HC Deb 23 March 1950 vol 472 cc2183-214

4.8 p.m.

Mr. Erroll (Altrincham and Sale)

I beg to move that Item Sub-head DD (Short Term Aid to Burma (Loan)) be reduced by £100,

I should like to inform the House briefly that the Parliamentary Mission, of which I was a member and which visited Burma at the beginning of this year. was well received by the Speaker of the Burmese Parliament and that we were made very welcome guests of the Members of the Burmese House. We learned a great deal from our stay and were able to make acquaintance with a number of members of the Parliament of that country. This makes it more readily possible for us to speak frankly in a Debate on Burmese affairs than might otherwise be the case. I propose to speak frankly about this subject of a short-term loan.

The Burma Government have decided to make a permanent feature of their economy a State Agricultural Marketing Board, which possesses the monopoly of the exports of all rice which is grown in Burma. this State Agricultural Marketing Board, or S.A.M.B., is, in effect, a bulk-selling organisation and one of those often given as an excuse by the British Government for having itself resorted to bulk purchase. We are in no doubt about the many disadvantages of Government-to-Government trade, but in this short-term arrangement we are finding yet another disadvantage in this form of trade. In this case we, as the would-be purchasers, are to finance the State Agricultural Marketing Board of Burma Not only are they having considerable administrative difficulties but they have run out of money and must needs apply to their intending purchasers for a short-term loan to see them through their difficulties

It is important that this Committee should realise that, had the export of rice been in the hands of the great City firms as it was before the war, this loan would be altogether unnecessary and we should be able to receive the rice which Britain and our Colonies require without any form of public loan, short-term or long-term.

Mr. Harold Davies (Leek)

Do I understand the hon. Member to say that were the production of rice in Burma in the hands of private enterprise at this moment, there would be no need for Burma to apply for help to Britain?

Mr. Erroll

I am dealing not with production but with marketing, the financing of the purchase of rice from the peasantry in the paddy fields, its collection, its movement from the rice mills to the ports and other places of departure from the country. We are now being invited to make this short-term loan to the Burmese State marketing monopoly and we are entitled to know what terms and conditions are to apply to the purchases which the British Government may make.

Surely we are entitled to more favourable treatment than that which is set out in the circular letter issued at the beginning of the current year by the State Agricultural Marketing Board to all intending purchasers. Are we, for example, to get any reduction in the price? The S.A.M.B. announced a schedule of prices at the beginning of the current season prices which were higher than last year's, although there has been a fall in the prices of comparable food grains in all parts of the world

Mr. Harold Davies

It is the same price as in Siam.

Mr. Erroll

Are we to pay the price demanded initially by the Burmese Government, or are we to receive some concession in view of the loan which we are making? According to the circular, the buyer must accept any quality which the S.A.M.B. may choose to give him. A particularly obnoxious feature is that, in the event of any dispute, the rice, although it may be admitted not to be of the right quality, may not be rejected by the buyer. The buyer can submit the matter to arbitration, but not to the independent arbitration which was a feature of prewar rice dealings in Burma. It will be to arbitration by a surveyor appointed by the Union of Burma. We therefore have an unfortunate state of affairs in which the seller is in a position to control the independent arbitrator on questions of quality. I suggest to our Government that we might secure the benefits of independent arbitration in return for the proposed loan.

Since this Supplementary Estimate was introduced, there has been a reliable newspaper report of the Japanese intention of buying a large quantity of rice from Burma and possibly from Siam. The figure mentioned in Wednesday's "Times" is 500,000 tons. The total rice from Burma during the current season is not expected to exceed 700,000 tons. It would therefore look as though Japan may prove to be an important bidder and a big buyer of such exportable surplus of rice as is available. Can we be entirely sure in the circumstances that we shall get the rice for which this loan is intended?

I understand that the repayment, which is mentioned briefly in the details under the heading in the Supplementary Estimate, is to be by the export of the rice itself. There is a short risk period of three months between our handing over the money and the receipt of the rice in the bottoms of British ships. We are assuming that the rice will come forward. Certainly, it has been grown, but will it be put into British ships? Will there not be a danger of preferential treatment to Japan, now that she is coming into the market in such a big way, and with the attractions of other forms of trade which would perhaps suit the Burmese very well?

I want to ask how much we are expecting to get? Are we to confine our purchases of rice to the amount which £500,000 represents? Or is that £500,000 to be regarded merely as necessary to prime the system of moving rice in the paddy fields to the ports? It would be of great help to the State Agricultural Marketing Board if they could know approximately how much we were intending to buy. If the British Government are accepting the beginning-of-season price, as I expect they will have done, there can be no real harm in saying how much will be bought at that price, but I would be the first to agree that we should not do so if we hope to secure an improvement on the present price.

It is also mentioned in the Supplementary Estimate that there is to be Commonwealth collaboration in this matter. I have since learned from the junior Minister, in answer to one of my Questions, that the proposed loan is not to be regarded as part of the Commonwealth loan which was discussed at Colombo, but is an entirely separate rice loan. In the circumstances, it would be of great value to this Committee to have some indication of the extent and the nature of the proposed Commonwealth collaboration.

I presume that our share of the loan will not be used in any way to finance purchases of rice by other countries, whether Commonwealth or foreign. We should have an assurance that this priming operation, as I regard the loan, is not to be a great help to the Japanese and that if they are to enter this field of rice purchasing, they must put down their own money. We must not, as so often happens nowadays, be handing out money so that others may get the benefit.

In return for the loan, I hope that the Burma Government will be pressed by our own Government to go back to private trading in rice, as it is far more efficient than any other method. However, knowing the predilection of the present Government for State trading, bulk-purchasing and bulk-selling, it is unlikely that they will impose any such condition. For that reason I move the reduction of this sum by £100.

4.20 p.m.

Mr. Wyatt (Birmingham, Aston)

This seems to be a most extraordinary Amendment, because the actual sum of money involved in the Estimate has not yet been lent to the Government of Burma. For the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Erroll) to propose that we should impose upon the Burma Government a series of conditions which they must fulfil in return for money they have not yet received, seems a very strange departure in international relations. This money has been earmarked as our share of a Commonwealth rice loan should the negotiations for a Commonwealth rice loan as a whole become necessary and need implementation. None of this money has yet been received by the Government of Burma. The hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale seemed to suggest that in some mysterious way the fact that there was a State Marketing Board in Burma created a necessity for a loan of this kind which did not exist before.

In fact, it has been the practice for many years for the banks to advance money for the rice crop rather earlier than this in the year in order to enable the cultivators to get their money and so forth—a long process with which I will not weary the Committee. This has been done for many years, and no new departure is involved merely because the State Marketing Board is selling the rice in Rangoon to the buyers from overseas. Many banks in Rangoon—British banks primarily—used to finance the rice crop. They have not chosen to do so in recent years. Last year the Burma Government were unable to get a loan from the banks to finance the rice crop, and so they financed it themselves.

Mr. Walter Fletcher (Bury and Radcliffe)

Will the hon. Member say why they could not get it?

Mr. Wyatt

Naturally, because private enterprise has no patriotism. It is not in the least bit concerned about the welfare of the country or the welfare of Britain in South-East Asia. It merely said that this was not a good commercial risk and that it was not interested in lending the money. Consequently the banks would not lend the money and the Burma Government was obliged to raise it.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Wyatt

Three hon. Members are trying to interrupt me. I am not certain to whom I should give way so perhaps I will not give way to anyone.

Mr. Erroll

If it is not a good commercial risk—

Mr. Wyatt

Perhaps I may be allowed to develop the case a little before we have too many interruptions. I was saying that the banks would not advance this money because they did not think that it was a good commercial risk. The fact that it was extremely important for the future of democracy in South-East Asia that Burma should be able to get her rice crop out and sell it to India, Pakistan, Ceylon and other parts of South-East Asia was of no concern to the banks. I do not blame them for that; that is normal commercial practice.

As I have said, private enterprise has no patriotism and is not obliged to lend money in these circumstances. The Burma Government were forced to finance the crop by spaced sales of the rice in Rangoon to the Ministry of Food, which allowed them to finance it on an alternating basis. I presume that this year they have started a similar process, although it would be much more convenient for them to borrow the money from the banks as in the past and finance the crop directly themselves. So far, they have not been able to do that, and so far, they have not actually been lent this money, which is earmarked for that purpose if it becomes necessary.

In this House never for one moment have we allowed ourselves even to think that we would accept conditions from the United States of America when accepting Marshall Aid as to the manner in which we conduct our own economic affairs inside Britain. There seems to be no reason why the Burma Government should accept such conditions either. In fact, if the Opposition were really interested in promoting democracy in South-East Asia they would not even begin to make such a suggestion because, as they should know—certainly the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale should know, having now visited Burma—sensitivity in Burma about foreign interference is extremely high.

One of the great difficulties which the new Government have found is persuading the people of that country that it is not subservient to or dependent upon England and America but is a truly independent Government. Therefore, if we are to make suggestions here that no Government loan should be given to Burma, unless the Burma Government are prepared to accept conditions for which they throw away any advance towards Socialism which they may have chosen for themselves, it is only—[Laughter.] Hon. Members opposite laugh. I know that they regard this matter as being extremely funny. It is of no concern to them whether we build up democracy in South-East Asia or not, or they would not talk as they do. They could not possibly talk as they do if it were of any concern to them. They think it extremely humorous.

This nation has been ruled by us for a long time and now it wants to run its own affairs in its own way. The view taken by the Opposition is not quite good enough for 1950 although it might have been good enough in 1900 or 1850. What we have to face in South-East Asia is a tremendous rise of nationalist feeling which in its advance with any form of democracy, is menaced by a counter upsurge of Communism, and if we try to impose conditions on a country like Burma which has newly found its independence, the Communist forces there will be given a tremendous fillip. They will be able to say that Burma is not yet independent but is still taking orders from England and America and that they will fight the semi-Quislings now in power so that they need not take orders from England and America. In such a matter as this we must use care and skill. If we are to impose conditions in advance on a loan not yet received, we shall certainly ruin the good relations which we are building up between Burma and ourselves.

There is another aspect of this matter. Hon. Members opposite talk frequently about the need for unity in the Commonwealth. Unfortunately in the past that has too often meant unity only of the white Dominions of the Commonwealth. As yet there are very few hon. Members opposite who sincerely think of India and Pakistan when they talk about unity between the Dominions in the Commonwealth. I hope there will be more as time goes by. India and Pakistan are perhaps almost the most important of the Dominions in the Commonwealth now. They may be the most important. With them and with Australia we are making an arrangement by which we treat Burma as a Commonwealth problem.

This sum of £500,000 is earmarked so that we can play our part in this joint Commonwealth arrangement should the need arise. If we are unilaterally to start imposing demands on Burma without consulting India, Pakistan and Australia, we shall hinder a wonderful step forward in Commonwealth consultation and joint working. Over the last year one of the most encouraging things in South-East Asia has been that the Commonwealth has been able to agree on a joint policy for a rice loan, the share which each country should put forward towards that loan and the policy which they propose to adopt in trade in order to stop the spread of Communism in South-East Asia and in Burma in particular.

If we in this House are to make all sorts of suggestions of conditions to be imposed on the Burma Government we shall very much upset our friends in India and Pakistan who are as much involved in this matter as we are. We do not rule the Commonwealth. We merely consult with the Commonwealth. The hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale should have been able to find that out while he was in Burma recently. He must realise that he is playing with dynamite when he produces this kind of Amendment in the House of Commons and seeks to impose all sorts of conditions on so tenuous a basis. I suggest that the Committee reject the Amendment quite emphatically and that we have it very clearly from all sides of the Committee that we do not propose to try to force upon Burma conditions which are unacceptable to her, and which are designed in the end to promote more and more Communism in that area.

We have to remember that if Burma goes Communist, she is next door to China and divisions have crossed over the Burmese-Chinese border in the past often enough. Also she is next door to Siam, which is next door to Malaya, and it is vital for us to do everything we can to assist the Burma Government. Even though hon. Members opposite may not agree with its politics, it is a democratic Government and the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale will agree that there has been no attempt by it to suppress newspapers or to limit Parliamentary discussion. It has had great difficulties in the past two years. In many ways Burma is still in an excitable state, but it has made much progress. There is much more law and order there today than there was a year ago, and it is partly due to the wise policy which His Majesty's Government have followed. If we start to wreck that now, we shall hand Burma over to Communism and all the things which hon. Members opposite profess to dislike.

4.31 p.m.

Mr. Gammans (Hornsey)

I must try to bring the hon. Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) off the sizzle, back to the point we are supposed to be discussing, this rice loan to Burma. The hon. Member said that it was an extraordinary Amendment which my hon. Friend has moved. Well, it is an extraordinary transaction that we are being asked to pass today. We have heard a lot about bulk-buying being financed by the taxpayers of this country, with results not altogether in their favour; what we are being asked to finance here is somebody else's bulk-selling as well.

Let us understand what has happened with regard to the rice in Burma. It is the story of a tragic fiasco. Before the war Burma exported between 3 million and 4 million tons of rice; now she is exporting only something of the order of three-quarters of a million tons. When the hon. Member for Aston tries to find reasons for supporting the present form of Burma Government, he might consider whether those figures justify all the eulogies that he has paid.

Mr. Wyatt

Does the hon. Gentleman really think that more rice would be produced if we withheld this loan?

Mr. Gammans

I want to find that out. That is one of the things we ought to discover from the Government before we pass this money. After all, it is the money of the British taxpayer with which we are dealing. Listening to the hon. Gentleman one would think that this country had money to splurge all over the world.

It may be that this loan is justified, but we want much more information than we have had today. Is it not the fact that the peasants in Burma are not at the present time prepared to produce rice for the Government buying depots without cash and, as the Burma Government have not any cash which the Burmese peasants are prepared to take, the British taxpayer is being asked to put it up? Is not that a paraphrase of the situation? It may be justified that we should do it. It may be necessary that we should do it, but let us know what we are doing and what guarantees we have that this money will not go down the drain like so much of the other money which the taxpayer of this country has poured into Burma in the last two years.

I want to ask the following questions. Having put up this money, what are our guarantees that the rice will be forthcoming, especially since it appears that since the Supplementary Estimate came before the House, the Japanese have entered the market? How do we know that the Japanese, backed with American dollars, will not come along and get the rice when we have put up this money? This House ought to know, and the hon. Member for Aston ought to know before making the kind of speech he made just now.

My other question is this: Are we and the Commonwealth the only people who are putting up loans to Burma? I have seen a report by Reuter from Washington dated 6th March as follows: Burma has asked for economic and military aid from the United States, Reuter learns authoritatively today. Burmese embassy officials told Reuter their Government had informed the State Department of the kind of assistance they would like to receive from the United States. We, of course, have no reason to query Burma making application to the United States, but we are entitled to know before passing this loan whether we are likely to get the rice, who else is in the market for it, and to what extent the Burmese are not only asking for financial help from us but from America as well. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will give the Committee this information because we are entitled to have it before we pass this Estimate.

4.35 p.m.

Mr. Diamond (Manchester, Blackley)

I am happy to be able to agree with the first sentence of the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Errol). The deputation of which I had the good fortune to be a member was received with the greatest possible courtesy, good will and friendliness by the people, the Speaker and the Members of the Parliament of Burma. So far as I am concerned, it was an expression of friendship that I shall never forget.

I am extremely sorry that the hon. Member has such a short memory that he has forgotten everything he saw and heard with his own eyes and his own ears in Burma in my company. I am sorry that he should have forgotten the tremendous admiration which all of us felt for the organisation of the State Agricultural Marketing Board—the very organisation, the very tool which the Burma Government are using for the appropriate purpose of disposing of the rice crop. At all events, it permits me to say that I was most impressed with that organisation, and anyone who has considered the figures of rice exports for 1949 must share with me my admiration that the S.A.M.B. were able, in spite of the insurrection and the enormous difficulties in that country, to come within an ace of their programme of 1¼ million tons.

The hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Gammans) referred to certain figures, carefully leaving out the relevant ones. He referred to the pre-war exports; he referred to the possible exports, of which nobody has any detailed figures as yet because they are a matter for the future; he has not told us of the immediate postwar exports; he has not told us of the enormous increase in exports since the Burma Government achieved independence that has taken place through the medium of the State Agricultural Marketing Board. With his great knowledge of that country I should have thought that the hon. Member would have appreciated that, inasmuch as no country has been bombarded and blitzed as much as Burma, for it to get back even to an export of 1¼ million tons compared with its pre-war export is a great achievement.

I am delighted that the Government are proposing to make this loan in order to relieve the Burmese peasant of the burden of money lending to which he has been subjected hitherto. Everybody who knows what happens in Burma realises that it was part of the normal machinery of marketing the crop that moneylenders should lend money to peasants and to farmers at exorbitant rates of interest to enable them to go through the season until the next crop matured. And everybody realises that, the Burma Government have done a most creditable job in extinguishing completely that form of financing.

I am sorry indeed that the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale should have forgotten that point, and should not have stressed to the House our condemnation of money-lending. If I am mistaking him, if he is not with me in condemning money-lending, I will willingly give way and allow him to say that he is in support of it. I should have thought however that he was, with me, condemning it and, therefore, supporting the Government in replacing on commercial terms and at commercial rates of interest, money which was previously loaned at moneylenders' terms and rates of interest.

For those reasons, I hope that the Committee will throw out the Amendment without any hesitation whatever. I would go further and say it is a great mistake, if I may say so in a non-party spirit, because on a matter like Burma, as with the Commonwealth, which is associated with us in this loan, we try as far as possible to be non-partisan.

Lord John Hope (Edinburgh, Pentlands)

What about the opening of the hon. Member's speech?

Mr. Diamond

I am only too glad to answer any question which is put to me. The hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale knows full well that if there was one thing which concerned the Burmese more than any other, it was the fear of the change in attitude which might follow as between this country and Burma from a change in Government here. I did my best to reassure the Burmese that there was no likelihood of that, and I am glad to be able to say, with my enormous majority of 42, that I have been able to carry out my promise.

The hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, however, made the most memorable statement in Burma when he said that he would be only too glad to make a gramophone record, so that the Burmese could play it and refresh themselves with the memory of his melodious voice, repeating as often as might be necessary that if a Conservative Government were to be returned, it would make no difference whatever in the attitude which this country had towards Burma.

I ask the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale to read through his speech, to remember the Amendment which has been put down and to realise that it is put down, not only under his important name, but under a no less important name than that of the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler), and to see whether that bears out the view which we are anxious, I am sure, on both sides of the House to show, that, irrespective of which Government is in power in this country, our attitude to Burma will be one of sympathy and good will.

It is in terms of that sympathy and good will that I support the loan entirely. It is good sense, it is good finance. It is a most commendable example of Commonwealth co-operation, which everyone of us would wish to support. It is complementing State trading where it has done a good job. There is no question of financing, as the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Gammans) suggested, State trading in the interest of replacing losses. This is merely a temporary loan which is to be returned. I should like to know what trading organisation in this country would accept a loan from its bank at normal bank interest if the bank said, "Yes, we are prepared to lend you the money provided you completely alter your political views," which is what the hon. Member for Hornsey suggested.

Mr. W. Fletcher

Will the hon. Member for Blackley (Mr. Diamond) be a little fair to my hon. Friend? No single statement from this side regarding the alteration of political views has been made. I hope to have the opportunity later of refuting what the hon. Member has said; he himself should refute it here and now.

Mr. Diamond

I will withdraw immediately if I have done any injustice to any hon. Member who has spoken or if I have made the slightest inaccurate reference to what has been said. I listened very carefully to the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale and I thought he was basing the first part of his objection to the loan on the fact that it was helping State trading, to which, he said, he strongly objected. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Apparently, that is within the recollection of everybody present.

Mr. Erroll

I was quite clear in what I was saying, which was simply that I objected to a loan for a State selling organisation because that is yet another reason against such forms of trading; that one has to subsidise the other side and that it might not always be possible for us to come forward with loans; and therefore, obviously, a return to private trading would undoubtedly be better. That is not politics—it is common sense.

Mr. Diamond

I am quite sure that the hon. Member for Bury and Radcliffe (Mr. W. Fletcher) will not now ask me to withdraw what I have said.

I am sorry that the Amendment should have been put down, and I ask the Committee wholeheartedly to support the loan, not only for the reasons I have given, but for the supremely important reason that it is a token—a very small one admittedly, but nevertheless a token—of our desire to help Burma. We all know that Burma is today in the front line of anti-Communism. We all know that food is the first weapon in anti-Communism, and that in giving this loan we are helping Burma and are helping the production of food, and that we are working with the Commonwealth in this action. For those reasons I hope that the Committee will wholeheartedly reject the Amendment.

4.46 p.m.

Mr. Walter Fletcher (Bury and Radcliffe)

I am delighted to have the opportunity of following the hon. Member for Blackley (Mr. Diamond). I am certain that his recent visit to Burma has been of great value, as were those of other members of the Mission, but I must point out that my connection with that country and with these matters goes back, possibly, a little further. Putting aside the political aspect as far as possible, I should like to get back to what the Amendment is really about: whether this is the best means of procuring, in an orderly way, at a reasonable world price, and with the correct quality, the maximum amount of rice, which is not solely a matter of helping the producer and, thereby, helping Burma, but of helping Malaya or any other country which, if rice goes short, will be open to Communistic influence more than ever.

I would refresh the hon. Gentleman's memory; he, after all, twitted my hon. Friend about shortness of memory. Does the memory of the hon. Member for Blackley go back to the occasions in the last four or five years in the House of Commons when we discussed the procurement of rice in Siam, when a contract for 1,250,000 tons was gaily signed by Lord Killearn in 1946, when the delivery of that rice was 700,000 tons short in the first year and took about three years to be delivered? Does he not think that that is a justification for a certain sensitivity, to use the phrase of the hon. Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt), on our part to see that the rice is delivered?

Does he realise that it is ordinary business prudence and caution, whether the buying is done by the Government in bulk or by an individual firm, that before the contract is signed it is natural to settle the terms of that contract and to see that they are fair and equitable terms? Does he realise that the quality of everything being shipped from both India and Pakistan in the way of commodities in the last two years has gone down to such an extent—both with jute and hides and wool and deliveries of every sort—as to raise a great deal of perturbation? Let the hon. Member for Blackley ask the Bank of England about the claims that exist that have not been settled.

Is it not perfectly correct, in protecting the interests of the taxpayer in this counry, that we should look at this factually, as the hon. Member in his business capacity would do, and ask these very pertinent questions: Are we going to get delivery of the rice in view of what happened in Siam, and what was the reason why it was not delivered in the case of Siam? Let us analyse that. The first reason was that the producer and the holder of that rice did not receive any share of the foreign currency that was paid for it; it remained in the hands of the Government. I saw many senior Members of His Majesty's Government about this personally, because, in spite of what the hon. Member for Blackley says, we on this side are very often not only extremely keen that things should go well there, but very keen to make a contribution.

I should like to remind the hon. Member that the barrier in obtaining the rice, which remained there for three years, was the action of the local Government in not giving inducement in the form either of foreign currency or in goods which were wanted, against the rice to the producer. It is, therefore, perfectly right and natural to ask in the case of Burma, with no sense of hostility at all, with the idea of establishing a medium which would help the Government, the producer, and the consumer in the rest of the world, that we should ask a pertinent, normal commercial question: is it really certain that, under the terms of this contract as it is drawn, we shall get delivery of the rice because the producer will get a proper deal from his Government?

That is not interference, it is a normal thing to ask. The method of arbitration is, I think, very open to question. In the old days when there were established in this country many commodity exchanges the fairness of arbitration here meant that if a buyer in Brazil and a seller in Australia, had a dispute, they brought it for arbitration and settlement here because there were undoubtedly, fair, uninterested third parties who could deal with the matter. But that does not obtain in this case as the arbitrator is one of the interested parties.

It is an ordinary business precaution to try to avoid having another Supplementary Estimate on this matter next year and that makes us ask the question as to the effect on the Burma Government. There are many of us here who have made certain sacrifices and are keen on Burma for every sort of reason. If any Burma Government, of any sort, is to have a future and establish itself on sure foundations, it must be inevitably on the basis that they are not wrongly protected from the cold winds of reality and the outside world. If we make an arrangement by financing them in a way that will not stand secure and is not a reasonable business proposition—I am not talking about usury and do not propose to listen to any ridiculous accusations of that sort about the banks there—

Mr. Diamond


Mr. Fletcher

Allow me to finish the sentence. Unless it is shown that this method of finance, from the time the loan is made to the Burmese Government and buying commissioners are set up, to the time when it is given to the producer, or the man who holds it, or collects it, is a sound method, we are doing no service at all to the Government. This must not be on a basis of goodwill and trying to support a Government of which we might approve, or on a charitable basis. That would be doing no service at all. It must be on a basis which will stand up to the ordinary laws of economics.

Mr. Diamond

I am grateful to the hon. Member for having given way and for having shown that it is possible to misunderstand my remarks by assuming that my reference to moneylenders was a reference to banks. If the hon. Member misunderstood that, it is possible that others may also misunderstand and I am grateful for the opportunity of pointing out that I did not use the word "usury" in relation to banks and I had no intention of referring to banks. My information was that it was private money lending entirely divorced from the banks.

Mr. Fletcher

I am grateful to the hon. Member for having made that point and I hope that his hon. Friend the Member for Aston has listened to it carefully because it would take a great deal of the sting out of his remarks. To accuse us of doing something wrong in raising this point, when the sole object is to see that the contract is carried out really well and when in recent years there was an incident in Siam—a neighbouring country—of disastrous failure because the contract had been wrongly drawn, wrongly worked out and carried out—

Mr. Wyatt


Mr. Fletcher

I have not the slightest intention of giving way to the hon. Member; he is not worth it. I believe that it would for that reason be wise of the Government not to treat this as a hostile act on our part. We are seeking to examine the facts of the case and to see that this contract is carried out well from beginning to end. There must be some question of security for this loan, from its inception until it is repaid. Countries which have to come forward and confess that through no fault of theirs their financial situation is such that they have to borrow in this way have very often to be assisted with advice and help on the question of repayment. There must be give and take on both sides and if, for some reason, an extension may he needed, that must be examined. This is not a hostile act, but an effort to help, by people who have a real knowledge of Burma and other Eastern countries. We have put down the Amendment to elicit from the Government whether they have really thought of this question in these terms, or have not.

4.55 p.m.

Mr. Harold Davies (Leek)

The hon. Member for Bury and Radcliffe (Mr. W. Fletcher) wants to introduce some reality into the Debate. On other occasions he does so, but today I think he has been very unreal. There is nothing wrong in the Opposition wanting to know the facts about conditions in Burma and the conditions under which this loan is to be made, but I am certain that my hon. Friend the Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) was right when he said that the way in which the Amendment will be interpreted in parts of South-East Asia will be to make them think that the Opposition are more or less playing party politics—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—merely playing party politics. It was rather unfortunate that the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Erroll) illustrated his speech by specifically mentioning the issue of bulk-buying.

During the General Election, the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) received letters from the West Indies—I hope the Opposition will correct me if I am wrong; I had better say I believe he received them—

Mr. Oliver Stanley (Bristol, West)

I have not any idea.

Mr. Davies

—and that they were concerned with whether or not the Conservative Party regarded bulk-buying as part of their Colonial policy for the maintenance of trade and industry in the Colonies. In the "Malay States Times" there was an article on this subject only a few weeks ago. The party opposite say they want to kill Communism, yet they talk of this loan as wasting the taxpayers' money. If we lose a little money in the fight against Communism, I would prefer that to losing the blood of Britishers. I look on this loan as a type of British Marshall Aid to a country in Asia which is trying to develop a democratic way of life. In this country we protest about interference by outside bodies and when we make this loan we are quite justified in expecting the State Agricultural Marketing Board to work it in a manner fitting to the country itself.

One would think that the economic deterioration in Burma had only been caused in the past few years. The truth is that of all countries in the Far East, Burma suffered more than any other in the war.

We know, for instance, that next year the estimate is that the shipment of rice will be 60,000 tons short. If this Amendment in any way restricts the production of rice and makes the target even less than that, how far do the Opposition think they will be helping in the fight against the spread of Communism in South-East Asia, of which they are so afraid?

I understand that the acreage of rice sown this year is 7,666,300 acres, whereas last year it was 8,763,800 acres. This is due to the civil war and to problems that Burma has faced in working out a democratic way of life. Thus, already only 68 per cent. of Burmese rice will be available for her commitments this year. It is not only rice that is suffering like this. Hon. Gentlemen opposite know full well that timber is at a standstill and cotton and the production of peanuts and even oil, about which I see they have another Amendment on the Order Paper.

The hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Gammans) spoke of trade with Japan but this type of Amendment would drive trade to Japan.—[Laughter.] Hon. Members may laugh, but only the other day U Thet Su, Chairman of the State Agricultural Marketing Board, was trying to organise an agreement by which 100,000 tons of rice was to be supplied to Japan. Time and again I have heard the hon. Member for Bury and Radcliffe say that we wanted rice and food to solve the Malay problem. How far can we expect this Amendment to help in solving that particular problem? Surely it is encouraging the attitude that not much would come from Britain if the Conservatives were in power, that they would investigate every one of these loans on the basis of the old-fashioned business methods that created such chaos in this country in the past 30 years. The present situation in Britain is due entirely to the old-fashioned method associated with a struggle for markets, areas of investment and routes for those markets. Members opposite are still preaching today the kind of philosophy that they preached in the 1850's.

Mr. W. Fletcher


Mr. Davies

The hon. Member is not worth giving way for. One cannot treat him seriously. I am delighted that the Government have in their wisdom decided to encourage any honest effort within Burma to establish a democratic way of life, I can think of no better way than producing rice. If we desire to defeat Communism in Asia, we shall do so on the rice fields rather than on the battlefields. I sincerely hope that this House will reject the Amendment.

5.2 p.m.

Lord John Hope (Edinburgh, Pentlands)

I had not intended to intervene in this Debate until I heard the speeches that have been made from the benches opposite. Even now I intend to make not so much a speech as a very short and, I hope, reasonable interruption. Early in his speech, the hon. Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) said something by way of warning in connection with the possible interpretations which might be put abroad upon speeches made on this side in this Debate. I ask him to reflect how much he and his hon. Friends the Members for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) and Blackley (Mr. Diamond) have contributed towards a proper interpretation of the views of those of us on this side by the way they have interpreted our motives in their speeches this afternoon. Their speeches have been unfortunate, to say the least.

The Prime Minister of Burma said, when Burmese independence became a fact: What both sides have sought and I believe have achieved is nothing less than arrangements which will form a firm and solid basis for Anglo-Burmese friendship. I would make the suggestion to hon. Gentleman opposite that critical advice has never been inconsistent with true friendship. What is inconsistent is an unwillingness to tell the truth to your friends, an unwillingness which, in the case of Burma, I believe one or two hon. Members opposite share. The hon. Member for Aston warned us about the sensitiveness of the Burmese towards the acceptance of critical advice given by Englishmen, on the grounds that it might well be interpreted by other Burmese as weakness. Although I know that that attitude has been held and is almost bound to be held by certain people at a critical stage in a country's transition from dependence to independence, nevertheless there comes a time when the truth and the telling of it can only help everyone. I suggest to the hon. Member for Aston that that time has now come.

suggest to those in Burma who may feel sensitive about critical advice that the time has come for them to realise that a change of mind might now be interpreted, not as a sign of weakness but as a sign of their new-found strength. They will find that the advice which we on this side will give them, which will be selfless and objective, will be given not only for the benefit of our own people in this country, but also very much for the benefit of Burma.

5.6 p.m.

Mr. R. A. Butler (Saffron Walden)

Before the Minister replies, I should like to add a few words to those which have been said on this side of the Committee. So far as I can see, this Debate will have served sonic useful purpose if it can educate certain hon. Members opposite in the ordinary practices of the House of Commons, especially in Committee. If we can achieve that, we shall have achieved something. Further, I trust that this Debate may he of some purpose in indicating to the people and to the Government of Burma the full facts about the Conservative attitude towards that country and its Government. I will spend a little time on those two aspects before I address myself to the attractive subject of rice.

It is not for me to give a lecture on liamentary procedure, and if I did, you, Sir Charles, would perhaps rule me out of order. It is in order for me to say, however, that this Amendment for a reduction in the Vote has been moved for the specific purpose of attracting attention to a particular Item on the Diplomatic and Consular Vote on which we desire to obtain further information, and subject to the reply which will shortly be given by the Under-Secretary, I see no reason why my hon. Friends should press this matter. In fact, we have no desire to do so.

I must remind hon. Members opposite that had we not adopted this procedure, we could not have centralised the discussion on this particular aspect of the Diplomatic and Consular Vote. If they propose to continue with these very intransigent and most unreasonable speeches we have heard, we shall be perfectly ready to range over the whole of the Diplomatic and Consular Vote and keep thoroughly busy for the rest of the afternoon the two new Ministers who have just taken up their duities in the Foreign Office. Those two Ministers have taken up the responsible position which I used to occupy alone in the days when we had no Minister of State, and when the Under-Secretary was expected to do two men's work. They might just as well be given a little practice. It has always been my view that the representatives of the Foreign Office do not appear often enough on the Floor of the House, and this might be an occasion for helping to remedy that state of affairs. We shall certainly not be satisfied by a speech from the Under-Secretary alone. I feel certain that the Minister of State will desire to intervene on this occasion and give us the benefit of his wide experience of Burma.

I must address myself to the speeches which have been made by the hon. Members for Aston (Mr. Wyatt), Blackley(Mr. Diamond) and Leek (Mr. Harold Davies). Those three hon. Members seem to me to have fallen into the error, prevalent in the last Parliament, and which we then attempted to kill—and which I hope we can kill forever in this Parliament—that they have a monopoly of friendship for the peoples of the East. That is totally and absolutely untrue. The hon. Member for Aston made some extremely exaggerated remarks about the attitude of the Conservative Party. The hon. Member for Blackley, with a little less than the usual brilliance which we associate with his name, said that because my name was attached to this Amendment, there was something sinister in it as indicating the unfriendliness of the Conservatives to Burma. The hon. Member for Leek launched into a most inaccurate account of the magnificent contribution which private enterprise made to the past prosperity of Burma. It remains to be seen whether Burma can achieve such prosperity in the future.

Mr. Wyatt

We should like to be fair to hon. Members opposite, but is the right hon. Gentleman now saying, in effect, on behalf of the Conservative Party, that they are sorry they voted against the Burma Independence Act when it came before this House?

Mr. Butler

I was addressing myself to the subject on the Order Paper, and subject to your Ruling, Sir Charles, it is not in order to range over the whole subject of an Act of Parliament which is not before us this afternoon. I was addressing myself to the quite intemperate and unreasonable remarks of the hon. Member for Aston. I should like to say to him and to hon. Members opposite that there are several people on this side of the Committee, myself included, who began to work for the independence notably of India, Pakistan and Burma long before they ever thought of it, and we shall continue working for the good of those countries long after he has finished doing so. Perhaps it would be just as well if that sort of message went across to the headlines of the Burmese newspapers at the same time as the intemperate and inaccurate remarks which the hon. Gentleman himself made.

Now let us address ourselves to this complex question of rice. We noticed when examining the Supplementary Estimates, which it is our constitutional right and duty to do, that there were these two interesting items on Burma. We are taking the first one now; and some rather wider considerations will have to be raised on the second one. But upon this, the first thing we want to know is whether in fact this is a settlement of what may be described as Commonwealth aid to Burma which we understand amounts to some £7½ million, of which the British Government are going to shoulder half. That will be £3¾ million and if that part, that proportion, is laid down in this Supplementary Estimate, it gives us an opportunity to consider this matter in Parliament, as indeed it should be considered.

I say quite frankly to hon. Members opposite that if we are to be deterred by unreasonable speeches which traduce our motives in raising matters on which we require information, I think the whole objective of the procedure of Parliament will have been thwarted. We have not been informed of this loan before. We have received no account of what happened at Colombo. The Foreign Secretary even refuses to open a Foreign Affairs Debate to tell us something about these things. We have obtained the minimum of information from the Foreign Office, and had we not taken the opportunity of raising this matter here, on the Supple- mentary Estimate, we should have learned or heard nothing about this Commonwealth loan which emanated from the Colombo Conference. I trust, therefore, that the Under-Secretary will enlighten us a little bit on the point of the extent of the money to which the British taxpayer would be committed by a loan of this sort.

I further want to know the nature of the loan; what is the nature of the security and what is the nature of the repayment of the loan? I should like also to know the nature of the transactions whereby we or the other countries concerned, notably India, Pakistan and Ceylon, obtain rice under the arrangements made? When we examine the world situation with regard to rice, we find that in the days before the war in the South-East Asia area rice provided some 61 million tons for export. In 1949 it had dropped to 2,600,000 tons; and we believe that for 1950 not more than 2,200,000 tons will be available. Rice is the very basis, not only of the fight against Communism, to which hon. Members opposite have referred, but is the staple diet of that part of the world. Proper transactions in relation to the rice crop and the sufficient growing of rice are the very basis of the solution of the problems of the South-East Asia area.

As regards the details, I am informed that the exportable surplus in 1949–50 is probably in the nature of 800,000 tons. According to my information, which I should like either to be confirmed or refuted by the Under-Secretary, some 600,000 tons of that amount have already been sold. If that is the case, what is the position of the United Kingdom in relation to rice exports which it may desire, and what is the position in the transaction of the State Marketing Board to which reference was made by the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Erroll)? While I am mentioning this question of State trading. I think I should say that hon. Members opposite are extremely touchy if they consider that they are to be allowed to give full vent to their belief in State trading, and that we are not to be allowed to make any reference to our own views without being told that we are insulting a foreign Government.

I think it quite essential in this Parliament that we should all be absolutely frank in our intimate beliefs. The fact is that we do not like State trading, and I do not mind who knows it, either in this country or overseas. From my knowledge of the people of that country, with which my family have been most intimately, and I believe honourably, associated, they are the most cheerful and friendly people; and they would be extremely surprised to hear, at any rate from my lips, sentiments which they knew were insincere, and which did not represent my Parliamentary beliefs. From some knowledge of other peoples and Governments in that part of the world, I am quite convinced that they are just as ready to face the truth from people who say what they believe, as they are to take untruths when they know they are uttered in an insincere way.

Mr. Harold Davies

I would not like it to be put on record that we thought hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite were insulting Burma. So far as I can remember now, I am certain that those words were not used by myself; neither were they used by my hon. and right hon. Friends on this side of the Committee. I would say, secondly, that I am quite certain that hon. Members on both sides of the Committee are concerned with the production of rice in Asia and it would be unfair of any of us on this side of the Committee to say that hon. Gentlemen opposite were not concerned at that. Lastly, we differ only on the approach, and the party political line, we really believe, was introduced by the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale asking that some control over the methods of marketing in Burma should be introduced. That is why the Debate took the line which it did take.

Mr. Butler

The hon. Member has been fortunate in being able to make an extra speech which in any case is quite in Order, but, inserted in my speech, it becomes an absolute jewel; because attention will be rivetted on my remarks, and the hon. Member may feel satisfied that these remarks of his at least will be read.

Mr. Davies


Mr. Butler

I should like also to thank the hon. Member for his very greatly improved tone. I can see that already we have had a moral victory in this Debate, because the argument on that side of the Committee started in an extremely acid, acrid and bitter manner and it has been converted, by reason of the arguments from this side, into a most sweet and reasonable response. Therefore, we have already gained our main objective, except for the information we hope that we shall have from the Under-Secretary.

I was saying that the Burmese would be the first people to understand when we state our beliefs, and I have no need at the present time to go further into that matter. I simply wish to ask what is the position of the Board? Was the Board indebted to the rice millers for rice of the previous season and is that why it cannot operate without further funds? If that be the reason, it will be an interesting fact to elucidate from the Under-Secretary as the reason why the loan is necessary. Then, is each of the Commonwealth countries helping with this loan to receive an allocation of rice, or is the rice to be handed over for disposal to a committee of the lending countries for distribution as it thinks fit? Perhaps the Under-Secretary can answer that point. Further, what, as I asked earlier, is the security for a loan of this character, and what is the nature of the terms for the repayment?

I put that last question because, while it would be out of order to go into it in any detail, it is well known that there are some £30 million of loans outstanding which at some date are expected to be repaid to this country. In view of the very straitened and difficult circumstances under which the Burma Government are at present operating, it would be interesting to know what are the possibilities and likelihood of the repayment of this loan.

Before I sit down, I wish to raise this question of the trade between Japan and Burma. We saw in "The Times" newspaper of yesterday a telegram from Tokyo dated 21st March that a trade agreement has been ratified between Japan and Burma providing for an exchange of Roods amounting to £17½ million during 1950. Reference to the many items in the trade agreement would be out of Order, but one of the items is rice; and we should value the opinion of the Foreign Office as to the terms of this treaty; what it means; what it is likely to do to the very straitened supplies of rice available for the Eastern peoples themselves; and what is the importance to their future of that trade agreement? So far, no opinion has been given to the Committee or to the House on this matter, and it would be very valuable, not only for the Lancashire Members, but also for those interested in rice, to have some further opinion given on this occasion.

Those are all the matters on which I think I can usefully comment on this subhead, while reserving the right to raise the broader issues on the next one. I would make an appeal to the Under-Secretary. I trust that he will not follow the tone of the speakers who have preceded him on his side of the Committee. I believe he occupies an extremely responsible post in the Government. We have no desire to import into the realm of foreign affairs any particular controversy unless that is necessitated by the failure of Government policy in any respect. As this is a Debate upon the Diplomatic and Consular Vote, I hope that he will confine his remarks to the facts of the case and not import into the situation any unnecessary rancour.

5.20 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Ernest Davies)

I appreciate the remarks which have been made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler). I do so because in the first speeches made here this afternoon there was considerable misunderstanding as to the purpose of this Vote. The reason why there was a little acrimony on both sides of the Committee was due entirely to that misunderstanding. It was perhaps unfortunate, because of this, that this Amendment was put down and—

Mr. Stanley

What does the hon. Gentleman mean.

Mr. Davies

I think it was unfortunate that this Amendment was put down because it has resulted o in some remarks being made during the Debate which do not, I think, help us in the pursuit of our policy in South-East Asia.

Mr. Stanley

The hon. Member surely understands, and if not we must make it plain, that the only way on Supplementary Estimates in which we can concentrate the discussion of the Committee on a particular item in the Vote of a Department is by putting down a reduction. That was the sole reason why an Amendment was put down in this case. We cannot help it if hon. Members opposite do not understand the rules of the House.

Mr. Davies

With all due respect, I should have thought that. when Supplementary Estimates are presented, it would not always be necessary to put down an Amendment in order that the Supplementary Estimates could be discussed.

Mr. A. Edward Davies (Stoke-on-Trent, North)

On a point of order. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Stanley) has raised a most interesting point. He says that this subject could not have been discussed—that we could not have given it the same attention—if there had not been an Amendment. I was under the impression that when a substantial sum of money appears for the first time on a Supplementary Estimate and when it is not a fraction of a main Estimate which has previously appeared, it can be discussed.

The Chairman (Major Milner)

Certainly it can be discussed.

Mr. Stanley

Is it not the position that on a Supplementary Estimate, the Opposition, by tradition of the House, can choose which Votes are put down, but they have to be put down in a block. We can put, as we have done, first the Consular and Diplomatic Vote. That means that the whole of that Vote is open to discussion at the same time, and the only way in which the Committee can be restricted to considering only one item at a time in that Vote is by moving a reduction to the particular item in the main block.

The Chairman

Yes, I think that is correct.

Mr. Diamond

Is it not open for the Opposition, when putting down an Amendment of this kind, to act in one of two ways—either to ask for information and then withdraw the Amendment or, alternatively, to speak critically and to pursue the Amendment? Therefore, should not the first person who speaks for the Opposition on such an Amendment make clear what the object of the Opposition is?

The Chairman

I do not think that I should be drawn into expressing an opinion in any way on that subject. These matters may be discussed in half a dozen different ways.

Mr. Ernest Davies

I return to the question of the loan. Perhaps the way in which the sub-head is written into the Supplementary Estimate has caused some misunderstanding as to its actual nature. It is stated to be a short-term loan to Burma. Possibly, a more accurate description would be a "rice loan" because, in reply to the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden, I can say that this is not part of the larger loan. This is an entirely separate loan which is limited to £500,000. It may not be called upon, and none of this loan has as yet been provided to Burma. In the event, it may not be provided, but it was put down in the Estimates because it seemed likely that the offer would be made to the Burmese and that their reply would be received by the time the Estimate came up for consideration. It will be possible to discuss the far larger loan to which reference was made when the Estimates of the Foreign Office are under discussion. That amount appears in the Estimates which have now been printed, and there will be ample opportunity to discuss the whole policy when the Estimates are debated.

This loan arose from discussions with the Commonwealth countries for the purpose of assisting Burma in financing the provision of rice to Commonwealth countries. The object was to facilitate the purchase of rice by India, Pakistan, Ceylon and, of course, this country. It was agreed in principle at the Colombo Conference last January that it should be a joint Commonwealth loan. Our share is only £500,000. It is limited to that. It should be borne in mind that that does not cover a very large amount of rice. The total amount of money involved in the financing of the rice crop of Burma would be something like £30 million, and the £500,000 advanced by this country is a very small proportion. It is necessary to keep our sense of proportion when we discuss the amount involved.

Several questions have been asked about the terms of the loan and the nature of repayment. I have been asked whether any conditions are being imposed upon the Burmese. This is a straight-forward normal commercial loan, and it can be regarded as a revolving credit. No money will be provided until the rice is provided, and then it will be liquidated and the money will be available for the financing of the further purchase of rice if that is desired.

Mr. W. Fletcher

Will the hon. Gentleman clear up two points. He said that no money will be paid until the rice is ready. Is this rice lying at the port in the bottom of the ships, is it in the canals, or where is it? That is an important point. I have one other question. Why does the hon. Gentleman always speak of "conditions to be imposed." Conditions can be negotiated by two friendly parties without any question of their being imposed.

Mr. Davies

The situation of the rice is a matter for negotiation. It depends upon the time when the loan is finally agreed. On the second point, the reason why it was suggested that there was an imposition of conditions was because certain hon. Members made the implication. The position is that at this stage we cannot say what the terms will be, because they are subject to negotiation. When the negotiations take place, the terms will be decided upon. They will be on a normal commercial basis, a low rate of interest being charged in accordance with the guarantee that will be given.

The present position about the purchase of this rice is that the United Kingdom will be buying for itself and its Colonial Territories including, of course, Malaya which, as was pointed out by the hon. Member for Bury and Radcliffe (Mr. W. Fletcher), is very important in that part of South-East Asia, and Ceylon which is in considerable need. As these agreements have not yet been negotiated, it is not possible to reveal at this stage the figures of the probable amount to be taken by us and by the various Commonwealth countries. We do not consider that it would be wise at this stage even to indicate how much these Commonwealth countries are negotiating for, as it might prejudice the negotiations and make it more difficult for them to reach a successful conclusion.

It is true that Japan is in the market and negotiating for a certain proportion of the rice, but we do not consider that that fact should in any way make it more difficult for us to obtain our requirements. I say that in spite of the references which have been made to bulk purchase this afternoon. We consider that working closely in consultation with the Commonwealth countries, and also working through the Marketing Board in Burma, we should be able to negotiate reasonable terms for this purchase, and we are not concerned about Japanese competition in that field. Nor have we any information that 600,000 tons have already been sold, as was suggested by one hon. Member. Certainly, there will be no political considerations to be attached to the loan; we can state that categorically, but we do not yet know whether the loan will finally go through.

Mr. Gammans

Before the hon. Gentleman leaves that point, would he make clear exactly what he meant? Do we understand that no money will, in fact, be advanced by this country unless the rice is actually in our hands in one form or another? Is that what the hon. Gentleman meant? If that is what he meant, why should he say that it is an advance of funds to Burma for the financing of rice purchases, which suggests that money is going to the Government of Burma to enable them to buy the rice? Would he give an explanation?

Mr. Davies

It is put in that form in order to cover all contingencies, but the present intention is that this is a short-term loan and that it is to be repaid in cash within a few months. I think that is the answer to the hon. Gentleman's question. As soon as the rice starts flowing and is available, obviously, the loan will be covered many times over by the rice which is available, but this is a revolving credit which will, so to speak, lubricate the flow of rice, and there is no reason for us to question the honour of the Burmese in honouring the terms which will be negotiated with them. So far, the Burmese have already honoured, as we expected of them, all the agreements which we have entered into with them, whether they concerned rice or not. On that score, I do not think hon. Members need question the attitude of the Burmese in this matter. Hon.

Members have no reason to fear that the Burmese will fall down on it, inasmuch as they did not fall down last year.

Reference was also made to the participation, or at least the interest, of the United States in Burma. Here again, we have no information, but, of course, if the United States is interested in coming to the assistance of Burma, then we would certainly welcome it, but we do not see any reason why we should be concerned about it.

This is part of our larger policy in giving assistance to Burma at the present time. As other hon. Members have suggested, Burma is a food-producing country supplying South-East Asia, and it is of vital importance to a very large section of the community in that part of the world. We therefore feel that, if we can in any way assist them by way of financing the crop, not only are we contributing towards the production of foodstuffs in Burma and South-East Asia, but we are also facilitating the flow of that crop into the countries which most need it, and, in particular, Commonwealth countries.

Mr. Erroll

As the purpose of our Amendment was only to focus the discussion on this particular sub-head, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.