HC Deb 06 February 1939 vol 343 cc644-6
3. Sir N. Stewart Sandeman

asked the Under-Secretary of State for Burma whether he can make a statement regarding the present situation in Burma?

5. Lieut.-Commander Fletcher

asked the Under-Secretary of State for Burma whether he will make a statement on the situation in Burma?

The Under-Secretary of State for Burma (Lieut.-Colonel Muirhead)

My Noble Friend has been kept fully informed by the Governor of recent events which indicate the existence of a state of unrest and a tendency to disorderliness in Rangoon and in certain other centres in Burma. There have been organised marches of unemployed workers in the oilfields to Rangoon where they have been joined by cultivators. On 20th December there was a clash between the police and a body of university students and school children who were picketing the Secretariat. On the 22nd December it was necessary for the Governor to declare a state of emergency under the Rangoon (Emergency) Security Act, 1938, and arrests of certain leaders of the present subversive movement were made. Attempts which have been made to call general strikes have failed but a large proportion of the workers in the oil refineries have ceased work, and sporadic strikes have occurred in other trades; there have also been school and university "strikes" and boy- cotts. As the question of transport for the movement of police became acute at the beginning of January an Ordinance was issued on 4th January by the Governor, acting with his Ministers, giving the competent authorities throughout Burma power to requisition motor vehicles on payment.

On 23rd January, 11 important leaders of the Thakin organisation were arrested at their headquarters at the Shwe Dagon Pagoda and a quantity of papers was seized which will probably form the basis for a prosecution. Force has had to be used on several occasions recently, and, although in most cases baton charges have sufficed to disperse unruly crowds firing has been resorted to on three occasions: (a) in the Lower Chindwin district when two were wounded; (b) in Thayetmyo when two or three were wounded; and (c) in Rangoon on 31st January when there were no casualties.

The House will see that, in the last six weeks, there have been a number of deplorable incidents which have necessitated the use of force, but effective steps continue to be taken to deal with disorder and there have been no violent reactions to the use of force on particular occasions. Firm orders have been issued by the Government to their officers that the law must be enforced. I would remind the hon. and gallant Members that the primary responsibility for the maintenance of law and order in Burma has been laid by Parliament upon Ministers in Burma and no occasion has yet arisen for the Governor, in the exercise of his special responsibilities, to take action without consulting his Ministers or against their advice.

Captain P. Macdonald

Will my hon. and gallant Friend say what was the cause of these disturbances? Was it religious, political or industrial?

Lieut.-Colonel Muirhead

I think a good deal of light on the question of the underlying causes will be found in the recently-issued interim report of the committee that was appointed to investigate into the riots in Burma last year. These underlying causes are examined in detail by the committee under the following heads: The unsatisfactory conditions of land tenure; the effect of Indian immigration, particularly of Indian labour, and the participation of Indians in the economic life of Burma; the marriage of Burmese women with foreigners in general, and Indian in particular; the Press, and other political influences.

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