§ * LORD CURZON OF KEDLESTON
My Lords, I have a Question on the Paper of which I gave notice to the Secretary of State, and which he, perhaps, will allow me to put with a few words of explanation. It runs as follows:—To ask the Secretary of State for India whether he can give to the House any further information concerning the proposed Mahomedan electorates under the Indian Councils Bill, and other matters connected with the operation of that measure.I may reassure the House at once by saying that I do not propose to say anything about other matters connected with the operation of that measure, My few observations will be confined to the question of the Mahomedans, a question which I was told I could not raise on the strictly limited discussion on the Amendments hitherto before your Lordships, but which I think the Secretary of State will not think it improper on my part to raise this afternoon, because of the immense importance of removing any ambiguity that may exist on the subject.
Your Lordships, I am sure, will be agreed as to the great importance of securing a satisfactory representation of the Mahomedan community in India, under the provisions of this Bill. As the House knows, they desire a representation in excess of their numerical strength and an exclusively Mahomedan electorate for all bodies concerned in returning them to the new Councils. The Mahomedans in India have understood, and we have understood, that the position had been conceded by the Secretary of State. That belief rested, in the first place, upon the strong assurance of the Viceroy given to the Mahomedan deputation whom he received more than two years ago, and it was confirmed by the observations made by the noble Viscount opposite 754 in the debate on the Second Reading of the Indian Councils Bill. I need not trouble your Lordships by reading his remarks, which I have here, in full, but they amount to a definite pledge that both of the requests I have named—the demand for a separate register and the demand for representation in excess of numerical strength—would be met by the Government. The words of the noble Viscount were—These two demands we are quite ready and intend to meet to the full.We were very glad to receive that assurance from the noble Viscount, and there, as I think most of us thought, the matter satisfactorily terminated. But the other day there was read in the House of Commons a telegram from the Viceroy, dated April 12, in which the Viceroy said—The method proposed is simply that in general electorates such as municipalities, district boards, and provincial councils, all sects and classes, including Mahomedans, will vote together. By this means some, but not sufficient representation will be obtained for Mahomedans. In addition, a certain number of seats will be reserved for Mahomedans, and no one but Mahomedans will have a voice in filling them. They may be filled in many ways—by election pure and simple, by election by association, by electoral colleges, or by nomination, as the circumstances of each province require. The methods will vary in different provinces, and will be subject to alterations from time to time as experience may dictate.These words, if interpreted in the ordinary meaning of the language, certainly suggested that, so far from there being a separate register for Mahomedans, there were to be two processes in their election to these Councils. In the first place, there was to be a sort of mixed general election in which they would take their chance with Hindus and other persons, and then if, owing to their lack of numbers or want of organisation, they found themselves in an inferior position, that deficiency was to be made up either by election or by nomination on the part of the Viceroy or by some other means.
My apprehensions on that score were, to some extent, confirmed by the speech delivered in the Budget debate at Calcutta by Mr. Gokhale. Mr. Gokhale has been mentioned as a capable leader of native opinion in India, and he has developed an almost extraordinary prophetic capacity of anticipating what is in the mind of the Secretary of State. In the debate at Calcutta to which I have referred, Mr. Gokhale spoke as follows:— 755I think the most reasonable plan is first to throw open a substantial minimum of seats to election on a territorial basis, in which all qualified to vote should take part without distinction of race or creed. And then supplementary elections should be held for minorities which numerically or otherwise are important enough to need special representation, and these should be confined to members of the minorities only. What minorities in the different provinces should have special representation and how many seats should be assigned to each minority must depend upon the special circumstances of each province. The great advantage of this plan is that it provides for composite action by all communities up to a certain point and then it prevents injustice in practical operation to minorities by giving them special supplementary electorates of their own.If that were a correct divination of the views of the Government of India, it would mean not only, as I have said, that there would be this system of a mixed election to start with and then a supplementary election for Mahomedans, but that the same treatment might be applied to minorities belonging to other sects and communities in India.
When the Viceroy's telegram of April 12 was published in India great consternation was, not unnaturally, caused among the Mahomedans, and they represented everywhere that they were afraid that the pledge given to them was likely to be departed from. They said they were quite willing to surrender any claim to vote in a mixed electorate so long as they could be assured of the right to vote on a register of their own. When the Secretary to the Treasury, Mr. Hobhouse, was challenged on this matter in the House of Commons, he made an explanation. I confess to having studied it, in so far as it is reported in The Times, many times over, but I cannot understand the conclusion to which it is intended to lead. The Secretary to the Treasury, in his defence of the telegram, or rather in his explanation of the telegram, about which he seemed to think there had been some misunderstanding, pointed out that the local authorities in India would no doubt find it impossible to apply a uniform system under which the principle of election for Mahomedans would be carried out. We can fully appreciate the difficulties of a single cast-iron mode of election on a separate register for Mahomedans throughout the country. We can understand that such a scheme is impossible. My object in putting this Question on the Paper is not to have those difficulties further dwelt upon, or even cleared up. My sole object is to ask the noble Viscount to make some declaration 756 to us, which I suspect he is not at all unwilling to do, that for the ambiguity in the position from which the Mahomedans suffer so much there is no cause, that the pledges given by the Viceroy and the Secretary of State still hold good, and that whatever be the actual method or variety of methods adopted in the last resort, the Mahomedans will still retain their separate register, and will not be required to go through the double process of taking part first in a general election and then in a special election.
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY OF BLACKBURN
My Lords, the noble Lord is perfectly right in thinking that I am not sorry to have an opportunity of clearing up more than one ambiguity that has arisen in connection with this vitally important subject. So far from complaining, I really am obliged to the noble Lord for giving me that opportunity. I need not detain your Lordships long. I think I shall do what is best by reading textually parts of the telegram I received from the Viceroy last night. First, upon the speech of Mr. Hobhouse, which the noble Lord naturally referred to, the Viceroy says this—The speech has been interpreted as meaning that major portion of representatation accorded to Mahomedans is to be given through the mixed electorates, such as district boards and municipalities, on which they will vote conjointly with other classes, and that the special electorates in which Mahomedans will vote separately are only intended to supplement general elections, and will carry only a small number of seats.Then the Viceroy points out, as the noble Lord has done, what would follow from that. He proceeds—I need hardly say that this is not at all what we contemplated. Our intention was that Mahomedans should have, by means of separate electorates, a number of seats closely approaching that to which their numerical proportion in the population would entitle them, and that over and above this they would obtain some seats in mixed electorates such as district boards and municipalities, Universities, Presidency corporations, and as landholders. In Bombay, for example, under the scheme detailed in my telegram of February 8, four seats are specially assigned to Mahomedans, and in addition to these, two Mahomedans will be elected by landholders and district bodies of Sind, so that they will secure a certain minimum of 6, or 28 per cent., their ratio to the general population being only 20. In the United Provinces, where they number only 14 per cent.; they will have four special seats, or nearly 20 per cent. of the seats assigned for election. Of course, the same ratio cannot be applied in all provinces, and allowance must be made for the status, character, and educational attainments of Mahomedan population in each case.757 All that, I think, is intelligible enough. The Viceroy goes on to say—There has also been misapprehension of our views regarding nomination, which are intended to be merely a temporary expedient to be resorted to until the community should be ripe for election. I do not understand any Mahomedan here to claim concession suggested—namely, that wherever elections are found possible they should be conducted on basis of separate representation of the Mahomedan community. If interpreted literally, that would involve having separate Mahomedan electorates within the various electorates proposed, such as Presidency corporations, district boards, and municipalities, Universities, landholders, and the commercial community. This is manifestly impracticable. It could only be effected by recasting the entire scheme and increasing maximum strength of all councils as fixed by Bill. On the whole case, my view is that present proposals as now explained do reasonably fulfil pledges given to Mahomedans.Something was said by the noble Lord as to what the Mahomedans had expected and what they had asked for. The Moslem League declared, on February 4, that the arrangement in the Despatch of the Government of India, dated October 1, 1908, on the reform scheme was in keeping with the maintenance of the principle of effective Mahomedan representation, and had also the virtue of linking the various class interests together in the rural and territorial electorates. They went on to say—The Mahomedans are under a heavy debt of gratitude to your Excellency and to your Executive Council for the Despatch.That shows that the Mahomedans, construing the Despatch of October in the way that I have described, were contented and grateful, and that if the Government of India go on with their projects and the working out of their schemes on the present lines they will certainly come up to the demands and expectations expressed by the Moslem League on February 4 last. It is quite easy to discover inconsistencies in a matter so intricate, complicated, and difficult as this adjustment of Mahomedan representation, and those difficulties become greatly multiplied by the fact of distance, the cumbrousness of telegraphic communication, the length of time a despatch takes, and so on; and I do not think it is to be wondered at that language has occasionally been used which seems out of accord with language used at some other date. But this, at all events, is the last view of the Government of India, and it is for the Government of India to work it out. Lord Minto says here—and I 758 entirely concur with him—that we can have no part in any scheme which is not felt to be a loyal adherence to the pledges which both the Viceroy and I have more than once given to the Mahomedans; and when this scheme, completed and worked out, comes to be examined it will be found that we have carried out the pledges to which the noble Lord referred.
§ * THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords, we have every reason for being grateful to the noble Viscount for the interesting information he has just given to the House So far as I was able to follow his statement, it seemed to be of a distinctly reassuring character. It is not very easy to follow an explanation of the kind, and other similar explanations have sometimes had the effect of rather perplexing people's minds. I hope therefore, that the noble Viscount will let us have, at any rate, the substance of the documents from which he has quoted, so that we may have an opportunity of considering them at leisure. But I gather that the essence of what is in the mind of the Government of India is this, that the Mahomedans are to depend upon a separate Mahomedan electorate for a measure of representation fully equal to whatever they are numerically entitled to, and that that amount of representation may be supplemented by any other representation which the Mahomedans are able to secure in competition with other candidates at the mixed elections. That, of course, suggests a widely-different arrangement from that which some of us fancied we had gathered from the extremely puzzling and cryptic telegram read in the other House lately. But what comforts me most of all in the noble Viscount's statement is the announcement which I understood him to make that the Viceroy believes that at this moment the Mahomedans are contented and grateful for the arrangements which they are being led to expect. I trust that that confidence will not be in any way misplaced on their part.
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY OF BLACKBURN
No representation has been received to the contrary—that is the exact language—from the Mahomedans.
§ * THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
I was going to remind the noble Viscount that these pledges to the Mahomedans have been of the fullest and most emphatic character. 759 There is a long series of them, beginning with the pledge given by the Viceroy, followed up by the pledge given by the noble Viscount to the Mahomedan deputation, followed again by his statement in this House on the introduction of the Bill this year—those pledges have been reaffirmed in the other House of Parliament by the representative of the India Office; and, of course, we must all feel that it would be a public disaster if anything were to happen which would make it open to the Indian Mahomedans to contend that those pledges had not been fulfilled to the utmost extent. I welcome the noble Viscount's announcement that, in his mind, at any rate, there is no doubt whatever that those pledges will be so made good.