§ 11.8 a.m.
§ Sir Basil Neven-Spence (Orkney and Shetland)
The first thing I want to say is that I was not aware till now that Sir Reginald Dorman-Smith is at present a sick man. I am sure it would be the wish of all Members of this House that I should express our sympathy with him in having been overtaken by illness at this juncture in his extraordinarily difficult task.
A number of Questions appeared upon the Order Paper last Monday, indicating the alarm felt by hon. Members at the state of affairs in Burma. During the supplementary questions, my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Sir S. Reed) quoted an official report which showed that 2309 in Rangoon, in the month of March alone, there had been 246 murders, 558 robberies with attempted murder, 785 robberies and 347 cases of cattle theft. The victims of the outrages were for the most part peaceful peasants and their families. It seems that large bands of dacoits, Burmese and Karen, are roaming the countryside murdering and looting, and not even hesitating to beat up women and children. It is very difficult for us to realise the reign of terror that prevails there and the fear under which the Burmese villagers are living at the present time. These unfortunate people need many things just now, material things like clothing, mosquito netting and tools, but above all they need security against internal disorder, and unless they get it they cannot be expected to go about their daily work. To make matters worse it seems that in some areas the Government have withdrawn the village defence guns, leaving the villagers wide open to attack, with the inevitable result that sooner or later they are attacked. In the West Bank area not long ago villagers fell victims to a gang of murderers and robbers. Very shortly afterwards, the Deputy Commissioner for the Lewe District was given an order for the withdrawal of the defence guns in the district. The villagers generally know where these dacoits are hiding and they know the local " bad hats " who have co-operated with them, but they will not act because they are not convinced that the Government are strong enough to deal with the dacoits or able to protect them from reprisals if they do give information.
Curiously little information about conditions in Burma seems to have reached this country or if it has reached this country it has not been published. That silence certainly needs explaining. Surely it cannot be due to the Government having for some obscure reason, political or otherwise, given orders to the Press to " lay off " news from Burma? Even the Minister himself seems to have been kept somewhat in the dark, because earlier this week he had to telescope the answers to six Questions and admit that he had no specific information regarding a series of outrages involving the murders of several Indian soldiers and Burmese policemen, and armed attacks on railway trains and river craft. I should have thought that, with the situation in Burma being what the Minister 2310 admitted, he would have taken the most particular care to keep himself very fully informed about those happenings and about the measures the Government were taking to put a stop to them.
In Burma itself, beyond question the news of these dacoities has been suppressed. News is circulating principally by letter and report and by word of mouth, mostly from men near the spot where dacoities have occurred. Suppression of news is a very dangerous thing. Rumour invariably takes its place and spreads like wildfire, especially among a people like the Burmese who are notoriously excitable and, indeed, inflammable. It is of the utmost importance that the people should be told what is happening. That applies to Britons, Indians, and Chinese, as well as to the Burmese themselves. They ought to be told what the Government are going to do to suppress these dacoities, and news of any successful action that may be taken against them ought to be disseminated. That would at least help to restore the confidence of the people which seems to have been so badly shaken. Propaganda by the Government is conspicuous by its absence. On the other hand, anti-British propaganda is rife, and anti-British feeling is spreading rapidly in certain areas, fanned by tub-thumping seditionists mounted on upturned petrol drums which are the Burmese equivalent of our soapboxes. The story has been going round there that the British and the Americans. are fighting the Russians and that we are losing. Perhaps I should not call that propaganda. It is too like a simple statement of fact. The Burmese, of course, do not lack a sense of humour.
The Government announced more than six weeks ago that the peak wave of dacoity had passed. Every one in Burma knew that to be complete nonsense. The situation was in fact growing steadily worse. A pronouncement which amounts to nothing more than wishful thinking win solve nothing in Burma and deceive no one, least of all the Burmese peasants who were victims of the outrages. According to information I have been able to get, the situation was well in hand when the Army were in control. Every one on the spot agrees that they did a splendid job of work when the reoccupation was over and before othe civil government took over. But a deterioration set in very shortly after the civil government took 2311 over in October, 1945. It was not however until about four months ago that the real rot began. If the Minister wants confirmation of what I have been saying, let him call for a report on the PyinmanaToungoo area. Admittedly, that is a bad spot. It was the centre of the Thakin rebellion in 1931. Men who have been in that area told me that four months ago the inhabitants were quite friendly towards us, and now they have become extremely hostile.
Soon after the reoccupation the Government announced that the restoration of Burma's economic life was to have No. r priority and that politics were not to be allowed to interfere with rehabilitation. I must leave it to the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Gammans), who is just back from Rangoon, to say whether or not politics are being allowed to interfere with rehabilitation. I am concerned with the effect of lawlessness and disorder on the reconstruction of the country and the extent to which that is being held up by the present situation. Burma's economy depends principally on the cultivation of rice, to which I will refer presently. It also depends to a very large extent on certain other industries like timber, oil, minerals and rubber. These industries used to give a great deal of employment in Burma and brought the country great wealth, nearly half its revenue from exports, in fact. It is of the utmost importance for the welfare of the country that these industries should be revived at the earliest possible moment. To achieve this it is essential that the men engaged in them should be able to move about the country freely and carry with them the money necessary to pay labour, without being in constant fear of being robbed and even murdered. But many roads, rivers and railways are unsafe, and there are parts of the country into which no one can penetrate today without an armed escort of 20 men. Even the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company had to suspend their delta sailings during April until their vessels could be protected with steel plates and sandbags and be provided with an armed guard.
These conditions spell economic paralysis. In normal times the police in Burma are quite capable of maintaining law and order, but they are absolutely unable to cope with the situation which exists today. I do not think the Minister will deny that. The country is stiff 2312 with hidden arms and ammunition. The dacoits are more numerous than the police and in many cases armed with more dangerous weapons. They do not hesitate to attack police posts, as happened some weeks ago near Shweygin in the Toungoo District, where they captured the township officer, murdered all the police, and seized their arms, and went off with thousands of rupees from the Treasury.
The police complain that they are not supported by the magistrates who are afraid to act for tear of reprisals. The police feel they are underpaid, considering the very dangerous and hazardous nature of the work they are doing. Is it surprising that they are frightened and discontented? It is incomprehensible to me that matters should have been allowed to drift until they reached their present pass. It was not until 14th May that the Government announced that the Army and the Navy were to be called in to support the police. By far the most urgent problem is the confiscation of the hidden arms and ammunition, yet seven precious months have been allowed to elapse without, so far as I have been able to ascertain, any determined effort being made to tackle this problem consistently and thoroughly. I do not minimise the difficulty of the task. It took four years to disarm Burma after the third Burma War in 1883, and the quantity of arms and ammunition hidden in the country now is infinitely greater than it was then, and much of it is much more dangerous. Nevertheless this job has to be tackled. Complete disarmament is essential for the restoration of law and order.
I referred earlier to the cultivation of rice, a subject which is very apropos at the present time. The cultivation of rice is the backbone of Burmese economy. Burma before the war was the biggest rice exporter in the world. The annual crop before the war was rather over 6,000,000 tons, and rather more than half of that was exported, mainly to India and Malaya. Last year 6,000,000 of Burma's 12,000,000 acres of ricefields lay fallow. That means there will be no rice to be exported out of the crop that has recently been harvested. I do not criticise that, considering the appalling state Burma was left in at the time we took over. It would have been nothing more than a miracle if there had been any surplus rice, 2313 but clearly it is of the utmost importance, not only to Burma, but also to India and Malaya, that as much as possible of these 6,000,000 fallow acres should be brought into cultivation this year. I do not think the hon. and learned Gentleman would disagree with that.
With the approach of the present growing season, as far as I can make out, the Government suddenly woke up to the fact that the cultivators were not inclined to grow any more rice and that there was very little hope of the area under cultivation being increased. They offered a grant of 12 rupees an acre, and loans on easy terms, hoping this would tempt the peasants to cultivate an additional 2,000,000 acres. I am afraid the Government are doomed to disappointment. Heavy rains, heralding the approach of the monsoon, fell in the middle of May, and the peasants should have been in their fields by now but nothing, I think, except the suppression of dacoity will induce them to cultivate any fields except those in the immediate vicinity of their villages. That means that Burma is not likely to produce more rice than the country itself will require. What they want is security, not subsidies. I have no doubt an effort will be made to restore law and order, hut it will be infinitely more difficult in the rains, that have now started, than if this problem had been tackled in the dry season. Further there is very little hope of any substantial surplus of rice for export in 1947, because that is the year we are dealing with now. In the present circumstances this is a great tragedy, all the greater because it could have been avoided, at least in part. by vigorous action against the dacoity. The peasants have to be convinced of two things: first, that the Government mean to rid them of this plague; secondly, that they have the strength to do it.
If I have seemed harsh in my criticisms, I can assure hon. Members that they have not been made for the purpose of embarrassing the administration of Burma, but rather with the object of throwing light on the extremely grave situation there and the very great difficulty of putting it right. My purpose really has been to mobilise public opinion in this House and in the country behind the administration in any measures they may have to take—and they will probably be firm measures—before law and order can be restored in Burma.
§ 11.25 a.m.
§ Mr. Driberg (Maldon)
I am glad to join with the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Sir B. Neven-Spence) in deploring the present situation in Burma. He is perfectly right when he says that the situation is serious and that there is widespread dacoity, and particularly in drawing attention to the grave impending famine and the position in the rice cultivating areas. I do not, however, agree with some of his analysis of the situation, and, in particular, I thought he failed to offer any constructive solution. He merely drew attention, which it was perfectly right to do. to the serious situation, but did not really suggest what could be done. No doubt it is for my lion. and learned Friend to answer the hon. Gentleman, but I would like briefly to make one or two suggestions which I hope may be constructive.
In the first place I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman that there is widespread anti-British feeling, as such, in Burma. There is, of course, this intense nationalist feeling which has grown up in all the countries of the Far East and South East Asia, and has been tremendously inflamed by what has happened in the latter stages of the war and the aftermath of war; there is intense nationalist feeling and there is, therefore, an impatience with the continuance of British rule, and with what appears to the Burmese nationalist leaders to be the reinstitution on a big scale of the prewar capitalist enterprises which have for so many years—to use a word which I know my hon. Friend thinks old-fashioned —exploited the people of Burma. This feeling is not anti-British as such. and I am sure that the moment our rule in Burma is ended—as our rule is about to end in India—and the more openhandedly we hand over their own government to the people of Burma. the more gladly will they afterwards co-operate with us in any federal or regional economic arrangements that may be worked out.
The first essential, of course, is that we should make it clear that we are giving Burma her freedom at the earliest opportunity. One hopeful step in that direction was contained in an answer which my hon. and learned Friend gave me yesterday, in which he anticipates that if all goes well it is hoped that a Legislature will have been elected and a Ministry formed before June of next year. Meanwhile, however, 2315 there is the coming year and, as the hon. Gentleman has said, the situation is extremely grave. He was right to question the power of the present administration in Burma to cope with that situation.
What is to be done? I ventured last Monday, when this matter was raised at Question time, to put a supplementary question in which I suggested thatThe best way of restoring good order is by securing the enthusiastic cooperation of the Burmese Nationalist leaders, instead of maintaining the stuffy, old fashioned, Imperialist attitude still maintained by Government House, Rangoon.'—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd June, 1946; Vol. 423, c. 1610.]In passing, it is perhaps worth remarking that an hon. Member on this side of the House thought he heard an hon. Member opposite cry "Traitor " at that point. If he was right in thinking that, I can only say that it is an extraordinary reflection on the mentality of any hon. Gentleman who could have said that, and a precise illustration of the last few words in my supplementary question. I think that, whether hon. Members agree with it or not, it is at least an arguable proposition that a useful way to try to restore order in a country where there is disorder, is to get people in various nationalist movements to cooperate, acting as a kind of Home Guard and so on.
In his reply to the supplementary question, my hon. and learned Friend said, quite properly, that the policy carried out from Government House was not an Imperialist policy, and that the Governor was carrying out the policy of His Majesty's Government, which is to move as quickly as possible towards full self-government for the people of Burma. It was not, however, the policy that I had referred to in my supplementary, but something rather less precisely definable—the attitude maintained by Government House. I am not, of course, making any criticism of the Governor himself. I share the sympathy the hon. Member opposite expressed for him in his present painful illness. I am not making any criticism of the Governor himself, although I do not think that he is among the list of potentates who are protected by Erskine May. I think he is a well-meaning man; but I believe that some of the advisers who surround him, although they also no doubt mean well, are congenitally incap 2316 able, by their background and training, of understanding the new forces rising up all over South East Asia. That is what I mean by saying that the attitude still maintained at Government House was " stuffy, old fashioned, and Imperialist."
I entirely agree with the hon. Member who raised this matter, that the situation has deteriorated very badly indeed since the restoration of civil government, and that, I think, adds some point to what I am saying; for the leader of the popular Nationalist forces to which I have referred, Aung San—of whom we have often heard in this House before and whom I have described on previous occasions as "The Tito of Burma "—with a full understanding of all the implications of that description—was received last year and offered the hand of friendship by our military representatives, by the Supreme Commander, Admiral Mountbatten, and by General Sir William Slim. I attended the conference at Kandy at which they discussed the future defence of Burma, and there was the greatest cordiality between Major-General Aung San, and the British representatives. They saw a good deal of each other, and I subsequently also saw a good deal of Aung San. I came to value his undoubted gifts, and his qualities of leadership; no one can deny them who has spent any considerable time with him in Burma and watched him talking to people in Burmese towns and villages, and who understands something of the political situation there—for it is, whatever the hon. Member has said, inextricably involved with the economic situation. Politics cannot be separated from economics, and it is a fatal fallacy to think that they can be.
My constructive suggestion to my hon. and learned Friend is that he should urge the acting Governor and his executive council to contact Aung San and the other people who are organising what is known as the People's Volunteer Organisation, the P.V.O., a kind of mainly unarmed Home Guard, and enlist their cooperation. Thousands of young Burmese who fought in the resistance movement against the Japanese, are swarming into this organisation. That is the best way of protecting outlying farms and villages from dacoits—to cooperate in a friendly way, as we cooperated last year with Aung San, and to forget the difficulties and breaches which have occurred since 2317 Fortunately, they have not actually led to any open war, or civil war, or bloodshed, but the situation is undoubtedly dangerous. We should forget all that, and make a new start, talk to these nationalist leaders in a friendly way as equals, not patronisingly, and see if we cannot get the P.V.O. working all over Burma in the protection of the farms and villages and paddy-fields. Otherwise, I cannot see how the present administration is in fact going to stop this dacoity and these outrages which are undoubtedly occurring on a very big scale. Incidentally, one of the causes of the formation of the P.V.O., I am sorry to learn from Burma, is an allegation by Aung San that the Kandy Agreement has not been fully carried out on our side. I do not know whether my hon. and learned Friend can tell us anything about that.
One other suggestion has been put forward by the nationalist leaders, the politicians organised in the A.F.P.F.L. These people do undoubtedly—whether Members here like them or not, personally and politically—represent the majority of the existing political parties in Burma, and their influence is presumably strengthened by the recent withdrawal from the Executive Council of the representatives of the Myochit Party. One suggestion they have made is that there should be an interim National Government, following the pattern which has been followed in various countries in Europe, pending the holding of elections. My hon. and learned Friend told me yesterday that he hopes elections will have been held and a Legislature formed by June of next year. But there is this difficult year first, and the anti-Fascist People's Freedom League agrees with the hon. Member who has raised this matter, that the present administration is not strong enough to cope with the situation. I suggest that the best, most constructive, most specific, way of strengthening it, is to secure the co-operation of the popular organisations, whether or not we like their ideological background and their rather brash nationalism.
I want to conclude by reading a few sentences from what I thought a very wise leading article in "The Times"This week—based, no doubt, on a careful study of many despatches from "The Times" 2318 own correspondents, and others, in Burma:The condition of the country is such".says "The Times" editorial,That only the utmost endeavours of the most energetic and patriotic elements of the population will suffice to make ordered progress possible. It is precisely these elements which are now alienated from the administration, partly through impatience, and partly through a sense of frustration. The leaders of Burmese opinion, regardless of party, have now a long list of grievances, many of them reasonable, against the existing regime. They complain that the present members of the Executive Council are not representative of the political temper of the country; that they have no real authority; and—This, I think, is most important, looking forward to next year, and the years of self-government for Burma which are to follow,—and that they are receiving no training in the responsibility which they, or their successors, must shortly exercise in the spheres of defence, foreign relations, and economic reconstruction.I believe that these are wise and true words; and they help to underline what the hon. Member has said about the seriousness of the present situation in Burma. I hope that what I have said may at least suggest one constructive line of thought to those who are trying to meet this very difficult situation.
§ 11.40 a.m.
§ Mr. Gammans (Hornsey)
I was at Rangoon at this time last week with the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. Rees-Williams), and I would like to give the House details of the impressions which I formed. It is true it was a short visit but we had the opportunity of meeting members of the administration as well as the leaders of the two chief political parties. What struck me first of all was that the situation in that part of the world was far worse than I had been able to gather from anything which I have read. I certainly agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Sir B. Neven-Spence) that far too little information is coming out of Burma, or if it does come out of Burma we do not seem to be able to read about it. I think the facts of the situation are undeniable. Trains are being looted. They leave Rangoon to go to Mandalay and their cargoes just do not get there. Lorries disappear with their drivers and their contents, murders occur daily, and 2319 in large parts of the country the Government have no control at all. Parts of the country are in fact under the control of the dacoits.
What are the causes? The first thing I would like to ask the hon. Gentleman—and I hope he will tell' us something about it—is: Has the Governor adequate powers which he himself can exercise on the spot without referring to Whitehall? Is he being supplied with all the men he requires? What is the condition of the police force? With regard to that question, may I ask what are the police force being paid? Are they merely being paid 15 rupees a month, as they were before the war? One cannot have an efficient police force with the pay at 15 rupees a month and certainly one cannot get an honest one.
Mrs. Leah Maiming (Epping)
§ Mr. Gammans
I would also like to raise the question of the recruitment of a gendarmerie. There is a, very large military force in the country today who are not suited to chasing dacoits or to the day to day work of maintaining order. Might it not be necessary for the next few years to recruit a special force under the control of the Governor which would be responsible for the maintenance of law and order? I would also refer to the appointment of the acting Governor which, I believe, has raised a large amount of criticism in Burma already if for no other reason than that he has come from India and is a member of the Indian Civil Service. I do not say anything against him as a civil servant or as an individual. He is a man who has had a very distinguished career; but was it really wise to appoint an acting Governor from India when everybody knows that half the trouble in Burma today is due to the feeling which exists between the Burmese and the Indians?
I think the second cause seems to be the general economic uncertainty. That is causing unrest all over Burma. I do not think that many people in this country realise that Burma is the most devastated area in Asia. The country has been fought over during three campaigns and the devastation is comparable to what one finds in the Ruhr or, at any rate, in parts of the Ukraine. We ourselves went 2320 in for a policy of scorched earth before we left Burma. There does not seem to be a town or a village which has escaped either complete destruction or very severe damage. Rangoon is a mere shell and I am told that Mandalay is worse. Nobody seems to know how much it will cost to put all this right but the figure will run into some hundreds of millions of pounds. I think the Government should come to a decision as quickly as possible as to who is to pay for it. There seems to be an idea locally that this vast sum of money is to come from Great Britain which means that it is to come out of the pockets of the British taxpayer. Is that true?. Can we ask the people of this country, who suffered so much in the war, to pay for the rehabilitation of Burma? We have lent over —85 million, a lot of which we may not get back, but that is for immediate use, to buy goods and so on. Who is to pay for the physical damage in Burma? Who will put the railway right, rebuild Mandalay and Rangoon, restore the waterworks, electricity works and so on? That, I think, is one of the great outstanding questions.
Is India going to put up any of the money? Is India, with its much swollen. sterling balances, going to make any contribution at all to Burma? It was the sacrifice of Burma which saved the rich cities of India. There is a strong moral claim for India being asked to bear some share of the cost. Is Burma to get any reparations in kind? We gather that Russia, who was only eight days in the war against Japan, has not done too badly out of the looting of Manchuria. Is Burma to get anything from Japan itself? They have a far greater moral claim than almost any other country in the whole of Asia except possibly China.
I think the third cause of this unrest arises out of the confused political situation. To my mind, the political situation in Burma today is so fantastic that it would easily form the basis of a Gilbert and Sullivan opera. First of all, one of the leading characters today who has just resigned from the Governor's Council is USaw—
§ The Under Secretary of State for Burma (Mr. Arthur Henderson)
He has never been on the Council.
§ Mr. Gammans
Well, he is one of the leading political figures in Burma today and I gather that he hopes to become an even more leading figure. His record is something of which we in this country should take no particular pride. He was a man who allied himself with the Japanese before Pearl Harbour and who was interned during a large part of the war. Then there is Aung San, to whom reference has been made by the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg), who described him as the Tito of Burma. I was not going to insult him by using those words but, to.put it mildly, he is certainly a colourful character. Whilst he is not a member of the Governor's Council, members of his party, I think, have from time to time become members.
§ Mr. Driberg
I am sorry to interrupt. The hon. Member has got his facts quite wrong. U Saw was never a member of the Executive Council, nor was Aung San, nor any member of his party—or rather. league of parties.
§ Mr. Gammans
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for his correction. Aung San was a man who had allied himself to the Japanese long before the war started and he was, I believe, trained by them in the island of Hainan. He helped to lead the Japanese army in Burma and he fought on their side until 1944 when he had the good sense to " bale out " and come over to our side, calling himself a major general. This is the man with whom we made what I think was a most unfortunate agreement or pact. Treason is treason wherever one may be. On top of that, the man has a charge of murder hanging over his head. The man is alleged to have murdered a Burmese with his own hands. To accept such a man in wartime is bad enough but to have any truck with him in peacetime to my mind means the destruction of the basis of all honest Governments.
§ Mr. Driberg
May I interrupt again? The hon. Member has made a very strong attack on a man whom I have defended in this House May I ask him to bear in mind that the title of major-general—by which, he said, Aung San called himself—was bestowed upon him by the Supreme Allied Commander at a time last year when the Supreme Commander and 2322 General Sir William Slim were publicly thanking Aung San for his services to the Allied cause?
§ Mr. Gammans
I said it was most unfortunate that we had accepted this man in wartime; to accept him in peacetime, to my mind is quite indefensible. Why is this man allowed to keep what is virtually a private army at the present time? He admitted to me that he had about 9,000 men, who accept orders blindly from him. He called them, rather delightfully, I thought, an ex-Service association. One can call it that if one wishes, but I think its proper description is a private army. Today, every Government servant wonders what is going to. happen next year when the elections take place, and whether Aung San will get back, as I think he will. Today, no Government servant, unless he is a man of very strong character, likes to take a strong line against Aung San's followers, who, I am informed, are going round terrorising the countryside and breaking up political meetings. Is there any wonder that there is lawlessness in Burma when we tolerate a man like this going round with his private army? What hope is there of moderate, decent-minded Burmese taking part in public affairs when they see what is going on?
What is going to happen next year when we have the elections? What chance is there of holding proper elections in the country until law and order have been restored? To my mind, the great danger is that Aung San's organisation will go round terrorising the voters and that he will be returned to power, and the first result of a free Burma, to which we are all committed, will be what is virtually a Fascist regime with Brownshirts supporting it, as they did in other parts of the world. In other words the situation will be indistinguishable from Franco Spain or other parts of the world where similar things have happened. It is a pretty commentary on the idealism with which everyone was looking forward to a democratic Burma. This terrorism and uncertainty in regard to the future of Burma is, I think, doing far more than anything else to hold up the economic rehabilitation of the country. What Burma needs today is not only its own capital invested in the country, but outside capital as well. Those people who invested money in Burma in the past are 2323 wondering whether it is the slightest use attempting to put it back. If Burma is to be handed over to what is virtually Fascism, and severs her connection with the British Empire, does anybody in his right senses think that any money will be invested in the country from now on?
That is the situation as I see it. I believe that what the Government have to do is not what the hon Member for Maldon said, that is, get in people with appalling records like this man, but to carry out the first function of government, which is to govern, establish law and order in the country and enforce the law. To my mind, murder is the same thing all over the world, whether carried out by a peasant or a politician. I see not the slightest hope for the economic recovery of Burma, or for its political advancement on sound lines, unless, first of all, law and order are restored, criminals are brought to justice and confidence is restored in honesty and fair dealing.
§ 11.54 a.m.
§ Mrs. Leah Manning (Epping)
I have not the same advantage as the hon. Members who have spoken and who have recently spent some time in Burma, but my interest in the Burmese people comes from the knowledge I gained of those Burmese who came to the university town of Cambridge and among whom I had many friends. Although I know that the condition of the people today is such as has been described, some of the accounts which we have had of the Burmese are hardly reconcilable for me, with my recollection of them as a charming gentle people, which they are in their ordinary lives. Indeed a more charming people it would be very difficult to find. All of us who are interested in the Far East and in Burma particularly are anxious to see the present situation ended, and their rights restored to the people.
I am interested, however, not so much in what has been said by the previous speakers as in what has been left unsaid, We are all agreed on the restoration of law and order and of the economy of the country. But a great deal of money is required, and the people are wondering where the money is to come from. It is obvious that in the view of certain people there is only one way of doing that, and that is by the continued exploitation of 2324 the people by private enterprise. The hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Gammans) hinted at it, and even went so far as to ask if it was possible that we could expect people who already had interests in that country, in view of what is happening there, to continue their interest if there was a Fascist regime in the country. That is a very loosely-applied term. Does the hon. Member regard the present regime in Czechoslovakia or the present regime in Yugoslavia as Fascist regimes, or does he mean that Fascist regimes and regimes of that kind are interchangeable terms? I think what the hon. Member means is that any country in which the people come into control is a country of which we must beware.
I have followed closely all that has been written recently about Burma, because of my interest in that country and also because of the fact that I had a nephew fighting in Burma, who was helped by many Burmese and would, probably, without that help, have died in the jungle. Because of these things, I have taken a great interest in this country, and I want to see those who fought in the resistance movement, in particular, learning how to control and govern their own country. I think that, in the strictures we have heard about the leader of the resistance movement, the real criticism was directed against a man whom we all honour, on both sides of the House, because it was he who saw the value of that movement and gave valuable help in bringing it out of its difficulties. I hope that the suggestions which have been made by the hon. Member for Malden (Mr. Driberg) about help in bringing back the country to its former position will be included in the solution to be applied to this problem.
§ 11.59 a.m.
§ Major Niall Macpherson (Dumfries)
I listened with very great interest to the case made out by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Sir B. NevenSpence) and to the different views expressed about Major-General Aung San by the hon. Members for Maldon (Mr. Driberg) and Hornsey (Mr. Gammans). As I see it, and in accordance with all the information I have received, this man would undoubtedly describe himself as a patriot, in the sense that he aims at the independence of his country, for that is his one and only guiding idea. In that 2325 idea, he was prepared to ally himself with Japan against us and, when he thought there was more chance of getting independence for his country through an alliance with this country, he was prepared to do that. The question, which I would ask the hon. and learned Gentleman who is to reply to consider very carefully, is whether in view of the support he enjoys in Burma, Major-General Aung San's services could not and should not be enlisted by us in order to help in the recovery of the country.
I could not help feeling that the political question is not the dominating issue in this case, since political agitation is largely confined to the towns. But the writ of the Government hardly seems to run these days outside the towns. The towns, I am told, contain less than 20 per cent. of the total population of Burma. It is in the So per cent. in the country districts where people are less politically conscious that this dacoity is going on at the present time. My hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland made it very clear how communications are completely disrupted; how every bus, every convoy, every lorry, train and river boat has to have a police escort. One of the reasons why the rice cultivation is so retarded at the present time is that the villagers are unwilling to build their huts more than half a mile away from the villages themselves. The reason for dacoity and for disturbances of this kind is almost invariably poverty. As I have seen in Madagascar and other countries, unless the producers of rice crops have something to buy with their money they will not exert themselves; unless they have clothes to put on, they will not go out into the fields in the monsoons.
When General Lyautey was participating in the conquest of Indo-China, again in Madagascar and again in Morocco, he made it a cardinal point of his campaign to set up markets everywhere, and to see that they were well stocked. It is eight months since the civil Government came back to Burma. Undoubtedly they were welcomed back, and the Burmans looked forward to a rapid improvement in their situation, to more goods and to security. The goods have not arrived with great rapidity. I would ask the Minister if it is not possible, first of all, to ensure a more rapid arrival of clothes, of tools, of implements and of the various things 2326 that they require for their every day life, and secondly, to organise markets when those goods arrive, and to see that the present situation is not maintained whereby goods bought in the towns can be sold for to times their value outside. The bare fact is, dacoity has increased by something like 12 times since before the war. I would join with my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey in asking the Minister: What are the conditions offered to the police force at the present time? Are they adequately paid? Has there been any attempt to enlist the People's Voluntary Organisation? Could he say something more about that? If they are to be enlisted, and if their assistance is to be obtained, it must not be by means of an alliance with them, but they must be definitely taken on as servants of the British Crown. They might be used in the same way as the Black Watch, who were Highlanders, were used for the maintenance of law and order in the Highlands. I have no doubt my own ancestors had great experience of dacoity when times were bad. The Minister might do well to consider the means that were taken in the Highlands to make the Highlands an area of peace and contentment, if not prosperity.
To what extent are the military being used now? There is a strong feeling that the military are not being adequately used. It may indeed be that they are not entirely suitable to deal with dacoits. On the other hand, it is, to say the least, astonishing to villagers when military are in the area and cannot be used. That is the information I have, that in many cases, owing to the absence of the magistrate or something of the kind, the military cannot act rapidly in the pursuit of dacoits. It is necessary that we should utilise every possible section of the community in the pacification of the country. I most earnestly urge the Minister to concentrate on obtaining supplies for the country, because if clothing and implements are brought in in adequate quantities the people will start to work, the interest of the people in their work will increase, and they will be more eager to organise themselves for defence against the dacoits. In a report which I have read it is said that a man who was in charge of 12 villages, the village headman, had only 12 weapons with which lo defend those villages. Can the Minister 2327 tell us this afternoon what provision is made for the organisation of, say, supplementary local police, recruited from the villagers themselves, what arms they are given and what Government support they receive? While it is obviously most undesirable that we should arm the whole of Burma to deal with dacoits—we must be very careful to maintain the proper channels of authority—it is obviously necessary to obtain the cooperation and good will of all peace loving citizens in the defence of order in Burma.
§ 12.7 p.m.
§ Colonel Gomme-Duncan (Perth and Kinross, Perth)
While appreciating the kindly sentiments expressed by the hon. Member for Epping (Mrs. Manning) when recalling those delightful and charming friends at Cambridge—and I have known many Burmese myself who were very charming people—the lion. Lady should bear in mind that the relations of those charming people in Burma are the very people who are being beaten up by the dacoits. We must keep our feet on the ground in this matter. Equally, the threadbare clichès of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg) about Imperialism, and all that sort of. thing, do not bear examination. The main fact on which we have to insist—and I hope the Government in replying will emphasise it—is the maintenance of law and order. That is the basis of all civilisation, so far as government is concerned. An impression of weakness is just as bad as a real weakness, particularly in oriental countries. I have lived and worked in the East for a great many years, and I know perfectly well that bazaar rumour is just as powerful as fact —in fact, sometimes more so. It is essential that the Government must not only be firm themselves, but must let everybody know that they are and that they intend to be firm.
If the hon. Member for Maldon found the peasants beating up the dacoits, I wonder whether he would not regard that as some form of Fascist organisation beating up democrats, because that usually seems to be his attitude when such things happen elsewhere. What we want to get out of this Debate today—and we are all after the same thing—is an assurance that Burma is to be put in order once 2328 more. We have a great responsibility. If we clear out of Burma it is pretty certain that somebody else will go in. That is what happens to weak countries which are disorganised. When the Government come to reply I hope they will emphasise that, whatever happens, law and order will be maintained on behalf of the people of that country, and that after that has been done, but not before, the question of rehabilitation and restoration will be gone ahead with as quickly as possible.
§ 12.9 p.m.
§ Mr. R. A. Butler (Saffron Walden)
The Government have had to face a most formidable indictment of the present policy and position in Burma. I trust that a serious and comprehensive answer will be given to all the points that have been put forward from this side of the House. I am sure we are obliged to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Sir B. Neven-Spence) for raising this matter, and to other hon. Members on both sides of the House who have taken part in the Debate. Burma is very much in the news at the moment. I believe we are to discuss it again on the next Friday on which we sit. Therefore, I shall make only a short contribution to back up what has been said on this side of the House, and to support some of the contentions of the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Gammans) who has just returned from that country. In passing, may I say with what satisfaction we have seen certain political developments that have been taking place in India. We on this side of the House and, I am sure, all hon. Members, are standing by our undertakings about the political future in Burma; and, therefore, I shall not devote much time to that today.
We stand by the White Paper. We welcome the programme of political development which lies before the country, and we look forward to the establishment of the Legislature and Ministry by June of next year. But what is at stake is this: Dacoity, lawlessness, economic disorder and tragedy are facing the present temporary administration in Burma, and will certainly overwhelm any new administration that takes over next year unless something is done about it quickly. The hon. and learned Gentleman in replying will have to face that situation, and I hope that the Government will make an announcement today which will 2329 give some satisfaction. The hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg) was rather inclined, I thought, to think that the mere establishment of a new Legislature and a new Ministry a year hence will, of itself, right all this. But what I think he will accept, as indeed the hon. and learned Gentleman himself must accept, is that, if these conditions go on, no Government will stand a chance, and that they are not going to give the Burmese any desire for self-government and a real opportunity, which they should have, to rule their country in the right way.
I turn to the examination of one or two ways of putting this situation right. It seems to me that the civil administration has to do a great deal better than it has done hitherto, if it is to earn applause or, indeed, to earn the satisfaction of this House. The police position seems to me to be very serious indeed. As I understand it, there are some 13,690 civil police in the country; some 6,796 armed police; and the usual force of ordinary constabulary. Does the hon. and learned Gentleman regard this police as sufficient to keep law and order at the present time? I understand that the proposal has been made to add some 6o further officers to the police force. But are they to get on with the job? I understand that these officers are being asked to return first to the United Kingdom for examination into their suitability. Frankly, if that is the sort of way the problem of the increase of the police force is being dealt with at present it is not good enough.
What is wanted, in my view, is some organisation of an armed police force, from whatever quarter it comes, which will, in the immediate future, restore the ordinary decencies of government to the country. It is really quite undesirable that what limited transport there is—and transport is one of the main problems in Burma—cannot move about owing to the interruption by dacoity and terrorism; and until that situation is removed I see no hope whatever of establishing proper self government or good government in Burma. Therefore, can the hon. and learned Gentleman give us the assurance that steps will be taken, in consultation, if necessary, with the military, for the establishment of an armed police force which will restore law and order in the country and enable things to start working properly? My hon. Friend the Mem- 2330 ber for Hornsey asked whether the Governor has sufficient powers, and trust that in this interim period he has the necessary powers, and that the hon. and learned Gentleman will give us satisfaction on that point.
There has been a great deal of talk about this question of exploitation, and some loose reference was made by the hon. Member for Epping (Mrs Manning) to the evils of private enterprise. If there were a little more of the elasticity of private enterprise in Burma at the present time there might be more hope for the country. What is happening is that a series of undertakings described as " projects " have been initiated by the Governor. As far as I can see, a " project "Is a contribution to the sort of science of economics which is peculiarly Burman. It causes great dissatisfaction to what hon. Members opposite would call the " ex-Imperial " enterprises who did so much to make Burma one of the richest and happiest countries in the world before the war. If the hon. Lady would look, for example, at the report of the annual meeting of Steel Brothers and Company she would find grave dissatisfaction with the Government at the present time. In fact, the chairman, Mr. Michie, who probably knows as much about Burma as anybody else in this country, or even there, voiced the wholly laudable feeling of exasperation with the British Government and the Government of Burma in these words:Instead of settling the legitimate claims of commerce and industry, thus enabling business in Burma to get going again, the bureaucrats prefer to finance Burma's recovery by making large drafts on the British Treasury, and so the economic reconstruction of the country is held up the colourfulas he describes it —and painfully Byzantine notion that by forms and files and memoranda alone the life of the country can be rebuilt.It does not look as though private enterprise were being unduly spoiled by the Government. I shall, therefore, ask the hon. and learned Gentleman to give us. some further satisfaction, not only about the police, but as to whether this " project " scheme in its operation is working satisfactorily. I asked him a question only a day or two ago about the provision of consumer goods in the rural districts, and about the index figure of prices and costs. If he could give us some information to show that consumer goods 2331 are going back into the country districts and that the project system is working, so that what is to a large extent the expenditure of public money is proving worth while, it would be helpful to us.
I do not think I need to delay the House any longer. The one point I wanted to make I made at the beginning of my remarks, and that is that no Government, whether Burman or otherwise, will give itself a chance unless it restores law and order. That is the primary interest at the present time. In my opinion, the whole future of Burma is at the moment at stake. I do not share in the criticisms of the Acting Governor who has been appointed. What is wanted at the present time is a first-class administrator. What is best administered is best. After that, we can proceed forward with the political programme. As far as I understand it, the Acting Governor is a man of rare administrative ability, and I should not like it to go out from this House that there is any criticism of him. But I should like him to know that he has behind him the support of His Majesty's Government and that he has sufficient powers. I trust that when the administrative problem has been solved and law and order restored the Burmans will proceed with their programme—and that, we trust, because of the present alarming reports, will not be long delayed.
§ 12.18 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Burma (Mr. Arthur Henderson)
I think the House is grateful to the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Sir B. NevenSpence) for raising this issue on the Adjournment Motion today. It does, at any rate, indicate the interest that is taken in the House itself in the affairs of Burma. There can be no gainsaying the importance of the people of Burma realising that Parliament here I continually and actively concerned with Burma's affairs and with her restoration to normal conditions. The hon. Gentleman and, I think, one or two other speakers, have complained about the lack of information, and that it is not possible to read about what is taking place in Burma. That, I am afraid, is a matter over which I have no control. Hon. Members will remember that on Monday a large number of Questions were put to me about con- 2332 ditions in Burma, and I think that one or two of the replies, at any rate, must have been of considerable importance to those who are interested in Burma; and yet, as far as I know, no single newspaper in the country published any reports of my replies.
§ Mr. A. Henderson
The hon. and gallant Gentleman is wrong there. There is plenty of room for the matters which are considered of interest. That is something over which I certainly cannot exercise any control.
Before replying to the Debate as a whole, I should like briefly to review and restate the policy of His Majesty's Government. The House is aware, of course, of the intentions of the White Paper, to which reference has been made. The first suggestion which the White Paper provided, namely, rule by the Governor, without an elected Legislature and without a Ministry, will shortly draw to a close. It is of the utmost importance, in the view of His Majesty's Government, that the election should be held at the earliest possible date, and that Burma should he provided with a democratically elected Legislature, from which a Ministry on a democratic basis can be drawn. As I told the House in April, and the right hon. Gentleman has made reference to the fact, it was my hope that a Ministry would be in power by June of next year. The physical and other difficulties in connection with the preparation of an electoral roll and the holding of an election in Burma are great, but every effort is being made to advance the date of the election as much as possible, and I am not without hope that it may yet be possible to hold the election as early as April of next year, and to have a Ministry by that date.
§ Mr. Butler
I am sure the hon. and learned -Gentleman would give an assurance, in that case, that he would be satisfied that the election would be a free and fair one, and not be spoilt by the lawlessness of the present type of dacoity that is going on.
§ Mr. Henderson
I hope that by then the Government of Burma will have the situation, so far as dacoity is concerned, 2333 well under control. Obviously, if conditions of insecurity are so widespread as to make it impossible to hold the election then, a different situation will arise. I am assuming that the conditions will permit the election to be held in April. We may fail in our efforts to have it in April, but that will not be through want of trying. Once the election has been held, and there is a democratically elected legislature, it will be essential, and it is the firm intention of His Majesty's Government, to press on, without delay, with the remaining stages of the White Paper; with working out the arrangements by which Burma is to signify her wishes in the constitutional field, and with the framing, by the Burmese themselves, of a final constitution for a self-governing Burma. I can say nothing today about the precise machinery that is to be adopted. That is a matter that needs further consideration in the light of the views which we hope to receive, in due course, from representative Burmans. I would like to reiterate our anxiety that there should be no loss of time, and that progress should be made with the minimum of delay.
So much for the present position, and for the intentions of His Majesty's Government. I would like to pass from the general issue to the references and suggestions that have been made in, and, indeed, outside this House, as to the importance of a really broad-based Executive Council in the interim period, and to say a word or two on that subject. The House will know that, under the present law, responsibility during this period is vested exclusively in the Governor, but in actual practice it has been the policy of the Governor to give the utmost freedom to the prominent Burmese public men who form his Executive Council. While technical and constitutional responsibility obviously rests with the Governor, in practice these Executive Councillors have full responsibility inside their departments. They are in the full confidence of the Governor; they have a decisive voice in policy over the whole field that lay within the scope of the ministerial Government which existed in Burma before the Japanese invasion. There has been no suggestion, so far as I am aware, by any member of the Executive Council that it is not being fully trusted and taken fully into confidence.
2334 I would like to take this opportunity to say how much His Majesty's Government regret that the Executive Council still does not contain representatives of a most important Burmese political party, to which reference has been made—the A.F.P.F.L. There has been reference today to this organisation, and I am quite prepared to accept the view that this is a party with strong support and very great possibilities. The hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Gammans), I think, stated that he believed that it would win the next election. I would like to say that "The door remains open " for their entry to the Executive Council, and I hope sincerely that they will reconsider their position of last October and be willing, in the few remaining months before the election takes place, when they and other parties can then test the feeling of the country at the polls, to take part in the work of Government and to realise, by political experience, how great are the responsibilities that fall on the present Executive Council and contribute their share to the rehabilitation and the reconstruction of their country.
§ Mr. Gammans
Do I understand from that, that it is not the intention of the Government to proceed with any charge of murder which is hanging over the head of Aung San, and does he propose to do anything to disband Aung Sari's army before the election next year?
§ Mr. Henderson
With regard to the last point, perhaps the hon. Gentleman will wait a little while until I come to the question of law and order. As regards the question of the charge against Aung San, that is not relevant to what I have just said. What I have said indicated that His Majesty's Government would welcome the full cooperation of the party known as A.F.P.F.L. in the work of the Executive Council. The question of whether Aung San committed a murder or not is, as the hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well, a matter for the process of law in the country.
May I say a few words with regard to the large number of points which have been made today on the law and order position in the country? I want to be quite frank and to say, as I said the other day, that there can be no gainsaying the fact that the position in Burma is still serious. The reasons are not far to seek. Some of 2335 them have been given by hon. Members today. Burma has been twice fought over, and the restoration of normal conditions must inevitably be gradual. The police and other services have to be reassembled and retrained. Economically, the country has suffered from the years of Japanese occupation, and normal conditions can be only gradually restored. There is, indeed, another very important point. The months following the harvest—that is roughly the months from February up to the breaking of the rains in May—are, at the best of times, I am informed, a restless season. The ground is dry, and there is no work to be done in the fields. It has normally, in the history of Burma in the past, been a period in which there has been temporarily a sharp increase in crime. I think that should be borne in mind in considering the actual number of incidents that have recently come to the notice of hon. Members. Moreover, the aftermath of resistance, coupled with the arms with which the country is flooded as the result of the two campaigns through which it has passed, make dacoity a more formidable matter than would normally be the case. Gangs carrying mortars and automatic rifles and trained in guerrilla tactics are a serious proposition to handle even at the best of times, but headway is being made in getting the situation under control by the civil police in cooporation with the military. I cannot tell the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Dumfries (Major Macpherson) to what extent the military are being used; I think he rather shifted his ground a little from suggesting that the military were not being used to suggesting that there was some delay in securing their services.
§ Major Niall Macpherson
I was trying to point out that according to the information I have received they were not in my opinion being used to the fullest extent or in the most expeditious manner possible.
§ Mr. Henderson
I think I can assure the hon. and gallant Gentleman that the military are being used and I have a report which refers to the fact that something in the nature of combined operations has been put into execution during recent months with some degree of success. I can assure the hon. Gentleman 2336 also that the military are being made use of to a very considerable extent. There is another side to this question—the shortage of experienced pace officers. The Burma services endured severe losses during the war, although I am glad to say that the gaps in their ranks are being filled. With the help of Lord Louis Mountbatten arrangements have been completed in the last few days for the recruitment of a number of officers of the younger age groups on short term contracts
In this connection I want to deal with the point raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler), that he understood that 6o police officers had been recruited and were being brought over to this country to be sorted out and for a decision to be taken as to whether they were suitable or not, while in the meantime, no doubt, the dacoity was continuing. I think there is a misunderstanding there. For the purpose of dealing with dacoity and gangs armed with modern weapons something in the nature of a force officered by men with military experience is obviously required, and what the Government of Burma have sought to do, and have in fact done, is to secure volunteers from the military services to act for the time being as police officers in charge of detachments whose main task is to deal with these bands of dacoity. They are not going to be brought home for any inspection or for any purpose of selection or decision as to whether they are suitable. They will be, and are being, drafted into Burma and put in charge of these detachments in order to deal with this problem of dacoity, and I think that is where the misunderstanding has arisen. The bulk of these volunteers will go to the police and a few to the general administration. Once they are available I think they should be of real value in lightening the burden which the administration is at present carrying
Extensive touring by the police and the Civil Service is of the very greatest importance in this connection. We have done all we can to help them over transport and I know that the Governor fully realises how great a difference it will make to the reestablishment of normal law and order conditions that -the representatives of the Government should be able to tour extensively through their districts. 2337 Reference has been made to the question of village defence. I can say that village defence schemes have been or are being organised and that firearms have been made available in connection with these schemes to the greatest possible extent. My hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg), however, made the suggestion that the volunteer force which is under the control of the A.F.P.F.L. organisation should be utilised as the nucleus of a kind of army or force for dealing with dacoity. I want to be quite frank and say that so far as His Majesty's Government are concerned we will not tolerate anything in the nature of a private army. We know from our experience in other countries the dangers there, and we would not be prepared to allow any private or political organisation to establish anything in the nature of a private army. That would not prevent the members of the army playing their part in dealing with these various schemes to which I have referred. In addition steps are being taken to secure additional subordinate police over and above the prewar cadres. A new reserve for the training of the sub-inspector grade has been instituted and a force of armed police for river duties has recently been authorised. As regards the police, in addition to the figures to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, which are continually under review, sanction has just been given for the resuscitation of the special police reserve totalling 4,200 men. As regards weapons, the police force is now armed with sufficient suitable modern weapons to enable it to deal, we hope effectively, with the gangs of dacoits.
I want to deal now with a point raised by the hon. Member for Hornsey with regard to police pay. The position is that they are still getting the same basic pay, 18 rupees a month, plus a considerable allowance to meet the increased cost of living and an additional ration allowance, but it is a fact that at the moment the basic rate of pay remains the same.
§ Mr. Henderson
Yes, about a shilling a day, and that has been the case for many years past. With the assistance of the Admiralty an important step has been taken with regard to security on the rivers. The gunboat " Scarab " has been taken over as the parent ship for a flotilla of armed landing craft and is now in the 2338 Rangoon river. I have no doubt that these arrangements will be of real value in policing the extensive river areas which are so characteristic of Burma.
§ Colonel Gomme-Duncan
It is so important to get this information that crime will not be tolerated across to the people. What steps are being taken to this end?
§ Mr. Henderson
What I can say to that is that, as I indicated in a reply the other day, a general warning has been issued on behalf of the Government of Burma that they will not tolerate any unlawful means such as the making of seditious speeches for the purpose of carrying out the policy of any political party in the country. The hon. Member for Hornsey and the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden asked whether the powers of the Governor were adequate for the purpose of enabling him to maintain law and order from that aspect. I can say that the powers of the Governor are adequate and that there can be no question of the situation getting out of hand because of any weakness on the part of the law or the powers of the Governor to deal with that particular problem
§ Mr. Gammans
But is the Governor allowed to exercise those powers on the spot, or has he to refer to Whitehall first?
§ Mr. Henderson
He does not have to refer to Whitehall for any matter which is covered by the phrase, "The maintenance of law and order." He has the same powers as any other Governor, broadly speaking, and it would only be in an exceptional case that it would be necessary for him to refer home.
I am sure the House would wish to pay a tribute to the contribution which Burma has made towards meeting the world's food problems. It is a fact that in spite of the present position, where, as an hon. Member has indicated, only 6,500,00o acres are being cultivated as against 12 million acres before the war, they have none the less been able to export or promise to export 377,000 tons to scarcity areas, principally India and the Malay States, and they are speeding up efforts with a view to having the maximum possible area of land under cultivation for the forthcoming harvest. I gave the figures recently in reply to a question. They hope to increase the acreage under cultivation from 6,500,000 acres to 2339 8,500,000, in time for the next harvest. I believe that more could be done were it not for the shortage of ploughs and plough cattle, other consequences of the war, and the extent to which large areas have gone out of cultivation during the occupation, with the result that they have now to be cleared of jungle—a slow and difficult process.
I would like to make a reference to the transport position. Obviously, the restoration of normal communications is of vital importance. The railways were completely put out of action during the war, rolling stock was destroyed, bridges and lines were blown up. The replacement of rolling stock has made great advances. Over r,000 wagons and over 60 locomotives have already arrived and a further 3,000 wagons and coaches, and 140 locomotives are on order. With regard to consumer goods, there is inevitably a shortage, again, due to the aftermath of war, which reflects itself lo no small extent in the general world situation. I can assure Members that no thought has been spared by the Government of Burma to ease the situation, and I am glad to be able to inform the House that there is a definite improvement. The best indication of the extent of this improvement is this fact. As a result of the arrival of consumer goods, particularly textiles, there has been a fall in the cost of living from 679 in November, 1945, to 384 in April, 1946. It is most important that consumer goods should not be held up in urban areas, and the House will be interested to know that the Government of Burma have a scheme for the issue of consumer goods to cultivators as advances in kind, as grants under their acreage subsidy scheme. I informed the right hon. Gentleman opposite recently that for May, June, and July the distribution to urban areas has been stopped, and that all imported cloth will go into rural areas for that period.
On the question of the Kandy Agreement, my information is that, broadly speaking, it has been fully implemented by His Majesty's Government. The question of the Acting Governor was raised, and I would content myself by associating my views with those expressed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Saffron Walden. There is no secret that in the normal course of events the senior 2340 Counsellor, Sir John Wise, would have been considered for the temporary appointment had it not been for the state of his health. In the circumstances, His Majesty's Government decided to make the appointment they have made.
In conclusion, may I express the hope that the House will feel that great work has been done under very difficult conditions? The military have made a tremendous contribution, and I think we should be profoundly grateful to them. It would be the greatest mistake to underestimate the achievements of the civil Government, in spite of the picture which has been painted here today. They have been undermanned, overworked, and have worked in conditions of extreme difficulty during the eight months they have been back in Burma. The Governor, whose ill-health we all deplore, has shown a constant and active interest in the progress of the country in every respect. His Executive Council and all his officers have taken a most active and prominent part in the long and troublesome business of rehabilitation. Much remains to be done, but the amount that has been done has not always been appreciated, and I feel that this is an opportunity to pay a tribute to the Government there. I have tried to give the House a faithful picture of the position in Burma, and of its more important aspects. It is difficult to deal with so vast a subject in the short time at our disposal today, but I hope that what I have said may be of help to the House in appreciating the position and its difficulties, and what is being done by the Government of Burma to grapple with the problem.
As I have already said, much remains to be done, but until we get the elections and a representative Legislature, based on a wide democratic franchise, there will not be that full mandate from the people of Burma that we are anxious to secure. It is, and will be, as I have said, our policy to press on to the utmost practicable extent to give effect to the settled policy of His Majesty's Government and the House as a whole. I would reiterate that it is the firm intention of His Majesty's Government to enable the people of Burma to achieve full self-government as soon as practicable. We wish to see Burma take her place in the British Commonwealth of Nations, a Commonwealth which, as the Prime Minister said recently, is a free association of free nations.
§ Mr. Driberg
Would my hon and learned Friend bear in mind that Aung San, in a speech on 16th May, made it quite clear that the P.V.O. would be quite willing to join the regular Burmese army, but that he pointed out that the physical arrangements for doing so did not yet exist?
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member whom I had intended to call to raise the next subject, relating to industry in North Staffordshire, is not present and so I propose to advance the arranged programme by half an hour. Perhaps the Whips will inform the Members concerned. of this arrangement.