HC Deb 24 November 1933 vol 283 cc408-15W

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Resolution of the House [22nd November] relative to the appointment of a Joint Committee on Indian Constitutional Reform, which was ordered to be communicated to the Lords, and the Lords Message [23rd November] signifying their concurrence in the Resolution be read."—[Captain Margesson.]

11.13 a.m.


When this Resolution first came before the House I put forward a proposal to change some of the Members of the Committee and a good many of the Members of the House supported me on that occasion. If the House would permit me, I should like to have the opportunity of saying why it is that those who were working with me then do not think it would be in any way advisable to adopt a similar course on this occasion, and I would like to know from you, Sir, whether this would be a convenient time for me to give that explanation.

Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Sir Dennis Herbert)

The hon. Member had better make his explanation a little later. The question I have put is merely that the Resolution of the House of 22nd November be read.


May I ask at which particular stage it will be most convenient for me to give this explanation?


The hon. Member will see that later I shall have to put the names of the Committee, and will think that will be the time for him to do so.


I was afraid that if I left it until the question before us was that of approving an individual name or a block of names it might possibly curtail my remarks rather more than if I spoke at this stage. I have no wish to make any long explanation, but I should like to be able to put our position quite clearly, or as clearly as I am capable of doing.


I should very deeply regret to be obliged to curtail the hon. Member's remarks in 'any way whatever, but if he has no objection to the Message being read I think this Question should first be disposed of, and then he will have his full opportunity later, when I put the names.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolution read accordingly.

Ordered, That a Select Committee of Sixteen Members be appointed to join with a Committee to be appointed by the Lords, with power to call into consultation representatives of the Indian States and et British India, to consider the future government of India and, in particular, to examine arid report on the proposals contained in Command Paper 4268.

Ordered, That the Committee have power to send for persons, papers, and records, and to sit notwithstanding any Adjournment of the House.

Ordered, That the Committee have power to report from time to time.

Ordered, That the Committee have power to report from day to day or otherwise the Minutes of Evidence taken before them and such other records as they may think fit.

Ordered, That the Committee have power, if the House be not sitting, to send such Minutes and records to the Clerk of the House, who shall thereupon give directions for the printing and circulation thereof, and shall lay the same upon the Table of the House at its next meeting.

Ordered, That the Committee have power, if they so determine, to appoint one or more Sub-Committees to take evidence to consider any matters that may be referred to them.

Ordered, That any Sub-Committees so appointed shall have power to send for persons, papers, and records and to sit notwithstanding any Adjournment of the House.

Ordered, That any evidence taken by such subcommittee shall be reported by them to the main Committee.

Ordered, That the Minutes of Evidence taken before, and Records reported from, the Joint Committee appointed in 1033 to consider Indian Constitutional Reform be referred to the Committee.

Ordered, That Eight be the quorum."—[Captain Margesson.]

Message to the Lords to acquaint them therewith, and to request them to appoint an equal number of Lords to join with the Committee appointed by this House.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Attlee be nominated a Member of the Committee.—[Captain Margesson.]


I do not propose in any way to go beyond the position that I said just now I would take up. Originally, when this Committee was set up, a certain number of us moved to omit certain names and to insert certain other names, not from any hostility to the individuals whose names we wished to omit or from any thought in our minds that those individuals are not capable, but because we believed that it would be in the general interest. We believed that it would create more confidence in the Report of the Committee if that Committee included fewer people who had something to do with the Government or who had signed or taken part in some report. That was the position that we took up at that time, and we have seen nothing that has occurred in the Committee to change in any way our position on that particular point. I believe that the Members of the Committee have done their work in an amazingly able way. That I think is a tribute which every one of us would wish to pay them. If it were possible, even on this occasion, to change what we think were two mistakes in regard to the Committee, it might still be possible to alter the Committee. I say that deliberately.

The first great mistake in regard to the Committee and to the changing of the names is that which was made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member hr Epping (Mr. Churchill) and others in not taking their part on that Committee. They do not wish to change that position and, that being so, one possible excuse for a change is ruled out. The other reason is that the Government still stick to their original position. I suppose that there have been very few occasions in the history of this country when there has been anything quite so remarkable as the skill with which the Secretary of State for India gave his evidence to the Committee. That is the common tribute of every one of us, to his skill and all-round ability on that occasion. The Committee are judging evidence, and deliber- ately judging evidence, but when you have a committee which is set up by this House for the purpose of judging evidence also giving that evidence, that makes the position very difficult. I emphasize that point, because it is one which I am afraid will result in not giving the weight to the Committee that it ought to have when it comes back to this House. I am making this point, realising that neither of those two mistakes can be remedied.

That being the position, those who might have made amendments see that it is absolutely impossible to do so, for two main reasons. Any change of that sort at the present time must inevitably create a very bad impression in India, and the second reason, one which ought to be considered, is the impossibility at this time of making a change because new Members could not possibly catch up with the work. Those two reasons are clear and obvious, and need no further explanation on my part. Everyone knows that position and realises it. I would point out with very great seriousness that, although there may be 50 or 60, or whatever number of Members it may he, in this House who have taken, I will not say an extreme, but a very strong, line as regards India, there are many of us, numbering I should think well over 100, or possibly 200, who feel very deeply on this question, which is one of the greatest if not absolutely the greatest, that many of us will have to decide in our political lives. It is far wider than any of us can see.

May I respectfully express the hope that those who take prominent parts in the Debates in future will always endeavour to avoid the sort of smaller personalities such as we heard the other day, when there were too many of them drifting about. Whether we are opposed, as I am not; whether we support, or whether we are just in a position of seeing an immense question which is so big and so difficult that it must engage our fullest thoughts, on such an occasion there is no reason for arguments between highly respected Member; of the House on such points as whether a meeting was held half a mile in one division or in another division. The whole matter is far too big for that.

I would ask the Government one other thing. There is a great block of opinion in this House that has no leader; we have no Member for Epping to lead us. We have no one who is capable of putting our case with the brilliance or the ability of either the Secretary of State or of his chief opponent. We are just ordinary back-bench Members faced with an appallingly difficult position, and we feel very deeply on this question. We feel that we have no Member on the Committee really representing our opinion. That would be agreed to by a great number of hon. Members of this House, and I have come across that opinion all over the House, in private conversations.

Realising that we are in that position, and the difficulties we have to face, we ask the Government that, in the whole of their consideration of the work of this Committee, they should give the most careful consideration to that form of thought and to those opinions. When the time comes to put the conclusions of the Committee into an Act, unless they can carry those of us who take that view, they will not get that great backing in the House of Commons for their Bill which will be necessary for the future of India. I wish to dissociate myself from any kind of attack upon the Government of any sort in this matter, which is far too big for those small things to come in. I am simply stating my position, because I realise that there are many Members who have abstained from voting. It is only right that someone with feelings such as I have should put our position clearly on this occasion.

11.25 a.m.

The SECRETARY of STATE for INDIA (Sir Samuel Hoare)

It will be courteous on my part to make in a few sentences a reply to the points that have just been urged by my hon. Friend the Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams). In the first place, let me say that I am obliged to him for withdrawing on this occasion any opposition that he may have felt it necessary to express on the original occasion when the Committee was set up. Next let me reassure him on the two points which seem to cause him anxiety. First of all, be seemed to think that the fact that I gave evidence-and I am much obliged to him for the kind words in which he referred to this matter-was due to the desire on the part of the Government to put their ease before the Committee.


No; I certainly had nothing of that kind at all in my mind. All that I say is that I do not think it is right that the Committee should be in the position of judging evidence and giving it. I do not accuse the Government of any bias; that is one of the things that I want to keep out of the whole of these Debates. I apologise for interrupting, but I wanted to make that clear.


I fully accept my hon. Friend's explanation As there may be some misunderstanding on this point, let me tell the House that the reason why I gave evidence was to meet a request of the section of the Committee that represents the view of the Right in this House and in another place. Bad it not been for that specific request, I should never have dreamt of going into the witness chair. It was with a view to meeting a request made by a section of the Committee that is doubtful with reference to our proposals.

Let me assure my hon. Friend on this further point. It may be that many of us have expressed our views definitely one way or the other, but I think I am speaking for every Member of the Committee when I say that, during our discussions and during all the many days on which we have been sitting since la it May, we have all of ns tried to clear our minds and to approach these very difficult problems with a sense of grave responsibility and with a desire to hear all sides of every question. If my hon. Friend looks at the evidence that has been tendered to and received by the Committee, he will see that a great deal of it is evidence expressing a critical or opposition view, and it was the general desire of every Member of the Committee to hear all sides of all these questions. I agree with what my hon. Friend said about our Debates here. Let us keep to big issues; let us approach them in a serious and responsible manner. When I speak again I shall try to ignore the pin-pricks that may sometimes be directed towards my insignificant person. Having given these explanations to my hon. Friend, let me say that I am obliged to him for accepting the Resolution, and that I will take to heart the words that he has addressed to the House.

11.20 a.m.


May I ask the Secretary of State one question?I have not taken any part in these discussions, and have not even been associated with my hon. Friend here. There is one thing that the right hon. Gentleman said which I think might give rise to misconception. He said that he gave evidence at the request of a section on the Right. I take it we may understand that that was done with the unanimous consent of the Committee as a whole


Oh, yes, certainly.


I am much obliged. Question put, and agreed to.

Mr. Attlee accordingly nominated a Member of the Committee.

Mr. Butler, Mr. Cadogan, Sir Austen Chamberlain, Mr. Cocks, Sir Reginald Craddock, Mr. Davidson, Mr. Isaac Foot, Sir Samuel Hoare, Mr. Morgan Jones, Sir Joseph Nall, Lord Eustace Percy, Miss Pickford, Sir John Simon, Sir John Wardlaw-Milne, and Earl Winterton nominated other Members of the Committce.