HL Deb 19 December 1945 vol 138 cc928-42

4.10 p.m.

VISCOUNT MARCHWOOD rose to call attention to the policy of His Majesty's Government in Malaya; and to move for Papers. The noble Viscount said: My Lords, my reason for placing this Motion on the Paper today, is that during the past few weeks I have met a number of my old friends and associates from Malaya and have found among them a good deal of legitimate curiosity, not untinged with a certain measure of concern, which I must confess I to some extent share, regarding the Imperial Government's plans for the future administration of British Malay. This solicitude on the part of old Malayans is unselfish and disinterested, for no person could spend the best part of a lifetime in the green and pleasant land that stretches from the Burmese frontier to the Straits of Singapore without acquiring a very real affection for the country which has been so highly favoured by nature and its very likeable people. There are also material factors which in spite of the remoteness of the Malayan Peninsula should excite more than a passing interest in the recent announcement that a Malayan Union is to be created consisting of two of the three Straits Settlements and the nine protected Malay States. The' trade of Malaya in 1926 was more than double that of all other British Colonies put together. In 1938 it was still more than all the trade of our seventeen African Colonies and more than half that of the Indian Empire. Penang and Malacca are the two Settlements to be included in the Union, whilst Singapore will be constituted a separate Colony for the present, though it is stated that "the many ties between it and the mainland" may well work towards "its ultimate inclusion."

Seeing that the Straits Settlements are British possessions there is no legal or moral objection to the home Government giving them a new Constitution or a new shape if it convinces the inhabitants of the desirability of change. But to split the Straits Settlements into two without consulting the views of the inhabitants and while they are still sore from the Japanese invasion certainly appears somewhat hasty. I hope some convincing explanation will be forthcoming as to why Singapore is to be severed from its natural hinterland and separated from its sister Settlements Penang arid Malacca with which it has been united for so many years to their mutual advantage. It is possible there may be some overriding consideration of Imperial defence that justifies this far-reaching step. Should this be the case I trust we may be told what is the actual position.

The inclusion of protected Malay States in such a Union is legally and morally on a different plane. Briefly the history is that between 1874 and 1888 a condition of anarchy, civil war and Chinese faction fights prevailed, and Great Britain with a certain amount of reluctance, at the request the Straits-born Chinese, persuaded the Rulers of the four Malay States Pahing, Perak, Negri Sembilan and Selangor, which afterwards were federated in 1895, to accept British Residents, whose "advice was to be asked and acted upon in all questions other than those touching religion and custom." The next important happening was in 1909 when Siam transferred to us "all the rights of suzerainty, protection, administration and control" which they possessed over the four northern Malay States, Kedah, Perlis, Kelantan and Trengganu, which in effect made them dependencies of Great Britain. The British Government of that day however abjured any right of absolute ownership and made treaties with the Rulers, exchanging the right to administer for the right to advise.

Later in 1914 H.H. the Sultan Ibrahim of Johore agreed to have a British Adviser whose advice was to be asked and acted upon. Johore together with the four Northern Malay States comprise the five unfederated Malay States. Later still Great Britain made agreements with Kedah and Perlis which provided that they "would not be merged or combined" with any of the other States or with the Colony of the Straits Settlements "without the written consent of their respective Rulers-in-Council." In view of these very definite undertakings I hope the fullest opportunity will be provided the Malay Rulers to debate in Council the entry of their States into any Malayan Union and that nothing will be taken for granted in this respect. Apart from the fact that a Union of the nature proposed makes the machinery of administration less cumbrous, it does nothing to make clear the intentions of His Majesty's Government regarding the inhabitants of Malaya. It seems obvious however that if the words used have meaning, the Malay Sultans will have to forfeit rights and privileges highly prized by their Malay subjects.

A further matter which will affect Malay rights, unless there are safeguards which have not been divulged, is that birth in Malaya, or a suitable period of residence, is to qualify Chinese and Indians to be citizens of this Malayan Union with "all the rights which the term implies." It is only right that we should be told what the term does actually imply, and whether Chinese and Indians will be admitted to the superior Civil Service in the Malay States. In the past they have enjoyed seats on all the State Councils and the subordinate service, but as long ago as 1904 the Malay Rulers objected to foreign Asiatics being appointed to that service and regulations were altered so that administration should only be carried out by Malays and Europeans. Recently some of the superior posts in the Straits Settlements have been thrown open to the locally born, but the Malay States have, I understand, never been advised to accept other than British and Malay officials. The position is fully justified seeing that ninety per cent. of the population of Kelantan and Trengganu, for example, are still Malay. Therefore the Malays are the people to be considered.

It is my experience over twenty years that the Malay believes implicitly in the Englishman's word. He believes the Englishman's word is his bond. We must see to it that we do not break faith in any way and whatever changes may be introduced the interests of the Malay must remain a paramount consideration. The Chinese and Indians, it must always be remembered, were admitted to the Malay States on British advice and if the Malay is edged out of the administrative field it will cause considerable dissatisfaction and bitter resentment. For these reasons the Malay Rulers should be given time and opportunity for discussion and consideration of these far-reaching proposals, not pressed for a hurried decision while their people are still suffering from the effects of the Japanese occupation. The Straits-born Chinese of Penang and Malacca, who are loyal British subjects, should also be given an opportunity of expressing their opinion regarding the partition of the Straits Settlements. The splitting of their business area and ceasing to be the proud subjects of a British Colony may well be viewed by them with deep concern and resentment. The "Pax Britannica in Malaya" was established with practically no bloodshed! The material progress has been prodigious; the standard of living of all classes was remarkably high; we have given them security, education and a fine system of internal communications.

For these many reasons it is much to be hoped that His Majesty's Government will not substantially alter the method of recruitment of the Malayan Civil Service unless it be to increase the number of Malays employed in the higher branches. Malaya in the past has been fortunate in its administrators. There have been occasional "misfits" among the Governors but there have also been men like Sir Frank Swettenham, Sir John Anderson and Sir Hugh Clifford, who were in the direct line of succession to the great pro-consuls of the past. It will be a sad day if we alter the system which exists. The Malayan Civil Service has also produced an excellent crop of Governors for other Colonies, like the late Sir William Peel for Hong Kong, Sir Andrew Caldecott for Ceylon and Sir Arthur Richards for Jamaica and Nigeria. We must think well before we "so reform" this service as to alter its whole complexion.

My Lords, this fortunately is not a Party question and it can be discussed with detachment and impartiality. I regret that a deplorable cold prevents my putting this more forcefully, because I feel acutely on the matter. I do not question for a moment the good motives of the authors of this scheme for a Malayan Union, but it would be interesting to know whether the peoples of Malaya have expressed any wish for it. I hope the noble Viscount who is going to reply, will let the House know as much as he can in this respect. My desire is to elicit the fullest information the Government can give its, entreat it to hasten slowly, and above all to safeguard the interests of the Malays. To represent the Malays of the ruling class as indolent and unenterprising hedonists, who must always be kept in leading strings, is misleading. The late Sultan Idris of Perak I recall in my day as a man of strong character and marked ability, also the present ruler of Johore the Sultan Ibrahim, who has been a prisoner in Malaya throughout the war and whose loyalty to the British Crown and courageous behaviour during the Japanese occupation have been widely acclaimed.

So when it comes to the actual constitution-making, I would enter a plea that those whose task it will be, should call into consultation recognized experts like Sir George Maxwell, Sir Richard Winstedt and Sir Arthur Richards who have gained their experience and knowledge on the spot, as well as the permanent officials of Whitehall versed in Malayan affairs. Also they should not entirely ignore the busi- ness men, the leaders of commerce, shipping, mining and agriculture, whose efforts have helped so largely to make Malaya such a loyal, contented and prosperous member of the British Empire. I beg to move for Papers.

4.29 p.m.


My Lords, I would like to congratulate the noble Lord who has just sat down upon the eloquent and instructive speech which he has given us this afternoon. He has a good deal of experience of Malaya. He knows it probably better than any other member of your Lordships' House. He knows its conditions and he knows the races and how they are divided, as he has shown us this afternoon. Words of advice coming from him cannot be held lightly or, I submit, be regarded by the Government as other than worthy of consideration. I myself happen to know Malaya; I have been there and I still have interests there. Consequently, if I speak to your Lordships this afternoon very briefly on this subject, I do so as one who has a certain knowledge of what he is talking about.

I do not propose to go through again what my noble friend has said so eloquently; I want rather to come to the position as it is. In August last, the Japanese surrendered and towards the end of August Singapore was liberated. Time went on and the rest of the Malay States fell once more into our hands—I suppose not before the middle of September. About a month afterwards, in about the middle of October, there appeared in the Press the announcement of a new Constitution which was to be imposed in Malaya, described as the Malayan Union. I confess that I was considerably astonished at seeing that announcement because I could not understand how the Government had arrived at the conditions upon which they could prepare or draw up such a Constitution or such a Union. I think it will he admitted that conditions in Malaya to-day probably do not resemble the conditions as they were before the war; and even had this Constitution been drawn up before the war, I contend that it would not necessarily have been suited to the conditions which exist at present.

My noble friend raised the question of whether the Sultans and all the other interests concerned had been consulted before this arrangement was come to and announced, through the Press. I venture to suggest there was no possibility that the Sultans or the people of Malaya could have been consulted about this matter. Even to-day there is a British military Government in Malaya; the civil Government has not even yet been restored. How, therefore, could the Sultans or anyone in Malaya have been consulted about this Constitution? I want to know—and I want to know very definitely—who was consulted about this new Constitution which is to be imposed upon Malaya. Were the Sultans consulted? Were any representatives of the Chinese consulted? Were any representatives of the Tamils consulted? Were any representatives of the large European interests consulted?

Malaya, as my noble friend has said, consists of four unfederated States, five federated States and three settlements called the Straits Settlements. My noble friend has described to you how, those various States came under our control. What I want to point out is that in no case—and I have been in most of them—is any one of these States anything but a protectorate of this country; in no case has the Sultan surrendered his sovereign rights over one of those States. The Straits Settlements might be called a Crown Colony, but as to the other States, the Sultans have merely asked us for our protection and to put in British residents to advise them on how to govern and keep conditions right in their Sultanates. In those circumstances how can we say: "We have decided this country' will be better governed if a unified Government is imposed on you. You have got to lump it and take it "? That is the position in which they have been put.

I do not know how the Government are going to expand their announcement; I do not know whether they propose to issue a White Paper which can be fully discussed. I submit that a mere announcement in a newspaper of a new Constitution is not the proper way to do things. It ought to be done in such a way that Members of Parliament and members of your Lordships' House can study it and can understand all its implications. A mere announcement to the Press is not sufficient. I say without hesitation that the whole thing is premature and ought not to be carried out until the Sultans, the people in the country and all the various interests have been consulted, and until they have had an opportunity to say that this is a good plan, or not a bad plan, or that something else is better. But you cannot ride roughshod over Protectorates in that way. It has never been our custom to do so, and I for one object to Parliament taking such a course.

I want to ask a second question. What steps do the Government propose to take to implement this announcement in the papers which was made so prematurely? Who knows what the conditions are in Malaya to-day? It has still, as I say, a British military Government. Those of us who have interests in Malaya do not know at all, even today, what is the state of those interests; we cannot find out. We are trying to find out, and the Colonial Office is helping us to do so; but when we do find out, they may be entirely different to what we think they are. Therefore I do beg that the Government will hold their hands over this.

Another question which I wish to put to the noble Viscount who is going to reply is whether the Government will consider, as soon as is feasible, sending out a properly constituted Commission. The time has not yet come for that. As my noble friend has suggested, the people must be given an opportunity of recovering after the miseries which they have suffered during the Japanese occupation. When they have done that, however, and Civil Government has been restored, I ask the Government whether they will send out a Commission, as was done recently in the case of Ceylon, and as has so often been done elsewhere in the past, to go into all the problems involved in an attempt to reach a settlement in this very complicated matter. I ask the Government to-day to give me some indication of whether they are prepared to do this. My noble friend has described the importance of Malaya from the point of view of trade. It is very important; and, in view of the fact that Commissions have been sent to Ceylon and to many other countries, and in view of the need for a thorough investigation into the position in Malaya before the Government implement what I regard as a dictatorial measure of union over Sultans who have entrusted themselves to our protection and to nothing else, I hope that this, will be done.

4.42 p.m.


My Lords, I rise only to put a question to my noble friend who is to reply, and I shall not take up your Lordships' time in controverting the eloquent remarks of the noble Viscount who has just sat down, although I take a view absolutely opposite to his; I consider that the Government deserve enthusiastic congratulations on the steps which they appear to be taking for the unification and development of Malaya, because I believe that no development, political or economic, is possible without unification. I wish to ask my noble friend whether, in this new organization, the British Government will see to it that adequate measures will be taken for the protection of the peasant, and particularly for the protection of his land-holding, against the moneylender and against people who are perhaps better able to take advantage of modern economic conditions than he is. This is a common problem throughout the East, and it is one which I am certain that the Colonial Office have in mind. I should like an assurance that in the new set-up some such provision will be included in the Constitution.


The Chinese Protectorate oat there used to be a most efficient service, and I sincerely hope that it will be continued for that kind of work.

4.44 P.m.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for having given us notice of his intention to raise this matter, and for having sent us beforehand a note of some of the points which he has raised to-day. I should like to express my sympathy with him in what I hope is the exceedingly transitory affliction from which he is suffering, and from which I have sometimes suffered myself. I should like to assure the noble Lord, Lord Faringdon, that the considerations which he has advanced are considerations to which I know that the Secretary of State for the Colonies attaches the greatest possible importance. That is one of the most important matters which we have to keep in front of us—to give the native populations a fair chance in life. That is what we are going to try to do.

I should like to thank the noble Viscount, Lord Marchwood, for the entirely sympathetic and knowledgeable contribution which he made. To the noble Viscount, Lord Elibank, I would say that any suggestion that we have approached the native Rulers in a "take it or lump it" attitude is wholly different from the truth. Nothing could be more conciliatory than the steps which we have been tilting and that we wish to take. Sir Harold MacMichael, who has been out there for some considerable time, has been conducting negotiations with the native Rulers and others with conspicuous success and amity all round. That is the plan of advance which we shall certainly follow. With regard to the general question, I am sorry that the noble Viscount saw the announcement to which he relays only in the newspapers. It was made in the House of Commons on October 10, so that he could have got it from there if he had so desired.


I went to the House of Lords Printed Paper Office to-day to try to get something, and they went through the list and told me that nothing had been published; so that I did do my best to get it.


Yes, at rather a late hour, unfortunately.


I do not think that that matters.


I am not concerned with the difficulties which may have arisen between the noble Viscount and the Printed Paper Office, but the announcement was made in the House of Commons on October 10, and I have here the words used by the Secretary of State. I am sorry that the noble Viscount overlooked that. My only point is that there has been nothing hole-and-corner about this.


I am sorry to interrupt, but I have been in South Africa and did not arrive in this country until October 5. That is why I missed it.


I am not suggesting that the noble Viscount was remiss; am only concerned to prove that His Majesty's Government were not remiss and did not make the announcement through the channels of the Press, but made it to Parliament in the proper way. That is the only point that I wish to make. It is suggested that there shall be constituted a Malayan Union of the nine States, and that it shall include the two Settlements of Penang and Malacca. The noble Viscount, Lord Marchwood, seemed to have some misgiving as to the wisdom of including them. The matter has been, of course, very carefully considered, and I think it is clear that any union for administrative or economic or other purposes of this territory would be lop-sided if it did not include them.


I referred to the separation of those two Straits Settlements from the third. My point was that Penang and Malacca are being separated from Singapore. Originally the three of them formed the Colony, but now a new Colony is being constituted in Singapore, and the other two are being placed in the Malayan Union.


I am coming to that. Penang and Malacca arc being included in the Union, and it is suggested that there should be a separate administrative unit in Singapore. That is what the noble Lord questioned. I am at the moment only on the point of the inclusion of Penang and Malacca with the rest of what we hope will be the Malayan Union. He knows much more than I do of the economics of the district, and I am sure he will agree with me that administratively and for other reasons of future development—which is all that we are looking to—it is right that Penang and Malacca should be included in the governmental institutions of Malaya. I shall deal with Singapore separately. Sir Harold MacMichael has been out there for some considerable time conducting negotiations. Those negotiations have not been conducted in the least in the spirit suggested by the noble Lord. They have proceeded in the friendliest possible way, and I am glad to say that they are being attended with conspicuous success. I am not able to-day to announce the final conclusion of the agreement which will be proposed by him, but we hope very shortly that it will be possible to do so. I can only say that Sir Harold is making most excellent progress in the friendliest possible atmosphere.

I think the noble Viscount made some inquiry in particular as to our relations with Kedah and Perlis. In both these cases the State Councils are being consulted arid the information so far available to me suggests that they are entirely agreeable to the proposals that have been put before them.


Is that the Rulers only or the Rulers in Council?


The information before me says the State Councils.


I am delighted if everybody is agreeable.


I quote the words from the papers which have been supplied to me—"The State Councils arc being duly consulted." Another important part of this proposed scheme to which I hope the noble Viscount will not take exception—for we think it is of great importance—is the establishment of a basis for Malayan Union citizenship. It will be open to all those, of whatever race or creed, who can claim by birth or by reason of a suitable period of residence that Malaya is their home.


May I interpose again to ask this question? Is that in connexion with the superior Government Service?


I am dealing with the basis of Malayan Union citizenship for the community. I will come to the Services in a minute. As I was saying, it will be open to all on that basis. I am quite sure that that is right. As the noble Viscount knows, in some States there are greater proportions of Chinese than in others. In some cases the population is almost entirely Malayan. Whatever the position may be in that respect, the people will be able to become citizens of the Union provided that they have the necessary qualifications. It is proposed that the public Services shall be open to all citizens of the Union if they are good enough to qualify for them. I think that for a wide field of public Services, both administrative and technical, the people of Malaya are admirably suited; and so far as they do prove themselves so suited, the Services will be open to them. I think that is the answer to the point raised by the noble Viscount.

And now may I say a word about the proposed separation, for the time being, of Singapore? Singapore, as the noble Viscount knows well enough, is geographically and in many other ways in a unique and special position. By far the greater part of Singapore's economic interests are external to Malaya—they are in fact world-wide. Singapore's position therefore is different from that of other parts of the territory. It is proposed that Singapore should have special administrative machinery, and it will be so constituted at the beginning. But we recognize that there are inseparable links between Singapore and the rest of Malaya and I can give my noble friend the assurance that if, in the course of time, both the Union and Singapore desire it there will be no obstacle to the formation of a united political organization embracing both areas. But for the present it is proposed for the reasons I have mentioned that Singapore shall be separately administered. Our plan is shat there shall be the fullest opportunity for the native races, both in administration and in cultural and economic development, to make the greatest possible progress.

I should like to say that so far as my information goes—and I have had long conversations with my noble friend on the subject of course—I can say that Sir Harold MacMichael's suggestions are apparently being received with exceeding good will. And the maintenance of that good will will be our purpose throughout. I think that I have given noble Lords an indication of the scheme for the Union of all States except Singapore, and the general scheme of economic organization that will be worked out.


May I be allowed to interpose to ask the noble Viscount this question with regard to the status of citizenship that is to be given? Will it permit the Chinese, if they become more numerous, virtually to take over the Malay State? Is there anything to secure the Malayans themselves in their own heritage? I foresee that the Chinese, prolific and numerous as they are, may in time subordinate the Malays to themselves as a race.


I think the noble Viscount knows enough about British ideals and methods of government to understand that it is not our policy to establish privileged minorities. We do not go in for that sort of thing. If, in the course of development in some States, as may be the case, the Chinese have become or do become more numerous, it will be open to them to become citizens of the Union if they possess the necessary qualifications. You cannot start making distinctions and, as I say, it is not our policy to establish privileged minorities. What I can say on the whole scheme is that it aims to give better opportunities for the native population, and I have no doubt that the Malays will take full advantage of it. It is our earnest desire that they shall, and we shall certainly do all that we can to help them to the fullest possible extent. I think I have now answered the various points which have been raised.

4.58 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Viscount very much indeed for his very comprehensive reply. I feel that it will go a long way to allay the doubts and anxieties which have been felt and which I have tried to put before the House. The last thing I would wish to do would be to say one word which would contribute anything but good will to the efforts now in progress. I can see that endeavours are being made to bring about a position out there which will be for the well-being of the inhabitants of Malaya and the Empire.

In saying that I would again stress that, though the noble Viscount said that the Government do not favour the establishment of a privileged minority, it must be borne in mind that the position out there is rather unique. The Malays are ruled by their Rulers but we advise them. Therefore, if the Chinese are in a position where they have a preponderance in numbers, I would not wish to see the Malays ousted. The total Malay population is only 2,250,000 as against double that number of Chinese, so I feel there is a danger of administrative posts being taken from them.

I raised that point because that is the one main question which I wish the Government to consider when they are setting up this Malaya Union. I wish it every possible success because I feel that if we can get the good will of the peoples there, it is going to be the sheet-anchor of success. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.