HL Deb 18 June 1947 vol 148 cc988-92

4.40 p.m.


My Lords, before proceeding with the next business, may I ask your indulgence to read a statement similar to one being read in another place, dealing with the future Government of Ceylon? The statement is as follows:

In 1945 His Majesty's Government affirmed their willingness to co-operate with the people of Ceylon in their advance to Dominion status, and expressed the hope that within a comparatively short space of time such a status would be evolved.

His Majesty's Government recognize that the people of Ceylon are anxious to see this aim realized as quickly as possible and are eager to know how soon they may expect this to come about.

Elections are now being arranged under the Constitution granted to Ceylon in 1946, and a new Parliament will assemble in October. Clearly no further constitutional change can take place before a new Ceylon Government is in office and fully functioning. Agreements will then have to be negotiated on a number of subjects. When such agreements have been concluded on terms satisfactory to His Majesty's Government and the Ceylon Government, immediate steps will be taken to amend the Constitution so as to confer upon Ceylon fully responsible status within the British Commonwealth of Nations.

To avoid delay in opening negotiations with the future Ceylon Government, His Majesty's Government have directed that preparatory work should be put in hand for drawing up the heads of the necessary agreements.


My Lords, I am quite sure that the very important announcement which His Majesty's Government have just made will be warmly welcomed in all parts of the House. The achievement of Dominion status by the people of Ceylon will be a notable example of that progressive and fruitful evolution which is the secret of the vitality and strength of the British Commonwealth and Empire. I know we shall all wish to congratulate the people of Ceylon themselves on this new milestone in their long history, and I should like to wish the forthcoming negotiations all success.


My Lords, we on these Benches welcome wholeheartedly the announcement which has been made, which is in accordance with the very best Liberal traditions. Incidentally, when His Majesty's Government show such an admirable tendency we feel it ought to be encouraged and wish that it would extend sometimes to domestic issues; but I have listened attentively to debates on a certain Bill and I feel that hope must for the time being be classed as wishful thinking. Ceylon has been under the protection of the Crown for almost 150 years. Part of the Island came under the protection of the Crown in 1798 and the whole of the Island in 1815, and therefore there is a long tradition of relations between the two peoples. Happily during the last hundred years they have been excellent and the population of Ceylon made a notable contribution to the war effort. There was no disaffection. Ail was continued loyalty. Therefore we can only say with what pleasure we welcome the announcement, and hope that before long Ceylon will take her place on a footing of complete equality with other members of the British Commonwealth of Nations.


My Lords, having had the honour to be chairman of the last Commission on constitutional reform in Ceylon, I would like to convey my warmest congratulations to His Majesty's Government on the announcement we have just heard. May I also add very warm congratulations to the noble Viscount, Lord Hall? I know from personal experience what a notable contribution he made when Colonial Secretary to bring about this very happy situation. The recommendations of the Commission, published about two years ago, received the general approval of His Majesty's Government, and were accepted in the State Council of Ceylon by an overwhelming majority. Those recommendations, though they were designed to give Ceylon a full and ample measure of self-government, admittedly fell short upon the threshold of the goal Ceylon desired to attain.

In the circumstances of the time—it was the spring of 1945 and the Japanese war was still in progress—we did not think it possible to reach that goal by one single step, but when the Commissioners were on the Island they were immensely impressed by the great advance which Ceylon Lad made during the era of the Constitution framed by Lord Donoughmore and his Commission. We could not fail to observe the widespread enthusiasm in all sections for the development of education, health and social services, the degree of literacy they had attained, the high standard of procedure in the Ceylon Parliament and the states, manlike qualities of her political leaders. We felt quite certain that after a short period of experiencing the working of the new Constitution, Ceylon would cross the threshold on which of it recommendations had placed her. Therefore it is an intense pleasure to me to learn that, by a decision of His Majesty's Government, which I respectfully and cordially endorse, Ceylon will now be crossing the threshold immediately. I am sure all your Lordships will tender a very hearty welcome to this new member of that great community of sister nations to which we ourselves belong.


My Lords, may I be allowed, as an ex-Colonial Secretary and as one who visited Ceylon when I was Under-Secretary and who knows its people well, to add my felicitations? One imagines that the people of Ceylon, who have certainly shown remarkable advance and talent in governing themselves, will realize that the step between full internal self-government and complete Dominion status comes for them at a critical time in the history of the country with which most of their external affairs will be conducted. It is a matter of somewhat difficult and possibly thorny negotiations, because India is in the throes of developing an entirely new Constitution of a form we cannot yet see, and Ceylon will in future, under Dominion status, have to conduct alone and on her own responsibility all the diplomatic and other matters concerned with her relations with India.

One cannot get away from history, and the first thing that strikes one about Ceylon is that in centuries past the Island has been invaded by successive avalanches of Indians. The north end of the island is still to-day predominantly inhabited by Hindus and Indians, whereas Ceylon nationalism and the Sinhalese are overwhelmingly Buddhist. Though Buddhism is the outstanding and predominant religion in Ceylon, it does not exist in India, and the feeling between Buddhism combined with nationalism, and the Indian populations, has not always been too easy. One of the first consequences of the new India Bill will be that everywhere in the British Commonwealth and the Colonial Empire it will be necessary to consider the position of Hindus, Pakistan, and Mohammedans, outside India. That will immediately mean that the Sinhalese Government, with Dominion status, will have to walk warily in her diplomatic relations with her great neighbour in regard to the relations between Ceylon and the other members of the British Commonwealth. I am quite sure that there will be no difficulty, and one can testify to the whole of history pointing in a good direction in that respect. The jump that the Sinhalese people and their Government are taking is in dealing, on their own responsibility, with their great neighbour of India.

4.50 p.m.


My Lords, as the noble Lord opposite was good enough to refer to the work which I was able to do with my three colleagues twenty years ago, I would like to say one word in associating myself with all that has been said in congratulating His Majesty's Government on their decision. I am not giving away any secret when I say it never entered our heads twenty years ago that we were advocating a final settlement, but we did hope we were advocating an educative settlement. I think the experience of the last twenty years, to which Lord Soulbury has paid such generous tribute, proves we were right in the attitude we took. I hope it is only one step towards the future prosperity of Ceylon, which had all our good wishes in those days and has still.

4.51 p.m.


My Lords, it will be very gratifying to His Majesty's Government to know how this pronouncement has been received by your Lordships. It is very pleasing that the noble Lord, Lord Soulbury, was here to listen to the announcement. The first Report which I was expected to read when I entered the Colonial Office as Colonial Secretary was the Report of the noble Lord and his colleagues on the Commission. The Report in question was read not only by myself but also by my colleagues of the Government, and it may truly be said of the noble Lord and his colleagues that they really put down the stepping stones which enabled us to get across the stream, towards, we hope, this very happy solution. I thank noble Lords for the way in which this declaration has been received.