§ Debate on the. Motion of Viscount FINLAY, "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," resumed (according to Order).
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES (VISCOUNT MILNER)
My Lords, I believe a number of noble Lords still wish to address the House, and as the main points of this case were so thoroughly threshed out yesterday I shall endeavour to confine my remarks within as narrow limits as possible. It is all the more incumbent on me to do so, because I am one of those who hold, with several noble Lords, that the necessity of holding this debate has been an unfortunate one, and that this continual rubbing of the sore place, or rather of a number of sore places, is calculated to do more harm than good in the national interests, though I am willing to admit that a debate in this House was possibly inevitable.
In any case, though this discussion has ranged over a number of more or less subsidiary points, I shall try to confine my remarks exclusively to the question which is the subject of the Motion, whether or not General Dyer has been treated with injustice. Speaking for myself personally, I feel keenly the imputation that this is a case in which injustice has been done by civilians to a soldier; all the more when it is accompanied by the suggestion that the injury has been inflicted for some unavowed, or unavowable, political motive. So far as 312 my knowledge of this case goes, that suggestion is as unfair as it is gratuitous. Though I feel a very strong responsibility, for I was one of those members of the Cabinet who advised their colleagues as to the action which should properly be taken upon the Report of the Hunter Committee, I only came into this matter at a late stage. Owing to my absence and to my great occupation with other matters, I knew practically nothing about the case until we received the Report of the Hunter Committee, and the evidence on which that Report was based. But I was one of the members of the Cabinet Committee who were appointed to advise their colleagues as to the action that the Government should take on that Report.
I may say that I approached the subject, if with any bias at all, with a bias in favour of the soldier—in favour of the man, who, in circumstances the great difficulty of which we all recognise, had acted with promptitude, had acted with fearlessness, and had acted with complete disregard of the possible consequences to himself in accepting a great responsibility. My personal bias, if I had one, was all in favour of such a man, and I may add it was also, from the faith and practice of a lifetime, in favour of a course of firm and even stern repression of sedition and of the maintenance of Imperial authority. No one member of this House is more deeply convinced than I am that there is no human calamity at all comparable with the destruction of social order, and that this is a danger with which we are now threatened all over the world in a degree with which we have never been threatened before, and especially so in India. It is a danger which threatens the ruin of all the high hopes which we are basing upon the progressive and liberal policy to which we are committed, and which aims at making India one of the great free, self-governing communities of the British Empire. At every step in that process it is essential, it is vital, to the achievement of our ideal, that whatever may, at the time, be the constitutional, supreme authority, it should be absolutely master of the seditious and revolutionary elements that we know to exist in such serious proportion, and the danger of which it would be madness to ignore.
But, my Lords, starting from these principles, the more I read of the papers, the deeper I went into the subject, the 313 more I was forced to the conclusion, against my wish, against my expectation, and to my profound regret, that in the suppression of the disorders with which the Report of the Hunter Committee dealt, some acts were done—and especially the acts with which we are now particularly concerned—for the maintenance of authority which, in their ultimate effect, were likely not to strengthen, but to undermine it. A great deal has been said about the necessity of supporting the man on the spot, and no one can doubt. that it would be fatal if officers called on in a sudden emergency, when danger threatened the King's peace, to take steps for the preservation of that peace, could not feel sure that any just and necessary measures that they might take, however severe, would be supported by superior authority. But is there anything inconsistent with that principle in the condemnation of the proceedings at Jallianwallah Bagh? There were thirty-seven cases, during these disorders in the Punjab and other parts of India, in which military or police officers felt compelled to open fire upon disorderly and seditious mobs, and I do not think there was one case out of the thirty-seven, except that which we are discussing, in which the action of the man who took those strong measures was not approved, justified, and, in many cases, strongly commended, by the Hunter Committee and by the Government of India. Does that show any indisposition on the part of the Government to support the man on the spot?
When, however, the noble and learned Lord who moved this Motion told us that, in his opinion, whenever an officer in such circumstances honestly believed that whatever he did it was his duty to do it and ought to be supported by higher authority, I must say that he propounded a proposition with which I cannot agree; a proposition which, I believe, has no authority from the great jurists of the past, and which would be most dangerous if it were accepted as a canon for the future. Something more than honesty of purpose is required. Assuredly we should be very slow indeed to blame the man on the spot. Assuredly also ought we to make every possible allowance for the difficulties of his position. But nothing can relieve him of the duty of exercising his judgment, of acting not only with vigour but with sense, and of keeping, even in the moments of the gravest crisis, within the well-recognised limits of justice and humanity.
314 Our case is that in the proceedings at Amritsar on April 13 of last year and, to some extent, in later days, those limits were flagrantly exceeded. I cannot believe that, though it may very rarely be right, it can ever be anything but extremely dangerous to depart from the well-established British principle that, where semilegal means have to be resorted to in order to suppress civil disorder, the force to be exercised should be limited to that amount which is necessary to deal with the immediate situation. Certainly we must consider all the circumstances of the case. Certainly it is right to admit that the position at Amritsar on April 13 was one of extraordinary gravity. It is possible—though I think it is by no means certain—that the crowd which General Dyer attacked, and which he had every right in the world to disperse, might not have been dispersed without some bloodshed. But admittedly, on his own statements—statements not extorted from him in cross—examination but volunteered, repeated, and justified in that extremely able presentation of his case which he submitted to the Army Council—he fired and continued to fire upon that crowd, not merely to disperse it and long after it had begun to disperse as hard as it could, but in order to produce a moral impression upon the Punjab.
I wonder what our position would be to-day, what would be the condition of India and, for that matter, the state of feeling in this country, if all the thirty-seven officers, who during these disorders were compelled to fire upon seditious crowds, had adopted the same principle and had shot as many people as they had ammunition for shooting in order to produce a good moral impression upon the country. For my own part I am quite willing to admit that the slaughter at Jallianwallah Bagh did make a great impression upon all the surrounding districts. I dare say it tended to hasten the restoration of order in those districts and to check the widespread rioting which, singularly aimless and ineffective as it was if we are to regard the whole thing as a rebellion I personally cannot on the evidence regard it as such—was, nevertheless, obviously productive of many horrible acts and of much regrettable destruction. But even if the firing at Jallianwallah Bagh did have that immediate effect, in my opinion that does not justify it. Does any one really doubt that Prussian methods of repression are more effective 315 for their immediate purpose of cowing sedition and of enforcing strict discipline upon a civil population than our milder British methods? For my own part I am perfectly satisfied that they are. But that does not conclude the case. Do not let us forget that it was the persistence in such methods, shocking the conscience of mankind, which caused Prussia and Germany, in the crisis of their fate, to find three-quarters of the civilised world united against them.
Do not let me be supposed to suggest that General Dyer himself was habitually in favour of terrorism or of frightfulness or of any of these extreme methods of asserting authority. So far as I can judge from the evidence, in most of his dealings he was not otherwise than a temperate and humane man. But that does not alter the fact that, on the occasion which alone has led to his conduct being called into question and which alone has led to his being censured, he committed a most frightful error, involving fearful consequences. He made a terrible mistake. But, in my humble judgment, his mistake was nothing like as terrible as would be the mistake made by the British Government if, for any reason whatsoever—from any fear of the unpopularity it might incur by so doing—it had hesitated to condemn the action which General Dyer took on that occasion. It surely is a remarkable fact that all the authorities which have considered the circumstances of this case—the Majority and the Minority of the Hunter Committee, the Government of India, and the Home Government—each regarding the question from a different angle, and differing on many points of detail with regard to the history and conduct of these disorders, have, nevertheless, agreed in emphatically condemning, with more or less emphasis, with greater or less severity, the conduct of General Dyer at Jallianwallah Bagh.
The very fact that the roads by which they arrived at a similar conclusion are often very different, seems to me not to weaken but to strengthen the conclusion itself in the judgment of any reasonable man. I can quite understand anybody justifying one or other of the points in General Dyer's conduct which have been so severely criticised. His firing on the crowd without warning given on the spot; his continuing to fire on the crowd when it was dispersing as hard as it could; his idea that it was no business of his to have any 316 regard to the dead or the wounded; and, finally, the much discussed "Crawling Order"—I can conceive anybody thinking lightly of, or judging comparatively lightly, any one of those, but it really is very difficult to understand how anybody can justify them all. And, taken collectively and taken in connection with his own perfectly frank statements of the motives which actuated his conduct, I say they constitute a course of action, a policy (if I may so express it) which no civilised Government, least of all a British Government, with its high standard of justice and humanity, could do otherwise than repudiate.
It is possible, of course, not to attempt to justify all General Dyer's actions and yet to feel that he has been treated with injustice. But I venture to contend that it is not a line which can be reasonably taken in view of all the facts. On the contrary, I maintain that General Dyer has been treated with the greatest consideration, consistent with an adverse judgment on his conduct in the particular case to which I have been referring. We have heard talk of a stigma having been put upon him, of his being branded and punished with extreme severity. I submit that to speak thus is to speak in language of extreme exaggeration. The consequences to him of the adverse judgment passed upon his conduct have, no doubt, been serious; they have been painful; but they really have not been calamitous. In any case, they have not been the gravest; they have been the lightest possible consequences in the circumstances. He has suffered not one jot more than it was quite inevitable that he should suffer if his conduct in so grave a matter was censured at all.
The Commander-in-Chief in India relieved him of his duty there, and he was sent home with the intimation that he could never be employed again in India. There is, I believe, a general impression that some further penalty was subsequently inflicted upon him. Not so much for the sake of the Government as in justice to the Army Council, I think it ought to be made perfectly clear that nothing of the kind is the case. General Dyer, by the action of the Commander-in-Chief, had become unemployable in India. He came home on half-pay. What was it that the Army Council did in the circumstances? It was suggested to them that they should call upon him to retire, that he should be put on retired pay. He was 317 not put on retired pay; he was not called upon to resign. That was the lightest penalty which the Army could put upon him. They did not inflict it upon him at all. The Army Council simply accepted the situation as they found it in consequence of the action of the Commander-in-Chief in India in sending him home; they did nothing more to inflict any penalty upon him; and their action has been confirmed by the Government. That is the position to-day.
And if it is said, "Oh, but his military career has been cut short by the Army Council," the answer is that it was cut short in India, to the extent of fourteen months, by the action of the Commander-in-Chief, at the end of which time he would have had to retire under the ordinary rules. It was not affected in any way by the action of the Army Council here, for in any case an Indian officer, even if he had had much more than fourteen months' service still to fill, would not have been readily or easily employed in any service outside India. It is very exceptional in any case to employ an officer of the Indian Army in such service. It would be perfectly unjustifiable and, indeed, impossible so to employ him at a time when there were many officers of equal rank and distinction in the British Army waiting to be employed. The Army Council, in not again employing General Dyer, is not inflicting any penalty or any stigma upon him. It is doing the very thing which it could not possibly help doing without extreme injustice to somebody else. It simply accepts the situation that here is an officer returned from India, who might possibly be employed for fourteen months more, but cannot be so employed outside India by the Army Council because there are any number of British officers, as well, and even better, fitted for such employments as are vacant, even if there was any vacancy at present to fill which General Dyer could be appointed.
I venture to say—and this is my final word in this matter—that for the repudiation of the action which General Dyer took at Jallianwallah Bagh, the Government takes the full responsibility. Speaking for myself, I feel that no lighter terms of censure could have been employed than those which actually were employed, if the case was to be adequately dealt with. If there is any suggestion that any hurt resulted to him beyond that which in 318 evitably resulted from the censure which we felt bound to pronounce, I say it is quite contrary to the facts of the ease, and that, so far as our duty in asserting the principles which we felt hound to assert allowed us, we have dealt with General Dyer with consideration and with leniency. But far graver consequences to any individual might have to be faced, if it were necessary to face them, in order to assert principles which we consider of vital importance to sound administration and to the fair fame of the British Raj, for its capacity to maintain peace and order by strong, but temperate, and not ruthless and cruel, methods.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
My Lords, we are taking part this afternoon in a responsible and very difficult discussion. To myself, if I may be quite honest, it seems very doubtful whether the debate can effect much good, but it is capable, I am afraid, wisely as the speeches have been couched, of doing very real harm. Great lawyers have put the case before us on either side with the highest juridical and forensie skill, and, of course, as always, Indian experience has been usefully forthcoming in characteristic abundance. I feel the hardihood of intervening in the debate without either expert legal knowledge or expert Indian experience, but the discussion is eliciting opinions of all sorts very emphatically and dogmatically expressed by those who are quite inexpert in all these matters, and I do not think in a question which involves, as this does, the largest principles—I should say Christian principles— that the Bishops' Bench should be quite silent.
No one, I think, will dispute the proposition that the Government of India is the most delicate of all our Imperial problems. It is a field where, within the strict sense of the word, political heat and political scandal is most zealously and sedulously to be avoided, if it can be avoided. Sometimes, apparently, such heat is inevitable even in Indian affairs. But from the nature of the case, from the lack of education and of political balance on the part of millions who are affected, the power of catchwords and phrases tends to make controversies more mischievous, or even perilous, in regard to India, than in regard to any other part of our Empire. Therefore, I cannot help regretting that this discussion should be taking place. If we are told, as we have been told, that it was inevitable, I do not quarrel with the phrase, but some inevitable 319 things are still, in a high degree, undesirable.
The Resolution before your Lordships divides itself into two quite separable parts. We are, first, asked to deplore the conduct of the case as haying been unfairly managed; and, next, we are asked to say that what has happened will endanger the future preservation of order in times of difficulty. I should like to say a word about each part. With regard to the management of the affair, or case as it is called, I certainly hold no brief for those to whom its management was entrusted and who had successively to deal with it. Indeed. I find it very difficult, notwithstanding all that has been said, to see any justification for the delay, and the absence of earlier and clearer decision in the matter expressed by competent authority. That has been set before us by Lord Finlay in a way which I thought was not completely answered even by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack. Judged by our more prosaic standards in civilian life, I am quite ready to think that there was what may be called unfairness to the man chiefly concerned in the management of this matter.
But, my Lords, I could bring forward—any one of your Lordships could bring forward—instance after instance, during the last five years, in which, judged by the same standard, there has been what we should call unfairness or hardness to individuals, in their supersession or recall, for action or inaction, at a time of extraordinary difficulty. We are told that is an inherent part of the military system, and that it must be so. We all know of such cases, and I am quite ready to admit that this is one of them. But it is quite another thing to say that, because a case and the handling of it seem to be unfair, or the individual appears to have been hardly treated, it is, therefore, a fit and proper subject for a Parliamentary debate and a Parliamentary vote. There, it seems to me, lie the contrast and the difficulty, and the precedent is surely fraught with very obvious difficulty and peril. Any such case could, of course, be brought before Parliament, but if it would be difficult to do it in any ordinary case, far more dangerous and disadvantageous, as far as I can see, is it to bring it forward in this case, which has wide perils of its own.
The matter stands thus, as I follow it. No one in this debate, except, I think, Lord 320 Ampthill, has unreservedly defended General Dyer. The Motion does not claim to do so, but, none the less, if we single out his case for a Motion of censure or condemnation upon the authorities it is not only possible, but inevitable, that our action will be construed, however unfairly, outside as a defence, perhaps a full defence, of the man whose conduct has been implicated; and not only a defence of him as a man but an approbation of a policy to which his action, taken as a whole, gives forcible and pointed expression. If we are to judge of General Dyer fairly it is impossible to separate the incident of the firing on the crowd from the other incidents, the "Crawling Order" and floggings, about which we have all read with genuine pain, and which were censured by the authorities. Therefore, I believe that considering among whom the records are current of what has taken place and among whom the records will be current of votes taken in this House, the Motion can be easily, and certainly would be, interpreted, or misinterpreted, into a change of our policy, or a qualification of our policy, for the last seventy years, as regards our management and rule in India. That may sound a large thing to say, but I believe it to be true.
Ever since the Magna Charta of Indian freedom, which found utterance in 1857, and the three Manifestos of three Sovereigns, we have striven to advance our fellowship with our Indian fellow subjects, to raise their citizenship, to invite them to a distinct share in responsibilities, and it seems to me, if this Motion were carried, that it would be interpreted outside as something that runs counter to the trend of that policy. I am not saying that it would necessarily mean that, and I should be the last to suggest that Viscount Finlay would think so for a moment, or that General Dyer himself would desire to do anything of the kind. But I speak with knowledge when I say that there are large numbers of those most familiar with Indian life and affairs who do believe that such a Motion, if passed, would be so read and interpreted (or misinterpreted, if you like), by millions of people who are fanned into a heat by what they have been told about this matter. For that reason I regret that the matter should be discussed, and I should have the greater regret if the Motion was carried.
It is a commonplace, a truism, to say that there is nothing greater in the life of our Empire than the story of our rule 321 in India. It is a story of great things greatly done, wise leaders and rulers growing constantly in experience and knowledge of peoples alien to their own, among whom they were sent to rule, using that gathered experience and knowledge with far-seeing statesmanship, with great sympathy, with stimulating leadership, and sometimes with fatherly care. I shrink from any vote of this House which would be capable of being regarded as a retrograde step. I believe if we accepted formally even the harmless-looking and comparatively unimportant words in which the Motion is couched it might, and would, be taken by inflammable multitudes, fanned by a disloyal Press and agitators, as having that baneful and harmful significance. Therefore, I should regret very much if we passed the first part of the Motion, and I say so without contending that there is no truth in what it contains as to the unfairness to General Dyer and many other men, from the ordinary common-sense standpoint of the position in which they were placed.
One word about the other part of the Motion. We are asked to say that what has taken place is establishing a precedent dangerous to the preservation of order in cases of rebellion, and that unless we pass the Motion we shall endanger this in the future. I have a firmer, and I think a better-placed, confidence in the loyalty, the courage the backbone, the independence of our administrators in the higher and lower ranks throughout India. They have to fulfil a very great responsbility. We have seen for a hundred years how they have risen to it. There have been great crises and difficulties. Great names stand out of the men who acted at such hours on what they deemed to be right, and that is how a brave man does face such hours. There have been minor crises which had to be faced by lesser men. They too have risen, and will rise, on all such occasions without being the least daunted by what has taken place in this particular instance, when a brave man has been censured for what is admitted to have been a grave mistake of judgment, even if it were nothing more. Such men have constantly thought, and will still think, not how will their action in this matter affect their prospects, but what ought they to do; what is the right thing to do; and they will do it, be the consequences what they may.
322 That, I believe, has been the inherited tradition of Indian administrators, civil and military; and it will be so in the days to come. We have all tried to understand this question to the best of our power. It involves very large principles. I have read with great care General Dyer's own stateiment. It is simply on this statement that I have tried to form an opinion about the matter. I rose from the perusal of it with a sense of its being the work and word of a brave, public-spirited, patriotic soldier; but of a man whose policy and practice, as regards our administration in India, ran somewhat counter to what the greatest of our Indian administrators have taught us. We have undertaken for many years past, in the sight of God and man, to promote the intellectual emancipation of the Indian peoples. We are changing—whether we will or no; whether they will or no—their habits of thought, their religious ideals and their moral level. We have striven to govern, and are striving to govern, as a Christian nation should; and by a Christian nation I mean apart altogether from the strictly religious aspect of the matter, because we are actuated by the largest, soundest, and deepest principles of Christian civilisation, Christian justice, Christian liberty, Christian encouragement of freedom and of self-control. Because I believe that the pasing of this Resolution by Parliament, and the circulation of it in India and in England, would be taken as setting back these principles in their progress, I ask your Lordships not to vote for it.
§ LORD SUMNER
My Lords, it appears that it is a task of considerable temerity, and one which requires a great deal of personal courage, to venture to sustain the Motion which my noble and learned friend brought before you yesterday, because we have been told, by authority after authority, that in dealing with this matter we are rubbing an open sore; that in venturing to discuss this matter we are saying things very much better left unsaid; nay, more, that in presuming to set our opinion against the decision in the General Dyer case we are challenging the authority and the weight of the Hunter Committee, of the Commander-in-Chief in India, of the Government of India, of the Army Council, of a Committee of the Cabinet on which the noble Viscount opposite sat for, I think, as many as six occasions, and, finally, the authority of His Majesty's Government. 323 I have rarely heard so long a catalogue of the principalities and powers with which we were coming in conflict, as we heard from the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack yesterday, and the most rev. Primate has just warned us, as I understand it, that because what we do may be misrepresented and misunderstood, as I have not the slightest doubt it will be, it therefore behoves us to hold our tongues. I do not understand to what logical conclusion his proposition leads him. If any man in this House thinks an injustice has been done to General Dyer, is he to say by his vote that he does not think so? This matter has not been dragged into the public eye by your Lordships. It has been ventilated in India and in England for many months past, and ours is only the last of a series of discussions that have circled round this matter.
And are we to be silent, because we cannot hope, any more than anyone else who takes part in public debate, to escape misrepresentation? We must take our chance of that. We may be doing a very wrong thing in challenging the views formed by so many high authorities, who know so much better than we do how to govern the British Empire, but I am afraid there is a stubborn vein in Englishmen still, and that if they think a soldier, of whatever rank, has been publicly treated with injustice, by whomsoever it may have been done, they are disposed to say so. I think also, even though you should find that it is the case that you are setting yourselves up against so many decisions by so many disinterested authorities, that you will probably consider it not discordant with the traditions of your Lordships' House still to assert your constitutional right to say by your votes what you think in this matter. If we are to be misrepresented it will not be for the first time.
Now, my Lords, the controversy has been pursued in the usual way; that is to say, those who support this Motion have, in the speeches of those who oppose it, a number of passages to meet, in which (no doubt unintentionally), they find themselves perpetually being fixed with opinions which they do not hold. It is unsatisfactory to have to begin by disclaimers the task of defending this Resolution, but I will do it briefly, and I think it is important it should be done again. So far as I know there is nobody here, who supports this Resolution, whose desire is to set up one
324 standard of justice for Europeans and another for the inhabitants of India. We may differ in our interpretation of rules; we may be more conscious of the results of historical circumstances than others; we may be inexperienced administrators; but, so far as in us lies, it is our desire that the law should he administered fairly and equally to all the citizens of His Majesty's Empire; and I am sure the noble and learned Lord, the Under-Secretary of State for India, will accept it from me, and will probably not think it necessary for me to say it, that we desire that the Government of India should be carried on not only with justice and understanding, but that every respect should be paid to the rights and sensibilities of proud and ancient peoples.
The noble Viscount opposite used the phrase "the man on the spot," as though he conceived that our doctrine was that you should support the man on the spot whether he be right or wrong. There is no such doctrine. Nobody alleges that because a soldier or a civilian, when it becomes his duty to use force, believes in his heart that he is doing right, therefore he cannot be doing wrong. Nobody suggests that such a person is not to be responsible to his superiors, or liable to be called to account afterwards, if, in truth, what he has done is wrong. What we claim is that what he has done should be viewed in the light of two prominent considerations. Firstly, that he and he alone saw things as they were when action had to be taken, and secondly, that he is but one in a long file of officers who, now and hereafter, will be called on from time to time to meet similar conjunctures, and on whose firmness and judgment great and fateful events will hang.
There is also the mode of damning our case by question-begging epithets. To call the conduct of General Dyer "Prussian" is facile, but not convincing. To suggest—as was suggested, and was suggested to him in what the noble and learned Lord rightly called cross-examination by members of the Committee of Inquiry—that what he had been doing bore a very close resemblance to what was done in Belgium, is to take a line which was unfair to us as it was unfair to General Dyer. What General Dyer did was either indefensible or it was done at a time when it was his duty to meet force, in process of being employed against the Government of the country, when immediate action 325 was required, and that immediate action was forcible action; and I trust that those who read our debates hereafter—not that there will be many of them—will do us the credit of supposing that we have not brought forward this question with such simple minds. We are neither disposed to give our case away by claiming too much for it, nor, I hope, are we so unpatriotic as to suppose that this is a mere question of supporting, through thick and thin, a gallant officer because he has served his country well on many fields.
I think it is time that we got back to the question in the case, which is the conduct of General Dyer and his treatment by the Government. I brush aside many of the questions that seem to agitate, or at any rate to occupy, the minds of the noble Lord the Under-Secretary of State and I think tee noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, as to who, among the different Government functionaries concerned, really is responsible for what occurred. I do not care at what date details were first reported in this country. I do not care what conversations were held between one high official and another. Let us get back to the facts, as we have them in the Hunter Report, as we have them in the Despatch of the Government of India, and as we have them in the reply of the Secretary of State for India. I shall not take your Lordships over the whole of these painful and regrettable stories, nor shall I detain your Lordships by expressions of the regret, and, of more than regret, of the sorrow that I feel very sincerely for those who fell at Jallianwallah Bagh. We must pass over some things because they have occurred and because they cannot be undone.
Let us ask what the true position is. If you attended to the course of the debate yesterday, and especially to the forcible and impassioned way in which the matter was put to us from the Woolsack, I think you would come to the conclusion not that General Dyer had committed an error of judgment, but that Ire was a great criminal whose presence disgraced the British Army. What was the point of dwelling, in language of which the shadows were painted in purple and the high lights in blood red, upon the picturesque and dreadful aspects of the scene on that afternoon, unless it was to convey to our minds, or possibly to the minds of those to whom our debates are reported, that a great criminal had 326 ruthlessly butchered a multitude of unarmed and harmless persons, some of them apparently sitting upon the ground, listening, as your Lordships listen, to a political debate, some of them apparently villagers who had gone into Amritsar for an afternoon's shopping? What was the point of depicting shrieking and agitated crowds seeking a place of exit where there was none? What was the point of dwelling on what appears to be a great crime in a military officer that he adequately controlled the fire of his men, and instead of letting them fire at random, directed their fire at the appropriate target? If it was to show how wicked General Dyer is, and was, I can understand that line.
But the essential foundation of this debate is this—first of all, that General Dyer was placed in a position that duty had thrust upon him, left for the time being in military and in civil control of Amritsar and its neighbourhood, and face to face with a rebellion. Let us stick to that word and not attempt to get away from it. It was no question of dispersing a riotous assembly. It was no question of restoring order in the streets. The Majority called it rebellion, and the Minority called it rebellion, and the only difference between them is that the Minority would hardly say that it was a rebellion for the purpose of expelling the British Government from India. But in every other respect it was rebellion—incipient rebellion. In the second place, the rebellion was a planned one. You have only to read the account of the previous few days to see that whoever the astute persons may have been that directed this rebellion, they knew the elements of their trade. You will read in the Blue Book page after page indicating how, day by day and in place after place, a systematic and a successful attempt was made to cut the railways and the telegraphs. Over and over again a railway bridge was burned, railways were torn up, stations burned, telegraph wires cut, telephone wires cut. I do not impute blame to any Party in India; I make no insinuations against any public men in India at all, but someone with a revolutionary mind, and with no little skill in the matter, was beginning the first attack upon peace, order and good government in India by endeavouring to isolate the troops, by cutting the communications, and by clearing the field for immense numbers to act against the minimum military force that we maintain there.
327 The next thing was that Amritsar for three days was in the hands of the mob. It is all very well to say that it had been for two days possible for General Dyer to march a column through the streets in order that Proclamations might be issued, but the state of affairs was such that, except under the very eyes of the military force, no European was believed to be safe. In those circumstances, you come to the meeting in Jallianwallah Bagh. That meeting was not merely a challenge to the orders of General Dyer, but was a concerted meeting, and, according to the Reports now published (which were sent by the Punjab Government to the Government of India), it was a meeting which was organised by one agitator who had throughout been conspicuous for his inflammatory language and was sentenced to death as a member of a criminal conspiracy. It was addressed by two other agitators who are named here and who were convicted as members of the same conspiracy and by a third who was sentenced to transportation for life by the Tribunal under the Defence of India Act. And it is the foundation of the whole of this case that General Dyer was right in firing; that he was right in taking human life; that the occasion had arisen—the most painful of any in civil administration—when, in order to maintain civil order, and the authority of the Government, opponents even unarmed opponents, had to be killed. No one can speak of such a thing afterwards except with feelings of horror, but there is the fact.
Now in that situation what is there that can be said against General Dyer? I believe his conduct at Jallianwallah Bagh is really the main part of the case against him. It appears to me to be idle to say that it would be possible out of other matters to make out a case for severe treatment of him. I think, however, that they are not only regrettable but are subjects for some depth of feeling on our part that they should have ever occurred. According to the view which the Government has taken of it, it was the number of lives taken at Jallianwallah Bagh that was by far the main part of what was done by General Dyer which is deserving of criticism and censure. It becomes a question then of numbers. No one can possibly tell how many persons it would have been proper, lawful and necessary to kill. No one could tell except General Dyer himself. No one 328 ventured to say where or when he should have stopped. The firing lasted ten minutes. He had 50 armed men, many of them untrained, and had a similar number of others armed only with kukris.
A little imagination directed not to picturing the crowds in the anguish of the moment trying to escape where there was no escape but to the position of General Dyer will, I think, show your Lordships that it would be extremely difficult for any one who was not there to say that he should have held his hand after a second, a minute or any number of minutes, or should have been content when the speaker had ceased to address the audience and when the audience was moving. What would have been the use of dispersing that mob for it to assemble a few minutes later outside? General Dyer had to think of working his way back with his small force to his quarters, and if he were entangled in the narrow and crowded streets of an Indian city, still thronged with the dispersed crowd reassembling, I imagine the case would have been worse than ever.
Exaggeration easily creeps into these matters. Do not let me be supposed for one moment to be minimising what was done, or to be saying that it does not matter how many were wounded, provided the wounds are not serious; but, to show the general tendencies to exaggeration that are so common here, over and over again it has been said—I think it has been said in your Lordships' House—that he fired until his ammunition was exhausted, which is not the case. The precise number of rounds used is known—1,650; and over and over again it has been assumed that the number of wounded to the number killed must have been in the proportion of three to one. I know that General Dyer, when asked in cross-examination whether he knew the number of wounded, said that it was about three to one. So worked out, of course, you get a number in excess of a thousand. But I find, again in the published Reports of the Government of India, that efforts were made by some Indian society (the name of which I will not endeavour to quote) to ascertain and to succour all the persons who were in any way seriously wounded, and the total number they could get to was 192. I do not make light of the sufferings of any others who were wounded—as no doubt others were wounded—and able to escape; but do let us keep ourselves as much as possible to the narrow fact that, 329 although there were these large numbers killed—379; a deplorable loss of life—it was impossible that you could, fire with modern arms upon a crowd massed together in a small space and not take life on a large scale. Yet it is the foundation of this case that General Dyer was justified, nay, more, that it was his duty, and that he was bound to fire and to take life. That is the fact with regard to the main thing that he did.
Now with regard to the precautions he failed to take before or after the firing. It is said that he ought to have taken the precaution of warning the crowd to disperse or of re-publishing the Proclamation which he had published with beat of drum on the previous day. It is said that he had not published the Proclamation in a sufficient number of places on the previous day. The one thing I have always understood when reading about India was that it was miraculous with what speed and diffusion news spread there, and the distance it could be carried in an astonishingly small space of time. Does any one seriously suppose that there were quarters of Amritsar where it was not known that the British Forces were marching through the streets in order to publish this Proclamation? Does any one seriously imagine that because Jallianwallah Bagh is somewhere near the Golden Temple therefore there was a sort of "West-end" of Amritsar, in which the inhabitants were in a state of blissful ignorance that there was any such matter toward at all? What would have been the use of trying to read the Proclamation when the crowd was listening to orators who have since been sent to prison by Courts-Martial?
If General Dyer had advanced, as I suppose he would have had to do, with a small proportion of his men to read the Proclamation, he would have broken up his forces, and then exactly the same thing might have been expected to happen as on the 10th happened to two or three officers attended by pickets of troops. You will find an account of it at pages 22 and 23 of the Report. The pickets were followed up by a mob who proceeded to stone them, who succeeded in rushing them, who pushed them along, who closed in upon them, and who finally reduced them—armed though they were—to such a position that nothing but the resort to firearms kept the crowd off at all. Imagine that happening to General Dyer with the small force he had taken to the outskirts of the crowd in order to read the Proclamation. If he had been 330 swept away what would have happened to his men? And if he and his men had been swept away what would have happened to the defence and the peace of Amritsar? It does appear to me that those who fasten on the absence of some further notice like that are looking at the matter much more in the spirit of Chancery-lane than in the spirit of those who have to view, not with leniency but with justice, the great responsibilities that are borne by those who uphold the British Power in distant lands.
As to the failure to send medical aid to the wounded, I believe the whole of that case turns upon four words used by General Dyer—again in cross-examination. He said it was not his job. No doubt that can easily be made to sound a brutal observation. But he says—I have heard no evidence to show that his judgment was wrong—that no European doctor would have been safe in Amritsar except under the guard of a large force; that there was no possibility, therefore, as he believed, of undertaking any such special charge of the wounded; and that, when all is said and done, the regular hospitals were open. There was no reason whatever why the friends or relatives of those wounded could not take them to the hospitals, and there was no reason to doubt that they were in a position to do everything that could have been done by the hard-pressed British Forces. If the ease rested only upon what General Dyer did—though there may well he great differences of epinicn now as to whether it was necessary that he should go so far as he went—I think it will be felt that the expression used by the Army Council, "an error of judgment," was meant in the mildest sense, and, even so, went to the full extent of any error that he had committed.
Let it be that he committed an error of judgment. The question then will be whether he has been treated with justice for what he did. I cannot help thinking that there are two circumstances which have really been his undoing, neither of which has any direct connection with the acts that he performed on this occasion. The one was his misfortune, and the other was due to the frankness and the candour of his own nature. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, giving his account of the anxious thought with which the Government arrived at their conclusion, said—At, the same time, we reached the conclusion, which I shall attempt and hope to justify, that 331 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 views which he formed were well-founded, and if the act of which we disapprove were allowed to pass with impunity.It has been the tragic misfortune of General Dyer that the stage upon which he had to play out this terrible scene has been so conspicuous. I cannot help thinking that it is because the most has been made of it in public discussions in India and here that it has become necessary to treat him in a manner different from the thirty-six other officers, who—it is true on a much less scale—were compelled, with the same justification (that is to say, the necessity of the moment) and in the same duty (that is to say, the preservation of peace and order), to take life by means which were violent, with results which we must all regret.
The other thing is this. General Dyer has set out in a statement that he prepared in August of 1919, not only what he did—for that he reported pretty fully, I think, the day after—but a more or less reasoned account of what he did and his reasons for doing it, and it is from that document that are quoted these expressions in which he says, "If more troops had been at hand the casualties would have been greater in proportion." I must say I cannot see what mischievous doctrine is concealed in that statement. It appears to me to be a truism. If there had been more troops at hand he would have been able to take more troops, and if more troops had fired, more bullets would have issued from more guns, and therefore more people would have been killed. That is a mere question of the amount of force that he had at his disposal. It was suggested yesterday, I think, that the Government ought to have provided him with more drafts, but that was no fault of his.
And there is the other passage in the document, in which he says that it was no longer a question of merely dispersing the crowd, but one of producing a sufficient moral effect, and it is said of him that he transcended all his functions when he presumed to consider what the political state of the Punjab was, and to allow that to weigh in any of his calculations. Is not that merely making the head and front of his offending, not what he did, but the motives that he had in doing it, and the explanation that he has since given for what he did? Is not this punishment— 332 because punishment is what is implied in this expression "to pass with impunity"— is not this punishment really punishment because he bad the candour to say that he thought it was time to attack the mob of rebels, to try to suppress them at the outset by showing vigour, and not paltering with their disloyal endeavours? Is not that really opening a campaign against him, not because he used excessive force, which would have been an offence undoubtedly, but because he formed in his own mind a theory from which his rulers think it wise and necessary to dissent? I cannot help thinking that a great part of the notoriety which his case has assumed has been given to it, not because it has been found necessary to visit his conduct with censures, punishments, and penalties, but because it is thought necessary for the British Government publicly and openly and, as it were, with beat of drum, to disclaim any such theory of government in India at all.
They forget that he was face to face with a rebellion. The measure, as I understand it, of the legal duty of an officer in such a case is the necessity of the occasion. I think it is a very hard position in which a man is placed that he should be obliged to measure his duties and his powers by a necessity to which he alone is a witness, and then have to stand by what he does upon the view that may be formed afterwards by others who were not there, upon a necessity which is not present to their immediate attention. But such is the law; he has to do it. In this country whenever a military officer is called on to assist the civil power he incurs this kind of liability. He is liable in his person, civilly and criminally, to the ordinary law, as well as to the censures, or sometimes to the approbation, of his superiors. What is it that is his protection in such a case as that? How is it that he can feel with some confidence that his judgment of what is necessary will be received at least with consideration and fairness, although, of course, it is subject to review and although, of course, if he has made a mistake, he may be answerable for what he has done? It is because he has the protection of the verdict of a British jury.
Now, when a man is called upon to account for his conduct by his military superiors, do not let it be supposed that any of us claims that he can impose as a condition of their dealing with him in the ordinary course of the Service that any 333 inquiry or any Court should be held upon his conduct. Over and over again it has been said that it must be recognised that where His Majesty's competent military or other advisers think it no longer suitable to continue an officer in his post, or think it no longer suitable to continue him in employment at all, it is competent for them to dismiss him; and without reason given. But, at the same time, there are circumstances in which I think any superiors would feel that in their own interests, as much as in the interests of the officer, it was desirable that he should have what is commonly called a trial, though it cannot formally be the equivalent of a trial before a jury—a trial before those who are able and willing to give a fair hearing. The injustice that General Dyer, in my view, has suffered is not that he has not had a Court-Martial and a court of inquiry, nor is it that he had a right to have and did not get them; it is that he has had all the disadvantages of having been convicted before what most people cannot help regarding as a trial. He has had all those disadvantages, and he has never had any of the protections to which a trial would have entitled him.
I do not desire to say one word against the Hunter Committee. I do not desire to say one word about the Minority members of it, except that, having read the cross-examination to which they subjected General Dyer, I think (and they would themselves admit this, I believe) that they came to that Inquiry with information which was not derived simply from the evidence that had been hail before the Committee. They came to that Inquiry with a point of view which, to say the least of it, they were determined to present, and present vigorously; they came with minds more occupied with the sufferings of those with whom they rightly sympathised than with the claims or the duties of the officer they were examining, and they not unnaturally tended to put a point upon what he was saying that went beyond what he really intended.
Let it be accepted that this was a perfectly fair Inquiry—though I join heartily in what has already been said in deprecation of this practice of appointing Committees of Inquiry upon which persons are to sit whose views are already known and whose minds are already made up. If General Dyer had been tried— tried in any form that you like, such as enables a man to 334 have it called a trial—he would have been entitled to have a definite charge formulated against him in writing before the Inquiry began, so far as it related to him; he would have been entitled to know what the charge was; he would have been entitled to know who was to be called against him; he would have been entitled to cross-examine those persons and to call witnesses to answer them; he would have been entitled to be represented; he would have been entitled to be present at every stage of the hearing, and he would have been entitled, if he chose, to offer himself as a witness, with the protection of advisers if he gave evidence, not in the capacity of a person charged, but in the capacity of a person who, as an officer of the Government, was bound to give an account of his doings.
He would have been entitled then to be warned that there were certain questions that he need not answer, because there were charges against him and his answers might tend to incriminate him upon those charges, and, in the result, he would have been entitled to say, "If I am to be charged I will elect whether I will give any information or not. I am not bound to expose myself to a cross-examination, so that what I say may be afterwards used against me; my expressions"—the expressions, I gather, of a bluff and forthright soldier—" shall not be used as the correct legal definition of the conduct which I am prepared to defend upon my duty as a soldier." All those things he would have been entitled to say. Of all those things he was—I will not say deprived, because I am not suggesting that there was any trickery here but by the course of events which has been pursued unfortunately he was heard without any of these protections, and the Report of the Committee, to the public, and, I cannot help thinking, to the minds of his superiors also, has all along been looked upon as though it were a Report convicting him of the disregard of duty which the Majority Report there discloses.
It is all very well to disclaim all that, and say that nothing of the kind has been intended. It is all very well to say that an independent examination has been made at different times, and that the Army Council gave it its best attention, very possibly without poisoning its mind by reading the Report of the Hunter Committee. When he comes before the Army 335 Council he comes as an appellant, as a person who has been dealt with in a disciplinary manner, and who asks that the sentence passed upon him, or, at any rate, the course taken in his case, may be reversed. The burden is upon him, and I am satisfied that in that state of affairs nobody can fail to be animated, consciously or unconsciously, by the feeling that it was upon him to clear himself and not upon the other side to make out that he had never done anything wrong.
Again, I think that if the charge had been formulated against him, it never would have been said that the charge against General Dyer is that he reported to his Government in August, 1919, that his motive, his policy, his view of his duties is such as is described in the Dalhousie document. They would have charged him with having exceeded the necessity of the occasion and used force which could not be justified, and thereby have taken lives which ought to have been spared. If the Government had chosen to say they repudiated such a view, well and good. I think they would have had to consider very carefully, and no doubt would have considered very carefully, whether they really were prepared to stand to the proposition that, in the face of rebellion, those who are charged with its suppression in its first stages are not entitled to consider the general state of the district in which they are operating, and are not entitled to consider whether life will not be spared in the long run by dealing severely with it on the first occasion that presents itself. They would have to consider whether they were prepared to lay down as a rule to be observed in all cases that rebels are, like dogs, to be allowed to have a first bite; that rebels are to be dispersed, but are not to be dealt with more severely than by dispersal. I think they would have found on consultation with their military advisers and on full reflection upon what it means to lay down such a code, that they would have to revise very considerably the censure which it is so easy to pass upon General Dyer when you put together two things that do not really hang together—the opinions he expressed in August, and Ms conduct at Jallianwallah Bagh, which was as he believed in the exercise of his duty in April.
I should be unwarrantably detaining your Lordships if I endeavoured to retraverse at any length the course of events in India, 336 and I want to say, quite briefly, only one or two things about the other minor matters. I do not pretend to defend—I am not aware that anybody has defended; I do not think General Dyer has defended—the "Crawling Order," but I think that some injustice has been done to him, as he has pointed out, by a question-begging epithet being applied to it. I think credit ought. to be given to his statement, for there seems no reason to doubt his word, that he supposed that it had not become a really operative Order. I think some allowance must be made for the feelings of a man, even though he goes beyond his official duty in having feelings at all, who knew that in that street a short time before a lady missionary had been beaten and left for dead. But, though much may be forgiven in such a case, I am very far from desiring to suggest that any such policy forms any part of the armoury of government in any clime, even for the purpose of maintaining order with very slender means.
As to the flogging, you must remember that flogging is a regular sentence in India, and that (if General Dyer is again to be believed) the case in which it occurred was that of six persons only, who were subsequently convicted of crime and who, before they were convicted, had been guilty and convicted—I do not know by what process—of a breach of prison rules in the prison where they were confined, as persons awaiting trial and not as already convicted. But that comes to this—that, having violated some prison rules and having been sentenced, by what appears to have been, so far as General Dyer was concerned, suitable authority, to be flogged, he permitted them—I do not think it is more than that—to be flogged in public, and in this very place. Again, it may be regretted, but it is no part of the armoury of the British Empire. Does any one seriously say that but for the great loss of life on the afternoon of the 13th, either of these things would have been made the ground for treating General Dyer with what is, to him, considerable severity.
I am aware that the noble Viscount the Secretary of State for the Colonies was able to make a considerable argument for saying that General Dyer was let off uncommonly easy; that he would have been employed but a very short time longer; and so forth. That is not the way in which it has been made to appear to the public. 337 That is not the way in which the Government desire it to appear to the public, because it is of no value to the Government to make this solemn declaration of an error of judgment, unless it is also backed up by such treatment of the officer concerned as will prove their sincerity and demonstrate that they take a serious view of the situation.
There is one part of the speech made by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack last night, which I confess I deplore. Hitherto, in the course of this debate, we had been fortunate that it was initiated and pursued in no spirit of vindictiveness or animosity, and that even those whose feelings might have been most engaged showed no desire to fan smouldering fires or to reawaken bitternesses which all of us hope will disappear. I am sure we all feel that under, may I say, a provocation to which a weaker nature might have yielded, the noble Lord opposite observed great restraint in the manner in which he dealt with this question.
§ NOBLE LORDS: Hear, hear.
§ LORD SUMNER
I cannot help thinking—perhaps I am presumptuous in supposing that I can penetrate his mind—that to him, not unnaturally, the "Crawling Order" and the floggings were bitterer matters than the rest. In that I am sure that he and those in India who think with him have, I will not say sympathy, because it is a word that is worn thin, but an amount of regard and consideration in England which I hope will be fruitful, aided by the efforts of himself and his friends, in promoting increasingly good feeling upon all points between us and the people of India. But what was signal in his speech and was, I think, characteristic of the debate generally was that there was no endeavour to set race against race, or to claim for the inhabitants of one clime a superior right or a better justice than that which belongs to the inhabitants of another.
Pursuing that vein of thought, the Lord Chancellor, if I may say so, was led—and I regret that he was so led—into putting the question to us, "Do you say that this kind of thing could be done in Glasgow or in Ireland?" Again an endeavour was made to make a point by challenging those who support this Motion to commit themselves to some doctrine which every one of us 338 would abhor. As I said before, it is the same justice for all. I decline to discuss the hypothesis that in any part of our country—in Limerick, in Glasgow, or anywhere else, in the state of civilisation and with the long political experience that our populations have enjoyed—it is possible that such a case should arise as that which arose at Amritsar. Therefore, my answer leaves out of account the cities that have been named, because I refuse to consider that such cases can arise there. But if it should arise, in any part of the Empire where such things are possible, that in the course of one afternoon bank managers should be clubbed to death and burnt in a pile with their bank books, a lady beaten and left for dead, a guard hammered to death, a sergeant with his brains beaten out, a lady doctor searched for all over the hospital where she ministered; if it were possible that thousands of rebels should assemble and set fire to Government buildings and property and at the same time endeavour to isolate the locality from help, then the answer is, that the same rule should apply there as applied at Jallianwallah Bagh. According to the measure of the necessity of the case would be the force that would be employed.
There can be no other rule. A Government formed of natives of India would have been bound to apply the same rule and the same severity if they intended to be a Government at all. No Government can tolerate a challenge to its authority; and, sooner or later, a Government which lets itself be challenged must come to an end. It is the first duty of any Government to maintain peace and order and protect those who are powerless. If worse happened than did happen—I am not going to prophesy or paint a black picture—who would have suffered more than the Indian population themselves? It was in mercy to them, in order that they might not die, that it became the duty of General Dyer to use force and put to death those who were challenging the authority of the Government, who were rebels, only not in arms.
In the break-up of things that has happened in the course of the war we have emerged the objects of the envy, and therefore of the hatred, of many who are not among us. We are too strong to be challenged in arms; but the war has taught one thing which I think is more sinister than almost anything else, and that is the terrible efficiency of organ- 339 ised lying; propaganda as it is called. We have learned that by the insidious methods of sowing discontent, fanning every quarrel, disseminating false views, exciting impossible hopes, enemies of this country, whether domestic or foreign, have an easy game among populations that have not yet learned, as the British population has, to acquire not only the political mind but the political sense. The easiest way to attack our power is to foment disorder, to excite agitation and to bring about, unscrupulously and ruthlessly, exactly such a state of rebellion as appeared to be coming to a head at Amritsar.
To defend ourselves against this we have forces which must appear to any one terribly slender. It is by the prestige of the British name, by the authority of force, which is in reserve but rarely used, that dangers like these are to be met. We have taken upon ourselves new and vast responsibilities. Mandates and other extensions of responsibility, among races of ancient traditions and natural pride but ill-acquainted with modern economic conditions and ill-satisfied with the results of European policy. These are dangerous fields within which the organised lie of our enemies may work, and I contemplate with alarm the prospect, in the years to come, that it will be increasingly often the duty of military men to deal with sudden outbreaks, or sudden appearances of rebellion, which do not bear the character of an armed revolt but which must be repressed at once, and therefore sternly and unhesitatingly.
You are weakening the hands of every one of those officers if you let it be understood from the precedent of General Dyer that they will not afterwards get, I do not say support, but a fair consideration of all the difficulties and dangers to which they themselves are exposed. They are prepared to run these risks, but they are not prepared to run the risk of not being supported where they have been fairly right. It applies not only to military men, but to civilians. Nothing is so deadly a corrosive of the fabric of democratic government as a fatal disposition to shirk responsibility. It is so easy to leave it to somebody else, So easy to temporise, to refer it to some committee, to telegraph to somebody, to await instructions. You cannot telegraph to anybody, or await instructions from anyone at a Jallianwallah Bagh. You have to use force if it is necessary, and it is agreed that it was necessary. 340 I have no desire to plead the case of General Dyer, whom I have never seen, or to deal in any way unfairly with the Government whose difficulties we appreciate, and whose responsibilities are heavy. After all, so long as they are the Government the final say must be left to them. But I do earnestly entreat your Lordships to pause long before, by voting against this Motion upon any idea that the less we say the better, it should be possible to use the name of General Dyer, which is now well known, as the "tag" or citation for a well-understood rule of civil policy that the less force a military officer uses the better.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
My Lords, in a debate of this description this House is unusually rich in men who, by long administrative experience or knowledge of affairs on the spot, have a peculiar qualification to speak. To the noble and learned Viscount who introduced the Motion, and to the noble Lord who has just spoken and myself alike, such qualifications are denied, and that reflection might cause me to pause before I asked your Lordships to listen to the few brief remarks I propose to make if it were not for the fact that the ultimate decision on questions of this kind must rest upon the men who have not had the administrative experience and have not the local knowledge, but who, nevertheless, are called upon to consider and pass judgment on those who administer their affairs. I greatly regret the form in which the Motion has been prepared. It seems to me to have been adroitly framed for the purpose of avoiding the real issue upon which your Lordships are asked to make up your minds. In form this Motion is a complaint against procedure. It is a Resolution against the way in which General Dyer has been dealt with. It is a Resolution, not expressing approval of his action, but disapproval of the conduct of his case.
§ Several NOBLE LORDS: Hear, hear.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
Noble Lords say, "Hear, hear." That may well be, but that may well mean that you might vote for this Resolution as it stands and still be confident that what General Dyer did was something which you ought not to support. This is a most unfortunate circumstance. It is nothing but an unreality to suggest that your Lordships have been asked, for the last two days, to discuss not 341 the real question as to whether or no the House is prepared to approve or censure General Dyer, but whether this House is prepared to approve the method by which the Government examined into the circumstances of the case. The one thing is a comparatively worthless waste of time, and the other is a matter of great substance and great value, and it is the real and only question upon which your Lordships ought to make up your minds this afternoon.
It follows, of course, if you have a Motion framed in this manner, that the debate trickles along two streams. One deals with the merits and the other with the form, and they both mingle and meet. The most bitter part of the attack upon the way in which the Government tried the case is not upon the merits of the ease at all. I feel, and I think everybody must feel, that if you are called upon here to consider a matter of this description two principles ought to be enunciated, and ought to be obeyed. The first is this—that we ought to be very careful indeed before we withdraw our support from men who, in difficulties that we cannot realise and in dangers that we do not share, administer the affairs of our great State. Such men ought to feel that they have behind them the solid opinion of a united country, and they ought not to fear that what they do may be the subject of factious controversy between one Party and the other, either in the House of Commons or in this House. That is true, but it is also true that we are bound to consider whether what we are called upon to examine obeys the canon which the noble and learned Lord himself laid down, that you should not set up one rule of conduct for this country, and another rule of conduct for the government of native populations. It is essential that that should be borne in mind just as carefully as the other, and, so considered, I beg your Lordships to approach this case.
The preliminary history that led up to the events on the 13th are deplorable indeed. An Englishwoman had been assaulted and left for dead on the pavements of Amritsar. Proclamations had been issued that only thinly disguised an invitation not only to personal violence against men, but to cases of dishonour against women. General Dyer may well have thought that there was only a thin white line that stood between the handful of Europeanpeople and the vast number of well-affected natives, and all the savage fury of a crowd who were 342 maddened with seditious rhetoric, and drunk with the new wine that ferments throughout the world. I am not suprised that in those circumstances General Dyer should feel that he was called upon to take strict, severe and harsh measures with any symptom of the rebellion with which he was brought into contact, and I do not complain of him because he did.
What followed after that? After meetings have been proclaimed a meeting is held and it is brought to Ins mind. It is probably profitless to speculate with regard to those who were present at that meeting The noble Viscount who moved the Resolution suggested that they were nothing but a gang of conspirators, who were well aware the meeting was proclaimed. It is, however, remarkable that of the 374 people killed, 87 came from neighhouring villages, and therefore would not have the ordinary means (although they may have been made aware by telepathic means suggested by the noble and learned Lord) of the proclaiming of the meeting. Nor was there evidence of the character and quality of the body of the crowd, but I think it may be accepted that the object of the crowd was to attend a meeting where there was to be violent declamation against the Government. I accept that, and I think, too, you must attach far more importance to such a meeting, at such a time and place, than you would attach to a meeting held here in the Albert Hall, where just the same thing happens week after week Now, General Dyer, being brought into contact with this crowd, proceeded to fire and if he had fired to disperse the crowd I certainly would not suggest, nor do I think anybody on behalf of the Government would have suggested, that it was, possible to assign the particular moment when the firing ought to have ceased.
While the purpose and object of General Dyer's action was the scattering of this crowd of people, whose collection he feared, I do not think there is any possible measure which you could safely, assign to the limit of what he did, but we know that that was not why he continued to fire. We know, from his own statement, that the reason that prompted him was something quite different, and it is for your Lordships so to apply the rule which the noble and learned. Lord himself has asked you to apply—the same rule of justice to white people and to native races—and see whether General Dyer laid down the rule which we desire 343 should be obeyed in the administration of our affairs; because this is what he says—if more troops had been at hand the casualties would have been greater in proportion.It is not a mere matter of arithmetic, as the noble and learned Lord suggested, but if he had had more troops he would have continued firing. Not that the number of casualties was what he wanted, although the casualties ended the crowd, and, as I understand, ended the rebellion. But he says this was h[...]s whole object. It is his own statement—It was no longer a question of merely dispersing the crowd, but one of producing a sufficient moral effect from a military point of view not only on those who were present, but more especially throughout the Punjab. There could be no question of undue severity.Now, my Lords, the question for you this evening, and the only question, is whether that principle is the principle upon which you desire that soldiers, who have to take in hand the preservation of order, should act when face to face with a crowd which, however seditious may be its meaning, is unarmed with lethal weapons and perfectly helpless and defenceless against the modern methods of military attack.
I beg you to see, too, that this means that if the crowd had fallen on their knees General Dyer would still, according to this, have continued shooting. It made no difference how submissive or resigned the crowd might be. It was essential now that the crowd was got together it should not merely be dispersed, but that the numbers of people who were there should be used as an opportunity of showing, by the slaughter that was inflicted upon them, how great was the power of the Government, and how remorselessly it would be used. I am unable to take arty other view of this statement than that I have mentioned, and I regret that I am quite unable to vote in support of the Resolution that condones such a line of conduct. I hate more than I can say that, even by words, I should go back upon a gallant soldier. I dislike—far more than people who may have heard me criticise the Government may believe—intensely, the idea of attempting to set up over here a standard for people to carry out elsewhere when you are not responsible for what is done. But in this matter there are considerations that must transcend all these personal considerations.
If it be true, as the noble Lord suggested, that at the base of our authority there must 344 be force, I nevertheless maintain that its only sanction is the administration of justice, and the welfare and benefit of the people whom it rules—people of myriad races, of divers faiths; people who neither speak our speech nor worship our God, but who yet believe that under our shelter and protection they will find justice, security and peace. It is because I think that if this be accepted as the proper rule of conduct for military men dealing with these people that protection will he weakened, that security will be taken away, and that peace will be imperilled, that I find myself impelled to vote for the Government upon this Motion.
§ LORD MESTON
My Lords, whatever may be the intention of the noble and learned Viscount who introduced this Motion, it is, in effect, a censure upon the Government of India as well as upon His Majesty's Government here, and that aspect of the case has been emphasised by several of the speakers who have addressed this House both in favour of and against the Motion. It is perfectly true that the Government of India as a subordinate Government must share the praise or blame allotted to its masters in England, but your Lordships' House has been so uniformly generous to your agents in distant parts of the Empire that you will not, I am confident, refuse to hear certain considerations on behalf of the responsible authorities in India who had to deal with this matter at first hand, and whose position, I think, has been somewhat imperfectly understood. I refer, of course, more particularly to Lord Chelmsford, to that distinguished soldier and commander-in-chief, Sir Charles Monro, and to their colleagues in the Executive Council. Of the latter I was one up to the end of May, 1919, during the period covered by all the disturbances in the Punjab, and that is perhaps my chief excuse for asking your indulgence this afternoon.
The gravamen of the charge against the Government for the treatment of General Dyer seems to be, (1), that there was great delay in dealing with his case; (2), that after what he did at Amritsar his action was either tacitly condoned or specifically approved by his superior authorities; (3) that the sentence upon him is, on the merits, unjust; and (4) that it will have the effect of making it exceedingly difficult for any officer who has to face civil disturbances hereafter to show the necessary 345 firmness and determination in suppressing them. The first two of these charges are charges of harshness rather than of injustice. They are undesirable charges, but I must admit, at first sight, they are not unnatural. If General Dyer did wrong at Amritsar, it would have been infinitely preferable that he should have been brought to account at once rather than transferred and promoted to service at the Front, and the long interval that elapsed between his performances in April, 1919, and his appearance before the Hunter Commission was nothing but a sheer misfortune. But I would endeavour to submit to your Lordships this afternoon that there was no malice, and not even negligence, on the part of the Government of India, and that what they did was the result of inevitable causes operating at the time. And for that purpose I should endeavour to picture to your Lordships the condition of the country at that time, the position of the Punjab more particularly, and the preoccupations of the Government of India, and their Commander-in-Chief.
The situation was that as the result of unpopular legislation in March at Delhi a violent, unscrupulous, political agitation burst out over the whole length and breadth of India—a type of agitation with which we are unfortunately familiar. There was a sudden and dramatic transition to organised violence. That violence focussed in the Central and Northern Punjab, and one of its most characteristic features was the determination shown by the insurgents to destroy communications. Roads were damaged, railways were cut, telegraphs and telephone wires were destroyed in all directions, and for a time Government of India, in their seat at Simla, were isolated. The appeal from Sir Michael O'Dwyer for permission to initiate Martial Law came by wireless, because every single wire to Simla was cut. I remember the anxiety we felt that afternoon as to whether we should be able to get the reply back to him in time, because a local thunderstorm had upset the working of the little wireless installation near Simla. That was the physical position.
The Press, as we know, was silent. It had been effectively censored by the Punjab Government. Turning to our own officers, they were extremely few. The staff had been severely depleted by the war, and by the rush of leave that followed the war. 346 They were worked beyond endurance. There was extraordinarily little time for official reports, and those reports that were submitted to the Government were directed rather to plans for the future than to intimate descriptions of what had passed. Responsible officials were engaged, not only in preparing the cases for those tribunals which sprang up all over the country in connection with the numerous crimes which had been committed, but in marching and counter - marching about the country, with mobile columns, restoring order, working day and night, in a climate which was becoming more trying every day. Your Lordships will realise how readily it came about that our information was both scrappy and indefinite.
Then at this psychological moment came the invasion of our territory by the Afghans. We had to push up troops to repel that invasion through country in which peace had not yet been restored. It would not be right and expedient for me this afternoon to attempt to describe the anxieties of that moment—the terrible shortage of trained officers, the rawness of many of our troops, the long line of difficult country that had to be held. The energies of every responsible person in the North of India were occupied, and more than, occupied, with the things of the moment, and every senior officer who had experience of frontier fighting and knowledge of Indian troops was wanted, and wanted immediately. I think if you try to visualise that situation you will see why General Dyer's services were immediately transferred to active service at the Front, and why simultaneously the Government of India were unaware of the more unfortunate aspects of what he had done at Amritsar.
The brief diary recorded at the time—which a recent speaker described as giving a full account of the situation—was, I assure you, a document which gave extraordinarily little hint of the extent of the punishment he had inflicted at the Jallianwallah Bagh, or of the circumstances in which he had inflicted that punishment, and still less of the motives which he subsequently alleged had actuated him in inflicting the punishment. It was not until August that General Dyer sent in his full and reasoned Report of what he had done; and when I ceased to be a member of the Government at the end of May, 1919, all I knew—and, I believe, all that most of my colleagues knew—was that there 347 had been a collision between troops and the mob, and that there were 200 casualties. I think others, like myself, formed the impression that 200 casualties meant, Toughly, 50 dead and 150 wounded, in accordance with the ordinary ratio.
Long before the end of May the Viceroy had decided upon a full, unbiassed, impartial investigation into the whole occurrences in the Punjab. It was one of the first thoughts of Lord Chelmsford when the position began to get in hand towards the end of April. There were two reasons, and two reasons only, why that inquiry could not be undertaken at once. As I have already tried to explain, one was that so many of the officials concerned were deeply engaged in connection with the Afghan trouble and its off-shoots. The other was that it had been desired to obtain as President of that Committee a distinguished judicial officer from England; and to set such an authority to work at Lahore and Amritsar during the fierce heats of the Punjab slimier would have been physically impossible. Thus it was that the inquiry could not be opened until the beginning of the winter.
Last night two other reasons were put forward for that delay—hypothetical, fantastical, and, I submit, singularly unfortunate. One was that the delay was a belated device of the Viceroy to protect himself and his Government. To protect them from what and in what way? The noble Lord who hazarded that theory (Lord Ampthill) did not tell us; but I am sure that the Viceroy would be more amused than depressed at the suggestion. The other suggestion was that the inquiry was delayed in order to allow the Indian reforms to go through. That also, I can assure you, is absolutely unfounded. The facts are wholly different. Long before peace had been restored in the Punjab it had become apparent that a very complex tale was involved, and that a complicated skein of intrigue and violence was to be unravelled. It was within a fortnight after the Amritsar affair that the Viceroy made up his mind, and announced to his colleagues his determination, to have at the earliest moment an impartial inquiry made into the whole question by a body sent out from England for the purpose, if possible. To that decision he steadfastly adhered, and to that prospective tribunal he postponed the investigation of all questions of personal responsibility as they arose.
348 Differ from him as to the expediency of his decision you may; but you must admit it was a courageous, a fair-minded, and a consistent policy. The delay that clung to the heels of that policy was in no way his fault. I do not know that it was the fault of any one. It was very largely due to the difficulty in securing the necessary personnel. These are the facts. Do not let us throw random accusations at a great public servant who is also a member of this House, and who holds one of the most difficult posts in the Empire at one of the most difficult times in our history. Do not let us throw stones at him because he is absent and cannot defend himself; and do not let us yield to the temptation to throw stones in his direction in the hope that they will miss him and hit the Secretary of State.
Meanwhile, the serious question is this, Had there been in the interim any active condonation of General Dyer's performance at Amritsar? His defenders refer more particularly to the message sent the next morning from the Lieutenant-Governor of the Punjab, and to speeches of certain official members of the Legislative Assembly at its meeting in September. In both cases I urge that the argument is an over-statement if it interprets what happened as a specific approval of General Dyer's proceedings. The message from the Lieutenant-Governor was sent, I believe, in almost complete ignorance of the whole circumstances. If it was an error, it was at most and at worst a generous acceptance of responsibility for a subordinate officer who, in Sir Michael O'Dwyer's mind, had been in a tight place and stood in need of moral support. As to the proceedings of the Legislative Council in September, they were devoted definitely and exclusively, as the noble Lord told us yesterday, to securing an Act of Indemnity and to explaining the general reasons why indemnity is necessary after all or any acts under Martial Law. I think if you will read the speeches of the Official Members as a whole, you will see that they were concerned not with defending individual acts into which a formal Inquiry had been definitely promised, but with the necessity for Martial Law and with the justification for exceptional treatment of an exceptional situation. There was no definite or even assumed approval by the Government of India of those acts which they now condemn. There was a deliberate postpone- 349 ment of any investigation of them, of any verdict upon them, until the Inquiry. It is again within my personal knowledge that the Commander-in-Chief more than once pressed for a special Departmental Inquiry into the actions of his officers. The Government of India thought it would be more satisfactory to the public, would better meet the case and enable it to be the more clearly and lucidly set before the world at large, to have the whole complicated story investigated once and for all by an authoritative and unbiased tribunal. I apologise for having wearied your Lordships at such length with this particular aspect of the case, but I was anxious to show you that there was anything but deliberate condonation of an act subsequently disavowed. The Government have not spoken with two voices to General Dyer or treated him with harshness or callousness.
Let me now briefly turn to the graver charges—that General Dyer has been treated with injustice on the merits, and that his treatment will make it extraordinarily difficult for officers to do the unpleasant duty which was imposed upon him in the Punjab. I shall look only to the facts, and I shall deal only with the question of the Jallianwallah Bagh. I wish to concede every point it is possible to concede in General Dyer's favour—points which I doubt whether my noble friend the Under-Secretary would be willing that I should concede. When General Dyer came to Amritsar a heavy responsibility (to my mind, far too heavy and improper a responsibility) was thrown upon him by the abdication of the civil power and by the very imperfect instructions which he seems to have received. His patience was tried by the attitude of the townsmen; the spirit of lawlessness remained unabated; and, when he marched to the Jallianwallah Bagh, he was evidently prepared to find a defiant and dangerous mob.
What he did find you know. It was a mob of several thousands being harangued, presumably not in the interests of peace and order, but with incitations to violence. The point has been much debated whether they were armed. It is perfectly true that they had no lethal weapons, that they had no firearms, and it is also alleged that they were net ostensibly armed with bludgeons. But I have never known an Indian crowd of that type and of that character that had not a very large supply of bludgeons somewhere or other near. And those who 350 know the Indian lathi, heavily shod with iron, five feet long, capable of battering out a man's brains in a few seconds, will realise how dangerous a weapon that bludgeon might be, and would be, in the hands of infuriated men at close quarters. Any mob so armed is dangerous, and the mob that faced General Dyer was undoubtedly dangerous. If there had been any faltering or hesitation it is quite possible that General Dyer's men might have been rushed, and overwhelmed, and cudgelled to death.
Let us concede, therefore, that there was—and probably there was—justification for his opening fire, as a sheer necessity for self-preservation. Once that danger was over, and the crowd was cowed, let us make a further concession. Let us concede that it was natural in a man who had seen what General Dyer had seen, and in view of his state of mind, that he should carry on some further punishment to assert the law, and to show that orders at such a time are not made solely in order to be broken. To such punishment, however, there clearly was a limit. And when the crowd was broken, shrieking, fleeing, seeking only to escape, and powerless to harm, that limit had been reached. General Dyer passed that limit. He went on firing until his cartridge belts were almost empty, and the ground was covered with dead and wounded. Can there he any possible justification for that? There was a point, in other words, up to which firing may have been necessary, probably was necessary in the circumstances. There was a further point up to which firing may. have been justifiable as a stern, sharp punishment for persistent lawlessness, but beyond that point further firing was vengeance, and it was as vengeance that General Dyer subsequently described and defended it. Here, therefore, I submit that our justification must stop.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
Where does the noble Lord say that General Dyer described it as vengeance?
§ LORD MESTON
I am not aware that he used the word. Our British traditions of fair dealing and of humanity and justice to a weaker people were broken, and no 351 casuistry can mend them. It is said that by his ruthlessness General Dyer averted a mutiny. The word is clearly a wrong word, because the Indian Army was as staunch as it ever has been. It was upon Indian troops that he relied for punishment; it was through Indian troops that he executed the punishment at Jallianwallah Bagh, and they obeyed their orders unflinchingly. But, if it was not a mutiny, it will be said, what he did avert was a general insurrection of the civi population. Even that, I think, puts it rather high, because the great majority of the population, we know, were staunch and loyal. What I say is that what daunted the insurgents, or whatever you call them, was not General Dyer's bullets, but the steadfast front which the Executive Government showed to them all along the line in the Punjab and elsewhere. In the Punjab there was a Lieutenant-Governor calm, determined, resourceful, who knew the people well, and whom they knew well, and it was against the dispositions of Sir Michael O'Dwyer and his officers that the insurgents beat in vain, and, in the last resort, subsided. You may differ, if you like, with Sir Michael O'Dwyer over his policy or over his individual orders, but it was his courage that kept the Punjab together. Trouble, however, is always liable to recur in India, and will the soldier venture to do his duty in similar circumstances if you condemn General Dyer now? I think the answer to that is to ask, How many soldiers had to fire on mobs during these troublous weeks, both in the Punjab and Bombay and elsewhere? And how many of them have been rebuked? With the exception of General Dyer not a single one. In every other case they have been told that they acted rightly and properly. And why? Because they acted as the ordinary British officer would act. They did what was necessary and no more.
In the whole of the controversy over this unfortunate business the chief misfortune is that so many of our critics seem to fail to remember that there are two sides of the story. No words can be too harsh in condemnation of the brutality of the mob. No sympathy can be too deep for their victims. The whole story is one of the darkest blots on India since 1857, and it is right and proper that we should say so. But, having said this, let us remember the many innocent men who have suffered with the guilty in the course of our measures 352 for punishing and repressing these outbreaks. Do not let us fasten our minds exclusively on one or exclusively on the other aspect of this story. Let us also remember that many of the participants in the original crimes have been punished by the ordinary course of law. And, besides those who have expiated their offences by death, or by minor punishments, there is also that large number who have been shot, disabled, and wounded. The punishment has been full.
There is only one class which has escaped, which has suffered no penalty for its share of the tragedy, and that is the subterranean organisers of the whole thing. They have gone scotfree; it is their dupes who have suffered. Lord Hunter's Committee found no evidence of a conspiracy. I do not know how deep they dug to look for that evidence, and all of us who know anything about India are aware how extraordinarily difficult in any circumstances it is to get evidence of a conspiracy in that country. But you have only to look at the map attached to the Report and judge for yourselves whether all these simultaneous outbreaks were sporadic or were the result of a conspiracy. I do not myself for a moment doubt that there was skilful organisation. But, even if we cannot prove it by chapter and verse, we can prove—we know—that there was reckless and wicked incitation by violent speeches and an unbridled Press. The whole story is a terrible exemplification of the responsibility which lies on those who play upon an ignorant and inflammable people, and of the cowardice with which they escape the results. It seems impossible for us to deal with that type of man adequately in India, or indeed in other parts of our Dominions. And we can only hope to defeat his malignity if we have the stable, moderate elements in Indian society working with us in political co-operation. Of this I frankly see very little chance if the present Motion is carried; if India believes that we are unable to take a bigger view of these issues, if it suspects us still of asserting racial superiority and displaying racial bias.
Let me return to General Dyer. It is generally said in the Press which is devoted to his cause that, except for a few pragmatists and theorists, his actions have been universally approved by our fellow-countrymen in India. It has been further said, on the authority of a recent distinguished 353 visitor to India, that 80 per cent. of the Indian Civil Service approved of what he did. I think I know a little about the service to which I belong, and I unhesitatingly say that this is untrue. A lady who knows India very well and who lost her distinguished husband in its service, said to me the other day: "General Dyer has done me a great dis-service. I used to be quite happy about my boy and his young wife in their lonely station in Upper India. I am not happy now." That is what General Dyer has done. His vengeance has recoiled upon us in bitterness, in sadness, and in distrust.
Some doubt was expressed last night whether feeling ran so high in India as my noble friend the Under-Secretary of State said. Both he and I know that it does. I can only say that, during all my long years in India, I have never seen nor heard such bitterness as was expressed to me when I re-visited that country last winter. It will take time to get over this, and to recover the old happy state of mutual liking and respect between the good Englishman and the good Indian. This House can hasten the recovery. India will be very grateful for the moderation that has characterised this debate throughout. and she will be still more grateful if, either by not pressing this Motion to a Division or, if that is, unhappily, impossible, your Lordships show that you do not endorse acts of violence; that you have an outlook higher than mere racial prestige, and that you wish the dead past to be buried. If that be your decision, my Lords, I believe that the best minds of India will still rally to our side, and that our future in India will be assured.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS (EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON)
My Lords, the most rev. Primate, in his speech this afternoon, echoing something that fell last might from the noble Marquess who leads the Opposition, expressed very strong regret that a discussion on this subject should have taken place in this House at all. From the larger point of view, I am disposed to agree with him, and I shall agree with him still more if, at the close of our proceedings, your Lordships' House is found to dissociate itself from the unanimous verdict of all those high authorities who have hitherto been called upon, in one capacity or another, to deal with the case and to send out a message to India which, I am firmly 354 convinced, will be a source of very great misapprehension, if not of worse, an that country.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Sumner, said: "Are we, therefore, to be silenced?" No. No one would wish to silence the voice of my noble and learned friend. In fact, any one who heard his most powerful speech to-night can only regret that he does not more frequently address us. Neither would any one, the most. rev. Primate or anybody else, deny to him the right that any member of a legislative assembly possesses of backing his voice by his vote. What the most rev. Primate, as I understand, deprecated was that this House should, by a majority of its votes, give currency to the opinion that the principles upon which we have hitherto acted in India are in any danger. That was the warning that was given by the noble Lord who, in one of the most impressive admonitions that I have ever heard addressed to this House, just now concluded his speech. Whatever your Lordships' action may be this afternoon—and I can hardly hope it may be influenced by anything I can say—I hope you will bear in mind that warning, coming from a man fresh from India, contrasting his experiences in India a few months ago with what they were a few years ago, and telling you in solemn tones that you are on the verge of committing, that you may possibly decide to commit, a very serious mistake.
But there is another point of view, a narrower point of view, from which I do not altogether regret this discussion. As other speakers have pointed out, it has been signally free from passion or bitterness, and I must confess that I failed altogether to understand what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Sumner, meant when he made a special exception, to the prejudice of the noble and learned Lord seated upon the Woolsack, for an illustration that he used of a possible analogy that might occur in Cork, or Glasgow, or elsewhere. That seemed to me, if I may say so, to be a perfectly legitimate illustration, and to be untinged by any note whatever of the bitterness which my noble friend Lord Sumner rightly deprecated. The reason for which I am glad in some measure that this debate has taken place has been this—that while conducted by the highest authorities and while free, as I have argued, from passion or bitterness, it has at the same time succeeded in dissipating some portion of the mist and prejudice 355 with which this case has been surrounded, and has enabled His Majesty's Government at any rate to correct some of the misapprehensions that have been aroused.
Let me briefly, in a few sentences only, allude to the particular misapprehensions which have been shattered in this debate. A statement has frequently been made—it has been repeated here—that General Dyer was promoted after the incidents at Amritsar. The noble and learned Viscount, Lord Finlay, spoke of him as having been praised and promoted. Lord Salisbury made a similar interruption last evening. And there is a phrase employed by General Dyer himself to the same effect in one of his declarations. My Lords, it is not the case that at any stage General Dyer was promoted. I have it on the highest military authority that the facts were as follows. General Dyer was Brigadier-General in charge of the district when in command at Amritsar. After Amritsar he was employed, again as a Brigadier-General, in the Afghan War. He was subsequently continued in his command as Brigadier-General. In no case, and at no time, did he receive promotion; he was merely continued in the status which he had previously enjoyed.
Again, it was frequently said, before this discussion took place here, that the Government of India were pressed to alter their views, or to modify their presentation of the case, in deference to action taken by the Government at home. My noble friend Lord Sinha gave an absolute and irrefragable contradiction to that suggestion yesterday afternoon. Similarly, it has been suggested that the Commander-in-Chief in India, in the action that he took, acted under some form of pressure. We know that there is not a word of truth in that insinuation. I am rather familiar with these cases, and I can only say that when any case arose in India affecting the conduct or the reputation of a military officer, the action which was taken then is the action which, I believe, was taken, before me, by every one of my predecessors, and has been taken now—namely, that while it rested with the Civil Government to form their estimate of the general conduct of any officer, civil or military, if it came to be a case of inflicting punishment on a military officer then the Commander-in-Chief alone was responsible. I doubt if you can find any case in which there has been any interference with the 356 prerogative of the Commander-in-Chief by the Viceroy or members of his Council. And so it was in this case. The punishment, be it large or small, that was meted out to General Dyer, was the punishment of the Commander-in-Chief in India, a trained experienced and authoritative soldier, and of no one else.
It has been said also that the Government of India condoned the action of General Dyer at the start and only subsequently visited him with their censure. Added to this has been a long stream of representation, or rather misrepresentation, of the conduct of the Government of India, accusing them of negligence, procrastination, inconsistency and unfairness. I had intended, with your Lordships' permission, to make an answer to these charges this afternoon, but I am dispensed from doing so by the singularly clear and unanswerable vindication which fell just now from the noble Lord who was a member of the Government that has been impugned. It has been said, and possibly not without truth, that General Dyer was at some disadvantage before the Hunter Committee in the hands of skilful Indian counsel. But the case which is made by the Government, the case which I shall endeavour to make to-day, does not rest upon anything that General Dyer said in answer to Indian inquiry. It rests upon his answers to questions put to him by the Chairman of the Committee, on statements made in his own declarations, and above all—and on this I chiefly rely —on the published statement drawn up by him a few weeks ago and read by everybody, and, no doubt, by every member of your Lordships' House. One other misconception has been finally removed to-day by Lord Milner, and that was the idea that some further penalty had been inflicted upon General Dyer, in addition to that for which the Commander-in-Chief in India was responsible, either by His Majesty's Government or by the Army Council at home.
So much for these preliminaries. May I now pass on to the case in its wider aspect? It would be impossible, and also most undesirable, for any one speaking at the end of a two days' debate such as this to endeavour to cover the whole ground. I propose to confine my remarks to two aspects of it only, and they are the two aspects which, with the unerring eye of the trained lawyer, Lord Sumner selected as the chief 357 subjects of his remarks this afternoon. I allude, firstly, to the comparatively minor incident of the "Crawling Order," and, secondly to what happened in the Jallianwallah Bagh. Why do I take these two cases? I take them for two reasons. One, which cannot interest your Lordships, is personal to myself; because when the case came before me as a Cabinet Minister in the ordinary discharge of my duties they were the facts which chiefly impressed my imagination and led me to form the judgment on General Dyer's conduct that I did. Secondly, I lay stress on them because my knowledge of India, such as it is, leaves me in no doubt whatever that these are the two incidents that have left an indelible impression on the Indian mind and have produced much of the trouble to which Lord Meston referred. In the course of my experience in India I was more than once involved in troubles and crises that had a racial aspect. That experience was burnt into my soul. But I emerged from it all with the unshaken and unchangeable conviction that only upon certain principles—principles which I fear have been in some danger of being forgotten in this case—can any administrator of India, civil or military, safely and honourably take his stand.
Now as to the "Crawling Order." I noted that Lord Finlay never mentioned it, and Lord Midleton passed it by in a sentence as a regrettable incident. Lord Sumner, while regretting it, as he could not fail to do, was disposed to accept the explanation which had been offered by General Dyer. It was reserved for the Lord Chancellor and Lord Carmichael to set this matter in its proper perspective and to indicate its real proportions. I shall not trouble your Lordships long with it, but it is an item in the formation of our judgment of the case. With the nature of the "Crawling Order" your Lordships are all familiar. It was to the effect that no native should be allowed to pass, except on all fours, through the street in which had been committed an abominable and indefensible outrage upon an English lady. The street was picketed by the orders of General Dyer from six in the morning to eight at night; the Order was in existence and operation for seven days, and during that period some fifty people went through this form of humiliation.
Two accounts attempting to justify this incident have been given by General Dyer 358 himself. The first was before the Hunter Committee, in which he spoke as follows—I was closing the street to punish them, to prevent them from going through, because the assault took place there.If this was the true explanation it was a very vicarious form of punishment, because, with the exception of six men who were taken to the whipping post through this street crawling upon their stomachs, and who afterwards turned out (although it was not known at the time) to have been concerned in the assault upon Miss Sherwood, the people who suffered had no connection with the particular crime. They were the ordinary inhabitants of the street who, when they went to and from their houses for the ordinary purposes of life—and they were bound to go out at the front door because Indian houses have not back doors—were compelled to proceed along the street in this particular way. It is a noteworthy fact also that while Miss Sherwood was assaulted on April 10, and while General Dyer arrived in Amritsar on April 11, and the massacre took place on April 13, it was not until April 19 that this Order was issued, and on the first day of its operation, in order to indicate the real character of the punishment that was being inflicted, twelve persons, who had been arrested in the town on some charge of impertinence, were taken there and compelled, as a form of humiliation, to crawl for 150 yards through the street.
We all of us know (mention has been made of the fact) that the Lieutenant-Governor, Sir Michael O'Dwyer, expressed his stern disapproval of that measure as one of an indefensible character, and, after being in operation for the best part of a week, it was withdrawn. Now, my Lords, in July, 1920, General Dyer gave what appears to me to be a different explanation of this incident. He says (on page 17 of his Statement):—It is a complete misunderstanding to suppose that I meant this Order to be an insulting mark of race inferiority. The Order meant that the street should be regarded as holy ground, and that, to mark this fact, no one was to traverse it except in a manner in which a place of special sanctity might naturally in the East be traversed. My object was not merely to impress the inhabitants, but to appeal to their moral sense in a way which I knew they would understand. It is a small point, but in fact 'Crawling Order' is a misnomer; the Order was to go on all fours in an attitude well understood by natives of India in relation to holy places.359 No one, I think, will be more astonished at this description of the common, or frequent, attitude on the part of natives of India than those persons themselves. To any one who knows India and its religious practices it is obvious that this explanation is only an after-thought, if, indeed, it is not an absurdity.
The natives of India do not go down on all fours in places of special sanctity. If a native of India desires to pay penance for some offence or crime that he has committed, what does he do? He does not crawl on his stomach but, moving along towards the shrine where he seeks absolution, he measures his length on the ground. He then rises, and repeats this operation over and over again until he reaches the shrine. This does not mean that he crawls on his stomach. He does nothing of the sort. It does not mean that the ground or street on which he moves is holy ground. He does it in any street or place of resort that you may like to name. I do not wish to labour the point further, but the evidence, I think, is irresistible that General Dyer, although he acted, I admit, under extreme provocation, was unfortunately guilty of an act in respect of this "Crawling Order" which it is impossible to excuse; that it was intended to humiliate, and that an explanation has afterwards been found which is not consistent with the facts. I have said that the provocation was extreme and intense, and no one man can discern what another man would do in circumstances such as these, but I think this Proclamation did indicate a lack of balance of mind and of soundness of judgment on the part of General Dyer. It makes one wonder very much whether "the man on the spot" can always be vested with the unquestioning discretion which was claimed for him by Lord Finlay last night.
Now, my Lords, I pass to the Jallianwallah Bagh case. I wonder if all noble Lords have had the time to read the immense amount of evidence there is about this case. I speak now, in the main, of that of General Dyer himself, in the various places where it is to be found. The noble and learned Viscount, Lord Finlay, drew a picture of this incident last night, and I was somewhat surprised to hear the noble and learned Lord, Lord Sumner, this afternoon object to the fact that in reply to the picture drawn by Lord Finlay, which was by no means lacking in dramatic quality or 360 picturesqueness, the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack had ventured to give what, in his judgment, was a truer picture, but which incurred nothing but the censure of my noble and learned friend Lord Sumner this afternoon. I also ask your Lordships' leave to give a picture. I hope it will not be painted with the lurid colours which the noble and learned Lord so rightly deprecated. It is a picture drawn exclusively from the evidence which is available to any of you, and it is an attempt to place the matter in a more accurate perspective than that with which the statements which have preceded mine have succeeded in investing it.
I cannot accept the picture drawn by my noble and learned friend, Lord Finlay. He declared, in the first place, that it was absolutely untrue to say that there were any women or children in that crowd. That is not the case. There were many boys in the crowd. He assumes that every member of the crowd knew the Proclamation in advance. Here we have the evidence of General Dyer to this effect— "There may have been a good many who had not heard the Proclamation." Lord Finlay assumes that the greater part of the crowd were armed with bludgeons—an assumption resting in the main on the assertion that they were associated with what are called "Danda Fauj," which means bludgeon armies. Lord Finlay summed up the situation in this brief sentence:—"If General Dyer had hesitated, all would have been lost. He opened fire at once, and the meeting was dispersed." That sounds very simple and very conclusive. It is the action of a bold and brave soldier, who courageously assumes responsibility at a moment of extreme crisis, and acts, and is successful. My Lords, that is not a true account of what happened, and when I give what I, at any rate, think is the true account, I give it exclusively upon the evidence of General Dyer himself, of the Deputy Inspector of Police, who was an Englishman, and of the Brigade Major, also an Englishman. I will cut it as short as possible.
We have all been told how on April 13, after issuing the series of Proclamations, which were spread about, no doubt, far and wide in all parts of the town, as far as he could, although it was not possible to touch all parts of a city of 150,000 people, General Dyer heard in the afternoon that a meeting was to take place, no doubt as 361 an act of defiance, in the Jallianwallah Bagh. He started out with his armed force to deal with it. With his ninety armed men and two armoured cars he went down the narrow lane by which entry was obtained to that place, surrounded by walls and possessing few exits. He found a crowd there assembled, as to whose numbers there is a most astonishing divergence of testimony. In his first statement General Dyer said he thought the number was 5,000. Later, the number was altered to 10,000, then to 15,000, and then 20,000, and the last figure which it reached was 25,000.
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
How this disparity can have occurred it is difficult to understand. However, I do not think it is very important. This crowd was seated in native fashion upon the ground, and was being addressed by a speaker, who, I do not doubt, may have been addressing a very seditious harangue from tne platform. It was some way from General Dyer, and the distance is variously estimated at from 50 to 150 yards. My noble and learned friend, Lord Finlay, said the crowd was armed, and I was astonished to hear Lord Meston just now argue as if in his opinion a large number, I do not say a majority of that crowd, may have had lathis, long iron-shod staves, in their hands. But that is not what General Dyer said. This is General Dyer's evidence—I cannot say that there were any stieks with the people. I assumed that numbers had sticks. I heard they were going to be armed with stieks.I have read through the whole evidence and that is the only piece I can find—I am open to correction—upon which the theory of the crowd being armed with bludgeons, with lethal weapons, appears to rest.
Another point. Doubt has been thrown upon the proposition whether this crowd was a local crowd exclusively, or a crowd reinforced by outsiders. What are the facts? On this day two fairs were going on in the city. Crowds of people from the neighbourhood had poured into the town. Of the 379 ascertained deaths, 65 were not from Amritsar city but from the villages of the Amritsar district, 22 were drawn from other districts, and no doubt the same proportion—that is, nearly one-fourth, existed in the case of the whole crowd in the enclosure.
362 We come now to the circumstances of General Dyer's action. What did he do? Here I offer no comment. I merely state what he told us. The troops were instructed to lie down, no doubt in order that they might not be exposed to the attacks of the crowd. They opened fire at once. General Dyer admitted that, in the motor on the way there, he had made up his mind to fire on the crowd for having assembled at all. I did not take more than thirty seconds," he said, "to make up my mind." The firing continued for ten minutes, until his ammunition ran short. Some doubt was expressed upon that. I think that the noble and learned Lord this afternoon expressed some doubt about the ammunition. These are the words of General Dyer, not before the Hunter Committee, but in his official statement to the General Officer Commanding in August, 1919—Up to the time I had completely dispersed the crowd my ammunition was running short,As we now know, 1,650 rounds were fired. The crowd, as all crowds do in such circumstances, ran away, huddled themselves into corners, and tried to disperse. Take again General Dyer's evidence. He says—The firing was intentionally directed by me at the thickest part of the crowd. It was not vollcy-firing, but individual firing on the part of the soldiers. It continued until the ammunition, ran short.General Dyer actually admitted that he would probably have used his machinegun if he could have got his armoured car down the narrow road into the Jallianwallah Bagh. And then, this death and destruction having been dealt out, he marched away leaving a reeking shambles behind lam.
As to the question of medical aid, General Dyer admitted that he could have rendered it, but he had to consider the situation, and it was not his job. "The hospitals were open, and medical officers were there, and the wounded had only to apply for help." The noble and learned Lord, Lord Sumner, would have none of that. He said that was evidence given before the Hunter Committee, and that, as it was not exposed to cross-examination it ought not therefore to be regarded as final or authentic. What did General Dyer say in his official statement? I quoted the first sentence—" I had completely dispersed the mob; my ammunition was running short." He goes on to say that he returned to the Ram Bagh without counting or inspecting the casualties, and that the 363 crowd did not apply for help because they themselves would be taken into custody for being in the assembly. Then my noble and learned friend said, "why should not their relations have carried off the wounded?" Is he not aware of the fact that this incident had occurred late in the afternoon, that at eight o'clock in the evening the Curfew Order came into operation, and not a person was allowed in the streets. I do not comment upon this incident of the wounded, but I leave it to speak for itself.
I pass on to a more serious question, namely, what was the justification of General Dyer for his proceedings. Again, I take his own words—It was no longer a question of merely dispersing the crowd, but one of producing a sufficient moral effect from a military point of view not only on those who were present, but more especially throughout the Punjab. There could be no question of undue severity.Surely that is a very dangerous doctrine. It means that any military Officer is entitled to apply the maximum, rather than the minimum, degree of force in a situation of this sort if only he can cast his eyes away from the arena in which he is acting, and look over a sufficiently wide field beyond. In other words, the officer himself is to be the sole judge, and the test of his action is to be the degree of terror which, on a wide field, he thinks he can succeed in inspiring. This doctrine carries us very very far, and I am disposed to echo the assailed illustration of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, and to ask. If that doctrine were applied in quelling any civil riot in this country, and if such action, having been taken, were condoned, would any British Government remain for 48 hours in office?
The noble and learned Viscount, Lord Finlay, justified General Dyer's conduct on these grounds. He said that firing was essential, and was the only method. Even if it was true—and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Sumner, argued that it was true—that it was necessary to inculcate terror, how can we be sure that this particular step was necessary, and that it was the only step to produce the same result, or that a smaller display of force might not have been equally effective? These pleas are surely only a variant of the claim, so frequently made during the past few weeks, that General Dyer by this action saved the Punjab and saved India. These are very speculative ques- 364 tions. How can we know that he saved either? How can we be sure that 400 killed, and 500, or 800, or 1,000, or whatever was the number of wounded, were required in order to save the Punjab? Who can say whether such a toll was necessary as the price of the safety either of the Punjab or of India? How are we to know that General Dyer saved India? You do not, in my judgment, any more save India by a massacre at Amritsar than you defeat the Bolsheviks or save Russia by a massacre at Odessa or Warsaw.
As I read this claim that General Dyer saved India, I cannot help recalling the famous occasion in our history in which one of the greatest of our Prime Ministers, standing in the City of London to answer to his toast after the victory of Trafalgar —the toast proposed to him as the Saviour of Europe; words very similar to those which we hear in this claim—remarked in the immortal words "Europe is not to be saved by any single man. England has saved herself by her exertions, and will, as I trust, save Europe by her example." I profoundly mistrust the theory that General Dyer saved the Punjab by his exertions; I altogether deny that he saved India by Ids example.
At this stage in his argument the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Finlay, stated another proposition—another proposition which, I think forgetting that an ex-Lord Chancellor had advanced it, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Sumner, ridiculed in his argument to-night as preposterous. These were the words of Lord Finlay—One of the mainstays 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.And elsewhere he said that the judgment of the man on the spot must be accepted. Sympathy to a man in that position we give. No one who has ever had any connection with India but would pour it out with unstinted hand. But support is by no means necessary. I say again that is a dangerous doctrine.
And supposing General Dyer—the man on the spot; the honest man: no one denies that—acting upon this theory of his duty and his responsibility, had brought in his cars to the Jallianwallah Bagh (as he admitted he would have liked to do) and, instead of slaying four hundred men, had, with machine guns, slain four thousand, 365 he would still have been, on Lord Finlay's principles, an honest man doing his duty, and still it would have been the duty of this Government, or of any Government, upon Lord Finlay's theory, to support him. I hope I am not unduly straining the words, although I am perfectly certain that I am not correctly representing the ideas of the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Finlay, when I attribute that theory to him. It is not a theory that any Government could possibly accept. It means handing over the sole responsibility, quite apart from government, to any honest man—be he a Brigadier-General one day or a subaltern the next—provided we can be assured of Ids honesty on the one hand and of his desire to do his duty on the other.
I have dealt with these two cases, not, I hope, at undue length, and I have dealt with General Dyer's action in these cases. on the evidence—not of his enemies, of his traducers, of his critics, or of the examining counsel—but of himself and of himself alone. I do not deny, I should be the last person to deny, that General Dyer was a very brave officer, a skilful commander of men, and, if he were the unaided author of this Report from which I have read, he must be a very able mall, too. Neither would I contend for a moment that General Dyer is lacking in the instincts of kindliness and humanity. I can only say that I have never in the course of my life met a soldier who was cruel; somehow or other, the profession of arms, while it may be supposed to inculcate blood-thirsty sentiments, always has precisely the opposite effect. I should be the last person to suggest any unkindliness of feeling on the part of General Dyer; and that he is a man who commands respect is evident from the action of the Sikhs which has been more than once quoted in connection with these events.
Neither would I wish for one moment to minimise the gravity of the situation which existed or the appalling nature of the crimes that had accompanied it. I go to the uttermost with those who speak of the state of sedition that then existed, and I do not altogether quarrel with those who used the word rebellion. I think, too, that it is only fair to say that the temper of any man might well be aroused by the series of shocking outrages that had been committed upon fellow-countrymen of his own—men and women—in Amritsar, and 366 by the spirit of murderous hostility which had been aroused. General Dyer was certainly placed in a position that might daunt the bravest spirit and shake any nerves, even of iron. But my proposition, to which I ask the attention of your Lordships' House, is this— That General Dyer's conception of his duty was a wrong conception. We have only, as I said just now, to imagine a similar conception being entertained, or acted upon, here, to be conscious of the storm of public indignation that would be aroused. We cannot have—here I both agree and disagree with Lord Sumner—one rule for the treatment of our fellow-subjects in India and another rule for the treatment of our fellow-subjects here. The noble and learned Lord deprecated any such attempted distinction, but, all through his argument, he was himself setting it up, and he was arguing, not, I think (unless I misunderstood him), that the same procedure would be justified or accepted in this country, but that, in the circumstances of the case, it was justified there.
I put the matter to your Lordships in this way. I suppose every one of you has read the account of the Jallianwallah Bagh, or, if you have not read it, you have heard it in the various speeches that have been delivered. Extracting from all these presentations the real core of truth, is there anyone in your Lordships' House who can react that tale without sentiments of horror, and even of shame? If we condone this error we endorse the principles upon which General Dyer acted, which have been defended here in this debate as sound principles. I agree with Lord Meston that we shall deal a blow at our reputation in India, we shall lower our own standards of justice and humanity, we shall debase the currency of our national honour. I cannot believe that your Lordships would wish to undertake this course. I cannot believe that you will wish to sever yourselves from all those high authorities who have examined this case, and to give a vote that will do no good to anyone—least of all to General Dyer himself—and that may do an infinitude of harm.
Any one who has served in India can never fail to have before his mind the memories of what happened there more than sixty years ago. The crisis that burst upon the British Empire then was comparable with, but was, of course, a far graver and more widely-spread crisis than that which arose, or threatened to arise, 367 in the Punjab last year. On that occasion in India there was a Governor-General who was fiercely assailed because he preferred justice to wrath, self-restraint to resentment, and clemency to vengeance. In the end of the year 1857, when the Mutiny was over, the European public of Calcutta and Bengal drew up a Petition to the Queen in which—expressing their dissatisfaction with the manner in which the Governor-General had discharged his duties, and speaking of the blindness, weakness, and incapacity of his Government—they prayed Her Majesty to mark her disapproval of the policy pursued by the Governor-General by directing his recall. This is one of the passages in their Petition—The only policy by which British rule and the lives, honour, and properties of your Majesty's Christian subjects in tins country can in future be secured, is a policy of such vigorous repression and punishment as shall convince the native races of India—who can be influenced effectually by power and fear alone—of the hopelessness of insurrection against British rule, even when aided by every circumstance of treachery, surprise, and cruelty.words not unlike some of those which we have heard in the past few weeks. What has become of the authors of that memorial? Are they counted as the saviours of India? No, they are silenced, condemned and forgotten. But the Viceroy who provoked their fury, but survived their assaults, has handed down to his country an imperishable name. I hope that in arriving at the decision which you will reach to-night, you will all of you be imbued with the spirit, and will profit by the example, the never-to-be-forgotten example, of the illustrious Canning.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, your Lordships will allow me, I am sure, a very few minutes during which I may, unworthily, standing in the place of my noble friend, Lord Finlay, say a word or two before the Division is taken. The noble Earl who has just sat down has given a display of that eloquence to which we are accustomed, in order to persuade your Lordships to support the Government on the present occasion. He thought it right to use language which I deplore—language far more violent in tone than has been used by any other Minister in this debate, and a very remarkable contrast to that of the noble and learned Lord the Under-Secretary of State, who avoided, in everything he said, any words which would have 368 excited the sort of feelings which it is quite obvious it was the object of my noble friend, the Leader of the House, to excite.
I regret that, but let me address myself to the task which is before me in a very different spirit. I want to point out to your Lordships, in the first place, that, so far as the first phrase in my noble friend's Motion is concerned, it might almost be passed by universal consent—This House deplores the conduct of the case of General Dyer.Almost every speaker, except the Ministers, have agreed in deploring the way in which the case of General Dyer was conducted. I have listened, I believe, to almost every speech in this debate. It was not only my noble friend, Lord Midleton, who made a very moderate speech—a great contrast to the speech of the noble Earl—but he, of course, may be expected not to be so impartial as some others. But my noble friend Lord Crewe condemned the way in which the case of General Dyer had been conducted. So did Lord Harris. So did Lord Ampthill, and Lord Lamington.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I apologise to my noble friend if I misinterpreted him. I know he is not going to support us in the Lobby, but I gathered from his speech that he was not satisfied with the way in which the case has been conducted. But it has been condemned for different reasons. Some noble Lords have thought it was very hard that the military officer should have been made a scapegoat for the misfeasance of the civilians. Other noble Lords thought that the appointment of the Committee was a mistake altogether, and the people who were put upon it were not fairly put upon it. Some people thought that the lapse of time was very unfair. We listened with the greatest possible respect to the noble Lord, Lord Meston, who was at pains to explain the delay. Though it would ill-become me to cross swords with him on a matter of Indian administration I confess that he did not convince me. It did not seem to me to be convincing that the hot weather should have stopped this Inquiry. I am informed that the Courts of Justice in India sit right through the hot weather, and no difficulty is made. But I am sure the noble Lord will forgive me if I say 369 that he does not always quite accurately remember.
The noble Lord told us that he and those with whom he was associated in those days had very little knowledge of what happened at Amritsar, and that at the period of which he was speaking in April or May they had an idea that some 50 people had been killed. He even went so far as to say that that was the information which reached the Government of India. He is wrong. I have got the telegram here—the telegram sent on April 14 to the Government of India. Here it is—At Amritsar yesterday General Dyer and Deputy Commissioner read Proclamation in city forbidding all public meetings. Proclamation proclaimed by boat of dram and read and explained at several places in city. In spite of this, meeting attended by 0,000 was held at 4.30 contrary to Deputy Commissioner's expectation. Troops present under command of General Dyer fired killing about 200.That was the information which the noble Lord has forgotten, which was given to the Government of India on the very day, and no doubt telegraphed home, and known at the India Office within a few hours. Of course, I cannot compete with the noble Lord in my knowledge of India, but I must limit my absolute confidence in his recollection when I see that telegram.
And if the noble Lord's information was not accurate neither is the information of my noble friend, the Leader of the House. I am not going to defend the "Crawling Order." I am quite sure that the whole weight of opinion in India is against it. But my noble friend did not give a fair account of it. He said that there were no back doors, and that therefore the crowd was compelled to go through the street. Well, I have before me the Report of August 25 to which the noble Earl referred, but which I do not believe he has read. I find in it this—I cannot understand that any went through after the 19th, especially as all the houses had back exits.
§ THE MARQUESS or SALISBURY
The noble Earl says it is untrue. This is the Report to which he himself appealed. Over and over again he quoted it. And this is the statement made by General Dyer on August 25. I say that my noble friend's information is not always accurate. I am 370 sorry to detain your Lordships over these details, but the question is, are we to accept all the statements which, at the last moment, the noble Earl the Leader of the House has made to your Lordships? I know, of course, he spoke what he believed to be true; it is only that he has been ill informed.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
Then as to whether there were only men there. Here is what General Dyer said—I did not see a single woman or child in the assembly.The man was there, and he did not see a single woman or child. Why should the noble Earl reintroduce that charge?
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
Will the noble Lord allow me? He has made a strong charge of incorrectness against me? I repudiated it at the time, and I now give my evidence. This is the Report of the Committee appointed by the Government of India, who heard the statement of General Dyer, who read the statement of General Dyer about the back-doors to which the noble Lord has referred. This is the Report of the Committee—General Dyer thought all the houses had back entrances, but in this he was wrong.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
All I can say is that I appealed to the same Report as that to which the noble Earl appended. Then the noble Lord said that General Dyer was a witness on his side in considering that insufficient notice might have been given. What does General Dyer himself say—I do not say that it was physically impossible for the crowd to have contained people who had not heard my own particular Proclamation, and as I told the Committee (in my answer of which the Minority characteristically seize hold) there may conceivably have been many. I did not in fact believe there were, and I was, and am, convinced that substantially the whole crowd knew they were there in defiance of the authorities and in furtherance of the disorders.That is what General Dyer himself said, and the importance of it is this. If you are bringing a charge against him of having fired without sufficient notice, it is material, and it is proper and reasonable that you should take into account what he himself saw and the state of his mind at the moment. He knew not only that his Procla- 371 mation had been read in all the different parts of the city, but that similar Proclamations had been read on the day before, and on the day before that. He said that when he saw the crowd he was convinced, he was satisfied in his own mind, that every one of them had been made aware of his notice.
My noble friend said that General Dyer ought not to have opened fire without further notice. At least, I understood him to say so. Lord Meston said he was quite right to open fire immediately, in the circumstances in which he was placed, when he was confronted with this hostile crowd of 20,000 people.
§ LORD MESTON
I said I was anxious to concede every point it was possible to concede to General Dyer.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
Quite so; the noble Lord is of that opinion. The noble Earl commented on the fact that there was a difference of opinion as to the number present. I hope I have satisfied him that the number of 20,000 is the number mentioned in the Report of the Hunter Committee, and so on, and I would ask your Lordships not to place too rigid a confidence in these details quoted by the noble Earl. I hope he understands that I make no charge against him. It is not possible for him, in the middle of his Foreign Office work, to verify all the facts he has laid before you. I only mention these things lest your Lordships should be misled in the Division. In very few words I want to recall to your Lordships' minds the main outline of the story. Let us never forget that this was rebellion. In saying that I am only repeating what has been said already.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
This was found to be rebellion over and over again by the Hunter Committee, and by the witnesses before it. Rebellion is the greatest crime against the State. It is not a matter of insignificance. It is not a matter to be lightly passed over. It is the most heinous thing which a subject can do, and it is, in its nature, treason. If these men who were collected at Jallianwallah Bagh knew of the Proclamation, they were guilty of rebellion. I do not mean to say that they all deserved the penalty of death, and I am 372 far from saying that. But I say that they are not to be looked upon as innocent persons. They had committed a crime, many of them, no doubt, in ignorance of how heinous a crime it was. But, in point of fact, they had committed a crime for which they were accountable.
Then it is said over and over again—I must just refer to it in one sentence—that in firing, and in continuing to fire, General Dyer had no right to consider the effect which it would have elsewhere. Even the Secretary of State, does not go so far as that, and I do not think the Secretary of State takes a very favourable view of General Dyer. This is what he says—In discharging this responsibility with the small force at his disposal, Brigadier-General Dyer naturally could not dismiss from his mind the conditions in the Punjab generally, and he was entitled to lay his plans with reference to those conditions.Why should it be thought improper for General Dyer to have considered the condition of things elsewhere than at Amritsar? I think the noble Lord, Lord Meston, said that General Dyer was actuated by principles of vengeance. I find no trace of it in all that I have read. He speaks with the greatest sorrow and horror of what he had to do. He tells your Lordships and those who read his report, in tones which I should have thought would have had a very moving effect, that so great was his horror that he doubted whether his nerve was strong enough to go through with it. He hated doing the thing. There was no element of vengeance present. In no civilised country has punishment any element of vengeance. What is the object of punishment? Punishment is a deterrent. That is what it means, and that is its object in every civilised country. And a deterrent means that you have regard to its moral effect on other people.
That is all that is meant by it, and that was precisely what General Dyer had in his mind. I earnestly urge your Lordships to regard it from that point of view. He was right to fire, as Lord Meston says. He was right to have regard to the Punjab generally, and most certainly to the district of Jullundur, over which he was in supreme military command. He knew what the state of things was. He knew that the British power, I will not say was tottering, but was gravely compromised in all parts of the area over which he had control. He knew that at any moment trouble 373 might arise. I do not mean to say they would have driven Great Britain out of India; I make no such claim; but I say that the authority of the Crown would have had to be reasserted in rivers of blood, if rebellion had once burst forth. He had regard to that. Was he wrong? I think he only did his duty as a public servant ought to have done, in having that regard, and he was successful. I think that point ought to be insisted upon. I do not mean to say that success would have justified it if there had been a great slaughter of innocent persons. But when a public servant placed, as everybody admits—the noble Earl amongst others—in a position of the greatest difficulty, takes strong action in order to reassert the authority of the Crown and, by everybody's consent, does reassert the authority of the Crown all over the area with which he is connected, then I mist say I think that some word of thanks is due to such an honourable and gallant gentleman, who was able to take upon himself such responsibility with such success.
A great deal has been made of the authorities arrayed against General Dyer. But are the authorities so formidable? Who can I find that approves of him? First of all, there were the loyal natives who thoroughly approved of what he did. That is proved beyond the shadow of a doubt. Then there is General Benyon, who approved of what he did. I am not concerned to ask your Lordships to approve of all that he did, and certainly not of all that he said, but of his general conduct. The Lieutenant-Governor of the Province approved, and the Commander-in-Chief, when General Dyer met him, did not disapprove, but congratulated him upon his success in the military operations in which he had distinguished himself—and he was promoted. The noble Lord said he was not promoted. I am not going to struggle with the noble Lord over technicalities as to whether he was or was not promoted. At any rate he was placed in a position of great military responsibility after all this had occurred.
And finally—I ask your Lordships to note this particularly—he was defended by the Adjutant-General of the Forces before the Legislative Council. The Adjutant-General, as your Lordships are all aware, is not only an officer of great standing in any General Staff but has special regard to matters of discipline and, of course, is in the deepest confidence of the 374 Commander-in-Chief. He is the principal adviser of the Commander-in-Chief on all matters of discipline, and this is what Sir Havelock Hudson said in the Legislative Council about the middle of September—There are those who will admit that a measure of force might have been necessary but who cannot agree with the extent of the force employed. How can they be in a better position to judge of this than the officer on the spot? It must be remembered that when a rebellion has been started against the Government it is tantamount to a declaration of war. War cannot be conducted in accordance with the standards of humanity to which we are accustomed in peace. Should not officers and men who, through no choice of their own, are called upon to discharge these distasteful duties, be in all fairness accorded that support which has been promised to them.That is the statement of General Dyer's military superior, speaking in an official capacity before the Legislative Council of India.
He was in possession of all the facts. Your Lordships will mark the dates. This statement was made about the middle of September. The Report on which the Government rely is the Report of August 25. That Report must have been in the hands of the Adjutant-General when he made his statement. The case is complete. Indeed, I am almost afraid of the strength of the case I have made in respect of the military authorities in India. We have the Adjutant-General, who is in the strict confidence of the Commander-in-Chief, speaking in an official capacity and stating that in his judgment the force used by this officer was not more than sufficient, and claiming that officers in like positions should receive the support of the Government.
Do not let us think too much of General Dyer. I know that he did some things of which many of your Lordships do not approve. I agree. I do not approve them myself, and much less do I approve of all that he said, though that is a minor matter. But what is the broad question? The issue your Lordships are going to try to-night is whether, when officers do their very best in positions of great difficulty (and positions in which, if they had not done their duty, the most formidable consequences would have ensued) they are to be supported by the Government or not. That is the real issue. If your Lordships do not support this Motion you will strike a great blow at the confidence of the whole body of Officers throughout your Empire whose business it is to defend the cause 375 of law and order and maintain your Government.
It will have a most demoralising effect, not only upon our own countrymen but also upon the people of India. The people of India are entering upon a great experiment; and surely the lesson which, above all others, you must teach them is that there is nothing in self-government which authorises disorder. It is a difficult lesson because there is another spirit abroad. You see it everywhere. Many people are talking and acting upon the assumption that if you have a democratic form of Government disorder is therefore permissible, and that you have no right to visit on the sovereign people penalties which, under another form of Government, would be permissible. The people of this country are lovers of order and they will insist, and ought to insist, that whatever
|Argyll, D.||Verulam, E.||Kintore, L. (E. Kintore.)|
|Bedford, D.||Waldegrave, E.||Knaresborough, L.|
|Northumberland, D.||Wharncliffe, E.||Lambourne, L.|
|Portland, D.||Lamington, L.|
|Rutland, D.||Bertie of Thame, V.||Lawrence, L.|
|Somerset, D.||Chaplin, V.||Leigh, L.|
|Sutherland, D.||Chilston, V.||MacDonnell, L.|
|Wellington, D.||Cross, V.||Monckton, L. (V. Galway.)|
|Falkland, V.||Monson, L.|
|Abercorn, M. (D. Abercorn.)||Falmouth, V.||Monteagle, L. (M. Sligo.)|
|Camden, M.||Finlay, V. [Teller.]||Northbourne, L.|
|Cholmondeley, M.||Hood, V.||O'Hagan, L.|
|Dufferin and Ava, M.||Knutsford, V.||Oriel, L. (V. Massareene.)|
|Exeter, M.||Templetown, V.||Ormonde, L. (M. Ormonde.)|
|Salisbury, M.||Ponsonby, L. (E. Bessborough.)|
|Aberdare, L.||Raglan, L.|
|Abingdon, E.||Addington, L.||Rathdonnell, L.|
|Ancaster, E.||Ampthill, L.||Redesdale, L.|
|Bathurst, E.||Armstrong, L.||Ribblesdale, L.|
|Clarendon, E.||Askwith, L.||Rotherham, L.|
|Coventry, E.||Balfour, L.||Roundway, L.|
|Devon, E.||Barrymore, L.||Ruthven of Gowrie, L.|
|Doncaster, E.||Brancepeth, L. (V. Boyne.)||St. Audries, L.|
|(D. Buccleuch and Queensberry.)||Channing of Welling borough, L.||Saltersford, L. (E. Courtown.)|
|Ferrers, E.||Charnwood, L.||Sandys, L.|
|Fitzwilliam, E.||Chaworth, L. (E. Meath.)||Sempill, L.|
|Halsbury, E.||Cheylesmore, L.||Shute, L. (V. Barrington.)|
|Harewood, E.||Clifford of Chudleigh, L.||Stewart of Garlies, L.|
|Jersey, E.||Desart, L. (E. Desart.)||(E. Galloway.)|
|Lindsay, E.||Dynevore, L.||Stuart of Wortley, L.|
|Lindsey, E.||Dunmore, L. (E. Dunmore.)||Sudeley, L.|
|Lonsdale, E.||Ebury, L.||Sudley, L. (E. Arran.)|
|Manvers, E.||Erskine, L. [Teller.]||Sumner, L.|
|Mayo, E.||Fairfax of Cameron, L.||Sydenham, L.|
|Midleton, E.||Fairlie, L. (E. Glasgow.)||Templemore, L.|
|Morton, E.||Forester, L.||Tennyson, L.|
|Northbrook, E.||Gisborough, L.||Tenterden, L.|
|Northesk, E.||Glenconner, L.||Teynham, L.|
|Plymouth, E.||Hare, L. (E. Listowel.)||Walsingham, L.|
|Powis, E.||Hatherton, L.||Wavertree, L.|
|Roden, E.||Hindlip, L.||Wemyss, L. (E. Wamyss.)|
|Rothes, E.||Hothfiled, L.||Wester Wemyss, L.|
|Scarbrough, E.||Joicey, L.||Willoughby de Broke, L.|
|Selborne, E.||Kenmare, L. (E. Kenmare.)||Wittenham, L.|
|Stanhope, E.||Kenyon, L.|
|Kilmarnock, L. (E. Erroll)|
§ the form of Government the claims of order must be maintained. Those who are interested in this experiment in India ought to be the first to wish to inculcate the same lesson in the people of India. They should say, "We are going to entrust you with great liberty, but that does not mean the licensing of disorder. On the contrary, we will show you that the worst thing you can do is to defy the authority of the Government." I earnestly hope that these will be the views which will guide your Lordships in the vote you are going to give. For my part, and I believe I speak for many others who sit near me, I shall support the Motion of the noble and learned Viscount.
§ On Question, whether the proposed Motion be agreed to?—
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 129;
§ Not-Contents, 86.377
|Canterbury, L. Abp.||Devonport, V.||Faringdon, L.|
|Birkenhead, L. (L. Chancellor.)||Goschen, V.||Gainford, L.|
|Haldane, V.||Glenarthur, L.|
|Crewe, M.||Harcourt, V.||Gorell, L.|
|Hardinge, V.||Harris, L.|
|Beauchamp, E.||Hutchinson, V. (E. Donoughmore.)||Hemphill, L.|
|Bradford, E.||Hylton, L.|
|Chichester, E.||Milner, V.||Inverforth, L.|
|Craven, E.||Peel, V.||Islington, L.|
|Curzon of Kedleston, E.||Wimborne, V.||Lee of Fareham, L.|
|Eldon, E.||Meldrum, L. (M. Huntly.)|
|Fortescue, E.||Sheffield, L. Bp.||Meston, L.|
|Kimberley, E.||Winchester, L. Bp.||Monk Bretton, L.|
|Lucan, E.||Parmoor, L.|
|Lytton, E.||Annesley, L. (V. Valentia.)||Pentland, L.|
|Malmesbury, E.||Ashbourne, L.||Queenborough, L.|
|Mar and Kellie, E.||Beaverbrook, L.||Ranksborough, L.|
|Onslow, E.||Braye, L.||Rathcreedan, L.|
|Buckmaster, L.||Shandon, L.|
|Pembroke and Montgomery, E.||Cawley, L.||Shaw, L.|
|Portsmouth, E.||Chalmers, L.||Sinha, L.|
|Reading, E.||Clinton, L.||Somerleyton, L. [Teller.]|
|Russell, E.||Clwyd, L.||Southborough, L.|
|Strafford, E.||Cochrane of Cults, L.||Southwark, L.|
|Vane, E. (M. Londonderry.)|
|Colebrooke, L.||Stanley of Alderley, L.|
|Farquhar, V. (L. Steward.)||Cozens-Hardy, L.||(L. Sheffield)|
|Sandhurst, V. (L. Chamberlain.)||Denman, L.||Stanmore, L. [Teller.]|
|Allendale, V.||Elgin, L.||Swaythling, L.|
|Astor, V.||(E. Elgin and Kincardine.)||Weardale, L.|
|Bryce, V.||Emmott, L.||Wenlock, L.|
|Cowdray, V.||Ernle, L.||Wigan, L. (E. Crawford.)|
§ Resolved in the affirmative and Motion agreed to accordingly.