HC Deb 10 April 1935 vol 300 cc1250-4

8.40 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 178, line 10, at the end, to insert: (2) The functions of the Governor with respect to all matters mentioned in List I and List III of the Seventh Schedule, other than such matters as necessarily relate only to India, shall be exercised by the Governor in his discretion.

Provided that His Majesty in Council may, on an address in that behalf being presented to him by each House of Parliament, order that the functions of the Governor in respect of any such matters shall he exercised by the Governor in his individual judgment. This Amendment seeks to provide, in consequence of the inexperience of Burma in matters of provincial government, that she shall only have legislative powers over the matters contained in the Provincial List and only partial legislative powers in matters contained in the Concurrent List. Therefore, in Burma, those powers which in India would be on the Federal List, or powers on the Concurrent List with regard to which the Federal Legislature would have common rights, would be reserved to be exercised by the Governor. This would really put Burma in the same position as an Indian province, and she would merely have the rights given under provincial autonomy. It is unnecessary to enlarge upon the matter, but Burma is in a far more backward state than India in political and other matters and in experience in local government. She is probably 40 or 50 years behind India in these respects, and to give her greater legislative powers than the other Provinces would be to put her on a much higher platform as regards political powers and experience than would be really reasonable in her present state of development.

8.42 p.m.


I think it is clear that the object of my hon. Friend is to give, to Burma the equivalent of provincial autonomy by reserving to the Governor in his discretion all subjects which come within List I and List III. It will be worth while to examine shortly the effect of the Amendment. The effect would be except as regards certain subjects which have to do with India alone, and of which the Amendment takes account, to exclude from the Ministers' control certain subjects which are really essentially provincial subjects. For instance, Item 10 in the Federal List would, in the case of Burma, cover the Public Works Department; Item 16, the Census, would be taken out of the Ministers' control by the Amendment, and put under the Governor in his discretion; Item 24, Fishing and Fisheries, would be taken out of the Ministers' control; while in the Concurrent List vital and important subjects like health insurance, lunacy, and questions of public health would be removed entirely from the Ministers' control and put under the Governor of Burma in his discretion. The effect of the Amendment, therefore, would be to take out of the control of Ministers, and put under the Governor in his discretion, many vital and important matters which are essentially matters which ought to be handled by Burmese Ministers. The effect of the Amendment would be, therefore, to give Burma very much less than she has been repeatedly promised—to give her very much less than provincial autonomy. That being the case, it would be quite impossible for us to accept the Amendment.

8.43 p.m.


Is it not possible for the Under-Secretary to accept the principle underlying the Amendment? We realise that some alteration would he necessary, but we are aiming at the principle, and perhaps, on Report, words could be added making it possible to include certain subjects. Is the Under-Secretary opposed to the whole principle of the Amendment, or is the difficulty only that which he has mentioned?

8.44 p.m.


I think the question of the hon. and gallant Member is a perfectly legitimate one. I have taken the Amendment as it stands on the Order Paper, and have replied to it as such. If I am asked whether we could accept the principle of the Amendment, I must reply that we could not. The object of this part of the Bill is to give to Burma a unitary form of government, and, that being so, we do not want to exclude from the Government of Burma any matters which we consider should be dealt with by the future Government, either in respect of reserved departments under the Governor or in respect of those matters which will be transferred to the Burmese Ministry. The Government cannot accept the many statements that have been made during the course of the day that the Burmese are not capable of the formation of the government which we suggest. I ought to remind the hon. and gallant Member that pledges have been given to Burma, as have been referred to in our debates, by the Prime Minister and by my right hon. Friend, that Burma should not get substantially less than is being given to India and that her status should be equivalent to that of the Indian Government which we propose. In view of the pledges which have been given, it is extremely important that we should not accept an Amendment which would take away from Burma many of those powers and duties which we wish to give her.

The Noble Lady the Member for Perth and Kinross (Duchess of Atholl), who, I see, has returned to her place after a very short interval, and who has followed all these debates with such care, has given us examples of evidence to show that Burma is not competent to take on as much as, I believe she would say, an Indian Province. The answer shortly to that is that in Burma there has been one extra transferred department. Burma has had a Forest Department ever since the reforms started in Burma at the time of the Montagu-Chelmsford reforms. As I have previously shown to the House on other occasions, and as I have shown to-day, the administration of that department has, according to all examination and investigation, been perfectly satisfactory. We consider, therefore, that it would be wrong to give to Burma an inferior form of government than that allowed to India, and, therefore, we cannot accept the principle of the Amendment.

Duchess of ATHOLL

Will the hon. Gentleman be good enough to answer the question I put with regard to the Joint Select Committee as to whether police witnesses were asked their opinion on the control of law and order?


I do not think that that is in order on this Amendment.


I am afraid that that matter does not arise.

8.48 p.m.


The hon. Gentleman mentioned the words "unitary government." May I remind him that this is a unitary form of government of a more advanced 'scale than that in any other similar country in the Empire apart from self-governing Dominions. When he says that the Government dissent from the views expressed earlier in the evening as to the ability to carry out such a form of government, I would only remind the Government that the whole story with regard to the Burmese electors, how they declared for remaining in India and how, thereafter, their representatives in the Assembly could not come to any decision one way or the other in spite of the mandate of the electors, shows that the people of Burma are hardly yet in such a condition, without doing injury to themselves, to carry out a form of unitary government of such an advanced character.

Duchess of ATHOLL

Arising out of what the hon. Gentleman has said about pledges, may I ask him whether it was not the case that the Joint Select Committee reported that Parliament was not bound by any pledges with regard to India?


Do I understand that under this unitary proposal the Burmese will have the right to set up an independent medical register, and that question of reciprocity with qualifying bodies in this country will arise under this Clause?

8.49 p.m.


I think it would be better that the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Mile End (Dr. O'Donovan) should be dealt with on the Clauses dealing with discrimination to which we shall be coming later. With regard to the question of the Noble Lady, I was referring to what was said by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in 1931, that the prospects of constitutional advance held out to Burma as part of British India would not be prejudiced by a decision in favour of separation, and the Amendment which has been moved by the hon. Gentleman gives much less than provincial autonomy and would, therefore, be going against that pledge.

Amendment negatived.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.