HC Deb 15 May 1935 vol 301 cc1845-56

Brought up, and read the First time.

10.39 p.m.


I beg to move, "That the Schedule be read a Second time."

I do not wish to detain the Committee at this late hour on the provisions of the franchise in regard to Burma. At present in Burma 16.9 per cent. of the population are on the franchise; 57.4 per cent. of the adult males and 4 per cent. of the adult females. This is on the present property franchise. The new proposals do not alter in principle the existing franchise in Burma, which will be found set out in the report of the Joint Select Committee, on pages 266–7. So I need not go into great details, because they are explained there. Let me sum up the effects and tell the Committee that all that this new Schedule does is to correct the defects. Then I shall give, I think, a proper picture of the contents of the Schedule. The proposal in the new Schedule is to alter the rate of capitation tax, the usual minimum of which will be in the neighbourhood of 2½ rupees per annum. This will let in about 90,000 men. Unfortunately the old Burma proposals left out large numbers of married men and bachelors. This new franchise makes up for that deficit and includes this number of men. All men who reach the age of 60 and cease to be assessed through this tax will continue on the electoral roll if they reach the qualification before that day. Besides this main eradication of defects in the present system, there is an adaptation of the property qualification rules in urban areas. This will bring about 19,000 on the roll and will correct the disparity between urban and rural enfranchisement. Therefore, it will be seen that we have corrected a defect which was unfair to certain sections of the male population and readjusted the ratio of urban and rural enfranchisement.

With regard to women, a relaxation of the property test in urban areas will bring in a certain number, which is rather indeterminate. But, besides this, there is a new literacy test. Any woman of 21 who has attained Standard IV or who can say that she can read or write, will be enfranchised. This alone will enfranchise about 600,000 women, bringing up the total from over 100,000 to 700,000 in the future. These are the main points in the Schedule.

I will conclude by giving the general effects. The general effects are that about 23¼ per cent. of the total population in the areas which will be made into constituencies will be enfranchised, that is areas other than the excluded areas. There will be 3,000,000 adults in a population of 12,000,000, made up of just over 2,300,000 men and 700,000 women. The male electors are about 70 per cent. of the adult male population, and the women are about 21 per cent. of the adult female population, and the ratio of women to men electors will stand as one to about 3.3. That is the effect of the new Schedule. When I moved the Second Reading of the India Schedule I made the point that the franchise is a matter of justice and a measure of political power. We believe that the same considerations will apply to the case of Burma as to that of India. Most of the problems are the same in each case hope, therefore, that we may without undue delay come to a decision on this proposal.


I beg to move, in line 49, after "forces," to insert: or if he is a retired pensioned or die-charged officer or member of the Burman police.

Amendment agreed to.

10.45 p.m.


I beg to move, in line 138, at the end, to insert: or if her husband possesses a qualification entitling him to be included on the electoral roll. I think the women of Burma have been rather harshly dealt with because, when they repudiated the reservation of seats, the Government withdrew that proposal but did not extend to Burmese women under the Bill the wives' qualification for which they asked. Broadly speaking, the result of the scheme in the Schedule is to enfranchise women in the proportion of one to three and a half as compared with men. In India the proportion is supposed to be one to five but it will probably be less as the result of the application condition. In India, however, the women are, at least, sure of a certain number of seats in all the lower Houses in the Provinces and in both Houses at the Centre. In Burma the women will have no seats reserved. We have constantly heard it said that the women of Burma are in many ways advanced, that they take a very active part in the business of the country, that a large proportion of them are literate and that they are on the whole very well up to the standard of the men as regards these matters. It semes, harsh, therefore, that they should be given such a small proportion of votes in comparison with the men.

The representative of the Burmese women before the Joint Select Committee, while repudiating the reservation of seats asked that Burmese women should be enfranchised on their husbands' qualifications. I understand that in Burma husband and wife look upon the family estate as their joint property and Burmese women feel that it is only fair that they, like the Indian women, should be enfranchised on their husbands' property. The reply given in the report of the Joint Select Committee is that it would greatly extend the women's vote and would mean an addition of 40 per cent. to the electorate. But why should we assume that whatever franchise is thought right should be given to the men and that women should have to take the leavings? If there is to be any cutting down to meet administrative—difficulties why should it always be at the expense of the women? I ask the Under-Secretary at least to reconsider this matter before the Report stage. There is not that tragic background to the position of women in Burma which exists in India. Nevertheless we feel that before passing over control in Burma, to other hands, the position of Burmese women ought to be more adequately safeguarded than it is in the Schedule, and the simplest way of doing that would be to accept the Amendment.

10.49 p.m.


The fact that, there is a strong case for this Amendment was recognised by many members of the Joint Select Committee not belonging to our party. It has been said that the women in Burma are in an exceptional position. When one witness before the Joint Select Committee said that in Burma women did all the work a Noble Lord remarked that it seemed to be an ideal country in which to live. It was also stated that men and women there owned property in common and were regarded as equal partners in all the affairs of life, including political affairs. Furthermore, there are no difficulties in Burma as in India. There is no purdah in Burma. There is no question of searching out a lot of illiterate people and explaining to them how to vote, because the educational standard is very high. There are no social customs, as in the Punjab, to prevent women going to the poll. Indeed, if women get the vote in Burma they will go to the poll and take their husbands with them. Their husbands have not recorded the vote in an exceptional way in the past. In the general election in Burma only 16 per cent. took the trouble to vote. Even at the important election to decide whether they were to be united with India or not, only 38 per cent. voted.

Why should this right to the franchise which the Indian women have got be withheld from the Burmese women? It is for no other reason but the fact that the present Burmese Government stated there would be administrative difficulties. What are the difficulties? I think we ought to go into that matter. Here is a question of justice, and if justice is to be withheld from the women of Burma because of administrative difficulties, we ought to be sure that these difficulties are insuperable. Many of them are put up by people in office and administrative difficulties can often be overcome by a little effort. What is the difficulty? You have to print a little longer register, and put the wives' names after those of the husbands. You must have 1,300,000 extra ballot, papers, and provide more polling clerks. That, as the Under-Secretary knows very well, is a difficulty that can be avoided by having the election on two days instead of one.

Seeing that the Under-Secretary said just now that only 21 per cent. of these admirable women are to be enfranchised, and he says it is a question of justice on which this franchise should be based, it is wrong that injustice should be done to these women because of these difficulties. It is not only our party who say that. On the Joint Select Committee we had the support not only of his Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury, but of sound Conservatives like Lord Hardinge of Penshurst, and the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) and of sound Liberals, I imagine, like Lord Hutchison. Under the Schedule the male electorate is to be increased from 2,000,000 to 2,300,000, and the women from 124,000 to 700,000. We propose in the amendment to keep the males at 2,300,000 and bring the women up to 2,000,000, which in view of the situation women have held in Burma from immemorial times is the only just figure to arrive at.

10.54 p.m.


I regret to tell the hon. Lady that the Government are not able to accept her Amendment for the reasons which have been hinted at by the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Cocks). In looking at this franchise question it is well to remember that we have got to walk before we can run. When the Government have stated, as they have on several occasions—almost too often for the pleasure of hon. Members opposite—that there are administrative difficulties, it must be remembered that India is completely different from this country, that the political development there is not at the stage that we have reached, and that the whole of the burden of preparing the rolls and obtaining the information on which the electoral rolls are based, has to be under

taken by the Government machine. That applies, also, to the conduct of the election. The dislocation which would result in trying to pass through the polling booths a larger number of people than could be coped with would be very unfortunate at the very outset of working the Constitution, and if there was a breakdown in the conditions under which an election was carried through, it would be almost fatal to the working of the Constitution. If the hon. Lady had her way, it would mean, on her own figures, that 70 per cent. of the adult population of Burma would be enfranchised, and the task of the officials would be quite insuperable. The hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Cocks) suggested some word like "injustice" in connection with the action which the Government propose to take in the enfranchisement of the women of Burma. I do not think that the enfranchisement of one woman to 3.5 men can be called an injustice. It is not a bad proportion to start with in Burma. I very much regret that, for the reasons I have given, we are unable to accept the Amendment.

10.57 p.m.


I understand that the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Cocks) mentioned my name just now, when I was out of the Chamber, and lest I should be charged in Burma with inconsistency, I would like to say that, while it is true that I supported the hon. Member and, I think, the Archbishop of Canterbury in a demand that greater facilities should he given to Burmese women, owing to the fact that they were more advanced and possibly more suitable to vote than the women of India, I was convinced by the arguments then used, as I have been by those used by my right hon. Friend a moment ago, that it is not practically possible to do so at present.

Question put, "That those words be there inserted."

The Committee divided: Ayes, 36; Noes, 204.

Division No. 193.] AYES [10.58 p.m.
Adams, D. M. (Poplar, South) Edwards, Charles Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)
Addison, Rt. Hon. Dr. Christopher Gardner, Benjamin Walter Leonard, William
Banfield, John William Graham, D. M. (Lanark, Hamilton) Logan, David Gilbert
Batey, Joseph Greenwood, Rt. Hon. Arthur Lunn, William
Brown, C. W. E. (Notts., Mansfield) Grenfell, David Reel (Glamorgan) Macdonald, Gordon (Ince)
Cleary, J. J. Griffiths, George A. (Yorks, W. Biding) McEntee, Valentine L.
Cocks, Frederick Seymour Grundy, Thomas W. Maclean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan)
Cripps, Sir Stafford Horsbrugh, Florence Mainwaring, William Henry
Daggar, George Jenkins, Sir William Milner, Major James
Parkinson, John Allen Tinker, John Joseph Williams, Thomas (York, Don Valley)
Rathbone, Eleanor Ward, Irene Mary Bewick (Wallsend)
Smith, Tom (Normanton) Williams, David (Swansea, East) TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth, North) Williams, Edward John (Ogmore) Mr. John and Paling.
Acland-Troyte, Lieut. Colonel Graves, Marjorie Owen, Major Goronwy
Adams, Samuel Vyvyan T. (Leeds, W.) Greene, William P. C. Palmer, Francis Noel
Agnew, Lieut.-Com. P. G. Grimston, R. V. Patrick, Colin M.
Albery, Irving James Guest, Capt. Rt. Hon. F. E. Perkins, Walter R. D.
Apsley, Lord Gunston, Captain D. W. Petherick, M.
Aske, Sir Robert William Guy, J. C. Morrison Pickering, Ernest H.
Assheton, Ralph Hanbury, Cecil Pickthorn, K. W. M.
Bailey, Eric Alfred George Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry Procter, Major Henry Adam
Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley Harbord, Arthur Radford, E. A.
Balfour, George (Hampstead) Harris, Sir Percy Raikes, Henry V. A. M.
Balfour, Capt. Harold (I. of Thanet) Harvey, George (Lambeth, Kenningt'n) Ramsay, Alexander (W. Bromwich)
Barton, Capt. Basil Kelsey Harvey, Major Sir Samuel (Totnes) Ramsay, Capt. A. H. M (Midlothian)
Beauchamp, Sir Brograve Campbell Heilgers, Captain F. F. A. Ramsay, T. S. W. (Western Isles)
Beaumont, Hon. R. E. B. (Portsm'th, C.) Herbert, Major J. A. (Monmouth) Ramsden, Sir Eugene
Beit, Sir Alfred L. Herbert, Capt. S. (Abbey Division) Rankin, Robert
Bevan, Stuart James (Holborn) Holdsworth, Herbert Rea, Walter Russell
Blindell, James Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.) Reed, Arthur C. (Exeter)
Bossom, A. C. Hudson, Robert Spear (Southport) Reid, William Allan (Derby)
Boulton, W. W. Hume, Sir George Hopwood Remer, John R.
Bowyer, Capt. Sir George E. W. Hunter, Dr. Joseph (Dumfries) Roberts, Aled (Wrexham)
Braithwaite, J. G. (Hillsborough) Hunter-Weston, Lt.-Gen. Sir Aylmer Ropner, Colonel L.
Brass, Captain Sir William Jackson, Sir Henry (Wandsworth, C.) Ross Taylor, Walter (Woodbridge)
Briscoe, Capt. Richard George James, Wing-Com. A. W. H. Rothschild, James A. de
Broadbent, Colonel John Janner, Barnett Ruggles-Brise, Colonel Sir Edward
Brocklebank, C. E. R. Jennings, Roland Runge, Norah Cecil
Brown, Col. D. C. (N'th'l'd., Hexham) Jesson, Major Thomas E. Russell, Hamer Field (Sheffield, B'tslde)
Burnett, John George Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth) Salmon, Sir Isidore
Butler, Richard Austen Kerr, Lieut.-Col. Charles (Montrose) Salt, Edward W.
Campbell, Sir Edward Taswell (Brmly) Kimball, Lawrence Samuel, M. R. A. (W'ds'wth, Putney).
Campbell, Vice-Admiral G. (Burnley) Lamb, Sir Joseph Quinton Selley, Harry R.
Caporn, Arthur Cecil Law, Sir Alfred Shakespeare, Geoffrey H.
Carver, Major William H. Leech, Dr. J. W. Shaw, Helen B. (Lanark, Bothwell)
Cayzer, Sir Charles (Chester, City) Leighton, Major B. E. P. Shepperson, Sir Ernest W.
Chapman, Col. R. (Houghton-in-Spring) Liddall, Walter S. Smiles, Lieut.-Col. Sir Walter D.
Churchill, Rt. Hon. Winston Spencer Little, Graham, Sir Ernest Smith, Sir J. Walker-(Barrow-in-F.)
Clayton, Sir Christopher Lockwood, John C. (Hackney, C.) Somervell, Sir Donald
Colfox, Major William Philip Loftus, Pierce C. Somerville, Annesley A. (Windsor)
Colman, N. C. D. Lovat-Fraser, James Alexander Soper, Richard
Conant, R. J. E. Mabane, William Sotheron-Estcourt, Captain T. E.
Cook, Thomas A. MacAndrew, Lt. -Col. C. G. (Partick) Southby, Commander Archibald R. J.
Cooper, T. M. (Edinburgh, W.) MacAndrew, Capt. J. O. (Ayr) Spencer, Captain Richard A.
Copeland, Ida McCorquodale, M. S. Spens, William Patrick
Craddock, Sir Reginald Henry Macdonald, Capt. P. D. (I. of W.) Stevenson, James
Cranborne, Viscount McEwen, Captain J. H. F. Stones, James
Cruddas, Lieut.-Colonel Bernard McKeag, William Storey, Samuel
Davidson, Rt. Hon. J. C. C. McLean, Major Sir Alan Stourton, Hon. John J.
Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset, Yeovil) McLean, Dr. W. H. (Tradeston) Strickland, Captain W. F.
Dickle, John P. Makins, Brigadier-General Ernest Stuart, Lord C. Crichton-
Doran, Edward Mallalleu, Edward Lancelot Sueter, Rear-Admiral Sir Murray F.
Drewe, Cedric Mander, Geoffrey le M. Sugden, Sir Wilfrid Hart
Duggan, Hubert John Manningham-Buller, Lt. -Col. Sir M. Thompson, Sir Luke
Eastwood, John Francis Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R. Todd, Lt. -Col. A. J. K. (B'wick-on-T.)
Ellis, Sir R. Geoffrey Marsden, Commander Arthur Turton, Robert Hugh
Elliston, Captain George Sampson Mayhew, Lieut.-Colonel John Wallace, Captain D. E. (Hornsey)
Erskine-Bolst, Capt. C. C. (Blackpool) Mellor, Sir J. S. P. Wallace, Sir John (Dunfermline)
Evans, David Owen (Cardigan) Mills, Sir Frederick (Leyton, E.) Ward, Lt.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)
Fielden, Edward Brocklehurst Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest) Warrender, Sir Victor A. G.
Foot, Dingle (Dundee) Milne, Charles Waterhouse, Captain Charles
Foot, Isaac (Cornwall, Bodmin) Mitchell, Harold P. (Br'tl'd & Chisw'k) Wayland, Sir William A.
Fremantle, Sir Francis Mitchell, Sir W. Lane (Streatham) Whiteside, Borras Noel H.
Ganzoni, Sir John Molson, A. Hugh Elsdale Wills, Wilfrid D.
George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke) Moore, Lt.-Col. Thomas C. R. (Ayr) Wilson, Clyde T. (West Toxteth)
Gillett, Sir George Masterman Moreing, Adrian C. Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George
Gluckstein, Louis Halle Morgan, Robert H. Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl
Goff, Sir Park Morris-Jones, Dr. J. H. (Denbigh) Worthington, Dr. John V.
Goldie, Noel B. Morrison, G. A. (Scottish Univer'ties) Young, Rt. Hon. Sir Hilton (S'v'noaks)
Goodman, Colonel Albert W. O'Donovan, Dr. William James
Gower, Sir Robert Oman, Sir Charles William C. TELLERS FOR THE NOES—
Graham, Sir F. Fergus (C'mb'd, N.) Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. William G. A. Sir George Penny and Sir Walter

Question put, and agreed to.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Chairman do report the Bill, as amended, to the House."




If the hon. Member is proposing to speak on this Motion, I should like to say that it is a matter which I have had occasion to go into very carefully lately. It is quite true that technically this is a question which is debatable, but, as a matter of order and custom, we have come to the conclusion that it is not advisable in the House to follow a practice which, believe, sometimes obtains in Standing Committee. The point is that we have been unable at present to think of anything which would be relevant on this question. If the hon. Member can get over that, of course I cannot stop him from speaking.

11.7 p.m.


As a matter of fact I was not proposing to discuss the Bill in any way whatever, but to ask permission to make a reference which I think will be in accord with the desires of the whole Committee, and that is to express our great appreciation—speaking on behalf of all of us who have participated in the discussions on this Bill—to the Government representatives for their very courteous and unfailing assistance during these very prolonged discussions. As everyone will appreciate, it has been by no means a simple problem to unravel, and we have, I most cordially acknowledge, been assisted with unfailing courtesy by those who have represented the Government on this Bill. I would say also how very sorry we all are that we have been deprived of late of the assistance of the Secretary of State for India, and I can only express the hope that when we reach the next stage of the procedure he will be with us in person. I am sure the older hands will not begrudge a special reference, if I may single out one individual in this team, to the Under-Secretary. I can assure him that however much we have differed from him in the arguments he has adduced in the course of our discussions we have never on any single occasion observed any failure on his part to try to appreciate our point of view and to meet our arguments as best he could. The Under-Secretary is entitled to and I am sure will receive our unfeigned thanks for the most excellent and efficient way in which he has conducted this Bill in the Committee in the absence of his chief. It was a singularly difficult task to undertake. He is much younger than I am, alas, and this is his first Ministerial experience I believe. I can only say to him that he has proved to us that we may anticipate from him more excellent service in the years to come.

11.10 p.m.


I was not aware that a tribute of this kind was to be paid—but as some of us have opposed this Bill and are still opposing it and the policy it represents, from another point of view I should desire to associate myself with much of what has fallen from the hon. Gentleman who has spoken for the official Opposition. Certainly, the Under-Secretary has shown an example of knowledge, industry and good will in dealing with the House of Commons in all the difficulties of this Bill; and certainly he deserves the congratulations bestowed upon him by the Opposition spokesmen, which have been so cordially endorsed by the Committee. The Committee also owes you, Sir, congratulation because of the way in which this experiment, which seemed in many ways quite an adventurous experiment in Parliamentary procedure, has brought us so punctually and so successfully to the end of this stage of the discussion of this great Measure. Our differences on it remain completely unaltered, but our differences have not been complicated or exacerbated in any way by the procedure adopted to enable us to exchange our opinions and try to convince each of our differing points of view. It seems to me that what has occurred in these thirty days may well form a model which will alter and shape the procedure of Parliament and which will lead Parliament back to the old flexible procedure of the House of Commons, where every facility was given to fiercest interchange of conflicting views while the Government at the same time received the necessary votes and were able to transact routine business in such a way as to enable Parliament to discharge its affairs within the ordinary limits of the Session. I think we may feel that an event has occurred which will restore to some extent that old Parliamentary procedure and that future Parliaments—not only future Sessions—will first of all endeavour to see if an arrangement can be made on an agreed time-table within the limits of which very wide latitude of expression and debate will be permitted.

11.13 p.m.


We are all very glad that we are at the end of the thirty days, and especially those of us who have been occupied on the subject for an even longer time. No one will appreciate our coming to the end of the journey more than the Under-Secretary. It is a matter of great regret to us that the Secretary of State has been kept away by illness, and the good wishes of the House will go out to him for his early and full recovery. I only want to say that I want to associate myself most sincerely with what has been said by the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Morgan Jones) and to congratulate, in particular, the Under-Secretary for the most distinguished way in which he has discharged unexpected and very heavy burdens.


Perhaps I should say before I put the Question again that I am afraid I have been guilty of not keeping the Committee in order. The Debate has been out of order. I only say that, because, as I said to start with, I think it would be most undesirable that Committees on the Floor of the House should adopt the practice of making this Question one that can be discussed or debated in any way. But this has been a very exceptional Bill, and it is only by reason of the exceptional nature of this Bill that I can claim the indulgence of the Members of the Committee for having allowed this irrelevant discussion.

Bill reported; as amended, to be considered To-morrow.

Schedules, as amended, to be printed. [Bill 60—(ii).]

The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.

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