HL Deb 28 June 1922 vol 51 cc79-93

THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR INDIA (VISCOUNT PEEL) had given Notice to move, That the Draft Rules under the Government of India Act required to give effect to the notification of the Governor-General in Council constituting Burma a Governor's Province under the Act, namely, the Burma Electoral Rules, amendments to the Council of State and Legislative Assembly Electoral Rules, the Burma Legislative Council Rules, and amendments to the Devolution Rules, which were presented to Parliament on the 25th day of May, 1922, be approved, subject, however, to the following modification in the Draft Burma Electoral Rules, namely—

Page 4, rule 4, first proviso, leave out "of the following constituencies, namely— The Rangoon General Constituency; The Rangoon Indian Constituency; The Mandalay Urban General Constituency, and insert "plural-member constituency."

Rule 4, leave out the second proviso.

Page 24, Schedule I, column 3, against the entry "Tavoy" in column 1, after "Tavoy District" insert "excluding Tavoy Municipality."

Schedule II, page 25, rule 2, in sub-rule (2), after "Thaton" insert "general rule."

Schedule II, page 26, rule 4, in clause (a), after "agricultural year" insert "as head of the household and liable to pay thathameda-tax."

Schedule II, page 27, rule 7, line 3, leave out "member of the State, or an Honorary Fellow or a Fellow of the University or a graduate of the University of not less than three years' standing," and insert "Fellow or an Honorary Fellow or a registered graduate of the University."

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I beg to move the Resolution which appears on the Paper. I can deal very rapidly with the previous history of these Rides, and with the discussions and negotiations which led up to the new Constitution for Burma. In the Montagu-Chelmsford Report the question of developing self-government in Burma was left out, mainly on two grounds, I think. One was that the authors of that Report had not had an opportunity of visiting Burma and studying these questions on the spot; and the other was that they thought, at any rate at that time, that the Constitution as applicable to India might not be applicable to the peculiar circumstances and conditions prevailing in Burma.

There was much discussion on the subject, and certain proposals were put forward for a new Constitution for Burma, but ultimately it was decided, about two years ago, that the Constitution as applying to India should also be applied to Burma. Your Lordships may remember that a Bill was introduced on this subject, passed your Lordships' House, and was sent to the Joint Committee of both Houses on Indian Affairs, which approved of the Bill. But, owing to considerations as to time and other reasons, the Bill was not passed through another place. Now we are proceeding, not by Bill but by Resolutions, because, after the assent of your Lordships' House and the Joint Committee had been obtained to the proposals for the new Constitution, a very strong Committee, under the presidency of the President of the Legislative Assembly in India, was set up to deal with the application of new Rules and thoroughly investigate on the spot in Burma both the views of the inhabitants and the application of the Constitution. That Committee reported, and these new Draft Rules are very largely based upon the Report of that Committee.

Under the Government of India Act Burma was notified to be a Governor's Province towards the end of last year. These Rules are to give, effect to that notification, and to lay down the Constitution for Burma. Under the Act it is open to the Secretary of State to adopt one of two different procedures—either to lay these Rules on the Table so that they may become law after a certain time, unless an Address is presented by either House to the contrary; or to proceed by affirmative Resolution, and ask your Lordships' House definitely to sanction the new Rules. In a matter of this importance, and especially as the matter had been introduced by Bill last year, I thought it was advisable that your Lordships should give definitely an affirmative assent to the new Constitution.

I should add that these new Rules and certain modifications went before the Joint Committee of both Houses and were approved by them. I desire to move these. Rules, with certain Amendments that have been made to them, en bloc. There are two small modifications of the Rules as approved by the Joint Committee. Broadly speaking, the result of these Rules will be that the Constitutions applicable to the different Provinces of India will, so far as possible in the different circumstances, also be applied to Burma. But there are certain very important differences, on some of which I should like to say a few words.

The first is the, question of woman suffrage. In the Provinces of India women are debarred from the suffrage; they cannot vote for the Provincial Councils, but they can obtain the vote if a Resolution is passed by those Provincial Councils. Those Resolutions have not yet been passed, but, as those who take an interest in these matters are well aware, the position of women is very different in Burma from what it is in India. They have acquired quite a different status from the women in India, and they take a far more active part in affairs—outwardly, at any rate—than women do in India.

The result is that it was thought better that we should not wait for the Resolution of the Provincial Council, which was certain to be passed, but that they should be enfranchised on the same basis as men from the start. I think there are great advantages in this course, because the preliminary work of dividing up the constituencies is a very heavy one, and it would be a waste of time to go through that process twice over—first, when the men were admitted to the franchise, and secondly, when the women were admitted. But they are still under one disqualification: they cannot sit on the Provincial Council; they are barred by sex as candidates until a Resolution has been passed by that Council, and the Governor has to approve.

The transferred subjects will be the same as in the rest of India, but with certain additions. One of those additions will be the question of European education. The reason for that is that European education is not separated, as it is in most parts of India, from native education, but in the different elementary schools the distinction is rather by curriculum than by nationality. It would therefore have been inadvisable to suggest that one Minister should have charge of the native schools and another Minister should have charge of the schools for Europeans.

The other and more debatable point is the question of the forests and of making them a transferred subject. Your Lordships are aware that the question of the forests is a very important one indeed in Burma. They have very magnificent forests there, and something like two-sevenths of the revenue of the Province is derived from those forests. Only in Bombay, among the other Provinces of India, have forests been transferred. Substantially, the, decision on this point was arrived at for two reasons. First of all, it was taken rather as a test on opinion in Burma of the reality of the reforms which had been conferred upon Burma; it was maintained that the question of the administration of the forests entered so closely into the very life of the people that they would not consider they had any real extension of self-government unless they had the management of these forests. It could be urged, of course, that the management of the forests is one of those points which require almost more foresight than any other matter, and those who arc; not satisfied with the management of woods and forests either in this country or in the United States of America may point to the deficiencies in that respect in much less advanced and civilised States. As against the two countries I have mentioned, you have a very highly skilled forest service in Burma which, no doubt, will be able to advise the Minister upon all these matters.

The third main point of difference is the question of the franchise, and the basis of the franchise. It was found after very careful investigation that it was not possible, as in India, to base the franchise upon revenue payments, and a totally different system was adopted—that of the Thathameda or Household Tax in Upper Burma and the Capitation Tax in Lower Burma, in addition, of course, to the municipal franchise in the big towns. There is one slight change which has been made, or rather one slight Amendment which has been placed upon the Paper, on the decision of the Joint Committee.

It was intended that only the heads of households should be enfanchised by this scheme. But it appears that a certain number of other persons besides the heads of households appear on these Thathameda Rolls. The result of that system of franchise is that the vote will be obtained at an earlier age in Burma than it will be in the rest of India. In India the age is 21, but here the age is 18. The reason for that is that the names of these people are placed on the Thathameda Poll when they reach the age of 18 and they then pay their Household Tax. I am advised that owing to certain difficulties in discovering ages it would be practically impossible to make a distinction between the ages of 18 and 21, and that the simpler plan is, therefore, to treat as the people capable of voting those who also are capable of paying the Household Tax and of being placed upon the Thathameda Roll.

The other important matter is in reference to the question of communal representation. That matter, of course, was very much discussed by the Committee, and it is one of the points in respect to which we have departed from the advice of the Committee, because they preferred the system of reserved seats to the system of communal representation. It means, of course, that persons belonging to a particular race or religion should vote for their own candidates and over a larger area, possibly. The argument in favour of the system of reserved seats is that it may more easily disappear when the system either of reserved seats or communal representation is thought to be no longer necessary. But I think as between the reserved seat system and the communal system there can be no doubt that the latter is by far the better. In the case of the reserved seat system persons who are not of the same religion or race as the candidate they may wish to elect will be voting for that particular person, and if you have three seats, say, and three of the persons on the general list, as it were, are elected for those three seats, it seems to be harsh to displace the third man because that seat has been reserved for a particular man who has not been elected. Therefore, if it is necessary to adopt the communal system of election, I think it is far better to adopt that system than the reserved seat system. Under this system a certain number of seats—I think about fifteen—have been reserved, and special representation is given to the extent of one seat to Europeans, one to Anglo-Indians; altogether, fifteen seats, out of a total number, if you take in the Indians and the Karens, of, I think, seventy-nine.

There has also been another modification in the Rules as to which I put down an Amendment, which is calculated to meet certain difficulties about University repre- sentation and to place University representation in Burma as nearly as may be on a par with the system which has been adopted for University voting in India. Your Lordships may, perhaps, regard with some surprise the fact that in some ways more self-government in reference to transferred subjects has been given in this Constitution to Burma than to some of the Provinces of India. But all observers with whom I have come into contact—anyhow, all those competent to speak—are very much impressed by the extent of what I may call the development of political self-consciousness and the interest in these questions in Burma during the last four years, and testify to the great rapidity with which the political education of that country has gone on. That, I think, is one of the principal reasons why the change as regards transferred subjects is rather greater in respect of forests and one or two other matters in Burma than it is elsewhere.

There is only one other subject on which I should like to make an observation, and that is the Civil Service in Burma. I am sorry to say that I am not in the position I had hoped to be, of making an announcement about certain proposed changes in the period during which it would have been open to the Civil Services in India and Burma to take advantage of the system of proportional pensions, and also the point of the declaration to be made before they took advantage of those pensions. The only point I wish to mention here is that a certain time had to elapse in India under the reforms before officials were able to take advantage of this proportional pension. There was a delay period; but there will be no delay period in the case of Burma, and immediately after the Constitution has been set up—and it is hoped that the first Elections may be held in October— it will be possible for the members of the Civil Service there to consider their new position. But though, this will be open to them, I need hardly say we hope they will not be in any hurry to take advantage of these; new proportional pensions, and that they will lend their great services, their impartiality, their ability and their training for some, time at least in order to do their best for the new Constitution which is being set up in Burma. I beg to move.

Moved, That the said Draft Rules be approved, subject to the proposed modifications.—(Viscount Peel.)


My Lords, I have learned by very painful experience that it is hopeless to protest against anything that we do in India. But as this question is rather complicated, might I explain to your Lordships in very few words that to which we are being committed as regards Burma The Burmese, as my noble friend said, are a very intelligent people, but not more intelligent than the Chinese, probably less so, and certainly less hard-working. Now, as your Lordships know, China, ever since it began to play with democracy, has been almost continuously at civil war. The Burmese people were an exceptionally contented and happy people until the late Secretary of State developed his policy of "deliberately disturbing"—these were his words—their contentment. Since then, of course, there have been troubles in Burma, though not very serious troubles, engineered by agitators from India.

What we are now going to do, as my noble friend has said, is to give the franchise to both sexes at the early age of eighteen. But what he did not say was that Burma has a population of only 13 millions, and it is to have an electorate much larger than the electorate of Bengal with 46 millions. That may have the effect of creating a great deal of discontent in Bengal, which has always believed itself to be the most intellectual Province in India. Other Provinces also are much in the same position, and they may quickly demand a large increase in their already, in my opinion, too large electorates. Further, this franchise might even give rise to a fresh suffragette agitation here. It might fairly be said: "Why should a Burmese woman have a vote at eighteen when an Englishwoman only gets it at thirty?" and that a gross injustice to women here is being done. The Legislative Council at Burma is to be empowered to admit women at the age of twenty-five, and undoubtedly the Burmese women are extremely able and capable, and are quite as fit to be admitted to the Legislative Council as are the men.

Burma has 64 per cent, of its area in forests, and that forest area is among the finest resources of that country. We have decided, against the wishes of the Burmese, to apply the preposterous system of diarchy to Burma, although that system has proved itself unworkable in India, as I said at the time it must do. Forests are to be made into a transferred subject, and to be put under a Burmese Minister, who is not under the control either of the Crown or of Parliament. The Government of Burma has strongly objected to this change, but they have been brought over. I do not think that the reasons which the noble Viscount gave are sufficiently adequate for so great a change as that. Forestry is a purely western science which we are only beginning to introduce into the East, and it is a science of which the East at present knows nothing whatever. It is surely a dangerous thing to put the control of this very great asset of Burma under an ignorant Burmese Minister. That will almost certainly lead to corruption and oppression, because there are great opportunities of both in the administration of the forest service, as everybody who has been in India knows so well. It may also lead to a fresh crop of grievances in India, because it is only in Bombay that forests have been made into a transferred service.

We are really going almost the whole hog of democracy in a country which is entirely unfitted for it, and within a few years we are certain to see corruption, confusion, and inefficiency where at the present time there is a most excellent administration at work. Beyond that, and what is more important—my noble friend hinted at this—we are sure to see a crumbling of the European Services which have done so much for Burma. That crumbling is steadily going on in India at the present moment, and the results in future will be of the utmost gravity to India. Meanwhile, we have not done the one thing which the Burmese most want, and the one thing which perhaps would be the best for their prosperity—we have not separated Burma from India while there was yet time. I hope your Lordships will pardon me these few and perfectly futile words.

There are two points, of which I have given him private notice, to which I desire to draw the attention of my noble friend. Do the Rules provide that candidates for election should make a deposit which will be forfeited if a reasonable number of votes are not obtained? I ask that question because in the General Elections in India the most gross scandals arose. Perfectly illiterate sweepers and in one case an illiterate seller of sweets, whose election address was one of the most amusing things I have read, were allowed to stand. If this guarantee of bona fides is thought necessary in this country— and I understand it was applied in the new Constitution for Malta—I do not think it would hurt the amour proper of the Burmese intelligentsia if it were applied in Burma. I ask my noble friend if he will see that it is provided for in the Rules, and if not, can it still be provided?

My second humble request is on behalf of retired native officers of the Indian Army. Will they have votes for the Legislative Assembly and for the Council of State? I raised this question in relation to the Rules under the Government of India Act on July 26, 1920, and the noble Lord who was then Under Secretary of State said that everybody agreed with the principle, and everybody would support it, but it was too late, and that on the first opportunity it should be done. Now, another opportunity has arisen, and I hope that this time I am not again too late. I am sure your Lordships will remember the almost indecent haste with which the Government of India Bill was thrust through Parliament. It was so stage-managed that it was impossible in either House to give full consideration to this most important measure, and in your Lordships' House especially it was quite impossible to introduce Amendments. I hope that my noble friend, who cannot have approved of his predecessor's Parliamentary procedure in this respect, will be able to give me a satisfactory answer to my two humble requests.


My Lords, it is not necessary to go in detail into the many questions which have been so clearly elucidated by the noble Viscount in charge of the Motion this afternoon. Neither will I attempt to follow the noble Lord who has just sat down in his remarks in reference to the Rules and their effect upon Burma and Burmese national life and development. We are all aware in this House of the strong views which the noble Lord holds upon these points, and it is only possible to agree to differ. There is, however, one remark that he made which I, at all events, cannot allow to go without protest, and that is the assumption, which he seemed to make, that the Burmese Minister appointed under the new Constitution will be ignorant, and also something perhaps even worse than that.


I merely said ignorant of forestry.


I accept the noble Lord's explanation of that, but I understood, at all events, that he also indicated the possibility of something in the nature of corruption.


I alluded entirely to corruption in the subordinate service of the Forest Department.


Of course, I accept the noble Lord's explanation. I am very glad that at last these Rules are going to be considered, and I hope they are going to be passed, by this House. The noble Lord who has just addressed your Lordships seems to think that we are in the habit of rushing through these matters, and he complained that the Government of India Bill had been carried through with undue haste. I do not know whether I should have many in this House to agree with me upon this, but in my judgment it would have been a very good thing if the Government of India Act could have been passed at an earlier date. I might also say the same thing with reference to the new Constitution of Burma. Time in these matters is of the essence: of the contract, so far as the effect upon the political situation is concerned. I feel that it would have been a very advantageous thing had it been possible to come to a decision with reference to conferring these new self-governing powers on Burma at an earlier date. There is no doubt that there is in Burma at the present time a considerable amount of dissatisfaction and indignation with the Government amongst the extreme sections of the population, and it is, on all grounds, necessary that something should be done in order to show the Burmese that they are to be treated upon the same footing as the Indian Provinces.

I am very glad that the Secretary of State has been able to follow in the main the recommendations made by the Joint Committee. I attach great importance to the provisions with regard to the voting powers of the women of Burma. Everybody who has even a superficial knowledge of the conditions in Burma knows the important part played by the women of that country in the development of their national life. I am very glad, too, that the recommendations of the Committee have been adopted in regard to forestry being made a transferred subject. I know well, as the noble Viscount knows, that there is in Burma a very skilled forestry service, and we can leave in their hands without fear the powers which it is proposed to confer upon them.

There is one further observation I should like to make. I have referred to the feeling of unsettlement which prevails in Burma, as it prevails everywhere else throughout the world to-day. There are two things necessary for us to do. The first is that in passing these Rules, which will render operative the Constitution it is proposed to give to Burma, we should do it in such a way as to show that we are conferring these powers cordially and with a full feeling of confidence as to the ability of the people of Burma worthily to carry them out. The second thing is that we should do this necessary thing with as little delay as possible. Let us make it clear that we desire that nothing shall prevent the Elections taking place in October. In this way the new Council can be set up in time to enable the people of Burma to realise that this instrument of self-government which we are placing in their hands is a reality in their national existence. I have no doubt that in time the fitness of the people of Burma to exercise these powers will be proved. They are a notable people, and in the main are characterised by a sanity of judgment and shrewdness. I have no doubt that this new Constitution, and the new powers they will receive, will be effectively and wisely exercised, and we shall, as a House and Parliament, never regret having assented, I hope cordially, to the powers of self-government given them on this occasion.


My Lords, I rise to say a few words on these Rules. I was for some time the Administrator of Burma, and although many years have passed since I left that country I still retain sufficient knowledge of its circumstances to enable me to support with all my heart the remarks of Lord Sydenham with regard to its forests. They are the most valuable property of that country. In the course of years we have trained up a forest service which is rendering the most admirable service to the Empire. But it is a service which is largely controlled by Europeans, and from all I have heard in regard to the European Services in India and in Burma I am afraid we cannot place the same amount of reliance upon them that we could before the new legislation was passed.

I have hopes that in the years to come the legislation will justify itself, but we ought not to throw upon the shoulders of the natives too many burdens all at once. Particularly, in regard to Burma, I press upon the noble Viscount to have some patience and some restraint in regard to the question of transferring the Forest Department. If you transfer it I feel that it will be lost before many years, and it will be impossible to re-establish it again. A few years are but a short time in the history of a nation, but in a few years you may do irreparable damage, and I know no part of the, Burma administration in which greater damage could be caused than in the Forest Department. I suggest to the Secretary of State that, at the present time, the forests should not be made a transferred service. It will always be possible to transfer them when we have sufficient knowledge that the Burmese electorate will give a sufficiently educated and sane administration. But the, forests of Burma call for officers who have been trained in Western knowledge. I have nothing more to say on these Rules, except to repeat that in the interests of the Burmese it would be better to postpone the transfer of the Forest Department. It may be done at any time afterwards when you are satisfied that the circumstances are ripe for the transfer.


My Lords, I have been asked some questions by several noble Lords, and particularly by Lord Sydenham. He made some criticisms upon the new Rules, and particularly upon the diarchy system, against which he said the Burmese had protested. That is true. They have protested, and I have received many telegrams. But the nature of their protest was not only that some subjects should be transferred but that all subjects should be transferred to native Ministers. I gathered from the tenor of Lord Sydenham's observations that he was in favour of limiting the number of subjects transferred rather than of increasing them.

I listened with respect to Lord Mac-Donnell's observations on the question of forests. He is an old administrator in Burma. Lord Sydenham was rather more limited. He was not attributing general ignorance to Ministers in Burma but only possible ignorance on the subject of forests. One has heard, of course, even in this country, the suggestion made that Ministers appointed to the head of Departments are very ignorant of the subjects which they have to administer, and I think that would, perhaps, be an unfortunate subject to pursue very far. He also suggested, I think, that some jealousy or competition might be excited in different parts of India by the transfer of forests to the Minister. I think that, if that were likely to happen, the transfer of the forests in Bombay, which is, after all, a Province of India, would have been far more likely to excite emulation in the other Provinces of India than the transfer in Burma. But, so far as I know, there have not been any representations upon that subject.

The next point with which the noble Lord asked me to deal was the question of a deposit for candidates, which would be forfeited unless they obtained a certain percentage of votes. I think I must remind my noble friend that some centuries of our Parliamentary history passed before this system of a deposit was instituted, and I think the general view has been—and the matter has been very carefully gone into in another place—that Burma is as yet hardly ripe for so advanced a democratic institution. The difficulty is, perhaps, rather the other way; that, if you were to impose a severe penalty upon candidates in case they did not obtain a certain number of votes, there might be a dearth of candidates, and it would be better to encourage candidates than to dissuade them from coming forward, by threatening them with a loss of money if they did not get a certain number of votes. My noble friend referred to the question of "freak candidates"—I think that was the word he used—




Anyhow, he spoke of candidates of a rather queer description at some of the Indian elections. I believe there were some candidates who might not have been expected to stand, on general grounds of education, but I am advised that these candidates got in, and it is obvious, therefore, that the protection of the deposit, to be forfeited if less than one-eighth of the votes are obtained, would have been of no value in the case of those particular candidates.

The next question I was asked by my noble friend was as to the giving of votes ex officio, the placing on the list of voters of officers, non-commissioned officers and men.


I did not mention non-commissioned officers. It was only retired native officers.


As regards the question of votes for Provincial Elections, that is already done in the Provinces of India, and is also the rule under the new Constitution of Burma. As to the question of whether they should or should not vote ex officio for the Legislative Assembly or for the Council of State, I am sure my noble friend knows that those electorates are very limited, and very carefully composed. The question was discussed, but it was understood that such action would upset the balance of voting power in the different Provinces, because there was such a very large number of these retired officers and men, especially in the Punjab. It is obvious that, under these Rules, which apply only to Burma, it would not be possible to make a general revision of these Electoral Rules as regards the other Provinces in India, and I am sure my noble friend will see, and will probably agree, that it would be difficult to confine it to Burma, and not to apply it to the other Provinces, where the election is for the Indian Assembly and for the Council of State.

I looked up the undertaking that was given by Lord Sinha, when these matters were discussed on a previous occasion in your Lordships' House, and I find that an undertaking was given that this matter should be considered sympathetically when the next revision of Rules takes place. I am perfectly prepared to renew that undertaking, and, if I am there, or if my successor or successors are there, that will, no doubt, be done. This is not, of course, a general revision of Rules. This is the establishment of new Rules for setting up the Constitution of Burma, and is not therefore an occasion, as my noble friend will see, when that could be done. I think those are the principal points raised in the course of the discussion.

On Question, Motion agreed to.