Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[ Mr. A. Young.]
Mr. Pethick-Lawrence (Edinburgh, East)
It is, as will be generally known, the wish of this House to take this opportunity on the Adjournment to discuss the famine in India, and it falls upon me to open the Debate and to put forward the views of these benches on this very important matter. I do this with considerable diffidence and with a heavy sense of responsibility. Although for nearly all my political life I have been a student of the Indian situation, I cannot pretend to have the full and complete knowledge and the background which are possessed by many hon. Members in this House. My sense of responsibility is increased by the fact that I realise that, in opening this Debate, I am not only speaking to the Members of this House, but I am speaking also to the people of India and, in a sense, to the people of the whole world. I am very sensible of the risk of letting ship one word that might do harm on this very important question of the famine itself or in our relationship with that great Sub-Continent of India or with the friendly feelings that we have towards other countries and they have towards us.We have a new Viceroy. He is a man of great imagination. He has already shown his deep interest in this matter of the famine by his actions, and I should be very loth indeed if anything I said to-day could be regarded as queering his pitch in his attempt to solve or to mitigate at any rate the great disaster which has taken place in parts of India. Nevertheless, I feel it to be my duty to put before this House the facts as I see them. I propose to investigate the question of whether anything has been done wrong, because it it only by basing oneself on sound diagnosis that one can hope to discover the correct remedy for the trouble. I propose to weigh up all the causes that have contributed to this serious and tragic situation and, as far as I can, to ask the House to adjudicate upon them. I would remind hon. Members that this House is ultimately responsible. If this terrible death-rate had occurred in any one part of the British Isles, the Member who sat for that locality would have been vociferous in demanding that something should be done. He would not have allowed any member of the Government to rest while such terrible things were happening, and this House, every day and all day, would have been continually confronted with the need for drastic remedies. In this House there are no actual Members for that immense part of the British Empire—the Sub-Continent of India—and that fact must not be allowed for one moment to let this House, responsible as it is for India, forget its grave responsibility. There is a sense in which, I think no one in this Chamber will deny, we are all Members for India, and we have all that duty to perform, seeing that in the last resort it is we here in this House who are responsible for what takes place. We shall be called upon to answer the charge that we have failed in our duty. If there has been lack of imagination in handling this problem, lack of initiative, any failure to take full cognisance of the facts and to bring the best remedy to bear, we in this House are ultimately responsible, and we cannot shirk that responsibility. To-day it is our business to carry out the investigation as far as we can. We have to be searching. We must not, out of any desire to make things easy for anyone, shirk any part of that investigation. If, as a result of our inquiry, any conclusions should be reached, we must not hesitate for one moment to carry them into effect, however distasteful they may be; and even if they involve personalities of those in high places, we must not shrink from the consequences. I had hoped that the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State would have opened this Debate, but as a matter of fact he has so often enlightened us on his views that I think, broadly, the House is in possession of his attitude on these matters, and at various times he has given us the picture of the Indian situation as he has seen it in minute detail. He has told us in days gone by many of the contributing causes of the present famine—first of all, an act of God, as insurance companies call it, in giving a bad harvest in certain parts of India; the King's enemies in the shape of the cutting-off of the supplies from Burma and other parts of the Far East to India; the creation of the dual responsibility brought about by the passage of the India Act; the reluctance of Provinces with surpluses to sell them to the full extent that might have relieved the shortage; individual hoarding, the difficulty of transport, external and internal. And on one or two occasions, in addition, he has mentioned the matter of inflation. It would be unfair to the right hon. Gentleman to suggest that he views with complacency, or anything like complacency, the tragic events in India. He is deeply troubled, as we all are, by what has taken place and is taking place to-day, but having brought into review at various times all the adverse circumstances with which the Government of India have been confronted, he feels that, if they have failed—and we must all admit they have—that failure is not a dishonourable one and that, like the swimmer who battles nobly but fails to make the land, they are to be pitied and not blamed for what has taken place. Let us be quite candid with ourselves. That is not the view taken by a very large number of our Indian fellow subjects, and it is not the view taken by many of our good Allies at the present time living in the United States of America, and I am sorry to have to tell the right hon. Gentleman that it is not the view of myself. I have no desire to oversimplify this problem. I do not dispute any of the contributory causes detailed by the right hon. Gentleman on many occasions in this House. I do not deny him the benefit of any of the extenuating circumstances which are ever present to us in dealing with this serious matter. But, having said that, I still think that our Government of India, including in that expression the whole of our acting personnel, both here at home and in India, must take a substantial share of blame for what has taken place. In my view, that arises because they are directly responsible for what are the main causes of the trouble. Perhaps at this point the House will allow me what may appear to be a slight digression. When I was a young man, shortly after leaving the university, travelled round the world, and I spent several months in visiting my old friends who were by that time members of the Indian Civil Service in India. I went out straight from here to an up-country station, and no sooner had I arrived there than my friend, who was in charge, was called away in order to deal with a local famine. The fact that that created a certain amount of personal inconvenience to myself naturally impressed the whole matter very greatly on my mind. The facts of that particular famine—which I do not think were very different from the many which took place in those years, about 40 to 50 years ago—were that there had been a shortage of rain in an area and that that produced a poor and almost non-existent harvest, with a result that the people in that affected area were dying of starvation. It seemed quite clear in those days to those who were responsible for the destiny of India that the explanation was quite simple. It was that the people who would have grown all their own food and lived on it had not succeeded in rearing a crop. Therefore, they were short because the food which would have kept them alive did not materialise. But as time went by in India those who thought about this matter realised that the situation was not quite so simple as that. There was plenty of food in India as a whole. The problem of distribution, although not as easy as it is today, was not insuperable, and I believe I am right in saying—although I am not sure—that through all those years grain was actually being exported from India as a whole. Therefore, those who had charge of the destinies of India came to represent the situation in a slightly different way. They found that the main cause of the starvation of certain individuals in a certain area was that they were without the means to purchase the food they needed. The fact that their own harvest had failed meant that they had not any money. Food was available, but the demand of people who have no money is not an effective demand, and, therefore, the food went elsewhere. When the Government of India of those days realised that that was the genuine cause of the local famine they were speedily able to bring it to a conclusion, and, as has been very rightly said, it has been one of the great triumphs of the Government of India that in recent years, up to the present disaster, famine has been almost unknown. I do not think I am mis-stating the facts in what I have said in my approach to this problem. I have come to the conclusion that one of the principle causes—I would go so far as to say the main cause—of this famine in India to-day is precisely the same consideration that was the case with the famine in the days to which I have been referring. The main cause is that there are large numbers of people in certain Provinces in India who have not the purchasing power to enable them to buy such food grain as will keep them alive. That has not arisen because the particular people who were already on the subsistence level have had their incomes reduced. It has arisen for the simple reason that the price of the food grain which they used to buy with their very meagre incomes has risen so high that they are not able to buy. The main cause of this increase in price is inflation, and for that inflation the Government of India, and nobody else, can be held responsible. I do not think the Minister himself will dispute that inflation is at any rate one of the causes— I would say one of the main-causes—of the present situation. On 21st October I asked the Minister this Question:
The right hon. Gentleman replied:"Is it not really inflation which has led to hoarding, by making it profitable to hold back supplies? Is not inflation a matter which His Majesty's Government ought to be careful to avoid?"
The Minister and I may differ as to the degree of importance which can be attached to this matter, but as to the fact that inflation has been at least a contributory cause I think the House will see from that quotation that we are not divergent. If any evidence of inflation is wanted—and I am using the word "inflation" deliberately, as distinct from a rise in prices caused by other means—I think it is more or less proved by the fact that the increase in prices is not confined to food grains but extends, so far as I can learn, throughout all commodities, although not precisely to the same extent. My information is that the general index has risen to about 300 per cent. By that I mean that what would cost 10 rupees before the war would now cost 30. That is, if anything, an under-statement. The things which the farmer wants to buy have increased in price to 400 to 500 per cent., the price of food grains has risen to 100 to 700 per cent. and at times, and with regard to specific commodities, has been as high as 900 per cent. The effect of this stupendous rise in prices on that large section of the Indian people who are always on the subsistence level has been exactly what might be expected, and I really must ask the House, or any of those who think I am exaggerating, to allow their minds to dwell on what would be the position in this country if the cost of essential foods rose in anything like that proportion. If bread, costing 3d. or 4d. for a loaf of a certain size, gradually increased in price until it was 2s. or something of that kind for the same sized loaf, and if all foods increased similarly in cost, then large numbers of our people, except those who were able to get a corresponding rise in wages, would starve. There is no doubt that in India, whatever may happen in the case of men who are busy at work and are earning a wage, there are large numbers of people who live, as we should say here, on a small fixed income. I think the pittance they derive from some source or other can hardly be called a fixed income in India, but, in fact, there is no real difference in the situation. These people, who never get very far above the subsistence level, when prices of foodstuffs have risen to that extent have been pushed right down to the point of starvation."Yes, Sir, inflation has certainly been a contributory Cause."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st October, 1943; col. 1489, Vol. 392.]
Earl Winterton (Horsham and Worthing)
May I ask my right hon. Friend, to whose speech we are listening with so much interest, a question? He has dealt up to now with the rise in the cost of living. Can he say what has been the rise in wages?
Mr. Godfrey Nicholson (Farnham)
Before the right hon. Gentleman answers that question, can he say whether the figures he has given of the rise in prices refer to India as a whole or only parts of Bengal?
The Secretary of State himself, in answer to questions of that kind, has always disclaimed any ability to give a general level of prices. One of the disadvantages to which we are subject in this House at the present time is that it is difficult for us to get information except that which is official. I am not making any complaint, but that is our position. The same answer applies to my noble Friend the Member for Horsham and Worthing (Earl Winterton). Frankly, I do not know what has been the level of the rise in wages; clearly, no one could possibly tell what has been the general rise without careful statistical investigation, and only the Government of India could possibly carry that out. But perhaps when members of the Government speak later in the Debate they will be able to answer that question. Certainly, I could not.It must be perfectly clear to this House that the situation which has come about must continue so long as prices remain high and unless certain of the people are given purchasing power in some way or another to buy food or' unless they are fed, as they are being fed at the present time. The situation is bound to get worse if prices, owing to increased inflation, continue to soar. There is no mystey about what has caused inflation, no mystery whatever. It is the spending of huge sums in India by the Government of India and by the British Government and the printing of paper money in order to pay wages and the rise in the costs of production without drawing off purchasing power from individuals in taxes, in genuine loans and in other ways. Of course, it is perfectly true that there has been a certain amount of debt repatriation, and that is good as far as it goes, but it has not gone to the full extent that was necessary in order to prevent inflation. I do not see how the Secretary of State can possibly deny responsibility for this. It is not a matter for the Provincial Government. It owes its origin to the war situation, but it is not a war question, Still less can I see how the Chancellor of the Exchequer—who, I am glad to think, will be replying to the Debate, and who will no doubt deal with the point I am raising—can deny it, particularly as he is head of the Treasury which, under his predecessor, and which, I am sure, will be continued under himself, has been most careful to avoid inflation in this war in this country. We here, sitting for constituencies in this country, and knowing how injurious inflation would be, know that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, being responsible to the House of Commons, has taken very good care to see that inflation does not arise in this war here as it arose during the last war with very disastrous consequences. The Government of India have not taken the same care with regard to India that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has taken in this country. I should like to express sympathy with the Government of India in their great difficulties. For one thing, we all know that the great pillar of good finance in India was Sir Henry Strakosch, that very courageous and able man who for something like two years was seriously ill and, as no doubt hon. Members know, passed away in the course of the last two or three days. I quite appreciate that the Government of India, in losing the personality of that very wise man, suffered a very serious loss, which is partly accountable for their failure to tackle this matter with the imagination and understanding which I should have liked, but I would point out that the illness of Sir Henry Strakosch became apparent some little time ago and they did not fill his place as they should have done. I am not disparaging the merits of Professor Gregory, but, after all, he was not a man of the financial experience and calibre of Sir Henry Strakosch, and I realise that, having no person of great financial experience, they were handicapped, though, as I have said, I think the handicap could have been to some extent overcome had they appointed someone to take Sir Henry Strakosch's place. Hon. Members who have read the White Paper and the speeches by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State cannot fail to have noticed that in the matter of price control the Government of India did not pursue an uninterrupted path. Sometimes they have tried to introduce price control and sometimes they have taken it off. The reason for that, I suggest, is that having failed to appreciate that the real trouble was inflation, they were naturally confronted with great difficulties in dealing with price control, because you cannot control prices unless you prevent inflation. It is only when you have stopped inflation that you can hope adequately to control the price level. Before I come to what seems to me the partial remedies for this side of the situation I must deal with the other side of the picture. Of course, inflation is not the sole cause, though I still think it is the main cause, of the present trouble. The next cause, which is the one which is uppermost in everybody's mind, and has great importance, is the actual shortage of the harvest of grain crops in India during 1943. I am not going to bandy about figures with regard to it. I do not think anyone will dispute that there was an undoubted shortage inside India, and that this was increased by the stoppage of imports from the war zones. But when you have allowed for both those factors the percentage reduction in the total harvest is a comparatively small one. Why, then, has that produced starvation? I think I have already shown why. If the prime cause is lack of purchasing power, and if there is a shortage, however small the percentage, in the total crop, then it naturally and necessarily comes about that instead of the shortage being distributed more or less evenly over the whole grain-eating population it is mainly confined to the poorest section; they will starve, whilst others who have a certain amount of money will be able to live more or less as before. That, of course, has been aggravated by the fact that the soldiers and those who have been busy in works where they have drawn good wages have been able to eat more than they did in normal times. On this matter, again, the Government of India really are the only people who are responsible for bringing in a remedy, because the Provinces in India cannot decide on the import or export of grain. That is a matter which must be decided by the central Government, and no doubt has been decided by the central Government all through. There are two questions. The first is should grain continue to be exported from India in these grave times? When I turn to the White Paper I see statements which have been made on behalf of the Government of India but I do not reach any precise conclusion as to what has been done. It would appear that there were times during 1943 when the shadow of famine had not been entirely lifted from the minds of those who were responsible for the governance of India and yet wheat was actually still being exported. That interpretation of the facts is borne out by the remarks made by the present Food Minister, Sir J. P. Srivastava, when addressing the all-India Food Congress at Delhi in the middle of last month. He said, I understand, that the export of food grains from India had already been stopped as a first step in meeting the famine problem. Unless I misunderstand the meaning of those words, he suggests that that had been done recently, and the implication is that export had gone on until recently. That may be a wrong interpretation, and if so I shall, no doubt, be told so, but that seems to be the plain meaning of the words, and the information which I get is that there were times during 1943 when the export was forbidden but other times when export continued. I am bound to say that I think it is for this House to ask why, while the shadow of famine lay over India, the export of food should have been allowed to continue in 1943—apart perhaps from some quite negligible quantity. Let us turn to the question of remedies. Sometimes people think the right method of overcoming a wrong is to proceed in the reverse direction. There are people who have recommended that the cure for inflation is deflation and the cure for deflation is inflation. I want to make it perfectly clear that that is not my view. Deflation is no more a cure for inflation than rubbing a burn with ice is a cure for the burn. One of the curious facts about inflation and deflation is that once they have occurred reversal of the process, so far from bringing relief, often brings an aggravation of the trouble. To give a practical illustration, I need only remind the House of what happened in this country after the last war. I have already spoken of inflation here in the last war, and of how serious were the consequences. A certain number of financial people thought the best thing was to deflate as hard as we could and get back prices to pre-war level, but that had disastrous consequences for the people of this country. Therefore I do not propose that India should proceed on a deflationary course in order to reverse what has been going on during the last year or 18 months. Such a rise in the prices of foodstuffs as is not the result of inflation but is the result of shortage of supplies can, of course, be dealt with, and should be dealt with, by an attempt, when the proper time comes and with adequate supplies, to bring prices down more nearly to their former level, and into line with the general level of prices all round. But if it is wrong to meet inflation with deflation it certainly is not wrong to stop further inflation, and that is the first problem which confronts the Government. I cannot impress too strongly upon the Government that as long as they are spending vast sums of money in India and as long as part of that expenditure is causing an immense expansion of the forms of money payment available in India we shall have inflation, and some method must be found of preventing it. Unless that is done we shall have a situation of unparalleled disaster, even greater than we have at the present time. One way of doing that must be to take steps to mop up surplus purchasing power, it may be by taxation, and if not by taxation by genuine loans of one kind or another. Next, though I am aware that it would be difficult, it may be necessary to subsidise food in some way or another. We have done it with great success in this country during the war. I realise that with the larger number of distributors in India it would present a far greater problem there, but I do not think we should entirely shut out that remedy. The same considerations apply to rationing. The Minister of Food has carried through here with general approval a drastic system of rationing, and owing to the loyal and law-abiding character of the British people there has been very little black market operating or evasion. There have been such cases, but compared with the general obedience of the citizens these infractions have been of comparatively small extent. I appreciate that rationing would be very much harder in India, but I understand that the Governor of Bombay, whose enlightened control of that Province is certainly worthy of our most hearty support, has instituted rationing in the big cities, and, so far as I know, with some substantial success. It may be necessary to institute in other parts of India, certainly in Bengal, a similar system. I quite appreciate that the rural districts present a greater problem, but something on those lines will have to be done, if it is desired to get over this very serious situation. I come to the question of exports and imports. Exports, as the Indian Minister of Food has already said, must be stopped. They must not be restarted again unless and until the food situation in India is on a very much firmer basis than it is at the present time and there is a reserve of food for future years. We all know that there is a great and steady increase of population in India, and that it presents a problem which has to be faced and dealt with. We must import during the present shortage on as large a scale as possible. I recognise the difficulties of the Secretary of State in this matter, because he has the conflicting claims of the war to consider when he presses his proposals for relieving the people of India; but I notice in the Press in the last few days that it has been said that the result of the Moscow Conference is worth a military victory. I suggest to the Secretary of State and the members of the War Cabinet that the result of famine in India may be the equivalent of a military defeat. Finally, I should like to say a few tentative words on the political aspect of this question. I am afraid that we cannot cut out from our minds the fact that the unhappy political divisions of India have not made it easier to solve this intricate problem I noticed, however, that Mr. Jinnah, in a speech which he made on 31st October, I think, in Bombay, gave utterance to a statement to which no exception could be taken, and which was couched in words that could not give offence and were designed to help rather than to hinder. The Congress leaders unfortunately are not in a position to co-operate at the present time, valuable as that co-operation might be. I will only say this, that if some method can be found of enlisting the co-operation of all sections in the humanitarian work of alleviating and ultimately of bringing to an end the famine conditions in India, I hope it will not be lightly rejected.
The Secretary of State for India (Mr. Amery)
I should like to begin by sincerely thanking my right hon. Friend for so promptly opening this Debate, at a moment when I was hastily snatching some sustenance and preparing for it. I think the whole House are obliged to him for a most temperate and fair analysis of the nature of the problem with which we are confronted. I do not think that I differed from him on a single point of that analysis, though possibly I might have given a slightly different emphasis to some of the factors. In any case, I would echo what he said at the beginning of his remarks, namely, that it is right and fit, ting that the House should devote their attention not only to this immediate, grievous calamity with which the unhappy people of Bengal are faced and the people in some other districts of India, but also to the anxious, general economic situation in India as a whole.I entirely agree, and I might add that the problem is one of even wider dimensions. Only the other day Lord Woolton told us that we are running into a world shortage. Since then Mr. Wallace, Vice-President of the United States, has de-dared that food will be the dominating problem of 1944. The output will not begin to meet the overwhelming demand for 1945, and the proper organisation to meet the coming world food crisis beforehand is a question of life and death for millions. The breakdown of Nazi tyranny in Europe may well confront us with an appalling situation. This wider problem is rightly engaging the attention of the United Nations. Meanwhile, as my right hon. Friend insisted, we have our own more direct responsibilities. In the case of India we undoubtedly have a constitutional responsibility, of which we have not yet divested ourselves, even though in large measure we have transferred legal powers, the actual working of the powers and the actual working of the machinery of government, into Indian hands. In any case, we are concerned with suffering men and women, fellow citizens of the Empire whom it is our duty to help and succour to the best of our ability in a time of danger and distress. I hope that the House will bear with me if I go in some little detail into the economic background and the past history of the present situation. This Bengal famine is something more than an isolated incident. It is a danger-signal, warning us of long-range measures which are needed as well as to meet the immediate need. As my right hon. Friend made clear, the vast majority of the population of India have always been, and still are, subsistence cultivators. They wring a meagre and precarious existence from their smallholdings, and only the need for finding a little ready money for rent, for the payment of debts and for the purchase of the very minimum of necessities and petty luxuries leads them to sell such narrow margin of surplus food as they can somehow or other do without. It is from these narrow and fluctuating margins from over 50,000,000 smallholdings that urban and industrial India has to be fed. In former times, famine in India as in China was endemic, extending to smaller or larger areas whenever the failure of the monsoon, rain, floods or cyclones led to a local or to a general crop shortage. Under British rule, the construction of 40,000 miles of railway and vast irrigation projects and the ever-present availability in peacetime of shipping, have enabled supplies to be rushed where needed. As the right hon. Gentleman pointed out in a very interesting reminiscence, the immediate problem in the famine area is to find money for relief work and to enable the starving peasantry to survive. With the help of those balancing factors and of the highly efficient famine relief organisation, the Indian authorities have been able to keep in check the ever present menace of local famine. These measures, coupled with other factors, such as improved health conditions, have only contributed to that unexampled pressure of population against the means of subsistence, which is the gravest long-range problem which India has to face. In the last 12 years the population of India has grown by some 60,000,000. Every month there are over 300,000 additional mouths to be fed, in British India alone. Hon. Members will have read in the White Paper the review of the situation given by Sir Azizul Huque who, till the other day, was the Food Member of the Viceroy's Council and who spoke with all the authority of one who has not only filled, in the Bengal Assembly, the high position in which you, Sir, are acting in this House, but himself is a son of the soil and has devoted most of his life to the cause of the Bengal peasantry. He pointed out that the annual production of rice per head in Bengal had gone down over the last 30 years from 384 lbs. to 283 lbs., the result of the increase of population in that one vast province alone of over 1,000,000 a year in the last decade. Part of that increase is explained no doubt by the growth of urban and industrial Bengal, but the main increase has been in the agricultural districts. In some districts the population runs to over 2,000 per square mile and is reflected in the growing fragmentation of peasants' holdings, which now average only 3½ acres. In this country we are faced with the grave problem of the imminent shrinking of the population below the optimum required for the maintenance of our standard of living and of our social and international obligations. In India, the gravest problem of the future will be to find ways and means by improving agricultural methods, by industrialisation, by education, somehow or other to outstrip the pressure of population which leaves so little margin of surplus whether for the individual standard of life or for the financing of social reforms. I will now ask the House to consider what the impact of war has meant on so precariously balanced a structure. India has played an immensely important part in this war. She has raised nearly 2,000,000 men for the Army, all volunteers, and I need not remind the House of the part which the Indian divisions have played, first in saving, and then in garrisoning, the Middle East. Over and above that, she has furnished an enormous volume of military supplies and industrial raw materials of all kinds to this country. It is perfectly true that we have undertaken the ultimate cost of that part of the effort which is not concerned with the immediate actual defence of India. That does not, however, affect the immediate war situation, during which, as my right hon. Friend pointed out, vast sums have been spent in India with no sufficient outlet in the shape of consumers' goods, whether imported or home-produced, to absorb them. It was really inevitable under those conditions that prices should tend to rise. The Government of India have, I assure hon. Members, made great efforts, within the compass of what is possible in the very difficult conditions of India, to cope with this problem. But no degree of taxation upon the very limited tax-paying class can get away from the fact that vast sums were spent on workers, agriculturists and others for whom there were no consumer goods to absorb them. In any case for the first two years the tendency to inflation was kept in check. It was not until late in the summer of 1941 that, affected by adverse war news, the price of agricultural products began to rise really seriously. Once prices began rising, accompanied as that circumstance was by increasing general uncertainty, by actual fear of invasion and, I must add, for several months in 1942 by widespread and unnecessary disturbances, the situation did deteriorate at an increasingly rapid rate. The peasant, finding he could meet his standing obligations by the sale of less produce and unable to buy, as my right hon. Friend pointed out, the goods he needed, naturally in many cases tended—and who can blame him—to keep a little more for his own undernourished family. In other cases he held his crop back in order to make sure that if his next crop failed he might not be forced to buy food at exorbitant prices, as indeed many in recent months have been forced to do, or starve. I would entirely agree with what my right hon. Friend has said about the fact that if there was money there, the problem would not be nearly as serious as it is to-day. At the same time merchants small and large, in villages, towns and cities, followed suit. The effect of all these factors, operating on a relatively small scale, upon supplies and upon prices in the great urban and industrial centres, was of course wholly disproportionate. It was with this increasingly anxious situation that the Government of India were called upon to deal amid many other urgent preoccupations during 1942. The problem before them has throughout been one of high prices and of local shortage, both essentially due to maldistribution rather than to an absolute over-all total shortage for the whole of India. The figures given in the White Paper show that the total supplies of the principal food grains available for consumption in India during this past crop year have been nearly 2,000,000 tons above the average of the two preceding years. My right hon. Friend referred to the question of export. It is true that there has been a small export during the last crop year, much smaller than in previous years, and actually the increased export figure given in the White Paper is not wholly correct, because it does not include the pretty substantial imports of food grains on Government account during that period. In any case such export as there was has been for regions no less distressed or in danger of distress than India itself, namely, Ceylon, where conditions are very similar to those in India and which suffered the loss of the Burma rice crop, and to the coastal regions of the Persian Gulf.
Mr. S. O. Davies (Merthyr)
Could the right hon. Gentleman give us exact figures as to the amount?
Yes, Sir. The Food Grains Committee put the figure of imports on Government account at over 150,000 tons. I might add that to the difficulties in the way of geographical distribution we have also to add that of inducing rice-eating populations to accustom themselves to a change of diet. In connection with this problem of distribution, we must keep in mind the nature of the Constitution which was set up by this House by the India Act, 1935. It is very difficult for us who are accustomed to a centralised and all powerful Legislature and Executive to realise the working of a Federal Constitution in which the powers of the Centre and of the constituent units are strictly defined and over a wide area mutually exclusive. Agriculture and food are in the Provincial field, and for the Government of India to invade the field of Provincial responsibility would in normal peace-time have been not only unconstitutional in the sense that we use the word but actually illegal. It is perfectly true that under Section 102 of the Act, which was strengthened fortunately at the outbreak of the present war by a new Section 126A, the power to override the Provinces and in the legislative and executive field is given to the Centre when the security of India is threatened by war. But to invoke these Sections in the absence of any administrative machinery or trained staff with which to enforce them was not an easy matter.It was not want of forethought or courage but ordinary common sense which led the Government of India to handle the problem from the outset by conference with Provincial and State Governments who were primarily responsible for dealing with the food problem, and by persuasion rather than by coercion. In doing so, the Central Government inevitably came up against the particular interests of the different Provinces. To bring out the fact that these several and divergent interests have not been altogether easy to reconcile is not an attempt to disparage Indian self-government. All self-government is by its very nature self-regarding. The more democratic and efficient it is, the more apt it is to be zealous in the defence of its own constituents. I need not recapitulate the series of conferences to deal with this question of food prices which the Government of India convened from October, 1939, onwards. They are fully dealt with in Sir Azizul Huque's very clear review and show how continually alive the Government of India were from the very first to the possible dangers of this situation. Among other measures within the scope of the Central Government's powers, they initiated and subsidised a "Grow more food" campaign early in 1942, under which some 12,000,000 additional acres have been brought under food crops. Towards the end of 1942, especially as regards wheat but also, in consequence of the loss of Burma to which certain parts of Southern India had been accustomed to look to supplement their rice crop, the situation looked so threatening, not merely as regards prices but as regards actual supplies in many provinces, that the Government convened a general All-India Food Conference with the Provincial and State Governments. At this Conference it was decided first of all to drop the price control of wheat [An HON. MEMBER: "What date was that?"] December, 1942—to drop the price control of wheat, which had been found to keep wheat supplies off the market. Secondly, the Provinces all agreed to estimate their supply position and to inform the Central Government of their estimated surplus or deficit. They further undertook to procure all surplus supplies and make them available for distribution by the Centre to the Provinces where there were deficits. On this foundation the Government of India's Basic Plan for feeding deficit areas from the surplus producing areas was drawn up.
Mr. Cove (Aberavon)
Was this information conveyed to the Government here, to the right hon. Gentleman's Department, all this information which he is now giving the House? If I might say so—I am not trying to score any Debating point about this very serious business—I have a quotation from the right hon. Gentleman in January this year, when he said that there was no fear of any famine of any kind, that everything was all right so far as. India was concerned, and that there was no cause for alarm of any kind. Was any information of that kind conveyed to him, and, if it was, what action did the Government here take?
Yes, I was naturally in constant touch with the Government of India over the situation, and while the Government of India had these anxieties, the measures they were taking were in their hope, and I might add hope justified over the greater part of India, sufficient to meet the needs of the situation. If the hon. Member will have patience for a very few minutes more, he will find a fuller answer to the question he has asked in the statement I am now about to make. What I was about to say was that these arrangements, helped as they were by substantial emergency imports for which the Government of India in good time asked this country and which this country supplied in spite of the shipping difficulties, and also helped a little later by a bumper wheat crop in the Punjab, tided over by these windfalls, if I might so call them, the arrangements made by the Government of India, in the main achieved their immediate purpose. If we are to judge the situation as a whole and in its proper perspective, we must remember that what threatened India a year ago was widespread, possibly universal, famine. If Members will look at the note in Section 5 of the White Paper on the position of other areas than Bengal, they will realise the extent to which that menace was averted or brought within narrow limits. For that, credit is duly given in the note to the administrative action of the Provinces and States concerned.I would certainly agree with what my right hon. Friend said just now about Bombay Province, where the danger at one time seemed greatest, and the foresight shown by Sir Roger Lumley in the early enforcement of rationing in Bombay City and in the general energy of his administration are deserving of recognition. In the States of Travancore and Cochin only the most drastic measures have so far averted what might have been a terrible calamity. Much good work has indeed been done all over India to which it would be difficult to do justice in a brief summary. All the same, and here I differ from my right hon. Friend, credit should justly go to the Government of India for their part in dealing with this grave problem and for their success in steadying an anxious and precarious situation over more than three-quarters of India. I should like here to pay tribute, as his partner and fellow worker, to Lord Linlithgow, who from first to last in all the innumerable difficult problems and anxieties created by the strain of war, proved himself, by his foresight, his energy, and his wisdom, a tower of strength. It disappointment attended the high hopes with which he set out over seven and a half years ago of seeing a united India well launched on her way to full constitutional freedom history assuredly will not leave the blame with him.
Mr. Cocks (Broxtowe)
Why did he not visit the famine areas?
I think that is not altogether a reasonable question to ask. Let me turn to the particularly distressing case of Bengal. Hon. Members who have read the White Paper will have seen that at last December's food conference Mr. Fazlul Huq was not prepared to join in any collective scheme and only wished Bengal to be allowed to manage its own affairs. If it could not help others it could at any rate manage to subsist on its own rice. Mr. Fazlul Huq's attitude was no doubt influenced by the fact that the main anxiety at that moment was about wheat, and in a lesser degree about the effect of the loss of imports from Burma—upon which Bengal had never depended to any serious extent—on Southern India. Unfortunately Mr. Fazlul Huq's optimism about the actual Bengal situation proved unfounded. Within a few weeks of that conference, it became clear that the main Bengal rice crop was seriously short, and presently it was realised that the total supply would be less than 7,000,000 tons, a deficit of over 1,000,000 tons below normal.This alarming revelation of an all-over shortage came on top of a situation, already gravely affected, in certain large areas of Bengal, by local calamities. I need only mention the devastating cyclone in the Midnapore district last year and I he floods which followed a few months later. In other areas, the military necessity of removing river boats which might have facilitated the Japanese invasion, added to the difficulty of equalising supplies. By May, the situation had become so critical that the Government of India withdrew from the Provinces in the Eastern zone the powers by which they had been able to prevent the inter-provincial movement of foodstuffs. The object was to attract to Bengal, by the ordinary law of supply and demand, supplies from other producing provinces. This, undoubtedly, afforded some immediate relief, but the rise in prices which resulted in the neighbouring Provinces was so sharp that the Provincial authorities protested strongly and vehemently in the interests of their own people, and the free trade experiment had to be abandoned. I may add that the subsequent report of a very representative Food Grains Policy Committee did indeed reject the policy of inter-provincial free trade as only calculated to raise prices. In the last three months every effort has been made to get food through to Bengal from the rest of India. There has been no failing in the transport system, which is the responsibility of the Central Government. Deliveries have increased from an average of 1,000 tons a day in July and August, to 3,700 tons a day in September and October. In the six months since last April, some 375,000 tons of rice and other grains have been delivered to Bengal on Government account, in addition to 100,000 tons or so imported commercially during the free trade period. At the present moment a further 300,000 tons from various sources, sufficient to see Bengal through the next three months to the main rice harvest, would seem to be assured and the most acute problem now is that of the distribution within Bengal to the districts most seriously affected. It is largely from those districts that great numbers of destitute villagers, landless labourers and professional beggars have drifted into Calcutta, often in the last stages of weakness and it is their immigration that has been mainly responsible for the heart-rending scenes of suffering which have so deeply touched and disquieted us here. The present Bengal Ministry, helped by the long experience of provincial and district administration of the acting Governor, Sir Thomas Rutherford, have been doing all in their power to cope with the desperate situation both in Calcutta and in outlying districts. They are, at this moment, distributing food from 5,500 free kitchens, subsidised or maintained by the Government. In one way or another over 2,000,000 persons are receiving daily free issues of food. Every effort has been made to make price control effective—a far more difficult problem in India than here. That effort is beginning to show some signs of success. A rationing scheme for Calcutta has been worked out and should be in operation in the course of the next few weeks. Meanwhile, the tragic tale of loss of life has continued and is still continuing. The death rate directly or indirectly due to starvation, for Calcutta alone, has amounted to some 8,000 between 15th August and 15th October. There are no reliable figures available for the outside districts, but I fear that in South-West and South-East Bengal, the figures may have been even worse than those in Calcutta. Even now that sufficient outside supplies for the Province seem assured, there will be for some time no diminution in the loss of life, until the organisation of distribution has effectively covered the whole ground. In this deplorable situation Lord Wavell as the first act of his Viceroyalty has intervened with striking results.
Why did not his predecessor intervene?
His predecessor did travel a good deal over Bengal previously and I do not think that that is altogether a fair question to ask. Anyhow, Lord Wavell, like another great soldier before him, came, saw for himself, and took action. The Bengal Government are taking steps to move all destitutes from Calcutta to relief camps where they can be fed and medically reconditioned, until they are fit to return to their own homes. A senior military officer with an adequate staff has been lent to the Bengal Government to supervise the movement of grain into the districts out of the Calcutta bottleneck.
Major-General Sir Alfred Knox (Wycombe)
Has that been done on the initiative of the Viceroy, or did the Bengal Government do it on their own initiative?
I am referring to Lord Wavell's impulse and his initiative. The Army, which, on General Auchinleck's initiative, had already placed a considerable quantity of stores and particularly of milk products at the disposal of the civil authorities, has been encouraged to use its resources to the utmost extent to help in tiding over the situation until next harvest. Troops are being sent to all the worst affected districts in order to help the civil authority with the transport and free distribution of food, and additional troops are being moved into Bengal for this purpose. Field ambulances and clearing stations and medical staffs are being made available for the establishment of a large number of small local hospitals.What the House now would wish to know further is what we in this country have been able to do or are doing to help. The problem there is entirely one of shipping. Wheat is available in Australia and elsewhere in sufficient supply, if only the ships could be spared to lift it. I need not remind the House of the vast quantities of shipping required not only to feed the munition industries and populations, but great armies accumulated here, in the Mediterranean and elsewhere. For every serious military operation enormous quantities of shipping have to be concentrated.
Mr. Sorensen (Leyton, West)
Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware that reports have appeared in the Press recently about lots of apples and other foodstuffs, coming from Canada and Australia? Could not the shipping which has been used for that purpose have been used for the conveyance of primary foodstuffs to India?
That is one point of view, but what I was saying was that there is this heavy pressure upon shipping. I would remind the House that something like 2,500 vessels were required for the Sicilian landing alone and that was only a foretaste of the needs of larger operations still to come. I admit that our shipping resources are improving with the success of the campaign against the U-boats, but our military commitments are, all the time, growing with our resources. We have managed to find the ships to deliver a considerable tonnage of grain to India between this and the end of the year. The first few ships have already unloaded and arrivals will continue steadily during the next few weeks and for as long as they may be required. I must repeat that the task before the War Cabinet in this matter is not an easy one. Every ship released for this purpose is a diversion from the war effort. [Interruption.] I am sure that the hon. Member opposite will allow me to develop my argument. Our urgent duty is to finish the war as quickly as possible. It is only in that way indeed that we shall relieve the strain of war upon India which has led to the present distress and which will continue to give cause for anxiety until victory is won. Meanwhile, every effort will be made to expedite the despatch of such less bulky and strengthening foodstuffs that can be conveyed to India in one way or another. We have already, some weeks ago, released from this country 500 tons of dried milk for which shipping was provided. South Africa has generously offered to put at India's disposal from her own resources a considerable quantity of milk products as well as a cargo of maize.As the result of a suggestion made to me the other day by my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Robertson), the Ministry of Food have provided for India a quantity of capsules containing Vitamin A. A consignment of these is already on its way by air for the treatment of cases in hospital. The Army are also releasing a quantity of their own standard vitamin capsules. Is there then, the House may ask, any effective way by which the sympathy of our own general public can be shown for the victims? Over and above the direct provision of food by the Government, there is a great amount of invaluable work to be done in helping to organise distribution, in looking after women and children and in providing clothes and after-care, and, later on, in looking after orphans, for which private generosity has been enlisted in India and to which private generosity in this country will, I trust, contribute. Lord Wavell has already set up a relief fund with which to supplement local relief funds in Bengal and elsewhere, and the High Commissioner here, in conjunction with the Lord Mayor and myself, has appealed for contributions to Lord Wavell's fund to be sent to him at India House. Other funds have, I know, also been initiated for the same good purpose. I have no doubt that our public will not be behind in showing their practical sympathy for the distress of India. They wilt not have forgotten the generous spirit in which Indians showed their practical sympathy to those who suffered the enemy's attack here two years ago. Ceylon has already made a contribution of 250,000 rupees to Lord Wavell's fund. So much for the immediate situation. Much remains to be done before anxiety for the general food situation in India can be regarded as diminished. The Government of India, at the Conference held last month, decided to tighten up and strengthen their whole basic plan for the procurement and distribution of foodstuffs. They have decided on the introduction by the Provincial Governments at the earliest possible moment of rationing in all towns with a population of over 100,000. In the event of any failure or delay in the execution of these measures, they made it clear that they will not hesitate to use to the full the war emergency powers. In the meantime the Provinces are everywhere improving their own organisations. Some form of price control is now in force in every Province, and in many States, too, urban rationing is in hand. It is not less important that public opinion in India is becoming alive to the necessity for the measures required by the situation. At the same time, the Government of India are, and I can assure my right hon. Friend of this, engaged actively in combating the inflation which has so largely contributed to the present high prices by getting more goods on to the market and by the ordinary expedients of loan and taxation policy. During the last six months the level of prices has been stabilised. We can, I think, feel a reasonable confidence that in this and in other ways the Governments in India, both Central and Provin- cial, will by their co-operation enable India's economic life to stand up to the strain which war has imposed upon it without the recurrence of such a calamity as that of which we are witnesses in Bengal. But the House will have realised from the account I have given and from the account given by my right hon. Friend the nature of some of the problems which confront India not only in war but also in peace. The problems—[AN HON. MEMBER: "Say something about prices."]—I am just finishing. My hon. Friend will, no doubt, have his opportunity. Those problems will continue to confront India whatever the future form of her Government. The realisation of that cannot affect in any way the desire of this House, or of the people of this country, to see India advance as rapidly as possible to the full control of her own destinies, as an equal partner in the British Commonwealth and an equal member of the society of free nations, nor can it in any way impair the pledges which we have given. But it does emphasise one aspect, namely, the immense importance to India's future of a system of government based on agreement and co-operation. Only on that foundation can India live secure from external danger and from internal economic breakdown and attain the greatness and the prosperity to which her natural resources and the gifts of her people justly entitle her.
Mr. Hore-Belisha (Devonport)
It is fitting that the House of Commons should be profoundly disturbed by these occurrences. Whether or not its anxiety has been removed by my right hon. Friend, I shall presently endeavour to examine. But, if justice is to be done, this matter must be put in a fair perspective. The sufferings of Bengal excite the sympathy of India's friends and the calumny of Britain's enemies. We should, therefore, I feel, be particularly solicitous to understand the circumstances. My right hon. Friend was right to recall the strong claims which India has upon us, to remember at this time the services rendered by her troops in Malaya, Singapore, Egypt and Abyssinia, and even in wider fields, to bring to mind also those other manifold services which have been rendered in the civilian sphere. It is remarkable that even against the sad background of the war, these events should strike us so poignantly. Compassion goes out to the victims, and I think also we should record our esteem for those public servants who are doing their best in difficult circumstances to bring relief. It would encourage them to know that we remember how arduous is their task. The initial act of Lord Wavell, characteristic of the man, inaugurates, let us hope, a great Viceroyalty which will be animated by human understanding.What is the context in which this disaster has come upon Bengal? From time immemorial famine has been the recurrent lot of the peoples of the East. In those regions the principle enunciated by Malthus operates without restraint. The population increases at a rate which overtakes the capacity of the soil to provide nourishment.
Mr. MacLaren (Burslem)
Is the right hon. Gentleman seriously putting that forward as a theory?
Well, I think we are having a rather painful demonstration of that theory at this moment. My right hon. Friend has referred to the increase of the Indian population. It has multiplied two and a half times in the last 100 years. It is increasing at the rate of five millions a year. This is, in fact, the quickest growth of population that has ever been recorded. It has taken place in a country in which the greater part of the population gain their living from the soil. The conditions of agriculture are primitive. When my right hon. Friend was describing them, somebody behind me interrupted to say, "Why do we not improve them thoroughly?". But you are dealing more with a country in which the handloom is held up as the national ideal, and—
Mr. S. O. Davies
By Gandhi. Every resistance is offered to any form of modernisation. There are, in fact, 12,000,000 wooden ploughs in the country. The harvest is reaped with the sickle. The grain is separated by oxen treading upon it or beaten out by hand, and the wind is the winnowing fan. These facts, of which notice must be taken—
Mr. S. O. Davies
A generation ago that applied to Russia.
My hon. Friend cannot have it both ways. He cannot advocate that there should be control of India by Indians who hold these views and at the same time protest against the results.
Mr. Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
Is the right hon. Gentleman seriously suggesting that the mechanical industrialisation of India, if it ever came, would be accompanied by a fall in population? The industrialisation of this country led to a rapid increase of population, as it has done everywhere.
I was not dealing with that aspect of the matter at all. I was endeavouring to deal with what I thought was the subject matter of our discussion, namely, the facts of this situation. If we wish seriously to understand the situation, surely we ought to do ourselves the justice of discovering what it is. Then we can explain it to the world. I was about to say that these conditions reflect themselves in the fertility figures. The yield of rice per acre in India is 731 lbs., in Japan it is 2,307 lbs., and in Egypt it is 2,879 lbs. The yield of wheat, quintals per hectare, is 7 in India and 21 in Great Britain.It is easy to see that if the fragmented cultivators who own little plots, sometimes of less than an acre, for the sustenance of their families and the sale of the surplus, withhold the small amounts which they would otherwise put on the market, there is a crisis. Why should they withhold their surpluses? We have been told that the cause was inflation. Of course inflation is a factor; but if there is nothing to buy, what is the use of getting rid of your surplus? We are dealing with a primitive people, and this is a primitive instinct. There are no consumers' goods to be purchased. These facts alone are sufficient to explain this situation. I am not suggesting that everything possible has been done to ameliorate the position, but I say that these facts are sufficient to explain it. When you add to these the impact of war upon a nervous people, the influx of refugees, and, if you will, the inflation and the general disorganisation of conducting military operations, you have more than enough to explain the matter. What ought to be realised is that before the war we had mitigated, if not eliminated, famine in India. Throughout the last century there were many famines. In 1880 a Royal Commission inquired into the causes of famine; it propounded remedies, and those remedies have been followed with great thoroughness by the various Governments responsible in this country and in India. The code was divided into two parts. In the first place, there were measures to be directed towards prevention. Irrigation was the chief of these. I learn that the various Governments have spent over £100,000,000 on canals throughout the peninsula, and that these canals irrigate 30,000,000 acres. During the 70 years prior to 1920 the waters of every big river in India were harnessed, and in Central and Southern India huge storage dams were constructed, which hold up the monsoon rainfall for use during the dry season. There is an achievement of British rule which must be put in relation to this calamity. In the category of bringing relief in times of famine, it is obvious what means are required. They are an improvement in the means of communication. In India 40,000 miles of railway have been built; there are great strategic roads; shipping was always available in time of peace without difficulty. But none of these means can be used freely in time of war. The railways, even when they did not break down—as was the case here at a critical moment—must be used primarily for military purposes. The roads and the transport upon them, and shipping likewise, cannot be available to the same extent. I do not accept that it is impossible to do more in respect of shipping, and I am going to urge my right hon. Friend to regard this need as having an advanced priority; for, after all, these people are starving. Whatever plans may have been based on other hypotheses should be revised, particularly as the Mediterranean is now clear and we must have reaped a certain advantage. Measures intended to produce victory, which will bring relief to us all in some respects, must come first, but I do not feel satisfied that the urgency of shipping needs is sufficiently appreciated. We appreciate that the shipping has to pass through waters in which Japanese submarines are lurking, and that the Japanese are in occupation of the Andaman Islands; but I feel sure that it would translate into action the wishes of the House if my right hon. Friend were sustained in his demand to the War Cabinet for more shipping. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who was a distinguished Governor of Bengal himself, and who knows the circumstances and the need better than anybody else, will, I hope, be able to give us some reassurance on that matter. Another matter on which I would like reassurance, emerging from the speech of my right hon. Friend, is this. He says that the relief organisation is not completely established. We understand the difficulties. We know that, when speaking of rationing in India and other modern methods of coping with war conditions, based upon what exists in this country, you are making a false, and, indeed, an impossible, comparison. There are only about 800 members of the Indian Civil Service in the whole of India. How many of these are British officials?
The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir John Anderson)
The total number of civil servants 1,200, of whom 600 are British.
That is not a very considerable staff upon which to rely, although it may have been sufficient before the war. If further assistance can be given by sending out more British officials by aeroplane, it should be done. If there is any feeling in Bengal that there is a lack of capacity to organise owing to shortage of officials, that is a commodity that we can always supply, even in war-time.Those are the facts which help to put this matter in its Indian setting. But it also has a world setting. The Hot Springs Conference pointed out, in very vivid language, what the food situation of the world in fact is. They said that there has never been enough food in the world to supply all the people, that there is bound to be a very serious shortage after the war, and that the effects of this shortage can be palliated only by concerted action among all the nations. Put against the background of the world as a whole, this Bengal situation is only an indication of what will happen after this war. We should adjust our mentalities to a realisation of the fact that from the Atlantic to the Caspian, wherever the locust blight of Nazi occupation has been, the productivity of agriculture has been reduced and the soil itself impoverished. The whole economy of Europe is affected. The railways are broken down, the roads destroyed and the harbours derelict. It is obvious that the whole vista upon which we shall look after the war is one of desolation. That is, in Europe. When the tide of Japanese aggression recedes in the Far East there also will be a legacy of privation and destruction in Asia. That is what the world will be like. But India is in a better position than almost any other country, in the long-term view. How has the war affected India as a whole? How have we put into operation this economic Imperialist exploitation of India, of which complaint has been made? India has completed a transition—[Interruption.] This is a very relevant consideration. The facts are not all upon one side. We must deal with them, and apply the remedies. Diagnosis is usually the preliminary to the prescription of a cure. My hon. Friend behind me does not wish the matter to be diagnosed. India has completed a transition from being a debtor to being a creditor country. In the brief space of three years she has extinguished the accumulations of decades of indebtedness. Before the war India owed us £360,000,000. That is entirely wiped out, and India has accumulated sterling balances to as great an amount.
Mr. Molson (The High Peak)
The total is £688,000,000.
I am very glad to be caught out in an understatement of that figure.
Sir George Schuster (Walsall)
I am sure that my right hon. Friend does not wish to misrepresent the situation. This is not an extinction of debt. India has had to provide the money.
As I understand, by the end of this year the sterling debt will be extinguished. Am I right there?
Sir G. Schuster
India has accumulated a sterling balance of, we are told, £688,000,000, so that the total credit to India will be a great sum of money, whereas before there was a debit. India will not be a debtor country to Britain, but a creditor country. That has an almost seismic effect on the economy of the world. It means that India, in order to be paid this debt, will have to enrich her country. She will have to take manufactures in great quantities from us. That is why India will be one of the few coun- tries in the world, if not the only country, which will emerge with certain advantages not enjoyed before.What can we learn from this calamity? What is disclosed in the White Paper? I preface the answer by stating again that there can be no condonation of any lapses, oversights or omissions. Likewise there will be no condonation if the Government do not address themselves to the provision of more shipping and more staff if necessary. But the real lesson to be deduced from the White Paper is a very important and significant one. This has been a test—a very severe and harsh test, but, nevertheless, a test—of provincial self-government in India. There is no escape from that fact. We have embarked upon a policy from which we are not going to recede, but it is a fact that this Province of Bengal was governed in accordance with Parliamentary procedure and Cabinet responsibility.
Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)
This was the situation in the Province. It is also the situation that the Government of the Province from time to time said, as the White Paper discloses, that they could deal with the situation without assistance. That is also the fact. [Interruption.] Blame cannot always automatically attach to persons we dislike.
Mr. Ridley (Clay Cross)
Does the right hon. Gentleman wish to tell the House that the sub-nutritional standard of the Indian peasant and thousands of deaths are due to a form of local government only a few years old?
I did not say that. I said that it so happened that in this Province there was representative government, that there was a responsible Cabinet, and that that Cabinet stated that it did not require assistance. That is in the White Paper. They said they did not want assistance and that they could handle the situation. Another fact appears in this White Paper. There were very great obstructions put in the way of the success of any policy. That is stated in the White Paper, and it is stated with very great stress and emphasis. The Provinces with surpluses—perhaps this is very human, and we have this experience in Europe, which has many States, and it is the moral I am going to draw—were not anxious to assist the Provinces with deficits. There was not a complete lack, but a marked lack, of Provincial co-operation.
And a general shortage of food.
In his speech Sir M. Azizul Hogue said that there was a deplorable exhibition of what we call economic nationalism. That is what transpires here, and it prompts me to say this. [Interruption.] Of course, we have been guilty of it, but why cannot we deal with the facts of this situation? Ever since the French Revolution, for 150 years, we have looked at life in a political context. We have lived with a political teminology and have thought of the political method as the sole means by which mankind could be led to a happier state of existence. But the facts of the situation are more nearly that our salvation depends upon economics and an understanding of its principles even more than it does upon politics. You have in India a geographical entity. It is not, like Europe, split up into separate nationalities. Its physical barriers have not divided the country naturally among diverse nationalities. [Interruption.] A full examination of this matter can be found by a far greater authority than myself or even my hon. Friend who interrupts me. Professor Coupland, who has made an objective inquiry into the whole of our Indian connection, favours the regional solution of the Indian problem related to the economic facts. Under such a solution there would be four great regions in India de-marked not upon the political but upon the economic basis. It would so transpire that if these divisions were made, you would have two Moslem regions and two Hindu regions, thereby solving not only the communal problem but the economic problem.I submit to the Government that this disaster which is so universally deplored, and the effects of which we are determined by every resolution to remedy is also, like many other disasters, an opportunity. The war will compel us to reconstruct our international life in many particulars. Have we not here the chance to look again at this Indian problem and to remove the real defects which this disaster has disclosed, namely, the defects of the Provincial administration, because the more power that is handed over to the Provinces, inspired by this spirit, the more will be the dangers for India in the future. Surely, anyone can see that, and I would ask hon. Members behind me in all seriousness, if the right hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps), had come back from Delhi, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs will come back from Moscow, with a complete triumph, and if British influence and authority had been excluded even to a greater extent than it now is, would the situation have been better now or worse? There is no doubt about the answer. We are not going back upon the course upon which we are embarked, but it is in the interest both of India and ourselves that we should look at the whole matter, and not at one small aspect of the matter, in the light of this experience. Then may we in the British Empire give yet another evidence of our capacity to arrange our affairs in a manner well calculated to promote the good of a great number of mankind.
Sir John Wardlaw-Milne (Kidderminster)
I think the House will agree that the three speeches to which we have listened on this subject to-day have undoubtedly cleared the air very much. The whole background of the problem has been explained very fully not only by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) but by the right hon. Gentleman who opened the Debate, and, very fully, by the Secretary of State himself, in his very lucid explanation of the causes of distress in Bengal. There are two aspects of the matter which the House will want to consider. First of all, there is the immediate problem—the relief of the famine which exists. The first and urgent matter that the House wants to know is whether the Government are really taking every possible course they can to relieve the famine which exists at the present moment, and that comes before we begin consideration of why it was caused or of what the long-term problem it teaches us is. I am bound to say, although every one of us realises the difficulties of shipping and that every ship that is sent for the relief of Bengal may to a greater or less extent—it depends where it comes from and the kind of vessel it is—retard to that extent the war effort, the House was a little disappointed that the right hon. Gentleman has not been able to give a more definite statement regarding the shipping that will be available for famine relief.It is the duty of the House to press upon the Government the necessity for immediate action. We cannot criticise the strategy of the war. We have no knowledge of what it is. It is impossible in public to make any criticisms, even if we feel they are justified, upon such knowledge as we may have as to how the war is being carried on, and therefore, it is equally impossible to say what ships can or cannot be diverted from their purpose. It is however the business of the House to impress upon the Government that it wants further assurances that the effort will be stretched to give every possible assistance to Bengal in the immediate future. To some extent the same questions arise in connection with the other deficiency Provinces, Travancore and Cochin and so on. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State referred to the question of distribution. If it is the distribution of imported grain he refers to, we all agree that that is a very important matter, but if he means that the Government of India are endeavouring to create a new distribution of Bengal or even Indian-grown grain, I hope they will walk very warily indeed. We are very apt to forget that the output of food grains in India shows such a narrow margin and that the ryot has been rightly for so long and so often encouraged to conserve that margin for his own security that there is a distinct danger if any Government action were taken to endeavour to redistribute these grains throughout the deficiency Provinces. It might bring us to a worse crisis than that which exists at the present time. There are other means, however, by which Indian grain might be made available, There is the question of control and the forcing down of prices and thus bringing out surplus stocks. I want to see the Government deal in the harshest way possible with those who are trading in human misery at the present time, but I hope the House will believe me when I say that I genuinely hold the belief that it is not the fault of the cultivator or to his store alone we should look. In nine cases out of ten the cultivator has no opportunity to hoard beyond that small margin, of which I have been speaking. The hoarding is largely done by money-lenders. The cultivator is largely in the hands of the moneylender, and indeed his crop is often mortgaged to the moneylender before it is sown at all. It is in regard to the moneylender and dealers' hoards that action is required. In my view Government measures cannot be too strict to bring about the disgorging of any grain held in that way. Let me make this perfectly clear to my right hon. Friend. There have been circulated in the last few weeks some very unpleasant rumours regarding those who are responsible for the real hoarding, such as there is, in Bengal. I hope he will see that the inquiry for which I and others have pressed, when it takes place, will reach all those who have taken part in hoarding and forcing up prices, whether they be people of position or even members of the Administration. I cannot say whether the stories are true; I can only say that they are very current in this country and that it is necessary that there should be an inquiry, when the immediate problem has been dealt with, so that these matters can be disposed of one way or the other. According to the Gregory Committee 1,500,000 tons of grain have to be imported at once. That means a large amount of shipping at the time we want every vessel we can get, but if and when we are satisfied that the Government are doing all they can to deal with the immediate crisis, we are bound to take up the long-term consideration of the problem. This famine in India, as has been said, creates in all our minds not only sympathy but alarm. I fancy that 50 years ago our predecessors thought nothing very much of hearing about a famine in India. Then they were common events. What we are suffering from to-day is the result of our own splendid administration. It is true to say that British-inspired efforts in the last too years have brought about a situation in which famine has become almost an unknown thing. Previously, not only were famines quite usual phenomena but if you add the resultant spread of disease there was a definite effect upon the growth of population. Now, as a result of our efforts, the increase of population is taking place at a rate which has not been previously experienced. I do not think the effects of this change in conditions is thoroughly understood in this country and certainly not abroad. I wonder whether people in America to-day realise that in the last 50 years a population equal to that of the whole of the United States has been added to India. Has that simple fact ever been brought to the notice of the people who criticise us so freely regarding India, or at any rate have done so in the past? A strong, virile population must be a source of strength to any nation, but a weak, poorly fed population, such as you are bound to have in present conditions in India, is not an asset. What are the causes, primarily, of this population's poverty-stricken position? First, there is this increase in the population itself. In India there are three things that keep the cultivator down from an economic standpoint. There is the tremendous fragmentation of land, to which the Minister briefly referred. I do not believe people realise what it means to try to cultivate ground which is split up into different pieces and to each of which you have to go some distance with your gear. I do not think they know what it means to cultivate for only four or five months of the year and then have nothing to do for the rest of the time. Then there is the grip of the moneylender and the evil of too early marriage. There are courageous, far-thinking people in India who have tried to deal with this last problem. There are those who have taken an active part in pressing reforms upon the notice of the people of India, but looking back over the last 40 years one cannot honestly say that the intelligentsia of India have ever taken the problem up sufficiently and have impressed upon their own people the dangers of the present situation. While I pay tribute to the few who have done so, I am bound to say that this problem, which can only be dealt with by Indians themselves, has never been fully tackled by enlightened Indian opinion.
Miss Rathbone (Combined English Universities)
Nor by the Government of India.
Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne
I think the hon. Lady will agree with me that no Government—I do not care what its character is—can possibly deal with a matter of that kind unless it carries with it Indian opinion. It is Indian opinion alone that can really bring about a change. In order to emphasise the importance of the long-term view, I would like to give the House a quotation from "Social Service in India," by Sir Edward Blunt, of the Indian Civil Service, who quotes this state- ment by Sir John Megaw, ex-Director-General of the Indian Medical Service:
When we are looking at the long-term problem we have to face the fact that in this question of the tremendous increase of population, the fragmentation of land and the grip of the moneylenders in India no action by the Government can possibly deal with it without time and educated public opinion. We are faced with the long-term problem of the possible starvation of poorly fed people of poor stamina to start with. That is a problem which requires a definite inquiry by an influential body to see in what way we can deal with it, at least by an increase of crop outturn if by no other means. All these matters are, naturally, bound up with the question of the future government of India. I am sure this White Paper is a very accurate statement, but, if my right hon. Friend will forgive me saying so, it is not a very inspiring document. It shows clearly what happened. It shows clearly that the fault lay, in the first place, with the Government of Bengal. There cannot be any doubt about it. I cannot be accused in this House of being unsympathetic with the move towards greater self-government in India. I supported the 1935 Act very fully, and I am much in sympathy with the aims we had in passing that Act."Suppose for a moment that the public health services of India were to achieve complete success in stamping out malaria, cholera, smallpox, tuberculosis and all the other great killin7 diseases of India, and suppose nothing were done to increase the production of food or to restrict the growth of the population, the inevitable result would be the replacement of the tragedy of death from disease by the greater tragedy of death from starvation."
Sir A. Knox
Was not that Act the cause of all this?
Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne
I do not think it was the cause of this at all, but, never mind that, I was saying that it is no use ignoring the fact that in this case the fault lies primarily with the Government of Bengal, which is an Indian Government. I do not believe that you gain anything by pretending that that was not so. I think you gain far more by facing the fact and trying to see what was wrong and if we can put it right. There is a second fault. This White Paper shows that the Central Government had nearly a year's warning that this would happen and did not take active measures to prevent it. Let hon. Members of this House realise that if there was hesitancy on the part of the Central Government to act, the blame rests here, not in India. To that extent I agree with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wycombe (Sir A. Knox). The Central Government in India, very naturally, did not want to interfere with Provincial autonomy. It is not more than a slight exaggeration but they were in this extraordinary position—"If we let these people starve, we are inhuman; if we force any action upon Bengal, we are interfering with an Indian Government." I do not think that we can ignore the fact that the fault in the situation that has arisen—if it is a fault, and I am not prepared to say that it is—was caused by the action of this House in setting up the Act of 1935 and allowing it to function without a Federated Centre. I regret this Act could not be fully implemented. If it had been there would have been a strong Federal Government and things would have been very different.We cannot ignore the fact that the Central Government did not act with sufficient decision and celerity, in spite of the fact that they had nearly a year's warning. This situation is bound to leave in one's mind this doubt as to the future. A deadlock exists in India politically. I have no intention to-day of going over the political problem but we know that that deadlock exists. It may be some time before Indians can get together, even with the help of this House, and bring forward proposals for a new Constitution. I hope not; I want to see our pledges fulfilled and a strong Government at the centre. Nevertheless, it may be a long time ahead. In the meantime what is to be the position of the Central Government in India? We cannot have a situation like this arising again. It must be made clear to the Central Government, which is to exist until the new Constitution arises, that it must be able to act for the whole of India and is expected to do so. That is the danger of the situation we are now in. I do not believe for a moment that it pays to ignore it or pretend that it does not exist. This famine in Bengal has given us definite proof—if proof were required—that nothing but a central unitary Government for the whole of India will do, and that we must have one. Whether it is composed of all Indians, all British, all Americans, all Chinese or anybody else, the point is that we must have a strong Central Government for the safety of India itself. This situation, this long-term problem which I have been dealing with, shows that only a Central Government will be able to deal with the possibilities of other famines and other troubles of the same kind in the future. I personally feel a little tired of the blame for this famine being constantly laid upon the British people. We are blamed when, as I have said, except for the fact that it arose from our desire to give India self-government, blame really rests upon Bengal primarily and secondly upon the Central Government. It is not the practice in this House for us to interfere with the affairs of Provincial Governments in India. As a rule we do not often discuss them, and we certainly would not have discussed a matter of this kind a year ago, when the question was not vital and urgent, and when Bengal said, as is so clear from the White Paper, "All we want is to be left alone, and we can deal with the matter." Therefore, we cannot, except in the way I have described, be blamed, but, in fact, we are being blamed all over the world. I do not know whether it is a matter for the India Office or the Ministry of Information, but whoever it is who acts in these matters has not sufficiently brought out the fact that we are not to blame for these conditions; that they arose out of what we have tried to do, but otherwise the fault does not lie with us. We see from extracts that American papers, and even papers at home, are talking of the shame which applies to us in connection with this famine. We take some share, but there seems to be a complete ignoring of the fact that the fault rests primarily elsewhere. I do not know to what extent the people of America really realise what we have offered to India. Much as I sympathise with the Indian view, the remarkable offer which the Minister of Aircraft Production took to India a year ago almost struck me dumb with amazement. I have never known in the history of the world of any country handing over its complete powers in respect of another country with which it had had such a long connection and in which it had so considerable a stake as we have in India. I do not believe it has been made clear to the American people what that offer was, and when I hear this continual abuse I say that it is time this country spoke out and made clear what the position is. I have seen it stated that this Bengal famine is a ghastly example of British inefficiency and misrule. It is nothing of the kind. If anything, it is extremely damaging to the Indian case; but I prefer to look at it as one of those things that, I suppose, is bound to happen, being one of the mistakes which are likely to be made when power is first put into new hands. They are apt to go too far and think they can do everything. But I still think that some criticism attaches to the Central Government. There is one other thing in connection with our offer to India which it seems to me is constantly misunderstood. We are constantly said to be trying to induce India to come into the British Empire. Membership of the British Empire is, I hope, not for sale. We are not in the position in which we have to beg people to enter the British Empire. India's membership of the British Empire would be a great asset to the Empire but an even greater asset to India, and I wonder, indeed, how she would exist and prosper without it. I object to this constant misrepresentation, and I think it is high time the British case was put over far better than it is being put over now by the British Government, not only in this country but all over the world. I want to see the Government do everything possible to deal with the immediate problem, to get ships to India, for that is the only way to deal with the immediate situation, but I also want them to set up a Commission to inquire into the causes of this famine, not for the purpose of making scapegoats, but so that we shall be able to deal with the long-term problem of preventing a recurrence of anything of the kind in future.
Mr. Graham White (Birkenhead, East)
No speech has been made so far which has not widened the scope of this Debate. The prime reason for the Debate was to consider and deal with the famine that has arisen in Bengal and other parts of India, a Debate which, I feel, was very much overdue. The lesson which has been borne in upon me while listening to the speeches is that the matters raised are of such great importance that we ought to have far more discussions on Indian affairs than we have ever had since I have been a Member of this House. My hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne) raised some points on which I am in complete agreement with him. The cause of the Debate to-day is the lamentable calamity which has occurred in Bengal and elsewhere, and the purpose is that the House of Commons should satisfy itself as to whether the greatest amount of food is being brought to those who need it as quickly as possible, because there is only one way to deal with famine and that is by the provision of food. The Debate, however, has so broadened out as to cover many other aspects of the affair.I do not think my right hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence) was altogether well advised when he suggested that there should be an immediate inquiry and the allocation of responsibility. I do not think any investigation of that kind would help in any way towards the solution of the difficulty before us. It will not bring any food. You cannot keep starving people on criticisms. You cannot feed the starving people of Bengal on scapegoats. But I am bound to say that, having read the story of the White Paper and read the speech of Sir M. Azizul Huque, I am led irresistibly to the conclusion that, given the series of experiments that were made and the number of conferences that were called and the evidence of the impossibility of developing inter-provincial co-operation at an early stage, the action which was taken in the formation of the Food Grains Advisory Committee might well have been begun twelve months earlier. I am one of the last in this House or anywhere else to urge that the central authority should interfere in the arrangements of Provincial Governments, especially after the history of India prior to the Act of 1935, but it became quite obvious, at least by this time last year, that the situation as it disclosed itself could promise nothing but failure. The question we have to ask ourselves is whether we are satisfied that everything is being done by the short-term policy to bring an end to this famine, and whether, after this tragedy, we shall take the opportunity—we cannot discuss it to-day—to set on foot a long-term policy, a policy which may perhaps only come to fruition in 25 years' time, which will make it economically possible for the people of India to live off the land with a standard of life that would be appropriate for an eastern country. I listened to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State with very great fear as to what was, in fact, being done. He spoke of shipments which were already being made in the early part of this year, but we do not know of what amount, and he said the shipments would continue so long as was necessary, and I do not know that we can press him to say anything more than that, but I myself should judge, having regard to all the circumstances of this war, and all the demands upon shipping, that the priority of sufficient food for the people of India—the munition workers and the like—is a very high priority indeed. There is one reason why I am glad that we have had this Debate, belated though it may be, and that is that it does allow a message to go from this House to the people of India that we are gravely concerned about their affairs and their sufferings at this time. I have been following as well as I could the Indian Press, and the mere fact that a Debate took place a short time ago in another place has not been without its effect in India. Although there were biting criticisms of some of the things which were said at least satisfaction was expressed, to quote from one paper, that "the terrible situation in India has percolated through to the British public." That leads me to make another observation on this White Paper. One of the most remarkable things I have read in the White Paper is to be found in the introductory note. Here is a situation which has been developing for 12 months, and for three or four months with growing velocity and increasing tragedy, and the House of Commons is given a document with this introductory passage:
When I read that sentence I said to myself, "How is this Parliament, which has the ultimate responsibility, to discharge its duty if that is the way in which it gets its information? How am I to exercise my responsibility towards the people of India?" I hope that as an outcome of this situation, which at all stages has disclosed a woeful and complete lack of statistical information, steps will be taken to set up machinery which will enable Members of Parliament to have reliable information upon the current course of events in India. That is a matter of very great consequence, and I wish to press it as a definite request to the Government. I may be exaggerating the situation, but, speaking for myself, I find that in order to get an idea of what is going on in India one has to read six daily papers, go through all the special correspondence, and piece it all together. All this has to be done to obtain some sort of view of the harsh and grim events which have been going on in Bengal, Travancore and elsewhere. Even now I am not sure that we are fully informed of the situation, and we must ask that in future means shall be found of keeping us fully informed. A moment ago I was saying that I would be one of the last in this House who would wish, in the situation which exists in India, to see any interference by the Central Government with the rights of the Provincial Governments, but the moment it became clear that inter-Provincial co-operation was lacking, the Central Government should have acted with great determination. Even in this document there is evidence in regard to this situation. The case was quoted of the request for information about the types of rice which was made by the Government to the Government of Bengal, but apparently there was nobody who was able to deal with the matter. I should have thought that the India Office in London would have been able to furnish the information, if it was not available in India itself. It is necessary that information of that kind should be available. The Central Government acted with great success in the restoration of order and in other matters and they should have acted in this matter of life and death. So far as I can understand the decisions of the Government set out in the White Paper on the recommendations of the Food and Grains Policy Committee, they are the basis, which if fully implemented, the amount of food which is sent out will meet the case and go far to tide us over until the new crop situation, which we hope will bring relief and will give time for the planning of further measures, and for the long-term policy which will, in the course of years, enable us to bring about a more stable and humane state of affairs in India itself. All the recommendations of the Food and Grains Policy Committee, set out under five heads, have already during the last two years been under discussion between the Central Government and the Provinces, with the possible exception of the last, which is the relationship between the Provinces and the Central Government. As a House of Commons, we must ask to be satisfied that the decisions of the Government, as set out in the White Paper, will be implemented to the full and that this terrible tragedy will be brought to an end at the earliest possible moment. I am glad that this Debate has taken place. I think the House of Commons would be wise to see that there is another, at a comparatively short interval. It has enabled us to have the authoritative survey from the right hon. Gentleman which I hope will be read by our friends outside this country, who will take the privilege, if they choose, to criticise it. We need not think that any amount of explanation, or anything that we can say or do would influence in the slightest degree the hypocritical sympathy of General Tojo or the propaganda of those who are our enemies. The recital of the causes of this tragedy are no substitute for a policy. Not the slightest. The facts are now on record, and matters of very great importance have been ventilated by hon. Members. The Debate has given us an opportunity of saying how deeply we feel in this country for our fellow citizens in India at this time. One Englishman has already shown by his imagination, his actions and his very humane outlook, what one man can do. I echo the hope that has been mentioned by several of my precedessors in this discussion that the Viceroy, taking up his new office at a time of great anxiety and against the background of world famine, will open a new chapter in history. We ask that our good wishes and our prayers may go out to him for that. If any words that I can say will reach to India and the people of India I would say that the opinion and the sympathy of this country have been roused by these events and have been deepened by the fact that the people of this country have felt that, somehow or another, this situation ought not to have been allowed to arise. Our people have been saddened by the reflection that so much of India's troubles at the present time are to be attributed to the very efforts she has made in the common cause and the fact that in India, as everywhere else, much more money has been poured out and the only things that have been increased are munitions and products which the people cannot use at all. The very efforts which India has made—and nobody can exaggerate them at all—have recoiled upon themselves in this situation. I was talking yesterday to a friend of mine who is connected with the efforts which have been made for relief. He told me that he had read some 400 letters containing contributions to one of the relief funds, and among them he was surprised to find no less than eight from old age pensioners who had each contributed a sum equal to a week's income. It was touching evidence of the way in which people of this country have responded to the needs of the Indians. I hope that in this matter there will be complete co-operation. Seeing that national Governments are the order of the day one could have hoped to see a national, all-party Government in Bengal. I understand that there are some sections in Bengal standing aloof and not making any contribution to the great human task but I venture to hope that they will think better of it. These are matters of life and death, and if any word of mine can reach these people in this work of mercy I hope they will help to build a fellowship which will enable them to deal with the situation which exists to-day and lay the foundation for future co-operation for the benefit of India."Neither in India nor in this country has it been easy to follow the development of the very complex events which led up to the present very serious food position in Bengal and in certain other parts of India."
Major-General Sir Alfred Knox (Wycombe)
I want to intervene for only a very few minutes. I listened with very great interest to the speech of the Secretary of State for India, without really ascertaining on which party he in his mind put the blame for this famine and the lamentable state of things in Bengal. I suppose that, as a member of the Government, it is his business not to put the blame on anyone. It is rather interesting to us, who have still some responsibility for the welfare of the people in India, to know who is to blame. After reading the White Paper as carefully as I could, I am convinced that the cause was economic nationalism, jealousy and the deter- mination of the different States of India to save their own people by keeping a reserve of grain and not letting it go out to other Provinces with a deficit. If that is so, it is the duty of the Central Government to force those with an excess of grain to give it up to those with a deficit.The Food Committee should have been set up two years earlier. There have been eight Conferences, the first of which was started in October, 1939, a month after the beginning of the war. They had the seventh Conference in December of last year. When they got to the seventh Conference, surely the Government of Bengal should have realised that conferences were of no use, and we should have appealed to the Government of India to force the Government of Bengal to take such steps as were necessary for the safety and the livelihood of their people. We fought against the India Bill for many weeks in this House. I personally did so because I believed that we were handing over the lives and fortunes of the common people of India to people who did not understand their duty towards the people. Now we have this situation. We are told that the Government of India did not like to interfere, and I quite realise that if the Government of India had done so, there would have been shrieks in this country about the brutal totalitarianism of the Government of India, but I wish they had done it. We could have stood those shrieks, I think, because we should have saved the lives of many thousands of our fellow subjects. I want to ask one question and to say a word about the producer, the ordinary ryot of Bengal. We have heard of the producer-hoarders, but the thing is ridiculous. Anyone who has been in an Indian village knows that the ryot has no receptacle in which to hoard his grain. He can only keep it for two or three months for his own family and himself, The rest of his grain he has to sell for such price as he can, in order to pay his rent to the landlord, and his taxes. He is continually undernourished, and if he gets more food now, the war has done someone some good. Another question is whether the Government of Bengal have taken strict measures against the people who have hoarded, the plunderers and the middle-class traders. I read in a paper the other day that three shops had been discovered in Calcutta with 500,000 lbs. of grain while men were dying at their doors. I would like to know what punishment has been given to the keepers of those shops, and I would ask whether the Government have any idea of modifying in any way the present Constitution of India. There ought to be some arrangement by which we should not be afraid to interfere with the Provincial Governments if we thought they were doing wrong and not taking proper precautions. When Lord Wavell arrived he put the whole thing in motion; he cut away all the obstacles and got right down to the matter by moving the Bengal Government to action. With the Army, the situation can be saved. Then, in conclusion, I would like to support the concluding parts of the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Sir J. Wardaw-Milne). This famine is a thing which will return in India where the population are undernourished, and I do not know how you are going to meet that. It is perfectly true, as Lord Linlithgow has said in his report on agriculture in India several years ago, that the tragic thing in India is that everything we do to help the population by building railways, roads, irrigation, by the improvement of agricultural hygiene and so on is all set at nought by increases in the population. What are you to do? Industrialisation will not be any good. In the 30 years from 1901 to 1931 the industrial population decreased from 45,000 to 31,000 because machines came in and did away with manual labour. We shall have recurrent tragedies in India unless some method can be found by which the people of India will get some realisation of the need for some way of limiting the population before disaster occurs.
Mr. Ridley (Clay Cross)
Most Members who have so far taken part in this Debate, and I have no doubt most other Members who will take part, have done so with a background of personal and administrative experience in India itself which I cannot claim to have enjoyed. I speak only as a warmly sympathetic observer of the Indian people. With regard to the intervention which the hon. and gallant Member for Wycombe (Sir A. Knox) made in the speech of the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne) about the 1935 Act, it is a very superficial view to suppose that a great famine of this kind can grow out of a piece of legislation so recent, and the tragedy of Calcutta and Bengal is not to be regarded, even as my hon. Friend regarded it, as a war-time catastrophe. Its victims are victims of a catastrophe much older. They are victims of what the hon. and gallant Member himself described as the under-nourishment of the Indian people.
Sir A. Knox
That is perfectly true, and it is quite fair. On the other hand that co-operation between the States was quite possible before the 1935 Act.
For reasons which I hope will be obvious to the hon. and gallant Member, I do not wish to pursue this point. It is the fact in this great tragedy that the air is thick with chickens coming home to roost. No one can read the White Paper without gathering the impression that this terrible tragedy in India is surrounded by a mixture of hopeless gloom and dull complacency. There was, it seems to me, a complete inability to anticipate the inevitable consequences of the war situation and to deal with them with any kind of resolution. The position was half foreseen but only half foreseen by the Food Member of the Legislative Assembly when he spoke of war as entailing a great and inevitable shortage of available food supply in every country. If that sense of anticipation had been followed by an equal sense of what was needed to meet the situation, there would have been some relativity between the one view and the other. It seems to me that no adequate and urgent anticipatory action was taken. My right hon. Friend spoke of the powers now being used by the Central Government. There are none of these but could have been used with greater effect and with a great saving of human life six months ago. We pride ourselves in this House on the measures which we foresaw would be necessary here, price-fixing, rationing and the like. These measures saved us, not from a cognate disaster, but they helped us. In India the situation was allowed to go from the very bad to the very desperate. Not until that stage was reached was anything substantial attempted. In a position that was completely irretrievable the Central Government turned to steps that had previously been rejected.The references in the White Paper as to what was said in Bengal are on the face of them disturbing, but a precipitate criticism on that basis would be most unfair. There may be more than one interpretation of what was said in Bengal. Because of the general failure to be resolute the death-rate rose to figures which defy the imagination and understanding. I doubt whether we here have any conception of the state of Bengal or any understanding of the reasons why so many human beings died just of sheer physical starvation. For centuries in this country we have been completely or almost unaccustomed to that kind of experience. Although now and again we get very near to it, we have managed even in the worst years to feed our population. As to remedial measures in the present situation oased on the Report of the Food Grains Policy Committee, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman one or two questions? Will he say whether the Central Government have accepted and intend to implement all the recommendations of the Committee, including the banning of rice exports for the duration of the war and the raising of the import level? Will it be possible, and will he strive to make it possible, to create the central food grains reserve which the Committee recommends, and will the shipping be available for that purpose? What are the prospects of increased imports for Bengal? I make no attempt to apportion particular blame for this appalling disaster, for it is obvious that this was generally shared. Now that ameliorative measures are being taken, now that Lord Wavell has shown a capacity for sympathetic understanding and a desire for knowledge without the accompaniment of pomp and circumstance, we might well turn to the fundamental way by which this calamity may be avoided. When we have discussed requisitioning, price-fixing, rationing, and so on, the inescapable uncomfortable fact remains that we are here dealing with a normally heavily under-nourished people. Masses of people for whom we have some responsibility have been living at an economic and nutritional level to which human beings ought never to be subjected. They fall easily as a prey to disease with the slightest disturbance of their most precarious existence. This horrible situation is not exclusive to India, but the fact that it exists elsewhere is no excuse for failing to recognise that its existence in India is an altogether inexcusable economic disorder and for not dealing with it in such ways as are open to us. It is an astounding fact that in face of the heavy increase in the population and despite our knowledge of new scientific methods in agriculture the total agricultural position in India has remained stationary. That is to say, that so far as her own soil is concerned she is producing less food per capita than she was 20 years ago. In a huge country of small cultivators this situation may be difficult to remedy but I cannot suppose it to be incapable of a remedy. Either that or India must develop an economic policy which will make increased imports possible. India is an example of the general problem which will confront the civilised world after the war, a problem of an economic order in which an abundance of food can be produced and within which therefore starvation is a crime against all mankind. I would like to say just one final word. No one who had the pleasure of meeting Lord Wavell could fail to recognise in him a warm-hearted, liberal-minded man. The immediacy with which, on his arrival in New Delhi, he made his personal examination of this terrible problem was evidence of his warm-heartedness. I have no doubt that his handling of other aspects of the Indian scene will be evidence of his liberal-mindedness. This has been a dark passage in the history of modern India, and a shadow has been thrown across the white races. A deep obligation rests on everybody who has any connection with the situation in India or outside her borders. The problem, as has been shown to-day, is a problem of many problems having a variegated texture almost unknown, but we can resolve that this disaster, irretrievable as it is now, will bring a new attention to India and her problems.
Sir George Schuster (Walsall)
The hon. Member who has just spoken paid a warm tribute to Lord Wavell. I think we should all of us keep before us one purpose in this Debate—to strengthen the arm of Lord Wavell in his task. He is a soldier who achieved his most brilliant successes when all the odds were against him and difficulties had to be forged to opportunities. If these are the conditions in which he works best, we could not have sent him to a more suitable place than India.The right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence), in opening the Debate, said we must all speak with a heavy sense of responsibility and be very careful not to say anything which will encourage those who are willing to traduce us. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) reminded us that it was very necessary to see this problem in its true proportions and in a wider setting. Both are weighty considerations, but I venture to think that we must not allow them, important as they are, to prevent us from facing up to what is the real issue in this matter. And if in any respect we here are to blame, then I think in the long run we shall do better by facing up to our responsibility than in trying to evade it. It is in this spirit that I want to examine certain aspects of this matter which, I believe, have not yet been brought fully to the attention of the House. The most useful contribution we can make is to review the past story so as to see what lessons we can get out of it for the future. But I think we must also review it so as to analyse where the responsibility lies for anything that may have gone wrong. I will not dwell at length on the complex story of the past. Certain things stand out clearly. The first is that there was a total failure to recognise early enough the serious nature of the danger, and the second is that when that danger was recognised, there was a failure to take vigorous and comprehensive action. It is a story of half measures and vacillations. There were futile attempts to fix wheat prices, but nothing was done to set up machinery, no wheat commissioner was appointed by the Government of India for several weeks, nothing was done to control stocks. The result was that wheat disappeared and, finally, they had to abandon price control. As far as rice is concerned, I cannot find in the White Paper that it was ever seriously discussed at any of the Food Conferences until December, 1942. No attempt was made to impose rationing as a general plan in large towns, although it was successfully introduced in Bombay; no attempt was made to control prices of other commodities, and it was not until December, 1942, after 3¼ years of war, that a Food Ministry was set up in Delhi. These are brief impressions from the White Paper story. The story also brings out certain facts which should have been known to all and taken into account. First, there is that characteristic truth about India, on which so many speakers have touched, that India has absolutely no margin of safety in food production. In fact it has really a deficit since a great proportion of its people are permanently undernourished. When you have a people in that position, and there is any danger of a shortage of food, they are bound to hold on to their stocks of food, and thus stocks cease to move quickly. That ought to have been foreseen. The second fact, which everyone ought to have appreciated, and which is brought out by the experience of every country in the present war, is that attempts to impose control of prices by Government action, if you do not control any stocks, are doomed to failure. The third point is that there must be a comprehensive plan. Financial policy and food policy are indivisible. There must be rationing schemes and a sound financial policy. Indeed, in my reading of the story, the most serious indictment in it is that there never was an attempt by the Government of India to develop a comprehensive policy. It is only now after four years of war that a logical comprehensive plan has been put forward by the Gregory Committee, and it is only now, with the arrival of Lord Wavell, that vigour and decision have been shown in action. Turning from that review we ought to give our ideas, if we want to be helpful; about what ought to be done. But it is terribly difficult now to deal satisfactorily with the situation when inflationary price rises have gone so far, and expectations of further declines in the purchasing power of money are so widely spread. But this matter must be tackled, so that I would state as the first necessity the introduction of a comprehensive and coherent all-India policy, covering finance, prices and rationing, and I deliberately put in the second place—strongly and warmly though I urge it—that the British Government should give every possible assistance in regard to imports of wheat to India. As to that we must appreciate the difficulties of shipping and competing war demands, so that we can do no more than express very strongly the opinion of this House to the Government that we want them to give every practical priority to imports of wheat into India, subject only to the consideration of not jeopardising the war effort. I myself, in fact, believe that the most helpful way of getting control of the situation would be to create a substantial central Government reserve of grain. I think the knowledge that the Government had a reserve of grain, coinciding with the steady arrival of grain ships in Indian ports, properly publicised, would be the most effective stimulus to the release and free flow of existing stocks. But the proper handling of the situation by internal policy is the first responsibility of the Government of India, and it is our responsibility to see that that policy is carried out. I turn from that to ask the House to examine next the question of just where the responsibility for this situation lies. I start at the bottom. Let us all express in the strongest language our detestation of profiteers and black market rackets and encourage vigorous action to punish them and limit their opportunities. But I do want to associate myself with those hon. Members who have protested against the blame being put on the Indian peasants and against having them classed among the detestable hoarders. In every country where there has been danger of a shortage of food it has proved impossible to induce the peasant population to surrender willingly their food stocks for the benefit of urban populations. It happened in Russia, and even in Germany, with all their wonderful methods of control, they had a saying, "You cannot have a policeman on every cow." Even in this country, too, we have seen this kind of thing happening, when eggs and other farm products seemed to disappear underground. These facts must be accepted. It is no use blaming the Indian peasant. He was bound to act as he did. This ought to have been foreseen. And I would ask the House to consider one special aspect of this matter. What is happening now in this war is precisely parallel to what happened in the last war. You then had the same inflation of prices, but in the last war India had a full silver rupee in circulation. Silver prices, under the inflationary stimulus, rose to such a level that the melting value of the rupee substantially exceeded its face value. So the peasant was glad to have money in the form of rupees, and to keep the rupees as a store of value. In fact the Government of India had to buy 100,000,000 ounces of silver from the United States in order to meet the demand for circulation and give the peasant something for which he would sell his grain. But there is a different situation now. The rupee has been debased—to about 40 per cent. of silver, I believe—and the main currency is the rupee note. The people have been losing confidence in this paper currency as a store of value. If you want the cultivator to part with his grain for money, then he must have the chance of using it to buy the cotton piece goods, kerosene, or other things that he wants. That is a small part of the general situation which should have been understood. These things happened in the last war. They should have been foreseen. Let us next consider the Provincial Governments; I am going up the scale of responsibility. The general purport of the White Paper is to put the whole of the blame on them. It certainly tells a lamentable story. But it is not the whole story. We have not heard their side of the case. Therefore, I will make no attempt to assess exactly the Provincial Government's responsibilities. Doubtless they must bear some of the blame, but there are other things to be said. The Punjab Government, for example, before taking active steps to force the Punjab cultivators to hand over their wheat at low prices could fairly ask for an assurance that their people could buy things that they needed like piece goods and kerosene at corresponding prices. They never got that assurance. But in any case I do not think we can properly discuss the position now, because we have not got a fairly balanced account of the situation. The point for us to emphasise, the point which stands out unmistakably clear, is that the Government of India should have had an all-India plan, and then if the Provincial Governments refused to co-operate, it could justifiably have used its emergency powers. A situation like this can only be tackled on the basis of an all-India plan. Go back over the history of famines in India, from 1866 onwards. There has never been a serious famine in India which could possibly have been tackled without a comprehensive all-India plan, or which could have been handled by a Provincial Government acting by itself. Therefore, to shift the full blame on the Provincial Government implies totally misreading the situation. So I come to the Government of India. Theirs was a very heavy responsibility. They had the power to intervene. It is no use arguing that the powers under the Emergency Act, of September, 1939, were not meant to be used in a situation like this and were meant to be used only when there was danger of invasion. No one was thinking of the danger of an invasion of Indian in September, 1939, when that Act was passed. The powers which it conferred must have been meant to deal with just such a situation as this. What did the Food Minister himself say, as will be seen in the White Paper? He said:
Surely that was a state of affairs in which it was legitimate to use those emergency powers. But it is not merely on that Emergency Act that the charge rests. It rests on the ground which I have already covered, that it was impossible for the Provinces to implement a full, effective plan. A full, effective plan meant a strong financial policy and price control for all necessaries. The Government of India are solely responsible for an all-India financial policy. The Provinces cannot control inflation. You might just as well expect the L.C.C. or the Birmingham Corporation to control inflation. So I put it to the House, on my reading of the matter, that the two main contributory factors to the trouble have been, first, the weakness and vacillation of the Government of India, and secondly their total failure to devise and apply a sound financial policy. As one goes up the scale, one passes next from the Government of India to the Viceroy. He has a special and distinct responsibility, not only as the head of the Government of India, but as having special constitutional duties and powers. In this case I do not want to dwell on the past but rather to emphasise, looking to the future, that we have complete confidence in the new Viceroy, and we wish to give him every support in the use of his powers. Passing therefore from the Viceroy, I move a step higher and ask what the Secretary of State and the India Office were doing throughout all this period. I want to put some specific questions to my right hon. Friend. When did he and his staff first appreciate the seriousness of the situation? What requests for information or recommendations for action did they communicate to the Government of India? What was the reaction of the Secretary of State as the chaotic story told in the White Paper gradually unfolded itself? What did he and his advisers think when they saw the note circulation mounting up steadily until today it represents four times what it was at the beginning of the war? In 1940 there was an increase of 16 per cent. At the end of 1941 the increase had gone up 39 per cent., by the autumn of 1942, 152 per cent., and, in 1943, it has gone up 300 per cent. above the pre-war circulation. It is impossible to have a situation like that without having a dangerous inflationary position. What thoughts, advice, or actions did these phenomena evoke? I want to ask the House to consider more closely what is the position of the Secretary of State and the India Office in this matter. We have had a great deal of talk about the effects of the 1935 Act. I think the effects have been exaggerated. So far as concerns the limited administrative resources for the Government of India to take action in the Provinces, the position is the same as during the last 15 years. It is true that the number of British I.C.S. officials has been slightly going down, but that change has been going on all the time. Even when I was in India only about half the I.C.S. officials were British, and the total number was about the same as now. The same thing applies as regards the relations between the Secretary of State and the India Office with the Government of India. I would agree most fully—and I speak as one who was a member of the Government of India—that the main task of Executive action must be that of the Government on the spot. But on almost every question of major policy the India Office, with their continuity of experience and their contact in London with world affairs and the world situation, ought to be able to give wise advice and guidance to the Government of India. And it is just on the two crucial points in this story that they could have given advice—how to handle food problems and how to handle financial policy. Our food policy here has been the most successful in the world. We have learned how to control food-stuffs, and we have had experience not only in this country but in other countries all over the world. I think members of the Government will probably agree that we had experience of the same sort of trouble with disappearing food stocks in North Africa, or that the story of Malta when it is fully told will reveal how narrowly we were saved from disaster as a result of a failure at one time to appreciate the importance of food policy. London had the experience. Delhi might well plead that they had to learn like others by trial and error. The same can be said about financial policy—which is such an integral part of any Food and Price Control policy—London ought to have supplemented the administrative experience of Delhi with broad wisdom and guidance from men with long experience in currency matters. I want to ask the Secretary of State how it was that his own expert advisory staff was allowed to be dissipated. Sir Henry Strakosch, who had such invaluable knowledge, was ill and went to California. Sir Cecil Kisch, with his long expert experience in exchange policy and values was at the beginning of the war allowed to go to another Department. Did the India Office think that these financial problems were going to be unimportant all through the war? Did they not think it necessary to have really first-class people to deal with these matters as they always had had in the years of peace? I feel that the situation has not been faced up to, and I feel that the responsibility which rests in London has not been fully discharged. If the Secretary of State and the India Office are to be purely passive and merely say "Yes" to any demand that comes from India, I want to ask what is the object of that great Office and of all the money that is spent on its staff. The annual vote is about £320,000; of which about £112,000 comes back as contributions from India. What is this great establishment doing? I feel we are entitled to ask for an examination of this matter. And in any case we are entitled to answers to the specific questions which I have put. We are entitled to say that the White Paper is not a satisfactory account of the situation such as we had a right to expect from the Secretary of State. What do we get? Nothing but a Minister's speech made in August defending himself against the criticisms of the Provincial Governments. That is not a judicial statement. I hope the House will support me when I say that we want a far fuller statement of what has happened and of the part that the Secretary of State and the India Office have played in this matter. This is a matter of transcendant importance. I am not overstating it, since it brings us to the final step in the ascending steps of responsibility—the responsibility of Parliament. We are responsible. It is no use to evade it. We are responsible in the eyes of the world. We are responsible in our own consciences and we are constitutionally responsible. Let me remind the House that the Preamble to the Government of India Act, 1919, was expressly preserved in the 1935 Act and that it recites that certain things can be determined only by Parliament"It looked as if the industrial war effort—war effort generally and civil life in the Province—were in danger of dislocation, with all its inevitable reactions on other areas as well"
I beg the House to reflect seriously upon this position. How can we discharge this responsibility? In matters affecting the Government of our own country, it is for us to watch the effects of our Government's policy. We have our own constituents to inform us. We can keep in touch with them. But how can we keep in touch with the effects of Government policy in India? We may be approached by certain people—but often they give one-sided views. We can read Press telegrams and hear rumours. But we can never verify the facts by our own direct inquiry and observation. There is, however, one member of this House who ought to be thinking day and night of India, who can command direct swift means of communication, who can be told all the secrets and who has a large staff of officials to digest and analyse the information which he gets. A heavy responsibility rests on the Secretary of State to keep Parliament truly informed of what is happening in India—to warn us of what is likely to happen, to ask for our counsel and support. How has he discharged that responsibility? I am very sorry to say this, but I feel that the Secretary of State has a very heavy responsibility to the House in this matter which he has not properly discharged. I feel that it is his duty to keep us fully informed about what is happening in India, about what is likely to happen, and to ask for our counsel and support. I fully recognise the great difficulties which have faced all who hold responsibility in this matter at all levels. There is not one of us who should not thank God that the handling of this situation did not rest on his shoulders since all might have failed. But the responsibility must be discharged, and we can expect the Minister who carries it at least to come to us, to tell us the situation and ask for our support for any bold and dangerous action which may be necessary. Then, if he fails, we are all in it together. But that has not been the present case. In the end we are faced with these questions. What are we to do now? Are we to become accessories after the fact in this matter? Are we to show the new Viceroy, the peoples of India and of the world, that we do not take these questions seriously? These are the questions which each one of us must ask himself, which each must answer according to his conscience. My own answer is unhesitatingly, "No." We cannot condone the past and we must make clear what we want for the future. We must make it clear that we are not satisfied with the information that has been given, and that we need a fuller report on the working of the India Office. We must make clear to the British Government that we want the maximum possible priority given to shipping for grain imports to India until the Government have a substantial reserve. We must make clear to the Viceroy that we welcome the strong action which he has taken and that he will have cur full support in continued strong action to enforce a comprehensive policy. Lastly, we must make it clear that we do not shirk our own responsibility. We accept the position that British guidance has still a great part to play, but we refuse to admit that this unhappy story shows the best that British guidance can do."upon whom responsibility lies for the welfare and advancement of the Indian people."
Mr. Cove (Aberavon)
We have just listened to a most moving speech. We have indeed listened to a speech, if I might put it this way, of a man who is deeply disturbed by what has happened in India. He is deeply disturbed out of his immense knowledge of India, and I therefore join with him. I understand that this House requires more definite information. This House cannot let this issue go by without further information and fuller inquiry. I am not sure at the moment what form the inquiry should take, but an inquiry is certainly necessary. The responsibility must be fixed. I think I am giving the opinion of hon. Friends on this side of the House in saying that the inquiry and the responsibility should be fixed quickly. Such an inquiry may be conducted by a Select Committee of the House or a Royal Commission, but it is quite clear from the tone of the hon. Member's speech that we need further information. [An HON. MEMBER: "Action."] I know we need action, and I would therefore join with the hon. Member in pressing the Government and hope that my hon. Friends on the Front Bench will impress upon the Government the absolutely urgent need for an inquiry into all that has happened in India in the last year or two which has resulted in this tragic situation.This is the first speech that I have listened to from the opposite side that has not tried to escape responsibility and has not tried to find means of getting away from reality. We have been told to-day from the opposite side that we cannot meet the situation in India, where there is an expanding population—the birthrate is too high. Do the hon. Members from the other side really postulate that we need to carry out in India a campaign of birth control? They seemed to suggest that the whole issue here was that of an increasing population, that we could not meet the needs of that increasing population, and that, therefore, some measures ought to be taken to cut down the number of births in India. That has been one of the main arguments from the other side of the House. That is reaction of the worst kind. The war has provided the acid test of our rule in India. We have been there for 200 years. A war of this character breaks out, and what happens? The whole of our machinery, so far as feeding the bodies and maintaining the morale of the people of India are concerned, breaks down. On that side of the House there ought to be deep disturbance. I hope I am not introducing a controversial note, but I profoundly believe that it is quite impossible to treat the Indian situation merely by the distribution of food. It is impossible to treat it unless we try to meet the political troubles which exist in India. We have not the good will of the Indian people. Our friends there are in gaol. There is no co-operation from the leaders on the Indian side for our cause, and I believe that that is our fault. Not only have we to get food ships to India, but we have to release the leaders of the Indian Congress from gaol. We have not merely to meet the case of millions of people who are starving and dying in India, but we have a great opportunity of settling and solving, I hope, the political problems which confront us in India. We have heard that it is due to the deficiencies of the various Provincial Governments that this has not been done. The fact is that when we wanted to take drastic and effective action from the centre against the Congress leaders, we had all the powers to do it; and we did it. Why have we not taken the same direct, drastic action to feed the Indian people? Burma was lost two years ago. What action was taken from the centre to see that the Indian people were fed? I have always understood that modern war is totalitarian, and that the morale of the civilian is almost, if not quite, of equal importance with that of the soldier. What action has been taken in the last two years to keep up the morale of the Indian people? It is all the more an indictment against the Secretary of State for India and our Government here to point out that India was always on a low level, and had no surpluses worth speaking of. The fact that India was almost on a level of starvation should have made the Government aware of the situation that was likely to arise. Some Indian representative people are thinking that Indians have been deliberately starved in the interests of our war effort. [Interruption.] I know that, but that is being freely said. The mechanism of inflation has been used. There is no doubt that there has been a callous indifference to the welfare of the ordinary people. Can one wonder that that is the Indian reaction? They say, "We are being used for Imperialist purposes." What is the answer of the Government? Look at the inertia, the stupidity, the lack of humanity of the Secretary of State for India, in his replies to questions in this House. On 21st January—I admit that I am quoting from "Picture Post"—the Secretary of State said in the House:
What an appreciation of the situation. Again, on 28th January, the Secretary of State said:"With care and proper distribution there should be enough to go round, and there is no cause for alarm, but the distribution problem is undoubtedly difficult."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st January, 1943; col. 278, Vol. 386.]
Were the supplies available?"There is no famine and no widespread prevalence of acute shortage, though a large part of the urban population is doubtless affected. The Commerce Member indeed has pointed out that the supplies available are as good as in five out of the past 10 years."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th January, 1943; col. 598, Vol. 386.]
Why does the hon. Member not look at the table in the White Paper, which shows that the amount of food available this year was greater that the amount available last year or the year before? The Secretary of State's diagnosis was perfectly correct. It was the distribution which broke down.
We were responsible for the distribution, anyhow. The plain statement which was made was that supplies were available. How did the right hon. Gentleman come to make that statement? What is the reason for the House being informed in that way? I am not an Imperialist; the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State is, and so is the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I am not going to put the responsibility upon the Chancellor, but I am going to put it on the Secretary of State. This great Imperialist will undermine the British Empire more quickly than anybody else I know. Hon. Members opposite have reason to be deeply disturbed about the situation in India. Let them join us in asking for an inquiry. Let them compel the Government now to institute an inquiry—I am not at the moment saying what sort of an inquiry, but the quickest and most effective sort of inquiry. Let us fix the responsibility. Millions of our people are dying. The casualties in India will be greater than the total casualties of all the belligerents in this war in the next two or three months; and, mark you, what is the Indian reaction? We say that we are fighting for our freedom and our liberty against Fascist aggression. What moral call have we given to the people of India? What meaning and what purpose have we given to them in this war? We have put Gandhi in gaol, and we have put Nehru in gaol. We have locked up Congress. I defy hon. Members to say that Nehru was against our war effort. I defy hon. Members to say that Congress did not have its heart in the fight for freedom. It did. Every resolution of Congress was on the side of the freedom of nations. We have locked up, gaoled, imprisoned our friends. Not only do I say to the right hon. Gentleman, let us have an inquiry; but also I say, quite sincerely, from the bottom of my heart, that this is not merely an economic problem, not merely a question of food ships; it is also a great political issue. We have to restore confidence among the leaders of Indian opinion. That restoration can be done only by our greeting our Indian fellow-subjects as equals within the British Commonwealth of Nations.
Are they, with Nehru in gaol? We want food ships, but it is equally important that we should have—I hate to use the word—political appeasement of the leaders of Indian opinion. Without that, nothing can be done. The political issue, the food issue, the economic issue, are all bound up together. We have to get a new broad approach, based on the recognition that Indian independence must be a reality and that we must convey to the Indian people now, during the war, the assurance that they will get the freedom that we say we are fighting for in this great war.
Flight-Lieutenant Raikes (Essex, South Eastern)
It is common to all sides of the House that we wish to alleviate the present conditions in India. On every side we are anxious that all the shipping that is needed should be produced. It is a terrible thing that, apart from the war, there should be men dying day by day in the streets. But I must join issue with both the hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. Cove) and the hon. Member for Walsall (Sir G. Schuster). It is our duty to try to apportion blame. Criticisms have been expressed in regard to the action of the Central Government, and it is our duty, while looking to the future, to consider at the same time how far those criticisms are just. I agree that the subsistence level of the Indian people is very low, and that famines in India are nothing new. But the hon. Member for Aberavon is quite wrong when he suggests that we on this side desire to reduce the population of India. The population of India has been able to expand and increase in recent years, and these increases have been due in large part to the irrigation works and health services and to various other things done by the British Raj. We take a pride in it and want to see an even greater population able to be borne by the land. It is significant that on the very same land you have about 40 or 50 millions more people subsisting, although under hardship, than were subsisting only 10 or 12 years ago. The hon. Member for Walsall made a studied, deliberate and an implacable attack on His Majesty's Government. He talked about wheat and about rice never having been discussed and about no comprehensive plan of any sort or kind being produced by the Government of India. I awaited with interest to hear what was the basis of his attack. It was that, having passed the Act of 1935, the first moment there was danger of trouble in India we failed to use emergency powers to sweep away those Governments which had been created amid howls of approval on the part of hon. Members opposite.
I never heard any howls.
The only alternative was to give the Provinces an opportunity to play their part with regard to price control and the general improvement of Indian conditions under stress of war and to make them realise their responsibilities under self-government. I was opposed to certain parts of the Government of India Act, but at the same time I would cross swords with the hon. and gallant Member for Wycombe (Sir A. Knox), were he in the House at this moment, when he suggested that the Act of 1935 had had no effect so far as this House was concerned with regard to the question of famine. Those who opposed the Government of India Act were nevertheless pledged to the Simon Report, which meant Provincial autonomy, which is really all we have had under the 1935 Act. The fact nevertheless remains that you have a majority party Government in office in Bengal. You gave to the Provinces real power, and, having given that power, to take it away at the first moment of difficulty would have raised a storm not only in India but far beyond India with regard to the good will of Great Britain which might have destroyed the Government itself.
The hon. and gallant Member will remember that this particular Act was brought in by his own Government and that the reserved powers of the Central Government have been increased since the war, and the Central Government have taken over powers from the Provincial Governments.
I am fully aware of the fact that emergency powers for dealing with the war effort in addition to the safeguards of the 1935 Act were passed, but it would have been a pretty reflection upon the possibilities of Indian self-government if we had strained those powers, given for the purposes of the war, to turn out of office and place under an emergency control the Government of Bengal, which was one of the Provinces prepared to co-operate for the war effort. I come to the next point made by the hon. Member for Walsall. He has shown himself a greater reactionary than I am in this House to-day. He said that nothing was done in regard to rice.
Sir G. Schuster
I said I cannot find in the reports of Food Conferences in the White Paper any reference to the discussion of rice before the Conference of December, 1942. I do not know the facts. That is the trouble.
I am prepared to accept the interpretation of what I quoted of the hon. Member for Walsall. He is also aware that within a few days of the outbreak of war in 1939 the Central Government gave powers to all Provinces to deal with any question of price control of any foodstuffs in any Province.The hon. Member for Walsall took the opportunity of observing that for the Provinces to deal with price control, was rather like the London County Council as against the British Parliament. I am bound to say that to, compare, for example, Bengal to the L.C.C. seems almost as far fetched as anything the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Cocks) has brought forward in his lighter moments. I should like to remind the House that even early in 1943 it was laid down by the price control Conference of Ministers that they regarded such control as totally unnecessary. That came from the Provinces themselves. But unless emergency powers had been applied to the Provinces it was the Provinces alone who could enforce price control. In every conference from September, 1942, onwards, the Provinces gave the same answer that they did not think control of rice was necessary. That was the attitude of Bengal even in February this year. After the speech of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to which the hon. Member for Aberavon took such exception Bengal said they did not want control of the price of rice, and that they had sufficient rice for their needs, sufficient foodstuffs for a considerable period, if only they were left to themselves. Right up to the very last conference in July the Provinces did not wish to have price control taken over by the Centre. The hon. Member for Walsall said that no effort had been made by the Central Government to deal with food supplies. He forgot the Central Government scheme of a central purchasing and distributing organisation, turned down by the Provinces.
Sir G. Schuster
I am sure my hon. Friend does not want to misrepresent me. What I was referring to, was a comprehensive policy, including financial policy, rationing and price control generally, and not merely for food.
I think when the hon. Gentleman was giving us a picture of the faults of the Government he might, at least, have pointed out the difficulties which arise. Efforts were made by the Government to deal with the question of food. There is one further point which has not yet been mentioned in this Debate. The Government are criticised for not inquiring what the conditions were in India even a few months before this last period. How easy it is to get information when, out of, I think, 52 different inquiries in different areas as to food stocks in India during 1943, replies up to the end of June numbered only three. How easy to deal with surpluses and deficits and their disposal when it is foodstuffs waiting for distribution and only 457,000 tons are forthcoming. It expected to find about 1,500,000 tons of makes the position almost impossible. One may say that the only way in which you can get self-government is by the opportunity of learning by mistake. How often have I heard hon. Members here say it is better to be badly governed by your own people, than to be well and efficiently governed by others. I believe that as a result of what has happened, Provincial Governments now realise that there can be no real dealing with the distribution of food in India unless it is agreed to let the Centre have the last word in regard to the allocation of supplies and price control.The hon. Member for Walsall referred also to the fact that there was no comprehensive rationing scheme, In Bombay there was rationing but Calcutta was not rationed. It is one of the tragedies that Calcutta was not rationed months ago. It is also one condemnation of Provincial Government that, whereas Bombay introduced a rationing system, Bengal said it was unnecessary at that time. Still, Bengal has learned. Looking to the future, I believe that quite apart from what I have said of the Provinces agreeing that the Centre should have the last word in regard to fixation of prices and allocation of foodstuffs, we do need to bear in mind what the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne) said about the fragmentation of agriculture. We do need to increase the supply of foodstuffs in India from the land of India but critics of the Government did forget that, last year, 8,000,000 more acres of land were placed under crops and 12,000,000 acres more this year by the Central Government. Those are the steps by which alone we can deal with the great problem before India. It is no good saying that we must release the Congress leaders. That would only bring nearer the spectre of civil war. Looking to the future the only hope—and it is a great hope—is that the Provinces, realising their difficulties, will co-operate closely and yet more closely with the Central Government whatever that Government may be. It is no good having food committees or food boards to advise and co-ordinate, unless they are given power to act through a central administration, in co-operation with the Provinces. I believe it could be done and will be done and that if it is not done, it will not be because efforts by the British Government, by this House, and by the Secretary of State have failed. If there is failure, it will be a condemnation of Indian economic nationalism which has ever been a danger and a threat to every new self-governing Pro- vince or country and which has to be overcome if peace and freedom and better conditions are to prevail.
Mr. Ammon (Camberwell, North)
I feel, and I think a good many other Members must feel, a sense of disappointment about this Debate. One outstanding thing that seems to be lacking, is an expression of sympathy here at the terrible things which are happening in India at the present time. The Debate seems to have turned on the idea that we ought to try to get a balance of responsibility for certain things, rather than face the issues, find out causes and show sympathy with the people who are suffering so tremendously. I am disappointed in other respects. I imagine that most people when they heard a White Paper was to be published, expected a White Paper which would set forth all the difficulties and complexities that confront the Administration both at home and in India. Instead, we have simply a speech by a Minister defending his own position, which, if rightly read, simply bears out all that has been said about vacillation and delay and the lack of a forward view. I do not under-estimate for a moment the burden of responsibility which the Secretary of State carries and the tremendous weight which must fall on all people who are faced with a tremendous problem like this, but I was never more disappointed than I. was with his speech. It indicated that he did not see the wood for the trees. We never got down to any acceptance of the difficulties, or any statement of how it was proposed to grapple with them. The hon. Gentleman who has just spoken—I hope I am quoting him correctly—said that this showed a failure of Provincial government. I venture to say that that misses the point altogether. Provincial government had not the power to deal with the things which have brought about the present situation—inflation and food imports.In those two things the Provincial Government has no voice. One hon. Member said in the course of this Debate that we should press for an inquiry. I do not see the need for that. We know the facts. We do not want to waste more time on inquiries. What we should do is to get down to the problem. I thought that nothing in the Minister's speech was more condemnatory than the laudation both of Lord Wavell and General Auchinlech because they have started to do things and have shown sympathy. No one can yet point to any great results, but they point to the fact that they have tried to face the problem and tried to grapple with difficulties. It is no good trying to defend Lord Wavell's predecessor, because he did not do any of these things. He did not get into touch with the situation. Although I agree with the hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. Graham White), who said it was no good pointing to scapegoats, it is well to remove the hindrances which seem to be in the way of dealing effectively with difficulties that have brought us to this pass. In a case like this, when the centre of government is in this country, both the blame and responsibility are here. We have got to accept that. It is no good trying to shift them elsewhere or to say they are elsewhere. We hoped that Provincial Governments would have time to develop their possibilities and that there would be opportunity of finding within their ranks those who could carry on self-government. It is different now, when the whole Empire is involved in a life and death struggle. You cannot delegate part of central responsibility when that may mean weakening some part of the Empire. Responsibility lies at the centre. There is also responsibility resting on us in this House. I venture to say that every Member of Parliament must feel some sense of shame at the position which has arisen in a time like this. It is the same story again—too little and too late. The right hon. Gentleman has said that inflation is inevitable and it is impossible to deal with it. I deny that absolutely. If inflation is inevitable, what is meant in the statement we have heard quoted that things are not so bad, that they are improving, that the crops may be better, that inflation is under the control of the Central Government to a large extent? The fact is we have failed to deal with it. It was not until the end of 1942 that we took notice of it. In this country we were forward looking enough to anticipate it before the outbreak of war, and we had it under control at the commencement. Why did we fail then in this case. What could we have done to exercise some control over prices? Let us admit straight away that you cannot control prices unless you control stocks. We have to recognise that control of stocks in India is not so easy as in organised countries, because they are distributed among small cultivators, but we have been advising and instructing those small cultivators to conserve and keep their stocks for a number of years against a possible time of shortage. Surely, as two civil servants pointed out recently in "The Times," you cannot blame those people for carrying out what we advised them to do. Nevertheless, we could have done something, and the best way where there is any question of hoarding and inflation would be to send food. A few shiploads of food would have done more to bring down prices than all the regulations that could be made. Any risk that we should have run of weakening the war effort would have been less than the risk we are running at the present time of loss of prestige, loss of power and everything else. The Government ought to have taken the necessary steps as soon as possible. I do not agree with the right hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) that to a large extent this indicates failure of Provincial Government, because Provincial Government was never expected to face up to a problem like this. The responsibility is that of the Government of India, and that is centred here in the India Office. It is because of lamentable failure in that direction that we find ourselves in the position we are in to-day. The hon. Member for Kidderminster (Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne) asked whether the Government had done all that they possibly could do to meet the position. The White Paper and the Minister's speech seem to be a confession that we must leave things in the hope that they will shape up one way or another. The problem is difficult, but the job of government is to solve problems when they are difficult. The Government seem to have been fused with some new hope, because Lord Wavell saw fit to go round and see things for himself, and General Auchinlech has been taking vigorous steps to endeavour to get over difficulties, but while we give full weight to the burden resting upon the Government of India and the right hon. Gentleman, we must say that it is not good enough to endeavour to apportion blame between the Provincial Government and the Central Government here The Government and Parliament here have to face their own responsibilities. We have to get down to action to deal with India's problem. There are things within the power of the right hon. Gentleman and his Department in the matter of food supplies, and I beg that he will use those powers.
Mr. Godfrey Nicholson (Farnham)
I have only five minutes at my disposal, so I rope the hon. Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon) will forgive me if I do not follow him closely. I do not think the hon. Member need feel that the absence of expressions of sympathy means any lack of humanitarian feeling on any side of the House. It shows what has given me satisfaction in the course of this Debate, namely, that all speakers have tried to pay attention to realities and to realities only. They have drawn the right moral so far, which is that the responsibility ultimately rests in this House. Not, I admit, the legal responsibility, for however much one may assume responsibility here, the legal responsibility for the famine rests in India. But the moral responsibility rests with us because the famine represents a breakdown of considerable magnitude in administration. If we draw the proper moral from this Debate it is this: That this is fundamentally a breakdown in administration. This is the first time for many years that the arena of Indian political discussion has been invaded by harsh reality. Political discussion in India and elsewhere exists in an artificial framework which is liable to break down at any time through war, civil strife, famine and disease. The hall-mark of efficient administration is the way it can cope with these incursions of reality.This new set-up in India has shown that in Administration it is to a large extent incapable of dealing with realities. The moral of this Debate is that here is the red light. If we accept the ultimate moral responsibility for the future of India, as we must, we must see that, above all things, whatever the Constitution of India is, and wherever it comes from, it is a Constitution and an Administration that can cope with reality in the form of war, or civil disturbance, or famine, or disease, and, above all, or equally, with reality in the shape of economic difficulties and disasters. I want the House to go one step further with me. There is only one way we can face realities and that is by facing facts. The fact I want the House to face is this: When the war in the East ends we shall be faced with a Constituent Assembly. Let us admit what we all know to be true in our hearts—that the chances are very slender that that Assembly will reach any degree of unanimity. Even if it does, the chances are again slender that it will be able to impose that unanimity on the sub-continent of India with any prospect of continuing endurance. If these ghastly incursions of reality, as I call them, are not to reduce India to periodic or continual misery, we must realise that the corollary of our sense of responsibility is that we ourselves must have a plan for the future of India. It is no good saying that it is the Indians' own business. No, our moral responsibility demands that if India fails to reach agreement we must have a plan that we will have the character and courage to carry out. This breakdown of the Administration has led to the loss of many lives. [An HON. MEMBER: "It is a great deal more than that."] I entirely agree. It is a disgrace that we have let the Administration so deteriorate that such a thing can come about. It would be a tenfold greater disgrace if we let further breakdowns in administration occur, but we shall do that unless we make up our own minds what we mean to do with India, and what form of Government we must, if necessary, impose on India if she cannot come to an agreement. I hope that is the moral hon. Members will draw from this Debate. Let us by all means recognise our responsibility, but let us also recognise the logical deduction from that recognition of responsibility.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir John Anderson)
I have followed the course of this Debate with deep interest and, I confess, with somewhat mixed feelings. I was in Bengal, as hon. Members know, in intimate touch with the affairs of that Province for six years and, despite the difficulties and anxieties with which I was beset from time to time during those six years, I think I can truthfully say that those years were among the happiest years of my life and certainly the most interesting. The country and the people of India take a grip of one. That is the universal experience, I believe, of those who have lived and worked in India, and many hon. Members of this House have had that experience. One never seems to lose interest in what is happening in that great country and I certainly can tell the House that when I hear of misfortunes and disasters in India, I do so with a real sense of personal affliction. I have found the course of this Debate somewhat painful.
So have I.
Sir J. Anderson
Some of the speeches, particularly the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall (Sir G. Schuster) seemed to be designed to give the impression of mistakes, muddle and incompetence all round. My hon. Friend has had a very special experience. What he says carries great authority. I wish I had more time in which to deal in detail with the substance of his speech, but I am to some extent relieved of that necessity by the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South-East Essex (Flight-Lieutenant Raikes), with which I found myself very largely in agreement. I said that some of the speeches seemed designed to give the impression of muddle and incompetence. My hon. Friend the Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon) spoke of the speech of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State as bearing out all that had been said about delay and vacillation. In this business it is no use talking about where moral responsibility rests. What we have to consider is where responsibility, in fact, rests, and it is no use talking as if the grant of responsible self-government made no difference. To say that, is to deny self-government. I cannot understand the attitude of people who have pledged themselves to the principle of self-government and who then get up and use an argument in this House which seems designed to destroy the whole conception of self-government.
The King-Emperor still rules over India.
Sir J. Anderson
The King-Emperor rules over this country, constitutionally, and that is how under self-government, he would, I hope, rule in India. Where the penalty of failure has to be paid in human lives, suffering and death, we should surely all be careful of how we apportion blame. Indeed, it is not in my judgement always right, when human affairs miscarry, to conclude at once that someone must have been at fault. Mis- fortunes fall often in the course of human affairs in ways that are quite incalculable. Furthermore, natural calamity has played its part—and a not inconsiderable part—in the present situation, and wrong conclusions are often reached because the material for a right decision has not become available until after the event. But I am very far indeed from saying that there have been no mistakes, and I will try if I may in the time at my disposal to put the matter, as I see it, in the proper perspective. My right hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) rightly emphasised the importance of seeing such matters calmly, and in their true perspective, and I think my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall admitted, in what he had to say, that part of the case as it affects the Provinces had not been fully stated.First, I think it is of great importance to avoid the fallacy of judging Indian affairs by the standards that are applied here. The situation is vastly different. We are a highly organised community, rich, compact, with a great store of experience, great resources in organisation and technical knowledge, and we possess an administrative machine of remarkable flexibility and power. With it all, there is a great fund of good will which comes into prominence at every time of trial. That is vastly important. We here take all that for granted. But turn to India. What a contrast. As my right hon. Friend opposite said, there is no comparison; there can be no comparison. India is a poor country, a country mainly of small agriculturists spread over a vast area, with a very primitive social and economic structure. I do not know that I would go so far as my right hon. Friend in talking of a hand-loom mentality, but it is still, despite the great progress made in the last 100 years, a very primitive economic and social structure. [Interruption.] To say that the structure is primitive is not to condemn it. There is no unitary system of government. Responsibility is divided, by the Constitution itself, between the Centre and the Provinces. The Centre is primarily responsible for external affairs, for defence, for posts, telegraphs and railways and for central taxation and finance. Those are the limits of the direct responsibility of the Centre, apart from a few centrally administered areas. The primary responsibility for all services which touch the lives of the people—for agriculture, forestry, public health, education, local government, public works, irrigation—rests with the Provincial Governments.
After you have taken the money from them.
Sir J. Anderson
There is no question of taking the money. This division of responsibility is reflected in the organisation of the public services of India, and may I point out that even in the Provinces—where the district officers and their staffs, whose authority descends from the paternal system of former days, are still the backbone of the administration—there are no highly organised Departments of the Provincial Governments as we know them here? A whole Ministry such as the Ministry of Education or the Ministry of Public Health, even in a large Province of 60,000,000 people like Bengal, could be brought well within the compass of a single Department of a Ministry here at Westminster. The annual Budget of the Province of Bengal at the time when I left amounted to some 12 crores of rupees, some 7,500,000. The whole Higher Service in Bengal, the Indian Civil Service corresponding to our administrative class here at home, numbered only 145, of whom 64 were European and 81 Indian.
Mr. Messer (Tottenham, South)
That has not caused the famine.
Sir J. Anderson
It is very important to understand these things. I did not interrupt the hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. Cove), though I was sorely tempted to do so.
I did not interrupt the right hon. Gentleman.
Sir J. Anderson
The hon. Member did, just before. The system which I have described—however briefly—is a system admirably suited to the traditional tasks of government of India, but it is subject to very distinct limitations when it becomes a question of carrying out a central policy in a new field. That is a point to which I will return later.Let me try to consider separately, and as briefly as possible, the position, in this unfortunate business, of the Central Government in India, of the Provincial Governments and of His Majesty's Government at home. In speeches here to-day the Government of India have been very severely criticised. They have been criticised on a number of grounds, first, in regard to financial policy, then in regard to their omission or failure to override the Provincial authorities in the exercise of the special powers that they have. I think when it is realised to what extent the Government of India are inevitably dependent on Provincial Governments for their sources of information and for technical advice—because it is the Provincial authorities only that are in touch with local conditions, which in India vary as widely from place to place as they do in the whole Continent of Europe—the view will be generally accepted that the Government of India were very wise to endeavour to proceed in consultation with the Provincial Governments and try to carry those Governments with them. They have the powers, undoubtedly; the powers were given because without them the Government of India would have no locus standi whatsoever in regard to such a matter as this; but they are powers which ought to be held in reserve until there is clear necessity for their exercise. As between Province and Province, there are differences of view, and there is a certain conflict of interests with which the Government of India must necessarily reckon. I think that when hon. Members, as for example my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne), and I think the hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. Graham White), say that the Government of India ought to have taken action much earlier, an opinion which was expressed by other Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, they attributed to the Government of India a primary responsibility in such a matter as this, which does not constitutionally or properly belong to it.
When people die?
Sir J. Anderson
This complaint that the Government of India should have acted earlier, relates to a time when people were not dying.
But who was responsible?
Sir J. Anderson
I will deal later with the separate authorities who have responsibilities. I am bound to say, however, in regard to inflation, about which the right hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence) spoke, that I think it unfortunate that there was not a more prompt realisation of what was happening and more vigorous action in a matter definitely within the sphere of the Government of India. I am not here to whitewash authorities who may have been backward, or in any way failing in their discharge of their responsibilities, but I do recognise that it is easy to be wise after the event, and the inflationary tendencies which became marked in the course of the present year were not nearly so much in evidence earlier in the war. I do recognise, too, when comparisons are made between what has happened in India and what has happened here, that we here had the advantage of being able to profit from the experiences of the last war, and the Government of India are in a rather different situation. This matter of inflation is one in which I am specially interested as Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I think it is also of very great importance indeed, in relation to the question of food, because although I do not entirely agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh in treating inflation as the main cause of what has happened, I think the inflationary spiral of prices did contribute very largely to the hold-up of supplies of grain, and particularly rice, which I do regard as one of the main causes of the unfortunate situation that has come about.Remedies for the situation are, in principle, fairly obvious. The trouble in India arises, on the one hand, from the enormous expenditure on goods and services by our own Government, the military authorities in India and the American authorities, and on the other hand, the serious curtailment in the supply of consumer goods. There is a very serious disequilibrium there. Apart from that, as the right hon. Member for East Edinburgh pointed out, there is great need for action which will divert as much as possible of the surplus purchasing power, whether by adjustment of taxation or by more vigorous savings campaigns and what not. Those are directions in which action is very urgently required, and I am glad to know that the Government of India are handling that matter now with great vigour and determination. Now I come to the question of the Provinces. I will take Bengal as my illustration, because one cannot generalise in regard to India in these matters. Conditions differ from Province to Province, and Bengal is the Province which I know best. It is that in which the consequences of food shortage have been most gravely evidenced during recent months. It has been suggested that the situation which developed in Bengal in the course of this year might have been foreseen much earlier. I do not myself wholly agree with that view. To all appearances, up to the end of last year, there was no particular cause for worry in regard to Bengal. The rice harvest of 1941–42, that which is gathered at the beginning of the calendar year, was exceptionally good, was definitely in excess of local requirements. At the end of 1942, the then chief Minister of Bengal, Mr. Fazlul Huq, as is brought out in the White Paper, expressed the opinion at a conference in Delhi that Bengal, left to itself, could win through. That was a responsible opinion by a Minister who had exceptional knowledge of the people of his Province. I hold no brief for him.
Why did the right hon. Gentleman not sack him?
Sir J. Anderson
I had nothing to do with him after I left India. I can say this, that he was my chief Minister from the inception of the present reforms until I left India in 1937, and that during the whole of that time our relations were not marred by any single disagreement. I hold no brief for him, and he is very well able to speak for himself, but that responsible opinion which he expressed was one to which the Government of India rightly paid attention. They would have been open to very serious reproach had they not done so. I am not so sure myself that he could not put up a pretty good defence for the view that he then took. As I say, in the previous year, the rice harvest had been particularly good. In the year 1942 the prospects of the main rice crop, the main paddy crop, were quite normal until fairly late in the year, when a considerable part of Western Bengal was stricken by a cyclone and devastated by the resultant floods. That had a serious effect upon the harvest. Nevertheless I can well believe that there might have been good grounds for supposing that the return of the harvest would be normal, until it became apparent that there had been superimposed on the effects of the flood a very serious insect blight. Apart from those two causes, the harvest might have been normal, and we might have heard nothing at all of famine in Bengal. Those are the facts of which account should be taken.It is no use hon. Members shaking their heads. At any rate, that was the view of the case put to the Government of India by the responsible head of the Provincial Government, and that was a view accepted by the Government of India. Let me say in this connection that accurate assessment of the food position in an Indian Province is a matter of the most extreme difficulty. I think it was my hon. Friend the Member for East Birkenhead who stated that we must have better statistics. I confess I do not know how accurate statistics can be obtained promptly under the conditions in which cultivation is carried on in a Province like Bengal. I had some direct experience of that matter myself, when I was concerned in a scheme designed to effect an improvement in the price of jute by restriction of cultivation in areas where there had been surplus production. The scheme was moderately successful, and its success depended upon a reasonably accurate estimate of the out-turn and of stocks. I know how exceedingly difficult it is to arrive at any such estimate. There are 40,000,000 people in Bengal, living directly on the produce of smallholdings of an average extent of 3½ acres. The other 20,000,000 are dependent on the surpluses, the aggregate surpluses, that can be gathered together from all those smallholdings. It is very easy to make a miscalculation. It may well be that those who were concerned in that matter in the Province took the view that to talk about a prospective shortage might well prove to be the surest way of bringing such a shortage about. The cultivator in Bengal, and I expect the same is true of other parts of India, is simple and illiterate, but he has a certain native shrewdness, and he is very sensitive indeed to bazaar rumour. If he gets to know that prices are likely to harden, he will hold back, and others will hold back too. The hon. Member for Kidderminster spoke of the Bengal situation in terms which I thought rather more reminiscent of Bombay. We do not talk about banyas in Bengal; we have moneylenders, Conditions are in many respects different, and the methods of trading are different. It may well be that there are traders in Bengal who have secured stocks from the cultivators and are holding those stocks up, and. I emphatically agree with my hon. Friend that the most drastic action ought to be taken against any such attempt; but there also has been, I am quite sure, on the part of cultivators themselves, a very natural tendency—this is not a question of blaming them—to hold that grain back, partly in order to safeguard their own position and partly in the hope of a change in the price.
Would the right hon. Gentleman make it clear that the alleged hoarding is divided into those two categories and that by far the greater portion of the hoarding is due to those who, for reasons of prudence, merely accumulated a stock?
Sir J. Anderson
Certainly, that is my profound belief, and I am not blaming anyone at all. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster that one has to be very careful in applying measures to extract grain from reluctant cultivators, because if the action taken and the measures are too vigorous, the cultivators may be left with insufficient stocks to carry them through. If any words of mine can reach the cultivator in Bengal, I would say that he would be very well advised to release now everything he can over and above reasonable requirements for his family. Such action would be in the interests of the Province and of the Government of India, and it would tend to bring victory nearer. I believe it would be in the interests of the cultivators themselves, because, in view of the action the Government of India are taking, I sincerely believe that we have reached the peak of the inflationary process which has been going on, and that prices will tend for the future to decline.There is just one further item of information I wish to give to the House in regard to the position in Bengal Province which is very important to a proper understanding of the situation. Bengal, unlike most other Provinces in India, is what is called a permanently settled Province. What that means is extremely important. It is that you have not got in Bengal the vast army of minor officials living on the land in the villages in close contact with the individual cultivators which you find in every Province where there is a temporary settlement, and when it becomes a question of attempting to improve the method of procurement of supplies and the machinery of distribution, the lack of a body of officials who really know the local circumstances and who have the confidence of the cultivators is a very serious defect. I am glad to think that Lord Wavell is doing his best to remedy that position by enlisting the help of the Army, but even so he is not likely to be able to produce the condition which obtains in a temporarily settled Province. It is only fair to my old Province and to those who are responsible for administration there, and for the admirable body of officials to whom I was glad to notice tribute was paid in one of the speeches to-day, who are carrying an immense burden of care and anxiety, that that should be made clear. There is very little time left to me to deal with the position of His Majesty's Government in this matter [Interruption.] I will deal with the position as regards the future. I have explained what the Government of India are doing with regard to the problems of inflation, in regard to the development of a Central policy to be carried out in conjunction with the Provinces. The Government of India are very active in Bengal. We have now the collaboration of Lord Wavell and the Army. All this should help in the future. I will now deal with the position of His Majesty's Government. The hon. Member for Aberavon used some expression like this—that he thought there had been a callous disregard of the interests of the Indian people on the part of His Majesty's Government.
That is the charge.
Sir J. Anderson
I am profoundly interested in everything which concerns the welfare of the people of India, particularly in the Province of Bengal. I assure this House that I would never be a party to any decision which betrayed callous disregard of the interests of the Indian people. But I would like to give the House, in order to show the attitude which His Majesty's Government have taken up in regard to this very important question of the import of additional supplies of food into India, information which I think has not previously been disclosed. I am able to do so because I have been concerned in the transactions as a member of the War Cabinet. In the course of 1942, when the wheat situation—not the rice situation—seemed likely to cause anxiety the Government of India made an urgent appeal for help in procuring additional supplies of wheat to compensate for foodstuffs which the Government of India were having to export in the interests of the common effort to the Persian Gulf and Ceylon. May I say incidentally that that is the limit of the export that has been allowed in these difficult times? To make good the deficiencies resulting from that export, and to build up the reserves of food for the Indian Army, which were thought to be running down, this urgent appeal was made. It was made at a time when our shipping situation had just been brought under review by the War Cabinet and when a decision had just been taken, most reluctantly, to divert certain ships earmarked for military purposes in order that they might be put on the North Atlantic route to improve our food and supply position at home, which was at that moment running down rather seriously.That was the situation here at home when that urgent appeal was received. The Government of India's appeal was considered, as any such appeal ought to be considered, in relation to other claims upon shipping, and it was decided that, despite the fact that ships earmarked for military purposes had been diverted as a matter of great urgency and at considerable cost in regard to future military operations, in order to meet our situation at home, a sufficient number of those very ships should be again earmarked to meet the requirements of the Government of India, and that was done. I only tell the House this, I can only tell the House this now, because it relates to the past. I cannot give the same precise, detailed information about current transactions. That is how that matter was dealt with. Food was allotted and despatched to India. It was not in fact all delivered, because before the last delivery was made further information from the Government of India showed that the harvest of wheat in Upper India in the spring of this year was going to be extremely good, as it was, and one or two of these ships—I do not remember how many—were in fact again diverted to East Africa, where a difficult situation had arisen owing to the large number of prisoners and Polish refugees who were in that territory. I say this because I think it serves to indicate to the House how closely geared all our arrangements are, and have to be, to the general war effort. There is no slack anywhere that you can take up in order to meet a sudden demand. If a demand comes along—
Mr. Sloan (South Ayrshire)
In regard to the shipments, the Government's own White Paper states that in 1942–3 there were 18,000,000 tons of imports and 379,000,000 tons of exports. How does the right hon. Gentleman explain that?
What are the Government sending now? That is the point.
Sir J. Anderson
That is susceptible of explanation, but I must get on with my argument. What I have said illustrates my point. I wish to make it clear to the House that when a sudden demand comes along—the hon. Member's point is not relevant to my argument—it can only be met, if met at all, at the expense of some other branch of our war activity. In the course of this year very urgent appeals were received from the Government of India on the ground that a very serious situation was developing in Bengal. These appeals were considered on their merits, decisions were taken, and action was taken, as the result of which supplies of grain are now flowing freely into Bengal. That process will go on up to the end of the year. I am not going to give quantities We are doing all that is practicable, having regard to the distribution of our shipping, to put into India up to the end of the year the maximum amount of additional grains that can be imported.By the end of the year we shall know precisely how the main paddy harvest for this coming winter is likely to turn out. If that paddy harvest is, as it promises to be, very good—and a very good harbest in Bengal means a harvest of 10,000,000 tons of paddy against an estimated normal consumption of 8,000,000 tons; I think that does not put it too high—we shall be very near the end of our troubles. At any rate, by the end of the year we shall be able to review the whole situation, and such further action as may appear necessary will have to be taken on a review of all demands upon shipping and upon available supplies of foodstuffs. I think I have said enough to show that there is, on the part of His Majesty's Government, a very full realisation of the situation in India; that there has been no tendency to shirk responsibility and that, of necessity, in view of the constitutional position, the responsibility must be divided between His Majesty's Government, the Central Government of India and the Provincial Government. We shall continue to watch the situation with keen interest, and I assure the House that everything possible will be done to meet the needs of the situation as they may be disclosed towards the end of this year.
Mr. Cocks (Broxtowe)
My view, and I think it is the view of most people, is that the people of India are just as much the subjects of the King-Emperor as are the people of this country. It is all the same whether people are dying in Bengal or in Downing Street. If people were dying here of starvation, the whole country would be aroused to indignation. Because this tragedy is happening two or three thousand miles away our imagination may be a little dulled, but the logic is just the same. I understand that in Calcutta 1000 people are dying of starvation every week, and that in the country districts the death roll is said to be 50,000 a week. [Hon. MEMBERS: What is the authority?] Never mind that, they are the figures that were given to me, but I do not intend going into them. Anyhow, the deaths in the country districts are far more numerous than in Calcutta. I demand that a million tons of grain should be sent to India at once. I think it is just as important for our ships to take that grain to India as it would be for them to take troops, even if this were to mean that the war with Japan would be extended for six months. It is not consistent with our honour that these people, our fellow subjects, should be starved, even if, as I have said, the sending of ships to India with the necessary foodstuffs were to mean prolonging the war in the Far East.
Question, "That this House do now adjourn" put, and agreed to.