Item 200 - Draft of a letter from Sir George Schuster to L. S. Amery

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PETH/3/200

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Draft of a letter from Sir George Schuster to L. S. Amery

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  • 27 Oct. 1941 (Creation)

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4 sheets

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Outlines the points agreed on by an all-party group in the Commons in connection with constitutional reform in India. Asks him to consider the matter and obtain the opinion of the Viceroy (Linlithgow).

(Carbon copy of a typed original.)

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Transcript

Draft letter to Mr. Amery.

27.10.41.

As you know there is widespread feeling among Members of all Parties in the House of Commons that, although the enlargement of the Viceroy’s Council and the setting up of the National Defence Council are to be regarded as most important and satisfactory steps, these do not in themselves afford a solution for the fundamental constitutional problem, and that it is necessary to continue making efforts to this end.

A small group met to discuss this matter in the House of Commons last week. There were present Wardlaw Milne, Edward Cadogan, Pethick Lawrence, Graham White and myself. There was general agreement on the following points.

1. The Indian problem is a matter on which Members of the House of Commons feel that they have a direct responsibility as Members.

2. The step most urgently needed at present is that a small body of Indians of experience, intellectual ability, and constructive ideas, should get together in India to consider what form of constitution can be devised which would be acceptable to the main Parties as a substitute for the 1935 Act.

The meeting fully appreciated the difficulties of the present situation, the essence of which is that, not only the leaders of Congress, but even the Liberal Party, seem to be asking the British Government to undertake a substantial immediate transfer of constitutional power to Indian Ministers without any prior agreement or even discussion as to the ultimate form of the new constitution. The problem is how to get representative statesmen away from this negative position and working together on the constructive planning work which is necessary. After full discussion those present agreed that the following line of action is worthy of consideration.

A representative group of all Parties in the House of Commons (which might very well be the group of Members who sent an Open Letter to India at the end of 1940) should send a communication to the leaders of the various Parties in India, making the following points:

(a) The feeling in the House of Commons is one of grave distress that progress is not being made towards a constitutional settlement, that such a settlement is deeply desired on the British side but that these Members do not see how it can be attained without agreement between the Parties on the form of a new constitution.

(b) It is important on the one hand that Parliament should understand what motives are holding the Indian leaders back from discussion on this matter and, on the other hand, that the leaders themselves should understand what are the feelings in the House of Commons.

(c) It is possible that personal discussion between British M.P.s and Indian leaders might help to a better understanding in both these directions, and, further, that a joint discussion of the constitutional problem itself might be helpful. Although difficulties of travel and the great preoccupation of all those engaged in public life with urgent issues at home are serious obstacles, the feeling in the House of Commons on the matter is so strong that it could probably be arranged that a small representative group, say not more than three or four, representing all Parties in the House of Commons, should pay a visit to India. This visit would be entirely unofficial in the sense that it would be in no way connected with the Government. Its object would be:

1st. to assure the Indian leaders of the great interest of the House of Commons in finding a constructive solution and of the general feeling in the House as to the way in which such a solution could be found;

2nd. to give the M.P.s concerned a chance of appreciating the Indian position and of giving a true account of this to the House;

3rd. To† afford such help as these Members could to the Indian Parties in dealing with the problem itself.

Having explained these points the communication would end with a definite request to be informed by the leaders of each of the main Parties whether, in the event of this small mission visiting India, they would be prepared to enter into discussion with the British M.P.s either alone or jointly with the representatives of the other Indian Parties.

The Members present at the meeting were under no illusions as to the difficulties of finding any sort of accommodation with the extreme Party leaders, and they recognised the probability that both Mr. Gandhi and Mr. Jinnah would refuse to enter into joint discussions. They saw also a number of other possible difficulties. On the other hand they felt that action on the lines suggested could not do any harm and might do a considerable amount of good in convincing Indians of British interest in the problem and of Parliament’s desire to find a constructive solution. The general view also was that, even if a solution cannot be found, anything that can be done now to keep the situation fluid and to prevent permanent estrangement growing up would be of value. They have in mind the situation which will arise after the war when, after the period of war prosperity and excietment† is over, political leaders will almost certainly resume their sway over the masses.

Some of the Members present were more hopeful as to the possibilities than others but all were agreed in desiring me to ask you to consider this matter and, if you thought fit, to send a copy of this letter by Air Mail to the Viceroy, asking him to inform you by telegram of his own views on the proposal. Although the essence of the idea is that the visit is a completely spontaneous gesture by the House of Commons and in no sense a move which has been suggested or encouraged by Government, it is of course rully {1} recognised that it would be most undesirable that it should be undertaken if it were actively disapproved of by yourself or the Viceroy.

There will doubtless be considerable difficulties in finding Members of the right qualifications to go, and the provision of money for the expenses of some of the Members will also have to be considered. It was, however, generally felt that these difficulties could be overcome and were certainly worth overcoming if there were even a small hope that some good might be achieved.

An important point is that there should be some sounding of the position and possibly some private approaches to individuals before the proposal is made public. This is a matter for careful consideration.

In the course of the discussion it was suggested that such a visit might perhaps be arranged through the Empire Parliamentary Association and be represented as a gesture made by that Association. While it was recognised that there might be certain advantages in this, the general feeling was that it would tend to blunt the sharpness of the impression which it is desired to convey, viz: an impression of the great interest felt on the subject in the House of Commons and of the earnest desire of the House of Commons, as such, to help in finding a solution.

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{1} A slip for 'fully'.

† Sic.

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