HC Deb 10 April 1935 vol 300 cc1264-74

Amendments made: In page 197, line 40, leave out "Burman subjects of His Majesty," and insert "British subjects."

In page 198, line 16, after "any," insert "disability."

In line 17, after "residence," insert "the acquisition, holding, or disposition of property."

In line 17, leave out "property or."

In line 20, leave out "person," and insert "such person as aforesaid."

In line 21, leave out "claim."

In line 22, leave out "restriction, condition, or liability," and insert "disability, liability, restriction, or condition."

In line 23, leave out "Burman subjects of His Majesty," and insert "British subjects."

In line 25, after "similar," insert "disability."—[Mr. Butler.]

9.23 p.m.

The ATTORNEY-GENERAL (Sir Thomas Inskip)

I beg to move, in page 198, line 29, to leave out Sub-section (3), and to insert: (3) The provisions of sub-section (2) of this section shall apply in relation to British subjects domiciled in India and subjects of any Indian State as they apply in relation to British subjects domiciled in the United Kingdom, but with the substitution in the proviso to the said sub-section for references to the United Kingdom of references to British India or, as the case may be, that Indian State: Provided that nothing in this sub-section shall affect any restriction lawfully imposed on the right of entry into Burma of persons who are British subjects domiciled in India or subjects of any Indian State, or any restriction lawfully imposed as a condition of allowing any such person to enter Burma. I am very glad to be the means of allowing both you, Mr. Chairman, and the Committee, to draw breath in the process of improving the Bill. Perhaps I might be allowed to make some observations about this proposal. It is not on the same lines as those which we have rapidly adopted, all of which are mere adaptations or repetitions of Amendments in previous Clauses relating to India. The purpose of this Clause is to deal with the restrict-ions on discrimination, a subject which engaged the Committee for a considerable time when we were on Clause 111 and following Clauses in relation to India. The particular Amendment I am moving is to leave out the provisions of Sub-section (3) and to insert a new Sub-section. The course has been adopted of putting in the whole new Subsection as an Amendment though very largely it is a repetition of what appears in the Bill. Instead of putting in the words in separate places so that hon. Members would have great difficulty in reading the Amendment, the whole new Sub-section is given on the Order Paper as an Amendment.

The main purpose of the Clause as amended is to bring within the scope of the Clause the subjects of Indian States in Burma, and to secure for them the same rights and the same protection as British Indian subjects enjoy. Certain questions are bound to arise with regard to the peculiar position of Burma in relation to immigrants from India, that is to say persons who are domiciled both in British India and in the Indian States. Those Members who followed the proceedings of the Joint Select Committee will remember the information that was given to that Committee as to the number of immigrants from British India into Burma. The persons who were domiciled in British India but are in Burma at any given time are something like 1,000,000 in round figures. About 21,000 of these were estimated to be persons who were domiciled in the Indian States, and little more than six-sevenths, about 18,000 out of the 21,000, were from Western Indian States engaged in professional activities or some form of business in Burma. The rest of them are very largely of the labouring class, and their part in Burma has been undoubtedly to supply necessary labour. At the same time the effect of Indian immigration has been to lower the standard of living in Burma, because they are prepared to work for lower wages than the Burman subject domiciled in Burma.

Nobody wants to discriminate between British subjects domiciled in India or Indian State subjects when they go to Burma, any more than one wants to discriminate between British when they go to British India. At the same time, you have to reconcile the desire not to have unfair or unreasonable discrimination with the right that must be preserved by the Burman Legislature to deal with this question of immigration. Every self-governing State requires to have power to prevent its internal economy being deranged by the immigration of persons, who, by reason of their activities or numbers, may be an inconvenience. The proposals contained in this Clause, together with certain suggestions which were made by the Joint Select Committee in their Report, are intended to be incorporated in the Instrument of Instructions, which, together with one or two other Clauses in the Bill, will, it is hoped, effect the desired object.

The general plan is that there shall be no interference, nothing to prevent the Burman Legislature from making suitable laws as to immigration. At the same time it is proposed, as hon. Members will have observed when perusing Clause 332 in the process through which we were passing a few moments ago, that the Governor has in his discretion to give or withhold his -sanction when any Bill is introduced in connection with or affecting immigration into Burma. That will be one way in which unfair discrimination, whatever powers the Burman Legislature may have to deal with immigration, may be controlled for the professional or business man who comes from British India or the Indian States. It is also proposed in conformity with the proposals of the Joint Select Committee that there shall be inserted in the Instrument of Instructions a direction to reserve any Bills which contain racial discrimination, and to reserve also Bills which contain restrictions upon professional or business men, who, while India and Burma have been united, have carried on business in either country. It is also hoped that the Governor of Burma will take an opportunity—this is also mentioned in the Instrument of Instructions—to confer with the Government of India with regard to any interference that may be supposed to take place with the legitimate rights of Indians who have occasion to offer their labour in Burma.

Hon. Members may possibly ask why the proposal contained in the Amendment of my Noble Friend the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) is not incorporated. If the Committee will be good enough to look at the Amendment —no doubt my Noble Friend will desire to say something about it—they will observe that it is proposed: Provided that nothing in this Sub-section shall affect any restriction lawfully imposed of the right of entry into Burma of such Indian subjects of His Majesty domiciled in British India as enter Burma, whether by previous engagement or otherwise, to perform unskilled lagour for hire in Burma, not being domestic or menial servants, and members of their families and dependants. I understand that the object of my noble Friend is to promote immigration legislation for preventing immigration of persons who go to perform unskilled labour for hire, and not to interfere with the immigration of the much smaller number of people who perform useful functions in the development and the organisation of Burma by the practice of their professions or the conduct of their business. Whatever attractions the Amendment may have, it passes the wit of Parliamentary counsel or draftsmen to devise a phrase or form of words which will do what he intends by using the words "unskilled labour." It is one thing to indicate a thing informally in a document like an Instrument of Instructions which a Governor has to bear in mind, but it is entirely another thing to put into as Act of Parliament a phrase like "unskilled labour," which may be called a term of art. Nobody is to know whether a clause aimed at in legislation is the clause that is really indicated. You might say that these might be a particular group of people, this unskilled labour. On the other hand, it is very difficult to say which class were persons going to engage in unskilled labour. It is essential, having regard to the difficulty of devising suitable words, to leave the matter to be dealt with in the way I have described, giving certain instructions to the Governor, and, for the rest, to provide for it on a mutual basis so that there shall be a right on the part of the Burman Legislature to pass whatever laws they think necessary for controlling immigration. At the same time, we have tried to devise a Clause which will allow free flow between India and Burma, so that subjects of the Indian States, as well as all British subjects domiciled in India, will not be made subjects of any racial or domiciliary discrimination.

9.35 p.m.


This is my one ewe lamb in the way of an amendment in my name and I regret that owing to certain circumstances over which I had no control and over which you, Sir Dennis, had no control my Amendment cannot be called because of the Amendment which appears on the Order Paper in front of it in the name of my right hon. Friend. This is a rather important question as I am sure hon. Members opposite will agree. Here we have two conflicting interests. On the one hand those of us who were members either of the Burma Round Table Conference or the Joint Select Committee realise the strength of opinion among the Burmans against unrestricted immigration of Indians into Burma. On the other hand there are considerable Indian trade interests in Burma. On a previous Amendment my right hon. Friend the Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne) drew attention to the large number of Indians belonging to widely different communities who are working in Burma under the auspices of the great corporation of which he is the head. Many of these Indians are essential to the enterprise to which my right hon. Friend referred. There is one community in particular in Burma which is sometimes the subject of criticism but which has also been, it is only fair to state, the subject of eulogy by two distinguished Europeans holding high office in Burma, and they are very much concerned about the provision in the Bill, and the Sub-section which the Government propose to substitute for the existing Sub-section will not abate their apprehensions. As the Attorney-General has referred to my Amendment perhaps I may be allowed to make this rejoinder. I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend that it is very difficult to define "unskilled labour" but what we are seeking to bring about is this. We are willing and so are the Indians concerned—those whom I have been able to consult—that the right should be given to the new Burma legislature to deal with the question of the immigration of manual labour into Burma but we do not think that powers should be given to place restriction upon other Indians coming into Burma. As I understand the rather complicated position if the Sub-section is amended in the way suggested by the Government there will be such restrictions subject only to the reference in the Instrument of Instructions. I must quote what the Joint Select Committee said on that subject. We said: The negotiations for a Trade Agreement might also be extended to the regulation of the immigration of Indian labour into Burma for the first few years after separation. …The problem is already acute, as the Royal Commission on Labour in India have recorded, and we endorse the opinion expressed by that Commission that the best way of solving the problem is by mutual agreement between the two Governments concerned. But the period immediately after separation is evidently not the most suitable opportunity for negotiating an agreement on a matter which is peculiarly capable of provoking lively animosities, and we are of opinion that, whether or not in direct connection with an agreement to regulate trade relations, at any rate at the same time, an agreement to control the influx of Indian labour into Burma should be concluded between the existing Governments. It was announced on an earlier Amendment that a tentative agreement had been reached between the two Governments on the subject of fiscal relations. I am sorry that through a misunderstanding as to the time at which this Clause would be taken I did not hear all my right hon. Friend's speech, but I do not think that there was any reference to any agreement between the two Governments on this question. Perhaps my right hon. Friend will correct me if I am wrong.


Discussions are going on upon this subject as well, and we have every reason to hope that if an agreement is ratified upon the trade side, an agreement, lasting for the same period, will be ratified on this question.


If that agreement is reached between the two Governments and is accepted by this House, will it be given legislative effect so that the interests to which I have referred would be protected by Statute?


My Noble Friend will remember the procedure which is proposed in the Bill. It will come up, not as a Clause in the Bill but as an Order in Council, for Parliamentary sanction when the negotiations are ended. Reference is made to the procedure in Clause 249. The two actual agreements will come up as Orders in Council for Parliamentary sanction later.


Then I presume, in that case, this Sub-section will be inoperative as far as the apprehensions of these persons are concerned and provided they are satisfied the agreement will be given effect by the Order in Council.


With this reservation, that the agreement contemplated in the Order in Council is an interim agreement for a limited period of time. During that period the position will be stabilised. Subsequently, the Government of Burma will have to negotiate with the Government of India. You would then have the two autonomous Governments negotiating with each other.


That statement resolves some of my doubts but I hope my right hon. Friend will give favourable consideration to the point which I have raised and about which I gather other hon. Members are anxious.

9.43 p.m.


I take it, Sir Dennis, that while you are not calling the Amendment in the name of the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) you will permit discussion upon it in connection with the Government's Amendment.


The Government Amendment seems to cover the point raised in the Noble Lord's Amendment.


Except that the latter Amendment also contains a reference to Sub-section (1).


It would be quite in order for the Noble Lord to move an Amendment to the Government's Amendment.


I only raise the point because I desire to ask a question on Subsection (1) if it is appropriate to do so at this stage. In the first place, however, I want to be sure that I understand exactly what has been conveyed by the Attorney-General and the Secretary of State. I understand that in future the Burma authorities will not be in a position to say to Indian immigrants, "You are Indians and, therefore, you may not come in here." But they will be in a position to say after negotiations and agreement, "You happen to be unskilled labourers and as such you might become a menace to certain wage standards in this area." So they can take objection, not on grounds of nationality, but on economic grounds. That is the first point. The other point is this, that I am interested to know precisely what is the meaning of that part of the first Sub-section which reads: For the purposes of this Sub-section a provision whether of the law of Burma or of the law of the "United Kingdom empowering any public authority to impose quarantine regulations, or to exclude or deport individuals wherever domiciled who appear to that authority to be undesirable persons, shall be deemed not to be a restriction on the right of entry. I wonder what is the power that is sought through the medium of that Subsection. Is it to be able to exclude anybody, wherever he may come from, whether from the United Kingdom or from India, on the ground that he is an undesirable person in the sense that he entertains ideas that are not aceptable to the Government?

9.47 p.m.


If I may answer the last point first, the proposition that the Government should be prevented from deporting persons whom the Government considers to be undesirable persons is not, I am sure, one that will command any assent from the Committee. If you are giving self-government to Burma or to anywhere else, you must allow them powers to do that of which you might personally disapprove, but which is essential to the exercise of the powers of self-government. The intention of the paragraph to which the hon. Gentleman has called attention is simply to provide that the Government, in deporting an undesirable person, shall not be treated as coming into conflict with the prohibition against discrimination. That is the only effect of that particular paragraph.


I am much obliged. I think I can say that we are rather pleased with the explanation which the Attorney-General has given with regard to Sub-section (2).

9.48 p.m.


With regard to the Amendment on the Paper in the name of the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton), some of us have had the opportunity of representations being made to us by the Burma Indian delegates who are in this country at the present time dealing with this subject, with which they are, of course, very closely concerned. I remember that when the first Burma sub-committee of the first Round Table Conference met, one of the first questions raised there was the apprehension as to the powers of discrimination when the new Government was set up, and I think that, although specific assurances were not given at the time in any document, yet there was a very clear understanding that in the new arrangement discrimination was not likely to arise. A similar understanding existed when the Burma Round Table Conference met. I would like to know if the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman to-day, when he spoke of that five years term, has been considered by those who are speaking for the British Indians. I know, of course, that they naturally have been in touch with the authorities here and have been putting their case before Members of this House as well as before the India Office or the right hon. Gentleman.

I welcomed very much what was said earlier about that five years' period, and I was glad to learn that that period was to apply to immigration as well as to fiscal matters. Has that arrangement with regard to five years met the apprehensions felt by those who are here to speak for their Indian fellow subjects who happen to be in Burma? I am sure that, whatever may be the difficulties of drafting, upon which the Attorney-General dwelt, it would be the desire of all of us that there should be no Clause in the Bill which would cause resentment to these people. I cannot think of a worse start between these two peoples than the thought that there is a, Clause against which there might be a very natural resentment. I agree as to the difficulty of drafting a Clause that would allow Indians to go into Burma as they ought to be going. Generally speaking, one wants to see a full inter flow of thought between the two countries, and the more the Indians visit Burma and the Burmans visit India, the better it will be. In the meantime, of course, there is the feeling as to keeping out those who have been brought in to do labour and who may be undercutting the Burmans themselves. Can we have any information as to the extent to which the five years' term of which we have heard to-day has met some of the apprehensions upon which the Noble Lord dwelt?

9.52 p.m.


I had the pleasure of a long discussion with the Indian representatives Who are in London in connection with these questions, and I think 1 was able—at least, I hope I was able—to remove some of their anxieties. They were anxious to have a safeguard set down in statutory form rather on the lines of my Noble Friend's Amendment. I think I was able to convince them that it was almost impossible to do that, and that the best way of meeting their anxieties was to adopt the method of the Instrument of Instructions. As to the period of time, I think, to be frank with the Committee, I should admit that they would have liked the period of time to be a period, not of short duration, but of long duration.


Longer than five years?


I think they would have liked it to go on for ever. I hope I was able to convince them that that, in the circumstances, was impossible, and that if you are setting up an autonomous Government for Burma, you cannot tie the hands of that Government for more than an interim period. As to the actual length of the interim period, I do not think we got into any detailed discussion, but I can assure the hon. Member that it was a great relief, so far as I could gather, for the Indian representatives to know that we were dealing with the matter on these lines, even though we did not go the full length that they would desire us to go.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.