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Volume 395: debated on Thursday 2 December 1943

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Indians, South Africa (Status)


asked the Secretary of State for India what communications His Majesty's Government in London or in India have had with the Government of South Africa concerning the discrimination in Natal against Indians possessing landed or house property, and with particular regard to the prosecution of P. R. Pather?

As regards communications between the United Kingdom Government and the Government of the Union of South Africa, I would refer the hon. Member to the reply given him on 4th May by my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister, to which I have nothing to add. I have not received the text of the Government of India's representations to the South African Government, but their general purport was to take strong exception to the proposed legislation and to suggest various alternative solutions which the South African Government were unable to accept. I have no information regarding the prosecution of Pather except that I have received a telegram purporting to be from his advocate.

Can we have a little more information on this subject, and, in particular, can my right hon. Friend tell us whether His Majesty's Government are supporting the Government of India, in view of the widespread feeling in India, both among Europeans and Indians, about the treatment of these Indians by the South African Government?

Yes, Sir, I am aware of that feeling, but in accordance with what has been the practice now for some considerable time in Imperial relations, this matter is one which is dealt with directly between the Government of India and the Government of the Union of South Africa.

What is the position of Indians in South Africa, particularly in Durban, who have protested against what they feel to be entirely unfair treatment of themselves, and have they no redress?

Do I understand from the reply that under the Statute of Westminster it is not open to His Majesty's Government to support another Government, namely, the Government of India, in a protest which they make?

No, Sir, I would not say that. It is always open to His Majesty's Government to make any representation to any other Government in the Empire or outside on any matter, but in accordance with usage and convention, even before the Statute of Westminster and going back to the Conferences of 1921 and of 1923, these matters have been left primarily for the Governments of the Empire to deal with each other, and in this respect India has long been recognised as enjoying the status of a Dominion Government.

Would it be too much, in view of the representations made to hon. Members on this subject, to mention—I shall not say remind—to the Union of South Africa that every citizen of the British Commonwealth of Nations has democratic rights?

Questions of citizenship are in every member of the Commonwealth a matter for the Parliament of that Commonwealth itself.

Do I understand that the right hon. Gentleman has told us now he can offer no protection whatever to these Indian citizens?

I understand that the persons mostly affected are not Indian citizens; they are British subjects of South Africa of Indian origin.

Indian Seamen (Conditions Of Service)


asked the Secretary of State for India whether his attention has been called to the complaints of the All India Seamen's Centre, 35, Portree Street, Poplar, E.14, against the low wages and unfair conditions of employment covering Indian seamen; and whether his Department is interesting itself in this problem?

Yes, Sir, I have forwarded a memorandum by the All India Seamen's Centre to the Government of India, who already have under active consideration the conditions of service of Indian seamen. In the meantime I am glad to say that steps were taken some time ago to alter the methods of recruitment at Calcutta and to improve shore accommodation in this country.

Is there any Department of State in India akin to our own Ministry of Labour which interests itself in the conditions of employment of Indian seamen, and will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that these seamen are employed on British-owned ships and that we therefore have some responsibility in the matter?

Yes, Sir, there is, of course, an efficient Department of Labour of the Government of India, but I understand the question of seamen comes under the Department of Commerce and is engaging the active consideration of the member of the Executive Council in charge of that Department.

Food Situation


asked the Secretary of State for India whether he has any further statement to make respecting the Indian famine; the number of deaths from famine in Bengal to the latest date; how many persons are now being fed by public authorities and voluntary bodies; to what extent cholera has spread; and what is the present position of the food shortage in other parts of India?

The most important development in the Indian food situation in the last few weeks is that the main rice crop, which is just coming to harvest, is reported to be excellent, particularly in Bengal. Military assistance in Bengal is getting into its stride, and the outlying centres, as well as Calcutta, are now receiving adequate supplies, though distribution from those centres to the more remote villages still presents a problem. Plans for rationing in urban areas are proceeding and should be in operation in Calcutta by the middle of this month. Deaths in Calcutta for the fortnight ending 28th October totalled 3,132. I cannot give figures for Bengal as a whole. It is reported that 2,233,000 people are being fed daily from free food kitchens.

I regret to say that a serious outbreak of cholera in Bengal has followed upon the famine. During October deaths in the Province from this disease averaged 5,349 per week. In the first week of November they were 4,464. Assistance in the provision of doctors and medical equipment is being provided by the Army and a mass inoculation campaign is being planned. Some drugs are being flown from this country.

As regards the other difficult areas, Bombay is improving its position, and the crops in Bijapur, where they failed last year, are reported good. The Malabar and Cochin area is still very short of foodgrains, but equitable distribution is being maintained, and supplies have been arranged from Sind. In Madras it has been found possible to close all famine camps with the exception of a few in Anantapur and labourers are employed on normal agricultural work. Elsewhere the position gives no particular ground for anxiety.

Can we take it that although there is a slight improvement throughout the greater part of Bengal, famine still rages severely? Is the Minis- ter satisfied that everything that can be done is being done? Further, is he aware that some weeks ago I asked about the spread of cholera and the provision of medicines and drugs, which, at that time, the right hon. Gentleman said was unnecessary? Does he realise now that it would have been much better to have take action then regarding cholera?

If I may answer the last part of the hon. Member's Supplementary Question first, when I replied to him on 17th October I had no information from India giving ground for anxiety. I suggested that there was no undue spread of cholera—although I did mention that there was some—or any special deficiency in drugs. I undertook to inquire from the Government of India, and I subsequently heard in November that cholera was very much on the increase and that there was a deficiency in certain drugs. As I pointed out in my answer, vigorous measures are being taken, and drugs are being sent from this country, some of them by air. As regards the general situation, there are still elements of disquiet owing to the difficulty of getting food to the more outlying villages. Broadly speaking, there is sufficient food in the Province to meet all its requirements. The Government of India have undertaken to look after Calcutta itself for the next 13 months leaving all the crops available in Bengal for country districts.

Has the hon. Member for West Leyton (Mr. Sorensen), who asks so many Questions about India, ever been there? If not, is it not about time that we sent him?


asked the Secretary of State for India whether any special steps have been taken in Bengal to ensure that adequate relief measures are brought to the families of Indian seamen?

Village food committees in Bengal have been instructed by the Bengal Government to give particular attention to the families of seamen serving overseas and district magistrates have been asked to take special measures to ensure adequate relief for them wherever necessary. In Calcutta cheap grain shops have been opened for serving seamen and their families exclusively. The prospects of this year's crop in the districts from which most seamen come are above; average.

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the very natural apprehension of these Indian seamen, who are serving both in the Royal Navy and the Merchant Service and who are bound to be away from home by reason of their service?

Yes, Sir, that is why the Government of India are taking the measures to which I have referred.

Political Detainees


asked the Secretary of State for India whether the the food situation in India and measures to be taken respecting this was the sole business of the recent two days' conference between the Governor General and the provincial governors; whether political matters in conjunction with food shortage were also considered; and whether the release of political detainees is being considered?

The conference was held for the purpose of an exchange of views and not to take executive decisions. I understand that the food situation and post-war reconstructtion were the main subjects discussed. The answer to the last part of the Question is in the negative.

In view of recent incidents, would it not be advisable to release political prisoners in India, seeing the excellent example which has been set?

There is this difference. No one can accuse the political detainees in India of ever being sympathetic to Japanese or Fascist aggression.

Is it not essential to give them a little food before stuffing them with politics?

Civil Servants' Wives


asked the Secretary of State for India whether any decision has yet been arrived alt with regard to the wives of some 200 civil servants who are anxious to rejoin their husbands in India?

Passenger accommodation for civilian needs continues to be extremely scarce. The Government of India are undertaking an examination into the cases of wives awaiting passages with a view to allocating such few Pas- rages as may become available to those whose circumstances involve the most serious hardship. The number of berths likely to be available is, however, very few indeed and I am afraid that there is little probability of the position improving in the near future, or, consequently, of any considerable number of these distressing cases being relieved.

Archaeological Work


asked the Secretary of State for India whether he can give the House any information about the archaeological work of the Indian Government, especially the proportion of Indians and Europeans employed?

Archaeological work in India, as in other countries, has of necessity suffered somewhat as a result of war conditions, but the Government of India are considering the question of strengthening the Department. On 1st January, 1942, the latest date for which figures are available, the strength of the superior staff of the Archaeological Department was one European and 14 Indians.

Is my right hon. Friend convinced that we are doing the utmost we possibly can to show Indians our deep sympathy with their glorious past?

No. This is one of the matters which is naturally entrusted to the Government of India themselves, a Government in which, I might add, Indian members are in the large majority.