HC Deb 01 June 1945 vol 411 cc495-550

Order for Second Reading read.

11.9 a.m.

The Secretary of State for Burma (Mr. Amery)

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

The object of the Bill before the House is to provide for an unavoidable stage in the transition from the immediate military administration of Burma to the restoration of the wide measure of self-government which Burma enjoyed before the Japanese invasion, and then to the attainment of that full and complete self-government within the British Commonwealth which is commonly described as Dominion status. I am not sure that the full meaning of that term is always understood. I have noticed that it is sometimes contrasted with independence, as if it were something short of independence and inferior. If that were true of the status of the Dominions a generation ago, it is certainly not true of their status to-day. That status—Commonwealth status, as I prefer to call it—is one not of independence minus certain rights and privileges, but of independence plus the rights and privileges and the practical advantages accruing from a world-wide free partnership. It is, in fact, the status of this country and certainly we here do not regard this country's relations with partners in the Commonwealth as, in any sense, a detraction from our independence.

Such, at any rate, is the position which we wish to see Burma achieve and which we are pledged to assist in bringing about as soon as circumstances permit. That is a necessary qualification. We must not promise what we may find later we cannot fulfil, but I want to make it quite clear that there is no question of its serving as a pretext for delay. On the contrary, it is the desire of His Majesty's Government, as I know it is the desire of Sir Reginald Dorman-Smith, the Governor, to ensure that progress should be as rapid as possible.

Before detailing the stages by which we hope, with the co-operation of the Burmese people, to reach our goal, I would remind the House of the constitutional antecedents of the present situation, and of the circumstances in which the resumption of political life will have to be faced in Burma. Under the Act of 1935, Burma exercised, broadly speaking, all the powers which the India Act of that year would have conferred on India at the Centre, as well as in the Provinces. Only foreign affairs and defence, currency and the administration of the Shan States and the tribes in the so-called Scheduled Areas were outside the purview of the Burmese Legislature and of a Ministry responsible to that Legislature. The White Paper shows that these wide powers were not unsuccessfully exercised. Wider powers, indeed, were demanded by all political parties, and their fulfilment after the war was, in principle, conceded. The Japanese war found the great majority of the leaders of Burmese public opinion united behind the Government, and the Ministry of the day actively co-operated in all measures essential to the defence of the country. When the actual invasion took place, only a small body of extremists, mostly members of the Thakin party, actively joined the enemy. These men afterwards constituted the nucleus of the so-called Burmese Independence Army, and for a time, at any rate, furnished the main support of the puppet Government set up by the Japanese under Ba Maw. More recently, they have realised the insincerity of Japanese professions of conferring independence upon Burma, and, turning against their former protectors, have declared themselves as operating on behalf of a national anti-Fascist front and have, indeed, rendered useful service in sabotaging Japanese lines of communication and attacking scattered parties of the Japanese forces.

Meanwhile, the great mass of the population, though in no position to defend their country, certainly showed no hostility to the Allied cause. They put up as best they could with Japanese arrogance and greed during the years of occupation. They have since given ample evidence of their welcome to the liberating Armies. I am speaking in this connection of the Burmese population strictly speaking. I shall have something to say later on about the splendid part taken in the operations by the more warlike hill tribes along the Indian frontier. In any case there is nothing in the general attitude of the Burmese people during these trying years which would justify us in regarding them as other than British fellow-subjects whom we liberated from a hateful tyranny, and whom we mean to set once more, as soon as may prove possible, upon the path of constitutional progress. The hour of Burma's liberation has, indeed, come sooner than many of us had ventured to hope. Having broken their teeth against the heroic defence of Imphal and Kohima, the Japanese have proved no match either for the superb fighting quality of the British, Indian, Gurkha and African troops engaged against them or for the daring and skill of the strategy of Admiral Mountbatten and of generals like Sir Oliver Leese and General Slim. That strategy has made use, to a degree hitherto undreamed of in war, both of the airborne transport of troops and of airborne supplies. It is only right in this connection that I should acknowledge the invaluable part played by the American Air Transport Command.

Much of Burma is, however, still a battlefield. For some time to come, military operations and their urgent call upon all supply and transport resources must dominate the situation. The first steps in restoring normal life in the liberated area have consequently still to be taken by civil affairs officers, working as part of the military machine, and taking their orders from the military authorities. The fact, however, that most of those officers are members of the Burma Civil Service and men with knowledge of the country and sympathy with its people, should greatly ease the transition towards the next stage, namely, the resumption of civil government under a civilian Governor and administration. That Government has, ever since the evacuation of Burma in 1942, been carried on by the Governor, Sir Reginald Dorman-Smith, and a small body of officials, including two of his former Burmese officials, for such administrative tasks as were required in connection with many current problems, including, more particularly, those created by the large number of refugees from Burma in India, and also with all the work of planning both for immediate rehabilitation and the more long-term reconstruction.

I can assure the House that those problems have been pursued with energy and with foresight by Sir Reginald Dorman-Smith and his headquarters staff at Simla. They have also been pursued here, in close consultation with the Treasury and other Departments more directly concerned. The legal basis of those governmental activities has been Section 139 of the Government of Burma Act, which provides that the Governor can, by proclamation as he did in 1942, take all the powers of government into his own hands when he is satisfied that government cannot be carried on in accordance with the provisions of the Act. A resolution which I shall have to submit later in the day, provides for a continuation of that emergency situation up to 10th December. After that date, when the period of three years provided for in the Act expires, the Governor's proclamation cannot be kept in force without further legislation. It is that which makes the present Bill necessary.

It is obvious that when, before the end of the year, I hope, the civil administration takes over, neither the physical nor the political conditions for the immediate resumption of Parliamentary government will be in existence. The elementary conditions for civil life will first have to be restored. Roads, railways and bridges will have to be repaired, river navigation resumed and ports and docks put into working order. Widespread wreckage of towns and villages will have to be made good. At least a minimum of the essential sanitary and hospital services must be provided, and a corresponding beginning made with educational services. No less important, and indeed even more urgent, will be the restoration of essential equipment for the agricultural production upon which the life of the country mainly depends—the provision of plough cattle and agricultural implements, the repair or replacement of wrecked rice and sugar mills, and of the most immediately pressing needs of the population in the way of consumer goods. That is a matter vitally affecting the welfare of the people of Burma themselves, but it also affects India, of course, which has suffered so terribly from the cutting off of her habitual stand-by of rice imports from Burma. It is of no less vital importance to Ceylon to-day, and soon, to the reprovisioning of Malaya and other enemy-occupied British possessions when the hour of their liberation comes.

All this immediate work will call for assistance in cash and kind from this country and therefore for a necessary measure of control. It will in any case for many months call for the undivided and undistracted energy of the whole administrative staff.

Concurrently with this work of material rehabilitation, it will be equally indispensable to restore the groundwork without which the re-establishment of Parliamentary life will not be possible. The electoral rolls will have to be recreated, and in the almost complete absence of records, this will involve something in the nature of a complete census in every town and village, after the population has settled down again. Incidentally, the main voting qualification provided for in the Act of 1935, namely, entry in the roll of payers of poll or household tax, will need reconsideration because it so happens that those particular taxes ceased to be levied in 1941. No doubt some roughly corresponding qualification can be devised and the necessary legislation passed, so that electoral rolls can be prepared on a new basis.

This, and all the successive stages to be dealt with before an election can take place, will involve a great deal of work upon a very slender administration, occupied with the most urgent needs of restoring normal life as soon as possible and will, inevitably, take a certain amount of time. On top of this, there is the fact that no election can be held in Burma between May and November, namely, during the monsoon time, because it would be impossible for voters to get to the poll.

I mention these various difficulties in order to explain why, in Clause 1 (1), a permissive period of three years is provided for the continuance of the Governor's powers under Section 139,but it is a purely permissive, and if I may say so, a precautionary period, and in no sense a minimum or fixed period. On the contrary, as is implied by the very terms of the Section, which are in no way affected by the present Bill, it is the Governor's duty to revert to Parliamentary government under the provisions of the main Act as soon as the conditions to its re-establishment exist; in other words in the present case, as soon as a Legislature can be elected and a Ministry constituted. It is, I know, Sir Reginald Dorman-Smith's wish to bring about these conditions at the earliest possible moment, It has at the same time been the Governor's desire that even the limited period for which Section 139 will be in operation should not be one of constitutional stand-still, but should, so far as possible, anticipate and pave the way towards the restoration of Parliamentary government under the Act itself by securing the greatest possible measure of Burmese co-operation both in the executive and in the legislative functions of Government. Sub-section (2) of Clause 2 of the present Bill accordingly provides for the liberalising of the direct Government under the normal operation of Section 139. In the first place, it makes it possible for the Governor to create a Government of the executive council type in which, subject always to his final control and to his responsibility to the Secretary of State, his colleagues will have a very definite part in the decision and execution of policy. While, at the outset, this Council will have to be a small body, drawn from a number of his officials, who already include Burmese as well as Europeans, it is Sir Reginald's intention to expand it by the inclusion of non-official Burmese public men, as soon as he has had time to look round and see what personalities are available for that task. The Council might, in the first instance, exercise both administrative and legislative powers. But it is also Sir Reginald Dorman-Smith's intention to create at an early date an interim Legislative Council enjoying a wider measure of popular support. The constitution and powers of both of these bodies and the relation between them would, as the Bill provides, come before this House in the shape of Orders in Council.

These are, however, transitional and preparatory measures whose main purpose is to lead up, with the least possible delay, to the restoration of self-government under the 1935 Act. When that state is reached it will then be for the Burmese people themselves to bring about, by agreement among themselves and with His Majesty's Government, the final stage of complete Commonwealth status. So far as agreement among themselves is concerned, Burma is happily exempt from the difficulties which in India have arisen from deep-seated religious and cultural cleavages. The main questions for consideration will, no doubt, be the franchise, and what I might call the general type of the Constitution. As regards the latter, Burmese opinion might, in the light of Burma's own experience or that of other countries, favour some other democratic alternative to the purely British or Westminster type of responsible Parliamentary Executive, as calculated to secure greater stability of administration and a wider measure of Parliamentary and popular support. Anyhow, that is a matter for the Burmese people themselves to decide in whatever convention, conference or commission they may set up for the purpose.

As regards the agreements with His Majesty's Government which are mentioned in Paragraph 7 of the statement of the White Paper, these are mainly the normal incidents of the transfer of powers to a successor Government—in this case to the Government of a completely self-governing Burma. They would of course be more particularly concerned with defence in the framework both of our own Imperial defence arrangements and of such wider organisation for world security as we and the Government of Burma may participate in. But they would also cover the existing economic obligations of the country and such additional obligations as may have been incurred on behalf of and in the interests of Burma in the interim stages before complete self-government is achieved. Negotiations in regard to these matters could be carried on concurrently with the consideration of the future constitution. In neither case is there any inherent reason why serious delays should be involved. It is certainly not the intention of His Majesty's Government that, so far as they are concerned, there should be any obstruction or delay in enabling Burma to attain to the goal of its legitimate aspirations.

I have spoken so far of Burma in the narrower sense of the homeland of the Burmese people But, as the House knows, Burma, in the wider geographical sense, includes large regions officially described as the Scheduled Areas, including both the Shan States in the East and the various primitive tribes inhabiting the mountainous and densely forested regions along the Indian frontier. The Shan States, if I may mention them first, are governed by their own chiefs under a system of indirect rule, and formed a separate self-supporting unit of a federal character. The peoples of the tribal areas have a double claim on our consideration. For one thing they have shown in no half-hearted manner their active loyalty to the common cause. In the West and North the Chins and the Kachins have been invaluable as guerrilla fighters. Until now little has been heard of those in the Eastern areas under Japanese occupation but they too have, often at great risk and cost to themselves, furnished very valuable help to our Forces, and have harried, and are still harrying, the enemy forces in their retreat. They have, however, also a claim on us in virtue of their unorganised condition and level of economic development.

These peoples strongly desire to continue to be dealt with separately from Burma proper, inasmuch as they realise that in this way they will have the best opportunity of developing, economically and politically, on their own lines. It is, therefore, proposed that they should remain subject to a special regime under the direct authority of the Governor, and of a specially selected administrative staff, until such time as they are in a position to associate on more equal terms with the rest of Burma, and until their people are willing to accept some suitable form of incorporation into that wider Burmese polity, which is their natural ultimate destiny.

The scheme of progressive policy which I have outlined is one which was approved by the late Coalition Government. It has owed much to the guidance and constructive suggestions contributed by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps). Nor should I overlook the useful preliminary survey, contributed at a time when the liberation of Burma seemed considerably more remote and the difficulties in the way of recovery considerably greater, by a little group of Conservative Members. I hope, therefore, that this interim Measure will be regarded as non-controversial. In any case, what will, I hope, go out from all quarters of this House is the expression of our good will for the peoples of Burma. Both they themselves and their beautiful country have always won the hearts of all who have come in close contact with them.

Burma has suffered grievously in the course of the present war. I ought to say that, from her geographical position, she would not have escaped suffering even if she had been not part of the Empire, but a wholly separate country, vainly trying to maintain her neutrality. At the same time, we cannot help having a sense of fellow-feeling, and indeed of duty, towards fellow-peoples of the Crown, who have been exposed to invasion and oppression as a result of our inability to come to their aid. We also feel a corresponding responsibility not only to help in restoring the material conditions of their existence, but also to help them forward in the political field, to that fuller national life which is their natural aspiration. That good will will also, I hope, go out in full measure to Sir Reginald Dorman-Smith, a sincere and warm-hearted friend to the Burmese people, and to all who will be associated with him in the strenuous but inspiring task of rebuilding, with Burmese co-operation, order out of chaos and, I hope, contentment and confidence after disaster and humiliation.

11.38 a.m.

Sir Stafford Cripps (Bristol, East)

I am sure all of us on this side of the House welcome very much the presentation by the Secretary of State for Burma of the case for this Bill. We welcome not only the facts that he has disclosed, and the arguments he has put forward, but also the spirit in which he has put them. We are equally anxious that everything possible should be done to help the Burmese people in the rehabilitation of their country and the early gaining of their self-government. We are confident that the Governor, and those who will assist him, are determined to go forward with the earliest possible solution of the problem. I would like, too, to congratulate the Secretary of State on the White Paper. I think it is a most admirable presentation of the facts as regards Burma, and of the arguments which lie behind the steps which are at present proposed.

In this country we are apt to have too little knowledge of those territories for which we carry responsibility. Here is a great territory of 17,000,000 inhabitants and of 262,000 square miles, for which we are primarily, and indeed at the present time solely, responsible. It is rather disheartening to find such a lack of know- ledge among the people of this country as regards an area for which we have to discharge that tremendous responsibility. As we hope the contents of the White Paper will enlighten many people on the circumstances in Burma, we are grateful to the Secretary of State for having presented it. I would like, on behalf of my hon. Friends on this side, to join in the right hon. Gentleman's words of admiration and commendation for the performance of the British troops, Indian troops and Imperial troops in Burma. The successful release of Rangoon prior to the monsoon was something for which many of us hardly dared to hope. It is only because of the great initiative and courage of our troops that we have been able to achieve this very wide measure of the release of Burma from the hands of the enemy. It is that which has made this subject matter of the future Constitution of Burma something which requires to be so urgently dealt with.

There are one or two matters in connection with this scheme which I would like particularly to draw to the attention of the House and of my friends amongst the Burmans, in order to convince them that this is the best practical scheme which can be devised for the early realisation of their desires. It is a scheme in which they will be asked to participate to the maximum possible extent, so that, by co-operation between the people of Burma and the people of this country, we can arrive at our mutually-desired goal as rapidly as possible. It is important to emphasise that there is no question whatsoever of any Government of this country withdrawing from the considered policy of granting full self-government and Dominion status to Burma, at the earliest possible time. I was very glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Burma emphasising that point. That is an undertaking in which we on this side most wholeheartedly join. There is an absolute obligation on this country, and a promise upon which no British Government can ever go back. It is upon that foundation of certainty that the structure of this interim device is built.

With that basic desire, the question naturally arises of how we can, most quickly and most conveniently, with the co-operation of the Burmese people, arrive at this point of self-government. The whole scheme, as I understand it, is worked out with the idea of the quick and efficient realisation of that objective. The first stage is, naturally, to get back to civil government. At present Burma is under military government, and the first stage towards the reconstitution of a Burmese, Government must be to get back to a civilian form of government. There is, as the Secretary of State for Burma has said, the greatest dislocation in the country. All the records upon which a new Government could be based have disappeared, populations have moved over wide areas, means of transport have been destroyed, and the civil administration in Burma itself has, for the time being, completely disappeared, and must be rebuilt as quickly as possible, to cope with the necessary preliminaries for the re-establishment of government.

All that means that there must be a period at the beginning of the reconstitution of civil government during which it is necessary to improvise, and it is for that purpose, as I understand it, that this Bill is required to extend the provisons of Section 139 of the Burma Act. These provisions, which give the Governor of Burma the power, in circumstances when the normal Government of the country cannot be carried on, to assume the powers of Government himself, have been in operation now since the invasion of Burma, and it is proposed to continue the operation of those powers beyond the permitted time under the Burma Act. For that reason, a new Measure must be passed by this House. That will enable a civil Government to function, but, of course, it would not be satisfactory, either to us or the Burmese people, if that Government were to consist, for any considerable time, of a Governor and nothing more.

We should not be content with a complete autocracy in Burma. We must aim at as large a measure of improvised democracy as we can attain, and so it is that, under Sub-section (2) of Clause 1 of the Bill, a power is given, by proclamation, to set up advisory and other councils to be associated with the Governor and to consist either of official or non-official Burmese. It is essential, in our view, that the fullest possible use should be made, at the earliest possible moment, of these new powers for assisting the Governor in the development of civil government in Burma. I was very glad indeed to hear the emphasis that was laid by the Secretary of State upon the need for this early incorporation of Burmese, official and un-official, in the councils of the Government, and I know, from conversations which I have had with the Governor, that he shares very fully the desire that that should happen at the earliest possible moment.

There is one side of the necessity for this drawing-in of the Burmese people that I would like particularly to emphasise. There must be, of course, in the early stages of the reconstitution of civil government, a great deal of work to be done upon the economy of Burma, and it is of the greatest importance that, in that work, the Burmese people should play their full part. We do not want to see Burma reconstituted, under a British Imperial régime, entirely by British business men. We want to see the Burmese people taking the fullest part in that reconstitution of their economic life. I think that they were justly able to complain, in the period before the war, that their share and participation in the economic life of Burma was not a very large one. When I was out there, it was said to me that all the big business was in the hands of the British, all the land was in the hands of the Indians, the distributive business was in the hands of the Chinese and that there was very little left for the Burmese.

Mr. Godfrey Nicholson (Farnham)

I know the right hon. and learned Gentleman does not want to be unfair, but it is a fact that many firms in Burma, of all nationalities, have done their best to get the Burmese interested. It is a matter of temperament, as I am sure the right hon. and learned Gentleman will recognise.

Sir S. Cripps

I do not want to have any recriminations about anything. We all agree that we want to get on with this job as well as we can, but, if the hon. Member asks me, I would say that there was a legitimate complaint in the pre-war period that Burmese found it very difficult to get into responsible posts in any of the bigger industries. It is true that they were employed in the junior posts, but they found it very difficult to penetrate to responsible managerial positions. I am sure that the employment of Burmese in such positions is something we all want to see developed. These pro- visions will give power to call in Burmese to assist in this reconstruction at the very earliest possible moment—long before it is possible to organise a representative democratic Burmese Government. There has been a little criticism of the period of the three years' extension in Section 139, due, I believe, to a misunderstanding. It is very important that this should be thoroughly appreciated in Burma itself. This period of three years, as I understand it, is not set down as a desirable period for the continuance of the Governor's special powers. But as the world to-day is full of uncertainties, it was thought better—if I appreciate the mind of the Secretary of State aright—to put in a safe period, that certainly would not need to be exceeded, than to put in a period which we hoped to attain and then, owing to some emergency, to have to extend it, with consequent misunderstandings.

Mr. Amery

A precautionary period.

Sir S. Cripps

As the right hon. Gentleman says, it is a precautionary period. The aim, as I understand it, and to this we certainly give our full support, is that the period should be as short as practicable. If it can be done in a year, so much the better and we shall be all the more pleased, but one has to realise that there is a great deal to be done. It will, to a very considerable extent, depend upon the degree of whole-hearted co-operation that we shall get from the Burmese people in this initial stage, how rapidly we can get through it. The more rapidly they come to help us, the quicker we shall get to the second stage. Nor need this preparation, this initial stage of the Governor's powers under Section 139, in any way delay the development of the final stage. There is no reason that I can see, why conversations and discussions should not be initiated very soon indeed, upon the final form of the Constitution for a self-governing Burma. That does not necessarily have to wait the determination of the first stage before these consultations can start. As soon as the state of the country permits, in the first stage of the reorganisation of civil government, as soon as it is possible to bring about the circumstances in which a General Election can fairly take place, upon a decent register—a question which has even caused some difficulty in this country, let alone in a country such as Burma—then there will be a full restoration of the powers under the Burma Act and a democratic Government will be formed which will consist of a Legislature and an Executive responsible to that Legislature.

This reconstitution of the political life of Burma in, I believe, the only possible way in which we can reconstitute it, will, I hope, give an opportunity for working out the final stages of the new Constitution that is required. As soon as that is reached, at the end of one, two, three, or more years of the new Government under the old Act, it will be possible, I hope, for agreements to be reached between this country and Burma on the Constitution and the necessary arrangements and treaties which will have to accompany its operation. With this sequence of events, it will be up to the Burmese themselves, with such assistance as we can give, to shorten the period before they get the full self-government at which we are all aiming. I see no reason why, with wholehearted co-operation on all sides, that period should not be brought down to something not more perhaps than three or four years at the most.

If the points which I have sought to emphasise are borne in mind, I am certain that all friends of Burma will be satisfied that this White Paper and this Bill do put forward a sound and reasoned plan for the quickest orderly realisation of self-government that can be devised for Burma. But we have to remember always that it is not only the plan on paper that matters. The temper in which these proposals are carried out will be all-important. I am certain, as I say, from my talks with the Governor, that he is most anxious to expedite the matter in every possible way. I also hope—and I am glad to have heard the assurance on this point of the Secretary of State—that nothing will be done by the British Government, in any way, to discourage the fullest realisation of the aims of the Burmese at the earliest possible moment. Indeed, not only should the Government not discourage, they must continually encourage, and speed up these developments so that nothing will be allowed to stand in the way. We, on this side of the House, will certainly watch this matter with care; indeed, we shall watch it with care on whichever side of the House we happen to be sitting in the next few months, and we shall do our utmost to see that this plan, which we think is an excellent plan, works smoothly and rapidly.

Finally, I would counsel my Burmese friends and the people of Burma to exercise their patience. Some of them may feel that, after the sufferings they have been through, they would like a more speedy realisation of self-government than perhaps they think is in prospect under this plan. But I can assure them that those who have most genuinely the good of Burma at heart, have done their utmost to devise a scheme which will act as rapidly as possible, consistently with the proper democratic development of the Burmese Government. We do not want to see, in Burma or in any other country, the rapid seizing of power by any particular group of people in order to improvise some form of Government. We want, if we can, to develop it in an orderly way, and in a way which will give a permanent and satisfactory solution to the problems of Burma. I believe, and I hope the Burmese people will co-operate in that belief, that this scheme does provide such a method.

11.59 a.m.

Mr. De Chair (Norfolk, South-Western)

I would like to congratulate the Secretary of State for Burma on having introduced what must be considered, in all parts of the House, a very comprehensive Measure for the future settlement of the Burmese problem. The speech to which we have just listened from the right hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) will, I am convinced, go a very long way towards ensuring that the Government plan, outlined in the White Paper, can be successfully carried through in Burma. All those who have taken an interest in this matter have been confronted at different stages in their investigations with what is known as the Cripps offer to India. This has continuously been held out as an indication that Burma should receive Dominion status, the moment the war is over. I think that the very reasoned speech to which we have just listened from the right hon. and learned Gentleman will go a very long way to convince Burmese opinion that the programme laid down is the maximum that is possible to enable Burma to achieve her legitimate aspirations.

I am convinced that in this problem of Burmese constitutional development, the spirit in which things are carried out is much more important than any words in White Papers or Acts of Parliament. It has been noticeable that the speeches of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Burma on previous occasions dealing with this have been distorted in reports in India, in a way which would indicate that His Majesty's Government were totally unsympathetic to self-government for Burma and were doing everything they could to postpone it as long as possible. I very much hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to "get across" to Burma public opinion now, in some more direct form, the substance of what he has said in this House to-day. I do not know whether it would be possible for him or for the Governor, Sir Reginald Dorman-Smith, to make a broadcast to the Burmese people at an early date, giving the substance of the assurances which have been made to-day. But that, I believe, would go a long way to clear up misunderstandings.

The Secretary of State for Burma was good enough to refer to a group of Members of this House who have been studying these matters for some time past. We, of that group, find ourselves in a somewhat curious position. When we published our "Blue Print for Burma" we were regarded, in many quarters, as being excessively advanced, and as having been rather rash in proposing that there should be a fixed period of reconstruction in Burma not exceeding six years, during which the Governor should have sole power and during which he should merely have an advisory council associated with him. Now we are rather in the position of the younger members of a family who have to shout, "Daddy, don't go so fast." The right hon. Gentleman is in front of us, and we are trying to catch up, but nobody will be more delighted than we are.

In fixing the period of six years, we were cautious because, as the right hon. Gentleman pointed out, events had not then gone as far as they have now, in that we could not see how far the devastation of Burma would reach and we could not tell, therefore, the exact circumstances in which the British would find themselves upon the reoccupation of the country. Now that Rangoon has been reoccupied and the attitude of the Burmese people is seen to be so helpful, clearly new conditions exist, and the right hon. Gentleman has been very wise to respond to that atmosphere of good will in Burma in producing a White Paper providing for earlier self-government than we could possibly have visualised at that time.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for East Bristol gave a possible time-table and mentioned a figure of three or four years for the realisation of Dominion status in Burma. I hope that that will go far to dispel the anxiety of Burmans that by not having what they described as the Cripps offer for Burma they are going to suffer in comparison with India. It is true that when Burma was separated from India an assurance was given that her constitutional development should not be prejudiced by that fact. But clearly the fact that Burma has been a theatre of war and has been largely ravaged by the Japanese, while India has been spared, must make a difference in the immediate constitutional steps that can be taken. Moreover, I think it is a fair guess to hazard that Burma will, in fact, under these proposals secure Dominion status, possibly as soon as India, if not before, because India was only promised Dominion status when she could agree upon it at the conclusion of the war with Japan, and as the war with Japan is by no means over yet, and there are many internal difficulties in the nature of the caste divisions in India to be overcome, which do not exist in Burma, it seems reasonable to suppose that the Burmese will, in fact, be able to agree at an earlier date.

I regret, however, that during this period of interim government, which the right hon. Gentleman has described, he has not advocated the transfer of Burmese affairs to the Dominions Office. To us in this country that might seem an unimportant step, but we are dealing here very much in the realm of psychological values. There is a deep suspicion in Burmese minds that all these safeguards and phrases in the White Paper may mean a further postponement of Dominion status, and nothing would convince them more surely of the Government's sincerity and determination to introduce Dominion status at an early stage than if Burma could be administered by the Dominions Office during the period of reconstruction. I know it will be argued that the Dominions Office is not adapted to executive administration; that it is more of a diplomatic office, co-ordinating the views of the Dominions. At the same time, there is no reason why constitutional innovations should not take place and that a department of the Dominions Office should not now be set up to deal with Burmese affairs, so that the Burmese would be more convinced that the ultimate goal was Dominion status. I noticed that at the recent Labour Party Conference the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Central Wands worth (Mr. E. Bevin) suggested that that procedure should be adopted in regard to India. I do not know whether he realised that he was stealing a copyright from the "Blue Print for Burma" because we certainly advocated that procedure in regard to Burma during the period of reconstruction.

As regards the election which is to be held at the earliest possible date in Burma, the latest problem that will be presented there presumably is the question of Burmese nationalism. There are two very interesting articles in "The Times" of yesterday and to-day, dealing with the emergence of the new political parties in Burma during the war, and showing that these very active parties—ten of which are mentioned as engaged in the Anti-Fascist Organisation and which are now co-operating with the British—are all, to a greater or less degree, pledged to Burmese nationalism in the form of independence; that is to say, their aim is complete Burmese independence and not self-government within the British Empire. It will be a great task of British statesmanship during the period of reconstruction, to convince these ardent nationalist parties that the desirable future for Burmese nationalism lies in the field of Dominion status within the British Empire. I think it is true to say that the older political groups in the last Parliament, who were nationalist in spirit, were all in favour of independence within the framework of the British Empire, and there is no doubt that the accounts given in "The Times"—which bring new and fresh light upon the present situation in Burma—are disturbing in that respect.

There are many questions with which the Secretary of State did not deal in his speech, in connection with the problem of our resumption of responsibility in Burma, which bear upon this question of the attitude of the present parties. I hope that, in his reply, he will be able to say something about the attitude of His Majesty's Government towards those elements in Burma which carried on administrative functions under the Japanese, because there are many people in Burma to-day who, I think, wish Britain well, who want to join us at this stage, but who are apprehensive as to their future because of the part that they feel they may have played during the Japanese occupation. Are the Government going to grant an amnesty to all parties in Burma who may have co-operated during the Japanese occupation, with the possible exception of particular individuals like Dr. Ba Maw? One does not suppose the Government would welcome him with open arms in a new Dominions administration but, with that exception, one hopes the Government will be extremely liberal in their approach to this problem, because these people have been in very difficult circumstances and it is not very easy to see what else they could have done.

There is the question of the military administration on which the right hon. Gentleman dwelt. I quite see that so long as Burma is to be a strategic base for operations in the Far East, the military authorities will naturally want to have control over Burma. Yet there is a suspicion that the military mind, if I may put it that way, is not the most sensitive to political considerations and to the difficulties of administering a country like Burma during this very difficult intermediary stage when we are returning to a country that has been through the ravages of war and where nationalist sentiments are very strong. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will do his best to see that the military administration is not continued longer than is absolutely necessary owing to the demands of strategy in the Far East. He mentioned the fact that many of the civil administrators were now in the Civil Affairs Department of the Army in Burma, but I think that their position must be somewhat different. A civil administrator in uniform is beholden to his immediate superiors, and he is not always free to exercise his discretion in the way he could if he were purely a civil administrator.

The question was raised in the Press recently of an order given by the military administration for the suppression of Japanese currency in Burma. Could the right hon. Gentleman say more about that in his reply? As I understand it, the position in occupied countries in Europe has been that where the occupying authority, like the Germans, have issued a currency and inflated it, the policy of the new Government has been to call in all currency and to replace it by a currency of their own at some rate of exchange which they have fixed. The report from Burma is that all Japanese currency has been called in, and that this is imposing considerable hardship on certain sections of the Burmese who were using this currency during the Japanese occupation and who may have no other. Any information that the right hon. Gentleman could give us as to how that currency situation is being sorted out, would be of great interest.

The problem of the actual physical reconstruction of Burma presents certain problems with which I think the right hon. Gentleman did not deal in great detail. In fact the whole of the White Paper and the Bill are naturally concerned primarily with the constitutional aspect of development and do not intend to be even a blueprint for Burma. They deal with the framework within which the internal administration can be carried on and the future government introduced. There is, however, the question, first of all, of the various British undertakings operating in Burma, which destroyed their plant at the request of the military authorities. It would be interesting if the right hon. Gentleman could give a more specific assurance than I think he has been able to do in the past, that wherever demolition or wrecking of plant was carried out by order of the Government, full compensation will be paid. Perhaps he could provide us with a little more detail at this stage.

With regard to the question of the rehabilitation of the country as a whole, presumably His Majesty's Government intend to find a considerable part of the money for that. Whether it is to be in the form of income or loan we are not quite clear, and we do not know the size of the sum which they are prepared to find, but I think the Burmese would, legitimately, feel that the cost of rebuilding the country after aggression—which occurred as a result of a failure, perhaps outside our control but nevertheless not the fault of the Burmese, who have seen their country overrun and devastated—should reasonably fall upon the Imperial Government. They would, I think, feel it unfair, in the early stages of rehabilitation, to expect the finances of the country to provide any large portion of the cost of that rehabilitation.

The question of the Scheduled Areas was also raised by the right hon. Gentleman. He said that they would be excluded from the proposed arrangement, and with that I entirely agree. But when he said they would continue under the administration of the Governor I hope he was envisaging some re-organisation of the method of administering frontier areas. In the past, these tribal areas were very much under the administration of the Defence Department and the actual commissioners for the different areas and the district commissioners had a feeling, I believe, that they had not very easy access to the Governor, and that the whole administration of those areas was very much conditioned by Defence considerations. I do not want to weary the House with details or to speak too long, but as I understood the position which existed before, the Governor had under him for the administration of the Scheduled Areas a councillor, and under him, the Secretary for the Defence Department. Under that Defence Department there were the commissioners for the various areas, the Shan States Commissioner at Sagaing, the Commissioner at Magwe, etc., and there were under these different headings the actual district commissioners administering the Shans, the Karens and so on.

It is to be hoped that the right hon. Gentleman has considered some set-up which will bring the Governor into more direct control of those areas, and associate with him directors or deputy directors who have direct knowledge of the frontier areas. I can imagine that with the development of further self-government in Burma many members of the Burmese Civil Service will, possibly, want to take part in the administration of the frontier areas. It would be a pity however if the new set-up in those areas were to include too many of the older members of the Burma Civil Service, and opportunity ought to be taken to bring in as many as possible of the younger men who have been associated with the actual development of these areas and also with the organisation of the fighting elements in the tribal areas to which the right hon. Gentleman himself paid a special tribute. Apart from this, I should like to conclude upon a note of sincere good wishes to the right hon. Gentleman. I think he has gone much further than many of us dared to hope, and I only pray that it will be possible for the Burmese people to realise the sincere good will which was expressed in his words to-day, to listen to the views of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for East Bristol and to realise that there is a united House of Commons wishing to give Dominion status to Burma at the earliest possible moment.

12.20 p.m.

Mr. Hynd (Sheffield, Attercliffe)

I confess at the outset that my intervention in this Debate is not the intervention of one who has any interests in Burma, apart from the ordinary interest of a British citizen, nor have I any particular and direct knowledge of conditions inside Burma. In that respect, I think I am like the majority of the people whom I represent, and probably like many millions of British people. But if the horror films of the Buchenwald and Belsen Camps have taught the people of this country anything it has taught them the lesson of collective responsibility, and therefore I make no apologies for intervening.

While, from the point of view of the ordinary British citizen, who has never been to Burma, the statement made by the Minister sounded very soothing, it did not seem to bear much relationship to the implications of the White Paper, nor to what I should assume would be the normal reactions of the Burmese people to the propositions in that White Paper. It is now some 25 years, I believe, since we first announced that it was our intention to give Burma Dominion status and to work for free self-government for that country. Yet the White Paper, which presents a scheme for the reconstitution of Government within that now liberated territory—liberated, according to the information that has been given to us, in no inconsiderable measure by the efforts of the Burmese themselves—does not move very speedily towards a realisation of either self-government or Dominion status. It even proposes to suspend, for a period, apparently, of about three years—which is neither a minimum nor a maximum in the terms of the White Paper—a return to the Constitution under which the Burmese people had been living since 1935, prior to the Japanese invasion. There is no guarantee that even by 1948 they will have achieved that position.

The Minister has reminded us that the Burmese people must be regarded as British fellow subjects who have now been liberated from the invader, and liberated, he added, sooner than any of us here dared to expect. He wishes to assures the Burmese people, these British fellow subjects, that there is no intention that this Bill shall be made an excuse for any further delay in introducing our long-promised scheme of Dominion status, but in the same breath he tells us that the Burmese have learned from experience of the Japanese invasion, the insincerity of the Japanese promises of self-government. The Japanese have only been there for a year and a half, and if the Burmese are expected to have learned in a year and a half of Japanese occupation—under actual fighting conditions—that the non-fulfilment of their promises is the test of their sincerity, I find it difficult to follow the right hon. Gentleman's logic when he suggests after a promise of Dominion status has been in existence for 25 years and after we have been building up from that point for some ten years—since the 1935 Constitution—in normal peace conditions the Burmese people should be expected to assume our complete sincerity. It is rather difficult to co-ordinate the two arguments.

According to the information to which I have had access, what the Burmese people think is rather different from what the Minister would lead us to suppose. The hon. Member for South West Norfolk (Mr. De Chair) referred to a deep suspicion in the minds of the Burmese of our real intentions. When we look at the White Paper—and in passing I would pay a tribute to the drafting of the White Paper, which conveys quite a fair statement of the position so far as I can judge it, so fair a statement that perhaps it rather prejudices one's case—we find in paragraph 10, on page 4: The financing of agriculture and the agriculturist was largely in Indian hands, and as a result of this and the effect of the slump in 1930 a considerable proportion, amounting to at least one-sixth, of land used for agriculture had passed into Indian ownership. In industry and the extraction of timber British capital and British firms predominated. The Chinese were mainly small traders. So in the control and administration of both industry and agriculture, the Burmese apparently have no part whatever. When we turn to page 8 we see the statement—I do not know whether this has any reference to what I have already quoted: It is hoped that the very thorough plans which have been worked out will commend themselves to the people for whose benefit they are intended. Do the people for whose benefit these proposals are intended mean the people referred to in paragraph 10 on page 4? Because they are anybody except the Burmese themselves; they are, in short, the people who have the big capital investments in the teak and other timber and oil production of the country. That would seem to be a relevant question. I have also in mind the fact that I have put Questions in this House in recent weeks on the Government's intentions in regard to the restoration to British interests of the timber, oil and other industrial concerns in Burmese territory, and it has been made perfectly clear that it is the Government's primary intention that those interests shall be safeguarded. In other words, so far as the penetration of British and other capital interests are concerned, we are working towards a restoration of the status quo. I wish to know whether or not that is the key to the whole scheme, whether its whole purpose is to ensure that there shall be no introduction of Burmese self-government, no undue interference by the Burmese themselves in the reconstruction and the administration of their country unless and until these vital British interests have been adequately safeguarded.

If that is not the key of the scheme, is not the vitally relevant factor in it, I should be left wondering why there is this determination that above all things these British capital interests should be looked after by His Majesty's Government, rather than left to the tender mercies of whatever Burmese Government, of Dominion status or otherwise, was established. So far as I can gather, the Burmese people are not alleged to be unfit for self-government; that is not the argument. In fact, ever since the 1935 Act was passed it has been recognised that they are fit for a growing participation in self-government and they have had a somewhat limited but nevertheless actual popular franchise. They have partici- pated in the government of their country, and during the Japanese war they have shown that they are interested in the defence of their country and have played their part in that direction. I should imagine, therefore, that the average Burmese person would be asking himself, whatever assurances have been given this morning in connection with this further delay, why it is necessary, even accepting the need for some preparations before there can be any general election, that that delay should extend over three years. The hon. Member for South-West Norfolk suggested six years and is surprised that the Government have gone that much further. I do not know what factors have persuaded the Government to go a little further, but apparently it has been found that the period of six years originally suggested was not really essential and that things might be done in three years or even less.

I am sure that many Burmese people will want to know why three years is the period laid down. The answer given so far is that it is necessary to bring the people back into the native districts, reorganise industry, build bridges, roads and so on, but all these conditions have existed in other countries besides Burma. The argument that has been used in the case of liberated countries such as Greece, Yugoslavia, Belgium, and Holland, which have suffered through the war, is that first of all there must be established some kind of popular government as a pre-condition to the restoration of the country. We find now in the case of Burma—I do not want to be unnecessarily controversial—that there is to be a complete reversal of that principle and we are saying that there will be no popular government possible, unless and until the whole country has been restored, its roads and bridges and so on rebuilt, and its populations brought back to their home districts. That is not likely to be easily acceptable or, if it is, the question that will arise is, why is it necessary in this case, where there is no question that the people are not fit for self-government? Again, we assume that in Burma there is not the difficulty that exists in India with regard to self-government there, the religious and other differences, and, therefore, that is ruled out as a reason for this particular delay.

We are also told that, in the interim period, there is not to be complete opera- tion by the Government. The Governor has to administer Government policy irrespective of what may be his particular tendencies and feelings towards the Burmese. We are told that he is to be assisted by Burmese. But what Burmese? We have noticed indigenous populations represented by appointments in other Governments of this kind, and these have rarely turned out to be popular representatives of the mass of the people. The hon. Member for South-West Norfolk drew attention to two articles in "The Times," in which there was reference to the ten. political parties which have sprung up, all of which are participants in the resistance movement and which have, as their basis, complete independence for Burma. I am entitled to ask whether this is not one of the real reasons why it is not considered desirable, at the present stage, to go in for an extension of self-government? Why is it that these new parties, which are almost unanimous in their demand for complete self-government, outside Dominion status, are to be told that the Government feel it undesirable that there should be self-government? Why is it suggested in the White Paper that the Shan States, and other Scheduled Areas, should be left outside the scope of the subsequent Dominion Government that is to be set up? The protection of minorities is the obvious answer, but if the Burmese themselves are to be regarded as fit for Dominion status and self-government, I am wondering why we are telling them that they are not fit to control these limited restricted territories, because of the fact that there are certain differences of practice.

I think it will be gathered that my own impression is that this scheme reeks with equivocation. I do not want to use the word "hypocrisy" because I do not think that is the intention, but we must have regard to what the reactions to this scheme will be. The whole implication of the White Paper, and the proposal in the Bill, must, to many people, be rather reminiscent of the old Imperialism, and not likely to commend itself to the mass of the Burmese people. I have the impression that it is likely to be a bad investment. We tried postponing self-government or Dominion status, or any kind of extension of freedom, of self-government, in the case of India or Ireland, and this has proved not to be of long-term advantage. I realise the difficulties. There is a desire to avoid unrest in these territories at the present time, and in the present international atmosphere to avoid world criticism of our attitude. Whatever may be the particular opinions of Members of this House we know that those opinions with regard to the administration of the British Government in overseas territories are not shared entirely by the peoples of our Allied countries, particularly in America. There are differences of attitude in relation to Colonial administration. It is important that we should avoid world criticism so far as possible; that we should obtain as many apparent possessions as we can afford. Behind all this there must be the determination to defend British capital interests in these countries, although whether it will be admitted as crudely as that, I do not know. The Prime Minister once said, "What we have we hold," and that, at least, is an admission that whatever may be the professions in the White Paper, the words which have come from the Minister and those on the Government Benches indicate that one of the chief considerations in these matters is their intention to hold what we have, and defend British capital. [HON MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am glad to know that I am right in that conception.

Whatever may be the measure of good will in any part of this House regarding the future of these territories, a situation has grown up, over the generations, which it is difficult to resolve, and it will not be resolved if we approach it in the old Imperialistic spirit. I was discussing some of these matters recently with a friend of mine, who had had experience in the Far East. I have not had such experience, and his argument was: "You should not talk about things you know nothing about." [An Hon. Member: "Hear, hear."] Precisely. He had been on the spot supervising native workers, and he assured me that they were such a treacherous and unreliable lot that he could not get them to do a stroke of work unless a pistol was always in their ribs. If that is so, then I welcome the gibe at me because I have not been on the spot.

Mr. G. Nicholson

He was pulling the hon. Member's leg.

Mr. Hynd

No, he was sincere. Unless we are prepared to give up these "pistol-pack in' poppa" methods. I do not think we are likely to get far. I am always prepared to give concessions to the man of experience, to the hard-headed practical politician, but there are circumstances in these matters of the administration of overseas territories where these hard, practical considerations should give way to broad principles on a humanitarian basis, which would be more in line with the Atlantic Charter and the Philadelphia Declaration.

12.40 p.m.

Sir Stanley Reed (Aylesbury)

The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) spoke of the lack of knowledge in this Mouse and in the country of territories for which this House is directly responsible. I was never more conscious of the truth of that statement than during the last 20 or 25 minutes. I may claim, I hope with modesty, to know a little of the subject I am speaking about to-day because I know Burma from Bhamo to Rangoon and Prome to Mandalay. In this connection may I direct the attention of the House to an issue which was put to me by a great Indian nationalist some years ago who, after travelling widely in England, said that he was depressed by the lack of knowledge in this country about India. He said, "If you do not take a real interest in our affairs you must leave them to us, to be administered by ourselves." That, I think, is profoundly true.

In addressing myself to the White Paper for a few moments, I would like to stress one or two points. I have nothing but admiration and respect both for the White Paper and for the policy it adumbrates and the speeches which have been made from both Front Benches. But in this interim period while Section 139 of the 1935 Act must necessarily operate—we hope it will be for as short a period as possible, although we do not think that three years is an unreasonable safeguard—I attach the greatest importance to the establishment of a legislative council, small perhaps, and mainly official or nominated in the first place. Those who are acquainted with the progress of the Indian Constitution know the great benefits which flowed from the old councils, which were known as Councils for making Laws and Regulations only. They had no responsibility. The immediate effect of the establishment of those Councils was to achieve two things. First, all the laws and regulations made in them were better because of the association of the people of the country with their framing; and, secondly, they had a valuable educative effect in the principles of government. So, I hope that the Government and the Governor of Burma will keep before them the question of setting up, at the earliest possible moment, a legislative council on these lines as a contributing factor to better government, and as preparation for the fuller self-government which we hope will follow within a very short period.

I would like the House to appreciate that the Act of 1935, which is to be re-established at the end of this three-year period, if not sooner, established effective home rule in Burma. Indeed, if worked in the spirit and letter, and with political sagacity, it was home rule. Then we shall pass to the final stage, when the representatives of the Burmese people, in full co-operation with ourselves, and with agreements covering continuing financial and economic responsibilities, will frame the Constitution carrying full Dominion status within the Commonwealth. I regret that it has not been found possible to fix a definite date when Dominion status will come into operation. I am as alive as anyone to the danger of a definite date, when we do not know the actual conditions that will obtain at that stage; and also whether the conditions may be such that we cannot actively discharge our undertaking and we may lay ourselves open to the charge of a breach of faith. But with all these disadvantages I am convinced that if it is found possible to fix a definite date when full Dominion status will be established it will be a tremendous asset in obtaining Burmese good will and co-operation with us, and in satisfying the national spirit which has grown in Burma so markedly, and is now one of the strongest forces in Burmese life.

Another point to which I invite the House to give attention is this. The rate of progress of Burma to full nationhood, through Dominion status will be governed very largely by the financial stability of the country and the economic progess which it makes. Burma's re- sources have been largely destroyed and her communications laid waste, and it must be some time before financial stability is re-established. It will not be re-established without the active help of this Parliament; but the date of that re-establishment will also depend very largely upon the cost of the administration which is set up in the interim period. I emphasise that during the interim period the utmost economy should be exercised and non-productive expenditure be pruned to the greatest possible extent. The day is past in the East when pomp and circumstance and show have any political value whatsoever, and I say with some reluctance—I am bound to say it—that the prodigality of the expenditure of the Government of Burma since it left Rangoon up to date is to me a source of profound regret, and I cannot approve of it. If on that basis we pile up for Burma immense financial obligations to the British Government, we shall be unjustifiably delaying the fulfilment of the political steps to which the House has given such cordial support.

On the economic side Burma has two great permanent assets, the land and the forests. The basis of Burma's economy must be the land. Therefore, I feel that early steps should be taken to deal boldly and resolutely with the land question; to restore the cultivating proprietors to their holdings; furnish them with the best means of cultivation; secure that they are not once again expropriated by the intruding moneylenders and turned into a landless, disappointed and disgruntled peasantry. That is of the first importance. The land is there, the fields are there. The Government have taken active steps to provide a great reserve of seed rice. The great drawback at the moment is lack of cattle, and there is no alternative to the buffalo and the bullock for the tilling of the rice fields. The second permanent asset is the forests. They have been conserved with admirable discretion throughout the whole of our connection with Burma. They are an unfailing source of revenue and an outlet in industry. I am glad to say that this is one of the fields in which the Burman has had a larger share in the economy of his own country. I hope that steps will be taken as soon as possible to get the forests into working order again. The other economic assets are oil and minerals. They have a limited life and new sources have not been tapped, but their restoration is essential to the restoration of the standard of living in Burma, which was relatively high. Here again, I think those industries will have to look to the Imperial Government for financial help in one form or another.

I do not want to go into a detailed consideration of these matters, but there are two other points I want to put to my right hon. Friend. First, what is to be the agency through which the administration is to be carried on? I presume that the convention by which the Governor is limited to five years of office stands fast. In many respects it is an illogical convention, but oddly enough, like other illogical conventions, it has worked well in practice. Sir Reginald Dorman-Smith has thrown himself heart and soul into the work of the administration of Burma and the betterment of conditions there. His normal period of office is very nearly approaching its end. Is there to be an extension of the period of office so that he may carry through the policies on which he is embarking, or is his period of office to come to an end at five years? I put it to my right hon. Friend that it would be unfair to Sir Reginald Dorman-Smith and to Burma to put him in charge of the early stage of the framing of these policies and not give him an opportunity to carry them to fruition, but compelled to hand them over at a comparatively early stage to someone else.

Secondly, I want to endorse the regret that was expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for South West Norfolk (Mr. De Chair) that we have not taken the bold step now of placing Burma under the Dominions Office. It is a psychological point. To India and to Burma the India Office and the Burma Office are badges of inferior status, and until we get rid of that, we shall be saddling ourselves with a serious handicap in carrying out our responsibilities. I think early steps should be taken to transfer Burma from the Burma Office to the Dominions Office with a Parliamentary Secretary to represent Burmese interests in this House. Moreover, inevitably in the next few years differences of policy must arise between India and Burma, and in both cases my right hon. Friend will be the supreme arbiter. The situation savours of Alice in Wonderland. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for India writes to his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Burma, with the same pen on the same pad and in the same room, to say that his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Burma is totally wrong, or vice versa. I feel that an end must be put to that situation, quite apart from the broader question of the future control of Indian affairs from Whitehall.

Finally, I share the admiration for the White Paper which was expressed by the right hon. and learned Member for East Bristol, that is, as a White Paper. The White Paper is admirably written and compiled, and broad and generous in its terms. At the same time. White Papers are not very good means of conveying to people in Asia the policies and declarations of the Government. I feel we have missed a great and unequalled opportunity. During the last few weeks we have been the witnesses of one of the great events in Asiatic history. If anybody knowing Burma had been asked three months ago whether we could reconquer Burma from the North, through those dense jungles and in tropical conditions, he would have replied that anybody who said we could do it was a dangerous lunatic; it was an impossible feat. Once again in our Imperial history the impossible has been done, by the gallantry and endurance of our soldiers, by the skill of those who have directed them, and by a dramatic use of air power such as nobody had ever conceived would be possible. In those circumstances, we have crept unobtrusively and silently into Rangoon and sealed reconquest—with a White Paper of many pages. If we had adopted the dramatic methods of Napoleon, what should we have done? We should have given to the Burmese people a dramatic proclamation from His Majesty the King Emperor, announcing the great triumph and announcing the generous policy with which we were going to consummate it, and we should have left it to the White Paper to embody in a multitude of words the technical details by which we proposed to carry this policy out. I feel that if my right hon. Friend had remembered Queen Victoria, and the wise words of Lord Derby, we might have sounded a note throughout Burma and Asia which would have helped us very materially on the difficult road we have to travel.

I want, in conclusion, to express my admiration of and respectful agreement with the policy put forward. I am con- fident that my right hon. Friend, or whoever may be in his office, will speed up rather than retard the progress of Burma to which we look forward with so much hope and confidence.

12.55 P.m.

Mr. Cove (Aberavon)

I have never visited Burma and India, but I make no apologies on that account for intervening in this Debate. I am a British citizen and on that basis alone I think I have a right, since I take a somewhat intelligent interest in India and Burma, to endeavour to make a contribution to the Debate. I have not been to India, but I know that illiteracy in India covers over 90 per cent. of the people. I have not been to India, but I know that the average span of life in India is about 26 years. I know, although I have not been to India, that there is no need for poverty in India if the resources of that country are developed. I know that without going to India. I am intensely desirous that the resources of India and Burma should be developed to the fullest extent, not only in the interests of the British Empire, but in the interests of the Indian and Burmese people. But I am afraid that the spirit which has been displayed from the benches opposite is just the spirit which will lose the British Empire and wreck the British Commonwealth. It is the spirit which is based upon the Prime Minister's phrase "What we have we hold."

Mr. G. Nicholson

If the hon. Member quotes the Prime Minister, he might as well quote him accurately. The Prime Minister said that he had not become His Majesty's chief Minister in order to preside at the liquidation of the British Empire.

Mr. Cove

He also said, "What we have we hold." That is militarism; that is power. I ask hon. Members opposite, if power is to be the basis of maintaining the cohesiveness of the British Empire, where has Britain the reserves of power in the modern world unless she has a co-operative Commonwealth? I know this is a small Bill, but its importance for the future is terrific. I do not wish to be personal, but I feel it is a public duty to say that it is a tragedy that at this juncture in world affairs the right hon. Gentleman should be at the India Office and the Burma Office. I say that because I believe it is necessary to say it. Only last week I was re-reading what I remembered him saying in the House, that we could not take objection to Japanese aggression in Manchuria because, if we did, that objection to Japanese aggression in Manchuria would condemn our control and occupation of India and even of Burma.

It is therefore a great tragedy. It gives no hope in the Far East to all those resurgent forces. There is a spirit of progressive nationalism abroad in Burma. The groups which are imbued with that spirit have helped us to fight the Japanese. The Bill gives no encouragement to these progressive forces with whom we want to keep in line. I should imagine it must be a bitter exhibition to them of the lack of real intention to give them the reality of self-government and independence. By the Bill we are prolonging British dictatorship. The Governor is still to be the dictator. When circumstances permit he will take some steps towards the realisation of Dominion status, which will be repudiated by the people. They have gone beyond the stage of Dominion status. But there is no certainty here. It lacks reality. There was no reality of self-government in the 1935 Act. If foreign affairs, currency and defence are taken out of the powers of the local people, what kernel is there in the reality of self-government? There can be no reality of self-government unless the people themselves have control at least over the defence of their country.

I am sorry that we have had anything to do with this. I am sorry that anyone on our side has been implicated. One of the good results, I hope, following the break-up of the Coalition, is that we shall not be tied to schemes of this kind. There is a new Power in the world to-day which is reaching out, not only in the West but even much more in the East. Let the Secretary of State study the methods and policies by which Russia is getting into friendship, as it were, with the nationally-aspiring peoples of the world. I was reading a week or two ago, in a book published by the Royal Institute of International Affairs, a very detailed study of self-determination in the treatment of nationalities and the realisation of the spirit of nationalism which is arising. Only one country in the world has solved that problem. We have failed. This is an unbiassed, objective study, and it is clearly stated that the only nation in the world which is solving the problem of nationality is Russia. She has the means and a policy whereby she can meet the aspirations of these people. The old diehard Imperialist Tory outlook will not fit in with the modern world.

It is time that hon. Members opposite realised that, if they want to keep the British Commonwealth together in fellowship, and even for trade purposes, they will have to show a new spirit and to make a new approach. This Bill does not show that approach. It includes the bare bones of an old, effete, out-worn, outmoded, out-dated Imperialism. I have often thought that a combination of the die-hard, stodgy, wooden-headed approach of the present Secretary of State, coupled with the romanticism of the Prime Minister, will be a force which will, rather than mould and preserve the British Empire, destroy it and bring it down even within our day and generation. I ask, therefore, for a new approach and for the reality of independence to be given to the people of Burma as a sign and a portent that we are, ready to have liberalising forces and policies in the Far East, including India, so that we may step forward together into the future.

1.6 p.m.

Mr. Shephard (Newark)

I should like to add my voice to the general welcome that has been given to this policy. I also congratulate the Secretary of State on the celerity with which he has produced it so soon after Burma has been liberated. I know that there are elements in Burma which will not welcome it; nothing will satisfy them other than self-government here and now, however impracticable that may be. We have here a plan which, if the Burmese themselves co-operate, can achieve full self-government within a comparatively short space of time. If there is opposition or lack of co-operation, it may well be that self-government will not come into being within the period of time that we hope. I should like to ask how soon it will be before the military administration ceases and the Governor takes charge, and how soon will it be before he is back in Burma. I think the sooner he is back in Rangoon the better it will be, and the more pleased the Burmese people will be. I know that at the moment Burma is a base for operations in South-East Asia, but I cannot see that that is any valid reason why the country should not be handed over now to the Government. I am sorry that there is no mention of our recommendation that the direction of Burmese affairs should be transferred to the Dominions Office, with a separate Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Burma. I believe it would have a great psychological effect on the people, and might even remove suspicions which still linger as to our intentions with regard to the future of the country.

I want now to turn to one or two practical problems. The first is how we can disseminate news. Presumably at the moment there are no newspapers and, if there were any, it is very doubtful whether they would circulate in the country areas. Burma has been cut off from the rest of the world for 3½ years. She has been fed on Japanese propaganda, and there is not the slightest doubt that during the occupation we have lost a good deal of prestige and face. It is most important that we should restore our position as soon as possible, and I cannot see how that can be done without some form of publicity. I am told that there is a plan for visual publicity by means of mobile film units. I believe that was approved by S.E.A.C. and I should like to know whether it has been put into operation. I believe that in such a country mobile film units are probably the best means of conveying information to the people. If they are not going to do this, can we be told what form of publicity will be used?

May I say a word on the currency position? I believe that the proclamation that Japanese currency is worthless has caused great alarm. It is a difficult problem, but the Burmese are not to blame. Hardship is bound to be caused in any case, but the action that has been taken is drastic in the extreme. Could not some value be placed on these Japanese notes, in order to restore some semblance of purchasing power and to get trade, such as it is, moving again?

My last point has reference to the physical condition of Burma. Are the harbour facilities at Rangoon working? What is the state of communications? Are the essential services operating, and is Burma in a position yet to begin to export rice? We are told in the White Paper that His Majesty's Government will give financial aid. Is it to be a grant, or will it be by way of loan? The figure is bound to be substantial. The Burmese consider that we were responsible for the defence of their country and that we should be responsible for the cost of restoring it. Has any agreement been reached yet with commercial interests—I mean all interests, whether British, Burmese, Chinese, Indian or American? Most of those people faithfully carried out the scorched earth policy. They destroyed all the ships and mills and did everything possible to help to defeat the enemy, I should like to think that some decision has now been reached on the question of compensation for them. Can we have an assurance that other countries will not be given commercial facilities to the disadvantage of those who were there before the country was overrun? Finally we must do all we can to eradicate from the Burmese mind once and for all the suspicion which has existed for so long that we are "leading them up the garden path." Let the Burmese be a little more trustful of us. If this policy is interpreted in the right spirit by us and by them we can look forward in the not very distant future to giving a very hearty welcome to Burma as a self-governing Dominion of this great Empire.

1.15 p.m.

Mr. Sorensen (Leyton, West)

I am sure that the hon. Member for Newark (Mr. Shephard) will take it as no reflection on him when I say that I much appreciated the speech made by the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Sir S. Reed). Whether we agree with him or not, we feel that he speaks not only with a background of experience, but with a certain sensitiveness about the people of whom he is speaking. He appreciates, I am sure, those Burmese who are disappointed with the proposals outlined in this White Paper, and realises that they are by no means the worst of the Burmese and, perhaps, may be of the best. Certainly, "The Times" articles, to which some reference has been made, lay down firmly that the one significant political force in Burma to-day is a force mainly consisting of young people under 35.

The speech of the hon. Member for Aylesbury was in striking contrast to the somewhat mirthful arrogance of other Members who were here when he was speaking and who are now absent. I warn those Members that that attitude, either to the Burmese or to Members of the House who have not had the fortune in more than one sense, to go to Burma, will be no real service to file House or to the Burmese. It is true that some of us who have endeavoured, in, perhaps, an amateur way, to take an interest in our brethren across the seas, have not had the advantage of settling for a long time, or even visiting for a short time, some of the places about which we are speaking. But quite a number have been to these places and settled there, and they are apparently as reactionary as before they went. The Japanese went to Burma. One would not therefore, say, because they stayed there for all too long a period, that they were entitled to discuss Burma more than those of us in this country who have not been there but who believe in the freedom of peoples throughout the world. It is well to appreciate that the fact that we cannot go to other places does not debar us from discussing them in relation to the criterion of democracy which we so often profess, especially if those places are in the British Empire. I observed the general support given by the right hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps). It is natural that he should give that general support, because obviously he has been called into consultation, and it would not have been honourable for him to go back on that which he had so largely endorsed. No doubt the conclusions reached were in the nature of a compromise, and one can understand, from that standpoint, that the right hon. and learned Member should feel it incumbent on him to give a general support to the White Paper. I am sure that he will forgive me if I speak in language which is more reminiscent of the right hon. and learned Gentleman some ten years ago. It may be that when I have passed through ten such years as he has passed through, I may have a different point of view.

Meanwhile, however, I wish to lay it down emphatically that, whatever we may think about the White Paper and about Burma, the fact remains that the White Paper profoundly disappoints not only young Burma, but, also, the only Burmese organisation in this country representative of Burmese who are living here. I am sure the House will forgive me if I refer to two or three pregnant extracts from the two remarkable articles in "The Times" recently. They came from "Our Special Correspondent in Rangoon," and he wrote: Among these Burmese, most of them under 35, there is much sincere patriotism and disinterestedness, and also much ability. Their nationalism is intense. Their aim is simple—full independence for Burma. It is this aim which has dictated their actions during the past four years. The Anti-Fascist Organisation is almost the only political force to be reckoned with in the coming months. Among the members of the Anti-Fascist Organisation are probably the most hopeful elements for a new Burma. If mistakes are made now it may be impossible to retrieve them later. The British are presented with a wonderful opportunity in Burma, but it will not last indefinitely. It must be seized soon. I offer these quotations because it is necessary for us, not merely to discuss what we think is wise or unwise for Burma in this quiet almost pleasant Sunday afternoon atmosphere, but also to appreciate that there are forces outside the House which have their own ideas of what is good for Burma, and that those forces may force the pace. Let us, therefore, be objective in the matter. We should also appreciate the fact that, whether we think the demand for independence is wise or unwise, it is a demand made by large sections of Burmese opinion and is likely to gain considerable support in the months to come. I was interested to notice the confession of the hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Mr. De Chair). Although one of the young Tory reformers, he had to confess himself a long way behind the Secretary of State for Burma. That does not say very much for the young Tory reformers.

Mr. De Chair

I think the hon. Member is confusing them with the Committee of Conservative Members who produced a blue print for Burma, and it was as a Member of that Committee that I spoke.

Mr. Sorensen

The hon. Gentleman certainly is even then some miles from the standard taken up by the Secretary of State, who is in advance of that progressive Tory group. We should appreciate to the full how bitter is the feeling among certain Burmese regarding what seems to them to be the failure on our part to carry out our solemn pledge of many years ago, that Burma would not be prejudiced by its separation from India. They are suspicious, maybe unjustifiably, but we have to reckon with that fact, as we have had to reckon with the same fact in regard to other lands that have ultimately secured their freedom. I urge upon the House and the Secretary of State that to argue that because Burma has been devastated in the last two or three years she is unfitted for self-government now would be to reverse the real necessity of the hour. Surely we should lay it down that, in order to reconstruct Burma and in order to engage in the terrific task of restoring some kind of economy in Burma, we should not only invite a few Burmese to assist the Government, but should ask them to accept real political responsibility for the task of reconstructing their own land. It is monstrously strange that we should contend, because they have been the victims of misfortune and have suffered through our inability to defend them as we said we would, they should be denied political responsibility for some time.

In the countries of Europe we invite the peoples to take the responsibility for reconstruction and to join with us in co-operation to that end, and we should apply the same principle to Burma. We find a different attitude on the part of the United States. The Philippines have been devastated, but I have yet to hear that the United States have gone back on their pledge of independence to the Philippines. On the contrary, the United States is offering an example of how at one and the same time an assurance of independence can be implemented by securing the co-operation and collaboration of the Filipinos in the economic reconstruction of their land. Why cannot we do the same with regard to Burma? Why cannot we say, "Here is a horrible mess, for which you are not responsible. Here is your land scorched and laid bare. Here are your cities in ruins and your trade largely disappeared. You have suffered, and, although we have a share of the responsibility for the reconstruction of your land, we ask you, on the basis of responsibility, to share with us the task of reconstructing your land, and, at the same time, share in the political responsibility as well"? In that way we can go a long way towards removing suspicions that are undoubtedly rife and that are likely to be exploited in the days to come.

I would like to know from the Secretary of State what kind of advice he has been receiving in recent months regarding the future of Burma. Can we have some assurance that he has sought the advice of those Burmese who are in this country and elsewhere? Has he asked them what they think? Has he consulted, for instance, the Burma Association in this country? Or, on the other hand, has he been inclined to accept the advice and information of British big business? I do not know, and I am simply asking the question. If it becomes known, or if it is assumed, even though falsely, that big business advisers have been whispering their advice into his ear, the Burmese, instead of vanquishing their suspicions, will take that as an additional justification for their belief that the main reason why we are trying to reconquer Burma is not for the sake of the Burmese, but for the sake of the economic interests of big business. That is the kind of suspicion existing and if we are to remove it we must have some assurance from the Secretary of State that the advice he has received and is receiving comes not merely from economic interests, but rather from the Burmese themselves, and that he will accept their advice and their co-operation in respect of the political Constitution of Burma.

A proposal which I would strongly support is that the cost of reconstructing Burma to something like its pre-war economic level should be borne by us, not as an act of charity, but as an act of justice. I do not know what the cost would be, but from all I hear it will certainly be very substantial. Seeing that Burma was involved in our military strategy and that we assured the Burmese that we would defend them, and seeing that their own indigenous army was hardly existent, it is up to us to say that, as an act of justice, we will bear the full cost of re-establishing a reasonable measure of Burmese economic prosperity.

The proposals in the White Paper may seem fair and attractive to us. They are certainly not fair and attractive either to the young Burmese or to the one association in this country that can claim to represent the Burmese people. They proposed four points in a memorandum that has been sent to me, and they are certainly far away from those in the White Paper. These suggestions are: First, that during the first stages envisaged in the White Paper a constitutional Government shall be restored to Burma at the earliest practical moment and that 12 months at the maximum is more than sufficient to enable all general elections to be held.

Secondly, with the objective of carrying out the two overdue pledges which His Majesty's Government have given to the Burmese people in the past, that a definite date be fixed for Burma's realisation of Dominion status. Thirdly, that a general amnesty be granted to all those who, during the time of enemy occupation, had to resort to collaboration with the Japanese, as such collaboration was the only means of carrying on the effective administration and the management of the economic life of the country. Fourthly, since Burma's defence was admittedly the responsibility of the Imperial Government, the cost of the country's rehabilitation should be borne by His Majesty's Government in England. Those four points are put forward by an association representative of Burmese of all shades of opinion who happen to be residing in our midst. It is divergent from the proposals in the White Paper, but I earnestly urge that we should consider not only our point of view but their point of view, lest we find ourselves, to our cost, living in a fools' paradise.

I conclude by asking that we should realise the solemn warning of the writer in "The Times." This is an opportunity which may easily pass, and we might find ourselves too late and have to face a condition deplorable in the extreme. I believe we can avert that condition by action and initiative now. If we could make some bold and courageous statement respecting Burmese freedom and independence at the present time we should do much to dispel the explosive suspicion which will otherwise prevail. I do not want to see in Burma rebellions and riots such as took place some time after the last war. I do not want to see the heads of rebels hanging up in one of the main streets of a Burmese town as was the case some years after the last war. I have seen pictures of them. I do not want to see Burma in a state of tumult, misery and chaos, neither do I want to see Burma implacably hostile to this land. I want to see those 17,000,000 people of their own free choice co-operating with us not only to bring prosperity and dignity to themselves but to bring some satisfaction to our own land as well. Because I want to see Burma co-operating with us of its own free choice, first of all we must bear the full cost of repairing the devastation committed in Burma; secondly, we should invite the Burmese people fully to co-operate with us on a basis of real political, responsibility for the restoration of their land; thirdly, we should assure the Burmese people that it is not only what we want but what they want which shall be decisive, and that three years shall be the maximum period in which we will fully implement promises of self-government made to them. If we can do that it is likely the Burmese will respond to us and we shall find that they will be colleagues with us in the reconstruction of a democratic world.

1.33 p.m.

Mr. Godfrey Nicholson (Farnham)

I do not think the hon. Gentleman in his point of view is really so far apart from us on this side of the House. I am sure that everyone on this side of the House will agree with his last two sentences. He desires co-operation with the Burmese, that we should regard our moral mandate in Burma as being for the benefit of the Burmese people and not for ourselves, and that we should bear the major part of the cost of the reconstruction of Burma. I do not think that he and I, at any rate, are so far apart as he may think. I often differ from him in his views but I have never questioned his sincerity. I have often thought him misguided and ill-informed, and I have often differed from his conclusions, but I have never questioned his sincerity, and I think that to some extent he has always been willing to acknowledge the sincerity of those on this side of the House. I would like to pay that tribute to him and to say that I do not think that we differ quite as much as he may have feared.

What a contrast between his speech and those of the hon. Members for Attercliffe (Mr. Hynd) and for Aberavon (Mr. Cove). In politics in general I respect reasoned argument and I appreciate that there is often the need for violent or even for vitriolic attack, but there is one weapon in the political armoury that I despise and detest, and that is the sneer. The speech of the hon. Member for Attercliffe, and largely the speech of the hon. Member for Aberavon, seemed to consist of sneers at other people's sincerity.

Mr. Sorensen

Might I ask the hon. Member also to apply that reproof to some of his colleagues who sat behind him a short time ago?

Mr. Nicholson

I am aware that that reproof could often be applied to the whole human race. It appears to me that what the whole world needs is confidence in other people's good intentions, and even if one has not whole-hearted confidence in other people's good intentions one should act as if one had. Therefore, I wish to enter a strong protest against any approach to Imperial problems, whether in India, Burma or anywhere else, which is based on the assumption that other people are insincere. I detest and despise the political attitude of the hon. Members for Attercliffe and Aberavon. The first thing we have got to establish in the minds of the Burmese is that there is in this country universal good will towards Burma. There may be differences as to methods and rates of progress, but there can be no question of the fact that every single Member of this House wishes well to Burma, and wishes to see Burma attain to Dominion status as soon as possible. I thought it was remarkable that the first two speeches in this House to-day by right lion. Gentlemen who have as different political histories and backgrounds as could be imagined should take the same line. No one could accuse the right hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) of being an Imperialist, and no one could accuse the Secretary of State for Burma of being an advanced Socialist, but there has been evidence of the recognition that this is a time when these great Imperial problems should be viewed from a non-party angle. I welcomed the speech from the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for East Bristol, which was like a well of water in a thirsty land. It opened up hopes for Burma such as had never been opened up before. We may differ on questions of fact and method but let us never differ in believing in each other's sincerity towards Burma. I would like that to apply to India as well.

I join with other hon. Members in paying a tribute to this White Paper and in approving the policy of the Government as enunciated in it. I would like to call attention to one or two omissions. They were expressed better than I can express, them by my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Sir S. Reed). The White Paper is perfect so far as it goes, except that a good many major questions are left out. Next in importance to the question of the satisfaction of Burmese political aims comes the solution of the land question. A great deal of misery all over the world is due to heavy burdening of peasants land by debt. I am not saying that the provision of credit in an agricultural country is not a necessity. It is. And in a single-crop country, the rates of interest are bound to be what may appear to us to be oppressive. I am not making any particular accusation, but I do say that when as a result of that a large proportion of the land is mortgaged up to the hilt and is in the possession of non-cultivators, the position is serious. Any solution of the Burmese question which leaves out the land question is doomed to failure, and I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will soon be able to announce to the House the sort of lines on which he proposes to tackle that point.

There is another problem which has been omitted and that is the question of money. I am convinced that this country will have to find a very large sum for the rehabilitation of Burma. We shall find it and we shall do it as part of our Imperial responsibility.

An Hon. Member

Where will it come from?

Mr. Cove

America will find it.

Mr. Nicholson

The hon. Gentleman is optimistic. I hope we shall soon be told what financial policy will be adopted. We shall have to foot most of the bill ourselves. I do not expect Burma will be able to foot it. There is another question, and that is in connection with India. I am not at all happy about the assumption that the complete severance of Burma from India was altogether a good thing, or that it is certain to endure. A warning note should be struck there.

Finally, there was the question, raised by the hon. Member for Aylesbury, of a Royal Proclamation to Burma. I am certain, as those articles in "The Times" said, that we have an opportunity now which may well not occur again. I do not like the expression "bold note," but I say we must strike a vivid or romantic note—and goodness knows there is enough romance in the British Empire. The hon. Member for Aberavon sneered at it.

Mr. Cove

No, I sneered at the people who are killing it.

Mr. Nicholson

You are doing your best to do so.

Mr. Cove

That is not true; you are.

Mr. Deputy - Speaker (Mr. Charles Williams)

Both hon. Gentlemen must address the Chair and should not make accusations against the Chair.

Mr. Nicholson

I did not think you took that remark to yourself, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I think hon. Members will agree that if we can do what the right hon. Gentleman is attempting to do, we shall have justified our existence. Let us strike that romantic note and let us take this opportunity. I hope that this is not the last that we shall hear of Burma in this House for some time to come. Vast problems await us, but I appeal to all hon. Members to take Burmese questions out of the sphere of party politics. Neither Burma nor we can afford it. We all wish to attain the same thing even though we may differ in the details of how to attain it. Let us keep this as a non-party question and send out from this House a unanimous message of good will to Burma, and a restatement of our determination to bring about as soon as possible Dominion status.

1.45 p.m.

Mr. Creech Jones (Shipley)

It is unnecessary that I should attempt to traverse the ground which has been so well covered in the course of the Debate, but there are several points which I would like to bring to the notice of the Secretary of State for Burma before the Debate ends. This House and the Government have the immediate responsibility for a practical and constructive approach to the whole problem of political and economic reconstruction in Burma. Anxiety has been expressed in certain quarters of the House as to the intentions of the Government in this matter. I would like to say, so far as the Labour Party are concerned, that it takes the view that, in view of the difficulty of the job immediately ahead of us, the proposals of the White Paper are a constructive and practical approach, and that it would hope that when the British Government and this House have done their immediate work, the Burmese people will feel that their responsibility is as great as ours in realising the opportunities which the Government propose now to present to them.

We would hope, therefore, that because the difficulties are real and because the situation is still overshadowed by strategic considerations, and by problems associated with the continuance of the war against Japan, the Burmese people will see the great usefulness of the constructive ideas which are worked out in the proposals now before us. It is for that reason that the Labour Party asked me to endorse, on their behalf, the proposals which have been submitted by the Government to-day.

Mr. Cave

It has never been before the Labour Party.

Mr. Creech Jones

The several matters on which Labour Party anxiety has been expressed are these: First, we are conscious of the very great growth of an intense nationalism in Burma, and consequently of the urgency of this matter. We are aware that the restoration of normal political life in Burma cannot be delayed—the views which have been recently expressed in "The Times" articles must, I think, be present in the minds of all of us. The situation has become such that it will now brook no delay. If our proposals are to prove practical they must win the good will and the endorsement of the people in Burma itself. That requires of us a sense of realism and of urgency, and in the implementing of these proposals, earnestness and a deep determination that they should rapidly come to political fruition.

Accordingly, we want to stress that immediately the Governor returns to Burma, he should have associated with him a Council that is broadly based and representative of ail sections of the Burmese. It should be representative in terms of function as well as of certain particular groups, and it should be there in order that the Burmese might know that from the start they are being not only consulted but given an opportunity to play a direct and active part in the reconstruction of their political, civil and economic life. While we do not like the introduction of specific time periods into a document such as this—because it is difficult to measure political progress in terms of time—we would express the hope that an instruction should be given to the Governor in the instrument which he will take with him, directing him to press with all practical speed towards the restoration of normal political life by the assembling of a Constituent Assembly and also towards the achievement of Dominion status itself.

It is imperative that we should try to clear the air by defining precisely what we mean by Dominion status. The Secretary of State made it clear in his speech that that term has undergone some slight change in recent years and that it not only means association inside the British Empire but carries with it also independence and freedom of judgment as to the nature of the association of the territory concerned with any outside Power or nation. It is on that point that there is a great deal of confusion in Burmese opinion. Therefore, I want to press the point that it is the view of the Labour Party that there should be no delay and that a representative Council should be brought into being immediately and Ministers with executive responsibility to the Governor should immediately be appointed for the various departments of work which have to be done. Every step should be taken to get back to the pre-war position so far as political institutions are concerned. Without any needless delay, we should get a Constituent Assembly and it should attack the problem of Constitution making in order that full independence may be realised by Burma.

The second point which is felt to be of some importance by the Labour Party is concerned with economic rehabilitation and reconstruction. We agree fully with what has been said about the problem of land and indebtedness. But, in addition, Burma has been dominated in the past by certain alien economic interests who have not worked for the wise development and the good of that country. With the achievement of nationhood in the real sense, there is a strong feeling in Burma that the economic life of the country must not be dominated from outside. It is important that this should be stressed to-day and that, in the economic rehabilitation and reconstruction of the country, the fullest opportunities should be taken not only of consultation with Burmese advisers but of the active co-operation of the people of Burma in the work which has to be done.

An hon. Friend who spoke a moment or two ago said that he felt a. little concerned about the type of adviser we have called to our aid in the work of economic reconstruction. The feeling among certain Burmese is that too frequently we have had recourse to big business or to those who had been associated with it, when we have had to work out future economic plans. There is ground for the suspicion. I would earnestly ask the Secretary of State to make his wishes known to the Governor that, so far as economic reconstruction is concerned, it should be done in the fullest co-operation with the Burmese people, and that, now the opportunity has come for remodelling the whole of that economic life, it should be done along the lines which meet with the fullest approval of the Burmese. It happened that just before the war Burma was tackling, for instance, her land problem and the problem of indebtedness, and a number of Acts had been passed. I am certain that there is a feeling among the Burmese, particularly because of the influence of a nation which has become associated in the popular mind with the claims of the under-privileged, that not only is political reconstruction of vital importance if the nation is to be free, but economic reconstruction as well. Economic domination hinders genuine political freedom.

With those two considerations before the Secretary of State, we hope that he will speed his proposals and will encourage the Governor to go back with the fullest intention of implementing the White Paper without any loss of time. We believe that this is a constructive approach to a frightfully difficult problem and we hope that, as a result, the Burmese people will warmly respond and will give their fullest co-operation in the work which has now to be done.

1.58 p.m.

Mr. Amery

The hon. Gentleman who has just resumed his seat did well to remind us of the real nature of the goal to which we are moving, and that Dominion status—or Commonwealth status as I should like to call it—does not mean to-day what it meant a generation ago, when it meant self-government within an external framework separating the country concerned from the outer world. The nation which is a full partner in the British Commonwealth is not any the less a nation among the nations of the world and is entitled to make its contacts with the world outside. I am very glad indeed that both the hon. Member and the right hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) expressed the approval of his party as a whole to the proposals that have been put forward. I should like to join in the tribute which my hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Mr. G. Nicholson) paid to the speech of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, not only for its helpfulness from my point of view, but for the clarity with which he pointed out the essential necessity of the several steps and stages, before Burma can attain the full status which we all desire to see attained. He brought out that those successive stages can, to some extent, overlap each other. They are like sections of a telescope which can be pushed more closely together.

The whole idea of the Bill is that during a time when, technically at any rate, responsibility rests with the Governor, there should be the widest possible association of the Burmese nation of all shades and of all parties with the Executive and with as widely based a Legislature as can be established before the real Legislature under the Act can be restored. Similarly the right hon. and learned Gentleman pointed out that the final step in the working out of the ultimate Constitution under which the Burmese people wish to live need not wait, at any rate for its preparatory phase, until after self-government under the Act has been restored. There is nothing to prevent the Burmese people, through whatever legislative or advisory council may be set up, or in other ways, from considering in advance of the termination of the first period what they would like to be the Constitution of Burma in the ultimate resort.

It is especially important from more than one point of view that, as the hon. Member for Shipley (Mr. Creech Jones) has just pointed out, the association of Burmese of all parties in the Executive and Legislature should begin as early as possible. "It is not only, as my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Sir S. Reed) pointed out, that legislation generally is in such circumstances better suited to the needs of the people; there is this consideration, that there is an immediate task of urgent rehabilitation which must be carried through without delay by such administrative staff as is available. There is also the wider problem of reconstruction over a period of years. It is essential that that reconstruction should not in the opening phase clash with what the Burmese themselves would wish after they have full power in their own hands. It is desirable that it should be reconstruction in accordance with Burmese ideas, Burmese social necessities and within the limitations of what Burma can afford in future. The land question, for instance, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Farnham referred, is obviously one which involves the whole question of restoring the land to the cultivator, and finding the credit for the cultivator, and it is most desirable that Burmese opinion should help to frame whatever legislation takes place on that subject.

Again, it is very important that the actual administrative staff and the kind of future government should be based, not on British conceptions so much as on what a self-governing Burma can afterwards afford. We do not wish to create a situation in which there would be any excuse for saying that Burmese self-government is delayed because we have saddled Burma with an administration too costly for her to manage without British help or British control. The whole intention is that the administration should be from the outset on a rigidly austere basis, and should not overload the future of Burma, or in any way stand in the way of the kind of administration the country will need later on.

My hon. Friend the Member for South-West Norfolk (Mr. De Chair) raised the question, and other Members have raised it, of the method of economic reconstruction. I ought to make it clear that the problem of immediate rehabilitation is one entirely separate from any question of compensation. The question of compensation affects not Burma alone, but many other ravaged British territories, and must be considered on its own merits. What is essential at this stage is to get ahead at once with those immediate measures of rehabilitation which will enable Burma to recover itself, to create its own revenues and finance, and so pave the way for further long-term reconstruction. That is, in the main, a question of two matters. One is the immediate provi- sion of the actual capital equipment for the restoration of released railways, ports, etc., the repair or replacement of wrecked mills, and other essential needs of the population, and at the same time the provision of immediate requirements of consumer goods.

The agricultural life of Burma, by which two-thirds or more of her people live, can only be carried on effectively and in accordance with the standards to which the people of Burma are accustomed—higher standards on the whole than the people of other parts of Asia—by the provision of transport and equipment for the mills to enable, for instance, Burma's great annual rice crop to be harvested and milled and got away, and also to distribute the consumer goods which are urgently required by the population, all the more urgently after the years of enemy occupation. For the moment both equipment and the necessary cash will obviously have to be supplied from here. In due course the capital equipment will be paid for by the companies that will take over the particular British or Indian mills or other works concerned, river steamers, etc., and on the other hand whatever money is advanced for consumer goods will be recouped from the payment for those goods. Certain other advances will be made to the Government of Burma as a loan without interest and with no fixed date or term of repayment.

I would say in that connection that our desire is that, in their further economic development, the people of Burma themselves should play a larger part than they have done in the past, and that they should play that part, not only in subordinate capacities but as rapidly as may be in the higher capacities. That means, however, that training must be given, and measures to secure the training of Burmese here and elsewhere from the technical point of view will certainly have to be developed. At the same time, I deprecate the suggestion that the European firms that have been operating in Burma are there merely to exploit the country, and not to play their part in contributing to the life of the country. In the past they have made an essential contribution, and the standard of life in Burma would not have been what it has been without their co-operation. There is no need for recriminations against these firms, because we hope to see a further stage in which a much larger part in the life of the country will be taken by firms which are native to the country, and staffed, and indeed controlled, by people within the country.

Reference has been made to certain other points. My hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Mr. Shephard) asked when the Governor would be going back, as it would make a very good impression if he returned straight away. I do not think it would make a very good impression if the Governor returned in the middle of military operations, incapable of carrying out the functions and control of Government regarded as his proper duty. It is necessary, as long as active military operations are in progress, and as long as all the resources of the country, supply and transport particularly, are subordinated to military needs, that the responsibility should rest fairly and squarely on the military, and that the Governor should not be supposed to be exercising a responsibility which in fact he cannot exercise. On the other hand, we certainly hope that he will be able to return as soon as possible, and as I stated in my opening remarks, I hope that that may be before the end of the year. Another speaker suggested that there should be no fixed term of Governorship, to avoid the work which Sir Reginald Dorman-Smith will begin on his return being interrupted at too early a date by the expiration of the normal term of office. There is, of course, no absolutely fixed term of office in these matters, and it will be for whatever Government is in power a little later, to consider that whole question on its merits with, no doubt, recognition of the energy and ability which Sir Reginald Dorman-Smith has shown in all his work of preparation, and of the sympathy which he has always shown for Burmese aspirations and for the Burmese people.

The question of publicity was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Norfolk and my hon. Friend the Member for Newark. Preparations have been made in various directions to give the fullest publicity to the policy of the Government which is stated in the White Paper, and to what I am saying to-day. The Governor himself is shortly to deliver a broadcast on this policy. During the military period publicity is a military matter, but it is in the Governor's mind that the modern technique of public in- formation should by no means be overlooked in the reconstruction programme, more particularly on matters bearing on agriculture and labour conditions. Guidance in those directions can be of great value and help in the work of reconstruction. My hon. Friend the Member for Newark also asked about harbour facilities. I think Rangoon has been found to be less seriously damaged than was at one time feared, and it ought very soon to be in pretty good working order. Any difficulty in getting the rice crop away will be less a difficulty from conditions arising in Rangoon port itself, than from the lack of river-boats and river-steamers up country. That I think deals with the economic questions. There are certain other questions.

Mr. Edmund Harvey (Combined English Universities)

Would the right hon. Gentleman deal with the question of currency?

Mr. Amery

I am just coming to that. At this moment it is a matter for the War Office, and my right hon. Friend gave an answer a day or two ago. I think it is necessary to realise some of the difficulties of the position. If it were announced, in general terms, that we were going to honour Japanese currency at a certain rate, you may be quite sure that every territory we liberated would be flooded with an unlimited mass of Japanese notes. That has indeed happened in Rangoon, through rather different circumstances, namely, that the whole reserve stock of Japanese notes seems to have been looted, and distributed freely among the population of Rangoon. In this matter, we and the Americans in the Philippines are pursuing the same policy of not acknowledging Japanese notes in principle. At the same time, in the various local districts where hardship has been created, arrangements have been made for a limited measure of recognition. My impression is that the transition from the Japanese to the new currency is taking place without the extent of hardship that was feared at first, and that was reported from Rangoon.

If I may revert for a moment to the political aspect, attention has been drawn in more than one speech to the question of what is to be our attitude towards those who have collaborated in some measure with the enemy. There is no question of any form of reprisal acting against the ordinary citizen or official or public man who, in the interests of his own people, has conformed to Japanese orders, under Japanese occupation, and has done his duty as best he could. It is only those who have been concerned actively with promoting the war against this country or hatred against the Allied cause whom there will be reason to single out for punishment. There, again, as in the case of those members of the so-called Burma National Army who have since espoused our cause and have fought with us, the principle that has been applied on a larger scale to Italy and other countries, of letting them work their passage home and condone their previous errors by helpful behaviour now, would, of course, be taken into account. We are not yet in a position really to know in that regard what are the forces in operation, and likely to be in operation, in Burma in the immediate future.

I have read, as others have, with interest, the articles in "The Times," but how far those very interesting articles represent a picture of the movement of public opinion in Burma as a whole, and are not the reflection of a very energetic, skilfully-advertising minority, remains to be seen. In all these matters we shall certainly go back without preconceived judgments. I know that it is the Governor's desire to enlist in support of his Administration forces from every wing and every point of view, with the intention of all working together towards the goal that we have in view, in common.

May I touch upon one further point in connection with that goal? That is the suggestion made by several of my hon. Friends that Burma should be put under the Dominions Office. At present Burma enjoys a whole Office and Secretary of State to herself, and I am mot sure that being put in with a number of others would necessarily, even in Burmese eyes, connote an enhancement of status. My hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury gave as one reason for putting Burma under the Dominions Office that at present, as she shared one Secretary of State with India, one man had to be the arbiter of their disputes; but if Burma is entitled to be put under the Dominions Office so is India, and there will be the same arbiter of disputes between the two—if, indeed, disputes between the Dominions are settled by arbitration in this country. At any rate, during the period of development Burma can be dealt with only, if it can be dealt with at all here, by an office adequately staffed. To put Burma under the Dominions Office would only mean, not transferring the Burma office, such as it is, under the Dominions Office roof, because there is not room there, but transferring a name. We should be doing an injustice to the people of Burma if we thought that so transparent a device would be, in their eyes, really altering their status. Their status is going to depend on the realities of the situation. As regards those, I think the policy of the Government has been made clear in the White Paper, and I hope it has been made sufficiently clear not only in my speech, but in the speeches we have heard from the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for East Bristol and from other hon. Members.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House.—[Major Mott-Radclyffe.]

Bill immediately considered in Committee.

[Mr. CHARLES WILLIAMS in the Chair]

Clauses 1 and 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Bill reported, without Amendment; read the Third time, and passed.