§ 2.33 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT SIMON rose to call attention to recent developments in the situation in India. The noble Viscount said: My Lords, last week when the Secretary of State for India communicated to this House the Government statement about the Indian situation it was universally agreed that we should not make any comment at that moment; but my noble friend Viscount Cranborne intimated at the same time that we might find it necessary to ask for a discussion on this subject before Christmas. After careful consideration we have decided that this would be the right course. It will not be disputed—I am sure the noble Leader of the House would be the last to dispute it—that ever since the Cabinet Mission went to India in the spring we have exercised a proper restraint, and there is not one of us who does not realize that a debate on this subject now has to be conducted with great discretion.914
§ When the Secretary of State for India gave his report to this House in July on his return with the other members of the Cabinet Mission from India it was in fact contemplated that there would be a debate on this subject in the House before the end of the year, and the month of November was mentioned. We really must not forget Parliament's responsibility in this matter. It is Parliament that has set up the existing Indian Constitution, and if the change is to come about, as it should, peaceably and in order, then it will be Parliament, that will have to enact the new Constitution which is agreed upon. I must say also that it is His Majesty's Government who are responsible in the last resort today for the Central Government of India. It is perfectly true that the subject which is called law and order is a Provincial subject and not a Central subject, but if disorder becomes so widespread and so serious that it passes the control of the Provincial Governments then, as your Lordships may know, it is the Governor of the Province who has a special responsibility which is personal to him—it is not a responsiblity of the Governor in Council at all. And if the Provincial Governor finds that matters go too far for provincial control, then it is the Viceroy, not the Viceroy in Council but the Viceroy in person, who has cast upon him by Statute and by the instructions that are given to him and are passed by both Houses of Parliament, the duty of intervening with a view to discharging his special responsibilities, such as, for example, his special responsibility for the protection of minorities.
§ Therefore it is not a technical or a fanciful point but the real truth that it is His Majesty's Government that must accept the responsibility in the last resort for the maintenance, as far as may be, of law and order. The Viceroy is not some independent potentate who decides things just as he likes; he acts in constant consultation with the Secretary of State for India, and the Secretary of State on behalf of the Government, in case of need, gives him instructions. Therefore I say it is perfectly plain as a matter of Parliamentary propriety that we ought to have a debate on this subject, in view of the situation that has arisen—indeed, in view of all that has occurred since the proposals of the Cabinet Mission were made public on May 15.915
§ VISCOUNT SIMON
I thought they were announced to this House on May 16 but were in fact made public on the previous day. However, let us call it May 16. In view of ell that has happened since the proposals of the Cabinet Mission were made public on May 16, and, I must add, in view of the frightful, widespread outbreaks of communal violence in the last four months, that is to say, since the Interim Government took office, a debate in your Lordships' House is quite plainly justified.
There are two other considerations. Whether it is because the Indian problem is so complicated—and it is one of the most complicated and difficult problems in the whole world—or whether it is because popular attention is called to other exciting incidents going on in the world, it is no exaggeration to say that the public at large has very little appreciation of the course of recent events in India. I hold that one of the most useful functions of this House, where we endeavour to speak with moderation and at the same time with candour, is that from time to time the reports of our debates—and I wish they were more fully reported in the papers than they are—provide some enlightenment for the public outside. I hope I will not be thought to be impertinent if I go a little further. It appears to me that even among our citizens who closely follow the course of public affairs there are a great many who would not claim a close understanding of the drama that is now unfolding in India, unfolding, I trust, to a happy conclusion but certainly unfolding at present in a way which makes everybody anxious to the last degree.
I say this finally about our debate, at the beginning of it. I am sure that such a debate in this House can be conducted without aggravating the existing situation and without stirring up communal feeling. Anybody who knows anything about the subject at all, or who has the least appreciation of its gravity, realizes that everything possible must be done to reduce that communal tension to a minimum. I therefore do not expect that from any corner of the House there will be reproaches for raising this matter. After all, a Government which secured its success 916 at the poll with the war-cry "Let us face the future," will surely not resent the suggestion that it may be right for us occasionally to face the present and to reflect with hope, and with anxiety too, on what the future may have in store for India, for ourselves, and for the world. Therefore I make no apology at all for the decision to ask your Lordships to join in this debate.
It seems to me that an impartial and objective survey of events since the Cabinet Mission set out in March may serve a useful purpose. To the public spirit, energy and resourcefulness of the Cabinet Mission in face of unexampled difficulties we have all paid our heartfelt tribute. It was a very fine effort indeed. I should, moreover, like to put on record again what I am sure many of us feel—namely, that the Cabinet Mission did much to dispel an unfounded suspicion and a dangerous delusion. I thought my noble friend Lord Samuel put it very well in the debate of the 16th May when he said, and said truly, that the activities of the Cabinet Mission in India had dispelled the idea, freely stated by Indian politicians for years and echoed sometimes in the United States of America, that Britain's purpose was not to promote Indian self-government and independence but rather secretly and subtly to promote Indian divisions in order to re-establish and maintain our own rule. That is an utterly false charge; the exact contrary has been the object of successive Governments of every Party in this country and of the best thought of our people here in Britain. It is quite certain that if, unhappily, the consummation of complete Indian self-government is not peaceably achieved, it will not be because of obstacles that have been created by us or passions that have been fomented by Britain; it will be due to the fact that communal differences in India have proved so intractable that a peaceful conclusion cannot be reached.
While praising the Cabinet Mission, as I wish to do, I must observe that there was nothing new in the policy they were seeking to carry out. There was much novelty and ingenuity in the method, but the purpose was one which had been the British purpose for a very long time. I am sure the Secretary of State opposite will be the first to acknowledge that. Every Party in turn in this island has, for a long time past, devoted itself with 917 assiduity and persistence to trying to devise means by which British authority in India might be withdrawn and Indian self-government completed. No country in history has made such exertions as this country to get rid of its Imperial responsibilities I do not think it is too much to say that the assiduity and the persistence shown in trying to find an end to British control over India have not been less vigorous than they were in an earlier age when those qualities were exercised to establish that control.
I do not think it would be wasting your Lordships' time if I reminded you very briefly of the justification for my statement that, while the methods may have been novel and ingenious, the object of the Cabinet Mission when it went to India was not at all new. Take the Montagu-Chelmsford Report, and the Government of India Act, 1919, which was founded on it. There is a recital in the Government of India Act, 1919, which, we are told by his biographer, came from the pen of Lord Curzon. It is the famous recital:Whereas it is the declared policy of Parliament to provide for the increasing association of Indians in every branch of Indian administration, and for the gradual development of self-governing institutions, with a view to the progressive realization of responsible government in British India as an integral part of the Empire.As to those last words, much has happened since 1919. It is perfectly plain that under the Statute of Westminster, as well as according to the understanding of all well-informed persons, whether a self-governing unit chooses to remain within our Empire or to take what I think to be the far worse course of going outside it, the choice lies irrevocably with it and not with us. So much for the Montagu-Chelmsford reforms. Now go on ten years. I hope I may be forgiven for one moment if I refer to the Report of the Statutory Commission. After all, the Commissioners produced a unanimous Report, which is not quite as usual in Indian affairs as one would wish. They were seven Members of Parliament, drawn from all Parties, one of whom was the present Prime Minister. I hope that in future when that Report is referred to it will not be referred to as the "Simon Report"; let us call it the "Simon-Attlee Report".
There was no member of the Commission who served this country more devotedly, 918 with more zeal and determination to find out all the facts and to form a fair judgment, than did the man whose name I see at the bottom, C. R. Attlee, one of my colleagues. I am not at liberty to disclose how much of the Report he wrote himself, but I know very well the value we all set upon him as a colleague and as an adviser. I ask your Lordships to allow me to read what I think is the last paragraph in this Report which was written after we had been over every province in India, visited its chief towns and spent some time in the countryside. It is not to be compared with the experience of those who have lived there all their lives, but at any rate it is the result of the judgment of seven men belonging to different Parties who dedicated more Than two years of their lives to trying to advise upon this matter wisely.
We concluded in this way:No one of either race"—and in this connexion that means no Briton and no Indian—ought to be so foolish as to deny the greatness of the contribution which Britain has made to Indian progress. It is not racial prejudice, nor imperialistic ambition, nor commercial interest, which makes us say so plainly. It is a tremendous achievement to have brought to the Indian sub-continent and to have applied in practice the conceptions of impartial justice, of the rule of law, of respect for equal civic rights without reference to class or creed, and of a disinterested and incorruptible Civil Service. These are essential elements in any State which is advancing towards well-ordered self-government. In his heart, even the bitterest critic of British administration in India knows that India has owed these things mainly to Britain. But, when all this is said, it still leaves out of account the condition essential to the peaceful advance of India, and Indian statesmanship has now a great part to play. Success can only be achieved by sustained goodwill and co-operation"—and I venture to stress these words for they are not contrary, I think, to the views held on the Bench opposite—both between the great religious communities of India which have so constantly been in conflict, and between India and Britain.That was the attitude at that time. I am well aware that many years have passed since then, but those fundamental propositions remain true.
Pass on another five years to the Government of India Act, 1935, with which the name of my noble friend Lord Templewood will always be honourably associated. To a certain extent it followed the advice of the Commission—it 919 abolished diarchy. It created in every province in India a unitary Government which, within its sphere, was really self-government. It made tentative arrangements for a Federation at the Centre which would include the Indian Princes. That part of the structure has never been realized. It has been impossible for a number of reasons, and largely because the accession of Indian Princes was not sufficiently forthcoming. Let us take the Cripps Mission. In the lifetime of the previous Government, in March, 1942, it went out, quoting what had previously been declared by that Government in August, 1940, as the intention of the Government of this country, as soon as possible after the war, to secure that India should attain a free status, as free as this country, under a Constitution to be framed by Indians by agreement amongst themselves, and acceptable to the main elements in Indian national life. Take the statement which was made by Mr. Amery, who became the Secretary of State for India in that Government. I will read only one sentence, in which he refers to the previous declaration at the time of the Cripps Mission, and he says on behalf of the Government: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.I am perfectly justified, therefore, in saying that there is nothing new in this objective which effort after effort has been made to promote. Nobody is entitled to stand up now and object that the purpose aimed at is wrong and false. You may remember how my noble friend the Marquess of Salisbury, in the last debate we had about India, referred in very feeling terms to the criticism which he and others in this House had felt it their duty to make of the Bill of 1935, and how he and others with him accepted the decision and desired honestly to work out the result at which we are all aiming. I say, therefore, that while the Cabinet Mission which went out last March was really pursuing the same general object, none the less it was adopting new and very ingenious methods by which it hoped to attain it.
May I remind your Lordships that just before they went out the Prime Minister, Mr. Attlee, made this public statement?My colleagues are going to India with the intention of using their utmost endeavours 920 to help her to attain her freedom as speedily and fully as possible. What form of Government is to replace the present regime is for India to decide, but our desire is to help her to set up forthwith the machinery for making that decision.That was the purpose for which my noble friend the Secretary of State for India and his two colleagues left these shores. What did the Mission find? They found that in spite of all their efforts, which we all admired so much, it was impossible to get the new Congress and the Moslem League to agree either as to the outlines of a possible Constitution, or as to the creation of a Constitution-making body composed of representatives of all Indian parties and groups. They told us, as I well remember, that they had the satisfaction that they had brought, they thought, the two main parties nearer together, but there was a gap which no persuasion on their part could bridge. They therefore took a very bold course. It was really going beyond the purpose for which they went to India, but I had the opportunity of saying, and I did say at the time in this House, that I thought they were justified in taking that course and that they ought not now or hereafter to be reproached for taking it.
They took this course. They published an elaborate document, most carefully drawn up, in which they attempted to do the very two things which the Indian parties has not been able to do. One was to recommend the outline of a Constitution, the other was to propose a Constituent Assembly composed of 78 Moslems, of 210 Hindus (who for this purpose were treated as including the Untouchables) and 4 Sikhs to work the Constitution out. It was a very bold step, and one that might be thought to be going back a little on the repeated assurances that the Indians must do these things themselves. I think they were making a most manful effort, by one means or another, to bring the parties together, and nobody who has not had occasion, very closely and for a long time, to consider these subjects, can have any idea of how difficult it is to devise a plan which will reconcile these two things.
One is the Hindu aspiration for the unity of India, including the Indian States. It is all very well to say, and it is quite true, that it was the British rule which achieved a union of India, and that India was not thought of as a unity 921 until the British influence came. Even in the time of the Empire of Akbar or in the time of Asoka there was not even a really complete Indian unity, nothing which could have sent a representative to Geneva to the League of Nations, and nothing which could acknowledge a common sovereignty. That is true enough, but the aspiration of the caste Hindu that this should be achieved is one of the two great objects that have always to be kept in mind. What is the other object, which, believe me, bulks just as big and has to be brought into the picture on equal terms? It is the Moslem anxiety lest they should find themselves subject to perpetual Hindu majority rule. I can only offer my respectful compliments, having tried it myself, to anybody who produces a feasible scheme which will reconcile these two objects, but it must be done. Without that you cannot achieve the purpose which we have all solemnly declared we have at heart. The difficulty of the task has to be faced.
I think on the whole, after a fairly long experience, that it is the most difficult task in statesmanship to find a way of reconciling the Moslem-Hindu difficulties and to dispel the suspicion that is aroused. I really do not think that many understand the depth and width of the cleavage between them which has to be bridged. I saw in the report of the debate in another place last week on this subject that somebody introduced a comparison with Ireland. He said in effect that, after all, are there not Catholics and are there not Protestants in Ireland? There could not be a more ridiculous analogy. In Ireland, apart from the question of size, both Protestants and Catholics are Christians; they both speak the same language, subject to a refinement which enables some people from the south to detect an Irishman who comes from Belfast. Their social habits are similar, and inter-marriage, though it is frowned upon by the Catholic Church, is not uncommon. The Protestant minority has, to a very large extent, gathered together in Ulster, whereas the intermingling of Moslem and Hindu in dozens of towns in India makes the most perplexing situation, and makes a terrible headache for the administrator on occasions of excitement. Again, if you are going to talk about Ireland, Ireland at this moment is not under a single Government. It has 922 been found necessary to divide it. That sort of analogy is perfectly worthless.
I do not know whether your Lordships would excuse me if I made one more reference—it should be a very brief one—to the Simon-Attlee Report. We had an opportunity of studying this matter as closely as ever a body of English public men could study it. The passage I want to read to the House, if it will kindly allow me, has not changed its value with time. It is describing a situation which is the very basis of the whole Indian problem. The Commission said:It unfortunately happens that on Indian soil the opposition of these two faiths is terribly intensified by religious practices which are only too likely to provoke mutual ill-feeling. The devout Hindu regards the cow as an object of great veneration, while the ceremonial sacrifice of cows or other animals is a feature of the annual Mahomedan festival known as the Baqr 'Id. Hindu music played through the streets on the occasion of the procession of an idol, or in connexion with a marriage celebration, may take place at a time when the Mahomedans of the town are at worship in an adjoining mosque, and hence arises an outbreak of resentment which is apt to degenerate into a serious quarrel. The religious anniversaries observed by Moslems are fixed by reference to a lunar year which does not correspond with the adjusted Hindu calendar, and consequently it occasionally happens that dates of special importance in the two religions coincide—as, for instance, when an anniversary of Moslem mourning synchronizes with a day of Hindu rejoicing—and the authorities responsible for the maintenance of law and order are then faced with a time of special anxiety. In spite of the constant watchfulness of the police authorities, and of the earnest efforts of leaders in both communities to reach a modus vivendi, the immediate occasion of communal disorder is nearly always the religious issue. On the other hand, when communal feeling is roused on some matter of secular interest, religious zeal is always present to stimulate conflict, and partisans are not slow to exploit the opportunity.It is a lamentable fact that the occasions when Hindu-Mahomedan tension is carried to the point of violent outbreaks have not diminished since the Reforms.We went on to explain why. It is perfectly clear that so long as authority was firmly established in British hands and self-government was not thought of, Hindu-Mahomedan rivalry was confined in a narrow field:The comparative absence of communal strife in the Indian States to-day may be similarly explained.I leave out the next few lines. The passage goes on:But the coming of the Reforms and the anticipation of what may follow them, have 923 given new point to Hindu-Moslem competition. A great part of the evidence given before us was on communal lines, and the same cleavage appears in the reports of the Indian Committees that sat with us. The one community naturally lays claim to the rights of a majority"—I do not think we have any right to reproach the caste Hindus of India because they are moved by that consideration—and relies upon its qualifications of better education and greater wealth. The other is all the more determined on those accounts to secure effective protection for its members, and does not forget that it represents the previous conquerors of the country. It wishes to be assured of adequate representation and a full share of official posts.I do not read those passages, your Lordships may be sure, with any desire to lay undue emphasis upon them, but for this simple reason. With great respect to your Lordships, it is not possible to understand what is now facing us, unless we do grasp the character of the chasm which separates these two great communities in India. The Moslem community in India numbers something like 90,000,000, which is more than twice the population of this island, and it is far too big to be regarded as a minority in the sense in which somebody once said that minorities must always suffer. Indeed there is truth in the observation that has been made before to-day that India is not one nation even if you do put aside the Untouchables—there are 50,000,000 of them—and perhaps one or two other groups. It consists of two nations, and the difficulty which we have got to pursue and hope to get solved—and we hope that Indians will solve for us—is to produce sufficient reconciliation between them. I must add one thing more. Those of us who are familiar with the history of government in this island, know that the essential thing in any peaceful reconciliation where there are deep differences is the virtue of tolerance. There have been times in our own history—the time of Queen Elizabeth, if you like—when there was not much tolerance to be found. The seventeenth century is full of examples of this want of tolerance in our history, and we know what it brought us. Tolerance is a thing that grows late in a community. It is a very unhappy fact, but an undoubted one, that of the many virtues which you may find in both We Hindu and Mahomedan communities in India, tolerance is very far to seek.
924 I have said that because that is the situation with which the Cabinet Mission had to deal, and they produced a most ingenious plan, which I will attempt very briefly to describe. If the Secretary of State for India will be so good as just to follow what I am now going to say, I shall be obliged, for I wish to be corrected if anything I say is wrong. The plan of the Mission was this. They proposed that the representatives of the Commission, the Constituent Assembly, should be grouped into three Sections, A B and C. A was the biggest; it included six provinces in the centre of India, though it extended to the sea on both sides. In that Section, the central block, the Moslem members would be in a decided minority. They would be, I think, in the ratio of 20 to 167. But in the other two Sections, B and C which were smaller—B was the Punjab, the North-West Province, Sind and Baluchistan; and C was Bengal and Assam—the Moslem members would be a majority, in one case quite a small majority. Each Section was to meet separately and was to devise the Provincial Constitutions for the Provinces within its area, and also if it wished the Constitution for the area of the whole Group. That was the extent to which the Government plan approached what may pass under the name of Pakistan. The Provinces were to have power to apt out of the groups as soon as the new constitutional arrangements had come into operation.
I believe that to be an accurate statement of what was to be the Government plan. It may seem technical, it may seem as though the details de not matter much, but to Indians of different races, this plan contains within itself arrangements which arouse the greatest possible interest and are of immense importance. Pandit Nehru and his caste Hindus contend that under that plan of the. Government's, the Provinces may opt out of a Group in the first place, and if that is so it might well be that one or other of those Provinces in Groups B and C, acting by itself, would go out. Mr. Jinnah and his Moslem League contend that that is not right, and that a Section must make a Constitution for the Provinces in its Group first, and that any right of the Provinces to opt comes later. Here is a Wing which is interesting and, I must say, leads in my case to some astonishment and to some amusement. His Majesty's Government 925 have most clearly stated that the meaning of that document is what Mr. Jinnah said. They have most clearly stated that on this point, if the Congress people think otherwise they have misunderstood the Government's intention. And yet it is suggested in some quarters that there should be referred to the Federal High Court of India the question as to what this Government proposal meant.
I really am quite at a loss to understand that. The Federal High Court of India has a certain jurisdiction to answer questions put to it by the Viceroy, but the questions have to be questions of law—the Statute says so plainly. I have not a notion how this thing could be carried through in that way. Are there to be advocates present, for the sides concerned, to advance competing arguments? Is the Secretary of State going to be called to give evidence as to what he meant? There is only one possible answer to the question what did the Government mean by their statement. That is for the Government to say, and that they have done. How, after that, it is sensible to talk about taking the opinion of the Federal High Court, I do not know. How you could do such a thing I have not a glimmering of a notion, and I think there must be some misunderstanding about it. The Moslem League, as I understand it, are very suspicious of the Hindu willingness to refer the thing to the Federal High Court, if indeed, that is the sensible thing to do. I do not take sides about it at all, but I can understand their feeling, when they have the Government's own declaration as to what the proposal means, that it is next door to idiotic to say: "We will now go to a bunch of Judges in order that they may tell us what the Government mean." This is not a question of construing a contract, or a treaty, or a Statute, or a will; it is purely a question of what is the Government's suggestion. If it is not stated in clear language, the Government have made it clear since, and I cannot understand how that can be a sensible proposal.
Let us consider what has happened. (I am studiously taking no sides in this matter and I do not want to.) What has happened, is that for good reasons or for bad reasons—I do not know—the Moslem members of the proposed Constitution Conference are at present not taking part 926 in it. With all my heart I hope they will, but they think that they have good reasons for refusing. Yet there are meeting at New Delhi a body of Hindus, who were elected to be members of this Constitution Conference. They have been sitting for a week. They have elected their Chairman—he was, of course, a Hindu—and they have been regulating their procedure. One gathers from the latest declarations of Pandit Nehru that they propose to proceed with their business with great rapidity. I want to put a question to the noble Lord, the Secretary of State for India and Burma. I put it because from my heart I believe that a plain answer to this question would greatly help the situation.
When the Secretary of State and his colleagues, in this elaborate document of May 16, proposed that there should be a Constituent Assembly which should thresh out a Constitution, by Indians and for Indians, did they ever for a moment contemplate that there could be such a Conference if it consisted only of one side? Is it not quite plain that those who are now assembling in New Delhi—sitting to-day, for all I know—are not in truth and in fact a Constitutional Conference at all? It is quite easy to prove that by examining the terms of the Government document. I can illustrate my meaning in a sentence. The Government document provides that at this Constituent Assembly, if it is alleged that a major communal issue arises and the Chairman rules that it is not a major communal issue, the other Party which objects and says that it is may claim that that question should go to the Federal Court. How can that happen when the other Party is not there? There are some forms of body which cannot exist unless the different parties to it come together; and this is one of them.
I invite my noble friend the secretary of State to tell us to-day, here and now, do the Government regard what is going on in Delhi at this moment as the Constituent Assembly? I foresee the greatest danger of misunderstanding, and possible charges of bad faith, if the Government do not make a plain declaration on that matter. The challenge was made in very clear terms in another place, and the First Lord of the Admiralty, my right honourable friend Mr. Alexander, in winding up for the Government, did his best to deal with it. How did he deal 927 with it? He dealt with it by saying: "This is a hypothetical question, and therefore I need not give an answer." My Lords, it is not a hypothetical question. These people are meeting now, at this minute, all by themselves, and the most recent declarations of Pandit Nehru show how much importance he attaches to the idea that he and his caste Hindus should constitute the Constituent Assembly which the Government propose. I cannot help feeling that it will be a good service—and I say it with great respect to the Secretary of State, for I can imagine his difficulties—if he would make it plain whether the Constitution drawn up by that truncated meeting can possibly be regarded as in accordance with the plans made by the Government.
It is the more important that it should be clear, because at the end of the recent conference in London, when the Government put their heart into the business of trying to reach agreement at the last moment between Mr. Nehru and Mr. Jinnah, the Prime Minister made a public statement when they went away. I would like to read that statement to your Lordships:There has never been any prospect of success for the Constituent Assembly except on the basis of an agreed procedure. Should a Constitution come to be framed by a Constituent Assembly in which a large section of the Indian population had not been represented, His Majesty's Government could not, of course, contemplate—as the Congress have stated they would not contemplate—forcing such a Constitution upon any unwilling parts of the country.As far as it goes, it seems to me that the Prime Minister made a very valuable and useful statement, but it does not go to the point that I am putting.
One of the duties of the Constituent Assembly, if and when it has assembled, is to draw up a Constitution for the whole of India—a matter in which every great minority in India is concerned. I cannot for the life of me see how it is enough to say: "Well, of course the Constitution that may come out of this present body is one that we as the British Government could not allow or seek to enforce in areas of the country which do not in fact take part in its construction." There is only one possible answer, I humbly but most sincerely suggest to the Secretary of State. That is that this is not a fulfilment of the Government's proposal for a Constituent Assembly; and 928 whether it goes on or whether it does not, it is not until you get the representatives of these other great communities in—and I am sure that I am one of the first to hope they will come in—that you can say the work which is being done is the work of constructing a Constitution for a free country according to the Government's suggestion.
If that is not said, see what results will follow. You will embitter the very people who are holding out. More and more they will become convinced that from their point of view this is not a fair deal. It is not enough to inquire who is to blame for not turning up. You may argue about that till the crack of doom. It is a very complicated argument, and I do not wish to enter into it. Let us suppose, however, that the Moslems are to blame. Is the structure now about to be planned a Constitution such as the Government require? Now, my Lords, reverse the situation. Let us suppose for a moment that the only people to turn up at New Delhi were the Moslems, supposing the Congress Party decided to boycott it for some reason—good or bad. Are the Government prepared to say that in that event a Constitution brought up by the Moslems alone would be in execution of their plans for a Constituent Assembly? Of course, they would not say so, and the very fact that they would not say so shows in what a dangerous position they stand until at least on this point they make—as I hope they will—a clear declaration. The Secretary of State knows very well, as I hope the whole House knows, that I do not raise this point in order to provoke trouble, in order to intensify communal feeling, but because I am convinced in my bones, from the little that I know of this subject—and once you have given as much of your life as I have to this topic you cannot lose interest in it—that unless something of that sort is made plain now, we stand in the gravest jeopardy of misunderstanding hereafter.
There is another question with which I will deal shortly. I have mentioned this before, and for the moment the Secretary of State did not give me a very clear answer, although it was a very kindly one. I think the time has come to repeat it. When the Cabinet Mission boldly proposed the outline of a Constitution to be worked out by a Constituent Assembly, the composition of which they precisely indicated, was it the right view that the 929 Constituent Assembly should make any sort of Constitution they liked? Or was it the right view that they were to accept for the purpose in hand—not finally—the scheme the Government had made and try in detail to discuss it and see whether they could turn it into a completed whole? Because, mark you, if it is the view—I am rather disposed to think that Pandit Nehru takes this view; he appears to me to say so with great vehemence—that this truncated body is now engaged upon making what he calls any Constitution it likes, then I think the anxieties in the situation are redoubled. I do not doubt at all that when we spoke of Indians drawing up a Constitution for themselves we did not mean to put any restrictions upon them except certain restrictions essential to our honour and pledged word as regards minorities or as regards the Indian Princes; certainly not. As regards this operation it really becomes a very grave matter if we are to understand that this Constitution Conference is entitled to make any Constitution it likes.
I shall not detain the House much longer. I am sorry to have been so long. I have been most anxious to put before your Lordships and before the Secretary of State those anxieties which I am sorry to say fill my mind. My noble friend the Secretary of State communicated with me last Friday and asked me if I would let him know in advance what the particular matters were upon which I might ask him to give me a response—a really good procedure which is not infrequently followed in this House. I did so. I sent him some questions on Friday which I should like to read to the House in order that we may follow more closely any answer that he gives. The first question was this: Did not the statement of the Cabinet Commission announced to Parliament on May 16 last propose a Constituent Assembly for framing the new Constitution in which it was essential that representatives of the different major communities would be associated in certain proportions? And, following on that, I wish to ask: Do His Majesty's Government regard the Assembly which is now meeting at Delhi, and which contains no representative of the Moslem League, as a meeting of such Constituent Assembly? It may be the case—I most heartily hope it is the case—that this difficulty will be got over, that the Moslems will soon join it. But if 930 the Moslems continue their refusal to take part, will the conclusions reached by those who do take part be regarded by His Majesty's Government as a Constitution "settled by Indians for Indians"?
And thirdly: Is the Assembly now sitting at Delhi restricted in its efforts to frame a Constitution to the "basic form" (I am using the expression of the Mission) recommended by the Cabinet Mission; or is it at liberty to disregard the Mission's recommendations and frame a Constitution on other lines? I shall not trouble to read two further questions which deal with the Federal Court. I know my noble friend is thoroughly seized of the point and he will make such statement on it as he thinks fit. But it does appear to me that it would be well if, on this matter, in India as well as in this country, we had more information than is available at present.
Lastly, I must call attention to the news from India which reached us this morning by wireless and by newspaper. It is too widely confirmed for one to doubt its substantial truth, and I hope we shall not be put off to-day by the observation that as yet the India Office has received no official telegram. At Benares yesterday Pandit Nehru made a speech in which he claimed that the meeting at Delhi was the Constituent Assembly; that the Congress Members who were attending it would draw up any Constitution they liked; and that it would thereupon become the Constitution of India. Surely we ought to ask the Government now what is their attitude to this momentous declaration. Surely this reinforces my question whether this meeting of caste Hindus at Delhi can be regarded by the Government as the Constituent Assembly they meant at all. It is terrible to think what misunderstandings and what charges of bad faith may arise if the Government remain mute on this matter or say, like Mr. Alexander: "Oh, that is a hypothetical question." There is not much hypothesis about what happened at Benares yesterday. Such a claim, if it is persisted in, makes nonsense of the Cabinet Mission's patient efforts and threatens India with a Hindu Raj.
I am measuring my words as carefully as I have ever done in my life, and I speak under the gravest sense of responsibility. I say that the attempt to establish a Government in India, not by co-operation 931 between the major communities, but by reliance on the Hindu majority, threatens India with civil war, with anarchy and bloodshed on an unlimited scale. I, at any rate, feel that it is our duty, here in Parliament, to make an appeal to both sides—though, heaven knows, not to judge between them, which I am not attempting to do. To the Moslems I think we should say that we beg them to forget old feuds, to place some reliance in the British sense of fair play, and to do anything they feel they can do to join in a united Indian effort to frame a Constitution under which Indians of every class and creed may live at peace. To the Caste Hindus we should say that the British Parliament well understands the inspiration that is drawn from the prospect of complete freedom, but that the freedom must be for others, the 90,000,000 Moslems, the 50,000,000 Untouchables, as well as for themselves. We should beg them to realize—however little our words may count, we should do it—that a free and happy India can never be built up except by co-operation between the main Indian parties, and that that is the only road by which the consummation of their purpose can be reached.
Last of all, to His Majesty's Government here, who are trying to grapple with these fearful difficulties, trying to help to reconcile these contending forces, I would offer, if I may, the assurance of our understanding and sympathy, but I would beg them now to make a fuller declaration of their attitude, for upon them necessarily rests the heavy responsibility for seeing how law and order in India may be restored and how best Britain can help to promote a happy issue out of all these Indian troubles.
§ 3.42 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
My Lords, we on these Benches, deplore the policy of Parliament engaging in debates on the Indian situation at this moment, and after hearing the speech of the noble and learned Viscount who has just spoken, I still doubt the advisability of this debate. Although we were all interested in the historical summary, covering long periods of time, in which he engaged, and his survey of the fundamental elements of the Indian situation, which are not unfamiliar to your Lordships, it was only towards the end of his speech that he 932 raised a point of immediate relevance—namely, that he pressed the Government to make a statement now as to what they would do if and when the Constituent Assembly broke down. For my own part, I should regard it as highly inexpedient.
§ VISCOUNT SIMON
I made no such request. I never said a single word on the subject. I have not asked what the Government would do if the Constituent Assembly broke down. I am quite sure they are privately considering it, but I would never dream of asking such a question.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
Perhaps the noble Viscount will explain what the final passages of his speech meant, for he said, and repeated with great emphasis, that the Moslems were not now members of the Constituent Assembly, but the Constituent Assembly is nevertheless meeting, and that Pandit Nehru had declared that it was a valid Constituent Assembly. The noble Viscount pressed the Government to say what is their attitude in that situation. Have I misrepresented the noble Viscount in any way? Is not that the gist of what he said?
§ VISCOUNT SIMON
Unintentionally, I am sure, my noble friend has completely misunderstood what I said, and I am in the hearing of your Lordships. I did not ask what the Government would do if there was a breakdown. I asked the Government to deal with the present situation and to say whether or not, in their view, the body that is now meeting was or was not the fulfilment of their plan.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
It obviously follows from that that if the Government say it is not the fulfilment of their plan they must declare what their plan is in such an eventuality. At the present moment the Moslem League is considering whether or not it should enter the Constituent Assembly, and the Government have expressed the very earnest desire that they should do so. It is proper in this House to-day to express the same view, but to ask the Government to declare now ex-cathedra whether this present Assembly is valid or not cannot lead to any settlement of the situation but can only worsen it. I earnestly trust that the Government will not make any such statement. I wondered why it was that the Opposition put this Motion on 933 the Paper a week or two ago. It could not have had reference to Pandit Nehru's speech of yesterday, because it had not been made. It must have had reference to the general Indian situation.
In reading the debate in another place, it seems that it may have been initiated there to give the Leader of the Opposition in another place an opportunity of declaring what is the attitude of himself and his Party to the present situation. I venture to read what he said, as I do not think this infringes our usual rules of order of not quoting debates in another place, because we are allowed to quote official statements of Ministers and this statement by the ex-Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition has a quasi-official character. This is what he said in another place on December 12:There is another aspect. If we remained silent after all these months, it might be thought that we were in agreement with His Majesty's Government, and that the policy which they were pursuing was a national policy, and not a party policy of the forces which they represent. It might be thought that this was a policy of Britain as a whole, and that the execution of it was endorsed by the British people as a whole, whereas, for good or ill, the responsibility rests with His Majesty's Government. On their heads lies the responsibility.That is a very grave statement, because hitherto the policy that has been pursued in this Indian matter has been regarded as national policy, for the reason stated under the Coalition Government and clearly stated in another place by the Secretary of State for India at that time, Mr. Amery, on June 14, 1945, when Mr. Churchill was Prime Minister and when the noble Viscount who has just spoken was the Lord Chancellor. Mr. Amery then said on behalf of the Government:As the statement makes clear, the offer of March, 1942, stands in its entirety. That offer was based on two main principles. The first is that no limit is set to India's freedom to decide for herself her own destiny, whether as a free member and partner in the British Commonwealth or even without it, The second is that this can only be achieved under a Constitution or Constitutions framed by Indians to which the main elements in India's national life are consenting parties.He then went on to say:These principles, if I may quote the Prime Minister, 'stand in their full scope and integrity. No one can add anything to them and no one can take anything away'.I should like to ask in what respect His Majesty's present Government have departed from that policy; what action of 934 theirs varies from that policy as laid down then, and why it should be necessary for the Conservative Party, as such, formally to dissociate themselves from the actions of the Government in this contingency. Indeed I can only think that that statement by Mr. Churchill can do nothing but mischief in India as indicating to the Indian people that, whatever this Government may do and whatever settlement it may arrive at, another Government may come into power later on to undo it because the present Government are not entitled to act, according to Mr. Churchill, on behalf of the nation as a whole. That passage from that speech in the other place is another illustration of the disadvantages of Parliamentary debates on these subjects at this juncture.
That disclaimer of responsibility brought instantly to my mind an event which occurred years and years ago but which has always dwelt in my memory. It was when the Campbell-Bannerman Government announced that full freedom was to be granted to the Boers after the South African War. I can recall as though it were today how Mr. Balfour rose in his place in the House and in tones of indignation said that he and his friends separated themselves wholly from that declaration, rejected any share in the responsibility for it, and felt that it was one of the most rash experiments in Colonial administration upon which any Government had ever embarked. Then it was the young Winston Churchill, as Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies, who assisted the Prime Minister of the day in passing through Parliament the implementation of that policy—and indeed we should have fared badly in two World Wars if we had not adopted that policy at that time. Now it is the veteran Winston Churchill, ex-Prime Minister, who plays the part that Mr. Balfour played then, by rejecting formally and in Parliament a share of the responsibility for a policy of liberation. He and his friends may escape a share of the discredit if this policy fails, but, on the other hand, they have renounced all share in the credit if it succeeds.
Let me make it clear that the Liberal Party for whom I speak has from the beginning always advocated full self-government for India as the ultimate goal—not to be arrived at suddenly, but stage by stage—with a clear vision that when that people reached political maturity it 935 was only on the basis of their consent that India could remain a part of the British Commonwealth. We regard the Government policy in these days as broadly right, and up to the present time we see no reason why it should be made the object of criticism and animadversion. The Leader of the Opposition in the other place also attacked (although the noble and learned Viscount did not do so to-day) the formation of the Interim Government and the course of events that followed its formation. But what alternative was there to the creation of an Interim Government such as has been established in India?
Should we have continued a Government of caretaker officials during the long period—perhaps two years or more—which must elapse before the Constitution is finally shaped? If not that, should there have been a Government of high British officials and civil servants as before? If India had been under such a Government, I believe it would have become absolutely ungovernable—feelings and passions have risen far too high. The only course was to urge that both Congress and the League should take part in the Government, and although for a time that was found to be impracticable because the League stood out, afterwards, happily, the League came in and now we have a Government which, although it naturally has great difficulties to contend with, is framed on the right lines.
Now the Opposition members press for a statement as to the safeguarding of minorities in the future. All three parties concerned—the British Government, Congress and the Moslem League—have declared firmly and repeatedly that they will take no action to coerce any part of India to come into a Constitution with which the people of that part disagree. Therefore, until something is forthcoming to show that one or other of those three parties has repudiated and will fail to honour that obligation, it seems to be in error for this Parliament to intervene and to assume that minorities are going to be oppressed. Today, however, the Government have been urged by the noble and learned Viscount, as they were in another place by Mr. Churchill himself, to declare here and now what course will have to be taken in certain eventualities, if the 936 Moslem League do not form part of the Constituent Assembly.
§ VISCOUNT SIMON
I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord's notes, but he cannot possibly have made that note after hearing my speech. I did not say one single word to that effect from beginning to end.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
I disagree with the noble Viscount as to what is the obvious interpretation to be put upon his words.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
To repeat it again, he is assuming a state of affairs in which the Moslem League stand out, as they have done hitherto, and he is reproaching the Government for not dealing with that situation. What is the conclusion to be drawn from that? It obviously is that the Government ought to make a statement now. What statement are they to make? They are expected to make a statement that, if the Moslem League still stay out and if Congress go on with their present action in the Constituent Assembly, the British Government will pay no attention to those recommendations. Is not that the obvious conclusion? What other conclusion can there possibly be? Am I not perfectly right in saying that what he is calling upon the Government to do is to state what action they will take in certain eventualities which have not yet occurred?
At the end of the two days' debate in the other House Mr. Churchill repeatedly pressed Mr. Alexander to make a statement of that character and Mr. Alexander—rightly, in my judgment—repeatedly refused. What would be the result in India to-morrow if to-day the Secretary of State for India were to rise in his place and say: "We are assuming that the Moslem League will stay out and we are assuming that Congress will frame its own Constitution; in that event it must be clearly understood that the British Government will," or "will not," "do" so and so? That would be regarded instantly as a threat; it would be regarded as a gross intervention in the controversies of Indian politics; it would be regarded as contrary to the pledges repeatedly given that it is for the Indians to draw up their own Constitution and that it is not for this Government to direct what that Constitution is to be. We have said, Congress 937 have said and the League have said that force will not be used to compel minorities to form part of constitutional arrangements with which they have disagreed. If such a situation were to arise, then—and then only—would be the time for the Government to declare their action.
As to the present issue which has caused the deadlock and which has kept the Moslem League out of the Constituent Assembly for the time being, that is a tangled matter of Sections and Provinces, of opting in and opting out, and of legal interpretatations or non-legal interpretations. But the concrete issue is perfectly simple, and it has an actual point of substance of immediate importance. It is the Province of Assam. All this discussion on general principles has regard simply to their application to a particular case, and the Province of Assam is the one which is primarily concerned. That is a Province with a Hindu majority but it is one which is regarded as necessary geographically to the conception of Pakistan. The question is whether the Hindu majority in Assam should have the right now, at the outset and before the Constituent Assembly comes to any decision, to opt out of the Pakistan States, the Sections, or whatever they may be called, if in fact they are constituted; or whether it should not be until after the Constitutions for those Sections, including Assam, have been agreed upon, that Assam should have the right to opt out. I am sure the noble Lord, the Secretary of State for India, will correct me if I am wrong in any particular. I see he assents to that interpretation. The Government hold that the latter course is the right one, and it obviously should be the right one, because it is only when the Constitution has in effect been drafted and passed, and when Assam can see just what its rights will be under the new Constitution, that the people of that Province ought to come to their decision. That is a matter that ought to be settled by India for itself, and it is the Indians who know all the details. We do not know them, and it is not for us to intervene or to express any opinion in such a matter.
This again calls to my mind a not irrelevant simile which happened years ago. The noble Viscount said that India is not a parallel with Ireland, and that is quite true. Some of us remember in 1914 a very crucial conference at Buckingham 938 Palace between the Unionists and the Home Rulers in striving to arrive at a conclusion, while the European war was looming in the background. The subject under discussion was whether the Counties of Monaghan and Fermanagh were to become part of Northern or Southern Ireland. Similarly, that is the case of Assam. I very earnestly hope that it will not be the cause of any irredeemable disaster through the failure of this constitutional conference.
We all here regret the Moslem abstention. Whenever any negotiation is about to take place, whenever any conference is on the eve of being summoned, there is always a temptation for each party to say: "We will come into your conference with pleasure, but only if, before it meets, you express yourself willing to do what we want." They make it an absolute condition of participation that their terms shall be yielded in advance. That happens again and again in all parts of the world, the reason being that the rank and file of any movement are unwilling to trust their leaders to represent them unless they think their leaders will prove sufficiently tough in order to secure the desires of the movement as a whole. Probably that is so in this case also. Last summer it was the Sikhs who stood out, and, when we debated the matter, from all quarters of the House an appeal was made to the Sikhs to come in. They listened to that appeal, and they did come in. Now it is the case of the Moslems. Those who refuse to enter into discussions are, in my judgment, always in the wrong. When you are called upon to come into a discussion, or to take part in some great national political movement, those who say that they will not discuss unless their terms are agreed to are always in the wrong.
Our appeal should be to the Moslems now to come into the Constituent Assembly. Since we are called upon here in this debate to express our views on these matters, although I think it is unfortunate that we should be, we should now appeal to the Moslems to come into the discussion in the Constituent Assembly, and at the same time appeal to Congress to show them due sympathy and good will. If the Constituent Assembly fails, of course each side will blame the other, but both will agree upon one thing, and that is that the British are to blame. That is always the easy course to take. When 939 they are tired of quarrelling among themselves—and the same applies in Palestine and Ireland—there is always one matter which can be assured of unanimous applause whenever the two parties come together, if they do come together, and that is to blame a third party. (There again, those who are absent are always in the wrong.) It would not be fair in this case that they should do so. The British Government have taken every opportunity to meet and appeal to them, and at this juncture the responsibility rests fairly and squarely upon the Indian parties. If they fail, the prospects are gloomy indeed.
The history of India before the British Raj had been the history of incessant conflict between Hindu and Moslem. Those flames are not extinct, and the recent communal rioting has shown that clearly enough. When I spoke briefly on this matter in the debate last July, I ventured to draw the attention of the House to the almost invariable lessons of history, and I feel hound to repeat that to-day as I repeated it in private conversations in which I had the privilege of engaging recently in London with Mr. Nehru and Mr. Jinnah. All through the history of mankind, whenever an Empire has contracted or withdrawn, the consequence has been civil war and turmoil. The decline and fall of the Roman Empire lasted for centuries through the dark ages. In South America, when the Spanish Empire was rightly overthrown, for years and generations incessant conflicts took place. When Turkey was turned out of the Balkans we had that peninsula engaged in continual wars and conflicts, which still continue. In China, a similar state of things has existed since the fall of the Manchu Empire. The only exception has been the British Commonwealth, where power has been transferred to the Dominions without conflict and without war, after the one great conflict of the American War of Independence.
It has been said that the only thing men have learnt from history is that they will not learn anything from history. So it is apparently now that some of the Indian leaders talk light-heartedly of the British quitting India at once, and their being left to fight out their own disputes in their own way. That is a rash and terrible thing to say. Aggressive war is a crime, and civil war is equally a crime, 940 bringing appalling disaster upon vast and innocent populations. Already these communal riots which have taken place within the last few months have brought about the murder of more than 10,000 people, according to official statements made in another place. A widespread community conflict in India would measure its victims possibly by millions.
It is not only we in Parliament who feel this way. I observed that the leading article in The Times a few days ago spoke of "the anxiety now generally felt throughout this country as to the possibility of widespread civil war in India." If that should take place, what is to be the part to be played by this country and by the British Army? If there is no peaceful solution by constitutional means: if these riots recur and on a far vaster scale; if the strain proves too great upon the cohesion and the discipline of the Indian regiments—some of which belong to one Section and some to another and some are mixed—and if, while the lawyers and politicians argue and wrangle and pass resolutions, some new kind of warlord were to arise offering to the people the enjoyment of order at the price of the loss of their liberties and the establishment of tyranny, what should be the part to be played by the British Parliament, the British Government, and the British Army? Are we quietly to slip away and leave anarchy there, anarchy such as prevailed in China for example? After 150 years of British rule that would be the course of dishonour. On the other hand, are the British Armies to intervene in order to maintain or re-establish peace and order? That would mean that young men from London, Yorkshire, Devonshire, Scotland, Wales, or wherever it might be, would have to lay down their lives in India in order to put all end to a quarrel which is not of our choosing. Why should we be put to that dilemma of having to choose between dishonour on the one side and disaster on the other? Yet it seems to me that such is the situation now shaping unless the Indian parties can wisely concur in framing their own Constitution. The success of the Constituent Assembly is, therefore, a matter of vital importance to this country. To my mind, at this moment, it can best be forwarded, not by reproaches but rather, on our part, by reticence.
§ 4.11 p.m.
§ LORD PETHICK-LAWRENCE
My Lords, I think it may be for the convenience of your Lordships if I intervene at this stage in the debate to lay before your Lordships some of the basic facts of the situation as I see them to-day, and to reply to some of the questions put to me by the noble Viscount, Lord Simon. That will not preclude me, if it is your Lordships' wish and with your Lordships' permission, from dealing at a later stage with any of the further points which are made in the course of the debate.
When I spoke in this House shortly after the return of the Cabinet Mission, I said that there was one thing which I felt sure we had accomplished during our visit to India; that was that we had convinced the responsible Indian leaders of the sincerity of His Majesty's Government and of the vast majority of the British people in their desire to give to Indians complete control of their own destiny. Since I have been home I have had the opportunity of assessing how far I had correctly represented British opinion. I have scanned nearly all the leading articles on India in the Press, I have talked with large numbers of people of all political persuasions, I have followed the recent debate in the House of Commons, and as a result I am satisfied that, whatever criticism there may be in detail of the actions and pronouncements of His Majesty's Government and the Cabinet Mission, there is almost complete unanimity throughout the country on the main issue—that the time has come for Indians to have independence, whether within or without the British Commonwealth, according to their choice.
Your Lordships will realize that that being so it was no longer possible for this country to frame a Constitution for India, still less to impose one. Their Constitution must be made by Indians for Indians, and the Constitution must command the consent of the major communities and be fair to minorities generally. These conditions do not arise from the caprice of a British Government determined to cling to power until forced to relinquish it, but from the inescapable political facts of human relationships. It was in the endeavour to assist Indians to form such a Constitution that we put forward for their acceptance our proposals of May 16. The noble Viscount, Lord Simon, has asked me several questions with regard to this 942 statement, and I will do my best to give him an answer. I will first deal with the two questions relating to the present situation. The whole objective of the Cabinet Mission was to find a way in which a Constitution could be framed by Indians by mutual agreement. In the statement of May 16, the Mission made proposals which, in their view, provided the most hopeful method by which constitution-making could proceed with general co-operation. For that purpose the presence of representatives of both major communities in the Constituent Assembly is essential to the success of the Cabinet Mission's recommendations. While His Majesty's Government have made it clear in the Prime Minister's speech of March 15 that it is not part of their policy that a minority should be able to place a veto on the advance of the majority, I would refer the noble Viscount to the last paragraph of the statement made on December 6 at the conclusion of the recent conversations with Indian leaders. The noble Viscount has already quoted that concluding paragraph. That paragraph seems to me to be quite explicit, and the Government have at present nothing to add to it.
In reply to a further question from the noble Viscount, I would say that, though all parties took part in the election for the Constituent Assembly, it is, of course, well known that at the present moment the Moslem League representatives are not taking their seats in the preliminary sittings which are now being held, and which are, therefore, clearly not representative of the two major communities. His Majesty's Government still hope that before the meetings in the Sections take place it will become so representative, and with that object in view, which they believe noble Lords opposite share, they do not think it desirable to make any statement on a hypothetical situation beyond that which they have made already.
I turn now to the noble Viscount's questions relating to the functioning of the Constituent Assembly under normal conditions. He asked whether the Assembly now meeting at Delhi is restricted, in its effort to frame a Constitution, to the basic form recommended by the Cabinet Mission, or whether it is at liberty to disregard the Mission's recommendation and to frame a Constitution on other lines? Under the Cabinet Mission's proposals the Constituent Assembly cannot frame a 943 Constitution which departs from the basic form recommended by the Cabinet Mission in paragraph 15 of their Statement unless this is agreed upon with the approval of the majority of the representatives of each major party. It is provided in paragraph 19 (vii) of the Statement of May 16, thatany resolution varying the provision of paragraph 15 above"—the basic recommendations as to the form of the Constitution—or raising any major communal issue, shall require a majority of the representatives present and voting of each of the major communities.The noble Viscount made reference at the end of his speech to the report of a speech by Pandit Nehru at Benares. I certainly would not minimize the gravity and importance of the remarks attributed to him. But I think that the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, has expounded the position as I see it, and I should be inclined to think that the speech at Benares was a political rejoinder to a very provocative speech made only a few days ago in the House of Commons. Be that as it may, I will only say that the position of the Government remains unchanged. Our intentions stand that Indians have the right to decide their own future. Our conviction stands that only on a basis of agreement can a stable Constitution be created. Our intention remains to do all in our power to bring the parties together. I was glad to note that in his concluding words, before he sat down, the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, said that he shared that view, and he made his appeal both to the Moslem League and to the Congress Party to find an accommodation which would enable them to sit together in the Constituent Assembly and create a Constitution which would command the support of all sides.
Now, I should perhaps say a word on the difference between the parties, which is the main subject of controversy. It may seem, on the surface, to be a small one but, in fact, it is fundamental to the whole scheme. The task which confronted the Cabinet Mission was to reconcile the desire of Congress for a federated India and a strong Centre with the desire of the Moslem League for autonomy of the Moslem majority Provinces. The solution which we offered was a limited Centre, the Constitution for 944 which was to be worked out by a Constituent Assembly in which Congress would have a clear majority, and the three sections A, B and C, of which B comprises the Punjab, the North-West Frontier Provinces, Sind and Baluchistan, and C Bengal and Assam. In B and C the Moslems would have a majority and in those Sections we provided for the Provincial Constitutions and, if so decided, the Group Constitutions, to be framed. Thus, each party had a majority where it was most deeply interested. It was, however, provided that no Province could be forced into a Group against its will, since when it saw and could judge of the Group Constitution it could at the first election after the new Constitution was settled opt out of the Group if it so desired.
The question at issue is as to the method of voting within the Section. The intention of the Cabinet Mission was that it should be by a majority vote of the members present and voting in tilt, respective Sections, and their view, fortified by legal opinion as being the correct interpretation of the Statement, His Majesty's Government have reaffirmed in their statement of December 6. Congress desired a different method of voting in order to protect the position of those Provinces in B and C where there is at present a Congress majority, from being swamped by the large Provinces of the Punjab and Bengal. They claimed that the Statement of May 16, read as a whole, necessitated their interpretation—this is a point which I think perhaps the noble Viscount had not quite seen—and that, therefore, their acceptance of the Statement did not force them to take our interpretation. They declared, however, that they were prepared to submit the question to the Federal Court and to accept its decision.
§ LORD PETHICK-LAWRENCE
The question, as I understand it—it is put in various forms—would be how voting was to take place in the Sections. The Moslem League were not willing, on what to them is a fundamental point, to take this risk. It was to help to resolve this issue that the Indian Leaders were invited to this country, and His Majesty's Government issued their statement of December 6. I should like to make it quite plain beyond all question of doubt, that His Majesty's Government do not 945 consider that this issue is one which it is desirable should be referred to the Federal Court. The statement of December 6 makes this clear and also the interpretation which His Majesty's Government themselves hold. The view of the Government is that this interpretation should be accepted by all parties. They only mention this matter of the Federal Court because that was the view expressed by the Congress Party as to what the Statement said. If in spite of the views of His Majesty's Government, the Constituent Assembly meeting now at New Delhi were going to submit the matter to the Federal Court—which no one can prevent—the Government think it most desirable that it would be done at once. But as I have already said—
§ VISCOUNT SIMON
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord again. I am greatly obliged to the noble Lord for his explanation. But he suggested that no one could prevent the Congress Party submitting the question to the Federal Court. He is aware, I am sure, that the Federal Court can only be asked to consider a question of law, and that on request of the Governor-General. The Congress Party have no right in the world to submit the question to the Federal Court. I cannot understand how it can be possible for it to be regarded as a question of law. When one is asked what does the Government mean by its own statement it is not really a legal issue.
§ LORD PETHICK-LAWRENCE
It is not a question of law, it is a State document. The Congress Party have expressed their intention of submitting it to the Federal Court. All I am saying is that if they choose to do so—whether the Federal Court will entertain the submission is another rnatter—His Majesty's Government hope that it will be done at an early date instead of waiting too long. I repeat that His Majesty's Government stand by their interpretation of the Statement of May 16 as set out in that Statement, and that they will by no means depart from it, even if the Federal Court should be appealed to. His Majesty's Government hope that an agreement may yet be reached in a way which will allay the fears of both parties, for it must be obvious to all that no Constitution in which Groups are formed out of Provinces and themselves are part of an Indian Union, can be successfully brought into being and 946 survive unless it is based on mutual consent. One aspect of this matter is that there is anxiety in certain quarters whether the majority in a Section might not impose a Provincial Constitution upon a Province which would be contrary to the wishes of its inhabitants, and might even be of such a character as to prevent the wishes of the majority of the inhabitants prevailing in the decision whether or not to opt out of the Group. I am sure that neither side have any wish that this should take place. There is no reason why the two major communities should not come to an arrangement between themselves which would avoid any danger of it happening.
Your Lordships may wish that I should make a few general remarks before I conclude my speech. First, with regard to the Indian States. Ever since the Commission—which until now has been called the Simon Commission, but which the noble Viscount now calls the Simon-Attlee Commission—it has been a recognized principle that in the new self-governing India, the States would play an integral part. The Cabinet Mission's proposals provide for the representation of the States in the Constituent Assembly on a population basis. This would give the States 93 seats out of a total of 389. The manner in which these seats should be filled was left for negotiation between a committee appointed by the Indian States and a committee appointed by the British-India side of the Constituent Assembly. The States have appointed a committee for this purpose. When a committee has been appointed by the British-India part of the Constituent Assembly, negotiations on this matter can begin.
The Cabinet Mission made it clear, and His Majesty's Government have since reiterated, that they could not in any circumstances transfer paramountcy to an Indian Government. The position, therefore, will be that when British authority is withdrawn from British India, the powers of paramountcy will lapse and, as a necessary corollary, the obligations of the States to the Crown will also lapse. There was a welcome for the Mission's proposals on this subject by the Indian States, who are anxious co-operate in the framing of the new India Constitution.
I will now say a few words about the position of the minorities. The Cabinet Mission took the view that the only satisfactory method of securing protection for 947 minorities was by provision in the Constitution itself. The earlier Cripps offer contemplated that there should be provision by means of the Treaty, but further consideration has led us to the conclusion that this is not likely to be effective, and that view was supported in 1942 by Dr. Ambedkar. Your Lordships will realize that the basis of representation in the Constituent Assembly was the Provincial Legislatures; broadly, the lines of population. That being so, it was not possible to give to any minority sufficient representatives to exercise any really powerful influence in the Constituent Assembly. In order to meet that situation, the Cabinet Mission proposed that an Advisory Committee should be constituted to make recommendations as to minority protection. The Advisory Committee, we hope, will be an authoritative body representing both the minorities themselves and leading experienced statesmen from India. It seemed to us, as all Parties in India are anxious that minorities should have real protection, that the recommendations of such a Committee could not be disregarded. We see no reason to suppose that the Constituent Assembly will not by these means make fair and reasonable provision for minority interests. In the Statement of May 25, however, we have said that this is one of the matter on which His Majesty's Government will wish to be satisfied before the final steps for the transfer of power are taken.
I may perhaps interject a few remarks here on the particular case of the Scheduled Castes. This problem is complicated by political divisions among the Scheduled Castes themselves. A substantial proportion of the Scheduled Castes belong to a political organization affiliated to the Congress; a further proportion belong to the Scheduled Castes Federation, of which Dr. Ambedkar is the head; but the largest proportion of all, according to the voting at the primary elections, support independent candidates. The method of elections, I might add, is a very complicated one, and it would be difficult for me to explain it verbally to your Lordships. It is true, of course, that this system of secondary elections, to which Dr. Ambedkar agreed at the time of the Poona Pact in 1932—no doubt without much desire to agree—and which, I think, appears in the Act of 948 1935 (the noble Viscount, Lord Templewood, will correct me if I am wrong) operates unfairly at the present time against Dr. Ambedkar's organization. But the Mission felt that in constituting the Constituent Assembly on the basis of the Provincial Legislatures, under the 1935 Act and the Poona Pact provisions, they had no alternative but to carry them out in the way they have done. Therefore, for that and other reasons, as I have already said, realizing that the protection of the Scheduled Castes would not be sufficient if left entirely in that form, they arranged for the creation of the Advisory Committee to which I have already referred.
I think that probably your Lordships will not wish me to go into greater detail on other matters. I would like to do so, but time is running on and there are a great number of your Lordships who wish to take part in this debate. I have not referred to the formation of the Interim Government, or to the great community of the Sikhs, and I have said nothing about the treaty which will have to be framed when the Constitution comes into being. In conclusion, I wish to make a special appeal to those of your Lordships who are taking part in this debate to make full allowance for the inherent difficulties. In saying this, I am not pleading for indulgence for myself or for His Majesty's Government. Your Lordships are fully entitled to make such criticisms of us as you may think fit. I am pleading for the Indian leaders, my friends, as I am sure they will allow me to call them—those who came over recently to this country at our invitation and those who stayed behind. They are all men with very heavy responsibilities, and they are spokesmen for large masses of their fellow countrymen and women whom they have to carry with them in any approach to a settlement. I feel sure your Lordships will have no wish to say anything which might make it more difficult for those men to come together.
§ 4.38 p.m.
§ LORD BIRDWOOD
My Lords, it is with reluctance and hesitation that I address you to-day. I do so only because the greater part of my life was spent in India, and because I was in the very closest touch with the people there in a way in which I think few of your Lordships were able to be. I hope 949 I shall not be considered unduly egotistical if I talk of my own experiences and of what I gathered during my time there with my Indian comrades. When I went to India I followed a father and grandfather, each of whom had served there for thirty-five years, one as a Judge in the High Court and the other as a General. I myself served for nearly forty-seven years, and had the good fortune to come into touch with all our Indian races. I have been followed by a son and a grandson, both in my old Indian regiment, and together there is a total of 120 years in which my family has served India.
That being the case, I am sure your Lordships wilt realize that I have the greatest affection for India and her peoples. Even now, although years have passed since I left, I continue to receive by every mail letters from my old comrades, or their sons or grandsons, many of whom do not know English and write in their own vernacular. I attribute my affection for India to the fact that I had the good fortune to be appointed to what I consider one of the finest services, the Indian Cavalry; and I am glad to see a brother officer sitting close to me, in the noble Lord, Lord Wigram. We seldom had more than five or six British officers present with the regiment, which consisted of 625 Indians of all ranks. We further had the good fortune in that my regiment consisted of Sikhs, Punjabi Hindus, and Mahomedans. From the very earliest times we had the opportunity of being in touch with the different representatives of these classes in India, and I can say that though very often under the surface one realized what the communal troubles were, never did they ever come to a head when we British officers were in close deliberate touch, as we were, with our Indian officers and other ranks. And on more than one occasion we invariably stopped any trouble in advance.
I will mention one little episode to your Lordships, which will show you the feeling which existed between the British officers and our men. Years ago I was out on long distance reconnaissance with my squadron, travelling very light; fact with only what we could carry in our saddles. I woke up one morning to find that two or three of the men's cloaks had been thrown over me because the rain had come on. When it was mentioned, 950 the men said, "Sahib, it us our duty to look after you." Well your Lordships will understand that, when such feeling existed, one could not help loving one's men. I think I learnt most about Indians and their customs when I had the good fortune to march with my regiment from Central India right up to the North-West Province. It took some two and a half months of daily marching. I remember in Central India passing through what had been most magnificent old cities, with beautiful stone arches and stone buildings, but now absolutely eaten up in the jungle, because, as one heard, years before when the British were not out there, the whole country was marauded by people known as the Pindaris, who spared nothing and absolutely overran the country. I do not think that that could ever happen now. In addition, in every village at which we stopped the regiment were challenged by the villagers to play cricket or hockey. The villagers would gather round and tell us what their feelings were about the country.
A great many people in this country do not realize that India is not a country like, say, Spain or Russia. It is a continent which is very much more divided with its different ideas and opinions than is Europe. In Europe I think we are practically all followers of Christ, with hopes of a life hereafter. In India it is very different. As your Lordships will know, the largest communities there are Hindus and Mahomedans, Sikhs, Buddhists, and various others. I might say one word about the Sikhs, who are probably the people I know best in India. They consist of some 6,000,000 men. You might call them Theosophists. They are devoted to their religion, and I cannot possibly see the Sikh community accepting Mussulman domination of the Punjab. I am convinced that the Sikhs would fight and die rather than have Mahomedan domination.
With regard to the Mahomedans, I think they are inclined to tolerate us because they regard us as what they call Ala Kitab—"Followers of the Book." They regard Christ as one of the Prophets. The enormous depth of the antagonism between the Mahomedans and the Hindus has to be seen to be realized. The Hindu worshipper of idols is, in their mind, absolutely anathema. That, I can assure you, is the feeling of the Mahomedans generally. When, as a young officer, I first went out to India the railway ran 951 from Bombay to Madras, and from Bombay to Allahabad, where it bifurcated to Calcutta on one side and Lahore on the other. Fortunately, I may say, motor cars did not exist. Consequently, the District Officer had to go round his district either riding or driving. He got to know his people, lived with them and was respected by them. Nowadays the motorcar has passed on its celerity to the Britisher and everybody concerned, and the Administrative Officer, instead of being able to spend some time with his people, has to tear back to his office, which he finds paper-logged with correspondence of all sorts, possibly from this country, asking details about what Mahomed Khan is doing.
As a young man, when we went round these districts the people would hear you coming. The whole village would turn out. We went first of all to get recruits. Secondly, we went to get horses for the regiment, and thirdly to see our old pensioners, to see that they were happy and being properly looked after, as they should he. When one went from village to village all the people would turn out. We would sit under one of the big trees of the village. There would be a few moments' silence. Then tongues would be loosened, and we heard all the grievances that the people had, such as that the best well in the village had dried up, and that cattle had died. It was always brought in that one of the canal subordinates was refusing to give them a proper supply of water. After the durbar we would retire to our hut, and a single man would come to you and say, "Sahib, cannot you send a Britisher in place of this Hindu Judge? His exactions are so great that we cannot suffer him any longer." You would go to the next village and the same thing would happen. A Mahomedan would come and say to you, "Cannot you get rid of this Hindu Judge? His tyranny is so great that we cannot stand it." Those are the experiences which I had in those days.
I also realized quite early that it was quite wrong that Indians had no representation, there being no Hindu civil servants as Indian Judges or Commissioners or Administrative Officers. In the Army no Indians held the King's Commission. Later on that was put right. Sandhurst was open to young Indians. A certain number went there, and I think that every 952 one of those whom I saw was perfectly delighted with his treatment there and enjoyed it thoroughly. Sandhurst, however, could not provide all that we wanted. Later on an Indian Sandhurst had to be started, to which Indians were sent in much larger numbers, and as every Indian qualified, he took the place of a British officer, thereby starting Indianization in that respect of the Army. I can remember so well one incident. I was inspecting the Khyber Pass, and I saw a young Indian seize hold of a mule and push it by the head, I said: "What are you doing?" He said, "I am trying to show this mule what a British officer looks like." That was a young man who is now the ruler of a big Indian State. Later on, when I became Commander-in-Chief with a seat in the Legislative Assembly and the Council of State, I was once tackled as to why Indians had not received any high commands. I was tackled by one gentleman who was Mr. Jinnah. I pointed out that it had to be realized that it took at least twenty years for any Britisher to be fit to hold a Command, and we had no qualified Indians then, except a very few, and to contemplate giving an Indian a Command would simply to have been to sacrifice the lives of his own fellow countrymen. That, I am sure, was right, and it was generally received by everybody except Mr. Jinnah.
We have not heard anything about the Indian Princes. I do trust that the treaties we have made with them will be honoured in every possible way by the new Government that takes over. With regard to the Princes, I can remember things like this happening. I remember once asking Mahatma Gandhi what he thought would happen if we left India. He said: "Doubtless there will be bloody fighting." He seemed to accept that with perfect equanimity. I remember, when I was in India with the late King, he asked a very fine old Indian Prince what he thought would happen. He said, "Sahib, I would take one of my cavalry regiments to the City, and in a month there would not be a beast or a virgin left there." That was the sort of idea the people in India had as to what conditions in India would be like if we had gone. Well, we hear people talking in India of the Golden Age, the Golden Age being the time before India was contaminated by the foot of the British, 953 Perhaps it was a Golden Age for some. It was a Golden Age for the Mahomedan rulers with their various palaces and riches throughout India, but for the poor people it was the most abject misery that could possibly exist. The suttee was looked upon as absolutely right and normal, when batches of widows had to go up the funeral pyre to be slaughtered. The thugs or the professional garrotters used to stream all over India. A number of people were destroyed without anybody taking any notice. That was the Golden Age!
There were no canals in India in those days other than one or two very small canals. We built canals throughout India and land which was absolutely barren and desert land has now been turned into fields of wheat, barley and oats. There are villages all over the place where people live in happiness knowing they can reap where they have sown, which was certainly not the case in days gone by.
We are now faced with the cry "Quit India." It may be right to quit India, but I myself cannot believe that it is. I would say to those people who urge us to quit India, "Gently, gently, catchee monkey." If you go gently, gently, you obtain our object in most things. Some things have to be done quickly, but most things in life are the better for going gently, gently. Some of these people are urging us not to go gently but to rush things and to leave the country. Having heard people talk apologetically of our presence in India, I should say that we should never apologize but rather take pride in the fact that for 150 years the British people have been able to keep order and prosperity in India For 150 years we have done that, and surely we can take pride in that fact.
In another place a day or two ago I understand that someone stated that we deliberately stirred up communal strife in India. I can assure your Lordships that in all my experience I can remember no case of that sort, but exactly the opposite. I know so well how we have faced the possibility of communal troubles; how the officers have got together the leaders of India and urged them to stop those communal troubles. Time after time we have definitely succeeded in doing that. I would say, therefore, that there is no truth whatever in the statement made in another place a few days ago. Riots one did experience, and time after time we 954 were called out to repel riots, often caused by what we would think were trivial things. An enormous riot would break out because a Hindu had placed a pig inside a Mahomedan Mosque or a Mahomedan had killed a cow in a Hindu Temple. That would cause a state of affairs that was impossible to settle for a long time. We had trouble in the Punjab about 25 years ago when the Akali Sikhs broke out and took a temple. Very heavy fighting took place. But that is nothing to the riots we have seen lately in Calcutta, in Bombay, and, mostly, in Bihar. We realize that some 7,000 to 10,000 people have been destroyed in riots, and no one has raised a hand to put them right. I saw riots time after time, but order was soon restored by the close association and confidence between British and Indian officers. We were always able to get results from our mutual confidence in each other over years of real friendship.
Look at what has happened in Bihar and elsewhere. It really does seem as if riots have been let loose, and it may take some time before the country settles itself again. May I quote one verse of a poem written by that very nice American writer, Lowell, just a hundred years ago, with a title which seems to be an extraordinarily good one, Tire Crisis. He writes:Once to every man and nationComes the moment to decideIn the strife of truth with falsehoodFor the good or evil side.Then it is the brave man choosesWhile the coward stands asideDoubting in his abject spiritTill his Lord is crucified.I was going to say that that moment of crisis has come, but it really has passed. The decision has been taken that we are going to vacate India, and one can only trust that it is a right decision, though I feel that there are some among the people who are known as "Untouchables", the unintelligent ploughers of the soil, and the Indian Christians, who will feel that we have deserted and possibly betrayed them. However, the die is cast, and I am sure everyone must pray, as I do, that for many years to come prosperity, good health and happiness may be with India and her people.
§ 4.58 p.m.
THE MARQUESS OF LINLITHGOW
My Lords, having held office as Governor-General of India from 1936 to 1943 I think it well to make plain that in what I have to say to your Lordships this evening I 955 speak for myself alone as an independent member of this House. I wish I could use words that might relieve in some measure the sombre tone of this discussion. I will, at least, do my best to avoid language that might in the least degree prejudice the outcome of the present very grave situation in India. Like every other well-wisher of India and of this country, I hope with all my heart that that outcome may be peaceful and constructive; that the dangers which now loom may be surmounted, and that we may witness very soon the achievement of that which has been the aim and purpose of British rule in India for the last 80 years and more, the creation of a united India as a self-governing entity.
The long-declared purpose of leading India to self-rule and to freedom sprang by progressive stages naturally and inevitably from the continuing characteristic of the British people. It was first voiced by the Sovereign herself upon the formal assumption of her authority over the Indian Empire in a Proclamation the words of which are still recalled with reverence. Successive Governments in the United Kingdom have contributed to the working out of this theme; every party in the State has subscribed to the same great purpose, each may fairly claim a share of the credit, and none may escape its portion of responsibility. It would not be reasonable to expect that political changes so profound and in such an environment as the Indian could be achieved without difficulty and without deep disturbance. Nor need we be surprised if the course of developing events in India has failed to adhere with nice precision to the path designed by those whose difficult duty it has been from time to time to endeavour to demarcate far ahead of the event the safest line of advance. Indeed, in execution of such a project it is well to be prepared for unexpected obstacles and to cultivate that resilience and resolution which are required to surmount them. I thought His Majesty's Government wise to send a Cabinet Mission to India early this year. I admire very sincerely the ingenuity of the scheme with which the Mission sought to assist the two main communities in India to come together for the purpose of building a new Constitution. I desire also to pay a sincere tribute to the courage, patience and persistence of the Viceroy in 956 his endeavours to bring the parties together.
The House will appreciate, and, I feel sure, sympathize with, my natural desire not to comment upon such criticism as has been levelled at certain aspects of the day-to-day management of the situation in India. Throughout the period of our rule in India we have held the scales evenly between the two communities. Each has been our ward and our friend; neither has been our favourite. The least divergence from that position of scrupulous neutrality has invariably proved to be a mistake. In the East rule assumes a paternal guise and no quality in the ruler is more valued than that he should be entirely impartial in the distribution of his favours or in the visiting of his displeasure, as a wise father towards his children. Therefore, I hope that, however much we may be tempted, we shall never take sides or favour one community at the expense of the other. From my own experience in India, which was prolonged and sometimes painful, I am able to certify that in terms of their nuisance value, Mr. Gandhi and Mr. Jinnah were, in my time, extremely well-matched!
Time will show whether it has been worth while to do what has been done during recent months at the centre. I would myself agree that almost any course would be justified if it contributed to the building up of a Government of all Parties to which power could be handed over. Nevertheless, it must be said that the present position in the Government of India is thoroughly unsound. It is really of no use to say that the powers of the Viceroy have been left entirely as they were. Your Lordships will remember what precisely the more important of those powers are in law, as laid down in the Government of India Act of 1935. In the last resort Parliament exercises its authority in India by means of the Governor-General's veto and the Secretary of State's powers under Section 314 of the Act, taken with the Governor-General's control of Governors, the combination in the same individual of the posts of Governor-General and Crown Representative, and, of course, the overall control of the Secretary of State. That arrangement had its origin in embryo as early as the end of the 18th century. It has been recognized by those who have understood it as a well-tried and indispensable barrier against the exercise in 957 India of arbitrary power uncontrolled either by Parliament in London or by any popularly chosen Legislature in India.
What is the position to-day? It is that under stress of emergency His Majesty's Government have virtually nullified those powers of the Secretary of State and of the Viceroy by agreeing to a convention that the Governor-General shall, at all times, accept the advice of his Executive Council. Those, I suppose, were the terms upon which the nominees of Congress insisted before they would agree to take office. All this, of course, has been done without reference to Parliament and, therefore, without an amendment of the Act. The practical position, whatever may be the theoretical position, is very clear. It is that the Governor-General cannot pull up his Council without facing the resignation of the Congress Ministers and, therefore, a first-rate crisis. That is not a position that can last long because, to take the ultimate test, it is unthinkable that British troops should be employed to support policies over which neither Parliament nor the Cabinet in this country have effective control.
If indeed it be true that the present position must soon be cleared up and regularized, as indeed it must, very grave consequences follow. We are pledged at present to hand over power to a properly constituted authority having the confidence of both the great communities, in circumstances tolerable to minorities. That, broadly, is the position. My deep fear is that it may be a matter of years before such an authority, so constituted, is available. To implement our promises we should in those circumstances have to remain in India for a very long period of time, and the position there would be substantially analogous to that which is plaguing us in Palestine, but upon a far greater scale. We should be waiting for an indefinite period for the contending, elements to coalesce in order that we might hand over authority. In such circumstances, we should, I submit, soon find ourselves confronted with the formidable alternatives either of withdrawing British armed forces from India, whatever the consequences, or of reasserting our authority and re-establishing our prestige, not with the intention of remaining in India for all time but with the purpose, boldly proclaimed, of staying until an appropriate and competent 958 Indian authority could be developed to whom we could hand over.
Let us always remember that it is worse than useless to attempt policies in India that the British people cannot support with a clear conscience. That is the test by which every device must be judged. It is not practicable to remain in India without the fullest moral support from the British people. In my opinion, the sufficient re-establishment of British authority would be less difficult than many suppose provided it were undertaken with confidence and conviction. It may indeed be that we in this country are no longer able, or willing, to supply the necessary impulse. In that case—and I say this with profound reluctance—my advice would be that we should frankly re-shape our policy, renounce our pledges as being beyond our capacity to discharge and, having given a due date and due warning, march out. To attempt to remain in India and to bear responsibility without adequate power to discharge it would be fair neither to India nor to ourselves. I submit that this country is in no shape to endure over a long period a running hæmorrhage on that scale.
Above all, let us avoid a situation in which we may have to attempt to remain in India without the necessary instrument for administration. The Secretary of State's services are falling to pieces. Let no one suppose that we can administer the country through the agency of officers serving, for example, on the basis of five year contracts or anything of that kind. Nothing short of a covenanted service can meet your needs over long periods of time. No one is better aware than I how sharp is this issue of the services, but it has to be faced while there is any prospect of any material prolongation of our responsibility in India. The sacrifice that we are prepared to make upon the altar of liberty is indeed heavy. We may do our utmost to secure to the future India the greatest achievement of our rule, the unity of that great country; yet who could guarantee the success of our endeavour in that regard? India, indeed, may be destined to pass through very troublous times. We ourselves must face a heavy military forfeit. We must be prepared to lose the service of the one substantial standing army at the disposal of the Commonwealth. We lose, too, the immense labour resources of the subcontinent, a potent factor in war, and we 959 abandon a great land base peculiarly well placed for the purpose of maintaining peace and security in the East. India under British rule has stood as a steadying factor for two centuries, the one buttress that has defied the storm and helped to hold together the whole fabric of the Orient from the Red Sea to the Yellow River.
Our friends in the United States have been critical of our rule in India. They are watching now I do not doubt, across the long perspective of the Atlantic and the Suez Canal, the dissolution of an Empire. But there is another and more significant spectacle which should not escape American eyes. Let them take a look over their shoulder across the broad Pacific, for there they will see, far away on the horizon, a small cloud no larger than a man's hand, but one that may be destined to grow and to give much trouble in time to come, for when we leave India we must expect that another will seek to take our place. That is the measure of the sacrifice, and Britain will not be alone in furnishing it. Let us hope that the outcome may warrant the price.
§ 5.14 p.m.
§ LORD LINDSAY OF BIRKER
My Lords, the noble Marquess, to whom we owe so much for all that he did in India, began—if I heard him rightly—by deploring the sombre nature of the debate, but I do not think he lessened it by what he felt himself rightly bound to say. When this country has at last accomplished what has been its goal for India for all this long time, a goal accepted and striven for, as the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, rightly said, by all parties, which has been forwarded faithfully and carefully for all these generations, you would think that we should rejoice, and yet it is not happening just as we expected. I do not think those things ever happen as you expect them. We are in these matters uncontrollably apocalyptic. We think there will dawn a day when everything will be wonderful quite suddenly.
I remember my friend, Mr. James Maxton, saying a good many years ago that if only people would vote Labour, in five years there would be no injustice whatever in Scotland. Unfortunately, things do not happen like that. In the words of Milton in Samson Agonistes, they 960 are not as comely and reviving as we hope, and patience is more oft the exercise not of saints but of ordinary people. When we look at the facts I think we should be proud. We have in all these years been doing two things in India. We have gone through a process where we ourselves have made one concession, or one gift, after another, but perhaps the process has been so long and so slow that we have got into the habit of thinking that is what we do all the time, that that is the main gist of the matter and we in Parliament, assembled for the British people, say from time to time we shall do more and that now we are making the supreme act. But we have all this time been doing much more than that. We have taught the people of India to feel independent and to demand independence. In a sense, India has herself achieved independence, but that is only because we have made it possible.
After all, Congress was started by an Englishman—no, his name, I think, was Wedderburn, so he must have been a Scot—but at any rate it was started by people from Britain. We may not like some of the consequences of that. We may not sometimes like the way in which Pandit Nehru—if I may use a vulgar expression—tells us just exactly where we get off. But is not that better than a state of affairs such as happened after the First World War, where people gave a democratic government to Germany when they were not in the least prepared to use it? Parallel with this process of legal change there has gone on a practical process, a real process, of a change in the minds and hearts and readiness to obey of the people of India. Therefore, there are always these two things to hear in mind, the legal process, the legal happenings, and the actual state of mind of the people of India. After all, as even that most pedantic of lawyers, Austin, said, "Sovereignty depends upon the habit of obedience." It does not matter substantially what the legal process is. Pandit Nehru no doubt overdoes it, but that is his role at the moment. Something of what he said is substantially true.
The feelings of the people of India have profoundly changed in the last generation and we have got to take that into account. That means, I submit, that we have got to ask ourselves what we can do. I submit that a man's responsibilities, as a nation's responsibilities, depend upon his 961 powers. A man has no responsibility to do what he cannot do, and if the power has gone the responsibility has gone with it. Therefore, I think we must ask ourselves very seriously what power—not what legal right—have we got in the present situation. I venture to think we have a very important power. I think it is in our power—or let us be more careful and say it may be if things favour us—to give India a gift of extraordinary importance: to ensure that this momentous change, especially in India where there are these two rival communities, shall happen without civil war.
About that I want just to say this. The noble Viscount, Lord Simon, talked of the fact that there was a time when the people of this country were not so very tolerant. It put me in mind of a remark of that distinguished Cambridge historian, Professor Figgins, where he says that toleration came to Europe because at last the Protestants and Roman Catholics realized that neither of them could subdue the other. That happened in France after the long wars of religion, and it has happened in England. We learnt toleration in England not because we have a genius for toleration but because it was at last borne in on both the Anglican Church and the Puritans that they would have to recognize that they could not get all their own way. The Presbyterians tried to establish a single church order over the whole of England, and they failed. Then, and then only, when both sides recognized that nothing could be done, they learnt to tolerate. Germany took thirty years of war to do it. Only by her device, which might almost be described as Pakistan to the nth power, of splitting up the whole of Germany into those little Princedoms did she escape from the consequences of intolerance.
I think the sanction which we have still left is a sanction which is expressed in the last part of the Government statement. The passage has already been read by the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, and referred to again by the noble Lord, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, but I should like, if I may, to read it once more:Should a Constitution come to be framed by a Constituent Assembly—mark the word "framed"—in which a large section of the Indian population has not been represented, His Majesty's Government cannot, of course contemplate, as the Congress have stated they 962 would not contemplate, forcing such a Constitution upon any unwilling part of the country.I have talked about the habit that we have contracted in this slow process, but there is another habit which has been contracted in India and, as we see at present, alas, in Palestine, where you have a situation with two conflicting parties or races, neither of whom has complete responsibility, or rather both of whom are under a paramount Power which has all the responsibility. Each section becomes an adept at trying to put pressure on the paramount Power to compel the other one to do what they could not do themselves. That tendency has not been absent in India, and part of the exacerbation of the communal troubles which have marked the last few years have come from the idea, not tacitly explicit, but implicit in each side, that they might conceivably get the British Government or the Indian Army to do the business for them. I am sure that no one in this House or in the country can contemplate that.
This has been made clear in the Statement. If either Party supposes that because they have got a Constituent Assembly they might argue they have got legal powers and they are going to have the British Army behind them to suppress the other, they are very clearly and explicitly warned that they are not. That, I submit, is the only possible sanction that you can give in the situation.
May I just put this in terms of Pakistan? I do not think I disagree with a single word the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, said about the intensity of the conflict between Moslem and Hindu. No one who has seen at close quarters the frightful passions which religious differences can develop will ever speak lightly of this. The threat to secede, to come out, to partition, seems to me, in matters of this sort, a kind of Solomon's Judgment in reverse. You may say, "I would sooner see the baby, much as I care about it, cut in pieces rather than submit to this condition." I am afraid to mention Ireland after what the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, said, but, after all, I do not think he would disagree with this point. I should think that it was clear to everybody that there are enormous disadvantages in an independent community as small as six counties, but what the six counties said was that it was proposed to make them pay too high a price for the 963 unity of Ireland. I think the Moslems must be able to say, and must be able to say peacefully, "You propose to make us pay too high a price for the unity of India."
Of course, the disadvantages of Pakistan are enormous; it is just because they are so enormous, and because the administrative arguments against Pakistan are so great, that the Moslems have one great argument in saying, "In spite of that, you are not making it possible for us to live in the same united India with yourselves." Mr. Jinnah, it seems to me, must be able to say that. He must be put into the Constituent Assembly on terms on which he can say "Now, you have not done it." I think the two Indian parties are really up against it properly, if nothing can be done to bring these troubles to a happy issue.
I cannot conceive how it can be done in a fairer and more legalistic way than it has been done by this Government in all its details. You face both parties in India with what is really a very formidable sanction. You say to them in effect: "Are you really prepared to face what would be the horrors of civil war after the British Government has declared solemnly that you are not going to be supported? Whatever you may do about your Constituent Assembly, whatever you may pretend about your Constituent Assembly, you are not going to be given what powers we have in order to set upon the other side. Therefore, unless you come to an agreement you are not faced with what is after all a sanction which, it is to be feared, by this time does not amount to very much: that we shall take our promises back—that, alas, at this time would not amount to very much—but you are confronted with this very formidable sanction: that you will have to face a period of sporadic, undisciplined civil war of the worst kind." Are we to suppose that once the two parties are up against that, the statesmen of India, for all their differences, are not statesmen enough to recognize it?
§ 5.32 p.m.
THE EARL OF SCARBROUGH
My Lords, once again we are discussing the position reached in the constitutional negotiations concerning India, when no final verdict can be given and when the issue still remains uncertain. On this 964 occasion, doubts have been expressed whether any useful purpose can be served by debate. Certainly, I recognize—and so, I think do all noble Lords who have spoken—that the obligation of restraint rests upon us: but the developments which have taken place in the past five months, and, in particular, the circumstances in which the Constituent Assembly has begun to meet have brought these matters to so serious a pass and raised such anxious forebodings, evidently, in the minds of us all, that Parliament on whom the responsibility for a final decision will rest can hardly refrain from taking cognizance of the present situation without acquiescing in its own inability to make any useful comment.
Whatever else may be said about this debate, I believe it might well be deemed to have been useful, if only because of the speech we heard from my noble friend the Marquess of Linlithgow, which, coming as it did from his vast experience of India, will repay the closest study. I would like to make just a brief comment on the situation as it appears to exist at present. I agree with all other noble Lords who have spoken that it would not be profitable to use this occasion to apportion blame on Indian parties or individuals. Rather we should recognize that an exceedingly difficult task rests in their hands. On the one side, the whole future of great communities is at stake. On the other, long cherished aspirations can so easily dominate the spirit of compromise. In such circumstances, criticism from this end will not mend matters in India.
I would approach the present situation by saying that I join with those of all parties in this country who reiterate their adherence to the final objective—the transfer of power to Indian hands, without convulsions and in a manner which will be acceptable to the main elements in the national life of India. That has been the proclaimed goal of British policy for many years. No one in India should lightly question the sincerity of those who now repeat their avowal. But, of course, its repetition, though necessary, solves none of the present difficulties. What we can do, at this stage, is to try to make some assessment of the chances of that goal being attained. The main facts of the position, as it exists to-day, are plain. The Constituent Assembly has begun to meet, 965 heralded by disorders in several Provinces, and accompanied by disharmony which, to judge by the speeches which are reported, prevails between leaders, even between those who belong to the same Government. From this Constituent Assembly one of the great parties is absent at present. Some, at least, of another important community are not satisfied with the manner of their representation, and there is some indication of apprehension on the part of the Indian States. That is the atmosphere which exists at this vital moment for the future of India.
If that atmosphere continues, and no betterment, or no easement, can be brought about, to what is it going to lead? Looking a little further ahead than the immediate moment, it seems to me that if this Constituent Assembly produces a Constitution in the framing of which the Moslem League has taken no part, or, if it has taken a part, from the conclusions of which it dissents, either that Constitution will eventually not be applied to those areas to which it is not acceptable, or that Constitution will be imposed on the whole of India. The first of those alternatives would mean the acceptance, in principle at least, of what is known as Pakistan, possibly accompanied by some other arrangements concerning some of the Indian States. The second of those alternatives would mean—I do not use the expression lightly, but I believe that it would certainly follow—civil war. If it should come about that those are the two alternatives which will eventually be open, for my part, I know which I would choose. I would prefer the first to the second, and if I interpret rightly the views of His Majesty's Government, from the important statement which they issued at the conclusion of the London talks, they too, though obviously with reluctance, would feel compelled to adopt the first rather than the second alternative.
But neither of these alternatives is what has ever been intended either by those who in the past have framed British policy or by His Majesty's present Government. Neither would produce any kind of Indian union. Neither would usher in a stable or a peaceful or a great future for India. In fact, the position as it stands to-day amounts to this: India stands in the open doorway of political freedom, but as she stands there she is looking out not on a fair prospect but 966 straight upon a precipice. Is it inevitable that events must take their fatal course and go crashing over that precipice, taking with them so many of the hopes and aspirations held by Indians, or for Indians? Can nothing be devised to arrest that fatal course? When men stand in that position, on the edge of a precipice, there is still time to pause and search for another way, and I would plead for a pause so that those who realize the necessity to compromise—and such people do exist—can once again get to work. I would urge the adjournment for a time of the meetings of the Constituent Assembly. It may be said that that would only mean delay. But what does a month or two matter, when you are dealing with the future of 400,000,000 people? This is a hot moment in India. The atmosphere is unfavourable for cool counsel. A pause is needed, before events have gone beyond recall, and I hope that His Majesty's Government will use their influence to obtain that pause so that wiser counsels may have a chance, even if it is only a slender chance, to prevail.
The only other thing I wish to do is to return again to the question which I ventured to raise on the last occasion that we discussed India. That is, the position of the Scheduled Castes in the Constituent Assembly, to which the noble Lord the Secretary of State for India referred in his speech. Compared with the major issues which we have been discussing, this is not a vital problem, but it is one which we would do well not to ignore, for this community—or rather this collection of communities—is not well organized. It does not command the resources with which it can press its case, and its immemorial plight demands that its voice should be heard. My contention is that the manner in which the Scheduled Castes are represented in the Constituent Assembly does not reflect the wishes and the opinions of the Scheduled Castes themselves. If your Lordships will bear with me for a minute I will endeavour to do what the noble Lord the Secretary of State for India refrained from doing—no doubt wisely. I will try to describe the system by which the members are elected.
As your Lordships know, the members of the Constituent Assembly are elected by the Provincial Assemblies. It is therefore important to understand how the members of the Provincial Assemblies themselves are elected. In the case of the Scheduled 967 Castes, there are two stages in the elections for their constituencies. First, there is the primary stage, in which only the Scheduled Caste electors vote. That is the important point to note, because it is in that stage that the views of the Scheduled Castes themselves can be ascertained. In that primary stage, in each constituency, four candidates are chosen to go forward for the final election. In this final election, in which one of those four is elected for the Provincial Assembly, it is not only the Scheduled Caste electors who vote, but the general body of Hindu electors in that constituency. But, so far as I know, in every Scheduled Caste constituency the general body of Hindu voters far outnumber the Scheduled Caste voters.
What happened in the Provincial elections in February of this year? I recognize that in a great number of constituencies there were no contests, but in those constituencies in which there were contests in the primary elections the returns showed that the candidates sponsored by the Congress Party received 28 per cent. of the votes. When they went before the general constituency the Congress-sponsored candidates virtually swept the board, and all others, except for a few, were eliminated. The noble Lord the Secretary of State mentioned the Independents. I think it is clearly true to say that the Independents do not lean towards the Congress Party, but lean the other way. My contention, therefore, is that this figure of 28 per cent. bears out the view that the manner in which the Scheduled Castes are represented in the Constituent Assembly does not reflect the opinion of the Scheduled Castes themselves. I would contend further, with great respect to the noble Lord, that in assenting to that arrangement for the Scheduled Castes, the Cabinet Mission gave perhaps less than adequate attention to the claims of these unhappy people, and perhaps too much attention to the claims of others who do not belong to that community but who wish, from the highest motives, to speak for them.
I do not raise this question again to press upon the Government some amendment to the present position, because I recognize that once you set up the Constituent Assembly it is useless to try to unwind it again. I raise the matter because perhaps the only thing that can be done is to make it clear that outside 968 India attention is paid to the plight of these Untouchables, in the hope that this concern may have some effect upon the ultimate decisions that are made by the Constituent Assembly. May I return for one moment to the main theme to which I ventured to give expression earlier? The situation in India to-day is very grave. The dangers have become so clear that I trust that a pause may be made, during which those who see the necessity for compromise may have their opportunity before events have gone beyond recall.
§ 5.48 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT TEMPLEWOOD
My Lords, I do not at all agree with the criticism that this debate has been either unnecessary or mischievous. I have attended a great many Indian debates in my time, and I think I can say I never heard a debate on India in which less harm has been done. Indeed, so far as my judgment goes, we have had a very helpful debate. We have had one or two most impressive speeches—the speech, for instance, of the noble Marquess, Lord Linlithgow, and the speech of the noble Earl who has just addressed the House, who comes to this House with a record of a great administrator in the government of Bombay. We have had further the opportunity of refuting once again, from all sides of the House, the two false charges which are constantly made against our Indian Administration—namely, that it is we who have divided India, whereas the unity of India has been the creation of the British Raj, and it is very doubtful—although it may be regrettable that this should be so—if this unity can continue when the British Raj comes to an end. Equally untrue is that other charge that the troubles in India to-day are due to our desire to cling to power. There again the exact opposite is the case. Much of the present trouble in India is due to the fact that we are in the process of divesting ourselves of our power. Those facts have come out to-day in the speeches which have been made.
Thirdly, I think another advantage has been gained by the discussion this afternoon. We have been able to clear up one or two points that at any rate to some of us were still obscure. Let me say without offence—I ventured to say it before—that I think the Government in the past months would have been wiser to have taken the Opposition more fully 969 into their confidence than has been the case. I know very well that the ultimate responsibility is upon their shoulders. At the same time, looking back over the course of Indian discussions in the last generation, I cannot think of a single occasion until the events of the last two years in which the leaders of the Opposition have not been taken into the fullest possible confidence over Indian questions by the Government of the day. I remember very well all those joint discussions we had at the time of the Round-Table Conferences and the Joint Select Committees, and I am inclined to think that had the present Government followed this course rather more fully some of the obscurities that have emerged to-day would not have arisen.
I do not rise to-day to go back to past history, nor do I rise to recriminate upon what may or may not have happened. Many of us could criticize many of the details that have happened in the last two years, but we have refrained from doing so. What I am here to do in two or three minutes is to put once again to the Secretary of State certain specific questions—I do not think they are hypothetical questions—upon which I consider it is essential that Parliament should be fully informed. My first question refers to the Constituent Assembly. I put my question in this form: Does the Secretary of State regard the Constituent Assembly as it is to-day, without the presence of the Moslem minority, as the Constituent Assembly that he contemplated in the Statement of May 16? Perhaps it is unnecessary to repeat this question.
This afternoon Lord Pethick-Lawrence has given an answer that, so far as I can judge, amounts to "No." The noble Lord made it clear that the Constitution must command the assent of the major communities. Obviously it cannot command the assent of the major communities if the major communities are not present. Secondly, he said it was essential that there should be the presence of both communities in the Constituent Assembly. Thirdly, he spoke of the preliminaries of the Constituent Assembly as being of no great importance from the communal point of view. Perhaps when he comes to reply he could make that point a little clearer. Could he make it clear that the Constituent Assembly is intending to carry out its announced programme—namely, that its opening sessions 970 shall deal only with questions of procedure? I shall not linger upon this question this afternoon because I certainly gathered from the noble Lord that he does not regard the Constituent Assembly as it is to-day as properly constituted within the meaning of the May 16 Statement.
I pass on to my second question, which deals with grouping. That question I am not even going to put to the noble Lord because he has already answered it. I was going to criticize the proposal that had been made of referring the question of grouping to the Federal Court. It seemed to me that it was not a question that was susceptible to the judgment of the Federal Court. I remember very well the details during the discussions upon the Government of India Act. The conception of the Federal Court was a court that would decide federal questions between the federal units. I cannot myself conceive that a question of this kind—namely, an opinion, not of fact but of what the Government intended—can possibly come within the scope of a court of this kind. I gather from the noble Lord that His Majesty's Government is now opposed to the question of its going to the Federal Court. That is a great relief to many of us.
I come now to my third question, which concerns the Scheduled Classes. Let me say that I very much agree with what the noble Earl Lord Scarbrough, has just said upon the representation of the Scheduled Classes in the Constituent Assembly. My question is a somewhat different one. When I saw Dr. Ambedkar when he was in this country at the end of the summer, his grave anxiety was whether the Scheduled Classes came with-in the definition of minorities in the Statement of May 16. Noble Lords will see the importance of this point. If they are classed as a minority within the Statement of May 16, then their future is one of the questions upon which the British Parliament has to satisfy itself at the end of the discussions in the Constituent Assembly. Would the noble Lord tell me to-day that the Scheduled Classes are definitely a minority within the Statement of May 16, and that their future will be one of the question upon which the British Parliament will have to be satisfied when eventually Parliament comes to ratify the Indian Constitution?
I go hurriedly on to my next question, and it is to ask for a little more information 971 about the attitude of the Princes. Could the noble Lord bring our information up to date? I read in the Press that the Princes are forming themselves into a Confederation. Is that the case? If so, could the noble Lord give us some information about it? My own view is that forming themselves into a Confederation of this kind would be a wise step on their part. Secondly, could the noble Lord tell us any more about the Negotiating Committee? He said that the members had actually been appointed. Perhaps he could give us the names of the members. I feel it is very necessary that we should know these details about Indian India; it is an essential part of any Indian system of the future, and at present we are left in great ignorance as to what is the actual position.
I come now to my last question concerning the Services. What is the present position with regard to the Services? I put certain questions to the noble Lord in the summer upon this point and his answer was that the Services were at that time at full strength mainly owing to the fact that the members of the Services had not been allowed to retire, but that at the end of the year they would be able to retire and the situation might be very different. Would the noble Lord now give us some information upon that point? Is premature retirement to be permissible at the end of the year, and if so, how are these administrative services going to be carried on? Secondly, I would ask the noble Lord to give the Services some definite assurance, in view of the speech that was recently made in Meerut by Mr. Nehru, who said that some of them would be prosecuted for acts committed in 1942. I have the words here. Would the noble Lord give the Services a definite assurance that they will be protected by His Majesty's Government from any acts of persecution or retaliation?
There are my questions, and I hope the noble Lord will be able to give us some information upon each of them. They are not hypothetical questions, but questions to which it is very necessary that Parliament should have definite answers. I think we are apt to forget—and I do not raise the point to-day in any controversial spirit—that eventually any Indian settlement will have to be approved by Parliament. It is therefore essential that Parliament should be kept 972 fully informed at every stage and that Parliament should be assured that the transfer of power upon which all Parties are now agreed will be an orderly transfer and not an abject abdication or a surrender of our friends in India.
§ 6.3 p.m.
§ LORD RANKEILLOUR
My Lords, if I intervene for a short time in this debate it is because I spent many weary days in the Committee which was responsible in great part for the India Act of 1935. My noble friend Viscount Templewood, who has just sat down, tells us that this debate has done less harm than any other which he has heard on India. I rather think he might not say that of some of the debates in 1933 and 1934, which were initiated by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, and in some degree by myself. Anyhow, I think I shall be able to satisfy his critical mind on that point to-day. I see that the noble Lord the Secretary of State for India is not here—
§ LORD RANKEILLOUR
Then I should like to ask for a little more information about this Advisory Committee on minorities. Who is to appoint it? Is it to be appointed as a result of some election from the minorities themselves? What authority will it have? Will it have a right to be consulted on every matter affecting minorities, and will it have a right to publish its reasons and reports on anything to which it objects? Even if all these questions are answered, I cannot help thinking that it will be a very poor safeguard for the minorities in India. After all, this is not a question as between Hindus and Mahomedans. The Mahomedans are a minority, but they are a very powerful one, and no doubt they will prevail in getting some reasonable settlement if any settlement is possible. There are, however, many others. The Scheduled Castes are technically a minority, but they are a very numerous one; there are some 60,000,000 of them. In addition there are the Primitive Classes, 25,000,000 of them, who, although perhaps they may not be able to be represented, do require protection and superintendence. Then there are at least 6,000,000 Christians. I cannot really see why the Sikhs, who are no more in number, should have special attention and the Christians should not. Then there are the Jains, about 1,500,000, a smaller minority 973 of Parsecs and a very small minority of Jews.
After all, this is not a matter of numbers only. What I suggest is that all minorities., and indeed all individuals, should have some protection in the Indian Constitution. That raises the question: Is the Indian Constitution to be a fluid or fixed one? If it is to be a fluid one, like our own, you may put what you like into it but an Indian independent Parliament will be able to repeal it as and when they will. That is, of course, the disadvantage of a fluid Constitution, and any declaration put into such a Constitution will be of no value whatever. On the other hand, you may have a fixed Constitution, the working of which depends on organic laws. That is, of course, the case in America.. I have looked the matter up in the celebrated book of the noble Lord, Lord Bryce, and he says that one class of amendment—amendment, that is to say, to the original Constitution of the 18th century—comprises amendments which forbid slavery, define citizenship, secure suffrage of citizens against attempts by States to discriminate to the injury of particular classes and extend Federal protection to those citizens who may suffer from the operations of certain kinds of unjust State laws. If you can put an organic law, such as the American Law, into the Indian Constitution, one which can only be altered by some very special method such as a referendum to the Provinces concerned, or perhaps to the whole of the electors, you will certainly give them a great protection, although even then it will not be, in my view, an adequate one.
If you have organic laws, you must have a Supreme Court to interpret: them, as is the case in America, and you must have some adequate power to enforce the interpretation when it is given. That implies the complete independence of the Supreme Court, and I confess that I do not see how that can De secured in the ordinary Indian Federal Courts. I do not say that it will be necessary to maintain the right of appeal to the Privy Council, but I do say that if you have a fixed Constitution the Supreme Court ought not to be nominated by the Indian Government, because if that is done there will always be the suspicion of unfair and biased appointments with a view to Party advantage. Then you must have some authority which will be able to enforce the decisions of the 974 Court. That does not exhaust the subject, because, according to my information, in India it is often not legislation that is feared but some other action which, by devious methods not outside the Law, may operate to the grave disadvantage, of classes of persons and of individuals. I confess I do not see how you are to prevent that danger arising unless, under whatever name, you retain the Viceroy with his present reserve powers.
I would further say that if any question of secession arises, we must not regard it as the wish of the whole of the Indian people unless tie minorities consent. To allow a bare majority to bring about a secession when large minorities may wish not to secede, or may wish at any rate to delay secession until a fair solution can be found, would be as unjust as to fail to protect the minorities front legislative or administrative action. I do not see why we should give to India more than we have given to Canada or to other Dominions of our own flesh and blood. In Canada, there is an appeal outside the country and there is an effective protection for minorities which has existed since, I think, the Canada Act of 1774. In Canada, there is a Governor-General appointed front here. But Canada is free and independent, and can, if she wishes and has a grievance against the Empire, secede. I cannot see on what grounds India should ask for and obtain more. Go as far as you will in the grant of Dominion status, but do not throw over all the traditions of your predecessors who have had to govern India and so plunge India back into the anarchy of centuries past.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
My Lords, if I rise for two minutes I do so only because I think it is fair that something should be said from the point of view of those who have disbelieved in the trend of our policy in India for the last fifteen years and more. There is a large body of opinion in this country which takes that point of view. I rise to say that I cannot see how there can be any outcome from the present situation except by the most terrible civil war within the knowledge of this generation. Nothing that has been said here or in another place leads one to suppose that there is any practical possibility of an accommodation between the two great sections in India. That conflict, which I believe now to be 975 inevitable, and to which nearly every other speaker this afternoon has referred as being at any rate on the horizon, will cause an amount of human misery which it is terrible to contemplate. When one asks what is the fundamental cause of all this misery and sorrow which is going to follow, one finds it is because the British people have lost belief in their moral right to govern India.
We are presented with the dilemma to which the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, referred at the close of his speech—namely, that we cannot relinquish our government without dishonour, and if we try to maintain it in certain circumstances we shall be asking British troops to sacrifice their lives for a cause which we have proclaimed is not theirs, and merely to prolong for a period our tenure of responsibility in India. That is a dilemma which has always been inherent in the policy of withdrawal. I wish people had contemplated it a little more closely at the time Edwin Montagu announced it as his ambition to stir the Indians "out of their pathetic contentment"—to my mind a lamentable ambition. It seems to me that no useful purpose is gained by refusing to face facts, and the facts are that the situation has now got to such a position, through the action of this Government and previous events, that there can be no peaceful outcome. What is more, when the fighting ceases how can anyone believe that any form of democracy can exist in India? It will not be democracy at all, but it will be rule by the power of the sword, and whose sword that will be it is not possible to say to-day. Therefore the prospect appears to be one of unrelieved gloom, a period of terrible tragedy before India and terrible suffering, a period of dishonour and weakness for Great Britain and the British Empire. I cannot see how anybody, except possibly the ultimate conqueror of India, will gain. But the root cause of all this is really the public opinion of the people of this country and the people of the United States. Those who have guided it have taken a heavy responsibility. If the Anglo-Saxon people have lost faith in their capacity and power to govern in other continents, and feel it their duty to stand back and let the local inhabitants fight it out amongst themselves, this suffering is inevitable.
I hope that our withdrawal will be made in as peaceful and as orderly a manner as 976 possible, but I cannot see how great slaughter and the sacrifice of those who have trusted us in the past can be avoided. I entirely dissent from the manner in which His Majesty's Government have handled this admittedly very difficult problem. They have done everything they could to expedite the movement of events, when all wisdom would have dictated going as slowly as possible. People talk as if it was quite normal to try to accomplish a process of constitutional development in India in a single generation which it took us a thousand years to reach. That idea, to my mind, has always been crazy, and how anyone could hope to contribute towards the peace and prosperity of mankind by expediting such tremendous developments I cannot understand.
If the crisis is reached in the year 1947, as I believe it will be, it will be as a result of the handling of His Majesty's Government. They have put us in such a position that we cannot escape from India without great loss in honour as well as loss in power. I think it is just as well that it should be recorded that there is at any rate a section in this country who deeply regret the course of events, and if we are to renounce our responsibilities in India I hope we shall never assume them again unless the British people are really determined to carry them through and fulfil them.
§ 6.25 p.m.
My Lords, what I have to say is short, but I think it is strengthened by the fact that it comes straight from my heart. I hope that my small voice will be heard across the sea by the many people who were friends of mine in India, the Indians. I do not mean the Indian in high places, but the Indian whom we know so well as the man who has served the sahib and who trusted the sahib to the nth degree, his integrity and everything about him, the man who was our shikari, the man who looked after our ponies, the man who was in Government offices—and all those. I spent six years in India as an officer in the British Army. The generous leave we got in those days enabled us to travel a great deal and my joy was in the field of sport. I learnt the language to a very good working degree, and I met people in villages, whether it was in the jungle or in the pig-sticking country. I found their faith was everywhere the same. During these last months I have had a growing doubt as to 977 whether this man I have been talking about has been consulted. Does he fairly realize what is happening? Does he realize that if this thing goes through—as it inevitably will—the sahib walks out of India? I am fairly convinced that he believes that the civil servant, the British officer and the civilian who is working in mills and so on in Calcutta, will remain. My information is that he will get out as quickly as he can.
Another point I should like to bring to your Lordships' attention is this. Is it not strange that in the ghastly turmoil of Calcutta, where the atrocities are such as to be almost unbelievable—I think I am right in saying that, but I will qualify it by saying I really do not know—there has not been one attack on a British soldier the whole time? We cannot say that about Palestine, and we cannot say that about Egypt. Does that or does that not show that the ordinary people of India are rather doubtful whether they wish the British soldier to go? I would therefore ask the noble Lord opposite if he, in all his deliberations, will go rather slowly. Let us try and get this agreement, if we can ever get it, before we do anything rash. Put the brake on and go slowly. I do not agree with the noble Earl who has just spoken that this clash is inevitable, but if it does come I would ask you, and I would ask England, not to let down those people who have been of great service to us, even if it does mean loss of lives to ourselves.
§ 6.30 p.m.
My Lords, this debate, in the closing stages of which I am privileged to speak, may, I think, well go down as one of the most memorable of recent times. It takes place at a crucial stage in the long relations between the British and Indian people. It has been notable for contributions by noble Lords with a long and intimate experience of the complexities of the problems of which they speak. There has been my noble friend Lord Simon, who was the author of the historic Simon Report. There is Lord Templewood, who was responsible for the Government of India Bill of 1935. Then there was the Marquess of Linlithgow, who has just addressed your Lordships in such a very impressive and moving speech, who is the latest of a long and distinguished line of ex-Viceroys of India. There is Lord Scarbrough, who was Governor of Bombay for so many 978 of the most difficult years of the war, and the noble Lord, Lord Birdwood, who was Commander-in-Chief in India. All these, and many others, have come to give your Lordships' House and the country the benefit of their experience and their advice. I am very doubtful whether any other Assembly in the world could produce a body of men so qualified to give wise counsel to the nation in such an emergency.
It has been suggested that this debate has been unnecessary, and, indeed, un desirable. I really can hardly believe that anyone would hold that view after listening to the speeches we have heard this afternoon. Moreover, to make such a suggestion ignores, as I think the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, said, one of the main functions of Parliament, which is to inform the people of this country of the great issues of the day, so that when the time comes they can give a wise and considered decision. And especially is this so on questions such as India, which are infinitely complex and infinitely remote from the ordinary life of the citizen of these islands. When erne listened to the questions which were being asked by the noble Lords to-day and when one realized that even such authorities as they were required elucidation on much that was still obscure, one could appreciate how much clarification is still needed by the ordinary citizen of this question.
I am sure the noble Lord, the Secretary of State, will agree we have not pressed him unduly on this subject during recent months. We recognize very well the difficulty and delicacy of the situation and we have, and quite rightly, put a severe restraint on ourselves. But if it is the essence of statesmanship not to show irresponsibility, it is equally, I think, the essence of statesmanship not to refuse to face delicate and difficult issues just because they are delicate and difficult. To postpone all discussion until an actual catastrophe occurred, as the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, suggested the other day and reaffirmed this afternoon, seems to me to be the very bankruptcy of statesmanship. I can only say that the feeble and flaccid attitude of the Liberal Party shown this afternoon, as enunciated by the noble Viscount, would, if it were generally accepted in this House, make an absolute farce of democracy. I hope the noble Viscount will forgive me 979 for speaking so frankly; but he was a little rude to the Party to which I belong, so I hope he will not complain if I give him a Roland for his Oliver. Personally I believe it is such discussions as these that, in the eyes of history, will justify the existence of the House of Lords at the present time.
I personally cannot pretend to have a long practical experience of Indian affairs, such as has been enjoyed by other noble Lords who have taken part in this discussion. It would be an impertinence on my part, and a waste of time of the House, for me to go in detail over that ground which they have already so fully covered. They have asked a number of important questions, and the Secretary of State has, in his earlier speech, already answered some of these. I do not say that we on this side of the House were entirely satisfied with his answers, but we are grateful to him for the effort he has made. By the way, I would say that the answers, in particular, which the Government have given as to their own views about the appeal to the Federal Court and as to the authority of a Constitutional Assembly from which one of the main parties is absent, seem to me amply to justify the debate, even if we got nothing else out of it.
My Lords, my purpose in rising to address your Lordships is not to cover the same old ground, but to attempt to crystallize the broad fundamental problem which faces both the people of this country and those who guide the destinies of these multifarious communities who make up the populations of the Indian sub-continent. That problem, as I see it in its simplest form, is that we are accustomed in this country to speak of India as a nation like Great Britain, and all the Hindus and the Moslems as parties, of the same nature as our own political parties. It is on that assumption that has rested the policy of a unified self-governing India which this country has pursued, in the face of constant disappointments and discouragements, over so many years. But is this whole conception of a unified and homogeneous India a reality, or is it merely a beautiful mirage? That seems to me to be the hard question which we and the Indian peoples themselves have to face.
After all, when the British first came to play a part in India 150 years ago, there 980 was, as we all know, no unity at all in the country. India was a mere patchwork of warring States and peoples, torn by perpetual strife and often racked by starvation and misery. It is we, the British, who gave India the unity which she has lately enjoyed. She even owes to us the possession of a common language, that most essential prerequisite of national unity. I think it was notable—possibly your Lordships noticed the same thing—that only last week in the Constituent Assembly, when one Hindu delegate attempted to speak in Hindustani, Pandit Nehru was obliged to bring pressure on him to speak in English. That can hardly have been because Pandit Nehru has any deep sentimental affection for the British tongue. It can only have been because he realized it was the only language common to all the delegates. The English language, paradoxical though it may seem, has, as I think the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, pointed out with great force in his Report, come to be a main factor in Indian unity.
It is, then, the British who have given India unity, a common language, and an equal standard of administration and justice throughout the sub-continent. That is not vainglorious boasting, it is a statement of cold, sober fact. The question that faces us, and the Indian people, is whether this unity is unalterably established in the hearts of the people of India, or whether it is something which is dependent upon the British connexion and which, without it, cannot endure. I am told, though I am not a musician myself, there is a phenomenon well known to musicians, of two notes which struck together create a hideous, ear-splitting discord. But if a third note be added, that discord is transformed into a harmony. That may be the function which the British have performed in India. If that be true, and if India without us forms two discordant nations, the argument for Pakistan is extremely strong. In any case, that is one thing of which I think no unprejudiced person can be in any doubt—namely, that it has been for many years the policy of this country and, broadly speaking, of the majority in all parties, to grant to a united India progressive self-government, leading to Dominion status, and ultimately, if such be the will of the people of India, to independence.
981 That has been, broadly speaking, the policy which we have adopted towards the Indian sub-continent. That was the underlying purpose of the Montagu-Chelmsford reforms, of the Government of India Bill of 1935, of the Government Declaration of August, 1940, and of the Cripps offer of 1942. We have pressed this policy, indeed we have almost forced it on India. But up to the advent of the present Government, we have always insisted on one essential prerequisite—there must be prior agreement between the two main Indian communities, Hindu and Moslem, before there can be any advance to the further stages of constitutional development. That was the prerequisite which had, I think, found a place in all the British plans, and one would have thought that it was an essential requirement. For on the possibility of agreement between these two main communities must depend the answer to the basic question: "Is India one nation or not?"
The position was well defined, I think, in the statement of the then Prime Minister, Mr. Churchill, in the House of Commons on March 11, 1942, before the departure of the Cripps Mission. I would like, if I may, to quote to your Lordships the relevant passage:We had thought of setting forth immediately the terms of this attempt, by a constructive British contribution, to aid India in the realization of full self-government; we are, however, apprehensive that to make a public announcement at such a moment as this might do more harm than good. We must first assure ourselves that our scheme would win a reasonable and practicable measure of acceptance, and thus promote the concentration of all Indian thought and energies upon the defence of the native soil. We should ill serve common cause if we made a declaration which would be rejected by essential elements in the Indian world, and which provoked fierce constitutional and communal disputes at a moment when the enemy is at the gates of India.Of course, the enemy is no longer at the gates of India. But the broad argument that a declaration of policy that was rejected by essential elements of the Indian community could only have the effect of provoking fierce constitutional and communal disputes, is, I believe, as true to-day as it was in 1942.
If any of us, on this side of the House, have any criticism to make of the Government—and, believe me, I would say to the Secretary of State that I have not come here to make criticisms or advance party points, the situation is much too 982 serious for that—if we have any criticism to make, it is that the Government ultimately abandoned that position. This, if I may say so to my noble friend Lord Samuel is the difference of view that has arisen between the Government and the Conservative Party, to which Mr. Churchill referred in his speech two or three days ago in the House of Commons. The noble Viscount, if I understood him aright, said that he could not understand what the difference was. I am very glad to be able, quite simply, to explain it. We, on this side of the House, we of the Conservative Party at any rate, cannot but feel that the Cabinet Mission, no doubt from the highest motives—and I am not in any way questioning their motives—committed just what the National Government in 1942 recognized was a fatal error. They failed to get agreement between the Hindus and Moslems, and vet went ahead with their own proposals for setting up a Constitution. It may, of course, be argued—indeed I think it has been argued to-day—that they had no option. We all honour the high purpose which inspired the Cabinet Mission. But it was there, I personally believe, that the fatal mistake was made. It was then that the only sound ground was abandoned.
What has been the result? It is exactly what the statement of March 11, 1942, anticipated. The Government lost control of the situation, and the result has been the immediate outbreak of just those fierce constitutional and communal disputes of which the National Government were apprehensive. To-day, as your Lordships have been told, the bitterness between Hindus and Moslems—if not between leaders, at any rate between their supporters—is more savage than at any time in the last century. Already, according to reputable, reports, upwards of 30,000 people, many of them women and children, have been slaughtered, and by all appearances the storm is only just beginning to rage. The Constituent Assembly has, indeed been set up as was intended. But the Moslems, as we know, are not present, and instead of it being evidence of national unity, as it was intended to be, the Constituent Assembly affords the most deplorable and convincing evidence of national disunity. One of the main parties whose assistance is absolutely essential to agreement is not taking part in its proceedings at all. The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, complained of my 983 noble friend Viscount Simon drawing attention to this vital fact. But surely if the country is to judge wisely of the situation, such essential facts, however unpleasant, must be drawn to the attention of the British people. If those facts were ignored Parliament would have no raison d'être at all.
As I understand the position, it is still the hope of the Government—perhaps the noble Viscount will confirm this—that the deadlock will be resolved, and that the support which has been given by His Majesty's Government to the Moslem view as to the point at issue in the London talks and the assurances which have been given, that" they will not contemplate forcing a Constitution on any unwilling parts of the country" will induce the Moslem League to take part in the Constituent Assembly. Clearly, it is not for anyone who has any sense of responsibility at all, to say a word that is calculated to destroy this possibility. If they decide to take part, well and good. The Government's policy, which has been pursued with so much assiduous effort, will have succeeded, at any rate to the point of getting Hindus and Moslems to sit down together. If that happens, there is none of us but will rejoice. The consequences of the inability of the two communities to find common ground by mutual concessions, concessions by both sides, is too fearful to contemplate.
In their speeches delivered in the House of Commons, which, I suppose, everybody here will have read with the greatest care, the spokesmen of the Government, Sir Stafford Cripps and Mr. A. V. Alexander, sounded, I thought, a not unhopeful note. But I hope that the Government will not fall into the error of deluding themselves (I was going to say" humbugging themselves" but I understand that term is not understood on the other side of the house) that this present impasse, as Mr. Alexander suggested, is merely a question of procedure. But noble Lords may have noted that, almost at the moment that Mr. Alexander was making his speech in the House of Commons, Mr. Jinnah was delivering a broadcast to the United States in which he said these words:Hindus and Moslems are two nations, distinct and different in everything that matters.984 And he added:People should get away from the idea of a United India.To Mr. Jinnah, clearly, the present difference between Hindus and Moslems is no mere one of procedure. It is fundamental. I hope, therefore, that this argument will not be produced again. It is not an impressive argument. As I understand it, the fears of the Moslem League are based on a view that it is the aim of Congress, under a facade of Parliamentary democracy, which is not in their view applicable to India, to impose a Hindu Raj on the other races of the sub-continent. That, clearly, is a cleavage far deeper than that between the Anglicans and the Puritans to which the noble Lord, Lord Lindsay of Birker, referred in his speech. It is a cleavage between two civilizations. Nor, I am afraid, will the situation be made much easier by the regrettably provocative speech of Pandit Nehru published in the Press to-day, which, I should have thought, would be only too likely to be taken, by the Princes and by the Moslems and the other minorities, as evidence that Congress is utterly determined to establish a High Caste Hindu domination over the whole of India.
It may be that on further reconsideration Congress will moderate their view, and it may be equally that on further consideration the Moslem League will decide to enter the Constituent Assembly. If so, well and good. As I have said before, all of us will rejoice. But if the Moslems feel that the dice are too heavily loaded against them, and decide to remain aloof, we must face the fact that the policy of the Government, advanced with such good intentions, has failed What is it proposed should be done then? I fully recognize that the Government may not feel able to divulge their policy today, and I am not going to ask for it. We on this side of the House, however, can express our own views. It is clearly a delicate question and I hope I shall deal with it delicately. The noble Marquess, Lord Linlithgow, in the extremely impressive speech which he delivered to your Lordships, said—he will correct me if I have misinterpreted him—that, as he saw it, there would be only two courses open to the British Government. The first was to march out, bag and baggage, and the second was to recognize that the 985 two communities were unable to agree and to take over temporarily—I emphasize that word—the reins of government until such time as the Hindus and Moslems made up their minds either to unite into one nation or to separate into two. I imagine that very few people would quarrel with that assessment of the position which is likely to arise.
It may be argued that there are grave disadvantages attaching to either of these two courses; and, no doubt, that is true. The easiest alternative for the British people probably would, in many ways, be for the British to leave India, wash their hands of the Indian problem, and leave Hindus and Moslems to fight it out. Let us face the fact, however, that that must mean the probability, if no more, of civil war, with vast carnage and misery to countless millions of innocent people who have hitherto looked to us for justice and protection. The other alternative is that we should reassume the administration, temporarily, of the country, until the Hindus and Moslems could agree either to a joint or a separate future. That is in many ways a far harder path for the British people to tread. It would involve shouldering a heavy and most invidious burden. It would involve laying ourselves open to misrepresentation, both in India and abroad. We must recognize this last fact. And indeed it might, in any case, be impracticable—as I think the noble Marquess, Lord Linlithgow, said—so far has the situation deteriorated. But if it were practicable, it might well be the only way consistent with our national honour.
That, at any rate, is likely to be the hard choice which will face the British Government and the British people if Hindus and Moslems cannot come to terms in the near future. What we must not contemplate, what we could not contemplate without bringing ourselves into contempt—and deserved contempt—is, first, to abandon those loyal subjects of the King to sectarian vengeance (as was suggested in a recent speech made in India). And, secondly, we must not contemplate using British arms and British prestige to impose the domination of one Indian community over another, whether it be Hindus over Moslems or Moslems over Hindus. I think all of us have warmly welcomed the pledge given by His Majesty's Government on December 6 that they will not do this. But, with all deference to the Government, I would 986 suggest that they will have to watch the situation very carefully lest they find themselves in the situation of doing that very thing against their best intentions.
Suppose we had to maintain law and order at the behest of Indian Ministers. That situation might easily arise, and we might, as a result, find ourselves pushed into the position of fighting for one community against the other. For this reason, I believe it is vitally necessary that the ultimate control of the use of British troops should rest with the Viceroy, especially as I understand that the Commander-in-Chief is no longer a member of the Viceroy's Council and therefore does not share in the decisions of that Council. The noble Lord, the Secretary of State, will correct me if I am wrong about this. This is a constitutional change, and one of crucial importance at the present moment; it is a very formidable change. The noble Marquess, Lord Linlithgow, said it was unthinkable that British troops should be used to support policies over which the Viceroy and Parliament had no control. We shall all agree with that, and I therefore hope that we shall have complete assurances on this particular point, when the Secretary of State for India replies.
My Lords, I have finished what I have to say, but before I sit down there is one most sincere plea that I would make to the Secretary of State. The noble Lord bears a name of great significance in the history of the British connexion with India. The first Lord Lawrence, as Governor-General, was faced with difficulties perhaps no less acute, and responsibilities no less overwhelming, than those which overhang his namesake, as Secretary of State in Whitehall. I would beg of the noble Lord, let him to-day draw courage and fortitude from the great example of Lawrence of India. Let him face the present dangers and difficulties with no less fortitude. If he does, he will, I am sure, have the unanimous support of this House, of the whole thinking mass of his own countrymen, and of all our friends in India—and we have still many friends, of all castes and creeds, those quiet, hard-working un-political people of whom the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, has spoken to us this evening. Let the Secretary of State and the Government lead India to her goal of self-government, or independence (if that be the will of the peoples of India) under an ordered and orderly administration, and 987 not desert her, in her direst need of guidance, to flounder in that morass of civil war and internecine bloodshed from which British rule has protected her over so many fateful decades. If he and the Government act in this emergency with wisdom and firmness, he may rely on us, in whatever part of the House we sit, to help them to find a just and peaceful settlement to this most dreadful problem.
§ 6.58 p.m.
§ LORD PETHICK-LAWRENCE
My Lords, with your permission I will speak again in this debate, but as time is getting on I will not make a new speech but will rather answer a few of the questions which have been put to me this evening. Before I do so, perhaps I may be allowed to add my appreciation of what has already been said about the tone, temper and discretion shown by your Lordships. As Secretary of State, I am aware of pitfalls which noble Lords, perhaps with the best intentions, may not see yawning in front of them, and I can honestly say, at any rate so far as the great majority of the speeches are concerned, that nothing has been said which will add in any way to the difficulties of the situation.
Perhaps I might now endeavour to answer briefly the questions of the noble Viscount, Lord Templewood. He asked me: Do the Government regard the proceedings of the Constituent Assembly as valid within the terms of the Statement of May 16, so long as the Moslems are not represented on it? I do not think I have anything more to add to what I said to the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, and I do not think that it is any good my attempting to do so. Then the noble Viscount, Lord Templewood, asked me a question about the Scheduled Castes: Do the Government regard the Scheduled Castes as one of the minorities to be specifically protected under the new Constitution? The Government certainly regard the Scheduled Castes as a minority. They are certainly one of the principal peoples to whom the statement made in the course of our Mission in India applies and in respect of which the British Government would require to be satisfied. There have been debates and fine points taken as to whether they are a minority or not, hut, from our point of view, it is certainly our intention that they are one of the peoples with whom the 988 Minorities Commission would deal. But even if technically they were regarded otherwise, I would remind the noble Lord that the clause dealing with this question goes beyond minorities. Clause 20 of the May 16 Statement refers to "the Advisory Committee on the rights of citizens, minorities, and tribal and excluded areas." Therefore if, even by a legal quibble, the Scheduled Castes were not considered to be a minority, they would come in under the provision as to the rights of citizens. I think that meets the point.
§ VISCOUNT TEMPLEWOOD
It means that when the Constitution actually comes to Parliament for ratification, the case of the Scheduled Castes would be one of the minority cases upon which Parliament would have to be satisfied?
§ LORD PETHICK-LAWRENCE
I should certainly think that is clearly so. The next question was: Upon what occasions and upon what authority have the Central Government during the last six months intervened in the Provinces for the maintenance of law and order? The Central Government have no power under the existing Constitution to intervene in the Provinces for the maintenance of law and order unless specifically requested. There has, in fact, been no such intervention. As your Lordships are aware—I think I referred to it in my earlier speech—the leading members of the Interim Government of both major communities have visited Calcutta and Bihar to use their personal influence, as All-Indian leaders, to promote communal peace, and I think with considerable and valuable effect. The noble Viscount also asked me about the Princes. In my earlier speech I stated the position about the Indian States and I have nothing to add to what I said.
The noble Viscount drew attention to reports in to-day's Press that uneasiness in States circles has been caused by a resolution in the Constituent Assembly proposing that India should become a sovereign independent republic. I am not in a position to add anything in this respect to what is available from Press sources. The noble Viscount asked me additional questions relating to two other matters. He asked me: Are the Princes forming a Confederation? I am afraid I have no really substantial information on this point. He asked me to give him 989 the names of the Negotiating Committee and I have those names. They are as follows: His Highness the Nawab of Bhopal; His Highness the Maharajah of Patiala; His Highness the Jam Sahib of Nawanagar; Sir C. P. Ramaswamy Aiyyer; Sir Sultan Ahmad; Sir Mirza Ismail; Sardar D. K. Sen; Sir A. Ramaswami Mudaliar; Sardar K. M Pannikar; and the Maharajah Virbhadra Singhji. Those are the members of the Negotiating Committee appointed by the States.
Then the noble Viscount asked me some questions about the Services. He again referred to the speech made by Pandit Nehru. I should like first of all to say that I have made inquiries and I find that the speech was an extempore one and that no verbatim record exists. I am afraid I can only repeat what I said when the question was previously raised in your Lordships' House—namely, that I am convinced that your Lordships have misconstrued the main tenor of the speech. But if attempts were made to punish Government servants, who have acted in accordance with their duty and the law, appropriate steps would have to be taken.
§ VISCOUNT TEMPLEWOOD
I do not wish to interrupt the noble Lord, but I would point out to him that a report of the speech appears in his own official summary.
§ LORD PETHICK-LAWRENCE
Yes, that is only a report, and it is that report which I think was misinterpreted. With regard to other questions about the Services, the efficiency of the administrative machine in India was undoubtedly impaired by the effects of the war and particularly by the suspension of recruitment, which had the approval of the Coalition Government, and which was inevitable in the circumstances. His Majesty's Government took early steps to resume recruitment to the Secretary of State's Service but, as noble Lords are aware, later decided not to proceed with the scheme on the unanimous advice of all the authorities concerned in India. If the scheme had been proceeded with, it would not have appreciably strengthened the administration in the immediate future. At the same time, it would have been regarded by Indian opinion as contrary to the general policy of His Majesty's Government, and would have been hardly fair to the individuals concerned, in view of the unanimous desire 990 of all Provincial Governments, under which officers would have taken up service, for the termination of the Secretary of State's service.
It must not be assumed, however, that the abandoned recruitment scheme served no useful purpose. From the Indian candidates who offered themselves for selection, there will be some available for recruitment to an All-India service under the control of the Government of India and to Provincial Services. There is good reason to believe that, when the temporary dislocations caused by the abandonment of the scheme have been surmounted, the administrative machine will begin to recover its strength. Noble Lords may be aware that there has been an embargo on retirement, except for officers who have done the maximum period of service, or in whose case there are special reasons for granting permission to retire prematurely. This embargo is to be lifted with effect from January 1, which will enable those who have personal reasons for wishing to retire to do so. A scheme of compensation for officers whose services under the Secretary of State are terminated for constitutional reasons has been drawn up and is at present the subject of correspondence with the Government of India. I am not in a position to make any statement in regard to it at the present time.
The noble Lord, Lord Rankeillour, asked me two questions. He wanted to know more about the Advisory Committee. So far as that is concerned, I am afraid there is nothing more to tell him, because it still has not been formed. There is nothing more than what appears in the Statement of May 16. When it is set up no doubt it will receive instructions, but I am afraid that is all there is to say. The noble Lord also asked me whether, when the Constitution for India was made, it would be a fluid or fixed Constitution. That also is rather a thing of the future, and I am afraid I cannot prophesy what is to happen in that respect.
§ LORD RANKEILLOUR
May I ask whether the noble Lord contemplates that the question is open as to whether it is to be a fixed or a fluid Constitution?
§ LORD PETHICK-LAWRENCE
I am afraid I cannot give that information on that matter. The Constitution is to be decided for Indians by Indians. What we have done is to indicate certain lines 991 which would be features in the Constitution if that is agreed upon, and it ought to be unless there is consent of the parties to other arrangements. Within that structure there may be considerable fluidity, but of that I am not in a position to judge.
I think those are the principal questions which were asked. I would like to say in conclusion one or two words about the speech of the noble Viscount, the Leader of the Opposition. I thank him very much for his reference to namesakes of mine who played an active and splendid part in India. I could wish that they were in any way ancestors or relatives of my own, but in point of fact they are not; they come of an entirely different branch of the family, if indeed it is the same family at all. The noble Viscount told us that India was not one country, like one of the countries of Europe, but a great sub-continent, and with that I think we are all in full agreement. He dealt with the attitude of the Conservative Party. Well, he knows a great deal more about the Conservative Party than I know or pretend to know, but I am not quite sure that he speaks for all members of the Conservative Party in this House when he defines the difference between Conservatives and ourselves precisely in the way he does. I should have thought there were a great many shades of opinion in his Party, and that some of them were very much nearer to us than he is; and I should have thought there were one or two further away. However, that is a private matter which I do not wish to pursue.
The fact is that this question of agreement has ceased to be one imposed by this country upon India, but it remains owing to inescapable facts the condition precedent to any stable Constitution. No country, quite irrespective of any foreign control, can have a stable Constitution if there is a fundamental disagreement between two sections within it. I am bound to say that I think that is recognized by the Indians just as it is by us. They are people of great perspicacity. The fact that they take, and have to take, a partisan aspect does not prevent them from seeing that fundamental fact behind, and I have never found them ignorant or oblivious of that fact. I thank your Lordships for the courtesy which you have shown to me, and I thank you for the restraint you have put on your words. I hope that the result 992 of all our labours may be that the decision in India, difficult as it must necessarily be, will be one which will be carried out with good will, with general consent, and with the approval of mankind.