§ THE DUKE OF MARLBOROUGH had the following Notice on the Paper—To call attention to the increasing gravity of the situation in India, and to the adverse effect produced by the proceedings of the India Round-Table Conference in London; to invite a categorial statement upon the safeguards which His Majesty's Government consider indispensable; to enquire when an opportunity will be afforded of discussing the Report of the Statutory Commission; and to move for Papers.
§ The noble Duke said: My Lords, when I put down the Motion which stands in my name, some few weeks ago, I thought that that Motion would be replied to by Earl Russell. The noble Earl wrote to me and said that he was tired, that he had been ill, and would I kindly postpone the consideration of my Motion until he came home. The noble Earl has not come home, and to-night it is our melancholy task to express our regret, our deep regret, at the loss of a distinguished member of your Lordships' House, and a member of a family whose achievements, political, military and diplomatic, are recorded in many of the pages of the volumes of the history of England.
§ My Motion this afternoon calls attention to the increasing gravity of the situation in India and to the adverse effect produced by the proceedings of the India Round-Table Conference in London. I think it is time that we once again discussed the affairs of India, and if I have taken the responsibility of making this the occasion it is because I feel that I, like many other citizens in this country, am deeply concerned as to the trend of events, and I wish to afford an opportunity for authoritative opinions on the subject we are discussing to-night, and 382 for the expressions of opinion from noble Lords who are familiar with the problem. It is no exaggeration to say that concentrated on the red Benches in front of me there is a body of experience and authority on the administration and affairs of India such as exists nowhere else. Furthermore I feel that the country, to-day, knows full well that we are governed by a Minority Government, and is anxious to ascertain and to be guided by the views, ideas and expressions of opinion of many noble and distinguished Lords who are members of this House. Therefore, I hope that I need not apologise this afternoon for having ventured to bring these affairs to the notice of your Lordships.
§ I will begin with my first question to the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, and I will ask him about the Statutory Commission. What is the history of the Statutory Commission? It was appointed by agreement of all three Parties in the State. I believe there was not a dissentient voice in either House when that Commission was appointed. It was representative of the three Parties in the State. Those representatives gave a unanimous Report. Immense labour was expended by them. It was, I think, something like three years before the Report was compiled, and I ask your Lordships this afternoon what has happened to that Report, and when will it be considered by Parliament? What part is it to play in the framing of the future Government of India Act? Let me observe that this Statutory Commission is the constitutional foundation for the treatment of the problems of Indian Government. It was prescribed in the Act of 1919 that there should be a Statutory Commission.
§ It was one of the great achievements of the late Lord Birkenhead that he was able to procure the assent of all three Parties to serve on that Commission, and it was agreed by all three Parties that this procedure should be followed: The Report of the Commission was to be submitted to the House of Commons. On that Report the House of Commons would either pass a Resolution or proceed in any other way they thought fit, after which a Bill would be introduced which would be passed through the House of Commons and would be presented to a Joint Committee appointed by both 383 Houses of Parliament. The members of the Joint Committee would be entitled to hear expert opinion on Indian matters, from the Indians themselves, and after that Committee had carried out its duties the Bill was again to be returned to the House of Commons, passed in that House through all its stages, presented to your Lordships' House and passed through all its stages, and eventually it would receive the Royal Assent of the King-Emperor. That was the statutory procedure. It was all laid out, and it was all agreed upon.
§ Here, my Lords, is the Report. I am indebted to Lord Sydenham for his expression of opinion on the Report. Lord Sydenham, whose knowledge is vast on this matter, says: "I regard the Report as a masterpiece of constructive ability." Surely I am justified in asking what has happened to that Report and what will happen to it, and what part is it going to play in the future discussion of Indian problems? It would appear that the whole of these proceedings, and also the Statutory Report and all the constitutional process, have been jettisoned as irrelevant and obsolete, all on account of the Round-Table Conference. I do not deny that the Round-Table Conference might have been a substitute for the Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament; but I cannot regard it as a substitute for the regular, proper constitutional consideration by Parliament of the Statutory Report. We have sent out the Commissioners. The Commissioners have reported to us. The Commissioners, I might add, have given all their services. The taxpayer has been saddled with the expense. Surely, we are entitled, nay more, we are bound to regard the Report as the basis of our examination, as the starting point of our deliberations in discussing the Indian problem.
§ I now come to the consideration of the Round-Table Conference. The Conference was suggested by the Simon Commission for a different purpose to that for which it was eventually employed. The Simon Commission thought that if the Conference was held before the Bill was presented to Parliament it might help to reconcile Indian opinion which had not been represented on the Commission. I doubt very much indeed whether any one dreamed that this 384 Round-Table Conference would be converted into something like a constituent assembly and would set itself to frame certainly in outline a draft of a Federal Constitution. Surely, that was quite unforeseen, that was not intended by those who were students of Indian problems. Indeed, I doubt whether they quite realised what had taken place until the event had actually happened.
§ I venture to ask the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack whether he will explain what are the reasons and causes which have intervened and have led the Government to make such a profound alteration in the character of the Round-Table Conference and to depart from the constitutional procedure which had been agreed upon. No doubt it may be said that the Princes surprised us all by their willingness to come into a federal system. It may be that the Princes themselves thought well of a federal system. It may also be that having heard vague talk about Dominion status and independance and that some governing authority might be substituted for the English Government, the Princes, confronted by this possibility, felt bound to address themselves to the altered conditions and also to consider what position they and those races over which they ruled in their own dominions would occupy. If this should possibly be the explanation I am bound to say I do not see that it is very reassuring to noble Lords who sit on those Benches.
§ After all, I have always understood that noble Lords in this House contemplated a gradual progress, a slow evolution over the passage of time to eventual possible self-government for India. At present the Government of India is responsible to the Imperial Parliament—a Parliament of two Houses, one of which is elected on a franchise of something like 29,000,000 citizens. Surely it is rather a questionable proposition to transfer that responsibility from a broad and ancient basis to a new and loosely knit-up construction of Indian political persons. Surely, on democratic grounds alone, on the grounds of democracy and the emotions of democracy it would be interesting to try to discover what passed through the minds of the noble and learned Lord and his colleagues when they decided on such a course.385
§ On constitutional grounds I invoke the shade of the late Lord Halsbury. It is true that he did not possess the august figure of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, but when he was angry he was awe inspiring. If he had been told that a successor of his in office might possibly contemplate, might possibly countenance an Occidental constitutional orthodoxy being substituted by an Oriental administrative confusion and, except in three or four cases, without the consent or ascertainment of the views and feelings of those who are possessed of profound knowledge of Indian affairs, indeed, without consulting other noble and learned Lords who possess vast knowledge of the law, and without taking the sense of noble Lords in general in this House, I can assure your Lordships—and I address my remarks to the younger members—that the Woolsack would have rocked with his indignation.
§ I do not deny for a moment that the Round-Table Conference has thrown a great deal of valuable light upon many problems which hitherto we did not know about. We have also been able to read the expressions of opinion of their Highnesses the Indian Princes couched in that old world courteous language which, of course, is the result of a very-ancient civilisation. But I do deny that the results of the Round-Table Conference or any subsequent Conference that may be held in India or in London can possibly take the place of the Statutory Commission as laid down by the Act of 1919. In that Act of 1919 it was stated that the Statutory Commission should report to Parliament. It has not reported to Parliament, and those who were on the Commission were not even allowed to appear at the Round-Table Conference. They have been, so far as I have been aware, inarticulate. I hope that this afternoon that will be redressed, and that we may have expressions of opinion from Viscount Burnham and from Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal, and that we shall have the benefit of their views on this particular matter.
§ I now come to the question of the safeguards, and if peradventure I remain rather close to the text of my remarks I hope your Lordships will forgive me, I am so frightened of doing an injustice 386 to any distinguished noble Lord. Among the conclusions of the Round-Table Conference a number of safeguards were mentioned. They were mentioned by the British representatives, Lord Peel and many others. Of course these safeguards are of the highest importance. Even the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, made it clear that his favouring of the Conference scheme was solely dependent upon not only the acceptance of the safeguards, but upon the proviso of an agreement between the Moslems and Hindus and other important matters, towards which very little progress had been made. I would like to ask the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack whether those are his views to-day. Does he adhere to the views of Lord Reading? I would ask the noble and learned Lord still further whether he agrees to the safeguards as set forth by Sir Samuel Hoare in the House of Commons on January 26. I will read these safeguards if you will permit me.
Sir Samuel Hoare said:—
The obligation of the defence of India still rests upon us. Foreign affairs and international obligations must still be controlled by the Crown. In the interests of India, no less than in the interests of Great Britain, internal security and financial stability roust be effectively safeguarded. In the interests of humanity, the pledges that we have given for the protection of minorities must still be our solemn obligation. There must be no unfair economic and commercial discrimination against British traders. The rights of the Services recruited by the Secretary of State must be preserved. Lastly, whatever Constitution may emerge must be maintained upon a sure and stable foundation.
I would like to ask the noble and learned Lord whether he accepts in spirit and in letter these safeguards, and if so what will happen if insistence on these safeguards makes agreement with the Indians uncertain and possibly ineffective?
§ This brings me to the last point I wish to put to your Lordships, and that is the condition of law and order in India. I do not propose this afternoon to recite to you the events of civil disobedience which have taken place in India during the last year, nor do I propose to discuss the conditions of India as they have existed during the last few weeks. This much I will say, that they have been of a nature which I think has justified me in putting clown in my 387 Notice on your Lordships' Paper that they are conditions of increasing gravity. I would like to ask one question, and it is a question which I would address to noble Lords who are sitting opposite to me, because it is one which I cannot ask the Government, but which I clan ask noble Lords. They are familiar with Indian affairs, many of them have spent their lives and their time in association with those who administer India; and they possess expert opinion. I would like to ask them this question—if that which has happened between the Viceroy and Mr. Gandhi during the last few weeks is likely to conduce towards the peace and towards the prosperity of India in the future? I would like to ask them whether they think the Treaty of Agreement which has been come to between the Viceroy and Mr. Gandhi is a treaty—it has been laid on the Table of the House of Commons—which is likely to be fruitful and effective. Furthermore, I would like to know whether they think our credentials have in any way been weakened, whether the power of our authority has been in any way impaired, thereby instilling a feeling of despondency among all those loyal citizens in India who are responsible for carrying on the administration of that country?
§ Those are questions which I have ventured to address to your Lordships feeling sure that in the course of the debate some of them at least may be replied to. I have finished. I will only say this in resuming my seat, that in the Round-Table Conference there were, if I remember aright, nine Sub-Committees. Sub-Committee No. 1 appeared to me to be the one which received the greatest meed of approval, and that was the Committee presided over by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack. It is for that reason that I have addressed my remarks rather directly to the noble and learned Lord, I trust with due respect, because I feel that the noble Lord on the Woolsack, he and he alone, can adumbrate the policy of His Majesty's Government now and for the future on those grave, on those terrible problems by which we are confronted, and which, owing to the courtesy of noble Lords, I have ventured to bring this afternoon to your consideration and your approval. I beg to move the Motion standing in my name.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (LORD SANKEY)
My Lords, in my view the 388 thanks of this House are due to the noble Duke for bringing this Motion forward, for I do not hesitate to say that the opinions expressed by your Lordships will not only be welcome, but will be a real help to those who are engaged in an anxious and difficult task which is above and outside ordinary Party politics. With regard to the first sentence of the noble Duke's Motion—namely, "To call attention to the increasing gravity of the situation in India," I venture to think that it was more appropriate when it was set down nearly two months ago than it is to-day, for the situation in India has very greatly improved in the interval.
With regard to the next sentence—"the adverse effect produced by the proceedings of the India Round-Table Conference in London"—I would ask your Lordships to bear with me while I endeavour to state, quite briefly, what those proceedings were and why they have not produced an adverse effect, but a good effect, and one likely to improve our future position in India. Your Lordships will readily appreciate that much care and accuracy are necessary in making this reply. There must be no misunderstanding. I will therefore ask the noble Duke to allow me to recall the facts as far as possible in chronological order, and to deal with his questions as I go along.
Let me first pay a tribute to the many Indian delegates who visited our shores at a season when our climatic conditions left much to be desired as far as they were concerned. They gave up their various avocations in India for a long time in spite of much hostile criticism from their friends, in order to do what they thought was best for their country. I should like to be permitted to place on record at the earliest possible moment the contribution made by them to our deliberations. Their desire to settle some form of responsible Government for India was only equalled by their knowledge of the law and practice of federal constitutions.
May I next be permitted to congratulate this House on the help that it gave to the Round-Table Conference. We were able to send it a former Viceroy of India in Lord Reading; a former Secretary of State for India in Lord Peel; a former Governor of Bengal in 389 Lord Zetland; Lord Lothian, who has had a large experience of Colonial affairs, and an Under-Secretary of State for India in the late Lord Russell. His passing has caused deep regret among his many friends on both sides of this House and outside it as well. He was a tower of strength to the unfortunately small number of Labour Peers, and a Rupert of debate. No one is more sorry than I am that the reply to the noble Duke's question is not in Earl Russell's capable hands, as it would have been had he remained with us.
There are two other distinguished members of your Lordships' House to whom both England and India are indebted. I refer to the noble Lords, Lord Burnham and Lord Strathcona. They were members of the famous Statutory Commission which went out to India to study its many intricate problems. Their work will be remembered with gratitude by all reasonable men. They endured many months of great physical fatigue and great mental anxiety, and they produced a Report which will always hold a prominent place among British State documents. The future student of Indian history will find in their first volume a mine of information which will give him nearly all the material he wants. The recommendations in the second volume deserve the most careful consideration, and the fact that the Conference has gone beyond them is due to the patriotic action of the Indian Princes who declared on their arrival in England for an All-India Federation. That was an ideal which the Statutory Commission had set before themselves, but they saw it "through a glass darkly." Now it has entered into the realm of practical politics, and India is watching a dream that is coming to birth.
Turning to that part of the Question which enquires when an opportunity will be afforded for discussing the Report of the Statutory Commission, the answer is that to a great extent it rests in the hands of the noble Duke himself, for as I understand it he can put down a Motion to discuss it for any day he desires. Let me say at once that the members of the Conference were not plenipotentiaries. They did not arrogate to themselves any such final mission. They were prepared to examine facts and to make suggestions. In particular the object of the Federal Structure Committee was not to draft a 390 Constitution—it had not time to make a prolonged review of all the facts of the Indian situation, or of all the various federal constitutions which have been set up in different parts of the world. Still less had it the time to consider the manner in which the various provisions of these varying constitutions have worked. Even if the Committee had had the time, it would not have attempted to make final proposals. Its members recognised that they did not possess a monopoly of wisdom. They felt that there was an instructed body of public opinion both in England and in India whose views were not only entitled to be consulted, but whose opinions would be of real value in reaching a satisfactory solution.
Their Report was therefore purposely drafted so as to leave many questions open, while endeavouring to state as concisely as possible the arguments for and against the different views which prevailed. This system led inevitably to the position that the Committee's conclusions were to a large extent provisional. Experienced draftsmen are well aware that the consideration of a later problem may necessitate the alteration or the modification of an opinion already expressed or of a section already drafted. Nor can such a Constitution be produced at express speed. To climb steep hills requires slow pace at first. In my view, however, there is no problem in India which is insoluble: it is perfectly possible to draft a Federal Constitution which will be fair and just to everybody, and with the precedents before us, the combined wisdom of the East and the West can, and will, do so.
As far as British politics are concerned, the future of India does not depend upon Party manœuvres. Much as I respect individual opinion, it appears to me that the collective conscience of the nation will exercise itself in a matter like this more surely than the individual conscience—and I have no misgivings as to the ultimate result of our labours. There are undoubtedly some of our fellow-countrymen who honestly and sincerely believe that the Round-Table Conference was a profound mistake. We hope to convince them that they are wrong.
Seven important questions, dealing with the Federal Legislature, the Federal Executive and their jurisdiction, and the formation of a Federal Court were re- 391 ferred to the Committee. The art of composing headlines is not remarkable for its accuracy, but if a critic were asked to write a headline for the Report, he might not unjustly describe it as "Indian responsibility with due safeguards for the interests both of Great Britain and India." The basic assumption is that contained in paragraph 8 which reads as follows:—Responsibility of the Executive.—The Report which follows proceeds on the basic assumption that the Constitution will recognise the principle that, subject to certain special provisions more particularly specified hereafter, the responsibility for the Federal Government of India will in future rest upon Indians themselves.Recent Imperial Conferences have taught us the danger of leaving terms undefined, and therefore paragraph 10 gives a definition of "responsibility.I now turn to that part of the noble Duke's Question which enquires what safeguards His Majesty's Government consider indispensable. Apart from defence and foreign relations which are reserved to the control of the Governor-General, special provisions will be inserted which are intended to give him adequate powers, amongst other things, in respect of minorities, in respect of finance, and in respect of a breakdown of the Constitution. These special provisions are generally referred to as "safeguards." My straight answer to the noble Duke is that these "safeguards" are indispensable, and if they are satisfactory it would be wise to defer to Indian views and desires on other details, because, after all, it is Indians who will have to work the Constitution.
The first question naturally asked is: "Will this system work?" The chief criticism levelled against it is that it may be putting too much upon the Governor-General and may be placing him frequently in positions of extreme difficulty. The answer to this criticism is in the nature of a paradox, which can be stated in this way: The more responsible Indians become, the better the proposed Constitution will work. If they act as wise and responsible statesmen, if they rely upon themselves and do not leave difficult decisions to be determined by the Governor-General, there need be no anxiety as to the future. It is to be hoped and expected that the safeguards 392 entrusted to the Governor-General will be rather in power than use. They are set out in paragraphs 11 to 17, but this is not the time to trouble your Lordships with details. Other opportunities for their discussion will arise.
With regard to finance, the paragraphs dealing with it are numbered 18 to 20. The present commitments of India must be safely secured and her future borrowings properly handled. Her credit and stability must be maintained. The paragraphs in question have passed the critical eye and gained the considered approval of experts far more competent to advise your Lordships upon such matters than I am. May I be permitted to acknowledge here the great assistance rendered to the Committee on the matter of finance by Lord Reading.
The various subjects to be handed over to the jurisdiction of the new Federation were carefully considered by a Sub-Committee presided over by the noble Marquess, Lord Zetland. Some of these will be dealt with by the Federal Legislature itself. The Ruling Princes who agree to enter the Federation will concede powers to the Crown, to be placed at the disposal of the Federal Government. As time goes on, it is hoped that more subjects will be added to them. Other subjects will be assigned to the Provincial Governments, but there is a third class the method of dealing with which will have to be further explored—namely, those which are of a central character as far as British India is concerned, but which do not concern the Indian States. Whether these should be dealt with by the Federal Legislature as a whole, or by an in-and-out system is a matter for future determination.
It is suggested that the Legislature should consist of two Houses—an Upper House, which may conveniently be called the Senate, and a Lower House, which may conveniently be called the House of Representatives, and that the number of members in the Senate should be round about 150, and in the House of Representatives round about 250. The exact proportion to be contributed by the Indian States and by British India is a matter for agreement. On the assumption that Burma is to be separated from India, the population of British India is about 233 millions, and that of the States about 70 millions; the approximate area 393 of British India on the same assumption is 811,000 square miles, and of the States 701,000 square miles. The Ruling Princes, while claiming equal representation in the Senate, admitted they could not claim equal representation in the House of Representatives. Some members of the Sub-Committee, founding themselves on a population basis, contended that the Princes were not entitled to a representation of more than about 25 per cent.; others were willing to give them a representation up to about 40 per cent. This is a matter quite capable of adjustment. I mention it to pass it by, only adding that on a very small percentage basis for the Native States it would be advisable to make the Senate 150, so as to give the Princes an opportunity of a rather larger individual representation. It was agreed that the method of election to the Senate should be an indirect one.
With regard to the House of Representatives, some Indian delegates were of opinion, in spite of the rather obvious difficulties in the largeness of the electorates, that the election of the British Indian members should be by direct vote. I confess personally to having a preference for the direct vote in all cases where it is possible, but I desire to reserve my opinion as to whether it is possible, having regard to the area and population of the constituencies. The various methods of dealing with a deadlock between the two Houses were carefully considered and one or other of the many precedents which exist in Federal Constitutions will no doubt be able to afford a solution of this difficulty.
In respect, certainly of the Legislature, and possibly the Executive, it was generally agreed that there must be adequate representation of the Crown, and some means by which the many minorities of India should also be represented. Here again I do not pause for details, but I can assure your Lordships that there is no insuperable difficulty on this point, although, when the matter comes before Parliament for final determination, the various methods will have to be very carefully examined, as will also have to be the position of the Governor-General in reference to his Cabinet. It will be further necessary to set up a Federal Court, as was agreed by the Conference at one of its later meetings. Such a 394 Court finds a place in the United States, in Canada and in Australia.
I do not propose to detain your Lordships by going through the whole of the Report. I need only say that there were Committees set up, as the noble Duke quite properly reminded the House, on the Provincial Constitution, upon minorities, upon Burma, upon the North-West Frontier Province, upon the franchise, upon defence, upon Services and upon Sind. The recommendations of all these Committees will be found in the Bluebook recently published by the Government, which has been laid before this House. There is also available in the Vote Office a Paper containing the text of the statement recently issued by the Government of India on the conclusions of the conversations between the Governor-General and Mr. Gandhi. I can assure the noble Duke that there are no other papers. There is nothing else to lay. Such, my Lords, is the result of our labours, and such the proposals we have put forward. It is easy to pick holes in them; that is a tempting, but it will not be a profitable, contribution to our deliberations. It is one thing to criticise, another to create. We are not here to pull down; we are here to build up.
Let me turn again for the last time to that part of the Motion which refers to the so-called adverse effect produced by the proceedings of the India Round-Table Conference. What is to be our policy in India? What do you want? What are the alternatives? Do you desire an India companioned by content, or do you desire an India seething with sedition? Whichever you select, you will have to make some sacrifice. If you choose conciliation, you will gain nearly all you wish and you will lose but little. If you resort to repression, your military expenditure will go up, your revenue returns and your trading receipts will go down, and your difficulties will increase and multiply. Put up the sword. Appeal to force is the bankruptcy of statecraft. You may, indeed, impose peace, but you will produce a desert. Of one thing, rest assured. The future of India is no longer in the melting pot. The metal of its new Constitution is being hammered out on the anvil of public opinion. It is in the nature of things that sparks should fly. Some people are fond of fireworks. But 395 sparks fly forgotten—a moment seen and then gone for ever. The true metal remains.
Give me leave to sum up the situation in which we find ourselves. We never went to India to conquer. We went there to trade. The inherited genius of our race and some fostering star have given us an Empire, but it is an Empire which we hold in trust for many creeds and nations, whose classes and whose communities are entitled to our protection. Rightly or wrongly we have educated Indians in western ideals; rightly or wrongly we have encouraged them to adopt western ways; rightly or wrongly we have introduced them to western institutions and admitted them to our Councils. The language of their Legislative Assembly, the language of Congress itself, is our own mother tongue. Now they have learned something more than the catchwords of western civilisation. Time after time we have made them promises; time after time we have given them pledges; time after time we have held out hopes to them. A Liberal Government introduced the Morley-Minto Reforms; a Coalition Government authorised the Montagu-Chelmsford Declaration; Parliament itself passed the Government of India Act, in 1919, with its Preamble of promises and the partial grant of representative institutions.
Lord Irwin, the present Viceroy, a great Conservative statesman, in whom the Labour Party has implicit confidence, has carried on the tradition; the Statutory Commission has declared an All-India Federation the goal to be aimed at; the Prime Minister, with very general assent, put the coping stone on the arch in the last speech he made at the Round-Table Conference. Mr. Baldwin, speaking in the House of Commons on the 26th January last, said:—We are His Majesty's Opposition and if it should happen that we should change places with the right hon. gentlemen opposite what do the hon. members behind me suppose our duty would be? We have only one duty, and that one duty is to try to implement so far as we can what has been done in the Conference.My Lords, it is too late to go back. We cannot stand still. We must go forward. That is the least dangerous course—it is the only safe course—it is (if the noble Lords who happen to disagree with me will forgive me for saying so) the most honourable course. It is our traditional 396 policy. It has been the secret of our success. Then will follow settled government, material prosperity and the reign of law.
Finance is undoubtedly important; defence is undoubtedly important; law and order are undoubtedly important: I yield to no man in my desire to see them amply and adequately secured, but I am anxious for something more than the triumph of our trade, I am still more jealous for the reputation of our statesmanship. It is by their moral actions, not by their material successes, that Empires are judged at the bar of public opinion and by the verdict of history. It is the spiritual things which exalt a nation, and by them we shall be remembered when our triumphs are forgotten. Let us grant a Federal Constitution to India, and let our hope be that everything in it may be so ordered and settled upon the best and surest foundations that peace and happiness, truth and justice may flourish as abundantly in India as they have done here at home.
§ EARL PEEL
My Lords, may I in the first instance associate myself with the observations which have fallen from both noble Lords who have spoken, as to the loss we have sustained by the death of Lord Russell. I had particular opportunities of meeting that noble Lord, especially in connection with the Conference, and I certainly hold that this House has sustained a heavy loss in that we no longer have him with us. He had all those remarkable powers of exposition, and that hereditary skill in debate, which we should associate with a distinguished member of the house of Russell.
The noble Duke who has introduced this matter has made what I think all your Lordships will feel is a very interesting contribution to this great question. He has expressed himself as a little doubtful about the benefits of the Conference, and I dare say that looking at it as he does from outside, he may possibly have a keener view of matters than those immersed in the details. I am not going back into the history of the shaping of that Conference and the form it might have taken, but the form which undoubtedly it did take under the pressure of discussion. I think the Conference did at least one good thing. There was undoubtedly a very strong feeling of annoyance, which was rather wide- 397 spread in India, that the Royal Commission did not contain any Indians. I think myself that the decision that that Commission should be composed wholly of members of both Houses was a natural and wise decision, because, after all, if both Houses of Parliament were going to consider the Report, it was natural that they would pay more attention to those members whom they knew well, as working in the two Houses of Parliament, than they would pay if the Commission were otherwise composed.
Whether or not that was the way in which it presented itself in India, undoubtedly the feeling of annoyance in India went deep. I believe that that feeling of annoyance has been entirely-allayed by this Conference, and by the opportunity that the representatives of India had of expressing their views quite freely on all these subjects. Perhaps even the noble Duke would admit that one of the successes the Conference had was this. A great deal had been heard of the many discussions in India about Dominion status and other general phrases of that kind, and it was to some extent a success of the Conference that during those ten weeks no resolution was even proposed or discussed on the general subject of Dominion status. We did manage to avoid the rather useless theoretic subject. We addressed ourselves perhaps more to details. It is true that very few problems indeed were settled. I was under the impression that the question of Burma was settled; that I thought was our one fixed point, but as we went through the weeks we had representations from all sorts of indignant people in Burma. Very elaborately contrived telegrams were sent by associations whose names I confess I had not previously known, and a certain number of representatives from India also told us that we had been rather premature in coming to such a conclusion.
But although, as the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack has told us, the conclusions we arrived at were provisional conclusions, I do think that the great heads of the practical problems involved did emerge in the course of those discussions. Although they were not settled they were discussed, and I think they filled the minds not only of the Conference itself, but of those in India and this country who followed 398 what happened. Undoubtedly, very little indeed was settled. I will not follow the noble and learned Lord in his discussion of all the problems that arose in the Conference, but when you get neither the method of election, nor the relations of the two Houses, nor the relations of the centre to the Provinces, nor the special proportions in which the Princes and their States should be represented in either House with all that enormous congeries of problems that centre round the relations of the Viceroy or the Governor-General through his Cabinet or the Cabinet to the Assemblies, I look back with a little more humility than perhaps I did a few weeks ago upon the unsettled state of our opinions in regard to ninny of those subjects.
Of course you could not in so large a Conference get very closely down to details. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack said that you certainly could not draft a Constitution. You could not, and perhaps you could not touch even many of the details. May I mention also the very large numbers there were on these Committees. I think the noble and learned Lord began by suggesting that the Committees should be small, but such was the enthusiasm to sit on Committees that they grew from 10 to 20 and 30 and even to 50. Again, such was the magnificent rhetorical equipment of so many of our colleagues both here and from India that the discussions naturally tended to be rather long. But it was most significant, I think, that it was the movement initiated by the Princes and their declarations at the beginning of the Conference that really diverted public attention from the old purely British-Indian problems and made everybody re-survey all these questions in the light of the federal idea. In fact, I think it did this good—it broke up, as it were, the old moulds in which Indian political thought was running on these subjects; it broke up those old moulds and set them entirely on a new basis.
My noble friend the noble Duke has, complained that the Government have not paid sufficient attention to the Report of the Simon Commission. I am bound to say I have often thought so myself. I thought that the coldness with which that great work was received by His 399 Majesty's Government was remarkable. I think the Commission showed a most remarkable self-restraint in not feeling any indignation on the subject. Had I been one of the Commissioners and had I been treated with such chilliness I am bound to say that I do not think I should have been able to preserve such moderation as those Commissioners have shown. Therefore, I was especially glad to hear on this occasion a great though, if I may respectfully say so, a rather belated tribute paid by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack to the work which those gentlemen have done. May I say this to the Commissioners because I can bear full witness to it, that the work of the Simon Commission ran through and penetrated the whole of the work that was done by the Conference itself. I do not say that it was always acknowledged. It is possible that sometimes material was produced without the hall mark of the maker being very strongly impressed upon it; but that, after all, is a compliment to the maker and I believe that if a great poet may plagiarise it is an honour to be plagiarised yourself.
Moreover, I think the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack has borne witness that the whole work of the Conference was based upon the Report of the Commission itself. The whole of the recommendations of the Conference, all its financial provisions and the method of constructing the Central Assembly, to take only a few instances, were based on the federal idea contained in the work of the Commission itself. The only difference, and it is a very great difference I agree, was that under the Report of the Statutory Commission the States were to adhere gradually to the new federal scheme; while at the Conference the discussion was on the basis that Provinces and Princes came together to shorten the period within which the federal structure should arise. I think that my noble friends on the Royal Commission may feel now that they have had full and generous recognition of the work they have done.
I want to pass for a moment from that big subject to what I would call a minor subject; that is to say, the sort of storm that has arisen out of the refusal of the Party to which I belong to send a delegate or delegates to India, I think this 400 month, in order to take part in another Conference. I thought we might have had a little longer relief from Conferences after those ten long weeks. This was construed into a sort of suggestion that we were not going to have any further dealings with the Government in the matter of working together with regard to the construction of a federal scheme for India. In fact I think some of the jesters in India said, speaking rather hopefully, that non-co-operation was over in India and was now beginning to break out in this country. The Leader of my Party has stated already the ground upon which co-operation will continue and I add nothing to that; but surely, co-operation does not mean that we should at once agree to any form of procedure or otherwise that is made by the Government whether we approve of it or whether we do not approve of it, and that if we disapprove we are at once to be dubbed and marked with the unpleasant brand of non-co-operation.
I highly appreciate the compliment that was paid to our leaders—and I include the noble Marquess in that—in inviting them to attend another Conference. Cast your minds a few months back to what happened about the last Conference. We had the greatest difficulty in forcing our way into the other Conference. It was weeks before we got these gentlemen, who are so grateful to us for the admirable work we are supposed to have done at the Conference, to agree to our being there at all. We were a sort of "gate-crashers," if I may use the expression, at St. James's. We felt almost the unpleasantness of uninvited guests in the first two or three weeks, but I think we all felt that it was essential we should be there, although the Government wanted to keep the whole business to themselves at first, and be the only representatives of this country at the Conference. It is no good the noble Lord making a note of that. It is perfectly true: he cannot deny it. We felt—I am speaking now only for my own Party—that it was only fair, when all these Indian representatives came over to discuss these matters at St. James's, that the Conservative points of view should not be left dumb, and that they were among the factors that had to be taken into consideration in considering the Constitution that was to be shaped.
401 I really see very little use in this duplication of a Conference, in having a Conference about a couple of months after the other. Is it the same Conference? Are we to make the same speeches, on the same subjects and at the same length? I remember very well a most eloquent speech in a Committee by the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, which lasted two hours and ten minutes. I tested it by the clock. I should be glad to hear that speech over again; still I can read it. But it does come to this that these differences—and there are many differences of opinion—that we expressed at the Conference are really more than differences of opinion. They arise out of the differences and contrasts of the interests of great classes and great communities in India. I felt sometimes through that Conference, and indeed sometimes later, that it really is hopeless, with all the conciliatory powers that you may attribute to our statesmen, to expect that you will get any unanimity, and in the final resort I think it is for the Government of the day to decide upon these matters, to put them forward in their Bill, and then, as they must do, run the gauntlet of the views of Parliament.
May I mention another matter? The noble and learned Lord, with that eloquence and force which we always expect from a denizen of the Woolsack, went through very carefully some of the different proposals, provisional as he says they were, and as they admittedly are. I think I used the word "super-provisional" on one occasion to indicate the provisionality of their provisionalness. I still hold that it would be better—because to set up this Constitution in the centre is a long business—to start with the setting up of self-government in the Provincial Governments as outlined by the Simon Commission rather than attempt the whole business of reconstruction at the centre and in the Provinces at the same time. There is a very remarkable observation made upon that in the Report of the Statutory Commission. Referring back to the year 1919, they say in effect that the general custom that has been followed in the making of most constitutions is that you should have the constituent elements working as more or less self- 402 governing units first, and then combine them together in different forms to form a central government, but you had not in 1919 probably any such precedent for a case where the work of reshaping was done both at the centre and in the Provinces at the same time.
I hold the view now, which I expressed at the Conference, that the advantage would be in many ways immense if you got first your Provinces into working order, if you got your provincial responsible Ministers. What would they be able to do? With the experience behind them that they would have in that way they would be able to give most valuable suggestions towards the shaping of the Central Constitution, and as they would be working Indian Ministers with Indian Councils it is quite possible that the Constitution itself might take a shape more with Indian texture and colour than the sort of Constitution would have which must be shaped, as it were, by these Conferences containing men who, as the noble and learned Lord has said, are steeped in all the law of the West, and in all the constitutions that we have developed in the great Dominions or in the United States of America.
There is another matter. The noble and learned Lord did not refer to it this evening; he could not, of course, refer to everything. Beyond all this question of building up a great federal structure is the question of agreement or conciliation between the two great communities, the two great dominant communities in India. Everybody knows how much that depends on peaceful government in the Provinces, and that you would have by trying this experiment out. I am not talking about the period of more than two, three or four years. During that period you would have the opportunity of seeing Moslems and Hindus alike working together, and of ascertaining whether they will able to get on together in the government of these Provinces. You would see whether the minority of Hindus in Bengal or in the Punjab did not suffer from the Moslem majority and you would find in the other Provinces like Behar whether the Moslems themselves, a small minority there, were fairly treated by their Hindu Governors in those Provinces. I believe that that would do a great deal to expel 403 the anxiety that is felt, especially by the Moslems, at the domination of the great Hindu community.
I am extremely well aware, as a member of the Conference, that it was upon the question of central government and of responsibility at the centre that so much of interest of the British Indians was directed. I am also aware of the attitude of the Princes towards that matter. Self-government seemed to be a most important thing in these great Provinces with 20,000,000, 30,000,000 or 40,000,000 people, and, because it was recommended by Sir John Simon's Statutory Commission, it was rather treated by many of our Indian colleagues as a settled matter, and therefore not worth discussing, although it was, compared with the previous most revolutionary proposals, a very far-reaching proposal on the part of the Statutory Commission. It is, as I think we know, perhaps a characteristic of that nimble Indian political mind that, having once arrived at the point that a thing is agreed to and settled, they take no more interest in it, and move on at once to further problems.
I should like to say a word further about the attitude which we Conservatives took up at the Conference. May I contrast it for one moment—not in criticism—with the attitude taken up by the noble Marquess? because with all these tremendous problems unsolved we did think it unwise to commit ourselves to general approval of a scheme of that kind until we knew very much more about the whole composition. Your Lordships will realise that one change in the details of a Constitution of that kind may make an enormous difference running through the whole of the Constitution which has afterwards to be framed. The attitude, I think, of the noble Marquess and his friends was rather that they assented to the scheme of federal government and responsibility to the centre, subject, as they said, to safeguards. I feel again the same anxiety that if you commit yourselves to the general principle without being quite certain what are those safeguards and those limitations, you will thereby weaken your authority to insist upon those safeguards when the time has come.
The noble and learned Lord—and I was very glad to hear his statement—said in reply to the noble Duke that they 404 were going to insist upon the safeguards—financial safeguards, protection of minorities, discrimination against British trade and all those matters which he enumerated. I was very glad to hear that definite statement on behalf of the Government, but I should have liked the noble and learned Lord to go further. I should have liked—perhaps it was too much to ask in one speech—to have heard him say how the safeguards were to be worked out and how they were to form a part, and an effective part, of the Constitution, because I feel that these safeguards are not something, and ought not to be something, external as it were to the Constitution. They ought really to be part of the working structure of the Constitution so that all these matters might be bound together and we might be able to say, and say clearly, that all these great interests, responsibility for which still rests upon our shoulders in this country, can be adequately and duly discharged.
Some allusion has been made to the disturbances in India and to the recent conversations between the Viceroy and the Mahatma Gandhi. I entirely associate myself respectfully with all that my Leader has said about the necessity of not talking the language either of victory or defeat in such a connection, but I am bound to say that I do feel most strongly that if anything can produce a term—it ought to be a term not a truce—to that miserable non-co-operation which has done such unfortunate damage to India it is to be welcomed. I have always held, and I have often said, that if, during the last ten years, instead of boycotting these new Councils when they were first set up, and instead of going into those Councils with the object of destroying the working of their Constitution from within, they had only flung themselves into the work of making them a success, India would have made far more progress on the road to constitutional development than it has to-day. Though I trust that this will be not a truce but a peace, I still cannot help thinking that if a different attitude had been taken up during the last two or three years such an arrangement would not have been necessary.
I have deprecated in the past what I call the creation of atmospheres—the making of some alteration perhaps in 405 the rigidity of administration in order to create a favourable atmosphere for the Report of my noble friends on the Simon Commission. The Government of India has shown much firmness in the emergency regulations recently introduced, but I cannot help thinking that if earlier action had been taken it would have been perhaps productive of more benefit. Owing perhaps to journalistic representations a great deal of prominence, perhaps unnecessary prominence, has been given to one of the leaders of the Hindus, and perhaps he has been elevated into too great a position of prominence. I cannot help feeling—and I must express my feeling—that my sympathies go out very largely to the Moslem minority who have separated themselves from all these disturbances during the last year or two. If they have been silent and law-abiding and have not taken part in this non-co-operation movement, we should give them some credit for this, and should not make them feel that they are left out of recognition merely because they have been loyal to the Government. I myself, even as a boy, never had much sympathy with the parable in which the fatted calf was killed for the prodigal son. My sympathy—being a good boy myself, of course—was very largely with the unfortunate gentleman who stayed at home and did his job at home and did not have any fatted calf killed for him.
There are one or two questions I should like to ask of the noble Lord opposite upon this arrangement. I was rather disturbed by one passage regarding the boycott of goods, where it says that the employment of the boycott of British commodities as a political weapon is to be discontinued. I am not quite sure of the meaning of those words because subsequent words seem to indicate that there is liberty to carry on the boycott as an industrial weapon, although not as a political weapon. I am quite sure the Government would not set up any such distinction between the boycott as a political or as an industrial weapon, although I know there are certain analogies in recent legislation which might suggest it to one's mind, but I hope the noble Lord opposite will relieve my mind on that subject. There is one further point of detail. I understand that the Viceroy has set his face most 406 strongly against any idea that there should be, at the instance of these people, any inquiry into the police. It is only what might be expected from a great Conservative Viceroy who has been so justly lauded by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, but I am not sure about paragraph 8 of the statement issued by the Government of India. There seems to be an apologetic air about it and I do not feel that as drawn it really expresses the mind of the Viceroy on the subject.
May I add one word with regard to what I was saying about creating atmospheres—political and otherwise—while these changes are taking place? I do hold most strongly that when great constitutional changes are under discussion and when alterations are being made in the form of government, it is most essential that law and order should be upheld, perhaps even more strongly on such occasions than on any other. I am not speaking so much, of course, of those whom we met at the Conference. As the noble and learned Lord said, we speak the same political language. We have had the same education, we discussed with equal freedom and knowledge all the details of the constitutions of other countries. All that is completely intelligible to us. But these matters of relations between the centre and the circumference, these matters of responsibility at the centre, these matters of safeguards and so on are wholly unintelligible to great masses and classes in India. After all, there the question is: Who is the ruler and who is the boss? Take these recent Congress agitations. They go about among the people and say: "When you have Swaraj, you will have no Salt Tax and no Land Tax." It is no doubt a very attractive proposition to anybody to be told that he is not going to pay taxes, but one heard nothing about constitutional changes and constitutional proposals. We had an instance the other day. When that strong hand of authority was for a moment lifted in the North-West and these propagandists of Congress went among the people on the frontier saying, "The British Raj is going," at that moment there was a rising among the Afridis and they descended on Peshawar.
I should like, if I might, not having been in the counsels of the Government, 407 to ask what has been happening during the last two months. We have had this mass of material which has been produced at the Conference. What has been done as regards working upon it? We had some reason to complain that, when the Conference opened, insufficient work had been done as a preparatory measure. That might be due to the Conference having followed so closely upon the Imperial Conference. I hope the noble Lord will tell us in his reply what has been done in the last two months with regard to this shaping of the work to which the noble Lord referred. I am most anxious for information on two questions. The noble and learned Lord knows very well that this whole federal scheme depends upon the question whether a substantial number of the Princes are ready to come in and sit in whatever the proportions may be, both in the assemblies and the Government itself. One could not be sure at the Conference how far these distinguished Princes who were there represented beyond themselves other bodies of Princes, and it would be most interesting to know at this stage what proportion of Princes the Government think would be ready to come into this federal scheme. Again, I would very much like to know whether the great question of proportions, both in the Senate and in the Assembly, has got any further in the last three months.
The whole possibility of success of an arrangement of this kind depends upon the establishment of good relations between the two great communities, the Moslems and Hindus. There were discussions at the Conference and at certain times it was supposed the Government had nearly reached some agreement. I read the other day a report in The Times of the meeting of the All-India Moslem League, at which the Moslem community laid down most rigidly that their taking part in a scheme of federation is entirely dependent upon the recognition of their claims as a minority. I should like to ask the noble Lord what movement has taken place in this direction and whether we are nearer some arrangement, because success in this direction is vital, as your Lordships know, to the success of the whole scheme.
I understand from what has been said elsewhere that there is to be another 408 meeting of this Structural Committee at some time in the autumn or perhaps in the summer. Is it to be the same Structural Committee as we had before, with the same members upon it? I saw the other day that Dr. Ambedkar, the representative of the 40 millions of the depressed classes, indignantly asked: "Is that Committee going to meet and have no representative of the depressed classes upon it?" Is it to be the same or is it to have a smaller number of members? I hope it is to be the same, but I should like some information from the noble Lord opposite. These questions are of the greatest importance and upon the answers to them and upon whether they are properly and fairly solved, depends all this great structure. I am, of course, always for co-operation and conciliation with the Indians. I am anxious and have done my best, and so have my Party, to understand their views and political aspirations. On the other hand, I have not been slow to ask them if they would also appreciate our thesis and our position. Though I do not apply this proposition to the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, I cannot help feeling that throughout these months the Government have been a little too ready—I will not say to apologise for, but not to take their stand in appreciation of our position in India.
Quite apart from our legal position, our moral position in India and all that we have done there gives us great rights and lays upon us duties of the greatest responsibility. Not merely upon legal grounds but upon moral grounds and, if you will, on spiritual grounds I lay the duties and rights we have in India to exercise our great responsibilities. I trust that the Constitution, about which the noble Lord speaks, will have something of an Indian flavour. Do not let us be too ready to hand over holus-bolus these institutions, as if they themselves were the greatest invention of the west and were the best gift we could give to India. The structural difficulties of building up the Constitution are immense and to-night I can touch upon hardly any of them. Good feeling and sentiment and appreciation and conciliation and sympathy are much, but they are not enough. In my view, to make that Constitution workable and suitable to India 409 requires much hard thinking and the best constructional ability that both countries possess and can command.
§ THE MARQUESS OF READING
My Lords, I feel sure that you will all be indebted to the noble Duke for having given us the opportunity for this debate. For myself, having heard the speech of the noble Duke, who asked a number of questions und made some comments and criticisms, the reply of the noble and learned Lord upon the Woolsack, and then the speech of my noble friend Lord Peel, speaking on behalf of the Conservatives, it is a great satisfaction to find that so far as I am able to judge there is no substantial difference of opinion between the Government and the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party on this most important subject. We have not been accustomed to treat it as a Party subject. For myself, I say unhesitatingly that, in all the thought I have been able to give to the Indian problem, I have never allowed Party considerations to weigh for one moment, and I am convinced that those who have taken part in these discussions, both in the Liberal delegation and in the Conservative delegation, have worked upon exactly the same lines. The subject is far too great for Party feeling to enter.
It is quite true there may be some differences of opinion, there may be different expressions used in order to denote the state of mind of one speaker or another, but, speaking broadly, I think what emerges from the discussion to-day is that there is unanimity on the main lines of policy to be pursued in India. Again I speak only for myself, with such opportunity as I have had of reading every word of the debates that have taken place in the House of Commons, but, with special reference to the last debate, it seems that, notwithstanding that there have apparently been some acute differences at certain moments, these have now disappeared. I find that quite definitely during the course of the debate, when Mr. Baldwin had expressed his view in the speech that he made, he was followed by Mr. Churchill who was able to find that there was no difference between them. That must be a great satisfaction to us. It does not mean, and I am not suggesting, that there will not be some differences still to be discussed hereafter. Of course there must be. I dare say 410 there may be differences of opinion amongst ourselves, even amongst our own delegates. I am not going into that question, and I am sure your Lordships will not expect me to do so. We were dealing with a very complex subject. We had to sit round and contrive to agree upon the main principles of that great scheme of federation. We were confronted with an immense subject, and no one who has not attempted to grapple with it will really understand the confusion that existed until, I am bound to say, the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, as Chairman, evolved order and system out of it. Any of us who were able to assist him in that way were only too glad to find that he dealt with it so skilfully.
Before coming to the two or three subjects upon which I may have some observations to make, I should like to address myself to the noble Duke's sequence of thought and expression to-day. He dealt first of all with the Statutory Commission. I am one of those who thought from the first that His Majesty's Government were wrong in not appointing the Chairman, or some other members of that Statutory Commission, to take part at the Round-Table Conference and to give us the benefit of the great knowledge and wisdom that they had obtained. I have regretted it from the first arid, in conjunction with the Conservative Party, we have done all we can to get the Government to change their view. I must not go into the reasons which I understand led them to refuse, but, nevertheless, the consequence was that Sir John Simon, the two noble Lords, members of this House, who devoted so much time and thought to this matter and other members were unable to give their assistance, and we had to deal with the Indian problem largely guided and immensely assisted by the work that they had done and presented to us in those two volumes.
I do not agree for one moment, having been present throughout the Conference, when it is said that the Report was shelved. Far from it. I would say that from beginning to end the most valuable document we had, the best assistance and the wisest guidance, was in the Report of the Statutory Commission, with all the knowledge there brought together and 411 given us in the documents presented to us, and in the Government of India's Report commenting upon the Report of the Commission. It is true that strong objection was raised in India by those who thought that the Government should have appointed Indians to be members of that Commission, arid it is true to say that at the beginning of that Round-Table Conference, when the Simon Commission Report was mentioned, the observation was: "That is dead"; but it came to life very quickly, and those who were so glad to have an opportunity of announcing its death were among the first to turn to it, very properly, and to make use of it. Certainly the members of my delegation—and I think I may say the same of the Conservative delegation—were only too glad to have the advantage of the gathering together of that immense mass of knowledge acquired over the two and a-half years of their deliberations, and to have it in compendious form, as we had in those two volumes. I hope it will never be thought that the Report of the Statutory Commission was of no use. I think the noble Earl, Lord Peel, showed his agreement in one of his observations, and the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack made generous reference to the Report. It must be remembered that the Prime Minister, when he made his final speech at that Conference, paid a very high tribute to the work of that Commission, to the value of the Report and to the guidance that it had given in our labours at the Conference.
Passing from that part of the noble Duke's observations, let me turn to the second part of his Motion—namely:—to call attention.… to the adverse effect produced by the proceedings of the India Bound-Table Conference in London.I think I heard a little while since that this Motion was put down some few months ago.
§ THE MARQUESS OF READING
Three weeks ago? Then I am surprised that it suggests that the Round-Table Conference has had an adverse effect. I speak only from such knowledge as I have—and it is probably no better than his—on that point. During the last few weeks I have had no more information 412 from the Government upon it than he has, and I have to derive my knowledge front what I read in the daily newspapers. But I can assure the noble Duke that, as I understand the matter, so far from the position being worse it is very much better. I cannot go fully into the suggestion that the proceedings have had an adverse effect, but let me just remind those of your Lordships who may, perhaps, not be quite so familiar with the personnel of that Conference as were we who were in daily contact with it, that when we were sitting at the Round-Table Conference we had the advantage of the presence of some eighty representatives from India. They were politicians, in the main, leaders of political thought, drawn generally from Liberals or from Moderates, some of them Responsivists, some of them Swarajists and some very close indeed to Congress. From my own knowledge of several members, I think the line that divided them from the non-co-operators, as members of Congress, was very fine.
Speaking generally of the politicians, they were responsible men. Three gentlemen who took part in the Conference—and a notable part—had been members of the Viceroy's Executive Council, that is, of the Viceroy's Cabinet, during my time. I had worked with them for a number of years and, in addition, I mention them because they had achieved a position in India in which their views carried weight. Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru, Sir Muhammad Shafi, Sir B. N. Mitra were all well-known men in India. There were others with whom I came in contact. In fact there were few with whom I had not had some intercourse in India.
I want to make one observation, and to impress it upon your Lordships. If we had done nothing else at that Round-Table Conference than to convert those leading politicians and representatives of different classes in India, from men who were suspicious and distrustful of Britain and of her intention to carry out her promises to men who went from here to India to cry aloud that they were satisfied, that they had abandoned their misgivings, and that their suspicions were dispelled and had given way to trust and confidence, we should have done a great work; and there can be no doubt, from the lips of those gentlemen themselves, that that was accomplished. I 413 am not claiming credit for it. Far be it from me to do so. It was due certainly as much to the Indian representatives as to the British representatives at that Conference, but it was a great thing accomplished, and that in itself is, in my opinion, an answer to the criticism of the noble Duke that these proceedings have had an adverse effect upon India.
What was the position? You had two main classes of opinion in India, leaving out the Princes. You had Congress, dominated by Mr. Gandhi, Motilal Nehru, since unfortunately dead, and his son, leaders of the Congress, all non-co-operators, who had entered into a campaign of civil disobedience and were engaging in various forms of illegal activities, against which the Government and the Viceroy had to take action. That was one class, and undoubtedly a numerous and powerful class. They remained in India. They would have no part in the Conference; but these others, who were members of the Indian Legislatures, either Central or Provincial, and were all leaders in the different Provinces and throughout India, came at great risk to themselves. They knew perfectly well when they left that they were taking their political lives in their hands. If they had returned without being able to bring anything more than a non possumus from us in this country, we should have lost the benefit of those who were constitutional agitators, and the result would have been that they would have gone over to the Congress. We should have had a fortified Congress, a much more discontented India, and a much more difficult situation to deal with.
In the result these gentlemen have gone back and set to work at once, as they promised in public speeches that they would, to make it their business to strive to convert the non-co-operators and all those who were against the British Government, to get them to understand what a change had come over the situation, to get them to work with them and to come into the Round-Table Conference, so that we might sit all together—Mr. Gandhi and those who worked with him—and take our part in attempting to agree upon the main principles of the Constitution. It cannot be said that that is an adverse effect, because the result bas been that these gentlemen, and particularly Sir Tej 414 Bahadur Sapru, Sir Muhammad Shafi, and Mr. Jayakar—those three leaders who have taken an active part and given expression to very extreme views with regard to us—went back to India our firm friends, and set to work at once to convince Mr. Gandhi and his associates and to bring them into the discussion.
We have not, of course, settled the Constitution, but only agreed on some of the main principles, leaving others for further examination and reflection. We have, however, set out on that journey. The result of it was the interview between Mr. Gandhi and the Viceroy to which I will refer in a moment. I want, before doing so, to finish my observations upon the Round-Table Conference, because I have no intention of going into details as to the problems settled and left unsettled. I want to call your Lordships' attention to the position at the time when we came to what was the crucial question, and that was the question of responsibility at the centre. That was of importance, once you had settled federation. When we came there, the Liberal delegates, and myself at any rate, had studied with the greatest care everything written by the Statutory Commission, and the Government of India Report. When I went to the Conference my main thought was how regrettable it was that, with all the advantages that the Statutory Commission pointed out, and with all the exhortation of Sir John Simon and those associated with him, that we should fasten our attention upon federation of All-India as the ultimate goal, we could not see how to bring it about, because it depended upon the Princes, who are independent rulers and could not be forced to come into federation with us.
Hitherto, no one had dreamt that they would come into it. Your Lordships can appreciate our surprise when we arrived at the Conference—it was a change which immediately shed a far rosier hue over the whole atmosphere of the Conference—and the Princes said determinedly and unanimously that they were in favour of the federation of All-India. That meant that instead of having to deal with the government or to legislate in respect of some 230 odd millions—leaving out Burma and leaving out the 70 millions under the rulers of Indian States—the government now about to be fashioned was the federa- 415 tion of the whole of British India and the Ruling Princes' States. It would mean (again leaving out Burma) legislating for 330 million people, representing approximately one-fifth of the population of the whole world. We were invited then to devise a scheme and to agree upon principles for the federation of All-India. It meant combining a unitary government in a federal government, and it was a scheme which was dazzling and at first sight quite baffling, but eventually we did arrive at some order out of the chaos, and some very important points of agreement.
Let me call attention to what I consider the most important fact to be considered—one which has not been mentioned so far, and may escape observation. Will your Lordships forgive me for reminding you, for the purpose of argument, of the Royal Proclamation of 1919. It was the Proclamation of December 26 which followed upon the Government of India Act, 1919, which embodied what are known as the Montagu-Chelmsford reforms. That Royal Proclamation stated in terms which I will not attempt to paraphrase but which I can read quite briefly, what the position was to be and what promises were held out to India. India was entitled from that moment to say, indeed, there were statements before it (but I will not travel into them), that they had the King-Emperor's promise that they would have responsible government in India. Not at any particular time. The time and manner were always left with the British Parliament, with whom they rest and must rest. Whatever may be done at the Round-Table Conference, whatever India may demand, whatever the Government may do will all be settled by Parliament when the proper time comes and the Constitution has to be put before it.
But this is what was said in the Proclamation—The Act of 1861 sowed the seed of representative institutions, and the seed was quickened into life by the Act of 1909"—commonly known as the Morley-Minto Act—The Act which has now become law entrusts elected representatives of the people with a definite share in the government and points the way to full responsible government hereafter.416 Then, later on, it says—But there is one gift which yet remains and without which the progress of a country cannot be consummated—the right of her people to direct her affairs and safeguard her interests. The defence of India against foreign aggression is a duty of common Imperial interest and pride. The control of her domestic concerns is a burden which India may legitimately aspire to take upon her own shoulders. The burden is too heavy to be borne in full until time and experience have brought the necessary strength; but opportunity will now be given for experience to grow and for responsibility to increase with the capacity for its fulfilment. Without it, the work of the British in India would have been incomplete. It was, therefore, with a wise judgment that the beginnings of representative institutions were laid many years ago. Their scope has been extended stage by stage until there now lies before us a definite step on the road to responsible government.Nothing could have been more definite except, of course, in the allocation of time. That is the policy we are all bound to pursue.
I have not heard one voice, and if there is one I should like to hear it, which challenges that as the policy which governs Britain in her relations with India at this present moment. That was the Royal Proclamation, issued in 1919, at a time when there was a Government in power of which some of those who are at present criticising what has happened were members, and for which they are responsible. It is just as well to remember that. In that position, with those statements before them, remembering that another twelve years had elapsed, during ten of which the Indian Legislature had carried on and, of course, the Legislative Councils in the Provinces had done their work—with all that knowledge, and the Indians having demanded that the responsibility should now be entrusted to them of managing their own affairs, save in one respect, to which I will allude more particularly, we are face to face with a promise that has been made and something further to which, as I said just now, I attribute more importance almost than to anything that took place at the Conference. The Princes declared in favour of federation. Tha unanimous view of those present at the Conference, including all of us British delegates, was that a great step forward had been made and that we must accept federation and work for it to the best of our ability. The result was that after 417 some five or six days of full debate the Prime Minister announced, as he was entitled to announce, that this principle was carried in the Conference and then Committees were set up to deal with it, particularly the Committee over which the Lord Chancellor presided, if I may say so in his presence, with such wisdom and skill.
The Princes' statement was not a mere statement of federation and I should like your Lordships to bear this in mind. I will not weary you by quoting passages—if you desire them I can give you three or four without any difficulty—but I will give you their effect. I challenge contradiction and unless it is challenged, I will not trouble to read the passages. What the Princes said was: "We are in favour of federation but we will not have a federation if the Executive is still to be responsible to the British Parliament. We will not have a federation unless you will have an Executive which is responsible to an Indian Parliament"; that is, in other words, unless you have an Executive which is responsible to the Legislature in India. That was the position. It has never wavered from that. It has been that from the first, and it is that now. If you want federation, if you believe in federation, if you are working for federation, you must take it with the condition which is attached to it, just as, in my opinion, India must take the offer of responsibility at the centre with the conditions that we have attached to it. They must apply in both instances. The Princes have said: "Yes, we will agree to give up our sovereignty to the extent that the federal relationship will require. We will come in with you and we will take our part in the Parliament which is to be elected, this Federal Parliament. But it must be with an Executive responsible to an Indian Legislature and not to the British Parliament."
It is an interesting reflection and I only make it, I will not pursue it, but it is worthy of a little thought, that the Princes, at the moment they said that, attached another condition which was that, so far as they were concerned, they should be responsible in their dynastic matters and all matters relating to their Treaties, not to the Government of India but to the Viceroy, that is, to the direct representative of the Sovereign. Once we entered into the discussion of federa- 418 tion and accepted that as a principle for which we were to work, as the Conference did practically unanimously, we had to take into account responsibility. First, what you had to face was that it was quite open and perfectly logical to say, "Whilst I am a believer in federation, I decline to give responsibility at the centre." It was equally open to say, "We will accept the view put forward of federation and responsibility."
Now I turn to the Simon Report, which assisted me very much in the conclusions to which I came and to which I would refer those of your Lordships who care to pursue the subject further. The Simon Commission, in reporting, went a very long way in advance of anything that had hitherto been recommended. They were, for example, in favour of full autonomy in the Provinces, including law and order. During my period of Viceroyalty this question was discussed and I took a strong view against it. I thought that. India was not yet in a position and had not sufficient experience of Parliament or administration to be entrusted with law and order. She had to wait a little longer. The Simon Commission reported in favour of it and it has been unanimously accepted; so far as I am aware nobody challenged it.
§ VISCOUNT BURNHAM
Subject, of course, to the appointment of official Ministers by the Governors in the different Provinces.
§ THE MARQUESS OF READING
I am not questioning anything regarding it. If I am to go into conditions I am perfectly ready to do so. I repeat, and I do not think my noble friend can differ from me, that they recommended definitely (I think perhaps it was the strongest recommendation they made and it is the biggest change) that there should be full provincial autonomy, including law and order. I have not the passage with me, but my noble friend will recollect that they went on to say that they agreed and after some consideration came to the conclusion that they must favour it and recommend it.
§ VISCOUNT BURNHAM
I do not want to interrupt but, of course, it was of the essence of the question that the Governor should have the power in each Province 419 to appoint one or two official members of the Cabinet. He might hold the portfolio of Law and Order.
§ THE MARQUESS OF READING
That does not alter what I am saying. All it would do is to say that if the Governor chose he could appoint an official member to hold the portfolio of Law and Order, no doubt a useful provision. I am not treating it as trivial; but it does not alter the fact of provincial autonomy. The only reason I refer to it at this moment is that I want to say that the Simon Commission went on to state that it was in favour of no substantial change—I cannot say no change—in the Central Government. The Central Government was to continue safe, the Governor-General was to appoint his own members of his Executive Council—that is his Cabinet—instead of as hitherto their being appointed by the King-Emperor. There were various other minor changes introducing some element of what was called, I think, responsivity, but not quite responsibility.
That was the view they took. As the position stood I was prepared to accept that in its entirety. I was prepared to give full effect to all that they had said. There were very few points upon which I had some difference and which I wanted further to discuss, otherwise they convinced me that they were right. But they exhorted us, in studying the Report, always to bear in mind that the ultimate goal was to be federation. They could not themselves report upon that, because they had not the assent of the Princes. They stated it most carefully. I know myself, from conversations and discussions I have had with Sir John Simon, the immense amount of thought and labour that was given to that subject of federation. Unfortunately we lost the value of it, because it was not put in the Report and we did not have the members of the Commission present before us to give us the benefit of all the knowledge they had collected on that subject; but we were told, not only is it the goal to which you must direct your attention, but, when you are fashioning your Central Government, take care that you do not do anything which will interfere with federation, which is the goal that you must strive to attain. In any action that you are taking always think of federation, and try to make anything you 420 are doing fit in with the scheme of federation.
That was the position. When we got to the Conference, as I have indicated, and as other speakers have told you, federation was accepted, and we were on an entirely new plane of thought. In truth that part of the Simon Commission Report was outdistanced, not by any fault of either Sir John Simon or those who worked with him as Commissioners, but because the Princes had come forward. The Government of India, when it dealt with this subject before we met at the Conference, said they did not devote any time to this question of federation because, as they pointed out, it was too far distant to merit any further discussion. That was their view at the time. Therefore we came to the Conference with the knowledge of this, exhorted to pay all our attention to federation, believing as we did that federation of India was the right solution, and that the only way to get it was by discussing the various principles and accepting responsibility at the centre in certain directions—that is, responsibility for those matters which were not exempted by the safeguards.
I would now draw your Lordships' attention to the only other matter with which I desire to trouble you. I refer to the safeguards. I attach great importance to them. As I said just now, I think those safeguards, at any rate as matters stand, to use the word which I heard the Lord Chancellor use, and heard him use with great satisfaction, are indispensable. We must not forget that. It is exactly my view. The opinion I formed was that responsibility should be given to India to manage her own affairs at the centre—a great step forward, I agree, in this new federation, a forward step which would not only meet the view of the British Indian politicians and leaders of thought, but also that of the Princes. But we could not possibly surrender or abandon the obligations which we had undertaken in respect of those matters for which we are responsible, and they are very many and very important. We were bound to make provision that they should be respected. I pointed out to the Indians who were present at the Conference that it was not so much that we thought that many of them sitting round that table would 421 ever dream of putting us in a difficulty, but that we were fashioning a, Constitution to the best of our ability, that we were striving to build up a structure which was to stand for a long time, that we had to meet all eventualities, that we had even to provide for the possible situation in which members of Congress would become members of the new Federal Assembly, and for that being done which was done during my time by Swarajists—that is, getting to the Assembly for the purpose of obstructing and wrecking the Constitution. Those matters had to be provided against. So we set to work.
May I make one further observation in this connection? I think it is very important. I would suggest particularly to those Indian politicians and leaders that they should bear well in mind that, although this was the view that we had taken, the first mention of it did not come from us. Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru, who was, I may say, in the position certainly of leader with one or two others at the Conference, made two very important speeches amongst a number of others, the first when we were dealing with federation, in which he said, in substance, that he was prepared to consider such safeguards as we might think necessary and would give them every consideration. He even went so far as to say, "You may write them in your own language." I did not pay too much attention to that. When we got to the Committee stage and we were really discussing responsibility at the centre, he did propound his views on federation.
It happened that I was the first speaker of the parliamentary delegation to express views with regard to responsibility at the centre, and, consequently, when I made the statement that I was in favour of responsibility at the centre, subject to the safeguards, I proceeded to enumerate those safeguards. That was the occasion on which I made the speech to which the noble Earl, Lord Peel, referred, saying, I think, that it took two hours and ten minutes. I may say, incidentally, that forty-five minutes were taken up by questions which were put to me, and which I welcomed. It was a long speech, because it dealt with all these matters in detail. In order that Indians should understand what the position was, at any rate as we were formu- 422 lating it, I went through the whole list so that there might be no difficulty about it.
I will repeat those safeguards now, but I am not going to discuss them in detail. There was defence, which, naturally, dealt with the Army and Air Force. Then foreign affairs, equally, were to be dealt with by the Viceroy as a reserved subject. This was not to be dealt with by the Legislature at all or the Executive Federal Government. All obligations of State—that is, all obligations into which the Government had entered and which it was bound to perform: he was equally to have the right there. Obviously it is no use giving powers unless you also give other powers to implement them. Certain powers were given and are to be given, and there was agreement at the Conference with regard to these matters.
Then we came to finance and that produced a great deal of discussion. The point that we were making—and certainly I laid some stress on it—was that large sums of money had been invested here and that India was getting the benefit of the credit that she obtained through her securities being amongst our trustee securities, and getting all the advantage of raising loans in this country. Provision must be made for the payment of those loans—provisions for the service of the loans and for the interest on the loans, for drawings if there were any, for a sinking fund, and for the repayment of the loans. All these provisions must be made. Equally a Reserve Bank should be set up as quickly as possible, which would have to manage currency and exchange—a subject of very great importance not to be discussed here, but of far-reaching importance in India, and having quite a considerable effect upon the political situation. Further, we stipulated that the interests of the Public Service—that is of those members who entered the Civil Service—their emoluments and pensions, both maturing and matured, should be provided for, and that there should be a charge on a consolidated loan in order that they should be perfectly safe.
In addition, the Viceroy was to have an overriding power with regard to law and order because he had to deal with the safety and tranquillity of the realm. That burden was upon him. Therefore 423 there must be power in the Viceroy to protect minorities, and we specially laid stress on the Hindu-Moslem question, the position of the Sikhs, the depressed classes, and so forth. Very great importance attaches to the solution of the Hindu-Moslem controversy and it is very much to be hoped that it will be settled before we resume our discussions. It is of immense importance, especially to the Moslems, who, quite properly, are entitled to look to us, and do look to us, to see that they are not oppressed. There was one further thing. It was that there should be no unfair and no inequitable discrimination by legislation or otherwise against British subjects, firms and companies carrying on business in India. That is to say, that there should be no preferential legislation which would interfere with the business carried on by the British in India. That was accepted. The only other thing I need mention—and I certainly do lay stress upon it—was that the right was to remain in the Viceroy to refuse assent to Bills if he thought it necessary. He was not to be in the position of a purely constitutional Governor-General in this respect, but that right must remain as it always had been. He should have the right to reserve for His Majesty's assent any Bill which he thought fit.
Those are the safeguards we introduced. They are stipulated for, I think myself, as much in the interests of India as in our interests. I have observed it said that some are not in the interests of India. I saw an observation reported—I do not know in what context—as being made by the leader of the Congress movement in India. I am not going into that question. All I would say is, that every one of these safeguards is necessary for the due protection of India, in order that India's interests may be safeguarded and in order also that our obligations, which are in the main made for India and for India's benefit, should be protected and that they should be fulfilled.
That completes all that I wish to say to you with regard to the Round-Table Conference. I am sorry that I have taken longer time than I intended, but the subject is of great importance and I am very anxious that your Lordships should appreciate how it stands. It is a matter which, as I have said, is not 424 a Party matter but one which really touches our Imperial interests and is supreme in importance. The only other observation I desire to make now is with regard to what has happened since. I do not want to criticise too closely the language used in reporting conversations between the Viceroy and Mr. Gandhi. No doubt the Report had to be drawn up rather hurriedly, but there you have the record of what has happened. I do say that from the moment that these conversations had taken place and agreement was reached, the condition has improved in India and that if that improvement was brought about—as it undoubtedly was—by the Round-Table Conference, it shows that the Round-Table Conference did not have an adverse effect in India. It may not go so far as we should wish and agreement may not have been arrived at exactly in the way we would wish. Some of your Lordships may naturally object to this kind of negotiation which took place, but let us pass beyond all that region of controversy and realise that what has happened is that we have come to the end of the campaign of civil disobedience. I am myself in a little doubt as to how far the boycott may be said to have come to an end and I rather share the doubt which the noble Earl, Lord Peel, indicated just now.
The Viceroy, who is now very near the end of his term of office, has had certainly during the last two or three years a most anxious time, a time when I am perfectly certain he must have been distracted and sorely perplexed to know what course to take—on the one hand, compelled as he was against his wish to use repressive measures and to take advantage of the powers he had of issuing these edicts and ordinances; on the other hand, anxious as he naturally was to conciliate and get agreement where he could, provided always that it was with due regard to the interests of the Empire and of the Government. He did manage by these conversations to bring about a settlement. For myself I confess that I congratulate him upon having done it. I think it is a great tribute to the sincerity of purpose which has distinguished him, and although there may be criticism and there may be doubt as to the exact effect of it and of the future, yet he has achieved something which has bettered 425 the situation in India and will enable him, at any rate, to hand over the reins to his successor free from this campaign of civil disobedience which was doing so much harm to India, perhaps more harm than most of us can imagine. I see in his place my noble friend Lord Hardinge, who has just returned from India, and who has had the advantage of seeing for himself as an ex-Viceroy what has happened. I have not had an opportunity of speaking to him, but I have bad the advantage of leading what he has written, and I do know that it is his opinion also that the Viceroy has done well and deserves commendation, and that he really has acted in the best interests of the Empire in what he has achieved.
I confess that some observations that I have read quite recently in the newspapers give me some amount of disquietude. I do not quite understand what they mean. I have read observations which are said to have been made by Mr. Gandhi, and I have read of acts which are said to have taken place—I do not know with what truth. I refrain from further comment upon them because we know nothing of them, except very short statements, which have appeared in the Press, and I have seen contradiction of some of them. I only refer to them for the purpose of making this observation: the Round-Table Conference, we are told, is going to sit again, the members of Congress will join it, they will come to take part in it and they will no doubt wish to enter into discussion with us upon all the matters that have arisen. I am anxious myself that it should be understood, as no doubt all those who were present from British India did understand, that, in the safeguards which we were proposing, we were mentioning safeguards which must be accepted, if the responsibility was to be given at the centre. That is a view to which we must all adhere.
I hope that, as a result of the discussions which we may have now or hereafter in the Conference, we may continue to have agreement among the Parties and, in spite of some slight differences of thought, we may be able to travel along the same road and, in the end, reach peace and good will in India. For myself, I have from the first always had the picture before me of a federation of All-India as the most desired object that we could have, because it gives us 426 for the future some elements of stability which might otherwise be absent, because it introduces into that government the views of the Princes who certainly cannot be said to be wild or extreme in their views, and, above all, because every one of the Princes in the statements which he has made at the Conference and elsewhere, has always; made it a condition of joining the federation of All-India and taking part in the Parliament and taking part in the Executive, that it should be in an India that remains within the Empire and in the sovereignty of the King-Emperor.
§ LORD LLOYD
My Lords, I should like to preface the brief remarks I shall make this evening by thanking the noble Duke, as the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack has already done, for inaugurating this discussion. So many considerations that are irrelevant have lately been imparted into the discussions outside this House and on the platform, there has been so much neglect of realities, so many and so diverse appeals to different loyalties and emotions, that the true proportions of this enormous problem constantly risk being lost sight of. I desire also to echo what the noble Marquess has just said as regards the question of Party division. I entirely agree with everything he has said. At the same time, I was very glad to hear my noble friend Lord Peel make a plea to His Majesty's Government that those of us who, with some experience of India, feel it our duty to make criticisms of the Government's policy should not be treated as non-co-operators in the matter, but as those who feel it an imperative duty to the people of this country to make their subscription of criticism and advice in an issue of this magnitude.
I spoke just now about the question of proportion. We need not look back very long to see the problem in its true perspective because no one in the House will deny that the policy, which has been pursued by all Parties without a difference of opinion ever since 1917 until His Majesty's present Government came into office, was to develop responsible self-government in India but, on the clear conditions—and here let me mention that the promises are very often quoted without the conditions being mentioned and I was therefore glad to hear the noble Marquess remind India that promises 427 and conditions on both sides have to be observed—that Parliament must be the sole judge of the time and measure of the advance, and that Parliament should be guided in its decision by the co-operation received from and the degree of responsibility shown by Indians themselves. I agree with the promises. I have done my humble part in carrying them out, and am therefore not opposed to the Montagu-Chelmsford scheme. That is not where I differ from the Government policy. But since the present Government came into office, the policy has been no longer that this direction and guidance should come from Parliament, but rather to seek always to find out from those in India who oppose us, by means of conferences, what qualification of self-government they are now or at a later time inclined to accept in the interests of peace.
I want to point out that the difference between these two policies is not small; it is an enormous difference. The chief danger of the policy being pursued by His Majesty's Government to-day, in my eyes, is that it takes the final decision in regard to the Constitution of India out of the hands of Parliament and that was never foreseen, still less intended, by the Montagu-Chelmsford Reform Act. On the contrary, definite provisions were made in this great experiment to keep the control of Parliament at every stage absolute and complete. It may be true that the finishing touch of constitution-making will ultimately be an Act of Parliament. That is inevitable but, under the present policy, it will be a mere formality, for Parliament will have been committed in negotiation long before ever the Act comes before it for discussion. In proof of which let me remind your Lordships that we had the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack already warning us to-day, before the question has come to Parliament, that it is too late to go back. I repeat that the present policy of His Majesty's Government is neither the Montagu-Chelmsford scheme nor the Act of 1919, still less any logical result of it, but is a new policy which takes the ultimate decision, in effect, out of the control of Parliament. That is the first and very definite criticism I venture to lay before your Lordships' House.
428 Even now, we cannot contend that Parliament is uncommitted as a result of the Round-Table Conference. Since the Round-Table Conference Parliament is completely pledged, in my judgment, to the early grant of full provincial autonomy. This concession, large as it is in its scope and full of difficulty and danger as it is of execution, is one which I think in the circumstances inevitable and which by itself I have been prepared to support. We are committed, I say, not only to full provincial autonomy, but risk becoming committed to much more for your Lordships will agree with me that I am not exaggerating when I say that, after the debate of January 26, an impression has been allowed to spread all over India that all Parties in this country are agreed upon the gift of coincident responsibility at the centre, with safeguards which have not yet been defined. Indeed I have clearly gathered that this is the view of the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, that full responsibility coincidentally must be given; and that is where I, and many of those who agree with me up and down the country feel you are going dangerously too far.
His Majesty's Government tell us there has been no change of policy. It is clear beyond all doubt that there has been an enormous change of policy and that an attempt has already been made to treat the new policy as virtually established. So much so that many sections of opinion in India, at any rate, seem now to be agreed that all is settled as regards full responsibility at the centre and that all that remains for discussion is the question of safeguards. Who now will say there has not been an enormous and a fundamental change in policy from that advocated in the Montagu-Chelmsford reform scheme I It is indeed a very curious position in which His Majesty's Government now find themselves. Apparently, they no longer regard themselves as trustees bound by the conditions of their time-honoured great trust towards the peoples of India. They have put us and the Indian intelligentsia most unhappily into the position of belligerents which I dislike very much—the Government ranged on one side and the Congress on the other. What a portrayal of our position before all the East! What a picture in which to place our rule before all Europe and America!
429 Your Lordships have read many comments in Continental and other newspapers, all of whom are much struck by the position in which we have put ourselves in India in this respect. We are told now, with scarcely veiled relief, by the Government that an armistice has been arranged and that the terms of peace are being discussed. In the discussion now going on we understand that the British Government will be concerned to secure what terms they can for British interests in India, and that Congress will be concerned to secure as much as it can of the independence that it demands. Your Lordships will agree that, if that is really anything like the picture, then we should scarcely be concerned, I think, to drive any very hard bargain. None of these sorry and humiliating doings have their origin in the Montagu-Chelmsford reform scheme much as the Government may strive to deceive us into thinking so. Theirs, I repeat, is a new policy: it is also a tragic policy.
We, my Lords, on the other hand find it impossible to make either the assumptions or the omissions that are necessary to arrive at such a position. Those who have personal knowledge of India, who are in touch with well-informed sources there, who have studied the weight of evidence so lucidly compiled by the Royal Commission under Sir John Simon, cannot seriously bring themselves, if they speak what is in their hearts without fear, to make the admission that India is yet capable of assuming the form of self-government which the Round-Table Conference outlined. Nor can they bring themselves to forget that they are trustees for the welfare of the masses of India, whose daily interests imperiously demand, not merely a national Government, but more than all things an impartial and efficient Administration. That is what the great masses of the people care about in India, and nothing else at all.
We are constantly urged not to be niggardly in concession, to act with a generous spirit. My reply is that it is not the function of trustees to be prodigal with trust funds. We have an enormous trust, and neither sentimentality nor an undue sense of speed should be allowed to affect our acts. We are, after all, attempting to do in eight years and a half, for a population illiterate as 430 to the vast majority, what nowhere else has been done under five or six hundred years, and we cannot forget, I think, that those who to-day urge us, as His Majesty's Government do, to use concession, must be presumed to consider India fit for self-government to-day. If that is so, if they think honestly that India is so fit, then our work is done, and what meaning is to be attached to bargaining about all these safeguards?
I believe you are going to find it enormously difficult in practice to set up any safeguards that will be effective in action. I notice that the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack did not sketch, and did not even attempt to sketch, the manner in which those safeguards are going to be carried out in practice. I may add, with all respect to the noble and learned Lord, that he did not do so because he knew he could not do so. If a century of noble service in India is to end in huckstering for concessions, to deprive the Viceroy of his power and yet to demand for him a petty power of intervention which must be both exasperating and, I think, ineffective, that is not my conception of generous statesmanship, whatever the Government's spokesmen may claim for it. I think the Government's insistence on safeguards and the noble and learned Marquess, Lord Reading's patent anxiety about safeguards are just as significant as Mr. Gandhi's candid refutation of them.
I do not believe that there is anybody in this House who, honestly speaking his mind, would deny what I say when I affirm that India is not yet fit for full self-government; what is more, His Majesty's Government know it. The Government plead for a united front as essential to the solution of the problem. I agree, but are they in a happy position to make this plea? I think it was the noble Marquess who preceded me who argued that the work of the Simon Commission was not, in fact, thrown on one side. I am afraid that I cannot concur. It may be true, no doubt it is true, that the Report of the Simon Commission was carefully perused and was very valuable to those who sat in that Conference. But the Commission had a wider purpose, and their Report was meant to be the foundation for Parliament's discussion and the basis of all Parliamentary action.
431 That is what it was intended to be, and that is why I say, with all respect to the noble Marquess, that he is wrong and that it has been thrown on one side. The Government wantonly discarded the great labours of that Commission, they wrenched the whole question violently out of the dispassionate non-Party framework in which it then revolved and initiated a new policy which certainly has gravely risked leading to Party division.
My Lords, between ourselves and Congress in India there is a fundamental difference of opinion which can never be reconciled in public conference except by concessions on our side. Think for a moment of the position of India and of Congress and you will see that Indian politicians, having taken the standpoint that they are fit for immediate self-government, cannot in the nature of things surrender that standpoint in public discussion. The only way they can modify their position is in response to the inexorable pressure of facts which we and they know to exist. I therefore venture to put before His Majesty's Government this thought: that the only real hope of progress is to bring all concerned face to face as quickly as may be with the practical difficulties of the situation as it really is. This will never come about so long as we merely continue Conferences, one after the other, and deal in words and pieces of paper.
If I am not detaining your Lordships too long, may I briefly recapitulate and, if you will forgive me, strike a personal note? I am openly a critic of His Majesty's Government—last and least of all in any Party spirit, but I hold that this is as solemn a decision in regard to India as we have ever had to face in this country, and that upon its correct solution depends the whole fate and repute of our people. I hold it as nothing less than abhorrent that into this discussion should be introduced external considerations, whether of private or public friendship. Many of us are now suffering and sacrificing much for convictions that we have held for the whole of our lives, and yet we are often accused of having no better motive than some Party objective or some personal feeling. I subscribe whole-heartedly, as I have subscribed for the last twelve or fourteen years—and I think nobody will accuse me of not stating my views 432 Openly—to the policy of the development of responsible government in India.
I am eager to see that policy carried forward as rapidly as the facts permit, but I am convinced upon the facts that India is not yet capable of immediate and full self-government or, in the present state of religious animosity and caste differences, of providing that impartial administration which is the only administration for which we can in any shape be responsible. That being the case, it seems to me that the only possible safeguard for the interests of the great mass of Indians is that the ultimate decision should effectively remain in the hands of Parliament, and should not be decided over our heads, or over the heads of more than 250 millions of Indians whose confidence is reposed in us, by any prejudgment of the issue. However onerous and painful our trusteeship may have become, I do not believe that we can yet divest ourselves of it without smashing the great work which we have done in the past. We have got for the time being to resume again, in the interests of India, some of that trusteeship and some of those functions which, for the last two years, we have regretably abandoned. We have got to face ourselves, and to get India to face, the realities of the situation. We have now, thanks to the work of the Royal Commission, a definite goal to aim at—the federation of the whole Continent of India.
When, I ask, are we going to begin the work? Not by all these Conferences. There are not yet in existence the units which will ultimately form that federation. Yet apparently the Government is proposing, by public Conference, to set up a Federal Constitution immediately—to arrange, in fact, a marriage between children yet unborn. All history teaches us, and all the great authorities agree, that true federation can only arise out of the willing surrender by autonomous States of such portion of their autonomy, in favour of the central authority, as may be necessary to secure union; and that even where union has been ardently desired, the negotiations between States have been long and difficult and agreement very hardly won. Indian history and Indian experience both teach us that the Provinces have an internal task ahead of them of the very greatest 433 difficulty, in provincial autonomy alone. The noble Marquess knows that full well. They will have to take over for the first time responsibility for their finances and for the maintenance of law and order, at a moment when both are in a chaotic state. Successfully to achieve this, they will require the concentrated energy of all the best men and the best brains that each Province possesses, and the same concentration will be needed to bring the negotiations for federal union to a successful issue.
Therefore this attempt to set up at the same time a hastily and arbitrarily compounded federation at Delhi, and to thrust upon it the task of guiding the whole of India, will inevitably mean that the best brains will be drawn from the Provinces, where they are so badly needed, to the centre; that attention will be diverted from the bask before the Provinces at a moment when they need it most urgently, and that, therefore, every seat of government in India will become overloaded and undermanned at the same time. These, my Lords, are some of the reasons why we, who differ from the Government policy, plead for a business-like conception of this great problem of federation. What is the use of talking about the spiritual ideals of federation? Idealism yoked to inexperience looks like to ruin India! No country like India, with so many diverse peoples, can possibly support a dual experiment of such magnitude at the same time. Are we not surely right then in saying that the Government are showing a disregard of the facts so light-hearted as to appear almost cynical? Are we not right, too, however much criticism we may earn, to counsel caution and moderation in this enormous problem, and to suggest that procedure step by step is the only practical means of securing a sure foundation and a durable building? I hope your Lord ships will agree that when the problem is viewed thus, in its proper perspective, no other course is either honourable or expedient.
§ LORD ISLINGTON
My Lords, at this hour it is unnecessary for me to say that my observations shall be as brief as possible, but there are one or two remarks which I would like to make arising out of the Motion which has been submitted to the House by the Duke of 434 Marlborough. I cannot claim that recent intimate experience in Indian matters which some of the distinguished noble Lords who have spoken can claim, but some years ago I had over six years intimate experience, uninterrupted, of the administration of India, and as Under-Secretary of State during that period it was my business, along with others, to participate in the main spade work of the 1919 India Reform Act. It was admitted in those days to be a very great experiment. It was inevitable, in those early days, that such an experiment, giving autonomy to the Indian community in many subjects, should have imperfections, but I believe that in spite of the imperfections, from experience ranging over ten years since the inception of the Act, it may be said, and is said by many qualified to give an opinion, that in many of the Provinces (I do not say all), the Legislatures and their Executives have worked well under that Act. That Act was, of course, as has already been said, an inevitable and necessary corollary of the previous Act, known as the Morley-Minto Act, and under that 1919 Act there was instituted the system of diarchy.
Recent investigation, rather widespread as it is, has criticised severely the working of the diarchical system. Looking back upon it, whilst I had deep apprehensions as to its workings, I think it may be said that with all its imperfections it produced those practical and sensible safeguards in the experiment of a new Constitution which are being abandoned to-day in the proposals, as I submit, of the Government. Diarchy may be a clumsy thing, but it was at any rate not due to diarchy, or any of the provisions of that Act, that we have had the situation in India that we have seen during the last year. I venture to say that it has been due to the lack of promptness and effectiveness of the administrative powers to whom the duties have been entrusted. It is proposed to abolish the diarchy and to put safeguards in its place. I look with deep apprehension at provincial autonomy as now accepted by all Parties. I have no fear of being called a reactionary in these matters. I merely say this in face of all that has taken place in India and what we know has gone on there, that I cannot conceive that you could have any provincial system of autonomy with an Indian 435 as Minister in charge of that Department which has regard to safety and security by the administration of the police. You have divergent and conflicting races, and as it has been in the past so I believe it will be for many years in the future. If you are to ensure security you must have British impartiality to preside over the administration.
It is said also that much has been done at the Round-Table Conference. From the very start, with I admit, my immature experience of India and its people, I was opposed to the Conference. I realised in the early days the wisdom of inserting in the Act of 1919 an instruction to Parliament to appoint, at the end of ten years, a Statutory Commission to go out to India. For what purpose was that Statutory Commission appointed? It was not appointed, as it seems to most Indians and, I am sorry to say, to many of my fellow-countrymen, to be a starting-off point for a gigantic leap from the early stages of constitutional government as laid down in the Act of 1919 to practically complete self-government. That was not in the mind of the most enthusiastic of the authors of that Act, the late Mr. Montagu, who was Secretary of State for India and a colleague of mine in the office. He, together with everyone else (and Parliament realised the sense of it at the time), put this forward and it was inserted in the Act in order that after ten years of this tremendous experiment—for it is a tremendous experiment—an impartial British Commission should go out to India to see what had been successful, what had been wrong and what had failed, and to propose the necessary corrections to Parliament. Of course, where there had been success, it was to propose a prudent and sensible advance of the existing Act. But it was never suggested that there should be a jump to practically entire self-government in the Provinces and by means of the brand new central Federal Legislature and Executive now being proposed or suggested by the Round-Table Conference.
The more I look into the past the more I am satisfied of the wisdom of laying down very precisely in 1919 the conditions and terms of this new reform Act. It was laid down most precisely that Parliament should hold the whole matter in its hands and that Parliament 436 alone should consider and decide what the advance should be and when it should be made. I hope the country will be brought to realise when this question comes forward in the form of new legislation, how long it is since this tremendous experiment has been at work in India. It is a short decade. During that time a great deal has taken place in India which it is very unfortunate should have taken place. Had the giving of immense powers to Indians for the first time concentrated their attention on the administration of the duties with which they were entrusted, it would have been very much easier to suggest a much wider advance. But now we have an advance in provincial autonomy, accepted by all Parties, which means that the administration of finance and of security through the police is to be handed over lock, stock and barrel to them. I say, without regarding myself for one moment as reactionary in any sense, that this is one of the gravest of the proposals and one which I hope the country will fully note and consider before giving acceptance to it through Parliament.
It was understood by the authors of the scheme of 1919 that the journey would be a long one; not a journey of one decade followed by a swing right to the end with certain safeguards only. This is the first stage of the second period, and I sincerely hope that when the time comes Parliament will consider it fully and not be hampered or impeded in its decision by outside and extraneous influence from wherever it may come. It will be the duty of Parliament and of Parliament alone to decide it. It is the duty of the British people to decide this great responsibility because it is a great responsibility, and not merely to gratify the wishes of a handful, relatively speaking, of political Indians. It is a responsibility to the vast millions of all races in India. The world is anxiously watching Great Britain to-day to see how she will come through this difficult ordeal. I trust that the common sense of the people of this country will so re-assert itself that they will send to Parliament, when the opportunity occurs I trust at no distant date, representatives who will realise their vast responsibilities in regard to India and its people.
§ LORD CLWYD
My Lords, as the hour is late I will not attempt to say all that 437 I desired to say upon the Motion which is before the House. Your Lordships, I know, are very anxious to hear the reply of the Government upon the debate. I rise simply to summarise in two or three sentences my interest in and estimate of the present situation in regard to India. It happens, as some of your Lordships may know, that throughout my time in Parliament I have taken a somewhat special interest in Indian affairs. I cannot help thinking of the contrast between the position in India to-day with what it was twenty-five or thirty years ago when I used, in another place, every year, upon the debate on the Indian Budget, on the last day of the Session, to bring forward a Motion asking Parliament to grant to the people of India a closer association in the administration of their own affairs. It is no use going into the past now. We must deal with present actualities, but I cannot help feeling that the explanation to a large extent of the present serious position in India is not that we in this country have not been willing to do the right thing, as we conceive it to be, to India, but that we have almost always been too late in doing it.
Just one word as to the Round-Table Conference. I do not agree with what is said in the Motion in regard to the Round-Table Conference. On the contrary my own personal view is that the Round-Table Conference is one of the most remarkable events of modern times, remarkable first of all for the character and extent of its representation, remarkable because of the paramount importance of the issues which it has had to discuss, remarkable in respect of the perplexity and the difficulty of the problems it had to consider, and remarkable also because of that spirit of good will, conciliation and understanding, which at all events it seemed to me, was displayed.
I also feel that a very material advance has been made through the reaching of an agreement as between the Viceroy and Mr Gandhi. It is impossible under present conditions to forecast definitely what will happen, but undoubtedly that agreement, that truce, has paved the way to what I would call a better chance of success in regard to reaching a final settlement of this most difficult problem. I am not pessimistic as to the future. What is required, I think, is that we should all devote our energies and the best 438 powers of our minds to helping forward the solution which we believe to be in the interests of India and of our own country. One essential condition of this is that what we offer to India later on should come not from one or even two Parties in Parliament, but from Parliament as a whole. Without detaining your Lordships any longer my own hope and belief is that with continuing patience, sympathy, understanding and good will, a settlement will finally be reached honourable alike to India and to ourselves.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES (LORD PASSFIELD)
My Lords, it perhaps would not be seemly to let, shall I say, the report of this debate close without a few sentences at least in answer to some of the points which have been put to His Majesty's Government. I do not apologise for putting them very briefly, but I must put them. A most conspicuous feature of this debate has been the insistence by one speaker after another, even some of those who did not personally agree with the fact, that there is a concurrence of opinion among all Parties with regard to the policy which is being pursued, and has to be pursued towards this Indian question. The noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, said he entirely disagreed, but even he stated that the policy had the concurrence of all Parties, and that is a singular and happy feature. I want to state clearly, as the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack has intimated, that it is the policy of the Government to go on with the co-operation of all Parties if other Parties are willing, and the Government will leave no stone unturned to secure that continued cooperation, subject to its own necessary responsibility for action, as long as possible; and instead of, as the noble Earl, Lord Peel, said, the representatives of the other Parties having to force their way in. I want to say here and now that the Government wish to have the co-operation of the other Parties.
The noble Earl, Lord Peel, asked me certain specific questions. I cannot deal with them in detail. He wanted to know what has been done in the last two months. The noble Lord can probably have inferred from his own experience that what has happened during the last two months has been a detailed examina- 439 tion of the questions considered by the Federal Structure Committee and the Committees of the Round-Table Conference, and that consideration has been going on, together with the expert examination of the correlated questions which were not specifically dealt with by the Federal Structure Committee but which are found on further examination of their programme to need settlement. That is going on; and, similarly, with regard to the noble Earl's question about the further assent of the Princes to the principle of federation, I think that all I can properly say at this moment is that the Government have been considering, in close conjunction with the Viceroy, the best method of facilitating the necessary discussion and agreement, and that the Viceroy is dealing with that in constant communication with the Secretary of State for India. I may remind noble Lords that many of the Princes are at this moment at Delhi attending the current Session of the Chamber of Princes, and it would not be obviously divulging any secret to say that the Viceroy is in constant communication with those Princes, and presumably on that subject.
I think the noble Earl, Lord Peel, would not grudge me passing away from his very interesting and excellent speech in view of the late hour. I must refer for a little while to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, who very frankly and very candidly announced himself as an opponent and a critic of what he called the new policy which he thought had been undertaken by His Majesty's Government ever since it came into office. I will not attempt to argue that at this hour, it would take too long. I would like to remind the noble Lord, as to the policy for which His Majesty's Government are of course responsible, that I am not going too far in saying it is a policy which is fully concurred in by the Viceroy. The Viceroy was not appointed by His Majesty's present Government, but His Majesty's present Government have absolute confidence in him and with him His Majesty's Government are proceeding step by step without any difference between us. I do not say that in order to shelter under the shadow of the Viceroy for the policy of the Government, but it is necessary that it should be.
440 known that we are not overruling the Viceroy, that we are not dictating to the Viceroy in this matter of policy, that we are being guided and assisted by his great knowledge and experience, and by the confidence which the Government, and, I venture to think, all Parties do place in Lord Irwin's judgment and statesmanship.
I must say one word about that because the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, very eloquently referred to the fact. Are we, he said, who have had experience and practical knowledge of India and all these questions, not right in opposing this enormous change which, he said, is due to His Majesty's Government? I cannot quite make out for whom the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, was speaking when he said "we," but if I am asked to choose between the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, and the view which he has candidly and so consistently expressed, and that of the Viceroy, I am making my choice and the choice of His Majesty's Government: we are putting our money on the Viceroy, and it is no disparagement to the noble Lord to say that we are justified in placing our confidence in the Viceroy. I am not arguing whether it is a new policy. I think I could prove it was not a new policy. I think the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, laid great stress on that fact. But even if that policy has to be expressed in new ways, may I not remind the noble Lord that new circumstances have arisen possibly even since he was in India? India has changed, and the circumstances of the last two or three years in India have to be met, and would have had to be met by any Government under any Viceroy. You can do a great deal with bayonets, but as has been said, you cannot sit down upon them. When you get a change in the spirit of India, even though that change may not penetrate into the remotest village and to the humblest ryot, when you get a change in spirit manifesting itself as it has, any Government would have to take notice of it and would have to adapt its policy to it.
The noble Lord, Lord Islington, spoke of the shortness of time. The time may be short since the Act of 1919, measured in years, but the time is not short measured by the magnitude of the change. The noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, said that the safeguards would be found 441 difficult and would be found to be even impossible. That is not the judgment of those members of his own, Party who attended the Round-Table Conference. We proceeded step by step with them as well as with the representatives of the Liberal Party. That is not the judgment of the Viceroy, and that is not the judgment of the India Office. We believe that these safeguards—which were insisted on, I am glad to say, by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, and were emphasised by the noble Marquess as a sine qua non of responsible government—can be worked out in a way which will make them, as far as anything can be real and effective, real and effective. The noble Lord, Lord Lloyd—here I must ask his pardon before departing from his speech—said what was the good of going on with these things, that we must be brought face to face with the practical difficulties, with realities. I would ask the noble Lord: Are not Conferences one of the ways of coming face to face with practical difficulties? Is not one of the practical difficulties the opinion of those who are trying to speak for India? To meet and discuss with them is one of the ways of coming face to face with the practical difficulties.
§ LORD LLOYD
The noble Lord addresses a direct question to me. Otherwise I would not interrupt him. What I mean by facing practical difficulties is coming into contact with the difficulties of daily life, which are not to be found in the Conference room, but which occur in every town and village of India every day.
§ LORD PASSFIELD
I would not wish to compete with the noble Lord in practical experience of that kind, but does he suppose that the Government are acting without advice from people who have had as much practical experience as he has had? Does he suppose the Government are acting without that knowledge? We cannot have, and I do not see how any Government can have, practical experience. A Government must rely on those who have had it. The ultimate decision must be, as the noble Lord rightly said, with Parliament. He knows perfectly well that the ulti- 442 mate decision will be with Parliament embodied in a Statute. What I think he wanted to say, and did make clear, was that Parliament was being committed in advance and that the matter was being prejudged by all these Conferences. I think very likely that may be true to a certain extent, but how is Parliament to act otherwise? The noble Lord himself did not object to the union of the three Parties in this Conference. It is the policy of the Conservative Party to act in conjunction with the Government as far as it can in this matter, it is the policy of the Liberal Party, and that necessarily does prejudge the work which results ultimately in a Parliamentary Statute. I suggest to the noble Lord that if we were to bring forward a Statute which had not been discussed beforehand, Parliament would not be in a position to consider it with any utility or value. The noble Lord also said that the decision was finally with the British people. The British people cannot be brought in except by discussion beforehand, and consequently I suggest to the noble Lord that if he will try to give us a little credit for honesty of purpose and—
§ LORD LLOYD
I think I threw no possible doubt on that. I hope I did not say anything which could be interpreted in that way.
§ LORD PASSFIELD
—a certain simplicity and directness, he would be doing the Government more justice. I must bring this to an end. I appreciate how absurd it is that I should be acting for my noble and learned friend Lord Parmoor in this matter, but as I have said, it would not have looked well in the Report if the debate had ended without anything being added from this side of the House.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.