§ THE MARQUESS OF READING rose to call attention to the recent statement issued by the Viceroy of India in regard to the attainment by India of Dominion status; and to ask His Majesty's Government:—
- 1. To state the reasons for the extraordinary course of making this pronouncement without having consulted the Statutory Commission upon it and before the Commission had reported; and
- 2. Whether all the conditions and reservations contained in the Act of 1917 and the Preamble to the Government of India Act, 1919, remain of full force and effect and applicable to Dominion status; and
- 3. Whether this statement implies any change in the policy hitherto declared or in the time when this status may be attained; and to move for Papers.
§ The noble Marquess said: My Lords, I need scarcely assure your Lordships that I am deeply sensible of the importance of the issues raised by the Notice on the Paper, and that it is my desire to discuss this matter in this House with the sole object of clarifying the situation, which has undoubtedly become in some respects obscure and even mysterious. My whole purpose and that of the Party with which I am associated is to ascertain from the Government their views in relation to the policy to be pursued in India. May I add that I should never have placed this Motion on the Paper had I not been convinced that it was of the utmost importance that the earliest opportunity should be secured of hearing the Government's answer to the Questions I have placed on the Paper. I hope that in the result we may elucidate the position, and that when this debate has come 373 to its conclusion we shall more clearly understand what was in the Government's mind, and their reasons for having taken what I cannot but describe as the extraordinary course of making a pronouncement without consulting the Simon Commission; and more especially that we may ascertain without any shadow of ambiguity that, notwithstanding the pronouncement with regard to the attainment of Dominion status for India, there is no intention of changing the policy hitherto pursued, either in substance or in point of time.
§ I confess that I had great hesitation in raising these questions myself because of the position I had occupied, but I came to the conclusion that it was essential that we should seek some light upon the situation. May I add that, from first to last, the Party with which I am associated never for one moment contemplated a vote of censure; they have never had any idea of gaining any party political advantage, and our whole object, and I feel sure that of your Lordships' House irrespective of Party to-day, is to ascertain the Government's policy. These matters arise from a pronouncement recently issued, which has formed the subject of much comment and criticism, both in this country and in India. I have felt that it was necessary to examine that situation with great care, and I shall find it impossible in the course of this debate to avoid criticism of the Government's action, at least in certain respects, although I hope I shall succeed in presenting it to your Lordships without either bitterness or even harshness. But, nevertheless, there are certain matters in connection with this pronouncement which do lead, and must lead, to strong criticism.
§ Before I proceed to deal with the Questions which I have placed on the Paper, will your Lordships permit me to remind you of the situation that has arisen during the last few weeks. It has become somewhat confused in the Press and possibly in the mind of the public, but nevertheless is of very considerable importance. As I understand the situation, when the Viceroy returned to this country for his brief visit he dismissed, necessarily at length, questions of policy with His Majesty's Government. I assume that he was desirous of changing the procedure. Whether it 374 initiated from the Viceroy or His Majesty's Government is immaterial. There was a desire that, instead of having, as was originally intended, the Report of the Simon Commission and the formulation then of the Government's proposals, and thereafter a Conference with politicians and other representatives from India, a very important change should be made, and, as far as I am aware, it is made for the first time: namely, that the Conference instead of being postponed until after the Government's proposals had been formulated should, it is now agreed, take place as the next step after the Government, both here and in India, have examined the proposals—a Conference of the freest character, open to Indians especially, and that every opportunity should be given to them for presenting their views before the Government announced its conclusion.
§ For my part, I welcome that as a change in procedure which will help to satisfy Indian opinion. I quite appreciate the Viceroy's desire to make this change, for in India I often felt the difficulty of asking Indians to present their case and their arguments after the Government's proposals and conclusions had been announced and Indians have, not unnaturally perhaps, thought that the situation was made much more difficult for them, whatever they had to present, if they were only allowed to place their views before the Government when the Government had arrived at conclusions with the Government of India and announced them. To that extent not only do I welcome the change but let me add that it has received the assent, the cordial assent, I believe, of both political Parties. No question has arisen between them about that.
§ There is one other new departure; that is, that the Statutory Commission should have power to extend its reference by enquiring into the position of the Puling Princes of the Indian States in order that they might consider the situation in relation to any proposals which the Commission might make. It was felt that it was desirable, notwithstanding that there had already been an important inquiry by a Commission presided over by Sir Harcourt Butler in reference to the position of the Indian States, that these should be brought now into closer connection 375 with the Commission, or rather with the Government, for the purpose of determining what should happen, and that the Commission should have the opportunity of entering into this question. Here again, I welcome the proposal, and once more may I add that it was approved, I believe immediately, by both political Parties.
§ My own part in the matter I shall have to relate very briefly. I regret that I have to enter into it at all. It happens that I was in London at the time that the Secretary of State wished to consult the political Parties. He saw me and placed these two proposals before me. He informed me that he desired, not only my assent but the assent of the political Party with which I was associated, and that, of course, he was seeking the same assent from the Conservative Party. I was able to tell him at once without hesitation that I cordially supported the proposals he was making and that, although I could not speak for the Liberal Party—I said that he must consult Mr. Lloyd George—I had no doubt that they would agree. Within some three or four days after Mr. Lloyd George had returned from the Continent I was able to announce that the Liberal Party would accept; that is, the leaders of the Party accepted both these proposals and, as I have intimated, gave their hearty support to them. As far as I am aware—I cannot, of course, speak with such direct knowledge—the Conservative Party took exactly the same view. Consequently, the Prime Minister was able, by the publication of the two letters which appeared in the Press, to announce this.
§ If matters had rested there there would have been no difficulty. It would not have been necessary to have had this debate. All the discussion in the Press would never have seen the light of day. There would have been no political controversy. On the contrary, we should have continued to present the appearance, which I feel sure we all wish, of treating India as outside political controversy—
§ THE MARQUESS OF READING
—as certainly it must be treated and should have been treated until after the Simon Commission had made its Report. Your Lordships will remember the occasion in 376 this House when my noble friend the Earl of Birkenhead introduced the proposal for the appointment of the Commission and we had debates upon it. It is unnecessary to refer to them because there can be no shadow of doubt that from the moment this Commission was appointed, its membership selected from the three political Parties in Parliament, it was charged with the solemn and responsible duty of investigating this question of the future of India, and that until that Commission had reported no statement should have been made of any political character in regard to the future government of India without at least the assent of the Statutory Commission and of both political Parties. I venture to state to your Lordships that I do not believe any member of the Government could controvert the proposition I have just advanced; indeed it would be impossible, because no less a person than Mr. Ramsay MacDonald accepted the proposal, and continued after that to give it his support.
I now approach the matter which is the gravest subject of issue at this moment. I hope it will not continue to be, so much at least, in issue at the end of the debate. After the two proposals, to which I have just referred, and which for the present may be cleared out of the way, a further proposal was made by the Secretary of State. It was that reference should be made to the future of India in the language, or something approaching the language—not exactly in that form—used in the statement issued. The purpose of it was to say that in the use of the term "responsible government "in the famous Declaration of 1917 and in the Preamble to the Government of India Act, 1919, when the new reforms were first declared and instituted, it was implicit that the ultimate goal to be attained should be Dominion status. For my part, I took objection at once to the use of the term, raised it emphatically.
Let me make plain to your Lordships why. It is not that I, or my Party, object to Dominion status being regarded as the ideal which we eventually hope to reach in relation to the government of India. That in due course of time, through the various stages which India undoubtedly will have to pass, we may reach first responsible government and 377 then full responsible government and a Government which would really be formed very much on the basis of Dominion Governments, certainly will not be disputed by me. But I objected to the use of the term, first because it had never been used hitherto in any formal document, and it was a new departure fraught with considerable peril, I could but think, and in no circumstances ought any reference to be made to a change of term indicating the ultimate status to be obtained without waiting until the Simon Commission had reported, when we should have the opportunity of hearing in Parliament all the conclusions reached by them, the advice they gave to Parliament, the proposals they might make to Parliament, and the result of the co-ordination of the evidence brought before them, with a better understanding of the position than could possibly be possessed by any one who was not a member of the Commission.
The objections that I raised were threefold. I raised them at once; I have continued to raise them; I wrote a letter begging that the Government might postpone the time; and I raise them at this present moment. The first objection is the one to which I have already alluded—namely, that it would be improper—that is not too strong a word to use—to make a statement of this character without the assent of the Simon Commission. When I say "improper "I am using a term as applied to the Commission which the Viceroy himself employs in the pronouncement he issued when he said, I am sure with the agreement of all of us, that it would be impossible, and even improper, to forecast the conclusions which may be reached by the Simon Commission. But nevertheless, for reasons which I suppose may be elucidated during the course of the debate, it was proposed by the Government that a statement should be made which must affect the prestige, the influence, and the authority of the Simon Commission.
I hesitate to travel even for a moment into speculations as to what may possibly happen when the Simon Commission have reported. I know nothing of it; none of us can know anything. I doubt very much—I have no means of knowing—whether they have yet reached conclusions on some of the most important points themselves. They have intimated 378 that their Report will be made early in the next year, and I confess what has puzzled me and perplexes me at this moment is why the Government should have insisted, especially in opposition to the, views of both political Parties, without having obtained the assent of the Statutory Commission, upon making a statement fraught with the greatest importance to India, however you may try to belittle it. I am aware of the limitations which are placed upon it by the Government and the Viceroy, and I shall refer to them briefly in a moment. I want to recapitulate to your Lordships the objections that were taken to making the statement without the assent of the Simon Commission before it had reported, and to the term to which I have attributed the greatest importance, from the moment I heard it used. It is the reason why I never used it, and, so far as I was able to control the situation, never would allow it to be used during the period of my Viceroyalty.
The very mention of the term "Dominion status "conjures up at once a position, to some extent at least, in advance of what might be ascribed to responsible government. It means in any event arriving at the full status of Dominions such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand—the ideal, the ultimate goal we seek to reach in due course. To the term, as I have already said, I raise no objection, but that is very different from making a statement of the character made by the Viceroy. I desire to state at once that I have scrutinised the language with care and that I should myself, I suppose, as a trained lawyer, or it may be as a politician of some experience, and with some knowledge of the full meaning that must be given to words, have read the statement issued by the Viceroy as he intended it should be read. I hope there will be no misapprehension. I am not suggesting for one moment that in the actual words used by the Viceroy in the pronouncement there is any ambiguity so far as he was concerned. He meant to make the statement indicating merely the attainment of Dominion status in the fullness of time as the ultimate goal to be reached by India. It meant no change for the moment and he never intended to indicate any change of policy.
I accept fully the implications of the language that he used and I was conscious 379 of the fact when the document was put to me, or rather when the words were put to me, that he had sought to guard himself. My objection was that it was no use using phrases which would not convey a clear meaning to India and to everyone in this country, but more especially to India where there is greater opportunity for misconception and misinterpretation—that there should be no opportunity for that, and that the only way to counteract it was to state in plain, unequivocal terms what was meant and what was intended by the Government. Had that happened, although there would have been grave cause for complaint that even that statement should have been made whilst the Simon Commission was considering its Report, yet much of the mischief would have been prevented. May I add one further objection which I raised? It was that if this statement was made it would immediately lead to further demands, and that almost before the statement had reached the Indian politicians there would be immediate requests made for a period of time and for other concessions which in present conditions it would be impossible for the Government to make. Having presented those arguments to the Secretary of State and having consulted subsequently, as soon as I possibly could, when Mr. Lloyd George returned, with the leaders of the Party, I was able to inform him that they shared my views, that Mr. Lloyd George held exactly the opinion I had expressed, and that, therefore, there was no necessity for him to meet the Secretary of State as he merely wished to endorse what had taken place.
Subsequently there were various interviews to which I need not refer except quite briefly, between the Viceroy and myself, between the Viceroy and Mr. Lloyd George and myself, and between the Secretary of State and myself. Throughout the same questions were raised and the same arguments were adduced. We discussed them perfectly courteously and temperately, as I am sure would be expected. We parted good friends, but nevertheless in complete disagreement. There was no room for doubt as to the attitude which we had adopted. Just before the Viceroy left England to return to India he did communicate to me two changes that he proposed to make in order to meet our views. I need not 380 go into them because they really did not meet the objections, although I quite admit that they were made for the purpose of seeking to meet the opposition we had advanced. At a later date—I cannot for the moment pledge myself when, and it is immaterial—I learned that the Conservative Party had withdrawn its assent, or rather had refused to give assent to the statement with regard to Dominion status. In that situation it seemed to me almost impossible for the Government to proceed; but nevertheless I understood that they had not abandoned their project.
In the result I sent a letter to the Secretary of State which with his assent I shall read to your Lordships' House. It summarises very briefly the arguments I am advancing to your Lordships and puts the matter, from our point of view, quite plainly and distinctly. It was written on October 27 and was as follows:—My dear Secretary of State,Ever since I left India it has been my earnest desire to give full support to Government in its policy regarding India, and it is therefore with greatest regret that I find myself at variance with Lord Irwin and you upon the pronouncement it is intended to make on October the 31st. By the courtesy of Lord Irwin and yourself I have already had opportunities of presenting my views. Nevertheless I must return to the subject even at this late hour, because of the serious consequences which, in my judgment, will ensue both here and in India from the proposed action.The selection of this particular moment immediately after the return of the Viceroy from consultation with you and His Majesty's Government and when the Simon Commission is engaged in considering its Report, will lead Indians to the conclusion that the declaration imports a change of policy and brings the final stage of the constitutional development appreciably nearer in point of time. I am aware that both you and Lord Irwin maintain that the policy remains unchanged and that the pronouncement is made merely for the purpose of setting at rest doubts which have arisen in the minds of Indian politicians regarding the meaning of ' responsible government ' and the ultimate destiny of India within the Empire. I cannot but think that Indian politicians will believe that the making of the declaration now and without waiting for the Report of the Simon Commission is evidence of a new policy.In order to obviate misconception and misinterpretation, may I once more urge that a clear and explicit statement should be made in the pronouncement to the effect that the conditions and reservations in the 381 Declaration of 1917 and the Preamble to the Government of India Act, 1919, continue in their full force. Failing a precise and unequivocal statement of this character, I am convinced that misunderstanding will arise sooner or later in India and all experience shows that this danger should be most carefully avoided.The effect in this country must, I fear, inevitably lead to a serious political controversy which all Parties have desired to exclude in relation to the constitutional position of India. The appointment of the Simon Commission and the selection of its members from the three political Parties with the assent of Parliament led to a general understanding that all questions relating to the constitutional development of India should be postponed until the Commission presented its Report. For the course you are now proposing to take you have failed to obtain the support of the Liberal Party and, I have reason to believe, of the Conservative Party. So far as I am aware, the Simon Commission has not given its assent. Nevertheless it is intended, as I gather, to proceed immediately and to make the declaration which must be regarded as of capital importance, otherwise it seems inconceivable that Government should persist in the face of the opposition it has met.Whatever may be the effect of the Government action in India, there can be no doubt that in this country and in Parliament there will be an end of the general understanding above mentioned.I would bog of you again to consider whether in these circumstances it would not be more to the advantage of India that no action of the character proposed should be taken until after the Simon Commission has reported and Parliament and the country are in possession of their conclusions and advice.Now, my Lords, may I say—and I should not pause to make the observation but for underlying suggestions which I have seen in certain sections of the Press—that the whole purpose of the letter was to stop, if it were in any way possible, the making of this pronouncement in India by the Government. So far as we are concerned, we have adhered, as I have already explained, from first to last to the views I have stated.
I know full well how grave and burdensome are the responsibilities of the Government with regard to India and especially—may I add?—of the Viceroy, and I should be extremely sorry if any word that I have said or any comment I have made should in the slightest degree be thought to contain a reflection on the Viceroy. Far from it. I have striven to make plain that I know that he clearly intended what he there said, that he was of opinion that he had sufficiently 382 explained it and would go no further, that really the only difference between him—and, I may add, the Government—and ourselves upon this point, the only material difference, apart from the Simon Commission's Report, is that our view was that the mere mention of Dominion status at a moment immediately after the prolonged consultations of the Viceroy with the Government at home, after discussion with the various political Parties and with the knowledge that the Simon Commission had brought to an end the collection of evidence and was therefore considering its Report, would inevitably convey to the politicians of India that it was meant to confer Dominion status, if not at once, at least within a very short period of time; that the effect of this statement was to bring the ultimate goal appreciably nearer and that it could never have been made but for that purpose.
That is what I feared that India would think. So far as I am able to gather from all that I have seen in the Press, both from India and in this country, there is no doubt that this is the view that has been adopted. I could wish that those of us who predicted had not turned out to be so correct in our anticipation. Let me call attention to only two of the pronouncements, among many to which I might make reference. One is from Mr. Jinnah, the leader of the Independent Party in India, who says most definitely that this is a radical change. In a statement to the Press he welcomes Lord Irwin's declaration and congratulates him on his announcement about Dominion status. This ananouncement, he asserts, is a clear, radical change of policy. The Government assert that the announcement is no change of policy. Now it cannot mean both. It cannot mean one thing in India and another in this country. My great objection to it is that it has conjured up a picture in India which cannot be fulfilled within a very considerable time at least, and that the obstacles remain, as they were before this announcement was made, still confronting India. That they may be surmounted is undoubtedly our hope, but until they are surmounted we cannot give a status whichwould in truth be an abandonment of the principles and responsibilities we have carried for many years, I believe with 383 great advantage and benefit to the people of India.
I could say much move upon this subject but I prefer to leave it at this point and to ask the Questions I have put to the Government, and in particular to draw their attention to the words of the Preamble of the Government of India Act, 1919. It is so essential that we should bear these words in mind that, with your Lordships' permission, I will read three or four sentences to which I attach the greatest importance. You all know this Preamble. It was deliberately placed by Parliament in the Act in order that there should be no misconception when the reforms were instituted of the conditions upon which further progressive stages should come to realisation. Parliament framed it, Parliament was responsible for it, nothing should alter it or could alter it without the assent of Parliament, and it is in respect of these very matters that the Statutory Commission is now engaged in reporting to Parliament so that Parliament may arrive at its conclusions for the future.
The words that are material are these:—Whereas it is the declared policy of Parliament to provide…for 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 Empire:And whereas "—and I call special attention to these words—progress in giving effect to this policy can only be achieved by successive stages…And whereas the time and manner of each advance can be determined only by Parliament, upon whom responsibility lies for the welfare and advancement of the Indian peoples:And whereas the action of Parliament in such matters must be guided by the co-operation received from those on whom new opportunities of service will be conferred, and by the extent to which it is found that confidence can be reposed in their sense of responsibility…There is the charter of the reforms instituted in India. It marked a notable departure from the system of administration hitherto. An inquiry was to be instituted after ten years, which was changed by Parliament recently in order to appoint the Simon Commission.
384 That Commission was appointed. For what purpose? Let me read to your Lordships some of the words which constituted the terms of reference:—The Commission shall report as to whether and to what extent it is desirable to establish the principle of responsible government, or to extend, modify, or restrict the degree of responsible government then existing therein…That is what the Simon Commission is at present engaged in considering. I do not wonder that there may be a sense of indignation among the members of the Commission, but I hope—and I will express the hope to your Lordships, for I feel certain that you will all concur in it—that, whatever may be their views upon the treatment they have received from the Government, however they may think that the value of their Commission has been, at least for a time, impaired, none of them will think of resigning, that they will adhere to their posts, that we may not lose the benefit of the two years in which they have sacrificed their time, and, indeed, in some cases even their health to the public service they were called upon to discharge to Parliament in relation to India.
If ever there has been any doubt in your Lordships' minds as to the effect of this pronouncement and as to the demands that would be made upon it, let me call your attention to a most significant document, which is, in my opinion, far the gravest that has been issued since this pronouncement was made. It is a statement issued by the conference of political leaders and signed by a number of very prominent politicians, beginning with Mr. Gandhi and including Pandit Motilal Nehru, Pandit Malaviya, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, President of the Congress which is to meet in December, and Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru. The importance of it may not be quite so apparent to some of your Lordships as it is to me. These are politicians of various shades of opinion—if it is be right to include Mr. Gandhi in the term "politicians."I am not quite sure that it is; but at least he has taken part in this matter and has signed this statement. Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru is a distinguished member of the Bar in India. He was Law Member, which is analogous to the position of Attorney General in this country, in the Viceroy's 385 Executive Council during my period in India. He was a leader of the Moderates or Liberals, but I find him in conjunction with those who are certainly not either Liberals or Moderates. Pandit Motilal Nehru is the leader of the Swarajists and his son, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, is to be President—either he or Mr. Gandhi—of the National Congress which is to meet in December.
Perhaps your Lordships may remember why they are meeting and the resolution they proposed last year at the Congress. That resolution last year at first stated that, if Dominion status was not granted at the end of the year, there would be civil disobedience throughout the country—a very, very grave threat. If I remember aright, it was Mr. Gandhi who then appeared on the scene and moderated the severity of this resolution by postponing it for one year and it is that resolution which is about to be considered in December of this year at Lahore. The object of the resolution is to determine that, unless Dominion status is given by the end of that year, civil disobedience with all its consequences will ensue. Now there are those who are associated with that threat. There is, on the other hand, a man like Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru, who hitherto has been associated with more moderate views. What is is that they say? I lay emphasis upon this document because it is signed by prominent persons of different shades of political thought from the extremist to the more moderate.
This is the passage to which I desire to call attention. This pronouncement will show how this statement, which the Viceroy meant to be so carefully guarded and as having no value except as showing the interpretation of the words "responsible government in the future,"has been received:—We consider it vital for the success of the proposed Conference that first a policy of general conciliation should he definitely adopted…Then follow three further conditions which I need not read, though it is interesting to note that the last is that the National Congress should have predominant representation:—Some doubt has been expressed about the interpretation of the paragraph in the statement made by the Viceroy on behalf of His Majesty's Government regarding Dominion status. We understand, however, that the 386 Conference is to meet, not to discuss when Dominion status shall be established but to frame a scheme of Dominion Constitution for India.So far has it gone within a very few days, and such is the interpretation placed upon it by distinguished lawyers that they are actually talking of the Conference in this solemn document as one to frame a Constitution for Dominion status, though no one has ever dreamt for a moment that that was to be the outcome of the Conference.We hope that we are not mistaken in thus interpreting the import and the implications of this weighty pronouncement of the Viceroy. Until the new Constitution comes into existence we think it necessary that a more liberal spirit should be infused in the Government of the country, that the relations of the Executive and the Legislature should be brought more in harmony with the object of the proposed Conference, and that greater regard should be paid to constitutional methods and practices. We hold it to be absolutely essential that the public should be made to feel that a new era has come even from today, and that the new Constitution is to be but the register of the fact.Can any one doubt, after that, that there has been misconception and misunderstanding?
Is it open to the Government to suggest that there is no misunderstanding with regard to it? I believe that there is a very grave misunderstanding. Unfortunately, I felt sure that it was bound to happen and that the words would be extended far beyond their natural meaning. If this is the way the words are construed by great and brilliant lawyers in India, how will it be represented to the people of India, of whom some 90 per cent. are not even able to read and have to take their statements from those who address them? The consequence is that this will be held as a promise to give at once, or almost at once, Dominion status. I know the Government did not mean that. I want them to say it, to state now in plain and explicit terms what undoubtedly is their meaning, what undoubtedly is the true object they have in view, to make it clear beyond any ambiguity to these gentlemen and throughout India that the language used by the Government in the pronouncement is only an interpretation of the ultimate goal to which India may attain when the various obstacles are surmounted.
387 I do believe that our rule in India, marvellous as it has been throughout the whole period and especially may I say in more modern times, depends far more upon the fairness and the justice with which we administer in India, the purity and integrity of our purpose, the responsible sense that we have of the burden imposed upon us and, above all, the scrupulous fidelity with which we insist upon maintaining promises and pledges given to India. India has learned that she can rely upon us. Far more, therefore, does our government of India rest upon these qualities than upon the armed forces which of course, in any civilised country, must exist in case of need. It is my anxiety with regard to that reputation, which we have acquired over a period of many years, that makes me put this question. It is my desire to get from the Government something now, when it has become apparent that there is misconception—we are no longer arguing whether there will be misconception, it has happened in the gravest form—and I want the Government to take steps to prevent further misunderstanding, and to show that what we have said we intend and shall adhere to. I am certain from what I know, and from what I have seen since I came home from India, that it is our determination, from which we have never swerved, to carry out faithfully and honestly the pledges we gave in 1917 and in 1919, and that we are waiting, for the purpose of going further, for the co-operation which we are entitled to receive from India, and which is an essential condition of any further action.
In conclusion, may I hope that nothing that I have said during my observations could possibly be construed as casting the faintest reflection upon the Viceroy. I say that advisedly, because I know how important it is. My whole difference with the Government, and with the Viceroy, on this part of the matter, is that I think that the time and opportunity selected for making a statement of this character would inevitably lead to misapprehension, and I am anxious to guard against it. I hope that as a result of this debate and of the support I hope I may get from your Lordships, His Majesty's Government will see their way to make quite plain all they have assured me. I have no hesitation in 388 saying I have been told it by the Viceroy and by the Secretary of State, but I want it said in public, and at this Table, so that it may go to India and it may never be open to anybody to charge either the Government or the Viceroy with having misled India, however honestly, and that it may be realised that when we use expressions and say they are to be treated as limited in their application, we mean what we say and we shall carry out what we promise. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty for Papers with reference to the recent statement issued by the Viceroy of India in regard to the attainment by India of Dominion status.—(The Marquess of Reading.)
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (LORD PARMOOR)
My Lords, we have listened to a very eloquent speech from the noble Marquess, and while I have been listening to him I have had some difficulty in realising what are the real points on which difference arises between himself and the Government. As I understand his speech there is a difference of opinion, both as to the terms in which this pronouncement has been made and also as to the time at which it has been made, between the present Viceroy and the noble Marquess, but I am sure he would be the first to say, and would have said when he was in India, that on a mattter of that kind the opinion of the Viceroy on the spot, especially a Viceroy with the experience of Lord Irwin, must almost necessarily prevail against an opinion formed six thousand miles away, even though it be formed by an ex-Viceroy with all the knowledge he had of Indian affairs.
When one comes to analyse what the noble Marquess has said, I think we come back to that one basic condition. I am very glad to hear that the noble Marquess does not desire to make this a political dispute, and I should like to reinforce his opinion that it would be the greatest possible misfortune to make a difference on Indian affairs a matter of political dispute in this country. Perhaps he may remember, and noble Lords opposite may remember, a statement of Mr. Lecky, who, speaking of the necessity of Party government under a Parliamentary system, says there are certain directions in which it may do infinite harm unless properly restrained, and the 389 illustration which he gave was the necessity of keeping political matters out of all Indian affairs and questions. I cannot see myself the slightest reason for supposing that in any respect upon that point there is the slightest difference between the noble Marquess and His Majesty's Government.
There is one other matter on which I should like to say a few words and on which it is a matter of satisfaction that again there is no difference between the views of the noble Marquees and the views of the present Viceroy and of His Majesty's present Government. The pronouncement of the Viceroy, stating his opinions and those of His Majesty's Government, can be readily separated into two divisions. One of them, and as I am told the one which in India is regarded as of far the greater importance, has reference to a suggestion which came originally, I think, from Sir John Simon and the Commission, that an Indian Conference, as representative as it can be made, should be called before any further steps are taken either of formulating a policy or of bringing the matter before the general Parliamentary Committees which are ultimately to follow. Of course, His Majesty's Government do not differ from what the noble Marquess has said. Parliament is the final determining factor in this great question, and it is because Parliament must be the final determining factor that it is of equal importance that every opportunity should be taken for obtaining full knowledge, so far as we can in this country, of Indian ideas and Indian hopes or fears.
If I may illustrate the difficulty that we may be in in this country, the very reason why this pronouncement was made at the present time was the view of the Viceroy that it was necessary to make it having regard to the atmosphere in India, and as he put it, in order to disperse certain "webs of mistrust."I do not want to worry the noble Marquess across the House but if he has read the pronouncement carefully, as I have no doubt he has, he will find in that pronouncement the view of the Viceroy of India that it would be an advantage at the present time to get a clearer atmosphere to prevent misapprehension, and to remove webs of mistrust in order that our future policy towards India might have the best opportunity of having its conciliatory character understood 390 not only by us but by the people who are leaders in India. On that point, which I regard and the Government regard as the most important part of this pronouncement, there is absolutely no difference between the views stated by the noble and learned Marquess and those held by the present Government; and not only are they held by the present Government, they were brought forward by the Commission, they were submitted to the leaders of the Liberal Party and of the Conservative Party in this country; and, as appears from the letter of Mr. MacDonald, which has been referred to and which has been printed, the leaders of the two Parties concurred with him that at any rate with regard to this portion of the pronouncement of the Viceroy it was right that the pronouncement should be made concerning the future Conference in India, and also as regards the examination of the relationship between Indian States and British India.
And really that is the largest part of the pronouncement. I am not going to avoid a single Question that the noble and learned Marquess has put to me, but that is the largest part of the pronouncement. And when he is speaking of Indian opinion I think he will agree with me that it is that part of the pronouncement to which Indian opinion has been more immediately directed, and it is owing to that part of the pronouncement that Indian opinion, in the accounts that I have seen, is even more favourable towards the pronouncement than the Viceroy himself had previously anticipated. I do not want to be in the least controversial but, if I understand the noble and learned Marquess aright, on this point at any rate, which we regard as a most important point in the pronouncement, there is no difference of opinion, whether we put it on political or other grounds. I am glad to see that the noble and learned Marquess assents to that, because I do not wish to attempt to drive home what is already understood.
I am not one of those who think that in the pronouncement as it stands there is any real ambiguity. You can always see some ambiguity in any draft of any document that has ever been prepared. But this document—and this is the opinion of the noble and learned Marquess himself—appears to be wonderfully clear 391 in its diction and language. It has evidently been prepared with the greatest caution. The language is that of the Viceroy, having in his mind, and indeed giving expression to his view, that it was essential that in matters of this kind Indian opinion should be educated, without, as far as he could manage it, any chance of mistake or misunderstanding. Of course, there are certain to be some elements of misunderstanding; but in answer to the quotations read by the noble and learned Marquess I might perhaps bring one or two which come from sources which can be credited with care, although no doubt in matters of this kind there may be a difference of opinion, and always will be on questions of this sort.
§ This comes from the Manchester Guardian of Monday last:
§ Moderation in India.
§ Significant Congress Statement.
§ Warning to Critics.
§ "Friday's Meeting in Delhi"—
I think that was the meeting to which the noble and learned Marquess referred—
left Mr. Gandhi and the more extreme Congress men isolated, apparently determined to insist on certain impossible conditions precedent to their participation in the Conference, but the solid opposition of all the other Parties disturbed Mr. Gandhi and the two Nehrus, who, after prolonged argument with Sir T. Sapru, helped by the Pandits and the Mahomedan leaders, agreed to sign the statement as issued to the Press. It was the almost complete opposition of Congress Mahomedans to their demands that finally decided Mr. Gandhi and the Nehrus.
And it sums up in this sentence:
The response, so far as the Viceroy's announcement is concerned, has surpassed expectation, and leading Princes like the Maharajah of Bikanir and the Maharajah of Kashmir welcome as fully representative a Conference as possible. It is necessary to enter a warning against hasty, ill-informed criticism from England. The situation here is promising but very delicate, requiring careful handling in all responsible quarters in both India and England.
The noble and learned Marquess will not dissent from the latter part of that statement, but I put this to your Lordships: is it likely at this stage that the objects which the Viceroy and the Government have in view will be furthered by a criticism such as he has suggested—not as a criticism which any educated Englishman would be likely to accept,
but as a criticism which might be accepted among Indians who, of course, have less knowledge of our language and of the methods by which we proceed? It was in order to give this information—and it is one of his great objects—that the Viceroy was anxious to make this pronouncement. I will take two passages from that pronouncement. He states:—
I am firmly assured that the course of action now proposed is at once the outcome of a real desire to bring to the body politic of India the touch that carries with it healing and health, and is the method by which we may best hope to handle these high matters in the way of constructive statesmanship.
That opinion, coming from the Viceroy, the man on the spot—which was an opinion in which the late Deputy Governor-General, Lord Goschen, concurred—ought to have the greatest weight both in India and in this country, and, apart from political controversy, we should if posible realise what the difficulties are in India, and attempt upon a matter of this kind to do our best to support the views and opinions of the present Viceroy.
§ The Viceroy points out that there are two means by which the difficulties may be overcome. He said that there is a great loyalty to the King-Emperor on the one side. We shall all rejoice in that. Everyone who has had anything to do with India, or who is merely talking on information, which I am bound to say is my position, cannot but rejoice in a statement of that kind. He says that the other position is to make it clear to the Indians, some of whom no doubt are suspicious, that whatever the British people have promised they will fully perform, and that so far from the Viceroy having the opinion that these difficulties and doubts would be raised by issuing a pronouncement, his view and intention undoubtedly were and are that by these means opinion may be clarified in India and that the Indians who may have been doubtful before would have the full assurance which he intends that his pronouncement should bring to them as regards their political and constitutional future.
I should like now to turn to the Questions which the noble Marquess asked because, as I understand, if my answers there are not unsatisfactory—I will put
it in that way; it is difficult sometimes to make a fully satisfactory reply—his view which he stated to your Lordships' House may be substantially modified. The Questions are three and I propose for the purpose of clarity to take the second of them first. This is the Question, and a very important Question it is and one that needs full consideration and full analysis—
Whether the conditions contained in the Declaration of 1917 and the Preamble to the Government of India Act, 1919, remain of full force and effect and applicable to Dominion status.
Of course they do, and the noble Marquess himself says that on his interpretation they do so remain applicable, but that his fear is that Indian lawyers and others may pervert the natural meaning of the words which the Viceroy has used.
Let me come to closer quarters with that point because the matter is of great importance. The reservations in the Declaration are that—
progress in giving effect to this policy can only be achieved by successive stages"—
that is right—that the British Government and the Government of India must be the judges of the "time and manner of each advance"; and that they
must be guided by the co-operation received from those on whom new opportunities of service will be conferred, and by the extent to which it is found that confidence can be reposed in their sense of responsibility.
Taking those reservations—unreasonable people, of course, may draw any inference—can there be any doubt that the answer to the noble Marquess's Question is that the conditions contained in the Declaration of 1917 and the Preamble to the Government of India Act, 1919, remain of full force and effect and applicable to Dominion status? I do not know whether the noble Marquess (I am very anxious upon this point) considers that I can answer the Question more explicitly than that.
§ THE MARQUESS OF READING
The Question is most explicitly answered, with the observations I made. I am much obliged to the noble Lord the Lord President, and I thank him for the answer he has given.
§ LORD PARMOOR
I am much obliged to the noble Marquess. There is no object I am sure—it is not my object at any rate—in any one addressing the House 394 on a question of this kind trying to promote controversy. Of course we desire agreement if it is possible to obtain it. Here I think there may be some little doubt in the noble Marquess's mind and this is the view we take. These reservations were repeated in a practically identical form in the Preamble—that was not the Government of India Act, 1919; it was the Declaration.
§ LORD PARMOOR
That is what you are dealing with—and in a practically identical form in the Preamble to the Government of India Act, 1919. I think that is right. The noble Marquess himself read the Preamble. I have it here but it is unnecessary to re-read it. I think he was perfectly accurate and that the reservations in the pronouncement were repeated in practically identical form in the reservations in the Preamble to the Government of India Act, 1919.
§ LORD PARMOOR
Clearly, so long as the Act remains unamended and until Parliament sees fit to review it these conditions stand.
§ LORD PARMOOR
They are Parliamentary and statutory conditions found in the Act of 1919 and they cannot be altered except by Parliament itself. And there is no idea whatever of any alteration in the pronouncement. On the contrary, the same reservations are reserved and I should say preserved. I am very much obliged for what the noble Marquess has said.
The Viceroy's statement published on 1st November contains passages which clearly indicate that this is the intention of the words we have already cited. Nothing can be clearer than that it is the intention of the Viceroy in making the pronouncement to retain those old reservations without alteration and without 395 exception. I desire to draw particular attention to the repeated reference to the examination by Parliament of the Bill to be laid eventually after the Statutory Commission's Report has been considered—of course, that will be the final decision—and with the words in the paragraph in which His Excellency the Viceroy speaks of the goal of British policy, where reference is made to the Declaration of 1917 and the Preamble to the Act of 1919. I do not see that anything can be more explicit than that, and I am glad that the noble Marquess recognises what I say. That some persons will misapprehend words, however clearly they are stated, is obvious. I recollect a learned Judge saying that the draftsman in putting his brain on paper, had never yet succeeded in putting his brain on paper without some lawyer or opponent taking exception as to what his real meaning might be intended to be.
Then the noble Marquess enquires also whether the statement made by the Viceroy implies any change in the policy hitherto declared or in the time when Dominion status may be attained. The Viceroy's statement referred to the goal of British policy. That is a statement we find occurring again and again in these Indian matters—that is to say, the goal, the object, the purpose. It is, I think, legitimate to draw a distinction between the purpose of Great Britain in relation to India, and the policy by which that purpose is to be achieved. I think perhaps it may be the occasion sometimes of what is considered doubtful interpretation on matters of this kind. The purpose is as stated not only in the Viceroy's announcement but on several occasions by other official speakers who use varying phrases to denote the same purpose, that in the fullness of time India shall attain Dominion status. I perhaps ought not to say "shall "but "may."I will read the statement in a moment to which I am referring. That purpose, which His Majesty's Government regard as implicit in the Declaration of 1917, remains unaltered and unchanged. Questions of policy in respect of the time in which Dominion status may be attained cannot be considered, and ought not to be considered, until the Statutory Commission and the Indian Central Committee have submitted their Reports, and until His Majesty's Government has been able, in consultation with the Government 396 of India, to consider these matters in the light of all the material available, and, furthermore, until after the meeting of the Conference which it is intended to summon—that is, the Conference referred to in the Viceroy's pronouncement. The matter will then be one to be decided by Parliament.
Can anything be more explicit than the statement that I make? I cannot believe myself that the suggested differences have ever been very deeply felt. I cannot conceive that after the various declarations which have been made with the assent of all Parties there is any political difference in this, that any doubt could be thrown on the genuine desire of the Government to go forward on the lines already laid down, and not to deviate by reservation or otherwise from those lines as they stand at the present time. I have here, as I think the noble Marquess had, an appendix, a selection of official re-affirmations of the Declaration of August 20, 1917. If I might appeal to the Bench opposite, I find one which I give not the least in criticism, an extract from a speech by Mr. Baldwin in May, 1927. I give it really to show that I believe we are all agreed on this. He said:—Some ten years ago, it was declared that the aim of British policy was: 'The progressive realisation of responsible government in British India as an integral part of the Empire.' Since then great strides towards that goal have been made, and in all the joint activities of the British Commonwealth of Nations India now plays her part "—Then he added—and in the fullness of time we look forward to seeing her in equal partnership with the Dominions.Of course, that can only be done in the fullness of time. No one supposes that it could be done in a moment of time. It is to be done in the fullness of time, after every consideration has been given to the matter, and only with the assent and approval of the British Parliament.
There is one other passage of the same kind. It is in the Message of His Imperial Majesty the King-Emperor to the Indian Legislature. It is a public matter, and it is also, as the Viceroy points out, in the special instructions given to him:—For years, it may he for generations, patriotic and loyal Indians have dreamed 397 of Swaraj for their motherland. To-day yon have beginnings of Swaraj within my Empire, and widest scope and ample opportunity for progress to the liberty which my other Dominions enjoy.Can there be any doubt about all these statements, including that from the King-Emperor himself? I need not refer to the many statesmen who have used practically similar language. I cannot draw any distinction. They all agree with the pronouncement which the present Viceroy has made and with the policy of the present Government, that in the fullness of time we do hope—I think all Parties hope—that India may come within the integral part of our Empire and have equal partnership with our other Dominions.
The last Question which I wish to answer is the first of the noble Marquess on the Paper, and that is, after all, if I put it at the highest, as to a mistake in tactics. I do not think there is any mistake in tactics. I do not think the Commission has been hindered one iota. I do not think its authority has been undermined in any direction. I may assure your Lordships that we at any rate desire to treat the Commission with the greatest courtesy possible. But there is the other side of the statement made by the noble Marquess. I think the Government were well advised in leaving the Commission aside in making a statement of policy of this kind. It would be wrong, especially in India, if it were thought that there is any special connection between the Government for the time being and the Commission which has been appointed. It is of the essence of the matter that independence should be maintained. Although I will not ask the noble Marquess whether he agrees in this, I think he knows from his own experience of India how easy it is to undermine the strength of independence if you allow communications apparently to go on on the subject matter between the Government and the Commission.
I will now deal with the noble Marquess's Question. I will not use the word "extraordinary" that is only an epithet; the vendors of quack medicines use it and I do not want to criticise the noble Marquess on that. He asks for the reasons for the course of making this pronouncement without having consulted 398 the Statutory Commission upon it and before the Commission had reported. I have indicated generally what those reasons were. Let me go a little more into detail. As is now public knowledge, the question has been under consideration for some time of inviting representatives both of British India and of the Indian States to a Conference to seek the greatest possible measure of agreement for the final proposals to be submitted to Parliament. That is where there is no difference of policy between the noble Marquess and the present Government. It was considered by His Majesty's Government in full concurrence with the Viceroy—a man who has unusual influence in the case of the present Viceroy throughout India owing to his character of absolute integrity in his dealings with the Indians—that in view of the impending open invitation to attend such a Conference it was very desirable to re-state clearly what is the purpose of Great Britain in its political relations with India.
It has now become public knowledge that at one stage it was contemplated that in the Prime Minister's reply to the letter from the Chairman of the Statutory Commission suggesting an extended scope of the Commission's Report and a free Conference to be held preparatory to the consideration by Parliament of any proposals, a passage should be included—I want to be very frank and certain about this—corresponding to that paragraph in the Viceroy's statement which re-affirms the goal of British policy and including the very words which, for reasons presumably conclusive to himself, the noble Marquess has criticised. It was ascertained, however, that the Commission were averse to being associated with correspondence in which this re-affirmation should appear and His Majesty's Government decided that it should be made in an independent document. Your Lordships will notice that the purpose of this paragraph is to dispel the doubts which have been expressed regarding the interpretation to be placed on the intentions of the British Government in enacting the Statute of 1919. Those intentions are stated in the Preamble to that Act. His Majesty's Government informed the Statutory Commission of the action they intended to take.
§ LORD PARMOOR
I have not got the date at the moment, but it must have been about the same time. All these things took place in a very short space of time. The Government held, and I think your Lordships will agree, that the position of the Statutory Commission which was appointed under Section 84A of the Act of 1919 cannot be affected by a re-affirmation of the principle laid down in the Preamble to that Act. His Majesty's Government, therefore, while aware that the Statutory Commission did not wish to be associated in correspondence with this re-affirmation of purpose, did not consider themselves, and do not consider themselves, as precluded from restating it. They have the deepest anxiety to do nothing that would in any way prejudice the position of the Statutory Commission, but they are also moved by the desire—shared by the Viceroy—to do anything legitimately within their power to pave the way for unprejudiced consideration by the leaders of Indian opinion of the Commission's Report when it is received. For, as is stated in the Viceroy's announcement, there undoubtedly have been doubts in recent years, particularly from 1924 onwards, as to the sincerity of the British Government in its declared intentions towards the constitutional progress of India. Those are the considerations which led His Majesty's Government, through the Viceroy, to support the new development of a Conference proposed by the Statutory Commission, by a re-affirmation of the principles implicit in the Preamble to the Act of 1919.
Although some people—no doubt it is a matter of tactics—may think that it would have been wiser to have consulted the Commission, there really seems apart from that to be no difference between the noble Marquess and myself. It is regrettable, and we regret it, that any members of the Commission should have taken the view that we intended to slight them. I listened with perfect assent to the eulogy—the rhetorical eulogy, but the truthful eulogy—by the noble Marquess of the members of the Commission. They have given an enormous amount of time, and in some cases, as he tells us, their health, they have given their lives for the time being, in order to do what? To 400 bring about by means of their action a better understanding between India and this country, and in that way to solve the largest problem which now affects the civilised world—that is, that East and West may join together in many directions to make common advance. I may be wrong in what I have said, but I believe I have been clear. Certainly I have been as clear as I can. Do not let us quarrel, if I may put it so, over this question. That is not our purpose. Our purpose is that we should join together, that we in this House—which to a great extent most fortunately is free from the political spirit which must be present in a great representative assembly—realising the importance of this matter, should bring ourselves without any undue criticism to feel that Lord Irwin is right and that the greatest Viceroy of modern times, great in his authority, great in his integrity, great in his moral influence, took the right step when, supported by the Government, he issued the pronouncement to which I have called your Lordship's attention.
§ THE EARL OF BIRKENHEAD
My Lords, the somewhat unusual tribute paid by the noble and learned Lord to the Viceroy was, as far as we are concerned, and I should imagine as far as all the House is concerned, purely superfluous. I had the honour of first recommending his name to the then Prime Minister in order that he might become Viceroy. I had satisfied myself as to his possession of the qualities which seemed to be necessary before I made myself responsible for that recommendation. But I must point out to the noble and learned Lord that he labours under some complete misconception—not unnatural in one who has never, as far as I know, had anything whatever to do with India—as to the functions and the position of the Viceroy. He says that we are to be influenced, that our policy ought almost to be determined, by the view, or the recommendation, of the Viceroy. Perhaps the noble and learned Lord will inform me what he conceives to be the functions of the Secretary of State and the India Office, what he conceives to be the function of the Government?
I will inform the noble and learned Lord in a sentence of the correct constitutional doctrine and practice. The authority and position of the Secretary 401 of State is complementary of the authority and position of the Viceroy. Sometimes the special atmosphere in which the Viceroy lives, or the wholly different atmosphere in which the Secretary of State lives, may be corrective of a rash impulse, whether that be formed in Delhi or in Whitehall. But to say that you are to accept a policy which on its merits appears to you to be incapable of defence because it is recommended to you by a Viceroy, however distinguished, would make it utterly impossible to carry on the government of India as that government has been carried on during its long history. I frequently differed with the two very distinguished men with whom I was associated when I was Secretary of State. No difference ever arose between us which proved incapable, after discussion, of accommodation, but I should have thought that it was a most grave reflection upon the office that I held and that I was completely unworthy to fill that office if I were to be told that, a difference of opinion having arisen, I was to surrender my own reasoned judgment because somebody else had addressed to me a contrary opinion.
§ THE EARL OF BIRKENHEAD
The noble and learned Lord read so much of his speech that I do not think that he is quite aware of what he did or did not suggest. He began his speech by laying stress upon the extreme importance of trusting a Viceroy of great influence and knowledge who was upon the spot, but if the noble and learned Lord did not mean to indicate a situation which justifies all the observations that I have made, I really do not know what the noble and learned Lord did intend. The noble and learned Lord concluded his speech by saying that he hoped that he had been clear. There is no tax, even to-day, on optimism. The noble and learned Lord was asked three Questions. He came equipped with three long typewritten essays in reply, of which I should conjecture that the typing was bad, judging by the difficulty which the noble and learned Lord had in mastering its substance on the spur of the moment, and I am left in doubt as to the answer to the third of the Questions. I propose, with the assistance of the noble 402 and learned Lord, who intended to be so clear, to make sure that I have understood him. I might point out that the second and third Questions could have been answered in one word instead of three hundred. I understand the second answer, or hope I do. The third Question is:Whether this statement implies any change in the policy hitherto declared or in the time when this status may be attained.Do I understand the answer of the noble and learned Lord to be that this statement implies no change "in the policy hitherto declared or in the time when this status may be attained "?
§ THE EARL OF BIRKENHEAD
I am very much indebted to the noble and learned Lord. It would perhaps have been economical of the time of your Lordships if the noble and learned Lord had answered in that manner. Now that we are agreed as to the meaning of the answers to the second and third Questions, let me make a further observation. How can it possibly add to the appeasement of Indian opinion that they should be informed by the Viceroy that they were still in precisely the same situation in which they were left by the Declaration of 1917 and by the Act of 1919? Would it not have been extremely useful if the Viceroy, on the suggestion of the Government, when he made that memorable speech, had added these words: "Let no one misunderstand me; the whole meaning of that which I am saying to you to-day is to give the reassurance that nothing has been altered to your prejudice, but nothing has been added to your advantage "? How can any one imagine that there is anybody in India so simple, how can any one imagine that the politically-minded among our Indian critics would be so simple, as to accept any reassurance which, if plainly made, made plain to them that they were receiving nothing from this appeasing declaration which they did not already, under the law of England, possess?
What was intended is plain. It was intended to appease them. Why was this particular moment selected for their appeasement? I will tell your Lordships why. It was because a grave threat had been made subversive of civil government 403 in India. It was because, supported by the names of men of great political position in India, we were menaced at the end of the year with a campaign of civil disobedience. It was thought that an announcement of this kind—misleading in its scope, tending to mislead and actually, in the event, proved to have misled—it was thought that an announcement of this kind would have averted a threat to law and order. I have had occasion in the last six years to make such study of Indian history as my abilities have qualified me to undertake, and I have drawn one deep lesson. The way to discharge our fiduciary obligations to India is never to yield to threats—never, never! The moment in which to make gestures of appeasement is not when you are threatened by men of influence and authority with a general campaign of civil disturbance. And what a method to select! You address the politically-minded classes of India. They are the only ones with which you are dealing, for you do not suppose that the 290,000,000 of peasants who cannot read are being appeased; they do not need appeasement and we were long since told of their pathetic contentment. What was the object of making this statement at this moment?
Here I come to the noble and learned Lord's answer to the first of the Questions asked by the noble and learned Marquess. If I understood the answer, as the noble and learned Lord read it, it was this: That the Government may have committed an error of tactics in not consulting the Simon Commission. If the noble and learned Lord, in making that defence, gives expression to the views of the Government, he really makes it plain that they do not even now appreciate the most elementary facts in the situation. It was not a question of tactics at all. The noble and learned Lord appears to be unaware that at this moment the members of the Simon Commission, by authority of Parliament, enjoy a constitutional position until they have reported which is superior to that of any Government, which cannot be modified by any Government and which is superior to the authority of Parliament itself until Parliament, which gave it birth, has cancelled and recalled those powers. In those circumstances, the noble and learned Lord and his colleagues having decided to make a statement, against many protests of which we have 404 heard and against others which have not been referred to, the noble and learned Lord and his colleagues decided to usurp one of the many matters left to the Simon Commission.
The very phrase itself "Dominion status"has, so far as I know, never been used in the whole long course of this controversy. What does Dominion status mean? Does the noble and learned Lord understand what Dominion status means? Does Dominion status at this moment mean the same thing that it meant a month before the last Imperial Conference? Most plainly not. Does it to-day mean the same thing that it will mean in five years from now? Who can tell? Here is this word loosely and ignorantly employed, employed as I believe for the first time, employed with a certain significance and, as I am persuaded, in the hope that in order to deal with a disloyal campaign and with seditious threats men would be persuaded they would receive that which we now know they were not intended to receive and never can receive. Dominion status! What does Dominion status mean? Does it mean that the Viceroy shall decline to a position comparable to that of a Governor-General of Canada, of Australia, of New Zealand? Yet that is an inseparable element in Dominion status. No construction of the term Dominion status has ever been given in any court of law or by any responsible statesman which excluded this, and it is just because you are drawing distinctions between the slow evolution of various forms of responsible Government that those who have dealt with these matters have used most carefully guarded and qualified expressions, such as "in the fullness of time "and "with evolutionary development she may one day hope to become a partner in the British Empire and attain by stages to responsible government."Here with crude ignorance you have flung into the disputations of India an indication never made before, not sanctioned by the Simon Commission, that it is your goal that she shall attain to Dominion status.
I have only this observation to make after considerable study of these problems. No man who has or who ought to retain a character for sanity or responsibility can assign any proximate period to the date at which you can conceive 405 of India becoming of Dominion status. We are not dealing with the case of a daughter nation of our own creed and of our own blood. We are dealing with a case of a vast multiplication of races, of languages, of religions. Even in the case of the younger daughter communities the process of development was a slow and gradual one. No man has a right to indicate to the Indian people that they are likely in any near period to attain to Dominion status who does not believe that within a near period they will be capable of assuming the same degree of control over their Army, Navy and Civil Service that is assumed by the self-governing Dominions to-day. What man in this House can say that he can see in a generation, in two generations, in a hundred years any prospect that the people of India will be in a position to assume control of the Army, the Navy, the Civil Service, and to have a Governor-General who will be responsible to the Indian Government and not to any authority in this country?
It is futile of the noble and learned Lord to quote from the Manchester Guardian an account of a meeting which he thinks shows that the meaning of the Government has been rightly understood in India. The noble Marquess read the particular passage unanimously agreed to:—We understand that the Conference is to meet not to discuss when Dominion status shall be established but to frame a scheme of Dominion constitution for India.That is what you have encouraged and induced them to believe and which they believe now in consequence of a statement which you ought never to have made, which everybody who understood about India in this country and whom you consulted warned you not to make. The result is that from now onwards you will have the people of India saying: "You have cheated us in this matter. You encouraged us to suppose you meant something different, and we now discover you meant exactly the same thing."One of the noble and learned Lord's own colleagues has made this matter abundantly plain. Mr. Lansbury has sent his love to the peoples of India; three hundred and forty millions of them, so that each particular recipient is likely to obtain a fragmentary portion. It is 406 rather like the pieces of a bridal cake. He says:—The moment has arrived in which all Parties acting together "—fundamentally inaccurate, of course,—are able to congratulate you on this great change.What change? There is no change. Why is Mr. Lansbury distributing his love all over India? It is quite evident that the noble and learned Lord had not learned from Mr. Lansbury the answers with which your Lordships have been indulged to-night. Perhaps the India Office had not written them then. At any rate, one of his own colleagues was under the impression that a change had been made so significant that it was worth his while to send an elaborate telegram—for all I know at his own charges—to the people of India explaining to them the changes that have taken place.
I have only this to add. The Government have mishandled this situation in every conceivable way. At every stage they have been wrong. At every stage their explanations have been confused and mutually inconsistent. They may say that they did not consult the Simon Commission. I should be very gratified to analyse the proper and precise contents of the term "consult."If you talk to a man who is interested in a matter and say to him, "I am thinking of doing so and so, have you any views? "are you consulting him? The noble and learned Lord is a master of laconic and precise speech. I am sure he can tell me. In such a case are you consulting him? Perhaps I might have the attention of the noble and learned Lord.
§ THE EARL OF BIRKENHEAD
Well, you were talking most loudly. The noble and learned Lord is extraordinarily gifted and can talk loudly to a colleague and listen to me most carefully. When he says the Simon Commission was never consulted, does he mean the House to understand that no discussions took place with the members of the Simon Commission, or with any members of the Simon Commission as to what was contemplated? I am sure the noble and learned Lord will tell me.
§ THE EARL OF BIRKENHEAD
I am sorry that this point was omitted from the papers which the noble and learned Lord read. After all it is very vital to the whole history of the matter and will certainly be ventilated elsewhere. I may remind the noble and learned Lord that on the last occasion when I spoke in this House, on the subject of Egypt, he told us that in the public interest it was impossible to produce two telegrams, but both of those telegrams were produced by the Prime Minister, and read in another place, on the following night. I certainly should have imagined that the noble and learned Lord would have been equipped to deal with a matter which was a very basic matter in this discussion, and that is whether or not the Simon Commission were consulted. I have every reason to believe that in the sense in which any ordinary sensible and educated man would construe the word "consult "the Commission were consulted: in this sense, that they were informed of what was contemplated and asked if they would make themselves responsible, and they replied that they would not. I call that consultation, but others with a more precise knowledge of the English language may take a different view.
I most closely associate myself with what was said by the noble Marquess. I entreat the members of the Simon Commission to treat that which the Government have instructed or authorised the Viceroy to do as irrelevance—in the old classic phrase, as impertinence. Do not let them be in any way deflected from the discharge of that solemn duty which has been entrusted to them by both Houses of Parliament, without one dissentient vote. Let them be sure that they carry the confidence of the country, and let them bring to the discharge of their anxious duties minds uninfluenced by comments made by those who have no right to make them, and minds acknowledging only responsibility to themselves and to Parliament which gave them statutory being.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
My Lords, I do not wish to detain you at any length, but having for five years held the same office as that held by the noble and learned Earl, to whose speech I have just 408 listened with the utmost pleasure and with a very full measure of agreement, I cannot refrain from saying with what anxiety I for one have regarded the situation as it has existed during the past few weeks. My noble friend Lord Reading spoke of the "extraordinary "manner in which His Majesty's Government had proceeded. The noble and learned Lord opposite took some exception to the word "extraordinary,"which he seemed to think meant something more than unusual, though I do not think it does, but it is surely difficult to pretend that the issue of a pronouncement of this kind, without consultation with the Commission that is sitting, is at all of an ordinary character. My noble friend Lord Reading regards the issue of this pronouncement as inopportune. The noble and learned Lord opposite said it was not inopportune because it was necessary, in the opinion of the Viceroy, and also, I take it, of the Government, to reassure the people of India that there was no change in the progressive policy of Indian reform.
That, as it appears to me, conveys an almost extravagant compliment to the late Government. Had the change of Government not taken place we are entitled to assume that matters would have proceeded quietly, and the statutory Commission would have made its Report in due course, and everybody would have been prepared to wait until that Report was made. Apparently the change of Government brought about a possible change of sentiment in India. It might be thought, I suppose, that the accession to power of His Majesty's present Administration meant that the policy of progress was not to be followed, that "right-about face "would be the word, and that a policy of a reactionary character would be pursued. Why should it be supposed that the people of India would need special reassurance, when it was known that the Statutory Commission was about to report in the course of a couple of months?
My noble friend, in asking this Question, stated that with two of the elements in the Viceroy's pronouncement he and all on these Benches are in complete agreement, and the noble and learned Lord opposite laid great stress upon the importance of the pronouncement with regard to the holding of a Conference representing all views in India before the 409 policy of the Government was promulgated. The second part of the pronouncement, also of great importance, is that explaining that the Indian Princes are to be called into Conference at an early date. If those parts of the pronouncement were of such first-rate importance, why not leave it there and why was it necessary to proceed to reiteration, in the very unfortunate terms which were used, of the policy which had been pursued by successive Governments?
As can be seen from the debate, so far as it has proceeded, practically the sole objection taken from this side of the House turns on the question of the use of the term "Dominion status."The noble and learned Earl, Lord Birkenhead, dealt very fully, and as I thought most fairly, with the use of that expression. To me it has always been a matter of deep regret that the term has ever been used in relation to India, and for more reasons than one. There is as Lord Birkenhead pointed out, no accepted definition of Dominion status. It is a general term applied to something which is liable to change, and which does change as years go on, and there is no country to which it is more important that precision both of thought and of expression should be applied than to India, and it is because this is such a vague expression that I greatly regret it should have been used. We are told that the goal which everybody ought to have in view is that of the ultimate attainment of Dominion status. Well, I should have preferred to put it in this way, that the goal that we have in view as the ultimate state of things in India is one by which all Indian affairs should, so far as is compatible with the continuance of British India as part of the British Empire, be managed by Indians in India with the very minimum of interference by Parliament here. In passing, I may say that I have differed from a good many of my friends who know India well on this matter of Parliamentary interference by almost doubting the wisdom of the existence here of a Joint Committee of both Houses dealing with Indian Affairs. The discussions at that Committee are interesting and important, but they always seem to me to lay somewhat excessive emphasis upon the fact that India is governed more from Westminster than in India itself. 410 But on the question of the use of the words "Dominion status,"a great number of years ago Sir George Cornewall Lewis, who was one of the clearest thinkers of the nineteenth century, drew attention to the danger which arises from the prevalent habit in this country of applying the same name to political institutions which exist in different parts of the Empire under wholly different conditions. That, as it seems to me, is precisely the danger that you are running now. Because, as we all know,—and one might name twenty instances, but I name one—the existence of the Indian States and the Indian Princes creates a state of affairs so entirely different from that which obtains in any other part of the Empire that it is impossible to speak of Dominion status for India without explanation, without a great number of mental reservations which you would find it too long to explain. But, unluckily, those who hear the phrase used do not make any of those reservations. As has been already pointed out, they all assume that the use of the words "Dominion status "means some early approximation of the Government of India to the Governments of the great self-governing Dominions, such as Canada Australia, and South Africa. And the term "Dominion,"as we all know, came into use because the term "Colony "was felt to be inapplicable to these great self-governing communities.
It is that misunderstanding, that evident misunderstanding, of which proof has been given in the extracts which noble Lords have read, which has caused us our present anxiety. If you will allow me, I will read a few words from a letter which appeared in The Times of this morning by a noble Lord who, I am sorry to say, is not in the House, but than whom nobody is more entitled to speak with authority on any Indian matter; I mean Lord Zetland. Lord Zetland, after saying that the Viceroy has not suggested that the goal which is defined is attainable in the near future, goes on to say—It is easy to believe that Indian opinion will read into the spaces between the lines of his statement an intimation that Dominion status is regarded by His Majesty's Government, not as a still distant goal, but as something within range, if not of immediate yet of early attainment. I sincerely hope that Indian opinion will not jump rashly 411 to any such conclusion, for the consequences of subsequent disappointment would be grave indeed.And, undoubtedly, His Majesty's Government will find that, unless the very large number of people in India, as is evident from quotations that have been read—because some of those gentlemen who signed that paper do not belong to the very extreme Indian Parties, but are considered to be of comparatively moderate views—unless those people are reassured, which they cannot possibly be, by the promise of an early recourse to something that could be called Dominion government they will say that they have been tricked.
And yet, if the Statutory Commission's terms of reference had not been what they were, but had been "to construct the heads of an Indian Constitution on the lines of the Constitutions of the Dominion of Canada, or the Commonwealth of Australia, or the Union of South Africa,"I am sure, for one thing, they would have had to look for another Chairman, and I should think probably for an entirely different Commission. But that is the misapprehension of which we are afraid. I hope that the speech of the noble and learned Lord opposite may do something to dispel it, but I confess I am not entirely convinced on that point, and I hope that some further utterances on behalf of His Majesty's Government may do rather more to dispel what is perhaps the most unfortunate misapprehension in Indian affairs within the recollection of anybody hearing me.
§ EARL PEEL
My Lords, much has been said already on this very grave subject, but, as I had so recently a connection with the Government of India, I desire to make one or two observations on the subject. May I say at once that I have no intention whatever of criticising the present Viceroy. I know very well the tremendous importance of that position, and it would be absolutely impertinent of me to suggest that you could have a man in that office of a higher character or, as I know from personal communication with him over some time, one with a greater desire to do what he believes to be the wisest and best thing for the government of India. I rather regret to notice that the Government seemed to be a little too anxious to take shelter behind the figure of the Viceroy. 412 He was put forward very prominently in the observations made by the noble and learned Lord, who, I think, showed a tendency to throw the responsibility that must rest on the shoulders of the Government a little too much on the shoulders of the Viceroy.
I should like to say how this matter struck me in the first instance. When I first heard of the idea of making this pronouncement I was frankly incredulous that anything of the kind could be contemplated, and I wrote to a friend of mine to say that, though I was not among the greatest admirers of the sagacity of the present Government, I did not believe them capable of an action so unwise and so open to misinterpretation. I did not know, of course, at the time whether or not Sir John Simon's Commission had been consulted. It seemed to me astounding if it had not been consulted; on the other hand, if it had been consulted, I thought I was pretty capable of giving the reply that it would have made. A good deal has been said on the question of whether it was or was not consulted. I think the Government were very prudent in not consulting it, because what is the use of consulting this Commission when you know perfectly well beforehand what is the reply that they must necessarily make?
But it seemed to me, and it seems to me still, incredible to suppose that the Government can have given sufficient weight to the effect that this declaration must have on the Simon Commission itself. It certainly cannot have been calculated to enhance its authority. If anything, it must have diminished it—I do not say from any intention. It is clear that just a few months before the Commission which had worked for two years on Indian matters was going to produce its Report, the limelight of public attention would at least be averted from the Simon Commission and be directed to this new statement that was to be made by the Government. I am bound to say that this statement made at this time tends, and necessarily tends, to blur those distinctions between ultimate issues and ideals and immediate practical issues. When I read that declaration I felt confident that it was bound to rouse division of opinion, doubt as to its meaning and, possibly, to excite undue hopes in India. It was certain to suggest, I felt, to 413 political India that the Government were promulgating some new policy; and I am bound to say one was absolutely justified in the event. Your Lordships who have seen and read those statements made by prominent politicians in India will see that they have taken a very different view of it and have put a very different interpretation upon it from that which has been put upon it to-day by His Majesty's Government.
I am still at a loss to know why that statement was made. The only reason given by the noble and learned Lord was that it was to remove certain doubts which, he said, had been expressed since 1924, during the last four or five years, when my noble friend Lord Birkenhead was responsible for four years and I was responsible for a comparatively short time. I do not know who expressed these doubts; but if doubts were expressed they were expressed by persons who were certainly not likely to have those doubts removed by any declaration of this kind. After all, what does the confidence of the people of India in the justice and good faith of our Government repose upon? It reposes on the knowledge of their actions for many years. If it is suggested that they have doubts as to their sincerity and good faith such doubts will not be removed by some general declaration that they mean what they say. You can interpret that, I think, from their own actions. The other suggestion is that it is going to create atmospheres. These atmospheres, I am afraid, are very temporary and evanescent things, and I fear that in creating one atmosphere you may very easily create another. What will happen as the result of these statements, these declarations? After all the excitement and hope raised by these statements, what do the Government tell us? That there is absolutely no change at all in the policy of the Government, and that they have chosen to make this restatement of policy at the present time only because of certain doubts which have been aroused in the minds of certain people, I believe, in India.
May I say on the larger subject that I think we ought to be very careful about these general statements of policy that are made. This statement was made with the greatest solemnity as a great public declaration. We had already made these 414 statements in 1917, and these statements were embodied also in the Act of 1919. I do not think they ought to be often repeated. The very fact of the repetition of solemn statements of that kind is apt, I think, to make them lose some of their force. It seems to me almost incredible that the Government should not have realised that the making of the statement so shortly before the Report of the Simon Commission was made must necessarily arouse grave doubts and grave suspicions in the mind of political India.
Only one word about Dominion status. I entirely agree with those who have already spoken that in dealing with India and Indian affairs you must be most exact and careful in the phrases and definitions that you use. During the period that I have been connected with India and at other times I have always been anxious to understand with sympathy and to appreciate the aims of people in India and of Indian politicians. I have done my best in many ways to see that the status of Indians both there and in other countries of the Dominions receives adequate and proper recognition. But the substitution of a new phrase like "Dominion status "must give rise to fresh interpretations.
I am one of those who think it unfortunate that that particular phrase should have been used, first, on grounds already stated, that it is a phrase of indefinite meaning, changing almost from year to year, certainly meaning something different before 1926 from what it meant after 1926. Also upon the ground that, considering the tremendous problems there are in India, considering the differences between the political problems you meet there and in any of the Dominions, and considering also the historical past on which institutions rest in India as compared with those in other Dominions, it might quite well follow that precisely the same political development is not the best for India, and that Indians themselves might be, and no doubt are, thoroughly capable of devising some system not necessarily comparable in every degree with the Constitutions prevailing in the Dominions themselves. If that is so, is it not a pity to pin yourself to a particular phrase which may give rise to the idea afterwards that you really are not sincere because you have not carried out in actual fact the particular provisions 415 which might apply to Dominions? I am afraid there will be a revulsion of feeling in political India, and that after hopes have been raised high by these declarations, there will be grave disappointment when they hear that this statement was made by the Government, not with any idea of making a fresh declaration of policy but of merely restating the old policy. The Government have fallen, I think, into this danger—that, after all, the restatement of an old policy is very often the statement of a new policy. But they have assured us that they mean no change and that all the phrases that have been used bear exactly the same interpretation as had been put before on the Declaration of 1917 and the Preamble to the Act of 1919.
I will say, therefore, in conclusion, that I regret that in this matter they did not maintain that united front between the three Parties in all matters connected with India which was established when the Simon Commission was brought into being. I can only hope that, as my noble friend said, Sir John Simon's Commission will pursue its way undeviating and unmoved by any of these irrelevancies that have been brought into this general discussion or have been stated by the Government. I hope that next year we may re-establish that united front and when the Simon Commission reports, the three Parties may be able to work together, not so much in talking or trying to define the precise historical or philosophic meaning of certain general phrases about sovereignty and Dominion status, but in dealing with those practical matters of which there are so many in India and of applying to them the best ability that can be gathered together both from people in this country and from India as well.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR DOMINION AFFAIRS AND THE COLONIES (LORD PASSFIELD)
My Lords, I should not have ventured to address your Lordships at this late hour with my little knowledge except that it was hardly respectful to those noble Lords who have spoken since my noble friend replied not to say a few words more in attempted answer to the criticisms and suggestions that have been made. I want to put this as briefly and tersely as I can. There has been a 416 certain amount of confusion all through this debate as to the words "new policy "or "change of policy "which have been attached to the issue of this declaration. The noble Earl who has just sat down asked what was the good of issuing this declaration at all if there was no change of policy in fact? I want to bring your Lordships back to the fact that the declaration which the Viceroy has made, consisting of something like 2,000 words or more, says a great deal more than this phrase about Dominion status. The purpose, the object, of making the declaration has already been explained over and over again. It was not for the sake of using the magic phrase "Dominion status."The declaration was necessary in order to proclaim the new procedure, which had actually been initiated by Sir John Simon and agreed to, of this Conference—the enlargement of the scope of the Commission and the Conference, which was quite a new thing, which was to come into being after the Commission had reported. That was the new policy.
When I am asked: "Is there any change in policy? "I say that if that is a change in policy, that is new. That was essentially what the declaration was made for. I will ask your Lordships to notice that, as far as we can make out, it is that new declaration, or new policy, or new procedure, the Conference, which has created the greatest possible enthusiasm in India. It is that to which India has attended. It is that which has had the effect which the Viceroy intended it to have—namely, that which Lord Birkenhead somewhat contemptuously referred to as appeasement. I do not think appeasement is at all a bad thing to aim at, even in a great continent like India, most of all in a great continent like India. If I may say another word on that point, I would say that it is never out of time to do right, and even to seek appeasement, even if people are uttering threats. It is never the wrong time for appeasement; at least that is my humble opinion. Then in connection with the declaration which the Viceroy had to make (I think we may say had to make) and which I am glad to say has not been objected to by anyone to-day, the Viceroy thought that it was desirable to move away, as he said, the "webs of mistrust "which have gathered over the previous declaration of policy. That was his own phrase.
417 I would like, if your Lordships would allow me, to read the words that the Viceroy used:—The goal of British policy was stated in the Declaration of August, 1917, to be that of providing for ' the gradual development of self-governing institutions, with a view to the progressive realisation of responsible government in India as an integral part of the British Empire.' As I recently pointed out, my own Instrument of Instructions from the King-Emperor expressly states that it is His Majesty's will and pleasure that the plans laid by Parliament in 1919 should he the means by which British India may attain its due place among His Dominions.Those are the Viceroy's instructions.Ministers of the Crown, moreover, have more than once publicly declared that it is the desire of the British Government that India should, in the fullness of time, take her place in the Empire in equal partnership with the Dominions.No Labour Ministers have made that declaration, but I will come to that presently.But in view of the doubts which have been expressed both in Great Britain and India regarding the interpretation to be placed on the intentions of the British Government in enacting the Statute of 1919, I am authorised on behalf of His Majesty's Government to state clearly that in their judgment it is implicit in the Declaration of 1917 that the natural issue of India's constitutional progress, as there contemplated, is the attainment of Dominion status.Is there any noble Lord who is going to say that these carefully chosen words of the Viceroy are not in absolute consonance with his instructions from the King, which, as Secretary of State, Lord Birkenhead must have approved? Is there any one here going to say that that is a new policy? You may grumble, you may criticise the terms which the Viceroy has used, but it is absolutely clear that he is not announcing a new policy but is explaining and stating the old policy, and that is the position of His Majesty's Government.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
It is very important there should be no misunderstanding about this. Does the noble Lord say that this policy which he is reaffirming is subject to all the old conditions contained in the Statute?
§ LORD PASSFIELD
I repeat quite definitely that what we call the reservations which are expressed in the Preamble in the Government of India Act are law and they cannot be altered, and certainly His Majesty's Government do not attempt to alter them, and could not alter them unless and until Parliament, at some future time, should decide. But certainly the Viceroy cannot have any idea of any departure from those so-called reservations, and His Majesty's Government have never had any idea. It is obvious that it could not possibly contemplate any alteration of that Act. It is laid down as law. That being so, I do not want to justify the use of the words Dominion status, but I would like to remind your Lordships, I must in justice remind your Lordships, that it dates back quite certainly to the King-Emperor's Message to the Indian Legislatures:to-day you have the beginnings of Swaraj within my Empire, and widest scope and ample opportunity for progress to the liberty which my other Dominions enjoy.I will not quote other things, but those instructions—revised instructions to the Governor-General of India—with reference to the "progressives realisation of responsible Government in India as an integral part of the British Empire,"state that "it is His Majesty's will and pleasure that the plans laid by Parliament in 1919 should be the means by which British India may attain its due place among His Dominions."
And then, let me give one other sentence, because the noble Earl, Lord Birkenhead, asked whether this applied to the Dominions as they were before the Imperial Conference of 1926, or as they were after the Imperial Conference, 1926. Obviously the statement applies to what was a Dominion at the time the statement was made, but so that there should be no doubt about it let me give your Lordships a short extract from the speech of Mr. Baldwin as Prime Minister in May, 1927—that is to say, after 1926, after the Imperial Conference, and not so long after that he could have forgotten what the Imperial Conference of 1926 accomplished, though we very often do forget. Mr. Baldwin said:— 419Some ten years ago it was declared that the aim of British policy was: ' The progressive realisation of responsible Government in British India as an integral part of the Empire. Since then great strides towards that goal have been made, and in all the joint activities of the British Commonwealth of Nations India now plays her part, and in the fullness of time we look forward to seeing her in equal partnership with the Dominions.Is there any noble Lord here who will say that in the fullness of time equal partnership with the Dominions is not the policy of this Government as it was the policy of the last Government? Is that challenged? That is to say, that in the fullness of time we look forward to India becoming one of the Dominions, equal with the other Dominions; that is, in the fullness of time. That was the policy of the last Government. It was the policy of the Government before that and the phrase has been used all through the past ten years, or at any rate the past eight or nine years alternatively with that of "responsible government."
Consequently when the noble Viceroy the other day used that phrase in his own declaration, who is there who is going to challenge his use of the phrase and who is going to say he was not—of course he was—expressing the view, not only of the present Government but also of the Government which drafted his instructions? He was expressing the view of the Prime Minister under whom he had lately been serving, Mr. Baldwin. He was expressing the view of the King-Emperor. The noble Earl said that the phrase was awkward, that it was liable to misconstruction, that it was vague and so on. That may be, but it has been used by the Government in which the noble Earl was an ornament. He did not protest when the Prime Minister said:in the fullness of time we look forward to having India in equal partnership with the Dominions.It has been the policy of the Government and will be the policy of the Government, and therefore no change has been made in that respect.
I do not want to detain your Lordships—I must not presume to do that—but I would like to say a word about the gibe which was used as to the Government sheltering themselves behind the Viceroy. I am not learned enough to be quite precise as to the exact position 420 as between the Viceroy and the Government whom he serves, but it does seem to me strange that though objections have been made to this small part of the declaration, objections that it was inopportune, and that the members of the Simon Commission did not want to be associated with the phrase, they did not say it was wrong. They did not say that it did not express the policy of successive Governments; they raised no objection of that kind. Let us note that quite clearly. The members of the Simon Commission raised no objection that the goal was wrongly described as that of Dominion status.
§ LORD PASSFIELD
If he is in ignorance I will try to enlighten him, but I only say that objection was signified by the members of the Simon Commission that the declaration was inopportune. That was, of course, a valid objection and a quite proper objection to make—that they did not want to be associated with it. As a matter of fact while objection has been directed to the terms used, to the phrase "Dominion status,"other objections have also been made that there was miscalculation on the part of the Government, if you please, as to the effect this would have in India. Surely, the question of opportuneness, the question of the likely effect in India, the question of the exact terms in which it was made, must be left to the Viceroy Surely the Government are not expected to overrule the Viceroy on a matter of opportuneness, a question of exact terms to be used, a question of what would be the effect in India. Surely these are all matters on which the Secretary of State would necessarily defer to the Viceroy. I certainly think the Government are entitled to say that they agree with the Viceroy in the view expressed on this point, and that we accepted his decision as we should implicitly accept the decision 421 of a trusted high officer of that kind on such matters as opportuneness, local effect, or the exact terms to be used.
I will now go back to the Simon Commission, because there was one perhaps rather trivial matter brought up in connection with a matter of such high consequence as to whether the Government had been properly polite and properly considerate to the Simon Commission. I would ask your Lordships to notice the distinction between the task given to the Simon Commission—important and onerous as it is—and the question of the goal of attainment in India. The Simon Commission were not asked and are not authorised to express any opinion as to the goal of the future in India. That is given to them as a datum in the Preamble to their Act. It is for them to consider and advise as to the measure, as to the stages, as to the time, as to whether we have not gone too far, whether we can go a little further. All that is for them; but not the goal. They are not asked to revise and consider whether the goal should be Dominion status. They are not asked to revise the Declaration of the King-Emperor in 1921. They are not asked to revise the Royal Instructions, any more than they are asked to revise the Prime Minister's speech of 1927. They have no authority to do that. They are asked, as I say, to consider the time, the stages, the measures, the restrictions, all that sort of thing. We make a distinction between these things. Whilst we wanted to be polite, to be courteous, to communicate with them, we did not ask them to revise the question of what was the goal.
§ VISCOUNT BURNHAM
In order to do away with all ambiguities may I ask the noble Lord whether he would read to the House Section 84A of the Government of India Act?
§ LORD PASSFIELD
I do not think it affects the question if the noble Viscount will look at the Preamble which governs the whole. However, I will read it. It says:—…. shall report as to whether and to what extent it is desirable to establish the principle of responsible government, or to extend, modify, or restrict the degree of 422 responsible government then existing therein including the question whether the establishment of second chambers of the local Legislatures is, or is not, desirable.But that has nothing to do with the goal of Dominion status. Is there any noble Lord who will get up and say that the goal of India in the fullness of time has not been declared to be Dominion status—declared over and over again?
§ LORD PASSFIELD
The quotation I have given from Mr. Baldwin said that in the fullness of time we looked forward to seeing India in equal partnership with the Dominions. In the instructions to the Governor-General of India, instructions which the noble Marquess knows about, you have the phrase "to the end that British India may attain its due place among our Dominions."What does that mean? I really must say again definitely that the policy of the present Government is absolutely identical with the policy of the last Government and of the Government before that—that in the fullness of time India will progress through all these various stages, at what rate we cannot tell, to Dominion status. That is so and I am very glad to think that all relative matters along with the Simon Report will be laid before a Conference representative of all sections of the Indian people and of the Indian Princes, and that only after this will it come before the Joint Committee of both Houses. After that very important declaration of policy, it is quite clear that the goal is to be Dominion status. I am glad that this point has not been criticised in this debate and that the issue has mainly been whether we have been sufficiently polite or courteous to the Simon Commission. I shall gladly accept a verdict of "Guilty "on that count in view of the extreme importance of the effect of this debate upon the position of things in India and the policy of the last three Governments in favour of the goal of Dominion status.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I am afraid that the rather significant remarks of the noble Lord who has just sat down make it necessary for me to add a few words at the close of this debate. The noble Lord, with a courage which I admire but which, I think, his noble colleague who 423 sits behind him did not altogether imitate, touched upon the relations between the Government and the Simon Commission, and he told us just now that the Commission, which had not been consulted, had through the mouths of certain of their members signified their view that the statement put into the mouth of the Viceroy was inopportune. Of course, the whole point concerns the question of whether it was opportune, and the question is whether the statement should have been made before the Commission reported or at another time. The whole criticism that has been delivered from the Conservative Benches and, I believe, also from the Liberal Benches is that, whatever the Government's convictions might be, this statement ought not to have been made before the Commission reported. It is quite clear from the noble Lord's remarks that Sir John Simon's Commission, at any rate, had no responsibility for that statement.
I should like to say one word on a point upon which the noble Lord dwelt at considerable length—namely, whether any new policy was contained in that statement. I am not, of course, speaking of the earlier part of the statement. That undoubtedly announces a new policy, but it is a policy that is agreed between the representatives of the different political Parties and agreed with the representatives of Sir John Simon's Commission. I refer, of course, to the part which the noble Lord said expresses no new policy. The noble Lord made several quotations. I am not going to be betrayed, especially at this time of the evening, into a discussion of the meaning of those particularly vague words "Dominion status,"but I want to call attention to a quotation which the noble Lord made, I believe quite correctly, from some speech of the late Prime Minister during the period of the late Government. I refer to the speech in which he spoke of full responsible government being looked for in the fullness of time, and of equal partnership in the British Empire, or some such words.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
The point is that this is looking forward, subject to very strong conditions, which were referred to by the noble and learned Marquess and by the noble Lord 424 himself. The point really is this: Will it be found that this policy will turn out to be reasonable and practicable or not? There is no absolute pledge; there is a conditional purpose. That is the policy, not of this Government alone but of all recent British Governments, and the question is whether it will be found by experience that such a policy is reasonable and practicable. Those conditions are the very things which the Simon Commission were appointed to enquire into, and what makes this declaration, in our opinion, so mischievous is that it dealt with the very conditions which the Commission were appointed to enquire into and so, apparently, short-circuited the Simon Commission.
Noble Lords now say that it does not amount to anything, that it is only what everybody has always said and that, after the declaration has been made, the Simon Commission are as free as they ever were to find in accordance with their reference that the degree of self-government may be modified or even restricted. Of course, no such declaration can affect the Commission. That has been said over and over again. They sit by virtue of an Act of Parliament, with a reference prescribed by an Act of Parliament and no person and no Government can alter that. The point which appears to me to have been definitely established in this debate is that this goal is not one to which we are pledged, but is a conditional purpose and depends upon whether the conditions are fulfilled. Of course, we all look forward with the most intense interest to the Report of the Simon Commission and we earnestly hope that it may establish still more firmly the position of the reforms in India, place them upon a better footing than before and so strengthen the hands of the Viceroy, whom we all admire.
§ THE MARQUESS OF READING
My Lords, it is necessary for me to utter only one or two sentences in reply, more especially since the purpose that we had in placing this Motion upon the Paper has been fully justified. It has obtained, I am glad to say, a clear and unequivocal answer from the Government to the two Questions which matter most. For myself, although perhaps there were some sentences which I found it a little difficult to follow, I wish to thank my noble friend Lord Parmoor for the very 425 definite and unambiguous statement that he made with regard to my second and third Questions. Nothing could have been more satisfactory, I think, to your Lordships' House than the definite answer he gave, though it might, if he will forgive me for saying so, have been put more tersely. If the noble Lord had been a Minister answering Questions in another place, he could have said that the answer to the one Question was in the affirmative and to the other in the negative. We have cleared the atmosphere in this House, and I hope we shall have cleared it in India.
What I am anxious about is that these statements—not my speech nor any other, but the statements of the Government in answer to those two Questions—should be made so clear in India that nobody hereafter can say that there has been a misunderstanding. I will venture to ask my noble friend at least to communicate with His Excellency the Viceroy that your Lordships' House—I think I may say this—are of opinion that it would be desirable to have that part of the debate made perfectly clear throughout India, so far as that can be managed. There is no difficulty in doing it, and I hope it will be done.
There is only one other observation I would wish to make. I could not help thinking when I heard the arguments that were addressed upon the question how very simple the whole matter would have been if only the Government at the time had determined to make as clear and unequivocal a statement as they made to-day. May I remind them, not for the purpose of any advantage but simply to show that there never ought to have been this controversy between 426 us, that all we were asking was that the Viceroy should make the same statement that my noble friend made to-day. I will make one other observation—namely, that no useful purpose could be served by omitting to make the statement that the declaration in the Preamble still applied because we should immediately put the question here. I told him myself I should be bound to put the question. If I did not others would and it would be bound to come up in the House of Commons. The inevitable reply would be made as to what were their intentions as it has been made to-day.
All I can hope is that what I feared will not result, in consequence of this debate, and that there will be no adverse comment on the Government's action to the effect that they have misled public opinion in India. I have already accepted what has been said in view of the statements made, especially Lord Passfield's plea of "Guilty "to want of courtesy or proper attention to the Commission, which is a very euphemistic way of describing the part played by the Government in this matter. I will not quarrel with the term. I will accept that and I am glad the amende honourable has been made to that extent. It is worthy of my noble friend to have made it as he did. That being so there is nothing further between us. There is nothing upon which I can ask for Papers. The whole matter is explained and I beg leave therefore to withdraw my Motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ House adjourned at half-past seven o'clock.