HL Deb 14 June 1945 vol 136 cc612-38

3.21 p.m.


had given Notice that he would ask His Majesty's Government whether they have any statement to make on India; and move for Papers. The noble Viscount said: My Lords, In accordance with the procedure permissible in your Lordships' House, I beg formally to ask the question which stands in my name, reserving until after the statement of the Government the moving of the Resolution appended to it.


My Lords, we are greatly obliged to the noble Viscount for postponing his Motion until to-day, and until this time to-day. That makes it possible for a full statement on Indian policy to be made to your Lordships simultaneously with a statement in another place, and simultaneously with an announcement to India which is being broadcast by the Viceroy from New Delhi. With your Lordships' permission I will now read the statement which is being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for India. Copies of this statement will be available in the form of a White Paper from this moment. It is in the following terms 1. During the recent visit of Field-Marshal Viscount Wavell to this country His Majesty's Government reviewed with him a number of problems and discussed particularly the present political situation in India 2. The House will be aware that since the offer by His Majesty's Government to India in March, 1942, there has been no further progress towards the solution of the Indian constitutional problem 3. As was then stated, the working out of India's new constitutional system is a task which can only be carried through by the Indian peoples themselves 4. While His Majesty's Government are at all times most anxious to do their utmost to assist the Indians in the working out of a new constitutional settlement, it would be a contradiction in terms to speak of the imposition by this country of self-governing institutions upon an unwilling India. Such a thing is not possible, nor could we accept the responsibility for enforcing such institutions at the very time when we were, by its purpose, withdrawing from all control of British Indian affairs 5. The main constitutional position remains therefore as it was. The offer of March, 1942, stands in its entirety without change or qualification. His Majesty's Government still hope that the political leaders in India may be able to come to an agreement as to the procedure whereby India's permanent future form of government can be determined 6. His Majesty's Government are, however, most anxious to make any contribution that is practicable to the breaking of the political deadlock in India. While that deadlock lasts not only political but social and economic progress is being hampered 7. The Indian administration, over-burdened with the great tasks laid upon it by the war against Japan and by the planning for the postwar period, is further strained by the political tension that exists 8. All that is so urgently required to be done for agricultural and industrial development and for the peasants and a workers of India cannot be carried through unless the whole-hearted co-operation of every c immunity and section of the Indian people is forthcoming. 9. His Majesty's Government have therefore considered whether there is something which they could suggest in this interim period, under the existing Constitution, pending the formulation by Indians of their future constitutional arrangements, which would enable the main communities and parties to co-operate more closely together and with the British to the benefit of the people of India as a whole. 10. It is not the intention of His Majesty's Government to introduce any change contrary to the wishes of the major Indian communities. But they are willing to make possible some step forward during the interim period if the leaders of the principal Indian Parties are prepared to agree to their suggestions and to cooperate in the successful conclusion of the war against Japan as well as in the reconstruction in India which must follow the final victory. 11 To this end they would be prepared to see an important change in the composition of the Viceroy's Executive. This is possible without making any change in the existing statute law existing for one amendment to the Ninth Schedule to the Act of 1935. That Schedule contains a. provision that not less than three members of the Executive must have had at least ten years' service under the Crown in India. If the proposals of his Majesty's Government meet with acceptance in India, that clause would have to be amended to dispense with that requirement. 12. It is proposed that the Executive Council should be reconstituted and that tie Viceroy should in future make his selection for nomination to the Crown for appointment to his Executive from amongst leaders of Indian political life at the Centre and in the Provinces, in proportions which would give a balanced representation of the main communities, including equal proportions of Moslems and Caste Hindus. 13. In order to pursue this object, the Viceroy will call into conference a number of leading Indian politicians who are the heads of the most important Parties or who have had recent experience as Prime Ministers of Provinces, together with a few others of special experience and authority. The Viceroy intends to put before this conference the proposal that the Executive Council should be reconstituted as above stated and to invite from the members of the conference a list of names. Out of these he would hope to be able to choose she future members whom he would recommend for appointment by His Majesty to the Viceroy's Council, although the responsibility for the recommendations must of course continue to rest with him, and his freedom of choice therefore remains unrestricted. 14. The members of his Council who are chosen as a result of this arrangement would of course accept the position on the basis that they would whole-heartedly co-operate in supporting and carrying through the war against Japan to its victorious conclusion. 15. The members of the Executive would be Indians with the exception of the Viceroy and the Commander-in-Chief, who would retain his position as War Member. This is essential so long as the defence of India remains a British responsibility. 16. Nothing contained in any of these proposals will affect the relations of the Crown with the Indian States through the Viceroy as Crown Representative. 17. The Viceroy has been authorized by His Majesty's Government to place this proposal before the Indian leaders. His Majesty's Government trust that the leaders of the Indian communities will respond. For the success of such a plan must depend upon its acceptance in India and the degree to which responsible Indian politicians are prepared to co-operate with the object of making it a workable interim arrangement. In the absence of such general acceptance existing arrangements must necessarily continue. 18. If such co-operation can be achieved at the Centre it will no doubt be reflected in the Provinces and so enable responsible Governments to be set up once again in those Provinces where, owing to the withdrawal of the majority Party from participation, it became necessary to put into force the powers of the Governors under Section 93 of the Act of 1935. It is to be hoped that in all the Provinces these Governments would be based on the participation of the main Parties, thus smoothing out communal differences and allowing Ministers to concentrate upon their very heavy administrative tasks. 19. There is one further change which, if these proposals are accepted, His Majesty's Government suggest should follow. 20. That is, that External Affairs (other than those tribal and frontier matters which fall to be dealt with as part of the defence of India) should be placed in the charge of an Indian Member of the Viceroy's Executive so far as British India is concerned, and that fully accredited representatives shall be appointed for the representation of India abroad. 21. By their acceptance of and co-operation in this scheme the Indian leaders will not only be able to make their immediate contribution to the direction of Indian affairs, but it is also to be hoped that their experience of co-operation in government will expedite agreement between them as to the method of working out the new constitutional arrangements. 22. His Majesty's Government consider, after the most careful study of the question, that the plan now suggested gives the utmost progress practicable within the present Con- stitution. None of the changes suggested will in any way prejudice or prejudge the essential form of the future permanent Constitution or Constitutions for India. 23. His Majesty's Government feel certain that given goodwill and a genuine desire to cooperate on all sides, both British and Indian, these proposals can mark a genuine step for: ward in the collaboration of the British and Indian peoples towards Indian self-government and can assert the rightful position, and strengthen the influence, of India in the counsels of the nations. My Lords, that concludes the statement which His Majesty's Government desire to make to the House, but as your Lordships will wish to discuss the policy now announced I would like to add certain explanations and to commend it to your Lordships in a few words. First, there are two other steps, not referred to in the statement, which it is proposed to take. His Majesty's Government propose to appoint a United Kingdom High Commissioner in India to represent the particular interests of the United Kingdom. There are two advantages which this important step can bring about. It can free the Viceroy from some of the embarrassments which can at times arise from his concern to defend the interests of India and at the same time to represent specific material interests of the United Kingdom. On the other hand, a High Commissioner, having solely the interests of the United Kingdom to uphold, would be in a position to negotiate with the Government of India with complete freedom. Particularly in the economic field, the appointment of a High Commissioner might prove of advantage to both countries.

The other step which is to be taken concerns those persons who are still detained on account of their connexion with the Congress movement. That is a matter which arouses great interest in India. As the responsibility for law and order rests primarily on the Government of India and on the Provincial Governments, it is for those authorities to take action in this matter. The vast majority of those who have been detained have already been released. With regard to those still in detention, the Viceroy, in the broadcast which he is making at this moment in India, is announcing that, with the approval of His Majesty's Government and after consultation with his Council, orders have been given for the immediate release of the eight members of the Working Committee of the Congress Party who are still in detention, and that he proposes to leave the final decision about the remainder to the new Central Government, when formed, and to the Provincial Governments.

Your Lordships will see from the statement which I have read and from the explanation I have just given that the course of events which the Viceroy is now initiating will, it is hoped, be as follows. The Viceroy, as I have stated, is at this moment explaining these proposals to India in a broadcast. He has given orders for the release of the members of the Congress Working Committee. At the same time he is issuing invitations for the conference with political leaders which he hopes will take place very shortly. He is inviting to this conference the Premiers of the Provinces and, in the case of those Provinces which are now governed under Section 93, those who last held the office of Premier; the Leader of the Congress Party and the Deputy Leader of the Moslem League in the Central Assembly; the Leaders of both those Parties in the Council of State; the Leader of the Nationalist Party and of the European Group in the Assembly; Mr. Gandhi and Mr. Jinnah as the recognized Leaders of the two main political Parties; and Rai Bahadur Sivaraj to represent the scheduled castes and Master Tara Singh to represent the Sikhs. From the discussions at this conference the Viceroy will hope to form a new Executive Council drawn from the main Parties and pledged to the full support of the war against Japan and to the task of reconstruction in India. The question of the appropriate time for the holding of elections for the Central and Provincial Legislatures will also come up for discussion at the Conference.

Your Lordships will have noted that nothing in the proposals affects the relations of the Indian States and the Crown Representative. Neither of course do they prejudge in any way the question of the entry of the States into partnership with British India, if these proposals lead, as we hope they will, to the consideration of the future constitutional settlement. Your Lordships will also have noted that the offer of 1942 stands in its entirety. The need for a long-term solution remains as pressing as ever and is not lost sight of. These proposals would, if they are accepted, make a long-term solution easier. Therefore, I would commend this further initiative by His Majesty s Government to your Lordships, not as an attempt to find here and now a final solution of the great problem of India's constitutional future—that, as is made plain in the statement I have read, must be the task of the India n peoples themselves—but as a step, and a practical step, out of the internal deadlock which has for so long, since the early days of the war, prevented further progress in India and poisoned the atmosphere between the Parties in India and between Indians and British.

It is, essentially, as a step out of that deadlock that these proposals should be considered. The experience of the past few years has shown that no move to ease the situation is likely to succeed which does not take into account the main stumbling block—that is, the differences, principally those between the two main communities, as to the future constitutional settlement. So long as those differences remain unresolved, political advance appears only possible on this basis—that the form of the ultimate constitutional settlement is not prejudged by us. If some advantage appears to be given to one of the main communities in advance of agreement between them, rejection by the other is almost certain. If one Party is placed in a position from whit h it might dominate future discussions, the other is likely to hold aloof. These are hard but inescapable facts; to ignore them is to invite rejection from the start. These proposals do not ignore them. They offer to each of the main communities a footing of equality. They give to neither a preponderating advantage.

They retain intact the existing Constitution and the reserve powers of the Viceroy. On that ground they will no doubt be assailed. But what is the alternative in the present situation? What is commonly known as the Viceroy's power of veto is not a power which is of everyday use. It is a reserve power which enables the Governor-General to overrule a majority in his Council if, to quote the Act, "the safety, tranquillity or interests of British India are or may be essentially affected." It is seldom invoked but it is an ultimate sanction. If you withdraw that sanction, at once the question arises with whom will the control rest when great issues, perhaps involving minorities, arise? And that opens up the whole problem of the ultimate settlement. The worst way, it seems to me, to try to resolve the dead- lock, is to begin by raising the really big issue which divides the Parties and on which previous attempts have foundered. That way holds little chance of success. The more hopeful way is to bring together the representatives of the main Parties on a basis which will not prejudge the future, and therefore within the limits of the present Constitution. That is less spectacular; it will not appeal to the impatient; but it can bring India out of the morass, with all the frustration and the mutual suspicions and the disappointments which go with it, in which she has been immersed for so long. But within those limits, the advance which can be made, and which these proposals offer, is not negligible and in some respects is of great importance.

The Executive Council, except for the Viceroy himself and the Commander-in-Chief, will be composed of Indians. For the first time the Home Members and the Finance Member will be Indians. For the first time the external affairs of British India will be conducted by an Indian Member and India will be representated abroad by fully accredited representatives. The Executive Council will be composed mainly of men who will have great Parties at their backs and who can command the co-operation of large masses of opinion—an advantage which the present members of Council have not had in spite of the devoted service to India which they have given in the critical days which have passed. It would be difficult to exaggerate the importance of that factor for the tasks of reconstruction and resettlement and domestic reform which now face India. A Government composed of men with that backing will be of greater stature and will speak with greater authority not only in India but in the outside world. In the Provinces the way will be clear for a return of Ministerial Governments all the stronger if, as we may hope, they can be founded on a coalition of Parties. There will be immedate tasks of real urgency to the peoples of the Provinces to which they can set their hands. And finally, in the constitutional sphere, there will be the opportunity, founded on a co-operation between the Parties, which has hitherto been lacking, to make progress towards agreement on India's future.

That, my Lords, is what these proposals, if accepted, can mean for India. They are being laid before India to-day by the Viceroy to whose initiative they owe everything. We hope they will find acceptance. I am sure that your Lordships share that hope. The very great assistance which the Princes and peoples of India have given and are still giving in this war, and the bravery and efficiency of the Indian Forces, are known throughout this country. They make all the stronger our determination to help India to find her way through all the difficulties towards the goal which has been proclaimed. These proposals are a stride forward, only a stride, it is true, but a stride away from the past and towards that goal. We trust that those who are leaders in political life in India will find it possible now to go forward.

3.50 p.m.


My Lords, the Government's statement which has just been communicated to your Lordships is not, and does not purport to be, the outline of a new Indian Constitution. It does not ask anyone either in India or here to enter into any commitments of any sort as to what the form of the new Indian Constitution should be. It is no more, and purports to be no more, than an endeavour to bring together a body of Indians who should decide what the next definite step ought to be. The Government do not suggest that there should be an inquiry by a Royal Commission or some form of Parliamentary inquiry, but they are seeking to create a conference on the highest political level of representative men in India, holding responsible positions, whose words may be more than words since they may be, and should be, the prelude to action.

No doubt many in India would have hoped for something more definite at this stage, but the definite proposals were made by the British Government in the Cripps proposals three years ago which, by what many of us regard as a most unhappy error of judgment, were rejected in India. Thereby the friends of the cause of Indian nationalism in this country, and particularly in the Party to which I belong, found their hands tied. It was impossible for us to propose anything more complete than the Cripps proposals, and since then both here and in India there has been a deadlock. I sincerely trust that these suggestions of the Indian and British Governments will not be rejected as a whole and out of hand, as the Cripps proposals were rejected without the submission of any positive alternative. Nothing is so facile as criticism. Anyone can denounce and reject; but constructive statesmanship is rare.

As to the actual proposals themselves, I submit to your Lordships that it is rather for Indian opinion first to express itself than for the Houses of the British Parliament straightway to attempt to crystallize their own views. It is after all the management of Indian affairs, of their own affairs, which is in question. I think it would be more respectful to Indian statesmanship if the members of your Lordships' House were to await the expression of Indian judgment on these proposals before attempting to formulate their own. Therefore for my own part I shall reserve for a later date any observations on the main proposals now laid before us and will only make some remarks upon points which might be regarded rather as secondary.

I am very glad to hear the announcement that the remainder of the Working Committee of the Congress Party are now to be released. Still Mr. Jawaharlal Nehru, among others, is confined in prison after a very long period, and his return to active political life is essential to any effective step to be taken by general agreement. There will still remain some 1,200 detainees. It is true that previously there were many thousands but after this long lapse of time there are still 1,200. We have heard, as is well known to be the fact, that the decision with regard to them rests with the Provincial Governors and Governments. I am speaking now of those who are detained for political reasons and not of those who have committed offences against the Common Law, but I confess to a feeling of regret that it had not been arranged already with the Provincial Governors and Governments that these 1,200 still detained should now be released simultaneously with the remainder of the Working Committee.

This process of imprisonment without trial is a very formidable matter, directly contrary to the principles of Magna Charta and Habeas Corpus and all the basic constitutional principles on which we are accustomed to act here. It should be resorted to only under extreme necessity where definitely the safety of the State is involved. Particularly, no doubt, is it permissible in time of war, but when the dangers of war an no longer imminent it would be wrong if we were merely to get accustomed to the fact that these hundreds of people should be detained in confinement without trial, simply possibly because it is politically convenient for a Government to keep its most active opponents under lock and key. I had intended to bring this matter before your Lordships' House a few months ago on the general ground of the principle involved, but I had reason to know that some measures were being taken by Lord Wavell with a view to ending the political deadlock and to formulate some new proposals. I thought that a debate in your Lordships' House in those circumstances might prove a serious embarrassment to the Viceroy. Therefore I did not put down my Motion and I hope your Lordships will not regard that in the circumstances as a dereliction of duty. I do hope very strongly that, seeing the really unconstitutional character, one might almost say, of this procedure of detention without trial, the Government will again consider whether immediate steps should not be taken in the direction I have suggested.

The proposals which are made for the appointment of a British High Commissioner in India, to hold a similar status and to perform similar functions to those of our High Commissioners in the Dominions, are obviously right and indeed long overdue. At present the Viceroy has to double the parts of head of the Government of India and of the principal representative in India of the Government of the United Kingdom. In the one capacity he may have to press the rights of India and in the other capacity to defend the interests of Great Britain in a single matter in which the two may not coincide. I hope it will not be thought disrespectful if I say that that is really carrying the principle of Poo-Bah in the Mikado on to the most august level. Similarly, the affairs of the Government of India in London ought to be transacted by their own representative, the High Commissioner, and not by a member of the British Cabinet, the Secretary of State for India, through one of the Government Departments in Whitehall. There has been going on for some time a transfer of business from the India Office to the Office of the High. Commissioner of India, and it is to be hoped that that will proceed further and with the greatest practicable speed. If certain financial and other matters have still to be retained under Statutes by the India Office it might well be arranged that the Dominions Secretary should in fact have control of that business and that the Office of Secretary of State for India should disappear from the Constitution without any very long delay.

In debates on India previously I have ventured to submit to your Lordships a proposal that the whole status and position of the Viceroy should be changed, and that whereas he has hitherto held the offices both of Viceroy and Governor-General he should, in future, retain only the status of a Viceroy, of a representative of the King, and perform functions analogous to those of a constitutional sovereign. I have also suggested that the Government should be headed by an Indian Prime Minister, and should be as fully Indian as the Governments of the Dominions are representative of the peoples of those countries. It is said that it would be impossible, at the present stage, to find anyone who would be generally acceptable to the Indian people to hold so powerful and important an office, for the reason that if he were a Hindu the Moslems would object to him, and if he were a Moslem he would not be acceptable to the Hindus. If that is so, then self-government for India itself becomes impossible, either now or in the future, and all that Indians have been saying about the need of self-government and their determination to establish it, and all that we have been saying on the subject in this country, are merely fine words with no substance in them. It cannot be said that it is impossible to have an Indian Prime Minister, for the attempt has not been made. The question arises to whom such a Government and such a Prime Minister should be responsible. Obviously, when the new Constitution is formulated and established the Prime Minister would be responsible to the Indian Legislature to be set up under it. In the interim, if the Viceroy were to constitute a Government headed by an Indian Prime Minister, it would be responsible, for the time being, on some matters, to the present Indian Assembly. But it would be essential in other matters that that Government should be responsible to the Viceroy and, through the Viceroy, to this Parliament, during the transition period while the new Constitution was in the making. It is to be hoped that such an interim period would be very short.

One important change to be made under these proposals is that the Minister of External Affairs should be an Indian. Hitherto the Viceroy himself has held that Portfolio. Now it will be made obvious to the whole world that the Indian people, through one of their own Ministers, are responsible for external affairs as well as for internal affairs. And, moreover, that will be made patent to the whole world by the fact that Legations will be opened and Ministers appointed to represent India in Washington, Chungking and other capitals, as has already been done in the case of the Dominions. That, we hope, will make clear in the eyes of the American people, and other peoples, what are the actual facts with regard to the status of India, facts which have been obscured, often misrepresented and, certainly, misunderstood, especially in recent years.

The proposals contemplate that the Commander-in-Chief should remain in the Viceroy's Council as the War Member, and as long as the Army in India is mainly British the Commander-in-Chief must certainly be British. But it does not seem essential that the Commander-in-Chief should always be a member of the Viceroy's Council. In other countries the heads of services are often civilians. That has been the case especially here. The Minister of Defence and the Minister of War, like the First Lord of the Admiralty and the Air Minister, are civilians, and our experience shows that it is better that the head of one of the Defence Forces sitting in the Cabinet should be a civilian rather than a professional soldier, sailor or airman. But, during the war, and at the present moment, it is no doubt desirable that the Commander-in-Chief in India should be a member of the Viceroy's Council, and particularly since he happens to be General Auchinleck, who commands such exceptional authority and influence.

Well, it is for the Indians to work out their own form of democracy, which need not necessarily be the same as has been built up through historical causes in this country. We are, substantially, a homogeneous country, and the country can be divided into geographical constituencies as a basis of representation, constituencies such as are at this very moment functioning with great vigour. But in a country like India, which is deeply divided by race or religion, it will be found hard to establish any Constitution on a merely geographical basis. It is for the Indians to explore and decide whether some other principles might not be invoked in the formation of their new Constitution.

For my own part, I do not hesitate to say that I feel the gravest anxiety with respect to the proposal that India should be divided into two States, the division being based upon religious differences. Looking into the future, one can foresee that it may be found that if this plan is adopted we have been planting the seeds of civil war. if it is adopted, then, perhaps, some ten or twenty years hence it may be found that some serious local clash between Moslems and Hindus, of which there have been so many in Indian history, may spread like wildfire, and that in the civil commotion that would follow, involving, perhaps, very large areas, if there is still a British garrison in India, numbers of British soldiers may lose their lives. Some Indian politicians may say that for anyone to use such language as this is merely to evoke a phantasy—evolved by someone who is hostile at heart to the development of Indian independence—as an excuse for holding on to British rule in India to be maintained by force. That is not so. These words I speak are the words of one, who, as a Liberal, has been, all his life, in wholehearted sympathy with Indian aspirations for freedom from alien rule, of one who rejoiced to support the Morley Reforms, who approved the Montagu Reforms and the further development of the Government of India Act, 1935, with which the name of Lord Templewood—at that time, of course, Sir Samuel Hoare—is so closely associated, and in which the first Lord Reading and Lord Lothian took so active a part. They are the words of one who was happy to observe in India the remarkable success of the Provincial Governments which were set up under that Act, whose work was so suddenly and unnecessarily brought to an end.

Now any student of Indian history must know that for centuries the outstanding feature of that history was chronic unrest, and frequently open war, between two great religious communities. In freeing themselves from the disabilities and the drawbacks of the British Raj, Indians would be wise not to cast away the one great advantage which it has brought—namely, to have secured for nearly a hundred years internal peace, almost unknown in earlier times, and freedom from the bloody and long-continued wars of Indians against Indians. It is easy to slip down into anarchy, as India's neighbour, China, has shown in recent years, and it is easy to suffer from a dictatorship established and maintained by ruthless force, as many countries have shown in Europe and elsewhere; but to establish and maintain a democracy which shall be orderly and stable and efficient and progressive, and based on the will and commanding the assent of tens or hundreds of millions of people: that is not easy; that is very difficult. It is fully accomplished, as hen- in Great Britain, only by stages, and by the effort of generations. Let our Indian friends, therefore, not he too intransigent, either with us or with one another, but move forward guided by wise restraint and prudent foresight. I beg to move for Papers.

4.12 p.m.


My Lords, I should. like on behalf of the Labour Party—which seems to be mainly invisible this afternoon, but which I may perhaps be allowed to treat as present in spirit—to welcome this new attempt to break the political deadlock in India, and to associate myself with what has fallen from my noble friend the Leader of the Liberal Party in this respect. It will not be forgotten—though political memories are apt to be rather short in these days—that Sir Stafford Cripps was among the members of the India Committee appointed by the late War Cabinet to consider the possibility of advance in India and to consult with the Viceroy during his recent visit to London. It will also be remembered that Mr. Attlee, Mr. Bevin and Mr. Herbert Morrison were members of the Cabinet which endorsed the policy which is described in the White Paper, and which has been presented to your Lordships by my noble friend opposite in his speech this afternoon. For my part, I am proud that my Party has shared in the preparation of a policy which presents India with the best opportunity for political advance since the Cripps offer in 1942, and that it can rightly claim the joint authorship of these proposals with its partners in the late Coalition Government. I am glad and exceedingly relieved that, thanks to this agreement in principle between the three main political Parties, India will not become an issue at the approaching General Election. I hope that this fact will convince the Indian leaders that public opinion in this country, irrespective of Party ties, desires to hand over to them, with the minimum delay required for a great and bloodless transition, full self-government. British public opinion generally expects Home Rule for India at the earliest possible date, and that is why lesser constitutional changes cannot alter the fundamentals of the Cripps offer.

There can be no question that the method proposed by the Government to achieve this step towards self-government in India is the right and only practical method. Our own Parliamentary history shows that we owe our progress from absolutism to democracy as much to changes in constitutional practice as we do to legislative enactments. The urgency of the situation in India rules out consideration and extensive amendment by Parliament of the existing Indian Constitution. Proposals for constitutional reform on a large scale would certainly require prior consultation with representative Indians and, even if those preliminary talks were successful, they would be followed, as in 1919 and 1935, by lengthy disputes in both Houses of Parliament. The whole process would fritter away another year at least, during which the political situation in India would be steadily deteriorating. This cumbersome and dilatory procedure would not merely waste precious time; it would also prejudice and prejudge the burning issue of Pakistan, and so arouse the bitter hostility of a vast cross-section of the population of India. We must be careful, as my noble friend opposite rightly emphasized, to stick to what we said in 1942 about strict non-intervention in this domestic concern. Whether British India is to remain united under a Federal Constitution or is ultimately to be portioned out between a number of Hindu and Moslem States can be satisfactorily decided only by the two great religious communities that comprise the majority of its inhabitants.

I have sometimes wondered how many people who live in England are alive to the gravity of the situation in India. Only in this event will they grasp the immense importance of this fresh effort to pick up the thread of constitutional progress at the Centre and in the Provinces of British India. The only way of stopping the present drift towards post-war chaos in India is for us to assume the initiative for an interim Government that can command the support of representative Indians with a public backing. The alternatives facing us at this moment do not lie any longer between a speedy transfer of political power to representative Indian leaders and an indefinite continuance of the existing political deadlock; they now lie, quite plainly, between the immediate participation of the main Indian Parties and communities in a transitional Government and certain chaos, which will otherwise break out in India after the Japanese war.

There is to-day in India a bitter sense of frustration and discontent amongst almost all educated Indians, and a deep-rooted distrust of verbal promises that can be redeemed only in the distant future; and these things render our present system of government both impermanent and insecure. Indian national feeling, unable since the war to find a constructive outlet in the administration of the country, has been gathering momentum in the last few years. It is now the one force which unifies the social classes, the religious communities, and the political Parties in a continent where the barriers of caste and creed are far more formidable than in any part of Europe. The conflict will become sharper and more dangerous when the inevitable hardships of the post-war period are accompanied by a further relaxation of British authority. At this time the social problem arising from the demobilization of an Army of over 2,000,000 men will add greatly to our difficulties. The effort to allay these sources of discontent and to prevent them from disturbing the peace of India would have to be made by a Government deprived of its war-time powers and uncertain of the reaction of public opinion at home.

I have attempted to give an objective appreciation of the post-war situation in India, either if these proposals had not been made at this juncture by the Government or if the negotiations that will be begun shortly by the Viceroy were to end in another impasse. The facts which I have described may sound harsh and gloomy, but I believe that they are accurate, and they do bring home, as no mere theorizing in terms of national independence or Imperial trusteeship could possibly do, the terrifying responsibility for the welfare of India that rests upon, each one of the European and Indian principals who will take part in the conferences which will be held. It is hard to conceive that this attempt could fail to achieve its object if all concerned in the negotiations were equally convinced of the disaster that a breakdown would mean for India's millions. A firm conviction in every mind about the consequences of a return to deadlock should guarantee flexibility and the will to compromise. If we have learnt in our long political experience that government by persuasion necessitates compromise, the same thing cannot be said hitherto of India. Let us hope that the genuine desire to succeed will induce both Hindus and Moslems to abate their separate claims for the sake of the larger community to which they belong. The outcome will hinge upon whether or not the participants in these negotiations really have the will to succeed. Just as the "Big Three" are able to brush aside their many differences on lesser issues for the sake of world peace, so British, Hindus and Moslems should be able at this critical moment to subordinate traditional divergent policies to the good of India as a whole.

There is one person who will not be reproached for doing less than his utmost to achieve agreement. No one who has watched the Viceroy at work will forget his dogged tenacity of purpose in face of heavy odds, his genuine and intense sympathy for the national aspirations of all thinking Indians, or his single-minded devotion to the whole people of India. I was particularly glad to hear from the noble Earl opposite that the Viceroy is announcing in his broadcast the decision to release the eight members of the Congress Working Committee still under detention since the events of 1942. Nothing could prove more convincingly than this act of faith the sincerity of our desire for co-operation with Congress in the constructive tasks of administration at the Centre and in the Provinces. It will, moreover, enable Mr. Gandhi to draw into consultation those who have been given plenary authority by the Congress Party, and to obtain their consent to bring into the new alliance the largest organized Party in India. No one who had the privilege of knowing Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru will question his outstanding gift of leadership, his hatred of Japanese imperialism in Asia, or his selfless devotion to the cause of the under-privileged in his homeland. His long record of self-sacrifice has won him a unique place in the hearts of the Indian people. He will now have an unrivalled opportunity to mobilize popular support for a quick finish of the war against Japan, and for a far-reaching programme of economic development and social reform.

I should like to express the personal hope that the release of these members of the Working Committee will be speedily followed by the release of the remaining Congress détenus and without necessarily waiting until what may become protracted negotiations have proved successful or the reverse. I wish to associate myself with everything that was said by the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, about the undesirability of keeping these men in prison for a moment longer than our emergency war-time powers can justify—imprisonment without trial. If security considerations now permit the release of the ringleaders, there cannot surely be a strong case for continuing to Keep the small fry in prison. No mention has been made by the noble Earl opposite of any reference in the Viceroy's broadcast to the lifting of those restrictions on the political activities of members of the Congress Party that fall short of actual imprisonment, but I assume that a general amnesty will mean the simultaneous removal of the many curtailments of civil liberties, affecting freedom of speech and publication, of assembly and organization, that are now applied by executive order at the discretion of the Provincial Governors. I again express the hope that there will be no unnecessary delay in removing prohibitions that affect the political activities of many hundreds of person whom we are hoping to have as our allies in the prosecution of the war and in the reconstruction of India. I am sure nothing will do more than real magnanimity to create the atmosphere of mutual trust in which these vital negotiations should be conducted.

I am satisfied that these proposals, if they obtain the co-operation of the Indian leaders, will represent, as the White Paper has stated, the utmost advance that British India can make within the framework of the present Constitution. But the question naturally arises as to whether there is nothing more we can do on our side, and without waiting for a better understanding between the Indian communities, to prepare India for her eventual independence and for the maximum development of her material resources. I believe, speaking entirely for myself and without compromising my Party or my noble friends on these Benches, that further progress towards these more distant objectives might be made on our initiative and without pausing until the end of the war.

We are bound to recognize that no Government will feel master in its own house or capable of asserting its independence in face of powerful neighbours unless it can control the Armed Forces, on which its authority at home and abroad ultimately reposes. The recent disturbances in the Middle East are a topical example. The main cause, no doubt, of this friction is a conflict between the Arabs and the French for control of the armed forces stationed in Syria and the Lebanon. But the transfer of full responsibility for the defence of India from the British to the Indian side depends primarily on the progressive Indianization of the Armed Services, and this is a process that cannot be hastened beyond a certain speed without a disastrous loss of military efficiency. We shall therefore continue to require European officers for the Indian Services for a number of years. But need this prevent us from saying at the earliest possible moment that the Indian Army cannot continue, after the war, to offer a lifelong career for young Englishmen? This has already been announced in the case of the Indian Civil Service and the Indian Police—what are commonly known as the Secretary of State's Services.

It would be a handsome acknowledgment of what we owe to the valour of our Indian soldiers, and an earnest of our intentions regarding the defence of India in time to come, if we were to declare at the earliest covenient moment that there will be no further recruitment of British officers into the Indian Army. This would clearly mean that after a certain time the Indian Army would become entirely Indianized, Indian candidates only being eligible for permanent Commissions. So long as the officer cadres of the Indian Army, Navy and Air Forces cannot be manned exclusively by Indians, the required number of European officers could easily be found by secondment from the corresponding British Services.

The last problem upon which I should like to touch briefly is that of the British contribution to the post-war economic development of India. The deplorable standards of the Indian peasants and industrial workers cannot be substantially raised without rapid improvement in the efficiency of agriculture and a large expansion in the output of manufacturing industry. Elementary social services, such as health, education and sanitation, will not bring any substantial benefit to the population in town and country until the productivity of labour has been enormously increased. Consequently, social progress as well as business interests are bound up with the ambitious plans, now prepared by officials and industrialists, for the rapid post-war development of India's material resources. But these plans are bound to be ineffective unless they are drafted by the right people and on a practical scale. The first requirement of industry all over India is cheap power, which can only be obtained from electricity generated by India's network of large rivers. The first priority for agriculture is better irrigation, which can increase the productivity of cultivated land fourfold, and bring thousands of acres of waste land into cultivation. Hydro-electric and irrigation schemes are just two illustrations of the many essential economic developments that cut right across political boundaries.

From a purely economic standpoint India is an organic whole, and her plans for the future should be worked out by discussion and consultation between expert representatives of the political authorities in British India and the Indian States. This could be done by the convening of an All-India Economic Council, consisting of people with specialized knowledge of business and commerce rather than politicians or Princes, and charged with a planning and co-ordinating function in accordance with the material needs and the economic potentialities of India as a whole. It should also include any British elements that can contribute to the Indian problem.

The summoning of such a body would show our genuine anxiety to assist in the growth of Indian industry and the re- habilitation of Indian agriculture, irrespective of British trade and business interests in India. It would also have a definite political advantage. The Government's proposals apply only to British India and they do nothing to redeem the failure of the 1935 Act to bring the Indian States into a federal structure covering the whole continent. In fact, judging from what happened with Congress Governments in the Provinces before the war, these proposals are likely, if implemented, to emphasize the centrifugal tendency of the Indian States. In these circumstances, an All-India Economic Council might provide an invaluable link between British India and the Indian States, and help to preserve the unity of India by showing, in a practical fashion, the economic interdependence of its political components. After all, co-operation is the best way of learning to co-operate.

The existing All-India Defence Council will presumably dissolve at the finish of the war. Its unifying influence will be entirely lost unless a similar body is able to take its place as its heir and successor for dealing with peace-time questions that affect the whole population of India. India, in geographical or human terms, is the largest Imperial responsibility this country has ever assumed. Our good name in the non-British outside world will depend more on our treatment of India than on the wise handling of any other Imperial or domestic problem. I welcome these proposals for resuming the forward march in British India, not only because they offer its inhabitants the greatest opportunity in two hundred years of shaping their own destiny, but because they vindicate the reputation of the Mother Country for leading her daughters throughout the British Empire by slow but certain and progressive stages to a free and an equal place among the family of nations.

4.34 p.m.


My Lords, the statement which has been made by the noble Earl, Lord Scarbrough, has been welcomed by the leaders of the Liberal and Labour Parties in this House. Perhaps you will let me add a word as coming from one of those who belong to no political Party in this country but whose long associations with India have given them an interest which makes them view with the most intense concern, indeed with the most intense anxiety, anything that relates to the political development of India, it for no other reason than that we recognize that difficulties which have occurred in political adjustments have been a great obstacle in that social and economic advance to which we, who have lived in the country, perhaps attach even more importance than we do to its political development.

Now that the statement which we had expected so eagerly and looked forward to with such anxiety has come, I think there are many who, situated as I am, will find it difficult at this moment to subject it to either discussion or detailed criticism. When the noble Earl was making the statement, I tried to analyse it summarily, for my own purposes, into three parts. The first, of course, concerned the change in the composition of the Executive Council. Now that is a step which we can take for ourselves. It needs only a small change in the existing 1935 Act, which has created some difficulty in making an Executive Council of purely Indian composition owing to its prescribing that three of the members should have had official experience. The noble Earl said that it would be in future entirely Indian in composition. I hope that that did not necessarily exclude the admission of a European if those who will be mainly instrumental in arranging its constitution support his nomination. That is a step, as I have said, within our own competence.

But take the second of these suggestions—and what we have had of course is a series of suggestions rather than concrete proposals. The second suggestion is that the Council, thus fully Indianized, should take a form which will be representative of the different communal or party interests in India. Now that is a step that is not within our competence. Although the appointments will actually be, as before, those of the Crown, yet it is clear that the persons so appointed will be chosen as a result of negotiations between the Governor-General and the leaders of the various Parties, and chosen also—perhaps this is even more important—as the result of negotiations between the great Parties themselves. Not only is it not in our power to produce this result, but it may very well be that everything that is said here may prejudice it. The difference between the Moslems and the Hindus—or, stated in more political terms, between the Congress and the Moslem League—is a domestic matter. Just as Congress is sensitive of anything that is said in this country that may seem to over-emphasize the importance of the Moslem claim, so the Moslem League, on its part, is equally sensitive of anything said here that will seem to challenge its claim to represent not merely a separate culture but a separate nation.

Let me proceed to the third of these suggestions. It is that further constitutional development in the direction we desire will be facilitated by the representation on the Executive Council of these different communities and Parties. It is hoped that the fact that they have joined in this transitional arrangement will give them the experience of administration and of joint effort in the government of India which will be fruitful of a new approach to future constitutional developments. That is obviously a matter on which we can only speculate, though we may speculate hopefully. It is not at all events one which we can discuss with any great profit now.

So far, my Lords, I have attempted merely this analysis of the statement itself. I am well aware that there will be in India, and there doubtless will be in the outside world, a number of criticisms of that statement on the ground of its somewhat limited scope. It will be said that it is unfortunate that we could not make a more resolute, a more radical, or, as it may be said, a more courageous effort to break down the impasse in which we stand in our Indian relations. It will be complained that the only actual step forward to which we could be said to have committed ourselves in any way is the small change in the Government of India Act which will enable us to withdraw the official members of the Executive Council. That is so much a corollary of everything that has been done before that it has perhaps no great dramatic significance in itself. Perhaps the creation of a Ministry of External Affairs, combined with the appointment of the High Commissioner in India by His Majesty's Government, may have more significance. But it will be pointed out to us that the reserve powers of the Viceroy will still exist. It will be pointed out that the Executive Council, thus constituted, will not be responsible to the Legislature and consequently, if differences arise with the Legislature—for the constitution of the Legislature will not reflect that of the Council—then it may be necessary for the Viceroy to utilize his reserve powers to support his Executive Council. In fact, we are still within the framework of the 1935 Act which so many in India, and indeed some here, have declared to be totally inadequate.

If that criticism is made, it is true as far as it goes. But I agree with what the noble Earl said, that in dealing with a project of this kind we have not to view it so much on its intrinsic merits as in the light of the alternatives that present themselves to us. If our only objective were to free India from hat measure of political control which now exists—and it is, of course, far less than some would credit—then I have no doubt that our own public in this country would be prepared for a resolute and courageous step in that direction. If we took it, it would no doubt win us some applause from our critics in the outside won d; but it is not the objective which our sense of obligation to India has dictated to us. Our objective has been to enable India to exercise independence under a form of Constitution which we believe that all her major Parties would join in working. Hitherto we have been unable to effect this. Not only was India not prepared to accept any Constitution imposed on her by the British Parliament, but India was not ready to suggest for herself any form that the new and more suitable Constitution should take.

Therefore I do clearly see this value in the declaration that His Majesty's Government has made; it does break the somewhat grim silence that has settled for so long upon our relations with India. It does, moreover, give an opportunity for Indian leaders to lay aide for a time their differences and meet on the neutral ground of a purely interim arrangement to join in the administration of the Government and thence onwards to join in the consideration of the forming of the new Constitution. I have no doubt that the critical and indeed the crucial point will be the proportion of representation of different communities that has been suggested for the Executive Council. That may very well be a point of immediate conflict, but, as noble Lords who have already spoken have pointed out, at this stage only it commits India to nothing, it prejudges nothing, not even that very difficult and controversial question of Pakistan.

I believe that is as much as can prudently and safely be said at present by anybody who shares either views or experiences such as mine. I think the time for discussion, and it may be the time for criticism, will come when we hear what reception this offer has received in India, when we hear, moreover, what stipulations the Indian leaders may make as a condition of their joining in this interim arrangement. Such stipulations may have important implications, and no doubt we shall hear of them, and of the measure with which His Majesty's Government desire to meet them if, and when, this small legislative amendment comes before Parliament. When it does come forward there is much we shall have to ask and much that we shall desire to hear. In particular we shall desire to hear how far it has been possible to bring the Indian States into the discussions on the interim Constitution, for it is very desirable that we should do nothing which would give the impression that we were proceeding to a constitutional development which did not provide a place for them as part of an All-Indian Government.

Meanwhile, I think we can only join most fervently in the hopes that have been expressed here already, that these proposals may be received by the leaders of Indian opinion in a spirit of mutual accommodation and with a realistic desire to approach the constitutional position of India. That I think would be the most acceptable response to the very genuine good will that has prompted His Majesty's Government in making this statement.

4.49 p.m.


My Lords, if I may by leave of the House, speak again, I will only detain your Lordships for a few moments. Your Lordships have received this fresh initiative from His Majesty's Government with good will, I think I am right in saying, in every quarter of the House. Although there is naturally a disposition to suspend judgment until the proposals can be further examined here and in India, there is a general desire that these proposals will receive in India a fair examination and, we hope, acceptance.

In the speeches that have been made one or two points have been raised to which I should like to offer some reply. The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, and the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, raised the question of those persons other than members of the Congress Working Committee, the decision concerning whose release has been left to the Provincial Governments and the new Central Government. We can well understand all that was urged in favour of their early release, but all that I feel that I can say at this moment is that the Viceroy is beginning on the task which these proposals set, and we can feel sure that he will have in mind the importance both of easing the political atmosphere as much as possible and of preserving—which is equally important—India as a base for the operations which are still proceeding not so very far from her frontier.

The noble Earl opposite raised the question of the further Indianization of the Army. As your Lordships are aware, Indianization was well in progress before the war and has made very great progress during the war. Then are now over 10,000 Indian officers serving in the Indian Army of whom over 220 are of the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel upwards, and of those over 6o are with combatant units. Amongst that number must be those who will rise to fill the higher posts in the Indian Army in the future. It is inevitable that Indianization of the Indian Army should go on; but what arrangements should be made for any British element which might remain must clearly depend on the plans fir the reorganization of the British Army, and the noble Earl will appreciate that I am not in a position to reply further on that matter.

The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, put forward a proposal that the status of the Viceroy might he changed and an Indian Prime Minister appointed. I feel that that is the kind of proposal which should be examined when the Indian Parties start examining the future Constitution. To do it at this moment seems to me not possible, because as things stand at present the Indian Prime Minister would be responsible, as I see it, to nobody, unless the Constitution was so greatly changed as to make a Cabinet responsible to an Indian Legislature. As I endeavoured to point out earlier, to embark on a subject as broad as that at the beginning of a new attempt to reach agreement would be to court failure. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, also made a suggestion that an Economic Advisory Council, possibly growing out of the present National Defence Council, should be brought into being. There again I feel that that is a matter for the new Government, which we hope will be formed, to introduce. Certainly we would agree with him that if it could be done there would be great advantage in bringing in representatives of the States in co-operation with the representatives of British India. There was one further point which the noble Lord, Lord Hailey, raised, when he asked whether the proposals would necessarily exclude the bringing of a European on to the Viceroy's Executive. I think it is clear they would not necessarily exclude bringing in a European. I think there is nothing further to which I can reply. We on these Benches are grateful for the good will with which your Lordships have received these proposals.


My Lords, I ask leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.