HL Deb 07 August 1947 vol 151 cc1145-59

2.36 p.m.


had given Notice that he would move to resolve, That this House on the occasion of the transfer to Indian hands of the responsibility for the affairs of India wishes to place upon record its profound appreciation of the ability and devotion with which. during the long period of British rule, the Civil and Military Services of the Crown in India have served India and its peoples.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I know that by inviting the House to put on record its appreciation of the part played by the Services during the years of British rule in India, I am asking your Lordships to do something to which you will readily accede. For we all recognize that this country owes to the rare qualities of character and intelligence displayed by this small hand of Crown servants the successful and sustained application, in face of every sort of difficulty and danger, of a policy that has by now accustomed the people of India to the inestimable advantages of honest and efficient administration, impartial justice and internal peace.

I should like, if I may, to say a very few words about the principal Services to which we are indebted for this achievement. It is sometimes forgotten that as long ago as 1853 the Indian Civil Seri ice was thrown open to competition, without distinction of race. It was therefore in advance of cur own Civil Service in the United Kingdom, which took longer to replace the traditional system of appointment by one more favourable to merit. The trickle of Indians into the ranks of the Indian Civil Service began in 1854. It was the policy of training men of Indian birth to share with us the administration of the country that has made possible the attainment of self-rule without administrative breakdown. There has been a gradual and deliberate increase in their numbers, from a mere handful to half the total in the Service ever since that early date. For many years, pending the association of Indians with governmental bodies, and the growth of representative institutions, the Indian Civil Service voiced the needs of the people of India in the councils of the Government, as well as carrying out its multifarious administrative duties. In the latter capacity its officers provided the framework of the administration, holding all the key points and maintaining everywhere British standards of efficiency and conduct. It is due to their disinterested and efficient work that we are now able to hand over to our successors a machine that is in good running order, and well able under new guidance to discharge those vital functions on which the welfare of the ordinary people of India depends.

The Indian Police have been at the right hand of the District Magistrates in maintaining law and order throughout the country, and they have done much to establish firmly this pre-requisite of a quiet and civilized life. The circumstances they have faced have often proved a most severe test of character and discipline, but their courage, loyalty and steadfastness have carried them through every emergency with credit to themselves and to the Service to which they belong.

I should not like to pass by in silence certain Departments of government which have rendered outstanding service to India. To the Public Works Department are due the great railway and road systems of India, the bridges over her broad rivers, and the canals, which have secured the harvest and the distribution of food without which starvation and famine would have afflicted many millions of people. The Indian Forest Service has been responsible for the preservation and development of a most valuable source of national wealth. The Department of Agriculture and the Veterinary Department have, by improving the cultivation of the soil and the maintenance of livestock, done invaluable service to the basic industry of India on which the majority of its inhabitants will continue to depend for their livelihood. The Education Department has made possible the beginnings of popular education in every province, and has created the mental climate indispensable for social and political advance.

The Indian Medical Service, though its primary function has been the care of the civil and military services of the Crown in India, has also contributed substantially to the advance of medical science and has played a leading part in building up a modern system of applied medicine in India. Its research into the cause of malaria resulted in discoveries about the malarial mosquito which enabled the Panama Canal to be built. In the application of medicine it reduced the death-rate from cholera in India by two-thirds, and its mastery of the diagnosis and treatment of many tropical diseases has brought relief to thousands of victims. It was the pioneer, and for many years the only source of medical education, and the father of the three medical colleges which were founded in British India in the nineteenth century. The result of the pioneer work done by the Indian Medical Service is that India now possesses a well-organized medical profession of more than 50,000 practitioners.

I should not like to omit from this review the important contribution that has been made by the Indian Political Service to the security of India's frontiers, and to the high measure of uniformity that has been achieved over a wide field between British India and the Indian States. The co-operation which they helped to achieve will be one of the most useful legacies to the future of the whole sub-Continent.

The Ecclesiastical Department of the Government of India has also rendered signal service. The Crown has continued the obligation imposed upon the East India Company by its charter to provide Christian ministrations for its servants, civil and military. It is largely due to the ministrations of these chaplains that the Church of India has emerged as an autonomous member of the Anglican community.

The security of India from external aggression, and its internal stability through the long period of British rule, have rested mainly upon the Indian Army, a body of men whose record of achievement is second to none among the great armies of history. For the first time in centuries India, during this period, has not been overrun by a foreign invader or rent asunder by civil strife. This unprecedented degree of tranquillity has been rendered possible because the Indian Army has been the unfailing shield between the ordinary folk of India and the forces of violence and destruction which would otherwise have overwhelmed them.

I need hardly remind the House that it made outstanding contributions in both World Wars. In the 1914–18 War there were four expeditionary forces sent to France, Mesopotamia, Salonica and Africa, and the total contribution in men was 1,300,000. In the Second World War the Indian Army fought in the Middle East, the Far East and Burma. Their most notable achievement was in driving the Japanese out of Burma by means of a most gruelling campaign fought under conditions more trying than any experienced in other theatres of war. Recruitment exceeded 2,500,000, a figure that had never been reached before and, as Mr. Churchill pointed out at the time, this represented the largest volunteer army that has ever been raised. The contribution of the Indian Army during the recent communal disturbances has been of outstanding value. The absence of communal feeling in the Army, a source of strife which might easily have blunted the edge of this magnificent instrument, deserves the highest praise and is a tribute to the spirit that informs all ranks. No better evidence of the morale of the Army can be adduced than the fact that the political controversies which burn so fiercely in India have not spread among the soldiers.

The Royal Indian Navy also played an active and honourable part in the war. It assisted the Royal Navy in the defence of the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea, and participated in the protection of convoys in the Atlantic. The Royal Indian Air Force, the most recent of the fighting forces of India, has always consisted exclusively of Indians. It discharged its duties with distinction during the last war, when it assisted us in the defence of India and in the Burma campaign.

The record of the servants of the Crown in India is one that fully entitles them to the gratitude of India and of our own country. They have added a fresh lustre to the best traditions of the British public services, and their work is part of an indestructible heritage which we are now bequeathing to our successors. It is surely fitting that Parliament should place on record, before its responsibility for Indian affairs has finally ceased, its pride in their unique achievement, its admiration for their example of duty and its sense of obligation for what the country owes them for one of the finest chapters of British and Indian history. I beg to move the Resolution which stands in my name.

Moved to resolve, That this House on the occasion of the transfer to Indian hands of the responsibility for the affairs of India wishes to place upon record its profound appreciation of the ability and devotion with which, during the long period of British rule, the Civil and Military Services of the Crown in India have served India and its peoples.—(The Earl of Listowel.)

2.50 p.m.


My Lords, on behalf of the noble Lords who sit on these Benches I rise to support the Resolution which has been moved so well by the Secretary of State for India, and also to congratulate the Government, if I may respectfully do so, on putting this Resolution on the Paper. I would add only a very few words to-day for I spoke my mind very fully on this subject on the occasion of the Second Reading of the Indian Independence Bill. But I would say this, the debt that we and India too—and I use the word "India" on this occasion in the sense in which we have hitherto understood it—owe to these devoted men and women, both British and Indian, soldiers, sailors, airmen, civil servants, and if I may add, although they do not come directly within the terms of this Motion, doctors, and missionaries and other unofficial people—the debt we owe to them is incalculable.

It is sometimes suggested by those who know nothing of the facts—mostly in other countries—that we have held down India with an iron hand. What is the truth? The British in India have never, I think, at any time numbered more than a few thousand troops and a few hundred officials, with a like number of well Are workers, among, the teeming millions of that great country. They have held their position not by the force they have commanded but by the respect they have inspired. From the sun-baked plains of Central and Southern India to the snows of the Himalayas they have moved quietly and efficiently, administering justice, keeping the peace, and dedicating their whole lives to those who make up the great population of that sub-continent.

These British to whom I refer for the moment have handed down their trust to their sons and grandsons. Generation after generation they have gone out from this country and have come home only to die. I remember some words once spoken to me by a very eminent Indian. He said: "The British have always stood in India for justice to the poor." That is the reputation we have had in this country and it is one of which we may well be proud. It is mainly due to those men and women of whom we are thinking to-day. Equally, of course, I would pay tribute not only to the British but to the Indian members of the Services. Their services have been equally fine and to them, equally with the British, all that I have said applies. At this moment when we are passing on our trust to others, I think it is very fitting that Parliament and the country should pay this tribute of heartfelt gratitude to those faithful servants of the Crown in India who so quietly and so worthily have upheld the name and fame of the British connexion. They have done their duty nobly and we shall not forget it. I beg to support the Motion.

2.54 p.m.


My Lords, noble Lords sitting upon these Benches desire to associate themselves most warmly and unreservedly with the terms of this very timely Motion. But in supporting it on their behalf I am very conscious that my own knowledge of India was always limited, largely secondhand, and is now long-since obsolete. At the same time no one can have been for a period of five years in close contact with a Viceroy, and even for brief periods have seen him actually at work, without being deeply and doubly impressed, first by the almost insupportable weight of responsibility that rested upon the Viceroy himself, and secondly by the magnitude, the diversity, and the efficiency of the work of the Indian Services, both military and civilian, in all branches.

The period during which I was privileged to know something of the Indian Services and Army and some of the Indian soldiers and civilians was one of constant and urgent difficulty. Twenty-five years ago the rise in the cost of living at the end of the 1914–18 war, unaccompanied by a parallel rise in their salaries, placed the Indian Services in a parlous position which the financial stringency and political tension then prevailing in India could do little to mitigate and nothing to resolve. I know very well that it was one of my father's most intense preoccupations and most grievous disappointments that he was unable to do what he regarded as justice to the legitimate claims of the Services. Yet the members of the Services never for one moment allowed their public duty to be subordinated to their private cares, but continued to carry on with their work without relaxation and without rancour.

I venture to refer to that phase of history not because it was exceptional but because it was typical of the spirit which has animated and dominated the Services in India throughout. As the noble Marquess has said, it has of late years been the fashion in some countries to depict India as crushed beneath the oppressive heel of Britain. It would be a truer picture to say that India has come to resent external rule not because it was British and not because it was oppressive, but because it was not Indian and therefore not in accord with the spirit of modern times or with the dignity and self-reliance of the peoples of India. Certainly India has offered a career to successive generations from this country, but a career not baited with glittering prizes except to the very few, rather a career of selfless devotion to the work in hand and to the people on whose behalf that work was undertaken; a career of separation and of exile, of heavy anxiety and unremitting toil, often pursued in a wearing climate and, in recent years, in face of growing hostility and obstruction. Yet in spite of all discouragement they have set and maintained a standard of justice, of integrity, of industry, and of impartiality which may well be their abiding and invaluable legacy to the two new Dominions.

They have been at most a tiny handful of men guiding and regulating the affairs of a huge and densely populous subcontinent, their authority based not on force or weight of numbers but upon their own native qualities of leadership, accessibility, and understanding. Perhaps the source of their strength and the key to their achievement have laid mainly in this, that they have taken up their task not as men avidly seeking power but as men resolutely accepting responsibility and, if power was placed in their hands, using it not as an end in itself, but as a means of discharging their responsibilities to those to whose service they had dedicated their working lives. It will be a source of satisfaction to all well-wishers that these two sister ships of Hindustan and Pakistan, when they set out upon their maiden voyage, will have this great assurance: that amongst the crew there will be many old hands who have signed articles for the new voyage, whose loyalty, fortitude and experience will now be at The disposal of those charged with the navigation of the unknown seas ahead.

The thanks of Parliament are amply due to the Indian Civil Service and Army, both British and Indian; for they have indeed, in the old austere Roman formula, "deserved well," not only of the State, but of the Empire of India, of the British Commonwealth and of the world. May the motto of the Most Exalted Order of the Star of India: "Heaven's light our guide" light their future as surely as it has guided their past.

3.1 p.m.


My Lords, I hesitate to detain your Lordships, even for three or four minutes; but there are four reasons for my rising to address you. The first is that His Grace the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury, who had hoped and planned to be here this afternoon, is regrettably prevented by duties of his office; and in his absence I feel that the one white-robed person here must say a word or two on behalf of the Churches in support of this Motion, so ably proposed and with such eloquence supported by noble Lords who have gone before me.

My second reason is that I have great personal feeling in this matter because it was one of the highest privileges of my life to visit almost every part of India from Kashmir right down to the southernmost extremity at a time of very great stress and, strain—the time referred to by the noble Marquess who spoke before me, just after the 1914 war, that is to say, in 1920 and 1921. There I saw at very close range both the work and the fidelity clay by day in that work of hundreds of our civil servants in India and of members of the Army in India; and I became more and more impressed with their amazing qualities of patience, understanding, integrity and endurance under, at times, a tremendous stress and strain, and I cannot refrain from standing to pay my humble tribute to these great services who have brought such lustre to our fair name in history.

I must say one word about certain of our own people in India whose work and careers have now come to an end. Many of them are on their way home. I refer to the chaplains of our Indian establishment, whose ministries have been largely to our own people in India. They must now be re-absorbed into the life of the ministry here at home. I must also say a word of profound gratitude for the unseen but quite extraordinarily growing and effective work during a hundred years past of the missionaries, and not missionaries merely of the Church I represent but of all the Christian Churches, from the clays when William Carey set out to convert India against the jeers and evil foreboding of his fellow-Christians in this country. The seeds sown in those far-off days have borne abundant fruit in these later years in the great mass of Christian tradition in India. More particularly I think of the educational institutions, schools and colleges which have sprung up as the work of these missionaries in every Tart of India, and the hospitals, dispensaries and medical services which have earned a tremendous 'need of gratitude from the hearts of Indian people themselves. The work of those missionaries is by no means over. The Church in India is now indigenous but will ask for generations yet to come, for the help and leadership of members of the Christian Church in this country. Their work will be carried on in some ways under greater difficulties, but in many ways with greater opportunities.

My last reason for detaining your Lordships is this. As one looks back over the quite short time that has elapsed since our last debate in your Lordships' House on the subject of India, one realizes the immense and amazing amount of progress that has been made in the affairs of India and in the process of handing over. I wonder how many of us dared to hope that these last weeks since that debate could have been so fruitful and so good as they have been. For all of that, we pay our humble mood of gratitude and admiration to our fellow-Britons in India who had so large a share in it, and to the Indian members of the administration. But also I think we most of us must have been conscious of the action of a Divine Providence, of a Wisdom wiser than ours, and of a Hand guiding the affairs and destinies of the nations that has not been inactive in these last weeks. On the Burma Road there is a monument to the troops who gave their lives in the Burma campaign, and on it is written these words: When you go home, tell them of us and say 'For your to-morrow we gave our today. I think the Indian civil servants and all our fellow Britons who have laboured in these last years may give that message to the two Dominions that now set out on their journey—"For your to-morrow we gave our to-day." I regard it as a great honour and privilege to be allowed to say these words and to support the Resolution already so ably proposed.

3.8 p.m.


My Lords, having heard it supported by such eloquence, it is not a little embarrassing for me, as an old soldier whose business is to do and not to talk, to ask leave to support the Motion so ably proposed by the noble Earl. I can only say a very few things which I know from my own connexion with the Army in India. It is a subject which is very close to the hearts of us old soldiers, now that this wonderful partnership between us and the Indian Army is to cease for ever. I myself served for nineteen years in India, and I am more proud of the time I spent there than of any other period in my whole service: not because of what I did there, but because I very soon realized that the work we English have done in India, civil and military, has been good work, magnificent work, in spite of what our detractors say about it.

I very soon became enthusiastic about the Indian Army. Those of your Lordships who have known it—and many of your Lordships have known it—will know of the intense love and pride which exist in the hearts of the English officers who have been privileged to serve in that Army with their Sepoys. I myself will say without fear of contradiction that the relations between the British officer serving in that Army and his Indian officers and his Sepoys made the finest and, in a way, the most efficient military partnership in the history of the world. That partnership rests on complete mutual confidence between the two races on the complete assurance that each of them will stand by the other in battle and on the complete confidence that the Indian soldier has in the justice and the care shown by the British officer for his Indian Sepoy.

Our old friend Gandhi the other day made use of the expression that the British Government and the British rule in India were Satanic, and we are told in addition, that we have spent many years in exploiting the Indians. Well, it has already been said today that, when the Hitler war came, we called upon the men of India to serve the Empire—I will not use that new expression—as they had done before and defend their own country, and no fewer than 3,000,000 came forward completely voluntarily without any compulsion at all. It must be very very difficult for our detractors to explain that away.

The Indian Army has, indeed, a splendid record in war service for the Empire. It has fought for the Empire on many stricken fields, and not least in this last war. One need only mention the famous Indian 4th and 5th Divisions, who enhanced their reputation all over the world and took a major part, as has again been said, in driving the Japanese from their own soil and right away down through Burma. As again has been mentioned, now that peace has come I believe that no Indian unit has shown the slightest signs of disaffection in spite of those ghastly communal troubles which have torn India in two, and that, I venture to think, is because the Indian soldier still believes what his British officer says and the advice he gives him. The Indian Army is now to be split into two parts, and I understand that a large number of senior British officers have been asked to remain to help the Indian Army. We can only wish them all good fortune in their difficult task, for it will be a very difficult task. Whole units have got to pass over from one Dominion to another; even companies have to leave regiments in which they have been all their lives, and pass across. That is not easy.

There is only one point which has been omitted by speakers so far. You cannot refer to the deeds of the Indian Army without saying something of the share which the Gurkha troops have taken. They have fought alongside their comrades of the Indian Army and their Allies of the British Empire in many stricken fields, and we hope that we have not seen the last of them. I see in the papers, which are the sole source of my information nowadays, that consultations have taken place to see if we cannot use those Gurkhas in the Indian services and if we cannot use them in the purely British service. God grant we may use them in both.

There are in the Indian Army a large number of officers belonging to families in which for over 200 years son has succeeded father one after the other. When a few months ago all the British officers in the Indian Army received an official notice in writing that no more British officers would ever enter the Indian Army, I had more than twelve letters from my old staff and old friends in India. They said that that, of course, was not news to them, but they did feel disappointed and rather hurt that no one in England the India Office, the War Office, the Houses of Parliament, or anybody else had thought fit at the conclusion of this wonderful 200 years partnership to say "Thank you" from England. Now that is no longer the case. I can assure your Lordships, from my knowledge of those officers, that this vote to-day will give the utmost satisfaction to many hundreds of officers who have served for many years in the Indian Army, and I do think that it is merited. I beg leave to support the Motion.

3.17 p.m.


My Lords, it would be very unbecoming if I, who have spent all my working years in the Civil Services of India, were to attempt to add to the tributes which have been so eloquently and, I know, so sincerely paid to the work of the Military and the Civil Services in India. Indeed, it is impossible for me to conceive that any addition on my part could be made to what has already been said. But I know that my own colleagues in the Civil Services would desire me to express their appreciation of the tributes which have been paid to-day to their work, work not only for the Crown, not only for Parliament, whose purposes they have served, but above all principally—and this must be most in our minds—for India.

I feel that that satisfaction which the Services must entertain at this vote of Parliament will be felt especially by those who have during the more recent years carried on the standards of administration in India and met difficulties far more formidable and circumstances far less favourable than those which some of us encountered in an earlier day. Although service in India has always been exacting and although it has made great demands on our sense of devotion to duty, yet there were in earlier days circumstances and indeed satisfactions which sensibly lightened the task, but those conditions no longer prevailed for the assistance of the men who in recent years have attempted to carry on their duties in India. As I say, the vote of Parliament will be viewed with special satisfaction by them; but it must be remembered that their task has not been rendered easier by the knowledge that their careers would be prematurely terminated by these constitutional changes. That imminent fate has always been hanging over them to add very greatly to their difficulties and their task.

May I say that I hope that the public in Great Britain will find some way of utilizing for the benefit of this country the qualifications and the experiences which some of these men have gained in India? I acknowledge gratefully the steps that the Government, and the Prime Minister himself, have already taken to initiate a movement for securing employment for them. I appreciate that, and I know that the Services appreciate it; but there are many men for whom the future can only mean employment in this country. I hope sincerely that the public will appreciate that they have, among those men, qualities which might well be used for the benefit of the people in Great Britain itself.

We must not forget, also, that although many of the European members in the Services will come back to this country there will be left in India a large number of Indians who have also served the Crown, sometimes in the same grades and in the same conditions as the European members of the Services and sometimes in subordinate Services. I fear that many of those Indians who have thus served their own country will suffer greatly, in these changes; and though I know that the control of Parliament will be withdrawn and that there can be no direct intervention on their behalf from this country, yet I hope that such influence as can still be exercised by Parliament, or by the public of this country, will be utilized to their benefit and to assist their lot. There is no European who has served in India who has not the strongest feeling for the work of his Indian col- leagues, and who has not every desire to see that they should be suitably supported in the future, if that is possible.

But on behalf of all of the Civil Service, alike of men who have held positions of high responsibility and those who have served in lower grades, I would like to say this. We have had a great and, I think, legitimate, pride in our past, and it is not a pride that is founded only on past performance. We believe, and I think we rightly believe, that we shall have left behind us a tradition of disinterested service, of integrity and devotion to duty, which will be one of the greatest assets of the new India in her new career. We hear to-day many expressions of good will and hope for the new India, and surely none can be more genuine and more heartfelt than those from the people who have served India in the past, not merely because they perhaps may have the most realistic view of the difficulties that India may have to encounter, but because their long, their close and their intimate connexion with India gives them a special and a particular interest in the welfare of that great population.

On Question, Motion agreed to nemine dissentiente.