§ Commons Message considered (according to Order).
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON)
My Lords, the Motion that stands in my name in regard to this Bill is as follows—
§ If it were my duty, in making this Motion, to enter into any lengthy exposition either of the broad outlines or of the details of the Government of India Bill, I should quail before the task. It would indeed be beyond my powers, for I imagine that so complex a Bill, a Bill which makes so great and constant an appeal to expert authority, has seldom been introduced into the British Parliament. But fortunately that is no part of my task this afternoon, and if it had been undertaken to-day it would more properly have devolved upon my noble friend Lord Sinha, who represents the Department concerned. But neither of us, I imagine, will be pressed by your Lordships to go into a detailed explanation of the contents of the Bill at this stage.
§ The Motion I have just read is that we concur in the proposal made in another place, and that the Bill, in accordance with pledges that have previously been given by myself in this House and by representatives of the Government elsewhere, be committed to a Joint Committee of Lords and Commons. I had hoped to be able this after noon to place upon the Paper the names of the proposed members of the Committee, but I am not at present in a position to give you the final list, which I trust, however, will not be much longer delayed. Upon one point I should like to say a word. 1128 It is this. I hope that nobody will imagine that the list of members of your Lordships' House whom we are fortunate enough to induce to serve upon the Committee will in any way be Government nominees. That is not the way in which Committees are composed, either in this House or in the House of Commons. In the House of Commons there is a system by which members of Committees are returned by different sections of the House in proportion to their numerical strength. We do not exactly follow that plan here, but the Leader of the House and those acting with him who are responsible for the suggestion of names, endeavour as far as possible to follow the same plan, and therefore when the list of proposed names appears your Lordships must not regard them as carrying with them any Government selection or authority, but as an endeavour fairly to represent the different and important sections of this House who are qualified to deal with this matter.
§ There are other reasons for which any detailed exposition of this measure is not required at the present stage. The Secretary of State has himself rendered it unnecessary by a Memorandum, occupying thirteen pages of print, which he has circulated with a view of enabling members of both Houses of Parliament to have a clear understanding of the principal features of this Bill. Further, a Paper has also been circulated showing the manner in which the Act of 1915–16 will be affected by this Bill. Your Lordships may remember that in those two years a great deal of patient and disinterested work was devoted by a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament—under the chairmanship, if I remember aright, of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Loreburn—to the task of reducing to the compass of a single enactment all the various measures on the Statute Book relating to the Government of India. That work was happily and successfully accomplished on that occasion. It would be a peat pity to throw those labours away, and it is in contemplation, in whatever form this Bill ultimately passes into law, to introduce its provisions automatically into the framework of the Consolidated Act to which I have referred. It is with a view of explaining how this will be done that the further White Paper to which I have referred has been laid before Parliament. These two Papers have relieved my noble friend Lord Sinha and myself of a heavy responsibility that 1129 might otherwise have been laid upon us, and have placed this House in a position of unusual advantage in dealing with a measure which has been thus explained.
§ But this is not all. An uncommon feature of this case is, I think, the wealth of documentary evidence and literary comment, inevitable because of the complexity of the case and inseparable from its gravity, which has been in the last six months laid before both Houses of Parliament in relation thereto. Your Lordships will recall that it is as far back as August, 1917, when the Declaration of the Government, from which all subsequent events spring—and about which I shall have something to say a little later—was made. In July of last year the Report of the Secretary of State and Viceroy, concurred in by their colleagues who went with them to India, was laid before Parliament. We have had two discussions on the matter in this House. The first was on August 6, 1918, when attention was called to the Report by Lord Sydenham. We had a brief discussion on that occasion, but a little later, in October—the dates Were October 23 and 21—on a Motion made by my noble friend Lord Midleton for the appointment of a Joint Committee—the Motion was defeated—we had a discussion pasting for two days, in which all the most eminent authorities in this House who had had connection with the Government of India, whether as Viceroys or Governors or administrators, took part.
§ At that time, my Lords, the scheme itself of the Secretary of State was not complete. There remained the task which was devolved upon the Committee, or Committees, under the chairmanship of a member of your Lordships' House, Lord Southborough. It was in the later part of that year that he and his colleagues went to India, and we now have the Report of the Southborough Committees, as they are called—the first of them, presided over by my noble friend, dealing with the nature of election, the character of representation, the number of voters, and so on; a portly volume, reflecting great credit on the industry of my noble friend and his colleagues, of 282 pages. We also have the Report of the other Committee presided over by Mr. Feetham, a gentleman who I believe had great experience in drafting the South African Constitution. He was deputed to inquire into the question of the division of functions between the Central and Provincial Governments in 1130 India, and, in the Provincial Governments, between the official and popular elements. Mr. Feetham accomplished his task within rather a smaller compass, but his Report contains as many as 121 pages. Next, my Lords, you have the views of the Government of India on these two Reports, a document of sixty-eight pages.
Further, your Lordships may recall that on the occasion of our last debate some not unreasonable complaint was made that the House, although acquainted with the suggestions of the Viceroy and Secretary of State, did not enjoy the opportunity of becoming acquainted with the views of Local Governments and important bodies, associations, and the like, in India. That complaint, if such it was, can no longer be made; for you have, in a further Blue Book containing 316 pages of print, first, the opinions of the Local Governments given between the dates of October, 1918, and January, 1919; secondly, a number of printed Minutes, Resolutions, Memorials and Memoranda from important bodies and individuals in India; and, thirdly, the covering letter of the Government of India, dated March 5, 1919, occupying fifty-four pages of print. Lastly, my Lords, you have the text of the Bill which is about to be referred to this Committee. Thus your Lordships, who a year ago complained of lack of necessary information, are now confronted with over 1,000 pages of print, and I think it might almost be open to any hostile critic—and such I am sure does not exist as regards my right hon. friend the Secretary of State—to apply to him in this context the famous epitaph pronounced over Sir John Vanbrugh, the architect of Castle Howard and of Blenheim—
Lie heavy on him, earth! for he
Laid many heavy loads on thee.
There is yet another Committee still sitting under my noble friend Lord Crewe, the Leader of the Opposition. This is the Committee that is to advise upon the functions and powers of the Council of India and upon their future relations with the Government of India. I do not know how far that Committee has proceeded with its labours, but its Report also will be laid.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
Perhaps I may interrupt my noble friend to explain that the labours of the Committee have been concluded, and that its Report is ready.
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
I have not had the advantage of seeing the Report, but it will also be laid, and will be referred to the Joint Committee, in order that the provisions arising therefrom may be incorporated in the Bill. My Lords, the latest stage in this historical narrative with which I will venture to trouble you was the debate that took place less than a month ago in another place, when the Second Reading of the Government of India Bill, after being debated for part of two days, was carried without a Division. That was followed by the Motion to refer the Bill to a Joint Committee. I think I am right in saying that that suggestion originally emanated from my noble friend Lord Selborne, seated upon the Front Bench opposite. It is one which at quite an early date I intimated our willingness to adopt. It is in fulfilment of that pledge that I stand here this afternoon.
The stage at which we have now arrived and at which this Bill goes before this Joint Committee, as I understand, is this. The starting point, of this Bill, the basis of our action, the guiding principle by which we are directed, is the Declaration of August, 1917. That Declaration has been so often quoted in debate here that it is unnecessary for me textually to repeat it. Broadly speaking, the object laid down by the Government in that Declaration was the progressive realisation of responsible government in India. In other words we want, I will not say to start India, because she has already been started, but to give her a forward push, on the road towards responsible government, and to train her in the knowledge and exercise of constructive responsibility. I am confident that no member of your Lordships' House will deny that we all, although perhaps in different degrees, are bound by that Declaration. I assisted in the Cabinet to draw it up, and therefore I am bound by it. It is true that Parliament, neither in this House nor in the other, has passed any definite Resolution accepting or confirming it, but there were many opportunities in both Houses, had they so desired, of dissociating themselves from it. Neither House of Parliament adopted that course. It was accepted not only without demur but with universal approval in the House of Commons. In our two debates here, although voices of criticism were heard, the statement itself was accepted without reservation. I refer more 1132 particularly to a passage in the speech of my noble friend Lord Selborne during the debates, and to a declaration by Lord Sydenham, who, although he found much to oppose in the scheme of the Secretary of State, yet accepted this Declaration as indeed the avowed principle on which our Government has long been and must continue to be founded in India.
Therefore, my Lords, I think I am justified in saying not only that this Declaration of ours was not merely a scrap of paper, to be torn up when it had served a temporary purpose, but that it was a binding Declaration on the British nation and in the nature of a compact between ourselves and the people of India. This Bill, in the form in which it will reach the Joint Committee, is the manner in which the Secretary of State proposes to carry that principle into effect. The Bill as it leaves the Joint Committee may or may not be identical with the Bill in its present form, but it must not lose sight of the principle itself. It may vary the method of giving effect to it, hit I am sure you will agree with me when I say that it must not secretly undermine or destroy the principle. It must not try to defeat the principle, but loyally endeavour to find the best solution for it. I should be shocked if it were capable of being said that the Cabinet or Parliament had issued or given assent to that Declaration in 1917 merely in order to stimulate the loyalty or flatter the pride of the Indian people. That was not the case. It was a deliberate and historic pronouncement. It was a milestone in the history of our connection with India; and, my Lords, whatever characters You may wish or may decide in your wisdom to inscribe upon that milestone, it is not, if I may respectfully say so, open to you to take it up or throw it down, to turf it over and put a nameless slab upon its grave. If you were to do so, that tombstone would record the dishonour of the British Parliament and of the British people.
Starting from that point, if I carry you with me, I ask the question, What is the discretion left the Joint Committee in dealing with this measure? I do not think that any doubt can be entertained upon the point. I have endeavoured on previous occasions to define it myself, but it has been done with so much greater amplitude and power by the Secretary of State in the debate to which I referred just. 1133 now in another place that I may, perhaps, be allowed to read what he said—There are very important differences—differences which I do not wish to minimise—as to methods, and you will never get to a discussion of those methods, infinitely technical, until you have a small body constituted which will take evidence and consider the alternative merits or demerits of the different plans. It is our intention, if the House gives a Second Reading to this measure to-day [June 5], to ask that it should be referred to a Joint Committee of both Houses, and that that Joint Committee should consider all the questions that are involved. I cannot emphasise too strongly that it is the Government's wish that that Committee should discuss the matter not only from the point of view of a detailed examination, but from the point of view of the examination of alternative methods. Let it have free scope. Let the House appoint a Committee to go into the whole question, and, although I believe from the bottom of my heart that you dare not and ought not to do less than we propose in this Bill, I shall be glad, and the Government will be glad, to take the advice of the Committee on any alternative method which really and actually promises at least as much.Those words, my Lords, are I think sufficiently explicit, and they define with accuracy the function and powers of the Committee which it is now proposed to constitute.
The Committee will, of course, take evidence from whatever quarter it desires, and the plethora of authoritative evidence that is at its disposal is almost overwhelming. We note that Sir James Meston, a very distinguished civilian in India, is coming, or has come, to this country to place the views of the Government of India before us. Other distinguished administrators are, or will presently be, in this country, and they can ht, consulted upon the matter. There are at this moment quite a number of Indian deputations already in England making their views known, and willing, if summoned, to be heard. I do not know whether it is a remarkable, but it is a noticeable feature of these deputations that, so far as I can judge, no two of them hold the same views. There is a deputation from the Indian National Congress, which thinks that the Bill does not go far enough. There is a deputation from the European Association, which thinks that it goes much too far. There is a moderate Association which, generally speaking, supports the Government's proposals. There are representatives of the Moslem League and other bodies, who wish to be heard from their particular standpoint. No doubt the Committee will listen to all these representations; and, indeed, the subjects 1134 which they will have to discuss are of the first importance. There is the disputed question known by the rather novel and detestable name of diarchy, the system of duality or division of the functions of the Government into reserved and transferred departments, which no doubt they will pass under review. That system, as we know, has been widely criticised in some quarters. It has not found favour with the majority of the Local Governments in India, but the Secretary of State has so far adhered to the plan as the best to carry out the to which he is wedded. There are important questions as regards finance, the future constitution and position of the Central Government in India, the character of the representation to be adopted, and so on, which will come under their review.
It would in become me to attempt any way to anticipate the labours, still more the decisions, of the Committee, but there are one or two general considerations which the House will, perhaps, pardon me if I suggest as having an important bearing upon their treatment of the ease. The first is this. Time is of importance in this matter. The dates which I named just now show that nearly two years have elapsed since the Declaration of the Government was made in August, 1917. The Government certainly have no desire unfairly or unduly to hurry the labours of the Committee. A more important Committee has never been constituted in the two Houses of Parliament. It has in its hand the determination of the future relations of this country and its greatest Dependency. It has in its hand the making of peace or of discontent in India, very likely for generations to come. We would net like unfairly to hurry that supremely momentous task. On the other hand, it is only fair to remember that India is expectant. She has been waiting contentedly, though perhaps not without occasional protests, for these two years. Hopes have been [...], sentiments have been aroused, in India which it would be undesirable unfairly to disappoint. Therefore, my Lords, it is not unreasonable to ask that the Committee, when it undertakes its labours, should proceed with them with as much expedition as it finds possible. The second consideration which I would urge the members of this Committee, if I may do so, to bear in mind is this. There will be members of the Committee of great experience of India. There may be some 1135 who will have no first-hand knowledge of India at Upon both classes—upon the first just as much as upon the second—I would urge the proposition that thing are moving very fast in India. India is spinning very fast and very far "down the ringing grooves of change."
It is now nearly fourteen years since I came back from India myself. India is a subject upon which no man who has had any connection with it would ever dogmatise. It is a subject upon which, looking back over this chasm of fourteen years that separates me from it. I hesitate almost to express an opinion. I dare say the ideas with which I went out to India, and to which according to my lights I adhered while I was there, are not altogether the ideas that prevail at the present time. My view was that India was a great, a supreme, a magnificent trust. I saw under a Government, as I believed, just, efficient, and humane. I saw it moving steadily forward in the direction of self-realisation. I was content to watch, and to the best of my ability to assist in, that progress. I was not in my time in favour of making leaps in the dark. Rather did I prefer to march steadily forward in the light of day. I suppose, my Lords, that my ideas would now be regarded as rather old-fashioned and that my pace in India would be voted both pedestrian and slow. I recognise that great changes have conic in the interval over the temper and attitude, and I dare say also over the aspirations, of the people. Greater acceleration has been given to this movement owing to the circumstances of the past five years. I do not refer merely to the part that has been played by Indian soldiers in the war, although your Lordships cannot fail to see that the appearance on the battlefields of France and Flanders, not to mention other fields in other parts of the world. of Indian soldiers side by side with the most efficient trained troops of the European Powers, and the fact that they comported themselves well under that dire ordeal, must have a great effect in raising the spirits, in enlarging the self-respect, and I dare say also in increasing the demands, of those whose soldiers fought so well.
But putting that aside, simultaneously with what has occurred in the field your Lordships cannot forget the steps that have been taken in other directions. It is during these last two and a-half years that. India 1136 has for the first time been admitted on a footing of equality to the Imperial Conference. I see my noble friend Lord Harcourt opposite. He presided over an Imperial Conference in the old days. I think I am not wrong in saving that in his day the Government of India had no direct representation there, but that her interests and aspirations were expressed by the Secretary of State. She has now been admitted on a footing of absolute equality to the Imperial Conference. Her representatives have had a seat during the last two and a-half years on the Imperial War Cabinet on precisely the same terms as the representatives of the Dominions and of ourselves. They have gone to Paris. During the last six months they have been playing their part in the proceedings of the Peace Conference, and at the great ceremony that occurred only a few days ago in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles the signatures ores of the Indian representatives were appended to that historic document. And lastly, we know that India is to be admitted on her own account as a separate unit to the League of Nations of the future. The result of all these operations is this, that during the period of which I am speaking India has grown in stature; she feels that she is no longer in a state of tutelage; one may almost say, paraphrasing the words that were used by the Prince of Wales in another connection a little while ago, that during the war she has found her manhood. These are great and significant steps, and they must, I think, be accompanied by some corresponding advance in the power of political expression and in the recognition of responsibility which you concede to the Indian peoples.
I am not either so vain or so sanguine as to pretend that all will be plain sailing in the future that lies before us. I can quite imagine that the reverse will be the case. It may be that some of these schemes, whether they be those of the Secretary of State or whether they be an amendment of the schemes of the Secretary of State, will have no permanent existence. It may well be that, like the reforms connected with the names of Lord Morley and Lord Minto, which we remember being expounded and defended with fervour by those statesmen in this House, they will fail of their mark and result in disappointment. It may be that a period of unrest and of fermentation lies before India, just as it does, in my humble judgment, before 1137 every country in the East, whether it be China at one end or Persia at the other. It will be a long, long time before the ground swell of the great commotion of the past five years subsides. But I hope that the Committee will not be deterred in their labours by such a prospect. Rather it is their task to endeavour to find the channels in which the legitimate aspirations of the Indian people can flow, and to place dams where they may be required across impetuous or dangerous currents.
If I were a member of the Committee I think that it is in this spirit that; I should endeavour to approach the task. And there are, if I may be allowed to say so, four considerations which I should endeavour personally to bear in mind. I hope your Lordships will not think it presumptuous of me if I venture to place them before you. I would try in all my arrangements and acts to keep alive and not in any way to daunt or to quench the spirit, the traditions, and the efficiency of the Indian Civil Service. It is easy to indulge in cheap sneers at the expense of that Service: I have heard them in this House. It is easy to characterise the somewhat rigid and frigid character of Indian administration. There may be truth in those charges. But what I do know is this, that for 150 years Englishmen—and the best Englishmen—have been willing to leave their native country to go out to India to lead a life of relative exile there; that they have thrown themselves with animation and ardour and devotion into the service of the Indian peoples; that they have learnt to love them; that they have produced some of the finest types of English character that our history shows—men whose names flare like a beacon in the history of the British people—and that it is they in the main who have enabled India to take the place which she new occupies in the estimation of the world.
I should greatly regret any change which made Englishmen lose their love of India or made them think that India is a country not worth labouring for or living in. The life of the Indian Civil Servant is not a very easy one. It becomes more difficult from year to year. Do not let us do anything to make it harder in the future. I should therefore deplore any lowering of the standard of the Civil Service in India, both because of its effect upon the Service itself, and because of its reaction 1138 upon the administration of the country, and I should think it a heavy price to pay for the gratification of political ambitions, however reasonable they may be.
The second principle which I would endeavour to bear in mind is this. I would do nothing to impair or diminish the authority of the Central Government in India. Whatever you may do in the Provincial Governments, of which I know less, and as to which I believe there is a general agreement that not only increased decentralisation but larger powers of autonomy must be conceded—whatever you do there, I how you will do nothing to dethrone or weaken the Central Government in India; and say so for this reason. The Central Government is the supreme symbol, as it is also the custodian, of law and authority and justice in India. It represents, or it ought to represent, the British Crown and the British Parliament. It sets, or it ought to set, a high standard of efficiency and rectitude in administration. I am told—I think Lord Sydenham told us—that should these changes be carried out the Provincial Governor of the future will have a very bad time. I do not know whether that will be the case. Whether he steers his barque successfully or not through these troubled waters will, I expect, depend upon the personality of the man. But not dealing with his case—about which I do not know enough—and looking at the position of the men at Delhi or at Simla, I would say—not because I myself was Viceroy, but from a higher standpoint—that I hope that the Government of India and the Executive Council at Headquarters will not by any changes that are introduced be made the sport of warring factions or the victims of Parliamentary vicissitudes. The Government of India should be free from partisanship, but it should also be free from illegitimate forms of pressure; it should not be exposed to discomfiture or defeat. In the last resort its authority and its decision—subject, of course, to the controlling authority of Government—should prevail.
My third principle would be that nothing should be done to weaken or diminish the protection that is given to the poorer classes in India, and they are the vast multitude of the population, by the British Raj. The noble Lord, Lord Southborough, has devised a scheme by which votes are to be given to something like 5,000,000 Indian people. Whether the numbers are 1139 500,000 or 5,000,000 or 15,000,000, remember that electoral franchises and votes are nothing to the great mass of the Indian people. It will not touch them directly at all. What they really want is security, justice, freedom from oppression—and when I talk about oppression, pray believe me that the classes of whom I speak are just as much, nay far more, subject to oppression from different classes of their own countrymen as from their British rulers. It is for those guarantees that they have, learnt to look to their British governors. Do not let us disappoint or desert them in the changes we have in view.
Lastly, I would venture to express the hope that neither in the findings of this Committee nor in any of the speeches that are made thereon may anything be said or done to encourage the belief that the British Empire is not good enough for India and that India can safely cut herself adrift from the Imperial connection. None of us knows what is the future that lies before that great country and her almost illimitable and inscrutable population. The whole future is buried in dark cloud and mist. Put my conviction at any rate remains unaltered—that it is under the ægis of British protection and guidance that the advances in the self-realisation of India, for which I have pleaded, can best be secured. We do not ask her, in this development, to remain in connection with our system out of gratitude for what we may have done for her, or in order to flatter our national pride, or as a symbol of Imperial pomp and power. Believe me that these are not the ideas with which we plead for a continuance of the old connection. It is because we are firmly convinced—at any rate I am—that within the confines of the Imperial system the best guarantees can be found for the assumption by India of ever-increasing degrees of responsibility, and for our joint accomplishment of what I myself shall never cease to regard as one of the great duties of the world.
§ Moved, That this House do concur in the Resolution communicated by the Commons: "That it is expedient that the Government of India Bill be committed to a Joint Committee of Lords and Commons."—(Earl Curzon of Kedleston.)
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, no one who has listened to the most eloquent speech of my noble friend will 1140 underrate the vast importance of the occasion upon which we are engaged. He spoke in tones of gravity, of hesitation, and even of apprehension which must have impressed every one of your Lordships. As I heard him state, with what I believe to be the general assent of your Lordships, the great principles which he hoped this Committee that we are about to set up will bear in mind—the principle of the maintenance of the Civil Service, the support of the strength of the Central Government, the obligation of the protection of the multitudes of poor in India, and the essential solidarity of India with the fortunes of the Empire at large—I could not help feeling a sentiment of profound regret that, in dealing with topics so important and with interests of such deep monent, we have not a better opportunity than we have been afforded amongst the pre-occupations of this great war.
Though I do not criticise in any way my noble friend in what I am about to say, I must say that I do not think that the Government have treated Parliament fairly in regard to this Indian question. My noble friend spoke of the amount of time since this particular Indian issue was before the country; but let me recall to him and to your Lordships the kind of way in which the Government in the other House have treated Parliament in this matter. It has been a policy of almost studied contempt for Parliament. The original Declaration—the solemn Declaration—to which my noble friend has referred and which he has quoted, was produced at the end of the session in 1917 when there was really no opportunity at all of properly discussing it. We then separated. When we reassembled, before either House of Parliament had any opportunity of reverting to this question we heard that the Secretary of State had already gone to India upon his Mission. There was no real concern for the assent of Parliament to this policy. I do not think His Majesty's Government cared a snap of the fingers for what Parliament thought on the subject. That is what happened then.
What has happened now? The Bill which is before the other House and which is to be referred to this Committee was read a second time, I think, on the day upon which Parliament separated for the recess. This Bill, of the importance of which my noble friend has spoken, was read a second time in the House of Commons only forty-eight hours after it had been in 1141 the hands of Members. My noble friend then spoke of the information which had been given to Parliament. When was it given? After five clays at the most before the House of Commons was asked to consider it. These vast Blue Books to which my noble friend has referred were produced only at the last moment. I will venture to say that not one dozen Members of Parliament had made themselves acquainted with these Blue Books, or could have done so, before the Bill was read a second time.
What did those Blue Books contain? Please do not let the House think that I pretend to have read them. I do not so pretend. But I have looked at them, and. what has struck me most forcibly is the extraordinary amount of dissent which the Local Governments of India have pronounced in regard to the Secretary of State's plan. I am not going to give many quotations to your Lordships; neither do I think that these quotations are conclusive; but I wish to give one or two in order to show how very important was the information which was submitted to Parliament but too late for Parliament to consider. This is what the Government of Madras say—On a careful review of the general trend of the proposals which have been made in the Report, the Government of Madras cannot but ask themselves whether the adoption of changes such as are here proposed, which constitute in effect rather a revolution than a reform in the government of the country, is in the true interests of its progress and happiness.That is the opinion of the supreme Government of Madras. Here is the opinion of the supreme Government of Bombay—The next matter which calls for discussion is the Provincial Executive, which is dealt with in paragraphs 214 to 224. On this most important a ad difficult question—which is the essential question, of course, in these reforms—the Governor in Council, I am to say, regrets that he is unable to accept the proposed scheme of government as one which is likely to work satisfactorily in practice.Next I quote the Government of Bengal—Official opinion is, on the whole, frankly dubious as to the working of the scheme, and the most experienced administrators in this Presidency regard it with serious misgivings, even as a temporary measure during a transitional period.These vital declarations of opinion by the Local Governments in India were not revealed to Parliament until five days before the House of Commons was asked to 1142 read the Bill a second time; and I do think, having regard to these very serious misgivings on the part of these great Governments in India—misgivings with which, I cannot help thinking from his speech, the noble Earl himself has some sympathy—that it cannot be s id that Parliament has been properly treated in the operations of the Government in laying this most difficult question before us.
In these circumstances I must ask your Lordships to allow me for a moment to consider the spirit in which it would seem right that the Committee should enter upon the consideration of this question. Your Lordships' House is not asked to assent to the principle of the Bill. Let us be quite clear on that. The Bill has not been read a second time in this House, and it is not going to be read a second time in this House before the Committee sit. Your Lordships, therefore, are not pledged to the principle of the Bill. But, having said so much, I should be very sorry if your Lordships thought that I, for one, was in favour of a purely negative attitude on this question. I am not. I recognise, quite as much as the noble Earl opposite does, that having regard to what has passed in India and having regard to the action which His Majesty's Government took, we must accept the fact that reform, in the nature of throwing more responsibility upon the natives of India themselves, is inevitable. I do not look upon it as a great achievement. It is not that I despise responsibility as an educative power. I believe in it. It may very well be that, on the merits, a great measure of responsibility ought to be entrusted to the people of India, and that, no doubt, is what the Committee have to decide. But I say this—that the production of this policy at such a moment, in such a crisis, amid the pre-occupations of the great war, was a blunder of the first magnitude, and all we have to do at this stage in the proceedings is to do our best to prevent the blunder from issuing in a disaster.
I do not know what led the Government to make the Declaration. It is a solid fact of which we have to take note. There it is, not every word of it to be accepted, of course, not to be taken literally in any sense, but as a great Declaration on the part of the Government of the Empire in favour of greater responsibility being entrusted to the natives of India. But what led them to make it I do not know. 1143 I have observed, in regard to the policy of His Majesty's Government in many respects, that they seem to drift into particular measures. There does not seem to be a governing hand behind the policy. In many respects that is so. I do not refer to this particular Government only, but to recent Governments. I believe we drifted into the war without really knowing exactly what preparations we ought to make for it. Most properly we went to war, of course; but we ought to have foreseen that the war was coming. In the same way, I should judge from the proceedings in Paris, we have drifted into the peace. In Egypt there was a policy of drift, and in Ireland there is a policy of drift—drifting everywhere, without any real, strong, statesmanlike control guiding the policy of the Government! I do not know whether the same thing led to the Declaration of August, 1917. I believe that a condition of agitation was allowed to spring up in India which was very deplorable. Great weakness was shown. I believe that the Government of India itself had been allowed to fall away from its former efficiency to a large extent; and so the thing went on, until a situation was produced in which some new startling policy had to be devised. The result was the Declaration of August, 1917.
How far must the Committee go in interpreting that Declaration? I certainly shall not presume to indicate to what point they ought to go. That is for them to consider. But I should like to say one or two things in respect of it, if your Lordships will forgive me. I understand that the attitude of the ardent spirits in India is this. They see the Government of this country, its Parliament, its Government, its wonderful Constitution and its supreme success, and they say, "Why should not we have institutions of a similar kind?" If they want to imitate England they should imitate the principles on which she has gone in making her Constitution; and that was the principle of gradual growth. Anything like the conscious destruction of an old system for the sake of replacing it by a new is utterly foreign to our ideas. We have never done such a thing in our history except during the brief period of the great Rebellion, and then it was reversed as soon as possible. We have always built upon the old; gone gradually to work. The principle of growth is the principle on which the British Constitution has been developed. I hope the Com 1144 mittee will realise that if they are to make a great self-governing Constitution for India it can only be done by a process of very gradual growth.
The second principle I should like to see them study is the principle of simplicity. No one can accuse the proposals of the Secretary of State and Viceroy of being simple. They are the most complex set of principles anybody has ever had an opportunity of reading. The natives of India in this respect must be treated as children. I do not mean it in any offensive sense. They have no experience of the great and difficult process of self-government, and they will understand, I am quite confident, nothing except what is of the simplest kind.
The third principle which I hope the Committee will bear in mind is the principle of caution. I confess that the picture of what is likely to happen in India under the limited franchise which is proposed in the near future does not fill me with very much confidence. If the franchise was going to be exercised by those who are naturally the leaders of the people, I should be comparatively easy; but if it is to be exercised only by the half-educated natives, who up to now have had no experience of responsibility and no tradition of self-government to guide them, I confess I should view that with considerable apprehension. After all, government by intelligentsia is probably the worse kind of government any country can have. It is not the fact that a certain limited amount of education fits people to govern; it is experience of leadership and government, till ultimately the whole people may have it, such as our people have it and are able to produce the Constitution under which we live.
I hope that the Committee also will approach this subject with an open mind, not to turn down the Bill altogether, as my noble friend most properly declared would be unthinkable, but that they will exercise a perfectly open judgment as to the provisions which it contains—weighing on the one side the unrest which exists in India, the aspirations which have been excited there, and on the other the statesmanlike considerations which my noble friend opposite has himself set out, and which in a far inferior way I have attempted to advocate.
I am quite certain that, if India is really to achieve anything like the success which the ardent advocates of reform hold out for it, she must be content to emulate 1145 England in treading the path of constitutional progress with caution and patience, and feel her way to the form of government for which temperamentally she may prove to be fitted. I earnestly hope, therefore, that the Committee will approach this most momentous subject in the spirit which the noble Earl has laid down, and will not be afraid, if the evidence should justify it, even to differ very widely from the conclusions at which the Secretary of State has arrived.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.