HL Deb 22 June 1921 vol 45 cc708-22

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(The Earl of Lytton.)


My Lords, before this Bill goes into Committee I would like, with the indulgence of the House, to take the opportunity of making one or two observations, and addressing one or two questions to my noble friend, with regard to the measure. The Standing Joint Committee, as your Lordships are aware, recommended that the Bill, which has now passed its Second Reading and is about to enter Committee, should be adopted by Parliament, and the Standing Joint Committee then proceeded to recommend certain means for providing procedure best calculated to give effect to the Bill, and thus create a constitutional scheme for Burma. In paragraph (6) of the Committee's Report the Committee stated that they had not sufficient evidence to make any recommendation in regard to the two important aspects of the Bill—namely, the division between the reserved and transferred subjects, and the form of election to be adopted. As your Lordships are aware, these are perhaps the most vital elements of the Constitution. The Committee, therefore, proceeded to recommend that at an early date a Committee should be appointed to proceed to Burma; that there should be included in that Committee a Chairman from this country, and possibly one other member, who possessed Parliamentary knowledge; and that, the Committee should be charged with the duty of holding an open Inquiry in Burma both with regard to the franchise and the electoral system to be adopted, and also as to the subjects that are to be administered under the Constitution by Ministers.

I should be glad if my noble friend, the Under-Secretary of State for India, will be good enough to tell me if this recommendation of the Joint Committee is to be adopted by the Government, and, if he is in a position to do so, when the Committee will be appointed, and of whom it is to be composed. I shall also be glad to hear, if the noble Earl is able to give me the information, that this Committee may be appointed at a very early date. In the Joint Committee we are only recommending to Parliament to follow the course that was adopted in the case of the Government of India Bill. It was found necessary there to appoint a Committee, under the Chairmanship of Lord Southborough, to deal with these subjects, and while it was found important in India to deal with them, I think for many reasons, although not in a similar area, it is more important in Burma, where the conditions vary considerably.

It is also important because the Joint Committee had before them the communications that had passed between the various authorities—the India Office, the Government of India and the Government of Burma—and it appeared clear to the Committee that it would be impossible for them to make any precise recommendations in regard to these important aspects of the scheme, because the communications that were before them were very varied in character, and, indeed, showed a considerable divergence of opinion among those who were considering them. Therefore, it was quite impossible for the Joint Committee to arrive at any definite-and precise conclusions in regard to these matters, and they found themselves obliged to urge that a Committee should be appointed, possessing a member, or members, with detached views and with Parliamentary experience; because, after all,, we are laying down a Parliamentary system in Burma, and it is very important that officials in Burma should have the assistance of those with Parliamentary experience in this country.

In the event of this Committee being set up, I should be very glad if my noble friend is able to tell me that it will be set up with the greatest possible despatch, so that the work of the Committee may commence at the earliest possible date after this Bill has passed through Parliament, and in accord with the physical conditions in Burma. It is argued by some that the appointment of a Committee like this will unduly delay proceedings, but the Joint Committee were quite satisfied in their own minds, if the Committee gets to work this autumn and deals with the matter in precise fashion, that there is nothing to prevent their Report and recommendations coming back at the earliest date at the commencement of the session next year, which would enable the Constitution in Burma to come into active operation in the course of the coming year.

There is one further point that I would urge upon my noble friend, which is not actually mentioned, although it is implied, in the Report. It is that he should assure the House, if he can, that no steps will be taken to fetter or prejudice the finding of this local Committee in Burma. 0f course, all the available information, all the Despatches, the Report of the Joint Committee, and all the matter in the form of directions which are available should be furnished to the Committee, but, beyond that, I would suggest that the Committee should be left to arrive at its own findings as the result of free and open Inquiry in the country. To make quite clear what I mean, I would say that I am very anxious, and I know many of my colleagues on the Joint Committee share my view, that this local Committee should not find themselves in the same position as that in which we found ourselves on the Joint Committee in regard to the Bill. We are very anxious that the Committee should not have the case pre-judged, or prejudiced, by any announcement by authority in India dealing with the subject matter which would properly come under their consideration. I say this because I feel that if such an announcement were made it would inevitably deprive the Committee of much of its usefulness.

I think that Burma should be afforded the same advantages, to ensure its having a sound Constitution with all the practical details thoroughly considered before that Constitution is put into operation, as, under Lord Southborough's Committee, India was assured last year. I am sure that Burma will appreciate that point of view when it is represented to it. It is merely to ask those questions that I have risen, and I shall be grateful to my noble friend if he can assure me on those points.


My Lords, I fully endorse all that my noble friend Lord Islington has said, both as to the necessity of passing this Bill without delay and as to the necessity of appointing a Committee, as has been recommended by the Joint Committee, to inquire into details on the spot, and to make as early a Report to the Joint Committee and to Parliament as is possible, with reference to the suggested new scheme of self-government in Burma. It is most important, in my judgment, that that Committee should be so constituted as to command the general confidence of all Parties in Burma.

There is only one other suggestion which I should like to make for my noble friend on a point of detail In regard to the Bill. There is a proviso in. the Bill which enacts that the percentage of elected representatives on the Legislative Council to be set up in Burma is to be 60 per cent, of the total number. In India, as the House will remember, the percentage is 70 per cent. There were, undoubtedly, certain circumstances in the case of Burma which, I suppose, were in the minds of the Government when they decided that the percentage in Burma should be lower than that in India. I should like to ask the noble Earl whether, having regard to the present position of affairs, it is not possible for the Government at all events to consider the omission of that proviso. I notice that the noble Earl has an Amendment on the Paper designed to make it absolutely clear that this percentage is a minimum percentage. That, so far as it goes, will, I think, clear the air and make the position what it should be, so far as Burma is concerned. But, if it had been possible to pass the Bill without the proviso, I think, upon certain grounds, it would have been advisable to do so. I will not detain the House further on these points to-day, but I am glad to believe that this Bill will pass without delay.


My Lords, the proceedings and the action of the Secretary of State and of the Government of India in this matter have really been somewhat extraordinary. The noble Earl will remember, I am sure, that he told me that the Secretary of State had determined to refer the Bill to the discretion of the Committee. He even went so far as to say that the Secretary of State would withdraw the Bill, or would amend the Bill, if the Committee so recommended. But the Secretary of State seemed to have changed his mind, and he informed the Joint Select Committee that the Government had decided to apply the Government of India Act to Burma as it stood. Of course, the Secretary of State had a perfect right to do that, and he might even have dealt with Burma, if he chose, without any reference to Parliament at all. But, having set up the Joint Committee, and the Joint Committee having sat a good many times and done a great deal of work, surely it might have been allowed some discretion in the matter of the Bill, as was evidently at one time intended.

Turning to the Government of India, they first agreed that another and a special scheme should be applied to Burma, on the ground that Burma was not at present ripe for the application of the Government of India Act. That special scheme, which they blessed and agreed to, was the cut- come of a great deal of discussion in India. Then the Government of India seems to have changed its mind and said that the Government of India Act must be applied to Burma. That left the Joint Committee with nothing at its discretion, except certain details as to the franchise and the composition of the two Houses. All that the Joint Committee could do, therefore, was to propose that a particular machinery should be set up in order to settle on the spot the nature of those details.

But the Government of India seems to have changed its mind once more, and it now demands that its proposals—which are a different set of proposals—should be announced and made public at once. The. only explanation that one can arrive at as to this change of attitude is that the Government of India was really alarmed at the violence of the agitation set up in Burma. As I think your Lordships know, what happened in Burma was that the body that there corresponds with our Young Men's Christian Association was captured by extremists from India, and proceeded to set up a very violent agitation. Everyone who knows anything of the East must be aware that if you show fear you always add enormously to the number of your enemies, and that is what has happened in India itself. The noble Earl took me rather severely to task for something I said in the first debate on this subject, and he stated his belief that the only cause of the agitation in Burma was that the Burmese were excluded from the operations of the Government of India Act; and he added that this Bill would remove all the sources of agitation in Burma itself. I earnestly trust that he is right in that hope, but he must remember that the passage of the Government of India Act intensified the agitation throughout India, and made it distinctly more dangerous than it was before. The non-co-operation movement, which, as I have pointed out, must fail in certain aspects but will leave behind it an aftermath of evil from which India will never wholly recover, was sit up and developed after the passage of the Government of India Act.

I can only say again that I think that Burma is not fit at present for the application of the Government of India Act. And I must point out that the Government of India at one time took that view itself. I therefore regard this legislation as some- thing in the nature of panic legislation, and I fear that it may produce in what was, quite a short time ago, certainly the happiest and the most contented Province of India, some of the disorganisation which we can now painfully see in India itself. At least, it is certain—and perhaps that is the only thing that is certain—that the application of this Bill to Burma will greatly increase the cost of Government in that country, and must therefore reduce pro tanto the funds which are available for the amelioration of the condition of the inarticulate masses of Burma.


My Lords, you. will not, I think, expect me at this stage to enter once more into a defence of the principles of the Bill which is now under discussion. My noble friend Lord Sydenham is, as we are all aware, a determined and convinced and, I am afraid, irreconcilable, opponent of the principle of diarchy, and it was only natural that he should oppose the extension of that principle to any other part of the world. The Bill, however, has received a Second Reading, and it- has been considered by a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament. I propose at this moment to deal only with the specific points raised on the Motion to go into Committee and to answer the questions which have been put to me.

My noble friend Lord Islington was anxious, I think, to know whether it was the intention of the Secretary of State to appoint a Committee, as was suggested in the "Report of the Joint Select Committee, to investigate the problems and the functions of Government and the incidence of the franchise in Burma. On that point I can, I hope, completely satisfy him. As I announced, I think, on the first Motion; for the Second Reading of the Bill, it, has-always been the intention of the Government, if this Bill was passed, to appoint a Committee to fulfil in Burma the same functions as were performed by the Southborough Committee in India in relation to the Government of India Act. As has already been announced it is the intention, therefore, of the Secretary of State to appoint a Committee, and he hopes that Committee will begin its work at the earliest possible date after the passing of the Bill.

Next, my noble friend asked me some questions in regard to the composition of that Committee. We have had telegraphic correspondence with the Government of India on this question, and they have urged upon the Secretary of State the desirability of appointing Mr. Whyte, who is now the President of the Legislative Assembly in India, as the Chairman of this Committee. That recommendation the Secretary of State is disposed to approve, and he feels that it would be difficult to find anybody with better qualifications for the post than Mr. Whyte. That gentleman distinctly fulfils the qualifications suggested by my noble friend. He has long experience of Parliamentary life in this country. He was a Member of Parliament, I think, for something like eight years, and it was because of his well-known Parliamentary experience that he was chosen to fill the responsible post of the first President of the first Legislative Assembly in India under the new Act. From the point of view, therefore, of Parliamentary experience his qualifications are very adequate.

Then he has a qualification which nobody else could possibly have—he has been the President of the Legislative Chamber in India throughout its first session. His appointment to that office has added to his past distinction, and he has fulfilled it with such universal satisfaction, so far as we are able to learn in India, that I hope your Lordships will agree that a man so qualified is as good a choice as we could make to undertake this work. I should say also, in connection with this appointment, that it has the added advantage that Mr. Whyte, being now in India, will be ready to take up the duties of investigation more promptly than anybody could who was seal from this country. Whether it is desirable to send out to assist him some other member of the Committee with Parliamentary experience in this country is a matter on which the Secretary of State has not finally decided. It is, however, his intention to set up a Committee. He hopes that Mr. Whyte will be the Chairman of the Committee. The further composition of it is at this moment under consideration, 'and I cannot tell the House how it will be composed, but I can assure my noble friend behind me (Lord Clwyd) that every effort will be made to ensure that its membership shall be of a character to command confidence in Burma, in India, and in this country.

I come now to the last point raised by my noble friend, Lord Islington, when he expressed the hope that no steps would be taken to prejudice in any way, in advance, the findings of the Committee, and I think Lord Sydenham was dealing with the same point when he also expressed the hope that no views either of the Government of Burma or the Government of India should be published on these two questions which the Committee would investigate, previous to their undertaking their Inquiry.

I must say something at this point in reply to my noble friend, Lord Sydenham, on the charge which he has made more than once that the Committee of which he was a member, and of which my noble friend Lord Islington was Chairman, have not been treated fairly in their investigations on this Bill. He said, and said quite rightly, that when I asked the House to appoint a Joint Committee and to refer this Bill to them, that Committee were to be perfectly free to consider the whole policy of the future government of Burma and to make what representations they thought fit to Parliament. My noble friend said that after having given that assurance the Secretary of State appears to have changed his mind, and to have assured the Committee that the matter was already decided and that it was not for them to consider.

I confess that I am completely at a loss to understand to what my noble friend refers, because, so far as I am aware, there has been no change of mind, and no change of policy, on the part of the Secretary of State. It always was his intention that the Committee should have perfect liberty and discretion in considering the matter which was referred to them. He, no doubt, told the Committee what I told your Lordships in this House—that. His Majesty's Government had decided, according to their judgment, to apply the Government of India Act to Burma; that it was for this purpose that this Bill was introduced, and that the Bill represented the policy of His Majesty's Government. But I also stated, in submitting the policy of the Government to the House, that in view of the difference of opinion existing between ourselves and the Government of India, we wished to refer our policy which was in the Bill, and the proposals of the Government of India which were in the White Paper, to a Committee of Parliament, and to ask them to consider the questions at issue between us.

Then, as my noble friend knows, by the time the matter came before the Com- mittee the Government of India, as he says, changed its mind. At the time the matter came before the Select Committee the Government of India expressed the opinion that in view of the policy announced in the Bill by His Majesty's Government, they were not prepared to recommend to Parliament any other course. They thought that Parliament would be well advised in passing the Bill which His Majesty's Government had submitted. I do not see how the Government could possibly have submitted the question to the consideration of the Select Committee without introducing a Bill and taking the course which they did take. There is no doubt that the fact that the Government had embodied its policy in a Bill had its effect, upon public opinion in Burma, but that did not in any way fetter the discretion of the Committee, and if they thought that His Majesty's Government had made a mistake and that any other policy was more desirable, it would have been perfectly open for them to make what recommendations they pleased.

In this connection, however, I agree with my noble friend, Lord Islington, that when a Committee has been set up to investigate these two problems of the functions of Government and the incidence of the franchise, it would not be desirable that the views of the Government of Burma, or the Government of India, or any other authoritative body, should be communicated to the public before they are communicated to the Committee. It is our intention that those proposals—of which my noble friend is aware, because they were referred to his Committee—shall in due course be referred as evidence to the Committee which will be set up to investigate these two matters. It is not our intention, before the Committee begins its work, to make any public pronouncement on the subject. I think that I have now covered all the points that were raised with the exception of that mentioned recently by the noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, to which I will refer when I come' to move an Amendment in a moment.


My Lords, I should like to ask one question. I was not fortunate enough to be present during the first portion of the remarks of the noble Earl. It seems to me that it is no use going back on the fact that this Bill was introduced before the Committee was formed, and that, therefore, the policy was practically settled before the Committee could go into the matter. The question I wish to put is this. If the Bill is passed, are we to understand that the noble Earl objects, on behalf of the Government, to the sending out of a Commission to consider on what terms the Bill should be put into operation? I know it is admitted that there is an arrangement in Burma on somewhat similar lines to those which obtain in the Provinces of India, but does the noble Earl accept the view, which is strongly advocated by the Committee, that the matter should not be settled here, but that further investigation should take place on the spot?


Certainly. If the noble Earl had been in the House he would have heard that I announced the decision of the Secretary of State to appoint a Committee, which would be presided over by Mr. Whyte, who is a President of the Legislative Assembly in India, and that the question of whether other members should be sent out from this country was still occupying his attention.


My Lords, in reference to what has fallen from the noble Earl, the Under-Secretary, I would like to have made clear the last point with which he dealt. I understand that the opinion of the Joint Committee, of which I am a member, is that there is no objection to the appointment of Mr. Whyte as Chairman of the Committee, but the Committee attach immense importance—as, I am sure, my noble friend, the Chairman of the Committee, appreciates, and I should like my noble friend, the Under-Secretary, to appreciate also—to the fact that this Commission should go out without any information having been made public by the Government of India or by the Secretary of State here. The Committee desire that their proceedings shall be entirely independent of the views held either here or in India. The noble Earl, as I understood him, said that that also was his view to a certain extent, and that the Committee would, in the first instance at all events, meet without any publication being made in regard to the views of the Government, or of the Viceroy and his Council in India.

A little later, the noble Earl, as I understood him, went on to say that the views of the Indian Government would be put forward in the nature of evidence. Does that mean that they propose to put before this Commission a particular scheme of their own, or will they simply give evidence in regard to the various points which arise? As a member of the Committee I think we should attach considerable importance to evidence given in regard to the various points, but we should not wish it to be put in the form of a detailed scheme, because, in our opinion, that would greatly prejudice the Committee's opportunities and attitude, and limit the amount of freedom which they ought to have for considering the matter. I should like the noble Earl to make it clear that what he is proposing is that they should give evidence on the various points which arise, and not that they themselves should put before the Commission a cut-and-dried scheme. If that were done, it would put the Commission in a difficult position when they had to consider the matter impartially.


My Lords, I find it a little difficult to follow the noble Earl on this point. I think I made it clear that no proposals of the Government of Burma will be published before the Committee begins its work. He will not, however, I imagine, deny the right of the Government of Burma to have an opinion as to what the solution should be. As he knows, the Government of Burma have already expressed their views as to what they think the arrangement with regard to the functions of Government should be, because those views have been submitted to the Committee, of which the noble Lord is a member. Those views will, of course, be put before the Commission: in Burma when it opens its Inquiry, and they will undoubtedly be put by the Government of Burma as their views and as representing their considered opinion. It would be impossible to deny to the Government of Burma the right to do that. That such views will carry weight with the Committee I have no doubt, but the mere fact that the Committee is appointed to consider such views means that the Committee will have full authority and absolute discretion to accept the views of the Government of Burma, or to reject them, and to report to Parliament in their favour or in opposition to them. It would, of course, be impossible to prevent the Government of Burma from having views and submitting them to the Committee. All I intended to say was that whatever the considered opinions of the Government of Burma or the Government of India might be, they would be submitted in due course to the Committee as evidence, and would not be published in advance as the opinions of the Government.

On question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The EARL OF DOXOUGHMORE in the Chair.]

Clause 1:

Application to Burma of provisions as to governors' provinces.

1.—(1) Section forty-six of the Government of India Act (which makes provision as to the mode of government in governors' provinces) shall have effect as though Burma were included amongst the provinces specfied in subsection (1) thereof, and all the provisions of that Act which relate to governors' provinces shall apply to the province of Burma accordingly:

Provided that—

  1. (a) subsection (2) of section seventy-two A of that Act (which relates amongst other things to the proportion of elected members in the governors' legislative councils) shall, in its application to Burma, have effect as though sixty per cent, were substituted for seventy per cent.; and
  2. (b)the number of members of-the Legislative Council of Burma shall be ninety-two, and the First Schedule to the Government of India Act shall have effect accordingly; and
  3. (c)The maximum annual salary of the Governor of Burma shall be one hundred thousand rupees, and the maximum annual salary of the members of the Executive Council of the Governor of Burma shall be forty-eight thousand rupees, and the Second Schedule to the Government of India Act shall have effect accordingly.

(2) Subsection (1) of section fifty-three of the Government of India Act is hereby repealed.

THE EARL OF LYTTONmoved, in provisio (a) of subsection (1), to leave out "proportion" and insert "minimum percentage." The noble Earl said: The first two Amendments that stand in my name are purely drafting Amendments, but I wish to say a few words in explanation of why they have been put down. They do not in any way alter the sense of the Bill, but have been put down to make the meaning of the Bill absolutely clear. In correspondence which we have had with the Government of India and the Government of Burma, it has been made evident that the sense of these provisoes is not quite clearly understood. Proviso (a) lays down what, in the draft before your Lordships, is called a proportion of the elected members and it has been thought that that was an absolute number of the proportion between the nominated and elected members. It was, however, really intended that this proportion should be only a minimum percentage. It is open to the Committee, of which we have been speaking, if they so desire, to recommend different proportions. Therefore, I beg to move the Amendment, which will make it perfectly clear that the word "proportion" is really a minimum percentage.

Amendment moved— Page 1, line 16, leave out ("proportion") and insert ("minimum percentage").—(The Earl of Lytton.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

THE EARL OF LYTTON moved, at the beginning of proviso (b), after (b), to insert "subject to the provisions of the said subsection (2) as amended by this section." The noble Earl said: This is an Amendment of the same kind. Proviso (b) was intended to make an insertion in the Schedule to the Government of India Act' with regard to the number of Legislative Councillors. It has been assumed by those who have read this Bill that the insertion of this proviso fixes for all time the number of Legislative Councillors in Burma at 92. That, however, is not so. In the case of Burma, as in that of other Provinces in India, it will be open to Parliament, by Rules on the recommendation of the Committee, to increase those numbers to any extent. All that the insertion of these figures will mean is that the minimum number will become 92, and the Amendment I propose makes it perfectly clear that the insertion of these figures in the Schedule to the Government of India Act will have the same effect as it has in the case of other provinces.

Amendment moved— Page 1, line 21, after ("(b)'') insert (" subject, to the provisions of the said subsection (2) as amended by this section ").—(The Earl of Lytton.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

THE EARL OF LYTTON moved in proviso (c), to substitute "sixty thousand rupees" for "forty-eight thousand rupees." The noble Earl said: This Amendment is of a different character. It increases the maximum salary provided for in the Bill for the Members of the Executive Council. It is brought forward because the figure of 48,000 rupees at present in the Bill, or 4,000 rupees a month, is a relic of the original scheme. The Bib will probably provide for two Executive Councillors and two Ministers, and the pay of the Minister is regulated by that of the Executive Council. In India the pay of the Executive Councillors in the Punjab and Bihar and Orissa is that which I propose to make it by the Amendments—namely, 60,000 rupees. In the three Presidencies and the United Provinces it is a higher figure.and in Assam a lower figure. It is in order to make the pay of the Executive Councillors in Burma correspond to that of the. Executive Councillors in the Punjab that the Amendment is moved.

Amendment moved— Clause 1, page 2, line 5, leave out (" forty-eight") and insert ("sixty"').—(The Earl of Lytton.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 1, as amended, agreed to.

Remaining clause agreed to.

Forward to