§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE PARLIAMENTARY UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE FOR INDIA AND BURMA (THE DUKE OF DEVONSHIRE)
My Lords, the law as it stands provides that the Provincial Legislative Assemblies in India and the House of Representatives in Burma shall expire in a few months. In the case of the Burma House of Representatives that would be in February, in the case of five Indian Provinces—Assam, Bengal, the North-West Frontier Provinces, the Punjab and Sind—it would be in April next, and in the case of the other Provinces next July. The actual Elections would probably be held before then, because they have to be held in the cold weather. After very careful consideration it has been decided in consultation with the Governor General and with the Provincial Governors that the present time is not suitable for holding Elections in India. There is unfortunately a certain amount of communal tension and it is thought that the holding of Elections at the present time would almost certainly lead to aggravation of that tension. Moreover, India like ourselves is engaged in a gigantic war effort which would be distracted to some extent by the holding of the Elections at the present time. For that reason this Bill extends the maximum life of the various legislative bodies from five years to an indefinite period—namely, one year after the termination of hostilities.
The reason for that is that as I have already said Elections must be held in the cold weather, and it is not possible to foretell exactly when the war will end. This latitude is therefore allowed. In the case of Burma, there is no communal tension, and the present intention is that Elections shall be held in Burma, but events are developing in the Far East which are bringing Burma very much nearer to the war than it is now. It cannot be certain that conditions will remain 1055 such as to make Elections in Burma desirable. The present intention is, however, that in Burma, unlike India, the Elections shall be held This is a permissive Bill. It does not say that Elections shall not be held. It merely permits the prolongation of the life of Parliament. It is a very small measure and I hope your Lordships will be prepared to pass it. I understand that some noble Lords would like to take this opportunity of referring to recent developments in India which have been dealt with in a White Paper—the expansion of the Executive Council and the formation of a Defence Council. I hope it will meet your Lordships' convenience if I reserve any remarks I may have to make on that subject until those who are interested in the matter have spoken, and I now move that the Bill be read a second time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Duke of Devonshire.)
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
My Lords, I can say at once that in my opinion His Majesty's Government had no choice whatever except to introduce this measure. It is clear they could not have proceeded with the attempt to carry on the Provincial Governments as authorised by law, except by making complete surrender to the more extreme opinions either of Hindu or Moslem Leaders in India. Therefore His Majesty's Government had no choice; but it certainly is a matter of real regret that it is necessary to make a halt in the progress of India towards self-government, and to me personally it is a matter of particular regret because I have always been one of those who believe that that march towards a self-governing India would be best carried out through an extension of the powers of Provincial Governments rather than by attempting at once to create a powerful responsible Central Government, such as exists in some parts of His Majesty's Dominions.
That is by no means a new view because so long ago as 1858, after the suppression of the Mutiny the view was expressed by many, of whom the most prominent and distinguished representative was John Bright, that it would be wise to weaken the central authority and to give more power to the different Presidencies. Some went so far as to suggest 1056 that the Governor-Generalship ought to be abolished altogether and that the different Presidencies should be in fact independent States as separate as the different nations in Europe. Without going so far as that, the opinion was held by many responsible people for many years that the Provincial Governments ought to be strengthened. In 1911 a Dispatch was written in which it was pointed out that to strengthen Provincial Administration there should be autonomy in all local affairs, leaving to the Central Government only those matters which are of distinct Imperial concern, such for instance as Defence, Customs, coinage and so on. With regard to Defence, I, personally, would like to go further and see the different Presidencies or Provinces furnished with troops—with a force sufficient to support and, if necessary, replace the local police in case of serious civil disturbances without calling upon the Central or Federal authority to send troops. Therefore, I think we may all venture to hope that when these present clouds have blown away it will be the object of His Majesty's Government and of the Government of India to strengthen the Provincial Administrations and make them within the proper limits independent so far as possible.
The noble Duke mentioned that it would be not unfitting to say a word on the proposals made by the Government of India and expressed in the White Paper which we have had distributed. I think this is reasonable because it is desirable to show that the policy of His Majesty's Government for India is by no means purely negative, as it is expressed in this Bill. It desires to make a positive advance in associating Indians more closely with the Government. There is no need to enter into the details of the White Paper, but I am sure it is a real satisfaction to us all that two distinguished gentlemen of whose personal merits we have experience in this country are being added to the Viceroy's Executive Council. The only criticism which I have seen levelled against that proposal is one regarding the allocation of particular offices. It has been suggested, I think, in India that one or two still more responsible offices might have been filled by Indian representatives. On that point I do not attempt to express an opinion. The two offices which the two gentlemen to whom I have referred are 1057 going to fill are highly responsible and of the first importance, and I do not desire to say anything more on that subject.
There is, I think, nothing to be said except with approval of the appointment of the Advisory Defence Council. I do not profess to know much of the personnel of that body for it is so many years since I had any responsibility in Indian affairs, but I understand that it can be regarded as a really representative gathering of experienced men and is by no means composed of those who are likely always to be in agreement with the opinions of the Government of India. We are likely, therefore, to be able to get a foretaste of what may happen when the independent views of Indian representatives—very often, extremely divergent views, no doubt—will be expressed without fear or favour. In these circumstances, I can only say that I am glad to give my support to the measure which the noble Duke has introduced.
My Lords, my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition has asked me to say a few words, on behalf of the Party we represent in your Lordships' House, concerning this measure. Having had the opportunity of consulting with my friends in another place and having studied the Bill, I was advised to ask for a full explanation from the noble Duke as to its necessity and meaning. But we do not, otherwise, propose to offer any opposition to the Bill. The noble Duke has been good enough to give your Lordships an explanation, and has also invited us to make any comments which appear to us appropriate on the recent attempts to reach some further agreement concerning the Constitution and Government of India. The noble Marquess who preceded me made it perfectly clear that this was the appropriate occasion. If we allowed this measure to go through just as a small measure, as the noble Duke called it, it might lead to some misunderstanding. It is, from our point of view, a very important measure. A very important discussion took place on Friday in another place on the White Paper. This appears to be the only opportunity for your Lordships to make any observations on the same subject as well as on this Bill. Such observations as I propose to make will be very few, but, as I say, the subject is regarded by us of great importance.
1058 It is all very well postponing Elections here in this country, where the Constitution is generally accepted. Here we can plead the exigencies of the situation. There is very little argument about it. In India the Elections are to be postponed partly because of the war, as the noble Duke has reminded us, but also because the Constitution is not accepted in certain important quarters, and there is a deadlock which persists in spite of the, no doubt, perfectly sincere efforts of His Majesty's Government to remove it. If I may say so very respectfully I agree with the noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, about the composition of the enlarged Council. It does contain very distinguished names indeed, names of sons of India of whom the whole of India can be very proud. The fact remains that very large and important sections of Indians are not represented, for reasons which we all understand, in the enlarged Council. This is unfortunate. I read very carefully the speech made by the Secretary of State in another place last Friday, and I did not detect any air of finality about these proposals; at the same time, I did not myself read into what was said any intention of making a further effort to resolve the present deadlock. No doubt the Government intend to see how the present enlarged Council functions, and what considered opinion is formed of it in India itself; but I would suggest that already the reception given to the proposals has been such as to make it necessary that another effort should be made as soon as possible to resolve this deadlock.
The Party for whom I have the honour to speak agree with the noble Marquess in considering that the enlarged Council and the War Committee constitute an important step forward. We thought that they marked a substantial advance, but that does not appear to be the view taken in important quarters in India. I hope—and this is also the hope of my Party—that the matter will therefore receive further study. While this important step was being taken, we cannot avoid expressing our regret that it was not found possible to release the great majority of the Indians who are at present held as political prisoners. No doubt the Government consider that impossible, but we must express our regret that it was not done. I must once more on my own behalf, and also on behalf of many of my friends, 1059 repeat the proposal made in your Lordships' House and elsewhere over a year ago that the Secretary of State should visit India, that he should go out there with wide powers and accompanied, if necessary, by representatives of other sections of political thought in this country who will inspire confidence in India and here.
I am hoping that the events which we have recently observed in the world will mean that the appeal which has been made by the Government to the Leaders of Congress and to the Leaders of the Moslem League, to make one more effort to reach a measure of agreement, will not be made in vain. The great change in the situation, speaking from the point of view of the Indian Nationalists, and particularly of the Leaders of the left wing of Congress and of the Moslem League, is the forcing in of Russia as an Ally on our side in the present war. In the eyes of those of whom I am speaking, this should change the complexion of the war and should remove the foundation for the accusation that it is an imperialist war which the whole of India cannot support. I believe that in this country those who declared this war to be an imperialist war were and are a very small and almost negligible minority; but in India a great many influential people have been preaching to the masses that this is an imperialist war, and their utterances are on record. Surely the foundation for that accusation has now been removed by the alteration of which I speak in the whole character of the war brought about by the entry of Russia? I hope that a political change will take place in India which will lead to a further step, in the direction to which the noble Marquess has referred, in satisfying the legitimate aspirations of the masses of the Indian people.
§ LORD HAILEY
My Lords, I think that no one will have any difficulty in agreeing with the noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, that the step which the Government have now taken was inevitable, that there was no way of avoiding it. Indeed, I think one would like to go further and express a great deal of satisfaction that the Provincial Governments have been able to carry on in these very difficult circumstances, in spite of a great deal of opposition from certain quarters, and have carried on under their old system, 1060 and that all the essentials of law and order have been maintained. The noble Duke suggested that some of us might care to take this occasion—as has already been done by the noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, and by the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi—to speak of the recent changes embodied in the White Paper. I suppose that it is an unusual experience to find that one who has been connected for many years with administration in India in the past confesses to great hesitation in speaking on Indian questions; nevertheless, there are some of us who now must make that confession. We took a part—so far as officials may, a somewhat prominent part—in supporting the legislation of 1935. I am not going to trouble your Lordships now with the reasons which prompted us to take that attitude, an attitude which brought us into conflict and almost to a parting of the ways with many old friends and associates for whose career we had the greatest admiration and for whom personally we had the greatest respect.
I will not enter into those reasons, but I must take the opportunity of saying that we had at that moment also formed certain anticipations of the course which might be taken by politics in India in the immediate future. We believed that there was in India a great body of moderate opinion sufficiently strong to form what I may call a central party, a party which would place the needs of stable government above other considerations, and that that body of moderate opinion would have the courage and the good sense to support its own position. We thought that India would have a certain breathing space, a time of trial and experiment in the new Constitution, sufficient to enable it to make up its own mind what modifications were required in the Constitution which was conceded to it by the Act of 1935; for we realised that no Constitution will work, no form of government will succeed, unless it has behind it not the acquiescence but the belief and the faith of the people themselves. After all, our own Parliamentary institution is not such a logical and perfect form of machinery that we could trust to its working unless we had in Great Britain at large the faith that it is the one possible agency for securing our well-being and for solving out internal differences, and that it must stand supreme. We thought this moderate 1061 party would secure for us that breathing space, that opportunity, for considering the most appropriate lines, lines considered most appropriate by India itself for its own future Constitution. We were disappointed. Our forecast was wrong.
That moderate party existed. There were solid elements among landowners and among commercial men, and solid elements among the Party which we call the Liberal Party in India. Those elements existed. They had not the cohesion; I say it with regret, they had not the courage to withstand an attack that was made partly in the interests of the domination of one religious Party, and partly, I think it is true to say, also prompted by a spirit of racial and anti-British attacks. They had not the strength to combine and withstand that attack and they were swept aside. Therefore, you have seen a series of events which cannot have proved but a great disappointment to all those who stood for the legislation of 1935. It has not made us despair of India, but it has made us speak with less confidence when we approach any discussion of Indian questions. We do not despair of India, because we see many reasons in what has happened since for something like renewed hope. I think there are solid reasons for believing India itself is becoming more realistic in its views of politics. Events themselves are teaching India a lesson that it would never learn from us. It is beginning to realise that no Constitution with liberal tendencies, no Constitution that points towards responsible government can operate successfully in the face of an overweening Party spirit; it cannot operate successfully unless there are those who will support it with courage and a strong civic sense, and it will not operate successfully unless the majority can learn the lessons of tolerance towards minorities.
We have felt that all subsequent events were gradually bringing that lesson home to India. The growth of something like political anarchy in the country, the threat to law and order, indeed, the rioting that has taken place of late in Bombay and elsewhere, has prompted one of the most independent of India's papers to demand something like a return to a strong Executive Government. We felt further that there were in the events of the war itself 1062 lessons that would bring home to India a sense of greater realism. After all, this is the first time that India has felt danger at her doors. This is the first time that it has felt the real need of a strong Executive Government and full co-operation by the people themselves if they are to be successfully defended against attacks from an enemy which they have always had a particular reason to dread and dislike. In these circumstances there are many of us, certainly I among them, who would have preferred that His Majesty's Government should have made no move at all which had even the appearance of modifying existing institutions. That feeling was not merely due to the sentiment that no such change should be made during the war; it was due to a belief that there was taking place in India itself a change, a change in the political sense, which would lead people to a greater sense of unity, to a greater appreciation of the need for combining to find a solution of their own difficulties. It was in that sense that we felt it was inopportune for His Majesty's Government to make any change in the existing form of institutions.
There are many of us who have spent their whole lives in discussions about deadlocks, and in proposals for their solution by gestures of various kinds, and long and somewhat bitter experience has taught us not to attempt to rely on palliatives of that nature. I am not going to suggest that the step which has been taken by His Majesty's Government is a result of impatience or merely a gesture intended to meet the present situation. It is a measure of great importance. It does not pretend to make any radical change in the Constitution. That must be admitted. It is for that reason that none of us would wish to oppose it. It is for that reason that we shall watch the results with interest and with good will. We are particularly glad to find there are Indians who are prepared to serve on the larger Executive Council, and on the Council for Defence. We know many of them. They are men of proved experience and they are men, as the noble Marquess has said, of independent points of view. I am not sure that the measure really would have been assisted if the Leaders of the great political Parties had themselves agreed to join in the enlarged Council. I feel, and I think many others feel, that it was far 1063 better we should secure the assistance of men of tried experience and very considerable reputation in India itself, who came in on a basis of co-operation, and not merely on a basis of political representation of Parties that were unwilling to co-operate in the war effort.
It is to be hoped that the step which has been taken by His Majesty's Government will lead to better co-operation in the war effort, which, after all, is the. one and only thing that matters at the moment. I may venture to express a hope—and I think there are others who will join me—that this measure will not lead His Majesty's Government to attempt on its own motion to go further and make mort radical changes in the Constitution in an attempt to find a solution for difficulties which must be resolved in India itself. Their solution does not lie in our hands, it lies in the hands of Indians, and in their own sense of unity. I hope that the time will come, a more opportune moment will arrive, when it will be possible to make such changes, when there has been a change in the attitude of Indian political Parties themselves. We do not simply ask that that change in attitude should take the form of an expression of a greater sense of loyalty to Great Britain or the Empire. We make an appeal to another, I think more fruitful, sentiment—a sense of loyalty to the needs of India itself.
§ LORD CATTO
My Lords, I need hardly say that I agree with the words which have fallen from the noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, and even with the restrained words which fell from the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, and especially with those which have fallen from my very old friend Lord Hailey. Changes of an important character have been announced. I confess they came to me as a surprise because for many months we had been told that nothing could be done, that the Indian political Parties must first compose their differences. Yet here we have what, in my opinion, are fundamental changes. I am glad indeed that the policy of negation is over. It seemed to me to be an attitude of mind that got us nowhere. Plainly we had either to leave things altogether alone or get on with the job. Some of your Lordships may have felt it was better to leave things alone in the hope that time might bring 1064 its own solution; but we are living in anxious and quickly-changing times. The Viceroy and the Secretary of State have decided—and I must say I think they have wisely decided—that the exigencies of these conditions make it advisable to expand the Executive Council in India and also to form a National Defnece Council.
The mere expansion of the Executive Council would not, by itself, be a fundamental change. What is fundamental is the form of the change. For the first time in the long history of our relations with India, the principle is established of a large non-official majority, and the Executive Council is now to consist of eight Indians and four Europeans. In their full significance such changes must have far-reaching consequences, and in my opinion must greatly accelerate the pace of India's constitutional development. They open wide the door to what must come. Indeed, it may well be that the proportions of the different communities in the expanded Executive Council may adumbrate a solution of one of the most difficult problems in the whole range of India's constitutional advance—that is, the adequate representation of minorities in the Central Government of the country. It is, of course, a tragedy of the first magnitude that the Leaders of Congress and of the Moslem League have not seen fit to grasp the opportunity of participating in these important changes and thereby taking a full part in the councils of their country at this time of anxiety and danger—I go further and say perhaps even helping to mould there its constitutional future. There are many amongst them who are my friends. They know full well my sympathy with India's political aspirations. To them I would say they are missing a great opportunity. With a world on fire, and with history in the making—in which by their own actions they will have no place—they publish to the world that India is still, as of old, divided against itself.
I see from extracts from the Indian newspapers that Leaders of Congress and the Moslem League are trying to belittle the importance of these changes. They claim that the chief portfolios are still mainly in the hands of the British members of Council. I use no hard words, but this is unfair criticism. It is unfair to their Indian fellow countrymen who have accepted positions in the expanded 1065 Executive Council. It is unfair to the British members, for it is well known that all members of Council have equal status. There is no such thing in India as senior and junior Ministers. All are alike, and what will count will not be the particular post each may hold, but the personality of the man and the wisdom he displays in Council. This brings me to a reference to those distinguished Indians, some of them my old friends, who have accepted positions in the expanded Executive Council. They have, Hindu and Moslem alike, displayed courage and patriotism of the highest order. Few men understand better than I do, how difficult it is for an Indian to act contrary to his friends and coreligionists of his own community. I salute these men, and I know your Lordships will salute them for their ready response to the call of their Motherland.
The Government of India Act of 1935 was a magnificent conception. In the Provinces it has on the whole worked well, largely, I think, because the provisions of the Act for the Provinces followed closely the recommendations of that remarkable work, the Indian Report, of the noble Viscount who sits on the Woolsack—and, may I say in passing, a work for which in the welter of argument over Indian affairs, he has never received sufficient thanks and appreciation. I can assure him that the first volume taught me more about India than I ever learned by much residence there. But the Act of 1935 completely broke down in its provisions for the Central Government. Let us be quite clear—the Act is dead so far as that part of it is concerned. It would be idle to analyse all the causes of failure. There were many; but time does not permit me to enter in any detail into these matters. Obviously, however, the next attempt must begin with British India alone. Once a constitutional system is working there on some really practical basis, there will be less difficulty in persuading the Indian States to join in a greater federal system.
In the fashioning of India's constitutional future, the Central Government provisions will have to be on a far simpler and more practical basis than in the Government of India Act of 1935. They will have to fit better into the complicated and patchwork structure of Indian conditions. There will have to be adequate participation of minorities in the Central Government. And by minorities I mean, 1066 not only the great Mahomedan minority, but also others, and especially the British minority in India. We have been too little in the picture. Perhaps there would have been greater speed in constitutional advance had we been more in the picture; for whatever our shortcomings, it is the British who have given to India that national consciousness out of which has grown the spirit of India as a nation as we know it to-day. In the varied conditions that exist there, British co-operation—and by that I mean non-official and official—is essential, for in very truth are we not still the only cement that will hold together a united India? And by a united India I mean, as Indians do, an India in which all important minorities—of which the British are one—will take their proper part.
Only last week I read a letter in a Calcutta newspaper the Statesman from an old-time political extremist in which he pointed out—and he used the identical word—that the British must be the "cement" of any really practical constitutional structure. He realised, as all thinking men must realise, that without that cement there will be Pakhistan and other disintegrations in the structure. Yet in the expanded Executive Council there is not even one non-official British representative and in the National Defence Council only one out of, I think, forty members. It is true that in the Executive Council there are four British members; but they are all officials. There would have been less criticism even from Indians if some of these had been British non-officials. I have, as is well known, a profound admiration for members of the Indian Services, and some are my intimate friends—one in particular and a very distinguished one, to whom we have just listened with so much pleasure and instruction. But I believe these men themselves would admit that if India is to advance constitutionally officials must of necessity appear less in the rough and tumble of the political arena.
The noble Duke who will be replying in this debate will probably remind me that the Viceroy is working under the 1919 Act, which makes it statutory that a certain number of experienced officials should be in the Executive Council. I entirely agree. But it does not say that these should be all British, and, if my 1067 memory serves me well, the statutory number is only three. When the time comes to attempt again to create a constitutional structure—and I hope it will be soon—I firmly believe, as I have already indicated, that the form of the expanded Executive Council and the experience gained there by non-official Indians, and perhaps in time by non-official British, will be of immense help in the solution of many of the difficulties which have wrecked previous attempts to solve this vast and complicated problem.
It is a pity that the present Viceroy's term of office, already extended once, is drawing to its close. He has great knowledge, great experience, and, above all, great wisdom in these matters. I am sure he would have liked to have guided India in her early constitutional steps. Perhaps he may yet do so; indeed it may well be that these changes in the Executive Council may prove to be a first step. But do not let us look at the Indian constitutional picture with too pessimistic an eye. My noble friend Lord Hailey has already spoken on the same topic, and I agree with him. Let us remember that much has been done, that constitutional government has been well and truly laid in eleven Provinces, even if, in some, men who began the work so brilliantly now refuse to carry on. But the structures are there, and the time will come when these men and others will resume the good work. When that time comes we shall forget the past and look only to the future, believing in India's destiny, as we believe with all our hearts in the destiny of the Empire in this her hour of danger and of trial.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
My Lords, the House will be of one mind as to the necessity of passing the Bill which is now before us. At the same time I agree with my noble friend Lord Strabolgi, as I am sure noble Lords also will, that this cannot be done without some reference to the wider issues of the Indian situation. We cannot treat this merely as a semi-routine matter and proceed on our way as if all were well in India. There is in many quarters deep disappointment that the high hopes which were raised at the time of the passing of the Act of 1935 have been clouded, and that political controversy is once more rife in India. The speeches that have been made with 1068 so much weight by two noble Lords with long experience of India, Lord Hailey and Lord Catto, indicate the disappointment which is widely shared on that ground. But this is not an occasion on which we need repeat over again debates that we have had on previous occasions in which the whole ground has been surveyed. For my part I am far from absolving from blame the British Government for the course of policy that has been pursued since the time of the passing of the Act and also since the outbreak of war in relation to Indian constitutional aspirations, but at the same time I cannot conceal my view that the chief measure of blame should fall upon the Congress Leaders who have not realised that this is an hour in world history when all sectional claims in every direction should be postponed and all efforts concentrated on the main issue.
One of the leading friends of Indian national aspirations in this country, a distinguished member of the other House, Miss Rathbone, wrote a letter in The Times not long ago in which she expressed in eloquent terms the regret felt by those (among whom I would like to count myself) who have supported Indian national claims in days gone by, at the attitude taken during this war by the Congress Party. It is the ruin of democracy when, in moments of overwhelming crisis, various Parties are unable to combine for the sake of an overmastering cause. If you look at the history of Europe since the last great war you can see how, in Italy, the downfall of democracy was brought about by the inability of politicians to- combine to form strong Governments. In Germany the same thing occurred, and in France also the absence of political concentration and combination was unquestionably the main reason of the instability of Governments which discredited the Parliamentary régime. Here in this House there are some of us who have partaken three times in the formation of Coalition Governments, in 1915, in 1931 and again in 1940, when, if that step had not been taken, the same degree of confusion and anarchy might have appeared in Great Britain as has afflicted the democracies of other European countries and disaster here might have been as grave. But in India there is not at present—naturally there could not be—any mature political 1069 experience, and Indian politicians have not yet learnt that there are times when it is right to be combative and times when it is right to be conciliatory. This is a war between two philosophies of life, and the whole future of mankind depends upon which side wins the victory. As to the direction in which opinions in India tend, there is no doubt. The detestation there among all Parties of the Nazi philosophy is as great as in any other liberty-loving people. It is all the more lamentable that some five thousand Indian political leaders, many of them men of the highest character and greatly respected, are at this moment in prison, because it gives an impression to the world which can only be deleterious to the cause for which Great Britain is fighting. It is lamentable that Congress Leaders by this action should be helping in some degree the cause which they themselves detest, and hampering the cause in which they themselves passionately believe. Perhaps that action is most regrettable, not only for the slackening in some degree which it involves in Indian war effort, but also for the moral effect in other countries remote from the conflict, particularly in the United States of America. There, where public opinion is not as a rule very fully informed upon Asiatic problems such as that of India, this fact that there is division, that there is political controversy, that Ministries have resigned, that leaders have deliberately courted imprisonment, gives a false impression as to the real merits of the case.
However, it would appear that those who have hitherto in India supported the Congress Leaders to a great extent disapprove of the course which has been taken. That is evidenced by a remarkable decline in the membership of the Congress Party. A few days ago, in The Times on July 31, there was a statement as to the membership, apparently compiled from returns provided by the Congress Party itself. It appears that before the outbreak of the present war the Congress adherents numbered more than 4,500,000, in 1939–40 the number was fewer than 3,000,000, and in the present year it has fallen to 1,500,000, a loss of two-thirds of the membership. In the United Provinces, the part of India where Congress was strongest, the membership has fallen from 1,472,000 to 259,000 at the present time. I have not seen any comment 1070 upon these figures from the Congress side, and it may be that there is some explanation of which we are unaware, but if these figures are accurate and complete, these facts must appear highly significant. It may be that the masses of the Indian people are awakening to the great danger of the present international situation, affecting not only Europe but also themselves, and it may be that they disapprove of the withdrawal of the Congress Ministries from the Provinces, without any consultation with the electorate—indeed a negation of the democracy which they profess to serve.
It may be that as the military danger comes nearer, as Japan already in Indo-China may extend the shadow of her hand over Thailand and Malaya and Burma, and as Germany may carry further and further possibly, though I hope it may not be so, her intrigues and activities in Iran, then at last India may come to realise that the danger may affect herself, and that she should throw her energies whole-heartedly into the prosecution of the war. But in spite of this we should not for a moment forget the very great contribution that India has made towards the military effort. Gifts have been made, and immense supplies have been forthcoming of materials of all kinds of Indian manufacture. A statement issued by the Ministry of Information leads us to conclude that about 90 per cent, of India's own military requirements are now being manufactured in India. Recruiting has been exceedingly active. Of course, all the soldiers drawn from India are voluntary troops—there is no question of conscription there—and they crowd into the recruiting offices. Last year, in October, 1940, when the Indian Air Force advertised that there were vacancies for 300 pilots the number of applicants was 18,000 or 60 for each post that was open.
All that is so far satisfactory. Still the impasse remains on the constitutional side, and I think the Government of India has been wise, since there is that block in the way of progress, to turn to the administrative side, for I regard these changes as administrative at least as much as political. There were four Europeans and three Indians on the Executive Council; now there are four Europeans and eight Indians. I hope attention will be paid to the plea of the noble Lord, Lord 1071 Catto, that while the proportion should not be altered, it might be well if the unofficial European element were to receive representation as well as the official. I am sure that all members of your Lordships' House who know them (and many of us do), will be glad to note that two distinguished Indians should have found places—Sir Akbar Hydari, the Chief Minister of Hyderabad, and Sir Firoz Khan Noon, the popular and efficient High Commissioner in this country for several years. In the new national Defence Council which has been created, there are only two Europeans and there will be twenty-eight or more Indian representatives. Not least important—it has not been mentioned I think in this debate—is that an Indian is to be appointed at Washington as Agent-General with the rank and status of Minister Plenipotentiary. One may hope that that may be a channel through which American opinion may become more fully informed as to the realities of the Indian situation. For my own part I am very glad that, unlike what has happened in previous debates in your Lordships' House in the last few years, on the subject of India, we are able now to point to something definite which is actually accomplished, small it may be yet not unimportant. Hitherto these debates have always ended in offers, expectations, hopes, promises, but to-day in this White Paper we have something done. While the regret remains that the constitutional difficulty still continues unchanged, at all events on the administrative side, with a political tendency also, a definite step forward has been made.
§ THE DUKE OF DEVONSHIRE
My Lords with your permission I will reply briefly to the very useful and indeed valuable debate which has arisen. The Government can certainly find no possible cause of complaint in the reception which the White Paper has received in all quarters in your Lordships' House. Many observations made this afternoon will have a really valuable effect in India. The object of the Government remains as it was last year when efforts were made to approach the principal political Parties in India with a view of bringing about such a state of affairs in India that she would be able to attain Dominion status; that is to say, to full self-government as an equal partner in the British Commonwealth of 1072 Nations. Since the Government of India Act was passed, new difficulties in the way of attaining that object have cropped up, but the objective remains the same. It was in pursuit of that objective that the Viceroy made his effort last year, the effort to associate the political Parties with the Government of India. It will be within your Lordships' recollection that when that effort broke down it broke down because the principal Party, the Congress Party, which is much the largest Party in India, refused to co-operate at all, and the other Parties, while willing to co-operate in principle, found that for various reasons there was no basis of agreement on which they could, in fact, co-operate.
I think it was Lord Hailey who pointed out the fact that there must be some national loyalty over-riding Party loyalty before you can really co-operate in forming a Government. In the case of these Indian Parties, there appears to be no over-riding loyalty to India rather than to Party—an over-riding loyalty such as all of us here feel. The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, referred to this matter and spoke of the three Coalition Governments which we have had in this country. All of us, of course, feel loyalty to the political Party to which we belong, but we all feel an over-riding loyalty to the country which is immeasurably more important than any Party allegiance. It is the absence of that over-riding loyalty in the bulk of the politicians, the members of the Parties in India, which has so far made political advance so difficult. The Congress Party rejected the proposals out of hand, and the others, for the reasons which I have mentioned, were not able to co-operate to form a Government. But the door still remains open, and it still remains the object of the Government to see India enjoying self-government on the lines of the Dominions.
The difficulties are very great, and it may be, one does not know how long. As your Lordships will be aware a great movement has grown up in India lately, the Pakhistan Movement. The Moslem League, by far the largest Moslemic Party and representative of the very largest sections of Moslem opinion, have deliberately formulated a policy of partition rather than live under the majority Hindu rule. I only give that as an example of how deep-seated these political differences are. 1073 In spite of these great political differences, India, like us, is at war. The overwhelming majority of the Indian people are whole-heartedly with us in our war effort. I think that, without exception, the peoples of India dislike Hitlerism and all that it stands for as much as we do, in spite of the fact that it has been impossible to make the political advance which we have earnestly striven to make. I should like to pay a tribute to the unwavering patience of the Viceroy in his efforts in approaching the Parties last year, and for the efforts which he has made so successfully in approaching eminent Indians not associated with the principal Parties. In spite of the tremendous patience which he showed in his dealings with the Parties, his efforts failed, but he is going on. This is, I believe, though not a constitutional advance, an effort which does hold out definite hopes that some further constitutional advances may be made in the future.
We have on this new Council, as Viscount Samuel pointed out—this Council which now consists of eight Indians and four Europeans—a number of people whose names are household words in India and who will command a very large measure of respect throughout the whole country. We have Sir H. Mody, a great industrialist, at the Department of Supply. Then there are Mr. Ragavendra Rao and Sir Firoz Khan Noon, both friends of ours, both of whom we shall sadly miss from London, at Civil Defence and Labour respectively. Here, if I may break off for one moment, I would like to refer to the criticism of the allocation of certain offices. I think Lord Catto dealt admirably with that criticism. It surely must be left to the Viceroy to distribute portfolios as he thinks fit. He has chosen Indians of great eminence for the most important tasks. The criticism can be dealt with by pointing out that there are no such persons as junior or senior Ministers. These Ministers are equal. They will have equal voices in respect of the weighty measures which they will discuss, and equal powers of making their views known to the Viceroy. The criticism I think was unworthy.
To return to the constitution of the Council we have also got an elder statesman of unrivalled experience, Sir Akbar Hydari, as Member for Information. We 1074 have that independent and courageous politician, Mr. Aney, and a very eminent lawyer, Sir Sultan Ahmed, and others. I need not recite the names of them all. It is a list which does really represent a tremendous body of authority and which will, as I have said, command respect throughout India. The newly-formed Defence Council will be composed almost entirely of Indians, except for one representative of the European commercial community and one of the Anglo-Indian community. It contains many Indian representatives of Labour and it contains a woman, the Begum Shah Nawaz. I have been at pains to make it clear that this development is not a constitutional development, and it is not intended as a constitutional development. I want to make this plain because I think that criticism which has been passed on this development in India is based partly on the belief, or perhaps I should say on the suspicion, that this is an effort to show constitutional advance and to fob India off with a nominated rather than a popularly-elected Government. This is not so.
I have been at pains to emphasize that this is not regarded as a constitutional advance—not even as an instalment of constitutional change. Having said that much, I think it not inappropriate to express the hope that it may in time lead to constitutional advance. It is an earnest of our real desire to associate Indians with the Government of their country and with the war effort. It is evidence of the fact that we trust Indians and are willing to give them a majority on the Executive Council. The spectacle of Indians of the eminence of these gentlemen who will now be associated with the Government carrying on the vital business which they will be carrying on, will, I believe, not fail to have a beneficial effect upon Indian opinion generally and will ultimately, I hope, make it possible for that constitutional change which we so earnestly desire to see come about, when we may see Indians governing their country and India taking her rightful place as a self-governing member of that great Commonwealth of Nations which is now giving such a wonderful example to the world.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.