HL Deb 25 November 1947 vol 152 cc846-924

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, before moving the Second Reading of the Burma Independence Bill, I have it in command to acquaint the House that His Majesty, having been informed of the contents of the Bill, is prepared to place his prerogatives and interests, so far as concerns the matters dealt with by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament.

This Bill, for which I am asking your Lordships' approval this afternoon, brings to fruition the policy of full self-government for Burma which has been pursued by successive Governments in this country for many years. The whole period of Parliamentary responsibility for the welfare of Burma, which has now lasted sixty-one years, has been in retrospect a striking example of the broadening path of political freedom in one of the largest dependencies of the British Crown. Until the incursion of the Japanese into Burma in 1942, we had an equally good record in two other respects no less vital to the well-being of the population; for we had established and maintained peaceful and orderly conditions in a country with a turbulent history, and the enterprise of our business and commercial undertakings had secured a much fuller utilization of its largely untapped resources of minerals, timber and rice. Burma had undoubtedly achieved a greater measure of security and prosperity during the years of British rule than she had ever experienced in the past. No longer decimated at regular intervals by outbreaks of war, famine or disease, her population had more than quadrupled between 1824 and 1947.

At the beginning of the last century the Irrawaddy Delta was high jungle and tall grass with an occasional lonely village in a clearing amid the trackless expanse of malarial swamp. Now it has become a fertile plain of green paddy-fields, larger in area than Wales. Its 5,000,000 inhabitants produce more rice than the whole country can consume, leaving a surplus that made Burma before the war the largest rice exporter in the world. When we came to Burma in 1824, Rangoon was a small town with a few thousand inhabitants built round its famous shrine, the Shwe Dagon, on the banks of the Irrawaddy. It is now one of the largest modern ports east of Suez with a population of 500,000 souls. History will not forget that these changes have all taken place since the British connexion with Burma.

The spirit that has informed our treatment of Burma throughout these years of Parliamentary control and responsibility will always remain, in spite of shortcomings we can readily admit, something of which we and the people of this country can be proud. Our attitude has been characterized by a peculiarly British conception of obligation and trusteeship quite unknown to the empires of the past. We started to associate the local inhabitants with the administration of Burma almost from the time that Upper as well as Lower Burma came under our rule. It was in 1897, only eleven years after the establishment of British sovereignty, that a Legislative Council was set up to advise the Lieutenant-Governor who was authorized to include, and did in fact appoint, a majority of citizens as distinct from civil servants among its members.

Under the Morley-Minto constitutional reforms of 1909, the size of the Legislative Council and the number of its unofficial elements were both expanded, and Burma became for the first time entitled to representation in the Central Legislature of India. There was some hesitation and doubt at the time, and a resulting delay, in applying the constitutional reforms which followed the First World War, the Montagu-Chelmsford reforms, to the province of Burma. But the logic of the earlier promise of responsible government for India was swiftly seized by the people of Burma to press home their claim for renewed constitutional advance. In 1923, after a successful protest against the continued withholding of the Indian reforms, the system of dyarchy was introduced, and Burma now acquired the same measure of self-government over the whole range of transferred subjects as the neighbouring provinces of India. Indeed, Burma did rather better than the Indian provinces by obtaining control of her forests, which had always been a feature of outstanding importance to her economy.

It is interesting to note that at this early date we had already begun to encourage the people of Burma to take an active part in the work of administration and to instruct them in an art of which we had always been the extreme exponents. Three out of the five members of the Executive Council chosen by the Governor in 1923 were Burmans, and from that day to this indigenous Burmans have played an increasingly important part at every level in the administration of the country. At the same time, the Legislative Council of Burma acquired a large majority of elected members, 80 out of 103 seats being filled by constituency representatives, who now gained complete Parliamentary control. These representatives were elected on a more popular franchise, owing to the high degree of literacy in Burma, than that enjoyed by any Indian province, and as long as twenty-five years ago one-fifth of the adult population of Burma became entitled to exercise the primary responsibility of citizenship.

The next step forward in Burma was taken as a result of the Report of the Indian Statutory Commission, which will always be associated in our minds with the name of the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon. Among the most important and, as it has subsequently proved, the wisest and most far-sighted of its recommendations was the advice that Burma should be separated from the main body of British India, from which it differed profoundly in history, language, religion, race and social institutions. This recommendation was accepted by the Government of the day. In January, 1931, the then Secretary of State for India made an announcement in Parliament that left an Indelible impression on the minds of the people of Burma. It was the first public acknowledgment of the political goal of Burma. It was construed in Burma as a British pledge that constitutional advance in Burma would keep pace with any similar advance in India, and that His Majesty's Government had placed themselves under a solemn obligation not to allow Burma to lag behind India on the road to self-rule. These words have had so much influence on the political development of Burma that I should like to quote them in full: The prospects of constitutional advance held out to Burma as part of British India will not be prejudiced by this decision"— that is the decision to effect separation— and the constitutional objective after separation will be the progressive realization of responsible government in Burma as an integral part of the British Empire. The process of separation then undertaken, and the guarantee of treatment no less favourable than that accorded to India, entailed the drafting of a new Constitution for Burma. After prolonged discussion with representatives of Burma in London, this new Constitution was finally embodied in the Burma Act of 1935. The penultimate stage in the political evolution of Burma witnessed a large increase in the powers of the Burma Legislature. It now had a free hand where it had previously been tied by the Montagu-Chelmsford division between transferred and reserved subjects, and it also inherited all the main functions of the Central Government of India save only currency, defence, external relations and the administration of the frontier areas.

At this stage of its constitutional advance Burma forged ahead of India, which had failed to adopt the federal part of the India Act of 1935 and was, therefore, left with a Central Legislature and Executive dating back to the Montagu-Chelmsford era. It is sometimes forgotten that from 1937, after the first Parliament under the new Act had been summoned, until the Japanese invasion caused the suspension of Parliamentary government in 1942, the Constitution of Burma was actually in advance of India and on the same level in the Commonwealth and Empire hierarchy as that of Southern Rhodesia. At this period Burma was in a halfway house between the Colonial dependencies of the United Kingdom on the one hand, and the older Dominions on the other.

I should like to emphasize the fact that Burma was already, shortly before the war, so close to political maturity, because it has been suggested that the people of Burma are still unfiled for self-government and that we should, therefore, have waited somewhat longer to introduce this Bill. I remember when I was at the Burma Office as Under-Secretary in 1945, where I followed the noble Earl opposite, Lord Munster, examining very closely the conduct of Burma's Ministers and their administrative record since 1937. I wanted to find out, if I could, what weaknesses in the 1935 Constitution would have to be removed when Parliamentary government came to be restored in Burma after the war. I often discussed this question with my then Secretary of State, Mr. Amery, who was always himself a firm believer in the capacity of the people of Burma for self-government. We arrived at the conclusion that the departments run by Burma's Ministers had been managed with tolerable efficiency.

The real weakness of their Constitution, as it seemed to us, lay neither in the Executive nor in the Legislature but in the relationship the United Kingdom Parliament had ordained between the two. For the large number of political Parties in the Burma Legislature gave Ministers a precarious existence, too fleeting for a real mastery of their departmental duties. We wondered at that time whether Burma might not be obliged in the future to emulate another Constitution, such as that of the Swiss, which relieves the executive of continuous day-to-day dependence on the support of a Parliamentary majority.

Little did either of us think in those days that the people of Burma would overcome this difficulty so soon, without any help from the British, and by machinery so different from what we had imagined. The present Government of Burma have exactly the stability for which we had been looking, not as a result of any rigid constitutional doctrine but thanks to the common sense of its political leaders, which has led them to fuse the principal political Parties in a solid coalition representing every shade of Parliamentary opinion between the Right and Left extremes.

After the war in Europe broke out in 1939, the Governor twice reaffirmed that the policy laid down in 1931 remained unchanged. The entry of Japan into the conflict in 1941 was soon followed by the invasion of Burma, by the heroic retreat of Lord Alexander in face of overwhelming odds, and by the temporary suspension' of Parliamentary rule on the withdrawal of the British administration from the country. In December, 1942, the Governor was obliged to resume the full powers of government and he continued to exercise these powers in exile from Simla until civil authority was restored in 1945. In the meantime, Burma had been liberated by the brilliant leadership of General Slim and Lord Mount-batten, in a campaign for ever memorable for the gallantry and endurance of our Forces. The seizure by the Japanese of the many territories within the future co-prosperity sphere of South East Asia stimulated everywhere the latent consciousness of nationality, provoking a new intensity of desire to cast off foreign rule. Japanese rapacity also brought into being throughout this area political organizations and military formations that became the spearhead of more vigorous and widespread national movements.

The general tendency prevalent in South East Asia was heightened in Burma by the Japanese promise of immediate independence, which resulted in the acquisition by Burma in 1943 of the outward trappings of a sovereign State, including an adipadi, or Head of State, to replace the King, and a number of ambassadors in foreign capitals. I do beg any noble Lords who consider this Bill precipitate or untimely to reflect upon the rapid growth and increasing strength of national movements in South East Asia in the last six years, and to ask themselves this simple question: Is it not a wiser policy, and one more in keeping with our traditional championship of liberty, to assist in the direction of these popular forces into paths of constructive statesmanship, where they can benefit the people they represent and the rest of the world, rather than to divert them, by trying forcibly to stem their advance into sterile, dangerous, and even destructive opposition to us and to every influence emanating from the West?

It was against this background of an organized, disciplined, widely supported and impatient national movement, forged in three years of bitter fighting which had left Burma almost destitute and overrun by armed dacoits, that the White Paper of May, 1945, was framed by what Mr. Churchill has called "the great Coalition"—a Government of which several noble Lords opposite were distinguished members. The essential soundess of that all-Party declaration of policy is shown by the degree to which it has foreshadowed the actual course of events. It foresaw the need for a General Election in Burma, as soon as internal conditions would permit, for the drafting of a Constitution by representative Burmans, unihibited by conditions or limitations imposed from without, and for the conclusion of a treaty to regulate financial and other matters arising from the grant of self-government. It is satisfactory to note, since the restoration of civil authority, the ease and rapidity with which the concluding stages of British responsibility, many of which were envisaged by the White Paper, have been run through, and the mounting cordiality and good will between Burma and Britain that has followed upon each further step towards the final goal.

In September of last year the Governor was able to form a representative Government from members of the A.F.P.F.L. Coalition Party, headed by U Aung San, which brought to an end the dangerous political instability and labour unrest that had prevailed in Burma during the spring and summer months. This formation of a popular Government was followed by a visit of U Aung San and his principal colleagues to London in January of this year. The outcome of this visit was the Attlee-Aung San agreement, according to the terms of which the forthcoming General Elections in Burma would be for a Constituent Assembly and not for a Legislature, it being undesirable and unnecessary to postpone the framing of a new Constitution by interposing a brief revival of the pre-war system of government under the 1935 Act. We also agreed, in the course of those conversations, that the Interim Government of Burma should be treated forthwith, like the Government of India, with the same close consultation and consideration as a Dominion Government. In this way, we were able to offer Burma the substance of Dominion status without the otherwise inevitable delay occupied by the passage of a Parliamentary measure.

The January agreement was followed in April of this year by a General Election for the Constituent Assembly designed to frame the new Constitution. The country was quiet during the election period, the voters were not intimidated, the polling was heavy and the candidates ranged from the conservative pre-war Parties on the right to the Communist Party on the left. The result of these elections was a resounding victory for Aung San's middle-of-the-road A.F.P.F.L. Party, which gained 170 of the seats in the Constituent Assembly. The Assembly met in Rangoon and sat at intervals between June and September. It was attended by representatives of the Frontier Areas and the Karenni States, as well as by elected members from the constituencies of ministerial Burma. It was, therefore, as a body, a genuine cross-section of opinion among the many different peoples inhabiting the hills and plains of Burma.

I should like to acknowledge at this point the part played in these preparatory stages in the advance of Burma to self-government, which included the Attlee Aung San agreement, the General Election in Burma and the setting up of a constitution-making body in Rangoon, by my predecessor in this office, the noble Lord, Lord Pethick-Lawrence. The successful fulfilment of the pre-conditions to the transfer of authority we are now contemplating owes much to the sympathetic understanding and sound judgment displayed by my noble friend at this critical time. Both during my predecessor's term of office and since I succeeded him, my right honourable friend, the Prime Minister, has been the principal figure in a team of Ministers working out our policy for Burma. His support and authority have been essential to its success, his personal interest in their affairs has been invaluable in winning the confidence of Burma, and his cool judgment and consistent liberalism (with a small "I") have, on several occasions, steered difficult decisions round sharp corners and so averted what would otherwise have been a disaster. No one will have a better title than my right honourable friend to be remembered as the British architect of Burma's freedom.

The labours of the Constituent Assembly were not interrupted by the foul murder on July 17 of U Aung San, who was shot with six of his colleagues as they sat together in Cabinet Undismayed by the loss of most of their Cabinet, including its chief, and with a promptitude which saved the country from the disturbing effect of an interregnum, the A.F.P.F.L. Party formed another Government on the day after the assassinations, headed this time by Thakin Nu. This quick decision to accept responsibility was only one among the outstanding services rendered to Burma by its present Prime Minister. He has a devout, scholarly, retiring personality, and his willingness to assume this uncongenial post is some evidence of his extraordinary devotion to duty. The success of the negotiations that led up to the Treaty owe much to Thakin Nu's moderation and good will, and the other arrangements connected with the transfer of power have been greatly facilitated by his friendly help. It is a good omen for the future of Burma that a worthy successor of Aung San will be at the helm at this critical juncture in its affairs, and for future relations between this country and Burma that he desires so keenly to bring about an even closer friendship than hitherto. May I quote one sentence from what Thakin Nu said at the signing of the Treaty? What both sides have sought, and I believe have achieved, is nothing less than arrangements which will form a firm and solid basis for Anglo-Burmese friendship. It was at the final session of the Constituent Assembly in September that unanimous approval was given to the draft Constitution, which declared in its first clause that Burma is to become a sovereign, independent republic. There is no one here or elsewhere who will not profoundly regret this impending gap in the family circle formed by the nations of the British Commonwealth. But we have always maintained that the peoples of the Commonwealth must decide their own future. The choice could lie only with Burma, and it was freely made by the unanimous vote of a fully representative body. We here do not regard membership of the Commonwealth as something to be thrust by force upon a reluctant people, but as a priceless privilege granted only to those who deeply desire it and are conscious of its obligations as well as its advantages. The essence of the Commonwealth relationship is that it is a free association of nations with a common purpose, who belong together because they have decided of their own volition to give and to take their fair share in a world-wide partnership. Our willingness to accept the decision of Burma to withdraw is surely the best proof of the difference between the British Commonwealth and the older systems of Imperial rule. The critics of British Imperialism can no longer say, as they have so often said in the past and as some still say at the present, that we believe in freedom and equality for every nation save only for the weaker peoples in the British Empire.

It should not be supposed that the decision of Burma to leave the Commonwealth is due to a lack of good will towards us—the Treaty arrangements make this perfectly clear—or to any lessening of the affection and respect evinced by the people of Burma for the King and the members of our Royal Family. Your Lordships will probably have noticed that Burma has sent Princess Elizabeth a ruby necklace containing 96 rubies from the famous Mogok Mines, but you may not have seen the inscription on the ivory case which reads as follows: From the people of Burma, in token of their affection and esteem. And I need hardly remind your Lordships that this magnificent present has come from a country that lost almost everything in the war.

The new Constitution of Burma is a remarkable and statesmanlike document, consisting as it does of many of the best elements in the written Constitutions and the constitutional practice of those countries in which the Parliamentary system of government has taken root. It proclaims a more varied list of individual rights, both male and female, than the Declaration of the Rights of Man or the Constitution of the United States of America and its acceptance of the duties of the State to secure the fulfilment of these rights is in complete accordance with the modern view of the functions of a welfare State. It is a delightful compliment to us that Burma has borrowed the essential principles of our system of Parliamentary government as the keystone of her own democracy. There will be a Parliament with two Chambers, to which Ministers will be responsible in the usual way. Parliament will itself be directly responsible to the electorate, which will chose its representatives by universal adult suffrage. One slight difference, which some noble Lords may consider an improvement on our practice, is that General Elections will take place at intervals of not more than four years instead of five. The civil liberties which we also associate with democracy as a genuine article—the freedom of the Press, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and association, and, most important of all, freedom of conscience—are all enshrined in different provisions of the Constitution.

But everyone realizes that a written Constitution is not worth the paper on which it is printed unless it accords with the spirit of the people who will have to work it. For my part, I found the Burmans an intensely freedom-loving people, with a social system marked by far more de facto equality between the classes and the sexes than our own. I recall someone remarking to me in Burma that there will be no Death Duties under the new régime because there will be no rich men. Indeed, the absence of large estates, and the Burmese reluctance to enter the fields of industry and commerce, have resulted in an outstanding and exceptional degree of economic equality. The high standing of women in Burma, and their equal footing with men in every walk of life, is another aspect of Burmese society which promises well for a wise use by the whole people of their sovereign will. The large percentage of literates in the population of Burma, as compared with other Oriental countries, is also a factor that will favour the growth of an instructed electorate, not easily swept off its feet and able to weigh the issues submitted to its judgment. These are a number of indications, my Lords, that the soil of Burma is well adapted to rear the plant of a genuine democracy which its new Constitution has sown.

I am sure your Lordships will expect me to say something about the future of the minorities in Burma and of the hill peoples inhabiting the frontier areas. The Government have been constantly mindful of their moral responsibility for securing, to the best of their ability, that the future of these people is not prejudiced by the termination of British rule. This responsibility has been enhanced in recent years by the unswerving loyalty of the minority races to our cause, and by the active assistance they gave to our forces during the war. I cannot accept the view that we are letting down our friends, and I hope to convince the House that this view is based upon a superficial acquaintance with the facts. Moreover, the internal peace and stability of Burma will depend, in time to come, on good relations between the Burmese and the non-Burmese elements in the population. It would have been a grave dereliction of duty on our part if we had handed over authority without satisfying ourselves in advance about the prospect of a friendly relationship between the different peoples of Burma.

Our policy in relation to the inhabitants of the frontier areas has been to allow them complete freedom to choose whether or not they wish to associate themselves with the Government of Burma and the future Burma Union. The first step was, therefore, to ascertain their own wishes. A conference was held in February of this year between representatives of Ministerial Burma and representatives of the Chin, Kachin and Shan peoples. It was agreed at the conclusion of this conference—the Panglong Conference—that co-operation should start forthwith, and each of these frontier races decided to send a representative to be associated with the Government of Burma. In May, a joint committee of Burmese and non-Burmese reported unanimously in favour of the participation of the frontier areas in the work of the Constituent Assembly. This recommendation was accepted by all concerned, and the frontier areas thereupon chose forty-five representatives to sit with the Burmese delegates in the Constituent Assembly. They made a useful contribution to the drafting of the new Constitution. When the final draft was submitted to the assembled delegates on September 25, it was carried by a unanimous vote, which included the assent of representatives of the plains Karens and Karenni States.

The willingness of the minorities and frontier peoples to collaborate with the' Burmese in the new State is explained by the safeguards and opportunities offered to them in the terms of the Constitution. Their interests are protected in two ways, by a guarantee of fundamental rights, and by the large degree of self-government they will obtain as units in the structure of the Federal Union of Burma. The Constitution provides that all citizens of Burma, irrespective of birth, religion, sex or race, shall have equality before the law, immunity from discrimination, and equal opportunity of entry into public or private employment. These rights are enforceable in the Courts, and cases can be carried on appeal to the Supreme Court of Burma.

The federal structure of the Constitution will allow the immediate creation of three semi-autonomous States, the Kachin, Shan and Karenni States, within the framework of the Union of Burma. Moreover, if a majority of the Karens in the hills and plains agree that they want a State of their own, a Karen State to include the promised Karenni State can be added at some future date to the present number. The Union Government will naturally deal with matters of common concern to the whole of Burma, such as defence, foreign relations, communications and currency, but the State Governments will have a free hand to manage their own internal affairs, the right to raise taxes to finance a wide range of administrative functions, including local communications and social services, and a Minister to urge their point of view in the Cabinet. As a further protection for their interests in the Legislature, the minority races are to have weighted representation in the Upper House, the Chamber of Nationalities, which will give them a majority of the seats as compared with the Burmese members. It should be noted that none of these constitutional provisions relating to the frontier areas can be altered without the consent of the majority of the members representing the race or races affected in the Chamber of Deputies.

I know, my Lords, that we all feel a particularly soft spot for the Karens, who played such a gallant part with Force 136 in the war, when many of them parachuted back into Japanese-occupied Burma. In the course of my short stay in Rangoon in September I had most friendly talks with representatives of all sections of Karen opinion, and I was delighted to find that most of the Karens I met were anxious and willing to cooperate with the Burmese in the building up of a great new country. It is extremely reassuring to know that the present arrangements, which give the Karens a homeland in the new Karenni State, a special region with administrative autonomy in the Salwean District and perhaps adjacent areas, the right to run their own schools in the plains, representation in proportion to their population in the Lower House, and a Karen Minister to look after their minority interests in the Burmese Cabinet, have received the full approval of the majority of the Karen people.

If further evidence is required of the genuine desire of the Burmese to give the minority races a square deal, it is surely provided by their choice of a Shan—the Saohpalong of Yawnghwe, whom we have the honour to have listening from the Distinguished Strangers' Gallery this afternoon—as the first citizen of their country in his capacity as the President Designate of their new Republic. This settlement does the utmost credit to the generosity and statesmanship of Thakin Nu and his colleagues in the Government of Burma, and to the willingness of both sides to bury their past differences and to work together for the future greatness of Burma. It has laid the firm foundation for a strong and united country.

This sequence of events in the last eighteen months would not have turned out so happily but for the presence in Rangoon of our Governor, Sir Hubert Rance. It is impossible to over-estimate what we owe to him for his wise guidance of Burma through her post-war difficulties and in shaping the outline of a new relationship with us. His soldierly directness of speech, his capacity for inspiring trust, and his sympathy for their national aspirations have won him a unique place in the hearts of the people of Burma and their leaders. His administrative and organizing ability has also been of special value in the reconstruction of the country. He has been splendidly supported throughout his term by Lady Rance. In spite of ill-health, she has lightened his burden as only a wife can do, and has undertaken many tiring and exacting duties with a zest and cheerfulness that have made her second only in popularity to him.

My Lords, I feel I ought now to run briefly through the main provisions of the Treaty and the Bill. Your Lordships will observe from Article 15 that the Treaty, though it has already been signed—it was signed, as your Lordships know, here in London—will not be ratified until the date on which Burma becomes independent. As this date is fixed in Clause 1 of the Bill, the bringing into force of the Treaty is still subject to Parliamentary approval. The most important of the many subjects dealt with in the Treaty are the Services, defence, finance, and commercial relations. I will deal with them in that order. In Article 5 the Government of Burma have undertaken to meet a number of payments, including pensions and proportionate pensions, due to past and present British officers in the various Services. There is no mention here of compensation, but your Lordships will remember that an assurance on this head was given in the White Paper of August 12. I think that this might be a convenient point for me to make a digression from the Treaty, which I am sure the House will excuse, because I would like to pay my tribute to the ability and devotion with which, during the period of British rule, the civil and military services of the Crown in Burma have served Burma and its peoples. I am sure that in voicing this tribute I shall be speaking for the House as well as for the Government. The history of the Crown Services in Burma is very largely a history of the Indian Services in Burma—that is to say, the civilian All-India Services, both administrative and technical, and the Indian Army. Your Lordships have already on a previous occasion put on record by means of a formal Resolution the thanks of this House to the Indian Services for their work in India, and to-day I wish to add our thanks for the work which those Services have done in Burma, and for all that the Burma Services have achieved since the separation of Burma from India in 1937.

The record of the Crown Services is not so long in Burma as in India, but it has been no less distinguished. It is largely owing to the devoted labours of the European members of the Services and of their Burman, Indian and Anglo-Burman colleagues—who, as the years have gone by, have taken an increasing share in the work—that Burma is now on the eve of attaining the full self-government which has so long been our common objective. The Crown Services in Burma shared in large measure the tribulations which Burma herself underwent at the hands of the Japanese invader. Nearly all members of the Services suffered grievous loss of one kind or another with the over-running of the country. To some of these members of the Services, when the Japanese entered Burma, it fell to stay behind and cither serve the civil administration or play their part in organizing guerrilla activities and resistance to the Japanese. At a later stage the majority of those who had had to leave Burma returned as members of the Civil Affairs Service, and helped in the re-establishment of ordered government and in the rehabilitation of the country.

It is not possible for me to do more than mention each of the civilian Services or Departments which we remember with pride to-day. First of all, there are the administrative Services—the Indian Civil Service and the Burma Civil Service, the Indian Police and the Burma Police. Then there are the technical Services, all of which have their roots in the corresponding All-India Services—the Forestry Service, which has had the care of one of the most vital elements in Burma's economy, the Department of Agriculture, the Veterinary Department, the Education Department, the Medical Service, all three branches of the Engineering Service, the Marine Department, the Posts and Telegraphs Department, the Railway Service, the Customs and Excise Departments, and the Ecclesiastical Establishment. It is only proper, too, I think, that I should pay my tribute to the Judges of the Rangoon High Court, whether drawn from the Crown Services or from the Bar, who have been worthy successors to a great tradition. The servants of the Crown, over the long period of our association with Burma, have established a record of steady progress and solid achievement, which they have crowned by their invaluable contribution to the reconstruction of a devastated country.

The Burma Frontier Service holds a place of its own amongst the Services in Burma. Since it was formed in 1922, its members have given themselves, often at the cost of great personal sacrifice and loneliness, to the service of the peoples who inhabit the hill and forest areas encircling Burma on the north and northwest. It is a fitting culmination to the work of the Frontier Service that the peoples of these areas are now taking their appointed place in the Union of Burma. In the military sphere, the illustrious record of the Indian Army in Burma, both in peace and war, has in recent years been emulated by the Burma Naval Force (formerly the Burma Naval Volunteer Reserve), the Burma Army, the A.B.R.O. and the Burma Volunteer Air Force. To all members, past and present of each of the Services I have mentioned, we pay our tribute and offer our thanks to-day. In forming their new Services the independent Government of Burma will be able to build on the solid foundations they have laid. We cannot overestimate the value of the contribution which has been made by those who have gone before to the successful handling of the exacting tasks which lie before the new Burma.

Those who have served Burma in Whitehall are no less deserving of our thanks than those who have served her overseas. I can say, from my own experience of the efficiency and conscientiousness of my officials at the Burma Office, that their work has been sustained during a period of exceptional pressure, at the high level reached by their predecessors in my Department. Their tireless industry and devotion to duty at all times have been worthy of the best traditions of the finest Civil Service in the world.

Before I pass to the terms of the agreement in the Treaty Annexe about defence, I should like to acknowledge the part played in securing this agreement by my honourable friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Supply. To his skill as leader of our negotiating team in Rangoon the successful outcome was in no small measure due. These defensive arrangements between ourselves and Burma which do not constitute, as has sometimes been thought, a military or defensive alliance, and give us no bases in Burma, we expect to prove equally advantageous and helpful to both parties. We, on our side, have agreed to move all British troops out of Burma as soon as possible after the transfer of power. The actual timing will depend to some extent on administrative convenience. We are also waiving certain financial claims arising out of the war; we are contributing to the maintenance of three airfields of which in peace-time we shall have joint use; we are handing over a corvette and some small motor vessels to the Burma Navy; and we are providing a Military, Naval and Air Force Mission to train the three Armed Services of Burma. In return for this assistance from us in the organization of their national defences the Government of Burma have agreed not to receive a defence mission from any country outside the Commonwealth, to give our military aircraft the right in peace-time to fly over their territory, and to enjoy staging facilities on their airfields. With the consent of the Government of Burma, at the time, our Forces will also have access to Burma ports and airfields and territory for the defence of the Commonwealth in war.

The financial settlement, in Article 6, does not provide for any fresh loan or grant of British funds to the Government of Burma. It is an equitable arrangement for the gradual repayment of the sums we have lent Burma in the past, without imposing an intolerable strain on the economy of the country as it slowly recovers from the crippling effect of the war. We have agreed, as a contribution towards the reconstruction of Burma, to wipe off £15,000,000 from the total debt, and the Government of Burma have reciprocated with a willingness to repay the balance in equal annual instalments starting from 1952. The interval of five years should give Burma a reasonable opportunity to recover her favourable pre-war trade balance.

In settling our commercial relations with Burma on a temporary basis, pending a commercial treaty, we were anxious to secure conditions for British business interests which would enable them to continue their admirable work of helping Burma to develop her immense natural resources. The Government of Burma were no less anxious, we found, to encourage foreign capital and technical skill, pending the time they can supply these essentials for themselves. The result of the agreement about the immediate future of our trade and business interests is recorded in Articles 7 and 8 of the Treaty and in the exchange of notes in the Appendix. Your Lordships will observe that the future Government of Burma has taken over all the obligations and liabilities arising out of existing contracts between British firms and the Burma Government. But it was essential that an undertaking of this nature should not place any Government of Burma in conflict with the provisions of their own Constitution. The new Constitution sets out, as a principle rather than an immediate objective of the new State, that the right to exploit natural resources or to run public utility services shall be limited to State organizations and citizens of Burma, or to companies in which not less than 60 per cent. of capital is held by Burmese interests. If legislation to carry out this principle of the national life were, in the fullness of time, passed by the Parliament of Burma, and if it resulted in the expropriation in whole or in part of any United Kingdom firm, the Government of Burma have explicitly agreed to pay equitable compensation to such United Kingdom interests as may be affected.

I will now turn to the contents of the Bill. I will deal with them as speedily as I can, and I propose to outline only the salient points. Clause 1 provides for Burma becoming an independent country, not, like India and Pakistan, forming part of His Majesty's Dominions. The date proposed in subsection (2) for the independence of Burma, January 4, 1948, has been chosen in consultation with the Government of Burma. The three Karenni States on the Siamese border referred to in subsection (3) have never been British territory and their relations with us have been regulated by sanads and treaty agreements. This enactment will terminate all existing agreements with the States. But as they have already decided to throw in their lot with the Union of Burma as a single Karenni State, their future is no longer in doubt and we are satisfied that they have chosen wisely and well.

Clause 2 of the Bill and the First Schedule deal with the problem of nationality. They are somewhat complex, and indeed intimidating to the non-legal mind, but their effect is really quite simple. Under subsection (1) of Clause 2 the people described in the First Schedule lose their British nationality after Burma has become independent, while subsection (5) provides that the rest will remain British. Those individuals who will cease to be British owe their present British nationality solely to their connexion with Burma. This covers, as it is intended to do, most of the indigenous peoples in the hills and plains of Burma. Clause 2 goes on to specify a number of exceptions to this general rule. Under subsection (2) persons who are domiciled or ordinarily resident in the United Kingdom, or its dependencies, and who cease to be British under the terms of the Bill, are given a chance of keeping their British nationality by opting in favour of it within two years of the date of Burma's independence.

The following subsection saves anyone from the misfortune of becoming a Stateless person. If an individual loses his British nationality under the Bill, but does not qualify for Burmese nationality, he can recover under this subsection his present British nationality by the exercise of the right of option. In subsection (4) we agree to recognize as British subjects any Burmans domiciled or resident in the Dominions, provided, of course, that a Dominion Government decides to legislate as we are doing to give them the right to become British citizens, and they have chosen to take advantage of this legal right. There are many members of the Anglo-Burmese community who will find themselves, under the provisions of the Bill and of the Constitution of Burma, with dual nationality; but they have been enabled to choose for themselves, if they wish, which of their two nationalities they want to keep. In Article 3 of the Treaty, the Government of Burma have agreed to legislate so that people in this category can get rid of their Burman nationality, while they can part with their British nationality, if they so desire, under existing British law. I hope that I have expounded this difficult clause to the satisfaction of my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack.

Clause 3 provides for the continuation for the present of existing trade preferences after Burma has become independent. Burmese goods will enter this country free of import duty. There is, of course, a corresponding preference for British goods entering Burma. It is not likely that other countries will object to this arrangement, unique as it may seem, because the Charter of the International Trade Organization permits the continuance of preferential arrangements between the United Kingdom and Burma whatever the political relationship may be. It is surely another sign that Burma will be much closer to us after she has left the Commonwealth than other foreigr countries, that our trade relations with her will continue to follow the existing Commonwealth pattern.

The salient point in Clause 4 is that appeals from Burmese Courts to the Privy Council will not be permitted after the date on which Burma becomes independent. It would obviously be an anomaly for the Privy Council here to hear appeals from a foreign country. The Government of Burma will arrange for any cases not disposed of by the appointed day to be transferred to the Supreme Court of Burma, so that no hardship will be experienced by appellants. The Second Schedule of the Bill, which occupies eight out of the fifteen pages, specifies the particular Acts and parts of Acts on the United Kingdom Statute Book, which will be repealed when Burma becomes a foreign country. Orders in Council made under those Statutes will not have application to the new Burma. The most important of the Acts which will become a dead letter are the Government of Burma Acts of 1935 and 1945.

Let me conclude. I apologize for detaining your Lordships. I have never done so before, and I hope that I shall never trespass for so long on your time in the future. After a very close, and I hope objective, study of Burma, I believe that Parliament can relinquish the responsibility it has so honourably discharged with every confidence that Burma will be a well-governed country, with a happy and increasingly prosperous population and a strong desire for friendship and co-operation with the members of the British Commonwealth. Thakin Nu and his colleagues are men who put their country before themselves, and their personal honesty is beyond reproach. These are qualities that will ensure a clean and public-spirited administration in Burma. The Government they have formed promises to be strong and stable because it has the enthusiastic backing of a great majority of the inhabitants of Burma, who have found, for the first time, practical leaders in whom they can entirely trust and believe. The disturbed and disorderly conditions that inevitably followed the campaigns fought in Burma are already receding. A complete restoration of law and order and a rapid rate of economic rehabilitation are the two essentials required to make good quickly the damage done by the war and to ensure a speedy development of the immense natural resources of the country. Order and economic progress are the principal objects of the policy of the present Government. Though it has many serious obstacles to overcome—obstacles which no one will underrate—I believe that it has the patriotism and determination and toughness needed to bring Burma through its immediate trials and to make it a peaceful and prosperous country.

I know that the desire of Burma for our continued friendship is reciprocated on our side and that it is not confined to any one Party in the State. During my term of office I have on several occasions discussed my problems with members of the Parties opposite, and I gratefully acknowledge the help I have received from distinguished Conservatives and Liberals in both Houses, and the spirit of sympathy and friendship which they have always shown towards the people of Burma. It augurs well for the future of our relations with Burma that the vicissitudes of Party politics will not lessen the strength and sincerity of British good will. I am sure that I speak for every member of the House when I say that we wish Burma all success in her rebirth as a free and sovereign nation. We hope that our new relationship will open a fresh chapter of friendly collaboration between Burma and the British Commonwealth. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

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

3.48 p.m.


My Lords, I feel sure the whole House will have heard with pleasure the long speech which the noble Earl, the Secretary of State, has seen fit to make in introducing this Bill to your Lordships' House to-day. He dealt with much that was past history, but no doubt it was of great interest to a majority of noble Lords. But he also, if he will forgive me for saying so, skipped over the tragic decision of which we are all witnesses to-day. Never before in our long and ancient history has any Government ever presented to Parliament a Bill which releases a country from membership of the British Empire. That alone, to my mind, is a decision which we can deeply deplore, that Burma should in the course of a few weeks decide to leave the Empire and travel on the lonely road.

It is quite true, as the noble Earl himself said in the course of his remarks, that for some years now it has been the aim of successive Governments in this country to bring about the progressive realization of responsible government in Burma as an integral part of the British Empire. I believe if that course had been followed by His Majesty's Government to-day, Burma would have found herself associated with all the other members of the. Commonwealth on a footing of complete freedom and equality. I frankly confess that I have always regarded Dominion status as a prerequisite indispensable for any country of the Empire to pursue before it disavows that common connexion which holds us all together. Indeed, there would have been great advantages to seek through this intervening stage, for Burma would have found herself in the same position as all the other. Dominions of the Crown; that is to say, an autonomous community within the Empire, equal in status and in no way subordinate one to the other in any aspect of external or domestic affairs. Her people would then have had the opportunity of considering her future without heat or passion, and all her problems could then have been disentangled with calm and quiet deliberation. The words which are to be found on the first page of the Treaty, "complete freedom, equality and independence," would have equally applied, and the old suspicious belief which is prevalent in the minds of some Burmese politicians, that "Dominion" signifies servitude, would have disappeared in the light of experience. By the terms of the Bill, the comforts, the benefits and hopes to be achieved by Dominion status are completely and wholly eliminated.

What were the reasons which prompted the noble Earl and his colleagues to agree to Burma going without the Empire? As I understand it from the course of the noble Earl's remarks, the. decision was taken after the Constituent Assembly, which had been set up to form a Constitution in Burma, had elected to withdraw. That Assembly was composed of representatives who were returned at the General Election which had recently taken place. But your Lordships will no doubt remember that some political Parties boycotted the election altogether, and declined to take any part in it. The late Prime Minister, whose death I feel sure we all deeply deplore, was returned with an overwhelming majority, but only 43 per cent. of the whole of the registered electorate of Burma bothered to record their votes. It seems to me that, without any attempt on the part of the noble Earl to ascertain the views of the majority who did not vote, he was perfectly prepared to agree to the wishes of the minority, and to recommend his colleagues to follow that view. I feel bound to say that not one of the Burmans it has been my fortune to meet has ever expressed to me the belief that they would be a happier and more prosperous community outside the British Commonwealth of Nations.

Having said that, I should not like your Lordships to believe that during the brief period when I was at the Burma Office the future of that country was not discussed. On the contrary, it was almost under daily consideration, for we fully realized that to meet the urgent and formidable problems which would confront us at the conclusion of the war some complete plan would have to be drawn up and gradually put into operation and effect. Whilst we were fully committed to responsible government for Burma, there were two overriding and urgent problems that had to receive serious thought. The first was whether we could hold' out hopes of immediate self-government in a country whose economy had been shattered and devastated by the ravages of war; and the second, whether we could depend for the proper functioning of government upon Burmans assuming the control and administration of all and every one of the principal offices of State.

We know—the noble Earl must know it better than I do—that vast sums of money are required to rebuild the destroyed towns and villages, the ports and industries and all the communications. The noble Earl must know that the Burmans, who have expressed it many times, were fully aware of the fact that they had not the necessary experience for controlling and managing the great business enterprises of the country, though it is also true to say that in some of the Departments of State a small number of Burmans had proved competent and efficient administrators. But the recruitment into the Civil Service has always been, and still remains to-day, notoriously bad. Nevertheless, plans went ahead and blueprints were drawn up so that finally the economic redevelopment of the country could proceed hand in hand with political development. I need not take your Lordships through all the details connected with these discussions, but I believed then, as I believe to-day, that with whole-hearted cooperation and willingness to accept such a scheme we could have put it into effect and reached the goal of self-government in a short span of years, which would in itself have given Burma and her people a more prosperous and progressive country than they are likely to receive when they take over at the beginning of January.

I could never acquiesce—nor, indeed, it seems to me, would it be right and proper so to do—to granting self-government to Burma before we had restored her political and economic equilibrium. The noble Earl knows as well as I do that any one with experience of that country will feel that, in view of the economic and political immaturity of the Burmese masses, the constitutional sights have been set very high indeed, and the whole proposals of His Majesty's Government will be received with much foreboding. I do not believe that any Government should divest themselves of the responsibilities for governing a country unless they are sure beyond all reasonable doubt that the authority to whom they intend to hand over power is capable of discharging the functions of government.

Accompanying this Bill is a Treaty which, as the noble Earl has said, has been negotiated between the Governments, but which has not yet been ratified. The gist of that Treaty is concerned with defence, finance, commercial relations, and sundry other matters.

There are various questions upon which we seek further information and enlightenment from the noble Earl when he comes to reply. I deal, first, with the position of civil servants serving in Burma who do not come within the term "the Secretary of State's servants." Provision for the group which comes under the term "the Secretary of State's servants" is already made under Article 5 of the Treaty, but no mention or provision is made for the non-Secretary of State servants. These men who are very few in number, and whose case I urge most strongly upon His Majesty's Government, were enlisted originally through the High Commissioner for India when he was acting as the agent for the Government of Burma. It now appears that some of them are to be dismissed, or at any rate will not be re-employed upon the transfer of power. On the termination of their services, in many cases prematurely, they are to receive proportionate pensions—indeed they have earned these—but no compensation whatsoever is to be payable as in the case of the Secretary of State's servants.

The noble Earl, during his visit to Burma, discussed this matter with the Provisional Government. He told your Lordships on a previous occasion that they were most anxious to meet the requirements of these men and had every wish to be fair to them. Reports have appeared—I cannot vouch for their accuracy—that during a conference in Rangoon which the Secretary of State held with these men or their representatives, he informed them that no compensation was to be payable to them as they were to be re-employed by the new Government of Burma. What has happened? A small number of these civil servants, men of a certain age, will not be re-employed and they will receive no compensation whatever. Surely it is usual for any servant of the Crown whose services may be terminated prematurely to receive not only the proportion of the pension which he has rightly earned but compensation as well.

The Government base their refusal to assist these men upon the fact that they have no legal responsibility because they were recruited, as I have said, through the Government of Burma and not through the Secretary of State. I must frankly own that I think that is a most shabby argument for the Government to employ regarding men who have given loyal, honourable and devoted service to the Government of Burma. If that Government for whom the noble Earl has such high hopes are not prepared to give them a fair deal, and if His Majesty's Government are not prepared to employ them in other Departments of State, then, in my judgment, the responsibility of the Government transcends all legal argument, for they have a moral duty to perform which they should undertake at once.

Secondly, I come to the question of British business in Burma, about which I should be glad to have further information. Your Lordships may know that there is a sum approaching £100,000,000 sterling invested in that country in the mining, oil and timber industries. These concerns over the years have given employment to countless thousands of Burmans and together with the great rice-producing areas they form the backbone of the economy of the land. Your Lordships will observe, therefore, that these commercial interests are very extensive. Yet the treatment that they will receive under the new Constitution is somewhat uncertain. It is true that the existing interests are, to some extent, safeguarded in the exchange of letters which your Lordships will find attached to the provisional Treaty. But if noble Lords will examine them with the Articles of Constitution it will be found that on the transfer of power at the beginning of January, the State can thereafter decline to grant a licence to any firm or any business functioning in Burma unless certain conditions are fulfilled, the most important of which is that 60 per cent. of the capital of that company should be owned by the State or by the peoples of Burma.

It is true that pending the conclusion of a Commerce and Navigation Treaty, the Burma Government have agreed to take no steps adversely affecting British interests during the interim period, but the whole of that is subject to the economic provisions of the Constitution which, as your Lordships know, lays down that all these companies must be nationalized. Nevertheless, as I see it, in spite of that safeguard, and in spite of the words which appear in the Constitution, on and after January 4 next these commercial interests can be slowly strangled and every form of interference placed in their way. I frankly say that I should have thought it would be possible for the noble Earl to have inserted in the Treaty a safeguard that no detrimental action whatsoever was to be taken against British business enterprises in that country until full and adequate compensation had been agreed and paid. I feel quite certain that all these firms operating in the country have nothing but good will towards Burma and her people. I can only hope that the Burmans, who have no business experience or knowledge of their own, will conduct their economic policy with prudence and care. I wonder if the noble Earl could give the House some information about discussions which I understand are now proceeding between the Provisional Government and the representatives of the Flotilla Company which is the first company to be taken over by the State? I should like to know whether the final agreed terms will be published, and whether they will receive the support of His Majesty's Government.

Thirdly, I come to the position of minorities. I understand that my noble friend Lord Rankeillour is speaking today and he will, no doubt, deal with this subject. Therefore I shall only deal lightly with it. Whenever a transfer of power takes place the position of the minorities should be made abundantly clear and the Government, as the noble Earl himself has said, should be mindful of their moral responsibility. In former days an equivocal pledge was given to the minorities and frontier tribes that they should not be forced under Burmese rule against their will. In fact, they did not form part of Ministerial Burma under the Act of 1935. If His Majesty's Government still accept that guarantee which was given some years ago they are, of course, bound to ensure that these tribes are happy and satisfied about their future status in the new Union.

The Chins, the Kachins, the Shans and the Karens, to mention the main minorities in the country, are one and all far divorced from Burmese stock, but nevertheless to them—and to the Karens in particular—we owe a deep debt of gratitude for their magnificent and heroic support of this country in the very darkest days of the war. It would really ill become us to see these tribes and these minorities transferred against their wishes to an untried form of government. I understand that differences of opinion have arisen between Burmans and the Karens in the past and that the noble Earl a short time ago on his visit to Burma endeavoured to smooth out some of these differences. Nevertheless, I am told that there are groups which are still dissatisfied with the position that they will now occupy. Perhaps the noble Earl could tell us something of the future of these tribes, because under Clause r of the Bill the suzerainty of His Majesty is to lapse on the passing of power, and presumably the guarantee of protection which we have given them in the past will expire also.

As to the minorities other than those I have mentioned, I would only draw your Lordships' attention to the position of the Indian community in Burma. They in association with ourselves were responsible for many of the big industries of the country. I see that no seats whatever are to be reserved for them in either House of Parliament, and in view of the very important economic position which they formerly held and will no doubt hold in the future, that may well prove to be a source of great disaffection.

Lastly I come to the question of defence, which is referred to in an annexe to the Treaty. As I understand that document, it provides not only for the early evacuation of British troops from the country, but also the dispatch of a joint Service Mission on a volunteer basis. That is to say that if His Majesty's Government fail to provide volunteers for this Mission then the Burmese Government are authorized under the terms of the agreement to go to other States in the world and ask them to provide a Mission instead. Under paragraph 8D, as I see it, His Majesty's Government during a period of three years will provide help and support for Burma in case of emergency, but at the conclusion of that period Burma should be able to defend herself from all external aggressions. Are the Government really satisfied that that country will be able at the end of three years to defend herself from all forms of aggression wherever it may come from? It seems to me to be hoping for the best when the worst is bound to occur.

I think I have said sufficient, but perhaps I might add this in. conclusion. We are now going to part company after an association of many, many years. The noble Earl and his colleagues must accept full responsibility for the decision they have reached, which we on this side of the House believe to be very ill-advised and far too hasty. We shall, of course, watch the future with interest and we shall see the progress of this small country now about to stand in an uneasy world alone.

4.14 p.m.


My Lords, the whole House will be grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, for the lucid and comprehensive speech in which he has presented to us this important measure, which is the result of long and complex negotiations; and I would congratulate the noble Earl himself on the successful completion of those negotiations. I know how close to his heart this whole matter has been ever since he held his present office and even before. The Burmese leaders also are to be congratulated on the statesmanship which they have displayed, and particularly in the degree to which it has been shown in their wise treatment of the difficult question of the minorities.

For myself, I do not propose to follow the noble Earl who has just spoken in making any comments on the specific provisions either of the Bill or of the Treaty. On the broad issue of policy, however, the view I would express on behalf of noble Lords on these Benches is not the same as his; for while he did not actually oppose this Bill, neither did he support it. One might rather say he deprecated it as being ill-advised and hasty, regretting that it should now be introduced. I am pleased, however, that he did not express his opposition in terms so vehement and in language so uncompromising as those used by the Leader of the Opposition in another place, who, after condemning the Bill roundly, led his Party into the Lobby to vote against the Second Reading. I would remind your Lordships of a document that was signed in 1941, during the course of the war—the Atlantic Charter. I would venture to recall to your Lordships' recollection the Preamble to and one of the Articles of that Charter, since they have a very close bearing on our discussion of to-day. The Preamble read as follows: The President of the United States and the Prime Minister, Mr. Churchill, representing His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom, being met together, deem it light to make known certain common principles in the national policies of their respective countries on which they base their hopes for a better future for the world. And the Article I would quote is this— … they respect the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live …. It says, "of all peoples." It is true that a few weeks after that document was signed, Mr. Churchill explained in another place that in his view the Charter was not intended to have full application to the portions of the British Commonwealth and Empire. But he never explained on what ground he could declare that the operation of a principle which was stated to be of general application and which he regarded as right in itself was to be excluded by the frontiers of the British Commonwealth and Empire. He declared, under his own signature, the right of all peoples to choose the form of Government under which they would live. Would he declare that the Burmans are not a people? They are a nation of long and individual history; and they have declared by every constitutional means open to them what kind of Government it is under which they wish to live. Their choice is not open to doubt. That being so, I cannot see on what grounds Mr. Churchill would deny to them the advantage of the principle to which he himself had professed his adherence.

Further, he gave as ground for objecting to the signature of the Treaty and the conclusion of the Agreement for the Constitution, the personalities with whom in the first instance this policy had been negotiated—U Aung San and U Saw. He went back to their records during the war, on which he made some strong animadversions, and he added that the Government could "hardly be congratulated on the choice they made of the hands into which Burma, its fate and its future are to be delivered." A strange view of negotiations between the representatives of two peoples!, One side is to choose who shall be the representative of the other, and that is a matter upon which the British Government must be satisfied before they can accept the nominees of the people with whom they are to enter into discussion and negotiation! He ended his speech in very much the same terms as those in which the noble Earl, Lord Munster, ended his speech, by saying: "We accept no responsibility for this Bill. We wish to dissociate ourselves from the policy and the methods pursued by the Government."

When I read those words, I read them with surprise and regret. They seemed to evoke an echo in my mind of having heard very similar words in another place on another historic occasion. I looked up the discussion of now forty-one years ago, when Mr. Balfour, speaking from the place which is now occupied by Mr. Churchill, as Leader of the Opposition, used these words with reference to proposals in another place for conferring self-government on the Transvaal and the Orange Free State. Mr. Balfour said: I refuse to accept the invitation so kindly offered to us by the Under-Secretary for the Colonies that we on this side should make ourselves responsible with the Government for what I regard as the most reckless experiment ever tried in the development of a great colonial policy. The Under-Secretary was Mr. Churchill. I well remember, as a fellow Under-Secretary in the Campbell-Bannerman Government, sitting on the Ministerial Bench in another place and hearing Mr. Balfour use those words. He condemned the measure then proposed, on the ground that we could place no trust in statesmen such as General Botha and Mr. Smuts who had lately been in arms against us. It is distressing now to see that the former Under-Secretary, who then adopted Liberal views on a not dissimilar issue, should himself be the leader of an intransigent opposition to a not dissimilar policy in a not unlike case. Although there were several dissentients amongst his own supporters, and many abstentions, the fact remains recorded in history that the Conservative Party as a whole, led by Mr. Churchill, went into the Lobby against the Bill for Burmese Independence.

I dwell upon this because it is a matter not merely of Party but of national interest; for in this age Britain is trying to persuade the world that she is no longer Imperialist, relying upon force and pressure to detain peoples under our dominion against their will, to insist upon conquest regardless of consent. We try to persuade the world that we believe in our declarations in the Atlantic Charter and that we are loyal to the spirit of the Charter of the United Nations; that the American War of Independence, that the long and bloodstained history of relations between England and Ireland, that the South African war and various episodes in Indian history are all things of a past age, and that we look upon the future with different eyes. But how are we able to answer our critics who say that all this is hypocrisy, and that at heart Britain retains the same ideas and would enforce them if she could, when the foremost figure of British politics at the present day, whose voice reverberates throughout the world, expresses so clearly the spirit of those old times and repeats almost textually the position advanced by Mr. Balfour in the previous generation in our relations with the Beers?

We are frequently told in these days that we Liberals differ so little from the Conservatives that we might safely associate ourselves with them in political affairs, and that the Liberal faith would now be safe in their hands. We have here, now that it comes to a concrete and definite test, a clear example of how insecure that trust would be. If other countries in the United Nations and in Europe ask who it is that really speaks the mind of Britain—whether, in such matters as these, it is Mr. Churchill, or whether it is others of other politics—the answer is given by the passage of this particular Bill through another place by a great majority, and the passage that it is about to receive in this House this afternoon, I presume, without the challenge of a Division.

I share the regret expressed by the noble Earl, Lord Munster, that the representatives of the Burmese people have decided not to remain as a Dominion within the British Commonwealth. The noble Earl said that such a thing has never happened before. He seems to have forgotten a little incident when the American Colonies decided no longer to remain within the Empire.


There was no Statute.


Was there not a Statute recognizing the independence of the American people? But whether or not a Statute was passed is unimportant. What is important is: Would it be right that we should now wait for riot and rebellion and refuse to pass this Bill, and then at the end pass, under duress, what we failed to do on request and by persuasion? I regret that the Burmese do not remain within the British Commonwealth, not chiefly for our own sakes, but in the interests of the Burmese and from the standpoint of world affairs. I think the Burmese would have gained, by retaining their connexion with the Commonwealth, in greater stability for their institutions, for their defence, and in finance and currency. But the matter, I repeat, is for them to decide. To say, as the noble Earl would say, that because we think their Civil Service will not be efficient or that they have not a sufficient number of Ministers who are really capable of conducting affairs with success—


I did not say that. I never mentioned Ministers, in the whole course of my speech, as not being able to conduct the affairs of Burma.


I thought the noble Earl said that there were some leaders who were incompetent, implying that there were some who might not be able to conduct affairs. If I have misinterpreted what the noble Earl said, I withdraw the interpretation which I wrongly placed on his words. The noble Earl certainly said that in his opinion the Civil Service of Burma would not be adequate to perform the functions of government with full efficiency and, furthermore, that we ought not to leave the country until we had succeeded in rehabilitating it, economically and industrially, after its ordeal in the war. But surely it is a matter for them to choose; it is not for us to decide whether we ourselves approve and then to enforce our own will against their opposite opinion.

As for the world point of view, I feel strongly that it is a mistake to break up such measure of unity as there is now in the great political units of mankind. There are too many separate States on the globe already, and we can see at once that if, for example, the United States of America were to break up into its forty-eight units, that would be no step in advance; it would rather be a measure of retrogression; and similarly with the British Commonwealth and Empire. Other such units might also be affected. So long as they combine full freedom of the parts with the unity of the whole, then the existence oi such integrations are of service to mankind. He is the truest patriot who is the best citizen of the world; and the good citizen of the world might remain content for a time with some measure of connexion rather than create yet one more independent Power with its own frontiers. Every frontier is an evil thing, and the more frontiers there are, the worse it is for the peace and prosperity of the human race.

It may be that we shall develop a new form of association with certain States. In the old days the choice was only between annexation and complete separation. Afterwards the device of Protectorates was adopted and many countries—not only ourselves, but France, Germany and others—occupied and still do occupy certain territories under the name of Protectorates. Later it was seen that a Protectorate was merely a colony under another name; it was governed in exactly the same way, and, while gaining the same advantages, suffered the same disadvantages. We had, after the last war, a system of Mandates under the supervision of the League of Nations, and now we have the system of Trusteeship under the supervision of the United Nations. It may be that in the case of a country such as Burma and other territories there might grow up a new form of association, neither under Mandate nor under Trusteeship; something more than an alliance and something less than sovereignty.

T. E. Lawrence—Lawrence of Arabia—wrote in one of his letters, quoted, with approval, by the late Lord Tweedsmuir in his admirable book Memory-Hold-the-Door. I think there is a great future for the British Empire as a voluntary association, and I'd like to have Treaty States on a big scale attached to it … We are so big a firm that we can offer unique conditions to small businesses to associate with us. Possibly after a generation we may find, perhaps with surprise, that in Burma we have been building up a principle, growing out of the practical needs of the situation. Through co-operation piece by piece to meet the requirements of changing affairs, there may be established something in the nature of a new principle to which we may then give a new name. Meanwhile, we are glad to think that Burma, having decided to leave the Commonwealth, does so without enmity and even, looking back, with some measure of gratitude. It may be that if from now forward we are not to be fellow subjects of the same sovereign, we may yet draw close together as fellow servants of the same ideals.

4.32 p.m.


My Lords, with regard to the speech to which we have just listened, it is no duty or business of mine to defend Mr. Churchill, but surely it is a most forced construction of the Atlantic Charter to say that any unit in an Empire or Federation, not content with choosing its own Constitution by internal government, has a right to break away from its allegiance by a majority vote. I am most surprised that the noble Viscount should express himself as he has, because I remember very well a debate in this House, during one of the various stages of the Indian problem, in which no one could have put it more lucidly than he did, that democracy, by a pure majority, might work in a homogeneous country, but it was not true to say that it could be expected to work in a country divided by deep racial cleavages; and he quoted in that connexion Ireland, Palestine and, I think, Switzerland. Of course, it has been satisfactorily worked in Switzerland on the basis of separate cantons.


If I might interrupt the noble Lord, Ireland and Palestine and India are cases that I gave where the question arises: What is a people? and whether you are dealing with a people or with two peoples. That is not the case that has been raised in this instance.


I think we are dealing with at least five.


They are not separate.


I do not agree at all. There are several peoples in Burma. I have read the proposed Constitution to the best of my power, and I am satisfied that they are not properly and permanently protected. Before I say anything more that may be described as critical, may I just thank the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, for his great courtesy and trouble in giving me information on this complicated matter?

He has done so with the greatest affability, and I am the more grateful to him because I cannot suppose that he regards me as a close political friend. Indeed, the admirable qualities he has shown make me grieve the more because they are being employed in furtherance of the policy to which he is committed.

My noble friend Lord Munster has dealt at some length with the question of defence. If it is to be on a voluntary basis, built largely on what I may call the bodies that sprang up during the course of the war, is it really thought that the frontiers of Burma will be safe? They are peculiarly exposed and they were invaded in the last war from two angles on the same side, one from the north-east and one from the south-east. They are sill exposed to danger of invasion from the east and, I may say, quite possibly from the west too, under the new disposition of India. I cannot believe that any responsible military strategist would say that what was done was going to be a help to Burma.

I should like to reiterate what Lord Munster said about the non-Secretary of State Service officers. I know of very hard cases amongst them, and I could not quite follow what the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, said about what was to be done by them. I thought the matter was still in suspense, that it was still held up, and that there had not been received from the Burmese Government assurances that their interests would be properly considered. I hope possibly something more satisfactory may be said on that subject.

Now with regard to minorities. On the face of it the position there is much better than in the Indian Bill, where they were simply ignored completely. Of course, so far as the homogeneous communities go they are recognized as having their particular rights, but I do not think there has been any kind of plebiscite on whether they are willing to come into the union of Burma on the conditions specified. I trust that will be gone into before they are finally committed.

I should like to ask one question about the suggestion that an extra Karen State may be created under certain conditions. I did not quite follow what the noble Earl said about that. What would be its dimensions? What would be its location? I imagine somewhere on the Eastern frontier. Even if that is set up separately, there must remain a great number of Karens scattered about the plains and it is for the sake of them and other minorities—Anglo - Burmans, Chinese and Indians—about which the noble Earl, I think, said nothing, that I still remain concerned.

I find a good deal of difficulty in understanding the chapter of the Constitution which deals with fundamental rights. Section 10 says: There shall be but one citizenship throughout the Union; that is to say, there shall be no citizenship of the unit as distinct from the citizenship of the Union. Then it gives a definition of the necessary qualifications for citizenship, which appears on the face of it to be satisfactory.

Section 13 states this: All citizens irrespective of birth, religion, sex or race are equal before the law; that is to say, there shall not be any arbitrary discrimination between one citizen or one class of citizens and another. But Section 12 says this: Nothing contained in Section 1I shall derogate from the power of the Parliament to make such laws as it thinks fit in respect of citizenship and alienage, and any such law may provide for the admission of new classes of citizens or for the termination of the citizenship of any existing classes. I cannot reconcile these sections with one another.

Of course, it may be said that the word "class" in this connexion does not cover "race." I do not know what ruling a Court of Law would give as to that. But even if "class" did not cover "race" it could be used—and one always has to think of the worst position that might arise—to the grievous detriment of particular communities. For example, if a Bill were brought in to provide for the alienation of, shall we say, merchants and financiers of alien origin, it would be perfectly lawful, apparently, to pass this under Section 12. Yet it would strike a deadly blow against many Indian and Chinese business houses, and I understand, from what I have been told, that such Indian and Chinese establishments are none too popular in Burma as it is.

But, putting that aside, what does it matter what you put into a Constitution of this kind if it is liable to be changed at any time by the actual body you are setting up? What does it matter when there can be no permanence at all about it? It is true that Section 209 provides for a two-thirds majority being necessary for a change in the Constitution. But taking the composition of the two Houses and bearing in mind the statistics of population, I think it is morally certain, indeed almost demonstrable, that the ruling races in Burma could always command that two-thirds majority. After all, apart from that, again, when you have given up control and granted complete independence you have done away with any protection that may have been given in the first instance. If there is a Treaty and it is broken, do you really suppose that there is any sanction attaching to it, do you suppose that there are any sanctions anywhere that either the United Nations or anyone else would take up and employ in order to do justice to a minority?

There is, moreover, always this to be considered. I have been told by experienced Indian Governors that where there have been racial differences it has not been so much in the matter of legislation that they have been shown but in the very subtle differences of administration which it is almost impossible for the Provincial Governors, with all their powers, adequately to check, so subtle they were, so open to argument in the Courts. That makes it the more necessary to take any possible precaution that can suggest itself to us that these minorities have the best rights which are possible, but which, I fear can never be permanently saved to them under the Constitution as now provided and in view of the fact that the old Imperial Government have given everything away.

On the occasion of the last discussion in this House on this matter, the noble Earl quoted words of mine to the effect that I trusted that what has happened in India would not be repeated in Burma. By way of defence of what has happened in India he said that the number of lives lost had been grossly exaggerated. Perhaps they have; but some say they have been under-estimated. It is impossible to say what is the truth but let it be presumed that they amounted to only 500,000. Is that a small price to pay for carrying the present Government's policy into effect? The eminent French statesman, M. Robespierre, sacrificed his thousands at the shrine of the Altar of Liberty. The policy pursued by this Government has caused hundreds of thousands to die. Can it really be supposed that if there were a strong Viceroy and strong British Forces anything like these dreadful things would happen? Of course, I do not say for a moment that the position is the same in Burma. There is no strong minority to fight there. Therefore, there is the more need for protection. When I see arguments put to the minorities which in effect amount to saying: "Oh, do make friends with the Burmese Government," I realize that it may be that there is nothing else for them to do. But they never ought to have been reduced to such a plight.

The whole thing seems to be a matter of wantonness of policy. What aspirations in Burma could not have been satisfied by something on the Canadian plan—full internal government, protection for minorities, appeal to an independent Court—not necessarily to the Privy Council here. Could not all those things have been provided for? Why should we not have faced up to it? I find it very difficult to understand why the Government should not have proceeded on such lines instead of going on with a blind faith in unchecked majority rule. But I think the reason is this. The Government appear to look upon dependencies of the Empire as encumbrances. We look upon them as trusts to be administered to the best of our power and to the best of our consciences, not for the sake of any majority in any country, but for the sake of the various elements in that country as a whole.

I was impressed in a sense by the argument with which the noble Earl began his statement. It was really a remarkable argument, which went something like this. Whereas we have been in Burma for a long period, whereas Burma has flourished exceedingly under our rule, and whereas the population has been quadrupled, and a great city and port have been built and her economic position has been enormously improved, therefore it was necessary for us to give it all up. In recent weeks the minds of the peoples of the whole Empire have been turned towards the Crown as a symbol of their unity and their common rights, and yet this is the moment when some millions of His Majesty's subjects are being abandoned to the risk of political oppression from which this rule has so long saved them.

4.52 p.m.


My Lords, after the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, I had thought there would be need for me to say only a few words to your Lordships this afternoon. I felt I ought to say a few words as, under the guidance of the Prime Minister, I was responsible for the negotiations which led to the settlement which is now embodied in the Treaty and in this Bill. After listening to the speeches of the noble Karl, Lord Munster, and the noble Lord, Lord Rankeillour, however, I feel that a little more is required in defence of the policy of the Government. I hope that in what I say I shall not rub members of the Opposition up the wrong way, but I feel that some riposte from me is required in answer to their remarks. I would like to point out what seems to me to be the difference between the points of view of those on this side of the House and those on the other side. We are agreed on both sides that it would have been very much better had Burma remained in the British Commonwealth. There is no divergence on that point. We think it would have been better not only for ourselves but for Burma, and we regret the decision which has been taken by the Burman people.

The second point is also very important. As I understand the position—I do not think it applies to the noble Lord, Lord Rankeillour, but it applies to the Conservative Party as a whole, and certainly to the noble Earl who led for the Opposition—we are all agreed that Burma, like any other part of the British Commonwealth, would be entitled to a complete separation, provided only that she went through a stage of Dominion status. The only difference between us and the principal members opposite is that they say Burma should have gone through the intermediate stage and that His Majesty's Government ought not to have consented to Burma becoming a completely separate country without having passed through that stage. It was said in another place that that period should last for two to three years. I do no; think the Opposition would confine themselves to any period, but they say there should be some time of Dominion status before Burma becomes a separate foreign country. I think I have reduced the difference to much smaller dimensions than some people who are not fully aware of the various pledges given will realize.

Let me explain to noble Lords opposite what our position was. Suppose that we had said, "There shall be no separate Treaty with Burma as a foreign country," and that the only point we would permit the Burmese to discuss with the Government was Dominion status. That certainly would have led to abortive negotiations, if there had been any negotiations at all; and the result would have been that we would have to continue to govern Burma by force. There was the possibility that our Forces in Burma at the time might have been insufficient, and that we might have had to make a considerable addition to our physical forces. In that case the result would have been a bloody war, in which a large number of Burmans would have been killed and a large number of British soldiers would have gone to their death. That is one assumption.

Take a more hopeful view: that without a war we should have continued to govern Burma by force, probably for a considerable number of years, at the end of which we might have brought Burma into the position of a Dominion. If that had been done, she would have relinquished Dominion status and become a foreign country at the first possible moment; and she would have done so with the maximum of ill will. Was that really a better plan than that which was in fact decided upon? We took the will of the people of Burma, as expressed in the only way they could express it, and came to the conclusion that they strongly desired independent foreign status from the start. We have accordingly concluded the Treaty embodied in this Bill and we shall undoubtedly have the free support and good will of Burma towards us in the days that are to come. I cannot think that noble Lords, if they really face this issue, will prefer the other alternative.

The noble Earl, Lord Munster, made great play with the numbers who voted in the election. I think he must be aware that between the two sides in this country, and particularly with those who sit on the Liberal Benches, there is a great deal of play with elections. I would remind the noble Earl that in Burma there were a great number of uncontested elections and the number of votes cast is no guide to the opinions of the people. He seemed further to imply that because 43 per cent. were represented in these returns, the other 57 per cent. would like to remain in the British Commonwealth. So far as I came across any political views at all, I found that a great number of those who would have nothing to do with the negotiations, or who objected to the signing of the arrangement made, did so because they alleged that the British Government were being far too conservative and were refusing to give them what they demanded. So there is positive evidence that people did not vote because they did not think the Burmese representatives were going far enough. They wanted to insist that they received a far greater measure of independence than the British Government would confer.

I should like to say a word about Aung San. I do not want to go into the remoter past and refer to matters raised elsewhere, but I do want to say a word or two about the man as I found him as a negotiator. Aung San had very definite views as to what ought to be the relationship between this country and Burma. He proposed a great number of things which we were not prepared to do, but we succeeded in inducing him to come here to negotiate with us. We negotiated and, as in all negotiations, we made certain concessions and he made certain concessions. The great merit of Aung San, as I saw him as a man—it is the great merit of any statesman—was that, having made concessions and having been given concessions in return, he put his hand to and signed the document, and afterwards he went back and stood by his bargain. That, I think noble Lords opposite will agree, is the sign of an honest man and the sign of a statesman. It was because some of the men who came over here refused to put their hands to the document and went back to Burma and accused Aung San of having given away by concession more than he ought to have given, that he had a very heavy task when he went back to his own country. I am not at all sure that his death (which I mourn as a personal friend of his, and which I regard as a personal bereavement) was not in part due to the animosity that he caused by standing firm on his bargain and honouring the signature which he put at the foot of the document.

Let me turn to one or two other points made by the noble Earl, Lord Munster. He dealt with the question of the minority tribes. I think I am right in saying that he used the word "wanton"—




I understand it was the noble Lord, Lord Rankeillour. I can assure the noble Lord that there was no wanton breach of the honourable promises made on behalf of this country towards the hill tribes and the other minorities


May I so far withdraw as to substitute "needless" for "wanton"?


I am obliged to the noble Lord. There is a substantial difference between the two words. Even so, I cannot accept that as the correct interpretation. I can only tell noble Lords opposite that His Majesty's Government went to infinite pains to insist that the Burmese as a people were not placed in control of the other peoples in that part of the world unless they succeeded in getting the consent of those minorities. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Rankeillour, who suggested that we might have had a plebiscite. We recognized that you could not have an effective plebiscite with a people as primitive as some of the hill tribe people in Burma, but we did what we thought best. We got their representative men and, lest by any chance the views of their representative men might be misrepresented and they might be hoodwinked, we sent out first one and then another member of the Government, in order that he should himself be present at all the discussions and we might be assured that the views which it was alleged were being expressed were those which were actually expressed, and did represent, so far as we could judge, the views of the different tribes and different elements in the population.


How far could the noble Lord judge of their feelings?


Someone has to judge of their feelings somehow. I can only say that we sent out two very capable members of the British Government. They reported on their return that the views of the representatives that the hill tribes themselves sent to the Conference were representative of the views of the hill tribes, and that those people were not cajoled into signing a document with which they did not agree. I may say, further, that when it actually came to framing the Constitution, all the representatives of the tribes who were present, as they were elected, put their signature to the Constitution. They agreed to be part of Burma, and they further agreed, in common with all the other representatives, to the independence of Burma. The noble Lord has withdrawn the word "wanton," but so far from wantonly or needlessly coming to this decision, we took infinite pains to assure ourselves that in allowing this Constitution to function we were in fact acting in accordance with the will, not only of the Burmese, but also of the other races in Burma.

I would like to say a word regarding the other remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Rankeillour. He said (and I was interested in it as, from my point of view, it was an admission) that there was no permanent security for any section of the minorities because—and I quite agree with him on this—unless the British Army were in permanent control there could be no ultimate sanction for the observance of the terms of the Constitution. That is true from our point of view, and I am not going to deny it for a moment. But let us see what follows from that. If that be true, and if it be so essential that we should preserve this permanent security, then in no circumstances must we part with that permanent control. That puts the noble Lord at variance with the policy of his Party, because they have said that they would be prepared to give up that permanent control provided the country went through the intermediate stage of Dominion status. The only condition under which the permanent security referred to by Lord Rankeillour could be achieved would be by abandoning that plan and saying that no part of the British Empire, or a British Dominion, should ever be allowed permanently and completely to separate itself.


I meant only the kind of permanency that the French population enjoy in Quebec.


I do not quite follow the point of that interruption. As I see it, you must have one way or the other. If you agree that in certain circumstances, in some way or other, you are going to allow a country to become a separate foreign country, then you must part with the permanent security that you yourselves can enforce. The best hope you can have is that, if you have brought the different parties in the country together and have got inserted in the Constitution certain safeguards, you may, through that, have a completely satisfactory position.

There is one further point I would like to make, in reference to a matter raised, I think, by the noble Earl, Lord Munster. He said: "You will have no guarantee that this country—this small populated country, in a dangerous part of the world—can protect itself against all its foes if left to fend for itself." Of course that is true. Equally, places like Denmark, Belgium and other countries in the world have no guarantee that they can protect themselves. I would remind the noble Earl and Lords opposite that if they were Burmese they might well say: "Even when we were part of the British Empire, the British Empire did not prevent the invasion or the temporary subjugation of our country by the Japanese." The fact is that in this modern world no country can defend itself, and even the great British Empire, with all its power, could not defend Burma from being invaded in the way it was in 1940.


I am sure the noble Lord does not mean to misquote me. At the end of the Provisional Treaty it says that within a period of three years the Mission shall withdraw. What I asked was whether it was intended that at the end of three years the Burmese would have an armed force sufficient to defend themselves from any external invasion.


My answer is that I do not think they will. I do not think any country in the present conditions of modern warfare can possibly have an army sufficient to defend itself and prevent invasion and being overrun. It can make it very unpleasant. It is only a matter of degree. After all, the Swiss had not an Army large enough to prevent the Germans invading their country. They had an Army large enough to make them a porcupine to the Germans and very difficult to handle. They would have caused the Germans more trouble than if they stood outside, and therefore they secured independence. It is quite clear that even if the three years were ten years we should not succeed in making Burma a country which could quite certainly prevent invasion and be able to defend herself against aggression.


Then why send a Mission at all?


You might argue that about many other countries in this world. Why does Belgium keep an Army, and why do Norway and Denmark do so, when we all know perfectly well that if a sufficiently large aggressor came those countries would crumple up like a house of cards, as in fact they did in the last war in so far as they were attacked by the great armies of Germany? In any future war no country can reckon itself absolutely certain to defeat aggression. I do not want to detain your Lordships much longer, or to bandy words with the noble Earl opposite, whom I have always regarded as a very good friend and whose opposition I fully understand. I am only putting certain points, and I want to explain to noble Lords opposite that those considerations were not absent from the minds of His Majesty's Government when they entered into these negotiations, but those considerations were overridden by the much more important ones which I have attempted to put forward.

As I see it, the step which we are asking this House to approve to-day and the negotiations which have been carried through, are of very great importance, and are fully worthy of support for the following reasons. In the first place, I think we are privileged to interpret the will of the people of this country. I believe that if you went to the people of this country and said: "You can get an agreement with Burma by which she will remain a nation friendly to the British Empire. She will even recognize a special relationship to the British Empire. You can get that agreement on the condition that you do not stand out for an intervening period of Dominion status. The alternative is to use force, to risk bloodshed, hostility, and perhaps a permanent estrangement between the two countries"—I am convinced that the people of this country, with their good common sense, would say: "For God's sake take the first course and not the second!''

In the second place, I say that this conclusion is of great benefit to Britain and to Burma. I am not going back for one moment on what I said at the beginning. Personally, I would have preferred, and His Majesty's Government, so far as I know the mind of His Majesty's Government (as I am sure my noble friend said in the course of his speech) would have preferred that Burma had remained within the British Commonwealth. We think it would be better for her and for ourselves. But as the Burmese chose the other course, and chose it with apparent unanimity, we think it wiser and more in the interests of both countries that they should come to an amicable arrangement along those lines than that we should endeavour to impose our will upon Burma.

In the third place, I think there are still higher considerations. I believe that what we are doing to-day constitutes an event of great importance to the peace of the world. I believe that we are setting a precedent which will long be remembered and, I hope, widely acted upon. Where there are two countries bound together by some bond which frets and irks one of the partners, and that country feels it necessary to claim the entire removal of that bond, and to become, if necessary, a separate and foreign country, the other partner will be wise in its own interests, wise in the interests of the country involved and wise in the interests of the peace of the world, to choose the path of negotiation and agreement rather than the path of force and domination.

5.15 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to address you this afternoon with some hesitation, because I believe that this is a question involving very deep and difficult decisions. Some of your Lordships, especially on this side of the House, may well deplore the necessity (as I regard it) for bringing forward the Bill under discussion to-day. That the Bill is necessary, I myself have no doubt whatever. The people of Burma have, as has been said from the Benches opposite, clearly and quite unequivocally determined that they wish to leave the British Commonwealth of Nations. I think we, in the British Parliament, in this place and in another place, must most certainly conform to the wishes of the Burmese people.

I think it idle to regret the past. It may well be that a more happy solution than the present Bill could have been found for the solution of the Burmese problem. However, that is past history, and we may as well accept the situation as it is. I do, however, beg leave to doubt whether His Majesty's Government, in their so-called wisdom, have in fact really produced the solution which is best fitted for all the parties concerned. I listened with rapt attention—I hope my eyes did not close too often—to the exposition of this Bill which we had from the noble Earl, the Secretary of State. I thought he made a certain number of assumptions which were not quite warranted. I should perhaps say that I believe it to be almost impossible to find a subject for debate in your Lordships' House where there is not a great expert ready to bring the weight of his knowledge to bear upon the matter under discussion.

So far as Burma is concerned, I think I am in the proud position of being tire only member of your Lordships' House—with the conspicuous exception of the Secretary of State—who has been in Burma during the last thirteen or fourteen years. I stand ready to be corrected, and the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack has apparently been there more recently than myself. At any rate, I have spent some months in Burma very recently, and that is the reason for my addressing your Lordships this afternoon. I do not want anything I may say to be taken as hostile to the Burmese people, with whom I find I have perhaps a greater sympathy than I have with noble Lords on the Benches opposite. Certainly they understand the art of living a great deal better than, shall we say, some of the noble Earl's colleagues in the Cabinet—I hesitate to say the Minister of Food or the Minister of Fuel, or any of the other gentlemen who organize our lives these days. I want it to be perfectly clear that in the remarks I have to make to your Lordships I am fully convinced of the necessity for this Bill and, at the same time, not quite happy about the steps, as I understand them, that have led to the formulation of this measure. The noble Earl opposite, the Secretary of State, has painted a rosy picture in rather vague, indeterminate colours. He has relied—and perhaps rightly—on the good will of the Burmese people, which he says has increased very considerably since we have negotiated towards giving them their complete independence.

I think I know as well as the noble Lord opposite the main figures in the Burmese scene, and I have no reason to doubt, that they are men of honour. I make no doubt of that at all. Yet Governments do change. One hopes even that the present Government in this country may change! Is the noble Earl opposite absolutely satisfied that Burma is faced with a long period of stable and statesmanlike government? Is he sure of that? It is a question to which I should like a specific answer when he comes to reply. Further, is he perfectly happy that Burma in the near future will be rid of many of the things that have tortured and twisted her during the last years—dacoity, violence, intrigue? Is he happy on these scores? If so he is a more sanguine man than he should be. Is he perfectly certain that the small whisperings of civil strife which in the last few days we have heard in the Arakan districts will not spread? Is he perfectly happy that this Treaty which he has signed on behalf of His Majesty's Government will be honoured in two or three or four years' time? Let him say so if he is. Let him give a perfectly clear answer to Parliament that His Majesty's Government are negotiating with a people whom they regard as being of good faith; and not only people of good faith but people who will be succeeded in all the chances and changes of political life in Burma by people of equally good faith. Is he satisfied as to that? If he is, God go with him and with this Treaty.

It is hardly for me to take up point by point the speeches made from the Benches opposite, both by the noble Earl, the Secretary of State, and by the noble Lord, Lord Pethick-Lawrence. They seem to me to be actuated by a woolliness, a hoping for the best, which characterizes the Christian Socialists. I hope that Christian Socialism has something in common with the religion of Burma. I myself regard the Burmans as being far more practical than His Majesty's Government. And let me emphasize again that I do not regard the members of the present Burmese Government, amongst whom I think I have many close friends, as anything more than very astute, able, honest men. Let me emphasize that as strongly as I can. I wonder whether the noble Earl has not invested the present rulers of Burma with perhaps a little more sentiment and good will than in fact they possess—which is a little less than he himself possesses.

It seems to me that the Government have rather carelessly drawn up a Bill which runs to some four pages of print. I dare say that those of your Lordships who are concerned with print could tell me how many words four pages contain. But in four pages, and small pages at that, we are handing over the whole of a great edifice which has been built up—and I say it without any sort of shame—for the benefit of Burma. There are the teak forests, the rice fields, the oil fields, and the Mogok diamonds, ninety-eight of which have gone as a present to Her Royal Highness on her wedding. I think I know the Burmans better than some noble Lords, and I doubt very much whether their present prosperity, torn as it is by the activities of war, could have been one-tenth or indeed one-hundredth part of what it is without the intervention of the British race. It may well be said that the annexation of Burma—and let us not mince words, annexation it was, under the great Lord Dufferin—was what is fashionably called in these days. Imperialism; and perhaps it had no ethical justification. At the same time I believe that there is no thinking Bur-man who would say that on balance the régime of the British in Burma has been anything but for the good of Burma.

Now I come to a specific point and I would draw the attention of the noble Earl, the Secretary of State, most carefully to this. There are in existence in Burma to-day a small number of British and Indian people who hold assets in Burma under a system of what was called "grant lands." Perhaps I should explain, in passing, that I have a small financial interest in this matter, and I think I should make that quite clear to your Lordships. The noble Earl knows this already. My interest is very small, and perhaps it will be understood that I speak from the point of view of justice rather than of self-interest. I am spokesman, however, for certain holders of lands in Burma. Those lands were granted to foreigners (foreigners from the Burmese point of view; some English, some Indian) who have since developed these lands, and have sunk considerable sums of capital into them. The lands are mostly rice or rubber estates; in all the cases of which I know the details, they are rice estates.

These people sank their capital at the specific request of the then authority for Burma, the India Office, as a matter of Colonial development under the policy laid down at home. It is quite clear from the speech of the noble Earl opposite that he and his colleagues in the Government view that development with the sympathy which one would expect, and with a kindly and paternal eye. No one will blame them for that. The spread of their doctrines throughout the world must be a matter of self-congratulation for them. But at the same time the Government of this country owe a debt to the citizens, whose servants they are; let that not be forgotten in these modern days. In spite of any action they may take, in spite of any self-satisfaction they may from time to time feel, the Government remain—at least I hope they remain—the servants of the people. Let that not be forgotten, either in this or in any other place. They are there to preserve the interests of the people who put them there, and if amongst them there are those who disagree with the political views of the Government, they are still, none the less, the servants of the people.

These holders of assets in Burma find themselves in a position of very considerable difficulty. In the exchange of notes between the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister of the Provisional Government of Burma, Thakin Nu, it is laid down that foreign-held assets in Burma, if the Burmese Government see fit, will be taken over against adequate compensation. At the same time the Prime Minister of the Provisional Government of Burma, Thakin Nu, has said that of course compensation will be paid; but only subject to it being within the ambit of the Constitution which has been laid down. That goes very far to the Left and, amongst other things, says that no large landholdings are to be tolerated in the new State. I hope that I shall carry your Lordships' House with me when I say that the Government have asked us to give passage to this Bill on the condition that the people with whom they have negotiated in Burma are honest and respectable. I emphasize once again that I am in agreement with the Government that they are honest and respectable people. At the same time, if the Government come and say: "You must negotiate with these men," they are taking a very serious responsibility on themselves. They are in fact guaranteeing the good faith of those with whom they are asking their employers, the people, to negotiate. I hope the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, will realize quite clearly that in accepting this Bill—it is only one facet of many other important things—those of us who are holders of assets in Burma are believing (a) in the good faith of the Government and (b) in the good faith of those whom the Government recommend to us as being reasonable people with whom to do business—the Burmese Government. Quite clearly, and without any equivocation at all, there rests on His Majesty's Government a very strong moral obligation to see that the provisions of the Treaty are carried out no matter what Government of the day happen to be the ruling body in Burma.

Lastly, I want to advert for a moment to a question which has been discussed already this afternoon—that of the minorities in Burma. It so happens that the minorities are those who have contributed most towards the profit and glory and the general upholding of the British race in Asia. I know well enough that the whole of Asia is at the moment a seething melting pot. Sad events in India to-day are only a symptom. You will find in Burma, though for slightly different causes, exactly the same unrest and upheaval. You find it in Indonesia, in Siam, in Indo-China and in China itself. I hope that it will be fully realized that the minorities in Burma are no more Burmese than your Lordships are. Indeed, they call themselves, as I understand it, "that" which means "stranger" or "foreigner." I do not believe for one single second that any measures taken by His Majesty's Government to determine the opinions of these people are worth a tuppeny ha'penny (if I may say so in your Lordships' House) damn. These are hill people; they are, for the most part, illiterate. I say so with great respect because I have seen, though I no longer see, my friend Saohpalong of Yaunghwe, who is a very different man from most of his countrymen. I do not believe that the whole people, particularly those of the Shan States, and the Karens, who again differ on religious grounds in that they are mostly Christians, had any idea what they were being asked to undertake. Their leaders saw a certain advantage, and advantage it may well be; that I am not discussing.

I beg of the Government: Do not run away with the idea that you have the good will of the people. Do not pretend that this is going to be a democracy run on Western lines. If you think that, then I am afraid there will be a harvest of terrorism, rape, murder and bloodshed. So long as you are aware of that danger it is all right. I conclude by saying that I believe this Bill for the Independence of Burma, and the Treaty that is concerned with it, is necessary. But let us not enter into this with any false ideas. Necessary it is, and let us only hope that the good will which undoubtedly has been established by His Majesty's Government will see Burma through to a happier and to a more settled age. Let us remember that she is torn by war, torn by faction, and can be helped only by the understanding wisdom of this country, and not by the foisting of temporary political doctrines, which sit uneasily on the Eastern mind, upon her.

5.38 p.m.


My Lords, I should not have troubled your Lordships at all had not it been for the paean of rejoicing that was uttered by the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, this afternoon at the progressive disruption of the British Empire. I feel that that at any rate calls for some protest from these Benches. I should also like to protest against the use that the noble Viscount made of the Atlantic Charter by taking one isolated sentence out of it, and, on that, building the charge, if I understood him correctly, that Mr. Churchill had signed the Atlantic Charter with his tongue in his cheek. I am quite sure that the noble Viscount would not ever make a charge of political dishonour against the Leader of the Conservative Party, against Mr. Churchill. Although I have not a copy of the Atlantic Charter before me, I can assure the noble Viscount that Mr. Churchill was well aware of that type of use that might be made of the Atlantic Charter, and has, on more than one occasion, pointed out that the position of the British Empire and the existence of other empires also are fully safeguarded in the Atlantic Charter itself.

It is quite possible to indulge in a great deal of loose thinking and loose talk about self-determination and self-government, and the rest of it. I used to think that no great harm was done by people talking nonsense and thinking loosely; but it seems to me now that an enormous amount of human misery has been caused by the democracies of this country and of America absorbing ill-thought-out doctrines, erecting them into dogmas of universal application and applying them in circumstances which have resulted in appalling human misery, the like of which most of us never expected to live to see. I say to the noble Viscount, and to noble Lords opposite, that I am not ashamed of the British Empire, I am not ashamed of the record of the British Empire, and I am not ashamed of being an Imperialist. I think that the work that the British Empire has done has been enormously to the benefit of mankind. It has been one of the greatest agencies for good. In the conquest and annexation of backward nations it has been one of the greatest agencies in human progress in modern times.

The ethics of government are not so simple as one would believe from listening to speeches such as that of the noble Viscount. I suppose we should all agree that government by consent is the ideal to be aimed at, but it is absolute nonsense to pretend that government by force is not necessary in practically all States, and it is very difficult in a great many cases to draw the line between what is government by consent and government by force. The element of force has to enter into all government, and the element of consent has to enter into all government. To say that one government is a government by consent and another government is a government by force is not so easy as one would imagine from the doctrines we have been listening to this afternoon. These matters cannot be dealt with by wide generalizations.

To lump together the independence of America in 1786, the grant of self-government to the Transvaal, and the Irish Treaty, and to treat them all as analogous and similar events, and above all to compare them to Bills like this Bill or to events in India, is to compare a whole series of historical incidents, all occurring in totally different circumstances, about which there is no real comparison at all. The quarrel in 1786 was between two branches of the British race on the question of taxation without representation. 1906 was a gamble by the Liberal Government which turned out successfully, as gambles sometimes do; and no doubt it must have been a matter of extreme surprise to the noble Viscount, which he has never been able to get over, that the Liberal Government turned out to be right. At any rate, the fact appears to have made a very deep impression on his mind. As to 1920 and the Irish Treaty, if noble Lords are proud of that, I can only say I do not share their opinion. I do not believe it has brought any benefit to Ireland. It weakened us to the point of extreme danger in the last war, and caused the loss of the lives of many thousands of British seamen. If it had not been for the loyalty of Ulster we might well have lost the war. Ulster provided us with the essential base that we required to enable us to conduct operations.

I do not desire to go into these matters at length. I am merely protesting against statesmen of the experience and position of the noble Viscount citing that sort of case as an argument in favour of what the Government are doing in Burma. When we come to Burma, I quite agree that the position is entirely different from what is was in India—entirely different. But, nevertheless, it does seem to me to be very doubtful whether the area that we know as Burma can be considered to be the habitation of a homogeneous race. Those who are intimately acquainted with the country tell us that the difference between the hill tribes and the Burmese is profound, and I do not think you can argue in the least that the Karens and the Shans and the other hill races are in any sense Burmese. Therefore, one question which inevitably arises is: What moral right have we got to hand these people over from the Government of the British Empire to the Government of the Burmese?

My Lords, it is no good disguising the fact that when we conquered Burma we rescued the people from an appalling tyranny, and, so far from inflicting a deprivation of liberty on the Burmese people in 1886, we conferred the utmost boon upon them. We brought them a degree of individual liberty, justice and prosperity that they simply had not dreamed of before. In my view, personal liberty is far more important than political liberty. In fact, you cannot enjoy any form of political liberty, as we know it, until personal liberty is first secured. My complaint against noble Lords opposite, and against the leader of the Liberal Party, is that they are always pretending that political liberty can be enjoyed by countries where they know perfectly well that personal liberty will not remain once the Union Jack is. withdrawn.

I doubt very much if the Secretary of State will be able to give the assurances for which Lord Stanley of Alderley asked. I cannot speak with first-hand knowledge, but I shall be very much surprised if Burma, in a very few years, does not relapse into the same sort of chaos as that in which we found the country when we annexed it sixty years ago; and if that occurs, or anything like it occurs, who will have benefited? The self-satisfied Liberal and Socialist politician will be able to point to himself with pride and say: "I have observed all the dogmas of my creed." But In that country blood will run as it has not run in our generation. Injustice and misery will replace order and peace, the poor will suffer and the weak will go down. And you, my Lords, will be responsible.

5.50 p.m.


My Lords, in the few remarks which I intend to make this evening, I am not proposing to go into the details either of the Bill or of the Burmese Constitution. Those matters have been already dealt with by my noble friend the Earl of Munster and by other speakers. They have asked a number of questions, and I hope that they will get answers to those questions from the noble Earl who is going to reply for the Government. My purpose in speaking is a simpler one. I rise merely to sum up, so far as I can, the main issues before the House, and to give advice, so far as that is needed, to those who sit on these Benches, as to the course which we should adopt about this Bill.

I propose, if I may, to speak quite frankly, but, I trust, in no offensive spirit. The debate which we have just had upon the Burma Independence Bill I can only describe as being, to my mind, in one respect, one of the saddest that it has ever been my fortune to hear since I came to your Lordships' House, for it marks the end of a connexion between Britain and Burma which, I think, is universally recognized in all parts of this House to have been fruitful for both countries. What is more, no one, so far as I can see—and I have listened to the whole of this debate—in any part of the House, believes in his heart of hearts that the severance of this British connexion, with No 1ntermediate stages, will be of benefit to the Burmese people themselves. We are told that it will provide them not only with independence but with a Constitution based on the model of Western democracy. But I do not think that anyone really supposes that, at their present stage of development, the Burmese people after the dislocation of the war, quite apart from everything else, will be fit to operate a Constitution based upon the principles of Western democracy, which is, of all forms of government, the most difficult to work, and which requires not only long political experience but a wide measure of wisdom and tolerance and a basic homogeneity among all sections of the community.

The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, in his opening speech seemed to imagine—I hope that I am not misinterpreting him—that it was merely a question of setting up the proper machinery. But it is not a question of machinery at all; it is a question of inherited experience, and inherited experience is a plant of very slow growth. No doubt it is the ultimate aim of our policy to train the less politically advanced peoples, the peoples with little experience of Parliamentary institutions, to take up the full responsibilities of government. That, I think, is common ground in all Parties. We regard ourselves not as the exploiters of these peoples but, as the noble Earl himself said in his speech, as trustees for them. That policy of trusteeship which was, I think, originally propounded by Edmund Burke, over 150 years ago, has been universally admitted to be one of the greatest contributions which Britain has made to the history of the world.

But what the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, did not say is this: that the essence of trusteeship—and I say this particularly also to the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel—is not altered in any respect by the Atlantic Charter. The essence of trusteeship is that the trustee must continue to exercise responsibility over the affairs of his ward until that ward reaches maturity. That is the well-known basis of trusteeship. Were a trustee to abandon his responsibilities too soon, he would be a bad trustee, and the fact that the ward had himself demanded full control of his own affairs before he was in reality ready to exercise it would not be regarded by the Courts or by anyone else as an adequate excuse for such a dereliction of his duties on the part of the trustee. The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, I know, will not accept that view.


In general I would.


But not in any particular case that might arise.


It depends upon what you mean by maturity. I certainly would say that certain primitive people, in the African Colonies, for instance, would be greatly advantaged by the continuance of British rule. I have said as much on a number of occasions. The question here is whether people like the Indians or the Burmese are still to be regarded as wards when they themselves claim to be adults.


My Lords, I would absolutely agree with the noble Viscount that all these matters are matters, of opinion, and matters of pace and of development. They are matters upon which everyone can argue. And, furthermore, these are matters on which a trustee must take his own view—on which he must have a view. Now the view of everyone in both Houses of Parliament has been shown to be that this will not react to the advantage of the Burmese people. All who have spoken have said how sorry they were about it, how much they regretted it, how much better it would have been if the connexion with Britain could have gone on. That is the view of a trustee, and that is the point I am making. We are going against our view as trustee, the view expressed by the representatives of every Party in the State. The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, I sometimes feel, really hates the Empire.

Viscount SAMUEL.

The noble Marquess really must not say that, because I have written and spoken on these subjects for pretty nearly fifty years and I have never expressed any view in the slightest degree like that. I am not in the least an adherent of the Little England school. There were Liberals of the nineteenth century who would have rejoiced over the dissolution of the British Empire, who thought that it was of no value. I have never taken that view in the past, and I do not take it now.


If the noble Viscount says that, then I immediately withdraw, for I certainly do not wish to misrepresent him. The fact remains that I have heard speeches made by the noble Viscount at the time that the connexion of India with Britain was severed and now at the time when Burma is leaving the Empire, and in each case he has appeared to rejoice.


No, no.


That is a matter of opinion. I think that anyone on these Benches would have got that impression from the noble Viscount's speeches.


I said to-day that I have much regretted—and in this I agreed with the noble Earl, Lord Munster—that the Burmese should have decided to separate from the Commonwealth. I have said that previously in a debate on Burma. That was the view that I expressed in the clearest possible terms. I said it was not merely in our own interest, but. even less in our interest than in theirs, and that it was in the interest of world affairs that they should remain within the Commonwealth. I said that I thought they were making a mistake, and that in my view a Commonwealth like ours in which the parts enjoy complete liberty is of great service to mankind.


I am very glad to have secured that statement of his views from the noble Viscount and to say how sorry I am if I misrepresented him, because that was not my purpose. But there are many of us in all Parties—and I am very delighted to find that the noble Viscount belongs to this school of thought—who are very proud of the record of this country and believe we can still help by our guidance and control to lead other people forward to the higher standards of liberty we enjoy ourselves, whether it be in Burma or elsewhere. Can anyone say with absolute confidence, with their hands on their hearts, that the Burmese people, as has been pointed out this afternoon not by one but by many, have reached the stage when they can afford to discard our helping hand? Nobody has really attempted to do that, either in this House or another place.

What, after all, is the history of our connexion with Burma? Why did we go there and what is our record of achievement? I cannot do better, I think, than quote what the Prime Minister himself said in the speech he made in introducing this Bill in another place. This is what he said: Our earliest connexions with Burma derive from the activities of the East India Company. Burma at that time was a kingdom, and a very disturbed and troubled country; and, except for a short period, our relations with the rulers of Burma were difficult. Eventually, as the House knows, the whole country was annexed in 1886. Effective British rule over the whole of Burma has lasted just over sixty years. We came to a country that had suffered horn gross misrule, and under British rule much progress was made—moral, material and in every respect. That is what he said, and very much the same thing was said in different words by the Secretary of State in the speech he made this afternoon. In fact we, the British, went to Burma to give ordered government to a country which was not able to provide ordered government for itself. And what reason is there to suppose that in the short space of sixty years, a mere passage in the history of a country, the Burmese character has so altered and developed mat it can be regarded as fit to exercise the full responsibility inherent in independence? I know of no reason.

It is very easy for us to muffle the hard facts by high-sounding phrases, to talk about freedom and independence as if they were exactly the same thing, but, as the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, pointed out, they are not necessarily the same thing, and it is not the slightest use bluffing ourselves that they are. What do we in this country mean by freedom? I can only give a definition, but I think it will be acceptable to everybody in every quarter of the House. We mean freedom for the individual citizen to say what he wills, to do what he wills, to think what he wills, within those essential limits imposed by the security of the community as a whole. We mean equal justice for rich and poor. We mean all those things comprehended in the phrase, the basic liberties of a people. Those are the rights which are enjoyed to-day in all British territories by all subjects of the King to whatever race, religion, or colour they belong. But those rights, those essential freedoms, are lamentably absent in many nations nominally independent, however admirable in theory their written Constitutions may be. I do not think I need mention them to-day. Your Lordships will all be aware of a good many, even in Europe.

What guarantee have we, I was going almost to say what likelihood have we, that those essential rights and freedoms will be preserved in an independent Burma which has within the last few-months already assassinated one Prime Minister and attempted to assassinate his successor? What reason have we to suppose, if we face up to hard facts, that Burma will not slip back into her old bad ways? We have seen what happened in India. In a few short months over a considerable part of that country the whole structure of law and order, which has been built up with so much care and trouble over a hundred years, has crumbled into ruin. Already millions of people have been delivered over to murder and rapine. Vast communities, as we know from our daily papers, are to-day drifting helplessly hither and thither in misery and terror. With that horrible example before them—for it is a horrible example—how can the supporters of the Government any longer hug their comfortable illusions? How can they run the risk of abandoning the people of another land, if not to the same fate, to a possible fate in some way similar? We were told this afternoon that independence represents the united will of the Burmese people. But after sixty years of the comfortable protection of British rule, is it certain that these people realize what may be in store for them? Is it not indeed, as in India, a limited category of politicians rather than the people who are the real protagonists of independence? And are these politicians, who are admittedly ambitious and who have, perhaps, not all of them quite the same high standard of public duty as we are accustomed to in this country—I do not want to put it higher than that—the men who can be trusted to operate the delicate and complex machine of democracy in the interests of their fellow citizens?

Not only the Burmese, but the world aspect must be considered. Burma is a country with great natural riches, militarily weak and surrounded by great and powerful neighbours. If she is thrown on her own resources, is that a situation which is likely to lead to greater stability throughout the Far East? That is an aspect no doubt unlikely at the present moment in the first flush of their enthusiasm to give pause to the politicians in Burma, but is it one from which we, in this country, can afford to dissociate ourselves? It is true, as the noble Lord, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, said this afternoon, that membership of the British Commonwealth did not prevent the invasion of Burma in the last war, but surely it would give an aggressor pause, or greater pause, if it meant that in invading Burma she was going against the whole might of the British Commonwealth. It will surely make a difference whether an aggressor has the British Commowealth up against her or merely this little, weak, distracted country. As your Lordships know, a world war can start in Asia equally well as in Europe, and there is no more fruitful cause for trouble than the small, weak, rich, independent country. Those are the preoccupations which are troubling us on this side, and I am sure none of the noble Lords opposite would say they are unworthy of our preoccupation.

I must confess that I have been rather appalled by the light-heartedness with which supporters of the Government—I do not mean in this House but rather in another place, where I do not think the debate maintained such a high level as it did here—seemed ready to abandon those in Burma for whom we have a moral responsibility. We have seen the result of our departure from India, but they seem to have learnt nothing and abandoned nothing of their unreasoning optimism. Any of your Lordships who are familiar with Voltaire's Candide will remember the eminent Dr. Pangloss who, while he passed from disaster to disaster, continued to murmur to himself, "All is for the best in this best of all possible worlds." I cannot help thinking that that is painfully reminiscent of the attitude of those who spoke for the Government in another place. I could not, if I may say so with all deference to him, help feeling slightly reminded of it from a large part of the Secretary of State's speech to-day. We were told by the noble Earl that this Bill was to usher in a new era of progress. To us it seems only too likely to lead to great further retrogression in the affairs of Asia. We gravely fear that much, if not all, that has been gained by sixty years of British trusteeship is to be needlessly and recklessly cast away.

Nor do British interests, which, after all, have contributed so much to the prosperity of Burma, fare any better under this Bill. There is uncertainty as to the future of minorities. I should have thought the welfare of minorities was a vital British interest. Then there is uncertainty, as I understand, as to the basis of the compensation which is to be paid to British concerns which are taken over by the Burmese Government. We were told by the Secretary of State this afternoon that it would be "equitable." I should like to have a little more accurate definition of what that term means. Who decides what is equitable, and what is not? No one seems to know. I should be glad if the noble Earl would tell us a little more about that when he comes to reply. Then there is uncertainty as to the compensation to be paid to members of the non-Secretary of State Services. As I understand it, they are to have their proportionate pension—which they would have been entitled to in any case, whether we left Burma or not—but no compensation, although they will, in effect, be deprived of their employment at an age when it is very often difficult for them to find any other.

I do not believe it is on such a basis of uncertainty between Burmese and British that further fruitful collaboration between the two countries can easily be hoped for. I recognize, and I suppose we all do, the complete sincerity of those who take a contrary view to ourselves. I do not want this afternoon in any way to question that sincerity, but I have a suspicion that subconsciously, if not consciously, some of them, at any rate, are not so much concerned to give independence to Burma as to rid this country of an inconvenient burden at an inconvenient time.

No doubt in saying what I have said to-day I shall be accused by some people of speaking in an improper and even a mischievous manner. I thought there was a great deal of nonsense of that kind talked during the debate in another place. Since when in this country has it become bad form to speak the truth as we see it? I believe we should be wanting in a true sense of public duty if we had not tried to face the House with the grim realities of the situation. I think it must be obvious to everybody that, feeling as we do we cannot support this Bill. To us it is a Bill that does not enshrine a policy based on a realistic consideration of the mutual interests of Britain and Burma. It is a policy based on the line of least resistance. It is a policy, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, said earlier in the debate, of hoping for the best. If we do not definitely vote against this Bill, it is only because we have never opposed, and we do not oppose now, in any way the general principle of a steady advance towards full self-government on the part of territories which are under the British Crown. Our complaint against this Bill is, in fact, not that it is wrong in principle—we do not think it is—but that it is so premature that it will not conduce to the happiness, to the prosperity or, in the truest sense of the word, to the freedom of the people of Burma. After all, we took, I think, close upon 700 years to fit ourselves for democracy as we know it to-day. How is it to be expected that the Burmese people can achieve the same results in sixty years? It surely would have been wiser and better to have proceeded by more gradual stages.

We may be wrong in our anxiety and prognostication, and if we are I am quite certain that no one will be better pleased than we shall be. To prove us wrong is the responsibility of the Burmese people themselves, and of the Burmese leaders, and it is a very heavy one. But we are deeply apprehensive and, holding the views which we do hold, we can only dissociate ourselves entirely both from this Bill and from the consequences which we feel are likely to flow from it. The Government who have decided, rightly or wrongly, on this course must take the full responsibility for their actions. One can only pray that their experience will be happier than in the case of India, of whose future so few months ago we had an equally rosy picture painted, and whose agony we are witnessing to-day. As I have said, to us at the present juncture this Bill represents the wrong course, and I believe it is a course which this country will regret.

In conclusion, I would remind the House, if I may, of certain extremely statesmanlike words which were spoken by the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, in your Lordships' House in 1943 in regard to India. It was a debate that took place on April 6 of that year. I will not make a long quotation, but I hope I shall give fairly a sense of the whole passage. The noble Viscount said: In Professor Coupland's book Mr. Gandhi is quoted as saying on May 24, 1942: 'Leave India in God's hands, in modern parlance, to anarchy, and that anarchy may lead to internecine warfare for a time, or to unrestricted dacoities. From these a true India will rise in place of the false one we see.' That is the quotation from Mr. Gandhi, on which the noble Viscount comments: That is not democracy. Democracy stands for good government, orderly government, strong government, and so far as British Liberals are concerned we would not consent, in the supposed name of liberty, to Britain marching out of India in order that chaos may rush in, with confusion, riots, civil war, and economic collapse. For that to be the end of 200 years of beneficent. constructive, and pacific British activity in India would be an ignominious ending indeed. It would hold this country up to the scorn of our contemporaries and to the just censure of posterity in this country, in India and all over the world. That is a very fine passage, and I agree with every word of it. It is for that reason that we are unable to do other in respect of this Bill than dissociate ourselves from all support for it to-day. We believe that we are marching out. We believe that that is contrary to the greatest principles of democracy, and we cannot, with the best will in the world, be associated with it.

6.10 p.m.


My Lords, I think the House will agree that we have had a debate that has been fully worthy of a great occasion. Whether it has been a sad or a fortunate occasion is no doubt a matter of opinion, and there will be difference of opinion. But I am sure that everyone will agree that it has been a great occasion. What struck me almost more forcibly than anything else in listening to the speeches was the keen sense of responsibility for the welfare of Burma that lay behind the words of every speaker, whatever view he may have expressed. It surely is this sense of personal responsibility for the welfare of the peoples of the British Commonwealth that has built up and is keeping alive the Parliamentary tradition which has made our Parliament so worthy an heir of the founders of the British Commonwealth in times past. What I shall try to do in my few remarks will be to answer some of the questions which were put by noble Lords in the course of their speeches. I hope that those noble Lords who did not give me information in advance about the points they intended to raise will not be disappointed if I am unable to deal at such length with their questions as I shall endeavour to deal with the questions of which I had advance information.

I heard from the noble Earl, Lord Munster—and I am grateful to him for informing me in advance—that he was going to raise a number of points in the course of his speech which he would like answered at the end of the debate. I will endeavour to deal with as many of those points as I can. In the first place, the noble Earl challenged the validity of the Constituent Assembly. Of course it was the Constituent Assembly who decided that Burma was to leave the Commonwealth. The noble Earl said that it was based upon an election which did not represent the popular will. I have eneavoured to obtain figures about the percentage of the votes registered at the election, and my figure does not altogether tally with the figure given by the noble Earl. I have been given the figure of 49 per cent. of the total electorate as having cast their vote at the polls, whereas the noble Earl gave a figure of 43 per cent. I am not worrying about that, but I think the important thing is to compare this percentage with the percentage of votes cast at elections before the war. I do not think the noble Earl or anybody else has challenged the validity of elections in Burma under the 1935 Constitution.

There was a pre-war average of 50.2 per cent.—that is to say, 1.2 per cent. greater than the figure of the electorate registering its vote in the election in April.


Can the noble Earl say what seats were uncontested? That was an important point made by the noble Lord, Lord Pethick-Lawrence.


I cannot answer that question off-hand, I am afraid. I, of course, endorse what the noble Lord said on that head. A number of seats were uncontested and there were a considerable number of walkovers. That ought not to suggest that the electors in those constituencies were apathetic or hostile to the Government. Certainly a number of those uncontested seats were carried by supporters of the present Government, so that the number of people behind the Government is very much larger than the percentage which is registered as having voted at the election. Of course, the majority of that percentage went to the Government supporters. When it is remembered that the elections in April were held for the first time on a basis of universal adult suffrage, with an electorate of nearly 7,000,000, I do not think it can reasonably be contended that the result is not representative, or that the Constituent Assembly does not reflect the feeling in Burma as a whole. That was an extremely important point put by the noble Earl, and I would answer his other points without arranging them in order of importance.


If I may interrupt the noble Earl, may I say that I am grateful to him for correcting my figure from 43 per cent. to 49 per cent.? In point of fact, the 43 per cent. was a figure used by his own representative in another place, and I should have thought that that figure would have been good enough for the noble Earl.


I will certainly look into that, although I think there may possibly have been some misunderstanding. The noble Earl asked whether I could say anything about the negotiations between the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company and the Government of Burma. I am afraid that I am not in a position to do so. Any discussions that have taken place have occurred direct between the representatives of the company and the Government of Burma and I have not been informed as to what has transpired. There is certainly no final outcome to the discussions.

The noble Earl also asked about the position of the very substantial Indian minority in Burma. I can assure him that I took pains to meet the members of the Indian community when I was in Rangoon. I ascertained their views and found that they were hopeful about their future in the new State of Burma. With regard to the representation of these Indians, of course Indians in Burma have hitherto been recognized as a statutory minority with reserved seats in the Legislature. At the same time, the Government of India and their representative in Burma have frequently made representations to the Government of Burma on their behalf. Now that Burma is becoming a foreign country it would be very difficult to argue that this double position should continue. I notice that Pandit Nehru, the Prime Minister of India, said in a speech in the Council of State in February last with regard to Burma, among other countries, that Indians would "have to choose whether they are Indian nationals or not. They cannot have it both ways." I would like to add that the Government of Burma recently issued an announcement promising fair opportunities to Burman citizens of Indian race to obtain a fair share of appointments in the public services. So far as I know, there has been no pressure from Indians in Burma on the Government of Burma for a special reservation of seats in the new Legislature. Of course, in so far as they become citizens of Burma they will be eligible to stand as candidates for the Burmese Legislature. That will have to depend upon the extent to which they feel it is in their interests to throw in their lot with Burma.

The noble Earl also referred to the Defence Agreement in the Treaty, and said that in the case of volunteers for our Military Mission not being forthcoming, the Burmese would then be in a position to ask immediately for a Mission from some foreign country. I am glad to be able to inform him that that is not the case. The agreement in the Treaty provides only that the parties will reexamine the matter in the light of what has happened. I think I can give the noble Earl the exact passage in the Annex to the Treaty. It is on page 9 and reads as follows: In the event of the United Kingdom being unable to provide a Mission capable of carrying out its task effectively, I agree with you that a new situation would arise and both parties could properly re-examine the matter in the light of Clause 9. That is signed by the Chairman of the Mission.


Could the noble Earl tell us whether, under the Treaty, it would be possible for the Government of Eire to send a military mission to Burma, with whom they now have a certain kindred affinity?


Certainly, if Burma is willing to accept missions from members of the British Commonwealth.


That includes the Government of Eire?


Certainly. I am merely interpreting the legal construction of the Treaty. The noble Lord also raised a point about compensation payable to British business interests in the event of nationalization. I think there are two stages. In the first place there is the principle that is laid down in the Constitution on nationalization. In the second place there would have to be legislation, passed through both Chambers of the Burmese Legislature, before any scheme became operative. I think the noble Lord will find it is provided for in the exchange of notes in the Treaty, that if such a scheme of nationalization does become operative and affects a British firm, that British firm will be equitably compensated. After all, that is all we are asking in this country for firms that are nationalized. I do not think that anyone is asking for any treatment other than equitable compensation.


Do they get it?


I am not on that point. If it is fair in this country it is surely no less fair in Burma


Who is the judge?


I am coming to that.


If it is challenged that compensation is not equitable, who is to interpret the Treaty—the Hague Court, the International Court, or the party who gives the compensation?


I am glad the noble Viscount has raised that point because I regard it as of some importance. It was made by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, and I have every intention of endeavouring to answer it. Before I pass to that point, may I finish replying to the noble Earl, the Earl of Munster? If he will be kind enough to note one sentence in my speech he will see that it covers the point about compensation. If he will allow me I will read it: If legislation to carry out this principle of the national life were, in the fullness of time, passed by the Parliament of Burma, and if it resulted in the expropriation, in whole or in part, of any United Kingdom firm, the Government of Burma has explicitly agreed to pay equitable compensation to any such United Kingdom interests as may be affected. I will proceed to deal with the compensation point raised by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury. There, I think, the first stage would be to endeavour to obtain agreement between the two parties. If they agreed then nothing further would need to be done. But I also understand that if disagreement were to take place the Government of Burma would be willing to refer the matter to an impartial arbitral tribunal. We know from our experience in this country that there are many different devices for securing equitable compensation; and provided that there is good will, which I have no reason to doubt, such devices surely are likely to be introduced.


Can the noble Earl say which devices?


I think I have already given your Lordships as full information as I can from my knowledge of this point.

I want to pay particular attention to the remarks made by the noble Earl on the subject of the non-Secretary of State officers in Burma, because that has aroused interest and sympathy in both Houses of Parliament. I should like to assure the noble Earl, that the non-Secretary of State services have from the outset received every sympathy from the Government. We have the utmost admiration for these loyal servants of the Government of Burma and we are anxious to secure that they shall be well provided for. At the time I was in Rangoon, I received a deputation representing these services so as to hear in person what they had to say. But the fact remains, they are, and always have been the servants of the Government of Burma, which recruited them for service under itself and which has always determined their emoluments and conditions of service. The Government of Burma has decided to terminate the engagements of their European officials, but to re-engage on fresh contract some twenty-five members of the Marine and Railway Departments.

Let me remind the noble Lord that I did not give an assurance, as he seems to have thought, that non-Secretary of State officers in Burma would be re-employed by the Government of Burma, and would therefore not need or receive compensation. I knew at the time I was there that the Government of Burma would dispense with the services of a number of these officials. Under the terms granted by the Government of Burma these European officers, on the termination of their appointments, will be covered by the undertaking of the Government of Burma in Article 5 of the Treaty—here again, I think the noble Earl has misconstrued the Treaty, because he thought they were excluded—to pay all sums payable from the revenues of Burma in virtue of all service prior to the date of the coming into force of the Treaty. They are, in fact, to be paid by the Government of Burma. Secondly, these officials are to receive the leave admissible to them from the date of the transfer of power under the existing rule. Thirdly, those to whom continued employment is not being offered are to be allowed to draw proportionate pensions. I would remind noble Lords that this privilege is one to which they are not entitled, under the terms of their engagements, and it cannot, therefore, be accepted as a matter of course. Finally, the members of the non-Secretary of State services will be able to make use of the various agencies which have been established for assisting the members of the Indian and Burma service to find suitable alternative employment.

The view was strongly expressed in the recent consideration of this matter in another place, that some further concession should be made to these officers, who have devoted their lives to the service of Burma, and whose work for her is now being brought to an end owing to the transfer of power. The views expressed on that occasion have been passed on to the Government of Burma who are, I know, considering this matter. I am confident that in reaching their decision they will give the fullest weight to the views which have been expressed in the course of the debate to-day by the noble Earl, and by other speakers. I need not say that I will make sure that these views are communicated to them immediately. I hope to be able to make a statement in the light of this further consideration by the Government of Burma on the Committee stage of the Bill.

I should like to pass on to make one general observation about the British business community in Burma. There are several noble Lords who have expressed anxiety about their attitude towards this important political change. I think the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, was particularly concerned about the future of British property owners in Burma. On November 6 the leaders of the British commercial community in Burma sent a letter to the English and vernacular Press in Rangoon in the following terms: On the passage of the Burma Independence Bill by a large majority through the House of Commons, the Burma Chamber of Commerce and the Burma British Association"— which include between them the great majority of British residents in Burma— wish to congratulate the people of Burma and their Government. The British community has watched Burma's swift passage to complete independence with sympathy and in particular welcomes and reciprocates the many assurances of continued friendship with Britain which have been made by responsible Burmese leaders. We all admired U Aung San's heroic and successful efforts in the cause of Burma's freedom and unity, and we shared the universal horror at the tragic assassination on July 19. I would like to pass from that to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Rankeillour, which centred round the provisions in the Constitution for the protection of the minorities in Burma. The noble Lord asked first of all what I meant by the possibility of a Karen State being added to the existing States—which, as the noble Lord is well aware, are three in number—and in what way it comes into being. May I draw the noble Lord's attention to Clause 180 of the Constitution because I think that that clause puts the position about the future potential Karen State much more clearly than I can? The noble Lord will there see that subsection (1), which is the important one in this connexion, reads as follows: The following areas, viz., (a) the Karenni State, (b) the Salween District, and (c) such adjacent areas occupied by the Karens as may be determined by a Special Commission"— that is, a boundary commission— to be appointed by the President shall, if the majority of the people of these three areas and of the Karens living in Burma outside these areas so desire, form a constituent unit of the Union of Burma to be known as the Karen State, which shall thereupon have the same status as the Shan State. So that, if a majority of the Karens change their minds—at the moment they are satisfied with the present arrangements that have been made and with their place in the Constitution of Burma—then the Constitution enables them to have a separate Karen State.


It will have to be adjacent. I take it, to the already proposed Karen State. It cannot be detached as another part of Burma?


The Karens are a fairly homogeneous community, as the noble Lord knows, and I think the object of this is to cover all the Karen majority districts in Burma; and the Karen majority districts are, generally speaking, contiguous. The second point raised by the noble Lord was in regard to citizenship. I do not think it is correct of the noble Lord to suggest—and it is undesirable to do so—that the effect of the provisions of Clause 11 of the Constitution regarding citizenship is theoretically capable of being nullified by Clause 12, which gives the Legislature the right to deprive people of citizenship. Every sovereign State must be free to amend and alter its nationality laws as it thinks fit. We certainly claim that right. We are introducing a Bill to alter our nationality laws, and I think we must allow the same right to Burma. Supposing we did not, the Government of Burma would be unable to carry out their undertakings under' Article 3 of the Treaty, under which, as a result of a declaration of alienage, a person can get rid of his Burmese nationality in order to retain his British nationality and be subject to British protection. So in the event, it is an advantage from our point of view that they should be able to manage their own nationality laws and arrangements.


It is quite indeterminate in respect of time. Under this provision they might in the future deprive of citizenship any class whatever whom they chose to define. It may not be likely, but it is surely possible.


Theoretically, in all these things a sovereign State can do as it likes, but, provided you have good will, it is not likely to happen. The same thing applies surely in this country, where you could deprive citizens of Scotland of their nationality.


You very nearly have!


The third point raised by the noble Lord is also an extremely important one from the point of view of the fair working of the Constitution. The noble Lord contended that people of Burmese race and extraction ought always to be able to command the two-thirds majority in a joint sitting of the two Chambers required for an amendment of the Constitution. I do not think that that assumption is really accurate and borne out by the facts. While in the Chamber of Nationalities, the Upper House, there will be no more than 53 Burmese members out of a total membership of 125—the noble Lord will remember that the other races predominate in that Chamber—the size of the Lower House has not yet been firmly decided, although it is likely to have about 250 members. I cannot say precisely how many will be non-Burmese until the constituencies have been determined, but it is probable that they will reflect the population ratio. There will be about 74 non-Burmese members. In a joint sitting of the two Chambers, therefore, non-Burmese would comprise about 146 out of 325, which, of course, is considerably more than one-third of the total membership.


The population of the Burmans on the latest statistics, which are very old, I admit, was 9,000,000, and the total of all the others was something between 2,000,000 and 3,000,000 only.


I can assure the noble Lord that this is as accurate a statement as I can get, and my forecast is based on reliable figures. The next point of the noble Lord was with reference to the position of these minority races, and whether they could not be deprived of their constitutional rights by a vote of the Legislature—the two Chambers in joint session. The constitutional position of the Shan, Kachin and Karenni States, and the special rights of the other Karens and the Chins, are also safeguarded, apart from the two-thirds majority rule, by subsections (4) and (5) of Clause 209. The effect of these safeguards is that the Constitution cannot be changed to the detriment of these minorities without the consent in the shape of a recorded vote of a majority in both Chambers of the representatives of any minority affected by a proposed change.


That means any one minority. If there were a difference between Kachins, Shans and Karens, any one of those would have to have a majority in the Chamber of Nationalities: am I right in understanding that?


I do not think that that is precisely the point.


It is an important point.


The point is that, if the Shan or Kachin or Karenni States are to have their rights curtailed, each of those States can decide for itself whether or not it wishes those rights to be removed. It cannot be deprived, for instance, by a simple majority vote, of the subjects on which it can legislate.


But the words "special rights" would not apply to the scattered Karens in the plains.


They also have their safeguard.


That is, general rights?


Yes. I hope that the noble Lord will look rather closely at what I said in my opening speech. Let me say that no one respects the views and the conviction of the noble Lord opposite more than I do. Although I differ from him, I do realize that his criticisms have always been prompted by the keenest desire for the welfare of these minorities in Burma.

Before I conclude, I should like to say something on two other subjects. Several noble Lords referred to the late Prime Minister of Burma, U Aung San. Of course, I realize as clearly as anyone that different opinions are held, and quite legitimately held, about his personality. But I should like to say something about him because I am sure that the veneration and esteem with which his memory is cherished in Burma has not been generally realized in this country. Whatever our own views may be, it is useful for us to understand the Burmese point of view. I am certain, for my part, that, once his significance to Burma has been rightly understood, the courtesy and respect for the feelings of others which we all share will restrain any expression of opinion, either in Parliament or elsewhere, that might be wounding to the sentiments of the people of Burma.

A public figure, wherever he may live, will be judged differently according to the scales in which he is weighed. He will be rated in one way by his opponents, in another by the impartial historian, and in yet another by his friends and those he loved. I believe I understood something of what the people of Burma feel about the leader they have so recently lost, as I watched the endless file of simple peasants and townsfolk bow their heads before the draped catafalque when; he lay in state in the Jubilee Hall in Rangoon. They felt that he had been a man of rare character, who had served them better than they had ever been served by their fellow countrymen before. Their silent homage was a tribute to the personality of their leader, his unique example of patriotism, and his sacrifice of himself in the common cause.

There is, moreover, an awareness among thinking people with a wider background of the magnitude of Aung San's historical achievement, and a consciousness of the immense debt which generations of Burmans will owe to his statesmanship and courage. For in less than a year he welded the five peoples of Upper and Lower Burma, whom the British administration had always kept apart on account of their extreme diversity, into a single united nation. He had also led Burma to the threshold of full nationhood after more than half a century of dependence. His tenacity of purpose had obtained through patient negotiation an agreed settlement of the independence issue. This agreement must have saved thousands of lives that would otherwise have been lost in the strife and bloodshed of a violent upheaval. It is for these reasons—and my noble friend, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, has testified to his patience as a negotiator—that Aung San is revered as a national hero in Burma, where his name will ever be held in honour by the Burmans in the way that the Italians honour their Garibaldi, the Americans their George Washington, or the French their Joan of Are. I say that only in order that there may be a better appreciation of the feelings of Burma towards their late leader.

Finally, my Lords, there were several noble Lords whose real opposition to the Bill was their doubt as to what would happen in Burma in the next two years. The noble Lord, Lord Selborne, seemed to expect Burma to relapse into anarchy. The noble Lord, Lord Stanley, had doubts about the stability of Burma in the immediate future, and I should like to say something that I think is rather encouraging for him in regard to what has taken place in the law and order situation in Burma in the last few months. Thanks to the firm and energetic measures taken by the Government of Burma, the country is gradually quietening down. These emergency measures started in the early spring. The dacoit gangs that terrorized many villages in certain areas of the interior were broken up between March and May by Operation Flush, carried out by troops and armoured cars which dispersed the gangs and killed or captured many of their leaders.

On September 27 last the Government launched a new drive to stamp out dacoity throughout Burma. People in unlawful possession of firearms or ammunition were called upon to surrender their weapons by the middle of this month, and after November 15, the date by which the process of giving up arms was to be completed, they would become liable to the severest penalty the Courts can impose—namely, life imprisonment or death. Rewards were offered on a graduated scale for arms thus surrendered. Large quantities of warlike material have been collected, including several hundred machine guns, tommy guns and Sten guns, and several hundred thousand rounds of automatic ammunition. At the same time, it was announced by the Government that after October 15 persons found guilty of dacoity or armed robbery would also be punished by life imprisonment or death. The Prime Minister backed up this drive by a personal tour of the disurbed areas, and he appealed to the public to co-operate on the ground that lawlessness was the main obstacle to the rehabilitation of the country.

The result of these energetic and drastic measures has been a steady improvement in the maintenance of law and order, which is shown by a progressive decline in the number of violent crimes since these steps were taken. The average monthly figure for robberies and dacoities between May and October of this year is 1,257, and for murders 183. In October, the last month for which we have figures, there were 782 dacoities or robberies and 139 murders. These figures suggest that there has been a steady decrease of violent crime in Burma as a whole during recent months, and that the situation is better now than it has been at any time since the end of the war.

That, my Lords, is all I have to say, except to express my thanks to the majority Party for its acquiescence in the Bill. It dislikes the Bill, but it has decided not to divide against it, as I understand it. This decision will have a most excellent effect in Burma. I was asked on several occasions in Burma, "What will the House of Lords do? Will the House of Lords throw out the Bill?" and I said, "The House of Lords has a very great constitutional sense and a considerable respect for the will of the people, and I think you may be reassured." It is most important that our present relations with Burma should continue, and I think that this decision of a Chamber in which the Conservative Party has a great majority will go far to convince the Burmese that they will have the same good will and friendly relationship, whatever Government may be in power in this country.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.