§ LORD SYDENHAM had the following Notice on the Paper—
§ To draw attention to the present situation in India, with special regard to the internment and release of Mrs. Besant; and to move for Papers.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, it is always an exceedingly difficult thing to say where a line ought to be drawn in 745 checking of freedom of speech or of writing but I think it will be agreed to by everybody that such freedom must be curtailed if it is used to threaten public order or to sow the seeds of murder and of outrage.
§ In India it is absolutely necessary that restrictions of this kind should be enforced. The mass of the people are ignorant and perfectly ready to believe any false statements that may be made to them; they are credulous to a degree that can hardly be conceived here. I should like to give one instance of that, of which your Lordships may not have heard. When we first started plague inoculation in India, a story was widely circulated in the Bombay Presidency that a holy man had said that an Indian with white blood would drive the English into the sea, and that we were pricking the arms of Indians in order to find the Indian with white blood and kill him off in good time. Besides that, the peoples of India are very easily excited, and serious disturbances often occur through the passing around of some obvious fiction which in Western countries would not attract a moment's attention. Every one who has lived in India must know many cases of that kind, and when disorders, thus promoted, occur, then the most hateful duty of Government comes into play, and you have to put them down by force, with the sad result that, in many cases, some few perfectly harmless people may lose their lives.
But we have more direct evidence than this of the necessity of these restrictions in India. All political agitation in India, from the first, has been accompanied by assassination, and in many cases the assassins have themselves named the newspapers and the speakers from whom they drew the inspiration of murder. Mr. Jackson, a most valued Indian civilian, a student of Indian languages and literature, and devoted to the people, was shot at an entertainment given to him by Indians, and the young assassin in his trial made this confession. He said—
I read of many instances of oppression in the Kesari, the Rashtramat, the Kal, and other newspapers. I think that by killing Sahebs we people can get justice. I never got justice myself, nor did any one I know. I now regret killing Mr. Jackson. I killed a good man causelessly.
Could a more tragic confession ever have been made? And was that young decadent Brahmin the real criminal? Other murderers have told exactly the same story
in different words, and surely all such cases as that show that we cannot allow speech and writing which is proved effective in leading young Indians into crime.
§ Mrs. Besant, who was formerly a student of theosophy, joined the ranks of the extremists, and started a Home Rule movement of her own. She wrote a book, which contains more reckless defiance of facts than I have ever seen compressed into the same small space, and in her paper New India she appeared anxious to imitate the most dangerous language in which the Indian Press has indulged. She told excitable young Indians that India was a "perfect paradise" for 5,000 years before our advent, and that it had become a "perfect hell" owing to the "brutal British bureaucracy." Those are her expressions, not mine. She said that India had been "converted into a land of permanent famine and pestilence, and its children into a race of effeminate weaklings." She accused the British Government of "depriving a weaker people of their liberty, and retaining them under her rule in perpetual slavery under the plea of civilising them and bettering their lot." There are no freer people in the world than Indians under our rule, and such oppression as exists is that of Indians by Indians, and it would be increased a hundredfold if we handed over the reins to the small body of Brahmins and lawyers whom Mrs. Besant is trying to lead. Surely language of that kind is exactly calculated to arouse an excitable people to rebellion. And would not rebellion be fully justified and even become a public duty if the British Government were really inflicting permanent famine and pestilence on India and holding Indians in perpetual slavery?
§ To those of us who have been called upon to play a part in governing India, and whose only thought has been to do the best we could for the people of India, such expressions, of course, seem the wildest possible nonsense, but there are millions of people in India who are perfectly ready to believe them. In olden days, pestilence and famine were attributed to the wrath of the gods. It is an English woman who tells Indians that they are due to a Government which has done its utmost with great success to combat both pestilence and famine.
§ But Mrs. Besant's libels on our countrymen do not end with false assertions of 747 that kind. In a book which is now about to be re-published in India to gain the advantage of her fresh access of notoriety, she states that for every wrong done to a white woman in Africa "tens of thousands of Kaffir women are outraged." I think the noble Earl and the noble Viscount who filled with great distinction the office of High Commissioner in South Africa would warmly repudiate that statement.
Mrs. Besant then goes on to generalise. She says that—
It is there that lies one of our greatest sins; the utter disregard of morality where coloured women are concerned; the shameful disregard of womanhood in every country where-unto Britain has entered and where Britain rules.
That is a specimen of the mental food which Mrs. Besant provides for excitable young Indian students in a country where the treatment of women is one of the great bars to progress. In her purely theosophical days, Mrs. Besant distinguished herself by violent attacks on the missionary bodies in India, and by strong opposition to the teaching of the Christian religion in India. I cannot speak too highly of the British and American missions who are doing to my knowledge a wonderful work in uplifting the depressed classes of India.
Since Mrs. Besant combined theosophy with politics her language and activities and speech and writings have taken a peculiarly dangerous form. Those activities were first brought to my mind by a very distinguished Mahomedan who wrote to me that he could not understand why the Government permitted a propaganda which was having a disastrous effect upon Indian minds. At length the Government of Madras decided to enforce the provisions of the Press Act, and Mrs. Besant was ordered to give security for the good conduct of her paper. As the violence of that paper, New India, continued quite unabated, the security was sequestrated. That gave her a right of appeal to the High Court of Madras. The case was heard by three Judges, of whom two were Indians, and the action of the Madras Government was confirmed. I will quote some fragmentary passages adduced at the trial which may have had an effect in influencing the decision of the High court
When crimes are committed legally: when innocence is no protection; when we live in a state of anarchy. We should be better off in a state of savagery, for then we should carry arms and protect ourselves. We are helpless. We pay taxes to be wronged.
There has been no more tranquil province in India than Madras until Mrs. Besant took up her residence there. Here is another passage—
News of Prussian aggression and German atrocity are communicated to India to bewilder the Indian imagination. They are committed under pressure, under passion. They are common. But what does this mean, this perpetration of atrocity in civic life in peaceful times, in a peaceful Province?
The German crimes are excused and compared most favourably with the mild and quite ineffective action of the Government of Madras. One passage in New India, quoted at the trial, was written by a notorious extremist who commented on the recent assassination of a very valuable Indian officer in Calcutta. He said—
No reasonable Indian has ever publicly encouraged these crimes. There was quiet and even courageous determination in the conduct of the assassins. They are idealists, though heroism may, according to some people, be too noble a word to apply to them. In consequence, people are not even moved by a spirit of retributive justice towards them. We must recognise them as political offenders.
Well might one of the Judges point out that this was "pernicious writing which must tend to encourage assassination by removing public detestation of such a crime."
§ The decision of the High Court and the sequestration of the security given produced no effect whatever on the editor of New India, and after further considerable delay the Madras Government resorted to the Defence of India Act, which gives powers of internment. Lord Pentland explained his action in a speech which was calculated to allay any kind of public misunderstanding. It was a most excellent speech, and I am informed that it had the full approval of all real Indian opinion in Madras. It has been suggested that Mrs. Besant was doomed to languish in prison, and in a very mischievous manifesto addressed to her "Brothers and sisters in India," she announced that she was about to be "dropped into the modern equivalent of the Middle Age oubliette." There is a very considerable difference between an oubliette and a comfortable residence in the delightful climate of Ootacamund, which Mrs. Besant selected for her internment. At Ootacamund she was free to walk about, see her friends, and help in working up a violent agitation for her release; but she was prevented by the "brutal British bureaucracy" from continuing to fly the Home Rule flag over her residence.749
The Viceroy approved the internment of Mrs. Besant; and the late Secretary of State in another place on June 26 also approved the action of the Government of Madras, and stated his opinion that Mrs. Besant's propaganda was dangerous to the peace of India. An eminent Hindu wrote to me these words—
Ever since her internment a virulent agitation has been going on for her release. The Home Rulers met in conference and decided to carry on passive resistance unless she was forthwith released.
If she is released unconditionally without giving any assurances as to the future, the position of the Government of Madras would be extremely critical. I do not think that they could maintain peace and order after such a blow to their prestige.
That is the view of a very able Indian who is alarmed at the violence of the present agitation, and who understands perfectly what Home Rule of Mrs. Besant's type would mean at the present moment. On July 30 a Joint Conference of the Congress and the Moslem League sent to the Viceroy and to the Secretary of State a long resolution, most discourteous and menacing in tone, demanding the immediate sanction of their political proposals and the "immediate release" of Mrs. Besant and her two disciples. These people were released unconditionally, and Mrs. Besant has since been making a triumphal progress throughout India; and as an act of open defiance to the Government she has been elected the President of the coming Congress which is to be held at Calcutta. But further than that, there is a fresh agitation naturally started for the release of other interned persons who also are a danger to the peace of India. The Government of Madras is responsible for law and order among 42,000,000 of very excitable peoples. It had shown the most wonderful forbearance, and its mild action had been fully approved both by the Secretary of State and the Viceroy. At Simla it is quite impossible always to form an accurate view of a difficult situation in a far distant Province. In 1857 it was a very small group of strong men on the spot who saved the Punjab and enabled its resources to be brought to bear for the suppression of the great Mutiny. And during this war one fearless Irishman has not only dealt most successfully with the most dangerous conspiracy since the Mutiny, but has so far won and kept the confidence of the people of the Punjab that they have furnished recruits in unprecedented numbers. There is
nobody in India to whom the country owes more than to Sir Michael O'Dwyer. I ought to say that while the Madras Government was overruled with regard to the internment, the Bombay Government, which had wisely declined to allow Mrs. Besant to enter that Province, must also have been overruled by some separate order. These proceedings have been explained, and I cannot think that the explanation was satisfactory. I hope that my noble friend will be able to make out a better case than was made out in another place.
§ The main points in the apologia so far as I can make out were two. It was declared that the release was decided upon in order to tranquilise the present situation. My Lords, does concession made to flagrant breakers of the law ever tranquilise any situation? What has been the effect of that policy in Ireland? The second point was that Mrs. Besant had telegraphed to the Viceroy that she was "ready to co-operate in obtaining a calm atmosphere" during the visit of the Secretary of State to India. Surely no more remarkable reason could be given for releasing a person who had persistently and grievously offended against the Jaw and who had refused to make any promise of amendment. The effect is to take the offender into a kind of partnership. As a natural and perfectly certain result of all this there is widespread indignation and alarm among European residents throughout India, and also among loyal Indians who have not the same means of expressing their views. Never since the time of the Ilbert Bill has there been anything approaching the strength of the present feeling aroused by these proceedings, and the justification is, in my opinion, far stronger than it was in the eighties of last century.
The British community in India is a very small body scattered over vast areas. The services which maintain order and conduct the administration are a mere handful of men amongst 315,000,000 of people. Their authority and even personal safety depend upon the visible strength of the Government in India. I know very well that the word "prestige" is hateful to every true democrat, but in Eastern countries the prestige of the Government, or the respect, which it commands, which is just the same thing, is the only possible guarantee of the authority which is required every day for the preservation of public order. What would be the position of the two or three British officers in a far remote country district if they had not
behind them the full support of a Government known to be strong? If the masses in India ever come to believe that the Government can be coerced by the threats of a noisy minority, then India will be launched well on the road to anarchy. The paramount authority which alone holds, and alone can hold together the vast medley of races, languages, castes and creeds which constitute India, must be maintained. Peace and order are the very greatest interests of the masses of the people of India. At the great meeting of Europeans held at Bombay, there was no sign of bitterness between West and East, or of any colour distinction. Mr. Wardlaw Milne, the President of the European Association, appealed to—
all moderate men, whether English or Indian, to use their joint influence to secure that the realisation of Indian aspirations should be steady and sure.
At the same time a strong and just resentment was expressed against concessions to the threats of the small body of Brahmins and lawyers which Mrs. Besant was trying to lead.
§ Behind this present issue there is a far greater question. India is extraordinarily prosperous just now, as is Ireland. There have been three good monsoons and huge sums have flowed into India for the purchase of materials required for the war. No strain is felt except by the fighting classes, who mourn the loss of some of their best and bravest men. This is the time selected by the extremists to make proposals accompanied by threats—proposals which if accepted would make all Government impossible in India, and that is what they desire. A small section of adult Indians and a large proportion of ignorant and excitable students have been artificially worked up into what I can only describe as a state of political intoxication, and unfortunately extravagant expectations have been raised by incautious utterances, which have been treasured up and which will certainly bear fruit in due season. The extremists have captured the Congress and the Moslem League, which I assure your Lordships do not represent the truth of Indian opinion. Such conditions very closely resemble those in Ireland, where the late Viceroy has told us that laxity of government led straight to a serious rising and where Sinn Feinism, which a few years ago was regarded as the creed of a few irresponsibles, has quickly grown into a dangerous revolutionary movement.752
§ But there is another, and even more striking analogy. All free peoples welcomed the Russian Revolution, because they believed autocracy would at once be replaced by liberal rule based upon free institutions. But what happened? A small body of irresponsible persons at Petrograd, some honest idealists and dreamers, some anarchic Socialists with an eye to plunder, and some others bought with German money, instantly attempted to seize upon power, and very largely succeeded. Almost their first action was to issue in the name of democracy a manifesto which instantly crippled the fighting power of the great Armies of Russia, which had won our admiration before for their gallantry and devotion. There never was such a tragic Scrap of Paper as that, and never since the war began have the Allies had to face a greater disaster. Government throughout Russia has for the present lapsed and anarchy prevails. The masses of uneducated Russians are the helpless prey of the agitators, and true liberty has for the time vanished. The Russian Government, as we know, is most earnestly striving to restore discipline in the armies and order behind the front, but the task is one of appalling difficulty and it may take some years to accomplish. No graver warning of what revolution may mean has ever been given, and the conditions in India very closely resemble those in Russia, except that the Indian peoples are far less homogeneous and there are far more racial and religious antagonisms among them than anything which exists in Russia. The India of to-day is the creation of British rule, and I believe it is the finest achievement of the British Race. I am sure the noble Earl who devoted seven most strenuous years to the advancement of the people of India, would agree with that statement. If we ever permit our rule to be weakened we shall quickly alienate all that is best in India and court a disaster deeper and darker than that which has befallen the hapless Russian people. The sane and moderate party in India is strong in numbers; it is earnest, and it includes a large non-Brahmin element, the landed interests, and a large number of Mahomedans. It is only beginning to be organised. At present it wields no influence here, where the Indian Soviet has very many friends, and it suffers from intimidation. Here again there is an analogy to the case of Ireland; but the social, caste and 753 religious pressure which can be brought to bear in India far exceeds any thing of the kind that exists in Ireland.
My Lords, I move for Papers because there is ignorance of the present situation in India. The Censorship is very active, and our Press here is so much occupied with other matters that it cannot find space to deal with Indian affairs. Papers were asked for in another place, and the Secretary of State said that with a view to laying them he wished that they should be complete. The Papers which I would specially ask for are three in number. First, the admirable reply of the Viceroy to the so-called Press deputation which waited upon him in March last, in which he specifically dealt with the case of Mrs. Besant. This would enable Parliament and the public to understand the kind of language which the Indian papers controlled by the Indian Bolsheviks have used, and also the necessity for the maintenance of the Press Act. Circumstances alter cases, and only six years ago Mrs. Besant gave strong testimony to the necessity for the Press Act, Writing in the Christian Commonwealth, she said—
The Press edited by Indians, with one or two honourable exceptions, is curiously irresponsible, printing any amount of anonymous personal abuse without making the slightest attempt to distinguish truth from falsehood. It is this lack of the sense of responsibility which has rendered the Press Laws necessary; but while they protect the Government, they leave the Press free to pour out any amount of filth on private individuals.
§ The second Papers that I would ask for would contain the speech of Lord Pentland and the Note of the Government of Madras giving reasons for the internment of Mrs. Besant. These Papers would show the tender consideration of the Government of Madras towards Indian opinion, and they would refute any charge of arbitrary action on their part. The third Paper which I think should be given is the manifesto of the Joint Conference of Congress and Moslem League, which was sent to the Secretary of State and the Viceroy on July 30. That manifesto is couched in language which might have been used by the German Foreign Office to Venezuela. It is the kind of language which is hateful to all loyal and sober Indians, and it is necessary that Parliament and the public should be placed in possession of it.
§ My Lords, I am not in the least a reactionary. I am most anxious for many reforms in India—reforms which would 754 give greater responsibility to the Indian people, and give them more training in the handling of great affairs. This is not the time to discuss these reforms, but I do hope that any proposal that may be made by the Government will receive the most careful consideration in your Lordships' House. I also hope most earnestly that these proposals will not take the form of concessions to a very noisy party which is wishing to set up a little oligarchy in India, and to take advantage of these times of stress which are falling so heavily on the British people at home and overseas. Our only object should be, now and always in the future, to secure the gradual and orderly advance of India towards nationhood, and with the advance to nationhood self-government would, of course, come automatically. I hope I have not detained your Lordships too long. I have raised these matters very reluctantly and only because I believe we are in danger of drifting into a false paradise as regards the situation in India. I speak, not in British interests, not in the interests of British residents in India, but in the true interests of the Indian peoples for whom, as long as I live, I shall cherish affection. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That an Humble Address be presented to His Majesty for Papers relating to the present situation in India, with special regard to the internment and release of Mrs. Besant.—(Lord Sydenham.)
§ LORD LAMINGTON
My Lords, the noble Lord who has just sat down has given us a very complete recital in a most moderate and well-balanced speech, and has shown by his closing words how truly he sympathises with the great masses of the Indian people. From the discussion which took place in the other House lately in regard to Mrs. Besant, one gathers that those who hold the view that a great mistake has been committed by her release have been attacking the Viceroy. I am sure nothing would be further from the mind of Lord Sydenham than to question the action of Lord Chelmsford in regard to the release of Mrs. Besant. But the Viceroy was placed in a very difficult position, it seems to me. He had this tremendous agitation permeating India, and at the same time he had the telegrams sent him from the Secretary of State practically telling him in so many words that it was desirable to effect the release from internment of Mrs. Besant previous to the Secretary of State's visit. We 755 cannot forget in this conjunction that the Secretary of State is one who a few years ago said he regarded the Viceroy as the agent for the Secretary of State for India in this country. Therefore, the Viceroy was placed in a peculiarly difficult position, and I think he may well be excused if he told the Provincial Government of Madras that it was desirable, in view of the statement made about the new proposals for Indian Government, that Mrs. Besant's release from internment should be made.
What has been the result? Lord Sydenham has briefly described to us the effect it had on the minds, not only of the Anglo-Indian community upon whom so much depends for the good government of India, but also, what is perhaps more important, the effect it had on the moderate and loyal-minded Indians in India. How precarious they must feel their position to be when they do not quite know what is going to happen. I think this is a point which cannot be forgotten in reviewing this particular question. There are two points in regard to which we should have information. One is, Has the Madras Government made any protest at all since the Government was told that Mrs. Besant was to be given full freedom of action in India? Another is. What is the feeling of what is going on in India at the present time? Can His Majesty's Government say what Mrs. Besant is doing in consequence of her release, and what are public bodies in India doing in consequence of it? So far as we can gather, the atmosphere that is being produced for the Secretary of State's visit to India is the reverse of favourable. When I first heard that the Secretary of State was going to India I thought it was rather a good move and that he was going for a prolonged visit. Now I understand it will be only a short visit, and that he will receive deputations and addresses, and so on. It seems to me unfortunate that any visit of that kind should take place. It is as if the master of the house were going to give a great banquet and everything was prepared for it, when, at the last moment, he goes to the kitchen, consults the heads of departments and all the underlings there, and prepares some wonderful bill of fare. What bill of fare will he produce, and what will be the harmony and order reigning in the kitchen when he leaves? What will be the effect on the responsible heads as the result of the visit, which will be so brief that it will be improbable that Mr. Montagu will learn any- 756 thing new or gain any more information than he could obtain from the recognised channels?
Surely now, when Indians are placed on the different Councils of India, there is ample means for the Secretary of State for India to be able to weigh all the evidence and information given to him and decide what action he should take in regard to these new proposals for increased self-government in India. It seems to me that in the first place this visit was rather a mistake, but it is most unfortunate that it should take place now in an atmosphere that certainly will not be a rosy one when the Secretary of State for India arrives. The noble Earl who leads the House gave us instances that when he was Viceroy of India he never took any concrete action until he had fairly ascertained and understood the whole bearing of any proposals for reform. It seems to me that this visit will not be helpful as to what reforms the Indian Government should make. At the same time, as regards the particular question the noble Lord has raised, I am confident, although it is impossible now to take any concrete action, he has been very wise in bringing it before the people of this country.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords, I cannot help thinking that all of us who have listened to the temperate and instructive speech delivered by the noble Lord below the gangway (Lord Sydenham) must feel that the episodes to which he called attention were of a kind which could scarcely be allowed to pass entirely without notice in your Lordships' House. We none of us desire to attack any of, the high Officials concerned, but I find it difficult not to express my regret that things should not have happened differently, both in regard to the release of Mrs. Besant and in regard to the announcements of policy made by the Secretary of State for India. If I may be allowed to say so, the whole affair was given too much of a theatrical flavour, and I do not think the stage management was altogether successful.
Let me say one word as to the question of the release of Mrs. Besant. That release would have been noteworthy in any circumstances. At this moment, taking place as it does when the Empire is in the throes of a great war, it is of quite exceptional significance. There is no controversy as to the facts of the case; at least 757 I think not. Mrs. Besant, as a personality, has for a long time past occupied a conspicuous place in public life. She is a lady of great ability, immense industry, and has spent the whole of her long life in a career of agitation—social, political, or religious. Wherever she has been, she has always been the focus, and more or less a dangerous focus, of agitation, and I must say I think the passages quoted by the noble Lord below the gangway show conclusively that in India her sinister activities could not but fail to have the most disastrous effect. What are we to think of an English woman who goes about the country accusing her own fellow-citizens with the kind of atrocious libels which the noble Lord read to us just now? Those of us who have had anything to do with India know how intensely ignorant and how intensely superstitious is the great mass of the people. I am quoting from memory, but I think only one in ten of the Indian population is what is called "literate," and only one in one hundred has any knowledge of the English language. These people are always on the look-out for some new superstition, for some new form of religion, or for a new manifestation of an old religion, and there can be no doubt that a lady like Mrs. Besant, with her record of successful agitation in many parts of the world, would be, in the eyes of the common people of India, a very attractive personality.
Mrs. Besant, as we know, started a newspaper. The position of the Press in India is very interesting. We have always endeavoured, true to our traditions, to give to that Press the maximum of liberty, but there is no use disguising the fact that that liberty has been and is abused with the most unfortunate results. It is a matter of common knowledge that the influence exercised by an Indian newspaper is not to be measured by its circulation. You may have a perfectly obscure rag, issuing perhaps only a few hundred copies, which nevertheless pass from hand to hand, doing an incalculable amount of harm in the villages of India. Mrs. Besant's newspaper was regarded with so much suspicion that she was required to give a guarantee for its good behaviour. The newspaper was conducted in such a way that the guarantee was forfeited, and the noble Lord below the gangway has told how, when Mrs. Besant appealed to the High Court, her appeal was refused, and how the learned Judge, who gave the findings of the Court, expressed his opinion that the writing was 758 most pernicious and must tend to encourage political assassination. These political assassinations are probably by far the most dangerous feature in the life of modern India. The Viceroy, commenting upon the finding of the Court, expressed his opinion that this newspaper had been stirring up hatred and turmoil. The late Secretary of State (Mr. Austen Chamberlain) spoke of it as a political agitation which might become highly dangerous and even disastrous in India. The Madras Government endeavoured to obtain from Mrs. Besant some kind of undertaking that she would mend her ways. The undertaking was refused. What happened next? I believe there are few countries in the world where a person carrying on a practice of this kind and refusing to abandon it would not be more or less politely invited to leave that country. I was struck by what was said by the noble Lord to the effect that the Government of Bombay has since refused to admit Mrs. Besant to the Presidency.
§ LORD SYDENHAM
The Government of Bombay had issued an order that she should never enter the Presidency, but they must have been overruled, because she has entered the Presidency.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
That is a new and very significant feature in the case. At any rate, if all the Provinces had combined, and had been allowed to combine, to desire Mrs. Besant to keep outside of their limits, that lady would have found it necessary to leave India at the earliest opportunity. But what happened? She was interned. Where was she interned? She was given a choice of several places, and she was finally interned at Ootacamund. It was my ill-fortune during my five years in India never to have had a chance of visiting Ootacamund, but all my friends who know India well tell me that of all the delightful places in India which a European could visit, Ootacamund is the most delightful; and that is the place to which Mrs. Besant was allowed to repair.
Now she is to be released. Why is she to be released? I think it is clearly in evidence that the suggestion for her release came from the Secretary of State on this side. I do not think there can be any doubt about that. It was suggested by him in connect ion with the announcement of policy which he was about to make, and the suggestion was repeated a few days afterwards with a request that the Government 759 of India would come to a decision as soon as possible. I agree with what was said just now; I think that that twice repeated request made it next to impossible for the Viceroy to resist the pressure which was being put upon him from Whitehall.
What are the pleas urged for this mitigation? I notice a statement that the internment of Mrs. Besant was a precautionary and not a punitive measure. Now that is a real distinction, a distinction which we in this House, at any rate, are very well able to appreciate; but I do not believe for one moment that the common mass of the people in India would be able to make any such distinction between precautionary punishment and punitive punishment. In their eyes this lady was interned because she had committed a serious offence, and in their eyes she is released from that internment because that offence has been condoned by the Indian authorities.
Then it may be suggested that the need for these precautions has ceased. I believe it is the case that assurances were obtained—and assurances from influential sources—that Mrs. Besant's activities would be diminished. I do not know what the influential sources were, and we should be glad to hear something of them. But I suppose the trump card is the telegram which Mrs. Besant appears to have sent herself to the Viceroy, in which she promised that she would co-operate in securing a calm atmosphere during the Secretary of State's visit. That seems to me a most extraordinary bargain. It is not an undertaking on Mrs. Besant's part to stop from writing seditious matter; it is that she will co-operate, I suppose, with him in obtaining a favourable atmosphere for him during his visit. I must say that, in the political jargon to which we are accustomed in these days, there is no expression which to my mind is more detestable than that phrase of creating a favourable atmosphere by means of this kind. We are very familiar with it in other connections besides the Indian connection, and you will find, if you examine its meaning carefully, that what it generally means is, that in order to obtain a fairly quiet time you are going to run away from somebody or from something. You are going to do that in order that you may get a calm surface, regardless of the under-currents which may be flowing below and of the storm which may be muttering in the distance.
760 I wish to add this, that it seems to me that the need of dealing cautiously with the situation which now exists in India, has been very greatly increased by the fact that the new Secretary of State is believed to be, and has announced himself as being, in favour of what is called a very strong Home Rule policy for India. In the month of July, in the debate upon Mesopotamia, he made a very violent attack upon the system of Indian Government. He described it as "too wooden, too iron, too inelastic, too antediluvian," to be of any use for the modern purpose we have in view. "It is an indefensible system of government," he said, and he goes on to qualify that by saying that he does not see any demand for complete Home Rule for India. It must obviously have occurred to him, as it has occurred to most people, that there is no Indian nation to which Home Rule could in any conceivable circumstances be given. But he does contemplate a series of self-governing Provinces and Principalities federated by one Central Government, and he proposes that instalments should be given to show that we are in earnest, and he concludes this remarkable speech by the statement that "we ought to remodel, in the light of modern experience, this century-old and cumbrous machine," and that "unless we do so we shall lose our right to control the destinies of the Indian Empire." Now, my Lords, I venture to say that that was a somewhat intemperate criticism of the defects, if there are any, which the system of Indian Government possesses.
I turn with considerable satisfaction from that speech to a statement—a lecture I think it was—given by my noble friend the Under Secretary of State at Oxford about a month afterwards, in which he dealt with the subject in a very liberal and generous spirit, but in a spirit, I think, of very much greater caution and moderation. My noble friend dwelt particularly upon the fact that this century-old and cumbrous machine does not stand still, and he cited in particular the legislation dealing with Indian Councils in the years 1861, 1892, and 1909 as landmarks which show how progressive is the spirit of our rule of the Indian Empire. My noble friend recognised that India's future must be in accordance with our ideals—ideals which, he wisely pointed out, had taken this country centuries to obtain. He proceeded to outline some proposals which seemed to me conceived in a very prudent and cautious spirit, for 761 giving the local authorities in India greater authority over sanitation, lighting, and in some cases primary education; and then he passed on to other proposals, wider proposals, dealing with decentralisation and the gradual increase of powers to the Legislative Councils. My noble friend is a member of the Government; and, of course, I am bound to remind the House that when Mr. Montagu made the speech from which I quoted just now he was not a member of the Government, and I admit very readily that the speech he made after he had become a member of the Government was conceived in very much more cautious language. He spoke of the policy of "increasing the association of Indians in every branch of the Administration, and the gradual development of self-governing institutions." Those are objects in which all of us, I am sure, would readily associate ourselves with the Secretary of State.
But the fact remains that there are two Mr. Montagus. There is the official Mr. Montagu, and the unofficial Mr. Montagu. I am afraid that the Mr. Montagu whom the malcontents in India are prepared to welcome with open arms is the unofficial Mr. Montagu, and that he will be received there by a great many people as the apostle of a Home Rule movement, a sort of emissary of the Government who has come out to overhaul the Government of India root and branch from a Home Rule point of view. Therefore it does seem to me that this errand or mission which the Secretary of State has undertaken is a very delicate one, and he must expect that his language and action during his visit to India will be very narrowly scrutinised. I feel quite sure that a man of Mr. Montagu's great ability will recognise thoroughly the need of proceeding very warily, and of avoiding carefully all appearance of paltering in any way with the kind of disaffection which we known is rampant in many parts of India. It is because I feel strongly how great the dangers of this somewhat adventurous policy are, that I for one regret, like my noble friend opposite, that there should have been committed in regard to the treatment of Mrs. Besant what I cannot help regarding as a serious blunder, and one which has undoubtedly greatly alarmed the whole of the loyal classes of the community in India.
§ THE UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE FOR INDIA (LORD ISLINGTON)
My Lords, the question which my noble friend has 762 raised, and which has formed the subject of his speech this afternoon, was, as your Lordships are aware, raised and debated last week in another place. Whilst I realise, as must your Lordships, that this particular subject, in view of the circumstances that surround it in India to-day, is one that demands both guarded and measured expression by all who discuss it, I do not for that reason myself regret that it has been raised again. Because I observe from what I have read in certain journals of the Press, and indeed from speeches that have been delivered by noble Lords here this afternoon, that in spite of the pronouncement of my right hon. friend the Secretary of State for India last week, there still remains in the minds of some people a sense of apprehension and indeed of hostility in regard to the circumstances under which Mrs. Besant has been released from the restriction of her liberty, and the reasons which influenced the Governor-General in Council in taking this course.
The substance of the speeches that have been delivered in this debate may, I think, be summarised under two heads—first, the exception that has been taken to the reversal by the Government of India, on the suggestion of the Secretary of State, of the action of the Madras Government in ordering the relaxation of the restrictions on Mrs. Besant and her two coadjutors, Mr. Arundale and Mr. Wadia; and, secondly, an apprehension about the Mission which is about to take place in which the Secretary of State is to visit India to confer with the Government of India and other responsible bodies in regard to political reform. I will endeavour this afternoon as briefly as I can to deal with those points, and I am not without hope that I may be able to some extent to restore that confidence and trust in the stability of Indian Government which it is so essential at all times to maintain unimpaired in the interests of India and its people.
Mrs. Besant was restricted in her liberty by the Government of Madras in the middle of the month of June because after due consideration it was agreed that the inflammatory methods pursued by her in her advocacy of Home Rule were injurious to public tranquility in that part of India for which the Madras Government were responsible. The Government of Madras took this action on their own responsibility under the powers that they can exercise under the Defence of India Regulations. They took it in accordance with those 763 powers, but in doing so at that time and in the circumstances then prevailing they had the entire concurrence of the Governor-General in Council and of the then Secretary of State, Mr. Chamberlain. Therefore your Lordships will see that every responsible branch of Indian Administration at that time fully approved the action taken by the Madras Government and agreed to its expediency and necessity.
The question is therefore asked, Why, if this was the case, was this comparatively early and complete reversal made by the Governor-General in Council in releasing Mrs. Besant from her internment after three months, a decision with which the Secretary of State was in full accord, and a course which presents at first sight the appearance of vacillation and of overriding the decision of the Governor of Madras? I will now endeavour to give your Lordships the answer to this question. In my judgment it is a simple and conclusive one. Whether I shall be successful in persuading your Lordships in the same direction, however, must be left to your judgment.
The position in India in June was entirely different from the position existing now. The change, took place with the announcement of policy in the House of Commons on August 20—an announcement of the greatest possible significance within the Empire, which is familiar to your Lordships, and which I will not repeat, therefore, this afternoon; and the decision by the Government that Mr. Montagu, the Secretary of State, should accept the Viceroy's invitation to proceed to India to examine the issues himself. It is essential, therefore, in coming to a fair judgment as to the action taken by the Viceroy in Council in releasing Mrs. Besant, to associate this action with the pronouncement of August 20. Mrs. Besant before that time had been agitating, by methods so violent that they could no longer be tolerated, for Home Rule for India, and her activities were made more dangerous in their effect upon moderate men by the fact that it was impossible for the Government of India and the Provincial Governments to express at that time their views on the question of an alternative policy, the reason being that the whole matter was then under the consideration of His Majesty's Government, who were naturally so preoccupied with urgent matters connected with the war that this decision had to be postponed.
764 On August 20 His Majesty's Government announced that the Secretary of State for India would proceed to India to formulate proposals for a substantial advance in the direction of the gradual development of self-governing institutions. This undoubtedly was far from all that Mrs. Besant, and those who worked in close association with her, wanted. But, after all, what agitator ever expects to get half of that for which he asks? At all events, there was some likelihood that Mrs. Besant would refrain from violent propaganda while the Government were fulfilling the promise to investigate schemes for consultation and decision hereafter on the lines of those proposals which she was advancing in their most extreme form. If there was reason, therefore, to believe that Mrs. Besant would so refrain from agitation there was, as I hope shortly to show, very positive advantage in removing the restriction on Mrs. Besant, apart even from the consideration that it is contrary to the British spirit of justice not to terminate the confinement of people as quickly as possible when the necessity for their confinement has been removed. Do not let me imply for one moment by this remark that the release of Mrs. Besant was in any shape or form an exoneration from her past conduct. There was reason to believe that Mrs. Besant would refrain from violent agitation, because the Viceroy and his Council had received assurances from influential persons in his Legislative Council which he has reported to us at home as being in his judgment to be considered as satisfactory—assurances which he deemed to be genuine, but as to which I am not at liberty to state exactly the manner in which they were given to him. All I Would ask your Lordships to believe is that those assurances were of a character to impress the Viceroy with the belief that there would not be a recurrence of agitation; and certainly when repeated to us in the India Office they impressed us with the same belief.
Subsequently the Viceroy received a telegram, as has been stated this afternoon, from Mrs. Besant herself, stating that she would co-operate in obtaining a calm atmosphere—I am afraid I must use that phrase in spite of what the noble Marquess said just now—for Mr. Montagu's visit; and she sent that message before she had been informed of the instruction for her release. I need not dwell at length on the importance of ensuring that as far as possible 765 these conferences which are to take place in India, and which have been arranged between the Secretary of State and his delegation and the various Governments and organisations in India, should be given a fair and unhindered field, and that they should be conducted under harmonious and tranquil conditions and not be entangled in the meshes of agitation and disorder.
The question of Indian reform is, in an extreme degree, both delicate and difficult. It offers grounds, as your Lordships are well aware, for varying degrees of opinion, and it gives rise, as indeed all political reforms do in every country, to the expression, by many sections of the public of passionate and extreme opinion. My answer to the question of my noble friend and to those who have addressed the House this afternoon is this, that the recent action taken by the Government of India constitutes in no sense an act of timidity or of vacillation in the face of clamour of extremists, or of sentimentality. The course taken in the circumstances became highly expedient the moment the pronouncement of August 20 was made and machinery had been devised for evolving schemes of reform.
My Lords, if I may say so it is a fallacy to argue, as has been implied this afternoon in the speeches and as I see is often argued outside, that Mrs. Besant and her extremist friends number in all from between five and ten thousand people amid a population of three hundred millions, the remainder of whom would hold opposite views, and that what action you take against the extremists will be approved by all the rest. It is at least as impossible in India as it is in other countries to draw hard-and-fast distinctions of this kind as to peoples, even apart from the fact that the political views of millions of the people of India are quite unascertainable, even if they hold any views at all.
My Lords, thousands of moderate Indians all over India, and quite unconnected with Mrs. Besant's violent attacks on the existing established Government, saw or were persuaded to see—quite mistakenly, of course—in the restrictions placed upon her an attempt to suppress all free discussion of questions of self-government, although it was only her unconstitutional methods which it was desired to check. Holding this erroneous view, they were very little likely, so long as the restrictions on Mrs. Besant remained, to accept as made in good 766 faith the Government's investigations of possible methods of reform. They would, no doubt, have devoted their energies to obtaining her release, and so maintained a controversy most distracting to those who are about to investigate, and quite inimical to the calm atmosphere which is so desirable if success is to be attained. It is a question quite open to argument whether Mrs. Besant interned did not constitute a more mischievous rallying point for the extremists than Mrs. Besant free. I think there can be no doubt that there will be greater tranquility with Mrs. Besant freed from restriction or internment, and that the reforms which are to be now considered will be considered with a much greater chance of harmony among all classes than would have been the case if Mrs. Besant had remained under restriction.
My noble friend will tell me, however, that, even if a certain body of Indians have been reassured, a more serious obstacle has been created by arousing the mistrust of the European community. Nobody appreciates more than I do the great importance of considering, from every point of view, the interests of our fellow-countrymen who live in India. If some of these do not agree with the wisdom of removing the restrictions upon Mrs. Besant—and I am sure there is a large number who will agree—I would venture to make an appeal to those who feel strongly on this subject to exercise all the patience and forbearance they can in the extremely delicate situation that India will go through in the immediate future, and not only to refrain from any action likely to embarrass the position, but rather to co-operate with the Secretary of State in his efforts to devise suitable schemes of reform, and to do their share to bring about a solution consonant with the demands of the country and the best interests of the future of India and its people.
My noble friend also emphasised the further point that a feeling of instability has been caused by the unwarranted interference of the Government of India with the discretion of a Local Government. You are possibly aware that I am an advocate of greater freedom to Provincial Governments and greater relaxation from the Central Authority. But I confess that this seems to me to be a case affecting the whole of India, in which the ultimate decision must rest with the Government of India. The Government of Madras, therefore 767 admitted that there might be questions of policy other than those governing the locality, and that the desirability of removing the restrictions was therefore a question which might well be left to the Central Authority; and the Government of Madras has loyally accepted the decision of the Government of India.
Again, it is asked why this question of constitutional change is raised in the midst of the war. It is also asked why India has been thrown into the ferment of an unprecedented Mission by the Secretary of State and this delegation to India. It is also asked why hopes of self-government as the ultimate goal have been excited. I will say one word in reply to these questions. I can assure your Lordships that this course of action has not been entered upon by the Secretary of State for India on his own responsibility or in any light-hearted fashion. These questions have not been wilfully provoked by His Majesty's Government or by the Secretary of State. They have agitated India not only for months but for years. Lord Hardinge had to deal with them, and in leaving them to his successor had let it be known that he was impressed by the necessity of important political changes and was in favour of them. He said as much in his last speech in the Legislative Council in March, 1916. Lord Chelmsford, in the first speech that he addressed to the Legislative Council, showed that he took up the position exactly where Lord Hardinge had left it, and he made it perfectly clear that he was impressed by the gravity and urgency of the question, and resolved to prosecute it to a solution. In his speech last month, at the opening of the Simla Session, he told the Council of the steps which he and his colleagues had taken in this direction. He referred to the announcement of policy by the Secretary of State on behalf of His Majesty's Government, and claimed that the policy there announced was in substance practically indistinguishable from that which the Government of India had themselves put forward. He explained that but for the extreme importance and urgency of war preoccupations by His Majesty's Government this pronouncement would have been made at a much earlier date, and he mentioned that he had himself invited Mr. Chamberlain to go to India to confer with him and examine the whole issue; that Mr. Chamberlain was on the point of accepting when he resigned; and that he 768 renewed the invitation to Mr. Chamberlain's successor and was very gratified when the Cabinet decided that Mr. Montagu should accept the invitation. These facts, which I venture to put forward, establish beyond dispute that the Government of India have long been convinced as to the urgency and necessity for political reform in India, and that they have pressed it steadily upon the Government here for a long time past.
It is true that Lord Hardinge thought that the question might possibly stand over for settlement until the end of the war. But I am sure that he reckoned on an earlier termination of the war, and he did not speculate on the effect which the projection of these political demands would have upon the people of India if they were indefinitely prolonged. For some time before the decision of the Cabinet the Viceroy had written and telegraphed constantly that agitation was increasing and would increase in the absence of a declaration of policy and that the situation was getting more and more grave in India. Mrs. Besant and her Home Rule propaganda were a symptom of this unrest. Her cause attracted adherents and her influence was dangerous because of this silence and uncertainty. The announcement of August 20 cleared the air, and enabled the Government of India and other Indian authorities to know where they stood, and gave them freedom to explain the promising position, the tranquilising of India, and to ask for a cessation of agitation and for a calm atmosphere.
I repeat again, my Lords, that for these reasons the Executive Council came to the conclusion that, given certain assurances they received from responsible quarters that Mrs. Besant would abstain in the future from unconstitutional and violent methods of agitation, her release would have such a tranquilising effect upon the political situation in India as to ensure calm and dispassionate consideration of the difficult problems that lay before the Secretary of State and the Viceroy when they came into conference. I hope I have now shown to your Lordships that the announcement of August 20 and the subsequent arrangements created an entirely new situation and one which justified the Government of India, acting on their own judgment, in terminating these restrictions which had been imposed by the Government of Madras. It was not the decision of the Viceroy himself; it was the decision, 769 and the unanimous decision, of the Viceroy and his Council. They felt that it was an inevitable concomitant to the Secretary of State's visit. So far as we know there has been no recrudescence of agitation in Madras, and I think there is at present a fair prospect of Mr. Montagu and his Mission entering upon their difficult task upon favourable conditions. In that connection, I will read to your Lordships a telegram which we have received to-day from the Viceroy in relation to the situation, because that was asked for by the noble Lords who spoke—The main cause for dissatisfaction amongst Europeans was the belief that the Secretary of State had overruled the Government of India and the Government of Madras. You can make it quite clear I acted on my own responsibility and Government of Madras loyally accepted my decision. Such restrictions on her ingress into other Provinces as were previously in force have been removed by Local Governments entirely on their own initiative. We have no reason to be dissatisfied with the results of the release. The reception of Mrs. Besant at various centres has been naturally cause of minor local excitement to which no importance need be attached. Mrs. Besant's utterances have been moderate and in keeping with her undertaking to me.Before I sit down I must deal with my noble friend's request for the laying of Papers. I do not think it is desirable that this request should be complied with in connection with those Papers that have direct relation to the internment and release of Mrs. Besant. I have stated in broad outline exactly what has taken place, but, of course, in these documents there must necessarily be a great deal which would be matter of high controversy, and which could not but give rise, if published, to much further discussion, especially in India. It would be dealt with at large in the Press and at public meetings. It is the avoidance of discussion of this kind which is so desirable, and I am sure that my noble friend will not willingly lend himself to the creation of difficulties in the way of the successful accomplishment of the very delicate Mission which my right hon. friend Mr. Montagu has undertaken on the instruction of His Majesty's Government. Further, I do not see what practical 770 purpose the laying of Papers in this relation would secure. The House could hardly contemplate moving for the imposition of fresh restrictions on Mrs. Besant unless and until she offends again. If, of course, she should abuse the consideration which has been shown to her and again adopt methods of agitation dangerous to the safety of India, I have not the slightest doubt that the Government of India, with the full concurrence of the Secretary of State, will immediately take such steps as may be necessary to put a stop to her political activities. If such measures should unfortunately be required the Government of India's present action should go far to deprive her of the sympathy of all Indians who have at heart the welfare of their country as a part of the British Empire. I may assure your Lordships there is nothing of any real substance in the Papers which I have not stated, and for the reasons just given I do not think it would be in the public interest to present them.
As regards the Paper containing the reply of the Viceroy to the deputation on behalf of the Press, I am not sure, but I think that is a public document now. It is not a Parliamentary Paper in this country, but I should be very glad to furnish my noble friend with that document. I am sure he would not desire that the country should be put to the expense of having it published as a Parliamentary Paper.
§ LORD SYDENHAM
I think it is most desirable that it should be made a public Parliamentary Paper; otherwise, the people of this country will never hear of it.
§ LORD ISLINGTON
Well, I will make inquiries in regard to it. Then there is the speech of Lord Pentland, which is published. The note to the Viceroy by Lord Pentland I have already alluded to as one which I do not think it would be in the public interest to have published. Next, there is the manifesto of the Congress and Moslem League to the Viceroy. That, of course, is published in India, and that, with the other two I mentioned, I understand my noble friend desires to have published as Parliamentary Papers.
§ LORD ISLINGTON
I cannot give the actual reply now; but I will make inquiries and see whether that can be done. Before I conclude let me say one word as to the 771 Mission of Mr. Montagu. It has been suggested or rather implied in the debate to-night that Mr. Montagu is going out in some irresponsible light-hearted manner to redeem the whole position of India, and to do so single-handed, in conjunction with the Viceroy. Let me briefly explain to the House the delegation from this country which will go out to India. Accompanying Mr. Montagu is a member of this House who has been occupied in a responsible position as Chairman of Committees, and for years past has occupied that position with distinction and credit. As your Lordships are all aware, Lord Donoughmore is fitted in an exceptional degree, by temperament and experience, to assist Mr. Montagu in the work which lies before him. Mr. Charles Roberts, who will also accompany Mr. Montagu, is a former Under-Secretary in the India Office, and fully familiar with the intricacies of the problem. There is also Sir William Duke, a Member of the India Council, one of the most distinguished public servants, and Mr. Seton who goes out as Secretary, who has held one of the most important positions in the India Office and is a highly accomplished and experienced official of the public service. These are the gentlemen who accompany Mr. Montagu in his Mission, and it has been arranged that the conferences which are to take place in different parts of India will always be held in accompaniment with the Viceroy. Your Lordships need be under no apprehension that the dignity and prestige which should always surround the high position of the Viceroy will suffer any disparagement by the fact that the Secretary of State is in India. Mr. Montagu intends to take every precaution against this. These conferences which are to be held will include Local Governments, prominent representatives of the British community and official community in India, and of course various representatives of Indian public opinion.
No announcement will be made of any decision of policy by the Secretary of State or by the Viceroy during the period of the Mission. Whatever decisions are agreed to as the outcome of the conferences will be transmitted by Mr. Montagu on his return to this country to His Majesty's Government for consideration and approval before submission to Parliament. I hope I have shown by what I have said that the release of Mrs. Besant by the Governor-General in Council was, in all the circumstances, a necessary expedient if the objects 772 sought for were to be attained. I hope I have also shown that whatever reforms will evolve from the Mission about to take place will be the outcome of no hasty or ill-considered policy, either on the part of the Secretary of State for India or the Governor-General, but that they will ultimately be placed before Parliament as the result of careful and full deliberation by His Majesty's Government.
Finally, my Lords, may I be permitted to say this. The task before those in India is a difficult and intricate one in the extreme. On its success must depend in large measure an earnest effort at solution on the part of the British and Indian people, working in genuine harmony, for a great and common cause. For the present I believe our share of the task can best be performed at home by doing nothing which might tend to the hindrance of that harmony. Later on when schemes are submitted to Parliament by His Majesty's Government your Lordships can, and I know will, place at the service of India and the Empire that ripe experience and wise counsel which are always available among members of your Lordships' House, and which will be of the highest value in assisting towards the solution of a problem as great in importance and as delicate in structure as any that the Executive Government of this country will have addressed to it.
§ VISCOUNT MIDLETON
My Lords, I think my noble friend Lord Sydenham needed no justification, besides his own speech, for introducing this Motion beyond the speech of the noble Lord who has just sat down. We are, of course, familiar in this House with the manner in which he discharges his duty and with his power of convincing himself and others, but I confess the speech he has just made, did not leave an aroma of conviction. I do not think you could have had a more unfortunate sequence of events than those which the noble Lord (Lord Islington) has had to record. He made, at the close of his speech, an announcement which I am sure your Lordships will have been glad to hear—that whatever occurs in the Mission undertaken by the Secretary of State for India, whatever high authorities are consulted, no decision will be taken without the previous agreement of the Cabinet, and without Parliament having an opportunity of discussing it. That is a gratifying, but I venture to say a belated, announcement. 773 The occurrence of the 20th of August last was certainly one of the most extraordinary episodes in the whole history of the Government of India—
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
The noble Viscount will excuse me. I think I am correct in saying that the Secretary of State, when he made his announcement in the House of Commons some weeks ago, made exactly the same statement as regards the policy and intentions of the Government which the noble Lord has made this evening. There is no sudden and novel disclosure of policy on the part of the Government to-day.
§ VISCOUNT MIDLETON
I am afraid I have used the wrong word. I meant to say that changes with regard to India, and any other portion of our Dominions, should be made at such a time when Parliament can discuss them. I do not think a more extraordinary breach of official decorum and etiquette could have been shown than on August 20, when the Secretary of State, at a moment when the House had practically adjourned, when a few Members only were discussing Amendments to the Corn Production Bill, made the announcement that he was about to take steps to create a great change in the method of the administration of India. I confess I think we have a serious case against the noble Lord and against the Government with regard to it. Your Lordships have tried to keep the truce, but the Government do not keep the truce themselves. A little more than a month before that date the Secretary of State for India, who was not then a member of the Government, made a very highly provocative speech. I have not the least desire to attack Mr. Montagu. I have the greatest regard for his ability, and I have had opportunities, from outside, of admiring the manner in which he haw discharged the duties of certain important offices. But the speech he made in the Mesopotamia debate in another place was, I thought, not only an unfortunate speech but a very unwise speech—unwise if he had never been called to take the office of Secretary of State, and incurably unwise if he had known that the Prime Minister would ask him to occupy that position. Of course, he could not have known that the Prime Minister would ask him to take that office.
Look at the position as Mr. Montagu described it in the Mesopotamia debate. 774 He attacked the India Office; he attacked the powers of the Secretary of State; he attacked the want of control of the House of Commons over the Secretary of State. In the course of almost the same sentence he told the House that the powers of the Viceroy ought to be much greater; that the powers of the Secretary of State were so interfered with by the cumbrous machinery of the India Office that he could not properly control the Viceroy, and that the House of Commons should bring pressure on the Secretary of State so that he should control the Viceroy much more effectively, and interfere in various matters which he had not hitherto touched. I think that a speech of that kind is unexplainable even in this House; but for the people of India to read that speech, to be told, I think most erroneously and untruly, that the India Office is a place where the Secretary of State can be checked in his policy at every moment, and to be told, to use the expression which Mr. Montagu used, that "the whole system of the India Office is designed to prevent control by the House of Commons for fear there might be too advanced a Secretary of State" is most lamentable and is really a travesty of the reasons for which the Council exists in the India Office. I believe it must always be necessary that a man who perhaps has never been in India
which is not the case of Mr. Montagu—and who takes the office of Secretary of State for India, should have the assistance of a Council; for on the very first day he has to deal with most intricate questions which only a man of long Oriental experience can properly deal with.
In saying this I think I may appeal for support to my noble friend behind me, Lord Crewe, and I know I could confidently appeal to the noble Lord, Viscount Morley, if he were present. In ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, a Secretary of State cannot carry through what he desires to carry through, or cannot carry it through as quickly as is desirable, if he has not the assistance to which I have just referred. I fail entirely to see how it is possible for any responsible Minister at the same moment to maintain that the House of Commons should have greater power in order to drive the Secretary of State to control the Viceroy, and that what is needed is, in the words of Mr. Montagu himself, "that the Viceroy ought to have far greater powers devolved to him than is at present the case."
775 I do feel that the language used so short a time before the 20th of August made it incumbent on the Government to make such announcement as they were prepared to make at a time when Parliament could discuss it. I hardly think that the noble Lord, Lord Islington, made out a strong enough case as to the necessity of going back to Lord Hardinge's decision not to take up these subjects during the war. I said just now that the Government had not observed the truce themselves. They have appealed to us and the country not to ask them to undertake matters which are not rendered absolutely necessary by the war, yet I defy any member of your Lordship's House to mention any subject of really serious division between the Parties which has not been taken up and not been made effective during the war. I myself, as far as anybody has a right to say anything, am involved in the discussion of a very important subject in Ireland, which we would have imagined three years ago would not be revived at this moment; and now Home Rule for India has been taken under consideration, so also has the whole question of the franchise and redistribution; and such subjects as the liquor traffic, and labour have likewise been raised. There is indeed absolutely nothing, when the opportunity has arisen, which does not appear to have been carried through when Parliament was entirely engrossed in the war. Considerations have been brought to the front which we always wanted to leave alone until we had dealt with the more pressing exigencies of the present situation.
I hope this is the last we shall hear of efforts to create "an atmosphere." I think Lord Lansdowne said—I was at the moment out of the House—that creating an atmosphere meant, in other words, preparing to run away. You have tried it with Mrs. Besant. Lord Islington passed a very high encomium on Lord Donoughmore. I am not at all certain that Lord Donoughmore is not to be commiserated in having to start on this expedition in an atmosphere created for him by the release of Mrs. Besant. If persons are to be released under these conditions, you never ought to intern them. I refrain from dealing with the subject that was debated in the House of Commons last night, because it is a very thorny subject, but I might point out how similar are the instances, in the two cases, of creating an atmosphere. Persons whom you have laid by the heels for good and 776 sufficient reasons, are emancipated, and are allowed to be brought back to the places from which they were taken. The noble Lord has promised us that if Mrs. Besant's activities should take a form which the Government of India consider to be unfavourable, they will not fail to act. That is the sort of speech which Mr. Duke makes in the House of Commons twice a week. If he has to speak on Ireland he is always promising that somebody will be called back again, who, for some reason, has first been taken away. I think that is the very worst way in which the Government of this country can be conducted, and if anything results from the Motion of my noble friend Lord Sydenham to-night, I hope this will result, that you will make up your minds either to blow hot or to blow cold. If you are to blow cold, do so; but for heaven's sake do not blow hot, and then cold a fortnight or three weeks afterwards. If you do, you bring about a situation in which the men who desire to support the Government have no solid ground on which to stand.
I do not wish it to be understood that I, or, so far as I know, any of us on this side of the House, desire to be backward in considering any claims which can legitimately be made by India in connection with constitutional government. I myself have great sympathy with some portions of Mr. Montagu's speech. There was, for instance, what he said with regard to the charges on India. I am not going to suggest those charges are ill-found, but I will take one which I think must necessarily be considered after the war. It has always been the practice that India should provide entirely for her own defence. It has always been held, or at all events has been since before 1905, that a very large expenditure was necessary in order to safeguard the frontiers of India owing to our liability to despatch a large force there at any moment. I only wish to say that personally I protested against that view for many years, because I was convinced that, if the time came when any nation with whom we were acting was engaged in a Continental war, our force, small or large, would ultimately be sent to the fighting front. For that reason I have always held, and, it has turned out, correctly, that you could not say the expense of a British expedition was largely needed owing to the necessity we might be under of safeguarding the frontier of India. If anything—I am sure the noble Earl opposite will agree with 777 this—the balance is on the other side. We owe India, as Lord Hardinge admirably pointed out in the debate on Mesopotamia, an immense debt of gratitude for the enormous assistance she had been able to give to our Army in France and elsewhere. We cannot, therefore, treat her from a military point of view as a pensioner, and when the time comes after the war I have no doubt that this point will be considered, and I shall be the first to concede whatever is due to India in that respect.
But I do feel that we have a right to enter a protest on three points, as has been done by my noble friend. First, on the vacillating policy adopted as between the India Office and the Government of India in regard to the particular case which has been cited; and secondly, because a man in so high a position and with so high a record as the present Secretary of State should first have made the speech which he did as a private individual, and then have been allowed, when he became a Minister, to make announcements which practically seemed to follow on his previous speech at a time when it was impossible for us to challenge them in Parliament or to ask for an explanation. We have had to do so to-night after an interval; and I hope that the Leader of the House, if he intends to take part in this Debate, will recognise that it is in pursuance not merely of the traditional policy of Parliament, but also of the only system under which Parliament can possibly keep any control, that we have made, as we do make, a protest against the methods which the Government have adopted in dealing with the most important question in the Indian Empire.
THE MARQUESS OF GREWE
My Lords, I had hoped to refrain from taking part in this particular debate, but the tone of all the speeches made from this side of the House has been so uniformly critical, I might almost say hostile, to the course taken by His Majesty's Government and the Government of India, that I feel I ought, perhaps, to say one or two words on the subject.
In the powerful defence of the noble Lord opposite (the Under-Secretary), I was glad that he was able to bring out one point which hardly seemed to have occurred to my noble friends on this side of the House or to the noble Marquess opposite, because all criticised in almost unmeasured terms the 778 attitude of the present Secretary of State for his presumed pressure placed upon the Government of India to bring to a close the internment of Mrs. Besant, and also in respect of the expedition which he and others are about to undertake to India. It occurred to me at the time that, even though noble Lords disavowed the idea that they were even attacking the Secretary of State, they were in reality pronouncing an almost unmixed censure on Lord Chelmsford and the Government of India; because, as my noble friend opposite was able to point out, both the subjects of hostile criticism—namely, the release of Mrs. Besant from internment, and the Secretary of State's visit—were not merely approved, but, generally speaking, the acts were initiated from India rather than from here. Those are important points, and it is particularly necessary to bring out the fact, as my noble friend did, that the visit to India was not in connection with Mr. Montagu's views upon India or with his presumed desire to press reform on the spot, but that the whole business had been contemplated as between Mr. Chamberlain and the Government of India; and undoubtedly, had Mr. Chamberlain not resigned—most unfortunately, as I think—his position at the India Office, he would now have been doing precisely what Mr. Montagu is doing. That is a point which aught to be borne in mind. I am sure that the noble Marquess (Lord Lansdowne) was glad to get from Lord Islington Lord Chelmsford's disclaimer that he was a sort of passive instrument in the hands of Mr. Montagu in the action he and the Government of India took for the release of Mrs. Besant from internment. He made it quite clear in the telegram which my noble friend read out towards the close of his speech, that he was at least equally responsible with Mr. Montagu for that action.
But on the point of Mrs. Besant's release I am glad to hear, from the same telegram, that Lord Chelsmford does not think that any untoward results are following, or, as he hopes, are likely to follow. My noble friend who has just sat down says that you ought to choose between interning people and keeping them there or not interning them at all; that if the policy of internment—as he desired to say, no doubt—was pursued at all it must be pursued with vigour and determination. There are two objections to that. In the first place, you cannot intern people 779 permanently. Some time must come when people who are put under restraint, even at an agreeable resort like Ootacamund, must have their liberty restored to them, and the restoration usually takes place in respect to some public act, some announcement of policy, or some public event. It is, of course, open to anybody to say that this particular occasion—not, as I venture to think, the Secretary of State's visit, because, in my opinion, that has far less to do with it than the announcement of policy—that this particular announcement of a reform policy justifies, or does not justify, as you may think, the particular release.
The other fact which makes the internment of suspects or others less effective as a general policy, although it is undoubtedly sometimes necessary, is that you will never intern enough people. You always leave outside, one way or another, some who succeed in carrying on a dangerous agitation. That is why I think my noble friend opposite was right when he said that the mere fact of Mrs. Besant being under lock and key, even in that modified form, would not prevent others from carrying on an equally mischievous agitation, and it might be all the more mischievous from the fact of her being interned instead of being at liberty.
We all of us, I think, remember the comparative failure of Mr. Forster's attempt in 1881 to shut up the village ruffians of Ireland. While that process of internment was going on the Invincible Conspiracy was being formed and brought to a head. Some of the most notorious of those criminals of 1882 were themselves shut up during a short period. James Carey was one of them, and he was imprisoned, if I remember rightly, for about two or three months. But the general futility of internment as a form of repression was actively shown on that occasion. I am very far from saying that for certain purposes and in certain cases, as Indian affairs now are, it is not a necessary step to take sometimes. Probably the internment of Mrs. Besant when it took place was a wise measure; I do not dispute that for a moment. But I think that my noble friend opposite (Lord Islington) has established his case, that in all the circumstances the release was also wise.
There is one other point only on which I need say a word—the point mentioned by my noble friend Lord Midleton. In the 780 course of his speech the noble Viscount got on to the subject of the conduct of the India Office, and mentioned my name as likely to support the view which he took with regard to the Council of India. I have no desire to discuss the speech, to which two of my noble friends have alluded, made by Mr. Montagu in the Mesopotamia debate at a time when he had obviously no notion whatever that he was likely to be Secretary of State for India. If he had known, not less obviously he would not have made that particular speech. In those circumstances I am not sure that it is a very useful subject for close examination. But on the particular points of the Council of India and the general business of the India Office, I do not know whether my noble friend remembers, but when I was Secretary of State I did make an attempt to deal with the conduct of business as between the India Office and India. I suggested a number of modifications of the existing Acts. I do not know that I should go so far as Mr. Montagu apparently does in speaking of the cumbrousness of the existing system at the India Office—
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
At the same time, if my noble friend will take the trouble to look back at the debate which took place, in the course of which the House absolutely refused to look at my proposals, he will see that I had a number of criticisms to make of the, as it seemed to me, needless time which a great deal of the procedure under the Acts now takes, which might in my opinion have been advantageously curtailed. But I am very glad to join my noble friend in repeating much that I said then—namely, that as Secretary of State I never could be too grateful for the advice and assistance which I received from my Council, not on one occasion but on fifty. Though I think that certain modifications might be made in the form of the Council, yet I do not think, unless the whole system of government as between England and India were changed altogether, that it would be wise for the Secretary of State to attempt to dispense with it altogether.
In conclusion, I would merely say that I hope that on consideration my noble friend Lord Sydenham will not press his demand for Papers. The noble Lord (Lord Islington) held out hopes that some of those which could be—although I have 781 no doubt with some difficulty—obtained here might be reprinted as a Parliamentary Paper. That is, of course, for His Majesty's Government to say. In these times I should expect them to be chary of printing, at any rate for general circulation, Papers which those particularly interested in the subject could somehow obtain. On the particular point of the communications which have passed between the Government of India and the Government of Madras, I think my noble friend will agree that it is hardly to be expected that the India Office would agree to depart so far from precedent as to publish a document of that kind.
§ LORD CARMICHAEL
My Lords, I feel very diffident about speaking at all, but there is one point to which I should like to draw attention in the hope that the Leader of the House may say something about it. The noble Marquess who sits below me (Lord Lansdowne) talked of what he called the unfortunate distinction which had been made in another place between punitive and precautionary measures. I gathered that noble Lords on the whole agreed with the noble Marquess that in India that distinction would not be appreciated and would not be felt; and that it would be thought that Mrs. Besant had been dealt with for punitive, and not merely for precautionary, purposes. My experience of India is not so extensive as that of the noble Marquess, although it is somewhat more recent. Speaking for Madras, where I was myself the Governor, and speaking still more for Bengal, where for five years I was discharging what I thought was a somewhat difficult task, I can assure your Lordships that I hope in neither of those places will it be thought that the view which we here take of the Defence of India Act is that action taken under it is punitive. If that is the view held in Bengal, at any rate, I am very sorry for the position in which Lord Ronaldshay will find himself. During the years I was there, at any rate since the outbreak of the war, I probably had to deal with as many cases as anybody under the Defence of India Act.
I do not think I need except even Sir Michael O'Dwyer, about whom I would say that I entirely associate myself with all Lord Sydenham said about him. I think that Sir Michael O'Dwyer has done splendid work in India during a difficult time. I had to deal with eases which were really 782 cases for Sir Michael, because many of them were cases of men from the Punjab who returned from abroad to Bengal; and it was in Bengal that my Government had to take steps which we believed to be good, and which Sir Michael O'Dwyer agreed helped him very considerably in taking the further steps which I believe were necessary. I dealt, I think, with some 600 men, whom I put under more or less severe restraint under the Defence of India Act., and there were others who at my request the Government of India dealt with. I will say this, that I do not think the Government of India ever refused any request that I made for action under Regulation 3 of 1818. These were exceptional forms of legislation, and it was because they were exceptional that I think we were able to deal with a very difficult situation, I hope with some success.
I have over and over again claimed that in my actions I was doing what I was bound to do, knowing the nature of the Defence of India Act. I do not know whether noble Lords have ever read that Act, but I myself almost know it by heart. I almost know by heart all the speeches made in defence of that legislation when it was in the Viceroy's Council, and against it, and so I do know what was the intention of that Act. I know the Act was intended for prevention and not punishment. I believe that if I had acted with the idea of punishment the Government of India would not have allowed me to intern people as I did, and I think they would have been right in preventing me, seeing what that legislation was. Therefore I do hope that it will not go out to Bengal that that Act is being used for the purpose of punishment and not for the purpose of prevention. That is what a great number of our enemies say of it—those who wish us harm—what they would like to be believed. I dare say Mrs. Besant would herself like that to be believed, although I do not know, and I am not going to accuse her. I do know that it is what a great many of those whom I thought to be the greatest enemies of the British Government wished to be believed, and I lost no opportunity of assuring them that I was acting—and I know the Government of India thought I was right in assuring them—in what I believed was the spirit of the Act, namely, in a purely precautionary manner.
If further proof is wanted, look at the cases which Sir Michael O'Dwyer brought 783 forward. I am perfectly certain that Sir Michael O'Dwyer acted purely from a precautionary point of view. We have only to look at a number of those against whom the Punjab Government took steps—steps which did not result in those proceeded against being confined for any length of time. If Sir Michael O'Dwyer and I had any difference, it was because I thought he did not keep his people long enough, and took steps when he was not able to keep them. For myself I do not think I kept anybody longer than I thought I ought, but I can claim that I took up very few whom I afterwards had to let go. I think it is only right to my successor in the Bengal Government that I should say this, because I do not know whether your Lordships quite recognise the force of the point. I know Lord Lansdowne has not been in India lately, and I know how quickly things move in India and education spreads, and I do not think that anybody who has not been in Bengal and had an opportunity of discussing matters with people there can recognise how strong the feeling is upon that point. I do ask you, on behalf of the Governor of Bengal, not to increase his difficulties by letting it be thought he was acting in a way which is not within the spirit of the Government of India's intentions. I hope the noble Earl the Leader of the House may be able to say something on this point.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
I should like, my Lords, after the speech to which we have just listened, to set myself right. Of course, I never intended to suggest that the Defence Acts in India were being put in force for punitive purposes. We know quite well the distinction between punitive and precautionary measures; but I did suggest that there were a great number of ignorant people in India who did not understand the distinction, and that there was some risk of its being misunderstood.
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON)
Your Lordships, I am confident, will have welcomed the first appearance of Lord Carmichael in our debates. Returning, as he has recently done, from a very popular administration of by far the most difficult charge in India, he has every right to take part in this discussion, and the particular subject of his remarks was one which I agree with him in thinking was of the 784 utmost importance. He established quite clearly the distinction between punitive and precautionary measures, and describes the spirit which animated his administration, and, I doubt not, equally inspires the conduct of his successor.
With regard to the debate this afternoon, until the noble Viscount, Lord Midleton, rose, it had, I thought, been conducted with close relevance to the subject-matter of the discussion—the internment and subsequent release of Mrs. Besant—and with a very full appreciation of the extreme gravity of the situation with which we are dealing. I must confess—I hope he will forgive me for saying so—that I thought the noble Viscount rather departed from the standard which was set in the earlier stages of the debate. He seemed to be much more concerned in establishing, on the one hand, the incompetence of Mr. Montagu, the Secretary of State for India; and, on the other hand, the uniform inability of His Majesty's Government to rise to the high level of inactivity on all subjects not connected with the war which he prescribes as the duty of the Government at the present time. I will not follow the noble Viscount into the latter charge, because it is not merely one with which we are familiar in every speech he makes, but it is one which I am certain I shall have scores of opportunities of meeting on future occasions.
As regards Mr. Montagu and his speech, is it quite fair to bring up against the Secretary of State a speech which he made as a private Member on an occasion when he had not the slightest idea that he would be presently charged with the Government of India, and which contained phrases that may have expressed his own convictions, but that were not necessarily shared by his colleagues in the Government or by the great majority of the audience he was addressing? If I were to read the speech I might find myself profoundly in disagreement with some parts of it, but I submit that if you want to deal with Mr. Montagu as Secretary of State, you should take his speeches and his actions after he became Secretary of State. Would public life be possible if, after one has become a Minister of the Crown, one's actions and speeches, committed and made before one became a Minister of the Crown, were to be brought up against us and treated as if committed and made while we held responsible office? I doubt whether the 785 noble Viscount himself would altogether survive that test. At any rate, let us consider Mr. Montagu as he conducts himself either in this country or in India from the moment he accepts office.
The noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, said we should scrutinise very closely the action and speech of Mr. Montagu in India. There will be neither action nor speech. I will presently explain exactly why Mr. Montagu is going out. Whatever impression your Lordships may have of it, he is going out on the distinct understanding that he will make no speeches at all, and therefore the particular fear which the noble Marquess has in view is one of which I am pleased to be able to relieve him.
Now, my Lords, this discussion has ranged over rather a wide field, and I need say but little in summing it up. The discussion has, I think, fallen under three heads. The first I may deal with very briefly—namely, the original action of the Madras Government in placing these restrictions on Mrs. Besant. There was scarcely anything in the very weighty and, as I thought, moderate speech of Lord Sydenham with which I was not in personal agreement.
With his general statement of the principles of government in India, with his particular charges against the abominable and wicked things that have been said in various publications in India by this lady and other persons I am in entire agreement, and I doubt not that the Madras Government were not only inspired by the best motives, but that they took the right action when they imposed on this lady and her associates the particular restrictions that they did. As to the nature of the restrictions I should have thought that the criticism to be passed upon them was that they were too lenient rather than that they were too severe. In the case of a person who had been concerned in this violent propagandism, inflaming the minds of students against educational authority and against all authority, preaching hostility to Government, opposing Indians who adopted a moderate line, and sowing everywhere a spirit of discontent and disloyalty, I should have thought that it might well be argued that internment in a pleasant hill station was a very moderate precautionary measure even to be adopted in such a case However, my Lords, I need not pursue that heading of the subject, because upon it I think we are all in absolute agreement.
786 One observation only need I allude to in that connection. I think it was the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, who said—and the remark was cheered from the benches opposite—Why was not this lady, guilty of these practices, removed from the country? That is a thought which would naturally occur, I think, to people familiar with the procedure in this land. I fancy, my Lords—I speak subject to correction—that the only Act under which she could have been deported is an Act a hundred years old, and reluctance was entertained on the part of those responsible in India to have recourse to an instrument of legislation which dated from so remote a past.
The second heading upon which a good deal of the controversy has turned has been the pronouncement made by His Majesty's Government in the House of Commons through the lips of the Secretary of State on August 20 last. The noble Viscount in particular seemed to think that the Government had by that act suddenly, without due premeditation, at an unfortunate moment—unfortunate at any rate for Parliament—decided upon making a pronouncement, not merely grave in character but involving a serious breach in the political truce which is generally believed to prevail. Such was not the history or the character of that pronouncement at all. What were the facts of the case? For months past, we have had telegrams, letters, appeals from the Viceroy and his Council in India, drawing our attention to the increasing gravity of the situation, making suggestions as to the way in which it might be dealt with, and urging us to make some definite declaration of Government policy as regards the future to which India might look after the war.
It is all very well to say that you ought not to raise these matters in time of war. My Lords, it is the war that has raised them. You cannot unchain the forces which are now loosened and at work in every part of the world without having a repercussion which extends over every hemisphere and every ocean; and, believe me, the events happening in Russia, in Ireland, in almost every country in Europe, the speeches being made about little nations and the spirit of nationality, have their echo in India itself. If the noble Viscount had been at the India Office in the past summer he would have been the first to bring to us those serious representations continually coming from the Government of India and its Head, and to have called upon us to take 787 action and make some pronouncement. That is exactly what happened, and this statement of policy, not at all challenging, couched I think in most moderate and certainly in well-thought-out terms, was the subject of repeated discussion at the Cabinet. It was finally made at the date when it was made because it was at that moment that the discussions had reached the point at which it could be made. The matter had been under discussion while Mr. Chamberlain was Secretary of State, and he himself would have made the statement had he remained in office long enough. He passed out of office—unfortunately, as I entirely agree with the noble Marquess in thinking—and it fell to his successor to bring the matter again before us. The formula was ultimately decided upon. I do not imagine that any formula has ever been the subject of more close and constant discussion by responsible persons both in India and here than was that formula. The noble Viscount might have been entitled to take the objection he did if there had been in that pronouncement any definite drawing-up of a programme, any sketch of what exactly was to be done. It was nothing of the sort. It was a broad general declaration of principle, and the lines upon which, in the opinion both of the Government at home and of the Government of India, our administration of that country ought to proceed in the future.
Very well. Now comes the question of the visit of the Secretary of State to India. During the months this matter had been under discussion we had had the views put before us in documents of great length of the Viceroy and his counsellors at Headquarters in India, of Local Governments, and of representative bodies in all parts of the country. Again, we had the views of the Secretary of State and his councillors at home. Perfect agreement could not by a stroke of a pen be achieved between these different expressions of opinion. In fact, in some respects there was a decided difference between them. How was that difference to be composed? Months might have been spent in correspondence—a very precarious method of communication at the present time between this country and India. It might have been possible to send out a body of persons, a Commission, once again to inquire into the matter of Indian administration. My Lords, the Viceroy himself was responsible for the invitation to the Secretary of State to go out, and, 788 Viceroy though I was in India, I was the warmest supporter of that proposal in the Government at home. It seemed to me when the Viceroy himself said he would like his colleague, the Head of the Government at home, to go out to him in India and discuss matters with him, that in that mutual consultation and the listening of the Secretary of State to representations of important persons in India, would lie the best method of a speedy and peaceful solution of this difficulty It seemed to me, when that suggestion was made, that it was one that any Government would have erred if they had not decided to adopt. I think it has been stated that if Mr. Chamberlain had remained Secretary of State he would have gone out to India in acceptance of the invitation. When Mr. Montagu succeeded him, the Cabinet—because the initiative was not that of Mr. Montagu, but of the Cabinet—once again urged Mr. Montagu to take up the task which had fallen from Mr. Chamberlain's hands. He did so. The Government assume full responsibility for his Mission, and personally I hold most strongly that in his Mission and in the manner in which he and his colleagues will discharge it lies the surest guarantee of a happy solution of the many difficult questions which lie before us.
Now as regards the next point—and here I come to the phrase of the noble Marquess (Lord Lansdowne) about creating "an atmosphere." I must confess I was rather surprised to hear that particular criticism from the noble Marquess, because if there is a statesman in this country who has, in his political and diplomatic action, succeeded by invariable tact, courtesy, and discretion, in creating a favourable atmosphere for himself, his colleagues, and his policy, it is the noble Marquess. I have heard him over and over again in your Lordships' House, when things were a little uncomfortable, devoting himself to the creation of a calm and peaceful atmosphere. He has invariably succeeded; and now that we are attempting to take a leaf from the book of the noble Marquess, I own, I confess, to a little disappointment that in respect of this there should be a criticism from him. As to the action itself, the formula is announced—the Secretary of State is to go out to India. It is not unnatural, on his part, that he should desire—and here I come to the question of the truce which we are asked to observe—that there should be a cessation of that political turmoil and agitation which has been upsetting India 789 during the past six months. Was it an improper thing that he should wish that the mind of the people of India, easily excitable, as we have been told, prone to all sorts of absurd suspicions, should be attuned to a relatively calm and dispassionate attitude towards the Mission he was about to undertake? That was in the mind of the Secretary of State, and I am sure I am interpreting his intentions correctly. It was then that upon his own responsibility he consulted the Government of India as to whether the Viceroy and his colleagues were in favour of waiving the restrictions that had been placed upon this lady and her associates. They were of opinion—a telegram has been received from the Viceroy himself—that what could safely be done ought to be done, and I particularly remember this phrase. They both regarded the release of these persons as an "olive branch" which might safely and prudently be held out at the present time.
As to the conditions attaching to the release, I think the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, asked one or two questions about them, and they were answered by the noble Lord who speaks for the India Office. The Viceroy informed us that, putting aside what Mrs. Besant said herself, he had received satisfactory assurances from important non-official members of his Legislative Council at Headquarters that these persons would, if they were released, abstain from violent and unconstitutional agitation, and that if they attempted to renew any such action they would be disavowed. Those were the assurances upon which the Viceroy and his colleagues acted. I need hardly say, in passing, that the decision was not intended by them, and ought not to be regarded by us, as involving the slightest disparagement of the action previously taken by Lord Pentland. I believe that action to have been perfectly right. No one who remembers Lord Pentland in this House would ever accuse him of being a reactionary, and if he and his colleagues took the line they did, we may be certain that they had good reason for doing so. If the Government of India decided at a later date to waive the restrictions he had imposed, it is not fair to regard that as involving any censure upon Lord Pentland and the Madras Government. My Lords, you have an action agreed upon—I am speaking now of the release of Mrs. Besant—on the one hand by the Secretary of State, who is responsible for Indian administration here, and on the other hand by the Viceroy 790 and his colleagues, who are responsible in India. It is derided upon by them after full deliberation. You may say it is in the nature of an experiment. Perhaps it is. I am content to go so far as to admit that it must be judged by its results. That is not the point, however, which I wish to put. My point is this that the Secretary of State, who is responsible for the administration here, and the Viceroy in India and the whole of his colleagues, recommend a particular course of this description; and I think, my Lords, that either House of Parliament ought to be very slow to assume that they are wrung in their action, but ought to give them what measure of support is possible in the very responsible decision they then took.
Those, I think, are the main points that have been raised in this debate. The question has been asked, and has been partially answered, as to what will be the result of this step. The future alone can show. It is perhaps too early to pronounce, but I think I am quoting correctly what the Viceroy says when I add that the Government of India have, so far, received no intimation to the effect that there has been a recrudescence of trouble or agitation in India, but rather that the tranquilising effect which was anticipated has been to a large extent produced.
The only other point that I think has been raised and commented upon by more than one noble Lord is the question of laying of Papers. I rather join with my noble friend the noble Marquess who leads the Opposition in urging the noble Lord not to persevere with the demand for the particular Papers he named, and for this reason. One of the Papers could not be laid, for reasons given by the noble Lord; and the other Papers are bygone history. They relate to the earlier stages of this affair and are more concerned with what I may call the internment of Mrs. Besant than with her release, and are accessible to those who study the newspapers. The noble Lord has evidently seen them himself; and to publish them now would, I think, be giving a very imperfect narrative of the whole event besides imposing labour and expense on the printing establishment of this House, which I should be slow to ask your Lordships to endorse. I hope that the noble Lord will be satisfied with the explanations made in this debate. I know no more than the noble Lord who sits behind me (Lord Islington) the impress- 791 sion that will be produced by the statements made from this Bench, but at least we have tried, both of us, to deal fairly and frankly with the questions which have quite fairly, frankly, and reasonably been put to us from different quarters of your Lordships' House.
§ LORD SYDENHAM
My Lords, I will not detain your Lordships at this late hour, but there were one or two points in the able speech of my noble friend which I could not quite understand. He said that it was a change of atmosphere which had justified the release of Mrs. Besant, and he went on to say that her release had produced another change of atmosphere. Whatever we think about changes of atmosphere in a country like India, with its many millions of inhabitants, this change has been sudden. We have to consider what would be the impression produced upon an Eastern people. You have Mrs. Besant interned after a violent agitation, accompanied by threats, and then released without making any 792 promise of amendment. What can an Eastern people think about that? Another thing that surprised me very much was when my noble friend said that the Government were "long" convinced that reforms were urgent. How long, my Lords? It is barely seven years since we had very important and very considerable reforms introduced by Lord Morley and Lord Minto. These reforms went very far, and if any one will study the real powers they gave to Indians they will be surprised to find that in such a Council as Bombay the Indian Members have privileges which Members of the House of Commons do not enjoy. After the appeal which has been made to me I withdraw my Motion, but I still hope that my noble friend will print these Papers, because unless they are printed—and they do throw a very great light on the situation in India—I am perfectly sure they will not be seen. Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ House adjourned at twenty minutes past seven o'clock.