§ Mr. Nicholson
I beg to move, in page 4, line 19, to leave out "abate on that day," and to insert:be proceeded with as if this Act had not been passed.I understand that no proceedings are pending against the Secretary of State, but that there are four appeals to the Privy Council pending between Burmese and Burmese. It seems to me common-sense that these should be settled by the Privy Council, and that the litigants should not be left in the air, so to speak.
§ The Solicitor-General
The hon. Member is quite right in thinking that there are four such appeals. They have been pending since 1941, but to all intents and purposes they are dormant. The solicitors in each case have lost touch with their clients, and the last step remains to be taken by the appellants. I think it is fair to say that they cannot be considered as active appeals. The difficulty about accepting the Amendment is this: after this Bill becomes law, it would be very inappropriate that these appeals, should they ever come to light again, should be heard. The constitutional position is that the Privy Council, after the appeal has been heard by the Judicial Committee, advises His Majesty as to what order should be made with regard to the appeal. It would be entirely inappropriate that His Majesty should make an order in respect of a foreign country which could not be executed, and would be bound to be ineffective. It would be constitutionally improper that the Amendment should be accepted. In the unlikely event of any further appeals arising at the last moment, no doubt an arrangement would be made to bring them on as soon as possible, in the hope of disposing of them before the appointed day.
§ Earl Winterton
The hon. and learned Gentleman is a most helpful and courteous 734 Minister, and there is one point which I hope that he will consider sympathetically. I see the point which he has put, but I think it would be unfortunate if this created a precedent. I should be ruled out of Order if I referred to the possible occasion when another country which I have in mind—I was thinking of Ceylon—desired to have a different constitution from that which it has now. In that event it would be unfortunate if this were to be taken as a precedent. Perhaps the right hon. and learned Gentleman will say something about this in reply, or will consider asking the spokesmen of the Government in another place to say that this is due to special circumstances. I hope that in all future cases in which a country leaves the Empire and there are any appeal cases pending to the Privy Council between the representatives of that country and His Majesty's Government, the appeals will be heard. Otherwise, I think that it would to some extent strike at what is today a very important rule of British jurisprudence throughout the Empire.
§ The Solicitor-General
May I reply to the noble Lord by saying that I agree that in each case, as and when the question arises, one has to consider it by reference to the actual circumstances obtaining.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ Clause 5 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ First and Second Schedules agreed to.
§ Bill reported, with an Amendment; as amended, considered.
§ 1.43 p.m.
§ The Solicitor-General (Sir Frank Soskice)
I beg to move "That the Bill be now read the Third time."
I do not wish to detain the House long. This is a short Bill of only five Clauses, but its shortness does not in any way indicate that it is an unimportant Bill. It is a small Bill of the greatest possible importance. It marks a great stage in the move forward in the history of this country and all the other 735 countries with which it is associated. It has come into being in an atmosphere of the greatest friendliness and co-operation between the two nations. That atmosphere has augured well for the future relationship between the two countries. It has started well—let us hope that it will continue well. The Bill was very fully discussed on Second Reading, and during the subsequent stages of the Debates further points have emerged. I will content myself, therefore, in moving the Third Reading, in expressing the hope that the House will join with me, as I am sure it will, in wishing well to the future of the new country that this Bill brings into being.
§ 1.45 p.m.
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham)
I gladly accede to the suggestion which the hon. and learned Gentleman has made. We on this side of the House, having on Second Reading, registered our disapproval of the time and manner of this Bill do not want to vote against the Third Reading. We wish to be associated with what the Solicitor-General has said. We are, of course, very closely confined on Third Reading to what is in the Bill, and therefore, I hope that we shall have no comparisons of any of the politicians in Burma, alive or dead, with General Smuts. The reason I say that is because I happen to be a friend of 25 years standing of General Smuts, and, being a man of violent temper, if any one compares him with U Aung San or any other gentleman in Burma, I shall rise in my wrath, because I shall consider it a reflection on one of the greatest statesmen of the Empire. I hope also that we shall not have any clichés about the uprising of Asia. We heard about that for many years, and before the 1914 Parliament when anyone expressed any doubts about a country's ability for self-government, hon. Members of the Liberal Party got up and said: "Look at our allies in Asia; look at our gallant little Japanese allies. See what has happened in 30 years and how they have risen to a position of experience and responsibility." Since that uprising of Asia there has been the biggest blood bath that Asia has ever known in her history—in China and everywhere else. So I hope that we shall have no clichés of that kind.
736 As regards the Bill, I hope that it may have the effect which the learned Solicitor-General anticipates. Certainly, none of us on this side of the House wants to do anything but wish well to the new Burmese Government, and hope that they will be in treaty relationship with us. I suggested on the Second Reading that anyone who has come in touch with them finds them a most agreeable and delightful people to deal with. With great gladness, I accept what was said during the previous stage of the Debate by the Secretary of State that the members who form the present Burmese Government are doing all that they can, within the limitations imposed upon them by circumstances, to rehabilitate their country. I wish them well in their rehabilitation. I think, however, that their position is very dangerous and difficult.
I think, quite frankly, that they would have been far better in the Empire than outside it, and I see no reason why I should not say so on this occasion. The British Commonwealth is a very powerful body in peace and war. Countries who leave the Empire must not expect to have the advantages which they got in war time and peace time by association with each other. I am not aware that the Burmese, in the technical sense of the word, are very highly military people, and they are surrounded by a great many elements in other countries which might easily overwhelm them. They cannot, in future, expect any support from the Commonwealth if they are invaded, because they will be an independent country, unless a treaty agreement is entered into with them by which they undertake to supply us with bases and vice versa.
There is no reason why we should not wish the Burmese people the utmost goodwill, and I hope that their Government will be able to perform the task which has been placed upon them. I would not like to sit down without paying a tribute, which I think every one on this side of the House would echo—if they were here—to the Secretary of State, for his courtesy and for the efficiency with which he has piloted this Bill through the House. I think all of us on both sides of the House do appreciate the courtesy and the efficiency which he has shown, and I venture to hope that in the somewhat shifting and, shall we say, evanescent nature of His Majesty's Government at the 737 present time, where nobody knows where he or she is, the right hon. and learned Gentleman will continue to keep the office which, if I may say so, he so much adorns.
§ 1.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Wyatt (Birmingham, Aston)
I do not think that one ought to allow what the noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) has said to pass completely unnoticed. He told us at the outset of his remarks that he had a violent temper. I doubt if anyone would dispute that proposition. I felt and sincerely hoped that this afternoon would be one of the occasions when he would restrain himself. After all, he must be well aware of the considerable damage done to British and Burmese relations by the speech of his right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition on the Second Reading. To add fuel to the flames already set in motion by that speech is really a most unfortunate thing for somebody to do, who even today has been professing a great love of the Commonwealth.
The noble Lord believes in the Commonwealth; he is devoted to its interests; and he believes it to be a structure unequalled in the world and of inestimable benefit to the world. If he believes those things, why does he try to damage a country which is going to have special relations with that Commonwealth—a country with a military alliance with this country? After all, he realises that, whatever he says nowadays, cannot stop this thing, and I thought it was supposed to be one of the instincts of hon. Gentlemen who sit on the opposite side of the House that when a fact, however disagreeable to them, has been put through they accept it with good grace. I do not think that he has accepted this Bill with a good grace this afternoon.
§ 1.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Godfrey Nicholson (Farnham)
I should be sorry if the concluding stages of this Bill were not to be debated on the merits of the Bill itself, but on the temper, 738 good or bad, of my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton). It strikes me that it has very little to do with the point. The point is that here today we have come to an historic stage in the development of the world, and what we on this side of the House wish to make clear, is that, whatever may have been said on the Second Reading, which I would, incidentally, remind the House—and perhaps foreign observers have taken note of this—took place on 5th November, we are second to none in wishing God-speed and great prosperity and happiness to the new State that is being brought to birth.
After all, we are entitled, indeed bound to express our convictions, and we are used to some hon. Members expressing them with great force and vehemence. It is a question of temperament. I am quite sure those with a knowledge of our institutions and of the personalities of our Parliament will not read deeper into those speeches than is meant. As the House knows, I took a different line to my party, and voted with the Government, and as such I feel particularly qualified to assure the House definitely that there is not a scintilla of doubt in my mind as to the utter sincerity of all Members of the Conservative Party in wishing well towards Burma. We pledge ourselves that when the day comes when we are in power again we shall treat Burma with the same affection, sympathy, understanding, good will and friendliness that could be expected from any other party in the House. With these few words, I assure hon. Members and Burma of the good will of the Conservative Party.
§ 1.55 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Hamilton (Sudbury)
I welcome the expression of good will we have had from the other side of the House, and I should like myself to say a word with reference to U Aung San to whom the noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) referred a little while ago.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)
This just illustrates the difficulty of allowing the noble Lord, who was the first speaker, to go a little beyond the terms of the Third Reading. I allowed one hon. Member to reply, but I do not think we can now discuss matters other than those included in the Bill. That, of course, is what we have to speak about on Third 739 Reading. We cannot go into the question of U Aung San, or anything of that nature.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Hamilton
I must, of course accept your Ruling, I was merely commenting on what had already been said.
§ Earl Winterton
On a point of Order. In justice to myself I distinctly said on this Third Reading I hoped there would be no reference or comparison between General Smuts and U Aung San. I was entitled to say that, and that is exactly what I said.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Hamilton
Am I not equally entitled to say that there is some comparison? I will be very very brief on this subject but this is a matter of importance, because it affects our relations with a country which is going to have very special relationships with our Commonwealth about which hon. Members opposite feel strongly. I had the privilege of meeting U Aung San on several occasions and I think that many people in this country have got him all wrong.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I am sorry, but we cannot go into that question. We can discuss only those matters which are concerned with the contents of the Bill now before the House.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Hamilton
Then I will assume that the noble Lord and I agree to differ on that point. I hope he will realise that we have as much ground for our view as he has for his. I should like to endorse what has been said. The world is always in a state of flux and we cannot expect the Empire rigidly to continue after portions of it separate from us but still remain in special relationships with us. That is something which we ought to welcome, rather than lay too much stress on the separation. I should like thoroughly to endorse our hope that in the future our relations will remain as special relations with Burma and, in fact, I hope they will become closer, and will form a stable basis for other areas there in the interests of the future peace of the world.
§ 1.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Skinnard (Harrow, East)
Like the hon. and gallant Member for Sud- 740 bury (Lieut.-Colonel Hamilton), I should like to welcome this Bill as a contribution to the general attitude of His Majesty's Government and of the British people towards the situation created by the second world war. It is commonly admitted that during the war, had it not been for the solidarity of the Empire as a whole—the great Dominions and those territories which have not achieved self-government—we as a nation would have gone down under the almost insuperable difficulties with which we were faced in 1940. The whole of the free world looked to Britain for a lead, not the Britain of these small islands but the wider Britain which has grown up as a result of the spreading of the ideas which men and women of our race have contributed to the progress of the world.
During this close association, for the second time, in a war for survival, not only of ourselves but of the ideals for which we stand, it was natural that grievances which the dependent territories had long had should come more to the fore, and should be kept more closely in mind by those concerned with Government at home. Hon. Members on all sides of the House have known for years, by direct and indirect approach, by study of the Press of various parts of the Empire and in other ways, of those longings for freedom and for the ability to control their own affairs on the part of many of the dependent peoples.
These matters have now been brought home to the people of Great Britain as a whole. Hundreds of thousands of people have had an opportunity—perhaps it was a compulsory opportunity in many cases—of visiting these territories. The Englishman abroad today learns as readily as did his forefathers when the Empire was being built up, and he has come to like his fellow-citizens from those other British lands, to know them more intimately, and to bring back to Britain some understanding of their troubles and their complaints. It is for that reason that it is easier today to bring in such a Bill as is now before Parliament. There is a wider understanding among our people of what it really means. The Burmese are a particularly friendly and intelligent people. We all wish to pay a just tribute to the fellowship of those who did their best to resist the Japanese invader. With regard to Burma itself, there is perhaps something of guilt in the way in which Britain acquired that 741 country. I will not go into the details of the actual facts of the acquisition but there is no doubt that there was, even at the time, some variance in attitude—
§ Earl Winterton
On a point of Order. In view of the Ruling which you have just given, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and the very proper rebuke you gave an hon. Member for straying beyond the confines of Order upon this Debate, may I ask whether it is proper for the hon. Member now addressing the House to proceed to deliver a most interesting address on the subject of how we originally went to Burma? Surely, we are concerned only with what is in the Bill?
§ Mr. S. O. Davies (Merthyr)
Further to that point of Order. Is it in Order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, for the noble Lord to appeal to you to bring back an hon. Member into Order, when he himself roamed over the whole of the Far East?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I always endeavour to distribute the favours of the Chair equally. I was listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman, and I hope that he will not go any further in the direction in which he appeared to be going.
§ Mr. Skinnard
I yield to your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but I do not really think I was about to do anything which ought to incur your displeasure. As a matter of fact, I had at that moment only just announced that I did not propose to go into the detailed history of the matter. It had been dealt with in speeches some of which must have been more in Order, and some not—I am not judge of these things—in the course of the Debates upon the Bill. I was going to mention only that there had been some variance of opinion at home on the matter. Naturally, there was the opinion in Burma that the incidents in question were unfortunate events. Because of that, we have all the more reason to praise the Burmese for the excellent attitude which they have shown towards us over many years, and for the great loyalty of the vast majority of the Burmese to the British connection, however it arose, and with whatever mixed feelings they regarded it. I shall endeavour to pay a very high tribute to the people of this new nation which is created by the Bill.
742 Men of the old Regular Army who have been stationed in Burma, and men of the Mercantile Marine and of the Royal Navy who have had the privilege of meeting the Burmese people in the course of their duties, have all returned with a high opinion of their character and capabilities. It was, indeed, with a feeling of shocked surprise that we found there was a section of those people who, because of their deep nationalist feelings, were prepared to coquette during the war with the enemy. The whole of the still dependent Empire is examining with great interest the way in which this Parliament is endeavouring to carry out the pledges which we made to uphold the principle of trusteeship in the postwar world. Everywhere throughout the British Empire, our Colonies are training quickly for self-government, and they are likely to be patient or impatient with the steps that are taken to confer self-government upon them as they observe the treatment which this House accords to Bills such as this for the provision of self-government for more advanced people.
I am tempted to deprecate any expression of feeling from any quarter of the House that there is regret at the passing of the Imperial domination over any of these countries like Burma which are passing from us. We still have a very close and friendly association with this new country before us, largely because of the understanding that the people of our own country and the people of Burma have of each other, because of the peculiar geographical position of that country, because of the enormous sacrifices which her share in the war entailed, and because of the great devastation which has been referred to by previous speakers in the Debate.
Burma can now take her full place among the free nations of the world, with the friendliest and strongest assistance given to her by our own country, among others. It is a good sign for the future that the leaders of the Burmese people have already indicated their desire for the closest possible association with what will no longer be the mother country, and, if it is possible, for trade agreements to be negotiated. I feel sure that many people in this country would deem it their duty to go out to assist the Burmese people to the utmost of their ability. British capital has already 743 for long been engaged in trying to modernise its industries, and to expand its exports. The new, intangible link between us is a link of history and of future mutual benefit. Perhaps an even stronger link between Britain and Burma may be forged by the Bill.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I had hoped that the hon. Member would come to matters which may be dealt with on the Third Reading of the Bill. He has not done so, but is dealing with consequential and other matters which can only be discussed at earlier stages.
§ Mr. Skinnard
Once again, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I have incurred your displeasure, but I fear it is just a little too late to reduce me to a proper state of humiliation because I was about to resume my seat, while expressing the hope that this Bill would prove to be an even stronger link between the two peoples when it becomes an Act than are the relations which have hitherto existed and are concluded by this Bill.
§ 2.11 p.m.
§ Mr. W. R. Williams (Heston and Isleworth)
Hon. Members who were here during the closing Debate on the India Bill will remember that I was able to say a few words and to express my good will towards the Indian people on that momentous day in the history of that great nation. I feel very glad that I have a similar opportunity on this occasion in the case of the Burmese, because I came into contact with both the Burmese and the Indians at one and the same time when I served with the Indian Army in the 1914–18 war. Even in those far-away days, as they now appear, I had the feeling that humanity in the East was on the march and that the great day of awakening could not be denied or delayed very much longer. We have come to it now, and here we are on the Third Reading of a Bill granting to this other nation its complete independence.
I had the privilege a short time ago of meeting some of the future leaders of this new nation. What particularly struck me about them was the tremendous sense of responsibility possessed by those young leaders, many of whom were well under 35 years of age. They had a deep sense of responsibility as to what the future was bringing in its trail. They realised the 744 tremendous demands that had been made upon them, but they also had a tremendous enthusiasm for their cause. When I was speaking to them I felt that whatever might be the ultimate fate of some things, these people at any rate believed in themselves and their cause and were prepared to work, to sacrifice and to learn in the interests of their own cause.
I would like to make one or two appeals. The first is to the Burmese people themselves. I believe, and in this respect I must agree entirely with the noble Lord, that it is in the interests of these people to keep very close to the old country and the old Empire because, despite what many people say about us, despite the many defects in our make-up and despite the many fallings by the way, hardly an institution in the world in the last 50 years has done more for many nations than has our own Empire and nation. I am not one who decries the good deeds of our people. We ought to shout them from the housetops, because they are perfectly true. I am going to appeal to the people of Burma. It may be that, like many other nations, they may feel with this new sense of independence that they can break with old associations and traditions, but I hope they will believe me when I say that in the long run some of their best friends are in this country. There are many people in this country, representing both sides of the House, who are very anxious indeed to help them in the very difficult and hard times that inevitably lie ahead. I therefore say to the Burmese: Do not ignore your best friends in this House, in this country and in this Commonwealth; you may find in the long run that they will be your best friends and the friends who will help you to get the best out of your new conditions of life. Also, I sincerely hope that they will not only turn their eyes to us from the political—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The hon. Gentleman may be addressing himself to the subject of Burma, but he is not addressing himself to what is in the Bill before the House. He must really do that.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The hon. Member would be quite in Order in doing that on 745 the Second Reading, but not on the Third Reading of the Bill.
§ Mr. Williams
I welcome the provisions of the Bill and sincerely wish the Burmese well, and as there is a reference in the early part of the Bill to the work of our people in the Civil Service there, I sincerely hope that our people who have been associated with that service will not break with the Burmese people but continue to give of their advice, guidance and services to this new nation. I wish them well. I know their difficulties will be very hard, but the harder the task the greater the opportunity and the greater the victory when it is finally achieved.
§ 2.17 p.m.
§ Mr. S. O. Davies (Merthyr)
I feel with most of my hon. Friends on this side of the House that before we dispose of this Bill it should be made abundantly clear not only that the Government are unanimously supported from this side of the House but that we are confident that the people of this country are overwhelmingly behind the Government with regard to this Bill. I must say that before I pass on, because I should not like it to be misconstrued that the ungracious, if not threatening, speech that we have heard from the noble Lord expresses in any way at all the feelings of the people of this country. It is most refreshing to find that it is not the voice even of the whole of the Opposition.
§ Mr. Davies
The noble Lord is still under the delusion that it is necessary to consult the people of this country in order to find out whether they are prepared to grant a measure of freedom to other peoples equal to that which they insist on enjoying here. I should also like to congratulate the Government on having expedited the bringing of this Bill before the country. I cannot accept entirely the view even of some of my hon. Friends that this Bill will bring a new nation into being. The Burmese have been conscious of their nationhood for very many years. This is rather a belated recognition of the sense of nationhood which has animated the Burmese for several generations. I hope the Opposition will take note of that. I can quite understand the truculence of a diehard 746 Imperialist who does not believe in freedom for other people and even his caustic rather than indiscreet references to what happened in the Far East and to Japan, but the noble Lord should have been the last to have indulged in references of that kind because it was under the inspiration and drive of the Tory Party, the Imperialist crowd of this country, that that nation was armed in the inter-war years out of the scrappings of the shipbuilding yards and other big works in this country.
This Bill is a great gesture, and I am certain that the Government and all its supporters will make any and every contribution possible to see that the splendid constitution anticipated for Burma will soon materialise. I hope that the Burmese will appreciate and reciprocate the spirit that has animated the passing of this Bill through the House of Commons, and I hope that the happier aspects of the contacts which have existed between Burma and this country will not only be continued, but increased and strengthened as they are building up their new constitution. I wish to thank the Government for having speeded up this large Measure of freedom and independence for a great nation in the Far East.
§ 2.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Mikardo (Reading)
Two of my hon. Friends in addressing the House on this Bill have spoken of its advantages in terms of political repercussions, in some cases, in this country and, in some cases, in Burma. In considering whether it should give a Third Reading to this Bill, I believe the House must think about its advantages to His Majesty's Government and to this country in respect of its political repercussions elsewhere in the world. It is a germane point to make that the record of His Majesty's Government with regard to India, Burma, and some Colonial and mandated territories has done a great deal to offset criticism of the general external policy of His Majesty's Government in countries in which such criticism had serious adverse effects upon relations with them. Therefore, not least amongst the reasons why the House should support His Majesty's Government in the passage of this Bill, is that it takes away some of the anger of the severe critics of this country, for example in America, who have pointed to our policy in Burma with a good deal of criticism in the past, and in Russia, where the charge of being an Im- 747 perialist Power is thrown about very lightly indeed.
May I pass from the political sphere to the effect of this Measure upon the economic relationship between this country and Burma which, again, seems to me not the least important of the effects of this Measure. Clause 3 lays down certain provisions in general terms which, clearly, will form the basis of the regulations that will govern the economic relationship between this country and Burma. It is quite clear from the deliberately general terms in which the Clause is drawn that it leaves the way happily wide open for a considerable development and extension of economic relationships between this country and Burma which will be firmly based upon that independence that the Measure now before us gives to the Burmese.
May I make two points in this connection? Burma has a potentially great part to play towards redressing that unbalance, both in economic affairs and in currency affairs, existing at present in the world. I am not altogether sure that after this Bill is passed, after the independence of Burma has been established, she will not be a much more valuable economic partner of this country than she could ever have been whilst under the suzerainty of this country. Burma is rich in many things that are in great world demand. She is rich in oil, which means a great deal in terms of currency, exchange, and balance of payments. That great river, the Irawaddy, washes a considerable amount of gold down from its source, gold from an origin which I understand nobody knows as yet, but none the less welcome because its origin is shrouded in mystery. That gold will help this country and other countries at present at the thin end of the currency situation. Burma has wolfram. Burma has the Northern end of the great tin seam which runs right through Malaya. She is rich in hardwood, and she is an exporter of extremely valuable precious stones, jade in particular. It will have been noticed with satisfaction that the Burmese, from their own indigenous resources, recently presented a wedding gift to Princess Elizabeth of a very valuable precious stone. All these things count for something in redressing what I 748 called the general economic and currency unbalance existing today.
The second economic point I want to make has already been touched on by my hon. Friend the Member for East Harrow (Mr. Skinnard) who spoke about the ties which might be built up between this country and Burma on the basis of this Bill by our sending the Burmese capital goods for the development of these raw materials and for the ancillary industrial occupations which will follow from such development. It is a pleasure, at least to my hon. Friends on this side of the House, to know that the Burmese have taken national ownership of their valuable resources of metal. It is a pleasure to know, as the hon. Member for East Harrow has said out of a deep experience, that the Burmese are a hardworking people who will take full advantage of this fact. We can do a great deal by helping them with technical development, both by exporting capital equipment—something of immense value to this country at present—and also by lending them technical services and technicians. In this connection I ought to say, in case it should need saying that one hopes there will be no exploitation of the peoples of Burma, especially the frontier peoples, either by business men or technicians from this country or, indeed, by "smart Aleck" business men from Rangoon going up country to see what they can "milk."
On these grounds I think that the ties which will exist after the passage of this Measure between this country and Burma will be even closer in the future than they have been in the past. They will be closer if for no other reason than that they will be based on the free association of two free peoples dealing with each other, with respect towards each other, and with self-respect, each knowing that it has a great contribution to make to the welfare of the other, as well as to the welfare of the world in general. I urge the House to give a Third Reading to this Measure.
§ 2.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Paget (Northampton)
There are various points on this Bill upon which I, at least, should like some clarification. There are points which do not only affect the people of Burma, but may affect the procedure of our courts, and indeed the status of married life in this country. Be- 749 fore I come to this point, which really comes under Subsection (2) of Clause 2, there are some points on Clause 1 which are of some importance. I want particularly to refer to Clause 1 (3), which reads as follows:The suzerainty of His Majesty over the part of Burma known as the Karenni States shall lapse as from the appointed day, and with it all treaties and agreements in force between His Majesty and the rulers of the Karenni States, all functions exercisable by His Majesty with respect to the Karenni States, all obligations of His Majesty towards the Karenni States or rulers thereof, and all powers, rights, authority or jurisdiction exercisable by His Majesty in or in relation to the Karenni States by treaty, grant, usage, sufferance or otherwise.It is those last words which I find of particular interest, because there does not seem to be any definition. How do we know which are treaties, grants, usage and sufferance? What does "sufferance" mean? I really do think that this is a matter upon which we ought to have some explanation. I do think it should be made clear to us as to whether the present Burmese Government are going to be our successors with regard to all these various matters. The treaty which goes with this Bill seems to be silent upon this matter. How will these suzerainty rights affect these people? In the backwood areas, of course, it is very difficult indeed to make a census. Nobody really knows how many people there are living among these Karenni tribes—how many souls are affected by this simple process, and what in future is going to be the effect of these, very general words in the case of any schedule to which these matters are transferred. I feel that there are seeds of great dissension within this new nation unless some proper definition is set out here. When one comes to the provision in this Bill, the matter is much more complicated, because that deals with what is always an intensely difficult subject in law, and that is status and nationality.
All this concerns, for instance, the jurisdiction of the divorce court. We have a quite simple point here which seems to me to raise a good deal of argument. What is the nationality of a man who was born in Burma, whose grandfather was born in Burma, but whose father was born in Australia? That may have a tremendously important effect when you have to deal with the question of domicile and jurisdiction brought before the divorce court. [Laughter.] Hon. 750 Members may laugh, but this is very serious indeed. I think very few of us will not have had those tragic cases in our own constituencies where you get people tied together in marriage simply because no jurisdiction can be established in our courts here to cut these marriage bonds. It really does make tragic circumstances in people's lives, and, therefore, when we come to deal with these questions of nationality, passports, etc., we must ask under whose protection will these people be when travelling abroad? All these are very important matters, and from the days of refugees from the Hitler regime, we began to learn the dreadful importance of these papers of nationality, and of having a country to which one can look for protection.
§ Mr. Skinnard
Is the hon. and learned Member putting up a case that married couples should carry both Burmese and British passports?
§ Mr. Paget
There does seem to be very great difficulty in that very objectionable circumstance of joint nationality, because if we look at Subsection (1) of Clause 2, we find:Subject to the provisions of this section, the persons specified in the First Schedule to this Act, being British subjects immediately before the appointed day, shall on that day cease to be British subjects.From that, one has to turn—
§ Earl Winterton
I only wish to make a friendly interruption on the point which the hon. and learned Gentleman is making. I suggest to him that, if he had been present during the Committee stage, he would have heard a most interesting Debate, but he was not here.
§ Mr. Paget
I am most grateful for the interruption of the noble Lord opposite. Of course, we all know that the noble Lord's interruptions are always of a most friendly description, and assist the Debate, and, we hope, the proceedings of this House. As the noble Lord observed, it was a very great Debate, and I sincerely regret I was not able to be here on the Committee stage, but there are some points here on which I was not quite clear, and I thought the Third Reading was the occasion upon which all the various questions on which one is not entirely clear could be cleared up. Perhaps the noble Lord will assist me?
§ Mr. Beverley Baxter (Wood Green)
I would assist the hon. and learned Gentleman by saying that a Third Reading speech is a speech that an hon. Member was unable to deliver on the Second Reading.
§ Mr. Speaker
No, on Third Reading, it is what is in the Bill and not what one would like to see in the Bill. The latter is the Second Reading rule.
§ Mr. Paget
I am most grateful to the hon. Member for Wood Green (Mr. Baxter), because I feel that my speech would fall at least within his definition. The hon. Gentleman and I once took part in a brains trust. [Interruption.] I am afraid I have perhaps been distracted from the point I was making on Clause 2 of this Bill. I was in some difficulty, as I informed the House, about the case of a man, himself born in Burma, whose grandfather was also born in Burma, but whose father was born in Australia. That is the sort of case which will arise in practice. [Laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen may think this is funny, but we have to remember that we are passing a Bill which is creating a jurisdiction which is not the jurisdiction of this Parliament. We cannot alter this Bill once we have passed it, and we cannot bring in amending legislation to put this matter right, because it will be for the Burmese to make their own laws.
§ Mr. Mack (Newcastle-under-Lyme)
May I ask my hon. and learned Friend a question, because I am sure he is anxious to be correct on detail? He has suggested that this relationship might well happen, and that there is the possibility of a Burmese generating a child as the result of a visit to Australia. In view of the policy of Australia to exclude certain nationalities and particularly Asiatics, does he not think that this is unlikely?
§ Mr. Paget
My hon. Friend must not be confused about this, because, if he will go back to Clause 2 of the Bill, he will find this:Subject to the provisions of this section, the persons specified in the First Schedule to this Act, being British subjects immediately before the appointed day, shall on that day cease to be British subjects.That is not confined to Asiatics. This may affect people in the position of Anglo-Burmans, people of pure Western blood who are residing in those parts or 752 travelling about the world. Turning again to the Schedule—
§ Mr. Skinnard
May I interrupt? My hon. and learned Friend referred to the specific case of the Burman-Australian. Does not this also apply to the Australian-Burman?
§ Mr. Paget
I think so; I think the argument would be of general application. If we turn back to the First Schedule, we find this:The persons who, being British subjects immediately before the appointed day, are, subject to the provisions of Section two of this Act, to cease on that day to be British subjects are the following persons, that is to say—(a) persons who were born in Burma or whose father or paternal grandfather was born in Burma, not being persons excepted by paragraph 2 of this Schedule from the operation of this subparagraph.
§ Mr. Paget
In the next paragraph, there is the case of women who were aliens by birth and who become British subjects by marriage. Surely, this does give rise to the possibility of a married couple one of whom may be of one nationality and the other of another. Again, let us take the case of a married couple where we have this separation of nationalities within a single household. If one or other of those parties wished to obtain a divorce, into which court do they go? Where is the jurisdiction? That seems to me to be a question that should be considered. Paragraph 2(1) of the First Schedule says:A person shall be deemed to be excepted from the operation of sub-paragraph (a) of paragraph 1 of this Schedule if he or his father or his paternal grandfather was born outside Burma in a place which, at the time of the birth,—(a) was within His Majesty's dominions, was a British protectorate, was a British protected state, was a territory in respect of which a mandate from the League of Nations had been accepted by His Majesty and which was under the administration of the Government of any part of His Majesty's dominions or was a territory under the trusteeship system of the United Nations——and I believe that, for the time being, that would cover Palestine, and the Jewish people involved in this matter, although, again, what the position will be later on one does not know:which was under the administration of the Government of any part of His Majesty'9 Dominions;753 That means that a person shall be deemed to be excepted from paragraph I if these three relationships which are there referred to can be brought into paragraph 2. Then, we come to the treaty races, "capitulation, grant, usage," and so, and we find this:Provided that a person shall not be excepted under this sub-paragraph from the operation of the said sub-paragraph (a) by virtue of the place of birth of his father or paternal grandfather unless his father or, as the case may be, his paternal grandfather, was at some time before the appointed day a British subject.So we have these very complicated provisions in which, I should have thought at first glance—and no doubt the Secretary of State will explain it all to us in due course—that there seems to be some contradiction between paragraphs 1 (a) and 2 (b).
Then we come to a paragraph with this curious provision with regard to opting; that is, the people who change their nationality under paragraph 2. They appear to be in the curious position that the two years British nationality is in a sort of suspension, because, if they opt for British nationality within those two years, then their option shall have retroactive effect so that it goes back from the first day. How is the Burmese law going to deal with that situation. Are we really here, with this new nation which is just starting, going to say "We will make a law that various people who are your citizens may suddenly cease to be your citizens"? Are we not really legislating for some future undefined period to take away citizens of Burma without any particular reference to the Burmese or any reservations as to what the Burmese may do in any future legislation which they may pass?
Again, when it comes to Clause 3, there are some difficult provisions, because it deals with the question of customs preferences, and here there is a vital question. I am deeply impressed, as I think we all were, by what my hon. Friend the Member for Reading (Mr. Mikardo) said about the mineral wealth of Burma and the value that comes down the rivers, but we must observe that, primarily, Burma is an agricultural country. There is wholesale starvation in that part of the world today. India depends, in large measure—
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. and learned Gentleman insists on turning his back on 754 me. I think he might at least address the Chair.
§ Mr. Paget
I do apologise most profoundly for my discourtesy. I was turning to my hon. Friend the Member for Reading and dealing with what he has said. If I might refer to this very vital question, which is, of course, deeply affected by the Customs Union, which appears to be envisaged by Clause 3, in view of the circumstances of great shortage which exist in that part of the world today, one ought to have an idea of how this severance of Burma is going to affect food production in that area. After all, rice growing is no longer a peasant industry, and it is no longer a question of a man just tilling a few yards of land in order to be able to raise enough rice for his own particular use. We have reached the stage when mechanisation has become vital in this, as in so many others of our great agricultural expanses of the world. How is the heavy machinery—and, indeed, today, it is heavy machinery that is required—for rice growing in Burma going to be assembled? Again, and this is another vital question, the animal population was simply decimated by the occupation of the Japanese. Two years have gone by, and I daresay that some have been bred, but we can visualise some assistance, for instance, on the question of artificial insemination. Can we here provide semen for the fertilisation—
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. and learned Member is now speaking of something which is quite outside the Third Reading of this Bill.
§ Mr. Paget
I was only -attempting, although, I daresay, badly, Mr. Speaker, to direct my remarks to Clause 3, which says:Notwithstanding any of the provisions, of this Act, the enactments relating to customs (including the enactments relating to customs in the Isle of Man) shall on and after the appointed day, have effect, until such date as may be specified by His Majesty by Order in Council, as if Burma were part of His Majesty's dominions.It then provides that:His Majesty may by Order in Council direct that, as from a specified date, all goods or goods of specified classes or descriptions shall be charged under the said enactments either as if the preceding provisions of this Section had not passed or at such rates as may be specified in the Order, not being rates higher than would have been chargeable if the said provisions had not passed.755 That seems to me to bring in the question of imports and exports. Of course, under the Artificial Insemination Act, which we have recently passed, there is a bar upon the export of semen outside this country, and therefore, it seems to me to be important to know whether, for the purposes of that Act, the export of semen to Burma was still to be contemplated on the assumption of Burma being part of this country, or whether the export of semen, which may be very necessary in regard to what has happened to their cattle population, would be an infringement of the Artificial Insemination Act.
§ Mr. Speaker
If the hon. and learned Member were to continue on his present line he would be going outside the scope of the Third Reading Debate on this Bill. Because goods are imports and exports, one cannot go into every possible export, as, otherwise, there would be no limit to what one could say.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. and learned Member ought not to go into even one example in detail. One can mention a thing broadly, but to go into it in detail would be wrong in a Third Reading Debate.
§ Mr. Paget
I accept your Ruling, of course, Mr. Speaker, and I will not go further than that. But it was a subject in which we take a special interest, and I wondered how the two Bills would work together. It may be that my hon. Friend will have an opportunity to consider the point at some other time.
I come now to my final point. Under Clause 4—it is the Clause which deals with legal proceedings—there seems to be a rather striking provision. It appears that where there are references to the courts of this country, and appeals to the Privy Council—matters which are very costly indeed and in which great costs may be incurred—quite suddenly we can say that they are to lapse. What provision is to be made to cover costs which are thereby thrown away? As everybody knows, costs in litigation tend to be a very important matter. And I 756 feel that that is an omission from this Clause which ought to be seriously considered.
Having dealt with the more detailed aspects, may I join with almost all other hon. Members—with, perhaps, the possible exception of the noble Lord, the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton);—who have spoken upon this Third Reading Debate, in saying how deeply I feel that everyone of us in this House wish well to the people of Burma; how we hope that they may bring their new experiment in nationhood to a prosperous fulfilment, and how we hope that the lives of those who live in the mountains and the plains of Burma, and upon the rivers of Burma, may be the happier for what we have done today.
§ 2.57 p.m.
§ Mr. George Thomas (Cardiff, Central)
I welcome the opportunity of adding my voice to those of my hon. Friends in support of the Measure before the House today. I believe that this Bill should be recognised as a great statesmanlike Measure. It is certainly not an act of patronage to the Burmese people. They are a great people who have played their outstanding part in the long chronicle of the history of the British Empire; and whilst we will all regret that in Clause 1 it is made quite clear that they leave the British Empire officially, I know that the feeling of the House will be that the ties which have bound us together in the past will still remain effective. It is never easy for this House to make a complete break with the past. It is still less easy for the noble Lord the hon. Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) who has been in this House so long, to accommodate himself to the fact that time marches on, that people awaken to a sense of their rights and to an awareness of their own national responsibility.
I believe that this break in our history is both desirable and necessary, in view of the developments of the past decade. It is impossible to have two major wars, as we have had, in which we have made appeals to these people on grounds of their nationality, and then to expect them, when the end of the war comes, to forget that they have been reminded that they are a people with their own special contribution to make to the common welfare of humanity. These people realise that they 757 are now well able to govern themselves, but I trust that, as this Bill becomes operative, it will be operative in the spirit as well as in the letter.
In Clause 1(3), there is a reference to the Karenni States. I earnestly hope that those who will guide the destiny of the Burmese people will make every effort to see that the relationship existing between these subordinate peoples and the Burmese people themselves will be such as will bring an end to the communal differences from which they have suffered in other days. There is the unhappy example of Burma's neighbour, but I trust that Burma will be a shining light in Asia. I trust that we shall find that the bitterness, the jealousies, the fears and the suspicions which have divided these various peoples from each other will now be wiped out. We want to see in this great new nation, a nation now established as an equal partner with the other Powers of the world, one race. We are one in this United Kingdom. Although it is a long time since the English troubled us in Wales, and although I know that, at first, things were not easy, we have learned to understand one another. I trust that in Burma it will be possible for the Karenni States to find themselves at one with the great Burmese people; that they will be one race, one people, one nation, with an overall desire to help each other and thus to help the world.
My hon. Friend the Member for Reading (Mr. Mikardo) has referred to the economic condition of this little country. I would remind the House that the standard of life of the ordinary working man in Burma is very low. If we, who sometimes complain of hardships and austerity in this country, could realise how these Burmese people have had to live in the past, we might be more appreciative of the great advantages we have in our own country. I trust that the people of Burma will appreciate that in this House, as long as the present Government are in power—and, I hope, as long as any other Government may be in power—there will always be an eager readiness for cooperation, an anxiety that the bond of friendship which we have forged in other days shall be strengthened rather than weakened by the action which has been taken in this Bill.
It is significant that the Labour Party looks to Commonwealth relations in a new 758 spirit. We appreciate that a Commonwealth cannot exist with subject and subordinate people who are kept down against their will. We believe in the rights of men. From the noble Lord the Member for Horsham we have heard great fulminations because we propose to treat the Burmese as men and not as subject people. We believe—and I trust the Government will always bear in mind—that it is possible to gain more by dealing with those members of the free Commonwealth of the British Empire as equal partners, rather than as people to be controlled by the might of our military machine. I congratulate those who have participated in the negotiations, both on the Burmese side and on our side. All that I can do is to express my earnest desire that in the days to come, in the great tomorrow which shall follow, we shall find there has been lit in Burma a flame which will cause a greater light of knowledge and truth to spread through Asia and the whole of this wide world.
§ 3.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Mitchison (Kettering)
This is a momentous occasion. When this Bill gets its Third Reading, as we hope it will shortly, there will be in the Far East one more independent country—that of Burma. There will have been given by this Labour Government to yet another people—alien from us by race and language, but not in the common brotherhood of man—the liberty which will enable them to form their own institutions and develop in their own way. When this Bill has passed its Third Reading, it will be, so far as this House is concerned, a final Act affecting the present lives and future destinies of a large number of men and women, the very many different peoples who form Burma.
§ Mr. Mitchison
I hope shortly to be able to satisfy the very reasonable curiosity of my hon. and learned Friend. Those of us who have read the Report of the Frontier Areas Committee of Inquiry in 1947 can agree, at any rate, that there are in Burma not only very many peoples, but peoples 759 living in very different circumstances, Of different races, leading different lives, and each of them having, in many respects different prospects.
When we notice, as we do notice, in the report of that Committee that, for instance, they found it impracticable to get any evidence for the purposes of their inquiries from some of the more primitive peoples who live in Burma, and with whom we are concerned today, but that, on the other hand, they obtained such a volume of evidence from various other sources there, then we do begin to appreciate the complexity of the country and, incidentally, the difficulties of the task which was undertaken by that Committee of Inquiry. In the work of that Committee, and in the work of many other people from this country and from other parts of the British Commonwealth of Nations who have had to deal with Burma, and with one or another of the peoples of Burma, we can look for the beginnings of what we are doing today.
If this Bill stood entirely by itself it would, indeed, be a somewhat formless thing; but it does, of course, go with the Treaty between this country and Burma which was signed a few days previously. I am certain that, as the hon. Member for Central Cardiff (Mr. G. Thomas) said so eloquently, our good wishes—the good wishes of the whole of this House—will go out not merely to Burma as an entity, not merely to those people who are more strictly called Burmese, but to all those various races and various aggregations of people who make up the population of what is geographically called Burma. To many of those, we in this country owe much for what they did in the late struggle against the Japanese. Many of them showed gallantry; gave us help at a time when we were, indeed, in need of all the help we could get; many of them were humble people who risked their lives in fighting or in other ways to help us. It is all the more appropriate that at this moment the right thing should be done and that their future should be placed in their hands. It is one of a series of promises fulfilled and gestures made by this Government. It is, I believe, one step towards an enlarged Commonwealth of Nations, even though for the moment this or that country, including Burma, may not form part of it. 760 It is one step towards that Commonwealth. In taking that step we are also taking a very valuable step in the cause of peace in the world.
That much by way of generality. But we on this occasion, so far as this House takes its part in the matter, are granting to Burma complete independence, and it behoves us to consider our responsibility in so doing towards those other people who will be in a minority in Burma. Though it would be inappropriate to take much time on that question, there is one small point which I should like the Secretary of State to answer at the end of this Debate. We all know that the Kachins in Burma are one of the bravest and most independent minded of the peoples in that country. I notice that in the Constitution of Burma there is provision, and proper provision, for a Kachin State Council. There is also provision for filling 12 seats in the Chamber of Nationalities, and as regards the Kachin State those 12 seats are to be filled as to half only by representatives of the Kachins, and as to the remaining half by representatives of the non-Kachins of the Kachin State. Now, I claim no special knowledge of these matters, other than can be obtained by reading the very careful report and the other information generally accessible on Burma. But I confess, it seems to me to require a little explanation as to why, in regard to the Kachin State, there is a representation of only half of the seats for those who are themselves Kachins, and why the non-Kachins—immigrants into the Kachin State—are allowed the other half of the seats.
This is not a responsibility falling upon us merely because at this moment we are granting independence to Burma. It is also a responsibility because we ourselves, in what we have had to do with Burma, have been largely responsible for that immigration, and those who have gone into the Kachin State from outside have gone there under our responsibility, at a time when we were allowing, and, indeed, encouraging them to do so. In those circumstances there is a moral duty upon this House at least to see that nothing is being done which will be in any way unfair to those native people in the Kachin State. I entirely agree that the Constitution of Burma is most essentially a matter for the Burmese, but in a country containing such important and diverse 761 minorities, though primarily responsibility may rest upon the Burmese, it is yet a matter into which we are called upon to inquire, and as regards which we, too, must take some responsibility. I trust that the Secretary of State in replying will be able to deal with that particular point.
I have little to add, save this. We rise in this House, one after another—at any rate hon. Members on this side of the House have so risen today—to express our good wishes to the inhabitants of Burma, to whatever race, creed or way of life they may belong. In so doing, we speak not only for ourselves but for the people in this country whom we represent, many of whom know little of Burma, but who will, nevertheless, have in their hearts and minds that same concept of freedom which must at this moment be filling the hearts and minds of many Burmese. It is essentially the same thing. We in this party have had to make our way to political power, and to some measure of economic freedom, through difficulties which, in their way, have been as great as those of Colonial peoples struggling towards freedom. We can, therefore, the more readily and with the more understanding be glad, with them, that on this day, they have reached a definite mark along the road of their progress, that they have now reached the stage, when they themselves can decide on their future and their relations between one another.
§ 3.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Bramall (Bexley)
We have not, on the Third Reading of this Bill, heard much from hon. Members opposite, but on previous stages there was a tendency for them to gibe that hon. Members on this side of the House were deriving some pleasure out of the fact that Burma was leaving the British Commonwealth. I believe it would be quite untrue to say that any hon. Member on this side was glad to see any constituent part of the British Commonwealth leaving the Commonwealth. At the same time, I claim that those of us who welcome this Bill, as I do most heartily, have, in the attitude we take up towards it, a very much truer realisation of the real character of the Commonwealth than hon. Members opposite, who attack us and the Government
I believe, with the Prime Minister, that it is a sad thing that the Burmese, in 762 deciding on their future, have not decided to stay with us in the Empire. On the other hand, we can only have the greatest pleasure when we find, from the negotiations which have taken place, and from the treaty which has been contracted between His Majesty's Government and the Government of Burma, that Burma will continue to occupy a very special place in her relationship to the British Commonwealth. In taking this step, we are perhaps laying the foundation of what my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) called a wider British Commonwealth. It is too narrow a view to suggest that this British Commonwealth of ours is something which is limited purely by the concept of common sovereignty. It is true that that has been the concept up to the present, but I believe there is a place within this conception for new relationships with countries which desire to take up a new status.
We are seeing, in this new step which is being taken by the Burmese people, the beginning of such a relationship. For instance, we are to have a special military relationship with Burma, in that Burma is not accepting any military missions other than British. We have also stipulated in this Bill that Imperial Preference shall continue temporarily, and we have been told that it will be prolonged by a trade treaty when that is satisfactorily concluded between our two countries. In that, we have a special economic relationship which we know will be of the greatest benefit to both countries. We have no need to be ashamed in feeling pleased at the fact that it will be of great benefit to ourselves. Burma will be doing her best to develop on modern lines, and it is natural that she should look to us to further that development. Had the conceptions of hon. Members opposite pre vailed, the Burmese would have tended to look in any direction other than to this country. Had the conceptions prevailed that were so vocally expressed by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition on Second Reading, I think that they would have regarded any economic, military or other connections with this country as a badge of servitude.
As it is, because of the way in which the present Government conducted negotiations with Burma, they have plainly seen that any connections that they retain with this country are those 763 of one free people with another, forged for their mutual benefit. I believe that those of us who see in this British connection with Burma a great force for good in Burma's future must have been gratified when we read the terms of the new Burmese constitution. It is a constitution the terms of which can well make us proud of the good that has come out of the British connection with Burma.
§ Earl Winterton
On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. I understand that you ruled on Second Reading that one was not entitled to refer to the constitution of Burma in this Bill? In consequence of that ruling a number of us refrained from referring to it on the Second Reading and in Committee.
§ Mr. Speaker
I should have thought that it was in Order just to refer to the constitution, but not to go into details. I do not think that it should be discussed in detail.
§ Mr. Bramall
I am very conscious of that, Mr. Speaker, and I have no intention to refer to details. I intended to refer to the fact that this constitution is drawn up in a certain spirit, and in a way which, I believe, lends colour to the view that we on this side of the House are expressing, that it is a great and far-sighted Measure which the Government are taking in giving idependence to Burma. Provision is made in the constitution for the British conception of the rule of law and for many specific British legal processes. The fact of the generous treatment, as I think, that has been conferred on the minorities of Burma—
§ Earl Winterton
Those were exactly the points that many of us would have liked to raise on the Second Reading and Committee stage, and we had a distinct ruling, Mr. Speaker, that we could not refer to those matters. I suggest, with respect, that these are questions of detail.
§ Mr. Bramall
May I suggest that, as other hon. Members have referred to the disquiet which they felt at the certain lack of provisions for the minorities, it must be in Order for me to state that in my view good provision is made for the minorities.
§ Mr. Speaker
I gave no Ruling, so far as I can remember, on Second Reading. 764 Whether when I was not in the Chair, a Ruling was given, I do not know, but I have no knowledge of it. I agree with the noble Lord that one does not want to go into details. One can mention the spirit in which the new Government is set up but not the details.
§ Earl Winterton
It is a long-standing Ruling of this House which you and your predecessors have constantly enforced, Mr. Speaker, that on Third Reading one can only refer to what is in the Bill. There is not one single reference in this Bill to the document which I hold in my hand—the Constitution of Burma.
§ Mr. H. Hynd (Hackney, Central)
Further to that point of Order, Mr. Speaker, is it possible to discuss a Bill conferring independence on Burma without referring to the Constitution of Burma?
§ Mr. Turner-Samuels (Gloucester)
If one wishes to bring in some content of the Bill, surely it is admissible to adduce arguments in justification, and, with respect, Mr. Speaker, that is what my hon. Friend seems to be doing
§ Mr. Solley (Thurrock)
Is it not a fact, Mr. Speaker, that Clause 1 (1) refers to the fact that on the appointed day Burma shall no longer be entitled to His Majesty's protection. It must, therefore, be material, in my submission, that we should know the extent and quality of His Majesty's protection, in order to ascertain whether this House agrees that that protection shall be taken away on the appointed day.
§ Mr. Bramall
I do not intend to err any further in this direction, if you rule, Mr. Speaker, that it would be out of Order to refer further to the point raised by the hon. and learned Member for Kettering. I would be glad if you, Mr. Speaker, would rule whether it would be in Order to answer the point which he made about the provision with regard to the minority races.
§ Mr. Speaker
I thought that was the point made by the hon. Member when he said that when giving independence to a country -we must give independence to a country with a constitution, and, therefore, the constitution can be mentioned. However, I still stick to my original opinion that while the constitution can 765 be mentioned, one ought not to mention it in detail. Anyway, this is a matter for the Burmese themselves and not an affair for us.
§ Mr. Turner-Samuels
Does that mean that we can refer to some provision giving a constitution although we must not go into the details of the constitution?
§ Mr. Speaker
I do not think one can discuss it in detail or go into the provisions, because, after all, this is not an affair for us but an affair for the Burmese themselves.
§ Mr. Turner-Samuels
May I give an example? In Clause 2 (2) of the Bill there is raised the question of British nationality. The point which could arise on the Third Reading is the validity of this particular provision, and one would necessarily have to refer to that constitution to show that any other provision than this would be incompatible with the constitution. It seems to me, with great respect, that unless one can adduce that it would be difficult to support this provision, and I should like your Ruling on it.
§ Mr. Speaker
That matter was dealt with in detail by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) and he seemed to have dealt with this Clause pretty fully.
§ Mr. Turner-Samuels
It is perfectly true that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) dealt with it very fully indeed, but in my submission the one material point to which I was referring was not introduced by my hon. and learned Friend. Assuming that one were addressing oneself to the Third Reading and was referring to this particular and very important provision, I should have thought it was not only permissible but essential to introduce that element of the constitution.
§ Mr. Speaker
I should not have thought that there would be enough time between now and 4 o'clock to discuss all these matters.
§ Earl Winterton
I rise to make another point of Order. I think this is a very important matter. Of course, I in no way challenge your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, but I should like a Ruling on the point as to whether it is not the case on the Third Reading of a Bill that hon. Members must 766 refer to something that is in the Bill and not to something else. I say, with the deepest respect, that this will guide the Opposition in the future when the Government are anxious to get a decision, because if we are entitled to raise every sort of question not referred to in a Bill, we shall do so.
§ Mr. Speaker
The Ruling is perfectly clear On the Third Reading hon. Members can discuss what is in the Bill, and not what they would like to see in the Bill, which is Second Reading matter.
§ Mr. Bramall
I hope I shall not be out of Order to turn from these points of Order to try to complete the remarks which I was making. I was only referring to the fact that in my submission, in passing this Bill, we are not placing the minorities in Burma in jeopardy, and I feel that people who think so should have their minds set at rest by the fact that the constitution of Burma makes provision, which I think must be unusually generous amongst such constitutions, that the minorities in that country, are actually to have a majority in the Second Legislative Chamber. When a constitution is drawn up in that spirit, we can feel not only, that the Burmese are giving us very good safeguards as to the manner in which they intend to use their independence, but that we have by our connection with Burma in the past left something very lasting of the British spirit of justice and rule of law. Therefore we can wholeheartedly, and I hope from all sides of the House, join in wishing good luck to' Burma, as a result of this great Measure.
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ Mr. H. Hynd
There is a tendency in the British Press, and even more so in the foreign Press, to give undue prominence to speeches by the Leader of the Opposition. I hope that when Burmans read the Debates on this Bill they will realise that in this matter, as in other matters, the Leader of the Opposition does not speak for a majority of the British people. I wish to add my voice to the chorus of good wishes to the people of Burma, although I do not think it is a secret that many hon. Members do not regard the Bill as ideal, and would have preferred Burma to remain within the British family of nations. I believe most hon. Members think that that would have been in the better interests of the Burmese people themselves. There is an old 767 adage, however, that good government is no substitute for self-government. The Burmese people have decided upon the present solution, but I suppose we may still express the hope that one day they will return to the British family of nations. That is entirely for them to decide.
I have risen to make one last plea on behalf of the Christian minority in Burma. The noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) made a plea on behalf of the Anglo-Burmans. We have an equal feeling for the Karens, who so well supported our British Forces during the war and for whom we therefore have a special responsibility. The Government of Burma should not feel resentment if a special word is uttered on behalf of those people today. Our representatives in the negotiations took the quite proper line that the Burmese, representing a country which has reached maturity, were responsible people who, when granted full independence, would carry on the government of their country in compliance with all the recognised rules of civilised government. The world will watch with special care to see that the Burmese justify that trust by the way in which they treat the minorities which have been mentioned, and especially the christian minority in Burma. I hope that when the Secretary of State replies he will be able, even at this late hour, to give us some satisfactory promise or assurance that these people will not suffer in the ways that have been suggested.
§ 3.34 p.m.
§ Dr. Segal (Preston)
I would not rise had it not been for the chance remark of the hon. Member for Central Cardiff (Mr. G. Thomas) when he referred to "this little country in East Asia." It is as well for us to remember on this occasion, when we are witnessing the last scene in the granting of complete independence to what was formerly one of the brightest jewels in our Imperial Crown, the full implications of this historic act. It is not true in any sense to say that Burma is a little country. From the point of view of acreage alone, it is at least three times the area of our own country, and from the point of view of population, it is at least three times the population of my own county of Lancashire. It is indeed no small act in which we are participating today, and it is as well that we should realise its full significance.
768 Not only from the point of view of its population and its material resources ought we to realise this act of historic significance, but more particularly because in all its long history of intimate connection with the British Crown there is perhaps no more glorious chapter than that written by our troops during the recent war. None of us can easily forget what they endured, and while from this day forth, the future of Burma may remain completely in the hands of the Burmese nation, we are fully conscious of the fact that the blood of many of our own kith and kin remains in that soil. There are other significant factors about the future of Burma which we should do well to bear in mind. Apart from the fact that it was before the war the world's chief exporter of rice, a vital commodity, so essential now to the health and welfare of the vast populations n. Eastern Asia, the fact remains that the Burmese people are one of the most gifted of Asiatic races. They possess an innate sense of artistry which shows itself in every corner of that country. They are noteworthy in possessing no caste system of any kind, and we would do well to bear in mind that in Burma women are held in the highest respect, given a basis of complete equality, and allowed freely to take their part in the manifold activities which must fall to the lot of any independent country.
Whatever hon. Members opposite may say about our discarding one of the brightest jewels in the British Crown and throwing it down the drain, the facts of the case are entirely different. We are indeed removing one of the brightest jewels in the British Crown but we are placing it in its natural setting, and enabling the people of Burma themselves to fashion it in the future in its own natural radiance. Hon. Members on this side of the House unite in wishing them well and expressing the hope that this bright jewel may be able to shine with an ever increasing radiance in the years that lie ahead.
§ 3.39 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Air (Mr. Arthur Henderson)
I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House will agree that we have had a most interesting Debate this afternoon. I am also sure we are all united, at any rate in the desire to see the new ship of State launched on its way in calm and even 769 water and in the wish that its future voyage shall bring it the highest degree of prosperity. I regard it as a great personal privilege to have this opportunity of winding up the final Debate on what I suggest is an historic occasion. I do not believe that in the history of the world can there be found a precedent for such a Bill as we have been considering today. For the first time, a great nation like our own, not subjected to defeat or even to the threat of force, but because it believes it is doing the right thing, has freely and voluntarily come forward with legislation which has as its immediate object the granting, not of partial freedom or partial independence but complete freedom and complete independence. I am quite sure we can take it that the strength of this country, paradoxical as it may seem, will not be diminished by one iota, although it appears that a great area of territory with 17 millions of population is to branch off, take its own course and control its own destiny.
The noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) and I have many differences, but I think we are united by our common faith in the value of, and the necessity for a family of nations such as we have in the British Commonwealth. I believe that the moral strength and moral influence of the British Commonwealth will be all the greater, all the more influential, because of the realisation which must manifest itself in every part of the world that we live up to our claim that the fundamental basis of our Commonwealth is the free association of free people. Even today, in spite of everything that we as a nation, we as a Parliament, can do to manifest our desire to have association with other people, based upon free and friendly cooperation, we are still being attacked from some quarters on the ground that we are just as Imperialistic as we ever were. I say that this Bill is conclusive evidence that His Majesty's Government is not following any policy of Imperialism but, on the contrary, is setting an example to countries, whether situated in the East or West, in granting freedom to subject peoples.
One of my hon. Friends raised the question of minorities in Burma and mentioned specifically the Karens. While it would be out of Order for me to go into 770 detail, I think it will be permissible to illustrate my argument when I suggest that the present Burma Government and the Constituent Assembly have sought to protect and to give a square deal to the various minorities existing in their country. By way of illustration, I would refer to Article 180 of the Draft Constitution, which allows for the establishment at a later date of a separate Karens State within the Union, if such a course is agreed among the majority of all the Karens themselves. Meanwhile the Karens Affairs Council, headed by a Minister of the Union Government, is to look after the cultural, educational and other special interests of the Karens in general, and administer a special region to be set up in the Salween district. All I wish to do is to make that reference to the draft constitution as support for my attempt to reassure my hon. Friend so far as the Karens are concerned.
I would like just to pay this compliment, en passant, to the Constituent Assembly. They have shown themselves to be guided by capable and wise men. They have drafted a Constitution which I think most constitutional lawyers would admit was a very fine piece of work, and they did it in record time. I think that they have shown themselves to have a very real sense of responsibility. At the same time, it will be for them in their future life to live up to their Constitution, to carry out all the guarantees and assurances that have been given to all those who form part of Greater Burma, and I am quite sure that we may expect that they will do so.
I have only one further point to make. There has been a certain difference of opinion manifested this afternoon, but I believe that both sides of this House, representing the Parliament of this country, in turn, representing the great majority of the people of this country, whatever their political affiliations may be, are united, at any rate, in wishing Godspeed to the leaders and people of Burma in this great new venture upon which they are embarking. They are going to find, as they come up against the problems that confront their nation, as the Governments of every other country find, that they will have to solve their problems themselves. But, in so far as we in this country or in any other part of the British Commonwealth can help them to 771 deal with their problems and to meet their difficulties, I am quite sure that I can say here and now that His Majesty's Government and this House will do everything possible to help them. We believe that the change of nexus between the people of Burma and the people of this country, substituting an era of cooperation for the domination of a greater power, will bind the peoples of both countries together much more firmly and much more permanently than would have been the case in any other way, and I think that every one of us can look forward to the future in a spirit of confidence, and in the hope and with the belief that we in this country and the people of Burma will derive a mutual sustenance and strengthening from this new relation, based upon free and voluntary co-operation between equal partners.
§ Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.