36. Sir J. D. REES
asked the Prime Minister whether, in view of the unfortunate effect upon Mahommedans in India of the resignation of the Secretary of State following immediately upon the publication of the Government of India's pronouncement, some signal and decisive repudiation of any want of sympathy with the India Moslems on the part of His Majesty's Government can be devised and may be expected?
If my hon. Friend will read the letter in which the Prime Minister accepted the resignation of the late Secretary of State, he will sec that that resignation had nothing to do with the merits of the policy advocated by the Government of India, but only with the publication on the sole responsibility of my right hon. Friend without consultation with the Prime Minister, Foreign Secretary or Cabinet of a telegram raising questions whose importance (to use the Prime Minister's words) extended far beyond the frontiers of India or the responsibilities of the office of the Secretary of State for India. As recalled by the Prime Minister in the same letter, the views of the Government of India and of Indian Mahommedans have been most fully before the Government and the Peace Conference, and have received most careful and sympathetic consideration from His Majesty's Government. Our object has been and is, as I stated the other day, to secure a just and honourable peace between the belligerents.
§ Lord R. CECIL
Are they going to translate those good intentions into work, and support the Government of India in their views?
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
Has this statement of the case against the ex-Secretary of State for India been modified, in view of the ex-Secretary's speech at Cambridge, and did the ex-Secretary, in fact, communicate his intention to publish this telegram, and did Lord Curzon take no steps to prevent it?
A half an hour ago, or a little more, I received notice of a private notice question from the hon. and gallant Member. The hon. and gallant Member sent his notice to my room here, and it was by mere accident. I received it before I came down to the House. I have had very little time to consider it. I think, perhaps, I should say something, but that it would be more convenient to do so, in answer to the private notice question afterwards.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
(by Private Notice)asked the Leader of the House whether he has anything to say as to the charges made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Montagu)?
Notice of this question was sent to my room at the House, and only reached me a short while ago. May I take this opportunity of appealing to the House to send Private Notice questions to Downing Street. If they will do so, it will put me in a better position to deal with them.
The speech which my right hon. Friend the late Secretary of State made at Cambridge on Saturday night covered such wide ground that I can hardly deal with it fully, if it were desirable that I should deal with it at all, in answer to a question, but there is some information which I think I ought to give the House at once. May I first of all deal with a minor matter which concerns myself. In the course of his speech my right hon. Friend said:Mr. Chamberlain, in announcing the decision, did it in such a way as to avoid any expression of regret in order that the House might enjoy the uninterrupted vociferations of the Die-hard party, without any counter-cheers or dangers of that kind to spoil the day.Nobody would gather from that statement of my right hon. Friend that, before 1759 making the answer, I had submitted the terms in which I had drawn the answer to my right hon. Friend, and he had made no objection to them. The hon. and gallant Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) apparently thinks that is an observation of no importance. He was in the House, and other hon. Members were in the House, and they will judge whether I sought— indeed, those who know me will know —that if by any words of mine I could have avoided it, I would have avoided such a demonstration as that. I pass from that—which is, after all, a very small matter, but one which I cannot leave wholly unnoticed—to what is a graver matter, the statements made with regard to my Noble Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Viscount Curzon). My Noble Friend is laid up in bed in the country, but he has, sent a message that he will, under any circumstances, come up to London to-morrow in order to be in his place at the first sitting of the House of Lords, there to make a statement in regard to what has been said respecting himself.
I will at once, however, tell the House what I know about the sequence of events. I have ascertained that the first telegram from the Government of India—the one which was subsequently published—was received in the India Office on Wednesday, 1st March, at 8 a.m. The instruction of my right hon. Friend the late Secretary of State to circulate it appears to have been given on 3rd March (Friday) two days later. At any rate, the Paper circulated to the Cabinet is headed by a Minute, and that Minute is initialled by the late Secretary of State to the effect that the Paper was being circulated by him, dated 3rd March, two days after the receipt of the telegram in the India Office. The actual circulation took place at 2.30 p.m. on Saturday, that is to say, the Papers were placed in the Cabinet boxes that were sent out from the Cabinet Secretariat at 2.30 p.m. on Saturday, the 4th.
On the same day a second telegram was received from the Government of India by the India Office asking permission for the immediate publication of their first telegram. My right hon. Friend the late Secretary of State for India was, I believe, in the country when that telegram was received, and it was forwarded to him there. He directed the India Office 1760 to send the telegram in his name authorising the publication on that same day (Saturday). That was a private telegram in consequence of his absence in the country. He stated he would telegraph officially and fully on Monday. There was a Cabinet meeting on Monday, and before the business be tan my Noble Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs called my attention to the telegram from the Government of India, and represented that it would be contrary to the public interest to have it published. I said I entirely agreed with him that such a telegram could not possibly be published at the present time. At the Cabinet or at the close of the Cabinet— I am not quite certain which—he spoke to the late Secretary of State for India, and he at once said, "I have already authorised it; I authorised it on Saturday."
The late Secretary of State for India gave no hint to my Noble Friend that there was still time to stop publication of the telegram. Had he done so, of course, my Noble Friend would have consulted me, and we should, if necessary, have consulted the Cabinet, or acted on our own responsibility, and at once sent a telegram stopping publication. I imagine the late Secretary of State for India did not suggest that there was still time to stop publication, because he himself did not believe it. The Indian Government had asked leave to publish immediately, he had given that authorisation on Saturday, and it was only after wards, for reasons into which I do not go, that the Government of India delayed publication.
I have only one further thing to say My right hon. Friend the late Secretary of State for India, in his speech at Cambridge, took the very unusual course of referring to a private letter sent to him by Lord Curzon, such a private letter as Ministers often send to one another. My Noble Friend wrote that letter as one Cabinet Minister to another, and did not even keep a copy of it himself. I think it is regrettable that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Cambridgeshire should have referred to a private communication of that kind.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
Is it not a fact that the Noble Lord the Foreign Secretary, in writing to the ex-Secretary of State for India, did not protest against 1761 the lack of Cabinet solidarity in publication, but asked that in future any such despatch should not be published without Cabinet authority, and would he therefore get permission from the Noble Lord to have that letter published so that we can see exactly what attitude was taken towards this shocking breach of tradition before it was found advisable to get rid of the late Secretary of State for India.
The hon. and gallant Member is entitled to ask a question, but he is not entitled to make insinuations of that kind when using the forms of the House professedly to seek information.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman insinuates that the reasons publicly given for the resignation of the late Secretary of State for India were a mere pretext. That suggestion is absolutely unfounded. I have told the House already that not only have I not seen the letter written by my Noble Friend to the Secretary of State, but that it was of such a character—a private letter from colleague to colleague—that he himself did not keep a copy of it. I cannot say anything as to the publication of the letter. My Noble Friend will deal with it to-morrow, but I do say there is indeed an end to Cabinet responsibility if one Cabinet Minister is to allude publicly to a private letter received from another Cabinet Minister, and is by so doing to force publication of his private letter.
May I ask whether the Government have any objection to the full publication of this letter? Does the letter request the late Secretary of State not to bring these matters before the Cabinet, but to consult the Foreign Secretary on the matter?
I have said I have not seen the letter. I have no doubt my Noble Friend will say whatever he thinks necessary on the subject in the House of Lords to-morrow.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
The right hon. Gentleman suggested that I made an insinuation. May I ask how he reconciles the action taken towards the late Secretary of State for India and the 1762 action taken in exactly similar circumstances towards the speech of the Secretary of State for the Colonies in connection with a similar subject?
The hon. and gallant Gentleman having made an unfounded allegation, now tries to cover his action by an argument. I state that his allegation is unfounded.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I have received a notice from the hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. O'Connor) that he wishes to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House. I do not know whether what has occurred just now may alter the view. I think I ought to point out that his Motion ought not to raise questions of Government policy, but only this immediate matter of alleged incorrect attitude between individual Ministers.
The Leader of the House has made an appeal to me not to put this Motion, in a letter which he sent to me only this morning, and I am very much impressed by his suggestion, especially at a critical moment like this for my right hon. Friend. I feel that I ought to ask the opinion of the House upon my Motion, if it be in order, as I understand it is, because I think it is necessary we should have a frank discussion on an incident so remarkable, and, secondly, to put ourselves right with the people of India. For that reason I hope my right hon. Friend will offer no opposition to my Motion.
May I say that, my appeal to the hon. Gentleman not to make his Motion was based on two grounds, and two grounds only. The second ground was that we are pressed' for time in our financial, business. The other, and more important ground, the; one which I took first, was that I think it contrary to the public interest that we should have a discussion upon the policy to be followed in the Near East in anticipation of the meeting of the Paris Conference. That, I understand, would not, in any case, be in order, and, accordingly, that objection, which is my main objection, falls to the ground. I shall not, therefore, raise any objection if the hon. Gentleman wishes to discuss this matter, but I confess that I should have expected my right hon. Friend the 1763 Member for Cambridgeshire to be in the House after the speech which he made in Cambridge.
May I say that, in courtesy to my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, I sent him a letter announcing that I was going to make this Motion.
It is very de-desirable, when we do discuss his speech, that he should be in the House.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
Once again, I must point out to the hon. Member that his proposed Motion does not raise—and it would not be in order to raise:—the question of policy in the Near East. It raises only the alleged incorrect action on the part of individual Members, without consulting the Cabinet, and, if a Debate arise, it must necessarily be confined to that matter.
§ Mr. G. LAMBERT
May I ask whether it would not be extremely inconvenient to have a Debate such as this on the action of the Government in relation to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Cambridgeshire in the possible absence of that right hon. Gentleman who is responsible in the matter?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
That is a matter for the House to decide in considering whether or not to support the Motion.
The best thing that I can do is to leave myself in the hands of the House. If hon. Members are desirous that this discussion should go on, they will support my Motion.
§ Sir FORTESCUE FLANNERY
Is there any precedent for a discussion of this kind in the absence of the Minister who has recently resigned, and is it not the custom for a Minister who has resigned to state the reasons for his resignation to the House, and submit himself to the judgment of the House when he is himself present?
May I say a word before the hon. Member decides what he is going to do. I do not want to resist a discussion if the House desires it. Clearly, if the action of the Prime Minister or of the Government be challenged, we must meet the discussion which follows, and I must disclaim the 1764 idea that they, or I, would shrink from it. The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, as I say, is ill, but in spite of his illness, whatever happens, he intends to be in his place in the House of Lords to make his statement on the first day that that House meets. I do suggest that there is inconvenience in our undertaking to discuss the matter in the unavoidable absence of the Prime Minister, and in the absence, apparently, of the late Secretary of State for India, and before my Noble Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs has been able to say anything as to his part in the transactions.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
I think, if I may say so, that a discussion under such conditions would be more or less futile and inconclusive, but I would urgently press the Leader of the House to give the House a full opportunity, after the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs has made his statement, and when there is a prospect of the late Secretary of State for India being here—of course, it is impossible for him to guarantee that—to discuss the whole matter.
§ Lord R. CECIL
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he has noticed in his speech that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for one of the divisions of Cambridge not only alleges a particular controversy with Lord Curzon, but alleges in so many words that Cabinet responsibility has ceased to exist, which is a very serious allegation?
Yes, I have noticed it, and, if my right hon. Friend the late Secretary of State for India has cherished all these convictions for so long a time, it only surprises me that he remained a Member of the Cabinet. This is a matter on which some opportunity must be found if the House wants to challenge a discussion, but I really do not know where I am to find it. I do not know whether you, Sir, would allow my hon. Friend, if he does not move the Adjournment to-day, to move it at some later date when the statement of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs has been made and when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Cambridgeshire will at least have an opportunity of being present. There may seem to be some irregularity in that course, but I think that you and your predecessor have occasionally allowed 1765 the Motion to be moved at a later date when there were circumstances which appeared to render the rule of urgency not immediately applicable. I would submit that you might possibly on this occasion consider that the urgency would arise, if it arises at all, when that statement has been made by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and not before.
§ Mr. CLYNES
May I be allowed to say that the view which has just been expressed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith) is a view which I share? The evident feeling of the House must have been observed by my hon. Friend the Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. O'Connor), and, in the circumstances, I think it would not be helpful to the House to have a discussion of this matter in the absence of the ex-Minister and before the statement which we are told is to be made in another place to-morrow. I will therefore make an appeal to my hon. Friend not to press his Motion.
I cannot resist that appeal. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] The same appeal was made by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, who always has great authority with me considering his perfectly honourable character and high position. In reply to that appeal, which I understand meets with the general assent of the House, I do not persist with my Motion. May I raise it on Wednesday?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The point has been put to me whether, supposing the matter be raised on Wednesday, I will not take any objection on the ground of urgency. I think, in the circumstances, it would be reasonable for me to adopt that view, because, undoubtedly, what is to occur to-morrow will throw more light one way or another on the facts. Therefore, if the matter be not pressed to-day, I will not take objection on the ground of urgency on Wednesday, although I must keep my control over the nature of the Motion, so as to ensure that it comes under Standing Order No. 10.