§ Mr. Speaker
It will probably be convenient "for the House to discuss the various Motions on the Order Paper as one on the first Motion, and for the Motions to be put separately at the end.
§ The Secretary of State for India (Mr. Amery)
I beg to move,That this House approves the continuance in force of the Proclamation issued under Section 93 of the Government of India Act, 1935 by the Governor of Madras on 30th October, 1939, a copy of which was presented to this House on 28th November, 1939The purpose of the Motions which I am submitting to the House to-day is to extend for another 12 months the Proclamamations issued under the provisions of Section 93 of the India Act. Under the terms of that Section, a Governor of a Province, if satisfied that a situation has arisen in which Parliamentary government cannot be carried on in accordance with the Act, can by proclamation assume all or any of the powers vested in the Provincial bodies and authorities. This situation arose in October, 1939, in consequence of the action of the Congress Parties so-called "High Command" in ordering the Congress Ministries to resign. Proclamations under Section 93 were accordingly issued in seven Provinces, and their continuance in force for a further 12 months was duly approved by the House on 18th April of last year. There has been no change in the situation since then, and we have, I regret to say, no alternative to a further extension of these emergency provisions.
I would remind the House, however, that these Motions are only concerned with seven out of the 11 Provinces of British India. In the four Provinces of Bengal, Assam, Sind and the Punjab, with a population of something like 100,000,000 persons—one-third of the whole population of British India—Provincial self-government has continued to work uninterruptedly under composite Governments, comprised of Hindu and Moslem Ministers. On all the questions most nearly affecting the ordinary life of the citizen—all the questions, in fact, which occupy most of the attention of this House in times of peace—these 100,000,000 of Indians have now for four 48 years been enjoying the advantages of democratic self-government. Ministers and legislators have continued to gain experience and are making their effective contribution, not only to the welfare of their constituents within the wide sphere of their direct authority, but to India's general war effort. I think we ought not to under-estimate the significance of this remarkable advance in self-government over so large a field. Nor can we afford to ignore the importance of the voice which these Provinces, through their Governments are bound to exercise in any deliberations affecting the future Constitution of India.
From this point of view, it is, of course, a matter of deep regret that the 200,000,000 inhabitants of the other seven Provinces of India were, by the ukase of the Congress High Command, forbidden to continue to build up the practice and tradition of self-government. Their Governments too had made a satisfactory beginning, and if they made mistakes—as even we here have been known to do—the remedy lay with their electors. So far, indeed, as the Provincial electorates are concerned, it must be admitted that they nowhere showed any signs of distress at the suspension of Parliamentary government, in this respect no doubt differing very widely from what would be the attitude of our own electors if they were deprived of the services of this Front Bench. In fact, the change to direct personal government by Governors and permanent officials met with general acquiescence and indeed good will. Whatever political unrest there may be in India to-day has certainly not arisen in any way from the suspension of Provincial self-government. There has, I should add, been no discontinuity or abrupt reversal in either administrative or legislative policy. In a few instances, indeed, notably in connection with prohibition, legislation has had to be modified in consequence of legal decisions, but generally speaking, the work of beneficent social policy continues in full progress and with broad public approval. The House, consequently, need not fear that the continuance of direct government in these Provinces for another 12 months will of itself add to the difficulties of the political situation.
What, indeed, was really serious in the action of the Congress-controlled Minis- 49 tries was not so much the direct and immediate result of their action in the Provinces themselves, as the complete disregard displayed by the most powerful political organisation in India for the responsibilities of self-government and the indirect effect of this evidence of Congress methods upon the general political situation. When we speak of responsible Parliamentary government, we are apt to emphasise one particular aspect of that responsibility—I mean the responsibility of Government towards the party majority in the Legislature. But responsible Parliamentary government, if it is to work successfully raid be worthy of the name, implies a threefold responsibility. There is, first and foremost, responsibility to the Crown, in other words, to the general welfare, the duty of maintaining a substantial continuity and efficiency of government, of seeing, in the old phrase, that "the King's Government is carried on" There is, secondly, the responsibility to Parliament as an institution, founded, if I may say so, Mr. Speaker, on your authority and upon the rights of minorities, which, subject to the established procedure of Parliament, are in your keeping. It is only in the third place, and subject to these dominating responsibilities, that a Government is responsible to its supporters in Parliament for the promotion of particular policies in which they are interested.
In the present case Ministers resigned, not as a result of any differences with their Governors, not over any issue of Provincial policy, and not at the instance of their own supporters in Parliament. They resigned, prepared to bring about a complete breakdown of the administrative and Parliamentary life of their Provinces, at the orders of an outside executive who wished, in this imperious and irresponsible fashion, to express its disapproval of the absence of a statement by the British Government on war aims framed to its liking. I can only say that whatever may have been the motives which inspired the conduct both of the Congress High Command and of the Provincial Ministries, there is no greater danger to democratic self-government in India as elsewhere than party totalitarianism. What has been even more immediately serious has been the effect of this demonstration of Congress methods upon other dements in India—the non-Congress Pro- 50 vinces, the Moslem community generally, and the Princes. It has confirmed, to the point of a fixed determination, their already growing reluctance to take part in, or come under, any Central Government in India which is likely to be subject to the control of a majority in the Legislature which, in its turn, would simply obey the orders of the Congress Central Executive. Congress repudiated the Federal provisions of the Act of 1935 largely because they weighted representation to some extent in the Legislature, in favour of minority elements, in what it regarded an undemocratic sense. Congress, I fear, is blinded to the risk that no alternative Constitution is now likely to emerge which can secure for it as great a measure of influence and control over India as a whole as it would have exercised under the present Act.
The most significant symptom of the changed situation is the growing strength of the demand, voiced by Mr. Jinnah, Leader of the Moslem League, for the complete severance from the rest of India of the North-Western and North-Eastern zones, in which Moslems constitute a majority, and their establishment as completely independent States controlling their own foreign policy, their own defence, their Customs, and their finance. I am not concerned here to discuss the immense practical difficulties in the way of the so-called Pakistan project stated in this extreme form. Nor need I go back to the dismal record of India's history in the 18th century or to the disastrous experience of the Balkan countries before our eyes to-day, in order to point out the terrible dangers inherent in any break up of the essential unity of India in its relation to the outside world. After all, there is no British achievement in India of which we have better reason to be proud than the unity, with internal peace and reign of law, which we have given her. It is enough for my purpose if I can impress upon the House, on the one hand, the underlying determination of Moslem India not to accept any Constitution which does not give reasonably free play to the individual life of the predominantly Moslem units, and, on the other hand, the growing danger of the preaching on both sides, Hindu and Moslem, of extreme and incompatible policies.
It was the recognition of this danger, as well as the hope that the gravity of the 51 war situation might bring the parties together in a spirit of responsibility and of co-operation, that led His Majesty's Government to make the new statement of policy which was made public by Lord Linlithgow in August last. What was the essence of that statement? It was that the framework of India's future Constitution should be devised, not by this House, but by Indians for themselves. That was a far-reaching and, indeed, a revolutionary announcement, the full importance of which has not, I think, even yet been fully appreciated either in this country or in India. It was in effect a recognition in advance of India's status as a Dominion. That recognition was coupled with two conditions. One was that provision would have to be made for the due fulfilment of the obligations which Great Britain's long connection with India has imposed on her. Some of these, such as, for instance, the obligations towards existing members of the Ser vices, are by their very nature terminable. Others, like those arising from India's present dependence upon this country for her defence, will naturally be subject to modification with the growth of India's own capacity to defend her self unaided. Others, such as the Treaty obligations of the Crown towards the Indian Princes, are of a more enduring character. In any case, none of these need stand in the way of shaping the permanent structure of India's future Constitution, which is to be essentially an Indian Constitution framed in accordance with Indian conceptions of Indian conditions and of Indian needs.
Even more important in this connection is the second, namely, the stipulation that the Constitution itself, and also the body which is to frame it, must be the outcome of agreement between the principal elements in India's national life. That is an essential pre-requisite to the success of the future Constitution, for, if Indians cannot agree upon the kind of Constitution they are prepared to work, how are they likely to agree upon the actual working of it? Our Constitution here works because there is behind it an unwritten agreement, based upon centuries of tradition, as to the limits within which the majority can exercise its position of advantage. Elsewhere, in all federal Constitutions, previous free agree- 52 ment upon the nature of the Constitution and the limits within which majority rule can be exercised, has been the condition upon which the various elements of the federations have been prepared to act together. Anxious as we are to see the responsibility of Indian government resting upon Indian shoulders, we can only transfer that authority to some body which can assume it without immediately breaking down or breaking up.
Subject to that requisite of agreement, which is, I submit, inherent in the circumstances of the Indian situation and is not arbitrarily imposed by ourselves, the whole constitutional field is open for the modification or fundamental reconstruction of the existing Act. Indian statesmen need not be bound either by the system of government at the Centre contemplated in that Act, or by the relations between that Centre and the constituent units. If they consider that agreement can be promoted by a redistribution of powers or by a rearrangement of boundaries, or by changes in the electoral system, that is for them to discuss and settle. If they come to the conclusion that our type of democracy, with an Executive dependent upon a Parliamentary majority, stands in the way of agreement, and that Indian needs might be better met by an Executive deriving its authority more directly from the federated units and, like the American Executive, independent of the Legislature, that, again, is their responsibility.
We who, in this House, wrestled for many months with the intricacies of the existing Act—and I still look upon that Act as a very remarkable piece of constructive statesmanship—should be the last to underrate the difficulty of the task which lies before Indian statesmanship. It is a task which calls, not least for sheer hard thinking in the working-out of the practical ways and means of solving an immensely complicated problem. It is a task which calls, above all, for that mediating and moderating spirit, without which great ends cannot be achieved in human affairs. This is the task to which we have invited Indian statesmanship, and while the decisive, final resolution of so fundamental an issue obviously cannot take place in the midst of the life-and-death struggle in which we are engaged, there is nothing whatever to 53 prevent Indian political leaders, Indian thinkers, Indian business men engaging now in those preliminary discussions and studies which are so essential to success and which, no more in India than elsewhere, can be hastily disposed of. We at any rate, are only too anxious to promote such study and discussion in every way possible. All the same, the main responsibility, both for the initiation and for the completion of this high inquiry, rests with Indians themselves. We can only pledge ourselves to hasten, to the utmost degree, decisions on relevant issues which lie within our power. But it is upon Indian statesmen in the main, and not upon us, that the time-table of future constitutional progress must depend.
So much for the major constitutional problem. There was the further question whether, in the interval, there was any practical step which the Government could take and which, without prejudging the major issue, could contribute towards its solution. There could, of course, be no question of changing over the whole basis of administrative and legislative power in the supreme crisis of the war, or of placing the direction of India's war effort in the hands of an entirely new Executive. Nor, indeed, could that have been done without at once raising those very issues of the division of power between the conflicting elements in India which are still unresolved. What we could do, and did do, was to invite Indian leaders representing the main political factors to join the Viceroy's Executive Council. The invitation to them was not only to take charge individually of important Departments of State, but also to partake fully in the collective responsibility of the country. Their inclusion would have brought the Indian membership of the Council, official and un-official, up to a substantial majority of the whole. But it would not have so altered the essential character of the Council, as to deprive the Governor-General of his existing trusted advisers, or so as to commit the Indian leaders who joined it to any course which would have deprived them of a free hand in dealing with the future. We believed, and still believe, that it would give real power, increasing power, and valuable experience to men who have hitherto been in political opposition. Above all, we hoped, 54 and still hope, that the creation of such a coalition Executive, bringing the older and the newer elements together, would afford an opportunity for Indian leaders, in the atmosphere of the common effort for India's security, to forget for a while their differences and begin to envisage their problems in the light of a wider Indian patriotism.
So far, our hopes have been disappointed. Congress rejected, out of hand, both our major and our interim proposals. Its attitude is "all or nothing," and by "all" it means the immediate independence of an India governed by a Constitution which would ensure Congress control. It refused even to discuss the matter and proceeded to launch a curious campaign of Mr. Gandhi's devising. In pursuance of that campaign, Congress leaders, including ex-Premiers and ex-Ministers, as well as members of the rank and file, have made speeches which have been intended and calculated to interfere with the war effort. They have deliberately challenged fine or imprisonment with the same unquestioning obedience to the party whip, as when they resigned office in the Provinces, and in many cases, I believe, the same misgiving and reluctance. The situation thus created is naturally embarrassing, as; of course, it was meant to be embarrassing. But, clearly, the Government cannot punish ordinary offenders and overlook the same offences when committed by men whose position and whose course of action deliberately enhance the significance and the political effect of the offence.
This campaign of civil disobedience by instalments has now been in progress for nearly six months. The first phase, in which illegal action was confined to leading members of Congress, continued up to the beginning of January. The second phase, which included members of Provincial and local committees, ended early this month, and we are now in what may be called the rank-and-file phase. Magistrates, while vindicating the law, have treated the problem with great common sense, ignoring nonentities and in many cases imposing fines without the option of imprisonment. This latter procedure has been so discouraging to some of those whose chief inducement was the prospective electioneering advantage of a prison sentence that Mr. Gandhi has had to 55 announce that the payment of a fine will count as an equally meritorious sacrifice in the Congress cause. On the whole, I think I can say that the movement has proceeded languidly and without evoking much popular interest, except perhaps in the United Provinces, which have in recent months contributed more than half the offences. In the middle of March some 7,000 offenders in all had been convicted, of whom some 5,000 were still in prison. The whole business is as regrettable as it is irrational, but the Government had, and have, no alternative to enforcing the law.
Apart from Congress, the Government's major policy for the constitutional future may be said to have relieved the anxiety of the various elements which compose India's national structure. As regards the more immediate policy of the expansion of the Viceroy's Council, acceptance in principle unfortunately did not lead, as we at one time hoped, to actual agreement in detail. The Moslem League in particular asked for a measure of representation on the Council as against the Hindu elements and made stipulations as to the future which the Viceroy could not see his way to accept. It was, of course, always open to the Viceroy, failing the support of the more important parties, to add to his Council individual Indians of high character and ability, but such a course would not have achieved the desired object, which was to associate representative Hindu and Moslem leaders with the conduct of the war and so bring them closer together for the future. It was, therefore, very reluctantly that Lord Linlithgow decided, after some months, in November last, to discontinue, for the time being at any rate, his unwearied efforts, carried on ever since the war began, to bring the various parties together, leaving the door open to further reconsideration by those directly concerned.
No one can look upon the present deadlock with satisfaction, least of all patriotic Indians who, looking beyond the narrower aim of sectional leaders, are concerned deeply with India's progress towards that equal partnership in our family of free nations which is their goal as well as ours. They, better than anyone else, can help to find a solution. But —and I must add this—they can do so 56 only if they direct their efforts to the real sources of the difficulty. In the last few weeks that distinguished veteran statesman. Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru, whose breadth of outlook and courageous initiative played no small part in the deliberations which led up to the existing Federal scheme, brought together in Bombay a number of eminent Indian public men outside the two main contending political organisations to consider the situation. In the end a resolution was passed—though I am not quite clear as to how many of those who attended one or more meetings of this Conference concurred in it—which has since been discussed by Sir Tej with the Viceroy and submitted to His Majesty's Government. The resolution asked for a complete reconstruction of the Executive Council, converting it into one consisting entirely of unofficial Indians drawn from important elements in public life. This new Council should be responsible, while the war is still in progress, to the Crown and not to the Legislature, but should in substance be treated in regard to all inter-Imperial and international matters on the same footing as a Dominion Government. The resolution also asked that this reconstruction should be accompanied by the announcement of a definite time limit within which India is to attain to the same measure of freedom as is enjoyed by the Dominions.
I should be the last to approach in a critical or unsympathetic spirit proposals brought forward by men of such eminent public service as those who have associated themselves with this resolution, or animated by such a genuine desire to promote India's constitutional progress and also her active participation in the war effort. I will, therefore, only touch very briefly on some of the most obvious difficulties which such a scheme, it carried into effect, would present in practice. The scheme proposed by the resolution would amount, not to the modification of the present form of government, but to its supersession by an entirely different type of government. That is certainly something going beyond what we think practicable in the midst of the ever-increasing strain and urgency of the war situation. It would also create internal constitutional problems of no little difficulty, both in relation to the Provinces, whether those now enjoying self-government or those 57 administered under Section 93, and to the Princes, and in that and other ways it would raise the still unresolved issues of the constitutional future.
That brings me to the underlying issue raised but not faced by the Bombay resolution. If I may say so without discourtesy to those who have sponsored it the resolution seems to me to have been directed to the wrong address. I have already pointed out that the time-table of India's constitutional advance depends far more upon Indian agreement than upon ourselves. But the same applies to any far-reaching alteration of the present constitutional position. As I think I have already made clear, our existing proposal for the expansion of the Viceroy's Council is in suspense, not because those concerned—I am leaving Congress on one side for the moment—condemn the proposal on the ground of inadequacy, but mainly because of the difficulty of reconciling Moslem and Hindu claims for relative position. That difficulty is not lessened, but inevitably enhanced, by any suggestion of a new type of Executive with more extensive powers. It is unfortunately evident that Sir Tej Sapru and his friends have not been able to secure beforehand for their scheme any kind of agreement, if not between Congress and the Moslem League, at any rate between the latter and other representatives of the Hindu majority. Mr. Jinnah, the leader of the Moslem League, has since repudiated the scheme as being on entirely wrong lines and as a trap, to use his phrase, into which Sir Tej had been led by Congress wirepullers. The general secretary of the Mahasabha party, on the other hand, a vigorous exponent of Hinduism, has declared that he will not cooperate in any scheme in which the numerical majority of the Hindu element is not reflected in the composition of the Council. There is obviously no such agreement here as would afford the reconstructed Council political support or even acquiescence in the Legislature.
On the other hand, if the reconstructed Council is to be composed, not of leaders who between them can secure some measure of political backing, but of men individually eminent but politically unsupported, then the objections which weighed against that course in the case of an expansion of the existing Council become much more formidable if it is a 58 question of an entirely new Council with greatly enlarged powers. It would, I think, be very difficult to persuade Parliament to confer Dominion or quasi-Dominion powers on a body so constituted. Nor would such a body, between their responsibility to the Crown on the one side and in face of an unfriendly Legislature on the other, be likely for long to maintain its precarious position. My appeal to Sir Tej and his friends would, therefore, be, not to cease from their efforts, but to concentrate, first and foremost, upon bringing the contending elements in India together. Whether they can best do that by the exercise of their persuasion upon the existing party leaders or by building up a strong central party of men who are prepared to put India first, their efforts may well be decisive in shaping the whole future of their country.
Meanwhile, there are other fields besides that of politics in which India's future is being shaped. In Africa, in Malaya and now in Iraq, India is establishing her claim to consideration as a major factor in the winning of the war. Her troops have, by their gallantry and technical efficiency, made a conspicuous contribution to our victories in Libya and Eritrea. They have faced the trying ordeal of modern war, largely under the leadership of Indian officers who have amply justified their training and the confidence placed in them. Her young Navy has earned the highest commendation from the Admiralty—no easy critics—for its indefatigable work in the seas east of Suez. The expansion of her infant Air Force is only held back as against the rush of recruits by the imperative need elsewhere of a still inadequate total supply of machines. Her industries have already made an unprecedented contribution to her war effort and ours in every kind of military supply.
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham and Worthing)
Can my right hon. Friend tell us—what many of us consider is the most important matter in this Debate—what advance there has been since the last Debate in the production of munitions and the intake of men into the Army?
§ Mr. Amery
I was only referring to this matter quite briefly because of its bearing on the political situation. I am not prepared to go into details, but, of course, my right hon. Friend is at liberty to 59 raise these matters and, so far as I am in a position to answer, I shall be only too happy to do so. What I was going to add on this point—and it is a large part of the answer which I can give to my right hon. Friend—is that, thanks to the stimulative energies of Sir Alexander Roger and his colleagues in the technical mission which was sent out by the Ministry of Supply, as well as to the policy of mutual cooperation with her neighbours set on foot by the Delhi Conference and continued by the Eastern Group Supply Council, India will do so on an ever-increasing scale as the war progresses. All these things constitute a real and indefeasible advance in that progress towards self-dependence and true equality which constitutional developments can and should confirm, but which they cannot of themselves create if the basic conditions are not there.
Our desire in this House, a desire, I think, shared by all parties, is that India should advance, and advance rapidly, all along the line in the indispensable prerequisites to the fullest conceivable measure of freedom. From that point of view, we welcome with pride her achievements in war as evidence of her growing capacity to meet her own defence. We welcome the industrial progress, which will not only sub serve the needs of that defence, but contribute to her general economic strength. We should welcome even more, perhaps, any measures that can raise the standard of nutrition and health of that vast agricultural majority of a population which has, with an almost staggering increase, risen from 350,000,000 to 400,000,000 in the last decade. Above all, we welcome every effort that Indians can make to come together and find a solution to India's complex and difficult problems which will do justice alike to the claims of her diverse elements for a due recognition of their individuality and to the need of that wider unity which is essential to her peace and prosperity.
I have dwelt to-day, deliberately, upon Indian responsibility in this matter, for unless Indians are prepared to face that responsibility now, they will fail to face it hereafter. Agreement imposed by us from without cannot survive the withdrawal of our power to enforce it. Only real agreement, freely reached, can stand that test. It is for Indian statesmen to 60 find that measure of agreement which is indispensable if we, on our side, are to make our further contribution towards the completion of our own task in India, the task of joining with Indian statesmen in crowning the peace and unity already achieved with freedom.
§ Mr. Ammon (Camberwell, North)
The House will agree that whenever the right hon. Gentleman makes a statement on any subject with which he is concerned he gives us a clear and lucid picture of the problems involved. On this occasion he has done as he always does in that respect. Nevertheless, I felt some little concern when he had to admit that there is practically no change in the situation from the time when it was last before the House. That indicates that, strong as may be our hope of additional assistance from India and of a better understanding and a closer relationship, we have made no progress in that direction. While it is true, as the right hon. Gentleman pointed out, that seven of the Provinces arc co-operating very cordially in the Provincial Governments, there must be a considerable element of dissidence in those Provinces and in the half of India outside. These differences present to us the problems with which we are concerned at the present time.
The first thing that must impress us at this time is that India is a vital spot in the British Commonwealth and that on India the whole of the Empire may break down or break up. There is more man-power in India than in the rest of the British Commonwealth, and if only we could secure full and willing co-operation it is difficult to estimate how much that would mean to our war effort. In my opinion no better opportunity is likely to occur over a long period of years than we have now, when there is in power in this country a Government formed on the lines of the existing one. For the time being any way, everyone is concentrating on an endeavour to obtain the maximum unity of effort in this country and in the rest of the Empire, and in that respect I feel that a certain special responsibility, if my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal will permit me to say so, rests upon the members of this party in the Government to press forward the particular lines we have taken. When the right hon. Gentleman last spoke on this subject, in November, he spoke of the flow of willing 61 volunteers to the Armed Forces, and as an instance of it mentioned that for 300 vacancies in the Indian Air Force Reserve there are 18,000 applicants. I think I am right in saying that he also said that enthusiasm for the Air Force was very strong in India. The House would like to know to what extent that enthusiasm has been maintained. What proportion of recruits are we getting to all the Services; or is it the case that we are getting a very limited number indeed, and are not receiving that full co-operation for which we had hoped?
Further, is anything being done to develop the tremendous man-power there is available for the manufacture of armaments? Particularly we should like to know whether anything is being done in the matter of the manufacture of aircraft and internal combustion engines, because it does seem that there we have a reservoir which might relieve us almost of all our perplexities—if we could get them here. It would be interesting also to know from what parts of India volunteers are coming, because then we should be able to judge more or less the extent of the opposition and the resistance, for one saw with no little concern that only in the last day or two Mr. Ghandi has made an announcement that the civil disobedience campaign is to go on. Are we relying on what are termed the fighting races only or are we getting help from others, because it is only since the Mutiny that we have begun to talk about the so-called fighting races and not taking much into account the other parts of India which give help in that respect? There was one other point raised in the Debate last autumn to which one would like an answer, because there is considerable criticism about it. It concerned the Indian workers who are being brought to this country to work in armament factories, and the question was whether they have the same pay and conditions of service as their European opposite numbers. On that occasion the right hon. Gentleman said that he was unable then to give any information, but the matter was being inquired into.
Those are a few of the questions which were raised in the previous Debate to which so far there have not been definite answers. But, after all, the background has got to be looked at when we are considering this problem and the difficulties we are faced with in getting full and 62 wholehearted co-operation. There are more people in India than in the rest of the British Commonwealth, and the tragedy is that most of them are living under conditions of degrading poverty. There are 90 per cent, in the villages deeply immersed in debt. There are 21,000,000 landless labourers whose income amounts only to 1d. or 2d. a day. There is tremendous mortality arising out of poverty and associated diseases. There is a lack of big schemes for health services. These things must be taken into consideration when we are calling upon a people to assist us in present conditions. There is in India a tremendous contrast between riches and poverty, a greater contrast than in almost any other part of the world, particularly when we consider the riches of the native rulers. One readily acknowledges the generous help they have given to our war effort, but one thinks that probably the help would have been quite as large, and perhaps larger, if it came from an India where the general level of prosperity and good will was even higher than it is. Indirect reference has also been made to the diversities in language creating difficulties in securing co-operative effort.
Another point we have to notice is that a promise of independence was given to India after the last war. Quite honestly, we have to admit that the fulfilment of that promise has not been carried out, and although Lord Linlithgow's offer has been submitted, it docs not go the whole way towards what was expected when that promise was made.
§ Mr. Ammon
The promise was made during the war that they would be given independence when the war was over. Since then the Executive in India has increased its power, and forces are still maintained which are often used against the masses if they show any resistance. I have supported the Government in their actions, and do so now, but I have mentioned these matters because one has to take notice of the various factors which go to make up the problem. In the last discussion the right hon. Gentleman said, and I said so too, that the best hope we had was that all parties in India should get together and come to some under- 63 standing and submit their proposals in order that they may be considered with a view to arriving at a settlement. But look at the conditions facing us in that respect. The right hon. Gentleman has to-day told us something of how, it seems, the various opposing elements and leaders are determined that in no circumstances will they compose their differences. The President of the Congress, Dr. Prasad, said in November, 1939:The present crisis has arisen owing to the outbreak of war in Europe and the action of the British Government in declaring India a belligerent country without the consent of the Indian peopleIn that respect we acted very unwisely. It would have been wise had we at any rate gone through the process of consulting with India and its leaders at the very outset, in order to get their cooperation. But that we failed to do, and it gave an opportunity to other elements who were out to stir up trouble, and they have exploited the opportunity to the full. Then the Viceroy, also speaking in November, 1939, and referring to the discussions that had taken place between the rival "elements, said:The discussions which have taken place between the representatives of the Congress and the Moslem league have not ended in agreementFurther, Mr. Gandhi, replying to Mr. Jinnah, said:Jinnah Jinnah Sahib looks to the British power to safeguard the Moslem rights. Nothing that the Congress can do or concede will satisfy himMr. Jinnah said:I assure Mr. Gandhi that the Mussulmans of India depend upon their own inherent strengthThose quotations will indicate to the House the difficulties and problems which have to be faced before we can arrive at anything like an understanding in India or at an endeavour to work out a peaceful settlement. The present situation affords us a favourable opportunity— never better. Despite mistrust, there is at least one strong, common bond during the present struggle between India and this country, and that is the common detestation of Nazidom and all that it represents. In this matter we have India's full sympathy. I suggested to Indians on the last occasion that they would be wise to accept the Viceroy's offer and to endeavour to make the best 64 possible use of it, and to strengthen their position in that direction. One hoped that India would be content with Dominion status. One sees the difficulties. Dominion status applies to people with a common language and' inheritance and not so well to people who have an altogether different point of view. Unfortunately, the Indians have not seen their way to adopt my suggestion. Where are we now? Surely it is for this country to try to suggest an incentive to which Indians may work.
I am disappointed that the offer of the Viceroy has received such little acceptance. One agrees that it is absurd to ask for immediate independence and Withdrawal of Forces, or for the matter to be even considered at this stage. Nevertheless, a way must be found for discussion and for getting views as to the best course to be adopted. As I see it, the trouble is that, even when we win the war, the British Empire might break up on the anvil of India unless a way of meeting the difficulties can be found. I urge upon the right hon. Gentleman and his friends in the Cabinet a small thing. It is that he should, first of all, go to India himself. There is a lot to be said for creating the right atmosphere and giving Indians the feeling that we are really concerned about them and their immediate problems. I do not say that his going there would solve all the problems, but it would, at any rate, do something to make a better atmosphere, and that would be worth while.
It might be well if we considered introducing into Parliament and embodying in a Bill a scheme whereby, after a certain number of years—five, 10 or 20 if you like—independence would be given to India. If that were done, you would provide a clear and definite objective to which the Indian nation could strive. After a time the Indians would have to begin toning down the disruptive tendencies of various sections among themselves in order to prepare for the conditions that would arise at the end of the period.
§ Sir John Wardlaw - Milne (Kidderminster)
Does the hon. Gentleman mean independence or Dominion status?
§ Mr. Ammon
I am now talking of independence. The hon. Member will remember that I have already indicated some 65 of the difficulties that arise with regard to Dominion status. I am suggesting that the matter be approached from a new angle and that we declare that, a definite number of years hence, independence will be granted. There is a precedent, which must not be driven too far, set by the United States of America with regard to the Philippines, whereby, in 1946, full independence will be given to that country, as embodied in an Act of Congress that has already been passed. If we adopted such a course it would have the effect of turning the energies of agitators into making preparations for dealing with the conditions that would arise, and it would give an opportunity for the British Government to endeavour to mould opinion there and to go on with education in a larger measure than they have done. It would make it possible to arrive at some method of obtaining a larger measure of co-operation between India and ourselves. One hopes that, as a result of the educative work in the intervening years, India would elect to remain part of the British Empire; but it would be the choice of a free people, a wholly different thing from the feeling of being compelled and pressed to stay in.
In the meantime, there could be a properly planned Federation, to which the right hon. Gentleman is not wholly unsympathetic. There would have to be no packing of the Central Legislature; let it be democratically elected by the same electorates as vote for the Provincial Assemblies. Its authority should be restricted only by the rights of the Provinces and, if wished, by the reserved power of the Viceroy, during the preliminary period. There should be a clear division of function between the Central and the Provincial Legislatures. I believe that, with some such programme, we should get the whole-hearted and enthusiastic co-operation of India in our war effort. We should be able to draw upon India's illimitable resources of manpower and to get a much better flow into the Armed Forces of the Crown. It would give an opportunity for the better elements in India to come together and pool their resources, powers and energies, and we should see whether a system could be worked out which, when the time came, could give India a Government worthy of that country and bind India to the British 66 Empire with bonds that could never be broken.
§ Mr. Wilfrid Roberts (Cumberland, Northern)
I listened with very great interest to the Secretary of State for India, who placed before us very clearly, in a beautifully expressed statement, the situation that exists. He left with me a sense of frustration and disappointment One cannot help feeling that, unless some progress is made in obtaining the cooperation of Indian leaders, developments may occur in India that may become very serious. The Secretary of State told us of the great difficulties in getting any agreement among the chief organisations of political and religious opinion in India. What brings political parties of different views together to face problems practically is constructive action, and unless means of obtaining co-operation from the Indian leaders are found, those differences will grow wider and deeper as time goes on. Broadly speaking, one of the serious problems which arises in many spheres in this war is our inability to get the cooperation of people in many parts of the world who, while essentially our friends and deeply committed to our cause, yet, because of superficial reasons sometimes, short-sightedness, or fear in other cases, adopt an attitude of non-co-operation, neutrality and of hesitancy, which means that in the case of India while Indian troops are doing magnificent work, which we all welcome, on the political side there is this deplorable situation, in which thousands of leaders who are really wholeheartedly committed to our cause are being imprisoned by ourselves.
I do not think that I am capable of making any detailed constructive suggestions, and I speak only in order to voice what I believe is the feeling of a very large section of opinion in this country and all over the world, namely, that it is not enough for us and our Government to say to the Indian people and to their politicians in a negative way, '' You must settle your differences before we can do anything more." We have made mistakes in the past. I agree with the last speaker that it was a vital and very unfortunate mistake that Indians were not more fully consulted at the outbreak of the war. But that is in the past. It is now our duty, and I am sure it is of vital importance, that we should make 67 every effort to make some progress in associating Indians with the conduct of the war and with the control of India's contribution towards the war. I would suggest to the Secretary of State that anything that is done during this war no doubt must be of a temporary nature and that, therefore, he should not be too particular or too punctilious in the constitutional precedents which might be set up by any action that he now takes in carrying out the vital principle that Indians should have a very much greater control over the affairs of India during the war.
I was disappointed that the Secretary of State seemed to see so many difficulties in the suggestion which has been made by Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru. The initiative which he and others have taken seemed to me to be the most helpful action that has occurred for some time in India. I would suggest that, if it would help, the Secretary of State should go to India and meet the Indians, that precedents and customs should not stand in the way, and that everything should be done to gain the co-operation of Indians who have learned from us, from the West, to aim at obtaining for their country the very things for which we are fighting. After all, in Asia to-day there are countries that have attained great importance in different ways. It is not unnatural—in fact, it is absolutely natural, and what we in this House and in this country all desire—that Indians should be responsible for their future. I do not believe that the immediate political difficulties and differences between the Moslems and the Hindus will ever be overcome unless some means of breaking the present deadlock is found.
Of course, I associate myself with the right hon. Gentleman in deploring the attitude which the two big organisations in India have taken up. That the Congress leaders, whom one has met personally and who before the war began were associated with supporting the democratic cause, should now adopt the attitude that the Indian people should not contribute towards the war effort, is an attitude which it is difficult for me to understand. At the same time, Moslems who are supporting the war make it very difficult by accentuating their difference from Hindus in regard to obtaining 68 Indian unity and self-government, and that is a situation which I believe, as I have already said, will not be modified unless statesmanship can find some means of giving to Indians the responsibility for facing these difficulties and overcoming them themselves. If not, I fear that people will become discouraged, and will get a feeling of frustration and hopelessness which will only still further play into the hands of the extremists. While realising that during the war it is not the time for making big constitutional developments. I hope that the Government will realise that there is an immense body of opinion throughout the world—and this must also be impressed upon the Indian leaders—which wishes to see some development take place and wishes to see Indians co-operating with us. I therefore urge the Secretary of State not to be in any way punctilious in creating temporary expedients to that end.
§ Captain Godfrey Nicholson (Farnham)
I cannot help feeling that there is some unreality about this Debate to-day, in which we are discussing the fate of 400,000,000 people, thousands of miles away, while nearer home the fate not only of most peoples and of this Empire, but of every single thing that we and India have in common is in the balance. I think it should be the duty of speakers to-day to try and bring an air of reality into this Debate by remembering that what matters is not what is said here and the attention that is paid to it here, but the effect that what we say here will have in India. These Debates are read widely in India; our proceedings will be recorded at great length in the Indian Press, and I should like to see the House concentrate to-day on sending out a definite message to India. I welcome whole-heartedly the speech made by my right hon. Friend, and I may say that his appointment as Secretary of State for India gave me more pleasure than any other appointment when the Government were formed last May. He has well justified the hopes and the faith of those who have followed his career in the past and who know his views.
The message I want sent to India is threefold. Though it may seem strange to say so, I think that political India needs reassuring as to our good-will. By propaganda which appears to us ridiculous, but which is sedulously carried on 69 and finds a fertile field in politically half-educated Indian minds, large numbers of the most promising type of Indian—I mean the educated young Indians—have been led to believe that England is lacking in goodwill. It has been the custom sometimes to poke fun and to mock at the half-educated Indian—the Indian who puts after his name "Failed B.A.", the Indian who has attended a secondary school and has not progressed much further—but I would like to remind the House that they are the people on whom India depends for her future development; they are the people on whom on every Indian village depends for its local government, they are the people who, mishandled in Bengal, were persuaded by propaganda to work in the Terrorist movement until it was converted by the Lord President. They are a most important section of the community. I think we must make an effort, even though the need for it may seem unreasonable, to impress our goodwill upon India, and for that purpose I think it should be seriously considered whether my right hon. Friend should not go to India himself. I do not support the idea of another Round Table Conference, but I think India needs reminding that we in this country are not only perfectly sincere but are perfectly united in our wish to see India arrive at Dominion status.
The second point I would like to impress upon India is that we are determined not to let the situation drift, that we realise that the present situation is a bad one, since four-fifths of India's leading politicians are in prison and large numbers of Indian women leaders are either in prison or have just been released. In many Provinces there has been a complete breakdown of any system of elected government, and I think my right hon. Friend should stress his firm determination to get Provincial self-government working again somehow, even in a mutilated form, in those Provinces where it has broken down. There is a good number of leading Indians of experience, responsibility, and moderate and realistic views who, I think, could be prevailed upon to take office in the Provinces where self-government has broken down, even though it might seem rather a mutilated and emasculated form of democratic government. The one thing I missed in my right hon's Friend's speech to-day 70 was a declaration that he was determined not to let things drift.
It is my third point which I consider to be the most important. It must be firmly impressed upon India that this is no longer a British problem, that there is no division in the House of Commons nor in this country about the future of India. It is purely an Indian problem. What I might call the venue of the problem has left Westminster and is now in India. In Indians could agree in demanding any particular form of Constitution, they would receive the most sympathetic hearing here. We must tell India that we are profoundly disappointed at the complete failure of Indian political talent to arrive at any form of agreement; we are profoundly disappointed that Congress, instead of fastening on to the reality of Dominion status, has pursued the will-o'-the-wisp of independence, as if it is possible that, when they could not agree on Dominion status, they are any more likely to agree upon a completely independent Constitution. We are profoundly disappointed that Congress has not looked at the great work which is to be done in India in regard to social problems. The hon. Gentleman on the other side of the House, in a speech most of which I am afraid I thought rather ill-informed, did say something very true when he touched upon poverty and health conditions in India and of the tremendous need for social reform and social services. We must tell India that we are profoundly disappointed that Indian politicians, taking them by and large, have failed to realise the great field for their endeavour which lies before them on the social side. We must make it quite clear that this is an Indian problem. If India cannot agree on the sort of Constitution she wants, can we hope that she will be able to work any sort of Constitution? She has to prove to this country that she can. If we are asked to impose a Constitution— and that is the tacit implication—it must be clearly recognised that the imposition of a Constitution implies the continuance of the power that imposes it
. Finally, there is this point. The problem that faces civilisation and will face civilisation for scores, if not hundreds, of years to come, is the simple problem of survival. None of our social problems, none of our political problems, no problem of any description, can be 71 compared in importance with the great question of whether we are to survive as decent, kindly, humane people or to be regimented and to fall under the domination of vigorous, virile, inhumane barbarians. We are conversant with that aspect of the problem; does India realise it? Do Indian politicians really think that they can go on talking about constitutional and political problems, parish-pump problems, without any regard to what is happening in the rest of the world? Do they realise that our greatest gift to India is that she is united and at peace? My right hon. Friend has said that the population of India is now 400,000,000. What was it in 1741? I should be very much surprised if it was more than 60,000,000 or 70,000,000. That increase has come because Britain has guaranteed to the Indian cultivator peace to live and to have children and to hand on his land to his successors. India cannot divorce herself from her position as a unit in the world. Unless and until Indian politicians are prepared to admit that they are in the British Empire and that they look to the British Empire for protection, in their own interests and not in ours, there will be no further progress.
The time has come for very plain speaking to India if further progress is to be made. We must stress that this is an Indian problem, although we are full of good will and are anxious to help towards a solution as far as we can. I should like to see my right hon. Friend go to India, and say, "I will try to help in bringing you together, but there must be a sense of realism" This fatal habit of living in a world of our own ideas, this fatal closing of our eyes to ineluctable facts, has brought the world into the position in which it is to-day. It is our duty to see that India does not continue to walk in that path of make-believe and wishful thinking which we have ourselves followed so long. I say this out of love for India. I have only slight knowledge of India, but I say that, apart from this question of survival, the relationship between Great Britain and India will be viewed in future as the most important item in our long history. I believe that the people of this country and of India are indissolubly linked together by common ideas of what constitutes decency, decent living, decent behaviour. We are brothers in spirit, and 72 I think our responsibility as Members of Parliament is nowhere greater than where it impinges upon India. I want to send out to India this message of good will, and this call to face facts and to think things out honestly for herself.
§ Sir George Schuster (Walsall)
So often, when one joins in a Debate in these times, one has a feeling of unreality, in the sense that the issue has no importance in relation to the stupendous events happening outside. But I do not think that any of us can have that feeling about the issue that we are discussing to-day. Even measured against all that is happening in the world outside, the future of India, and the way that these fateful years are to be handled in India, must remain matters of major importance. I think that on any one of us who takes part in this Debate there lie two duties— first, to make such contribution as he can to the discussion, and, secondly, to represent to India what is the feeling in this country to-day. On the latter point, we shall fail grievously in our duty if we are not honest. I myself think that the feeling on this Indian problem has changed very significantly in this country in the last few months, in a way which Indians ought to understand.
Public opinion, as has already been stressed by those who have spoken before me, deeply desires progress. I speak as one who joined in an effort by a group of Members of all parties in this House a short time ago to express that feeling. We tried, in the letter that we addressed to India, to express our deep distress at the present impasse, and our deep desire to see Indians coming to an agreement among themselves, so that the way might be open for an early transfer of power. This feeling is strengthened by the circumstances of the present war. After all, why are we fighting Hitler? Because our principles are not his principles, because our principle is morally opposed to his creed of a herrenvolk which has the right to exercise tyrannical domination over another people. It is a bitter thing, indeed, that while we are fighting for this principle we should be forced into a position in India that creates the appearance, at least, that we are ourselves being untrue to it. There could be no greater travesty of the truth than to say that public opinion in England desires to foster dissension in India, so as to 73 have an excuse for retaining our control. But, side by side with our fervent desire for some constructive progress in India, there is a growing feeling—and I have sensed this among all sections of opinion lately—of disappointment and uneasiness about the Indian response to the British effort to give effect to our desire. That uneasiness centres mainly upon the Congress policy, although it is not that party alone which is unreasonable.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has reviewed the position; I do not want to go into all that again; he gave us so clear a summary of how events had developed. I would only say that, looking back to 1935, I am sure everyone in this House and the whole British public felt, that on a most critical issue and fully realising the dangers, our choice had finally come down on the side of taking the bold course as regards India and opening the way freely for full development. The way was opened freely. The working of the Constitution in the Provincial governments proved it. It proved as regards those safeguards which to some had seemed to loom so large on paper that conventions could be established in working which made those safeguards no obstacle at all, and that Indians could handle policy in complete constitutional freedom. Let us remember too that within the sphere of Provincial government of which we have had practical experience lies the handling of all those really vital questions which affect the welfare of the Indian people. The experience of Provincial government proved— and on this point I venture to disagree with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Farnham (Captain G. Nicholson) —that there are political leaders in India who are sincerely desirous of furthering the welfare of the people and advancing social progress and capable of developing constructive policies on these lines.
§ Captain Nicholson
I should not like it to get abroad that I do not entirely agree with my hon. Friend. What I meant was that Congress, by calmly throwing off the responsibility which they had to their electors and to the people, had shown, to my mind at any rate, that they put these tremendous social responsibilities in the second place when they should have been put in the first place. 74 I hope that I have made myself clear to my hon. Friend.
§ Sir G. Schuster
My hon. and gallant Friend has made himself quite clear, but I am glad of the interruption because it gives me a chance of making the point I wanted to make. We must not think that these All-India Party leaders are the only politicians in India. There are a great number of most capable and public-spirited men who have gone into political life and who served in the Provincial Governments, and who understand their duties and take a realistic view of the situation and are anxious to get on with their job. The same conventions which have solved the problems in the Provincial governments could have solved the central problem too, but the centre was still being disputed when the war came. That meant that when the war came the British Government was still carrying the responsibility. The delay in getting on with implementing the provisions of the Act at the centre and the setting up of Federal Government in India is a tragic thing which we cannot regret enough. Perhaps some of the share of the blame for that rests on British shoulders. But still, however much one may regret that, the situation was there; it was an inescapable fact. We were carrying the responsibility. Mr. Gandhi himself recognised that fact at the outset and said that that provision must remain and that "you cannot have complicated constitutional discussions in the course of war" That was true too, in a sense, though on that point I wish to say something later. But although that was the fact, all parties, including the British Government, had agreed that to stand completely still on that position was most unsatisfactory. You cannot expect the Indians to accept indefinite delay, and, what I feel myself so strongly is that nothing can be more distressing at the present moment than that in these fateful years, when all these decisions vitally affecting India's future are being taken, and the whole course of her economic future may be settled by the way the industrial urge of equipping herself for war is handled, the task of government should rest purely in official hands. That is a most distressing and even disastrous state of affairs.
But we are in this dilemma. We want to transfer power. You cannot ask 75 representative Indians to come in and bear responsibility unless they have power, but—and here I fully agree with what my right hon. Friend said—you cannot change the whole balance of constitutional power or transfer constitutional power except on the foundation of a new and properly balanced constitutional framework. The conflict and disagreement that there has already been over the provisions of the 1939 Act as regards the Central Government already prove the difficulties that lie in the way. Then what can you do? To men who really trust each other and want to co-operate the answer is quite easy. Let leading Indians come in as members of the Viceroy's Council in the same way as other Indians have come into the Viceroy's Council in the past. They will have plenty of power, but they must have courage too. They may have to share in unpopular decisions and duties and lose political support in the future. But I am sure that there are men in India who have that courage.
Now that is precisely what the Secretary of State has offered, but the All-India political leaders—not only Congress—would not have it. They wanted all sorts of guarantees of their constitutional position, and some writers said quite openly that there must be a real transfer of constitutional power now. That was to be the acid test as to whether the British Government meant anything. They said, in effect, "We do not trust the British, but if we get a transfer of power now, that will be something upon which they cannot go back in the future" But that is just what cannot be given, short of the formation of a new and properly-balanced constitutional structure. In any case Congress refused, and then Mr. Gandhi started his final baffling move claiming the right to preach pacifism, and as a result of that —and I want to put this to anyone who reads this Debate in India—opinion in this country has been completely baffled and bewildered.
There is one explanation, however, which can straighten the whole confusion in a simple yet sinister way. I find that people in England are asking themselves these questions. Does not the conduct of the Congress leaders show that they are out to force the British to transfer com- 76 plete power to them before any plan is complete of a constitutional framework with its checks and balances to ensure fair treatment for all? Is not Congress, in fact, asking for a blank cheque to be filled in just as Congress wishes? Is it not that which lay behind their demand for a Constituent Assembly to be elected on an adult franchise? Is it not that which lies behind the demand for the transfer of real power now at a time when Mr. Gandhi himself says that you cannot have proper constitutional discussion? Is it not the policy of Congress to refuse to cooperate in any evolutionary steps and to remain in conflict with the British Government until its hands can be forced to concede Congress the full amount of its demands? To continue in conflict is so easy. "If the British Government offers Dominion status, ask for independence. If the normal constitutional issues cannot be raised in time of war, stage a quarrel over something else—the right to preach pacifism. They are bound to fight you over that." Is it not something like that that some of the Congress leaders have been saying in their inner councils and preaching to their followers?
Is not all that consistent with the Congress demand to be the only body entitled to speak for India, and to speak alone for India? Does not that explain other things, such as the Congress order to Ministers to resign in seven Provinces? Is it not possible that this was not merely a gesture of protest but also action taken because Congress saw the danger of a Provincial spirit of unity growing up which might set up loyalties conflicting with the loyalty to Congress? I make no charges, but these disquieting questions are being asked by many people, and, I must confess, I am asking them myself. They are disquieting in many ways. It is disquieting that the leading Indian Nationalist party should be taking such a purely negative line, seeking nothing but the easy popularity which goes to those who are against the Government and helping not at all to find constructive solutions for the many unavoidable problems. It is disquieting, too, that the leading Indian Nationalist party should not show a greater sense of reality and a truer appreciation of the position with regard to the present emergency, but should recklessly seek to embarrass the British Government when they are fighting desperately, not 77 merely for their own existence, but for the freedom of India too. But most disquieting of all is the suspicion aroused by Congress conduct that the real objective of Congress is to establish a party domination over the State in India parallel to the Nazi and Fascist party dominations in Germany and Italy.
To British minds there is an unpleasant familiarity in this course which the Congress party seems to be forcing them to go through. We look back to what happened with Hitler in Germany. When Hitler reoccupied the Rhineland many people said that it was only what a self-respecting nation would claim to do, and when he went to Austria, and even claimed rights over the Sudeten Germans in Czechoslovakia, many people said that it was only a reasonable demand to get the whole of the German people together. But all the time people were asking themselves, "Are these the genuine motives behind these steps? Or is each move merely a step in the fulfilment of an overriding purpose to establish world domination?" Reasonable people said, "Let us try it out" And so when his final purposes were unmasked beyond any possibility of misunderstanding, things had gone so far that half the world will be devastated before his purposes can be stopped.
Is there not something parallel to all this in Congress tactics? Many of us have felt the most intense sympathy with their Nationalist demands. Many of us have felt in the past that they were right to make trouble for the British Government, as that was the only way in which they could get their demands attended to. Many of us not only listened with sympathy to what they said, but supported them in this country. But now, as we have gone forward on this course, when we have committed ourselves in the 1935 Act to a plan which we know in our hearts and minds to involve a full and effective transfer of power to Indians, and after that find no response from them, no effort at all to face the necessity of finding some balance between the parties in India, no sort of recession from their demand to be the only party entitled to speak for India—then I am afraid that we do begin to feel that there may lie behind all this a very sinister purpose which is finally being unmasked.
78 We feel these suspicions and doubts, but the final stage has not yet been reached. As I have said, I make no charges, the doubts and questions which I have raised may be wrong. I pray that they may be. I appeal to Mr. Gandhi to prove it, and if it is any help to him, let me add this: We are all to blame. The present leader of the Moslem League, Mr. Jinnah, is equally unreasonable and intractable. In fact, when I think of the leaders on both sides, I am reminded of these words of Francis Bacon's:To certain zealots all speech of pacification is odious. 'Is it peace, Jehu? What has thou to do with peace? Turn thou behind me.' Peace is not the matter, but following and partyLet us admit, too, that we have been in the wrong, that on the British side there has been blame. Our case may have been presented badly and unimaginatively, and the Government of India may have been very wooden. I have always felt that there are very great difficulties in the handling of negotiations of this kind by the Viceroy, who has to consider his day-to-day administrative position. He cannot enter freely into the sort of heart-to-heart discussions which would have been desirable at the outset. I have always felt that. But if we admit blame on the British side, I would like to add this: I feel that one person who certainly is not to blame in this matter is my right hon. Friend the present Secretary of State. He succeeded to an extremely difficult position, and since he has held it he has made repeated reasonable and most courageous efforts to get over these difficulties. I also feel this House of Commons and the British public are not to blame, except possibly for a certain measure of indifference. But somehow or other—and this is another thing that I want to get across to India—we feel that we have been "let down" We feel that we have been honest in our desire to find a constructive way of doing what the Indians want, and that if only they could have understood what is in our minds, and what our purpose is, this present situation could never have been allowed to arise. Beyond this, I firmly believe that the great body of Indian opinion does desire to have a free and fair democracy and not a party domination. It recognises that there are real problems in devising a constitutional form for such a system and is willing to 79 make a constructive effort to help in their solution.
In these circumstances, what should we do? I want to urge certain courses on the Secretary of State, as well as to address an appeal to the Indian people. I want to say to the Secretary of State what has already been said, "Go on with all possible steps to get representative Indians to join in the task of government, not only in Viceroy's council but in the Provinces as well. Get men of ability, no matter what their political status. Get some of the men who have shown their capacity as dewans in the Provinces, or in fields of commercial enterprise, as well as men who have been well-known figures in the political field. Appeal to them that here is a supreme chance of serving India, but do not say it is no use going on if the representative parties do not support you." It is the help of good Indians who know their country that I want in this critical time, and not a political bargain. We must be clear about this. I was struck by a passage in the "Times" this morning referring to Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru's proposals, which read:The proposals, however, contain demands which it would be difficult to meet in war time, particularly that asking for the creation of a Viceroy's Executive Council consisting entirely of non-official Indians, which implies the transfer of the portfolios of defence and finance from experienced British to inexperienced Indian hands.I venture to say that this puts the thing all wrong. It is not a question of ability or inability, but a question of constitutional significance. If we are asking these Indians to come in now, they must come in on a very clear understanding that to bring them in signifies nothing in the way of changing the balance of power and constitutional responsibility. They must come in as part of an honourable understanding that they will support an effective war policy. They must come in knowing, as I have already hinted, that they take political risks, and that they may have to join in loyally with their colleagues in the Viceroy's council in carrying out courses which may be unpopular. I believe they would come in. But to put the matter on questions of ability seems to me to be creating an entirely wrong impression. It is ridiculous to claim that there are no Indians who are capable of being Finance Members. I wish I myself were again Finance Member in India so 80 that I might have the opportunity of handing in my resignation and offering to serve as an Under-Secretary under some of the Indians I can think of, who could so well fulfil that rôle.
Of course, when we come to the question of defence we touch upon more difficult issues. I have often felt that there was a great deal to be said for having a Civil Member of Defence in the Viceroy's Council, and I see no reason why the Civil Member of Defence should not be an Indian. But that does not touch the real problem of defence for India, the essence of which is that India at present is not able from her own resources to supply all that is necessary for her defence. The mere appointment of an Indian Defence Member, which is claimed by Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru as something which would have such a great psychological effect, fills me with a certain amount of apprehension therefore, in the sense that I think it might be misunderstood as meaning more than in fact it could mean now. Apart from this, I could read Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru's plan, if it goes no farther than has been reported as the substance of the resolutions passed at the Bombay conference in the middle of March, as offering something to which it would be not impossible to agree; but it must be agreed to on the very clear understanding—there must be absolutely plain speaking on this and no possibility of misunderstanding—that it is merely a question of getting representative Indians to share in the task of Government so as to have people who would be in sympathy with the great body of opinion in India and give wise advice and that there can be on question of transferring power or altering the balance of power short of a new situation resting on a completely reformed and newly-constituted constitutional structure.
Turning from the question of the Viceroy's Council and following on the point I have just made, I cannot see why constitutional discussions in India should not go on during the war. My right hon. Friend has said the same thing. Why wait all this time? There are immense preliminary problems to be discussed; all the questions of dealing with the essential difficulty of the mixture of communities, which can be solved either by some form of segregation of the administrative units or by introducing some different form of 81 democracy to the Parliamentary democracy that we know—all these problems demand intense and long study which ought to be tackled now. Therefore, I support what my right hon. Friend has said about this, and I was glad to hear him say it. But I want to add something too! Cannot we get the whole thing going in a different atmosphere from that which we have had before? It seems to me that we have got into the wrong atmosphere by approaching these questions through the leaders of the All-India political parties. These men have never held office; they have never shown their ability as practical statesmen. All the real tasks of government, except defence —the tasks affecting the welfare of the Indian people, which is all that anyone ought to care about—lie with the Provincial Governments. The Provincial Ministers and the Dewans of States have proved themselves. Why should not they get together? Why should not we try to start these constitutional discussions in a different atmosphere? Not long ago Sir Sikander Hyat Khan, the Premier in the Punjab, said in a speech:India stands on the threshold of complete freedom, if she will only settle her inter-communal problems;and he went on to put the spirit of his own Province and his own Provincial patriotism in the right way by saying:There will be no Pakistan or Sikhistan or Hindustan in the PunjabTo those who have tried to get down to the realities of the case, such a statement comes like a breath of fresh air. It may seem a strange thing for such of us as feel strongly the importance of preserving national unity for India to applaud a statement which seems to breathe of Provincial patriotism; and no doubt there will be sectional difficulties in India as elsewhere if Provincial patriotism is made a reality and a unifying force. But those are straightforward and familiar difficulties which can be dealt with straightly man to man. It is by handling difficulties of that kind that India will really find herself.
I want to make one more suggestion to my right hon. Friend. It seems to me so important in these critical times that we should get closer to India. We want to get closer to them, we want them to get closer to us. Can nothing more be done in that direction? Would it not be pos- 82 sible to have an Indian Under-Secretary of State? Would it not be possible to bring over a man like Sapru, put him in the House of Lords and make him an Under-Secretary, or even to bring over a Congress leader—in any case a genuine representative Indian? Let him be here. Let him live in our atmosphere and see what we are up against. Let him send back trusted words to India which will tell them what the British people are fighting for, and which will banish for ever from their minds the ridiculous idea that this is only another war for Imperialist purposes. I believe that such a step might have great effects. Finally, I wish once again to put on record an appeal to all Indians who have wisdom and the trust of their own people to bring these gifts to the common task. Let them be courageous and constructive—not petulant and negative. Let them take their chances and their political future in both hands, and let them look back on the record of Congress and say "This must all be changed" Congress in the past has always said "no" You cannot save humanity or create a national India by saying "no"
§ Mr. Sorensen (Leyton, West)
I am quite sure we have all appreciated the words on India which have fallen from the lips of the hon. Member for Walsall (Sir G. Schuster). Most of us appreciate the many great works he has performed and the considerable energy he has displayed for many years in trying to secure an understanding between this country and India. It is all the more reason, therefore, why I must express my profound regret at some of the sentiments he has expressed to-day. It is quite true that he made no charges against the most important and most powerful political party in India, but he did not hesitate to call in the hypothetical man-in-the-street who would express these charges for him. These charges contain, I am sorry to say, a number of suggestions that the Congress party in particular has been activated, at least in some respects, by poor and base motives. I hope and believe that he will realise it has been a disservice to this country to make such imputations.
§ Sir G. Schuster
May I tell the hon. Member that I made no imputations? What I have done is to give, quite honestly, the sort of explanation which my mind finds for the things that have 83 happened, and appeal to Congress leaders, for whom he speaks, to come forward and prove me to be wrong.
§ Mr. Sorensen
May I make it quite clear that I do not necessarily support Congress leaders, and that I am not identified with any particular group or groups in India, but that I speak as an Englishman interested in this matter? If the hon. Member looks up the OFFICIAL REPORT to-morrow, he will find that he disclaimed making any charges, but that now he apparently alters that and does make certain charges. Certainly that hypothetical man-in-the-street, whom he brought into this discussion, did seem to suggest that Indian Congress leaders were ready recklessly to seek to embarrass the British Government. I took down those words, and if that is not an imputation of poor motives, I should like to know what is. Other similar suggestions were made that the Indian political movement was not inspired supremely with the desire to secure freedom for India, but rather sought to embarrass this country in her hour of need. I may be wrong in interpreting the observations of this hypothetical representative who has been brought in by the hon. Member, but nevertheless that is the impression I had in that respect. I am afraid it will not have an encouraging effect in India itself. Whatever may be said about the alleged desire of Congress to equate itself with the Nazis, which was the illustration the hon. Member used, there is no more democratic party?n the world than the Congress party. Its methods of appointment and the selection of its various representatives are, in many respects, far more democratic than anything we have in this country. I hear one of my hon. Friends appealing to the Deity, but I am sure the Deity will endorse what I am saying.
Anyone who knows the methods by which the Indian Congress is elected, and the methods by which all the villages play their part, will know that Indian democracy is exemplary to ours in many respects. That being so, I think it is unfortunate that there should be this altogether wrong and mischievous suggestion of some sort of connection between the base inspirations of the Nazis in Europe, and the constructive nature of Congress. It is said that Congress apparently desires a blank cheque, 84 but the obvious reply to that is, that Congress is so familiar with dishonest cheques that it desires neither dishonest nor blank cheques. All that Congress has been trying to do is what other parties have been trying to do, namely, to secure from this country recognition that India has a right to political independence. There is, of course, a considerable difference between Congress, on the one hand, and the Moslem League. on the other, and other relatively small bodies, but the great bulk of Indian opinion, whether Moslem or Hindu, all agree that they wish to secure from this country the admission that they have the right to full and complete independence. Another speaker who addressed the House gave quite a lecture to the Indian people, and assured them that they were with us in this great struggle for survival. He appealed to them to recognise that if the Nazi system was to prevail, they would suffer as much as we. I am inclined to agree with that, and that there would be a great danger to India if the Nazi system were to prevail. But does anyone suggest that there are no other means by which this vicious recrudescence of barbarism cannot be destroyed? Does anyone suggest that the will of man is incapable of overcoming barbarism only if it takes up barbarism in reply? If that is so, what is the significance of the great souls in history who have stood alone and suffered and died at its hand, and yet in the end have prevailed? Certainly our own Christian faith is a reminder of the other ways by which this barbarism can be stopped.
I have the full conviction that in India, not merely Gandhi, but many others, have a resolute conviction, a profound determination, and an unquenchable faith in the same principles in which we believe and for which we are fighting this war. and that no amount of temporary victories by the Nazi or Fascist hordes would prevail for all time. If we are in this struggle on the basis of mere survival, then India has the right to determine how her survival shall be effected and what form it shall take. Although I admit, after trying for many years, as has the last speaker, to secure understanding and agreement between ourselves and India, that it has been exasperating to find that in the end it 85 has not availed, it is no excuse for impatience. If the hon. Member for Walsall does not mind my suggesting it, his speech was a melancholy baying of impatience, as if he had come to the end of his tether after many discussions and conferences in which he had sincerely tried to do his best. It seemed that because he had failed he must therefore start on another tack. Whether I am wrong or not, it is not for us to become impatient if after a great deal of active effort we find response is somewhat weak.
Similarly I noticed in the discussion which took place earlier the assertion that India must not be detached from world affairs. She must recognise herself as an integral part of the great struggle that is taking place. I am convinced that India would not deny that. India was condemning Nazi, Fascist and Japanese aggression long before there was any united conviction on that point in this House. When China received the first assault of Japanese aggression it was the Indian Nationalist leaders who gave voice to their sympathy and support. Members of this House at the time were somewhat inclined to express sympathy with the aggressor. From the beginning this Indian Nationalist Movement has recognised its affinity with similar movements in other lands. It expressed its sympathy with Republican Spain. It was the Indian Nationalist Movement which condemned Nazi and Fascist aggression and it is not for us, rather late in the day, now that there is unity, to lecture India on the ground that she should recognise herself to be an integral part of the world. The sooner we drop that kind of rather condescending lecturing to the Indian people on that ground, the better it will be for that desirable understanding which we all wish to see between ourselves and the Indian people. We are all opposed to Nazism, of course, but India is entitled to say, "We desire to be opposed to Nazism, but we desire to overcome it in the way we think right."
When it was suggested earlier that this is no longer a British but an Indian problem, I wondered whether that was entirely true. My hon. Friend the Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon) suggested that we should be willing to say to India that in 10, 15 or 20 years' time she should have her independence. How many Members will agree to that? 86 Would the Secretary of State agree to it? I very much doubt it. As far as we have gone up to now is to say that at some distant date we may grant Dominion status. We have never stated, nor I am sure would the Secretary of State for India state to-day, that he agrees with the suggestion that we should at some distant date concede the right of independence to India. If there is this division in the House as to whether she should be granted independence or Dominion status, or even not that, how can anyone suggest that this is no longer a British problem but entirely India's problem and that it is for her to reconcile her different points of view and then we, who have been desiring to do good to India, will be only too pleased to do it? Would it not be well for us to reconcile our differences, to make up our minds whether to grant independence or Dominion status or something less? If we did that, we should be in a better position to say to the Indian people that if only they will make up their minds what they want, we will do the same and the two united nations will come to a clear understanding. I appreciate the motive entirely, but nevertheless regret the suggestion that a great contribution would be made to understanding between this country and India if we could persuade some Indian to come here and be an Under-Secretary of State. If anything along those lines was going to be achieved, it would have been much better to suggest that some Indian should come here to be a member of the Cabinet. Why not ask Mr. Nehru or the leader of Congress? [Interruption.] An hon. Member says "Ask Sorensen" If you like, I will consider the suggestion, but I am not an Indian, and my whole point was directed to suggesting that an Indian might come here, a responsible person representing nearly 10 times as many as there are in this country. If that suggestion were to be put forth, there might be something more worthy of consideration.
The suggestion has been made that Indians would be better occupied if they concerned themselves with the further development of the Provincial Governments. There was a certain discrepancy between two speakers on that point, one suggesting that they would be better occupied in that way, thus throwing into 87 greater prominence men of ability at present unknown, and on the other hand the admission that in fact these men had already proved their merit in these Provincial Assemblies which have for two and a half years administered the affairs of very large areas. When it is admitted, as it is to-day, that the social conditions of the Indians are deplorable in the extreme, when it is realised that the average expectation of life is round about 24 while here it is round about 57, and that that is an index of those social conditions, and when further it is suggested that there is enough to do in the field of social welfare not to bother about political matters, there is one factor which is familiar to every one of us and also to the Indian leaders in these Provincial Assemblies. They could not possibly develop social welfare very much further because of the central limitation of finance imposed by this country. India is a poor country, actually if not potentially. If ever there is to be the wealth available for the improvement of the social services, and therefore in turn for the raising of the standard of life of the teeming millions of that country, obviously there has to be a considerable development of industrial life.
§ Earl Winterton
Has the hon. member ever heard of the work being done by the Bengal Provincial Government? If he has not, I shall be glad to send him information to show that his last statement is wounding in the extreme to Indian public opinion. He suggests that a Provincial Government is not able to carry out a vast scheme of social reform which it is in fact carrying out.
§ Mr. Sorensen
I am perfectly aware of many schemes which are being carried out for the benefit of the Indian people. I have never denied it. But everyone knows that the central limitation of financial powers has been one cause of the frustration of that development in social welfare which is earnestly desired by all friends of India in this country. The Secretary of State would not deny that there are two factors operating against the further and swifter development of social welfare. One is the central limitation in finance, by which the greater portion of the funds secured from the Indian people is not spent upon social welfare at all. The other is the fact that 88 India is still largely a peasant and agricultural country, and therefore must be industrialised in some measure if the resources of the land are to be improved. If it is desirable, as I am sure it is, still further to industrialise large areas of India, what has this country done to assist that end? Have they or have they not limited the development of the shipping industry in India? Have they or have they not in recent years arranged more and more that India should remain largely an agricultural country while the manufactures are carried on in Australia and other Dominions? The answer is undoubtedly that the whole trend of industrial policy in recent times has been to retain India as a large agricultural country, leaving to our Dominions those industrial developments which we feel are desirable.
§ Sir G. Schuster
I find it impossible to sit any longer to listen to the hon. gentleman's misstatement of the position. Can he quote a single instance of the policy of this country which has been designed to encourage industry in Australia and Canada as opposed to India? Does he take no account of the fact that by allowing India to have complete fiscal autonomy since the last war Lancashire has lost a cotton trade export of 2,000,000,000 yards and allowed India to build up her own trade in just the very things in regard to which, if we were looking after our own interests, we should try to interfere with her?
§ Mr. Sorensen
I have not suggested that there is no industrial development in India. Everyone knows that for various reasons there has been a considerable development in the cotton industry in India and that in the last few years a good deal of cotton and textile machinery —
§ Sir G. Schuster
Has the hon. Gentleman ever heard of Tata's and the development of the iron and steel industry, and does he know that India is one of the largest producers of pig iron in the world?
§ Mr. Sorensen
I am familiar with that, and I know that a representative of that famous industry once sat in this House. Everyone knows that there has been considerable industrial development, but I am saying that in recent times there has been a tendency in our policy to develop the agricultural life of India rather than its industrial life.
§ Mr. Sorensen
I shall give my speech in my own way, but I shall be only too pleased to provide the right hon. Gentleman with the information he desires, as he promised to give information to me. For the moment I will continue my speech in my own way and stand by what I said, which is that, while there has been industrial development in India, the tendency has been in recent times rather to limit that development and to encourage the agricultural life of India. That is not a matter about which there is any need to impute base motives.
§ Sir Stanley Reed (Aylesbury)
Although the hon. Member may wish to make his speech in his own way, he must not mislead us and harm India on questions of fact.
§ Mr. Sorensen
If it harms India, I should like to know in what way it does so. I should be glad to give hon. Members evidence in the proper way by sending it through the post or giving it to them directly. I am conscious that I have spoken too long. I have been diverted from what I wished to say, but I shall say it all the same. At the present time the best of the Indian people are languishing in gaol. I am not saying that the faults are all on one side, but it is nevertheless true that the majority of political leaders of one complexion in India are in gaol. It is true that ex-Prime Ministers and ex-Cabinet Ministers are in gaol and that numbers of students have been arrested and are in gaol. Some of the finest women are in gaol. That fact is beyond dispute, and I would ask hon. Members to realise that so long as that position exists Indian people will be disinclined to listen to well-meant but ineffective orations in this House from myself or any other Member. Why are they there? Can there be any denial that one reason why they are there is the same reason for which people are languishing in internment camps and in gaol in Germany? In their own way, and in a way in which we do not necessarily approve, these Indian leaders, many of them of the highest culture, refuse to accept the domination of their country by our 90 Government here, and because they refuse to accept it they are sentenced to imprisonment.
A reference was made to half-educated Indians, and I wonder whether the hon. Member who used that term realised that an ex-President of the Cambridge University Union is languishing in gaol, having been arrested by orders of the British Government. One would not assume that he is a half-educated Indian, seeing that he has been to Cambridge; that would disprove any suggestion of his semi-education. I only mention this again because it is well to realise that, although we have our own point of view regarding what Indians should do, Indians feel deeply that they are entitled to work out their salvation in their own way. At the present time they feel that the best way they can do it is to be in a concentration camp or in gaol or under arrest, because in that way they can show that they are challenging the assumed right of this country to impose its will upon the Indian people.
I want to see the warmest co-operation between this country and India. I am glad that my hon. Friend on the Front Bench, speaking with necessary caution as a representative of the Labour party, admitted that we might have to reach the stage where independence, even though remote, had to be conceded to the Indian people. I am glad that that has been said, because it is elementary justice on our part. We talk about Indians realising their international responsibilities. We rightly talk about India taking a part with us in the great struggle in the world to-day. We have no right, however, to say to India, any more than we have to say to America, that she must take her part in the way we demand. We are glad that America has come to our aid. We shall be glad for more and more aid from India. We are grateful for the aid that has already been given. I suggest, however, that the fundamental need which we must all face is that when we think of India we must not think of peoples like ourselves who inhabit Canada or New Zealand, but peoples in many respects totally dissimilar, and peoples, therefore, entitled to their point of view as we are to ours. Although I believe that we shall have to concede that independence, I think, at the same time, that our task 91 must be to acquaint India more and more with our need and her need; to assure her more and more that our needs are ultimately the same; to ask for her cooperation; and to beg of her that, if and when she receives independence, her first action will be voluntarily to elect to become a member of the British Commonwealth of Nations. Meanwhile, we can prepare that end by more and more recognising that India has her own point of view and that the less we lecture her and the more we seek co-operation with her, the greater will be her response and the more we shall open the path towards real co-operation between ourselves and that great land.
§ Sir Stanley Reed (Aylesbury)
I was sorry to interrupt the hon. Member in his speech just now, but will he accept from me the assurance that the picture he was putting before the House that the Government had concentrated on the development of the agricultural industry to the neglect of the manufacturing industries does not bear the remotest resemblance to the facts? If he had been in India in the last 20 or 25 years and followed the course of fiscal practice in that time, he would have carried only one conviction away—it would have been that the dominant voice in India, in politics and in the Legislature, was not the agricultural voice. The agricultural voice is rarely heard, and agricultural development has almost had to be in defiance of political opinion. The voice expressed in the Legislature is almost entirely one in favour of a high protective tariff which agriculture has to pay. The industrial development of India is a wise development, taking the large view. In a country with an eccentric monsoon it is essential that it should take place. The fact remains that a great industrial development has taken place under a high protective tariff, for which the agricultural community, which forms something like 70 per cent, of the whole, has had to pay the price. I do not say the price is not worth paying. I think that on the whole it is, in the larger and permanent interest of the country, but to try to lead this House to believe that the manufacturing industries of India have been neglected is to make such an extraordinary misrepresentation that reluctant as I was to interrupt I could not allow the statement to pass unchallenged
§ Sir S. Reed
I want to pass from that to the very much larger issue which has been put before the House and which we have to face. I want to say, in all frankness and in all sincerity, that the speech of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for India left me under a sense of depression. It was travelling over the old ground, on arguments which may be theoretically and academically very good and convincing but which did not take us anywhere. It did not lead us any further along the road to the solution of the problem, and that is a closer cooperation between India and the British Commonwealth at the present time, which we all so ardently desire and, in our own ways, are all trying to assist. I say with all respect that I could not quite reconcile the picture of India under the present regime which was presented by my right hon. Friend with the information which reaches me from many other sources. Such knowledge as I have gleaned does not reflect the picture he gave us of everything progressing smoothly under the present unfortunate suspension of the constitution. On the other hand, the very eminent Indian publicist whom he quoted to-day, Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru, has pointed out that there never was a time when the Government of India was less in contact with the general sense of the people of India than at the present time, and that India has been greatly moved, as this House has been moved, and those of us who have spent the years of our life in India have been deeply moved, at a position in which men whom we honour and admire, and with whom we have had the closest friendships extending over many years, are now in gaol.
I want to make one point clear. The other day the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) said incidentally in a speech that many were going to gaol for declining to co-operate with the Government. That is not the case. It has not the slightest resemblance to the case. So far as those punitive measures have been exercised they have been exercised against men who are deliberately obstructing the co-operation of others in the work of the war and in the pursuit of a campaign for a purpose which every living Indian has at heart. It is not against a negative attitude that the Government, as would have been the case with any Government in 93 their position, have had to take action. There has been a defiance of authority which no Government could pass by without allowing the actual foundation of authority, the actual foundation of the rule of law, to collapse at a time of infinite peril not only to us but to India as well.
There is not a man in this House or in the country who would seek to embarrass the Secretary of State or the Viceroy at a juncture like this, but those of us who know India and have tried to understand the sentiments of India, the ambitions which spring from our own teaching, our own history, and which are the crown and glory of our connection with India, are dismayed to see on one side the Indian National Congress. demanding complete independence which must be fatal to India at the present time, and the Moslem League, on the other hand, demanding Pakistan, which would split India up into a congeries of warring states and introduce an element of civil disturbance and civil war which would undo the work of the past 150 years. But I think we make a fatal mistake if we run away with the idea that those two bodies, the Congress and the Moslem League, though powerful and organised bodies, represent the whole of India. I believe there are large numbers of members of the Indian National Congress who to-day would recoil from the idea of complete independence if they were faced with that issue, and who, if they were offered an equal and honourable partnership in the British Commonwealth, would regard that as entirely satisfying their ambitions and as providing for India full scope for development to the very height of its ambitions. On the other side, although the Moslem League has officially given its adherence to the idea of the Pakistan movement it is wrong to assume that that is a new movement. It is a quarter of a century old, and corresponds with the Khilafat agitation of an earlier time. Again, though that idea has captured the imagination of some Moslems, it has not captured the imagination of all Moslems. It has been repudiated by one of the most eminent of their own community, the Prime Minister of the Punjab, Sir Sikander Hyat Khan, who has said that if Pakistan is to come to India the Punjab will have nothing to do with it. There, I believe, he spoke for what I may call the more sober and thinking Moslems of India.
94 The question arises, Is there nothing between this extreme view of the Congress on one side and this extreme view of the Moslem League on the other, no body to whom one can make a direct appeal with the idea of bringing them within the fabric of the administration? There is a very great body in India which is not associated with either of those two political organisations. True, it has not the same efficient political propaganda and political machinery, but it does represent a great volume of thought in India. I sometimes think there is a certain parallel between what we call the Indian Liberals and liberalism in England spelt with a small 1. Liberal thought in Britain is a far more powerful force in the country than is indicated by the somewhat attenuated benches on the other side; and so it is in India. There is a great body of liberal thought which is based on constructive work for its country within the Commonwealth and I ask my right hon. Friend, even at this stage, not to abandon hope of harnessing that to the official machinery at this crisis in the history of the war.
There were some Members of this House who made an attempt to carry to that great body of liberal opinion in India their ideas of the true interpretation of the Debates in this House upon Indian affairs, and our real and ardent desire to use every means in our power to help forward the movement towards full Dominion status in India. If at any time it were thought fit to turn Dominion status into independence, I, for one, would not boggle at the term; but I am convinced that, if it came to a real choice, there is so much political wisdom in India that she would not hesitate—the choice between the alternatives of isolated independence, and the strength which would come from close co-operation and association with the British Commonwealth of Nations as a whole. Our proposals were put forward in all sincerity, and with a deep earnestness of purpose; they were met with an equally cordial, and careful consideration in India. But it was exceedingly distressing to me in analysing the reasons given in the response to the suggestions which we made to find that they were honeycombed with suspicion. The men to whom we were appealing, many of them the very salt of Indian public life, men of distinction and of the highest character who have been engaged 95 in honourable careers in various walks of life for as long as we can remember, met those sincere and genuine proposals with an attitude of profound suspicion.
How are we to get rid of that suspicion and convince them that we are as determined as they are to see India attain full stature as a Dominion, which they accept ungrudgingly as the fullest expression of their national freedom? How are we to convince them that, in the matter of industrial development, we are as anxious as they are to see India develop to the fullness of her capacity? In the matter of Defence the present atmosphere is largely our own fault. We have shut out the men in Indian public life from close association with problems of defence, and we cannot now expect that they can fully understand them. May I ask the House to note that on the only occasion when Englishmen and Indians sat down to study the problem of defence on terms of complete equality and confidence, they came to a unanimous conclusion. That illustrates how progress can be made when there is mutual effort upon a basis of complete reciprocity. In another case, during the command-in-chief of that very distinguished soldier, Sir Philip Chetwode, he was able to bring the Indian military mind and machine into much closer contact with Indian thought in my own time, and I have reason to believe that that process is being continued by the great soldier who holds that high office of Commander-in-Chief to-day.
The fact remains that there is, in the Indian mind to-day—not only in the extreme mind of Congress or the extreme mind of the Moslem League, but in the mind of the great mass of middle and liberal thought which is the creation of our own educational system, our own universities and contact with our own institutions—this sense of suspicion, and it is borne in upon me that the only way in which this miasma can be swept away is by admitting representatives of this liberal school into the direct government of India at the present time. I admit that much might have been attained by the machinery proposed by the Secretary of State and the Government of India for associating Indians on terms of complete equality with the Government of India. There again, however, the miasma remains. The Indians were not satisfied that they would come in 96 on terms of perfect equality and form a collective body collectively responsible for national policy. Indians set great store by the appointment of an Indian in the Government as Minister of Defence. I have no doubt that hon. Members who are fully conversant with Indian conditions to-day would have no hesitation whatever in committing that portfolio to an Indian. In connection with finance, and for various reasons into which I will not now enter, there has always been an atmosphere of, I will not say suspicion, but some queasiness. Here again we should not flinch from placing an Indian Minister in charge of the finances.
I would ask my right hon. Friend a question. We can all follow, and we did follow with the closest attention, and possibly with agreement, his careful diagnosis of the present constitutional position and of the difficulties raised constitutionally and otherwise by what I may call the Bombay resolution. To go over the ground of the past, however carefully and correctly, does not meet the needs of a people who are generous and emotional and, fully realising everything which is at stake in this war, are passionately anxious to take their part in it. I would ask my right hon. Friend to go back again and again, and never to leave the task until he has found some means of harnessing that great body of liberal, patriotic, and constructive thought of India to the machinery of government in India. I would ask him not to be deterred by constitutional crises or frightened away by the idea that the procedure is not strictly and academically correct. I remember hearing the late Mr. Rudyard Kipling say, 30 or 40 years ago, to a meeting of Dominion representatives: "You won't think much of constitutional niceties when the guns begin to go off"
The war is now approaching the borders of India. In days much too near, the war may be upon the borders of India. Those who follow events cannot fail to appreciate the tremendous and frightful rapidity of modern mechanised war. There is nobody here who does not appreciate the value, strength and immensity of the Indian war effort, or has not been profoundly moved by the gallantry and élan of Indian troops in Libya and East Africa; but that is not enough. You must enlist behind that effort all the moral and political enthusiasm that can possibly be mobilised among the people of India. We 97 have not yet done so. The fault may not be ours; it may have been nobody's. The fact remains that we have not done so. I ask my right hon. Friend to consider again and again all these proposals which come from men of reason, good will, and patriotism and who have a profound desire to serve their country by any means which are humanly possible. Let my right hon. Friend put aside all preconceived ideas of academics and constitutional procedure, and endeavour to get these people represented in the Government machine, so that India may feel that she has behind her in the present fight not only her Armed Forces, munitions and industries, but the heart and soul of a great and generous people.
§ Mr. Wedgwood (Newcastle-under-Lyme)
The hon. Member who has just addressed the House was for many years editor of the greatest paper in Western India, which maintained throughout the good, sound, liberal traditions of the nineteenth century. He never said a truer word in his speech than when he said that the vast majority of thinking Indians whose opinion matters to-day are overwhelmingly liberal. I would add that the overwhelming mass of all the people on our side in this war are Liberal. It is true that there is only a small Liberal party in this House, but there is hardly one Conservative and hardly one Socialist. The war has brought us together as Liberals in defence of liberty. The hon. Member and I have sat on opposite sides of the House on every occasion, but we have agreed that to help victory is a truly vital matter. Therefore everybody speaking in the Debate to-day must consider how his speech will best help to bring India into that effort.
The Secretary of State gave us an admirable survey—admirable for one reason at least, that he told us everything. So many Ministers nowadays conceal half. I think we did get the truth of the position, Hon. Members who have spoken and who will speak are all anxious for two things: first, to get those Indians out of gaol, and, secondly, to get India behind the war effort. It is for us now, with the gallery which we have of Liberal India listening to the Debate, to see whether we cannot act as mediators in some way so as to bring about the end of the absurd, ridiculous deadlock that has taken place in India. To a large 98 extent, the difficult position in which we now find ourselves is because both sides feel it essential that they should save their fact. We shall have to drop that attitude. Our real difficulty in India is not Congress, but Mr. Gandhi himself. Mr. Gandhi does not believe in government. I believe the one thing that he regrets in his whole life is that he took part in the Round Table Conference and was responsible in some sense for the unfortunate Constitution. He is naturally a Christian anarchist, and no amount of persuasion from the Secretary of State or from us will shake that man's mind. He believes in conscientious objection to government, and it is extremely difficult therefore to evolve any scheme of government to which Congress could agree.
There is a great deal that is satisfactory in the present position. Let us see how satisfactory that is. In the first place, there are four, two of them the greatest, provinces in India, which are self-governing and which are gaining experience daily in that art of government which is so essential to the success of democracy. In Punjab and Bengal things are going ahead quicker than they did before the war, because in both those provinces there is far greater prosperity than they have ever known before. There has been an enormous growth of population in India—50,000,000 in 10 years—which is unique in the whole world, and that is being far outmatched by the growth in wealth. It is concealed to-day, largely owing to the fixing in the price of the rupee, but there is no doubt of the increase of prosperity in many parts of India. They are getting away from agriculture, incidentally much to the regret of Mr. Gandhi, and are becoming an industrial country. That movement is being enormously accelerated by the war. India forms the sole source of supply for our Armies in the East; she is becoming the sole source of supply for a great part of Asia. She is becoming a vast industrial country. Whereas when this war began the Indian people owed Great Britain untold millions, when this war ends we shall be owing them untold millions. That is a revolution which is surely taking place every day. Everything is being done now to teach the Indian peoples to become mechanics. They are extraordinarily apt learners. Anyone who has been in 99 the African Colonies knows that all the railways and machine shops are run by Indians. They have now got the capital, which we in this country have not got, in order to develop their industries, and I have not the slightest doubt that whatever happens about self-government or about the course of the war, India will increase its importance, relative not only to this country but to the whole world; it will increase its wealth, and at the same time it will increase its liberal spirit of democratic home rule.
I have said that in four Provinces all is going well. What about the other Provinces? It is there that we want Indian help, and that the Indians hope that by holding out in gaol to force us to make concessions in the Federal Government. First of all, let us say that we can get along perfectly well with those other Provinces as they are at the present time. We can get along, but the Indians will not be getting the education In democracy, and the Provinces governed indirectly by the India Office will not get the advantages of social reform which are now going ahead in Bengal and Punjab. It has been impossible to find the money which is necessary for education. In India only about 10 per cent. of the population can read, and education has been in the hands of the Indians for the last 20 years. It has been held up all this time by want of funds to pay for decent education, in the same way as social reform has been held up—not because the British Government have been against it, but because the Indians in charge of the Provinces have never had the funds to do it. They have never had the revenue to do it, but now they have got the revenue, now there is prosperity all over India. The unfortunate Provinces of Bombay and Madras, where social reform is needed, are fundamentally better educated than the rest of India. They have now a chance of going ahead.
In passing, I would beg the Secretary of State to see that those Provinces which are not self-governing should really go ahead while they are under our rule, more than they did before under Indian rule. Let us show that, where we are forced to govern ourselves, we can do it better than the old Indian Governments did. If we can do that we shall find it much easier to get the Congress people back into the 100 government of those Provinces, because we shall have taken the unpleasant step of. raising the money for the services which the Indians want but for which the Indian governors could not screw up their courage to extract the money. Here is a God-given opportunity of showing that we are not governing in the interests of ourselves but, where we have to govern, in the interests of the Indian people.
I do not think much of the scheme for getting Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru over here. I admire him immensely, but for every man you please in that way you displease many others. Any selection by this Government of anybody, whether for a peerage or for an Under-Secretary ship, will always cause hard feelings.
§ Sir G. Schuster
I hope my right hon. Friend does not misunderstand me. I did not make the suggestion for the sake of pleasing anybody, but because I thought it was a good thing on its merits that we should have a really representative Indian over here who could live in our atmosphere and report back to India how we were living and what we were fighting for.
§ Mr. Wedgwood
But the hon. Gentle man was thinking of a Government nominee. If you could get anything in the nature of representation —
§ Mr. Wedgwood
One Congress leader is no good. Any Congress leader who came here would immediately become an outcast. It must be a nominee of Congress to give any satisfaction in India. There may be some objection to it, but I have always thought that each Province could send to this House representatives of the Provincial Legislatures, so that they might learn from us—and we might also learn something from them. Any form of association with the Indian people is to the good, provided that those who come here are representative in the sense that they are elected and are not nominees of the Government.
Then the suggestion is made by the Secretary of State that there should be some sort of a Concordat, that the Moslems and the Hindus should get together to frame a Constitution. I do not think it is the slightest use talking in that way, first of all because Gandhi would 101 not support it, and secondly because the Mohammedans are not democratic in the same way as the Hindus. The Mohammedan religion is a religion of equality, but they have not the same faith in Parliament. The final, real difficulty is that it is all so unnecessary. The Indians know it is unnecessary, and we know it is unnecessary. After all, what is this war really about? It is no use talking about the Indian problem and the people of India as we used to do three or four years ago. The situation is completely new. If we lose this war, Indians will get their independance at once, and somebody else will swallow them up. If we win this war, in my view it will be as one member of an Anglo-American Federation which will embrace India as well as any other democratically governed country. We shall be on exactly equal terms with India, or Madras will be on exactly equal terms with Ohio. If that were to be the outcome, India would be perfectly satisfied to be an equal member of that Federation.
Nobody can deny that. Why? Because all along the difficulty in India has not: been the form of a self-governing Constitution; although they have accepted the idiotic system of communal representation, the difficulty does not lie in any particular Constitution or in any particular resolution of this House or of Congress; what they want is equality of status. They want the Indian to be treated by the Englishman as though he was an Englishman, and vice versa. They have had enough of the caste system between Englishmen and Indians. They have had 200 years of it, and it is about time it came to an end. The one thing they want is to be equal, not before the law, but in the eyes of the world, so that they too may speak as we speak in this House, as a sovereign people instead of as a subject race, and that they may avoid being patronised by people who know little more than they know themselves.
The Englishman in India, as my hon. Friend opposite will agree, inevitably tends under the present system to be always the superman, and anything more galling than that to the people who are not supermen cannot be imagined. This war will end all that, inevitably, whether we like it or not, and whether the Government say they will set them 102 free or not. Set them free! Why, the question is whether they will keep us free. All that will disappear. At the end of this war those who have won for freedom, those who have saved their lives and have saved democracy, will all be one all over the world. There may be differences of intelligence between the parts of the Federation and parts of India, but all free educated people will be on one footing if we survive at all. If we survive at all, we shall survive as free men.
That brings me to my last point. An hon. Member spoke of the people of India as being Liberals. Of course, it goes further than that. The real fact of the matter is that between educated people in India and educated people in this country there is precious little difference. They all think alike on all vital, moral and political matters; literature is the same, upbringing is the same. Religion may be slightly different, but who would say that Gandhi is not as good a Christian as anyone here? The differences between free-thinking people in different parts of the world are becoming smaller and smaller, and have been becoming continually less for the last 100 years. The differences are not to be mentioned now; what we now see is the enormous similarity between the people who think alike —and who think aright—whether they are in this country or anywhere else, in this last desperate stand for freedom.
§ Mr. Vernon Bartlett (Bridgwater)
There are a great many Members of this House who, like myself, know very little about India, and are very ashamed of their ignorance. May I for a few moments rush in where they, probably more wisely, fear to tread? I would like to say a few words, as an ordinary layman. The Secretary of State commands very great respect in this House, and we all listened to his speech with interest, but, I think, with a certain measure of disappointment. He repeated, quite rightly in many respects, the same old business, that the only solution for the Indian problem depends on the Indians themselves. But we laymen are getting a little tired of the claims of Congress on the one hand, and of the Moslem League on the other hand; and also of the dignified detachment of the British Government. That is an eternal triangle which seems to me even more unsatisfactory than the eternal triangle 103 about which the novelist always writes; and nobody seems to get any fun out of it. There must be thousands of people in the Congress party and in the Moslem League who are tired of this perpetual feud, and who would give a real welcome to any solution.
It seemed that the Secretary of State might have given a warmer welcome to the discussions that have taken place under the presidency of Sir Tej Sapru. Surely something more could be done to encourage that middle movement in India. I cannot really believe that we could not increase the Viceroy's Executive Council without dangerously upsetting the present balance of the Government. The Secretary of State said that if you invited these middle men in India they would be, in most cases, people who have not a very great popular following. That is, unfortunately, true. These people have won great prestige in the main because they have kept out of party politics. But if they were appointed to the Viceroy's Executive Council those others in India who look at the problem too much from the party point of view would become, to some extent, jealous of their position, and would be prepared to co-operate. It is not for the ordinary layman to make suggestions, but something must be done, either by extending the membership of the Viceroy's Executive Council, by sending out a deputation from this House, or, as the hon. Member for Walsall (Sir G. Schuster) suggested, by bringing Sir Tej Sapru over here. He would perhaps get out of touch with Indian opinion, but there was the case of Lord Sinha in the last war, which no one had any cause to regret. It would be a good thing to have an Indian representative over here; or if you cannot do that, could not the Secretary of State visit India? There are obvious difficulties, but I do not believe they could not be overcome.
Surely, at no time has the Indian situation been of more vital concern to the people of this Empire than it is at the moment. I hear all these experts around me bringing forward this and that difficulty, and that seems to me to give the Debate an air of unreality. I shall be told, perhaps, that I am creating unreality because I do not appreciate the difficulties, but it seems to me that, with the Germans trying to reach the Suez Canal to cut the 104 Empire in two, and coming very near to success, it is the very negation of reality for this House of Commons to allow this Debate to end without some more constructive proposals than we have had so far. It is as one of those who have followed the career of the Secretary of State and have a very great admiration for him that I venture, in all humility, to express the hope that, before this Debate is over, he will take up one or more of those proposals which have been put forward by hon. Members who know the situation well, and will give us and the people of India some more hope than we have got from his original speech.
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham and Worthing)
I want to stand between the House and the Secretary of State—who, I understand, intends to ask leave to reply to the Debate—for only a very few moments, but I would, without undue effusion, pay tribute to two speeches which have been made to-day. There were many good speeches, and I do not wish to be invidious —there was the speech of my hon. Friend opposite. I want particularly, however, to refer to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, because I thought that, in a very difficult and delicate situation, he expressed, with the greatest care and, at the same time, with a frankness which has been sometimes lacking in speeches by Secretaries of State for India, the true position. The other speech to which I want to refer is that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Wedgwood). This is a unique day in the lives of both him and me, because, for the first time in our Parliamentary lives, I have heard him make a speech with which I have been in entire agreement I see that my right hon. Friend is somewhat embarrassed; he is, no doubt, wondering whether he really made such a good speech as he appeared to make.
I am not in complete agreement with what my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Bartlett) said. I agree with his view, which is really the view of all Members, that it is highly desirable to find a way out of this dilemma if possible, and that no effort should be spared to do so. But we are dealing with purely physical facts at this moment, and I cannot agree that there is any relationship between the political situation in India and what India is doing in the way 105 of war effort. I do not wish to suggest that there has been, in any sense, an air of unreality about this Debate. There has not been any unreality. In fact, I have ventured to pay a tribute to two of the speeches. But the great, dominant question overshadowing any discussion about the constitutional system of any part of the Empire is this: Are we going to defend it against the enemy? At this moment, there is a possible danger of a tidal wave of totalitarianism coming, like a Ganges flood, and lapping up to the very frontiers of India. For the first time in the strategical history of the relationship between Great Britain and India, there is a danger of that flood coming from two sides, and possibly from a third. I would say, with deepest respect to this House, and, so far as my words are reported, to India, that that fact dominates the situation.
It is no use talking about constitutions when we are concerned with guns and tanks. There is only one way of beating back the Panzer divisions which are plugging through Greece at the present time — more men, armed to the teeth. Where in the whole of this great Empire could we find more magnificent material to stand beside our men and the men of the Dominions than among, not one, but many, of the races of India? Far too little has been said about the magnificent effort that those people are making, although the Secretary of State paid a tribute to-day to the Indian troops. My right hon. Friend used one phrase which I am afraid is rather an over-statement. He said that they were proving the major factor. They are not proving the major factor. This has been made clear by the Secretary of State and the Government of India. They ought to prove the major factor. It ought to be possible to raise at least 2,000,000 men from India and to equip them with tanks and guns. What they had got at the time information was sent out on the wireless a few months ago, were some 160,000. The Indian troops to-day are over seas in the same position as British troops, and it gives us a great bond of feeling between them. They, like British troops, are facing overwhelmingly larger numbers and are still inadequately armed and unprovided with what they ought to have. I earnestly hope that it will be possible, not perhaps on this occasion, but on some future occasion, to have the kind of Debate such as that for which 106 I asked and obtained some months ago, and to be told what has evolved from the Delhi Conference; what are the concrete results, and how far it will be true to say in the near future that it will be possible to build up this vast strategic reserve— which you must do in India— partly of British and partly of Indian troops, along with those from Australia, South Africa and the rest of the Empire.
This is not the right occasion on which to pursue that matter, but I want to pay tribute both to the Government of India and to the workers and employers in the growing Indian munition industry for the part they are playing in the war effort to-day. In spite of the strong comments that I have made, I do not blame the present Secretary of State or the Viceroy. The Lord President and myself and everyone who were in the Government two or three years ago must bear our share of the blame for not having stimulated more than was done before the war the growth in India of a munitions industry so obviously required to supply modern troops. The bravest troops in the world, whether European or Indian, cannot be expected under modern conditions to go into battle unless they have the munitions. I think it is right that this should be said.
What I am about to say is a delicate point, and I am most anxious not to enter into disaccord with hon. Friends on this side of the House. Those of us who belong to the Conservative party recognise that members of the Labour party, who hold very strong views on self-government in general, have tried, as we have tried, to find a common viewpoint. I was much impressed by the speech on the last occasion on which we discussed these Regulations, of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Gorton (Mr. Benn), whom we miss from our deliberations to-day, and who, I believe, is doing important war work. He always contributes admirably to our discussions. There was no difference of opinion between the right hon. Gentleman and myself or anyone else, and I certainly do not want to say anything in discord with the views of my hon. Friends, but it is only fair, in view of the speech of the hon. Member for West Leyton (Mr. Sorensen) to quote once again to the House what appeared in a White Paper which was published concerning the speech of the Governor-General on 8th August last. in regard to the several suggestions 107 that were made. To judge by the speech of the hon. Member for West Leyton and other speeches, including that of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bridgwater, it would be supposed that the proposals which have been made have not been made in a definite and concrete form. I will quote two paragraphs only from that statement:Last October His Majesty's Government again made it clear that Dominion status was their objective for IndiaHow could you go further than that in the middle of a war? What time has this House to pass a Measure giving Dominion status to India in the middle of this war? That statement goes infinitely beyond anything that was promised before. At the time of the passing of the India Act, when I risked losing my seat and had a resolution carried against me by fervent supporters of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister because I supported the Bill, there was no mention of Dominion status in the sense that it is mentioned now. How can anything be more definite than that? I have not heard in this Debate any answer to the question: How could you, in the middle of a great war, pass a Bill of this kind through this House in the absence of any agreement between the representatives of the Moslems, of the Hindus, the Mahasabha and the Indian Congress Party? That seems to dispose of the argument of the hon. Member for West Leyton that we are always making vague promises and do not carry them out. There were no vague promises. It was the promise of an all-Party Government and nothing could be more concrete and objective. The statement to which I refer goes on to say: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.It is clear that earlier differences which had prevented the achievement of national unity remain unbridgedIf that was true then it is truer still to-day. I am sorry that the hon. Member for West Leyton is not now in his place because I have never heard this question answered in any of the Debates 108 on India. We are told we must do this and that, but nobody has answered this question: Are we, the Parliament of Great Britain, the Government of this country, the Viceroy and Government of India, to say to the Indian Moslems and the Hindu Mahasabha, "We do not care whether you agree or not, this is the constitution we are going to give you? "There has been no answer to this question. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Bridgwater made a statement that we should try to frame the future constitution.
§ Mr. Bartlett
I did not talk about a future constitution at all. I did not mention the word"constitution."I said that, as we had this middle party growing up, we should make more use of it and lessen the power of extremists on either side.
§ Earl Winterton
I am sorry if I misunderstood what the hon. Member has said. Personally, I am in considerable agreement with that point of view, speaking as a back bench Member, but it would be extremely dangerous at this moment for the Government to give support to a movement before they knew what support it had in India. I assure the House — and I think that anyone who knows India will agree that this would be so— that the moment the Secretary of State or the Government of India said, "We support this movement" you would have all the elements in India becoming suspicious, and they would say that it was a Government-controlled movement. You cannot force a constitution upon a people if they cannot agree among themselves what the constitution ought to be. Some may say we should never have a constitution for the Provinces. The basis we had already got, after the complications we had at the time with the Government of India, while we did not like it, did represent the most careful consideration of all parties.
§ Mr. Wedgwood
In a central arrangement for Provincial government you would get agreement. It is not only a question of federation.
§ Earl Winterton
I agree to some extent. We have at this moment certain Provincial governments doing excellent work, 109 and I am glad to pay tribute to them. It is right to say that the work done, for instance, by the Government of Bengal is admirable, and they have a good framework upon which to work. But, as I have said, to attempt in the midst of a war to devise a permanent Constitution for India is almost impossible in the circumstances. It would be difficult enough in any case, but in the circumstances prevailing in India now almost impossible at the moment. I do not think there is any difference of opinion on any side of the House that we should give the fullest possible measure of support and sympathy to the Viceroy and the Secretary of State in their endeavour to continue to find some means of bringing these people together. No one who knows the history of the right hon. Gentleman and his personal views on the subject would deny that there is nobody more fitted for his task than the present Secretary of State, or the present Viceroy, who, in private life, holds most liberal views and has always been sympathetic to Indian aspirations.
Let us not ignore the fact, and let not Indians forget at this moment, that the Indian Army is fighting beside the British Army in circumstances of the greatest difficulty and that there is a real threat, which is more acute than it has been for many years, to the whole fabric of our position in the East. If only we win this war— and I must say that we assume far too much by being certain that we will win this war; it is far better to say that we have got to win it— so many questions will be solved. There will be no question of the caste difference between Indians and Europeans. All of us in the British Empire will be in the same position. We shall all have risked our lives for freedom and fought, to a far greater degree than was the case in the last war, for certain spiritual things which appeal as much to Indians as they do to our country. I think the message that can go out from both sides of this House to-day is that we recognise that most fully, and that in this fight there is something to cling to which we have never had in any previous war.
§ Mr. Amery
I do not think I could have asked, from my point of view, for a more satisfactory Debate to-day, not because hon. Members have treated the Secretary of State with consideration and kindness, 110 but because of the real value which I think this Debate will have in India when it reaches India and is studied there, studied with possibly a far greater degree of care than our Debates are studied in this country. The House has shown itself, with reference to India— and I use the phrase in the wider sense— a truly liberal body. The speeches which have been delivered in all quarters of the House on India were, I think, the true reflection of the spirit in which we are waging this war and of the causes for which we are fighting. The Debate has. illustrated to the full the fundamental and universal good will of this House towards India and its aspirations. There have been many excellent speeches, and I would like to single out those made by the Noble Lord who has just spoken, my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall (Sir G. Schuster) and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Farnham (Captain Nicholson), who exercised the privilege of good will, which is to speak frankly and straightly to one's friends, to those whom we do regard, as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Farnham said, as brothers in spirit.
That universal good will towards India in this House is not only characteristic of the House but also underlies the policy and aims of His Majesty's Government. The hon. Member for Camberwell (Mr. Ammon), who opened the Debate, said very truly that so far as this country was concerned the union of parties reflected in the Government afforded a unique opportunity for dealing with India, and he went on to suggest that those Members of his party in the Government might make more use of their opportunities in that respect. I think, with all due deference to him, that he is hardly fair to his colleagues. After all, the policy which the Government announced last autumn is a policy which went very far indeed, which offers to India far more than has ever been offered before, and the remarkable thing about it is that it is a policy not merely of his friends in the Cabinet, or merely of the present Secretary of State, but of one who not only leads— dare I say, commands? —the Government, namely the Prime Minister, who only a few years ago was a stalwart and most persistent opponent of a measure of self-government which fell far short of the pledge for complete Dominion status, as 111 soon as Indians can agree after the war, which is embodied in the document which the Noble Lord read just now. There is, surely, on our side evidence of a unity and good will which is one of the prerequisites to constitutional progress in India.
There was another matter in respect of which he, no doubt unintentionally, did injustice to this House and to British Governments for the past 20 years. He suggested that we had broken the pledge we gave to India at the end of the last war to confer independence upon them. Might I remind the hon. Member of what were the actual pledges given at the end of the last war? The Preamble to the Act of 1919 says:The gradual development of self-governing institutions with a view to the progressive realisation, of responsible government in British India as an integral part of the EmpireThere was no mention even of Dominion status then. Not until 1929, ten years later, did Lord Halifax, the then Viceroy of India, declare very truly that it was implicit in the declaration of 1917, and in the Preamble to the Act of 1919, that the eventual issue of India's constitutional progress would be the attainment of Dominion status. The whole process was conceived of, and never stated here or in India as otherwise, as a gradual one. I think that the Act of 1935—and I still regard it as a great Act—in no sense fell short of the pledges given, and even that Act was a long way behind the clear and unmistakable declaration of policy made on behalf of a united country by a united Government last summer. Therefore, there is no essential difficulty as far as this country's intentions are concerned in setting India on the way to Dominion status. The difficulty lies not so much in the devolution of authority from its present holders as in making sure that there is an authority in India which can take over and which will not break down or break up in the process. That difficulty does remain—and it is no use our pretending that it does not—in India itself and in those divisions within India which have shown themselves with increasing acuteness as the prospect of free government has come nearer.
It is perfectly true that in the statement of that difficulty we are confronted by 112 what one hon. Member said is a certain sense of frustration and what another hon. Member called depression. I see no reason why we should yield to that. After all, let us remember that a little more than a year ago, when the war had been in progress for a good many months, we had not come to any understanding or union between our political parties, and there was in this House, too, and in the country a very considerable sense of frustration. As the situation came nearer home to us, and as the feeling of the ordinary man-in-the-street was brought home to people in politics, they realised that they had to sink their political differences for a greater common cause. I see no reason why that process should not repeat itself in India also, although we must not forget how deep are the divisions in India and how relatively remote even now the war seems to many people in India, and above all to those whose whole career has been in political agitation and controversy, and to whom, therefore, their established political interest still seems to be the dominating one.
We have got to enable India to get out of that attitude—as it were to get outside the cocoon of old controversies into which the elder tribe of Indian politicians have spun themselves. It is from that point of view that I welcome so gladly the initiative of Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru and his friends. I was bound to point out the difficulties inherent in this first proposal that they put forward, because it is a proposal, as I said, which is largely addressed to the wrong quarter, and because it does not face those inherent Indian difficulties which are the obstacles. But certainly I hope that these eminent and patriotic men will not cease their efforts and that in one way or another they will try to bring about unity as regards the constitutional future in India. It is for them, far more than for us, to judge the best way of achieving it. They will try directly no doubt to bring the leaders of existing great organisations into touch with one another, but if they fail it may well be, as was suggested at their conference by more than one speaker, that they should lay themselves out to get for their personal eminence and responsibility a greater measure of popular support in India itself and to build up something 113 in the nature of a central party in India, influential enough to command the attention of the present All-India parties and influential enough also, one hopes, to enlist the support of those Provincial Governments to whose importance in the whole future of the constitutional scheme more than one hon. Member has paid tribute.
There is no reason for us to be despondent about the future even if the difficulties of the moment are grave, and even if it is not easy to discover any one immediate remedy, above all a remedy devised from here. I can assure the House that the Viceroy, to whose un-wearying efforts my right hon. Friend has paid just credit, will certainly not cease to try to find ways and means of implementing the policy which, after all, because it is our policy, we want to see succeed and be carried out. Certainly, there is no intention, either so far as I am concerned or so far as the Viceroy and the Government of India are concerned, of looking upon this matter with the idea that it shall just drift along.
At the same time, while there is an element of disappointment and discouragement in the purely political situation in India, we should not overlook the fact that political controversies in India are not the whole of India's life. I suggest that was to some extent true of us not so long ago, and certainly it is true of India to-day. Alongside of this deadlock and these wrangles between leading Indian politicians, alongside also of the more hopeful efforts of Indian politicians to straighten out that particular aspect of things, India as a whole is behind this war and with us, and India as a whole is, as the right hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Wedgwood) suggested, day by day feeling her feet. It is true that India is prospering, and that there is more revenue not only for the Central Government but for the Provincial Governments, and I assure the House that in the Provinces— not only those which are carrying on under a democratic constitution, but those which are being temporarily conducted under direct control— there is a great deal of active social progress going on all the time. As to the war, the four Provinces which are conducting their own Governments are also very helpfully contributing to the general war effort. So is the whole 114 public of India. I need only refer to the genuine voluntary enthusiasm with which funds have flowed into every collection of money for any conceivable purpose bearing on the war or the mitigation of the sufferings of its victims— from the £1,500,000 contributed for aeroplanes to the smaller sums given not only for British but also for Allied sufferers from the war, and contributed not only by. Rajahs and wealthy industrialists, but by the humblest peasant, the policeman, the soldier.
That brings me to what India is doing in the actual field of war now. I quite agree with my right hon. Friend that it would be desirable at some later stage to have a Debate in which we could review again, as we did last November, the broad field of India's war effort. At a moment like this, it is not easy to say very much, but what I can say is that the building up of an army of 500,000 in India, and going beyond it with each increase of troops sent overseas, is proceeding very actively, and is proceeding largely because good foundations were laid beforehand. Only a day or two ago I received a letter from a distinguished soldier who had revisited India after an absence of a couple of years, and he expressed to me frankly his amazement at the progress made during those years, not only in the general reshaping and enlargement of the Indian Army, but also on the side of munitions.
I am bound to draw the attention of the House, as I have done before, to the fact that the expansion of India's fighting strength is all the time conditioned by the provision of modern war equipment and that that in its turn is conditioned by such things as machine tools and technically skilled workers. My right hon. Friend said just now very truly that India can produce 2,000,000 fighting men of the best quality. Unfortunately that is not enough. We have. seen 1,000,000 of the bravest soldiers in the world, men whom I heard described in the last war as the finest infantry in Europe, well equipped according to the standards of the last war, scattered to the winds and broken in pieces by the armoured divisions which German foresight and determination on war provided while we, in our hopes of peace and in our self-delusion allowed the locusts to eat the precious years which we are now vainly 115 trying to retrieve for ourselves and for India. The trouble is in these matters that India is so dependent upon us and upon America and can only slowly make good what ought to have been made good in previous years. I can assure the House that every effort is being made in that direction. I have every hope that as this year progresses—
§ Earl Winterton
I am sorry to interrupt my right hon. Friend, but I think he inadvertently used a phrase just now which he would like to have corrected. He used the words "vainly trying to retrieve". Surely that is not true. We are trying to retrieve.
§ Mr. Amery
Certainly, that is so, and I entirely agree. What I meant was that we were trying in vain to retrieve as quickly as we would wish. What I was saying was that we are making that effort. I cannot give my right hon. Friend details, but the result of the Delhi Conference has been the setting-up in India of an Eastern Group Supply Council, with representatives from all the Governments of the Dominions and Colonies East and South of Suez and of a Central Provision Office for all theatres of war in that part of the world. That is of no small importance now, but it may be of immense consequence if the war develops in certain directions which we cannot yet foresee. In the same way every effort is being made to increase India's capacity to produce munitions. Ten thousand young men and more are being trained to fit themselves for technical and munition work.
The hon. Member for North Camber-well reminded us that a small number are being sent in batches of 50 for training in this country. He inquired what were the conditions of pay, and I have taken the trouble to verify that point since he spoke. They are given six months' training, partly at training centres and partly with carefully selected employers. They are not receiving actual pay, but they receive an allowance for the purchase of suitable clothes, and they receive training allowances sufficient to cover the cost of keep and accommodation, plus weekly pocket money ranging from 6s. a week for those under 20 and 8s. a week for older men. A welfare officer is especially attached to look after their well-being. I have every hope that the experiment will prove a success here and a success when 116 these men go back to India. I can only say that it has been very widely welcomed in India itself.
§ Mr. Amery
The training period is six months. I do not wish to dwell further on these matters of detail, which are more suitable for another Debate. All I need say is that in the various ways, through the gallantry of their fighting men, the development of India's industries, through all that is going on in India, she is feeling her feet and establishing a real claim for equality with ourselves. There remains the constitutional problem, which for the moment inevitably is far more in the hands of Indians themselves than it is in our hands, though we shall undoubtedly give every help and assistance in our power.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
That this House approves the continuance in force of the Proclamation issued under Section 93 of the Government of India Act, 1935. by the Governor of Madras on 30th October, 1939, a copy of which was presented to this House on 28th November,. 1939
That this House approves the continuance in force of the Proclamation issued under Section 93 of the Government of India Act, 1935, by the Governor of Bombay on 4th November, 1939, a copy of which was presented to this House on 28th November,. 1939
That this House approves the continuance in force of the Proclamation issued under Section 93 of the Government of India Act, 1935. by the Governor of the United Provinces on 3rd November, 1939, and of his Proclamation varying the same issued on 1st December, 1939, copies of which were presented to this House on 28th November, 1939, and 16th January, 1940, respectively
That this House approves the continuance in force of the Proclamation issued under Section 93 of the Government of India Act, 1935. by the Governor of the Central Provinces and Berar on 10th November, 1939. and of his Proclamation varying the same issued on 2nd December, 1939, copies of which were presented to this House on 28th November, 1939, and 16th January, 1940, respectively
That this House approves the continuance in force of the Proclamation issued under
Section 93 of the Government of India Act, 1935, by the Governor of Bihar on 3rd November, 1939, and of his Proclamation varying the same issued on 3rd December, 1930, copies of which were presented to this House on 28th November, 1939, and 16th January, 1940, respectively.
That this House approves the continuance in force of the Proclamation issued under Section 93 of the Government of India Act, 1935, by the Governor of the North West Frontier Province on the 10th November, 1939, and of his Proclamation varying the same issued on 2nd December, 1939, copies of which were presented to this House on 28th November, 1939, and 16th January, 1940, respectively.
That this House approves the continuance in force of the Proclamation issued under Section 93 of the Government of India Act, 1935. by the Governor of Orissa on 6th November, 1939, and of his Proclamation varying the same issued on 2nd December, 193'.). copies of which were presented to this House on 28th November, 1939, and 16th January, 1940, respectively"—[Mr. Amery.]