§ 4.40 p.m.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR INDIA AND BURMA (THE MARQUESS OF ZETLAND) rose to Move, That this House approves the continuance in force of the Proclamation issued under Section 93 of the Government of India Act, 1935, by the Governor of Madras on October 30, 1939, a copy of which was presented to this House on November 29.170
§ The noble Marquess said: My Lords, no one regrets more than I do the necessity under which I find myself of moving the various Motions which stand upon the Paper in my name. They relate to the present position in seven out of the eleven Provinces of British India, but before I turn to them, let me at least say this, that it must be a matter for satisfaction to all those who are anxious to see the people of India progressing smoothly towards their goal that in Bengal, the Punjab, Sind and Assam, embracing as they do not less than a third of the population of British India and covering an area of some 300,000 miles, Parliamentary Government is functioning satisfactorily. I have no doubt that your Lordships wish to be associated with me in offering to the Governments of those Provinces congratulations upon the success which they have so far achieved and our warmest good wishes for even greater success in the future.
§ But when we come to contemplate the state of affairs in the remaining Provinces, we find cause not for satisfaction but for very real regret. It is now very nearly six months since the Ministers in those Provinces, acting on the instructions of the Working Committee of the Congress Party, withdrew from the responsibilities which they had assumed towards both the Legislatures and their constituents, thereby compelling the Governors of the Provinces to take upon themselves the powers of Government in their place. And since it is provided by Section 93 of the Constitution Act that a Proclamation conferring such powers upon the Governor shall cease to operate at the expiration of six months, I have no option but to ask Parliament to approve, in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution Act, the continuance in force of the various Proclamations for such further period, not exceeding twelve months, as developments may show to be necessary.
§ Let me call to mind briefly the course of events in India since I last had occasion to address this House on the matter. On January 10 the Viceroy made a speech in Bombay which was intended to be, and which was very widely accepted as being, a gesture of conciliation and good will towards those who were pressing for more rapid development in the constitutional sphere. The speech was followed in due course by a meeting between the 171 Viceroy and Mr. Gandhi. There is no doubt that the announcement of this forthcoming meeting created a widespread feeling of optimism in India and it was, I think, contrary to expectation, and certainly contrary to the hopes which were entertained in many quarters, that the meeting proved barren of results and was adjourned sine die after an exchange of views over a period of some two and a half hours. Your Lordships will find in the White Paper which I have circulated the text of the official communiqué which was agreed between the Viceroy and Mr. Gandhi and issued after the termination of the meeting. It will be seen from it that the Viceroy emphasized the desire of His Majesty's Government that India should obtain Dominion status at the earliest possible time and their anxiety to facilitate that object by all the means in their power; that he drew attention to the fact that while the Federal scheme of the Act afforded the swiftest steppingstone towards Dominion status, His Majesty's Government were nevertheless only too willing when the time came to examine the whole field in consultation with all Parties and interests in India; and that he further explained that His Majesty's Government were prepared to give immediate effect to the offer which had already been made with a view to associating the leaders of the political Parties in India with the Central Government on the conditions which had been laid down in November last. It will further be seen that Mr. Gandhi's response to this approach was a mere statement to the effect that it did not meet the full demand of the Congress Party.
§ That seems to me to be a very unfortunate outcome of a meeting which had been undertaken with such high hopes, and I ventured to say, when commenting on it, that I feared that if the Congress Party maintained their attitude the obstacles in the way of an honourable settlement of the dispute would be greatly increased. I said that because from reports which were reaching me from all parts of the country, it was made abundantly clear to me that the Moslemsߞand indeed not the Moslems onlyߞwere increasing the strength of their determination to resist the two main items in the Congress Party's programmeߞnamely, the demand that His Majesty's Govern- 172 ment should declare India to be a completely independent country, and that they should agree to the future Constitution of the country being drafted by a Constituent Assembly elected upon a basis of adult franchise. It seemed to me therefore that a further effort must be made to try to persuade the leaders of the different communities to meet and discuss their difficulties if the gulf which had been opening between them was to be prevented from widening still more disastrously. Mr. Gandhi thereupon accused me of closing the door upon the Congress position. I have never desired to close any doors. On the contrary, it was my desire to keep open a door which it was only too painfully apparent to me was being closed by others.
May I repeat to your Lordships the words which I actually used? This is what I said:
I believe that only by means of discussion between those who can speak with authority for their followers, informal and in confidence in the first instance, is a helpful appreciation of their respective standpoints and the difficulties inherent in them to be hoped for. If such discussion is to be fruitful there must be on all sides a genuine will to succeed and a real spirit of compromise.
And I added these words:
The British Government cannot compel these things. They can only plead for them, as I most earnestly do.
I used those last words because the Viceroy had already made an attempt to bring the leaders of the Congress Party and of the All-India Moslem League together, and unhappily, for the time being at any rate, had failed in his object. Unhappily, as I think, the suggestion which I made received little encouragement from those primarily concerned in India, for Mr. Nehru is reported to have said in reply that he thought it was futile to try to solve the problem by what he described as "sweet talks" between individuals. Yet a similar course has been urged by men so differently placed as the Chief Justice of the Federal Court in India and the Prime Minister of the Punjab, and I adhere to my view that that would be the most hopeful first step towards the solution of the present deadlock.
§ I said a moment ago that it was not only the Moslems who were viewing with growing concern the rigidity of the attitude assumed by the Congress Party. Men like Dr. Ambedkar and Rao 173 Bahadur M.C. Rajah, who speak for the Scheduled Castes, have given expression to their fears, and in order that I may give your Lordships a balanced picture of opinion in India generally I think I should draw your attention to the views expressed by the Council of the National Liberal Federation of India in their most recent pronouncement upon the problem, all the more since the Council contains within its ranks many men of great distinction who have rendered much service to India and whose patriotism is altogether unquestioned. They have stated categorically in a public resolution of February 18 that in their view it is in present circumstances altogether impracticable to talk of complete independence and that they equally reject the idea of a Constituent Assembly based on adult suffrage being a suitable body to devise a Constitution for the country. They suggest as a much more practical proposition, as it seems to me, the calling of a small conference representative of the several Parties, Communities and interests in the country to determine the principles of the future Constitution.
§ I now come to the events which followed upon the abortive meeting between the Viceroy and Mr. Gandhi, events which have unhappily proved that my fears have been only too well founded. At their annual meeting at Ramgarh in the middle of March the Congress Party reiterated their original demand. This meeting was followed by a meeting of the All-India Moslem League at Lahore, towards the end of the month, at which a resolution was unanimously adopted putting forward a scheme for the future government of India involving the partition of India into separate Moslem and Hindu States. I am bound to say that while I appreciate fully the grounds on which this proposal is based, I cannot but regard it as constituting something not far short of a counsel of despair, for its acceptance would be equivalent to admitting the failure of the devoted efforts of Englishmen and Indians alike over a long period of concentrated effort; for those labours have been based upon the assumption that even in the admitted diversity of India a measure of political unity could be achieved sufficient to enable India as a whole to take its place as an integral unit in the British Commonwealth of Nations.174
§ This, then, is the position in which we find ourselves and when I say "we" I do not mean His Majesty's Government and Parliament only, because we are only one of the parties concerned. I mean also the Congress Party, the All-India Moslem League and the Princes, who, be it remembered, constitute a factor in the problem which cannot possibly be ignored or brushed aside. It seems to me that it is all the more tragic because the interests and the sympathies of the contending parties in that greater struggle in which we are involved with Nazi Germany are identical. I ask myself therefore once more, is it not, even now, possible to find a golden pathway to re-conciliation? Are the differences between the various Parties indeed so great as unhappily they appear to be? I can speak, of course, neither for the Congress nor for the All-India Moslem League nor for the Princes. I can speak only for His Majesty's Government, and I cannot but think that in the dust which has been raised by controversy the real significance of what we have offered to do as our contribution towards the solution of the problem has been largely misunderstood.
§ Let me therefore repeat what it is that His Majesty's Government have proposed. Though I certainly attach real importance to it, I do not now dwell upon the offer which we have made with a view to bringing the leaders of the political Parties into association with us in the Government of India, since this offer may be regarded, quite apart from its intrinsic merits, as an earnest of our intentions for the future. Let me explain. We realise fully that for very different reasons the three main parties to the controversyߞthe Congress, the All-India Moslem League and the Princesߞhave serious objections to the Federal provisions of the Act. We have therefore said that we are desirous of consulting those interested with a view to ascertaining the lines upon which they would wish to see those provisions altered. We have made that offer because we accept the reasonableness of the claim that Indians themselves should play a vital part in devising a form of Constitution which they regard as best suited to the circumstances of their country. But we have also said that we cannot wholly dissociate ourselves from the shaping of the future Constitution, and I should have thought that our reasons for saying that 175 would have been both understood and accepted as valid. But since that, apparently, is not so, let me state them once more. They are rooted in the history of the past two hundred years, and however much one might like to do so, it is really not possible to wipe out history and to treat the events recorded in the pages of history as if they had never occurred.
§ Let me, merely by way of example, take the case of the Princes to illustrate what I mean. Mr. Gandhi has described the Princes of India as being things of our creation. I feel sure that on reflection so fair-minded a critic as Mr. Gandhi will be willing to agree that the circumstances of the time, the force of events, their interactions and their consequences, which are the things of which the content of history is made up, are far more responsible for the existence of the Princes than are His Majesty's Government. We made treaties with them, certainly; but we could not have made treaties with them if they had not been there. Then again, we have ourselves a stake in the country which is equally the outcome of historical forces; and there is the question of the defence of the country, which for the time at any rate, and possibly for many years to come, an independent India wholly dissociated from this country would admittedly be quite unable to secure. Then finally, there are the minorities, to whom we are under obligations which, once more, are embedded in the very texture of the tapestry of history, in that they have enjoyed their peaceful evolution as a result, in part, of the restoration of order by the British after the confusion and the civil war which attended the dissolution of the Mogul Empire, and in part of the administrative unity which was established by Great Britain throughout the land.
§ These, then, are the chief reasons why we cannot dissociate ourselves from the shaping of the future Constitution of India. But that does not mean that the future Constitution of the country is to be a Constitution dictated by the Government and Parliament of this country against the wishes of the Indian people.
§ THE MARQUESS OF ZETLAND
The undertaking given by His Majesty's Government to examine the constitutional 176 field in consultation with the representatives of all Parties and interests in India surely connotes not dictation but negotiation. Admittedly a substantial measure of agreement among the communities in India is essential if the vision of a united India, which has inspired the labours of so many Indians and Englishmen, is to become a reality; for I cannot believe that any Government or Parliament in this country would impose by force upon, let us say, the 80,000,000 Moslem subjects of His Majesty in India a form of Constitution under which they would not live in peace and contentment. So far as it lies within my power to do so, I shall labour for reconciliation between these two great communities, the Hindus and the Moslems, who, after all, whatever their differences of religion, of culture and of outlook upon life, have lived side by side in India for nigh upon a thousand years. But I realise how restricted is my own power for influence, for the plain fact of the matter is that the Congress Party have aroused in the minds of many Moslems apprehension which only they can allay. The question of vital importance so far as the future of India is concerned is this: Will the Congress Party refrain from closing the door upon that unity of India which they themselves so passionately desire? It is not too much to say that upon the answer which the Congress Party give to that question hangs the fate of India.
§ Moved, That this House approves the continuance in force of the Proclamation issued under Section 93 of the Government of India Act, 1935, by the Governor of Madras on October 30, 1939, a copy of which was presented to this House on November 29.ߞ(The Marquess of Zetland.)
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ LORD SNELL
My Lords, my noble friends and myself do not propose to offer any opposition to the various Motions which the noble Marquess is moving. We are concerned this afternoon with the general question of India. The Secretary of State has made a statement of immediate and, as we believe, of quite unusual importance. The situation in India, always difficult and always anxious, seems to be becoming increasingly grave; and this from every stand-point, both British and Indian, is very greatly to be deplored. We cannot refrain from asking ourselves this afternoon 177 how it has happened that this deterioration in the Indian situation has taken place. The work of the various Provincial Governments started with hope and with fair promise, and during the time that they were being operated they won the respect not only of a great portion of the Indian people but also of a watching world. With every month that passed the grip of these Provincial Governments on administrative affairs increased in efficiency and in practical value. Then there was this sudden decision to resign from their responsibilities and to refuse any longer to co-operate; and at the present time there are growing an irritation and a temper which, unless they can be composed, may lead not only to increased friction between Britain arid India but to increased friction within India itself.
In these circumstances what is it possible for us to do? I believe that our first responsibility is to try to see the case as the Indians themselves, or rather as the Congress Party themselves, see it. Let us remember that Congress have behind them the majority of the electorate of India. They have some three million paying members spread over the whole country. That is something to which responsible statesmen must give attention, whatever their views of the position of the Congress may be. Rightly or wronglyߞI am not necessarily agreeing with what Congress sayߞthey claim that. Britain's promises to India, made over and over again, have not been fulfilled. They say that their self-respect has been injured by their association with an Imperial policy which was decided upon without any consultation with them. When you come to look at the various statements that have been made in the way of promises, you are able in some measure to check those various assertions.
There was first of all the comment by Lord Irwin in 1929, dealing with the Preamble of the Act of 1919, when he said that the natural issue of India's progress as there contemplated was the attainment of Dominion status. That was accepted at the time, I think, as being something of a promise. Then the Governor-General, in a statement issued last October, said that in the Instrument of Instructions which was issued to him in 1937 there was laid upon him a direction 178so to exercise the trust which His Majesty has reposed in me 'that the partnership between India and the United Kingdom within our Empire may be furthered to the end that India may attain its due place among our Dominions.'Then, speaking on his own behalf, he said:I am authorised now by His Majesty's Government to say that at the end of the war they will be very willing to enter into consultation with 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 seem desirable.The Congress Party and a great portion of the people of India consider those qualifications as not standing up to the earlier promises.
That is the situation with which we have to deal to-day. They say that over and over again since 1917 promises of self-government have been made, and they are increasingly associated with conditions which His Majesty's Government know cannot be fulfilled either by Congress or by other people in India. They believe that these general phrases do not constitute firm offers, and that Dominion status has been continuously postponed because of the impossible conditions which are attached to it. I repeat that I am not necessarily supporting those statements, but if we are to understand India we must try to look at the situation as they see it. What are those conditions? First of all, agreementߞsubstantial agreement, the noble Marquess has said this afternoonߞis essential within India itself so that a conference after the war may arrange the way in which the future Constitution shall be examined in consultation with the Indian people. My own comment, for what it is worth, is simply this, that there cannot under existing circumstances exist agreement in India of a kind which will solve these deep-seated difficulties. Those differences are not merely political, they are racial and religious, and history has proved to us over and over again that such differences are persistent and generally unappeasable. They certainly cannot be settled by cumbrous resolutions on the one hand, or by resolutions of the Moslem League on the other, but only by the growth of tolerance and understanding, whereby each community will try to believe the best rather than the worst about the other.
179 The second comment is the difficulty I feel about majority rule. The Congress Party are in a majority, and under a democracy decision by majorities is inevitable. It may not always be convenient: when the day comes when His Majesty's Government are superseded by a better Government His Majesty's Government will not like it; but that is one of the penalties and privileges of our democracy. Then in regard to a conference after the war: the Congress people say that they are tired of conferences. They have had them over and over again, both in India and in England, and whenever they take place the British Government magnify the differences and re-assert the old divisions; and under such conditions they have grown disheartened and disillusioned, and the only thing left for them is to resist through non-co-operation, and possibly—though I hope not—through civil disobedience. Non-co-operation may be very serious at the present time. Let me remind your Lordships that in the last war India raised a volunteer force of some 1,200,000 men, that she taxed herself in order to make a free gift of £100,000,000 and an annual sum of between £20,000,000 and £30,000,000. Therefore, if there is any way of avoiding non-co-operation which will at the same time enable us to keep our obligations and to meet the aspirations of the Indian people, we should with all our hearts try to find it. The sympathies of the Indian people as a whole are undoubtedly with the Allies in the present struggle, and there is no doubt whatever that the step they have taken has been taken because they feel under a sense of grievance.
Now what do His Majesty's Government propose to do to meet these difficulties? How do they propose to restore the faith of India in British pledges? I venture on my part to ask the Indian people to remember that the position of the British Government at the present time is one of very great difficulty. Suppose that the British Government ignored the protests of the Moslem League and of the Scheduled Castes and the rest. You might have as a consequence a minority revolt leading to civil war in India. No Government could light-heartedly do anything 180 that would bring about that grievous result. A minority of some 80,000,000 people is a very real thing, especially when religious passions are engaged. Then the British Government have, rightly or wrongly, made pledges to various minorities in India, and also to the Princes. Whether it was right to make them or not is not the question: there they are to-day, and that fact constitutes one of the difficulties.
The Moslem League has made certain demands for autonomous Moslem States, for the partition of India. I do not myself feel that that is a satisfactory way out of the difficulty. It would perpetuate divisions, and might lead to continued internal strife. The way out, if we could wait for it, would be to institute in the minds of the Indian people the idea of another religion, a common faith and loyalty to the Motherland as a whole: to regard India as the thing that unites them, rather than their special interpretations of religion as something which divides them. It is not for me to advise what should be done, but at an earlier period in history a Secretary of State once went to India—Mr. Montagu. I will not dare to suggest that it is an experiment which might be repeated, but we are bound to look at the situation as we see it. Could His Majesty's Government be more explicit than they have hitherto been, and declare as a solemn act of policy that Dominion status shall become effective at a certain time, and issue an appeal to the whole of the Indian people to unite in making it possible? I have said something in my lifetime against the policy of appeasement, but in some way or another we have to find a way to appease these differences of the two sets of people, both of whom love their country and who want the best for it. Englishmen are always desirous to help in that, and some have devoted their lives to trying to help the Indian people in that way. I cannot close without saying in that connection how greatly the death of Mr. C. F. Andrews is to be deplored at this particular time. He gave his whole life in a way few Englishmen have ever done to try and interpret the best in our own thought to the people of India and to bring back home a reflection of the better mind of India for our own benefit.
181 I should like to say, in conclusion, a word about our attitude as a Labour Party in the way of appeal to the Indian people of all classes, whether they are in a minority or not. Do the Indian people think that we rejoice, for instance, in the Labour black-out in your Lordships' House, where we are cowed by numbers and smothered by tradition? We could refuse to co-operate. But that is not quite our way of looking at things. We have done our best for India. We tried to extend the Act of 1935 and to make it more definite than it was, and we are not responsible, as a Party, for administration in India. We have grievances of our own which we cannot get remedied, and when we ask for them to be remedied we are met with a frigid resolve that would break a heart of stone. But we are good democrats, and our theory is that we roust try to work a machine until we can control it. I do not, personally, believe there is any other way of getting such results as we desire. At the present time, in our judgment, first things have to come first. The very liberties of mankind are at stake, including those of the Indian people themselves.
I dare not close without saying that I most earnestly believe, personally, in the right of the Indian people to self-determination, and without expressing the belief that one day they will obtain their desires. I should like to assure them, as far as I have any right to do so, that Labour is not without influence in the British Parliament and in the country, and that we engage ourselves, as far as we can, to see that promises which have been made to India will be honoured. Under such conditions I believe that the Indian people would serve both India itself and the world at large, without compromising any principle, without withdrawing any demand that they have made, if they trusted to the British people to see that India has an equal and honoured place in the British Commonwealth of Nations.
§ 5.35 p.m.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
My Lords, after listening to the very full statement of the noble Marquess the Secretary of State—a statement which ought to have attracted more members of your Lordships' House—I have no hesitation in saying that His Majesty's Government 182 have no other course open to them but to renew the Proclamations in the terms contained in the Motion of the noble Marquess. I am also convinced that this is not quite the moment to attempt to go into the history of the government of India during a number of past years, even going back thirty years, during which period successive Governments have attempted an advance by giving the people of India a greater share in the management of their own affairs, or even going back to examine carefully what has happened since the Act of 1935 was passed, including the various colloquies which have taken place between the Viceroy and members of Congress and particularly that picturesque and enigmatic figure, Mr. Gandhi.
I wish at once to say a word about the episode—because I cannot call it more than an episode—of the refusal of the seven Provinces to carry on the form of self-government which was conferred on them by the Act, and which, as we all agree, and as the noble Lord, Lord Snell, has clearly stated, has proved in the main to be a most remarkable success. I can conceive two reasons which might make the Government of one of these Provinces resign. Take the case of a single Province. It is conceivable that Ministers might complain that the Governor had overstepped the powers regarding reserved subjects which were granted to him, or that he had unduly entrenched upon the powers granted to Ministers. But there is no need to pursue that because no such case has occurred. So far as I know, the relations between Governors and their Ministers have been of a thoroughly satisfactory character, and therefore there is no need to follow that up. On the other hand, it is conceivable that a Provincial Government, or a number of Provincial Governments, as in this case, might think it their duty to resign, either because some action had been taken by the Government of India which meant going back on the privileges and powers which have so far been conferred on Indians, or because the Government were taking some arbitrary action, involving an important principle, to which the people of India objected. Is it in any way possible to say in this case that justification can be proved?
The noble Lord, Lord Snell, has very carefully argued the position and put the 183 case as it is stated by Congress, without, however, adopting it as a whole or expressing complete agreement. He just mentioned one point which is considered to be a real grievance—that is to say, that the people of India were not consulted before India participated in the war. That is less important in a sense than it may seem because we all agree that the great majority of the people of India, as a noble Lord said, are unquestionably on the side of the Allies, not merely because it is a British cause but because they believe it to be the cause of right and justice. Apart from that it is very doubtful whether it really would be within the capacity of His Majesty's Government to treat India as being precisely on the same level as one of the self-governing Dominions, and to attempt to create an entirely new machinery in order to ascertain Indian wishes.
The principle apparently on which the Congress Party based their refusal to cooperate with the Government of India is that they desire the independence of the country. There is no need to go at any length into that question, mainly because, in my opinion, real India in no way demands independence. Independence means that this country would take the same interest and no more in India than in one of the South American Republics, for instance, in which it has, as it has in India, a great financial interest. I cannot believe that this would be welcomed by any but a small minority of the people of India. Then the Congress say almost in so many words that Dominion status is not good enough. I gather that the noble Lord, Lord Snell, rather sympathises with them on the plea that Parliament here and the Government of India have been very slow in implementing the pledge that the ultimate goal of our policy is the attainment of Dominion status by India. A great many years have passed between Lord Durham's Mission to Canada and the passing of the Statute of Westminster; a great many more years, I should hope, than will pass before India is granted Dominion status. Therefore I urge that it is unfortunate to encourage the more extreme types of Indian opinion in the belief that the delay in granting what after all is a very difficult thing to grant owing to its extreme complications, 184 has been such as to amount almost to a breach of faith.
An unfortunate feature in this controversy is that the resignations seem to have been carried out under an order from the Congress Party. One does not know what actually passed. An order seems to have been issued somewhat more in the spirit of Berlin than in the spirit of Washington. I think it is difficult to avoid the conclusion—a most regrettable conclusion to reach—that these more extreme members of the Congress Party are more looking forward to the establishment of something like an oligarchy than of anything we should call really popular government. To bring about really popular government in the sense we of the European countries understand it is obviously an exceedingly difficult thing to do in a country containing all these millions. It has never been done anywhere. Certainly it has not been done in Russia, and the real question is how it can be done with a powerful Central Government. It may not be impossible. I have often said, and have always believed, that the independent powers of the Provinces in India ought to be very wide and that the Central Government should concern itself only with a few vast subjects such as defence, currency, and the maintenance of free trade.
I merely express the hope that the situation is not really as dark as it looks. I do not believe, for instance, that the extreme views expressed by some of these Congress spokesmen by any means represent the real views of Congress taken as a whole. I do not believe that these spokesmen, who undoubtedly can only be regarded as hostile to this country and who dislike all our institutions and form of government, represent anything like the real public opinion of India. Consequently I look forward without any sort of despair to the possibility of an arrangement—when it is possible to make an arrangement at all—something on the lines proposed by the Government of India with such modifications as time may prove to be necessary.
§ 5.52 p.m.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I do not propose to trouble your Lordships by more than a very few words. I am quite sure my noble friend the Secretary of State will not expect me to agree with every word he said, although 185 I have the greatest respect for the moderation and lucidity of his statement. He knows the views which I am unfortunate enough to possess, and it would be only wasting your Lordships' time if I were to repeat them. But I must say that I was struck by the speech of the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition. He seemed to me very puzzled at what had occurred in India. He seemed to have been altogether taken by surprise. He said that the situation had deteriorated. The situation is bad in India because of the essential elements of the problem. There are profound differences—differences of race and differences of religion of which the noble Lord himself spoke—and there are also in my judgment the provisions of the Act of Parliament, which I never believed would work and which I am afraid will not work. Of course, the noble Marquess the Secretary of State is perfectly right, if I may say so, to do his utmost to make it work, and the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition is entitled to every kind of approval in that he himself wishes to see peace restored in the politics of India. But the thing cannot be done. None of the suggestions which the noble Lord made are likely to produce the result. I hope I did not mishear what the noble Lord said, but I understood that his two proposals were, firstly, that the Secretary of State should make a personal visit to India. I do not wish to misinterpret the noble Lord.
§ LORD SNELL
If I may be allowed to interrupt the noble Marquess for a moment, I said, in thinking aloud on this subject, that a previous Secretary of State had made such a visit, but I did not dare recommend it.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
So the noble Lord did not even recommend that. I think he was wise. I am sure the noble Marquess the Secretary of State would be very much interested but I cannot conceive that it would produce any useful result. The other proposal was a great assembly—was that not so?
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I will not pursue that, because I am evidently wrong. The reason why the recent crisis has taken place in India is quite evident. Those who manage the Congress Party thought that in the international situation they could wring something more out of 186 the British Government, and they have tried. Why should we conceal from ourselves that that is the real reason? Of course it is the real reason. The Indian agitators and the Congress Party have formed themselves step by step upon the Irish precedent. They know that when the Irish wanted to get something more they waited until England was in difficulties. Precisely the same thing has happened in India. There is no reason to be surprised at it. What is a matter of surprise to me is that noble Lords in certain parts of the House do not see what opportunities the Act gave the agitators in India to carry out this very proceeding which has evidently occurred
I did not rise to pass again over the old pathways of this controversy, but I must deal with one part of the noble Lord's case—that is, this plea that is always put forward that there is a pledge which the British Government are bound to fulfil. I noticed a welcome modification in the noble Lord's phraseology. He spoke of "something of a promise." It was not so emphatic and drastic as "there is a pledge." I have never admitted that there was any pledge. There was undoubtedly a solemn declaration, and a solemn declaration is a very important thing not to be lightly set aside, but there was no pledge, certainly no absolute pledge. It was a conditional pledge. The people of India were to be granted Dominion status as soon as they were fit for it. I do not think it ever went further than that. And I should certainly have said that experience of the present crisis, in which Congress have pressed upon their Party to call out the Governments of every Province where they have control, does not show at all the constitutional spirit which would encourage us to think that they had arrived at the stature which fits them for a further advance in self-government.
I agree that there are obligations of honour, obligations of honour which the noble Lord fully admits. We are hound to the minorities—the Moslems, the Princes, the Scheduled Classes and the primitive tribes. We are hound to see that they have justice, bound to see that their interests are protected. That is an obligation. And may I say there is one other party to whom Parliament is bound—that is, the people of England? If there was one thing more emphatic than anything else in what the noble Lord calls 187 pledges, it was that the advance of self-government in India was to be gradual. That was emphatically said over and over again. But before the present position has been fully matured noble Lords opposite want to go a step further. That is not my idea of "gradual." Why should it be thought that Parliament is bound to fulfil obligations to the Indian people and not to fulfil obligations to the British people? The British people authorised their Parliament to pass an Act on certain conditions: then both the Government and, if I may say so respectfully, the noble Lords are bound to honour that pledge—if it be a pledge. The British people have a right to see that the conditions upon which they agreed, through their representatives, to the passage of the Government of India Act are fulfilled, and without that fulfilment there is just as much a breach of pledge as there may be in any of those things to which the noble Lord called attention.
As regards the future, as I have said, I do not want to rake up again all the old controversies. The Act was passed; let it work. Let not the noble Lord tear the plant up by the roots to see how it is growing. Let him leave it to grow. If it can be made to succeed, let the Government make it succeed; but do not hold out hopes to the extremists in India that something more is going to be done. The noble Lord, if I may say so, has a great responsibility when he speaks as he does speak—I admit to rather empty Benches—for the Labour Party; that is, probably, for the next Government that will rule in this country. When he speaks for them, he is speaking under a great responsibility, and if he holds out hopes for the people of India that there is going to be a further change when he and his friends come into power, then I say that I think he is taking a very grave responsibility. Suppose you could conceive a political catastrophe under which the present Government were turned out of office and the noble Lord and his friends were placed on these Benches instead of on those of the Opposition; does the noble Lord really believe that he would be able to find a policy to solve all the difficulties in India? Does he think it for a moment? He is much too intelligent to dream of such a thing. He knows quite well that it could not be done.
188 Therefore, to hold out hopes to the extremists in India that the next Government will do it is really very hard on them. They keep the agitation alive, they call upon their followers to resign office and place every kind of constitutional difficulty in the way of Government, in the hope that one day the noble Lord and his friends will be in office and the demand for independence—for that is what it is—will be granted. The noble Lord, of course, and his friends, when they once shifted from that side of the Table to this, would not do anything of the kind; they would find out at once that the thing was impossible. Very well, then, I would venture to ask them, when these debates take place in your Lordships' House, not to hold out hopes to the people of India which they will not be able to fulfil. I will not use the word "pledge," for I do not like that word; but I really think it is entering into an obligation which, unless it is really meant and well considered, involves a responsibility which I think the noble Lord himself, upon reflection, would be the first to be unwilling to undertake. As far as the actual Motion is concerned, I need not say that, though some of us did not agree with the Government and the noble Lord when the Bill passed into an Act, yet, now it is an Act of Parliament, by all means make it work if you can.
§ 6.5 p.m.
§ THE MARQUESS OF ZETLAND
My Lords, I have listened, I need hardly say with attention, to the speeches which have been delivered, but I feel sure that your Lordships will not expect me to make any comment upon the various views which have been placed before the House. I would therefore move the first Motion standing in my name.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ Moved, That this House approves the continuance in force of the Proclamation issued under Section 93 of the Government of India Act, 1935, by the Governor of Bombay on November 4, 1939, a copy of which was presented to this House on November 29.—(The Marquess of Zetland.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.189
§ Moved, That this House approves the continuance in force of the Proclamation issued under Section 93 of the Government of India Act, 1935, by the Governor of the United Provinces on November 3, 1939, and of his Proclamation varying the same issued on December 1 1939, copies of which were presented to this House on November 29, 1939, and January 16, 1940, respectively.—(The Marquess of Zetland.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ Moved, That this House approves the continuance in force of the Proclamation issued under Section 93 of the Government of India Act, 1935, by the Governor of the United Provinces on November 10, 1939, and of his Proclamation varying the same issued on December 2, 1939, copies of which were presented to this House on November 29, 1939, and January 16, 1940, respectively.—(The Marquess of Zetland.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ Moved, That this House approves the continuance in force of the Proclamation issued under Section 93 of the Government of India Act, 1935, by the Governor of the Bihar on November 3, 1939, and of his Proclamation varying the same issued on December 3, 1939, copies of which were presented to this House on November 29, 1939, and January 16, 1940, respectively.—(The Marquess of Zetland.)
§ On Question, motion agreed to.
§ Moved, That this House approves the continuance in force of the Proclamation issued under Section 93 of the Government of India Act, 1935, by the Governor of the North 10, 1939, and of his Proclamation varying the same issued on December 2, 1939, copies of which were presented to this House on November 29, 1939, and January 16, 1940, respectively.—(The Marquess of Zetland.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.190
§ Moved, That this House approves the continuance in force of the Proclamation issued under Section 93 of the Government of India Act, 1935, by the Governor of Orissa on November 6, 1939, and of his Proclamation varying the same issued on December 2, 1939, copies of which were presented to this House on November 29, 1939, and January 16, 1940, respectively.—(The Marquess of Zetland.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.