HC Deb 22 May 1946 vol 423 cc336-8

The following Question stood upon the Order Paper:

101. Mr. Skinnard

—To ask the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he has any further statement to make on Sarawak.

At the end of Questions

The Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. George Hall)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and with the permission of the House, I should like to reply to this Question.

Yes, Sir. The Council Negri passed the Cession Bill on 16th and 17th May, and the Supreme Council authorised the Rajah to execute the instrument of Cession on 20th May. The Rajah has accordingly signed this document. The acting British Representative in Sarawak signed it on behalf of His Majesty. The Act of Cession is, therefore, completed, but in view of the legal and administrative arrangements that must be made, the territory will not be taken over by His Majesty's Government for a few weeks.

The voting in the Council Negri on the Cession Bill was 18 for, 16 against on the second reading, and 19 for and 16 against on the third reading. Of the 26 non-European members, 14 voted against and 12 for on the second reading, and 13 voted against and 12 for on the third reading. The non-European member who was absent from the third reading through illness was in favour of cession.

His Majesty's Government reviewed their decision to accept cession in the light of these results but reached the conclusion that the narrow majority among the non-European members of the Council Negri against the Cession Bill of two and one on the second and third readings, respectively, did not afford grounds for rejecting the cession of the territory. In reaching this conclusion, His Majesty's Government had in mind the report by the two Members of this House on their independent inquiry into the question whether the proposal to cede the territory, was, broadly speaking, acceptable to the inhabitants of Sarawak.

As the House is aware, the Members reported that there was sufficient acquiescence or favourable opinion in the country to justify the matter going before the Council, and they strongly urged that there should be no postponement. They did not suggest that the matter should be determined by the votes of the non-European members of the Council, In these circumstances, and bearing in mind that the non-European members of the Council are all nominated, and that there is disproportionate representation of the various communities—the Dyaks who are 50 per cent. of the population, had only four seats out of a total of 37, the Chinese representing 25 per cent. of the population had three seats, whereas the Malays, representing the remaining 25 per cent. of the population had 17 seats—His Majesty's Government felt that the voting of the non-European members could not be accepted as superseding the report of the Members of this House on the views of the inhabitants, and that in any event, it would be wrong to ignore the voting of the European members, who voted as individuals with knowledge of Sarawak and not as an official bloc.

Mr. Oliver Stanley

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, since the vote, I have received a telegram from my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey (Mr. Gammans) to the effect that although as the right hon. Gentleman says the vote was not conclusive, my hon. Friend is still of the opinion that on balance cession is to the advantage of the people of Sarawak? For that reason, although we regret some of the steps which have led up to this, we feel that the only thing is to hope that this Act of Cession will prove to be of benefit to the people.

Mr. Hall

I was aware that the right hon. Gentleman had received such a telegram. I should like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the work which has been done by the two Members of this House who visited Sarawak. Not only did they attend the Council meeting at the capital, but they visited eight of the principal places in Sarawak and were able to ascertain the views of the peoples in those areas.