May I take the opportunity of reading to the House a statement which I have been authorised by his Majesty's Goverment to make on the subject of India, and which is being published at the same time in India? The statement is in the form of a White Paper, and is now available in the Vote Office. It says:
"During the recent visit of Field-Marshal Viscount Wavell to this country His Majesty's Government reviewed with him a number of problems and discussed particularly the present political situation in India.
Members will be aware that since the offer by His Majesty's Government to India in March, 1942, there has been no further progress towards the solution of the Indian constitutional problem.
As was then stated, the working out of India's new constitutional system is a task which can only be carried through by the Indian peoples themselves.
While His Majesty's Government are at all times most anxious to do their utmost to assist the Indians in the working out of a new constitutional settlement, it would be a contradiction in terms to speak of the imposition by this country of self-governing institutions upon an unwilling India. Such a thing is not possible, nor could we accept the responsibility for enforcing such institutions at the very time when we were, by its purpose, withdrawing from all control of British Indian affairs.
The main constitutional position remains therefore as it was. The offer of March, 1942, stands in its entirety without change or qualification. His Majesty's Government still hope that the political leaders in India may be able to come to an agreement as to the procedure whereby India's permanent future form of government can be determined."
On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. I am not an expert in Parliamentary procedure, although I have been here a long time, but this is the first time that I can remember a Secretary of State reading a. White Paper that we can already get in the Vote Office. I have read it myself already. I should have thought that it is usual for the Minister concerned to explain and amplify the White Paper and not to read to us that which we can already get from the Vote Office. It seems to me to be rather amateur treatment of the House.
I shall, of course, explain and amplify what is in that statement. As the statement has only been released a little while ago and a good many hon. Members have not had an opportunity of reading it, I thought it would be for the convenience of the House that I should read it.
It is rather a shabby treatment of the House to issue a White Paper just before we adjourn, and ask us to listen to the Secretary of State for India reading it, when it is on such an important matter as the status of India. I think the Government are treating the House and the Country with scant courtesy and with no appreciation of the gigantic importance of India to the British Empire.
It has been of great importance that the issue of the statement should be synchronised in this country and in India. It was not possible to issue it earlier than this afternoon, and, therefore, I still hope that it may be for the convenience of the House that I should read the statement. If not, I am prepared to give an explanation of it without reading it.
I rise with some diffidence to support my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Cove), because I do not know whether this also may not have been arranged through the usual channels. As the arrangements through the usual channels now appear not to be subject to the Rules of the House, I am in some difficulty when I try to raise this matter. It is a Rule of the House that statements may not be read except statements by Ministers of the Crown, who have need to read them in order to be word perfect on matters which may be of great public international import. As this is a White Paper, available in the Vote Office, why should we be subjected to the tedium of hearing a statement read out, which is available to Members in all parts of the House?
I suggest that in that case I need not submit the House to that tedium. As proceedings have been a little delayed, there has been time for a great many Members to see the White Paper, and I think I can cover the essential points in it sufficiently well in my explanatory statement. Therefore, I shall be only too happy, with the consent of the House, to proceed at once to some explanation of the political—
I would ask my right hon. Friend to adhere to his original intention. It is merely a question of convenience. The House has had no opportunity of reading this statement. It is quite clear that it could only be issued at this particular moment, so it is for the convenience of the House that before we debate it we should at least have a chance of knowing what the White Paper says. It is not an insult to anybody; it is a mere matter of convenience, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will continue.
Then the hon. Members were not paying attention to the proceedings of the House. Surely those hon. Members who are not specially interested can leave the House while it is read?
The opinion of the House is divided, and it would certainly suit the convenience of a good many Members that I should read it out. I will read it as speedily as I can, and I hope hon. Members opposite will have patience with me while I do so because, after all, it is a statement of considerable importance not only to us here but to the people of India. I think I reached the end of the fifth paragraph and I resume:
"His Majesty's Government are, however, most anxious to make any contribution that is practicable to the breaking of the political deadlock in India. While that deadlock lasts not only political but social and economic progress is being hampered.
The Indian administration, over-burdened with the great tasks laid upon it by the war against Japan and by the planning for the post-war period, is further strained by the political tension that exists.
All that is so urgently required to be done for agricultural and industrial development and for the peasants and workers of India cannot be carried through unless the whole-hearted co-operation of every community and section of the Indian people is forthcoming.
His Majesty's Government have therefore considered whether there is something which they could suggest in this interim period, under the existing con- stitution, pending the formulation by Indians of their future constitutional arrangements, which would enable the main communities and parties to co-operate more closely together and with the British to the benefit of India as a whole.
It is not the intention of His Majesty's Government to introduce any change contrary to the wishes of the major Indian communities. But they are willing to make possible some step forward during the interim period if the leaders of the principal Indian parties are prepared to agree to their suggestions and to co-operate in the successful conclusion of the war against Japan as well as in the reconstruction in India which must follow the final victory.
To this end they would be prepared to see an important change in the composition of the Viceroy's Executive. This is possible without making any change in the existing statute law except for one amendment to the Ninth Schedule to the Act of 1935. That Schedule contains a provision that not less than three members of the Executive must have had at least 10 years' Service under the Crown in India. If the proposals of His Majesty's Government meet with acceptance in India, that clause would have to be amended to dispense with that requirement."
It is proposed that the Executive Council should be reconstituted and that the Viceroy should in future make his selection for nomination to the Crown for appointment to his Executive from amongst leaders of Indian political life at the Centre and in the Provinces, in proportions which would give a balanced representation of the main communities, including equal proportions of Moslems and Caste Hindus.
In order to pursue this object, the Viceroy will call into conference a number of leading Indian politicians who are the heads of the most important parties or who have had recent experience as Prime Ministers of Provinces, together with a few others of special experience and authority. The Viceroy intends to put before this conference the proposal that the Executive Council should be reconstituted as above stated and to invite from the members of the conference a list of names. Out of these he would hope to be able to choose the future members whom he would recommend for appointment by His Majesty to the Viceroy's Council, although the responsibility for the recommendations must of course continue to rest with him, and his freedom of choice therefore remains unrestricted.
The members of his Council who are chosen as a result of this arrangement would of course accept the position on the basis that they would whole-heartedly co-operate in supporting and carrying through the war against Japan to its victorious conclusion.
The members of the Executive would be Indians with the exception of the Viceroy and the Commander-in-Chief, who would retain his position as War Member. This is essential so long as the defence of India remains a British responsibility.
Nothing contained in any of these proposals will affect the relations of the Crown with the Indian States through the Viceroy as Crown Representative.
The Viceroy has been authorised by His Majesty's Government to place this proposal before the Indian Leaders. His Majesty's Government trust that the leaders of the Indian communities will respond. For the success of such a plan must depend upon its acceptance in India and the degree to which responsible Indian politicians are prepared to cooperate with the object of making it a workable interim arrangement. In the absence of such general acceptance existing arrangements must necessarily continue.
If such co-operation can be achieved at the Centre it will no doubt be reflected in the Provinces and so enable responsible Governments to be set up once again in those Provinces where, owing to the withdrawal of the majority party from participation, it became necessary to put into force the powers of the Governors under Section 93 of the Act of 1935. It is to be hoped that in all the Provinces these Governments would be based on the participation of the main parties, thus smoothing out communal differences and allowing Ministers to concentrate upon their very heavy administrative tasks.
There is one further change which, if these proposals are accepted, His Majesty's Government suggest should follow.
That is, that External Affairs (other than those tribal and frontier matters which fall to be dealt with as part of the Defence of India) should be placed in the charge of an Indian Member of the Viceroy's Executive so far as British India is concerned, and that fully accredited representatives shall be appointed for the representation of India abroad.
By their acceptance of and co-operation in this scheme, the Indian leaders will not only be able to make their immediate contribution to the direction of Indian affairs, but it is also to be hoped that their experience of co-operation in government will expedite agreement between them as to the method of working out the new constitutional arrangements.
His Majesty's Government consider, after the most careful study of the question, that the plan now suggested gives the utmost progress practicable within the present constitution. None of the changes suggested will in any way prejudice or prejudge the essential form of the future permanent constitution or constitutions for India.
His Majesty's Government feel certain that given goodwill and a genuine desire to co-operate on all sides, both British and Indian, these proposals can mark a genuine step forward in the collaboration of the British and Indian peoples towards Indian self-government and can assert the rightful position, and strengthen the influence, of India in the counsels of the nations."
The main political parties are, of course, the Congress Party and the Moslem League. There are other important major elements in India, like the scheduled castes, the Sikhs, the Christians and so on, but those are the two main political parties. May I, after apologising to those hon. Members who have already read the White Paper and have listened patiently to my reading of it, now proceed with some explanation of the political and constitutional background which has determined the nature of our proposals, and also go somewhat more fully into the details of the actual steps which the Vice- roy is now taking in order to give effect to them?
As the statement makes clear, the offer of March, 1942, stands in its entirety. That offer was based on two main principles. The first is that no limit is set to India's freedom to decide for herself her own destiny, whether as a free member and partner in the British Commonwealth or even without it. The second is that this can only be achieved under a constitution or constitutions framed by Indians to which the main elements in India's national life are consenting parties. These principles, if I may quote the Prime Minister,
stand in their full scope and integrity. No one can add anything to them and no one can take anything away.
That, I may say, is an affirmation, not only of our own loyal purpose, but of the inescapable facts of the Indian situation. We can only transfer our ultimate control over India to a Government or Governments capable of exercising it. We cannot hand India over to anarchy or to civil war. Our responsibility to the people of India themselves forbid that course, and, indeed, our responsibility to the peace of the world forbids it. On the other hand, we cannot impose a constitution that will break up the moment our authority is no longer there to sustain it. The point was forcibly stated in a recent address by Dr. Ambedkar, the recognized leader of the Scheduled Castes and the Labour Member in the Viceroy's Executive. Arguing that only an Indian constitution "framed by Indians for Indians and with the voluntary consent of Indians" could command the necessary obedience and respect, he went on:
It is useless for the British to frame a constitution for India, which they will not remain to enforce.…I, therefore, am firmly of the opinion that if Indians want Dominion status they cannot escape the responsibility of framing their own constitution.
So far, no progress has been made in that direction, and the internal deadlock, essentially a deadlock as between Hindu India and Moslem India, remains unresolved. We should be wrong, I think, to be unduly impatient with Indian political leaders for their failure to find common ground. The issues at stake are great and the differences of approach to the problem are rooted in convictions sincerely and strongly held. I trust, nevertheless, that the right solution will emerge,
and certainly His Majesty's Government will at all times be anxious to give such assistance as might contribute to its attainment.
Meanwhile, India cannot stand still. Over and above the effort still required for the war against Japan, there is an immense and urgent task of reconstruction, of agricultural and industrial development, of health and education, which cannot wait for the slower processes of political adjustment, but which at the same time calls for the whole-hearted co-operation of every community and section of the Indian people. This cannot be done without some real advance in the political field, some closer and more effective association of the organised political forces in India with the government of their country.
At the present juncture that is only possible, for the reasons I have given, on an interim and provisional basis. It must be without prejudice to the ultimate constitutional settlement, whatever its character. The ideal to which we have always looked forward is that of an All-India Union in which the States would play their full part. At the same time we have also recognised the possibility that agreement between Hindus and Moslems on any form of Indian unity may be unattainable. Any interim advance, therefore, must in no way prejudge the question whether the ultimate settlement is based on a united or a divided India, or affect the existing position or future freedom of choice of the States. That means that it must be within the present constitution, for there is no change in that constitution which would not be regarded as giving a bias in favour of one or other final solution. There can be no question, therefore, of making the Executive responsible, in our Parliamentary sense, to the Legislature. That would at once, in Moslem eyes, imply the control of a unified India by a Hindu majority. Nor can there be any question of doing away with the existing power of the Governor-General to overrule a majority view of his Council, if in his opinion, I quote the words of the Act:
…the safety, tranquillity, or interests of British India are, or may be, essentially affected,
nor of his consequent responsibility to the Secretary of State and to Parliament for its exercise. That power, I should explain,
is a power in reserve, not an instrument m normal use. So long, however, as there is no Indian constitution under which controversial issues can be ultimately resolved, by an accepted democratic procedure, it is a necessary protection for the minorities whether against immediate injury or against decisions which might prejudice the constitutional future to their detriment. It is, in any case, a power, as the terms of the Act clearly state, whose main purpose is to safeguard Indian interests. That applies no less to the Viceroy's duty, in the existing constitutional position, to secure the fulfilment of our obligations towards the States.
In order to emphasise this aspect of the Viceroy's position, as well as for reasons of practical convenience, His Majesty's Government have, in connection with these proposals, decided on a step, not referred to in the statement, but in our opinion of substantial importance. That is to appoint a United Kingdom High Commissioner in India to represent the particular interests of the United Kingdom. Under present conditions there is always the possibility that the Viceroy might on occasion be placed, in dealing with his Council, in the ambiguous and even embarrassing dual position of being both concerned, as head of the Government of India, with the defence of Indian interests and, at the same time, of representing the specific material interests of this country. A United Kingdom High Commissioner, on the other hand, would be free, as in the Dominions, to discuss and negotiate with the appropriate Departments of the Government of India on a footing of complete equality, and also of complete frankness.
That is a matter of practical convenience. Most of his business will, I imagine, be conducted on behalf of Departments like the Board of Trade and the Treasury. The precise question as to who will answer for him in Parliament still remains to be settled, and is deserving of careful consideration.
I have stated the conditions, inherent in the situation, which indicate the only line on which advance is possible at this moment. I must remind the House of the advance, the real though not always appreciated advance, that has already taken place. When I came to the India Office, five years ago, the Governor-General's Executive Council, by whose majority decisions government is normally carried on, consisted of four European officials and three non-official Indian members. For these last three years it has consisted of four European and 11 Indian members. These Indian members have been drawn from all the main communities and from all parts of India. They are men who have played an active and distinguished part in Indian public life. They responded to the Viceroy's invitation to join him as colleagues not because they are less anxious than any of their fellow-countrymen that India should attain the fullest freedom at the earliest possible moment, but because, both as patriots and as practical men, they believed that they could serve India better by assuming responsibility than by abstention. They have served India well, and the value of their service to India and the constitutional advance it has represented will some day be more fully recognised. Some of them are well known to hon. Members, as, for instance, Sir Ramaswami Mudaliar, who has recently with such eloquence and ability put India on the world map at San Francisco.
Unfortunately, it has to be admitted, and the members of the present Council would be the first to admit it, that their position is weakened by the fact that they do not enjoy the support of the main organised political parties. Neither in the Legislature nor in the Press are they sustained as a body by that measure of co-operative good will and understanding which is so desirable for the carrying out of the great and urgent tasks of reconstruction. Nothing could serve that purpose better than if the leaders of those main organised parties, postponing without prejudice the constitutional issues which have so far divided them, would agree together in giving their support to the formation of a new Executive selected from among the leaders of Indian political life both at the centre and in the provinces.
The right hon. Gentleman is coming to the most important part of his speech. Will he tell us whether he proposes now to release from prison the leaders of Indian opinion, so that they might be freely consulted and express their desires?
I would ask the hon. Member to be a little patient, because I am coming to that in a moment. If the offer which His Majesty's Government now make is accepted, all the portfolios, except that of War Member held by the Commander-in-Chief, will be transferred to Indian hands. The portfolios transferred would include not only the important Home and Finance Departments, but also that of External Affairs, hitherto reserved to the Viceroy in person. This would naturally be accompanied by the appointment of fully accredited representatives abroad and so constitute a definite enhancement of India's international status. The new Executive would thus in fact, though not as the outcome of any formal constitutional process, be made representative of organised Indian political opinion.
In selecting his Council the Viceroy will be concerned to secure a balanced representation of the main communities, including equal proportions of Moslems and Caste Hindus. I understand that he also intends to secure representation for the Scheduled Castes, for the Sikhs and possibly for some other special interests. But the essential condition is the equality in representation between the two main communities. That is indispensable to securing agreement. It must always be remembered that we are dealing, not with an ultimate constitution, but with a provisional, interim working arrangement, aimed at enlisting the maximum of immediate support and the maximum of practical, advance without prejudice to the future.
Do I understand that the Congress Leaders will be released unconditionally to consider these proposals, that they will be allowed to come out of prison and to consider the proposals which have been made without there being any binding upon them to accept or reject before they are released?
I would ask the hon. Member, as I asked his hon. Friend just now, to be a little patient and to allow me to explain the proposals in my own way.
Whether the principles of arithmetical majority can ever apply in a country with such profound differences and such strong consciousness of those differences as exist in India is another question. Even the American constitution has disregarded those principles in the equal senatorial representation given to every State, great or small. If our proposals for a newly selected Executive at the Centre are accepted we would hope, and indeed it would be a natural corollary, that Ministerial Government would be resumed in the Provinces now under Section 93. We would also hope that following the example set at the Centre, they would be on a coalition basis. Such questions as the holding of elections, whether at the Centre or in the Provinces, will no doubt be discussed at the Conference which the Viceroy has invited to meet him.
Lord Wavell is at this moment informing the Indian public by broadcast of the invitations which he has issued to the leading political figures in India whom he wishes to consult with a view to the selection of the proposed new Executive. These include the gentlemen now holding the office of Premier in a Provincial Government and, in the case of Provinces under Section 93, those who last held that office; the leader of the Congress Party and the deputy leader of the Moslem League in the Central Assembly, the leaders of both those parties in the Council of State, and the leader of the Nationalist Party and of the European Group in the Assembly; they also include Mr. Gandhi and Mr. Jinnah, as the recognised leading personalities in the two main parties; Rai Bahadur Sivaraj to represent the Scheduled Castes, and Master Tara Singh to represent the Sikhs. It is in the light of these discussions that the Viceroy hopes to be able to form a new Executive pledged to the prosecution of the war against Japan and to the great and fruitful task of Indian reconstruction.
There is a matter which I have not so far mentioned, but which I realise is very much in the mind of hon. Members, and that is the release of those still under detention as the result of the 1942 disturbances. I must remind the House that this matter has been, from first to last, dealt with by the Government of India and by the Provincial Governments responsible for law and order. The Pro- vincial Governments have on their own initiative progressively released the vast majority of detainees, while the Central Government have already released seven out of the fifteen members of the Congress Working Committee. The Viceroy's Council have now recommended the release of the members of the Working Committee still under detention and this recommendation, which has the full approval of His Majesty's Government, is being put into effect. It is possible that it has already been put into effect. The final decision about the remaining detainees in the different Provinces will be left to the new Central and Provincial Governments when formed. These then are the proposals which the Viceroy, on behalf of His Majesty's Government, is laying before India. They owe everything to the initiative of Lord Wavell, to his deep sympathy with Indian aspirations and to his firm belief in India's future greatness. Their actual final form was shaped here in consultation between him and leading members of both of the main parties in the late Coalition. They thus represent an agreed national offer on the part of this country to the people of India.
We earnestly hope that our offer will meet with acceptance. It is the utmost that we ourselves can do pending Indian agreement upon the final constitutional settlement. We believe and hope, however, that, if accepted, the co-operation of Indian statesmen in facing the many practical and urgent issues of India's needs, may help to bring the hour of agreement nearer. The other day Mr. Rajagopalachari, the late Premier of Madras, urged his fellow countrymen to be open-minded about any British offer in order
to use the power and opportunities so obtained to form a habit of common purpose which will cut across classes, creeds and communities…and help us to become a strong united people.
Those are the words of true statesmanship; they will find a ready echo in every quarter in this House.
In any case, the acceptance of our offer opens up a wide field of opportunity for Indians to mould their country's destiny, to build up its prosperity at home and to vindicate its importance in the world scheme of the future. India has played, thanks to the valour of her fighting men, a notable part in the world's struggle for freedom. She feels, and rightly feels, that both her past efforts and the developments which she envisages entitle her to equal pride of place both among the peoples of the British Commonwealth and among the great nations of the world. We share that desire and, so far as in us lies, are making our offer as a genuine contribution to that end. We are placing India's immediate future in Indian hands. It is for them to take and to shape it.
One last word about these proposals. No one can regard them as concessions wrung from us in the hour of weakness. They are offered in the hour of victory as an earnest of our good will to India and of our genuine desire to help forward the fulfilment of her aspirations as well as the fulfilment of our own traditions and instincts. I might indeed venture to claim that in relation to the present situation in India and in the world, they justify certain words used of this country by Emerson a century ago:
With strength still equal to the time; still wise to entertain and swift to execute the policy which the mind and heart of mankind requires in the present hour.
I think the House will have heard with satisfaction the statement made by the Secretary of State for India and his speech in amplification of the White Paper. We are all conscious when we discuss Indian matters of the importance of doing nothing that will in any way hinder the reaching of agreement between Indian parties. We shall all desire to do our utmost to help the Viceroy in his task. In particular, I think that we shall not help forward a settlement by dwelling on old, unhappy far off things. I would rather look to the future than to the past. The action taken by this Government was, as the Secretary of State has said, the result of consideration given to this matter by the late Government and discussions with the Viceroy. It was clear that Indian politicians were unable to solve what is called the deadlock.
We on these Benches are always anxious, as I think all the House is, for Indian self-government, but we recognise, and everybody ought to recognise, the enormous difficulties of forming a Constitution for a sub-continent of 400,000,000 people of immense diversity of race, language and degree of civilisation. It is just as well to remember that there are people who do not understand the difficulties. I had an apparently intelligent and well-educated journalist come to talk to me about India, and I mentioned the fact that the Indian population was 400,000,000. He promptly wrote down 40,000,000. I corrected him, but he did not seem to think that it made the slightest difference to the problem. He did not appreciate the difference between 40,000,000 and 400,000,000. That shows; the degree of ignorance there is sometimes among people who come from other countries and talk about India. We all recognise the enormous difficulties.
I believe that it was a tragedy that the offer brought to India on behalf of the late Government by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) was not accepted. As the Secretary of State has said, that offer is still open. It suggested a way of dealing with the future Constitution, but invited variations of that way if Indians themselves could find another, but unfortunately they have not. In these circumstances, it has been thrown back to us to make some step forward. I entirely agree with the Secretary of State that we cannot impose a constitution on India. This attempt which is being made by the Viceroy seems to me to be the only practical line of advance at the present time. The attempt is being made to get Indian leaders to enter the Viceroy's Executive, and by working together on practical problems, to learn to co-operate.
I think that this attempt deserves the support of leaders of Indian public opinion. The proposals go a pretty long way. They carry further the process of Indianisation which, of course, has been going on for decades, but has been greatly accelerated of recent years. They also enhance the status of India in its relationship to other nations, and I should like to echo what the Secretary of State said with regard to Sir Ramaswami Mudaliar. I had the privilege of being a colleague of his at the San Francisco Conference. He impressed everybody by his admirable, states manlike speech. I also had the opportunity of sitting under his able chairmanship. There is no doubt whatever that the representatives of India took a high place among those representatives of so many nations.
This is, of course, only an interim arrangement. We all recognise that at the present moment we cannot get a complete change of the Indian Constitution, and that we cannot get that change until we get complete agreement in India. I would urge upon all my friends in India to seize this opportunity. I know how much they desire the government of India by Indians, but they also desire—and this is due to the long connection of this country and India—that India should be democratically governed. But the foundation of democratic institutions is tolerance. Their success depends really upon the degree to which majorities and minorities can live together in a community without either oppression, on the one hand, or fear, on the other. Democracy is not just a system of government. It embodies a conception of the way in which human beings regard each other, and the obstacle up till now has not been the difficulty of devising constitutional machinery, but the absence of that common purpose which is the only thing that can give power to the machine and keep it running. I would urge our Indian friends to remember that within the British Commonwealth progress has been effected rather by practice than by theory. Every practical step forward has led to the next step, until full self-government has been achieved. Formal acceptance of constitutional changes and position have generally come after the fact. That is exemplified by the process that led up to the Statute of Westminster.
Here is a great opportunity for the leaders of Indian public opinion and of political parties to show statesmanship, to grasp the opportunity, and to take the practical step forward instead of sitting aloof and troubling too much about theory. I am sure that the decision to release the detainees is a wise one.
I do not think the hon. Member quite realises what the conditions in India were three years ago, or, indeed, what the conditions are in India at any time, or he would not speak quite so lightly.
If the hon. Member wants to make a criticism and say "very belated," I am certainly entitled to answer it. Up to a few weeks ago I was a Member of His Majesty's Government, and I must take my share of responsibility for what was done by that Government. Although, as a matter of fact, the question of the detainees has been largely a matter in the hands of the Provincial Governments, it is also largely a matter, in the first instance, for the Government of India, which is a Government of Indian representatives and, as we have heard from the Secretary of State, the Viceroy has not had to overrule their decision. I would rather not go into this controversy to-day. I believe in looking forward instead of looking back. I believe we shall all join in wishing the Viceroy success in his efforts, and in the hope that this gathering may be as widely representative as possible, that it may obtain the co-operation of the leading members of all communities in all the Provinces and that, together, they may be able to get an agreement which will lead to another great, practical step forward. I think if you can get that practical step, all working together in the Government, you will then have an infinitely better chance of solving the constitutional problems which must be faced quite apart from this interim arrangement.
First of all, I want to congratulate the Secretary of State and the Viceroy. I think this is a very definite step forward and one which will surely at last show the whole world our anxiety to carry out the plans that were set out in the offer sent out to India some two or three years ago. I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman opposite that this is not the time for looking back but for looking forward. I say that advisedly because I have a vivid recollection of the discussions and the negotiations which led to the 1935 Act, when the Leader of the Opposition and I sat side by side for some 18 months and were then looked upon by some people as very advanced in our views and as going very much too far in the way of political advance in India. I do not know whether he ever suffered from that charge, but I certainly did. It seems to me that those of us who were then called advanced are now behind when account is taken of the proposals made since and supported by those whose views have changed. That makes me all the more sure that he is right when he says it is no use looking back. The thing now is to look to the future and to hope and believe that this offer will convince the people of India that we have done everything that can be done by this House. There is no further step, as I see it, that we could take to bring about the government of India on the lines offered when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) went out some years ago. There is nothing more that we can do than is contained in this offer. The next and final step must come from India itself.
I am really hopeful at last that, if this offer is accepted, we shall find that the members of the different communities, whose differences are really very deep and very difficult for the European to understand, and who are very afraid of the future in many cases, will be brought together and enabled to get away from the fears which have divided them in the past. It is not going to be easy for them, and, as the right hon. Gentleman said, it is very difficult for the world to understand conditions in India. I should like not only that the House should fully understand them; I wish very much that other nations would understand them. I wish they could be fully understood in the United States for example. I was interested in the right hon. Gentleman's journalistic interview when the gentleman who interviewed him did not seem to appreciate the difference between 40,000,000 and 400,000,000. The only remark that I have ever made in regard to India in the United States which seemed to me to bring home to them what India meant in numbers was when I said that the whole population of the United States could be added to India every 35 years. That brought home to them the magnitude of the whole problem of India and its teeming millions as nothing else seemed to do. I hope this offer will be accepted, I hope and believe that, if it is accepted, it may be the beginning of understanding between the different communities which may eventually lead to bringing about a scheme of Government which they can accept and work and which will lead to the final triumph of a self governing India within the British Empire.
I am sure the House will realise that, without casting reflections on the Secretary of State or anyone else, it is rather difficult carefully to analyse a White Paper published only to-day and read to us in the House, not giving us beforehand an opportunity for full reflection. Naturally a White Paper of the significance of this document needs careful and sympathetic reflection. I do not believe it is appropriate at the moment for any of us to rush in either to start criticising or, on the other hand, excessively to applaud the principles contained in it. Therefore, I hope the time is not far distant when we shall have an opportunity, after due reflection, to discuss the matter more fully, and when those who are interested in India will meet again in this place, at no distant future, to turn our attention to this subject. Meanwhile I am sure that all who take a sympathetic interest in India are gratified at the announcement that the remaining detainees are now released.
When I interjected, perhaps too impulsively, not expecting the reaction that came, that it was belated, I assure the House, including my respected Leader, that I had no intention necessarily of casting a reflection on him. But I was certainly expressing the point of view of a number in my own party. The Labour Party Conference last year by an overwhelming majority called for among other things the release of Indian political prisoners. In expressing that comment I was by no means speaking merely for myself. I feel—I do not want this to be taken in an unfortunate or unpleasant manner—that it is regrettable, from the standpoint of the best interests of our country and of India, that the prisoners could not have been released earlier. There may be adequate reasons for not releasing them earlier. If so, I have never understood why Gandhi should have been so released and why other very influential members of the Working Committee were also released. I do not know, not having been a Member of the Cabinet and not having been introduced into the inner secrets, what other facts there are which would cause me to endorse the continued detention of these men. All I can say is that, as a Member of the House of Commons, I have to go by what information comes to me and others and, on the basis of that informatin, I feel that it is most regrettable that these men, who I think would have followed the lead of Gandhi and not interfered with the war effort, were not released at an earlier date.
I am not unaware of allegations which have been made. I am not unaware of the White Paper issued some time ago making a long series of allegations and attributing to Congress responsibility for the disturbances. I do not believe that it proved the case that it claimed it could prove. There may be other facts than these, but from my own judgment I believe that, if the prisoners could have been released at an earlier date, it might have contributed to general good will and well being and, if there was a danger such as that to which some oblique reference has been made, I should like to know what it is. I equally assure my right hon. Friend that I am not unaware of dangerous possibilities, and it is not my intention at any time to encourage them to become actualities. I entirely endorse the remarks of both right hon. Gentlemen regarding the nature of democracy. Every one of us who is essentially democratic knows full well that there is a wide difference between purely mechanical democracy on the one hand and the essential spirit and content of democracy on the other. Because of that, I not only recognise that we cannot really, in a mathematical way, try to get an exact proportional representation of all parties, but that we have to make allowances for the flux and flow of life and thought which can perhaps bring about some reconciliation in the parties which at times have been so antagonistic. I think, too, that most of the important political movements in India accept that fact in some measure as well as I do. I know, for instance, that Congress, which indeed happens to be the largest political force in India, has on more than one occasion made it clear that it does not intend to apply merely mathematical and mechanical democracy. Do not let us assume, in laying it down that it is the spirit of democracy that counts, that that is not appreciated in large measure by our Indian friends as well.
The point of the whole Paper is, firstly, that in fact it represents no real advance on what was taken out by my right hon. and learned Friend some two or three years ago, save that in a representative and symbolic way the Viceroy's Council is now to include in all its offices an Indian personality. I think that may have distinct psychological value. I think it is a recognition that Indians are capable of filling, not relatively minor State offices but every office in their State. To that extent I agree that here we have what may be of some psychological value. The essence of the issue, however, lies in the question of how far power is being really transferred or is likely to be transferred. The Viceroy still retains the veto. It depends on how that veto is to be exercised. It also depends, on the other hand, on how far Indian political leaders are prepared to accept that veto and work for its reduction, minimisation or abolition.
We remember the difficulties that occurred when there was a partial acceptance of the Government of India Act in the Provinces. For some time there was considerable discussion and hesitancy regarding the vetoing functions of the Governors of Provinces. Somehow or other that difficulty was overcome. It may be that in this instance the very considerable remaining powers of the Viceroy will be accepted with a similar arrangement by the Indian parties. I do not know whether it will be so, but it can be our hope, because, if one believes we should go as far as we can along the line of mutual understanding and experiment, naturally we do not want to see bitter conflict, recrimination and hostility either between the Indian parties or between them and ourselves. It should be made clear, however, that undoubtedly the goal of the Indian parties is, ultimately or soon, complete political independence and responsibility, and unless they see in and through this offer the possibility of advancing towards that goal, there may be many serious difficulties yet to be overcome.
There are two other things I wish to say. First, although I no not want to suggest that this offer is made under duress, it certainly has a considerable bearing on the war against Japan. For that reason, if for no other, if we could provide in India the example of the Indian people possessing freedom not only to govern themselves but to frame their own Constitution, such an example of democracy would have a profound effect upon the whole of the Eastern world. It would be invaluable again in the psychological sense. The other thing is this. Naturally it is not for us as British people to lay down precisely what Indians should do regarding this offer. It is for them to decide. Our task is to remove obstacles, difficulties and misunderstandings. Therefore, one awaits with hope a response from India that will be encouraging. In the meantime I will merely say that all of us are glad, with varying degrees of emphasis, that at least something has emerged from the conversations that have taken place between the Viceroy and Members of His Majesty's Government. I pay a tribute to Lord Wavell for his very earnest attempt in more ways than one to demonstrate political vision and a really humane interest. I believe that in many respects Lord Wavell has made his mark in India. Whether we agree or disagree with some of the proposals he has made, we appreciate him as a human being, disinterested and devoted, who is really trying to meet the great needs and problems of India in the right spirit.
We have to await the response from India. I hope most earnestly it will be encouraging. I hope that, despite the drastic criticism that will undoubtedly come, we shall nevertheless find the Indian people will feel that this may be an offer that can be interpreted in a constructive way. We have yet to see what will happen. As far as lies within my own humble amateur power, I will do all I can to see that India realises that the people of this country are anxious for India to move forward to real political responsibility and independence, and that at an early time, out of all the difficulties and tensions that have existed up to now, the great people of India, with their mighty history and great promise, shall be friends with this country on the basis of mutual freedom and mutual respect.
I wish to associate myself with the good will which hon. Members have expressed to Lord Wavell and to assure him, if assurances are necessary, that the House of Commons and the people of this country, whose purpose with regard to India has been decided and will not change, wish him all success in carrying out the new offer that has been made and hope most sincerely that he will receive full co-operation from all elements in India in what is a practical step. I am very glad a statement has been made today, because there has been some anxiety, and the fact that there have been anxiety and delay has led to the belief that some differences of opinion had arisen and that the opinion of the people of this country might have changed.
In one sense the most important thing which the Secretary of State said was that the offer of 1942 remains unchanged. That is so. It should be recognised in India that that is the purpose of our people, and that if we cannot succeed in bringing India into the same freedom as we enjoy ourselves, we shall have failed in our mission as a liberating Power. That is the unchangeable purpose of Parliament and of our people. We do not take the view that when that day comes political separation will accentuate the difficulties between our two countries. On the contrary, we see a very wide and complementary field in which we shall work in the closest possible association. The Commonwealth would be enriched by the inclusion of India on the same terms as ourselves. It opens out a wonderful vision. There are many things in which India and Britain are essential to each other. The maintenance of stability in South East Asia, the pressing needs of the great population of India, the development and industrialisation of India—in all these matters there is need for cooperation on the friendliest basis.
I do not know that the proposals announced to-day will meet with unanimous approval from everybody in India; I am afraid there will be intractables here and there; but those proposals are a practical step which everybody can take at once in order to work up to the final stages of the transfer of power. I think that for a considerable time there has been growing dissatisfaction in India with the somewhat sterile rut in which the purely communal aspect of affairs has been stabilised, and a very encouraging effort has been made by different people who are working wholeheartedly and sincerely to try to get things on to a broader basis and to make a more practical approach to the difficulties of the economic and political situation. I join in welcoming these proposals. I sincerely hope they will meet with a practical and immediate response from India, which I am sure will be met more than half way from this country.
I heartily endorse all that has been said in regard to the step which the Secretary of State and the Government have taken. This is a very momentous occasion, and I only wish there were far more hon. Members present. I have long wished that the offer which the right hon. Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) took out to India two or three years ago could have been put into effect, but as it was not possible to do that, I feel that the statement made by the Secretary of State has reassured the people of this country and Indian opinion that that offer is still open and that the statement to-day is an addition to the offer made at that time. I hope and believe that Indian parties of all classes and creeds will accept the statement in the spirit in which it has been made. This statement, which we have had so little time to think over, gives the impression of absolute sincerity in its hope and belief that we are trying to do the right thing in the right way.
The subject of India is so vast that one dares not go into any details. I hope that people in this country will gradually come to understand the immense importance and perplexity of the Indian position. As the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition said, there is throughout the world absolutely abysmal ignorance of the Indian position. I hope that not only in this country but in foreign countries that ignorance will gradually be cleared away. Without understanding in other countries it will be difficult for India to take advantage of this great step, and unless it is understood here it will be more difficult to support the efforts made by Indians in India. I have heard doubt expressed that it may perhaps be too great a step that foreign affairs should be undertaken by Indians. I am not of that opinion. As the Secretary of State said, the recent delegation to this country and the delegation to San Francisco have shown the great weight and sense of responsibility which Indian leaders have been able to express. I hope and believe that this step will be accepted in India in the spirit in which it is made. I am sure it will meet with the greatest success if the right people are appointed. They can be found in numbers in India to-day.
It is now some 12 years since I left India, but I have tried to follow events there as closely as possible. I have a very large number of friends in India from whom, I am glad to say, I still hear. I hope this offer will be accepted, and, remembering that the sort of democracy which is suitable for our political organisation is not necessarily suitable for all other countries, I believe that by these proposals we can make a great step forward which is not necessarily in conformity with the democratic principles which we have here. In conclusion, I wish Lord Wavell, an old friend of mine in India, the greatest success in the task which he is shouldering and I hope he will be completely successful. I want also to congratulate the last Government and the present Government on the steps they have taken.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Central Nottingham (Sir F. Sykes) has spoken with great knowledge of India and, we all know, with great love for India. I would join with him in saying how thankful I am that the Government have been able on the last working day of this Parliament to make this great pronouncement, so full of promise for India and for the Commonwealth of the Empire, and I believe we may say for the peace and well-being of the whole world. I hope that our friends in India, when they consider this White Paper, will try to look at it in the spirit in which the Secretary of State has spoken this afternoon, and the spirit in which the Leader of the Opposition has joined in commending these proposals to India.
I am sure that if the good will that has been present this afternoon in this House, of which every speaker has given evidence, could be realised by the leaders of India and the people of India they would be able to interpret this pronouncement of the Viceroy in the same spirit. It is quite easy to look at it as politicians sometimes do, when they find points here and there where they would like improvement or where they feel there is need for change, but it is an immense step forward in the right direction, in the direction of full freedom. We want to see in India freedom for all, for every race and religion and for the vast multitude of unenfranchised Indians who are suffering from want and poverty. We do not want it to be a negative freedom—just a freedom from want and fear—but a positive freedom—freedom for development of India's highest self, and of the very best that is in every man and woman. That is surely the aim that we have and that all patriotic Indians must share.
It has been very well said this afternoon, that we do not want our friends in India, who are rightly eager to have all the democratic privileges that we here enjoy, in adopting the forms of democracy to lose the spirit which alone can make democracy work for the good of all. We have seen in this Parliament how it is possible for minorities to give expression to a point of view, which is not the view either of the Government or of the great majority of the House, and we have seen how it has been possible for the forms of Parliamentary democracy not merely to provide that the will of the majority shall prevail, but to provide a place for the minority as participants in the life of the nation and of Parliament, not merely by criticism but by helpful and positive co-operation. It is that, surely, which we need to see in India and in every country in which democracy is to have a helpful development—the highest political form of civilisation that we have yet been able to realise. It is a freedom like that to which we look forward for India.
We are proud to think that this House is sometimes spoken of as the Mother of Parliaments. We have been able to help come into being Parliaments in other parts of the Empire and other parts of the world. It is a great thing if this House can be the mother of free institutions. That is what we look forward to in the future of India. There was a time, only a few weeks ago, when on a happy evening Mr. Speaker lit the lamp that shines in the tower above this House, whenever we are deliberating after nightfall, and in memorable words he reminded us that it was the symbol of freedom, the symbol of the lamp of freedom that this House has kept burning all through these difficult years of war. It is more than a lamp for ourselves. It is a light that we want to share as widely as possible with our friends and our fellow citizens of the Commonwealth of the Empire in India, and with the wider human family without. I believe that to-night we are helping to pass on that light, and we ask our friends in India to join with us that we may share it with them and with others. Freedom is not a selfish possession for ourselves. It is something to be shared.
I desire first of all to pay tribute to the eloquence, sincerity and enthusiasm of the last hon. Member's speech, which I was delighted to have had the privilege of hearing, and to say that although I am sorry there are not more Members present here on this occasion it does not deprive this being what in fact it is—a great State occasion. This announcement is a great State announcement and I am glad it was made simultaneously here and in India. That in itself, I think, has its own symbolic importance.
When we in this House are talking about democracy and when we are considering the proposals that have been put forward for consideration by representatives of the great parties in India, and ask ourselves whether these are democratic or not, we should really get back to an understanding, which is not very difficult, of what the simple meaning of democracy is. Democracy is surely the method of government by the people. It does not necessarily mean the kind of institutions that we British people have found suitable for ourselves. Those institutions, I have always thought, do not always suit other nations; quite clearly, history shows us that. We are now considering the great conglomeration of peoples who are moving towards becoming a nation of united India, and if this great conglomeration of peoples can find for themselves means of control and expression of their circumstances and their lives, that is for them the democracy which they are seeking. I welcome these proposals which have been put forward, because I believe that they do give the Indian peoples the opportunity of framing their own democracy if they will do so.
As I listened to the great statement by the Secretary of State for India my mind went back a very long time to the first political meeting which I ever attended when I was a small boy—I am not sure if I had got out of knickerbockers—when I was taken by my father in Manchester to listen to a speech by Mr. Charles Bradlaugh, once a distinguished Member of this House and always a distinguished advocate of justice for India and redress of the grievances of India. I do not suppose I understood everything that was said, in fact I am sure I did not, but I still remember the view I had of this magnificent old man with his white hair, his burning cheeks, his tremendous eloquence as he smote the table before him, and how he declaimed on the necessity of Britain shouldering her real responsibilities, redressing the wrongs of India, and putting right the social conditions of India. So that my awakening to political life was, in a sense, this awakening to an understanding of this tremendous problem in India, and I know that in India at the present time—because I had it from an Indian friend of mine, Mulk Raj Anand, not long ago—the name of Bradlaugh is revered as one of the first workers for the freedom of India.
I do want to ask my Indian friends, of whom I have many, when they are thinking over this offer to think not only of the political structure of India but also to think of those tremendous economic and social problems to which my attention has always been more turned than to the purely political side. I refer to the poverty and the starvation in India, the fact that the expectation of life in India is only 27 years, that the land of India is so poor because the peasants cannot afford to put back the dung of animals into the land; they have to burn it because in some places at least it is their only fuel. There are in India tremendous drawbacks and conditions which only Indians at this time can possibly alter. The social and economic conditions are things which the Indians will now have completely in their own hands if they accept this offer.
May I also pay another tribute to that very great man, Field-Marshal Lord Wavell, who himself has contributed very largely indeed to the proposal which is now brought forward? That great soldier philosopher is just the type of man to appeal to India. I am sure that that great gesture of his at the time of the Bengal famine when he left the Viceregal Palace, went down into Bengal and moved about without any escort at all among the people to see what was going on, must have impressed them very deeply indeed. I know that Field-Marshal Wavell, the Viceroy, has put this question of the social conditions and the health of India as the first among his numerous preoccupations.
I do not want to say more. I wanted to pay my tribute to this great act of State which has this day been performed. I do not want to descend into any party questions as to whom it is due or to whom it is not due. I only say that I believe it will always stand as a great achievement in the record of Parliament, that we have by this act opened the door to freedom for India.
As one who has studied the Indian question and has paid many visits to India, I join in paying my tribute to what the last hon. Member has called a great act of State which we have heard announced to-day. No doubt much is due to the great Viceroy, Lord Wavell, but I do not think on this occasion we should omit to pay our tribute to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for India. He has played a great part in this matter, as is obvious from the White Paper. During the past few years we have seen him steering what at times must have been an extremely difficult course, without ever using a word which could worsen the situation, and always trying to advance the purposes which are the purposes of all parties in this House—the advancement of India to the stature of nationhood and of self-government. I hope that people here and in India will not forget the credit that is due to my right hon. Friend.
It is unquestionably up to India now to make some response to this offer. I want to emphasise that point of view. There may have been a time for Indian criticism of this country. We do not want to rake up the past on this occasion, but I must confess that when I was in India I was frequently very disappointed, in discussions with my Indian friends, at the absence of constructive proposals. They criticised the situation very ably—there are some very keen analytical minds in India—but when one said—as one was entitled to say—"Well, I can assure you the people of the United Kingdom are genuinely desirous of helping you towards self-government. What are your proposals?" I never once heard a constructive proposal that would have been accepted by the main political parties of India as a unanimous solution. One must recognise that, and one is entitled to say to India, "Give us your genuine constructive objections to these proposals. If you do not like them, tell us so, and do not merely tell us that you do not like them, but tell us what you suggest as an alternative." It really is urgent that Indian leaders should get together and try to solve some of these questions, so that they can present to us, if they do not accept these proposals, an agreed solution of their own. In my opinion, we should incur a grave responsibility before the bar of history, if we did not present these proposals.
Let me make it clear that it is the opinion of most people here, and of many of my friends in the United States and elsewhere, that the Indian leaders will incur a very grave responsibility indeed before the bar of history if they do not come out now with a constructive responsibility, and take, with any help we may give them, the large strides which they can now take towards the development of Indian nationhood. There is no time and no room for Indian suspicions of British motives in this matter, and I hope, most sincerely, that this act of State to-day is the first step in a new chapter for India. We shall devote time and attention not to controversies, but to competition between the parties concerned to see who can make the most constructive proposals towards that end which we all desire to see, and which will ensure that India shall take her place as one of the great nations of the world.
My hon. Friend who has just spoken paid a tribute to the Secretary of State in which I would like to join. Two days ago, I received a letter from an eminent Indian statesman in which he said:
I expect no praise, I am indifferent to abuse, but I do not like obstruction.
My right hon. Friend this afternoon, as on other occasions, has been subjected to obstruction; he has usually had little praise; he has had a great deal of abuse; but he has held steadfastly, with high courage, on his course; and we see now what I think he may in years to come feel, if he does not now, is the crowning act of his life. The few of us who are here this afternoon—and the small number present does not represent any lack of interest on the part of the British people in India—feel, as the right hon. and gallant Member for Central Nottingham (Major-General Sir Frederick Sykes) said, that this is indeed a momentous occasion. Though we are few, as lovers of India, lovers of Indians, even if we know little of their country, we are proud to be present this afternoon to take our small part in a great act of statesmanship.
I was delighted to find that in this matter I am in cordial agreement with my hon. Friend the Member for North Islington (Dr. Guest). We sometimes differ—I think we differed on the subject of a Second Front—but on many subjects we are agreed, and we agree in welcoming this great Measure. We also agree in protesting against a misuse of the word "democracy," and we agree, I think, in the deep feeling of hope with which we look forward to the happiness which may result from what we are discussing this afternoon.
It may have been chance—or, to use a phrase of the Secretary of State once grossly misrepresented, an act of God—that my first halting speech in this House, five years ago, was made on the subject of India. It is certainly chance, and my good fortune in catching your eye, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that my last speech, which I fear is almost equally halting and, I hope, will be equally short, is on the same subject. I know my hon. Friend the Member for the Combined English Universities (Mr. Harvey) feels moved, as I do, not only by the occasion, but by the fact that in his case, too, this is the last time he will address this Assembly. In those five years much has happened in India, as elsewhere. The chief thing which has happened in India, apart from the outward things of the war, has been the growth of a wide conviction among thinking people, here as well as there, that the future welfare of India, and its peoples, as a proud, happy, prosperous and contented nation, claiming its rightful equality among the other great nations of the world, depends not only, and perhaps not even chiefly, on political, constitutional, and legal structures, but on a common determination of the ordinary men, of the people of India themselves, to apply all the resources of modern civilisation, of modern science and of modern technique, to improving the lot of the common man: by better nourishment, better health, better transport, better housing, less ignorance, less illiteracy and less miserable poverty.
Much, indeed, has been done in India to set her on the road to this greater happiness, health and prosperity. I, for one, would do anything I could to praise those who have worked for the positive welfare of India, often with little encouragement, during these years. A tribute to the Indian Medical Service should be paid for the vast change it has produced in the health of India, vast in spite of the appalling lack of health that still exists. But much of the good which was done for the material welfare and education of India came from outside and above, not, as in our own community, from within. The urge, the inspiration and the aspiration must come from within the people themselves; it is not until the common man feels that he has some personal responsibility for his own fate and the fate of his friends and neighbours, that the process of planning the full development of a country can really proceed very far. So we come back, as we are bound to come, to the political constitutional and legal structure without which that personal responsibility of the common man cannot fully develop.
In those who bear the great responsibility of planning for the development of India there is a profound conviction, both of the vast potentialities of human welfare available there if the methods of modern civilisation are applied, whole heartedly and with all round co-operation, to the enormous natural and human resources of India; and of the vast potentialities of misery, poverty and disaster if these methods are not applied, if there is not co-operation, and if things go wrong. There is, I know, an equally profound conviction among those who hold this responsibility that the whole hearted application of those methods of modern civilisation will not be possible until the present political tangle is unravelled. Now is the critical time; now is the time to gain the confidence and collaboration which all who love India and the Indian people know must be forthcoming if happiness is to be won. They will be glad that this try has been made once again. I know enough of those, British and Indians, who bear this responsibility to be sure that this new try is being made in utter sincerity. Nobody who knows Lord Wavell can think otherwise: the Indian people realise his complete sincerity and his love for India. This new try is not being made as a final stage, not as a thing in itself; but as a step in planning the nationhood of India and a better life for its peoples.
We are discussing in a rather thin House, and under very great difficulties, one of the most vital questions that can be brought before us. It involves not only the destiny of the British people and the British Empire, but the destiny of the world. It is clear, I should imagine, from what has happened in Western Europe during the last few years, with its economic devastation and with the dark outlook, economically, that is confronting the people of Europe, that world politics will shift to the East, to India, with its vast economic resources, as yet almost untouched and undeveloped. I will not go into the reasons why I believe they have been left undeveloped, but there they are, vast material and economic resources lying embedded, as it were, in the soil of India. There, too, are the teeming millions, not 40,000,000 but 400,000,000 people, who, if they had any modicum of purchasing power, would be a vast market for the production that modern industry can provide and which even up-to-date agriculture can provide. Therefore, we have to look at this problem of India in the light of world developments that lie immediately before us.
I do not mind saying quite frankly—some of my hon. Friends may be surprised at this, but I hope they will not be offended—that I want to maintain the friendship, and, indeed, the sentiment and good will, of the Indian people within the British Commonwealth of Nations. I have a sort of resentment—it may be fear, I do not know—but I certainly have a sort of sentimental resentment against any encroachment of American Imperialism in the sphere for which we have been responsible for 200 years. I am putting it quite bluntly; I am not important enough to do any damage. I do not want the Indian people, either in sentiment, in feeling or in trade, to go to any other orbit than the orbit of the British Commonwealth of Nations. Hence we are now discussing an immense vital issue, not only for the welfare of the British Commonwealth of Nations but also for the future well-being of mankind.
One is under great difficulties discussing this question in a thin House, and with the White Paper only just issued. It is true I had it before the right hon. Gentleman read it, but a quarter of an hour is not sufficient time to study such a document. I must enter this protest. Having regard to the magnitude of this problem, to the vital issues involved, it would have been fairer, and better in the interests of what we all desire, that this White Paper should have been issued at least a few days ago, so that we should have had an opportunity of studying it. I am not an expert on Parliamentary procedure, but I have been here a long time, and I should have thought it was common sense to have trusted to the good will and reasonable attitude of the House of Commons, and to have produced this White Paper in sufficient time to enable us to study it, and give a considered judgment. As it is, we have to give, as I can only give, an interim judgment.
May I explain that it was impossible for a good many reasons—as the hon. Member knows a great deal has been happening in the last few weeks—to get this matter settled before Lord Wavell left? It was also impossible for Lord Wavell to make his announcement before he had had time to make certain arrangements in India. The result of all that was that this statement could only be made to-day, and clearly it had to be made before the House finally came to an end. I should gladly have seen this announcement made several weeks ago, but, unfortunately, the actual course of events here, and Lord Wavell's necessities after his return to India, brought us to the point that we could only do it to-day. I am sure that the hon. Member will realise that it is only fair to the Indian public that the announcement should be made in India by Lord Wavell, at the same time as it is made here. I am sorry that Parliament was not given fuller opportunity of considering this matter before the Debate, but circumstances have, at any rate, enabled us to make it in the last hours, and I think, if I may say so, not an unworthy conclusion to a great Parliament.
I accept that. I quite realise the difficulties. I only wish to emphasise that it makes it imperative upon me to say that I can only give, as a humble back bencher, an interim decision, or rather an interim opinion, upon this. After further study there may be reservations I shall wish to make, but my reservations will always have in the background the fact that I want, as I have previously stated, to see the well-being of these teeming masses of Indians realised. I also want to see an even closer and more intensive friendliness between ourselves and the Indian people. That interim judgment does not involve, from my point of view, a complete break with our Indian comrades and friends. Before I come to a final judgment I would like to know—I want to be perfectly fair—what the leaders of Congress will say about this.
May I ask the hon. Member why should the leaders of Congress only be mentioned? Have the Moslem League no right in the matter; have the Sikhs no right in the matter?
I have not finished. I want to know what the Indian Congress leaders are thinking and what the Moslem League leaders are thinking, but the Indian Congress leaders have been in gaol and the Moslem League leaders have not; that is the vital difference. Nehru, Azad and Gandhi, at one time all the Working Committee of Congress, have been in gaol, and I have emphasised that I want to know their opinions because they have been in gaol, because I have been unable to know what they have been thinking.
I shall not go into the past except to say that it has indeed surprised me—and I have tried to follow events as closely as I could, and to read every word that has been uttered by the leaders of the Indian Congress—that not one word can I find of an authoritative character for instance, on whether Congress was against us and pro-Japanese. Indeed there is plenty of evidence to show that the leaders of Congress were anti-Fascist, prepared to fight Fascism when certain prominent figures of public repute in this country were supporting it. I want to see the Congress people out, with freedom of discussion. I ask the right hon. Gentleman, for instance, how far the release of the prisoners will extend. It is not only the leaders of the Working Committee, etc., who are concerned, but those other hundreds and thousands who are in gaols up and down India. Will they be freed? Will there be a general release? It would be a grand thing for that good feeling, that good attitude, that emotional response which we profoundly desire, if not only the Congress leaders, but all those unknown men and women were released. There are some others, like Sarat Bose of Calcutta. In brief, I hope that there will be a general release, that those who have been put in gaol will be swarming out, in order that we might have what I would call a favourable psychological background for the next step forward.
We are not now debating a Bill or anything of that kind; we are discussing a White Paper which we have not had a long time to consider. As far as I have been able to size it up, looking at certain sentences rather carefully, and considering them over and over again in my mind, I am not quite sure whether we, at this end, are even now flexible enough. Even now, from such statements as I read, we appear to be rigidly fastened to the 1942 offer, commonly called the Cripps offer. It may have been wrong for the Indian leaders to have rejected that offer. I am not now discussing that. I could put the case the other way round on another occasion, but the simple fact is that Congress did not accept the 1942 offer. There seems to me no hope given in this White Paper that there might be flexibility, that there might have been an adjustment in the time that has elapsed since 1942. I hope the Government will find itself in a position to be flexible. I want the counterpart of that. Not only do I hope that our Government on this side will be flexible in its approach and interpretation and its application of the 1942 offer; I hope and pray that it may be possible for the flexibility we desire to come also from India. I hope that will be so, but we cannot expect flexibility and adjustment to the new situation in India unless we ourselves are also flexible and adjustable.
I end as I began. We must be flexible. We must meet the new Indian situation, because I profoundly believe that a Britain of 40,000,000 to 45,000,000 people, with her whole resources, facing the great new world, facing a Russia, facing an America, cannot live, and move, and have her being, unless she maintains the good will, the friendship, the co-operation, of all those members of the British Commonwealth. And India is the linchpin. India is a star. We must have an enlightened policy, we must have a progressive policy, we must have a policy which will give the political freedom which is the prerequisite of economic development. India, after all, is a sea of poverty. After 200 years of British rule, the average life in India, as my hon. Friend says, is 26 years. The poverty is not due to lack of economic and material resources, but to the fact that these resources have not been developed. Let us frankly accept the responsibility of that 200 years' rule. Let us say that that is not good enough, that that is not the meaning and purpose of the British Empire and the British Commonwealth in the new world that is to be. In that new world, what faces us must be the complete development of India, and India's resources, in friendship and co operation with Britain.
I have no moral right to take part in this Debate, because I have heard only three of the speeches, but I have a practical right, because I have had a longer connection with India than any other Member here. I was for seven years at the India Office; I was a member of the Joint Committee on the Government of India, a member of the Joint Committee on the Government of Burma, and a member of I forget how many other Committees. I rise to put a view which needs to be put. I hope that the hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. Cove) will not think that I have any ulterior object in saying this, because I am quite sincere.
The hon. Gentleman made a very sincere speech, with which many of us on all sides of the House would be in strong agreement. He is correct in saying that it is no credit to us that after so many years the standard of living in India is so low, but he should appreciate the reason why it is so low. I am not sure that he would disagree with me. It is partly, at any rate, because the British Government throughout those years have refused to interfere with the manners and customs of the Indian people, which make a healthy life impossible. For example, it is only quite recently that the appalling practice of child marriage, with its result of child conception, was, at any rate, partly dealt with by the Hindu people themselves, and reduced. I would commend to the hon. Gentleman the speech of his colleague, the hon. Member for North Islington (Dr. Guest). I see no reason why this House should not be the temple of truth, and, therefore, I say that the greatest source of detriment to the economic and social progress of India has been the manners and customs, and to a certain extent the religion, of the Indian people. Any Moslem, if he were present, would agree.
I turn to another matter, which is at the back of all these things. I have heard ad nauseam for nearly 40 years, the kind of speeches which have been made to-day—"We must do something for India. We must give India economic freedom. We must give India actual freedom." Also, I have heard speeches from this side of the House—although I am thankful to say that they are not so frequent now—to the effect that it was impossible to give India freedom. There is only one thing which prevents India governing herself. That is the lack of agreement between Moslems and Hindus. The Sikhs, in my judgment, could not stand out from any reasonable agreement between Hindus and Moslems, and the Depressed Classes would have sufficient political power to make their wishes felt.
I now desire to mention a very unpleasant impression in the minds of Moslems generally. Again and again, my Moslem friends have said to me, "Why is it that the Socialist Party invariably takes the part of the Hindus against the Moslems, and of the Jews against the Arabs in the Middle East?" They have in some cases made the most rude suggestions as to the connection between the Socialist Party and the leaders of the Hindus. I have denied such suggestions, because I know that they are not true. Again, I would commend the speech of the hon. Member for North Islington. Why are hon. Gentlemen opposite so imbued with the idea that the only party in India is the Hindu Party? Do they think that Islam is not democratic? Do they think that Hinduism and Socialism are the same thing? Perhaps the hon. Gentleman who has just joined the Labour Party will get up and reply. He is very fond of the Hindus.
There has been an assumption in all the Debates on this question for the last 20 years, that the Hindu leaders represent the people of India. That is unfair to the Moslems and to the Depressed Classes. I object to the hon. Gentleman saying that I have destroyed the atmosphere.
I would be entitled to say that I think the hon. Gentleman's speech the true Hindu opinion, but I do not. Why is it that in this controversy they always take the point of view of the Hindu Congress, and never the point of view of the Moslems? I want to put the Moslem case—not that I have any religious sympathy with Islam, because I am a member of the Church of England; but, since the Hindu view is always put from the Socialist benches, it is fair that the Moslem case should be put from here. Mr. Jinnah has again and again put forward a policy which, whether you commend it or not, should be considered by opinion in India. He has, again and again, asked for consideration of that policy by the Hindu leaders. Nothing that can be done with this White Paper, nothing that the Government of India can do, nothing that the House of Commons can do, can lead to any solution until the leaders of the Hindu Congress and the leaders of the Moslem League come to terms. It is not a fact that all Hindus follow Congress or that all Moslems follow the Moslem League; but without those bodies coming to terms there can be no settlement. Until recently, the Moslems had no leader, whereas the Hindus have plenty of leaders to put their point of view—they were on a perfect wicket. But that is no longer true.
There again the hon. Gentleman is taking the Hindu point of view. He goes out of his way to attack the Moslem League, thereby associating the Socialist Party with the Hindu Congress. Everybody who has been out there, and every right hon. Gentleman in this House, knows that until there is agreement between Mr. Jinnah and the Congress leaders all the rhodomontade talked year after year, about giving self-government to India is useless. It is going to be as difficult for them to come to terms, as it was to get the Southern Irish Catholics and the Protestants in Southern Ireland to come to terms. Everybody knows that; so why should you not tell the truth occasionally, instead of having the kind of talk that we have had on both sides of the House for the last 30 years?
I hope that this proposal of the Government will lead to something. It is as much the duty of Mr. Jinnah and the Moslem League as of "our Congress leaders"—to quote the hon. Gentleman opposite—to come to terms. Unless they come to terms—and nobody knows it better than the right hon. Gentleman—this proposal will fall, like everything else. If it does fall, I beg hon. Gentlemen opposite not to get up and say, like "The Times" and the "News Chronicle." "We must do something." Let them put the blame on the right shoulders—that is, on the leaders of opinion in India, for their failure to come to agreement. I have been told, both by Hindus and by Moslems, that they do not believe that these people will ever come to terms. Nobody except a few old diehards, who are going out of this House at the General Election, wants to deprive India of self-government, but I have been told by people who know both Hindus and Moslems that they will never agree.
A very distinguished Moslem, whose words I would like to quote exactly, but cannot, said to me not long ago, "Why do you suppose that there will ever be agreement without Pakistan? India was never a geographical combination until the British came. Why do you ask us to submit to Hindu domination?" I said that we did not. He said, "Yes, that is inherent in the speeches made by Socialists and Tories and everybody else, that the Moslems have to be in permanent subjection, because we are a minority. We will never have it—and we will never have it in Palestine either." I say that is a very damaging statement. We, in the House of Commons, try to keep a level course; we do not try to influence anybody else's course. But that is the position in the minds of these people, and we should press them from all parts of the House, leaving aside our party quarrel, until we can get them to see what, indeed, the whole House is agreed upon—that we really mean that we are going to give them the widest measure of self-government and that it is up to them to operate that Measure.
I must make this very cynical but true observation. There are leaders in India, not only "our Congress leaders," but, I am sorry to say, some of the Moslems as well, who do not believe that they will hold their position for a moment if the British leave India. They think they would be knocked out by people who dislike Congress because they think it is the engine of big business—people who are more in accord with the kind of ideas that prevail in Leftist circles here and on the Continent. Other people think that they will attain an even more violent end, and we all know the famous quotation, which has been used before in this House, from a great Sikh leader in the Punjab who said that after the British left India there would not be a rupee or a virgin left in Bengal. Quite a lot of other people in Northern India would take advantage of any confusion, if there was a breakdown after the British left India.
The real appeal that should go out from this House is not an attack upon these proposals, or an attack upon the right hon. Gentleman, because I think the Minister should be commended for his conduct of affairs. The real appeal should go to the leaders of India—Moslem, Hindu and Depressed Classes—to come together and find out on what they are prepared to agree. They have never done it yet; all they have done has been to abuse one another and attack the British Government. There have been times when we have been weak. To-day, we are in a very powerful position, and it is when we are most powerful, that we are most willing to do things for people not so powerful as ourselves. There is a measure of agreement between my hon. Friend who has just spoken and myself, which would not have been possible between a Tory and a Socialist 25 years ago. The ball is at India's feet. Whether she will take it or not, I do not know. She has had a number of opportunities in the last 20 years and, invariably, has failed to take them. If she does not take this opportunity, I do not know what the future holds for her, but you cannot ignore the rights of other classes besides Hindus. Islam, to-day, both in India and the Middle East, though not antagonistic to the Allies, or the Empire, is determined to see that, vis-à-vis Hindus and Jews, she shall have a fair deal, and a proper position in the world.