§ LORD OLIVIER rose to ask the Secretary of State for India to give the House 840 information with regard to matters of immediate interest in public affairs in India, and in particular with regard to the prospects of any steps being taken at an early date in preparation for the consideration of further constitutional change, also with reference to the Agreement recently arrived at between the Government of the Union of South Africa and the Government of India with regard to the position of Indians in the Union, with reference to the continued detention of persons arrested under the Bengal Ordinance of 1924, and with reference to the policy of the Government of India in regard to the rating of the rupee; and to move for Papers.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I think it is more than twelve months since we had a considered statement from the Secretary of State for India with regard to the affairs of that Dependency, and I am sure that your Lordships will be wait-ting with interest to hear what I have no doubt will be an important speech from the noble Earl this afternoon. But before he opens his statement there are one or two points on which I should like to make a few observations. The first point on which I have invited the noble Earl to give information is "with regard to the prospects of any steps being taken at, an early date in preparation for the consideration of further constitutional change." I observe that, not more than a fortnight ago, the noble Earl, in addressing the Ladies Carlton Club, made certain observations upon political matters in India to some of which I should like to refer, because it is not entirely clear to me what was in the noble Earl's mind. He is reported as saying:—
At the end of two years of assiduous study it was yet ton early for him to pronounce definitely upon either the success or the failure of the Constitution of India.
That was no doubt an extremely admirable and discreet phrase, for I do not know that it will ever be late enough for the noble Earl, so long as he holds his office, to express a definite opinion on the success or failure of the present Constitution of India. I can hardly doubt, however, that he has formed in his own mind a certain judgment of the success or failure of that very well-intentioned and sincerely conceived experiment, with regard to which most people who have had to do with it have already made up then minds.
I noticed the other day, in the report of a meeting of the European Association of Calcutta, that Mr. Langford James, a leading member of that association, said:—
One thing that we are all of us perfectly agreed upon is that the present Constitution is a failure.
I think that that conclusion is one that can hardly fail to impress itself upon any one who has studied the Report of the Muddiman Committee appointed by the noble Marquess, Lord Reading. Although the Constitution was good enough for stopping a gap, yet it was a Constitution which the longer it worked the less satisfaction it was likely to give to those who had to make anything out of it. Consequently, seeing that we have now arrived at the third probationary period of that Constitution, it surely behoves us to be considering, and asking the Government to consider, what is to be our next step in the direction of possible modifications of that Constitution.
The noble Earl went on to say, according to the report:—
If the late constitutional experiment was not in every respect happily conceived, it did at least equip Indians with the opportunity of showing that, in concert with ourselves, they could frame a better Constitution and that we could contribute our part to the framing of that Constitution, encouraged and reinforced by the knowledge of able men of all Parties who counted, who were desirous of co-operation, and were not aiming at disruption and had no sympathy with anarchical and purely destructive purposes.
I do not know whether that is correctly reported, but it seems to me extremely difficult to understand. I do not conceive that the present Constitution was framed for the purpose of equipping Indians with the opportunity of showing that they could frame a better Constitution. Had the noble Earl in his mind any project of giving Indians, or of affording Indians by invitation or otherwise, an opportunity of showing that they could frame, in concert with ourselves, a better Constitution? If that interpretation is to be placed on the noble Earl's observations it is a matter of very great interest.
§ THE EARL OF BIRKENHEAD
I said "in concert with ourselves" in the passage which the noble Lord read.
§ LORD OLIVIER
Yes, but the working of the present institutions under the Montagu-Chelmsford Constitution does not, I venture to say, give any opportunity, as far as I am aware, unless by the appointment of a Special Committee of the Legislature, to indulge in Constitution-making. The Constitution-making of the future is by Statute entrusted to the Imperial Parliament, after the appointment of a Statutory Commission to go into the matter and to report. Is there any alternative open to the appointment of this Statutory Commission? That was the point which I wished to elicit on the suggestion which appeared to me to be made in the noble Earl's statement.
Further on in that speech, he is reported to have said:—The events of the last two months provided some encouragement and reinforcement that the saner sections of opinion in India would realise that we asked nothing better except to continue with them a suitable, sympathetic and friendly partnership.The events of the last two months are that we have had a fresh Election and new representatives have been elected to the Legislative Assembly and the Provincial Councils, and I entirely agree with what I understand the noble Earl to suggest, that a much saner and more promising method is being pursued, so far as we can judge, at present both in the Legislative Assembly and elsewhere towards exhibiting the possibility of working representative institutions in India.
There have been, of course, in the Legislative Assembly differences of opinion between the elected members and the Government and on occasions they have absolutely turned down the proposals of the Government. That is one of the unfortunate difficulties of the present situation. Whereas in the present House of Commons disapprobation of the Government is expressed by moving a reduction of the Vote, in the Legislative Assembly it does not matter if you throw out the whole Vote: you will know that it will be reinstated. That is one of the common incidents of the present working of the Constitution: but it cannot be said that any sort of practice, or unreasonable opposition, or abuse of the forms of the House has been in the slightest degree indulged in by any Party during the recent Sessions of 843 Legislative bodies, at any rate so far as I have been able to follow them.
The noble Earl went on as follows:—Given an India in which those who counted manifested good will, and given promise of fruitful co-operation, there was much that might be gladly offered and loyally accepted which would afford a precious promise of a Constitution which might last for long, and might bring India really, and perhaps permanently, on equal terms as an honoured partner into the free community of British Dominions which men knew as the Empire.There, I think the expressions of the noble Earl are likely to be interpreted in India as offering rather less than Indians think is their due and certainly less than they are disposed most emphatically and unanimously to press for. They ask for something rather more than what may be called a "suitable, sympathetic … partnership" and something rather more than the opportunity of fruitful co-operation.
I should like to quote some phraseology which I found the other day in the Memorandum addressed by His Majesty's Government on the subject of China, because it seems to me that the terms of that Memorandum were very much more on the lines of what the Indian Nationalist Party are striving for than what apparently the noble Earl was prepared to offer them. I find that I have mislaid the Memorandum itself, but speaking from memory what it said, I think, was that the time had come for the Powers to recognise that Chinese Nationalism desires to manage its own affairs and not constantly to have them managed under the tutelage, however wisely advised, of European Powers. The Nationalist movement in India, likewise, has a desire to manage its own affairs, just as the Government of South Africa wishes to manage its own affairs, not under the direction and tutelage of the Imperial Government but by itself as an autonomous Dominion.
Secondly, I think it would be a mistake to suppose that the smoothness with which matters have gone in the Legislative Assembly during the present Session, or the smoothness with which they may go during the course of the next two or three years in the Provincial Councils, is to be taken as any adumbration of the moderation of the demands of all Parties, whether Moslem, Hindu, Swarajist, Independent, Moderate or 844 Liberal in India. The unanimous demand of all Parties is for a progressive advance towards the establishment of a self-governing Dominion under the Crown. In this connection there is another observation in the noble Earl's speech which I will venture to quote:—…. We in this country were entitled to say to them, 'Make a real and serious attempt to compose your own differences.' The Government should not be asked to frame a new Constitution until it was certain that a reasonably united India would accept the instrument which they so framed.I presume that refers to the differences that have transpired as between the two principal social sections of the community, the Moslems and the Hindus. It is very satisfactory to find that within the last few days there seem to have been indications that the Leaders of those Parties have succeeded in coming to something like a formulation of plans for a greater unity with regard to constitutional questions.
I see in The Times of March 21 it was reported that a conference of thirty leading Moslems from all parts of India, representing various shades of Moslem opinion, met to consider whether, under the coming revision of the Constitution, the election of legislative bodies should be by a separate or a joint electorate. The report states:—The conference considered the proposal made by the Congress and Nationalist Parties in favour of a joint electorate with reservation of seats on the basis of the existing pact or on a population basis. After seven hours' discussion the Conference unanimously agreed to accept the joint electorate, provided that the Hindus agreed to Sind being constituted as a separate Province, and also to the North-West Frontier Province and Baluchistan having the same measure of reform as the other Provinces. It was prepared to concede to the Hindu minorities in Bengal, the Punjab and the North-West Frontier Province the same concessions as the Hindus concede to Moslem minorities in the other Provinces.Following that meeting there was a conference of representative Hindus and a resolution was passed favouring accommodation. The conference passed a reciprocal motion and appointed a Committee to co-operate with other Hindus and with the Moslems to seek a solution of the communal problem.
I do not think there has ever been any question but that the Leaders and 845 the more intelligent spokesmen of the Moslem and Hindu Parties have been extremely perturbed by the faction fighting that broke out and which resulted in social antagonisms being exacerbated. They have unanimously desired to come to some kind of concordat in order that constitutional progress might be made on that firm basis which the noble Earl says is indispensable. It is a satisfactory sign that we should have seen within these last few days, possibly as a result of the smooth operation of the proceedings in the Legislative Assembly, a real and genuine movement, as it appears to me, towards establishing a basis for settling the vexed question as to how the rights of minorities are to be dealt with. I think there is reason for congratulation and for hope.
Finally, the noble Earl is reported to have said:—I would earnestly ask thorn not to neglect the opportunity afforded to them here and now by a Viceroy and a Secretary of State of working together equally for the aspirations of an India which is rationally advised.I trust that the kind of movement to which I have referred is the response that we may expect to have. The particular point which I want to put on that part of my observations is whether there is any prospect of steps being taken in preparation for the consideration of a future constitutional change. The time is running out. The Statutory Commission must be appointed in or before 1929, and it is obvious that unless the Statutory Commission has prepared the ground we shall at the end of that time not be in a position to deal satisfactorily with the matter. I should like to know whether His Majesty's Government and the Indian Government are prepared with a scheme more or less upon these lines. The constitutional position and the difficulties of the Government of India, after the expiration of that period, will be enormous and unless something is done there will be a recrudescence of the irreconciliable opposition to the present system such as we were faced with three or four years ago.
Further than that there is an enormous number of matters to be looked into before any kind of opinion can be framed as to the possibility of the future Indian Constitution. The whole question of the 846 position of the Indian Native States has to be gone into and matters of that sort require an enormous amount of preliminary preparation of material and examination. Consequently I hope the noble Earl will be in a position to hold out some expectation that some preparatory work, at any rate, is going to be done by His Majesty's Government within the next two years before we run up against the fact that the probationary period has run out and that the old Constitution is there unchanged without indication as to the direction in which it is likely to be changed. I am sure—and the noble Earl must know too—that if we are in that position two years hence, he will find himself facing an almost unanimous attitude of protest and criticism against the Government on the part of those who are either working now as an intelligent Opposition or who are working now as intelligent co-operators. The leading live men in politics in India to-day are determined that this question of constitutional reform must go on and on until it is settled. Just as during my period of office as Secretary of State we were pressed to say—rather unreasonably at that time, as I thought—what were the intentions of the Government, so now in the next two years the Government will be pressed, and with reason, to say in what way the situation is likely to be dealt with at the expiration of two years from now.
The next point upon which I have to comment, and upon which I want to have some observations from the Secretary of State, refers to the Agreement recently arrived at between the Government of the Union of South Africa and the Government of India in regard to Indians in the Union. When I brought this matter before your Lordships' House rather more than a year ago the position appeared to be extremely unsatisfactory. At that time the Government of South Africa had adopted a policy—a policy which was declared by their responsible Ministers—of making a considerable diminution in the number of Indians in South Africa by means of exercising pressure. They had tabled a Bill, which they declared they were not going to alter before Second Reading, and which they declared must go through as an urgent matter, though they said they would, perhaps, before Second Reading allow the Indians to send a deputation.
847 I want to speak with entire satisfaction as a citizen of the British Empire, and with a great amount of personal congratulation to the noble Marquess on my right (Lord Reading) who was in charge of these negotiations, with regard to the extremely important result which has been achieved. The noble Marquess, with pertinacity, urbanity and profound persuasiveness, convinced the Government of South Africa that they were mistaken in the attitude which they had taken up. The noble Marquess would not, for a moment, claim the whole credit for himself, but what I want to congratulate the Empire and India upon is that he was able to find such admirable representatives, of the Indian nation and of the British Civil Service in India to carry out the negotiations. By pointing out the facts and the truths of human nature they were able to work upon reasonable, generous, high-minded men in South Africa and get them to recede from point to point until we have now got a situation in which we have the Government of South Africa saying, not that they must in any circumstances pass the Bill but actually agreeing that they will not proceed with the Bill.
Embodied in the text of the Agreement, which I will not recite to your Lordships, are provisions which seem to me not only entirely reasonable and equitable to both parties, not only more—very much more—than a year ago we could have had any confidence could be obtained, but almost as much as I think it was at all reasonable should be obtained. The Agreement on the face of it is an admirable one, reasonable and fair to both parties, and likely to be of great value, not only to the Union of South Africa but also to those Indians who are to be helped to maintain and improve their position in South Africa by a certain amount of tutelage and advice from a representative of the Government of India. I should like to know whether steps have been taken to appoint, as suggested, a representative of the Government of India to reside permanently in South Africa as adviser to the Indian community there and as a liaison officer, I presume, between the Government of India and the Government of South Africa. I think your Lordships will all share the satisfaction which we who are specially interested in India have felt 848 about that concordat as an Imperial event of the greatest promise and the most satisfactory character.
The next point upon which I want to ask a question is one upon which the noble Earl will know I do not wish to be troublesome to him. It is a question with regard to the continued detention of persons arrested under the Bengal Ordinance of 1924. That is a source of continual trouble in India. Continually Resolutions are passed denouncing not only the Ordinance but the continued incarceration of those interned under the Ordinance, and demanding their unconditional release. Constantly the same representations are made in this country. Even some members of my own Party are in the habit of saying that the Government of India are keeping in prison 200 men without trial, and so on. When speaking on Indian affairs I am constantly challenged by Indians, who put to me what they consider the gross injustice of the present situation. I always reply to them, as I have replied in this House, that I have absolute confidence not only in the perspicacity and equity of the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, but also in the perspicacity and equity and the strong judicial instinct the noble Earl the Secretary of State for India.
Having borne testimony to that Complete admiration, in Which so many of your Lordships hold the noble Earl for his judicial instincts, I have been challenged by quotations from some of the speeches of the noble Earl and have been asked whether I consider them to be judicial utterances. I have replied that those are not judicial utterances of the noble Earl, but are utterances in the vein in which we have heard his Lordship deal with members of his own Party and noble Loris behind him. But when I consider, as when anyone considers, the antecedents and qualifications of the noble Earl, Lord Birkenhead, I have never any hesitation in saying that I know he has paid personal attention to these matters and that if he could reasonably do anything to relax the situation by releasing any of these men he would do so.
I have read reports of a pronouncement by the Government of India on the subject and I want to draw attention to one point which arises in my mind from these reports. It seems to me that we are 849 getting into a very difficult situation. These expedients for dealing with these revolutionaries have been rather of the nature of preventive detention. Preventive detention is a system that our Judges have generally pronounced against on the ground that, although to the layman it seems a reasonable way of keeping a man out of mischief, yet, as it goes on, the position of the person who exercises discretion becomes more and more difficult. Consequently our judges have been inelined to say: "Give a sentence, longer or shorter as it may be, and then let the man out." I want to know whether the noble Earl thinks that it is possible to go on very much longer with these cases by exercising a continuous restraint or preventive detention. The position does seem to me to get more difficult every day. It will be interesting to know how the Government of India, with the assent of the noble Earl, proposes to deal with it.
A statement was made on this question by Sir Alexander Muddiman, of which I should like to read a short paragraph. There had been certain cases in which the Viceroy, I think, decided that, if the detained person would give an undertaking that he would not engage in revolutionary activities, his detention should be allowed to cease. On that point Sir Alexander Muddiman said:—As to the second question, which raises the question of individual release, the matter must be decided on the past record of the détenu and his present, attitude. The Government are not demanding, as is sometimes alleged, any humiliating confession from these détenus. They are more interested in the future than in the past. A declaration that a détenu would on release take no part in revolutionary activities would be an element to be taken into consideration by the Government, but this, on the one hand, would not amount to a confession that he had taken part in such activities in the past, and on the other hand—this is the important point—such a declaration could not and would not be accepted by the Government as a ground for release without an examination of the whole of the circumstances of the case and the past record of the détenu."If that is to be the governing consideration, what is the use of bringing in an undertaking as to future behaviour?
Those détenus who profess their innocence say that it is humiliating, and others refuse on other grounds to give such an undertaking, because they say 850 that it would be a confession of guilt. If you are really dealing with these cases on your knowledge of the character of the man and his past record, and if you are satisfied on those grounds and in view of the present state of affairs in India that it is necessary to keep the man under restraint, what is the use, what is the grace and what is the advantage of complicating the matter with what seems to me the somewhat nugatory and superfluous condition that the man should promise to be of good behaviour? I should like a clear statement of the policy of the Government of India with regard to the continuance of this detention and to know whether the noble Earl sees in the present condition of Indian affairs any hope that within a short period the present operations of the Bengal Ordinance may practically expire of exhaustion.
The fourth and last point upon which I ask for information is the policy of the Government of India in regard to the rating of the rupee. A vote was recently taken in the Legislative Assembly on the proposals for the stabilisation of the rupee at 1s. 6d., and there was a small Government majority. Of the elected section only 20 members voted for the Government proposal, the rest being either nominated or official members. There was a very small majority and I have no doubt that those interested in India have been deluged, as I have, with all sorts of pamphlets and literature on the subject and on the question of currency. It would be madness for any speaker in this House or in any assembly to attempt to go into any kind of analysis of the arguments employed in the discussion, but very broadly I think I can safely put before your Lordships the backbone of the controversy. The Royal Commission on the Currency recommended that the rupee should be stabilised at a ratio of 1s. 6d. to sterling, largely on these grounds:—In the first place they considered that prices in India had now practically adapted themselves to a parity of 1s. 6d. That, of course, is an extremely controverted argument and is vigorously protested against by men of considerable knowledge and experience in India. It rests upon a collocation of about six variables, on index values of prices generally and of the gold prices of the currency in the United States, England and India. 851 They arrived at their conclusion by an argument on those lines and, at the best, it is a very controversial and controvertible thesis.
But the main point with which the Government have made play in the debates is that, in regard to paying their obligations in England, if you can pay them at the rate of 1s. 6d. for every rupee raised in India, then you have to raise by taxation in India 2d. in the rupee less, and that if you were to stabilise the rupee at 1s. 4d. you would have, for the purpose of remittances to England, payments in England and payments for imports from England, to raise a greater number of rupees in India. Broadly speaking, from the point of view of Government finance and of British bondholders and British subjects having interests to be remitted to them from India, and also from the point of view of immediate taxation, the case of the Government of India has been very strongly and ably argued. It was made clear by Sir Basil Blackett that, if the rupee were at 1s. 4d., you would either have to abstain from remitting the Provincial contributions—which I am very glad to see that the Government of India have been able in this last Budget to remit—or you would have to increase the Revenue by increased taxation.
On the other hand, of course, the Indian Nationalists challenge the Government on the score of their Budget Expenditure. They say: "This is all very well, but we think that you are spending a great deal too much upon your Army, and when the Commander-in-Chief tells us that the Indian Army is now cut down to the bone so that you cannot spare a single soldier or a single gun, we are very much surprised to see that you are able to send troops for defensive purposes to China and that India is, in fact, able to spare both men and guns." When you base an argument upon financial expediency and say that, if you do not have this rate, you will have to increase taxation, you are at once met by the counter-argument that you should reduce taxation by reducing your Expenditure, and the same controversy arises as was discussed on these Benches two weeks ago.
Finally—and this is the most important point—the effect of the 1s. 6d. ratio, as 852 distinct from 1s. 4d. is aiways to favour the importer of goods from England into India and to penalise the producer of goods in India that have to be sold in India or sent to England. I think that there is no controversy about that. This means that, for the sake of financial expediency, for the sake of other parts of the scheme (such as the establishment of banks to regulate the currency, about which I say nothing) and, indeed, for the sake of permanent financial expediency from the point of view of Government finance, you are establishing a system which does favour the importer and the British interest over here as against the producer and the Indian interest out there. It seems to me most unfortunate that at the present time we should be stabilising a rate of rupee which has that effect, because I am quite sure that the majority of your Lordships would look with disfavour upon a financial policy in this country which definitely favoured the importers of goods as against the producers and exporters in this country. There is an immense amount of feeling in India upon this subject. It is felt that the interests of the producers in India have been sacrificed to the financial interests of the Government and that this fiscal or financial policy has been followed in the interests of the Government and—it may be said—of the British remittance man as against the interests of the Indian producer. That is a question which has caused a great deal of disquiet in India. I do not know if the noble Earl will be able to controvert thoroughly that feeling and that criticism, but I should like to have some statement from him on behalf of His Majesty's Government as to the reasons which induced him without being deflected, as he said in his last speech, to support the recommendations of the Royal Commission. I do not think I have kept your Lordships more than a reasonable time in developing my points. I now give way to my noble friend. I beg to move.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR INDIA (THE EARL OF BIRKENHEAD)
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for affording me this opportunity of attempting to give your Lordships a survey of the present situation in India. Some nine months have elapsed since I last reviewed in general Indian affairs 853 and, although I am well aware that many of your Lordships follow with attentive and instructed interest such accounts—and they are not inconsiderable nowadays—as the Press provides of day to day happenings in India, I think that it may be of advantage, even to those of your Lordships who have had personal experience of the problems of Indian politics and administration and are consequently well qualified to assign their relative values to the tendencies indicated by events, if I attempt to place the component elements of the somewhat bewildering panorama of this large fraction of the Empire in the perspective which, from my reading of contemporary history and from the large volume of information which it is my daily duty to receive, appears to me to be just.
The noble Lord has asked me to deal specifically with a number of somewhat diverse points, all I admit of importance; and I propose to endeavour to include them all within my survey, if not necessarily in the order which he adopted. Let me begin by reminding your Lordships that, since I last addressed you, India has passed through the third General Election of the 1919 Constitution. No very detailed information has yet reached me of the number of voters who went to the polls, but I can at least say that there was no dearth of candidates of ability, that the polls were conducted without disorder, and that the electors showed, on the whole, a distinctly greater interest in the exercise of their suffrages than on the two previous occasions. How far this increased interest was due to other causes than a realisation of the issues at stake and of the political philosophy underlying the use of a vote I cannot even guess. But it would be foolish to pretend that electoral politics in India have yet emerged in general beyond the individual and personal appeal, or that Party politics, HS we conceive them, are not still a conception of the future. It is true that Party labels are there, and that within the Legislatures groups have formed and reformed, named and renamed themselves, coalesced and disintegrated, in almost kaleidoscopic complexity. I can, however, discern no sharp line of principle dividing and distinguishing them, nor perhaps can this well be otherwise at the present stage of constitutional development.
854 But with due regard to these limitations, it is none the less true to say that there was on the occasion of these last Elections one broad issue which confronted the electors—namely, whether their choice should fall upon a candidate who professed, or upon one who repudiated, the main principle associated with the Party until recently known as Swarajist. As your Lordships are aware, the Election of 1923 brought into the forefront of Indian politics a conception of statesmanship, the appeal of which to intelligent men I have more than once expressed my inability to understand. The noble Lord, my predecessor, has several times in speech and writing claimed that the position attained by the followers of the Swarajist creed in most of the Councils as the result of the Elections of 1923 entitle them to be regarded and treated as the constitutional Opposition is treated by the Government of the day in all established Parliamentary governments. Events have in my judgment proved this claim to be misconceived.
This is not the occasion for a philosophic examination of the theoretic bases of party government. But I imagine that none of your Lordships would dissent from the proposition that, although, no doubt the main function of an Opposition is to oppose, the very conception of Government and Opposition pre-supposes acceptance by both alike of the framework of the Constitution within which they function and have their being. Without this postulate the forms of Parliamentary government are empty and meaningless, and it was the denial of this postulate which, as I understand it, formed the bedrock of the Swarajist creed. Their policy was to endeavour "by uniform, continuous and consistent obstruction within the Councils"—this is not my phrase but the ipsissima verba of the Party's manifesto of 1923—"to make government through the Councils impossible." And why? Because Parliament decided in 1919 that the bold step forward then to be taken towards responsible government could not for the time being be more than a stage in the advance, and should not consummate a complete abdication of authority on the part of this country. I am not so rash as to attempt to predict from the present composition of the Councils the probable course of their actions during the next 855 three years, but I think it is not unduly optimistic to discern grounds for hope that the sterile and reactionary character of the creed of the rigid Swarajist has become apparent to Indian intelligence generally, and indeed to not a few of its former exponents.
I do not deny that the last Session of the Indian National Congress decided by a majority to affirm the past policy of the Swarajist Party, but it is instructive to observe that the Swarajist Party has now discarded its title in favour of the title of "Congress Party," thereby perhaps advertising (what had become during the last few years increasingly obvious) that the Congress, which in the past has numbered within its fold practically every Indian of character and enlightenment, is no longer entitled to arrogate to itself the description "National," for it is an open secret that the decision to decline the responsibility of Ministerial office in the Provinces where Swarajists were in sufficient strength to warrant an invitation to assume it, or to support the Ministry formed from other Parties where this was not the case, was received in more than one Province with great searchings of heart by the Party's local adherents; while it is no secret at all, but a plain fact, that those who profess and call themselves Swarajists have been returned in diminished numbers to nearly every Council, and that most of the so-called Responsivists and Independents who are now to be found in appreciable numbers in all the Councils are persons who, having hitherto marched under the Swarajist banner, have declined any longer to bind themselves to a programme of barren and naked obstruction.
One tangible effect of this situation is that in two Provinces—Bengal and the Central Provinces—where, after the Elections of 1923, the Swarajists had been returned in sufficient strength to put a stop to the machinery provided by the Act of 1919 for transferring to the control of Ministers responsible to the Councils an important section of the administration, the Governors have now found it possible to appoint a Ministry, and in both places there are distinct indications that the Ministry can count on the requisite Parliamentary support. Your Lordships have no doubt observed that about ten days 856 ago a formal vote of "No confidence" in the Bengal Ministry was rejected by a decisive majority.
Here, my Lords, the peculiar difficulties which have beset the Governor of Bengal in finding Hindu and Moslem Leaders willing to co-operate, brings me to a topic with which, at the noble Lord's especial request, I dealt in some detail on the last occasion I answered a similar question—the rivalry and antagonism of Hindu and Moslem. I wish that I could report to your Lordships that this matter gives ground for less anxiety, and for less constant watchfulness on the part of the authorities responsible for the preservation of peace and order, than was the case when I spoke here nine months ago. Unfortunately I can make no such report, though I am glad to think that the situation is in some places less acute than it was last summer. Only three weeks ago bigoted intolerance—and I characterise impartially in those terms the attitude of those who rigidly insist on the playing of music at times and in places which give ground for offence, and of those who no less rigidly object to it in circumstances when objection has not in the past been made—bigoted intolerance, I say, led to a clash between large parties of Hindus and Moslems at a remote village in Bengal, which the police were forced, with no small loss of life, to end by the use of firearms. Though there have not been of late disorders on a scale comparable with those which disgraced the streets of Calcutta in the spring and summer of last year, the instance I have cited is only one of four serious collisions which have occurred at various places within the last six months.
Almost more disquieting to my mind than these crude manifestations of mob intolerance are the jealousies and suspicions of Hindu and of Moslem Leaders in the field of politics, for if the Leaders are incapable, or not desirous, of subordinating sectarianism to nationalism, the prospects of the growth among their less enlightened followers of that spirit of reasonable accommodation which is the life-blood of political progress, can hardly be regarded as encouraging. I have no desire to dilate again upon this problem—a problem the solution of which can be found by no one but Indians themselves—but I must be permitted to observe that until those who 857 contend that India is at this moment the rightful and competent arbiter of her own destiny can lay the spectre of sectarian violence, their contention must necessarily fail to appeal with conviction to unprejudiced minds. Whether the discussions to which the noble Lord referred, which were reported a few days ago from Delhi as having been initiated by certain Mahomedan Leaders, as to the feasibility of surrendering the separate Moslem electorates which form part of the present political structure, and as to the conditions upon which this change might be considered, will come to fruition and prove, as they well might, to have in them the seeds of a solvent for this malaise, I have little means of judging—no more than any one of your Lordships—but I shall watch with attention the development of this most interesting indication of the movement of Indian political thought.
I should, however, be giving a false impression if my observations hitherto have led your Lordships to suppose that I see only shadows on the picture. I say, though not without some hesitation, that the political outlook as the result of the last Elections, aided by the fortunate outcome, to which the noble Lord very generously referred, of the recent negotiations between representatives of the South African and Indian Governments, on which I shall have something to say in a moment, is one of no small promise. I shall not go further than that somewhat guarded utterance takes me. Indeed, I am conscious that some not inexperienced observers would view with unbelief even that degree of optimism. I have followed, with the close attention I was bound to give to it, the Session of the newly-elected Legislative Assembly which has just closed, and in specially mentioning the Assembly I must not be taken to have overlooked the proceedings of the other, and not less important, Chamber of the Indian Legislature. It is, holy ever, inevitable that one's attention at this juncture should be chiefly directed to that body which represents the more recent choice of its constituents, and which, by the nature of its constitution, should indicate more directly the trend of the general mass of political Opinion.
The impressions I have gained from this scrutiny I should find it difficult to 858 indicate fully within the time I am entitled to expect your Lordships' attention. But let me generalise by saying that, while I admit that the tone of the debates has been, on the whole, free from bitterness; that relations between members of the Government of India and the Opposition have been friendly both inside and outside the House; and while, finally, the Government of India has been able to find, sometimes by extremely narrow majorities, sufficient support for their considered policies to secure the defeat of their opponents upon issues of first-class importance, yet I cannot but feel that the position, even to-day, lacks stability. I have said before, and I say it again now, that by the co-operation which I have before requested I do not mean servile acceptance of any and every proposition that the Government think fit to submit to the scrutiny of debate and to the verdict of the Division List. As the noble Viscount, Lord Chelmsford, found occasion truly to observe on a memorable occasion to the Indian Legislature. "The day of autocracy is past" in India.
Nor am I so foolish as to waste endeavour to find a point of approach to those who have succeeded in persuading themselves that they still continue to serve the interests of their country by putting into practice the orthodox Congress creed. My doubts arise from the difficulty the past Session has presented of distinguishing by the test of speech and vote between the hide-bound adherents of that creed and those late professors of it who claim to have been returned to the present Assembly as followers of their own individual consciences. I have already observed that Indian politics in the mass are still largely, perhaps inevitably, an affair of personalities, but I am loath to believe that those men who have been judged worthy by their fellow countrymen to represent their views in the Central Legislature can carry independence of judgment and action only to the extent of repudiating the colours of a particular Leader while echoing his sentiments and following him on every important occasion into the Division Lobby. Still, despite such discouragements, I maintain that I do see clearer signs, and from a wider area, of that "responsive co-operation" (to borrow the phraseology of Indian politicians themselves) between 859 British and Indian which is indispensably needed to enable the best minds of both races to think out, without prejudice, the testing problems confronting them, and failing which I myself can see no solid hope of progress.
I turn now to the second of the topics upon which the noble Lord invited my observations—the continued detention in gaol, or under restraint of various degrees, of a number of persons in the Bengal Presidency. I do not intend on the present occasion to examine the grounds upon which the Government of which the noble Lord was a member decided to authorise the noble Marquess, the late Viceroy, to enact the Bengal Criminal Law Amendment Ordinance of October, 1924. On an earlier occasion I have dealt fully with that matter in your Lordships' House, and have made it plain—as was, indeed, apparent from my own decision a few months later to support the certification of the Act of 1925—that, whatever my prima facie prejudice against legislation of this character (and I have never either disguised or dissembled it) I considered that the action of His Majesty's late Government and of the Government of India in assuming and using these unusual and drastic powers was completely justified.
I shall assume, therefore, for my present purpose a general acceptance of the decisive fact that in 1924 there was existing, and had existed for some years in Bengal, an organised conspiracy for the commission of revolutionary crime; I shall assume, further, general acceptance of the fact that the authorities responsible for the preservation of life and the maintenance of order in the Bengal Presidency found themselves unable to accept responsibility for the performance of their task unless they were enabled by process of law to deprive the known leaders and organisers of this conspiracy of the freedom to pursue their criminal activities, by segregating them alike from their fellows and from their potential victims. The noble Lord does not, indeed he cannot well, with due regard to his personal responsibility in this matter, question these premises. He has put his case with great moderation and it is my duty to give him as far as I can an answer alike full and candid.
860 I am asked, and reasonably asked, what is to be the end of this policy of detention? Are we, with our high judicial traditions, to contemplate the indefinite detention in gaol, or even under less irksome forms of restraint, of a large number of the educated youth of Bengal? Let me assure your Lordships that, pursuantly to the pledge which I gave to the noble Lord nearly a year ago, for the best part of that year I have been putting these questions insistently to myself and for several months I have been in constant consultation with the Government of India as to the answer we are to give, having regard to our responsibilities and those of the Bengal Government for the protection of the life and property of the inhabitants of the Province.
Your Lordships will not expect me to disclose to you the details of these discussions, but, in view of the admitted conditions at the time when these powers of detention were last assumed, the question at issue really resolves itself into this: Is the situation which admittedly necessitated the arrest of a number of persons in the autumn of 1924 in order to prevent the commission of terrorist outrages, now, in the spring of 1927, such that the release of all those persons can be contemplated with equanimity or allowed with safety? In my judgment, after the most careful examination of which I am capable, even of individual cases, the release at this moment of all these persons from the restraint under which many of them have lain for a long period would be attended by a risk of the recrudescence of murderous outrages for which I will not assume responsibility. And in making this assertion I claim that I am not easily deterred from a course otherwise proper because that course is attended by risks. But this does not mean that I contemplate a policy of indefinite detention and that I return a blank non possumus to the noble Lord's appeal.
Let me state in some detail and in the plainest terms I can the policy at which, in consultation with myself, the Bengal Government and the Government of India have now arrived and which is now guiding and will continue to guide their actions. In order to do so I propose to read to your Lordships a statement, not long, which was made publicly, with my declared concurrence, on behalf of the 861 Government of India last week. It is as follows:—The policy of the Government regarding those who have been detained under Regulation 3, or the Bengal Criminal Law Amendment Act, in connection with the Bengal revolutionary conspiracy, has been and still is that the detention of no man should last longer than is essential in the interests of the public safety. The Government are convinced that a terrorist conspiracy is still in active existence, and that consequently it is not possible to take stops in the direction of the release of those about whom there is no reasonable doubt that they would utilise their liberty to resume their previous activities. They are, however, anxious to pursue as quickly as possible the gradual release of individuals whose conduct gives reason for hoping that they will not abuse their liberty. The Bengal Criminal Law Amendment Act provides for a considerable degree of elasticity in the treatment of those who are dealt with under it and enables the Government to transfer from gaol to less strict forms of supervision persons whose mast record and present conduct would not justify their unconditional release. Individuals of this class may be directed to reside in a particular village or in their own homes. The practical results of transferring men in this manner to village or home domicile are carefully watched, and the Government are enabled to observe whether action taken is justified by events, and thus to determine the possibility of the further extension of such action.The noble Lord asked me upon this point a particular question. He said, when you are releasing an individual upon the giving of an assurance what is the use of examining his past record?
§ LORD OLIVIER
I put it the other way round. If you are only going to release a person when you are satisfied by the past record that he is not dangerous, what is the use of asking for a promise?
§ THE EARL OF BIRKENHEAD
You form your judgment upon a combination of both considerations. The assurance for the future may possess a value quite different in the case of a man whose past record is good. Supposing for fourteen years a man's record has been one of revolutionary violence, it would naturally be the duty of the authorities to examine in a very different spirit any assurance that he might give for the future. I cannot really see any inconsistency in the double test which has occasioned the anxiety of the noble Lord. However, it is proper that I should show what has 862 been done in the direction of discriminating the treatment of détenus:—I may mention that out of 171 persons dealt with under the Bengal Criminal Law Amendment Act from the beginning, 75 have been placed in village domicile and 13 in home domicile, while 26 have been released. The number now remaining in gaol of this class is 54. Of those arrested under Regulation 3, 31 were subsequently transferred to the Bengal Criminal Law Amendment Act and are included in the figures just given. Sixteen at present remain in gaol under the Regulation. In the last two and a half months the Government of Bengal have issued orders for the transfer of 19 détenus from gaol to village or home domicile under the Act and have released seven. The Government of India have also had under review the case of those who are still detained under Regulation 3. They are considering the case of one of these State prisoners on medical ground. In respect of four others they are satisfied that detention in gaol is no longer necessary and they are, therefore, cancelling the warrants under Regulation 3 so that action may be made to bring them under the Bengal Criminal Law Amendment Act with a view to their transfer to village domicile. It must be understood that the practical results of this action, as exhibited in the conduct of the men thus placed in village or home domicile, require the constant attention of the Government. If it is ascertained that such men are reverting to terrorist conspiracy the Government will not hesitate to deal with those men under their powers.That is our policy at which, as I have said, we have arrived after the fullest and most careful consideration of the matter in all its aspects, and that is my answer to the noble Lord's Question on the policy involved.
I have reminded your Lordships that the exercise of powers of this kind is not, unhappily, a new feature in Indian administration. It was necessary, for precisely the same reasons as those now operating, to intern a number of persons during the War. Let me also remind your Lordships that in 1920 a general amnesty of all such persons was ordered in the hope that it would result in the abandonment by them of their dangerous activities. The hope proved fallacious: the conspiracy was revived and a series of outrages followed which was not checked until resort was made to the present legislation. Even now—apart altogether from the information in the possession of the Bengal Government—it must be sufficiently apparent even to the uninstructed that conspiracy is still at work. 863 No longer ago than in January of this year two men were arrested in the course of house-searches in Calcutta in a room which contained revolvers, ammunition and thirteen cases for bombs, while within the previous thirteen months two other discoveries of a similar but more elaborate nature had been made. I tell your Lordships plainly that so long as the Bengal Government and the Government of India continue to advise me that the release from restraint of any given individual is likely on reasonable grounds of probability to lead to further outrage, I shall not attempt to set aside their judgment. I shall, on the contrary, support them.
I turn now to a wholly unrelated subject—the outcome of the recent negotiations on the subject of Indians in South Africa. The noble Lord has referred to the Agreement recently reached between the Union Government and the Government of India regarding the position of Indians in South Africa. I am placing in the library two Papers, one containing an announcement made by the Government of India last month regarding the results of the Conference, and the other, a more detailed summary of the conclusions reached, which was laid before the Indian Legislature. I do not propose to review in detail the contents of the latter document, but merely to describe in the broadest outline the results attained. The two Governments have agreed to co-operate in a scheme of assisted emigration from South Africa; the restrictive legislation introduced last year will not be proceeded with, and an agent of the Government of India will be appointed in South Africa. I am not able to give the noble Lord with exactitude the information he asked for as to the stage which the arrangements have reached, but the matter is now the subject of discussion. Further, while the right of South Africa to maintain Western standards of life has been recognised, the principle has been affirmed that Indians in South Africa who are prepared to conform to such standards should be enabled to do so.
I have described the results of the Conference in the most general terms and with a deliberate economy of language, for I am above all things anxious to give no colour to the belief that one side or 864 the other has gained an advantage. There is no question of this. The settlement, which a year ago seemed impossible, is an honourable one which does credit to both Governments, and was only brought about by the spirit of mutual forbearance and good will with which the two Delegations approached this most difficult question and by the resourcefulness applied to the discovery of its solution. Great credit is due to Sir Muhammed Habibulla and to the other members of the Indian Delegation, and I would like, if I may, to pay a sincere tribute to the wisdom and the high statesmanship of General Hertzog and his colleagues in very difficult circumstances. But, apart from the many concrete difficulties that have been solved by these negotiations, the Agreement has a higher value in that it marks in my judgment the beginning of a period of cordial co-operation and of more intimate and friendly relations between the two Governments. Each Government has come to appreciate the difficulties of the other; mistrust and suspicion have been replaced by understanding and good will, and the complete change of atmosphere that has been brought about is the best augury for the harmonious working of the Agreement and the adjustment of any difficulties that may arise in future.
Another matter on which the noble Lord seeks information is the policy of the Government of India in relation to the rating of the rupee. I should not have thought that there could be any misconception on this point. A Royal Commission, of which the majority of the members were representative of Indian interests, finding that the de facto rate of exchange had been 1s. 6d. for some time and that a substantial adjustment of prices to this ratio had been attained, recommended, with one dissentient, that in the best interests of India the rupee should be stabilised in relation to gold at that rate. This recommendation was accepted by Government in advance of the other recommendations and a Bill designed to effect the change was introduced into the Assembly in August last. In deference, however, to the not unreasonable desire that the recommendations of the Commission should be dealt with as a whole, consideration of this 865 measure was postponed until the present Session.
In the interval a, further adjustment of prices to the 1s. 6d. rate has strengthened the case for stabilisation at this ratio, but at the same time an agitation arose in India in favour of a reversion to the old rate of 1s. 4d. Doubts have been expressed as to the reality of this agitation. I cannot give a definite opinion. It has been suggested that the movement was largely political. We need not, however, happily, engage upon these speculations, for the Legislative Assembly, by a narrow majority no doubt, has accepted the Commission's recommendation. That this decision was wise there can be no doubt in instructed opinion, and I am convinced that any other decision would have been in the worst interests of India, involving, as it would have done, the long and painful process of readjustment of prices and wages to an entirely new level. As it is, statutory stability of exchange has been attained and this cannot fail to benefit Indian finance and Indian commerce.
Of the other recommendations of the Commission—notably those relating to the establishment of a gold bullion standard and the creation of a reserve bank—I need only say that following the announcement which I made to your Lordships last autumn a Bill has been introduced which will, after reference to a Select Committee, be considered later in the year. The Bill is a complicated one and will require most careful consideration, but pending its examination by the Indian Legislature your Lordships will hardly expect me to review its provisions.
I cannot pass from this branch of my subject without making a brief reference to the Budget. I do not propose to inflict upon the House a wearisome review of the Revenue and Expenditure of the present and the coming year. I content myself rather with stating the gratifying fact that for the fourth year in succession the revised Estimates disclose a substantial surplus. This surplus amounts to nearly three crores. In the coming year, on the existing basis of taxation and allowing for Provincial contributions, a surplus of more than 3½, crores is anticipated. But although these 866 successive surpluses, earned as they have been by the most rigid economy, afford evidence of the soundness of Indian finance, they are particularly welcome as they make it possible to give effect to the policy of progressively extinguishing Provincial contributions. Few realise how injurious to the chances of the Constitution has been the burden of Provincial contributions, chilling, depressing and rendering almost impossible the adequate discharge of those Social Services that might have done so much to recommend the novel and difficult Constitution.
Noble Lords are aware that when the Reforms were introduced an adjustment of Revenue between the Central and the Provincial Governments was required and that to secure equilibrium between Revenue and Expenditure the Provinces were required to contribute in the aggregate 983 lakhs of rupees each year to the Central Government. The arrangement under which the Provinces contributed to the Central Revenue, though in the circumstances inevitable, had very evident drawbacks. The Joint Parliamentary Committee, indeed, placed it on record that Government should so direct its financial policy as to extinguish these contributions at the earliest possible moment, and this policy the Government of India have persistently pursued.
In 1922–3 Bengal was relieved of its contribution of 63 lakhs, and three years later contributions amounting to 250 lakhs were permanently remitted, apart from a temporary relief of 50 lakhs given for one year to those Provinces which had not benefited by the permanent relief then given. In the following year a further permanent remission of 125 lakhs was made, and, as matters now stand, the original figure of 983 lakhs has been reduced to 545 lakhs. This year's surplus will, as an exceptional measure, not be used for the reduction or avoidance of Debt but will be carried forward and, together with the anticipated surplus of the coining year, will enable the Government to remit permanently another 350 lakhs of these contributions and to remit temporarily, for 1927–8 only, the balance of 195 lakhs. The remainder of the surplus will be set aside to be used to meet initial expenditure involved in the inauguration of the new currency system and the setting up of the new reserve 867 bank, with the result that the Revenue and Expenditure of the coming year will, unless we are unfortunate, balance. Noble Lords will thus see that next year the Provinces will be entirely relieved of the obligation to contribute to Central Revenues, a notable achievement due to the courageous skill with which Sir Basil Blackett has administered the finances of India. In the past India has enjoyed the services of a long line of gifted Ministers of Finance, and Sir Basil Blackett has worthily upheld the traditions of his predecessors. He has indeed deserved well of India.
I have dealt at some length on this question of Provincial contributions because of its reactions on the political situation. I believe that in the past the greatest of all impediments to the successful working of the reforms has been the want of money. When we remember that, since the Government of India Act was passed, new burdens have in many cases necessitated retrenchment, one cannot help sympathising with Provincial Ministers. Even to tried administrators retrenchment is always painful and difficult. How much more difficult and how discouraging the process must have been to those new to administration, who undertook the responsibility of the Transferred Departments in the hope that they would thus be enabled to advance the well-being of their fellow countrymen! Instead of being able to launch out on new schemes of public works, of education, of public health and sanitation, Ministers in many cases were forced to retrench in every direction. Thus one of the elements necessary to the success of the reforms has been wanting, and I am confident that your Lordships will share my satisfaction that, by the freeing of the Provinces from the incubus of these contributions, wider opportunities will be given to Indian Ministers to administer more liberally the Departments entrusted to their charge.
There is one other part of the Indian Budget upon which I must say a few words. Your Lordships may have observed that the Legislative Assembly has rejected the Estimate for the Army Department, as a method of protesting against certain features in Army administration and in the discharge of my responsibility to Parliament it is right that I should offer some observations on the points against which the Assembly has 868 directed criticism. One ground, and perhaps the principal ground, of objection is the standard of military expenditure in India. It may not be out of place at the outset to attempt to remove a misconception which appears to prevail, not only in India but in some quarters in this country. A common line of criticism is that the Indian Retrenchment Committee of 1922 recommended that military expenditure should not exceed 50 crores of rupees (let us say, £37,000,000) a year, and that Government had failed to give effect to this recommendation. But what did my noble friend Lord Inchcape and his colleagues in fact say? They said:Should a further fall in prices take place we consider that it may be possible after a few years to reduce the military budget to a sum not exceeding 50 crores of rupees, although the Commander-in-Chief—I should explain that this was the late Lord Rawlinson—does not subscribe to this opinion.That was a very guarded expression of opinion—it was not a recommendation—and what have Government done to give effect to it? They have reduced military expenditure from 65¼ crores, that is about £49,000,000, to less than 55 crores, or about £41,000,000, in the last five years.
The strength of the Army in India has been reduced, wisely or unwisely, by 38,000 men or 14 per cent. since 1914. It is true that its cost has nearly doubled, but India can no more expect to escape the financial consequences of the world upheaval than any other part of the Empire. In the same period British military expenditure has increased by fifty per cent. although its strength has been reduced by sixteen per cent. It must be remembered that, owing to the rigid economy of pre-War years, the Indian Army was actually below the efficiency level when War broke out. The fruits of that policy were borne in Mesopotamia and I can assure your Lordships that neither my office nor the Government of India nor I myself will forget the lesson that was taught there, however short on occasions may be the memory of the Legislative Assembly.
I have referred to the reduction of the strength of the Army in India since the War: but I must add that that progressive reduction was acquiesced in by the Commander-in-Chief, Lord Rawlinson, and approved by the noble Viscount, 869 my predecessor, not as in itself a sound military measure—it was never so claimed, never so defended—but solely because the financial condition of India at that time made retrenchment necessary, and the improvement in the external and internal situation of India made it possible to take a certain amount of risk. I must emphasise this because behind the general complaint against the size of military expenditure lies the suspicion that the Army in India, even on the present footing, far exceeds the actual requirements of the country and thus contains, at Indian expense, a potential reserve which can be, and is intended to be, used for Imperial purposes alone. That suspicion is absolutely without foundation.
The primary purpose of the Army in India has been defined, in a Resolution passed by the Legislative Assembly in 1921 and endorsed by His Majesty's Government, as "the defence of India against external aggression and the maintenance of internal order." So far from its being true that the Home Government keeps troops in India which are not needed by India and can at will be drawn upon for reinforcements elsewhere, almost the exact opposite is the case. It is true that when for the moment conditions in India are peaceful—and this is I think the answer to the specific Question which the noble Lord asked me—troops can be temporarily spared from India, as they are being temporarily spared at the present time, to assist in emergencies elsewhere. But neither the Government of India nor I would be likely to conceal from ourselves that by lending troops from the Indian garrison at this moment we are facing a certain risk. It is, we believe, a reasonable risk, or we should not have been justified in taking it, but it is reasonable only so long as the occasion is temporary. Further than that we dare not go.
The strength of an army must be measured, not in relation to what I may term local day-to-day contingencies, a border scuffle one day, a disturbance of the public peace the next, but in relation to wider contingencies which I need not further specify. It is recognised by both His Majesty's Government and the Government of India that in certain contingencies the Army in India will not suffice for "the defence of India against external 870 aggression and the maintenance of internal order," but that we shall have to obtain, should these contingencies unhappily arise, reinforcements from the Imperial Army in order to defend India successfully against a combination of menaces. That is the cardinal fact in the question of the military requirements of India and the military commitments of Great Britain. In face of it, it is surely-futile to say that the strength of the Army in India exceeds its requirements as defined by the Indian Legislature itself, and to demand that it be reduced still further.
Throughout all these criticisms upon Army administration in India, I detect a belief that these matters are primarily of concern to India alone, that there is no call on His Majesty's Government to take part in them, and that action by His Majesty's Government in this sphere is a kind of bureaucratic interference from Whitehall. If only for the reason which I have already indicated, this is a mistaken view. All these questions, whether they relate to the interchange of reinforcements, or to the spread of military training in India, or to the Indianisation of the Indian Army, can only be handled with the necessary degree of success if they are brought under comprehensive survey by an authority competent to examine them from the broadest Imperial point of view. It is not enough to approach them parochially. I had, in fact, last year formed the conclusion that the time had now come to invite the Committee of Imperial Defence to consider the problem of Indian defence as a whole and to take the opportunity of examining certain incidental questions, of which I will refer to two because they have been mentioned in the Legislative Assembly.
The first is the Report of the Indian, Auxiliary and Territorial Forces Committee, which requires a broader survey than either the Government of India or the India Office are able to undertake, in so far as it relates to the potential fighting strength of India which can be placed under military training. The other is the Indian Sandhust Committee Report, which will in a few days be made available to your Lordships. I shall not be expected to discuss that Report afternoon, because I have not at this stage received the Government of India's recommendations on it. But I will say 871 this. It is a document of first rate importance, not only in what it contains but even more perhaps in the lines of inquiry which it is bound to initiate; and it presents the problem in a way which necessarily compels us to consider where we now stand and in what direction we may most safely and readily advance. So far as I am concerned, I shall welcome the opportunity and use it to the full.
Quite obviously the problem, so stated, is one of Imperial scope, on which neither the Government of India nor the Secretary of State is qualified to speak with final authority. I felt bound to consider whether we in India might not be well advised not to publish the Report until both the Government of India and His Majesty's Government had had time to examine it and to review the whole problem, including aspects of it which were beyond the range of the signatories. It appeared that this would involve too long delay in publication and, after consulting the Viceroy and those of my colleagues who are primarily concerned, I decided to publish the Report at once with some preliminary indication of the scope of the further inquiries to which it points the way. That will very shortly be done and the next step will be for the Committee of Imperial Defence, after receiving the Government of India's views, to examine the Report as a whole in its relation to those wider aspects of military policy which they alone are competent to appraise.
Labour difficulties bulk so largely in India that noble Lords will perhaps expect me to say a word on this subject. The Indian Trade Unions Act, which was passed last year, provides for the voluntary registration of unions, and to registered unions various privileges will be given. The object of the Act, which will come into effective operation as soon as the Local Governments have promulgated regulations, is to encourage the growth of a healthy trade union movement in India, and to assist in the development of responsible associations of workmen, which can be recognised by employers. This cannot, of course, be brought about by legislation, and the future of this movement must depend entirely upon the workers themselves and their leaders. I would be the last to underrate the difficulties which stand in the way. These are enormous, but the 872 passage of this Act should serve to make easier the creation of stable and responsible unions, and so help towards industrial peace.
The noble Lord finally asked me to inform him of the prospects of any steps being taken at an early date in preparation for the consideration of further constitutional change. I would ask him in turn, does he feel quite certain that the advancement of that magic date, 1929, which has occupied so much attention in India during the last six years, is now in fact the desire of those who have hitherto urged it with such untiring persistance? I have thought myself that I have seen of late signs among the leaders of Indian opinion of a certain reluctance to rush this fence, if I may be permitted the image, now that the march of time has brought it so unescapably close. But I do not dwell unduly upon that point. Unless Parliament were to decide otherwise, and to amend the law accordingly, a Commission must be instituted not later than the end of the year 1929. Having regard to the known climatic conditions, any advancement of this date must mean that the Commission would be constituted in time to commence its labours in the late autumn of either this year or next. The issue has thus become a somewhat narrow one—so narrow in fact that I hazard the suggestion that ten or even five years hence it will have become difficult to recognise that a choice between 1927, 1928, or 1929 as the date for the initiation of this inquiry should have been one to arouse grave controversy.
However that may be, I decline, as I have stated once before in this House, to make myself the slave of a date, and the decision of this question still lies with India herself. If the results follow which might reasonably be expected from the fairly favourable auguries disclosed by the past four months, if, that is, it becomes apparent that the present Constitution, with all its faults, is being accepted as the instrument for a serious and sustained effort to collaborate in securing the "better government of India"—to quote the description applied in the Act of 1858—then I see no reason to anticipate that His Majesty's Government and Parliament, if so advised by the Governor-General, will be found 873 over-anxious to insist upon waiting until the ten years period has run its full course. My appeal is still, as it was two years ago, for common sense and reasonableness. The pursuit of political will-of-the-wisps has not so far proved very profitable. Nor will it hereafter. An intelligent discharge of existing powers is a powerful argument for their extension; an irrational obstruction a powerful argument against. The critical months which we await will determine the decision, and I earnestly hope that at long last we shall meet a sanity and sobriety of action which will encourage and fortify those who established the present Constitution in the hope of witnessing its evolutionary extension.
§ THE MARQUESS OF READING
My Lords, I am sure you will have heard with satisfaction the lucid and full statement made by my noble and learned friend the Secretary of State for India. He has travelled over a wide field, and I do not propose to follow him throughout. There are one or two observations only which I should desire to bring to your notice. In particular, I would dissent from a statement which, if I heard correctly, came from the noble Lord who initiated this debate: that the Constitution must be regarded as a failure. I heard from him a quotation made by a member—I think the learned President—of the European Association in Calcutta, in which he expressed a view to which, of course, he was entitled; but it seemed to be accepted by the noble Lord, which I confess surprised me. I desire to dissociate myself entirely from that view. I refuse to regard the Constitution as a failure. I would rather regard it as a monument erected by the generosity of the British Parliament, for the purpose of giving effect to the principles we hold dear and of enabling India in the future, when she is ready for it, and has shown the willingness of spirit we all desire, to govern herself as part of the British Empire, and to maintain her position, we hope for all time, associated with us in the Commonwealth of Nations.
When I look back upon the years which have passed—the very few years, only six or seven—since this Constitution was put into operation, I ask myself how any one who studies constitutional history could have expected more to be accomplished 874 in India during this short period than has really been achieved. I take my noble and learned friend's speech to-day as a complete answer to the statement that the Constitution is a failure. Not for one moment am I suggesting that it is perfect. I observe the very naturally guarded and prudent observations made by my noble and learned friend. In the position he occupies it is essential that he should be extremely careful in any observations he may make as to the future. I have a position of less responsibility, although with some experience of Indian affairs. When I look back upon that period I would ask your Lordships to consider carefully before you accept the view that this Constitution is a failure.
Look at the situation as it was in 1919, when the Government of India Act was passed; look at the situation in 1921, when the Constitution was inaugurated and set in operation; and look at the situation in 1927, at this moment, when we are considering the actual conditions. We all remember the unfortunate and tragic events of 1919—I have no desire to refer to them again—and the consequence that the reforms were started under the most unfavourable auspices that can well be imagined. For a period of years after they were inaugurated, certainly for eighteen months or two years, it may be said that the Constitution trembled in the balance. But when you look at the position at this day and contrast it with that of 1919 and 1921, can there be any hesitation in saying that the Constitution is not a failure, although it may not have achieved all the enthusiasts may have expected? I will go further. As the years progress I become myself more confirmed in the opinion that this was a very wise move on the part of the British Parliament, and that perhaps if we had not taken the course in 1919, prefaced as it was by the Declaration of August, 1917, we might be in much greater difficulty in India than we are actually experiencing.
Everything seems to point to the peaceful development of constitutional government. I am not for one moment suggesting that we should make the jump forward which some of the Indian politicians desire, or at least did desire in the past—I am not quite so certain of the present position. I would ask your Lordships to 875 remember the situation, let us say, during the years after we passed the critical period of the agitation then led by Mr. Gandhi. I have no desire to refer to any of the events of the eighteen months or two years from the beginning of 1921 until 1923; I am looking in another direction, and trying to conceive for myself, and to present to your Lordships, the situation as I see it, developed, as I perceive it, along the lines of constitutional government. It is true that in 1923 there arose a new Party, then led by Mr. Das and the Pandit Motilal Nehru—the Swarajist Party. My noble friend quoted to-day from a manifesto which proclaimed that obstruction of Government was its object. It came into existence for the purpose of creating obstruction within the Councils, instead of following Mr. Gandhi's advice—remaining outside the Councils and thus obstructing constitutional government. Well, we know the history of those years. We have had another Election, to which my noble friend has referred. I have not time to examine it in detail. The only observation I wish to make is that a change, a very definite change has occurred to this extent, that different views are held by some members, even Leaders, of the Swarajist Party; and there is now in the Legislative Assembly, and also distributed throughout the Legislative Councils of the Provinces a new Party, called the Party of Responsive Co-operation.
Thus it is proved that the policy of obstruction from without failed, that the policy of obstruction from within has not succeeded, that there is at the present moment—it is too early to predict the result—a controversy between the Swarajists and those who have seceded from them, and also with a number of Independents. In this last Session I doubt very much whether there has been any evidence of deliberate obstruction in the sense of attempting to prevent the Constitution from functioning. I am not sufficiently familiar with all the details of the happenings of this Assembly, but I do know the result, I read the newspapers, and get such information as comes to me from India, and I have heard my noble friend to-day; apparently everything of importance that has been desired has been obtained in the Assembly. No doubt there have been 876 differences of opinion, and there may be still some points to determine in the future. But here we stand at the moment, with the Government in the position of saying that Provincial contributions have come to an end, and the Excise Cotton Duty, a source of so much controversy, and so much animosity, has been repealed. And during these years, if your Lordships would follow my few observations on the financial conditions of India, I hope I may persuade you that the Constitution is not a failure, but that so far as it has progressed—of course, it is much too early to pronounce a final judgment—it seems to have operated reasonably well.
In the early days, in 1921, 1922 and 1923, the Budget showed a serious deficit. During the five years, from 1919 onwards, the deficit was just upon 100 crores, or, at the present rate of exchange, £75,000,000, over those five years. We then initiated a new policy, determined to make the Budget balance if we could. The services of my noble friend Lord Inchcape were sought, and were freely and generously given, and, with the assistance of his Committee, retrenchments were made in the Expenditure. I have thought sometimes when I read the newspapers, and also when I listened to the debate quite recently in your Lordships' House on economy, that a useful lesson might be learned by those who have time to study the affairs of India and to see the parlous condition into which the finances had lapsed, and how they emerged as a result of a policy of retrenchment and economy. In consequence we had a Committee recommending reductions, to which the Government gave effect. It is a very interesting reflection that notwithstanding the surpluses of the four years after the presentation of the Report and the retrenchments made, there would not be a surplus at this moment if it had not been for the drastic cuts in Expenditure made, on the recommendation of that Committee on economy.
I conclude by drawing your Lordships' attention to the present situation. Not only have there been surpluses. Great difficulties in India were occasioned by the Excise Cotton Duty which we could not afford to abolish, although Lord Hardinge, when Viceroy, had given a pledge that, as soon as the finances of India permitted, this 877 Duty should be abolished. We were not able to do it until 1925. Conditions then permitted the Government of India to take that step. The Cotton Duty, although it only affected Bombay directly, nevertheless had a reverberating political effect upon the whole of India. There was, however, a greater obstacle in the path of reforms. The Provincial contributions to the Central Government affected the situation. Lord Meston, a member of your Lordships' House, was the head of the Committee which recommended the Meston settlement. It decided that nine crores and 83 lakhs should be contributed by the Provincial Governments to the Revenue of the Central Government for the purposes of administration. It was recommended that those Provincial contributions should be abolished as quickly as the Central Government could dispense with them. The result of the administration of the financial affairs of India has been that these Provincial contributions have been abolished.
That is to say, not only have there been remissions of contributions for the two previous years, but for next year 1927–8, a balance of 5 crores and some lakhs still remaining of the total sum of the Provincial contributions, is also to be remitted. Three and a-half crores are to be remitted permanently. Whether in the future years the contribution can be totally remitted must depend naturally upon the monsoons and the financial condition of India. I do commend to your Lordships as a notable achievement of administration the fact that these Provincial contributions, which it was thought would take many years to dispense with, have ceased to exist for this year 1927–8. I ask your Lordships to picture the significance to the Provincial Governments who, from the first, have been loud in their outcries that while we gave them a certain degree of provincial automony—limited no doubt—we at the same time crippled their finances by calling upon them to contribute to the Central Revenue sums from each Province, and so made it impossible for a Minister who wished to introduce social reform to find the necessary finance. Now that has disappeared. Money, which, as your Lordships know, means nothing but the power to command goods and 878 services, is there now, or at least it will not have to be contributed to the Central Government. The services which hitherto Ministers could not perform, the beneficent legislation they wished to introduce but could not, whether in the direction of education or sanitation or otherwise, can now be carried out because at last those contributions have not to be paid. The burden has fallen from the Provinces and they can now devote themselves to administering their affairs without having to contribute large portions of their Revenue to the Central Government.
I have dwelt upon the financial conditions merely for the purpose of drawing your Lordships' attention to the change wrought in six or seven years of the administration of the new reforms. I pass over the larger questions because I will not detain your Lordships. They have been referred to by my noble friend and are familiar to your Lordships. I ask you to remember that the result has been achieved under the Constitution of 1919, with the assent of the representatives in the Legislature and in the Provincial Councils. The financial conditions of India may be compared very favourably perhaps with any country other than the United States of America. In finance at this moment India can point to the fifth year of considerable surplus. It has remitted to the Provinces the contributions they had to make, it has got rid of that incubus in the political world, the Cotton Excise Duty, and it is enabled now to cherish the hope that greater happiness and contentment of the many millions for whom the Provincial Governments legislate and whose affairs they administer, may be expected. In this direction I would ask your Lordships to come to the conclusion, not that the Constitution has been a failure but that, in the light of the events to which I have only made very cursory reference, it has succeeded and the achievement is somewhat remarkable.
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE
My Lords, whatever my noble friend Lord Olivier may not have succeeded in doing, at least he has brought out the two very interesting speeches to which we have just listened. The noble Marquess has defended the Constitution established by the Montagu-Chelmsford reforms in 1919 powerfully. He has said that he denies 879 that that Constitution was a failure and he has given us, in truth, some record of very valuable things which have taken place under it. I think he is entitled to congratulate himself completely upon the outcome as regards finance. I do not think he exaggerated in the least in that regard, and I was very glad that so cordial a tribute was paid, both by the Secretary of State and by him, to the work of that distinguished administrator Sir Basil Blackett, who worked under him and to whom is due a great deal of credit in connection with the reorganisation of the finances of India. If the only question were whether the Constitution had been a complete failure, I should agree with the noble Marquess that it had not been so inasmuch as much has been done under it. But finance is not the whole question, and all I think that my noble friend Lord Olivier intended to convey was that at least it is a Constitution which has not been as fully and generously accepted as we could have hoped, with the result that there has been a good deal of evil.
I shall presently have something to say about what I believe to be the cause of that, but before I do so I wish to advert to the speech which the Secretary of State has made. It was a very full speech, it was a very candid speech and I think it was a very useful speech, inasmuch as he answered nearly every Question which had been put to him. It covered so much ground that I cannot hope to traverse it on this occasion when, indeed, I only wish to say a few words on certain specific points. But there were two or three things with which I was glad the noble and learned Earl dealt. He spoke of the Act of 1925 for dealing with disturbances in Bengal. I took an active part in the drafting of that Act. It was settled really between India, in close consultation with the Viceroy, and London. It was limited by general assent to one principle, which was to deal, not with political agitation, not with new political crimes, but with crime under the actuary existing law and to take steps to put that down. Anybody who remembers the state of things, in Calcutta in particular, in that year knows that it was a very dreadful state of things, a state of things in which human life was not safe in the City, and the Act was passed to enable the authorities to 880 deal with that state of things drastically. It was done, and now the question has been raised in India and by some people here whether the time has not come when you might release the whole of the offenders in prison under that Act.
Speaking for myself I think it would be inconsistent with the very principle of the Act to release them wholesale. You must deal with their cases individually. They are being dealt with individually. A considerable number are out on probation. I hope that that is a process which may be carried still further, and I do not quarrel in the least with the principle that the noble and learned Earl laid down, that you must go cautiously. But you must to some extent review the decisions come to on the spot about individual eases. I know it is very difficult, and I am very much against interfering with local people in ordinary matters, but when it comes to life and liberty then you have a very serious state of things, particularly when there is a powerful public opinion observing you. Accordingly I hope that the noble and learned Earl, while adhering to the principle that, the cases must be dealt with individually and each on its merits, will see to it that they are all disposed of not in that somewhat happy-go-lucky way which often happens when things are left only to the local police.
Another matter on which the noble and learned Earl touched was the Army. It is true that there has been a very powerful movement in India for the reduction of the Indian Army and its cost, and no doubt there is great force in the contention that the Army is probably kept up on a scale for the resistance of foreign aggression which would not be necessary if India was a perfectly peaceful country left to itself and not apt to become involved in quarrels which proceed between Great Britain and other countries. That is true, but of course we cannot do without an Army in India of at least sufficient size to preserve law and order and to ensure security from some form of attack. But I have often raised a question in my mind which I commend to the consideration of the noble and learned Earl.
It is a question which, as far as I am aware, has never been considered. We maintain two great Armies, one in India and the other the Imperial Army, the 881 Home Army. The Home Army is generally exclusively in this country. When it goes abroad it goes abroad temporarily. I have sometimes thought—and I have discussed this with some of the most eminent military authorities in India—that in these days of rapid transport it would be possible to keep at least some part of our own Home Army, some part of our Expeditionary Force, generally in India. It need not be a large part. A comparatively small part of it would be sufficient to relieve the necessity of keeping up quite as great a military force in India. A short time ago it was obvious that it would have been a good plan because the theatre of probable disturbance was in the Near East, in Iraq and in countries in that vicinity. Then it would have been a convenience to us to have had that part of the Expeditionary Force which we might require close at hand. But that is not so now. I do not think that invasion from the north is a very practical proposition.
It may be that circumstances may change and you may require a larger force, and then the consideration of this new source of addition to the Indian Army, which may be considered on the analogy of the Territorial Force, may become important. I do not think it is possible to come to a decision about so large a question straight off, but I do say that I think we should do well to consider the question whether the Expeditionary Army of this country and the Indian Army should not be in closer relation than they are at the present time. At the present time they duplicate their work to some extent, and it is one of those things which ought to be considered in the Committee of Imperial Defence on a large scale—whether the view of those who think that some part of our Forces might remain generally in India (as I say not too large a part), is not a view which ought to be taken into account. I myself discussed this largely in 1924 and 1925 with those who are engaged in considering strategical questions. It is purely a strategical question. It is a question which deserves more consideration than it has ever had. I think it is one that is new so far as the War Office is concerned.
Then I come to the question why it is that the Constitution established in 1919 and the reforms of which the noble and 882 learned Earl has spoken and of which the late Viceroy has spoken—why it is that those reforms have not produced as much fruit as we could have hoped for. There is a reason for it. Between India and this country there is a very great difference in spirit and I think that difference in spirit is a difference which is too much overlooked. I do not often take part in the discussion of Indian affairs in this House, but for all that I see a great many distinguished Indians, men of learning who come over here and who discuss things in a moderate spirit. I see them very often in my house and I read a great deal of literature with which they furnish me. I wish we had in the library, for instance, such a magazine as the review which is published in the University of Calcutta and which contains articles by some of the most able men in India, discussing all those questions on which we have been touching to-night. If it were read, then I think it would become apparent that much of the difficulty about constitutional questions and much of the difficulty about domestic questions in India, is due to the difference of outlook.
At the bottom of almost everything in India is the question of religion. I do not mean any conflict between Hinduism, in the popular idea of it here, and Christianity. They have got beyond that. I mean that the Indian is essentially a religious person and he brings religious considerations into his conscience at every turn. The result of that is apparent in his attitude towards your questions, and I think you very often do not take account of the fact that you are dealing with persons of a different spirit from your spirit. I take one case. The question of elementary education is a profoundly serious problem in India at this moment. Very little has been done. The amount of ignorance is stupendous. It interferes with everything, not only with the people whom it leaves open to those influences which operate so readily on an unguarded mind, but with the supply of administrators and of people to be employed in skilled businesses. As a consequence the education question is being more and more recognised by those who think in India—and they are many—as lying at the root of nearly the whole of the social problem. Practically nothing has been done about it. Now that these financial reforms of which we have been 883 hearing to-night will place the Provinces in a better position it is possible that the education question may be dealt with by them to some extent. There is another question in which the noble Marquess took a great interest when he was Viceroy and to some extent assisted, and that is the question of agriculture. The development of the study of agriculture in India is a matter of the last importance, and I hope and believe that the development of that study will produce a new class of people in India, more intelligent and able to get a great deal more for you out of the soil.
All these things show, as writers like Lord Ronaldshay have been impressing upon us in their books, that we have to understand the spirit of the people more than we have done if we want to get rid of the reproach that our measures do not get home to them. I think it is quite reasonable to take time over the fashioning of the Constitution, if only for the reason that was given both by the noble Earl himself and by the noble Marquess. People's minds are very slowly settling down on that question out of a good deal of chaos and controversy. That is not a reason for feeling hopeless. If you turn to the state of Canada as it was even after Lord Durham's time, you will find its Constitution in a condition as difficult as that of India to-day. We shall get out of these difficulties if we maintain an attitude of moderation, and at the same time of definite purpose. I think that the speeches to which we have listened to-night are speeches that give us considerable hope that, with persistence and by seeking to maintain the vast gap that now separates the spirit of those who administer India from those who administered it before the Mutiny in a very narrow fashion, there is at any rate a likelihood that India will by degrees emerge into that ideal which was prescribed for it at the time when the reforms were instituted.
§ LORD OLIVIER
My Lords, it would be useless and oppressive to discuss the statement of the noble Earl. It is a statement made for consideration in India, and it is its effect in India, and not any opinion that I may form of it, that is of importance. Two points, however, have arisen out of the debate to which I should like to refer. I have heard without surprise the eulogy passed 884 by the noble Marquess on the Constitution that he had to administer. I will only say that I do not think his opinion is shared even in the Provinces—
§ THE MARQUESS OF READING
If the noble Lord will forgive me, I did not pronounce a eulogy of the Constitution. I objected to its being pronounced a failure.
§ LORD OLIVIER
The noble Marquess is in the position of a nurse who has been able through many adverse years to maintain the vitality of that poor Constitution, and I am not surprised that, like a successful nurse, he is very proud of his patient. I do not know that anybody else shares that feeling, and at any rate I do not think that it will be shared after 1929. All that I can say is: "Vex not its ghost, Oh! let it pass."
The noble Earl, in speaking of the Hindu-Moslem antagonism, referred, as I think he will find when he reads his speech to-morrow, in rather misleading terms to a recent affray in Calcutta. I presume that he was referring to the affray two or three weeks ago of which full particulars were given in the House of Commons last week. From the noble Earl's statement it would appear that there had been an affray between Moslems and Hindus, resulting in casualties. That was not the case. The incident was a most unfortunate and deplorable one, and I am sure that it must give the noble Earl and the Government of India much anxiety. The fact was that there was no fighting between Moslems and Hindus, but that the Moslems refused to disperse and the magistrate gave an order to the police to fire upon them. He ordered them to fire one round each, but the police, who were apparently in an entirely undisciplined condition, fired thirty-seven rounds and killed fourteen people and wounded seven.
That is a most dreadful incident and one that I hope will be thoroughly cleared up. I am rather sorry to see that the inquiry is to be made only by a Commissioner. I think that in a case like that, which, like the Amritsar affair, might set the whole of India on fire, it is rather better to have an extra-official inquiry. I merely wish to correct a misapprehension 885 to which the noble Earl's reference might give rise; I am sure that it was no intentional misrepresentation. I wish in conclusion to thank the noble Earl for his courtesy in laying Papers with regard to the South African Agreement on the Table of the House, and, as I have no other Papers to move for, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.