Parliament and India, 1858-1947

In the first half of the 20th century, having been the "Jewel in the Crown" of the British Empire, India became the first part of that Empire to secure separate nationhood and independence.

The Parliamentary Archives holds a variety of records which document the relationship between the United Kingdom and India, including photographs of Indian Army Officers on the Terrace on the occasion of the coronation of Edward VII in 1902, and papers relating to the Parliamentary Delegation which was sent to India in 1946, to meet leading politicians and convince them of the British desire for an early settlement of the Indian constitutional issue.

In 1858, the Government of India Act disbanded the East India Company and placed India directly under British rule. From then on, the governance of India was often reviewed and the UK Parliament passed a total of 196 Local, Private and Public Acts regarding India and Indian matters during the years between 1858 and 1947.

Among the most significant of these Acts were the Indian Councils Act of 1892 which extended the influence of locally-elected provincial councils, and the 1935 Government of India Act which established a federal structure in India.

These original parchment Acts are kept in the Act Room, on the first floor of the Victoria Tower, where all Acts of Parliament since 1497 are stored and preserved.

Acts of Parliament relating to India

Above: Acts of Parliament relating to India.

Parliamentary Archives: HL/PO/PU/1/1858/21&22V1n252; HL/PO/PU/1/1935/26G5&1E8c2; HL/PO/PU/1/1946/9&10G6c39

Parliament's links with India during this period were not only constitutional. Individuals from India were welcomed to Parliament as Imperial guests and some became members of the House of Commons. In 1892 Dadabhai Naoroji, a cotton trader born in Khadak, near Mumbai, was elected Liberal MP for Finsbury Central.

Three years later Sir Mancherjee M. Bhownaggree, son of a merchant, and also from Mumbai was elected to Parliament for Bethnal Green. Whereas Naoroji was a firm advocate of Indian independence, Bhownagree approved British rule and opposed the idea of Indian Home Rule.

Sir Mancherjee Bhownaggree, MP and Indian Officers on the Terrace for the Coronation of Edward VII, 1902.

In 1945, Prime Minister Clement Attlee made a policy announcement which was intended to lead to an early realisation of full self-government for India and the road to independence gathered pace.

In January 1946, in an attempt to better understand the Indian constitutional issues and divides, Parliament sent a delegation to India to meet leading politicians. One member of this delegation was the Labour back bench Member of Parliament, Reginald Sorensen. His papers, which have been deposited in the Parliamentary Archives, include various photographs of the Parliamentary Delegation in India.

Photographs of the Parliamentary Delegation in India from the Sorensen collectionPhotographs of the Parliamentary Delegation in India from the Sorensen collection

Above: Photographs of the Parliamentary Delegation in India, 1946

Parliamentary Archives: SOR/67/H

In March 1946, the Government sent a Cabinet Mission to India to discuss and finalize plans for the transfer of power from the British Raj to Indian leadership, with representatives from the two main political parties, the Congress Party and the Muslim League.

Their intention was to do their "utmost to assist... (them) reach agreement upon the fundamental issue of the unity or division of India".

Consultation papers on Indian independence

Above: Consultation papers on Indian independence

Parliamentary Archives: CPA/1/20, HL/PO/JO/10/10/1296 No. 750 and HL/PO/JO/10/10/1297 No. 925.

These papers show the origin and results of the Cabinet Mission. They were published by the Government in 1945 and 1946 and are to be found in the Comonwealth Parliamentary Association and House of Lords Main Papers collections.

On 3rd June 1947, Louis Mountbatten, first Earl Mountbatten of Burma and the last viceroy of India, announced the partitioning of British India into India and Pakistan.

Under the provisions of the Indian Independence Act, which received Royal Assent on 18th July 1947, India and Pakistan were established as independent dominions.

On 14th August 1947, Pakistan was declared a separate nation and at midnight, on 15th August 1947, India became an independent nation.

Right: Louis Mountbatten, first Earl Mountbatten of Burma and the last viceroy of India

Parliamentary Archives: HL/PO/1/595/11

Photograph of Louis, first Earl Mountbatten.

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