HL Deb 18 October 1939 vol 114 cc1444-69

3.3 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to ask His Majesty's Government, if they have any statement to make about the situation in India; and to move for Papers.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for the opportunity which he has given me of explaining the circumstances in which the Viceroy's statement which was circulated to your Lordships last night has been made. I think that it will perhaps be for the convenience of your Lordships if I preface what I have to say with a brief and purely objective account of events in India immediately preceding and following the invasion of Poland by Germany. On the outbreak of war one thing was made immediately plain and that was that the overwhelming feeling of the people of India, from one end of the country to the other, was one of violent protest against the outrage which had been committed by the Nazi Government on the decencies of civilised existence and of detestation of all that the international methods associated with the name of Herr Hitler stand for; and that feeling, as I pointed out to your Lordships in the course of a few remarks which I made some two or three weeks ago, found expression in spontaneous offers of support from men and women of all creeds, of all communities and of all classes.

Yet while this was so, it was also the fact that the most numerous and the most powerful political Party in India, the Indian National Congress, had committed themselves some time earlier to a specific attitude in the event of a war breaking out in which Great Britain was involved. Their attitude was further defined when, in August, certain precautionary measures were taken by His Majesty's Government and the Government of India in pursuance of the obligation which rested upon them to secure the safety of India, and, as an indication of their disapproval of the action taken, they called upon the Congress members of the Legislative Assembly to refrain from attending the forthcoming session. The particular measure to which exception was taken was the despatch of the external defence troops from India to Egypt, Aden and Singapore. I may say that this action was taken on the urgent advice of the highest military and naval authorities. The situation at that time was such that a threat to the safety of India both from the west and from the east could not be excluded, and from a military point of view it was, therefore, essential that both the eastern and western approaches to India should be adequately defended. Now it would clearly have been the height of folly to give advance notice to the world by means of discussion in the Legislative Assembly in India of our proposed military dispositions. Nevertheless the Viceroy and I were most anxious to take the leaders of the political Parties in India into our confidence, and our plans were, therefore, communicated in confidence to the leaders of the main political Parties in the Indian Legislative Assembly, including, of course, the Congress party.

So much for the precautionary measures to which exception was subsequently taken. I now come to the actual outbreak of war. For a long time past, with my full knowledge and approval, the Viceroy has been in close contact with the most outstanding, and may I not say the most dramatic figure upon the Indian political stage, known to and beloved by the peoples of India, under the title of Mahatma Gandhi. Here, may I pause for a moment to pay a personal tribute to the readiness which Mr. Gandhi has shown not only to interpret to us the viewpoint and the aspirations of the Congress, but for an equal readiness to appreciate our viewpoint and the difficulties with which we have to grapple, and, furthermore, for the help which he has most willingly given us in our endeavours to surmount them? This being the position, it was altogether natural that immediately on the outbreak of war the Viceroy should have invited Mr. Gandhi to take counsel with him. The invitation was promptly accepted, and within forty-eight hours—I say this because I notice that in some quarters there seems to be some misapprehension on this matter—within forty-eight hours of the declaration of war the Viceroy and Mr. Gandhi were in close consultation. The outcome is known, for Mr. Gandhi stated himself publicly that speaking in a purely personal capacity—for he was not authorised to speak for the Congress—his view was that India should give to this country unconditional support in the struggle upon which she had entered.

Thereafter the Working Committee of the Congress met at Wardha and invited to their counsels not only the actual members of the Working Committee but other prominent leaders of the Congress, including Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Mr. Subhas Bose. But it was not until the middle of September that the outcome of their deliberations was made known in the shape of a comprehensive statement which was widely published in England. Such a document, embodying as it did the views of the most numerous and the most powerful political Party in India, demanded the most careful consideration. I need not discuss in detail the contents of the document for your Lordships can study it for yourselves, since you will find it published as an Annex to the Viceroy's statement in the White Paper. It is perhaps sufficient for my present purpose to say that broadly speaking the effect of the statement was, while condemning unequivocally the action of the German Government, to make it clear that before they as a Party could give their support to this country in the conduct of the war they would wish to be informed of our war aims and, in particular, of how they would apply to India.

Meanwhile the Working Committee of the next most numerous and powerful political Party in India, the All-India Moslem League, whose President, Mr. Jinnah, had also been in consultation with the Viceroy, met to take stock of the situation, and on September 18 they issued a statement setting forth their views on the situation. From this it will be apparent that, while the Moslems equally with the Congress unhesitatingly condemn the aggression of which the Nazi Government have been guilty, there is between their view and the view of the Congress, so far as the internal political situation in India is concerned, a substantial divergence. But here again I need not go into detail for you will also find the statement of the All-India Moslem League printed in the pages of the White Paper. The Viceroy has been at pains to acquaint himself fully with the views of these two organisations by personal discussions with their leaders.

But his consultations did not end there, for there were the Princes, who from the start have thrown the whole of their weight into the scale against aggression and who have been in consultation with the Viceroy through the Chancellor of the Chamber of Princes. There were also the National Liberal Federation of India who had in fact already—I think they were the first—made public their attitude so far as the war is concerned and had declared that they intended to give unconditional support to Great Britain. Their statement will also be found in the pages of the White Paper. In addition to these main Parties there were, of course, the leaders of other Parties and sects, the Hindu Mahasabha, the Harijans, the Scheduled Castes, the Sikhs, the Parsees—to mention only some of them—who instantly made it clear that they would desire that their interests should not be left out of account in the discussions which were in progress.

There then you have the background of the Indian picture. What of the main features of the picture itself? They may be said, I think, to be two in number—in the first place, a desire on the part of all communities to see the overthrow of the menace which overshadows Europe in particular and the world in general; and in the second place, a desire for self-expression, which in the domain of politics takes the form of a desire for self-government, broadly speaking, on a democratic basis. But here I am hound to point out that there are qualifications, for there is an insistent demand on the part of the minorities for safeguards against what, rightly or wrongly, they consider might be the consequence of the unfettered domination of the majority. Herein, of course, is to be found the root cause of our difficulties—difficulties which those who are not burdened with the responsibility which rests upon His Majesty's Government and the Government of India may, and very often do, discount, but difficulties which His Majesty's Government cannot ignore. For those who confine their gaze to one part only of the picture, the problem of self-government for India may seem a simple one. For those who, like His Majesty's Government, have to view the picture as a whole, that is by no means the case. I shall have a few words further to say on that subject before I resume my seat.

Meanwhile, let me say that it is, in our view, most desirable that the close consultation with the leaders of public opinion in India, which has been initiated by the Viceroy since the outbreak of war—I think he has seen more than fifty of these leaders during the past few weeks—should not only be maintained, but there should be provided for it a more definite form of machinery through which it may work. The means proposed to this end have been set forth by the Viceroy in the course of his statement and will be found on page 9 of the White Paper. Briefly stated, what we have in mind is a broadly-based consultative body whose personnel would be drawn by the Viceroy from panels of individuals nominated by the various political Parties and interests. From this main body the Viceroy, who would himself preside over its deliberations, would summon members to attend particular meetings in accordance with the subjects to come under discussion, as might seem desirable.

Such a body would serve as a liaison between the Government and the people, since it would have imparted to it the views and the proposals of the Government, and in its turn it would be in a position to discuss freely and frankly all matters submitted to it. As must be obvious to your Lordships, these might well include in a time of war subjects which it would clearly be inconvenient to discuss in a public manner. Such a scheme would have, in my view, this further advantage, that those concerned, representing the various Parties, communities, and interests in India, would not only be in close touch with the Viceroy, but would be in close touch with one another; and I should hope that association and collaboration in so great an enterprise as the conduct of the war would tend gradually to lessen differences and to emphasize the extent of the common interest of all those taking part in it and, of course, also of those whom they represent.

May I in conclusion say a few words of a more general character? Responsible self-government for India is the goal which has been set forth by the Government in the Preamble of the Act of 1919, and it was with the full authority of the Government of the day that my noble friend the Foreign Secretary stated ten years later that the natural issue of India's progress, as then contemplated in the Preamble of that Act of 1919, was the attainment of Dominion status. From that objective, we never have departed nor do we now intend to depart. The purpose of the later Act—the Act of 1935—was indeed to provide machinery by which the people of India might acquire that measure of political unity which is surely the pre-requisite of the attainment of their eventual goal. Much, I know, has been said in disparagement of the measure, but it should not be forgotten that it was the outcome of intense labour on the part not only of Englishmen but of Indians, and that it does rest on the basis of the greatest measure of common agreement which was obtainable at that time.

I would like to add this, that even in the case of a written Constitution the statutory provisions are merely the bony skeleton of the structure. The flesh and blood which give life and vigour to it are added day by day by those engaged in working it. Within the structure of the framework, practices take root and conventions grow up. The Constitution becomes a living and growing organism deriving substance and shape from its environment, and I should have little hesitation myself in saying that the truth of what I have just said has been abundantly demonstrated by two years' working of the Constitution established by the Act of 1935, so far as it affects the Provinces of British India, as indeed I feel sure the Ministers of to-day, some of whom only two years ago rejected it as a thing of little worth, would be willing to concede. I believe that similar experience of working of the federal provisions of the Act would be attended with similar results.

Nevertheless, if at the end of the upheaval caused by the war, when circumstances may indeed be very different from what they are to-day, there is a desire on the part of those concerned for modifications of particular features of the plan, then His Majesty's Government declare now that they will in such circumstances be very willing to enter into consultation with the representatives of the several communities, Parties and interests in India, and with the Indian Princes, with a view to securing their aid and co-operation in the framing of such modifications as may then seem desirable. I say "then" because in my view it is really not practicable, nor do I believe that it would be in the true interests of the Indian peoples themselves, at a time when we are all labouring under the strains and the stresses of a life-and-death struggle to embark upon a task of immense complexity and one which would inevitably give rise to no little controversy in India itself.

That brings me back finally to what I said earlier in the course of my remarks as to the root cause of the difficulty in the domain of Constitution-building in India. What we have to do is to work for the elimination of those communal antagonisms which still militate against the political unity of India. You cannot abolish them by merely closing your eyes to their existence; you must face them, and you must search for means of removing their underlying causes. I believe that the menace that now confronts us all—Englishmen, Hindus, Moslems, Princes and peoples—may aid us to achieve what hitherto has eluded our grasp. Can we not, standing shoulder to shoulder for a common purpose, banded together in comradeship of arms, learn to view in truer perspective against the background of a great and imminent peril—for what would it profit India if the forces of aggression and evil were to triumph in this trouble?—those internal and domestic differences which have hitherto raised such formidable obstacles along the road to that goal towards which the people of both countries have determined to travel? This, then, is the appeal which I would make to the people of India: that in comradeship with us, while presenting a united front to the forces that are ranged against us, they should strive after that agreement among themselves without which they will surely fail to achieve that unity which is essential to the nationhood of which those with vision amongst their leaders have long dreamt and which must surely be the crowning achievement of the long and intimate political relationship between Great Britain and India.

3.37 p.m.


My Lords, I desire first of all to thank the noble Marquess for the lucid and comprehensive statement that he has made, and I hope I shall not be wrong if I interpret what he has said as being his interpretation and authoritative approval of the Report by the Viceroy of India which was issued in a White Paper last night. The first thing I would desire to say about that Report is that I am quite sure, as I think are all those who were privileged to work with Lord Linlithgow on the Indian Joint Select Committee, that he will bring to his task all his qualities of urbanity, his great knowledge of and his friendliness towards the Indian people. Those of us who knew his work so well are perfectly assured on that point. Secondly, I would like to remark that difficulties that have risen are partly due to the very success of the Act of 1935 and the working of the Provincial Governments. It has made the people of India feel that they could exercise an even wider authority than has been given to them. And we must remember, too, that some of these difficulties are caused by circumstances which were not created by India, and ove which she has no sort of control. She was not consulted in regard to this war, and therefore the way in which she looks at it may at least not be an unnatural one.

The Report of the Viceroy is, I think, welcome in that, first of all, it shows good will and, secondly, that it does represent some advance on what has hitherto been operative. It is constructive, but it has limitations, which I personally should wish to see removed. So far as I can interpret it on a rapid reading, and after listening to what the noble Marquess has said, all will depend upon the degree to which the proposals that are made are carried out, and upon the satisfactory working of the machinery that it is proposed to set up. But, making all allowances for possible disappointments, I do personally regard it as an advance, which has been arrived at after consultations with many sections of Indian opinion. But though it is true, as the noble Marquess has said, that it is very difficult in a community like India to apply general principles, yet it is nevertheless the general principles that count on this occasion. The Indian people consider that they have been morally committed to the prosecution of a war as to which they were not consulted, and that they would have to abide by a peace in which they would have no say. It is easy to understand how a sensitive people like that, desiring growth for their nation, can use this occasion for stating those general principles. I do not wish to enlarge upon that this afternoon. I could have wished that we had had longer time to debate this most important question, and I will only speak in very brief terms, dealing with one or two main principles.

A large section of the Indian people say: "Why should we be asked to fight for the establishment of democratic principles which are not extended to ourselves? We have, indeed," they say, "been given some vague promises that we shall have Dominion status given to us at the discretion of others at a time which is not named," but they ask for a more definite promise, and I think that the noble Marquess this afternoon has made some contribution which may satisfy to some extent the anxieties of the Indian peoples. I will not go further than to say that I have always understood that our aim in the British Empire was to help every backward people until it could stand on its own feet and conduct its own affairs. This desire, then, of the Indian peoples is in the line, the direct line, of all our intentions and our purposes, and it was, as the noble Marquess has told us, promised in 1929 by the then Viceroy, Lord Irwin, now Lord Halifax, who said, "The natural issue of India's progress is the attainment of Dominion status." I admit all the difficulties in regard to India. It is a tangle of races and religions, of languages, and of separate interests, and it is not easy to get them all to work together. But we have differences in our own country. I am never thrilled with admiration of His Majesty's present Government, but I have to try to subordinate my own feelings to the common necessities in a crisis such as we are now passing through, and I cannot help remembering that, though the peoples of India differ in this way, and though I hope those differences will be diminished, there is one overriding factor—their common love of the Motherland, which gives to them a unity which is stronger than their differences.

I will only say, in conclusion, that I hope this is not the last word and that everything will depend upon whether this consultative body which is to be set up is to be nominated without reference to the desires of the people concerned. I think I understood the noble Marquess to say that they would be selected by the Viceroy from a representative panel. If that is so, one point remains in my mind as to whether the same personnel selected will be in permanent consultation, or whether they will be just called upon for consulta- tion at one meeting and then have no further responsibility. I repeat again that I think this does represent some advance, for which I am grateful, but I think there is still room for further growth. I conclude by saying that if the Government wish to carry with them the Labour Party in this matter, they cannot fall back upon either a policy of ignoring India's claims or of meeting them with a merely negative response.

3.48 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure we all listened with interest and with admiration to the clear manner in which the noble Marquess opposite set out what appeared in the White Paper, and I am sure also that we all feel that the Viceroy has spared no pains to examine and discover as far as he could all the important strata of opinion in India on the present situation. That is really the only point on which I will touch—namely, the further development of that inquiry by the appointment of what is described, I think, as a consultative group. The purpose of that group is to consider "the conduct of the war" and "questions relating to war activities." On those phrases I think it may be assumed that the meetings of the Committee would be private, because there would undoubtedly be matters connected with war activities which it would be impossible to discuss in public. But when we turn to the Appendices to the White Paper, it strikes one that many of those responsible for those statements would not be content with a private gathering of that kind but would expect some further discussion, not only of war activities but of war aims affecting India. If it were found necessary to extend the discussion in that manner I should hope that in that case the meetings of that body would be public; because it is impossible to read the statements contained in the different Appendices without desiring a great deal of further definition of the meaning of the general terms that are used, for without some such definition the aspirations and hopes expressed by the different Parties cannot be regarded as in any way explained.

I notice that the Viceroy's statement adds that the meetings of this group should contain seeds of advantage for the future of India. The noble Marquess explained, and I entirely agree, that there can be nothing but advantage in the coming together of the different elements, some of them almost discordant, at meetings of this kind and discussing the conduct of the war and the war activity, but, as I venture to suggest, it is very possible that something more may be demanded, especially if, as the noble Lord, Lord Snell, pointed out, the representatives of the different bodies included in the group are really representative in the full sense and not merely nominated by the Government of India.

Profiteering is in itself a strong temptation to many people in many forms. Material profiteering for gain is universally condemned. But there are other kinds of profiteering—that is to say, hoping to gain some advantage from a crisis in which other people are placed in a difficulty—which are common and are not always so freely condemned because they are not necessarily sordid. We all know that, in the event of a war such as this, different nations, whether involved in the war or not, and different classes in the different nations, find it difficult not to be on the look-out for something which may accrue to their own advantage. Those of us who had to do with the conduct of the last war have many recollections of that kind. Then there are other methods of moral profiteering. One can imagine religious profiteering. In the Middle Ages I have no doubt it often happened that a person, perhaps in his or her last illness, was moved to give large sums of money as an endowment for a religious purpose. Such things might happen now. As I say, they are not sordid but they cannot be applauded.

But look at a different instance. At the time of the last war many of your Lordships will remember how active the movement for the emancipation of women and the grant of the vote was in the year 1914. It is important to note that what is legitimate and cannot be called profiteering, is to point out the different conditions which are likely to be of benefit to the cause you favour, as the crisis proceeds; and it was most proper and legitimate to point out the marvellous activity shown by women during the war, which completely converted many of those who up to that time were quite indifferent and some who were positively hostile to the claims for the equality of women in public life. But if it had been made a condition, before women joined the V.A.D. or one of those kindred societies, that they absolutely would not join unless some measure for female suffrage was brought in, it would have made a sad difference from what really happened and from the course which was taken, which had its proper and due reward after the war.

I do not believe that in India there is any large body of Indian opinion which desires to profiteer in this crisis. I have no doubt there are some who would like to use the crisis in that way and to force, if possible, a declaration from the Government of India; but so far as India as a whole is concerned, I believe that the whole of that vast country, with all its different races and communities, will wish to stand for the right without desiring to make hard conditions to follow the war, but at the same time with full confidence that the results of the war will lead to a closer and a favourable examination of their claims. If I may say a word on my own belief and opinion as to the line on which a change could be made, it would be on a line which I have always favoured, long before I ever had anything to do with the government of India. I have always taken the view that the future of India would mean an accession of strength and independence to the Provinces rather than to the centre; and I cannot help feeling that, if the Government of India Act had to be seriously revised, it would have to be revised in the direction of giving more authority and more independence to the Provinces. The particular composition of that vast country seems to me to make it almost inevitable.

There must undoubtedly be a federal tie, but I should not only desire to see, but I should expect to see, that tie made as loose as possible. In the meantime there are those, some members of the Congress for instance, who seem to think that the constitutional problem is a comparatively simple one, and that by using words such as "self-determination" or "independence" it can be regarded as approaching a conclusion. I should like to remind them that in the whole creation and growth not merely of the British Empire but of all other combinations of races and countries, so far as I know, there has been no helpful precedent anywhere for conferring responsible government on India. Both its size and what Lord Snell described as the vast differences of races and religions make the whole case totally different from that of any other which history records. Therefore I think it is fair to hope that all Parties, however eager and keen they may be to see something done, will be prepared to admit that time must inevitably be given to examine these intensely difficult problems.

4.3 p.m.


My Lords, I should first of all like to thank the noble Marquess for the very clear and lucid manner in which he has explained the White Paper. My excuse for troubling your Lordships this afternoon is this, that it fell to my lot to take a part in the Round-Table Conference, although my desire to help India got me into difficulties with my friends in the Labour Party with whose aspirations I have always been, and still am, in sympathy. I wish that there could have been more time to communicate with our Indian fellow-subjects and gather their reactions upon this matter, but I have already personally received a great number of them from India, and it has been suggested to me that, even with this disadvantage of time, I should address your Lordships this afternoon.

Permit me to recall quite briefly the recent events in history. Now, after very prolonged operations and examinations, the Government of India Act received the Royal Assent on August 2, 1935. It is one of our longest Acts. It contains 478 sections and sixteen schedules with 545 clauses, and it occupies no less than 430 pages of the Statute Book. As your Lordships are aware, it set up a system of provincial autonomy for the Provinces of British India, subject to certain safeguards, and provided for the establishment of an All-India Federation consisting of the Provinces and the Indian States which accede to the Federation. The Federation depends upon the accession of a certain proportion of the Rulers of the States. I agree with the noble Marquess who has just sat down, that to have a federation for a huge population like this is one of the most difficult of legal problems. You cannot have a large assembly at the centre, and yet you have to have an assembly to represent 350,000,000 people. Now the Congress Party, which obtained a majority at the first Election in six Provinces, were not willing to accept office at first, but subsequently they did so; and although I know there is some criticism, I think that the general opinion is that the provincial part of this Act of Parliament is working well. There is still agitation in India against putting the federal part of the Act into operation. Personally, as I was a party to framing that part of the Act, I regret that: I did hope that the federal part would be given the same fair trial as the provincial part of the Act has received. I regret that that seems no longer possible. It seem to me that that part of the 1935 Act requires reconsideration, although again, if I may be allowed to say so, I agree with the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for India that it is difficult to reconsider a question like that during the war. It is an extremely tangled piece of legislation. At the best of times, you want to consult many people, and, whether I were in favour of it or not, really there are other things to do than to frame another scheme for the federal government of India when it took us years and years even to get the first one on paper.

I want now to deal with what appears to me to be the greatest difficulty that we are in. I will not say that the history of India, but I would rather say that the history of the inhabitants of India shows that their genius does not make for combination, and that the tendency of forces there is centrifugal rather than consolidating. It is said, and I entirely agree, that if you want India to trust you you must trust India. That I think is the basis of our connection with India—if you want India to trust you you must trust India. It is often cast in the teeth of India that one of the main difficulties is the number of minorities. Forgive me a moment while I enlarge upon that. There are minorities amongst the Hindus. Those who observe the caste system number about 170,000,000, those not in caste are 75,000,000. There are the Depressed Classes. There is the political Party known as the Congress, which was founded in 1885 and has moved to the Left. There is the orthodox Hindu Mahasabha, which disputes the right of the Congress Party to speak for Hinduism as a whole. Yet another cleavage now seems to be developing in the Congress Party itself. There is the All-India Liberal Federation, which would accept the 1935 Act as a stage in the development of India, and is prepared to pursue further advance by constitutional methods. There are also minorities among the Mahommedans themselves.

I do not cast this in the teeth of India, and for this reason. Men often say things which, when they get into power, they do not follow up. What they do is not always what they say. I suppose that nowhere in the world is the majority system so much in favour as in the House of Lords. There are about 750 members of the House of Lords, and in the Labour Party there are about seven members in the House of Lords, and I am quite sure that the House of Lords is very much enamoured of a system in which they have so large a majority. But as far as India is concerned it is the same as the House of Lords. The Congress Party has a majority in a number of the States, and there has not been oppression in that number of the States. I have never found oppression in your Lordships' House, although I frequently disagree with and dislike your procedure. But the answer to this question about majorities is that in working out the system you will find in India, as in England, that the minorities get fair treatment. Let me stop a moment. What are we fighting for? In Europe we are fighting to prevent the oppression of minorities, and we certainly do not want in England to see anybody oppressed anywhere by any majority rule.

Now, may I come to the White Paper itself, because I desire to put forward certain criticisms upon it which your Lordships will have to deal with before this matter is finally settled? First of all, may I say that everybody must have sympathy with the Viceroy? I do not think, not even excepting the Prime Minister, that there is any Englishman—I think he is a Scotsman as a matter of fact—who has a more difficult task than the Viceroy of India. I think he has discharged his task in the White Paper with the maximum of courtesy, the maximum of toleration, and the maximum of consideration for all these different minorities. But I want your Lordships to examine this White Paper rather more closely. There are three points in it. The first point is set out on page 4. It is asked: First, what are the objectives of His Majesty's Government in the war? India wants to know that. Speaking for myself, I think that is adequately answered further down on the page. If your Lordships look at it you will see that seven lines from the bottom it is stated: We are fighting to resist aggression whether directed against ourselves or others … We are seeking no material advantage for ourselves. I cannot think that any Indian—I include all the inhabitants of India—really objects to that statement, for I am quite sure that India does not desire aggression either from the East or from the West.

The second point set out on page 4 is: … what is the future that is contemplated in the constitutional sphere for the Indian continent? Here I would like to draw the attention of the noble Marquess—although I am perfectly sure he knows it—to the fact that this will be one of the real difficulties. If your Lordships turn for a moment to page 6 you will find this question: Such being the background against which we are working, what are the intentions and aims of His Majesty's Government in relation to India? It is answered in this way: It confirms equally the interpretation placed in 1929 by Lord Irwin"— the noble Viscount, who is now Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs— as Viceroy, again on the authority of the Government of the day, on that Preamble, that 'the natural issue of India's progress as there contemplated is the attainment of Dominion status.' What the Indians will say to that—and I think they have some grounds for saying it—quite colloquially is: "We are always going to have Dominion status. There is a pledge to give us Dominion status, there is a promise to give us Dominion status. That is our ambition which we are working for. But we are getting rather tired of talking about it. What we would like is something on account." I very much hope that the noble Marquess will make it quite clear, and will assure our fellow countrymen in India, that that promise is one which ought to be more carefully prescribed and the time of it rather more definitely settled.

Now I come to the most important part. The third point is this. It is asked on page 4 of the White Paper: … in what way can the desire of India and of Indian public opinion for a closer association, and an effective association, with the prosecution of the war best be satisfied? In other words, how can we best obtain the co-operation and the aid of all Parties in India? If your Lordships will turn to page 8 of the White Paper you will see that the noble Marquess, the Viceroy, sets out, what we are all perfectly well aware of, the great differences and the great variety of forces in India. Then on page 9 he says: I will only say that, in the light of my conversations and of the views (by no means always in accord) of the representatives of the great Parties and of the Princes, I am of the opinion that the right solution would be the establishment of a consultative group, representative of all major political Parties in British India and of the Indian Princes, over which the Governor-General would himself preside, which would be summoned at his invitation, and which would have as its object the association of public interest in India with the conduct of the war and with questions relating to war activities. That is a very admirable idea, but I would like to ask the noble Marquess what the object of this consultative committee is to be and what power it is to have. It may not be possible at the present moment to give it any power. The noble Marquess said in his speech that if you get people to begin to work together you are paving the way for future federation. At the same time I think something will be said in India to the effect that it is rather vague, that it does not set out the object of the committee or what it can do. It has been pointed out that if the consultative committee came to a unanimous opinion, the Viceroy would have very great difficulty in going behind it, but it may well be that in a committee representing so many different interests, it is very unlikely that you would get a unanimous opinion.


Especially if it was nominated by the Viceroy.


I am much obliged to the noble Lord. I am going to deal with that point in a moment. So far as it goes, this is a good idea, but does it go far enough? If your Lordships will bear with me for a moment, I would like to make a transgression into the history of British institutions. What is the object of this consultative committee? It is to obtain the views and opinions of representative people. I attach great importance to the words "representative people." There are two sorts of institutions in our Empire, representative institutions and responsible institutions. Representative institutions, as the noble Marquess will remember, go back hundreds of years in our history, as far as Simon de Montfort's Parliament in 1265. Some of our Colonies still have only representative institutions. But responsible institutions date from the struggle of the seventeenth century which was fought out on the issue of the responsibility of the Crown—that is, of the Executive—to the representative Legislature.

In case my remarks should reach a larger audience than they do at present, may I say this? Although personally I am disappointed at this committee having no power at all—it is something in the nature of a representative institution and not a responsible institution—I would point out to a larger audience that representative institutions very often ripen into responsible institutions, and this may be—lame as it is at present—the beginning of responsible government at the centre in India. A good deal depends on the people who sit on this consultative committee. Again speaking personally, I should hope that the Prime Ministers of all the States will find a place on it. You do get some sort of idea of representation there. You get the men who have been elected by the people. I know the noble Marquess will say, "Oh, but they can, if they like, put them on the panel." I would rather see the Prime Ministers of these Indian Provinces finding a place on the consultative committee ipso facto. You would then have some sort of beginning of responsible government at the centre. I very much hope the noble Marquess will be good enough to see whether something cannot be done on these lines.

We know perfectly well that the trouble about India has always been this: India has always been in a transitional state, and the tragedy of our rule in India has been that we have always been five minutes too late. When we passed the Act of 1935 I, at any rate, hoped the Indian question had been settled—certainly for another twenty years—but the war has altered all that. The next step will have to be taken in India in the course of the next twelve or eighteen months, because as soon as the war is finished we must redeem our promises, and we must be ready to take that next step. What will that next step be? Will it be simply the reiteration of the old goal—Dominion status—or shall we say that something more definite will be put in place of the present state of things? India, not unreasonably, would like to see some definite pronouncement on this point. Do not misunderstand me, my Lords. The loyalty of India is assured, and I am sure the loyalty of India will be rewarded. It will, I hope, see the realisation, in full, of Dominion status at the end of the war. Personally, I hope it will go much further than that, and that something in the nature of a United States of India will emerge. If Indian brains accomplish such a result, they will set up a system which it has been the ambition of many European statesmen to achieve, but which, up to the present, they have not been able to realise. My hope is that one good result of the war will be that India will not again be told that Dominion status is the goal, but that Dominion status is a fact.

4.25 p.m.


My Lords, I have no intention of following the larger view of Indian problems which has just been put before us by the noble Viscount who has just sat down and who is entitled to say what he has said. But as one who gave eighteen months' service in the Joint Parliamentary Select Committee on the Government of India—perhaps the most difficult task ever assigned to any body of men—and as one who has kept in very close contact with many leading Indians as well as with the Viceroy, I should not like to remain silent on this occasion. I promise your Lordships that I do not intend to make any elaborate oration.

When I entered the work of that Committee, and approached it with an entirely open mind, it seemed to me that the existence of these communal divisions in India, so ancient, so deep set, and apparently so ineradicable, constituted an almost fatal bar to the attainment of any reality of self-government in that country. During the proceedings of the Committee, when we were associated with representatives of the different communities, it became obvious that although these divisions did not disappear—indeed, every now and again they leapt to the surface—yet, on the whole, close association in a common task did diminish their asperity, and it became plain that when the members of the different Indian communities were associated together, a good deal of the strength and force of these divisions tended to disappear. The noble Marquess, of course, knows very much better than I do, but, on the whole, the working of the Provincial Governments seems to have been not unduly unfair in dealing with the various minorities under their control. Complaints there have been inevitably, allegations of favouritism and the like, but, so far as I can judge, what association here in framing the Constitution had partially done responsibility in working the Constitution has done perhaps more completely. But as soon as the prospects of a Federal Constitution emerged, then once again these deep-set divisions came even more forcibly into sight. There was the greatest possible fear lest the Federal Constitution should work against this or that of the great communal sections.

Unlike the noble Marquess opposite, I am one of those who think that some federal apex of this Constitution is necessary, whatever its character may be, but how is that to be achieved if India cannot compose these bitter divisions? That is a task impossible for any one in this country to undertake. It can be done only by Indians themselves. But may it not be that in this proposed consultative body, if it is made a reality—whether on the lines suggested by the noble Viscount or otherwise—representatives of all these interests will find themselves day by day in close consultation with a real unity in their hearts, that that may prepare the way for closer co-operation in the future? That there is real unity, in spite of these divisions, can be plainly discerned by anyone who reads the White Paper and the Viceroy's statement. It is plain that these different communities in India are united, in general, in loyalty to the aims which this country and its Allies have set before themselves. If that be so, is there not a chance that in their close consultation they may once again prepare the way for a further unity which will ultimately make the attainment of a complete Indian Constitution possible? This is one of the ways in which, conceivably, good may come out of the evils of this war.

4.30 p.m.


My Lords, this debate has lasted quite a long time, but may I ask your indulgence for just a few minutes more? Next to the war effort, the matter which we are now debating is in my humble judgment the most important thing that we have to consider at the present time. The statement of the noble Marquess has been so complete that there is little in it on which I can comment; indeed, that is not my object this afternoon. With some little experience of India, I may say that I agree with every word that the noble Marquess said. My object is rather to comment on what seems to me a certain amount of confusion of thought which still lingers in the minds of some of the members of your Lordships' House. This is evidenced not so much in the speeches that have been made this afternoon, because most of them have been in support of the noble Marquess's statement, but by a letter which appeared in The Times as recently as last week from a very prominent member of your Lordships' House.

In that letter, if I understood it aright, the writer seemed to indicate that Indian constitutional advance was a mistake and that the hands of the clock should be put back. If I correctly understood his letter, may I say with great deference that in my opinion he is greatly mistaken? It may be difficult to go forward; it is more difficult to go back; and so far as I know, no one with any intimate knowledge of India wants to go back. There is another point your Lordships should bear in mind. I think it was largely an accident that some of the difficulties of Indian constitutional advance were caused by a clause which was inserted by your Lordships' House in the Government of India Act of 1919. You will remember that by that clause the whole Act had to be reviewed within a period of ten years. Many of you have forgotten that it was your Lordships' House and not the House of Commons which inserted that clause. I have no doubt it was the intention of your Lordships that it should be a safeguard and not a hindrance to constitutional advance, but in fact it was not so regarded in India, with the result that throughout the whole of that ten-year period there was continued unsettlement. I think that clause had largely to do with the fact that the Montagu-Chelmsford reforms did not succeed as they should have succeeded, and as they might have succeeded, had that clause not been inserted.

My argument is really this, and I come back to it: that letters such as the one to which I have referred do much harm and are indeed mischievous, because they are liable to be misunderstood in India and to create an impression that there are still responsible people at home who do not want to carry out those promises which we have so frequently made and which have been referred to this afternoon. Not only that, but such letters must inevitably increase the difficulties of His Excellency the Viceroy and of my noble friend the Secretary of State. Surely of all times this is not the time to throw any doubt on promises that have been made by responsible members of His Majesty's Government. We are in the midst of a great war; and what are we fighting for? We are fighting for the sanctity of promises and the sanctity of the spoken and the written word; and surely the promises that have been made to India and which have so often been reiterated are promises upon which no one, even if he desired, could cast any doubt.

May I for a moment recall to your Lordships the last sentence of the first and most important of these promises, because it is the promise on which everything else was based? These are the words: With a view to the progressive realisation of responsible government in India as an integral part of the British Empire. That statement was made in 1917. In 1929 the noble Viscount, Lord Halifax, as Viceroy of India, not only emphasized that statement but went further and used the words "Dominion status," which mean very much in India. It is evident that there can be no going back. Surely what I have said indicates at least that it can do no good and can do much harm if statements are made and letters are written which indicate that people still doubt those promises. But these declarations do not mean that we are to be rushed into changes or into hasty amendments which might do more harm than good; they mean that we should go for- ward in fulfilment of our promises steadfastly and courageously. Some may feel that constitutional advance in India will fail, and in that I most emphatically do not agree with them. In any case we can only find that out if we try it, and it must be tried properly and conscientiously, for, God willing, in honour we can do no other.

I had intended to stop at that point, but the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Sankey, used a phrase to which I take strong exception and which I felt, from my long residence in India and my knowledge of that country, I must in some manner refute. He used the words "the tragedy of our rule in India." My Lords, there has been no tragedy; there has been vast progress, and in that progress Indian and European alike take justifiable pride.

4.40 p.m.


My Lords, there are a few words, I think, which are required from me in bringing this debate to its close, but I should like to associate myself wholeheartedly with the expressions of admiration of the Viceroy's conduct of his office which have fallen from so many of your Lordships in the course of this debate. No man could have brought to his task greater sympathy and greater energy, and to some extent, perhaps I might say, greater knowledge of the immediate problems of India with which he has had to grapple. I agree fully with the noble Lord, Lord Catto, who has just sat down. Of course, there can be no going back in the constitutional field in India. We have been going steadily forward, and I must say I was a little surprised when I heard the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Sankey, speaking, as it seemed to me, in somewhat disparaging terms of the fact that we have set up as our goal in India the attainment of Dominion status. Surely, the noble and learned Viscount, who was himself so largely concerned with the framing particularly of the federal provisions of the Act of 1935, must realise that these things cannot be unduly hurried; that there are many interests in India which must be taken into account; and I should have thought that the Act of 1935 itself showed a considerable advance along the road towards the goal which we have set before ourselves. Indeed, if I may say so, I think that the most reverend Primate took a much more realistic view of the situation than was taken by the noble and learned Viscount.

Some questions were addressed to me with regard both to the constitution and the functions of the proposed consultative group. The noble and learned Viscount suggested that Prime Ministers of the Provinces should be members of it. On their merits no one would welcome more warmly than I their presence on such a body. I cannot help thinking that the noble and learned Viscount must have a little forgotten the geographical conditions of India. How are the Prime Ministers of these various Provinces, some of them two or three days' journey by train from Delhi, going to discharge the very onerous functions which devolve upon them in their own Provinces if they are to meet at Delhi as members of this consultative committee? I do not really think that it would be a practical proposition, warmly as I should welcome it if it were.

But with regard to the composition of the proposed committee, some of your Lordships have spoken as if it were assumed that it was going to be a nominated body. Not at all. Panels are going to be either nominated or elected by the political Parties themselves, and when I said that the Viceroy would invite from time to time members from the individuals whose names appeared upon the panels, what I had in mind of course was the difficulty in a country like India of always being able to ensure that the whole of a particular group of people can possibly make it convenient to be present in Delhi at all times. There might be, for example, representatives of the Congress whose habitual place of residence was the Presidency of Madras. If such a man were in Delhi he could, of course, serve on the committee, but if he were away in Madras and the committee was called to consider some matter it would be in all probability impossible owing to the physical conditions for him to attend. That is why the suggestion is that the panels should constitute a comparatively large body from which the Viceroy from time to time would be able to draw members for the discussion of particular subjects. And if noble Lords would refer to a further sentence on page 9 of the White Paper which has perhaps escaped notice, they will see that the Viceroy says: I hope in the very near future to enter into consultation with the political leaders and with the Princes on this question"— that is, the question of the constitution of this consultative group.

Then with regard to its functions. I agree with much that the noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, said, but I think that he perhaps a little overlooked the fact that the Legislative Assembly will of course continue to be in existence. This group is not in any sense intended to displace the Legislative Assembly, where matters can be discussed freely and openly. This is rather a group of people representing the different schools of political thought in India, whom the Viceroy can take into his confidence, with whom he can frankly and freely discuss matters connected with the conduct of the war and war activities which, as I think I said in my opening speech, it might be in times of war inconvenient to discuss in a more public manner. I hope that what I have said may disabuse your Lordships of any misconception which you may have entertained on that matter. I do not think there is anything more that I can say with advantage at the present stage. Your Lordships, as I think the noble Viscount, Lord Sankey, said, will naturally wish to see how this statement is received in India. We shall all look forward with great interest to that, and it will, of course, be perfectly easy for your Lordships to have a further discussion on this matter, should you so wish, after you have had an opportunity of seeing what the reception of the statement has been in India itself.


My Lords, I wish to thank the noble Marquess for his reply, and beg leave to withdrawn the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.