HL Deb 29 July 1912 vol 12 cc740-51

LORD INCHCAPE rose to ask the Secretary of State for India whether his attention has been called to the alleged differences in statements made by members of His Majesty's Government with regard to the Government of India's Despatch of August 25, 1911, on the subject of the changes announced at the Delhi Durbar.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, it is within the knowledge of your Lordships that some difference of opinion appears to exist as to the views expressed by a member of the Government in another place and by the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for India in this House in regard to the Despatch of the Government of India of August 25 last. The subject has been mentioned, I think, in your Lordships' House. It has also been frequently referred to in the Press not only in this country but in India, and I venture to submit that if the noble Marquess has no objection it might be convenient if he would give your Lordships a statement as to what the views of His Majesty's Government on that Despatch really are.


My Lords, I fear that I may appear to be taking up too large a portion of this afternoon's sitting, but nobody, I am sure, will say that too large a portion is being given or could be given to Indian affairs. The particular Question put by my noble friend deals with a subject which has become, unexpectedly to many of us, of no little importance as a subject of discussion both here and very widely in India itself. The whole matter arises out of the third paragraph of the Despatch which the Government of India wrote to me in reference to the Delhi change—the Despatch which, with my reply to it, was published as a White Paper on December 12 of last year. About that Despatch and subsequent allusions to it and comments upon the particular paragraph a series of Legends has grown up to which my noble friend has drawn attention in his Question.

The legends have taken some such form as this. In the first place, the Government of India is supposed in that third paragraph of its Despatch to have pointed to what is known in India as swaraj, self-government or home rule for India, as the aim and object of the policy of which the change of capital formed a part. The matter was alluded to in this House on February 22, and the legend proceeded that I had endeavoured, apparently without much success, to put a gloss upon the Despatch and altogether to minimise its meaning. The third chapter of the legend was that a few days later the Under-Secretary in my Office, Mr. Montagu, had made a speech at Cambridge in which he threw over my interpretation of the Despatch and reiterated the reading of it which the public had already ascribed to the Government of India's words, and that in speaking again in the House of Commons on April 22 Mr. Montagu repeated the same performance. Then on June 24 Lord Curzon alluded to the matter in this House, and my reply was stated, according to the legend, to have represented a second inadequate attempt to misinterpret the views of the Government of India. The whole of this legend is absolutely baseless. There has never been any difference in meaning or intention between the Government of India and myself, between Mr. Montagu and myself, or between Mr. Montagu and the Government of India. As regards Mr. Montagu, so little did I conceive on reading his excellent speech at Cambridge that he had said or desired to say anything different from what I had said here that. I never even called his attention to the particular passage in his speech, which, of course, I should have done if I had placed any such interpretation upon it.

The Government of India are of opinion that this misinterpretation or, as it has undoubtedly been in some cases, misrepresentation of our meaning is due to their use of the word "autonomy" in their Despatch. The actual passage is this— The only possible solution of the difficulty would appear to be gradually to give the Provinces a larger measure of self-government, until at last India would consist of a number of administrations, autonomous in all provincial affairs, with the Government of India above them all and possessing power to interfere in cases of misgovernment, but ordinarily restricting their functions to matters of Imperial concern. The word "autonomous" possesses four syllables, and may therefore be regarded as comparatively unintelligible. I remember a story of the late Lord Sherbrooke, who at some period, either when he was residing at Oxford or later when he was in Parliament, came into collision with a corporation or other local authority, who addressed him a letter of severe remonstrance. Mr. Lowe, as he then was, as I have heard wrote them a long reply couched entirely in words of one syllable. It is fair, I think, to assume that his main and not uncharacteristic object was to exhibit by that means his opinion of the intellectual standard of his correspondents, but the result probably also was to make his meaning to them entirely clear. It may be that the rise of the word "autonomy" has caused some of this confusion.

But the opinion of the Government of India, which I entirely share, is that British policy in India should have three objects in view. The first object, which we believe will be assisted by our recent policy as explained in this paragraph in the Despatch, is, where possible, to devolve upon local and provincial Governments as many of the functions of government as can safely be entrusted to them. The second object of British rule in India should be, and is, to employ as many Indians in the public service as can reasonably be employed there. The third object is to combine the pursuit of the two first with the maintenance and permanence of British rule in India, because we believe that the maintenance and perpetual continuance of British rule in India is the best way of securing the happiness of the Indian people. There is, of course, some difference of opinion between various persons as to the extent to which provincial devolution or autonomy is possible. Even in the ranks of the Civil Service in India you will find men who by a rough analogy from the United States would be called Republicans, and other men who would be called Democrats—men, that is to say, who in the one instance believe in the predominance of the Central Government, and who in the other case believe in the importance of government by local divisions—and there is room, of course, for doubt or difference of opinion as to what may be meant by the words "local autonomy." On the last occasion when we were mentioning this matter I pointed out that Lord Curzon had spoken of provincial autonomy in matters of finance. We may be quite sure that he did not mean, when holding out the prospect of provincial autonomy, that the Provinces ought to be allowed to raise as much revenue as they pleased in any way they pleased and to spend it as they pleased. What the then Viceroy obviously meant was that a larger share of public expenditure should be left to local collection and to local expenditure on a defined principle; and therefore when we talk in this connection again of provincial autonomy it is reasonable to suppose that certain limits, which need not be narrow or tightly drawn, are intended to exist as between the Provinces and the Central Government.

Then there has been, I think, a second misunderstanding, this time founded on a monosyllable—that is, in the use of the word "goal." This is confusing the lines on which the Government of India desires to work—that is to say, the road along which the Government of India desires to travel, with a supposed or intended termination of that road at which an entirely new form of Government would be found to exist—for there is, I venture to lay down clearly, no final and permanent condition which the Government of India ought to have in view. It cannot have in view what some Indians describe as swaraj, and therefore although it desires to advance along the road of including in the government of India as many of the native inhabitants of India as is possible it does not speak, and I do not believe it will ever speak, of a final goal which it desires to reach. I do not know whether any of your Lordships have ever read the observations of a man who was probably the most thoughtful and the best informed of all the unofficial writers about India in the last half century—I mean the late Mr. Meredith Townshend. He took a pessimistic view of this very question which we are discussing to-day. He founded himself on a belief that England was losing the power of governing other races. He believed that Englishmen were beginning to doubt whether they had a moral right to rule anybody, rather than thinking of ruling justly. He believed that in the ultimate future all the offices of India would be handed over to Indians, with the final result, in his words, that— India will re-emerge as she was, shortly to be reduced to the condition in which we found her. He believed that the distinct genius of the two Continents, Europe and Asia, forbade any real union between them, and he held that the uneffaceable difference in the morale of Asia from that of Europe made the genuine assimilation of Western ideas by Asia altogether impossible. We need not attempt to dive so deep into the future, and even if we do we need not adopt so pessimistic a form of prophecy as that in which Mr. Meredith Townshend indulged.

It has to be borne in mind, as I mentioned the last time I touched on this subject, that the dream which some Indians love to hold—and, for all I know, some Englishmen cherish it too—is a dream of a form of complete self-government for India within the British Empire. I repeat categorically what I said last time, that there is nothing whatever in the teachings of history so far as I know them, or in the present conditions of the world so far as I understand them, which makes the realisation of such a dream even remotely probable. We have tried the experiment of a worldwide Empire of members of our own race. All the chapters in that experiment have not been felicitous. One broke down in 1776, when the American Colonies declared for independence. Since then we have learned some wisdom. We have succeeded in weaving into the Empire the French of Canada and the Dutch of South Africa. Now in an Empire which includes both those different European races we are trying to face and to solve the tremendous problems of general imperial defence and of giving to the component parts of the Empire some share in the shaping of Imperial policy. Can anybody conceive any similar solution of imperial problems for hundreds of millions of men of different races and all of absolutely different races from our own?

Is it conceivable that at any time an Indian Empire could exist on the lines, say, of Australia or of New Zealand, with no British officials, no British troops, no tie of creed or of blood which takes the place of material bonds? I am far from saying that the idea of such an Indian Dominion, cherished by many high-minded men whom I respect, is an ignoble idea, or that those who hold it ought to be described as in any way disloyal. There are some such who believe that it is possible to secure in India the continual presence, the continual influence, and the continual service of men of British blood with no prospect of any violent rupture between the two races and the different countries. To me that is a world as remote as any Atlantis or Erewhon that ever was thought of by the ingenious brain of an imaginative writer. I believe that on the lines which I laid down as being those on which the Government of India ought to work and desires to work there is ample scope both for service and for distinction for men of Indian birth and of the different races. I see wide fields, fields which will grow wider still, for the full play and exercise of the remarkable and special qualities of Indian intellect. It is true I can imagine that there are gifted and most estimable men who may be loth to abandon the idea that either they or somebody like them in future years may be Prime Minister of an Indian Dominion or Commander-in-Chief of an Indian Army. But I venture to think that it is only those who think less of service and more of distinction who would lose heart if they braced themselves altogether to set aside this vision and were willing to settle down to more co-operation and closer co-operation with this Western race, to which they can teach much and from which they can learn much—cooperation for time moral and material bettering of the country to which they are so deeply attached and of which we are so proud to be the governors.


My Lords, I doubt whether when we came down to the House this afternoon any of us anticipated that we should have had the pleasure of listening to so important a deliverance as that which has just been uttered by the noble Marquess. It was a deliverance which dealt at some length, not only with the principles upon which the Government of India should be administered, but the principles upon which the affairs of the whole British Empire might be conducted in the future. I hope the noble Marquess will not think me a little uncharitable if I suggest that his speech showed a slight undercurrent of uneasiness as to the effect produced upon the public mind both in India and in this country, in the first place by the memorable paragraph in the Government of India's Despatch which he quoted, and next by the interpretation placed upon it by the noble Marquess's Under-Secretary.

Let me once again remind your Lordships of the terms in which the Despatch was couched. It was therein explained that the ultimate solution to which His Majesty's Government looked forward was to be one under which India would— consist of a number of administrations, autonomous in all provincial affairs, with the Government of India above them all and possessing power to interfere in cases of misgovernment, but ordinarily restricting their functions to matters of Imperial concern. I venture to suggest to your Lordships that that paragraph describes a condition of things wholly different from and inconsistent with the Government of India as we know it at present and as we are likely to know it for a long time to come. But the noble Marquess explained that the Despatch was merely intended to indicate what he called the "trend and tendency" of things in India. He evidently preferred that the Despatch should be taken as pointing to a somewhat remote future. But that was not the language of Mr. Montagu. Mr. Montagu spoke of the "goal towards which His Majesty's Government proposed to travel," and then he used these remarkable words— At last, and not too soon, a Viceroy has had the courage to state the trend of British policy in India and the lines on which we propose to advance. It was clearly suggested by Mr. Montagu that this was a new departure, something which had not yet been dreamed of by any Government either in India or in this country. In another speech he said the Government were there— to develop India on a plan which had been thought out by those who had been advising the Secretary of State. Those are words which did not point merely to the trend of the policy observed towards India at the present time. They pointed to some new conception of Government which had been elaborated by the present Government of India and by His Majesty's present advisers. The noble Marquess will not have forgotten the manner in which these announcements were received in India. My noble friend Lord Curzon, when he last dealt with the subject in this House, quoted the comments of the Indian Press. The Indian Press unquestionably took this announcement as indicating a new departure, not a mere following of a gradual path of development, but something new which had not yet been dreamed of and which was being promulgated to the people of India in connection with His Majesty's visit to that country. The noble Marquess has endeavoured to reconcile all these inconsistent declarations, and he gave us at the beginning of his speech the broad outline of the policy which in his opinion should be followed in dealing with the affairs of India. I am bound to say that so far as I was able to follow the noble Marquess's statement I heard nothing in it which at all shocks my feelings or indicates that there is in contemplation any very abrupt departure from the policy to which we, have been used in the past.

I gathered—the noble Marquess will correct me if I am wrong—that these were the three cardinal points of the policy which he and his colleagues desire to advocate in dealing with the Indian Empire. He suggests that we should devolve on the Local Governments as many functions as can be safely entrusted to them. I think that has been very much the policy of the Government of India in the past. The whole question, of course, is what functions can you safely devolve on the Local Governments, and as to that there may, of course, be differences of opinion. The noble Marquess's second point was that we should employ as many natives as could be reasonably employed in the public services. The noble Marquess knows what an immense number of natives are already employed, some of them in very responsible positions, in the public services in India, and what an infinitesimally small minority of public servants in India are of British origin. It has always been the desire of successive Governments to recognise merit amongst Indian servants of the Crown and to advance them so far as that could be safely done consistently with the public interest.


I have no reason to suppose that the noble Marquess does not realise that I meant that in my opinion both those processes might continue to increase to a considerable extent.


Certainly, we all of us realise that there must be a gradual broadening of these concessions. The noble Marquess's third point was that we should see to the permanent maintenance of British rule in India. That, I take it, is a proposition which no one will controvert, and which no Government of India in the past has ever allowed to be called in question. All those seem to me, if I may say so, sound and salutary principles, and really everything must depend upon the tact and the patience, and, above all, the caution, with which these principles are applied. I do not think I am wrong in gathering that, so far in, the noble Marquess is concerned, those principles will be applied with proper caution. I am glad that he has made his statement to the House, because I think some statement was necessary in order to dissipate the apprehensions and misgivings which, beyond all question, were created both by the terms of the Despatch and by some of the official comments that were made upon it.


My Lords, we are, I think, in the presence of a very great problem and very deep specula- tions as to the future, and I think it is necessary to be extremely cautious in entering into any part of the discussion which has been raised by the Question addressed to the noble Marquess by my noble friend below the Gangway (Lord Inchcape). I would fain leave it alone, but I confess I am under the impression that one word at least should be added—a word of deprecation almost of the discussion itself. An attempt has been made to solve a great mystery. That mystery had better be left to solve itself, to work itself out in a fashion as to which I venture to think no member of your Lordships' House and no one outside, however deeply engaged in the affairs of Government, however profoundly attentive to the issues of the present time and the movement of events here and elsewhere, is competent to pronounce a final judgment.

This discussion has been raised because of three apparently different expressions of opinion on the part of the Government in India and the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary at home. The noble Marquess the Secretary of State now tells us that the Government in India have never differed from himself, that he has never differed from the Under-Secretary, and that the Under-Secretary has never differed from the Government in India. Then he proceeded to describe what was the one thing on which they are agreed. I confess that the expressions of the three authorities do show such a dissimilarity that it, is very difficult to make out absolute agreement at the bottom; and the attempt to describe what is the nature of their agreement and what is the future on which the efforts of those who direct the government of India are bent does not impress upon me at all events a feeling that it can be accepted as final or exhaustive. It has been supposed apparently that the local autonomy which it was suggested in the famous Despatch might be given to Provincial Governments meant entire self-government by something like representative bodies brought into existence as representing the different inhabitants of the particular Province. The phrase does not necessarily mean that. It only necessarily means a restricted independence of the Provincial Government in ordinary matters of local concern.

But the language of the Under-Secretary did describe a state of things in which a greater measure of independence might be reached, and the Secretary of State proceeded here to deprecate the suggestion that there could ever be complete independence of British control in India. The noble Marquess affirmed, not only that that could not be foreseen or could not be aimed at, but that the perpetual maintenance of British control is the thing to which all must look forward. I do not see myself the end of that control; I do net see what would take its place; but I venture to deprecate the suggestion that it could not come to an end and that some other order might not arise. May we not be content with the further carrying on of the process of development of which Lord Lansdowne, has spoken, the further enlistment of natives in the government of the country, and the further advance of authority within India itself without speculating on the complete and entire withdrawal of British government, still less British influence, from India? "One step is enough for me" was the utterance of a great and wise man, and it seems to me that in this matter that utterance might be appropriated by tire Government. I do not think I ant violating any confidence when I recall that only the year before last a very distinguished Indian servant, one universally honoured but who has passed away, speaking on the subject of the future said to me— It is not impossible that the twentieth century may see the complete withdrawal of Europe from Asia"; and in view of what has happened, in view of the extraordinary revivification of Japan and in view of what is going on in China and what may happen there, it is surely unwise to put the limit of impossibility on the development that may occur in India.

It is very difficult to conceive added to the vision of the union of the self-governing Dominions and the home country the vision of a self-governed India participating in that Imperial union. But with respect to all this I am only impressing on your Lordships the suggestion that, however comfortable it may be to ourselves to attempt to dismiss these speculations, we cannot get rid of them. They will be worked out in some fashion probably independently; and it is enough for the moment, at least, if we persevere with what has been the wise policy for some time past —a policy which received considerably freer development under Lord Morley as Secretary of State, and which apparently is entering upon a new stage and another length of road under the operation of the Despatch which accompanied the ceremonial at Delhi and the changes then brought about. I repeat that it is unwise to predict what may or may not be the final result. Let Indian dreamers dream, if they will, a dream which it appears to me can do us no harm. Let us persevere, as is our duty, in doing all we can for the better government of India and making British influence as authoritative, as influential, as it can possibly be through its own merits, and then we may leave the future, whether it be dim or distant or whether it be near, where it is—on the knees of the gods, beyond our power to do anything more than slightly to influence its course.


May I say one word in explanation, as I think it is possible that my noble friend behind me (Lord Courtney) may have misunderstood my object in saying what I did. It was no desire of mine and no part of my intention to indulge in positive prophecy about the ultimate future of India. It was, indeed, less my object to indicate what our policy is than what it is not. My noble friend may not be aware to what an extent it has been assumed that the present Administration in India is actively pursuing a policy which is intended to end in self-government; and though I quarrel with no man, Indian or other, for the dreams in which he may indulge, I strongly object if my friends and I are stated as sharing those dreams when we do not share them. It is, of course, quite true, as my noble friend has said, that the future remains on the knees of the gods, and it is unwise to attempt to look too far forward. The writer whom I have already quoted, Mr. Meredith Townshend, said somewhere that Asia, which survived the Greek and the Roman, would also survive the Teuton and the Slay. I have no desire, I can assure my noble friend, to engage in any kind of prophecy of the ultimate future; but I did think it desirable, in replying to my noble friend who raised this question, to state clearly what is not our view, in order that our aims and intentions in making, as I hope we shall continue to make, advances in the direction with which my noble friend has sympathised may not be misunderstood.