HL Deb 10 August 1921 vol 43 cc390-9

had given Notice to ask the Under-Secretary of State for India whether His Majesty's Government have accepted the principle advocated both by the Government of India and the Joint Select Committee, that members of the public Services in India should, in certain circumstances, be permitted to retire on proportional pensions. The noble Lord said: My Lords the noble Earl the Under-Secretary of State for India was good enough to write to me in order to warn me that he would not be able to give me a definite answer to my Question to-day. But I have, nevertheless, troubled him to come here, because I hope that he will be able to assure us that there will be some announcement of the policy of the Government before Parliament rises.

The importance of this Question is far greater than appears on the surface, and it is not possible to explain it in a few sentences. The fact is that at the present time the incomparable loyalty of British officials in India is being very seriously strained, and It may well be near breaking point. The Government take the loyalty of the public Services in India for granted, but although Englishmen will stand a good deal in the cause of duty, there are some things to which as men, and as men of honour, they cannot submit. There is a limit beyond which no Englishman will go.

Your Lordships may perhaps have been satisfied by the recent assurance of the noble Earl who speaks for the India Office that there is nothing in the present state of India to cause inordinate anxiety or alarm, but I wonder whether your Lordships are aware that the prevailing distemper has actually touched the brains of the body politic in India. It is not only the placid contentment of the masses that has been disturbed, for there is something more than vague discontent among those —the officials, that is—who are responsible for the protection and guidance of those masses. I have a personal letter from India in which there is a significant sentence. The writer was speaking about general unrest, and he added:— The real unrest to-day is among the English officials. Of that startling statement I have seen abundant proof, not only in private letters, but also in the Press.

The best thing I can do to explain the position is to let your Lordships hear it out of the mouths of those who are on the spot, and who are actually concerned; and I hope, therefore, your Lordships will allow me to read one or two brief extracts from private letters. These letters were not all addressed to me; some of them Were written to friends who happened to meet me and who showed them to me. Here is one:— To those who are fully acquainted with the working of the Oriental mind it will be obvious that the general trend of high officials' speeches and announcements will very seriously undermine the moral influence which alone enables the solitary British official to carry on his work in the district. This is another extract from the letter of a different person:— Personally,I feel that service under a Government which has definitely given up all pretence of governing is impossible. As a bachelor one might take the risk; but it is hateful to be forced to take it with one's hands tied. As a married man, however, it is obviously out of the question. This is the third extract which I have noted. The letter, I may say, was not written to me. After similar remarks, the writer says:— I am sending you this so that you may be able to refute by a concrete example the self-satisfied folk at home who say all is well in India. And here is another:— Mr. E. S. Montagu has stated in the House that he has had but one application to resign on account of the new régime. Let him announce anything in the nature of fair terms, and he will find ample vacancies to which to promote Indian officials. The point is this. In spite of definite promises and assurances, no fair terms—no definite terms at all—for premature retirement have yet been announced, and the terms which the Secretary of State is believed to be pressing upon the Government of India are very far from fair.

There is a general feeling of bitterness because the promises held out to the Services in the Report of the Joint Committee on Indian Reform are not being fulfilled by those in authority. The Joint Committee, in paragraph 36 of their Report, put it on record that those Services have deserved the admiration and gratitude of the whole Empire, and that their position under the new conditions will be very difficult. They concluded with this definite assurance:— If there are members of the Service whose doubts as to the changes to be made are so deeply rooted that they feel they cannot usefully endeavour to take part in them, then the Committee think it would be only fair to those officers that they should be offered an equivalent career elsewhere, or, in the last resort, that they should be allowed to retire on such pension as the Secretary of State in Council may consider suitable to their period of service. That proposal was the bare minimum of justice. It is not at all generous compared with the treatment which has been sanctioned for officials who will be retired from the Service under the Government of Ireland Act, and compared with what is suggested in the Milner Report for British officers in the Egyptian Service.

But the worst of it is, that the Secretary of State is generally credited, rightly or wrongly, with a desire to discount even this bare minimum of justice. Instead of acting in the spirit of the recommendation of the Joint Committee, he wishes (so it is said) to take an arbitrary and narrow interpretation of the letter only of that recommendation, instead of the spirit. He has read that recommendation to mean that he personally is to decide in each individual case. Officials in India who feel that they cannot usefully take part in the new scheme, and have asked for information in regard to the proportionate pension on which they might retire, have been told that no general scale will be laid down, and that the application will not be considered until it has been made clear to the Secretary of State by actual practice that the applicant cannot usefully continue to serve under the new conditions.

Your Lordships must agree with me that that is an intolerable condition, and one which is contrary to all the customs and traditions of our public Services. We have never entrusted such power to any individual, however eminent. The conditions of entry into the public Service, of service and, except in the case of flagrant conduct, of retirement, have always been governed by statutory Rules and Regulations, and thus placed beyond the arbitrary decision or the possible caprice of any individual in authority. No official will run the risk of being placed, so to speak, in the black book of the Secretary of State if his application to retire should not happen to find favour. It is easy to imagine what the fate of such an official would be. Your Lordships, no doubt, fully understand the kind of circumstances in which a British officer might find his position in India unendurable.

I dare say that many of your Lordships have heard from your friends in India what those circumstances and conditions are. To explain such circumstances in full and in writing might be a matter of exceeding delicacy, involving criticism of other officials both superior and subordinate. No man would care to submit to an inquisition of that kind, and no man ought to be subjected to such an inquisition, unless he has to answer for misconduct before a court of justice. But this is not a case of misconduct. This is the case of men who have done honourable service and who, as the conditions under which they are serving are changed, have every right to be allowed to retire, without loss to their professional careers and their personal means. The case of an officer who does not get on in his regiment—the kind of case wit h which your Lordships are familiar—affords a. somewhat similar example of the kind of questions which would certainly arise. Englishmen dislike to see dirty linen washed in public, and there is a wise French saying, for which I know of no exact equivalent in English: Toutes les vérités ne sont pas bonnes à dire. Although we have no such saying it is a fortunate fact that we are all guided by that maxim in our public life, and it would be utterly lamentable, as well as unfair, if public officers were to be forced to make revelation of their opinions to those under whom they serve, or with whom they serve or over whom they are placed, in order to justify their claim for retirement.

The whole idea is un-English, illiberal, and reactionary. It savours of that"horridest arbitrariness "—if I may use the famous phrase of Oliver Cromwell—of which, in these modern times, only Radicals dressed in a little brief authority are capable. Unless some definite Regulations and conditions for premature retirement are laid down you will place your officials in India—the men who, according to the Joint Committee,"have deserved the admiration and gratitude of the whole Empire "—in a cruel dilemma. They will either have to render unwilling service, a position intolerable for them and bad for the Administration, or they will have to act in such a way as to get their retirement on grounds of unfitness. That is a very cruel position in which to place faithful servants of the Empire and of India.

I would beg your Lordships to bear in mind that I am not speaking only of those officials, comparatively few in number, who frankly express their dislike of the new policy. I am also speaking of the vast number of officials who accepted the changes with cheerful loyalty and began at once to play up for the reform scheme and to do their best for it. It is these men, the men who have been doing their utmost to make the reform scheme a success, who are now filled with surprise, dismay, and alarm at the hostility which is being manifested towards them. I will not take up your Lordships' time by giving specific instances or illustrations; I will only say that these men are being made to feel in every possible way that India does not want them and that the sooner they clear out the better.

But, for the present at any rate, India cannot do without the British members of those splendid public Services with whose work nothing in the world can compare. The Leader of the House, in moving the Second Reading of the Government of India Bill, laid down certain essential conditions of reform, of which two are as follows:—Firstly, that nothing should be done to weaken the protection given by the British Raj to the vast multitudes to whom the franchise and the vote meant nothing; secondly; that there should be no lowering of the standard of the Civil Service, whose work in the past has enabled India to take the place she now occupies in the Empire and the world. These two conditions hang together. They are manifestly interdependent; for the welfare of the masses must depend, for many years if not indeed for generations to come, upon the efficiency of the Services. If you drive away the present officials by making their lot unendurable you will not get equally good men to go out from this country to succeed them and take their places, and the Services will inevitably deteriorate.

Your treatment of British officials in India is, therefore, the test of your sincerity so far as you profess to desire and to be working for the welfare of the peoples of India. Unless you support your faithful servants and loyal adherents you will lose them, and at the same time you will not gain those of other categories whom you are seeking to propitiate. Although our domestic pre-occupations at the present time are grave and anxious, numerous and overwhelming, we cannot afford to keep our public servants in India in suspense any longer. The delay in this matter has been disgraceful to the Government.


; My Lords, my I, as a member of the Joint Select Committee, add a few words to what has been said by my noble friend? The Committee was, I believe, perfectly unanimous as regards the principle which my noble friend has brought before the House and certainly expected that the Secretary of State, himself a member of the Committee, would accept it and act upon it at once. But the noble Lord who rendered so much assistance to the Secretary of State during the proceedings of the Committee has told us that the Government of India wished to apply this principle not only to the Indian Civil Service but to the other great Services of the Crown in India. I am sorry that the noble Lord is not in his place to-day to take his part in upholding the cause of those Services.

So far, the Secretary of State has done nothing to carry out this principle to which he, as a member of the Committee, assented. Nothing has been done, I think, except that the Secretary of State said in the House of Commons that he was prepared to consider case by case the instances that were brought to him of the people who wished to retire, and that only one such case, as I think my noble friend said, had been brought to Isis notice. He has shown that that sort of examination of each case is absolutely impossible. I am sure your Lordships will agree that this question, this really great grievance, can only be dealt with by rule and regulation and not by inquiry into specific cases. You cannot inquire into the motives of men, nor can you possibly investigate and analyse the consciences of individuals.

My noble friend quoted what was said by the noble Marquess the Leader of the House. There were other conditions which the noble Marquess laid down with which, he said, the Bill should comply. Those conditions were ignored just as much as this one has been. I pointed out at the time that under the terms of the Bill, when it came into operation, the Indian Civil Service would be doomed, and that, I think, is becoming more and more clear every day. Having seen their work in India I regard the Indian Civil Service as the finest administrative body we have ever created, and when it passes, as it assuredly will, our wonderful work in India will begin to crumble to pieces. The noble Lord the Under-Secretary for India appears to think that I exaggerate very much the situation and the tendencies in India. I sincerely hope that he is right and I am quite wrong, but I can only say that the information I am constantly receiving from Indians and Europeans shows me that the situation is one of increasing gravity. I should not be in order to-day in trying to prove that statement, but I sincerely hope that the state of India will be fully discussed in your Lordships' House during the next session.

The Indian Civil Service is now loyally striving to do its duty in most difficult conditions. I would point out that it has been the subject of vile attacks and that every effort is being made to destroy its influence with the people of India. The annual touring of our district officers was one of the best means of bringing them into close touch with the real people, and of enabling them to administer justice on the spot and to remedy and remove all sorts of small grievances in village life. In some parts of India this touring has now become impossible because the villagers, who were perfectly friendly a short time ago, now boycott the district officers and refuse to give them any supplies. Most of our civil servants, the elder ones especially, are finding that the conditions under which they entered the Service have become completely changed. They have been, of course, or some of them have been, accustomed for a long time to serving under Indians, but those are Indians trained in the Service, who have learned its high traditions, and always in the past those civil servants had the protection of someone of their own race, with the Governor or Lieutenant-Governor behind to whom they could appeal.

All that is changed now by the application of the diarchical system to India. The trained and experienced civil servant may find that he has now to do all his work under an inexperienced politician who may have acquired office by his known hostility to the Government of India. One of these politicians lately sent to the subordinates of a senior civil servant to inquire from them what sort of a man he was, and what he was doing. That is the sort of thing which no British officer will stand. It is what my noble friend has described as "the limit." Nor can British officers be expected to look on while corruption and jobbery raise their heads, as is now happening in many parts of India.

There have been some startling cases of the removal of our officials, in obedience either to political clamour or to some secret influences, and I am afraid it is the ease that some of them now do not feel full confidence in the Government to defend them if attacked, and to right them if they are wronged. It is part of the policy of ceasing to govern, which is leading towards disaster. Because of that policy our officials and friends in India are being discouraged and intimidated. Hostility to the Government brings rewards or concessions, and sometimes both. A very able Indian editor, who wrote to me by the last-mail, says this: The policy of the Government is to give the cold shoulder to their supporters, and to do anything to win the good will of their antagonists. That is the policy which is threatening India with chaos. We can do nothing now to build up the great Services which are shaken to their foundations. But for those Services, let us remember, India would now be in a state as bad as that of Persia, which the noble Marquess described to us the other day.

We can relieve such of the public servants as find their position has become impossible, or incompatible with their sense of personal honour. I hope that the noble Earl will be able to say that the principle which the Joint Committee unanimously adopted will be acted upon without further delay, and that he will be able to add that he will apply it also to the other great public Services—engineering, education and medical—which are now finding the same troubles before them. I may point out that the late Viceroy's Government was willing and anxious to apply the same terms to those other great Services.


My Lords, I can, of course, give a reply only to the specific Question which my noble friend has put upon the Paper, and it is an unqualified affirmative. His Majesty's Government do certainly accept the principle advocated both by the Government of India and the Joint Select Committee, that members of the public Service in India should, in certain circumstances, be permitted to retire on proportional pension. The Secretary of State has already announced, in the House of Commons, his agreement with that principle.

It is not, I hope, necessary for me to say anything in defence of the Civil Service in India, but I agree entirely with what Lord Sydenham has said, that this is probably the finest administrative body in the world, and I yield to no one in my admiration of the splendid individuals who form that great Service. Indeed, I believe my noble friend, Lord Ampthill, is doing them an injustice if he thinks that there is in that splendid body any large number of individuals who will be induced to surrender their work and retire from the Service merely because they are unpopular, or criticised, or because their difficulties are increased. But I agree with him—and on this, I think, there is no difference of opinion in any quarter—that men who strongly and conscientiously disagree with the present policy of the Government ought not to be forced to remain in the Service, and I also agree with him that those who take that view should be given an opportunity of retiring, and, if they do express a wish to retire, that they should be entitled to receive a proper portion of the pension which they have earned to date. On that point I do not think there is any difference of opinion in any quarter.

I should like to assure my noble friend that there is no foundation whatever for the views which he has heard, by rumour, attributed to the Secretary of State on this matter. If I may make the suggestion to him, I would strongly urge him not to be too ready to believe insinuations of this kind before there is some justification for them. On the question of delay, I think there is just ground for criticism. It is true, as my noble friend has suggested, that in the first instance the Secretary of State imagined that the best way of carrying out the recommendation of the Joint Committee would be to apply the principle which they recommended to every case when it is brought to his notice, but, as my noble friend has pointed out in his speech to your Lordships this afternoon; there is undoubtedly a strong case for dealing with the question as a whole by Regulation.

What I told my noble friend in my letter to him was that I could not give him any general statement to-day as to what the exact terms and details and conditions of such a Regulation would be. That matter has been referred to the Government of India for their decision, and we are, at this moment, awaiting their reply, but as soon as the reply is received, and the Government of India and the Secretary of State are in agreement as to what the terms and conditions of such a Regulation shall be, the Secretary of State will take the first opportunity of making them public.