INDIAN INDEPENDENCE BILL.
HL Deb 16 July 1947 vol 150 cc802-74 802
§ 2.50 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR INDIA AND BURMA (THE EARL OF LISTOWEL) My Lords, I have it in command to acquaint the House that His Majesty, having been informed of the contents of this Bill, is prepared to place his Prerogatives and interests, so far as concerns the matters dealt with by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament. I beg to move the Second Reading of this Bill, the Indian Independence Bill. His Majesty’s Government have asked Parliament to assure for this great measure a passage so rapid as to be almost unprecedented. It may be that to some of your Lordships it will appear that we are dealing, with this Bill with its vast and unforeseeable consequences, with a degree of haste that is almost unseemly. But 803 this rapid passage is desirable for the following reason. Once a decision in principle has been taken to partition India, the difficulties of carrying on the government of the country by a Cabinet which is still unitary in form, but which is in fact divided by sharp differences of view, are naturally becoming increasingly acute. The sooner, therefore, that the two new Governments can start on their separate tasks the greater the advantages to them both. I think that probably there are a certain number of noble Lords opposite who have had experience of Coalition Governments which have had some difficulty in coalescing.
This is a short Bill, for it is mainly an enabling Bill, but it holds the fulfilment of a great purpose. The establishment of self-government has long been the aim of British rule in India and the goal is now within sight. The Bill which I am submitting for the approval of the House will mark the emergence of the two new Asian Dominions as free and equal partners in the British Commonwealth, and the deliberate conclusion of our long Parliamentary responsibility for the welfare of the Indian peoples and the good government of India. Our record during the phase of the British connexion that is now drawing to a close, is, as I believe your Lordships will agree, on the whole and in spite of mistakes and failures which we must hope that our Indian friends will forgive, a record of efficient administration, ungrudging service and broadening freedom of which we and our fellow-countrymen can feel justly proud. I think we can claim that during this period the authorities at home and in India have displayed an understanding not exceeded by the genius of the Romans, of the political requirements of a society utterly different from their own.
I must ask the indulgence of the House while I recall some of the milestones on the road that has been travelled to full nationhood. It was eighty-nine years ago that Parliament, by transferring to a Minister of the Crown the powers of the existing directors of the East India Company, acknowledged that order and social progress in India should be a public responsibility rather than a casual by-product of commerce, or business enterprise, and that its British rulers must be made accountable to Parliament. We began almost at once to associate Indians more 804 closely with the government of India. In 1861 Advisory Councils, with nonofficial Indians, were set up for consultation with the Central Government and certain Provincial Governments. During the 1880’s elected Indian members first appeared on local government bodies. These years also witnessed the birth of the Indian National Congress, fostered in its infancy by an Englishman, to which both the great political bodies of to-day owe the impetus from which they have derived their strength. The Morley-Minto Reforms of 1909 brought a number of representative Indians into the Legislative Councils of the Governor-General and of the Lieutenant-Governors of the Provinces, though the function they discharged was still advisory and persuasive. For the first time also non-official Indians were appointed as members of some of the Executive Councils.
During these years several far-sighted administrators and statesmen foresaw that India would one day manage her own affairs. But it was not until during the latter years of the First World War, in which India played such, a magnificent part, that responsible government within the Commonwealth became the main objective of British policy. The declaration of August 20, 1917, pointed the way that all subsequent Governments have followed. Henceforward self-government for India became one of the fundamentals of British politics, and whatever differences might arise about the means and the conditions and the pace of its attainment, there was a common goal that Party controversy might obscure but never wholly conceal from view.
This historical declaration was shortly followed by rapid political and constitutional advance. Full membership of the League of Nations was a stride forward in the direction of equal status, and the great Act of 1919 initiated a system of government responsible only to the people of India which the new Dominion Constitutions seem likely to complete. The Act was followed in December by a Proclamation of the King Emperor which describes the penetrating influence of our British ideas of freedom and foreshadows how the policy of a Party would gradually change into the resolve of a nation. It is summarized, I think, in one paragraph: In truth the desire after political responsibility has its source at the root of the British 805 connexion with India. It has sprung inevitably from the deeper and wider studies of human thought and history which that connexion has opened to the Indian people. Without it, the work of the British in India would have been incomplete. It was with a wise judgment that the beginnings of representative institutions were laid many years ago. Their scope has been extended stage by stage till there now lies before us a definite step on the road to responsible government. It was the same policy of gradual advance to self-rule by subtracting from Parliamentary authority at home, that informed the 1935 Act. This was the longest and most complex piece of constitutional legislation which we have ever enacted and the name of the noble Viscount, Lord Templewood, will always be associated with it. It may well be that much of that great Act will, with suitable modifications form an enduring part of the future Constitutions of the two new Dominions.
The course of subsequent events is more freshly in your Lordships’ minds. I will not recall the Cripps offer, or the Cabinet Mission Plan, except to say that they were inspired by a great hope and were in themselves a logical development of the liberal trend of British policy since 1917. But the most lasting benefit derived from Parliament’s long connexion with India may well be the universal respect it has earned for Parliamentary institutions, and its pervasive influence in shaping the political convictions of those who will lead India in the years to come. The new Dominions will retain the form as well as the spirit of political democracy. It is reported in a most interesting account that the Committee of the Indian Constituent Assembly which has been considering the Union Constitution, has recommended for the new Dominion of India a bi-cameral Federal Legislature to be known as Parliament, of which the upper House will be called the “Council of States” while the lower Chamber will be called the “House of the People.”
The legacy we are now bequeathing to our successors in India comprises much else besides the taste for freedom. For it will include the longest period of internal peace in the turbulent history of India and a system of impartial justice, administered without fear or favour, which has made the sweeper and the, Brahmin, the millionaire and the pauper, the Government and the humblest citizen equal and identical in the eyes of the law. We cannot, I think, call to mind these enduring achievements of two hundred years of British rule 806 without remembering with pride and gratitude the individual men and women whose service to India has been their life’s work. We think instinctively of the multitude of Government servants, soldiers, teachers, civilian officials, and others, who went out there in their youth to serve far from home, possibly under great difficulties and most hazardous conditions, with no reward to look forward to but the satisfaction of having done their duty.
In many families service to India has become a cherished tradition and love of India mingled with their family affections. Of this devoted band of servants of the Empire it might truly be said: Si monumentum requiris, circumspice. The value of their service has, of course, been understood and appreciated in India as well as at home, and the invitation extended by the Government of India to many British officers and members of the fighting Services to remain after the Dominion Governments have been set up, offers them a grand opportunity to continue the fine work of their predecessors.
I should not like to pass from recollection of service rendered without mentioning the valuable and unique contribution of this House in an individual as well as corporate capacity, to the long evolutionary process now culminating in self-rule. The experience of many of your Lordships in posts of high responsibility in India has always lent great weight to Indian debates in your Lordships’ House. Both Parliament itself and successive Governments over long periods of time have received and benefited on many different occasions from the advice tendered to them by distinguished soldiers and elder statesmen with special knowledge of Indian affairs. The forbearance and restraint of the House in refraining from initiating a discussion at many times of crisis, when the urge to express an opinion must have been almost overwhelming have also considerably lightened the burden of those directly concerned with the handling of Indian problems.
Many noble Lords have played an important part in shaping the course of recent events in India, but we must wait for the historian to assess the precise value of their individual achievement. What we can be certain of is that he will not overlook the report of the Royal 807 Commission of which the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, was Chairman. It forms an indispensable link between the 1919 and 1935 Acts.
The 1935 Act is another landmark he will surely not omit. Its successful passage through Parliament owed much to the brilliant advocacy of the noble Viscount, Lord Templewood, both on the floor of the House and in giving evidence before the Joint Select Committee of both Houses. Nor will the prelude to this great measure of constitutional advance during the Viceroyalty of the noble Earl, Lord Halifax, fail to find a place in the record. The Viceroyalty of the noble Viscount marked a profound change in the spirit of our relationship with India. It is not too much to say that the good will he first established, in place of bitterness and distrust, made it possible for the Indian leaders of to-day to preserve for the time being at any rate the link between India and the British Commonwealth. Subsequently, the noble Earl assisted with notable effect in preparing the ground for the three Round-Table Conferences and by canvassing the idea of federation between the Indian States and British India, a prospect which seems likely to be partially realized in the not distant future.
It fell to others to enlist Indian cooperation in the working out of that elaborate constitutional plan, and none strove harder to bring about its successful application to conditions in India than the noble Marquess, Lord Linlithgow. I am sure that we all regret that indisposition has prevented him from taking part in this debate. The coming of the war made the safeguarding of existing liberties more vital than their future extension, and it was the noble Marquess who led the way when India mobilized its vast resources behind our war effort, and converted its territory into a military base, which enabled our gallant Armies to repulse and finally defeat the Japanese.
The noble Marquess’s successor, the noble Earl, Lord Wavell, was able, with the war flowing strongly in our favour, to resume the effort to conciliate the political Parties, and to employ the constructive gifts of their leaders in positions of responsibility and prominence. The Simla Conference of 1945, though it failed in its immediate objective, restored a 808 waning and almost vanished belief in the sincerity of British intentions. It resulted in the growth of a new spirit of good will towards us, and confirmed an absolute trust in the impartiality of the Viceroy, which paved the way for the efforts of the Cabinet Mission to maintain the unity of India. A former Chairman of the Congress Party, Dr. Azad, speaking in February of this year, described the aftermath of Simla in a public tribute, from which I would like to quote one sentence: Nor can I forget that the credit for the changed atmosphere in Indo-British relations to-day must be traced back to the steps which he (Lord Wavell) so courageously took in 1945 The noble Earl played a great part in the work of the Cabinet Mission, as I know my noble friend Lord Pethick-Lawrence, himself a worthy protagonist in that heroic endeavour, would, if required to do so, bear witness. The noble Earl will always be remembered as the Commander who, in face of the heaviest odds, held in 1940 the gateway to India in Egypt, and subsequently played the foremost part in organizing the magnificent fighting force that won the war in the Far East. But I believe that his fellow countrymen will also think of him as one of these rare soldier-statesmen who, like Wellington and Allenby, have combined in a conspicuous degree the qualities of leadership in war and peace.
I must apologize to your Lordships for speaking at considerable length about the past, but as this will be the last occasion when Parliament will discuss British responsibility for India, it is perhaps not altogether inappropriate that we should examine our consciences. I will now deal briefly with the present political situation as it affects the Bill, and with some of the political consequences that the Bill foreshadows. It is a matter of great regret that British India will reach maturity as two nations instead of one, and that the unity from which so many blessings have sprung in times past will soon be broken. But the dilemma with which we were faced made self-government impossible without partition.
When it became clear that the Cabinet Mission Plan for an Indian Union would never be accepted, and that there was no alternative form of common government to which Hindus and Moslems would consent, we had either to agree to implement their separation, or to remain 809 indefinitely in control of India, until such time as the two communities had composed their differences and decided to live together. The deadlock between the parties has, as all will recollect who have attended previous debates in your Lordships’ House, always been a formidable obstacle in the path of constitutional advance. It is surely better that India should be divided by mutual consent, than that she should remain united against her will, and be thrown ultimately into the convulsions of civil strife, as the only possible means of securing the form of government her peoples desire. It is greatly to be hoped that, when the disadvantages of separation have become apparent in the light of experience, the two Dominions will freely decide to reunite in a single Indian Dominion, which might achieve that position among the nations of the world to which its territories and resources would entitle it.
There is one circumstance that will mitigate considerably, and may counterbalance, the disadvantages of partition. Both Dominions will start their career of full independence as partners in the British family of nations, and will each share with the other members of the Commonwealth the advantages added by this intimate relationship to equal and independent nationhood. Partition will leave the two nations which emerge from British India not foreign countries in relation to each other, but members of a group of like-minded nations that mark their affinity by common citizenship under a common Crown. Their membership of the Commonwealth will impose a moral obligation to remain at peace, to support one another and to co-operate in all matters of external policy and defence, and to organize their trade and production in a complementary instead of a conflicting pattern.
I am sure we would all wish to acknowledge that this happy consummation of British rule is due in no small measure to the gifted personality of the Viceroy, Lord Mountbatten. Those turning points in history that decide the fate of nations occur when the right or the wrong man appears on the scene at the critical moment. Lord Mountbatten has shown exactly the qualities required to set India and Pakistan upon the favourable course they are now taking. Everyone will rejoice that he is to continue to serve the 810 new Dominion of India after the change of regime. The gratitude and affection he has earned from Indians in so short a time are also felt for Lady Mountbatten, whose tireless energy and unfailing tact have been a far from negligible factor in his success.
People are sometimes, I think, apt to forget that the final and most difficult and anxious decisions are taken where ultimate executive responsibility also rests. Anyone who had seen things from the inside in recent months would know that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has been the outstanding figure in carrying this policy through and in converting what might have been the programme of a Party into the gesture of a united nation. If credit is granted where credit is certainly due, my right honourable friend’s name will be associated with the name of Mountbatten in the way that for all time Morley is linked with Minto and Montagu with Chelmsford.
Let me now turn to the provisions of the Bill. Clause 1 sets up the two Independent dominions of India and Pakistan with effect from August 15. The word “independent” emphasizes the absence of any external restraint. Independence in this sense is a universal attribute of Dominion status, a fact that is often misunderstood by the outside world. It is also in accordance with the famous definition of the British Empire in the Report of the Imperial Conference of 1926: They (the self-governing members of the Commonwealth) are autonomous communities, equal in status, and in no way subordinate one to another in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs. Clause 2 defines the territories of the two new Dominions and makes possible the adjustment of existing boundaries, and the accession of other territories by mutual consent. Clauses 3 and 4 provide for the partition of Bengal, the Punjab and Assam, after the procedure laid down to elicit the wishes of their inhabitants has been carried out, and also for the fixing of the final boundaries of these provinces by the awards of boundary commissions appointed for that purpose.
Clause 5 prescribes the appointment of a Governor-General for each Dominion by the King, unless the same person remains the Governor-General of both. The assumption made by this clause is that the King will act on the advice of His 811 Ministers in the Dominion concerned, who will recommend the name of the Governor-General for the Dominion they represent. Your Lordships are aware that on the advice of the Indian leaders Mr. Jinnah and Lord Mountbatten have been recommended for appointment as Governors-General in Pakistan and India respectively, and that His Majesty has let it be known that he will make these appointments in due course.
Clause 6 gives each Dominion Legislature complete authority to legislate for the Dominion, including laws having extra-territorial operation. Henceforward the legislative power of the new Dominion Parliaments will be just as comprehensive as that possessed by our own, or by any Dominion Parliament under the Statute of Westminster.
Clause 7, subsection (2), records the assent of this Parliament to the omission from the Royal style and titles of the words “Indiae Imperator” and “Emperor of India,” a necessary corollary of the new constitutional relationship. The alteration of the Royal Title requires the assent of Dominion Parliaments as well as that of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. The Governments of the Dominions have been consulted and have agreed to take the necessary steps to obtain the assent as soon as possible.
Clause 7, subsection (1) and the proviso to the clause deal with relations with the Indian States. Your Lordships will remember that the Cabinet Mission in their Memorandum of May 12, 1946, informed the States that His Majesty’s Government would in no circumstances transfer paramountcy to an Indian Government. To that pledge we firmly adhere. But the time is fast approaching when the transfer of power to two Dominion governments will make it quite impossible for us to carry out our obligations towards the States, which depend for their fulfilment on the continuing responsibility of Great Britain for the Government of India. If we cannot in future discharge our obligations, we must clearly release them also from their engagements. We are, therefore, proposing that from the date when the new Dominions are set up the treaties and agreements which gave us suzerainty over the States will become void.
812 From that moment the appointments and functions of the Crown Representative and his officers will terminate and the States will be the masters of their own fate. They will then be entirely free to choose whether to associate with one or other of the Dominion Governments or to stand alone and His Majesty’s Government will not use the slightest pressure to influence their momentous and voluntary decision. But I think it can hardly be doubted that it would be in the best interests of their own people, and of India as a whole, that in the fullness of time all the States should find their appropriate place within one or other of the new Dominions. It would be a tragedy for India, if the States were not to enrich the Motherland to which they belong with the martial valour for which they are renowned, and which they have displayed so gallantly in two world wars, with the tradition of service that animates their rules, and with the advanced social institutions that some of them possess.
Whatever the future relationship between the new Dominions and the States may be, it will require prolonged consideration and discussion before the final adjustment can be made. We, therefore, welcome the setting up by the Interim Government of States Departments, to handle negotiations with the Governments of the States. But the success of this negotiating machinery pre-supposes genuine goodwill and absence of suspicion on both sides. The assurance given by Sardar Patel, the Home Member, that it is not the desire of Congress to meddle in the domestic affairs of the States, is a welcome indication that Congress will not use its political strength to exert unfair pressure on their rulers. Sardar Patel’s statement that the federal subjects on which the States are invited to accede are limited to defence, foreign affairs and communications, and the moderation and reasonableness of his whole approach, are another sign that the Dominion of India will scrupulously respect the autonomy of the States. Mr. Jinnah has also stated most emphatically that the Government of Pakistan will endorse the free choice of the States.
But apart from the political relationship between the States and British India, there have grown up a vast number of economic and financial agreements about 813 matters of common concern—posts and telegraphs, customs, transit, railways—and it would be disastrous to India if these arrangements were suddenly terminated on the transfer of power. The proviso, therefore, in Clause 7 maintains the status quo in such matters as a temporary measure, and for so long as it is desired by the parties, or until replaced by fresh long-term agreements between the States and the Dominion Governments.
His Majesty’s Government recognize that on August 15 the negotiations between the States and the representatives of the successor Governments may not be concluded, and that the subjects of Indian States who may on that date be abroad, under the protection of passports issued to them as British protected persons, may require some reassurance. We do not, of course, contemplate that that form of protection will cease. As has been said in another place, existing passports will continue until the date at which they will expire in the normal course. What will happen about the issue of new passports is one of the matters which we hope will be solved in the negotiations, due to begin in Delhi next week, between the future Dominion authorities and the States. We hope that, pending the final decision as to the States’ accession to one or other Dominion, the respective Dominions will assume some of the duties of protection hitherto borne by the United Kingdom. It would, of course, be possible for His Majesty’s Government to contribute in some measure, by agreement, to easing the transition, were they to continue on behalf of any State whose position remains undecided, some of the protective functions abroad which they have hitherto discharged. We do not, of course, propose to recognize any States as separate international entities. Paragraph (c) of subsection 1 of this clause applies the same principle to the common economic interests between the Dominions and the tribal authorities, without prejudice to the re-negotiation of the existing political agreements of the tribes with the appropriate successor authority.
Clause 8 confers on the two Constituent Assemblies—the existing Assembly in the case of the new India, and the Assembly of Pakistan when it is convened —the full Legislative power which by Clause 6 (1) is vested in the Legislature of 814 each Dominion. This power is conferred in that context for the purpose of framing the final Constitution of the new Dominion. While that Constitution-making process is proceeding, it is obviously essential for the government and administration of the two Dominions to be carried on. In order to meet this requirement, subsection (2) of Clause 8 prescribes that the government of each Dominion will be carried on as closely as possible in accordance with the provisions of the Act of 1935, subject to certain important qualifications contained in the provisos. These qualifications make it clear that those features of the present system that would be inconsistent with Dominion status—namely, control by the United Kingdom Government and the means through which it has been exercised under the Act of 1935—do not remain in force. They also sweep away the present Central Legislature for the whole of India.
Subsection (3) fills the gap which would otherwise be created in the structure of the 1935 Act, by conferring temporarily on the Constituent Assembly in each Dominion the Legislative powers previously exercised by the Central Legislature. Thus, the Constituent Assemblies are given a dual role; the making of a Constitution, for which purpose they have complete power to do anything, and the temporary function of acting as a Central Legislature for each Dominion in the exercise of the limited powers in the central field which were given to the Federal Legislature by the Act of 1935. There will, of course, have to be extensive adaptation of the Act of 1935 to fit the new circumstances. This is to be done by Order made by the Governor-General under Clause 9 of the Bill.
Clause 9 gives the Governor-General wide but temporary powers to make orders for effecting partition at the centre and in the provinces and for administering the common services and other central functions pending their division between the two Dominions. It confers similar powers for the purpose of partitioning in the Punjab, Bengal and Assam on the Governors of those Provinces. It is obviously essential that there should be means of giving rapid effect to the agreements or arbitral awards relating to the division of the army, the sterling balances, the public debt, and other property or services at present handled or directed by the Government of India.
815 These powers are not absolute—the powers I am describing in Clause 9—and their duration is limited by the terms of the Bill. In the case of the Governors, the powers in this clause will expire on August 15, while the Governors-General cannot use them after March 31, 1948. They are also limited by the right of either Dominion Legislature to repeal or amend any Order, and to deprive the Governor-General of the Order-making power itself by passing a law to that effect.
§VISCOUNT SIMON Might I interrupt the noble Earl in order to follow him? Clause 9 begins with the phrase, “The Governor-General shall by order” and so on. I understand the noble Earl to mean by “Governor-General” Lord Mountbatten. Is that so?
§THE EARL OF LISTOWEL May I refer the noble Viscount to the Interpretation Clause, Clause 19, at the end of the Bill? He will there see that after the appointed day the Governor-General becomes the two Governors-General acting jointly. I was coming to that point.
§VISCOUNT SIMON If you please.
§THE EARL OF LISTOWEL After August 15 Orders affecting both Dominions can only be made by the two Governors-General acting jointly. Noble Lords will observe that subsection (3) will give Orders of the Governor-General retrospective effect to June 3. The business of partition, being a matter of the utmost urgency, has already begun, and this provision will enable any actions necessitated by these preliminaries, and not in strict accordance with the 1935 Act, to be validated. Emergency powers are clearly needed to meet what is in fact an unprecedented situation. Even the prescience of the 1935 Act did not anticipate the partition of India, and we have therefore had to improvise machinery that can be used immediately, and for the purpose of a smooth and orderly transition to the firm establishment of two separate Dominion Governments.
Clause 10 deals with the future of the services. Subsection (2) of this clause has been included at the express request of the present Interim Government of India. It guarantees that Judges and members of the Secretary of State’s Services, European and Indian alike, who 816 continue to serve the governments of the new Dominions, will enjoy their existing terms of service as regards pay, leave and pension. This fulfils the undertaking given by the leaders of both Parties. The Indian leaders have also promised continuance of their present terms of service to the many civil servants and employees of the Central or Provincial Governments who were not appointed by the Secretary of State, subject, of course, to the right of any Government to revise in the light of events, the salaries paid to their servants.
His Majesty’s Government recognize a special responsibility to European members of the Secretary of State’s and analogous Services and we intend to ask the new Governments when established to negotiate an agreement to set aside a capital sum in sterling to cover their pension rights. We have also given a public assurance to those concerned that these pensions will, in fact, be paid.
It is the intention of His Majesty’s Government to endeavour to secure the inclusion in the agreements which it is proposed to negotiate with the two Dominion Governments, of formal undertakings in respect of European officers of the Central and Provincial Services who were not appointed by the Secretary of State.
Clauses 11 to 13 give effect to policy relating to the Armed Forces in India. Your Lordships will remember that the Partition Council, a body consisting of two leaders each from Congress and the Moslem League, with the Viceroy in the Chair, has decided to divide the Indian Army, Navy, and Air Force between the two Indian Dominions. The first stage of this division, a rough and ready separation of units on communal lines, will give each Dominion operational control of its own Armed Forces by August 15. The second stage, which will allow each officer and man the choice of which Dominion he intends to serve, will, it is hoped, be completed by April 1, 1948. While the intricate process of sorting out is taking place, and until the two Dominion Governments are able to administer their own forces, all the existing Armed Forces in India will remain under the administrative control of the present Commander-in-Chief, who will be termed the Supreme Commander. He will be responsible to a Joint Defence Council, consisting of him- 817 self, the two Defence Ministers, and Lord Mountbatten as Chairman. His function in relation to the Indian forces will be purely administrative, and all operational responsibilities, such as the maintenance of law and order, and external defence, will be discharged by officers subordinate to the Dominion Governments.
Control of the British Army and the Royal Air Force will pass to a chain of command leading from a British G.O.C. and A.O.C. to the Supreme Commander, and from him to the Chiefs of Staff in London. These British forces will, naturally, lose their operational role, and, while they remain in Indian territory, will assume the position of visiting British Forces in a Dominion. They will start to be withdrawn from India on August 15, and this withdrawal will be carried out as rapidly as shipping permits, and is expected to be completed by about the end of this year. Your Lordships will observe that subsection (1) of Clause 11 says that the Indian Armed Forces are to be divided by orders made by the Governor-General. Clause 12, subsection (1) makes it clear that British Forces in India will be controlled, from August 15, by the U.K. Government, so that they will occupy the position appropriate to the new constitutional relationship directly the new Dominions have been set up.
I should like to direct your Lordships’ attention in passing to one other feature of the Bill: the provision in Clause 16, which safeguards the future of Aden by removing authority for its administration from the 1935 Act, where it at present lies, to the British Settlements Acts. I will not develop further points in the Bill but I shall, of course, be willing to answer any question that noble Lords may ask during the course of the debate.
My Lords, that a vast population of non-European origin is about to achieve the independent status of the old Dominions, shows that the Commonwealth, with its flexible and dynamic structure which responds so readily to the pressure of events, can still succeed in combining the contrary ideals of freedom and unity in international relations. This achievement is all the more remarkable in the case of peoples who differ from ourselves in race, in language, and in history, and may be the opening of a new chapter in the growth of freedom under British rule. For what we are now doing is to carry a step 818 further the progressive enlargement of the Commonwealth within the Empire and the steady replacement of the responsibility of trusteeship by the no less weighty responsibility of partnership. Our new partnership with India will start under the most promising auspices. The difficulties and misunderstandings that have clouded our relations with India in the past will have disappeared, and there will be a greater fund of good will between us than ever before in the history of our long relationship. It will also be strengthened by a multitude of common interests, and by the personal friendships that will continue, or be made afresh.
It will surely transform the Commonwealth into an even more impressive and useful example of international co-operation, than it has been hitherto, as a group of countries sprung from Europe and with their roots in the West. For our association of nations will now comprise a union between the ancient culture and civilization of Asia, and the scientific and practical genius of peoples of European origin and descent. The friendly collaboration that this will entail will bring lasting benefit to future relations between the most densely populated of the five continents, where powerful forces of change are vigorously at work, and those parts of the world in which industrial and military power are mainly concentrated. I need not enlarge upon the potentialities of this new association between East and West, as a stabilizing influence, and as a means of maintaining the delicate and often precarious equilibrium that is indispensable for peaceful progress.
The statesmanship revealed by the Indian leaders in arriving at an agreed settlement about the future of India, and the wise tolerance of their attitude to religious and social minorities, are a good omen for the successful discharge of the immense political responsibilities and the complex administrative tasks that will soon be entirely theirs. I know that their fellow citizens throughout the Commonwealth will wish them success in their great venture, and that we can assure them that each of their sister nations will do its utmost to give them any help they may require. I am certain that I shall speak for every member of this House when I say these concluding words. We wish India, from the bottom of our 819 hearts, the tranquillity, the growing prosperity and the moral stature which are the true qualities of national greatness. Our love of India, and our desire to serve her, are stronger than ever. We only ask for the opportunity.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2ª.—(The Earl of Listowel.)
§ 3.37 p.m.
§VISCOUNT TEMPLEWOOD My Lords, the noble Earl, the last of a long line of Secretaries of State for India, sub limine mortis so far as the Seals of the India Office are concerned, has given the House a very comprehensive description of this Bill, and he has paid a generous tribute to the men and women, both past and present, who have helped in the progress of Indian self-government. I rise to re-echo the words with which he ended his speech, to give my support to the Bill and to express the hope that it will be passed into law as quickly as possible. But, as I say, that does not mean that I do not approach these complicated questions without a mixture of hope and fear.
It was always my wish, perhaps the central wish of my political life, to see a single united Federal India take its place amongst the free and friendly peoples of the British Commonwealth. Events were too strong on the other side. What may have been possible in 1935 at a time when no one mentioned the separation of India —when to give a single example I think I answered 11,000 questions, in the proceedings before the Joint Parliamentary Committee upon the Government of India Bill and not a single suggestion, even by name, was made of Pakistan—what may have been possible then has been proved to be impracticable now as the result of communal divisions. The hope has not been satisfied. May it not be irrevocably repudiated but deferred to a future date! Meanwhile let us realistically, but none the less sympathetically, look at the actual state of affairs and sincerely express the wish that the very grave difficulties with which we see the future surrounded will be successfully surmounted.
First let me draw your Lordships’ attention to what I believe to be the very typical British way in which we are holding this discussion this afternoon. The British people and the British Parliament are not greatly influenced by theory and 820 general principle. They prefer to act empirically; they prefer to adapt themselves to changing conditions and they are ready in due course to recognize accomplished facts. That is the history of what we call Dominion status. Dominion status is not the result of some carefully thought out Constitution, still less is it a prize that you give to a deserving Government; it is the recognition of accomplished facts. It is the recognition that de jure it is necessary to recognize the facts that have been established de facto.
When I look at the proposals of this Bill, although I might have made criticisms as to the details, although I might say that the approach to Dominion status ought to have been more methodical and better considered, yet I see that in actual fact the British Raj to-day has no effective power in the Indian sub-continent. That being so, I say it is better to recognize that fact and to transfer with the effective powers that India now possesses full responsibility for carrying out those powers. I venture to say that the sooner this Bill becomes operative, the sooner full responsibility is placed upon Indian shoulders, the better for the British Parliament, and the better for the whole relations of the British Commonwealth.
To-day I will not attempt either to dramatize this occasion or to sentimentalize it. I do not regard these proposals as in any way revolutionary. They seem to me to be yet another step in a whole series of steps that, as the Secretary of State himself has pointed out this afternoon, we have been taking for the last century and a quarter. I said just now that I trust indeed that this is not the last step, and that the final step will be the step that brings into being a united federal India. Nor do I attempt to sentimentalize the occasion. It would be very easy to give a long description of the many and varied achievements of the British Raj, but I do not wish to do so. I am more content to leave the ultimate verdict of the British achievements in India to history. I am quite confident that when history comes to give its verdict it will say that we gave to India those two invaluable treasures, peace and justice.
I would only say that if India has gained a great deal from the British connexion, we also have gained not a little here from our connexion with India. I am not interested to-day in the past; I am 821 thinking of the future. And, as one who has spent many years of his life in constant contact with these difficult Indian problems, I cannot help asking myself a number of grave and sometimes disturbing questions about the future. Let me put in the form of two or three sentences what is in my mind. Here are some of the questions that disturb me. Will the two Indias live together in peace, and succeed in eradicating Communism? Will a satisfactory place be found for the Sikhs, a great and vigorous community now inevitably divided as a result of partition? Will satisfactory relations be established between British and Indian India? Can Indian defence be assured under two separate Governments? Will Untouchability be abolished in the nearly 750,000 Indian villages? Will Communism during the next twelve months prove the most urgent danger in the Indian subcontinent? I put these questions to myself, not in any way to imply a pessimistic view that the two Indian Governments will not vigorously grapple with them. I put them this afternoon to show your Lordships how difficult is the situation with which these two new Governments are faced.
I take of those questions three in particular, not to make about them a long argument, but to show in a few sentences how profoundly they are fraught with the gravest possible consequences. I take firstly the question of defence. I take secondly the question of Untouchability; and thirdly the question of the relations between the two Dominion Governments, and the Indian State. Hitherto the defence of India has rested mainly upon the Indian Army supported by the whole resources of the British Empire. The Army is now to be divided, and divided at a time when it may well be said that the Indian sub-continent and the Indian Ocean have become the greatest strategic centre in the world. Will it be possible, with a divided Army, to assure Indian defence, and to maintain that treasure of peace that the British Raj has given to India over the last century and a half? If the two defence forces drift into watertight compartments I am convinced that the defence of India will be irrevocably damaged. I hope, therefore, that the utmost possible co-operation will be maintained between the two Governments. I am encouraged in that hope by what is already happening. I am informed that 822 the first steps for the dividing up of the units of the two Armies is proceeding amicably and satisfactorily. I am encouraged also by the fact that Lord Mountbatten—in the tribute to whom I sincerely join—is to be Chairman of the Joint Council of Defence. That is an encouraging sign. I hope also that the defence authorities in India will take particular account of the experiences of the war, when the Allied Staffs, particularly the British, French and American, worked together in full harmony to prepare their plans of campaign, and did so without the least infringement or derogation of sovereignty of any of their Governments. It seems to me that along that road lies Indian safety. Along the road of division and separation lies almost inevitably the road of invasion and aggression.
I come to the second of the subjects upon which I wish to make one or two observations. I come to the question of Untouchability. Your Lordships will remember that in every debate that has taken place in recent months in this House the question of the Scheduled Castes has rightly loomed very large. My friends and I on this side of the House have not raised it to put obstacles in the way of full Indian self-government; we have raised it because we have felt that around it have grown up obligations that were vitally important throughout all our relations with India. I should not be frank if I did not say that I personally have regretted what has seemed to me to be the gradual whittling down of our responsibilities to the minorities. It may have been inevitable. I am not now arguing whether, as self-government developed, it was possible to maintain them. But there is the history of the various White Papers and the various discussions in which, to start with, great prominence was given to this question, and which gradually faded out. Be that as it may, the fact remains to-day that the responsibility for dealing with the minorities and particularly with the Depressed Classes will rest upon Indian shoulders.
I can only say that we here shall watch with sympathy, not unmixed with anxiety as to how far the two new Governments are able to deal satisfactorily with this very grave problem. I remember very well, when I was Secretary of State for India, many talks with Mr. 823 Gandhi upon the subject of Untouchability. Mr. Gandhi, as noble Lords will remember, has devoted a great part of his life to removing Untouchability. I remember him saying to me: “You here in England, a foreign Power, will never be able to carry through a great social revolution of this kind in India. The only people who will be able to carry through a revolution of this kind are the Indians themselves.” Now the Indians themselves have the responsibility of dealing with this problem. They have rightly put a clause dealing with human rights into the provisional Constitution of the Constituent Assembly. We shall now watch with anxious sympathy how the provisions of the Constitution, if the ultimate Constitution includes a stipulation of this kind, will be applied in all the almost innumerable villages from one end of India to the other.
Now I come to the third of the questions with which I am attempting to deal, the question of the relations between British and Indian India—the India of the States, the India that comprises a third of the territory of the Indian sub-continent, and a quarter of the whole Indian population. We on this side of the House have again constantly urged the need for taking into the fullest and most sympathetic account the future of the Indian States. We have felt that we were under grave obligations to them. Time after time the Indian States have helped us in the hour of our country’s need. We feel that we are under an obligation to them at the present moment for another reason.
As a result of the partition of India, the Indian States are being forced into this dilemma: shall they, or shall they not, join one or other Dominion, each of which is fundamentally based upon communalism? Hitherto, speaking generally, the Indian States have been substantially free of communal bitterness. When in 1930 they made the offer to enter an Indian Federation, I remind noble Lords, it was a federation for the whole of India, and it was to be assumed that, in a federation of the whole of India, communalism would not be a prominent factor. The position to-day is very different, when they are asked to join one or other of the two Dominions each of which is founded upon communalism. I think it is sufficient to make that observation to show that we are under a very definite 824 obligation to offer our best services to them in the most sympathetic way, and to make it as easy for them as possible to come to a free choice as to what they should do when they have had sufficient time for deliberation.
I was very well satisfied with what the Prime Minister in another place said upon this subject. He made it quite clear that they should be absolutely free to make what choice they wished. The Secretary of State to-day made it equally clear that no pressure was to be put upon them. At that stage of his speech I was completely satisfied with what he said, but when he came to deal later with the question of passports he made use of words that caused me a certain amount of disquiet. If I understood him aright, he said, “We do not intend to recognize any States as international entities.” I would ask whether that statement refers only to the temporary period when there are these complications with passports, and so on, or is it meant to be a declaration of Government policy for all time?
§THE EARL OF LISTOWEL Would the noble Viscount like an answer to that question now?
§VISCOUNT TEMPLEWOOD Please.
§THE EARL OF LISTOWEL I was making a statement of Government policy as it is at this moment, and I am sure the noble Viscount would not expect me to answer now a question the answer to which must depend on events that no one can foresee at the moment.
§VISCOUNT TEMPLEWOOD Then I understand the noble Earl to say that the question of recognition is a question that is left open for the future. I do not know what else it could mean from what he has just said.
§THE EARL OF LISTOWEL We shall, of course, consider the position that will arise after the States have settled their future relationship with the Dominions, and all these problems will fall to be considered at that time. I am sure the noble Viscount will appreciate that I cannot go any further than that at this moment.
§VISCOUNT TEMPLEWOOD I do not wish to embarrass the noble Earl at all, but let me be clear about the matter, because this is a very important point. I do not wish to press that the Government should, here and now, make a statement 825 as to what should be the exact relations with an Indian State that eventually finds itself unable to join one or other of the Dominions, but what I want to be quite clear about is that the question is left open to be considered on its merits when such a position arises. Is that so?
§THE EARL OF LISTOWEL indicated assent.
§VISCOUNT TEMPLEWOOD Then I am quite satisfied. I think I have said enough to the House to show how serious and disturbing these questions undoubtedly are. We sincerely wish the Indian Government every success in dealing with them. They are intractable, they are urgent, they cannot be avoided. Some of them may take time for ultimate decision. I can assure the noble Earl that we here will show ourselves both sympathetic to these difficulties and patient in following out how they are treated. We realize that a great experiment is being made. The experiment may not work exactly upon the lines that any of us this afternoon think likely, but we wish to give the experiment every possible chance and to show it all possible good will. The two new Governments are, as the noble Earl said at the end of his speech, pioneers of a great experiment in Asia. They are pioneers also of a great experiment in the British Commonwealth of free peoples. We, to-day, an ancient and historic people, hand to them well-tried political principles —freedom of speech, toleration of minorities, government by discussion. And, greater even than those political principles and institutions, the two invaluable gifts of peace and justice. Let them take those two treasures which we have ensured over more than a century. Let them maintain them in their own country, and let them help to spread them over the whole world. It is peace and justice that the world chiefly needs to-day. Let the two new Governments of India take their share in spreading the fruits of these gifts from one end of the world to the other.
§ 4.4 p.m.
§VISCOUNT SAMUEL My Lords, noble Lords on the Liberal Benches also desire to support this Bill and are ready to expedite its passage. I have heard some expressions of regret that the title of the Bill should be so blunt; that this measure 826 should be called the Indian Independence Bill. There are some who would have preferred some pleasant euphemism to disguise what to them may seem a very disagreeable fact. I do not, myself, hold that view. I think that the stark bluntness of the title of the Bill serves a useful purpose, for it emphasizes the fact that membership of the British Commonwealth, the position of a Dominion, is consistent with actual independence. It has usually been thought that the two were alternatives, that a State might choose whether, on the one hand, it would be a member of the British Commonwealth, or whether, on the other hand, it would be independent. But this Bill underlines the fact that membership is independence. In all the old books on political science, from the works of Artistotle onwards, monarchy and democracy were similarly regarded as incompatible alternatives, but we have shown, in this country, that the British constitutional monarchy is democracy.
The world has taken a long time to understand the essential nature of the British Commonwealth, especially as it is after the passage of the Statute of Westminster. That remark applies particularly in the case of the United States, where every citizen from boyhood has been schooled in what, we might call “1776 and all that” and fails to recognize, in adult life, that there is a difference between King George III and King George VI, and that the Twentieth Century is something other than the Eighteenth. So it is well that by the title of the Bill, the Indian Independence Bill, the people of India them selves should realize that their aspirations have now, in fact, been achieved, that other members of the Commonwealth should realize it also, and that in the United States and throughout the United Nations this fact should now be established when both Houses of the British Parliament, without a hostile vote, pass into law the Indian Independence Act.
The noble Viscount who has just spoken and I arrive at the same end but from a different starting point. He has just said that he supports this Bill because it is, after all, no more than recognition of an accomplished fact, and he, for his part, is prepared to accept, in a philosophic spirit, what we in any case would be powerless to refuse. That is not how I regard the matter. I support the Bill 827 because it is in the spirit and, indeed, in accordance with the definite terms of principles of policy to which this country, and all Parties in this country, have given their adhesion in the Charter of the United Nations and in the Atlantic Charter. The very first article of the Charter of the United Nations declares: “respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples,” and the Atlantic Charter, signed by the President of the United States and by the British Prime Minister on behalf of our two countries, declares that those countries “respect the rights of all peoples to choose the form of Government under which they will live.”
Do those declarations mean something or nothing. If they mean something, then surely we are bound to apply them in this case, for indeed for more than half a century the Indian people have adopted every means in their power, short of open rebellion, to express their view that they do desire the fullest self-government for their country. Nevertheless, the severance must, of course, give to the people of this country, after these last two centuries—to the achievements of which tribute has been paid by the noble Earl, the Secretary of State, and the noble Viscount who has just spoken—a sense of sadness that the close connexion should be over. We have taken great pride and satisfaction in having in large degree endowed India with order and justice and the elements of prosperity and economic development. And we have taken a special pride in the devoted service of the Indian Civil Service, recruited from the people of these Islands. But, at the same time, this very stage in the development of India has always been declared to be the consummation for which we ourselves wished.
One clause in this Bill recognizes that the title of Emperor of India for the British Sovereign must be discarded, but that, after all, is a new addition to the historic designations of our Sovereigns. It was enacted only in the year 1876, therefore in the lifetime of the oldest of your Lordships who sit here to-day. It was at that time resisted with passionate intensity. It gave rise to a bitter controversy throughout the country and to animated debates in both Houses of Parliament. In the House of Commons the 828 sanction of the title of Empress of India to be taken by the Queen was carried on the Third Reading only by a majority of seventy-five, and a strictly Party majority at that, while in your Lordships’ House, when an Address to the Crown, moved by Lord Shaftesbury, praying Her Majesty Queen Victoria not to adopt the title of Empress of India, was voted on, the Contents numbered ninety-one and the Not-Contents 137, so that the sanction for the title was carried in this House by a majority of only forty-six.
At that time Mr. Gladstone, who made two speeches in another place opposing the proposal of Mr. Disraeli, then Prime Minister, said in one of these speeches, dealing with the wider issues involved: If it be true—and it is true—that we govern India without the restraints of a law except such law as we make ourselves—if it be true that we have not been able to give to India the benefit and blessings of free institutions … that, so far as it is true, I feel to be our weakness and our calamity. Those words, spoken with great foresight, recognized that the ultimate aim of this country, if we wished to avoid weakness and calamity, must be the establishment of free institutions. Ever since then British Liberalism has supported at every stage the extension, step by step, of Indian self-government and, having no faith in Imperialism or in what that word has always been understood to stand for throughout the history of nations, Liberals have disapproved of the title which was assumed in 1876, and will witness its disappearance to-day without regret.
Incidentally, this severance, which on many grounds gives rise to a feeling of sadness, from a purely practical point of view may be regarded as being in some degree an alleviation for this country. Our Army has always been organized with an eye to the requirements of the garrisoning of India by a very large number of British troops, and ever since the Cardwell reform after the Crimean War and the Indian Mutiny, the British Army has been organized on a basis of linked battalions with a view to providing a continuous series of reinforcements for a great army in India. Now that obligation is brought to an end there may be a welcome lightening of the burdens that lie upon the manpower of this country and strain so greatly our resources, and it may be possible when the whole question is reconsidered to 829 review the present arrangements for determining the numbers and methods of recruitment of the British Army.
When we recently discussed this Indian question—it seems only the other day but was as long ago as last February—great anxiety was expressed in some quarters of this House at the decision of the Government to name a fixed day on which British rule in India should come to an end. Since then events have moved very fast, and the improvement in the situation has been most remarkable. It has justified the action of the Government in fixing that date, and this House, looking back to the debate in retrospect, will feel pleased that it did not place itself on record as condemning that action of the Government. This unexpected improvement has undoubtedly been due in no small degree, as has been mentioned by the noble Earl the Secretary of State for India, to the personality of the Viceroy, Lord Mountbatten. I do not know any example in modern times so striking and so remarkable of the influence of a single personality on the development of great events. I think those who are acquainted with the course of these events will join with the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, in thanking Lady Mountbatten for the share she has had in fostering that atmosphere of friendship and good will which has so largely contributed to the results that have been achieved.
I think we must congratulate also the Prime Minister, who has been personally responsible for this choice, on the wisdom of his selection. Everyone is glad that Lord Mountbatten has consented to remain in India at this moment of transition in accordance with the demands of all sections there. If the Government had announced that in a month from now Lord Mountbatten’s term of office was to end and he was to leave India, it would be regarded both here and there as a great calamity. His wise, sincere, firm and persuasive influence is needed in the actual transition that is to take place in the corning months. For the Indians probably by now are well aware, probably more fully aware than ever before, of the great dangers to which the situation gives rise. The freedom of a people to govern themselves is also freedom to mis-govern themselves, and liberty from domination from abroad is also liberty to create dictatorships at home. Just as a monarchy may mean freedom, so a republic may 830 mean a tyranny, as we have seen in many cases in history and in recent history, and if we look round the world we may see some to-day.
I have regretted the possibility of the partition of India because it is there that I see the greatest danger of all. Someone has said that there is nothing in the world more evil than a frontier; and the fewer of them there are the better. Here you are creating new frontiers and new independent States. You are breaking up an integration which already existed, whereas what the world needs is to create more integrations. But let us trust that these two great communities, Moslems and Hindus, if they are firmly established as separate States, may find it easier to come together on an equal footing than when they faced one another within the same State boundaries as a minority of 100,000,000 on the one hand, and a majority of 300,000,000 on the other.
With regard to the other problems, the one which relates to the future of the States is apparently well on the way to solution. Already a month ago, States with a population of 54,000,000, out of 93,000,000 in total, had associated themselves with one or other of the new Dominions, and we may confidently expect, especially after the statesmanlike declarations of late by Congress leaders, that that process will be carried to its conclusion. As to the Depressed Classes, it has often been urged that we ought not to leave India without having insisted upon some pledges from our successors, whoever they might be, that the Depressed Classes would be relieved from their disabilities; and furthermore, that other minorities should be protected. A paper undertaking of that sort would, in any case, have had little value.
Now we have what is far more trustworthy and more likely to command confidence—namely, a Declaration of the Constituent Assembly of India itself which, before the advent even of the Moslems and with a very large Hindu majority, not long ago passed this provision to be inserted in the new Constitution that they were drafting. That would be a Constitution, they said: Wherein shall be guaranteed and assured to all the people of India justice, social, economic and political; equality of status, of opportunity, and before the law; freedom of thought, expression, belief, faith, worship, association and action subject to the law and 831 public morality. Wherein adequate safeguard shall be provided for minorities, backward and tribal areas, and depressed and other backward classes. Such a provision, enacted freely and on their own initiative—not imposed by an alien former ruler as a parting message, but accepted voluntarily and freely—they will surely regard as one which they are bound in honour to fulfil.
In any case, no actual power resides in this Parliament to intervene with the new regime on behalf of the Depressed Classes, or of other minorities, or of the Princes; and any endeavour to do so would perhaps arouse false expectations in their minds which could not by any possibility be supported. A man making his will can impose obligations on his heirs, executors and assigns, but in this case there are no heirs, executors and assigns to whom we can give instructions, who would be in a position to fulfil those instructions and willing to accept them. It would be futile to attempt to leave behind some titular official representing the British Crown—as a sort of ghost of the British Raj, gibbering along the corridors.
This Bill, which your Lordships are asked to pass with so much celerity, raises many points of detail, to some of which the noble Viscount who has just spoken has referred, and perhaps during this debate and during the Committee stage further details may be elucidated. But in the main the House to-day is asked to pass less a Statute which it is concerned to draft correctly than to ratify a Treaty which has been arranged by plenipotentiaries, and which must in its substance be accepted as a whole. As I have said, the Indian people during the last half century and more have used every expression of public opinion at their command, short of open rebellion, to show what their wishes were; and, looking back, I think it is right to say in retrospect that the fact that there has been no open rebellion in India during all the stages of this dispute is very largely due to the influence of Mr. Gandhi, and to his creed of non-violence, which represents one of the essentials of the pacific spirit of the Hindu religion. But for that the course of events in India might have been very different.
It is rare that such a spirit of nonviolence among the governed evokes 832 a similar response from the governors. As a rule, in history, if the people adopt the policy of non-violence, and rest under their grievances without taking any form of military action, the governors merely welcome that as a convenience, and as an encouragement or a justification for effecting no change. But we in this country, and in this Parliament, claim to be a civilized people, loving liberty for its own sake; and not only for ourselves, but for everyone else in similar circumstances. On the whole we have met this spirit of non-violence in the same temper. So we reach what is in fact the finest culmination of British rule in India: That is, it has provided for its own ending, and for that ending to be effected without any upheaval. It may be said of the British Raj, as Shakespeare said of the Thane of Cawdor: “Nothing in his life became him like the leaving it.” People sometimes ask why it is that the nations are not wise enough to have their peace conferences and to make their treaties before the wars begin, instead of only at the end of years of conflict and bloodshed. This Bill is a model to all future generations: it is a treaty of peace without a war.
§ 4.28 p.m.
§THE EARL OF HALIFAX My Lords, it will be quite clear from the speeches that have been made that there is no desire in any quarter of your Lordships’ House to delay the progress of this Bill. But I think the speeches that have been made also show that it would have been quite inappropriate that such a Bill as this, which must be of such great future significance, should have failed to attract the attention in your Lordships’ House which, as we have seen, the House is so peculiarly qualified to give. In saying that, I am conscious that there may be many of your Lordships who think that there are many ex-Secretaries of State, Indian administrators and Viceroys, who think that no Indian debate can be quite complete without their doing their best to add somewhat to the wisdom of the world. Therefore, being quite unofficial, I only speak with a word of apology to your Lordships; and I promise, in view of the wide range of speeches to which we have been fortunate enough to listen, not to detain your Lordships for more than a few moments.
833 In the well-deserved tribute which the noble Earl who introduced the Bill paid to the Services, civil and military, for their record over a long period of years—a tribute in which he carried the support and the concurrence of every member of your Lordships’ House—he was kind enough to pay an over-generous tribute to myself, which somewhat fortifies me in saying a word. But it also so happens— if I may touch upon a personal note—that my grandfather was Secretary of State for India fur the seven years following the passing of the old East India Company, and, therefore, I had a certain desire, I admit, for historical reasons, to say something as the next great period of the India record passes into history.
As has been said, this Bill constitutes the greatest—as I suppose of its kind it will certainly be the last—contribution by Parliament to the constitutional history of India. It is, I think, eloquent of the speed with which events and thought have moved that this new chapter of Commonwealth history—which in the case of the other Dominions was recorded by Parliament only after it had been written through practice and spontaneous growth—should in the case of India be the subject of formal legislation.
I am one of those who think that His Majesty’s Government, speaking broadly, have deserved well of the Commonwealth for the approach that they have made to this problem in the last few months, culminating in their principal proposals of June 3. As one looks back, I think one can see that all too often in India has British policy suffered the frustration and condemnation of “Too little and too late.” I think it has meant much for the long-term hopes which we may all cherish, that the approach of His Majesty’s Government to this tangled problem should have been inspired, as it has been, with courage and with imagination, supported, as it has been, by the indomitable vigour and unrivalled resource of His Majesty’s representative in India to-day. One of the most significant comments, as I thought, on the June 3 proposal was made by Mr. Amery who was the Secretary of State in Mr. Churchill’s Government, and which indeed shows—as did the debates in another place, and the debate in your Lordships’ House—how large is the substantial unity of all Parties at the present time.
834 Writing in The Times of June 4, Mr. Amery, after saying that he took full responsibility for the policy announced in his time as Secretary of State, of accepting India’s unrestricted right of self-determination once she had agreed upon her future constitution, went on to say these words to which I venture to call the attention of your Lordships. He said: But I have long realized that this was an inversion of the right order of procedure, and that it is only in the atmosphere of complete liberation from even the shadow of Whitehall control than Indian legislators can concentrate whole-heartedly on the great constructive task before them. As we all know, and as has been said this afternoon, henceforth the new Governments in India will be masters of their own destiny. Their choice of it will be absolutely free, absolutely uncontrolled; and in the atmosphere of complete freedom which this Bill establishes they will, as the noble Earl told us, at once become autonomous members of the Commonwealth and as such inheritor beneficiaries of the incentive and the strength of friendly co-operation which every member of the British Commonwealth enjoys. In any case, they will know that in the British Government and people they have friends who will be prepared to place an unrivalled political experience and a measure of unstinted help at the service of the new Indias which are now emerging. They will know that behind that possibility of help, should they desire it, there is no hidden purpose and no self-seeking.
There will be much, I doubt not, which in the months ahead will demand patience, restraint, wisdom and good temper. There will be endless questions arising from partition, some large, some small, but I suspect all difficult. There will be questions arising from particular obligations, so long accepted by the British Crown and Parliament, that now pass to other hands. I was glad to hear my noble friend who spoke from the Bench opposite give particular attention to the position of what we now know as the Scheduled Castes, and what we used to know better as the Depressed Classes. I have myself always felt, and felt I must admit with a measure of sorrowful regret, that in the case of an alien Government the capacity to deal with a great social domestic problem like that 835 reaching so far back as it does into the history of India, was inevitably and necessarily limited. We have repeatedly promised to do, and I think we may claim that we have done, our best. What the noble Viscount who spoke last said as to the absence of power in our hands as we leave India is indubitably true. As we are leaving, the British people will earnestly hope that those who will occupy the seats of power will be sensible both of the responsibility and, I would add, of the opportunity that this great human problem will present for them.
A word or two, if I may, in regard to the Indian States. The noble Earl who is responsible for these affairs certainly will not forget how solemn were the treaties by which they were bound to the Crown, treaties which we to-day, through unilateral action, find ourselves compelled to void. None of us will forget how the States, over many generations, have fulfilled, with constant and complete loyalty, the obligations that those treaties imposed upon them. So far as I am aware, they have never sought in any way to obstruct the progress of British India towards responsible Government. There was the occasion in 1930, to which the noble Viscount, Lord Templewood, alluded in another connexion, when the Princes made a notable declaration in favour of an All-India Federation. I have little doubt that he would agree with me that that declaration was very important at that moment in bringing forward the whole question of responsible government for British India into the field of practical politics.
I mention those cases because, with their roots set deep in history as they are and also in the traditional regard and affection of their peoples, and occupying a somewhat middle position between the British Government and the forward-looking nationalist aspirations of British India, many had hoped that it would be possible to see the States exercising a mediating influence in the handling of India’s difficulties. In the event, of course, as we all know, things have turned out very differently, and it is not hard to imagine the embarrassment which the present position, as Lord Templewood has shown, has caused for many of the ruling Princes of India to-day. There is no need to repeat what he well said, and I only add 836 this: that, while we must recognize the difficulties in which they have been placed, the Secretary of State for India and everyone, wherever he sits, must also, no doubt, recognize the extreme difficulties, on the other side, of His Majesty’s Government and of what we used to call British India—the two new Dominions that are now emerging in India. The conclusion, of course, is that, as matters stand to-day, you are face to face there with what has been truly called a dilemma, from which no easy escape offers. I was very glad indeed to hear the Secretary of State for India say that, of course, problems of that sort must be judged in the light of facts prevailing at any particular time, or words to that effect. I was glad for this reason: that, to my mind, it is essentially the kind of problem for which time is far more likely to bring a solution than any amount of logic—time, time, time and patience.
Therefore, my Lords, if that be the spirit in which, as I am sure it is, His Majesty’s Government are prepared to approach that problem, and if that spirit be, as I hope it may be, the spirit in which it will be approached in India where the settlement will lie, then I think that there will be ground, perhaps, for taking hope from the fact that it does seem, as I think Lord Listowel reminded us, to be the particular genius of the British Commonwealth to adjust apparently incompatible thoughts. He said, quite truly, that we have been successful in maintaining unity through wide diversity; that is certainly true. We have also been successful in seeing that the right to and the enjoyment of full independence has in no case prejudiced the not less powerful capacity for close and intimate collaboration. I do not think, perhaps, it is quite irrelevant to assert that we have also been responsible for what impresses other nations as quite a remarkable achievement. We have managed to combine great reverence for our historic monarchy with all the practices and the attributes of a vital and a very adventurous democracy. We are about the only people in the world who have done this sort of thing, and I do not think it is too much to say, therefore, that the life of this strange political entity, the British Commonwealth, has been founded and fostered in this soil of apparent contradictions.
837 If your Lordships ask yourselves why we have managed to do that, I offer you one explanation. It is largely because we have been fortunate enough, through a series of perhaps partly accidental, partly historical, circumstances, to learn what I believe to be one of the deeper laws of life—namely, that in the long run influence is a very much finer and more durable and more eternal thing than power. We have realized that, in the affairs of men, it is human feeling and human sympathy that are the essential conditions of understanding. There are mistakes sometimes, but, on the whole, that is the background of our thoughts, and that is why we get along pretty well. I always remember—and some of your Lordships may remember—that the late Lord Grey said something, which is published in one of his books, to the effect that nothing so much predisposes men to understand as the consciousness that they are understood. That is very profound wisdom. Therefore, I would hope that this good fairy of our political society may be powerful enough to guide all those who are concerned to lay the foundations of the new India so to do it and so to build as to enable and encourage all the constituent elements in the new India to bring their particular gifts and contributions to her common service.
§ 4.48 p.m.
§LORD PETHICK-LAWRENCE My Lords, it is with a sense of profound thankfulness that I rise to take part in this historic debate. It will not surprise your Lordships when I say there have been times when I have viewed the future prospects in India with grave misgiving. First, there was a danger that the sense of frustration at the long delay in obtaining self-government would flare up in open clash between the British and Indian peoples. Secondly, there was a danger that the removal of the British overlord-ship would usher in a period of communal strife in India which would leave indelible stains of blood. Thirdly, there might have been such acute disagreement in this country over the nature of the settlement and the method of our departure that Indian independence would have appeared to be the gift of one British Party and not the free choice of the British people as a whole. I am happy 838 to think that all these dangers have been averted.
The sense of frustration in India has disappeared, and with it any animosity towards ourselves on the part of the responsible leaders of Indian public opinion. Instead, we are starting the new chapter of British-Indian relationship with a splendid fund of good will and good fellowship. There is reason to hope that, as the settlement has been agreed on by the principal figures in Indian political life, communal bitterness will now tend to subside. The debate that took place last week in another place and that which is taking place to-day in your Lordships’ House indicate that there is substantial agreement amongst all Parties and I am confident that that agreement reflects the general feeling of the people of this country.
Of course, this is not to say that the solution which has been reached is either in itself ideal or presents no anxiety for the future. In times gone by great statesmen in our own country and great men in India have envisaged the birth of one great nation of India’s people that would take its place among the free nations of the world; but that is not to be the case, at any rate for the time being. I remember, when I was an undergraduate at Cambridge, that the College porter left us one afternoon to go to his own home, and he told us that his wife was expecting to give birth to a child that evening. He came back next morning with rather a long face and told us that, instead of the single child that he was expecting to receive into his home, his wife had presented him with twins. Something like that has happened in India. Mother India has been in labor” for a very long time, and everyone has been wondering what would be the character of the infant that would come into being. Lo and behold! instead of one State emerging from the womb of Mother India, twin States are emerging, as described in this Bill.
As the noble Viscount, Lord Templewood, reminded us earlier on, that is a very different result from that contemplated in the 1935 Act; and further, it is a very different result from that which we members of the Cabinet Mission who went to India last year contemplated. We drew up a scheme that we hoped would commend itself to all sections in India; 839 and perhaps I shall be pardoned if I adhere to the view that, as an ideal solution, the federal basis envisaged in the 1935 Act or the federal system which we proposed last year in India would have been better than the scheme which is now being put into operation. Our proposal would not have involved the partition of India; it would not have carried out the partition of Bengal or the partition of the Punjab. But that proposal of ours did not survive the fire of criticism and the doubts and suspicions which prevailed in the minds of various sections of the people of India. I think undoubtedly that it is much better to have a solution that may not appear so good on paper but that commands the real and genuine support of all sections or at any rate leading sections of India, than one which may ideally and theoretically be better but which is really planting an apple of discord in their midst. Further, I would remind your Lordships that we who went to India last year frankly said that there was a solution which we offered to them, but if they were prepared instead to agree on some different solution we were quite willing that they should take that course.
The noble Earl who moved the Second Reading of this Bill to-day spoke of the great praise that was due to the Viceroy of India, Lord Louis Mountbatten. I would like to re-echo that sentiment and to express our tribute and our debt of gratitude to the man who has succeeded in bringing the Indian Parties together to accept, even if with some reluctance, this solution of Indian problems. I should also like to express my agreement with the noble Earl in paying a tribute to the Prime Minister who has never failed to push forward a solution of this problem in the face of very grave difficulties which any of your Lordships who have followed this matter with any knowledge cannot fail to have observed. I agree also with what the noble Earl said of the political leaders in India. We must never forget that a political leader has not merely himself to consider; he has a large mass of followers; and it represents a degree of courage on the part of the leaders of the political Parties that they have agreed to recommend to their followers this solution, which, as much from their point of view as from ours, is not an ideal solution of the difficulties which confronted their country.
840 I may perhaps be permitted to pay a tribute also to my noble friend, the Secretary of State himself, who, undoubtedly, during these months that he has held this office has faced great difficulties and anxieties, and brought them to a successful result. It is only right too that I should say a word for the staff of the India Office. They have given not only the devotion and loyalty to the members of the Government that we have learnt to expect from members of the Civil Service. They have shown as well exceptional zeal and efficiency in tackling this astoundingly difficult problem of India. When I was Secretary of State, I confess I had a good deal of doubt whether we could produce a Bill and carry it through all its stages in both Houses of Parliament and get it implemented by the date that had been fixed, the end of June, 1948. The Government have now accelerated and antedated that by months. And yet those who were responsible for drafting this Bill have put together a measure which, neither in another place nor in your Lordships’ House, has been found gravely deficient in any substantial item. I think that does represent a work of skill, devotion, and initiative, which is worthy of the highest praise.
When I was at the India Office I always felt a deep sense of responsibility for those servants of India whose personal lot was being substantially changed by the reforms which were coming into effect. I had particular concern for the members of the Secretary of State’s Services. They of course have never stood alone; there is a large number of other devoted men who have worked for India who were not members of the Secretary of State’s Services, and I was very glad to read what was said in another place, and to hear what was said by the noble Earl to-day, of the intentions of the Government to stand by all those worthy and devoted servants of India.
There is one small section of people that I should like to mention, who I think have not hitherto been referred to. I mean those men who were transferred, I think it was in 1921, from the Indian Office to India House, and I feel sure that the Secretary of State will be able to give me a satisfactory answer with regard to them. The Office of the High Commissioner was, I think, created in the year 1921 to take over direct control from the Government of India of certain of the Agency functions 841 previously exercised by the Secretary of State, and the whole of the stores of that department, and about half of the Accountant-General’s Department of the Indian Office. In consideration of their existing service, on that transference from the Home Government to service under the Government of India, they were given a written undertaking by the Secretary of State that their conditions and terms of service and salary and pension scales would in no way be impaired by this transfer. I understand that the small number of men who are left in that service from that date are in some anxiety as to their position, and I feel sure the Secretary of State will be able to say that the promise given to them then will be fully executed in practice.
It only remains for me to say two things. First of all I would congratulate the Indians upon the fact that they are getting to-day full equality with the people of these islands. The noble Earl, Lord Halifax, said that they were getting complete freedom and, of course, that is true, but I stress, even more than complete freedom, they are getting complete equality with the United Kingdom and other members of the British Commonwealth. I am sure it is that combination of complete freedom and complete equality, that status, which they prize above everything else, and I offer my congratulations to them that that is now coming about. I also offer to them, not only on behalf of myself but I think on behalf of the great bulk of the people in this country, my good wishes for their future. I am sure there are many in India who are prepared to put aside past controversy and sectional differences, and who are thinking in terms of the constructive work that lies before them in the future. Not least among those are many Indian women who have, in recent years, been taking an increasing part in public life, and who bring a special viewpoint of great value to the future. Those who have followed those activities will, I am sure, reckon that a feature of good promise for the future of Indian life.
I am glad to think that, for the time being at any rate, both India and Pakistan are staying within the Commonwealth, and I shall be glad if they can find a lasting home therein. But, if they decide otherwise, I am certain that they can still count on the help and encouragement of members of our own family 842 in setting up housekeeping on their own. For me friendship and good will are more permanent and fundamental bonds of unity than mere constitutional structure. We in the United Kingdom shall continue to watch the growing activities and progress of the Indian peoples, not merely without any feeling of jealousy or envy, but with a sense of pride, and an active hope in our hearts that increasing prosperity may be theirs, and that they may play a beneficent part in the annals of the world.
§ 5.7 p.m.
§LORD RANKEILLOUR My Lords, I shall not keep your Lordships long and, as I dare say you know, my only locus for speaking at all is my service on the Committee which held such long sittings before the Act of 1935. I am afraid I must strike a discordant note and, in particular, I cannot share the optimism of Lord Halifax. I know he has had to leave, and I wish I could have said it in his presence. I have long been a friend of his and have admired him greatly in his capacity as Leader of this House, and as Foreign Secretary and, from all I have heard of him, as Ambassador; but I have always felt that, like most of the Bishops of the Seven Churches, there was just something against him, and that was that he carried the law of charity and thinking no evil to such a degree that I was tempted to suppose that he abjured the doctrine of original sin. Unfortunately, when you come to legislation you must contemplate the possibility, and perhaps even the probability, of evil resulting, and you must avert it if you can. That is exactly what I think in these proposals the Government have failed to do.
Certainly in so much as this Bill will prevent immediate civil war, to that extent, but no further, it must be welcomed. But for a long term, or even a comparatively long term of a few years, I think it is simply grotesque, and I base that view on, among other things, the particular statement that the ‘Commissioners made last year as to the difficulties. What are the first fruits of this division? Separate and perhaps multiple Armies, separate and perhaps multiple Customs, the breaking of communications, impairment of defence, and—something that has not hitherto been alluded to at all—separation of the Judicature. That is something in regard to which nothing has been 843 said hitherto, as far as I know. In regard to questions like that of division and separation, you must not draw a comparison between India and small fairly divisible countries like Ireland or Switzerland. You must compare what is happening on this great sub-continent with what might happen if you applied the same principles to Europe. More than once in this debate to-day, and even from the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel—who, I venture to think, should not use it—I have heard the expression: “the Indian people.” There is no Indian people, any more than there is a European people. What would happen if you applied some system like this to Europe? Suppose you set up two great divisions, with the iron curtain between them, which you might call, perhaps, Muscovistan and Frankistan, and at the same time others and perhaps ourselves, detached states like Portugal and Greece, remained standing aloof. And suppose, in particular, that you gave Muscovistan a great slice of France with not even the makeshift of a corridor between them. What would happen? That is precisely what you are doing here.
There are a great many things which are important but which I will not dwell upon. Some have already been touched upon in the debate and some have not—relations with States or with other Dominions, division of the armies, apportionment of debt (nothing has been said about that to-day I believe) and division of the Judicature. All That I wish to speak on, and I have spoken with perhaps wearisome reiteration upon it before, is the subject of the protection of minorities. In that connexion may I draw the attention of the House to Clause 6 (2) of the Bill which says that: the powers of the Legislature of each Dominion include the power to repeal or amend any such Act”— that is, Act of the Imperial Parliament— order, rule or regulation in so far as it is part of the law of the Dominion. It gives an absolutely unlimited power of legislation from the time when this Bill becomes an Act. In the very next sentence it takes away any veto of even the most temporary kind from His Majesty or this Government. If there is to be any real protection for minorities there must be three things. First there must be an organic law which protects 844 them, as it does in America, even though that is, in some cases, violated. Secondly, there must be an independent Supreme Court to interpret it. Thirdly, there must be reserve powers to enforce it.
Under this clause, Clause 6, there are none of these things. Anything that is passed now, anything that the Constituent Assembly may put in, with the best of sentiments and the utmost good will, will all go for nothing if the new Legislatures are given complete power to alter them at any time. To give them power subject to organic law is not at all incompatible with Dominion status. That obtains in Canada. It has obtained there ever since the Quebec Act of 1774. It was embodied and confirmed by the British North America Act of 1867, and no one can say that Canada is in any way prejudiced by having those powers subject to that reserve. What now will happen is this. There will be a Hindu minority in Pakistan, and there will be Moslem minorities in India, or, as I would prefer to call it, Hindustan. They will have some protection but it is protection of a very dangerous character. It rests on each having hostages and on their mutual fear of those hostages being oppressed. For the others there will be nothing but smooth words, alterable at any time.
It is not only the Scheduled Castes who are concerned. Once again, I must remind your Lordships that there are primitive Indian tribes, native Christians, Anglo-Indians, Parsees, and a few Jews. All these will have no protection at all against a Government which can alter the terms of the Constitution as and when they please. As the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, pointed out, it is perfectly true that we have not been able to alter the social status of the Depressed Classes. But, at any rate, we have given them equality before the law, and reserve powers for their protection, whether in administration or legislation, to the Governor-General. All that will be gone. So far as other minorities are concerned, I am told that in the case of the Anglo-Indians, preparations are already made for mass emigration from India.
But that is not quite all, because if you go on to Clause 8, which is a somewhat extraordinary clause, you find it says there that the Constituent Assembly shall, for the purpose of making provision 845 as to the Constitution of a Dominion exercise all the powers which are provided by Clause 6 for the new Dominions. That means that you can have no second thoughts at all in this matter: that once this Bill becomes an Act you can do no more; you have completely disburdened yourself of all responsibility. That has not been so in the case of other Dominions. In the case of Ireland, for instance, a treaty was made. There is no need for a treaty here—they will do just as they like. It is true that in the case of Ireland I do not think that all the stipulations were satisfactory, and one—namely that relating to treaty ports—was very wrongly, as I think, given away. This brought us into great embarrassment and but for the control which remained of the northern ports might even have prejudiced the whole issue of the war. In this case, there is nothing whatever, except words backed up by no legal authority at all, to prevent a violation by the new Dominions, in the course of time. I do not say that the immediate leaders now would do such a thing, but the power is there, and some day it may be exercised. This hasty throwing away of constitutional power is not a system that is acted upon by France in respect of her Eastern Dominions, nor, so far as I can understand, by Holland, Who seems to have arrived at what I hope may prove to be a tolerable compromise.
I beg your Lordships to believe that I am not speaking from any sentiment of pride of Empire, though one cannot but remember great men of the past, devoted civil servants and others, who have built up a great heritage. It is what I regard as a dereliction of duty that appals me. I have said that we have a great heritage, and with that is coupled a great responsibility. Both these, however unwittingly, are being thrown away. I have been told—I know not whether it is accurate—that in the calendar of the Ethiopian Christian Church a place has been found for Pontius Pilate, on the ground that he washed his hands. If disclaimer of responsibility by ablution is a necessary qualification for sanctity we ought shortly to have a Saint Clement, not of Alexandria, but of Limehouse. I remember as a small boy reading a speech in this House by Lord Cairns on the Majuba surrender, which, as you know, cost in its sequel an infinity of 846 blood and treasure, and the quotation with which he ended his speech is as true now saving that episode as it was when he said it. In all the ills we ever bore, We prayed, we sighed, we wept: We never blushed before.
§ 5.21 p.m.
§VISCOUNT ADDISON My Lords, I am sure we have listened with sincere interest to the noble Lord who has just spoken and he can truly claim that he is consistent, but I asked myself whilst he was speaking, what course would he have pursued?
§LORD RANKEILLOUR I can tell the noble Viscount that at once. I would have been prepared to negotiate a treaty with the leaders of the Indian Parties.
§VISCOUNT ADDISON And the Bill that is now before us is a result of negotiations with those Indian leaders. It is not backed by the oppression and force majeure which seemed to be behind whit the noble Lord was saying. It is because they and we believe in liberty, it is because we sincerely believe, as the noble Earl, Lord Halifax, said, that the greatest safeguard for minorities is to give responsibility for government of a country to those who live in it, that we make these proposals. I regard this as a very great historic Bill. I think it is unprecedented in history that the government of a great continent should be voluntarily handed over to its people after a long period of rule by others—voluntarily, with good will on both sides. I think we can fairly say that in this act of conferment of complete self-government upon the varied peoples of a continent we shall have the sympathy and support, so far as it can be given, of every other self-governing member of the British Commonwealth of Nations.
From August 15 next, these two Dominions, Pakistan and India, will share as equals with ourselves, and Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the Union of South Africa, the full power of self-government. As the noble Viscount who spoke from the opposite Bench early on said, there is a multitude of different questions which still require to be dealt with, but we have the reassurance that machinery is being set up to enable them to be dealt with by those concerned. Moreover, it is a great reassurance and an indication of the good will that exists, that Lord Mountbatten should have been asked by both sides to be Chairman of 847 the Defence Committee. There is no doubt that in due time one by one and in various ways these different problems will be solved.
One of the outstanding problems, as the noble Earl, Lord Halifax, said, is that of the States. We are glad that already the Governments have set up their own States Department to deal with this, but in dealing with them I am sure that what the noble Earl said, was right: time will be required, my Lords, much time and an infinity of patience. At the present moment we can truly claim that there is increasing evidence of the desire of responsible statesmen on all sides in India to promote conditions which will bring more and more into the common life of India the co-operation and good will of the States, and it is significant that this Bill contains the arrangements for the maintenance of common services like posts and telegraphs, customs, and communications, and no doubt they will be maintained until they are superseded later on by more organic and compact arrangements.
I venture to intrude into this debate to say something of a somewhat more personal character. I think something should be mentioned of the experiences which lie behind this rapid and, to many, unforeseen development. I accept to the full what we owe to the Act of 1935, which has been of immense service in providing the machinery of government. We ought not to forget, although my noble friend the Secretary of State did not say anything about it, what is really owing to the Cabinet Mission. It was their detailed, patient work which created, or at all events proposed, much of the machinery that is gradually coming into use. Their forethought and previous preparation were the indispensable preliminaries to the conduct of the business of the Government. We ought to fill a blank in the tribute which my noble friend paid to his immediate predecessor, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, by recognizing the infinite patience which the noble Lord displayed and his constant concentration upon the main purposes that he had in view and his loyalty to that purpose all the time he was Secretary of State for India.
I also wish to take this opportunity of saying something which I can say because it has been my privilege for many months 848 past to be a member of the India Committee. We ought to say something to-day of the share in this historic development which belongs to the Prime Minister, and to Lord Mountbatten. The Prime Minister was Chairman of the India Committee under previous Governments throughout the war, and he has been Chairman under this Government. It is impossible to exaggerate the perils which confronted us in India in the autumn and winter of last year.
For reasons which it is difficult to discover, there was a growing hostility at that time; there was a distrust and disbelief in us, and a growth of communal disturbances which was really alarming. It was quite obvious that there was an overwhelming need to take some step to reverse these hostile currents, if possible, and to inspire confidence and gain trust, and, above all, to induce a state of affairs in which Indian statesmen would willingly co-operate with us in making the arrangements which would have to be made if India was to achieve self-government. Quite frankly, I had the impression that, notwithstanding all that had happened before, there was still a widespread and quite unfounded distrust of our intentions. That was the reason, at rock bottom, for the Declaration of February 20, made after some months of anxiety. I think to-day that history will record that in the discussions in Parliament on that Declaration very much is owing to the courageous interposition of the noble Earl, Lord Halifax, in your Lordships’ House. It was a turning point.
The decision to make that Declaration has been remarkably and unexpectedly justified. Distrust has given way to confidence, and animosity has been replaced by friendship in an entirely unexpected way. The impulse to separate from us has been replaced by a willingness to join with us in a common effort to think out and deal beforehand with the problems of the future Government of India. I would say to your Lordships that, in my judgment (in saying this I am, I know, doing what strictly I ought not to do, but I am doing it on my own responsibility, for I am speaking as myself a member of the Cabinet, which is quite improper), what we owe in respect of this outcome to the Prime Minister cannot be overstated. He had a deep knowledge of India, of course, but I may say that by day, and often by night, we sat 849 through these deliberations and there was always something fresh, and always something tantalizing, and not seldom something disturbing. But the Prime Minister’s patience and composure were never ruffled. By this persistent concentration upon gaining good will and co-operation a measure of success was beginning to be achieved. I will put it no higher than that. It is due to the Prime Minister that we have got Lord Mountbatten out in India. For my own part, when I first heard the suggestion, I was somewhat taken aback, but at the same time I must say I thought it was a brainwave.
May I just say a little—as I think it ought to be said—of how much is due to Lord Mountbatten? In the discussions we had with him, his alertness and willingness to absorb the different problems which presented themselves to us and to him, were really amazing. I think in India there cannot have been many cases where a man with his extraordinary readiness to grasp new situations has obtained the confidence of men of all Parties with such great rapidity. It is very largely due to him, I think, that the misgivings and difficulties of the autumn and winter of last year can be replaced by the proposals of the Bill that are before us. We are all only too deeply conscious of the manifold difficulties that still confront Indian statesmen and ourselves. I have been anxious, as one who knows the circumstances and who took part in the deliberations, to take this opportunity on this very historic occasion of saying (rather on the lines of the somewhat ironical suggestion of the noble Viscount below the gangway, but from another viewpoint) that, just as in those days the name of Campbell-Bannerman was associated with the self-government of South Africa, so will that of Clement Attlee be associated with the establishment of the Dominions in India. I think it is only right that this should be said.
It seems to me, my Lords, that this Bill opens out before us a wider conception of the Commonwealth than we hitherto had. As the noble Earl, Lord Halifax, put it, we feel our way with our characteristic adaptability to changing circumstance’s. We do not shape them beforehand for ourselves. We have a most remarkable genius for adapting ourselves to changing conditions. Often enough, as your Lord- 850 ships are aware, it has been urged that there should be some formal machine for central commonwealth organization; but it has not come into existence. And it has not come into existence, in the main, because we are free members of the Commonwealth and confidence and trust between ourselves is a much stronger bond than anything you can write upon paper. We sincerely hope these sentiments will progressively be strengthened between ourselves and these two new great Dominions. I do know—and I can say this with full confidence—that those of us here who will have responsibility in connexion with relations between this country and the new Dominions can be assured that the other members of the Commonwealth will lend their aid to us and to India and Pakistan, with all good will and by all the means in their power, and will do whatever they can to strengthen and develop this new and beneficent association.
§ 5.40 p.m.
§LORD HAILEY My Lords, it would be tempting to follow the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, on one point he has mentioned, and to ask how far the decision announced on February 20 really had the exact effect that the Cabinet expected of it. But that, my Lords, belongs rather to the field of Party controversy, which is one in which I am not an expert, and for which I certainly have no taste. I am much more conscious at the moment of the many grave considerations which have been put forward in your Lordships’ House about this Bill, and about the situation which is likely to arise when it is passed. They are far-reaching considerations of great weight and they have been put forward, if I may be allowed to say so, in a manner which must impress upon everyone the deep sense of concern which your Lordships must feel and do feel for that situation.
If I do not myself attempt to add to those general considerations for the moment, it is because I would ask your Lordships’ leave to confine myself in the first instance to a much narrower and more restricted field. But it is a matter which is of the gravest concern to a large body of men who have very special claims on our care, claims in which your Lordships have always shown a ready and a generous interest. I refer to the question 851 of the pensionary rights of officers who have served India in the past, and to the conditions of service, including of course pensionary rights, of those who will continue to serve the Indian Governments. These are matters which I had previously desired to raise by Motion before your Lordships, but for reasons which I shall afterwards explain, I refrained from doing so. I think it is incumbent upon me to mention them now, because when once this Bill becomes law, the matter will have passed beyond the control of Parliament.
It may be necessary to bring to your Lordships’ notice some of the facts which form a background to this question, but I shall try to be as little technical as possible. Let me make it clear—since I think there has been some confusion upon the subject in another place during the debate on the Committee stage—that there were certain of the services, and notably those recruited by the Secretary of State, such as the Indian Civil Service as a whole, the Police Service as a whole and some other services to a measure determined by the date of their appointment, who have had right to a pension, guaranteed by Statute, and enforcible by law against the Secretary of State for India. Other services, though they had not such definite guarantees provided by Statute, nevertheless felt that they could rely upon the general protection of the British Government so long as it remained in control of the finances of India. It was always envisaged that before that control ceased through the complete transfer of power, an agreement having the force of a treaty would be concluded with the new Government of India by which arrangements would be made for securing the payment of these pensions. But this procedure is, of course, not possible in present circumstances.
In that statement of last April, relating to the grant of compensation to officers whose careers will now be terminated, it was declared that the Indian Government —by which, of course, was meant the Interim Government of India—had accepted liability for the payment of pensions of officers of the Secretary of State’s services. It said nothing as to other services. But even the members of the Secretary of State’s services felt that they had obtained a very inadequate measure of 852 guarantee in place of the statutory provision that they had hitherto enjoyed. There was nothing unnatural or unreasonable about this feeling. Many of the men whose services are now being prematurely terminated might have to look to their pensions as the means for maintaining themselves and their families over a period which might well extend to forty or fifty years. In the meanwhile, much might happen. All might go well, and the undertaking might be implemented. On the other hand, the outlook of the new Government or Governments in India might not be the same as that of the recent Interim Government. Public finances in India might be strained to a point at which the Governments might be unwilling or perhaps even unable to implement their liability. Difficulties might arise through the operation of exchange or similar controls. At the very best, therefore, these officers might remain throughout this protracted period in a position of anxiety to which no one, I am sure, would like to see them subjected. They felt that the only measure which would give them an adequate feeling of security would be for the sterling liabilities represented by these pensions to be capitalized under some procedure which would place it within the power of the British Government itself to arrange for their payment.
I am not going to dwell on the merits of this proposal because we have been well aware that it was one which the British Government was already considering and, as we also believed, with some good will. But it involved a somewhat delicate process of negotiation with India, and it was for that reason that we abstained—as the noble Earl, the Secretary of State for India is aware—from pressing it on the Government in any manner which might involve a public discussion on it. The members of the Secretary of State’s services must now have heard with a definite feeling of relief the statement made on the subject by the Prime Minister on July 9, and which has been repeated here today by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel. He made it clear that negotiations are going forward for setting aside a capital sum in sterling to cover the liability for these pensions. He stated that in the meanwhile those concerned will have the assurance of His Majesty’s Government that they will receive the pensions to which they are entitled. As I have said, 853 the members of those services will have received this declaration with a great measure of relief. The noble Earl, the Secretary of State for India, will, I am sure, be willing to give them an assurance that His Majesty’s Government will use every effort to bring these negotiations to a successful issue. But I am, at the same time, bound to point out to the noble Earl certain other points in which the position does not give the same ground for satisfaction.
The Prime Minister’s statement refers only to the Secretary of State’s services and analogous services—a term to which I shall afterwards return—and only to the European members of those services. I would ask, in the first place, for an assurance that this procedure of capitalization will apply also to Indian members of the Secretary of State’s services who have hitherto drawn sterling pensions in this country and are to all intents and purposes domiciled here. They are not many, but their position must be respected. My major point in this connexion, however, concerns Indians or Anglo-Indians who are drawing or will draw their pensions in India. These are, of course, far more numerous than Indians who have drawn sterling pensions in this country. I am sure I am speaking for others than myself when I say that there will be a great feeling of regret by the European members of the Secretary of State’s service if they alone are to get the benefit of this measure of capitalization, and if their Indian colleagues are to be excluded from it. There may have been motives of expediency which limited the grant of compensation announced last April to European members of the Secretary of State’s services, but that consideration cannot apply to pensionary rights which have hitherto had the statutory protection to which I have referred, and every endeavour should now be made to secure, by some analogous form of capitalization, the security of the pensions due to Indian members of those services, and which will be payable in India.
My next point raises an even more important, though I admit, a more difficult issue. I said just now that the Prime Minister’s statement referred only to the Secretary of State’s services and to analogous services. But this, as was explained by the Under-Secretary of State in the course of the Second Reading in 854 another place, meant the officers of the various Defence Services. At the Committee stage he emphasized this point and made it clear that it was not intended to cover the numerous civil officers, both European and Indian, who had not been recruited by the Secretary of State but had been recruited by the Governor-General in Council or by Provincial Governments. Now what is to be the security that these officers will have? They are, as I have said, numerous. They range from public works officers, irrigation officers, railway officers, through a variety of services down to European sergeants of police. In some cases, the distinction between officers of the Secretary of State’s services represents a real difference in status; but there are cases in which the distinction is purely fortuitous. Thus, if I may take the railway department, there are some 95 officers who were recruited by the Secretary of State before 1935, when the Act of 1935 removed his power to do so; but there are over 300 others, holding the same class of post and doing exactly the same work, who were recruited after that date by the Governor-General in Council. There is a similar position in certain parts of the Public Works Service.
It is not, of course, the fact that His Majesty’s Government has been insensible of this position. The Prime Minister announced on the Second Reading of the Bill that as regards persons who have been in the Government Service”— I take it that means pensioners— whether Central or Provincial but whose service has not been specifically under the Secretary of State, the leaders of the Indian Parties have guaranteed the existing terms and conditions of service, of all this employees, including Europeans. Then he added: This covers pensionary and provident fund liabilities. There is in this case, it is true, no discrimination between Europeans and Indians. But how far can they feel that they have adequate security for their pensions? They have not the security which would be derived from inclusion in the present Bill of a provision equivalent to that of Clause 10. The latter applies only to men who continue in the service of the Indian governments.
It was included, as the Prime Minister stated, at the request of the Indian leaders 855 themselves. Clearly, they suggested this because they wanted to ensure that as many existing officers as possible of the Secretary of State’s services should reengage with them. Did they then object to an equivalent provision for officers who had retired in the past, because they felt they had nothing more to gain from them? The undertaking of the Indian leaders is apparently only an oral agreement given to the Viceroy, the terms of which the Government have been unable so far to give us. It still remains to be embodied in legislation by the new Indian Legislatures. Will it give pensioned officers a right of legal action if their pensions are not paid? Again, the undertaking given by the leaders does not provide for compensation or for proportionate pensions where officers are not invited to renew their service with the Indian Governments or do not desire to do so. Surely they have a right to such terms.
This is a very serious matter for all this very large body of officers, both European and Indian, and one which is, I know, causing them the very gravest anxiety. It is true that they did not have the same statutory guarantee as officers recruited by the Secretary of State, but the distinction between them, as I have explained, was in some cases purely fortuitous. All of them feel and feel with justice that they were engaged by authorities who were at the time subject to the ultimate control of Parliament. What right has the British Government now, they ask, to transfer the pensionary liability to a new Government without making adequate arrangements to see that the liability is implemented? Viewed in the light of the work which these men have done for India and not in the light of some purely technical distinction, viewed in short in the light of the obligations which we owe to them, there can be no distinction between them and the members of the Secretary of State’s services, and all alike should be equally the concern of the British Government.
Thirdly—and this perhaps is a smaller point—I would ask for an assurance that the procedure of capitalization should apply not only to pensions of officers but to that portion of the family pension funds which has not so far been transferred to the charge of Commissioners in England. That is a matter on which I feel the noble Lord, the Secretary of State 856 for India, will have no difficulty in giving an assurance.
I come now to the provisions of Clause 10 of the Bill in regard to the protection to be given to members of the services who elect to continue in the service of one or other of the Dominions of India. The measure of protection to be given is not, of course, equal to that now enjoyed because, among other things, there can now be no appeal on the part of the services to a Governor or Governor-General who is subject to the control of the Secretary of State. But I do not complain of that for it is inevitable in the circumstances. But there is once more the same unhappy distinction between the Secretary of State’s services and other services. The former are given such protection as this Bill can afford; the latter are excluded. It would not, I think, have been impossible by some more considered drafting to have included in the Bill some measure of protection which would have served to relieve the very natural anxiety which they feel about their future. It would appear that all parties in our Parliament have agreed to avoid suggesting any such changes in this Bill as would delay its passing. I deeply regret this; for, in my view, an Amendent of the Bill is required here if we are to avoid making an invidious and unfair distinction against men to whom we have moral obligations as strong as the legal obligations we owe towards members of the Secretary of State’s services.
I make no apology for occupying so much of your Lordships’ attention in the interests of the past and present services in India. For, my Lords, if we are today passing a Bill for the complete transfer of powers to Indian Governments, it is largely the work of the services of the Crown in India which has made this possible. Parliament may have made its own contribution to the higher policies of rule, but the India of to-day, so different from that which we found when we took over the shattered remains of the Mogul Empire, is largely what the administrative and judicial services, the engineers, the medical and educational services have assisted Indians to make it.
Finally, there is naturally much that I could wish to add on the policy of which this Bill is the expression, and on the circumstances in which it will operate. But I bow to the sentiments which have, I think, determined the attitude of all 857 Parties, both here and in another place. No one, I suppose, can feel that this final stage of our connexion with India is of the character which this or any previous Governments in this country anticipated, or could really have desired. In fact, we had a clear confession on that subject just now from the noble Lord, Lord Pethick-Lawrence. No one again could feel that this Bill, almost an apology for a constitutional Act, is of a form which, compared with the other great constitutional Acts in our Statute Book, we are likely to view with much satisfaction. But we have come to the launching of the ship and it seems of little avail now to emphasize that neither its structure nor its equipment is all that we could have wished it to be. We are aware of the difficulties of the course it will have to take and of the dangers that it may encounter. It is proper that our feelings on that subject should be voiced here and should be on record. But it is now more dignified and perhaps it is even more profitable that the ship should go down to the waters with our prayers for its success, and with what hopes we can find it in our hearts to give it.
Since I have endeavoured, however, to voice the feelings of the Indian Services on some of the matters in which their personal interests are concerned, may I venture to voice also what I believe to be their feelings on the situation which will arise as the result of the passing of this Bill? They are not preoccupied by the sense that they will no longer be the agents of a system of rule ultimately controlled by the Government and Parliament of this country. They have long accustomed themselves to the fact that India was about to achieve complete self-government and to the constitutional changes which this would involve and the changes it would make in their own careers. But their primary interest has always been in the maintenance of the standards of good administration in the country. They think of the future of that great mass of the Indian population whose fortunes and whose future have been so much the concern of their working lives—the peasant in the field, the small trader in the towns, the labourer in industry. We gladly share the prayers of those who desire that this constitutional change, so far-reaching, so momentous, may not prejudice the future 858 of those people. But if fate should rule otherwise, and if the achievement of India’s political aspirations should give those people reason to complain that the standards of order and of justice have suffered, and that they no longer have any recourse against communal violence or partisan prejudices, then the members of the Services would have a very special ground for a feeling of frustration and an abiding sense of regret. May heaven grant that we may never see that day!
§ 6.3 p.m.
LORD SINHA My Lords, it is with mixed feelings that I rise to-day, after the galaxy of talent which has addressed your Lordships. I have long been a very silent member of your Lordships’ House, in a remote corner of die Back Benches. But on this historic occasion I feel I must say how the British people have amply justified the reputation that they have had throughout the world of keeping their word—a reputation which they very nearly lost in India during the last two or three years. I was horrified at the bitterness and racial hatred that existed in India during that time. Some of us often triad to speak to our friends and to other people to try to combat this. But people were just berserk, and they would not see. I think that the whole world owes a great debt of gratitude to His Majesty’s Government for their act of faith—I can only call it an act of faith—in this great Bill that has been passed through the other place and is now passing through your Lordships’ House so quietly and unobtrusively.
It is with very mixed feelings that we hear talk of partition. That is a word, nobody likes, and it always leads to trouble. But the world is very troubled just now, and again I think His Majesty’s Government have given a great lead to all the nations by evaluating spiritual values. That is what is needed so badly in this world to-day. I am not here to preach, but I do feel that India, as your Lordships know very well, has a great spiritual background; and this act of faith by His Majesty’s Government has made a strong appeal to them. In the midst of all the killing and riots that have been going on in the last year or so, not a hair of the head of any British man, woman or child, or any of their property, has been touched or damaged. I was there only last winter, and heard how much the Indian people feel that the 859 British had justified their faith in them. Say what they would, they did have faith in the British, and that is why there was never any question of rebellion in India, as there was in other places.
I can only hope and pray, in the circumstances, that this great Bill will help India to realize her responsibilities. I am sure that the leaders of that great country are realizing their responsibilities. Mr. Jinnah said he would never accept a truncated Pakistan; but he has accepted it. There were other people who said they would not accept it but who have done so. I believe that this great offer of Dominion status, ably elucidated as it has been in your Lordships’ House, will enable both Dominions after the transition stage to play a great part in the British Commonwealth of Nations, fighting side by side for liberty and freedom, as you have done for generations. Freedom is a great thing, but equality impresses even more; and as some of your Lordships have said, freedom and equality have been conferred on India by this Bill—so rightly named the “Indian Independence Bill.” This act will greatly enhance your country’s prestige in India.
§ 6.7 p.m.
§THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY My Lords, the debate which is now gradually drawing to its close has been, I imagine, for all of us a deeply moving experience. It has become a commonplace in recent debates on the Indian question to describe them as “historic.” I suppose the reason is that in that great area of the world’s surface events have been developing, as I think the noble Earl, Lord Halifax, said, at such a tremendous speed that on each occasion on which we have discussed this subject we have been faced with an entirely new situation. In that respect I feel there is a marked difference as compared with the situation which we have had to look at, say, in Europe. With regard to Europe, until at any rate the last few weeks, our anxieties have for months past been that there had been no concrete developments. In India, on the other hand, the danger that has tended to oppress some of us has been that events have been moving, in our view, too fast. New situations have been created for which rightly or wrongly we have felt that there has been no adequate preparation. 860 That was our main preoccupation on the last occasion on which this subject was discussed.
There has never been—and I want to emphasize this very strongly—any difference of view, in any part of your Lordships’ House, as to the desirability of transferring the reins of government into Indian hands—never. All Parties alike have been pledged to that for many years. What has worried us on this side of the House has been an anxiety lest the decision of His Majesty’s Government to leave India on a fixed date might mean the abandonment of the responsibilities without adequate arrangements for handing over those responsibilities. We feared that over-hasty action would lead to the rapid disintegration of the existing system of administration without putting anything in its place, and so bring nearer the very peril which I know the Government, like ourselves, are most anxious to avoid. I am sure the Government will agree, whether they acquiesce or not in this preoccupation, that it has not been an unworthy preoccupation, and that it has arisen from a very deep conciousness on our side of the responsibility this country has had for the Indian peoples.
The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, in the eloquent speech in which he moved the Second Reading of this Bill, rightly paid a tribute to the notable part which Britain has played in India, and we must all recognize to the full the responsibilities which we have assumed with regard to the multifarious peoples and races of that great country. We have moulded them and welded them into one nation, with a common language—English, which is the only common language in India—a common standard of administration, and a common standard of justice. We have regarded it as our sacred trust to protect the poor and the weak, to provide for the defence of the country against foreign aggression, and to promote general prosperity in the Indian communities. That was our duty, which we have performed, I think everybody will agree, to the best of our ability. No doubt we have made mistakes; we are fallible, like all humanity, and it was inevitable that mistakes should be made from time to time. But I do not think we have any reason to be ashamed of our record in India. It is one of which any nation in the world might well be proud. But the very extent 861 of our success undoubtedly did raise new and anxious problems, problems which affected the statesmen not only of this country but of India too.
With the apparent disappearance of those yawning fissures which had hitherto divided the country, and with the emergence of India as a whole and unified nation, there arose a very natural and proper desire on the part of the Indian leaders that they should manage their own affairs. No one could complain of that desire, but it did raise a new and perplexing question. We had hitherto acted as a cement which held the unity of the country together. Was that cement any longer necessary, or had the need for it passed? That was a question which, unfortunately nobody could answer. All we could do was to feel our way forward and prepare, as best we could, for a gradual evolution of the country towards the goal of complete self rule, which is, after all, the goal of all British policy. That, as I understand it, and as I think was said by Lord Listowel this afternoon, is the purpose of every step we have taken from Minto-Morley Reforms onwards, and even before that date. It clearly involved statesmanship of a very high order. If we went too fast, we ran the risk of fatally injuring the structure of unity which had been built up with so much care and devotion over so many years. If, on the other hand, we went too slow, we were liable to create an exasperation and suspicion in Indian minds, and this was bound to undermine that essential confidence in British intentions, which was the very basis of our rule. That was the dilemma in which British statesmanship was placed throughout the whole of this period.
It is with the pace of that advance and not over the objective that the whole controversy over India has been mainly concerned during the last quarter or half century. We, on this side of the House, tended to feel that the Government was going too fast. We feared that they might be imperilling all that had been gained by so much effort, and abandoning minorities to majorities who were not yet fully equipped to assume responsibility for them. Those were our preoccupations. They were not, as I feel, unworthy, and in some respects it may be said they have been justified. For undoubtedly the situation, though in some ways it may have improved, as I think 862 Lord Addison said, in some respects has slid away from under the Government’s feet, and they have had to act as a result with more speed and less preparation than they had intended. As a result, we are now faced with the regrettable division of the country into two, with all the difficulties and dangers which that involves, and the advent of a United India is unfortunately postponed into the unforeseeable future.
However, as the noble Viscount, Lord Templewood, said in the speech With which he opened the debate from this side of the House, it is not our intention to-day, either to carp at or to criticize the terms of the Bill which is before the House. It would be very easy to criticize, it would be very easy to suggest Amendments to this Bill, a great many Amendments, but I do not personally believe, and I am sure I am speaking for other noble Lords on this side of the House, that that would serve any useful purpose at all at this juncture. Whatever our feelings with regard to these matters, we have got to face the fact that the die is cast. Moreover, we must, of course recognize the immense difficulties with which the Viceroy himself has been faced. I know we would all wish to pay—and here I should like to associate myself with other noble Lords who have spoken—a whole-hearted tribute to the undaunted spirit and the single-minded courage with which he has tackled this gigantic task. We are glad to know that his wise counsel is not going to be withdrawn from India at the present time. But for him and the confidence which he has inspired the situation might be far more perilous than that with which we are at present faced.
At any rate we can register satisfaction over one thing. By an extremely wise decision, which I hope and believe augurs well for the future, the leaders of the Indian Parties have decided not to cut themselves off completely from the Commonwealth. They have decided to remain part of this great association of free nations. As members of the Commonwealth they will have, of course, full responsibility for their own affairs, external and internal. Their future, whether inside or outside the Common-wealth, will be theirs to decide. They will be arbiters—and complete arbiters—of their own destiny. But so long as they decide to remain inside the family 863 of nations of which we are members, they will, of course, retain also those advantages which that membership confers. It is for that reason, if I may say so, that I, personally, rather regret the emphasis which was thrust upon the word “independence” in the title of the Bill; not for any of the reasons which the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, mentioned, but rather for exactly contrary reasons.
Of course, these new Dominions will have the same complete independence of decision as is enjoyed by other members of the Commonwealth. Indeed, they will have exactly the same independence of decision that we ourselves have in this country. They will be adult nations, with the responsibility of adult nations. But in the modern world there really is, in fact, no such thing as independence, in the sense of the old English rhyme “I care for nobody, no not I, and nobody cares for me.” To-day all nations are interdependent and they are becoming more closely interdependent with every day that passes. Their fortunes are most indissolubly linked with those of the other nations of the world by every invention of the scientist. It is a steady and progressive evolution. That is the underlying principle and the essential meaning of the covenant of the League of Nations and the Charter of the United Nations. In those circumstances I personally feel that an over-emphasis on the word “independence” is really out of date. It belongs to the past and it is not a thing which should be stressed at the present time.
Indeed we must, I believe, at the present time, carry the word “interdependence” even one stage further. Even in these great world organizations which have been successively built up to get us out of our present troubles there must inevitably be groups of nations more closely associated with each other than they are with the other members of the organization, and the co-operation between the members of those groups undoubtedly increases the power and the authority of the members themselves, and what is more, is helpful in buttressing the world organization as a whole. Such groups are encouraged by the Charter of the United Nations, and in my opinion, rightly encouraged. Such, as the noble Lord, the Leader of the House, knows 864 well, is a main function of the British Commonwealth. It is world wide in character. It is able in a way that no other similar group is able, to take a world view and to make its influence felt throughout the globe. Into this great association of free peoples, we are all of us glad to welcome the two new members, India and Pakistan.
But if those two countries acquire a new and enhanced status, as the result of this Bill, I hope very much that they will recognize that they will assume also new and formidable responsibilities for their own future. This is not in fact a Bill to grant new Constitutions to India and Pakistan. It is, as I think the noble Earl, Lord Listowel said, “an enabling Bill.” It enables new Constitutions to be worked out by the Dominions themselves; and it depends, of course, entirely on them whether those Constitutions lead to prosperity or to chaos. After August 15, His Majesty’s Government, here in Great Britain, will have no more to say in the matter. The whole responsibility will rest with the new Indian Governments. And the problems which they will have to face will be very intricate and very complex.
There are many strands if I may so express it, in the brilliant but infinitely complex and varied tapestry that constituted the United India of the past, which will have to be unravelled, sorted out and rewoven in a completely different form. The boundaries of the two new States, the customs, the whole structure of finance, the Judiciary, the Armed Forces, the system of communications, will all have to be worked into the new pattern. Satisfactory solutions of the problems of minorities, of the relationship of the States to the two Dominions, of the problem of defence—to which the noble Viscount, Lord Templewood, so wisely adverted early in the debate and which, as he has said, affects not only the future of India but the strategic future of the world—satisfactory solutions of all these immense problems will have to be found by agreement if chaos and bloodshed is to be avoided. That is a task which will evidently require statesmanship of the very highest order.
There is one aspect of the Indian position of which a good deal has been said this afternoon, and about which I should like to add a word or two—that is the 865 situation of the Princes. They are our oldest and most tried friends. They have stood by us in fair weather and in foul. They have been bound to the British Crown by perpetual treaties. To them, one would have thought, we are under very special obligations. I confess that to me it seems that they have had, on the face of it, rather a raw deal. Under Clause 7 of the Bill, bleakly and uncompromisingly, those treaties are abrogated and the Princes and their States are left to their own resources. And I gather, from what Lord Templewood has said this afternoon—and it has not been contradicted—that this was done without any prior consultation with them at all. That is a fact which is bound to come with a sense of severe shock to a great many of us in this House. The Prime Minister —and the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, has repeated it this afternoon—has expressed the hope that all the Princes will enter one or other of the new Dominions. If that is their decision, certainly none of us will seek to dissuade them. That is clearly a matter for their free decision, and one with which we are not concerned. But should one or more of the rulers of the greater States reach the conclusion that the interests of their peoples would be best served by their staying, at least temporarily, outside these Dominions, what will be their position then? Surely this country, which owes them so much, cannot abandon them. To do so would be an eternal shame to us, and it would not be in the interests of the great Indian sub-continent itself.
I was rather perturbed, as I think were other noble Lords, by one phrase which was used by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, to the effect that His Majesty’s Government did not intend to recognize the, States as separate international entities. Even now, after further elucidation has been attempted by the noble Viscount, Lord Templewood, I still do not quite know what the Secretary of State for India meant. If one or more, at any rate, of the greater States, do not enter either Dominion—and I understand from the Government that it is going to be left entirely to them; no pressure is to be brought to bear on them—they will in fact be separate international entities, whatever we may say. There is surely a real danger that if it is not made clear that the phrase used by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, only refers to the 866 immediate interim period, it will be regarded by the Princes and by the States as indicating that His Majesty’s Government are attempting to exert an indirect pressure upon them to join the Dominions—a thing which the Government have said they do not intend to do, and I am sure that they mean entirely what they say. As I say, there is that danger.
We quite recognize that it may be impossible for His Majesty’s Government to give a very definite answer on this point to-day and I do not press them to do so. But I would say that we, on this side of the House, have for this reason welcomed warmly the statement, or perhaps I should say the implication, that I gathered from the reply made by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, to questions put by the noble Viscount, Lord Templewood, to the effect that this phrase which he used was not intended to apply beyond the interim period. I do hope most profoundly that should any of the greater Princes—because it is the greater Princes who are principally concerned in this matter—after August 15, approach us and ask for a renewal of those alliances which have been so fruitful, both to them and us, we shall show ourselves very ready to renew relations with them. That, I submit, is the only course which is consistent with our national honour.
I would also like to say one word about the situation of the minorities, and especially about the situation of the Depressed Classes. After August 15, as the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, has said, their fate and their future will be out of our hands. We shall not be able to do any more for these people who have relied so greatly in the past on British justice and British protection. Even at this late time, it is surely not improper for us in this House to express our concern for their future welfare and to urge that they may be treated with wisdom and tolerance and may be given in the future, in the new Dominions, the full rights which properly pertain to them. They are weak and they are helpless, and it would ill befit us not to do all in our power to ensure for them a happy and prosperous future. I hope, in this connexion, that His Majesty’s Government will give full attention to what was said to them this afternoon by the noble Viscount, Lord Templewood, who speaks with such authority on this subject.
867 It is clear, I think, from what has been said, in all the speeches to-day, that this Bill, whatever its merits or demerits, will not solve the Indian problem. All that it can do is this. It can make it possible for the Indians themselves to solve the Indian problem, if they have the requisite wisdom, toleration, and administrative ability, all that we comprehend in the word “statesmanship.” The eyes of the whole world are to-day upon the leaders of India. It is by their success or failure in the gigantic task which faces them that history will judge them.
There is one further word that I would say in conclusion. While we are animated by a strong glow of hope, we must all of us feel that there is an element of sadness in our deliberations this afternoon. The passage of this Bill marks the end of an epoch, a proud and splendid epoch, in the closely linked history of India and Britain—not, I hope, the last epoch, but the end of an epoch. And I feel that here around us this afternoon stand in spirit a great and noble company, all those men and women who have gone out from these islands and given their lives for India. Of them I think the fine and famous words in Ecclesiasticus may well be quoted: There be of them, that have left a name behind them, that their praises might be reported. And some there be, which have no memorial; who are perished, as though they had never been; and are become as though they had never been born. But these were merciful men, whose righteousness hath not been forgotten. Their bodies are buried in peace; but their name liveth for evermore. To these men, some of whom were renowned and some of whom were humble, we pay our tribute to-night, though I hope that some future opportunity may occur when we may speak more fully of this.
My Lords, during the long period of our stewardship of the affairs of India we have endeavoured to show ourselves worthy of our trust. To-day we hand over that trust to others, to the people of India themselves. Our relationship is not ended, but it has taken a new form. As a result of this new evolution, the leaders and people of India have a great and splendid opportunity. It is for them to show they are worthy of it. At this great moment, for them and for us, there will be, I am sure, 868 none of us, in whatever part of the House we sit, who will not wish them success.
§ 6.34 p.m.
§THE EARL OF LISTOWEL My Lords, in winding up this debate my first words must be of thanks to the House for the long series of speeches delivered by noble Lords well versed in Indian affairs who have given general support to the Bill. It is a matter of much importance to India and to the outside world that the Bill should have the backing of all Parties in both Houses of Parliament. And this support has been forthcoming in the course of this debate. It is also a matter of much importance to India that the Bill should be passed in this unceremonious and rather exceptional manner. I am indeed grateful to your Lordships in speeding the passage as you have done. It will enable the new provisional Dominion Governments to be set up, as we have all hoped, at the earliest possible moment.
I think the keynote of this debate was struck by the noble Earl, Lord Halifax, when he said that sympathy and goodwill count for much more than formal constitutional relations and achieve more lasting results in the relations between nations. I am sure that is the message that noble Lords would wish to go out from this House to India. And I am quite certain that it will give the Indian leaders the maximum encouragement as they are beginning their great new task. I cannot, I fear, refer to more than quite a few of the many important points that have been made during the debate, but I should like to touch on one or two matters which, although they might have been emphasized more in some speeches than in others, seem to be matters of common concern to your Lordships.
The first of these is the anxiety which was expressed by the noble Viscount, Lord Templewood, about the danger of communal tension in the two new Dominions. I think there is good reason to suppose that the fact that each community will now have a State of its own, a State in which its members will have a substantial majority, will ease the tension which has been so severe over a long period of time, and I have evidence in support of that view to show that it is not mere optimism. I can inform the House that the announcement made on June 3 about the partition of India has already resulted in a diminution of the 869 disorders in British India which had recently reached such serious proportions. This is based on the statistics collected in the Provinces which show that crimes of violence and crimes against property have been fewer in number during this period as compared with such crimes in the weeks before.
So far as the position of minorities is concerned I think it is very reassuring that both Parties have guaranteed that they will respect the rights of religious and social minorities. There is the charter of fundamental rights to which the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, referred and which will be included in the new Constitution of the Dominion of India. It is important to remember that this is not merely a declaration of religious freedom, but the desire is that its provisions shall be enforcible in the courts. I should like to mention an encouraging experience of my own in this connexion. The other day I had lunch with the Minister of Labour in the Indian Interim Government, who is himself a member of the Scheduled Castes. That would not have been possible, as I am sure noble Lords with experience would agree, a number of years ago, and I think it is in itself evidence of the direction in which the social evolution of India is moving.
I should also like, because at present the emphasis has been one-sided, to remind your Lordships that Mr. Jinnah has made a public statement in which he guarantees that the Moslem League will respect the rights of the minority communities. He is reported to have said that one cardinal principle which he had followed and adhered to was that minorities, to whichever community they belonged, should be treated fairly and justly, and every effort should be made by the majority community to create a sense of security and confidence in them.
I fear that in reply the noble Lord, Lord Hailey, I cannot go much further than I went in my remarks. The general principles which we are following were laid down in a White Paper on the compensation of the services published in April and amplified since by the statement of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in the course of the Second Reading debate in another place. The only help I can give him is to say that I gladly assure him that the Govern- 870 ment will do their best to make a success of the negotiations, to which he referred, that will now take place with the Dominion Governments for the earmarking of a sum out of sterling balances from which the payments of pensions to members of the Secretary of State’s services will be made. I can also give him, I think, one further particle of satisfaction. It is our intention in the course of these financial discussions, which will centre mainly upon the Secretary of State’s services, to inquire whether a capital sum might not also be set aside in discharge of liability for pensions, provident funds, etc., of the members of the uncovenanted services who draw their pensions in sterling. Beyond that I am afraid I cannot go at this moment.
I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, both for what he said about India and the point he raised in connexion with the Services. I should like to inform him that all members of the staff of the High Commissioner for India are covered by the Indian leaders’ guarantee of the continuation of existing terms and conditions of service. Those who were formerly on the establishment of the Secretary of State in Council also fall within the category of analogous services to which the noble Lord, Lord Hailey, referred. His Majesty’s Government’s assurances regarding the payment of pension applies to them, of course, in the same way as to the other members of the Secretary of State’s services. They will be included in the proposed arrangements to pay their pensions out of a capital sum earmarked from the sterling balances. This, of course, is a matter which will be taken up in the course of the general negotiations which will follow the establishment of the two Governments, and which it has been impossible for us hitherto to take up.
I should like also to thank my noble friend Lord Pethick-Lawrence for his reference to the staff of the India Office. This Department, which has since 1858 been the organ in Whitehall for handling our relations with India, will cease to exist as a separate Department of State from August 15. During these years its officials have rendered devoted service to a succession of Governments, and have been an indispensable instrument in bringing about self-government and the other benefits of British rule for India. They have never 871 been under a heavier strain—as I can bear witness—than during the last few weeks, and anyone who has had the privilege and good fortune of working among them would wish to acknowledge their cheerfulness and fortitude, in spite of the fatigue of abnormally long office hours. This, I think, has been a fine close to a record that is worthy of the best traditions of the British Civil Service. I have nothing more to add, except as a final word to express on behalf of India my gratitude to the House for the last but not the least of the services it has rendered.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§THE EARL OF SELBORNE My Lords, I rise only because I think it is important that we should say what we feel at this moment. I do so after the noble Earl has sat down because I was given to understand that that would be for his convenience or the convenience of the House. I feel it is important to say what one has very much at heart, and especially if one’s views happen to be unfashionable. The events which have led up to this development, to my mind, can be regarded only as a great human catastrophe. The withdrawal of British authority from India has already led to the loss of millions of lives in rioting and famine. About 2,000,000 people lost their lives in last year’s famine. Famine had been banished from India since the Curzon Code, and that catastrophe can only be attributed to Indian incompetence and corruption. But the human misery that has so far occurred is small compared with the slaughter that is to follow.
Everyone must admire the adroitness with which Lord Mountbatten has achieved the transition stages, but we shall be merely deceiving ourselves and other people if we believe that any of the fundamental problems of India have been solved. What we are doing now is in fact to Balkanize India. There will be Pakistan, and there will be Hindustan and The States. Hyderabad has already declared that it is going to announce its independence and I understand that Travancore and other States are likely to take the same line. At the same time, racial and religious fires have never burned more fiercely. I was very glad to hear what the noble Earl said just now that there had been fewer riots and atrocities in the last few weeks—but only 872 “fewer.” The amount of violence there has been in India during the last two years is something terrible. The Army is now being divided into Hindu and Moslem, in the manner in which sides are picked before a football match. It is impossible to believe that peace will be maintained.
I am aware that I am in a small minority and very unpopular in saying this, but for God’s sake do let us try to look facts in the face. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Vansittart, who said: “It was the cardinal vice of the inter-war period not to call a spade a spade.” I believe there is a great truth in that statement. It seems to be a failing that affects this country after every great war. I cannot but regard the future of India under this settlement as a relapse into that internecine warfare from which Britain rescued her, and I shall be surprised if other countries do not intervene in that warfare, either openly or secretly. One thing we can be sure of, and that is that there cannot be democracy in India. There never was any hope of democracy in India in the Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian sense of the term, because the conditions which make democracy possible do not exist.
In our last debate, the noble Lord, Lord Lindsay of Birker, paid me the honour of saying that he did not fundamentally disagree with my forebodings of slaughter. He appeared, however, to view that prospect with comparative equanimity. He was able to regard the matter from the detached standpoint of the historian. I understood him to say that in his view all this was inevitable and always had been inevitable—rather like the overwhelming of Europe by the Goths. But that seems to me to be relegating the politician’s rôole to that of the spectator, and I cannot so conceive our duty. Some human disasters are acts of God, but a great many more are acts of man; and this belongs to the latter category. We have, in fact, been talked out of India. We have been talked out by theorists in India, in America and in England, most of whom never did a thing in their lives to better the lot of the peasants of India. We have been pursuing a false ideal in trying to inculcate and establish a democracy in a Continent where it was never possible. If we had come to the conclusion that we were unfit 873 to govern India, it would have been better to have handed government over to enlightened Rajahs than to the politicians.
I am aware that this is merely lamenting over what I regard as spilt milk, and the question before the House is what policy we ought to pursue. It is easier to bring about disaster than to remedy it. It is easier to run a motor car into a ditch than to get it out. In the circumstances in which we are placed I am not criticizing Lord Mountbatten’s policy. If Britain is to walk out of India, the quicker we walk out the better, but I believe that in doing so we are washing our hands of a trust which we should never have betrayed. When I am told that good government is no substitute for self-government, I reflect that it is equally true that self-government is no substitute for good government. The greatest boons that statesmen can confer upon their peoples are peace, justice, and individual liberty. Our modern politicians have thrown away the substance for the shadow of political liberty which, under the present conditions and development of India is, I believe, unattainable. In doing so, they have betrayed the trust of scores of millions of simple peasants who will be the innocent victims of our folly.
§ 6.55 p.m.
THE EARL OF SCARBROUGH My Lords, so much has already been said in this debate that there is really nothing new which can be said, and I do not propose to repeat remarks already made. I rise merely to add just one thing. I would like to strike a final note in this debate, a final note which I should like to go out from this House to India. We shall pass this Bill, not without anxieties but also not without hopes; and I, for my part, believe that those hopes can be founded on sufficiently solid ground. To those hopes we can add one other thing which I feel will not be without its effect. We can, as we pass this Bill, make it clear to the peoples of the two Dominions that we pass it with unstinted good will towards them—unstinted good will to all that vast population in the Indian peninsula. Among them are many who have been our loyal and faithful friends. There are others who have been our opponents in recent times—very friendly opponents for the most part—with whom it has 874 always been possible to observe the courtesies of the contest.
With the passage of this Bill all past controversies will be wiped from our minds. We wish them all well—our former loyal friends and our former chivalrous opponents alike—and if, in our new relationship, there may come opportunities for assisting these new Dominions on their way, we will surely regard it as a sacred task to be undertaken, if humanly possible. When we see, as we hope we shall, these new Dominions advancing successfully to a great future, we shall rejoice with them, and we shall feel that the British task in India has not been unfulfilled.
On Question, Bill read, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House forthwith.
Then, Standing Order No. XXXIX having been dispensed with, House in Committee: Bill reported without amendment, read, and passed.
§ [The sitting was suspended at seven o’clock, and resumed at half past eight.]