§ 2.38 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT TEMPLEWOOD rose to move to resolve, That the decision of His Majesty's Government to hand over India to an Indian Government or Governments in June, 1948, under conditions which appear to be in conflict with previous declarations of the Government on this subject, and without any provisions for the protection of minorities or the discharge of their other obligations, is likely to imperil the peace and prosperity of India. The noble Viscount said: My Lords, it is with genuine regret that I feel bound to move the Resolution that stands in my name. For some time past there has been an almost unique unity of front upon Indian questions. All Parties in the State have realized the changes that were taking place in the Far East, and they had accepted the fact, obvious to everyone, of the great growth of nationalism in Asia. Many who in the past would have wished 927 to see the transfer of power in India carried out at a deliberate pace, have come to realize that, in the overcharged atmosphere of the post-war world, it is necessary to expedite that transfer. The result has been that no Government within living memory have received such consistent support from the Opposition in the conduct of Indian affairs as this Government. The Opposition have followed with sympathy the difficulties of the Government. Upon every occasion they have made it clear that they are prepared to transfer power and that they are prepared that that transfer should be expedited.
This unity of front was based upon three conditions. Let me remind the House of them. In the first place, the transfer was to be orderly; in the second place, it was to be based upon a substantial measure of Indian agreement; and in the third place, it was to take full account of our obligations which had grown up during the generations in which we had conducted the affairs of India. I will not weary your Lordships with quotations upon these conditions, but I will merely take three short sentences to illustrate what I have just said: first of all, the condition that the transfer was to be orderly. Let me remind your Lordships of what the Secretary of State for India and Burma, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, said on this subject on December 4, 1945:
The realization of full self-government can only come by the orderly and peaceful transfer of control of the machinery of State to purely Indian authority.
I come next to the pledge about general agreement, and I take my quotation from the Government statement of December 6, 1946:
There has never been any prospect of success for the Constituent Assembly except upon the basis of 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 has stated they would not contemplate—forcing such a Constitution upon any unwilling parts of the country.
I come last to the third condition, the fulfillment of our obligations. I take my quotation from the statement that was made upon the Cripps' Mission and that, so far from not having been repudiated by the Government, has been re-stated by them on several subsequent occasions.
In that statement it was laid down that the transfer must be:
Subject to the fulfilment of our obligations for the protection of minorities, including the Depressed Classes,"—
I draw the attention of noble Lords to the fact that the Depressed Classes are included actually by name—
and of our Treaty obligations to the Indian States.
Although the details may have been slightly varied from time to time, these conditions have remaind the foundations of the common front of Indian affairs. By one stroke of the pen, without any previous consultation with the Opposition, the transfer is now to be made "not later than June, 1948," and without any of these three conditions being retained. This is a case not of gradual appeasement but of unconditional surrender, and of unconditional surrender at the expense of many to whom we have given specific pledges for generations past.
§ In view of these facts, it is inevitable that those for whom I speak should, in this Resolution, dissociate themselves from the Government's declaration and should make it quite clear to the House and to the country that it is the Government, and not we, who have broken up this unity of the Indian front. I realize that the Government were in great difficulty. The plan of May 16 was breaking up; its two props, the Constituent Assembly and the Interim Government, were failing to work. The Constituent Assembly were becoming the exclusive platform of Congress, and the Interim Government were showing in its worse form the faults of diarchy. Some people well qualified to speak upon Indian affairs took the view that this confusion was not a little due to the Government having departed from the solid basis of Indian agreement before making new proposals. If that be the case, it would surely have been a very strong argument against a new intervention. And yet, as I have said, the Government are now not only making a new intervention but are proposing something which seems to us to be in direct opposition to everything they have said in the past. They are making, so it seems to us, a gambler's throw. The throw may come off, but equally it may do irreparable damage to the good government of India.
§ I ask your Lordships to-day to examine the proposal not on the basis of good 929 intentions—we give the Government the fullest credit for their good intentions—but on the basis of probabilities as to what is likely to happen. Let me put it to the House in the form of two questions. First of all, is the declaration of a definite date in the near future for the transfer of Government to Indian hands likely to lead to Indian agreement? Secondly, is this date likely to produce a workable Constitution, and is it likely to lead to the peace and prosperity of India?
§ Let me make an observation or two on both of those questions. I begin with the first question: Is the declaration of the date of evacuation likely to lead to Indian agreement? I should have thought the result would be exactly opposite to what the Government hope. I should have thought myself that the separatist elements in India, those sections of India who wish to see Governments of their own, would have observed the fact that at the end of fifteen months the Government, according to their White Paper, are prepared to negotiate with a number of different Indians and Indian bodies. I should have thought that that would lead them to be more isolationist than ever. It is early days to deduce from the Indian news whether that view is correct or not, but even in the papers of to-day there are signs that that is already being the effect in certain important Indian sections.
§ Can the Government have had it in mind that the statement of a definite date would lead to the separation of the various parts of India? On the face of it, it looks almost as if they had. If that be so, I maintain that if India is to be divided into parts, this is the worst possible way in which to divide it. It is my own view—a view which I have expressed before in your Lordships' House—that India 930 the unity of India depends upon the existence of British influence in India, and that, whether we like it or not, when the British influence is withdrawn that unity will come to an end. I make the statement not as an argument for maintaining British influence in India, but simply as a statement of fact. If that be so, lot this separation come about upon a considered plan; let it not be the result of a disorganized fragmentation. That seems to me likely to be the result of the White Paper proposals. I take the view that the White Paper proposals lead directly, not to the unity, but to the 930 division of India, and to the division of India in the worst possible conditions.
§ I pass from that question to my second question: Are the Government proposals likely to produce a workable Indian Constitution, and are they likely to lead to the peace and prosperity of the Indian sub-continent? Here again I would have feared that the fixing of a date at such a short distance would have exactly the opposite effect to that which the Government no doubt desire. I look back—if I may make this personal allusion—on the years that I spent upon the details of an Indian Constitution. For seven years of my life I did practically nothing else. At the end of that period, as a result of the co-operation of scores of British and Indian leaders, we produced an Indian Constitution. I am not arguing now whether that was a good or a had Constitution, but I am stating a fact which no one can deny: that the Constitution that was produced was the shortest possible Constitution which could be produced to meet Indian conditions, although it contained 350 clauses and covered 320 of the pages of the Statute Book. And the complexity of this matter, however you approach the problem of the Constitutional proposals for India, is greater than that of any other Constitutional problem in the world.
§ Let anyone who doubts the strength of what I say look at the Government of India Act. Look at it simply, not to read it through, but to look at the headings of the chapters. I will give the House an idea of these headings, to show the complexity of the Indian Constitutional problem: Federal Constitution, Constitution of the eleven great Provinces, Safeguards, Trade, Professions, Broadcasting, Finance, Water—I particularly emphasize the heading of "Water," as water is one of the basic problems of India; it covers the use of the great rivers which pass from one Province to another, and the irrigation on which the prosperity of India relies—Indian States' Contributions, Railways, Backward Areas, and a host of other minor details. Here is a Constitution unlike the British Constitution; every word of it is written. Unlike the British Constitution, it has to deal not only with the centre but with the great autonomous Provinces. Unlike the British Constitution, it has to enter into every detail of the social, political and economic life of 931 the Indian populations. Is it conceivable that you can destroy this great machine and in fifteen months build it up again, or, if you do not build it up again, create a new Constitution? It seems to me inconceivable that between now and June 1, 1948, any workable Constitution can be created either for the centre or for the Provinces.
§ At this point let me put this specific question to the Government: How do they propose to deal with this task, and what results do they contemplate? Parliament is deeply interested in this question; time is short, and we ought to know at once what is the plan in the Government's mind. In particular, to what kind of authorities do they intend to transfer power if they fail to obtain an agreed Constitution in a single Constituent Assembly? These are questions which ought to be answered at once; the time is short. Here again, this is another criticism of the time factor. Time being as short as it is, it is essential that we should know in the course of this debate what is the Government's plan and what are the kind of responsible authorities—to use their own expression—to which they are prepared to transfer the machinery of Indian government.
§ It might be said that the Government's problem is so gigantic that it is bound to fail, that by no stretch of the imagination can a workable plan be created in the space of fifteen months. That may be so. But, unfortunately, that does not end the trouble. For what is to happen in the interim period while this transfer is going on? The Government stated in their White Paper that they intend to begin the transfer of power at once. I hope that the Secretary of State will make clearer to the House what is the intention of the Government in this respect. The White Paper is very obscure on the subject. It seems to imply that whilst legislation will be needed for the final transfer, it may not be necessary for the interim period. Here again, in the course of this debate, we ought to have a specific answer from the Government on this very important point.
§ Suppose the Government surmount these Parliamentary difficulties, let noble Lords think what effect this transfer, carried out at a frantic pace, is going to have upon the Services in India, and upon the minorities in India, and upon the Princes.932
§ Take first of all the case of the Services. I am thinking not only of the Secretary of State's Services—a very small percentage of the whole body of the Indian Administration—I am thinking of all the various Services, particularly of the police and of Services which are now almost entirely manned by Indians. What is going to be the effect upon Services of those kinds when they see, day by day, the total dismantlement of the whole machine of government, and they know that, in fifteen months' time, the machine is to be scrapped altogether? Their loyalty, which has been very remarkable in these times of trial during the last two years, has already been strained to the uttermost. They have heard threats made against them by the Congress leaders. I am told that some of those threats have already been carried out—carried out against individual members of the various Services. Think now of their position, their power of negotiation—and let me emphasize this point—almost gone as soon as a date is fixed, after which, as they know, they will have no support from the Secretary of State.
§ Here I would ask the Secretary of State a specific question. There was a debate in this House a fortnight ago upon the question of compensation to the Secretary of State's Services. We hope that during the course of this debate the Secretary of State will give us an answer to questions which were then raised. There is no time for delay—again let me emphasize this point—now that a date has been mentioned, fifteen months from now. It is essential that we should know, here and now, whether these public servants are to be justly compensated.
§ I pass from the effect of the date upon the Services to the effect of the date upon the minorities. I take as my example, not the major community of the Moslems, but the Scheduled Castes or, as we generally know them, the Depressed Classes. With them the problem is a very different one. Unlike the major communities, they are scattered over great districts of Hindu India, and in most cases they have not the compact solidarity of the greater communities. On that account, the pledges of successive Governments, and the pledges of Parliament, are of particular value to them. Let me remind your Lordships of the quotation that I made at the beginning of my speech regarding the specific pledge that a prior 933 condition of the transfer of power should be the safeguarding of our obligations to the Depressed Classes—the Depressed Classes being mentioned by name.
§ I, myself, raised their case in a debate in your Lordships' House shortly before Christmas. The noble Lord the Secretary of State then gave the answer that I expected, an answer in full accord with the previous pledges he had given in statements made on behalf of the Government—namely, that this Government recognized the Depressed Classes as one of the minorities that we are bound to protect. I ask the Secretary of State to-day, is he repudiating that pledge? I ask him, further, how is it possible for the Depressed Classes to negotiate with any hope of success, when they know that on June 1, 1948, the support of the Government here will be withdrawn from them, and the pledges made to them will, apparently, be torn up?
§ I come now to the last of my examples; I come to the question of Indian India, the India of the States. Noble Lords know the position so well that I need not describe to them the position in the Indian States. It is sufficient for me to say that we are bound to many of them by express treaties; we are bound to others by agreements and sanads; and to all of them we are under an obligation that goes beyond treaties and statements and words by reason of the fact that they have always come to the aid of the Empire in the hour of her need. There is another fact that is sometimes forgotten. What is called paramountcy means not only Imperial protection of the States' rulers, but also a responsibility for the good government of the States' peoples. Paramountcy, according to the White Paper, is not to be transferred to a British India Government. Nor is it to be brought to an end until the final transfer of power. In the meanwhile—here again the paragraph in the White Paper is extremely obscure—negotiations are contemplated between the Government and the Indian States.
§ Let us look for a moment into the details of this proposal. Hitherto the Viceroy has held two positions. He has been the Crown's representative—the Viceroy in fact—dealing with the Indian Princes in matters of paramountcy, and he has been the Governor-General dealing with the administration of British India. It is obvious, as the transfer proceeds in the interim 934 period, that the position of Viceroy will become submerged into the position of a Governor-General acting on the advice of British Indian Ministers. That is to say, the Indian Princes will have lost their independent prop, and the Viceroy—if he still calls himself Viceroy—will become more and more a responsible Governor-General, acting not for India as a whole but for British India. That means that during the period of the transfer the Indian Princes will be placed in a position for their negotiations of daily becoming weaker. As things are now, their liberty of action is restricted in many important directions. For instance, it is restricted in the matter of Customs, and it is restricted in the matter of the number of Armed Forces that they may maintain.
§ I claim that in This transfer period the only just course, to leave the Princes in a fair position for constitutional negotiation, is that there should be a transfer of power to the Indian Princes simultaneously with the transfer of power to British India. That is to say, these restrictions upon the maintenance of Armed Forces should be withdrawn; otherwise, as noble Lords will see, the Princes will be left in an impossibly weak position. That is the just course. But let your Lordships consider what it means. It means that here again, as in the case of the date, the Government's proposals are leading not to the unity but to the division of India. The Government are faced with this dilemma: that justice for the Indian States means a further step in Indian fragmentation. What a commentary upon the Government's Statement of May 16, of which the greater part was devoted to a disquisition on the theme that two Indias were impossible! Here are proposals that lead not to two Indias, but to ten British Indias, and possibily twenty or thirty Indian States. Here again, under the threat of the date in fifteen months' time, the Government proposals lead directly to the fragmentation of India.
§ I hope that I have said enough to show why it is that we on this side of the House must dissociate ourselves with the Government's proposals. We believe that they are morally wrong. We believe that a great country cannot, without loss of credit, give notice that on a certain day it will throw its pledges to the wind. We believe that the proposals are practically unworkable, and that ft is impossible to 935 make this gigantic transfer in an orderly fashion in fifteen months. We believe that the proposals are politically unwise; that they will encourage, rather than moderate, sectional opinion, and that instead of creating unity they will make well-nigh inevitable the fragmentation of India. For these reasons I hope that they will never come into full operation. I believe I am expressing the views of many noble Lords when I say that it is the duty and the destiny of Great Britain to complete our task in India by achieving peacefully, and with unconstrained agreement, the transfer of British power, and that, however great may be the difficulties, we should refuse to accept a final separation before our obligations and responsibilities are adequately discharged. These conditions we believe to be essential to the peace and prosperity of India. The sooner they are fulfilled the happier we shall be. We shall then feel that we have finished our great task in a manner worthy of our splendid record, and worthy of the long line of great public servants who have given peace, justice and unity to a continent that, for generations, had been devastated by anarchy and civil war.
§ Moved, to resolve, That the decision of His Majesty's Government to hand over India to an Indian Government or Governments in June, 1948, under conditions which appear to be in conflict with previous declarations of the Government on this subject, and without any provisions for the protection of minorities or the discharge of their other obligations is likely to imperil the peace and prosperity of India.—(Viscount Templewood.)
§ 3.20 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
My Lords, we often hear it said on one occasion or another that we have reached an historic moment, sometimes even when that occasion is merely of temporary importance. But to-day there is no doubt at all that we stand at a turning point in the history of the nation. Let us see this debate in its time setting. For three hundred years the States of Europe were extending their sovereignty over other continents. This Island, with its ships and its seamen, outstripped its rivals and assumed control over nearly one-fourth of the land surface of the globe. Then we have had a century of devolution. In the transfer of power to the Dominions similar 936 to the British in stock, language, religion and history, that has been easy. But it has proved difficult when the transfer of power is to peoples of other races without that similarity of characteristics.
That being so, we see the half of mankind which is dwelling in Asia and in tropical Africa claiming their own liberties and the right to take their place in the onward march of civilization. It is not a coincidence that at this moment our old rivals in colonization, the French and the Dutch, are faced with exactly similar problems in their dominions. Nor is it an accident that we have to deal not only with India but also with Burma, Ceylon and the West Indies. This great movement of the Asiatic and African peoples has been approved and encouraged by the declaration of the Atlantic Charter, which was endorsed and confirmed by the Charter of the United Nations. In that document President Roosevelt, on behalf of the United States, and Mr. Churchill, on behalf of this country, declared that these two countries "respect the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live."
The Government Statement that was made here a few days ago, and which we are to-day debating, is the climax of a long evolution. It declares bluntly that in India it is time to come to a decision. The Motion condemns that declaration. But what alternative policy is proposed by the Opposition? There is none apparent in the terms of the Resolution itself. I kept a blank sheet on my notes in order to write down the heads of the alternatives which the noble Viscount was going to propose. That page remains blank. There has not been a single word in the speech of the noble Viscount to indicate what other course, failing this one, he would desire the Government to pursue. The Resolution in its final words says that the action of the Government is likely to imperil the peace and prosperity of India. Is there no peril to-day to the peace and prosperity of India? Are we to drift on interminably, as we have done, with the civil Government of India, as we know, running down, losing their efficiency and authority, with no possibility of recruiting their numbers owing to the uncertainty of the conditions? Is the British Army to assume the task of maintaining order between the two communities, and, if the communal strife 937 grows more bitter and spreads throughout the country, are we to send more and more troops in order to preserve law and order?
I was very much struck during our debate two months ago by the speech of the former Viceroy, the Marquess of Linlithgow. He is at present abroad, I understand, and therefore not able to take part in the debate to-day. He said that in his view it was useless to attempt policies for India which the British people cannot support with a clear conscience. He said, further, that he thought our authority might be reestablished if undertaken with confidence and conviction, and possibly with less difficulty than is often assumed. But he expressed the view that this nation might not be willing to supply the necessary impulse, and he went on to say—and I quote his actual words: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 confess I heard that declaration from the late Viceroy with surprise and with regret. But on consideration, and knowing that the Government have taken the course they have after much fuller knowledge of the circumstances than any of us here possess, and since the Government bear the responsibility, I, for my India 938 part, should not be disposed to challenge their decision.
I am sure of this: that the worst course possible would be to proclaim a policy that we cannot execute. If the minorities, with respect to whom the noble Viscount has been speaking—the Moslems, the Sikhs, the Depressed Classes, and the Princes also—were induced to shape their course in reliance on our action in their support, and then found that their trust had been deceived because we were unable to make good our undertakings, that would not avoid disaster to them, but it would bring disgrace for ourselves. If this Motion could win support through the personality or the persuasiveness of its advocate, certainly the record and the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Templewood, would have achieved that end. We all remember his labours during the years when the great Bill of 1935 became the Constitution of India Act. He told us that he gave seven years of his 938 life to that service, only to meet in the end, as it proved, with disappointment—like the Biblical patriarch who served seven years for Rachel and then got only Leah.
From what quarter did his difficulties mainly come? They came mainly from the fact that he was faced by the strenuous opposition of a large part of the Conservative Party, led with indefatigable energy and irreconcilable hostility from beginning to end by Mr. Churchill. And we have to bear in mind that, very soon after the Atlantic Charter was issued under his signature, Mr. Winston Churchill declared in another place that it was not meant to apply to India and elsewhere in the British Dominions. He said that that was quite a separate problem—an announcement that was received with dismay in India and with surprise throughout the world. Now he is Leader of the Conservative Party, which is reverting to those tendencies which, though from time to time they have been in abeyance, have really existed throughout all its history. They were responsible for the two great failures of the British Empire, for the loss of the American Colonies and the long quarrel with Ireland. They would have added a third if they had their way after the Boer War when, as to-day, they dissociated themselves from all responsibility for what Mr. Balfour declared was the rash experiment of granting self-government to South Africa. To-day, apparently, they might be willing to add a fourth in creating an ungovernable India.
We are, of course, all deeply disappointed that the leaders of the Indian Parties should have been so intransigent. It has long been obvious to the friends of India, in this and in other countries, that the right destiny of India is for her to become a Federation—neither a unitary State, for it is too large and too varied for that, nor vet a division into two or more independent States which would be only too likely to give rise to new conflicts-and that this should be accomplished by consent. Those were the principles of that great measure of 1935, which we all supported. The Moslem League, up to a point, have had a strong case. Clearly, they have lately gone beyond that point, and (this is suggested as my own opinion) have been putting themselves in the wrong. The Congress Party have been most reluctant to concede anything, and 939 when they did make concessions they did so grudgingly, and accompanied them with reproaches and recriminations. All the Indian leaders have had very short experience of the working of democratic institutions. They do not realize how difficult democracy is; they do not remember how often it has failed. Some of them seem determined to be so uncompromisingly democratic as to make themselves incapable of working a democracy.
A few days ago, the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, said that he received the announcement of a definite date with a sense of shock. Its purpose was, not here but in India, to administer a sense of shock. Apparently it is beginning to have that effect. The last speech of Mr. Nehru was in a different tone and inspired by a different spirit from many of his former speeches. My fear is that this Motion by the Opposition in your Lordships' House to-day may tend to spoil the effect of the shock in India, and that there are some who may entertain the hope that divisions here at Westminster may result ultimately in the whole question being suspended indefinitely. On the other hand—one can never foresee—it might possibly have the opposite effect, and they may feel that they must hurry up and come to an agreement quickly, for fear that a Churchill Government may come into power at Westminster some day and throw them back to the point from which they started.
We on these Benches feel that it would be unwise for this House to pass a Resolution in these terms at this juncture. We see the Indian peoples now, after ages of subservience, first to their own Princes and afterwards to alien Empires, at last believing that they have the prospect close at hand of a new era, of being able to lift up their heads in freedom. Let us not give the appearance here in this Parliament that we are clinging to our old Imperial power, that we are grasping at all the communal difficulties in order to gain a brief respite before we are obliged, as we should be obliged in the end, to surrender with bad grace to turbulence and rebellion. The effect of what we are doing here to-day will be felt in the relations between the two peoples for generations to come. Let it not leave behind memories of anger, perhaps of bloodshed, and accusations of bad faith. Those could only produce lasting antagonisms. Let us 940 rather give them the impression that we here are animated by a feeling of friendly helpfulness, because that may make possible subsequent co-operation, and perhaps even some form of union or alliance, to the advantage of both peoples and bringing cordial comradeship and mutual goodwill.
§ 3.35 p.m.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR INDIA AND BURMA (LORD PETHICK-LAWRENCE)
My Lords, I rise with a profound sense of responsibility which I know will be shared by all those who take part in this debate. In the course of my speech I shall endeavour to place before your Lordships the reasons which have prompted His Majesty's Government to take this momentous step, and to give an answer to some of the questions which have been raised by the noble Viscount who opened the debate, whose speech I, in common with all your Lordships, have listened to with profound interest and attention. If the noble Viscount will allow me to say so, I think he put a well-constructed case with sincerity and advocacy of a very high order. Before I come to the political aspect of the question, I desire to pay my personal tribute to the great Viceroy who is shortly laying down his high office. The sincerity and devotion of the noble Viscount, Lord Wavell, to his most difficult and baffling task have rightly won the respect of all those with whom he has been brought into contact. In particular, I recall with appreciation his unsparing efforts, in conjunction with myself and other members of the Cabinet Mission, in our endeavour to reach an agreement among Indians on the basis of a Constituent Assembly, and to provide for the Government of India in the interim period. I am sure your Lordships will unite with me in that appreciation, and in extending to his successor good wishes for the very hard task upon which he has entered.
Coming now to the political Statement, which has been the subject of both the noble Viscounts who have addressed your Lordships, I would like to say, in the first place, a few brief words on the events which led up to the announcement which was made by the Prime Minister in another place and by myself in your Lordships' House on Thursday of last week. Having said that, I should like to add this. The statement of the noble Viscount, Lord 941 Templewood, was, as I have already said, a clear presentation of a very sincere case, and I have no doubt he felt with conviction that he was facing reality and that His Majesty's Government put forward their views on paper without very much appreciation of where they were going. However, I felt that the noble Viscount himself was living in an unreal world, and that this dream world in which he was living was shattered by the powerful wind of the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel's speech, which tended to freshen up the situation so that we could have a real and effective understanding of the position.
What are the real facts? The facts are that for the last twenty years a progress towards self-government has been going on. That is a progress to which all Parties of the State have contributed. We have now reached a new stage, when, as it were, the balance is beginning to tilt and when a large share of power and responsibility has already been transferred to Indian hands. That being the case, it is not possible to deal with the situation as though it was exactly as it was before. That is not due mainly to the policy adopted by His Majesty's Government today; it is the natural and inevitable result of the policies that have been adopted by previous administrations. Perhaps the most significant happening was the abandonment of all recruitment to the Indian Civil Service during the war. The result of that was that the cadre of the Indian Civil Service and Police was not refreshed and brought up to date, and in consequence the position at the end of the war was entirely different from what it had India 942 been at the beginning. When the time came for us to consider whether that recruitment should be renewed (and it would have been done in the teeth, let me say, of a very strong body of opinion in India which took a contrary view) we found that any new officers who would have started at the bottom of the ladder would have been quite ineffective in restoring the position until after five years' training in India. Those are the facts.
When His Majesty's Government took office we were confronted, broadly, with two alternatives. We could either go back or we could go forward. If we went forward, we had to rely more and more upon the good sense and co-operation of the different Parties in India; or we had to be prepared, in the event of opposition 942 or disagreement, to start all over again the unhappy procedure of the arrest and imprisonment without trial, and to come into direct conflict with a rapidly growing and determined body of people in India. With, I believe, the concurrence of the vast majority of the people of this country, and, I think, as the noble Viscount will no doubt agree, with the concurrence of people of all Parties in both Houses, with perhaps a few exceptions, we went forward.
What I want to convey to your Lordships is that you cannot do that and at the same time retain complete power over the ordering of events. If you imagine that you can do that, then you are labouring under a delusion which will lead you to all sorts of false conclusions. It would not merely be a question of attempting for a short while to restore the old system of complete control by the British Raj in India; in order effectively to produce that result it would be necessary to guarantee that we would stay in India for some ten, fifteen or even more years. Without such a guarantee, the forces at our disposal to bring the situation under our direct and absolute control could not have been effective. His Majesty's Government, therefore, as soon as they came into office, decided upon a course of action which was an attempt to restore representative institutions in India and to endeavour to build out of them a structure of complete self-government. Accordingly, elections were held in the Provinces, lasting over several months, and finally the Cabinet Mission, of which I was a member, went out to India to endeavour to produce a settlement, first of all of the long-term plan for building a Constitution, and secondly, for the setting up of an Interim Government to function in the period which would intervene before the Constitution could be framed and come into being.
I should like your Lordships to appreciate that in the period before the Cabinet Mission went out to India, and in fact when the Cabinet Mission arrived in India, we were confronted with a really dangerous situation. There were in the ranks of Congress, Congress supporters with violent revolutionary sentiments who were determined to press vigorously and by all means towards the objective for which Congress had stood firm from its incep- 943 tion. They were suspicious of British intentions, frustrated by their long imprisonment, and supported by a mass of national feeling. The Moslem League, while also demanding full independence for India were vigorously propagating the policy of Pakistan, which was contrary to the fundamental beliefs of Congress. Both within and without Congress there was a swing to extremes and a demand for revolutionary methods to achieve full independence. That is what we knew existed before we went and it is what we found when we got there.
Again, we had to choose whether we would go forward or whether we would go back. If we were not to go back (back to what would have had to be, in my opinion, a long period of resumption of British rule, which was contrary to feeling in this country, although it may conceivably have been possible of execution) we had to go forward to an increasing transference of power as time went on. The Cabinet Mission, as I said when I came back, however much it may not have succeeded in bringing about a combined Constituent Assembly and a coalition Government at the centre, did succeed in one objective, at any rate, and that was of dispersing the element of suspicion that was in Indian minds as to the intentions of His Majesty's Government. I think that was of very great importance, and it has enabled the relationship between this country and India to proceed on the peaceful lines on which it has gone up to the present time. But, of course, the hostility between the Congress and the Moslem League not only remained, but, with the expected transference of power, in some ways became greater than it had been before.
I would remind your Lordships of the terrible and tragic events of the summer and early autumn of last year, when, in communal riots, thousands of people were cruelly put to death, but in the last few weeks this divergence between the Congress and the Moslems has come into still more active antipathy. We had hoped, when the leaders of both Parties came over to this country at the beginning of December last year, by our pronouncement at the end to have enabled the Moslem League to come into the Constituent Assembly, because we did decide on the main issue along the lines which the League had asked us to do, and there was a response from Congress. But unfortunately, to- 944 wards the end of last month, there still remained the refusal of the Moslem League to come into the Constituent Assembly that there was before our Statement of December 6 was made. In addition, we have been confronted with a demand by the leaders of the Congress Party for the exclusion of the Moslem League from the Interim Government on the ground that as the Moslem League could not enter the Constituent Assembly they had no place in the Interim Government. In addition to that we have had disturbances breaking out in the Punjab of an exceedingly serious character.
We had to take some action in view of those facts and as the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, has said, no suggestion has been put forward from those who oppose our action on what was the appropriate course for us to pursue. Of course, I quite agree that it is not for the Opposition to initiate policy; it is for His Majesty's Government; but we were faced with a very serious situation and we had either to take some action or to take none. Now if we took no action we were simply going to sit quiet while India drifted into a graver and graver position. We felt that it was essential to act, and if anybody could suggest some brilliant course of action, devoid of any risk, I shall certainly be willing to admit that they have found something which we, in all our efforts, failed completely to find. But we did take a course of action which we had very considerable grounds to think was supported in India. In spite of what the noble Viscount said, I think it has shown that it has support, and that it may have a result of great benefit to the future. I repeat that the growing deterioration of the situation demanded courageous and drastic steps, and it was because we realized that fact that we made the Statement of February 20.
The noble Viscount asked me some questions. He asked me, for instance, what are our intentions as to what Parliament will do when the time comes for legislation to carry out the changes that we contemplate in India. He said he must have an answer to that in this very debate. Well, with all respect to him, I cannot given an answer to-day. In the first place I want to see what is going to be the result in India of the Statement. I want to see how far it achieves the purpose for which it has been put out, and if it does achieve that purpose we shall 945 take one course of action; if, on the other hand, it does not achieve its purpose then we shall have to take another course of action. I cannot here and now say that this and that will be done until I see the course of events and judge what will be the most appropriate action.
§ VISCOUNT TEMPLEWOOD
Could the noble Lord give the House some idea as to how long he will take to form an opinion on this? I should not dream of pressing this matter were it not for the dates in the Government Statement.
§ LORD PETHICK-LAWRENCE
I cannot begin to think about what steps I have to take until I know what I have to meet. It is only when I see what takes place in India that I shall be in a position to judge what we ought to do.
§ LORD PETHICK-LAWRENCE
I think it is a matter of great importance, but I do not think it is so urgent that it must be settled to-day. The noble Viscount might as easily ask if I get an illness next week what medicine am I going to take to deal with it and want to know at once. The answer of the doctor will be: "Well, wait first of all until you get an illness, and then wait until I have diagnosed it, because I certainly cannot recommend a remedy until I know what it is you are suffering from."
Surely the noble Lord does not think that the patient is in a very healthy state at the present time? The facts of the illness are already known.
§ LORD PETHICK-LAWRENCE
That may India 946 or may not be, but we are getting rather far ahead. It is to cure whatever illness the patient is suffering from at the present time that His Majesty's Government have put forward this Statement, and I really cannot go another stage further than that at the present time. The noble Viscount also asked a question about the States, and I cannot help thinking that he has rather misunderstood the Statement in that respect. The position is this. The Cabinet Mission and the Government made it perfectly clear that they were not handing over our powers and obligations under paramountcy to any Government of British India. That is perfectly clear with reference to the posi- 946 tion which will be reached when power is in Indian hands. That was accepted at the time when the Mission were there by such representatives of the States as we got in touch with, and they recognized that the Indian States would be handed back their full independence, and paramountcy would come to an end and would not be handed over to British India.
What is said in paragraph 12, to which I think the noble Viscount referred, is this:It is not intended to bring paramountcy, as a system, to a conclusion earlier than the date of the final transfer of power, but it is contemplated that for the intervening period the relations of the Crown with individual States may be adjusted by agreement.That means, among other things, that if a State or body of States, seeing that transference of power is going to take place, want to discuss with His Majesty's Government some variation of the present position, there would be nothing to prevent an agreement of that kind being reached. I thought that a most sensible provision and I would have thought that no exception could be taken to it. It is an indication to your Lordships and others that there may be some slight variation in the relations between the Paramount Power and the States in the intervening period.
§ VISCOUNT TEMPLEWOOD
Your answer has taken the question no further at all. I put the question to the noble Lord in order to know what will be the general line of the Government in dealing with the Princes. Do they accept the suggestion, for instance, that there would be a simultaneous transference of power to the Indian States as to the Government of India in the interim period?
§ LORD PETHICK-LAWRENCE
I do not think I can answer that particularly or categorically. There is no general transference of power. What I have said with regard to British India is that in the process of time, for the interim period, there is necessarily and naturally a certain shifting of the balance of power. No doubt when it comes to the States there is some change already beginning, but I really would beg the noble Viscount not to cross-question me too closely on this very delicate point, because it would be very unwise of me, on the spur of the moment, to give answers which may not be quite correct. I really think I have met the point quite fairly.
947 The noble Viscount felt very deeply about the difference between this Statement and the Statement of May 25 with regard to minorities. It would be disingenuous of me if I were to suggest for a moment that there was no difference in the letter* of what is said with regard to minorities at the present time and what was said then. But I would like to draw attention to certain facts. The major Parties have always expressed their willingness to provide full safeguards for the minorities in the Constitution in the form of fundamental rights and other necessary provisions. The proposals of both Parties at the Simla Conference in 1946 included such provisions. Since we issued our Statement on May 25 important developments have taken place. The Resolution passed by the Constituent Assembly defining the objects of that body lays it down that in a Constitution to be framed there shall be guaranteed and secured to all the people of India justice, social, economic and political, equality of status and opportunity before the law, freedom of thought, expression and belief, faith, worship, conviction, association and action subject to law and public morality: adequate safeguards shall be provided for minorities, backward and tribal areas and depressed and backward classes. The Constituent Assembly have appointed an Advisory Committee on the rights of citizens, minorities and excluded areas, and there is no reason to assume that this Committee, which is widely representative of all sections except the Moslem League for whom places are kept vacant, will not make the proper recommendations.
I would remind your Lordships that, whatever the paper safeguards in the terms of the Constitution, after we have left India the protection of minorities in the last resort must in an independent India depend on the wisdom and statesmanship of Indians, subject to the light of world opinion. This provision of an Advisory Committee is part of the machinery which the Cabinet Mission suggested should be carried out, and I think we can say we have achieved a great deal in protecting the rights of minorities.
Now I come to the question of the date fixed in the Statement for the transference of power into Indian hands. It
* Originally reported as "matter."
948 will be evident from what I have already said that the transference of power has been a process that has been steadily going on for the last twenty years, and that this process cannot be indefinitely continued, leaving nominal responsibility for events in our hands while we lack the means of fully exercising these responsibilities. The advice that we have received from responsible authorities in India has been that, taking all the circumstances into account, British rule cannot be maintained upon its existing basis with adequate efficiency after 1948. The policy pursued in recent years by successive British Governments has assumed that full power must be handed over sooner or later; and that, when the time came, Indians would be found capable of assuming authority. We cannot now import the conception that Indian leaders are incapable of bearing that responsibility. The fixing of an early date is designed to impress on the Indian Parties, first of all, the complete sincerity of His Majesty's Government in their promise to transfer power and authority, and secondly, a sense of the urgency of finding solutions to their outstanding difficulties, themselves, without the assistance and control of this country. The substitution of a slightly later date would not make it appreciably easier to secure a fully detailed constitutional structure, and a substantial postponement such as the noble Viscount envisages—something that might run as long as, I think, seven years—
§ LORD PETHICK-LAWRENCE
With all respect, I think that inferentially the noble Viscount did. He said that he had spent seven years in framing and piloting through Parliament the Act of 1935, and he thought it very unlikely, I understood, that in a very much shorter period the Indians could pilot through a new Constitution of their own. He contemplated, at any rate, a period of several years. It is the view of His Majesty's Government that had we substituted for the date actually fixed a period running into years, we should have failed to produce the psychological effect on the Indian Parties that our Statement was designed to produce. With the date announced there will be ample time for the main 949 decisions of agreement to be reached between the Indian Parties, if they are willing to arrive at them, and for a great deal of the detail to be filled in. If the task is not fully accomplished by that date, it is ill be possible for Britain to hand over power to a provisional Government which can accomplish the remaining pacts of the task.
The noble Viscount claimed that he saw no signs that the Statement of February 20 was producing the desired effect in India. In fact, I think he went so far as to say that he saw signs of the exact reverse. I, certainly, do not see signs of the reverse, and I think there are signs that it has had some of the effects that we hoped it would have. I will not quote the various utterances of Pandit Nehru, but they have certainly been encouraging, and I think that Pandit Nehru and the Congress Party, as a whole, realize that it is of supreme importance that they should bring the Moslem League in with them in constructing a future Constitution of India. With regard to the Moslem League, so far as I know they have not expressed any opinion at the present time, but I shall be surprised if, when they have read the terms of the Statement carefully, and after due consideration, they will think it is necessarily so likely to produce the Pakistan to which the noble Viscount referred. I would like, however, to read a statement by the Nawab of Bhopal. He said:The statement of policy in regard to India by His Majesty's Government will serve a useful purpose. No longer can it be said that the British desire to maintain their hold on India through adherence to the principle of divide and rule.I hope that it may also help to bring home to the people in India the stark realities of the situation which faces them, and the fact that no time can now be lost in coming together and working out an acceptable solution, if the serious trouble which threatens to paralyze the urgently needed development and reconstruction of the country is to be avoided.The States now have their chance of playing a vital part in helping to construct the new India.I think that probably most of your Lordships will have seen in The Times this morning an article written by a very distinguished man, not of our Party, who was Governor of Bengal for a time, and I believe, a very successful Governor—Mr. R. G. Casey. I do not know whether he is accepted by noble Lords opposite as a member of their Party, but, at any rate, 950 he has always denied that he is one of ours. He writes:The British Government has not taken an irresponsible and unnecessary step, and my belief is that the sooner we hand over political power to Indians the better. We have responsibility there without power. No doubt the situation contains the seeds of civil war but now that everyone knows that British bayonets are not available to either side I believe that the risk is diminished.I commend that statement to noble Lords.
Finally, on the political aspect I want to say this. I think that sometimes noble Lords assume that if India opts to go out of the Commonwealth—and she has not expressed that option yet and it may well be that when she really has the opportunity of looking at all the facts she may take a different view—if she does opt to go outside the Commonwealth, then nothing that this country says, that this country does, that this country wishes, will have any influence on India. I do not take that view at all. I believe that whether India stays within or goes without the Commonwealth, there is an immense field in which it is for the mutual advantage of the two countries to co-operate and work together, and that our views will have great weight with an India which feels itself entirely free. After all, your Lordships must not forgot that it was really from the great Liberal thought of this country in days gone by that Indians were started off on the roas2 of seeking liberty and a democratic way of life. I think it may well be true that when, after all these troubled hours that are going on now, India attains that kind of freedom for which she asks and which she is striving to get, we may find that we have a closer bond of affection, friendship and mutual advantage between ourselves and India than we had in the days gone by.
I have finished, but the debate goes on. I have not been very long in this House, but I know that your Lordships always weigh your words with great care and attention, and I hope you will not think it presumptuous of me if I say that in this case I hope you will weigh them not once but two or three times. You have to remember that every word that is said in Parliament is cabled out to India or, at any rate, gets there, and words that are used with quite good intention may be entirely misrepresented when they appear in cold print in an Indian newspaper. If this policy of His Majesty's Government is to have effect, I do feel 951 that the value of its impact should not be seriously injured by anything that is said in this House. When the time comes, and the debate is over, your Lordships will have to consider whether you wish to divide on this Motion. It is not for me to say whether, in your judgment, you should take that course or not; but I do feel that should your Lordships decide to carry this Motion to a Division, and should the Division go against the Government, it will considerably weaken our means of effecting our desires in India and most likely weaken the very purposes for which the noble Viscount spoke so eloquently in his opening speech.
§ THE EARL OF MUNSTER
My Lords, I suppose it would be true to say that never in the history of our long association with India has a Statement of a graver nature been made than that which was delivered by the Secretary of State for India last week. He will forgive me if I say that nothing in his remarks to-day has removed the doubts and fears that were expressed by the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition last Thursday. His speech seemed to me to contain a variety of pious platitudes and hopes of what might occur, but he gave us no ideas whatever as to how the future Government of India may be set up and function. As one who occupied during the days of the Coalition Government a humble position as Under-Secretary of State for India, let me say at once that I should like to be dissociated in every way from the policy which is outlined in the White Paper. I do so for three reasons.
The first reason is that to hand over our responsibilities by a given date to an undefined unit or units of government is, to my idea, a policy fraught with the gravest dangers; secondly, that during this transitional period there can be no hope that the Parties will try to seek a settlement of their outstanding difficulties, with the likely result that the unity of the country will be broken asunder; thirdly, because I believe that His Majesty's Government are breaking the oath and pledge that was given by past Governments, and by themselves, to protect and succour the right of minorities.
On my visit to India a year ago, I saw that the nationalism in that country had risen to such a pitch that it had to be met, and I propounded views to certain 952 individuals, privately and in public, on my return. For that reason I was not opposed, and never have been opposed, to the proposals which were contained in the Cabinet Mission's White Paper of last May. What has been the issue for many years between us? The Government of this country and the Indian leaders have never disputed about the attainment of independence, but upon the method by which it can be won. Through no fault of ours, the Parties have failed to agree and to devise a Constitution of their own manufacture. Successive Governments have given every opportunity to the Parties to come to some settlement, and the nearer we have approached a settlement the Sharper have become the divisions within the ranks of the Indian leaders themselves. But that agreement between the Parties has always been a necessary prelude to our orderly departure; otherwise, there could be no responsible Government commanding the allegiance of India as a whole to whom we could rightly transfer our powers and our obligations.
As the noble Lord the Secretary of State himself has said, for twenty years that has been the agreement amongst all Parties, and I can only presume that this sudden change had the support of the Viceroy as well as of His Majesty's Government. Last May the Cabinet Mission were clearly of the same opinion, and the whole purpose of their plan was to enable a Constituent Assembly to meet and to thrash out some Constitution for the whole of India—a Constitution which, above all else, could function finally at the centre and assume the obligations and the responsibility which would then be transferred to them as soon as possible. That the Cabinet Mission's policy has failed is no fault of ours, but it has become merely one of the many suggestions which have been put to the Indian leaders and which have failed of their own accord. It is quite apparent from what I have said that there was agreement among all Parties in this country that we should not acquiesce in freedom for India without a settlement first having been obtained between the principal Parties in India. My noble friend Viscount Samuel will forgive me if I say that I thought his speech to-day—a speech with some sentiment which, I venture to think, outweighed all reason—was quite contrary to the opinion he voiced three years ago 953 in supporting me wholeheartedly when I was Under-Secretary of State for India and propounding the views I have put forward to-day.
To forego that agreement between the main Parties, and to insert a date for our departure is, to my mind, quite unlikely to cause the main Indian Parties to make any concessions to each other. Indeed, it is a direct reversal of all former policy which has been accepted amongst all Parties in this country. The White Paper contemplates a handing over to an undefined unit or units of government, and it is quite clear from Paragraph To of that document that His Majesty's Government have no idea to whom responsibility can ultimately be transferred. In the short space of fifteen months a Government or Governments are to be set up in India, who, it is said, will be responsible and capable of accepting every obligation committed to them and of ruling in an orderly fashion and manner. There is no certainty whatever that a Central Government, representing the whole of India, will be in existence, and I was surprised that the Secretary of State for India should fail to give the House any clear indication, which must exist in his mind and in the mind of His Majesty's Government, as to how this future Government outlined in the White Paper will function in India.
What is the centre in India? The centre is the axis upon which the whole body politic of India revolves. It is the sole authority for any number of vital and important subjects. Communications, including railways, foreign affairs and defence, financial matters (including Customs and Income Tax)—all these are the responsibilities of the centre, and in the Cabinet Mission's plan of last May a scheme was devised whereby the centre would be responsible for much the same authority as it has to-day, and with power to raise the necessary finances. If, as seems to me likely, the existing central powers will not be transferred to a new and Central Government, owing to the inability of the Indians and perhaps His Majesty's Government to form one, who then, it is pertinent to ask, becomes responsible for those existing central services, including the very important unified system of defence? That alone may have repercussions on the Dominions, on Australia and New Zealand, and upon the whole of the 954 British Commonwealth and Empire. And the noble Lord to-day thought it was better to leave these matters unmentioned! Unless, as I say, these central subjects can be conducted and organized by one Central Government representing the whole of India, then I believe we are laying down for ourselves, quite apart from the many unknown factors, endless complications and difficulties, which will cause a slowing down, if not a complete cessation, of the many urgent social, industrial and economic projects in which the Government of India are concerned.
I pass now to my second point. In the space of fifteen months we are to end our age-long duties and to withdraw finally from India. If the communal problem had been settled, or was likely to be settled, within that period of time, no one, so far as I can see, could object to our departure. But what really are the chances that in this interim period appeals which have been made will be harkened to, that fear and suspicion will be banished from the Indian minds and that all the old political quarrels and diversions will suddenly and miraculously disappear? I am bound to say that I do not believe a settlement will be reached. I can hardly conceive that concessions will have been made on either side, and it will run completely counter to all expectation and precedent if in that short period of fifteen months agreement materializes. The provisions in the Government's own White Paper to hand over power to small units of government, quite irrespective of agreement at the centre, will, I believe, lead India to disasters of great magnitude.
The unity of India which the Government now seek to disturb is, perhaps, the greatest blessing which British rule has brought. Internal peace, a just administration, political and social progress have all been achieved by the unity of the whole. To the world India is one country, and all her races, whatever their various religious beliefs, are Indians. When British rule ceases, without any agreement amongst the main Indian Parties, is all this unity to disintegrate, and are those diverse multitudes of innumerable races to become the plaything of Party politicians? These are some of the questions on which I wish the noble Lord, the Secretary of State for India, had given us some assistance and advice to-day.
955 I turn now to my third point. Under the Government of India Act, 1935, and before that date, the minorities in India were assured of special protection. That same protection was to be afforded by the Cripps Plan and by the Cabinet Mission. Where does that appear in this document to-day? Indeed, for generations the safeguarding of the rights of minorities from all kinds of tyranny and oppression has been a cardinal principle of British rule and British justice. Why is it neglected in the document we have before the House to-day? The minorities who have received pledges time and again from successive British Governments will realize that after June of next year all these pledges will be valueless. They will have to fight their own battles and struggle for their own livelihood. I am bound to say that the proposals which the Government have put forward to-day are proposals that I deeply deplore. I supported them at the time of their own Mission, and I would have continued to support them on that basis. But to hand over India now, without agreement between the main political Parties in India, is a proposal which I could never support and, indeed, one which is against all the principles and all the guarantees that have been given by successive Governments of this country for many, many years.
§ 4.35 p.m.
THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, as I stand before your Lordships in this room I am vividly reminded of scenes which were enacted in this very Chamber twelve years ago. Several of my noble friends who sit around me will confirm it. There was a very long inquiry and we sat in many different rooms, but for many months we sat here. We wasted bur time, I am afraid. When I think of the Act of 1935 which issued from that inquiry, and of its history since then, I am brought aft once to the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel. He must be very disappointed now. He believed in the Act of 1935. I rely only on my memory—which is atrocious—but I think he thought that the Act of 1935 would produce peaceful results of a constitutional kind in India, and in about five years. The noble Viscount has never been able to depart from his old Liberalism. He really believes that the salvation of all political difficulties lies in some constitutional change.
956 Of course it is not constitutional changes which are valuable; it is the changes of heart. There is the essential thing. So we have gone on, under successive Governments, with successive Secretaries of State trying, by all manner of devices to achieve by constitutional means a solution of the problems of India—Committees, Commissions, Conferences, Cabinet Missions sent to India, and Indian leaders brought to England. They are all failures. I warn the House against the facile optimism of speakers like the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel. It is speeches of the kind that he made that lead to disaster. People think that by quoting some old-world Liberal maxim they can solve the problem that way. They cannot. The facts have to be faced; and in India the facts are very awkward, because you have there a profoundly divided community—divided in race, divided in language, and divided in temperament. You cannot mould them into a Constitution in fifteen months, which is what the Government think they can do. It cannot be done that way.
Therefore, very properly, in more recent times there have been certain conditions laid down: there must be agreement amongst the Parties, and there must be protection for the minorities. I listened with great respect to the speech of the noble Lord, the Secretary of State, but I did not gather inferentially why he thought it quite natural that he should have eliminated the condition of a prior agreement amongst the Parties. Why is it that it should have been necessary—was it six months ago, or more recently?
THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
Why was it necessary then, but not necessary now? Have the Congress Party changed since then; or the Moslem League? Are there now no Untouchables? Has all that vanished? These are the things you have to deal with. The Government, and others in this country, have said that you can do nothing until you have an agreement between the Parties. Notwithstanding that, they fix fifteen months and say that it has all to be done by then. How do they suppose it will be done? They are sending out a new Viceroy, a very distinguished officer for whom I have a profound respect. I do not know that he has had any particular training in constitutional development, but undoubtedly 957 he will do his duty nobly. What is he going to do if he finds that he cannot get them to agree? That is the thing you are up against all the time. Does he think that Pandit Nehru is the kind of man who will be easy to manage; or Mr. Jinnah? Why should they agree? They have carried on for a long time, each in his own particular sphere, and they have not agreed. I do not think that they will agree. I think it be found that Mr. Jinnah does not agree with Mr. Nehru and he will say so.
What is to happen then? What is Lord Mountbatten going to do then? I understand from the White Paper that the Government theory is that Lord Mountbatten will invent a Constitution of his own and, of course, he will have infinite advice. As I have already reminded your Lordships, those of us who met in this Chamber previously considered this question for many months, and, as my noble friend Viscount Templewood has already pointed out, we constructed a large volume comprising all the details which would have to be solved in order to establish an Indian Constitution. Apparently this distinguished officer will do it much more quickly than that. He will have to try and do it in fifteen months. What is to happen if he does not succeed? Due to my misfortune, I am not sure that I heard quite plainly what the noble Lord, the Secretary of State, said, but I understood that if there was a lap-over there might be some kind of provisional body which would carry on. I am perfectly willing to give way to the noble Lord if I am misquoting him, but that is what I understood. Are we to understand that there is already emerging a new device to get over the difficulty? What will this provisional body be? Will it be India 958 the British Government, again protected by British forces? Has the period of fifteen months already been so blown open by criticism that it has been abandoned? I hope it is so, for you cannot do anything in fifteen months.
I turn now to the minorities. My noble friend Viscount Templewood, in his admirable speech which opened this debate to-day, dwelt upon this point. We have got to face the question of the minorities. They are very numerous. I am not speaking, of the Moslems, as I think the Moslems will take care of themselves. I am speaking for the moment of the Untouchables—the Depressed Class. They are not a small 958 body. They are very scattered, but there are more than 50,000,000 of them. Are they happy at the events which are taking place? If they had listened to the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, would they have been reassured? I read not long ago the account of the interview which Dr. Ambedkar gave in England. He was over here for a short time at the end of last October, and he gave an interview to a newspaper. I have had the advantage of reading an account of it. He was contemplating—at least I think he was—the ascendency of Mr. Nehru and his friends. What did he say? He said: We are doomed. We shall be trampled in the mud by the Caste Hindu ascendency, which has trampled upon us for 2,000 years. "That is how he received the message of peace which gratifies the heart of the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel. What is going to be done for Dr. Ambedkar and those he represents?
Perhaps I may remind your Lordships—because I sometimes forget how old I am—that Dr. Ambedkar is a very distinguished representative of the Depressed Classes. He is highly trained; I think he is a barrister by profession. He was selected to represent the Depressed Classes on the Joint Select Committee of which I myself was a member, as were some of my noble friends around me. He was their representative. You could not have anybody more official than Dr. Ambedkar, and yet he says: "We are doomed". Is it to be written, at the end of this chapter of British history, that we left 50,000,000 of our fellow subjects to be trampled upon by Mr. Nehru's friends? That cannot be; we cannot abandon people.
I heard with deep regret the passage in the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, in which he quoted my noble friend the Marquess of Linlithgow. The noble Marquess was reported to have said—and did say, I think—"We must abandon our pledges." Is this great country to abandon its pledges? What are you going to rely upon if you do not rely upon British pledges? Are you going to rely upon the assurances of Pandit Nehru? I do not say a word against him. As far as I know he is everything he ought to be, but I certainly would not like to risk the welfare of 50,000,000 of my fellow subjects upon his assurances. At a future date he might well say: "The British Government abandoned its pledges; why should not I?" Where are we going, if we work 959 upon a basis like that? I earnestly hope your Lordships will not sanction a policy of this kind.
I gravely doubt—I may be quite wrong, and many of your Lordships may say that is very likely—whether this distinguished Admiral will be able to solve the problem. In June of next year matters are to be brought to an end, unless some device is evolved such as was hinted at by the noble Lord, the Secretary of State for India. When the fixed date comes the British will move out; all their civilian officers will go, and their troops will disappear. Suppose it is found then that there is no peace, and that there is no mercy shown to the Untouchables: What are we going to do? Your Lordships will watch gradually the discarding by the British of their responsibility, and there will be nothing to be done—nothing. The telegrams will come in telling of bloodshed, oppression, disorder and failure, and yet nothing will be able to be done—nothing except to regret. I cannot believe that your Lordships will sanction a policy so ill-conceived and so ill-adapted to the situation as that to which the White Paper relates.
I earnestly hope that your Lordships will vote against it, not merely the noble Lords on these Benches—of course I know how they will vote—but even some of the friends of the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel. I certainly did not notice any enthusiasm on their part while he was speaking. Indeed, I hope that some of the Labour Peers will vote against it. Have they considered what the ascendency of the Caste Hindus means? They hate privilege here in England; they are all for the under-dog. They believe that we on this side of the House are all anxious to oppress the under-dog—there is not, of course, a word of truth in it—and they India 960 honestly think it is their duty to defend him. There are 50,000,000 under-dogs in India. Is the Labour Party to hand them over? I cannot believe that anything except ignorance will make them do that. I believe, once it is brought home to them that that will be the result of a reckless policy such as that revealed in the White Paper, that they will vote with us on this side of the House.
§ 4.59 p.m.
§ LORD DARWEN
My Lords, I am glad to have been given this opportunity of voicing very warm and whole-hearted sup- 960 port for the Government's action from these back Benches. We have listened with great sadness to the wonderful oratory of the noble Marquess. I hope the noble Marquess will forgive me for saying so, but I think it is a tragedy that some of the things he said should have been uttered in this debate. We do not regard June of next year as the end of all things. We regard February 20 of this year as the beginning of a new chapter of hope in Indian history. We regard it as a great act of courageous statesmanship and, for the first time in history, a great act of real faith in the Indian peoples. Speaking for myself, I will say that I welcomed it as I welcomed Campbell-Bannerman's great action in granting independence to the Boer Republics—and I have no doubt that many of those who are opposing the British Government to-day opposed the British Government then in its action in South Africa. That action has been fully justified by results, as I believe this action will also be fully justified by results.
This problem of the transfer of responsibility from this country to the Indian people has baffled succeeding Governments in this country. It has dragged on, year after year, until not only India but the whole world has doubted our sincerity and has believed that we never did intend to grant this independence to India. In India itself that had become an absolute axiom, and that axiom of our faithlessness has been the root of a great deal of our difficulties. Even the Prime Minister's declaration in March last year did not dispel this doubt. Our Cabinet Mission achieved a great deal in India, and we heard from the Secretary of State that it changed the atmosphere there. I believe that possibly it averted terrible disaster in India. I know that the noble Lord the Secretary of State himself achieved a great personal success; that he made a tremendous impression upon the India people; that he won their lasting regard. But even he, in those three months, could not dissipate the deeply-rooted mass of suspicion.
It was because of this lack of faith in our bona fides that the India leaders felt no responsibility for settling the differences between them. That was the cause of the Cabinet Mission's failure. We know that this charge of faithlessness against our country has never been justified, but it was absolutely essential, somehow or 961 other, to get it into the minds of the Indian people and the Indian leaders that we really meant business; that we really were determined to hand over the responsibility for the Government of India to the Indian people. This courageous and dramatic act, this fixing of a near date, was, I think, a splendid way of proving our sincerity and so throwing upon the Indian leaders the responsibility for the government: of India. The Statement of February 20 has actually convinced India that we were sincere.
May I suggest that the cause of a great deal of our failure in the past has been that we have been too unwilling to trust the Indians; too unwilling to believe that they could solve their own problems? After all, the problems are their problems, and our refusal to trust them is what has destroyed their trust in us. Trust is a mutual attribute. We have not trusted them, and because we have not trusted them they have not trusted us. This fine gesture of our: has brought back an immediate and fine reply from Pandit Nehru. Let: us remember, in considering that reply from him, that we have been responsible for his sufferings in the past; we have been responsible for his imprisonment in the past. If your Lordships read that reply of his with that in mind, I think you will agree that: it is not only a statement of great statesmanship but a statement of extraordinary generosity. If we accept it in the same spirit in which it has been given—and I am quite sere that the mass of people in, this country will do that—it will lead to a deeper friendship and understanding between our two peoples.
These problems which the leaders in India have to solve are vast problems, even compared with what we think are our great problems in this country. It is said that this is a rash decision. It has been said that it is a gambler's throw. It must not be assumed that the choice was between this action and a slower but more peaceful transition. There has been serious strife already, and it was almost certain that if this action was not taken we should have lost the ground gained by the Cabinet Mission, that the position would have rapidly deteriorated and that we should have been too late, as we were in Ireland. No noble Lords who opposed the granting of independence to Ireland 962 can feel happy about the results of the delay over years in that land.
The noble Earl Lord Munster, suggested that the unity of India depended upon Britain, which sounds as if he were talking about what used to be called the Pax Britannica. Would he then go back to the Pax Romana in Europe which is its equivalent? These things must be looked at all round and not just taken up out of their setting. There are very good grounds for believing that the faith which the British Government has shown in India's capacity to settle these problems will be well founded. I think we have underestimated the profound concern of the Indian leaders themselves in the solution of this problem, and we have underestimated their ability to solve this problem. There are great forces working for unity in India, which are little known in this country and which do not appear in the press. I often cheer myself up, when reading the papers, by remembering the newspaper axiom that it is the unusual that is news. When you read of all the horrors in the world it is a great encouragement to remember that. There is a great deal of quiet work going on among millions and millions of Moslems and Hindus which is not news because it is quite usual; only the clashes get into the news. Very good work is going on in the Constituent Assembly, and I believe a genuine effort is being made to be fair to all communities and sections, in spite of the absence of the Moslems.
The minorities are not only represented in the National Assembly but are working in full harmony with the Hindus in that body. May I be allowed to quote a sentence from Pandit Nehru's speech in the Assembly on January 22nd:There is no group in India, no Party, no religious community, which can prosper if India does not prosper. If India goes down, we all go down, all of us, whether we have a few seats more or less, whether we get a slight advantage or not. But if it is well with India, if India lives as a vital, free country, then it is well with all of us, to whatever community or religion we may belong.Then we have the appointment of Dr. Mokkerjee, a leading Bengal Christian, as Vice-President of the Constituent Assembly. Everyone knows what tremendous work Mr. Gandhi has entered upon for reconciliation in East Bengal. Everybody, however, does not know that the Hindus and Moslems are working together on the great Damodar Valley 963 Scheme, which is a joint effort of Hindu Bihar and Moslem Bengal for the irrigation of 800,000 acres of land and to generate a peak load of 300,000 kilo-watts to benefit altogether 7,000,000 people. Let us not forget these things. Let us realize that there is a great deal of co-operation going on in India.
Finally—I am a very young member of your Lordships' House to say this, but I am going to say it all the same—I hope we shall not forget that the purpose of the momentous decision that the Government have taken is to convince the people of India that this country is sincere and is determined to transfer government to India. I trust that nothing will be said in this House which will at all weaken that conviction in India. In conclusion, may I remind your Lordships of one sentence in that generous response of Pandit Nehru to the Government's declaration. Remember again that he has been in prison for many years for political activity against the British Raj. He said:We have had a long past of conflict and ill-will, but we earnestly hope that this past is over. We look forward to a peaceful and co-operative transition and to the establishment of close and friendly relations with the British people for the mutual advantage of both countries and for the advancement of peace and freedom all over the world.I think that is a most generous answer, and I hope that we, in this country, will give it a warm-hearted reception, so that friendship and affection may be built up between this country and India and form a bridge for ever between East and West.
§ 5.19 p.m.
§ LORD NEWALL
My Lords, I do not intend to take more than a few minutes of your time, nor is it my intention to go over all the various arguments we have already heard. I served for some years in India, and witnessed, with profound admiration, the wonderfully unselfish devotion to duty of that magnificent body of men, the Indian Civil Service, to whom we and India owe so much. I have also some experience of the difficulty of the situation brought about by racial and religious conflicts amongst the people of India. I would like, therefore, with all deference, first, to give my views, very briefly, on the general question, and to ask the noble Lord who is going to reply for enlightenment on a few matters, and then, if I may, to add my support to the Resolu- 964 tion which has been put forward so ably by the noble Viscount, Lord Templewood. I, too, am a very new member of your Lordships' House. In my view this policy of the Government is a gamble. I am not averse to a gamble if it is a reasonable one, but I consider that this is a rash gamble, entered upon without due consideration being given to what is involved. In my humble opinion, if some new factor does not intervene, then the recently announced policy of His Majesty's Government, instead of bringing the peoples of India more closely together, will have exactly the opposite effect and will result, when the time comes to hand over, in the handing over of our remaining responsibility to chaos, if not to worse.
The date of our final departure from India has been virtually fixed at about fifteen months from now. Now, I have no mandate to speak for the military of this country, nor for the Services generally, but this is the sort of evacuation the burden of which, with its accompanying operations, usually falls upon the shoulders of the military, as does the burden of almost all those unpleasant episodes which are apt to occur immediately prior to evacuation. After fifteen months, as I understand the statement of His Majesty's Government, we evacuate India. What is the plan? There must be some planned process of evacuation. Are we going to stay there till the last—be there one day, as it were, and get out the next? Or is the process going to be gradual, and, if so, how do we propose to carry it out? Are British troops going to be interposed to keep order, if necessity arises, as they have done in the past? What happens if, at the end of our time in India, trouble occurs, and we have some few troops left there—that is, if we leave them to the last? Or, if we have almost all of them there up to the last, are we still going to intervene? Perhaps the noble Lord who is going to reply to this debate will give us some broad enlightenment upon these matters.
Now what I am going to put forward may be termed a hypothetical case, and indeed it is; nevertheless it is the sort of thing which will have to be taken into consideration in making a plan. Supposing the Moslems, when they realize fully that Britain is no longer willing or able to look after and to protect the minorities, say to their friends in the 965 North West Frontier Province, or elsewhere: "Come along, give us a hand; Britain cannot help us." Are we going to intervene in that sort of situation should it arise? As I say, that is, indeed, a hypothetical case, but it is the sort of case that must be visualized and planned for if we are to carry out this evacuation successfully and without undue hardship on the Military Forces, whose responsibility it will be.
Lastly, there is one further point with which I would like to deal, taking advantage of this debate to do so. It is a matter in which I am particularly interested personally, and I know that there are many other people in this country who, like myself, are anxious about it. I wish to refer to one particular section in the Indian Army—the Gurkhas from Nepal. As your Lordships are, no doubt, well aware, Nepal is an independent State under treaty relations with this country. The Nepalese are not Indians. Men from Nepal have served the British Crown faithfully and loyally since about 1815 or 1816—that is, since the days of the John Company. They have fought in practically every war in which we have been engaged since then. They stood by us in the Mutiny, and they fought valiantly in it. They fought gallantly in the First World War and in this last war. They have, in fact, been in every scrap since the time I have mentioned, on our side, and magnificently have they acquitted themselves on all occasions. I believe I am correct in saying that in this last war they won more Victoria Crosses, having regard to their numbers, than any other section of people fighting for the British Empire.
During the 1914–1918 war, I believe, some 114,000 Gurkhas enlisted for service in our Army. In this war there were 100,000 of them or more. The Nepalese Government themselves provided nine battalions. There are now twenty regular battalions of Gurkhas serving in India. They are most wonderful people to serve with. I am sure that any of your Lordships who have had the privilege of coming into contact with them will substantiate what I say. They are bosom friends of our British soldiers whenever they meet. What is to happen to this magnificent force? How are we going to carry out our undertakings to the Nepalese Government? Nepal is a land- 966 locked country and, no doubt, is very largely dependent on the Indian Government for its economy.
I think that I am right in saying that possibly the major export from Nepal has hitherto been Nepalese or Gurkha manpower to serve under the British Raj. We are short of manpower all over the world. We hear it said that we have too many troops abroad clearing up all the messes that we have to clear up. Surely we are going to employ these people of whom I have spoken. I cannot convince myself that we are going to throw them overboard in this process of liquidation. Can the noble Lord who is going to reply give us some assurances on this? It would be a matter of great comfort to many people in this country, and I am sure to those Gurkhas now serving, if there could be some assurance that they will still be employed and still serve the Crown as they have served so faithfully and loyally for the last 130 years.
§ 5.27 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
My Lords, I do not think it is a misrepresentation of the speech of the noble Lord the Secretary of State to say that he argued that we had now got into such a position that we had either to go back or to go forward, and that as we could not, in his view, go back, it was necessary to go forward. I could not help asking myself what really is the object of statesmanship; what is the object of politics; what do those who are called to work in affairs of State aim at; what is the object for which we are all striving? Surely that object must be, and always has been, what is known in the formula as: "The greatest good of the greatest number," and it has been the glory of the people of these Islands that we have given to the great sub-continent of India security, justice, peace, material progress and prosperity such as it had never experienced before. We have done wonderful work for the betterment of the condition of the people of India and the improvement of their lot; and for the removal of tyranny and injustice.
It appals me that noble Lords opposite, and indeed the noble Viscount who leads the Liberal Party here, can, with such light heartedness, if not levity, gamble—for it is a gamble, as the noble Lord who has just spoken has said—the fate of these countless millions of illiterate peasants on 967 a venture of this sort. It is one thing for the Government to gamble on having a warm winter and therefore to neglect to lay up sufficient stocks of coal. That is a gamble which, if it does not come off, may produce very serious effects; but it does not produce effects which cannot be remedied. But if this gamble does not come off, then the most appalling human suffering that we have witnessed in our time will occur, and will occur as a direct result of the action of His Majesty's Government because they were unwilling to shoulder the responsibility of Government.
I confess that I was amazed when I listened to the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, giving his analogies in justification of the action of His Majesty's Government—the old controversies with regard to the United States of America and Ireland and South Africa. If I may say so with great respect, I do not in the least agree with what he said about those issues. In all humility, I should very much enjoy discussing them with him on an appropriate occasion. But for such an acute mind as his to argue that there is any analogy between those cases and the Indian problem leaves me almost dumbfounded. The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, is well aware that the essence of the Indian problem is that India is not a nation but a continent containing many nations, many creeds and many languages. I submit that the conditions in India are such that democracy never will work and never can work, any more than it could work in this country if one-half or one-third of the nation knew that never by any swing of the pendulum could they win a General Election, but that they must always be in a minority and be for ever out-voted by men whom their ancestors conquered.
Let us never forget that when Britain conquered India she conquered it from the Moslems, and not from the Hindus. I would like to ask the noble Lords whether they would regard it as a feasible proposition to expect the French and the Germans to live together in one independent republic where all issues were settled by the ballot; or the Germans and the Poles. We all know that the wars which have ravaged Europe for so many years have been caused just by the fact that no accommodation has been found possible between the nations of Europe. Yet I should judge that the chance of getting all the problems settled in Europe by the ballot box would 968 be far more favourable than getting those in India settled by the ballot box there. If we are to have historical analogies this afternoon, it seems to me that the analogy which is much more appropriate to the course which His Majesty's Government have announced is the evacuation of the Roman armies from Britain. You may say that the evacuation of Britain by Rome worked out all right in the end—and no doubt some of us are very glad we are Englishmen and not Welshmen—but for the inhabitants of Britain at that time it was the greatest disaster that could possibly be conceived, and for four or five hundred years they were massacred and destroyed by the Angles and the Saxons.
Therefore, I was interested when the noble Lord, Lord Darwen, in his eloquent speech asked us if we proposed to restore to Europe the pax Romana. Surely that is what the statesmen of Europe have been trying to do ever since the Roman Empire collapsed. First they invented the Holy Roman Empire, and that was a pacifying influence for a long period. Then they tried such devices as the Concert of Europe, then the League of Nations, and now the United Nations. The present dominant idea behind statesmanship in the rest of the world is to erect some super-authority that can keep the peace between warring nations—an authority that can prevent an aggressor attacking a weaker State, and stop the Continent of Europe, and so the whole world, being plunged into war.
What His Majesty's Government are proposing to do in India, and to do in the name of "Progress," is to go exactly contrary to what the United Nations are trying to do for the rest of the world. The United Nations are trying to impose a super-State to keep the peace between the warring factions and States of Europe. His Majesty's Government propose to remove the pax Britannica which has kept the peace of India for 200 years, and they propose to do that in the name of Progress! Instead of progress, I believe that we shall see nothing but the most appalling human misery. We shall see civil war and slaughter, and, after that, famine and disease for millions and millions of innocent persons. The weak and the poor will die horrible deaths. That will all be due to the fact that the people of England, led by a Labour Government, have not the resolution to keep the peace in that great continent. It is not often 969 that we have cause to be ashamed of being Englishmen, but I do not know how I shall look one of these Indian peasants in the face.
Having said that, I feel I ought, very shortly and in all humility, to answer the question—a perfectly legitimate but generally a futile debating question—that was asked by the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel. The question was: What is your alternative? I say at once that I have always approached this problem from the angle of one who does not believe that democracy was ever possible in India, or ever will be possible, because the conditions which alone make democracy possible in the Anglo-Saxon sense of the word do not exist in India. It is like trying to make an oak tree grow on the banks of the Ganges.
As the noble Viscount knows, I have not in the past been in agreement with my noble friend Viscount Templewood and other noble Lords on this matter. But if their object was to try to introduce democracy into India, then I have always felt that it was a tenable position, and a most reasonable one, that the first condition of self-government must be a measure of fundamental agreement among the Indians themselves. When the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, and the noble Lord, Lord Darwen, quote America and Ireland and such instances, can they conceive of our trying to force a Constitution on the Americans because they could not agree among themselves? Or trying to force a Constitution on the Southern Irish because they could not agree amongst themselves? It is not unreasonable, it is not evidence of insincerity, that my noble friends who promoted the Act of 1935 have insisted, as all British Governments up to now have insisted, that agreement among the major nations and creeds of India must be an essential preliminary to self-government. I have always felt that that was a perfectly honest, a perfectly logical, and a perfectly right position, and if you go forward ignoring it, you will end in disaster.
Therefore, my first reply to the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, is that I think we have every right, both moral and practical, to say that we cannot go forward unless there is a measure of agreement among the Indians. The noble Lord may ask me: "Well, what would you do now?" and I say quite frankly to him 970 that it all depends on whether the British people believe in their moral right to govern India. If they have lost the belief in their moral right to govern India, then I agree that there is nothing we can do but walk out. But if they are willing to shoulder the burden of their forefathers, as a great responsibility and a great work for the benefit of humanity, then I believe it is possible for us to administer India as we have administered it in the past. I oh not pretend that we should have an easy time during the next five years or so. It is much easier to run a motor car into the ditch than to get it out. His Majesty's Government have got the Indian problem, like so many other problems, into such a mess that whoever has the clearing up of it is going to have a most difficult time. But I do not believe—and nothing that has been said by the noble Marquess, Lord Linlithgow, and others who have great knowledge of this matter leads one to believe—that if the British people, and the British Empire as a whole, feel that they still have a moral right to govern India and to maintain the Pax Brilannica there, it is beyond the resources of our people to do so.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ LORD RANKEILLOUR
My Lords, may I in the first instance say one word on behalf of the noble Marquess, Lord Linlithgow, who happens to be my kinsman. I was sitting next to him on the previous occasion and I remember exactly what he said. I think that he has been misquoted to-day, though unwittingly. He did not admit that we have not the moral force to refuse the plan then adumbrated by the Government. What he did say was that it would be a very bad thing, if we knew we had not the force, to pretend that we had. As a matter of fact, he also said that undoubtedly we had the force, if we chose to exercise it. The celebrated Sir William Harcourt, who, whatever one might think of his views, was, at any rate, a very great politician and a very great Parliamentary figure, once said that unless the same person said the same thing at least seven times in practically the same words no one paid the slightest attention. Therefore, I ask the indulgence of your Lordships if—I think only for the fourth time—I again go into the question of minorities. Of course, I need say nothing with regard to the Moslem's; their case has been strongly and properly put. But 971 besides the Moslems, as the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, has pointed out, there are the Scheduled or Depressed Classes, the Sikhs, the Christians, the Primitive Tribes (who are specially in want of protection) and the Parsees and the Jains.
The noble Lord the Secretary of State for India has referred to what passed in the Constituent Assembly. I understand that the Constituent Assembly have agreed to recommend that there shall be no discrimination between classes or religions. But how will that work out? After all, it is not the Constituent Assembly which in the end is going to govern India. According to the Government plan, it is the Constituted Assembly. I do not know whether they in turn will have an Advisory Committee. If the Committee are only advisory their value will be very much diminished; in fact the Committee will be of very little use at all against the domination of the majority. But if you put a provision in the final Act, which may or may not be passed, to regulate the relations between India and ourselves, has the Constitution, or any schedule or clause of that Constitution, any guarantee of permanence? You may make a treaty, but What are the sanctions in it? We know the two great provisions of the Irish Treaty, but further demands were surrendered. At the same time, is the Constitution as fixed by the treaty really a fixed Constitution that cannot be altered?
The real solution is not only to establish an organic law for the protection of classes of persons, but to make that law as difficult as possible of repeal; in short, to follow the American precedent, where the equality of all American citizens is set forth quite clearly and properly. It is quite true that it is not strictly enforced, but tine position of the coloured peoples of the South would be very much worse if it did not exist. I saw only the other day that a judgment of the Supreme Court of America insisted on there being no discrimination between races in the matter of railway travel.
That brings me to another point. If you have an organic law you must have it interpreted, and you can have it interpreted only by an independent Supreme Court; therefore, in that case, the Supreme Court can hardly be nominated by a Government dependent on a 972 Party majority. Finally, when you have the organic law and the judgment of the Supreme Court, and an Executive to enforce it, I submit that that Executive must be based on the Canadian model. There you have the fullest independence. You can go forward and, though with risk, you can give your central powers to the Legislature; but you must have something in reserve. If you have that in reserve you may go forward a great way. I do not for one moment accept the dilemma of the noble Lord the Secretary of State for India, that you must either go forward or go backward. You can go forward; and I would suggest that if he went forward and gave self-government to India, always on the Canadian analogy, he would give India a full chance of doing what she chooses, subject always to the protection of minorities and the independence of the States.
May I say one word on what I think is a profound fallacy? It appears in two of the paragraphs of the Government Statement, and I think it has been echoed by the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, in his speech to-day. There is a reference to the Indian people. There is no Indian people, any more than a European people. As my noble friend the Earl of Selborne has just pointed out, there are a multitude of peoples and races in India. I agree with every word that he said about the analogies and the possibility of dealing with the peoples of India as one in an attempt to enforce unity.
I now come to paragraph 10, which suggests that certain Provinces of India may be given powers for themselves, entirely apart from the Central Government. Various questions arise on that. For example, will the Indian debt be apportioned among such Provinces? It will not be a very easy thing to do. What degree of Customs freedom are they to have? Again, are they to have armies? If they are to be independent sovereign States, presumably they must have Customs, presumably they must have armies; and so it may be with many powers that the Central Government now have. If they are not to be independent sovereign States, then the suggestion in the White Paper is really illusory. Let me come to another point. Paragraph 11 speaks of "preparatory measures". How are they to be effected? Will they be effected by administrative action by the new Viceroy and the Indian Governments, or will they 973 come from here? Again, many difficult points arise. What will be the effect on the status of the Indian loans? I am not a financier, and some of your Lordships will know better than I, but I do not think it is an easy or a happy prospect.
I do not think that any adequate answer has been given to the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hailey, as to the position of civil servants. Lastly, as to the Army, do you expect that in fifteen months the proposed Government can be given, under their own control, an army which will be adequate both for internal and possibly external trouble? Or is there any suggestion that the present British Army should be handed over? That, I suggest, would be an impossible proposition. I do not know exactly—though this is a comparatively minor matter—what is the status of the officers, and the rights of the officers to compensation for loss of occupation and prospective rises.
A good deal has been said about the meaning of paramountcy, which is dealt with in paragraph 12. Are all these Indian States to have paramountcy? If so, they, too, will have the right to have armies. So if some of the contingencies contemplated in the White Paper take effect, there will be a number of armies in India, and I do not see how there can be any control if the British Empire cannot exercise any.
It is a very uneasy prospect, and I agree with everything the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, has said about it. Indeed, I note that in the Statement the intention of effecting an evacuation is referred to. But neither there, nor in the speech of the India 974 noble Lord the Secretary of Stone for India, is there a suggestion of how the problems that immediately arise can be dealt with. To argue from a small matter to a large one, it is rather like the Minister who was insistent on a new town being built but left out of consideration the essential requisites for the town until after his decision had been given. I cannot but feel that there is a sinister similarity in the proceedings of the Government over Imperial affairs, whether in India, Burma, Palestine or Egypt.
There is the same infirmity of counsel, the same vagueness of statement, the same disregard of the consequences, and the same priority given to political dogma over ascertained and ascertainable facts. In 974 one thing they do seem consistent—namely, the abandonment of responsibility. We are not in India for our own advantage, material or moral; we are there to do justice to the multi-form races and creeds of a vast sub-continent. To this end great and wise men have laboured, and you are throwing their achievements on to a scrap heap. Some of your Lordships may remember the lines so familiar in your youth, Fuit Ilium et ingens glories tenerorum. Is it the wish of the Government to write Fuit Britannia on the page of history?
My Lords, I cannot hope adequately to follow the noble Lord, Lord Ranked lour, who is described in the legal fraternity, I believe, as "our learned lay friend" owing to his profound knowledge of all matters dealing with Constitutions. For one who has served a good many years in the Indian Service, and who has developed a very keen affection for India and her peoples, in the last thirteen or fourteen years it has been heart-breaking to see the gradual approach to the brink of a precipice, at the bottom of which lie bloodshed, chaos and disaster. A short time ago a noble Lord made a maiden speech and stated to the House that he was breaking a family silence which had lasted for over a century. I cannot say with absolute certainty, but I rather believe that when in 1931, after seven years' silence in your Lordships' House, I first addressed your Lordships on the subject of India, I was breaking a family silence of more like 160 years. I know that then I nearly fainted with the effort, and even now it is a painful ordeal which probably others share. One is severely handicapped when one's forbears were inarticulate. I was acutely conscious of this disability in serving on the Joint Select Committee on India, which sat for twenty long months.
Only two out of the thirty-two members of that Committee had served in Indian Services, but there was of course a galaxy of former Viceroys, Governors, Secretaries of State and Under-Secretaries of State. Between them they had a first-class experience of the affairs of India from certain angles, but the late Sir Reginald Craddock, and I, to a lesser degree, had seen far more than any of them of the great 90 per cent. of the people of India who cultivate the soil. I hope that I may be acquitted of any dis- 975 respect to the memory of a great Indian civil servant if I say that I believe that he was not very much more at ease than I was in matters of argument and exposition of a case. After all, we were faced with such giants in debate as the late Lord Reading, the late Sir Austen Chamberlain, the late Lord Lothian and, of course, the noble Viscount, Lord Templewood, whose eloquence excited one's admiration and some envy. They carried the day, even if their arguments failed to convince a handful of us. We certainly desired that India should at the right time have self-rule, but we considered that the pace was too fast and we wanted India to gain more experience in developing her capacity for working a democratic system. Personally, I feel quite impenitent, and I believe that we were right.
I fully realize the difficulties that might have occurred if this process had been made more gradual, when politically-minded Indians (who, after all, comprise only a tiny percentage of the total population) were clamouring for immediate self-government. But in our haste—though some would describe in otherwise—we have sacrificed the vast bulk of the Indian population, who even now are scarcely interested in politics and who ask only for a peaceful existence and protection from oppression. From that community is recruited the Indian Army. They have been mentioned this afternoon. Their services in two great wars and in countless campaigns in Egypt, East and West Africa, Persia, China and Afghanistan have been invaluable. I regret to say that a great many Indian soldiers to-day feel that we have let them down and ill-rewarded them for all they have done and endured. When I say that, I am not India 976 retailing secondhand information. That is what was said to me time and again by Indian soldiers during this last war, in Egypt, Italy and France. I did my level best to tell them what was our policy in this country—namely, to govern only until peoples were ready to govern themselves—and I pointed out the success of that policy in other parts of the Empire. They listened with courtesy, but that was all. It hurt abominably to realize how deeply they felt about the situation.
Last week the Prime Minister denied that we were handing over to chaos. But, if I may say so, that is exactly what the Government are doing. I am afraid that 976 we have seen only the beginning of bloodshed of a sort that will make the operations of Shivaj and his Maharatta hordes look like something of a picnic. One knows from the Press of the slaughter in Calcutta, Bombay, Bihar and elsewhere, but a good many other horrors have been perpetrated which, so far as I am aware, have not appeared in the Press. I will quote from a letter I received last month from one of my contemporaries who is still serving. He writes:A little time back a gang or commando from Gurgaon and Rhotak, said to have consisted of Jats, went to Gurmuktesar and blotted out one or two Moslem villages, murdered everyone they could lay hands on, ripped open pregnant women, combed the Kadir for escapees and then set it on fire.And so it will go on. The whole thing is a tragedy. What are we going to see emerge from it all? I wonder if we may not live to see the creation of some international corporation, very much on the lines of the Honourable East India Company, brought into being to protect trade. If so, we shall have turned the full circle. I do not know whether that is an extravagant idea.
The only Indian organization of any importance of which I know in which Hindus and Moslems can work together in perfect harmony is the Indian Army. In the Indian Army they have been comrades in arms for a very long time, working in cordial relationship. There has been ample time for all races and creeds in the Army, led by impartial officers, to achieve a unity of purpose and friendly co-operation in peace and war, but there has not yet been time for Indian politicians to get together like soldiers have. People talk glibly—and we have heard it this afternoon—about drift and delay in handing over the reins of government to Indians. How long has it taken our country, or any other democratic country, to develop democracy? If it took centuries for us, how can democracy become a real thing in India in a few years, when all the circumstances are infinitely more difficult?
As things stand at present, I have no doubt at all that if no impartial race exists in India to hold the balance and keep the peace, either Hindus or Mohammedans will rule all India, and the struggle for supremacy will be appalling. On the shaky foundations of democracy that we have laid there can be no enduring partnership between Hindus and Mohammedans in any time that can be 977 foreseen. Only those profoundly ignorant of India can suppose that there can be peaceful settlement of spheres of influence or anything else. Are we so war-weary that we have to follow the line of least resistance? Are we to be entirely callous to the sufferings of millions, so long as a theory is tried out? "Trial and error" is, I believe, what that is called. God help the weak, the women and children, and the minorities who have been mentioned this afternoon. I will mention one more minority, of whom nobody has yet spoken, and that is the Anglo-Indian community, whose fate is terrible to contemplate. These people will perish, thanks to soft heads and feeble hands in high places.
When India is in travail she will be easy prey to any invader. Is it not possible that the Government could declare, and undertake to enforce, something in the nature of a Monroe doctrine for India, to prevent an invasion that can only add to India's agony? The Government have a very heavy responsibility to shoulder, and I only hope that something may occur between now and June of next year either to show that their action is justified or to show that they will adopt wiser counsels. In spite of the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel (which was referred to by the noble Lord, the Secretary of State—a little unkindly I thought—as wind"). I have much pleasure in supporting this Motion.
§ 6.9 p.m.
THE EARL OF SCARBROUGH
My Lords, it would be folly to under-estimate the difficulties which confront His Majesty's Government in India. I am certain, too, that it would be unwise to form too hopeful an estimate of what the Viceroy, the Governors and the official machine can now do in India. Therefore, any step which His Majesty's Government decide to take needs very serious consideration. In the few minutes in which I shall address your Lordships I shall endeavour to bring to this new proposal what I hope will be some fair, as well as searching, examination. I must admit that I come to this examination with some initial bias, because the Government announcement appears to shatter the hopes which I, and many others, have held about the ultimate fulfillment of the British task in India. The objective which I have held, and which I understood the Government also held, 978 was the attainment by India of full self-Government as early as possible provided a reasonably stable administration could be set up. That objective of the Government is now changed. Their objective becomes the termination of the British connexion with India, whether or not a reasonably sound and stable alternative can be put in its place. We are to go, and it does not matter any longer what we leave behind us. It is that which shocked me when I heard the Government announcement, and which brings me to start upon the examination of the Government proposal with a dislike. I recognize perhaps that it would hardly be enough to condemn this proposal simply because it does not conform to the hopes which one has hitherto held; it has to be considered alongside the circumstances which exist in India to-day.
As I understand it, the Government proposal could be justified on two possible grounds. The first is that it is likely to lead to agreement in India, and the second is that, whether there is agreement or not, there is really no other alternative before the Government. I would like to deal very briefly with both of those propositions. In regard to the first, I would like to say in passing that reference has been made in this debate to what I would call the "sincerity argument". Several times noble Lords opposite have claimed that at least one thing which will come out of these proposals is that all doubts will vanish about the sincerity of British intentions. I would beg noble Lords opposite not to derive too much satisfaction from that argument. It is deduced almost every time that a major move is made. Indeed, the noble Lord, the Secretary of State, himself recalled that one result of his Cabinet Mission was that all doubts about British sincerity were removed; and yet here we are once again. Once again the doubts crop up, and something more has to be done to remove those doubts about our sincerity. That argument used in regard to India is a manufactured argument. It is a very useful one, and part of the stock in trade of nationalism. It is a very useful argument to distract attention from failure to get leaders to agree among themselves.
It is the Government's hope that this announcement will so shock and startle political opinion in India that they will be brought at long last to reason and agreement. Well, that will be proved one 979 way or another before very long. At this time one can only form the best judgment one can as to what the probabilities are. It is important that we should form some judgment now as to what the probabilities are, because time is short and everything in the end will depend upon whether the transfer will have to be made to one or to more than one Government, and the sooner that important decision is made at any rate the better it will be for those who, in a very few months, will have to do the winding-up process.
My view, for what it is worth, is that it is very unlikely that the fixing of the date is going to lead to agreement. Those who hold the view that it will, probably believe that during the last few years when this internal deadlock has continued there has been a large amount of bluff about both the main Indian Parties. I would agree that in much of the manoeuvring which has been going on there has doubtless been a good deal of bluffing, but there is a hard core for each of the conceptions held by the two political Parties, and these cores have never yet been brought together. If you will consider for a moment the efforts which have been made in the past eight years to resolve this deadlock—in each of which there has been also an element of shock or some special element in the situation which might have brought them together—you will see how very hopeful you must be if you expect this further attempt to succeed.
In 1939 and 1940 the then Viceroy, Lord Linlithgow, made a prolonged attempt to assist the Indian leaders to reach agreement. There was an element of shock there to help them—the outbreak of the war. It did not succeed. In 1942, there was the Mission of Sir Stafford Cripps, and there was certainly an element of shock there, because the Japanese were very close to India at that time. It did not succeed. In 1945, the present Viceroy, Lord Wavell, in conjunction with the Government of that day, made a further attempt. There was a special element there, because the end of the war was in sight and there was opening up a vista of reconstruction after the war, which might have assisted to bring them together. It did not succeed. In 1946, the Cabinet Mission, with all the skill and ingenuity which they devoted to it, have not, as yet, brought a 980 successful result, and I feel this device of fixing a date, and a very early date, brings in nothing new which is going to make it easier for the Indian leaders to come to terms with each other. In fact, I would expect that it is more likely to have the reverse effect. I hope I am wrong, because if there is a failure, if this move does fail to bring them together, the consequences are going to be very grave.
May I very briefly mention some of them? Not all of them have been raised in this debate. First of all, if no agreement is reached, what happens to the immediate situation in India which brought about this very action by the Government—the disagreement within the Executive Government? What are you going to do about that? Then ultimately, if there is no agreement on the whole of the new plans, I foresee, as other noble Lords have done, confusion and chaos in India, with the minorities and the Princes, with all our obligations to them, abandoned. What will hit many people in this country very hard is the consciousness that, after all, Great Britain has failed in India. I doubt whether the shock which that will give to our confidence in this country will be calculable. Then, if it turns out that agreement does not arrive and that confusion results from our departure from India, there will be a danger spot in the world; and danger spots, especially when they exist in areas of strategic importance, can be sources of friction to Great Powers.
We all want to look to the best relationship in future between Indians and ourselves, whether within or outside the British Empire. What do you think is going to be the attitude of Indians if they find themselves abandoned by us? Are they going to look with gratitude to us for having left them in chaos and confusion? I believe that if this policy fails it will have a very serious effect upon the future relationship between Indians and ourselves. For that reason I hope, with all sincerity, that I may be wrong, that a miracle will happen and that this announcement of a date will lead to agreement in India.
The other argument which could justify the step which the Government has taken is one that has already been mentioned—namely, that there is no real alternative. There is one point in regard to that which I do not quite understand, and I would 981 be grateful if the noble Earl when he comes to reply could remove my doubts. I would be much relieved. We have been told that the state of the administrative Services in India is such that they will be unable to carry on longer than June, 1948—that is what I understood the noble Lord the Secretary of State to say—and that therefore, at that time, the Viceroy and the many officials, the police officers and all the British troops are to go away. What after that? If the state of the Services at this moment is so bad, when we take these considerable numbers away we are going to leave the Indians with an administration which is far too weak to carry on. Surely that is an alternative hardly to be contemplated.
If it be asked, "What would you do instead," I would reply that, in the first place, I do not accept the view that necessarily the situation was such that some action had to be taken at once. You can take action too often and too soon in India, as elsewhere, and I am not at all convinced that the situation was so precarious that something had to be done or else worse would happen. I ventured on the last occasion I addressed your Lordships on the subject of India to plead, not for action, but for a pause, but nobody seems to have taken any notice. It is too late now to repeat that, but I think that if there had been a pause instead of drastic action there might well have been better hopes of some eventual accommodation. If that is not considered a big enough alternative, I will suggest another. I think what the Government ought to have done, if they really felt that the situation was such that some action was necessary, was to call together the leaders of all Parties in this country and to take out a delegation from among them to India with these terms of reference: To make one final attempt to assist Indian leaders to reach agreement. If that failed, the leaders of all the Parties in this country would have appealed to the country for the carrying on of our administration in India for another ten or twenty years. I believe that alternative is better than the one of abandoning India in its present confusion.
My humble conviction in this momentous matter is this. I recognize to the full the difficulties which confront His Majesty's Government. I fear—and I hope I am wrong—that their shock tactics will lead to further trouble, and that if we do carry 982 out the intention to leave India in June, 1948, we shall very likely leave her to the chaos and confusion from which we rescued her 150 years ago; and by so doing we shall have brought very low the honour of the British name.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ THE POSTMASTER-GENERAL (THE EARL OF LISTOWEL)
My Lords, I have listened to this debate, the prelude to further discussion to-morrow, in which many noble Lords with great experience of India and Indian affairs have expressed their convictions, with a great deal of interest and, I hope, profit. But I must confess that I have also listened to it with a growing sense of gloom. I think that that sense of gloom was partly due to the fact that the predominant view expressed was that the Government had done the wrong thing, and partly because, with the sole exception of the noble Earl, Lord Scarborough, not a single speaker had any alternative policy to recommend as being preferable to the present policy of His Majesty's Government. I must say that I rather wondered whether, if the noble Lords on the Front Bench opposite were sitting on this Front Bench, they might not have been addressed, by noble Lords on the back Benches, in rather similar terms to those in which we have been addressed this afternoon. That is an extremely depressing consideration in view of the weight which the words of many noble Lords carry when they speak about India.
Now I should like, if I may, to answer one or two—and I fear it will be one or two only, because I would not venture to do more on the spur of the moment—of the points made in the course of the debate. I am sure that the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, did not wish for a moment to suggest that the Cabinet Mission had been indifferent to the fate of the Untouchables, or even that their rights would be completely disregarded by their fellow countrymen in the framing of their new Constitution. They are, of course, represented in the Constituent Assembly, and to that extent will be in a position to look after their interests. Further, they will be protected in the same way as other minorities by whatever safeguards are introduced into the Constitution. The noble Lord, Lord Newall, asked me a series of questions and I will endeavour to answer two of them. In the first place, 983 I can assure him that there is not going to be an evacuation of India—"evacuation" was the word he used—but a transfer of political power from the British to responsible Indian hands. That is not, as the noble Lord, I think, suggested, a military but a political operation. The noble Lord also asked a question about the Gurkhas.
Will the noble Earl forgive my interrupting? I think that the House is intensely interested in what he has just said, and I wonder if he could expand it just a little further. I understand that he says that there is not going to be an evacuation of India but a transfer of political power. What does that actually mean? Evacuation is only a physical thing. You evacuate your people, you evacuate your Army, your civil servants and such of the British inhabitants as wish to leave. Is that not going to take place? Is the Army going to stay on? Are the civil servants going to stay in India? Is there going to be merely a transfer of power? I think that the House is a little bit at sea as to the exact meaning of the noble Earl's remarks in this connexion.
§ THE EARL OF LISTOWEL
I am sure that the noble Viscount will appreciate that it would be presumptious of me to go into such detail as he has asked for about a matter of such importance, remembering, of course, that every word we speak is likely to be recorded for Indians as well as for noble Lords in this House.
§ LORD RANKEILLOUR
My Lords, may I venture to ask the noble Earl one further question? Will the Army stay in India under the orders of the new Government?
May I be allowed to intervene once more? I quite appreciate that it is very difficult for the noble Earl to reply to a specific question of that kind, a question not directed to a matter which concerns his own Department. I wonder if the Secretary of State could answer that question?
§ THE EARL OF LISTOWEL
The noble Viscount, of course, is aware that this debate is being continued to-morrow, and there will be two further Government speakers. I can assure him that they will 984 address their minds to the matter which he has raised and, in so far as an answer can be given, I have no doubt that it will be provided when the moment arrives. I should like, however, to emphasize that this is not an evacuation from a hostile country but a political transfer, a transfer of political power to people who, I believe, from all accounts, are better disposed to us now than they have been in the past.
I was dealing a moment ago with the second of the questions addressed to me by Lord Newall, that relating to the Gurkhas. He asked me whether any Gurkha troops will be available for employment by His Majesty's Government. We must await the result of negotiations between this Government, the Government of India and the Government of Nepal. I cannot, of course, forecast what the outcome of those negotiations will be. I can assure the noble Lord—and I hope that my assurance will be conveyed to him in the Official Report to-morrow that we shall see that fair treatment is accorded to these gallant men to the best of our ability. I was, I must confess, a little puzzled by some of the remarks of the noble Earl, Lord Selborne. He seemed to suggest that, whatever happened, the Pax Britannica should never be withdrawn from India. But, of course, he and other noble Lords opposite were parties to the Cripps offer which did promise that the Indians would be able to exercise self-government and form their own Constitution, not at a remote date but after the war.
§ THE EARL OF LISTOWEL
Certainly—if they could agree among themselves. But I do not think the noble Earl was suggesting that we should exercise power in India indefinitely—at least that would not have been quite consistent with the offer that was made in 1942. Now may I give a little further explanation with regard to the object of fixing a date in advance of agreement between the Parties in India, as that is a point which has been referred to by several noble Lords who have spoken on both sides of the House. We do share the fervent hope that the Moslem League, as well as the Congress Party, will eventually take an active part in the work of the Constituent Assembly, because we are all 985 aware that that affords the best prospect of a lasting and friendly settlement of the differences between the two communities.
But to say, as I think some noble Lords opposite have suggested, if not explicitly at any rate implicitly, that we should wait until the League has entered the Constituent Assembly, and until that body has concluded its task, before we publish a date for the final transfer of power, is really, in our view, putting the cart before the horse. For, so long as any Party believes that it can rely on British protection, it can surely, with comparative safety, refuse to compromise with its adversary, and may secretly hope that in the long run it will obtain British support for its extreme claims. But by our saying now that after Tune, 1948, our authority can no longer be invoked by either side, the Parties will be obliged to settle their differences between themselves. The whole responsibility is placed on their shoulders. An opportunity is given for the exercise of that statesmanship which is a quality that we have all assumed in the leaders of Indian opinion. That is one important reason why a date for the transfer of power should be fixed in advance of agreement between the authorities and not subsequently, and that, I think, is the reply to the long argument in the speech made by the noble Earl, Lord Munster.
Another point on which I believe we are all agreed is that the test of our policy—whether it is a success or a failure—must be its effect in the long run upon India, and the response and co-operation it receives from the representative leaders of Indian opinion. That is implied in the Resolution of the noble Viscount, Lord Templewood, for he refers in it to our policy as a threat to the peace and prosperity of India. Reports we have received so far—some of them have been quoted by my noble friend the Secretary of State for India—indicate that the Prime Minister's Statement last Thursday has had a favourable reception in India. My recollection of India does not go back very far, though I remember the publication of several White Papers on India, but in that recollection no statement of British policy has been accorded more general approval. It has been praised in the columns of the Hindu and Moslem papers. The Moslem paper Dawn, in a leading article, says that:Moslems welcome the declaration that the British Government propose to transfer power 986 to Indian hands on a specific date, as well as the broad outline indicated.That is an encouraging indication of Moslem opinion. There is an even more interesting comment in the Hindustan Times, which says:This clear decision should put an end to all doubts about the bone fides of the present British Government, or fear that it may yield to reactionary councils in the United Kingdom or India. The process of transfer can now begin in an atmosphere of good will and cordiality which should create a permanent bond of friendship between the two countries.Finally, I should like to quote one small passage from the Delhi correspondent of our London Times, because obviously this correspondent is a person with an objective mind who would not look at things from the angle of any political Party. It was in last Saturday's issue of The Times, and the article opens as follows:A change little short of miraculous has been wrought in the Indian political scene by Mr. Attlee's statement in the House of Commons yesterday. It is as if the miasma of doubts and suspicions of British good faith had been dissipated and Indians could now see clearly the horizon of their endeavour.That has described, as only a correspondent of The Times can describe, the effect which we hoped might be achieved in India.
§ THE EARL OF LISTOWEL
I can satisfy the noble Earl on that point. The comments so far reported from representative Indian leaders are favourable to this new step in policy. Pandit Nehru, to whom reference has already been made, has described the decision of the Government as a "wise and courageous one." He continues, in the same statement, to emphasize two new features which the Government decision has imported into the political scene; the final expulsion of all ideas and suspicions that Indians may still feel about British intentions, and the challenge to Indian statesmanship which the transfer of power presents—a challenge that he has accepted without a moment's hesitation. This is extremely 987 encouraging for our belief that this decision of policy is a right decision, and it is encouraging to have such a response from Pandit Nehru, whose views are doubtless, shared by other influential members of the Congress Party.
It is particularly pleasing that these friendly reactions to the Prime Minister's statement are not limited to the spokesmen of British India. The Nawab of Bhopal, to whom my noble friend, the Secretary of State for India, referred, has issued a statement which my noble friend quoted at length. I will not repeat it, but his view was that this statement of policy would serve a useful purpose. The conclusion that may be drawn from the views expressed by some important organs of the Press and certain political leaders in India is surely that the new step in policy is making a good start. It is, of course, far too early yet to say whether it will achieve what we desire, but may I suggest that it might be unreasonable for this House to decide now—as the noble Viscount's resolution suggests—that our policy is "a threat to the peace and prosperity of India" when Indians themselves have not endorsed this view? I hope the House will give us time to see how our policy works, to test it in the light of experience, and then wait for events to show whether it is a failure or a success. That would surely be a wiser course than deciding now, without further evidence, that we have already failed in our purpose.
The noble Viscount mentions in his Resolution the danger that he visualizes in our present policy to the economic prosperity of India. I am quite convinced there is less danger of economic difficulties from the policy of the transfer of power in the near future, and at a definite date, than there would be from a policy of indefinite delay. This would inevitably involve disturbance, which would react upon the distribution of supplies. But, apart from, the effect of internal conditions upon the food supply, I am sure that a substantial improvement in the production of food supplies by the peasants in India must depend upon an inspiring lead from their own political leaders. I think everyone recognizes that what is needed is not only irrigation and hydro-electric schemes for bringing land into cultivation, and the application of modern technique to agriculture by the 988 peasants in their own holdings, but also a change of outlook and attitude, and a willingness to overcome the handicaps of ignorance and background. This psychological change can only be brought into effect by the example and teaching and devotion of the Indian national leaders.
I submit that there is no satisfactory alternative to the policy of the Government, and that is the reason why we have had only one speech suggesting any alternative this afternoon. Surely it would not be altogether fair to condemn a policy unless at the back of one's mind one had something better. After all, it is the business of the Government to govern. We have to administer the Statutes that are presented to us by Parliament. We must have a policy, and we can hardly be blamed for having a wrong policy if no one can suggest a right one. I am quite certain that any alternative (including both the alternatives suggested by the noble Earl, Lord Scarbrough, in his extremely interesting and constructive speech) that postponed the transfer of power in India until after the Parties had reached agreement and the Constitution had been framed, would be both impracticable and disastrous. Time is the essence of our contract in India, and the consequences of further substantial delay in the transfer of power would be fatal, both to us and to India.
The advice we have received from India (I should like to repeat this, although it is a statement that has already been made by my noble friend the Secretary of State) is that a British Administration could not expect to continue to exercise effective control over the country after 1948. If there is any difference of opinion on matters of fact about India, I do hope that noble Lords will give us the benefit of the doubt, because we have access to a larger number of sources of information.
I hope that the noble Earl will forgive me for interrupting. First he asks why do we not propose an alternative, and then he says that only the Government have the facts upon which an alternative can be founded.
§ THE EARL OF LISTOWEL
I was not, of course, suggesting a detailed plan. I was only suggesting the broad outline of an alternative, which was, in fact, provided by the noble Earl, Lord Scarbrough. If this is the case, and this is the appreciation of the position in 989 India, made by those who have had the best opportunity of studying the circumstances, and if we were unable to get our instructions fully carried out by the administrative services after 1948, we should then be in the really hopeless position of having full responsibility without any real power. We should also in the process have embittered the Indian nation to a degree that would certainly prejudice the relations between our two countries for many years to come.
I thought the reference of the noble Lord, Lord Darwen, to Ireland in this connexion was extremely apposite. None of us, I am sure, forgets what happened in Ireland, and that the worst results came from a policy that gave too little and too late. What we are now doing is the culminating step in the discharge of our legal and moral responsibility for the welfare of India. It is a step that I believe most people will look back on from distant retrospect, with pride. It is a step that is one of a very long series, in which many different Governments have shared. I believe that our decision to transfer power by June, 1948, is one of those decisions that vindicate the unique role in the world of the British Commonwealth and Empire.
We maintain that the mainspring of our Empire, a feature which distinguishes it from any of its forerunners, is the continuous evolutionary development of all its peoples from an initial state of dependency to a final state of freedom and independence. Whether the last stage of this long historical process is reached inside or outside the British Commonwealth, a free self-determined nation State is the crown of our endeavour. I am sure that one consequence of the awakening of India to full nationhood will be, in due course, an unprecedented development of her latent material resources. This will be of great mutual advantage, for we shall always remain linked to India by a variety of interests, ties, and associations, and, not least, by a firm resolve to raise the standard of living of the common man, and to preserve peace, wherever and by whomsoever it may be threatened.
§ Moved, That the debate be adjourned until to-morrow.—(Viscount Simon.)990
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly.