§ 11.3 a.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Burma (Mr. Arthur Henderson)
I beg to move,That this House approves the continuance in force of the Proclamation issued under Section 139 of the Government of Burma Act, 1935, by the Governor of Burma on 10th December, 1942, a copy of which Proclamation was presented on 9th February, 1943.Perhaps I may be allowed to refer to the fact that there is a second Motion on the Order Paper relating to Burma:That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty in pursuance of the provisions of Section 157 of the Government of Burma Act, 1935, as applied by Section 1 (2) of the Government of Burma (Temporary Provisions) Act, 1945, praying that the Government of Burma (Temporary Provisions) Order, 1947, be made in the form of the draft laid before Parliament.For the purpose of Debate it may be convenient that both should be taken together.
§ Mr. Speaker
I agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman that we might discuss both Motions together.
§ Mr. Henderson
The first Motion on the Order Paper provides for the continuing in force of the Proclamation made by the Governor of Burma in December 1942, under Section 139 of the Government of Burma Act. The other Motion provides for an increase in the size of the Legislative Council from 50 to 100.
It is now some months since we last had a Debate on Burma, and I think that the House might see advantage if I were to take this opportunity to review the very important and significant developments that have taken place in that country during the last few months. As the House will remember, the government 2304 of Burma has, since the return of the Civil Government in October 1945, been conducted under the Emergency Provisions of the 1935 Act as amended by the Government of Burma (Temporary Provisions) Act, 1945. On assuming office in September 1946, the present Governor, Sir Hubert Rance, entered into discussions with political leaders in Burma with a view to securing a broader based and a more representative Executive Council containing if possible members of all the leading parties. A new broad-based Government was formed, and the strongest and best organised political party in Burma, the Anti-Fascist Peoples Freedom League, which had hitherto been in opposition joined the Council under its distinguished leader, U Aung San.
The new Executive Council rightly, I think, and naturally showed itself closely interested in expediting the constitutional progress of their country. The Council were anxious to have a more specific definition than had hitherto been given of the intentions of His Majesty's Government in the matter of constitutional progress. In the result, the Prime Minister announced to this House on 20th December last year that it was the desire of the Government that the Burmese people should attain their self-government by the quickest and most convenient path possible, and to hasten forward the time when Burma should realise her independence either within or without the Commonwealth.
It was made clear that His Majesty's Government did not desire to retain within the Commonwealth any unwilling peoples; it would be for the people of Burma to decide their own future, though we were certain that it would be to their interest as to ours if they decided to remain within the Commonwealth, and we sincerely hoped that they would arrive at such a decision. With a view to clarifying the position, the Executive Council were then invited to send a delegation to London for discussions. The Council accepted the invitation and very important discussions took place in January between His Majesty's Government and a representative delegation of the Council. As the House is aware, the conclusions which emerge from those conversations laid down a method by which the people of Burma might achieve their independence either within or without the Com- 2305 monwealth as soon as possible. It was agreed that to enable them to decide on the constitution of their country as soon as possible a Constituent Assembly should be elected in April of this year instead of a legislature under the provisions of the Act of 1935, and that during the period of transition until the new constitution was framed the Government of Burma would be carried on as hitherto under the powers of Section 139 of the 1935 Act. It is for that reason that I am asking the House to approve the extension of the present Proclamation. The legislative Assembly appointed under the Act of 1945—a temporary Act —was to continue, but was to be increased from 50 to 100 and that is the reason for the draft Order in Council referred to in the second motion.
Most important of all, it was agreed that while it was not possible to alter the legal powers of the Council and the Governor, which must continue within the framework of the existing legislation, the Executive Council, as the interim Government of Burma, would be conducted generally in the same manner as the interim Government of India at the present time, and, in particular, would be treated with the same close consultation and consideration as a Dominion Government. It would have the greatest possible freedom in the exercise of the day to day administration of the country. Financial autonomy was conceded, defence and external affairs were to be brought before the Executive Council, and, subject only to the limitations inherent in the legal position, the council would be at full liberty to raise, consider, discuss and decide on any matters arising from the field of policy and administration.
Two members of the Burma delegation, U Saw and Thakin Ba Sein, were unable to associate themselves with those conclusions, but His Majesty's Government have no doubt that, in the light of all that has happened since, the London conversations resulted in a wise and sound settlement and one that commands the support of all responsible political elements in Burma. Since the conversations ended, Burma's affairs have been conducted in accordance with the agreed arrangements, and I should like to pay a warm tribute to the friendly and cooperative spirit which the Executive Council and its leader, U Aung San, have 2306 shown in the testing months which have since elapsed.
May I refer next to the Frontier Areas? The House has always taken a very close interest in the fortunes of the people of the Frontier Areas. Special arrangements were made to safeguard their interests when the White Paper of 1945 was published. They figured prominently in the January conversations. It was common ground between His Majesty's Government and the Burma delegates that the early unification of the Frontier Areas and Ministerial Burma should be achieved with the free consent of the inhabitants of those areas. However, there proved to be a real conflict of evidence as to the true wishes of the frontier peoples. Both the delegation and His Majesty's Government, therefore, agreed that this must be cleared up. It was decided that the leaders and representatives of the Frontier Areas should be asked to attend a conference which was already summoned to meet at Panglong in February of this year to say how they wished to be associated with the Government of Burma in this present interim period. Thereafter, a committee of inquiry under a neutral chairman was to be set up to investigate the best method of associating the frontier areas with the working out of the new constitution.
The Panglong Conference, at which my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs was present as an observer on behalf of His Majesty's Government, duly took place in February and an agreement was quickly reached and signed by U Aung San and by representatives of the Shans, Kachins and the Chins. I would emphasise that this agreement was for the interim period and was to operate within the framework of the 1935 Act. Subsequently endorsed by the Executive Council and approved by His Majesty's Government, it provided that during the interim period the subject of the frontier areas should by convention come within the purview of the Executive Council, and that it should be dealt with by a Counsellor to the Governor appointed on the recommendation of the Supreme Council of the United Hills Peoples. The Counsellor would also be appointed a member of the Executive Council assisted by two deputy Counsellors drawn from two of the three frontier areas to which the Counsellor did not belong. I should like to emphasise that this agreement ex- 2307 pressly recognised the principle of full autonomy of internal administration for the Frontier Areas. The Executive Council would be concerned with matters of common interest and would do nothing further to diminish the internal autonomy of the frontier areas. In fact, a Shan Sawbwa has been appointed as Counsellor and a Chin arid Kachin as deputy Counsellors and the agreement was brought into operation at the end of March. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Dominions will intervene later in the Debate and give the House an account of his visit and the impression which he formed at first hand.
§ Mr. R. A. Butler (Saffron Walden)
The right hon. and learned Gentleman has just said that the Frontier Areas fall within the purview of the Executive Council and yet that there was internal autonomy. Is there any conflict between those statements?
§ Mr. Henderson
They come within the purview of the Executive Council as far as matters of common interest are concerned, but without prejudice to full internal autonomy of the various Frontier Areas. The committee of inquiry envisaged during the London conversations was also set up under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Mr. Rees-Williams). That committee of inquiry consists of eight members, four from the Frontier Areas and four from Ministerial Burma. The committee has visited the Frontier Areas and examined a large number of witnesses. I am glad to be able to inform the House that the Governor has just informed my noble Friend, the Secretary of State for Burma, that the committee has been able to present a unanimous report. The full details of the report are not yet available, but I hope to make a statement very shortly. However, I might say that I understand the representatives of all the states, districts and local areas have expressed their desire to be associated with the Constituent Assembly, and it is proposed that the Constituent Assembly should be augmented by a further 45 seats for the Frontier Areas.
I should like to pay a warm tribute on behalf of my noble Friend the Secretary of State for Burma, to the most valuable public service which my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon has rendered 2308 in discharging this most important task, and in securing a unanimous report on so complex and intricate a subject in the short period that has elapsed since February. I should like to assure the House that my noble Friend and I are fully satisfied that the people of the Frontier Areas have had every opportunity of putting forward their point of view, and that the conclusions that have been reached, have, as far as the Government can judge, the support of all representative elements in those areas.
§ Mr. Henderson
All I can say is that the Karens were afforded the opportunity of giving evidence and, as far as the Governor is aware, the agreement has the support of elements representing the Karens. I was, in fact, just about to deal with the Karens. The problem of the Karens concerns both Ministerial Burma, in which the great majority of them live intermingled with the Burmese, and the Frontier Areas where the Karens live in the Salveen district and certain other areas and in the three small Karenni States.
As the House well knows, the Karens rendered invaluable service in the war and His Majesty's Government have been most anxious to see that their interests are fully protected in any arrangements that may be reached over the future of their country. Seats were reserved for the plains Karens in the Legislature under the Act of 1935 and it was agreed in the London conversations that, as in the case of other communities, double the number of those seats should be reserved for them in the Constituent Assembly. In other words, there were to be 24 instead of 12. Observers from the hill Karens were also present at the Panglong Conference although they did not take any active part in it.
Let me admit frankly that there are differences of opinon inside that community. Important elements in it seem unquestionably to be reluctant to associate themselves actively with the interim Government of Burma, and despite appeals by His Majesty's Government and by the Governor they decided to boycott the recent elections. His Majesty's Government greatly regret that they should have taken that decision but 2309 are glad to think that Karen interests will not go unrepresented. The 24 seats that have been reserved for the Karens on the Constituent Assembly have all been filled despite the boycott of the elections by a section of the community, and the community have two members on the Executive Council, one of whom, as a matter of interest, is Saw San Po Thin, who was the leader of the war-time anti-Japanese resistance movement. It is the sincere hope of His Majesty's Government that the Karen community will take advantage of the Constituent Assembly make arrangements that will commend themselves to the Karen community and will take account of the realities of the situation.
Now, a word about the elections. The elections to the Constituent Assembly have, as the House knows, now taken place. The full results are not yet available, but it is clear that the AFPFL, if I may use that term, have won an overwhelming victory. I should explain that the parties represented by U Saw, Ba Maw and Thakin Ba Sein boycotted the elections, and I have just mentioned that certain elements in the Karen community equally refrained from taking part in them. The Government cannot but feel that those political parties that stood aside may have made a mistake. But on the information available I question whether any of them represents any very substantial political feeling in the country, and His Majesty's Government have no doubt, on the evidence available to them, that the result of the elections will give a Constituent Assembly broadly representative of Ministerial Burma as a whole.
There was anticipation of trouble and disorder in the holding of the elections, but I am glad to say that it has been falsified. The elections have gone extremely smoothly and on the whole appear to have been well conducted. There has been a minimum of disorder or incidents and polling has been substantial, although allowance must be made for a considerable number of voters who were kept away from the booths in certain districts by the threats publicly made by Thakin Soe's Red Flag Communists. As I have indicated, the 24 seats assigned to the Karens have been filled from the Karen community, four have been filled by Anglo-Burmans, and of the remaining 182 non-communal seats, A.F.P.F.L. have secured no fewer than 168
§ Mr. Gammans (Hornsey)
Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman say what percentage of the electorate actually voted?
§ Mr. Henderson
We have not detailed information sufficient to give us an overall picture of the country, but we have a report that in 24 non-communal seats where elections took place the percentage of voting was 49.8, just under what it was at the last election before the war.
§ Brigadier Low (Blackpool, North)
Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman say whether or not it is true that only 20 per cent. of the community in Rangoon voted?
§ Mr. Henderson
We have not the figures by districts. I think I can obtain for the hon. and gallant Gentleman before the Debate is over, the total number of votes cast in contests, but of course he will remember that in nearly 60 seats there was no contest.
§ Mr. Henderson
No, Sir. The body now elected will represent Burmans, Karens, and Anglo-Burmans and it will, I trust, contain representatives of the peoples of the Frontier Areas as the result of the work of the Committee presided over by my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon. As a matter of interest, it is expected that it will meet provisionally as a Constituent Assembly in the first week of June. The House will agree that much ground has been covered in the constitutional field in the last eight months. I should like to take this opportunity to pay a tribute to the invaluable guidance, help and sympathy that have been given throughout by the Governor, General Sir Hubert Rance. He has maintained the best of relations with his Executive Council; he is trusted and respected by all who have had to deal with him in Burma; and we owe him a great debt for the contribution he has made to the handling of the situation and the maintenance of the present cordial atmosphere between Burma and this country.
So far I have dealt primarily with developments in the constitutional and political field. I should like now to say a word about the internal situation and, 2311 secondly, about the economic position of the country. I will frankly admit that the internal situation still gives ground for much uneasiness. The result of the campaigns that have been waged over Burma has been to leave very large quantities of arms and ammunition scattered about in various areas. Much has been done to collect these weapons but there is still a great deal which, with the scanty forces available, it has not been possible to bring under control. There is, in addition, the disorganisation that follows a long war and the disturbing and unsettling effects on the younger generation of two or three years in which discipline has been non-existent. The period that elapsed before it was possible to get a really representative and broad-based Executive Council contributed further to delaying the restoration of normal conditions, and it is only with the conclusion of the London conversations and the reassurance which those conversations have given to political Burma of the sincerity of the intentions of His Majesty's Government over her constitutional future that firm ground has at last been reached on which to get things back to normal.
The Executive Council have done their utmost in the months that have elapsed since January. They have been faced with great difficulties. Dacoity has always been a source of anxiety in the country and the conditions I have just described have been most favourable to its development. The figures for recent months are very disquieting. The Council would not themselves claim as yet to have re-established control in all areas, but they are, I am confident, fully alive to the vital necessity to the new self-governing Burma which will result from the work of the Constituent Assembly of re-establishing order inside the country. They are, I know, deeply concerned to bring the situation under complete control before Burma finally achieves her independence, whether within or without the Commonwealth.
In the economic field the progress of reconstruction and rehabilitation has continued over the last few months. It is a slow process. The House knows that two great campaigns have been fought over the country, and that she has suffered immense destruction. At a time when there are world shortages of consumer 2312 goods, when transport is so hard to come by, when interrupted communications make the distribution of commodities so much more difficult than it otherwise would be, the task of rebuilding her shattered economy has been far more difficult than it would otherwise have been. I am glad to be able to report a very marked and definite progress over recent months. The demands of the Government of Burma for consumer goods and commodities have, for practical purposes, been met. Bridges have been repaired sufficient to permit traffic to pass over them. A large number of the roads have been repaired. There are 4,500 miles of roads under the control of the Government. More than half have been reconstructed, and the remainder repaired sufficiently to let traffic pass over them. The railways have been restored to working order, On the other hand, there is still an immense amount to be done, but the groundwork has been laid, and the Executive Council are fully alive to the need of doing all in their power to rebuild Burma as early as may be.
With regard to finance, it was agreed, in principle, in the London conversations, that Burma should have financial autonomy. It was also agreed to examine the possibility of a credit with a definite ceiling, without United Kingdom control, but with the fullest exchange of information for the projects budget; to make a further contribution to this year's deficit on the ordinary budget, and to consider the possibility of converting a part of any interest-free loan into an outright grant, in the light of further joint study of the financial situation in Burma. That investigation has been taking place over the last month by a Mission under the leadership of an official of the Treasury. It has discussed the financial position, in its external and internal aspects, with the Executive Council. I am glad to say that full agreement has been reached with the Government of Burma, although we have not yet received the detailed report of the Mission. I am afraid that I am not in a position to give any further details to the House at the moment.
§ Brigadier Low
Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman give any idea of the extent of the deficit towards which we are to contribute?
§ Mr. Henderson
I should not like to commit myself to a firm figure, but I will try to give the hon. and gallant Member any further information he requires.
§ Mr. Godfrey Nicholson (Farnham)
May we assume that the right hon. Gentleman will answer any points which may be raised at the conclusion of the Debate?
§ Mr. Walter Fletcher (Bury)
No reference has been made to the claims for rehabilitation and under-insurance, which amount to a large sum in Burma
§ Mr. Henderson
I have already taken up 35 minutes of the time of the House, and I am afraid that there are quite a number of points on which I shall not be able to touch. I shall be glad to give what information there is to the hon. Member.
Let me say a word about rice. Burma has made an invaluable contribution, for which we cannot be too grateful, to the feeding of the peoples of South-East Asia and of India in these last two years. The result of the war was to reduce by half the area under rice cultivation—from about 13 million acres to rather over six million acres. By the end of the last year, it had been possible to bring two million additional acres under cultivation, and the net acreage from which the harvest of the last cold weather was taken amounted to 7,800,000 acres. The Government of Burma expect that nine million acres will come under cultivation for the next harvest. Burma is planning to export up to 750,000 tons of rice and rice products this year to destinations outside her borders. On the basis of an additional million acres, and with favourable weather, the exportable surpluses of rice and rice products next year are estimated at 1½ million tons. Unfortunately, strikes, the unsettled law and order position, and, in recent months, organised looting in certain areas have hampered production and export, but as a result of the drastic action taken by the Government of Burma to deal with looting, the situation now seems to be under control.
The House will wish to know how matters stand in regard to the winding-up of the Secretary of State's services, and the compensation to be given to the members of those services. Discussions on 2314 detail are still proceeding with the Government of Burma, and I cannot today add to the statement made on Wednesday by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. I can say that the position in Burma is, in all essentials, similar to that in India. It is my hope that it will be possible to make a very early announcement of the arrangements proposed in the case of the Services in Burma. I should like to take this opportunity of paying a warm tribute to those in the services in that country who have carried out their most exacting duties, in the most difficult circumstances, in a manner worthy of the highest traditions of their Service.
I have tried to give a general picture to the House of the situation in Burma. No one who has had to deal with that country and her affairs can resist the fascination of Burma. No one who has been familiar with those affairs can but realise how deep are the sufferings which she has had to undergo during the Japanese occupation, and how heavy is the task that lies before her. It will be long before the scars of war and of occupation have disappeared. None of us underestimates the problem which lies before Burma's leaders, but I am sure that those leaders have the good will of all parties in this House, in their wish to govern their own country themselves, and to carry for themselves, the burdens that that involves.
§ 11.37 a.m.
§ Mr. R. A. Butler (Saffron Walden)
I am sure that the House is indebted to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his review. It is a great pity that we are having this Debate before we can fully savour the contents of the report of the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. Rees-Williams), and also the report of the Financial Mission. We were informed of these matters in the newspapers this morning, and to that extent we are, perhaps, better informed than the right hon. Gentleman, because we have obtained certain information that he was not able to divulge to the House. If I can give that information in the course of my speech, I am sure that hon. Members will be grateful to me for keeping them posted in the latest developments. We cannot, unfortunately, get a final picture of these matters; nevertheless the right hon. Gentleman has helped us with a considerable amount of information.
It appears that it would not be in Order, in discussing this Motion, to consider at 2315 great length or in great detail the constitutional future of Burma. I do not therefore propose to look forward in that manner and it certainly would not be very profitable to do so. In the opening phrases of what I have to say, I should like to draw attention, particularly, to the facts of the economic and financial situation, and to remind the House that though it is not fashionable on the other side to pay much regard to these matters, yet they are matters of supreme importance to the future of Burma, and they were foreseen with transcending vision in the White Paper on Burma which was agreed upon by the Coalition Government. The House will remember that in that statement of policy, issued in May, 1945—by which we stand—deliberate reference was made to what was described as:A formidable task to be faced in the reestablishment of stable conditions, the restoration of buildings, communications and public utilities, the rehabilitation of agriculture and other essential industries, which are the lifeblood of the country.The White Paper also said:Till this is done conditions are lacking in which the requirements of a democratic system of Government can be met.Those remarks are as true today as they were when they were written.
§ Mr. Driberg (Maldon)
; I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but is it not the case that that White Paper was written before the end of the war, and before it was known to what extent the movement for self-government and political education had developed in Burma?
§ Mr. Butler
The hon. Gentleman, with his great power of dialectic, should also observe that the fact that Burma suffered war damage and had a severe passage during the war renders this argument all the more powerful today. Perhaps he misunderstood my intention. It was in the wish to make democratic government function that I was drawing the attention of the House, in my opening remarks, to the severe economic problems which must be solved in order to give any Government an opportunity of functioning at all. It is not fair to any Government to have to deal with conditions which are too difficult for them to manage. I made my opening remarks with a view to establishing the fact that we did foresee these difficulties, and that 2316 unless they are resolved it will be difficult for any Government to function.
I will not discuss in detail present personalities in the Burmese Executive Council. The responsibility for the transfer of power to the present leaders in Burma rests squarely on the shoulders of His Majesty's Government and, I believe, on the present Viceroy of India, who had a considerable part to play when he was Commander-in-Chief, in inviting the present Chief Minister of Burma to assume his responsibilities of office. History will prove whether this responsibility has been fully and properly discharged, and whether the choice made has been the correct one. It is not for me to say anything further about personalities. There are certain aspects of the present situation which cause us some anxiety, but I think it would be wiser for me to leave them unmentioned on this occasion. What impresses us most is that the constitutional advance appears to be going on apace. We have heard from the Under-Secretary of the rapid development of events, but economic development does not appear to be keeping pace with constitutional advance. The right hon. and learned Gentleman referred to the elections, and to the Constituent Assembly, which was about to sit. There is, in one of these Motions, reference to the size of the Legislature and, altogether, there is evidence of an advance, on fast and progressive lines, of the constitutional argument. But when we examine the economic position, we cannot find that the improvement is keeping pace with the constitutional advance.
§ Mr. Wyatt (Birmingham, Aston)
I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman is being quite fair. Could he tell us whether he approves, or disapproves, of the constitutional developments which have been taking place in Burma?
§ Mr. Butler
If the hon. Gentleman had done me the courtesy of listening to my previous speeches he would have known that I said that we on this side desire to see Burma advance towards self-government. Perhaps he does not read my speeches as closely as I read his, and if he will refer to my past utterances he will find himself fully rewarded. If he so desires, I will send him a bound copy of my speeches. If he will pay literal attention to what I am saying now, he will find that I was saying that, according 2317 to the White Paper, the object of British policy is to lead Burma towards self-government.
I want to refer to some of the remarks made by the right hon. and learned Gentleman about the economic position. He spoke of the internal position with much uneasiness and, frankly, I am not surprised. I should be grateful if he could give us some information as to the extent of dacoity, because my information is that free travel about Burma has not yet been restored in the manner in which it ought to be restored, if proper government is to function; that the transport system there is not functioning in the way it should, and that there are considerable hold-ups, which were lightly passed over by the right hon. and learned Gentleman in his reference to elections. Those elections were conducted with more success than many of us imagined would be possible but they were, nevertheless, held in an atmosphere far removed from stable or quiet conditions.
I am able to inform the House of some of the facts of the situation about the finances of the country. The recently published Budget disclosed a deficit, on revenue, of about £14½ million, besides a considerably larger sum needed as temporary advances to finance the various public utility undertakings run by the Government. Having examined the position, with all the advice I have been able to secure, I find that it would appear that the total liability is some £80 million, of which £23 million is made up of the deficit on running the Government, and some £60 million is made up by way of loans or advances for various projects—five in number—which have been helped considerably by those advances.
If that is so, the Budgetary position for Burma looks extremely grave. In times of peace, when I used to know the internal economy of Burma rather well, the Budget stood at between £12 million and £13 million, and balanced at that figure. We are now faced with a very considerable rise and a very considerable deficit. What the House ought to ask itself, in view of our Debates on the recent "Economic Survey for 1947", is whether we can continue to give the necessary financial aid to Burma in view of the position of our own resources and whether, if we do, the money will be spent in the best possible manner. The right hon. and learned Gen- 2318 tleman said that the mission under a Treasury official which was examining this matter, had come to an agreement and that is, so far, satisfactory. But I would like to draw his attention to a statement made at a Press conference held by the hon. Member for South Croydon in Burma, in which he is reported to have used these words:The British Government will be prepared to give any assistance required by the Burmese people.That is a very nice and generous sentiment and was, no doubt, a happy preface to any further discussions which the hon. Gentleman had. I do not know whether he did, in fact, make that statement, but if he did I would like the Government to tell us what the extent of British liability is likely to be. There has been anxiety on this score, and when we question the Government on these matters we are always told that Burma has financial autonomy. That is the correct definition, I believe, of the present situation. If Burma is to advance towards self-government, it is important that she should have financial autonomy, but it is equally important that we should speak with frankness in this House, in the same manner as the Burmese Chief Minister and others, speak with frankness in their country. We have immense liabilities to face as a country, and we should like to know, before the end of this Debate, the extent of the liability which His Majesty's Government are undertaking, the manner of its spending, and whether that spending is satisfactory or not.
Take the projects alone. A great deal of very ill-informed criticism has been levelled against the projects by the present Burmese Ministers. I think the projects are the sort of hybrid which may have appealed to the Leader of the House in the salad days of his economic studies. They represent a halfway house between State control and private enterprise, which is difficult to understand. I am certain that they are not directed solely in the interests of private capital. For instance, I am sure that the agricultural project is not intended to be directed solely towards the interests of private capital. I am sure it is intended to be directed in the interests of Burma. There is some £60 million involved in these projects, and if they are not fully understood by the people of Burma, or even by their Ministers, it is important for His Majesty's Government 2319 to assure the House that the loans and advances for such projects are being properly considered and are being properly spent.
I wish to consider some of the constitutional points which the right hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned, but first I wish to ask certain questions which relate to the future trade of the country, and in particular to the needs of business. As I see it, Burma cannot do without European capital. I understand that the Chief Minister has already acknowledged this in a recent statement. Burma must have money to help her, and I believe Burma must have business experience at her disposal in this transition period. I therefore ask the Government whether they could make a statement on the compensation which ought to be afforded to British companies and firms who have served Burma in the past, and who in the war period deliberately destroyed their potential, and made ready for the war in order to satisfy the desires of the Government and the needs of strategy. I believe a War Damage Commission is sitting in Burma, and I hope that an early reply will be given.
Those who are enlightened among business men—and I believe they are an enlightened body—feel that with the growth and development of self-government steps should be taken to follow what has happened in India, and to appoint a High Commissioner for England in Burma, because through that High Commissioner the very great interests represented in the companies could have a channel other than the Governor. The channel through the Governor at present is not desirable in view of the increased status of Burma and the advance towards self-government. India has a High Corn-, missioner, and I hope we shall have from the Government a statement in the near future of the appointment of a High Commissioner in Burma.
I do not wish to trench on future constitutional development, but I hope that when the time comes the Government will give an assurance to the House, and through the House to the business interests, about a trade treaty or agreement with the new Government of Burma to safeguard British trade and to enable it to perform the right function within a self-governing state. I cannot sufficiently 2320 stress the importance of the contribution that can be made by these companies, if the proper atmosphere is created for their collaboration. They can save Burma from many of her economic troubles, and need not in any way entrench on the legitimate desire, or indeed on the practice, of the Burmese to rule themselves in the way they want to rule themselves.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman's speech was really roses all the way. He was paying tribute to every side. I would like to add a further bouquet, and that is to the leaders of commerce and business in Burma who have adjusted themselves from the old world in which many of them were brought up, to the new world they see inevitably coming in Burma, and I hope the Government will give them some reassurance. The right hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned the Civil Service. I hope a statement similar to that in regard to India will shortly be made, because I have knowledge of certain first-class officers who have decided to leave Burma and come home to seek employment elsewhere. I believe their services would be very valuable in Burma itself, and if they had some knowledge of the sort of compensation terms suggested in the case of India we might be able to retain in Burma a large number of such officers to serve on the terms suggested.
I wish to refer to the various constitutional questions of immediate moment raised by the right hon. and learned Gentleman. His first point was the question of the Frontier Areas. We have been assured that the Panglong Agreement was agreed to by representative members of the Chins and Kachins and the hill tribes and we understand that the Sawbwa of Mangpawn is to be a representative on the Council. What we want to be quite sure of is that the independent rights of the Frontier districts will continue as in the old days. I have visited the Shan States and many of these Frontier Areas at the time when my uncle was Governor of Burma, and I was particularly impressed by the manner in which in those days they developed their own self-government. I remember visiting in some states the Legislative Council chambers they had themselves built, and those were the days which many hon. Members opposite would regard as dark times. In fact, the arts of self-government are natural to the hill tribes, and I hope nothing will be done as a result of the Report of the hon. Member for 2321 South Croydon which will take away the real autonomy of those districts.
I cannot completely understand the language of the right hon. and learned Gentleman when he said these matters affecting the Frontier Areas will fall to be decided by the Executive Council, and yet they will have autonomy. I presume he is referring to the inter-action of financial stresses between the two areas, and the possible representation of the two areas in matters of foreign policy and defence. If that was so, perhaps whoever replies will further dot the i's and cross the t's of the speech. I cannot think that the language used about the Karens is satisfactory, or represents the true position. The Karens may have made mistakes in boycotting the elections. They certainly represent a political problem, but they are rather like the London Scottish. They are so mixed up with the Burmese, particularly in the neighbourhood of the port of Moulmein, that it is almost impossible to extricate them, and yet one can recognise them as one can spot the Scotsman at a London Scottish dinner. It would be difficult to set up an independent Karen State in Tennasserim.
I will be glad to hear of any proposal for the setting up of a separate zone in the Salween districts and the hill tracts. I believe that would be a possibility, and I have reason to believe that the present Chief Minister in Burma is not unfriendly to such a suggestion. If that is the case, I hope the resources of the Government and Governor will be used to help the Karens, whose record means so much to us and whose future we have so much at heart.
The last matter to which I would draw attention is the future position of Burma within the British Commonwealth. The right hon. and learned Gentleman referred to this in his opening remarks, and I will mention it in my closing remarks. I do not believe either Burma or India have realised that we are entering upon a completely new period for the British Commonwealth of Nations. I believe the Burmese have a great opportunity to be the first to enter into an agreement with the British Commonwealth of Nations, not only with this island, and into a new development in our relations, what I call the fourth period of the British Empire and Commonwealth. The fourth period may have new 2322 features as yet undesigned and undreamed of by man. If that be the case, the underlying effects of our relations with Burma are of supreme importance if we are to make history for the future. It is possible that in this new relationship we may avoid some of the misunderstanding that attaches in Burmese minds to the word "dominion." In talking with the Burmese I have always found that the the word "dominion" strikes in them a cord of,
Dominion over palm and pine,which comes from more racy and more expansive days. Actually the use of that very unattractive word is not so interpreted by some of the great nations of the world who are already part of the British Commonwealth of Nations and we do not so interpret it in our daily parlance among ourselves. But if there is a significance in the word which is unattractive to certain people, surely it is not beyond the wit of the British with our political sense and tradition to coin new words and to establish new bonds.
I hope, therefore, that in this matter the Government will look upon the future of the British Commonwealth in this new aspect and under this new Government. I think there is a great opportunity for the establishment of new relations, not only with India but with Burma as well, but I do not think that it will be done by us dropping on our knees and beseeching Burma to join the Commonwealth. After all, entrance to this club or society is of itself a privilege. The position in which this country stands is apt to be misunderstood by our taxpayers and by certain hon. Members of this House. We are expected to help Burma financially, and there is, very naturally, an inclination to say, "If we help you financially, you have got to do as we want." We have to strike a proper balance between helping Burma to the best of our ability while preserving for Burma her liberty of choice and the opportunity to join with us on terms suitable to both of us and in the interests of the peace of the world. That will be very difficult to achieve, and I hope that no words of mine will have done anything but help towards the happy fulfilment of the dreams which some of us have, and also help that great sister country of India, alongside Burma, whose future is so much in the balance at the present time.
§ 12.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Thomas Reid (Swindon)
The Motion before the House proposes to increase the number of members of the Legislature of Burma to 100, but, as there are 17 million people in Burma, it does not seem excessive that they should have 100 representatives. Further, as Burma is the size of France, the representation by 100 members does not seem excessive. In Ceylon, a much smaller country, the number of members in the new Legislature is to be 100. Burma is a plural society, and there are no fewer than 100 languages—not dialects, but different languages—spoken in Burma. I think, therefore, that no hon. Member of this House will object to the increase in membership to 100, especially as the elections have now been held and have been, on the whole, fairly representative.
I sincerely congratulate the Government of this country on the way in which they have handled this Burma problem. Since I was last in the East, I have been informed by people from Burma competent to judge that the nationalist movement in Burma is now so strong that it is incredible to those of us who remember the time when the Burmese were an easy going people perfectly content with British rule. Partly owing to the war, and partly owing to the fact that the Japanese gave them the trappings of independence, the whole population of Burma, according to my information, is now intensely nationalistic, so that we have to realise that fact and act accordingly. For us to have attempted to carry on British rule in that nationalistic environment would have been absolute folly. Our Government acted promptly and with imagination and I think they were also wise, regardless of personalities, in incorporating in the Government members of the strongest party in the country. At one time, at the time when the Burmese were invited to the London Conference, I think that Anglo-Burmese political affairs in Burma were in a very serious condition, and, again, I congratulate the Government on going the right way about establishing personal contact with the Burmese leaders. I think that, if that London Conference had not been held there and then, there might have been serious trouble and disorder in Burma.
The next step ahead is the setting up of a Constituent Assembly and the 2324 framing of a Constitution. Like other hon. Members of the House, I have very great sympathy with Burmese aspirations, but I would warn my Burmese friends that they have a formidable task ahead. They are going to attempt to establish democracy in a country which is a plural society. It has never been done successfully so far, but I hope the Burmese will show that it can be done. Again, they have to establish this Constitution at a time when Burma has been destroyed, to a large extent, materially by the war, and when there is disorder in the country, with brigands and dacoits and the rest. All these things will make that task still more difficult. Of course, Burma has enormous resources and is one of the richest countries in the world potentially. It can grow enormous quantities of rice and can produce the best teak and oil in the world. On the other hand, I think everyone who knows Burma will realise that there are formidable economic difficulties. The Burmese are in debt to an unbelievable extent, especially in the Delta area where the land is excellent. About one-third of the agricultural land is owned by or mortgaged to Indian bankers or Chettiyars. All these problems will give the new Burmese Government considerable trouble.
This Burmese problem is not merely a Burmese problem, but one which affects the whole of the East and, indeed, affects the whole world. The Burmese will not have to look at it simply as a nationalistic problem, because they must recognise that it is one affecting the whole world today, since the countries of the world are interdependent and Burma is perhaps more dependent on others than some of the rest. Again, they will have to consider, in the international sphere, the problem of defence, and, in that respect, they will have to consider carefully, when they frame their Constitution, whether they will put the King of England into that Constitution or not. I would advise my Burmese friends to think very carefully before they act. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler) suggested that it would be a mistake to go down on our knees and ask the Burmese to remain within the Commonwealth. I do not think that it is fair to level that charge against the Government, because the Prime Minister made a statement not only on India but on 2325 Burma, in which he said that the Burmese were perfectly free to stay outside the Commonwealth if they so desired, and, in my opinion, the best way to keep the Burmese inside the Commonwealth is to offer them a free choice without any intimation from us as to what should be done.
§ Mr. R. A. Butler
The hon. Member is speaking as if the cap fits. But I have no feeling of accusing the Government of anything. I was not levelling any charge against anybody, but was merely expressing my own opinion.
§ Mr. Reid
I accept the right hon. Member's statement, but I would suggest that we should not try to induce the Burmese to do anything except what they wish themselves. Finally, anyone who knows the Burmese people has always been struck by the fact that the relations between the Burmese and the British in the past has been of the friendliest, and that Burma was one of the happiest countries in the world. The Burmese are amongst the most charming people in the East, and I am perfectly certain that every one in the House wishes that they will make a complete success of their new Constitution.
§ 12.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Gammans (Hornsey)
I am sure we are very grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for the very full statement which he has given us today, but I feel that it presents a very much more rosy picture of conditions in Burma than is justified by the facts. I fear, too, that he has left a good few blanks in the picture. We are not discussing today whether Burma should attain self-government. We are not discussing whether Burma should remain in the British Commonwealth if she does not wish to do so. What I think we are discussing is whether the Government's policy towards Burma can be fully supported, and whether or not, in fact, any Government in Burma which aspires to take over from us can fulfil the conditions requisite to such a transfer.
I sincerely hope that I shall be able to carry all sections of the House with me when I suggest that there are four conditions which must be observed before such a transfer can be fully effective. In this connection I must remind hon. Mem- 2326 bers that this House is still responsible at this moment for the future of the people of Burma. I suggest that the first condition should be that any such Government must be said to be fully representative of the people of Burma as a whole. The second condition should be that it is a democratic Government and likely to remain so. The third should be that the country is, in fact, in a fit condition to hold a general election and to stand on its own feet economically. The fourth condition, which my right hon. Friend mentioned in his speech, should be that the people of non-Burmese origin are not coerced against their will. Those are the four conditions which I consider are requisite. I sincerely hope that all sections of the House will support me in these conditions.
I presume that hon. Members realise that self-government is not necessarily the same thing as democratic government and that, if we have any sense of responsibility left, it is far better that there should be some delay in handing over the government of Burma rather than that power should be assumed either by a Fascist or a Communist dictatorship or before the country is in a fit state economically to govern itself. My first criticism of His Majesty's Government in this connection —and I make it with reluctance—is that I do not think that they have done their duty to Burma in the restoration of law and order. I doubt if most hon. Members realise what are the conditions in Burma today. Over large parts of the country the ordinary forces of law and order do not operate. In fact, they have never been restored since the Japanese were driven out.
I read in a Burmese paper the other day that the number of dacoities in Burma last year exceeded one million, and that looting—as the Government admit themselves—of Government rice and paddy is very widespread. But the most significant item that I have seen, which gives some indication of the condition of Burma, is that last year no fewer than 60,000 tons of teak were stolen whilst in transit from Upper Burma to Rangoon. One cannot call that petty pilfering, or suggest that there can be any real forces of law and order. This is a fantastic state of affairs and we have failed in our primary duty to Burma which was the restoration of law and order.
§ Mr. T. Reid
We are all aware of the terrible state of Burma, but does the hon. Gentleman suggest that self-government should be delayed until all these things are set right by an alien Government?
§ Mr. Gammans
This House, this country, has a responsibility towards the people of Burma to set them on the road to self-government. I contend that our first duty to the people of Burma is to restore law and order, and that in that duty we have failed.
§ Mr. Sorensen (Leyton, West)
Is not our first duty to the people of Burma to find out what those people want?
§ Mr. Gammans
No, I cannot agree. I think our first duty in Burma—for which we are responsible—is to restore law and order. It is the first duty of any Government to restore and maintain law and order. I ask the House whether the atmosphere that I have described is the sort of atmosphere in which a general election can be properly held. Is this the sort of atmosphere in which a transfer of power can take place without most unjustifiable risks to the people of Burma?
I wish to make a few comments on the election. The question I pose is: Could that election be said to represent the will of the people? The right hon. and learned Gentleman admitted that three of the main political parties—and I do not quite agree that the other political parties are so insignificant in their influence as he suggested—for reasons, good or bad, did not trouble to put up candidates. I believe it is right to say that in over 50 per cent. of the seats there was no election at all. The right hon. and learned Gentleman was rather coy when asked what percentage of the electorate voted. The information which I have is that, taking the country as a whole, it is considerably less than he suggested. The figure of those who did vote in Burma is nearer one-third. Does the result represent in any sense democracy as we understand it in this country? It is true that Mr. Aung San, representing the Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League, received a majority of votes, but does Mr. Aung San's conception of democracy coincide with our own?
Those of us who had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Aung San in London, when 2328 he came over here at the beginning of this year, noticed with interest that for the whole of the time he was wearing a military uniform, presumably of his own design. His private army is still in existence, and one of his colleagues to the London Conference, U Saw, openly accused that private army—I will read his own words of "intimidation, bribery and corruption." Whether those charges are true or false, the only point I want to make to the House is that it appears to me that that is scarcely the atmosphere of a truly democratic election. The danger is that the Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League might easily become the Anti-People's-Freedom Fascist League. On 9th April, Reuters told us that 3,000 of Mr. Aung San's volunteer army with rifles helped the police to maintain order at the polling booths. Should we consider it a democratic election in this country if a band of stalwarts supplied by Transport House and the Conservative Central Office, armed with rifles, marched through the streets on polling day?
Just before the election, Mr. Aung San in a broadcast on 5th April made some statements which, to put it mildly, would cause some concern if they were made in an eve of election speech in this country. He started off by denouncing his political opponents as enemies of the Burmese people and threatened decisive action against them. He went on to say:Our opponents mistake our forbearance for weakness and have become more brazen every day,I must confess that this phrase, "more brazen every day," bears some resemblance to the more flamboyant utterances of the Minister of Fuel and Power. Mr. Aung San continued:
I now give them this warning. H they resort to foul means and, out of spite, attempt to turn the country upside down, we shall deal with them firmly and decisively.Thakin Ba Sein, the leader of another political party said, again according to Reuters, that he was organising a revolutionary army of 100,000 men to fight the British Imperialists and their hirelings, the Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League, who were, he said, the enemies of the Burmese people. I ask in all seriousness: Is this the atmosphere of a democratic election? Is this the atmosphere in which democracy can possibly flourish? Indeed, it sounds much more like the first chapter in an incipient dictatorship.
2329 I would say a few words about the non-Burmese people to whom reference was made. I hope that the hon. Gentleman who was present at the making of the Panglong Agreement can give us some facts about it. I must confess that when I read its terms, I found it very difficult indeed to reconcile the face value of that Agreement with the previous history of the peoples concerned. I was just as surprised when I read that as if I had heard that the hon. Lady the Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool (Mrs. Braddock) had become a Dame of the Primrose League. This House must satisfy itself that that Agreement was in fact completely genuine, and that there was no element of coercion whatsoever. I sincerely hope that the hon. Gentleman who will reply on this subject can reassure us on that, because if it can be accepted at its face value, it is one of the great events in the history of Burma, and one of the most promising signs of unity in the future.
I hope, too, that he will say a little more about the Karens than there was in the statement we have heard from the right hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary of State. I do not feel happy about the Karens. I certainly do not feel happy that the Government have any real policy towards these brave and loyal people who fought for us and with us when some of the present leaders of Burma were fighting against us.
I want to say a word about the future relationship of Burma to the Crown because its concerns very intimately the present financial position. This is one of those matters which I know cannot be hurried too much, and I entirely re-echo what was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Butler) just now that we hope that Burma, of her own free will, will see the advantages of remaining with us. But I would point out to the House that the present position is extremely unsatisfactory from the point of view of the British taxpayer. If Burma decides to remain with us, then we will certainly help her, as far as we can and do our best to put her economy on its feet. But if Burma does not remain with us—here I must remind the House that Mr. Aung San a few weeks ago was talking about complete independence within a year—, what conceivable justification is there for 2330 keeping British troops in Burma now, to bolster up the government of one political party, and what conceivable justification is there for asking the British taxpayer to pour out large sums of money towards a country with which we are to have no future intimate political relationships? After all, we have no obligation towards Burma if she leaves the British Empire. India may have, in the sense that the battles in Burma prevented a war in India, but not the hard-pressed British taxpayer.
In that connection I hope that the hon. Gentleman who is to reply will clear up the misunderstanding regarding the statements made by the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. Rees-Williams), because if what he says is taken at its face value, the people of Burma think they have a blank cheque—and he is not an ordinary Member of Parliament roaming round there on a sight-seeing tour; he is there on an official mission and has virtually told the people of Burma that whatever they like to ask for, whether they choose to remain in the Commonwealth or not, Great Britain will foot the bill.
It is only fair to disabuse the Burmese politicians of any misconceptions they may have that they are doing us a favour by remaining in the British Commonwealth. The fact is, and we hope they realise it, that they have far more to gain than we have. The British Commonwealth can certainly exist without Burma, but can Burma exist without the British Commonwealth? If Burma remains with us, it will certainly cost us a lot of money. We shall have accepted the obligation to defend one of the weakest countries not only in Asia but in the world; weak politically, weak economically and weak strategically. We shall have provided her—and shall continue to do so—with the protection of the only League of Nations which, up to now, has ever worked, and that is the British Commonwealth, which has a record of standing by its members in peace as well as in war.
If Burma does not remain with us, in whom will she put her trust? In the United Nations at this stage of its development? I would remind Burma that the United Nations has not been particularly successful in providing independence for Korea whose independence was specifically guaranteed by the four Great 2331 Powers. And what about Persia? Burma might also remember that a strong nationalistic India would not be likely to continue to tolerate differentiation against Indian nationals, Indian capital and all the other Indian interests in Burma. Burma might also remember that one section of Chinese extremists has always regarded Burma as one of the lost Provinces of China, and even Siam has made claims against her. My point is that this cannot be left in a vaguely hopeful atmosphere. We do not seem to have very much national pride these days, but it is unthinkable that the British people, who gave so many tens of thousands of lives to liberate Burma and put her on her feet, should be asked to pour out money to support a regime that may or may not remain democratic and then be bundled quietly out of the country.
I do not quarrel for a moment with Burma's right to self-government. I do not question for a moment her right to leave the British Commonwealth if she wishes to do so. My criticism is naturally of His Majesty's Government, and it is that I fear in their anxiety to scuttle out of every country with the exception of Palestine we have failed in our primary duty to restore law and order. I do not believe that we have allowed the future of Burma to be discussed in a really proper atmosphere. I am still fearful as to whether we have provided adequate protection for the non-Burmese people who fought with us during the war. The Government is certainly not protecting the British people from the very onerous and unjustifiable demands that may be made upon them if Burma decides to leave us. I fear that in the end—and this is perhaps our greatest responsibility of all—we may have handed over the Burmese people to totalitarianism at home and the risk of aggression from abroad.
§ 12.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Driberg (Maldon)
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Butler) is much too intelligent and much too shrewd to have echoed today the violent tone of the attack which his titular leader made on the Government on 20th December last. The striking contrast between the right hon. Gentleman's studied caution and suspense of judgment today and the highly inflammatory language used by the Leader of 2332 the Opposition on that occasion is just another example of the division and confusion of purpose that exists on the Opposition benches.
§ Mr. R. A. Butler
If we are talking about confusion on this side of the House, the hon. Gentleman should search his own conscience and see if there is any confusion on matters of foreign policy and other questions on that side. [HON. MEMBERS: "Keep to the Left."]
§ Mr. Driberg
My conscience is perfectly clear on the issue of Burma at any rate, and I congratulate His Majesty's Government wholeheartedly on the way they have handled this question. Incidentally, the fact that there have been these Opposition attacks on the Government on the question of Burma is one of the factors that have convinced the Burmese people of the sincerity of His Majesty's Government, and, therefore, from one point of view, they are fortunate, There has been no nonsense about a phoney "national unity" on the Burmese issue at any rate.
The typically angry and asinine speech of the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Gammans) reflected the mood of the Opposition as expressed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) in December last. Hon. Members and people outside the House should not imagine that because the hon. Member for Hornsey brays so loudly, he therefore knows anything about the subject. His ignorance of it is profound, as he showed, for instance, in one small detail today—his repeated references to "Mr. U" Aung San: "U" is a Burmese title. On the question of democracy, the hon. Member talked a good deal, but he made two strange statements. He said that it is not our duty to find out what the Burmese people want —
§ Mr. Gammans
Excuse me. I do not mind the hon. Gentleman using his picturesque terms about me, but I object most strongly when he misquotes. I said nothing of the sort. What I said was that it is the first duty of this country to restore law and order in Burma.
§ Mr. Driberg
Yes, but when the hon. Gentleman was interrupted by my hon. Friend the Member for West Leyton (Mr. Sorensen), he said quite categorically, in reply to the interruption, that he did not 2333 consider it was our duty to find out what the Burmese want—as HANSARD will show tomorrow unless the hon. Gentleman rewrites it first.—[HON. MEMBERS: "Order."] Then he went on to say that democracy in Burma seems to be different from democracy as we understand it in this country. Why should it not be? Why should Burmese democracy be precisely the same as British democracy? Democracy takes various forms in various countries. American democracy is different in various important constitutional and other respects from British democracy. Why should we impose a kind of ghost hangover of the British Raj on every country that we have ever occupied? On the question of elections, the hon. Gentleman was doubtful whether they had been, in any full sense of the words, free and fair. In that he differs from the responsible correspondents. "The Times", the "Daily Telegraph", the Reuter correspondents on the spot all paid tribute to the fact that the election had gone off very much more satisfactorily and fairly and freely than might at one time have been expected.
§ Mr. Gammans
May I interrupt the hon. Gentleman? I am sure he would not like to misquote me. I did not suggest that these elections were not free and fair, in the sense that the people were free to go to the polling booths. I merely gave a long series of facts, and asked the House whether that was the atmosphere in which a democratic election should be held.
§ Mr. Driberg
I should say that, atmospherically, they were as free and fair as the average election in Europe today, and probably a great deal fairer and freer than the average election in Northern Ireland or the Southern States of the United States of America. At any rate they passed off almost without incident; almost the only blood shed, I believe, was when one of the policemen accidentally shot himself in the foot. On the question of the percentage which polled, I happen to have the figures for one constituency only; but, since a request was made by one hon. Member opposite for figures regarding Rangoon in particular, I may say that in the constituency of East Rangoon, which is represented by U Ba Pe, one of the few elder statesmen who have associated themselves with the anti-Fascist League, there was a 40 per cent. poll. Although that does not sound large to us, I gather 2334 that it compares favourably with elections in Burma before the war. I pass that on for what it is worth; the information comes from a newspaper controlled by U Saw, so it is not likely to be exaggerated.
On previous occasions the hon. Member for Hornsey has hinted, and he hinted again today, that Aung San might introduce some kind of totalitarian regime into Burma. On this we have the testimony of my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Mr. Rees-Williams)—I think even hon. Members opposite will agree that he is an exceedingly fair and moderate-minded man—who stated publicly in Burma recently that he had talked with almost all the members of the present interim Government, and had found them all to be men who stand for what we call the democratic liberties—freedom of speech, freedom of criticism, freedom of the Press, and the rest. It is obvious that there is a free Press in Burma today under the rule of this Interim Government. All the Opposition parties, even though they may not have taken part in the elections, run papers which publicly denounce the Interim Government as freely as possible, without any censorship. That tends to show that Aung San is not the totalitarian that he is sometimes made out to be.
On the question of the Karens, which the hon. Member and others quite rightly raised, and about which probably all of us are anxious, it is worth quoting the opinion of Saw San Po Thin who is, after all, a leading Karen. He was awarded the M.B.E. for his gallant work in leading the Karen resistance against the Japanese, and he is a responsible Karen spokesman. He has said:The majority of the Karens stand for a united Burma. I consider the claim to a separate Karenistan' absolutely impracticable. In matters of defence and external affairs, and finance the Karen people cannot stand on their own legs.The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Butler) also touched on this point, and mentioned in particular the district of Toungoo, which he indicated was predominantly Karen. However, my information is that, according to the 1931 census, which is the last reliable evidence, this district is only between one-sixth and one-eighth Karen. That shows the difficulty of dealing with this problem, because the populations are so extraordinarily mixed up together.
2335 The continuance of democratic liberty, which has been assured under the regime of the present Interim Government of Burma, has been kept up despite the most violent and vicious wrecking tactics of the Opposition, both of the Right and of the extreme Left. [Interruption.] I meant the Opposition in Burma, but if the hon. Member for Hornsey chooses to associate himself with it, I shall be delighted. On the Right, the Opposition comes mainly from the egregious Dr. Ba Maw, who, despite his professions of extreme nationalism and hatred of the British, is just about to send his son and nephew to be educated in England. It also comes from Thakin Ba Sein and U Saw, the two members of the Burmese delegation who felt unable to sign the agreement made in London. These two are disgruntled and discredited older politicians, and I imagine that one of the reasons why they and their parties boycotted the elections, was that the election results would have shown so clearly what an extremely exiguous following they have in the country. Incidentally, they have the effrontery to accuse Aung San and his colleagues of being "stooges" of the British, and yet it is they, Thakin Ba Sein and U Saw, who are the real British "stooges," not of His Majesty's present Government, but of the most reactionary and Conservative elements in this country, with whom they plotted and conspired when in London with a view to wrecking the agreement which was so fortunately arrived at.
§ Mr. Gammans
Will the hon. Gentleman give some verification for that astounding statement which he has just made?
§ Mr. Driberg
If the hon. Member likes, I can give names, but probably it would be better if I did not do so.
§ Mr. Driberg
One of the people in London of whom these two particular Burmese politicians saw rather a lot, and with whom they talked very closely, before deciding to dissociate themselves from the delegation, was, I regret to say, none other than Sir Reginald Dorman-Smith, the former Governor of Burma. I have attacked the Right Wing opposition which is attempting to wreck the reconstruction of Burma. I will now divert my attack 2336 to the Left. It seems to me that the Communists in Burma, or most of them, are behaving in an extremely irresponsible way. There are, of course, two groups of Communists; they are split among themselves. There are the "Red Flag" group and the "Red Shirt" group. In my view, the leader of the "Red Shirt" group, Than Tun, is one of the more honest and intelligent Burmese politicians, and although, obviously, we cannot dictate to the Burmese about their internal politics on a matter like this, I hope some means can be found of reconciling him with the Anti-Fascist League. But the other group, if it be true, as alleged, that they are organising the no-tax campaign and the rice-looting campaign, are, or course, nothing better than saboteurs and wreckers, and should be dealt with very toughly indeed.
It is extremely difficult, as hon. Members on both sides have said, to be optimistic about the industrial and economic recovery of Burma in the immediate future, but at least we must hope that there will be fuller Burmese responsibility and control of the industrial projects than has hitherto been the case. I share the hope that Burma will decide to remain within the British Commonwealth, but, as has been repeatedly said, that is entirely up to them. There is a good deal to be said for the view expressed by the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden, which was originally voiced last December by the hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. Nicholson), that it should be put to them as a privilege to remain within the British Commonwealth.
I am reminded by that of one other point which causes me a little anxiety, and with which I hope that my hon. Friend who is to reply can deal, and that is the recent American penetration in Burma. A good deal of surplus Lend-Lease material is being acquired from the Americans by the Burmese Government. Obviously, that is useful and sensible. But then I read, in the Official News Summary:Four million dollars of the total which Burma agrees to pay to the United States will be used for educational projects mutually agreed upon by the two Governments. The first use of the educational funds will probably be to provide passages for graduate students going from Burma to the United States for further study. United States instructors may be provided for Rangoon University, and grants-in-aid for educational institutions in Burma.2337 We do not want to step out of Burma ourselves merely to make room for a new occupation by dollar imperialism. I hope that free Burma will have friendly relations both with ourselves and with the United States, but I would not like to see any further extension of the Empire of Hollywood culture in the Far East; there is quite enough of it already.
I am sorry to have detained the House so long, but interruptions have caused me to digress. I should like to conclude, if I may, with a personal reminiscence. It was nearly two years ago that I spoke in Rangoon at a very large public meeting organised by the Anti-Fascist League. The impact of one's remarks was somewhat muffled by the fact that they had to be translated into three different languages in succession, but I hope that the main point did get through to that vast Burmese audience. It was simply this: I wanted to warn them that independence and self-government would not be the end of their troubles, but the beginning of them; that there was no escalator to Utopia; that they could not arrive there painlessly and automatically; and that they would have to work terrifically hard. I believe that if they do, the leadership of Aung San and his Government has a fair chance of carrying them to prosperity.
§ 12.47 p.m
§ Sir Stanley Reed (Aylesbury):
I am sorry I cannot join in congratulating the right hon. and learned Gentleman on the picture of Burma which he presented to the House today. He told us in very terse and lucid terms a certain number of things with which we are familiar, but he did not tell us those things which I, at any rate, am desperately anxious to know, and of which I am very largely ignorant. I do not intend to say much about the development of the constitutional position. I think the Government's action was timely and, on the whole, wise. In view of the very serious conditions which prevailed in Burma at the time, and the threat of a virtual collapse of the whole fabric of the administration, I think the Government's action in summoning the leaders to London for discussion was the right one. The assurances the Government gave to those leaders that they could take back to Burma a message of full self-government, connoting inevitably independence, if they so desired, was a wise line of action.
2338 There is no doubt that of the various Burmese parties there was only one which was able to hold out any promise of establishing an effective Government, and that was the party of the Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League. We have no right to doubt that the results of the elections which confirmed the action of the Government, did express the general wish of the majority of the people of Burma and were an expression of that wave of nationalism, to which voice has been given today, which has swept over the whole of Burma and indeed South-East Asia. Far from it being a new movement, it is one which had been gathering strength long before the war, and which was inevitably accentuated and strengthened by the results of the war and the experiences through which the Burmese people passed. I think we should welcome the establishment of the Constituent Assembly, and the reasonable assurance we have that it will draw up a Constitution. We must make up our minds that the Constituent Assembly will be dominated, certainly for some time to come, by the Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League.
I should like to warn the House that the working of that Constitution and the Government so established, although we may say that it is based on democratic principles, will be a rather different expression of democratic principles from what we understand them to be in our own Parliamentary system. Providing that it gives a reasonable assurance of stable and progressive government, we shall not attempt to judge its standards too much by our own experience of Parliamentary institutions. What I am concerned with, even more than the fabric of the Constitution and its particular shape, are the economic conditions in which it will have to function, and I want to emphasise this for a very special reason. This Parliament in 1919 passed a very wise Act for the first establishment of responsibility for Indians in the administration of India, and it was rather a tragic experience to find that that wise and progressive step was terribly handicapped in its working out by the economic and financial depression which spread over the land at the time when it came into being. This terribly handicapped the new Ministers, with their new responsibilities, in carrying out the 2339 policies to which they would have liked to set their hands.
I was rather astonished to hear the right hon. Gentleman say that he could not give this House details in regard to the present financial position of Burma, because if he will go back to the records of his own office he will find that the figures were stated on 4th April by the Financial Minister in Burma and were issued for circulation by one of his own Departments. Those figures are given in rupees, and although I used to be familiar with the translation of rupees into sterling, they are so astronomic, affecting so many millions of pounds, that I dare not trust myself to give the House the sterling equivalents. I will however give the House the broad facts. The Budget for the next financial year in Burma estimates a revenue of little more than half the expected expenditure. If experience shows anything, it is that the expenditure is likely to rise and the revenue to fall. Broadly speaking, there is an estimated deficit of £14,500,000, when before the war an expenditure of £13,500,000 was sufficient to give Burma a most efficient administration in every branch of the country's activities. The estimated deficit today, therefore, is more than the total expenditure on a thoroughly efficient and progressive administration in 1939. This House is entitled to know in much greater detail than it has been told so far what will be the exact financial position which the new Government in Burma will have to face.
This House is also entitled to know in much greater detail than we have yet had, what obligations will be thrown on that poor, miserable, long suffering person, the British taxpayer. A sum of something like £15 million has been advanced in the last two years; it is a mere farce to call it a loan, even an interest free loan, as we know it can never be repaid. We are entitled to know, and we shall press the right hon. Gentleman to tell us, exactly where the money has gone. Has it gone in the rehabilitation of the shattered economy of Burma, or has it gone in maintaining a form of administration so extravagant, costly or wasteful that it is entirely beyond the present capacity of the country to bear, so that the burden will fall back on the already overburdened British taxpayer?
2340 Another point on which this House is entitled to more information than it has had is this. Economic recovery in Burma must rest upon four main bases, and first of all upon the revival of its transportation system, particularly the system of river transport up and down the Irrawaddy and serving the rice lands of the Delta. This remarkable system of river transport which existed before the war ought to have been substantially re-established in the period of nearly two years since the war came to an end. The second basis of Burmese prosperity is the rice crop. The right hon. Gentleman has given a certain encouraging figure, for the estimated surplus for the current year, of 750,000 tons, and for the year that it is to follow 1,500,000 tons, but those are not very satisfactory figures when contrasted with the prewar export from Burma of 3 million tons of rice—four times the amount to be exported in the current year. This is very important, not only to Burma as a foundation of its economy, but also to those other countries which have hitherto been able to draw on Burma to supplement their own deficiencies. India used to draw on an average 1,800,000 tons of rice from Burma every year, and it is that shortage which has been the cause of some of the grievous troubles in India during the last two years. The House is entitled to know what further progress is to be made in the re-establishment of this foundation of Burma's own economy and of that of the neighbouring countries to which Burma should be capable of contributing so materially at this very critical period in their economic history.
Then we want to see the re-establishment of two major industries, the oil and teak industries. We have had no information on that subject, and I hope the right hon. and learned Gentleman will see that this House has it at a very early date. These requirements are essential, and until these needs are met any Government in Burma, however broad based, will be staggering under a tremendous handicap of financial and economic weakness. One may also look forward perhaps hopefully to the Burmans taking a more active part in future than they have taken in the past in their own business and industrial activities. Hitherto the Burman, with all his many engaging qualities—and he has many—has not shown any great aptitude for commerce and industry. Until he 2341 develops it, this important side of Burma's economic position must be dependent on British and Indian assistance. We must ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman at a very early date to let us know what is the definite policy of His Majesty's Government towards the rehabilitation of those firms and enterprises which were shattered for military reasons when the invasion of Burma commenced. The Treasury Minute on the subject is so delightfully lacking in precision that you can draw any conclusion you please from it, and we and the Burmans are entitled to know what is the clear and definite policy of His Majesty's Government towards the vast damage to great industries much of which was deliberately inflicted by order of the Government or military authorities to handicap the advancing Japanese. I would like to emphasise the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler) that we should look forward to an early statement of policy in regard to the Secretary of State's Services. If it follows the line of the statement made in regard to the corresponding services in India, I think it will find a very wide measure of approval and support.
In conclusion, just a word on the future relations of Burma with the Empire and Commonwealth. I have looked forward with hope and confidence to political development of Burma taking place within the structure of the Commonwealth and Empire, not from any lust of domination but because I am so firmly convinced that Burma should find her fullest and highest expression, either as a member of the Commonwealth and Empire, or in very close connection by treaty with the Commonwealth and Empire. I think that she will be losing something of great value if she does not seize this opportunity. I do not wish to put this on sordid grounds and to say that because the British taxpayers have such heavy burdens of their own and at a time when we have these great loans to Burma on our shoulders, we should refuse any help to Burma if she asks for complete independence. But it stands to reason that if Burma is a member of the Commonwealth and Empire, or is an independent State in close association with the Commonwealth and Empire, we shall render assistance far more cheerfully and more generously than could possibly be justified to a completely independent State.
2342 Perhaps it is too early now to expect from the right hon. and learned Gentleman or the Under-Secretary of State for the Dominions any response to the pregnant suggestion thrown out by the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden. We face vastly changed conditions in South-East Asia; and we have an immense transformation in these rich and fertile countries. Therefore, may there not be a new constituent in the Commonwealth and Empire, not identical with the great Dominions who are bone of our bone, flesh of our flesh and blood of our blood, but something so closely knit that it remains an integral part of the whole, therefore will arise greater prosperity and a greater happiness than could possibly be attained by Burma? I venture to endorse the very stirring and pregnant thoughts given to us this morning and to trust that, if not now, on some future occasion, we may have some indication of the response of His Majesty's Government to this rich suggestion.
§ 1.7 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Hamilton (Sudbury):
I should like fully to endorse what the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Sir S. Reed) has said, that independence in Burma is a movement which dates from far beyond this recent war. This has such a very important bearing on the present issue that I think that it is worth looking back for a moment at Burmese history. The situation in Burma has always been very different in some respects from that in India. The Burmese have not been accustomed, as the Indians have been, to be ruled by foreign conquerors. In Burma the Government was certainly autocratic, feudal, and possibly oppressive, but it was a government by Burmese, and a government which the Burmese understood, and such oppression as there might be, was tempered by the great influence of the Burmese priesthood. When we came, we established that impartial justice on which we rightly pride ourselves; but I think that we sometimes forget that, in aiming at a highly efficient and just administration, there are some things which the people of the country may value greatly, and which we tend to ignore.
We brought a good deal in our train in Burma which the people of Burma did not like. Some of the commercial developments, no doubt, added to the wealth of 2343 Burma, but they also established foreigners in rather prominent positions which the Burmese resented. As my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. T. Reid) remarked, the moneylenders greatly increased their power, as they generally do when law and order is well established, and that was another thing which the Burmese greatly resented. The spirit of independence in Burma was never I think ever completely absent. In India, it was we ourselves who developed it, largely by the type of education we gave to the intelligentsia; in Burma I think it was always there, and the war intensely accelerated the movement towards independence.
I remember very well an interview which I had about a year ago with an officer just returned from Burma, who, by the strange vicissitudes of war, started out to teach British soldiers town planning and architecture and finished up in Burma by collaborating with organisations of young Burmese to help in replanning damaged and destroyed towns and villages. I remember the impressive picture which he gave to me of the surge of national feeling and the desire to rebuild their country for themselves in their own way; and, in contrast to that, the apparent indifference with which the Government of Burma regarded these movements—not hostility but indifference. I looked again at the White Paper to which the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Butler) referred just now, and rereading it in the light of this interview, I realised how greatly those who were responsible for this statement, in spite of the very best intentions, had failed to understand the real position. I read such a statement as this:
There is a most formidable task to be faced in the re-establishment of stable conditions.…Till this is done, conditions are lacking in which the requirements of a democratic system of government can be met. These essential tasks will… require the energetic co-operation of all sections of the Burmese people, and the more completely this can be given the sooner will it be possible for Burma to resume her interrupted progress in constitutional development.It goes on to say:It is contemplated that early opportunity will be taken under these proposed powers to establish an Executive Council which, though it might at the outset be a small and mainly official body, could be expanded as opportunity offers by the inclusion in it of non- 2344 official Burmese. A second phase in constitutional development will begin, during which the ground will be prepared for the attainment of full self-government.Yet, again, it says that whenIt is clear that the proposed constitution has sufficient support … His Majesty's Government will enter into discussions with representatives of Burma with a view to satisfactory agreements being made to enable them …to safeguard outstanding financial advances … so that when the administrative organisation is in existence and the other arrangements have been completed, full self-government … can thereupon be established.One can see running through all that the best intentions. No one doubts for a moment the intentions of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Saffron Walden in his desire to give self-government to Burma—but a feeling that it should go with stately steps and slow, a little here and a little there, gradually going on to self-government, an utter failure to understand the impatience and urge of the younger Burmese for self-government, and the fact that if that impatience is not recognised and if immediate steps are not taken to give it scope, it will turn sour and result in a state of rebelliousness throughout the country.
We have heard a great deal—and every word of it is true—about the difficulties which have to be faced in Burma. There are terrible economic and financial difficulties, difficulties of transport and difficulties of establishing law and order. Are those difficulties going to be lessened through the Burmese people turning against the Government which is engaged in restoring law and order and dealing with the other difficulties? Of course not. They will be intensely increased. I would like hon. Members to go back in their minds to the 'thirties when there was actual rebellion in Burma, which gave us considerable trouble at a normal time, when our administration was in full swing, and was not exhausted by war, when there was no destruction and no financial difficulty. Yet we had a great deal of difficulty in suppressing that rebellion. Now that conditions are infinitely worse, to imagine that we could possibly restore law and order and full economic and financial prosperity against a rebellious people is a complete and utter misunderstanding of the situation. I believe that the situation as it was last year, called for a bold and forthright initiative if complete disaster, apart 2345 merely from great difficulty, was to be avoided. I think His Majesty's Government are to be heartily congratulated on having taken a bold and forthright initiative, and on thus saving Burma from what I believe would have been utter disaster.
§ 1.12 p.m.
§ Brigadier Low (Blackpool, North)
We have just listened to a remarkable speech from the hon. and gallant Member for Sudbury (Lieut.-Colonel Hamilton), and I am sure that the House will agree with me that we have gained a lot from listening to it. It was in marked contrast to the speech delivered by the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg). He began by being impish and then went on to be offensively irresponsible, and it was only in his closing remarks that he really dealt with any constructive suggestions. I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Under-Secretary, or whoever is to reply, will comment upon the suggestion put forward by the hon. Member for Maldon that certain persons of importance in this country had been encouraging U Saw and Thakin Ba Sein when they were over here to keep out of the constitutional development of Burma. I hope, at any rate, that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will give us the Government's views on the suggestion which the hon. Member for Maldon threw out. Actually he named only one man, but in his earlier remarks he indicated that there were a number of persons, apparently not friends of His Majesty's Government, who were trying to interfere with the negotiations under way.
I was extremely interested in what the hon. and gallant Member for Sudbury said about the impatience of the Burmese. I was there during last December, and my first reaction, after a day or two in Rangoon, was that the people in this country and the average Member of this House were completely unaware of what was going on, not only in the minds of the Burmese, but in the minds of the British citizens there, including those who were in positions of authority under the Government of Burma. I may be guilty of not having followed the position in Burma closely enough, but I was certainly astonished by the problems that faced us at that time. I quite agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Sudbury that the impatience was such that some- 2346 thing had to be done, but I will not agree with the hon. and gallant Gentleman that His Majesty's Government had handled the position sufficiently promptly. I do not think that they did. I would say that the impatience of the Burmese must have been noticeable to His Majesty's Government very much earlier, and if they had not been preoccupied with other matters they might have been able to take control of the situation before it became so very dangerous, as it did become at the end of last year, and before we were driven into the position where we had to give in to the threats—for they were threats— of U Aung San and A.F.P.F.L.
§ Mr. Sorensen
Perhaps the hon. and gallant Member could tell us precisely when the Government could have intervened with different results?
§ Brigadier Low:
I have already stated that I was guilty myself of ignorance of the position, but I think it was the responsibility of His Majesty's Government to find these things out. I have acknowledged my own ignorance, and I should now like to pass on.
There are some lessons to be learned from the situation in Burma which we should remember in case something of the same sort happens elsewhere in the British Commonweatlh at a later date. There is no doubt that the A.F.P.F.L. lost confidence in His Majesty's Government's sincerity. I think we have made mistakes in Burma since the war in not giving to that large and important country the feeling of importance which they would have liked to have. It is worth comparing the steps that were taken in neighbouring India by the British Government and in neighbouring China by the leading countries of the world. It is worth noting that no Cabinet Minister has been to Burma since the war. I am not detracting from the hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs, who is now on the Front Bench, and who has just been to Burma, but these things do matter. It is also worth observing that the wife of the President of the Board of Trade only went to Burma in the course of her duties in connection with the Aid to China Fund. I feel that we were guilty of not attaching in our own country sufficient importance to the problem of Burma and not taking sufficient interest in it.
2347 During this Debate there have been references to whether Burma should in the future be within or without the British Commonwealth and Empire, and I was very glad to hear the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler) in that connection. I have long felt that a new form of Commonwealth relations will be necessary if we are to allow for the appearance in the family of the Commonwealth of India and Burma and of any other country of which the Government at the time of adherence is not in the hands of British or European persons. There is a great difference from that point of view between the Dominions as we know them and Burma or India, and I think the country is fortunate in that the Under-Secretary of State for the Dominions, who has taken a great interest in the problems of Burma and of India, should also be engaged in imperial matters at this time by reason of his office. I do not know whether he will be able today to comment on what my right hon. Friend has said, but I am sure that he and his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Dominions and the Ministers at the Burma Office and the India Office will study the full implications of what was said then. I am very glad to have heard the emphasis that has been laid today on the fact—and it is a fact—that it is a privilege to belong to the British Commonwealth. It was emphasised by the then Secretary of State for Burma on 1st June, 1945, when there was last a full discussion of Burma in this House. It has always been emphasised from this side of the House and from certain quarters opposite, and I am sure that we should emphasise, too, to the Burmans themselves and to others in the world, that the privilege of being a member of the British Commonwealth means independence plus something and not independence minus something.
There has also been reference in this Debate to the appalling position of lack of law and order in Burma today. It is no consolation to be told that the position is better than it was. It takes the form not only of dacoity but of long strikes which, for what seems to be no very good reason, completely upset the economic life of the country. I am sure that the Government will admit that during the elections it also took the form of preventing some people —one does not know how many—from 2348 getting to the polling booths. I quite realise that we must be relative in our judgment of the freedom or otherwise of the recent elections, and that they were probably as just and as fair as anybody could have anticipated, but we must not be complacent about this and must keep it in the right perspective.
The House should realise that owing to the difficulties which this lack of law and order have created in Burma there are still a number of British troops, although not a large number, who are called upon to operate against the dacoits in the most difficult country and in a hard climate at a time following the war when all soldiers hope that such active operations are at an end. I was told when I was in Burma that there were 10,000 weapons in the hands of dacoits and that it would take, as I am sure it will, a long time before all those dacoits with their weapons are rounded up. I think we should pay a tribute to the work which is being done and, I expect, will be done by the British troops. While doing so we should realise that Burma today has not a large enough army or, possibly, a sufficiently trained force to carry out the task of the pacification of large parts of the country against these dacoits. Burma should be grateful for the help we have given, and I am sure she will be in the future if she is not now.
I should like now, as other hon. Members have done, to come to the economic and financial position. In doing so I am afraid that I shall pass on without reference to the problems of the hill states and the scheduled areas, to which I am sure the Under-Secretary for the Dominions will refer. The financial and economic position is surely the most important matter in consideration of Burma today. The intentions of the present Government as to finance are excellent, but we hardly know the methods which they use, and the resources which they have seem to me to be inadequate. We must remember that much of the money which they have used in the past and will use in the future has come from the pocket of the taxpayer of this country, and it is right that we in this House should go into the financial position and should be informed of its details very carefully.
I was somewhat astonished that the right hon. Gentleman who opened the Debate was not able to give us the simple facts of the deficit in the Budget. I have 2349 only been able to get hold of those facts from a document issued by his office, and I should have thought that he might have read the same document. It appears that the total Burma Budget deficit for the current year which, I understand, ends on 30th September, is something in the order of go million, and that of this the deficit in the revenue Budget for current expenditure is about £14,500,000, as my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Sir S. Reed) has said. Where is that £80 million coming from? Have we to put up the money? If we have we should he told, and we should seriously consider how far the measure of financial autonomy which has been rightly promised to the present Burma Government can really be taken.
I ask the hon. Gentleman to say where this £80 million is coming from because, I think that I am right in saying that Burma, unlike other parts of the world, has no financial reserves. Burma's needs for finance are surely undoubted. If one talks about this to people who understand the situation, one is told that she needs well over £100 million even now to get her really going again. All hon. Members will appreciate the dangers of under-capitalisation when trying to start again. This problem of providing money from private or public sources somewhere in the world is a very large one. It is true to say that even before the war most of the finance in Burma came from overseas; it is therefore particularly important today that the world as a whole, and particularly this country, should have confidence in those who govern Burma, for if there is no confidence there can be no money. I agree with the point which has also been put that if the British taxpayer is to provide the money we shall prefer to know that the Burmans are not going to turn round immediately after we have provided it and bundle us out of the country, perhaps expropriating many things that belong to private interests. There are other matters about which we should like to feel confidence. I hope that the Government will impress upon the leading politicians in Burma that they will not inspire that confidence by threatening further resistance movements if things are not done exactly as they want.
I apologise for having put my points rather sketchily. I was tremendously impressed, when I went to Burma, with the 2350 opportunity which lies ahead; the opportunity is so great because the difficulties are so great. I was struck with the small amount of reconstruction and rehabilitation which has yet been done. The Under-Secretary of State for Burma has not had an opportunity of going there recently, which is a pity. He seemed to indicate that roads had been repaired and bridges mended, and that everything was well on the way to recovery. I think I am right in saying that a number of important towns and cities in Lower Burma are still flat. Many of the roads are so full of holes that they knock the bottom out of cars and the hearts out of passengers. There are certainly very few roads which one would care to drive one's new car along in Rangoon. You cannot but be depressed when you look at the waterfront in Rangoon. We must not allow public opinion to think that reconstruction has gone very far, though we should realise that we have begun to march along the path towards reconstruction.
I am sure the House and the country realise that we owe an enormous debt to the Governor and his wife, who are doing an enormous amount to put heart into the Burmese, as well as to persuade them of the sincerity of the British Government and the British people. I hope that as a result of the elections, the Government of Burma will now be able to be much firmer in their actions. Although some good things have been done in the past few months, a lot of better things might have been done if there had not been the elections pending. I hope that with the guidance of His Majesty's Government and of the Governor, and with the cooperation of the many British people who are working in Burma, those who now govern Burma will be able to make much greater progress, both in the moral sphere and in the material sphere, during the next year.
§ 1.34 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs (Mr. Bottomley)
I am glad to have this opportunity to make a few comments following my recent visit to Burma. It was clear from the London negotiations, in January last, how vitally important is was for the future of Burma, and for our good relations with Burma, that a satisfactory solution should be found to the problem of the Frontier Areas, whose links with us had always been close. I therefore welcomed the invi- 2351 tation of the Prime Minister to attend the Panglong Conference as His Majesty's Government's observer. My task, as I understood it, was to do all in my power to promote good relations between Ministerial Burma and the Frontier Areas, and to satisfy myself that the wishes of the Frontier people were fairly obtained during the discussions.
Many important developments have taken place since that conference, so that much of what I have to say is now past history. The House will appreciate that I have been out of touch with the day-today happenings in Burma since my return, but I shall always maintain my interest in, and affection for, that country. It will be appreciated that I cannot trespass upon the territory of my right hon. and learned Friend who is to reply to the Debate. I am however glad to have this opportunity of summarising the results of the Conference, and stating my firm conviction that the Agreement obtained reflected the true wishes of the Frontier people. The tone of the Conference had already been set, before my arrival on 9th February, by the news of the London Agreement. The representatives of Chins, Kachins and the Shans decided at their private meetings that, in principle, they favoured union with Ministerial Burma, provided they secured a large measure of internal autonomy. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Butler) would like me to assure him that that means no interference with the ordinary internal administration, and that foreign affairs and defence are matters to which common action is to be applied.
§ Mr. R. A. Butler
On the question of finance, does that mean that a Budget will be granted, and the States will have liberty to spend on their own authority? Is that what autonomy in finance means?
§ Mr. Bottomley
I would not speak with the same authority as my right hon. and learned Friend. So far as I can gather, financial assistance has to be obtained from Ministerial Burma. I hesitate to say that Burma will be prepared to hand over financial autonomy when they are responsible for raising the revenue. When I arrived, I saw U Aung San and U Tin Tut, and they were agreeably surprised to find that the principle of unification had already been accepted. The frontier 2352 peoples in their turn were glad with the assurances given them regarding internal autonomy and financial assistance. The agreement was reached on the evening of 11th February, and was signed in front of a large demonstration the next morning. I felt that the agreement represented a compromise between Ministerial Burma and the frontier peoples, and satisfactorily implemented the London Agreement. Only after the most careful examination did I recommend its acceptance by His Majesty's Government. My right hon. Friend has explained that this Agreement is for the interim period only, and must operate within the framework of the 1935 Act. I should like to inform the House that for my part I took the opportunity of emphasising this fact to both parties. The discretionary powers of the Governor remain unaltered in law, and the special responsibility of the Secretary of State to Parliament is fully protected. I am absolutely assured that the Panglong Agreement was arrived at on a fair basis, and with due regard to the wishes of both parties.
There is one further point on which I wished to satisfy myself, and that was that the gathering was fully representative of the main frontier people—the Chins, the Kachins and the Shans. I am convinced that that was so. I had the opportunity of seeing their representatives personally and holding many meetings with them. The original Conference took place on the occasion of the national festival of the Frontier Area peoples, and I took every opportunity, before the conference took place, of associating with them, and getting to know their views. A few minor groups were not represented, but there is nothing to prevent them from joining what is now the representative supreme council of the whole peoples, which was formed, when I was there, from the old Shan States Council. It is, therefore, a representative body. These few minor representatives are now, I believe, associating themselves with the Agreement.
The problem of the Karens was exceedingly difficult, and to the extent that it concerns Ministerial Burma I am sure the House will appreciate that it was outside the scope of my mission. The decisive fact as to these and other groups who were not represented is that the 1935 Act, and the statutory power of the Governor, and, ultimately, His Majesty's Government, 2353 to protect their interests remains unaltered. When I met Aung San he was accompanied by Tin Tut, and others who attended the London talks. They were convinced that we were anxious to help them to implement the agreement. Some who were not present during the London talks were not so convinced, and it was with some difficulty that we were able to assure them of the sincerity of our desire to see that the frontier area peoples and Ministerial Burmans were associated during the interim period. Although there was some doubt by one or two members of the supreme council of the A.F.P.F.L. organisation, the others were always ready to give their fullest support to the bona fides of His Majesty's Government, and recognised our desire to help both sides.
I was greatly impressed by the attitude of Aung San, his obvious sincerity and his readiness, at all times, to meet the wishes of the frontier area people. He was particularly forthcoming on the point of granting internal autonomy, and giving them financial assistance. It is my opinion that they could not have expected equally generous terms, or equally favourable prospects of sincere implementation of the agreement, from any other politician or party in Ministerial Burma. I am confident that a happy understanding can be reached with Burma under his leadership. There were a few representatives of Ministerial Burma who, as I have said, were doubtful of the pledge given by His Majesty's Government about the frontier area people, should it be their desire, being associated with independent Burma. This doubt was eventually completely removed.
May I end on a personal note by saying that the greatest help was given to me at all times by all representatives of the frontier area peoples, and members of the Governor's Executive Council? I am completely satisfied that, so far, both sides have carried out the Agreement in a spirit which is typical of the democratic life which we try to express in this country. I remember sitting with Aung San in a bamboo hut, and talking to him at great length on how peoples should be treated. There were times when, if he had cared to do so, by being slick, he could have handled the situation to his own benefit. But he went to great trouble to show that if he had done that there might have been immediate benefit 2354 but that, at the same time, long-term difficulties would have resulted. I was struck with his honesty and integrity. I should like to say, "Thank you" to all those people, and how much I shall retain abiding memories of my short stay in Burma. I ought also to say that His Excellency the Governor is doing a remarkably fine job. I join in the tributes which have been so worthily paid to him today. I hope that the tolerance and understanding shown at the Panglong Conference will endure, for they are what Burma needs to provide a period of healing for the wounds caused by the war, and the passions it released. If this breathing space is obtained, and Burma's constitutional future can be decided in an atmosphere free from internal strife, I am convinced that she will become a truly united nation in friendly association with this country.
§ 1.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Walter Fletcher (Bury)
I am sure everybody in the House will agree that the statement which the hon. Gentleman has just made, very objective and modest in its terms, will lead us to believe that his visit to Burma made a real contribution towards the end we all have in mind. Although he may not have achieved what he set out to do, I am sure everybody in the House—although I cannot speak for the Liberal Party, as they have not been here today—will believe that the hon. Gentleman's effort was well worth while.
One thing arises from the statements which have been made on behalf of the Government today, and from speeches made by back bench Members opposite. I hope that I shall clear myself of the charge made by the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg) of anger, if not asininity, if I say that there seems to be a danger in believing that the setting-up of a Constitution, even if it is perfect, will be a panacea; that it will solve all the problems of Burma if the correct representation is achieved, and if the hill peoples and the tribes come into the Constitution half willingly. That is not so. There was another meeting recently in the Far East. There was a meeting in Indonesia where, again, national aspirations are achieving a considerable measure of success. There arises some doubt, in the minds of everybody who has studied this question, as to what is the result of 2355 these agreements, and of the new constitutions which are being set up. In December and January, I visited most of these territories, and during the war, I was associated with the work of that remarkably fine organisation, Force 136, whose brilliant leader with his wonderful planning, achieved remarkable results in Burma. Therefore, as one who has a reasonable amount of first-hand knowledge, I would like to utter a word of warning, and that is that the value of these agreements and Constitutions should not be put too high. They should not be put forward as having solved the problem.
What they represent in reality is an opportunity, by the agreement of all parties, to see how the new working arrangement will work out in practice over the next few years. If, at the moment of our departure from Burma, in whatever circumstances—whether we leave Burma entirely on her own, or within the comity of British Commonwealth of Nations—we say to ourselves, "This is only one step further forward; there will be many more difficulties and growing pains and problems; we cannot rest from our labours ", we' shall be taking the right line. There is too much talk of the failure of the Constitution, which is of secondary importance. The spirit behind the parties to the Constitution overrides that in importance every time.
I would like to study the difficulties that may arise in Burma from that fact. We have to look at it a little more objectively. The Chins, Kachins, and Karens had a marvellous record during the war. Those concerned, as I was, directly and indirectly helping the organised underground movements in that part of the world, and seeing how they could be made to work, knew that we had to depend for any real measure of success on the immense bravery of those introduced into the country by various means, and those in the country, who undertook exceptionally dangerous and difficult tasks, and who were willing not only to accept swift death, but death by torture, and the torture of their families and dependants as well. It is very easy to forget the immense contributions which were made, and among the greatest contributors of all were the Karens, the Chins, Kachins, and the Shan States inhabitants. It is well to remember that those people feel, and are 2356 entitled to feel, that they made a very important contribution.
I am not going to over-emphasise the fact that now in Burma power is in the hands of those who did not come under that standard. The Oriental mind does not work in the same way as do our minds. Possibly from their point of view, Japan was one occupying Power, and we were another occupying Power, though of a different sort and with a different record. From the practical point of view, we must remember that in the hearts of those others I have mentioned are an understanding and belief that their contribution was of a high order, and they lay upon us the full load of responsibility to see that everything that lies in our power, even if it makes our task difficult, must be done to obtain an early solution, and to see that their interests are protected, not only by a constitution. A paper protection is not of much use against a bullet. I say with a full sense of responsibility, that in this area of Burma, as in other areas of the Far East, there are very great dangers of civil war. There is civil war in China, there has been civil war in Indonesia, there is civil war in Indo-China. I would remind the House that these tribes are not only inhabitants of Burma, but in many cases a great many of them have relatives and tribal associates inhabiting Siam and Indo-China. Many of the national movements of the Far East are animated from outside by those of the same race, religion, or school of thought.
This area, which is of vital importance, is in danger of catching alight from conflagrations going on around it. For that reason, as well as for others, it is more than ever necessary to see that the safeguards we are taking and which we have discussed this afternoon are real and not only paper. Geographically, if there is an outburst of trouble in this area owing to disagreement—and there have recently been signs which give weight to what I am saying—it must be remembered that the Chins and Kachins and people of the Shan States, and in many cases the Karens, are cut off from the sea. Geographically they are placed at a disadvantage, and they must feel a natural nervousness at this physical lack of contact with the rest of the world. During the war I was in Kunming and we were cut off in Yunnan and had no contact 2357 with the rest of the world, except a thin trickle of planes over Burma, and afterwards over the Hump from Siam and India.
The state of mind of people who are cut off in that way, when they have made such a contribution to the wellbeing and liberation of the state in which they live, must be taken into account. I think we have to lean over backwards in the care we take in looking after these people. Very often in Eastern countries when one section of the people obtains political power and everything that goes with it, there is abuse or vendetta spirit and we have to see that those who make a great contribution will not be able to say within two years of the end of the war that we let them down and that not sufficient care was taken to see that real safeguards were provided while too much time and trouble was devoted to the introduction of the prefabricated export model of democracy from a country where conditions were by no means the same.
Turning to the economic side of the question, my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Blackpool (Brigadier Low) has pointed out the terrible degree of devastation which took place in Burma. It must be remembered that between the Middle East and South West Pacific, the country in which war was waged to the greatest possible extent was Burma. Nowhere else in that region was it so fierce and frequent, and nowhere was there so much bombing, and above all, so much direct and deliberate destruction by underground movements. It is worth pointing out that when the final Battle of Burma took place, one of the main operations— and the Supreme Commander has paid his tribute to this—which saved a vast number of human lives depended in essence on the destruction of property. All the underground movements felt that the time had arrived, for which they had worked for a long time, when the objective was to pin down as many Japanese divisions as possible and render them immobile in Rangoon and other places. that could only be achieved by blowing up bridges, destroying communications and harbours, and so on.
I believe there was a higher degree of destruction in that area than in any other area in the East. That has produced an economic problem for Burma which 2358 cannot be cured with great rapidity and cannot be cured even by the giving of credits from this end or the infusion of money. It will take years of physical work. It is not a question of consumer goods, as the Minister said in his opening speech, nearly as much as of capital goods. We have an enormous task in real reconstruction from the smallest native housing problem to the reconstruction of the Irrawaddy Flotilla, the oil installations and the reconstruction of harbours. That is an immense task and it will not be achieved unless there is a unified effort by every one concerned. By every one concerned, I do not only mean the inhabitants of Burma, but those who have to join with them in technical advice, knowledge and financial help in reconstructing the country.
That brings me to a very important point which I raised during the Minister's speech, the question of dealing with the claims that lie for the destruction in Burma. That matter is too frequently passed over. There are claims for rehabilitation and claims under at least four headings which have to be met in nearly all the countries of the Far East. But there is this difference between those claims so far as Burma and the rest of the Far East are concerned, because in the other countries, such as Malaya, there has been a continuity of the form of government and not a vital change and transfer of power as there is to be in Burma. Those who have these claims are of all classes, from the smallest to the largest, to the oil companies and flotilla owners, and owners of big installations. Those claims rest on very real assurances given by the Government. There is a tendency at the moment to gloss them over, and only to talk of the financial commitments which may have to be taken in the future in the way of loans and help to Burma over the next few years. This goes very much deeper, because if these claims, which were based on undertakings given by the Government of the day, are not carried out, confidence will be destroyed, and, without that confidence the whole community in Burma, and not only the Burmese, but British, Indians and Chinese, unless they can feel that there is a good feeling and confidence behind the assurances given by the British Government, will not have that confidence and the ability to go forward, without which we shall not reconstruct Burma.
2359 I believe this is an important point, and I want to give to the House the four main headings under which the claims lie and the assurances that were given. The first concerns the insurance of commodities under the compulsory war insurance scheme. Just as in this country, the compulsory war risk commodity insurance scheme was operated, and the Burmese who paid this insurance looked upon themselves as being absolutely safe. I find that, in dealing with the Government and Government Departments, there is a rather different level in handling matters such as this to that practised in what the Chancellor calls the black areas of the City. The Chancellor referred to the games played in the City of London, but I suggest that they are considerably more reputable than the games played in the British Treasury and the actions taken by the British Treasury in these matters. The Treasury and other Government Departments do not take the same view as the insurance companies on these questions affecting British credit and prestige. I have seen all the correspondence between the Hay Committee and the Government, and, in my opinion, there is truth in every word of what the committee says. Not only the British, but the Burmese as well, have received nothing so far in respect of these claims. There has been delay in the setting up of the Commission. Delaying tactics, in the hope of arriving at a compromise, have been employed, with no sign of any forthright idea of carrying out the obligation, and these tactics have manifested themselves up to now.
The second category concerns the value of the commodities lost to the advancing enemy, that is to say, destroyed under the scorched earth policy initiated by the Government, and, in many cases, carried out by the Government and their representatives. This was true of the Burmese oil installations, which were destroyed under the directions of the Government and with the help of an officer, Colonel Foster, who was sent out for this purpose. It is useless talking about the splendid future of Burma until we have cleared up these very important claims which run into tens of millions of pounds. This matter has been glossed over in every Ministerial statement which has been made so far regarding the future of Burma and the way in which these prob- 2360 lems are to be handled. I know from experience in these matters that they are put up to Ministers with a gloss on them which does not give the Minister a fair chance of learning for himself what the true facts are. I wish to take this opportunity of putting forward the facts about these very real claims, which arise partly under contract of insurance and partly under statements made at the time, and which have not yet been dealt with. This is what the then Chancellor of the Exchequer said about this matter in 1942, quoted in a letter from the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies of 27th October, 1942:The general principle which the Government think should be applied is that such loss or injury ought not to be treated as merely the concern of those who directly suffer it, but must be regarded as falling upon the community as a whole, and, consequently, a proper subject for compensation from public funds. In others words, the loss ought not to be left to lie where it happens to fall.That is a very clear statement, and one that cannot be burked or got round on the grounds of public expediency without a most serious loss of honour. The Government and the Treasury are the guardians, not only of the public purse, but, primarily, of the public honour, and there is a very great tendency in Government Departments today to reverse these two and to put them in the wrong order. Further reference was made to the validity of these assurances by the committee which was set up to deal with the problem, which asked the Government for something less qualified. A reply dated 12th January, 1943, contained the following comment:As regards the request that His Majesty's Government should, in conjunction with the local governments, assume responsibility for all loss and damage not recoverable under any insurance schemes, the assurance quoted in the letter of 27th October is an undertaking of the most far-reaching character, to which your Committee appear to fail entirely to attribute the weight it deserves.In ordinary commercial language, not in the stratosphere of Government phraseology, but in the terms of commerce, these assurances have come to have one meaning and only one, and that meaning was that these problems were going to be handled in a fair, and not a narrow, legalistic manner, and I beseech the Government to be more prompt in dealing with these claims. Incidentally, in Malaya, they have put off the hearing of these claims for another three months, and 2361 I say to the Government that, if they do not tackle this matter soon and fairly, they will destroy the vital bond of confidence between the Burmese Government, in whatever form it is going to be set up, and foreign—not only British, but American and other—aid which is ready to come forward to help Burma on the basis of partnership in supplying what the Burmese have not got themselves. When I was there recently, they were doing their best without technical knowledge and without that long-term assistance which they will need to restore their country.
I would like to turn to another phase of the reconstruction of Burma, and that concerns the question of rice. This House has heard me almost ad nauseam on the question of rice, but, when we get a dish as infrequently as rice, it does not lead to nausea. The point that matters is that we must not look at this rice question only from the Burmese point of view. It was disquieting to hear the Minister's statement about rice. It was disquieting, not only on the facts given, but also on the facts omitted. Once again, this Government's gloss complex, if I may call it that, has made itself visible. There is no forthright statement that one of the chief troubles is the socalled black market existing in Siam and on the Siamese-Burma border. This is not really a black market at all, in the sense in which we use the term in this country. It is based upon something much more reasonable. Very often, people use the expression "black market" to stop their minds from thinking because they do not understand. It is nothing of the sort. It is a legitimate corrective to wrong action by the Government. If the Government fix prices wrongly and against the general assessment of what is thought right by the public, the public will find a means of correcting it. I will give the House an instance.
In China, during the war, the Chinese Government insisted on retaining an official rate of exchange of 80 Chinese dollars to the pound. The open market rate—which is also called the black market rate—which corresponded with the cost-of-living factors, varied from 500 at the time I went there to 9,000 at the time I left, but the Government still retained the fiction of the 80 dollar rate. Therefore, the black market rate is the true rate, and supplies the proper cor- 2362 rective to the Government's mistakes. That is true of rice today. The real price of rice must depend upon what can be got in exchange for it in goods and services at market level. Recently, a change had to be made, in Siam and in Burma, in the rice prices.
I congratulate the Government and Burma on their efforts to produce more rice in Burma—and, incidentally, in Malaya, too. It is most important that the market and the price level should be arranged properly. I am aware that Lord Killearn is chairman of a committee which deals with these things in the Far East, but that committee has not sufficient power, and has not yet been able to overcome the difficulty of giving to the producer and the holder of rice the foreign exchange which is actually obtained for it when it is sold to the final consumer. There is a sort of catchment arrangement between the producer of rice and the final consumer. The producer is paid in a local currency in which he has very little faith —sometimes for good reasons, and sometimes for less good reasons—and if he cannot, with what he receives, buy goods and services which he wants, or have a n assurance by holding a stable currency until goods catch up with the currency again, he will either hoard the rice or sell it in the vast black market which is created by the Government's mistakes either in prices or in marketing.
It is vitally important that when we talk glibly and easily of the increase in rice, we should know in much more detail what is happening. I hope the Minister will answer the following question: Of the contracts made during the last rice season, what is the short-fall? How much has been delivered? In January, I asked high officials in Rangoon what were their views on this, and I was told that they had every reason to be afraid that the deliveries would not come up to the contracts. If one goes over the border to Siam, one finds that on the last contract made there by the Tripartite Rice Commission of 1,250,000 tons, in February the short-fall was 800,000 tons. There, again, is the danger of a paper contract and a paper constitution as against the realities. The result of a failure in Burma to handle the rice crop properly—and that can be done only in conjunction by Burma and the outside interests, such as India, America, and ourselves—to have 2363 a flexible price, and to give the right inducements, will be a major disaster in areas far wider than Burma.
It is for that reason that this is important in a political sense. The political situation of Burma, in its contacts with other countries and with its neighbours, is of first-class importance. If on this question of international trade, producing rice and getting what they want for it, they do not learn on right and sound lines—and not on doctrinaire lines—if they have shoved on to them ideas that prevail in other countries which are politically and economically much further developed, then we shall have missed the greatest opportunity to educate Burma economically. If the economic future of Burma over the next three years has more time and attention devoted to it than that of political theory and the form of political edifice we are going to make there, we shall have an infinitely better opportunity of coming out in the end with Burma as a big contributor the world, and not only a taker from the world, and Burma will be infinitely more likely to come into the British Commonwealth of Nations where fairminded dealing, politically and economically, has been the order of the day over many centuries. During the war, I had an opportunity of contact with the Burmese, and I came away with admiration and liking for them, but with no blindness as to their failings. I say to the Government, let them not be blinded either by the optimism of having exported their prefabricated little form of a so-called democratic constitution, or too pessimistic by the slow pace of recovery up to date. Let them be very objective, let them dig right down to the roots of economic problems, and then, I believe, we shall emerge with a good, strong and non-hostile Burma, willing to join with us in the notable progress we are making in the Far Fast at the present time.
§ 2.16 p.m.
§ Dr. Haden Guest (Islington, North)
I did not have the opportunity of hearing the opening sentences of the speech of the hon. Member for Bury (Mr. W. Fletcher), but I wish to intervene in this Debate because I had experience, about the same time as the hon. Gentleman, of conditions in Rangoon and Siam. I was very much struck by the fact that whereas everyone who was well informed 2364 in Siam knew that there was any amount of rice available, it was not possible in Malaya to get the amount necessary to fill the ration. That is of importance not only to those Far Eastern countries, but is of tremendous importance to the whole world, because if rice is in short supply, it means that there is a drain on the world's wheat supply, and that affects the whole of the Western world. In Ceylon, when I was there recently, they were not able to get all the rice they wanted, and consequently they substituted for rice wheat and other similar foods.
When I was in Malaya, the difficulty of getting rice was so great that, although there was a very active black market trade across the Malay-Siam frontier, the authorities in Malaya were not able to get sufficient rice to supply the ration, with the unfortunate effect that the wages of all civilian employees of the administration in Singapore and Malaya had to be fixed according to the black market price in rice. That seemed to me to be a ridiculous situation. If the amount which is being offered for rice is not sufficient to induce the very large number of small producers—for rice is normally produced by a very large number of people in very small quantities—to sell it, and to enable the authorities to get the rice, they had better look at the price and the conditions again, because it is inimical to good government that conditions with regard to wage-fixing such as I have indicated should prevail in Singapore. It is also very unfortunate that there should prevail this free black market over the Siam-Malaya frontier when, as a matter of fact, not very great alterations would make it possible for rice to be purchased in the normal way and restore the normal channels of trade.
There is also the fact that I understand the United States authorities, having got rather tired of this business, although they are partners in the Tripartite Agreement, have actually been buying large quantities of rice at an enhanced price. That, again, is an unfortunate breakdown of commercial dealings.
§ Mr. W. Fletcher
The hon. Gentleman used the expression "commercial dealings." I do not think that is a correct description of those dealings which are carried out under the direction of the Tripartite Commission set up in Siam. 2365 They are not ordinary commercial dealings. The commercial people act as agents for the Tripartite Commission set up by America, this country and Siam.
I was referring to the fact that America has made very large purchases, and that the price was a higher one than we are prepared to give. That is an unfortunate fact. We are really entering into competition in an area where it is very necessary to have a fixed arrangement with regard to prices so that there shall not be inflation and irregularities in the trade. I very much hope the Minister will indicate that the Government are willing to look at this matter again and give instructions to their agents to take a realistic view of the situation with regard to rice supplies, affecting as it does not only the whole of the Far East, India, Malaya and many other areas, including Ceylon, but also affecting the world wheat supply, because if rice is not in existence in sufficient quantities, it causes a drain on world wheat which the world cannot afford to divert to those countries which could be supplied by rice.
§ 2.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Sorensen (Leyton, West)
Both the hon. Member for North Islington (Dr. Guest) and the hon. Member for Bury (Mr. W. Fletcher) will forgive me if I do not follow them on the very interesting subject of rice, except to say that I am quite sure that any increase in the rice supply from Burma is undoubtedly giving to have a direct or indirect effect not only on neighbouring countries but here in Europe as well. The revelations that have been made this morning will lead, one hopes, to some kind of regulation or direction which will enable the abuses to which reference has been made to be prevented in the future. I may be quite wrong when I deduce from the speech of the hon. Member for Bury that he would prefer a free or black market to operate rather than that there should be any controls.
§ Mr. Sorensen
I may be wrong. I will study the matter in HANSARD tomorrow and perhaps I shall come to another conclusion. I would, however, like to say how heartily I endorse the earlier part of the hon. Gentleman's speech where he referred eulogistically to the work of the Under-Secretary of State for the 2366 Dominions. We all appreciate very earnestly the splendid service that he has rendered to Burma, and we believe that what he has done has made a very substantial contribution towards the pacific settlement of Burma as a whole. I say that with very peculiar pleasure on my own part.
All of us will probably agree that on the whole the speeches in this House today will give great gratification to the Burmese nationalist leaders. There has not been, fortunately, any of the romantic melodramatic utterances about throwing away a portion of the British Empire which we are accustomed to hear from certain quarters. Instead there has been appreciation of the developments now being made towards an independent Burma and, I hope, in the end a Burma closely associated with us. There has been recognition that the insurgent forces which have been at work in Burma, as elsewhere, have now been wisely dealt with, which if they had not been might have plunged Burma into disaster.
The hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Gammans) dwelt on the necessity for law and order. We all thoroughly appreciated his plea but what he did not seem to appreciate was that if steps had not been taken, as they have been taken, by His Majesty's Government even the present remnants of law and order would have disappeared altogether and Burma would have blown up. The surest way to destroy some kind of durability and stability in Burma was not to meet the demands of the insurgents to which I have referred. That would have led to greatly increased dacoity, turbulence and disquiet generally. Instead, I am more than persuaded, and I am sure that the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Butler) is also, that one step towards the pacification of that country was to recognise those demands for freedom and independence as coming not merely from a few wild agitators but from the soul of the Burmese people.
We were all glad to know, especially from the statement made by the Under-Secretary of State for the Dominions. that although at one time there seemed likely to be a certain amount of conflict and tension between the frontier people and the Karens on the one hand and the mass of the Burmese people on the other there now seems far less likelihood of that hap- 2367 pening. I believe we can take it for granted that the great mass of the frontier peoples and the Karens are agreed that the compromise which has been reached is in the best interests of them all. Here I would also like to emphasise my own desire that ultimately, and not prematurely, the Burmese people will find a means of closely associating themselves with this country. The right hon. Member for Saffron Walden pleaded for recognition on the part of other peoples that new features had entered into the British-Commonwealth of Nations. I entirely agree. One of the most outstanding and invaluable features has been the decision of His Majesty's Government in the last 18 months to implement their professions of freedom and self-government regarding India and Burma. I believe that that fact is already having a very beneficial effect upon both the nationalist and political leaders in India and also in Burma, and I hope most earnestly that it will lead ultimately, and the sooner the better, towards some kind of closer association between a free and self-governing Burma on the one hand and ourselves on the other.
It is, of course, perfectly true that unless the very grave economic needs are met, and met fundamentally, much of the political aspirations that now seem to be predominant in Burma will tend to evaporate. It is undoubtedly true that large numbers of people in every land will attach themselves to some particular political movement for reasons and motives other than those that may be active in the minds of the leaders themselves. Economic distress, for instance, in all lands has constantly stimulated people who are suffering from economic distress towards identifying themselves with, perhaps, very advanced political aspirations; and if when they achieve their political freedom there is not at the same time substantial economic improvement, then the former attractiveness of the political principle tends to disappear. I therefore hope that it will be realised by the future responsible authorities in Burma that their first task must be to deal with the urgent primal needs of the people of Burma, and equally I hope that on our part we shall not try to evade our moral, if not our legal, responsibility for doing what we can to restore the destroyed pattern of Burmese economic life.
2368 I would like to say in passing that while one fully appreciates all that has been said regarding the apparent paradox of Britain retiring from Burma while at the same time having to give substantial sums of money to assist the Burmese economy, we should realise on the other hand that we did not go into Burma, and that the campaign during the last war was not waged in Burma, primarily for the sake of the Burmese. I do not say that the liberation of Burma was not a very important factor, certainly so far as many of the Burmese, and the Karens in particular, were concerned; but the reason why we carried on the campaign there was that it was vital to Britain that Burma should be cleared of the Japanese. The reason why devastation came to Burma and the Burmese cities, so far as we are concerned, was that during the war it was a strategic outpost of the British Commonwealth of Nations.
That being so, it seems to me that the Burmese have suffered not merely for their own sake but for our sake as well, and we owe it to the Burmese to help them to restore their devastated economy. It is not good enough for us even to suggest that unless they are prepared to do as we wish or to come our way, we should be very dubious about granting them any financial or economic aid. If we wish to encourage the Burmese into a closer association with ourselves, there is no need to plead sycophantically with them to be associated with us. We should neither intimidate them on the one hand nor bribe them on the other. To suggest to the Burmese that if they will come into a closer permanent association with us we shall help them economically and financially would be to do something which is neither good morality nor good politics. We must recognise the principle that we have a moral obligation to assist Burma. Burma has been devastated and we owe a debt to the Burmese and should discharge that debt at a very early date.
§ Mr. Gammans
Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that we alone owe a debt to Burma? Would he not agree that India also owes a debt to Burma, and does he think we are justified in asking the British taxpayer to go on paying money if they are to leave us?
§ Mr. Sorensen
I do not suggest for a moment that we are the only people who owe a debt to Burma, but I would put 2369 India in a different category, for we made a decision regarding the war, while legally and constitutionally, India made no such decision but we simply called her up for military service. For that reason she is not in the same category. On the other hand I agree that all who can come to the aid of Burma should do so, though India, with her relative poverty, may not be in a position to contribute as much as we hope. In any case what I intended to say as my last word was this, that during the reconstruction of Burma under its own Government—I hope in voluntary association with ourselves, Burma should realise that she is merely one of many nations who are emerging from past servitude to the Western world.
I trust most earnestly that Burma will look with friendly eyes towards India, that India will reciprocate, and that not only those two lands, but other lands in 'the Far East as well, will draw nearer together, not in hostility to the West but to help build up an Eastern world on sound foundations cemented by fraternity and co-operation, and thus be in a position to form a strong and powerful friendship with the West on the basis no longer of inferiority but of equality. For that reason I congratulate the Government heartily on the steps they have taken. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Dominions on the part he has played, and I also extend my appreciation to the Under-Secretary of State for Burma who is here today. I trust that before long we shall see another great constructive piece of work effectively achieved by this Government, acting as a great moral example to the whole world.
§ 2.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Godfrey Nicholson (Farnham)
I see nothing to disagree with in the remarks made by the hon. Member for West Leyton (Mr. Sorensen). I have often disagreed with him in the past but, having journeyed to India with him, I think we have both learned something from each other. Though I think the picture he has in his mind of India and Burma is not a complete one, insofar as he has portrayed it today, I see nothing to contradict, and I should like to associate myself with him in his remarks. This has been a good Debate. I always welcome a Debate on an Imperial or a foreign subject which does not take party lines. I am a keen enough party politician—
§ Mr. Nicholson
The night before last I showed that, and I am very glad I did. I think this is the most monstrous Government as far as home affairs are concerned, but I am glad that they and we approach Burmese questions in an impartial spirit, and with a desire to do our best for Burma and for the good name of this country. It has been a Debate, too, in which there have been remarkable speeches. I was deeply impressed both by the tone and knowledge of the speech of the hon. Member for Bury (Mr. W. Fletcher) and I was in entire agreement with the remarks made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler). On the other side of the House I think a. speech worthy of note was that delivered by the hon. and gallant Member for Sudbury (Lieut.-Colonel Hamilton). It was all too short, but it was a remarkable little speech.
However, in our desire to find agreement between the two sides of the House, we should not blind ourselves to the fact that there is a fundamental difference of approach between the two parties. I am not at all sure that we have not both a good deal to learn from each other. The other side of the House is inclined to turn away with a slight feeling of shame from the history of British Imperialism. To them Imperialism denotes something evil and distasteful. Hon. Members opposite are inclined to think that perhaps we had no business in India and Burma, and perhaps our record is not very good, and that the sooner we launch these nations on an independent career of their own, the better. We, on the other hand, as befits a party with the name "Conservative," derive inspiration from our past.
We do not apologise for our past in Burma. We believe that we have brought great benefits to the people of Burma. We contrast the situation as it was before we went there with the situation as it was when we were in full control. Relative peace had been established, impartial justice prevailed, a large measure of freedom had been granted, and the peasant and the cultivator and the dweller in the town, though no doubt subject to grave economic difficulties, at any rate lived his life as he wished in relative security. It is not only a pious duty to our forefathers, but an act of realism, to recognise 2371 that our achievements in Burma have been of no mean order, and that there is no need for any Englishman to apologise for them.
The real difference between our two approaches is that hon. Members opposite have their heads, we think, too much in the clouds, and they may well consider that we have our eyes too much on the ground. There is much justification for both those charges. We believe that physical realities are of great consequence in politics, we believe that no Government can call itself a Government unless it is capable of preserving law and order, and does so, and we believe that all the paper Constitutions in the world are of little value if they only bring increased misery on the inhabitants. So let us both draw the moral from today's Debate, which is not that we are both agreed and that everything in the garden is lovely, but that, in the difficult times which lie ahead for Burma, each side of the House has a definite and valuable contribution to make to the thought of the other.
Having made that preliminary canter, I will now get closer to the subject. I imagine that the Government can have no doubt about the attitude of general support which the Opposition gives to their policy in Burma. We may differ over details and over the time table, but we think that, by and large, they have done not only what was inevitable but what was right. The world will watch with great interest the future career of Aung San. I was very much impressed by his directness of approach when he was here. We do not associate ourselves with him and with his party, any more than we associate ourselves with any other party in any Dominion or Colony in the Empire, but we wish him and his Government well in all their activities for Burma. So let that be put on record, that we give support to His Majesty's Government on the general lines of their policy, but we reserve full right to criticise all the details.
As far as the Panglong Conference and the hill tribes are concerned, we are really very much in the hands of the Under-Secretary of State for the Dominions. We have to take what he says, because few of us in this House are experts on this matter. However, I want to say that I know the hon. Gentleman well. He is a close per- 2372 sonal friend of mine, we have been buffeted about together over India and the Middle East, and I have the fullest confidence in him and in his integrity and judgment. If he says that the Panglong Conference was a satisfactory conference and that, generally speaking, the arrangements and agreements reached there were fair and good, then I accept it, and I ask my hon. Friends to accept it too. I think this country and Burma owe him a debt of gratitude, and I prophesy for him a great and useful career in the interests of the British Commonwealth of Nations.
To take the Minister's speech in opening the Debate, I detected signs of dangerous complacency. There was much too much of what my hon. Friend the Member for Bury called "the gloss complex;" much too much wishing to ride over the obvious difficulties and disagreeable features of the situation with pious expressions of good intentions and of hope. It is not easy to discard responsibility for a country. He and his party seem to me to tend to be leading their supporters to believe that we can terminate our responsibility in Burma overnight and that our liabilities will then have ceased. They have not ceased. The situation in Burma is not right. We agree with the policy of His Majesty's Government up to now, but do not let that blot out the fact that lawlessness reigns in Burma, that inflation is a dangerous threat, that Burma is facing the possibility of bankruptcy, that there is a deficit on the Budget and that, if we cease to act as paymaster, Burma will be definitely bankrupt.
Those are the things that worry me today. Those are the features which I should have-liked Government spokesmen to bring out in this Debate. To take finance alone, unless early agreement is arrived at on questions of finance not only will Burma be led up the garden path to her ultimate disaster, but the British taxpayer will have a burden cast on him that he is ill-suited to bear. Everything in the garden is not lovely. Just because hon. Gentlemen opposite have clear consciences in their desire to grant freedom to Burma, it does not mean that they have done more than lay the first brick in the great structure of Burmese freedom, and it does not mean that they have got rid of the full liability for pay- 2373 ing for the Burmese structure. Early agreement should be come to on finance. That is the first brick that must be laid. A British High Commissioner must be appointed forthwith. Trade agreements must be arrived at, and the question of compensation, which was so ably dealt with by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, must be settled. I do not like to hear the charges about ill-faith laid against His Majesty's Government and the Treasury, and I do not like it when I hear about the complete atmosphere of uncertainty that runs in the mind of all those connected with trade commerce and industry in Burma. His Majesty's Government have much to do. Just because we give them a pat on the back today for what they have done, do not let them sit back and rest upon their laurels.
Of course, our eyes are directed towards future relations between Burma and this country. Whatever happens, that connection is bound to be exceedingly close. Burma will never be free of her need for British capital and I do not believe that Burma will ever be free of -her need for British influence and guidance. I should like to have heard the Minister say that every effort was being made to persuade those connected with the administration of Burma to stay in Burma and serve the new dispensation. I did not hear a word about that. I do not draw a parallel between Burma and India but there is much in common. It is we who have set up the standard which reigns in the administration of Burma. It is our conception of civilisation, of justice and of right and wrong that reigns in Burma today and which brought Burma to her prewar level of relative happiness and prosperity. I am sure that Burma cannot do without continued inspiration and actual help from the same source.
There are three needs. First, of course, a feeling of sympathy and of friendship, and a knowledge on the part of Burma that that sympathy and friendship is extended. That can be done freely and readily in words and we have done and are doing it today, but deeds are needed as well. Second, there is a great need for closer contact between political circles in this country and Burma. I hesitate to recommend yet another Parliamentary delegation. I do not know how much the people of this country like the idea of Members of Parliament spending much 2374 of their time and much of the country's money touring around and having what the people think to be glorious holiday. But with communications in such a difficult condition as they are today, I feel that Parliamentary delegations provide almost the only channel of communication and knowledge between this House and the parts of the world for which we are directly or indirectly responsible. So I come down on the side of recommending an early Parliamentary delegation to Burma. I hope that will be arranged.
There is something else as well, and that is that both Burma and ourselves must realise that if Burma remains within the British Empire or the British Commonwealth of Nations—hon. Members may call it what they will, or invent a new term as my right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden appears to desire, though I shall call it the British Empire —if Burma remains within the British Empire that will represent a whole and heavy series of responsibilities for us. There will not only be economic responsibilities but military responsibilites. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Blackpool (Brigadier Low) elicited the other day in response to a Question the fact that British Forces are still seriously involved in the maintenance of law and order and the fight against dacoity in Burma. I am seriously perturbed by the attitude of His Majesty's Government in considering our military and economic liabilities all over the world. They seem to ignore the fact that both India and Burma will be heavy military and economic liabilities for a very long time to come. We must get down to hard bare physical facts in considering the future of Burma. It is not just a glorious speculation whether or not Burma chooses to remain within the British Empire.
If we have this close connection with Burma, which I hope for and envisage, then political circles and the people of this country must recognise that it represents a period of heavy responsibilities as well as a great moral responsibility. I am glad, as I said in opening, that this Debate has been conducted in an non-party spirit, in a friendly and reasonable manner. That does not mean that everything is easy, that everything in the garden is lovely, or that these problems have been anything but merely entered upon. They have not been solved. The world 2375 is full of difficulties today and Burma is no exception.
Finally, there is something that we need, something which we have lost, and which we gravely lack. That is the belief which should burn with an evangelistic zeal in each one of us that we have something to offer to Burma, that we have, by the grace of God, a standard of life, a standard of ethical ideal to offer to Burma which will be of value to Burma We must feel it our duty to spread our beliefs and ideals all over the world. I do not think that that lays us open to a charge of self-satisfaction or complacency. I believe that that should be the attitude of every self-respecting Englishman We wish well to Burma. We wish the message to go out from this House that we look upon Burma with affection and interest, and that we recognise the responsibilities and the actual and potential liabilities that we are prepared to shoulder if Burma chooses to march side by side with us in a fraternal and courageous approach to the difficulties and menaces of the future.
§ 2.49 p.m.
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham)
I do not rise for the purpose of making a long speech. That would be wrong as I was not present at the beginning of the Debate I rise because I was a member of the Burma Round Table Conference. I should be very unwilling to enter into the stratosphere of dignified non-party politics which I understand has characterised this Debate. I am always happier at a lower level. I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Mr. Nicholson) on his most admirable speech, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler) upon his contribution. The Burmese, as anyone who has had experience of them will agree, are a most attractive, agreeable and talented people. I look back with pleasure on the short association I had with them as a member of the Burma Round Table Conference. Incidentally, if I may trouble the House with a not particularly interesting story, during those discussions we had, on one occasion, an all-night sitting. It is the only occasion on which I have ever taken part in all night deliberations when the proceedings exactly resembled what takes place when this House sits all night. Our Burmese colleagues entered into the spirit of an 2376 all-night sitting and the result was. not that we finished our business, but that we all ended the best of friends, despite the differences of opinion which existed.
For my part I would make only this observation on what is about to take place in Burma. Both on moral and practical grounds I entirely agree with what my hon. Friend has just 'said. Both on moral and practical grounds we must all hope that this new venture, because venture it is, will be a success, on moral grounds because nobody would want to see Burma the prey to that type of civil war which exists in more than one Asiatic country at the present time, and on practical grounds, as has been pointed out by other hon. Members, because it is obviously to our advantage, with our still very considerable trading interests in the East and the financial arrangements that exist between Burma and ourselves, that Burma should be a stable country.
Hon. Members on both sides of the House can take my next observation as meaning whatever they like to think: I believe that Burma, for the next 10, 50, 100 or 1,000 years, will have exactly the same type of Government that all Asiatic countries have always had, except when ruled by European nations. Whether that type of Government is to the advantage or disadvantage of the inhabitants of the country concerned, I express no opinion; much is to be said on both sides. It would, however, be a profound mistake, and this is a philosophical view from which I do not think anyone will dissent, to suppose that even this great country, this Commonwealth of Nations, this Empire, can in a short period of something like 60 or 70 years teach, inspire or give to an Asiatic country a system, or even a recollection of a system, which is likely long to outlast their departure from that country. That I think is a fact which should be appreciated in Burma and in India—though it would be out of Order to discuss that. It should be appreciated elsewhere.
So I say, in no spirit of hostility or abuse, that in this and in other subjects where we are absolving ourselves from our responsibilities—because that is in fact what we are doing—we are allowing those countries to return to an Asiatic conception of government, and we must all hope that, from the point of view of that world good feeling and unity at which we are all aiming, it will prove to 2377 be a success. I think my hon. Friend behind me, or anyone else who has had a wide experience of Asiatic countries, will agree that such an infinitely short period —and it is a short period in countries like Burma and India, with their vast histories—of British constitutional rule—or a form of British Government—since perhaps constitutional rule is not 'a very happy phrase as during that time neither India nor Burma has enjoyed the full constitutional rights we have in this country—has so altered the mentality of the inhabitants and the inherited atavistic ideas going back into the earliest recesses of time, that their country will at once, and by a stroke of the pen, resolve itself into a European democracy. Whether it is a good or a bad thing I express no opinion, but I think I shall be speaking for everybody in the House when I say that we hope the new experiment will prove a success.
§ 2.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Henderson
Despite views expressed during this Debate which may indicate differences of opinion between the respective parties in the House, I think there will be general agreement that this Debate has shown conclusively that underlying such differences of opinion, there is a deep, sincere feeling of good will in all parts of the House towards the people of Burma. The noble Lord, who has taken great interest in that country for many years and whose views by no means coincide with my own on many occasions, would I think agree that the one thing we have to do is to ensure that the experiment to which he refers is given a full opportunity of working itself out.
A good many points have been raised this afternoon, and I would like to deal with some of them in the time at my disposal. The hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. Nicholson) rather suggested that I had ridden over the difficulties of the present situation in Burma. I would like to assure him that I was not conscious of this and that I was not seeking to do anything of the sort. I tried to point out that there could be no gainsaying the very serious situation which exists in Burma today, and that it would be foolish on anyone's part to seek to convey any impression to the contrary. After all, the facts speak for themselves. The two major campaigns that were fought over the country during the three years of the war in 2378 that part of the world have left in their train, as the hon. and gallant Member for North Blackpool (Brigadier Low) and the hon. Member for Bury (Mr. W. Fletcher) know, devastation the like of which we have not seen even in this country. Certainly in this country we have not suffered the looting of machinery, because we never had the invader here, and as the hon. Member for Bury knows one of the tragedies of the situation in Burma today is the fact that they have been deprived of vast amounts of machinery which is essential to their economic well being.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler) and other hon. Gentlemen have raised the question of the financial situation in Burma. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Aylesbury (Sir S. Reed) compared what he called the deficit for this year with the smaller deficit for the year 1938–39. It would be idle to deny that there is a deficit, and a serious deficit, for the year October, 1946, to October, 1947, which is their financial year. Again that is to be explained by the aftermath of the terrible war conditions which have caused such devastation in the country. The right hon. Gentleman wanted to know how we were dealing with that deficit, and what it involved in terms of credits from this country. He was rather suggesting that I might give him the details of the budget position, but I am sure that he would not expect me to do so this afternoon. I can say, however, that it is quite true that for the year 1946–47 the deficit on the ordinary budget is in the region of £14 million.
The position is even more unsatisfactory than those figures indicate because there is also a deficit on what is called the Projects Budget. As the House knows, for the purpose of rehabilitating the economic and industrial life of the country five projects were started by the Government of Burma which were financed to some extent by—or the deficits were found from—this country. These were under the control of the Government of Burma in consultation with the Treasury here, and for this year there is a deficit of about £8 million, which makes the deficit for the year about £20 million. The hon. and gallant Member for North Blackpool referred to the £80 million. That was an outside figure, and I think that it will be found at the end of this 2379 financial year that the figure is more in the region of £60 million as a result of certain receipts, for example, the profits that have been created from the various rice transactions, which will leave for the two years a liability on this country of approximately £60 million.
§ Brigadier Low
Do those figures include the £36 million which Burma owes to India, and the £7 million which they owe to this country as a contribution to defence?
§ Mr. Henderson
I. am afraid that I cannot answer that question without notice. I think that I am right in saying that they do not include the figures in respect of India of £36 million, but they include the £7 million.
§ Mr. W. Fletcher
The right hon. and learned Gentleman has referred to the profits from rice transactions. Can he explain a little more fully how these profits have arisen, and what has happened?
§ Mr. Henderson
I have been corroborated in what I said to the hon. and gallant Member for North Blackpool. It does not include the £36 million, but it does include the £7 million. With regard to the question put by the hon. Member for Bury I am sure that he will not expect me to explain the details of the transactions that took place between Government and Government in connection with the exportation of rice. I was saying that as the rice is exported by the rice project controlling authority, the profits that arise from those transactions come into their funds, and, therefore, we are able to use them to offset the deficit.
§ Mr. W. Fletcher
That is exactly what I was referring to in the remarks which I made about rice. If there is any exploitation of the rice producers by the Government, and if the profit is added on in that way, that is exactly the thing which will diminish the production of rice, and drive it into the black market. As the right hon. and learned Member raised the point, I pressed for a more detailed explanation.
§ Mr. Henderson
I was coming on to the question of rice. It certainly has not had the effect of reducing the production of rice. The production of rice has risen steadily. During the next year the Government of Burma expect another million 2380 acres to go under cultivation. Whatever may be said about the operations of the rice project, it has not had the effect of curtailing the production of rice.
§ Brigadier Low
Is it or is it not true that the rice project is financed by money lent to the project by the Government of Burma, which money the Government of Burma have borrowed from us interest-free; and that the Government of Burma lent that money to the rice project at 3 per cent.? Are those the facts? If so, they are very remarkable.
§ Mr. Henderson
I am certainly not in a position to deal with questions of rates of interest without notice. I shall be glad to ascertain what the facts are and to communicate them to the hon. and gallant Gentleman. The right hon. Member for Saffron Walden referred to the state of insecurity that exists in Burma and, I think, he indicated it was fairly widespread. He suggested that the elections must have been affected by the fact that the roads were not safe for people to travel. I have some late information with regard to the position, and I find that the principal districts affected were Toungoo and Yamethin between Rangoon and the north of Burma. As the House may know certain military and police operations, known as operation "Flush," have been taking place. I have here a report which sums up the results of that operation. It says:By the end of April dacoit gangs, com posed in several cases of over 100 each, had been reduced to hard cores of approximately one or two dozen men and were in hiding or on the run. The morale of the police has been considerably strengthened and they have taken action on a much greater scale than in the past. Although dacoity in the area still goes on it is on a small scale and a much more settled state of affairs now exists in the area. The local population can now carry on their normal life and especially prepare for the beginning of the new rice season which will open with the start of the Monsoon in May.That, I think, is some indication at any rate that the position is considerably improved as a result of the vigorous action which has recently been taken. Several hon. Gentlemen opposite raised the question of war damage compensation, the hon Member for Bury in particular. As the House knows, a Commission was set up last year under the chairmanship of a retired Colonial civil servant who had had great experience in such matters in this country to register and assess claims for property lost or damaged as the result of 2381 the war. Unfortunately, for various reasons, the commission was not able to get to work as early as had been hoped, and in consequence it was found necessary to extend until 31st March last, the date for lodging claims. I understand that the number of claims so far received is approximately 360,000, although in certain cases it has been considered desirable to extend the date by which the claims could be lodged.
§ Mr. Henderson
Yes. At present, the Commission are engaged on the registration, classification and analysis of these claims and they hope that it will be possible for them to submit by July the preliminary report which their terms of reference require them to produce.
§ Mr. Henderson
I said 360,000 claims, not pounds. On receipt of this report, His Majesty's Government will consider to what extent local funds will be sufficient to meet the claims and what contribution can be made by them having regard to similar demands on them from other parts of the Empire in like circumstances. I am afraid that that is as far as I am able to take that particular matter at this stage. The oil and teak industries of Burma were referred to by the hon. Member for Bury. Their difficulties are part of the general economic trouble that exists, but I think it will be found that very great progress has been made in the case of the teak industry. The trouble with regard to oil, as the hon. Gentleman may know, is that a refinery which existed was destroyed during the war and that the new refinery which has to be constructed has not yet been completed.
In conclusion I should like to refer to the statement made by the hon. Member for Farnham. He suggested that hon. Members on this side of the House were reluctant to look to the past and that they seemed to want to apologise for what this country had done in various parts of the British Empire and the Commonwealth. It is true that hon. Members on this side steadfastly refuse to support, 100 per cent., what is commonly called "Imperialism," but that does not mean that we always want to apologise for what 2382 our country has done in the past. Our country has done a great deal for other countries, for Burma, for India and for other parts of the British Commonwealth of Nations, but that does not prevent us from taking the view that it is the right of every nation to govern itself and to obtain full independence. Hon. Members know that it is possible to do that, even within the British Commonwealth. The very fact that the strength of the British Commonwealth depends on the free association of the peoples within it, makes it essential that we should allow any nation, whether it be India or Burma, to decide freely for itself whether it desires to be within or without the British Commonwealth. I agree that it will be to the mutual benefit of both countries to remain in close association—which will bring economic and other advantages. Therefore, when we ask the House to support the policy for which this Government stands, it is because we believe it is the only policy which can obtain a solution of these problems.
§ Mr. R. A. Butler
The Under-Secretary of State for the Dominions seemed to indicate that the right hon. and learned Gentleman would say something on the question of the financial autonomy of the Shan and other States. I asked the Under-Secretary whether they would have financial autonomy, and he conveyed the impression that because the finances were combined with those of Ministerial Burma, they would want some say in the conduct of finance in the Shan States. If that is so, there can be no real autonomy in the Shan States.
§ Mr. Henderson
Whatever may be the position following agreement on a new Constitution, the present position is that the Federated Shan State have their own federal funds, and will not be affected by anything which has taken place at Panglong. As I said in my opening remarks, the Agreement provides for the full internal autonomy of the Frontier Areas, and I do not think that that has been affected by any agreement.
§ Brigadier Low
Do the Government associate themselves with or dissociate themselves from the remark made by the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg) in charging Sir Reginald Dorman-Smith and certain other unnamed persons, with having encouraged Burmese leaders to stay out of the constitutional develop- 2383 ments of Burma during the time of the London Conference?
§ Mr. Henderson
In vain is the net spread in the sight of the bird. I have not the slightest intention of associating the Government with it and it is the last thing the hon. and gallant Gentleman would wish me to do.
§ Earl Winterton
.May I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman this question? It is a somewhat difficult one, and, therefore, I do not expect a reply to it now. Will he look into the constitution of the United Nations, to see whether the position of the Shan States is such that, if they are dissatisfied with the settlement, they have a right of appeal to the United Nations?
§ Mr. Henderson
I will look into that.
Question put, and agreed to.
Resolved:That this House approves the continuance in force of the Proclamation issued under Section 139 of the Government of Burma Act, 1935, by the Governor of Burma on 10th December, 1942, a copy of which Proclamation was presented on 9th February, 1943.