HL Deb 29 April 1931 vol 80 cc957-88

EARL PEEL had the following Notice on the Paper:

To ask His Majesty's Government—

  1. 1. Whether it is still the intention of His Majesty's Government to hold another session of the Federal Structure Committee in this country; if so, will the Indian representation be the same or will new members be added? Will the Committee work on the same reference, or will its range be restricted to proposals placed before it by the Government?
  2. 2. Whether the Princes who are not members of the Conference, have accepted a federal scheme of government, and if so, upon what terms?
  3. 3. Whether they can make a statement to allay the anxiety felt in this country and in India at the serious increase of ill-feeling between the Hindus and Moslems?
  4. 958
  5. 4. Whether they are satisfied that under the terms of an arrangement recently concluded the boycott of British goods has ceased and that the situation in Gujerat and other places is improving?
  6. 5. To call attention to the unrest in Burma.
And to move for Papers.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, it has been suggested to me that I might have postponed the discussion of these Questions until next week when the ex-Viceroy of India, Lord Irwin, might have returned to this country. It would be rather hard to expect that a Viceroy so recently returned should at once, without rest, give an explanation to your Lordships of his administration, and, indeed, the subjects on which I wish information are rather the present and the future, and on those subjects it is His Majesty's Government alone that can answer and can take responsibility. We have had, of course, during the last two or three months much information of a varied character, much of it admirable information, in the newspapers, but nobody knows better than I how difficult it is to gain from the information you get in that way from dry to day the general picture of the situation in that vast country, which is so essential in order to form any true opinion upon it, and it is for that reason that I am addressing these Questions to His Majesty's Government.

It is now over three months since the Conference was brought to a termination, and therefore I have no doubt that His Majesty's Government will not be at all surprised if I ask them several questions as to what has happened in the meantime. What progress, for instance, has been made in India with those discussions which must have been going on with members of the Conference or members of the Federal Structure Committee? And, after that long period of consideration of the provisional opinion and conclusions arrived at by that Conference, have the Government's opinions been more fixed and settled? Have they come to any decision and are they ready now, on some points at least, to formulate their own proposal? We have been told that the Government propose to carry on the work of the Conference, or at least the work of the Federal Structure Committee, and at some date unknown to summon again that Committee to these shores in order to continue further some of the matters that were then so exhaustively discussed. I should like to ask under what circumstances and in what framework do the Government desire to carry on the work, not perhaps of the Conference but rather of the Federal Structure Committee. And do they intend to be satisfied, anyhow, with summoning again that Federal Structure Committee; or do they wish that to be only a preliminary or part of a general summoning of the whole Conference

I may probe the question a little further. What precise value do they expect to get from a renewal of the Conference? After all, how is it to be conducted? If you summon a few months afterwards the same set of people to discuss the same questions, the probability is that you will get the same answers and the same speeches. Can we assume that the Government intend to put specific questions and specific problems before that Committee and to invite discussion on those points I assume, of course, that they do not intend to re-open as it were the whole subject for general discussion. I assume, for instance, that the questions that we discussed for some four days of a Federal Constitution against a unitary one will not be again a subject of discussion.

There is a point here perhaps that the noble Lord opposite might clear up for me. There is to my mind some ambiguity about it. I was looking at the report of the conversations between the Governor-General of India and Mr. Gandhi, and I see there he says: As regards constitutional questions the scope of future discussion is stated, with the assent of His Majesty's Government, to be with the object of considering further a scheme for the constitutional government of India at the Round-Table Conference. Then it defines what subjects should be discussed, but I am not quite clear whether that applies both to discussions in India and also to discussions here if that Federal Structure Committee is to be reassembled. And I should be very much obliged, too, if we could know when that is likely to reassemble.

This question of the scope and reference of a re-summoned Committee is of very great importance. First of all we are told, I think, that the Committee is not only to consist of the old members but that other members are to be added. I understand—and I am only quoting what I see in the newspapers—that Mr. Gandhi is to come over as the sole representative of the Party known as the Congress. I ask incidentally whether it is a wise or prudent thing merely to ask one man to come over, however eminent he may be, in order to represent the views of Congress, whose views, judged by the discussions at Karachi or Lahore, are certainly not uniform or homogeneous. It is a very difficult thing, surely, for one man to conduct a discussion on so many subjects. If you have more representatives they are able to consult, to alter, to modify, to compromise according to circumstances; whereas one single representative may obviously find himself too much tied.

Now, how far is Mr. Gandhi tied? That is one of the subjects which, I think, is worth putting before your Lordships. I wish to quote the instructions that were laid down at the Congress meeting at Karachi, because they are very significant: The Congress, having considered the provisional settlement between the Working Committee and the Government of India, endorses it, and desires to make clear that the Congress goal of Purna Swaraj (complete independence) remains intact. In the event of the way being otherwise open to the Congress being represented at any conference with representatives of the British Government, the delegation will work for this goal, and, in particular, to give the nation control over the Army, external affairs, finance, fiscal policy, and economic policy; to have a scrutiny by an impartial tribunal of the financial transactions of the British Government in India; to examine and assess the obligations undertaken by India or England; and the right of either party"— and these are remarkable words— to end the partnership at will. Provided, however, that the Congress delegates will be free to accept such adjustments as may be demonstrably necessary in the interests of India. These instructions, of course, are very remarkable, because they seem, anyhow, to sweep away at one stroke all those safeguards and reservations which were insisted upon at the Conference, and which were accepted by the present Government as being a necessary part of any settlement.

Indeed, they go much further than this, because they go right back to other resolutions that were passed at a previous Conference—I think it was at Lahore—where, indeed, they claimed the right to re-examine all the basis on which all the debts that had been raised in India had been based, and, in fact, to establish that right or claim to independence at will which, as we know, has been pressed forward so much by the Congress Party. I do not know whether the words "such adjustment," which are the only modification in that statement, imply anything like substantial concessions, but, I rather doubt it. Here we have a question of first-class importance. Those safeguards which were laid down at the Conference were certainly, in my judgment, the minimum limit which could be accepted by this country, if we are to have a reasonable Constitution in India, and if this country is going to discharge its responsibilities. I should like to put this question very definitely to the Government. The safeguards have been mentioned, and have been agreed to, and have been stated by the Government to be part of any Constitution which could be at the present time granted to India, and I think the Under-Secretary might answer me that question most directly, and say if there has been any change or not in the position of the Government as regards the acceptance of those safeguards.

It would obviously be a mistake of the first magnitude if it is to be understood by those who are coming to the Conference that the provisional conclusions with regard to safeguards, and so on, which were reached at the late Conference, were merely to be taken as a sort of starting ground from which other representatives should go forward and whittle away and diminish them, and destroy their value. It is worth stating also that Mr. Gandhi himself has expressed some very remarkable opinions about the scope of the Conference. He is reported to have said that he was opposed to Dominion status on the Australian principle and that the acceptance of it would be outside the Congress mandate. He wanted no more Viceroys and he did not believe that any Army was necessary in India, or that British troops were necessary in communal disturbances. I stress for a moment that phrase "in communal disturbances." He also said that if the Army had to be re- tained, it must be subject to control by the Indian Government. If the instructions of Mr. Gandhi as the sole or leading representative remain as they are, as expressed by Congress, and if his own views are properly represented by those statements, it becomes of the greatest possible importance to know, as I ask in my Question, what is the reference to the Committee and will its range be restricted to proposals placed before it by the Government?

We have had too many instances where great damage has resulted to us in our relations with India because we have been a little vague or wide, as it were, in the statement of exactly what we meant. It would be most unfortunate if these delegates were to come here with the intention of discussing the various forms of Swaraj, independence, and then were to be told that they could not do so. It would be of great advantage, I submit, if at the earliest possible moment the Government would state quite clearly what subjects are to be discussed at that, renewed Conference and what is to be the scope of the Conference. Indeed, it would be fair even to those able men who came forward to the last Conference if they were to know what the limits were to be.

It is common knowledge, I think, that insufficient preparation was made for the last Conference. The Government, I understand, were very much engaged with the Imperial Conference and could not give their minds until a late day to the work of this Conference. Anybody who was there will say that the Conference was at a disadvantage because certain work had not been done before it met. If that is so, let us avoid a second mistake of that kind and let us be quite certain that the work has been not only fully explored but definitely laid down before the Conference meets. Let us not raise again, as we have raised too often on these occasions, hopes that may not be fulfilled and that will end only in disappointment. I have heard it stated, but I hope anyhow that it is not true, that the tactics of the Congress Party is merely to send Mr. Gandhi over here as their representative with certain definite ultimatums, and if those are not accepted he must break up the Conference and retire. I do not know, and I hope that there is no truth in that statement. Anyhow, it emphasises the necessity at an early stage of strictly and closely defining what is to be the scope of the reference of that Conference.

The next point on which I wish to submit a Question is, I think, a less controversial one; that is, with regard to the question of the Princes, and what has been the result of the discussions that we know have been going on between the Princes, among those who came to the Conference and those others who did not come to the Conference. Your Lordships will easily see the immense importance of this point. The difference, if I may remind you of it, between the Report of the Simon Commission and the attitude of the Conference was that, though the main proposals of the Statutory Commission of course all tended in the direction of federal government, they only contemplated the gradual adherence of the Princes to that system and did not regard it as practical politics at the moment to set up at once a federal structure. The change of the Conference was that with the statements of the Princes that particular idea of a federal system for India became less an idea and took on a more objective reality. We were uncertain in the Conference as to the percentage of the Princes that were prepared on certain terms to enter into that federal structure. Indeed, it is of great importance, because the percentage of Princes ready to enter that structure, as it were, must even affect the views of those who have already agreed to do so. It was obviously extremely difficult to construct a Federal Chamber and Government, giving due proportions to the weight that the Princes and their States would occupy in this Constitution, if the number of those who were ready to enter was insufficient and if it was uncertain what the proportions would be.

I know that a great many discussions have gone on, and it would be extremely interesting and, I think, of value on this point to know what views have been expressed by the Princes. I am not going to ask the views of the Princes who were at the Conference because we know them very well. But a large number of Princes were not represented at the Conference, many of them ruling States of great importance. Have they come into the agreement? What have they said, and what has been the result of the discussions which they have had? Further, I should like to know if any very important changes have been made in the views of those Princes who were at the Conference as to the main subjects, such as the proportions in which they should be represented in the Federal Assembly and Senate.

May I add this last word on the subject because it bears on my previous Question? That is that the question as to whether or not subjects like independence or Dominion status at the present moment can be discussed at the Conference is of great importance as regards the presence of the Princes there. We know that the most definite attitude taken up by the Princes has always been that they would not come into any structure of that kind that postulated any sort of separation from this country. It is not necessary I think to quote any statements, but a very important pronouncement was made in the recent Session of the Chamber of Princes by the Maharajah of Patiala, who stated that should any attempt be made to translate into action the wild talk of severance from the Empire connection then we ourselves would prove true diehards ready to sacrifice everything for the defence of the Imperial connection. The importance, therefore, of those questions must be clear.

I pass to the next point, on which I desire to question His Majesty's Government; that is, as regards the position of the communal difficulties. Again, it is most relevant to the subject I am discussing. It is generally agreed, I think, that unless a reasonable basis of communal settlement is arrived at, it will not he possible to develop further the Indian Constitution. Or you might put it the other way, that a reasonable settlement between the great communities is a condition precedent to constitutional advance. Great efforts were made at the Conference to promote an agreement. The Prime Minister himself made great and continuous efforts to do so, but they failed, as we know. I am personally not so much disappointed at that failure, because I always felt that if an agreement of that kind was reached in this country the probability was it would be overthrown when it was translated in India, and that an agreement of that kind must be a matter of long and careful negotiation, and cannot be concluded in the space of a few weeks. I should have asked, and I intended to ask, whether any further basis of agreement, or suggestions of heads of agreement, had been reached between those two great communities. I say I should have asked, but, unfortunately, events have happened during the last few weeks that have made it almost ironical for me to ask at this stage a question of that kind. We are told by men who know India well that, unfortunately, the feeling between those two great communities is worse than it has been for something like twenty or thirty years. All those who have recently come from India bear testimony, I regret to say, to the depth of that feeling, and to the widening chasm between the two great communities.

I am sure the Government are very alive to this danger, but I am going to ask them what steps they are taking in this very grave matter to try to bring about a better feeling, if possible, between the two great communities. It is of no use concealing the fact that this feeling has been terribly exacerbated by these unprecedented, brutal and horrible massacres that have taken place recently at Cawnpore. I am afraid they may have far-reaching results. I am well aware that an inquiry is going on. That inquiry is attempting to establish the responsibility of those who were either responsible for the outbreak or for quelling that outbreak. That inquiry, I am sorry to say, can have nothing to do with the terrible massacre that took place of the thousand or so persons killed in that riot, many of them under circumstances of unparalleled horror and cruelty, of riot and disturbance, to which there is no parallel in the history of India, I should think, for nearly a hundred years.

We were assured sometimes in the Conference that this matter of the feeling between the two great communities was one that could be easily assuaged, and that we were exaggerating that feeling. Unfortunately, a terrible event of that kind shows the tremendous age-long feeling of hatred prevailing between those communities. It has made abun- dantly clear that safeguards for the great minorities in India must not be merely verbal safeguards, but that they must be, as it were, embedded in a new Constitution, and that it must be quite clear there is a full right and capacity for imposing those safeguards. Those minorities are not insisting merely on something fanciful or decorative but are asking for positive security of life and immunity from outrage.

We can say on our conscience in this country that everything has been done here to soften and allay that enmity, and I must be allowed, therefore, to comment on the conduct of one or two of those who in India have apparently done their best to exacerbate feeling. There is a statement by Mr. Gandhi himself—an incredible statement. He is reported by The Times to have said that he quite thought there would be some serious communal strike on the admission of Swaraj, which might possibly end in the exhaustion or destruction of one community or the other—one community being over 200,000,000 persons and the other something Like 70,000,000. These observations have been commented upon as being tactless. I confess I think that is rather a mild word to apply to such observations. I can only suppose that those observations on the part of Mr. Gandhi were sincere. Does not that enforce again the tremendous necessity, when you have one of the leading men, or perhaps the leading man, of that great community speaking in that way and in that language, of taking very great care that those safeguards are secured and enforced? But can you wonder that Mr. Shaukat Ali, the brother of Mahomet Ali one of the leaders of the great community of Moslems who came over to the Conference, retorted in kind to Mr. Gandhi, and that those unfortunate observations, far from being merely tactless, have done a great deal to exacerbate feeling?

In another matter, Mr. Gandhi has made some remarkable observations about the missionaries. He seems to think they may very well stay in India so long as they do not do that religious work for which they were sent there. I refrain from quoting the observations of anybody that can be considered in any degree irresponsible. I confine myself to the quotation from so leading a man as Mr. Gandhi, in order to enforce again upon the Government the great necessity of maintaining these safeguards.

The next point—I have only two more—is the question of the keeping of the agreement that was made between the Viceroy and Mr. Gandhi as the principal negotiator on the question of disturbances and trade. I can ask the first question very rapidly. Can the Government tell us whether they are satisfied that all the non-co-operation, the non-payment of rent and disturbances of that kind have now largely ceased? I am bound to say it is not due altogether to some of the observations of the Congress leaders, because Mr. Vallabhai Patel, the President of the Congress, has gone about making the most inflammatory speeches on the subject. I pass by such observations as those made by Mr. Bose and others. Incidentally, I assume the Government are considering whether people are permitted to go about making those inflammatory speeches, and in some cases apparently, inciting to murder. One has heard of disturbances lately, and of the non-payment of taxes and so on. Perhaps on that question and on the general question the noble Lord will be good enough to enlighten us.

But there is a great subject, and that is the question of whether the agreement in regard to British trade in India is being fairly observed. There was a rather optimistic statement—Ministers are rather fond of making them—by Mr. Graham, President of the Board of Trade, a few weeks ago, in which he talked about the noticeable improvements in the Lancashire trade in India. He was, of course, fallen upon at once by those who were dealing with the Lancashire trade in India, the merchants and exporters, who at once told him there was unfortunately no ground whatever for the optimistic statement he had made. I am anxious to ask, because my information, I am sorry to say, is that this agreement is not being kept, and that the boycott of British goods—I do not know whether it is said to be on industrial grounds rather than political grounds—is going on as strongly and as vigorously as ever. I am not going to ask the Government whether they have got in the last two or three weeks the figures of imports or sales of British goods in Bombay and elsewhere. These will be difficult to collect, but there must be and there is, as I know, a great deal of information to be gathered, both from merchants and from salesmen in Bombay, and also from merchants and salesmen in Lancashire. I hope the noble Lord will not repeat the sort of answer that was given in the House of Commons to the effect that there was no information. The information can be got, and I say most definitely that if the noble Lord is going to tell us—as I hope he will not, because I hope in his first speech he will be much more frank—that he has not got information, the reason is that the Government will not get the information. It is possible to get the information, and if I were asked to get it I would get it in a week. I suppose that the Government could get in a month, allowing for them being four times as slow as I am myself, the information which I could get in a week.

May I quote again, not from an irresponsible person, but from the President of the Bombay Congress Committee? Mr. Nariman had a word for foreign cloth dealers. He is reported to have said: Peace or war will make no difference as far as its sale is concerned, and it is better to warn these merchants before they place their orders that picketing is to be continued with such vigour as to make sales impossible. Though it may not be possible for the Government to tell us the imports or sales for the last few weeks, I think they can tell us the position as regards picketing, because that is an obvious matter of observation—whether that picketing is still going on. I think they can give us this information—whether that boycott was definitely against British goods and not against foreign goods; because if you look at the figures you will see that Japanese goods were coming in freely, that the drop in Japanese goods could be measured by the drop in trade and that they had a great advantage over our goods. Not only that, but the mischief was further accentuated because the Japanese goods were the class of goods which specially competed with Indian goods, whereas the Lancashire goods did not specially compete with Indian goods but were complementary to Indian goods. That would show, of course, the extent to which it was directed against this country.

I hope that the noble Lord and the Government will pay great attention to this. I have, with others of your Lordships, some reason to know the great misery that is going on at the present moment in Lancashire—not entirely, of course, owing to this Indian boycott but largely accentuated by it, and which, coming on the top of the loss of trade in. Lancashire, is breaking the hearts of operatives and manufacturers, spinners and weavers, in that County. Their miseries, I am afraid, must react on the rest of this country. I am only doing my duty when I say that among many of these leading men there is a feeling that the Government is negligent, careless and indifferent as regards what-is going on, and that the answers to questions in the House of Commons—evasive answers as they so often are—have a very bad effect indeed upon feeling in Lancashire. They do not feel that their country and the Government of their country are sufficiently standing behind them in their difficulties.

I want to ask a question about another matter and that is about this company which I understand was organised to purchase at a very reduced price from dealers in Bombay British goods which were left on their hands and which they could not sell because of the boycott. The suggestion was that these goods should be sold at a, reduced price in other markets, and in that way the loss should not fall entirely upon these particular dealers. This was represented as being rather an advantage, such is the ingenuity of some minds, because there would be a vacancy among the stocks held by the dealers of Bombay which would be filled up by further British orders. Unfortunately it was made a condition that those who were going to accept this offer should pledge themselves not to buy any further goods from this country. The question I raise upon that is whether that is really a carrying out of the agreement. If it is a carrying out of the agreement, I cannot attach very much importance to the value of the agreement. But I submit that it is not, because the sale or purchase of British goods was to be left free without any form of restraint. Is a man entirely free if he is to get something for goods which otherwise would be a complete loss on condition only that he boycotts in the future all British goods?

I have very nearly come to the end of my questions and I hope on that point, especially of trade, the noble Lord will be very frank in dealing with them. The others I can express in a very few words. I want to ask what is the present position in Burma. Can the Government assure us that the disturbances have now been quelled and that normal conditions have been restored, that these organised bands have been either destroyed or captured or dispersed? And can they tell us whether these large-scale dacoities in Burma were connected with a political movement, or were they no more dangerous than robber bands without any great political significance?

There is one further question. We thought that there was one thing on which we had reached general agreement in the Conference and that was the separation of Burma. But the moment we did that we were overwhelmed with telegrams from all parts. Has that question been further examined and have the Government assured themselves as to the desire of Burma for separation? Has public opinion declared itself strongly or otherwise recently on that question and has there been a change in public opinion on that point? It was proposed, I think, at the Conference that a delegation of Burmese should come over to discuss the new Constitution for Burma. Have the Government come to any conclusion in their own mind which they are prepared to tell us as to the nature—not the details, but the nature and the outline—of that new Constitution?

These are the questions which I desire to address to His Majesty's Government, and I am going to urge—and this is my last word—that the Government should deal very frankly with them. I think there has been an uneasy feeling in the public mind that we have not heard all we ought to have heard from the Government on this subject. They have not taken us as much into their confidence as they ought to have done. Do not let us forget the intense interest that prevails throughout this country at the present time on Indian questions. When such great matters as the relations of this country and India are being discussed and are in the balance, I think the least democratic Minister might express himself freely upon the subject. This Government, when they were in Opposition, were very bold and free with their statements that frankness and openness, whether in diplomacy or in dealing with this country, were so intensely desirable. I am sorry to say that as the months have gone by they have shown a tendency to conceal themselves, in a thicket of impenetrable reserve. I invite the noble Lord opposite to be a shining example of frankness, to break with the traditions of his Party, and to give us freely and frankly a full reply to the Questions which I have submitted to the Government.


My Lords, I addressed you recently at some length upon matters relating to India, and I propose to take but very few minutes on this occasion, more particularly as my noble friend, in opening the debate, has himself practically covered everything raised in his Questions. There are, however, certain points which I am myself anxious to emphasise, and on which, if possible, I desire to get some reply from the Government. The first, and to my mind the most important point, is that no one should be invited to come to another session of the Round-Table Conference with any possibility of misconception as to the points open to him to discuss, and which have already been dealt with at the Conference. I make that observation because I have followed with some care and some apprehension observations reported to have been made by Mr. Gandhi, and by those who work with him.

I pay attention in the main to the observations he has made. I do not intend to quote them, and it may be they are not accurate. Possibly, with their context, they are capable of some other explanation. The impression left very definitely upon my mind, and upon the minds of those who read these articles and reports, is that among those who are supporting Mr. Gandhi, and also in Mr. Gandhi's mind, there is an impression that when he comes to the Conference he will be able to abolish the safeguards and reservations, or some of them, which were accepted at the sittings of the Round-Table Conference. Speaking for myself, and the Party with which I am associated, I desire to say emphatically that the substance of those safeguards and reservations, as stated by me at the Com- mittee, accepted thereafter by the Government, and pronounced for by the Prime Minister, are safeguards and reservations which must remain; they are part and parcel of the whole question which was discussed, they are part of the promise or of the expressions in favour of responsibility at the centre.

It is impossible to deal with the responsibility at the centre, in my opinion, without at the same time making safeguards and enumerating reservations. There ought to be no misconception. It is quite possible to agree to discuss the methods by which they are to be enforced. Those were not too definitely laid down during the discussions, and are open to suggestions as the result of further deliberations. I do not attach special importance to the language used, but I do attach great importance to the substance of the safeguards and reservations. I will use a word which admits of no ambiguity, which must be plain and emphatic to all who choose to listen or to read, and that is that the safeguards and reservations are "indispensable." May I remind your Lordships and the Government that that is the word used by the Lord Chancellor when, he took part in the recent debate in March, when this very question was raised, and I myself later in the debate referred to it and attributed the greatest importance to it?

There can be no room for doubt if nothing has happened since. I have no means of knowing whether anything has taken place which has in the slightest degree watered the effect of that language, used in the debate opened by the Duke of Marlborough. All Parties in this House and, more important, the Government, agreed in that view, and I trust we shall hold to that and that nothing will either remove those safeguards or whittle them away. In the so-called Irwin-Gandhi conversations there is a reference in paragraph 2 to the scheme for constitutional government of India. It says: Of the scheme there outlined, Federation is an essential part; so also are Indian responsibility and reservations or safeguards in the interests of India for such matters as, for instance, defence, external affairs, the position of minorities, the financial credit of India and discharge of obligations. My view is that every one of the safeguards mentioned not only there but during the course of the discussions was in the interest of India. It may also be that they are in the interests of this country and Empire. We have responsibility and have to take care what may happen in India.

I pass from that, trusting that our own position, the position of the Party to which I belong, is made clear, and that I cannot be accused hereafter of having allowed an opportunity to pass which would have enabled me to remove misconceptions possibly in the minds of Mr. Gandhi and others in India, and that I have made it emphatically plain that I attach the greatest importance to the safeguards and reservations. I may say that I stand in this discussion exactly where I did when the Round Table Conference took place, and when the reservations were enumerated.

There is one other matter on which I would make one or two brief observations, that is with reference to the Hindu-Moslem situation. The noble Earl, Lord Peel, has referred to it. I also would like to know whether anything has taken place or whether any steps are now being taken, for the purpose of bringing the Hindu-Moslem controversy to a settlement. It is impossible not to agree with him that perhaps this present moment makes it extremely difficult. I cannot think that the Government can have a very easy conscience about Cawnpore. I do not know the details, but I have received letters and I have heard much of what has happened. I am conscious of the fact that there is a Riot Inquiry Commission proceeding and that, therefore, we may learn more as it takes place from day to day. No one can read what has happened at Cawnpore without feeling that it is a scandal that such things should happen for three days and nights, as I understand, under any Government. We shall have to learn—and I hope we shall have an opportunity of understanding exactly—what steps were taken. This was not a mere sporadic outburst of Hindu-Moslem hatred and dislike. Apparently, according to all one reads, the events had shown what was to take place. Then, according to some, for something like four days, according to others for three days and nights, there was a murderous and bestial orgy of communal hatred proceeding there and apparently we, who pride ourselves, and properly pride ourselves, on being the custodians of law and order in that country, seemed to have been unable to quell it.

I cannot myself understand how it could proceed for so long. I shall not refer to the details. They are well known. Women, children, men, houses, everything was destroyed. Somewhere there must be a grave responsibility for these events. I hope that the Government will tell us, when they have ascertained the facts as the result of the inquiry, upon whom the blame must rest. I know it is suggested sometimes it is the police; I have even heard suggested the military did not take sufficient part. I do not know the facts—and one cannot arrive at them without Government assistance—but that is difficult to believe, because both the police and the military were there to help, and I cannot conceive that, if they had had the necessary instructions, they would have failed to take every step possible. I am not leaving out of account that there would be great difficulties. I know of them. I know you cannot prevent sporadic outbursts, but what you can prevent is wholesale murder and arson, with the destruction of women and children, which lasted, according to our information, for some three days and nights. I cannot but think that the minority community, the Moslems, will have some ground of complaint against us, if it be true that, as a Government, the Government failed to take the necessary steps. They are the minority and are entitled to our protection.

Again, what was the reason and the cause of this outburst at Cawnpore? As your Lordships may know, it arose from the fact that the Hindus had declared a hartal, a closing of shops in Cawnpore as a protest against the execution of Bhagat Singh, who had been tried and convicted of the murder of an official, Mr. Saunders, and the only reason hitherto given, and the only reason we have been able to ascertain, for the attack on the Moslems was that they refused to close their shops as a protest against the execution of a murderer. I leave that subject, and I hope the Government may be able to give us some information and dispel some of the anxiety. I make no statement as to who is responsible, because I am not in a position to make it with any precision.

The last point I desire to call attention to is a matter to which again I attribute great importance. The condition of things in India, which has been proceeding for some time, undoubtedly gives cause for anxiety. No one can be satisfied, the Government least of all, either here or in India. Some of us who have been following events from day to day have felt great anxiety, particularly as to some of the recent events. That we have cause for that anxiety is shown by a statement made by one of the most distinguished civil servants in India, Sir Geoffrey de Montmorency, the Governor of the Punjab, who has made a speech in the last few days which seems to confirm what many of us have thought. He began by saying:

"Our toleration has only in the end bred licence."

A curious observation for a Governor of a Province !

I know Sir Geoffrey de Montmorency well. He occupied the important position of private, secretary to the Viceroy during four years of my term of office. He has passed his life in India as a civil servant and now occupies the position of Governor of one of the most important Provinces. He used language which makes me wonder what has happened and what is happening: Our toleration "— that is the Government's—" has only in the end bred licence. The Times correspondent says:— .…the Governor cited a number of incidents to show that the response to this policy of tolerance "— that is the agreement arrived at between Lord Irwin and Mr. Gandhi— and abstention from prosecutions had been ' a spate of incitement to violence and breaches of the agreement.' He expressed dismay at the events which had taken place in the Province since the last week of March; referred to speeches made in different towns inciting people to violence and calling on them to be ready to follow the example of Bhagat Singh; and quoted other speeches abusing and attacking the police, urging people not to pay land revenue, and advising young men to give up the creed of non-violence and destroy the Government by killing Englishmen. The Governor mentioned a speech made at Dasuya, in the course of which the speaker prayed for the death of the English, and said it would give him 'great pleasure to cut them to pieces and throw them to the vultures.' The Governor said that these were but a few instances, and to his mind it seemed clear that it had now become impossible for the Government to allow a continuance of such things. The Government had every desire to maintain a peaceful atmosphere, and every step had been taken to give a fair chance for its creation and maintenance, but it could only be said that whatever efforts had been made had not been generally successful. 'The time has come,' the Governor said, 'for licence to be controlled.' I am reading from a speech reported in The Times of April 27. I doubt whether any of us can recall, within memory, having read so important a speech coming from the Governor of one of the most difficult Provinces in India. What I would ask is that the Government should in plain language give the Viceroy, Lord Willingdon, an assurance that, in every action he may take to carry out what Sir Geoffrey de Montmorency proposes—and I cannot believe that Sir Geoffrey made that speech without having had some discussion upon it with Lord Willingdon—the Viceroy will have every support and approval from His Majesty's Government, as I am quite sure he will have from the Parliamentary Parties, from Parliament, and from the country.


My Lords, at this hour I shall not detain your Lordships long, because I know that you wish to hear the noble Lord who speaks for the India Office in reply. I should like to say, however, in the first place with what satisfaction I have heard the clear and cogent declaration made by the noble Marquess who has just sat down as to his whole attitude and that of the Party for which he speaks, in regard to the necessity for safeguards in the future constitutional arrangements which we make for India. I shall be pardoned for saying that in that he is only repeating what was said by the Statutory Commission on this point. The Statutory Commission said: There must be in India a power which can step in and save the situation before it is too late. There must be provided, as tar as may be, safeguards to ensure the maintenance of vital services. We have had abundant evidence of the feeling of apprehension with which possible changes in the system of government are viewed by many communities. India is a land of minorities. The spirit of toleration, which is only slowly making its way in Western Europe, has made little progress in India. And then they conclude their paragraph with these words: — Abstract declarations are useless unless there exists the will and the means to make them effective. That was the opinion of the Commission which went over India studying the problem, as it, appeared in its different facets in the Provinces.

I can also say that I heard with great sympathy what the noble Marquess had to say on the speech made by Sir Geoffrey de Montmorency, which we have all read. I feel sure that the noble Earl who has made the Motion this evening has done a great public service in once more drawing attention to the increased and increasing gravity of the Indian situation. I am one of those who believe that it will not be many months before all eyes are turned upon India. I wish I thought otherwise, but it may be that there is still a large part of our own people who are still in the trough of sentimentality from which we have chosen to regard the Indian problem for some little time past. Many people—and we can understand it—find it difficult to withdraw their eyes from our own home-bred troubles. In regard to India this is nothing new. Ninety years ago one of the most celebrated members of this House drew attention to it in a famous essay.

Well, now, what is in question is how far we are prepared to continue to do our duty to the peoples of India, and especially to what are called the minority communities. If we cannot and do not make up our minds as to what we mean to do, assuredly it will not be long before, out of the growing chaos, there will emerge calamity and catastrophe. The news to-day is menacing enough. I quote from a newspaper that certainly cannot be accused of want of sympathy with what is called the spirit of Irwinism, for it has all along effectively supported the late Viceroy of India in all that he has done and all that he has left undone; I mean The Times. In the course of a long tele- gram, published in Monday's issue, its Simla Correspondent, after dwelling upon the fact that there has been less violence, says: It is painfully evident that the immunity from clashes between police and Congress-wallas has been due primarily to the fact that the Government has been content to hold aloof and look on while the Congress followers were flouting the terms of the truce in the most blatant fashion.…In Bombay, for instance, pickets are still interfering with the purchase of Lancashire floods, not only to the extent of boycotting dealers, but even to the point of molesting individual purchasers in the bazaars.… Mr. Gandhi is at Bardoli, preaching much the same doctrines as he was a year ago, and setting an example to his lieutenants with the continued repetition of the warning that the peace is only temporary and that the tight may begin again at any moment even more fiercely. He is deliberately going behind one particular clause of the pact to which he himself assented—namely, recognition of the fact that confiscated lands sold to a third party could not be reclaimed. This is a telegram from the Simla Correspondent of The Times, and therefore is pretty good evidence of what is actually going on in India to-day.

It is to that situation that the noble Earl has directed your attention. He has done it in the form of questions, and I wish to endorse what has been said, that I hope sincerely that the Secretary of State for India will not fail to make known to all parties in India through the Viceroy the resolution that at any rate the Conservative and Liberal Parties have formed, to adhere to those safeguards which they put forward when the Bound-Table Conference was in session. I believe that there will be & widespread feeling of sympathy for Lord Willingdon, who has been called at such a time to such a heritage. Both my noble friends have spoken of the Cawnpore massacre. It is said to have been the worst episode of its kind since the days of the Indian Mutiny. With the other members of the Statutory Commission I was present at an incipient riot at Cawnpore, and I can well imagine what took place on this occasion. The most serious thing of all is that it was stated in evidence by several official representatives that it was due to the inaction of the police. Having is deep sense of gratitude, as I am sure all noble Lords who have been in any way officially connected with India feel to the Indian police for all they did for our protection when we were in India, I attribute this, if it be even partially true, to official mismanagement, but most of all to the want of support and encouragement which comes from the defeatist spirit of the Government of India itself. That is my feeling. On the other hand, I see that the Deputy Inspector-General strongly denied this charge against the police, and says they did all they could, but that they were without orders, and that there was no sort of organisation for the purpose at Cawnpore at that time. That hardly makes the case any better. But at least it points to what we know, that the situation in India itself is very serious, and we shall do no good by trying to deceive others, any more than by trying to deceive ourselves.

My noble friend Lord Peel spoke of Mr. Gandhi coming over as the sole representative of Congress. Of course, as we know, there are very few Moslems in Congress, but the opinion of the Moslems in regard to Mr. Gandhi was very clearly expressed by the Secretary of the All-India Moslem Conference, who issued a reply to his statements, in which he said that what has offended Mahatma Gandhi is apparently the effrontery of all parties of the Moslem Conference because it dares to express the views of Moslem India that it would not accept his dictation. That, of course, is the feeling. I hope and believe that the Government are going to take a strong line and a consistent line in this matter. I hope that they are going to recollect—what of course is so true—that our hold on India has rested primarily on the fact that we have maintained the rule of justice as between communities and creeds, castes and classes. We have to make sure that that rule shall be in no way abated and, as Burke said, we have to look not to the immediate, not the retrospective, but to the provident operation of justice. It is with the provident operation of justice in India that we are concerned this afternoon. I hope that what is said by the representative of the India Office in your Lordships' House will confirm what we all hope and what I believe the great majority of the people in this country expect—that the Government of India is going to be firm and frank in dealing with a situation which admits of nothing else.


My Lords, I venture to ask for your generous con- sideration on this the first occasion that I am privileged to address your Lordships' House. I make that appeal all the more confidently because, as your Lordships' are aware, the subject upon which I am called to speak is one of acknowledged difficulty and of general anxiety, and also because it requires from me, as representing His Majesty's Government, unusual care and precision of statement. If, however, owing to the influence of an environment with which I am not as yet familiar, I should unhappily deal inadequately with the Questions put to me, I hope your Lordships will attribute the fault to my own shortcomings rather than to the nature of the reply that I am called upon to make. The noble Earl who introduced these Questions made a touching appeal to me to be frank in my first speech.


Not only in your first. Do not confine it to the first.


My desire to please the noble Earl is intense, but he must not lead me into any path of indiscretion on this occasion. The speech of the noble Earl has covered a wide variety of topics and, if I may presume to say so, has introduced many things that were not in his Questions as placed upon the Order Paper. I am sure he will forgive me if I confine myself primarily to the answers to the Questions he has placed on the Paper. The first Question covers three points relating to the resumed work of the Round-Table Conference. Broadly speaking, I can add very little to what has already been said on this matter, which, for the information of the House, I will summarise. As regards the intention to hold another session of the Federal Structure Committee in this country, the plans of the Government in relation to the resumed work of the Federal Structure Committee and the Round-Table Conference were declared in a considered statement made by my right hon. friend the Secretary of State in the House of Commons on March 12. This statement contained the following passage: There need in particular be no great delay in bringing the problems which have been entrusted to the Federal Structure Committee under further discussion. Accordingly, as soon as Indian delegates, among whom I include representatives of the Congress, are prepared to resume discussions, we propose to invite them to come to London to resume the work of the Federal Structure Committee. We hope that the Committee's deliberations will make progress here during the summer. This intention still holds good.

As regards the second part of this Question—namely, whether, if the Committee is to sit again the Indian representation is to be the same or will new members be added—the record of conversations between Lord Irwin and Mr. Gandhi contained the following clause: In pursuance of the statement made by the Prime Minister in his announcement of 19th January, 1931, steps will be taken for the participation of the representatives of Congress in the further discussions that are to take place on the scheme of constitutional reform. This applies, of course, to the reconstituted Federal Structure Committee. We are considering, however, whether in the circumstances in which the resumed Federal Structure Committee may be sitting at a time when the Conference is not in session, it will not be desirable to add to it representatives of certain interests which were not directly represented on the original Committee, but no definite statement as to personnel can be made until Lord Willingdon has had time to consider the matter.

Thirdly, the noble Earl asks whether the Committee will work on the same reference, or will its range be restricted to proposals placed before it by the Government. The Government's plans, as indicated in the statement of the Secretary of State which I have already quoted, contemplated "bringing the problems which have been entrusted to the Federal Structure Committee under further discussion." The specific heads of inquiry which were referred to the Committee when it sat in London were intended broadly to cover collectively the whole field of the constitution and powers of a Federal or Central Government of the type contemplated by the Conference. As the noble Lord knows, the plan sketched out in the Committee's two Reports leaves much of that field still largely unexplored, and the Government hope that the further session of the Committee will enable it, if not to complete the work which was necessarily left unfinished in London, at all events to make specific progress towards its completion. I am not yet in a position to say what precisely will be the procedure best adapted towards that object.

May I remind the noble Earl of the agreed basis on which the work of the Conference in general is to be carried on? It was expressed in the following terms in the agreement made between Lord Irwin and Mr. Gandhi: As regards constitutional questions the scope of future discussion is stated, with the assent of His Majesty's Government to be with the object of considering further the scheme for constitutional government of India discussed at the Round-Table Conference. Of the scheme there outlined federation is an essential part. So also are Indian responsibilities and reservations or safeguards in the interests of India, for special matters as, for instance, defence, external affairs, the position of minorities, the financial credit of India and discharge of obligations. That quotation answers the points put by the noble Earl and the noble Marquess, Lord Reading. This applies, of course, to the programme of the Conference as a whole and, therefore, generally to the work of the Federal Structure Committee.

The second of the Questions on the Paper relates to the attitude of the Princes to the Federal scheme that emerged from the deliberations of the Round-Table Conference. Here I think I can give the House some information that will be of interest to it. We have as yet no definite information as to the reaction of individual Rulers not present at the London Conference towards the scheme of federation. One important consideration is the distribution among the States of the seats available to the States as a whole in the Federal Legislature. The States' delegation is now engaged m India in obtaining the views of their brother-Princes on this question and they hope to have collected a representative body of opinion in some six weeks time.

At the March session of the Chamber of Princes, two resolutions obtained the unanimous support, of some fifty Princes present—namely:— This Chamber places on record its high appreciation of the single-minded devotion and statesmanlike ability with which the representatives of the States—both Rulers and Ministers—represented the States at the Conference; and supports in principle the scheme outlined at the Round-Table Conference, which, while laying the foundation of a greater India, aims at securing to all parties in the country their legitimate and cherished rights beyond risk of encroachment. This Chamber authorises its representatives further to carry on discussions and negotiations with due regard to the interests of the State, and subject to the final confirmation and ratification by the Chamber and each individual State. During the discussion, the Chief of Sangli quoted the following resolution which had been carried by a meeting of twenty-six Rulers of smaller States not members of the Chamber: Without committing any individual State to any final course of action, this meeting is of the opinion that it would be advisable, under the circumstances that have arisen, for the Indian States under all categories to join an All-India Federation and participate in the political ideal of a United India, provided a scheme satisfactory both from the financial and political points of view to all the interests concerned and with adequate safeguards and suitable representation for all is finally evolved. The third Question of the noble Earl is one which I attempt to answer with considerable diffidence, because it raises a matter which is inherently very delicate, and the solution of which is a matter primarily for Indians themselves. All that His Majesty's Government can do in response to the noble Earl's invitation is to reiterate what was placed in the forefront of the Prime Minister's declaration made on their behalf at the close of the Conference — that the new Constitution must contain such guarantees as are required by minorities to protect their political liberties and rights. This is one of the basic conditions on which not only the Government but all Parties in the Conference took their stand. I will read in this connection an extract from the resolution adopted unanimously by the Conference at its final plenary session: The Conference feels that arrangements should be made to pursue without interruption the work upon which it has been engaged, including the provision in the Constitution of adequate safeguards for the Mussalmans as well as other minorities.

I turn now to the noble Earl's fourth Question, which relates to the boycott of British goods in India. By way of preface, I should like to emphasise that the time that has elapsed since Lord Irwin's conversations with Mr. Gandhi is much too short to make it possible to form any confident opinion of the effect of the agreement on actual trade movements.


I do not wish to interrupt, but that as what the Secretary of State said a month ago—the time is too short. Is it still too short?


I would remind the noble Earl that economic processes move slowly, and it is not possible to define them accurately close to events that are taking place.


I am afraid the boycotts of business go on very quickly. That is my experience.


I would ask the noble Earl to hear me till I finish what I have to say on this matter. We think that the time is much too short to enable a really confident opinion on the effect of the agreement on actual trade movements to be based. At the best, any estimate of the kind would be complicated by other forces, such as the present reduced purchasing power of the Indian market and the relative costs of production in Great Britain and other competing countries. The question has to be considered in the light of the conversations between Lord Irwin and Mr. Gandhi. In the published account of those conversations it is stated that the Government approves of the encouragement of Indian industries as part of economic and industrial movements designed to improve the material conditions of India, and has no desire to discourage methods of propaganda, persuasion, or advertisement, pursued with this object in view, which do not interfere with the freedom of action of individuals or are not prejudicial to the maintenance of law and order.

The only undertaking that was given as the result of the agreement was that the boycott of British commodities would not be used as a political weapon; that those who had given up purchasing or dealing in British goods were to be left free, without restraint, to change their attitude if they so desired; and that picketing could continue so long as it did not involve coercion, intimidation, restraint, hostile demonstrations, obstruction or any offence under the ordinary law. I have no reason to think that this undertaking is being generally disregarded, though certain difficulties have arisen which are receiving the consideration of the Government of India. My information is to the effect that the open preaching of the boycott of British goods as a political weapon has practically ceased since the settlement, and that very few instances have occurred in which there has been discrimination against British goods as such; but it is clear that efforts are still being made to persuade the Indian public to cease using foreign cloth generally, and such persuasion is consistent with the agreement.

But the Government of India have received a general impression that sales of foreign (including British) cloth have increased since the settlement, and that though a number of dealers are still abstaining from sales, existing stocks are being cleared. As I have already said, however, it is still too early to estimate the effects of this movement on British imports; but I share the view expressed by the President of the Board of Trade that the conclusion of the Irwin-Gandhi agreement is bound to promote a better environment for commercial relations generally. Any decrease in political feeling in India must give freer play to the natural economic tendencies which govern the: markets. The noble Earl asked about the formation of the company to which he referred. I have to reply that in spite of diligent inquiries no definite knowledge is available as to whether that company has actually been formed or not.

As regards the political situation in Gujerat and other places, I have no very recent detailed information, but I have reason to believe that there has been a definite improvement in the general political situation in the Bombay Presidency, and in particular distinct signs of improvement during the past fortnight in Gujerat where collections of the land revenue are better. Since the settlement the position has definitely improved in Bengal, Madras, Assam and the Central Provinces, and there are some indications in Bihar and Orissa of recovery from the deterioration which had occurred there. In the United Provinces and the Punjab on the other hand the position is less satisfactory. Communal tension is high, economic conditions are bad and have afforded a ready excuse for agrarian agitation. At the same time there is undoubtedly a widespread desire throughout India for peace, and there would be general regret if the settlement were to break down. There are undoubtedly difficulties ahead, but greater difficulties have been faced and over- come in the past, and we see nothing in the situation to justify a mood of pessimism.

The noble Earl has asked me about the disturbances in Burma. Risings of the kind that have occurred, which are usually led by an individual styling himself King, have been in the past not uncommon in Burma. On this occasion, as before, the superstition and ignorance of the peasantry have been exploited. The organisers of the rebellion were also assisted by the prevailing economic distress due to the low price of paddy and rice. My right hon. friend, the Secretary of State has, in another place, made public telegrams which he has received from the Government of Burma giving the most recent details of the disturbances. There have been since the end of December, outbreaks in six different districts. When the back of each outbreak was broken the rebel force divided itself into gangs of dacoits who were joined by local bad characters. It is very difficult to deal with these small bodies owing to the nature of the country. The most recent of these outbreaks has been in the Thayetmyo district. Although the disturbances continue there, the local officers are hopeful that they have got the situation under control. The problem now is to restore normal administration in the disturbed districts and to bring arrested offenders to trial. An Ordinance was promulgated by the Governor-General on March 12, providing a special procedure for expediting the trial of offences connected with the rising.

I have endeavoured to answer, as shortly as possible, the questions of the noble Earl and I think that the information I have been able to supply is of a reassuring character. The situation in India at the present time requires the qualities of both patience and tolerant understanding. That there are difficulties to be faced is beyond question, but I feel that, to use the words employed by Mr. Baldwin last night, nothing should be said by any one "which could in any way make a settlement of the Indian difficulty harder to achieve. Such a settlement was essential."


My Lords, I will not detain the House for more than a moment or two. I am very much obliged to the noble Lord the Under-Secretary for India for the reply he has been good enough to give to my Questions. I am very sorry that he was not in a position to carry further the answers to some of these Questions than the statement made by the Secretary of State in another place five or six weeks ago. Therefore, I dare say the noble Lord will not complain if at a later date I raise some of these Questions again. I will only make one observation and that is that the noble Lord said that my speech contained certain points which were not referred to in my Questions. May I suggest to the noble Lord that he has recently come from a more pedantic place than the one which he now adorns, and that perhaps when he has freed himself from the ideas of another place with their strict notions of order he will rejoice in the large irrelevance which we practise in this Chamber. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

House adjourned at twenty-five minutes past seven o'clock.