HL Deb 30 July 1930 vol 78 cc1019-24

My Lords, before you proceed with the business of the day I wish to draw attention again to the Question raised yesterday in this House with reference to the Indian Round-Table Conference. I stated yesterday that the Government had determined that it would not appoint a representative of the Statutory Commission as a member of the Conference, but on examination of the observations made by the Prime Minister in another place yesterday I find that that statement was a little too definite, inasmuch as the Prime Minister made it quite clear that, although at the moment he was inclined to say that it would be undesirable to have the Commission represented on the Conference, the matter was still under consideration and negotiation. That was the phrase used. Therefore the Government had not definitely made up its mind. The purpose of my Question to-day is to ask His Majesty's Government to give effect to urgent representations, made both in this House and elsewhere, that the Chairman of the Statutory Commission should be appointed by the Government, with the assent of all political Parties, to be a member of the Round-Table Conference.

That it is of importance that a representative of the Statutory Commission should be present, is, I should have thought, undeniable. Our object in the Conference is, to use the Prime Minister's language in another place yesterday, in order "that the Government should have the benefit"—that is the Government and also all who are present— "of listening to the most thorough threshing out of all the problems that arise, and which will have to be dealt with by legislation." In order that there should be that thorough threshing out I submit that it is almost of vital importance that the Statutory Commission should be represented. It is not possible for any one, however familiar he may be with the Commission, who has not been present at the taking of the evidence and at the deliberations of the members of the Commission, and who has not heard all the reasons why they may have rejected one proposal and accepted another in preference, and who does not know all the considerations that have affected their minds in arriving at the conclusions embodied in the Report, in the recommendation that they have made to Parliament, adequately to represent the Commission at the Conference.

If the Conference meets without a representative of the Commission nobody will be in a position to put their view forward, and it is of even greater seriousness when it is borne in mind that representatives of India will have the advantage, if certain representatives come to the Conference, of presenting their Report and the Constitution which they have drafted, which has been in print for a long time and discussed in India, and even referred to by the Statutory Commission in its Final Report. The Constitution which is associated with the name of the Pandit Motilal Nehru was adopted by the Indian All-Parties Conference in 1928 "to determine the principles of a Constitution for India." It is a volume almost as large as the Report presented by the Simon Commission itself. Is it intended that the representatives of India—whose views we are all most anxious to hear—should have the advantage of presenting their own Report dealing with all the various considerations that have affected their minds in drawing up this Constitution, but that nevertheless the Report presented by a Commission appointed by all Parties in this Parliament should not be represented, and should not therefore have the same advantage? Does it not savour somewhat of an unfair discrimination in favour of the Indian Report and, as it would almost appear, of a slight to the Commission and even to Parliament if there is no representative of the Commission appointed?

As the Government have not yet finally determined and are still considering the matter, I would urge them with all the power that I can bring to bear to give effect to the views which we are presenting, which I hope and believe will be supported by other Parties in Parliament, so that we may have the inestimable advantage, in order that we may thrash out every point and hear all the arguments pro and con, of having a representative of the Commission at the Conference. I would ask the Government, therefore, to give effect to these representations. No answer was given yesterday to the request I expressed. Of that I do not complain, because certainly I treated it as a closed matter, and I have understood hitherto that it was so; but now that we know that it is not, and that it is still under consideration, there is yet time for the Government to come to a conclusion which I cannot but think would be satisfactory to all Parties involved and also to the country.


My Lords, before the noble Earl answers might I add my voice—


One moment. Really it is quite out of order to have a discussion of this kind to-day in addition to what we had yesterday. The request made to me was that a Question should be asked without a speech, and of course I assented to it. But really I do not think we ought to have a discussion.


On the contrary, it is usual for a Question to be put at the time of private business, and always supplementary observations are permitted—of course not at undue length. I have seen it done over and over again in your Lordships' House. I would like to add my voice very urgently to the very much more well instructed voice of the noble and learned Marquess on this matter. I agree with him that in the speech delivered in another place there was a loop-hole left in the Prime Minister's observations, which leads us to hope that this matter may be reconsidered. After all, we have proceeded hitherto in respect of these Indian difficulties with the agreement of all Parties. All three Parties are acting together: so far as our road lies together, we hope to continue to act together. Whether that will be possible throughout of course remains to be seen. At any rate hitherto we have been able to act together. Here is a point upon which, as I understand from the noble and learned Marquess, the Liberal Party and certainly the Conservative Party feel very strongly.

I do not want to adopt any language disrespectful to the Government, but after all, the Parties which we represent are really a majority of the country. We really represent the country in this matter. I would, therefore, urge very respectfully upon the Government that they should think again as to this matter. Many of us welcomed the Round-Table Conference with great hope that it might be of use in solving this very difficult problem. If we could only bring representatives of India as it were face to face with British public opinion, and representatives of Great Britain face to face with Indian public opinion, an agreement might be arrived at. But surely that must be done, if it is to be done with any advantage, in the light of full knowledge. Knowledge is absolutely essential; light of every sort must be thrown upon the problem. The representatives from India will undoubtedly bring knowledge. But what will be the position of the representatives of this country? Most of those who sit at the table will, of course, have the general knowledge which all well-instructed Englishmen and Scotsmen have, but yet they will not have any special and particular knowledge. Therefore there will be, as it were, a great want.

There is in our midst a body of men—namely, the Commissioners—who know everything about the subject. Are we to be told that a representative of the Commission is not to be present in the Conference in order to give that knowledge which is so absolutely essential, and which, I am sorry to say, otherwise will be found to be lacking? I cannot understand that there can be a doubt that in a Conference of this kind the representatives of the Commission or a representative of the Commission—Sir John Simon himself of course if he would be willing to serve—should be there so that all the necessary information upon the intricacies of the problem which they alone know better than any other English- man living should be at the command of the Conference. I earnestly believe that this is a matter which is deserving of the consideration of the Government. After all, when the Round-Table Conference has sat, and if, as we hope, it succeeds, the whole matter will have to be laid before Parliament, and unless it comes with the seal of full knowledge it cannot have anything like the weight which it should have. Therefore on every ground I would urge the noble Earl to make the necessary representations to the Government to reconsider this point. I can assure him that upon this matter there is no difference of opinion, as far as I know, in any part of the Conservative Party or, as I believe, in any part of the Liberal Party—that is, among those who represent the majority of the country.


My Lords, the Question has been put at a rather unusual length for a Private Notice Question, but my answer can be much briefer. The noble and learned Marquess spoke several times of the matter as still being considered. The matter is no longer under consideration. It has now been concluded, and I can read to your Lordships the answer which is being given by the Prime Minister in another place to a similar Question. This is the answer:—

"This question and those involved in it have been exhaustively considered by the Government in consultation with the Indian Government. The Statutory Commission has performed its task with a distinction which will secure for its Report a permanent place in our official political literature, and has presented its findings to Parliament. When the Conference we are now contemplating was proposed by the Chairman of the Commission with the consent of his colleagues, the Government alone was to have taken upon itself the burden of the negotiations. We have widened this so that Parliament in its varied composition might be represented. There the Government is certain it would be advisable to stop, and not add another section of delegates to the representation announced yesterday. The Government is confident that the representatives to be selected will be able to get from the Conference the fullest examination of every proposal brought before it, and every opportunity will be taken to secure that the most expert and well-informed advice, wherever it is to be found, will be available both for the Government and the Parliamentary group of representatives. The Government is convinced that a departure from this decision will not ease the task nor promote the success of the Conference."