I beg to move,
The object of putting this Motion on the Order Paper was to enable the Cabinet Mission to report to the House upon the proceedings of the last three and a half months in India. It is not an easy matter to bring within a reasonable compass the report of those long negotiations. They covered a wide variety of interests and communities. Although a majority of our time was spent in an effort to bring together the two principal Indian parties, the Mission and the Viceroy paid the fullest attention to all those other, many other, problems that were raised by the Representatives of the States, the Sikhs, the depressed classes and other important minorities. Before attempting to give the House a general summary of the course of the negotiations, and their results, I would like to refer to what I may perhaps term the surrounding circumstances. The House must, I am sure, be fully conscious of the fact that the circumstances of the spring of 1946 were vastly different from those of 1942, or, indeed, of 1939. India has shared to the full in the political awakening which is evident all over the world after the war, and nowhere, perhaps, more than in the Far East. The pressures which were sufficiently in evidence before and during the war have become greatly accentuated, and what might have been a reasonable speed of progress before the war would now be regarded as dilatory and inadequate. I have always personally believed that our best hope of maintaining the valued friendship and cooperation of the Indian people was to offer them their full and untrammelled freedom as to their own future and to help them, to the best of our ability, to achieve it as smoothly and quickly as possible. There is no doubt whatever that, at any rate since the early months of this year, no other approach than that would have had any chance of success at all. When the Mission first arrived in New Delhi the atmosphere for an agreement between the parties was not propitious. We found a highly charged political atmosphere resulting from the elections which were still in progress in some of the Provinces, and a deep suspicion that, somehow or other, our object would be to delay and frustrate the hopes of Indian independence. The issue of "one or two Indias" had been bitterly contested at the elections and the two major parties, the Congress and the Muslim League, had each of them almost swept the board in their respective constituencies. To some extent, perhaps, this outstanding success of the two major parties simplified the matter because the smaller parties had been relegated to the background by the electorate, but on the other hand it had of course reinforced the major parties in their directly opposed policies. There was another factor which had an influence and which perhaps I may mention, and that was the weather. Summer in New Delhi is not the best time and place for negotiations. The excessive heat and latterly, in June, the dampness, made it difficult for all parties to maintain that atmosphere of calm and patient deliberation which is so essential in dealing with such complex problems. Perhaps here the House will permit me, in this association, to pay a very real and sincere tribute to the noble Lord who presided over our Mission and whose calm, patient, and determined conduct of the negotiations was so largely responsible for the results that we are able to report."That this House takes note of the Command Papers relating to the proceedings of the Cabinet Mission to India, and awaits a further opportunity of debate in the Autumn."
Who was he?
Lord Pethick-Lawrence. In coming to the negotiations I would like to divide them into four periods: The first from the time of our arrival to the end of April; the second from the end of April to 16th May, when we issued our first statement; the third from 16th May until 16th June, when we issued our second main statement; and the fourth from 16th June until we left India on 29th June. I will deal shortly with each of these periods, and at the same time with the more important of the documents to be found in the various White Papers, of which there are five, which relate to each of those periods.First, then, let me take the initial months of negotiation. During this period we arranged to see in formal interviews those communities, sections, parties, and individuals whom we felt could assist in solving the many problems. There was some criticism of the time we spent upon these interviews, but we were convinced that they were well worth while, and they certainly enabled all of us to appreciate the feelings and the vastly differing desires of the very diverse population of 400,000,000 people with whose representatives we were dealing. In addition to the many interviews, we received a host of written representations and, I may add, a very voluminous correspondence as well. It was at the termination of this first interviewing period that we left New Delhi for four days' holiday in Kashmir. We indicated our hope before leaving New Delhi that the two principal parties might come together for negotiations between themselves during our absence. Immediately on our return, finding that nothing further had transpired during our absence, we set ourselves the task of bringing together the Muslim League and the Congress, because we were determined not to lose any opportunity of reaching an agreement between them. Apart from the difficulty of arriving at a common view as to the form of the Constituent Assembly, and the composition of the interim Government, which were the two main points, there was, in these initial stages, a wide difference of general approach between the two parties. The Congress held strongly that the question of the interim Government should first be settled, after which a settlement on the Constituent Assembly issue should follow. The Muslim League, on the other hand, were equally firm that they could not discuss the composition of the interim Government until the longer term question associated with the setting up of the constitution-making machinery had been settled. It was not practicable to obtain a settlement of both questions simultaneously, and we came to the conclusion that the best chance to ultimate agreement upon the whole matter was to deal with the longer term question first and thereafter immediately to tackle the problem of the interim Government. It was upon that basis that we proceeded, and it, therefore, became necessary to work out, with the leaders of the two main parties some basis upon which those parties would be prepared to meet for discussion of the long-term problem. A difficulty here was, of course that the Muslim League were committed up to the hilt to an independent, fully sovereign Pakistan as a separate entity, while the Congress were equally strongly pledged to a unitary India, though they had stated that they could not compel the people of any territorial unit to remain in an Indian Union against their declared will. The second stage of our negotiations was, therefore, introduced by a very intense period of personal interviews and conversations during which a joint basis was worked out for discussion and ultimately both parties, while making it clear that they were in no way bound, expressed their willingness to meet in Simla to discuss the matter. The basis is set out in the first letter in Command Paper 6829 in these words:
It was upon this purposely vague formula, worked out in conjunction with the leaders of the two parties, that we were able to bring together to confer with us in Simla four representatives each from the Congress and the Muslim League. We were not over-optimistic regarding a final agreement at this stage, but what we hoped for, and in fact realised, was a much closer approach to a solution which would narrow the gap between the two parties and so enable us subsequently to put forward to them suggestions for bridging that gap. Towards the end of the Simla talks, the two sides produced written statements as to their rival demands which are to be found in Documents 19, 20 and 21 of Command Paper 6829. It will be seen from these documents that both sides had moved very considerably from their initial standpoints. It was not possible to get the parties any closer to one another at Simla, and so, with their consent, the meetings were terminated after lasting a fortnight, and the Mission announced that it would return to New Delhi and put out a statement of its own views. We had in fact worked very hard on the production of a plan while at Simla, adapting it in the light of the negotiations that took place there, and on our return to New Delhi we were able to finalise it quickly, so that it was issued on 16th May. It is perhaps worth stating that, contrary to allegations which were made in some quarters in India, we had not gone out to India with any cut and dried plan. We went out with open minds, since our object was not to impose a plan on India, but to help the Indians to agree a plan among themselves. The statement of 16th May is contained in Command Paper 6821. The first eleven paragraphs of that statement deal with introductory matters, and also express our views as to the impracticability of a wholly sovereign Pakistan, whether on the larger or the smaller basis. In paragraph 12 we deal with the Congress suggestion of a particular type of limited union, and in paragraph 13 we point out the impracticability of that scheme. Paragraph 14 deals with the position as to the Indian States, to which I will presently refer, and paragraphs 15 to 22 lay down our suggestions for the long term solution and for the setting up of the Constituent Assembly. I would ask the House to note particularly the method we adopted and our reason for adopting it. We did not desire in any way to interfere with the making of the future Constitution of India, which was and is a matter entirely for the Indians. On the other hand, we were suggesting to the different communities that they should join in the forming of a constitution-making body on a certain basis which we believed to conform to the greatest common measure of agreement between them. We had to offer each of them some security that if they came in on that basis it would not be changed without their consent. So we adopted the following plan: In paragraph 15, we recommended a basic form for the future Constitution. These recommendations were the logical outcome of the Simla negotiations. I will not go into them in detail now, because I have no doubt that they are by now familiar to the House. The point to note is that the three-tier system as it has been christened, is nothing more than our recommendation to the Indian people; but as it was on this basis that we were asking the parties to join in the formation of a Constituent Assembly, it was necessary in paragraph 19 (vii) to stipulate that the provisions of paragraph 15 should not be varied without a majority in each of the two major communities. That was designed with, we were sure, the assent of the Congress, to give a degree of security to the Muslims, if they came in on the basis of our recommendations. Our reason for taking that step was set out quite clearly in paragraph 16 of the statement. In paragraph 18 we give our reasons for adopting the population basis for the elections to the Constituent Assembly. That method has, I think, met with very general approval. The results of that basis of representation are also set out in paragraph 19, which gives details of the proposal for the constitution making machinery. In paragraph 19 (iv) and paragraph 20, we lay down the special procedure for the extra protection of minorities, and to this we attach great importance. The straight population basis for the Constituent Assembly, with election by the single transferable vote, inevitably results in the minorities to some extent losing their existing weightage in the Provincial Legislature. It was wholly impracticable to extend the population basis to each of the minorities, because their numbers are so divided up among the different Provinces that it would, in practice, have resulted in some of them not gaining any representation at all. We therefore took only three major divisions, Muslim, Sikhs and General. In the latter category, Congress are, of course, the vast majority, and if, as in fact they are doing, they provide adequate opportunities for the minority representatives to get elected, the minorities will gain and not lose by that arrangement. Despite this, we still felt that the minorities should have some special consideration and we were sure, from our negotiations, that both the major parties were anxious to give them good and fair treatment. We proposed, therefore, the advisory committee of paragraph 20. This provides a way of initiating the recommendations for minority protection in the Constitution, in a body which should consist mainly of minority representatives. We believe that this method is more likely to produce sound and just results than an insignificant minority in the Constituent Assembly, which is the most that could, by any electoral device, have been obtained for the minorities. Paragraph 22 mentions the need for a treaty to regulate the matters remaining outstanding between the two countries on the transfer of power, and paragraph 23 deals with the matter of the interim Government, to which I shall come presently. This, then, was the document which, on i6th May, on behalf of His Majesty's Government, we presented to the Indian people as the next stage in the negotiations. It gained an excellent reception in India, although, of course, there were points in it which were criticised on many sides. Neither of the two major parties could achieve the whole of their objective through it, but it presented a practical and flexible compromise, which we hoped both might accept. Before leaving this second period, I should add that, during our stay at Simla, the Viceroy had taken the opportunity of opening the discussions as to the formation of the interim Government which, as we stated in paragraph 23 of the document of 16th May, we regarded as a matter of great importance. We stated then, and we still take the view, that a coalition Government, having full popular support, was necessary, and that we were anxious to settle its composition as soon as possible, so that the two things, the constitution-making machinery and the interim Government, could go forward together. Moreover, it appeared clear at that time, as I have pointed out, that the Congress was unlikely to accept the long-term plan until a solution had also been found for the short-term question of the interim Government. Thus we came to the end of the second period. There was then a time of waiting—not for us but for the others—which was essential in order to give the party leaders time to consult and, we hoped, to persuade, their followers to accept the statement of 16th May. It had to be assessed and weighed up by the Indian leaders and by public opinion so that, during this period of waiting, there was a great deal to be done by way of explanation, elucidation and persuasion, to try to convince those responsible that they should agree to our suggestions and proposals. Some of these activities are illustrated by the rather voluminous correspondence contained in Command Paper 6861, and these letters, I would warn the House, must be read as progressive stages in a negotiation. From them can be observed the gradual elimination of some of the difficulties which seemed insuperable to the parties in the first instance. I need not trouble the House with them now, though I would emphasise that the points of disagreement were very few, whereas the general degree of acceptance of the statement was very great. During this period, the discussions on the interim Government proceeded side by side with those relating to the statement of 16th May. This led to a certain amount of admixture of the two issues and, I think, to a growing sense on all sides of the interrelation of the two. On 6th June, the All India Muslim League passed a resolution which, while critical of the contents of the statement of 16th May, particularly on the Pakistan issue, and while reserving opinions on that point, yet definitely accepted the scheme put forward by the Mission. That was a great step forward, and it must have required no little courage and determination on Mr. Jinnah's part, in the light of the strong views held and very forcibly expressed by his followers, to support and carry this Resolution through the Muslim League. The Congress, who met immediately after the All-India Muslim League, were still anxious that the two issues should be dealt with together. There were a number of matters as regards the statement of 16th May which disturbed them, and as to which they sought assurances or alterations. On 25th May the Mission, following upon a statement by Mr. Jinnah and a Resolution by the Congress Working Committee, put out an explanatory document, which is Document A in Command Paper 6835. This covers a number of points raised by both sides. The Mission felt that after that statement, they could not go further into the matter by way of formal explanation or elaboration. There were two main points which the Congress were stressing as to the statement of 16th May. The first was as to whether the provinces were compelled to come into the sections of the Constituent Assembly—sections A, B and C—in the first instance, or whether they could stay out if they wished. We made it quite clear that it was an essential feature of the scheme that the provinces should go into sections, though, if groups were subsequently formed, they could afterwards opt out of those groups. A fear was expressed that, somehow or other, the new Provincial constitutions might be so manoeuvred as to make it impossible for the Provinces afterwards to opt out. I do not myself see how such a thing would be possible, but if anything of that kind were to be attempted, it would be a clear breach of the basic understanding of the scheme. The essence of the constitution-making scheme is that the provincial representatives in sections A, B and C, mentioned in paragraph 19, should have the opportunity of meeting together and deliberating upon the desirability of forming a "group," and upon the nature and extent of the subjects to be dealt with by the group. If, when the pattern of the group ultimately emerges, any Province wishes to withdraw from the group, because it is not satisfied, then it is at liberty to do so after the first election under the new Constitution, when, with no doubt a wider electorate than at present, that matter can be made a straight election issue. The second point which disturbed Congress was as to the European vote. The Congress took the view that, as we had laid down that the constitution was to be made by Indians for Indians, Europeans had no locus at all in this matter. So far as sitting in the Constituent Assembly was concerned, that seemed pretty clear, and while we were in India the European Party in the Bengal Legislature—which is the important case in point of course—expressed clearly their intention neither to nominate nor to vote for any European in the Constituent Assembly and that resolution will be found in Command Paper 6862 document 6 Since our departure they have gone further and have decided to take no part in the election at all. That will be found in Document 7. The same has been done, I understand, by the Europeans in Assam. That matter has, therefore, been got out of the way, not by our decision, but by the sensible and cooperative attitude of the Europeans themselves, who have, throughout, done their best to assist towards the working out of the new regime in India. But, before I leave the matter of the new Constituent Assembly, I would like to mention some of the recent reports coming from India as to the alleged intentions of the parties in joining the Constituent Assembly. We saw representatives of both parties shortly before we left India, and they stated to us quite categorically that it was their intention to go into the Assembly with the object of making it work. They are, of course, at perfect liberty to advance their own views on what should or should not be the basis of a future Constitution. That is the purpose of the Constituent Assembly—to hammer out agreement from diverse opinions and plans—and likewise they can put forward their views as to how the Constituent Assembly should conduct its business. But, having agreed to the statement of 16th May on the Constituent Assembly, elected in accordance with that statement, they cannot, of course, go outside the terms of what has been agreed. That would not be fair to the other parties who have come in, and it is on the basis of that agreed procedure, that His Majesty's Government have said they will accept the decision of the Constituent Assembly. As to the States, they need have no anxiety. It is for them to agree freely to come in, or not, as they choose, and it is for that purpose that they have set up the negotiating committee and I am sure that that committee will have the wisdom to work out an acceptable basis for their cooperation in the Constituent Assembly. It is, after all, upon the free consents of the many diverse elements of the Indian people that the success of the new Constitution will depend, and I am confident, from all that was said to us in India, that all parties appreciate that fundamental fact. Union cannot be by force; it must be by agreement. It will be the task of the Constituent Assembly to attain that agreement, which will be possible if the majorities and minorities alike are tolerant and are prepared to cooperate for the future of all India. I must take up the question of the interim Government, for, as other difficulties cleared away, this gradually emerged as the crucial issue in the third period. The Viceroy had started, as I have said, his discussions in Simla on the basis of five representatives of Congress, five from the Muslim League, and two representatives of minorities. That basis was to some extent influenced by the discussions which he had had in the previous year, in the autumn of 1945, in Simla. As will appear from the correspondence in Cmd. Paper 6861, the Congress took strong exception to parity between the two parties, and parity at this stage became the foremost obstruction to progress. There are three possible forms of parity—first, between the Muslim League and Congress an a party basis; secondly, between Muslims and Hindus on a communal basis; and, third, between Muslims and Hindus other than scheduled castes. We were aiming at a coalition of political parties, and so were concerned with the first form of parity. We sought to overcome the difficulty about this by adding a Congress representative of the depressed classes to their five representatives, thus making six Congress to five Muslim League, and retaining the two other minority representatives, one of whom would, of course, have been a Sikh. This would have given an interim Government of 13 in all, and not 12 as originally suggested. This proposal Mr. Jinnah was prepared to put to his Committee and it would, I think, have been accepted by them, but Congress were not satisfied with it. At this stage we tried to get a meeting between Pandit Nehru and Mr. Jinnah in the hope that at such a meeting a compromise could be achieved, but, as will be seen from the letters 9, 10 and 11, that attempt proved abortive. There was apparently some misunderstanding by Mr. Jinnah as to the status of the original 5: 5: 2 proposal. This is shown by his letter of the 8th June—No. 7—but this was cleared up by the Viceroy in his answer of 9th June, which is Document 8, and which makes it perfectly clear that no assurance was ever given to Mr. Jinnah upon this point." The future constitutional structure of British India to be as follows: A Union Government dealing with the following subjects: Foreign Affairs, Defence and Communications. There will be two groups of Provinces, the one of the predominantly Hindu Provinces, and the other of the predominantly Muslim Provinces, dealing with all other subjects which the Provinces in the respective groups desire to be dealt with in common. The Provincial Governments will deal with all other subjects and will have all the residuary sovereign rights."
If the right hon. Gentleman did not talk quite so much, perhaps he would hear. It was the basis of the negotiations upon which it was hoped agreement might be reached, but nothing more. We thus reached a complete deadlock, as is shown by the letter of the Congress President, which is No. 19 in Command Paper 6861, and it seemed that the only possible way to break that deadlock was for the Viceroy—in consultation with the Mission—to choose a suitable interim Government on the basis judged most likely to be acceptable to both parties in view of their expressed opinions, and to make a statement publicly that he was going ahead on that basis, and he so informed the parties, telling Mr. Jinnah that Congress had not accepted the 6:5:2 basis. There resulted from this the second main statement of 16th June, which is document 21 in Command Paper 6861. That proposed Government was built up on the basis of six Congress, including one from the depressed classes, five Muslim League, one Sikh and two others—a Parsi and an Indian Christian, thus making 14 in all. The Viceroy had had unofficial and tentative lists of names from both sides, and these were largely used as the basis of the selection of the 14 names. Thus ended, with this publication, the third stage of the negotiations. On this occasion Mr. Jinnah took up the position verbally that he would await the Congress decision before giving the decision of the Muslim League, and that will be found confirmed in the letters 26 and 26A.The Congress were very much troubled by the type of parity that still remained between Muslims and Hindus, other than scheduled castes, and also by the inclusion of Sir. N. P. Engineer, not because of his personal qualifications—which they admitted were of the highest—but because they considered that he was holding an official post which they thought gave him an official rather than a representative character. The major problem, however, was still that of parity. It might have been that, despite all the difficulties, Congress would have consented to this arrangement had there not been an unfortunate and widely publicised disclosure of certain letters written by Mr. Jinnah at this precise moment. The most important of these was that which is numbered 22 in the White Paper 6861, which contained the following sentence:
that was the Viceroy—" The Muslim League would never accept the nomination of any Muslim by you "—
That at once became the major issue. Congress were, in fact, considering the possibility of asking for the substitution of one of their Hindus by a Muslim in order, in that way, to get over the parity difficulty, and they might perhaps have waived this suggestion of nominating a Muslim had it not been that this public challenge was at this moment made as to their right to do so. Congress has, of course, as everybody knows, always insisted upon the non-communal nature of its organisation, and it has fully demonstrated this fact by its nomination of personnel to those Provincial Governments in which it has a large majority. It was made perfectly clear to Mr. Jinnah on more than one occasion that neither the Viceroy nor the Mission could accept his claim to a monopoly of Muslim appointments, though the Muslim League was certainly to be regarded as the major representative of Muslim interests. In order to explain the subsequent events, I must now return to the statement of 16th June. In paragraph 8 of that statement we had laid down the course which we should pursue in the event of both or either of the two major parties being unable to accept a Coalition Government on the basis there laid down. If either refused, the whole basis of the proposed Coalition fell to the ground, but we desired to protect any who had agreed to cooperate in the plan of 16th May for the Constituent Assembly, and so we stated that in the event of failure to form a Coalition on the lines set out—.' other than a Muslim Leaguer."
Up to 16th June this indicated the Muslim League only, as neither Congress nor the Sikhs had up to that time given any decision. When Congress ultimately came to their final decision, they decided, I am glad to say, to accept the statement of 16th May while, unfortunately, rejecting the interim Government proposed, for those reasons that I have already stated, and this appears from the letter No. 31 and from their resolution No. 32. This acceptance of the statement of 16th May was, I think, an act of statesmanship on their part, as it enabled progress to be made towards the working out of the new constitution. Immediately we received that letter No. 31, we saw Mr. Jinnah —within an hour, I think—and told him the position, giving him a copy of the letter and informing him that the scheme of 16th June had fallen to the ground since Congress had turned it down, and this was confirmed the same evening by the letter No. 33. Up to that moment the Muslim League had arrived at no decision as to their attitude to the proposal of 16th June. As I have already pointed out, they had adopted the line that they must await the Congress decision before themselves deciding. Mr. Jinnah went straight from this meeting with us to his own Working Committee, who thereupon passed a Resolution, which is set out in Document 34 accepting the scheme of i6th June. Presumably Mr. Jinnah told his Working Committee what had passed at the interview, though he does not make that clear in his letter No. 35. Mr. Jinnah seemed to think that the acceptance by Congress of the statement of 16th May had put him into a false position and that we should have proceeded forthwith to the formation of an interim Government with the Muslim League alone. His arguments on this point will be found in the statement he made to the Press, which is Document 39, and in his letter to the Viceroy No. 43, which was answered shortly in two letters, 42 and 44. It is easy, of course, to realise the disappointment of Mr. Jinnah that Congress had not accepted what apparently seemed to him the acceptable arrangement of 16th June, for the Coalition Government there set out, while, at the same time, qualifying themselves for consultation upon the formation of some other interim Government by agreeing to operate the plan of 16th May. Mr. Jinnah was anxious to enter the Coalition Government laid down in the statement of 16th June but as paragraph 8 of that statement made the setting up of such a Government dependent upon acceptance by both parties it was impossible to proceed upon that basis when one party—and that the major party—had stated its unwillingness to accept. The situation now is that the Viceroy will proceed to act under paragraph 8 of the statement of 16th June. There has been quite understandable criticism of the fact that a purely temporary official Government has been set up in the meantime." It is the intention of the Viceroy to proceed with the formation of an Interim Government which will be as representative as possible of those willing to accept the statement of May 16th."
Before the right hon. and learned Gentleman goes on, there is some misunderstanding arising out of paragraph 8, of which we have heard a great deal. Could the right hon. and learned Gentleman explain what is meant by the words:
We shall then have all the case before us." or either of them proving unwilling to join in the setting, up of a Coalition Government…?"
I thought I had made it clear. When the right hon. Gentleman reads what I have said, he will see that I have covered it. If either Congress or the Muslim League would not consent to come into the Coalition Government, the scheme for the Coalition Government went, because it would no longer be a coalition, and we should have to try to find some other interim Government of those who accepted the scheme of 16th May.It was admittedly necessary to take some immediate steps as regards the Viceroy's Executive as a number of its members had resigned, some of them having returned to this country. There were only two possible alternatives, either to proceed at once with fresh negotiations with the two major parties or else appoint a purely transitional Government until such time as those further negotiations could take place. For the purpose of such a transitional Government the only practical method was to set up a purely official caretaker Government and as the House knows that is what has been done and that is the Government which is now functioning. I must make it quite clear that this is a purely temporary expedient to tide over the time until a representative interim Government can be formed. The deciding factor in the choice between the two alternatives was a purely practical one. No one desired an official Government, had any other solution been possible. Only those who have carried through intensive negotiations during the summer months in Delhi can realise how exhausted all the participants were. It was essential that there should be a short pause after three and a half months of intense work, and this necessity was further emphasised by the fact that all the Congress Working Committee had to leave for the All India Congress Committee meeting at Bombay on 8th July and that all parties wished to participate in the elections to the Constituent Assembly. I must here pay a tribute to the amazing way in which the Viceroy carried the great load of these negotiations throughout all these months during which he had the task of carrying on all his many day-to-day duties in the Government of India as well. It is not perhaps surprising that he too was feeling tired and needed a period of comparative rest. So it was that this purely temporary expedient was adopted. The next stage, which will come very shortly, will be for the Viceroy to resume negotiations with the two major parties for the formation of an interim Government. This will admittedly be a difficult task but we hope that the fact that the constitution-making machinery is now being at last launched will make both parties realise the absolute necessity for compromise on the question of the Interim Government. This Government is no part of any permanent structure in India, it is a purely provisional Government to carry on until such time as the new constitution comes into operation, and it would therefore seem inappropriate for either party to delay its formation by insisting upon principles, which may well be important from a long term point of view but which for a purely temporary purpose will have no influence upon their future position. The members of the Mission would wish to appeal to all those on both sides in India with whom they developed such truly friendly relations during their stay in India to put aside, for this purpose, their keen communal and party feelings and to come together for the good of India in this difficult time when an efficient and representative Government is so vital to her future welfare. So far I have of necessity concentrated upon the position of the two major parties, but although these represent a large proportion of the total population of British India, there are other important elements which are entitled to the fullest consideration. First, perhaps I might deal with that large section of the Indian territory and population which comes within the Indian States. The House will no doubt be familiar with our relationship with the Indian States described by the word paramountcy. We had a series of very interesting talks with the representatives of the Princes and some of the leading States Ministers, as well as a good deal of correspondence, and we were most impressed by the cooperative attitude which they adopted throughout. The Chancellor of the Chamber of Princes, His Highness the Nawab of Bhopal, was very helpful and will, I am sure, contri- bute much to the solution of the problems of the Indian States. Our attitude to the States is expressed in paragraph 14 of the statement of 16th May where we record the willingness expressed by the States to cooperate, and also their receptive attitude as to the winding-up of the paramountcy relationship. This matter was further elaborated in a memorandum handed by us to the Chancellor of the Chamber, which is Document B in Cmd 6835. I would particularly thaw the attention of the House to paragraph of this document, which stresses the need for immediate action by the States in order to prepare themselves for taking their place in the future Indian Union. This statement of the position was accepted by the States representatives, and in the particular respect I have mentioned I would ask the House to note paragraph 4 of the enclosure to Document 4 in Cmd. 6862, which is the public statement put out by the States on their position. The States are willing and anxious to cooperate and to bring their own constitutions into such conformity with those of British India as to make it possible -for them to enter the Federal Union. There will of course have to be close negotiations between the negotiating Committee which the States have set up and the major British Indian parties both as to the representation of the States in the Constituent Assembly and as to their ultimate position in the Union. If the same reasonable temper continues to be shown about these matters as was the case while we were in India we may well hope that an accommodation will be arrived at which will enable all India to come within the Union set up by the Constitution-making machinery. I now pass to the question of the Sikhs. It was a matter of great distress to us that the Sikhs should feel that they had not received the treatment which they deserved as an important section of the Indian people. The difficulty arises, not from anyone's underestimate of the importance of the Sikh community, but from the inescapable geographical facts of the situation. The views of the Sikhs will be found in Documents 1 and 3 of the Cmd. Paper 6862. From these it will be seen that what they demand is some special treatment analogous to that given to the Muslims. The Sikhs, however, are a much smaller community, 5½ as against 90 millions, and moreover are not geographically situated so that any area as yet devised—I do not put it out of possibility that one may be devised in the future can be carved out in which they would find themselves in a majority. It is, however, essential that the fullest consideration should be given to their claims, for they are a distinct and important community whose culture and interests deserve protection. The most that we could do directly was to nominate them in paragraph 19 of the statement of 16th May as one of the more important communities, and this we have done. But on the population basis there adopted they lose their weightage, and consequently have only four out of a total of 28 seats in the Punjab or out of 35 in the North Western Section for the Constituent Assembly. We hope this situation may to some extent be remedied by their full representation in the Advisory Committee on minorities set up under paragraph 20 of the statement of 16th May. Over and above that we have represented to the two major parties—who were both most receptive that some special means of giving the Sikhs a strong voice in the affairs of the Punjab or the North Western Section should be devised. I feel most hopeful that if only our Sikh friends will maintain a single and undivided view amongst themselves, and are patient, they will find their position is generally recognised and that they will be able, with the two main parties, to work out some satisfactory arrangement. I now come to the third element outside the two major parties, the depressed classes. The difficulty that arises here is that there are two claimants to represent this large body of Indians, the one identified with the name of Dr. Ambedkar, who has fought so strenuously for the rights of the depressed classes, and the other, which works in close association with the Congress. Dr. Ambedkar's organisation is somewhat more local in its character, being mainly centred in Bombay and the Central Provinces; the Congress affiliated organisation is spread widely over the whole country. We naturally considered with great care as to what could be done to obtain representation for both organisations in accordance with their popular support in the country. The House will remember no doubt, that the electoral basis for the depressed class representatives was settled by what is known as the Poona Pact, agreed to under pressure by Dr. Ambedkar, which lays down a most complicated system of election in which there are primary elections by depressed class electors alone, in which four candidates are chosen, from which subsequently, in a second election, one is chosen by the general electorate. Whether this is a good or bad system it is one to which the parties agreed and which is in operation, and, as a result of it, at the last provincial elections Congress made practically a clean sweep of the whole of the depressed class constituencies. That is the fact and as it was almost universally agreed that the members of the provincial legislative assemblies formed the only possible electorate for the Constituent Assembly, it was not possible, even had we desired to do so, to arrange for Dr. Ambedkar's organisation to have any special right of election to the Constituent Assembly. It had failed in the elections, and we could not artificially restore its position. The depressed classes will, of course, have their full representation through the Congress affiliated organisation. We interviewed the leaders of that organisation and were convinced of their very genuine and strong desire to support the case of the depressed classes. Here again, however, the Advisory Committee on minorities can provide an opportunity for the reasonable representation of both organisations, and we hope very much that the majority of the Constituent Assembly, in setting up that Advisory Committee, will be generous in their allocation of seats to all the minorities but particularly to minority organisations which, though they have a considerable following in the country may have little or no representation in the Constituent Assembly itself. The other minorities though, of course, each important in their own field, do not I think raise any major questions with which I need here deal. They will all we hope be fully represented on the Advisory Committee. I should, however, perhaps draw the attention of the House to one other matter in this respect. Members will observe that in paragraph 20 of the statement of r6th May we deal not only with the rights of citizens—fundamental rights—and of minorities, but also with tribal and excluded areas. Here again it was impossible to arrange for any worth while repre- sentation for these particular interests in the Constituent Assembly, and in consequence we felt that, having regard to the very special nature of the problems raised, it was far better for them to be dealt with by a more specialised body. We hope that the Advisory Committee will appoint small committees of specialists to deal with these matters in the various areas so that the Constituent Assembly may have the best possible advice before it comes to any decisions. I have attempted in what I fear has been a rather long review of our negotiations, to cover some of the major points. I hope that Members will not think, because I have omitted to mention them, that there were not a mass of other matters to which we gave most careful attention. We met daily, including Sundays, and often two or three times a day so that we might consult fully upon every point that arose, and despite the heat and the long hours I can, I am sure, say on behalf of myself and my colleagues that we were a most cohesive and good tempered team, and we certainly did not shirk any single issue that was brought to our attention. Before coming to a short summing up of the situation, as I now see it, I want to pay a sincere tribute to all those with whom we negotiated. It would be invidious to mention names, but I am convinced that every single person with whom we dealt was genuinely anxious to arrive at a solution of these most difficult problems. They each rightly pressed, and pressed strongly, the particular views of their community or party, but also they one and all made very considerable compromises which were especially difficult in view of the very pronounced election propaganda period which immediately preceded our visit. We are most grateful to them for their contribution, as well as for the very friendly and helpful way in which they received and entertained us in their country. We were sent to India to try and work out with the Indian parties a way of completing the structure of Indian independence which has long been planned and contemplated. Every step that has been taken before and since the first world war has been in that direction, but so far it has not been possible to bring to full fruition the plans and promises that have been made. There is no doubt that at the time of our arrival in India there was a universal and dangerous spirit of frustration and disillusionment. The first great step to clear away this fog of doubt and hesitation was taken when the Prime Minister made his speech in this House on 15th March last. That speech, which was accorded a friendly reception from every quarter of the House and by all the British Press, had a profound effect in India. We quoted some of the more important passages from it in the opening paragraph of our statement of 16th May, and it was upon that foundation which had been accepted by all sides of the House and the country that we tried to build. In this statement of Government policy the Prime Minister, in one respect, and in one respect only, went further than any British Government had gone before. In the offer of 1942, India was promised the position of a Dominion, and it was then expressly stated on instructions from the Coalition Government that should India desire so to do once she had achieved her independence she would be free to go out of the British Commonwealth of Nations. Since 1942 conditions had changed. What was then rejected would have been a a hundred times more certain of rejection in 1946. The one hope of a peaceful and friendly change of Sovereignty was to offer the Indians their complete and unqualified independence whether within or without the British Commonwealth. In that way alone was there a hope of retaining their friendship and ultimate cooperation. It was largely this change in approach, announced by the Prime Minister on 15th March, that made it possible for our mission to make headway towards a settlement. Without it our visit to India would have been pointless and fruitless. When we left India there had undoubtedly been a change of atmosphere. There was a trust in the sincerity of the British Government which had formerly been absent and a desire and willingness for co-operation in the solution of India's, problems. That is the first positive gain, and it is something which we believe augurs well for our future relationship with an Independent India, whether she chooses to remain within or to go without the British Commonwealth. Second, we have negotiated an agreement between the main Indian parties, acceptable to the Indian States, which provides machinery for working out a new constitution. It is not our task to make that machinery work. We must now stand aside always ready and anxious to help if we are wanted but determined not to interfere. No one would be so foolish as to imagine that the course of constitution-making will be a smooth one. The rival parties will not give up their deeply-held convictions in a moment of time, but we have succeeded in doing what it has often been suggested was necessary. We have negotiated a means of bringing the representatives of the Indian people together—without our presence—to settle for themselves their own exceedingly difficult problems. We believe that, given the accommodation which both sides have shown in agreeing to the plan, it will not be impossible to work out a solution for the many problems that confront the Constituent Assembly. One factor certainly is encouraging and that is that all parties are trying to get the very best persons elected to the Constituent Assembly including many who are not party men at all. There is every hope that that body when elected will represent the best of nearly every element of Indian life, including of course the minorities though it is most regrettable that the Sikhs have recently withdrawn their candidate. Unfortunately we did not succeed in accomplishing the second task which we regard as of great importance, that is the setting up of a representative interim Government. We did not fail because of any difficulty between the Viceroy or the British Government and the Indians. We failed because so far we have not been able to devise a composition of Government acceptable to both parties. In the ultimate stages the issue came down to a very narrow one, upon which neither party were prepared to give way, whether the Congress could nominate a Muslim as one of their representatives in the Interim Government. It would obviously be undesirable for me to comment on that situation which is one with which the Viceroy will have to deal in the forthcoming negotiations, nor, as I am sure the House fully realises, would it be helpful if members were to canvass one or other of the contentions put forward. On both sides, the convictions are deeply held and honestly held and both parties attach great importance to this issue. There can be no doubt in any of our minds that the course of the Constituent Assembly will run more smoothly if a representative Government can be set up at the centre, nor have we any doubt whatever that the circumstances of India today demand the setting up of such a Government as an urgent matter. Both the major parties equally agree that a Coalition Government is highly desirable, and indeed necessary. After a short respite from the negotiations, we hope that both parties may find a way out of this dilemma, for no one can contemplate with any equanimity the breakdown of the progress to Indian independence because of the method of allocating a single seat in an Interim Government. The magnitude of what we are trying to accomplish cannot be over-estimated. It is nothing less than the transfer by peaceful means of the sovereignty over 400 million people situated in many diverse territories, of differing religions, and different races. To achieve such an aim would be to revitalise the faith of the world in peaceful methods and human reasonableness. Success, though not yet by any means certain, is within the grasp of ourselves and our Indian friends, and we may hope that in this realisation the remaining difficulties may be overcome. There is one thing of which I feel certain, that every person in this House and this country will desire their most heartfelt wishes for success to be conveyed to those representatives of the Indian people who will shortly be meeting in their Constituent Assembly. May God bless their labours and may they achieve for India, upon a sound and lasting basis, that freedom for which all her people long.
Everyone is glad to see that the right hon. and learned Gentleman's health is restored. We were anxious about him when he was in India because naturally these long, intense, soul-stirring conferences with the Mahatma Gandhi and Mr. Nehru, accompanied by the exceptionally hot weather of the Indian summer, might well have imposed a very severe strain upon him, but we are glad to see today that his health is restored. He has certainly given us a very long and categorical statement of the Mission on which he has been engaged with two other Members of the Government. I shall not attempt to follow him in any proportionate length. I hope he will not think it disrespectful on my part if I do not attempt to make a reply covering the entire ground, because I thought we were all agreed that it is better to put off the general Debate upon this tremendous event in the history of India, and in our history, until we meet again in the autumn. If everyone was to do full justice to all the aspects upon which the right hon. and learned Gentleman has touched, it is perfectly certain that we should only reach our other attractive topic of bread rationing at a very late hour tonight.We shall see more clearly, I think, in the autumn how matters stand, and we shall see the outlines, at any rate, of the decisions which have to be taken. The Government have promised a full dress Debate at a convenient moment, and the Mission recommends, by implication, the postponement of the discussion until then. When we return after the Recess, we shall have that Debate, and all I wish to do now is to put on record some of the principal divergencies which separate us, as well as recognising the points to which we are are all committed. For good or ill, we are all committed to the offer made at the time of what I may call the Cripps Mission in the spring of 1942. That offer was made at the moment when the Japanese held full naval command of the Bay of Bengal, and it seemed that India might be invaded and ravaged by a large Japanese army. I, as Prime Minister, took my full share of responsibility in those circumstances for making the offer of 1942. Those days of peril are gone. Although we received no assistance from the Congress Party in India, whose attitude throughout the war was one of non-cooperation, in spite of that, 2,000,000 or more Indians volunteered to fight for the cause of freedom. The Congress Party gave us no assistance; on the contrary, they did us the greatest injury in their power, but the disorders were easily suppressed and the danger of foreign invasion was warded off.
What did the Muslim League do?
The Muslim League did not give active cooperation as a League, but the Punjab State alone produced up wards of 800,000 volunteers. The remark- able thing, since I am drawn into this by this interruption, is that the political parties did not at all sway the influence and actions of the Indian millions. Millions of men volunteered, without conscription, to fight, and great numbers gave their aid in war work, and the political parties, who are the only parties—the hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. Cove) drew me into this—with whom the Government arc dealing had no means of controlling the enthusiasm and loyalty of their people.
No, I must be allowed to make my own speech. As I say, I do not wish to be drawn from the straight and narrow path which I have marked out for myself in this discussion, because I might easily add to the length of the Debate, which I have no wish to do, We have had a very full statement from the Government. Nevertheless, although, as I say, we got no assistance, we declared that the offer which we had made should stand. The present Government had, therefore, a right to our agreement and support in sending out the Mission of Cabinet Ministers, who have just returned after arduous experiences. The directions given to the Mission, however, went beyond, and, as I hold, needlessly beyond, those which governed the wartime Cripps Mission of 1942. The Coalition offer was, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman has just reminded us, of Dominion status, which includes, of course, the Clause in the Statute of Westminster, what we might call the escalator Clause, which affirmed the right of secession, in the last resort, from the British Commonwealth of Nations by any Dominion, The Coalition offer was also conditional upon agreement being reached between the principal parties in India, so that the offer of full Dominion status, including the right to secede, would not lead to disastrous, and possibly devastating, civil war.His Majesty's present Government went beyond the offer of 1942. They instructed their delegates to offer full independence directly, instead of Dominion status, which left the final decision open to a fully-constituted Dominion of India, after seeing how they were getting on and how the general situation lay. So far an I can see, the result which is now put before us—and nothing in the speech of the right hon. and learned Gentleman in any way detracts from it—is the immediate independence of India and the severance of all constitutional ties uniting the former Indian Empire to the British Commonwealth of Nations. I wish to register my dissent from this extension and short-circuiting of the original offer. The responsibility for making the further advance and for pressing full and immediate independence upon India, without giving Indians a chance to get into the saddle and look around to see where their broad interests lie—the responsibility for that is the responsibility of the present Government, and I, for my part, can share no part of that responsibility. I consider that this short-circuiting or telescoping of the normal and reasonable constitutional processes upon which both parties were agreed does not give the best chance of a happy or peaceful solution of the Indian problem, and that, having regard to the elements in India to whom the Government mainly addressed themselves, it prejudges, in an adverse sense, the case of whether the vast sub-continent of India, with its population of 400,000,000, should remain, of its own free will, within the circle of the association of the British Commonwealth. The Government had the power to make this change and theirs is the responsibility for making it. That is all I am concerned to establish today. I am not going to trespass, if I can avoid it, upon merits. I am merely showing where we lie in the relationship to this formidable and enormous topic. Secondly, the offer of 1942 was conditional upon agreement being reached among the principal forces and parties in the life of India. This has certainly not been achieved. The Mission proceeded themselves to shape the outlines of the settlement, and to endeavour, as far as possible, to induce all the elements concerned to agree to it as a working basis. Again, I do not challenge the right of the Government to take this action, for which, no doubt, they have a large Parliamentary majority. I am only trying to make it clear that, in this respect also —the question of agreement—the Government have gone beyond any position to which I and my colleagues in the National Coalition Government were committed by the offer of 1942. I do not think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman denies that.
Will the right hon. Gentleman allow me? Surely, the right hon. Gentleman will agree that I had precisely the same job to do in 1942? I took a scheme which was got out by the Government and I tried to get both parties to agree to it. That is exactly what has happened in this case.
My point was that the right hon. and learned Gentleman took out a different scheme. As a great precision man, and a man of the very highest legalistic attainments, a small point like that ought not to have escaped his notice.
The right hon. Gentleman is very amusing, but not quite accurate. What he was saying was that we ought not to have imposed some settlement, but that it should be a condition that both parties agreed to it, and that, in this case, they had not agreed to it and it was something which we had imposed upon them. I was pointing out that, in 1942, under the right hon. Gentleman's Government, a scheme was got out by the Cabinet in London and was sent out, and my object was to try to get both parties to agree to a scheme which was sent out from London. The right hon. Gentleman cannot complain that what we have done now is to get two parties to agree to a scheme.
In the first place, the right hon. and learned Gentleman has not got the two parties to agree; they are in the most violent disagreement, and their passion is mounting day by day. In the second place, the scheme which he took out was a different one. In the third place, when that scheme did not commend itself to those to whom he addressed himself, he took the positive action—and I do not say he was wrong from his point of view to do it—of trying to solve the Indian problem for the Indians instead of leaving it to the Indians to solve, or not to solve. He took the positive course of trying to solve it, and proposed a basis on which he hoped they would come together.
As in 1942.
In 1942, the right hon. Gentleman had no authorisation to attempt to make a separate declaration apart from any view built up between Indians, as he has done now. I am not making this a complaint against the right hon. and learned Gentleman; I can quite see that when they were there and nobody would agree to anything, the third party came in and said, "Let us have a try. Won't you agree to this?" All I say is, that it is quite different from the proposals to which we agreed.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman has made a very long speech, but if he wants to make a further one, I will sit down.There is a third point of great importance, namely, the faithful discharge of our obligations, contracted over so many years and affirmed by so many British Governments, to the various minorities in India. I was sorry that in his speech of, I think, 15th March, the Prime Minister should have spoken in a somewhat adverse, or at least uncertain, sense about the rights of minorities, because the protection of those fundamental rights affects our duty to discharge the pledges which we have so often given. These minorities in India are very considerable. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has mentioned several of them today. There are, for instance, the 40 to 60 million of the depressed classes who are consternated by the lack of representation which they are to receive in the future Constituent Assembly. I received most vehement and painful appeals from the leaders of these great communities, and I discussed them with my colleagues on this side of the House. When one speaks of a community as large as 60 million, the word "minority" loses much of its significance. Such immense masses of human beings deserve to be treated with respect and consideration, positively and not relatively, even if there are other and still large masses who take a different view. After all, in these islands we have only 46 million, a much smaller number than the depressed classes of India. We should be sorry just to be called a minority by Europe and to have our way of life ordered for us by a mass vote of all the other countries. In fact, I think that we should very likely recur, with satisfaction, to our insular position. When the issue affecting minorities numbered by scores of millions is also one which concerns the fundamental rights of those minorities, all pledges with regard to them require most scrupulous attention by the ruling authority at the moment it hands over these masses, with their fate and their fortunes, to another system of Government. That is a point which, I trust, will not be found to be one of difference in principle, although there may be difference in emphasis. Then there are the Muslims, who number over 80 million—90 million, I think, was the figure quoted by the right hon. and learned Gentleman; he has the latest figures—and make up so large a majority of the martial races of India. There is no doubt that there is a complete lack of agreement at the present time between the two principal communities. The Mission have laboured hard, and they have dealt particularly with these two communities, allowing many other valuable and important forces, who have a right to live also, to fall back into the background. As between these two communities, the difficulties were never more acute and the gulf never more wide than at the present moment. The outlook is very grave. The acceptance by the martial races of the final settlement which we shall make before we leave India is indispensable to future peace. Thirdly, among the elements which go to make up India, are the Indian States which, together, comprise nearly 95 million. The position of these States has been fixed by solemn treaties made with their rulers. It is proposed to abrogate those treaties and to abolish the principle of paramountcy which, at present, alone defines the relationship of these States—in some cases almost nations, in some cases models of good government in India —to whatever new Central Government is set up in India. If all the minorities are added together, they constitute much more than half the inhabitants of India. I am glad to say that, as far as I understand the position, His Majesty's Government have not abandoned the principle of the discharge of their responsibilities towards the minorities in India which aggregate at least 225 million out of 400 million. I hope we shall hear from the First Lord of the Admiralty that they have not abandoned their responsibilities in that matter. The attitude of the Mission, and of the Government whom they represented, is expressed on this point in a single sentence of the plan which they put before the representatives of Indian life with whom they dealt. This is the sentence:
This seems to me to be a somewhat light, optimistic and almost casual manner of treating responsibilities extending to an appreciable part of the human race and touching those fundamental rights—" life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness "—which we have regarded as the birthright of every human being. It makes it clear, however, and all I desire to do is to emphasise this by putting on record that all arrangements to be made by the Constituent Assembly, and any treaties which may subsequently be brought into existence between the Crown and Parliament of Great Britain and the new sovereign independent Government of India, must be subject to the fulfilment of the honourable discharge of our obligations. I hope we are agreeable on that. I hope we are not going to hear a contradiction from the First Lord on that. A Bill, or perhaps several Bills, will have to be presented to Parliament and will have to pass through all their stages, and that is the time when the final decision will have to be taken. Nothing must be agreed to by us at the moment of the transference of sovereignty which will be in derogation of our solemn undertaking. I cannot conclude without referring to the question of the interim Government, in respect of which the right hon. and learned Gentleman gave us a full exposition. A great part of the Mission's work in India was devoted to the vain attempt to form a Coalition Cabinet acceptable alike to the Muslims and to the caste Hindus, and this Cabinet was to replace the Viceroy's Executive Council which was dismissed in order to clear the decks and make room for the new government. There was to be no change for the time being in the constitutional position. What it has led to is a temporary reversion in so far as personnel is concerned, to a government of well-tried and experienced officials. In fact, for the moment, but only for the moment, Indian affairs have gone full circle, and we are back again at the system of 40 years ago before the Morley-Minto reforms. Everyone can see that this cannot last very long. Moreover, from the reports which I have received from India, the Muslim community feel themselves deeply, aggrieved by what they regard as a departure from the terms of Paragraph 8 of the statement of 16th June made by the Cabinet delegation and the Viceroy. This statement runs as follows:" When the constituent Assembly has completed its labours, His Majesty's Government will recommend to Parliament such action as may be necessary for the cession of sovereignty to the Indian people subject only to two provisos which are mentioned in the statement and which are not, we believe, controversial, namely, adequate provision for the protection of minorities, and willingness to conclude a treaty to cover matters arising out of the transfer of power."
The Muslim League agreed to enter this, and when the Hindu Congress members refused, or it broke down on this point of procedure, I understand that the Muslim League made a violent complaint. I see the force of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's argument that it is very difficult to form a coalition with only one party, or even to form a coalition and fill it up with civil servants and non-party figures. I believe that would be a difficulty. At the same time, there is the feeling among the Muslims of India that faith has been broken with them. I am not making that charge. On the contrary, I can see that it is a misunderstanding, but there is no doubt that there is a serious misunderstanding."In the event of the two major parties or either of them proving unwilling to join in the setting up of a coalition government on the above lines, it is the intention of the Viceroy to proceed with the formation of an interim government which will be as representative as possible of those willing to accept the statement of May 16th."
I would like to correct one point as regards the timing. The right hon. Gentleman said that the Muslims accepted and then Congress refused. But Congress had refused before the Muslims arrived at any decision, and they knew before they arrived at a decision, that it was useless for them to arrive at a decision because already the scheme had gone.
I am not making an accusation against the Government in the matter. I am sure the right hon. and learned Gentleman does not deal with people in bad faith, and those gentlemen who were there may have been misunderstood. There has been a serious misunderstanding, but the consequences of the misunderstanding carry us forward into the future. The General Secretary of the Muslim League has gone se far as to say that unless the situation is clarified, it would be suicidal for the League to enter into a Constituent Assembly. All this appears to raise the most formidable issues, because I can assure the Government—and those who have been to India know well—that the agreement of the Muslims to the new system affects the whole foundation of the problem. One cannot contemplate that British troops should be used to crush the Muslims in the interests of the caste Hindus. Whatever our responsibilities may be, whatever may be the day appointed on which we quit India, we must not make ourselves the agents of a caste Government, or a particular sectional Government in order to crush by armed force and modern weapons, another community which, although not so numerous, is numbered at 90 millions.Having put these several propositions and facts on record, and being well aware of all the difficulties and of the momentous character of the steps which His Majesty's Government now propose to take, we on this side of the House are content that further discussion should stand over until the autumn, when a full opportunity for entering upon the merits of the various aspects of this problem will be given, and when we shall be possessed of fuller knowledge of the situation and of the forces at work in India than is available to us at the present time.
It is right and fitting, of course, that the Mission, having returned to this country, should have given an account of their stewardship. I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade for having made such a lull statement as he did this afternoon. On this occasion, when the negotiations are still proceeding, I think the less said the better, for everyone is anxious that this great question of the future government of India should be settled amicably and satisfactorily for everyone concerned as early as possible. All I desire to say this afternoon can be confined to a sentence or two. I would like to congratulate and warmly commend each member of the Commission not only for the strenuous work which they have done, but also for their persistence in their efforts to try to get agreement among all the Indians. These great political questions, of course, must take time, because upon them depends the government of the 400 million people occupying this sub-continent, but I would ask that all concerned should come to a decision with regard to this problem as early as possible, so that they may bend their energies towards improving the economic conditions of those 400 million people who will be under their guidance in the future.
I would also like to pay my great respect to the Mission. I am among those hon. Members who have been out to India, and I have a considerable connection with India at the present moment. Of the various things that I have learned in India, the first is not to write a hook about it; the second is not to talk about many of the subjects which arise in India, without first having obtained full knowledge of them. I think the right hon. Gentlemen who have been out there on the Mission have accomplished one very great thing indeed. They have prevented the total breakdown of the negotiations which they went out to encourage. That is a great accomplishment, indeed. On the question of whether or not India should have been offered full freedom and self-government, in my opinion the Government were obviously right in so doing, and I am sure that is the opinion of the majority of men and women throughout the Empire. When that fact is accomplished, we sincerely hope India will still remain part of the British Empire. However, Indians must make up their own minds, after they have their own Government. I can only conclude by wishing the Government the best of luck in the completion of the present negotiations. I agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies), that no hon. Member should, at this stage of the proceedings, in any way embarrass either the Viceroy, or the Government, in the completion of the negotiations which are under way.
I rise to detain the House for a very few minutes, in discussing the great description of the work of the Government Mission in India, to which we have listened with profound interest. My right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) expressed certain views from the Opposition Front Bench, and I presume that, in expressing those views, he was speaking for his colleagues who usually sit on that bench. Never having aspired to that dizzy height, and never having had the slightest hope of reaching it if I did so aspire, I speak from the back benches, and I speak only for myself. But I believe that I carry the agreement of a considerable number of my hon. Friends who sit on this side of the House. Today we are faced with one of the greatest events in the history of the human race. Today we are considering the transfer of the power and authority wielded by our people in India for a century and a half, wielded well and truly, and in a manner which has accomplished an immense amount of work, of which we ought to be profoundly proud, for the Indian people themselves.Let us consider for a moment what that means—the transfer of power to 400 million people, growing at the rate of five million a year, having a vast and varied country, with so many varied races, creeds and religions. In witnessing that, we are witnessing something else. We are witnessing the fulfilment of British aims in India. In that fulfilment we are carrying ourselves back to those distinguished men who, a century ago, anticipated with pride and confidence, the day which has now come. In the light of these tremendous events, I say now, how much I welcome the wise and courageous speech of the Prime Minister when the Cabinet Mission was going, how strongly I welcomed the Cabinet Mission itself, and how admirable, in my view, was the composition of that Mission, including in its ranks one not directly associated with Indian problems, who carried the plain and robust common sense of those experienced in administration and public life in this country. I pay my tribute to the unexampled patience, skill and endurance of those three colleagues of ours who went to India. Something has been said of the strain of hot weather in Delhi. How many have experienced temperatures of 114 degrees or 118 degrees in the shade? I am not certain that the transfer from Delhi to Simla did not make things more trying still. Having had some experience of India, and of the subtlety of Indian politics, I can appreciate, perhaps more than most hon. Members, the great strain on their patience, endurance, tact and abilities which those weeks and weeks of negotiation must have entailed. I desire to associate myself entirely with the right hon. and learned Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade in the view that, if the Cabinet Mission had not gone out to India, to offer either Dominion status or independence, whichever they preferred, it might as well have stayed at home, because no possible advance could be made in the solution of the Indian problem. For the last 40 years I have looked forward to the time when India would enter the British Commonwealth and Empire as a free and equal partner. I would be happy and proud if this great offer had been made, that she should opt for inclusion in the Commonwealth and Empire, with free and equal status with the other free nations in that Commonwealth. If she prefers independence in treaty relations with Great Britain I, for one, would never dream of standing in the way of complete fulfilment and recognition of that. Hers is the choice, and hers is the freedom. Let us accept that choice and freedom, confidently and wholeheartedly. We would welcome her association in our great Commonwealth as a free and equal partner. Looking back on the work of the Mission, I think it has worked well. The outline of policy which they themselves made when they could not come to complete agreement between parties was the only one suited to the special position of India at that time, because it preserved the essential unity of India, which is our great creation, at the same time giving security to the Mohamedan community, with their cultural, religious and economic interests, which they so rightly demand. The setting up of a Constituent Assembly was the only way of placing squarely on the shoulders of the Indian people the responsibility of framing their own Constitution, and giving them effective means of carrying that into effect. What should be our attitude in this House at the present time? It should not be one of looking at niggling facts here and there, or of asking minor questions and pressing minor questions. It should be one of resolute confidence in facing the future. Our attitude should be one of good will, of cheer, of hope, of cooperation and of determination to use every atom of influence we possess, and every item of help we can give, going straight forward to that goal, of full stature amongst the nations for India and a close association. In that way we can, with full agreement among ourselves, fulfil the splendid glory of our connection with that great country during the century and a half that we have been linked with her.
I would like to say, at the outset, how much we appreciate the tone and spirit of approach of the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Sir S. Reed). I believe he has realised the general position of world politics, the particular aims of British power at this moment in relation to India, and problems in the Far East, far more acutely and poignantly than the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill). The right hon. Member for Woodford is living in days that have long passed. He is the adolescent imperialist bereft of power. So far as I understood his speech, he does not want a settlement in India. I must say quite frankly that I thought his speech was largely designed to provoke and stir up the minorities in order that the path to freedom for India may be made even more difficult than it might otherwise be. In any case, I am sure that it will be regarded in certain quarters in India as a mischievous speech designed to prevent progress, and, therefore, I hope that it will have no effect in this country.We cannot in this Debate go into the details of the plan adumbrated by the Mission. I should say that it is indeed a very subtle and resilient plan, which fits in not only with the position in India, but with the position of Britain in the realm of world politics. We cannot afford at this juncture to offend the Muslims. We have to recognise—and the plan does recognise—the position of the Muslims throughout the Middle and Near East, right down to Palestine. But I hope that the minorities will not be so safeguarded or over safeguarded as to prevent the voice of the majority having its rule in India. There is a danger at the moment that an over-obsession with the rights of minorities may yet spoil an eventual settlement, and the whole of the plan for India. I do not want to say anything which would prolong the discussion or hamper the Government, if any words of mine are capable of that, but I am disturbed about compulsory groupings. Will the First Lord of the Admiralty, who I understand is to reply on behalf of the Government, make it clear, first of all, whether there will still be scope for free access or entry into the groupings, or whether they are to be compulsory groupings? That I find a great obstacle to the settlement. Then, it is not clear even now as to what the powers of the National Assembly will be. I will put my question in this form: Is the National Assembly to be free or not free as a sovereign body? Will the National Assembly have all the full rights of democracy, will it allow for the free play of democracy, or is it to be hamstrung again by any communal difficulties or restrictions? I hope that when the Government spokesman replies he will make that clear. My final words are these. We all hope and pray that India may be free. I am one of those who do not believe 'that Indians, it left to themselves, will not be able to settle the Indian problem. I have read something of the stirring up of the communal differences in India. The Muslim League was a project of British imperialism, designed for the purpose, as history shows quite clearly. One has only to read the correspondence of Lord Morley and the Earl of Minto at the time to see that it was designed to perpetuate the old rule of "divide and conquer." I hope that we are now passing beyond that, and that we shall see to it that no communal differences shall stand in the way. They need not stand in the way. Indians in Britain have stayed together, have worked together, and have attended social gatherings together, and the same is true in India, where one finds Muslim and Hindu students all mixed together. There has been a good deal of artificial stimulation of communal differences, and I am glad that the Government have made some approach towards, as it were, melting them down. Congress has made every sacrifice to meet the present situation, but Congress cannot give up certain vital principles, especially one principle which every Socialist must agree with, namely, twat they will not brook any electoral distinctions between communal interests and communal rights. Neither will they brook the idea that they do not represent the whole of the Indian people, independent of their religious beliefs. Therefore, having regard to the fact that the Muslim League and Mr. Jinnah have got everything, indeed even more than their legitimate rights, out of the plan, I hope that the Muslim League will not be bolstered up by various interests in this country to destroy any hope of success. I wish the full fruition of the Mission that was sent out, and I hope that in the near future we shall have a free and democratic India within our own Empire.
I have always feared that a Debate upon India at this juncture might do more harm than good, and the speech to which we have just listened emphasises my fears and seems to justify them. I hope that nothing I shall say will give any ammunition to any of the enemies of the peace, the progress and the good of India. I think it right, however, that some of us who are interested in India—I myself formed part of the Parliamentary Delegation earlier in the year—should have an opportunity of expressing their thanks to the Cabinet Mission for what they have achieved, and for repeating their good will towards the people of India. I thank the Cabinet Mission for one great achievement, which was only just touched upon by the President of the Board of Trade, and it is this: they have set at rest, once and for all, the belief that was prevalent in India until quite recently that we in this country were willing to let Indian failure to agree he an excuse for not making further constitutional progress. That is an immense achievement, and I thank them from the bottom of my heart. That alone would justify their mission.But do not let us delude ourselves into thinking that the Mission has succeeded, for if we do, we shall be unpleasantly surprised and shocked at future developments. I do not wish to detract for one moment from their great achievements, but their failure to bring about an interim Government was one of the most disastrous occasions in the history of India, and I regret it more than I can say. I do not, however, rise for the purpose of criticising the Cabinet Mission for their failures. I made my own position perfectly clear on 15th March and I think that everything I said on that occasion was justified. I rise for quite another purpose. The House must be aware that in every civilised community there are two aspects of government. There are the flesh, the blood, and the organs of political institutions; but within, supporting them, there is the skeleton, the framework of administration. Perhaps, in India, rather more than in any other country of the world, the administration is important. I called attention on 15th March to the fact that the administration of India was gravely weakened—the whole body of administration. I am not just referring to the Europeans; I am referring to every member of the administration, of whatever race or creed. They had a severe strain put upon them during the war. Political developments have caused the gravest loss of confidence, and cause uncertainty about the future. The efficiency of the administration is gravely impaired; the reputation of the administration is gravely impaired; and the strength of the administration is gravely impaired. Consider that, on the one hand. Consider, on the other, that Indian politicians, for months and years, have been sowing the whirlwind; and someone has to reap it. Consider the high hopes that have been brought about by the present situation. I want to warn the House, seriously, that this is the calm before the storm, that the next few months will be the most critical through which India has passed; and yet His Majesty's Government have given no indication of their awareness of the fact that the administration needs revivifying 'and strengthening. It may well be, even, that we may be called back during the Recess by grave events in India. I do beseech His Majesty's Government to pay the closest attention to this need for strengthening the framework of the administration. For whatever Constitution may emerge, whatever constitutional dispensation may rule the Indian peoples, the administration will not change, the personnel will not change. Everybody will know, everybody who has recently returned from India brings the news, of the most serious apprehensions of what may happen in the next few months. It is certainly possible, if not probable, that there may be a grave breakdown. I think that is the background in front of which we should face the whole of the problem that faces India today. Let nothing in this country be said to dissipate the feeling of good will that has been propagated by the Cabinet Mission. Every single Member on this side of the House has nothing but a warm feeling for India and I believe that reciprocal good feeling of this country towards this country exists in India in a large measure amongst all classes. This is not the end of a volume of Indian history; it is only the end of a chapter; and in the chapters that will come there will be more need than ever for understanding and good will towards India, and for the greatest possible courage on the part of the Government. I assure the Government, speaking, I believe, for others of my party besides myself, that we shall be in no hurry to treat this as a party matter. I have always thought, myself, that India is the greatest single responsibility with which we in this House are charged. It is certainly the subject affecting the greatest numbers. I do beg the House, every Member of the House, and, in particular, of the Government, to address his mind seriously to what is going to happen in the next few months. From these Benches we send out a message of good will towards India, and to the Cabinet Mission we give a message of gratitude for having dissipated that point of view to which I have referred. To the Government we say, "Be courageous, and we will support you."
I would commend very warmly to the House the remarks made by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Aylesbury (Sir S. Reed). He, as I have, has felt 118 in the shade at Delhi, and higher temperatures down South in hotter parts of India, and apart from that he has had 30 or 40 years of experience of Indian politics. The result is that his views seem diametrically opposed to the views of the leader of his party. I am glad to see it is so. I also endorse his views of what our Mission has done in India, and his praise for the Prime Minister's policy. I have still connections with India, and I can assure the House that, at the time the Mission went out to India, things were extremely dangerous. If the Mission has done nothing else, but merely allayed the tension of that time, then it has done remarkably valuable service. The Leader of the Opposition has blamed the Government far going beyond the Cripps offer of Dominion status, which was condi- tional upon agreement amongst Indians; and he said that was the only possible means of a "happy and peaceful solution." I profoundly disagree with every word he has said, and I endorse entirely the statesmanship of the Prime Minister who has said, "You can have swaraj" —which I would translate responsible self-government—" or you can have puma swaraj, complete independence." That was first-class statesmanship; that is the only possible approach that will bring a "peaceful and happy solution." I wish to express this view, that the time is long past when we can, directly or indirectly, rule India without consent. Therefore, we cannot, by continuing our rule in any shape or form without the consent of the people, get security for minorities, about whom the right hon. Gentleman said so much, or even majorities. If we intend to continue our rule in India without the consent of the peoples of India, there will he no hope of peace or prosperity for anybody.It is perfectly true that this Mission, in spite of the wonderful work they did in bringing parties together, left a lot of things unsettled. The relationship of the Indian States to the rest is unsettled. I disagree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) that there is a proposal to abrogate our treaties with the Princes. What is happening is that the Princes are coming together of themselves and offering to come to a peaceful solution with British India. There is no doubt about it, the question of the Untouchables, or depressed classes, has not been solved. Then there is also the question of the gallant Sikhs which has not been solved. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Farnham (Mr. Nicholson) has rightly stressed one important failure, and that is the failure to set up an interim or provisional Government. Speaking as a friend of India, who knows the country and the needs of the peoples, I would appeal to Indian leaders, from the Floor of this House, to set up that interim Government. There is to be a Constituent Assembly set up. It will take time to function and to evolve a Constitution. It will take time—years, perhaps—to bring that Constitution into effect. Is it possible, during all that period, to carry on with a civil service Government, however efficient and able it may be? I appeal to the peoples of India, and as a friend of India—the friends of India are numerous in this House, on both sides—to set aside trivialities, and to set up that interim Indian Government, because it is essential. I have not the slightest intention—although I have been mixed up with similar constitutional problems in the East—of trying to tell Indians what they should do. It is for the Indians themselves to do it. But I would impress upon them, that the destiny of one-fifth of the human race is in the hands of the political leaders of India. It is an enormous responsibility. The eyes of the world are upon them. They must not fail.
I was one of those who were sceptical about the success of the Cabinet Mission before it went to India. I abstained from expressing my doubts at that time because I thought it would be anything but helpful to have done so at that juncture. I am very glad indeed that I was wrong, and I 'should like to congratulate the right hon. and learned Gentleman and his colleagues on the patience and tact which they have shown under very trying circumstances, in obtaining at least the measure of success which has attended their efforts. I do not wholly share the view that the offer of 1942 could with advantage or with success have been repeated in 1946. After all, the offer of 1942 was rejected at that time, and it would hardly seem worth while for a Cabinet Mission to go out to India four years later in order to repeat an offer which had proved unacceptable.I have been interested in this controversy ever since I went to India as a professional politician in 1925. That was when Dominion status was being asked for by the Indians. I very well remember that the late Lord Lothian and the late Lord Reading were most reluctant to agree to that formula at the Round Table Conference. I cannot see that any useful purpose would have been served in 1946, by asking that that preliminary stage be passed through, when it has been 'admitted in 1942 that the Statute of Westminster carries with it the right of secession. It is not possible for anyone at this moment to say to what extent there has been full agreement between the two parties, but it is certainly a very substantial step forward that they are prepared to meet in the Constituent Assembly. An unexpected advance has certainly been made when the two parties have agreed to meet in the Constituent Assembly. There is one matter about which I feel great anxiety. I am very sorry indeed that the result of the negotiations has been that there should now be an interim Government consisting almost exclusively of officials. I have been anxious that not only responsibility for the future Constitution of India, but also responsibility for maintaining law and order, and dealing with all the vast and difficult administrative problems which follow upon a war, should be fairly and squarely upon the shoulders of Indian politicians. For so long they have been trying to shuffle out of this responsibility, and I should have been much happier in my mind if the Indian politicians had now to tackle these problems. The right hon. and learned Gentleman said one thing in his speech which I confess I had not understood before, namely, that it is open, at any time, for the present Government of officials to be replaced by another caretaker Government consisting of Indian politicians. I thought it was intended that this Government should carry on until the Constituent Assembly had come to its final conclusions. I welcome, therefore, what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has said today, and I hope that before long, the Government of officials will be replaced by a Government of Indian politicians. I associate myself with what was said by the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Sir S. Reed), who has had long experience of India. At the present time we not only feel good will towards India, but we must be prepared to go forward, not raising any small pettifogging difficulties, but in the hope and confidence that a great step forward has been taken, and that India will respond to the opportunities and responsibilities which now await her.
We on this side appreciate the fine remarks of the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Sir S. Reed). I believe that it would be wrong at this juncture to introduce into this Debate any jarring note. The most important thing that should go out to India today is a message that all in this honour- able House are really concerned about the destiny of India, and that we put India's destiny above party politics. It is because of this that I welcomed some of the speeches which I have heard from hon. Members on the other side. I associate myself with the praise and congratulations which have been offered to our Ministers from both sides. I, also, have had the pleasure and privilege of being in India. I visited that country this February, and I met various leaders of Indian opinion. I should like Indians to know that we in Britain are concerned, not so much about the politicians or princes of India, as with the standard of living of the masses of the people. We hope that as the result of this political agreement it will be possible to raise that standard of living. There are many difficulties facing us, and it will need a calm approach to the problem, outside the bitterness of party conflict. In other words, we are concerned more with the power shovel in India than with power Politics. We are concerned with ribbons of steel and asphalt, water and static machinery, which can uplift the standard of living for these people. That is what I thought as I walked down the streets of Calcutta, and saw the possibilities which existed. I met one of our foremost businessmen in Karachi, and I had a discussion with him. Great possibilities exist for closer affinity with the Indians through avenues of trade, rather than through avenues of power politics.This issue is fundamental, because the whole of Asia is on the move. India is the kingpin in any design for the future, because what happens to India within the next few years will control the destiny of the Pacific Ocean and the entire Far East. We must have this in mind in a Debate on India when we are discussing the destiny of one-fifth of the people on the earth. Labour can claim something, and I hope that the people of India will see that by this effort on behalf of our Ministers, the Labour Party are endeavouring to approach this problem on an entirely new basis. If we have done nothing else in this present Session, the Labour Government have this to be proud of, that we have given the opportunity for new development in India and in the Far East. I think that that one act would justify the Labour Party coming into power at the last Election.
I want to say a word or two in support of the appeal made by my hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Mr. Nicholson), when he expressed the hope that we, on this side of the House, would not make this a party matter. Indeed, the general wish has been expressed throughout the House that this question of India should not be made a party matter. Of course, it should not. More than that, it cannot be. We are as pledged in our party as are any other hon. Members in this House, and it is our pride that we are so pledged, to help India on the road to self-government by agreement, as soon as we possibly can. That issue is perfectly clear. One may feel strongly about this or that point in the Cabinet Mission's Report, but this is not the Debate in which it would be right, or in which there is any time, to go into many points of detail. That would seem to me to belong more to the October Debate.I must say, however, that I cannot bring myself to believe that there is very much in the point as to the difference between the 1942 offer and the 1946 offer. It is only too easy to fail to see the wood for the trees and more so, perhaps, in the matter of India than in any other matter. The broad picture is just as obvious to the Indians as it is to us, and to me it does not seem to make the slightest difference which way this matter is looked at—whether the country becomes, on paper, a Dominion for a short time while she decides whether to stay in or go out; or whether she is offered a Constitution on the understanding that she can go in or go out. That seems to me a small point. About the other anxieties that are felt by hon. Members, including the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill), I think it is unfair to call them small points. The right hon. Member for Woodford is worried about the question of the minorities, which is a very important point. I do not think that the 1942 versus the 1946 point is in anything like the same category as that, and I dissociate myself from any attempt to make it so. I wish now to touch upon the contribution which this party has made. We have played our part in this great evolution. The President of the Board of Trade said in his speech that every step since the first world war, and I think that he might also have said immediately before it——
I said before and since.
Every step before and since the first world war has been towards self-government. Therefore, I deprecate any attempt on the part of any hon. Gentleman opposite to claim that this is a tremendous step, the like of which has never been seen before. It is simply a logical link in the chain; so do not let them start any nonsense of that sort.Finally, I wish to join with all those who have expressed their thanks to the Mission for what it has tried to do, and for what it has done, and to associate myself with their good wishes and prayers that the people of India may bring this great business to a happy conclusion. I hope also that those who lead Indian opinion will rise to their great responsibilities, which are now imminently upon them, and that being so, I hope that I shall not be unduly provocative in expressing the opinion that the Indian leaders will not be showing the responsibility which they should show, if they allow themselves to be led into making speeches like that made by Pandit Nehru a week or two ago. That sort of speech, I feel, cannot have any but unfortunate consequences. There is ahead a great task both for India and for Britain, and if both are going to rise to their responsibilities, both have to be prudent and careful.
It is 20 years since a very prominent leader of the Conservative Party, the late Lord Brentford, declared: "We have won India by the sword, and by the sword we will hold it," to the cheers of the Conservatives whom he addressed. It is now obvious that it is impossible to hold India by the sword. It is also obvious, from the speech of the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill), that he would wish to hold it by some other means. That is Conservative policy. I would say to the Government that if they want the full cooperation of Indians in the days that lie ahead, it is important for India and for this country to withdraw the caretaker Government and withdraw all interference, putting the full responsibility on the Congress Party with the Moslem League and other parties to form a Government. H they do that, they will raise a spirit in India which will bring about the mutual cooperation which we desire, and which is so essential for the future of India and of this country.
I had not intended to take part in this Debate, but certain arguments have been raised which make it necessary for me to say a few words. I was never satisfied that it would be possible to have a satisfactory short Debate on the India question, and I remain of that conviction, after listening to the Debate today. I do not find myself in the enviable position of the right hon. and learned Gentleman who opened the Debate, and who very naturally took a long time—over one hour—to explain the case for the Mission. He referred to a great many details, which I think could be answered seriatim in a speech of equivalent length—which I should have liked to deliver, but have no intention of delivering tonight. This means that we must leave many of the issues over to the autumn. I think that some hon. Gentlemen and right hon. Gentlemen opposite have been unfair to my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill), who, standing at this Box, deliberately said that he was not going into the merits of these issues in this Debate. He simply established certain positions which he desired to take up, and I think it unfortunate that speeches have been made, which have gone into the merits of some of these issues, and that hon. Members have tried to argue those merits one way or another. If we are to take that line, there can he no end to a Debate like this, and we cannot have satisfaction.The Opposition agreed, deliberately, to curtail their remarks, on this occasion, upon a matter which is nearer to the hearts of many of us than any other subject in the world. We did so in order to give an opportunity to the Constituent Assembly to get going, and so that it should not be embarrassed by our remarks. The Government cannot have the best of both worlds. They cannot, at one moment, try to make out that my right hon. Friend and other hon. Members on this side are going into the merits, and then go into the merits. themselves; and, at the same time, expect us to curtail our observations in order to give them an opportunity of working out their policy. I say that definitely, because, otherwise, it would be putting the Opposition in an unfair position by not giving us an opportunity to develop our remarks as we would wish to do. The other points are very small and I need not go into them. I do not propose to go into the lengthy question of opting for Commonwealth status or independence straight away, because my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford simply established the fact that we were on this occasion differing from the position taken up in 1942 by the Cripps Mission. I do, however, propose to take up a remark made by the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Sir S. Reed) in a speech which was animated by the right sentiments and with which generally I agree. However, he used a remark to the effect that minor questions and minor criticisms had been brought forward. Let us take the question of the depressed classes—the offer to the minorities. It has always been a feature of British rule and my own earnest desire ever since I was on the Franchise Committee with Lord Lothian—than whom India had no better friend—to secure for the depressed classes seats of their own. That was agreed between Lord Lothian and myself and other Members of the Committee. To refer to the decision of the Cabinet Mission to cast all the seats for the depressed classes into the general seats, as a minor question, is really an abuse of the British language. It is part of the pride of the British achievements in India that we made efforts to raise the status of the poor and depressed classes. We may not have been entirely successful, but the fact is that the decision of the right hon. Gentleman and his friends to cast the whole depressed seats into the general seats is a retrograde step, and that raises a major question. It is a matter, one would have thought, of the greatest importance to the Labour movement, standing as it claims to do for those who have the least opportunity to express themselves, and seeking to raise their status. That is only one sample of the sort of thing which we shall have to consider in detail in the autumn. These are not matters affecting the one main principle, namely, helping India towards self-government. There is a moral position to con- sider and the important moral position we on this side of the House desire to encourage in India is, as I expressed it in the Debate on 15th March, to encourage India to achieve self-government. We want her to achieve self-government and not alone to see British rule raised, but, in the words of two well-known authorities who have written a book on this subject, to see the fulfilment of British rule. The fulfilment of British rule means the carrying out of certain obligations. I feel sure that the Cabinet Mission were subjected to great stresses and difficulties, and no doubt they feel they have done their best. But there are many matters to which in the autumn we shall have to give attention, and not least are the questions of the minorities, the Indian States and the carrying out of the word of Britain, so that we not only achieve some form of self-government for India but also carry out our obligations.
I am quite sure, generally speaking, that my colleagues will be grateful to the House of Commons for the general manner in which they have dealt with the Debate today. I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler), who has just spoken, felt that perhaps we had not kept quite to the bargain made through the usual channels. I do not think we have departed from it, and I think the House of Commons would have been terribly disappointed if the report of my right hon. and learned Friend the President of the Board of Trade as to what happened in 3½months' negotiation was in any way truncated and not properly understood by the House. All we asked was that, after a full report had been given to the House, we should have a Debate which would be as brief as possible. I think every Member of the House so far has fulfilled that. I have no complaint to make of the speech by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill), because we expected that that would be the kind of speech which he would make, and the only comment I would offer upon it is this, that it seems to me that, apart from the gallant defence of him made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Saffron Walden, his col- leagues behind him seem to disagree with him.
All those who have spoken seem to disagree with him. I am bound to say on the point referred to by the hon. Member for Northern Midlothian and Peebles (Lord John Hope) that there is really no effective answer to it. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford really suggested that we had taken an almost revolutionary departure from the basis of the offer in 1942 in that we have not offered purely Dominion status, but complete independence. We have expressed the hope that the Indian people might decide to have Dominion status, but we have also made it clear that they are free to choose to have complete independence if they will. Is that really out of conformity with the offer of 1942? Who really suggested that it was?
If the right hon. Gentleman does suggest that, I find it difficult to understand why the statement was made by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for India during the period of the Caretaker Government in 1945. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford was at that time Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for India made it quite clear at that time that—
" the offer of March, 1942, stands in its entirety. That offer was based on two main principles. The first is that no limit is set to India's freedom to decide for herself her own destiny, whether as a free member and partner in the British Commonwealth or even without it.''—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th June, 1945: Vol. 411, c. 1838.]
Through the process of the Cripps offer of 1942, which implied the setting up of Dominion status and then the decision to be taken by the newly created Dominion Government.
I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. That brings me into complete line with the hon. Member for Northern Midlothian and Peebles, who says that to say we have made some great divergence from the 1942 offer is really splitting hairs. What is really the difference in the negotiations of the kind we have been trying to con- duct in saying: "Will you choose to be within the British Commonwealth now, will you choose independence now, or will you, in a very short time, having been given the opportunity, choose to opt out?"
I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman again but I have been tackled on this question. There is all the difference in the world. The Statute of Westminster allows every Dominion the right to secede and in the case of a great many Dominions there would be no difficulty about it, if they decided no one would raise any question. There may be, however, great differences of opinion if one of the Dominions considered a proposal to secede, and that might exercise a great deterrent upon the decision which the Dominion would take. My hope would be that such a deterrent would have the effect of making the Dominion unitedly decide to remain within the British Commonwealth, a course which, I hope, we have not altogether brushed aside. However, it is another matter when we try to short-circuit the process and say, "Take independence now." That is what the Government are going to get, and they are going to get it very soon. They should not blind themselves to the idea. There is going to be no hesitation on the part of those with whom the Government are dealing in taking full and immediate independence. That is what is going to happen. I did not hear the speech of the hon. Member for Northern Midlothian and Peebles (Lord John Hope), but every person in the House is entitled to express his or her own view in these matters. It is a well-known fact that I have differed in past years from the line taken by the Conservative Government in this Parliament and I do not think we should have been in this miserable plight if my advice had been taken then.
The great thing about our House is that people are entitled to their own opinions and to express them. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will not mind my quoting opinions expressed from behind him in support of my position.
It is a great advantage to the right hon. Gentleman to do it.
I cannot understand the right hon. Gentleman's point of view. It is the great concern of many of us to ex- tend in every possible way we can that great circle of free, but completely independent, nations within the British Commonwealth. No one would welcome it more, as was explained so clearly by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, in his speech on 15th March, than those who sit on these benches. But events have travelled since 1942, and from the years before, and it cannot be controverted that if we had approached the situation from that point of view it would have meant that we would have come back with a similar failure, and in highly charged circumstances that certainly did not exist in the Spring of 1942.I regretted to hear the right hon. Gentleman speak as if our offer of 1942 was made only because the enemy were at the gate, and were about to invade. That is the very kind of complaint that the Indians, who want their independence, always make in their expressions of doubt about our bona fides. I do not think that all Members of the Government of 1942 believed that we made that offer to India simply on that basis. At the present time, we have had to deal with a situation where, as my right hon. and learned Friend said today, there was a political awakening throughout the world, and especially in the East. If some attempt had not been made to get the agreement we have so far secured in India, I am certain that we should have been faced with uprisings, bloodshed and disturbances in India at the moment, and with a future military commitment that nobody could at present forecast. If that were to happen in the present state of the world it would be very difficult to defend, even in the light of the right hon. Gentleman's own promises to the country and the world when he made his great mission to Newfoundland, and formulated the principles of the Atlantic Charter. I pass from that to another point, because I do not wish to delay the House in view of the important Debate which we have corning on shortly. I would like to say a word or two about minorities. The kind of argument which the right hon. Gentleman used was that this was the position: that if you put all the people comprising minorities in India together, and added them up, they would make a majority in India and, therefore, that would be a reason for not accepting the statement by the Prime Minister on 15th March, that, ultimately, minorities ought not to be allowed to prevent the progress of majorities. In fact, if we were to take the total number of the minorities in India—the Muslims, the depressed classes, the Indian Christians, the Sikhs, and the Anglo-Indians, it would be possible to make that kind of case, but it would be possible to subtract from them millions of people who are already in, or behind, the Congress Party. My experience of the last three and a half months demonstrates clearly that the majority of the depressed classes, for instance, are behind the Congress Party.——
I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not resent what I am going to say, but he is now departing from the spirit of the Debate that ought to take place on this subject.
I have been most anxious not to depart from the kind of spirit we want to develop. What I am anxious to do is not to let the impression be obtained by the depressed classes in India, with regard to minorities, because of what the right hon. Gentleman said, as being a matter of not much concern to the Government or to the House I have not finished my argument——
I am very glad to hear it.
If I speak vigorously I hope the House will excuse me.
Will the right hon. Gentleman make the position in regard to the scheduled castes quite clear? Under the communal award of the late Mr. Ramsay MacDonald, which he made in 1934, their position in the electorate was secured. When that award was violently disturbed by Mr. Gandhi's fast, the whole protection which the authorities wished to give them was swept aside, and they were drawn into the Congress net.
My experience of the last three and a half months, in the full light of the legislation of 1934, and the knowledge of the Poona Pact, demonstrates to me that the majority of the depressed classes in India are certainly with, and behind, Congress. Congress has secured from the depressed classes a very large number of very efficient candidates for representation in the Assembly. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman's argument today was firmly based. I want to assure him that the whole reason for the inclusion of paragraph 4 in our statement of 25th May was because Members of this House generally have been concerned to get the largest amount of protection possible for the minorities in India, upon any cession of power taking place. It is because of that that we put in the particular words which the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition has quoted in the Debate. It is open to the right hon. Gentleman for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler) to raise these matters in detail when we have a further Debate in October.I agreed very much, however, with the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition when he referred to the great voluntary effort of 2,000,000 Indians in the great struggle in which they were engaged with us, and many other nations of the world, for liberty and freedom. While we agreed with him on that, we on this side of the House and, I am sure, Members on all sides, would not be offering independence and freedom to India today simply because the Indians have done us a great military service from time to time—although we have welcomed and admired that service so much. We offer it to them on the basis of it being our own birthright, a birthright which we desire to see accorded to men and women in all parts of the world. Although we are very much misunderstood from time to time in different parts of the world, the ultimate end of British rule should be to bring independence and freedom to the people with whom we have been associated. It is in the light of that, and in the promotion of that spirit, that our Mission went to India. We believe that we have got to the position where, although many difficulties remain to be overcome, provided the main parties in that State will combine in working the constitutional machinery which has been set up, there is no reason why we should not make substantial and rapid progress towards complete freedom for that great sub-Continent, to whose people our nation wishes nothing but good, and desires that they shall become a great power for good in the future.
Question put, and agreed to.
"That this House takes note of the Command Papers relating to the proceedings of the Cabinet Mission to India, and awaits a further opportunity of debate in the Autumn."