§ VISCOUNT FINLAYrose to move—
§ That this House deplores the conduct of the case of General Dyer as unjust to that officer, and as establishing a precedent dangerous to the preservation of order in face of rebellion.223
§ The noble and learned Viscount said: My Lords, I can assure your Lordships that it is with a feeling of very great responsibility that I have undertaken this Motion. I have felt impelled to do so by my strong feeling that an injustice has been done to a very distinguished and very deserving officer, and that the case is one of a nature which, in its effects in the future, may be deleterious to the efficiency of our public service. I trust that not one word will escape me in the course of this debate which could in any way aggravate our difficulties in India; but, I desire as shortly as I may—and I trust that your Lordships will think I have been justified in raising the matter in this House—to bring into the clearest light that I can the facts with regard to General Dyer, and the considerations which are probably applicable to his case.
§ Now I shall not say a word to imply any doubt as to the absolute prerogative of the Crown to dispense at any time with the services of any officer. That is unquestioned and unquestionable; but General Dyer has been relieved of all employment in the Army, under circumstances which affix a stigma on him, a stigma which, I believe, is entirely undeserved; and what I propose to bring before your Lordships is the question whether the Government have been justified in allowing General Dyer to be treated in that way, when his case has not really been tried at all. Further, a very severe censure has been passed upon General Dyer by the Secretary of State for India, and whether that censure was justifiable is a matter on which I am going to invite your Lordships' opinion. The effect of this case upon the future of our public service in India, and indeed in all parts of our Empire, opens up a very large field. On that it is not necessary for me to say more than a very few words. One of the main stays of our Empire has been the feeling that every officer whose duty it was to take action in times of difficulty, might rely, so long as he acted honestly, and in the discharge of his duty, upon his superiors standing by him. If once the suspicion were created that for any reason, political or otherwise, an officer who had done what he believed to be his duty was to be thrown over, no -one can exaggerate the mischievous effect such a feeling might have upon our public service.
§ The ground, and the main ground, on which General Dyer has been condemned, 224 is that in dealing with the mob at Amritsar he had regard to the effect of his action over the rest of the Punjab, and in very emphatic terms it has been laid down by the Secretary of State that, in doing so he committed a grievous error, and that he ought to have had regard only to putting down the disturbance at Amritsar. I am going to submit to your Lordships that it is the Secretary of State who falls into error upon this matter. In dealing with a disturbance the question how it is to be dealt with must depend entirely upon the circumstances. If it is merely a local riot, then the one object to be kept in view is the putting down of that disturbance and the restoration of order in the locality affected; but if the local disturbance is but a feature in a widespread insurrectionary movement, it assumes a different complexion altogether, and the officer in command is not only entitled, but bound, to look at the effect of his action upon the rest of the district which is affected by that insurrectionary movement.
§ Now the question of what force should be used in putting down a disturbance is, of course, often a very nice one indeed, but I think everyone will agree that no more force should be used than is necessary for the purpose in view. Any excessive force is entirely out of place and reprehensible; but then, in the case of a mere local disturbance, the only object in view is the restoration of order in the locality. If you are dealing with a disturbance which is a feature of a widespread insurrection, any capable officer is bound to have regard to the effect of the action which he takes in putting down that movement upon the rest of the district which is affected by the insurrection. As I understand it, General Dyer has been condemned because, in measuring the amount of force to be used, he had regard to the state of things in the rest of the Punjab, and he has been told that he had no business to take such a consideration into account in dealing with the circumstances before him, and that he ought to have confined himself simply to restoring order in Amritsar. Surely, it is one thing when you have merely to quell a local disturbance, and another when you have to determine in what manner an insurrectionary movement should be put down in the place with which the officer has more immediately to deal.225
On page 12 of the statement which General Dyer has put in, and which is printed as a White Paper, your Lordships will find this sentence used by General Dyer—
What the Hunter Commission have done is to apply the principles applicable to unlawful assembly in times of otherwise general peace and quiet to a vital incident of a rebellion.
The Government, as I understand their action, have identified themselves with that doctrine, promulgated by the Hunter Commission. I am going to submit to the House that is an erroneous canon, and that it is unjust to an officer, in such circumstances as those in which General Dyer was placed, to apply any such canon in judging his conduct. Let me not be misunderstood. No man is more averse from what is called frightfulness than I am. The essence of frightfulness, of which we have had of late years some conspicuous examples on the continent of Europe, is that innocent, people are treated severely and harshly with a view of producing an effect elsewhere. In defence of such conduct I never should utter a word, but the question here is a totally different one.
§ If you are dealing with a formidable mob, assembled in defiance of the express orders of the Government, and at a time when an insurrectionary movement is in progress throughout the whole district, are you not justified, when you choose your way of putting down that insurrectionary movement, in doing it in a way which will have a beneficial effect on the restoration of order throughout the whole district? Where you have a state of things such as, unfortunately, existed in the Punjab (which really approximated to a state of war) strength is sometimes the truest mercy. If your. Lordships would look at the map which is at the end of the Report of the Hunter Commission, your Lordships will find that it represents by a series of red marks what was the state of things in the Central and Northern Punjab in April of last year. There are a number of red marks which indicate the districts where the cutting of telegraph wires, arson and murder had prevailed, and a most formidable appearance have these red marks upon that map. They extend from the Sutlej on the east, through the district of the five rivers, through the Punjab itself, and they go on to the Indus. When you have that state of things there it is impossible, by the light of evidence, to 226 come to any conclusion other than that the action taken throughout the Punjab was concerted action and was a conspiracy.
§ Lord Hunter's Commission said that no evidence had been brought before them sufficient to establish a conspiracy to overthrow the British Government in that region. A conspiracy is always inferred from the acts of people who are obviously acting in concert. It is very seldom that you can get any evidence of a conspiracy except from such action, and any one who looks at the evidence regarding the state of things in the Punjab must, I submit, come to a very different conclusion on this matter from that to which Lord Hunter's Commission came. The city of Amritsar was the centre of the disturbance, and the state of things there was indeed formidable. It is a city of about 150,000 inhabitants, and the men of the city and of the district are of a hardy and formidable race. There you had a state of things that I will endeavour to describe in the words of the documents which contain what the Government themselves thought of it. They show how formidable it was. Let me only add that Amritsar is the sacred city of the Sikhs, famous for its golden temple, and that it is a vital link in our chain of railway communications. There was a cloud on the Afghan frontier which very shortly afterwards— in May of last year. I think—resulted in an Afghan invasion, and if the railway system had been cut at Amritsar it might have had a most disastrous effect upon our power of dealing with that, Afghan trouble.
General Dyer is an officer who had served for thirty-four years. He is generally recognised, I think, as an officer of very great ability. What is more, he has shown that he eminently possesses the qualities of tact and humanity. He can strike, and strike hard, when it is necessary to do so, but no man has more thoroughly evinced that he is averse from the unnecessary use of force. He was at Jullundur, a little to the east of Sutlej, when the state of things at Amritsar was such that he was sent to Amritsar. He arrived there on April 11. What was the state of things that he found there? May I answer that question by referring your Lordships to the Dispatch of the Secretary of State of May 26 of this year? I will quote only two sentences from that dispatch—
In Amritsar itself violence, murder and arson of the most savage description had occurred three
days previously, and the city was still practically in possession of the mob. From the surrounding countryside reports were hourly being received of similar violent outbreaks and attacks upon communications, and the deficiencies in these reports (due to the success of attacks on communications) were supplemented by rumours which there was little means of verifying and as little ground for disbelieving.
It is impossible to picture a more serious state of things! General Dyer himself, in vivid terms, in that statement of his—the White Paper—describes what he found when he arrived on the evening of April 11.
He found a crisis of the gravest kind. He says—
On the 10th the mob had risen, killed every one of European nationality in the city upon whom it could lay its hands, burnt banks and Government buildings, and had been held off the European settlements outside the city only with the greatest difficulty. The situation had already been handed over to the local commander by the civil authorities as being a military one and beyond their control. I found a clear conviction upon the part of the local officials and abundant signs that a determined and organised movement was in progress to submerge and destroy all the Europeans on the spot, and in the district, and to carry the movement throughout the Punjab, and that the mob in the city and the excitable population of the villages were organised for this purpose.
The forces that General Dyer had at his disposal were very slender—some 500 British troops and some 700 native troops. He took every step to avert bloodshed in the way of warning the population and endeavouring to secure that the law should be obeyed without recourse to arms.
§ He marched a column through the city, showing those who were disposed to make mischief that he had some force with which they would have to reckon. He prepared the Proclamation— referred to as Proclamation No. 1—which prohibited all meetings, and announced that they would be dispersed by force of arms. On the next day a second Proclamation was issued which prohibited all processions and any gatherings of four men. That second Pr[...]elamation was issued in circumstances of the greatest possible publicity—circumstances such as to make it absolutely incredible that it was not known to everyone in Amritsar. He marched through the city with a guard, spending some two or three hours in the process. By beat of drum the people were assembled to hear the Proclamation read, and it was read to them in their own language. This was done, and General 228 Dyer hoped that no recourse to force would be necessary. A counter-Proclamation was actually issued by those who were engaged in fomenting disorder, announcing that a meeting would be held, and the threats of that meeting were freely circulated. At first General Dyer could not believe them; but later in the afternoon he found that the matter was serious, and that the leaders of the forces of disorder were in earnest.
§ He proceeded in the afternoon to a place called the Jallianwallah Bagh, which is a great open space in the city. Your Lordships will see it on the map of Amritsar which is annexed to the Report; it is not very far from that Golden Temple which is so celebrated in India.
§ In the Jallianwallah Bagh he found an enormous gathering of men. It is absolutely untrue that, as has been said, any women or children were present. Women in India do not attend meetings of that kind; and there were no children. The meeting consisted entirely of men. It is difficult to get an estimate, but there is no doubt that it was an enormous meeting. General Dyer's own estimate is from 15,000 to 20,000. Anyhow, the people were there in multitudes. It was an assembly of men, many of them criminals of the worst type, who had been engaged in the excesses to which I have already referred.
§ In the other House the Secretary of State, I think, in speaking of that crowd as "an unarmed crowd," was careful to explain that when he said "unarmed" he meant that they were not in possession of what he called "lethal weapons or firearms." I presume from this statement that the Secretary of State of War considers that the fauj, a bludgeon of stout bamboo shod with iron is not a lethal weapon. As I understand, it is a formidable weapon, and your Lordships will find the name of it on page 23 of the Despatch of the Secretary of State. You will also find a statement that the name the disaffected gave to themselves was "Bludgeon Army." The bludgeons, of course, are not as formidable as firearms or bayonets, but they arc very formidable weapons indeed in the hands of determined men. The meeting was assembled in open defiance of the Proclamations that had been made that day, and if General Dyer had hesitated, all would have been lost. He opened fire at once and the meeting was dispersed.229
Two charges have been made against General Dyer in connection with this meeting. The first is that he did not give another warning before he opened fire. The Committee censure tins omission to give another warning in addition to the Proclamations, but in very mild terms; and indeed, the mildness of the censure is not wonderful considering what they go on to say. On page 30 of the Report the Hunter Committee state—
We think it distinctly improbable … that the crowd … would have dispersed upon notice being made … and much more likely that recourse to firing would have been necessary to secure obedience to the Proclamation. The majority, at all events, of the people who assembled had done so in direct defiance of a Proclamation issued in the interests of peace and order, many thinking that the reference to firing was niece bluff.
Having found that, nevertheless the Committee go on to pronounce their mild censure—
In spite of this circumstance, notice to disperse would have afforded those assembled in ignorance of the Proclamation, and other people also, an opportunity to leaving the Bagh and should have been given. If the notice had been disregarded, General Dyer would have been justified in firing on the crowd to compel it to disperse.
How many people were there in that crowd who were ignorant of the Proclamation? They were there because they were determined to defy it.
§ But the censure pronounced by the Hunter. Committee is not enough for the Secretary of State for India who says, in that Despatch to which I have referred, "The omission to give warning before firing was opened was inexcusable." I submit to your Lordships that this is a most extraordinary statement.
§ Will your Lordships picture the scene? There is the narrow lane through which General Dyer with his handful of men—fifty with rifles and forty armed only with kukris. This handful of men, with General Dyer at their head, debouching from that narrow lane, come upon this enormous assembly. What would have been the effect of beginning to parley with that crowd in such circumstances? The mere rush of the crowd would have swept that slender force off its feet; and your Lordships can picture to yourselves what the results would have been in Amritsar and throughout the Punjab if General Dyer and his men had been massacred and the 230 city left in possession of the triumphant mob.
§ Parleying in those circumstances would have been useless and fatal. Indeed, I think I am entitled to put it higher than that, and to say he was the man on the spot. In his judgment it would not only have been useless but also absolutely mischievous, and the judgment of the man on the spot is that which, in such circumstances, ought to be accepted. If he had hesitated, the rebellion would have acquired irresistable momentum. Your Lordships will recollect that there were many women and children who had taken refuge in the so-called fort, who, if the mob had triumphed, would have been at their mercy. I shall not picture what their fate might have been. If life is to be taken—and it is a hateful necessity—I would rather that the lives taken were those of the members of a criminal mob than of law-abiding citzens who have been loyal to the Crown and to the Empire. The first charge about not giving a second warning is, I submit, a frivolous charge, and the fact that it is made in the Report of the Hunter Committee goes rather to diminish any importance that might be attached to other parts of their finding.
The second charge made was that General Dyer continued firing too long, and had regard to the effect that would be produced throughout the Punjab elsewhere than in Amritsar. In the Hunter Report at page 30 your Lordships will find this passage—
In continuing firing as long as he did it is evident that General Dyer had in view not merely the dispersal of the crowd that had assembled contrary to his orders, but the desire to produce a moral effect in the Punjab. … In our view this was unfortunately a misconception of his duty. If necessary a crowd that has assembled contrary to a Proclamation issued to prevent or determine disorder may have to be fired upon; but continued firing upon that crowd cannot be justified because of the effect such firing may have upon people in other places.
I believe that to be a profound misconception. It is confusing the case of a mere riot with the case of a local disturbance which is really part of the battle that is going on throughout the district between the Government and the forces of insurrection. In the way in which you deal with the opposing troops on a part of the battlefield you must have regard to the effect that will be produced elsewhere throughout the whole extent of the field. It is
otherwise in the case of a mere riot, but, where you are dealing with what is really an insurrectionary movement, merely to make the mob move on is to do far more harm than good.
§ It might only aggravate the situation, and the ineffective firing which bad taken place, on April 10, has been referred to by the Adjutant-General, speaking in the Legislative Council of India, as an example of the inefficiency of half measures in matters of that kind. This was no mere riot, when the military are called in in aid of the civil power. The civil authorities had handed over to the military the whole control of the situation, and I should be very much surprised to be told that they had not done that with the entire concurrence of the Central Government of India. In these circumstances, with the country in insurrection, would General Dyer have been fit for his post if he had hesitated to treat such a mob as that in a manner which might affect and tend to break the rebellion throughout the whole district to which he had to have regard?
I abhor frightfulness. This was not a case of frightfulness exercised upon innocent people. It was a guilty force which had to be dealt with, and in measuring the amount of force that it was proper to use General Dyer was bound to take into his consideration the whole situation. A wider outlook was necessary than in the case of a mere local riot. Indeed, this is admitted in one passage of his despatch by the Secretary of State himself. On page 24 your Lordships will find this sentence—
In discharging this responsibility with the small force at his disposal Brigadier-General Dyer naturally could not dismiss from his mind the condition in the Punjab generally, and he was entitled to lay his plans with reference to those conditions.
I quite agree to that. No one, I think, could really question that in that sentence the Secretary of State was right, but, unfortunately, he goes on, in an immediately following sentence, to say—
But he was not entitled to select for condign punishment an unarmed crowd which, when he inflicted that punishment, had committed no act of violence, had made no attempt to oppose him by force, and many members of which must have been unaware that they were disobeying his commands.
I have dealt with the question of the unarmed crowd and with the knowledge among them, and I am going to submit to your Lordships that this was not a case
really of condign punishment, as the Secretary of State asserts.
§ It was a case of repressing a mob which was out for mischief, which consisted very largely of criminal elements, and which, unless it were checked, and effectively checked, had taken a course which might have been the beginning, not merely of hideous disorders in Amritsar itself, but of a general rising throughout the Punjab. This was no innocent gathering. It was the same mob, in effect, General Dyer says, which had committed the crime of April 10. They knew of the Proclamation. They were there in spite of the Proclamation. They were there because of the Proclamation in order to show that they were stronger than the Government, and to defy the order of the Government. In these circumstances I submit that the closely reasoned statement which will be found in the White Paper prepared by General Dyer, to which I have already referred (pages 12 and 13) was thoroughly justified, and I invite the attention of every one of your Lordships to that document.
What was the opinion of those who were there, who were in positions of trust and confidence and who were best able to judge whether General Dyer's action had been right or not. I will cite a few of them. Sir Michael O'Dwyer was the Lieutenant-Governor of the Punjab. He was a witness before Lord Hunter's Committee. He says this—
Speaking with perhaps a more intimate knowledge of the then situation than any one else, I have no hesitation in saying that General Dyer's action that day Was the decisive factor in crushing rebellion, the seriousness of which is only now being generally realised.
Mr. Miles Irving, the Deputy Commissioner at Amritsar, says this, in his evidence—
The result of the firing on the mob was, the whole rebellion collapsed. There was an idea that the Government would do nothing, and this came as a disillusion.
Colonel Johnson was called before Lord Hunter's Committee. He was in command in the Lahore area from April 15 to May 29. He was asked how it was that peace was maintained and bloodshed avoided in the Lahore area, and he said that it was mainly by reason of General Dyer's action at Amritsar.
Mr. Kitchin, the Commissioner in the Lahore district, was called as a witness
and your Lordships will find his evidence at page 222 of Volume III of the Evidence. He uses this remarkable expression—
All independent opinion is united that the blow struck on the 13th April in Amritsar saved the Central Punjab from anarchy, loot, and murder.
Major-General Benyon is an officer whose evidence will be found in Volume IV of the Evidence given before Lord Hunter's Committee, and what I am going to read will be found on page 322. He wrote to the Adjutant-General in India—
The wisdom of General Dyer's action has been fully proved by the fact that there has been so further trouble of any sort in Amritsar. The news had a decidedly sobering effect on the surrounding villages when spread to them.
Then, to wind up these testimonies, the Government of India itself, in a letter written as late as May 3, 1920, after expressing the opinion that General Dyer exceeded the reasonable requirements of the case, nevertheless go on to say this—
We are convinced that General Dyer acted honestly in the belief that he was doing what was right, and we think that in the result, his action at the time checked the spread of the disturbance to an extent which is difficult now to estimate.
Surely that is a very remarkable testimony, and surely the man who achieved that result is not to be lightly condemned on some theory, framed when the danger is, over, that less force might possibly have answered the purpose.
§ I am not going to read to your Lord ships the very remarkable speech Which was made by the Adjutant-General for India to the Legislative Council, on September 19, 1919. It is a speech that is well worth reading, for it deals, from a broad point of view, with the difficulties which confront a soldier when lie is put to deal with such a situation as that which existed at Amritsar. He concludes a speech to which I think every one would listen with some emotion, by saying that, in the discharge of a distasteful duty of that kind, any soldier who honestly tries to do his duty deserves sympathy and support.
§ Thanks were showered upon General Dyer from all quarters. I am informed that he received very many letters— hundreds of them, I ant told—from natives of the country, thanking him for what he had done. The Government promoted him. They not only raised his rank, but they gave him charge of the expedition for 234 the relief of Tahl which was invested by the Afghans, and he discharged that duty in a manner to enhance even his milita y reputation. He was universally regarded as the man who had saved the Punjab. It is a curious incident that the Sikhs felt so strongly what General Dyer had done that they conferred limn him what, I believe, is a very rare honour, and what they regard as a very high honour, the honour of making hint a Sikh. The investiture consists in putting a slender armlet upon the wrist of the recipient of the honour. It is an honour that, I am told, has never been conferred on any British subject before; and that was the action of the Sikh population of the district.
§ Everything promised well. But, in October, 1919, the Hunter Committee were appointed. They reported on March 8, 1920, and on March 22 General Dyer was told that he must resign. I think General Dyer has very good ground for complaining of the manner in which lie had been treated with reference to that Committee. He was called as a witness before it. He was never really told that he was on his own trial when that investigation was proceeding. No warning was given him. He had no legal assistance. He was cross-examined with very great ability by three members of the Commission, who were vakils, or pleaders, I understand, of very great ability in the Indian Courts. I must very respectfully enter my protest against the practice which is getting so common, of appointing strong partisans upon Committees or Commissions of Inquiry. To my mind it is a gross abuse. The duties of such a Committee or Commission are judicial, and such a cross-examination as your Lordships will find in the record of these proceedings was unseemly. Forensic ability is out of place in one who occupies, for a time, a judicial position. If von are to have partisans on a Commission you ought to have them not on one side only, but on both, in the hope that by the friction, by the collision of the opposing forces, truth may be evolved. But no partisans of General Dyer were appointed. In some Commissions lately we have seen partisans appointed on both sides, and we have seen the Commissioners giving evidence in the course of the proceedings.
§ Here General Dyer was put at every disadvantage, and I submit to your Lordships that this constitutes a grievous 235 flaw in the proceedings of Lord Hunter's Committee. As the result, General Dyer has been ruined. His punishment is a very severe one. Surely it was not necessary to brand him as has been done. If it was not expedient to employ him in that part of India, he might have been sent elsewhere, or, if necessary, he might have been employed in another part of the Empire. Surely it was a very cruel thing to say, not only that he was relieved of his command in India and would never be employed there again, but that the same thing was to apply to a command elsewhere. I am not disputing the right of the Crown to do it. What I am disputing is the wisdom of those who advised that such action should be taken in such a case. He was condemned without trial, and, as I believe, on a misconception as to the considerations which should govern a soldier in dealing with a local disturbance which is part of a general insurrection. Whether, judged by that standard—the only true standard—his action was excessive, was a matter which, before he was condemned, should have been tried by a qualified Court of Inquiry; and I am certain of this, that any competent Court would, in such circumstances, attach very great weight to the opinion of the man who was on the spot and who had to decide.
§ But then your Lordships may be told that the Army Council here have approved of the Report of the Hunter Committee and of the action taken by the Secretary of State and others. Before I know what importance should be attached to the decision of the Army Council, I should like to know upon what view of the law they proceeded. Did they accept the view, laid down in the Hunter Report, that the force to be used must be judged simply by the necessity for putting down the local disturbance, or were they told that the wider view should be taken and that, so long as General Dyer did not use excessive force with regard to the effect produced in the Punjab, he was not doing anything that was wrong? Until I know that, I confess that I should not be disposed to allow my judgment to be very much swayed by the conclusion which was arrived at in the Army Council presided over by the Secretary for War. Now that the danger is past we are all apt to forget it. I believe there is a Spanish proverb referring to the way in which people are ready to forget assistance which they were eager to have at the time—" The river passed, the saint 236 forgotten." I believe there is an Italian version of the same proverb, of which the action of the Government in this case, I confess, reminds me; it is: "The river passed, the saint mocked."
I cannot sit down without referring to one very cruel charge that has been made against General Dyer by the Secretary of State. He says in the Despatch to which I have so often referred already—on page 24 of the correspondence—
Further, that Brig General Dyer should have taken no steps to see that some attempt was made to give medical assistance to the dying and wounded was an omission from his obvious duty.
It is very odd that the Secretary of State should have thought it necessary to say that. The Committee had considered the criticisms which had been pased in that respect, and what they say is tantamount to an acquittal of General Dyer. In effect they discard the charge; they refer to the fact that the hospitals were open, that the medical officers were there, and they add—
It has not been proved to us that any wounded people were, in fact, exposed to unnecessary suffering from want of medical treatment.
General Dyer himself, in his statement on page 18, as to sending medical officers into the city, says—
No medical officer could have lived in the city for an instant without a strong escort, and in my judgment none could be spared.
Surely it is not in accordance with the traditions of our public life that a charge of that kind, which must have been read by tens of thousands who would never read the paragraph in the Committee's Report from which I have quoted exonerating. General Dyer in this matter of the wounded, should be circulated broadcast. There is nothing to which the people of this country are more sensitive than a charge of inhumanity, and I think that the Secretary of State should have weighed his words more carefully before he put such a stigma as this upon a gallant officer whose humanity is beyond question.
§ I have only a very few words to add on the more general aspects of this case. The matter may not rest here. In this case you have a man selected for a most arduous and unpleasant duty; he discharges it in a manner such as to achieve results that could not have been surpassed; he is praised and promoted, and employed on active service. A year afterwards, on the Report of the Committee, he is sent as a scapegoat into the wilderness. I am told that soldiers rather distrust politicians. 237 but hitherto the Government has supported its servants who have tried to do their duty. Nothing could be imagined more demoralising than the suspicion that they may not be backed, for political or other reasons.
§ It may be said that our soldiers are made of sterner stuff, and that they will do their duty whatever course the politicians may take. I believe that to be generally true. But all soldiers are not equally strong, and when you have the less strong man faced with a situation of difficulty and danger, where his conscience and his military instincts tell hint that he ought to take a strong line if he is to save the situation, if such a man has a feeling that the support to which he is entitled may not be accorded to him, and that the result of his doing his duty may be the ruin of himself and all those that are dear to him, can you wonder if, for a moment, he might hesitate? Can you wonder if, in some cases, the results of such hesitation might be disastrous?
§ Moved, to resolve, "That this House deplores the conduct of the case of General Dyer as unjust to that officer, and as establishing a precedent dangerous to the preservation of order in face of rebellion."—(Viscount Finlay.)
§ THE UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE FOR INDIA (LORD SINHA)
My Lords, it is with great hesitation, indeed with reluctance, that I rise to address your Lordships this evening. I am not so presumptuous as to think that I can deal effectively with the case which has been presented with such skill and eloquence by the noble and learned Viscount who has just finished. That I must leave to abler hands than mine. Indeed, I fear that I cannot hope to throw fresh light on a matter which has been discussed threadbare for the last few months. I cannot hope that anything that I can urge will change the opinion or alter the convictions of those who have arrayed themselves on opposite sides in this unfortunate controversy. I might, however unintentionally, fan the flames of bitter racial animosity which is now raging. The only reasons which compel me to trespass on your Lordships' indulgence are that I hope I shall be able to clear away certain misunderstandings and remove certain wrong impressions which have been caused by incidental issues, false and irrelevant issues, which have been raised and have tended to obscure 238 the main issues underlying the Punjab disturbances. I ask your indulgence, because I fear that my silence might be misconstrued, both in this country and in India.
I desire at the outset, on behalf of my fellow-countrymen in India to express the deep horror and regret that we all feel at the abominable outrages committed by the mob at Amritsar, Ahmedabad, and elsewhere, in April last year—a regret and horror to which public expression was given by the Secretary of State for India as soon as the news arrived. I must also ask your Lordships' leave to express, on behalf of my countrymen, the deep resentment and indignation which is felt in India over the humiliation inflicted, and the indignities heaped, on some of my countrymen in the Punjab in the course of the administration of martial law in that Province. I ask your Lordships' House to endorse the judgment of His Majesty's Government—that those acts flout the standards of propriety and humanity which the inhabitants not only of India but of the civilised world have a right to demand from those set in authority over them. I desire to make it clear that what my fellow-countrymen in India desire is the vindication of principles, and not the punishment of individuals. That is of secondary importance. Indeed, it is of importance only in so far as it tends to give effect, adequate or otherwise, to your vindication.
The unhappy incidents which occurred in various parts of India, and particularly in the Punjab, in April last year, will form, in any case, a deplorable chapter in the history of British rule in India. They have given rise to a controversy prolonged beyond the limits of safety. The more responsible sections of the Press in this country and in India have counselled all parties to the controversy to accept the decision of the Cabinet as final and to refrain from further strife. I regret that the advice seems to have fallen upon deaf ears, and that the publication of Papers has been the signal for a revival of bitter racial animosity. I am afraid there is little hope of an end to this dangerous feud unless both parties determine to drop the question, to efface the bitter memories of last year, and set themselves to accomplish the great task of peace and reconciliation so ably begun by Sir Edward Maclagan, the present Lieutenant-Governor of the Punjab.
239 The noble Viscount has referred to the Report of the Hunter Committee. I am not quite sure whether he accepts or rejects the findings of the Committee, or even of the Majority section of the Committee. I am in doubt, after having listened to him, whether he does or does not. It is unfortunate that the Report is not unanimous. It is still more unfortunate that, at first sight, the divergence seems to proceed on racial lines. I hope, however, to satisfy your Lordships that there is no real, substantial, and fundamental divergence, and that a divergence on matters of opinion, as distinct from questions of fact, is consistent with a conscientious integrity on the part of the dissentients. I claim both for the British portion of the Committee and for the Indian portion that they have conscientiously endeavoured to discharge their duties to the best of their abilities.
I regret that Lord Finlay has considered it fit to cast aspersions on the Indian members of the Committee. I hope to satisfy your Lordships that those aspersions are unmerited. As I have said, the difference, the seeming difference, of opinion with regard to the necessity for martial law and its duration is one that is natural and almost inevitable. Some would be chiefly impressed with the dangers of the situation, by the heavy responsibilities thrown on the authorities, and by a feeling that the safety of a large population, including the small European portion, might possibly depend upon firm and energetic action. Others, film in their conviction (happily well-founded) that India is as steadfast in loyalty to-day, as during the war, would as certainly take a less serious view of the possibilities of the situation, however menacing it might appear on the surface, and would concentrate their attention upon the sudden outbursts of disorder, the measures taken to ensure their quick cessation, and the abuse of powers conferred solely for the purpose of repressing disorders.
I submit that two points of view are possible with regard to the introduction and the continuance of inertial law, but one view, and one view alone, is possible with regard to the incident which has loomed so large in this controversy—the shooting at Jallianwallah Bagh—and also with regard to some of the orders issued in the course of the administration of martial law; and it is precisely this 240 that we find in the Report of the Hunter Commission. I have said that it will be my principal endeavour to clear the atmosphere by getting rid, so to speak, of the side issues which have been raised, some of them of a personal nature, and all of them, I submit, introduced for the purpose of prejudice.
The first and foremost of these is one to which I regret Lord Finlay has to-day, to some extent at ally rate, lent the great authority of his name—namely, that the Government of India was at any time of opinion that General Dyer's action at Jallianwallah Bagh was justified, and thereby to some extent at any rate endorsed—I do not say fully; I hope not—but to some extent endorsed—the mischievous, I may almost say the dangerous, suggestion that the Government of India has, in deference to the wishes of the Secretary of State, or of His Majesty's Government, altered its original view with regard to General Dyer's action. I can assure your Lordships that that is not so; that any such suggestion is absolutely unfounded; that the Government of India has at no time changed its view with regard to the action of General Dyer at Jallianwallah Bagh, and that the noble Viscount was incorrect in stating to your Lordships to-day that they had given General Dyer promotion after the incident at Jallianwallah Bagh.
Upon what grounds is this suggestion made? It is said that after April 13 General Dyer was sent to the front, in connection with the Afghan War which supervened soon afterwards, and that he was given promotion. I have already said that it is not the fact that he was given promotion, but he certainly was sent, in the position and status which he occupied before, to the Front, where his services would be best employed, and where, I am glad to say, he gave such a good account of himself. But at that time—this was early in May—there had been no inquiry and there was nothing before the Government of India except the meagre report made by General Dyer himself on April 14, the day after the occurrence. None of the details which have since appeared were before the Government of India, and I submit that it would have been not only unfair to General Dyer, but contrary to public interests, if the services of that gallant soldier had not been utilised and employed wherever the public service required that they should be employed.
241 Then it is said that, at the time when a debate took place in the Legislative Council of India, the Government of India, through its member, expressed approval of, or justified or condoned, the action of General Dyer at Jallianwallith Bagh. That is an equally unfounded statement. I can only presume that those who make that suggestion have not read the report of the proceedings of the Legislative Council in September of last year. With your Lordships' leave I will tell you, as shortly as I can, what happened, and give you one extract from the speech of the member of the Government of India who was in charge of the Bill then before the Legislative Council, to show that, so far from approving, or justifying or condoning, the action of General Dyer, the Government of India, in specific terms, refused to express any opinion, and stated that no opinion could be formed until the Inquiry by the Hunter Committee had been completed, and that no action could be taken, and that it was wrong for private members who had made allegations to make ex parte statements in the absence of General Dyer himself, and at a time when the Committee was going to hold its Inquiry.
There are three dates in September on which this Bill came before the Legislative Council. The Bill was what? A Bill of Indemnity, to indemnify officers employed in the administration of martial law for any act of theirs committed reasonably and in good faith in the course of such administration—that is to say, to protect them from legal proceedings in the Courts. Sir William Vincent, the Home Member, was in charge of that Bill. He introduced it on September 18, and in doing so he expressly said that there was no intention to justify any particular action, or to indemnify any officer concerned in the firing at Jallianwallah Bagh, and that necessary action would be taken, and could only be taken, on the findings of the Hunter Committee. On September 19 he repeated that statement, and on September 25 he made a statement which explains what the noble and learned Viscount Lord Finlay read, the speech of Sir Havelock Hudson, which is supposed to have expressed approval of General Dyer's action.
May I read that extract from the last speech of Sir William Vincent, because it makes clear what I have advanced—namely, that the Government of India did 242 not, and could not, justify, and asked for a suspension of judgment. He said this in his closing speech in moving that the Bill be passed—You have one member saying one thing; another saying something quite different; on many occasions neither of them speaking from first-hand knowledge; and on their statements this Council is asked to condemn or justify the conduct of individual officers. I use the word 'condemn' deliberately. … I put it emphatically to the Council that such a statement is neither fair nor reasonable. These are matters for the Committee. I will take one incident which has been repeatedly referred to, this unfortunate Jallianwallah Bagh affair.My Lord, no one deplores the loss of life on that day more than the Government. It has been, and must be to all of us, a source of great distress, and it does not really make so very much difference from this point of view whether the number killed was 300 or 500. In either case the loss of life is serious enough in all conscience and greatly to be regretted. But we have no right in this Council either to justify or condemn that action. It is not part of our duty; it does not come within the scope of the Bill. General Hudson has, it is true, put before the Council certain considerations relating to this occurrence, but as I understood him—he was merely attempting to put the matter as it might have appeared to a military officer at the time and was not in any way putting his personal views before the Council. That is the way I understood his remarks. I mention this because his statements have been made the ground for attacks on him; and it was suggested he sought to justify what was done. I do not think that the Council, when they have considered the position, will for one moment accept that as a fair presentment of his intentions. What I ask the Council to do now is, not to prejudge this matter in any way, neither to condemn nor to justify any action, neither to say a man is innocent nor to say he is guilty until the proper time for such a decision shall arrive.I submit, therefore, that it is incorrect to say that the Government of India, by any speech of any member of that Government in the debates of September last year, in any manner approved of or justified or condoned the action of General Dyer at Jallianwallah Bagh.
There is even a more dangerous suggestion made in this connection—namely, that the original Despatch of the Government of India has been altered in deference to the wishes either of the Cabinet, or of the Secretary of State, with reference to the case of General Dyer. I assure your Lordships that there is not one word of truth in any suggestion of that kind. There were consultations, of course, in the Cabinet over the Hunter Report, and, in the course of those consultations, communications passed by cable with the Government of India, and changes were made not only in the Despatch of the 243 Government of India but in the draft of the Despatch from the Government here.
In no single respect, however, did the Government of India, in any matter of substance, modify their original views, and not in any respect did they modify their view (which throughout has been the same) with regard to the conduct of General Dyer. It is founded on the unanimous findings of the Hunter Committee, which they have accepted and endorsed, and which have similarly been accepted by His Majesty's Government in this country. I venture to hope, therefore, that what I have said to your Lordships to-day will dispel any suggestion about the Government of India having yielded, with regard to their views upon the conduct of General Dyer, in deference either to the Secretary of State or to His Majesty's Government as a whole.
I must ask your Lordships' forgiveness if I refer to another matter which is of a somewhat personal nature. I am sure that when your Lordships hear the circumstances you will extend your indulgence to me. Most of your Lordships, if not all of you, are aware that it has been suggested by Sir Michael O'Dwyer that, amongst others, he communicated to me in the India Office, details of the firing at Jallianwallah Bagh when he saw me in June last year. He said that he had communicated those details not only to the Secretary of State, but to Sir Thomas Holderness (the distinguished permanent Under-Secretary in the India Office who retired in January last after long service) and also to me. So far as the Secretary of State is concerned he has given his denial from his place in Parliament, and so far as Sir Thomas Holderness is concerned your Lordships will have seen his denial in a letter placed before Parliament and appearing in the OFFICIAL REPORT Of the House of Commons on Monday, July 5.
I ask your Lordships to remember that Sir Thomas Holderness saw Sir Michael O'Dwyer frequently, and that my interview was only for half an hour on one particular day. This is what Sir Thomas Holderness said—The details given by General Dyer to the Commission came to me as a great surprise and were entirely unexpected. In conclusion I would like to say, that if I had been called upon during the summer or autumn of 1919 to prepare a statement for publication regarding the Jallianwallah Bagh incident, and had framed it on the informa- 244 tion verbally received from Sir M. O'Dwyer and on the scanty information transmitted by the Government of India, the narrative would have been of a different complexion from the account of the facts given by General Dyer. It would not and could not have included the critical features on which discussion has since centred.Personally I was more concerned then with the present than with the past. Our conversation was confined to such details as the treatment of the editors and lawyers then in goal, the necessity for their prosecution, and the necessity for excluding counsel from outside appearing before the Tribunal for the defence of these prisoners, and things of that nature.
I did not put one single question to Sir Michael O'Dwyer about Amritsar, or the firing at Amritsar, nor did he tell me one single thing with regard to the incidents of the 13th. The reason why the matter did not occur to me was that I had only I seen the official communication stating that on April 13 there had been a collision between troops and a mob, with the result that there had been heavy casualties to the extent of 200. I inferred that it was a mob of the same kind as had committed the outrages on the 10th, when they looted, burned, and murdered; and that the heavy casualties were due to the determined resistance which they must have made when fired upon. But the details which have since appeared, and appeared only when General Dyer was examined before the Hunter Committee—I will mention the details presently—were absolutely unknown to me.
These details are—I shall not have to repeat them when I am dealing with the Jallianwallah Bagh incident—(1) That the crowd was within an enclosed space almost like "sheep in a pen"—to use the words of Mr. Bonar Law—with the main entrance guarded by troops, and the entrance to the passage leading to the square guarded by two armoured cars, with an aeroplane reporting now and then, though not under General Dyer's command; (2) that this crowd included boys and thousands of villagers from outside Amritsar who were there, as stated in the case of the Punjab Government themselves, as mere spectators—that this crowd was unarmed. My noble friend is in error in saying that the evidence was that they were armed with bludgeons or anything else. That crowd was not merely unarmed with lethal weapons or firearms, but unarmed. They 245 were attacking nothing and no one; they were seated on the ground, squatting, listening to a speech, when they were fired upon. The firing began without any notice; it was continued and directed in the manner now admitted, and the wounded—whose number is still unascertained—were left unattended either by the military or by the civil authorities. These details were then, and for months afterwards, unknown to me. I have every reason to believe that they were unknown to the Viceroy and his then colleagues—I speak in the presence of one of them, the noble Lord, Lord Meston—until the examination of General Dyer before the Hunter Committee.
What possible motive could there be for the India Office not to inform Parliament or the public of these details if they had been communicated? On the contrary, it seems to me that it has been urged, with some show of reason on the Indian side, that, whereas full and elaborate details of the foul deeds committed by the rioters were published by means of official communiqués and by the Anglo-Indian Press, much of the details of the action taken by officials, civil and military, in suppressing the so-called rebellion, were left to be discovered by unofficial inquiries Which became possible only some time afterwards, when the strict censorship over the Press and private correspondence was removed and free ingress into the Punjab was once more permitted to public-spirited outsiders.
One other matter has been introduced which I am afraid will cause serious misunderstanding in India—namely, with regard to the personnel of the Hunter Committee. I regret most heartily that anything should have fallen from Lord Finlay to-day to lend colour to the suggestion that the Indian members of the Committee were imbued with a spirit of partisanship. I had understood before that the objection was not merely to the Indian members, but also to the English members of the Committee; and Sir Michael O'Dwyer's objection, at any rate so far as the English members were concerned, was on the ground of their lack of administrative experience. So far as that is concerned, I should have thought that, inasmuch as the Committee had to decide upon evidence placed before them and the knowledge and administrative experience of officials was made available by means of evidence before them, this 246 would not be in any way a drawback with regard to their qualifications. But the monstrous charge was made that these gentlemen belonged to the same class which was largely responsible for creating the situation that led to these disorders, and which, in several cases, actively participated in the rebellion.
I desire to submit to your Lordships with all the emphasis I can that this is a most monstrous and most undeserved charge. Remember who these three gentlemen, the Indian members of the Committee were. One was Sir Chimanlal Harilal Sebalvad, who was a distinguished advocate of the Bombay High Court for many years, and Vice-Chancellor of the University there, and is at the present moment—after the Report of the Hunter Committee—a Judge of the Bombay High Court; a man who has been famous throughout his public life for moderation of thought and speech. Another Indian member of the Committee was Mr. Sultan Ahmed, a Minister of the State of Gwalior, a graduate of Cambridge, a barrister of England, who has never taken any part in British-Indian politics, whose services, and the services of whose family, have been acknowledged, amongst others, by Sir Michael O Dwyer himself, and against whom not a breath of suspicion has ever arisen as regards his taking part in political agitation, much less in fomenting disorder. The third Indian member was the Hon. Pandit Jagat Narayan, Advocate of the Judicial Commissioners' Court of Oudh, who has devoted the best part of his public life to local self-government in that province, and who, as a member of the Legislative Council, has earned the confidence and the esteem both of the Government and of the people of that Province.
It was said that he had made an incorrect statement as regards the number of persons interned by Sir Michael O'Dwyer. This was in 1917. The moment his attention was drawn to it he withdrew that charge. He wrote at once to the papers stating that he had been incorrect, and explaining how the inaccuracy had arisen, and Sir Harcourt Butler obtained Sir Michael O'Dwyer's thanks for having drawn the Hon. Pandit Jagat Narayan's attention to this matter and obtained this withdrawal. It seems to me that there is nothing in that distinguished gentleman's career to disqualify him from sitting on the Hunter Committee. Speaking for myself, I claim that all aspersions on the honesty, the impartiality and 247 the competence of the members of the Committee, whether English or Indian, rare absolutely without foundation.
I cannot pass from this without referring to what Lord Finlay was pleased to call the astute cross-examination of those three native lawyers, which is supposed to have placed General Dyer at a disadvantage. Will your Lordships be surprised to hear that the judgment of the Hunter Committee, of the Government of India, and of His Majesty's Government is based, not upon any single word in cross-examination, but upon a statement made in a carefully prepared document—prepared long before the Committee sat, namely, on August 25, and signed by General Dyer—for the military authorities as, I suppose, a part of his report. So far as the cross-examination is concerned, those of your Lordships who Tare to take the trouble to read it will, I have no hesitation in saying, find that the most damaging statements are made, mot under cross-examination by any of those Indian members of the Committee, but under cross-examination by Lord Hunter and Mr. Justice Rankin.
Therefore, this again is introduced as a matter of prejudice, and, so far as the cross-examination by the three Indian lawyers is concerned, eliminate it if you like; it has not been relied on by the Committee, or by the Government here, nor has even the cross-examination of Lord Hunter and Mr. Justice Rankin, but the judgment both of the Hunter Committee, and of the Government of India, and of His Majesty's Government is founded upon General Dyer's own statement, and his own statement alone. I am afraid I have taken up a great deal of time already with reference to matters which I have, perhaps, treated as of more importance than they deserve. But it seemed to me that some, at any rate, of these matters have created an atmosphere of prejudice, which was detrimental to a right judgment being, formed upon the main issues.
Now I come to the main issues arising upon the Hunter Report. Apart from the question of the necessity for martial law and its continuance there are only two others—namely, the acts done, the orders passed in the course of the administration of martial law, and that incident at Jallianwallah Bagh. I have already said, with regard to the introduction and continuance of martial law, that the differ- 248 ence of opinion between the two sections is more superficial than fundamental. After all, they both agreed that it was necessary to call in the military for the purpose of repressing the disturbances that had taken place. I am perfectly certain that if the Majority had expressed themselves with the same degree of condemnation of those acts, done in the course of administration of martial law, as His Majesty's Government here has, there probably would not have been even such difference of opinion as exists. It turns on the construction of the words "open rebellion" in the Regulation of 1804, with regard to which it is possible to hold two different opinions; but, as I say, it has become now a more or less theoretical, abstract, academical question, considering that both sections were agreed that it was necessary to call in the military for the purpose of repressing the disturbances.
For myself, I will not even read to you the list of acts done in the course of administration —flogging, crawling orders and so forth—because the mere mention of them raises a storm of passion which I desire to avoid. But I am confident that your Lordships have all seen the allegations, as well as the unanimous findings of the Committee upon those acts, and the judgment pronounced both by the Government of India and by the Committee. It seems to me that hardly any importance has been attached to those acts in tile debates which have taken place so far, and attention has been concentrated only upon this one question of whether General Dyer has been properly or improperly dealt with. That again is, I venture to think, a matter which will cause misunderstanding and create a wrong impression in India. However, that may be, I, for my part, am not willing to go into those acts, because I fear to add to the bitter feelings now prevailing.
I will, therefore, content myself with a very few words only as to the Jallianwallah Bagh incident and the decision of the Government thereupon. I have, incidentally, referred to the details of the firing. I have told your Lordships that the crowd was unarmed; that it was listening to a lecture; and that there must have been, according to the case of the Punjab Government themselves, a very large number of outsiders from the Punjab who were not there for any political 249 purposes; who were not aware even of the proclamation that had been made that morning; and who were there merely as spectators; and there is reason to believe that many of them had been misled into coming to that assembly by false representations as to what was going to be done there. That being so, I submit there was no justification for firing upon the crowd at once. It was not attacking anything or anybody; it was not doing any act of violence, it was sitting on the ground, and, as General Dyer himself said, there was no question of its trying to attack or rush him, or anything of that kind.
Assume, even on the basis of the reasoning that Lord Finlay has urged, that it was necessary, or desirable, or justifiable to fire without previous notice, was it necessary to continue the firing, to the extent and in the manner that was done Assume it was an army of rebels. Supposing they wanted to surrender, would a military commander on the field of battle give them quarter or not in those circumstances? The circumstances in this case were such that General Dyer himself said, "if I had more troops, and if my armoured cars could have come through the lane—which they could not because it was too narrow—I would have done everyone of those men to death until the whole assembly heel dispersed." Therefore, admittedly, we are on common ground that more force was used than was necessary to disperse the crowd, and if more force was used, it was used for what purpose? For the purpose of creating a moral effect; that is to say, of intimidation, terrorism, frightfulness, or whatever else you choose to call it. And that, my Lords, is the doctrine, which I am profoundly thankful to think His Majesty's Government has emphatically repudiated. I hope when your Lordships have heard, front abler advocates than I am, all the arguments in favour of the position which has been adopted by the Government of India, your Lordships will also emphatically endorse that judgment.
The Secretary of State for War the other day described this incident as a monstrous event, standing in singular and sinister isolation in the history of the British Empire. A former Prime Minister of England described it as a monstrous outrage. Do your Lordships, then, wonder that this has created, throughout the 250 length and breadth of India, the deepest anger and the deepest resentment? It is said that the action of General Dyer saved the Punjab. I hope, my Lords, that even if that were so, there will be no one in this House who will endorse the doctrine that the end justifies the means. But is it certain, my Lords, that it did save the Punjab? The Hunter Committee, after a patient, and protracted inquiry, have held that it is impossible to come to that conclusion, notwithstanding the statements of Sir Michael O'Dwyer and of those officials whose evidence Lord Finlay quoted. Are you to reject that finding?—a finding by a body of competent and experienced persons who heard the evidence on the spot, and against whose competence, I submit, there is no reason whatsoever that can fairly be urged. But, even if it could be said. contrary to that finding, that General Dyer's action did save the Punjab and did prevent another Mutiny, are you certain—can anybody ask your Lordships to hold—that nothing but this frightful massacre would have accomplished that end? Is there any evidence, is there any justification, for asking your Lordships to hold that this massacre of the 500, or the 1,000, or the 20,000 persons who were there was the only thing that could have saved the Punjab from rebellion or mutiny?
I submit that it would be in the highest degree dangerous to assent to any doctrine of that kind. And I know that whatever may be the decision that is conic to in this House or in the other House of Parliament, there is not a single Indian who believes that the situation was in any way similar to that existing in 1857, or that General Dyer's action saved British rule in India. The Secretary of State for War said that he did not believe it. The Hunter Committee did not believe it. Nor is there, so far as I know, arty person in authority in India at that time who will advance that proposition.
I have taken up your Lordships' time at greater length than I intended, but I cannot conclude these remarks without dwelling for one moment on the lessons to be learned from these bitter experiences, which would otherwise be thrown away. To my mind there are lessons to be learned both by the rulers and the ruled. Both sections of the Hunter Committee have unanimously said that the movement of 251 Satyagraha, passive resistance, civil disobedience, or by whatever name it has been called, has been, to some extent at any rate, if not to a great extent, responsible for the spirit of lawlessness which resulted in these disorders. I ask my fellow-countrymen to lay well that lesson to their hearts. I ask them to dissociate themselves from a similar pernicious movement started by Mr. Gandhi—a movement which he calls by another name, that of non-co-operation. It can only lead to the same disastrous results as the Satyagraha, or the civil disobedience movement, produced in April of last year. The more reasonable sections of my countrymen—and they are by far the majority—have already dissociated themselves from this movement, and, if the Government of India is only allowed to pursue the wise course it is now pursuing, I have no doubt that soon there will not be a single Indian, either Hindu or Mussulman, who will subscribe to, or act upon, that doctrine.
But if there is that lesson to be learned by my countrymen, there is also another to be learned by the Government, and that is the policy which was pursued so successfully in the United Provinces by Sir Harcourt Butler, in Bombay by Sir George Lloyd, and in Bengal by Lord Ronaldshay. Do not interfere too hastily or too violently, with an agitation of this nature. Let it kill itself; as in time it will. Idleness cannot last; shops cannot be closed for ever. It is against the interests of the people themselves to allow that. Ruthless methods of repression and coercion result in disorder as much as passive resistance, and direct action, or civil disobedience. I ask my fellow countrymen to co-operate as much as they can with all sections of the community, both European and Indian, in order that the large and benevolent scheme of reform which has just been launched might result in the progressive realisation of self-government in India which has been declared to be the object of His Majesty's Government. I apologise to your Lordships for the time I have taken.
§ THE EARL OF MIDLETON
My Lords, nobody who has listened to the concluding words of the noble and learned Lord can doubt not merely the ability but the authority with which he represents the opinion of his fellow-countrymen in this House. If we doubted, or even thought, the noble lord would fall short of the 252 repute with which he came to this House, the skill with which he dealt with the very damaging facts which were brought before us by the noble and learned Viscount would amply justify his previous reputation. But we cannot shut our eyes to the fact that there is a complete conflict between the two noble Lords as to the circumstances of the case with which we have, mainly, to deal. Lord Finlay pointed out that there were the most direct evidences of conspiracy in the case of the Punjab. He referred to the Hunter Committee, with regard to which Lord Sinha has just pressed him to state whether he agrees or disagrees with their verdict. He might have added that the Reference to the Committee was held by the Committee to have shut out their taking evidence which would, to a large extent, have established the existence of conspiracy.
It is not enough for the noble and learned Lord to say, as he said just now, that there is no man in India who believes that the condition was the same last year as in 1857. There is a very long path between that and the condition of sporadic riot which we are asked to believe was all that had to be dealt with at Amritsar. But I think that there are many men in this House—I know there are vast numbers in the country; and I will go further and include the great majority not merely of the British race in India but persons in the Punjab themselves—who believe that the events of last year were not a riot but a rebellion. They believe that the statement accepted by Mr. Asquith—whose authority I regret was given to it in the House of Commons—that it was a case of a meeting, of a crowd, which General Dyer thought fit to proclaim, after two days of quietude, was incorrect. I think the general feeling is that that is a misstatement of the case. The whole evidence shows that the town had been in the possession of a mob for those two days, and that the meeting was held in direct defiance of the Proclamation. Although I do not wish to travel again over the ground which Lord Finlay has covered, I must venture to doubt whether there is any justification for asking us to visit on General Dyer the fact that there was a lack of arms in the crowd, in the presence of which he had only come half-a-moment before he had to open fire, with a force so small that, as Lord Finlay justly said, the mere weight of the crowd would have annihilated it.
253 I am not going to rest my case on that which has been so admirably made by the noble Viscount. I am going a step further. I recognise the difficulties of the Government. I assume that not merely the details but even a great many of the facts with which we are dealing were not before them at an early stage. I confess that I have misgivings myself when I think that we are told that in this debate we shall have three noble Lords speaking—the noble Earl the Leader of the House, who has been identified with India, the noble Viscount, Lord Milner, who was in South Africa, and the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack—all of whom have been closely associated with the most recent announcements about Ireland stating that there must be the fullest measure of assertion of authority and of the maintenance of law at all hazards and at all costs. Therefore, if I differ from them, I do so with misgivings. But I cannot understand how, when these subjects came to their knowledge, when they reviewed the course the Government of India had taken throughout these affairs, they found it possible to isolate the one soldier from the whole of the civilians and to visit on him the whole blame for what took place.
What was the course of the Government of India? The noble Lord spoke of an armed mob. We are told, and I believe it is not challenged, that the Government of India were kept informed from day to day in the Punjab of the events which were taking place and the orders which were given. On April 11, when the civil authority handed over to the military the whole control, the orders given were that "The Troops have orders to restore order in Amritsar and to use all force necessary. No gatherings of persons nor processions of any kind will be allowed. All gatherings will be fired upon." My Lords, that is martial law with a vengeance. That is the most open and clearest evidence that the Government of India must have known of it and were well aware that any meetings, armed or otherwise, any processions, however innocuous, were to be fired upon, because the state of the town made it necessary.
On the 14th General Dyer forwarded to the General Officer Commanding a statement which must have shown, I should have said to the full, to the Government of India, what had been the extent of the 254 engagement which took place. He said "I hear that between 200 and 300 of the crowd were killed. My party fired 1,650 rounds." My Lords, in the House of Commons the Secretary for War the other day said that a slaughter of 379 persons was a monstrous event, which stood out in singular and sinister isolation. Well, I want to know whether the Government of India, when they were informed, one or two days afterwards, that 300 persons had been killed and 1,650 rounds had been fired, took the view that it was a monstrous event, standing out in singular isolation, and whether they took any steps of any description to inform themselves whether it was necessary to put a check upon what they must have regarded, in their present state of mind, as a great outrage.
What did they do? They did the exact reverse. On the 16th, two days after, Sir Michael O'Dwyer, with I think a foresight which did credit to that administrator whose name has appeared so often in the course of these narratives, made proposals to the Government of India. Indeed, he did more than that; he told them that he had already begun to give effect to a detailed scheme for getting the administration of martial law under the control of the civil authorities. In fact, he said that he had already taken occasion to give effect to what the Hunter Committee of His Majesty's Government accept as being the proper conditions under which martial law should be administered. The Government of India, with all the facts before them, in a telegram two or three days before, thought the situation should not be so dealt with. They refused the proposals, and they said that all further powers of proscribing offences, penalties, or courts were vested in the Officer Commanding; that the Lieutenant-Governor had no power, and they suggested that any action already taken should be ratified by the General Officer Commanding. There is no evidence, in that action by the Government of India, of any dissatisfaction with the course which had been taken by General Dyer up to that moment.
To go a step further, on May I they were informed, by letter from Sir Michael O'Dwyer, of the crawling order, on which I wish not to enter, because I think we all regard it as having been regrettable. Did they take any action on that? If they did, it has not appeared in the papers, and I think we should have been told. 255 I do not want to labour this point any further, but I do desire to say this. While I quite understand the attitude of the Secretary of State on May 21, a few days later, when he said that in his opinion it would be time to have an Inquiry into the matter when the fire had been put out, I confess that I cannot understand how the Government of India, if they held the opinion that these steps required no intervention on their part in May. 1919, have the right to dispense with the services of their agent in March, 1920? I gained some knowledge of the Government of India during the period of the memorable Viceroyalty of the noble Earl opposite, and I cannot; imagine him sitting at one end of the telegraph wire and making no sign when events of such dire import were going on.
A good deal has been said about the Committee. I should like to ask the noble Lord—who begged us to accept the impartiality of the Commission—whether it is a fact that one of the native representatives had been refused the right to enter the Punjab in order to defend some of those who were incriminated in the disturbances; and whether, after what he must have felt to be a slur on him as a professional man, he was appointed to sit in judgment on the Punjab Government on the Hunter Committee.
§ LORD SINHA
Sir Chimanlal Harilal Setalvad was refused permission to enter, but he certainly considered it as no slur upon him.
§ THE EARL OF MIDLETON
I confess that a man on whom that particular slur had been cast was not a man who could be regarded as impartial for the purposes of the Inquiry. Is it not also the fact that the second member, a man of great ability who expres3ed himself by his cross-examination, was also objected to by the Punjab Government for a speech he delivered, the explanation of which it is a little difficult to follow? And is it the fact that he, against the wishes of Sir Michael O'Dwyer and also those of his successor, was placed on the Committee in order that he might sit in judgment on the Punjab Government. which he had so recently attacked? In my opinion the time has come when the principle of putting partisans on Judicial Inquiries must come to an end. The awful scandal of the Sankey Commission, with members browbeating witnesses and making speeches to the Press, took away the whole judicial 256 and impartial character of the Inquiry; and led to the failure of all the proposals which the Commission made.
I have ventured, with great reluctance, to refer to the laxity of the Government of India in dealing with these matters. The noble Lord absolved them from any definite statement in the month of September; but that is not the point on which they are attacked. The point is that from April to September they took no steps, at a time when martial law had been running, to obviate further disorder. They have brought the Government into a position with regard to General Dyer which is unprecedented in recent military annals. I entirely agree with what the noble and learned Viscount said as to the position of an officer. I have before me a speech made by the Lord Chancellor in another place, when he was Attorney-G corral, in which he lays down the rights of an officer as to his trial; and the point of his observation was that the Report of the Mesopotamia Committee could not be taken against an officer until he had been heard, especially if he had not been present at the hearing.
I desire, most respectfully, to qualify that statement. Of course, His Majesty has the right to place an officer on half pay, or to refrain from farther use of his services, without trial or hearing. I am not making that point. But the Government have done one thing which, though it may not be against. Military Law, is certainly against military etiquette and precedent as laid down by the highest authorities. If an officer is incriminated, if an offence is alleged. against him, and he subsequently goes into action, the offence is condoned. The Duke of Wellington was probably the severest Commander of British forces. He dealt with troops who were amongst the most gallant of our race, but who, he said, contained some of the worst gaol-birds, guilty of the vilest crimes. But he held, and enforced on his commanders, that no man, whatever his crime, who went into action and behaved well, should be punished for the crime. In the recent war there was a most gallant officer who, in the retreat from Mons, incurred the extreme penalty of dismissal from the Army. He joined the French Foreign Legion, and did admirable service. His Majesty restored him to his position.
Are your Lordships going to be forced to-morrow to agree with the Government's decision, which means that the mere justice 257 which the Duke of Wellington gave to the humblest of his soldiers, is to be denied to an officer of thirty-four years' unblemished service? I say it is unprecedented. After all the facts were known the Government of India extended his autocratic power in the Punjab. A month later they sent him to the front. In October they promoted him, and in January this year they promoted him again; and then, in March, they tell him that they cannot give him further employment. I know that toe Army Council and the Government have to deal with the facts as they have theta at the moment, but it is absolutely wrong that these facts should have been kept in abeyance all these months and that such a penalty should now be demanded.
We are in a difficult position as to the Vote we have to give. It has been said in the House of Commons that those who support any Motion of this kind are doing exactly the reverse of what the noble Lord pressed upon us at the end of his speech—that they are supporting terrorism, racial humiliation, and frightfulness, instead of partnership between this country and India. I think that we have a right not merely to resent that imputation but to retort the charge. If anybody is to be accused of favouring racial humiliation or frightfulness, it surely is those to whom all these facts were known, who took no action on them, and allowed it to be believed that they were condoned, so long as the emergency was hot, but are to be condemned now that public opinion has got cool. I would urge the Government to consider whether the steps they have taken, and the delays which have ocurred, have gained for them the confidence of those among the people of India who resented Martial Law, and whether the step which they are now taking is not going to lose for them the confidence of a large section of the people of India who were gainers by this exercise of Martial Law.
I do not say, and I do not desire to say, that officers in India should use indiscriminately such powers as General Dyer held, but, as one who had some share in the administration of the War Office for some years, I would ask the Government to consider the matter most earnestly before they isolate this case. I trust that the number of cases in which military aid will have to be called in will be made as rare as possible. In the present state of the world there are demands made on these military forces 258 which it is extremely difficult to meet, but I think that the kindest thing, and the most humane, is that it should be clearly understood that if military force is to be called in a very serious situation has been created for those who in any way oppose it; and I cannot imagine anything which would do more mischief to the future of this country, in all parts of the world, than that our officers should get the idea that when they have to act they will be isolated from all the civil authorities who call them in and subsequently approve their conduct.
I must challenge the opinion of the noble and learned lord that, this conduct of General Dyer was not approved by the Government of India. Qui facit per alium facil per se. The General Officer Commanding, to whom they handed it, approved it, and, if they did not disapprove; they are responsible, and there is not one single word in the whole of this long discussion in which His Majesty's Government even touch upon the responsibility of the Government of India. That is a state of affairs which makes me, with great regret, consider that their administration of justice, on which they, as we, believe that our whole power in India depends—not upon force, but upon the fact that we are recognised as the one just force umpiring between all sections, races, nationalities, and creeds—has been imperfect. For that reason, if the noble Viscount thinks fit to go to a Division, I shall certainly vote with him.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
My Lords, I freely admit that I am one of those who could wish that this discussion had not taken place at all. I cannot believe that it will do service to any cause, not even to the cause of the gallant officer whose name has been so freely used and who is mentioned in the Motion. I do not think that even the ardent advocacy of the noble and learned Viscount opposite, or the more temperate statement of the noble Earl behind me, will assist General Dyer in obtaining a reversal—I will not say official reversal but a reversal in public opinion—of the modified condemnation passed upon his action at Amritsar in April of last year. But I must state why it is that I shall feel bound to go into the Lobby against the Motion of the noble Viscount, because for many years, like my noble friend behind me, I had the honour of being Secretary of State for India, and, therefore, I do not like to remain altogether silent on this occasion.
259 The fact that I shall vote against the Motion does not, however, mean that I consider that the entire conduct of this business by the Government has been altogether happy. I confess that the whole appointment of the Hunter Committee appears to me to have been a mistake. Quite apart from the censure that has been directed against the individual members—and I confess that to me it seems to have been on the whole very fairly constituted—the appointment of a Committee of this kind, presided over by a learned Judge, seems to me to be the wrong sort of Inquiry for the particular case. I admit, speaking generally, that I am getting a little tired of Committees and Commissions presided over by learned Judges, taken away from their proper work, and of bodies to which a kind of semi-judicial character is given, although they are not tribunals, so that witnesses appearing before them are never quite clear whether they are there as witnesses or as defendants.
I am clear that in this case inquiry ought to have been made in the first instance, and made promptly, by the Government. of India. The Government of India was thoroughly competent, one would have supposed, to inquire into the military and civil aspect of the case. The Commander in-Chief in India is a General of previous Indian experience, who has held high administrative positions, besides being of the first distinction in the field, and, so far as the general administration of Martial Law is concerned, surely the Government of India was qualified, through its Home Department, to hold an Inquiry into anything which needed subsequent investigation. If His Majesty's Government were not satisfied with the competence of the Government of India to perform what I consider this elementary duty, then they ought to get another Government of India.
The loss of time which has occurred, owing to the dragging out of these proceedings over such a very long period, and the consequent heated discussions that have taken place, not only here—because that does not so much matter—but in India, seem to me to be an unmitigated misfortune. Remember that the appointment of the Dyer Committee led to the appointment by the extreme Party in India—the Congress Party—of an alternative Committee (appointed for purely 260 political reasons) to make an inquiry of its own which tended, I am greatly afraid, to undo a great part of the good, if good was done by the main and genuine Committee. If a Government Inquiry had been made, and made promptly, supposing either civil or military condemnation had to be pronounced upon anybody, either soldier or civilian, the case in the former instance would, of course, have to be referred to the Army Council, assuming that it involved calling upon an officer to resign or retire from the Service. In all cases, of course, the whole business would finally come before the India Office and the Cabinet, but I think, if that course had been taken, a great deal of trouble would have been avoided, and what is considered the injustice to General Dyer—though, as I think, it is only apparent injustice—would have been altogether avoided.
It appears to me that although the procedure was unfortunate, General Dyer has not suffered wrong because of it. When he arrived in Amritsar on April 10 he, as he frankly stated, conceived himself to be faced by an armed rebellion or revolution. He concluded, in fact, that something equivalent to a state of war existed between him and the people of the Punjab, and that is the view which, as the noble and learned Viscount has frankly told us, he himself takes. I notice that in his statement General Dyer uses the phrase that on April 13 the final crisis had arrived. He speaks of the crowd at the Jallianwallah Bagh as the rival army, and he goes on to say that if he had not taken the action he did, that crowd, within a short space of time, would have destroyed all Europeans and all his troops. That seems a hardly tenable statement. Whatever that crowd was, even supposing it to be a dangerous mob, it is very hard to understand how 1,100 or 1,200 troops with guns, which General Dyer had at his command, could have been destroyed and swept away in company with all the remaining Europeans in the place by such a crowd as that, But no doubt one sees the position in which General Dyer conceived himself to be placed.
After reading the Papers, it is very difficult not to think that the first blunder was made in transporting the two centres of agitation, Doctor Kitchlew and Doctor Satyapal, without reinforcing the troops at Amritsar. When they were removed the force there was extremely small, probably 150 men or something like that altogether. It was 261 not foreseen that the deportation of these two men would arouse the crowd to the state of fury which brought about the horrible events of April 10. That was a blunder in the first instance. Then, was there not a further one? Assuming that complete military charge was to be taken of this city of 150,000 people, was there not a further error in not sending for more troops before such action as General Dyer thought it necessary to take was taken? Before altogether proclaiming gatherings by special Proclamation, and announcing that all gatherings would be liable to be fired on at sight, surely you ought to be sure that you have the necessary force which enables you to disperse a crowd in the ordinary way in which troops disperse crowds.
When General Dyer arrived at Jallianwallah Bagh, with 50 rifles and 40 men, he may well have thought that, unless he began firing at once, he would be overwhelmed, although I do not think the noble and learned Viscount is accurate in thinking the crowd was anywhere near him. I think they were a hundred yards away before he began to shoot, and, therefore, the risk of being mobbed and hemmed in was not so great as it would have been if he had just come upon the crowd. But, supposing that to be so, can that be taken as a defence of General Dyer's action? Surely not. If it be that with an inadequate force you can only deal with a crowd by starting to shoot at it, and continuing to shoot at it as long as your ammunition holds out, that seems, of itself, to be a condemnation of your going with that particular force to disperse that crowd at all. It is surely a most dangerous argument to use, that because your force is a small one you may legitimately employ methods which a larger force would not think of employing. To what would that argument lead? Poison-gas would disperse a much larger crowd very quickly with a much smaller number of men, but nobody suggests that it should be adopted as a means of dealing with unlawful gatherings, however forcibly, by Proclamation or otherwise, you have announced your intention to punish them.
None of us ought to forget the critical position in which General Dyer was placed, even though it is impossible to approve the action that he took. I think it is almost certain that if he had not dispersed that crowd—supposing he had considered 262 that with the force at his disposal he was not justified in acting to disperse it—sooner or later, and probably sooner rather than later, he would have had to use firearms against some body of men. But there is every probability that it would have been a body about whose violent intentions there could be no doubt. In spite of everything that was said by the noble and learned Viscount, I do not think it is possible, from any evidence at the command of anyone—from General Dyer's own statement—to hold that all the thousands of people there were guilty people whom it was quite legitimate to shoot at sight. I confess I do not see how that argument can be maintained by anyone.
What, perhaps, was unfair upon General Dyer was the fact that he found himself placed in sole responsibility at so difficult a time. There is a well-known saying of Count Cavour—that any fool can govern in a state of siege—that is to say, under Martial Law. That may have been true at the time the Italian statesman was thinking of, when Lombardy was under the heel of Austria, or in such as case as Poland under the heel of Prussia or Russia; but it is not the least true of a country like India, in which, be it remembered, for the last sixty years—ever since the Proclamation of Queen Victoria—we have been announcing out intention of associating the people of the country more and more closely with the Government. When Martial Law has to be applied in such a country as that, owing to risings in some particular Province, or part of the country, it may well be that a man who has not had a special training, although very far from a fool—and the exceedingly able statement of General Dyer which has been circulated shows that no such word could possibly be applied to him—may find it impossible to exercise the extremely delicate functions, demanding discretion, temper, and reflection, which fall upon a man who has to administer Martial Law in such intensely difficult circumstances as those.
What is known as the "Crawling Order" has been mentioned. The incident has attained somewhat undue prominence so far as its intrinsic importance is concerned, although I confess that the explanation of it which was given by General Dyer—namely, that the intention was to regard this street as a place of peculiar sanctity to be approached in an attitude of religious prostration—seems to me scarcely to hold 263 water. That particular explanation does not seem to have ocurred to anyone else; and it certainly did not occur to Sir Michael O'Dwyer, who objected to the Order and demanded its reversal. But the matter is, I think, only worth mentioning in a debate like this because it does seem to afford an index of the unfitness of the particular man for the particular task which he had to do in circumstances of such extreme delicacy.
There are only two considerations to which, before I sit down, I would call your Lordship's attention. Here are 300 or 400 people who were shot at sight because a meeting had been proclaimed. Well, for "India" read "Ireland." No one will deny, I think that, so far as the maintenance of the law is concerned, the South and West of Ireland are in a considerably worse state than the Punjab ever was; probably in as bad a state as it was ever feared it could be, in April of last year. Yet, for "Amritsar" read "Limerick" or "Ennis," or some town in the South and West, and conceive a precise repetition of the circumstances there. You may be sure that, after public meetings had been forbidden and a crowd collected to hear a speech, a great many of them would be of the same species as the men who committed the outrages at Amritsar, But who will say that it would be wise, or right, or possible to open fire on a crowd of that kind listening to a speech, and to go on shooting until they were all killed? And yet the parallel seems to me fairly exact; and unless we are to admit— which I am sure no one here is prepared to admit—that although it is unfortunate to take life in India in this way, yet the lives of Indian rioters are less important than those of European rioters, you must take the Irish parallel and see what would be said supposing indiscriminate shooting took place in the same way in an Irish town.
The only other consideration I will put before your Lordships is this. A great many of you have known in the past, and know still, distinguished officers of the Indian army. It has been my good fortune to know many, from the days of Lord Napier of Magdala down to the present day; and when I was in Office it was my privilege to know most of the distinguished officers of the Indian Army. Can your Lordships fancy any of those distinguished officers you have known, placed in the same position and taking 264 precisely the course that General Dyer did? Can you conceive Lord Roberts being placed in that position and acting in precisely the same way? That being so, it is not, I think, difficult to reach a tolerably fair conclusion in this case.
There are some people, as we know, who speak of General Dyer as though he were a bloodthirsty ogre— which he most certainly is not, or anything resembling it. Others, again, like the noble and learned Viscount, speak of him as if he were precisely in the same position as Havelock or Henry Lawrence. Both those descriptions, as I believe, cannot be supported by the facts. I think we have to regard General Dyer as a man who, having followed straitly and strictly the path of duty as he saw it, took a wrong turning; and who, not helped, as I think, by the desire of some of his friends to avoid the inevitable consequences of the error which he made, will, as I should conceive— but I have not the pleasure of knowing him—take the verdict of his military superiors as final. But I do not for a moment believe that the action which the Army Council have taken in these circumstances will deter British officers in the future from taking the necessary responsibility, even in circumstances more difficult than those in which General Dyer found himself.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (LORD BIRKENHEAD)
My Lords, no one, as the noble Viscount has said, can speak in this debate without a deep feeling of responsibility. It is known to the House how great is the respect which is felt in India for the House of Lords—certainly not a lower degree of respect than is felt there for another place. It is vaguely believed that in this and comparable matters we discharge judicial functions, and every word that we say is appraised in India, and still more are our decisions canvassed and discussed.
I am anxious to be perfectly candid with your Lordships at the outset and to define exactly how close is my own responsibility in these matters. I was a member of the Cabinet Committee, like my noble friend Lord Milner, which in the first place had the responsible and critical task committed to it of making a Report and a recommendation to the Government. We had at least six, and I think more, meetings of that Committee. We all shared the responsibility, as, at a later stage, the 265 whole Cabinet shared the responsibility, of the Despatch which was sent in the name of the Secretary of State to the Government of India, and I and, I am certain, all of my colleagues who sat on that Committee would desire that, if there be criticism and if there be blame, it should be criticism and blame in which my right hon. friend is not individually singled out, but in which it should be realised that, first of all, the Cabinet Committee, and, secondly, the Cabinet, giving its best ability and industry to this matter, equally share.
I think I may claim in this House that the constitution of that Committee, so far as the representatives of the. House of Lords are concerned, was not one which prima facie would appear to disentitle it to the confidence of your Lordships. The record of my noble friend Lord Milner, his services to the Empire, his profound conception of Imperial greatness and of Imperial prestige, his services in South Africa and in Egypt, are known to every member of your Lordships' House. And I would say at least this of myself, that for twenty-seven years of public life I have made what I conceive to be the greatness and the honour of this Empire the touchstone of every view I have ever formed, or ever attempted to express, upon public matters.
It seemed to me, as I listened to the speech of the noble Viscount who moved this Motion, that a considerable service would be rendered in the course of this debate if we could state what are the points upon which we are agreed, because no useful purpose is served by their repetition in the course of the debate. Let me then say, having defined my own responsibility, what are the points upon which it appears to me that all of us in every part of the House are agreed. We are agreed, I assume, that General Dyer was a very gallant soldier; we are agreed that he had exhibited discretion, sobriety and resolution before the incidents now under discussion; and we are agreed that he exhibited discretion, sobriety, and resolution in the days and the months which followed upon this incident. But, at the same time, we reached the conclusion which I shall attempt and hope to justify, that he committed a tragic error of judgment upon the most conspicuous stage, and it would be a day of ill augury for the future of the British Empire if the view which he formed Were well founded, and if the act of which we disapprove were allowed to pass with impunity.
266 No one, I think, will imagine that I under-rate the great weight that must be conceded to the contemporary, or the apparent contemporary, condonation of that which he did. I do not, indeed, agree with the noble Marquess who has just spoken upon one point of his criticism of the appointment of the Hunter Committee. If we had condemned General Dyer and removed him from his employment before what we, at least, conceived to be a responsible and an able Committee had reached and pronounced a conclusion, everybody in all the world would have blamed us. We are told now "You retained him in his command then." Supposing that we had adopted the other course and had removed him from his command without the warrant of any public Inquiry or of any authoritative conclusion. What would have been said here, and what would have been said by our fellow countrymen in India?
I agree there is a fruitful field of discussion as to whether we chose the best kind of tribunal. All I can say about that is that, whatever kind of tribunal we had selected, some fault would have been found. We selected the tribunal which seemed to us to be the best. It was a tribunal which, so far as my memory goes, everybody welcomed and nobody criticised at the time. The British members of it were men of the greatest distinction, experience, sagacity, and prudence. With regard to one of the native representatives, Sir Chimanlal Sebalvad, the noble Earl, Lord Midleton, said that there was a slur upon him because he had not been allowed to conduct a defence in the Punjab in one of those cases. And as that report, coming from the noble Earl, and from one who has held his responsible position, may easily be the subject of communication to, and misunderstanding in, India I would point out to the noble Earl that this gentleman was only prevented from going into the Punjab to undertake the defence of some of his compatriots because there was a general and, as I think, most unfortunate and most indefensible prohibition against any barrister going in these circumstances into the Punjab. There was no slur upon him. I am sure the noble Earl would be the first to wish me to make that plain.
§ THE EARL OF MIDLETON
I should explain that that statement has been made officially. And it has been before the country for some time. Of course, I asked 267 the question because I felt it required explanation.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
Every one knows the good feeling and the responsibility with which the noble Earl approaches these matters. I was unaware that that statement had been made publicly, but the noble Earl may rest assured that the facts are as I have stated. This House, I know, will accept it from me that the three native members who were appointed to that Committee were men of whom it was possible to make this claim in the belief of the Government here, and in the belief of the Government of India—that there was not one of them whose distinguished record had not abundantly established that he was completely loyal to the British connection. Such was the tribunal which we set up.
It is said that for months General Dyer was treated as if he had covered himself with merit and distinction. The criticism is, at first sight, a very plausible one, but you had to set up the Committee, and you could not set it up until, in the words of the Secretary of State, "the conflagration was extinguished," and immediately after that came the Afghan War, and when the Committee was finally set up, with all the delay in adjusting the personnel, there came the hot weather, in which it was absolutely impossible that any Committee could sit in the district in which it was required to sit. All these circumstances caused delay. In the clash of a momentary anxiety, such as existed in India at that time, everybody knows how difficult perspective is of attainment.
On a true view, we are not concerned to-day with what I will venture to call the subordinate aspects of the case. What we are concerned with is this, and I will ask the question without any doubt at all as to what the answer will be: If, in fact, General Dyer was wrong, and was gravely wrong, will any one contend that those who are to-day supremely responsible for the Government of India can surrender their judgment in favour of those who gave a subordinate opinion amid the clash and the anguish of a great crisis? No serious person could possibly put forward such a contention. There is no doubt it is most unfortunate that this view should have been taken not by the high officials, but by persons occupying comparatively inferior positions. No one can contend when we have all the facts before us, when 268 we have authoritative findings which cannot be disputed (and it would be absurd to say) that we can go right away from our paramount responsibility, when we have reached and established the conclusion that, in fact, a grave error of judgment was made.
The noble and learned Viscount, in a phrase which I confess astonished me, said that General Dyer had been condemned without a trial. It is very seldom that my noble and learned friend indulges in what is, with the greatest respect to him, a loose phrase on the lips of a lawyer, and which requires very careful analysis. What has happened to General Dyer? General Dyer has been placed upon half-pay in the exercise of the superior military administrative authority. The noble and learned Viscount says that a stigma has been inflicted upon General Dyer. If it be a stigma that it should be said by the authorities of an officer that in their view he has committed an error of judgment so grave that he cannot safely or usefully be employed again, then, if and in so far as that is a stigma, be it so. In the course of this war hundreds of officers with most gallant records in the war, and with no provable indiscretion against them at all, have been told that in the opinion of authority their further employment was undesirable. They had no trial. They asked for no trial. And this has happened to some of the most distinguished officers and generals in the British Army.
The noble and learned Viscount might possibly think that these cases have not been extremely common, and he might say that in those cases there was no stigma. With submission, I do not share that view. I say that nothing can be more wounding to an officer than, at the moment when he is actually in arms on behalf of his country, the military authorities should say to him in substance: "We do not think you are fit for the command Which you hold; we are going to order you back to England, and we are going to replace you by someone else." I say there is nothing more wounding to an officer than that such a communication should be made to him; but it has been made to hundreds of officers in the course of the last five years, and the melancholy communication has been received by them with dignity, with patience, and in silence.
There is a more serious step that can be taken. You may compulsorily place an officer on retired pay. There is something 269 which is penal, or quasi-penal, in that step, and we have not adopted that course with General Dyer. There is a third and still graver class of case, where charges of military misconduct are preferred, and then there is a trial, there is provision for appeal, and the rights of the accused officers are vigilantly guarded. I say of General Dyer that he has had fifty times more opportunity of putting his case before authoritative tribunals than all those officers who were dealt with during the war, and that even larger number of officers who have been similarly dealt with since the war. Therefore, the only question to which, in my judgment, your Lordships can usefully give your minds is, What is the real question in the case, stripped of all prejudice? And the only question in the case is this: Did General Dyer commit an error of judgment sufficiently grave to warrant the mildest disciplinary treatment which is known to the Army?
In approaching that question I place on record in the plainest language my sense of the, terrible and pitiful situation with which General Dyer was confronted, and it is right that we all should recognise it completely. I accept almost everything that has been said as to the condition of affairs at Amritsar on the critical day, and I am so anxious to be fair in this matter that will summarise it and see whether I have omitted anything which can be claimed by General Dyer's friends on his behalf. On April 10 Amritsar was almost completely in the hands of the mob. The Majority Report of the Hunter Committee says that no European of either sex was safe from the mob. On that same night the Commissioner handed over all authority to the soldiers as represented by Major MacDonald, with the clear and, in spite of what Mr. Asquith said elsewhere, I think the necessary admission that the situation had passed beyond the possibility of civilian control. From first to last in those days five Europeans were murdered at Amritsar, several of them in circumstances of particularly revolting barbarity. Such were the events of April 10. April 11 passed quietly and on the evening of that day General Dyer arrived. April 12 also passed in almost complete tranquillity and, so far as I know, there was no single proved outrage on either the 11th or the 12th. On April 12 it was found practicable to effect many important arrests of ringleaders, and such arrests were consequently made.
270 Now I come to the critical day, April 13. On that morning General Dyer published an announcement. The part with which we are concerned is in the following terms—Any gathering of four men will be dispersed by force of arms, if necessary.I think that was a necessary and a proper Proclamation. It was followed by an insolent counter-proclamation proceeding from the insurgents, to the effect that a meeting would be held at Jallianwillah Bagh at four o'clock that afternoon. That was a plain defiance of the authority of the British Government. It required to be corrected, and it required to be sternly corrected. We have reached, I hope, a reasonable degree of common ground upon which I can found some further observations.
The noble and learned Viscount was most gravely in error in saying—and, for one so careful as he is, I must say it was a little unfortunate that in a crowded House he should have stated it so emphatically,—that everybody in the crowd knew that the meeting had been proclaimed; that everybody in that crowd was steeped and involved in the same degree. He is absolutely inaccurate in saying that, and for such a statement there is no real support to be had. On that point the Majority of the Hunter Committee found that it was evident that in many parts of the city the Proclamation was not read, and I think before the noble and learned Viscount committed himself to that statement, he should have read the evidence, which was to the effect that the heat of the day became very fierce while these Proclamations were being distributed, so that there were considerable areas in Amritsar in which no Proclamation was made, and amongst those areas were the very parts adjacent to Jallianwallah Bagh in which it was most of all important that the Proclamation should be known.
Now I will come to what General Dyer has said, and I will not take any statement of his which was made in cross-examination. I take the statement which he made to members of the tribunal who were as fair and as well-disposed to him as any member of your Lordships' House. I do not take the statement in the cross-examination. I say it is idle to say that an experienced and able officer with thirty-six years service in the Army, not on matters of 271 legal technicality, but on matters of plain fact involving his responsibility as a soldier, cannot make a statement which is fair to himself because he may be confused by lawyers. Such criticisms are idle. Any man of ability dealing with facts in which he has borne the greater part, and with facts only, can give an intelligent and a coherent account of that which he has done, and the proof that General Dyer gave such an account is to be found in this ircumstance—that none of those statements to which I call attention now has been qualified or modified in that most able statement which has recently been written by General Dyer and has been circulated.
Now this is what he says, upon this point—(A.) It was being well issued, and news spreads very rapidly in places like that under prevailing conditions. At the same time there may have been a good many who had not heard the Proclamation.It is at least arguable upon the real facts, and this fact is vital and fundamental in our judgment, that there were present in that crowd many people who never knew of the Proclamation at all, and never knew that they were doing anything to be visited with penalties like this. The next thing is to realise with what kind of mind General Dyer went to take his grave and critical decision. Here again we have it in his own words—(Q.) Before firing did you ask Mr.Rehill"— he is a civilian— "whether in his judgment it was necessary to fire?(A.) No, sir. My mind was made up as I came along in my motor-car—if my orders were not obeyed I would fire immediately.(Q.) In firing was your object to disperse the crowd?(A.) Yes.(Q.) Any other object.(A.) No, sir. I was going to fire until they dispersed.Now I pause there to make one observation only, that I agree unreservedly with the conception of duty therein defined, subject only to one qualification, and that is, had General Dyer announced to those who were there before he did fire in order to disperse them that if they did not disperse he would take that course.
When my noble and learned friend says, "Are these men to parley with?" I do not think my noble and learned friend would have asked that question, or could have asked that question, if he had known that 272 there was a considerable section of innocent people in the crowd; and I say they were people to parley with. I say there was no danger, on this evidence, of the small force being rushed. There was nothing which would have prevented General Dyer from announcing to those people that if they did not disperse he would fire, and I say it would have been following a more merciful and a more proper conception of Imperial duty to-day had that course been adopted. Had he adopted that course, I agree absolutely that, from the moment this defiant and seditious assembly refused to disperse he was entitled to fire, directing his fire always by this test, and this test only: "Am I using more violence, am I killing more people, than is necessary in order that I may carry out my legitimate purpose and my military duty?"
That, however, was not General Dyer's view. Let me continue for a moment—(Q.) Did the crowd at once start to disperse as soon as you fired?(A.) Immediately.(Q.) Did you continue firing?(A.) Yes.(Q.) If the crowd was going to disperse why did you not stop firing?(A.) I thought it my duty to go on firing until it dispersed. If I fired a little the effect would not be sufficient.He had told us that his object was the legitimate object of dispersing the meeting, and to tell us that if he had fired a little his legitimate, and his only legitimate, purpose would not have been attained seems to be a statement impossible to accept. Again—(Q.) What reason had you to suppose that if you had ordered the assembly to leave the Bagh they would not have done so without the necessity of your firing, continued firing for a length of time?(A.) Yes; I think it quite possible that I could have dispersed them perhaps even without firing.He had said a moment before that his object was to disperse them.(Q.) Why did you not adopt that course?(A.) I could not disperse them for some time; then they would all come back and laugh at me, and I considered I would be making myself a fool.What did this General in fact do who had gone there with the deliberate object, as he says in another place, of taking life upon a large scale? What did he in fact do? For ten minutes the troops fired, the General directing it. They fired upon a crowded mass of humanity, now, we are 273 told, some 15,000 or 20,000, who, in the language of the General himself, or some of whom, began to run away the moment they saw the soldiers.
The rest, when the firing began, ran in speechless terror to the various exits, and as they crowded from one part of the ground to the other so that they were found in great shivering, trembling masses, hoping that by chance they could win their way through to safety, the General, completely the technical master of the situation, himself personally directed that the fire should be concentrated where the numbers were thickest of those who were trying to escape. Will anybody defend that? Does the noble and learned Viscount, who tonight has made a most powerful speech, say that if he had been in charge of that party he would have fired for ten minutes, that he would have singled out, to be made the subject of destruction, the serried masses who obviously were trying to disperse, the only thing which the General says he wanted them to do and fired in order to make them do?
And, my Lords, this does not exhaust all that the General did, or at least it does not exhaust all that the General would have liked to do. He has told us his theory in language that is absolutely unmistakable arid it has relieved us from any necessity for speculating on the matter. He said, "If I had had more weapons there would have been more casualties." What does that mean? It means that the only limit to the casualties he would have thought it right to inflict were the number of weapons that he could provide, and he makes it quite plain that if he had been able to get his armoured motor-cars, which he took with him inside Jallianwallah Bagh, he would have used the machine-guns upon that crowd in precisely the same way that he used the rifles. We have been told that three or four hundred people were killed. Nobody knows how many were wounded, but the numbers of those who were wounded must have amounted to some 1,200 people—that is the estimate—or 1,000; it is not worth while to discuss that, but that the proportion would have naturally been 1,000 to 1,300, no one who is familiar with these matters will, I think, dispute. What does that mean? It means that a crowd, to disperse which General Dyer has himself told us was his only object, and which was willing to be dispersed in his view without bloodshed, lost in killed or wounded 1,300 people who could not escape.
274 On the face of it such a course of conduct, I think, cannot be defended. This has never, so far as my knowledge of the history of this Empire extends, been approached in all our long, anxious and entirely honourable dealings with native populations. And I ask the question quite plainly—and I am certain it will be answered with deep responsibility—Does anyone say that an officer, however gallant, ought to be employed when similar decisions and similar difficulties may confront him in other parts of the world? What one noble Lord said is profoundly true—that the world is full of unrest to-day, with violence everywhere, and the melancholy occasions on which it is necessary to use military force, either as a menace or in actual conflict with the civilian population, have grown and grown in the countries of the world. No one can tell at what moment an officer of the rank of General Dyer may be placed in a position which will exactly reproduce the necessities and difficulties of the situation now under discussion. I do not believe that there is one of your Lordships who, if he were at the War Office to-day, would run the risk of employing again a General who committed an error so great.
Let me indicate what is universally recognised, or has been universally recognised until this unfortunate incident, as the true principle laid down for centuries in our history. It is that the minimum force that is necessary to attain the immediate purpose must be employed. There is hardly a subject who is so inexperienced as not to be aware of this elementary rule. I think it was the noble Earl who told us that he had to consider—and General Dyer said this on his own behalf—the situation on the whole of the Punjab. The population of the Punjab is roughly some 25,000,000. I wonder whether any one has reflected on the extraordinary danger of the doctrine that an officer, who after all, is not of the highest rank—a colonel acting as Brigadier—General when sent to deal with a local disturbance, and a local disturbance only, is to take upon himself the responsibility of arriving at decisions and basing action not upon the immediate local necessity but upon the political conditions of the whole of a vast population like the Punjab.
If General Dyer can do this, why cannot Major MacDonald, who was in charge before General Dyer appeared on the 275 scene? Is he to be allowed to say, having killed and wounded one or two thousand people, that he had to think of the whole fortun s of the Punjab? Such decisions have never been committed to soldiers. A local crisis is committed to them, but it would be an ill day for this Empire if a General who is sent to deal with a local situation is to reach conclusions, and act upon them under circumstances as drastic as those which we are considering, not in reference to the local considerations, but in reference to wide political considerations in respect of which he may have very little qualification.
I think it is my duty to say a word or two on what has been known as the "Crawling Order," I cite this for the same purpose as led the noble Marquess to allude to this most painful incident which I would gladly have forgotten. Sir Michael O'Dwyer has been a loyal friend and admirer of General Dyer, and no one who knows the history of India during the last few years will underrate the immense public services which the courage and personality of Sir Michael 0'Dwyer have rendered. Sir Michael O'Dwyer has recorded his opinion of the "Crawling Order" and he says that it was wholly indefensible. What was this which Sir Michael O'Dwyer found indefensible? It was an order, coming after all these tragic events, that in the street in which an English lady, Miss Sherwood, had been vilely and violently handled by a savage and blackguardly crowd, every one who went down that street was to go on "all fours."
The effect of this, of course, upon those who lived in the street was obvious. But others, and innocent people, were subjected to this vile racial humiliation which, though it does not count by the side of blood, is sometimes far more tenacious in the memories and resentment of individuals and peoples than mere violence and blood. Think of a man who respected himself and his caste, and who had no connection of any kind with the outrage on Miss Sherwood! He is bidden by the authority of the great White Power, for whose standards of fairness and humanity he has always had such respect, to submit to this personal humiliation.
Then there was the case of the men who were flogged on the triangle which General Dyer set up at the corner of the street. They were under arrest on suspicion of being connected with the outrage on Miss 276 Sherwood, and, as a matter of fact, I think all of them were ultimately convicted of the outrage, and, therefore, no one will sympathise with them in any punishment which they received. But, before they were convicted at all, these men were publicly flogged upon the triangle and made to go on "all fours." I cannot help thinking that General Dyer has not strengthened his case very much in his latest communication when he says that he was treating this as a "holy place," and that that was the reason for the obeisance, or the personal genuflexions which he ordered. I cannot accept his explanation which appears for the first time after many months. It was not a "holy place." It was a place, not of sanctity but of crime. The physical abasement which General Dyer ordered was not ordered as a reverence, but as an indignity and humiliation; and in this indignity and humiliation innocent persons were involved.
I would have been glad to leave this incident with the condemnation given to it by the Governor, but I am bound to ask this question again—Would your Lordships take the responsibility of further employing in any part of the British Empire an officer who could commit so terrible an error as this? I ask this further, and connected, question—Is it not plain that there are hundreds of officers who were treated in the course of the war exactly as General Dyer has been treated, who have not made either of these errors, but to whom nevertheless the consequences are the same? They are not able to secure the publicity of debate and the degree of public interest which is given to this particular case. Still I proclaim my view that every one of these cases is as deserving (many are more deserving) as the case we are now considering.
§ THE EARL OF MIDLETON
Will the noble and learned Lord inform us whether in any one single case of these hundreds of cases the officer has been selected, after his defence was known, for employment on active service?
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I think I have made the matter clear, but perhaps the noble Earl did not hear me. I said that it was impossible to remove General Dyer from his military command until we had before us the result of the decisions and conclusions of some responsible body. The moment these conclusions were reached we took action.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I will give the noble Marquess a clear and complete answer. The noble Lord said he was promoted. It would, I think, be elementary, that if you are not going to punish a man because you have no information on which to base an impartial conclusion, he must be treated as if no such conclusion existed, and it is a new doctrine to me that if conclusions are reached by authority which could not have been reached before, you are to be held to your previous judgment.
I have almost finished the demand which I make upon your Lordships' time, and as the noble and learned Viscount has moved and as I understand is going to ask you to carry, a Motion out of which I venture to say, with most profound respect, nothing but harm can come in India, let me remind your Lordships against whom, and against what successive authorities, that Motion will be carried. It will be carried in the first place against the deliberate decision of the Commander-in-Chief in India, and let me make this abundantly plain. Many persons have suggested that the Commander-in-chief in India did not in this matter reach an independent and uninfluenced conclusion. Such a suggestion appears to me to be extremely disrespectful to that very distinguished General, and I therefore wish to put it on record, in the most positive and explicit manner which is possible, that not only was no attempt of any kind made to influence the Commander-in-Chief in the conclusion which, as a soldier, he reached, but we had not even the slightest idea in the Cabinet Committee that he had reached that conclusion, until, in the middle of our deliberations, the news reached us. It may interest your Lordships to hear that at that moment the subject of our discussion was whether the proper course to adopt was to place General Dyer upon half pay or retired pay, and, while we were in the very middle of that consideration and discussion, the cable came from the Viceroy, informing us that the Commander-in-Chief, entirely on his own authority, had taken this step, and reached this conclusion.
I am not going to say anything more about the Hunter committee. I will not, although I regret that I should have to take this course, even mention the Minority Report; but there is no one in this House, 278 who has taken the trouble to read the Majority Report, who will not he struck by the ability, sagacity, moderation and care for the true interests of this Empire, which are displayed by that Report. Your Lordships know the conclusions which were reached by the majority of the Hunter Commission. The noble Viscount who moved the Motion, whenever he found anything in that Report which adapted itself to his argument, quoted it with approval, but when there was anything which was inconsistent with his argument he repelled it. Who are the bodies against whom your Lordships are invited to arrange yourselves? The first is the Majority of the Hunter Commission, the second is the Commander-in-Chief. Then there is the Government of India, which has independently, and since it, like ourselves has had the advantage of full knowledge, concurred absolutely with the view reached by the Commander-in-Chief; and I ought not to omit to mention that one of the Majority of that Commission was one of the most distinguished Generals in the British Army, General Barrow.
The matter was first considered by the Hunter committee, then by the Commander-in-Chief, then by the India Government, and was then sent to the Cabinet Committee, I can only tell your Lordships that we honestly did our best to reach a true conclusion, and the fact, that we should agree with those who preceded us in this matter will not, I think, be regarded lightly. Then we went before the whole Cabinet, and the whole Cabinet, after no more perfunctory discussion, and after our Report and the reasons for it had been weighed and measured, and discussed line for line, and almost word for word, reached the same conclusion. Then the matter was referred to the Army Council. Can it be said that the Army Council, which consists, in its majority, of most distinguished soldiers, men who will realise as warmly as any of your Lordships can realise the terrible position in which General Dyer found himself—does anybody suppose that the Army Council, in considering the action of a brother soldier-in-arms, would be influenced by anything except that which their whole soldierly experience would tell them was right? Your Lordships may be sure that, in the decision which they reached and announced, every argument on behalf of General Dyer was fully and sympathetically considered.
279 Your Lordships are asked by the noble and learned Viscount— and I gather that some, and I fear many, noble Lords are inclined to take the same view— to overrule all these bodies. You are asked to say that the majority of the Hunter Commission, the Commander-in-Chief, the India Government, the Cabinet Committee, the Cabinet, the Army Council, and the House of Commons in the decision which it reached the other night, were all wrong. I cannot, and I do not, believe that you will undertake a responsibility so tremendous, and the consequences of which may be so irreparable. I was profoundly touched by what the noble Marquess said when he asked whether there was to be a different standard for our Indian fellow-subjects to that which you would apply in the case of any other insurgent race in the Empire. There is no one here, I venture to say, who will be bold enough to defend the adoption of a different standard.
Suppose this assembly had consisted of Irishmen, or suppose the Canadian Government were dealing with the revolutionary mob which overpowered Winnipeg and held it for days, or that the authorities were dealing with the mobs which in Glasgow defeated law and order—who is there here bold enough to defend him if General Dyer went to Glasgow, or Winnipeg, or Belfast, and shot down, as long as he had a shot left in the rifles of his soldiers, 300 or 400 persons? No one! And I claim that any one who stands here and defends the case of General Dyer should be prepared to defend similar conduct in Glasgow, or Belfast, or Winnipeg. The true view is the only one which is consistent with humanity and the history and greatness of this Empire, and it is that any titan who claims membership in, and is a citizen of, this Empire, whatever his colour and creed, whatever his geographical location, can look to justice within this Empire.
When once you recognise that obligation, which seems to me at once peremptory and sublime, we are thrown back upon the noble counsel of Burke—The sun in its beneficent progress round the world does not behold a more glorious sight than that of men, separated fern a remote people by the material bounds and barriers of nature, united by the bonds of a social and moral community.I beg of you to insist upon that community, and to repel the counsels of those who found themselves upon a military 280 theory which I, for one, believed to have perished with this war.
§ [The sitting was suspended at eight o'clock and resumed at a quarter past nine.]
My Lords, the question immediately before the House is whether or not General Dyer has been justly treated in the consideration that has been given to his case, and, not unnaturally perhaps, there has been grafted on to that a very full discussion as to the details of the action that he considered it necessary for him to take at Amritsar. We have had two speeches on behalf of the Government in defence and in support of the action taken by the Government of India and by the Cabinet, and we may say also of the action by the Commander-in-Chief in India and the Army Council in England—one from the noble Lord (who is not in his place) who represents the India Office here, and the other from the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack (who is also not in his place).
I must confess, although I regret to have to say so in the absence of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, that I infinitely prefer the tone adopted by the noble and learned Lord on the Front Bench, which seemed to be a very calm and judicial examination of the alleged unfairness of the Government of India, to the impassioned appeal, as it seemed to me, which the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack adopted in his address to the House. There has been passion enough brought into this question in India without its being introduced into our inquiries here, and I deprecate very much the introduction of a tone of that kind in considering a case so important, so grave, and so serious as is this. Such a case requires all the calmness and all the judgment that it is possible to bring to bear upon it, and one does not want to be led away by racial feeling.
The point to which I wish to address myself, however, is not a comparison of the arguments brought forward by the noble and learned Viscount who opened the debate with the defence of the representatives of the Government, but to ask your Lordships' consideration of the extremely unfair position in which the military man is placed in a crisis of this kind, as compared with the civilian. We know what is the immediate cause of these crises. The civilian authorities so mismanage affairs as to arouse indignation in the population, 281 and then at, some stage in the proceedings, when riot breaks out, the civilian withdraws and says in effect, "I wash my hands of all responsibility, and if any blood is shed it is upon your head." That is the position in which the military man is placed. It is not novel. We have known cases of a somewhat similar kind before, but never of so serious a character, or so extreme, as this. But the fact remains that the military man is placed in a position of extraordinary difficulty. It is no use for the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack to lay down the dictum that only so much blood as is necessary is to be shed and not one drop more; because, at the moment when the crisis exists and when the military man has to consider how he is going to defend those whom it is his duty to defend, he may very easily exceed, or pass over, that line of demarcation which the noble and learned Lord thinks it is possible to set down in moments of excitement.
I do not, say that so much with particular reference to the Amritsar outbreak as to the general character of the agitation that existed in India in the spring of last year. It is attributed to the indignation which was aroused by the passing of the Rowlatt Act. I think I can show your Lordships that there was a hiatus between the agitation and the riots in the Punjab that can be directly attributed to the Satyagraha movement and what subsequently happened. That movement was stirred up at the instance of Mr. Gandhi. There was an outbreak at Delhi on March 30. That was unquestionably in consequence of Ghandi's advice for a peaceful strike, the closing of shops, a peaceful insurrection against law, against the decision of the Government, as to what was legislatively and legally, necessary to preserve peace in certain circumstances. There was some firing and eight deaths occurred. On March 31 there was a funeral service, and indignation was felt. The shops began to be opened, and they continued opening for some days. In fact, by April 9—that is a very significant date—the shops in Delhi were generally opened. I have said that April 9 is a very significant date. Upon that day Mr. Gandhi was stopped from entering into the Punjab; so that it is possible to prove from the Report and the evidence that with this one exception at Delhi, there was no outbreak at all until after Gandhi had been stopped from entering into the Punjab.
282 To pursue this line of argument, let me take you to another part of India—Ahmedabad—a very important industrial centre and the home of Mr. Gandhi. He is so revered there that I think I may safely say that he is regarded as a holy man. The outbreak was of a most serious character. Several deaths occurred; and one unfortunate native magistrate was pursued, captured, violently assaulted, and burnt to death. There was an endeavour to wreck a train bringing troops from the South, and so nearly successful was it that if the engine had not happened to run off the bank—they had selected a spot where the train was on an embankment—there must have been a most serious number of deaths among the soldiers. It is noticeable, as regards the outbreak at, Ahmedabad, that the civilians and the soldiers kept touch throughout it. That is a marked distinction from what happened in the Punjab, where the civilians, so far as I can make out from the evidence, withdrew and threw the whole responsibility on the military man.
What happened there? On the 11th, I think, Mr. Gandhi turned up. The outbreak in Ahmebadad commenced in consequence of a rumour— a false report— that Mr. Gandhi had been arrested. It was not a correct description of what had happened to him. He had been refused entrance into the Punjab and ordered to confine himself to the Presidency of Bombay. But the rumour got about (how, it is not known) that he had been arrested. In consequence of that outbreaks occurred at Ahmedabad, with serious rioting and serious loss of property, and deaths. Two days afterwards Mr. Gandhi turned up, and, after interviewing the Commissioner, he went into the native city and addressed an enormous crowd of Indians, whom he blamed for their violence, with the result that all further violence ceased.
Let me turn to another part—Bombay. There was every sign of a riot there, there was serious interruption to traffic, and stone-throwing had commenced. I should like to ask my noble friend below Me (Lord Sinha) why there was this difference between the action of the civil and military authorities in Bombay and the civil and military authorities in the Punjab. As I understand it—and I have had direct information on the subject—the civilian authorities were always kept in touch with the military authorities throughout the Bombay Presidency. In fact, it went so far 283 that I am given to understand that, wherever there were troops engaged against rioters, there was always a civil magistrate, and the troops did not fire until they had a written order from the magistrate. Nothing of that kind, so far as I can make out, happened in the Punjab, and it bears out my argument that the direct responsibility for this outbreak rested with the civilian authorities. The mismanagement was on their part, but the person who suffers is the military man.
Let me go to Amritsar. On the 9th, Mr. Gandhi was stopped from entering into the Punjab. There had been an outbreak at Delhi, but the shops had opened there, and there had been no farther outrages or violence between March 30 and April 9. There was a Hindu festival on the 9th, and the crowds in the procession were so orderly and so respectful, that they stopped opposite the building in which the chief official was. I think it was the Deputy Commissioner, Who had been held up in the crowd and had gone up into this building. What happened? The cars in that procession stopped opposite the building and played "God Save the King." That was on the morning of the 9th. It was in the evening of the 9th that Gandhi was stopped. Notwithstanding that there had been these indications in the town of loyalty to the British Raj, Gandhi was stopped, and on the same day two agitators, named Messrs. Kitchlew and Satyapal, were ordered to be deported. They were deported next day. On the 10th, they were removed from Amritsar to some town in the neighbourhood. Immediately this became known, the excitement broke out, and was followed by the riotous proceedings, murders and outrages that ensued.
I submit it is open to argument, that the cause of all these riots was the interference with these agitators, Gandhi and the other two. The outbreak in Ahmedabad is attributed unquestionably to the alleged arrest of Gandhi, and the Government of India deal with the point specifically in their examination. They acknowledge that it is alleged that it was their action which directly produced these outbreaks, and their claim is that the Satyagraha movement is proved by the fact of the outbreak at Delhi. That may be true; but I have shown your Lordships that, between the outbreak at Delhi and the outbreak at Amritsar, there was an interval of at least nine days when everything was peaceful, 284 and the outbreaks only commenced in consequence of the action of the Government of India in interfering with Gandhi and these other agitators.
Now let us look at the difference in the treatment of Gandhi and General Dyer. Gandhi, if any one, is the responsible author of all these riots, all this agitation, all the violence, and all tine murders—not directly, I admit, but indirectly, unquestionably. His advice to resist Government action was the root and cause of the lamentable outrages and murders that followed. I must say a word here from my own experience. I think one of the most lamentable things about India is the dependence that is placed upon the theoretical view of half-educated people; people who may be very highly educated in literary matters, but who have absolutely no experience whatever of practical politics and the management of great, masses of people. I dare say Mr. Gandhi is a benevolent person, or thinks he is, but he has no knowledge of what may result from such peaceful refusal to obey the law as he advocates.
I see the Secretary of State indignantly repudiates the idea that India is held by the sword. My Lords, every country in the Empire is held by the sword. I happen very much to prefer the expression "the iron hand in the velvet glove," but I do not care what place it is, whether it is Londonderry, or Dublin, or London, or India, we have eventually to come hack to force to secure obedience to the law. I cannot too seriously, though quite respectfully, deprecate the amount of temper that was introduced into this question by the Secretary of State the other night. Look at the difference of treatment, as regards judicial comment, as between Gandhi and General Dyer. The Secretary of State devotes two pages to his invective against General Dyer, but there is not one word in the Secretary of State's Despatch about Gandhi; not one word in the speech of the noble and learned Lord below me about Gandhi; not one word from the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack about Gandhi.
§ A NOBLE LORD: Oh, yes.
Then I apologise if I did not hear it. I did not gather that the noble Lord devoted very much time to it. I did not hear it myself, and I apologise 285 if he did. But, at any rate, I am correct that the invective ham all along been against General Dyer, and not one word against this man who is the cause and origin of all the lamentable disasters—I can use no other word—of this outbreak in India. Is it not enough to make any one who has sympathy with military men placed in such critical positions as General Dyer was, and who has got, as the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack says, to exercise such just discretion, such calm temper in a moment of crisis that he is not to shed one drop more blood than the civilian authorities subsequently say he ought to have shed—is it not enough to make one indignant when a gallant soldier receives suck lack of consideration as this displays, as I think, whereas the man who is really responsible for the whole outbreak hardly gets a word of condemnation, even from thin Government of India?
I do deplore the fact that so much racial difference—I will not use the word "antipathy," because I do not think it exists in India—has been introduced into this question. So much has been made, by people who are defending General Dyer, of the European garrison. We may justly sympathise with the women and children and civilians who were in the gravest anxiety for many hours as to whether or not the meagre forces they had could successfully defend them from the vast crowds of men armed with lathis. Whether it is a lethal weapon or not, it is lethal enough when it comes to close quarters. One may have every sympathy with them in their anxiety, but there are millions of people in India, not Europeans, who object in the strongest way to these outbreaks and agitation and interference with their peaceful life. And I submit that one. has to think of their peaceable existence as well as that of our fellow-countrymen, when agitation is allowed to break out in the way it did in the Punjab and in other parts of India.
Now I have to consider what vote I am going to give upon the Motion of the noble and learned Viscount, and I should like to ask the noble and learned Lord below me (Lord Sinha) whether I understood him aright that the Government of India had before them—I assume before they sent their Despatch to the Secretary of State—a written statement of General Dyer, in defence, I suppose, of his own action. I understood from him that the Government 286 of India had General Dyer's statement before them. I assume that that is not the statement that has been circulated to Parliament, because that was prepared for the Inquiry by the Army Council in England. I gathered from what he said that some other statement prepared by General Dyer in India (at what date he did not say) was before the Government of India, and that they based the decision to which they came, not upon the evidence of General Dyer before the Hunter Committee, but upon his own statement.
§ LORD SINHA
I said that the statement was before the Hunter Committee, and the Report of the Committee makes it an exhibit to their Report. Both the Report and the statement were before the Government of India.
I think there was something more. I understood front the noble Lord that the decision of the Government of India was based upon General Dyer's statement and not upon the cross-examination to which he was subjected in the Hunter Committee.
§ LORD SINHA
That is perfectly correct. The statement relied upon by the Hunter Committee is the statement in writing of General Dyer submitted on August 25, and that is the statement relied upon by the Government of India, too.
I did not understand that it had been before the Hunter Committee. I understood it had been before the Government of India.
I have not seen it. After all, I confess it makes all the difference to my mind in coming to a decision as to the vote I shall give upon the Motion. Two questions have really been discussed tonight. One is whether or not General Dyer has received just treatment in the Inquiry that has been held upon his action—
§ LORD SINHA
May I interrupt the noble Lord? The statement is in Vol. III, page 201, of the Hunter Committee's report of evidence and it is dated Dalhousie, August 25,1919.
As I have said, it makes all the difference as to the vote I shall give to-night. The two questions which have been discussed are, whether General Dyer has received fair treatment in the Inquiry that has been held into his action, and the other as to the action itself. I confess I am not prepared to take the view that General Dyer's action in continuing to fire was, in the circumstances, justified. As regards the other question, as to giving notice, I do not attach as much importance to it as, I think, the Lord Chancellor did, and as other people have done in speeches in another place; and for this reason. Your Lordships are very good judges of how far the human voice carries in the open air, and to suppose that an infinitesimal portion of the mass of people would have heard his warning that he was going to fire makes very little difference. It would be a mere subterfuge, and he is too gallant a soldier and honourable man to suggest, I am sure, that if he had said, "If you don't retire I am going to fire," that would have had any material effect at the moment.
The other question is whether he could have kept greater control over the firing than he did, and I am unable to come to any other conclusion than that he did not keep sufficient control. That is the question which has been mainly debated by the Lord Chancellor. The other question, dealt with so moderately and temperately, as to whether General Dyer was justly treated, seems to me to be greatly affected by this statement, which one ought, no doubt, to have seen, but there is such a mass of papers that it is impossible to find time to read everything. The question is greatly affected by that statement, because the result is that General Dyer had an opportunity not only of being examined—and, as regards that, I wish that General Dyer had known that he was being accused, and had had an opportunity of being defended by counsel—but he had an opportunity also of making a written statement in India and here—a most able statement in this country. What is the result? Not only have the civilian authorities found that his action exceeded what can be held to have been necessary, but the military authorities have come to the same conclusion, and, in those circumstances, I cannot bring myself to vote for a statement that General Dyer has not received just treatment.
§ LORD AMPTHILL
My Lords, my noble friend has, as it seems to me, very rightly suggested that your Lordships should bear continually in mind the actual terms of the Motion. The noble and learned Viscount, who moved the Motion, has not asked your Lordships to pronounce an opinion as to whether General Dyer was right or wrong, but as to whether he was treated with fairness and in accordance with the ordinary rules of justice. The noble Viscount has further invited the opinion of this House as to whether the course of action adopted by His Majesty's Government did, or did not, constitute a dangerous precedent; in other words, whether it was in the best interests of India, for no country has a higher interest than that of the preservation of law arid order and the prevention of rebellion. Therefore there are two questions to decide.
But there is also a third question which is uppermost in every mind and which, although not the one that we are discussing, has been made the subject of an impassioned harangue from the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack—a question which does not actually arise on this Motion—and that is whether General Dyer was right or wrong in what he did. It is a question in regard to which opinions which have already been formed by the public at large will not he modified by any arguments, even though they may be set forth by the most eloquent members of your Lordships' House. Opinions on that point depend, it seems to me, mainly on temperament, and may differ, as we have already seen, among those who are in absolute agreement as to the facts.
Let me say at once that I believe General Dyer was absolutely right in what he did, and I am among those who regard him with gratitude and admiration. No doubt there are some members of your Lordships' House to whom bloodshed and even the use of military force are so abhorrent that they cannot bring themselves to justify them in any circumstances. For such a view, sincerely held and based on religious belief and humanitarian principle, I have respect, although I cannot share it, but I hope that the respect for sincere convictions is mutual between those who cannot see the necessity for physical force in any human relations and those who believe that the dominance of physical force is part of the law of human nature, which no human endeavour can alter; and that, therefore force will 289 prevail unless it is opposed by greater force. Therefore I suggest to those who believe that human masses, bent on violence, who have already tasted blood, can be deterred by warning, remonstrance or argument that their moral principles are in no way involved in the question of whether or not General Dyer was unjustly treated. That question must be decided by the head, and not by the heart.
It is a question which must be decided in the cold light of reason by comparing facts concerning which there is no shadow of doubt. No Englishman will dare to deny that any man, who is accused or suspected of an offence, is entitled to a fair trial before he is condemned and punished. Even a criminal, whose guilt is beyond question, would be held to be unjustly treated if he were condemned and punished without a trial, and, what is more, a trial held strictly in accordance with the laws of the land. That is a fundamental principle of the laws of England, and the supreme safeguard of the liberties of Englishmen. Englishmen, therefore, will not tolerate any violation of that principle, and no sophistries or rhetoric of politicians and lawyers will ever shake their instinctive commonsense judgment on that primary question of the administration of justice.
Is there any one who will dare to say that General Dyer has had a fair trial—a trial in accordance with the law of the land or, indeed, any trial at all? General Dyer has not had a trial, and he could not have been tried, because no charge was brought against him. Yet he has been condemned and punished with cruel severity. The assertion, therefore, that is contained in the Motion before your Lordships' House, that his treatment has not been just, is a matter of fact and not a matter of opinion. I do not see bow any reasonable man can dissent from that assertion. Englishmen will never assent to such despotic action on the part of those to whom they entrust the Government, even if the alleged offence be far greater than an error of judgment. For every man who may agree with the saying of the late Prime Minister, Mr. Asquith, that the treatment of the rebellious crowd at Amritsar was the grossest outrage in our history, there are at least a hundred who consider that the real outrage has been the treatment of General Dyer by the Imperial Government and the Government of India. The proofs of the public opinion of this country have been more abundant and 290 striking than any manifestations of public opinion since the cessation of the war.
If General Dyer committed an offence for which he was punishable, he should have been charged with it at once, at the very moment that it had been committed. The validity of the charge should have been tested without delay by a Court of Inquiry held on the spot, and if it had been held that the charge made against him was a true charge, then General Dyer should have been tried by Court-Martial. General Dyer was acting as a soldier in circumstances in which military law alone could operate, and he was, therefore, entitled to be tried in accordance with the provisions of Military Law, which is part of the law of the land. If, in such circumstances, the Court had pronounced, and the responsible military authorities had confirmed, a verdict unsatisfactory to the Government of India—by that I mean had acquitted him when the Government of India, in their judgment, considered that he should have been condemned—then the Government of India should have censured or dismissed those responsible military authorities. That was the only course open to them, and the proper course; for no Man can be tried again for an offence of which he has been acquitted.
Further, if the Imperial Government on their part had held that the Government of India had failed in their duty to punish those responsible for a miscarriage of justice—if they had held that there had been a miscarriage of justice—they should have visited their displeasure on the man who bears the chief responsibility for the Government of India. They could have recalled the Governor-General. That was the course open to His Majesty's Government if they thought that justice had not been done in this matter. None of these things was done. The actual facts are there, and they arc not even disputed. What are the facts? The facts are that no charge of any sort or kind was brought against General Dyer; that he did not undergo any trial at all. It was as a witness that he appeared before the Hunter Committee, and that body I say—in spite of what has been said this evening, and I know that most people will agree with me—treated him in a manner which would have been unfair to any witness. But, long before this, his action at Amritsar had been definitely approved, and he had been employed, as has been said more than 291 once to-night, in another and higher command in which his conspicuous and valuable services met with further approbation.
As regards Amritsar, the general opinion among the people in the Punjab, and, indeed, throughout India, immediately after the event, was that General Dyer, by his act of supreme moral courage, had saved India from immeasurable catastrophe. That opinion was held not only by Europeans but by Indians of the several races, creeds, and classes in the Punjab. All persons not associated with the revolutionaries felt profound gratitude towards General Dyer for having saved them from the horrors of bloody anarchy; because not only would the Europeans have suffered from the anarchy which would have resulted, but the Indians themselves. There can be little doubt that among those who were at that time grateful to General Dyer were the very persons in high positions who are now wallowing in the hypocrisy of condemning him—those persons who had the most reason to be grateful to him for having saved them from a situation which would have meant incalculable anxiety and trouble to them.
I am certain that they would have remained grateful unless meanwhile something had happened. What was it that happened in the months which intervened between the suppression of the rebellion in the Punjab—a rebellion which was closely connected with the scheme of Afghan invasion—and the appointment of the Hunter Committee? There can be no doubt about it all. The persons who had organised the rebellion and been baffled in their treasonable plot, got to work again. They brought pressure to bear upon someone—perhaps upon the Secretary for State—and they either intimidated him or obtained his sympathy. It was then that the Hunter Committee was appointed nominally to investigate the nature of the causes of the disorders in Bombay, Delhi, and the Punjab, but really to find some means of shielding the Government of India and the Secretary of State from the public blame which was being engineered against them—blame of which they were in unreasoning dread.
I shall endeavour to prove that the appointment of the Hunter Committee was a mistake; that its composition was faulty; that its investigations were incom- 292 plete; that its proceedings were questionable; and that its findings were inconsistent. But before doing this I would emphasise the conclusion which seems to me to result inevitably from the facts I have recited—namely, that. General Dyer, whether his action was right or wrong, was unjustly treated; and I do not see how any one who has any regard for facts or any respect for laws can dissent from that assertion in the Motion before us.
The second phrase of the Motion raised by the noble and learned Viscount is to see whether there has been a failure of statesmanship in the management of the whole affair. The opinion of most people who are not interested in supporting the Government through thick and thin is that the Hunter Committee ought never to have been appointed at all. Indeed, it is difficult to see why the ordinary machinery of administration was not sufficient. If the reports received from the civil and military authorities were held to be insufficient at the time, further explanations should have been called for, and an Inquiry should have been held on the spot at once. It is, however, difficult to believe that the Government of India were incompetent to do that which, if they had thought it necessary, they could have done; but they did not think it necessary to do it at that time And the only inference to he drawn from the appointment of the Hunter Committee, in supersession of the responsible officials, is either that the Government of India distrusted their own subordinates, or that the Imperial Government distrusted the Government of India. In either case, there is a serious derogation of the prestige and authority of the Government of India and the Provincial Government.
As a matter of fact, the Hunter Committee elicited no essential information which was not already on record and immediately available. The Government of India had, or could have had within a few days, all the information required for immediate action if they had thought that any action at all was required. The disconnected narrative of events in certain places, furnished by the Hunter Committee months afterwards, served no useful purpose whatever. On the contrary, it has prolonged and exacerbated things which ought to have been settled, and could have been settled, immediately, and once for all. The composition of that Committee, so far from commanding, to quote the words of 293 the Government of India, "the confidence of the public, both at home and in India," from the very outset gave rise to serious criticism and grave misgiving. That Committee should certainly not have included a man who had distinguished himself by a violent public attack on the Government of the Punjab. The misgivings which existed at the outset were justified during the proceedings of the Committee when some of its members took the part of prosecutors of General Dyer, and the Chairman permitted a form of examination from which witnesses are usually protected in a Court of Justice.
But the most deplorable results of this delegation of the ordinary duties of the Indian Government was that the Hunter Committee failed to accomplish the ostensible object of their mission—namely, to ascertain the causes of the widespread disturbances. They were unable to discover, what was apparent to everybody else, European and Indian alike, that there was a widespread and carefully-organised conspiracy to overthrow the British Government in India by force—a conspiracy which was connected with the scheme for an Afghan invasion and which was within the cognisance of the enemies of England in other parts of the world. I beg your Lordships to take careful note of the fact that the Committee were very careful to refrain from saying that there was no evidence of such a conspiracy. What they said was that in the evidence before them there was nothing to show that the outbreak in the Punjab was part of a pre-arranged conspiracy. The evidence, however, was available, and available in abundance.
Why was it not before the Hunter Committee? There were hundreds of witnesses, not only ready, but willing and eager to come forward. There was all the evidence which had already been collected by numerous Courts presided over by eminent Judges. Why were the Committee not allowed to take all that established evidence into account? Why was their inquiry limited to Bombay, Delhi and the Punjab? Why was the Committee prohibited or precluded—I do not know which it was—from investigating the one matter which, above all others, required elucidation—namely, what were the causes of these disturbances. These are questions which have occurred, and are still occurring, to every ordinary person who has given this 294 matter any thought, and they are questions to which no answer has yet been forthcoming. It is this mystery which has done most to discredit the motives of the Government in appointing the Hunter Committee.
It is sufficient to cite certain undisputed facts in order to prove that the evidence as to a conspiracy was there in abundance, and was not far to seek. In the first place, there were printed incitements to murder Europeans posted up in Amritsar and Lahore in March and early April, 1919. Secondly, telegrams were sent from Delhi over railways all over India on April 11, two days before, that on the receipt of the pass-word "Rowlatt" on April 14 there was to be a general strike, and the troops in the Punjab would rise. Accordingly, on April 14 there were eight separate railway strikes at important centres, and a general strike which would have prevented all the movement of troops required to repel the Afghan invasion was only averted by the declaration of Martial Law on the night of April 13–14. Again, there were persistent attempts, which were duly reported by the Punjab Government, to seduce Indian troops and police, and even on April 10 the authorities had disquieting reports about certain troops at Amritsar.
Then there was the declared policy of the Amritsar extremist organ, the Akhuwat, in March, which was so to confuse the authorities as to render their work in the country almost impossible. It is very noteworthy that those words are the very same as were used by a San Francisco newspaper at the beginning of the war, in August, 1914. That is what I mean when I say that this conspiracy was in the cognisance of the enemies of England far beyond the confines of India. Further, there was a most striking similarity in the propaganda of misrepresentation of the Rowlatt Act from Peshawar to Cape Comorin, not merely in the Punjab, but from end to end of India, throughout the whole of the first four months of 1919. Yet again, there were these similar, and almost simultaneous, outbreaks in Delhi on March 30, and in many places in the Central Punjab, in Bombay, and in Calcutta on April 10, spreading in May to Peshawar, where th revolutionary movement joined hands with the Afghan tribal attacks, and many other outbreaks in the Punjab were only arrested by the prompt action which was taken.
295 Is not this enough evidence for any ordinary person of a widespread and carefully organised conspiracy? Every one of these outbreaks had been preceded by carefully organised hartal, enforced by coercion and intimidation. There was also the presence of down-country propagandists of sedition at many centres of disturbance in the Punjab, in March and April, and several of these were actually convicted. Further, we have the public admission by Mrs. Besant arid Mr. Gandhi, just after the outbreaks, that they were the results of a concerted conspiracy, directed, as Gandhi himself said, by clever men in the background. On the other side there is the testimony of the whole of the Mahomedan community in the Punjab, in the address which they presented to the Lieutenant-Governor on his retirement from office on May 14, in which they said that the disturbances were the result of an organised conspiracy. And, finally—and this is the most important of all—we have the conviction by four separate Courts-Martial, each of them composed of three Judges, of whom two were British and one Indian, of hundreds of persons for conspiracy to wage war in many different places in the Punjab. In the only one of all these cases which has so far come before the Privy Council on Appeal, the conviction has been upheld, and I understand it is unlikely that that decision will be varied in other cases.
I submit that it is utterly incomprehensible why this Committee, appointed to investigate the causes of the disorders in the Punjab, were not allowed to touch this overwhelming mass of evidence, which was within the knowledge of all respectable people in the country. Equally strange is it that they did not call the hundreds of witnesses from rural districts who wanted to impress upon the Committee that a recurrence of such disorders would be disastrous to them and to their country, and to express their recognition of the necessity for the drastic action taken by General Dyer. There were certain elected representatives of persons who had actually seen the whole affair and knew of the conspiracy. They were kept waiting to appear as witnesses, but they were eventually not called, And, in addition, there were loyalists of the tribal country far beyond the Punjab, whose names I could give your Lordships, who volunteered to prove that emissaries were sent to them from India urging them to stir up trouble and invade India in conjunction with the 296 Afghans. These also, though they offered their evidence, were not examined.
It is for this incomprehensible omission from the proceedings in the Report that the Report of the Hunter Committee does not command very great respect among those who are acquainted with the facts. But I say that nobody can form a just opinion on this matter unless he realises that General Dyer was dealing, not with civil disorder, not with a mere riotous assembly, but with open rebellion, rebellion concerted with foreign enemies. He was dealing, indeed, with a state of war, and it is the fact that there was rebellion, that there was a state of war, that the Hunter Committee has incomprehensibly failed to reveal. General Dyer was broken for an alleged error of judgment and in what was that error of judgment supposed to consist? I will leave out of account the many unfounded allegations and misrepresentations that have been made—namely, that there were women and children in the crowd; that the crowd was unarmed, and so on. But there is one point which I should like to mention, and that was the statement made by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack.
With all his great power of invective and rhetoric he tried to make your Lordships believe that General Dyer was acting improperly in himself directing the fire. The intonation of his voice and the manner of his speech clearly conveyed the impression that it was from General Dyer's own thirst for blood that he directed the fire, and that he directed the fire at that part where the crowd was thickest in order that he might inflict the greatest amount of punishment. That is most unfair and most untrue. General Dyer directed the fire, as indeed it was his duty to do. He went personally, a courageous thing to do, in command of this very tiny force. His object was to disperse the crowd. They began to move round to his flank with the object, as he thought, of enveloping him. He ceased fire in front and he directed the fire on the crowd who were trying to outflank him. The same thing was repeated on the other flank, and he similarly stopped the fire again and directed it there. Any suggestion that he selected the thickest parts of the crowd in order to inflict the greatest punishment is a monstrous travesty of truth and justice. Then we have had a lot of sarcasm about the lathis. I would only like to mention this. Those of us who had to spend some of our time 297 in the trenches in France very often preferred a stout club, shod with iron, to such lethal weapons as rifles and revolvers, and you may gather from that fact that a club shod with iron is by no means a contemptible weapon.
The point is this. The whole error of judgment is supposed to consist in the facts first, that General Dyer opened fire without warning and secondly, that he continued that fire too long. That is the whole basis of his condemnation. Well, the first is not true and the second has not been proved, and is incapable of being proved in any way. It has been said, again by the Lord Chancellor, that many people had not heard the Proclamation. Anybody who has even paid a visit to India knows that news of any kind goes like wildfire round an Indian city, and the fact that the Proclamation was not read in absolutely every street is a ludicrous argument to bring up in support of the contention that many people were in ignorance of it. Any one who knows anything about India is aware that every single man of that crowd knew of the Proclamation and, in fact, was there in order to defy it. Every one had had warning, and further warning was not only superfluous, but would, unquestionably, have defeated the object which it was General Dyer's duty to pursue.
As to firing too long, I cannot understand any one who knows anything about rifle fire at all, and the exceedingly short time it takes to let off a number of rounds taking that view. Had a single machine gun been used the 1,600 rounds would have been fired in even less time. But does any one doubt that if General Dyer had done less, that this vast defiant mob of rebels would have dispersed to perhaps ten different places in order to resume the work of murder, pillage and arson, which they had commenced on the previous days. His object, and his right object, was to deter them from their murderous work. If he had failed, and if the mob had gone on to riot elsewhere, how many deaths of people of all classes (and in how many parts of India) would have occurred before order was restored. There is only one opinion in India among those who are not connected with the conspiracy; and it is that General Dyer did what was necessary and right. General Dyer saved India from bloody anarchy, and made India safe from further rebellion for years to come. But the Government of India have undone that which General Dyer did by his splendid public service.
298 India is no longer safe from further outbreaks, and when they occur it is ten times less likely that they will be suppressed. Lord Finlay is justified in saying in his Motion that a dangerous precedent has been established. It is this failure of statesmanship which your Lordships are asked to condemn. The Government have destroyed that confidence of just treatment which has hitherto been felt by every servant of the Crown in India. They have destroyed the confidence of the people of India in the courage and firmness of those who are responsible for preserving law and order. Your Lordships have now an opportunity to reflect, as it is your duty to reflect, the true opinion of the vast majority of the people in this country who believe that the very foundation of liberty is that no man should be condemned without trial, and you will be doing a disservice to this country, as well as to India, if you do not say emphatically, by voting for the Motion, that the treatment of General Dyer was unjust and a dangerous precedent for the future treatment of all cases of rebellion wherever they may occur.
§ LORD CARMICHAEL
My Lords, I am sorry to say that I entirely differ from the noble Lord who has just spoken. If I vote at all in the Division—perhaps I shall not be able to vote—I shall certainly vote against the Motion; and I do not think I am a disloyal subject of His Majesty. Still less do I think that I shall be doing anything which is likely to produce an evil effect in India. I may say that I sympathise with a very great deal, if not most, of the criticism, that I have heard to-day of the treatment of General Dyer. I am very sorry for him, although I do not know him, even by sight.
I was much struck by the speech made by the noble Lord sitting beside me, and I agree with him. Like him I have been a Governor in India, and therefore I do know something of the difficulties of government in that country. He propounded a question which I believe contains a great deal of force—namely, Why was it easier to deal, or apparently not quite so difficult to deal, with a dangerous situation in some other places than it was in the Punjab. That struck me very much indeed, and I honestly believe it is because the Punjab has a Lieutenant-Governor. I do not mean anything disrespectful of a Lieutenant-Governor. I do not see, and I cannot think, that it is fair that the civilian autho- 299 rity should be able to put on to the military what they ought to do themselves. There is nothing which I feel more strongly than that.
I was Governor in Bengal, and, as your Lordships know, at that time Bengal was supposed to be a somewhat dangerous place. I was a Governor with no great experience, and I believe I was looked upon as not as strong as I might be. Perhaps I was not, but I can assure your Lordships that it has been urged on me over and over again that I ought to show greater strength, and it was urged on me frequently that the moment might come when I might have to call in the assistance of the military. I suppose that possibly things were exaggerated. I thought they were, and I am glad to think that I was right, but it weighed very heavily on my mind, and one thing that I was determined upon was that if ever I had to ask for the assistance of the military, if any fault was found, that fault should be found with me and not with the military officers.
I am one of those who think, on the evidence before me, that General Dyer did show grave, I think a very grave, error of judgment. I do not, however, believe that it was the only error of judgment which was shown, and I do not believe it was the worst error of judgment shown, in India during that time. I believe it is because that is at the back of the minds of ordinary Englishmen that there is this feeling about General Dyer. We have been told that there are many officers who have been broken in the war, without having any right of establishing their cases, and I can tell you that I know civilian officers who have suffered for that for which they certainly ought not to have been blamed, and sometimes for that which every body knows they ought not to have been blamed. But we could not get up for them this sort of agitation which has been got up on behalf of General Dyer, and I believe the difference between those cases and this is that most Englishmen (and I was going to say more than most Indians) think that if Dyer was to blame somebody else was even more to blame.
But I am not going into that question though I must put it on record, because I believe that is the most important fact at the present moment. I am not going into details with regard to Dyer's action. I am not a soldier and I do not know what soldiers ought to do. I know nothing 300 about rifle firing. Lord Ampthill could knock me to pieces on a question of that sort. I am of the opinion, judging only from what I can hear, that Dyer need not be blamed for having shot too quickly. And it may be necessary to shoot people sitting; I do not know. But I am inclined to think, if I am to be shot, that I would just as soon be shot sitting as standing. I am not even going to do what Lord Harris did and say General Dyer should have stopped shooting sooner. I think it is difficult to control shooting. I know how difficult it is to control another sort of shooting and, from what I know of some people, I do not think it would be very easy to control shooting. I am not going to dwell on that. It is a matter upon which the Commander-in-Chief in India and the Army Council are far better able to judge than I am. Reluctantly, I confess that I should accept their view, whatever it might be.
What I feel about General Dyer is that I cannot believe that the "Crawling Order," and one or two other things of that sort, show that he is a man whose judgment is as correct as I think a man's judgment ought to be. I am told—I suppose it is true; I have read it—that Sir Michael O'Dwyer thought there was nothing to be said for the "Crawling Order." I am not in the least surprised that he said so. I certainly feel that and it is why I shall vote, if I do vote at all in this Division, against the Motion of Lord Finlay. I do deplore extremely this order and one or two other things that happened. The least said about them now, I think, the better. I wish there had not had to be this debate. All men must think so; at any rate all who have the welfare of India at heart—and I hope I have. But I am glad that there has not been any very strong feeling shown here, such as has been shown in other places, and it ought not to go out to India that any one in this House thought that the "Crawling Order" was a good thing. After all, Indians do respect the House of Lords. Perhaps that is conceit on my part, but they certainly tell me so.
I do not believe that Indians desire to have any revenge on General Dyer. I have talked of the matter with many Indians, and have had letters from Indians, and I think that I may claim to have more acquaintance with Indians than most members of this House who hold advanced ideas on 301 Indian Government—ideas, with some of which I sympathise and with some of which I do not sympathise—and I do not find that they are actuated by any desire for revenge on General Dyer. Those who feel most strongly and most indignantly are the very men who say it is not Dyer that they blame; he was the tool. I am not going to pursue that matter.
But, before I go on to the one thing I want to say, I should like to point out to Lord Harris, on behalf of my noble friend. below me, Lord Sinha, that I do not think that Lord Harris did him quite the justice he might have done. I knew Lord Sinha long before either he or I ever thought we were likely to be in this House, or to take any part in advising English people as to the government of India. I know his views. I know that he is in a very difficult position. He has to think of his own people. After all, we always have to think of them; but very few of us realise what is the position of an Indian in politics. I will not go further into that just now. I was struck by what Lord Sinha said about Mr. Gandhi. Honestly I was rather surprised that Lord Harris said as much as he did say. I know that Lord Harris was mistaken, and I think he will be the first to admit it.
§ LORD CARMICHAEL
Yes. And I want Lord Harris to note, because I think it is noteworthy, that lord Sinha did not stick up for Mr. Gandhi. Lord Sinha said that Mr. Gandhi had started the Satyagraha movement. He said that the Government of India were right to attach importance to, and to blame, that movement. He said it strongly. He went further, and said that Mr. Gandhi had started another movement and that he wished most distinctly to point out to his fellow-countrymen—I am not quoting his words but that was the idea that came into my head, and I am sure that is what Lord Sinha meant—that it would be a fatal thing to do; that it would be as unfortunate as the Satyagraha movement; and he absolutely dissociated himself from Mr. Gandhi.
I know Mr. Gandhi a little personally. I know the attitude of many of his fellow-countrymen towards him. I am one of those people who try to make allowance for things; but it is very difficult for me to 302 understand the attitude towards Mr. Gandhi and many other people who are looked upon as holy men in India. Perhaps I myself am not near enough to holiness. I think it is most unfortunate; and we ought to welcome a declaration of that kind on the part of Lord Sinha. There are other Indians who take the same line, men looked upon as moderates, who are in a very difficult position. I think it is for us to show that we appreciate the stand they are trying to make, encourage them, and recognise that some of them are on the side of common sense.
I was struck by what Lord Harris said. He asked what was the reason for what happened in the Punjab. That is what we want to learn. I do not know what it is. When I was in India I used to be told frequently that the Punjab was a model for India; and that Bengal was the centre of all evil; that if the, Punjabis did anything wrong it was probably inspired from Bengal. It may have been. I have been in the Punjab, but only as a visitor. I never pretended to understand it. It was not my business to do so. I had to do work sometimes for the Punjab Government. It puzzled me rather having to keep people in prison. I did not know why they should have been kept there. If they had been Bengalis I should have thoughts differently. But they were Punjabis, and the Punjabis had their views. However, it was not for me to criticise them. I did not do so, and I do not do so now.
But it was a surprise to me to find that the Punjab—the part where I believed loyalty was showing itself to a greater extent obviously than in any other part of India; where a very large proportion of the men were coming forward, some people said willingly, some people said not willingly, but I believe willingly, to give up their lives, if necessary, in devotion to the British Empire—it was a surprise to me that, suddenly, we were told that the whole place was a dangerous hotbed of sedition. It may have been so. There may have been a revolution. I am one of those who do believe in there being a revolutionary plot. I believed in it when I was in Bengal; I believe I believed in it—at any rate I said it publicly—sooner than a good many people, and I was rather blamed for saying it. But this I do feel, that if the disturbance in the Punjab was really the result of a plot it was not the plot with which I was acquainted, unless the 303 plotters have become far less intelligent than they were in my day.
The plotters, or many of them, were Bengalis, they were not men of martial or brave character, but they had some intelligence, and I gathered that the one thing on which they were always prepared to proceed was that you should never bring yourself into collision with superior force, unless you were well armed. The first thing you were to do was to try and become possessed of pistols and guns—what Mr. Winston Churchill calls "lethal weapons." I know what a lathi is, and it is a somewhat different thing from a rifle. I have heard of no evidence of the people in the Punjab having supplied themselves with rifles. It may be that they had, but if they did not, then the plot has entirely changed its character since my time in India. I think it must have done so, if this is the same plot; otherwise, it would have manifested itself in some other places after Amritsar. Punjabis may be simple folk. I suppose they are. But I know that Bengalis would know when you kill even, say, 700 people out of a good many millions,—if you had to do it with so few people and that was the excuse —that was the very time to go on with eruptions of that kind.
We ought to be very anxious to know why there was this feeling. There ought not to have been such a feeling. We should all agree on that. We ought to have found the people in the Punjab less likely to conspire in that way than apparently they were. What I do not like about the whole business is that a good many Indians of various positions—some of very high positions from the point of view of the table of precedence in India, others who were merely learned lawyers and doctors—were talking of this Amritsar business as if the only explanation of it was that we were afraid. I do not believe that we were afraid. At any rate, I hope we were not, and I hope we never shall be in the position of being afraid. I do not think we ever need be. We have now got to work together with Indians. I have been glad to hear more than one noble Lord to-night assert that there is no doubt about our position in India depending on friendship and the idea of justice. I have been glad in a way, though not quite so glad, to hear the strong denunciations expressed by some people that our rule is not dependent upon force. I am more in sympathy with the somewhat 304 old-fashioned idea of Lord Harris that force is at the back of everything. It is so in Scotland. I confine myself to Scotland because I am a Scotsman. I think there is force somewhere at the back of all of it. I do not want to see it used in Inch I, or elsewhere, but you cannot get away from it. The Indians know it as well as we do, but they are prepared, I hope, to work with us as we are prepared to work with them.
I read vague statements in the newspapers about no civilian being prepared to work with Indians. I do not believe it; I know many who are, and I know that Indians are not the only people who sometimes exaggerate when they are talking. We are prepared to work together, we are going to work together, and many of the Indians are anxious to do so. I believe that a great many of the Indians who talk vaguely, who talk nonsense now, will soon cease to do so; just as many of our fellow countrymen will, when they have thought matters over. If we are to work together, as I hope we are, we must feel that there is a common sympathy between us and some common standard. I really do not believe that any Englishman, Scotsman, or Irishman, or any one belonging to the free countries within the British Empire, approves of the feeling that lies at the basis of the "Crawling Order." I know, from the way that some of us talk and, perhaps, from the way that some of us do not talk when we might—from very good motives very often—that there are Indians who believe that we think there ought to be crawling orders applied to them.
I do not know how your Lordships are going to vote, and I do not think it matters very much. What matters is the impression that is conveyed to India as to your Lordships' opinion. If India is led to believe that this House approves of the issue by General Dyer of the "Crawling Order," then the task of future Governors will be made very much harder, in spite of the Reform Act which was passed some little time since. If, on the other hand, India believes that you are determined to be just to General Dyer, in the same way as you would be just to any Indian, and that you are going to treat them with the respect that is due to them as fellow human beings, because you are just then, if it is unjust, in one way, to punish General Dyer I do not think India will blame you. I heard the noble Earl, Lord Midleton, say that it was a habit or custom to pardon a man 305 who had committed a military crime, if he had served in the war. I am not a soldier and do not know if that is so, but that is just the kind of thing which I feel certain would appeal to the Indian mind. If that argument had been used on behalf of General Dyer many Indians would have sympathised with him and would have been anxious that he should not have been punished.
§ LORD LAMINGTON
My Lords, the noble Lord who has just spoken has alluded to the establishment of good feelings between ourselves and Indians, and I entirely share his views. Like Lord Finlay I have a horror of frightfulness. I am all for the "under dog" and any little good I have done has been to try to alleviate the sufferings of those who are not so well off. I also sympathsise with the views of many Indians in their distress and horror at what took place at Amritsar. The two points which to my mind told against General Dyer were, not giving sufficient warning before shooting, and the continual firing. But I was considerably relieved to find that he spent the whole of the morning in giving warning, and the Report says that he visited eighteen different centres of the city—a good number—and that for two or three preceding days warnings had been issued. At the same time I think I should have given some other warning before actually giving the order to fire. It might not have been effective; it might not have been heard by the great crowd of people listening to preachers at the other end of the square, but for my own satisfaction I should have done it.
Then General Dyer did not fire the whole of his ammunition, although 1,600 rounds were fired. I heard for an Indian gentleman of high standing, who went to Amritsar shortly afterwards, that lie very much doubted whether the casualties were 300. He thought they were much nearer General Dyer's own estimate of 200. This gentleman examined the walls on either flank and counted at least 1,000 bullet marks. Presumably, most of these bullets would not have struck a human being before making that mark. It is not strong evidence, but it is something which might mean that General Dyer's estimate was the more correct one. I trust the casualties are nearer 200 than the number given.
These are the two points which to my mind show a certain error of judgment on the part of General Dyer. I certainly do 306 not approve of the "Crawling Order," but I do not lay much stress upon it. do not see that because your Lordships pass the Motion to-morrow that you are fully endorsing everything that General Dyer did as correct. I came into the House during the latter part of the speech of Lord Harris and I rather gathered that was part of his dilemma, or the reason of his indecision, as to what course to take, and he admitted that he was very much influenced by the speech of Lord Sinha. Where I really came to my difficulty, and why I feel I ought to follow the terms of the Motion, is with regard to the long delay before any action was taken, The Lord Chancellor talked about the hot weather and asked how the Government could take any action before knowing the facts. I should not think of matching my brains against those of the Lord Chancellor, but it seemed to me a very trivial excuse for the Government's not taking some action. You do not shoot 200 Indians every day. General Dyer was under Military Law and you could have held a Court Martial at once. If that had been done I do not think any body would have criticised any decision which had been arrived at by the proper tribunal. That is my feeling.
Then, why was there this long delay? Lord Sinha asked that question himself and said what object could the Government have in postponing the appointment of a Committee of Inquiry? I understand the idea was that Parliament had before it the Indian Reform scheme and it was desired that it should not be prejudiced in passing through Parliament. That is an opinion given to me by an Indian gentleman. Lord Sinha himself said—and that was the point made by Lord Harris—that General Dyer was condemned on his own note or statement, written in August. Then why did not the Government in August take the matter up? They were capable of doing it. Therefore I should certainly vote for the Motion, for this reason. I should like to have had the Motion framed in different terms, because I should like to have had it pointed out clearly that this prolonged delay has been unfair to General Dyer and most mischievous to our relations with our Indian fellow subjects.
Lord Sinha spoke of the "racial animosity- now raging." I hope that it is not so bitter in India as these words would betoken, but I would remind your Lordships that in circumstances like these, where there is a feeling of rankling injustice, 307 you do stir up animosity, and animosity breeds suspicion, and suspicion fear, which is responsible for more trouble and deaths in this world than any other emotion. Therefore, I deplore what I consider to be the grave mismanagement and bungling by the Government in this case.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES (VISCOUNT MILNER)
I beg to move the adjournment of this debate.
§ Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.