I should like to explain why I differ from the Prime Minister as regards the wisdom of having a Debate upon India this week. It was about three days after the House rose for the Recess in August that the Government of India took action. I felt that that was a serious step to take. I am not saying that I disagree with it, and I will explain my views upon that presently, but I felt that it was incumbent upon me to arrange for my colleagues to define their attitude. This we did within three days. I felt that the House, on its reassembly, was entitled to know, from some responsible spokesman of the Government, the facts about the Indian situation, and one hoped also for some statement as to possible future action. That is why I gave the Government notice on Monday that I proposed to raise this issue in order to get a statement. I had hoped that this statement would have been made at a time and on an occasion when it would have been debatable. Unfortunately, that was not so, but the Prime Minister did yesterday make a statement, and it seems to me puerile on the part of this House to let that statement stand unchallenged for weeks before there is an opportunity for Debate in the House.
That is why—and I have no motive except that of the well-being of India—I felt very strongly that there should be a Debate this week, and after the Prime Minister's statement yesterday I felt more than ever certain that before the House went into Recess there should be some discussion. I say nothing for the moment of the substance of the Prime Minister's speech, but I am bound to say that it was couched in language which was not calculated to improve Anglo-Indian relations—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] That is my view. The majority of hon. Members yesterday expressed an entirely different view, a view of passionate admiration for the language which the Prime Minister used, and it was perfectly clear to me that, with the wide differences of attitude and opinion on the Indian situation which exist and which I do not wish to stoke up to-day—though I am entitled to express my own views, and I intend to do so—the form of the Prime Minister's speech was unhelpful. I cannot think that it will have a good effect on the United States. I cannot see that it will have anything but a most unfortunate effect in India itself.
I am no Congress man. I do not believe myself that Congress represents the attitude of mind which I hold. I would rather ally myself with the Untouchables [Laughter]. If people regard that as amusing, they can so regard it, but there are other kinds of untouchables in other lands, and, at least, the Untouchables in India "come clean." I think it is unfortunate, although this crisis was created by the action of the Congress Party, that the Prime Minister should have gone out of his way yesterday to state the things about the Congress which he did state. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] Because I cannot see that any good is done by it. In a most tragic situation in India, faced now with the prospect of
invasion, I cannot see that any good service is done by exacerbating public opinion, or a section of public opinion. I should have thought that it was elementary statesmanship in circumstances of this kind that we should not go about embittering feelings but should try to do all in our power to conciliate. Let me explain the attitude of my party. Towards the end of July, a meeting of the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party had the question of India before it. I will not read the whole of the statement issued on that occasion, but I will read the part which seems to be more important. This is the attitude of the British Labour Party:
It regards with grave apprehension the possibility of a civil disobedience movement in India and its effect on the efforts of the United Nations, now engaged in a desperate struggle to preserve and extend world freedom. Such a movement, the very contemplation of which is a proof of political irresponsiblity, may imperil the fate of all freedom-loving peoples and thereby destroy all hopes of Indian freedom.
That was a perfectly frank statement and a condemnation of such a large-scale civil disobedient movement, which seemed likely to arise. For reasons which seemed good to themselves, at the week-end after the House rose—at the end of the first week of August—the Indian Government arrested the leaders of the Congress movement. On Wednesday, the responsible body of my party, on my suggestion, met to discuss the situation, and that night we issued an appeal to the Indian people in which we redefined our attitude. I said at the beginning that I am not a Congress man. We reaffirmed in August, within a fortnight of our first statement, our considered views in a resolution which stated:
The Labour Movement is compelled to regard the present attempt to organise a civil disobedience movement in India as certain to injure seriously the hope of India freedom, for such a movement must add heavily to the present burdens and anxieties of the leaders of the United Nations and give encouragement and comfort to the common enemy. The Labour Movement therefore considers that the action of the Government of India in detaining the leaders of Congress was a timely and unavoidable precaution.
We did that, not because we like wholesale arrests. We did that because of the war peril. Nobody is going to accuse my party of wavering in its support of the war. It was distasteful to
have to pass a resolution of that kind, but at least we did so. I expressed the hope in the House, before this broke, after the return of the Lord Privy Seal, that some attempt should be made to keep the door open. I can perfectly well understand that, having regard to the strategic situation, the Government cannot weaken in its determination to prevent the spread of the civil disobedience movement, which might make a rot in the country and which might imperil the war effort in the Middle East, apart from the disasters that might befall India. But our view is, and I expressed it in the House as I expressed it at the Conference of my party at Whitsuntide, that so long as a chink of light comes through the door, it is a very heavy responsibility for any man to put his foot to the door and bang it. I realise the complexities of the situation. With all respect to the Prime Minister, it did not need his kindergarten lesson yesterday to explain to us how complicated India is. We realise that, but one has to remember that there are nations in the world which do not look kindly on our attitude towards subject peoples. The United States, I fear, do not yet quite know the difference between a Dominion and a Colony, and there is the view that we have—I am bound to say it a somewhat murky past in our relations with coloured races. That is my view, and, if hon. Members shake their heads, I cannot help it; it is a view held by other people than myself
I should hesitate to waste the time of the House by going over the most deplorable incidents in the history of our relations with India in the early days which have scarred and still mark the Indian peoples, and have modified their outlook. I think from the point of view of our growing prestige in the world—and I take pride in it—that is becomes a matter of importance for us to show to the world that we are determined, so far as we can, to leave no stone unturned to avoid things becoming worse. I am not one of those who believe that peace is ever obtained in political controversy or in industry by all the concessions being made on one side. I cannot think it would be right for us to concede everything which an element of Indian opinion desires, and that we should stake out no claims which we regard as necessary during war-time conditions. Without in any way going back on action which has been taken, I would hope that future action will be such as not to raise the temperature in India, and that where proposals are made they will receive the earnest consideration of the Indian Government and His Majesty's Government at home.
The Prime Minister bad not heard of this, but what has interested me during the last two or three weeks has been the expression from men of diverse views and different background of a deep desire to find a way out of this most unfortunate situation. As I said, if there is but a single gleam of hope, there is a heavy moral responsibility resting on this country from the point of view of its own standing in the world in the future, to keep it alive. I am not in a position to advise His Majesty's Government, nor would I take on such a heavy responsibility, but, if we are to be told that the last word has been said, in the last way and in the last form of words, with the last comma and with the last colon, then I say that if is not being helpful. If, on the other hand, we can convince the peoples of India of our sincerity and determination to reach a settlement, then I think we may make some considerable step forward. I can see how impossible it is to try to resume discussions with a body whose leaders are now enjoying a luxurious existence under conditions of confinement.
I would not call it being in prison. If prisoners were treated as well as that, there would be a more frequent desire to become a prisoner. Let us admit that they are not living under harsh conditions. True, they have been deprived of their liberty, and I can see the impossibility of resuming negotiations with men who have not their freedom, and that the Government cannot very well say, "Your civil disobedience movement shall continue with all its risks, and the talks shall continue." It is with that in mind that in this Declaration of 12th August we made this appeal to the British Government. We assumed that they
would not approve any action which would unnecessarily embitter the present troubles, and we went on to say:
The British Labour movement urges the Government to make it clear that on the abandonment of civil disobedience it would be ready to resume free and friendly discussions with a view to safeguarding and implementing the principle of Indan self-government already proclaimed by the British Government and endorsed by the British Parliament, and securing the whole-hearted support of Indians in the common effort of the United Nations to win freedom for all.
That, I think, is a perfectly reasonable request, and for this reason: Since the Lord Privy Seal left India, people have been talking and making proposals, some of which do not seem to me to be reasonable, and the desire has been expressed that on the conclusion of the civil disobedience movement the Government should inaugurate new talks after all the water which has flown under the bridges since the last talks broke down. There is at least the hope, I do not say the certainty, that we might achieve some measure of understanding. That does not mean that the Indians are not called upon to do something themselves, and I should like to quote a few words from a broadcast which I made on India to America following the broadcast of the Lord Privy Seal. I would repeat the words, because I think there is a duty lying on the leaders of Indian opinion to be somewhat oncoming in this desperate situation. I stated:
If a heavy responsibility rests on Britain in the present grave emergency, an equally heavy responsibility lies on the leaders of Indian opinion. Could there not, in the face of the common danger, be a firm and honest understanding with the peoples of India to throw their whole power behind the war effort on the condition that India's destiny at the end of hostilities is to be determined by the Indian people? No British Government can in future seek to escape from decisions already taken. British Labour pledges itself to use all its power to see that the undertakings given are fulfilled. The United Nations "—
this is part of my appeal to the Indian peoples which I repeat—
will stand as trustees for the freedom of India.
That I firmly believe.
Never in human history was such an offer made to the Indian peoples with such hopes of fulfilment.
I ask, therefore, for their effective cooperation. But there must be a desire for co-operation on both sides. I do not believe that the Lord Privy Seal has had
his feelings lacerated because of the difficulties he found and because of his lack of success. We cannot deal with this in a spirit of spite and hatred. The only way in which we can do it is by showing generosity of mind and generosity of spirit. Let us, while there is the faintest shadow of an understanding, go on and on with our efforts, knowing that that understanding will be well worth the price that we may have to pay.
On a point of Order. I have been out to get a copy of the OFFICIAL REPORT of yesterday, and it appears to me that the report of the Prime Minister's statement is not in fact a report of what he said. He said, among other things, that the Congress Party was supported by funds from Indian capitalists and financiers, or words to that effect. That does not appear in the OFFICIAL REPORT. (HON. MEMBERS: "Yes it does.")
I certainly hope it may be possible to have a Debate, before very long, upon a resolution of confidence in the Indian policy of the Government. Since I shall probably not be here for the remainder of the Session, I should like to express now the great relief with which I heard the Prime Minister state yesterday in short and concrete terms the main facts which now govern the situation in India, and which are not always very well understood either in the United States or even in our own country. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) has taken exception to the form of the Prime Minister's statement. I think it can fairly be claimed that for a great number of years a great many of us in this country to whom it appeared that the Congress Party was not at all wisely led have always taken the greatest care—indeed perhaps we may sometimes have been too careful—to exercise the greatest restraint in any criticism that we have felt it right to make about the leadership or the conduct of the Indian Congress Party. There has not always been a similar restraint on the part of those who have been most forward in putting forward the views of that party in this country. I am sure that no responsible people in Great Britain have ever wished that any plan for Indian self-government and Dominion status should involve domination of the other religious communities by the Hindu politicians. But it has always been recognised that the Congress Party represented a very great body of educated Hindu opinion, and it has always been and is still our hope that this body of opinion, whether under its present leadership or not, may at the earliest possible date be brought into agreement with the other religious communities, so that a workable plan may be set in being as soon as possible for the attainment of self-government. That has always been the goal at which we have aimed, and to that end I claim that we have made great endeavours, sometimes in spite of great difficulties, to conciliate the leaders of the Indian Congress Party.
The right hon. Gentleman said that if there was a chink of light in the door, we ought not to bang it. That is what many of us have felt for a good many years. I do not say it with any wish to be provocative, but the least I can say according to my own judgment is that ever since I have been in public life, the leaders of the Indian Congress Party, or at least those of them whose counsels have most prevailed, have been always irresponsible and usually mischievous. I think that is the lowest at which I can put it. The patent injustice of their claim to speak on behalf of all India has often been rivalled by the malignity of their political tactics, which have formed the greatest obstacle to the speedy realisation of Indian Home Rule. According to our ideas, any party, however foolishly it may be led, should be tolerated so long as it does not imperil the safety of the State, but no Government, whether democratically constituted or not, can allow any section of its subjects to engage in activities which are calculated to open the door of their country to a foreign invader. Even in time of peace no good Government ought to allow an organised movement to be carried on for the purpose of paralysing the economic life of the country. The Government of India, which has acted with the greatest patience and extreme forbearance in dealing with its opponents, has now been compelled to exercise this elementary right of every Government and, in exercising it, I think the Government of India is entitled to the united support of the British House of Commons. I would beg anyone who may think it right to criticise the Government in this matter to reflect what the consequences in India might be if it were thought that any substantial number of people in Britain, which has formed for three years the centre of resistance to Axis aggression, should be prepared to connive at or excuse a campaign of civil disobedience whose only effect can be the comfort and military advantage of our enemies.
That is its effect. As to its being the objective, I think that is a matter of opinion. The contribution which India is making towards our common victory is a very great one and is growing in volume every day. You will not encourage those men in India who are willing to fight and to work for victory if you appear to countenance a movement which is in effect, if not in intention, a treasonable one. In our own country we have locked up quite a large number of people, although sometimes it has seemed they may be deficient not so much in their patriotism as in their sanity, but certainly the forbearance of the Indian Government in dealing with potential Quislings has been far greater than that which has been shown by the British Government at home. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield has recognised the necessity of the action which the Government of India have taken It is time that firm action was taken. I would add, with regard to the statement of the Prime Minister, that it is also time that the true facts were plainly stated and repeated. If the Americans do not know the difference between a Colony and a Dominion, a statement such as that of the Prime Minister will have a good effect in illuminating them. It is time that the true facts should be continually asserted, so that the world may understand the purpose at which we are aiming in India and may appreciate the justice of the action which the Government of India have been compelled to take.
On the one or two occasions on which I have had the opportunity of addressing the House on India I have ventured to make appeals to His Majesty's Government. They have not been altogether without success. Some of the success may have been accidental, but success there was. I venture to make one to-day to underline the appeal of my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) that, with a full recognition of the heavy responsibility which the Government at home and in India carry in this matter, nothing shall be done in the present situation which will unnecessarily embitter a situation already grave and difficult. On the last occasion when I was able to say a word about this matter I ventured to make a dual appeal to the Government, first, to state their policy in relation to India with clarity and precision, and, second, to attempt to make early personal contact with the leaders of Indian opinion and Indian communities. I cannot flatter myself that what subsequently happened was the result of my personal appeal, but I am glad to recognise that in the White Paper the policy of the Government was stated with clarity and precision and that in the visit of the Lord Privy Seal to India, unsuccessful though it may have been, there was made the kind of personal contact with the leaders of Indian opinion and Indian communities which I desired.
No one would desire to minimise the importance and significance of these two events. Nobody who takes the trouble to read again and again the White Paper can doubt that the right of the Indian people to decide their own destiny has now been explicitly recognised by the British Government and the British Parliament. If the proposals in the White Paper were now accepted by the Indian communities, India would have in the post-war world a position of equality with ourselves and the rest of the free Dominions with all the rights, including the right of secession, which that equality involves. I earnestly hope that that is clear to Indian opinion and to world opinion as a whole. I strongly doubt, however, whether the world yet really recognises the importance and the size of the step which has been taken in this matter. I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for India to tell the House what steps the Government have taken and are continuing to take to make Indian opinion as far as it can be reached and to make world opinion as a whole understand the size and magnitude of the offer which is included in the White Paper.
If anybody, for instance, looks back over the development of British policy in relation to India over the last 30 years, it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that there has been an altogether revolutionary change. Thirty years ago we dominated India in the old-fashioned imperialist way, and we desired to continue to do so. To-day we no longer desire, as I read the White Paper, to continue that domination. On the contrary, we offer India an avenue to complete freedom, and I wish most fervently that she could be persuaded to take it. It is our duty to make plain to the world that the proposals in the White Paper are our proposals and that the responsibility for refusing them is in India and not here. I believe that, difficult though the present stiuation is, even now the formal acceptance by the Indian community of the post-war proposals embodied in the White Paper would in itself make a great contribution to the easing, if not to a solution, of the immediate difficulties of the constitutional problem.
I want to add a word to what was said by my right hon Friend about the arrests. My own party has declared that the mere contemplation of a civil disobedience movement was itself evidence of political irresponsibility. It further declared that the arrests were timely and unavoidable precautions. I will say for myself that if people with deliberation and of set purpose embark upon a course of action which involves violence and general obstruction of law, consequences must follow. Although it may be comfortable to us here several thousands of miles away to criticise the course of action in India, we would not be fair to men and women on the spot, mainly Indians themselves, carrying grave responsibilities for the maintenance of law and order, if we did not here give them all the support they have the right to look for from us. I am not sure that leadership in India has enhanced its prestige in the last few months. There may well be millions of Indians, tired of internal bickering and tired also
of the curious mental operations of Mr. Gandhi, who are anxious for a new leadership to a world of freedom and reality. In that situation may reside our great opportunity. Bernard Shaw once said of Lord Rosebery that he had never missed a chance of losing an opportunity. Let us, therefore, see that we do not miss this opportunity. I have recently been reading an interesting pamphlet which embodies the White Paper by Mr. Graham Spry, whom the Lord Privy Seal may know, for he is a Canadian journalist who was on the fringe of the Indian tour. I take from the introduction written by Mr. Spry two pertinent quotations:
The document which Sir Stafford Cripps brought to India set out in clear and precise terms the steps by which Indians themselves could achieve self-government and draw up their own constitution. This document, published on March 30, provides that not Englishmen in England, or Englishmen in India, but Indians themselves in India should determine their own constitutional powers and their relations with other States.
That is the conclusion of an independent observer. He concludes by saying:
Thus, the long-term proposals set out precise steps to full and complete self-government. Thus, the short-term proposals offered the India political parties opportunity, through their own leaders, to administer and control all but actual defence measures themselves wthin the Government of India and to share, with equal authority in the British War Cabinet and the Pacific War Council, the control and shaping of higher strategy.
The position thus described should, in my view, be made known throughout the world, whatever trouble may be involved in the process of making it known. We should make it known that after the calling off of the Civil Disobedience movement negotiations could be immediately resumed. It is on record; the Prime Minister himself put it on record again yesterday, with a bluntness which it was evident was a little disconcerting to many Members, and I even found it so myself. On reflection I am bound to reach the conclusion that bluntness is not unhealthy and is to be preferred to evasion and elaborate wordiness.
There has been some reference to the Prime Minister's attitude towards the India Bill. It occurred also yesterday in a supplementary Question. I cannot help reflecting that the more severe the criticism of that attitude and the more justified it may be the more remarkable is the change in the Prime Minister's attitude as indicated by the acceptance of the White Paper proposals. It is a little hard, after having accepted a new attitude by renouncing an old one to find no reciprocation on the part of other people. I have therefore reached the conclusion that what has been described as the failure of my right hon. Friend is, in fact, no more than the failure of Congress in the main to grasp and take advantage of a great opportunity.
I come back to my point that I hope the Government will make it clear—indeed, I think they have already made this clear—that the White Paper proposals still stand. I do not quite understand how that rather awkward phrase "the proposals are withdrawn" came into general acceptance, but it led to much misunderstanding. I think it should be made unquestionably clear that the White Paper proposals still stand and can still be discussed, and that on the withdrawal of the Civil Disobedience movement there could be a reopening of negotiations at any moment with a real opportunity of success. Negotiations could be reopened on the basis of the White Paper, with every consideration to be given to whatever points it might be necessary for the negotiators to raise. Mine is a small voice in this matter but I should like to urge the Indian movements to accept the post-war offer. I should like to urge the Congress Movement to resume office in the vacated Provinces, and I should like to urge our own Government to consider most carefully its own personnel in the Indian Government, and be quite certain that from top to bottom there is a gradual acceptance of the policy embodied in the White Paper. In this matter I think the Prime Minister might easily be as courageous as he was in changing the command in the Middle East. The other Indian Civil appointments should be made from people who are welcome in India and whose devotion to democratic aspirations is unquestionable.
I reflect once more upon the great change in the British attitude in this matter, and I cannot refrain from expressing my opinion that the action of Congress in the last few months has been a grave injury to the cause of the Indian people. That was painfully evident yesterday, and I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will make it clear that although the threads of contact and negotiation have been snapped and broken they are not beyond repair, and that it will also be made clear, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) has made it clear, that the rejection of the proposals of His Majesty's Government by the leaders of Indian opinion imposes on the latter the solemn responsibility of making specific alternative proposals themselves. It should also be plain that the possibility of implementing those proposals—proposals, I must say again, such as have never been made before within the scope of British politics—depends entirely on the victory of the United Nations in the present conflict. If we sit on the wrong side of the armistice table the possibility of Indian freedom has gone for a hundred years. Our victory is her victory and our defeat is her defeat. There is a great responsibility on the leaders of Indian opinion to prove to all the world that the desire for freedom is not merely a philosophic aspiration and that a realistic hatred of Fascism is as deep in the Indian mind as it is elsewhere. Not less, I believe, is there the responsibility on the part of His Majesty's Government to make it clear that they seek an opportunity whenever it shall present itself for the reopening of negotiations and for the settlement of an already difficult and embittered question.
In view of my associations with my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Privy Seal, I hope the House will allow me to make it plain that anything I say upon this subject is said entirely on my own responsibility. My direct personal experience of India is very limited, much more limited than my interest in the subject, but I did have the very special privilege of being present in India with my right hon. and learned Friend during his mission there this year, and as a result of that experience I was able to form some impressions of my own, whatever they may be worth. Being there at that time meant that I was in India at the precise moment when it appeared most possible that agreement might be reached. Certainly there were responsible elements in Congress, among the leaders of Congress, who were trying to seek an agreement with us at that stage. Unfortunately those leaders were in the minority, however substantial the minority may have been. At that moment Congress was, in fact, at a crossroads. If the minority had had their way and had chosen the path of responsibility they would have had to abandon very largely the three principles on which their power has been built up—the three principles of extreme nationalism, of communal feeling, and, above all, the principle which is Mr. Gandhi's own special principle of nonviolence. A metamorphosis would have had to take place replacing those three rather negative principles by three positive principles of co-operation on a wider scale with us and other communities in India and with those forces that were prepared to put up violent opposition to Japanese invasion. However, that metamorphosis did not take place. The cleavage which followed very soon became apparent. The events of the last few months are nothing more than a determined attempt on the part of Mr. Gandhi to regain lost power and the prestige which he saw slipping away from him. In order to do that, he has had to base his policy more and more on revolutionary principles. The extent to which he has been successful was told us yesterday in the Prime Minister's statement.
I was delighted that that statement set this problem in proportion, for all the world to see what it consists of; but, of course, it did more than that. It gave a great deal of reassurance. It reassured us completely that the handling of this very difficult situation by the Government of India has been patient, fair and firm. It reassured us with regard to internal order in India, as to the extent of the war effort there, both on the material side and industrial side, and the extent to which defences in India had been reinforced, not only by voluntary recruitment in India but by Forces sent there from here and elsewhere. Finally, it reassured us in the most emphatic terms that the broad principles of the offer made by the Lord Privy Seal stand, and that nothing can add to them or take away from them. Those are the main considerations in the Indian situation from any point of view, but particularly they are the main considerations as to the future of India herself. It is greatly to be hoped that the Congress will be able to play some part in the future shaping of India's destiny, but, if such is to be the case, from the record of the last few months I am convinced, that a change of heart must take place, first of all, among the leaders of Congress themselves.
The right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) appealed to His Majesty's Government, and the Secretary of State for India made it clear, in answer to a Question at Question time to-day, that any move that may be made in India towards restoring national unity will be welcomed by His Majesty's Government. I personally think—and this is a very generally shared feeling—that the proposals made by the Lord Privy Seal last March went as far as any initiative that could be taken by His Majesty's Government could possibly go. That is true of the contents of those proposals, but it was rendered still more true by the manner in which the right hon. and learned Gentleman attempted to negotiate an agreement among the interested parties in India. Nothing more could possibly have been done, and the proposals were rejected, mainly, and indeed almost solely, because of the uncompromising demand by the majority of Congress leaders for unlimited power. That was the real obstacle. It was not possible to get the leaders of the different political parties to meet one another, even in the presence of my right hon. and learned Friend.
Since that time Mr. Rajagopalachariar has shown great courage in attempting to bring the leaders of the different parties together. Other efforts have been made by other disinterested persons, but none of those efforts has led to any result. In that case, we are entitled to ask what value can possibly be attached to the proposals put forward by the Congress Working Committee in their resolutions of 14th July and 5th August. Those resolutions demanded that the British should leave India, as far as government was concerned, and stated that a provisional government would then be formed, but they gave no indication of how that could possibly be done. On the record of lack of co-operation, two very striking instances of which I have just given, I do not see that any possible value can be attached to that supposition. It would not be a provisional government which would follow the withdrawal of the British, but a civil war. I do not think that the Government of India have had any alternative to the course which they have taken in the last few weeks and months. They have given Congress leaders every possible chance to play a responsible part, but the campaign which those leaders have organised has not merely been non-violent but has become violent as well, aiming at disorder and interruption harmful to the war effort. Under such conditions I do not see what approach His Majesty's Government can possibly now make to those leaders.
I put a Question to the Secretary of State for India to-day, whether the instructions about this nonviolence campaign would be published. I was given an evasive answer. In view of the fact that we do not know what these instructions are, are not the hon. Member's suggestions rather too wide-sweeping? This is something of which this House, at any rate, has no concrete evidence.
I quite appreciate the hon. Member's point. I heard his Question and the answer. I do not see that there are any grounds whatever for supposing, after the record of the last month and of the attempts that have been made to find a means of taking a successful initiative, that the Government of India would have taken these extreme steps unless they were entirely satisfied in their own minds on the facts at their disposal.
Meanwhile, the war, and the defence of India, are to be carried on. We have had the great pleasure in the last few days of welcoming in this country the safe arrival of the Indian representatives on the War Cabinet and the Pacific Council, and I know that I shall be speaking on behalf of all Members in this House in extending to them our very best wishes for the part which they will undoubtedly play in organising the victory which alone will be the indispensable condition for India's future freedom.
I think we are very much indebted to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) for the speech with which he opened this Debate—with a very great deal with which I agree—and I am very glad he made that speech in his effective way from that Box. I do not think that on the whole we have had a very good week in this House, unfortunately; the proceedings yesterday, when the Prime Minister made his announcement, were also rather unfortunate. I cannot help feeling that a good deal of party spirit is being displayed on the Benches opposite, and, if I may say so, I think it is a mistake, on a vitally important question of this sort, for one group of Members of Parliament to put down a Motion without getting the co-operation of all parties, or at any rate of other parties, in this House. I think I was right in the impression I received yesterday that we were almost back to pre-war party days, and I am glad—
I must apologise; in any case I should not have wanted to pursue the matter any further. I feel that the two speeches which have been made from the back benches opposite have at any rate been phrased most admirably and in a way in which, while speaking their minds clearly, could not be described as giving unnecessary offence to that party in India which the speakers were criticising. With regard to Congress, both those speakers made it very clear that they dislike and disapprove of the Congress party, and that they think its leadership, not only now but for long enough, has been unwise. The hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Palmer) suggested that it would only be when the Leaders of Congress changed their policy very considerably that they could have an effective voice in the future of India.
The point I was trying to make was that there did exist a minority of people who were prepared to play a responsible part, but that they were, unfortunately, a minority. That minority would be prepared to pursue quite a different policy, a policy of positive cooperation. If they could have their say, things would be quite different. That is the point I was trying to make.
Let me say before I go any further that I deplore as such as any other hon. Member that the leaders of a very large party in India, at a time like this, should have been preparing or at any rate threatening a campaign which was bound to weaken the war effort of India and the United Nations. That is common, ground with us, but I do not think I am reading too much into the speeches to which we have listened in saying that many of my colleagues on the opposite side seem to be deciding what a democratic party in India shall think, and how it shall be led, before they are prepared to carry out the undertakings which this House and the Government have given with regard to the self-government and future constitutional development of India. I must say that I think that that is one of the difficulties in which the party which sits on those benches finds itself to-day, and one of the difficulties which we have to face.
Let us be quite frank; I think plain speaking is a good thing. Many members of Congress have looked for inspiration not to this country but to certain of our Allies, Russia and China, perhaps before some Members of this House were quite as enthusiastic about those Allies as they are to-day. Let us be quite frank; the Committee of Congress are Socialists, some of them are extreme Socialists, but that, I submit, is not the point. If we are going ahead, if we mean what the Prime Minister stated in the first sentences of his statement yesterday, which appeared to me to be the really vital words in his statement, namely, that the proposals recently made by the Lord Privy Seal still stand, if we mean to go on with them, it is no use saying whether we like the politics of the largest party in India or not.
I think the situation which has developed in India is deplorable, and in saying that I am sure that I am expressing the views of a very large number of people in this country. I do not think it helps very much at the present moment to try to allocate praise or blame. I consider that many of the Congress leaders have been as anti-Fascist, and as much against the brutality and aggressiveness of the totalitarian States, as many of the leaders of the democratic nations. I should need a lot of convincing that Mr. Gandhi was pro-Japanese. He is not. He may be a pacifist, and pacifists find themselves in difficulties in war-time as to the policy to follow. Pandit Nehru has taken a prominent part in the leadership of his people against earlier acts of aggression by the Japanese and by the Germans, and it is deplorable that it should become necessary to imprison such leaders. In my opinion it is a sad failure of statesmanship that that situation should have arisen.
Would my hon. Friend say whose statesmanship has been at fault? Has it been a failure of British statesmanship, or rather of Indian statesmanship?
As I said, I do not think that to pursue that matter into detail at the moment is really very helpful, because we have to look to the future. But we have had some experience of these matters before. There are other parts of the world which have become Dominions. There is South Africa and—I hate to mention it because it is perhaps not a very happy example—there is Ireland. Again, to the hon. Member for Winchester, who spoke of noticing a tendency on the part of Congress to become more extreme, may I say that any study of any of these other precedents shows that the longer agreement is postponed, whoever is at fault, the more extreme the Nationalist party becomes?
This is no new process. It arises out of delay; it arises out of exacerbation; it arises out of the frustration of these perfectly normal and desirable ambitions which the Indian people cherish to be free, and the longer the realisation of these ambitions is postponed the more embittered will feeling become. Therefore, I would say to the Secretary of State that I hope he will be able to give us an assurance that any opportunity for negotiating will be taken. I am sure he desires to end the present situation. I am sure he must feel the disappointment that so many of us feel that this situation should have arisen in India. There is only one constructive suggestion I should like to make, and I am conscious that I speak as a person without intimate knowledge of India. Unfortunately, we in this House do rule India at the present time, and upon our judgments, whether well-founded or not, the present state of affairs has arisen.
I make this suggestion. The leaders of Indian opinion have not always derived their inspiration from this country though no doubt we have bred in India itself a belief in Western democracy. They have looked to America and other countries, and they still so look. This internal conflict in India is not a conflict only between the British Government and the political parties in India. It is a conflict which affects all the United Nations. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield said that the unity of the United Nations was a guarantee of the eventual independence of India. I wonder whether that guarantee could not be made more practical, whether some help could not be gained by freely admitting that we are not alone interested in this problem, and by freely admitting that perhaps the representatives of other countries who stand to be just as seriously affected, such as the Chinese or the Americans, or the Russians for that matter, by the development of this conflict should be brought into this question. Before the war we used to advocate from these benches the submission of international disputes for third-party judgment. I think this is an occasion when such a policy might bring confidence to the persons concerned, and might reinforce and strengthen our position in the whole world in trying to find a solution to this admittedly most difficult problem. Finally, I would only like to add that in the leading article of "The Times" to-day there is this sentence, which seems to me to express my view as to what our purpose should be at the present time:
To rally the good-will of all Indians at a moment when the enemy is at the gates is a task of supreme importance.
I realise how invaluable the services of the fighting races of India are, but I say with all the sincerity I have, and any emphasis I can command, that the value of having freely on our side, or at all events, not actively against us, all parties in India at the present time cannot be over-estimated.
When this Debate first started I was rather of the opinion that it was a mistake to have the Debate on the Adjournment, and that on the other hand it was very important to have a Debate on India as soon as we possibly could. But in the course of this Debate I have rather changed my opinion, and I think it has been very useful indeed to have this Debate upon the Adjournment in addition to having a Debate upon India at the earliest possible time. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) laid down various aspects of the case from his point of view with which perhaps all of us must agree. I should also like, if I may, to congratulate the hon. Member for Clay Cross (Mr. Ridley) upon his speech, with almost every word of which I agree. I feel that this Debate has shown that upon almost all points we have common ground. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield said there must be a desire for co-operation on both sides. He said that we all wanted a Debate on India, that this tragic situation must be ended as soon as possible, that we must leave no stone unturned, that we must not raise the temperature in India, that we must be in favour of keeping the door open. He mentioned the chink of light. Surely all of us agree with every single one of those points?
I hope we shall remember how very important it is to realise the difficulties which face all the people in India who are responsible for carrying on the day-by-day routine administration, and that we must not do anything which makes that labour more difficult or irksome. On the other hand—and I watch India with great affection and great hopes for the future—I personally feel that conditions, although they are so difficult, are slowly and steadily improving. I may be wrong, but that is my impression. We need to be very careful indeed as to what we do or say at the present time. We want, as has been said, to leave the door open for negotiations whenever negotiations are practicable or show the slightest hope of success. I think we ought to congratulate the Government of India on the very courageous way in which they have tackled this grave situation.
I was in India during an almost identical form of movement in 1930–31. I have again seen step after step forced upon the Government of India for practically the same reasons as were then in being. Nothing could be more deplorable than for the difficulties of the Allies to be used—this is an aspect which, of course, did not arise at that time—as a weapon with which to throw off all British connection with India. Every hon. Member will agree in his heart that there can be no other reply to such a challenge than the one given by the Viceroy. Further negotiations with Congress must be started whenever it is possible to do so on a reasonable basis, and I am sure that the door is open; but if one side makes it impossible to negotiate, the other side must wait until conditions change. Negotiations are impossible until the Congress leaders cease their demands for the withdrawal of the British from the country.
We have often been told that the root of our troubles in India was the suspicion of all classes as to our sincerity. That is an extraordinarily unfortunate psychological arena to get into, and one of immense complexity and difficulty to get out of. But I cannot imagine that anyone could entertain such suspicions after the explicit assurances about the Government's policy which were conveyed to India by the Lord Privy Seal. We know that Congress has for years demanded a Constitution drawn up by Indians themselves and ratified by a Constituent Assembly. The draft declaration which the Lord Privy Seal took with him stated that immediately hostilities ceased a Constitution-making body, elected by the Provincial Legislatures, would be set up, and His Majesty's Government pledged themselves to implement forthwith the Constitution so framed. The draft declaration went on to state that the Government would create a new Indian Union, which would be in no way subordinate in any of its domestic and external affairs. At his Press Conferences, which I studied very carefully at the time, the Lord Privy Seal affirmed categorically, with, of course, the backing of the Government, that the Indian Union would be entitled to disown its allegiance to the Crown, and that no British troops would be kept in the country, except at the request of the Union, which would enjoy all the privileges of a sovereign State. Surely no fairer or more generous statement could have been made. I think that, as the hon. Member for Clay Cross said, it was a great mistake on the part of Congress, not only from its own party point of view but from the point of view of India nationally, not to accept and try to work that proposal. But it changed its ground, and demanded the immediate supercession of the Viceroy s Executive Council by a nominated Cabinet, responsible to no one but itself and irremovable. The Lord Privy Seal pointed out that this would constitute an absolute dictatorship of majorities and, quite rightly, I think that any major change in the Constitution in war time was impossible. There, again, I think all hon. Members will agree.
If we realise the immense responsibility of changing the form of Government for that vast country in the middle of the war, with the Japanese at the gates, we must surely realise that it was not at all practicable.
I think conditions otherwise would be made so much more difficult for the Administration as to render it impossible to run the country. In fact, I think you would practically have a civil war in the country. That is my opinion.
The Viceroy, at all events, has since then gone a great way to meeting the demands for greater responsibility at the centre, by increasing his Council to 15, of whom 11 are non-official Indians. The portfolio of Defence, the chief bone of contention, certainly in my time, is now in Indian hands. It is very significant that among the recent accessions to that Council is my friend Dr. Ambedkar, the representative of the millions who constitute the depressed classes. I would point out, too, that the action of the Indian Government in arresting Gandhi and other Congress leaders was the work of this Council, all ardent nationalists, and was neither proposed nor initiated by the Secretary of State or by the British Government. You have also to remember that Mr. Rajagopalachariar, who, I think, is one of the most able of all the Congress leaders, a former Prime Minister of Madras, and one of the most influential members of the Congress party, has now entirely dissociated himself from the action of Mr. Gandhi and his followers.
A common mistake in America is to think that Congress represents Indian opinion as a whole. I do not think that that is believed in this country now, but, unfortunately, it is still believed by people in other of the United Nations. Nothing could be further from the truth. I would strongly deprecate negotiations with Congress if they are based on the assumption that Congress speaks for the country as a whole. What would be the result of giving in to Congress demands at present? I repeat that we want to enter into negotiations at the earliest possible moment, in order to get away from this deadlock, but it must be on reasonable grounds.
The final point I want to make is that the withdrawal of the British and American troops would, in my opinion, only lay India open to all the horrors experienced in Burma, Malaya, and the Philippines, and it would also be a betrayal of our Allies, especially of China, incidentally, whose heroic struggles and sufferings have been the admiration of civilisation. I wonder whether the House realises that India—and I am in the closest touch with India still, I am glad to say—regards this as a national war. Her troops are largely commanded by Indian officers, recruits are daily pouring in, and their deeds in the field have won the unstinted praise of everybody who has seen them or knows what they have done. To do anything to weaken that war effort would be a betrayal of India and would, as has already been said, be an indefinite deterrent to India attaining self-government, which we all want and in which we all believe on the basis of the White Paper which the Lord Privy Seal took out. I do hope that, whatever we say in this House, our words will go out to India to try and get them to realise that we want to help them in every way we can.
It is with some regret that I should have to take this opportunity on an Adjournment day of dealing with a matter of this great importance. We are discussing something that affects the lives of nearly 400,000,000 people, and I have some complaint as a Member of the Opposition in this House at the way in which this whole Indian business has been handled in these recent weeks. The timing of the change from our political methods-to the iron-hand for the day that this House went for its autumn Recess did not appear to me to be a pure accident. [Interruption.] Nothing was happening in those two or three days that justified the Government's waiting until we had gone to our several areas and then to swoop upon and imprison the leaders of Indian political thought, and having done that, which was a complete change in the policy that had been pursued since the beginning of the war—indeed, a complete change in the policy which had been pursued since the time of the India Act—they refused the request to bring this House together for an opportunity of dealing with the situation. And then, when we do come back in the ordinary course of events, they refuse to provide the appropriate opportunity for this House to give its vote either of confidence in the action of the Government or of no confidence in their change of policy and in their drastic action in India. They refuse to make such an opportunity for the House, and indeed, if I am to understand the Prime Minister's statement correctly, they stimulated the putting on the Paper of a blocking Motion that would prevent us debating it.
The Prime Minister was quite willing that there should be what hon. Members wanted—a set Debate with a Division. When he afterwards learned that that would be regarded as a postponement of to-day's Debate by Members on the other side and would be regretted by them, he at once conformed to what he understood to be the wishes of hon. Members opposite in order to avoid any possible reproach that the Debate to-day was being deliberately postponed.
And he said, "Yes. If you get your way to-day, you will get your Debate on the Adjournment, but you will get no promise." By taking this Debate on the Adjournment you have reduced the possibilities of getting an effective and constitutional decision.
May I correct the hon. Gentleman? The Prime Minister explained quite precisely that he could not give any such promise, because if he had done so it would have prevented the Debate to-day. His sole object was not to prevent a Debate to-day, because he understood that a number of hon. Members wished to have it, and he was therefore precluded by the Rules of Order from saying anything definite about any subsequent Debate.
He expressed himself very badly indeed if that was his intention, and it is a most unusual thing for the Prime Minister to express himself badly on matters of that description. Therefore, I do not wish to take up the time of the House on this ineffective occasion, at this period of Parliamentary time, which is usually devoted to the left-over odds and ends and scraps, to deal with the affairs of 350,000,000 human beings. I want to say a few words both in reply to the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for India, who I am sorry has had to leave. I think it is most unfortunate for this country that the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for India, thrown into office at this time for entirely other reasons, should have the defining of a new Indian policy and the defining of an attempt to establish the strong hand in India again. Everybody in this House who was here at the time of the India Debates knows perfectly well that there were no two Members of this Assembly who were more hostile to any extension of political liberty in India than the two right hon. Gentlemen. They led for months a revolt against their Government in this House, blocking, delaying, preventing. [Interruption.] I know that there were differentiations in the approach. I am satisfied that neither of these two right hon. Gentlemen has the faintest idea to give self-government to India at all, Mark you, I am not saying this in any opprobious way. It is part of the political philosophy—it is the philosophy of my hon. Friend opposite—the philosophy of the Herrenvolk, that we are a superior 40,000,000 people capable of running the affairs of these 350,000,000 people.
It is no good telling us that there are different groups, ideas and sects in India, because mere are those same things in Great Britain. Why should we attempt to diminish the influence and power of the Congress Party in India? Everybody knows that they are not the only political party in India. They have the intention of being a permanent party in India. They are an association of political groups who are united on one issue—securing self-government for India. On the occasions when the electorate were tested on the widest franchise which has ever been available, Congress candidates secured an overwhelming majority of the votes cast. If my recollection serves me aright, they were in control of the Government in about eight of the urban provinces. I am speaking only from memory. That is as good a mandate as the Conservative party has in this country and is a better mandate than the Prime Minister has in this country. Even among Moslems they can command greater support than the Moslem League itself when it comes to an electoral test. Therefore, do not attempt to pooh-pooh them and say they are of no account.
Exactly the same sort of thing happened in regard to Ireland when de Valera was clapped in gaol. It was said, "These are only a few extremists. The Irish Nationalist party does not speak for all these people. De Valera is only some half-Italian, half-Spanish offspring." Yet this so-called inconsiderable Sinn Fein party swept the whole electoral field in Ireland. Do not let us make the same mistake again with reference to India. Do not wait until you have to concede to force what you could have easily granted out of decency and out of the principles you have avowed before the whole world. You tell the world you are fighting this war for liberation, democracy and freedom, but for India freedom comes later. You say you are fighting for the freedom of Czechoslovakia, Greece, Norway, Poland, Abyssinia—which has just been granted its freedom—and all the rest, but for India it is, "No." For India it is a post-dated cheque. The Indian people are not an inferior body, of people. They have as much political sagacity and wisdom as the majority of
Members in this House; some have much more political skill and greater agitational ability than I have. Yesterday the Prime Minister gave us a description of what he said had happened. He said:
The Congress party has now abandoned in many respects the policy of non-violence which Mr. Gandhi has so long inculcated in theory.
It is no good trying to pooh-pooh this very great intellect, this very great man—
and has come into the open as a revolutionary movement designed to paralyse the communications by rail and telegraph…"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th September, 1942; col. 303, Vol. 383.]
Well, I get the newspapers, and I do He know that this has happened. My understanding of the most recent developments in Indian political changes of power is that there was a considerable struggle between Mr. Nehru and Mr. Gandhi. Mr. Gandhi's non-violence view was defeated in favour of Mr. Nehru's view that India would fight the enemy, would not be non-resistant as Mr. Gandhi desired, would be prepared to fight the Japanese if they dared to invade India, but if there was to be co-operation between India and Britain, then they must have control over the defence of the country they intended to defend. That is my description of the most recent developments. I do not know about this revolutionary movement designed to paralyse communications, loot shops and lead to sporadic attacks on the Indian police. If I am not misleading myself completely, that happened after the arrests and not before. Do not delude yourselves that you have justification that will stand up before the world.
I hope my hon. Friend the Member for West Renfrew (Mr. Wedderburn) when he goes on his journeying to China—and I wish him every success on his mission and a safe return—will not say to Chiang Kai-shek all the things about India that he has said here to-day, because to say the least he will not be representing one Member.
When a man goes on a particular mission that is described as being in the name of the House of Commons he does so for the whole of the House of Commons, including me. He may apologise and excuse and say I am only one, but if he does not say I am here and give my point of view, he is not giving a fair picture. I agree that you cannot establish a full Constitution in the middle of a war, but you can give a nation in the middle of a war the essence of its Constitution, the reality and the responsibility of its freedom. You can work out details later; indeed, you can work out a lot of details in the process of the job. In a large number of Provinces there were effective elected Governments functioning for a number of years. It was an act of this House that set them up. I say that you can quite easily get them re-established. You have to aim at getting out of them the representative men for a Central Government. You can get an alliance with the Indian people similar to the alliance that you have with Egypt. You can perfectly well do all these things in the middle of a war, and in doing them you will prove to the Indian people and to the world that you are genuine, that you mean what you say, that to the extent that you can give justice during a war you will give it. That, in my belief, would be the intelligent and statesmanlike way of handling this situation. You have started on the road of force. You will have to have more. Already you are flogging with light canes; you may say it is very trivial, but it is the most humiliating thing that a grown-up man can have, whether it is painful or not.
I have yet to hear the evidence of that. I do not believe that any politician, any supporter of Congress, any average Indian, ever did anything to burn a policeman. Do not believe it.
May I ask my hon. Friend, whose desire for the truth we all recognise, to remember a case at Chauri-Chaura in the first civil disobedience movement when 30 Indian policeman were burned to death? Mr. Gandhi said, "I have committed an error of Himalayan magnitude." That error he is repeating to-day, with exactly the same results.
It still has to be proved to me that there was a deliberate act by Indian people of burning Indian policemen. When such things start, what is controlled by the Government on the one side and by the leaders of the opposition on the other will proceed on reasonable and decent lines, but a whole lot that is uncontrolled may happen away out of the hands of the leaders of the central control on both sides. Certainly, you may take it that there will be all sorts of brutal things.
Yes, the hon. Member opposite will not deny Amritsar. Nobody here wanted that, but it was done. We have said that we mean freedom for India; we said it before the war and we said it in the Atlantic Charter. Now is the time to do something definite towards it. If my two right hon. Friends who are taking the trouble to listen to the Debate, although they are not the two men who have responsibility for the position in which we are to-day, will be advised by me, they will make this issue one of personal importance to each of them. I say to them, do not allow yourselves to be out-manœuvred in the interests of sheer Conservative Imperialism in the handling of Indian affairs.
One of the most difficult things I have to do in the House on the rare occasions on which I speak has been to differ from the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton), for whom I have profound respect. To-day, I agree with his speech in parts. He said that he deplored this Debate on the Adjournment, that it was more or less of a scrappy Debate, and that this question ought to have been thoroughly thrashed out by the House and a Division taken at the end. I entirely agree with him. But how has this position come about? It has arisen because of the insistence of the Labour party on having this Debate to-day against the better judgment of those who know the situation far better than the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) and those who sit behind him.
With all respect to the hon. Gentleman, the right hon. Member for Wakefield gave his reasons for pressing for this Debate on the Adjournment against the wishes of many of those who understand the difficulties and realise the very grave dangers in the whispering gallery of the East of hasty and ill-considered expressions from different parts of the House.
I think we had better not have any trouble about this. It is quite true that hon. Members opposite wanted to have a formal Debate on the subject, and it is true that hon. Members on this side wanted to have a formal Debate on the basis of the Motion. The Government took the view that it would be better to postpone it until a little later, but at the request of hon. Members, after that former decision had been taken, we intimated that it could be done to-day. We have done our best in the circumstances to try to accommodate both sides. I hope no hon. Gentleman will accuse anybody in any part of the House of any of the inconveniences for which I take full responsibility.
I do not think there is any difference of opinion. I am concerned with the circumstances in which the Debate has arisen. I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Bridgeton that it is unfortunate, mistimed and may be calculated to do much more harm than good. I have another reason for pressing that point of view. It is this. The hon. Member has spoken rather on the spur of the moment on an immensely complicated subject. I want to assure him that if he had had time to refresh his memory and look back into the history of these events, he would never have made the speech which he has made
I have been reflecting on this matter for some 37 years. Since I have been a Member of Parliament it has never been absent for more than a few weeks from the Debates and Questions in the House. If I have failed in my presentation of the case in this Debate, it is not through lack of time for preparation.