§ 41. Mr. Sorensen
asked the Secretary of State for India whether he has considered a recent statement by Mr. Gandhi respecting political developments in India; and whether he has any further statement to make on the present position?
§ The Secretary of State for India (Mr. Amery)
If the hon. Member is referring, in the first part of his Question, to the recent article by Mr. Gandhi in his periodical "Harijan," I regret that a reply of mine to a Supplementary Question on 25th July should have lent itself to an interpretation which was certainly not intended. That His Majesty's Government are seriously concerned with the situation in India and anxious to bring about co-operation between all parties will, I think, be clear from the statement which I have to make in answer to the second part of the hon. Member's Question. As that statement is rather long, I will, with Mr. Speaker's permission, read it at the end of Questions.
§ Mr. Amery
I am glad to have an opportunity of drawing the attention of the House to a Statement issued in India this morning by the Governor-General with the authority of His Majesty's Government. The text of the Statement has been issued as a Command Paper which is now available in the Vote Office, but I think it is of sufficient importance to justify my reading it now to the House. The Statement is as follows:
India's anxiety at this moment of critical importance in the world struggle against tyranny and aggression to contribute to the full to the common cause and to the triumph of our common ideals is manifest. She has already made a mighty contribution. She is anxious to make a greater contribution still. His Majesty's Government are deeply concerned that that unity of national purpose in India which would enable her to do so should be achieved at as early a moment as possible. They feel that some 403 further statement of their intentions may help to promote that unity. In that hope they have authorised me to make the present statement.
2. Last October, His Majesty's Government again made it clear that Dominion Status was their objective for India. They added that they were ready to authorise the expansion of the Governor-General's Council to include a certain number of representatives of the political parties, and they proposed the establishment of a consultative committee. In order to facilitate harmonious co-operation, it was obvious that some measure of agreement in the Provinces between the major parties was a desirable pre-requisite to their joint collaboration at the Centre. Such agreement was unfortunately not reached, and in the circumstances no progress was then possible.
3. During the earlier part of this year I continued my efforts to bring the political parties together. In these last few weeks I again entered into conversations with prominent political personages in British India and the Chancellor of the Chamber of Princes, the results of which have been reported to His Majesty's Government. His Majesty's Government have seen also the resolutions passed by the Congress Working Committee, the Moslem League and the Hindu Mahasabha.
4. It is clear that earlier differences which had prevented the achievement of national unity remain unbridged. Deeply as His Majesty's Government regret this, they do not feel that they should any longer, because of those differences, postpone the expansion of the Governor-General's Council, and the establishment of a body which will more closely associate Indian public opinion with the conduct of the war by the Central Government. They have authorised me accordingly to invite a certain number of representative Indians to join my Executive Council. They have authorised me further to establish a War Advisory Council which would meet at regular intervals and which would contain representatives of the Indian States and of other interests in the national life of India as a whole.
5. The conversations which have taken place, and the resolutions of the bodies which I have just mentioned, made it clear, however, that there is still in certain 404 quarters doubt as to the intentions of His Majesty's Government for the constitutional future of India, and that there is doubt, too, as to whether the position of minorities, whether political or religious, is sufficiently safeguarded in relation to any future constitutional change by assurances already given. There are two main points that have emerged. On those two points His Majesty's Government now desire me to make their position clear.
6.The first is as to the position of minorities in relation to any future constitutional scheme. It has already been made clear that my declaration of last October does not exclude examination of any part either of the Act of 1935 or of the policy and plans on which it is based. His Majesty's Government's concern that full weight should be given to the views of minorities in any revision has also been brought out. That remains the position of His Majesty's Government.
It goes without saying that they could not contemplate transfer of their present responsibilities for the peace and welfare of India to any system of Government whose authority is directly denied by large and powerful elements in India's national life. Nor could they be parties to the coercion of such elements into submission to such a Government.
7.The second point of general interest is the machinery for building within the British Commonwealth of Nations the new constitutional scheme when the time comes. There has been very strong insistence that the framing of that scheme should be primarily the responsibility of Indians themselves, and should originate from Indian conceptions of the social, economic and political structure of Indian life. His Majesty's Government are in sympathy with that desire and wish to see it given the fullest practical expression, subject to the due fulfilment of the obligations which Great Britain's long connection with India has imposed on her and for which His Majesty's Government cannot divest themselves of responsibility. It is clear that a moment when the Commonwealth is engaged in a struggle for existence is not one in which fundamental constitutional issues can be decisively resolved. But His Majesty's Government authorise me to declare that they will most readily assent to the setting up after the conclusion of the war with the least possible delay of a body representative of the principal elements in 405 India's national life in order to devise the framework of the new Constitution, and they will lend every aid in their power to hasten decisions on all relevant matters to the utmost degree. Meanwhile they will welcome and promote in any way possible every sincere and practical step that may be taken by representative Indians themselves to reach a basis of friendly agreement, first upon the form which the post-war representative body should take and the methods by which it should arrive at its conclusions and secondly upon the principles and outlines of the Constitution itself. They trust, however, that for the period of the war (with the Central Government reconstituted and strengthened in the manner I have described, and with the help of the War Advisory Council) all parties, communities and interests, will combine and co-operate in making a notable Indian contribution to the victory of the world cause which is at stake. Moreover, they hope that in this process new bonds of union and understanding will emerge, and thus pave the way towards the attainment by India of that free and equal partnership in the British Commonwealth which remains the proclaimed and accepted goal of the Imperial Crown and of the British Parliament."
§ Mr. Sorensen
Has the right hon. Gentleman, in view of the great importance and significance of his statement, communicated with the principal parties in India; and, secondly, will he arrange with the Prime Minister for an early opportunity for this House to have a discussion on the subject?
§ Mr. Amery
As regards the first part of the question, the hon. Member will see that the Viceroy himself stated that he had been in touch with the leaders of political opinion in India, and I understand that he is in close touch with them now. With regard to the second part of the question, I will leave that to my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal.
§ Major-General Sir Alfred Knox
In this conference which it is proposed to have after the war, will every class and race in India be represented, together with European interests in India as well?
§ Mr. Gallacher
Is the Minister not aware that the closing of the Burma Road has had a very disastrous effect on feeling in India?
§ Mr. Gallacher
A statement has been made. Am I not entitled to draw attention to the fact that that statement will have no effect unless certain other action is taken?
§ Sir Stanley Reed
When shall we have an opportunity of knowing who will be the members appointed as additional members of the Viceroy's Executive Council; and if, for reasons which we appreciate, a general discussion of this matter has to be postponed, when shall we have some further information as to the relations between the Consultative Committee and the Government of India as represented by the Governor-General and his Executive Council?
§ Mr. Amery
The actual personnel of the large Executive Council will, naturally, be a matter for consultation during the next few days between the Governor-General and the representatives of the leading parties. I cannot at this moment say when that process will be completed. The relationship of the Executive Council to the War Advisory Council is that the Executive Council is the Governor-General's Executive Council, carrying on the Government of British India. The War Advisory Council is an All-India council, in which not only representatives of the States but representatives of all interests who can help forward the war effort can be drawn in.
§ Mr. Sorensen
Does the right hon. Gentleman not appreciate that, in view of his very wide and comprehensive statement, an early date should be arranged for a discussion?
§ The Lord Privy Seal (Mr. Attlee)
If the hon. Member had not got up, I was just going to reply to his previous question. Obviously, if the House wishes to discuss this, an opportunity will be provided. There may be an opportunity on Wednesday next, if the earlier business is finished. Perhaps hon. Members will see whether that is possible after my statement on business.
§ Sir Percy Harris
Is it not desirable that before we adjourn for the Recess we should have a discussion on the international situation?