HL Deb 08 April 1937 vol 104 cc867-90

THE MARQUESS OF LOTHIAN rose to ask His Majesty's Government whether they can give the House any information as to the circumstances in which the leaders of the Indian National Congress, which recently obtained a majority in a number of Indian Provinces, have refused to accept office under the new Constitution; and to move for Papers.

The noble Marquess said: My Lords, it is only about a year and a half since the Government of India Bill left this House, after nearly ten years of incubation, and I think your Lordships will inevitably want some information as to the first results which have followed the introduction of that Constitution. I therefore am venturing to ask the Secretary of State whether he can give to the House information on certain points. I will just read those points, and although, it may be, he will be unable to give the information to-day, perhaps he will circulate a White Paper containing it later on. In the first place the total of the electorate, both men and women, in each Province, and the proportion of the electorate, both men and women, who went to the polls; secondly, the electorate in each of the Communal categories—Hindus, Moslems and so on—and the proportion of those who went to the polls in each category; then, the final and revised figures of the results of the Elections, both to the Legislative Assemblies and the Legislative Councils; and, finally, the number of women who were elected, not only those elected for seats specially reserved for women, but the number of women who won seats in the constituencies in which men and women were able to compete against one another.

I think that probably your Lordships, reading the newspapers, are fairly familiar with the course of events in the last few weeks. You will remember that in six Provinces Congress either won absolute majorities, or were unquestionably the largest Party. There was some debate as to whether in those circumstances, or in any circumstances, Congress, having won the Election, would accept office; and at the meeting of the Party in Delhi a few weeks ago this was the resolution that was actually passed authorising them in certain circumstances to do so: The All-India Congress Committee authorises and permits acceptance of offices in the Provinces where Congress commands a majority in the Legislature, provided that Ministerships shall not be accepted unless the leader of the Congress Party in the Legislature is satisfied, and able to state publicly, that the Governor will not use his special powers of interference or set aside the advice of Ministers in regard to their constitutional activities. If my information is correct, that resolution was passed by about 179 votes to about 70, and in a subsequent statement issued by Mahatma Gandhi he said it was a resolution devised by the outstanding political figure in India—namely, the Mahatma Gandhi himself.

It was with some surprise, I think, that people in this country found that when the first discussions took place between the Governors and the leaders of the majorities no agreement was possible as to the terms upon which the majority would take office in any of the six Provinces, and a few days ago Mr. Gandhi issued a statement in which he set forth his reasons, or the reasons of Congress, why they refused to take office. The statement was published in The Times and I do not propose to read all of it to-day. I will read only one or two sentences. He said it was not his intention to lay down "any impossible condition" or one "whose acceptance would mean the slightest abrogation of the Constitution." He therefore proposed a gentlemanly understanding between the Governors and their Congress Ministers that they would not exercise their special powers of interference as long as the Ministers acted within the Constitution. He also said: A strong Party with a decisive backing of the electorate could not be expected to put itself in the precarious position of being in dread of interference at the will of the Governors. As he was not able to get that undertaking, he said that the British Government had "broken to the heart what it promised to the ear," so that their rule "will now be the rule of the sword."

I venture to think that there are two main reasons—there have been a great many given in the Press and elsewhere—for this unfortunate development. I think the first and most important is that people in India—and in people in India I include not only Congress but a great majority of officials and everybody else—are not really very familiar with the peculiar working of the institution known as responsible government, and therefore in studying the text of the Act, even in studying the text of the Instrument of Instructions., they do not see with full knowledge of the history of the way in which that system has worked out in this country in dealing with the old autocratic powers of the Crown, and, in the Dominions, in dealing with the powers that this country used to exercise in the Dominions.

There was one remarkable sentence in Mr. Gandhi's statement which I think bears out that view. He said that it was his hope that it would be possible to arrange for the "natural, orderly, and peaceful transference of power from bureaucracy to the largest and fullest democracy known to the world." Now I cannot invent a better description of what responsible government is. It is, in fact, the only system which has ever been devised whereby transference of power can be made constitutionally and without civil war, without rebellion, either from a sovereign or a bureaucracy to the representatives of the people, or from an alien power, like ourselves in India, to the representatives of the people. It is the one way in which it can be done in an orderly, peaceful and natural manner. If that can really be understood in India it may have a very deep effect on the events of the next very important three or four months. In fact, it was the fact that the principle of responsible government was introduced in the Constitution not only in the Provinces but at the Centre over a great field of government which induced the members of my Party who sit on this side of the House, and which induced people in India like Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru and Mr. Jayakar to accept the Constitution at all; because once the principle of responsible government had been passed, the final and vital act had been done which would make it possible for power in India to pass to the representatives of the people, in proportion as they were willing to take that responsibility on their own shoulders, without civil war and in an orderly and peaceful manner.

And that is not merely a matter of theory. You can find the theory of it written in a great number of constitutional documents, but it has been the invariable practice inside the British Commonwealth and in certain other countries. It has been the invariable result of practical experience. It has been the way in which the great Dominions have gradually and inexorably taken over control of their own affairs, very often after very considerable opposition from local officials or from Downing Street itself. And the reason is that so long as the Constitution exists a system of responsible government does transfer control of the ultimate lever of power to those who understand how to exercise it, from the top to the representatives of the people. Therefore I think the first reason why this set of events has happened is that there has not been an adequate understanding on the part of Congress of the way in which responsible government itself does achieve the very object which Mr. Gandhi said in his public statement that he had in view.

Now, let me give a little evidence of that. To-day there appeared in the Manchester Guardian a letter from Mr. K. M. Munchi, who is a well-known Indian educationist, was formerly a member of the Bombay Legislative Council, and has for some time been Secretary of the Congress Parliamentary Board. In explaining why Congress had taken the line which it had he used these words: The discretionary powers of interference which the Governors of the Provinces possess, even within the limited sphere of provincial subjects, are so wide and irresponsible that not even an attenuated form of democratic government can honestly function, and the assurance only required that they should be held in abeyance so that the Congress might have an opportunity to administer those subjects as a responsible Government, not a mockery of it. That shows a complete and absolute misunderstanding of what the system of government is which has been introduced in the name of responsible government.

So far from the Governors having wide and irresponsible powers to interfere by themselves with the Government, they have no constitutional right or duty or power to interfere at all until certain circumstances arise, until either there is a grave menace to the peace and tranquillity of the Province or until there is some grave interference with the rights of minorities, or the statutory rights of the Civil Service are being interfered with or the Government are inclined to go outside the sphere of Provincial powers laid down in the Constitution itself. Therefore, the idea that the Constitution gives to the Governors wide, arbitrary, and irresponsible powers is a complete delusion. It gives full responsibility for all aspects of government to the Pro- vince, including finance and law and order up to the point when certain situations arise when the special responsibilities of the Governor come into being; and even when they do come into being, and the Governor has the right and discretion to act, the question of what he does will still be a matter for his discretion. That is the way responsible government is worked elsewhere. It is very often the case when a Ministry have proposals for which they are preparing to take responsibility and which the officials of the Government are gravely doubtful about, that the Governor has to consider whether it is going to conduce more to the maintenance of law and order to refuse to act on their advice or accept it. Over and over again it has been proved that if the Governor finds he can say that the representatives of the people want this course and they are prepared to take responsibility for it, and that they will be supported later on at another Election, he decides that on the whole the wisest course is to adopt their advice. That is a matter for his own discretion.

There is another reason why, I think, there is a genuine misunderstanding. I happened to read an editorial in the newspaper known as the Tribune of Lahore, in which the following sentence occurs. The paper first of all does me the honour of quoting from a broadcast I happened to make a week or two ago, and says that I said: The Provincial Congress Leaders have apparently interpreted the Delhi resolution to mean that they should not accept office until the Governors have undertaken not to use their special powers. This newspaper then says: This statement is clearly at variance with known facts. What the Congress leaders wanted was not an assurance that the special powers of the Governors would never and under no circumstances be used, but only that they would not be used to nullify the constitutional activities of the Ministers; and this is clearly, and indisputably what the All-India Congress Committee resolution itself, embodying the Congress decision, laid down as a condition precedent to the acceptance of office by the Congress. That interpretation is therefore different from the one which I put on it, and I think therefore there is ground for trying to find out whether that is the view, because that view does seem to open the way to a reasonable settlement of the problem. As I understand it, there is no intention under the Act—and I suppose the noble Marquess who represents the India Office has no intention—to interfere with the activities of Ministers which are constitutional. He would have no right or power to do it except by violating the Constitution. So much for the first difficulty, which I think is due to genuine inexperience as to the way in which responsible government works.

The second difficulty is, in some way, more difficult. It is the difficulty which arises from what I may call suspicion or lack of understanding between, let us say, Congress and this country. That suspicion is perhaps not unnatural. Whatever view we may take of the policy and attitude of Congress, we have to recognise that for long it has been one of the central facts in India. We have to recognise that under the Constitution we authorised Congress to appeal to Caesar—that is to the electorate we created. Therefore, we must abide, as I think we have every intention of abiding, by that result so far as possible under the Constitution. I never forget a conversation I had with Mr. Gandhi many years ago—a conversation which was not unlike conversations I had in earlier days in the Dominions—in which he bitterly attacked the British Government, not on the ground that it had not discharged all the responsibility of government well in India in the shape of having a good administration, a good system of law, undertaking economic development, and having an impartial Civil Service, but on the ground that we had done too much. He said: "If we to-day exhibit qualities which make you doubt whether we are fit and able to carry on responsible government, it is because you have done everything for us for nearly one hundred years; and unless we have experience of responsibility we shall never acquire these rights. The reason why I challenge and attack the British Government is because I am convinced, from the point of view of my own people, not only have they the right to govern themselves, but that they can only become men and women if they begin to exercise those rights."

The Indian National Congress has shown the strength of its national feeling, its desire to govern India according to its own ideas, by not only three nonviolent civil disobedience campaigns since the first Constitution was introduced, but by openly challenging law to the extent that in the days of certainly a most humane Viceroy, Lord Halifax, between 50,000 and 60,000 political prisoners were interned, and more recently in the days of Lord Willingdon between 30,000 and 35,000. That shows the strength of their convictions and the degree to which they have been willing to endure very considerable privation and suffering for what, in their minds, is the elementary human right to govern themselves. Therefore, I think it is true to say there is inevitably a pretty wide gulf to be bridged between the attitude of a Party which has been fighting on those lines for fifteen or sixteen years and the British Government and the officers in India who administer the government of India. We ought to do our best to bridge that misunderstanding rather than argue with the other side as to whether their view is right or wrong. I think the gulf is, in great measure, a psychological gulf. I venture to think that the basis of understanding must be explanation rather than negotiation. We have had a great deal of experience, not only in India but all over the world, of the difficulties of formulas and negotiations. As often as not, when there is a wide difference of opinion, these things lead not to ultimate agreement, but to more bitterness and more misunderstanding.

I consider there is enormous room in India to-day for explanation—explanation of a human kind involving contacts between, let us say, the Governors and the Viceroy, if possible, on the one side and the leaders of Congress on the other. It might even be a good thing that the Secretary of State should look into the question of whether the libraries of the Legislatures are fully equipped with the literature of the history of responsible government. I venture to hope that a considerable number of the Professors in the great Indian Universities will follow the example of Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru, and will make it clear that the Constitution does not mean what the great majority of Congress seem to think it means. When all is said and done, in matters of this kind I do not think it is possible to escape from the value of personal contacts if the situation is ready for it. I think that if people on this side, the Government side, really did understand responsible government and could have conversations with Jawaharlal Nehru and Gandhi and so on, we should find in practice that the differences which now seem so wide were much more easy to bridge than now seems likely. I therefore hope it may be possible that something of that kind may be brought into effect, not perhaps instantly, because I think some months of time will elapse before the final and critical moment arrives when the temporary Ministries or the Minority Ministries have to meet their Legislatures with the apparently inevitable result of being defeated.

I think this situation is more critical than perhaps most people in this country realise. It is a great opportunity for bridging the gulf between the British point of view and the Congress point of view, the greatest opportunity which has perhaps existed since the year 1920. If that opportunity is missed, at any rate do not let it be missed for anything we have left undone, and if it is missed the inevitable logic of the situation does seem to lead to more embarrassing, more difficult situations, possibly to a return to civil disobedience and once more the emergence of something like a revolutionary situation. I do, therefore, express the hope that some way will be found to bridge this gulf. I do not think it is a formidable gulf, except psychologically. It is in that spirit that I should like the noble Marquess who replies for the Government to say whether he can give us any information as to the circumstances under which recent events in India have taken place. I beg to move.


My Lords, I have been asked by my noble friend the Leader of the House (Viscount Halifax) to express to your Lordships his great regret that he is unable to be present this afternoon, more particularly in view of the interest which he takes in the subject that has been brought to our notice by the noble Marquess. My noble friend the Leader of the House unfortunately is detained elsewhere by an engagement which it was too late to cancel when the noble Marquess's Question appeared on the Order Paper. Nevertheless I am very grateful to the noble Marquess for giving me this opportunity of making a statement with regard to the present position in India, and in doing so may I say with what interest and with what pleasure I listened to what seemed to me, if I may say so, to be the really admirable speech with which the noble Marquess accompanied his Question to me.

In order to make the position clear I must remind your Lordships briefly of the events which led up to the refusal of the representatives of the Congress Party to accept office in those Provinces in which they commanded a majority in the Legislatures. Let me start with the Elections which took place some six weeks age. The noble Marquess in the course of his speech asked me for statistics with regard to the electorates in the different Provinces. I regret that I am not at the moment in possession of the detailed information which would enable me to reply to the noble Marquess under that head, but I would propose, as he suggested, as soon as the information reaches me, to make it available in the form of a White Paper, and that I understand will meet the noble Marquess's convenience. It is perhaps sufficient for my purpose this afternoon if I remind your Lordships that at the conclusion of the Elections the Congress Party were in a majority in six out of the eleven Provinces. It was very natural, in view of the attitude which the Congress had all along taken towards the Constitution Act, that speculation should at once become rife as to the attitude which they would now adopt towards the acceptance of office, and it was brought to my notice at an early stage of the events which followed the Elections that an attempt would be likely to be made to secure from the Governors as a condition of the acceptance of office by the Congress certain assurances with regard to the use by the Governors of their special powers. In these circumstances the Viceroy, with my full approval, reminded the Governors in the Provinces that while they were entitled to offer, and while indeed he hoped that they would offer, to the Congress leaders in their Provinces the fullest support possible within the framework of the Constitution, there were certain obligations imposed upon them by Parliament of which they could not divest themselves without the authority of Parliament itself.

The scene shifted temporarily from the Provinces to Delhi where, as the noble Marquess has reminded us, the All-India Congress Committee were in session, and on March 18 the Committee adopted a resolution in the terms which have been given to your Lordships by my noble friend Lord Lothian. Let me repeat the terms of that resolution, because the resolution is an essential factor in the situation. They run as follows: The All-India Congress Committee authorises and permits acceptance of offices in the Provinces where Congress commands a majority in the Legislature, provided that Ministerships shall not be accepted unless the leader of the Congress Party in the Legislature is satisfied, and able to state publicly, that the Governor will not use his special powers of interference or set aside the advice of Ministers in regard to their constitutional activities. I confess that there did seem to me to be some ambiguity in the phraseology of that resolution, and in particular with regard to the words "in regard to their constitutional activities," and I am all the more confirmed in that view after listening to the extract from the leading article of the Tribune of Lahore which the noble Marquess brought to your Lordships' attention in the course of his speech. But in India it seemed to be generally accepted, both in the Press and in other quarters, that the Congress were now in a position to assure themselves as to the attitude of the Governors towards them without demanding from the Governors any specific assurances which they were not in a position to give them, and when the leaders in the Provinces were invited by the Governors to discuss with them the formation of Ministries it was generally supposed that the question was satisfactorily settled.

It was at this stage, however, that a complete change came over the scene. Acting apparently upon instructions from Congress Headquarters those who had been invited by the Governors in each of the six Provinces to form Ministries declined to accept office unless they received the very assurance which it was constitutionally impossible for the Governors to give them. This was made clear to the public in a series of statements both by the Governors themselves and by certain of the Congress leaders. The tenor of all these statements was much the same, and it is unnecessary therefore for me to trouble your Lordships by quoting extracts from more than one of them.

Mr. Rajagopalachari, who had been invited by Lord Erskine, the Governor of Madras, to form a Ministry in that Province, said in the course of his statement: I explained [that is to Lord Erskine] that I and my Cabinet should be given the fullest freedom of action inside the scope of Provincial Autonomy said to be given under the Government of India Act, and that, while we remain in office and undertake the responsibility of the government of the Province, His Excellency should assure us— and of course these are the essential words— that he will not use his special powers of interference or set aside the advice of the Ministers. That was a perfectly categorical statement of the pledge he demanded from the Governor. He went on to say: I regret to say that beyond the general offer of good will and co-operation His Excellency has refused to assist me with any assurance of non-interference, formal or informal. I had therefore no option but to express my inability to take up the office under the conditions and respectfully to decline the invitation to form the Ministry. That then, my Lords, was the position when on March 30 the, to my mind, really surprising statement to which the noble Marquess has referred was issued by Mr. Gandhi to the Press.

In the course of it he claimed to be the sole author of the formula authorising Congress to accept office in those Provinces in which they were in a majority. He made the following observations: My desire was not to lay down any impossible conditions. On the contrary, I wanted to devise a condition that could easily be accepted by the Governors. There was no intention whatsoever of laying down a condition whose acceptance would mean the slightest abrogation of the Constitution. He added: Have I not heard Sir Samuel Hoare and other Ministers say in so many words that ordinarily the Governors would not use their admittedly large powers of interference? And finally he said: I claim that the Congress formula asked for nothing more. In other words, Mr. Gandhi now claims that what he was asking from the Governors was quite a small thing, and a thing, moreover, which my right honourable friend and predecessor in office, Sir Samuel Hoare, could quite easily have contemplated, and indeed had contemplated, the Governors being able to give.

As to this I need only say that I have the authority of my right honourable friend for saying that, while he often expressed the view that no occasion for the use by the Governor of his reserve powers need necessarily ever arise, he has never uttered a word which could possibly suggest that he ever contemplated a Governor pledging himself in advance, as he was now being asked to do, to make no use of his special powers. Mr. Gandhi's statement is indeed so astonishing that it appears to me to be explicable only upon the assumption either that he has never read the Act of 1935 and the Instrument of Instructions to the Governors, or indeed the Report of the Joint Select Committee, or that if he has done so, he had completely forgotten when he made his statement to the Press the provisions which are embodied in those documents with regard to the special responsibilities which are imposed upon the Governors. It is all the more unfortunate that Mr. Gandhi should have made a statement of that kind without the book in that in India very large numbers of people are accustomed to regard any statement of the kind made by Mr. Gandhi as being necessarily correct.

In view of the misapprehensions to which it has undoubtedly given rise in India, and to some extent in this country also, it seems to be desirable that I should make it clear beyond all possibility of doubt that the demand made to the Governors was one which, without an amendment of the Constitution, they could not possibly have accepted. Perhaps the simplest way of doing that is to consider a concrete example of the position which might arise—quite possibly would arise—if the assurances demanded were in fact to be given. It will be remembered that under Section 52 of the Act certain obligations are imposed upon the Governors of the Provinces, including, for example, an obligation to safeguard the legitimate interests of minorities in India, and further that in so far as any such responsibility is involved the Governor shall in the exercise of his functions exercise his individual judgment as to the action which is to be taken. Now what precisely does that mean? If anybody has any doubts as to what is meant by that he will find his doubts dispelled by a reference to Paragraph VIII of the Instrument of Instructions to the Governors, which, like the Act itself, has been passed by both Houses of Parliament.

That paragraph reads as follows: In all matters within the scope of the executive authority of the Province, save in relation to functions which he is required by or under the Act to exercise in his discretion, Our Governor shall— and this appears to be, as my noble friend the Marquess of Lothian said, the ordinary practice— in the exercise of the powers conferred upon him be guided by the advice of his Ministers— that is the ordinary practice, "unless," and this is where the important exception comes in— unless in his opinion so to be guided would be inconsistent with the fulfilment of any of the special responsibilities which are by the Act committed to him, or with the proper discharge of any of the functions which he is otherwise by or under the Act required to exercise in his individual judgment; in any of which cases Our Governor shall, notwithstanding his Ministers' advice, act in exercise of the powers by or under the Act conferred upon him in such manner as to his individual judgment seems requisite for the due discharge of the responsibilities and functions aforesaid… Like the phraseology of all Acts of Parliament and documents of that kind, that sounds a little long and a little involved, but I think it will be quite clear to your Lordships what the effect of it is.

Let us suppose, by way of example, that in a Province in which Hindus are in a majority, or, if you like, in a Province in which the Moslems are in a majority, a Ministry makes a proposal which would have the effect of curtailing the educational facilities for the Moslems in the one case or for the Hindus in the other case. Their action would clearly come within the Congress formula, because it is within the legal competence of the Ministry to propose and of the Legislature to enact such a measure. It could not, therefore, be described as anything but a constitutional activity on their part, and of course it was precisely because it was realised that action of that kind could be taken within the framework of the Constitution that Parliament determined to impose upon the Governor the obligation of protecting the interests of minorities. Very well; in the case that I am considering it is clear that the special responsibility for the safeguarding of the legitimate interests of the minority would be involved, and in accordance with the provisions of the Act and of the Instrument of Instructions the Governor would be bound to exercise his individual judgment as to the action to be taken. As the noble Marquess has pointed out, it does not follow that, because he was exercising his individual judgment, he would differ from the advice tendered to him by his Ministers. He might or he might not, but it is within his competence to decide in that case what is to be the action which shall be taken. Now if the Governor had already given the assurance which he was asked to give by the leaders of the Congress who were invited to form Ministries, he would no longer be free to exercise his individual judgment, because he would have promised in any case not to set aside the advice of his Ministers, and he would therefore be disabled from discharging the obligation which had specifically been imposed upon him by Parliament.

I hope, my Lords, that by this very simple illustration—and of course it is only one illustration of many which might be given—I have made it clear that the Governors could not give, within the framework of the Constitution, the assurance which was asked of them, and that Mr. Gandhi is therefore in error in assuming that they could. But I would add this: that even supposing that it had been possible, within the framework of the Constitution, to give a pledge of that kind, the pledge could not have been given without a grave breach of faith with the minorities and others in India who had been promised the protection against the arbitrary rule of a majority involved in the special responsibilities and obligations imposed upon the Governor and the powers vested in the Governor to enable him to make the safeguards effective. Opinions, I know, may well differ as to the extent of the necessity for safeguards of this kind, and my noble friend Lord Snell and I have never been able quite to see eye to eye on this question. But there is no doubt whatsoever that the minorities in India—and, after all, they are the people primarily affected—do attach the utmost importance to them. It so happens that it was an Indian newspaper, Justice of Madras, which compared the Congress demand for non-interference by the Governors to the demands of incendiaries who were requiring an assurance that the fire engines would not be used to put out a conflagra- tion which they had started. That, as I say, is the opinion of an Indian newspaper, and is not an expression of my own views.

Very well, then, I hope that I have made the constitutional position clear, and let me say, having done that, how profoundly I regret the refusal of the majority in India to take office. In those Provinces—Bengal, the Punjab, the North-West Frontier Province, Sind and Assam—where the Congress are not in a majority, Ministries have been formed and are now functioning. In the Provinces in which the Congress are in a majority, Minority Ministries have been formed, and I cannot refrain from giving expression to the appreciation which I am sure must be felt in all quarters of the House of the public spirit which has been shown by the members of these Minority Ministries who have undertaken what must clearly be to them a very difficult and probably a very distasteful task.


Hear, hear.


We may well applaud not only their public spirit but also the sense of the realities of the situation which they have displayed, and we may, I hope, offer to them our cordial good wishes in the discharge of the onerous duties which they have undertaken. I have noticed suggestions—and I cannot pass these by without a few words—to the effect that the appointment of such Ministries is unconstitutional. Let me say that His Majesty's Government are altogether unable to accept as valid any such suggestion. The Act contains a mandatory requirement that "there shall be a Council of Ministers to aid and advise the Governor in the exercise of his functions," and thus makes Ministries an indispensable part of the machinery for carrying on provincial government under Part III of the Act. It further provides that the functions of the Governor with respect to the choosing of his Ministers shall be exercised by him in his discretion.

It is of course true, and nobody would wish to deny it, that the assumption underlying the Act is that any Council of Ministers appointed will, if possible, be selected from persons who command a majority in the Legislature, and that this should be so is necessitated, naturally, by the fact that without the support of the majority in the Legislature they could not count upon securing their essential legislation or the supply which they require for carrying on government. Accordingly, in Paragraph VII of the Instrument of Instructions, the Governor is enjoined to "use his best endeavours" to select his Ministers in a manner which will ensure that they have such support in the Legislature. But this injunction in the Instrument of Instructions is necessarily not a hard-and-fast one. The wording of it was purposely chosen so as to make allowance for circumstances in which a rigid injunction to this effect might have been impossible to carry out. Hence the expression "use his best endeavours." After all, the King's Government must be carried on, and if the situation is such that the representatives of the majority Party in the Legislature refuse to accept office, it is unquestionably open to the Governor to invite other persons to form a Council of Ministers for the purpose of enabling the King's government to be carried on in accordance with the provisions of the Act, and if such persons accept the Governor's invitation there is nothing in the Act which renders their action, or that of the Governor, either unconstitutional or illegal.

It has also been suggested, my Lords, in connection with the present situation, that the Viceroy should send for Mr. Gandhi in the hope, presumably, of persuading him to modify the attitude towards the acceptance of office which, at his instance, the Congress have taken up. I confess that I find it difficult to see what purpose would be served by such an action on his part. This is, after all, a question of the Governments in the Provinces under a system of Provincial Autonomy, an outstanding feature of which is the relaxation of control by the Centre, and as I have already explained, the Governors in the Provinces have already taken the initiative by inviting the representatives of the Congress to form Ministries. It is the Congressmen themselves who have declined, and unless they wish to modify the attitude which they have taken up there is obviously for the present no more to be said. On the other hand, if their decision has, indeed, been due to a genuine misunderstanding of the constitutional position of the Governors, and if Mr. Gandhi, or anyone else representing the Congress, recognising now the real constitutional position as I have tried to explain it this afternoon, was to express a desire in these altered circumstances to see the Viceroy, I have little doubt that the Viceroy would approach the request with every desire to reach an understanding as to what the position of the Congress leaders in the Provinces actually is in the matter. But it is clearly for those who have been under a misapprehension, if such indeed be the case, to say so.

As to the future, that will depend, of course, on the attitude of the Legislatures, and the Act requires that they shall be summoned not later than six months from the date of the coming into operation of the Constitution. It may be that the policy of the Minority Governments will meet with the approval of the Legislatures. If so, well and good. If, on the other hand, it does not, it will then be open to the Legislatures to express their disapproval in the recognised way. It will then further be open to the majority, in accordance with the universally accepted practice under a system of responsible self-government, to form a Ministry and so to accept responsibility for their action in displacing the Ministry already in power.

The noble Marquess, in a letter which appeared in The Times on Tuesday last, stressed the magnitude of the opportunities which are now open to the public men of India if only they are willing to make use of them; and it is, surely, little less than a tragedy that they should fail to do so, and that they should at the very outset of the new Constitution place this obstacle in the way of that orderly constitutional progress which I am profoundly convinced the vast majority of thinking men in India desire. Let there be no misunderstanding as to what I am now saying. I must repeat that the reserve powers are an integral part of the Constitution, that they cannot be abrogated except by Parliament itself, and that the Governors therefore cannot treat the Congress as a privileged body which is exempt from the provisions of the Constitution by which all other Parties are bound. But having said so much, let me add that, for my part, I gladly repeat what has been said on many occasions both by my right honourable friend Sir Samuel Hoare, and by many others—namely, that there is no reason why the reserve powers of the Governors should come into play. Whether they do or not must, of course, depend upon the policy and proceedings of the Ministries themselves, and it is in a spirit of cordial co-operation with, and of sympathetic understanding of, the position of the Ministries, from whatever Party they may be drawn, that the Act will be administered.


My Lords, I am personally grateful, as I am sure your Lordships are also, to the noble Marquess for putting this Question upon the Order Paper of this House. The matter is of such immediate and urgent importance, and is a subject that gives all of us such keen anxiety, that we ought to face the situation that has arisen as quickly as possible, in the hope that we may do something to solve the difficulties involved. We have heard the details of the problem put both by the noble Marquess, Lord Lothian, and by the noble Marquess the Secretary of State, and as we think of the difficulties it would seem that certain broad principles emerge on which our judgment must in the end rest. I agree that the Governors could not swear away their responsibilities under the Constitution. All of us would accept that at once, and I personally do not admire the method of asking a Governor to do what it must have been known beforehand that he could not do and that he had no power to do. I cannot feel that a Constitution of this magnitude can be inaugurated by a process of political manœuvre. On the other hand, let us understand what the difficulties are. I do not know—I do not know if anyone in your Lordships' House knows—but I have heard it said that before taking office in our own country Prime Ministers have asked for assurances that the processes of government will be carried out; that is to say, that if they asked for a Dissolution of Parliament it would not be withheld from them. Whilst I believe that even a Governor must be treated fairly, I also want to treat fairly the Indian people and to recognise the difficulties that they have.

Speaking for my own friends, it has always been our hope and belief that the Indian people, in spite of their disappointments with the Act, would loyally agree to work it as far as it went; and in the Minority Report, which the majority on the Indian Joint Commission were not wise enough to accept, we made very specifically that plea. We said: It is our earnest hope that the peoples of India will seize their great opportunity of leading the East along the path of democratic progress and that all sections will unite in a common aim to make the new Constitution productive of ordered freedom and social justice for all. We occupy that same position to-day, but the question arises, in the difficulties with which we are faced, what should be done? Those difficulties have to be surmounted in some way, and very quickly. I confess that I was disappointed in the fact that the noble Marquess the Secretary of State offered so little encouragement on the positive side of this question, that his suggestions were not vivid enough, I think, to capture the imagination of the Indian people. I do not believe a stiff correctitude of that kind is appropriate to the difficulty that we have to face. Merely to say to the Indian people "Here is the Constitution; take it or leave it" will not help us to bridge the gulf that has arisen. We have to remember the people with whom we are dealing—a people possessing great pride, a people easily appeased, and even more easily hurt. And we know also that they are apt to take at their face value a good many of the admonitions that are addressed to them.

It is all very well for His Majesty's Government to give stern and lofty advice to the members of the Labour Party who sit on this side of your Lordships' House. We listen to it with patience, and we bleed under the stripes that are given to us, but we get accustomed to it. We know His Majesty's Government, and, though we are afflicted, we nevertheless pick up and start on our work again as though nothing had happened. I cannot help feeling that that is what the Indian people should do. At the same time His Majesty's Government should really remember that this disaffection goes far outside the ranks of the people in the Congress. A highly responsible man such as Mr. Sastri does not dissent from what is proposed without having some real understanding behind him.

Let us consider the psychology of the Indian people at the present time. They were confessedly disappointed with the Act. They had hoped that it would give them so much more than it actually did give them. They saw reservation after reservation piled up, and on the other hand there were almost no promises for the future. The words "Dominion status" were too horrid to be used at all. I have always believed, and I believe now, that if the Government had been bold enough to say frankly and openly that at the end of all this at some time—perhaps we cannot say just now when—but at some time it would mean full Dominion status the Indian people would have taken that and been satisfied and happy, and would have accepted the details on the way to that. But the Government in fact seem to have done very little indeed to reassure them, and the present attitude of the Indian people towards this Constitution is the measure of their distrust.

Now I agree almost entirely with what the noble Marquess, Lord Lothian, said, first of all, that the Indian people are not really as familiar as we are with the machinery of responsible government, that it is new to them, and we have no right to expect from them an insight into those processes that we could not ourselves have if we were in their position. In our work with each other we live mostly by faith. We disagree with the proposals that we make to each other, but behind all that we have a certain living faith in the decency of the other fellow, and that is what we have to develop in India itself. I do not feel that it is a question of language, because men like Mr. Gandhi know the English language as well as we do. It is a lack of knowledge of how democratic processes work. I think some of us have the right to ask the Indian leaders to reflect upon this point, that democracy by its very nature is difficult to work. It is so easy for a dictator, if he has power, to say "This shall be" and "That shall be," but when you have to take the whole of the people with you the processes are slower and more difficult.

I do not want to repeat our own experiences, but it may be worth while. We have found the machinery of democracy in our own country move far more slowly than we like. In the Labour Party we make a demand for something that we think is so obvious that other people must be smitten with mental blindness not to see it, and we ask for a hundred per cent., and then in the end we have to accept thirty per cent.—not gratefully, not ungratefully, but we accept it; and then, having accepted it, We set about getting the other seventy per cent., and in due time we get it. That is the process of democracy, and that applies to India as well as to ourselves. Therefore I feel, as one who, at the Round-Table Conference and on the Joint Select Committee, together with my colleagues, did all one could to satisfy the legitimate hopes of the Indian people, we have some right to ask them to accept our experience as a reasonable basis on which they could work.

But, on the other hand, the concessions cannot be all on one side. The Government have got to try to build a bridge between these two peoples, and I feel that the Viceroy could do much. No one knows better than he knows the difficulties that were involved in the shaping of this Act. I do not ask him to invite Mr. Gandhi publicly to come and see him—things are not done in that way—but what the Viceroy could do would be to remove misapprehension. He could allay some of the fears, he could perhaps give some kind of general assurance, and that would all be helpful. In another department let me say that no one knows the psychology of the Indian people better than the noble Marquess the Secretary of State, so that the Government are really well equipped at the present time to undertake work that might be fruitful beyond all our expectations. We do not want to say anything about reservations except this, that we made clear in our Minority Report that the success of the Provincial Governments will be shown just in so far as such a power does not have to be exercised, and we consider that powers given to the Governor must be adequate, but in our view they should essentially be emergency powers to be used only where a breakdown threatens, and not to be part of the ordinary operation of government. Surely some kind of assurance of that kind, if it were conveyed to the Indian people, would be helpful at the present time. I hope the Indian people will think again and see if they cannot arrive at some understanding as to the working of this Act. The reactionaries everywhere, in their country and in ours, will rejoice the proportion in which they fail either in insight in this matter or in administrative power. Therefore I hope we shall do what we can to bridge this gulf which has arisen.

My last thought should be this. I do not think it is sufficient that explanations should be given by the Government or that books should be placed in Indian libraries. I believe that what is needed in India more than all else is that people who are accustomed to work the democratic machinery of our own country, and know what its frustrations as well as its advantages are, should be able to come into personal contact with the Indian people and give them the assurances that they ought to have. Finally, I think the Indian people will take upon themselves an unenviable responsibility, and will not be forgiven by future generations of Indian people, if they do not work this Constitution for what it is worth, while at the same time hoping for future enlargement. In that work of pacification my noble friends and myself would be privileged to give any assistance that we could.


My Lords, on the Third Reading of the Government of India Bill I ventured to say that I hoped and believed that those who viewed it with suspicion and hostility would find no satisfaction in any difficulties that might arise as to its working, and would do and say nothing to make these difficulties greater. I venture to say the same to-day. I am not commissioned to speak for anyone but myself, but, having listened to the statement of the noble Marquess, I do not think that he or the Viceroy could have acted otherwise than they have done, and so long as they resolutely maintain and assert the Constitution, with the powers which that Constitution still gives them, I believe and hope they will have the support even of those who most bitterly opposed the Bill.


My Lords, in conclusion I would like to say only one word. This debate has been useful because at last it has made clear beyond all possible misunderstanding the way in which responsible government acts in the Provinces under the new Constitution. I was particularly glad to hear the Secretary of State make it quite clear that not only would the responsibility for government rest on the new Ministries, and that the Governor would have under ordinary circumstances no right or duty to interfere, but that when the ques- tion of special responsibility does arise, he would have to exercise a discretion as how best to use it in these circumstances. Therefore we may hope that, as far as this House can go in explaining the situation, it has done its work, and I trust that these explanations will reach India and will be spread broadcast throughout that country.

I still think—and I entirely agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Snell, said—that the legal and constitutional position having been explained, the time has now come for what I may call the human touch. There are possibilities of bridging this gulf by personal contacts which can never be accomplished by legal statements, however essential in the early stages legal and constitutional statements may have been. I venture to go so far as to say that if the noble Marquess the Secretary of State could have an interview with Mr. Gandhi, it would be all to the good. There are physical and geographical obstacles in the way, but if these two eminent gentlemen could meet there would be far more understanding than now exists. I hope that the Government and everyone else will now concentrate on trying to arrive at a sympathetic understanding of the position, and establish those human contacts which may make it possible for Congress to assume responsibility for government in those Provinces where they have been returned by the people to exercise power. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.