§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR INDIA (THE EARL OF BIRKENHEAD) rose to move to resolve, That this House concurs in the submission to His Majesty of the names of the following persons, namely, Sir John Simon, Viscount Burnham, Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal, Mr. Cadogan, Mr. Walsh, Colonel Lane Fox and Major Attlee, to act as a Commission for the purposes of Section 84A of the Government of India Act. The noble Earl said: My Lords, the, very difficult task which I attempt to-day to discharge is one of which it cannot be expected that it will meet with unanimous approval. The difficulties involved have been very great and I may, perhaps, illustrate them to your Lordships if I say that the correspondence which has taken place between myself and the two successive Viceroys with whom I have been associated upon this subject would certainly fill several volumes. I claim, and I claim only, that with the advantage of the advice in the earlier years of my noble friend Lord Reading and in later years of Lord Irwin, at any rate this whole matter has been most carefully considered, that every alternative for the proposal which I put forward has been examined and a sincere attempt has been made to appraise the advantages and the disadvantages of each course which has been recommended and pressed upon me.
The Motion which I have to move is:—
That this House concurs in the submission to His Majesty of the names of the following persons, namely, Sir John Simon, Viscount Burnham, Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal, Mr. Cadogan, Mr. Walsh,
Colonel Lane Fox and Major Attlee, to act as a Commission for the purpose of Section 84A of the Government of India Act.
I shall say something in a moment as to the reasons which led the Government to the conclusion that the Commission necessarily to be appointed either this year or next year or in the early months of the year afterwards, should be a purely Parliamentary Commission, but I may allow myself the grateful task at the outset of my speech of saying something in justification of the names which I recommend to the House.
§ Sir John Simon occupies a position at the Bar of England which has not been so completely filled by any advocate at the Bar in my recollection. He brings to the difficult tasks which await him a mind ingenious, acute, well-stored and assiduous, and it would indeed be wrong if we did not in this House recognise that he is making an immense sacrifice, as men count sacrifice, in undertaking the difficult duties which await him. I do not, of course, mean that Sir John Simon is merely making a financial sacrifice, but he is in a position in which, as one of the masters of his profession, he has no particular difficulties or anxieties in its discharge, for he is too consummately equipped in that profession to apprehend them. But he is undertaking duties of great novelty, of the utmost complexity, in circumstances in which it would only be possible for a very sanguine man to predicate that a solution would be attainable which would be accepted not only here but in India. No man can establish a larger claim upon the confidence of his fellow countrymen than that he undertakes a task of great difficulty involving immense personal sacrifices, and I am certain of this, that the wish of your Lordships will be to give him every support in the difficult task which in the high spirit of public service he has undertaken.
§ There is another member of the Commission, a member of your Lordships' House, who has for a long period of time rendered public service. I mean my noble friend Lord Burnham. His special activity has, happily, been in the direction of making us better known in the outlying portions of the Empire. I have been made aware of many of his travels. I know of no Dominion which he has visited where his pleasant and tactful personality has not done much to create 232 good feeling between us and those whom he has visited. For him, too, the sacrifice is considerable, for I may tell your Lordships that not only will it be necessary for those who are to be the Commissioners to spend some four months in India in the next cold weather, but it will certainly be the result of their earlier efforts in India on which material will be accumulated that will require sifting and examination on their return to this country, and they have then undertaken the very much greater labour involved in their second visit of spending some six or seven months in India, travelling through the various Provinces and acquainting themselves in great detail with the matters which are relevant for their consideration and necessary for their decision. Lord Burnham, again, has undertaken this task in the spirit of public duty, and I am sure that your Lordships will appreciate that a man no longer very young has undertaken a burden of this kind in the public interest.
§ Another member of your Lordships' House, a younger man, Lord Strathcona, recommended to us not only by a name which we honour but also by an individuality of character and an exhibition of industry which have carried him from an inferior plane of our activities to a not unimportant post in the Party organisation, has abandoned this and in my judgment rightly abandoned it for the purpose of a larger and a more important public service. I am glad that a member of your Lordships' House with energy and youth and competence for this task has been prepared to undertake its burdens. I come now for a moment to the members of the House of Commons. Of Colonel Lane Fox I think I need not speak in terms of any particular recommendation. He is, indeed, known to many of your Lordships in his own personality and to all by name. He has discharged more than one high public position and to the discharge of every position he hag brought equal competence, industry and conscientiousness. Mr. Cadogan is known, I suppose, to all of your Lordships who were members of the House of Commons. Those of your Lordships who had not the good fortune ever to be members of another place I may remind that he was the tactful, courteous and able secretary of the Speaker of the House of Commons for a 233 period of many years. If any man can retain popularity with all sections of the House of Commons who is the secretary of Mr. Speaker for a period of many years I say of that man that he has many qualities which entitles him to sit upon this Commission.
§ Now I will say a word of the two representatives of the Opposition, Mr. Walsh and Major Attlee. Here I must make a slight digression. I thought it my duty to enter into some discussion with the Leader of the Opposition, Mr. Ramsay MacDonald, at an early stage in the development of this matter, and I would desire in the most public manner to place it upon record that, consistently with his own position, his own responsibilities and his own duties, Mr. Ramsay MacDonald throughout the whole of these discussions has behaved as one would have expected a man to behave who has at one time held the high office of Prime Minister in this country and who, for all we know, may still hold it again. It would give an entirely wrong impression if I were to claim that Mr. MacDonald accepted any responsibility for the particular proposals which I bring before the House to-day. He did not accept them, I did not ask him to accept them, I did not expect that he should accept them. These responsibilities were the responsibilities of His Majesty's Government alone. We accept them and we shall accept the consequences of them.
§ It is perfectly open to any supporter of Mr. Ramsay MacDonald, either in this House or in another place, to say: "We think that you would have exercised a wiser discretion if you had adopted a different form of Commission. That is your responsibility, it is not ours." Let it therefore be made perfectly plain when I say that I accepted the advice of Mr. Ramsay MacDonald in the case of the two gentlemen who are to be the Labour Members of this Commission—let it be made perfectly plain that the position which Mr. Ramsay MacDonald and his friends are entitled to assume is this: "It is your scheme and not ours, but we would not take and we do not take the responsibility of saying, when once you have adopted this scheme, that we the leaders of the Labour Party in this country propose to boycott it."
§ After considerable discussion between Mr. MacDonald and myself two names 234 were put forward and were accepted. The first was that of Mr. Stephen Walsh. Mr. Walsh is an old Lancashire Member of Parliament. I have known him well for twenty-one years. He entered Parliament at the same Election as myself, I know well how great his reputation is with the mining community of Lancashire, and I know, too, that as Secretary of State for War he stamped an unaggressive but still a firm and real personality upon those with whom he associated at the War Office. I greatly welcome his inclusion upon this Commission. I am not able to say more of Major Attlee than this: he comes to me with a very strong recommendation not only from the Leader of the Labour Party for efficiency, capacity and industry, but those of my own Party in the House of Commons to whom I have spoken have been as forward in his praise as those who recommended him to me for inclusion as a member of this Commission. I am myself unhappily almost ten years remote now from the House of Commons and therefore I had not and have not the pleasure of Major Attlee's acquaintance. Such are the men who have undertaken these burdens. I have no hesitation in recommending them warmly to your Lordships' acceptance, and I think we are fortunate indeed in having discovered seven gentlemen, many of them members of the House of Commons and, in addition to the risks which I have already indicated, exposed to electioneering difficulties which may arise who knows when, who, nevertheless, have been prepared to add these to the other risks and inconveniences which they have undertaken.
§ A graver question now requires discussion, and it is here I apprehend that a difference of opinion which is founded upon principle may develop between myself and the opposition. Let me state it shortly. The question is: Should this Commission be a Parliamentary Commission consisting of members of the House of Commons and the House of Lords only, or should it be a Commission in which Indian members would have found a place? I have given for years, ever since I undertook the responsibilities of this office, my deep and constant attention to this topic. I have satisfied myself, and I am not without the hope that I may satisfy your Lordships and the public, that the decision which I recommend is not only right but it is the only 235 decision which is reconcilable with the very purposes which all of us have in view. The problem of India is one the main features of which historically are very familiar and which I do not propose to examine in great detail to-day. Nevertheless I shall presume to say one or two things quite plainly. When we went to India, in that commercial guise which has frequently in history been our earliest approach to future Dominions, we found it a country discordant, dissentient within itself, of warring sects, with no prospect of a stable and unified Dominion. I examine not at all, for it would be remote from and irrelevant to my purpose, the early history. I collect from that history only the conclusion which is logically required for my present argument and I state it plainly and boldly. It is that the intervention of this country in India, and that intervention alone, saved it at the relevant period from a welter of anarchy.
§ Now, my Lords, I approach the present. It has been my duty to talk in the last three years to many distinguished Indians of every faith, every persuasion, every bent of political thought. I have asked all of those who were inclined to be critical of our attitude in relation to the future constitutional development of India this question: "Do you desire that the British Army should be withdrawn from India? Do you desire that the Civil Service should be withdrawn from India? Do you desire that the protection of the British Navy should be withdrawn from the Indian shores?" I have never found one Indian, however hostile to this Government, however critical of our proposals in relation to Indian development, who desired that the Army should be withdrawn, or that the Indian Civil Service should be withdrawn, or that the protection of the Navy should be withdrawn. Why do I state this proposition in a form so plain? It is to found upon it, as its logical conclusion, another. We undertook by Act of Parliament—that Act which substituted for the authority of the Company the authority of the British Government—Parliamentary responsibility. Does any one really suppose that the Parliament of this country, which by Act of Parliament assumed to itself the responsibilities and the functions of the Company, which, as the historical facts that I have shortly stated 236 show, is still confronted by precisely the same problems in India as confronted our predecessor at the moment when in the first place the activities of our commercial and trading bodies, supported by the force of arms, composed the warring sects of India, when it is still conceded that our withdrawal tomorrow would reproduce precisely the conditions which existed when we went there—how can anyone in those circumstances pretend that, whatever other point may be disputable, the responsibility of Parliament not only does not still survive but is not an exclusive responsibility from which Parliament cannot divorce itself without being false to the long and glorious history of the association of England and India?
§ If this be the responsibility of Parliament, considerations of no small importance arise. I had to decide, before making a recommendation to my colleagues, which they accepted, as to the character of this Commission, whether or not it ought to be a Parliamentary Commission. This, as I understand, is the point in relation to which doubts are principally entertained by those who criticise our proposals. Let me therefore examine it, with the indulgence of the House, with some care. If I am right in saying that it was Parliament which was responsible for that first and momentous change which deprived the Company of its political activities, if from that moment Parliament has been charged with responsibility, how can we divorce ourselves from that responsibility at this moment? Observe that it is only eight years since this same Parliament, by what is known as the Montagu-Chelms-ford Reforms, by a great Public Act created the Constitution which is now to be the subject of revision and reexamination.
§ It is sometimes said by our critics in India that it is for a round-table conference or a Congress in India to decide upon the form of Constitution suitable for themselves, and then for the British Parliament formally to pass it. This suggestion has not been lightly made. It has been seriously made by men who are entitled that their observations shall be seriously accepted. I can only make this comment. I have twice in the three years during which I have been Secretary of State invited our critics in India to put forward their own suggestions for 237 a Constitution, to indicate to us the form which in their judgment any reform of the Constitution should take. That offer is still open. It is most expressly repeated, as I shall show in a moment, in the proposals which we make for the association of Indians with the activities of the Commission. But let it be plainly said—it cannot be too plainly said—that Parliament cannot, and will not, repudiate its own duties, its own responsibility, in this matter. If anybody seriously supposes, either here or in India, that we are mechanically to accept a Constitution without our own primary and ultimate responsibility for judging upon it, they have no contact with the realities of the actual situation.
§ We therefore formed the clear view that this Commission must be a Parliamentary Commission. It was suggested, and is being suggested still, that we ought to have associated Indians with the Commissioners in order not to inflict a supposed affront upon Indian susceptibilities. That consideration deserves the most careful attention, and, indeed, I may make it quite plain that I have given it for a period of three years my almost unbroken attention. I have considered it from every angle; there is no argument which can be put forward in its support which I have not already, to the best measure of my capacity, examined. The question whether I am right or wrong cannot be answered without deciding what is the true function of this Commission. The function of the Commission is a simple one. It is to report to Parliament. When once the Commissioners have reported, they are functi officio. The task then belongs to others. What is it that Parliament was entitled to require from these reporters? What could these reporters contribute that would be most helpful to Parliament? I find myself in no doubt as to the answer to both these questions. Parliament could most be helped by the opinions of men of admitted integrity and independence, without any commitments of any kind at all in the past events of history, who went there with one object and one object only—namely, to acquaint themselves with the actualities of the problem and to equip themselves to be the wise advisers of Parliament.
§ We are in this country accustomed to bride ourselves upon the jury system. It 238 has frequently been said that the collective intelligence of twelve jury men is incomparably greater than the individual intelligence of any one among their number. I hope it will not be considered that I am making any observation which is slighting to the distinguished men who are members of this Commission if I say that I conceive of them as an exceptionally intelligent jury, going to India without any preconceived ideas at all, and with no task except to come to this country and give the honest result of the examination which they make of Indian politics.
§ I have only two things to add on the issue whether we were right or wrong in deciding upon a purely Parliamentary Commission. I have no doubt whatever, speaking as a constitutional lawyer, that the framers of the original and determining Act, when they spoke of a Commission, contemplated a Parliamentary Commission. It is true that in terms they did not so state it, but I draw the inference that they did not so state it because they thought it so obvious. I observe my noble friend Lord Chelmsford in his place in this House. I am not entitled, unless he thinks proper to contribute it, to ask him his opinion, but I should be greatly astonished if he were not prepared to state that at the time when this Commission was contemplated in the governing Act any other idea was in his head, or in the head of Mr. Montagu, except that the Commission should be entirely a Parliamentary Commission.
§ What would have been the alternative? It is said lightly by those who have not considered very deeply the facts, that a few Indian representatives ought to have been made members of the Commission. I was reading a speech reported in the Pioneer Mail a few days ago, by a very distinguished member of the Legislature, who himself is a Hindu of high position and ability. It is a speech of Mr. Goswami, made at the All India Congress—a meeting not altogether favourable to His Majesty's Government or to the present Secretary of State. He said that he did not know if there were any Mahomedan organisation in the country which represented the opinion of the Mahomedans, but so far as his own community was concerned he was certain there was no such organisation which could speak in the name of the Hindu community. We know it, therefore, from 239 a very prominent member of the Hindu community, that in his judgment there is no one in all India who can speak officially in the name of the Hindu community.
§ As to the opinions of the Moslems, while we have heard some repercussions of them in the newspapers in the last few days, it has been my duty very carefully, in consultation with the Viceroy, to study the expressions of opinion which have appeared in the Indian Press and to appraise their value. I am not in the least depressed or discouraged by them. I knew that there would be many who, whatever proposal the Government brought forward, would be dissatisfied with it. But I find many elements in that great and heterogeneous population who will not be dissatisfied and who in no event will make themselves party to a boycott. Do not let us ever forget that the population of India—I suppose a general figure will be sufficient for my purpose—is somewhere in the neighbourhood of 300,000,000 people. Of those 300,000,000 some 70,000,000 belong to the Native States, and are not primarily concerned with our present Inquiry. I should suppose that of the 230,000,000 who remain about 220,000,000 have never heard of the Commission at all, and I do not believe it to be a bold prediction to say that about 200,000,000 are unaware that they are living under the benefits of the Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms.
§ One must retain some contact with reality when dealing with the Indian population. Remember how infinitesimal is the number of those who vote when an election comes and, of that fractional percentage who vote, how large a proportion consists of the illiterate class, who mark their papers because they are unable to write. We in thus House, and those in another place, have the responsibility not for a loudly articulate India but for the real India as a whole—that India which consists, as I have said, of 300,000,000 people. I only deal with it because I think it calls to be dealt with. I saw it stated in another place, by a member of the House of Commons, that a book which has created wide public attention, called "Mother India"—it was written by Miss Mayo, I think—was inspired either by the Government of India or by the Government of this country. I should not deal with this 240 matter if I were not so struck by the complete irresponsibility which would enable a member of another place to make a statement so absolutely false, without putting forward a vestige of evidence. I most expressly invite that lady either to withdraw that charge or to produce the evidence upon which she founded herself.
§ I was dealing with the complexity of the interests involved, and inviting the House to consider how it would have been necessary for me to proceed if I had taken a different decision, or if I had been supported by my colleagues in taking a different decision, and if we decided that there should be Indians on the Commission. In the first place it would have been evidently necessary to have a Hindu member, although I should have been in the difficulty, which Mr. Goswami's statement made plain, that there is no Hindu organisation. I suppose it would have been necessary in the first place to provide myself with a representative Hindu as a member of the Commission. In the next place the moment I had announced the name of a Hindu it would indisputably have become necessary to provide a non-Brahmin Hindu, because the idea that a Hindu would be accepted as a representative member by the non-Brahmin Hindu is to those who know the facts ludicrous. In the next place I must have a Mahomedan and I must have a Sikh. That is four Indian members to begin with.
§ Let me inform the House, for these matters are not very widely known, what various remaining classes have in fact established their right to separate representation in Provincial Legislatures, so that their claim is quite certain to be put forward in this connection. They will say: "Do not tell me that I am to be represented by a Hindu, or a non-Brahmin Hindu, or by a Mohamedan, or by a Sikh. My case is a different one"; and they have, in fact, achieved recognition of their claim in one or other of the Provincial Assemblies. I take, first of all, the Christians. I suppose they are entitled to be at least considered in India. They are a very numerous and a growing community, and they would certainly desire that their views should be put forward.
§ Let me take another case, the case of the depressed classes. There is in India 241 a vast population, even in relation to the numbers with which we are dealing, a population of 60,000,000 people in India, of the depressed classes. Their condition is not quite as terrible, not quite as poignant as it has been in the past, but it is still terrible and poignant. They are repelled from all social intercourse. If they come between the gracious light of the sun and one who despises them, the sun is disfigured for that man, for they cannot drink at the public water supply, they must make diversions of miles in order to satisfy their thirst, and they are tragically known, and they have been known for generations, as "the untouchable." There are 60,000,000 of them in India. Am I to have a representative of them upon this Commission? Never, never would I form a Commission, nor would anyone in a democratic country, nor would my friends opposite recommend it, from which you excluded a member of this class which, more than any other, requires representation, if you are indeed to put the matter to a mixed jury of the kind which I am indicating.
§ I have not dealt with others—the aborigines and the inhabitants of back-wood tracts, or the special representatives of the cotton trade, all of whom have been strong enough to assert their claim to individual representation upon Provincial Assemblies. My proposition is of a more general kind. It would be impossible to form a Commission, other than a Parliamentary Commission, which would not excite reasonable complaints of exclusion on the part of the persons who have very strong claims to be included. And what would the help be to Parliament? It is, I suppose, conceded that if I had representatives of the classes whom I have indicated I could not possibly exclude the Indian Civil Service. After all, the Indian Civil Service has deeply-rooted interests in India. It has rendered prodigious service over the ages. Mr. Lloyd George once said that they are the steel framework around which the whole building has been constructed. It is not, I imagine, suggested that, if you were to admit other than Parliamentary representatives, you could exclude members of the Indian Civil Service. Had we proceeded upon these lines we should have found ourselves with a Commission of some eighteen or twenty 242 people. That such a body would be convenient for the task assigned to them no instructed person, I believe, will seriously contend.
§ But let us attempt to imagine the resulting situation had a body so unwieldy been in fact appointed. Does any one suppose that there would have been a unanimous Report? There may not be a unanimous Report now. But at any rate we shall have a report which proceeds upon the same general point of view and principle. But what would be the Report from a body such as I have indicated? What, guidance would it give to Parliament in the immensely difficult task that will await the Parliament of one year, or two or three years from now? It is obvious—because the tension and the acuteness to-day of these unhappy communal quarrels are greater in my judgment than they have been for some twelve or thirteen years in Indian history—that you would have a very strong partisan Hindu Report, you would have a very strong Moslem Report, and you would have three or four other dissenting Reports from various sections deeply interested in the decisions which are taken.
§ Imagine the Joint Committee which we contemplate setting up. Imagine Parliament being assisted by the disclosure of dissenting views of this kind. I do ask for an indulgent judgment as to whether, confronted with this alternative, I have not taken the right view when I have said that seven members of the House of Lords and the House of Commons, well known and respected in each House, shall go out, using every means of associating Indian opinion with them, and shall shortly pass and present to Parliament a Report which Parliament will be in a position to understand, and by which it may usefully be guided. But it may, indeed, be very reasonably said: "Are Indians to be denied any opportunity of contributing to these decisions?" Had I made any such proposal I should have known that it was foredoomed to failure, not only in India, not only in the House of Commons, but indeed in this House. There is as great a determination to secure fair play for reasonable Indian aspirations in this House as there is in another place.
§ Let me make plain what our proposals are in this respect, for indeed I think 243 that they have been very greatly misunderstood. It is our purpose that the Commission when it visits India should establish contact with a Committee appointed for that purpose by the Central Legislature. I pause there to point out that constitutionally the Central Legislature is the body who most authoritatively can appoint members from its own numbers to confer with the members of the Commission. I assume that appointment will be made, because I cannot believe that those who are anxious to persuade the Government of this country that they are fit for a further measure of self-government will undertake the deep and most unwise responsibility of refusing to associate themselves with us in the first and genuine efforts which we make to ascertain the road which we must tread in common together if we are indeed to reach that goal. I therefore do not, and I will not, assume that they will be guilty of the unwisdom of refusing to appoint such a Committee.
§ Now what would be the function of that Committee? It has been most irrationally assumed that they were merely to appear as witnesses before the Commission. That is not the case. They are invited in a spirit of great sincerity to co-operate as colleagues with the Commission. It is contemplated that they shall prepare—in advance of the arrival of the Commission if they find themselves able to do it this next cold weather, and, if they find themselves within that limited period unable to do it, a year later—their own proposals and come before the Commission and say: "These are our suggestions." We have claimed, and they have claimed that the West cannot devise a Constitution for the East, that you cannot put Eastern wine into Western bottles. Well, if there be behind that claim, and I do not doubt it, sincerity and real feeling, we afford them an opportunity of confronting our Commission with their own proposals, which can be made public, which can be analysed, criticised, can be accepted or can be rejected, after that analysis and after that criticism. No greater opportunity was ever, given than is afforded to the Central Committee in the first place by the suggestion that they should confront the Commission with their own constructive proposals.244
§ Now let us try to see how the Commission will develop. It is very difficult to apply one's mind with accurate prevision to so many unknown and in the main unforeseeable contingencies. But I will tell your Lordships how I think of the Commission as developing in its activities. They will retain contact with the Committee of the Central Legislature as long as their deliberations extend to matters with which the Central Legislature is principally concerned, and they will temporarily lose that contact when they are making journeys into the Provinces. But even here they will not be deprived of the constant refreshment of Indian opinion. For it is proposed—I see no recognition of this fact in any of the Indian papers—that in every Province in which they journey there shall be created there a Committee of the Provincial Legislature which shall discharge the same consultative functions with the Commissioners as are discharged at the centre of Government by the Committee of the Central Legislature. At no point, therefore, will the representatives of the Indian Legislatures be deprived of the opportunity of influencing the views of the Commissioners. Let no one make the mistake of supposing that we are attempting here to interpose into the scheme any official members. Members of the Central Committee and the members of the Provincial Committees will all be elected and non-official members. I claim that no one could have done more than we have done to protect ourselves by making it certain that the Report of the Commission to Parliament should be at least illumined by a knowledge of what contemporary Indian politicians are deeply thinking.
§ But, observe our next stage. Not a word has been said in recognition of this. Yet let it be pointed out that an enormous opportunity of intervening at the most critical moment of all is contained in our proposals. It is well known that we intend that after the Commission has presented its Report the proposals of the Government thereon will be sent, in accordance with precedent, to a Joint Conference of both Houses of Parliament. Your Lordships, or those who were interested in Indian affairs at that time, will not have forgotten how considerable was the contribution, how unremitting the industry of the Joint Committee which reported upon the Montagu-Chelmsford proposals. It is our intention 245 to set up a similar body. Supposing it be the fact that in spite of the constant contact in India between the Central Committee at the heart of government and the Provincial Committees of the Legislatures in each Province to which the Commission will journey, that in spite of all those opportunities of ascertaining opinion the Indians have failed to make good their view upon the independent and unbiased judgment of the Commission, they are not even then compelled to acquiesce.
§ They will on the whole have been given an opportunity which in my judgment has never been given in the whole history of Constitution-making to any people who are in their position. We invite the Central Government to appoint a Committee to come and sit with our Joint Committee. They can examine the Report of the Commission. They are even given a function, if they could only understand it, more important than that of the Commission itself. When once the Commission has made its Report, it has finished. But its critics remain and its critics are most formally and specially invited to come and sit with the General Committee in Parliament and to develop any criticisms or objections that they feel to the Report which the Commission has made.
§ I cannot say more than that, being deeply committed, as we are deeply committed, to the view which I have attempted to justify in argument, that this Commission must be Parliamentary in character, we have neglected no resources which either our own ingenuity could suggest or our advisers could put forward to carry with us as far as we could Indian opinion at every stage. If, without the destruction of our central scheme, from which we have no intention of departing, noble Lords can suggest to me any method in which I can make it even plainer that our purpose is not to affront Indian opinion but rather to conciliate and make it friendly to us, it shall be most deeply considered. But I would add one word of caution only. We must take no step which will lead to the risk that we shall have two Reports proceeding from two Commissions. The responsibility, as I have made it plain, is and must be the responsibility of Parliament. We have conceived of every means open to our 246 imagination to associate with the conclusions which the Commission has presented to Parliament Indian opinions and even Indian prejudice. So long as it does not destroy our scheme we shall listen with sympathy to any suggestion that is made; but we are satisfied that we have discharged in the best interests, not only of this country but of India itself, the duty which we inherited from others of composing the Statutory Commission. I beg to move.
§ Moved to resolve, That this House concurs in the submission to His Majesty of the names of the following persons, namely, Sir John Simon, Viscount Burnham, Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal, Mr. Cadogan, Mr. Walsh, Colonel Lane Fox and Major Attlee, to act as a Commission for the purposes of Section 84A of the Government of India Act.—(The Earl of Birkenhead.)
§ LORD OLIVIER
My Lords, I have not risen to oppose. We on these Benches do not intend to oppose this Resolution. As we do not intend to oppose it I shall put a rigorous restraint upon myself from indulging in any criticisms and objections which I might feel disposed to make on any parts of the noble and learned Karl's speech. All such criticism would be irrelevant. We may not agree in all the recounts and views of Indian affairs which he has put forward; but with the main purpose of this Resolution we are agreed. That being so we wish it good speed and we wish to do our best to commend it to the Indian people. It has had an unfortunate reception. Although I agree with what my noble friend Lord Reading said the other day, that the Government have been most unfortunate in the circumstances in which their intentions have been disclosed in that they have been disclosed before any kind of statement could be made such as the noble Earl has just given us, yet I cannot conceal from myself that I felt at the time very strongly and I have felt for some time, that His Majesty's Government and the Secretary of State himself have to thank themselves to some extent for the atmosphere that was produced when the announcement was made.
I commented on what the noble Earl said in moving the Second Reading of the Commission Act. I then said that I did not think he was at all happy in 247 the grounds which he gave for the appointment of the Commission. Speaking in this House, in reply to questions from myself and others as to when it was likely the Government might take into consideration the appointment of this Commission, he has repeatedly taken the view that it could only be considered if the Indian politicians showed a sense of responsibility and a sense of co-operation. I have argued in this House and I have argued in public elsewhere very strongly that that consideration was not one which could for a moment be expected to appeal to the sensibilities of Indian politicians. We had a Commission on the Montagu-Chelmsford Constitution, and in my opinion and certainly in the opinion of the majority of Indian politicians, that Constitution was not suitable to bring about the co-operation that was needed. The point of view from which this question has generally-been considered, as it appears to me, by the Conservative Government, and from which it is considered by a large section of the British public to-day, is this, that we should only take into consideration the revision of the Indian Constitution if Indians under the present Constitution have shown themselves to be on the whole of good behaviour.
When this Commission is appointed Indians are confronted with a situation which is very typically illustrated in the current number of "Punch." There the Secretary of State is depicted as a snake-charmer charming the Indian serpent and Sir John Simon is represented as a doctor going to the Indian patient and saying: "I want to prescribe," and the patient is saying: "Let me prescribe for myself." "No," the doctor says," I will prescribe for you and if you will keep quiet in bed and take the medicines I prescribe for you, you shall be allowed next week to have a walk in the garden." That is the attitude in which a great many of my fellow-countrymen regard this Indian question. The noble Earl knows that that attitude is an unfortunate one where Indians are concerned. The reasonable and intelligent men with whom he has conversed and with whom the members of this able Commission will converse, will disabuse the minds of them and anyone else who enters into discussion with them of any such idea of the situation which has to be dealt with. Although it may be said 248 that 200,000,000 of the Indian people know nothing about the question of the appointment of the Commission, yet there can be no question that the Indian Reform Party on the whole does represent the views and wishes and the political will of the Indian people so far as it can be represented. They desire self-government and self-control for India. It is the purpose of this Commission to assist them to endeavour to bring that about. But this Commission is commonly regarded in India, and Indians have been made to regard it, as though it was a sort of examination paper set to them.
In considering the situation myself I had been brought to the conclusion that it would not be possible to appoint a satisfactory Commission which should be partly Indian and partly English. I am myself a suspect to many Indians. I was denounced in a Hindu newspaper the other day because I had said I did not think Indian Home Rule could be immediately set up and was told the Labour Party was as bureaucratic as anybody else. Although suspect I do say that our Party have the fullest possible good will towards, and are desirous of doing the fullest possible justice to, Indian susceptibilities and of showing Indians that they respect and honour their abilities. Nevertheless my Party have decided that they will support this Commission and they do it without any intention of insulting Indians.
I dare say the noble Marquess [Lord Reading] who was Viceroy of India will remember that when I was in office we considered together whether we could make some kind of advance in feeling our way towards constitutional reform. The noble Marquess made certain proposals and I made certain proposals. We did not always agree in each other's proposals. He made certain proposals which no doubt he thought would have done more good if they had been accepted, and I made certain proposals which I thought would have done more good if they had been accepted. One of the proposals I made, with the consent of my colleagues, to the noble Marquess, was that we might get a little further forward in this matter if we appointed a representative Delegation of British politicians of standing—six or seven—to meet a 249 Delegation of similar calibre appointed by the Central Legislature of India to confer on these matters and see whether they could not come to an agreement. The noble Marquess at that time did not think it opportune. What we suggested was: "Let us have the two sides meet to negotiate and confer." If the present Commission acts, as I gather from the noble Earl's statement it is intended it should act, upon similar lines, certainly the members of the Labour Party with whom I act could not in the slightest degree complain of the business of the Commission being conducted in that manner, because it was somewhat on those lines that we ourselves thought it might be conducted. Certainly the Government could not be chargeable with having ignored the claims of Indians to a full hearing or having ignored the claims of Indians to have their opinions given the full weight which they deserve. So much for the question of the affront.
It is perfectly ridiculous—perhaps I ought not to use that word, it is not a Parliamentary word—it seems impossible after the friendly conversations which the noble Earl has had with distinguished Indians that a man of his receptive and intelligent mind should do anything which he knew and felt would affront those Indians. I do, however, complain of what may appear to be a certain lack of preparation. I do not know whether it is a justifiable complaint, but I feel that just as in the case of the Geneva Conference on Armaments, about which we were speaking the other day, when it was complained that our Admiralty and our Government went into the Conference without a perfectly clear idea of how their proposals would be received by the other side, without letting the other side know what their proposals were and without knowing precisely what were the proposals of the other side, so the Government and the Secretary of State have got into precisely the same position in regard to this matter. They must have been just as much surprised by the outcry which greeted their proposals as the other side were surprised by the proposals themselves. That seems to indicate a grievous lack of preparation.
We do regret that the Government, before making proposals in connection with the Indian Commission, did not secure the co-operation of the representa- 250 tives of the Indian people. It seems to me there must have been some kind of failure in that matter. We must hope that it was not a failure due to putting too much confidence in the theory that we are the physician going to India to heal the ills of India, or the examiner going to India to examine the fitness of Indians for self-government. In our opinion the Commission appointed to proceed to India should make it their primary duty to consult from time to time on equal terms with a Commission appointed by the Indian Legislature, and I trust the Indian Legislature will not be slow to appoint a Commission upon the understanding that there should be joint meetings of the two Commissions for the taking of evidence—though not to the exclusion of either body taking other evidence by itself—and that after all the evidence has been heard and all the inquiries made there should be further consultation between the two Commissions and that the Reports of both Commissions should in due course be presented to the Joint Committee of the two Houses of Parliament. That suggestion as to the conduct of the business of the Commission is for the consideration of the learned Chairman who has been appointed, Sir John Simon.
§ THE LORD PRIVY SEAL (THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY)
My Lords, if my noble friend will not mind my interrupting in the rather adverse circumstances in which your Lordships' House is now sitting—[the electric light having failed]—I should like to say that the noble Lord is making a very valuable speech which I am afraid will be lost to the public if we continue in present conditions. I should like to suggest that we might adjourn for a short period in the hope that, in, say, half-an-hour's time, we might be in a better position to continue our discussion. May I say how greatly I admire the self-control and courage with which the noble Lord went on with his speech when we were plunged into absolute darkness. If the noble Lord will allow me I should like to move that the House do adjourn for half-an-hour. I think that would be for his convenience and for the convenience of everyone else.
§ LORD OLIVIER
I should have been glad if the noble Marquess had moved that when the light went out.
§ [The House adjourned at twenty minutes before six o'clock and resumed at a quarter past six o'clock.]
§ LORD OLIVIER
My Lords, I fear that part of what I had to say which might be regarded as of some importance was said under unfortunate conditions and my argument was interrupted. I should like therefore very briefly to recapitulate something of what I have said. I told your Lordships that we cannot find any fault with His Majesty's Government for choosing to appoint this form of Commission, because, looking at the matter with the greatest possible care, we did not see that it would be either reasonable or proper to appoint any but a Parliamentary Commission, or if this had been possible and we had chosen to appoint another kind of Royal Commission, that it would have been a practical course to appoint a mixed Commission. We felt under the circumstances, moreover, that the Report must be a Report of the Commission to the Imperial Parliament assisted by any other Report that a Commission of the Indian Legislature might make or any subsidiary information that could be given in this way. This seems to me the only course that it is open to the British Government to take under the terms of the Statute, and that we should go outside the terms of the Statute and try some new procedure we do not suggest; in fact we think it would be improper to do so.
While criticising to a certain extent my noble friend and his Party for not having created so good an atmosphere for their proposals as they might possibly have created, I urged that when the Commission is appointed it should certainly have an opportunity of understanding the views of the leading men and politicians who speak as national representatives of India and as representatives of a Nationalist movement. The noble Earl has had some experience himself of dealing with a Nationalist movement and, contrary to the traditions of his own Party, he once came to the conclusion under momentous circumstances that something must be done, that the old attitude of the Unionist Party with regard to self-government in Ireland must be modified. He himself gave way in the face of a Nationalist movement, and 252 he knows that the vitality of such a movement is bound to increase and to become really dangerous if full expression is not given to it.
The present Commission, when they go to India, will come in contact much more warmly and more directly than is possible in this country with the genuine national spirit of the Indian people, and this cannot fail to influence them and make them use the fullest possible help that they can get from the Indians themselves. On that account therefore, we consider that the Commission should make it a primary duty from time to time to consult a Commission appointed by the Indian Legislature, that there should be joint meetings of the two Commissions for the taking of evidence. That is our opinion as a Party and we hold that further consultations between the two Commissions might take place and that both Commissions in due course might present a report to the Joint Committee of the two Houses of Parliament. The Labour Party has every confidence that its representatives on the Commission will act in the spirit of this declaration.
With regard to the concurrent sittings of the two Commissions, it is obvious that, with the greatest possible acumen, a Parliamentary Commission composed solely of our own representatives could not elicit the full significance of evidence given before it without assistance and commentary of some kind. I think the noble Earl will agree that it is almost impossible that the fullest value and significance of evidence can be obtained in those circumstances without some kind of cross-examination, and the reason why Indians desire that there should be Indians upon the joint composite Commission is largely because they feel that the points of evidence, whether for or against the programme, cannot really be elicited without some kind of subsidiary aid in the form of cross-examination. Consequently I hope that the Inquiry will be assisted in the examination of witnesses by the Commission of the Indian Legislature.
In those circumstances, and if our friends in India will realise that we of the Labour Party have the fullest and most ardent desire to get forward in the direction of self-government and that this particular step—and it is only a step—is the most practical form that this desire can take at the present moment, then, notwithstanding 253 the rather unfortunate circumstances in which it has been launched, I hope that they will withdraw from their attitude of proposing to boycott the Commission, because that would leave the situation as between England and India in a deplorable and, I might even say, a hopeless position. Indians say to me: "We have our own feelings of pride and sensitiveness." I do not think they have different feelings of pride or other canons of sensitiveness than Englishmen. We in this country, if we are confronted with a Commission that does not fulfil our own ideas as the sort of Commission we should desire and if we go as witnesses before that Commission, do our best and run our heads against a wall if necessary, but we do not give up without doing the best we can. We know that if you have a body of men of practical common sense like the noble Viscount, Lord Burnham, and others, men of high-minded public spirit, full of experience of public business, you necessarily produce upon them the impression that you want to produce on a jury, and you cannot do that unless you confront them with yourselves as witnesses. I hope that the Indians, if we come to an agreement as to what they want, will obtain all that they want, and if they boycott this Commission we hope that this Commission will at any rate place Indian affairs upon a basis of continuous progress and development. We hope that it will be the final Inquiry of this sort, and that it may, with the assistance of Indians, be able to formulate lines upon which continuous progress can be made without further investigation or inquiry.
The noble Earl said, quite truly, that he had on two occasions urged Indians to come together and put up to His Majesty's Government their own scheme and their own idea of what would be a suitable Constitution. I do not know how far that was done through the Viceroy, or how far it was done in private communications. I am bound to say that I thought his invitations in this House were a little tepid, and I was a little disappointed with them. I could have wished that they had been made a little more earnestly. I have never ceased to urge upon my Indian friends that it was the thing which they ought to do. I grieve to say that they have not put forward an agreed national 254 scheme. If they have not done so because of jealousies and dissensions, then I hope that those jealousies and dissensions will be sufficiently cured to make it possible for such a scheme to be presented. I think the appointment of a Commission by the Indian Legislature is the right and constitutional manner of getting Indian national representation, and is far better than trying to select even an Indian Commission, and is more likely to produce something which might possibly be made the basis of understanding and agreement. I do hope that Indians, even now, abandoning the attitude of boycotting, will set themselves to see if they cannot come together upon a Commission of the Legislature, and really present the Indian Commission appointed in this country with a scheme which they believe will work in India.
If they are able to do that it cannot fail to have a most enormous and overwhelming influence upon the results of this Commission, coupled, of course, as Lord Birkenhead has said, with the fact that the Indians do not want to get rid of the British connection or of the British Army or Navy, immediately. In time they do, but they do not want an immediate Swaraj or Home Rule. What they want is a scheme which, in the course of a greater or smaller number of years, will give them complete responsible Dominion government. No one contends that it is possible to put up such a scheme to-morrow, or in the course of next year, but they want a scheme which will as rapidly as possible work out and produce that result. I wish the Commission, unfortunate in its start as it has been, a most prosperous and successful career, and I do not think His Majesty's Government could have selected a man more likely, from his tact and attainments, to produce such a result than the Chairman of this Commission. I heartily wish him and his colleagues good luck in their labours, and I trust that the squall which has arisen, largely through mistrust of the Government, may blow over and that the Commission may bring its labours to a prosperous end.
§ THE MARQUESS OF READING
My Lords, the subject of the earlier appointment of a Statutory Commission has been discussed many times and by various Secretaries of State. I think I 255 am right in saying that during my period of office I discussed it with four Secretaries of State, and with Secretaries of State in different Governments, and it is now a satisfaction to me to find that a conclusion has been reached to appoint the Commission at an earlier date than was provided by the Statute of 1919. I cannot but wish that the speech of the Secretary of State, to which we all listened with so much pleasure and interest, had been delivered earlier. It might have prevented much of that which has happened since. It is useless now to go back upon that period, but nevertheless it does seem to me that it was most unfortunate, and in some respects incomprehensible, that whilst we had a statement made as early as November 8, in consequence of the premature and incomplete disclosure from India of the names of those appointed to the Commission, we should not have had the opportunity of a debate in this House, which would have helped very much, I think, to clear the atmosphere. In the speech of my noble friend the Secretary of State, and also in that of my noble friend Lord Olivier, there is material to cause Indians to ponder seriously before they proceed with the movement which in some quarters has been definitely adopted and announced.
The difficulties of the earlier debate no doubt arose from the fact, as I understand it, that, as the Statute had not yet been passed which permitted the earlier appointment of the Commission, it would be impossible constitutionally (so I gathered) to discuss the appointment of those who were to form the Commission. It seems to me that ways might have been found to enable us to proceed with the debate, and to listen at least a fortnight earlier to the observations which the Secretary of State made to-day. But that is all past, and we have now to attempt to rid India of the notion that the Government has intended to place any stamp of inferiority upon, or to humiliate in anyway, the Indian politician or the Indian Nationalist, or that there has been the slightest desire to suggest that the Indian is not capable of standing on an equality with the British in matters of this character. That certainly was not the idea, I am sure.
256 For my own part I give the most unqualified support to the proposal put forward by the Government. This is in no sense a Party question. India, fortunately, is outside Party controversy. The main grounds of policy are well sifted. They have been adopted by Parliament. Several Governments have now been in existence since the Act of 1919 was passed. There has been no deviation from the policy declared in 1917, and carried out by the Statute of 1919, and I am confident that there will be none, because the statement made, and especially the declaration by His Majesty, made on the advice of his Ministers to the Indian people, is in itself a charter which cannot be abrogated, and from which there can be no deviation. But the real points that divide the Nationalists in India and those who are not prepared to advance as fast as those Nationalists would desire are questions of time and method and of the various steps that might be taken on the road to that self-government promised to India within the words of the Statute. I have myself often wondered and considered what form the Commission should take. I am emboldened, especially by the observations made by Lord Olivier when he referred to certain proposals made to, and discussed with, me when I was Viceroy, to remind him that when his Government was in office proposals of this character, relating to the earlier appointment of the Commission, were discussed between his Government and myself.
§ THE MARQUESS OF READING
Well, I am not going to wait until they appear. This has been a question agitating the mind of every Secretary of State, and also of the Viceroy of the time—of myself and of my successor. There has been no period at which we have not been discussing it. I find some satisfaction in the thought that I always was in favour of appointing the Commission in the cold weather of 1927, and I am very glad indeed that my successor, Lord Irwin, has come to the same conclusion, and that the Government has itself arrived at that decision.
257 The real difficulty that we have to deal with concerns the composition of the Commission. It is said that it is an affront to India to appoint a Parliamentary Commission, and to exclude Indians. I cannot but think that there is misapprehension in the minds of those who come to that conclusion—very serious misapprehension. It is not to be wondered at. I think we must be a little careful not to blame Indians for any views which they may have expressed, when it is remembered that they knew of the Commission and its composition before they were aware of any of the very admirable safeguards which have been introduced by the Government. If a Commission had been contemplated, composed of men who had had experience of India, who had lived part of their life in India, had perhaps held office as Governors of Provinces, and of various persons who from one reason or another had considerable knowledge of Indian affairs, I should have said without hesitation that we could not have appointed such a Commission without appointing a number of Indians; and I doubt very much whether there would have been any division of opinion on that subject. But that is not the Commission appointed; it is totally different Indeed, the selection made is of gentlemen, Members of Parliament of both Houses, who have had no special experience of India, who may perhaps have paid a visit to India, but merely as sightseers and tourists, and who have had nothing to do with the administration of affairs in India. And that is the central point upon which all argument must rest. For it is quite impossible to find any gentleman, who has passed his life in India, who has perhaps been born and lived with his family there, who could approach this question from the same standpoint as those who have been appointed and will sail to India to inform themselves in order to inform the British Parliament.
I have wondered sometimes, when reflecting upon a Commission composed of British and Indians, how it would be possible to find Indians who have not already committed themselves to a definite view, and I think I shall be borne out by everyone who has knowledge of Indian politics if I say that there is no leading Indian politician, indeed no Indian politician, who has not already committed himself again and again on 258 the very subject we are now discussing. It occurred to me during the debate that there was a Committee appointed in 1924. The earliest occasion on which I remember some Resolution in favour of anticipating the date of the Commission and appointing it earlier than 1929, curiously enough arose actually in 1921, just after the Parliaments had been inaugurated and almost within a month or two of my succeeding my noble friend Lord Chelmsford. It was one of the earliest Resolutions I encountered in India. That state of affaire continued until 1923 and 1924 when there were definite Resolutions to that effect. Then a Committee was appointed, of which your Lordships are no doubt aware, called the Reforms Inquiry Committee. It is very often referred to as the Muddiman Committee because it was presided over by Sir Alexander Muddiman.
It was composed of Indians and British. Sir Alexander Muddiman, who was then the Home Member and the Leader for the Government in the Legislative Assembly, was the Chairman. Associated with him were two British members, Sir Charles Innes, who was Member of the Viceroy's Council for Commerce, and Sir Arthur Frome, who was an unofficial European representative. The other six composing the Commission were Indians. I do not desire to travel into the history of that Commission. I only refer to it to point out that as a result there was a very full debate in the Legislative Assembly in 1925. In that debate Resolutions were formulated which represented the views of those who were in favour of an immediate advance and who stated from their point of view what they required from the Government. There was a very long Resolution which formulated a Constitution. It left the details to be settled by a round table conference or by a Commission. But in substance it stated definitely what they wished, that there must be both a Central Legislature and Provincial Legislatures, composed of representatives elected on a wide franchise, and that the Governor-General in Council should be responsible to the Central Legislature. Finance and various matters were dealt with and there were certain reservations with regard to the Army into which I need not go; the Resolution was definitely 259 shaped by the leaders of political thought in India, certainly by those who were taking a prominent part in the debate in the Legislative Assembly.
Those who spoke strongly in favour of these Resolutions, of course, were entitled to represent their views with all the force they could command. They were doing it in a perfectly constitutional manner, and although as a Government we might not agree with them and thought that they were proceeding too fast and going too far, yet no fault could be found with their manner of presenting the case or with the Resolutions which from their point of view they had advanced. But all those who made themselves responsible for that definite declaration are now taking part largely in the agitation proceeding in India for the purpose of boycotting the Commission.
The question I have put to myself and the Secretary of State must have considered again and again is: Would it be possible to appoint a Commission in which the leaders of Nationalist opinion would take part with the knowledge that they themselves, not once but over and over again, had committed themselves to a definite policy from which they would not depart? It seems to me that that is really putting men on the Commission with the knowledge that the opinions they would express are the opinions they have already expressed. I am prepared to admit that they would sit on the Commission with every desire to be perfectly fair and to keep an open mind. Nevertheless they have been thinking about this subject for a long time and, as I have indicated, have already given pledges from which it would seem difficult for them to recede. I mention that again merely for the purpose of illustrating the difficulties had the Government set about appointing a Commission composed of those who had Indian experience. To leave those men out would at once have been a challenge to Indian political opinion and thought, and it would have been assumed that it was done purposely with the object either of humiliating them or of preventing their voices and opinions having full weight.
Confronted with all these difficulties and those referred to already by the Secretary of State, which I will not repeat, it seems that there was no alternative but the Parliamentary Commission to 260 which the Government have had recourse. I cannot profess to say what was in the minds of Mr. Montagu and my noble friend Lord Chelmsford when this particular section of the Statute was drafted and when they came to the conclusion that there should be a revision. I do not know what they had in mind, but I should be surprised to find that they had definitely ruled out a Parliamentary Commission. I should not be surprised to learn from them that what they always contemplated was a Commission of Parliamentary representatives from this country. We shall, perhaps, get more information from my noble friend if he intervenes in this debate.
I have arrived at my conclusion entirely unaided by my noble friend the Secretary of State. By that I mean that although I have had with him, during the period when I was Viceroy and since, many discussions on Indian affairs and on this subject, I was unaware of the decision of the Government to appoint a Parliamentary Commission until a little time before the announcement was made. That enables me to say that my views are quite independent and quite free and unbiased by anything that may have been said recently, at any rate on this subject, by the Secretary of State to me, and that the conclusion to which I came is the conclusion the Government had already reached. I cannot think there was any other course open.
Although it is a great satisfaction to find that there is no division of opinion in this House with regard to the appointment of the Commission and certainly none with regard to those who are to be appointed, I am a little troubled in mind by the suggestions made by my noble friend Lord Olivier, when he told us what was desired by his Party in order that full support might be given. I do not propose to analyse the proposals. I do not know whether the Secretary of State had them before him when he was speaking. All I will say for myself is that I should have thought that those proposals, which, I presume, as the language was read out to us, represent formally what is desired by the Party, were quite impossible of acceptance. I shall not attempt to go into them in detail. To adopt the suggestion that there should be two Reports, one a Report by an Indian Committee—that is, of gentlemen 261 in India constituting the Committee to be formed—and another a Report by the Commission to be appointed here, would really be to place the Parliamentary Commission in an impossible position. I do not think I am exaggerating when I so describe it. If one draws the picture of what would happen in such conditions one immediately arrives at the conclusion that chaos must ensue. There would have been two different Reports, I suppose, in any event.
I do not intend to go further into those proposals. They are matters for His Majesty's Government. I am merely expressing the views I have reached and of those who are associated with me in this House. There is much to be done. Although I could not go anything like the length suggested by my noble friend, I believe that no better plan could be devised. Certainly I am not able to think of a better one. There has been no more elaborate plan prepared to safeguard the interests of Indian politicians and of those who, although not politicians, may nevertheless desire to be heard upon this subject, than the provisions that have been made, no doubt in consultation between the Viceroy and the Secretary of State. It is especially with reference to those safeguards that I should like to make a few observations. One cannot tell how much of what one says in this House may travel to India. I have been the recipient of telegrams from leading Indian politicians in India, with whom I was on terms of friendship in India, making an appeal to me. My answer to them must be that all the safeguards that they really could desire are already provided. They will have the opportunity, as my noble friend has said, of presenting their views, not only by the Committee of the Central Legislature, but also by the Committee appointed by themselves, a non-official Committee of elected men, unofficial in every respect, for the purpose of arriving at the conclusions which they wish to put before the Commission, and there they may be quite certain they will get an excellent and dispassionate hearing. I cannot think that a better Chairman could have been found for this purpose, or one who would satisfy Indian public opinion more thoroughly, than Sir John Simon, who will undertake this very responsible duty.
262 I am oppressed by some apprehension lest the Indian politicians may be led away into carrying out this policy of boycott, of refraining from presenting themselves, of refusing to have, in the language of one telegram to me, anything whatever to do with the Commission in any shape or form. I know that the Indian gentleman, indeed I was going to say the Indian of every class, is very sensitive. He is perhaps none the less sensitive because he is ruled over by a Government which is not his own, and he is prone to take offence when none is meant. He is, because of these very facts, rather inclined to discover some desire to wound him or, if not to wound him, to place him in a position of inferiority When he has read what the Secretary of State has said to-day, I believe that in his heart he will find that he has been mistaken. Although it is very difficult for a politician in India, as it is in England, to recede from a position he has once publicly announced, yet I am hopeful that there will be a change and that it will be recognised that everything that could be done for them has, in fact, been effected in this connection.
I would add, in conclusion, that some of my Indian friends, if they will look back on the events of the last few years and even beyond, will find that this policy of abstaining from any intercourse with the Commission or with the Government has not always been productive of benefit to India, that it is rather a perilous instrument to use and sometimes recoils upon those who adopt it. If the policy were persisted in I have no hesitation in saying that a grave error will have been committed. An opportunity is presented to India to put the whole of her case before a Tribunal presided over by a Chairman of the character and the capacity of Sir John Simon. The whole purpose of it is that the gentlemen forming the Commission shall inform themselves, educate themselves so to speak, when they are in India, on the views of Indians, that they shall learn everything that there is to be said on the subject, that they shall duly and faithfully report to Parliament when they return, and that they shall give their conclusions, which at least we may be assured are not the conclusions of those who reason a priori but will be decisions arrived at by them after carefully 263 weighing and sifting all the evidence presented to them.
In regard to the Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms, of which we naturally have heard much in this debate, I have expressed myself before in this House and also in India as of opinion that they have proved on the whole to have been better devised even, perhaps, than those who had a leading part in them themselves thought at the time. I am not for a moment suggesting that they are not capable of amendment, but I do believe that in them there is a foundation well laid, and that it rests with India now to show to the British public that from the experience, from the knowledge that she has acquired of Parliamentary government, from all the various events that have taken place during these eventful years—after all, the Legislatures have only existed since the beginning of 1921—she is now able to present a case supported by arguments which will enable the Commission to form its own opinion and to report to Parliament, when Parliament again will have the opportunity of hearing the Indian Committee if they desire to make representations. In those circumstances they have really the best protection that could be devised for them and it would be very unwise of them, I venture to think, if they refrained from making every possible use of the opportunities afforded them.
§ VISCOUNT CHELMSFORD
My Lords, in the course of his speech my noble friend the Secretary of State for India expressed the hope that I should make clear what was in the minds of Mr. Montagu and myself when we made a recommendation that after a period of ten years our reforms should be subject to examination by a Commission. I am deeply committed in this matter, and I think I can give a very clear answer to my noble friend. When Mr. Montagu and I were exploring the question of reforms, now ten years ago, we were struck by this fact: that while during John Company days a periodic examination by a Parliamentary Committee took place, I think every twenty years, in connection with the renewal of the Charter, since the assumption by the Crown of the government of India no such Parliamentary inquiry has ever taken place. I put aside those annual debates in another place, which cannot 264 be regarded as evincing even a Parliamentary interest in what is going on in India, and I doubt whether in another place on the occasion of the annual review—it used to be on the Estimate for the Secretary of State's salary, but now I am not sure what is the exact technical peg on which the debate hangs—there were not even fewer Members in the House perhaps than are in your Lordships' House at the present time.
We felt that this was singularly unfortunate, because Parliament did not keep in that close touch with the development of India which really should have been the case when Parliament had actually taken over the Government of India. In fact we note this paradox in our Report, that Parliament ceased to exercise control at the very moment when it required it. The consequence has been, I think, that the advance that has been made in constitutional reform in India has escaped the notice of Parliament; and the inevitability of the steps which have been taken has escaped the notice both of members of this House and of the other House. If they had kept in that close touch they would have realised the various stages of development that have taken place since the Councils Act of 1861, the later Act of 1892 and the Act of 1909. All these have been stages, and warning stages, in the history of constitutional development in India. Yet when Mr. Montagu and I came with our proposals in 1919, those proposals came as a shock to members of both Houses because they had not realised what had been gradually developing during those years. Therefore I can say quite clearly that what was in our mind was the revival of that old system of Parliamentary inquiry which took place under John Company.
We regarded our reforms as a new Charter and we felt it was desirable that from time to time, as in the case of John Company's Charter, those reforms should be examined and scrutinised. Unfortunately my colleague Mr. Montagu is not with us to-day, and I cannot express what his views might have been to-day, but I should like to point out to your Lordships that in the appointment of the Joint Committee presided over by my noble friend the Earl of Selborne, to which he was a party, he quite clearly showed what was in his mind, even though that may be 265 as long ago as eight years. I will quote this passage from the Report:—But the Committee think that it is of the utmost importance, from the very inauguration of these constitutional changes, that Parliament should make it quite plain that the responsibility for the successive stages of the development of self-government in India rests on itself and on itself alone, and that it cannot share this responsibility with, much less delegate it to, the newly-elected Legislatures of India.
§ VISCOUNT CHELMSFORD
I am quoting from the Report of the Joint Committee of Lords and Commons, presided over by the Earl of Selborne, to whom was committed the examination of the Bill which resulted in the Act of 1919. Mr. Montagu was a party to that Report and I think that quotation alone would show what was in his mind—that it was definitely a Parliamentary Commission or Committee, call it which you will, which he had in his mind to examine the constitutional development in India. Therefore, as I said at the beginning, I am deeply committed to the belief that this inquiry by Commission should be through the medium of a Parliamentary Commission. Of course it has been made quite clear during this debate that the Secretary of State for India, my noble friend behind me (Lord Olivier) and my noble friend the Marquess of Reading all contemplate that Indians should be closely associated with the work of this Commission, but I do share the regret which my noble friend the Marquess of Reading expressed just now, and I think it is a pity that this debate did not take place at an earlier moment.
My old friend Sir John Simon, the Chairman of the Commission, did attempt to remedy this in a letter which he wrote—it was a curious method, but I suppose it was the only one open to him—to, I think, the Parliamentary agent in his constituency. In the last paragraph of that letter—I wish I had it here so that I could quote it—he set out in most admirable terms the view he took with regard to the association of Indians with this Commission. I think, after the course this debate has taken to-day, that it is scarcely necessary to attempt to emphasise what has been in the minds I imagine, of His Majesty's Government, and would have been in the minds of any 266 Government which had responsibility in this matter, that Indians should be closely associated in the most effective way with the working of this Commission. I earnestly hope that the appeal to Indians made just now by my noble friend Lord Reading will get out to them in India. There is no reflection at all upon Indians in the constitution of this Committee, and there is no idea of shutting them out from the full expression of their views.
There is one matter which has not so far been much touched upon, and yet I think it is very vital that everybody who has an interest in this matter should bear it in mind. Mr. Montagu and I were closely conditioned by the announcement of His Majesty's Government in August, 1917. That same condition applies to the Commission which is now going out. That announcement appeared in the Preamble of the Act under which the Commission is now being appointed, and I think perhaps it will bring home the meaning of this fact to your Lordships if I very briefly and concisely indicate to you the history of reform as I saw it in my time. I think it will show very clearly how this Commission will be conditioned by the terms of that announcement.
I think the ball was set rolling with regard to the policy of reform by a very remarkable utterance made by my noble friend Lord Sinha, who is not here to night. In 1915 he addressed the Indian National Congress as their President It is very remarkable that, with the extreme views expressed by many Indians at that time, a man of his moderation, the foremost Indian of the time, should have been chosen. The remarkable passage in Lord Sinha's address was that in which he pleaded with the British Government to declare two things: first, their policy with regard to future constitutional development, and then that, as an earnest of their sincerity in putting forward that announcement of constitutional development, they would state their readiness to take the first steps in that direction. This was at Christmas time in 1915. I came home from India in January, 1916, for six weeks before I went out again as Viceroy, and when I got home I found that there was a Committee in existence at the India Office, which was considering on what lines future constitutional development might take place. That Committee, before my return in the middle of March, gave me a pamphlet 267 containing in broad outline the views which were held with regard to future constitutional development. When I reached India I showed this pamphlet to my Council and also to my noble friend Lord Meston, who was then Lieut. Governor of the United Provinces. It contained what is now known as the diarchic principle.
In this connection it might interest your Lordships to know how the epithet "diarchic" first arose. At one of the first councils that I held on the subject, Sir William Meyer, a man of considerable erudition and very acute mind, when he heard the principles on which this proposal developed, as it appeared in the brochure, said that it reminded him of the division of central and imperial provinces under the early Roman Empire, which Mommsen called "diarchy." From that chance remark—it could only have been a chance remark, because I am sure that Sir William Meyer, if he had waited to think a little further, would have seen on reflection that there was no resemblance between the diarchy of Mommsen and the diarchy in our scheme—the word "diarchic" has spread as an epithet of prejudice in connection with the reforms which were instituted at that time. Since people very often wonder how the word came to be used, I think it may interest your Lordships to mention that fact.
Both the Council and Lord Meston, who was then Sir James Meston, reported adversely on the proposals for constitutional development contained in that pamphlet. We proceeded to consider a Despatch on different lines, which were rather in the nature of an extension of the old Morley-Minto Reforms, but, as the then Secretary of State pointed out, our proposals failed to fix the enlarged Councils with responsibility. Mr. Chamberlain declared that a mere increase in numbers did not train Indians in self-government and did not advance its object unless the Councils could at the same time be fixed with some definite powers and real responsibility for their action. Surely in that criticism of Mr. Chamberlain lies the basic principle of the announcement that was made in August, 1917. It is true that Mr. Montagu was the mouthpiece of that announcement, but it is common 268 knowledge that the announcement in its substance had been framed before Mr. Montagu assumed office.
With that announcement the situation regarding the consideration of reforms changed at once. I immediately asked my Council to work on the principles embodied in that announcement. It is interesting to note that Mr. Montagu was doing the very same thing in London, and when we met in India, in November of that year, we found that both my Council and the India Office had arrived at substantially the same conclusion—namely, that if you were to carry out the announcement as pronounced by His Majesty's Government, embodying responsibility and advance by stages, the diarchic method must be employed. But Mr. Montagu and I were not content with this, and when we went round in India we were always interviewing deputations and leading men, whether Indians or Governors, and trying to get away from what is called diarchy. But when we brought the proposals of other people to the test of the announcement, which was really our terms of reference, we always found ourselves back at the fact that we had to come to the diarchic method.
After long striving we found no way out and, of course, that method is embodied, as your Lordships know, in our Report. But I am sure that no one who reads our Report—I am afraid very few people have read it—can imagine for one moment that we put forward our proposals otherwise than on the basis that, having sought all the alternative methods of carrying out the announcement of His Majesty's Government, we were driven back to the question of a Constitution on the lines embodied in what is called diarchy. And I would remind your Lordships that in that same Report which I read to your Lordships just now, the Committee presided over by Lord Selborne said this:—In the opinion of the Committee the plan proposed by the Bill is conceived wholly in this spirit, and interprets the pronouncement of the 28th August, 1917, with scrupulous accuracy. It partitions the domain of Provincial government into two fields, one of which is made over to Ministers chosen from the elected members of the Provincial Legislature while the other remains under the administration of a Governor-in-Council. This scheme has evoked appre- 269 hensions which are not unnatural in view of its novelty. But the Committee, after the most careful consideration of all suggested alternatives, are of opinion that it is the best way of giving effect to the spirit of the declared policy of His Majesty's Government. Its critics forget that the announcement spoke of a substantial step in the direction of the gradual development of self-governing institutions with a view to the progressive realisation of responsible government and not of the partial introduction of responsible government; and it is this distinction which justifies the method by which the Bill imposes responsibility, both on Members to the Legislative Council and on the members of the Legislative Council to their constituents, for the results of that part of the administration which is transferred to their charge.I hope I have made it clear that Mr. Montagu and I were conditioned by the terms of that announcement, and the Committee which is now going out will be equally conditioned by the terms of that announcement.
Of course when one reviews what has happened under the present reforms one has to remember two things. In the first place, that they were introduced under most unfavourable conditions — the atmosphere of the Punjab disturbances and of the non-co-operation movement, and then under the financial stringency of the Government of India, a financial stringency common to the whole world, but which prevented the Central Government from handing over to the Provincial Governments funds which would have enabled them to carry on the departments under their charge. I hope that my old friend Sir John Simon starts his Commission under happier auspices, and I only express my own delight that he was appointed. I can only hope that the Report or advice which that Commission will give when it reports will square with that announcement in the manner in which Mr. Montagu and I had to square our proposals in August, 1917. I may have been unfortunate in the attempt which I made to carry out the terms of that announcement. May Sir John Simon and his Commission be more fortunate. This is too big a matter to consider 270 either personal or political bearings. I think the debate this afternoon clearly indicates that, and one can feel, after listening to that debate, that from all quarters goes out the hope that this Commission will be successful in their great enterprise.
§ THE EARL OF BIRKENHEAD
My Lords, I do not think it necessary to add more than a word to the very remarkable debate which has taken place. Seldom indeed can a discussion have been informed by more knowledge. There have been contributory to it a former Secretary of State for India, who was in office at a very troubled period in the history of India, and two Viceroys, each of whom was charged with special and grave responsibility during the period of his office; and I am greatly encouraged by the realisation that none of these three noble Lords has quarrelled with or challenged the broad decision of His Majesty's Government. Is it too much to hope that so remarkable a unanimity—for I exclude the minor points upon which some criticism has been expressed—is it too much to hope that so remarkable a unanimity of opinion among men of such vastly different experience and so representative of every political thought in this country, may travel to India? May it so travel, and may it have the effect of persuading men of prominence and position in India that they would be rash in prematurely and perhaps irretrievably committing themselves to a course which perhaps, hereafter, will prove to be unwise and irreconcilable with their own ultimate interests. On this point Lord Olivier addressed a word of wise caution, which I venture to adopt from him, and to repeat. I have only to add that I am deeply grateful for the spirit which has prevailed in this debate, and for the successful contribution which, I am persuaded, it has made to the difficult situation in which we find ourselves.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House adjourned at half-past seven o'clock.