HC Deb 17 June 1948 vol 452 cc654-7
Mr. Churchill

(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he can make any statement about the position of British interests in Burma; and whether any consultations on them have taken place between His Majesty's Government and the Government of Burma in accordance with the terms of the Anglo-Burmese Treaty of October last?

The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Ernest Bevin)

The House will be aware from reports in the Press that a programme was recently announced by the Burmese Prime Minister which appeared to herald a change of policy in Burma and the abandonment of the principles of democratic socialism. I have been in consultation with His Majesty's Ambassador in Rangoon; I have also spoken to the Burmese Ambassador on the subject. I have made it clear that in my view future Burmese policy will show how far they sincerely intend to honour the Treaty.

I have been assured that earlier reports of the Burmese Prime Minister's utterances were somewhat exaggerated and that he is anxious to remain on good terms with this country while at the same time developing friendly relations with Russia and other countries.

Certain British companies were expropriated by the Burmese Government on 1st June. No agreement was reached between the Government and the companies before that date. But on 31st May terms were offered to the companies which were open to considerable objection. Discussions are continuing and, having regard both to the letter and the spirit of the Treaty, I trust that the Burmese Government will pay due regard to the views we have submitted to them. At the moment I am not satisfied that the degree of consultation to which they have hitherto been willing to agree constitutes satisfactory fulfilment of their Treaty obligations.

It is our policy to maintain close relations with Burma in all fields, and I feel confident that our two countries have much to contribute to each other. Since her independence Burma has benefited from our assistance in a variety of ways and we are most anxious to continue to help them. But whether we can do so or not must depend on the spirit in which they carry out their Treaty with us.

Mr. Gammans

Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that the Government of Burma have sufficient financial resources in sterling to meet these obligations if they are minded to meet them? Is he also aware that His Majesty's Government were warned from this side of the House, when the Independence of Burma Act was discussed, that this sort of thing was likely to happen?

Mr. Bevin

I get a lot of warnings from that side of the House—

Mr. Churchill

And from below the Gangway.

Mr. Bevin

Those warnings from below the Gangway are at the back of me and the warnings from the other side of the House are in front of me, and I place a correct value on both of them. I cannot at the moment answer the Question with regard to the amount of sterling without looking into it but when a country like Burma, having been controlled by another, seeks her independence and obtains it, I think that a little tolerance and care are essential to get matters working right, and I propose to exercise them. If in the end it is proved that the trust we have placed in them to carry out their obligations is not fulfilled, our policy must accordingly change.

Mr. Bramall

Will my right hon. Friend make clear that the reports which have appeared, apparently as a co-ordinated campaign in much of the Press, about the recent statement of the Prime Minister of Burma, which are supposed to indicate that Burma has become Communist, are grossly inaccurate in the light of subsequent reports which can be read in "The Times" of today and yesterday.

Mr. Bevin

These things do get exaggerated and I realise, as I think everyone must realise, that in a country like Burma, which is going through these great difficulties, statements will be made which we have to reduce to their proper proportions by close consultation and examination, and we must try to help them to keep on the rails. That is what I am trying to do.

Mr. W. Fletcher

Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that this new move in Burma will not in any way interfere with the supply of rice from Burma which is so badly needed in Malaya and elsewhere?

Mr. Bevin

There are no signs of that up to now.

Mr. Lipson

Can my right hon. Friend say whether the Treaty with Burma provides machinery for the interpretation and settlement of any points of difference in interpretation of the Treaty by either side?

Mr. Bevin

There is no definite machinery. We are dealing with it in the usual way between the two Governments through their ambassadors.

Mr. Pickthorn

Could the House be reassured that what the right hon. Gentleman said in his reply about democratic Socialism was not meant to imply that Socialism is any essential part of the contract or treaty or arrangement between this country and Burma?

Mr. Bevin

They indicated in the discussions on the Treaty that that was the policy they proposed to follow.

Major Tufton Beamish

Are the military clauses of the Anglo-Burmese Treaty unaffected by the recent change of policy announced by Thakin Nu?

Mr. Bevin

It is not a change of policy by the Burmese Government; it is a speech by the Prime Minister and there is no indication—[Laughter.]—I have known speeches made that have not always represented me—even in the five years I was in the Coalition. Still, in a Government one exercises tolerance. There has been no collective declaration on the part of the part of the Burmese Government. I am aware that there are great difficulties in Burma from the point of view of the political parties in the evolution of this State, and I have to take that into account.

Mr. Churchill

Is it not a fact and is there not already evidence that, as was predicted, Burma is descending into a state of anarchy tempered by Communism?

Mr. Gallacher

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that owners in this country are not too happy at the conditions under which their industries were taken over, and how does he expect them to be happy in Burma? If he is concerned about the owners in Burma, why is he not concerned about the owners here?

Mr. Pickthorn

May I ask whether the earlier reply to me did or did not mean that Socialism in Burma is a necessary part of the Treaty between that country and this?

Mr. Bevin

It was made perfectly clear that they were going to nationalise the industries but they agreed to compensation. They indicated quite clearly in all these talks the policy they proposed to pursue, and the speech the other day seemed to indicate that they were departing from that policy. Therefore, I took the matter up. I do not think that this House has ever challenged—and I hope it never will—the right of a State to own their own raw materials, providing they pay compensation in a proper manner.