§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.49 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations (Mr. Philip Noel-Baker)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
The reason for the Bill is stated in the Title. It is to:Make provision as to the operation of the law in relation to India, and persons and things in any way belonging to or connected with India, in view of India's becoming a Republic while remaining a member of the Commonwealth.In Paris in 1919, after the first world war, not everybody was wholly sure that India and the self-governing Dominions should be accepted as nations, as separate signatories of the treaties and as separate members of the League of Nations. The Dominion leaders and their delegations soon finished off those doubts. The Dominions never behaved, thank God, in the Assembly of the League of Nations as satellites of Britain. Indeed Lord Balfour declared in the Third Assembly that up to then the members of the British Commonwealth had never voted together except in opposition to intellectual co-operation. By their service to mankind and by their work in national institutions, the Dominions soon established their international position and when the Balfour Declaration was made in 1926, it was already clear to everyone that it made no new constitutional change—it simply recorded changes which events, the practice of the Government's new constitutional conventions, had brought about.
But doubt still existed about India among our foreign friends, among Indians and even here. I always answered that although India was not then self-governing, her membership of the League of Nations was a pledge of full nationhood for India within a short period of years. Today India's nationhood is complete. Today India, like Pakistan and Ceylon, speaks with her own voice in the councils of mankind.
The growth of the nationhood of the Dominions has been one of the epic stories of the last 100 years. It is one 1542 of the dynamic hopeful currents in world affairs today. Nationhood has come from freedom; and that freedom is complete. It means sovereign independence in every facet of every Commonwealth nation's life. It includes the right—that was implicit in the Statute of West-Minister in 1931, and indeed in the Bill which we passed for Canada on Friday last—to determine the form of constitution under which a Commonwealth country shall live. All parties in all Commonwealth countries have fully accepted that proposition for many years.
In pursuance of that right, and in fulfilment of principles which they declared before they came to power, India's leaders, with the support of their elected Parliament, have decided that India shall become a Republic, with a President of its own. On 26th January, 1950, the establishment of the Republic will be formally and solemnly declared. But Pandit Nehru, on behalf of his Government and people, also declared that India desired to remain a member of the Commonwealth.
These two decisions faced the other Governments of the Commonwealth with a new problem, something which they have never had to face before. Could a nation become a Republic, could its territory cease in law to be part of the Dominions of the King, and could that nation yet remain a full member of the Commonwealth? That new question concerned not us alone nor us and India alone; it concerned in equal measure every self-governing member of the Commonwealth. After lengthy preparatory consideration the Prime Ministers met to deal with it in April last, and everyone is familiar with their decision.
They recognised that India had the right to decide her own constitution for herself; they warmly welcomed her desire to remain within the Commonwealth; they felt that this was no time to weaken the links between the peace-loving and freedom-loving nations of the world; they realised that the genius of the Commonwealth, the secret of its growth, had lain and still lay in its power to adapt its law and institutions to changing relations of the world. They remembered, too, that its strength had never come from written constitutions, rules or elaborate institutional machinery, 1543 but had grown with the growth of freedom throughout its lands. They were anxious that the question of the Monarchy, so dear to so many people in so many lands "should not," in the words of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition be:a barrier to the inclusion of India as a Republic in the Commonwealth.They accordingly agreed on a solemn declaration, unanimously accepted by all the other nations, whose relation with the Crown had not been changed, by which India remained a full and equal member of the Commonwealth, by which she accepted the King as the symbol of the free association of its independent members and as such the Head of the Commonwealth, by which, again in the words of the Leader of the Opposition,the vital significance and value of the Monarchy seems to be enhanced…,"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th April, 1949; Vol. 464. c. 373.]It was implicit in the historic decision that the other links between India and the Commonwealth should not be weakened, that our friendship should be undiminished, that our practical cooperation should continue in the future as in the past, and that India and Indian citizens would continue to enjoy the rights and privileges which they had hitherto enjoyed.
But if this is to happen in the United Kingdom there must be legislation by our Parliament. When India ceases to be in law part of His Majesty's Dominions, innumerable provisions in our Statute Book will forthwith cease to apply to India and Indians unless something new is done. The Government, therefore, have laid this Bill before the House. We have sought to make it comprehensive so that it shall cover all the many questions that may arise. We have sought also to make it as simple and flexible as it can be.
May I say a few words about its Clauses? Clause 1 (1) provides that when India becomes a Republic the whole of our existing law shall continue to apply to India, to Indians and to their property as it would have applied if India had not become a Republic. This means that Indians will continue to have in this country the same rights and privileges as they have today. It means that the trade preferences between India and ourselves will continue; it means that in 1544 general all the provisions of our law will, in respect of Indians and Indian property, remain in force whereever they are in force now.
In Clause 1 (2) the same applies to Indians and Indian property in Colonies, Protectorates and United Kingdom trust territories. I add that what is said in subsection (2) is subject to the phrase in subsection (1):until provision to the contrary is made by the authority having power to alter that law….That means that where Colonial Legislatures now have the right to do so, they will still retain the right to amend their law as it applies to India, to Indians and to Indian property. I should add perhaps that Colonial Legislatures have not the right to legislate in respect of citizenship. The second paragraph of subsection (2) is a piece of draftsman's shorthand. It avoids the need to set out here various parts of Sections 30 to 33 of the British Nationality Act, 1948, and the provisions of an Order in Council made in pursuance of that Act. The draftsmen have provided very neatly for all that in a couple of lines.
Clause 1 (3) gives His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom the power to modify the existing law to which this Bill extends by Order in Council. We think it desirable to take this power because after the new Indian Constitution has come into force the Indian Parliament may. require to pass a good deal of new legislation. That in turn may require substantive or formal amendment of our United Kingdom law as well. But the amendments we require may well be of minor importance, and it might be a waste of Parliamentary time to come to the House on every occasion when the need arose. Every Order in Council will of course be subject, as subsection (3) makes plain, to annulment by negative resolution in either House. There are precedents for subsection (3) in other Acts which deal with constitutional change. We had a similar provision in the Ceylon Independence Act, 1947, in the Mandated and Trust Territories Act, 1947, and in the Palestine Act, 1948. There is, therefore, nothing new or dangerous in it and I think the House may safely agree to its inclusion.
1545 In Clause 1 (4) it is laid down that if an Order in Council should lead to an increase in public expenditure out of moneys provided by Parliament, or out of the Consolidated Funds, it shall be defrayed out of such moneys provided by Parliament or out of the Fund. My advisers consider it extremely unlikely that any such increased demands will ever be asked for as a result of an Order in Council; but it is just possible that there may be, and therefore this subsection appears, and a Money Resolution will be required.
That is the Bill. The case in its support lies in the events and the decisions by the Commonwealth Prime Ministers, which I have already recalled. Its smooth and easy passage will, I am convinced, serve the interests which each party have at heart. Pandit Nehru, when he became Prime Minister of India, and leader of 300 million people, assumed responsibilities before which any statesman might have quailed. He has had difficulties, very acute and largely unforeseen, which he has had to overcome. He has brought to his task not only his superb intellectual attainments, but vision and courage which the world admired. His work, and that of his colleagues in his Cabinet and administration, mean everything to India. Their example and their help may mean everything to Asia. We know that the Commonwealth is strengthened, we hope that India will be strengthened also, by their decision to remain within its ranks.
Pandit Nehru spoke to the Canadian Parliament about a month ago. He told them that when India became a Republic its relations with the rest of the Commonwealth would not be weakened. He said:On the contrary it will have the greater strength that common endeavour derives from a sense that it is inspired and sustained by the free will of free peoples.What do those words mean for us and for the world? What has the Commonwealth contributed to the progress of mankind? What is its significance in the world today? What does it mean that India will remain an equal member with the rest? In our Commonwealth countries we have established the personal liberty of the individual. The United Nations are still struggling with human rights, but the first Declaration of Human Rights was signed at Runnymede seven centuries ago. We have evolved the prac- 1546 tical technique of representative democratic institutions, of Government by the people for the people. We have shown that Empire can be transformed into Commonwealth by evolution, and not by revolution; by agreement, and not by force.
Our nations have shown, and today it is the most important thing of all, that the winning of sovereign independence can make co-operation between Governments and peoples even closer than it was before; that as sovereign independence is recognised, so the sense of inter-dependance grows stronger and the desire to assert sovereign rights to the detriment of co-operation dies away. Those four great principles are of immense significance in world affairs today. They are as vital to Asia as they are to us. We all rejoice that India will work with us to ensure their triumph, both in East and West. The supreme achievement of the Commonwealth is really this: that the use of lawless force in the relations of its peoples is utterly excluded from the policies, and indeed, from the very thinking of its Governments and of the nations whom they rule.
It is in this partnership that India will remain. It is for these principles that she will work. We shall have a partner whose nationhood is already a major factor in Commonwealth and international affairs, a partner who is destined to material greatness, whose people desire to live by the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi, whose chief ambition is to be great in knowledge, in wisdom, in moral and spiritual power.
§ 4.5 p.m.
§ Mr. R. A. Butler (Saffron Walden)
It is my duty and pleasure to express on behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends our agreement with the passage of this Bill. The Bill follows upon the decision taken at the April meeting of the Commonwealth Prime Ministers, and the view of the Opposition was then expressed by the Leader of the Opposition the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill). Certain of his sentences and observations have been used by the right hon. Gentleman in supporting this Bill and bringing it before the House this afternoon. I cannot, therefore, add very many words to those which have been expressed, but what the right hon. Gentleman said about the development 1547 of nationhood is something which we on this side of the House have always wanted to support.
This autumn I had the honour of attending the first informal conference of representatives of the Commonwealth which has taken place since the April meeting. There we had a powerful, and, if I may say so, a voluble deputation from India, and thanks to their many interventions when they took part in our discussions, they left us in no doubt about their sentiments and feelings. We derived the greatest possible advantage from contact with their thoughts and ideas. It became clear to us after those discussions that, not only with India, but with the other Commonwealth representatives, the question of the status of the individual members of the Commonwealth has now been embalmed and tucked away for ever; and we can approach discussions at a Commonwealth level without having to worry about the question of independence or status at all. That no doubt is a great advantage to the Commonwealth idea and to the strength in the future to which we all look forward.
The Indian decision, as I have already stated, was accepted by us and we were glad that in the course of that decision the Monarchy remained the symbol of the free association of our peoples. We were naturally sorry that the decision did not go another way, but having gone this way, and India having decided to be a Republic, we have willingly accepted the consequences. We look forward in the future to perhaps an even closer collaboration than could have taken place had we in any way thwarted or gone against this decision. At any rate, it is our hope that things will work out in that way.
The right hon. Gentleman himself said that the Bill was a simple one, and it is remarkably simply phrased. For example, the Preamble is in language so simple as to be almost of nursery character. I should like, through the right hon. Gentleman, myself to congratulate the draftsmen on using words of one syllable which we can all readily understand:To make provision as to the operation"—"operation"—that is a three-syllable word, and rather longer—of the law in relation to India, and persons and things in any way belonging to or con- 1548 nected with India, in view of India's becoming a Republic"—which is a very attractive phrase in a legal document—while remaining a member of the Commonwealth.That indeed is simple, and all can understand it. I wish to say on the occasion of the Second Reading Debate that I hope things will work out as simply as this Bill would make them appear.
The first slight complication which may occur is that of the question of citizenship. For example, in the future, India may well pass legislation of her own. Therefore, it is really quite impossible for any of us, who may be supporting this Bill for the reasons I have given this afternoon, to be able to say what the development of these matters may be in the future. All hon. Members should realise that problems may arise in the future—which we hope will not be complicated, but which may have to be solved—not similar to those problems we have already faced. The fact is that independent legislation may be undertaken by the Government of India which may introduce new matters which will call for consideration when they arise.
I have never been particularly anxious about details of nationality or citizenship, on the understanding that nationhood is made more secure and more certain, because, that having been achieved, I believe better relations result. But when we come to the general association of questions of citizenship with subsection (2), it may well be that complications will arise which were not foreseen at the time of the drafting of this Bill. I say that on this occasion, because it would be bad if any of us who were supporting this Bill thought that there were no complications whatever in it and that we could just pass it in vacuo, without raising any important points whatever.
The right hon. Gentleman has discussed the provisions of the Bill itself. He has drawn our attention to the fact that in subsection (1) trade preferences may, and will, continue between us and India as before. It will be remembered that in our many discussions on the subject of India in the past at one stage it was proposed that there should be a treaty between us. It was proposed at that stage that in the treaty should be set out an account of the relations subsisting 1549 between India and this country. That, of course, has now been superseded and passed over by the fact that India is a member of the Commonwealth.
However, it would be very convenient on some occasion if some picture could be given to the British public of the nature of the bonds and understandings which exist between our two countries at present. I say that because in the rarified atmosphere in which the right hon. Gentleman and Mr. Nehru live—namely, the atmosphere of Government offices, gadis and other dignified seats of the mighty—these matters are easy to understand, but the details of inter-Commonwealth development and relations are very difficult for the ordinary public to understand. If the Government do not find this an occasion to give us some broader picture than the right hon. Gentleman has been able to give, I hope they will remember that the public would like to hear more, because by understanding our relations a better feeling may well persist between us than even the excellent atmosphere which now prevails.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned subsection (2) which refers to the Colonies. In this connection it would be interesting to know whether the some 50 Colonial Governments involved were consulted before this Bill was drafted. My own impression is that they cannot all have been consulted, but I should be interested to have an answer to that question before we leave this Bill, either now or on a subsequent stage. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the possibility of new legislation being passed and of the effect of subsection (3). He also referred to the possibility of Orders in Council. May I take it from him that these are to be affirmative Orders in Council from one or other House of Parliament? I understand that to be the meaning of subsection (3, b).
When we come to subsection (4), there is some doubt in our minds about the possible incidence of the expenditure arising out of this Bill. I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman if he was correct in saying that in fact a Money Resolution can come into force as a result of an Order in Council or whether it is not usual for a Money Resolution to accompany a Bill. I should also like to ask whether he would perhaps correct his observation and give us further enlighten- 1550 ment about how the House can in future be informed of the incidence of any money charges which might or might not arise from this Bill. However, those are points of detail.
I am sure that we are all in debt to the right hon. Gentleman for the very moving language with which he introduced this Bill. Many of us have devoted the greater part of our working legislative life to problems arising out of India. It it in moving occasion for us to be able to take part in a Bill, however small, which may not cause that atmosphere of excitement, flury and controversy which was associated with the previous great Measure with which I had so much to do but which nevertheless is one of the later acts in a great drama between great countries. We feel that things may not have developed exactly as we foresaw, but they have developed, as is often the case in the history of the British and Indian peoples, in a rather miraculous way.
Any of us who have been closely in touch either with the peoples of India or with her leaders realise that India is a greta power in a vital geographical situation in the world, her influence having gained an even greater advantage since the unfortunate demise and collapse of the Government in China with which, incidentally, Mr. Nehru was on such close terms. In view of that unfortunate occurrence in the history of the world, an even greater burden falls on the Government of India than seemed likely at the time these decisions were taken.
I am sure that it is the wish of both sides of the House that every feeling of goodwill should go forth to the Government of India. We hope that she will face her difficulties in as practical and realistic a manner as possible. I think it should go forth to India today that all sections of opinion in this country are behind the understanding that has been reached and behind this Bill. It would be extremely unfortunate for the development of Commonwealth relations if the Government of any one country was said to be associated with one section of opinion, with one party or with one type of person. I therefore say, quite bluntly, that we on this side of the House are as desirous as anyone not only to make our personal friendships closer with India's peoples and her leaders, but also to make our own activities such as would indicate to 1551 India that we understand her aspirations and her desires for development. This must be a two-way traffic and I hope that if we try to help India she will try to help us. The best way in which India can help is by educating us in her difficulties.
I wish to add one sentence to the sentiments enunciated by the right hon. Gentleman by saying that it would be inappropriate upon this occasion while we are celebrating a Bill in honour of a decision by India, to forget two other countries—namely, Pakistan and Ceylon—just because they took a decision, perhaps of a more orthodox but of a no less a remarkable character, to remain full members of the British Commonwealth of Nations. It would be very valuable if a message could go out to them from this House that we try to understand the difficulties of Pakistan and of Ceylon. We understand the acute problems, not only administrative but also social and economic, with which they are faced. The fact that these two countries have taken a different decision does not mean that we are forgetting them today because we are celebrating an occasion when India as a Republic is joining the Commonwealth. Our future depends upon absolute impartiality between all our Commonwealth friends overseas and it depends also on complete understanding. If the few observations that have been made from both sides of the House today lead to a better understanding, then this will have been a valuable occasion.
§ 4.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Clement Davies (Montgomery)
I wish to add a few words of commendation and congratulation to His Majesty's Government upon the introduction of this Bill. I should also like to add my congratulations to those of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler) to the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations for the excellent way in which he introduced this Measure, and the sentiments he expressed. This Bill is a necessary corollary following upon the momentous decision of India to be a Republic but, nevertheless, to remain a member of the Commonwealth. That decision was made with the full approval of all the Prime 1552 Ministers of the independent countries which form the Commonwealth. It secures one most desirable object, namely, continuity in friendship and in relations between India and ourselves. I hope it will help to strengthen the links of friendship between us, and enable us, India, Pakistan, Ceylon and all the other members of the Commonwealth to work in harmony for the common benefit of all, not only within but also without the Commonwealth.
I would like to refer to one matter in the Bill. Personally, I do not like—nor do many other hon. Members of the House like—legislation by Orders in Council. Undoubtedly, a number of matters will have to receive further consideration when further legislation is passed by India after the New Year, and I concur in what the Government proposes and in any changes that may be necessary. In future, that legislation can best be dealt with by Orders in Council, which will, of course, come before this House and will be dealt with here.
Finally, the problems confronting the Governments of India and Pakistan are greater, I believe, than those confronting any other country in the whole world, and all I want to add is that they may be assured of the firm desire of everyone in this country that they should receive every assistance and encouragement in settling these problems. I am glad to be able to join with the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken for the Opposition in saying that, in all these matters, all parties are united in wishing well to all the peoples of what used to be the sub-continent of Asia.
§ 4.22 p.m.
§ Dr. Haden Guest (Islington, North)
I rise to speak on this occasion although the House is not very full with a tremendous emotion within me, because this is a very great moment in our history. The Bill now before the House is the crown to that great record of the history of our association with India and with the Commonwealth. It is an occasion which marks a very outstanding achievement of British democracy.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler), who spoke for the Opposition, referred to the rarefied atmosphere in which he 1553 alleged my right hon. Friend and others were working in this connection. I believe that that atmosphere is in a sense rarefied, because we are really standing here today on a mountain top of human achievement in regard to the British Commonwealth. It is a wonderful and unprecedented thing that has happened, and I believe that many of us who are conscious of this feel that we are not only able today to congratulate Great Britain, India and the Commonwealth as a whole, but are also able to feel proud of this very great decision which has been made as between India and Great Britain and the rest of the Commonwealth. For we are pointing the way to a new kind of human freedom of association in the world, which I believe will be unending in its effect on human history.
§ 4.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Beverley Baxter (Wood Green)
I find myself in the temperamental situation of agreeing, not only with the Minister and my right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler) who spoke for the Conservative Opposition, but with the Liberal leader, too. Nevertheless, this is an important moment, and I hope one might be allowed—especially one like myself, who comes from the outer Empire—to express a little regret that it was impossible to find some other solution.
I remember, about 10 years ago, when five or six of us from the House of Commons were dining with the then German Ambassador, Herr von Ribbentrop—it was one of the things we used to do, and I make no apology for it—we were discussing the possibility of another war. Ribbentrop said, "If there is another war, your Empire will collapse." He was an offensive man; he was a German, and therefore he could not help it. He said, "After all, what is it that holds the Empire together? It is only moonbeams." He was so pleased about that remark that he repeated it. One of our party said to him, "Well, Ambassador, when you have cut a chain, which is something you would understand, the chain is cut; but, when you cut a moonbeam, the moonbeam is still there." I had the somewhat doubtful privilege of seeing Herr von Ribbentrop sentenced to death at Nuremberg. It was a strange sight. I almost felt that I could have 1554 passed him a note saying, "You said that our Empire was held together by moonbeams."
Therefore, I think that this Bill today is a credit to the spirit of the Commonwealth and Empire, which is essentially that of compromise, though I find it imperative to say that I am sorry that India could not take the same decision as Pakistan and Ceylon and be content to be a Dominion, as the other Dominions were. I realise that it was difficult, because I remember that, when Pandit Nehru came here some years before the war and addressed a private meeting of Members of all parties upstairs, how bitterly he attacked this country, and, at that meeting, I asked him if he had anything to say in favour of the British Raj, and he replied quite frankly, "That is not my rô le; my rô le is to attack the British Raj."
While I think that the Prime Minister specially deserves every credit for this achievement, because it is a racial thing and we cannot judge it in the same way as we judge Australia or Canada, yet the very fact that we have taken the Republic of India into our association of nations does loosen that intangible thread which holds us together, and we would be less than honest if we did not admit that. After all, my own country of Canada has a double association with this country and the United States, but it is strong enough to feel proud that it has the King's representative in the Governor-General, who opens Parliament in Canada and speaks of "My Ministers," and Canada is strong enough not to resent it.
Nevertheless, when all that is said, I think this has been a great endeavour in our tolerant basic philosophy and in the ingenuity, rather than the intellectual wisdom, of the British race. I associate myself with what was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden. We of the Conservative Party, if we come to power, as I think is likely after the next General Election, though we shall be sorry that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister will then have to give up his important task, shall, nevertheless, carry on with the same feeling and sensibility.
§ 4.29 p.m.
§ Mr. Wyatt (Birmingham, Aston)
I think one should say to the hon. Member for Wood Green (Mr. Baxter) that the 1555 real reason why the Indian nation has felt unable to accept the Monarchy as the direct symbol of association is that in India the struggle for nationalism and the fight for independence has been more acute than it has been, rightly or wrongly, in Pakistan, and so, of necessity, the Crown was a symbol of imperialism, since it was the Imperial Crown of India. It is quite simple to understand, if one puts oneself into the position of a nationalist in India, why the Crown should be regarded in that way.
With everything else that the hon. Member said I fully concur, and I have risen only to try to reinforce, so far as I am able, some of the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler), who as we all know has always struggled here to get a right view of India, Pakistan and Ceylon within his own party. I am glad to see that, apparently, he has at last achieved greater success in this direction than he has with the Industrial Charter. At any rate, he has made some considerable progress along the road. I agree with him that it is absolutely vital that in these new Dominions there should not be a feeling that one sort of Government in this country is going to be more hostile towards them than another sort. If there was such a feeling, it was entirely due to the remarks of right hon. and hon. Members opposite, but if they have now reformed, then that is a very good sign for future strength in the Commonwealth.
I agree most emphatically that it is vital for us to have far more details of the working of this Commonwealth of ours. India is going to be a Republic within the Commonwealth. Hon. Members must realise that there is a very strong body of opinion in India today which does not want to be in the Commonwealth, and which thinks that India has taken a wrong step, I regard that body of opinion, even though part of it incorporates the Socialist Party of India, as profoundly mistaken. I believe it holds that view because it has not the necessary information on which to base a proper judgment.
It has been the custom during the lifetime of this Parliament—and I must say that it has always much distressed me—to treat the Commonwealth as a very delicate instrument and as something which is so holy and sacred that one 1556 may not examine and analyse it. Throughout the life of this Parliament we have not had a Commonwealth Debate as such, which seems a shocking thing. Unless publicity is thrown upon it and upon its workings, and even upon the stresses and strains which it may undergo, then we are not going to follow its processes as closely as we should. Commonwealth conferences are so confidential that we never hear exactly what has been discussed. Everybody is frightened to say anything severe—and this applies to the country of the hon. Member for Wood Green (Mr. Baxter)—in case the Dominion concerned should be displeased, although nobody living in Canada or India minds saying something severe about this country. Therefore, we never get to grips with these problems.
I was recently amazed, when talking to people from the Indian Socialist Party, to find that they have no notion whatever as to the arrangements which operate to give the Commonwealth countries—India and Pakistan included—some priority in trade from this country. That is a most significant feature of the Commonwealth. It is a fact that, with regard to many items of scarce capital equipment, we give priority to Commonwealth countries just because they are Commonwealth countries and because they are associated with us in a special way. But these Indians had no notion of that. There is no proper expression of what is being done in this way. The same sort of thing applies to all ranges of imports and exports.
They have no real notion that what is going on in regard to Burma is something of great importance in the history of this Commonwealth. For the first time we have really got going in regard to proper consultation upon a joint approach to a country outside the Commonwealth, events in which may be of importance to the Commonwealth as a whole. This matter is not now being decided as it would have been in the past by His Majesty's Government deciding whether or not to give aid or a loan to Burma on her own account. It is being done by bringing India and Pakistan—countries closest to Burma—together with the other Commonwealth countries in a conference.
One does not know how a Commonwealth conference works. I do not know what happens when the representatives 1557 of these countries come to London or meet at Colombo. One does not know what decisions are reached or the form in which the various matters are dealt with, or what exactly arises out of them. It is of great importance to give publicity to all these matters and to consider, perhaps, whether we need more accurate and exact machinery to settle possible frictions and disputes within the Commonwealth as well.
There is no doubt that the fact that India is in the Commonwealth is going to enable her to play a much greater part in her leadership of South-East Asia. She will get enormous support from the fact that she is in the Commonwealth and from the material and less material things that will flow from the West towards India because of it. This is the great and really the only living link which exists between East and West. The link between the Dutch and Indonesia is of a smaller and hollower character. This is the beginning of a real world federation which is being born because both parties genuinely want it and because there is benefit to both arising from it. We do not know half enough about it. Today we are faced with two systems. We are faced with the Russian Empire in which free peoples progress towards slavery, and with the British Empire in which enslaved peoples progress towards freedom. It is important that when we help those countries which progress towards freedom, everyone in that country should realise what is happening and the nature of the support which we give to it afterwards.
I would conclude by agreeing with the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden when he stresses the importance of impartiality from this country to the various members of the Commonwealth. For one reason or another there has been a tendency in the past for groups to identify themselves with either Pakistan or India and to make people in those countries feel that there is some kind of special link between one group in this country and their country which is different from the link between another group and their country. It is important that we should always try to remember that they are all equal partners in this association, and we should not seek to prefer or laud one above the other. If we can do that and give much more publicity to the details 1558 of the working of the Commonwealth, we shall have it on a much stronger and surer basis. There seems to be nothing to be gained by secrecy, but everything to be gained by the fullest publicity.
§ 4.38 p.m.
§ Sir Stanley Reed (Aylesbury)
I feel that very little can be added to the speech of the Minister and that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler), who put our case with such admirable lucidity and such full knowledge. I propose, if I may, in a few sentences to bring this discussion back to the high note of seriousness which characterised the speeches of the Minister, of my right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden and of the two hon. Members who immediately followed him. Those who studied the movement of affairs in the East saw quite clearly that we were moving towards the stage which we have reached today. When the Burma Independence Bill was before this House, I ventured to say that we in the Commonwealth would have to sit down and sandpaper our brains to see if there was a flexibility in the Commonwealth to enable those parts of it which preferred a different form of Government from our own still to remain closely associated with it. That suggestion fell upon stony ground at the time; but it has now fructified in the Bill which is today before the House.
I ask the House to consider the tremendous character of the events in which we are participating today. For nearly three years a Constituent Assembly in India has been hammering out and fashioning a new constitution which will come into force on 26th January next. That constitution does not closely follow our own practice. There are important respects in which it varies from it; it is not just a pale imitation of our own form of Government but rightly and properly is adapted to Indian conditions sui generis. Nevertheless that constitution embodies the British spirit of freedom, of liberty, of the rights of the individual, the protection of minorities and the rule of law.
It is a matter of no small significance, when we look back upon the storms and passions which have moved India in her progress towards independence, that now, of her own free and unqualified will, she has expressed an ardent desire to remain a member of our Commonwealth of 1559 nations and this with the full concurrence of the sister nations. Whether that is for her advantage or not she must decide; I have no doubt whatsoever that it will be of immeasurable advantage to the Commonwealth, to the world and to the whole human race. I feel that those wise and courageous men who have directed India's affairs in conditions of almost unparalleled difficulty since independence was established, are rendering a great service to freedom, to liberty, to the human race in the step which they have taken with our cordial and generous acquiesence.
None of us can be blind to the warning which my right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden has given as to the difficulties which may occur in future. Perhaps the more we know, the more those difficulties may seem to loom before us. But for my part I have never been, and I will not, be baulked by the knowledge that there are these difficulties. Sufficient for me to tread the path and look straight on. If these difficulties arise, can we not approach them in the spirit of Napolean's marshals—If it is difficult, it is done; if it is impossible, it will take a little time? When I look back over the events which have led to this remarkable proof not only of the flexibility of our Commonwealth system, not only of the manner in which it has been adapted to deal with great and almost unprecedented developments, but also to the future in Asia, we can confidently say that the work which has been done in this Parliament has been well and truly done in a wise and liberal spirit.
There are two thoughts which always come back to my mind when we approach this decisive phase in the polity of India. First, the words of a great Indian patriot and Indian nationalist, an older man than Pandit Nehru, who was one of the most accomplished and high-minded speakers who used the English language. That was the right hon. Srinavastra Sastri, who at the end of a tour round the world electrified a dryasdust Simla audience by proclaiming that the Commonwealth is the greatest instrument for the promotion of human freedom and liberty that the world has ever seen. I think that is profoundly true today. The other words were used in another place, during a rather critical 1560 Debate; they are that we here in Parliament, and we the British people are, with our colleagues in India, now and always to the utmost of our power, and the very limit of our resources, pledged to help them as equal partners in the work in which they are engaged.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Skinnard (Harrow, East)
I think that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations and all of us in this House would have been disappointed had the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Sir S. Reed) not caught your eye, Mr. Speaker, on this great occasion. On the subject of our relations with our great sister nation of India, he has always proved a sound guide, and it is not without real justification that he claimed some gift of prophecy in that speech in this House to which he referred so movingly just now. We are indebted not only to the hon. Gentleman for his faith in the future but to the caution behind the good will which was implicit in the speech of the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler).
I am particularly glad that in no speech to which the House has listened today has there been any sense of uttering a Nunc dimittis. Rather are we witnessing the opening of a door into a more glorious future in the co-operation between our two nations. We do not know what lies beyond the door. This is merely the turning of the handle today. What we are sure of is that because of the mutual respect which the Indian and the British peoples have for each other, a respect which is all the greater since it was gained very often when there were periods of great antagonism, which antagonisms have been resolved by great statesmanship and a feeling of affection, we have every right to believe that the adhesion of a Republic of India to the Commonwealth is one of the greatest steps in the development of our comity of nations.
I do not share the feelings of regret expressed by some of my fellow countrymen that India has not chosen the Dominion path selected by Pakistan and Ceylon. The flexibility of the Commonwealth has been stressed by several speakers, and surely it is not strange in a Commonwealth and Empire where we have ruling sovereigns whose subjects are not British subjects but whose rulers are, 1561 that we should now find a sovereign republic. Surely there have been paradoxical arrangements before, and yet they have served well over many years. As came out in the discussion on the Nationality Bill, we have protectorates and protected states; we have sultanates and emirates, and what in effect are crowned republics in the great Dominions, all within the Commonwealth and all working well together.
The fact that India had special difficulties was well brought out by my hon. Friend the Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt)—difficulties greater in solution than those experienced by either Pakistan or Ceylon. Despite those difficulties, she has elected to remain within the Commonwealth, and that is a measure of her knowledge that this will be to the mutual advantage of every member of the Commonwealth and for the furtherance of the ideals of world peace which India's Prime Minister has so well expressed in the United States recently. I was particularly glad that Pandit Nehru chose this particular time to go to the United States when the choice of adhesion had been made and the agreement arrived at. He went to the United States as the spokesman of a great independent people, united in their Republic, and yet armed also with the right to speak for the British Commonwealth of Nations. It must have seemed strange to some of our former critics in the United States, but I think it was a particularly opportune time for that to happen because it set a pattern which the world might well follow.
§ 4.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham)
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations did not say very much about the Bill in his opening speech, and I think he did not say very much about the Bill for two very good reasons. First, what he was saying was being said not only to people in this House, but also to the peoples of the great sister nation and the peoples of the world—and was being said very well and in a very moving manner. Secondly, there is not very much one can say about the Bill as such.
The right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler) has referred to the very able way in which this very short Bill has been drawn—drawn so ably 1562 but so briefly that one wonders, in amazement, whether it really can carry out all it purports to do. After all, however, it is one of the characteristics of the great State documents of history that they have all been drawn in short and moving and effective terms and it may well be that this will be added to the great State documents, as certainly this afternoon will be added to the great days of history.
On all sides of the House we find agreement in support of this Measure. On no side do we find any denigration and we can send to this great new sister nation on this day a message of new comradeship and of hope for a new renaissance in the East—a renaissance on the part of a country with a great history, which has made a great contribution to world culture and which has an opportunity of making an even greater contribution in the future. One would wish, having said that, to say no more, but the opportunities given to a back bencher to raise important matters are so few that he cannot continue self-abnegation to that extent.
I want to say something which has already been said by my hon. Frend the Member for one of the Birmingham constituencies—I never remember one part of Birmingham from another—
§ Mr. Hale
—and it is a point which I have myself been trying to put time and again in the last five years. As my hon. Friend said, there have not been very many opportunities because we have not had a Debate on Commonwealth affairs. The point which my hon. Friend made is a fundamental one. Of course it is a much more fundamental point when one is embodying in the Commonwealth still another new Republic. We must realise that the constitutional position of the Commonwealth still is that the Treaty-making powers of the Crown are exercised by the Cabinet of this particular sister nation. I believe this point is all the more important today because I believe that the rô le which the Commonwealth of Nations may play in the next few years may be a decisive one in world history. I believe the contribution that the Commonwealth can make in the years to come, whether it be with a united Europe or not, may be a decisive one in the whole history of the world; it may be decisive for peace and for prosperity.
1563 There has always been this fundamental problem: with all the good will on every side—and there is abundant good will—there has never been an opportunity for consultation. The very constitutional position of Britain itself means that some decisions have to be made here and made almost without consultation, almost without information, so that the sister nations are often faced with a virtual fait accompli. I put that point as often as I could when I came back from Canada in 1945 because the trouble there was that they complained that they never had the fullest access to all sources of information. I put that point again when I came back from Australia in 1948, and for the same reasons and on the same grounds. It may be very remarkable, when we come to think of the history of the last two or three years, that we have created a consultative constituent assembly for the nations of Western Europe, in which we are participating, but that we have failed to create any consultative organisation especially for the Commonwealth nations, except the sort of ad hoc conferences which are usually summoned to consider special matters and which are convened from time to time.
I suggest that there should be a consultative organisation—not of course a legislative organisation, but a consultative organisation which would have access to all sources of information and which would have the opportunity of making recommendations, both economic and international, on the basis of a united policy.
§ Mr. Baxter
I intervene only for the purpose of supporting what the hon. Member is saying. Would he not consider that it might be a very good thing if say, at a period of every two years, an Empire Parliament, not with legislative powers, met in one of the Dominions or, say, in India, as the case may be—a Parliament which His Majesty the King might be able to open? There, all Empire measures could be discussed, again without legislative powers, thus making all of us far more intimate with Governments of the other Dominions and creating the opportunity for the introduction of any broad resolutions which were necessary?
§ Mr. Hale
I would not dissent from that at all—or rather on reflection on the terms of the Bill, it raises a query in one direction. Certainly I had in mind something much smaller and something which met much more frequently. Once every two or three years would not meet the purpose I had in mind. I did not want a Parliament as such but a consultative organisation and I want it to have access to all relevant sources of information which are fundamental.
At this historic moment one does not want to raise doubts, but we can see very great problems which are inevitable, partly as a consequence of this Measure and partly as a consequence of the essential development of the Commonwealth. We can see in South Africa a trend which is certainly away from the ideals we have in mind, and we can see the continued necessity for the closest consultation. I had hoped that this might have been taken as one of the opportunities for considering that particular problem. Of course, it is of practical importance. The Republic of India has already put an embargo on goods made in my constituency, textile and machinery—or some number of these; and I do not raise that as a point of criticism, because India must consider her own problems and the point of view of her own people. But these things are all the more reason for continued consultation and co-operation in the future, and I urge my right hon. Friend to consider this as a matter of really grave and fundamental importance.
In conclusion, may I say this? I was the last hon. Member to rise to speak in this Debate and it may be that nobody else may seek to catch your eye, Sir; I would not know. I should like to reiterate that I do not believe there is any one in this House today who has not felt pride in taking part in this historic day. I do not want to make, and have not made, a single party point of any kind, but at least we can say to the members of the new sister nation how much we rejoice that some of the prophets of woe, from any side, who were heard at the time the Prime Minister made his historic declaration, have been falsified by events and that India, Pakistan and Ceylon have, on the whole, passed through the inevitable troubles of their reconstitution with the minimum possible of suffering and distress and with the maximum hope of success 1565 in the future. Although things have happened which every one deplores and regrets, I do not think there is anyone who can but feel that this great change has been made with amazing success. Every one of us wishes to congratulate my right hon. Friend on the supreme felicity of his position today in being able to come to the House and bring this Bill before us.
§ 4.59 p.m.
§ Mr. P. Noel-Baker
I welcome very much what has been said this afternoon. I think I welcomed literally every word spoken by the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler) and the words of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition which he quoted. I also agree with the tribute paid to the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Sir S. Reed); I agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for East Harrow (Mr. Skinnard) said about him. For many years he has rendered great service to the course of friendship between the peoples of the United King dom and the peoples of India and Pakistan, and I think he felt this afternoon that his work has borne fruit. It will be of value to generations to come. I endorse what was said about Pakistan and Ceylon by the two right hon. Gentlemen who spoke at the beginning. I should like to pay my tribute to the great leaders of those two countries, Mr. Liaquat Ali Khan and Mr. Senanayake, who have had to face very formidable tasks and who have done so with a striking measure of success. I was much gratified by what was said about the drafting of the Bill, and I will pass on the tributes to those who did the work.
The right hon. Member for Saffron Walden said that while it was a simple Bill, it contained a possibility of complications in the future. It is very true. He said that perhaps India would pass a Bill on citizenship. I think it quite likely—indeed, I think it very probable—that India will make a new law of citizenship, which under the constitution which has been adopted they are very well able to do. I think it quite likely, in that event, that we may have to pass new legislation here. On any matter of controversial or substantial importance we shall not seek to act under Clause I (3) by Order in Council. I give the House that pledge. We want by this subsection to save Parlia- 1566 mentary time and to do the many jobs which will be required, but with which it would not be worth while to trouble the House. I would call the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the language used in subsection (3, b):An Order in Council under this section—(b) shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.That is what has been done in similar Acts of Parliament before, and I hope that, when we discuss this in Committee, the right hon. Gentleman may agree that it is right.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
The Order enters into force, but can be negatived at once by either House by negative Resolution. I think that has been done before.
§ Mr. Butler
I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman. He will remember that this question of affirmative Resolution was raised in a prominent manner in the course of discussion on the India Bill, so I dare say we may have a little talk about it at a later stage.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
I shall be very happy to talk about it as much as the right hon. Gentleman desires. It is what is in the Palestine Act and the other Acts to which I have previously referred.
The right hon. Gentleman asked whether we had consulted the Governments of our various Colonial dependencies. I should not like to give him the assurance that they have all been consulted about the terms of the Bill, but they have been kept in touch with all the developments of our relations with India; they knew this Bill was coming forward, and there is no reason to suppose they object. If they did, they would have told us, I feel certain. They have no grounds for objection, because they can alter their own law at any time. Their powers with regard to their own legislation are not affected by this Bill.
The right hon. Gentleman asked me about the Money Resolution. I am advised that as it is just possible that some moneys may be required in execution of the Bill, a Money Resolution is needed, and a Money Resolution is on the Order Paper today in the name of the Financial Secretary to the Treasury. If I could give 1567 the right hon. Gentleman an example of how such a charge could arise, if he desires it I shall do so in Committee. It seems to me rather fantastic, but anything is possible, and that is why we have put in the subsection and that is why the Money Resolution is there.
§ Mr. Butler
My point was that the Money Resolution could not arise out of an Order in Council, and, in fact, the right hon. Gentleman has answered it by saying that the Money Resolution arises out of this Bill.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
Yes, it does. That is it.
The right hon. Gentleman and many other Members talked about the importance of giving to our own people, to other Commonwealth peoples, and to the nations of the world, a picture of what the Commonwealth really means—what the day to day Commonwealth relations are really like. I have sought to do that within the limits of my powers, as he has, in Chatham House, and, as he has, on the wireless in the Home Service, and, as he has, on the wireless in Canada and other overseas territories. I lose no opportunity I can find to bring home to our own people and to the Commonwealth peoples the meaning of the meetings which we hold and the work that has been accomplished. I am assured by the Under-Secretary of State, who is a great expert in this matter, that, in fact, our publicity work, the organisation of information about Commonwealth affairs, both within the Commonwealth and elsewhere, has been enormously improved since the end of the war, and I think that the House may take it that it is certain that is so. Of course, I should welcome Debates in this House on Commonwealth affairs. They do not take place because they are not asked for. It is not the doing of the Government.
But I would repudiate the suggestion—if it can be made—that was put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) that decisions at Commonwealth meetings are not made known. In fact, they are set out in solemn declarations which are laid before the world, and I think he will find, if he reads those declarations, and the speeches which are made about them, by those who have taken part in the discussions, a pretty complete picture has been given.
§ Mr. Wyatt
I do read all those statements with great care, but my main objection is that they give only a broad, general picture of what happens, whereas what I should very much like to see would be illustrations of what it means in fairly small matters, for it is only in that way that we can persuade them of the utility of the functional arrangements,
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
It is in the small matters, and in the actions of the individual Governments, that the decisions of Commonwealth meetings are interpreted—in innumerable actions taken by individual Governments. Questions are sometimes asked about them here. There are debates in other Parliaments, if not in this, and I seek in every way I can to make the decisions and their meanings known.
My hon. Friend the Member for Oldham (Mr. Hale) suggested that there ought to be a more elaborate machinery, and the hon. Member for Wood Green (Mr. Baxter) suggested an Empire Parliamentary meeting every two years. When I was at Cambridge, now some 40 years ago, there was an organisation known as the Round Table which was established with very powerful support to foster the idea of imperial federation. It worked in all the Commonwealth countries. There are people, I believe, still at Bigwin Inn with the right hon. Gentleman who were fighting that cause. In that period, the machinery of the Commonwealth has not been made more elaborate than it was before. That has not been due primarily to this Government—to any Government of this country. It has been due to the fact that the Governments of the Commonwealth on the whole did not feel that elaborate machinery or elaborate rules were required.
§ Mr. Hale
I am sure my right hon. Friend is not consciously misrepresenting what I said. I went out of my way to say that I did not want anything elaborate, but the reason I wanted something effective was that the people in Canada said, "We knew nothing of the American Loan until it happened," and that the people of South Africa said they did not know about our arrangement with Egypt until it happened, and that the people in Australia said, "We do not have any real information about Britain's agreements with other countries which affected us 1569 commercially until they happened." So we want something effective.
§ Mr. Baxter
Before the right hon. Gentleman replies, may I put it to him that very few Members of this House have been to Australia or New Zealand because the distance is very great, although not so great now that flying has developed so much.
§ Mr. Baxter
All right, they cannot afford the fare. The fact is that when Mr. Casey was here a short time ago—I beg the right hon. Gentleman to forgive me for interrupting him so long, but I should like to mention this point—he pleaded that some of us should go out, if only two or three of us, to Australia. Does not the right hon. Gentleman think that if we had a purely debating parliamentary assembly, with 20 or 30 members from each Parliament—from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa—during the Recesses of the Commonwealth Parliaments, it would have a tremendous dynamic effect, and that we should understand each other's problems much better?
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
I do think that it is important, and I am glad to think that the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association does a great deal to meet the need. It is less than 15 months since a conference of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association met here in London, with more than 80 Members of other Parliaments of the Commonwealth present, and with 60 speakers. It was an outstandingly successful meeting.
There is, of course, a multiplicity of matters for consideration, and when my hon. Friend says that people say they do not know about Egypt, that they do not know about this and do not know about that, I assure him that the number of telegraphic circulars sent out from my office—and this is a figure which I prepared more than a year ago—is 11 times greater than the number which went out in 1938. We have constant meetings here of the High Commissioners of the other Commonwealth countries, which take place in my office; the High Commissioners in other Commonwealth countries are constantly meeting, and there certainly has been no system of con- 1570 Sultation between Governments anything approaching that which we have now. I believe that over the 40 years of which I have spoken, while the machinery may not appear more elaborate on paper, the real co-operation is far greater, and the strength of the whole Commonwealth has been increased manyfold.
I welcome very much what the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden said in his concluding remarks. All parties in the House are behind this Bill, and all parties in the House are behind the Commonwealth. To my mind, it is not strange that Herr von Ribbentrop thought that the Commonwealth would collapse if a war should come. The Nazis did not understand anything of the meaning of the Commonwealth and what makes it strong. That is why they were Nazis. Mr. Leonard Brockington said to me in Canada the other day, "The rope that breaks is the rope which is stretched too far." We do not stretch the Commonwealth rope too far. The Commonwealth grows stronger. In 1940 the Commonwealth saved the world because as a group it stood against aggression, and the Nazis could not destroy us one by one, as they had destroyed their other victims. That Commonwealth example will, in my belief, save us, and will save the world.
Question put, and agreed to.
Bill read a Second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House for Tomorrow.