HL Deb 14 August 1940 vol 117 cc207-37

LORD STRABOLGI rose to draw attention to the Statement made by the Governor-General on the 8th of August on the present political and military situation in India; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, in happier days my noble friend Lord Snell would no doubt be asking this question. Whether he would like to be doing it now instead of filling the important office that he does I do not know, but I shall in the meantime endeavour to bend the bow of Achilles. My remarks will be few but they are based on consultations with my noble friends in this House and my friends in another place. The Statement of August 8 to which I desire to draw your Lordships' attention is related closely to the three White Papers previously issued by the Governor-General, on October 17, November 6 and February 5 last, and the other relevant documents issued with them. These White Papers, as your Lordships will be aware having read them, expose the difficulties of the situation in India as it has developed since 1935, and the 1935 Act was itself an attempt to meet difficulties which had been gathering since the end of the last war. I do not propose to go over the history of those years with which your Lordships are very familiar; I think it is only necessary now to draw attention to these various documents and to remind your Lordships of the long and careful discussions we had when the 1935 Act was put on the Statute Book, as a means of showing the danger which all my friends recognise of trying to over simplify the Indian problem.

I say that with very great diffidence in the presence of so many experts in your Lordships' House who played such a great part in framing the present Constitution of India and in trying to find a solution for the present problem. The Statement of the Governor-Goneral of August 8 was obviously made with the full support of His Majesty's Government. We none of us doubt, the Government being what it is and composed as as it is, that it is an honest attempt to reach a working settlement with all the chief political elements in India in order to tide us over the period of the present war. That obviously is the intention of the Statement of the Governor-General issued with the approval of the War Cabinet. The Statement also contains the important promise to help the Indians themselves to frame their new Constitution with the least possible delay afterwards. That being the case, the Labour Party for whom I have the honour to speak, recognising that we are also responsible as participating in the Government, hope that Congress in particular, and the other important elements in the great Peninsula, will look at the Statement with a generous eye and that an honourable way out of the present difficulty will be sought.

In the hope of helping to that end, I venture to put two questions to my noble friend the Duke of Devonshire, who, I understand, will reply for His Majesty's Government. I gave him rather short notice of the questions. I should have been glad to have given him longer notice, but we had to have preliminary discussions in the Party before the debate which is also taking place in another House. I beg to ask the noble Duke whether, when it is said in the Statement that representative Indians will be invited to join the Executive Council, that means that they will be invited to join in an executive position and not Only in an advisory position. The difference between the two positions is plain, and I need not elaborate it. The second question is whether these Indian gentlemen, who we understand are to be representative, will be nominated by the bodies for whom they speak. For example, in the case of the Hindu Mahasabha, will the Governor-General invite whoever he thinks is the most representative leader of the Mahasabha to nominate their representative? When you are forming a Government of different Parties in coalition, I believe in theory the Prime Minister invites certain gentlemen to join his Administration, but in practice the gentlemen are of course nominated by their Parties. Will that be the case in India? I think these two questions are of some importance and if the Government, as I hope they can, answer them satisfactorily, it may help in the reaching of an agreement.

There is one very hopeful factor in the situation: that is that Indian sentiment taken as a whole is overwhelmingly with this country and our Allies in the present war. There is no doubt whatever about that. I would also stress the point that Indian sentiment is overwhelmingly with the Chinese people in their war for freedom. That shows that the feeling of Indians is not only due to the good relations which usually exist between Indians and the majority of Englishmen, and not only due to the close relationship between India and Britain, but is also due to the fact that the Indian people recognise that these two wars, the one in Asia and the other in Europe, are being fought fundamentally on the same issues. In those issues they are overwhelmingly on the side of justice and freedom against tyranny, oppression and treachery. The moral issues, I would venture to say, are perhaps even more clearly realised by thinking Indians than by a great many Englishmen. Furthermore, taking for example one of the great elements in the Indian political scene, in the Indian National Congress there is a very large majority, as has been recently demonstrated, which wishes to aid to the full in this world struggle. That being the case, it should not be difficult to arrive at an agreement, but for the difficulty with certain of the so-called minorities in India. I do not like the word "minorities" myself. When you are speaking of communities that number 90,000,000 people "minorities" is surely not the right term to use. But the word has come into currency and one cannot avoid it. I do not propose to dwell on those difficulties. The only remark I allow myself is that we should not make the mistake of exaggerating them, and I am sure His Majesty's Government are alive to that danger.

The Motion which I have placed on the Paper, with the assent of my noble friend Lord Addison, draws attention not only to the political but also to the military situation in India, and any information that we can be given I am sure would be of great interest to your Lordships. At the same time, I do not ask for more information than can properly be given. I understand that India is already making a great contribution to the common war effort. Indian troops are serving in many fields; the Royal Indian Navy, as it is now called, is doing most valuable service; and there is in India a growing Air Force—not so great as it could be, but at any rate there are the beginnings. I was very glad to find on my last visit to India, which was last year, the great interest that was being taken by Indians in air matters and the number of Indian gentlemen who had joined light aeroplane clubs. I understand that the young Indian to-day makes a very good air pilot. There are immense unused resources in India, nevertheless, in spite of the magnitude of the present war effort.

I see in to-day's Times the report of a speech made by the Viceroy in which he says that many people are saying that India should have an Army of a million men. A million men is far too small an Army in comparison with the potentialities of India. The man-power of India, taking only the so-called "martial" races—though I believe that there is a good deal of misunderstanding there—is greater than the whole combined man-power of the Axis Powers. I am informed on very good authority that the segregation of the so-called "martial" races has been much exaggerated. If India's man-power can be mobilised and armed—and we appreciate, of course, the difficulty about equipment—we need have no fear of threats to the Straits Settlement or to Burma, and in certain circumstances great help could be sent to Indo-China. Coming to the war that has actually broken out and is raging: if India's manpower is mobilised and armed, India alone can drive the Italians out of the whole of Africa; and East Africa is in a way India's Lebensraum. It is the land to which the overcrowded people, especially of Southern India, look as a field of emigration and settlement; a great many have been very successful in our East African Colonies, as my noble friend Lord Lloyd would be the first to admit; and there is obviously room for many more. The idea of the Italians dominating East Africa and threatening us there when we have this immense reservoir of fighting men in India, and its considerable industrial potentialities as well, is really absurd.

In these circumstances I venture only to touch on this military aspect of the situation. How tragic it will be if there is continued disagreement with some of the most important elements in India over forms of words and dates. I venture on this prediction. If an educated foreigner with no previous knowledge of this subject were to set himself to read up the papers and the statements made by both sides in this controversy impartially, he would be bound to reach the conclusion that the gap between the policy outlined in the Statement to which I am now drawing your Lordships' attention, of August 8, and the demands of Congress is not wide. Anybody with no previous prejudices or understandings, studying them impartially for the first time, would come to the conclusion, "Really, what is the difference?" It comes to a difference only in the form of words and in dates.

If I may just particularise in this matter: in practice in the world to-day, what is the real difference between Dominion self-government and self-determination? If anyone doubts that there is much difference, let him look at the two examples of South Africa and Ireland in this war. With regard to this difference over dates: this statement outlines a great Constitutional advance in India. Are we going to fall out about whether this advance should take place now or after the present war? If there is a difference there, surely it can be resolved. May I remind your Lordships of the very remarkable statement which was cabled to the Daily Herald and appeared in that paper on August 7 from Mr. Rajagopalachari, who leads the Congress majority which favours active help for our country in the war on condition that a National Government is set up? The noble Duke has had his attention drawn to that cable, and I hope your Lordships have also read it. It is too long to quote in full, but I hope I may be allowed to quote four very important sentences which summarise the whole attitude of the leader of the large majority in the Congress, the two-to-one majority who wish to use the whole of their influence and energies for the prosecution of the war.

The first sentence is as follows: Military policy in India has been to make defence and patriotism contradictory to one another. Congress offers to equate patriotism with defence. The next sentence I would quote—these do not follow consecutively, but I have taken out the most important passages in this long cable—is this: The claim for acknowledgment of India's birthright to be made effective through self-determination after the present war crisis is over cannot be resisted except on the theory of inequality of races, either expressed or implied. This cable was sent before the publication of the Statement on August 8, and in that Statement there is no theory of the inequality of races, either expressed or implied. The argument about Dominion status being better than independence may be urged after the war crisis is over, and it would be open to Britain to convince India about it. About the Moslem case this very important Hindu leader says the following: The Constitution of the National Government as proposed by Congress must fully meet the Moslem case. He then speaks of the Scheduled Classes: Arguments about the Depressed Classes are wholly fictitious. No one denies the need for abolition of social injustice and distinctions—and no organisation has done more for this than Congress. I think those sentences are very important, and it must be remembered that they were made before the Governor-General's declaration of August 8.

Reading the whole cable, as I am sure your Lordships have, who can say that with good will on both sides a settlement cannot be reached? In connection with this matter I have a suggestion to make. We do not know what the reaction of the Working Committees of the Moslem League and the Indian Congress will be. The Governor-General's Statement has, unfortunately, not had a good Press in the Indian papers. I do not want to prejudice the issue, but I do not believe that we are going to obtain a complete settlement by exchanging cables and by authorising the Governor-General to make Statements in Delhi or Simla. I believe that it would be a good policy at the present time if the present Secretary of State were to return quickly to the place of his birth—India—with wide powers to come to an agreement. There is a precedent for this in the successful mission of the late Mr. Edwin Montagu during the last war, when Lord Chelmsford was Viceroy. Mr. Montagu went out to settle the outstanding difficulties at that time, and he succeeded; the troubles began afterwards. I do not expect my noble friend the Duke of Devonshire to comment upon this suggestion, although I warned him that I was going to make it, and the same suggestion will be made by the spokesman of my Party in another place. I submit that there is even more need now for speedy and decided action than there was when Mr. Montagu went out to India in the last war. The need is great, and I believe that the opportunity is great also. Indeed, my Lords, I submit that it would be difficult to exaggerate the importance of this problem or the need for its speedy solution. I beg to move.

4.22 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that your Lordships will all be grateful to the noble Lord who has just spoken for having introduced this subject to-day, because, although our minds are full of other things, yet at the same time we must leave place for the consideration of this most important problem of India. The noble Lord mentioned the earlier announcements made by the Viceroy, which have been in your Lordships' hands, but naturally drew special attention to that which has just been published. It has received, as he said, a very icy greeting from the Congress Party in India, and that, I am sure, we all deplore; but at the same time, as he clearly pointed out, there is this encouraging feature, which must not be disregarded, that even those of the Congress Party who may be considered to be absolutely hostile not merely to the British Government in India but to the presence of British influence in India, cannot be regarded as inimical to us in the present contest or as being in sympathy with our enemies. From their own point of view they realise that, although they may not like our government, yet it is never advisable to jump out of the frying pan into the fire; and that if in the final issue of this contest we should be the inferior, India would be in a far worse position from their point of view than is now the case. I should like to add my sense of the remarkable contribution which India has made to our resources in the war.

I shall not say anything at this moment about the military question, the question of defence; but I do not think that it is possible to ignore, as the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, seemed somewhat tempted to do, the fact that the spokesmen of the Congress Party have not departed by a hair's breadth from their demand for the independence of the country. They reject, as it appears, the offer as a solution of what is known as Dominion status, even assuming that Dominion status could come into being at once, instead of having to be deferred, as the Government of India believe, until the conclusion of the war. As I shall try to explain in a moment, although Dominion status covers a large measure of independence, it should not be confused with that kind of independence which is demanded by the Congress spokesmen. There is, for instance, this very obvious difference between the two. If India were really independent in the full sense, a war between India and Afghanistan or any other neighbour, not part of the British Empire, would in the strict sense be no concern of ours; whereas if one of His Majesty's Dominions were to engage in a contest with any foreign country, that would be the intimate concern not only of this country but of all the other Dominions of the Crown. That is surely a very marked distinction, which it is impossible to ignore.

I do not want, however, to spend any time in talking about independence because independence cannot be regarded as a possibility from our point of view, not merely for the sake of the Empire but also for the sake of India itself; and therefore, it is, I think, desirable to say a word about the alternative—the hopeful alternative, as I believe it to be—of the growth of India into one of the Dominions of the Crown. Now it must not be forgotten that all the existing Dominions of the Crown—with one possible exception, because the conditions are entirely different in Eire—gradually obtained increasing powers of self-government until they achieved under the Statute of Westminster that complete independence with regard to their internal affairs of which the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, spoke. In this case it is proposed that the process should be greatly accelerated. It is proposed, in fact, that Dominion status should be conferred straight off as soon as it possibly can. Now it is quite clear that that condition of things must demand a certain period of time to develop.

It is not perhaps always remembered that when India becomes a Dominion not only will it have complete control over its internal affairs, its finance and its general administration, but Parliament here will cease to have not merely any power but any means of discussing or considering what happens in India, just as Parliament and in a great measure the Press here do not discuss, still less criticise, the internal working of political life in Canada or in Australia. That will be a pretty complete change—the complete disappearance of the India Office, and the completely new relations which will obtain between His Majesty' Government here and His Majesty' Government in India. There will also be a great many other questions which will have to be considered, that is to say, the relations of the new Government of India with the Indian States, both the large States and the others, some of which are so small as to be almost minute, and also the relations of the Indian Government with its neighbours—with Ceylon for instance, with Burma; and with those countries which are outside India, such as Afghanistan. Those are all questions which will take time to deal with, and I see no reason why they should not be dealt with by full discussion and in the most friendly sense.

That leads to the last question which the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, also raised, that of the defence of India. Now the independence of India would of course mean the immediate withdrawal of the 60,000 or so British troops who are in India. It will, I suppose, be generally agreed that the existence of a force of that kind in India would not be compatible with Dominion status as understood in other parts of the British Commonwealth. But—and this surely is an important factor in the difference between the kind of independence which is claimed on the one hand and Dominion status on the other—this will presumably be a valuable prelude, and in time I have no doubt that India will be completely defended from outside aggression by a purely Indian Army. And, what in a way is not less important, the Indian troops will be able to carry out those duties of assisting the civil power at need in cases of local difficulties, whether founded on religious or political grounds, which in the last resort have to fall to British troops at this moment.

The noble Lord mentioned what are spoken of as the "martial" races, and he indicated that that term might sometimes be abused and that too much stress ought not to be laid on it. That is true in this sense, that there has been a considerable advance in the creation of Territorial Forces and as the powers and duties of the Provinces come into greater prominence—as surely they are bound to do under the new Constitution—the existence of a strong and capable Territorial Force will be of the greatest advantage. At the same time, it has to be borne in mind that of the existing Indian Army, which I think numbers about 150,000 men, considerably more than half are enlisted in the Punjab. Therefore some considerable reorganisation will have to take place in the composition of the Army and in the placing, I should think, of the garrisons in different parts of the Peninsula.

But I fully believe all these questions can be worked out, and I fully believe also that the whole question will work itself out, if only those who are spokesmen for the more extreme types of Indian opinion will condescend to come into free and regular discussion. Whatever excuse they may have—and I do not think they have a great deal—for mistrust of the Government of India and of its intention, do let them throw that aside and enter into the fullest possible discussion both with the Government of India and with the spokesmen of those who are spoken of as the minorities, whether Moslems or Hindus, and not dig their heels in and say they will not take any part in the game. In that case, I firmly believe that a fair and just solution of the whole difficulty can be found, and I believe that the Viceroy and the Government will continue to show those virtues of patience and sympathy, both to which are so absolutely necessary if the question is to be settled in the right way.

4.43 p.m.


My Lords, whatever differences there may have been in this House in previous years, and at the present time, on the question of India, we shall all be unanimous on one obvious point, and that is in regretting the situation that has prevailed there during the present war and which it seems, unhappily, is likely to continue. India indeed is helping, and helping powerfully, in the great cause that is now at stake, but that help might be far greater still. From the standpoint both of material and morale, it is only one-half—perhaps less than one-half—of what it might otherwise have been. Here is a great part of the world in flames, and the conflagration possibly spreading to the rest, and here is India, with one-sixth of the population of mankind, comprising two-thirds of the population of the. British Empire, standing like a man with one hand tied behind his back. Whether the attitude of Congress is to be justified or not, no one doubts that the present situation is the result of the course taken by the Congress Party. All the other important elements in India are prepared, actively and whole-heartedly, to help. The Moslems, the Liberal Party, the representatives of the Depressed Classes, the Princes—all are wishful in the fullest degree to assist Britain and her Allies in the war. But the indications are, at this moment, that Congress will still persist in the attitude that has hitherto been taken.

For ray own part, I frankly confess that all my life I have sympathised with the main fundamental purposes of the Congress Party, apart from questions of method or of speed of action. In the main, their desire that India should be a self-respecting, self-governing country, standing equal with the other nations of the world, and her population no longer a subject race, governed by their conquerors—that seems to me a right, worthy, and noble aim. When two years ago I went to India to study, as far as a visitor can in a few months, the workings of the new Constitution, I rejoiced at the obvious and universally recognised success of the Provincial Governments, eight of which were controlled by the Congress Party. It was not surprising that during the years before the war, all India—and Congress in the forefront—should have denounced the spirit of aggression, militarism, and tyranny which was gaining ground over a large part of Europe. Nazism and Hinduism are poles apart. There is no one idea that forms part of the doctrine of Nazism which is not hateful to the spirit of Hinduism, and it was not surprising that the Congress Party, during those years, should have denounced and derided the inactivity, as it appeared, of British Governments in the presence of the advance of dictatorships in Europe. But when a different attitude was taken by the Government of this country, after the annexation by Germany of Bohemia and after the invasion of Poland and the outbreak of war, then I confess I felt a deep disappointment at the course which the Congress Party took. That surely was the moment when all political disputes should have been dropped—all else put aside—and when the sword of India should instantly have flashed from its scabbard.

But after twenty years of political agitation they could not see that a situation had arisen in which other things mattered more, in which another course was needed. Not that they sympathised in any degree with the arguments of the Nazis or with their justification for their actions. They loathed and detested them, but apparently they relied on Britain and her Allies to win the victory while they stood aside unless their claims were met. But what if there had been no victory? What if this country had been divided politically as India is divided, or as France was divided? What if we had capitulated, as the French capitulated, and the Nazis had been triumphant? What, then, would have been the position of India and of the Indian people in future years? It would only have been a question which would have been first in seizing that rich prize—the Germans, the Russians, or the Japanese. Of what avail would have been the valour and the patriotism of the Indian peoples, faced by the massed mechanised warfare and air attack of present-day war? The liberties of India, with all other liberties, would have gone under. Congress, Mahasabha, Moslem League; Federation, Dominion status, in dependence; formulas, phrases, perorations—all would equally have been rolled under, crushed, and destroyed.

That has not happened, and it will not happen. And why? Because our soldiers and sailors—and at this moment, above all, our gallant and brilliant young airmen—and those of the Dominions and our Allies, have been, and are, fighting and, if need be, dying, in order to fight India's cause as well as their own. Therefore we have the right, not to ask, but to demand as an obligation of honour and duty, that India should fight by their side. But even if there had been no outside aggression, is there any reason to believe that the internal peace of India would have remained secure as it has done for the last 150 years if Britain had been compelled by the situation in Europe to withdraw her legions? If the pax Britannica had ended like the pax Romana, can it be assumed that India, internally, would still have remained at peace?

Some are inclined to assume that that peace for a century and a half was in the nature of things; but the history of India itself proves very clearly that that is not so. Any traveller there who sees everywhere the ancient walled cities and the great fortresses of the Moghul Empire knows quite well that the history of India through the ages has been one of wars and battles, of campaigns and conquests; and to-day the traveller who visits the North-West Frontier, where 60,000 soldiers have always to be on guard, and who visits the region of the Khyber Pass, where every house is a fortress with its watch tower and its loopholed walls, knows very well that the elements are there that would very quickly bring back strife and turmoil if a strong Army were not always watchful for the maintenance of India's internal peace. They must recognise that also, and I think they do, but their answer is: "Let Britain proclaim India's independence; let her give us the power to frame a new Constitution for ourselves in our own way, based upon democratic principles, then we shall in all probability join with her as an Ally and provide thereby for our own defence, and for her assistance so long as it may be necessary for maintaining internal order."

But the position is not so simple as that. I speak as a Liberal who all his life has been advocating the fullest self-government everywhere where local conditions would allow; but the position all over the world is not what it is here in Great Britain. Democracy works fairly well, or may work well, in a country which is substantially homogeneous in race, language and religion, or where, if there are differences, those differences are not such as to become the governing factor. It is much the same in the United States. In countries such as ours the principles of Bentham and Mill can be applied in their simplicity: the majority rule, and the minority acquiesce. But where there are differences of race, language and religion, and they go deep, and are the things that people care about more than anything else, then indeed the matter is not so easily dealt with. If those differences follow certain geographical boundaries, as in Canada for example, or in Switzerland, then, by allowing large local powers and by adopting the principle of federalism, you can get democratic institutions to work with success; but where those conditions do not prevail, as in many of the countries in Eastern Europe, or in Palestine for example, or, again, in India, then the simple majority rule cannot be applied.

In India the communal difficulty is real, and is at this moment, as I see it, the crux of the whole situation. I know that difficulties arise as to the relations between the States and the rest of India, but it is the friction between Hindu and Moslem which is the main obstacle to a solution of the present difficulties. There can be no constitutional settlement unless that fact is recognised. The Moslems number one-fourth of the whole of the population, and that fact demands that their case shall be considered before the constitutional issue is settled. Congress declares that this feeling among the Moslems is artificially fostered by the British Government on the principle of "Divide and rule." I do not think that is true. It is an example of wishful thinking. The Moslems are as much in earnest as the Congress Party. The faith and brotherhood of Islam is a living reality in the modern world, and Moslems stand passionately for their own religion and culture. I deplore the fact that the dividing line in Indian politics should follow the religious issue, bat that is what in fact the people care about most, and when elections take place in many parts of India the people vote Congress or Moslem.

That is the dividing line, and no one doubts that this divergence between the two communities is more acute at this moment than it has been at any time in the modern history' of India. We deplore it, but it is none the less a fact. Mr. Gandhi, in a speech which he made to the Committee of Congress, printed in his paper Harijan on March 30 of this year, said this: I am confirmed in my belief that there is no Swaraj without a settlement with the Mussulmans. But what kind of a settlement is it to be? Mr. Jinnah and the Moslem League have now definitely declared their solution of the difficulty to be a geographical separation of India into Moslem States or Provinces, and others. They would have great Moslem units created in Northern and North-West India, with guarantees for the Hindu minorities in those districts and corresponding guarantees for Moslems elsewhere. I have grave doubt whether that is a right solution of the Indian problem. It will either mean great transfers of population, mass migrations, the plucking up of millions who are rooted deep in the soil of the land for centuries, or else it will mean the creation of many minority problems; and problems that may prove to be worse than those with which we are now confronted, because the communities would often be smaller and less able to make their influence felt and, therefore, more prone to invoke the aid of powerful neighbouring Provinces of their own faith. But, whatever the settlement is to be, it is certain that this communal issue cannot be settled here by this Parliament or in this country. Indeed, if we were to attempt to settle it here, that would be contrary to the principles of Congress, for they declare, and I think rightly, that this is an Indian issue to be determined by Indians.

At this moment Congress is pressing the British Government to proclaim the inde- pendence of India straight away, prior to any settlement of the Communal issue having been reached, and, further, they claim that a new Constitution should be established through the agency of a constitutional convention which should itself be framed on the basis of the majority principle. How is it possible for us to agree to these proposals in face of the passionate protest of the Moslem community? While Congress say that majority rule alone is democracy the Moslems say that Hindu control based upon mere numbers is not democracy. If the Moslems were to resist, Congress, who protest that coercion should never be used against themselves, could not approve the use of coercion against others. I submit to your Lordships that independence, which is the keyword now of the Congress policy, is not the right aim—not right for India, not right for Great Britain either, and not right for any part of our Commonwealth. Not independence but interdependence should be the rule. This country does not now act independently in matters either of war or peace which are of great moment. Everything is done in consultation and in cooperation with the other parts of the Commonwealth.

Independence! Why, my Lords, there are too many independent States in the world already to-day—more than sixty. It is these separate sovereignties which are the cause of the troubles, of the; agonies of our time. It is not progress to create new independent States, but reaction. It will not forward but will hinder what has been called the Cause of men. We seek for a new order in Europe and in the world, but the necessary elements of that new order already exist in the British Commonwealth itself, covering one-fourth of the land area of the globe. To break up that Commonwealth is not an advance towards a finer world but a step backwards and away from it. When the Congress Party say that the conception of Dominion status is inconsistent with national freedom, let them ask the Dominions what they think about it. Let any Congress men go to Canada or Australia or New Zealand or to the greater part of South Africa and tell the people there that they are not free but are living as helpless victims of British Imperialism, and we know what kind of reception they would meet. Our aim should be not an independent India, nor independent Dominions, nor an independent Britain, but a free Britain, free Dominions and a free India, working together for the peace and welfare of the world, interdependent, co-operating together under the symbol of a single Crown. That rather is the ideal for all of us.

We live in time of war and of danger lest Hitlerism and militarism should rule Europe, and the importance of national defence is in this generation a dominating consideration. What policy does Congress propose with regard to that in India? We know that Mr. Gandhi with all sincerity advocates the principle of non-violence, but you can no more stop Hitler with a policy of non-violence than you can hold a tiger with cobwebs. An independent India would have to provide for her own defence at an enormous cost—a cost many times as great as that which is now borne by Indian taxpayers and of which they so often and so bitterly complain. We cannot withdraw our forces and leave India bare of all defence. Mr. Gandhi, in his paper Harijan on March 16 of this year, contemplated the possibility that English soldiers may continue to serve, at all events for a time, in an independent India. He does not indeed advocate that as a policy, because it is not a policy of non-violence, but he adumbrates it as a possibility. How can that be possible? Our armed forces are not mercenaries to be let out for hire. We could not keep them in India to carry out a policy in the determination of which the British Government had no voice and which many might consider to be quite wrong, or to impose coercive measures on a minority which we thought ourselves had not been rightly treated. Whatever else may be possible, that is not.

But still, they say, independence is not necessarily separation, but only the right to declare separation if they so desire. That is so, but they may so desire. If independence did mean separation then the consequences to which I have referred, external and internal, would all ensue.[...] If not, if their mind is—and I believe that with most of the leaders of Congress it is their mind—that when once independence and the right to secede had been conceded they would not exercise it, but would remain in co-operation with Great Britain with a status similar to that of the Dominions—if that is so, then in effect this continual emphasis on independence is only for the sake of form. This is not the moment, in this world crisis, when India should allow herself to be half immobilised by a punctilio.

We know here in this country that the practice of self-government is very difficult. It requires a long apprenticeship. A democracy which is mature, which has had the experience of centuries, knows that in politics there are times for uncompromising political warfare and times also for restraint and conciliation. For my own part I am a believer in the Party system. I am not one of those who condemn it as being wrong in theory. I think controversies are wholesome, and that a nation without political controversies is a dead nation. Politicians should have definite principles, hold them strongly, express them freely and fight for them tenaciously. But in times of national danger all that must be suspended and unity becomes more important. A Party system which docs not recognise that brings certain disaster. It was so in Germany under the Weimar Constitution, it was so in Italy after 1918, it has been so for a long time in France with results that we now see.

Here in Great Britain we have recognised that restraint is necessary in a democracy, and it is because of that that self-government has survived and is now strong. If it had not been so the cause of democracy would have fallen here long ago through national disunion. Now that the Liberal Party, and if I may venture to say so the Labour Party also, appeal to the Parties in India to co-operate in a common cause, we are appealing to them to do only what we have done ourselves. Some of us on these Benches gave up our seats in the Cabinet of 1915 to facilitate the Coalition Government during the last war and the Labour Party also entered that Coalition. In 1931 again, in a time of economic crisis, we co-operated gladly and loyally with other Parties, and now again in 1940 all Parties combine for the sake of a major crisis. If we had not done that we should have been greatly to be condemned. We appeal to India to do the same.

Apart from the substance of this White Paper which is now before us, I have a criticism to make of its presentation. This White Paper and its predecessors are written in a style which can only be described as dry and jejune. They lack inspiration and any power of appeal. That, however, is merely a defect of presentation; the actual proposals are more important. They are three. The first is that the Central Government of India should be reconstituted and strengthened, and that that should be done at once by the addition of representative Indians. We all, I think, approve that proposal and rejoice that the matter should not be allowed to wait longer. Its success depends, of course, upon the personalities who are invited and enlisted, and even more, as my noble friend Lord Strabolgi has said, upon the nature of the powers that will be conferred. The second proposal is that there should be a somewhat larger body, a War Advisory Council, to concern itself with the actual measures that are now being taken. That also is a proposal to be approved, I would submit, if the body is to be a really live and effective body, frequently meeting and perhaps working through sub-committees; but if it is to be merely a formal body, meeting rarely and then only in the main to endorse the actions and the: plans of the executive, then its creation would be likely to be more a cause of offence than of satisfaction.

The third proposal is a recognition that the Constitution of 1935 may be revised and that—these are words of great importance— the framing of that scheme should be primarily the responsibility of Indians themselves, and should originate from Indian conceptions of the social, economic and political structure of Indian life. That declaration clearly strikes the right note and is couched in the right spirit, and is also to be welcomed. The one point, however, on which I find myself in disagreement is a following sentence: It is clear that a moment when the Commonwealth is engaged in a struggle for existence is not one in which fundamental constitutional issues can be decisively resolved. Nothing, therefore, is to be done under this head until the war is over. That, I submit, is an error of policy. I do not think it is at all clear that this matter cannot be dealt with while the war is continuing. In a debate as long ago as last November in this House, I ventured to mention considerations that led me to that conclusion. The statesmen who would be concerned in the remodelling of the new Indian Constitution need not be the ones who are engaged in war measures; and I pointed out that during the last war many of our most difficult and bitter political controversies in this country were settled under the auspices of the Lowther Committee. I quoted in support of this argument, the views that had just been expressed in another place by two former Secretaries of State for India belonging to different Parties: Mr. Wedgwood Benn and Sir Samuel Hoare, and by Sir Hugh O'Neill, who was then the Under-Secretary of State for India. If that step had been taken then and constitutional conversations had been commenced last November, very possibly by this time the controversy might have been solved. I urge, therefore, a change of policy under this head, and I trust the Government will not insist upon the postponement of this matter until the end of the war.

Furthermore, it is plain that if the deadlock is to continue, some fresh approach ought to be made, and possibly fresh minds should be brought into action and a somewhat different handling attempted. As an immediate step I would venture, with respect, to support the suggestion that has been made by my noble friend Lord Strabolgi, that if it were found possible for the Secretary of State for India to go out to India and to enter into the necessary consultations, it might prove to be a useful measure. If he cannot himself go, someone else might be deputed on his behalf. Another suggestion was made some months ago that a very small Parliamentary Commission might be sent out to act as intermediaries and to offer their good offices in endeavouring to overcome these difficulties. All that, however, would be useless if it were known beforehand that Congress would insist that their claims should first be admitted before any discussions began; and equally useless if on the other side the Moslem League were to declare that they would agree to nothing in any circumstances except a geographical division of India such as they now propose. For the sake of the cause which is now at issue and is in peril, and for the sake of the future of India—and indeed of all civilised mankind—we have a right to ask that there should be among the Indian parties and sections at least a desire, at least a will, to resolve the differences that still divide them.

5.17 p.m.


My Lords, the Government certainly cannot complain of the reception which this House has given to the Governor-General's Statement. I hope that in particular the speech of the noble Viscount who has just sat down will be very fully studied in India. I cannot agree with its concluding sentences in which he suggested that we could, in spite of the war, get ahead with the framing of a new Indian Constitution. I do not believe that is possible under war conditions. We can, however, I believe, go a long way towards preliminary building, and it is hoped that these proposals will make that possible.

It may be convenient to your lordships if, before I attempt to answer the various questions that have been put to me, I remind you very briefly of the background from which the Governor-Generals Statement arose. I need not go over the ground in any great detail, because my noble friend the late Secretary of State for India has had occasion more than once to describe the various stages of the unfortunate political disagreements which have been so prominent in India during the last year. The position was that after the Provincial elections which were held early in 1937 there were Congress Party majorities in seven of the eleven Provinces of India, and the Ministers in those Provinces were therefore members of the Congress Party. Shortly before the war broke out the Congress had warned the Ministers in those seven Provinces that they were to take no part in assisting preparations for a war which some of the Congress leaders had described even quite lately as an imperialistic conflict. I should say at once that that view found no very general acceptance in India, where in all quarters there was from the very start of the war a profound detestation of Nazism and Fascism and all that they stand for, and a deep and strong sympathy with the cause of the Allies. Nevertheless, in the middle of last September the Working Committee of the Congress Party, after deliberations which lasted several days, announced the policy which, although it has been restated and elaborated on several occasions subsequently, has remained substantially unchanged.

The policy is this, that the Congress Party refuses to take part in making India an active participant in the war unless His Majesty's Government recognise India's right to complete independence, and consequently her inherent right to settle herself, immediately after the war, the form of Constitution under which she is to govern herself. Dominion status is repudiated as involving the unwarrantable assumption of a relationship between India and the British Common-wealth which, if it is to exist at all, must be for India and not for England to determine. The latest terms in which Congress has stated its conditions for active co-operation are that the existing Central Executive should forthwith be converted into a National Government acceptable to all the members of the Central Legislature, this being merely a provisional ad interim step pending the reconstruction of the Constitution on a self-governing basis, after the war, by Indians themselves. As the instrument for framing the new Indian Constitution, the Congress has stipulated for a Constituent Assembly elected on a basis of adult suffrage. No attempt has been made to set out in detail the procedure contemplated for this body, but it has been suggested that agreement as to the safeguards to be provided for minorities should be reached as far as possible with the representatives of the minorities upon the Constituent Assembly, and that where agreement cannot be secured the point in dispute is to be settled by arbitration.

I need scarcely remind your Lordships that the Congress claims that it voices the opinions and desires of the whole of India. The claims of the Congress, however, have been met, step by step, by rejoinders from the Moslem League. Here again it will suffice if I give quite briefly, but I hope accurately, the general gist of these counter-claims. The Moslem League repudiates entirely the claim of the Congress to speak for the whole of India, and I should add that this claim has also been repudiated, and repudiated with vehemence, by persons speaking on behalf of other minorities, including the Scheduled Castes of the Hindus. The Moslem League asserts that its reasons for objecting so strongly to the federal part of the provisions of the Act of 1935 are that they are based on the principles of majority government and that they must therefore mean the subjection of the Moslem minority to the rule of the Hindu majority. The Moslem League's view is that if India is given complete freedom to frame her own Constitution the majority will obviously produce a Constitution based on majority rule, and that the Congress plan for a Constituent Assembly is a device designed with the same purpose.

The League has further claimed that the Moslems should not be regarded merely as a minority of the Indian population but as a separate nation; and the proposal has been made, to which the noble Lord opposite referred, that India should be divided. Mr. Jinnah, the President of the Moslem League, has asserted, basing himself on what he says is the practical experience of Moslems of administration by Congress Provincial Governments, that a democratic system of government by the counting of heads is wholly unsuitable for Indian conditions. Accordingly, the Moslem League has been inclined to make its co-operation conditional, and the condition for which it has asked is that no constitutional change shall be made or promised without the assent of the Moslems. Assurances of this kind have also been demanded by the representatives of other minorities.

Against these profound and fundamental disagreements as to the nature of India's constitutional future and the means by which she is to reach it must be set the universal loathing by Indians of every class and creed of Hitler and all his works, to which I have already alluded. This detestation has grown with every fresh act of violence and with every advance of the Nazi war machine; and the collapse of France has brought home to every Indian the realisation that all his hopes of freedom depend on the defeat of the common enemy; and the desire that India should play a more effective part in the war has naturally, therefore, become more widespread and more intense. The Governor-General's Statement affords the opportunity which has been so anxiously awaited, and will make possible immediately full co-operation on a provisional basis, without prejudice to the views of any co-operator about the future. I am glad to be able to tell your Lordships that all the indications show that there will be a widespread response.

It represents, of course, a provisional settlement only, and it cannot, in the nature of things, be more than that, for two reasons. The first is that, as I said in my opening remarks, I do not believe that it is really possible to scrap and rebuild the Constitution of a great country in the middle of a war. The second is that no further step can be taken towards self-government in India except as the result and on the basis of Indian agreement. I want to stress this fundamental point, because it is a common assertion in India that the communal dissents are an unimportant incident of which we are taking advantage for our own purposes, and that if India were free they would dissolve and disappear. I do not believe that that is the case. These communal dissensions are not unimportant; they are profound and far-reaching, and to suppose that it is possible for us to impose on India a Constitution to which the eighty to ninety million Moslems are resolutely opposed is to refuse to face facts. I need not labour the point; it has been put with admirable lucidity by the noble Viscount who spoke last. These communal dissents can disappear in one of two ways only, by agreement or by force. Hitherto they have been kept in check by the arbitrament of an impartial outsider. I do not see how we can surrender this trust until we are satisfied that these differences are not to be put to the arbitrament of force, and of the most terrible form of force, civil war.

It goes without saying that the system of government we hope to see India develop is not a dictatorship, but one in which the people as a whole have the final voice. But any system of government of that kind must be based—it is unimaginable unless it is based—upon the general consent of the governed; and if India responsibly desires and is ready for self-government, this must be self-evident. Therefore the question which I have seen put—whether insistence on Indian agreement does not in effect mean putting it in the power of a minority to withstand the desire of the majority for self-government—really betrays a failure to grasp the nature of the problem which India is facing. It is a problem which has faced all the Dominions and which has been solved by one method in all. Sometimes the process of solution has proved long and laborious but in every case it has been the same; it has involved the willing and convinced assent for the common weal of all the parties involved; the sinking of rights, interests, preferences for the sake of building a nation. Canada, South Africa and Australia all had complicated problems, and all of them have been able to get over them by this sinking of differences. Without that agreement I believe that it is quite impossible to make a further constitutional advance.

The noble Lord who proposed this Motion asked me some questions. He wanted to know whether the Indian gentlemen who are to be associated with the Government will be associated in an executive or advisory capacity. He will see in the White Paper that there are two bodies proposed. One is to be a purely consultative and advisory body, but the Executive Council is actually in effect the Government of India. The members of it will have portfolios; they will each be in charge of a Department, and they will be collectively responsible with their colleagues for all the actions of the Central Government of India. The answer to the noble Lord's question therefore is that the Ministers will be executive, and not merely advisory. On the Advisory Council their functions will be, as the name implies, purely advisory, and I can assure your Lordships—I think it was the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, who asked whether this would be an active body—that the intention is that it shall be an extremely active and busy body. It will meet constantly, and it really is hoped that it will be the means of focusing the desire of India to collaborate in the war and in making that extremely effective.

The noble Lord also asked whether the politicians appointed to the Executive would be nominated or appointed by the bodies they purport to represent. The answer to that question is in the negative. These gentlemen will be selected by the Governor-General, but I can assure the noble Lord that he will not make his selection without the most careful consideration, discussion and consultation with the bodies concerned. He will take every step available to him to make quite sure that these various gentlemen do in fact represent the respective parties on whose behalf they are appointed, and that they are in fact recognised by those parties as true representatives.

Then the noble Lord also raised the question of India's contribution to the war. I have not attempted to deny that India could do, and wants to do, more than she is doing now, but it should not be forgotten that her contribution is already a very large one. The Royal Indian Navy has been largely expanded and is now over two and a half times what it was; it has also undergone a great deal more training. The Army has been very largely expanded, and increases which are already in hand will involve the enrolment of at least 100,000 additional men. Indian units are serving in Singapore and in the Middle East. The Air Force has also been very largely expanded; five new flights have been on duty for the last few months, and more are planned. There has likewise been an immense expansion of India's ordnance factories, which are now turning out six or seven times the previous quantity of stores of one sort or another—rifles, light machine-guns, artillery, ammunition, and many other articles of military equipment. And India is not only equipping her own troops, but providing very considerable quantities of these stores to Great Britain and to Allied Forces overseas.

As your Lordships will have seen from time to time in the Press, the Rulers of the Indian States have made most generous offers of men and money, and their troops are in some cases serving alongside their comrades in the Regular Army on the North-West Frontier and in other parts of India. It was my privilege not long ago to see the members of the Indian transport in transplanted companies who are serving in this country after being withdrawn from Dunkirk, and it was a very inspiring experience to find the magnificent spirit of those men. I ought also to allude to the fact that, apart from the Princes' contributions, there have been large contributions by private individuals in various parts of India, who formed funds and have contributed most generously. It would be invidious to mention particular funds, but I should like your Lordships to know that one of those funds in particular has made possible the purchase of a full squadron of fighter aeroplanes. Therefore, as I have said, while I do not want to minimise the fact that India can do more, it should not be thought for a moment that India is not already doing a very great deal.

The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, asked whether my light honourable friend the Secretary of State might not go to India and in that way get a move on quickly in the direction of constitutional reform. The noble Viscount was good enough to warn me that he would be raising the question, and I have had the opportunity of discussing it with my right honourable friend. He will no doubt weigh very carefully the considerations which have been put forward in the House, but I am able to inform the noble Viscount that his view at present is that it is the Governor-General who has made this big advance, it is he who has done the enormous amount of work which has been involved before this approach was made—and I should like to pay a tribute to the immense amount of patient work which has been accomplished by the Governor-General and to the immense value of the personal contacts which he has formed. My right honourable friend's inclination, at first sight anyhow, is that as it is the Governor-General who has embarked on this tremendous task, he had better be left to go on with what he has started with such remarkable success.

My Lords, the opening now offered to Indian collaboration is, of necessity, provisional and the construction of a new Constitution must obviously stand over until victory has teen won, but the mere fact that we are going to get collaboration should, we believe, greatly assist towards finding the solution of those difficult problems of machinery and procedure which will have to be settled when we come to the creation of the new Constitution. So far we have had a great deal of what I might describe as long-range artillery fire, resolutions and counter-resolutions, broadcasts and counter-broadcasts, which have hardly helped to resolve differences or to create a favourable atmosphere for negotiations. Now we shall see, I greatly hope, Indians of many Parties sharing side by side the problems and responsibilities of government. There can be little doubt that this collaboration will result in making possible those personal contacts which have hitherto been sadly lacking between leaders of public opinion who have widely differing points of view to reconcile. I believe these contacts will prove of the greatest value when the time comes to set up the machinery to build the new India.

5.42 p.m.


My Lords, I am much obliged to the noble Lords who have spoken on my Motion. My noble friend Lord Crewe, if I may with very great respect say so, has not quite appreciated the present-day meaning of Dominion status as we on these Benches understand it. If I understood him aright, he said that if India accepted the situation of being a Dominion, we should be bound to support her in any war in which she was involved.




If I misunderstood the noble Marquess, that is all right.


Perhaps I had better explain as the noble Lord misunderstood me. What I said was that if India or one Dominion—whatever it might be—got into collision with another country, it would be a matter then for all the other Dominions to consider whether or not the one involved should be supported or not, precisely as it was a matter for each Dominion to consider whether they should support this country in the present war.


I am glad to draw that explanation from the noble Marquess, because, if I misunderstood him, the matter might be misunderstood in India when his remarks are cabled out. I particularly wish to thank my noble friend Lord Samuel for supporting my suggestion that the Secretary of State, Mr. Amery, should take the first opportunity of going to India. I am sorry that, apparently, he does not incline to that proposal, according to what the noble Duke has just said. May I make it clear that that suggestion is no sort of reflection at all on the Viceroy? The very distinguished member of your Lordships' House who fills that high office to-day has the regard and admiration of us all. I speak for my noble friends in that as well; but he is not in the same position as the Secretary of State who is, titularly at any rate, a Cabinet Minister. The Secretary of State going out from here and, so to speak, making a fresh start with the authority of the British Government behind him, and a considerable amount of freedom to act, might, I believe, succeed where the Viceroy has so far been unable to succeed. That is no sort of reflection of a derogatory kind on Lord Linlithgow.

If I might make one more comment on the most eloquent speech from Lord Samuel, it is this. He spoke with justifiable pride of British pilots fighting this great air battle over the Channel. He would be even prouder if Indian pilots were there helping in the fight. That should not be impossible. Or if they were to-day driving back the Italians in Somaliland, my noble friend would be even prouder. We expect British young men to do that sort of thing, but for Indians to do it voluntarily would be a great thing. All that, of course, while fully recognising the great part the India Forces are playing already. The other thing—I met this in India when I tried to discuss these questions with important representatives of the Government and of the great communities—is this question of the British troops in India. My noble friend speaks with scorn of the idea of a temporary British garrison in India, with a practically independent Government, and talks of the troops as mercenaries.


A wholly independent Government.


Are the British troops in Egypt mercenaries? The British troops are in Egypt under Treaty with the Egyptian Government, and there is no humiliation either on the Egyptian Government or on the troops.


They are not under the orders of the Egyptian Government.


Does the noble Viscount suggest for a moment that if the Egyptian Government asked for their help to keep order in the country that would be refused? I found this same thing being talked about in India—they could not serve as mercenaries. That is a very unfortunate phrase to use, if my noble friend will allow me to say so, and it does not help in this particular controversy. I do not propose to press for Papers, but before I withdraw my Motion, may I be allowed to make one further comment on what has fallen from my noble friend the Duke of Devonshire? I cannot disguise the fact that his statement—made, of course, in consultation with my right honourable friend Mr. Amery, and the Office they both adorn—was disappointing. If he will allow me to say so, that statement goes out of its way to accentuate the differences between Congress and His Majesty's Government. In my speech I tried to rationalise these differences. I was looking—and my Party which supports the Government are looking—for a way to agreement. This is not the time to look for differences. This is a time to get over these differences if possible, and find a way out of these present difficulties in India.

What will be the test? The test will be, to begin with, whether the seven or eight Congress-controlled Governments in the Provinces where Congress has a majority, again take office. That will be the first test of the success of the new policy. I myself sincerely hope that will result, and that this Statement will be accepted as a basis for further discussion and, if possible, agreement; but I do hope—I cannot help saying this—that those whose authority to speak is so much greater than mine, and whose words will carry much further than mine, will seek the means of closing the gap that at present exists between Government and Congress, and not widen it. We know of these differences in India. We know of the troubles with the Moslem League. We know of the abuse we have had from prominent leaders in India about our so-called Imperialism and our supposedly selfish aims in the present war. But, at the same time, let us try to put ourselves in their place. They want to help. That has been made abundantly clear. The noble Duke made it clear in his speech that there is this detestation of all that Hitlerism means in India, and that the people there desire to see it driven out of Europe. That being the case, cannot we try to find a way of bringing them all into the war with us to the fullest possible extent?

I ventured to say in moving for Papers that it was not possible to exaggerate the importance of this question of policy in India to-day. My own belief is that the future attitude of India may have a very important bearing on the conduct of the war, especially if hostilities spread and expand in the East. What I have just said is not a personal attack on the noble Duke. I quite appreciate his position. Perhaps I was a little too sensitive of the language used, and I thank him for the reply he has made, and particularly thank him for answering the questions I ventured to put. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.