HL Deb 08 June 1921 vol 45 cc480-4

Debate upon the Amendment moved by LORD SYDENHAM to the Motion that the Bill be now read 2ª— namely, to leave out ("now") and to add at the end of the Motion ("this day six months")—resumed(according to Order).


My Lords, I think it is my duty to withdraw my Amendment formally, but I would ask to be allowed to say a few words on this question. At the end of the last debate I asked the noble Earl whether, "if this Bill went to a Select Committee and that Select Committee altered in any way the form of the Government of Burma Bill, the Committee must accept the form described in this Bill—which is the form of diarchy—or would they have any right to consider or propose any alternative form." The noble Earl did not reply from his seat in the House, but I saw him afterwards in the lobby, and he told me that the Bill would be referred in its entirety to the Committee, that the Committee would have full power to make any proposals that it chose, and that the Secretary of State was prepared, if that were necessary, to withdraw the Bill, and even to substitute another, if that was recommended by the Committee.

When the Committee set to work it found that the Secretary of State, on behalf of His Majesty's Government, had "decided upon the application of the Government of India Act, 1919, to Burma." Therefore, the Committee found its hands tied. It could make no recommendation as regards the principle of the Bill, which is the principle of diarchy. The Committee could deal, therefore, only with details, and propose the appointment of somebody to consider on the spot the necessary details to fill in the Bill. I think the Secretary of State has not treated the House quite fairly in this matter, because the House has now no opportunity of saying whether or not it prefers to apply the diarchical principle to Burma. Probably your Lordships might have wished that that principle should be applied to Burma, but, as the matter now stands, you will not have any chance of expressing your view.

It will be said the principle of diarchy, as applied to India, has proved a success. I have seen that stated. But diarchy is a success in India because it is not operating. The Provincial Governments are working as unified bodies, as if they were under the scheme of the five Lieutenant-Governors, to which the Secretary of State would have nothing to say Therefore, we cannot at present tell what the effects of this principle of diarchy can be. But in a time not far distant we may see an extremist Minister, with an extreme majority in the Legislative Council behind him, and then, I think, it will be found that all the evils which we pointed out at the time will show themselves. So far as the Bill has been applied to India there have been, from the administrative point of view, three results. First, there has been a great increase of the cost of the Government; secondly, there has been a great increase of the bureaucratic elements of Government in India—which always, of course, coincides with the introduction of democracy—and thirdly, there has been a very serious weakening of the financial control. That is what we are now asked to inflict upon Burma.


I understand that the noble Lord asks leave to withdraw his Amendment.



Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


My Lords, I waited in case any other member of your Lordships' House had anything to say, because I have a right of reply only on the whole debate. If, however, no other member of the House wishes to speak, I desire to make one or two very brief remarks before the Motion that the Bill be read a second time is put. Three changes have taken place since this Bill was last before the House in March. We have had further communications from the Government of India, and the Government of Burma, and we have now the advantage of the presence in this country of the late Viceroy, Viscount Chelmsford, who, I am sorry to say, is not m his place this afternoon, but he has been present at the meetings of the Joint Select Committee and has been able to express in person the views of his Government A White Paper has been issued containing all the correspondence which has passed between the Government of India and ourselves on this subject, and, filially, the Joint Select Committee of both Houses have considered the whole correspondence and have issued their Report.

The result is that whereas in March I was obliged to tell your Lordships there was a difference of opinion on this question between the Government of India and ourselves, that difference is now happily adjusted and all parties are unanimous in recommending Parliament to pass this Bill. That being so, it is not necessary for me to detain you by any further defence of the measure. There is only one thing which, I think, must be said in justification of the action taken by the Secretary of State. No one will deny that political sense in Burma has not hitherto been at all actively aroused, and no one with a knowledge of that country will deny that it is actively aroused at the present moment. There is a disposition in some quarters to attribute this to a somewhat rash experiment in Constitution-making on the part of the Secretary of State. I notice that Lord Sydenham, speaking on the Second Reading of the Bill in March, said— The Viceroy and Secretary of State declared their intention of deliberately disturbing the placid, pathetic contentment of the people. And he added— The result of passing this Bill will undoubtedly be to disturb the people—a singularly happy and contented people—and it will arouse in Burma a corresponding agitation to that which is running through India from one end to the other at the present time. I cannot help feeling that that is an extraordinary misreading of history.

If there is unrest and agitation in Burma to-day, as undoubtedly there is, it is due to one cause, and one cause only—namely, that Burma was not visited by the Viceroy and Secretary of State and, in consequence, was left out of the Government of India Act. It is the omission of Burma from that Act which has created the agitation and unrest which exist at the present time This Bill is not going to create, as the noble Lord seems to feel, agitation in Burma; it is, I hope, going to remove the cause of such agitation as exists, and it is for that reason that I commend it to your Lordships.


My Lords, I should like to say one word in reference to the remarks just made by the noble Earl, not for the sake of criticism, but for the sake of historical accuracy. He said that all parties are now unanimous in respect of this Bill. They are only unanimous, as I am told by a high authority, because the Government have "queered the pitch" by presenting the Bill which is now before us. No doubt, there has been agitation in Burma for increased self-government, but the Government of Burma had their own measure which had been revised and considered by the Government of India There is no reason to suppose that the proposals of the Government of Burma would not have perfectly satisfied the Burmese people. It is because of the action of the Secretary of State in presenting this Bill that the agitation in Burma has taken its present form, and the Young Burmese Party will accept this measure and no other. That is, I think, an accurate description of what leas taken place, and, therefore, unanimity has been obtained because the Government of India realise that a position has been created which will be satisfied only by the proposals contained in this measure.

On Question, Bill read 2ª, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.