HC Deb 15 February 1956 vol 548 cc2363-8

The following Questions stood upon the Order Paper:

58. Mr. AWBERY

TO ask the Secretary of State for the Colonies if he will make a statement concerning his negotiations with Tengku Abdul Rahman on the subject of the independence of the Federation of Malaya.


TO ask the Secretary of State for the Colonies if he will make a statement in respect of the agreement reached at the Conference held to consider the future constitution of Malaya.

The Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Alan Lennox-Boyd)

With permission, I will now reply to Questions Nos. 58 and 73.

The House, I think, knows of the background to the Federation of Malaya Constitutional Conference which ended last week. The story is set out in its Report. Copies are already in the Library and the Vote Office of the House and it will shortly be printed and laid before Parliament as a White Paper. I want now simply to comment briefly upon its main features.

The Report refers to the desire of the Malayan delegation that full self-government and independence within the Commonwealth should be proclaimed by August, 1957, if possible. The Report agreed that a Constitution so providing should be introduced at the earliest possible date consistent with the importance of the task before the Constitutional Commission, and that every effort would be made by Her Majesty's Government and the Federation Government to achieve this by the time proposed.

Meanwhile, it is necessary to make provision for the interim period, and the recommendations in the Report are principally concerned with this. In accordance with previously accepted procedure, the recommendations of the Conference about the composition and terms of reference of the proposed Constitutional Commission are being submitted separately. The immediate changes proposed include the transfer to Malayan Ministers of responsibility for finance and development and for internal defence and security and for the withdrawal of the British advisers to the rulers.

As regards defence, so long as the emergency continues it is recommended that the forces required for its prosecution should remain under the operational command of the Director of Operations and be used to aid the civil authorities in giving effect to the directions of an Emergency Operations Council, of which the Malayan Minister for Internal Defence and Security will be Chairman and the Director of Operations a member. It is also proposed that there should be a permanent Federation Armed Forces Council, with functions in relation to the local armed forces broadly corresponding to those of the Army and Air Councils in the United Kingdom.

A fully self-governing Federation of Malaya will be responsible for external defence, and it was agreed that at that stage there should be an agreement between Her Majesty's Government and the Government of the Federation making provision for defence requirements and mutual assistance in defence matters, including provision affording to Her Majesty's Government both the right to maintain in the Federation the forces necessary for the fulfilment of Commonwealth and international obligations and also the facilities needed in the Federation for the support of these forces, which would include the Commonwealth strategic reserve.

For their part, Her Majesty's Government will undertake to assist the Government of the Federation in the external defence of its territory. It is proposed that the details should be studied by a working party to be set up as soon as possible under the chairmanship of the Commissioner General for the United Kingdom in South-East Asia, in which the Australian and New Zealand Governments would be invited to participate through observers.

The Report also contains important recommendations on financial and economic matters, relating both to the interim period and to that after attainment of full self-government, including a reaffirmation of the Federation Government's desire to encourage overseas investment to look to Malaya with every assurance of fair and considerate treatment.

It makes a number of proposals relating to the position of the public service, including recommendations for the establishment of a Public Service Commission, a Judicial Service Commission and a Police Service Commission, and outlines the provisions of a compensation scheme for those whose position and prospects may be affected by the consequences of the constitutional changes.

This will, I am sure, go far to remove any feeling of insecurity in the service, in which British officers, like other men and women from Britain in agriculture, mining and other spheres, have over the years contributed so much in skill and devoted service to the building up of the Federation to the point at which it can now look forward confidently to full self-government within the Commonwealth.

All the recommendations in the Report are subject to the approval of Her Majesty's Government and of Their Highnesses the Rulers of the Malay States.

Her Majesty's Government were very glad to welcome the Chief Minister, representatives of the Rulers and members of the Government. We had a very friendly conference in which all concerned approached the task in a spirit of recognition of our common interest. The friendship and confidence which existed is a good assurance for a future happy partnership with the Federation of Malaya, which we look forward to seeing take in due course its place as a fully self-governing member of the Commonwealth.

Mr. J. Griffiths

On behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends and myself may I say how very much we welcome the statement made by the Secretary of State for the Colonies as a notable step forward towards the fulfilment of our policy in the Colonial Territories? We shall require to study the White Paper, and it may be that questions which we wish to discuss will arise from that study. While I welcome in the arrangements for the future the proposal that the Governments of Australia and New Zealand should be brought into consultation, one question which seems to me of importance is whether from the very beginning we ought not to include the Government of Singapore. It would, I think, be desirable that the Government of Singapore, so close to the Federation, should be equally associated with these discussions. In view of the very welcome statement that after independence in August next year, or whatever may be the date, and that here we find it possible to reconcile the grant of independence to a territory and yet make satisfactory defence arrangements, can the right hon. Gentleman say that the Government will bear that in mind as we await our conclusions here at home?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I welcome what the right hon. Gentleman has said. One of the easier features of my work has been the knowledge that in my task I have carried with me the united good wishes of the British people as a whole. The right hon. Gentleman referred to Singapore, with which important territory separate talks are taking place. I would hesitate at this stage to prejudge the outcome of those talks, which are of very great importance.

Mr. Awbery

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this is almost the climax of many years of hope and effort by the people of Malaya? I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the spirit in which he has conducted the negotiations. Will he convey to the delegation the thanks of this House for the broad mind which it brought to bear upon the discussions? At the same time, will the right hon. Gentleman tell the people of Malaya—to show that we acquiesce in what he himself has done—that we are prepared to offer them financial and other assistance during the transition period? If the right hon. Gentleman will do that, it will help the transition very considerably.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I think the members of the delegation know how happy I have been to work with them and what confidence Her Majesty's Government have in them. This was indeed the climax of effort on their part, but also on the part of large numbers of British officers who have served for many years under great difficulties in Malaya, and whose continued association—in many cases—with Malaya is one of the best auguries for its future development.

Mr. Bellenger

In his original statement, the right hon. Gentleman mentioned the Commonwealth strategic reserve. On more than one occasion we have tried to elicit from the Secretary of State for War more information about the British strategic reserve. Could the right hon. Gentleman now tell us whether there is any connection between the two and, if so, what it is?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

Any Minister would hesitate to make a statement of this kind if it were likely to lead to him having to answer questions of that kind.

Mr. Nicholson

Is my right hon. Friend aware that he will merit and receive the thanks and congratulations of the whole country to himself personally?

Mr. Sorensen

While expressing appreciation of what has been achieved, may I ask two minor questions? First, will there be any more elaborate statement dealing with the details than the one the Minister has made today; and, secondly, can he say whether any discussions took place on the basis of the internal franchise of Malaya in the future?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

There will, as I have said, be a White Paper published, and on that, no doubt, Question Time is available for future discussions.

Mr. Awbery

Will the Minister bear in mind the point about financial assistance to Malaya? The country has suffered very considerably as a result of the emergency. Will the Minister answer the question whether we can give some assistance?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I think there is very little doubt in the Federation of Malaya as to the magnitude of the contribution which Her Majesty's Government have made, and indeed they themselves have contributed enormously towards meeting the cost of the emergency.

Mr. Gordon Walker

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman a question on a minor point? Will there be some explanation in the White Paper of the Commonwealth strategic reserve, which I do not think has been mentioned in any other document? It would be of great interest to know what it is.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I will look at that point.