HC Deb 28 November 1961 vol 650 cc241-8

The following Question stood upon the Order Paper:


To ask the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations whether he will make a statement about the recent discussions with the Prime Minister of Malaya on the proposal to establish a Federation of Malaysia.

The Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations (Mr. Duncan Sandys)

With permission, I will now answer Question No. 84.

As a result of discussions last week with the Prime Minister of Malaya and other Malayan Ministers, we agreed that the creation of a Federation of Malaysia, embracing Malaya, Singapore, North Borneo, Sarawak and Brunei, was a desirable aim in the interests of the peoples concerned.

We accordingly decided to set up a Commission to ascertain the views of the inhabitants of North Borneo and Sarawak on this question, and we made arrangements to consult the Sultan of Brunei.

We also agreed that, in the event of a Federation of Malaysia being established, the existing defence agreement between Britain and Malaya should be extended to embrace all the territories concerned, subject to the proviso that Britain would have the right to continue to maintain her base at Singapore.

The base at Singapore is, of course, a British base and not a S.E.A.T.O. base; and we would, naturally, not be free to transfer control of the base to any other nation or group of nations. However, the agreement makes it clear that Britain would be permitted to make such use of the base at Singapore as she may consider necessary for the purpose of assisting in the defence of Malaysia, and for Commonwealth defence, and for the preservation of peace in South-East Asia.

A White Paper containing a joint statement by the two Governments, the terms of reference of the Commission and the text of the agreement on defence is now available in the Vote Office.

Mr. Callaghan

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that an arrangement which makes for a close federal link between Malaya and Singapore will be very generally welcomed, and that we trust that this will be the beginning of a very happy and close relationship between the two States?

While I acknowledge that the Government have set up a Commission, will the right hon. Gentleman take very great care to ensure that the opinion of the two Protectorates and the Sultanate is carefully taken into account? We do not want any repetition of what has happened in the case of federations elsewhere. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to be particularly careful—because there is opposition to this suggestion in some of these territories—to ensure that the proposition is properly canvassed and that there is a fair expression of opinion among those three smaller territories.

The right hon. Gentleman will know that what he has said about the defence agreement is not what the Tunku has said. What are we to understand about the position which seems to arise? Is it the case that in Malaya we cannot move British troops for a particular purpose without the consent of the Tunku, but in Singapore, according to what the right hon. Gentleman has said—because he calls it a British base—even under the new agreement we shall be free to use troops with or without the consent of the Tunku? Is not this an impossible situation?

In view of experience and the history of bases in different parts of the world over the last few years, ought not the right hon. Gentleman and the Government to acknowledge the reality of the situation, which is that we shall not be able to use Singapore fully without the consent of the people who have responsibility for government? Why not say so? If that lessens the value of Singapore, let us acknowledge that it lessens the value and let us re-examine the question of the use of the base and how worth while it is to us.

May I ask, further—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—I will conclude. I do not wish to take too long, but there is an important discrepancy between the two Governments. May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he would not get out of his present difficulty by acknowledging that we will not be able to use Singapore, whether it is called a British base or not, unless we have the consent of the federal authorities of Malaysia?

Mr. Sandys

I am not in any difficulty. It is all very well for the hon. Member to say that we are in contradiction. Different people sometimes say the same thing in different ways. The problem which the hon. Member has in mind is the use of the Singapore base in support of our obligations to S.E.A.T.O. That is the crux of the matter. Let us examine it.

As I have stated, the agreement would permit us to use the Singapore base for the purpose of assisting in the defence of Malaysia and for the preservation of peace in South-East Asia. These are the precise words of the agreement which we have reached. That, obviously, does not exclude the use of the base to discharge our obligations to S.E.A.T.O., which exists for the precise purpose of preserving peace in South-East Asia. If we are to play our full part in preserving peace in South-East Asia, we must be free to use our forces in the area in whatever way we consider most effective.

Sir G. Nicholson

No doubt my right hon. Friend is aware that many of the inhabitants of North Borneo and Sarawak are extremely primitive. Will he take particular care to see that their interests and protection are not overlooked and that he not only considers the view of the rich Chinese commercial population, but also realises that a special responsibility for these primitive peoples attaches to Her Majesty's Government?

Mr. Sandys

I assure my hon. Friend that that is something which we have very much in mind. It will be the main function of the Commission to make it its business to ascertain the views of all the elements in the populations concerned.

Mr. Grimond

Is it definitely agreed that the base can be used in support of S.E.A.T.O. even in circumstances in which there is no threat to Malaysia or any other part of the Commonwealth?

Mr. Sandys

The exact words in the agreement are that the United Kingdom may make such use of these bases and facilities as the United Kingdom may consider necessary for the purpose of assisting in the defence of Malaysia and for Commonwealth defence and for the preservation of peace in South-East Asia.

Mr. Grimond


Mr. Sandys

"And" in each case. The right hon. Gentleman is a lawyer. That does not mean that all these things have to be involved in all circumstances. I think that it should be borne in mind that the preservation of peace in South-East Asia is one of the essential interests of Malaya itself.

Sir D. Walker-Smith

Will my right hon. Friend say whether there are any economic implications in the proposed Federation, and, in particular, whether any changes are involved or contemplated in tariffs and Commonwealth preference?

Mr. Sandys

That will be a matter for the Federation if and when it comes into being.

Mr. G. Brown

Will the Minister help us to clear up the real meaning of what he has been saying? Is it not a fact that as regards the future use of this base, the Tunku, at any rate, understands that his local authority's prior approval will be necessary?

Is it not a fact that he has said two things in a message to Mr. Lee Kuan Yew? First, that Britain would no longer have the right to use her Singapore base as she pleased, and, secondly, that the Treaty permits the use of the base only with the agreement of the future Malaysian Government, and not as a right?

If we are not to store up a lot of trouble for ourselves in future and some problems for the Tunku and Mr. Lee Kuan Yew at present, would not it be better if the Minister said clearly in the House that what the Tunku has said out there is so?

Mr. Sandys

I think that it is much better to base ourselves on the precise words which we have worked out together and which have been signed by the Tunku and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, a copy of which is available in the Vote Office now. I think that I can say this with confidence. I am sure that what I have said in the House today in explanation of the position is something with which the Tunku will agree.

Sir P. Agnew

Can my right hon. Friend say which of the territories under this plan will remain under the sovereignty of Her Majesty, and who will be the Head of State of the Federation?

Mr. Sandys

The Federation has not yet been created. If the Federation is formed, it will be an extension of the existing Federation of Malaya, and, therefore, the Head of State—though this still has to be decided—will presumably be the elected King of Malaya.

Mr. G. Brown

May I put it to the Minister this way? Either the agreement provides that the base may be used by us in certain circumstances without the prior agreement of the Tunku, or it provides that in every case we have to get prior agreement. The Tunku has said that the latter is true. Will the Minister say which he understands to be true?

Mr. Sandys

The right hon. Gentleman talks about what the Tunku has said, but to my mind what the Tunku has signed in the agreement—

Mr. Brown

indicated dissent.

Mr. Sandys

It is all very well. If the right hon. Gentleman thinks that the signature is of no validity and of no importance he can shake his head, but when after three days of most careful discussion and negotiation, an agreement is reached and signed by the Prime Ministers of two countries, I think that the words contained in that agreement, which are crystal clear, should be regarded as the operative interpretation of anything which may have been agreed between the two countries.

Mr. Zilliacus

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that, according to his reading of it, the Treaty means that the Federation, although not a party to S.E.A.T.O., may be involved in a S.E.A.T.O. war by the unilateral action of the Government without the assent of the Federation Government. Is that the position?

Hon. Members


Mr. G. Brown

I understand what the Minister says about the words of the agreement, but is it not of absolute importance that, if this agreement is to be worth anything at all to us in the future, the interpretation placed on it over there should not be different from the one which the Minister is trying to place on it here? Is the Minister saying that what the Tunku has said in Malaya and to Singapore is not a proper interpretation of the agreement?

Mr. Sandys

I ask the right hon. Gentleman not to try to make difficulties. I do not think that the Tunku would mind my saying that the statement made to the House has, in accordance with normal courtesy between Governments, been cleared with him. Therefore, I have every confidence that what I have said today will be agreed and is in accord with the views and understanding of the Prime Minister of Malaya.

Sir J. Barlow

Will my right hon. Friend watch particularly the interests of the primative Dyaks in Sarawak and North Borneo rather than the interests of the people who have recently gone to those countries and are trading in the larger towns and ports?

Mr. Sandys


Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker


Mr. Callaghan

Is not the truth, Mr. Speaker—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I thought that the hon. Member was addressing me. That is why I sat down. I appreciate the difficulty, but there is no Question before the House. We ought to try to find a different occasion to debate this matter, because this is not the moment to debate it.

Mr. Callaghan

On a point of order. Mr. Speaker, Must not I address you in any case? That is what I was doing.

Mr. Speaker

I thought that the hon. Member was rising to address me about some other matter, about permitting a further question, or the like. I do not wish to adopt any sharp practice about this, but I hold the view that we ought to pass on to other business.