§ Lord RANKEILLOUR rose to ask if it is the intention of His Majesty's Government to submit their proposals for the future government of India to a Joint Select Committee of both Houses of Parliament; whether it is suggested that such a Committee should report on a Bill embodying such proposals; and, if not, what will be the terms of reference? The noble Lord said: My Lords, in putting to His Majesty's Government the Question which stands on the Paper in my name I desire to say first that I am acting solely on my own responsibility and not on behalf of any persons, bodies or sections of opinion whatsoever. I would say in the second place that I propose to ask questions of His Majesty's Government on procedure only. Under the free conduct of your Lordships' House it would be possible, no doubt, for other noble Lords who desire it to deal with questions relating to the Indian Constitution on their merits, but for myself I feel that it would be presumptuous in me to embark upon this difficult and complicated field when there are so many of your Lordships who have a vast mass of direct experience and knowledge of the subject.
§ What, however, I am concerned with is that whatever may be done for the future government of India it shall be the deliberate, reasoned and unfettered act of this Parliament, and in this connection I cannot but think of the precedent of the Irish Treaty. There were in the very abnormal circumstances of that time good reasons for the procedure that was then adopted, but I submit that it is the worst precedent and should never be followed again. What was the result of the procedure then adopted? It was that Parliament was confronted by a document which it had either to accept or reject but could not amend. Parliament was put into this position. It was told: "You have either to endorse this settlement or reject it as a whole with all the617
§ very grave consequences that may follow." Such a procedure may be necessary in negotiating with foreign countries, it may be necessary in arriving at tariff agreements with our own Dominions, but when it comes to erecting a new constitutional edifice for one of our Dominions, with all the reactions and interactions that it must occasion throughout the Empire, I say that that is a position in which Parliament never again ought to be placed. Certainly the result of the action and of the procedure that was then taken is not a very happy omen when we are approaching another problem not perhaps so immediately urgent but certainly none the less complicated.
§ We have had certain statements from His Majesty's Government as to the procedure that they are about to adopt, but I think there is a good deal still in doubt. We understand, through the statement of the Secretary of State last June, that the proposals of the Government will be submitted to a Joint Select Committee. I think it is of importance to know what arm: going to be the terms of reference to that Committee. Will they be bound to the White Paper, which, as we understand, is to be put before them? Will their Report necessarily be confined to saying how far the proposals in that, White Paper can be accepted and made workable or not, or will they be free to make proposals of their own and not merely to work on the basis supplied by the Government? In other words, will it be their business only to frame or suggest the framework of a Bill, or will it be in their power to frame and suggest a policy? That is the first matter on which I should like, if possible, to have an answer from the Government.
§ The second point is this. I understand from the statement of the Secretary of State, though in some particulars it is not quite clear, that what will be laid before the Committee will be a White Paper and not a Bill. I confess that I see some danger in that procedure. You never will find out the difficulties of any question or point on which they may come to shipwreck until you have your proposals in the form of a Bill. Suppose the White Paper is submitted to the Committee. It may be vague or explicit, but, as I understand, if this procedure is 618 adopted the Committee will only report as to whether they are in agreement with the proposals in the White Paper, and if they are not in agreement what general amendments they suggest. Supposing an agreement is arrived at in the Committee, and afterwards with the Government, and a Bill is brought in which purports to embody the conclusions of the Committee. I fear that in the process of drafting that Bill new difficulties will emerge and the Bill may very likely not represent the minds and intentions of the Committee. If so, there is certain to arise an unpleasant controversy as to whether the Government in introducing their Bill have or have not carried out some agreement which they have had with the Committee.
§ There may be grave objection to proceeding by Bill, controversy excited by Second Reading debates and so on, but although there are those objections I do not think they are of very great importance, but if the Government decide not to proceed in the first instance by Bill I venture to suggest that when the Committee have arrived at their conclusions, and when some agreement has been arrived at between them and the Government, then the Committee shall not finally report but shall be allowed the full machinery of the Government's draftsmen, and so on, to produce a Bill, and their final Report shall be upon the Bill as so drafted. This, of course, involves a matter of some technique, but I do feel that it may be of very great importance in the proper approach to this subject in the future.
§ The next question that I would ask the Government is concerning the suggested collaboration and consultation with representatives of Indian opinion. This is, I think, a new suggestion. I do not know that an instruction to a Select Committee in these terms and on these lines has ever been made before. I will nut deal with the merits or difficulties involved, but I would ask whether it will be a mandatory instruction to the Committee that they have to consult with these representatives of Indian opinion, and secondly, whether these representatives are to be selected by the Government, or whether they are to be selected by some bodies or persons in India. In the third place, I presume that I may take it that, whatever the answer to these 619 two first questions may be, the manner, method and time of consultation will be in the discretion of the Committee itself.
§ I would ask also about the composition of the Committee. Select Committees of either House of Parliament, or of both Houses, may be the best tribunals for examining questions and arriving at the truth, or they may be the worst. If they are appointed solely to represent opposite points of view, and the representatives when they come into the Committee room feel that they have to maintain that point of view, and put their questions to the various witnesses in order to strengthen that point of view, then the judicial character of the Committee is lost. It is not quite a case in point, but those who throw their minds back far enough will remember that the Jameson Committee, for example, could hardly be called a model of judicial procedure, nor indeed could the Marconi Committee; and I suggest that it is important, although it cannot be altogether eliminated, that the Party or partisan character of the members of both Houses to serve on that Committee should be eliminated as far as possible. Of course I quite understand that inquiries will have to be made as to whether the proposed members are objectionable to any class of opinion vitally interested in this matter, but be that as it may I suggest that if possible the members of the Committee should be chosen from persons who have never committed themselves deeply or seriously on this subject, and perhaps I may add, who do not know too much about it beforehand.
§ Those are the questions that I would ask the Government. It would be idle to deny that there is a wide feeling of anxiety on the whole trend of the policy of the Government, and that is found among people who have no bias on this matter but who are concerned only with the future prosperity of India and the carrying out of our Imperial duty towards India and towards the Empire. Much of that anxiety is necessarily bound up with the method by which the Government approaches that question, and hence arises the importance of a full statement of procedure at the earliest possible moment, and it is in the hope that His Majesty's Ministers here present may be able to say something to allay that anxiety that I put the Question that stands in my name.620
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, my noble friend certainly requires to make no apology for bringing this subject before the House and for taking as early an opportunity as he can for ventilating some of the difficulties—for we can in this debate deal with only some of the difficulties—which stand in the way of the discussion and solution of these questions. My noble friend has pleaded, and I think with great force, that Parliament should be treated with confidence by the Government, that there should be accorded a free hand to the members of both Houses themselves to form a judgment on the issues, being as they are of the greatest importance, I might also say of momentous importance, to the country and the Empire. He has asked the Government to tell him as far as they are able at this moment the form in which this matter will be submitted to a Joint Select Committee which, we understand, is to enquire into this matter and to form a judgment upon it. He wants to know whether they will be chosen with a view to having something like a judicial decision, whether they will be bound or not bound by any reference which may be put into the Resolution under which the Committee is appointed; that is to say, whether they will be able to bring an unbiased mind to the decision which they are called upon to make. He could not have asked a more important or a more pertinent set of questions than these which I have attempted to repeat.
There has been an answer in another place. We understand at any rate that the question is to be submitted to the Joint Committee in the form of a White Paper, and I gather that the White Paper will embody the proposals of His Majesty's Government. Whether they will be in the detail which is appropriate to a Bill, that is to say, dealing with the actual form of the Bill which is intended to follow upon the consideration by the Joint Committee, or not, we do not know. We do not know how far the details will be entered into. But they will embody broadly the policy of the Government. I snake no apology to your Lordships for dwelling upon the difficulties which stand in the way of the formulation of that policy—difficulties which certainly have not been allayed in my mind by a perusal of the Proceedings of the Third Round-Table Conference. Those Papers 621 are in your Lordships' hands and you are able to judge of them.
Now please let me say at the outset that I have every admiration for the way in which the representatives of His Majesty's Government have conducted their side of that Conference. They have shown a spirit of conciliation and a resource and dexterity which are truly admirable. I do not think there has ever been a better example of how an inquiry of that kind should be managed than has been displayed by His Majesty's Government and by their representatives. But do let your Lordships remember how tremendous the problem is. The noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack speaking not very long ago to an Indian association of some kind, said that the country was making an experiment which was unprecedented. That was very moderate language to use. I sometimes wonder whether the noble and learned Viscount and his colleagues realise how unexampled are the proceedings upon which they are engaged. The experiment is certainly profoundly unprecedented, because they are trying to do in one stroke what, according to all the precedents, ought to be spread over a great number of stages. It has all to be done in one stage. A noble Lord sitting on the front Bench opposite, not here at this moment, was, I think, responsible for tile phrase which he applied to Labour policy: "the inevitability of gradualness." I do not know how far that phrase was accepted by his friends, but it did express a profound truth, which applies not only to Labour policy but to all policy. It must be inevitably gradual; and whatever the Government do, and whatever the Joint Committee settle, and whatever is the final form of the Government of India Bill which is to come, depend upon it the settlement of this question will be inevitably gradual. Let your Lordships think for a moment of the Irish question. I do not know how many times I have not in the course of my life seen that finally settled. Over and over again the politicians of the day thought they were going finally to settle it.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My noble friend and I were not in a majority in those days, but that will undoubtedly be the case in this Indian 622 policy. When this phase is past and the Bill becomes an Act of Parliament, why then for years to come over and over again the matter will come back before the Imperial Parliament to be settled, to be settled, to be settled—difficulty after difficulty. Of course it must be so. What is dangerous is to try to short-circuit it. Safe statesmanship is to accept the fact that it must be gradual. What is dangerous is to try to jump over the stages and to try to do it at once. Then great difficulties arise. Then great loss, perhaps even catastrophe follows. Therefore it is that I plead—,and there are many others, I can assure your Lordships, who agree with the views I am expressing—for great caution and great circumspection in approaching this question. We wonder whether even the Government have realised how tremendous the problem is. They have been brought up against it so closely during the past. I think that is a real danger. When you are so closely associated with a question and its infinite details you sometimes forget how big the problem is.
Think of the scale of what you are trying to do. It is a matter which is realised by many people. I notice that in his Report the noble Marquess, Lord Lothian, said:The problem which confronts us when we turn to the Federal Legislature is unexampled in history. In the first place, the Legislature itself will be charged with the affairs of 338,000,000 people within the federal sphere determined in the Constitution—a number three times as great as has ever before been brought within a single democratically governed state.This tremendous inclusion of individuals is to be applied not to a people familiar with self-government and with Western ideas, not to a homogeneous people, but to a people who are only beginning to touch the very fringe of these representative, democratic notions of the West, and are themselves an infinite number of different races and classes with different languages and religions. And we are going to try in one stage to create a complete federal system from bottom to top and apply it to this vast mass of different and differing people in the hope that it will he a success.
That is the first point. I have said that the Government propose to refer to the Joint Select Committee a complete system, lumping together the several 623 stages. I believe that is quite unexampled. Take the other examples of federation with which we are acquainted —Canada, Australia and South Africa. The Provinces, the units, existed as self-governing bodies long before the federal system was established. They had become familiar with the work; they had been trained to it before federation was established. But here that is not to be so. The Provinces are to be created as self-governing units with responsible Ministers at the same time as the federal body is to be established with its own Chambers, its own Assemblies, its own responsible Ministers, and its own Constitution. That is to be applied to the body that I have described which is anything but homogeneous already. The greatest difficulties were found, as my noble friends on the Front Bench will agree, in the Round-Table Conference in consequence.
Take, for example, the question how you are to deal with legislation which was discordant in the Federal Legislature and in the Provincial Legislature. Obviously if you were to do the whole thing in one stage you had to deal with it. How is it proposed to deal with it? You would have thought that you would make the Federal Legislature supreme, and so in name the Government propose to do, but there is actually this proposal made, that notwithstanding that an Act of Parliament has been passed by the Federal Legislature, the Provincial Legislature, with the leave of the Governor-General, may, if it likes, repeal, alter or vary that Act of the Federal Legislature. Then, apparently, if the Federal Legislature does not like it, it may approach the subject again and reverse what the Provincial Legislature has done; always, of course, with the leave of the Governor-General. Can you conceive of a more hopeless system than the system which I have described? Yet that is only one consequence of what follows if you try to do both stages at the same time.
I ask your Lordships to note another point. Not only is this Constitution to deal with the Provincial Legislatures and the Federal Legislature at the same time, but the federal body is not to be homogeneous—that is to say, the units are not to be all equal. I should think that was unprecedented and unexampled, too. Some of the units are the Provinces, some 624 of the units are under the Princes of India. They are not placed in precisely the same position under this Constitution as suggested in the Round-Table Conference. They are to differ. It does not appear quite clearly on the face of it what authority the Federal Legislature is to have over the State. I quite understand that when the Round-Table Conference was sitting they had to treat the susceptibilities of the Princes with the greatest care, but the result is a great vagueness. I am not quite sure at the end of it whether an Act of the Federal Legislature is to prevail in the independent States of the Princes or not. Is that going to be made clear in the White Paper? Are we to know when the Joint Select Committee come to consider it exactly what His Majesty's Government conceive the position of the States to be? Otherwise you will have a Federal Act passed which will have full authority in the Provinces and units belonging to the Federation but not having authority in the States. Is that a system which can continue? Does it promise any sort of permanence? Have these things been thought out? Have the Government themselves been able, while sitting in the Round-Table Conference, to think out how profoundly difficult this business of constructing a complete Federal Constitution by one stroke really is?
I must apologise to your Lordships for taking up so much time. But let me take another department of ambiguity—the position of the Viceroy. Some months ago the present Governor-General made a speech in which he foreshadowed the moment when this policy is complete and when he would become a constitutional sovereign—That was, I believe, the phrase he used—a constitutional sovereign—that is to say, he would be in the position of a constitutional sovereign. He is not, of course, a constitutional sovereign, because he is, like all of us, a subject of His Majesty the King, but he would he a constitutional sovereign in that position as regards the Indian Constitution. But that does not appear to be the Constitution of His Majesty's Government. The Constitution of His Majesty's Government seems to be to have a Legislature with a Government responsible to it, and an independent Viceroy—a very different thing from the conditions asso- 625 ciated with a constitutional sovereign. An independent Viceroy—that is to say, the Ministers will sit by the confidence of the Indian Parliament but the Viceroy, in many respects (this is the conception of the Government) will decide just as he likes without any reference to the Ministers. I say just as he likes, but I will amend that phrase and say just as he thinks it right. He will act independently of the Ministers. That is quite different from the position of a constitutional sovereign.
What I want to know is, whether the Government's idea is a feasible one, whether, after all, it is not much more likely in the long run that Lord Willing-don will be right and that in the result it will be a constitutional sovereign in the sense in which we understand the term, that is to say, a ruler who, by practice, follows the advice in every case, or in almost every case, of his responsible Ministers. That is a very difficult question. I wonder whether the Government have thought all that out. Your Lordships who have read the Bluebook are aware that the Viceroy, as the Government conceive it, is independent of his Ministers in many respects. In respect of all the reserved subjects—that is, matters like defence and external affairs—he is to be, according to the theory which the Government put forward, completely independent of his Ministers.
Besides that, there are a number of subjects like law and order and the interests of minorities and of the Services, upon which he is said to have a special responsibility. That is another of these vague phrases. I wonder what that means? It does not mean that in those cases, and in those cases alone, the Viceroy is to have the right of refusing his assent, because I suppose he has the right to refuse his assent to all legislation. He is to have a special responsibility. I really do not know exactly what, in law, that amounts to. The real point is, whether it is a matter belonging to the reserved subjects, or whether it is a matter for which he has a special responsibility, will the Viceroy be independent of his Ministers? Will he be able to do what he thinks right about the reserved subjects? Will he be able to treat in a special manner these subjects like law and order and the interests of minorities? Suppose the Indian Prime 626 Minister says: "Well, you have decided about this reserved subject, about this matter of defence, or you have decided about law and order. We are very sorry, but in that case we cannot continue to be your Ministers." What is to prevent the Indian Prime Minister saying that?
Let your Lordships think for a moment. Suppose that had been the sort of settlement—among the many settlements I remember—in Ireland. What would have happened Of course, the Irish Ministers would have made no bones about it. They would have gone to the Lord-Lieutenant and said: "You do what you think right and we shall resign." What will the Viceroy do then? Your Lordships who have studied constitutional history know the position in which a constitutional sovereign is put when he cannot get a Government. Take the question of finance, because that gives really the best example of the difficulty. I have studied the proceedings of the Round-Table Conference. There was no agreement about finance so far as I can make out. I express myself with diffidence because it is very easy to make mistakes and I may have misread or I may have misunderstood what passed. If so, I shall no doubt be corrected and I apologise if I am misleading your Lordships. But what I understand is that as a result of the Third Round-Table Conference finance was left in almost absolute chaos. There have been inquiries into it. There was a Committee presided over by my noble friend Earl Peel, and an inquiry by my noble friend Lord Eustace Percy, but the Report of neither of these two inquiries was adopted. Both were wiped out apparently and nothing was put in their place.
So far as one can make out there are to be three Budgets—the Budget of the Governor-General which is to do with the reserved subjects, the Federal Budget, and the Provincial Budget. These Budgets are to have access to the same taxes. The direct taxes—what we call the Income Tax and analogous taxes—are to be shared by these three different Budgets. They are all to have the right to put their hands into the purse. But the most striking thing of all is that in the opinion of the Government there is not enough money to go round. That is one of the most amazing results of the 627 Round-Table Conference and one of the reasons why some of us are so anxious that we should approach this subject with the greatest circumspection here.
I should like to read to your Lordships a short extract from what the Secretary of State said to the Federal Finance Committee. This is what he said:The Percy Committee showed that if affairs go well there may be just enough money to go round; but they certainly did not take the view that there is enough money to go round at present.That is the finding of Lord Eustace Percy's Committee which is quoted by my right honourable friend. Sir Samuel Hoare went on:Regretfully, however, it must be recognised that the position to-day is not substantially better from the point of view of the prospective Federal Government and the Provincial Governments than it was twelve months ago. A recent estimate of the position of the Central and Provincial Governments shows that the Central Budget is likely to balance, but it will only balance as a result of new and heavy taxation.That is the position in which the Federal Government is to be placed. Then my right honourable friend went on:In the case of the Provinces, there will he many Budgets showing deficiencies at the end of the year, and to-day no one can possibly say when these deficiencies will be wiped out.So the Secretary of State, addressing the Finance Committee of the Round-Table Conference, said that you are to have three Budgets, that each of the three authorities is to have the power of putting its hand into the purse, but in the purse there is not now enough money to go round nor is there likely to be in the near future.
I venture to paraphrase what the Secretary of State said. I confess that it is difficult to draw any conclusion from that state of things except that the moment for creating a complete federal government in India seems to be a very remarkable one. Are we really to be absolutely committed to the whole of that policy? Let us by all means keep an open mind. Let those who are going to serve on the Joint Select Committee—I do not know who they will be—approach the thing with an open mind, but surely they may ask: Why choose a moment like this, when there is not enough money to go round, to create a federal government? It is no fault of His Majesty's 628 present Ministers that this state of things exists. It is the result of the economic crisis through which the world is passing, but that does not make it better for the establishment of full federal government at this moment. It seems at any rate an occasion for great caution.
I come back to my illustration. Let us suppose upon a matter of finance that the responsible Federal Government does not agree with the Governor-General. Supposing, for example, the responsible Ministers want to carry out some public works which will cost money and they go to the Governor-General and say: "If you will diminish your demand for the Defence Budget we shall have a little money for the public works that we want," and the Governor-General thereupon replies: "I am afraid I cannot do that; Imperial considerations, my responsibility for the safeguarding of India, prevent me from doing that; I cannot agree." Then the Ministers will say: "But we must have this social improvement. We cannot be responsible for the Government if your Excellency declines to meet us and we are afraid we must resign." What reply is the Governor-General going to have in a position of that kind? He can send for some other Indian statesman who will, of course, say: "Sir, I have not got a majority. I cannot form a Government." And then he goes back to his original Ministers. What will he do? Is he going to surrender or administer without a Government? I wonder whether all these things have been faced. When I say govern without a Government I suppose that has been faced as a possibility.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My noble friend says "without Ministers" and I was coming to that point. He cannot govern without Ministers. I suppose he would have to appoint them. Will he have a staff from which he can make the appointments? What provision is there in the whole of the proceedings of the Round-Table Conference for the maintenance of the necessary staff for the Governor-General to act, if he wants to act, independently? Has that been thought out? Where will he find his Ministers, his advisers? The Indian Civil Service, the white Civil Service, is 629 rapidly coming to an end. It is being replaced by natives. I hope your Lordships will not think I am saying a word derogatory of the natives of India. They are a splendid body, but I am facing as a man of business what are the possible consequences of a policy. That is what I am trying to bring your Lordships to face. I do not know where this white staff is to come from, if it is to be a White staff. And exactly the same criticism is applicable to the position of the Governors in their several Provinces, only I am not going to trouble your Lordships with that department of the question this evening. There is no provision in the Provinces for the Governors to have a white staff on which they can rely. Where are these officials to be educated? At present, of course, there is a splendid Indian Civil Service and Englishmen and Scotsmen can go and learn right from the bottom and are then available for Governors when the time comes, but apparently that is to be got rid of.
All of these criticisms are reasons for saying how circumspect we ought to be in approaching this subject. I earnestly hope that my noble friend will not have pleaded, in vain when he asked that Parliament and the Committee of Parliament should have a free hand. After all, there is no Party question in this. The uneasiness which is felt is not felt by the opponents of His Majesty's Government it is their followers who are uneasy. That is where the difficulty lies. I need not say that we are most anxious to do what we can to support the policy of the Government, but we cannot contemplate that a Committee of this kind should sit fettered in their judgment upon issues so vital, so complicated and, as I have tried to show, so difficult as this problem of the future of India. I hope that when we come to see the White Paper and the reference which I suppose it will contain for the guidance of the Joint Committee, it will be found that a free hand is left to the Committee not only as to details, but as to the scope of this great constitutional experiment—this unprecedented experiment, in the words of the Lord Chancellor—and that we shall find that His Majesty's Government really trust your Lordships and sally trust the House of Commons and will leave them to find, as they must find 630 if they fulfill their responsibilities, the best way to solve the problem of Indian administration.
§ LORD PONSONBY OF SHULBREDE
My Lords, I had not intended to intervene in this debate, but the important speech the noble Marquess has just delivered makes me feel that it is incumbent on me to register some protest. This Question was put down on the Paper by the noble Lord, Lord Rankeillour, in specific terms. He asked that Question in a most admirable speech, master as he is of all Parliamentary procedure, and I think the majority of your Lordships expected that that Question specifically asked would be accordingly answered. Instead of that the noble Marquess who has just sat down has ranged over the whole problem. I know that the procedure of your Lordships' House allows a noble Lord to expand the subject on the Paper with great latitude, but on the occasion of so important a subject that we should be unexpectedly plunged into the whole Indian controversy is, if I may be allowed to say so, regrettable. So little did I expect it that I prevented one of my noble friends who was very anxious to speak in the Indian debate from intervening to-day because I knew there would be ample opportunity when the Resolution came before your Lordships' House setting up the Joint Committee.
Now the noble Marquess who has just sat down has emphasised the importance of this question. He has said that it is one of the most tremendous questions with which any British Government has ever had to deal, and I am sure that we all of us subscribe to that. Why then, may I be allowed to ask the noble Marquess, does he drag this important and tremendous subject in as a side issue, on a day when nobody is expecting it? Moreover, I would also like to say that to the numberless questions that he asked, judging from the emphasis which he placed on some of these very important constitutional, political and racial issues, I suppose he expects an answer, and yet at the same time he must know that the Minister in charge, having responsibility to answer the Question on the Paper, cannot be led away into a debate on the whole subject. I hope the noble Marquess will not mistake the tone that I am adopting, but I do feel that with the great opportunities which are allowed for 631 full dress debates in this House, on an occasion when a question is asked only on a point of procedure it is regrettable that we should be led by the noble Marquess who carries so much weight in this House into a debate of this kind.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I should just like to say this in apology. The noble Lord says in effect: "Why do you not wait until the White Paper is laid before the House? That will be your opportunity." It is because I want, if I can, to influence the form of the White Paper that I thought it necessary to make my speech earlier.
§ THE MARQUESS OF READING
My Lords, I confess I feel with the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition that it is a disadvantage to members of your Lordships' House to have a debate of this kind comparatively forced upon them, because the noble Marquess cannot speak in this House without almost compelling a reply. His position, his great experience and influence, his public services alone, would demand that there should be an answer, but we are in a great difficulty. I do not myself complain in one sense of unpreparedness, because I admit that I have taken a considerable part in attendance at Round-Table Conferences and I know something of the subject. Nevertheless, we are at a great disadvantage, because the noble Lord who introduced the matter put, as I thought, very pertinent questions, and, if he will permit me to say so, did so with quite admirable restraint, and expressly refused to be drawn into detailed discussion of the subject.
I quite understand the importance of what he asked and no doubt we shall have an answer. I do not profess to speak for the Government, but I cannot myself believe that any procedure which will be adopted, on the recommendation of the Government, can take away the responsibility from members of Parliament to bring to bear upon the problem submitted to them their own judgment, to form their own conclusions and express their views. The noble Marquess has very long experience, much longer than mine, and yet I do not know whether he imagined that any device resorted to, supposing it was deemed desirable, could take away from members of Parliament the responsibility placed 632 upon them. He must realise that they must exercise their judgment; but that does not mean that they would refuse to consider the advice given to them by any Joint Select Committee set up to examine the whole subject. Whether that Committee will be composed of those who have taken part in dealing with this problem, or of those who have had nothing to do with the problem hitherto, I cannot say. That is a matter for the Government. But whatever it may be, there will be a Joint Committee, with Reports of the Round-Table Conference, and Government assistance to the extent of all the work, the immense amount of work, that has been done by the Civil Service, for which all those who have had to handle the problem of India must be extremely grateful.
I cannot imagine that that Joint Select Committee's advice is to be in any sense disregarded, and I do not suppose, really, for a moment, that the noble Marquess meant that. I am rather puzzled to understand exactly what was meant, because you start with these two things, from which I understood him to address his observations to us. In the first place, Parliament must retain its authority and exercise its judgment, and secondly, the Select Committee must be free to exercise its judgment. I do not understand what is meant by setting up a Joint Select Committee, whatever the terms of reference may be, to which a White Paper is to be entrusted for the purpose of drafting or superintending the drafting of a Bill. How can it be suggested that the Joint Select Committee will not have the right, and indeed the duty and the solemn obligation, to exercise its judgment for the purpose of helping Parliament when it comes to consider the enormous number of questions involved? I only wish that the noble Marquess, with all his advantages of experience and knowledge of Parliament, could have sat with, us at the Round-Table Conference. I can assure him—he will forgive me for saying so—that if he had he would not have put the questions he has addressed to the House to-day. I do not mean that he would not have put questions pertinent to the Question asked by Lord Rankeillour, but I do mean the puzzles and perplexities and problems which he seemed to think had never been 633 before the Round-Table Conference and, so far as I can judge, that he and his friends have discovered though only examining the subject at leisure.
Will he forgive me if I suggest that one of infinitely less experience, influence and knowledge in this House could have put just as good questions, and even better, because the more you think of this problem the greater must be the importance of the questions to which you must address yourselves I would suggest to the noble Marquess that he might at least give credit to the members of the Round-Table Conference, to the Government arid to the civil servants who have been engaged constantly, daily and very often nightly, in working at these problems, when they have been devoting themselves to them for months at a time over a period of years—problems which have presented themselves to him and even to those who only take a superficial view of the subject. I hope the noble Marquess will not think I am suggesting that he was taking only a superficial view. I know he has taken a great interest in this problem and for my part I welcome it, even though he may not agree with the views of all of us—perhaps may differ from some views which I hold.
I am not responsible for the answer that will be given by the Government, and I do not know in what terms it may be given, but I do agree entirely with him in the suggestion that both the Select Committee and Parliament must be left free and unfettered to use their judgment, provided always that he means, as I think he must mean, after carefully listening to and studying the advice that may be given both by the Select Committee and by the responsible Minister in charge of India and by the Government which has taken the responsibility of adopting his recommendations. I assure him that if he had been present at these various Conferences and Committees he would never have suspected that the Secretary of State and those who were advising him had not really examined the problem. I would like to take this opportunity, which presents itself for the first time in Parliament since the Third Round-Table Conference sat, of expressing my admiration for the way in which the Secretary of State and those associated with him conducted the affairs of the Conference, and 634 devoted themselves to striving to find a solution of the problem, being conciliatory always, nevertheless remaining firm wherever it was necessary in the Imperial interest that no concession should be made. Day after day as I listened I could not but admire all that was done, all the thought given, and all the work devoted to elucidating the problem.
I hope the noble Marquess will forgive me if I do not follow in detail some of the questions he put. I will only attempt to deal with what seem to me the two major questions. I am not going into the interrogatories he put to the Government with regard to conflicts that might arise between the. Federal Parliament and the Provincial Parliament. Those are really quite minor questions. They may loom large on a first glance at a Report, but I am sure that the noble Marquess will agree that they are only solutions which must be suggested when trying to frame a Constitution. May I make a few general observations before I answer the two main theses upon which the noble Marquess addressed the House? One with regard to the powers of the Viceroy, and the other as to the position of finance. Nobody will dispute that your approach to the first problem must be gradual. Surely, it has been gradual. I do not want to travel back to history, but let us go back a comparatively few years. It began with the reforms which were introduced at the time when Lord Morley was Secretary of State and Lord Minto Viceroy. It proceeded until 1919, when there was the great Government of India Bill, and there has been discussion ever since. For three years we have been discussing it in conference.
May I remind the noble Marquess of a few facts only which I am sure he had not forgotten, but which, nevertheless, I cannot help thinking, he had not taken sufficiently into account in the observations he made? He knows perfectly well that as regards Provincial Legislatures there is complete agreement, as I understand, among all Parties and all sections of Parties that there shall be now complete autonomy. The moment you have arrived at that you have solved a great many of the problems of the noble Marquess. There is no dispute about it. Even those who are more strongly opposed to the Round-Table Conference than the noble Mar- 635 quess have not disputed that. The moment you agree about that there is only one problem and that is the responsibilty at the Centre. It is not as if you were approaching the problem for the first time. We have been discussing it for long, and now it is proposed to go further. The Simon Commission reported unanimously in favour of giving provincial autonomy. Once you have settled that, these questions that have arisen about the Governor's position, what will happen if the Ministers resign because something is done that they do not wish and so on, are all answered. The moment you have accepted the recommendation for provincial autonomy you have answered the argument of the noble Marquess. I do not mean for a moment that you have solved all the problems. Of course not; those have still to be discussed. But you have agreed upon your policy, and that is all we can discuss here in its major outlines.
The next, and the really important question, is the transfer of responsibility at the Centre. There you have certainly two opposing schools of thought. One: Give provincial responsibility but retain the Centre as it is. Another, backed by all the Indian politicians who have been here and all grades of thought in India, is that it is an impossibility to have provincial autonomy if you do not make some transfer of responsibility at the Centre. The difference between us is as to the extent of the responsibility. They, no doubt, would desire to go much further than many of us in the extension of this responsibility at this moment. But that is really the great problem. Then, over and above that, comes the more important question of federation. I shall not discuss that. It is far too large a subject in a debate of this kind. But if you are to have any element of responsibility transferred at the Centre does the noble Marquess doubt that, assuming an agreement on the main lines with the Princes and others, there should be federation? Can anyone doubt that an All-India Government, federal in character, would be far better for the guidance and administration of India as a whole than the unitary system which at present exists? I have never heard it denied, and, so far as I am aware, no 636 leader of thought has ever taken the point of view that federation is a mistake.
When the noble Marquess says that you must proceed gradually I doubt whether anybody would care to dispute it. Certainly I would not. I am with him entirely. I do not want to talk of any part that I have taken, but in so far as I have entered into discussion of this question I have held that it must be gradual. My desire, and the desire, as I understand, of the Government is that there should be the approach now being recommended, a very definite direct step ahead which we hope will satisfy Indians, and, so far as we can gather, does satisfy the majority of Indians, and is an advance along the lines on which Indians quite properly and naturally wish to travel, and may look forward. If that is the case, and assuming the noble Marquess is not against a federal government, and recognising with him that there are immense difficulties and the gravest problems, is that any reason why we should refuse to consider it? I do not suppose that he would advance that for a moment, and I am in agreement with him when he says you must examine everything with the utmost care, because whatever you may do is fraught with such great importance to the Empire and to India itself.
May I deal for a moment only with the two questions to which he mainly addressed himself? One was as to the position of the Viceroy. Will he allow me to suggest that there is not such a vast difference between the position of the Viceroy as he indicated it for the future and the position of the Viceroy as it exists at the present time. I am not referring to what the present Viceroy, Lord Willingdon, said—I do not remember the exact words—to the effect that some time in the future apparently the Viceroy would be merely a constitutional Governor-General. We are not dealing with that. That is not the problem before us at all. No one would for a moment suggest that the Viceroy has not immense powers now, subject always to control by Parliament through the Secretary of State. The Viceroy continues to have those powers. In some respects there is a subtraction from his powers by the creation of Ministries responsible to the Legislature in certain areas, wide areas no doubt, always with 637 certain safeguards. What is there to frighten us in that? I admit—and it is right I should say it—that the Viceroy will have certain very grave responsibilities. He has them already. Ultimately everything falls upon the Viceroy in India, and he will still continue to have responsibility.
I was surprised when the noble Marquess asked: "What is to happen in relation to this undertaking of responsibility by the Viceroy for law and order?" Has not the Viceroy that now? Has not he had it ever since you have had a Governor-General? And have you not it stated in the Act of 1919? We took care of that in the Round-Table Conference, and after considerable debate and notwithstanding that the Indians desired and insisted upon law and order being transferred to the Provinces, in regard to which there is no dispute, they agreed that there should be these emergency powers in the Governor and that there should be over-riding powers in the Viceroy. They recognised that so long as you have a Viceroy, which is the only form a government we are now considering, the Viceroy must have the supreme responsibility for tranquillity and peace in India.
Let me add, to the credit of the Indians who were taking part in that debate, that they showed great sagacity and wisdom, and an appreciation of the different points we put. They not only agreed that that must happen, but, without debate of any kind, also fell in with the notion that there must he powers in the new Constitution whereby the Viceroy should be able to implement the special powers conferred upon him, so that he should not be left in a position of having the responsibility without the power of carrying out whatever his obligations might be. All that has been most carefully discussed and thought out and is intended to be provided. I am quite sure when the noble Marquess comes to see the White Paper—I imagine it will deal with these matters—he will find, at least in the Report, that that has been studied meticulously, and that by agreement on these points we have arrived at a solution with the Indians. I do not wish to take up more time upon that.
There is only one other matter and that is finance. I agree that the noble 638 Marquess was quite right in saying that we have gone but a very little way in finance. The reason of it was almost suggested by his own observations. It is because of the special conditions of the world.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I quite recognise that. I did not find any fault with anybody because of the special conditions of the world.
§ THE MARQUESS OF READING
I do not think the noble Marquess quite follows what I said. I was just intimating that lie had not said that. The noble Marquess made play naturally enough in argument about some observations that had been made, very pertinent observations, about the difficulties in starting this Federal Government and these Provincial Governments with deficits. Unfortunately deficits have come to be recognised almost in every country of the world, not only in India but in the richest countries of the world. We have had to face them, and of course they have to face them there. Even all that has been studied. There was a Committee over which my noble friend Earl Peel presided which enquired into federal finance. There may have been some variations, perhaps small in one or two respects, but as a result of a good deal of discussion solutions were found; not solutions which will bind Parliament, but solutions that are to be submitted to Parliament and to which the Indian members have agreed. All that can be dealt with. The noble Marquess used the expression in regard to finance that it was left rather in a chaotic state. I will not use the word chaotic, but I might choose one which approaches it very closely.
§ THE MARQUESS OF READING
Not a bit. Really the position is an extremely difficult one, and, in very few words, it amounts to this. The Government recognise that it would be impossible to make a transfer of finance to a Federal Government in the present conditions of the world, that it could not be done at this moment without impairing credit. It was suggested at one time that some means should be found of meeting that difficulty, but after very close and careful examination it was discovered that none of the means suggested would really meet 639 the difficulty and in the end the conclusion, as I understand, was forced upon the Government by events that they could not make a transfer without some risk of impairing the credit of India, and consequently they were against it. Some of us were very anxious that there should be some transfer because of the difficulty of starting a responsible Government without responsibility for finance, but all who examined it have to come to the same conclusion as the Government. The Indians approached it from the same standpoint and definitely were against any refusal to transfer finance and insisted that there must be a transfer, but as a result of many discussions, into which I need not now enter, they were forced to the same conclusion which we all had reached, that it could not be clone at this moment with the finances of the world in their present condition.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
Perhaps the noble Marquess will allow me to ask a question? How is it proposed to establish a Federal Government without dealing with finance?
§ THE MARQUESS OF READING
I was coining to that, but I will deal with it now. As far as I understand the position it is not intended to do it. You cannot do it. We on the Parliamentary Delegation all agreed, and the political Parties and, as I gather, the Indians also after much discussion agreed, that to make any transfer possible you must first deal with exchange and currency. But in order to do that you must found a reserve bank. Founding a reserve bank in itself will not do it. You must have the confidence that a reserve bank is intended to create. You must, therefore, accumulate reserves for that reserve bank so that it may be able to meet any drafts made upon it in consequence of a tax on the exchange, either natural or artificial. Consequently, you must first get the bank, then the accumulation or reserves, and thirdly the confidence which will be created by the management of that bank. That bank is to be entirely non-political. It is to he managed quite outside politics altogether; it is to be carried on for the purpose of safeguarding and stabilising the finances of India and managing and administering currency and exchange. Let me say that that conclusion was agreed upon by all who took part in the 640 discussion, by the Indian politicians who are experts in finance and by all those taking part in it.
The noble Marquess may say; "But meanwhile?" That has been the problem. What can be done meanwhile? Are you to wait for all these three things which may undoubtedly take some time As I indicated just now attempts were made to find a means of doing it, but none were satisfactory, and if I may put it in one sentence I would say that it is very difficult to have an intermediary system carried on to maintain the credit of India and give confidence in it and simultaneously accumulate reserves for the reserve bank, manage currency and exchange and create confidence in the reserve bank. It is because of these difficulties that this interregnum had to be abandoned. We are left with the position that we have to wait for the reserve bank. The noble Marquess is no doubt thinking at this moment, how long is that to take? As I understand it nobody is prepared to say. He would be a reckless person who would prophesy and still more reckless if he introduced into an Act a period of years. Everything depends upon what is going to happen in the world in the next few years.
We were confronted, not only the Parliamentary Delegation and the Government representatives but the Indians, with the very difficult question what is going to happen meanwhile Various views were suggested and, as I understand the situation—no doubt whoever speaks for the Government will correct me if I am wrong—it is that nobody can say at this moment what will happen. The Indian position has been—as far as I am concerned I agree with them: I do not know exactly what is the Governrnent's view—that they do not want the system put into operation until there can he a transfer of finance. That, no doubt, helps the gradualness to which the noble Marquess referred. It is unfortunate in many ways, but it is no use, as the Indians properly say, having a responsible Government to which you do not entrust finance. You cannot entrust them with finance at present because you do not want to hinder in the slightest degree the credit of India. That is how the situation is left. I am sure if the noble Marquess knew of all the discussions that have taken place he would 641 not, for a moment, have thought that anybody had failed to devote his mind to the problem. We realised throughout that in dealing with federation we were considering a problem of the vastest magnitude ever placed before the world.
§ THE MARQUESS OF READING
I agree with the noble Marquess that fraught as it is with the utmost consequence to the destiny of India and the Empire, the greatest attention should be given to it and every latitude should be permitted. Every thought that may be in mind should be uttered, every judgment should he brought to bear upon the subject, so that in the end, after discussion in Parliament following upon the long discussions we have had in Conference, a solution may be found which I believe, if found, will provide India for a long period ahead with the safest and the wisest form of government that has yet keen imagined or suggested.
§ EARL PEEL
My Lords, I do not wish to detain you for more than three or four minutes. The noble and learned Marquess has dealt with one or two of the questions which have been raised, but I trust that I may be still allowed to gay one or two words on the special point of the difficulties in the way of setting up a reserve bank. The noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, in his speech dealt with some other questions—not the purely technical questions connected with the setting up of this bank, but general questions of federal finance. I should like to say a word or two upon that because the general effect of what the noble Marquess said was to cast a good deal of doubt, I think—or at any rate it might be so interpreted—upon the solidity of Indian finance. The noble Marquess referred to a Committee over which I presided, and I think he unwittingly presented the case as something different from what it actually was. He said there had been certain Finance Committees, one of them presided over by my noble friend Lord Eustace Percy and another by myself, and that they had not come to any conclusion.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
No, I did not say that. I should be very much surprised if my noble friend with his 642 great ability did not come to a conclusion. What I said was that his conclusion was not followed and his Report had been set aside.
§ EARL PEEL
I am glad to have the exact words of my noble friend because that statement is not quite correct, if I may say so. He left out one or two steps in the history. There was a Committee on Federal Finance over which I presided and we arrived at certain conclusions. At the moment they seemed acceptable to those interested in the subject, but subsequently a Committee was appointed of which Lord Eustace Percy was Chairman, and that Committee went out to India to examine the financial facts of the time in the light of those conclusions and made certain criticisms upon them. Of course the financial situation in those years altered and on the last occasion there was a Federal Finance Committee appointed, of which I was Chairman, which presented certain conclusions meeting, as it were, those difficulties and changes in finance which had supervened during those two or three years. But there was not really any great change in our attitude. The main lines of all those Reports were much the same—that is to say, there was no great difference of opinion between the taxes allocated to the Centre and those allocated to the Provinces. It is true that one would have liked a little more finance to play with, as it were, but that, as the noble Marquess has said, is an incident in most countries at the present time.
I do want to say on behalf of Indian finance that I think it would be regrettable that anything should be said which would lead anyone outside to form the idea that the strength of the Indian financial position is not fully recognised. Let me say first that the Indian Debt is practically entirely represented by assets. There is not a single country in the world that can compare with India in that, and it is a matter when you are considering the management of the Indian financial situation to consider that if India were sold up to-morrow it would be able to dispose of its assets and pay off pretty well the whole of its Debt.
§ EARL PEEL
My noble friend would probably be one of the most eager buyers. May I return to the differences about finance? I think they are far greater than have been supposed. I am brought there by the noble Marquess and, except under his skilful guidance, I should not have deviated into matters which I do not think are strictly relevant to the Question; but he has been my Leader for some years in your Lordships' House and I always follow, if I can, whether he is right or wrong, his guidance. The main questions really are as to who is to get the Income Tax and that is a difficult subject in any federal system to consider. I am not going into the different methods in different countries—in Australia, for example, where they have concurrent Income Tax—but the main difference between the first and the later Reports is that in the one case the Federal Government kept some and handed some over to the Provinces and in the other it was recognised that it belonged to the Provinces. In that question a lot of difficult problems are involved, but on the whole matter let me say that you must not underestimate the solid position in which the finances of India are at the present time.
Let me say one word about the Question of the noble Lord. All I am anxious about is that Parliament should be provided with all the information on this immensely complicated subject. I do not think the noble Marquess has exaggerated that because in his speech he only really dealt with four or five of the four or five hundred problems with which we had to deal in these Conferences. I want Parliament to be presented with the fullest information in an accessible form in order that it may make its judgment with full knowledge upon these great matters. I do not say that anybody could read through those long discussions or debates of those three Conferences: but I submit that unless noble Lords and the members of another place make themselves really conversant with most of what has been said and argued on the leading problems they will hardly be able to deal with so great a subject.
My last point is this. My noble friend —and of course I defer to his great knowledge of all matters of procedure—seemed to suggest that partisans should not sit upon this Committee. I rather 644 hope partisans will sit and for this reason. During the last Round-Table Conference it was very unfortunate, I thought, that the members of the Labour Party, though they were invited to serve, did not serve. I thought it was unfortunate that you did not have their views and statements in that Conference. In a similar way I should be sorry if on this Conference people, if I may name one, like Mr. Churchill, or any noble friend Lord Lloyd—if people of that kind are not invited to serve. I think a little partisanship is useful.
§ LORD RANKEILLOUR
Surely a Conference is one thing and a Joint Select Committee to deal with the details of a subject another?
§ EARL PEEL
They are totally different, but I am only expressing my hope that the views of partisans or people who hold possibly rather extreme views will be generally represented. I quite recognise the distinction between a Conference and a Select Committee of this kind. Finally, I feel that in all the years that this subject has been discussed a great deal of information has been given in such a form that it might be put before members of the Select Committee and that they might really be able to judge it far more easily than if those three Conferences had not taken place. I hope the Government will be able to show that when that Committee is set up full opportunities will be given for all these matters to be discussed, and that when Parliament comes to consider them its judgment and freedom will not be fettered except in this way, that it will have to apply its considered judgment to the situation with a full knowledge of all the facts of the case.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF EDUCATION (LORD IRWIN)
My Lords, the debate to which the Question of my noble friend has given rise has been concerned with a topic that is likely to engage a great deal of the attention of Parliament during the coming months and I make no complaint of the fact that it has ranged over a considerably wider field than that indicated by the Question on the Paper. Indeed, the noble Marquess who was responsible for giving the debate that wider turn, was courteous enough yesterday to inform me of his desire to do so, and I assured him 645 that so far as I was concerned I had no objection to his doing so, even if I had any right or power to feel objection, always provided that he would similarly respect my liberty of reply. For that reason the debate has been concerned with two rather distinct groups of questions.
The attention of your Lordships has peen directed in two or three admirable speeches, if I may say so, to the larger constitutional issues that emerge from the Indian problem and has also been directed with great lucidity and conciseness to practical problems of procedure that concern the proposals connected with the Joint Select Committee. May I begin by saying a word or two only as to the first group of questions of a general kind that the noble Marquess introduced to the House? I was very glad, if he will permit me to say so, that the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, dealt as he did with a good deal of what fell from the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, on that head. I think he was justified in saying that the noble Marquess had been rather less than just to those persons, whether in the Government or in the Civil Service, who had for a very long time been applying their minds, with greater or less success, to all those problems that he had in his mind and many others. I certainly hope that none of us who may be, in whatever degree, brought into contact with these problems will lightly be accused of losing our perspective of the difficulties by that fact. I can assure the noble Marquess, on behalf of my right honourable friend for whom I am speaking, and on behalf of myself and all members of the Government, that we are not insensible to any of the difficulties that these questions contain, and that at all times we are sensible, as the noble Marquess said, of the necessity of the utmost caution and deliberation in any approach to their attempted solution.
The noble Marquess speaks in this House with great authority, and his words fall with great weight and authority behind them. Therefore he may rest assured that whatever he says will not he lightly treated by the Government. If I am not impertinent in saying so, I always feel, whether I agree or disagree with his views, that they are at least, so far as I or your Lordships are concerned, entitled to and certain of 646 receiving great respect. He will, however, forgive me if I do not follow him in detail over the course that he has ridden himself, and that for what, to my mind, is a good reason. I do not forget the argument that the noble Marquess himself employed with great force at the time of the last main debate which your Lordships had on this subject, I think in December a year ago. The whole burden of his then argument was that it was undesirable and unreasonable to ask the House to reach a decision, and I rather think to enter upon a full discussion, before the material necessary for forming a proper judgment was available. He said that we were not then in possession of all the information which ought to he at our disposal. I ventured to feel at that time that his argument for the purpose of that debate was not a sound one, because the purpose of that debate was, as my noble friend had occasion to point out, merely to authorise the Government to continue investigation on the general lines declared and made known to Parliament—to authorise them to send out to India various Committees, and so on, and to continue consultations with the Princes, and to make preparations for the final stages of the Round-Table Conference.
In the judgment of the Government all that was a general purpose for which the general indication of the Government's views was not inadequate for the decision to which the House at that stage was invited to come. I think, however, that the argument which was unsound then is sound now, because a great deal has happened since. Parliament is in possession of the Reports of these Committees, and we have passed from the stage of conducting investigations to very close approach to the point at which Parliament will be invited to consider a definite project of legislation. Therefore if the case is as I understand it is, that the Government will be in a position to produce the White Paper containing specific, definite and precise proposals before Easter—that is to say in the course of a very few weeks; and that these proposals then will be subject to careful examination by a Joint Select Committee—I would suggest that on the Motion to set up that Joint Select Committee, with these definite proposals in the hands of your Lordships and before Parliament, 647 would be a more convenient time to take the opportunity of a full debate and to examine every one of these questions to which the noble Marquess so rightly feels that great importance attaches.
I do not therefore dwell, to-day, and I think your Lordships would scarcely wish me to dwell, upon those questions which he mentioned, such as the different relations between the different units of the Federation or the general question of finance, except on that to make just one observation. The noble Marquess, Lord Reading, and the noble Earl, Lord Peel, have already from different points of view dealt with aspects of that rather comprehensive term finance, and I only wish on behalf of the Government to reinforce in a sentence what fell from Lord Peel, by way of correction of what might otherwise be a misapprehension derivable from a general statement made by the noble Marquess on the state of this financial question as left by the Round-Table Conference. It is quite true, as Lord Reading, of course, knows better than anybody, that the Round-Table Conference did not bring this question to a solution. At the same time I think it is doing an injustice both to the Round-Table Conference and to Lord Peel, who made a notable contribution by his Chairmanship of the Financial Committee, to describe it as left in something approaching chaos. That is, I think, a great understatement of what was done.
§ LORD IRWIN
The conditions of the present day are exceedingly difficult, and in one sense exceedingly fluid, and I do not think therefore it is really possible to produce a final definite scheme until you want to put that scheme into force, and you have the most recent situation to deal with, in the light of which you have to draw up a scheme upon which you will have to proceed. For these reasons I think it is not altogether unreasonable to suggest that the debate on the Government proposals would be more usefully held when these proposals are reduced from general propositions to more detailed form. I am, however, sanguine enough to hope that when that White Paper is available the noble Marquess will find that many of his anxieties, which he is not alone in feeling, have been met by the proposals which His Majesty's Gov- 648 ernment will make, and that the White Paper that His Majesty's Government will propose to lay will be found to have covered the undertaking that they have repeatedly given to Parliament to secure means by which this country through its servants, high and low, in India can discharge its great and continuing obligations.
But, of course, the original purpose of this debate was not to discuss these constitutional proposals, not yet before the House, but to elicit information on the precise procedure that is in contemplation. The noble Lord who asked the Question referred to the statement made by my right honourable friend in another place, I think in June of last year. There was, as he will remember, another statement made by my right honourable friend on July 13, which will not have escaped his attention, but which I think carried the matter a little bit further, and I do not know that I have a great deal to add to what my right honourable friend there said. But I will try to answer the specific points that my noble friend put. First of all, I have said enough, I think, to make it clear that the Joint Select Committee will not be dealing with a Rill, but with full proposals that His Majesty's Government would propose to issue as a Command Paper and as material for a Bill when the time for legislation is reached. In that connection my noble friend had some observations to make as to possible inconveniences that he foresaw in that procedure, by the danger of misunderstanding arising after the Report had been furnished on the White Paper but had not yet been translated by the Government draftsman into a Bill. The suggestion that he makes on that matter is one of interest and of importance, coming from him with his technical experience, and I would ask him at this stage not to press me to say more than that I will convey it to my right honourable friend and see that it receives his careful consideration.
Speaking generally, I think it is true to say that the procedure so suggested does in fact secure a greater liberty and a wider field for Parliamentary examination than would be secured in any other way. I agree entirely with what has fallen from noble Lords who have contributed to this debate as to Parliament being free and unfettered in its discus- 649 sion of these matters. Parliament cannot, indeed, be anything else, and it was largely with that view that His Majesty's Government decided to follow the procedure of laying their proposals in the form of a White Paper before Parliament was committed to the Second Reading of the Bill, or even so far as in theory it might be held to be committed by the First Reading of an actual And though the procedure is a novel one, I do not think that any of your Lordships would assert that the Government had failed to observe constitutional correctness in making their detailed proposals in this way first to Parliament. I hope that I may be forgiven if I do not at this stage here and now indicate the precise terms of the Motion which both Houses will be invited to debate as indicating the expediency of setting up a Joint Select Committee for the consideration of these proposals. But I can readily give my noble friend the general tenour of the Motion that will in due course be set down, which will be a Motion to empower the Committee to have consultations with representatives of the States and of British India, and to ask the Committee after such consultation has been completed to make their Report on the Government proposals.
§ LORD RANKEILLOUR
May I interrupt, because the matter is of great importance? The noble Lord has just said that the procedure will enable them, after consultation, to report on the Government proposals. But will the reference be wide enough for them to formulate, if they wish, alternatives of their own?
§ LORD IRWIN
I am very glad my noble friend has asked that question; I was coming to it later, and perhaps he will allow me to deal with it in my order, and if he thinks that I have not fully met it he will no doubt remind me. I was saying that the proposal for such consultation with representatives of India is, of course, admittedly without precedent. I am not sure whether it was my noble friend or the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, but one of them, I think, said that it was a new proposal. If he means that it is without precedent he is speaking quite truly, but if he suggests that it is a new proposal in the sense of being first proposed now by His Majesty's Govern- 650 ment he is unwittingly falling into error, because it was, as he will allow me to remind him, initiated in circumstances, admittedly slightly different, by the last Conservative Government so long ago as 1927, and at a time when the late Lord Birkenhead was Secretary of State for India. The purpose for which the Joint Select Committee was then contemplated was, of course, for the examination of the proposals of the Government after the Government had received and considered the recommendation of the Commission presided over by Sir John Simon.
If your Lordships would forgive me I might perhaps quote a few words—because these matters rather tend to fall into oblivion—that occurred in the statement that I made on November 8, 1927, in India, on the authority, and with the concurrence as to the precise terms of the statement, of Lord Birkenhead. I said this:When the Commission has reported and its Report has been examined by the Government of India and His Majesty's Government it will be the duty of the latter to present proposals to Parliament. But it is not the intention of His Majesty's Government to ask Parliament to adopt these proposals without first giving a full opportunity for Indian opinion of different schools to contribute its views upon them. And to this end it is intended to invite Parliament to refer these proposals to consideration by a Joint Committee of both Houses and to facilitate the presentation to that Committee both of the views of the Indian Central Legislature! by delegations who will be invited to attend and confer with "—I beg your Lordships to note those words—the Joint Committee and also of the views of any other bodies whom the Joint Parliamentary Committee may desire to consult.If I may I will quote one other sentence, from a speech of Lord Birkenhead in this House in the same year. While concerned to meet Indian criticism and recognising the fact that the Statutory Commission had been composed without Indian representatives upon it, he said:When once the Commission has made its Report, it has finished. But its critics remain, and its critics would be most formally and specially invited to come and sit with the Joint Committee in Parliament and to develop any criticisms or objections that they feel.…Lord Birkenhead was a past master of precise language and I think that those 651 two extracts sufficiently show what was in his mind and what was in the mind of the Conservative Government of that day. That is my justification for saying that the proposal that Indians should at this stage be invited to confer with and be brought into consultation with the Joint Select Committee of both Houses is not a new one. It is quite true that since those statements were made the Round-Table Conference has been established, the Round-Table Conference itself being, of course, an unprecedented procedure, but I was very glad to note that no complaint was made about it in the debate a year ago, and that it had commanded the unqualified support of the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, who spoke I think of the value of its work with some appreciation.
What has really happened is that into the procedure contemplated by these earlier statements was interpolated the Round-Table Conference procedure for reasons that are sufficiently familiar to us all, but the fact that it was so interpolated would not, I think, be held by any of your Lordships to nullify or render nugatory the general undertaking, so far as it was in the power of any Government to implement it, that had been expressed by Lord Birkenhead in the then Conservative Government. That Round-Table Conference has now completed its work after three sessions, having done work that was, I think, of great value, but admittedly having been concerned, until the late session at all events, mainly with questions of broad principle, and the procedure now proposed would continue what I may call the spirit of the Conference method, which, with all regard for the position of Parliament, which cannot be derogated from, will enable the views of both the non-Parliamentary representatives and the representatives of India to be expressed freely and fully in these consultations on the proposals, themselves specific and precise.
Though a great many things have changed in the last six years there has been, so far as I can judge, no change at all in the intention of successive Governments since November, 1927, that consultation of Indian representatives through the Joint Select Committee on the final proposals of whatever Government was in power should be of a real and effective kind, so that they might be 652 assured of a real opportunity to press any views they held on the attention of Parliament. It is, of course, impossible, as is I think generally recognised, that Indians who are thus called into consultation should actually be members of the Committee or enabled or entitled to sign any Committee's Report. The practice and the position of Parliamentary procedure would clearly preclude either or both of those things. Joint Select Committees are, I imagine, within very wide limits, masters of their own procedure, but certainly it would be the intention of the Government to make the Motion on this matter in such form as would permit the fullest consultation between Indian representatives and representatives of Parliament on the Joint Select Committee, as it would also be the earnest hope of the Government that any Joint Select Committee of both Houses so set up would gladly avail themselves of the opportunity of such consultation for the better discharge of the great task committed to their hands.
My noble friend asked me who would select the Indian representatives who might be expected to come to work with the Joint Select Committee. I understand that at the present moment the Secretary of State is in consultation with the Viceroy on that matter, and that no final decision has yet been reached. The object that the Viceroy and the Government of India will have in mind will be to secure that those who come are as representative as is possible having regard to the necessity for the limitation of numbers. I would refrain from treading on ground that might be dangerous as to whether it were wiser to constitute the committee of individuals wholly judicially minded or of individuals whose opinions may have led them occasionally to depart from judicial discretion. I express no opinion on that point, but I shall faithfully report to my right honourable friend the several currents of opinion that appear to run on that matter.
My noble friend in his interjection just now, put what I think is the last point of his question—namely, as to whether the White Paper would be so drawn, and whether the terms of the Motion would be so drawn, that the Joint Select Committee would, in fact, be free to make their Report not only on the details of 653 the proposals as laid before them by the Government, but, if they so desired, to substitute for thus proposals alternative projects of their own. The answer to that, I think quite certainly, is that they must have that liberty. It will be entirely free and open to them to express any views they like upon the proposals, and from what I know of the probable contents of the White Paper I should anticipate that those contents would be sufficiently wide to enable any body of opinion to hang any alternative proposals upon them that they might deem desirable. Therefore they would be fully empowered, if they should think desirable, to suggest alternatives to the proposals made by the Government. I confess I shall be disappointed, having regard to the long and careful thought and the concentration of many different minds on those proposals, if any Joint Select Comrnittee were to sweep them aside without giving the full weight to them that the amount of thought that has been devoted to them evidently might claim for them; but their liberty would be unhampered.
§ LORD DANESFORT
May I be allowed to ask my noble friend a question? Will the Select Committee be empowered to take evidence and to call any witnesses that they may desire to hear?
§ LORD IRWIN
should think certainly, but as I said just now all Joint Select Committees within wide limits are masters of their own procedure. I should imagine it would be for them to decide how to set about their business. The object of the Government is in due course to lay before Parliament a Bill dealing with a matter of supreme importance and of great complexity which inlay command the maximum degree of agreement both from various sections of Indian opinion and from various sections of British opinion as represented in this House and in another place. I think that, whatever be our views on the merits or demerits of this proposal or that, what we all want is to secure that maximum of agreement here and there, always provided that the ultimate authority and responsi- 654 bility of Parliament is not prejudiced or impaired. I venture to think that the plan that His Majesty's Government have in mind and the procedure they contemplate fairly reconciles and holds together those two dominant purposes that we have in view, the maximum of agreement and the ultimate responsibility of Parliament. Therefore, while I do not in any way conceal from myself that when these proposals are brought before your Lordships differences may emerge on one question or another, yet I greatly hope that at this stage we shall not anticipate differences that may or may not emerge. when the full proposals are before the House, and that this procedure at this stage will command general approval and be thought a desirable method of bringing these matters to the great inquest of Parliament.