Orders of the Day — India (Consequential Provision) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 5th December 1949.

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Photo of Sir Arthur Baxter Sir Arthur Baxter , Wood Green 12:00 am, 5th December 1949

I find myself in the temperamental situation of agreeing, not only with the Minister and my right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler) who spoke for the Conservative Opposition, but with the Liberal leader, too. Nevertheless, this is an important moment, and I hope one might be allowed—especially one like myself, who comes from the outer Empire—to express a little regret that it was impossible to find some other solution.

I remember, about 10 years ago, when five or six of us from the House of Commons were dining with the then German Ambassador, Herr von Ribbentrop—it was one of the things we used to do, and I make no apology for it—we were discussing the possibility of another war. Ribbentrop said, "If there is another war, your Empire will collapse." He was an offensive man; he was a German, and therefore he could not help it. He said, "After all, what is it that holds the Empire together? It is only moonbeams." He was so pleased about that remark that he repeated it. One of our party said to him, "Well, Ambassador, when you have cut a chain, which is something you would understand, the chain is cut; but, when you cut a moonbeam, the moonbeam is still there." I had the somewhat doubtful privilege of seeing Herr von Ribbentrop sentenced to death at Nuremberg. It was a strange sight. I almost felt that I could have passed him a note saying, "You said that our Empire was held together by moonbeams."

Therefore, I think that this Bill today is a credit to the spirit of the Commonwealth and Empire, which is essentially that of compromise, though I find it imperative to say that I am sorry that India could not take the same decision as Pakistan and Ceylon and be content to be a Dominion, as the other Dominions were. I realise that it was difficult, because I remember that, when Pandit Nehru came here some years before the war and addressed a private meeting of Members of all parties upstairs, how bitterly he attacked this country, and, at that meeting, I asked him if he had anything to say in favour of the British Raj, and he replied quite frankly, "That is not my rô le; my rô le is to attack the British Raj."

While I think that the Prime Minister specially deserves every credit for this achievement, because it is a racial thing and we cannot judge it in the same way as we judge Australia or Canada, yet the very fact that we have taken the Republic of India into our association of nations does loosen that intangible thread which holds us together, and we would be less than honest if we did not admit that. After all, my own country of Canada has a double association with this country and the United States, but it is strong enough to feel proud that it has the King's representative in the Governor-General, who opens Parliament in Canada and speaks of "My Ministers," and Canada is strong enough not to resent it.

Nevertheless, when all that is said, I think this has been a great endeavour in our tolerant basic philosophy and in the ingenuity, rather than the intellectual wisdom, of the British race. I associate myself with what was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden. We of the Conservative Party, if we come to power, as I think is likely after the next General Election, though we shall be sorry that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister will then have to give up his important task, shall, nevertheless, carry on with the same feeling and sensibility.