HL Deb 12 March 1946 vol 140 cc76-81

6.33 p.m.

LORD RANKEILLOUR rose to ask His Majesty's Government whether it is the intention of the Government, following the precedent set in the case of the Cripps' Mission, to make public the Cabinet instructions under which the new Mission of Three will operate, before that Mission enters upon its task in India. The noble Lord had also given notice to ask His Majesty's Government whether their present policy with regard to India abrogates the provisions of the Declaration of March 30, 1942, in respect of relations with the Indian States and the protection of minorities. The noble Lord said: My Lords, in asking the two questions which stand in my name, and which are complementary to each other, I have no wish whatever to enter into the many complications and controversies which at present affect and afflict the various peoples of the Indian sub-continent, but I do think that we ought to get some clearer idea of what the Government have in mind at the present juncture.

We know that a Commission of three Cabinet Ministers is about Ito go to India. This is not the first Commission. The first Commission in 1942 was composed solely of one of the three Ministers who form the Commission now. The former Commission announced a bold and clear policy which was expressed in a declaration by the then Prime Minister before the Commissioner, Sir Stafford Cripps, set out, and which was amplified in a White Paper published when the Commissioner had been some time in India, but when he had not fulfilled his Mission and had not finally got answers from those with whom he had to deal. The method which the White Paper of April, 1942, disclosed was that there should be created an elected constituent body. It is unnecessary to go into the details although I have them before me if they are required. That was the main idea.

When that body had been created, it was intended that it should enter into a treaty with the British Government in order to bring about, as far as that is possible, a final and agreed settlement. But the Commissioner was not given in negotiating, or in preparing the ground for the negotiation of that treaty, an unlimited discretion. Three conditions were imposed upon him: first of all, that no Province of British India should be obliged to come into the arrangement for a Central Government against its will; secondly, that no Indian State should be required to do so; and thirdly, that racial and religious minorities should be protected. That basis of the constituent body has been changed, and now all we know is that the Government propose to act on a basis not yet specified and only on certain, so far as we know, conversations with unspecified parties. That is a big change, but I do not wish to comment on whether the Government are right or wrong. What I wish to know is whether there are any other changes. It is necessary to observe that the conditions I have mentioned were overriding conditions: they did not depend in any way on what the views of the proposed constituent body, when it was constituted, would be; they were absolute conditions of any treaty that might be agreed upon. Those same conditions. I may remark, were at any rate implicitly endorsed by the present Viceroy and the present Prime Minister in their declaration of September 19 of this year.

The question as to the minorities is specially important. There is a very mistaken impression, not in this House but in the country generally—you see it continually expressed in articles and letters to the newspapers--that you have only to reconcile the Hindu and the Mahomedan and all will be well. That is very far from being the case, and that, I think, is admitted in the declaration of the former Prime Minister in 1942. In particular, official statistics are somewhat misleading. If you will refer to Whitaker's Almanac, you will find the Hindus number 254,000,000, but from that you have to deduct the numbers of the Depressed Classes. You cannot regard the Hindus as in any sense a body united in their views. There are apparently not published the numbers of the Depressed Classes. From all the information I can obtain, there cannot be fewer than 50,000,000 and they might approach to 60,000,000. That, of course, makes a very large deduction from the 254,000,000 that I have mentioned. I think I ought to add that no body expressed views adverse to the proposals of 1942 more strongly than the Depressed Classes through the mouth of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, whose acquaintance I made on the Joint Select Committee. He impressed me as being a man whose education and ability were quite equal to those of any other of the Indian delegates. In a letter to Sir Stafford Cripps from Dr. Ambedkar and Mr. M. C. Rajah, the following passage occurred: We are all of us absolutely convinced that the proposals are calculated to do the greatest harm to the Depressed Classes, and are sure to place them under an unmitigated system of Hindu rule. Dr. Ambedkar actually referred to others as Hindus. He does not apparently claim the name of Hindu for himself. The letter went on: Any such result which takes us back to the black days of the ancient past will never be tolerated by us, and we are all determined to resist any such catastrophe befalling our people with all the means at our command. Considering their numbers and their views, I feel that their position, in any arrangement that is made, must be borne in mind.

Then I might say something about the Mahasabha. They are militant Hindus, but they are very far from acknowledging the organization of Congress as necessarily to be obeyed. But I do not want to dwell on the question of numbers. Any minority has a right to be protected. All minorities have rights, and there are others, besides those I have mentioned, which are not to be ignored. There are between 6,000,000 and 7,000,000 Christians, some 6,000,000 Sikhs, and a smaller number of Jains—about 1,500,000. The aboriginal tribes, I understand, amount in the aggregate, although they are by no means homogeneous, to some 25,000,000 people. Then, of course, there is the very small but very important minority of Parsees, and a still smaller minority of Jews.

In considering this question of numbers, I would remark that there are four substantial countries in Western Europe which have populations under 10,000,000—Holland, Switzerland, Belgium and Portugal. So, when you come to bodies of 6,000,000 and 7,000,000, they are far more important than they look if you compare them with European standards. What I want to ask is does the declaration as to minorities still hold good? I do not ask for a moment by what methods the Government may think that they can secure their protection. Personally, I would say no more than that I do not see how any plan can give them adequate protection which does not provide for reserve powers and a completely independent Supreme Court. But I do not ask the Government to argue these matters at all. I do, however, ask two questions—first of all, whether the assurances of 1942 still hold good; and, secondly, whether they will not, before the Commissioners enter on their work, vouchsafe some clearer indication of the principles upon which they are to act.

6.46 p.m.


My Lords, I propose to answer the questions as they appear on the Order Paper. My answer to the first question put by the noble Lord is this. The present policy of His Majesty's Government is to initiate discussions with the representatives of British India and of the Indian States with a view to securing the quickest and best method and procedure for framing a new constitutional structure for India. While therefore the principles underlying the 1942 Declaration relating to the Indian States and the protection of minorities remain, the precise application of them is necessarily subject to modification in the light of these discussions.

With regard to the second question asked by the noble Lord, it is not the intention of His Majesty's Government to make public the Cabinet's instructions nor indeed would this be in accordance with precedent. I would point out to the noble Lord that the Draft Declaration of 1942 was not published until after Sir Stafford Cripps had discussed it with the Indian leaders, and in any case it was not the Cabinet's instructions to him but the terms of the offer which he was authorized to make which were published.

6.48 p.m.


My Lords, I can fully appreciate the difficulties which the Secretary of State for India and Burma feels must restrain him from disclosing details of a negotiation that has not yet begun. Those of us here who wish to see his Mission, and the Mission of his colleagues succeed do not desire to say anything that is calculated to compromise them. At the same time, I do feel that, although Lord Pethick-Lawrence may be on strong ground in saying that the Cabinet instructions should not be disclosed, it would be wise to take the Opposition more into his confidence in matters of this kind than seems to be done at present. Let me remind him that at every recent stage in the constitutional development of India we have always tried to advance upon an all-Party front. The Mission presided over by the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, was composed of representatives of all three Parties. Round Table Conferences, in which I took part for several years, and the Joint Select Committee were also all-Party concerns. As one who is very anxious to see that this final chapter, as we believe it to be, in our relations with India, as they have hitherto obtained, should also be an all-Party settlement, I do not wish to embarrass him to-day or to press him for, specific details, but I would ask him to take these facts into consideration. I would also ask him to remember what happened at the end of the last war in the matter of the Irish settlement. I want to see this final Indian chapter as unlike the final Irish chapter as we can possible make it.

I feel it would be disastrous that here we should be kept in the dark until the last moment, and then suddenly wake up, as we woke up then, to find that a settlement had been signed, sealed and delivered in the middle of the night without anybody knowing anything about it at all. I say that not because I wish to put difficulties in the way of this last chapter, but because I wish to see this settlement of all Parties brought about. I also say it for this further reason. Having had many years of experience in dealing with these terribly difficult constitutional problems in India, I do want to see the detailed propositions before they are actually accepted. My experience in dealing with these questions is that the only way to confront them is to confront the details. These generalities, the protection of minorities, the rights of Princes, and so on, can mean everything or nothing. It is very important that we should see the precise proposals and judge them upon their merits. I have therefore risen for this sole purpose, to remind the noble Lord opposite that hitherto these Indian developments have always been, so far as we could make them, upon all-Party lines. I suggest it would be wise to follow that example in the present case.