§ 3.57 p.m.
§ The President of the Board of Trade (Sir Stafford Cripps)
I beg to move,That this House takes note of the Statement on India made on zoth February by the Prime Minister and approves the policy set out therein.The recent statement of His Majesty's Government on India has, rightly, been received as one of the greatest importance, not only to this country and to India but to the whole future of orderly and peaceful government of the world. It is not necessary, I think, for me to recapitulate in detail the various stages in our long history of association with the Indian people, throughout which we have travelled constantly—though with varying speed—towards the final and inevitable stage of Indian self-government. The British people have, by precept and example, done much to inspire the Indians to go forward to achieve their own self-governing democracy. Strange though it may now seem, an Englishman, Mr. Hume, who has been called the "father of the Indian Congress," largely inspired that body in its origins in 1885, when it was first established.
Our own constant reiteration of the advantages of the free methods of democratic government have certainly encouraged the Indians in the development of their own national ideal. Even before the war in the years preceding the Act of 1935, the tempo of advance towards self-government had accelerated and a very marked forward step was taken with the setting up of democratic self-government in the Provinces under the provisions of that Act of 1935. Not unexpectedly, and indeed according to the rule in these matters, the very fact of granting extended powers of self-government in itself brought about a demand for further acceleration. As the French say, L'appetit vient en mangeant— appetite grows with eating. That appetite was developing rapidly before the war and led, unfortunately, to many sharp differences between the British Government and the peoples of India. When the war came, the stability of our continued control of India was obviously threatened. In the circumstances of the war, the keen Indian nationalist saw an opportunity to expedite the process which seemed to him—
§ Mr. Boothby (Aberdeen and Kincardine, Eastern)
On a point of Order. I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. and learned Gentleman, but I would ask you, Mr. Speaker, whether it is in Order for an hon. Member to peel and eat an orange during the Debate?
§ Mr. Speaker
In this Chamber, one does not smoke, one does not chew gum, one does not eat chocolates and sweets—and one should not peel and eat an orange in this Chamber, either.
§ Sir S. Cripps
I was saying that, in the circumstances of the war, the keen Indian nationalist saw an opportunity to expedite the process which seemed to him to be unduly slow. As in so many other countries in this war, and, in that feature, following the same lines as in the case of the first world war, the appeal to fight for democracy and freedom awakened a strong echo of the desire for their own freedom amongst the ranks of the nationalists in India; and, at the same time as these ideological arguments were favouring the rise of nationalism, the actual circumstances of the situation made it more and more difficult, even if we desired to do so, to continue those measures of control and restraint which formerly had been available to us.
Indeed, it seemed hardly logical or sensible that, where freedom had been promised, steps should be taken to restrain the advance towards that very freedom. So it was that, with the consent of all parties in this country, a policy for the transfer of power in India to the Indians developed under the wartime Government. Both the statement of 1940 and the offer of 1942 quickened this process for the transfer of power. The substance of the offer of 1940 was, as the House will remember, recapitulated by the then Prime Minister in his statement in this House on 11th March, 1942, at the time when he announced the going of a Mission to India on this matter. If I might quote the Prime Minister of that time, this is what he said:This amounted, in short, to a promise that, as soon as possible after the war, India should attain full Dominion status, in full freedom and equality with this country and the other Dominions, under a Constitution to be framed oy Indians, by agreement among themselves and acceptable to the main elements in Indian national life. This was, of course, subject to the fulfilment of our obligations for the protection of minorities, including the Depressed Classes, and of our treaty obligations to the 496 Indian States, and to the settlement of certain lesser matters arising out of our long associations with the fortunes of the Indian subcontinent.''— [OFFICIAL REPORT. I i th March, 1942; Vol. 378, C. 1069.]Though, in 1940, it was still assumed that self-government would be granted within the British Commonwealth of Nations, in 1942, with the full acquiescence of the then Cabinet, it was specifically and publicly stated that the Indian people were entitled freely to elect to go out of the Commonwealth if they so desired. The offer of 1942 was on the basis of the setting up of a Constituent Assembly immediately after the war, and, subject to agreement between the major parties, it, in effect, promised that Indian independence should be realised as soon as the Assembly had completed its deliberations. There was thus set a term upon our continued control of India, so far as we were concerned, though what should be the length of that term was left in the hands of the Indians themselves to decide.
This offer contemplated that, if the two major communities could not reach agreement, then it might become necessary to divide India between them. The possibility of the division of India, failing agreement between the two major communities, was thus put forward publicly by the British Government. The proper protection of minorities was made a condition of the transfer of power, as, indeed, was the negotiation of the Treaty as to the conditions of transfer. I will read some of the actual words of this offer, so that the House might keep them in mind, because they are a very material part of the present situation:His Majesty's Government undertake to accept and to implement forthwith the Constitution so framed,"—that was, by the Constituent Assembly—subject only to:(1) the right of any Province of British India that is not prepared to accept the new Constitution to retain its present constitutional position, provision being made for its subsequent accession, if it so decides.With such non-acceding Provinces, should they so desire, His Majesty's Government will be prepared to agree upon a new Constitution, giving them the same full status as the Indian Union and arrived at by a procedure analagous to that here laid down.The second reservation was with regard to the signing of a Treaty which would be negotiated between His Majesty's Government and the Constitution making body: 497This Treaty will cover all necessary matters arising out of the complete transfer of responsibility from British to Indian hands. It will make provisions in accordance with the undertakings given by His Majesty's Government for the protection of racial and religious minorities; but will not impose any restriction on the power of the Indian Union to decide in the future its relationship to other Member States of the British Commonwealth.Although this statement and offer were not effective in bringing about agreement with, or, indeed, between, the Indian communities, it did, nevertheless, have the effect of encouraging all parties in India to look for an early realisation of their freedom, either by the path of unitary central government or the other path which envisaged a possible division.
§ Mr. Thomas Reid (Swindon)rose —
§ Sir S. Cripps
I think it will be much easier if I am allowed to continue. The majority community did express impatience at what they regarded, in these circumstances, as the continued veto by the minority, and they blamed, of course, this reservation upon the British Government. This impatience led to the widespread civil disobedience movement that occurred in the autumn of 1942, and to the drastic action which was taken to suppress that movement.
There were other factors at work. The exigencies of the war situation were such that it was not possible for the British Government to continue with the recruitment of Europeans for the Secretary of State's Services, while, at the same time, there was, of course, a great increase in the Indian Forces, accompanied by a rapid Indianisation of their officer cadre. This meant that, side by side with the growing demand for an acceleration of the transfer of power on the part of all parties in India, there was an obvious and inevitable weakening of the machinery of British control through the Secretary of State's Services. It was, of course, through these Services that British control had been exercised in the administration of Indian affairs. They had been supported in extreme cases by the Indian Army under British command and with a large percentage of British officers, and by British troops stationed in India. In the last resort, British responsibility was exercised by Parliament through the Governor-General and the Governors, who could dismiss the Indian Government if it failed to carry out its functions under the Act of 1935 and then take over con- 498 trol under Section 93, using, of course, for that purpose, as the main support of the administration, the Secretary of State's Services who look to the British rather than to Indians for their future advancement, livelihood and pensions.
After the offer of 1942 had been rejected by the Indian parties, it was repeatedly stated by the Coalition Government that it still remained open for acceptance. There was, therefore, the continuing prospect of a Constituent Assembly meeting immediately after the war, with the almost inevitable sequel that, if the Assembly could agree upon a new Constitution, it would be adopted, and so India would have her freedom. In the face of this developing situation, and the knowledge that the Secretary of State's Services were diminishing in strength, it was not possible, even if it had been thought desirable, to take steps to reinforce those services, because of the war situation which then existed.
It must be remembered that those Services were manned both by European and Indian officers in the proportion, roughly, of one to one. At the end of the war, a very considerable number of time-expired officers were being kept on, who, at best, had only a short time in which they could be called upon to serve, and who were being held at their stations by war emergency regulations. So for as the Indian officers were concerned, who, presumably, looked forward to a continuing career in the administration, despite any transfer of power, they, naturally, began to look more and more to those Indian parties which would, in the future, hold power, rather than to the British, who had announced their willingness to hand over power. All those officers, European and Indian alike, were most loyal in their service, but they were, obviously, placed in a very difficult position when the Indian majority leaders had a clash with the Central Government, as they did in the early part of 1942, or when the views and methods of Indian Ministers ran counter to those of the British elements of the administration.
In June, 1945, the British Government, realising the strain that had been brought upon the Secretary of State's Services during the war, launched a scheme under which recruitment could take place, of both Indians and Europeans, to fill the gaps that had occurred, or were antici- 499 pated. After the change of Government in July, 1945, it became abundantly clear that Indian public opinion was against any such fresh recruitment, and, later, that there was a very strong opinion in favour of winding up the Secretary of State's Services altogether. Accordingly, in June, 1946, it was finally decided to abandon any such further recruitment, in circumstances to which I will refer when I come to that period of time. When the present Government, therefore, came into office, they found themselves already committed by these accumulated influences and facts, to which I have referred, to a course. of action which was entirely consistent with the avowed policy of the party they represent, that is, to give freedom to India as soon as the Indians should be able to decide upon a new Constitution.
Immediately, therefore, the processes necessary to arrive at that decision upon the Constitution were put into operation. Provincial elections were arranged, and, as soon as they had been held, new democratic Provincial Governments came into being, and, for the first time since the beginning of the war, the full strength of the rival communities was made clear, and it became apparent that Indians had ranged themselves substantially upon a communal basis behind the Congress, on the one hand, and the Muslim League on the other. Even before those elections were concluded, the Cabinet Mission had left for India. By this time, however, there had been a serious deterioration in Indian-British relations, so that the first job of the Mission was to convince the Indians of the sincerity of the intention of the British people, and nothing contributed more to the improvement in relations that subsequently took place than the Prime Minister's statement in this House on 15th March last. The resolution of the Indian problem was not then possible, in view of the extreme tension which existed between the communities, and, so long as the minority could thwart the majority at every turn, by exercising a veto which we were prepared to accept as absolute, there did not seem to be any solution. In his statement, the Prime Minister used these words: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.500 That made it clear, I think for the first time, that the majority could not be indefinitely held up by the minority, but, on the other hand, that the majority would have to take fully into account the position of the minority. Speaking further on that occasion on the minority question, my right hon. Friend added these words: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 "—referring to the Cabinet Mission—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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th March, 1946; Vol. 420, c. 1422–1423.]I quoted that passage to make clear that it was definitely stated that the protection for minorities must fall within the Indian Constitution, and could not come from outside. That statement by the Prime Minister met, I think, with almost unanimous approval, both in Parliament and in the country.
The story of the Mission's efforts in India has already been fully recounted to the House. I will only remind the House that, when they left India, the idea that this country was not sincere in its desires to see Indian self-government speedily realised had, very largely, disappeared. During this period, between July, 1945, when the present Government took office, and July, 1946, when the Cabinet Mission returned from India, it would have been most undesirable, and, indeed, wrong, to have restarted European recruitment to the Secretary of State's Services. I can imagine no action which would more certainly have convinced the Indians of our lack of sincerity if, with one hand, we had offered them self-government, and, with the other, recruited Europeans to carry on the British Raj.
It certainly would have rendered impossible the task of the Cabinet Mission, which met with a considerable measure of success. At least something very near agreement was reached on the scheme for a Constituent Assembly—something far nearer agreement than had ever been reached before. We had, as disinterested friends, succeeded in bringing the two major Indian parties much nearer 501 together. It is true that we had not succeeded so far as an Interim Government at the Centre was concerned, but the attempt was not for that reason abandoned, and within a few months such a Government was at last formed—a thing which many people had considered to be quite impossible in the circumstances.
Almost immediately after the Mission had left, some very unhelpful speeches were made by Indian leaders, which whipped up the excitement already engendered by the complicated and long drawn out negotiations and by the ever nearing prospect of power passing into Indian hands, and this brought about a sharpening of the communal conflict in the country which, most unfortunately, and, indeed, disastrously, led to the breaking out of mass violence in Bengal, Bihar and Bombay, as the House knows. At this time there were Indian party governments in the Provinces responsible to their Legislative Assemblies, and a Coalition Indian Government at the Centre, and one of the first questions taken up by those governments last autumn was the discontinuance of the Secretary of State's Services, as I have mentioned. They felt that if they were to be responsible for the future administration of India within some reasonable period of time, the sooner the dual loyalty to the Secretary of State and the Indian governments was brought to an end the sooner they would be able to settle down to a stable form of administration which would accord with the future State of India.
When the Cabinet Mission was in India we had, naturally, discussed this problem of the services and their auomatic runing down with those responsible for their maintenance, and we had then explored the possibility of their temporary reinforcement, as I mentioned earlier. It was made clear to us—and we accepted and took responsibility for the decision—that no short-term scheme could yield effective or valuable results, because the crucial period was immediately ahead, and that for that period new or emergency entrants could not contribute anything, especially in the very difficult and tangled political atmosphere that then existed. So this committed us to a continuation with the existing services under conditions, so far as the Indian personnel were concerned, such as I have already described to the House. We 502 were, of course, at the same time demobilising British Armed Forces as rapidly as was possible, and, I may say, under heavy pressure from all sides of the House of Commons, and that meant that the number of British troops which could be left in India and the East was being rapidly diminished from the wartime level.
At the same time, the Indianisation of the Indian Army was proceeding more rapidly than ever, latterly under the directions of an Indian Defence Member of the Interim Government. It was in these circumstances, after the decision of the Muslim League not to join in the Constituent Assembly, and their failure to reverse their decision on entering the Interim Government, that we invited their representatives and those of Congress to come to this country with the Viceroy at the beginning of last December. Though the conversations which then ensued produced no decisive result, we hoped that they might result in a lessening of the differences between the two communities and make it easier for the Muslim League, which was the only British Indian element then standing out, to join the Constituent Assembly. As a result of this meeting, we put out our statement of 6th December, and there can be no doubt that as the result of that statement there has been a narrowing of the gap between the two parties. The Congress accepted that statement, but included within their resolution of acceptance words which the Muslim League considered still to contain some reservations. It is, no doubt, unfortunate, and certainly unpremeditated, that just at the moment when the Muslim League was about to reconsider the situation with a view, possibly, to coming into the Constituent Assembly at Karachi, events in the Punjab boiled up, leading to a clash between the non-Muslim League Punjab Government and the Muslim League. We can only hope that tolerance and good sense will bring about some settlement of a very difficult and complicated matter. This is just another one of those factors which make it so difficult to predict the course of events in a complex situation such as exists politically in India today.
However difficult prediction may be, the facts have to be faced and dealt with when they arise. At the end of January, almost contemporaneously with the re- 503 fusal of the Muslim League to reconsider their position in relation to the Constituent Assembly, following upon the result of the Congress resolution upon the British Government's statement of 6th December, came the demand by the non-Muslim League members of the Interim Government that the Muslim League members should withdraw. That demand was based upon the proposition that the Muslim League representatives had been invited to join the Interim Government on the basis of the Muslim League taking its place in the Constituent Assembly. That proposition accorded with the facts of the case, and had at the time of the invitation been communicated by the Viceroy to the leader of Congress. It is true that in their acceptance of office in the Interim Government, the Muslim League did not expressly accept this condition, but it was assumed by those concerned that as they had not repudiated it they would consider themselves to be bound by it. Whatever may be the rights or wrongs of that situation, it does not seem to His Majesty's Government to be wise to precipitate a decision upon it so long as there is any hope of all parties meeting in the Constituent Assembly and working side by side in the Interim Government.
It was in these circumstances which I have detailed, I am afraid, at some length —I think it is necessary for the House to have them in mind—that His Majesty's Government had to consider what action they should take to try to smooth out the difficulties of the transfer of power in India, and that was a very difficult decision to take. It seemed essential that we should not lose the initiative and that we should not hesitate or adopt a policy of indecision. There is, I believe, nothing worse in such a situation than temporising or delaying for the sake of delay. What, then, were the alternatives which faced us? Those alternatives were fundamentally two, though both, of course, might be subject to minor variations: first, we could attempt to strengthen British control in India on the basis of an expanded personnel in the Secretary of State's services, and a considerable reinforcement of British troops, both of which would have been required, so that we should be in a position to maintain for as long as might be necessary our administrative responsibility while awaiting an agreement amongst the Indian communities. Such 504 a policy would entail a definite decision that we should remain in India for at least 15 to 20 years, because for any substantially shorter period we should not be able to reorganise the Services on a stable and sound basis.
The length of period necessary would be determined by the consideration that the Indian members of the Secretary of State's and other administrative services should look to us for their future career and prospects rather than to the Indian leaders, to whom we should undoubtedly, under those circumstances, find ourselves in opposition if we were to declare our intention to stay for such a period of time. The second alternative was, we could accept the fact that the first alternative was not possible, and make a further attempt to persuade the Indians to come together, while at the same time warning them that there was a limit of time during which we were prepared to maintain our responsibility while awaiting their agreement One thing that was, I think, quite obviously, impossible was to decide to continue our responsibility indefinitely—and, indeed, against our own wishes—into a period when we had not the power to carry it out. Those were the alternatives, and the only alternatives, that were open to us.
In pointing out these two alternatives, I must refer to the opinions expressed by two noble lords, who have both had long experience as Viceroys of India. Both of them—one speaking recently in another place and the other speaking a few months ago—have stressed the reality of these two alternatives, and have stated that in their view there is no third alternative. Though neither of them professes to like either alternative, they are both driven to the conclusion that we must choose between them; and the very remarkable speech of the noble Lord, Lord Halifax, in another place made it clear why he could not oppose the decision arrived at by His Majesty's Government. The first alternative we had no hesitation in putting aside. It would be contrary to all we have said, and to the policy of this country, to prolong our stay in India for more than a decade against the wishes of the Indians—and there can be no shadow of doubt that it would be against their wishes. It would be politically impracticable, from both a national and an international point of view, and would arouse the most bitter 505 animosity of all parties in India against us.
Even if we had been prepared to make available the extra troops that would be required to deal with opposition by the Indian people over that period of years, it is certain that the people of this country—short as we are of manpower, as we all know—would not have consented to the prolonged stationing of large bodies of British troops in India, for a purpose which was not consistent with our expressed desire that India should achieve self-government at as early a date as possible. Such a decision would, as I have said, have met with the hostility of all Indian communities, as indeed has been shown by the reaction to the statement the other day. We should, therefore, have had to rule India through the Governor-General and the Governors without any representative Indian Government. We therefore ruled out the first alternative, as both undesirable and impracticable.
We were left with the other alternative, and we had to consider the form in which that alternative should be expressed, consistently with our previous promises, and to consider particularly the time limit we should set beyond which we could no longer reasonably be asked to accept responsibility for the Government of India, for the reasons that I have already stated —that we should not have the power to carry it out. It will be remembered that it had already been decided at an earlier date, as I have mentioned, that it was impossible to alter the situation by buildup again the Secretary of State's Services for a short temporary period. We were therefore faced, either with the permanent building up which I have mentioned under the first alternative, for a considerable term of years, or with specifying some terminal date beyond which we should not be willing to continue our responsibilities.
So far I have dealt with this problem from the British point of view. But we were, of course, equally concerned to do our very best for India, and to enter upon this new phase of our long association with that great sub-continental area in a way that was worthy of our people and of the enlightened policy that they had followed. We were therefore determined to pursue our co-operation with the Indian communities, and to make every effort to assist them to come to an accommodation 506 between themselves. We took the view that the fixing of a definite term, during which they must either come to an agreement to set up a united independent Government for all India or else break up the country into smaller and weaker units, should provide the strongest inducement to them to sink their differences and to act together. It seemed to us that, as it was clearly impossible to contemplate an indefinite stay in India—under constant pressure to side with one or the other party in the communal dispute—we must, in fairness, tell all parties when the time would arrive by which they must have settled their own differences or risk a clash of forces and communities, in which we should take no part. It is not right that we should allow ourselves to be put in the position of imposing the will of one community upon the other by the exercise of force; whether it is the majority or the minority does not matter. The facts of the situation are certainly hard and difficult, but they have to be faced. They flow, as I have tried to show the House, not from any sudden and hurried decision, but from the whole historical development of the Indian situation, particularly having regard to the six years of war which have latterly intervened.
On more than one occasion I have ventured to point out to the House that we are making a tremendous experiment in the methods of peaceful progress in attempting to hand over power in a Continent of 400 million people, without any use of violence. In the course of that great civilising experiment we have had constantly to take risks. I do not think any of us would claim that we have always been right; we haw, nevertheless, done our best, we have gone a long way in the direction upon which we are all agreed, and we have now reached the final and most critical stage. We still have to take risks as to the effect of our actions, both upon ourselves, upon India and upon the rest of the world. But there are two principles by which I am convinced we should be guided. We must not let the fear of difficulties prevent us from doing what we believe to be right; and we must not fail ourselves or India through lack of decision at a critical moment. In giving up our control in India, we want to do our utmost to cooperate with the Indians of all parties and communities through these final stages of the realisation of their freedom.
507 We, therefore, decided to state frankly and openly to the Indians the latest date to which we can reasonably be asked to accept responsibility for the Government of India, in order that they might have the opportunity, to which they are most fully entitled, to arrange how best they shall prepare themselves for that time. It is suggested we might have fixed a later date, as being more convenient, and as giving more ample time to carry through the Constitution making. But if the Indian communities failed to agree, could we have been in any way certain that we should have been able to discharge our responsibilities after that later date? We arrived at the decision as to the date upon the best advice that we could obtain. The fixing of the date of June, 1948, constitutes, therefore, an honest and frank acceptance of the facts of the situation. We are convinced that, if the Indian parties at once set themselves to the task, they can arrive at a decision upon their new Constitution by the date named, or, at least, agree upon an interim national Government to which we can hand over power at that time, even if the whole process is not absolutely completed. The House will appreciate that there are certain inescapable facts, arising out of the past circumstances, which must condition our action today, and it is of no use wishing that they were other than they are.
There will be, I have no doubt, a number of questions as to the form of the statement, and as to its effect upon different sections of the Indian peoples, and so forth, and I will try before concluding, to deal with one or two of the more important of those. First, let me deal with the Indian States. As we have repeatedly stated, there is no intention of handing on our rights and obligations under paramountcy to anyone else. When we transfer power in British India, the rights and obligations of paramountcy will lapse. We are very glad to see that the beginnings of an agreement have been reached between the representatives of the Princes and the members of the Constituent Assembly, as to how the former shall join in the deliberations of that Assembly. Such a joint working out of the problems of the future relationships of the States to what is now British India, is, of course, the only wise and sound course. We have 508 envisaged in the statement that some States may wish, in these final stages of paramountcy, to adjust or modify their position vis-a-vis the paramount Power, and we have stated that we are prepared to agree to such modifications where they are necessary and reasonable. But such modifications will not, of course, in any way determine the future relationship of the States to the rest of India. It is purely a matter of transitional convenience.
The next question arises out of paragraph 10 of the statement. It has been stated by some that this paragraph is unduly vague. To whom, it is asked, do we hand over power if, by the due date, a new Central Government for all British India has not been constituted by a fully representative Constituent Assembly? We shall certainly, of course, in the first instance, do all in our power to encourage the formation of such a Government as put forward by the Cabinet Mission, and in accordance with the procedure which they suggested. But, if this proves impossible of realisation, and there is no such Central Government in being or in prospect when the time comes for us to take a decision, then we shall be forced to choose, in the light of the existing circumstances at the time of our decision, the most appropriate government or governments to which to hand over power. We have said in our statement that it might be the then existing Provincial Governments, as was suggested in the offer of 1942; or it might be some form of combined government for parts of India, depending upon what seems best and most helpful for the future of India.
In our statement of 6th December we stressed the fact that, if a large section of the Indian population had not been represented in the Constituent Assembly, we could not accept the forcing of unwilling Provinces into a united Indian Government—if, in the making of the Constitution, they had not been fully represented. To that principle, which has, we understand, the assent of Congress, we adhere; and if it should eventuate that a large group of Provinces—but not all—agree upon a form of Constitution, then it may be necessary to hand over separately, in the areas which have not been full represented in the Constituent Assembly. We shall have to consider in what way this can best be done, so as to meet the best interests of India. 509 The position is at present sufficiently uncertain to make it impossible now to forecast what will then be the wisest action to take, when the time comes to make a decision. The only way to remove that uncertainty is to get the agreement of the Indian Communities as to what it is they wish us to do. We can hardly be accused of vagueness and uncertainty when the Indian communities themselves cannot come to any common agreement upon which we can act.
What I have already said covers, to some degree, the position of minorities and their protection. But, in addition to that, there are the provisions which the Cabinet Mission laid down in accordance with the promise of the Prime Minister, which I have quoted, on 15th March last, that this matter should, so far as we could influence it, be dealt with in the new Constitution. The Minorities Commission, which has now been set up to advise the Constituent Assembly as to the proper measures of protection to be incorporated into the Constitution will, we hope and expect, make full provision for minority protection. It is to be noted that all the minorities are represented in the Constituent Assembly and the Minorities Commission. The only gap is that left by the Muslim League, who would not thank anybody for calling them a minority. We believe that, judging by the way matters are proceeding, there will be ample protection for minorities in the new Indian Constitution. That is the only way in which effective protection can he given, for they must, ultimately, rely upon the tolerance of their own fellow Indians for their safety and freedom. There will be nothing any outside power can do, if there is intolerance or unfair treatment.
There is one further question which must, I am sure, be in the mind of every Member of this House, and that is: What of the future relationship between Great Britain and India? The Government have always stressed the fact that we in this country would welcome India as a partner in the British Commonwealth of Nations, but we have equally emphasised the point that we do not seek unwilling partners. If the Indian people wish it, we shall be only too glad to see them associated with the British Commonwealth of Nations, and we believe that from that association they, like ourselves and the other Dominions, would derive great 510 benefits. But there is something more important and precious than any such formal association, and that is the continued friendship between the two countries, which cannot grow and flower in an atmosphere of restraint. Friendship must be freely given, and not forced, or held by chains of power. It has always seemed to me a profound mistake to believe that we could accomplish a mutually advantageous relationship with India by continuing our control over that country against the will of the people, in however modified a form. The only true basis for our future friendship is absolute freedom of choice on both sides, and I believe that this latest statement of His Majesty's Government marks the final clearing away of those influences which have militated against a full and free friendship in the past, and that it is, therefore, a great and valuable step to our continued close and friendly relations with the free India of the future.
The most statesmanlike views which were expressed by Pandit Nehru a clay or two ago, and which have been echoed by many others in India, prove, I think, the value of His Majesty's Government's decision in strengthening the ties of good feeling between the Indian and British peoples, and I trust that that same statesmanship may find ways and means of bringing about agreements between the Indian communities. It must be obvious, I think, to anyone who objectively studies the present situation, that there is really only one way in which all these various difficulties can be overcome, and that is by the co-operation of the Indian parties. It is their problem, and for it they alone can find the solution.
We shall continue during the time that we remain in India to do all that we can to assist, and we believe that this latest statement that we have made of our intentions will do something to help to bring the Indian communities and their leaders face to face with the realities of the situation, and the urgent necessity for coming to a decision amongst themselves. Time is short, and the matter brooks no delay. These next few weeks must be decisive of the future of India, and the happiness of its 400 million inhabitants. Whatever may have been the misunderstandings and the differences which have divided the Indians and the British Government over the past few years, and whoever may have been at fault, we have now made it abundantly 511 and inescapably clear that we intend, by June, 1948, to withdraw our control of India, in favour of that freedom which Indians of all communities have persistently demanded.
During the next 16 months, we have agreed to remain while they reach their final decision, which must, as I have said, determine, for better or worse, the future fate of the Indian people. In this final period, a new. Viceroy is going out, Lord Mountbatten. He has, with great public spirit and self-sacrifice, accepted a task which no one will envy. I am certain that everyone in this House, whatever his views may be upon the policy of the Government, will wish him well, and will hope he may find a ready response amongst the leaders in India. Our whole policy and action have been based upon the acceptance of the Indian claim that Indians are worthy and fit for self-government, and anyone who has the privilege of knowing their leaders, would not for a moment doubt that claim. They have their own difficulties, which are, indeed, great; they, too, find themselves enmeshed in the tangled skein of their own historical development. It is only by acts of real statesmanship on all sides that they can free themselves from their own internal antagonisms. Their problems cannot, I am convinced, be solved by the use of force. No stable future can be built on the foundations of civil strife.
I would, therefore, urge upon the Indian leaders, with all the force and sincerity at my command, that they should seize this, the last and greatest opportunity for supreme statesmanship, through which they may bring happiness and prosperity to their own people, and show the world that they can not only solve their own internal problems, but make a great contribution to world progress. Over the last year, they have, despite all the difficulties and bitter feelings, come much closer to an agreement upon how the future Constitution of India shall be worked out. Both sides have moved forward to meet one another, and each must still make a small advance in order that they may definitely come together in agreement. Now is the. time when the wider good of all India, throughout which both communities are widely dispersed, must take precedence over the narrower claims of single communities or single parts of that great continental area. If only 512 they will come together in both the Constituent Assembly and the Interim Government, with a determination, while respecting one another's rightful claims, to cooperate in the working out of the new Constitution in a form suitable to the diversity of their religions and races, then they will be able to lead India into paths which will avoid the horror and the tragedy of internal strife, and allow her to develop her great resources, through peace into prosperity, to the unending benefit of all her peoples, whether Hindus or Mussulmen.
§ 4.55 p.m.
§ Sir John Anderson (Scottish Universities)
I beg to move, to leave out from "House," to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:while re-affirming its determination to provide for the orderly attainment by India of self-government as soon as possible, is unable to accept His Majesty's Government's latest declaration on Indian policy, Cmd. 7047, which, by fixing an arbitrary date, prejudices the possibility of working out a suitable constitutional plan either for a united or a divided India, which ignores obligations expressed to minorities or sections of opinion, which contains no proposals for security or compensation for members of the Indian Services, and which offers no help to, or association with, India in her hour of destiny.I do not think I have ever undertaken a less congenial task than that which faces me this afternoon. Having spent many happy and, I thought, fruitful years in public service in India, I should have regarded it at any time as unfortunate if Indian affairs became a matter of controversy. Sharply as I disagree with many aspects of the policy of His Majesty's present Government, I take no pleasure in attacking them unnecessarily, and in particular, I have no desire to attack the present Prime Minister, who has identified himself in a very special sense with the policy we are discussing to-day. I worked with the Prime Minister during the years of the Coalition. I worked with him on the problem of India, and I know very well how much thought he has given to this problem. I know how anxiously he has desired a happy issue to our grave difficulties over India, quite apart from the heavy burdens I well realise he is carrying at the present time. But the issues we are concerned with this afternoon far transcend any personal considerations.
I spoke on the subject of India last December. I ventured then to say that I thought His Majesty's Government had 513 made a grave mistake, I think I called it a "cardinal blunder," in handing over, for all practical purposes, executive responsibilities to representative Indians, without being first assured of steady progress towards a satisfactory constitutional settlement. I think, and it is my duty to say so frankly, that His Majesty's Governrnent are now making an even graver blunder. We are all in agreement as to the ultimate objective in India, and up to a point, I am personally, as I have made clear on previous occasions, in agreement as to method. When I spoke last December, I said that the situation we saw developing in India would sooner or later become intolerable. I said that sooner or later, we should have to consider, if our ideal of a united and independent Governrnent of India, to which we could hand over power, seemed to be unattainable, handing over not to such a unitary authority, but to a number of separate authorities in different parts of India. I ventured to say that I thought the process should not be unduly hurried. Where I disagree sharply with His Majesty's Government in the plan we are debating today, is in respect of the fixing of a definite and final date—not necessarily the date of June, 1948, which is put into the Plan, but any fixed date—because I cannot for the life of me understand how anyone, however gifted or inspired, or how any Government of any kind or complexion, can say that it is going to carry through in a satisfactory fashion a series of processes, still of necessity indeterminate, by any fixed date. That, in a word, is the ground of the main criticism which I level at His Majesty's Government today.
What is the argument for the fixed date? I listened with care to the right hon. and learned Gentleman who has just sat down, and I have studied the pronouncements of Government speakers in another place. I think it fair to say that the argument for the date ranges itself under two heads. In the first place, it is said that one must bring people up sharply to a sense of reality, that this will administer a jolt, and people will be made to realise, as they have never realised before, that the policy of drift—I use the Prime Minister's word—cannot go on indefinitely. I wonder whether they are not right who say that, so far as that argument is concerned, it may be more likely to work in the opposite direction, because 514 it holds out a definite prospect to those who do not like what is going on that, if they can only dig their toes in, stand fast, endure and have patience, the time will come—a definite point of time will be reached—at which they will be free to pursue their own courses, at any rate so far as we are concerned.
The other argument, to which I have given such consideration as I can, was in a way a very terrifying one. It was, in effect, that our position in India L deteriorating so rapidly that we cannot hope to carry on with any satisfaction to ourselves or anyone else after—as I think the Secretary of State said in another place—1948. That is an aspect of this matter with which I should like to deal in some detail at a later point in my speech. Let me for the moment turn, not to the arguments for a date, but to the arguments against. There again I think there are two main lines of argument. The first I think is that the fixing of a date, as I have already indicated, cannot be reconciled with the nature of the problem. You can fix a date for completing a process which you can estimate, weigh and measure, but if the process is indeterminate, if it cannot in the light of present knowledge be assessed accurately, how can you with any certainty fix a date? If you knew—[Interruption.]My right hon. Friend and I accepted a rebuke from the right hon. Gentleman because we were engaged in a conversation; I hope I may be more fortunate and have the right hon. Gentle man's attention. We apologised. I have so many many hard things to say in the course of my speech that I do not want to be unnecessarily sharp on any point.
If we were certain that we should be able to hand over our powers and responsibilities to a single authority, the matter would be comparatively simple. It would be something with which many of us are perfectly familiar. We have gone through the process before. We know quite well that there are certain readjustments that have to be made when such a transaction has to be carried through. There is no difficulty in obtaining guidance, and in my view it would, in those circumstances, not have been a particularly hazardous or venturesome thing for any Government to say, "We see our way" —as Governments constantly have to do —"to fix an appointed day." But when you have to contemplate, as the right 515 hon. and learned Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade made quite clear that His Majesty's Government do contemplate, the contingency that, instead of undertaking the simple task of handing over the powers to one successor Government, you have to hand them over to a number of separate authorities, an indeterminate number of separate authorities themselves indeterminate as to their composition, the matter is entirely different. It will be something which I believe has never been undertaken before—never, anywhere in the world so far as I know. It has been done on a small scale; 25 years ago we had to hand over certain powers to a Provincial Government in Northern Ireland, but that was a simple matter because the main powers remained at the centre. It would be difficult enough if we knew exactly what the alternative units were to be, but we do not know; can any right hon. Gentleman opposite tell the House in the course of this Debate exactly what, if a single authority cannot he found by agreement to whom we can hand over, will be the units to which power will be transferred? Of course they cannot. They know that as well as I know it.
Let us consider in some little detail what has to be included in this process of breaking up and transferring. There is the judiciary, a very important element in the government—government in the widest sense—of India; a judiciary which has been our pride and India's pride. Somehow or other that has to be subdivided, with all necessary provision for subordinate courts, for a high court of judicature, for appeals, and so on. The revenue services have to be subdivided. Think of the task of breaking up the administration of the central taxes on which India depends as we do here, for her revenue—Income Tax, customs duties and so on. If there were complete agreement between the different elements which are going to form this new India, it would still be difficult enough. If there were complete agreement on the main lines of the process of transfer it would be difficult enough, but without any prospect of being able to carry these processes out in an atmosphere of perfect good will and co-operation, look at the task that we are going to undertake in regard to that particular department alone. There are the railways; how will they be dealt with? There is the whole 516 question of defence, with which of course communications are vitally bound up, not only the railways but the waterways and so on. Is India's defence after we go not to be provided for?
Again, if we are to transfer to a single authority, that is a comparatively simple matter, but how are we to ensure, if India has to be broken up, that each unit shall be provided by the fixed date with adequate defence services? What about defence against possible attack by sea? Where does India stand there, and if India is to be divided up, what are we going to do about that? These problems have to be faced; they have reality; they confront us now. Then, there is the whole question of finance in the broadest sense, of the obligations which now rest upon the Central Government of India. How are those obligations to be distributed? Assuming, there again, good will, how, is the process to be carried out? On what principles is it to be carried out?
What reason is there to suppose that the task that we must assume may have to be undertaken, of transferring power to a number of separate and distinct authorities, can be carried through in a fraction of the time that a much simpler task has occupied in other cases? Whether one takes Australia, Canada or the United States of America—wherever one looks—where a process of constitution-making has been carried through, it has taken years, and we are going to do all this in an atmosphere which may be extremely difficult, under conditions which, at the moment, are quite uncertain, subject to a fixed and rigid limit of time. In this connection, it really will not do to talk airily about handing over to a Provisional or an Interim Government. The Secretary of State spoke in that sense in another place, and the right hon. and learned Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade made a similar reference in his speech. However provisional, however interim, the Government may be, it will have to be provided with all the necessary organs. There will have to be provision for the enforcement of individual rights, for the protection of individuals and communities; there will have to be provision for all the elementary functions of Government, otherwise there faces India nothing but "red ruin and the breaking up of laws." [Interruption.] I was not emphasising "red." To say that all this is possible within a fixed 517 limit is surely, utterly irresponsible? I have said nothing about the very, very difficult problems that will arise, it India has to be broken up, in regard to particular parts of the country and particular communities. What about Assam, what about the problems of Western Bengal, what about Calcutta? There is a problem there that puts Danzig and Trieste completely in the shade. So much for the first objection to which I think the conception of a fixed date is open.
The second abjection, in my view, is that fixing a date really involves us in throwing away our last bargaining counter. People have only got to have patience, and we will be out of the way. We need that bargaining power for the discharge of certain solemn obligations. I have given anxious thought to what was said in another place—the right hon. and learned Gentleman referred to it—about the situation in regard to pledges that one finds oneself in, if circumstances over which one has no control change so that it becomes much more difficult than we had ever expected to carry out such pledges effectively; but I do not find myself in agreement here with those who spoke in that strain in another place, if I may so respectfully, or with the right hon. and learned Gentleman. It may well be that it will be a more difficult matter than we have ever thought before to make our pledges effective, but the pledges are there, and until the other day those who are disposed to speak now as if they could be relegated to a subordinate position were, I believe, entirely at one with the rest of us in considering such pledges an essential part of our scheme for the transfer of responsibility to India.
Hon. Gentlemen will remember that we pledged ourselves absolutely to hand over power on three conditions—that there should be agreement among Indians as to the form of the Constitution, that there should be provision for carrying out solemn pledges that we had undertaken, and that proper regard should be had to the position of the Princes. However great may be the difficulty in carrying out our pledges to the full, that is no reason for not doing in this matter the best we can. I hold that there is much that we can do, although I have no doubt that, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman said, the matter must ultimately, in very large measure, though not entirely, depend 518 upon the good will of those to whom we are handing over power; but in this matter it is really idle to talk about fundamental rights and equality of opportunity. What the minorities in respect of whom we have given those pledges desire is not equality; they desire, and they have been given to understand that they will receive, special protection, preferential treatment, if you like; but to say, as the Secretary of State said in another place—and the right hon. and learned Gentleman somewhat more cautiously, I thought, said much the same thing—that we have no reason to assume that all proper provision will not be made in the new Constitution, or the laws that will be enacted on the coming into operation of the new Constitution, is to dismiss very lightly indeed those pledges that we have given. We ought not to seek that easy way out.
It is not a question, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman seemed to suggest, of protecting these minorities against intolerance or unfair treatment. Let us look at the matter in a little more detail. The right hon. and learned Gentleman was not disposed for this purpose to treat the Muslims as a minority. They are a minority. They have asked for protection. They may not like being told so, but that is what they are in relation to India as a whole. But I say this—because I think it is the fact—that, in my opinion, the Muslims, on the whole, are pretty well able to look after themselves. Whether we should derive comfort from that thought is another matter. I have very much in my mind something that one of those rugged warriors from the North-West, Waziristan, said to a friend of mine: "What is this talk, Lord Sahib? Say the word, and we will go down and deal with those talking folk?" Now to quote an expression of that kind is not to commend it; but we have to be realist.
§ Sir J. Anderson
The Sikhs in my opinion are in much the same case. They can look after themselves. The Indian Christians and the Anglo-Indians present no great difficulty. They have been fused into the general community. Whatever happens, I should not expect—they are not politically minded—that any great difficulty would arise in regard to them.
519 The position of the Depressed Classes is very different. There are 6o million of them. It is perhaps difficult for hon. Members who have had no opportunity of acquainting themselves with the facts on the spot to understand quite clearly the position of those unfortunate people. They are widely scattered. They are not a coherent or homogeneous community. They belong to many different castes and, indeed, races. They have been given pledges of a most definite character. I have given them pledges myself. I thought I was justified in doing so. I have given them assurances, anyhow, when their leaders have come to me with tears in their eyes asking whether we were going to hand them over or whether they could count upon us for protection. I gave them the most positive assurances. There are also the tribal communities.
§ Mr. Wyatt (Birmingham, Aston)
Will the right hon. Gentleman allow me to interrupt? I would like to follow the argument quite fairly. Does he mean that if it were not for the Scheduled Castes it would be quite all right for the British to leave India, because all the other sections are quite able to look after themselves?
§ Sir J. Anderson
I was coming to the tribal communities. I had dealt with the Muslims and had said that they could look after themselves, although I doubted whether we ought to derive any satisfaction from that fact. The tribal communities require protection of a different kind. The Scheduled Castes, or what are called the Depressed Classes and sometimes called the Untouchables, do not want equality. It is the last thing they would desire. That is one of the last things that hon. Gentlemen ought to have in their minds, because the caste system of India is interwoven into the structure of the Hindu system. The depressed castes and the outcasts, strangely enough, often appear to be just as intent upon preserving the essential features of the caste system as are the high caste Hindus. That is because the outlook of the Hindu, to whatever section he belongs, is not limited to this life. The doctrine of what is called Karma exercises a most profound influence over Indian life. Karma is, in a sense, retribution. How we comport ourselves in this life governs what we shall be in the next life. I do not want to go 520 any further into these considerations, but they should be kept in mind.
What these people want is not temple entry, or abolition of practices that we Western people, not understanding them, are inclined to regard as abuses. They want certain quite specific things. The Depressed Classes want an assurance of educational facilities of which they can take advantage. They want an assurance of a certain minimum representation in legislative bodies, a certain representation in the Services and in the professions. Those are not things which can be secured to them by any charter of fundamental rights. They have to be the subject of specific provision in legislative enactments. Apart from the question of fundamental law, if we can ensure that the new India starts off with provisions on those lines, there may be good reason to believe that such provisions will he allowed to stand.
Let me take the case of the tribal communities. They want something different. They want to be assured in the occupation of their lands. They want to be protected against the exactions of the moneylenders. If any hon. Member would like to get a better understanding of the position of the tribal communities in India let me recommend to him a little book called "Harma's Village," which deals with the history of the Santhal rebellion. He will then understand much better just why these people need protection. Provided that we had an opportunity of dealing with these matters at reasonable leisure, I would not expect any very great difficulty in securing for these people, to whom we are deeply pledged, the provision that they require. There are in India, as I can testify, many high-minded, generous, enlightened people among the caste Hindus who would be glad to take an active part in ensuring that such protection was guaranteed to those unfortunate folk.
§ Mr. T. Reid
The right hon. Gentleman speaks of protection provided in the law. Will the law stop the inhabitants of Waziristan or the North-West from invading India?
§ Sir J. Anderson
That is a question quite apart from the matters with which I am dealing, and which arise mainly in Southern and Eastern India. Our pledges are not confined to the protection of minorities. We have also given pledges —on this point I am perhaps particularly sensitive—to members of the Services in India. I am very much concerned to know just how those pledges, which do not extend only to the Secretary of State's Services, but apply to all the little people who have served the British Raj in India loyally, faithfully and well, are to be made effective. Here, too, a fixed date is a severe handicap.
I have dealt so far with only part of the subject matter which I wish to cover in this Debate. Perhaps I may round off what I have just said with a few words. I would like to put to the House this point: The only possible justification for a fixed date is to be found in the chance, such as it may be, of thereby securing the maintenance of the unity of India. I think myself—I am sorry to have to say so—that the chance is so slight as to be almost negligible. I earnestly hope that I may be wrong, but I do say that to stake everything on such a chance is to gamble unjustifiably. There may be differences of opinion among us, as individuals, as to whether gambling is ever justified, but I think we should all be agreed on one thing, that a gamble is unjustified where the stakes are beyond the means of the gambler. The stakes here are the lives and the happiness of hundreds of millions of people. I take the view that it would have been quite unnecessary to bring this House, and the people of this country up to this issue of a fixed date if His Majesty's Government had not, during recent months, neglected an elementary duty.
That brings me to the second argument in favour of the fixed date, which is the impossibility of carrying on efficiently after 1948. I referred to that matter when I spoke in December. I asked His Majesty's Government whether there was not a great deal that they could have done to prevent a deterioration in the efficiency of the services, which, admittedly, has come about. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Defence, who wound up that Debate, said, I think, that every possible expedient had been considered, and that the advice tendered to His Majesty's Government by the highest 522 authorities in India was that nothing effective could be done beyond what had been done, whatever it may have been. The Secretary of State, in another place, I notice, said much the same thing, and the right hon. and learned Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade said, in the course of his speech, that there had been an inevitable weakening of the services. Well, I join issue with His Majesty's Government there. I do not believe that a serious weakening of the services should have been inevitable. I think it may have been inevitable after the Government made their first mistake, which was to hand over power to representative Indians without being certain that a constitutional settlement would assuredly follow. I said in my speech in December that I thought the Government had departed, unjustifiably, from the terms of the Government of India Act when they took that course. I still hold that view, having considered, very carefully, the arguments that were advanced by the right hon. and learned Gentleman opposite.
But that is not a matter in which the opinion—and I say this with the greatest respect—of the authorities in India should be regarded as conclusive, because the sort of measures that might be taken are not necessarily within the purview of the Government of India at all. Let me take, first, the position of the Secretary of State's services. For this purpose his services are the Indian Civil Service and the Indian Police. The Secretary of State, in another place, said, and the right hon. and learned Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade repeated it in his speech, that the question of recruiting for the Indian Civil Service—I do not know whether the Police were included—had been carefully considered and rejected. The Secretary of State said, if I understood him aright, that that had been rejected because it would induce doubt in the minds of people in India as to whether we were in earnest when we said we were going. I quite agree that to go on recruiting, and purporting to promise permanent careers to candidates from this country in services in India, when we contemplate going away at an early date, is obviously illogical, and might be considered indefensible. But that does not conclude the matter. His Majesty's Government have vast services under their control. Why should 523 not a special service cadre have been formed of people who would, in the first instance, go and serve in India and, later, as soon as we were in a position to spare their services, be assigned to other services under the control of His Majesty's Government? It is the sort of expedient which has been tried before.
I will deal with another argument which has been put forward, to the effect that in India you require trained men, that you have to give a man five years' training or so before he is of real use to you in the service of India. I speak with some experience and, I hope, some authority, when I say that that is not the case. It is, of course, true that a district officer, a man living in isolation among the people of the country, having to know their language, practices, and customs, must have a certain amount of experience, but there are a great many trained men in the services of the Government of India who are being employed on tasks in secretariats, and so on, who do not require that sort of specialised experience, and who could be released for work requiring specialised experience. Again, surely, an appeal might have been made to officers who have retired from the services in India to go back temporarily for the sole purpose of making sure that we hand over our authority in an orderly and dignified fashion, and, in the meantime, maintaining the Government of the King-Emperor at a proper standard of dignity and efficiency. That is an expedient which, to my knowledge, has been tried with success.
As for the police, to a very large extent the essential functions of the officers in the Indian Police can, in an emergency, be assigned to, and effectively discharged by, carefully selected men drawn from the Army. I say that again on a basis of personal experience. I know that it can be done. His Majesty's Government have done none of these things. The Government of India unaided could not have done them. But, worse than that, what has been the attitude of His Majesty's Government towards the members of the services, depleted in ranks, I agree, who are still in India? What have they done to reassure those people, to put heart into them? My right hon. and hon. Friends and I have received most heartrending letters from members of the 524 services, who simply do not know where they stand. There was a Debate in another place, about a month ago, on the position of the Services, and the representative of His Majesty's Government was not ready to do anything or give any assurances at all. Is that the way to make certain of being able to carry on the Government of a vast territory—I do not say at the highest point of efficiency—with reasonable efficiency?
Has anyone taken a grip of this problem? Has there been any imagination? Ought we not to have seen to it that the units of the British Army in India were maintained at a level which would ensure that any difficult situation that might arise could be dealt with satisfactorily? I have not the facts, I do not know what has been done, but I know how important it is in difficult times—and I have been through some difficult times—to have available people who are not too closely identified with the life of the community, people whose careers and interests are not bound up with local circumstances. I do most definitely charge His Majesty's Government with having been negligent in this respect.
Before I pass from this topic, I would like to say one word about the subordinate Services in India. Are they to have their pensions assured to them? Have they been told so? What has been done to protect them when they are exposed to most unfair attacks? I had a letter the other day from a man I know personally, who served under me, and who said that three Indian members of the subordinate police, known to him personally, have been prosecuted and sentenced to transportation for shooting at men found engaged in sabotage on the railway. That is a very grave situation. When men are there to do their duty and they have been loyal, we are in a very difficult situation, as we must all understand, if they are to be given no effective protection. That is bound up with what I said before about the inevitable consequences of handing over executive authority in India to persons, however admirable in many ways, who are not undivided in loyalty to the Crown, and who, in fact, are inclined to respect communal interests rather than the interests of His Majesty's Government.
§ Sir S. Cripps
I am not clear as to the case which the right hon. Gentleman 525 has in mind. I understand that this was a case where the courts tried some criminal charge, and sentenced these people as a result. Is he suggesting that they should not be subject to the courts?
§ Sir J. Anderson
I do not for a moment suggest they should not be subject to the courts. I do suggest that there is very grave danger if the kind of spirit manifest in certain public declarations in India is allowed to continue unchecked. People may be victimised. I do suggest that very special consideration ought to be given to the case of persons who may, perhaps, have erred in the execution of their duties. To have officers of a service sentenced to transportation, without any interference, is a very serious matter. I mention it—
§ Sir S. Cripps
The right hon. Gentleman talks about "without interference." Is he suggesting that the Executive should interfere with the administration of justice in India?
§ Sir J. Anderson
Certainly not. We all know that when feelings run high, when passions-are aroused, and people are perhaps acting under a sense of personal danger, officers of a public service may be guilty of conduct which is technically punishable under the criminal law. But I do say that if that sort of thing is happening, and if there is a feeling on the part of experienced and responsible officers of a police force—who know, as well as anyone, the respect that should be paid to the law—that subordinates can be dealt with in that sort of way, it is very bad indeed for the administration. I suggest, quite seriously, that there ought to be a systematic review of such cases, and it ought to be known that His Majesty's Government in India are prepared to have regard to the difficult circumstances of members of the Service and not leave the law to its automatic operation.
§ Sir S. Cripps
Does not the right hon. Gentleman think that it is a very dangerous state of affairs to suggest that the Executive should interfere with the law?
§ Sir J. Anderson
Certainly not. I served for 10 years at the Home Office, and I know exactly what happened in the administration of the law in this country after strikes and disturbances, when the law had to be asserted, of course, in the 526 first place; but someone ought to be alert and have care to see that excessive penalties are not enforced and that due consideration is given by some proper and legitimate process of review to people who have acted perhaps mistakenly in the discharge of their duties. I suggest that no proper regard has been had to the vital importance of maintaining the moral of the Services, and of keeping the whole machine of Government at a proper pitch of efficiency. I would never for a moment suggest that the courts and the law should be subverted by the improper intervention of the Executive, and I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will not attribute any such thought to me.
There are really three counts in the indictment which I level against His Majesty's Government. The first is their action, which I must describe as very reckless action, in allowing Indian leaders to form a Government without the assurance of speedy progress towards constitutional settlement. I say that was defiance of the Act of Parliament, that it was bound to react disastrously on the Services, and in fact it has reacted disastrously on the Services. It is not a question here of what the right hon. and learned Gentleman described as the historic development of constitutional arrangements in India. I say next, that the Government were guilty of a complete failure to take, or, as far as appearances go, even to consider measures necessary for the maintenance of efficiency, and I say that, in that regard, even now, much might be done. In the matter of the date, and what the right hon. and learned Gentleman described as a "tremendous experiment," I say that it was a gamble and an unjustifiable gamble.
I do not wish to sit down without indicating what, in my opinion, might not unreasonably have been done, if the Government were forced to contemplate, whether by reason of their own neglect or for whatever reason, bringing matters in India to a head. I have already said—when I spoke last December I agreed—that things should not be allowed to drag on indefinitely. I say now if a date had to be fixed why should it not have been a date, after which, if no central authority had been brought into being by agreement, the Government would conclude that that possibility—that most desirable possibility—would have to be dismissed, so that they could then proceed, with all energy, to arrange a transfer of functions 527 as speedily as possible to the most convenient separate authorities in India that could be found at that time.
It seems to me—I dare say that this may have been considered—that by such an expedient, His Majesty's Government would have secured all the advantages which they claim for their plan, and would have avoided the greatest disadvantages to which I have called attention The date would have been fixed in relation to a contingency which could have been weighed and measured. How long must we allow these people to discover for themselves some method by which a central authority can be brought into being? After that let us deal with the unknown factors to which no date could be applied, by merely declaring that we will proceed with all possible speed to carry out the transfer. We should be, recognising in that way, I suggest, the two stages, and they are separate stages—and under the Government's plan there must in practice be two stages—into which the process of transfer must necessarily fall. If the Government could proceed with the second stage unhampered by anything, they might be able, by maintaining decent government in the meantime, to hand over in circumstances which would ensure the effective discharge of their obligations. We need have no fear under such conditions that lack of decision or apprehension would stand in the way of the fulfilment of our avowed purpose upon which we are all united, but what we should not be afraid of, I suggest, is standing on our own record and on the assurances that we have repeatedly given. I would even now commend to His Majesty's Government the suggestion that I venture to throw out.
§ The Minister of Defence (Mr. A. V. Alexander)
I want to be quite clear as to what the right hon. Gentleman suggests and not to misjudge anything. Does he, mean to suggest that he intends, by putting this kind of thing into operation, that we should stay in India five, seven or 15 years, and that that stay must necessarily involve the maintenance of larger military forces in India than are there at present?
§ Sir J. Anderson
I mean nothing of the kind, not for one moment. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has reminded me of the point, because I meant 528 to take it up on what was said by the right hon. and learned Gentleman, the President of the Board of Trade. I think he said that if we were going to go in for fresh recruitment to the Indian Services it would necessarily involve our staying there for 15 or 20 years. I have not suggested going in for separate recruitment at all but I have suggested other expedients which would enable us to carry on so long as is necessary. The question of 10, 15 or 20 years is wholly outside anything that I should contemplate. I have set before the House the alternative which it seems to me might have been considered rather than, in my opinion, the hopeless plan the Government have put forward—something which would keep us in India only so long as was necessary to ensure that we should go in an orderly fashion having made certain as far as was practicable the fulfilment of our pledges. I hope that I have made the position clear.
§ Mr. T. Reid
Because the right hon. Gentleman has a very intimate and complete knowledge of the subject, everything he says will be listened to with the greatest respect by the House and by me. He has just said that we should remain in India until a central authority can be brought into being.
§ Sir J. Anderson
What I have said is this. If His Majesty's Government were forced to the conclusion, for whatever reason, that it was absolutely necessary to do something to put an end to what the Prime Minister has called drift, then I say, why suggest a fixed date for carrying through a whole series of processes which cannot be estimated or measured. Why not confine the expedient of the fixed date to the single purpose of deciding whether or not it is going to be possible to find by agreement a central authority to whom to make over the powers of the State. Let the Government state their date in relation to that part of the problem, and having done so, then let them see how they would set about what, inevitably, must form the second stage of the process which the Government themselves have in contemplation, namely, the carrying out with all energy and speed of the transfer of the functions of Government to the new authority or set of authorities to be determined, and in the process making certain that the pledges of His Majesty's Government are made effective as far as possible.
529 I have only a very few words more to say. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade in words which must have impressed everyone, ended his speech with a most eloquent plea for the continuance of happy relations between the new India and this country. The hope that he expressed is one that we must all share, but I am bound to say that I think by what His Majesty's Government have in view, they are going about the business in a very strange way. I do not believe that we can hope to maintain the respect in which we have hitherto been held in India when we are seen to be failing in the most elementary duties of government—failing in a function for which, up to now, we are supposed to have had a very special aptitude.
May I tell the House of a personal experience? Shortly before I left Bengal I was unhappily under the necessity of depriving certain Indian leaders of their liberty for fairly prolonged periods, but the time came, which I welcomed, when it was possible to reverse that process and to begin setting the people at liberty. One of the leaders—I will not mention his name—came to see me after he had been in detention for three years. We had a very frank talk, and just before he left, he turned to me and he said, "I hate your Government, I hate your kind of Government, but I do like a Government that governs." I have never forgotten that. If the Government persist in their plan, we must all join them in hoping for a happy issue however slender the chances may seem, and we must all wish for the new Viceroy all possible success in his terribly difficult task. I confess I greatly fear—and I say this with the most profound sorrow—that what should stand out as a great act of magnanimity and self-abnegation may go down on the scroll of history as a surrender and a betrayal.
§ 5.59 p.m.
§ Mr. Clement Davies (Montgomery)
The question which has to be debated during these two days, and the decision which we have to record tomorrow night, are matters which not only place upon each one of us a deep responsibility but cause us grave anxiety. I should like to place on record my own tribute to the sincerity and, of course, in many cases, the wide knowledge and experience with which this matter has been approached not only by 530 the two speakers we have heard, but by everyone who contributed to the Debate in another place. I was glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Anderson) declare once again that we have only one object and one aim, and that the dispute apparently between us is confined to the way in which that object can best be attained. I approach this matter by considering the tendencies of recent years, in fact of the whole of this century, and the increasing pace of the movement along the way in which we all have been tending.
It is an old adage now, thatthe old order changeth, yielding place to new,but there has been a more rapid change from the old to the new in our time than ever before. We have witnessed great changes in each one of the five Continents, and for many of those changes this country and its people have been directly or indirectly responsible. Not only have we cherished liberty for ourselves but we have been the teachers of the value of liberty and the champions of those who have sought it, and this country can take pride in the fact that it has shown others the true way, and declared emphatically that it believes that no man has a right to govern another without that other's conscious consent. It has been our endeavour to make the realisation of this doctrine possible throughout the world. In all the lands where the British flag flies, we have taught the peoples the rule of law and the value of justice impartially administered. We have extended knowledge, and tried to inculcate understanding and toleration.
Our declared objects were twofold—first, the betterment of the conditions of the people and the improvement of their standard of life; and, second, to teach them the ways of good administration and gradually train them to undertake responsibility so that one day we could hand over to them the full burden of their own self-government. Our teachings and our methods have had widespread effect, and we should rejoice that so many peoples in the world today are awake, and aware of their own individualities, and have a desire to express their own personalities and their traditions, and to live their own mode of life. So we see today this desire for self-expression and self-government not only among the people of European origin, but among those of India and Africa. It is a process of evolution for 531 which we, in the main, are responsible, and for which we are entitled to the credit. Such has been our policy in India. Our association with India during two centuries has been, on the whole—with mistakes, as we will admit—an honourable one. So far as we were able we brought peace to this great sub-continent; we have introduced not only a system of law and order, but also a system of administration of justice, fair and impartial, which has won their respect. We have introduced better methods of industry, roads, railways, navigation, and easier and better means of communication; and we have tried to inculcate into them the feeling that although they are composed of different races, with different languages, customs, and religions, they are really part of one great people of India.
The standard of life, pathetically low as it is, has improved so that during the last 30 years there has been an increase in the population of 100 million and they now number 400 million people. We have brought to them schools, universities and teachers, and we have not only introduced the Indians into the Civil Service but have gradually handed over to them, in the Provinces and even in the Central Government, the administration and government of their own land and their own people. The movement towards self-government has therefore been progressive throughout this century, and the names of Morley, Montagu, aye and Sir Samuel Hoare, with the Viceroys of their time, will always be associated with the steady advance towards the final aim which, I agree with the right hon. Gentleman, it has been our united purpose to achieve. In 1940 and 1942 there came the further advances which were referred to by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade with the offer, in the first place, of complete Dominion status which carried with it the right, if they so chose, of becoming entirely independent and outside the British Commonwealth of Nations. Then, in 1946, there was the offer of complete independence, with the right again, if they so chose, of contracting in and coming back within the British Commonwealth of Nations.
I agree that these offers were made subject to the condition that the Indian peoples themselves would co-operate to form a Central Government and draw up 532 not only their own Constitution, but the method of framing it. Unfortunately, the leaders of the two main parties in India have failed to agree upon the formation of even a Constituent Assembly, and have failed, therefore, to agree upon a form of Constitution. They have failed in spite of all the efforts that have been made not only by Members of the Government to whom we have already paid tribute, but in spite of the efforts of Lord Wavell and of the efforts of all those of us who desire to see a peaceful and satisfactory settlement achieved. Although the President of the Board of Trade was quite right in saying that the visit of the Mission and the offers already made went a long way to remove suspicion in the minds of the Indian peoples, undoubtedly even today in the minds of both the main Parties there is a suspicion—entirely unfounded, it is true—that in some way the people and the Government of this country, whatever be its complexion, are not dissatisfied that there should be a failure of the agreement between the two great parties.
The result of that suspicion is to place all the responsibility for the government of India and its administration, and for the good order and behaviour of all the teeming millions, upon the shoulders of this country, its representatives, and its very small Army. The responsibility is put upon us, but the means of undertaking and carrying out that responsibility are no longer available to us. The power is no longer in our hands. It is essential, nay, vital and imperative, that this suspicion should be removed once and for all. Government under the present conditions is becoming impossible. One hears from many sources what the President of the Board of Trade referred to, that the administration is breaking down and with it is involved not only the welfare but the fate and the future of these 400 millions.
What are the possible courses that could be pursued? Apparently there are four. I thought before the right hon. Member for the Scottish Universities had spoken that there were only three. I will deal with his course later. The first of the courses would be to restore power into our own hands so that we might not only have the responsibility but the full means of exercising that responsibility. I believe that that is not only impossible but unthinkable at this present stage. There can be no going back. Once the 533 people have expressed a strong desire to govern their own affairs, that desire cannot be suppressed, nor can the achievement of that desire long be postponed. Secondly, can we continue, as we do at present, to wait until an agreement is reached for the formation of a Central Government with a full Constitution, capable of acting on behalf of the whole of India? The present state of affairs there and the deterioration which has already set in—and which has worsened —have shown us that we cannot long continue on that course.
The third course is the step taken by His Majesty's Government—the declaration made by the Government that we cannot and do not intend in the slightest degree to go back upon our word, that we do not intend to damp the hopes of the Indian peoples but rather to raise them, and that we cannot possibly go on indefinitely as we have been going on during these past months; that not only shall they have the power they now really possess but after June, 1948, the full responsibility for government of their own peoples in India. This declaration, as we all know—as indeed is admitted by the Government—is fraught with risk and danger. It may be indeed, that instead of encouraging union and helping to bring about unity between the two major sections in India, it may make them more irreconcilable and give them an opportunity of furthering their own particular interests. That is a great risk and a great danger. I feel however that we cannot possibly stand still merely marking time and hoping that over the years an agreement might be reached. Once men are on the road to self-government, there is no turning back and there can be no long halt on that road. Like others, I have been worried, puzzled and anxious as to what else could be put before the people of India that would help them along the road to self-government. I wish I could have thought of something which would have helped, but quite honestly I could think of no alternative other than that which the Government themselves propose.
But now I have heard of this new proposal made by the right hon. Member for the Scottish Universities, with all his wide experience, not only of administration, but of administration in India. So far as I can understand it, it merely means this—that this process is done in two stages instead of one, that we should say to the 534 Indian people, "We will give you so many months during which you will make up your minds as to whether you can form a Central Government to whom we can hand over power and with whom we can make agreements, and then we shall depart. If you cannot arrive at a conclusion by that date, then we will do what the Government themselves now propose to do, and see what we can do with the Provincial Governments, or a combination, or whatever may occur to us in the course of time." That seems to me almost precisely what the Government have done now. Does it offer any further security that what we all hope to achieve will be achieved? I cannot see that it does— —
§ Sir J. Anderson
The right hon. and learned Member has left out of the account he gave the salient feature of my alternative suggestion. My suggestion was that while there would be a fixed date in respect of the first stage of the process which can be brought within the process of measurement: there would be no fixed date for the second stage, which contains so many uncertain and necessarily indeterminate factors; but there would be the assurance that the process would be carried through with the greatest energy and as speedily as possible. A further date might be fixed at a later stage.
§ Mr. C. Davies
It now looks to me as if there is no new alternative. I thought there was. What the right hon. Gentleman is really saying is what we have been trying to say—to try to arrive at an agreement without actually fixing a date. The right hon. Gentleman says that we should fix on a date by which an agreement shall be arrived at, and if an agreement is not arrived at, we should go back to the position where we are today—without power to perform the responsibilities on our shoulders. That seems to me to be the suggestion. I thought there was much more in it from the construction I put on it than there actually appears to be in the right hon. Gentleman's proposal.
The Government, of course, must be in possession of a vast mass of information that is not available to others of us. Therefore theirs must be the responsibility for this decision. The others of us can only form the best judgment we can upon the materials available to us and by our reading of "The Times" and other contemporary journals. Look- 535 ing at it as fairly as I can, with such limited knowledge as I possess, I believe that this Declaration can bring about unity rather than encourage disunity. It removes that atmosphere of suspicion about which I spoke. It must bring to the leaders a sense of immediate reality that the responsibility for the welfare of the people of India is put fairly and squarely and entirely on their shoulders. Under those circumstances, no one can lightly disregard the need for unity and the need for regarding this great Continent as one great whole and to realise that the peoples of the several provinces—and indeed throughout India—are dependent upon one another for their present and future welfare. No one can lightly disregard the consequences of disunity. No one can lightly disregard the consequences of intolerance. They must now recognise the great need for toleration, understanding, justice, equity, fair play, fair opportunity, the need for protecting and safeguarding the weak and unfortunate, and, above all, the sacredness of human rights, whether they be those of the individual, or a class, or a whole people or nation.
In their statement the Government say that they will have to consider to whom the powers of the Central Government in British India should be handed over on the due date, whether as a whole to some form of Central Government or, secondly, in some areas, to the existing Provincial Governments or, thirdly—I am quoting from the statement made by the Prime Minister—in such other way as may seem most reasonable and in the best interests of the Indian people. This means of course that the Government have as yet, no plan; they have not yet really considered it, as the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade admitted. That perhaps, for the moment, is not unreasonable, but I would point out that the time is short. I would add that, if anything, I think it is too short. The future alone will show whether that is so or not, but of this I am certain, that the sooner the plan which the Government would like to bring into being, if the Central Government is agreed upon it, or the one they may have to bring into being if that cannot be achieved—the plan or the alternative plan—should be placed before the people of this country and the 536 people of India at the earliest possible moment so that, in the interests of all, this may be discussed, debated, and, where necessary, amended.
I would add one word about the paramountcy of the Indian States, which have been so friendly and so loyal, not only to India but to the King Emperor, the Government and the people of this country. The Princes, I am convinced, will give every assistance to bringing about the best settlement in the interests of peace and the welfare of the people of India. I assume that they will not only be informed, but closly consulted throughout. With regard to the minorities, such as the unfortunate millions of the Depressed Classes, and the other minorities due to their religious or other views in the Provinces, we all require and expect that due regard will be paid to their interests, and proper safeguards created for their protection. In the ultimate, however, these safeguards must depend upon the attitude, good will and action of the majority. The right hon. Gentleman laid emphasis upon pledges, agreements, treaties. When once you have handed over the Constitution to the self-governing people of India, you must rely upon them to see that those are carried out and observed. There is no indirect action that can then be taken. So, we should not undertake or promise more than we can fulfil.
The road towards true democracy is not an easy one. It is cluttered with barriers, obstructions and pitfalls, but they can only be learned by the self-experience of those who haltingly begin to use that road. I do not believe that there need be any dismay, and I strongly deprecate the use of such words as were used by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities concluding his speech. I also strongly deprecate the use in such circumstances of such words as "scuttling," and "defeatism." I believe that the hest course always, though it may be the more difficult one at the time, is the bold one, and I look forward with confidence to the Indian people undertaking the great responsibility of self-government. They have now a heavy responsibility, but they have also a glorious opportunity. They will have to tackle, and only they can tackle, the immense, the mountainous, economic problems which today beset them. They have outstandingly able men as their leaders, and we all beg of them 537 not to quarrel but to unite under conditions which they themselves will frame, to which they themselves will assent, to govern India for the good of all Indian people, without distinction of class or race or creed or religion, so that they may bring not only guidance to India and the mighty East, but something which will be valuable to the rest of mankind throughout the world.
§ 6.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Lester Hutchinson (Manchester, Rusholme)
I am grateful for this opportunity to say a few words in support of the arguments of my right hon. and learned Friend the President of the Board of Trade. I listened with great attention to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Anderson). Apart from his objection to fixing a date for the transfer of power, he recounted many difficulties great and small, ranging from the problem of Indian; defence to the problem of safeguarding pensions for civil servants. I agree with him that there will be great difficulties, but we cannot have a major transaction of this kind without difficulties, and it is the responsibility of the statesmanship of Britain and India to resolve those difficulties in a given period.
The position, I thought, was clearly stated by the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) when he said there is no real alternative to the Government's policy except the policy of dangerous procrastination and delay. I think that is putting the position very clearly. I remember in 1934 that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) was conducting a campaign against the Government of India Bill which was passed in 1935, and his supporters advocated a policy of military repression as opposed to the policy of concessions offered by the National Government of that time. If that is the only alternative policy which the Opposition has in mind, I think it is certainly not a realistic one. The position, as the President of the Board of Trade said clearly, is that we can no longer rely on the administrative and Armed Forces of India to repress the Indian people in our interests. In 1930 there was a significant incident in Pershore when a platoon of Gharwali disobeyed orders and refused to fire on a Communist demonstration there. That spirit has spread 538 rapidly throughout the rank and file of the Indian Army; indeed, progressive Indians of that Army, it is obvious, as the President of the Board of Trade stated, find their interests more closely associated with the Indian parties than with the Imperial Government. It would be impossible for us to employ British troops on a large scale to impose our will against the wishes of the Indian people. To begin with, British public opinion would not stand for it, and secondly, our economy, shattered by two world wars, could not sustain the weight and the wastage of manpower. Therefore, we are in the position, put clearly by the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery, the most intolerable position, of having responsibility without power, and I believe that we must get out as quickly as possible or face a situation a thousand times worse than that at present in Palestine.
It has been argued by Members of the Opposition from time to time that we should not hand over power until there has been agreement between the Hindus and the Muslims, as represented by Congress and the Muslim League. I believe that if we were to maintain that particular line we should be open to the very grave suspicion of again playing off Muslim against Hindu and Hindu against Muslim in the traditional manner. It would lead to a dangerous delay, and believe also, that while we are responsible for the Government in India, no agreement will be possible between the Muslim League and Congress. The right hon. Member for the Scottish Universities gave a new version of the old Victorian bogy about there being neither rupee nor virgin in India if we left. I have no great fear of such an attack on the plains. Congress represents not only Hindus, but also Muslims, and is by far the most influential section of the population. The Muslim League depends in the ultimate on the support of the Imperial Government. If we are realists, we are left in the position that, if we do not get out by a stated time, we shall be faced by organised mass Congress resistance. What are we to do if we are then faced with a civil war? Are we to join with the Muslim League, in waging war against Congress, or stand in the middle and referee the war? In either case our position would be intolerable. But I believe there will be no civil war if we follow the Government's policy.
539 The Indian leaders are not barbarians. They are highly cultured idealists, and highly skilled and experienced politicians. I believe that once the third Power is out of the way they will resolve their differences, exactly as we have resolved political differences in Britain between Catholics and Protestants. Apart from that, I think a stronger argument is that one of the blessings we have given to India is that we have succeeded where Akbar and Aurangzeb failed, in creating a nation out of all the sects and races. Having created that nation, we must see that nothing is done which alters the process of history by supporting any line which would lead to the partitioning of the country. If I may enter a point of criticism, I do not share the views of the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery on the subject of the Indian States. I think there is a weakness in the Government's statement of policy in the refusal to surrender paramountcy to the Indian Government which will take over. The Indian States, in my view, are chronological errors. They have no historical right to exist. It is as absurd to have Indian States in India, as it would be to have large tracts of modern Britain ruled by Norman barons. I believe that once we withdraw British support from those places, without entering into military agreements with them, those, States would be bound to enter, the Indian Federation under the Central Government. I hope the Government will not be tempted to ener into separate agreements with the Indian Princes, as apart from the Indian Government, particularly military agreements, because that would be regarded as an attempt to pepper India with about 300 Ulsters. It would be regarded as such, both by Indians and progressive opinion in Britain.
Now that the Indian Empire, built by the genius of men like Clive and Warren Hastings, is passing into independence, I would like an appeal to be made to both sides not to endanger the future by entering into recriminations about the past. Let us cut out of our history books all those horrors, which are not even proved, about the Black Hole of Calcutta, and the massacre at Cawnpore, and, on the Indian side, let them put out of their minds the post-Mutiny atrocities and the massacre of Jallianvallabagh, and 540 realise that our future relations must be based on friendship, understanding, and mutual effort to build up a much better and safer world. One of the greatest troubles between Britain and America was the perpetuation of inaccurate myths about the war of Independence. Let us not have a repetition of that in relations between India and Britain. In certain newspapers abroad there is gloating about the passing, as they call it, of the British Empire, and of British greatness. I think we should make it perfectly clear that we are, and shall remain, a great nation, that our greatness now depends on our native genius, industry, and courage, and no longer on the shameful exploitation of other people.
§ 6.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Raikes (Liverpool, Wavertree)
The hon. Member for the Rusholme Division of Manchester (Mr. Hutchinson) observed that Indian leaders are not barbarians. No one supposes that they are, but when he assumed from that that we can deal with India in just the same sort of way in which we can deal with England, he was surely on very difficult ground. We do not need to go back to Cawnpore, or to the massacres of the past; we have only to think of those religious massacres which have taken place, even in the past few months, to realise that violent feeling is very near the surface. There are passions in India which cannot be compared with the toleration which many years of Parliamentary government have given us here. I think that hon. Members on all sides of the House will agree that tonight we have heard one of the most remarkable speeches on India. It was one of the most remarkable I have ever heard during my time in Parliament, and it was from my right hon. Friend the Member for Scottish Universities (Sir J. Anderson). If ever I have heard a White Paper torn to shreds by cold, dispassionate argument, I heard that today—[HON. MEMBERS: "Not at all."]—I hardly imagine that hon. Members opposite will agree with me, but that does not of necessity mean that what I am saying is incorrect.
Let me deal with the points on which we are in agreement. One thing I would lay down with the utmost clarity, is that the Conservative Party are bound—and completely bound—by the pledges given in 1942. There is no difference of opinion in any section of the House upon the fact 541 that we desire for India progressive self-government, that we desire for India Dominion status, and that we are prepared to agree to the right of India—if she so desires—to secede. Those things are accepted by all parties; let there he no misapprehension in regard to that, either in this country, or in India. But, when we come to the gamble which has been placed before us in the Government's statement, the position is far different. Only a few days ago it was assumed by all that, while we agreed to progressive self-government, and the right to secede, when we transferred, the transfer must be orderly, and must be based, at any rate substantially, upon agreement amongst the major communities in India, and that it should include the fulfilment of our obligations to minorities, and our treaties with the Princes. Those conditions were implicit in 1942, just as they were implicit in the efforts made in 1940. Now reasons have been given for a change. The right hon. and learned Gentleman, the President of the Board of Trade, pointed out the administrative difficulties. He said that the machine was running down. That was answered, and answered conclusively, by my right hon. Friend the Member for Scottish Universities, whose experience of administration in India is second to none, and far greater than that of any of us on either side of the House at the present time. He pointed out that steps could be taken to keep the Administration going over a period of time, and that no datum line of 1948 was needed in that particular instance.
The President of the Board of Trade made a rather curious speech. He adopted the old debating trick of saying, "Here are two alternatives. The one alternative is to fix a date to go out; the other alternative is to carry on for a period at years." He then said that it would not only be undesirable, but impracticable to carry on. Therefore, it was not a question of alternatives, as the other alternative he put forward was impracticable in his view. Thus he did not put up any alternative. In effect, he merely said bluntly that there is no possible alternative other than to run out of India, irrespective of to whom we hand over, in the course of the next 16 months. I am bound to say that I have never heard a case, put with his eloquence and ability, which was more hollow than that which he made on this occasion for 1948.
§ Mr. William Wells (Walsall)
May I remind the hon. Member of the passage in the speech of the President of the Board of Trade in which he propounded quite clearly an alternative, which was to make plans to remain in India for 15 years, and strengthen our Forces there?
§ Mr. Raikes
Precisely. I added that he also said, after having proposed that as an alternative, that it was impracticable and undesirable, and a thing which is impracticable and undesirable is not an alternative. That only bears out the point I was making.
The President of the Board of Trade did not balance two possible policies. He put up something which he then kicked down, and after that said that the only way out was to fix this date, and to fix it in 1948. I quite realise that it is hoped that the decision about 1948 will give a jolt to the parties in India, that it will bring them up against realities, that it will have the effect of bringing them together. Certain reasons were given by my right hon. Friend why that would not be so. I would add one or two other observations about the power of a jolt to bring Muslims and Hindus together. In 1940, the then Viceroy, Lord Wavell, made desperate efforts to bring these two communities together. He had behind him the jolt of war, the greatest jolt one could have. He failed. In 1942, the President of the Board of Trade went to India. He had a still bigger shock behind him in his efforts, the probable invasion by Japan, the biggest threat to India which India had ever known. Even with that jolt, there was no agreement reached. In 1945–6, the Cabinet Mission again had something, the end of the war, postwar reconstruction, the greatest possible opportunity, one would have thought, of bringing Indians together. That failed. Are we to be told that after that the sure and certain way of bringing Indians together is to say, "In 1948 we shall hand over and we shall walk out"?
In point of fact, the problem which the Government are up against is that the Hindus, on the one hand, have always maintained—and they have been logical over it—that they stand for unity in India. They have said, "We are the majority in India. We are prepared, maybe, to do this and that for minorities, but we insist upon a unitary India, and by that 543 we stand." That has been their doctrine; that is their doctrine today. The Muslim League, on the other hand, has taken up their stand by saying that they will never agree to a unitary India, that if there is a handing over it must be a handing over to permit of separate governments in North-East India and Pakistan. Is there anything in this Government announcement which will bring these two sides together? I should have thought that, on the whole, so far as the Muslims were concerned, those very phrases which say that if there is no central Government we may hand over to one or more Governments, is, on the whole, an inducement to them to stand out, and not come to an agreement with the Hindus. In that way, I maintain that this is a retrograde step and an unwise step to take.
So far as minorities are concerned—and by minorities I speak not of the Muslims, but of those other minorities—the Secretary of State for India, in another place, quoted with some satisfaction the agreement made by Congress that there should be a fundamental statement of rights and privileges to protect all minorities. That apparently today satisfies His Majesty's Government. Yet, as my right hon. Friend pointed out, that is not the sort of broad based statement that the minorities in India are asking for. The minorities are asking what are to be their safeguards, what is to be the proportion they are to have in the Legislature and in the various Provinces, in order that they themselves may be reasonably protected under Statute. It is quite true that once we have handed over it will, in the long run, be the wisdom and good will of Indians that will play their part in regard to minorities. But the only protection for which the minorities are asking is to be guaranteed a proportion of seats. It is a proper guarantee for which to ask. That guarantee no longer exists at the present time. Indeed, it was sad, last October, to hear Dr. Ambedkar, in his statement when he came over here, saying, "Once again, I believe that these classes I represent are to he handed over to the tyranny of caste Hinduism." That is not very happy, in view of the fact that Dr. Ambedkar has been a great figure, who has stood out for the rights of the 50 million Untouchables, and no one could call him a reactionary or a conservative. This is 544 the sort of problem we have to face the present time.
Difficult though the situation may be, there should be a period of pause today rather than a policy of scuttle, because whatever may be the abjection to that description on the other side of the House. to say that we are to leave India "to God or anarchy," in Gandhi's terms, that we hand over, even if there is chaos and no one to take over, if that is not scuttle, I do not know what else it could be called. Surely, in a period of pause we would still have an opportunity of getting these communities to consider the advantage of coming together? We might even, during that period, indicate that if there was no agreement between the various Indian communities in India, we might have to decide on the imposition of some form of constitution. That would be a jolt, it they did not know what it was, which might bring them together. I am bound to say, as one who has taken a part in many Indian Debates, that I feel more deeply on this issue than on any other issue on which I have spoken in the House in this Parliament, because I see, on the one side, the possibility, by this gamble next year, of 200 years of development in India being utterly thrown away.
§ Mr. Raikes
The hon. Member may say "rubbish." I hope I am wrong, but I am afraid I am not. Until we have bridged the gulf—what Gandhi called the unbridgeable gulf—between Muslim and Hindu, if we hand over without agreement, we are facing chaos, and if we face chaos it means not the lives of our own people, but misery for 400 million people, many of whom would never have been born but for the various sanitary and health services we have brought to India So I say, although without much hope, that I wish that even at this late stage something could be done to avoid this irrevocable gamble, and that some later moments of wisdom might draw the Government back from a course which is fraught with ruin, and which will make us the scorn of our enemies and the despair of our friends.
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Zilliacus (Gateshead)
I rise to express my wholehearted agreement with, and support for, the statement of my 545 right hon. and learned Friend the President of the Board of Trade and for the Government's policy, for the Government having the courage to face the facts and to make up their minds. I want to make one or two constructive proposals, but before going on to them I should like to deal with certain of the points made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Scottish Universities (Sir J. Anderson). His first criticism of the policy of the Government was that by fixing a date two years hence we were not, as we hoped, encouraging the minority and the majority to come to terms, but we might encourage intransigence in those who would argue that by merely digging in their toes and sticking to their position they would, after the Appointed Day had passed, be in a position to pursue their ends.
Having made that argument, he went on to propose that the Government should fix a date within which the majority and the minority must agree on an all-India Government, and if they had not agreed within this date, we should announce beforehand that we would hand over authority not to a Central Government but to the minority as well as to the majority. I should have thought that that policy would have been exactly calculated to induce the maximum intransigence in the minority. It seems to me that his objection to the policy of the Government applies with tenfold force to the policy that he advocated, unless indeed the weight of the British Raj is to be thrown behind the Muslim minority with the object of creating a new Ulster. The argument of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Wavertree (Mr. Raikes) was in effect that we should remain in control until agreement had been reached. Lord Halifax, who I venture to believe, with all respect, is a greater authority on this matter than the hon. Member for Waver-tree, made three points in another place recently.
The first point was that our position in India was rapidly becoming intolerable, because the events of the last few years, the pledges given, and what happened in the war, had caused Indian national sentiment and expectation of independence to acquire the momentum of an avalanche. Our present responsibilities were beyond our powers. If we remained in India our presence would throw a strain on both the political and military machines of the 546 British Raj that would prove unbearable. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Scottish Universities observed that the one thing unjustifiable was a gamble when the stakes are beyond the means of the gambler. Surely, to stay on in India in a situation where our responsibilities are beyond our powers, is precisely the kind of gamble which is unjustified because the stakes are beyond the means of the gambler.
In fact, the alternatives that have been proposed from the other side of the House are no real alternatives. They burk the issue which the Government have faced—the issue that if we stay on under any pretext whatever we will be involved in large scale hostilities, which the people of this country will not endorse, and will not support, and which the Government are not prepared to risk. The Government may go ahead on that line with the assurance that they will have the full support of everybody outside a few West-end clubs.
The constructive proposals which I want to make are based on the idea that we should look at this problem from the international angle. My right hon. and learned Friend the President of the Board of Trade spoke of our hope that independent India would remain on terms of friendly association with this country. We all share that hope. But I think the best means of remaining on friendly terms with an independent India is to recognise that Indian nationalist opinion does not desire terms of association based on ex-membership of the Empire. Rather do they desire terms of equal friendship and close association with us on the basis of our common membership of the United Nations; that is, on terms that include equal freedom of access by India to other countries of the world, and equally close co-operation and association with others, particularly with her neighbours in the Far East. Pandit Nehru has made no secret about his foreign policy being directed to close terms of association with India's neighbours in the East.
In view of that position, I suggest that it might be worth injecting into this discussion of the relations between the different communities in independent India the new factor of India's position and circumstances as a Member of the United Nations. The suggestion which I wish to make is divided into several parts.
547 The first suggestion is that the problem in India is not only the classic problem of national minorities who are distrustful of being left to the tender mercies of the majority, but that problem is aggravated by the existence of the Muslim community, which is more than a national minority but somewhat less than an independent nation. Could not that problem be tackled by invoking the precedent of the multi-national membership in the United Nations of, for instance, the Soviet Union, which has an all-U.S.S.R. membership of the United Nations, and at the same time has separate membership for the Soviet Ukraine and Soviet White Russia.
Why should not a Muslim community, within the geographical limits assigned to it and on the basis of the measure of self-government agreed upon, be accorded separate membership in the United Nations? Why should there not be an agreement between the Muslim community and the Government of India, by which the two parties would agree in case of differences arising out of the terms of the Constitution or treaty, or whatever the document would be that regulated their mutual relations, to invoke the good offices of the appropriate machinery of the United Nations. There would be the ultimate right of appeal to the Permanent Court whose verdict would be accepted as final by both sides, the Court having jurisdiction on matters of law and fact, including the interpretation of treaty obligations.
A suitable basis in the Charter, I believe, would be some combination of Articles 38 and 62—the first two paragraphs of Article 62—and Article 65. Article 38 is the one by which the Security Council may, by agreement of both parties, give recommendations in disputes, without raising the question of its relation to international peace, but simply on the merits of the dispute. The first two paragraphs of Article 62 authorise the Social and Economic Council to give recommendations to Members of the United Nations on social, economic, cultural, educational, health and related matters, and on matters concerning the respect for and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all. Article 65 is the article by which the Social and Economic Council may assist the Security Council in endeavouring to settle disputes.
548 If some such agreement were arrived at, it would be an advantage for the Muslim community, because it would have a recognised international status, and would be able, in cases of disagreement with the majority in India, to invoke the good offices of the United Nations, and, ultimately, to appeal to the Permanent Court of International Justice. In addition, the agreement of both sides should involve recognising the ordinary rights of minorities, on a similar system to that which existed in some States at the time of the League of Nations. That is the non-Muslim minorities in Muslim India would have those minority rights, and Muslim minorities in the rest of India would also have those minority rights of appeal to the Permanent Court and of an international hearing.
The advantage to the majority in India would be that in exchange for this granting of international status, and of international rights of appeal, the Muslim community could reasonably be expected, and the minorities could reasonably be expected, to agree to a greater measure of central authority, and to accept less than the full measure of self-government and rights of minorities than they would feel compelled to claim if they thought there was no international means of redress after a settlement had been reached. That is my first proposal.
The second proposal is that we should also inject into the discussions of our future relationship with India and of the whole status of an independent India in the world community, proposals to use, actively and positively, the good offices of the United Nations specialised agencies for technical advice and assistance in solving the problems of reconstruction in India. The precedent of which I am thinking is the precedent of what was done through the League of Nations, when a scheme was worked out for co-operation between the Chinese Government and the technical organisations of the League of Nations, for giving technical advice and assistance to the National Commission for Reconstruction of the Chinese Government. That scheme, I might remind the House, was inaugurated by the late Mr. Arthur Henderson, who was Foreign Secretary in the second Labour Government. It seems to me that it would be highly appropriate for the present Government to take up again and expand that idea, and to try to work out 549 some form of relationship, through the United Nations, with India and other nations, for the use of such bodies as the I.L.O., the Food and Agriculture Organisation, the International Investment Bank, the Interim Health Commission, the Transport and Trade Organisations, U.N.E.S.C.O., etc., for organised co-operation in solving the economic and social problems of India. It really means working out a new technique of international relations, based upon equality and reciprocity, instead of the one-sided relationship of inequality and exploitation connoted by the word "imperialism," and substituting organised internationalism as the alternative to either imperialism or "little Englandism." This new technique of international relations could also be applied to other countries in a similar position to India.
My final proposal is that we should review our defence arrangements in the light of the new status and position of India, because it is quite obvious that, from now on, the defence problems of India are no longer the defence problems of this country alone, but problems which must be tackled on the basis of the Charter of the United Nations organisation, and as a matter of collective concern, not only to ourselves, but to the other members of U.N.O. The conclusion which I wish to put before the House is that, whereas, on the one hand, the idea of this country, as a nineteenth century imperial power, lording it over coloured millions and exploiting them, is finished and must be abandoned, we are only at the beginning of the possibilities of the alternative to British imperialism or "little Englandism," which is organised internationalism based on equality of status and reciprocity; and that this country's task is to give moral and political leadership in the world, through U.N.O., on the basis of the equality of all countries, for international comity and joint dedication to the ways of peace.
§ 7.6 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Sir Walter Smiles (Down)
During the past month, I have listened to a great many speeches on India, and a great many of them have had a sense of unreality about them. The speakers appeared to think that India in 1947 is exactly the same as the India of 1935, when the last India Bill was passed by this House. After all, we cannot put 550 a young man of 21 in a perambulator and call him "Mummy's darling boy." He wants to be out, falling in love with the girl round the corner, losing his money to a bookmaker or getting a black eye from somebody else. India may not be a nation today, but, from what I saw of it last month, it is well on the way to becoming one.
We are discussing today the statement on Indian policy made on 20th February, and I think nobody in this House will disagree with the first part of the statement—with which I am emphatically in agreement—which declares that the present state of uncertainty is fraught with danger and cannot be indefinitely prolonged. But the sting is in the tail—in the few words which follow, and which are concerned with the transfer of power to responsible hands by June, 1948. The Government wish to hand over their responsibilities to a Government capable of maintaining peace and administering India with justice and efficiency. Where is that Government to be found? It certainly has not emerged yet. Let us assume that the Government do hand over in June, 1948, and try to visualise what may happen then. To take the worst situation first, the hon. Member for Gateshead (Mr. Zilliacus) mentioned China, and what had been done by the League of Nations in China. There is a great possibility, if the worst comes, that India may get into the same state as China is in today. That is what we are afraid of.
§ Mr. Zilliacus
Is the hon. and gallant Gentleman suggesting that China got into her present position because she was helped in internal reconstruction by the League of Nations technical organisation? Is that his contention?
§ Sir W. Smiles
I think she is deeper and deeper in the mire today, and I do not want to see India in that state. It is only some 400 million people that we have to think about and I think that is enough for this afternoon. Without including China let us peer into the future with the worst possibility first. There may be a new Government in India, and many parts of India may well refuse to obey that new Government. The discipline in the Indian Army may go, and Muslim soldiers may refuse to fire upon Muslim rioters, and Hindu soldiers refuse to fire upon a Hindu mob, and begin to fire upon each other. We all realise the 551 possibility of civil war and later a dictator or dictators will arise and later still some other foreign Power will march in to keep order. That may mean loss of life to several million people, and the British Government would be partly responsible. As I am supporting the Government on this issue, I recognise that I have also to take my share of that responsibility. I speak with full knowledge of that position.
Let us take another possibility. Some compromise may be found, and the Muslim Provinces may secede from a Central Government controlled by the Hindus. Customs barriers will be established, private armies will be formed in the various Provinces, and some sort of law and order may be maintained, and the loss of life may be only small. Now let us come to a more optimistic outlook. A federation of States and Provinces may be formed without any civil war. I do not believe that there will be sufficient unity of purpose to avoid customs barriers. Indeed, when I was crossing from Bengal into Assam last month, a customs barrier was springing up there, and during my residence of 40 years or so in India, I have never seen one there before. I think that customs barriers will come between the Provinces, but the bloodshed will be only a matter of thousands, not millions. I think it possible that a Central Indian defence force may be formed, and that there will be a reasonable amount of peace and tranquillity.
I suppose I should mention, at the same time, the fourth alternative—that British rule should be continued in India, more or less as it exists at present. I suppose it might be done, if Parliament were determined to do so, but I am quite certain that it would be a wrong policy to pursue, and I am afraid that it would only leave behind a legacy of hate. It is, of course, usual for all Indian politicians—and it is not confined to them; it is done in other parts of the world, and across the sea—when they are in doubt what to do to raise enthusiasm among their own supporters, to make speeches belabouring the British Government for all the communal differences in India. But are we entirely guiltless of this communal trouble which gets worse instead of better, the closer India gets to self-government? We have a responsibility for this communal trouble, but the mistake was made many years ago when Lord Morley was the 552 Secretary of State for India, and when the Minto-Morley reforms were introduced about 1907. Lord Morley wanted to make constituencies in India exactly the same as they are in England today. But Lord Minto was the man on the spot, and he insisted that communal constituencies be instituted where Muslim only votes for Muslim, and Hindu only votes for Hindu. The result has been that only the most bigotted and intolerant of the two communities stands a chance of election. This system was continued in the Montagu-Chelmsford reforms, and tolerated by the Simon Commission, and it exists today. It has been a bad thing for India, and one of the great reasons why she is not united today.
However, it is not advisable to delve too much into the past. Let us think about external order, as well as internal order. What I am afraid of is that, if the Indian Defence Force is so busy keeping law and order internally, there will be no men available for the frontiers. Only a few weeks ago, I was talking to a friend of mine, a major in the Indian Army. He said, "You are casting a great insult on the Indian Army. I am a major in the Indian Army. If those people from the North-West Frontier get into India, we shall be responsible. You taught us how to fight; you raised our army. We have now a good army in India. We are proud of it, and if you leave it to Indian officers, we will take care of India." He is an extremely well-educated man, and that was his opinion, at any rate.
There is another frontier. It is commonly said in the bazaars of Calcutta that, when the British leave, the Nepaulese are going to walk in and take the Darjeeling district again. Then, in Assam, we have those wild tribes on the North-East Frontier. There are the Nagas, who did a tremendous job of work in the last war, and for which they are not generally given credit. There was a man named Pawsey who was ordered to leave. He put the telescope to his blind eye like Nelson, and stayed there, because the Nagas had confidence in him as a political officer. I do not know who is going to replace a man like Pawsey. But for him and his Nagas the Japs would have been in India. Professor Hutton did great work for the Nagas, but kept them in a glorified Whipsnade, secluded from all contact with civilisation. There are other tribes there, 553 the Actors-Mishmismikirs. We must remember that a head, and especially a British head, is very highly prized up in those hills. But that is a risk that this Parliament must be prepared to take.
One of the great criticisms of this proposal is the protection of minorities. Who are those minorities—the Muslims, the Sikhs? As the right hon. and learned Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade said, the Muslims would be very insulted indeed, if we classed them as one of the minorities. At any rate these two peoples are warlike races, and are able to look after themselves. I think they will be all right, even after the British go, because they are prepared to fight. Let us take another minority—the Anglo-Indians. There will be nobody to protect them, and we must face that fact. They will have to depend entirely on their own education, and on their own hard work and intelligence to make a living. I am afraid that it may go hard with them. I am not so concerned about the Indian Christians. The Christian Church in India has become Indianised. There are Indian Bishops all over India, and I believe that the Indian Christians are growing in strength and self-reliance. In any case, the Christian Church is not a political body.
This leaves us with the Depressed Classes. But are those people so depressed today? Madras is the most caste-ridden Province in the whole of India. I hope that whoever is going to reply for the Government will spare two minutes for the Depressed Classes in Madras. Do the children in Madras still have to stand by the windows of the schools peering over the shoulders of the boys inside with the black-board, in order to get some sort of education? Is it true that they still have to live in little huts outside the villages? Do those conditions still exist in Madras? Perhaps the hon. Gentleman or right hon. Gentleman who is to reply will spare one or two minutes for those poor people. But I could tell this House something about the Depressed Classes in Assam. I believe that the missionaries and the tea planters have done more to help the Depressed Classes in India than anybody else. I think it was the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Anderson) who mentioned the Santhals. We have thousands of these Santhals in Assam. The Mundas come from Chaibassa and Ranchi.
554 I can name a whole lot of them—the Mundus, Craons, Souras, Keowts, Gharis, and so on. Whether they belong to the Untouchables, the Scheduled Castes or whatever we like to call them, they go into the tea gardens. I have seen thousands of them come up to the tea gardens. I myself brought up many of them, half savage, half child, uneducated people. What are their grandchildren like today? I saw them in January last. I saw them owning their own land and cattle. I saw them able to look anybody in the face, able to read and write. That is what has been done for them, at any rate, in Assam. We must ask ourselves whether this progress will continue.
I would like to say a word or two about compensation for the loss of careers. There are other people who are far better able than myself to speak about the great Services such as the Indian Civil Service, the Police and the Indian Army. There are people in those Services who have given their lives to India, and it is up to the Indian Government to compensate them accordingly. These men gave their lives to India. It is a debt of honour. The scheme which has been brought to my notice, whereby the man who is just retiring does not get much, the fellow in the middle of his career gets most and a fellow just starting does not get much because he has still got his career in front of him, is a fair one. I would like to mention in this connection the Indian judges. These men gave up very lucrative practices at the Bar to become judges, and in some cases they have imposed sentences which are very unpopular with the present and future political leaders. It is the duty of the Government to look after those Indian judges. The other people I would mention are the 66 clergymen appointed by the British Government. Of those 66, they will not all require much, because a lot of them are on the eve of retiring, but some of those men have taken up great commitments of insurance and so forth. The Church is not a profession for filthy lucre, and I hope that when compensation is given His Majesty's Government will not forget those clergymen. It will not mean very much on the Income Tax. I believe we are paying to support the black market in Germany 9d. in the pound extra Income Tax, and I fancy this matter of the 66 clergymen will cost less than a farthing in the pound.
555 I think a lot of the present political leaders in India will vanish when respon. sibility is given to a new Government. They will vanish just as Kerensky vanished when the Tsar abdicated and was murdered. While speaking about Russia, let us turn our minds back to 1919. That was a country in which we stayed too long. The recollection of the expeditions to Archangel, Odessa and Siberia does not help our Foreign Secretary a great deal when he is negotiating matters with Mr. Molotov and Marshal Stalin. It must be remembered that it is possible to stay too long. There is now no government in India such as that which existed when Lord Curzon was Viceroy, and Lord Ronaldshay was in Bengal. When Lord Curzon was in India he was not afraid of anybody. His rule was felt and obeyed from Madras to Assam. There was the row he had with the 9th Lancers, one of the crack cavalry regiments in the British Army, and he put them down There is no government like that in India today. True, the band plays "God Save the King" at the garden party; the red carpet is laid down, and the great ones wear their top hats as they walk over the greensward. It is magnificent, but it is not government. If we had had anything like the Calcutta killings, or the riots in Bihar, during the term of any Viceroy 20 or 30 years ago, I believe the Viceroy would have been brutally sacked, and there would have been no trade union to save him either.
A new Indian Governor has just been appointed to Assam. I was with some Assam planters at the time the new Indian Governor was appointed, and they were all glad. They realised that India is becoming and will become completely Indianised, and I am quite sure the planters there will give him the respect which is due to him as His Majesty's Governor, and that they will welcome him to the Province. I have heard in another place Indian policy compared with crossing a morass, and it has been said that when one gets deeper and deeper into it one should turn back. But sometimes one may be nearer the other side than is imagined and it might be more dangerous to go back. I wonder if speed is always the most dangerous thing. When I was learning to fly an aeroplane in 1915, when there were no instruments, we were always told that when the stick began to wobble 556 in our hands we should put her nose down and gather speed, and also always to maintain speed on a turn. What does one do if one is sailing a boat among treacherous rocks? One keeps plenty of steerage way. That is what I think the Government are right in doing at this moment.
The war has speeded up events in India. I did not move on the red carpet stratosphere level. I mixed with people on a far lower stratum of society, but among everybody I met in India there was a definite feeling that India would be a nation. We cannot continue to let our best officers lecture the Indian troops about the Four Freedoms and why India was fighting Japan, without getting some response. In addition, there are some wonderful books out there. The Vice-Chancellor of Calcutta University showed me some, including a book like "Self Help" and others dealing with thrift, hard work, courage and love of one's country. Why should not the love of one's country apply to India as well as England? I consider it would be most dangerous to stand still, and still more perilous to attempt to go back.
I do not know whether June, 1948, is the proper date; 21st June is the longest day. Perhaps that should have been chosen. Who can tell? But I think the right time must be very near that date. I certainly shall not vote against this Motion in the Division tomorrow. I honestly believe that the mass of literate and thinking people of India expects self-government, and the longer we wait and temporise the more likely we are to have trouble in India, and the worse it will be for India and the British Commonwealth of Nations.
§ 7.29 p.m.
§ Mr. Richards (Wrexham)
We have all listened with great interest to the speech which we have just heard from a Member—and this is very characteristic of the House of Commons—who has spent many years in India and who knows the problem, so to speak, from inside. I need hardly say that I agree entirely with what he said about the courage of the Government in introducing this White Paper at the present time.
As he pointed out, speed is of the very essence in dealing with this very difficult problem. It would be a mistake to imagine that we on these benches have not given very serious thought to the many 557 difficulties which face us, and will face any Government we might set up in India It is quite obvious that amongst 400 million people divided very deeply on questions of religion, race and language, it will not be an easy matter to get a unitary Government to control all those various activities. Let us put ourselves in their position. Look at our own problems in Europe. After all, Europe has not the population of India, by a long way, yet it is divided, as we know—and very deeply divided—into various nations. But at the hack of it all is the tradition of a common civilisation which we have inherited from the Near East, for the greater part. There is none of that in India. Unfortunately, the divisions in India are religious divisions, they are deep and fundamental, and lead to the most difficult situations from time to time.
I am particularly glad that the Prime Minister made two statements on this important question. He made the first statement when the Cabinet Mission were about to go out to India. It will be remembered he said very clearly that it was for the Indian people themselves to make the decision as to the kind of Government they were to set up. He even went so far as to say that if they decided to remain in close association with us, as a Dominion, for example, we should be very glad indeed to assist them; hut, on the other hand, if they decide to cut away, and to go entirely on their own, they are entitled to, because they are a free people making a free choice. I think that was a most valuable statement, which encouraged Indians, particularly in the belief that at long last we were in earnest about the question of extending self-government to India. The document we are discussing today marks a further stage in that advance.
I should like to remind the House that it is not a sudden decision of the Government at all; it is not a sudden brainwave of theirs which has produced the White Paper. If we look at the history of India it will be seen that it is the culmination of a very long and slow process indeed. Again and again we have made declarations that the object of our being in India was to extend eventually a large measure of freedom to the Indian people. But they were getting tired of these promises. We made promises after the last war, and we made promises recently; but they were 558 getting tired of our promises, and tired of our constitutional experiments—great experiments like the Government of India Act of 1935. The Indians looked more at what we withheld, rather than at what we gave to India. Consequently, it was no use making still another promise. I was very glad that the Prime Minister and the Members of the Government had the courage to say: "You must face up to this enormously difficult question "—we all admit it is difficult—" and the responsibility will be yours after June, 1948." As has been suggested several times during the course of the Debate, that might have a reinvigorating effect upon the parties in India.
Under our Government they have always felt, however much they may have quarrelled with one another, so to speak, that the British Raj would put the position right; it had the power and the authority. As the hon and gallant Member for Down (Sir W. Smiles) said, there was a time during our government of India when the Viceroy's word went right through the country, and everybody, even in the remotest villages, felt the power of that word. But that is no longer the case. Consequently, the Government were bound to take up the only reasonable attitude. It was all very well for the right hon. Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Anderson), in his most interesting speech, to analyse the White Paper in a critical fashion, and to point out the many flaws in it. He has had a long experience of administration, there and here, but what he, and many other people, fail to realise is that the alternative, as far as India is concerned, is for us not to remain there unless we are prepared to face a revolution.
India, in common with a great many other countries, has been completely transformed intellectually as the result of the two wars. Indian soldiers cannot be asked to wage a war for freedom, and documents like the Atlantic Charter cannot be published, without some ideas penetrating the minds of the people of India. Moreover, we have educated the Indians in the art of self-government in some cases. One is astounded to find how deeply versed they are in our own political traditions and ideas. We cannot keep the tide of that sort of thing from flowing into a country which is so closely associated with a Western Power. We ought to rejoice in the fact that we have given 559 those ideas to the minds of Indians; and we ought to be proud of the fact that we are lending them a hand in their journey along that road which we have traversed for many centuries: It has been a bitter struggle, as we all know, in the history of our own country. In India the struggle will probably be even more bitter. But the inspiration is there; and that is the important thing.
The Government have realised that against the rising tide of nationalism nothing can be done by way of reorganising the Civil Service there. I was particularly surprised at the sugggestion made by the right hon. Member for the Scottish Universities, that we might invite some of the civil servants who were formerly in India to come out of their retirement and tackle this job once again. In my humble opinion, that was a ludicrous suggestion. It is an impossibility. The Government have done the only thing they could do, namely, encouraged the Indians to come together and told them: "You must co-operate. It is your problem." The Government have given them every encouragement to see that this great sub-continent shall have its place among the great free nations of the world.
§ 7.40 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore (Ayr Burghs)
It is sometimes the custom for hon. Members taking part in a Debate to declare their interest in it. My interest in India is the fact that I started my soldiering there, learned the language, Persian and Urdu, got to know a great number of Indian people, formed a tremendous regard and friendship for them; and that a number of my family have been missionaries, with whom I have been in close contact as to the more recent developments in India. Therefore, I view the dramatic change that has taken place in our relationship with India with great misgiving. I think it is a sad and shameful business, and I hope, in the few minutes I am going to speak, to convince the Government that I am right, and to indicate one or two possibilities by which the situation can still be rectified.
The hon. Member for Wrexham (Mr. Richards) said the Indian peoples were more concerned with what we withheld from them than with what we gave them. Whose fault is that? It is entirely due to 560 the lack of information and propaganda—I prefer the word information—which we have failed to give, either to the Indians or to the world during the last ten years. The Viceroy thought, quite properly, I think, that it was not his duty to indulge in propaganda; and we had no machinery with which to do it. The result is that today the Indians themselves have little conception of what we have done for them during the past 200 years. Certainly, many of our strongest critics across the Atlantic show that they have no appreciation of what we have been doing in India in the last 200 years—that our Viceroys, our Governors, our statesmen, our police officers, our forestry officers, civil servants, and the Army itself have all been playing their parts in the peaceful development of that vast country. We all know—and I am not making any apology for reiterating it—that it is due to our capacity and devotion to duty that India's frontiers have been guarded, her deserts irrigated, her wastelands cultivated, her industries created and developed, her currency maintained—and, most important, that her peoples have been given equality of justice before the law.
Now, we have proclaimed our intention of shuffling out, our tasks still uncompleted. If that movement of evacuation—for that is all it comes to—had been in response to the demand of an enlightened and united people; if it had been at the request of vocal and knowledgeable minorities; if it had been at the plea of the abject minorities—then I should say that there was some justification for our going, going so hurriedly, going with such reckless speed. But, apparently, the decision was a casual one. The announcement, certainly, was casually made. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Of course, it was quite casually. Very few Members of the House knew the Government had been considering any particular movement in regard to India at all. We have had this "dilly dally" for the last 18 months, and, therefore, it was quite on the cards that we would go on "dilly dallying" for another few years. So, I repeat, it was apparently a casual decision, and a casual announcement of that decision.
But my own belief is that it was just due to, and one other example of, the spineless, nerveless grip the Government have on all their affairs, and their inability 561 to hold the sceptre just a little while longer, until the conditions had been fulfilled in which Indian independence could become in law what it has been, hitherto, in fact. I stress the word "independence" and not "freedom" because the latter is a word that has been badly and sadly misused by Members opposite, and Members in the House as a whole, and, especially, by our friendly critics in the United States of America. The peoples of India, as we know, have been freer in the last 200 years than they had been in the 2,000 years before that—certainly freer than they will be after June, 1948.
Why has this shameful, reckless act been perpetrated? It must be obvious to the right hon. Gentlemen sitting on that Front Bench that no Constitution could possibly be framed in 15 months. It could not be framed in that time if we had a united people, a homogeneous people, or a people with one conception of life and way of living. It would have been impossible to do that in 15 months in those circumstances. But to ask that vast congregation of different castes, colours and tongues to come together and agree amongst themselves, is simply asking for the impossible. I very much fear that this is due, to some extent, to the vocal requirements of the politically active leaders of the Congress Party—15 in all on the Working Committee—who see lucrative jobs in front of them.
§ Sir S. Cripps
That is a monstrous statement. Is that the way in which the hon. and gallant Member judges his own political leaders?
§ Sir T. Moore
I do not understand the right hon. and learned Gentleman. Perhaps, he would explain further. I cannot see what criticism I am making either of past Governments or of the present Government, by what I am saying. I am making the criticism, arising out of my conception of the situation, that the present Indian leaders, supported, as we know, by Indian industrialists, are demanding that we shuffle away from our responsibilities with our task uncompleted. I said I thought it was, possibly, due to the fact that the politically active leaders in India of the Congress Party saw lucrative jobs in front of them. Is that monstrous?
§ Sir S. Cripps
All I can say is that if that comes from the hon. and gallant Gentleman's own inner consciousness, it shows what sort of inner consciousness he has got.
§ Sir T. Moore
In my opinion it is a quite reasonable thing to think, and unless the right hon. and learned Gentleman can show me any good reason before the Debate ends for changing it—
§ Mr. Sorensen
May I ask the hon. and gallant Gentleman whether he really thinks that it helps this country or India, or the good relations between the two countries, for him, not merely to insinuate, but to state that the leaders of the largest single political party in India are actuated by mercenary motives? One of them has spent 11 years of his life in gaol. Do they do that sort of thing for money?
§ Sir T. Moore
The hon. Gentleman is, undoubtedly, an idealist. I do not know what age he is, but I think I have lived longer in the world than he has, and I have seen a lot of things done, not based on ideals, but based on self interest, based on personal aggrandisement, based on a vast number of things that are not, I am afraid, in accordance with the ideas of the hon. Gentleman. I should like to say, however, that I do agree that, sooner or later, we must fulfil our time-honoured pledge and our time-honoured function—Queen Victoria was the first, in her original Proclamation, I think, to state it—and then grant to India, as we have granted to others whom we have trained in the difficult and complex art of Government, control of her own affairs. We owe that not only to ourselves, but to the millions of Indians of different creeds and castes who are relying on our word. But we owe a further obligation to these millions of Indians, which, put in its most simple form, means freedom, food, water and justice. Are the Government assured that in handing over self- 563 Government to India, we are also handing over these fundamental requirements of life? Are we sure there will be self-government? Will the vast masses of the various classes, the Depressed Classes, the Anglo-Indians, that is the Eurasians and the Indian Christians, have an opportunity to take part in the Government, or will it be a Government of the bosses, consisting of the lads who attend the lodge meetings—our own trade unions have been built up by the chaps who attend the lodge meetings and so secure office and power? I hope there will be some method to ensure that those who will be governed will have a say in the form of Government and the personalities who govern them.
I am profoundly concerned and greatly anxious about this hysterical abdication of our responsibilities. I feel ashamed that when we go we shall leave millions of decent, good, honest people not only alone, voiceless and friendless, but also hopeless. What is to happen to them? What is to happen to all those to whom we have pledged our word and honour? My right hon. Friend the Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Anderson) has said he does not feel concern for the Muslims, and neither do I, because they can look after themselves and fight for their rights. But what about the Scheduled and Depressed Classes; what about the Eurasians, the Anglo-Indians, and our promises to them. I am concerned about the Eurasians more than anybody else, because they are not a very popular community in India. I do not believe they will get the same support and protection as the others with a more powerful background.
But the die has been cast, and the word has gone forth; we have to accept the position. Yet I wonder whether there is not still a way by which that day of destiny cannot be altered in some way. As we know, the Indian States are profoundly perturbed about their future—one has only to look at the conflicting statements which emerge from the Chamber week after week. The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that paramountcy was going to lapse. Does that mean we are to leave those Indian States which have given such loyal and disinterested service, in good times and bad, like isolated islands in an angry and hostile sea? I would hope that paramountcy 564 might give place to protectorate. We have already established a precedent in South Africa, where we have various protectorates in the Union. I do not know whether the Indian Princes have been consulted, but I should like to know whether that matter has been considered. We see that this violent change has to be made because the word of the Government and of the British people has been pledged, but could not some clause be inserted in the deed of transfer, whereby these States to whom we are handing over authority, would remain within the British Commonwealth for, say, five years, until this complex and intricate process of handing over is completed? This complex transfer cannot be done in a day or a year, and if my suggestion were adopted, they might see the benefits of remaining part of the family of the British Commonwealth of Nations. By taking some such action, we would give great comfort and hope to those many millions of Indians whom we are now proposing to hand over to possible indeed probable, chaos.
§ 7.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Sorensen (Leyton, West)
I have considerable sympathy with the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir T. Moore), because, politically, he has been dead for some time and does not know it. His ideas were extraordinarily reminiscent of 50 years ago, and I do not propose, therefore, to deal with so unpleasant and decadent a subject. When he drew attention to the service we have rendered to India—and we have undoubtedly rendered service—he overlooked the fact that India has had an existence extending for some thousands of years before the British occupation, and that during that period she managed to run schools, establish a chain of rest houses, preserve an economy and reach a high level of civilisation, when the inhabitants of these islands were in a condition of barbarism and savagery. One has only to discuss such matters with a few representative Indians to realise that they can draw up a fairly powerful indictment of the evil we have taken to India as well as the good. The hon. and gallant Member is entitled to express his opinions in his own way and to be judged accordingly, as no doubt I shall be judged in the remarks I propose to make.
I am extremely glad that the Opposition are to divide against the Govern- 565 ment tomorrow, because it will demonstrate what I have always considered to be the fundamental cleavage between this side of the House and the other. The issue between us is not simply that of method or procedure. That is important, but more important is the question of approach, and even of principle. There are only two Division Lobbies in this House, and, therefore, whatever may be our opinions, and however qualified they may be, we have to divide ourselves in the end into the Ayes and the Noes. Political and personal problems are highly complicated and complex, which is true of India and any country, but life has the habit in the end of insisting that we sort out the various shades of grey and reduce them until there are two alternatives, and then precisely the one or the other has to be selected. That is what we shall do tomorrow night, and when the Opposition go into the Lobby, whatever may be the grades and shades of opinion among its members—and I know there are many—in the end they will have to come down to a definite act of hostility to our decision, as a Government, to recognise India's right to freedom and independence or to its support.
§ Commander Galbraith (Glasgow, Pollok)
I honestly do not think the hon. Member is entitled to say that. It may be his opinion, but the Division tomorrow night will not be on the question of whether India is to have Home Rule or not. It will be on the method which the Government have pursued in fixing a certain date.
§ Mr. Sorensen
I appreciate the point, but I say the Division tomorrow night will in fact be the focal point of the issue whether or not we are to take what may be a great risk in regard to India, but a risk which must be taken if we are to implement and vindicate our many professions regarding the freedom of India.
The basic Indian issue, as I see it, can be divided into two aspects. On one aspect, victory has already been achieved. For many years the party opposite believed that we held India by right of conquest and should retain it. At least they have nominally relinquished that position today; no longer do we hear from their ranks the old-time assertion that what we won by the sword we should keep by the sword—"what we have we hold." That 566 at least to my mind represents a distinct victory, and in case there should be any doubt in regard to the alteration of attitude that has taken place in the last 70 or 80 years, may I give two quotations? First I shall quote from a typical history primer such as may be circulating in our schools today and which certainly circulated in my own earlier years. This is from "A Brief Survey of British History" by G. Townsend Warner, a historian well-known in our schools. He writes:When we look at a map of the world, and see how wide is the red that marks the British Empire, we may well feel proud.… We owe our Empire not only to the courage and enterprise, but also to the wisdom and sense of duty which have animated the best men of our race.That, I am sure, most hon. Members of this House will heartily support He goes on:Our Empire in India, like most of our possessions abroad, was founded by the enterprise of merchants.… Clive … definitely started the Company"—That was the East India Company—on the policy of interfering among native princes in order to acquire territory. One by one native rulers would fall before the Company, and it by degrees would become master of the whole. This is actually what came to pass.That is an almost naive admission of the contention many of us have frequently made, that we first went into India not with philanthropic or benevolent interests at all, but in order to acquire wealth and economic advantage. Although I am not going to suggest that there were not other motives as well, or that some other and better motives did not dominate at times, I do say that the initiative taken by the East India Company was the initiative of lucrative acquisition.
Perhaps another recognition of that fact was that the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr Burghs who has now retreated from the field spoke, as he did, so lamentably, regarding the motives that actuate some of the finest men in India in the great political struggle of our days. I also give a quotation to indicate how the original motive of the East India Company was then, so to speak, given the imprimatur of the Crown itself. This is an extract from the actual Proclamation issued by Queen Victoria in 1858:Whereas, for divers and weighty reasons we have resolved by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in Parliament assembled, to take upon Ourselves the Government of the 567 territories in India heretofore administered by the Honourable East India Company,Now therefore, We do by these Presents notify and declare that … We hereby call upon Our Subjects … to bear true allegiance to Us, Our Heirs and Successors, and to submit themselves to the authority of those who We may … see fit to appoint to administer the Government of Our said Territories.We deeply lament the evils and misery which have been brought upon India by the acts of ambitious Men"—May I say that the Queen is here referring riot to the East India Company, Warren Hastings or Clive, but to so-called Indian rebels—who have deceived their Countrymen … and led them into open rebellion. Our Power has been shown by the Suppression of that Rebellion in the field; we desire to show Our Mercy by pardoning… those… who desire to return to the path of Duty.When, by the Blessing of Providence, internal Tranquillity shall be restored…" and etc.I understand there was pencilled on the side of the draft of the document, by the late Prince Albert of Saxe Coburg and Gotha, Consort to the Queen, the words "Recht gut" by which he meant he thoroughly agreed with the draft. I offer my apologies for reading those two extracts, but they serve to indicate what I contend, that we entered India not for the sake of India. We entered India, we acquired India, we possessed India, we made India in the end, to use a well-known phrase, "the brightest jewel in the British Crown," primarily for our advantage. At least it is some gain to recognise that the party opposite, who for years gloried in the fact of acquisition and conquest, have at last retreated from that position. To that extent, one aspect of the basic issue in India has now been settled satisfactorily.
I go further. They have now admitted that India has a perfect right to secede, even if she were granted Dominion status, which means that, in effect, they recognise that India has the right to be independent, though they still disagree with us on this side of the House, as to the time and the method. I come, therefore, to the second aspect, as I see it, of the basic Indian issue, and that is the question of delay on the one hand or immediacy on the other. One thing many hon. Members do not seem to understand is that this question of whether India 568 shall have her freedom and independence cannot be relegated to a mere platitude any longer. It must not be interpreted as a "far-off divine event." It is a matter of urgent and critical necessity, and even if we do not think that, at least Indians do, and that is after all what really matters rather than our own opinion or preference. I and my colleague who spoke a short time ago, and other colleagues on that side as well as on this, visited India in the early part of last year, and I think I may safely say that though we may have disagreed before and after our tour regarding many aspects of Indian life and political affairs, in one thing we were all completely agreed, and that was that the condition of India at that time was one of explosive, volcanic urgency. It is because of that fact that I believe the other side of the House, as well as this side, realise—if they exercise their minds responsibly—that to talk about delaying, proscrastinating, and postponing, or on the other hand trying to exploit the differences in India, as an excuse for evading the challenge of our day, is worse than nonsense. It is a bertayal not only of India but of ourselves and our best interests, and indeed would be likely to precipitate the very tragedy that, no doubt quite honestly, they desire to avert.
There was the situation after the war. I have called it one of volcanic necessity, and in the light of that situation I believe the Government have done right, first in bending all their energies to trying to find a solution of the problem of securing agreement among all the parties and, second, having done that to the very best of their ability and having found that it has not succeeded, in saying that the responsibility is ultimately a moral responsibility resting on the Indians themselves. After all, we have our crucial, deep cleavages in this country, but if any other Power, whether India, Russia or America, were for our own good and with the best intentions in the world, to try to dictate to us how we should put our house in order, we should of course resent it, and repudiate their right to interfere with our own responsibility. I say that the Labour Government have acted energetically in grappling with the situation. I pay tribute once more to my three Cabinet colleagues for the very great work they did in India, and to the Under-Secretary of State for India also, who, though more behind the 569 scenes, has served India just as thoroughly.
Whatever may have been the origin of the various problems in India, or the degree of culpability which may be attached to this or that party or person, a situation now confronts us which demands decision. Hon. Members opposite would be the first to denounce us if we delayed any longer. That is why, in my estimation, the Government are perfectly right to fix a date for the transference of power. If they had made the date earlier their action would still have been sound. The responsibility for those problems is India's. I am not ignoring our own measure of responsibility and I will refer to it before I conclude. Responsibility is ultimately an Indian matter. Acute problems have existed in India for centuries, and they have not been solved under our domination. Untouchability, the appalling subjugation of women, the division of the castes, the incipient or actual conflict between Muslim and Hindoo—all those and many others exist.
I do not forget what is to me the most terrible of all India's problems, the appalling poverty. It has not been solved by us, although we have had our opportunity. On the contrary, in some respects we have increased that problem, because, despite the contributions that we have made to India's welfare, we have taken a great deal of wealth from India in order that we ourselves might enjoy a relatively higher standard of life. Can it be denied that we have benefited in the past substantially by the ignorant, sweated labour of the Indian people? We have not solved those social problems. The Indians may not solve them either. There are many problems that the Western world cannot solve, but at least, those problems are India's responsibility. Indians are more likely, because they are intimate with their own problems, to know how to find their way through those labyrinths than we, who are, to the Indian but aliens and foreigners.
Here I submit a point which surely will receive the endorsement of most hon. Members of this House. It is that even a benevolent autocracy can be no substitute for democracy and liberty. We mean, in this country, to go our own way, although it may mean a lower standard of living. We will do that rather than hitch ourselves to some other 570 Power, who might be able to raise our standard of living but while doing so would deny us the liberty we desire today. Liberty is always dangerous. The free man runs more risks than he who is a slave, because he is able with spiritual dignity to work out his own salvation in his own way. In practice, we cannot exercise our authority in India, whatever our desires may be. When the right hon. Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Anderson) referred to the gamble that was taking place he warned us that even though gambling might be bad, it was even worse to gamble with stakes that we could not afford. I think that phrase applies particularly to India at the present moment. Are we to try to police India and to secure law and order there, in the face of the upsurgence of 400 million people? To attempt to do so would indeed be to embark upon a gamble with stakes which we ourselves cannot possibly afford. Such a gamble would be most unlikely to succeed in any case.
I would therefore put two points to the House tonight. Are we really asked by hon. Members on the other side to engage in a gamble, first by continuing as we are and trying to control India indefinitely, with the probability that we should not succeed and that all over India there would be rebellion, chaos and breakdown? Secondly, are we to try to reconquer India and in doing so, to impose upon ourselves an economic burden which we could not possibly afford? How many men would be required to keep India quiet if the great majority of the Indians determined to defy our power? I guarantee that the number would not be fewer than a million men, with all the necessary resources and munitions of war. Are we to do this at a time when we are crying out for manpower in this country, when in the mines, the textile industry and elsewhere we want every man we can possibly secure? There are already 1,500,000 men under arms. To talk about facing the possibility of governing and policing India and keeping India under proper supervision out of our own resources is not only nonsense, but would provide the last straw that breaks the camel's back.
When the right hon. Member for the Scottish Universities referred in his speech to a special cadre of trained men who might be enlisted, I wondered what on 571 earth he was trying to suggest. Was he suggesting that a new kind of "black and tan" should be let loose in India? He was apparently suggesting the kind of cadre that was let loose in Ireland. I am not ignorant of the provocation that was imposed upon British people in Ireland, and also the other way round. We tried to restore law and order by means of the "black and tans," but we only made matters go from bad to worse until the term "black and tan" became synonymous with all kinds of disgraceful practices. Just imagine trying to recruit thousands of retired majors, captains and colonels, and other ranks, drafting them all into India and saying to them, "You have to keep these people quiet."
§ Mr. Godfrey Nicholson (Farnham)
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way to me. In the absence of my right hon. Friend the Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Anderson) I should like to try to tell the hon. Gentleman what my right hon. Friend said. He was suggesting, as a purely temporary measure, a new central Civil Service job for men with special knowledge of local conditions. He suggested that this job should be fulfilled by people from England. It would be the greatest mistake, and likely to do immense harm, if the hon. Gentleman were to misinterpret and misrepresent what my right hon. Friend was suggesting.
§ Mr. Sorensen
I have no intention of misrepresenting what was said by the right hon. Gentleman. I always try to avoid misrepresentation, but my impression was that his suggestion was not confined to a Civil Service. It is true that he did suggest a secretariat to be filled from England, but I had the impression that he suggested a kind of police force, to be recruited in order to keep law and order. The secretariat are not concerned with keeping law and order.
§ Mr. Nicholson
The hon. Gentleman has given the House a mistaken impression of what my right hon. Friend said. I discussed this matter with my right hon. Friend, who was good enough to tell me, before he spoke, what he was going to say.
§ Mr. Sorensen
If that is so, I am perfectly prepared to accept the hon. Member's explanation. All I can say is that 572 I have given my impression. If it is not accurate, I will merely say that I cannot in that case see in what way the suggestion can be any help at all. To have a certain number of extra civil servants merely to run the administration of India, seems to be just playing with the position. Be that as it May, I will continue with my argument. I have spoken of the responsibility of India. Now I would refer to our own moral responsibility, which is very great. It has been pointed out that we have responsibility for the minorities of India and in particular for the 50 million or 60 million Untouchables. Incidentally, I urge hon. Members to realise that there are large numbers of the Untouchables who in fact are supporters of the Congress.
It is true that Dr. Ambedkar, for whom I have an admiration in some respects, does represent a very powerful organisation of the Untouchables. But without discussing to what extent he represents the Untouchable caste many of the Scheduled Classes are inside Congress and are Congress representatives. In any case let us realise that the Muslim League, obviously because they are Muslims, are freed from any indictment on account of their preservation of caste So far as Congress is concerned, I quote two brief references from the Policy of Congress. Point 3 lays it down:All citizens are equal before the law, irrespective of religion, creed or sexPoint 5 states:No objection to any citizen by reason of his or her religion, caste, creed or sex in regard to public employment, office of power or honour and exercise of any trade or calling.It may be said that it is one thing to lay down and another to implement. I agree. Who is to implement? We cannot do so. The Indians themselves must implement. If we say that we will still be responsible for implementation let us remember that we have tried to give assistance more than once to small Powers and communities in various parts of the world in order to implement assurances to them and yet we have lamentably failed. All that I am asking, therefore, is that we should realise that we have a moral obligation to do all that we can to encourage Indians to implement their own assurances, but not to promise what we cannot in fact fulfil. What I have read out regarding Congress repudiation of caste, 573 creed and sex distinction represents a sacred responsibility resting on Congress supporters, and once they are free, it is their own sense of moral obligation that can vindicate the assurances they themselves have given.
The date now made clear to the whole world does afford an opportunity between now and then for the reconciling of differences in India. On the last occasion I spoke in this House, I made a plea for such reconciliation. I do not know if my voice ever reached India, but at least it satisfied my conscience. I renew that plea tonight, and assert that whilst it is right that Indians, whatever their political evolution may be, should defend their political convictions, yet only the spirit of reconciliation in India and indeed elsewhere, can lay the foundation of a community where the best interests of mankind will be cherished. I ask therefore, once more, that Indians should consider that need between now and the date when t last complete power is to be transferred. I hope most earnestly that when that date comes, if there is no effective political reconciliation meanwhile, that our own Government will not use the situation as an excuse to evade or avoid the need of transferring responsibility to an effective authority in India. A de facto government will be in control of India respecting certain central powers and subjects, and that should be, in my estimation, the recognised authority to which power should be transferred. I cannot see how else we can deal with the situation than in that way or how otherwise we will avoid what might be a calamatous situation.
I will conclude by stating that India has a chance of doing what no other nation in the world has been able to do heretofore. People have sometimes criticised India on the ground that it is not a nation but a sub-continent. Even if this were so I would suggest that perhaps we have had too much restrictive nationalism in the world. Nationality has its values and virtues, but if India whether subcontinent, or nation, or series of nations can at last show to the world how out of tribulation that she can arise to lay the foundations of a vast new community of goodwill and friendship I believe that she will thus perform a great service not only to herself and her own nationhood but to the whole of mankind. I believe therefore that now is the opportunity for India to 574 render this great service to mankind; and I trust that if my ineffective words are echoed in India they will encourage all her people to play a constructive part, while we play ours, in preparation for the finer future of that great country.
§ Major Mott-Radclyffe (Windsor)
There was one passage in the speech of the hon. Member for West Leyton (Mr. Sorensen) which I do not think can be allowed to go unchallenged and that was when he suggested that from these benches it had been argued that we were entitled as a right of conquest to stay in India for all time. No such statement has ever been made from any of these benches and to impute that sort of motive to the Conservative Party only does harm by causing misunderstanding in India. It is a completely unfair interpretation of the policy of the party to which I belong, and I must ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw it if I am not misinterpreting him.
§ Mr. Sorensen
If the hon. and gallant Gentleman is speaking on behalf of his party and gives that assurance, I of course accept that assurance as referring to the party to which he belongs now. I was referring to his party in the past.
I can only speak as a Conservative back bencher, but I am perfectly certain that in denying any such imputation, I can speak on behalf of the whole party.
So far as I am aware, there is no difference whatever between us on these benches and right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite about the ultimate goal of self-government for India—no difference at all. We have all agreed on innumerable occasions that the ultimate objective to which all parties in this country are striving is the realisation of self-government for India at the earliest practicable date. Until the statement of the Prime Minister on 20th February, there was no substantial party difference between us. Both sides of the House believed that no pains should be spared to exhort, persuade and encourage the Congress Party and the Muslim League to agree among themselves what sort of Constitution they wanted. Agreement among the great Indian communities was hitherto, we were led to believe, one of the essential pre-conditions of any transfer of the full machinery of government to a Constituent Assembly. It was upon that basis that we watched 575 with anxious and close attention the efforts of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade in 1942, the efforts of Lord Wavell in 1945, and the efforts of the Cabinet Mission of last year, each of whom in spite of much ingenuity, patience and good will failed to attain the objective they had set out to achieve.
The Prime Minister's statement of 20th February caused us on these Benches very grave misgivings. Nor were these misgivings lessened by the fact that, in accordance with the practice with which we are now becoming painfully familiar, and I suppose also in accordance with the usual mandate, the Opposition were never consulted before this momentous statement was made. The Prime Minister announced a complete departure from all previously accepted principles of approach to this problem. No longer was a substantial measure of agreement among Indians themselves one of the foundations upon which the structure of independence was to be built. No longer were obligations towards minorities or technical difficulties in the transfer of the administrative machine to be considered at all. The Prime Minister decided that the Indian political leaders needed a jolt, so he announced that control would be handed over by June, 1948. It was not only the Indian political leaders who received a jolt from that particular statement, with varying results. I should think some of the right hon. Gentlemen opposite received a jolt this afernoon from my right hon. Friend the Member for Scottish Universities (Sir J. Anderson) when he brought into clear relief some of the practical difficulties involved in making the transfer by that particular date.
I want to ask the Government one or two questions and I must crave indulgence if I appear to be very ignorant on some of these matters, because I am still not clear as to the reasons which led the Government to come to this momentous decision. Lord Mountbatten goes to India, I suppose, this month, and will have a few weeks in which to arrive at a decision which baffled the right hon. and learned Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, which baffled Lord Linlithgow, which baffled Lord Wavell, and the Cabinet Mission. In a matter of weeks he has to decide to whom to hand over the reins of control. Unless that 576 decision, whether to transfer powers to one India or a number of Indias is settled in an alarmingly short time, I do not see how it is administratively possible to transfer control by June, 1948. What happens if no agreement is reached on the conditions upon which the Muslim League are prepared to come into the Constituent Assembly, or alternatively if the Muslim League stand out for Pakistan, and no agreement is reached on the actual demarcation of the territories concerned? How do these difficulties and obvious uncertainties tie up with the Prime Minister's statement that it is not the intention to hand over India to chaos? How do we avoid chaos if we do not preserve a unified system of administration and defence? How do we preserve a unified system of administration and defence in a great sub-continent of 400 million people if we split it up into units, or, worse still, if we do not even know how it can be split up? On the question of defence, with which the Dominions, particularly Australia and New Zealand, are intimately concerned, do we cease to have any responsibility whatever for the defence of India after June, 1948? Are the Government perfectly satisfied that the Indian Navy and Air Force in particular are in size adequate to discharge whatever defence functions they might be called upon to carry out?
I now pass to the personnel of the Indian Civil Service. Have any terms yet been worked out as to the methods of compensation, or the scale of compensation, and, if so, on what basis? Are they to be a charge on British funds, or against India's own sterling assets? I would have thought that we should this evening send from both sides of the House—because this is no party matter—a message to the Indian Civil Service past and present, that we recognise the immense services they have rendered, and are rendering today in incredibly difficult circumstances in which they are being asked to make bricks without straw. No other nation except ourselves could have produced generation after generation of single-minded administrators prepared to spend the greater part of their lives often in very unhealthy climates in order to bring to India the only kind of unity she has ever known.
I also want to ask about British personnel in the Indian Army. Will it be possible to transfer some of the British 577 officers now in the Indian Army to British units? I refer particularly to those who wished to obtain a commission in British units, but, owing to the fact that there were no vacancies, were more or less compulsorily commissioned into the Indian Army? Are they to be suddenly left high and dry? Some of them have been through O.C.T.U. selection boards, and have been taken on on a regular engagement. What is to be their position? Is this to be another interpretation of the wellknown slogan, "Vote Labour and be demobilised"?
In the preamble to the peace treaties which we discussed in this House last week, there are clauses requiring the signatories to guarantee certain essential human rights to minorities. I think we have a similar obligation to ensure human rights to minorities in India. It is true that the President of the Board of Trade said that the only way to guarantee the rights of minorities was to write these safeguards into a Constitution, but there is, as vet, no Indian Constitution into which they can be written. No one knows whether India in the future is to be one, or two, or three units. There can be no Constitution into which those particular safeguards can be written although the right hon. Gentleman has already decided to hand over control, without making any reservations at all in regard to the rights of minorities. We have obligations to the Indian Princes, who stood by us faithfully in two wars. I should have thought something more definite could have been said in the statement of 20th February than the rather vague references to paramountcy. I am not clear in my own mind exactly how the right hon. Gentleman intends, on behalf of His Majesty's Government, to discharge our obligations to the Indian States.
If chaos and bloodshed should occur, I think we should make it quite clear that responsibility for that chaos and bloodshed rests fairly and squarely on the shoulders of His Majesty's Government and that we on these benches are free from any responsibility. The Government, faced with an extremely difficult situation, have behaved like a man leading a child by the hand. They have lost their way and are approaching a precipice with a hurricane behind them. They see no alternative but to run the last few yards towards the precipice, in order to avoid any temptation to stop and reflect before taking the final 578 leap. I wish I were certain His Majesty's Government had put aside all party considerations in their approach to this matter, and that I could be convinced that they have not been influenced by some of those outworn slogans which certain hon. and right hon. Members opposite used to employ to express prejudices against the British Commonwealth. I wish they had given the impression of being a little less precipitate and irresponsible.
Lord Mountbatten goes to India with our good wishes. He fully deserves all the good fortune the gods can give him. We all hope that he will succeed where other distinguished predecessors have failed. We hope that the ties which bind us to India, and India to us, will not be completely severed. While on both sides of the House we fully concede that India has the right, if she so wishes, to secede from the British Commonwealth, we believe it would be a dark day, both for her, for us, for the Commonwealth and for the peace of the world, if she were precipitately to cut herself adrift from the Commonwealth, and lapse into internecine warfare and strife. Because I am not prepared to have my name associated with what I regard as a dangerous gamble with time, I must make it quite clear that I intend to go into the Division Lobby tomorrow night against the Government.
§ 8.42 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Hamilton (Sudbury)
The right hon. Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Anderson) devoted an important part of his speech to the question of pledges to minorities, particularly to the Depressed Classes. I thought he was very contradictory in what he said about the Depressed Classes. It was not his only contradiction. My hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead (Mr. Zilliacus) drew attention to another important one. In this case, the right hon. Gentleman said, on the one hand, that the Depressed Classes were perfectly contented in their pathetic degradation, and accepted it as Karma. Then, a little later, he said that what they wanted from us was an assurance of all sorts of things—that they would get places at the universities, places in the Services, every sort of share in cultural and other advancement in India. The right hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways.
He did say one wise thing. He said that in a world of flux, if pledges are 579 made in one set of circumstances, the time may come when one cannot fulfil them to the letter, but must do the best one can. Yet, again, he seemed to imply that we ought to say in India, at any sacrifice of blood and treasure, holding down a rebellious population, simply in order to try to secure that these minorities get the kind of treatment they want. Surely, that is not really a practical proposition. I do not believe that in the long run it would do any good to the Depressed Classes themselves. I claim to know something about the Depressed Classes, because for many years of my service in India, I was attached to a Corps which was largely recruited from Southern Indians belonging to those Classes, and they were turned into very fine soldierly men, who had as fine a record of war service as any in the Indian Army. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that those depressed people do want to be raised up, that they do not want to stay in their degradation, as he suggested. But I also say that there is a limit to what we can do in raising them, a much lower limit than there would be in a free and independent India.
Perhaps I might quote two incidents to illustrate that. One is the case of a lady I knew, the wife of a high British official, who noticed that a sweeper's children were very bright, and insisted that they should go to school at her expense. Shortly afterwards, the father came to her and asked if he could take them away, because they had to sit so far away from the other children that they could never hear anything that the teacher said. So all the power of the British Raj could not make the caste Hindu or the Muslim sit anywhere near a member of the Depressed Classes. On the other hand, the other incident is the edict issued by one of the Indian Princes, the Maharajah of Travancore, some years ago, to say that entry into Hindu temples was henceforth to be the privilege of the Depressed Classes. The right hon. Member for the Scottish Universities said that entry to temples meant nothing. I do not agree. In a country such as India it means a great deal. It is the sort of thing which will make all the difference to the Depressed Classes. But we cannot do a thing like that. We cannot issue an order of that description. Only an Indian Ruler or an Indian Government can do 580 that. There are lots of oppressed minorities all over the world. We have had them in our own country. The right and natural way for their advancement, as I see it, is a twofold process. On the one hand, it concerns the efforts that these people make themselves to raise their condition, and, on the other, the awakening conscience of the dominating classes of their duty towards these people and their obligation to help. That sort of process must go on in England.
I would like to turn to the future. The question has been asked many times, "To whom shall we hand over?" That is a very important question. Of course, if at the eleventh hour there is reconciliation between Congress and the Muslim League, the problem is comparatively simple. Therefore, I will not consider that contingency. I will consider the other contingency, that agreement is not reached. As a humble back bencher, I wish to make one or two suggestions. I can claim that, so far as a man can have detachment in this matter, I have detachment, because in my many years of service in India I had friends among all communities, I served in all communities and I had excellent relations with them all. At the same time, I was outside politics. As far as Indian politics go, I am still outside them. I have not met even one of the Indian political leaders.
The first thing we must recognise is that our pledge to minorities must be implemented. They must not be forced under the dominance of a majority. At what level are we to implement that pledge? Obviously, it cannot be universal, because in every district in India there are Hindus and Muslims. Therefore, there must be cases where Muslims are ruled by Hindus and vice versa. It seems to me clear that the level at which it should be implemented is the Provincial level. Provinces are well recognised entities. They are, in a large measure, self-governing. My suggestion is that fundamentally it should be recognised that the desirable thing is an all-India union embracing every part of India, but the right of any Province or State to opt out of that union should be agreed.
If any Province opts out, there are certain treaty provisions upon which we should insist, particularly with regard to 581 communications and military recruitment. If, for instance, as seems very probable, Bengal opts out and Assam remains in, it is clear that full rights of transit by road, rail and air must be given by Bengal between the other parts of India and Assam, and between the main part of India and Calcutta. The same applies if the Punjab opts out and the North West Frontier Province remains in. There must be completely adequate means of transit between the main part of India and the North West Frontier Province.
As regards military recruiting, we all know that a very large part of the Indian Army has always been provided by the Punjabi, so that there ought to be perfect freedom for the voluntary enlistment of the citizens of the Punjab in the Army of the Indian Union. These provisions would in no way infringe our pledge to the minorities, because they in no way imply that the Government of the Indian Union will interfere in any way with the Governments of the opting-out Provinces. On the contrary, it is only by insisting upon such provisions that we shall fulfil our own pledge that we are not going to allow a majority to be held back by a minority, because it is obvious that an Indian Union could not function properly without this treaty provision. Moreover there are precedents for that in Europe. We all know that, between the wars Poland had to supply transit facilities between the main part of Germany and the detached province of East Prussia, and, as regards military recruiting, we all remember the number of Southern Irishmen who enlisted in our own Army, and, incidentally, fought extremely well.
A solution of this kind would not, of course, give either side all they want, but it would give them a good deal of what they want. The Muslim League wants Pakistan—the splitting of India into two, with great slabs of territory, one in the North-West and one in the North-East. Well, they will not get all that. On the other hand, the Congress Party, and most Indians who are patriotic and not followers of the Muslim League, will bitterly regret any fragmentation of India, and one cannot but sympathise with them. It is not only a sentimental matter, but a practical matter, too. To have two such Provinces as Bengal and the Punjab left out of the Union is going to make organisation and administration 582 considerably more difficult. Putting myself in the place of Pandit Nehru, who, I think, we cart clearly foresee would be the leader of any such Union, I would say that it would be better to have a Government of India, minus these important portions, with full confidence in his leadership, than have a more comprehensive Indian Union with elements in it which are bitterly opposed to him and with no confidence in him.
There is also this point. It would give a great opportunity for the Congress Party to show statesmanship. I think the Congress Party made a great mistake in the years just before World War No. 2. At that time, there were Congress Ministries in most of the Provinces, and, during that period, they gave the impression to the Muslims that the Muslims were getting a raw deal. I am not going to say how far that was true or not, but it is the fact that that is what the Muslims thought, and that was very largely responsible for the agitation for Pakistan. If those Congress Ministries had gone all out, not only to be just, but to be generous to their Muslim subjects, if they had made it a cardinal principle that they would show their Muslim subjects that they would get just as good treatment as any other citizens, we might have had a very different situation now. They will now have another chance, and the result may well be that they can make the Union so attractive to the opting-out Provinces that those Provinces would, of their own accord, want to come in. We hope that that may happen.
There is another point, which has been touched upon by the hon. Member for Gateshead (Mr. Zilliacus), and that is the question regarding the United Nations. If India were one comprehensive whole, and trouble broke out between Muslim and Hindu, it would be only India's concern, but if trouble breaks out between, say, an Independent Punjab and an Independent Indian Union, it will be very much a United Nations' concern. It is the job of the Council to stop outbreaks of war, or to try to prevent wars before they break out. I think that that would possibly be all to the good, because Indians are very jealous of their reputation in the world, and they would be very anxious to stand well with world opinion.
In conclusion, it seems to me that the Opposition Amendment is a contradiction in terms. They say, in effect, that they 583 quite intend to hand over independence to India, but not now—at some future date. They want it to be an orderly handing over. If there is to be an orderly handing over at all, it has to be now or never. There is no question about that. Therefore, the suggestion is completely contradictory. We are facing an extremely difficult problem at this momentous stage in India's very long history, but it is not a hopeless problem, and we must face it with resolution, and not with despair.
§ 8.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Walter Fletcher (Bury)
Like others on both sides of the House who have spent a little time in India, I am certain that, in the hearts of us all, there is very deep concern for the ryot, the peasant, the man in the street in India and a deep respect for him and his qualities, and an appreciation for the services he rendered during the war. But there is a small amount of doubt of those who have been calling for freedom for India, and who have enjoyed for some time the so-called benefits of education.
I wish to devote myself this evening to one point, the negotiations regarding the sterling balances that India holds, and to draw a picture as to how they arose. I believe that the economic and financial relations between India and this country between now and the date in June next year, and after that, are a really serious matter which will decide how we are to get on together after the separation has taken place.
At the beginning of the war, India owed this country a good deal of money, but, by the time we got to the end of the war, and since that date, the sterling balances in India's favour reached something in the nature of £1,200 million. Added to that, India, as a result of the war, was able to pay off nearly all her internal debts. In fact, she was one of the very few countries who emerged from the great struggle infinitely more prosperous than when she entered it. I am not saying that in any way as a reproach to India. Her fighting war record was a magnificent one But anyone who was in India during the war will bear me out when I say that the profit motive, which was limited in this country, was certainly not limited in India. I will go so far as to say that a great deal of profiteering took place in 584 India. I know of a case where sixteen officers on leave were put into one hotel room in Bombay and were charged the full rate, which was 4 disgraceful instance of profiteering. Profits all along the line were enormous.
The fact remains, however, that India came out of the war an extremely wealthy nation, and probably the only true creditor nation left in the whole world, with her industries increased and re-equipped. How is India going to handle that situation? There is no doubt that it is a difficult and delicate subject for the Government to tackle at the present moment. The manner in which it is handled will have a very great effect on the economy of this country for very many years to come. If the people of this country have to produce and export goods from this country to pay this debt, then the export drive in order to produce goods in exchange for food and raw materials will, to a considerable extent, be vitiated and nullified. We know from past experience how difficult are these negotiations between countries, which have to do with debts arising from war. We only have to consider what happened between the United States of America and this country after the last war, to see the amount of bad blood that was left behind and how a rift was created which, fortunately, mended soon afterwards. That is why, in handling this matter, I realise that the utmost care must be taken.
In presenting a picture of what India looked like during the war, one must bring forward this point. We expended vast amounts of blood and large sums of money very largely in the defence of India. It was part of our general fighting of the war and of winning through to victory, but, nevertheless, it was in the defence of India. If we had not done it, what would have occurred in India would have been too terrible to contemplate. I happened to be in Calcutta on the day on which there was one of the few Japanese air raids by two or three small planes, when a few bombs were dropped and 28 people were killed. The immediate result was a drop in production of about 70 per cent., which lasted a good many months, and an exodus of hundreds of thousands of people from Calcutta. If there ever had been a real offensive in India such as we had here and what we warded off at great cost to ourselves, the people of 585 India would have a much deeper recollection today of what war really means. I believe that in pure book-keeping, if we were to put down against the £1,200 million loan, "To saving your country and to general effort on your behalf for over a century," we should still balance that book very generously in India's favour.
§ Mr. W. Ross (Kilmarnock)
Is the hon. and gallant Gentleman taking into account the number of people who died in the Bengal famine?
§ Mr. Zilliacus
Would the hon. Gentleman allow for the fact that India did not ask to come into the war, but was brought into the war by us for our purposes?
§ Mr. W. Fletcher
I cannot deal with that hypothesis any more than I can deal with India's geographical position which took her into the war and which nobody can alter. The point I am trying to get at is this: Whatever happens next June—and we are all very preoccupied with what the effect will be—whether or not our doubts are well founded that this or that is the best form of organisation in India, and of her relationship with this country, I think one thing stands out really clearly. That is, that it depends to a great extent upon the statemanship and ability of the men in India who will administer the country after we leave, and who will be in charge during the period when the new relationship between India and this country is being worked out by trial and error. It is upon that statesmanship that will depend the whole of the success or failure of what happens. Our doubts may be resolved before the date in June next year, because in the handling of these sterling balances, which is a practical problem which has to be taken in hand at once, in the statesmanship and the attitude of the representatives of India we shall be able to judge how statesmanlike they are and what are the chances of future success or failure.
There are clearly two ways for India to look at this problem. There is the short-term view, from the Indian point of view; there is the short-term point of view of insisting on squeezing the maximum payment of goods or services out of us at a moment when we can least afford to face it, the Shylock attitude. There is the other point of view, which I sincerely hope and believe will be followed, the long-term view, a wide and 586 distant vista of good relationship between us. But that path is a difficult one to take for anybody who is not a statesman in the true sense of the word. It means that those responsible for these negotiations in India will have to say to their people: "We are, of our own accord, and with no obligation whatever on us to do it, giving up the immediate advantage that must flow from insisting on the full carrying out of the obligations which stand behind these sterling balances." That short-term view, if I might express an opinion on it, would be fatal to the interests of India—more fatal possibly to the interests of India than to ourselves—and it would have wide repercussions throughout the world.
If this is handled in a way which has regard for what we have done before and during the war, and with regard for the future relationship, and particularly the economic relationship, between the two countries—because I believe we have a very great future economic relationship with India—it will he satisfactory to all concerned. I am certain that everybody in this House, and outside, will feel a sense of relief that there will be in India a sufficient measure of knowledge of how to handle world affairs as a great nation. Indeed, both countries will have to handle this as an affair between great nations; it would encourage the belief that India will start a new era as a means of salvation and stabilisation instead of as a means of both being dragged down. I hope that in handling this difficult matter with India His Majesty's Government will have due regard—as I nave no doubt they must—for the effect on this country if the negotiations go wrong.
I have heard—though I am not aware whether it is correct or not—that already considerable shipments of such things as textile machinery have been sent to India against the loan. The effect of that must be disastrous for Lancashire, which is struggling against sufficient adversity already. I believe that patience, the great fund of knowledge in handling these things which is possessed in this country, and statesmanship should reside in all those who have to negotiate in order to bring about the looked for outcome. I again emphasise that as a counterpart to this debt, there is undoubtedly owing to us from India a greater debt of gratitude for what we have done; and, let us hope, 587 a considerable debt of advance gratitude for what we can still do for India in the future; because in us resides a greater fund of knowledge and mutual respect and understanding for India than with any other country in the world. Therefore, let us hope that in due course, when we are told the results of these negotiations about the Indian sterling balances, we shall be able to say with truth: Here is a hope for the future. This has been handled on both sides, not on a short-term, Shylock basis, but on a long-term basis, with proper regard for the true, fundamental interests of both parties.
§ 9.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Thomas Reid (Swindon)
I listened with great interest to the speech of the right hon. Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Anderson). In the course of his speech he very properly dealt with the practical difficulties which ocur in administration—in departmental administration, in the judiciary, and so on—when the Constitution of a country is changed. I can assure him that I have a perfect knowledge of that subject, because I am one of the few people in the world who have had the task of transforming, in the course of 20 months, a ruling bureaucracy Constitution into a democracy. I can assure the House that the ramifications of the subject are immense. But when Constitutions have to be changed these things have to be done. I would suggest that, in the case of India, the Government of India Act of 1935 has already done most of the work. That Act set up, or proposed to set up, a federation of India. It never came off fully because the States declined to come into the Federation. Whoever sets about changing the Constitution of India will not have all that constitutional work to do.
Again—I will be quite frank—I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the appointment of Indian politicians to the present Government of India weakened the power of Britain to rule India. I do not think I am misrepresenting what the right hon. Gentleman said. It is very easy to criticise such a thing. Looking at it from the administrative point of view, it was unpardonable. But I ask the right hon. Gentleman what would have happened if another course had been taken, and we had tried to carry on with the Central Government of India 588 as set up by the Government of India Act, 1935. As I listened to him, it seemed to me that from the administrative, practical point of view there was little wrong in what he said; but he did not draw attention to the extraordinary political situation which existed in India at the time. I suggest to the House that, if the leaders of the Indian parties had not been brought into the Government of India at that time, in postwar India, there would have been revolution and disaster.
That is the answer to his point that I would make to the right hon. Gentleman. He said the proper thing to do was for the existing Government to carry on the administration of the country while the constitutional changes were being brought about peaceably and orderly. I quite agree. That was done in the case of Ceylon. In the case of Ceylon political communal hatreds were not so strong as in India, and the leaders of the parties were moderate, and allowed a vast political revolution to be carried out, with difficulty it is true, but peaceably; because, among other things, they had a profound trust in one of the finest administrations the Colonial Empire has known. In Ceylon, it was carried out in the orderly fashion which the right hon. Gentleman suggested should be followed in India. But such procedure was, surely, impossible in India for political reasons. In India, as in most of the tropical Empire, of course, politics are far more difficult than they are in England. That may surprise hon. Members of this House. But what have we in England? A people profoundly united, who have profound national unity without uniformity. In those territories, and especially in India, what is the case—a plural society where there is neither unity nor uniformity, and little or no cohesion? Anyone who has observed their politics as I have, knows there is a complete lack of cohesion. What can be done where there is complete national unity of purpose and profound national unity was not possible in India, and I think the Labour Government are to be complimented on preventing what might have happened long before this—national disaster in India; and for taking steps which would not have been administratively sound elsewhere.
The fact is that the political parties in India demand self-government. There is no use in going over the story. It was 589 told today by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade. We are all committed to self-government for India, and the Labour Government have, so far, performed a wonderful task. Hon. Friends of mine on this side of the House know that I predicted pretty accurately, from the word "Go," what would happen, not because I am a political genius, but because I have lived in India or next door for about 25 years. They have succeeded in getting elections held; that was not too bad, and above all they have succeeded in bringing together a Provisional Government, composed of the leaders of practically all the political parties. But when they succeeded in forming a Constituent Assembly, the procedure failed, as I predicted it would, and that is where we are today. In spite of the fact that a Cabinet Mission went out and adumbrated a perfectly sound federal scheme for India, and did everything to help Indians to get down to that scheme, the procedure has failed. At the moment one party is asking the Governor-General to dismiss the Constituent Assembly, and another party is asking the Governor-General to dismiss one party in it.
I am sorry all this is going on. The leaders of the Indian political parties are fiddling while Rome is burning. I know there are immense political difficulties, but I humbly suggest to them that though it is for them to decide and not this House and nation, yet as a friend of India, I would suggest to them the slogan, "Federate or perish." All the time they are refusing to collaborate, and yet all the time Britain is responsible for the good government of India. I think the right hon. Gentleman suggested that we had lost the power to govern—I hope I am not misquoting him. We certainly have, and yet we are responsible. We have responsibility without power, and the Indian leaders have power without responsibility, and that is one of the worst forms of government we could possibly have. This cannot go on. It is obvious to everyone that we cannot go on while the bickering continues among the political leaders in India. Our Government have finally come to the conclusion that the only way to bring these leaders to the point and force them to decide one way or the other, is to give a definite date by which we have decided to quit. The right hon. Gentleman has said that we 590 should quit India as soon as we have come to the conclusion that a Central Government is likely to be set up in India.
§ Sir J. Anderson
Having first come, by a definite date, to the conclusion that there is no hope of Central Government by agreement, and we have, using all possible expedition and energy, completed the necessary processes involved in handing over in an orderly fashion.
§ Mr. Reid
That is a conditional threat to quit India. The politicians of India do not want any conditional promises. I can assure the House that that is the last thing they want. If they collaborate in the future, these promises are needless, because the transaction can take place before June, 1948. If they fail to collaborate, then the conditional threat to leave will not save the situation.
§ Mr. Niall Macpherson (Dumfries)
Surely it is not a conditional promise to say that we will quit India if something happens, and that if that does not happen, we shall quit on making other arrangements? In both cases there is a promise to quit; there is no conditional promise to quit.
§ Mr. Reid
It seems to me it is a conditional promise. If the statement of the right hon. Gentleman is not conditional, I do not know what is. If the Indian leaders fail to collaborate, and to set up a united India Constitution, however long we wait in the end, the position will be exactly the same as it is today. The Government's policy flatly and squarely places the responsibility on the Indian leaders, and that is the proper place to put it, and they will have to show in the near future whether they really intend to collaborate in setting up a united India or whether they intend to partition India into Hindustan and Pakistan, "the land of the pure." It is necessary to force them to say that, and they will now be forced to do so.
With regard to the minorities, we undertook to see that their rights would be safeguarded in the Constitution. Again, I wish to be quite frank; we cannot implement that guarantee because Indians can set up any Constitution they like which we cannot alter. However, I do not think that will be a great disadvantage, because it is the easiest thing in the world, whether it is one Constitution or more, to put in clauses protecting the minorities, and 591 those clauses will go in, though whether they will be of any value or not is quite a different thing. We cannot, however, undertake to stand by and by force or otherwise implement any pledge we may have given. We only undertook that there should be in the Constitution clauses protecting minority rights, and I have not the slightest doubt that those clauses will be in the Constitutions if they are ever framed. The right hon. Gentleman opposite said we are staking everything on a gamble, in trying to force Indian leaders to come to grips with the problem by June, 1948. Would the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion remove that gamble? If the promise to quit India were conditional, depending on a date when there was no prospect of the establishment of a Central Government there the gamble would be exactly the same. At the end of that observation period there would have to be a similar threat or promise to quit as the Government have now made, two, three or five years hence.
This Indian problem is a world problem; the fate of about 40o million Indians is involved and perhaps the fate of millions outside India. There is a revolution going on in the world everywhere; the world is a dangerous world today, and defence is a vital question for India or any other country. I do not know if the leaders of India realise their enormous responsibility for the defence of India and for not plunging the world into war by the bickerings that go on amongst them. Indian politicians are rigidly logical people, and logic does not always carry us very far in practice. Common sense, tolerance, compromise and practical wisdom are often better than logic in politics. So I would conclude by begging the leaders to come together and collaborate to prevent an awful tragedy from befalling India and possibly the rest of the world.
§ 9.23 p.m.
§ Commander Noble (Chelsea)
My right hon. Friend the Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Anderson) and other speakers on this side of the House have dealt fully with our pledge to give India her independence, but how far the present situation is from our ideal. In the few moments at my disposal tonight, therefore, I will not go into it further. In previous Debates in this Parliament on 592 India, on the eve of the Cabinet Mission's departure and in December, hon. Members on all sides of the House were careful not to say anything which might upset the position in India or have any effect on a peaceful solution of the problem. Now, however, although I hate to say it, we are probably further removed from a united India than we ever were before. We are trying to do three things at the moment when we ought only to be trying to do two. We are trying to govern India, we are trying to hand over to a united India, and at the same time we are preparing for the possibility of turning over to several different Indias. I think the time has come when we should only do two things, and not three. I will come back to that point in a moment, but it brings me to a point of major criticism.
I do not think that this House has been kept properly informed of the situation. I do not think that we have been told how fast the machine was running down in India. There was no hint of it from His Majesty's Government last December during the Debate, although there were several hints from this side of the House, and also from another place, particularly from the noble Lord the Marquess of Linlithgow. Parliament has been kept largely in the dark about this matter and has been very largely misled as to how we were losing control of policy and of developments in India.
My right hon. Friend the Member for the Scottish Universities has given powerful suggestions how that running down could have been avoided. We have "drifted," to use the Prime Minister's own metaphor, and it is now too late. I always hoped for a United India, especially when I was out there during the earlier days of the Government of India Act, 1935, and when Provincial Autonomy was first started. I must say that recently I have turned rather towards what may happen in 1948 though I had not visualised an approach to the matter such as we have had. For that reason I was sorry that the Cabinet Mission did not fix a date like this one, or some sort of a date, when they made their Report. I should have liked to see a date given, with an intimation that if, by that date, no agreement upon unity had been reached, then other arrangements would have to be considered. A similar date could have been proposed now. It should have been said 593 that if arrangementsfor a United India were not reached by the end of this year, other arrangements will have to be considered. As I have said before, we are trying to do three things now when we should be doing only two.
There is a point in which I agree with the hon. Member for West Leyton (Mr. Sorensen). There is no going back on this White Paper. While we hope for unity and are planning along these lines, we must also plan to hand India over to several authorities, to groups of Provinces, to groups of States, to Provinces and to States and to be ready for all the difficulties that will present themselves. The plan to hand over to several Indias must he a Montgomery Plan; it must not be an improvised Dunkirk.
In the December Debate I urged that a date should he given for the ceasing of the Secretary of State's Services, so that members of those services could decide whether they wanted to go on in India or not. How much more difficult that problem will now be. If, in 1948, we are to hand the country over to several Indias let us remember that it took five years to plan the Government of India Act, 1935, with co-operation both here and in India, and now we have only some 16 months. There will be many treaties to prepare. The terms and arrangements must not be kept secret. We must have a published, phased plan.
What will happen to areas that do not come in? The question of overall defence was raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for the Scottish Universities. It is an enormous problem. Our assets, such as the docks at Bombay, will have to be considered, in relation to the sterling balances. There are many other such problems which come to my mind, and which have to be solved. I urge His Majesty's Government to get on with them at once, with the least possible "drift," so that, in the words of the Prime Minister, on the 20th February, in answer to a Question by my right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler):It is not the intention to hand India over to chaos.—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th February. 1947; Vol 433, c. 1406.]In conclusion, may I add my good wishes to those already offered to the new Viceroy in his great task, and may he 594 bring to it the success which he has achieved in many other fields?
§ 9.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Godfrey Nicholson (Farnham)
Like many other hon. Members who have spoken tonight, I feel oppressed with a sense of very deep responsibility At this moment, so pregnant with fate and possibly with tragedy, we speak not only to our colleagues in this House, and to the electorate in this country, but to over 400 million people in India who hang upon our words. The reports of our speeches in the papers here tomorrow morning will compete with many other tragic events happening in the world, but they will receive a prominence in the Indian Press which might surprise and possibly appal the speakers. And it is a moving responsibility too, for I have a deep affection for India, based, if you like, on slight knowledge, because I spent three and a bit months there once, and five weeks there last year. But I have seen a good deal of India. No one can see much of that great sub-continent with its mountains and plains, its marshes and forests, its deserts and its cities, without being profoundly moved. I confess that I cannot speak of India in this House without a sense of deep emotion. I count myself a friend of India, and it is the dearest wish of my heart to see a free and happy India, united by the closest ties of affection and friendship with my own country.
Tonight I speak with a very heavy heart, for two reasons. I believe that this scheme, however superficially attractive, will bring needless suffering to India and discredit to the good name of my own country. It is a gamble, and if it fails, India will pay. There is another reason for my heavy sense of responsibility. I want to be quite frank with the House, I am most anxious lest the action of my own party in opposing this White Paper of the Government should be misinterpreted. It is not pleasant or popular to point out difficulties, although one is sometimes thanked for it afterwards, and it would be a bad thing for India, and a bad thing for this country, if the conclusion were drawn that we speak with two voices here on essentials. We may be accused of temporising and of seizing excuses for holding on to power. I say definitely to this House, and to India, that nothing could be further from the truth. So I must preface my speech by saying 595 that this is not a party attack on the Government. We are sorry not to keep in step with the Government on Indian policy. The Government have not much to complain of in our attitude up to tonight, and I regret that the Government did not see fit by consultation with us to try and treat this as a national responsibility and a shared responsibility. Perhaps they desired to reap party credit. I only hope that it will not react to the discredit of their party. The Tory Party is just as pro-Indian as any other party in the House. Whatever happens it must not go out from this Debate that we lag behind in our zeal to give freedom to India, and freedom at the earliest possible moment. In fact I feel that it is our keener interest and keener sense of responsibility which makes us oppose this policy because we believe that it is wrong.
We wish every success to this policy. We shall be delighted if we find that we are wrong and the Government are right. People often say, without really meaning it, that they hope that they will be proved wrong, but in this case it is a sincere and genuine expression, not only of my own opinion, but of the opinion of the Party for which I speak. Our objections to this plan are simple and practical, and we are bound to voice them because the Government have asked for our affirmative approval of them.
My first reaction to this scheme in the White Paper was this: that it represents the complete overnight reversal of a carefully considered and policy agreed between all Parties. It represents a complete volte face of our whole national approach to the Indian problem. That national approach was based on four main points: firstly, that the transfer of power must be orderly; secondly, that it must be based upon some measure—I do not put it any higher than that—of agreement amongst the Indian Parties; thirdly—I do not want to stress our obligations to minorities for I agree fully that you cannot continue to protect minorities when you part with power—but it was based on the assumption that we should see to it that, as far as possible, minorities get a fair start under whatever new dispensation there may be; fourthly, it is based on the assumption that whatever new India or Indias will be set up, there will be a, treaty or treaties with this country, and so far today I cannot recol- 596 lect having heard the word "treaty" mentioned.
Now I want to deal with the arguments for the Government's proposal, and I say straight away that I do not underrate the weight of those arguments. There is a great deal in the Government's plan. I do not for one moment dismiss it as worthless and trivial and altogether wrong. These arguments seem to me to fall under three heads; firstly, that this declaration of the Government is a proof of our sincerity and is what is needed to convince India of our sincerity. But was our sincerity in doubt since the Cabinet Mission? There has been a great and good and magnificent reception of these proposals in India. India is jubilant. Just a few of her leaders feel anxiety at the heavy responsibility that they are at last being made to assume, but India is jubilant. I remember reading in the history books that this country was once jubilant when war was declared against Spain, and Walpole said:They are ringing their bells now; they will be wringing their hands soon.Once again I pray that I may be wrong. The main argument in the Debate in another place was that these proposals would administer such a shock to Indian leaders that they would be brought face to face with realities, and brought into a frame of mind where they would realise that there was nobody round the corner or up the street who would help them over the difficult fences. A shock—to bring about agreement—what a contradiction. After listening to the speech of the President of the Board of Trade today, I was amazed at the flaws in his arguments. He said this shock would bring about agreement. If ever there was a speech which was a direct invitation to the Muslim League to stick their toes in and hold out for Pakistan, that was one. A shock, deliberately designed like certain medical treatment to cure split personality, which stacks the cards in favour of intransigence. I cannot see how that argument can hold water.
What will be the reaction of the Muslim League to the speech of the President of the Board of Trade today? What will be the reaction in Bengal? What will be the reaction of Mr. Suhrawady, of many more minorities in India, of all sorts and groups of minorities to whom the shock argument cannot be held to apply? The Government 597 themselves do not seem to realise that this argument is no good. The Secretary of State in another place several times referred to the Indian Government and the Indian Constitution, as if it were quite certain that there would be an Indian Government and and Indian Constitution in regard to this White Paper. The right hon. and learned Gentleman this afternoon did precisely the same.
Without wishing to impugn the sincerity of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite I ask them quite seriously to examine their motives and their consciences. Is there no element of wishful thinking in the Government's approach? Were the pious hopes expressed with such eloquence by the right hon. Gentleman this afternoon anything more than pious hopes? Was there not much wishful thinking? Is there not some laziness in the over-simplification of this problem by hon. Gentlemen opposite? They say that this is a great and genuine gesture of our sincerity, administered as a shock, which is launching India on a career of glorious independence. I think there is a great deal of mental laziness in their approach.
When I spoke in this House last December I said that it would be a bad day for India, and for us, if we ever regarded India as an incubus or a nuisance or a bore that we wanted to get rid of. I think that is very largely the approach of the Government in this case. I want to ask them this too: is there not an element of cowardice in their approach? Have they not been afraid to tell the people of this country that we have certain inescapable responsibilities, inescapable obligations, obligations arising from old friendships and a long association, obligations which will cost effort, and possibly money, and a great deal of trouble to carry out? Is it that they do not dare tell the people of this country that India, having for so long been the brightest jewel in the British Crown, may be now a call and a charge on our efforts, our manpower and our money? I think if hon. Gentlemen and right hon. Gentlemen opposite examine their consciences with those possibilities in mind, they may get an unpleasant shock. You cannot shirk responsibilities of this nature. You can compromise with men but you cannot compromise with events, and it is events that we are up against here. Our responsibility is to give India ordered freedom, and we cannot escape it, and His Majesty's 598 Government have not escaped it by this White Paper. Sooner or later—and they have fixed the date—they will have to give some award or some verdict as to what the future constitutional dispensation in India is to be, and this only makes their position immensely more difficult later on. You can defer a day of reckoning, but you will only have to pay a higher price.
§ Mr. Nicholson
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity, if he restrains his ebullience, to speak tomorrow. There is a third argument which to my mind makes nonsense of the other two, and that is that this is inevitable, that something had to be done, that what Lord Pethick-Lawrence in another place called "some brilliant course of action devoid of any risk" not being available, something had to be done. A former Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston, said when he heard people saying that something must be done, that he knew that they were going to do something damned silly, and I rather feel that this is the case now. If it is inevitable, let us do away with all this humbug of saying that we are doing this to prove our sincerity and love for India and to administer a shock to Indian statesmen in order to induce them to come to agreement.
There is, of course, this gap between responsibility and power. We may well be in the position that without great reorganisation of the Services we shall not be able to carry on. But who has been responsible for the neglect of this? I listened to the lame rigmarole of the right hon. and learned Gentleman today when he said why they had not been able to revive and to inject new life into the Secretary of State's Services. I wonder if he convinced even himself; he certainly convinced no one on this side of the House. He deliberately misled the House by considering the Secretary of State's Services as if they were the whole of the administration.
§ Sir S. Cripps
If the hon. Gentleman is going to say that I deliberately misled the House, perhaps he will quote the passage to which he is referring?
§ Mr. Nicholson
"HANSARD" is not here yet, but if the right hon. and learned Gentleman objects to the word "deliberately," I will certainly substitute for it the word "unintentionally." I have a high opinion of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, and I do not believe that he really thinks that the whole administration of India consists of the Services of the Secretary of State for India.
§ Mr. Nicholson
I am glad to hear that, but that was the impression he left on this side of the House. I believe that the present Government, by allowing the Administration to run down, have committed the greatest possible crime against India. I do not think that our Indian friends recognise to the full that India, more than any other area in the world, depends on an efficient Administration. Whatever constitutional legacy we leave to India, if the Administration has been allowed to run down, that is a "damnosa hereditas," an accursed legacy to leave. I repeat that whatever constitutional dispensation we may leave, if we do not leave an efficient Administration behind us, we have condemned India to something like anarchy. I was not much impressed by the right hon. Gentleman as to the excuses why the Government had allowed the administration to run down.
But let us leave speculative criticism of the White Paper, and try to focus our minds on what may probably be the course of events. I have given my reasons for saying that the very terms of this document preclude the slightest possibility of agreement amongst the parties in India and the Provinces in India. Lord Mountbatten will go out there, and I extend good wishes to him. He will start negotiations, de novo so far as he is concerned. The weary round will go on again, and must go on for some months before he comes to the conclusion that the negotiations have to be abandoned. Then, he and His Majesty's Government will have to start designing the new India. There are questions that one is bound to ask, and these are practical questions, because, having fixed the timetable, the Government must have some plan in their head as to what the plan will be. What will be the size of the new areas? The right hon. Gentleman again inadvertently 600 misled the House when he quoted the declaration of December as if the word were "Provinces." The declaration of December spoke of unwilling "parts of the country." It may mean the reshaping of the Provinces of India. On what basis will that be done? On a population basis by districts? Will it be done, linguistically, on a basis of economics, or how? What is the position in regard to the Sates? Is every one of India's several hundred States to have the power to stand out and have separate organ for the reception of the full powers of government? Years of inquiry have been devoted to the constitutional development of India—Royal Commissions, Joint Select Committees, Cabinet Missions, Debates in e House ad nauseam. But now all this is to be telescoped into a few months. There must be some sort of Centre in India, if only an agency sort of Centre. Have the Government any ideas to give us on that? Could not the right hon. and learned Gentleman have spent some part of his eloquence on that subject?
What about the Services? No doubt they are a subject with which the House is bored now, but it means a great deal to the basis of the new federal India, or the divided India, how the Services are to be divided up. What about defence and the Army? There must be some defence. How is the Army to be chopped up? An hon. Gentleman has suggested that the Punjab would remain the reservoir for the armies in the various parts of India. What is going to happen? How many armies are there to be in the future? And what if some areas are not fit for the powers of Government, or do not want them. I ask, in specific cases, what about Bengal and the Punjab? What will happen if henceforth Mr. Suhrawady says, "I am not going to co-operate in anything. I am going to stand for an independent Bengal"? What about the Western areas of Bengal? What about the Punjab? Will it remain a united Punjab—the country of the five rivers? What about the Ambala and the Jullundur districts which have Hindu majorities?
I am specifying all these details in order to show that the Government are assuming on to their shoulders a task the magnitude and difficulty of which cannot be exaggerated. I ask the House and I ask 601 India, can all this bring happiness to India? Then, when "The Day" comes, there will be confusion. Some districts will opt into the Empire and some will opt out of the Empire. Some States will come in and some will stay out. What a hotch-potch of commitments! What a kaliedoscope of responsibilities! What a strange mixture! It will be ironic if the jibe about "Divide and rule" so long unjustly thrown at the head of the British Government, should justly be charged against the present Labour Government. That is what may happen. The inevitable conclusion to which I am driven and to which India will be driven, is that in June, 1948, chaos will be set up by Act of Parliament—or else the pledge will not be kept. We will have been betrayed, and India will have been betrayed. I ask the House to consider the bitterness that will be engendered. These are some of the considerations that pass through my mind at this time, considerations which are looming larger and larger in the minds of Indians as the months run out.
I said my heart was heavy. It is indeed heavy. I see so much evil coming from these proposals with so little good, so much damage to an age-long and great friendship between the two countries. I value Indian friendship more than anything else in this unhappy world. It is not in every corner of the world today that the friendship and affection of 400 million people can be had almost for the asking.
§ Mr. Nicholson
The hon. Gentleman knows nothing of India if he does not realise the great reservoir and volume of good will which there is towards this country. And he knows nothing of Indians if he does not recognise the generous warmth in their hearts. They are an affectionate collection of races. They want affection, sympathy, love, and friendship and they are willing and anxious to give it. The price is cheap. The hon. Member can sit down and shout out his bitter interjections, but I say he knows nothing of India. The friendship of India is there almost for the asking.
§ Mr. Rossrose—602
§ Mr. Ross
The hon. Gentleman states that we can get the friendship of the Indians for the asking. I would like to ask him why we did not get the friendship of the Indians in 1942. When I stepped off a ship in Karachi—it will be noted that I know nothing about India—all that I could see on the walls was, "Quit India."
§ Mr. Nicholson
If the hon. Gentleman thinks that we have not had a great volume of loyalty and friendship from India, he is much mistaken.
§ Mr. Dribergrose—
§ Mr. Nicholson
I propose to make my point, and I repeat it. I say that nobody can claim to know anything of India if they are not aware of the immense volume of good will which there is towards this country. I intend to say quite briefly what I think is the price of that friendship. First India must be convinced of our sincerity. I want to pay my tribute to His Majesty's Government for the great steps which they have taken to convince India of our sincerity. I think everybody on this side of the House pays a tribute honestly and sincerely in that respect.
Secondly, India and Indians must be convinced that we welcome India on equal terms of brotherhood. I have spoken of that easily-won friendship of India. If there is any tendency on our part, or any implication that we are adopting a position of superiority, or anything other than complete equality, it will fall like a pall between India and ourselves. There, again, I pay tribute to the Government for having carried on the tradition nobly and well in having met India on terms of equality.
But there is a third price to pay. We must convince India that we are not washing our hands of the obligations of our friendship and long connection, and that is my main ground of criticism of these proposals. The Government offer in the words of this Amendment "no help to or association with, India in her hour of destiny." I do not want to end on a melodramatic note, but I must remind 603 the House that the origin of those words "washing one's hands" goes back to the time when hands were washed in a small Roman Province about 1,934 years ago. That was followed by a tragedy. Let us pray that when right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench opposite wash their hands of India it will not lead to tragic misery for 400 millions of our fellow-subjects.
§ Debate adjourned.—[Mr. Popplewell.]
§ Debate to be resumed Tomorrow.