Imperial War Conferences

Imperial War Conferences in India

Imperial War Conference, 24 July 1918

CHAIRMAN: Mr. Hughes cannot came this morning, and Sir Robert Borden is away. The first subject on the agenda is reciprocity of treatment between India and the Dominions, on which there is a Memorandum by Sir Satyendra Sinha, which has been circulated, and also a draft Resolution, which I understand is the result of a meeting at the India Office. Shall I read the draft Resolution as the basis of discussion?

Sir S. P. SINHA: As you please, sir.

CHAIRMAN: The Resolution is as follows:

‘The Imperial War Conference is of opinion that effect should now be given to the principle of reciprocity approved by Resolution XXII of the Imperial War Conference, 1917. In pursuance of that Resolution it is agreed that:

‘ 1. It is an inherent function of the Governments of the several communities of the British Commonwealth, including India, that each should enjoy complete control of the composition of its own population by means of restriction on immigration from any of the other communities.

‘ 2. British citizens domiciled in any British country, including India, should be admitted into any other British country for visits, for the purpose of pleasure or commerce, including temporary residence for the purpose of education. The conditions of such visits should be regulated on the principle of reciprocity, as follows:

(a) The right of the Government of India is recognized to enact laws which shall have the effect of subjecting British citizens domiciled in any other British country to the same conditions in visiting India as those imposed on Indians desiring to visit such country.

(b) Such right of visit or temporary residence shall, in each individual case, be embodied in a passport or written permit issued by the country of domicile and subject to vise’ there by an officer appointed by, and acting on behalf of, the country to be visited, if such country so desires.

(c) Such right shall not extend to a visit or temporary residence for labour purposes or to permanent settlement.

‘3. Indians already permanently domiciled in the other British countries should be allowed to bring in their wives and minor children on condition (a) that not more than one wife and her children shall be admitted for each such Indian, and (b) that each individual so admitted shall be certified by the Government of India as being the lawful wife or child of such Indian.

‘4. The Conference recommends the other questions covered by the memoranda presented this year and last year to the Conference by the representatives of India, in so far as not dealt with in the foregoing paragraphs of this Resolution, to the various Governments concerned, with a view to early consideration.’

Sir S. P. SINHA: Mr. Long, I am desired by my colleague, the Maharaja of Patiala, who is unfortunately prevented from being present to-day, to express his entire concurrence in what I am going to say to the Conference. I also regret exceedingly the absence of Sir Robert Borden, because I wanted to express in his presence my deep feeling of gratitude for the generous and sympathetic spirit in which he has treated the whole question, both last year and this year. I desire to express my gratitude to him for the very great assistance he has rendered, to which I think the satisfactory solution which has been reached is very largely due–that is, if the Conference accepts the Resolution which I have the honour to propose.

Sir, the position of Indian immigrants in the Colonies has been the cause of great difficulties, both in the Dominions themselves and particularly in my own country, India. As long ago as 1897, the late Mr. Joseph Chamberlain, in addressing the Conference of Colonial Premiers, made a stirring appeal on behalf of the Indians who had emigrated to the Dominions. The same appeal was made in 1907 by Mr. Asquith, and in 1911. During all this time India was not represented at the Conference, and it is only due to the India Office here to say that they did all they could to assist us. In 1911 the Marquess of Crewe, as Secretary of State for India, presented a Memorandum to the Conference, which is printed in the proceedings for that year,- and I cannot do better than just read one of the passages from that Memorandum, which shows the nature of the difficulties which had arisen and the solutions which had been proposed on behalf of the Secretary of State. The Memorandum presented by the Secretary of State says this:

‘ It does not appear to have been thoroughly considered that each Dominion owes responsibility to the rest of the Empire for ensuring that its domestic policy shall not unnecessarily create embarrassment in the administration of India.

‘ It is difficult for statesmen who have seen Indians represented only by manual labourers and petty traders to realise the importance to the Empire as a whole of a country with some three hundred million inhabitants, possessing ancient civilizations of a very high order, which has furnished and furnishes some of the finest military material in the world to the Imperial forces, and which offers the fullest opportunities to financial and commercial enterprise. It is difficult to convey to those who do not know India the intense and natural resentment felt by veterans of the Indian Army, who have seen active service and won medals under the British flag, and who have been treated by their British officers with the consideration and courtesy to which their character entitles them, when (as has actually happened) they find themselves described as ‘coolies’, and treated with contemptuous severity in parts of the British Empire. Matters like this are, of course, very largely beyond the power of any Government to control, but popular misunderstandings are such a fruitful source of mischief that it seems worth while to put on record the grave fact that a radically false conception of the real position of India is undoubtedly rife in many parts of the Empire.

‘ The immigration difficulty, however, has, on the whole, been met by a series of statutes which succeed in preventing Asiatic influx without the use of differential or insulting language. It is accepted that the Dominions shall not admit as permanent residents people whose mode of life is inconsistent with their own political and social ideals.

‘ But the admission of temporary visitors, to which this objection does not apply, has not yet been satisfactorily settled. If the question were not so grave, it would be seen to be ludicrous that regulations framed with an eye to coolies should affect ruling princes who are in subordinate alliance with His Majesty, and have placed their troops at his disposal, members of the Privy Council of the Empire, or gentlemen who have the honour to be His Majesty’s own Aides-de-Camp. It is, of course, true that no persons of such distinguished position would, in fact, be turned back if he visited one of the Dominions. But these Indian gentlemen are known to entertain very strongly the feeling that, while they can move freely in the best society of any European capital, they could not set foot in some of the Dominions without undergoing vexatious catechisms from petty officials. At the same time, the highest posts in the Imperial services in India are open to subjects of His Majesty from the Dominions.

‘ The efforts of the British Government to create and foster a sense of citizenship in India have, within the last few years, undoubtedly been hampered by the feeling of soreness caused by the general attitude of the Dominions towards the peoples of India. The loyalty of the great mass of Indians to the Throne is a very conspicuous fact, and it is noteworthy that this feeling is sincerely entertained by many Indian critics of the details of British administration. The recent constitutional changes have given the people of the country increased association with the Government, and have at the same time afforded Indians greater opportunities of bringing to the direct notice of Government their views on the wider question of the place of India in the Empire. The gravity of the friction between Indians and the Dominions lies in this, that on the Colonial question, and on that alone, are united the seditious agitators and the absolutely loyal representatives of moderate Indian opinion.’

This, Sir, was in 1911, three years before the war; and if the position was correctly described then, you will conceive with how much greater strength the same observations apply to the present position as between India and the Dominions. Of course since 1911, so far as South Africa is concerned, many practical grievances which then existed have, I gratefully acknowledge, been removed, but there are still many others outstanding. Those are referred to in the Memorandum which has been circulated to the Conference, and I trust my friends, Mr. Burton and General Smuts, to whose statemanship South Africa, including all its inhabitants, owes so much, will be able, on their return to their own country, in process of time to remove all, or at any rate some, of the grievances to which I refer. I recognise that it is a matter of time. I recognise their desire to remove those grievances, in so far as they are grievances, and I appreciate the difficulties of getting any legislation through their own Parliaments for that purpose; but at the same time I hope the matter will not be lost sight of, and that an early consideration will be given to matters which have not been the subject of agreement between us on this occasion.

But, Sir, so far as the outstanding difficulty of India is concerned, I am happy to think that the Resolution which I now propose before the Conference, if accepted, will get rid of that which has caused the greatest amount of trouble both in Canada and in India. There are now about 4,000 or 5,000–I think nearer 4,000 than 5,000–Indians in the Dominion of Canada, mostly in British Columbia, I think–in fact, all in British Columbia; and the great difficulty of their position–a difficulty which is appreciated in India–is that these men are not allowed to take their wives and children with them. Now the Resolution, in paragraph 3, removes this difficulty–that is to say, if it is accepted and given effect to–and I consider that that will cause the greatest satisfaction to my countrymen, and particularly to that great community of Sikhs who have furnished the largest number of soldiers during this war, and to whom these 4,000 men in Canada belong.

The principle of reciprocity, which was accepted by the Conference on the last occasion, is again referred to with approval, and effect is to be given to it immediately as regards some of the most urgent matters concerned.

I have read from Lord Crewe’s Memorandum, sir, the ludicrous position which now exists with regard to Indians of position visiting the Dominions. That position will be altogether altered if the Conference accepts the second part of the Resolution which I propose–namely, that ‘British citizens domiciled in any British country, including India, should be admitted into any other British country for visits’, and that the system of passports now in existence be continued, which would prevent any influx of undesirable labour population.

I think that, as the whole matter has been before the Conference so long, it would not be right for me to take up the time of the Conference further. I venture to think that if this Resolution is accepted, it will solve many of the most acute difficulties which have arisen between the Dominions and India; and, speaking for India, I can assure you that it will cause the greatest satisfaction, and will help us to allay the agitation which, particularly at a time like this, is a source of grave embarrassment. That is all I have to say, sir.

Mr. ROWELL : There are just one or two observations I should like to make, Mr. Chairman. May I say how sincerely Sir Robert Borden regrets that he could not be here this morning for this question. He has personally taken a very keen interest in the question, and I am sure he will appreciate the very kind references which the representatives of India have made to his endeavour to find a solution of the difficulties which have existed for many years between India and the Dominions in connection with this very important problem. The Resolution as submitted is accepted by Canada. We have had several conferences, and the terms of the Resolution represent an understanding arrived at by India and the Dominions. We look upon it as a matter of importance that the principle applied in the first paragraph of the Resolution should be frankly recognized by all the communities within the British Commonwealth. We recognize that there are distinctions in racial characteristics, and in other matters, which make it necessary that, while we fully recognize the principle of reciprocity, each should exercise full control over its own population. The other paragraphs of the Resolution give effect to the proposals which have been discussed before the Committee set up by the Conference for the purpose, and give effect in such a way as I am sure we all hope will meet the general approval of the citizens of the Dominions and of India, as well as of the other portions of the Empire. We are glad to be able to remove the grounds of objection which India has felt, particularly with reference to the liberty of the Indians resident in Canada to bring their wives and minor children to Canada; but it was felt that this matter could not be dealt with except as part of the whole problem, and it is in connexion with the solution of the whole problem that this forms an important part.

I think the number of Sikhs in Canada is not quite so large as Sir Satyendra has mentioned. While there was this number at one time, I think a number have returned to India, and the number is not now large. I am sure we all appreciate the splendid qualities which the Sikhs have shown in this war, and the magnificent contribution which that portion of India particularly has given to the fighting forces of the Empire, and I am sure it would have been a matter of gratification to us all if Sir Robert Borden could have been here when this important matter was being dealt with by the Conference. I am also confident that the effect of this Resolution will be to draw together the Dominions and India into closer bonds of sympathy, and to cement the bonds that bind our whole Empire together as a unit for great national purposes–for those great, humane, and Imperial purposes for which our Empire exists.

CHAIRMAN: Mr. Cook, do you desire to say anything on this?

Mr. COOK: No, I think not, sir.

Mr. MASSEY: I am very glad that this solution of the difficulty has been arrived at. So far as New Zealand is concerned, there is no serious trouble. We have very, very few Indians in New Zealand, and, so far as I know, the people of India have never shown any tendency to emigrate to New Zealand. I simply state the fact–I am not able to explain the reason. The objections, I understand, have come mostly from Canada and South Africa, and I am very glad indeed, from what has been said, to learn that those objections have been removed. Of course, we shall have the administration of the law in so far as it does apply to New Zealand, but I do not anticipate any difficulty there, and I think what has been done to-day not only removes the present difficulties, such as they are, but will prevent serious difficulty occurring in the future. I value the Resolution on that account really more, than on any other. Though New Zealand, as I have said, is not seriously interested in this matter, I have no doubt if Indians had come to New Zealand in considerable numbers, objections would have been raised, and it would have been the duty of the Government to take the matter in hand. That, however, has not taken place.

I should like to learn from Sir Satyendra Sinha whether this will affect Fiji in any way. Fiji is a neighbour of ours, and most of our sugar is produced there. It is not refined there, but is sent to Auckland for refining purposes. I understand a very large number–I am not going into details, but I believe about 60,000 Indians–are employed in Fiji at the present time in the production of sugar. I simply ask the question because the point is likely to be raised as to whether it will affect them.

Sir S. P. SINHA: In no way.

Mr. MASSEY : I am very glad to hear it. I hope as far as Fiji labour is concerned that even in Fiji some satisfactory solution of the difficulty will be arrived at in connexion with that Dependency of the Empire. I know there is a little friction–not serious, but a little–but as far as I can understand the position–I do not profess to know the whole details–the difficulties are not insurmountable.

Sir S. P. SINHA: The difficulties are of a different nature. I hope they have been practically solved.

Mr. MASSEY: That is all I wish to say, sir.

Mr. BURTON: The matters which were raised by Sir Satyendra Sinha and the Maharaja in connexion with this question present, I suppose, some of the most difficult and delicate problems which we have had to deal with, and which it is our duty as statesmen to attempt to solve satisfactorily if the British Empire is to remain a healthy organization. I am sure we all feel, as far as we are concerned–I have told Sir Satyendra myself that my own attitude has been, and I am sure it is the attitude of my colleagues–sympathetic towards the Indian position generally. There are, of course, difficulties, and it would be idle to disguise the fact that many of these difficulties are of substantial importance, which have to be faced in dealing with this matter. But I do not despair of satisfactory solutions being arrived at.

Sir Satyendra Sinha has been good enough to refer to the attitude adopted by Canada and ourselves in discussing this matter in Committee, and I think it is only right from our point of view to add that the possibility of our arriving at a satisfactory solution on this occasion has been due very largely indeed to the reasonable and moderate attitude which the Indian representatives themselves have adopted. But for that, of course, the difficulties would have been ever so much greater. As far as we are concerned, it is only fair to say–and it is the truth–that we have found that the Indians in our midst in South Africa, who form in some parts a very substantial portion of the population, are good, law-abiding, quiet citizens, and it is our duty to see, as he himself expressed it, that they are treated as human beings, with feelings like our own, and in a proper manner.

As to the details, I need not go into all of them. Paragraph No. 3 embodies, as a matter of fact, the present law of the Union of South Africa. That is our position there, so that our agreement as to that is no concession. I pointed out to Sir Satyendra when we were in Committee, that in some of these points which he brought up as affecting South Africa, I thought in all probability, if he were in a position to investigate some of them himself, he would find that perhaps the complaints had been somewhat exaggerated. I cannot help feeling that that is the case, but I will not go into these matters now. As far as we are concerned in South Africa, we are in agreement with this Resolution, and also with the proposal referring the Memorandum to the consideration of our Government, and we will give it the most sympathetic consideration that we can, certainly.

Mr. LLOYD: This is not a matter which directly affects Newfoundland, but I should like to express my satisfaction that some solution has been found, and also to express the feelings which have already been given utterance to by South Africa with regard to the reasonable and moderate attitude of India.

Sir JOSEPH WARD: Mr. Long, this is a development in connexion with the Empire, that I regard as one of the very greatest importance. At the last Conference we made a move in the direction of meeting the wishes of India, and this Resolution now, embodying the results arrived at by the Committee which has been inquiring into this matter, carries the matter, I think rightly so, a good deal further. I think it is a move in the right direction. The underlying recognition of the right of the overseas communities to control their own populations within or coming to their own territories is one as to which no recommendation from this Conference, if it were made in the opposite direction to their wishes, could have the least effect within any portion of the British Empire. It is laying down a foundation upon which I regard the whole of these proposals as being based.

The important factor in connexion with it is this. All our countries, at all events New Zealand, have in the past, from causes or reasons one need not specially refer to, viewed with some concern the possibility of large numbers of Indians coming to them and becoming factors that would disturb, interfere with, or change the course of employment. I am of the opinion that that first proposal submitted is one that would be agreed to by every reasonable person in our country and would meet with their approval.

I take the opportunity of saying that sub-clause (c) of the second paragraph of this draft Resolution –‘Such right shall not extend to a visit or temporary residence for labour purposes or to permanent settlement’–completely meets the position that otherwise there would be difficulties about accepting it, and I assume the Indian representatives are just as familiar with those difficulties as we are. Upon the question of the introduction-although I have nothing to do with it as a representative here-of the wives of these men who have been admitted into Canada, that is in my opinion, not only a wise thing to do, but on the highest grounds possible–moral grounds–it seems to be a legitimate corollary to what the Canadian Dominion have done with regard to the 4,000 or 5,000 men who are there.

I want to say with regard to the Memorandum which has been placed before us by the Indian representative on those several matters, that as far as I am concerned I have read the Memorandum very carefully this morning, and I shall be glad, at the proper time, to give the matters referred to the fullest consideration in our country.

Mr. MONTAGU: Mr. Long, may I just detain the Conference one minute to express, on behalf of the Government of India and my colleagues, our gratitude for the way in which this resolution has been received at this meeting of the Conference. Sir Joseph Ward has rightly said that this Resolution takes the question a good deal further. I emphasize that by way of caution, and I hope I shall not be charged with ingratitude when I say that it would not be fair to the Conference to regard this Resolution as a solution of all outstanding questions. Many of them can only be cured by time. Many of them, as Mr. Burton has said, require careful study. But I feel sure that the spirit in which the Resolution has been met, and the whole attitude which the representatives of the various Dominions have taken towards it, will prove to India that as matters progress, and as time advances, there is every prospect that Indians throughout the Empire will be treated not only as human beings, but will have all the rights and privileges of British citizens.

Mr. COOK: Mr. Long, may I just say one word, lest my silence should be misunderstood. As my friends know, I attended the Committee meeting yesterday, and concurred in these proposals, and the reason I do not occupy the time of the Conference is because there is nothing specifically relating to Australia in them. That is to say, many of the things referred to in this Memorandum are concessions which have already been agreed to in Australia very many years ago, even with regard to the bringing of the wives and minor children. I do not think there is any trouble in Australia about that. Whatever the technical difficulties may be, I do not think there is any trouble occurring along those lines. At any rate, I am one of those who believe that when we admit a man to our shores we should admit his wife also and his family, and, if we are not prepared to admit his wife and family, we have no right to admit him. It seems to me that is among the elementary things. I concur entirely with the proposal in that respect, but that being the only outstanding feature of the proposal which can in the remotest degree affect Australia, I will not take up time in discussing the matter, but agree cordially with what has been suggested and what has been done. I think we owe a great debt of gratitude to India for the attitude she has taken since this war began. That is the feeling in Australia through and through–one of the most profound and cordial appreciation of the attitude of India in regard to this war.

Mr. MASSEY: It is the feeling all over the Empire.

CHAIRMAN: Perhaps I may be allowed to say a word in putting the Resolution. It will only be a very brief one. Last year the Conference was specially marked by the addition to our councils of the representatives of India, and I think we all feel that that made the Conference more complete and more real than it ever claimed to be before. This year sees another steady step forward, and I am bound to say that I think, having followed these proceedings very closely–I had the privilege to be present at the meeting which the Prime Minister of Canada was good enough to summon last year, when Sir Satyendra put the general case before us, and I think you will agree that that was a very useful meeting and started us in the direction which has been consistently followed since–I think this steady advance is due, as has been said, not only to the wise, moderate and extremely able line taken by Sir Satyendra and his colleagues–last year it was Sir James Meston and the Maharaja of Bikanir who represented India with him, while this year it is the Maharaja of Patiala–but also to the very statesmanlike view which has been taken of their responsibilities by those who speak on behalf of the great self-governing Dominions of the Empire. And certainly I rejoice more than I can say to see this evidence of the steady progress of the Empire along these lines which have been always followed in the past, and which, I believe, have made the Empire what it is–the recognition of fundamental principles, and a steady refusal to deny to any citizen of the Empire the privileges of Empire simply because of the accident of birth or locality. I regard this as a very important decision. On behalf of the Conference, I may perhaps be allowed to offer my congratulations to those who represent India and the Dominions upon this very considerable step in the development of our Empire. May I put the Resolution?

Mr. ROWELL: May I add one word? It is simply that I desire to associate Canada and myself with the remarks which Mr. Burton made with reference to the very reasonable and statesmanlike attitude of the representatives of India in dealing with this matter. The Resolution which embodies the understanding arrived at is, perhaps, the best evidence of our appreciation.

CHAIRMAN: I ought to say that Sir Robert Borden sent me a communication yesterday, expressing a great desire that this should be taken when he was present, and we did our best so to arrange matters; but I need not point out to the Conference that, unless we are able to take the subjects as they are put down, it is almost impossible to get our business properly forward, or to complete it, within the time at our disposal.

Mr. MASSEY: I hope we shall finish this week. CHAIRMAN: That is what we are working for, of course. May I put this to the Conference?

[The Resolution was carried unanimously.]

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