really outdated. Unity may come through the United Nations, or through the Commonwealth, but no great nation can stand alone without sharing in what is happening in the world. But if she does so elect, it must be by her own free will. The British Commonwealth and Empire is not bound together by chains of external compulsion. It is a free association of free peoples. If, on the other hand, she elects for independence, in our view she has a right to do so. It will be for us to help to make the transition as smooth and easy as possible.
We should be conscious that the British have done a great work in India. We have united India and given her that sense of nationality which she so very largely lacked over the previous centuries. She has learned from us principles of demo- 1422 cracy and justice. When Indians attack our rule, they base their attack, not on Indian principles, but on the basis of standards derived from Britain. I was very struck the other day in the United States, at a dinner where I met a number of distinguished Americans, including a very distinguished Indian, where the talk was turning on the way in which principles worked out here have been applied on the continent of America. It was pointed out that America had a great heritage from Britain. My Indian friend said to me, "You know, the Americans sometimes forget there is another great nation that has also inherited these principles and traditions, and that is India. We feel that we have a duty, a right and a privilege because we also bring to the world and work those very principles that you evolved in Britain."
I am well aware, when I speak of India, that I speak of a country containing a congeries of races, religions and languages, and I know well all the difficulties thereby created. But those difficulties can only be overcome by Indians. We are very mindful of the rights of minorities and minorities should be able to live free from fear. On the other hand, we cannot allow a minority to place a veto on the advance of the majority.
We cannot dictate how these difficulties may be overcome. Our first duty is to get the machinery of decision set up. That is the main purpose of my hon. Friends and the Viceroy. We also want to see set up an interim Government. One of the purposes of the Bill which has been discussed today is to give the Viceroy a greater freedom in order that in the period that shall elapse while this Constitution is being worked out, we may have a Government commanding the greatest possible support in India. I would not like to fetter the Viceroy's discretion in any way with regard to the allocation of portfolios.
There were a number of points my right hon. Friend mentioned with which I should like to deal. There is the problem of the Indian States. In many Indian States great advances have been made in democratic institutions, and a most interesting experiment is now going forward in Travancore, under the guidance of the distinguished statesman, Sir C. P. Ramaswami Aiyar. Of course, the feelings in British India in regard to nationalism and the unity of India cannot be confined by the boundaries that separate these States from the 1423 Provinces. I hope that the statesmen of British India and of princely India will be able to work out a solution of the problem of bringing together, in one great polity, these disparate constituent parts. There again, we must see that the Indian States find their due place, there can be no positive veto on advance, and I do not believe for a moment that the Indian princes would desire to be a bar to the forward march of India. But, as in the case of any other problems this is a matter that Indians will settle themselves.
I am very well aware, as we all are, of the minority problems in India, and I think that Indian leaders are more and more realising the need for settling them if India is to have a smooth passage in future years. I believe that due provision will be made for that in the Constitution, and my right hon. Friends, in their conversations, will certainly not neglect the point. We must, however, recognise that we cannot make Indians responsible for governing themselves and, at the same time, retain over here responsibility for the treatment of minorities and the power to intervene on their behalf. We are mindful, too, I can assure the right hon. Gentleman, of the position of the Services—the men who have done great service to India—and the position of their families. I think India should be sensible of the responsibility she has towards those who have served her, and I think that a Government which takes over, so to speak the assets of our Government will also have to take over the liabilities. There again, that is a point to be dealt with later on. It does not concern the immediate purpose of setting up what I have called the instrument of decision. I entirely agree with what the right hon. Gentleman said with regard to the Treaty. That Treaty is primarily for India. We are not going to hang out for anything for our own advantage which would be a disadvantage to India.
In conclusion, may I stress again the crucial nature of the task before us? This problem is of vital importance not only to India and the British Commonwealth and Empire, but to the world. There is this immense nation, set in the midst of Asia, an Asia which has been ravaged by war. Here we have the one great country that has been seeking to apply the prin- 1424 ciples of democracy. I have always hoped myself that politically India might be the light of Asia. It is a most unfortunate circumstance that, just at the time when we have to deal with these great political issues, there should be grave economic difficulties and, in particular, very grave anxiety over India's food supply. The House knows that His Majesty's Government are deeply concerned in this problem, and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Food is at the present time in the United States with an Indian delegation. We shall do our utmost to help her. At the present moment I do not think I should say anything on the social and economic difficulties to which the right hon. Gentleman referred except this: I believe that those economic and social difficulties can only be solved by the Indians themselves, because they are so closely bound up with the whole Indian way of life and outlook. Whatever we can do to assist, we shall do. My right hon. Friends are going out to India resolved to succeed and I am sure everyone will wish them "God speed."
§ 12.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Godfrey Nicholson. (Farnham)
With the concluding words of the Prime Minister I feel certain that the whole House will agree. Not only every Member of this House, but every thinking individual throughout the country as a whole must wish "God-speed and good success" to the Mission, who are shortly leaving these shores. It has always been my view, and I am firmly convinced of its truth, that India is by far the gravest and most serious single responsibility that rests upon the shoulders of this House and of this country. If the Mission which is to go there in a few days can lay even a few humble bricks in the great structure of India's future, their time will not have been wasted.
The Prime Minister has spoken with characteristic dignity and moderation, and there is very little in what he said from which I myself should wish to differ. I cannot, however, refrain from saying that I wish he had made a little clearer the sailing orders under which the Mission are going. I quite understand that he could not give specific details, but I am still at a loss in my own mind whether their role is to be mainly exploratory and what I might call lubricating, or whether they go with plenary powers, to make 1425 definite offers to India which will, morally speaking, bind the Government and this House. Perhaps it is too late for the right hon. Gentleman to define their mission any further, but I wish to say, for myself, that I feel they are doomed to certain disappointment, and perhaps they will incur serious blame for grave consequences, if they go out hoping to do too much. I think their approach, and indeed the approach of all Englishmen in India, should be one of a humble willingness to help, rather than one of great statesmen going out with the desire to make a great splash, and to come back with much kudos. I hope they will not think I am preaching at them in saying that.
I would like to comment on one or two of the Prime Minister's statements. He spoke about blame. I do not think there is any need for any side in India to blame itself for the position there today. As a humble student of Indian history, it seems to me that the position today is the consequence of various currents of events and trends which would, inevitably, have led to conditions of grave crisis and difficulty. The amazing thing to my mind is not that the situation is so bad in India, but that for so long a period India has developed relatively peacefully, and that even today there are such immense reserves of good will, toleration and common sense on all sides. Like the Prime Minister, I see no reason to apologise for the British record in India. We have made mistakes and blunders. They have not however been the blunders of selfish tyrants, but rather the blunders of a lack of imagination and slowness to move, not blunders which have arisen from a lack of good intentions and of fundamental unselfishness or a lack of desire to do our duty towards people whom, as we believe, Providence has for a certain period given to our charge. I know it is the desire of every thinking Englishman that we should acquit ourselves nobly in the eyes of history with respect to India, and that it should go down that we have done our best to do our duty, not for ourselves, but only with a thought for those for whom we have regarded ourselves as trustees.
The Prime Minister spoke, too, of the tide of nationalism. That is one way of looking at it, but I wondered if it would not have been better to use the term 1426 " the tide of liberalism "—the very thoughts which we ourselves are proud to have set in motion. The great sweep across India today of the cry for independence is not only the result of the nationalistic doctrines which have been permeating all Asia in the last few decades, but rather, I think, a fruit, of which we should be proud, of that liberal teaching and those democratic principles of which we ourselves boast, and with which we have, to our credit, inoculated all Indian thought. I feel no shame in the fact that the result of our teaching and leadership in India has been this great cry for independence and this wave of what the Prime Minister calls "nationalism."
There is one other point in the Prime Minister's speech on which I want to comment. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the constitutional progress made in certain States. I just want to say—and I mention no names—that I very much hope that constitutional progress in the States will be accompanied by the greatest possible religious toleration. I think that people in touch with Indian affairs will know the direction in which my thoughts are moving. Finally, I regret that the Government have not thought fit to associate all parties in this House with their present Mission to India. It has been a good tradition in the past that all parties should be together in this matter. There were the Simon Commission, in which the Prime Minister played a considerable part, the Round Table Conference, Joint Select Committees and so on. But the right hon. Gentleman knows that there will be no factious criticism from this side of the House, and no attempt made to make party capital out of what may happen.
In common with seven hon. Members of this House and two Members from another place, I have recently been privileged to form part of a Parliamentary Delegation which spent five hurried weeks in India, and I should like to say a few words upon the impressions I acquired. We were all deeply touched by the kindness and warmth with which we were received, whether by Indians or by Europeans. I myself had not been in India for 11 years, and I found India changed, just as I think the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade will find that India has changed very greatly in the four years since he has 1427 been there. Not many people are aware of these changes in India. They think that, because India has a history going back thousands of years, things move slowly, at the pace of the bullock cart. Far from it. They move, not with the pace of a rocket, but with the pace of the rickety bus which rumbles over India's dry plains or through her leafy jungles.
India today is politically adult. That is the fact we have got to realise. That is not to say that India has the wisdom and experience of a nation that has been politically adult for a long time. India is in the position of a young man who says to his parents, "I no longer wish to remain under your tutelage; I wish to take charge of my own affairs." India is in that way adult in political thought, industrial expansion and in every other way. It is no good anybody in this country thinking that the cry for independence is confined to a few intellectuals or to city-bred politicians. Every Indian who can read, and a good many of those who cannot, have been bitten by this cry and feel it deeply. The question I asked myself was this: "Independence of what? Independence of Britain, of Western influence, of Parliament and Whitehall? "My answer is quite definite. There is a very strong feeling in India against us, not as Britain, not as a Western democracy, but against us as representing control by Parliament and by Whitehall. It is independence from that which India is seeking, and the first task of the Mission will be to convince India of the sincerity with which we say that we wish India to be free from the direct control of this country.
And there certainly has been a feeling in India that we were willing to let the failure of Indian communities to agree be our excuse for not going any further forward. What we have got to face is this fact, that our main difficulty is not to bring ourselves to confer independence upon India, but to get India to take independence. Our main difficulty is not in taking decisions ourselves, but in forcing Indians to take decisions. That is the main role of this Mission, perhaps, to force Indians to take decisions themselves and themselves to take the responsibility for those decisions.. As a result of the methods of administration and the political history of India, we have given Indians of all parties every excuse for 1428 laying blame on every pair of shoulders except their own, and I hope the Mission will realise that it is not their job to go out and make decisions, but to make Indians make the decisions themselves. I came back with a firm conviction that our policy, as represented by the Cripps offer and now represented by this Mission, is absolutely right, and that we have nothing to be ashamed of in it. I wish to put that on record.
There is a grave danger that the House and the country may think that this Mission is going out to India to bring back a solution or an answer to the Indian problem, and I believe that the main object of our Debate today should t)3 to impress upon this country, and, indeed, upon India that we know that there is no clear-cut solution or answer to the Indian problem. It is not like a question in arithmetic set in school when one knows that there is the answer at the end of the book which one can look up. There never really is any clear-cut answer to any political problem, and least of all with India, and, if this Mission is expecting to come back bringing laurels for the Labour Government, it will be dangerously disappointed. Its first task will be to convince Indians of our sincerity, to bring back some proposals, not making them themselves, and to convince India that we mean that complete independence from Parliament and Whitehall should be attained in the near future. The second object, as I have said, will be to make Indians take decisions themselves.
The most crucial question they will have to face is the issue of Pakistan, and I beseech the Mission not to be led away into making more than the minimum decision on that issue. They may think that it is desirable to admit the principle of Pakistan. They probably will think so, but if they do, they should not let themselves be led away from their object of placing responsibility for the details of Pakistan, such as boundaries and so on, upon the shoulders of Indians themselves. That would be a cardinal blunder. And let them fight shy of giving any sort of communal award. We may, in the long run, have to give an award, we may have to suggest to India the sort of Constitution that we think is desirable. But let us refuse, and go on refusing, to make suggestions or to give any award until a certain time has elapsed and until we are begged and prayed to do so, and then I 1429 think there would be some hope of that award being accepted by India, not as a favour to ourselves, but because they want it. I frankly admit that I am afraid of this Mission taking too much on themselves and of entering into commitments which we will find it hard to honour and which will have very little chance of success in India itself.
There are two other subjects which will be brought to their notice. First, there is the question of the famine. I believe that every single member of the delegation would feel that he had failed in his duty if he did not, in season and out of season, hammer into this House and into the people of this country the gravity of the situation in India and the degree of responsibility which attaches to us. The minimum estimate of grain deficiency in India is 4,000,000 tons; the maximum is 7,000,000 tons. At the present rate of rationing in India, I reckon that each of those million tons means that rations for nine or ten million people are deficient. The magnitude of the problem is so appalling that one can scarcely grasp it. They are our fellow subjects and we in this House are responsible for them. I am bound to point out to the Prime Minister that I should feel it was very wrong if we made any relaxation in the rationing restrictions in this country at the cost of India, or if we were to send one ton of food to any other country in the world before India unless it was absolutely essential to do so.
The other problem with which the Mission will be faced, is that of administration. Some people seem to think that if there is a new constitutional dispensation in India there will automatically be a new Administration. But there will not be; it will be the same Administration. India is more dependent upon an efficient administration than any other comparable land area in the world. The truth of the matter is that although the large majority of administrators are Indians, there is a small minority of key men at the top who are Europeans. Those Europeans are tired men, most of whom have not been home since before the war. They are a skeleton force and they are overworked. They have had a burden cast upon them such as no other civil servant has had cast upon him during the past years, and it is my conviction that the Administration is very near to breaking point. An administrative breakdown is not only a 1430 possibility, but almost, one might say, a probability. In addition, both Indians and Europeans alike are absolutely unsure of their future. They do not know what will happen to them if there is a new constitutional dispensation. The Indian Administration must have an injection of new vitality, new strength and manpower, and new hope and new confidence must be put into it. I believe that the Mission will find that that, though less spectacular, is, fundamentally, a far graver problem than many, if not most, of the political questions that occupy the forefront of the stage.
I am not despondent about the future of India, although I know it is difficult to exaggerate the perils of the present position and the inflammable nature of political feeling. I am optimistic, because I believe that, if once we can solve the question of status, and can make the Indians realise that we regard them as completely equal fellow partners, a great deal will have been done. If we can make them realise that we intend, in the very near future, to recognise that the links between India and Great Britain shall not be compulsory but voluntary and can be dissolved at the free will of either party, then, I am convinced, the connection between our two countries will be as close, if not closer, in the future as in the past. I spoke about the tide of nationalism being rather the tide of English liberalism. I do not think it is realised that our ideas of what is right and just and our ideas of goodness and kindness have permeated every single stratum of Indian thought. I believe that there is a curious natural affinity between all the Indian races and ourselves based upon a common appreciation of the importance of kindliness and simple goodness. We have the same ideas. We have permeated Indian education and, above all, Indian justice, and our religious thoughts have had a great influence on every branch of Indian thought and activity. I do not believe that those links, which are far more durable and far more fundamental than any ephemeral political connection, can be easily severed. India wants to love this country. In its heart of hearts India does love this country and respects it, too.
India wants to walk hand in hand with us along the difficult road that lies ahead. We see that road, perhaps, as 1431 more beset with perils than do the Indians, for India has been little touched by the earth-shaking events of the past few years. But be the road stony or smooth, I believe the Indians want to walk with us along it. I believe that the good will of India can easily be regained in full measure and to overflowing. A heavy responsibility rests upon this Cabinet Mission, because on their action will depend a great deal in the future. Let it go forth from this House and from this country that we are full of love and friendliness for India, that we want the Indians to be a free people and that we wish to face with them, in a spirit of comradeship, whatever the future may hold.
§ 1244 P.m.
§ Mrs. Nichol (Bradford, North)
I am pleased to have an opportunity to take part in this Debate this morning because I, like the hon. Gentleman the Member for Farnham (Mr. Nicholson), was recently privileged to go to India on the Parliamentary delegation. To say that India is in a state of emotional and political disturbance is an understatement. It is so emotionally disturbed that it has to be seen to be believed. It was a very great relief and a very great satisfaction to Members on all sides of the House when the announcement was made that three Cabinet Ministers were shortly to leave for India, and no one would wish to say one word which would make their task more difficult. It is a delicate and a difficult. task of which everyone in this House is supremely conscious. We wish them well because, although it is a truism to say so, on this Mission will probably depend the future of India, which may affect the whole world. It is also true to say that the acid test of real statesmanship will be the settlement of the Indian problem. During the Debate on Defence, an hon. Member, mentioning India en passant, said it was the wish of all Members that India should gain her freedom. There was an interjection from an hon. Member opposite who said, "Is it?" That interjection rather startled me, because the position is not now at the stage where our wishes are paramount. Whatever differences there are in India—and those differences are deep and important, there is unity on one point, namely that India must have her free- 1432 dom and independence at the earliest possible moment. It comes to me as rather a shock to find that there are still many people, both inside and outside this House, who still think there is all the time in the world for leisurely talks. Those of us who have been to India recently, although for so short a period, are probably more shocked than others by this leisurely attitude to the Indian question, because we realise that the question must be settled.
India is suspicious of every move which may appear to involve delaying tactics. She is suspicious of any Mission, lest it is one which is destined to put off the day of final settlement. When we went out to India, we met at Karachi a fairly hostile Press. They asked, "Who are these strange people who have come to India to find out about the Indian situation? What is there in the Indian situation that the Government cannot know?" At Delhi the Press were a little less hostile, but they were still suspicious, and it was only after we had had a Press conference, where we were able to convince them that we had come only in a spirit of friendliness and helpfulness, to make contacts and to meet the leaders of Indian opinion, to try to understand the added difficulties which the war had brought, and the added complications which had arisen during the course of the last few years, that we were able to move in a spirit of friendship and understanding. After that, the Press were kind and helpful to us, and we were grateful for the cooperation which they gave. But, in spite of the breaking down of the sense of suspicion, we were never for a moment allowed to forget that India is stretched to breaking point. To ignore this, is to miss a very vital point in the whole of the Indian situation.
India is sick to death of British imperialism. She wants independence. Indians rightly stress their dissimilarity from the Australians, New Zealanders, Canadians and South Africans. They say, quite rightly, that they have a rich and precious heritage of Eastern culture which they wish to develop in their own way, with their own political forms and by their own methods. There is, believe me, no shortage of political leadership in India. There is political leadership of very high moral and intellectual integrity. In the 1433 past, we have underestimated this. How often in the past have we not heard, even in this House and many times outside it, the statement that India is not fit to govern herself? People have asked, "What will she do when we withdraw from India? How can we withdraw and leave this nation to the mercy of her own inexperienced leaders and politicians? "India has produced a set of leaders who will be able to take care of the destiny of India. It is true that Britain has done good work in India; she has done magnificent work. It is true that the officials in India, in the remote places as well as at the centre and in the important posts in the Provinces, have done unselfish and magnificent work, and so have their wives. I met wives of officials who, 20 or 25 years ago, went out to remote places where there was no water, sanitation, proper lighting or maternity services if they were needed, and where there was the greatest hardship. We know that good work has been done in India in irrigation, the making of canals and so forth. So there should have been in 150 years of British rule. But, taken over the years, and bearing in mind the opportunities which Britain has had, our sins of omission are considerable, and those sins of omission as well as our sins of commission should sometimes be examined. We need not take too much flattering unction to our souls, because, while we have done good work in India, India has given much to Britain. Let us never forget that.
What about our sins of omission? The hon. Member for Farnham referred to education. There is at present 85 per cent, illiteracy in India, and that figure is taken from the Sargent Report. That figure is very serious. Among women, there is 97 per cent. illiteracy. Nearly half the teachers in India are untrained. The salaries of non-graduate teachers in Indian schools range between 20 and 40 rupees a month. For graduate teachers, many of whom hold more than one degree, and sometimes two or three degrees, salaries range between 80 rupees and 120 or 130 rupees a month There is no compulsory education in India. It has been tried in a very few areas. There is a blue print for it, but the Sargent Report states that it works very imperfectly. There are no organised health services; this in a country where widespread epidemics are constant. Fifty per cent. of the schoolchildren in India, according to the 1434 Sargent Report, need immediate medical attention. There are very scanty maternity services. In spite of opinions to the contrary, ill-informed opinions, there is a great incidence of maternal mortality and allied diseases. I discussed this point more than once with one or two women doctors, and the theory that childbearing in India is carried out with the minimum of trouble is not borne out by the facts. There is a great incidence of maternal mortality, which is worrying the doctors in India, who take this very seriously. There is shocking sanitation. Even in the big towns, as well as in the villages, the sanitation is dreadful There are impure water supplies; it is not very safe to drink a glass of water without thinking very carefully about it.
There is terrible poverty in India, a poverty which we in Great Britain and other countries of the Western world cannot visualise or understand. It is a poverty that bites right down, deep into the Indian people, in a perfectly appalling way, not only in the villages where 85 per cent of the people live, where they work for a few annas a day, but in the towns. In the towns where cotton is made, where the jute mills are, in the mines and on the railways—everywhere wages are appallingly low. A Statutory Commission Report stated that, in 1922, the average income per heard in India was £8 as against £95 in Great Britain. I have no reason to suppose that the figure is very much higher now; certainly the ratio will be no better. In my opinion, it is cruel to make the excuse that the Indians do not require very much, that their range of needs is low, that their wants are simple, that their wants are few. That argument was trotted out in Great Britain after the "hungry 'forties," and in the early days of trade union agitation in this country. We were told then, that working people did not need very much, that they liked their tiny houses. their simple food. As time went on, our people began to develop a taste for good food; they began to develop a taste for good clothes, for good furniture, theatres, cinemas, books, holidays, gramophones and so on. I have no doubt that the Indians could learn to develop a taste for similar things, if they were given the opportunity. It would not be a bad idea to try. 1435 The mass of the Indian people have not a great deal of reason to be so tremendously satisfied with British rule in India, in face of their pitiable condition. It is all right for us to examine the good things that we have done in India. It is all right for us to climb on to our high moral perch, and to think of the blessings we have brought. At the same time, it is just as well, for our own sake as well as for theirs, to remember that, after 150 years, things such as I have indicated are happening in India today. The fact of our leaving is a real one. That cannot be delayed. It is the general burning wish right through India. What does remain is the manner of our leaving. About that, there are divided opinions. Many Constitutions were presented to us; some simple, some complicated, some subtle. They came from every section of Indian opinion. They came from the Muslims; they came from the Hindus, from the Sikhs, and from various minorities. Many people put Constitutions before us. It will be for the Ministers, the Viceroy, the Government of India and the leaders of thought in India to frame a broad statement of general principles, within which the Indians themselves can work out their own solution. In my opinion, a settlement imposed from outside will fail.
The task which will exercise the Ministers who are to go to India shortly is that of obtaining the full cooperation of the Indians, which will in the end give her freedom and keep her friendship for this country in perpetuity. That the communal issue can be settled peaceably is the view of the best Indian opinion. The English are said to have a genius for compromise. The House should remember that we learnt this from bitter experience. Religious fanaticism had to be burnt out of our system in an intolerant and cruel civil war, which left its traces in our history for more than a century. India is capable of profiting from that experience. In a free India, and thrown on their own resources, India's leaders will have the political sense to realise where the flash point of danger is likely to come. We are not dealing with a new country. We are dealing with an ancient civilisation which has a history of centuries and centuries behind it. India is no longer a dependency or a creditor nation. On the contrary, their public 1436 debt to us has been liquidated. None of us would wish to measure our debt in. terms of money, but measured merely in terms of money, our debt to India is almost as much as the proposed American loan.
The only suggestion I would like to make to the Ministers who are shortly to leave for India—and I realise it may be-bold and audacious to make this suggestion—is to ask them to remember the situation in South Africa in 1902. The step by step policy which lasted until the Lyttel-ton Constitution of 1905 was replaced, in 1906, by Campbell-Bannerman's policy of complete trust and self-government, which, inevitably, led to the Union of South Africa in 1909. The rich blessings which have flowed from that policy of trust, may be a guide and an encouragement to our Ministers in the heavy but great task of helping to create a free-union of all India.
§ 1.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Hopkin Morris (Carmarthen)
I do not want to review our visit to India, but I wish to welcome the decision of the Government—a bold and important decision—to send out a Mission of three Cabinet Ministers to grapple with what is a very difficult situation. As the Prime Minister said today, the Mission will go out in a positive mood. Whatever the difficulties may be, there is clearly positive ground for hope. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade himself nearly gained success four years ago, when the words he-used on that occasion are as important today as they were then. He pointed out that both India and ourselves should place the past behind us, look to the future and, each giving assistance to the other, should enable India to take her rightful place among the free and progressive nations of the world.
The advice which was given here today by the Prime Minister and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler) was wise. We cannot build a policy for the future on the grievances of the past, however well or ill-founded those grievances may be. We are at the beginning of a new era. Asia and India are at the beginning of a new era, and so are we, in Western Europe. We are engaged in framing a new world, and I am sure that, as the 1437 Prime Minister said, it is not a matter for this country or India herself, but a matter for the welfare- of mankind that a solution of the problem ought to be found. It is on that basis that we wish the Mission well in its great task. There is no one in India, whatever the shade of his political opinion, who would deny that the association between India and this country has been of great benefit to both countries. There has been the impact of one mind on the other and it would be tragic if because of a failure of will—not a failure of knowledge, the knowledge is there—on the part of one party or another, no solution of the problem could be found. Here is another opportunity. We have great assets and solid ground for hoping that not merely because of the record of the President of the Board of Trade in 1942, but because of the record of the Viceroy himself, Lord Wavell, success will attend the visit of the Mission.
Whatever may be the criticisms levelled against this person or that, against this section or that, it is fortunate for this country that the Viceroy of India rides above the storm. He all but succeeded in finding a solution at the Conference in India last year. Further, the reputation of British business men in India is a very valuable asset. Also, as the Prime Minister pointed out, men of India, in two wars, have fought alongside our men in defence of the liberty of the world. Indians have fought from Dunkirk to Hong Kong. Is all that to be thrown away now? We hope not. This is not an opportunity to debate details of the arrangements in India, and the differences between one party and another, but to wish success to the Cabinet Mission. Here I would like to say how glad I am that a young Member of this House, the hon. and gallant Member for Aston (Major Wyatt), who knows India, is to be associated with the right hon. and learned Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade in this Mission. We should make it clear to this country, and every section of opinion in India, and to the world, that this Mission carries with it the highest authority and the highest sincerity, and that we arc in earnest that India should take her rightful place among the nations of the world for her own sake, our sake, and the sake of mankind.
§ 1.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Richards (Wrexham)
An excellent opportunity has been afforded us today by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler) to express the good wishes of the House generally to the Mission which is going out to India. There is no need to minimise the difficulties; rather are those difficulties all the more reason that we should express our good wishes for the success of the Mission. The hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. Nicholson) made several references, earlier today, about the intentions of this country with regard to India's independence. To vary an old adage, I think it is true to say that India's road to independence has been paved by the good intentions of this House. The difficulty has been to get Indians to realise that, and to believe that our intentions are really sincere.
I have been trying to find out exactly why Indians are so suspicious of our dealings with them in this matter of promised independence. The declarations which have been made on this subject, and on the participation of Indians in the government of their own country, go back a very long way. For instance, I find that as long ago as 1844 Lord Ellenborough, who was then Governor-General, said:India ought to be governed in the interests of the Indian people themselves, and not in the interests of the people of this country, strangers from a strange land to which Providence has, for the time being, committed the destiny of these people.For a long time we have had enlightened and humane Governors-General, who have always wished that Indians should take a much greater part than hitherto in governing their own country. But somehow or other those hopes have not amounted to very much more. I would like to refer to two or three of these declarations, in order that we might realise something of the natural reactions of the Indians to them. One of the most important of these was that made by the late Lord Morley in 1908. One would naturally expect, especially after the speech of the hon. Member for Farnham, who declared himself such an excellent Liberal this morning, that the Liberal Lord, Lord Morley, would have delighted in extending the. benefits of independence to India. Morley was one of the men who, in his younger life, interpreted the doctrines of the French 1439 Revolution to English people, and he spent the middle years of his life in the service of the greatest Liberal who ever lived, probably, when he was engaged in trying to extend the benefits of independence and self-government to the sister Island. But it is a curious thing that Morley was not really interested in questions of that kind at all when he was Secretary of State for India. The impetus and inspiration did not come from the Secretary of State, the great Liberal statesman, but from the Viceroy, who was a soldier. It came from Lord Minto, who was Viceroy at the time. By this time the Indian nationalist movement was growing very rapidly, but this is what a recent historian of that movement says:The Liberals did not take the Indian Nationalist movement very seriously, and Morley least of all. He was a doctrinaire who in his old age reacted unconsciously against the ideas of his youth.The declaration was made on 2nd November, 1,908, and it was addressed by the King-Emperor to the princes and peoples of India. I do not exactly understand why it should have been done in this rather hesitant way, but these are the main points of that declaration:From the first the principle of representative institutions began to be gradually introduced, and the time has come when, in the judgment of my Viceroy and Governor-General and others of my counsellors, that the principle may be prudently extended. Important classes among you, representing ideas that have been fostered and encouraged by British rule, claim equality of citizenship and a greater share in legislation and government. The politic satisfaction of such a claim will strengthen and not impair existing authority and power. Administration will be all the more efficient if the officers who conduct it give greater opportunities of regular contact with those whom it affects and with those who influence and reflect common opinion about it.We are all agreed that that spirit was not likely to win the enthusiasm of the Indian people. They naturally re-acted to the phrase to the effect that whatever was given would strengthen the power and the authority of the Government in India. There resulted from that, the extension of the Legislative Council, with additionally elected members, but always with supreme care that the majority should always be on the official side.
We come to the war of 1914–18, and we find that this type of procedure is repeated. The war gave a great fillip to the demand for Indian independence.
1440 Mr. Asquith, for example, said that henceforth Indian questions would have to be approached from a different angle of vision. I do not know exactly what that meant. He did not amplify it. But the result was another declaration. The declaration this time was made by the late Mr. E. S. Montagu, who was Secretary of State at the time. This is what he said:The policy of His Majesty's Government is that of increasing the association of Indians in every branch of the administration and the gradual development of self-governing institutions, with a view to the progressive realisation of responsible government in India as an integral part of the British Empire. Progress in this policy can only be achieved by successive stages. The British Government and the Government of India must be the judges of the time and measure of each advance, and by the extent to which it is found that confidence can be reposed in their sense of responsibility.There followed upon this the Montagu-Chelmsford reforms. If we read these declarations and. follow the reforms that were offered to India from time to time, I think we shall really understand why the Indians are suspicious of our intentions about granting them self-determination, independence and self-government.
The Montagu-Chelmsford reforms were an extraordinary system known as "dyarchy." It was a curious system of checks and balances. It was a system which seemed to give with one hand and to withhold with the other. This is the opinion of the late Lord Birkenhead, who himself was Secretary of State for India, with regard to this system that we were asking India to try to work—this sort of double system:The kind of pedantic, hide bound constitution to which Anglo-Saxon communities do not generally respond, and which is unlikely to make a successful appeal to a community whose political ideals were so largely derived from Anglo-Saxon models.1 am quite certain that this House of Commons and this country would never really have agreed to work a system of dyarchy.
It is a very poor record this, until we come right up to date. There is very little to be said for any of those schemes except that they are made a pretence of extending responsibility to India. I am not at all surprised, alter looking up the records, that the people in India are naturally suspicious of any effort that we make. We have to remember another 1441 thing: that there was a double control, so to speak, over the people in India when they were trying to work this system. There was the control that was exercised by the Government of India itself, the Government on the spot, the Government that, naturally, knew a great deal more about the problems than the Government here. In addition to that; there was the India Office, and the India Office was responsible to Parliament. So there was in some kind of way, and a very real way from the Indian point of view, a threefold check on anything that was done in India—by the Government of India itself, by the Secretary of State, and by this House of Commons. This is what Sir Alfred Lyall, a historian of this period, said—he was writing about the India Office particularly, and he had had experience of it himself:The India Office is comfortable "—I hope my hon. Friend agrees there—and convenient, but rather depressing.I hope that this is not true any longer, because Sir Alfred continued to say:We have all rather the look of old hulks laid up in dock, and are men who have said goodbye to active service.That is exactly the kind of criticism which I heard when I was in India recently. The Indians feel that the India Office is completely out of touch with recent movements in India. He continued:The whole system of the India Office was designed to prevent control of the House of Commons, for fear that there might be a too advanced a Secretary of State.In wishing well to our colleagues who are going out to India, I hope that we are leaving all this behind. We have had ample evidence, in the speeches today, that India will not tolerate that kind of thing any longer. India, as has been pointed out, has attained her political manhood, and she demands a complete system of self-government. Our friends are going out to India to be present and to assist in the birth of this new era in the history of India. It would be unfair to the House of Commons and to India, if we forgot the magnitude of the problem. It is not a question merely of giving self-government, or making arrangements to implement some of the promises. It is not that they are going out to a homogeneous country, but that they are visiting a sub-continent of 400,000,000 people, by no means all of whom have attained the same stage of political, social and economic develop- 1442 ment. There are all types of populations in India which represent the varied classes you find throughout the world. There are, for instance, about 25,000,000 aborigines whom we have hardly touched at all; we have looked over them, and allowed them to go their own way. During our visit we saw some of these people, and we were all impressed by the fact that, on the whole, they looked much better than many of the people dwelling in the villages under British control.
§ Mr. Godfrey Nicholson
I think that the hon. Member makes a mistake when he contrasts the conditions of villages of the aborigines with those under British control, because perhaps they are more under British control than other parts of the Province.
§ Mr. Richards
I gathered that that was not so—I made inquiries about it. We went out with one Commissioner to visit these people, and he told us that he never enforced British rule, or was even called upon to do so, unless these people were attacked by another tribe, when it was his job to try to make peace between them. He did not interfere at all in their mode of living.
§ Mr. Nicholson
He is the only link between them and the Government, whereas in the rest of the Province there is a Provincial Legislature, so that in a sense they are more under British control.
§ Mr. Richards
These people looked extraordinarily well, and better than some of the people in the villages. There is a deep religious conflict in India, which is always present in our minds when we are discussing this subject. The division between the people of India is not only racial, but religious. What we are doing is to wish well to the deputation of Ministers who will try to get these people to accept independence, and we most certainly wish well to India in its future. India is one of the gravest problems, and if we can show to the world that a democratic system can work under conditions as difficult as these, it will be the greatest object lesson the world has ever had of the excellency of democracy. When the deputation goes out, I am certain, if their experience is anything like ours, that they will have the greatest possible help from the political leaders, although at the time we visited India they were grimly 1443 engaged m their violent contacts as to who was to obtain the majority in the Provinces and Central Assembly. We found that on every occasion they gave us every help possible.
§ 1.31 p.m.
§ Sir Stanley Reed (Aylesbury)
I propose to intervene only for a brief period in this Debate, because I feel very strongly indeed that the less we roam over" the past and raise controversial issues, the greater will be the measure of support, countenance . and assistance which we can give to the Mission now proceeding to India. Speeches such as we have heard during this Debate, which rake up the dead past and wander on to administration issues, where there, are always two sides, achieve no useful purpose. With all due respect to the hon. Member for Wrexham (Mr. Richards), I say, if we go through ancient pledges and institutions and movements, then we may join issue and lose sight of the fundamental purpose of any fruitful discussion. I propose therefore to emulate the example of the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. H. Morris), and direct myself to the principal issue before the House at the present time.
I should like to associate myself with those who have congratulated the Government on the decision to send three of its Members to India. I think that it is a wise decision and that the personnel has been wisely chosen. We owe a deep debt of gratitude to the Secretary of State for undertaking this journey at this time, because some of us know what weather can be expected in that part of the world —Delhi—at the end of March and in April. I consider that the Government were wise, in associating with the noble Lord and the President of the Board of Trade, one who takes a completely detached view of problems in India, and who has a commonsense mind based on knowledge of our Parliamentary institutions. Yet do not let us shut our eyes for one moment to the gravity and difficulties, which these three distinguished men will have to face. When they go to India they will be confronted by no uncertain desire for independence. That has been brought vividly home to our minds by those of our colleagues who recently returned from their visit to that land.
1444 I hope that nobody in this House and nobody in the country will boggle at the term '.independence." I rather startled some of my friends on the other side of the House and even on this some five years ago, by saying that if the Indian desire is for independence we should not hesitate to accept it. I tell the House frankly that during all the years of my life in India, and they were nearly 50, I always looked forward with the utmost hope and confidence to the day when we should be able to say, "Our task in India is done, and we now hand it over to the people of the country to shape their destinies as they will on lines of their own choosing." It was my earnest hope that when the time for this great transfer came it should be done in amity, in good faith, and with the desire of including India as one of the great self-governing Dominions in the British Commonwealth and Empire. If the Indians themselves now prefer a full measure of independence, rather than actual association with the British Commonwealth and Empire, the last thing that we should do is to attempt to say "Nay," or to thwart their own desires and doubt their sincerity.
Looking back, I think that we English people are rather too apt to tell others what is good for them, than to let them decide their great issues for themselves. Do not let us hesitate for one moment. Do not let us hamper the Cabinet Mission which is going to India by drawing a fine distinction between independence and Dominion status. Let us hope and trust that with independence we shall still preserve that close association between India and the British Commonwealth and Empire, which I am firmly convinced is not only good for ourselves and India but for the whole world. With this demand for independence will come the great problem of seeing how that independence shall be constituted. I think that the Prime Minister used very pregnant words when he said that the task of this Cabinet Mission would be to establish the machinery of settlement. It will not aim at a cut and dry settlement immediately. Let us look facts straight in the face.
While we may be willing, anxious and intensely desirous to see independence established on a stable constitutional and democratic footing, what will be the situation which the Cabinet Mission will 1445 have to meet? They will find that the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League are now face to face, each armed with a fresh mandate from the elections, and that there is at the present moment no approximation between their ideals. If I were one of the great Indian minorities, I should feel distinctly anxious for the future. If I were a Muslim, I should ask myself many times whether my religion, my culture and my economic interests were absolutely secure in any centralised, independent, self-governing India. If I were one of the scheduled castes the same problem would be present to me. On the other hand, all who know India and look back over Indian history must view with a sense of dismay the idea of splitting up the unified administrative system, which is one of the great features of our connexion with that land, into two or three absolutely separate entities, because I am convinced that with fission in the air any such policy would go continuously forward until the great work of unification we have achieved is not only threatened, but destroyed.
The Cabinet Mission is not going out equipped with the machinery of settlement, but all it can hope to do is to set up in India itself the machinery for settlement. I hope that it will go out empowered to take great decisions, because I can imagine nothing more unfortunate—I would almost say disastrous—than that they should come back with negative results, and the settlement of the India problem further indefinitely postponed. I can assure them that if they take these great decisions with courage, imagination and enterprise, they will have a solid body of support from all sides in this House and in the country. Our one intense and passionate desire is to see India go straight forward to her full status among the great nations of the world.
One of the tragedies of the situation is that our three colleagues will go to India at a time of acute economic distress, when large parts of the country are faced with a food shortage which may be of the most tragic character. I doubt if those who have not actually been in touch with famine conditions in India can fully appreciate this problem at the present time. If I detain the House for a moment or so, it is because I remember India at the time of the famine of 1896 and 1897. I spent the whole of the hot 1446 weather in 1900 going round the famine districts in that great disaster, and again in 1911. There is one tremendous difference between those famine periods and the emergency from which India is suffering today. Then there was no actual shortage of food in India itself. It was a money famine. India, drawing to a certain extent on Burma, could feed herself. The problem that faces us today is not a money famine. India has ample resources to buy all the food she needs, and it is the shortage of food itself not only in India but in the whole world that is the trouble. In times past, India could draw on Burma for 1,500,000 or 2,000,000 tons of rice. Now Burma can give her only say 200,000 tons, and she can obtain only a share of 1,500,000 tons from Siam.. To maintain living conditions even at a low standard, India needs at least 4,000,000 or 4,200,000 tons of wheat of which there is a terrible scarcity in the world. I welcome the declarations from the Minister of Food that he will use his utmost endeavours at Washington to sec that India gets the largest possible allocation of such supplies as are available. When we hear impassioned appeals for more food for the Continent and other parts of the world, let us not forget our primary responsibility to our own fellow subjects in India for whom we have a direct responsibility. There should be a greater realisation of our primary responsibility, that is to our fellow subjects in India who, throughout the last war and this, stood four square behind us whenever battles were fought and who, in this war, raised a great volunteer army of two million men in the Allied cause.
I want for a moment to direct the attention of the House to another aspect. The Prime Minister said very wisely that these administrative problems were such that only India could solve them. The position that has arisen during the last nine months is one I have been dreading for a good many years past. I feared that with the enoromus growth in the population of India we should be confronted with a failure of the rains and a food shortage before the country's productive power had been developed. It is very striking to look back over the growth of the population of India. Until 1921 it was comparatively moderate, but 1447 from 1921 to the present day the population has grown enormously and continues to grow at the rate of five millions per annum. No expansion of cultivation or development of irrigation can possibly provide the food necessary for that increase in population on the standard which should obtain. One need is for a thorough reconstruction of the land policy and a greater consolidation of holdings—the essential means to increase the productivity of the soil. That can only be accomplished by an Indian Government because it goes down to the very root of the Hindu religion, the joint family system, practice, and tradition. In India many years ago my Indian friends used often to say to me, "A Government which is entirely neutral in all religious matters cannot deal with our social problems because they stand aloof from all questions affecting religion." These problems can be dealt with only by a fully responsible Indian Government; they alone could solve the issues which have to be faced.
I return now to the main argument. This Cabinet Mission will carry the sympathy, thoughts, and appreciation of all parties in the House without exception. We fully recognise their immense difficulties. We know they can really accomplish only two things in the time at their disposal. One is to remove entirely the suspicion that this Parliament is going to stand between India and her righteous and justified demand for full stature among the nations of the world. The other is to set up the machinery of settlement, not, as was said just now, to force that machinery—because "force" is a word which cannot be used in this connection—but to influence the direction and sustain the machinery of settlement. If they can bring back to this House that work well and truly accomplished I think we shall all say "Well done." Finally, we and they may perhaps take encouragement from the banner flown by a very-great man in Indian history:Place our foot in the stirrup of opportunity, and our hands on the reins of confidence in God.
§ 1.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Sorensen (Leyton, West)
I well remember the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Sir S. Reed) stating some years ago that he recognised that independence was probably inevitable for the political and 1448 social development of India. I do not remember his saying it in public, but he has virtually said it today as have other Members of the Party opposite. This makes me almost wish that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping was here to observe the process by which he assimilated ideas and observations which, one would have thought, were not entirely attractive to him.
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham)
May I point out to the hon. Member that he is making a mistake in speaking of the right hon. Member for Epping? He is obviously referring to the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill), the Leader of the Opposition.
§ Mr. Sorensen
I am always glad to receive correction from the Noble Lord at any time. In referring to the Leader of the Opposition—
§ Earl Winterton
The correction was courteous, and was intended to help. It did not call for sarcasm.
§ Mr. Sorensen
I hear a reference to sarcasm from one who is surely a master of sarcasm and think I ought not to let it pass. I am sorry if I contravened the procedure of the House in not referring to the Leader of the Opposition correctly and with all that authority and significance which undoubtedly he deserves. My observation was certainly not intended as sarcasm. But I return to state that it is certainly remarkable that we should have today such unanimity of opinion, with certain odd exceptions, on both sides of the House. It has now been recognised that independence is a reality. It is a demand made by the Indian people of all sections and can no longer be evaded. If there was no other advantage from the Parliamentary deputation which went to India recently we have been able to convince, at least some people, that what many of us have maintained for some time was not merely a figment of our imagination, nor due to any bias on our part, subsidised or otherwise, but was due to the fact that the Indian people themselves have made this demand for a long time, are making it still, and will never be content until at last it is achieved. It is a distinct advantage that hon. Members on both sides of the House —some of whom do not belong to my Party but who I hope will now be my friends—should have shown, either by 1449 acquiescence or by open statement, that they acknowledge the fact that independence is the real challenge and that merely to attempt to offer Dominion status to India is simply to play with the situation. I referred once or twice when in India to the dust of India and how difficult it was in a literal sense to see the roadway along which one travels. That has a certain figurative sense too because often one cannot see the facts because of the metaphorical dust raised by controversy.
Nevertheless, certain facts have now emerged, and I am quite sure that it is on the basis of those facts that the three Ministers who are being sent by the Government will go to India in a few days' time, and will remain there until they return with great success. My very best wishes are extended to them. I know they are thoroughly in earnest, and that they are going to do their utmost to secure a solution. I hope and believe that they will find behind or beneath whatever political difficulties there may be in India, a large measure of good will on the part of the Indians themselves. We certainly found it in our experience in India, and I want to register here what others have registered already—our very great appreciation of the human spirit with which Muslim leaders, Congress leaders and others met our humble and modest deputation only a few weeks ago.
Reference has already been made this morning to the fact that we must not dwell on the past. I, too, share that view fully, but I think that it can sometimes be over-stressed. We cannot help discussing the past if the past is still a fact of today, and the cumulative mistakes and errors of omission or commission are still here to be removed before we can press forward. Certainly the Indians will never cease to remind us of some of those facts, and therefore I do not think it would be wise entirely to ignore some of those very real historical factors in the minds of the Indians, and sometimes in our own minds, even though they may be in the subconscious.
In spite of all we claim that our past has been blameless, Indians do not think that at all; on the contrary, they criticise us very severely, and I would suggest, along with the perfectly justifiable pride about what is truly noble in British history, self-righteousness is not the best asset with which to approach this great 1450 problem, and it is somewhat self-righteous, though perhaps unconscious, if we suggest that in our history with regard to India we have not made mistakes. On the contrary, it is better for us to confess that, as a nation, we have made mistakes and that sometimes our high motives have not been unadulterated by other motives. That is not peculiar to ourselves; it is common to human nature everywhere, but it does good openly and frankly to admit that there have been grave mistakes, and that in the measure for which we have been responsible for those, we are prepared to express our penitence with the recognition that other nations should do the same.
I am sure the Parliamentary Mission when they visit India will have a great deal to do with the two foremost political organisations in that country, the Indian National Congress on the one hand and the Muslim League on the other. That does not mean to say there are not other very important bodies and movements existing in India. There are. I am particularly interested, for instance, in the trade unions and in whatever potential labour and Socialist movements there may be, but we cannot alter the fact that at present these two bodies to which I have referred are by far and away the most eminent political bodies in India, and that until the political issues are settled it is quite unlikely, if not impossible, for the other economic and social issues to be expressed and embodied in some formidable movement.
Meanwhile, I am quite sure that although there are differences in Congress, Congress, as representing by far the most single important political force in India, will have to be taken very seriously into consideration. Undoubtedly the influence of the detention of the Congress leaders has strengthened the hold and the power of Congress itself, and that is why I personally think it was a profound mistake to have detained those leaders for such a length of time. In fact, one very eminent individual in India stated that if the other Provincial Governments had been as reluctant to detain Congress leaders as the Governor of the North-West Province had been, there would have been no more serious trouble in 1942 in the whole of India than there was in the North-West Province. That is only an opinion, I know, but an opinion expressed quite 1451 definitely by a very prominent and powerful individual in India whose name I shall withhold for obvious reasons, but which I could give in private.
Be that as it may, in our misjudgment, I think, we imprisoned those leaders with two results: first that non-Congress parties had the advantage of freedom of propaganda without counter-balance; secondly, with the result that Congress itself, when at last it was released, was able to secure a very powerful accession of emotional strength from those who look upon them as martyrs. Here J would say, incidentally, that I am still searching for the evidence, which it was said existed, that the tragic disturbances which took place after the detention of those Congress leaders was due to direct Congress instigation. I have found no evidence whatever, either in this country or in India, and the sooner we make that clear the better. I remember reading the White Paper and being struck at the time with the fact that there was no real evidence there. I have made inquiries since in all quarters in India, and still I cannot find real evidence that Congress, as a body, officially instigated those tragic disturbances. Of course there have been those, like Jai Prakash Narain, still foolishly held in detention, who, honestly and openly, stated that under some circumstances they were prepared to use violence—if that confession be used against such a fine personality as Jai Prakash Narain.
I would remark that I discovered that one justification which was advanced for the use of violence in India was that we ourselves encouraged violence by guerrilla and similar methods in Europe when people were seeking their freedom and liberation during the war. I only mention this because I want also to express the very firm hope that violence will be put on one side, both individually and nationally. There is no reason at all why this tremendous issue should not be settled peacefully. I am quite certain that Congress leaders ardently desire it; I believe Muslim leaders desire it as well. All men and women of good will with constructive minds are appalled at the prospect of violence being the pathway along which India shall press to her freedom and self-government. I am sure that the Muslim League leaders equally 1452 share that view. All of us were struck by the integrity of Mr. Jinnah, the leader of the Muslim League. We may have disagreed with him, we may repudiate his religious two-nation theory, as I do most emphatically, for I believe it is disastrous and will lead to theocratic totalitarianism. At the same time, however, we must recognise that Mr. Jinnah himself is a man of great earnestness, integrity, and zeal, and I am quite certain, though he is expressing the viewpoint not of all Muslims but certainly of a very large number, that he is doing so not with the desire to create civil war in India but to secure for his own particular community that recognition of what he conceives to be their just demands. I think he is seeking that end without at the same time desiring to involve India in methods that I am sure would involve devastating civil war.
All of us could refer to other very important aspects of the Indian political situation. The States have been referred to, but I would merely now comment on the fact that the Secretary of the Chamber of Princes, the Nawab of Bhopal, has openly stated—whether in a representative capacity or in an individual capacity I know not—his sympathy and identity with the Indian aspirations for self-government. Equally one could speak of the untouchables and the work of Dr. Ambedkar in helping to increase the collective self-consciousness of such untouchables and their sense of dignity. All of those will play a very important part in the formulation of India's future, but I would add this: whether in regard to the untouchables, to the social conditions of the people, to the lamentable recurrence of famine, or in regard to the appalling condition of Indian women,. it is not a job we can do. We can help, we can co-operate, we can give advice—and I am sure that will be accepted by a free India—but we ourselves have not been able to solve these problems, in the past. I am quite sure we cannot solve them in the future, if for no other reason than because our obligations are so great that if we become involved in further vast military pursuits, it will undoubtedly lead to such an economic strain on this country as to cause us to set aside for an indefinite period many of our own expectations of social and economic reconstruction. 1453 I apologise if in any way I unconsciously annoyed the noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) or anyone else in the early part of my speech. I would simply say that as far as I am concerned I rejoice that there is at least a measure of appreciation of the demand for Indian independence; I rejoice that the sense of urgency is now so great that everyone recognises immediate steps must be taken; I rejoice that on all sides of the House there is an awakening to the facts of the situation. I shall rejoice all the more when, in as short a time as possible, the three members of His Majesty's Government can come back to this country and state they have achieved a solution by peaceful means and that henceforth Britain and India can turn their backs on the past and go forward to the world of the future as friends on the basis of mutual respect and, thereafter, independence. I entirely agree that independence cannot be separated from the duty of every nation to the whole of the human race.
In these days of the United Nations organisation and atomic warfare, obviously independence must not be interpreted as being segregation or isolation. There must be a recognition that the part played by every nation within the wider framework of the new world order must be one chosen by each nation itself with the same rights which we claim for our own nation. Here then is the opportunity for a very dramatic example to be set to the human race. Time, and time again, in the history of mankind great changes have only taken place after colossal bloodshed and much misery. In this case, I do not believe that is at all necessary and emphatically it is not desirable. I believe the British and Indian peoples desire to make this drastic change rationally and peaceably and to set an inspiring example of a peaceful revolution to the world.
We can do this not only for the sake of the Indians, but for the human race. Because I believe we can do it and that my friends will go forward in that confident hope to their task, I wish them Godspeed from the bottom of my soul and trust that very shortly India and Britain will rejoice at the success of this Mission.
§ Mr. Bottomley (Chatham)
May I put a question? The hon. Member said that it 1454 was not to be supposed that the Muslim League represented all Muslims; did he infer that the Congress National Party represents the Sikhs, Christians, Muslims and all the others?
§ Mr. Sorensen
No, but my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham (Mr. Bottomley) knows exactly where I stand on this matter. What I said just now I must repeat, that the Muslim League is a very important Muslim body, but obviously does not fully represent all the Muslims. There are many small groups such as the Syed Group in Sind, the Punjab Unionists, the Nationalist Muslims and the Congress Muslims who are in a majority in North West India. Although the Muslim League is certainly a large and important movement entitled to respect and very careful consideration of its policy it cannot rightly claim to represent every single Muslim or all Muslim opinion. That is all.
§ 2.8 p.m.
§ Commander Noble (Chelsea)
May I intervene for one moment to add my good wishes for the success of the Cabinet Mission, to those which have already been expressed from all sides of the House? As one who spent two happy years in India before the war in the days when it was hoped that the advent of Provincial autonomy would lead in the not too distant future to the fulfilment of the Government of India Act of 1935, I would like to add my humble emphasis to the wise counsel of the Prime Minister in saying that India at this moment is in a very high state of tension. As was so well put by my right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Butler) a solution, for the sake of a solution, must for that reason be avoided. As a friend of India, with many Indian friends, may I say with all good will, that the final solution now lies with Indians, be they of the Provinces or of the States?
§ 2.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Thomas Reid (Swindon)
I intend to keep the House only for a few moments. Everyone who knows India knows that the way a thing is done out there is almost as important as the thing itself. Those who are used to administration in India know how important it is that people concerned should have access to their rulers.
I think the Government have done a very imaginative stroke of business in 1455 deciding to send out three Cabinet Ministers to India who can be seen by the people of India and who can have personal contact with the leaders of Indian opinion. Furthermore, the sending out of these three Cabinet Ministers means that the British Government are now taking a positive hand in the task of remedying the evils that exist in India constitutionally. Some people often ask me," Why do we not go, now we have promised India self-government? "We cannot pull out until we establish an Indian Government to whom we can hand over. The difficulty hitherto has been that Indian parties could not agree on what the new Constitution of India should be. Now the chance is offered to them with the help of three Cabinet Ministers finally to make up their minds as to what the Constitution is to be. As a humble back bencher I hope my word will carry out to India. Things said in this House do go out to India and the Colonies. There is practically no one in this country now who is opposed to swaraj or purna swaraj if India wants it. Those who tell the Indian people to the contrary are misleading them.
I wish also to say — and let this travel out to India — that there is absolutely no insincerity of any kind in the Government's move to settle the constitutional problem. Again, those who tell the masses of India that there is insincerity on our part are misleading them. Those of us who are friends of India, and those of us who have eaten the salt of India, do not wish to see the great edifice we have built up in the past come to rack and ruin. We want this new move to be a success. I would say that India now is at the crisis of her fate. The British Government are sending out representatives to settle the constitutional problem finally. The political leaders are now right up against it. They have asked for self-government all these years and now the task of implementing it is at hand. It rests with them whether India is going to progress along the road to peace and prosperity or dissolve into chaos and ruin.
I know the difficulties are enormous in a huge country in which there is a plural society and in which there is no unity. With us there is unity without uniformity; but in India there is neither political unity nor political uniformity. In spite of that, 1456 with the modern arts of representative government and federalism in its various, forms, it should be possible to provide some central form of government in India covering the whole country and enjoying the consent of the vast majority of the Indian people. Every hon. Member wants this matter settled finally and India to be free and prosperous. I hope that when the three Ministers go out they will be able to usher in a system which will bring all those boons to India which we and, I think, hon. Members on the other side of the House and people in all parts of Britain earnestly desire for them.
§ 2.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Cove (Aberavon)
I should like first of all to congratulate the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Sir S. Reed) on what I considered an exceedingly progressive, speech. He, apparently, was not afraid of complete independence for India. I wish that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) had been here to hear that speech, and I also wish that the sentiment expressed by the hon. Member for Aylesbury had been expressed from the Front Opposition Bench this morning. I must say that I thought the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler) was cautious and somewhat nebulous. Certainly it was more definite in one respect than in others, namely, that there was behind it a reservation—" You must not pay too high a price." That was the phrase the right hon. Gentleman used, and I thought myself it was a somewhat menacing phrase in relation to the fundamental proposition of complete independence for India.
I join with every other Member who has spoken, in congratulating the Government on sending this Mission of Ministers to India. It is evidence of the Government's appreciation of the desperate situation which has developed there. It shows that the Government have, as another hon. Member says, a sense of the urgency of the situation, and I also should like to wish the Mission "God speed." I cannot for the life of me see how any attempt to erect a world structure for security and peace can be made to work if India is not free. There are in the world at the present time, two great movements, one of which is shown in the search for independence, the deep 1457 conviction of a national right, and a sense of nationalism. It is rampant throughout the East and is in evidence in Europe, this powerful urge for national independence. It is working throughout the world and particularly in India, and it cannot be stopped. If we attempt to stop it we shall do so at our own peril. That movement must and will go on, and national independence must be realised.
The other day I was reading a statement by Mr. Harold Nicolson, who was a distinguished Member of this House, about the Peace Conference at Versailles. He pointed out that when the British representatives talked about the rights of nations, and the freedom of nationalities, it was a lie in their mouths while India was in bondage. We are subject to attack, because India is still under our domination. It takes away the great moral power that Britain has in this modern world. We shall have a great access of moral power if our Ministers can come back with independence for India. In the world of power politics today we have indeed been bereft of a great deal of our power, and if the world is to be based on power, Britain, I am afraid, cannot play the role she has hitherto played. I should imagine that the very fact of a Labour Government giving independence to India would rally progressive moral forces throughout the world.
Side by side with the recognition of nationality, there is the movement towards world education, a tentative, cautious attempt, but the two must go hand in hand. As I said before, we cannot erect a world organisation for security unless and until the basis is laid in complete freedom for all those nations which are struggling for it, and in particular until India has been given her independence. It has been said here this morning that one must not go back to the past. I do not intend to resuscitate much of the past, but I think we should be misleading ourselves if we did not face up to one or two preliminary issues. I should have thought that it would have done a great deal of good, and would have sweetened the atmosphere of India, if all the political prisoners had been let out of gaol — if a complete amnesty had been granted. That, I think, would indeed have helped the cause of the Ministers who are going to India. I hope my right hon. Friend will not think anything personal is intended, I have 1458 merely come to this conclusion from what I have heard from India, but I think it would have been a good thing if what has become known as the "Cripps offer" had been got out of the way. I not propose to argue its merits this afternoon, but what is important at this juncture is that no political party in India accepted that offer. Hence it would have been a good thing, and I feel it would have helped the Mission, if it could have been cleared out of the way.
Another thing would have helped: if the Government, before the Ministers go, had made a clear and unequivocal declaration that they accept the principle of Indian independence. It is all very well to say that we are in favour of self-government, but that phrase varies in the mouths of different people. I have tried to understand what Dominion status really is, and my study leads me to believe, again, that Dominion status means different things to different people at different times. There is no clarity in the phrase "Dominion status." I should have thought it would have been a good thing to clear the ground, to say that we are not wedded to the Cripps offer, or to Dominion status, but that we, the Labour Government, make it absolutely and completely clear that we are in favour of self-determination for the Indian people.
I know the great difficulties which will confront the Ministers when they go out there. There is the idea of Pakistan. It really ought not to be beyond the power of the Labour Government to say quite clearly that Pakistan, as envisaged and preached by Mr. Jinnah, is something with which no Government in this country, and particularly no Labour Government, could have anything at all to do. Surely no Labour Government could accept the division of India into two watertight autonomous areas. No Labour Government can accept Mr. Jinnah's Pakiston, which indeed would oppress the Muslims if we were to accept his territorial boundaries. Pakistan, as Mr. Jinnah conceives it, is inapplicable to India; indeed, it would be profoundly reactionary. It can be justified neither on political grounds, nor on economic grounds, but that does not mean to say that I would say that all Muslims, and all other races and different peoples in India, should be placed in one hard-and-fast 1459 water-tight compartment. Russia has shown us the way, in principle, at least, and, in many instances, in application. Let the Government meet, and let Indians help to meet, the situation in which we have to combine these different races and peoples. They have solved that problem in Russia; we can solve it in India.
There is a Pakistan — if I may use the word — that I would favour. It is not the Pakistan of Mr. Jinnah, but the Pakistan which means the principle of regarding India as a multi-national State, applying the principles of devolution and recognising the rights of the various different cultures to freedom in all these respects in their cultural life. But it also ought to be made perfectly clear that India, economically, from the point of view of our own defence and that of her position in the modern world of trade and power, must also be united. It does not seem to me that, once these principles are accepted— the principles of the recognition of the cultural rights of the various peoples who inhabit India and of the essential unity of India — it should be beyond the wit of a distinguished lawyer, like my right hon. and learned Friend, to see that those principles are translated into constitutional language. It has been done in Russia, and it can be done I believe, in India. Anyhow, I hope the Ministers will attempt to do so.
I would say, in conclusion, that I sincerely hope for the success of this Mission. It would be a remarkable achievement to find— I believe, for the first time in the history of the world — that a subject nation had been freed by the consent of the metropolitan nation. It would be a grand thing, and one of the greatest achievements of this country, if that freedom could now be given as a gift through constitutional means, find without need of blood and force. It would be a grand historic achievement for that result to come during the lifetime of the present Labour Government. If India is not freed by constitutional methods, I am quite certain that she will inevitably win her independence by her own force and power. Bloodshed lies in the future unless we recognise the right of the Indian peoples to have their own Government, the right of India to self-determination and "and inalienable right to complete independence.
§ 2.29 p.m.
§ Brigadier Low (Blackpool, North)
I should like to join with the hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. Cove) in wishing to the Cabinet Mission leaving this country next week the success that we all hope, on all sides of this House, it will achieve. I say that as a member of the delegation sent out by Mr. Speaker at the beginning of this year, and, in what I have to say to the House, I would like to emphasise that I say it in great humility, realising that I have only just begun to study this vast problem, though, naturally, I have, like the majority of Englishmen, as part of my education, tried to understand the problem of India, but I have no special knowledge and have made no long study of this problem. Since it is such a big problem, upon which not only the prosperity of this country and India depends but, also, to a great extent, the peace of the world at this moment, I think it is right that anybody who has had the privilege of being in India during the last few months should say a few words in this Debate before the Cabinet Mission sets out.
The Debate started off on a very high note, and I am sure the House was proud of the tone of the speeches of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R.A. Butler) and the Prime Minister. Since that start, there have been one or two digressions into the past, and I noticed, when I was with the Parliamentary Delegation, that some of my friends were rather apt to say to themselves, "Let us face the future and talk about the past," and I have noticed a certain desire to do that on the part, at any rate, of the hon. Lady the Member for North Bradford (Mrs. Nichol), the hon. Member for West Leyton (Mr. Sorensen), and, I think, a tendency towards it on the part of the hon. Member for Aberavon. I do not wish to follow the hon. Member along those lines. I am certain that the leaders of Indian opinion whom we met had had plenty of opportunity of understanding the views of the hon. Lady and the hon. Member for West Leyton. They certainly were not reluctant to explain their views to the Indians, as they have not been reluctant to explain them to us.
Before I comment further on the Mission itself. I would like to say one thing about the emotionalism which struck 1461 me as the most peculiar and distinguishing thing that I met during my time in India. I think that, to members of a Western country, it is of the greatest importance to bear in mind, when considering our relations with these peoples, the height which emotions can reach in an oriental country. Throughout our tour, we had, of course, to read the Indian Press in the English language and, now and then, we were given the opportunity of reading translations from some of the Indian Press printed in the vernacular, and it was very firmly borne in upon us that there was a pitch of tension in the situation throughout India which had been reached partly by newspaper articles and partly by what seemed to some of us to be wild speeches made in the course of the election emphasising the very genuine demand that we should quit India and grant independence. That is a demand which I think we all understand, but the tension which was created by some of the speeches is not, perhaps, known to all the people of this country.
It seems to me that, as a result of the campaigns carried on by the leaders of many of the Indian parties, there is a very real danger of emotions submerging the sense of moral value. Though the leaders of Indian opinion now show a tendency towards moderation and a reasonable attitude towards the Government's latest decision, I believe there is a danger that an atmosphere has been created in which one evil-minded man might set off the eruption of the volcano, as it has been put. I do not believe that anybody who has not studied this matter fully appreciates the dangers that exist of real disorder. I have made these preliminary remarks in the hope that, perhaps, some hon. Members of this House and the people in the country who have not been studying this problem will appreciate the difficulties which face the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade and his colleagues.
The main tasks of the Mission are two-fold. By help and advice, and not by forcing decisions upon the Indian people, they will accomplish their tasks in each case. First of all, they must help the Indian people in setting up machinery for a constitutional settlement and, secondly, they must help them and the Viceroy to set up an interim Government containing representative Indians. We 1462 all know how important it is to get the constitutional machinery set up in order that a constitution may be worked out and that we may enter into negotiations for a Treaty. As to the second part of their task — the setting up of the interim Government — it was made quite clear to me that two of the reasons why the administrative services are not only getting tired, but are not meeting with the success that they had in the past, is, first, because of the food difficulty and secondly, because of the difficulty of keeping law and order. One of the reasons for that is that the Indian people — mainly as the result of the development of the Nationalist spirit — do not give full credit to the present Executive Council and the present administration. It must be very difficult for anybody to try to keep law and order in India at the moment when it is well known, not only to India but to the whole world, that we in this transitional period are waiting to hand over the rule of the country to the Indian people.
Without this there is no hope of improving social conditions and of reaching a political settlement. It is vital, therefore, that we should get a Government of representative Indians as soon as possible to whom the people as a whole will give support. I know that there are enormous difficulties in the way, mainly because of the very firm attitude which Mr. Jinnah is taking up. I feel sure that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade and his other two colleagues have a great chance, with the aid of the Viceroy, in their attempt to reach a settlement which will produce an interim Government of the kind to which I refer. In settling problems between this country and a strange people there are inestimable advantages in having contact between the leaders of the two countries. I cannot welcome too much the decision taken by the Government that, this time, they are going to send out a responsible body of Ministers who can, within the bounds of our Constitution, take certain decisions and who can get together with the leaders of Indian opinion and settle — in so far as they can be settled — the doubts about our sincerity and about what we mean to do. We are finding out, not only between ourselves and India, but all over the world, that simple words such as "freedom" and "inde- 1463 pendence "do not always mean the same thing to people of different countries. Sometimes, indeed, they do not mean the same thing to people sitting on each side of this House, but I am quite certain that a man like the right hon. and learned Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade will be able to help in getting the two peoples together and explaining what each means.
As regards the problem of Dominion status, it was apparent to me very soon after getting to India that the Indians not only do not understand what is meant by "Dominion status," but that they do not appreciate the niceties of our own relationship as equal partners of the Commonwealth. I would go as far as to say that some of them do not want to understand what is meant by '' Dominion status." While we were out there the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Ashton (Major Wyatt) wrote an article in a newspaper which was greeted with derision by some people until they had read it very carefully, when they saw that, in fact, the hon. and gallant Gentleman was not the breaker-up of the British Empire which he was at first supposed to be. I am certain that there is a way in which India can remain within the British Commonwealth without insisting that she has Dominion status. I will not say any more upon that subject because I imagine it is one which will come up in discussion. It is a subject which would benefit from close discussion between Members of His Majesty's Government and members of the leading bodies of opinion in India.
Perhaps I may finish by quoting the words used to us by Mr. Rajagopalachari in Madras, when in referring to Indian problems, he said:History never repeats herself.I hope that that will be the fate of the second Mission in which the right hon. and learned Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade will have tried to assist towards a settlement of the Indian problem.
§ 2.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Austin (Stretford)
I trust the hon. and gallant Member for North Blackpool (Brigadier Low) will forgive me if I do not follow him on the wide and varied course of his observations, but, for the 1464 sake of his peace of mind, may I assure him that in trying to be objective on two points in the short time at my disposal, I am not trying to recriminate? I would refer first to the reception which may be accorded the Mission in India, and, secondly, the manner in which the Administration in India can play its part in relation to the Mission. In referring to the Administration, I include the Viceroy, the Army, the Judiciary, the Civil Service and other factors. We all extend our good will to the Mission. We feel they have a tremendous responsibility in trying to put India where she belongs among the nations, and in trying to solve what has been almost an insuperable problem in the past. While we have no doubt of the sincerity and integrity of each member of the Mission, we may have qualms about the reception they will meet when they get to India. It is natural, from the point of view of the Indians, to be suspicious of anything associated with the British Raj or with British administration, in view of past treatment.
The country —I speak with a certain amount of diffidence as one with only theoretical knowledge — is seething with discontent and with a longing for political liberation. So far, it has not achieved those objects The food position in India is desperate, and I was gratified to hear the hon. Gentleman the Member for Farnham (Mr. Nicholson) say that he would not, in any circumstances, wish for a relaxation of rationing in this country while there is starvation in India. That is a point of view which is truly liberal, admirable in its sentiments and one which we all appreciate. To look at it from the point of view of an Indian, were I an Indian, I could not help but feel that there had been certain injustices in the past, and I need only hark back two or three years ago to the Bengal famine, and wonder why that took place. Was that necessary? Again, I would wonder whether any steps have been taken by the Administration with a view to avoiding such a disaster in the future, because, by all accounts, if famine occurs in India, as seems likely, the death roll will not be two or three millions as happened in Bengal Province, where that disaster was mainly felt, but something in the nature of 20,000,000. Accordingly, the Indian is concerned about his future and about how best this 1465 Mission can arrive at some settlement with the Indian people. It must be borne in mind that there is a tremendous burden inherent in India, in the shape of 300,000 new mouths to feed, not every year but every month, because the population increases by 300,000 every month.
I would, therefore, refer to the Mission some of the points which were raised by the present Secretary of State for India in 1943, when he called the attention of the then Government to the following factors: The famine was largely related to inflation and to the high prices obtaining; the reluctance of each Province to help each other, despite the fact that some had amassed stocks of food; the enormous amount of individual hoarding that went on, both by the peasantry who were worried about their food supplies in the future, and by the business men and merchants who had only one motive, which was to hoard food, allow prices to rise and make the greatest possible profit in the future. The other factor is the difficulty of transport in India — a very important factor. Those were among the points raised by the Secretary of State for India in his contribution to the Debate in 1943, and I would submit them to the Mission for study before they go out on their very noble task. I would like for a moment to deal briefly with the part which the Army may play. Primarily, the Army can be of use in the function of an effective transport and distribution service in India. We must disregard the idea of our Army being there for an aggressive or repressive purpose. We must drive home to the Army and to the Administration that there is no reason why the Indian should not be treated as an individual with the same right to human dignity and to come within the same framework of the human spirit as is accorded to all white men. The Indian must no longer be regarded as servile and obsequious. He must not be treated in the mass as a sodden lump, to be moulded as the potter moulds his clay, but as an individual with his rights as a member of mankind.
I would like to give an illustration to the House, if I may refer to the Control Commission in Germany. I was amazed and gratified to see the spirit that obtained among our senior officers in Germany when I was there in October of last year. It was a spirit that paid tribute to the 1466 character of the British people — the spirit of our Army officers trying to be at one with the German people, trying to associate themselves with the German people in their misery and suffering, and speaking for the German people with one voice. I shall always remember the testimony of one brigadier serving under Major-General Templar, who had tried to refuse being seconded from the Army to the civil government under the Control Com- mission. He told me he was most gratified when his commanding officer persuaded him to be seconded to the Control Commission, because within the first hour of taking up his duties in ministering to civil instead of military requirements, he felt himself possessed of a new spirit — a spirit of trying for the first time to help people to live, instead of trying to kill as many people as possible within the shortest time, as had been the case in the past. There are in the Indian Administration — the Civil Service, the Army and in other branches of the Administration — an aloofness and a remoteness from the needs of the people. They do not understand those needs. They have, by virtue of the Imperialist tradition, repressed the people for so long that they are completely remote from the aspirations and needs of the people. I would like to see a transfer of some members of the Indian Administration to the Control Commission in Germany, to learn some of the human values that are being administered in Germany today, and I would like to see members of the Control Commission in Germany today administering for the British Empire in India. I think we would then see a remarkable change.
I hope these few words, even though they come from a humble Member, may reach the Viceroy and the Administration in India. Theirs is a supremely important task in smoothing the way for this Mission. It is supremely important that the Mission does not fail. I appeal to the Administration in India to play its part and do its best to help that Mission achieve success. I know it is difficult for men steeped in certain traditions to change suddenly, but it is they who must pave the way. Accordingly, I conclude with the plea to the Administration in India to do all that lies in their power to help the Mission achieve success, so that they may enable India to take her place among the great Powers of the world.
§ 2.55 P.m.
§ Mrs. Middleton (Plymouth, Sutton)
I must apologise to the House for having been unable, owing to a Parliamentary engagement elsewhere, to be present when the Prime Minister and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. K. A. Butler) opened this Debate. But for that, I should certainly have been in my place this morning.
I want to congratulate the Government on having, at this stage of their period in office, decided to send this deputation to India, and on having determined that the promises made to India during the war years shall be honoured at the earliest possible moment. Unhappily, I have not been able to see the problem of India at first hand. For some years I have tried to understand that problem over the distance that exists between this country and India. That is the claim, and the only claim, that I have for intervening in this Debate today. In the short time at my disposal I want to deal with only one problem of the multifarious problems that confront us in considering the Indian situation. I want to refer to what has been generally agreed in the House today to be the central problem in India, namely, the communal problem, and that of the minorities. It was, 1 think, the hon. Gentleman the Member for Aylesbury (Sir S. Reed)who made that point earlier in the Debate
The first argument I want to put forward is this. In the study of that problem the proposal for Pakistan offers no solution at all. If Pakistan were granted to the full today, it would still mean that there would exist minority problems all over the face of India; because the separation from Hindustan of certain Provinces where there are Mohammedan majorities could not solve the problem of the scattering and the intermixing of the Hindu community, the Muslim community and the other communities all over the face of India. Indeed, I venture to suggest that the acceptance of the proposal for Pakistan, rather than helping the situation, would increase the problem of minorities which exists in India at the present time. On various occasions suggestions have been made that the solution of the communal problem might be assisted by redrawing some of the boundaries of the various Provinces of India, and by creating new Provinces. I think that that is a pro- 1468 posal which certainly should be looked at. Again, my own view is that that really does not offer any solution. Take, for instance, the Province of Sind, which is one of the Provinces which would be included in the project of Pakistan if it were accepted. Look at the dispersal of Muslim and Hindu populations throughout the Province of Sind. We find that the Hindu population is largely confined to the urban areas of Sind, and that the population is scattered all over the rural districts. Therefore, it is very difficult to see how any redrawing of provincial boundaries could help in the solution there.
In any proposal for communal settlement there is always the key Province of Punjab to consider. There, studying the matter simply from the point of view of the dispersal of population, it might be possible to get some sub-division of the Province. But when one looks at the economics of the problem and realises how the whole of the Indus Basin is one geographical and economic unit there does not seem to be any hope of any solution in that direction. We also have to face the fact that in the North West Frontier Province, which is a predominantly Muslim Province, and where 98per cent, of the people are Mohammedans, there is also a strong Congress majority, not a Muslim League majority at all. It would seem, therefore, that neither the proposal for Pakistan itself nor the other proposal for the redrawing of Provincial boundaries, would offer any solution to this vexed problem. I do not want to detain the House in a detailed discussion of this subject. I would point out, however, that the problem of minorities is not a problem which is confined to India. It is a problem that arises in very many parts of the world. Indeed, we even get suggestions of it within the four walls of this House on occasions! There are minorities' problems in very many other parts of the world besides India, even though in India we may see it in its most acute form.
If we are to help India in the solution of this very difficult minorities problem we have to look rather further than we have looked heretofore. It is because I feel that that I have ventured to speak in this Debate this afternoon. It seems to me, we shall only find a final solution of this very difficult problem not if we work 1469 towards a purely Indian solution but, under the United Nations organisation, set to work to establish a charter for minorities the world over, a charter that would not only outline the rights of minorities but would also outline the duties of minorities towards the Governments to which they owe allegiance. By raising this issue of minorities from its purely Indian aspect to the international aspect, and, through the United Nations organisation, getting a charter for minorities the world over, and guaranteeing to them their rights and expecting of them that they will full fill their responsibilities; we will get a solution of this question
In the study that I have been able to make of this problem, particularly in relation to India, it seems to me that communalism has flourished in India very largely because of the appalling ignorance that exists there. The illiterate and un-educated people, people who have had no educational opportunities whatever, have fallen prey to the communal leaders in India. In this country we have to accept a very grave responsibility for the state of illiteracy that exists in India today. If the delegation which is going from the Cabinet to India can do anything to speed up the educational development of India, and, under any new Constitution that may be devised, get general education throughout India, then I believe that by the recession of ignorance the greatest step forward will have been taken in abating many of the problems with which India is faced at the moment, particularly the grave problem of communal tension which exists to such an appalling extent.
§ 3.5 p.m.
§ Sir John Anderson (Scottish Universities)
I was much interested in the remarks of the hon. Lady the Member for Sutton, Plymouth (Mrs. Middleton) on the subject of the minorities problem. She very rightly said that these problems are not confined to India, but, for reasons that will be very present to the minds of all hon. Members, they are specially prominent in India. Whoever has to determine the lines of the future Constitution of India will inevitably have to give much consideration to the minorities problem. I do not think myself that the solution for the minority problems in India is to be found solely in an exten- 1470 sion of education, any more than I believe that any reproach can justly be levelled against the Government of this country for the admittedly slow progress of educational advance in India. The existence of fixed minorities — not mere party minorities which may change with the passage of time, but fixed minorities dependent upon race, religion, culture and so on — does introduce an element into the evolution of democratic principles which is productive of complication., and may lead to fundamental misunderstanding if the nature of the problem is not sufficiently appreciated.
We have had an interesting Debate, entirely free from party or sectional controversy, a Debate which has served to show the general desire of Members in all quarters of the House to extend the utmost good will to the Mission which is about to proceed to India to discharge a task of the most vital importance not only to India but to this country. I listened carefully to the Prime Minister's speech. There was nothing in that speech from which I would wish to dissent. I am glad it was decided that the Mission should be given as free a hand, and as great a latitude, as possible. That is very natural, having regard to the situation at the moment, and to the status of the Mission. But a free hand does not, I am sure, mean, in the conception of the Prime Minister and of his Ministry, that there are not in this matter certain fixed points from which it is not' possible to depart. Declarations have been made which, I hope, stand at this moment in their entirety. It has been made clear quite recently that the substance of what we know as the "Cripps offer" remains valid in all respects, that there is nothing material to add to or subtract from it. I hope there is absolute agreement in all quarters on that matter. I hope, too the Prime Minister made this, I think, perfectly clear that there is no question in anybody's mind but that the future Constitution of India must be framed in India, by Indians. I take it that that is a fixed point.
The other fixed point is, I think, this: We have made it clear that His Majesty's Government and Parliament will accept any Constitution, framed by the Indians in India, which is acceptable to the main elements in India's national life. Those two fundamental positions seem to be 1471 absolutely clear. There was a time when we in this country had not only the right, but the duty, to say what form the developing Constitution of India should take. So long as we were going to be in India, with the ultimate responsibility for the enforcement of the law and the maintenance of the Constitution, we obviously had a right to a voice, indeed, to a predominant voice, in determining what that constitution should be. But that stage is passing. We have said that India, so far as we are concerned, shall have the constitution she wants. That means that the responsibility for enforcing the law, for maintaining the Constitution, passes from His Majesty's Government, and from the Parliament of this country, to the Indians. It is on them that the responsibility must rest and, therefore, it is they and they alone who must decide what the Constitution should be.
Similarly, the stipulation that the new Constitution must be acceptable to the main elements in India's national life is fundamental. We cannot simply throw an apple of discord into the Indian arena, and run away. To do that, would be unworthy of ourselves and of our past, and would be a gross betrayal of those interests in India for which we have been responsible. But I trust that after this Debate, after the measure of unity exhibited in this Debate, there will be no room anywhere for any lingering suspicion that we in this country are relying on the prospects of disagreement in India to maintain our position there. Let that be absolutely clear. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Butler) said, it is a fundamental interest, it is emphatically in our own interest, that a solution acceptable to Indian opinion should be found, and found speedily.
The government of India is a tremendous undertaking, quite apart from current controversies. We have established the existing system of law and administration in India at the cost of a great effort, and with great success. But now, more and more, day by day, our position in India is becoming intolerable. A solution to the Indian problem is not only inevitable and necessary, but it is urgent. The question here is not merely one of honour — and our honour is deeply pledged — it is a question of our own 1472 interests. Reference has been made in the Debate to the position of the Services, to the Civil Services, Indian as much as European, to the police, and the Armed Forces. The kind of situation that had to be met in Bombay the other day, and in other parts of India, puts an intolerable burden on those whose only desire is to secure good administration until the Indians are in a position to take full control of the whole business into their own hands. No one who has been intimately associated, as I have been, with the government of India over a term of years, who has got to know India, love India and know Indians, who admires their great qualities, and has had the closest and most intimate dealings with the Service, from top to bottom, can be indifferent to the situation which has appeared recently to be developing in that country. I say, with the greatest emphasis at my command, and with all sincerity, that it is absolutely in our interests that a solution of this problem should be found, and found speedily, and I hope that on this all sections of the House will be united.
The Prime Minister said that the Mission, about to proceed to India, should have a free hand. Let it not be supposed, from what I have just said about the points we must regard as fundamental and settled, that there is not great scope for this Mission. There is the whole question of the machinery, and that is where the thing has been sticking, the machinery to be provided to facilitate deliberations between Indians in the framing of a new Constitution In that matter, we can, I believe, in an atmosphere of good will, render great service, and be of great assistance without attempting in any way to impose ideas of our own. I think that the Mission — and I believe that the Prime Minister had this in mind — exploring the question in all its aspects, and examining all the machinery affecting official and unofficial India, affecting those whose responsibilities lie at the Centre, and those whose responsibilities lie in the Provinces, affecting those who represent the various communal interests, will be able to decide what machinery will be best adapted to bring together the divergent points of view of the various elements in India.
Then, there is the very important question of the transitional arrangements to be put in force, in connection with the framing and bringing into operation of a new 1473 Constitution. It will be within the recollection of hon. Members that, in regard to that matter, there has been a change of attitude on the part of the Government in this country since the date of what we call the "Cripps offer." In the Cripps offer, what was contemplated was that discussions should be initiated on the question of setting up a constituent assembly, with certain terms of reference, and that once that had been agreed upon, and once the process of Constitution framing had been initiated, then, according to the declarations of His Majesty's Government, and then only, a change might be made in the Constitution of India at the Government of the centre. Subsequently, Lord Wavell was authorised to reverse the order of procedure. He made suggestions which were discussed in India, and which, at one time, seemed likely to be accepted, which were directed to the reconstitution of the Government of India on a more representative basis as a step preliminary to the establishment of machinery for settling the new Constitution. That again is a matter to which the Mission might very usefully and fruitfully devote attention.
There is, therefore, in my submission, a great scope for this Mission, without any departure from what has been laid down as fundamental in the position that His Majesty's Government must take up. While it is reasonable that the Mission should have a considerable degree of latitude, I hope they will not unnecessarily enter into actual commitments in those matters which may be regarded as still open to discussion, debate and negotiation. Apart altogether from the importance of preserving the responsibility of His Majesty's Government, and the responsibility of Parliament, I think it exceedingly important that every possible care should be taken to let it be seen that whatever may result from the labours of this Mission represents, in the end, the agreed decision and conclusion, not only of the Mission, but of His Majesty's Government here, and of Parliament and of the British people. In order that whatever may be decided shall endure and be a basis of a lasting settlement with India, that is of the most vital importance. Therefore, I hope, without attempting in any way to fetter the discretion of the Mission in regard to these matters, that they will endeavour to reserve as much as possible for final debate and deter- 1474 mination, so far as His Majesty's Government are concerned, until they return to this country.
My only wish is to be as helpful as I can, and to express my own personal convictions in this very vital matter. The history of India and the history of Britain have been bound up together for the last one and a half centuries. That history has many glorious chapters. We have no reason to be ashamed, although mistakes may have been made, of the part which we have played in India. I pray that when the record is closed it will be closed with dignity, and in an atmosphere of good will, favourable to the development of a new and, I hope, fruitful relationship based not upon the authority of the Crown and Parliament, but upon a treaty or treaties freely entered into between sovereign nations.
§ 3.25 p.m.
§ The Lord Privy Seal (Mr. Arthur Greenwood)
I think the Government have every right to express their pleasure at the tone and temper of this Debate. The Indian peoples will hear or read of this Debate with a certain amount of satisfaction. It has perhaps done something to clear up suspicions in the minds of the Indian peoples. It has been most helpful, and on behalf of His Majesty's Government I would like to thank speakers in all parts of the House for the helpful course they have taken. I hope, as I say, that the Indian people will regard the Debate as an expression of our genuine good will in facing a very difficult and complicated problem. It is not my intention to enter into the merits of proposals and so on today, but I think it should now be perfectly clear to the Indian people that this country does not stand on either pride or prejudice in dealing with the Indian problem. In fact the word "independence" has been used. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Cove), who cannot have listened to the Prime Minister's speech, complained that there had been no reference to the possibility of Indian independence. My right hon. Friend pointed out that, personally, he hoped that India would see the advantage of remaining linked in friendship with us but he went on to say: "If, on the other hand, she elects for independence, in our view she has a right to do so. It will be for us to help to make the transition as smooth and as 1475 easy as possible." I listened with great interest to the speeches of the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Sir S. Reed)and the hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. Nicholson), both of whom took the same kind of line. I think it can be said here and now, that with the Statute of Westminster on the Statute Book, this nation will never try to hold down the Indian peoples by force of arms, and if they should elect for independence "who are we to say nay?" — a phrase used by the hon. Member for Farnham this afternoon. My colleagues who are very shortly embarking on this great venture would wish me to express their thanks for the good wishes which have fallen from the lips of several speakers in the Debate today, and I do it on their behalf in all sincerity. They are fully seized of the heavy responsibilities which lie ahead of them, and appreciative of the gravity and the urgency of their task. They will leave this country with much higher hopes knowing that they are sustained by the good will and fellowship of Members on all sides of the House.
I was asked this morning by the hon. Member for Farnham whether we were going out in some kind of domineering, dominating attitude, or one showing a humble willingness to help. We have no other function than to show a humble willingness to help.
§ Mr. Nicholson
I did not use the word "domineering." Nothing would have been further from my intention. My point was, Were the Mission going out to make a great political splash and come back with a rabbit out of a hat, or were they going to be much cuter — I think "Kudos was the word I used? Are they going to do some humble constructive work?
§ Mr. Greenwood
I assure the hon. Gentleman that there is no wish to bandy words about this. The desire of my right hon. Friends on this Mission to which they attach the highest importance is to help to the maximum and to do nothing in the way of trying to impose upon the Indian peoples any wishes which are foreign to them. There is another side to this — the Indian side. If it can be made clear to the peoples of various races, various religions, and various castes in India that we are sincere in our purpose, and mean to help them 1476 to come to their own final conclusions, which will be for them to implement — and I agree with my right hon. Friend that they must learn to implement and carry out the decisions — then our responsibility ceases.
On the other hand, there must be appreciation of the fact — and this, I think, has often bedevilled our relations with India — that freedom is not an honour you confer. Freedom is a precious prize which you have to win and earn. We cannot give freedom to India, we cannot make the Indians happy, we cannot make the Indians prosperous. The most magnificent thing we can do is to create the conditions which will enable them to live freely their own lives, with honour and with dignity.
Therefore as, now, with the good will of the House my colleagues go out on their Mission, I merely wish again to say that I hope the Indian peoples, over the wireless and through their Press, will sense what I think has been the predominant emotion in this House today — a deep desire to gain a settlement of a vexed and terrible and tragic problem, and a deep desire to see the Indian peoples living a free life in their own way, and building for their own further freedom and prosperity. If the peoples of India will receive my right hon. Friends with open arms, in the same spirit as that in which hon. and right hon. Members have met them today, then I think this augurs well for the future.