HL Deb 17 June 1920 vol 40 cc668-71

My Lords, your Lordships may, perhaps, remember that a few days ago my noble friend Lord Midleton asked the Leader of the House whether he would be willing to have a sitting of your Lordships' House on Monday next in order to discuss the Hunter Report. As I understand, it was not intended by my noble friend who sits behind me to go into all the merits of the case with which that Report deals; but it was designed to question His Majesty's Government in reference to such matters as the procedure of the Committee and the action of the India Office, about which certain explanations are required.

Of course, it would have been impossible, had that discussion taken place next Monday, to have excluded reference to the merits of the case; and therefore, with my noble friends, I have felt it right to consider whether we should not, to some extent perhaps, prejudice the investigation which we understand is to take place, if there were a discussion in your Lordships' House then. Upon that I believe my noble friend the Leader of the House has suggested that, inasmuch as the case must be considered sub judice, it would be wiser to avoid a discussion. We are disposed to agree with my noble friend in that conclusion; because I cannot disguise from myself that General Dyer's position might be referred to in such a way as, possibly, to prejudice his case. Therefore, I desire to say, so far as the request was made in our name for the sitting on Monday in order to discuss the Hunter Report, that we no longer press the noble Earl to grant us that facility.

While I do that, however, I should like to put to the Government two questions. A certain statement is in preparation and about to be delivered, as we understand, to the War Office, on behalf of General Dyer. That statement is to be the subject of some sort of investigation. The first question I desire to ask is, What kind of investigation is the subject-matter of that document to receive at the hands of the War Office? The second question is, How soon do the Government think that they will be in a position to lay the results of that investigation before Parliament so that any discussion may take place which either House of Parliament may desire? I put the first question because, without going into the merits of the matter at all, it is right to remind your Lordships and the Government that it is of the essence of the case of General Dyer that his side of the matter has never been properly heard.

Therefore, though, of course, I pronounce no opinion whatever upon the merits of the controversy, it is of importance to know what the character of the investigation will be. I recognise to the full the grave responsibility of the Government in this matter. On the one hand, they are called upon to see that no impression arises in India that they are indifferent to the welfare of the natives, and, on the other, they have to consider, with equal seriousness, the position of this distinguished officer whose action in circumstances of great emergency, whatever may be the conclusion the Government come to upon it, undoubtedly had a very lasting and important effect upon the restoration of law and order in India. I recognise fully the difficult position of the Government in arriving at a conclusion. It is therefore all the more incumbent upon them to see that the investigation shall be of an adequate nature. That is the first question.

The next question is, What opportunity will there be for the discussion in Parliament of the result of that investigation and how soon will that opportunity arrive? Your Lordships are aware that there has been an impression abroad that Parliament, in matters concerning India, has not been treated with such frankness as might be desired. I have no doubt that the Government, when they come to explain, will be able to eliminate that impression; but it exists, and that fact makes it all the more necessary that there shall be no greater delay than is absolutely necessary in securing a discussion in both Houses of Parliament, and that the discussion shall be adequate. I venture, therefore, in withdrawing the suggestion that there should be an immediate debate in your Lordships' House, to put these two questions to His Majesty's Government.


My Lords, my noble friend has, I think, advanced a little beyond the ordinary limits of a question put by private notice with regard to the business of your Lordships' House, and I shall endeavour in my reply to conform to the more ordinary practice. I was glad to hear from my noble friend that both he and the Earl of Midleton had accepted the force of the contentions which I ventured to place before your Lordships when the matter was first brought before us a week or more ago, and that, accordingly, the noble Earl is disposed to withdraw his request that your Lordships should meet on Monday to consider this matter.

The position is as follows. General Dyer has submitted, or is in the course of submitting, a statement of his case to the Army Council. That statement has not yet been received by them. It is a little difficult for me to answer the first question put by the noble Marquess as to the precise nature of the investigation which the Army Council will be called upon to undertake, because it must depend largely on the nature of the statement submitted to them. I imagine that General Dyer will make a full statement of his case, arguing, I understand, that he has not yet had an opportunity of putting it forward in a proper way. That case will be considered by the Army Council as soon as it reaches them. I believe that will be during next week. I am told that their decision is likely to be arrived at in the course of next week, though probably not before the latter part of the week.

Then comes the question of your Lordships' action. You, not unnaturally, desire an early opportunity of expressing your views, and I am quite disposed, as I said the other day, to make arrangements to meet that wish. Inasmuch as it is impossible for me, or any one, to name a day in the circumstances I have described, I think the best thing—if I may venture to make the suggestion—would be for the noble Earl to keep his Notice on the Paper in the list of Questions for which no date has been named and, if he will allow me to do so, I will communicate with him as soon as matters have reached the stage of which I have been speaking, with a view of arranging for the earliest possible date that the procedure of your Lordships' House allows.


My Lords, after what has fallen from the noble Earl the Leader of the House, I shall be very glad to accept his suggestion.

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