HL Deb 07 June 1945 vol 136 cc450-78

2.9 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I rise to ask your Lordships to give a Second Reading to this Bill. It is a short Bill, but it is set in the midst of great events and is a part of a wider policy towards Burma. Your Lordships will probably think it appropriate if I outline briefly the background against which the Bill needs to be considered. The great success of the astonishing campaign of the Fourteenth Army, which has liberated the greater part of Burma earlier perhaps than many people expected, made it a matter of immediate necessity to make provision for the future government of liberated Burma. The policy to be followed was, therefore, set forth by the late Government in a White Paper on Burma which was laid before Parliament on May 17. There can be no doubt, and there need be no misunderstanding, about the objective of the policy of His Majesty's Government. It has frequently been declared, and it has been repeated in the White Paper, that that objective is the attainment by Burma of Dominion status as soon as circumstances permit. As my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has pointed out, Dominion status is in fact the status which we enjoy in the United Kingdom and carries with it not only the privileges of independence but also the practical advantages of membership of a world-wide Commonwealth. That is the position which we wish Burma to attain.

Nor need there be any doubt that we wish her progress towards that position to be rapid as well as orderly. That progress has certainly not been made easier by the Japanese war. The invasion of Burma, three years of occupation by the Japanese Army, great military operations on land and in the air, have left a trail of destruction across the country. The entire economy of the country has to be rebuilt and the political and administrative structure needs to be reconstituted. Those are the conditions which have to be faced now in Burma. They do not alter our intention to assist Burma to reach her constitutional goal as quickly as possible, but they do require that the stages by which that goal should be reached should be designed to meet the exceptional circumstances created by the war.

As your Lordships will have seen from the White Paper, four stages are contemplated. They can Abe outlined very briefly as follows. First, there is the period of military administration, which is now in being in those areas which have been liberated. It is not possible to fix a definite date by which the military administration will be replaced by the civil administration, as that must depend upon the progress of military operations; but we can hope that the Government of Burma will have resumed its task in Burma before the end of the year. The second stage will come when civil administration is resumed and it will be a transitional stage during which the Government of Burma will prepare for the reintroduction of the constitutional regime of the Act of 1935. This stage will require the temporary extension of the present emergency form of Government under which the government of Burma has been carried on since December, 1942. It is this temporary extension which requires legislative action by means of the Bill now before your Lordships.

When it is possible to hold a General Election in fair conditions, the third stage will be reached. The emergency form of Government will come to an end and there will be a restoration of self-government under the Act of 1935, with a Legislature and an Executive responsible to it. It will then be for the representatives of the Burmese people themselves to bring about, by agreement amongst themselves and with His Majesty's Government, the fourth stage of Dominion status—Dominion status, that is, for Burma proper, the Shan States and other scheduled areas remaining under a special regime, until they desire otherwise.

Those are the stages very briefly outlined by which it is proposed that Burma, in spite of the interruption to her political progress caused by the Japanese invasion, should reach her constitutional goal. It will be seen that this Bill is concerned only with the second stage— the transitional stage—and I now turn to the provisions in the Bill. Your Lordships will recollect that the Act of 1935 contained emergency provisions designed to meet a situation in which the Government of Burma could not be carried on in accordance with the normal provisions of the Act. Section 139 is the relevant section of the Act and it is similar to Section 93 of the Government of India Act under which the Government of certain Provinces in India has been carried on for some time. The maximum period during which the Government can be carried on under this section is limited by the Act to three years and as the section was invoked on December To, 1942, the present emergency form of Government must cease to exist in December of this year unless amending legislation is passed.

With the disruption which has occurred of political life in Burma, it would clearly be impossible to revert at that time to the normal provisions of the Act and it is therefore proposed to extend the period. Subsection (I) of Clause I of the Bill permits this extension for three years more. I would like to make it clear to your Lordships that this extension does not mean that the emergency form of Government must continue until December, 1948. We hope, indeed, that before then it will be possible for the Government of Burma to restore the electoral machinery to working order and that internal conditions will permit fair elections to be held as the first essential step in restoring the full operation of the other provisions of the Act of 1935. This period of three years is, in fact, a precautionary period within which it is hoped it will be possible to hold elections and so establish a normal régime.

The factor which must govern the length of this period is the time which it will take to produce conditions in which elections can be held and there are some practical difficulties which are bound to take some little time to overcome. For instance, the main voting qualification has disappeared as the taxes, the payment of which forms the main qualification under the Act of 1935, were repealed by the Legislature and no substitute qualification had been provided before the invasion. No doubt that is a matter which can soon be remedied. But new electoral rolls will, in any case, have to be made. At the best of times this is a more pro- longed business in Burma than we are accustomed to in this country, but with the destruction of records, the dislocation of communications, the movement of population during the fighting and the depletions of the Government services which have taken place, there can be little doubt it will take a considerable time. Those are examples of the practical difficulties which have made it appear prudent to allow for as long as three years for the preparations which will be necessary before the normal Constitution can be restored.

The first purpose of the Bill, then, is to provide for the extension of he emergency form of Government. The second purpose of the Bill is to take power to liberalize this emergency form of Government. Subsection (2) provides that this may be done by Orders in Council which will be subject to the approval of Parliament. The object of this provision is to enable the Governor to obtain the greatest possible measure of Burmese co-operation during this period by, for example, forming an Executive Council in which not only officials but also non-official Burmese can be included, and by setting up an interim Legislative Council enjoying a wider measure of popular support. The Governor is most anxious to make the fullest possible use of these powers and to do so at the earliest possible moment, as he wisely desires to secure the co-operation of Burmese of all Parties for the tasks of reconstruction from the outset. Those are the two purposes of this Bill and T hope your Lordships will agree that they will help to provide a practical basis on which the Government of Burma can begin the great tasks of reorganization which await them when they return to Burma after an absence of more than three years.

During that time the Government of Burma have remained in being and have been hard at work planning both for immediate rehabilitation and for longterm reconstruction. Your Lordships will wish to hear something of these plans for restoring the economic life of Burma. I will not go into great detail but will endeavour to give an indication of their main features. The restoration of rice and of timber production on which the economy of Burma so largely depends are clearly of special urgency. Plans for these are complete in all their main details and the procurement of the necessary equipment is being rapidly proceeded with. Plans for the restoration of transport and communications both by land and waterways have been worked out and capital equipment for them and for public utilities is being obtained. Consumer goods also are being acquired to meet the essential needs of the population. The first steps in the restoration of normal life are of course being taken by the Civil Affairs officers of the military administration and, since many of these are members of the Burma Civil Services, close co-ordination between their initial steps and the plans of the Government of Burma can be expected.

All these projects involve expenditure by the Government of Burma and, as that Government have at present no resources of their own, His Majesty's Government have agreed to make available the money required. Long-term plans deal with such matters as the supply of credit to the cultivator, the restoration of land to the cultivator, the development of medical and public health services, the extension of education, and the improvement of local administration. On all these matters it will be essential that reconstruction should proceed in accordance with Burmese ideas and it is here that it will be so necessary to associate Burmese of all shades of opinion with these plans before they are finalized and therefore at the earliest possible moment. Side by side therefore with the plan of the White Paper for the political advance of Burma must be placed these plans which the Government of Burma, with the assistance of His Majesty's Government, have prepared for the restoration of the economic life of the country and which they hope to implement with the co-operation of the Burmese people. I feel sure your Lordships will look upon both these projects with the greatest sympathy.

Burma has suffered in this war, not through any action of her own, but at the hands of the aggressor of the East. She has given no assistance to the enemy except for a mere handful of her large population and most of these later turned against Japan. Many more have fought for long on our side and have rendered most valuable service to our troops, particularly the tribesmen of the hills. The welcome which our troops have received as they liberate Burma has been genuine and most friendly. Burma has indeed a very strong claim on our sympathy and on our assistance. We are trying to meet that claim, so far as our resources enable us to do so, by the help which we are giving her for her economic restoration and by assisting her to attain the position of a Dominion as quickly as possible. The policy for her constitutional advance was drawn up by the late Government. All Parties in that Government contributed to it. It will retain, we hope, their full support. It is a flexible policy. It does not depend on a rigid adherence to dates. It depends more than anything else on the co-operation which will be given to it by the Burmese people. We hope that it will be accepted by them as the best method of attaining their desires quickly and in an orderly way.

I feel sure, too, that your Lordships will wish that good luck will go with the Governor of Burma when he returns to Burma and with those, both British and Burmese, who have stood by him during these difficult years. Few Governors of His Majesty's territories have had to meet such catastrophic events as Sir Reginald Dorman-Smith. It would be fitting and just if his service to Burma during her tribulation were followed by the satisfaction of setting her successfully on the road to recovery. I ask your Lordships to give assent to the Second Reading of this Bill and, if your Lordships will agree, perhaps we could secure the remaining stages of the Bill to-day also. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a —( The Earl of Scarbrough.)

2.27 p.m.


My Lords, I am glad to be the first speaker this afternoon to be in a position to congratulate the noble Earl opposite on a double event—a rather rare occurrence in our debates here—his maiden speech as a member of your Lordships' House and his maiden speech as a representative of the India and Burma Office in the new Government. After the really admirable speech to which we have just listened I am sure I can say that the House hopes to hear the noble Earl speaking again on many future occasions, and that he will receive an equally attentive hearing whether he speaks in an official or a private capacity. That does not imply any forecast about the future. The people of Burma are fortunate in securing as Under-Secretary one who has already served an apprenticeship in India, and particularly at a time when we are expecting new developments in policy to be laid before Parliament. My noble friend's quick grasp of a new and complex subject is shown by the exposition to which we have listened of Burma policy, and I would like, if I may, to congratulate him both on the policy of the White Paper and the Bill which he has submitted and also on the manner in which he has presented them to your Lordships' House.

These plans for the future of Burma are, as I know from the months I had the honour of spending at the India and Burma Office, the outcome of a long period of incubation. During this period an immense amount of detailed preparatory work has been done by the officials serving at the Burma Office and on the Governor's staff. I feel that a word of praise and thanks is due to those conscientious and industrious civil servants to whom the people of Burma will owe much for the good start they are likely to make as soon as the Civil Government is able to go back. The approval given to this policy by the Cabinet and its generous acceptance last week in another place are due primarily to the really inexhaustible patience and pertinacity of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. I believe there is no member of the present Cabinet more sadly misjudged by the general public than the Secretary of State for India and Burma. This really extraordinary misconception is partly due to his own old-fashioned indifference to Press publicity and partly to the Indian habit of personifying in the Secretary of State everything they resent in British rule. But I am certain that when, in days to come, history will be written, it will be found that among the illustrious incumbents of the India and Burma Office none had a keener intelligence or a more genuinely progressive mind than the present Secretary of State. This Bill and the policy that lies behind it will rightly be credited among his solid achievements.

Few of us had dared to hope that the liberation of Burma from north to south, by the fall of Rangoon, would happen before the monsoon season, and I should like to associate my noble friends on these Benches with the tribute paid by the noble Earl opposite, in his opening remarks, to the gallantry and endurance of the ordinary soldiers, British Indian, Ghurka, or African, fighting in difficult country under terrible tropical conditions, and to the skill and daring of the Generals and officers who led them. A short while ago we had a first-hand account of the exploits of the African troops from my noble friend the Duke of Devonshire, and all the reports indicate that the campaign in Burma has been one of the most arduous and brilliantly executed campaigns of the whole war. Its early and successful conclusion has made it possible for your Lordships to discuss the future of Burma this afternoon.

Everyone recognizes, I think, that no scheme for the attainment of self-government and Dominion status in any part of the Empire can hope to succeed without the close and continuous cooperation of the local inhabitants. I was very glad that the noble Lord opposite emphasized that point. I think he said —it my memory is accurate—that the effectiveness of this policy would depend upon the co-operation of the Burmese people. This whole programme for the rapid advance of Burma to independence within the Commonwealth does rest upon the basic assumption that this co-operation will be forthcoming. The Government's proposals have not had an entirely favourable reception, either at home or overseas and the scheme could be wrecked if irresponsible criticism were to persuade the Burmese population to be either actively obstructive or to indulge in passive non-co-operation with the British authorities. But I believe that many of the misgivings which have been expressed have been due either to a genuine misunderstanding of the Government proposals or to hopes that have been raised beyond what is immediately practicable by the re-establishment of national government in liberated countries more politically mature than Burma.

We must do our utmost to convince the Burmans that we are utterly sincere when we talk about early self-government. We all want them to Le as free from outside interference as Canada or Australia or any other Dominion just as soon as this can be done without causing anarchy or economic chaos. We are willing for the Burmans to start discussing their final Constitution end, presumably, the terms of the treaty they would conclude with His Majesty's Government before the pre-war Parliamentary regime has been restored, and directly a National Legislative Council has been selected to assist the Governor with his plans for reconstruction. Sir Stafford Cripps, in the course of his speech in another place last week, said that these discussions and negotiations might eventuate within three or four years in full self-government, and this forecast was not contradicted by the Secretary of State when he wound up the debate. We are surely justified in asking the Burmans to exercise patience and self-restraint during the short time we believe to be necessary for orderly progress to unfettered home rule.

I hope that one of the problems that the body that drafts the new long-term Constitution will consider will be how to secure an Executive responsible to the Legislature but nevertheless sufficiently stable to be efficient in the discharge of its administrative duties. No one who has followed the working of Parliamentary institutions in Burma between 1937 and 1942 can be satisfied by the then relationship between Ministers and their colleagues in the Legislature. But the Westminster model is by no means the only example of successful democratic institutions, and I believe that the American and Swiss systems might be studied with advantage in adapting the machinery of democracy to conditions prevailing in oriental countries.

There is one other point I should like to emphasize in this scheme for rapid advance to self-government in Burma. The autocratic rule of the Governor will lapse immediately a General Election has been held, and he is under a statutory obligation to arrange a General Election as soon as conditions in Burma make it possible. My noble friend opposite explained with great lucidity, I thought, the precise obstacles that lie in the way of a General Election at the moment and that will have to be removed before a General Election can be held. I should like to emphasize that this is a statutory obligation and that the Governor will not be in a position to exercise his free choice. According to Section 139 of the Burma Act, he can only govern by Proclamation so long as he is convinced that the Government of Burma cannot be carried on according to the provisions of the Act, which, of course, prescribes among the essentials of the Constitution a Burmese Legislature and a responsible Ministry.

But I can see nothing high-handed or derogatory to Burma about a short period of direct rule, during which the Burmese leaders will be brought into partnership with the Governor, to tide over the interval that must elapse before a General Election can be held. After all, this is exactly what has happened in France. Until the autumn elections General de Gaulle will continue to govern France through a Ministry appointed by and responsible to himself, and with the assistance of a Consultative Assembly which acts in a purely advisory capacity. But Burma has no national leader like General de Gaulle who can command the support of the people as a whole, and we cannot allow any political faction to seize power before all the inhabitants of the country have had a fair chance of choosing their own Government. I cannot, for my part, see anything unreasonable in asking Burma to accept a transitional period of direct rule which will safeguard the future of the Burmese people from aspirants to political power—just such a period as the liberty-loving French have found indispensable in their own well-established democracy.

I do not think it can be repeated too often that the success of this scheme ultimately must depend on our capacity for winning the good will of Burma from the outset. It will, in this connexion, be highly desirable for us to obtain the support, not only of the old-timers who helped us before and during the war, and to whom we owe more than we can ever acknowledge, but of many of the young men who have risen to positions of political or military leadership in the Anti-Fascist Organization or the Burmese national Army. They represent new and important elements in the national life of Burma. I therefore hope that there will be as wide an amnesty as possible for those who helped the Japanese in any way during their occupation of the country. Let us not forget that the responsible Burmans who helped the Japanese did so because they thought that it was the best way of serving their own people, and not because they were in the least well-disposed towards Japan.

I should only like to say this in conclusion. This Bill, and the White Paper policy for economic reconstruction and political advance in Burma, mark a turning point in the history of a British Dependency with a much larger population than any of the Dominions. They promise the biggest step forward since the 1935 Act. The speed with which this policy can be carried through will depend on whether we can secure the confidence and co-operation of the Burmese people. We have one great asset in the personality of the Governor, Sir Reginald Dorman-Smith. He comes from County Cavan, and this is, perhaps, why he has more understanding of national feeling than the ordinary phlegmatic Englishman. He is devoted to the Burmans as well as entirely sympathetic to their political aspirations, and I greatly hope that whatever Government may be in power after the General Election they will appoint Sir Reginald Dorman-Smith to preserve the continuity of his fine work for Burma. I am sure that our more responsible critics will realize that there is no practical alternative to a policy which has the support of the House of Commons and of all three Parties in the State. If they really have the welfare of the population of Burma at heart, they will surely encourage the Burmans to give their whole-hearted cooperation to this scheme for the economic reconstruction of their devastated country and for the swiftest possible advance to full nationhood. I hope your Lordships will give your support to the Second Reading of the Bill.

2.43 p.m.


My Lords, may I add to the words of the noble Lord who has spoken, my very sincere congratulations and appreciation of the speech which the noble Earl opposite made? It is no doubt the very able and sincere tone of that speech which prompted the noble Earl who has just spoken, also to speak in such generous terms of the colleagues with whom he has been recently associated. The approval which the policy of His Majesty's Government, outlined in the White Paper, has had in another place and in the country generally, is, I suppose, universal. If, therefore, I have to make certain comments I should like the noble Earl to believe that they are not made in any way as criticisms of the policy but rather to point to one or two dangers which may arise in its application.

With the policy I think we must all be in agreement. The difficulty is that what we believe to be the right and probably the only course will not necessarily be believed elsewhere to be as sincere as we know it to be in this country, if only for the reason that the pi ogress of the Burmese Constitution towards the goal of self-government for Burma as an independent Dominion in this Commonwealth is in the four stages to which the noble Earl referred. There must inevitably be a danger that when this progress is marked by no less than four stages, the delays at each stage in moving from one to another may seem intolerable and possibly deliberate. It is therefore my object to urge the Government—or whatever Government may be in power- -to be as speedy as possible in moving from stage to stage. That seems at least to be an elementary precaution. That has been emphasized in another place and referred to by the noble Earl in hip opening remarks, but it is a point which cannot be too often stressed.

The four stages concerned are the military administration now set up, the administration by Proclamation under Section 139 of the Burma Act, the restoration of the 1935 Constitution and, Emily, self-government and independence as a Dominion. The first two stages are entirely within our power to determine. They will depend obviously, to some extent, on the degree of co-operation between the Governor and the Government of Burma and the Burmese people, but the first of these two stages—namely, the military administration—lies even more in our power in determining whether or not the organization of the Burmese people has reached a sufficient point of development to enable us to get on to the discussion of a future Constitution. If I urge that the period of military administration should be brought to a standstill and should give place to the second stage as soon as possible, I do so because I wish to take an action which will convince the Burmese and others that we intend these four stages to follow one after the other as rapidly as possible.

I do not think anyone in your Lordships' House will wish to accuse me of any hostility to military administration and Military Government. I am aware of their necessity and of their competence to deal with a situation left behind after a conquering Army has entered a territory. Indeed, I can think of instances where a Military Government could, with advantage to the people of the country, have been carried on rather than to give place to civil administration. The position in Burma is somewhat different in that we have in India—if it is not an impertinent way of referring to it asin partibus in fidelium—a Governor and a Government. The noble Earl has referred to the fact that the military administration contains a very large number of former Burmese civil servants, but is it not inevitable that the very existence in the military administration of these civil servants should have the effect of making them look over their shoulder to the Government of Burma in India, and is it not human for the Government of Burma in India to be somewhat irked by someone else conducting an administration which they must inevitably feel they could do better themselves?

Military administrations are transient things and ill-equipped to consider long-range constitutional developments and political opinions. There is, moreover, inevitably in any military administration a tendency on the part of those who conduct it, not always to put military considerations first and civil considerations afterwards, but sometimes to put military considerations first and the rest nowhere! I have some experience of that myself, and it is in the light of that experience, and in these circumstances, that I would urge that the military administration be terminated, if not forthwith at any rate within a term to be measured by weeks and not by months. If it cannot be terminated everywhere in the whole of the Burmese territory which has been reoccupied, it should at any rate be terminated in as much of that area as is possible, leaving certain areas where military operations are still in progress possibly under military administration, but with the closest contact with the Burmese Government in Rangoon.

In point of fact Burma has been liberated, either by the ejection of the Japanese or by their elimination; and, although ports and airfields must inevitably be used for the prosecution of the campaign, and certain Burmese resources in labour and natural resources will be required by the Commander-in-Chief, there is nothing in the way of sedition and unrest—or at least, so it would appear from the White Paper—which would justify the continuation of a military administration. Indeed, the White Paper and the noble Earl's remarks suggest that so far from there being any widespread unrest, sedition or difficulty in the conduct of military operations from Burma as a base, the reverse is the case. If we have been disappointed—or rather, I should say if we had been disappointed —by the behaviour of certain elements in Burma in the early days, these disappointments have evidently to a large extent been not only mitigated but removed by the conduct of many of those Burmans themselves who, after closer contact with Axis doctrines and Japanese practices, have perhaps thought that association with ourselves was preferable in the interests of their people and their country.

I believe not only that this is the case but, judging from information from other sources, which is available no doubt also to your Lordships, that in point of fact there is a very considerable enthusiasm for nationalism in the very best sense abroad in Burma at the present time, a movement among people who hitherto have taken little part in their own affairs and shown little interest, but who have now devoted not only themselves but their lives to the liberation of their country within the measure of what they could do. It is to capture that spirit that I urge that the speediest possible action should be taken to go from the first stage to the second stage, and from the second stage to the third stage, and to remember that the third stage is not the final goal but merely a stage on the way to that goal—a goal which has been stated in the White Paper and reiterated by those who have spoken for His Majesty's Government.

I believe that the method which has been adopted to state the policy of His Majesty's Government, however much we may be in agreement with that policy, savours a little of what I and other noble Lords have had occasion to observe in statements of policy dealing with over-sea matters in the Empire—in other words, of doing good by stealth. Sir Stanley Reed in another place made a point to which I should like to refer, namely, that this outstanding event, the capture of Rangoon months before it was expected, in circumstances which do the utmost credit to the Fourteenth Army, and which liberated almost the whole of Burma and gave it back to the Commonwealth, was heralded not by any statement by His Majesty's Government, not by any Minister, not by any event with any dramatic quality about it or by any publicity, but by the publication of a White Paper. If that is not doing good by stealth, I do not know what that expression means. It is the stealth by which this good is done which inevitably must lead to suspicion such as has already been engendered, and which must be encountered abroad So long as these ways are pursued. It is not too late to take some action and make some statement which will rectify the feeling, which many people must have, that if our policy is to be outlined in a White Paper and put forward in a somewhat hole-and-corner way, there must be something suspicious about what we say we are going to do.

I come back, therefore, to what I said before. The first and most important thing to be done is to produce by some action an event, even if it be only the termination of military administration, which will convince the Burmese and others that the policy which the noble Earl and others have outlined is in fact a real, sincere and vital policy on the part of all of us in this country. That is vital if we are to avoid the misunderstandings in Burma which have arisen in India, and if we are to avoid not only trouble but possibly active hostility on the part of those very people who helped to eject the Japanese from their country themselves.

There is one last point which I should like to make. The noble Earl has referred, perhaps inevitably, in somewhat general terms, to the financial assistance to be given to Burma. It is not quite clear to me from what he said whether the financial assistance which (to use his own words) is to be made available will be in the form of a gift or a loan, or upon what scale it is to be. No doubt that will appear in the Papers and Bills which will be laid hereafter. Whatever form that assistance may take, it must be adequate. We must do what we can. What we can do, however, must be limited. I hope that neither in this country nor elsewhere has the Treasury been held out to the Burmese as a kind of widow's cruse, upon which they can draw not only for the necessary rehabilitation of their country but for that development which must in fact come out of Burma's resources at long last, and be found by the Burmese, with the assistance which men of other races can supply of things which the Burmese themselves lack. It is by that co-operation between the Burmese and others that development will take place, and that the resources necessary must for the most part be found.

Here it is very necessary to dispel from the minds of those who have it in Burma and elsewhere the idea that the Burmese, or indeed the people of any other country in that stage of development, are sufficient unto themselves, and do not require assistance from elsewhere. That me ins on the part of the Burmese and of all others equally the acceptance of the necessity of give and take in the right sense of that expression, and not in the sense so frequently given to it not only in Burma but elsewhere, that "give and take" means "you give and I take." I trust that this Bill and the policy of which it is the outcome will be accepted by your Lordships' House, and that whatever can be done to expedite development and lead to a happy ending of Burma's problem will be done.

2.59 p.m.


My Lords: I hope I may be forgiven if I approach this subject not so much in the light of what has been said in this House as in the light of criticism of this measure which has been voiced in the outside world. I think that that is very important because, like the noble Lord, Lord Rennell, I regard this as a very signal occasion. It is the first occasion on which we have had to deal with one of our possessions which has been liberated from the grip of Japan, and it will be taken in the outside world as an earnest of our own future policy in regard to our Dependencies. I should like to join with Lord Rennell in regretting that an occasion in our history as signal as this has not been given greater publicity or surrounded with all that manifestation of its importance that we should like to have seen. I venture to repeat here a remark that was once made in the American House of Representatives, that it is a pity to put your head in the sand, because by doing so you inevitably exhibit to the world what is after all the seat neither of your intelligence nor your conscience.

From that I pass to some of those outside criticisms, for I do not find, from what I have been able to read or to learn, that the support given to this measure is quite so universal as has been assumed here. I see that in part of the outside world at all events the question is asked: Why, when you have liberated this country, do not you give full effect to what, after all, is the intention of the Atlantic Charter, that liberated areas should be at once free to choose their own form of government? I think that that criticism is due partly to an over-simplification of the facts, and partly to a real misunderstanding of the situation. I think it is not generally appreciated by those who voice that criticism that there must be some difference between the situation of liberated countries that were formerly independent of outside control, and of those countries which were subject to political control because in the latter case there is an intimate connexion between the Power which formerly controlled them and a responsibility on its part for seeing that the stages by which they can approach the full expression of self-determination are orderly and well arranged and follow a course that will give the most satisfactory results.

Further, I think that criticism is also due to one of these outstanding difficulties that we have in terminology. In American circles at all events there is only one word that is fully understood in this connexion, and that is "independence," whereas we speak of "self-government." It is a problem, I understand, that has caused a good deal of trouble lately at San Francisco. It is difficult perhaps for others to appreciate our own standing in this matter. Independence, after all, is a clear-cut constitutional term; self-government within the Commonwealth expresses relations that are not entirely constitutional, are certainly not well defined, and perhaps are rather psychological than formal or technical; and it is always difficult for us to convey to others any conviction of our determination to give to our former Dependencies the substance of self-government, unless we use the word "independence."

That is the kind of criticism that has been levelled against this measure in part of the outside world. But may I take also what evidence we have of local reactions to this measure? It is difficult to speak of them with any certainty, for I understand that the full terms of the White Paper have hardily yet been published in Burma itself, but I am referring in particular to what was said on the subject in two articles recently published in The Times. I have no doubt that your Lordships will have read them; they were interesting and full of information. The general tenor of them is that on all sides in Burma there is a demand for immediate independence, and that is particularly strongly felt by the organization of which we hear so much, the Anti-Fascist Organization. But I felt myself when I read those articles, and I think some of your Lordships must also have felt, that they were not perhaps quite realistic. It must be very difficult indeed in the circumstances of Burma to form any opinion of what is the mass feeling on a subject like this. There must be a tendency to attach importance to certain sections of opinion with which you come more closely in contact, and I feel myself that undue importance has been attached to the feelings of the Anti-Fascist Organization and the various bodies for which it is said to stand. After all, when we are told that the Anti-Fascist Organization was fighting for the Japanese, not from any dislike of us, but because of its desire for immediate independence, it appears to me that it has been guilty of some confusion of thought at the least. To believe that fighting for the Japanese is a way of securing independence sounds to me somewhat paradoxical, and one might be justified in the feeling that it might be difficult to acquit this section either of mental or of moral obliquity in this matter.

I feel therefore that we must not attach too much importance to the expression of that particular section in favour of immediate independence. I particularly noticed that in their programme they have two somewhat outstanding items, which again leads me to have some hesitation in accepting them as good guides to general opinion. One of them is the confiscation of landlords' estates, and the other is the abolition of indebtedness; both of which measures of course are, to those who understand the circumstances of Burma, directed almost entirely against Indian investors and Indian landlords. But though one may have some hesitation in believing that in Burma itself, generally speaking and throughout the mass of the population, there is this strong determination to secure immediate independence in its fullest sense, yet I fully realize, with the noble Lord, Lord Rennell, that there is a very strong feeling of nationalism in Burma. It has probably gained strength during the war, as feelings of this kind gain force in war. I think we can have only one answer to this feeling, and that is a steady determination not only to pursue our own programme of granting Dominion status but —even more important—to lay the firm foundations for that status in social and economic progress.

I think that the fact that this is so essential adds force to the arguments for a transitional form of Government. Quite apart from the very lucid argument that the noble Earl, Lord Scarbrough, used in introducing this Bill, I feel myself that some interim form of Government is necessary for two further reasons I think it is necessary because it is clear that there must be a very considerable amount of expenditure from the British Exchequer on rehabilitation and the like, and also a considerable amount of expenditure in compensation for what are known as "denial orders." But also it will be necessary for the Burma Government to utilize its own credit for raising loans. A great deal will depend, therefore, on the immediate stability of the Government and the promise it gives of a firm and effective form of administration.

Let me remind your Lordships that Burma starts with a debt of something like £ 40,000,000 to India, and, speaking on behalf of India, one would be very unwilling indeed to see any steps taken that might imperil that investment. It represents the cost of the railways, irrigation schemes and the like, which were formerly undertaken when Burma was under the management of India and which have now passed into the hands of the Burmese Government. But the post-war reconstruction will also require a very considerable expenditure of private capital from external sources, and there again a great deal will depend on the form of administration and its efficiency during a period of interim Government.

I join with the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, in saying that whatever doubts we may have had about the attitude of some of the sections in Burma, there certainly ought to be no weakening on our part of our determination to introduce, as soon as possible, a status equivalent to that of the Dominions, not only in pursuance of our own promises, not only on the merits of the case itself, but also in the interests of our reputation in the outside world. I should be glad, with Lord Rennell, to see as early a determination as possible of the period of Military Government, though I realize that that may not be so easy as at first sight seems. For two reasons: there are still in Burma, I understand, strong pockets of Japanese, and further, those who can recall the history of the original settlement of Burma after the Burmese wars, will realize how many lawless elements, large elements of what we call dacoits, there exist in Burma itself.

I hope also that during that period of interim Government some serious steps may be taken to try out or prepare Burma for those alternative forms of Government of which the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, spoke. It may very well be that ultimately our Parliamentary form of Government, or something on the same model, is the only form of Government which will give satisfaction to the people with whom we are dealing. That may very well be so in the future, but no one, I think, could deny that the experience of Burma, in particular, under a form of Government which followed our Parliamentary model was not a very fortunate one. I have no wish to rake up old and somewhat unpleasant history, but it certainly has been a picture not only of great political instability but, I regret to say, also of much moral irresponsibility. If, therefore we can find an alternative or induce the Burmans to devise themselves any alternative which will give them a more stable executive, less liable to the kaledioscopic changes that have overtaken previous Ministries, a form of Government which may provide a more effective and responsible form of administration, that would be all to the good.

Then, again, I hope that when it comes to the final stages it may be possible to arrange some form of treaty or understanding that will preserve Indian interests in Burma. The history of Burma has always been linked up with that of India. There is, as I think I have pointed out, a very large Indian investment in Burma. Indeed, from such calculations as one is able to make in a subject that is always somewhat obscure and in which it is difficult to obtain precision, it is possible that Indians have invested something like £ 55,000,000 in Burma against a little over £ 40,000,000 invested from British and other foreign sources. Not only are trade relations between Burma and India of importance to both, but Indians may, I think, be very well justified in feeling some apprehension about the course which relations between political Burma and India have taken of recent years. Remember the movement against Indian immigration; remember the rioting that took place directed against Indian labour; nor can one fail to be aware, from such contacts as one has had with Burmese politicians, that there has been a very strong movement for the confiscation of the large holding which Indians have acquired in the lands in lower Burma. I think that the figures show that in lower Burma in particular something like two-thirds of the land was brought under cultivation by Indian capital, and a considerable part of the land, perhaps one-third, is still in Indian hands. Therefore it is a matter of the very greatest importance that some arrangement should be made, whether by treaty or otherwise, that will secure Indian rights in Burma.

There is just one more point. We may all hope that very particular care will be taken over the arrangements forecast by the noble Lord regarding the fate of the Shan States and the Karims. They are people who have never been ready to accept any form of political subjection to the Burmese, and they are some of the people who, from the first, have supplied the backbone of the Burmese Forces. Their ways of life are entirely different from those of most Burmans. It will be necessary to make some kind of arrangement under which they can retain their independence. That will not very willingly be accepted by the Burmese. Nevertheless, it is the point on which I think we ourselves must lay the greatest importance. I would only add this: that I think we shall all watch with the very greatest attention and with, indeed, some anxiety, the course taken by the interim or transitional Government in Burma. It will express itself in Orders in Council. Orders in Council in that particular form must be seen by Parliament, and I hope Parliament will be able to satisfy itself that the objectives to which I have alluded are actually being attained.

3.19 p.m.


My Lords, I would like to add my word of respectful congratulation to the noble Earl who introduced this Bill this afternoon. At the same time, the fact that he has introduced this Bill does call attention to the curious situation which sometimes arises by the movement of the political machine, for only a matter of a few days ago my noble friend who sits just below me (the Earl of Listowel) might have introduced this Bill. Therefore we have had the curious position this afternoon of hearing two speeches, both intended to introduce the Bill to the House. In that matter I want to offer an expression of sympathy to my noble friend the Earl of Listowel. He slipped into saying one or two things which I do not think he would have said had he spoken before the hurried political transition caused him to be in the place where he sits on this particular occasion. I imagine, for instance, that his former chief will have heard with great gratitude the tribute he paid to him, but he forgot that others might hold a different opinion. I also think there must have been a slip when it was suggested that the Burmese who assisted the Japanese were actuated by motives of assisting their own country.


I hate to interrupt my noble friend. I only want to say that I did qualify my remark by saying that some—I was not speaking in general terms—of the Burmese were actuated by patriotism.


I certainly accept at once my noble friend's correction and go on to remark that I imagine that Quisling and other people who will be on trial shortly will seize on this remark as a means of defence when they have to appear before their judges. I find myself almost wholly in sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Rennell, in his criticism of this Bill. I imagine that if it had been brought forward in any other period in Parliament, it would have met with a good deal more opposition than it is likely to meet with at the present time. I very much regret that we have not had the courage, when restoring Section 139, to restore also the grant of full independence and so allow the Burmese to realize their ambitions. After all, as some of us are aware, long before the war broke out there was a strong agitation for independence on the part of the Burmese.

Some of us were then sitting in another place and experienced a good deal of that agitation. The Burmese have fought for their freedom and I think we might have shown a greater measure of confidence than we have done in them. This Bill seems to be framed as an invitation to delay, because the prospect of real freedom seems to be put off to the Greek Kalends.

Whatever measure of good there may be in it has been voiced by the noble Lord, Lord Rennell On other occasions I have supported him in pointing out how often the Government fail to give proper publicity to their intentions and how very often they do the right thing in the wrong way. The result has been that there has been criticism from other nations and a good deal of dissatisfaction among the peoples who were themselves particularly concerned. This doing good by stealth may be all right as a copybook maxim, but it does not help very much in the promotion of good understanding, or in the rightful appreciation of the efforts of this nation. I hope that some attempt will be made to hasten as much as possible the status preceding full independent government. I am concerned about this because it is in line with a matter that I ventured to raise in your Lordships' House some time ago in regard to a totally different part of the world—namely, Newfoundland. That country had asked for independence and a series of excuses was put forward to delay that independence and the return of the country to full self-government. If that sort of thing can be done with a wholly white population, how much more difficult is it going to be to give full freedom to a native population such as the one we are now discussing.

There is one point that I do not quite understand. It seemed to me that the noble Earl was suggesting when he introduced the Bill that at a certain stage there was to be another Government within the Government. As I understood him there is going to be a sort of interim Council at the same time as the military ate in control. My conviction is that that sort of thing is not going to lead to harmony or good government because it will tend considerably to delay the granting of full independence. There is only one other point I wish to raise. I want to ask the noble Earl what is meant by the reconstruction of Burma's ideals and the granting of financial help from this country.

Does that mean we are going to add to the burden of their indebtedness, or does it mean that they are going to look upon the British Government as a milch cow to which they can always come to get relief from their financial difficulties? If so that will constitute a further and even more dangerous obstruction to full independence for them. For what measure of good there is in the Bill we shall agree to its passing this afternoon. At the same time, I mist enter a caveat and say that I should not have taken that view a short time ago. But now that this Parliament is on it; death-bed it may be essential to get some of these Bills passed into law at a pace much faster than that to which otherwise we should be inclined to agree.

3.28 p.m.


My Lords, before the noble Earl replies to this most interesting debate, which we nearly missed owing to the unfortunate mistake of the Lord Chancellor, may I make an observation on a matter which has not been touched upon but which I believe is very important. Before doing that, may I also, if lie will allow me, give my personal congratulations to the noble Earl on attaining that position on the Government Front Bench and on his speech this afternoon. I have a special reason for doing that. For some years he and I were colleagues in the House of Commons representing adjoining divisions in the City of Hull. We both have had our ups and downs politically and we are now facing each other across the table and I desire to wish him well in his future political career.

I speak with great diffidence on the subject we are discussing this afternoon because this House is plentifully decorated with ex-Secretaries of State, ex-Viceroys and ex-Indian Governors, and I would not venture to speak on this Bill about any of the details of administration in any of our Eastern Dependencies. I think, however, there is something that requires to be said on this most important occasion when we are marking a tremendous milestone in the constitutional development of His Majesty's Commonwealth. Let me first of all put the peg so to speak into the wall on which I wish to base these brief observation I wish to speak upon the political effect of the White Paper on the Bill and also the noble Earl's speech and the speeches of other noble Lords to-day on the other areas of combat in the Pacific. This is the point to which I wish briefly to refer.

Your Lordships are aware that the Japanese as a parallel to their military campaign have waged an intensive campaign of political warfare along lines which they considered would be effective in Eastern Asia and Asia generally. They have, fortunately for us, accompanied it by a very tactless, brutal and corrupt rule wherever their soldiery has obtained a foothold. As was pointed out by my noble friend the Earl of Listowel and by the noble Earl opposite those Burmese who were inclined to welcome Japanese conquest as a path to liberation were very soon disillusioned; but the political warfare has had certain results in certain parts of the East and the campaign is by no means over. We have just won in Burma a truly remarkable victory. It must not be forgotten that we have defeated the largest field force the Japanese had in the whole theatre of war. The two Japanese Armies in Burma were the most numerous, and I believe the most heavily equipped and the most highly trained of all their field forces. The exploit of defeating them and of winning the race to Rangoon against the monsoon will always live in the annals of our military history as a tremendous exploit. But we still have a long way to go in Malaya; and in Borneo where we are fighting with the aid of the Australian Armies, and also in the territories of our Dutch Allies.

A great deal must depend on the future action of the local population. The Japanese line, as your Lordships know, has been first of all to try to humiliate in every way and to hold up to derision and contempt all Europeans in order to destroy the prestige which European races, and ourselves in particular, have enjoyed in the East; and, secondly, to make all kinds of promises of complete independence and of full co-partnership in their precious East Asia co-prosperity area. As the noble Earl reminded your Lordships, this had a little success in Burma. How is it to be counteracted? It has partly been counteracted already by military defeat for the Japanese. Military defeat loses more "face" for the Japanese than the beastly humiliation of white men and women before the native population, which has been one of their methods of destroying our prestige, has cost us in "face." Another answer has been the splendid bearing and fortitude of the unfortunate Europeans who have been exposed to this horrible treatment.

Then there has still to be counteracted the spurious offers of complete independence to all the peoples of Asia, including those in the British Crown Colonies. It is in that light that I ask your Lordships to consider the White Paper, the Bill itself and the very eloquent speeches of the noble Earl opposite and my noble friend the Earl of Listowel. As to the White Paper and the Bill itself, I would like to support the plea already made by my noble friend Lord Ammon and other noble Lords for some occasion being found to put a little more warmth into our attitude, something that will be understood by the millions of our fellow citizens in Burma who will not read the White Paper even if it is translated into the vernacular languages but will be told by their own leaders what are its contents.

This is the sort of thing I complain about. If your Lordships will look at paragraph 23 in Part I of the White Paper you will see that on April 18, 1943, the Secretary of State stated that it was the aim of His Majesty's Government to assist Burma to attain complete self-government within the British Commonwealth as soon as circumstances permit. If you turn to paragraph 6 of Part II you will find this sort of thing: The ultimate objective of His Majesty's Government will be that representatives of the Burmese people, after reaching a sufficient measure of agreement between the various parties and sections, should draw up a Constitution of a type which they themselves consider most suitable for Burma, taking into account not only the British but the other various types of Constitution in democratically governed countries. What the machinery for this should be will be a matter for discussion and agreement with representative Burmans. That sort of note has been written in India for the last twenty years and more. Its language is perfectly correct and orthodox, but it does not convey the same sort of meaning as, for example, the fine statement of the American President when the American troops landed in the Philippines that the people of the Philippines would be granted their immediate independence. There is a tremendous difference here between our own and the American approach to similar subjects. The aim may be sound and, as I say, the language of the White Paper is perfectly correct, but why could not the Prime Minister or the Secretary of State have made a great proclamation by radio in eloquent language, which both of them are capable of using, explaining what we are going to do for Burma?

In the White Paper we have left many apparently inevitable safeguards and checks and delays which only arouse suspicion about our good faith and give an opportunity to agitators who want to discredit our policy. I agree with my noble friend the Earl of Listowel, that it is most important that the Burmese people should do their best to collaborate and to use the time to the best advantage between the various stages of putting this policy into operation; but cannot we give a little more encouragement, show a little more warmth and give a little wider welcome to a future Dominion? This is the sort of thing we could have done: we could have stated that we would transfer the administration of Burma at once to the Dominions Office. That would show at any rate that we mean business. We could at once have given them the titular position of a Dominion, the ceremonial position of a Dominion to Burma. In the East tremendous store is set on what we call symbols of sovereignty and self-government and on words and titles. Then we could go on to deal with the safeguards to which I dare say all reasonable Burmese would agree. From the point of view of propaganda I hope the language of the Burma Office will be different in future. We have to counteract Japanese reflections on our good faith in all Asiatic countries for the sake of the men who still have military tasks ahead of them in Malaya and South China and the other parts of this vast area yet to be liberated from the horrible tyranny of Japanese militarism.

3.39 p.m.


My Lords, before making a brief reply to some of the points raised in this debate I should like to thank your Lordships for the consideration shown to me and the reception given to this Bill. I would particularly like to thank the noble Earl opposite, Lord Listowel, for his very kind remarks and the strong support he has given to the Bill. The fact that he assisted in the preparation of policy lent weight to his words. The noble Earl made a suggestion that consideration of the future Constitution of Burma should begin before the normal Legislature is brought into being. As was pointed out, I think in another place, there is no reason whatever why discussion should not begin during the period of the emergency form of Government. He also suggested that not only should those elder Burmese who have stool by us so nobly during past years be taken into consultation but also the younger element which is now coming to the front. I think I can assure him that it is the desire of the Governor of Burma to bring in all shades of opinion including that of the newer element.

The noble Lord, Lord Rennell, pressed us to push on as quickly as possible from stage to stage, and he asked in particular that the period of military administration should be brought to an end as soon as possible. I think I can assure him that both the military authorities and the civil authorities wish the military period to come to an end as quickly as possible, and also that it is not necessary that the whole of the territory of Burma should be liberated before that can be clone. He also asked for further information about the nature of the financial assistance to be given to Burma by His Majesty's Government. A good deal of money made available will, no doubt, be self-liquidating. Consumer goods, for instance, will be sold to the public and the cost recouped. No doubt, also, some of the equipment will be sold to firms and the cost, at a later stage, recovered. Otherwise the advances made to the Government of Burma, as the Secretary of State pointed out in another place, are loans without interest and with no fixed date or term of repayment.

The noble Lord, Lord Ammon, I was sorry to note, thought that this Bill invited delay. I would respectfully point out to him that there is, in any case, bound to be legislation to prolong the emergency form of Government, and we are in fact qualifying it by providing, even during the emergency stage, for some advance, and the association of the Burmese with the Government. I can assure him and other noble Lords who pressed that this stage should be brought to an end at the earliest possible time, that there is no desire in any quarter that it should be prolonged any longer than is necessary for preparing to hold elections. I feel that I must repeat—lest the Government's policy may be misunderstood—that there are, in fact, very real practical difficulties in the way of hurrying up the preparations for elections. We can be confident that the Government of Burma, when they return, will do their best, though with rather small Government services, to push on with those preparations. Again I thank your Lordships for the reception given to this Bill.

On Question, Bill read 2a; Committee negatived.

Then, Standing Order No. XXXIX having been suspended (in pursuance of the Resolution of May 29), Bill read 3a, and passed.