HC Deb 01 August 1962 vol 664 cc584-90
The Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations and Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Duncan Sandys)

With permission, I would like to make a statement about the proposed Federation of Malaysia.

The British and Malayan Governments have received and studied the Report of the Commission under the chairmanship of Lord Cobbold which visited North Borneo and Sarawak earlier this year to ascertain the views of the inhabitants on the proposal to create a Federation of Malaysia embracing Malaya, Singapore, Sarawak, North Borneo and Brunei. The Report is being published today and is now avalable in the Vote Office.

The two Governments are most grateful to the Commission for its valuable Report and have accepted almost all the recommendations on which the Commission was unanimous. The two Governments have noted, in particular, that the Commission was unanimously agreed that a Federation of Malaysia is in the best interests of North Borneo and Sarawak and that an early decision in principle should be reached.

In the light of this Report and of the agreement reached between the Government of Malaya and the Government of Singapore, the British and Malayan Governments have now decided in principle that, subject to the necessary legislation, the proposed Federation of Malaysia should be brought into being by 31st August, 1963.

To give effect to this decision, the two Governments intend to conclude, within the next six months, a formal agreement which, among other things, will provide for:

first, the transfer of sovereignty in North Borneo, Sarawak and Singapore by 31st August, 1963;

secondly, provisions governing the relationship between Singapore and the new Federation, as agreed between the Governments of Malaya and Singapore;

thirdly, defence arrangements as set out in the joint statement by the British and Malayan Governments dated 22nd November, 1961; and

fourthly, detailed constitutional arrangements, including safeguards for the special interests of North Borneo and Sarawak, to be drawn up after consultation with the Legislatures of the two territories.

These safeguards will cover such matters as religious freedom, education, representation in the Federal Parliament, the position of the indigenous races, control of immigration, citizenship and the State constitutions.

In order that the introduction of the new Federal system may be effected as smoothly as possible and with the least disturbance to existing administrative arrangements, there will be, after the transfer of sovereignty, a transition period, during which a number of the Federal constitutional powers will be delegated temporarily to the State Governments.

An Inter-Governmental Committee will be established as soon as possible, on which the British, Malayan, North Borneo and Sarawak Governments will be represented. Its task will be to work out the future constitutional arrangements and the form of the necessary safeguards for the two territories.

The Minister of State for the Colonies, Lord Lansdowne, who will be the Chairman of this Committee, and the Deputy Prime Minister of the Federation of Malaya, Tun Abdul Razak, will proceed shortly to Sarawak and North Borneo to conduct discussions.

In order to maintain the efficiency of the administration, the British and Malayan Governments are agreed on the importance of retaining the services of as many of the expatriate officials as possible. The Minister of State will discuss with the Governments of the territories and with the staff associations how this best can be done.

The British and Malayan Governments have informed the Sultan of Brunei of the agreement they have reached and have made it clear that they would welcome the inclusion of the State of Brunei in the new Federation.

Mr. Healey

My right hon. and hon. Friends welcome the conclusion of an agreement to set up a federation which I think the great majority of hon. Members on both sides believe will be in the interests of the inhabitants of all the territories concerned. However, experience has taught us to be a little cautious about proposals for federation in Commonwealth and Colonial Territories. Will the right hon. Gentleman enlighten us on three particular issues referred to in his account of the agreement?

First, does the description of the agreement as being "in principle" mean that both parties to it are free to withdraw from it if they are dissatisfied with the course of negotiations before the Federation is actually set up? Secondly, is it the case that the Sultanate of Brunei is totally free to decide whether to join the Federation and that the Tunku of Malaya has decided that the Federation shall go forward whatever decision is taken by the Government of Brunei? Finally, is it intended that expatriate civil servants shall continue to administer the territories concerned until the end of the transitional period under the sovereignty of the local administration?

Mr. Sandys

First, when we say that the agreement has been decided "in principle", we intend that this shall, in fact, take place, but, as I made clear in my statement, before the process is complete, we have got to conclude a formal agreement which will set out all the various points which have been under discussion and which will be further discussed with the Legislatures of the two territories. Naturally, if we fail to reach agreement on what the treaty shall contain, which, I think, is extremely unlikely, it will break down. But, in view of the wide measure of agreement which we have already reached, I think that that is a most unlikely eventuality.

Secondly, the Sultan of Brunei has already declared publicly that he is in favour of the creation of the new Federation. I therefore think it unlikely that the issue raised by the hon. Gentleman will arise.

Thirdly, in regard to the transition period, it is the hope and wish—I I thought that I had made this reasonably clear in my statement—that as many as possible of the expatriate officials shall continue to undertake the administration of the territories for as long as possible.

Sir J. Barlow

I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement. While we all agree that this new idea of a greater Malaysia is a good thing, does he realise that the people of North Borneo and Sarawak are not universally in favour of this new proposal? Will my right hon. Friend take great care to ensure that there are proper safeguards for these two peoples, who are not so far advanced as those of Singapore and Malaya?

Mr. Sandys

The Commission, in its Report, which my hon. Friend will see, came to the conclusion that, provided adequate safeguards were secured, the majority of the people of these two territories are in favour of the proposed Federation. We recognise, of course, that the securing of proper safeguards to meet their special interests is of cardinal importance. That has been the major topic which we have been discussing during the past ten days with Malayan Ministers in London, and we shall continue to discuss the matter in further detail through the medium of the Inter-Governmental Committee to which I referred in my statement.

Mr. Grimond

In welcoming the Minister's statement, may I ask him whether any of the unanimous recommendations of the Cobbold Commission Which have not been accepted are major recommendations? Can he give the House any information on this point? Secondly, is the date of 31st August, 1963, a firm date? I take it that if all the preliminaries are concluded satisfactorily, that is a firm date for independence and federation.

Mr. Sandys

It would not be a good thing for me to try to summarise the points on which the Commission was not agreed. I would hope that the right hon. Gentleman will study that for himself.

I have stated that we have agreed in principle that the new Federation should be brought into being by 31st August, 1963; that is to say, a date not later than 31st August, 1963.

Sir K. Pickthorn

Can my right hon. Friend assure us that any hopes placed in continued service by expatriates will not be endangered by their having any reason whatever themselves to lose confidence in their careers and in their treatment?

Mr. Sandys

That, of course, will be our intention in the talks which we are proposing to have with the staff associations in the two territories.

Mr. Creech Jones

Having had some responsibility for the separation of Singapore from Malaya and the inclusion of Sarawak in the Commonwealth, I should like to express my sincere congratulations to the Minister and to the Prime Ministers of Malaya and Singapore on the discussions which have taken place and my hope for the success of these arrangements in the future. I would only inform the Secretary of State, if I may, that this is a stage in the consummation of a policy which some of us ardently desired in the early days after the war.

Mr. Turner

Can my right hon. Friend assure the House that in the consultations that will take place in North Borneo and Sarawak, in addition to the Legislatures outside bodies will also be consulted about the safeguards?

Mr. Sandys

Yes, Sir. I have no doubt that the Inter-Governmental Committee will exercise wide discretion in deciding with whom it is appropriate to have consultations. The Cobbold Commission has, however, been over the whole of this ground and has consulted a whole variety of bodies in the two territories. Therefore, our primary task now is to consult the Legislatures of the two territories concerned.

Mr. G. Thomas

Will the inter-Governmental discussions on religious freedom in Sarawak ultimately be referred to this House in view of the deep anxiety which, as the Secretary of State will know, has been expressed by Christian communities in Sarawak at the prospect of an Islamic State?

Mr. Sandys

My belief is that when this matter is fully discussed with the peoples concerned, they will be satisfied—certainly, we want to be absolutely sure on this point—that there will be complete religious freedom in the two territories after the creation of the new Federation.

Sir C. Osborne

Will there be an opportunity to discuss the Whole matter in this House before a final decision is taken? Secondly, did I understand my right hon. Friend correctly to say that one of the items was control of immigration? What degree of control will be exercised and who asked for control of immigration—the Malayan Government or the British Government?

Mr. Sandys

The control of immigration was one of the safeguards which was vary much wanted by the peoples of the two territories. I think that they want a control of immigration much greater, perhaps, than this House would have approved in the discussion of a Bill earlier this Session. They are afraid, in particular, of large-scale immigration and land settlement which might affect the character and balance of the country.

As to a debate in this House, before the process can be completed legislation will, of course, be required.