§ THE PARLIAMENTARY UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE FOR INDIA AND BURMA (THE DUKE OF DEVONSHIRE) rose to move, That this House approves the continuance in force of the Proclamation issued under Section 93 of the Government of India Act, 1935, by the Governor of Madras on 30th October, 1939, a copy of which was presented to this House on 29th November, 1939.
§ The noble Duke said: My Lords, a month ago I sincerely hoped that it would be unnecessary to renew the Proclamations in relation to certain Provinces of India. As your Lordships will be aware, Section 93 of the Government of India Act is the one which, in the event of the Constitution, provided for in that Act, breaking down, enables the Governors to take over and carry on the government. In those seven Provinces of India in which there were Congress Governments at the outbreak of the war, such a breakdown did occur; Section 93 came into operation. It is, unhappily, now necessary to renew the Governors' powers. I said just now 750 that up to a month ago I had hoped that this renewal would not be necessary, for unremitting efforts have been made by His Majesty's Government to bring the deadlock to an end, and to transfer to the hands of Indian Governments the powers now exercised by the Provincial Governors in India. I want to emphasize that point, because there has been a disposition in some quarters—not in your Lordships' House, but elsewhere—to look upon the Lord Privy Seal's Mission to India as a sort of eleventh hour act of repentance, brought about by a new situation in India. It was, in fact, nothing of that kind; it was actually a continuation of the policy which has been quite consistently pursued by His Majesty's Government for many months, and indeed for years.
§ At the beginning of 1940, the Viceroy formally stated that full Dominion status, as defined by the Statute of Westminster, was the goal at which we aimed. His statement in February, 1940, was followed by the Declaration of August of that year, which not only confirmed the statement but stated in formal terms the willingness of His Majesty's Government that it should come into being at the earliest possible moment after the war, and as soon as the Indian political leaders could agree upon a Constitution. The real new development took place on that occasion, when the principle of an Indian-defined Constitution was laid down; and all that has happened since was implicit in that Declaration. That Declaration, however, was somewhat coldly received by Indian politicians, who found fault with it on two grounds. One was that the provision laid down in the Declaration, that there must be due fulfilment of the obligations arising from our historical connexion with India, would so hamper and restrict the new Constitution as to make it, in effect, not really a Dominion Constitution or one framed by Indians themselves. I never thought that there was very much in that objection; without courting utter disaster, it is quite impossible to ignore obligations arising out of history which is still in the making. However, that objection was felt.
§ The other charge against the Declaration—and it is one of which I could, and did, appreciate the weight—was that to postulate agreement among Indian politicians was merely a device on our part to postpone self-government for India, since we 751 knew that Indian politicians would not agree among themselves. It was with this second objection in my mind that, when we last debated Indian constitutional developments, on February 3 of this year, I did not rule out the possibility, in the event of Indian political leaders failing to reach agreement, of our endeavouring ourselves to formulate some plan on which they could agree. The main object of the Draft Declaration which the Lord Privy Seal took with him to India was to set these suspicions at rest; and, although the Declaration has not been accepted in India, I believe that it has achieved very valuable results in that direction.
§ That brings us to recent history, up to the Lord Privy Seal's visit to India. He has himself explained the course of the negotiations and the reason for their ultimate breakdown, and I need not trouble your Lordships at great length with the history of the discussions. The Lord Privy Seal found himself confronted with a number of conflicting claims from various leaders of different sections of Indian opinion. The largest, the Congress Party, desired independence for India, a Constituent Assembly which would devise a new Constitution, and a single Indian Government for the whole of India—British India and the States together. As against this the Moslem League pressed forward their policy for the partition of India, a somewhat nebulous demand for what is known as Pakistan, a territory to be made up of those areas in which the Moslems are in a majority. This, in effect, is a demand for two Indias—one Hindu and one Moslem.
§ The less vocal and more scattered, but none the less important and considerable minority, the Depressed Classes, had a claim or quite another kind. They asked specifically for protection against what would be, to them, the adverse effect of government by caste Hindus. Yet another minority, the Sikhs, who have played so gallant a part in so many wars, and in this war have done so much to defend India and the Empire, desired some form of protection against the rule of another community; and there were many other minorities, religious, racial or social, who asked for special treatment. Outside British India were the Princes, many of them having special treaty rights going back very many years. The Lord Privy 752 Seal's task was to find some means by which these differing and even conflicting elements could be brought together to determine their own future.
§ Previous declarations had made it plain that if Indians produced some alternative to the Draft Declaration there was no difficulty about its acceptance here. But, such agreement not having been reached, my right honourable friend went out with the Draft Declaration which your Lordships have before you, framed with a view not only of securing the agreement of as many sections of opinion as possible, but also—since we have been definitely accused of relying upon Indian disagreements to perpetuate our rule in India—containing provisions which would prevent the refusal of a large minority to co-operate from holding up the majority in their demand for self-government.
§ My right honourable friend has dealt elsewhere with the stages of the discussions and with the difficulties which arose. A minor one arose early through the reluctance of the Congress Party to accept Dominion status. That was not a very substantial objection, for it is by now abundantly clear that Dominion status carries with it the right to secede and there is no real inconsistency between Dominion status and the Congress Party's claim to independence. It was not upon that rock that the negotiations foundered. Nor was it on the next question which arose, that of the right of non-accession of the Provinces, nor on the difficult question of defence, nor again on another difficulty which arose, the position of the Indian States. On all these questions difficulties arose but on all of them the patience and the skill and, above all, the good will of the Lord Privy Seal prevented a breakdown. On all these minor difficulties my right honourable friend had, I believe, an absolutely unanswerable case.
§ On the question of the non-accession of Provinces it was very natural that the Congress Party should object. Their claim, as I told your Lordships on a previous occasion, is an absolute one. It is that to them, and to them alone, as the largest political Party in India, shall the reins of power be transferred. They will not admit that any provision should be made for minorities; they say they will look after that, and their claim is absolute. Well, it is not possible, literally not possible, in view of the strength of Moslem opposition, for the reins of power 753 to be so transferred. We look forward to the day when we can transfer them to the leaders of a united India, but we cannot transfer them to the leaders of a Party which is vehemently opposed by some ninety millions of the population of India, and I do not believe that a fairer solution of the problem could possibly be found than that contained in the Draft Declaration, a solution which aimed at and provided for a single united India, but also made provision so that the Moslems in those Provinces in which they could get a majority, could vote those Provinces out of the Union.
§ Again, it was natural that the Congress Party should object to the position of the Indian States. Your Lordships will recall that the Draft Declaration contained provisions by which the Indian States should form part of the Constitution-making authority which was envisaged. The Congress Party objected not so much to the fact of the representation of the States. For some years past now the Congress Party have been taking an interest in the peoples of the Indian States, and have declared that in any Constitution for India they, as distinct from the Ruling Princes, must have a say. Well, the Draft Declaration contained provisions by which the States should be represented, but they were to be represented by the Ruling Princes and not by elected representatives of the people. To this, as I say, it was not unnatural that the Congress Party should take exception; but we have to deal with things as they are—with facts, and it is a fact that in the great majority of the Indian States representative institutions have not yet come into being or, if they have come into being, as they have in some few cases, have not yet reached a stage which would make possible the representation of the people. The break did not come on that issue.
§ Nor did it, though it very nearly did, on the question of defence. Here the difficulty was not the mere simple one of transferring the responsibility for defence from British to Indian hands. Those who read only newspaper reports might easily be led into an over-simplification about the difficulties which arose. That was not the real difficulty, for it was agreed by all parties—the Lord Privy Seal said yesterday it was the only point in the negotiations in which there was real unanimity—that the actual conduct of 754 the war in India and on her present frontiers must remain under the British Commander-in-Chief. There was no disagreement on that issue. Difficulty arose over responsibilities of the Government of India and His Majesty's Government here, and how they were to be divided and apportioned. The Lord Privy Seal got over that difficulty by offering to the Indian political leaders a seat for an Indian representative in the War Cabinet and on the Pacific Council.
§ He was then confronted with a further, less tangible, and therefore even more difficult problem. Many of your Lord-ships have had first-hand experience of India, and will be aware of the fact that, in modern practice, the Commander-in-Chief in India, a practical soldier, is also Defence Member of the Viceroy's Executive Council—a politician among politicians. This one man, this single individual, has functions and activities which, in theory at any rate, might bring the two halves of his personality into conflict. The Indian demand at this stage of the negotiations was that the political functions and activities of the Commander-in-Chief and Defence Member should be divided, and that his political functions should be transferred forthwith into Indian hands, while his military activities should remain untouched. That may not sound too difficult, but in fact and actual practice the two functions have, in course of time, become so inextricably mixed that any separation would be a very long and complicated operation and one which, at this critical moment of the war on India's frontiers, would throw into utter chaos the whole military organization of India. On that point a deadlock was very nearly reached, but that difficulty, too, was overcome by the Lord Privy Seal. He found means to satisfy India's aspirations so far as they could be satisfied without affecting the morale of those important Indian minorities—I should like to remind your Lordships of that—the Punjabi Ma-homedans, the Sikhs, the Mahrattas, and many other of the best fighting elements in India—elements to whom concessions to the Congress Party would be by no means welcome.
§ There was a real risk at one moment that the morale of these fighting elements might be gravely affected, but once more the Lord Privy Seal overcame that difficulty, 755 and it was not upon that issue of defence that the breakdown occurred. It came in form, if not in fact, upon the question of what sort of temporary Government should be in power until the new Constitution began to operate. To this question the Lord Privy Seal devoted his greatest efforts. He prolonged his stay in India beyond the original time, and he went so far as to tell the Congress Party that the British representation in the new Government should be reduced to the Viceroy himself and the Commander-in-Chief—these two only. But the Congress leaders insisted on a position for themselves of complete power during this interim period. This would have created a position which none of the minorities—certainly not the Moslems—would have accepted for a moment, and the situation would have become impossible. It was on this issue that the final break came. The rejection of the Draft Declaration by the Congress Party was followed by its rejection by the Moslem League. Their reasons were precisely opposite to those stated by the Congress Party, but they, too, rejected the Draft Declaration, and the Lord Privy Seal returned to England.
§ I trust that no one will think that his Mission was a failure, and nothing but a failure. I believe it has done much—in-deed very much—to destroy suspicions which were widely prevalent both in India and elsewhere that we were not really in earnest when we said that we desired to see a united India enjoying self-governing institutions. Sir Stafford Cripps has shown India and the world that these suspicions were groundless, and that the delay in India's achievement of self-government is due, not to unwillingness on our part, but to the difficulties inherent in the Indian situation. I believe it has also had a valuable educational effect on some of the Indian politicians. They believed—I think sincerely believed—that the only thing necessary for the attainment of their desires was that we should be prepared to give. I think they hardly realized that it was also necessary that they should be prepared to receive. It is a noteworthy thing that during the whole course of these negotiations, during which the Lord Privy Seal saw very many representatives of Indian opinion—saw all the leading politicians in India—there 756 was no recorded instance of any Indian Party leader meeting any other Indian Party leader—not one. They came separately to New Delhi, and never once did they get together either among themselves or in the presence of the Lord Privy Seal. Since the Lord Privy Seal's return there has been some evidence of a desire on the part of some, at all events, of the Congress leaders to understand and to meet the views of the Moslem League, and if the Mission has done no more than bring home to Indian politicians the fact—and it is a fact—that in order to obtain their ideals they must get together, and not merely be the leaders of mutually hostile factions, it will have done much. But I believe it has done much more than that, and that it will prove to be a very definite milestone in India's progress.
§ We failed, for the moment, to secure agreement as to India's future Constitution, but I trust that no one in your Lordships' House or outside thinks that India is standing still. In spite of the fact that we failed to reach agreement as to the form of her future Constitution, India is making, day by day, very considerable progress. I hope that is not forgotten. The expansion of the Viceroy's Executive Council and the large increase of Indian representation thereon is one instance. It is quite true that that is not elected representation, but it is wide representation of very many phases of Indian life. The appointment of Sir Girja Bajpai as India is representative at Washington and of Sir Mohammed Zeprullah Khan as India's representative at Chunking are other instances of India's steady constitutional advance. In the tremendous events of to-day they pass, perhaps, almost unnoticed, but these are political events in India's history of the very first importance. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State recently declared in the House of Commons that His Majesty's Government were anxious that India should be afforded the same opportunity as the Dominions of being represented at the War Cabinet and on the Pacific Council, and that they accordingly had invited the Government of India to arrange for such representation if they so desired. There was yet another and a very considerable contribution towards advance.
§ I want to emphasize that point, because it is sometimes thought that India is really standing still. That is not the case. India 757 is not standing still; her progress is a continuous progress. I suppose that in the whole of the world's history no nobler or more magnificent task has ever been embarked upon than that of trying to create out of the vast sub-continent of India a free, united and self-governing nation. I purposely refrain from saying more than just a word or two about the value of the Lord Privy Seal's personal efforts. That is rot because I am not filled with admiration for what he has done, but because it seems to me more fitting that the tribute which is due to him should be paid by my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor, who, I understand, is to wind up the debate, rather than by an Under-Secretary, but I believe that towards the accomplishment of that tremendous task, necessarily one of immense complexity, the Lord Privy Seal's Mission has made a substantial contribution I beg to move.
§ Moved, That this House approves the continuance in force of the Proclamation issued under Section 93 of the Government of India Act, 1935, by the Governor of Madras on 30th October, 1939, a copy of which was presented to this House on 29th November, 1939.—(The Duke of Devonshire.)
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
My Lords, I am sure your Lordships will agree that after the debate which took place in another place yesterday and the statement of the Lord Privy Seal, it is most fitting that we should proceed to consider a question of the greatest importance. I am sure you will also all agree in thanking the noble Duke for the very lucid and moderate manner in which he has staled the position. We have, of course, to deal with what I think we may call the technical breakdown of the Lord Privy Seal's visit to India. That breakdown was received with a great deal of regret, but also, so far as one could judge from the public Press, with an equal degree of disappointment. I fully share the regret, but, I confess, not the disappointment. It never seemed to me to be hopeful that the Declaration made by His Majesty's Government world find immediate acceptance in India.
In the first place it was not a suggestion to reopen negotiations, which no doubt would have been accepted, but it was the setting out of definite propositions 758 which, in their main features, were not capable of serious amendment. There was also the fact that the necessary atmosphere of good will, which was almost necessary for the immediate success of the Mission, was not altogether forthcoming. It was forthcoming, I am quite sure, on the British side, but not altogether on the side of most, or at any rate many, of the spokesmen of India. It was frankly admitted by some of those spokesmen that they were taking an anti-British view, and that meant, surely, that the atmosphere was not hopeful. I confess that I was reminded of the early days when Home Rule for Ireland first became a subject for discussion, and a great many of us felt then that the unconcealed dislike which Mr. Parnell had for England and the English went a long way to make the chance of success more difficult.
Now I am quite certain that it would be altogether unfair to ascribe any responsibility for the breakdown to the Lord Privy Seal. No better choice of an evangelist could have been made. He had not a few friends in India, and his general outlook on affairs would make it clear even to the most advanced Indian politicians that he was not likely to take any narrow or hidebound view of the responsibilities of the present Government. He, as the noble Duke has explained, went out with two definite propositions. One came to this, that for the present there could be no radical change in the Constitution of the Indian Government, but at the same time special emphasis was laid on the assurance that as soon as possible a most radical change would be made in that Constitution by the conferring of what is called Dominion status. The other proposition was that the defence of India, in the present crisis, must be in all essential respects the responsibility of the British Government, in concert, of course, with the Dominions and with the Allies with whom we are fighting. I am glad that it was so clearly stated, both in another place yesterday and by the noble Duke, that it was not on this question of defence that the breakdown occurred.
The Indian politicians are very shrewd men, and, although they put forward the question of responsibility for defence as one of their demands, I am quite sure that they did see that it is altogether 759 impossible in war to dissociate policy from higher strategy. That being so it was clear, as the noble Duke pointed out, that the complicated problem of defence in its relation to the Viceroy's Council was capable of solution, and that it would have been solved. But, as the noble Duke pointed out, the break occurred on the question of an immediate change in the Constitution—that is to say, to put it briefly, that whereas in the last resort the last word must rest, as it rests now, with the Viceroy's Council, the last word would be transferred to the Indian Government, which would mean practically the Congress leaders, leaving the Viceroy in the position still of an important counsellor but with none or little of the independent authority which he possesses at present. That surely is an amazing proposition. When the house next door is on fire is not the moment when you can sit down and consider the question of remodelling the use of the rooms which your house contains. It is surely incredible to suppose that it could be believed by these skilled and experienced men of extreme views that His Majesty's Government could possibly accept such an abrupt and immediate change.
One grievance which we have seen freely stated is the existence of the India Office. Some, I think rather simple, politicians have suggested that if the responsibilities of the India Office were at once transferred to the Dominions Office, Indian opinion would be satisfied. That would be a mere change in the shop window and nothing more. It has, of course, been the custom of some of these Indian statesmen to abuse the India Office—as I think, very unfairly. So far as my own experience goes, and I am sure it would be borne out by anybody else who has occupied the same position, the Secretary of State's Council is composed of men with recent experience of Indian administration and disposed to take not merely a sympathetic but a liberal view of Indian needs and aspirations. I am quite sure, too, that the present Secretary of State for India takes a wide view of the responsibilities of his office. The fact is that it is not really the India Office to which objection is taken; it is the control of Parliament. It is not Whitehall but Westminster which is the foundation of the grievance. After all, whether it is 760 the India Office or the Dominions Office, each is the creature of Parliament and the Minister who presides over either office has to do what Parliament says. Therefore what is really the object of the demand—and it is a demand which the grant of Dominion status would satisfy—is that this Parliament here should cease to have any responsibility for or take any kind of interest in the internal affairs of India. We never discuss the relations of the different component parts of the Dominions. Even in the Press the expressions of opinion concerning the internal affairs of the Dominions are always couched in the most moderate and objective terms. That is what, ultimately, no doubt will happen in India, but to suppose that it can be made to happen at this moment is surely the purest fantasy which could arise in anybody's mind.
As the noble Duke stated, it really is not fair to speak of the Government of India as though it had never moved. From the language which one sometimes hears used one might suppose that during the last hundred years India has been governed as Poland was under the Tsarist régime or Lombardy under the Austrian Empire. It is quite true that up to about thirty-five years ago there was practically no change in the system of Indian government, but during those years great progress has been made with which your Lordships are all familiar. If you look to the first of the Dominions, Canada, just about eighty years elapsed from the time of Lord Durham's Report under which the Executive in Canada became responsible to the Legislature there to the time of the passing of the Statute of Westminster which gave practical independence to Canada, the independence for which the Indian politicians now ask. Surely it is not fair to say that there has been stagnation in the way in which Parliament here has attempted to enlarge the boundaries of Indian freedom.
I fully agree with what fell from the lips of the noble Duke—that it would be a complete error to regard this expedition of Sir Stafford Cripps as a wasted effort. I feel sure that, as the noble Duke said, it will have a useful effect here in clearing the air and in steadying public opinion. It should also have a similar effect in India itself. I think it ought to enable us to look forward hopefully to the day when the solution of those intensely difficult 761 problems—the one dealing with the different minorities and the other with the relations of what is now British India with the Indian States—will be helped by the new consideration which has to be given to the whole subject as the result of the visit of Sir Stafford Cripps. I, therefore, am one of those who believe that the new Constitution of India will work out well, although it must take some time before it comes into being, and longer still before it comes to its full growth.
My Lords, may I very respectfully join with the noble Marquess in congratulating the Duke of Devonshire upon his clear and concise account of the great events which we are now discussing in your Lordships' House? The noble Duke warned us of the dangers of over-simplification where these Indian problems are concerned, and the noble Marquess who has just addressed your Lordships said that only very simple politicians believed in certain easy solutions—which was very much the same thing. I would suggest, if I may, to the noble Duke, or to the noble and learned Viscount who sits on the Woolsack, who I understand is to reply to the debate, that there is a danger of over-simplification on the Government side, particularly with regard to this question of the minorities, and especially that of the largest minority, the largest communal group, the Moslems. For instance, the noble Duke informed your Lordships that there was no contact, no meeting, between the various leaders of the great communities in India But do not let us overlook the fact that a very important section of the Moslems, for example, are represented in Congress. The President of Congress today is a very distinguished Moslem leader, and some of the Moslem Provinces, notably the North-West Frontier Province—we hear a great deal about the fighting men from the mountainous districts of India, and I suppose the tribes of the North-West Frontier provide as good fighting stock as can be found anywhere in India—almost unanimously support Congress. So that there are meetings, there are contacts, between Moslems, Hindus, Sikhs and so on in Congress, even though there are not meetings between the President of Congress and his fellow Moslem, Mr. Jinnah, leader of the Moslem League. To put the main stress on the communal difficulty as the cause 762 of this breakdown is in itself an oversimplification.
I confess, quite frankly, that I am, even now, very puzzled about some of the causes of the failure. Up to within a few days before the final breakdown, it was being said in circles which I frequent—among honourable friends of mine in another place, and among my noble friends here—that it was believed there would be a settlement. It was a terrible disappointment to all of us, when, apparently, the course was set fair for a settlement, that the breakdown should have taken place. As I say, I am rather puzzled even now as to the cause of it. I am even more puzzled when I read the report of the debate which took place yesterday in another place. The speech of Sir Stafford Cripps was a masterpiece of explanation and a beautiful piece of writing, but when I come to his answer to an honourable friend of mine, a member of the Labour Party, Mr. Sorensen, on this particular question of the communal difficulty, I find myself somewhat mystified.
I am reading from column 890 of the Official Report of the House of Commons, which was issued to-day. Mr. Sorensen quotes a telegram from Mr. Jawaharlal Nehru in which it is stated thatAt no stage during the talks did any communal or minority difficulty occur…Thereupon the Lord Privy Seal intervened. He said:It is quite true that I did not discuss the minority question with Congress, but that does not mean that there was no difficulty. I was discussing it with all the minorities. Naturally, it was not a matter that I discussed with Congress.That statement by itself is, I suggest, in need of clarification. There is something very curious about that. Then Mr. Sorensen, resuming his remarks, said:…there was no breakdown on that issue, and there was no preliminary sign that the negotiations were going to break on that issue. It was an issue which was left to be dealt with later—no doubt, a substantial issue; but the real cause of the breakdown was other than communal difficulties.The Lord Privy Seal again intervened and said:Let me put it this way. It was the reflection of the communal difficulties on another problem. I do not think one can divorce them. It was not, in form, on the communal question that the breakdown came; but there were various opinions on that which were naturally the reflection of the communal difficulties.763 I frankly do not understand it. If we can have some enlightenment upon it I think it would be most helpful. Any of your Lordships listening to the noble Duke would have imagined that one of the greatest difficulties in the way of a settlement in India to-day was the communal difficulty. I suggest that that is a case of over-simplification.
Now, I would address myself for a moment or two to the other difficulty which we are told was really the cause of the breakdown—that was the proposal to form a Central Indian Nationalist Government. That may not have been exactly the phrase used but it is what it came to in effect. The Lord Privy Seal objected that it would be, in the absence of an elected Parliament to which it would be responsible, irresponsible and irremovable. I think that that is the description of the difficulty which the Lord Privy Seal saw, and which was apparently the real cause of the breakdown. I suggest that that matter might be reexamined, and I am going to make, a little later on, what I hope is a constructive suggestion for getting us out of this difficulty. We cannot leave things as they are. The enemy are at the gate of India, and this is no time to talk of slow progress. With the greatest respect to the noble Marquess who has just spoken, Canada was able to develop her great Constitution and her great system of government without any threat from Japan. In those days Japan was a very backward country and had no Fleet. I do not think that to-day India can afford, or we can afford, to let this matter remain as it is.
With regard to this so-called irresponsible and irremovable Central Government, there are to-day in London the Governments of several of our Allies, doing very great service in our cause and without doubt representing the great mass of their peoples; but theoretically they are irresponsible and irremovable. Let me mention two cases of the Governments of Allies whose peoples have earned the admiration of all free men everywhere—the Government of Greece and the Government of Yugoslavia. Those countries were governed by dictatorships. Their Governments here are irreplaceable and irremovable, but they undoubtedly represent on the one hand the views of the Greek people and on the other hand 764 the views of the diverse minorities in Yugoslavia. I might even come nearer home. The elected Chamber of our own Parliament, in theory at any rate, can hardly be called completely representative at the present time. The test of a Government, however, is whether the majority of the people support it, or, alternatively, whether it voices and echoes the desires and beliefs of the majority of the people. Having read carefully the documents which have been published and the accounts of what happened in India, I believe that agreement was much nearer than might at this moment be supposed, and I believe that a way can be found by which a representative Government, voicing the views of the majority of the Indian peoples, could be formed in Delhi for the duration of the war, with the support of the best elements in India, including the best elements of the Moslems.
If I may say a word on the question of defence, this, of course, is vital. Here you have an offer by leading Indians of great fame in their own country, trusted and followed by immense numbers of the Indian peoples, who offer to organize their peoples for the defence of India. I should have thought that we would seize that offer with both hands. Suppose they had made that offer to our enemies, and had offered to collaborate with them and to raise their peoples against us, as traitors have done in some districts in Burma. Would our enemies have looked twice at the offer? They would have seized it immediately. We should be thankful that, in spite of ail that has happened, in spite of the anti-English feeling among many Indian leaders, in spite of imprisonment and long controversies, these men are prepared to risk everything, against the advice of Mahatma Gandhi and others of their leaders, to rouse the Indian masses for their own defence and for our cause. I cannot understand how anyone can hesitate to accept that offer, and how we can allow any legal niceties—I do not want to use an offensive expression—or constitutional intricacies to stand in the way.
This is really a very grave question. I should like to refer to the statement made by the Prime Minister when he announced the great Mission of the Lord Privy Seal on March 11. The Prime Minister did not speak of the danger of India being directly attacked. He spoke 765 of India in a much more encouraging way. He said that we must remember that India was one of the bases from which the strongest counterblast must be struck at the advance of tyranny and aggression. Well, a base must be secure. It is perfectly true that India is in the front line to-day. Our American Allies are sending soldiers to India, and technicians and munitions, as well as technical experts to organize the industrial production of weapons of war in India. We are told that this matter of defence was not the cause of the breakdown, and that agreement could be reached there. If that is the case, it makes it all the more necessary that some new move should be made.
What can be done? In the first place, I would suggest that it is much easier for us, the British Government, the British Parliament, to make a new move to solve the remaining difficulties than it is for the Indian Parries to do so. I need not elaborate that. What can be done? We could, I suppose, invite Sir Stafford Cripps or other eminent statesmen to revisit India and try again, perhaps with wider powers. That may not be practicable; my noble Leader, with whom I have discussed this, does not think that it is, and I defer to his opinion. Another suggestion, which may be very valuable, is that we should send unofficial but influential persons to explore the ground afresh. Many of the greatest changes have been brought about by unofficial representatives in the first place. If, for example, instead of coming home direct the Lord Privy Seal, after vacating his post as Ambassador in Russia, had gone direct to India, he would have been in an unofficial position, and might have had a better chance, on his second visit, of bringing this matter to a successful conclusion than he had when going out in the first place as an accredited representative of the War Cabinet. The third suggestion is that we should invite leading Indians of all the principal Parties to come to this country. I do not know that that is possible, and it would mean delay in any case. But I do suggest that, above all, we must keep these negotiations open. I notice with great pleasure that the Secretary of State for India, speaking in another place yesterday, said that the door was still open. I hope that not only is the door open, but that we 766 shall send somebody through it, and that conversations can be reopened. I accept, of course, what the noble Duke has said, and what the Lord Privy Seal has said, that the Mission has done good, taking the long view; but, if that is the case, let us exploit that good and try once more to get some agreement.
I am thinking, I confess, of India as the great base of operations from the north for crushing the Japanese forces in Asia and driving them from the mainland of Asia, in conjunction with Australia as a great base in the south. Looking ahead, I am thinking, as I am sure your Lord-ships are also thinking, of the masses of India and China being marshalled and armed for the purpose of defeating Japanese tyranny. That kind of war in Asia is bound to develop; the peoples of Asia, whatever we do, will never lie down under Japanese tyranny. The Japanese may succeed for a time, but there will be an uprising later on which will not be a war in the style of the first Duke of Marlborough at all; it will be a great popular uprising of the peoples of Asia, including the peoples of India, and we and the Americans will be able to play our full part in that great campaign. With those things happening, I do suggest to the noble Duke and to those who think with him that we need not have any fear in the future of our prestige and influence after these great events. Some of the arguments which I hear used in India—and I must say that I think some of the arguments used in India were very discouraging indeed—and some of the arguments used here, taken in conjunction with the great happenings which it is possible to envisage, and which will certainly come to pass, are no more important than the crackling of a fire of thorns.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, perhaps you will allow me to say a few words upon this very important issue, because a few years ago I was intimately associated with the efforts at arriving at a decision at the celebrated Joint Select Committee. But let me say at the outset that I think your Lordships and the country are under a great debt of gratitude to Sir Stafford Cripps for the effort which he has made. It was a very gallant effort, and no better man could have been selected for the purpose than Sir Stafford Cripps. His great intellectual qualities, his experience, his political 767 affiliations—all these made him the best selection that could have been made for this purpose. Of course, the decision to send him to India was come to rather precipitately. I am always a little afraid of these precipitate decisions. It is much wiser, if you can, to take time before you come to these decisions. But of course in the times in which we live and the great exigencies of the war it is not possible always to give time; and therefore, as far as I am concerned and so far as those with whom I am accustomed to act are concerned, we are anxious to say how grateful we are to the Lord Privy Seal for the effort which he made.
He did his very best to come to some agreement in India, and in order to prevent any kind of misconception let me say at once that all of us, whatever our previous attitude was on these questions, are quite willing to accept the solemn decision which Parliament and this country have come to, and which has been universally accepted, I think, throughout the country, that self-government should be given to India. That is accepted on all hands. What is very important—and it is that which makes me specially grateful to the Lord Privy Seal for his action—is that the sincerity of this country in this matter should be placed beyond doubt. None of us doubted the sincerity of our own country in this matter, but there was undoubtedly an opinion abroad and in India that we were not really in earnest in this grant of self-government to India. That doubt, as has already been said in your Lordships' House this evening, has finally been laid to rest. After this very remark-able effort on the part of Sir Stafford Cripps, representing as he did His Majesty's Government, and entering upon his functions under very great personal difficulties, there could not be the slightest doubt of the sincerity with which this country has approached this subject, and he did as well as he could. But I do not hesitate to say that if he had come to an agreement—I will not say what may develop in the future, but if he had come to an agreement now with the various Parties in India it would have been nothing short of a miracle.
The difficulties, of course, are in the highest degree acute. Those of us who remember the passage of the Government of India Bill and the amazing clauses which appeared in that Bill, which is now 768 an Act—a dead Act certainly, but an Act—will realize the immense difficulties. The electors were not free. The Upper House was directly elected, the Lower House, which had control of finance, was indirectly elected. There was no power of Dissolution however impossible an Indian Parliament might have turned out to be. Those were the things which were passed in the India Act. It would not be respectful of me to say that I profoundly regretted that your Lordships agreed to that Bill at the time, but your wisdom is much greater than mine and you decided otherwise, and the Bill became an Act; and now it is buried, it is gone. But that has not settled the question, and I feel, as I have said already, very grateful to the Lord Privy Seal that he has proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that in this matter of granting self-government to India—not in the form of the India Act but in some form—this country is quite sincere.
Well, it does not do to burke the difficulties. I listened to my noble friend the noble Duke in his very well-constructed speech just now, but I did not gather from it, nor did I gather from the speech which Sir Stafford Cripps made in another place, whether all these difficulties had been in fact overcome. Is it a fact—it may be so, and I shall be told before the end of these proceedings if it be so—that the Scheduled Classes, the Depressed Classes, were able to see their way to agree? Of course, up to now they have felt the greatest reluctance at being under the complete control of the high caste Indians in a new Constitution. I do not say it is impossible that an arrangement should be made, but did Sir Stafford Cripps bring back from India any assurance that the Scheduled Classes could be satisfied? The same with the Princes. The Princes no doubt were anxious to come to an arrangement. But were they willing to abandon their constitutional position in their own States? I have not been able to find any certainty as to that from the record. And, last but certainly not least, do the great Moslem body see their way to fall in with an arrangement such as the rest of India would accept? No doubt the Declaration of His Majesty's Government makes great concessions to the Moslems' feelings, but has that got in it the seed of a permanent arrangement? Would that be accepted? Did Sir Stafford Cripps bring back from India the conviction that the special treatment 769 of the Moslems—that is to say, the power to secede from the rest of India—was an acceptable thing to the other Parties in India?
All these difficulties remain. I say it would have been nothing short of a miracle if Sir Stafford Cripps had been able to get them all to agree. I have a feeling that that is so all the more because of the closing scene. Apparently at the last moment proposals were made on behalf of Congress which were evidently unacceptable. I do not mean to say that there was any conscious desire on the part of Congress to break the negotiations down, but subconsciously there must have been a great reluctance on their part to come to terms, otherwise why should they have made at the last moment this proposal of what has just been described as a form of responsible government, but responsible to nobody? That proposal was certain to be rejected by the Lord Privy Seal. He could not have accepted that, and the Congress Party must have known that at the time. All this goes to show that the difficulties were very great, and remain very great.
I do not say that they cannot ultimately be overcome. But though Sir Stafford Cripps has not been able to solve them, I repeat that he has done a much more important thing, because he has established the sincerity of this country in the eyes of the Indian peoples. That is of the greatest importance. And not merely in the eyes of the Indian peoples, because there is other public opinion elsewhere which is very important. Public opinion amongst a certain number of people in this country, but above all public opinion in America, must now be convinced of the sincerity of the British Government and of the difficulties which stand in the way. I have seen a great deal of most ignorant criticism in the Press, not only of this country but reported from elsewhere, which shows quite clearly that some people have no conception of the real essential difficulties in coming to an arrangement in India.
I understand that the Indian political leaders have proposed that there should be, after the war, a Constituent Assembly which should arrive at a definite concrete proposal for the solution of the Indian problem. I dare say that is a very good plan. After all the efforts we have made—after the efforts in which we have failed 770 —the proposal that an Indian Constituent Assembly should be entrusted with the task of finding its way through the difficulties is not a bad proposal. It will come across all the difficulties. Difficulties do not disappear by an arrangement of that kind, but it would be very healthy and very educative for a Constituent Assembly in India to be brought face to face with the essential difficulties of the problem. Therefore, your Lordships, if I may respectfully say so, are under a great debt of gratitude to the Lord Privy Seal. It was a most gallant performance on his part. He did his task as well as any man could, and I agree with the noble Duke who said in his opening speech that the effort which he made has not been thrown away. It has revealed the difficulties of the problem, but above all it has established the sincerity of the British Government.
§ LORD HAILEY
My Lords, when the Indian question was last debated here and in another place there were, on the whole, two currents of opinion. There were those who were deeply impressed with the belief that our political differences were interfering with India's war effort and were anxious to see some move made by us which would have the immediate result of securing the co-operation of the elements that then stood aloof from us. There were, on the other hand, those who were doubtful whether our war effort was, in fact, being hampered to the extent that was believed. They considered that measures which would in the long run conduce to a settlement of India's internal relations and help her to attain a form of government best suited to her conditions, were of far greater importance than immediate reconciliation with our political opponents in that country. If I have read the intentions of His Majesty's Government aright, they have sought to attain both these objectives in the Declaration made on March 11. They proposed to India a form of machinery by which the contending interests in India could, after the war, adjust their differences and join in devising a form of Constitution which they felt to be best adapted to the country's needs. But the Declaration itself was put in a form which, it was hoped, would be so convincing of the good faith of this country that it would afford a guarantee that India would obtain the status she desired, and thereby furnish a ground on which Indian leaders could 771 join in the Government of the country and give practical effect to their declared policy of opposition to Axis aggression.
Many of us felt that His Majesty's Government went to very great lengths indeed in the offer which they made. To those who had worked for the solution proposed in 1935, and embodied in that Act, which the noble Marquess may not altogether like but which he now accepts—to those who were concerned in the passing of that Act and remembered that it held out a scheme of consistent and orderly development in which there was a place for all the diverse elements that make up the Indian social and political organization—the prospect opened by the Declaration appeared to involve hazards on which they could only look with very grave misgivings. There were two respects in particular in which these hazards were greater than any they had hitherto contemplated. In the first place, the provision by which some units could contract out of the proposed Indian Union may have been essential in order to secure the agreement of the Moslem League, in the interests of the Pakistan scheme which now, I must say, to the bewilderment of a great number of us, has been accepted as a gospel by the Moslem League It is not impossible that the inclusion of this provision was actually designed by the Government, not with a view that Pakistan ever might be realized, but in order to impress on the more extreme Hindus the necessity of abating their own demands and coming to some form of terms with the Moslems if they were to maintain the unity of the country.
But even if the attainment of that result was possible, it was nevertheless speculative; and, if it were not attained, then the scheme involved the disruption of India, and the end of our vision of it as a great unit of Empire strong enough to hold its own in a world that has no place for small and economically insufficient political units. It means again that India would have far greater difficulty in taking its place in partnership with the other Dominions, a partnership which, it must be remembered, must be a willing one on their side also, for India may gain in name but cannot gain in fact and in reality the position of a Dominion unless she is freely accepted as an equal partner by the other Dominions of the 772 Commonwealth. Certainly the disruption of India would impair the possibility of her holding that position after the war which would be so essential to the maintenance of peace in the East, to which the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, has just referred.
Over and above these difficulties, arising from the external relations of India, there were other obstacles, so great as to seem to us almost insuperable, arising from the position, for instance, of a strong and militant minority such as the Sikhs in the Punjab or of the Moslems occupying a highly important political position in the midst of a Hindu majority, as, for instance, in the United Provinces. The position of the Sikhs in particular was an almost baffling problem. Here you have a community of four millions, over thirteen or fourteen per cent. of the total present population of the Punjab, a community which, Hindu by origin, practically owes the whole of its existence to opposition to Moslem persecution and which still retains anti-Moslem feelings stronger, perhaps, than any community in India. It is a community which, in proportion to its numbers, has contributed more largely than any other to our military forces. It has a military record of which it is justly proud, which is inferior to that of no other community in India, and, as the events of 1922 to 1924 showed—the period when the Sikhs felt deeply on the subject of their own religious endowments—they have perhaps a greater solidarity, a greater power of resisting opposition than any other community in India. Yet under the scheme of Pakistan they would form part of what must be a predominantly Moslem Government. It would only be by a geographical fragmentation of India that these problems could be solved at all, a geographical fragmentation which would bring the gravest administrative apart from political difficulties in its train.
There was a second point. There were a variety of matters which the Declaration proposed should be safeguarded by treaty. These matters were essential if we were to keep our faith with interests for which we had made ourselves responsible. But it was not going to be easy to arrange these safeguards with a divided India, and clearly the sanctions—if one may venture to refer here to so delicate a matter as sanctions—which might have operated 773 without grave difficulty in a unified Government such as was envisaged in 1935, would have a very different force in an India such as might emerge from the Declaration of 1942. Nevertheless, even those who felt such apprehensions most acutely were ready to admit that the situation demanded remedies for which our previous experiences furnished little guidance. Even if military effort in India was not being seriously impaired, yet it was essential that Allied opinion should be assured of our good faith. Again, we ourselves seemed to have lost for a time the political initiative in India and it was worth while running some hazards to regain it. Once more, apart from any question of our war effort, it was worth much to restore India's confidence in the sincerity of our intentions. It is of very little use to discuss now how far we ourselves are responsible for the suspicion in which we and our intentions have been held, or how far this has been carefully nurtured by interested parties in India or encouraged by unthinking friends of India in Great Britain. But the canker of mistrust has obviously gone very deep. It was as deeply rooted among many political elements in India as has been distrust of Hindus by Moslems or of Moslems by Hindus.
Though the Government have admittedly failed in their main objective, yet they have certainly not failed throughout. We have, as has already been pointed out here this afternoon, and as I think even the most critical of us must agree, made two substantial gains. We have regained the initiative which we seemed to have lost and we are in a far better position now to invite the co-operation of the many elements, in the country which have hitherto been' deterred by Congress or by Moslem League interests from associating themselves more fully with us. We have in the second place, as the noble Marquess has just said, re-established our credit with the outside world, and it is indeed difficult to believe that we have not gone a long way to re-establish it in India itself. Not all the dialectics—I can use no other description—of the Congress president, based on our assumed refusal to Institute what the Congress regarded as a National Government, can serve to demolish the impression which the Declaration must have conveyed to the general mind of India.
774 For the rest, there must be many of us who have anxiously asked ourselves whether, having once taken so hold, so far-reaching, and to all appearances so hazardous a step, there was anything more which the Government could have done to safeguard against failure. I have questioned myself as anxiously as many others have done and I doubt whether there is more that Government could have attempted to secure success. There are, however, two possible explanations of the underlying causes of the breakdown of the negotiations. I am referring not so much here to the published causes as to the underlying causes, for it is those which really concern us. The first of those two explanations is this, that the rapid progress of Japanese aggression had robbed the prospect of post-war settlement of all its interest. The offer of machinery designed to frame a Constitution after the war, however adequate in itself it might have been, was therefore inadequate to secure the co-operation of political leaders in our war effort. The one absorbing issue was now that of defence and the only convincing proof of our good faith would have been the establishment of a National Government in full control of defence policy.
Now, I admire the adroitness with which the issue of a National Government was brought on to the stage at almost the last minute. An attempt was made to convey the impression that but for a hardening on the part of the British Government, Sir Stafford Cripps would have conceded the form of National Government which Congress desired and on which all Parties were actually agreed. That, I say, was the impression which it was sought to convey. If I understood the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, aright, he claims that an offer to establish a National Government in which all Parties agreed was finally rejected by us. The Indian papers, for the week following the departure of Sir Stafford Cripps, make curious reading. India, says one, was united on fundamentals but the British have shown that they will not yield on fundamentals. Another paper deplores the transformation of Sir Stafford Cripps to Imperialism, and portrays him as the mere mouthpiece of Mr. Amery. Another says that the failure was due to the influence of the Blimps and brass hats of the bureaucracy who took their stand on a mistaken notion of 775 prestige and power and again over-ruled Sir Stafford Cripps. Yet another paper speaks of the irony that the breakdown should occur precisely over the one issue about which there was unanimity in Indian opinion.
I make these quotations not in order to condemn them—for that is unnecessary—nor to illustrate the difficulties which India can sometimes place in the way even of her most sincere friends, for those difficulties are obvious. While other speakers here to-day have given their unstinted tribute of admiration to Sir Stafford Cripps, I should like as one who has been concerned though of course on a much smaller scale in Indian negotiations to add on my part something of my sympathy. I repeat the criticisms here because, reading some of the English papers, and indeed listening to some things said in yesterday's debate in another place, I realize that an attempt is being made to propagate something of the same impressions in this country also. But the statements made are in truth simply a misrepresentation of the facts. There was not, as the subsequent speech of the President of the Moslem League has shown, any kind of agreement among the Parties about the form or status or shape of a National Government. We must clearly look therefore to another cause as the underlying reason for this breakdown. It lies in the fact, as I believe, that the Congress realized that the machinery for post-war adjustment which the Declaration offered would not secure for them the leadership they desired. Their supporters clearly would not tolerate any abatement of that demand. The issue raised regarding the composition and powers of a National Government afforded a convenient method of obscuring that fact. Nothing could prove this more clearly than the recent revelation of a rift within the Congress itself owing to the proposals made by Mr. Rajagopalachari.
Have we then no further hope of accommodation? Must we still be left with the same sense of frustration? It would be quite idle to pretend that we can yet see any real prospect of that agreement between the major Parties which will alone enable them to make any fruitful use of the machinery which the Declaration offered to them. Real progress is indeed impossible, to use Mr. Gandhi's 776 words, until Indians themselves have gone farther to solve the communal tangle. But the logic of events, the increasing knowledge of the imminent danger impending over India, may itself achieve what our own appeals to reason have not been able to effect. The recent Madras resolutions to which I have referred already encourage us to hope that this process is now beginning. There are only two things in my view which we can ourselves do to assist its development. The first is to go to all possible lengths in welcoming to the Central Councils of India any such Indians of influence as may be willing to associate themselves in our war effort on any terms that we can with reason envisage The second is to make it clear that the Declaration offer still stands, and that so far from taking advantage of the difficulties which have arisen in accepting it, we are at all times ready to renew it.
§ THE EARL OFWARWICK
My Lords, I must beg for that indulgence which your Lordships always so willingly accord to one who addresses you for the first time. I would hesitate to occupy your Lordships' time in a matter on which your Lordships are so much better informed than I am if I did not feel that many a true word can be spoken in jest, and that perhaps the indiscretions of a man who has not the more mature experience and judgment of some of your Lord-ships may serve to attract some attention to points to which in these dangerous times some of the more sober members of your Lordships' House may feel unwilling to direct attention. I find it difficult to agree with this spirit of conciliation which seems to exist everywhere. I frankly do not understand it. That Sir Stafford Cripps should go to India seemed a most admirable thing, and that he should go with very far-reaching proposals seemed again an endeavour on the part of His Majesty's Government to do everything in their power to arrive at a just solution of our difficulties. But once these proposals had gone, once they were turned down, I frankly cannot see why a certain proportion of blame should not go to the right quarters.
It is reopening the whole subject, but a great deal was done for India in the Act of 1935. There are still facts and figures ready for all to read about India which make one sometimes question the 777 advisability of conceding more than we have already done. If your Lordships will examine the ordinary statistics for education in India you will find that still to-day, some 84 per cent. of the population is illiterate and out of the remaining 16 per cent.—a population slightly less than that of our small islands—80 per cent. have only received kindergarten education. Thus the emancipation of India further than has already been proposed by His Majesty's Government means handing over a population of 353,000,000 people to only 3 per cent. of that population without any reservations at all. I have travelled in India from Soviet Russia through Afghanistan right down to the southernmost part of India. I have shot with and slept with shepherds and talked to the ordinary agricultural labourer. I never found that he belonged to any political Party on political grounds; it was nearly always for a religious or caste reason.
I am rather amazed, and I would be very glad to hear from any of your Lord-ships why it is that we seem to be adopting, now that the thing is over, a conciliatory attitude which I cannot feel meets the fact. Various things have been said which are more than unfair; they are outrageous. I saw a report in a paper the other day of a statement by Pandit Nehru to the effect that "the gentlemen in England seem to live in a world of their own which I refuse to join." That is not respectful as coming from one sovereign State to another. It is an appalling statement from an extremist, and one which, I feel most strongly, your Lordships should not swallow.
Then, there was in the papers a few days ago an account of how, at a meeting in London, a statement was made to the effect that there was still some doubt as to our sincerity. Sir Stafford Cripps himself said that he felt that the method of the presentation of the proposals was such that he was sure that in India any doubt as to our sincerity had been removed. It is all very well to go on talking about sincerity. It was before my time I know, but, none the less, there was a period of history when the sincerity of His Majesty's Government was not lightly doubted. I feel that we are taking much too weak an attitude in constantly knuckling under to remarks of this sort. These proposals were made with the full knowledge of the United 778 States and the Dominions; and the whole civilized world agreed that they were reasonable. You cannot say fairer than that and, when it has been said, those people responsible for the rejection must surely have put themselves into a position where they merit the gravest censure.
I have talked very generally. I had a certain number of notes based on my own experience of matters which the noble Lord, Lord Hailey, has so well represented—as, for example, when he spoke of Pakistan. I feel that it is unnecessary to do more than heartily to corroborate his statements. I agree with what he said about the subject of the division of India. It is not a thing which, to my mind, could have succeeded. The question of these people, whom, frankly, I must call extremists, goes even further. How are the good soldiers of India, the Sikhs, the Gurkhas, the Pathans, the men of the Punjab and the Moslem regiments, going to react to government by people who, according to my experience, the great majority of them despise? I have known regiments in India the men of whom I am sure, if any of your Lord-ships had interrogated them on their political feelings, would have said that they have never heard of half the people who are so assiduously reported in the Press from day to day.
I would like to encourage His Majesty's Government to take the firmest possible line. I am sure it is right that the door which has been opened should be left open. I think that when the history of this period of the existence of the world comes to be written, His Majesty's Government will be paid the highest tribute by posterity for having made a most eloquent gesture. That they should let go scot-free people who, under any different form of government in time of war would not be conciliated but would be gaoled, is in my opinion really going too far. I would urge His Majesty's Government to warn the people of India, or these extremist persons in India who have made it impossible for such an admirable series of suggestions to take effect, that even the most benevolent Government has a right to be aroused, and that it is impossible for us to be forced into a position to accept agreements 779 against good sense, reason and judgment in the time of our most acute adversity.
§ LORD RANKEILLOUR
My Lords, you always welcome new participants to a debate, and I trust that the noble Earl who has just spoken will often join in our debates in the future. I am sure that he need have no scruple on the ground that it is unwise to utter views which are not altogether in harmony with the conventional trend of opinion at the moment. On the contrary, such views very often, whether directly or indirectly, assist his hearers to look at matters from a fresh angle. I confess that I do not feel pessimism on account of the failure of Sir Stafford Cripps's Mission. While giving him every possible credit for his zeal, industry, ability and devotion, I should feel more anxiety if his scheme had straightway been accepted by the leaders of Indian opinion. I do not believe that any proposals such as he made, or indeed any proposals at all, offered in such haste, and under the conditions in which these were made, could have failed to have had grave repercussions later on because an impression would have been created that everything had been settled. Those who have been into these matters to any degree at all know, as indeed the noble Marquess of Crewe pointed out, that there would have been most difficult problems and complications which would have had to be got over in the future, and this fact would have been obscured for the moment. Now, I think, they have been brought out, and there will be time for all concerned to discuss them and try to find a solution.
I will just take one or two questions, if I may. The Declaration announced the right of secession of Provinces. It goes further and envisages that the seceding Provinces may unite together, and that in fact there will be a new Dominion with Dominion status. There will be two Dominions in India; not one. Will there be one Viceroy or two? If there is one Viceroy he will have two entirely different Constitutions over which to preside. If there arc two, on the other hand, some machinery will have to be found to enable them to act together in the common interest. Again, a fixed Constitution has as its essential complement a Supreme Court. With two Dominions, will there be two 780 Supreme Courts or will there be one? Will there still be an appeal to the Privy Council? Fortunately, I think that other Dominion experiences afford valuable precedents on that matter, but I am not at all sure that that has been generally thought of in India. Then, as to the Princes, if there are two Dominions will the Princes be able to associate themselves—it could only be, I imagine, on geographical lines—with one or the other? Would it be necessary that the parts of the two Dominions should have geographical propinquity or not?
When it comes to the question of minorities, I think that it is imperfectly realized that you do not settle the question even if you please the two main communities. The noble Lord, Lord Hailey, has referred to the Sikhs. There are the Sikhs and the Depressed Classes and the primitive races, and there are other religious minorities, including several millions of Christians, European and native, who are sometimes forgotten. All these have to be provided for, and they have also to be assured that the provision for their protection is effective. Lord Hailey has already used a word which I myself use with trepidation: they must be assured that there are some sanctions behind the constitutional Declaration. On the subject of defence, there must be unity of defence whether there are two separate Governments in India or not; and I doubt whether that has been thought out. In truth, with the best will in the world, whatever solution may ultimately be found, it must take many months or even years to work out, even in peace-time. I can say quite sincerely that I do not mention these matters in order to raise difficulties. The difficulties arc there, and they cannot be ignored if a final solution is to be reached. The facts must be realized if the problems are to be faced and the difficulties overcome.
§ LORD CATTO
My Lords, the noble Duke who initiated this debate performed a difficult task, if I may say so, with great skill and judgment, but I am sure that your Lordships will agree with me that it is very difficult to follow two such notable speeches as were delivered in another place yesterday by Sir Stafford Cripps and the Secretary of State for India. In the past three months India has been much in our thoughts. Great and soul-stirring events have occurred and 781 are occurring adjacent to her frontiers. Yet, in the midst of all these anxieties, even critics—and I have been one—will admit that His Majesty's Government made a real and courageous attempt in the past two months to cut the Gordian knot of Indian constitutional difficulties. They even took the unique step of sending to India Sir Stafford Cripps, the Leader of the House of Commons and a member of the War Cabinet, to endeavour to secure a sufficient measure of agreement to make possible some practical and far-reaching method of dealing with the present and the future of India's constitutional advance.
It has already been said, and said often, in this debate, that Sir Stafford Cripps showed great courage and great public spirit in accepting this Mission, of the difficulties of which he was well aware. He took with him a well-thought-out and clearly-worded Declaration as to the procedure for the attainment by India of complete self-government at the earliest possible moment. The wording of that Declaration was clear; in fact, it was so clear that it was impossible to misunderstand either its purport or its intention. But it is also true that much of what it contains has been said before, although perhaps never in such detail and in such unequivocal language. The only really new part of it, but a very important part, was the acceptance of at any rate the principle of Pakistan by proposing that the Provinces should have the right to contract out of the suggested Union, if they felt that its structure was such that it would not be in the interests of the majority of their people to join it. Enough has been said this afternoon on that subject by the noble Lord, Lord Hailey, who is one of the greatest experts on that part of India which is and would be mainly affected by this proposal. I do not propose to analyse this provision, or to emphasize its dangers. There can be no doubt, however, that it was a sincere attempt to grapple with conditions as they actually exist, and, indeed, even to take some serious risks in so doing.
When I first heard the nature of the proposed Declaration, and even before I knew that Sir Stafford Cripps was going to India, I indicated that, in my view, unless the present was tackled with the same realism as the Declaration dealt with the future, there was little or no hope of success. 782 With the enemy at their gates, Indians, not unnaturally, are more concerned with the present than with the future. I pointed out that the real difficulties would arise regarding the reconstruction of the Viceroy's Council, and especially in regard to the Defence Portfolio. I suggested that perhaps a solution might be found by following the precedent of this country, where the head of the Government is also the Minister of Defence; and I suggested that the Viceroy, as the head of the Government in India, should himself take the Defence Portfolio, leaving the Commander-in-Chief free for those large and complicated problems of strategy on which the defence of India depends, of course in consultation with the War Cabinet and with the General Staff at home.
Some of your Lordships may remember that in a speech which I made in your Lordships' House less than three months ago, on February 3, I specifically referred to this question and to the anachronism of the Commander-in-Chief holding' the dual posts of Commander-in-Chief and Defence Member of the Viceroy's Council. It may be that I underestimated the difficulties of the division of these responsibilities. It may be, too, that I underestimated the amount of give and take which would be required from all in the difficult and delicate matter of the reconstruction of the Viceroy's Executive Council. But it is certain that, when Sir Stafford Cripps reached India, he very soon found that this very question assumed much more importance in the eyes of India's political leaders than the broader question of the procedure and form of India's constitutional future. He grappled manfully with the difficulty; he deserved success, and he very nearly did succeed.
As I looked down from the Gallery yesterday on that eager face, and listened to that ardent voice, I was indeed heartened that India had secured a champion who had youth and the fire of the reformer within him to carry on until these difficult problems of India's constitutional future are solved, and that great country can take its place in the comity of nations which we call the British Commonwealth. Sir Stafford Cripps, in his speech, spoke of the distrust which he had found among Indian political leaders as to the good faith of His Majesty's Government in regard to India's constitutional future. You and I know there is no real justification for that distrust, 783 and that indeed it is one of those things which come from the frustration of an ideal. And if I may be permitted to warn Sir Stafford Cripps, I may tell him that, improved as are the relations which he has been able to create in India by his visit, that demon of distrust will again arise unless within some reasonable period of time the ideals for which we are all working lead to success. I think, too, that perhaps Sir Stafford underestimated the efforts that have been made by those of us who have grown grey in trying to solve this difficult problem. Without the efforts of those earnest men who drafted the Government of India Act of 1919, which, let me remind your Lordships, is still the Act under which the Central Government of India is working, and also of those men who drafted with great knowledge and with such labour the Government of India Act, 1935, even Sir Stafford Cripps's Mission would have been impossible.
Your Lordships may well ask, "What can be done now?" To that I can only reply in this way. I have on various occasions in the past ventured to address your Lordships on this Indian constitutional question, and I am sure you will all agree that I have not been uncritical of the slowness of progress, in the past, nor have I been sparing in suggestions for dealing with the problem. It is a matter which has stirred me deeply, for although I am a business man, the flame of the reformer burns within me, perhaps handed down to me from those Covenanting ancestors of mine to whom the denial of liberty of conscience was perhaps more important than the liberty of conscience itself! But there is a time for debate and there is a time for criticism, and there is even a time for prodding the Government. That is all part of the democratic freedom for which we are fighting. But there also comes a time for pause and for reflection, and I am inclined to think we have reached that stage now in this matter. But we must not allow the door to be closed. I am glad that both Sir Stafford Cripps and the right honourable gentleman the Secretary of State for India emphasized this point in their speeches yesterday, and it has been confirmed by the noble Duke in his speech this afternoon.
In conclusion, when we come to contemplate the next step and the future then 784 is one point I would like to emphasize, and it is this. We do not need to apologize for the past, and whilst I am on that subject may I quote the following words? They are not my own, but they indicate what is in my mind far better than any language that I can command:No one of either race ought to deny the greatness of the contribution which Britain has made to Indian progress. It is not racial prejudice, nor Imperialistic ambition, nor commercial interest, which makes us say so plainly. It is a tremendous achievement to have brought to the Indian sub-continent and to have applied in practice the conceptions of impartial justice, of the rule of law, of respect for equal civic rights without reference to class or creed and of a disinterested and incorruptible Civil Service"—Let me remind your Lordships, a Civil Service Indian as well as British.These are essential elements in any State which is advancing towards well-ordered self-government. In his heart even the bitterest critic of British administration in India knows that India has owed these things mainly to Britain. But when all this is said, it still leaves out of account the condition essential to the peaceful advance of India, and Indian statesmanship has now a great part to play. Success can only be achieved by sustained good will and co-operation between the great religious communities of India, which have so constantly been in conflict, and between India and Britain. For the future of India depends upon the collaboration of East and West, and each has much to learn from the other.We have grown to understand something of the ideals which are inspiring the Indian National Movement, and no man who has taken part in working the representative institutions of Britain can fail to sympathize with the desire of others to secure for their own land a similar development. But a Constitution is something more than a generalization: it has to present a constructive scheme.Many of your Lordships may have forgotten where those words are to be found. They are not taken from a recent publication, they form the two concluding paragraphs of the Report of the Indian Statutory Commission published as far back as 1930, and which, as you all know, was presided over by the noble and learned Viscount who now sits on the Woolsack.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
My Lords, like other speakers in this debate, I desire to pay tribute to the manner in which Sir Stafford Cripps has devoted his great abilities to a strenuous effort to achieve a solution of a most obdurate problem. He has failed, but the failure has been attended by no recrimination or bitterness and, as the Secretary of State has said, the door is still open to future efforts. 785 I desire to draw your Lordships' attention once more to two points and to two points only, but they are, I think, the fundamentals of the present situation. I have not included the question of the control of Indian defence, for we have been told that, although that caused great difficulty in the course of the negotiations, it was not a dominant factor in bringing about their breakdown.
The first point is the old question of the minorities, and particularly the Moslem minority. Mr. Gandhi's recent statement has been quoted in which he said it was essential to arrive at an understanding with the Moslems, but he has been saying that for many years. I myself have quoted in this House on more than one occasion his observation—these are his own words—"There can be no Swaraj without a settlement with the Mussulmans." But I confess that I saw with great anxiety the provision in the proposals of His Majesty's Government that any Province was to be free to vote itself out of the Indian Union. If it is decided to have an Indian Union, and if the Indian Union has the right to declare independence, then this other State or States would also be wholly independent. If independent, it would have the duty to provide for its own defence, and that duty would entail the raising of a national Army. One immediate effect of that proposal was that the; representatives of the States sent a memorandum to Sir Stafford Cripps, in the course of which they said they would ask for the right of any State or group of Stales which found itself unable to agree to the Indian Union that was being formed also to secede and to make a Union of their own with full sovereign rights. That appears on page 16 of the White Paper that has been published.
That claim was at once endorsed by the Moslem League, who declared it was the considered opinion of that body that such States should have the right of independence that was claimed. That would mean, of course, the break-up of India, and I share the grave concern expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Hailey, and also my noble friend Lord Catto—two members of this House who have a long and very close knowledge of India—as to the possible consequences of this policy. After a century and a half of internal peace in India, it is often imagined that such peace 786 is established and secure, but that, I submit, is a profound error. In the thousands of years of Indian history such an era is exceptional if, indeed, it has not been unique. The traveller in India sees everywhere in the memorials of the past, the heritage of constant wars; the castles and citadels of Delhi and Agra and other cities, and battlefields everywhere show that the history of India has been one of internecine warfare. Subjects of quarrel would not be lacking. In the new Moslem States there would be minorities of Hindus and Sikhs. In the Hindu States there would be minorities of Moslems, and this policy would merely settle one minority question at the expense of creating a dozen new ones.
Such disruption would create in a world which already has too many independent sovereign units, fresh independent States, and wherever there is an international frontier there is a source of possible quarrels and wars. The great sub-continent might find itself, in the generations and centuries to come, thrown back into a political condition like that of the Balkan Peninsula. Great Britain would cut a poor figure in history if, after two centuries of great achievement, she left India to lapse into an era of political confusion and military conflict. I trust, therefore, if in any future negotiations and discussions this Pakistan policy, or any policy tending in that direction, is pursued, it will not be carried so far as not to permit some form of unity at least of the whole Indian sub-continent, in order that All-India may act in the presence of the world as a unit, and internecine conflict and war may be avoided.
The second point to which I would refer relates to the constitutional arrangement proposed during the war. I have long felt—and indeed it is obvious—that under the new political conditions which are dawning in India the position of the Viceroy is very anomalous. He combines in one person two different offices. He is, as representative of the King, exercising the functions of a constitutional sovereign. He is the impartial arbiter between Parties and groups, and he also performs ceremonial functions which in India are of great importance, particularly in consideration of the existence of the States. Secondly, he presides over an Executive Council which is, in effect, a Cabinet, week by week; and day by day he performs extensive and varied 787 administrative duties. In fact he combines with the position of a constitutional monarch that of Prime Minister. I suggest that the separation of these two functions, and their conferment upon two different personalities, must be an essential part of any fundamental change in the constitutional state of India. This might be effected, perhaps, without any large legislative changes as a first step in the transition from the past of India to her future.
This apparently was envisaged by the Lord Privy Seal in the course of his negotiations, for I find in the White Paper, on page 14, in a letter from the President of the Congress to Sir Stafford Cripps, these references to the first interview between these parties. These are the words of the letter:You told me then that there would be a National Government which would function as a Cabinet and that the position of the Viceroy would be analogous to that of the King in England vis-à-vis his Cabinet.That has not been criticized or commented upon by Sir Stafford Cripps in the subsequent part of this document, and, as far as I am aware, it has not received attention in the debate in the other House. In a previous letter the President of the Congress wrote:We did not ask for any legal changes, but we did ask for definite assurances and conventions which would indicate that the new Government would function as a free Government, the members of which act as members of a Cabinet in a constitutional Government.The letter went on to say:The picture, therefore, placed before us is not essentially different from the old one. The whole object which we and I believe you have in view, that is to create a new psychological approach to the people to make them feel their own National Government had come, that they were defending their newly-won freedom, would be completely frustrated when they saw this old picture again with even the old label on.That seems to me to be a point of great and perhaps critical importance in this discussion, and that disagreement or misunderstanding may have contributed very considerably to the breakdown which has occurred. Whether such a change—namely, giving to the Viceroy the position occupied by a constitutional sovereign as representing the King-Emperor while having a separate personality as Prime Minister with a Cabinet—is possible at this moment only those who are in very 788 close touch with the actualities of the case in India could say with any confidence. But it seems to me clearly to be right in principle, and it may be, if discussions are reopened, this might prove to be a central point.
For the rest I believe, after listening to the discussion to-day, and expressing also my own views, that the message of this House to the Government would be to invite them not to register a failure and cease striving for success, but to make still further efforts in the spirit which has animated the discussions. The air has been cleared to a great extent. Many misunderstandings and mistrusts have been removed. It may be that the political atmosphere will change again, and if the times appear propitious I do most earnestly hope that fresh endeavours will be made, for this at least is certain, that in this present great crisis in the history of mankind India, which comprises nearly one-fifth of the whole of the human race, is taking less than her share in the travails of the world and doing less than her duty to mankind.
§ LORD WEDGWOOD
My Lords, the speech that we heard to-day from the noble Duke on the Mission of Sir Stafford Cripps to India may have shown that that Mission had been a failure so far as the defence of India was concerned, but certainly it has been an enormous success so far as enlightening America as to the real position of affairs in India, and as showing this country what the truth is. The truth is that no plan could possibly be accepted by the Congress. The Congress, after all, are in an extremely difficult position. Congress has been built up by demanding the freedom of India—that we should clear out. They have built their power on that—that we should go. Anybody living in India at the present moment must know that is the last thing that Congress could possibly want at this time. Directly Mohammed Jinnah made that statement, which does not occur in the White Paper, that if they cannot be given Pakistan they will take it—directly the Sikhs said "if anything of this sort goes through we shall oppose it"—that upset the whole scheme. The Mahomedans and the Sikhs are the armed fighting races of India, and if we go they can, if they wish to do so, take our place. There is nothing to stop them.
789 I think that even had we accepted the terms that were offered to Sir Stafford Cripps—a Cabinet representing Congress, and the position of the Viceroy as a constitutional sovereign—they would have asked for something further. What is the use of forming a Cabinet of the Congress if the people who are armed in India say: "We won't have it." The situation is largely due to our own fault. I think this situation arose in the days when Lord Minto, in October, 1905, promised the Moslems separate seats elected by a separate electorate. The situation that has been created between the Hindus and Mahomedans cannot now be prevented by anything we can do. It is not a position like that between the North and South of Ireland. It is something far deeper than religion. There is no intermarriage between those two races. Finally, there are no possible grounds of their coming together as equals, for the Mahomedans cannot forget that they ruled India and the Sikhs cannot forget that Ranjit Singh ruled the Punjab, and that they beat the British Army at Chillianwallah and Ferozeshar. The Sikhs are the proudest people in India, and to imagine that they would accept a scheme dictated by politicians and passed by counting heads is to imagine a vain thing. The only thing that the Sikhs count is arms. It is very much the same with the Moslems.
I do not think there is in sight any solution whatever that can preserve India as a whole. The result of the Lord Chancellor's labours in drafting the Government of India Act ought to have opened our eyes. What happened? All that was provided so far as provincial government is concerned is passed and should be working at the present time. As far as the Central Government is concerned I opposed it at the time. It was supported by the whole of the House of Commons and by your Lordships' House. What is the result? It has been a dead letter. It has never been introduced. If you approach this problem from the point of view of India; as a whole there is no hope of a solution that I can see until, indeed, the Hindus are armed and are able to stand up to the others. I believe with Lord Hailey—and it has been said by many other people—that the only solution of our difficulties in India must come through the Provinces. I do not mean the existing Provinces. You will have to recast the Provinces.
790 Think what the demand for Pakistan is. It is not only that those Provinces in which there is a Mahomedan majority shall be able to stand out and be independent. It sounds so simple till you realize that the only two Provinces in which there is a Mahomedan majority are the most backward and the poorest Provinces in India—Sind and the North-West Frontier. In Bengal there is nearly a Mahomedan majority but not quite. Do you think that Mr. Jinnah and the Mahomedans will accept a solution which did not give them that? In the Punjab one-third is Mahomedan and slightly over one-third is Hindu. The ones that count are the Sikhs and there are only six millions of them. You have got to recast your Provinces. It is perfectly possible to make the Eastern part of the Punjab, based on Delhi, into a Sikh State that would leave Mahomedans in the Western Punjab free to join the North-West Frontier or Sind. We did, at the last distribution of Provinces, make a change in Orissa and Bihar. Orissa and Bihar contain a Hindu population in the north and a Telegu or Orissa population in the south. Orissa and Bihar are both purely Hindu, united together in a homogeneous whole. In the same way we took Sind out of Bombay and made a Mahomedan State. You can carry that process further. Madras which is mostly Tamil now could perfectly well be an independent State in whatever the new world federation may be. Probably Sind could be the same. Bihar would be Hindu. We shall have to proceed by Provinces.
I think it was the noble Duke who said that there was opportunity for great progress in future. I do not know in what direction he meant there should be progress, but there is one form of progress which I think is vitally important. That is that the Government in those Provinces which were self-governing, but are not at the present time, should go back to self-government. The most hopeful feature about this breakdown has been that Mr. Rajagopalachari, the Congress Leader in Madras, is trying to get that Government re-established in Madras. I think progress in that direction far more important, than anything else. Until you have provincial self-government—I do not mean independent, but with the rights that they had under the Government of India Act—willingly co-operating you have no chance of building up the internal defences of India.
791 I noticed that the noble Duke spoke only of political progress. What we want to know is what progress we are making in saving India from the Japanese. How far is the éclaircissement of the real position going to lead to Nehru, Jinnah, Rajagopalachari and Sultan Azad being brought into the machine for defending India against the Japanese. We have had no word of that this afternoon. I do not know whether the idea of that co-operation has been dropped entirely, simply because they were not allowed to nominate the Defence Minister, or whether there is any chance that out of this clarification of the issue we may get more friendly relations with Nehru and all the rest, more friendly relations at Simla, more practical assistance in recruiting, and I hope in recruiting for provincial Home Guards as well for the British Indian Army. It is in that direction that we want to see movement more quickly than in anything else.
Some noble Lords seem to think of Nehru as a wild sort of extremist. I know him very well. I got a letter from him six months ago written from gaol. He wrote about his views on political philosophy, saying that he was not a Communist and was much more of my way of thinking. There was no kind of bitterness about being in gaol, except that he could not get the books he wanted! You must remember that the Nehrus are a family of Kashmir Brahmins with a pedigree of five thousand years. They are naturally a little contemptuous of us moderns. They are the quintessence of the wisdom of two or three hundred generations of thinkers. These people may well be contemptuous of Westerners; but, in any case, they are very much more imbued with English feelings, with love of liberty and independence and lack of servility than many other races in the world. There is no grovelling and no bending double in India to-day. We have taught them something. We have straightened their backs for them. Macaulay and Bentinck and particularly Burke have created a modern Indian culture. If we could only end this stupid class antagonism between the British governing caste in India and the Indian governing caste we should be able to beat the Japanese.
792 We should be able to make friends with these' people. When we are both in danger together, when we are both in arms together, when good news for- the one is good news for the other and bad news for the one is bad news for the other, it is a fine opportunity for reuniting two great peoples, laying the foundation for something free and decent in the future. I do not think that they will ever ask us to go. I think that the best way to ensure that we shall remain in some sense in India, influencing them without directing them, is to say that whenever any Province wishes us to take out the British Army and Governor we will do so, on a majority vote in the Legislative Council; and that we shall not go back unless a two-thirds majority want us to. As long as the British can just prevent the peoples in India flying at each other's throats they will be not so unwelcome.
We can break down this absurd colour bar which is the root of all evil. I think this Declaration has done a great deal of good, but we must understand that we cannot expect Indians to make any suggestions during the war, and we cannot expect politicians to cut their own throats. We have to look forward now, perhaps for years, to a united struggle with the Indian peoples against a common enemy, uniting them in a war for freedom against tyranny. I know that their heart is in that war with us. The obstacle between the races is one that has been built up by stupidity and domination; it could be wiped out by honesty such as they have had from Sir Stafford Cripps and such as I know we can get from the Indian Rulers. Honesty on both sides will bring together these two great races, not as master and servant but as comrades in a great cause.
§ VISCOUNT BENNETT
My Lords, I venture to make a few observations only because I think I can contribute some word of encouragement to the Government in the effort now being made to solve the Indian problem. Anyone from the Dominions who has attended Imperial Conferences is fully aware of the anxiety on the part of all Dominion statesmen that this problem should be solved because it is a matter of very considerable importance to every one of the Dominions. That anxiety has been frequently expressed by resolution and otherwise, as 793 will be found in the proceedings of many Imperial Conferences, notably those held during the last Great War. It is erroneous to suggest that Canada became confederated without pressure from without. My noble friend Lord Strabolgi referred to the fact that Canada had no Japanese menace when it became confederated. There was something much worse. Four Provinces, New Brunswick, Novia Scotia, Ontario and Quebec, became confederated as an indirect result of the American war.
It was thought that Canadians and Great Britain, in particular, had a friendly attitude of mind towards the Southern States and, when the war was over, the Congress of the United States considered a Bill which was introduced to annex Canada. The British authorities were most anxious that Canada should become confederated, but there were troubles there just exactly as you have them in India to-day. There were racial troubles. There was the French population of Quebec, a recently conquered people, there were difficulties of religion, there were difficulties of language, difficulties with respect to education. Those problems were so strongly before the people for solution that the feeling between Upper and Lower Canada became very acute. Debates were held in this Chamber with respect to the Canadian situation. It will be recalled that on more than one occasion the Commissioners made reports, and there was a Union of Upper and Lower Canada. But, alas, there was no unity and no harmony, and very strong feelings manifested themselves, as they have done in India.
Many people said, as ray noble friend Lord Wedgwood has said of India, that there could never be unity in Canada, and vet when this pressure from without became apparent, when they were faced with a peril that was very real, their love of the institutions of their country and of their past was such that they held a conference, which at one time did not look like resulting in success. When I read the Declaration that had been made I could not but think of the futile efforts made towards confederation in the first instance. Then they met finally at Quebec and they adopted certain resolutions which suggest some analogy to the conditions that confront us here to-day. First, they protected the rights of minorities. It was regarded as being absolutely essential that 794 the rights of minorities should be protected. The rights of the racial minorities were dealt with as were matters of religion and their educational institutions. All that was Number 1. Number 2 was a clear recognition of the fact that there were treaty obligations that must also be respected. There were treaty obligations that arose out of the Treaty of Paris of 1763, and obligations, also, connected with the capitulation of Quebec. All these were respected and provided for in the Constitution of Canada.
But the four Provinces were only a small area of Canada; the North-West territory, the great stretch of country from the Great Lakes to the mountains, the great Province of British Columbia were not included in the Confederation. The Confederation was created out of these four Provinces and there was provision to add to the number. But it did not succeed at Quebec or elsewhere until one of the strong Anti-Confederates, the great leader of his Party of that day, realizing the situation, joined hands with MacDonald, the Confederate, and made possible the Confederation of all Canada. I am very hopeful, having all these things in mind; and after listening to the very lucid and concise statement of the noble Duke, one cannot but realize that we have gone a very long way along the path to success. I never despair when I hear of the achievements of Sir Stafford Cripps, which were so clearly and concisely related by the noble Duke so that there was no difficulty in understanding them.
It has been said that there can be no such thing as a Central Government in India; that it must be through the Provinces. That was exactly the position in Canada. The Provinces were all Crown Colonies, and it was through the Provinces uniting together, forming a Central Government and abandoning certain of their rights in favour of a central authority, that we ultimately got confederation. I should think, judging from what I have heard in your Lordships' House and what I have read, that it would be possible to work out some such sort of scheme as that for India in spite of the danger which to-day confronts that country as a whole. I suppose that one who comes to this country from a Dominion looks at these problems from an entirely different standpoint to those who are accustomed to deal with them, 795 but it does seem strange that it is possible for any people to have enjoyed, for a century and a half, the benefits that have come to India under British rule—and I, as a public man, have looked on the adminstration of Britain in India as one of the very finest records in all the world—without fully appreciating them. I have said publicly, and I repeat it here to-day, that if England were to disappear she would be remembered more in the future for the great things which she has done in India than for some of her great battles. I think that the century and a half of peace and progress that has been enjoyed in India under British rule constitutes a magnificent record, a record of which this people should be justifiably proud. I, as a British subject, am very proud of it.
I venture to say, too, that those who have read the first volume of the Statutory Report of the Commission of which the noble and learned Lord Chancellor was Chairman cannot but be struck by the fact. The Report does not glorify what we have done. It is a plain statement of fact, beautifully written. But no British subject reading it could help being proud of the magnificent record of his country in India. That, at any rate, is the feeling I have always had. Therefore, I believe that Central Government in India is a possibility. I recall a time when Sir Henry Lawrence visited Canada and gave an address on India which made a profound impression on my mind. By accident it happened that the noble Earl, who was sitting here until a little while ago, was then Governor-General of Canada, and that evening Sir Henry Lawrence, at the invitation of the then Prime Minister, dined at Rideau Hall. I was also a guest and I can recall very vividly the impression left on my mind by a conversation that I had with Sir Henry Lawrence that day. He always felt that one of the difficulties in regard to the Indian situation—and he spoke with singular authority—arose from the fact that India is a country of tremendous population, comprising, as the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, said, one-fifth of the human race, who have seen very little of the outside world, and less of the operations of democratic government.
He suggested—and I thought the suggestion well worth consideration, and I notice that he has made it again since— 796 that if we had a Commission, with a secretariat, composed wholly of Indians, who would travel among the democratic countries—it would be very difficult to do so now—and see something of how democratic government operates, of what democracy means, and the necessity for education and for understanding, they would perhaps be better able to appreciate what they were asking for; because Dominion status involves some responsibilities and duties as well as rights. Those who have had to carry on the administration in the Dominions have, perhaps, a very clear realization of something which, judging from their speeches, and making due allowance for their political character—and all of us who have had anything to do with popular assemblies know what that means—the Indian leaders do not seem altogether to realize. I believe that it would be a very valuable thing if some of the leading men of India could have an opportunity of seeing something of the operation of democratic government in countries such as the United States of America and, possibly, the overseas Dominions of the Crown. To that extent I felt that the suggestion of Sir Henry Lawrence was well worthy of consideration.
There is one thing more that I desire to say. I feel that it is my duty to endeavour to correct an impression which I too frequently hear expressed, to the effect that there is something in the Statute of Westminster which contemplates the independence of the Dominions. The Preamble, based upon the resolutions passed by the Imperial Conference, and the Statute, drafted as it was by representatives of the Dominions—including, of course, representatives of this kingdom—recite that we are united by a common allegiance to the Crown and freely associated in the British Commonwealth of Nations. There is nothing there which implies separation or independence. There is, however, something more, to which I referred on the last occasion when I addressed your Lordships. There is a section in that Statute which expressly recognizes the supremacy of this Parliament before any Dominion can become independent. That section provides that no Statute passed by this Parliament shall have any force or effect in any overseas Dominion unless at the request and with the consent of that Dominion, so that if 797 any one of the overseas Dominions desired independence they would, by appropriate request in their Parliament, and with the consent of a majority of that Parliament, request this Parliament to take the appropriate action which would result in their independence.
Your leaders and statesmen have made it apparent in years gone by that you would never stand in their way if they did desire independence; that has always been made clear ever since I was a boy. Your leading statesmen have said year after year that if any of the Dominions asked to go, this country would part with them with regret and wish them God-speed. It is not a mere declaration of independence on the part of one of these overseas Dominions, however, which is required. There is in the Statute of Westminster a recognition of the supremacy of this Parliament in right of the whole realm of the British Commonwealth of Nations. I mention that because it does pain me—and I say that deliberately—to hear it suggested that the Dominions can secede or make a declaration in that respect. Thoughtless people may say that sort of thing from time to time, but the real truth is this. I have travelled over all the Dominions, and I have heard their expressions of opinion, sometimes of criticism, ofttimes of resentment, but you would never get a resolution through the Parliament of any overseas Dominion which would request consent to the severance of relations with this part of the British realm known as Great Britain. It is part of the Constitution of Canada that there shall be this connexion, and I believe that it will long continue to be so.
That is all that I have to say. I should, however, like to congratulate the noble Duke on the lucid and concise statement which he made, and, if it is not presumptuous to do so on the part of one who has had long experience, but himself made a maiden speech not long since, I should like to congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Warwick, en what he has said, because it requires great courage to differ from the general trend of public opinion. Nothing, however, is more conducive to the development of democratic institutions, to the safety of the State, and to the maintenance of great traditions than that that spirit should live and should be encouraged in our Parliaments.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (VISCOUNT SIMON)
My Lords, I think that we are coming to the end of this debate. It has been a very interesting one. There is a number of matters with which I ought to deal, but I shall try to do so with brevity, and not keep your Lordships longer than I can help. In the first place, running through the whole debate has been the sentiment—very powerfully expressed, for example, by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury—of admiration for the manner in which the Lord Privy Seal discharged his task. It is a good working rule that one Minister had better not pronounce an encomium on another, even on an occasion when the other one deserves it; but this sentiment of admiration is not confined to your Lordships' House, and I think it is only right to note this general view, that it was an act of high political courage on the part of my right honourable friend to undertake this difficult Mission, and to undertake personally to commend to Indian leaders and Parties this plan, a plan which was agreed upon by the whole Cabinet, by every Minister, but which the Lord Privy Seal himself did so much to help to frame. I hope it is not improper for me to say that the whole country is greatly in his debt.
The country is in his debt, I venture to think, not only for the clearness and for the firmness with which he discharged his duty, but for something else also—for the example that he has set of a fine temper and the absence of the smallest particle of recrimination when he must himself have been greatly disappointed. It is right to recall the telegram which the Prime Minister sent him when the failure of his Mission became known. It appeared in the Press. The Prime Minister telegraphed:You have done everything in human power; and your tenacity, perseverance, and resourcefulness have proved how great was the British desire to reach a settlement. Even though your hopes have not been fulfilled, you have rendered a very important service to the common cause, and the foundations have been laid for the future progress of the peoples of India.I think that we shall all agree with the noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, when he said in the course of his speech that most certainly no blame rests on my right honourable friend if the Mission did not succeed.
While the Mission did not succeed, I agree very much with what has been said 799 by several of your Lordships in this debate—namely, that that is very far from saying that this disappointment should be reckoned as a final failure. Even at this stage two most important things have been achieved which I would briefly state. First of all, it has done more than anything else could do to demonstrate both to Indian opinion and to neutral observers in America (as my noble friend Lord Wedgwood said), and elsewhere, the sincerity of the British purpose. We know our purpose to be sincere. It is the purpose of helping India to the achievement of her goal of complete self-government. I most sincerely adopt, if I may, the concluding sentence of the interesting speech just made by my noble friend Lord Bennett about the maiden speech of Lord Warwick. There are few forms of courage more absolutely genuine and, I may add, more rare, than the courage which states boldly a point of view not generally shared in a debate where great emotions are aroused, and it is an attribute which I honour whenever I see it. The noble Earl asked whether we were not going down the wrong road, and he made some very pointed observations on the subject. I would venture to remind him that in this matter the British Government and the British people are pledged—whether wisely or unwisely only some future historian may tell.
I would not quite agree with the noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, when he said, if I heard his phrase rightly, that this position taken about India in British politics is a matter only five or ten years old. Oh no, it goes back further than that. "Realization of responsible Government in India"—that was the central feature of the Montagu-Chelmsford Declaration in 1917.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I am sorry, I did not hear correctly. I think it must be so, because my noble friend was a member of the Government at the time. But let us go back to that time, which is taking the noble Earl, Lord Warwick, to very early days indeed. By 1917 that Declaration had been made, and from the time it was made it is right to realize that it was not the Declaration of 800 one Party. It was one of those Parliamentary Declarations which are accepted everywhere as the permanent objective of British policy at large. I have always thought it an interesting circumstance that it is recorded in Lord Zetland's life of Lord Curzon that he attributes to Lord Curzon the actual production of that phrase. It was in the Preamble of the Government of India Act, 1919; it was the pledge and the assurance that were offered to India, not by a particular Government, but by Britain itself. It was the basis upon which every inquiry into Indian constitutional problems has been conducted ever since—and here I must express my thanks to more than one speaker for referring to the Commission over which I presided—it is the meaning of the Declaration of Dominion status which was made by Lord Irwin; it was the foundation of the Round-Table Conference, in which several of your Lord-ships took part; and it was the foundation of the legislation passed in 1935. And therefore it is too late to consider whether this is the right road or the wrong road. I myself think it is the right road, but at any rate if we are going to try, as we must and will, to fulfil the anticipations we have created and to stand before the world fair and square as sincere people who are trying to carry out our pledges, then there is no question as to the general direction in which this policy must be developed.
The noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, in his most, interesting speech, spoke of the Act of 1935. He must, I think, have been referring to those clauses of the Act which make provision for a possible Federal Constitution at the Centre. Of course, the noble Marquess knows well, nobody better, that at this moment the Act of 1935 is the Act under which the Provincial Governments are being carried on. This very Resolution which the noble Duke, the Duke of Devonshire, moved and which is the peg for our debate, is a Resolution under a section of the Act of 1935. Perhaps I might say here to my noble friend Lord Wedgwood, who treated me as though among my other occupations I was the draftsman of that portentous Statute, that I had nothing whatever to do with it: I was very much otherwise engaged. I have full responsibility for it, of course, for I was a member of the Government that carried it, but if, as I gather, he is one of those 801 who think that the ultimate solution is to be got along the lines of developing provincial government, then at his leisure I would respectfully commend to him the second volume of the Simon Report.
The plain fact is that while we all know we are sincere about this, India was by no means satisfied that we were. The sincerity and the whole-heartedness of these Declarations made by a succession of British statesmen were doubted. The Lord Privy Seal pointed out in his speech in the House of Commons a thing I have often observed, and a very interesting fact—it is not in the least a criticism, for we all have our temperaments. The Indian political mind is very much drawn to looking for, and with great acuteness ascertaining and extracting, any doubt or vagueness or suspected lacuna there may be in a political proposition. I think that is perfectly true, and the fact is that that has led to a good deal of suspicion of Government intentions because they were vaguely expressed; and when it is said in this debate, as it was by at any rate one speaker, that it was not altogether an advantage to go out to India with a plan cut and dried, I perfectly understand what is meant by that criticism, and there is much force in it, because naturally on the Indian side negotiation is the attractive method. On the other hand, I do not know how long Sir Stafford Cripps would have to spend in India if there was to be a general negotiation undertaken over the whole field, and in fact you would have again lost what is the great gain of the Declaration just made in clearing away a doubt as to what in fact the British Government meant. My noble friend Lord Samuel has made a most important point in regard to that, and I will deal with it in a moment.
I think therefore that, whatever the errors and the shortcomings are—and, my Lords, when an effort fails, either a military effort or a political effort, you may be sure there will be plenty of people ready to point out the failure—nobody who has really studied the plan which the Lord Privy Seal took out to India and who has read the White Paper has any right to doubt the sincerity of the British people on this subject any more. Limitations and difficulties there certainly are, but they are not of our making. They are, as the noble Lord on the Opposition Front Bench (Lord Wedgwood) has said, 802 inherent in the subject matter. They proceed from the ineluctable circumstances of the problem, and the best that any honest man can do is to strive honestly to play his part to overcome them. I do not think anybody could have personal contact with the Lord Privy Seal on this matter, speaking as he did with the full authority of the Cabinet, without knowing in his heart that, if sincerity is the essential quality, then sincerity is there. That is the first thing—and it is a very big thing—that has been achieved.
The second thing is quite as important. I claim that this effort of the British Government, so manfully carried through by the Lord Privy Seal, has brought home to the British public and to friends of Indian self-government throughout the world the inherent complexities of the Indian political problem. I may be permitted, perhaps, in a single sentence to speak of myself. I spent the best part of three years on this subject. I have in my life been accustomed to study a great many complicated things and try to understand and explain them, but I do not believe there is a more complicated subject in public affairs than the constitutional problem in India. Yet very large numbers of thoughtful, sincere, able people have, in the past, spoken of a solution as though it were an easy matter in which we have only got to follow well-established precedents. There are even some who have suggested that the reason why there is any problem as yet unsolved at all is the unwillingness, obstinacy, or want of good will on the part of Great Britain. Those of us who have had the duty or the opportunity of making ourselves familiar with the ramifications of the Indian constitutional problem not only-know it is really complicated, but find it very trying when well-meaning critics speak as though all that was wanted was good will and an abstract formula.
There has been this further difficulty. Indian political reformers—many of them men of very great ability—have naturally tended to develop their ideas on Indian self-government strictly upon the lines that have been followed by British institutions. Both in Britain and in India a great many people who rather confidently point the road to constitutional advance look to British models, just as in both cases, in India as well as in Britain, they carry on 803 their discussions in the English language. The British scheme of self-government is not the only scheme in the world.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
It may be the best, as I hear my noble friend say—I always admire his sturdy patriotism in these matters—but it is not the only one. I confess I have regretted sometimes that it has not been appreciated that while we all want to see the reality of self-government in India, the garb of self-government must in every case take the constitutional form which is fitted to the body of the wearer. For example, there is self-government in the United States, there is self-government in Switzerland; there are still, I am glad to say, other instances, though not so many as I should wish. It does not at all follow that yon will necessarily arrive at the best solution by strictly treating the model with which we are familiar as though, to use the phrase of the Secretary of State in winding up the debate in another place, it was a "sealed pattern." The need for reconciling the claims of the more numerous Hindu community with the equally powerful minority community of Moslems—90,000,000 of them—is an instance in point. We have nothing whatever in our domestic experience in these islands which in the least corresponds with the nature of that conflict—nothing whatever.
Those who say things like that are not seeking to postpone Indian self-government by a single hour. They are merely urging that the solution must be found in adjustment and in compromise. It was adjustment and compromise which the Government plan tried to promote. I am far from agreeing with all the things said by Mr. Gandhi, but more than one speaker in the debate to-day has quoted him, and I would point out to my noble friend Lord Samuel—I am sure he knows—that though Mr. Gandhi has said it before, the significant and interesting thing is that he said it in slightly different terms after Sir Stafford Cripps's efforts had failed, and when he was leaving India. What he said was:The achievement of independence for India is impossible until Indians have themselves solved the communal tangle.804 I have been asked by the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Salisbury) and by others how this Government plan was received by the other minorities. If the noble Marquess will turn to page 22 of the White Paper, he will see what was the answer of the Depressed Classes, the classes that used to be called the Untouchables. I shall read two short sentences. They are contained in a letter addressed to the Lord Privy Seal by Dr. Ambedkar and Mr. Rajah, both of whom I know very well, both of them beyond all question the leading spokesmen of the Depressed Classes, both of them, I think, members of the Round-Table Conference. They say:We told you when we met you … that the proposals of His Majesty's Government relating to the constitutional development of India will not be acceptable to the Depressed Classes for the reasons which we placed before you at the interview.I shall read one more sentence:We are, all of us,"—that is, after having had consultations with their friends—absolutely convinced that the proposals are calculated to do the greatest harm to the Depressed Classes and are sure to place them under an unmitigated system of Hindu rule.That is the answer to the question put by the noble Marquess. I am not saying whether it is right or wrong, because the question was not whether the view they took was a wise one; the question was what view they did take.
In the same way, if my noble friend would turn to the next page, page 23, he sees there the communication from the Sikh All-Parties Committee, and again I think two sentences are enough:May we begin by stating that after giving careful consideration to the proposals which have now been published from the point of view of (1) India's integrity and (2) the Sikh position, we find them unacceptable. …They go on to give reasons. The next paragraph says:Ever since the British advent our community has fought for England in every battle-field of the Empire. …And then they proceed, rather reproachfully, to complain that this proposal should be put forward.
The attitude of the Moslem League—I quite agree with the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, not the whole of the Moslem community—is, of course, well known to your Lordships, and I will not labour it. 805 What I want to point out is this—because it is most significant—that if you take the two major communities, the Hindu community as represented by Congress, and the Moslem League, you find that this White Paper, this plan at which we laboured so hard, is rejected by Congress for exactly the opposite reason for which the Moslem League rejected it. They both reject it, but they reject it for opposite reasons. To Congress the plan is faulty because, amongst other things, it provides for the possible contracting out of Provinces of British India. If a Province is not prepared to accept the new Constitution this plan contemplates—no doubt it has the possibility—a Pakistan development. I am for my own part very much alive to the most powerful criticisms which were made on that part of the proposal from his great knowledge by Lord Hailey, and also by my noble friend Lord Samuel, but I am not discussing that. What I am saying is that is one of the reasons why Congress thought the proposals unacceptable.
But what was the reason why the Moslem League thought them unacceptable? The Moslem League thought them unacceptable for a reason that will be found on page 19. Again I venture to read to the House two passages on page 19:The Mussalmans, after 25 years of genuine efforts for the reconciliation of the two major communities and the bitter experience of the failure of such efforts, are convinced that it is neither just nor possible, in the interests of peace and the happiness of the two peoples, to compel to constitute one Indian Union composed of the two principal nations—Hindus and Moslems.That is a direct refusal to the idea of a single United India. In the next paragraph they say:In the Draft Declaration a Constitution-making body has been proposed with the primary object of creating one Indian Union. So far as the Moslem League: is concerned, it has finally decided that the only solution of India's constitutional problem is the partition of India into independent zones; and it will therefore be unfair to the Moslems to compel them to enter such a Constitution-making body whose main object is the creation of a new Indian Union.Is it not a very significant, and I must say very disturbing, fact, that a proposal which, when published, was recognized, I think one may say all over the world, as being a genuine effort to find a solution, is dealt with from opposite sides in that particular way? I must be sure that I do justice to the Congress Party about 806 this. The Congress Party declared that they wished for a Constitution for the whole of India in which the special needs and claims of minorities would be fully met. That is the contents of a well-known resolution passed at Poona. I am not questioning the sincerity of that declaration in the very least, but the practical effect is that the minorities do not accept it. Promises, they think, are not enough, and that—it must be so—creates a great difficulty. It seems to me it is a difficult that only can be solved by the exercise by Indian leaders themselves of the highest gifts of statesmanship and good will. Everything that the British Government or the British people can do to help they will gladly do, but these Indian politicians are right when they say that the responsibility for framing their Constitution and getting over these difficulties must primarily rest upon them.
I will venture to say only one word on the well-known topic of Hindu-Moslem tension. Naturally I have had very close opportunities of learning what I could about it. It would be a complete error to seek to represent that there is not a great deal of good feeling between individual Moslems and individual Hindus. For a great many purposes they work together on quite pleasant and satisfactory terms. As was pointed out in the speech made by Lord Strabolgi, at this moment the President of the Congress Party, a predominantly Hindu Party, is, in fact, a Mahomedan. But what I think has really happened is this. In the old days it was easier for these rivalries to be restrained than now when political India feels itself on the eve of actual authority and self-government. The two communities are separated in very many striking ways—religion, race, past history, social practice, no inter-marriage, many things. It may be true, as the noble Lord said just now, that separate electorates started in the time of Lord Minto have tended to keep the separation. But it was not done for the sake of maintaining the separation; it was done for the purpose of meeting a claim which was made by these powerful people who were determined, come what may, that they would not be overset by another race and another community, far cleverer, far nimbler, far more politically adroit, far richer, than themselves. And the form in which they sought to get that 807 protection was that they should be granted separate electorates, separate seats.
It is very unfortunate, no doubt. We know very well in the history of our own country how much of our social and political unity is due to the fact that when it comes to the polling day one is like another and we all go there together. It is a very different thing if you have these great races segregated like that, each of them voting in their own booth, each of them selecting a man of their own race, each of them filling up a particular seat in the constituency which is earmarked for a man of their own race. But really, my Lords, that is not the explanation of this rivalry, and sometimes this tension, today. It is due to this simple fact: The Hindu community approaching self-government in India naturally lays claim to the rights of the majority—a good democratic principle. If they like they could add that they are a better educated community and that they have much greater wealth. The other community, the Moslems, with numbers twice that of the population of Great Britain, is the more determined to secure effective protection for its members, and that means adequate representation. It means also a full share of official and political offices. Hence this intense political rivalry.
A point which has not always been observed in connexion with the suggestion that all the members of the Viceroy's Council might be Indians, except the Viceroy himself and the Commander-in-Chief, is perhaps this. No doubt the development will tend that way, but do not imagine that it will come without a strain, for the moment that the Moslem population know that the seats on the Viceroy's Council are all to be held by Indians they will claim fifty per cent. of those seats. At present when there is also a limited number of British members on the Viceroy's Council they may be content to be a minority, because if there was an attempt, as they imagine, to overrule their just rights, they think that the British members of the Council would support them. If you take away the British members, as I dare say it is quite right to do, you must not imagine that you are going to solve the Hindu-Moslem problem. You will have created a new difficulty straight off.
That is not said with any desire to put the smallest obstacle in the way of the 808 attainment of self-government in India. We are pledged to it. No man is more prominently pledged to it than the man responsible for writing or helping to write the Simon Report. But the question really is a question of how to do it. It is a question of means, not of ends. The all-important thing to notice in this new proposal of the British Government is that it recognizes that there is only one method by which this can be done, and that is the method of leaving Indians to frame their own Constitution. The Montagu-Chelmsford plan was a British plan. Before the Act of 1935 the Round-Table Conference was an Indo-British Conference and the object was to produce a joint plan. It was necessary to go further. The precedents in our Dominions, to which my noble friend Viscount Bennett made so interesting a reference just now, indicate to the Indian politician that lesson. He sees that the Australian Commonwealth was worked out in Australia by Australians. The Union of South Africa was devised in South Africa by South Africans. I was much interested to hear the qualification mentioned by the noble Viscount, Lord Bennett, but to the Indian mind the Quebec Resolutions are Resolutions passed by Canadians for Canada. Therefore why not an Indian Constitution worked out by Indians in India?
I think that the proposal which Sir Stafford Cripps took out to India was in that respect a wise one. We went further. We went very far. I do not see how anyone could go further. In that plan, as noble Lords will see on page 4 of the White Paper, His Majesty's Government undertook "to accept and to implement forthwith the Constitution so framed." Just as in the case of Australia the Australian Constitution is nothing more than a schedule to a British Act of Parliament, so here. We only made two conditions in this plan. It was subject only to the right of any Province in British India to contract out—I will not go back on that—and subject to the signing of a treaty between the Government here and the Constituent Assembly in India to cover matters arising out of the complete transfer of responsibility from British to Indian hands, with provision for the protection of racial and religious minorities. That there should be no shadow of doubt in the minds of India's politicians that we meant what we said 809 right up to the hilt, we said in terms that we shall not seek in that treaty between this country and the future self-governing India to impose any restriction or any stipulation as regards the future relations of the Union of India with this country or with the other Dominions. I find it impossible to see how we could go further. I cannot see any possible stipulation here which is not rendered absolutely essential by the circumstances of the case.
Why did we select this method of a treaty? Because we thought if we were to seek to put these provisions for the protection of minorities into the ultimate Act, as was done in 1935, that might be regarded as an attempt by us to impose something which the other party to the discussion was not prepared to accept. But there could be nothing more level between two parties than a treaty, and that was the reason why the matter was put in that form. Instead of seeking to insert in the sections of a British Act of Parliament the necessary protection of minorities, to which we are pledged by the most solemn pledges, we emphasized the equality of a self-governing India with self-governing Britain by proposing a treaty as between equals.
There was a further criticism which we anticipated and which we felt we must do our best to provide against. British statesmen, who have to make proposals for progressive sell-government for India are always in danger of being put in this dilemma. If they frame their own scheme, then it may be rejected not merely on a consideration of merits, but because it is regarded as an attempt by this country to force or foist a Constitution upon India. If on the other hand they say, "Very well, then, let India herself frame her future Constitution," then the British Government are open to the charge—it really is a quite unjustified charge—that they are relying upon the differences which exist between communities in India and that in their heart of hearts they feel safe because agreement will not be achieved. That is the dilemma which is perfectly well known to everybody who has studied to improve the Constitution of India. Therefore what should we do? We said: "Here is a scheme according to which the Constitution-making body may be composed as soon as the war is over" But we also said: "This scheme will be set aside if between now and the end of the war 810 leaders of Indian opinion and of the principal communities agree upon some other or better form of Constitution-making body." It may be that Indian politicians feel that there are great difficulties about this, but they are not difficulties of our making. I know that I am speaking for His Majesty's Government when I say that we will strain every nerve, as the Viceroy does—and we owe much to him for his steady help throughout this difficult time—we will do everything we can to make the best arrangements which Indians desire for this Constitution-making body.
I will only detain you for a few moments to deal with one further point which was raised by my noble friend Viscount Samuel. Lord Samuel put his finger on a couple of passages in the letters printed in the White Paper, and raised the question whether there had not been some confusion, or obscurity, or misunderstanding with reference to the possibility of setting up in India now, not at the end of the war, what might be called a responsible Government. And the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, called attention to the same point and urged with great fervour that really there should not be any legal niceties on a matter of such importance. Well, certainly there should not be. But let us look at this thing as a practical matter. First of all, nothing could possibly be plainer from a reading of the Government plan than that it is not proposed, and is not thought to be possible, to make constitutional changes in India during the war. Lord Strabolgi, I think, said that there was no time to be lost when the enemy was at the gate. There are various possible forms of action when the enemy is at the gate, but I should have thought that the worst of all things to do would be to say: "Well, that being so, let us sit down and have a new Constitution."
My Lords, this really is too important a matter to let pass. I cannot let this go. What I say is that one thing you can do, when the enemy is at the gate, is to form a Committee of Safety. I did not use that term when I spoke before, but I use it now. If you can form a Committee of Safety for India which will be supported by the mass of Indians, why not take the opportunity of doing so while we have it?
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
That seems to me to be a very big "if." I was speaking of the constitutional position. It was made perfectly plain, I think, to all people of good sense, that there really could not be a change in the constitutional position during the war. My noble friend Viscount Samuel quoted a couple of passages, and I see the force of his quotations. But the noble Viscount did not quote to your Lordships from the plain statement made by Sir Stafford Cripps on the subject. If you turn to page 13 of the White Paper you will see that Sir Stafford Cripps, with his usual clearness and directness, stated the position beyond all possibility of doubt. This is what he wrote:… you suggest 'a truly National Government' be formed which must be a 'Cabinet Government with full power.' Without constitutional changes of a most complicated character and on a very large scale this would not be possible, as you realize. Were such a system to be introduced by convention under the existing circumstances the nominated Cabinet (nominated presumably by the major political organizations) responsible to no one but itself, could not be removed and would in fact constitute an absolute dictatorship of the majority.This suggestion would be rejected by all minorities in India, since it would subject all of them to a permanent and autocratic majority in the Cabinet. Nor would it be consistent with the pledges already given by His Majesty's Government to protect the rights of those minorities. In a country such as India where communal divisions are still so deep, an irresponsible majority Government of this kind is not possible.Apart from this, however, until such time as the Indian peoples frame their new Constitution, His Majesty's Government must continue to carry out its duty to those large sections of the Indian people to whom it has given its pledges.My noble friend pointed out that one of his quotations is dated a day later and said he had observed that there was no reply to that. Surely the passage which I have just read, which is entirely plain and quite exhaustive of the subject, is a plain answer. People use words at times without considering all that is involved. Take the term "responsible government." In this country of course that means that the House of Commons by a vote can turn the Government out. That is not the Constitution in British India. Why, the principal leaders of the Congress Party at this moment are not even members of the Central Legislature. Pandit Nehru has never been in the Central Legislature. Mr. Rajagopalachari, late Prime Minister of Madras, has been in the 812 Madras Legislature it is true, but not in the Central Legislature. An important Congress Leader, Mr. Pant, who was late Prime Minister of the United Provinces, has never sat in the Central Legislature. Mr. Gandhi has never sat in any Legislature at all. You cannot have responsible Government unless the Ministers composing it are responsible to somebody. They are not responsible, manifestly, to the Central Legislature in India, and the existing Constitution makes no such provision. There would not, in fact, be responsibility to anybody, and you would, therefore, have a majority which is a Congress majority placed in the saddle without power of removal and under no responsibility to anybody whatever except to the Congress organization. I think that is what Sir Stafford Cripps very plainly explained in the passages that I have just read.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
If I may interrupt for one moment I would like to say that I was not referring to responsible Government. I was referring to what the President of Congress stated had been Sir Stafford Cripps's own proposal, and which had not subsequently been denied. This was that there would be a National Government which would function as a Cabinet and that the position of the Viceroy would be analogous to that of the King, vis-à-vis his Cabinet. That was what I was referring to. The present Government in India at the centre is not a Government which depends directly upon any Parliament. It is responsible to the Secretary of State, who is himself responsible to this Parliament of one House of which we are members. If this change were made that position, substantially, would remain, but with this difference. The Prime Minister would probably be an Indian responsible to the Viceroy and appointed by him, just as the King appoints the Prime Minister of this country, and the members of the Cabinet would be chosen by that Prime Minister, in consultation with the Viceroy.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, it may sound very plausible, but, with the most sincere respect to my noble friend, I really do not think that such a scheme is at present conceivable. The Viceroy in India is not like the Governor-General in a Dominion. The Viceroy is the most important active executive officer in the whole country.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
Do you think that such a change could be made without altering the Constitution? Of course it could not. It is inherent in the Act of 1935 not only that the Viceroy is in that position, but that he has in addition an overriding power, even though the majority of his Council decides one thing, in some cases to override it. You cannot pass from that situation at a blow, between night and morning, to an imitation of the British Cabinet; and I must say that I think that Sir Stafford Cripps's exposition of that subject was perfectly clear and, though I quite recognize why my noble friend quotes the passage he does, I think that when one reads the White Paper as a whole one will see that the misunderstanding was not on Sir Stafford Cripps's side.
I have said all that I wish to say, and I apologize for keeping your Lordships; I am sure that many of you must have wished to leave. This is a subject which fascinates everybody who has ever had to deal with it. I shall not go so far as to say with Kipling:When you hear the East a-callinYou will never hear nought else.But it is quite impossible to have immersed oneself in these questions to the best of one's powers and sympathies for years without the subject remaining one of the permanent and intimate interests of one's life. I can honestly say that there is nothing in the future development of a Constitution anywhere which would make me so rejoice as if I saw more plainly than I do how this immensely difficult problem will be finally and satisfactorily solved in India. In the meantime, we must try our very utmost to fulfil that which we have begun, and we must, as more than one noble Lord has said, remember that the enemy is at the gates of India. I shall not use the phrase "Committee of Public Safety," but my noble friend will observe, at the end of the Government document, that the strongest appeal is made to Indians of all sorts and kinds to come in and render the utmost help in the work of defending their own country.
But let us end on a more consoling note. You will have observed how, in the last few days, some of the most distinguished leaders of Indian political opinion have 814 been declaring most stoutly that, come what may, the Indian people will resist, and that they will never accept the domination of Japan. It may be that out of these trials and tribulations more light will come, and, when it does, nobody will have more reason to rejoice than the British Parliament.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ THE DUKE OF DEVONSHIRE
My Lords, I beg to move that the second Resolution standing in my name be approved.
§ Moved, That this House approves the continuance in force of the Proclamation issued under Section 93 of the Government of India Act, 1935, by the Governor of Bombay on 4th November, 1939, a copy of which was presented to this House on 29th November, 1939(The Duke of Devonshire.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ THE DUKE OF DEVONSHIRE
My Lords, I beg to move that the third Resolution standing in my name be approved.
§ Moved, That this House approves the continuance in force of the Proclamation issued under Section 93 of the Government of India Act, 1935, by the Governor of the United Provinces on 3rd November, 1939, and of his Proclamation varying the same issued on 1st December, 1939, copies of which were presented to this House on 29th November, 1939, and 16th January, 1940, respectively.—(The Duke of Devonshire.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ THE DUKE OF DEVONSHIRE
My Lords, I beg to move that the fourth Resolution standing in my name be approved.
§ Moved, That this House approves the continuance in force of the Proclamation issued under Section 93 of the Government of India Act, 1935, by the Governor of the Central Provinces and Berar on 10th November, 1939, and of his Proclamation varying the same issued on 2nd December, 1939, copies of which were presented to this House on 29th November, 1939, and 16th January, 1940, respectively—(The Duke of Devonshire.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ THE DUKE OF DEVONSHIRE
My Lords, I beg to move that the fifth Resolution standing in my name be approved.
§ Moved, That this House approves the continuance in force of the Proclamation issued under Section 93 of the Government of India Act, 1935, by the Governor of Bihar on 3rd November, 1939, and of his Proclamation varying the same issued on 3rd December, 1939, copies of which were presented to this House on 29th November, 1939, and 16th January, 1940, respectively.—(The Duke of Devonshire.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ THE DUKE OF DEVONSHIRE
My Lords, I beg to move that the sixth Resolution standing in my name be approved.
§ Moved, That this House approves the continuance in force of the Proclamation issued under Section 93 of the Government of India Act, 1935, by the Governor of the North West Frontier Province on 10th November, 1939, and of his Proclamation varying the same issued on 2nd December, 1939, copies of which were presented to this House on 29th November, 1939, and 16th January, 1940, respectively.—(The Duke of Devonshire.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.