HC Deb 10 April 1935 vol 300 cc1279-85

10.10 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 212, line 29, after "provision," to insert: (including provision with respect to borrowing). It may be convenient if I give a word of explanation. This Clause has to do with financial provisions for the Federated Shan States, and the object of the first Amendment is to enable the, Governor in his discretion to borrow on the revenues of the Federation of the Shan States. The object of the second Amendment is to keep the domestic budgetary arrangements of the Shan States from the actual scrutiny of the Burma Legislature. The Shan States are British territory, but, they are administered on the basis of the local administration by the Sawbwas or Chiefs of the Shan States and it is thought desirable that the internal budgetary arrangements which arise from the money derived from royalties from the forests and so forth should be continued within the Shan States themselves and their own domestic budgetary arrangements. The Shan Saw was attach special importance to the fact that these budgetary arrangements should be kept an internal matter. The second Amendment keeps the situation clear, as it is at the present time.

10.12 p.m.


I do not know whether it would be better on this Amendment, or on one which I think is to be moved from the opposite side of the Committee, to raise the whole question of the Shan States. I do not suggest that we should have a long discussion, but some of us wish to ask several questions about the Shan States. Perhaps it would be better to raise the question on the Motion that the Clause stand part. Perhaps you, Sir Dennis, would allow a certain latitude roughly analogous to that allowed on the whole question of Burma on this question of the Shan States.


I think this does cover the position of the Shan States generally.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In page 212, line 32, leave out Sub-section (3) and insert: (3) Any payments to be made under paragraph (b) of the last preceding Subsection shall be charged on the revenues of Burma, and the amounts thereof and of any payments to be made under paragraph (c) of the said Sub-section shall be shown in the financial statements required by this chapter to be laid before the Burma Legislature but, save as aforesaid, nothing in this Part of this Act shall be construed as requiring any statement of payments into or out of the Federal Fund to be laid before that Legislature."—[Sir S. Hoare.]

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."

10.14 p.m.


The Committee has made much more rapid progress than I had anticipated, and I confess that I am not as amply prepared as I would like to be in submitting reasons against the passing of this Clause, but I can explain briefly what we feel about the matter. This is a sort of equivalent to the reserved areas which we have already passed in relation to India, and we have a feeling that the reserved areas are far too extensive for the Government to reserve in the way they are being reserved. I speak subject to correction, but I believe these are areas which possess enormous potential wealth; and I believe they are areas in which British commercial and economic interests have made substantial penetration. We would like to see something in this Clause whereby this reservation of the Federated Shan States should be limited to a certain period of time. I dare say the Government would be able to argue that there are certain reasons against this because of the comparative unpreparedness for self-government of these States in relation to other parts of India. That may be the case, but that does not dispose of the point I am making. There are areas, so I understand, where there is vast potential wealth, and this vast potential wealth ought not, in our judgment, to be reserved in the sense in which it is being reserved in this Clause, but should be made available for the better development of the whole territory of Burma. I apologise to the Committee for having put the argument so briefly and inadequately, but we have traversed a great deal of ground to-night, and I confess that I am not prepared to deal with the matter more fully than I have done. I have indicated our general attitude to this Clause.

10.15 p.m.


I also was not aware that this Clause was to be taken now. I had intended preparing some observations on the Shan States, in which I take a considerable amount of interest, being a personal friend of one or two of the Sawbwas, the rulers of those States. It is only necessary to make a brief reply to the hon. Member. No one would object to the manner in which he put his case, but there is, so far as can be judged, not the slightest desire on the part of the rulers or, what is more important from the point of view of hon. Members opposite, on the part of the ruled in these Shan States, to be included in either the present British Burma or the new unit which is to be created. These rulers have not the status of the feudatory Princes of India. It is giving away no secret which should not be disclosed, I think, to say that on several occasions they have made tentative proposals to the appropriate authorities praying that they might be given the privileges and prerogatives of the Indian States' rulers, but those have never been granted.

Though I have never had the privilege of visiting the Shan States I think it is true to say that, on the whole, the rulers and the people live there in a happy, patriarchal relationship. They are very remote from most parts of British Burma. There is very little inter-relationship between the two. It is true, as the hon. Member pointed out, that there is great potential wealth in that part of the country, but that hardly seems to me to be a reason for allowing the new Burma or, for the matter of that, the Burma that exists, to control that area. I hardly know how to put it without making invidious comparisons, but I do not think hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite could object to the conditions there as they might, holding the views they do, object to the conditions in the States in British India. The relationship between the rulers and the ruled is of a different character. These States are remote, they are, I believe, very beautiful, and though there is a great deal to be clone there in the way of improvements to health services, for example, because the tuberculosis death rate is very high, yet the people are happy and contented. I should think it is true to say that the majority of them are in blissful ignorance of the fact that the Bill is before the House, and that if we were to speak to the "man in the street" or the man in the village there he would say "Thank Heaven that is so."

10.17 p.m.


I think there may be some confusion behind this Amendment. We are not dealing with an excluded area. The Federation of the Shan States is not an excluded area at all in the ordinary sense. It is a little confederation running its own affairs, not unsatisfactorily. The Sawbwas themselves are very anxious to go on as they are going on now, and as far as I remember no objection was raised, at any rate no strong objection, by the delegates from the other parts of Burma. It was agreed that this little confederation should be allowed to go on running its own affairs, and I think my hon. Friend the Member for the English Universities (Sir R. Craddock) ought to be proud of the fact that he had a great deal to do with starting it.

10.18 p.m.


My brief visit to that part of the world led me to the conclusion that these States form one of the most happy and contented communities in the whole of the British Empire. They have no desire whatever to come under the Government of Burma, and are very anxious, indeed, to remain in the same position with reference to the Governor as they are to-day. I would like to ask how it is intended that the Governor should administer this area. Does he administer it through a specially appointed officer, or can he nominate any member to look after the affairs of this particular area?


He would have a commissioner for the purpose.

10.19 p.m.


I naturally take considerable interest in the Shari States, because when I went to Burma I found there an extraordinary anomaly such as one does not get in India, that is to say that the Shan States were definitely British India and that the chiefs and their subjects were British subjects but that, on the other hand, they exercised powers such as were not always given to some of the chiefs in India. They had, for example, almost powers of life and death, subject to the concurrence of the superintendent, who was the political officer, in a death sentence in murder cases, and a convicted man could petition the Lieut.-Governor for mercy. But they had, as I say, power such as a good many of the chiefs in India had not, and at the same time they were still British subjects and not independent rulers. The trouble about them was that it was never very clear whether they were entitled to share the ordinary revenues of Burma for the development of their States, and that it was very difficult to administer them singly and separately without either drawing upon the funds of Burma or of relying for improvements like roads upon the chiefs for funds, simply because there could not be agreement among the various chiefs through whose territories those roads ran.

It occurred to me that the only thing to do was to secure a federation of those chiefs, and to make them as soon as possible financially solvent for the running of their own affairs. I may mention that Siam was originally the greatest of the Shan States. The Shan language is very much akin to the Siamese language, and a Shan and a Siamese can carry on a conversation together. It is very difficult in pronunciation. Tiny differences between apparently identical words carry totally different meanings. There was a British officer who intended to ask a Shan a polite question about the condition of his crops, but he pronounced the words in such a way that it appeared to the Shan to be an inquisitive remark about the health of his wife. There are amusing things of that sort in Burmese where they have a word "Kyaung," which may mean either a monastery, a cat, or a stream; it all depends upon how you pronounce it. I could never see any difference between them. The trouble was to get the chiefs together. It was difficult, because they enjoyed their own income themselves, and there was no common fund which could be applied for this purpose. It took some time to bring about agreement, but an agreement was arranged by which they paid 50 per cent. of their current revenue into a pool and that pool was used for purposes like education, wherever there were schools, and roads and other public purposes which were common to the States as a whole. Having got the Federation, it appeared to me that it would be extremely desirable that it should be free from the interference of Burma. I may mention that the Shans of Burma are a comparatively sparse population, because the Shan States are a relic of the days when the Burmans invaded that territory with fire and sword and general destruction. It is a country with fairly good resources, both as regards timber and minerals, although it is not at all certain that more minerals could be discovered. It is a corner of Burma which is very quiet. The Shan chiefs manage their subjects very well. They certainly never want to be in Burma again, because they very much prefer their own group. It is a good arrangement, and they are a separate race from the Burmans. They ought to be tolerably solvent. The arrangements made have been approved by the chiefs.

10.25 p.m.


This is my first intervention during the Debates on the Government of India Bill, and in all probability it will be my last. I also happen to have friendships among the Sawbwas of the Shan States, and I have certain interests there which enable me to appreciate the local situation. I quite agree that the situation is satisfactory, and ought not to be disturbed. I agree that the Sawbwas are well content with the present administration, and do not want it altered. I do not know whether the ruled are equally content; indeed, I do not suppose that they know anything about it; but I think we are safe in assuming, having regard to analogous conditions in other parts of the world, that they are in quite an enviable position. I venture to hope, therefore, that the proposals of the Government in this regard will be allowed to go forward.