HC Deb 12 December 1944 vol 406 cc1058-128

12.3 p.m.

Mr. De Chair (Norfolk, South West)

After the somewhat stormy Debate last Friday, when the House discussed the unfortunate events which occur when Greek meets Greek in open feud, the House has met in a calmer mood, to contemplate the more distant horizon of Burma. Here the British 14th Army are fighting with a gallantry and an endurance which have won the admiration of all sections of this House, irrespective of party. This is no forgotton Army. This is the shield behind which India has enjoyed the Imperial prerogative of successful defence against aggression, and the shield behind which British power has advanced once more to the banks of the Irrawaddy. I believe that even the waterlogged soldiers of the Western front would concede that the jungle has imposed conditions upon the soldiers in Burma more exacting than British soldiers have had to face in any other part of the world during any period of the war. This is certainly no forgotten Army. The deeds of this Army will be remembered so long as tales of fortitude appeal to human ears. The House has a keen interest in the welfare of the 14th Army, and is waiting with some impatience the report of Lord Munster's visit to the Burma Front. All we know about Lord Munster's views upon the subject is that he shares the 14th Army's very strong views about the soya bean sausage which they have been obliged to eat. I wonder whether it is conceivable that the indiscreet admission to this effect can have had anything to do with his hurried transfer to the cells of the Home Office, where, I understand, he is now languishing. However, in the absence of his report, I do not want to discuss the conditions of the 14th Army but to discuss rather the Imperial problem which is posed by the liberation of this country from the Japanese. For here is a country which is being liberated, part by part, from the Japanese yoke, and as yet no pronouncement has come from His Majesty's Government as to the administration which is to follow that re-occupation or as to the constitutional arrangements which are eventually to be made for it. What sort of Burma are the men of the 14th Army fighting for? They have the right to know and I hope that His Majesty's Government will make their views clear upon that point.

First, when we discuss Burma, it is important to realise that there are, in fact, two entirely separate Burmas with which we have to deal. The charge was laid upon us when the British had to retreat from Burma in 1941 and 1942, that the Burmese of the plains, the Buddhist Burmese, made no lively resistance to the Japanese comparable to the guerilla movements in other parts of the world and that they slipped with something like alacrity from British to Japanese rule. These Burmese of the plains had no weapons and no terrain suitable for guerilla warfare. The shock of the Japanese invasion stunned them. They saw the British withdraw and in these condition they could have put up no effective resistance to the Japanese, and so I do not think that any useful deduction is to be made, or any charge to be levelled against us on Imperial grounds that the Burmese of the plains made no effective guerilla resistance to the Japanese. But 40 per cent. of the country we know as Burma consists of the frontier areas where the hill tribes, such as the Karens, the Chins, the Kachins, Nagas and others live. These tribes, too, fought with us and they fought most gallantly throughout our war against the Japanese. Unfortunately, their part is all too little known owing to the cloak of secrecy which has made it necessary to refrain from publishing the activities of these tribal Allies of ours. Many exploits of individual heroism have been pushed beenath the blotter of military censorship.

Possibly the House will be interested in the achievement of guerilla bands fighting on our side. Few people in the House probably realise that a large part of General Alexander's Army during retreat was saved from encirclement by the gallant stand of a small band of 150 Karens, who fought for 48 hours to hold a vital point, so that partisans further back could carry out demolitions which prevented the Japanese from encircling our Forces, which not only saved a large part of our Army under General Slim, but a large portion of General Stillwell's Army. They fought for 48 hours at a cost of over 60 per cent. of casualties. They had to watch one of their captured Karen leaders being beheaded by the Japanese. They fought with rifles, and with only 50 rounds of ammunition apiece, against a Japanese motorised battalion armed with guns and all modern equipment. Does the history of partisan warfare in Europe hold any instance of more determined resistance against aggression. It is not possibly realised that the Kachins denied to the Japanese the use of those frontier air strips at Fort Hertz which, if the Japanese had captured them, would have enabled them to interfere with the air service over "The Hump" into China on which the survival of China into the seventh year of her war with Japan may well have depended.

These Kachins also have provided valuable help to our British soldiers during the expeditions through the jungles into Burma. In particular, when General Wingate's first expedition penetrated into Burma, the assistance which they received from the Kachin villagers brought upon these villagers terrible retribution from the Japanese, and when I say, "terrible retribution from the Japanese," I leave the House to imagine what I mean by that. Many English and American airmen who have baled out over the jungle in Burma owe their lives to those friendly Kachin villagers who have sent them back into our lines. The Chin tribes, under a handful of British civilians of the Burma Frontier Service, kept a front of 250 miles in being for 18 months and so screened from the curious eyes of the Japanese our military weakness until our forces could be mobilised to reconquer that part of the frontier and also to open up the land connection with the Burma Road, which was the intention of Allied strategy in that part of the world.

I hope that this will refute the charge made that we have failed to secure the loyalty of any part of Burma and that we lacked Allies prepared to fight on with us. When the inner history of this struggle is known, it will be seen that there has been a large contribution to partisan warfare, with exploits equal to those of the partisans in Yugoslavia, Poland or Russia or in any other part of the world who have been fighting Axis domination. Anyone who has knowledge of these frontier areas knows that they were ruled by their own chiefs under the ultimate responsibility of the British Governor. They were proud of their position in the British Empire. They were warlike, and when war came they were prepared to help us in our struggle against the Japanese. Some reorganisation of the administration of these frontier areas will be necessary when we reconquer Burma in order to bring the frontier tribes more directly under the civil authority of the Governor and less under the control of a military secretariat and to have the administration more in the hands of men in the Burma Frontier Service who actually know all the tribes themselves. But apart from that, no real Imperial problem is posed by the re-occupation of the frontier areas, but the re-occupation of the other part of Burma—the Burma occupied by the Buddhist Burmese themselves—poses the most significant Imperial problem we shall have to face in the immediate years after the war. We are often told in Debates on foreign affairs in this House that there must be a principle underlying our foreign policy and with that sentiment I entirely agree. But there must be a principle no less underlying our conduct of Imperial affairs. I have come to the conclusion that there are only two practical forms of Imperialism, either benevolent despotism or Imperial partnership. Many who regret the pledges which we have given to Burma and other parts of the Empire to confer upon them self-government are hankering after the days and the ways of the Great Mogul. An inevitable transition has been going on during the last half century from the position of absolute power under which we held large areas of the Empire to a new Imperial partnership. It is inevitable, and whether we like it or not, and whether we consider that all parts of the Empire which have been promised self-government are fit for it or not, that is our declared intention, that all these parts of the Empire which have not yet attained Dominion status shall ultimately be brought into partnership with the Mother Country, and we are pledged in the case of Burma to give self-government to that country as soon as practicable.

It is difficult to understand any current problem unless one has some appreciation of the historical circumstances which have led up to it, and in considering the problem of Burma it is particularly important to realise the circumstances in which we conquered that country. While it is true that the first and second Burma wars, under which we conquered first of all Arakan and Tenasserim, and then the rich province of Pegu, with the Port of Rangoon, were provoked by the Burmese themselves, the third Burma war, in 1885, under which we conquered Upper Burma and Mandalay, was fought by us for reasons of world power politics. From our point of view the reigning King, Thibaw, was an unsatisfactory monarch and unsatisfactory neighbour, who had come to the throne by murdering his brothers, according to the oriental custom of that country in those days. Also, he had carried repressive measures against British residents in his kingdom; but we had allowed all these things to pass without interference until we were satisfied, in 1885, that the French meant to annex the country from French Indo-China, and we then hurried in, with almost indecent haste, in order to get Upper Burma. History has a long memory, and I believe that we have had to pay for this inconvenient fact. As one of my Burmese friends said, it would not have mattered so much if this had happened 100 years ago, but it happened in 1885, within the memory of living men. There are Burmese alive to-day who saw their King carried away from the Golden Palace of Mandalay in an ox-cart by the British, and from that fact springs much of the suspicion with which our motives are regarded in that part of the Empire. Let nobody underestimate the extent of this suspicion of our motives. Sir Reginald Dorman-Smith, the present Governor-General, made a remarkable admission when he was speaking in London last year. He said: I do not pretend to be skilled in Far Eastern affairs. I have only seen Great Britain in eclipse there, but one thing I can say with some surety, and that is that neither our word nor our intentions are trusted in that part of the globe. That is a remarkable statement for a Governor to have to make about the area of the Empire which he is sent out to administer.

Whence arises this distrust of our motives, this intense nationalism which is to be found in Burma? I believe that it is a result of the growth of nationalism throughout Asia during the last half-century, which has manifested itself in many lands. When these peoples were conquered by European Powers they realised the overwhelming power of western nations. But then in 1904 they saw the Japanese overthrow the Russians, they also saw the Turks overthrow the Greeks, and gradually an idea was born in their minds that Asiatic Powers could stand up against European nations. At the same time, from 1885 onwards, Burma was administered as part of our Indian Empire. In India we had introduced the study of English, with the result that the whole spirit of freedom and liberty which is instinct in English literature became at once the study of masses of Asiatic people in India and Burma. This spirit of liberty, which is instinct in all our literature, was bound to have its effect, and lead to a demand for the same freedom and self-government for the Asiastic people.

In 1935 Burma was separated from India. Everybody who has studied this matter will realise that this was in itself a beneficial thing. Burma resented the connection with India, resented paying taxes to support wars on the North-West Frontier of India, and for other things, and, indeed, it is unfortunate that the separation from India has not been a little more complete than it has been. It is inevitable that a certain suspicion arises in the minds of the Burmese about whether separation is complete when they find the Secretaryship of State for Burma held by the same individual as the Secretary of Stateship for India and the Under-Secretary of Stateship for Burma held by the same individual as the Under-Secretary of Stateship for India, with the Burma Office "housed," as the Prime Minister naïvely put it, in the India Office. In fact, it is little more than a bicycle shed at the back of the building. It is to be hoped that in future the affairs of Burma will be made very much more distinct from those of India than they have been. But in spite of separation from India in 1935 Burma's constitutional development has been very much tied up with that of India. What are the pledges which govern our future policy? Let me first quote a pledge given as recently as last year by the Secretary of State. I am sorry if I get my dates a little confused. First I would like to quote a pledge given by the present Secretary of State for Burma in November, 1941, when he said: This country is pledged to help Burma to attain Dominion status as speedily and as fully as may be possible. The House will notice that in that pledge there is no promise of a particular date, but in 1931 the Secretary of State for India had stated: That the prospects of Constitutional advance held out to Burma as part of British India will not be prejudiced. … The constitutional objective after separation will remain the progressive realisation of responsible Government in Burma as an integral part of the Empire. But the situation has been considerably affected during the war by the visit of Sir Stafford Cripps to India. He has pledged on behalf of His Majesty's Government that India shall have a constituent assembly and have Dominion status at the conclusion of hostilities if she can agree upon it. Burmese opinion regards that Cripps pledge to India as binding His Majesty's Government in regard to Burma as well, and I hope that when the Secretary of State replies to this discussion he will be able to explain where His Majesty's Government stand in regard to the Cripps pledge in its relation to India, because until that point is cleared up it is difficult to know to what extent we arc pledged to give self-government to Burma the moment the war is over.

Some hon. Members will be aware that a number of Conservative Members have for the past year been studying this problem of Burma's future and have recently issued a report containing certain recommendations. We recognise the pledge to give Burma dominion status, and we only provide that in order to prevent Burma ever again being overrun by aggression from outside, there should be a treaty providing for defence bases and for foreign policy, and a commercial treaty to provide for the security of British firms trading in Burma and to help with its rehabilitation. We felt that there must, in the nature of the circumstances of Burma's reoccupation after a devastating war in which all the communications and much of the plant in the country have been destroyed, be a period of physical reconstruction, and we felt that while on the one hand Burma's nationalism would be strained unless a fixed period were put to that we could not see how the reconstruction of the country and the conditions necessary for the launching of Dominion status successfully could take place in less than a period of six years.

We were bitterly assailed by "The Times" newspaper in a leader which must have come as a shock to anyone who still cherishes the illusion that "The Times" is the most conservative of newspapers, for not recommending the grant of Dominion status immediately upon the conclusion of hostilities, and the Cripps pledge to India was quoted to support the reasons for doing this. I should like to point out one thing which "The Times" and other people who have considered the matter have overlooked, and that is that the Cripps pledge provides only, as I understand, that a constituent assembly shall be set up in India after the conclusion of the war with Japan to frame the Dominion constitution. The end of the war with Japan may be a very different date from the end of the occupation of Burma by the Japanese, and our recommendation was merely that from the outset of the period of the reoccupation of Burma by the British there should be this fixed period of reconstruction, which may be very much before the end of the war with Japan itself. Secondly, we provided that before the end of that period of reconstruction a draft constitution should be submitted to a representative assembly, whereas in India the constituent assembly is to meet only after the conclusion of hostilities with Japan and might very well take a year or two to reach a definite conclusion in a country where Hindu and Moslem have almost irreconcilable interests.

Therefore, I do not think that this suggestion that Burma will have to have a period of fixed reconstruction during which the constitution will be prepared by the Governor assisted by a council of representative Burmese will necessarily mean that Burma will, in fact, achieve Dominion status very much later, if later at all, than will be the case in India. I was interested in the reaction of the Burmese Refugees Association in Simla to these proposals. They have stated that they do not think the period of reconstruction "should be extended beyond any period of years strictly necessary for the re-establishment of orderly administration and the inauguration of essential measures of reconstruction." With that sentiment I would agree, and it is merely a matter of opinion how long the period of reconstruction will have to be, but it will depend to a large extent on the circumstances which we find when we return.

All I would say in conclusion is that I hope His Majesty's Government will make an early declaration of what their intentions are, because the uncertainty as to the future constitution is a gap in our political warfare against the Japanese in Burma. As soon as a declaration is made by the Government as to what the constitution will be, this propaganda should be put across to the Burmese who are living under Japanese rule. We do not know a great deal of what has been happening in Burma, but we know that the Japanese have been very astute in fanning the flames of Burmese nationalism. They have given Burma the outward appearance of independence while retaining the tommy gun in the background, and that may be a much more intelligent appreciation of oriental psychology than we have shown in the past, for however far the 1935 constitution went in fact towards granting a measure of self-government to Burma it failed to convince the Burmese that they were getting independence, and Burma is not the only Asiatic country where "face" is as of great importance, if not more importance, than reality. In 1945, we hope, we shall be returning to Burma as liberators—not as conquerors as in 1885—and it is in this spirit of liberation that I hope that the problem of the future of Burma will be approached. If both sides show a mutual understanding of the particular difficulties of each other I believe that this Dominion of Burma, when it comes into operation, will be able to open up a new chapter in our relations with Burma and dissipate many of the misunderstandings which impaired our administration of the country in the past. It is not too much to hope that, perhaps, if our liberation proceeds swiftly, Burma may be the first Asiatic country to become a Dominion of the British Empire and a contented member of the self-governing Commonwealth of Nations.

12.30 p.m.

Mr. Shephard (Newark)

It is ten years since this House debated Burma—I have turned it up and find that it was in December, 1934—although we have had frequent Debates on Colonial affairs and on India. This Debate will make the Burmese realise that we are mindful of their interests. We, in this House, should know a good deal more about Burma than we do. With her strong national aspirations and outlook she will need our understanding. My hon. Friend, the Member for South-West Norfolk (Mr. De Chair), has spoken about the constitutional issue, and I want to add a word or two to what he said.

I do not think we need be too critical of our treatment of Burma before the war. She had a greater measure of self-government than any other part of the British Empire, with the exception of the self-governing Dominions, and the Ministers had the administration of all services in their hands. We tried to run the country as liberally as possible. But Burma wants self-government, and she wants it as soon as the country is liberated. When U. Saw came over to this country in 1941 he hoped to extract a promise from His Majesty's Government to that effect. His Majesty's Government were not prepared to accede; all they were prepared to give was an assurance that when the war had been brought to a victorious end they would be willing to enter into discussions.

I came across a ballad the other day called "A Balland of Yea and Nay." I will read one or two of its verses. It started off: U. Saw is come from the Burmese land the British Crown to greet, And laid the case of the Burman race at the Empire's judgment seat; They held debate on her post-war state between the day and the day, Then the Lords of Law answered Hon. U. Saw and their answer was yea and nay. U. Saw has left the judgment hall and called the Press to his side. He said: 'I came in my people's name, but I go dissatisfied. Ye all have heard Great Britain's word in the Charter signed at sea. The world must wait for Article Eight, but what about Article Three? I ha' urged the case of the Burman race, but the Crown does not respond.' 'Pipe down, pipe down' cries Amery Sahib; 'Our word is as good as our bond.' And the last verse goes: Ye may find the track of the morning mist, ye may run the fawn off its feet, Or ever ye gain a promise plain from the Empire's judgment seat. They ha' held debate on the Burman State, between the day and the day; The Lords of Law sat on U. Saw and the answer was yea and nay. I do not think that a policy of "Yea and Nay" will be good enough for the future, and I ask my right hon. Friend, when he replies to this Debate, to try to give some assurance that His Majesty's Government are prepared to grant self-government to Burma within a fixed period of time. This is an issue which calls for a bold and imaginative approach, and I would remind the right hon. Gentleman of what the Governor, Sir Reginald Dorman-Smith, said in 1942 when he addressed the East Indian Association. He said: Politically minded Burmans and indeed many foreign countries are wondering just what our intentions towards Burma are. Do we really mean to lead them on to that goal of self-government, or have we some reservation at the back of our minds which will mean that self-goverment will always be round the corner and never an accomplished fact. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain by being perfectly explicit as to our intentions. I think it would be appropriate in this Debate to refer to the liberation of Burma. Very shortly, our troops will be making contact with the Burmese people—I do not mean with the hill tribes, but with the Burmese people proper—and I want to remove the impression which prevails in some quarters—not only in this country, but also in America—as to the part played by the Burmese during the Japanese invasion. It is perfectly true that General Alexander—as he then was—said: The local population as a whole appear to be in active support of the enemy. But it must be remembered that as we retreated through Burma the gaols were opened and the prisoners were released and among those prisoners were a good many murderers and a good many dacoits and, naturally, it might appear that the population was hostile to our troops.

The Governor himself has quoted a figure of 4,000 as being definitely hostile and actively supporting the enemy, but out of a population of 16,000,000 that is not a very large number. The fact that we were able to extricate ourselves hardly bears out that the people were hostile. I would like to quote what the Governor said on this question: I am not going to pretend that no Burmese fell to the blandishments of the Japs, even to the extent of taking up arms against us. Some did, but they represented a minute proportion of the Burmese people, and it is quite unjust to brand Burma as a country of traitors, seething with hostility to the British. Had they been really hostile not a single British official would have got out alive. As it was, I do not know of a single case of a civilian official being molested whilst going about his ordinary business unescorted and alone. I hope that statement will receive wide publicity, both with our troops fighting in Burma and with the people in this country. We shall have no lack of friends when we return. Despite the outward symbols of independence, there is no reason to suppose that the Burmese have any love for the Japs, who have behaved in a high handed manner towards them. They have heaped indignities on the priests; the women have suffered cruelly at their hands, while on the economic side, there have been no exports, Paddy prices have dropped, inflation is rife, there have been no imports, and the people are eking out a bare existence.

If I may, I want to turn for a minute or two to the economic structure of the country. By Asiatic comparisons, the standard of living in Burma is very high, and although the economy of Burma must rest, in the main, on her rice crop, of which she exported before the war something in the nature of £16,000,000 a year. Such industries as she has—oil, timber and metals—account for more than half her exports, and that is the reason why her standard of living is higher than in many other Asiatic countries. I believe that standard is capable of improvement, and although Burma will never become industrialised having no proved coal or iron, there is room for secondary industries such as furniture, paint and many of the goods she actually imports, but the great weakness of the economic structure of the country is the fact that the Burmese people have not, in the past, taken any part in commerce or industry. Whether they can be persuaded to in the future, I do not know, but there is always the danger that where a country, commercially and industrially, is run by foreigners, a charge of exploitation will, sooner or later, be made, and I would suggest that all foreign firms, and the Burmese Government, should encourage the Burmese people, by all the means in their power, to play their part in the economic structure of their country. It is not a healthy situation, and it ill-accords with self-government.

My last point concerns the question of compensation for loss of property, equipment, commodities and materials. In January, 1942, the Under-Secretary of State for War made the following statement in this House: The 'scorched earth policy' has been, and will continue to be, pursued in the Far East to the maximum extent that is practicable. The denial of resources to the enemy has long been the policy of His Majesty's Government." [OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th January 1942; Vol. 377, c. 63.] That policy was carried out to the fullest extent. I have a letter here from the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company, and, as hon. Members may know, that company controls practically the whole of the shipping of Burma. I am informed in that letter that they themselves sank 95 per cent. of their vessels and that other commercial firms carried out a similar policy. The extent of the damage has yet to be determined, and until we return we shall not know what it is, but, undoubtedly, what we fail to destroy will be destroyed by the Japanese. As far as these commercial interests are concerned the point arises as to who is going to pay the cost of replacement.

In August, 1942, representations were made on behalf of the commercial interests of the Far East, and the Government were asked for a clear and defi- nite statement in regard to the losses sustained in combating the enemy. I want to read the Government's reply. They said: It will be the general aim of His Majesty's Government after the war that, with a view to the well-being of the people and the resumption of productive activity, property and goods destroyed or damaged in the Colonial Empire should be replaced or repaired to such an extent and over such a period of time as resources permit. If the resources of any part of the Colonial Empire are insufficient to enable this purpose to be achieved without aid, His Majesty's Government will be ready to give what assistance they can, in conjunction with such common fund or Organisation as may be established for post-war reconstruction. That was not a very clear statement and it was received with disappointment. There was no acknowledgment of responsibility in it. It is of vital importance that these commercial firms should return to Burma and resume their activities. I came across a cutting from "The Financial News" of the 18th November quoting a Reuter wire from Delhi stating that the British Government had agreed to pay compensation, and I hope that my right hon. Friend, in his reply, will say whether that statement is true or not.

Mr. Keeling (Twickenham)

That pledge on the part of the Government was only in connection with the Colonial Empire. Burma is not part of the Colonial Empire, and I should like to know whether the promise was not expressly extended so as to apply to Burma.

Mr. Shephard

Yes, that is so. It was extended to Burma, and a specific question was put down on that point. The pledge does apply to Burma. I hope my right hon. Friend will say whether that statement is true. I have the cutting here, and there does seem to be a good deal of doubt as to what is the position at the moment with regard to compensations of the commercial interests. On the other hand, hon. Members of this House who have been associated together in studying the future of Burma have made a recommendation that full compensation should only be paid on certain conditions. One is that these firms should return to Burma and resume their activities, the second is that their administrative offices should be located in Burma, the third is that their sharecapital should be in rupees of small denomination and freely exchangeable on the Rangoon Stock Exchange, and the fourth is that there should be a systematic plan laid down for the training of the Burmese.

My hon. Friend the Member for South-West Norfolk has mentioned that one of our recommendations was that a commercial treaty should be signed, giving protection to those commercial firms, and it is necessary that these commercial firms should have some guarantee. We can hardly expect them to go back to that country without a guarantee of any sort. I want to end my speech with these words, which, again, are the words of the Governor, whom I have quoted very freely to-day, because I think they are of very great significance— Burma will be a test case of our good intentions.

12.48 p.m.

Sir Stanley Reed (Aylesbury)

I make no apology to the House for intervening briefly in this Debate, because I happen to know Burma and have very happy recollections of that land. I know Burma from the open sea up the great estuary of the Rangoon river; I know something of that great city and of the trade which our people have created there. I know its ricefields and its mills and what was once that great hive of industry at Syriam, near Rangoon. Those who have been to Burma and have seen the sun set over the Shwe Dagon Pagoda have imperishable memories of that land, and will be glad to do anything that may be in their power to help it forward to prosperity, contentment and happiness. I think that those hon. Members who asked for this Debate to-day asked for it at an opportune moment. Burma does not loom very largely in the gigantic panorama of this world conflict; but, after all, we are dealing with a country with a population of 17,000,000, and a country which, from the geographical conditions, must play a vital role in the policy of South-East Asia, and, in that way, throughout the whole great problem of the future of the Pacific.

I read the other day a semi-official appreciation of the military situation in Burma, and there I saw it stated that the early liberation of Burma was assured and the occupation of Mandalay was imminent. It is quite true that this appreciation of the early liberation of Burma was conditioned by several "ifs." "If so-and-so happened in the Philippines" and "if so-and-so happened in Malaya, then the early liberation of Burma was assured." These "ifs" have been rather too common in the last three years for us to attach much importance to them, but I think we may assume that the reoccupation of Mandalay is one of the possibilities of the very early future. Our troops have passed through one of the most terrible campaigns in the history of the British Empire I doubt if, anywhere, except possibly in New Guinea, have British troops had to face a more terrible ordeal than the 14th Army faced in the torrential jungles of Manipur and the Abor country. They are faced not only by a keen, resolute and unscrupulous enemy, but also by malaria in its very worst form, and one has only to look at the statistics of the invalided from that Army to realise what it must have passed through

One day, we may hope, that epic story will be told, because it does not redound to our credit that it has not been told yet and is not fully appreciated by our people. When it is told, we shall realise what we owe to those British, Indian and African regiments which fought on this front, and what we owe to the gallant airmen of the United States who established a mastery of the air, and then we shall appreciate the magnitude of the victory which smashed, amidst these appalling conditions, the very picked Divisions of the Japanese army, and drove them back, decimated, into the plains of Upper Burma.

We may hope that the worst of that campaign is over. The rainy season has passed, fairer weather has set in, the malarious jungles are left behind and we may hope soon to find our Forces in the old capital of Mandalay. I fear it is a grievous spectacle will meet them when they enter Mandalay. Those great lacquered pillars of the Pavilion of the Burmese Kings, which were once the joy of residents and tourists, are now nothing more than heaps of ashes; the houses just blackened rubble.

The men who have fought this campaign, and the men who have the further stages of the fight still before them, are asking, as many people throughout the East and at home are looking ahead and asking, what our troops are fighting for and whether we are re-entering Burma with a fixed purpose in view. Surely, there can be only one answer to that question? We are entering Burma as liberators, and with a fixed determination to establish in that land, as soon as may be, complete self-government, and, with it, the full implications of Dominion status. My right hon. Friend may say, very truly, that this is implicit both in past declarations and in the Preamble to the Act of 1935, which established the form of Government which functioned in Burma prior to the Japanese invasion—a form of Government which, it is often forgotten, carried Burma very far indeed on the road to self-government.

May I put this point to my right hon. Friend? That this policy is implicit; it has been definitely stated in several pronouncements; but that it does not go far enough and does not carry the present conviction to the Burmans that their political future is assured? I would ask the Minister if, either now or on some early occasion, he will make a clear, definite and unequivocal statement that the whole goal of our policy in Burma is the establishment of full self-government, and that that self-government shall carry Dominion status in the full implications of the sonorous language of the Statute of Westminster; further, I trust that that declaration may go forward under the Sign-Manual of the King-Emperor. However clear, definite, earnest and unequivocal are these declarations, it must follow as clearly as night follows day that self-government cannot be immediately established when the liberation of Burma is complete. I can imagine nothing more fatuous, indeed I would say more wicked, than immediately to ask the Burmese Government to take charge of a ravished land, without any resources for the great work before them, and to judge them by results which are absolutely unattainable, without the assistance of this country and without the responsibility of this Parliament.

An analogy has been drawn between the guarantee given to India and that given to Burma, but the comparison is absolutely ludicrous and hardly worth mentioning. What possible comparison can there be between India, a country which has suffered no more from the war than a bomb or two on Chittagong or Calcutta, a country with immense resources in sterling, and a country which has been ravaged from Bhamo to Rangoon and is destitute of any financial resources within itself? There must be a period of reconstruction, and, during that period of reconstruction, this House and this country must be responsible for the governance of Burma. I would urge the Minister with all the emphasis at my command that this reconstruction period should be fixed, so we may know whither we are going. It is quite true that my right hon Friend or I, or anybody who knows Burma, can produce a dozen good arguments against a fixed period of reconstruction. I will only produce one in its favour, and it is that, without it, there can be no Burmese co-operation in the task before us. Any sort of general statement that self-government shall be given "as soon as may be," or "as soon as economic conditions permit," will be regarded as a breach of faith between us and the Burmans, and is, therefore, to be completely deplored.

There is, I venture to suggest, another reason why a fixed period for the reconstructive work should be laid down. It will give to the administration in Burma a blue print on which to work. It will give a definite programme and plan to guide them in their activities, knowing well that, at the end of this period, their responsibility will cease and the task will be handed over entirely to Burmese hands. During this period of reconstruction, it is to my mind essential, although Parliament must still remain responsible, that the Burmese Office should be entirely separated from the India Office and should be lodged elsewhere in our administrative system. I know that my right hon. Friend, who is Secretary of State for India and also Secretary of State for Burma, does his utmost to hold the scales even, but, even if he does, nobody in Burma will be satisfied that he does, and, therefore, we have suggested that Burmese affairs, so long as Parliament is responsible, shall be transferred to the Dominions or other office, so that this guarantee of good faith and impartiality may be assured.

I do not want to detain the House by discussing further the constitutional problems in Burma, which have been well handled earlier in the Debate. I want to touch for a moment or two on the economic problem which will face Burma and this House, as long as it is responsible, when the liberation of the country is complete. That problem has been described in semi-official pronounce- ments as one of vast magnitude and one which must be immensely costly. Burma still has two inexhaustible assets—its rice and teak. The backbone of the Burmese economy is rice, with a 6,000,000 ton crop and 3,500,000 tons of exports. It is quite true that through the fluctuation in world prices the economic position of rice growers has varied very materially in the last few years. I venture to suggest that that has completely changed. India is avid for Burma rice. India must have her Burma rice, or go short. I think much of the troubles in Bengal last year were due to the cutting off of imports of rice from Burma. Therefore, a definite complete agricultural policy the moment we have liberated Burma, is of the first importance.

There is this further argument. You can destroy oil wells and refineries, you can ruin a railway and you can in other ways damage fixed industrial assets. No power I have heard of can destroy rice fields, and they are waiting to be tilled the moment the Japanese tyranny is overthrown. My information is that there has been a terrible loss of cattle in Burma through rinderpest and other diseases. In an Oriental country the buffalo and the bullock are the very lifeblood of the agriculturist, and his rehabilitation will demand rather special support in these directions. In considering these agricultural problems there are aspects of economic conditions of the Burmese cultivator which were terribly depressing. Over 40 per cent. of the land had passed into the possession of Indian immigrants, and the industry is burdened with £50,000,000 of debt. That is a problem and a position which must be faced. I hope we shall hear from my right hon. Friend that it is the fixed policy of the liberating Government, that when civil administration is set up, even in the reconstruction period, to take definite steps to restore the land so far as possible to the Burman, and that steps be further taken to see that the land restored to the Burmans does not pass again into the possession of non-cultivating immigrants. It is true it will involve restrictions on the right of transfer and some limitations of agricultural credit. Why should we boggle at that, when we have done it successfuly in the Punjab, and have recently started the same process in Palestine? The Burmese cultivator even then will require finance for the cultivation of his crop. Knowing Oriental conditions and also something of peasant proprietorship I think the ideal method is co-operative credit. But that is bound to be of slow growth in Burma, and I suggest that at the very earliest moment consideration shall be given to the establishment of a land bank.

The teak industry is another inexhaustible asset. The teak forests have been worked with wisdom and scientific skill. We do not quite know what the position will be. Possibly the sawmills in Rangoon will have been destroyed but the forests will remain. In the forests "my Lord the Elephant" is supreme; I am told that 5,000 to 7,000 trained elephants were working in the forests and their collection and reorganisation may be a slow matter. Roughly speaking it takes five years, sometimes seven years from the time when the tree is marked down for felling before the log reaches the port ready for shipment, and however rapidly we may go ahead it may be some time before the teak forests are in full use again.

These two resources in Burma which I have mentioned are inexhaustible. There are others which are not in that happy position. When I went to the oilfield at Yenanyong and Yenanyat I was told that there was signs of exhaustion. That was 25 years ago. They are in full production to-day. I am told also that the mines of the Burma corporation have a very limited tenure and user, and no other mineral deposits have been found. Even for the period of life remaining to them, the development and restoration of these interests are of the utmost importance, because otherwise Burma will be a poor agricultural country and the pre-war standard of life will be reduced.

In the development of these industries which owe so much to our people, there are two features which cannot meet with our approval. They are that so much industry and so much commerce was non-Burman—that much of the industry and much of the commerce was exotic and not indigenous, and under non-Burman control. Whatever may be the reason for it, the Burman is a rather happy-go-lucky man, capable of short bursts of intense labour, but rather resenting long and continued and steady toil, with the result that labour his fallen into mainly Indian and Chinese hands. In the period of reconstruction our policy must be steadily directed to associating the Burman more closely with industry and commerce, and when these firms which have done so much for the prosperity of Burma are invited to go back, with adequate compensation for military losses, they should be required to have an even more active policy than they have pursued in order to associate the Burmese more clearly with those economic and industrial developments, and with this commercial activity.

Perhaps my right hon. Friend will tell us in the course of the Debate what has been the actual cost of keeping the nominal Burmese Government in existence since the evacuation, and who has borne that charge? We are constantly hearing of burdens to be thrown on the British taxpayer and he will bear them. I have a rather tender spot for the British taxpayer, and if we are to ask him to assist financially in this immense work we must be quite certain that we lay no burden on him, even of a shilling, which is unnecessary. I do press my right hon. Friend that, so long as he is in a position of influence or control he will insist that during the reconstruction period there must be no champagne standard in the administration of Burma but a ginger-beer standard; no higher standard of cost than is necessary for efficient administration and to attract the best men.

Finally, I would ask my right hon. Friend to make his explanation to-day clear beyond doubt to the Burman that we go back there as liberators to establish him as master in his own country, at the end of a limited period of reconstruction, and that so far as in us lies we shall assist in the rehabilitation of his industry, so that not only may the pre-war standard of life, which was relatively high, judged by Asiatic standards, be maintained, but that it even rise higher than it was before the hard and bitter days through which that country has passed, and which we hope before long will belong to the evil past.

1.11 p.m.

Mr. Creech Jones (Shipley)

I think the House is indebted to the hon. and gallant Member for South-West Norfolk (Mr. De Chair) for initiating in so moving and eloquent a way this discussion to-day. It is true that in the last few weeks considerable public attention has been drawn to the problem of Burma because of the publication of the proposals of a small group of members of the Conservative Party. In so far as they have stimulated discussion and aroused general interest I think they have done a very worthy piece of work. I feel there are so many large problems of Imperial urgency which have been neglected by this House, problems which call for declarations and for early solutions, that this opportunity of discussing Burma is very welcome indeed. Parliament, particularly now, has a very grave responsibility in regard to this matter, because as has already been pointed out in the Debate, Burma after all is a signal of our good faith and our liberal intentions in that part of the world. People are curious to know in this country as well as in other parts of the world what is to be our policy not only in regard to Burma but to Malaya, Ceylon, India and Hong Kong. There is little doubt that so far as Burma itself is concerned it is an area of vast strategic interest and a matter of considerable importance, not only to ourselves but also to the neighbouring countries and the Imperial powers interested in that part of the world. The United States, the Chinese, the French, Indians, the Russians, all have an interest in the manner in which we discharge our responsibilities in this part of the world.

I think the consideration of this problem by this House is a matter of urgency, if only because of the publicity which has been given to the proposals in the Conservative publication "Blue-print for Burma." Also because Burma itself will, we hope, before very long be liberated and some action is called for from us as a result of that change. I would in the first place, like to join with the other Members who have paid a tribute to the magnificent quality of our troops who have been fighting so hard and making such enormous tragic sacrifices for the liberation of that country.

In conditions which are incredibly tragic and difficult they have suffered nobly. Not only have our troops from these Islands played a gallant part but also troops drawn from East and West Africa, and from other parts of the Empire as well. So, as Burma nears liberation, I think it is important that we declare to the world, as well as to the Burmese, what our policy will be. It is the more neces- sary because of the insidious propaganda, which has been going on during these years of occupation by the Japanese, all calculated to undermine the goodwill and the co-operation of the Burmese with Britain. Therefore, I think we must ask the Secretary of State for India to-day to tell us what assurance he proposes to give to the Burmese in regard to self-government and their future inside the British Commonwealth.

I think, as has been brought out in the Debate, there are great imponderable influences at work on the peoples of these countries in South East Asia. The spirit of freedom, of nationalism, has grown. The call to the under-privileged, which was proclaimed by the Russian revolution, has created a demand for unity and freedom both in India and in China. The impact of these things is making itself felt in all parts of South East Asia, and it is obvious that in the world which is emerging from this war there can be no political domination, no economic domination, without the consent of the peoples concerned. Indeed, for the last 50 years we have witnessed a retreat from political Imperialism, and we shall see also, I think, in the days to come a retreat from some of the excesses of economic Imperialism as well. I want, therefore, to question the wisdom and the justice of the period of time presented in the proposals of the Conservative Group. I have very grave doubts, in areas where nationalism has become so intense, where there was a strong view for full self-government during the years preceding the war, whether it is at all possible to hold these great forces and influences in check for a period as long as that indicated in the proposals of the Conservative Group. I recognise the force of the argument advanced by the hon. Member for South West Norfolk, who made it clear that the six-year period was an undefined one—was merely a limited target that ought to be set——

Mr. De Chair

I hope the hon. Member will not think I am intervening unnecessarily, but I want to make it quite clear that it is definite in so far as there is a ceiling of a maximum of six years; it is elastic in so far as we are agreed that there may be a shorter period.

Mr. Creech Jones

I fully appreciate the point, and obviously it is a time limit which is set, a ceiling, and it is hoped that the period of reconstruction may be shorter in which the Burmese themselves may enter into possession of their full political responsibility. I recognise of course, the importance of great caution in dealing with an area which has been ravaged in the manner in which this country has been ravaged, and that there must be some time before rehabilitation and effective control can be secured. I feel, however, that if the time-lag is at all considerable, if it is as long as five or six years, it will cause considerable dismay and disappointment to the Burmese, and it will undoubtedly react to the prejudice of our own prestige, and will tend to dim what good faith still exists in the word of Britain. I fear, too, that if this period of delay is permitted, we shall also expose ourselves to considerable criticism from our friends in this war. The United States will be handling the Philippines, and her attempt at speedy political liberation will be proclaimed as the model which should inspire Britain in her relation to Burma. It is customary for the Americans to attach so much importance to constitutional liberation, although I fear that too often they forget the equal and vital importance of economic liberation.

The Burmese, therefore, demand their freedom, and it is very little use our talking about their lack of experience, their mental insularity, that enlightened public opinion is needed before they can have responsible government, and all that sort of thing. The Burmese are bound to put to us the pledges which were given and which have already been mentioned. The Secretary of State himself made a notable declaration in November, 1941. The Burmese will ask us, by what right do we assert our sovereignty over them without their consent? That is a difficult question to answer. I would also point out that one cannot hope for stability and the restoration of economic prosperity unless you have the co-operation and collaboration of the Burmese themselves. Therefore, let us do what we can to shorten this period, let us try to set up responsible government at the earliest moment following liberation, and let the Burmese themselves shape the constitution they want, and let us, as a nation, be prepared to take risks in that matter.

I want to say a few words in regard to the points that have been made about social and economic rehabilitation. One of the reasons why I think it is important that there should be political responsibility, even in the early years following liberation, is because if you have to reconstruct the economic and social life of a country, it is vitally important that the people concerned should have some say in regard to the form and shape that economic reconstruction and social life should take. Therefore, we cannot play the part of a paternal government in the building-up; we have to get the full co-operation and collaboration in economic and social change of the people concerned. Burma is one of those areas which have been the peculiar prey of what some writers have called "colonial economics." It is because of the servitude, economically, of the people to alien interests that the spirit of nationalism has grown so intensely in recent years. It has been pointed out already that the whole agriculture of the country has been twisted for the production of rice exports; that the people are indebted to the extent of something like £50,000,000 to Indian money lenders; that a great proportion of the rice lands are in the possession of Indians; that there are considerable numbers of non-agricultural, absenteee landlords. We have also been told this morning that it is British capital which very largely exploits the oil, the tin, the copper, and the other minerals to be found in that area, and certainly a great deal of the labour which is employed in industry, on the roads and on public works, is Indian labour. In these circumstances we need not wonder, not only at the intense feeling of nationalism, but also at the reaction being expressed now by leading Burmese that the time has come when this exploitive character of economic organisation shall be abandoned, and greater regard paid to the welfare and prosperity of the people themselves.

Regarding foreign domination, I have been interested to read the excuses which are sometimes offered for it by those who attempt to justify it. On the other hand a distinguished Burman said the other day: The Burmese are supposed to be thriftless because (except during the rice boom which crashed with dire consequences to the country) they never earned enough income to save an effective amount of capital out of it. It was like 'trying to find the sublime emperor in lowly tea-shops' to exhort the Burmese cultivator, living from hand to mouth, to save. The Burmese are supposed to be lazy because, being either fully or seasonally unemployed, they have nothing to be busy with. The Burmese are supposed to be indifferent to trade and industry because European firms naturally preferred to employ Europeans in skilled jobs and cheap Indian labour in unskilled jobs. That is the Burmese reaction and explanation of the economic influences controlling the situation in Burma. Of course, it must be admitted that the natural resources of Burma depend for their development on great capital outlay, on large-scale enterprise, on great scientific knowledge, on wide technical skill and experience, but the objection to alien domination economically, is because the whole region has been treated as a possession either of Britain or of India, has been treated purely as an appendage instead of as an area which has intrinsic rights of its own. It has been an area of great speculation, it has been directed by outside interests, and so far the co-operation of the Burmese themselves in the development of the social and economic life of their own country has not been secured.

It is obvious, I think, that in the days to come this old laissez faire economic policy must end. Burma must, of course, if she is to go forward, have foreign capital, she must have overseas trade and foreign technicians but I submit that in that period of reconstruction, these must be contributed for her proper development, for the building up of her own prosperity within a framework of policy determined by herself. Even if, as our Conservative friends point out, it means slowing down the processes of development, change and rehabilitation, such development must not outstrip Burmese sentiment or tradition. Further, the control of labour within her area certainly must be in the hands of the Burmese. What we have encouraged in the matter of labour policy in the past must not become the policy of the future. Immigration and standards of Indian labour must be matters to be determined largely by the responsible Government of Burma.

It would not be right that I should indicate the lines on which my party have been thinking in regard to the reconstruction and rehabilitation in Burma. We have heard to-day about the alienation of land. That is a situation which ought to be changed; alienation of land ought to be stopped, and the land brought back again into the possession of Burma. There ought to be, as we all admit, some control of the excesses of moneylending, and a great effort made again to build up co-operative credit and production. In regard to processing and ancillary industries, the practice of co-operation might well be extended. Indeed, in all the economic activities of Burma the first consideration and the first charge should be the well-being of the people concerned. I hope, therefore, that in this period of reconstruction we shall learn from our experience in this war and from the experiments we have made in other parts of the Empire. In West Africa we have carried through, during these difficult years, some very remarkable experiments in State trading by which we have been able to guarantee steady prices, assured markets and have produced a greater rationalism in economic activities. The White Paper published the other day in regard to Cocoa in West Africa illustrates that point.

Likewise, I think more attention must be given, in the case of Burma, to Governmental control and planning in regard to the exploitation of minerals and the founding of industries. I was much impressed with the conclusions forced upon the members of the Conservative Party who provided this Report, when they said: We can only tentatively suggest that the Government of Burma should itself become partners in the financial side of rconstruction. … A policy to reduce the exotic character of Burma's commercial and industrial economy, and to plant it deep in the soil and the people would certainly slow down the pace of resuscitation; nevertheless, taking the long view, it would be better to hasten a little slowly rather than to reproduce conditions incompatible with the spirit of Burman nationalism. Our friends seem to recognise the vital importance of State enterprise, organisation, policy, programmes and planning in regard to this problem of economic resuscitation. You cannot talk of political freedom unless you remove the causes of economic servitude, and I hope the Government, by pursuing a strong and vigorous policy of co-operation and of financial assistance, will help to make good the ravages and destruction of the past few years and will help the Burmese on the road to progress. I believe that the Burmese have no intention, once they achieve complete self-government, of moving outside the British Empire. I believe they recognise that Burma's destiny is inside the British Commonwealth of Nations. Indeed, without being a free nation in the Commonwealth her own security cannot be secured. Burma occupies a place in the world which is of immense strategic importance for the security of the world, and it is of the greatest moment that as early as possible order should be restored and the Burmese encouraged to take control of their own economic processes while we do our best to bring her back to good health by giving her as great a degree of responsibility as possible. I hope that the Secretary of State, because of the urgency and importance of this problem and because of the repercussions which his statement will have in all parts of the world, particularly at this moment when friends of liberty are just a little bit doubtful as to the purpose of British policy, will encourage us to believe that as soon as possible Burma shall have her full self-government restored, and that Britain will play an active part in making her economic and social life healthy again.

1.37 p.m.

Mr. Craik Henderson (Leeds, North-East)

I am sure that my hon. Friends and I can have no objection to the tone of the speech of the hon. Member for Shipley (Mr. Creech Jones), in his references to our Report. But, on the other hand, I, personally, would like to disagree most strongly with him on one point. There are other points on which I also disagree, but I would like to concentrate on this one: He questioned the wisdom and justice of fixing a period of time before giving Dominion status to Burma. He apparently has some doubts as to whether the Burmese might not have a grievance if we did not immediately hand over Burma to them when the Japanese were expelled. That would be the cruellest thing this country could do; it would be a grave injustice to Burma. Imagine a country ravaged from end to end, without communications and practically no revenue, taking over control after the Japanese had been expelled. It would mean that the British Government were getting rid of their responsibility at a cheap price, and I hope no British Government will go back on their responsibilities to that extent.

My hon. Friends and I suggest that there should be a fixed period of six years during which a constitution for Burma should be worked out and which should come into being at the end of that time. The only criticism that there can be is that period is too short. We felt that it was essential to give to the people of Burma the assurance that we were working to give them self-government at the earliest possible date. During that six years there will be an enormous number of problems to be solved; no shorter period is possible without doing injustice to the people of Burma.

Mr. Tinker (Leigh)

The hon. Member and previous Conservative speakers have mentioned a fixed period of time in a certain publication. Where can one get that publication? Is it a Government publication?

Mr. Henderson

It can be obtained at Conservative offices and perhaps at bookstalls, although I am not sure. I think there is no doubt that in the world to-day there is a feeling that larger areas are desirable for economic security and other reasons. People talk about federations of Europe and of the world, but these are, I am afraid, some distance away. But we have, to-day, three large economic blocs—the United States of America, Russia and the British Empire. Our job in the post-war years will be to fit the Empire—ourselves, Dominions and Colonies—into a unit, perhaps a closer unit than in the past, and I think it will be a tragedy if, while the world is working towards larger unity, any constituent parts should decide to go outside the British Empire. The hon. Member for Shipley said that he believed that Burma wanted to remain within the British Empire. Obviously, it will be to her advantage that she should remain within the Empire. We do not sufficiently take up the attitude that to be a member of the British Empire is a great advantage, both from an economic and security point of view. I am sure that Burma would be very vulnerable unless she was a member of the British Empire.

I do not think that the question of the defence of Burma, when the new Government comes into existence there, has been raised. The hon. Member for Shipley mentioned the strategic position Burma occupied and, of course, it affects many other countries, including India, France, China, Russia and Australia. Burma is an integral part of South East Asia strategy and defence and we have suggested that, in the Treaty referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for South West Norfolk (Mr. De Chair), provision should be made for the necessary naval bases, military establishments and Air Force stations being retained under the control of the Imperial Government. At this stage it is difficult to say what will happen in the future, but the question of the defence of the Colonies and Dominions is sure to be an Empire question. Perhaps it is premature to try to go fully into it now, but I think we must bear in mind the safety of the Empire as a whole. During the Japanese occupation of Burma they have appeared to create a Burmese army, with its own commander-in-chief. I do not know whether that army has been a complete success, because it has had to be reorganised and there has been much indiscipline and corruption. I think there is no doubt that the Burmese Government will want to set up an Army of its own. We ought to be prepared to co-operate and to give every facility for training, and put our experience at the disposal of the new Army and create as close a relationship between our Army and Services and theirs as is possible.

We must be careful that we do not always believe that the British form of democracy is the one best suited to every Colony, whatever its circumstances and whatever its history. I think we are rather inclined to look at our own system of democracy, which undoubtedly is the best in the world, and to believe that it can be set up in any other country ready made. I do not agree with that. The British-made and British-designed democracy is not, to my mind, a dress fitted for every figure. Every new nation cannot go to a ready-made tailor and get a standard form of democratic dress which will fit without alteration. Perhaps in the past we have been too inclined to think that our system, which is suited to the Anglo-Saxon temperament, is the type of Government naturally suited to people of a different race, starting very much newer to come to this question of democracy. We want to have a democratic form of Government but we should not make it too rigid. We should try to suit it to the requirements of the people. I hope, when we come to work out the new constitution with the Burmese, we shall not be too rigid and narrow in our views, but shall try to think out what form of democracy is suited to get the best results. For example, universal suffrage may not be the most suitable and really democratic system for Burma.

I think there is no reason why Burma should not have a great future. Undoubtedly she has gone through very difficult and serious times during the last few years and Japan has, no doubt, done her best to get the maximum out of her while giving the greatest appearance of liberty. I do not think we have anything to be ashamed of with regard to Burma. The constitution that we gave her in 1937 was a great act of statesmanship. I do not think that any other country in the world has ever parted with power at such an early stage and to a more complete degree. We are quite determined to give Burma Dominion status as soon as possible and we hope that she will be happy and contented as a constituent part of the British Empire.

1.49 p.m.

Squadron-Leader Donner (Basingstoke)

I am not certain that I agree wholly with the interpretation which my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Norfolk (Mr. De Chair) attached to the events which led to the dethronement of King Thibaw in 1886, and his removal from the Golden Palace at Mandalay, together with his Achinamadawpaya. But however that may be, I should like to pay my tribute to him and his colleagues for their devoted labours in producing their "Blue Print for Burma." I agree with their three major conclusions. I agree that the pledges which we have made to Burma must be honoured to the full and should be implemented as soon as possible. I agree also that we must exclude the non-Burmese areas of Upper Burma so as to enable those people to live happily on their own lines as an entirely separate entity unless and until they themselves ask for incorporation into the Dominion of Burma. The desire of the Federated Shan States to be a separate political entity was generally accepted as reasonable at the Burma Round Table Conference in 1932. On 8th January of that year "The Times" wrote in a leading article that a Burmese-Shan Federation is a vision of the distant future. I envisage for the excluded areas, a series of protectorates which I hope will evolve into a self-governing federation but which must be for the present forms of indirect rule with appropriate degrees of trusteeship and self-government according to the degree of advance reached, varying from the primitive head-hunting Wa tribes to the much more advanced Buddhist Shans. Thirdly, I welcome the emphasis which my hon. Friends have put in their report on the need for a bold land policy and for freeing the peasants from the slavery of the money lender. While agreeing with these three main propositions first, the fulfilment of our promises, secondly, the exclusion of the non-Burmese territories in the East and North and, thirdly, the de-enslavement of the peasant, there are other aspects of the report which I fear are likely to be misinterpreted if they have not already been so. What are crucial and vital to the whole future of Burma are the references in the Blue Print to the constituent and representative assemblies which are, they imply, to frame and pass the new constitution. Those references are in my view disastrously misleading because they can be and have already in some quarters been interpreted as suggesting that the existing Burmese politicians who represent so largely the commercial interests of the urban areas and not the out-districts, the Burmese peasants, should compose both assemblies.

I would plead most earnestly that nothing should go out from this House to suggest that either the constituent assembly to frame the constitution or the representative assembly to assent to it, on behalf of the Burmese people as a whole, shall be a mere group of Europeanised intelligentsia. Our promises have been made to the people of Burma as a whole. They have not been made to the Europeanised intelligentsia nor merely to the commercial interests of the urban areas including the shop keepers of Rangoon. Our promises have been made in the spirit of democracy, and if democracy mean anything it means Government by the whole people through representatives who represent the whole people and above all the peasantry in a land of peasants. It so happens that we have to our hands a magnificent instrument for obtaining just such representation of the people, that is through the village headmen, who really represent the villagers themselves and who differ from the village headmen in some other Oriental countries by maintaining on the whole, and with a few exceptions, a remarkably high standard of honesty and integrity. They too have what is known as the Awza, the authority, and only this morning "The Times" pays a tribute to the loyalty of these village headmen.

I seriously suggest that both these assemblies should be composed as to a substantial majority of village headmen, elected by the village headmen of Burma, so as to get at the real truth of what the majority of the people, the peasants, really think and feel. There are obvious and superficial objections to that course. The objection to it is that they are not competent to devise and appreciate constitutions. Of course they are not, but neither by any standard are the representatives of the commercial interests of the urban areas nor, with a few exceptions, are the politicians; because they have no real understanding, they have not travelled and they have no first hand acquaintance with the working of Government in any other country. The insignificant handful of politicians who have that understanding and knowledge would of course be rightly and properly represented in both Assemblies. In reality no constituent assembly ever writes a constitution. That can only be the work of the study of individuals or small groups, working over it clause by clause. What a constituent assembly can do and does is to consider rival drafts, listen shrewdly to the expounders of each and weigh and modify. What a representative assembly can do is similarly to weigh and to modify and to consider the final constitution presented to it. It is therefore its representative and not its originative capacity which matters. That is why I ventured to describe the objection to the election of village headmen as a superficial objection.

I should like to protest most emphatically against the suggestion which is implicit in the report that although we are likely to be faced with the consequences of the Japanese scorched earth policy, although we are likely to find chaos in Burma, nevertheless we should implement the promise of full Dominion status to that country by a given date, and to decide upon a given date now. No one knows what the economic, social, political, and psychological harvest of Japanese occupation is likely to be. No one knows the authentic facts of the situation in Burma to-day. We are informed that the Burmese have been hood-winked by the Japanese into accepting the name and the shadow of self government without its reality. Many who know the East suspect that the Burmese are shrewder than that; suspect that they have not been taken in and have seen through the make-belief and are aware of their chains. In this House we are unanimous in our wish to give Burma not the name or the shadow of self government but the reality, and that is why I beg my right hon. Friend not to fix a date now at which time full Dominion status for Burma will be established because we do not know what the circumstances in Burma are. Surely it would be madness if, when liberating the country, we found chaos and destitution and had to grapple with those conditions and at the same time tried to build up the institutions of self government only to find ourselves rashly committed in our ignorance to a fixed and unalterable date.

I beg the House to consider what has happened in the liberated sovereign countries of Europe and to consider whether we should do anything which might increase the risk of a similar development in Burma. After all, Burma is a plural society. Therefore we have not only the Burmese but the non-Burmese races, not to mention the Indians and the Chinese. We have all the material for civil strife in that vast country. There will be abandoned Japanese arms left all over the countryside and the people who are armed will take time to disarm. Arms will be found hidden in fields, forests and jungles. There will be dacoits everywhere, and there is every danger that we shall see in Burma a repetition of the distressing scenes that we are witnessing in Athens to-day, but on a far greater scale. In addition, when the immigrant Indians left in their hundreds of thousands and trekked back through the forests and over the mountains, some Burmese, unfortunately, not merely charged them too much for water, but knocked them about, looted and wounded them and in some cases killed them. It will take time before these mutual acerbities die down.

May I remind the House of a single trifling incident, but one which is immensely significant? When the British military authorities, faced with the Japanese invasion, had to withdraw from Rangoon, they had to face the decision whether or not to let free the criminals and lunatics who were under restraint or whether to leave them cooped up, possibly to be murdered by the Japanese. In the end they let them loose, and the depredations of these men added to the distressing scenes which took place. When we return to Burma many of these men will be at large. I am not suggesting that they constitute a major problem, I mention it only as typical of innumerable problems which will face us when we return. I beg my right hon. Friend to leave us with free hands to deal with these problems and not with hands tied behind our backs by rash and premature gestures made in the sacred name of appeasing nationalist sentiments at the expense of the true interests of the Burmese people as a whole.

We simply do not know anything about the conditions inside Burma, except that we can guess that those conditions vary in the mountains, the forests, the plains and the scattered islands of a country which is, after all, greater than France. We are not only completely ignorant of the internal conditions in Burma, but we are also ignorant of the external conditions. The cumulative uncertainties are very great. They include the uncertainties arising out of the Japanese war; the uncertainties arising from the possibility that civil war may well prove to be for a time endemic in China; the uncertainties regarding the conditions in Siam; the uncertainties regarding the economic set-up of South-Eastern Asia; the uncertainties of the Dutch, French and American communications policies and how these will affect the sea and air routes to Burma; and finally they include uncertainties about Indian policy and Indian currency provisions as they will affect Burmese rice. I earnestly submit that since we know so little about both the internal and the external conditions of Burma we should act prudently. The "Blue-print for Burma" produced by my hon. Friends has been interpreted by those who would like to see a particular date fixed as bearing out their point of view, but I believe that the framers of that report intended their recommendations to be read in connection with their suggestion of the permanent linkage of the new regime with a treaty with this country.

Since misunderstanding has arisen, let us here and now clearly and categorically say that our promise of Dominion status will be carried out; but that that promise, however, like every other promise given by anybody to anybody, must be conditioned by the implied assumption of its sheer physical possibility or execution. Let us assert that we intend to give self-government to Burma, that we intend to give Dominion status, and that we intend to conclude a treaty with her, but that if we are faced with unimaginable chaos inside Burma and in the neighbouring countries to the East and North-East the dating of the implementation of those promises must inevitably have regard to the inescapable consequences of facts over which we have no control and must be limited by the physical conditions of carrying them out. I am profoundly uneasy in my mind as to two omissions from the Blue-print to which I have referred, which are crucial if our promises to the Burmese people as a whole are to be carried out. We can rectify the first if we assert that no class, race, category or religion or other grouping will be deprived of a full opportunity of expressing their views at every stage of constitution-making and that those views will be responsibly considered. The second omission can be rectified if we should insert, in any official announcement which my right hon. Friend may make, a declaration to the effect that the primitive peoples of the Mergui Archipelago should like the non-Burmese areas in the East and North also be excluded. These attractive but primitive people who are sometimes called the Mawkin, and sometimes the sea-gypsies, ought to be safeguarded and never made the subject of exploitation either by the Burmese intelligentsia or by external capitalistic interests taking advantage of any kind of economic, political or constitutional loophole which may be afforded.

In conclusion let us make it plain to the world that our promises to Burma stand. Let us make it plain that we intend to implement them at the earliest possible moment and that our promises are made to the Burmese people as a whole and not to an unrepresentative Europeanised intelligentsia, or to any mere group, such as the more vocal politicians or urban commercial interests. We should emphasise that the Treaty which we must make with Burma, if we are to safeguard the economic interests of the land-locked States in the East and the North, and that the representation of all the people are an integral part of one and the same policy. I hope that we shall not commit ourselves to a fixed date for the new constitution. It would prevent investment which is essential to recovery and reconstruction. I hope that the non-Burmese areas, including the Mergui Archipelago will be excluded, that the inhabitants of Burma will be represented in proportion to their numbers in both the constituent assembly and the representative assembly, and that that safeguard will be made a reality. I hope that a mild humane, efficient, British administration will not be replaced by corruption, oppression, extortions, tyranny or enslavement by moneylenders, and that we shall be able to look forward to a free and happy Burma as a free partner in the Commonwealth, owing its independence and freedom so largely to the gallant 14th Army which has fought so brilliantly in Burma.

2.10 p.m.

Mr. Godfrey Nicholson (Farnham)

I am glad that it was possible to allot part of the Debate on the Address to the question of Burma. The immediate excuse in our minds for asking for this allotment was that some of us have issued a short report on the subject. Our object was not to try and get the House to agree to the details of the Report. Our object was two-fold: first, to elicit from my right hon. Friend some statement on the Burma question which might contribute to stability and hope in that part of the world; and, secondly, to cause a rebirth in this House of an interest in Burma, for it is a sad reflection upon our sense of responsibility to that part of the Empire that it is 10 years since the subject was last debated in the House. This has not been an unsatisfactory Debate from our point of view. We have been criticised on one side by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Squadron-Leader Donner) for going too far, and, on the other hand, we have been criticised for not going far enough. In view of that, our committee may be allowed to think that the broad lines of their conclusions may not be far from the truth. I make no excuse for these activities and for asking for this Debate.

Tropical problems will be amongst the most difficult we shall have to face after the war, and the way we handle the Burma problem may prove to be the turning point in the whole of our Imperial policy. We cannot afford to fail, and I hope that this will be only the first of many debates on the subject. Burma is not an isolated problem. There are several Oriental appendages of Western Powers, some independent like Siam, others colonies like Indo-China and Malaya. All hang together, and the way in which the British Empire and the United Nations handle these problems will be of the utmost significance for the future of South-East Asia. In facing problems of these dimensions we must pledge ourselves to an unremitting attachment to the truth. We must not allow our views to be coloured by any motives, however honourable, nor ignore the difficulties inherent in the situation. For that reason I feel bound to register a protest against the tendency in the speeches of one or two of my hon. Friends to apologise for, or even to vilify, parts of our record in Burma. I do not think any apology is needed. I do not say that we have been perfect, for we certainly have not, but under our administration Burma has progressed, it has been happy, the population and standard of living have increased, a high standard of law and order has obtained, and justice has been administered. We have not done too badly, and when we think of the state of Burma 100 years ago and the state of the country to-day, we find that there has been greater relative progress there than there has been in this country.

We want to see things with a sense of proportion. There is no need to blame the Government of the day for the third Burmese war in the 'eighties. If my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Norfolk (Mr. De Chair) can find anything good to say about King Thilaw's Government I shall be very much surprised. It was the most outrageous Government. It did not represent the people, nor did it attract any of their loyalty. The very fact that in those parts of Burma that comprised the Kingdom of Upper Burma the loyalty of the Burmese to the British connection has been most pronounced, proves my point. Do not let us, even for the most honourable reasons, take an attitude of apology. We are very prone to do that in this country. We are so reluctant to boast that we swing too far in other directions. The Government in this country, the Government in India and the commercial community in Burma have done their best to do their duty as they thought right. We may interpret those duties differently to-day and in a different light from that in which they were interpreted then; nevertheless they tried to do their duty, with results by no means inconsiderable.

Secondly, I would ask the House not to underestimate the difficulties inherent in the situation. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South-West Norfolk quoted a remark of a Governor of Burma to the effect that neither our word nor our intentions were trusted in that part of the globe, but I do not think he explained what the Governor meant by that. He did not mean that our honesty was not trusted, The Governor went on to say—I am missing out a few words: We have fed such countries as Burma on political formulae until they are sick of the very sound or sight of a formula. Our formulae have puzzled not only our enemies but also our friends, because they have been hard to interpret to either friend or foe. It is quite simple; the position comes about from our refusal to face the difficulties. We have consoled ourselves with the belief that the promise of independence was in itself a very valuable contribution to the stability and the happiness of a tropical country, but it is not. To promote the happiness of those tropical appendages—I do not like the word "dependencies"—we must face the primary facts of the situation, one of which is that the essentials of democracy are absent and that our first task is to build them up. That faces us with the fundamental dilemma of the whole problem. If we have not the willing and happy co-operation of the Burmese we shall never go any distance at all, but if we content ourselves with making promises on the tacit assumption that the essentials of democracy are present, we shall, sooner or later, be driven to go back on our bond and so make confusion worse confounded and ourselves distrusted because of loss of faith in our pledged word.

My opinion is that the recommendations of this Report have three points behind which we should really stand unreservedly. One is the fixed period of direct administration. If one may venture a criticism of the esteemed Chairman of our Committee, it is that he himself was in favour of that recommendation. We said we must have a fixed period of maximum duration. It did not matter whether it was for six or seven years. What mattered was that we must be definite.

Mr. De Chair

We do not want this rift in the lute. Is it not the case that we did not want precisely six years, but in fact stated that the period should not exceed six years?

Mr. Nicholson

The words were that there should be a period of reconstruction of fixed duration. I agree that it may not be quite clear, but my opinion is that if we allow Burma, India or any other country to think that advance in constitutional progress depends upon our good will, it puts the assumption as to their constitutional progress upon a wrong basis. We must make a statement with a full intention of carrying it out, not with the idea of saying: "Because you have been good boys we shall shorten the sentence." That puts the whole thing on a wrong footing and is not the way to get co-partnership and co-operation. There should be a fixed period for other reasons as well. It is positive cruelty to think of handing over to any hypothetical independent Government bankrupt and ravaged country, desolated not only physically but morally. One of the features of the world situation to-day is the extraordinary havoc wrought by war on the psychology of the peoples of ravaged countries who seem to have lost all respect for law and order. This can be seen at the present moment in the highly nervous state of the inhabitants of countries like Greece.

The next thing by which I stand is that we do not recommend a constituent assembly. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Basingstoke unfortunately did not read the Report accurately. We do not think that a constituent assembly would be the best instrument to draw up the future constitution of Burma. That is one of the, perhaps inevitable, weaknesses of the Cripps offer to India. Constituent assemblies have a terrible habit of falling out. If such falling out should have to be made the excuse for not granting constitutional self government to Burma, it would be very dangerous indeed. I think you would get a much sounder contribu- tion by the appointment of a representative Council of Burmese to assist the Governor in the work of reconstruction and constitution making than if the constitution were to be drawn up in the full glare of the limelight. Secondly, as we in this House are primarily responsible, we cannot shake off our responsibility. We must approve the constitution that is to be offered to the population of Burma through its elected representatives. We should not hand over responsibility for the constitution of Burma to a constituent assembly for any reason whatever.

Mr. Creech Jones

May I ask what would be the position of the constituent assembly? Could they accept or reject the constitution or will the constitution be imposed upon Burma?

Mr. Nicholson

I hope my hon. Friend will not say "constituent assembly." I am not speaking for the Burma Committee, but for myself. My idea is that there will be a body that will draw up the constitution which will then be offered to an assembly elected by the country on the widest possible franchise. My conception is that it will be a very liberal constitution. In regard to acceptance or rejection if it is the sort of constitution I imagine, I believe they will accept it.

The third plank in the platform is the definite promise of implementation of what would be Dominion status, as soon as the treaty has been signed. The time has come when we have to be definite, and if anything is going to be done in that part of the world it should be decided upon and any promises made resolutely carried out. Whatever policy we follow, it is clear that Burma cannot stand alone in the world. It is clear that Burma will need constitutional advice, and help of every sort, including financial. All this must be done on a basis of co-operation and partnership, which cannot exist merely in an atmosphere of fair words and fair promises, but only in a knowledge and careful study of the difficulties of the situation.

I regard the atmosphere in which this Debate has taken place as a very hopeful augury. I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Mr. Creech Jones) that he will find no party feeling on our side. The way in which we approach the Burmese problem will be an indication of our approach to even larger problems. I do not ask the Secretary of State to make any very definite statement to-day but I do ask him to give us a sympathetic reply and to do his best to foster in this country the knowledge of Burma and its difficulties.

2.28 p.m.

Captain Peter Macdonald (Isle of Wight)

This Debate should do a great deal to make known the recommendations of the Committee which has issued this very excellent report, and as one who had something to do with its publication I was very interested to see what the reactions to this report would be. One thing is certain, and that is that the members of this Committee have performed a signal service to this House and the country. It was not for the Committee to lay down a policy. In publishing this report they laid themselves open to criticism by recommending a reconstruction period of six years, (a) that the period is too long, and (b) that the period is too short. It is absolutely essential that a definite period should be stated. Whether the period is too long or too short must be decided by the Government as it is the Government who must be responsible for the future policy in Burma.

There is only one point that I want to make in regard to a very moderate criticism of the report by the hon. Member for Shipley (Mr. Creech Jones). I think he laid too much stress on the recommendation in regard to State enterprise. It was not State enterprise which built up the prosperity of Burma, but private enterprise. And it is a part of the Committee's report that industry should be encouraged to return to Burma. We do not want industry to be discouraged by any thought that they are to be controlled entirely by the State. It is not very encouraging to business men who are going to stake their own and their shareholders' money in the future of a country, to know that they are to be completely controlled by the State. I hope that anybody who is prepared to invest money and capital in Burma, as in any other part of the British Empire, will not be discouraged in that way.

Mr. Tinker

But the hon. and gallant Member would put in a proviso, that private enterprise should see that the people working for them have decent conditions?

Captain Macdonald

I quite agree and there is machinery in every part of the Empire to ensure that they do have decent conditions. I am certain that this House would not for one moment support private enterprise without the additional safeguards laid down by Governments for the improvement of the conditions of the people engaged in industry. That is all I have to say about the Report. I am glad it has been published and I want to congratulate the Members who put so much time into framing it. I urge that the Government, at an early date, should state a policy for Burma, if my right hon. Friend cannot to-day state a definite policy for Burma, I hope he will not allow too much time to elapse before a definite statement on behalf of the Government is made. Therefore, I urge that a Cabinet Committee should be set up immediately to deal with this question of Burma, and that it should be kept as a really live subject from now on. I hope the right hon. Gentleman, when he replies, will give an assurance to that effect.

2.33 p.m.

The Secretary of State for Burma (Mr. Amery)

I entirely agree with the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Wight (Captain P. Macdonald) in congratulating the hon. Members who have taken so much trouble and given so much thought to producing a most interesting and, I think, valuable report, on the whole problem of the future of Burma. That Report and to-day's Debate have come very opportunely at a time when, in view of military developments in prospect, the whole question of Burma's future is already under active consideration by the Cabinet. Therefore, I can at once answer in the affirmative the request which my hon. and gallant Friend has just made to me.

The Debate has been distinguished, not only by a high level of constructive thought but also by the unanimous good will shown in every speech towards the people of Burma. I would only add that that good will and the desire to help the people of Burma forward are not of yesterday. From that point of view I am entirely with my hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Mr. G. Nicholson) in saying that we have no reason to apologise for our past conduct of Burma affairs, even if our future conduct will be framed in the light of a more modern outlook upon many problems, social and economic, than was the outlook of pre-war years. In that connection I am glad my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Norfolk (Mr. De Chair), in his very able speech at the outset, refuted that libel upon British Government in Burma, which is based on the suggestion that our Government must have been tyrannous and oppressive and in opposition to freedom, because the people of Burma did not rise in universal armed guerilla warfare against the Japanese. Nor did the people of Siam, an entirely independent country. The people of Burma did not do so, because we had not armed them and because, rightly or wrongly, perhaps, we regarded Burma as so entirely outside the field of possible war that we had neither attempted to encourage, except to a small extent, the military art in Burma, nor taxed the people of Burma to any considerable extent for their defence.

There is another libel, not upon the British Government but on the Burmese people, which suggests that at the moment of invasion they sided with the invader, maltreated and interfered with refugees, and in every way showed themselves hostile to our forces. It is perfectly true that a few thousand thakins, as they were called, and no doubt a number of dacoits, as the hon. Member for Newark (Mr. Shephard) pointed out, may have created trouble during that time, but the great mass of the Burmese people did not show any hostility either to our Army or civil administrators. As the Governor pointed out, if they had been hostile very few would have escaped in that difficult time. I would remind the House, too, that at any rate several thousand Burmans and Anglo-Burmans served at that time, and have served since, in the Armed Forces of the Crown, absorbed to-day into the main structure of the Indian Army, so far as land troops are concerned, so far as the small Burmese Air Force is concerned, distributed but still serving effectively and gallantly in a good many theatres of war, and so far as the little Royal Naval Volunteer Force is concerned, continuously, actively and most effectively playing their part in the conduct of operations against the Japanese.

The hon. Member for South-West Norfolk and others have paid a tribute which is only too well deserved to the loyalty of the Nagas, Chins, Kachins and other frontier tribes who, in face of a good deal of oppression and savage reprisals on the part of the Japanese, have consistently helped right through and made it possible for our relatively small regular Forces to hold the whole of a front practically as long as the Russian front in Europe. I have heard many stories of the gallantry of these levies and only shortness of time left to me prevents me mentioning some of them. At any rate it is quite clear that the economic weakness as well as the wishes of these tribal peoples will have to be considered. From that point of view I entirely sympathise with what was said, very wisely and cautiously, by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Squadron Leader Donner).

I ought to have mentioned, perhaps, the fact that when the invasion took place certain Ministers—the Prime Minister, Finance Minister and others—and a good many Burmese officials came out with the Government and have been actively working with the Governor ever since. It is perfectly true that the Japanese have set up a facade of an independent Burma under a dictator and a one-party dictatorship, but I think the Burmese are not so stupid as not to be fully conscious of how little that facade is worth, side by side with the ruthless suppression and exploitation of their people by the Japanese, and what it has meant in poverty and distress, through inflation, and through wholesale requisitioning of labour, cattle, and materials. Nor can their national pride have been assuaged by the typical arrogance with which the Burmese have been treated throughout. I saw the other day that there was some attempt at a Burmese protest against the faces of senior Burmese officials being publicly slapped by Japanese officers under the rank of lieutenant-colonel. That gives some slight idea of the kind of Government under which the Burmese are groaning to-day. There was a rather remarkable article in "The Times" this morning which drew a very interesting picture of what Burma is suffering under Japanese brutality and under what it calls the terrible savagery of Japanese reprisals.

I would say, in refuting that libel against the people of Burma, that there is nothing further from our minds than to regard them as a hostile people. We be- lieve that when the time comes they will welcome us as their liberators and it is certainly in that spirit we mean to return to Burma. There is no question on our part of hostility to the Burmese people or indiscriminate vengeance upon them. On the contrary, we shall go there in the spirit of friendship, good will and helpfulness. We desire, indeed, to make good what the people of Burma suffered in part, at any rate, through lack of our own defensive foresight in this matter. Nor, at any rate, so far as our good will in this matter is concerned, have the Burmese forfeited or impaired in any way their claim to our assistance in moving towards the goal of self-government which we have so repeatedly declared.

As my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Norfolk went into the past history of these pledges it is perhaps only right that I should briefly follow him. He referred to the fact that as far back as 1931 one of my predecessors made it clear that the prospect of constitutional advance by Burma would not be prejudiced by separation from India. That meant that the objective of complete self-government was the same in both cases. It did not mean and could not possibly mean complete identity of method at every stage or complete simultaneity in their arrival at the goal. In fact, hon. Members are well aware that in consequence of the internal difficulties in India which prevented the federal provisions of the Act of 1935 from being implemented, India only attained self-government in the sphere of provincial Government. Burma, in 1937, received all the powers which by the Act of 1935 were to have been conferred on India, not only in the provinces but at the centre. Even further than that, though the spheres of defence and foreign policy were excluded constitutionally, in 1941, as the problem of defence became more fundamentally associated with every other problem of Government, Sir Reginald Dorman-Smith set up a Council of Defence in which the Prime Minister, Finance Minister and Home Minister of the Burma Government were fully associated in the discussion of defence problems. It is quite true that even that did not wholly satisfy Burmese aspirations, and towards the close of 1941 the Prime Minister U Saw came here, and wanted to secure from His Majesty's Government a categorical pledge that im- mediately at the end of the war an agreement should be arrived at for the setting up of Burma as a self-governing Dominion.

Even though I could not at that moment foresee the cataclysm which swept over Burma a few months later, I did not feel that I could give so categorical and precise an assurance, in an uncertain world, as was asked. I think the House will not feel that I was mistaken at that time. But I gave then, and I have repeated more than once since, a pledge, making our principles in this matter clear. I gave it again in April, 1943. It was that "our aim is to assist Burma to attain complete self-government as soon as circumstances permit," and I added that "present circumstances did not allow of a more precise statement." Are circumstances to-day such that they allow of a much more precise statement than could be given then? Let us consider what those circumstances are. It has been pointed out in this Debate that in our retreat we pursued a scorched-earth policy, in which a great shipping flotilla, the main artery of Burmese communications, was destroyed, the oil wells were practically wrecked, the lead mines, the port installations, the electrical apparatus, the railways—all that we had built up over the years—were destroyed. Since then the Japanese occupation has dispersed great amounts of elephants and cattle. My hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Sir S. Reed) is quite right in saying that you cannot destroy a rice field. But you may make it unusable for some time if you destroy by slaughter or rinderpest all the cattle with which it used to be worked.

What of the tasks of restoration after reconquest? An immense task will confront us. Is might describe it as being a task in two phases. There is, first, the phase of elementary restoration. At this moment we are feeding some 40,000 people in Northern Burma, and finding clothes for a much larger number. Cattle, the restoration of the main network of transport, roads, docks, and the provision of at any rate an indispensable minimum of equipment for agriculture—all these are a matter of immediate short-range restoration. Behind that lies the problem of long-range reconstruction. In respect to that we all feel about Burma, as we feel about this country, that it is not merely a matter of going back to pre-war conditions, but of raising the social life of the country to a higher level, a level which may perhaps take more intimate regard of the wishes and immediate welfare of the Burmese people themselves, as well as of what you might call the general economic development of the country as a whole. On all these matters; the problem of industry, the problem of land policy—on which it will certainly be necessary to find ways and means of securing the Burmese cultivator on his holding, of recovering from non-agricultural purchasers the holdings that the Burmese cultivators used to work, and giving security and better means of access of credit in future—Sir Reginald Dorman-Smith, to whose enthusiasm, vision, and sympathy for the Burmese people, sustained during these long, bitterly-trying years of exile, I should like to pay my tribute, has, with a keen team of officials, been working indefatigably. With that work Burmese Ministers and Burmese officials have been intimately associated.

The achievement of the end we have in view depends on a good many factors. There are, of course, first of all, the people of Burma themselves. As I have said, those of them who left Burma have been co-operating with the Governor during the years of exile; and co-operation and consultation with the Burmese must be an essential feature of reconstruction at every stage. The foundation of reconstruction of agriculture in Burma is the Burmese peasant himself. We have to set him on his feet. In saying that, I must point out that to get him on to his feet, to rebuild the economic foundations of Burma, requires help and assistance.

Mr. John Dugdale (West Bromwich)

Is there to be any White Paper or any other Government publication which will show what in fact Sir Reginald Dorman-Smith has done?

Mr. Amery

I will certainly consider that. As I have said, the whole matter is under active consideration by the Government. As was very truly said by my hon. Friend the Member for Newark, the standard of life of the Burma peasant is, for Asiatic conditions, relatively a very high one; but that is because of the general economic and industrial conditions, to which other factors outside the Burmese themselves have contributed. Undoubtedly, we must do our best to train the people of Burma in every respect to take over themselves, or at any rate to take an active part in, the modern development which had contributed to make Burma what it was at the moment of invasion. But without those other elements the Burmese standard of life would undoubtedly not be what it has been, and would certainly not be capable of being restored to what it has been.

The first element is the population of Burma. The next is the Indian element. There I must say that I rather regretted a somewhat dangerous passage in a report by my hon. Friend—with so much of which I agree—in which he spoke of the Indian exodus as having solved the major part of the problem in Burma, and leaving a clean sheet for Burma in future. Of the 1,000,000 and more Indian population of Burma, many resided in Southern Burma long before 1886. My hon. Friend rather left out of account the fact that the kingdom we conquered in 1886 was Upper Burma, and that Lower Burma, the country in which most of that population resided, was British for over a century. Of that 1,000,000, a large part have stayed in Burma. Of the others, the greater part wish to return to Burma, and will be essential to the economic recovery of Burma. I think it is a very dubious thing to talk of "the alien element which has been cleared for good out of the country."

It is perfectly true that the problem of land bought in foreclosing of debt will have to be considered, and that some scheme for repurchase at a reasonable figure will have to be worked out. But there can be no question of a policy of native xenophobia being carried out in Burma against a country like India, for reasons of geography and trade and defence. I quite agree with the hon. Member for Shipley (Mr. Creech Jones) that we must envisage the problem of the defence of that part of the world as one. I cannot imagine that Burma could deal with these matters except by a reasonable measure of friendly co-operation with her greater neighbour. As a matter of fact, as part of these discussions on the future, very friendly and helpful conferences have taken place between the Burma Government and the Government of India, dealing with labour, immigration, indebtedness, and so on. I look forward to the Burma of the future working in full independence of India, but also in friendly and fruitful co-operation with India. That is one element.

Another indispensable element in present conditions is European capital and technical skill. As my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Wight said just now, if capital is to return it must have some measure of security. Hon. Members, in their memorandum, have suggested ultimately some sort of trade treaty. That, of course, will have to be considered at the time. But, in the long run, the best security for British capital in Burma, as in other parts of the world, will be the good will of the people themselves, their conviction that that capital is given to help them to do what they cannot do for themselves, and to bring more wealth into the country than it takes out of the country. I believe that British capital is fully prepared to follow that course, and to do what is essential to bring the people of the country in greater measure into partnership on the financial and administrative side, and also to take measures to train more of the people to fill those technical positions which at present Burmese are not qualified to hold, and to fill which it is necessary to give facilities for training, whether they are in India or in this country. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour has, in connection with India, made a most valuable and helpful experiment in bringing a series of batches of young Indians over here to get technical training. It has been a great success. I see no reason why something of the same sort should not be carried out in Burma as well.

There is another element which cannot be ignored either. That is His Majesty's Government in this country. Reference has been made to the assurances which have been given with regard to compensation—I might add that that is compensation for all who have suffered in Burma, not merely Europeans but Indians and Burmese. There is this general promise of assistance towards setting right the damage caused by enemy invasion. More than that is needed. There must be some measure of assistance towards the cost of reconstruction, towards the deficit problem in the period immediately following liberation. If assistance is given by the taxpayer, it is obvious that it must be accompanied by some measure of control over expenditure. All these matters are under the most active and detailed consideration by His Majesty's Government.

All these problems, from defence and foreign policy down to financial problems, involving the co-operation of this country, are being most closely considered. In all these matters our objective is perfectly clear. It is a prosperous, contented people on a high level of well-being and capable of sustaining, as soon as possible, the responsibility of conducting their own affairs. What are yet unknown, owing to the war, are the detailed steps and the time-table of such policy. Obviously, so long as Burma is the scene of active military operations, or the base of active military operations, there must be a period of military control. The first steps in relief, in restoration, in reconstruction, will be carried out by Civil Affairs officers, men with experience of civil administration in the past, working under the direct authority of the military commander-in-chief. That phase has already begun over a considerable area in Northern Burma and is working, I think, very successfully. Nobody can yet tell how long that particular phase will last, and the extent of reconstruction which will be achieved during that phase will obviously affect the nature of the civil administration to be set up, and the political situation, after that phase is ended and when a further phase has begun.

Mr. Pethick-Lawrence (Edinburgh, East)

Before the right hon. Gentleman goes on to the next phase, I think it would be useful if he would elucidate the statement he made that this phase will be conducted under the aegis of the military authorities—under the Commander-in-Chief. Do I understand it will be under the United Nations, or under the British Government?

Mr. Amery

Under Admiral Mountbatten, who is the Commander-in-Chief designated by the United Nations. His operational plans, no doubt, are considered by the Combined Chiefs of Staff, but the direct administrative problem is handled by him and by the actual military commander on the spot. The Civil Affairs officers, at present in uniform, carry on their work—with their knowledge of local conditions—under the responsibility of the military authorities. All that period ahead of us is, as has been truly said by more than one hon. Member, still wrapped in great uncertainty. Even when Burma is liberated, we shall not be able to tell what the situation will be in Malaya, Siam and China, and what effect that will have on the situation in Burma itself.

I would say in conclusion that with so many factors undetermined at present, it would be unwise at this stage to commit ourselves to publicly-announced programmes which we might afterwards be forced, with some discredit, to go back on. My hon. Friends in their Memorandum only ask for such a declaration "as soon as military operations have sufficiently progressed." Well, I think they will have to progress a stage further. In the same way, my hon. Friends ask for a fixed term of six years, and that has occupied a good deal of attention in this debate this afternoon. I will not repeat either the effective argument in favour of such a term, as used by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South West Norfolk, nor the argument used against it by the hon. and gallant Member for Basingstoke, but what I will do is to quote the report of my hon. Friends which says: The arguments on this question are almost evenly balanced. I would say that they are so evenly balanced that only circumstances which are yet in the uncertain offing can decide in which direction it will be wise to tilt the balance when the time comes to declare our intentions, when, again to use the words we have already used, at any rate some of the navigation lights are back in their places. All these considerations are as fully in the minds of His Majesty's Government as in those of the House, and, in considering them further, what has been said in this Debate will undoubtedly be of value to His Majesty's Government. It may well be that the time will come—perhaps not in too distant a future—when the course of events will be clearer and when an announcement may be not only possible, but valuable in assuring good will and co-operation. I doubt if that time has yet come. There is an old adage about not disposing of the bear's skin before you have killed it. In the present circumstances, while we are in death grips with the major bear, and not yet in a position to devote our whole attention to killing the lesser bear, the precise nature of the lining and trim- mings to be given to that bear's fur is hardly a matter for a public announcement which is likely to be effective in creating the psychological results which we desire in the minds of those to whom it is addressed. For a public declaration there has to be kept in mind not only the substance of the declaration, but the question of the right timing.

I have attempted to put to the House the general position of the Government. What I have said does not affect in any way the broad objective and outline of our policy of progressive advance towards complete self-government within the Empire. The Atlantic Charter, as my hon. and gallant Friend pointed out, is, after all, only confirmation of a course of progress which has been developing and broadening within this British Empire towards the Commonwealth of the future. The war has inevitably interposed an obstacle and a postponement in that field, as it has in the field of freedom and variety in our own life at home. In neither case will the cessation of hostilities immediately and automatically restore the pre-war situation. But the purpose and instinct of returning to the natural course of our progress remain unchanged. They are, if I may say so, like a gyroscope which, however much deflected, always tends to return to its true bearings.

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