Rare Signed Letter 1st Earl Halifax to Tory Politician Baron Harlech Simon Commission on India 1930


Rare and important signed letter on embossed Viceregal Lodge, Simla stationery signed by Edward Frederick Lindley Wood, 1st Earl of Halifax, (1881-1959). The letter is addressed to British Conservative politician, William Ormsby-Gore, 4th Baron Harlech (1884-1965), and discusses his views on the Simon Commission regarding the partionining of India. Accompanied by an original photograph of the politician.

"My dear Billy,

Only a line to thank you for your letter which I was greatly interested to get. one feels a very long way away here from all the political struggle in which you are engaged. It certainly looks as if the labour Government were not getting on too happily, and, so far as one can judge, their difficulties are bound to increase rather than diminish.

Valuable as all this lesson in real politics must be to them, I cannot help hoping that they will not be turned out until we are a bit further through with this Indian job. I don't think they would, in Opposition, be likely to support a Conservative Government in doing all the things you have been supporting them in doing in regard to Civil Disobedience, and I do think that the best chance of getting to some understanding over out affairs here will not be by having them conducted by Winston and Jix. I suppose you all think that the Labour Government is going to give everything away, and therefore genuinely want to put as many spokes in their wheel as possible, but that is not the view, so far as I can judge, of any European out there, and it is interesting to contrast the movement of opinion in the Party at home, which you say is swinging essentially to the right, with hte movement of the European non-official world out here which, I should say, was doing rather the oppositie.

I am quite certain that it is hopeless to expect a man like Austen to appreciate the psychology of all this business, and I think that Simon's schemes have suffered a good deal by the quite deliberately unimaginative method he has adopted in presenting them. I cannot for the life of me understand why he should not have said in his Report; "You all want Dominion Status; it is probable that we all mean different things by this; and in any case there are reall difficulties to be overcome; but we want to help you to get there and these are our suggestions for overcoming the difficulties; if the Conference or anybidy else can produce a better plan, all good luck to them." I confess I do find it a little difficult to get my mind into line wth what seems to be Austen's mind, namely, that the Simon Commission shares with the Pope the privilege of infallibility. I don't suppose we shall differ greatly from their main framework, although I must confess I think Simon has left the Central Government very high and dry in the air.

How does he suppose that any Executive Government labelled strong will in fact get its business through an elected Assembly of 280 with something like 15 or 17 official votes only? We have found it difficult enough with 40 official votes as against something like 115, but Simon's plan seems to me to offer no hope of government business being secured unless the Governor-General is to be empowered to draw people into his Cabinet who can give him Parlaimentary support. But this, it looks to me, would destroy the effect that I cannot help thinking Simon has wanted to produce upon the English public of saying: "We have taken great risks in the Provinces, but be quite happy - there is no rot about democracy in the Centre".

I look forward sometimes a good deal to next April, and I have great ideas of coming home via Baghdad and Palestine.

Meanwhile our Civil Disobedience continues, but I think in some quarters there are distinct signs of lassitude.

My love to Mima.

Yours ever,


The Rt. Hon. W. Ormsby-Gore, M.P."

The Indian Statutory Commission was a group of seven British Members of Parliament of United Kingdom under the chairmanship of Sir John Simon assisted by Clement Attlee. The commission arrived in British-occupied India in 1928 to study constitutional reform in Britain's most important colonial dependency. It was commonly referred to as the Simon Commission after its chairman, Sir John Allsebrook Simon. One of its members was Clement Attlee, who became committed to Indian independence by 1934 and achieved that goal as Prime Minister in 1947 in the granting of independence to India and Pakistan.

Wood was one of the most senior British Conservative politicians of the 1930s. He held several senior ministerial posts during this time, most notably those of Viceroy of India from 1925 to 1931 and of Foreign Secretary between 1938 and 1940.

Wood was Viceroy of India from 1926 to 1931, proposed in 1925 at the suggestion of King George V (his grandfather had been Secretary of State for India). Created Baron Irwin, he arrived in Bombay on 1 April 1926, hoping to improve Anglo-Indian relations and calm interfaith tensions in the country.

His rule was marked by a period of great political turmoil. The exclusion of Indians from the Simon Commission examining the country's readiness for self-government provoked serious violence, and he was forced into concessions which were poorly received: in London as excessive, in India as half-hearted. Incidents included protests against the Simon Commission Report; the Nehru Report; the All-Parties Conference; the Muslim League leader Mohammad Ali Jinnah's 14 points; the Civil Disobedience Movement launched by the Indian National Congress under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi; and the Round Table Conferences.

He had all the Congress leaders put behind bars and then opened negotiations with Gandhi. Some criticism of Irwin may have been unfair, but he had made an error and the consequences were serious and unrest grew. Irwin's attempts to mediate with Indian leaders were stymied by London's refusal to make concessions, or clarify the position on dominion status.

With little room for manoeuvre, Irwin resorted to repression using his emergency powers to arrest Gandhi, ban public gatherings and crush rebellious opposition, leading to the death of Lala Lajpat Rai and the revenge attack of Bhagat Singh. Gandhi's detention, however, only made matters worse. Irwin ultimately opted to negotiate, signing the Delhi Pact in January 1931, which ended civil disobedience and the boycott of British goods in exchange for a Round Table Conference that represented all interests. The fortnight-long discussions resulted in the Gandhi-Irwin Pact, after which the Civil Disobedience Movement was suspended.

The agreement between Gandhi and Irwin was signed on 5 March 1931. The salient points were:

The Congress would discontinue the Civil Disobedience Movement.
The Congress would participate in the Round Table Conference.
The Government would withdraw all ordinances issued to curb the Congress.
The Government would withdraw all prosecutions relating to offences not involving violence.
The Government would release all persons serving sentences of imprisonment for their activities in the civil disobedience movement.
It was also agreed that Gandhi would join the Second Round Table Conference as the sole representative of the Congress.

On 20 March 1931, Irwin paid tribute to Gandhi's honesty, sincerity and patriotism at a dinner given by ruling princes. A month following the Gandhi-Irwin Pact, Lord Irwin's term ended and he left India. On Irwin's return to England in April 1931, the situation was calm, but within a year the conference collapsed and Gandhi was again arrested.

Despite the mixed outcomes, Irwin was overall a successful Viceroy; he had charted a clear and balanced course and had not lost the confidence of his home government. He had demonstrated toughness and independence. His successful term as Viceroy ensured that he returned to British politics with significant prestige.

He is regarded as one of the architects of the policy of appeasement prior to World War II, although after the German occupation of Czechoslovakia in March 1939, he was also one of those who pushed for a new policy of attempting to deter further German aggression by promising to go to war to defend Poland.

On Neville Chamberlain's resignation early in May 1940, Halifax effectively declined the position of Prime Minister despite widespread support across the political spectrum, as he felt that Winston Churchill would be a more suitable war leader (Halifax's membership of the House of Lords was given as the official reason). A few weeks later, with the Allies facing apparently catastrophic defeat and British forces falling back to Dunkirk, Halifax favoured approaching Italy to see if acceptable peace terms could be negotiated, but was overruled by Churchill after a series of stormy meetings of the War Cabinet. From 1941 to 1946, he served as British Ambassador in Washington.

In retirement from 1946, he returned to largely honorary pursuits as Chancellor of the University of Sheffield and the Order of the Garter and Chairman of the BBC. He died at age 78 at his estate at Garrowby shortly before Christmas 1959.

Ormsby-Gore by 1916 had become a convert to Judaism and was one of the primary figures in the British government who favoured the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine.

He was recalled to England in 1917 to serve as Parliamentary Private Secretary to Lord Milner and as assistant secretary in the War Cabinet headed by Prime Minister David Lloyd George, and to Sir Mark Sykes. Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann, a personal friend, took refuge in Ormsby-Gore's London home while the former was in the capital for the cabinet approval of the Balfour Declaration. With Weizmann's approval, Ormsby-Gore was the British military liaison officer with the Zionist mission in the Holy Land (then lately liberated from Ottoman Turkish rule) during March to August 1918. After the armistice, he was part of the British delegation to the peace conference at Paris in 1919.

Size: 25.5 x 20 cm approx

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