HC Deb 30 May 1935 vol 302 cc1333-41

4.27 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 189, line 5, to leave out from "affairs," to "shall," in line 7.

This Amendment is designed to make a distinction between this Clause and the corresponding Clause relating to external affairs in the Indian section of the Bill. The Clause dealing with India gives the Governor-General a reserved power to administer external affairs, among other things, but excludes affairs connected with the Dominions from that reservation, leaving that part of what may be called the department of external affairs to be carried on by the Minister. It appears that here, in the case of Burma., the same proposal to give Dominion affairs into the charge of the Minister was just taken from the proposals for India. But there is an immense difference between the progress and experience of the people of India and the people of Burma. Indians have travelled, both in the Dominions and various other parts of the world, and have for some years had some knowledge of Dominion affairs and their connection with the Empire, and therefore they are provided with experience for dealing with them. The Burmans, however, have no such experience. They travel very little and what provincial autonomy they have possessed has been exercised for a much shorter time. There is, therefore, I submit, a very good case in relation to Burma for keeping affairs connected with the Dominions in the hands of the Governor for some time to come. There is no reason why what is proposed for the Governor-General in India should be transferred exactly, with the same methods, to the new Government of Burma. There is no great resemblance between the Government of Burma and either the Government of India or the Government of any Indian Province. Burma is to be given larger powers, nevertheless, than an Indian Province, until Federation become effective.

It is a striking anomaly in the case of Burma that people who have so much less experience, and indeed less opportunity of acquiring responsibility, should be entrusted with larger power pending the establishment of Federation than will be in the hands of the more experienced Indians. There is very good reason for not being too precipitate in giving higher, and what will be central, powers to those inexperienced ministers. They have not had the same opportunities of making themselves acquainted with affairs outside their own country. An Indian may travel very little, but the number of Burmans whom you find settled in India is extremely small.

4.32 p.m.

Duchess of ATHOLL,

I beg to second the Amendment.

I am not sure if all hon. Members realise that the phrase "external affairs," which affairs will be reserved to the Governor, does not include Dominion affairs, that is, relations with Dominions and the Empire. That is a very important point to remember, and obviously means a very big diminution of the powers. Burma is likely to have many more dealings with the Dominions of the British Commonwealth than with foreign countries, and it is a very big power to leave in the hands of the ministers of the future Burman Government.

My hon. Friend the Member for the English Universities (Sir R. Craddock), speaking out of his great experience, has made clear again to-day what I think he made abundantly clear last month, when we had a general discussion upon Burma, that the Burmans as a whole are considerably behind India in political development and. experience. If my memory does not mislead me, that fact was recognised by the Minister. Therefore, it seems a risky experiment to put this considerable power into the hands of the ministers of what at present is only a, Province of British India. Relations with the Dominions may often be of a delicate nature. We remember the great difficulties which existed for many years between the Government of India and the Government of South Africa, and the difficult and delicate negotiations which went on between those two Governments for a long time. There may easily be equally delicate negotiations in the future between Burma and the Dominions, and it does not seem necessary to give these powers straight away to Burman ministers. Nobody suggests that the Bill puts Burma in a position in which the Bill is intended to put Federated India. These powers could with advantage be omitted until Burma has been given an opportunity of showing that she has made good use of all the other powers given to her.

4.35 p.m.


If we were to accept the Amendment, the effect of it would be to exclude relations between Burma and any part of His Majesty's Dominions from the purview of ministers in Burma, and we are unable to accept that suggestion. For some time the general understanding has been that Burma should have a Constitution on the same level as India. The then Secretary of State said in 1931: The prospects of constitutional advance held out to Burma as a part of British India will not be prejudiced by this decision [in favour of separation]."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th January, 1931; col. 29, Vol. 247.] It has throughout been the aim of the Government to fulfil that undertaking, and, taking into consideration the differences between the unitary form of government which Burma will possess, a combination of the powers of the Centre and of the Provinces in India, as compared with the federal form of Constitution which India will have, we intend that Burmese ministers should have the same sort of powers.

Having decided, in the Indian portion of the, Bill, that the relations between India and the Dominions shall be within the purview of ministers, we cannot now accept an Amendment which would take from the control of Burmese ministers the important sort of negotiation to which the Noble Lady has referred. The Noble Lady said that in days gone by there had been difficult negotiations between, for example, India and South Africa. There are bound to be negotiations in the future, whether they be between India and other parts of the Empire or Burma and other parts of the Empire, and we consider that one of the best methods of achieving satisfactory results will be to let these autonomous governments of the future negotiate directly with members of the British Dominions. We believe that to be the more satisfactory method of regulating these questions, and, in view of the decision that Burma should receive a form of government similar to what we are giving India, I regret that we cannot accept the Amendment.

4.38 p.m.


In many respects Burma may be behind India in political development. There was a time when there were feeling and difficulty in Burma, but that feeling and that difficulty were allayed by the statements that were made by responsible Ministers in this House. Everybody knows that what we propose to do for Burma falls short of many of the demands which were made by those who represented Burma at the Joint Select Committee and the Round Table Conference, but I am sure that the adoption of the Amendment would give rise to the charge of bad faith, with the result that there would be a very unfortunate atmosphere in which to start the new Constitution.

4.40 p.m.


I would like to ask the Under-Secretary of State the meaning of the words "His Majesty's dominions" in this context. The word "dominions" is spelt with a small "d." The Noble Lady referred to the Dominions as the other parts of the British Commonwealth. I think its meaning is wider than that. Spelt with a small "d" I think it includes the whole of the British Empire and the whole of the Crown Colonies, as well as Southern Rhodesia, which is between a Dominion and a Crown Colony. I want to know whether the meaning goes further than that. Does it include the mandated territories, or only some of them? Palestine is still under a class "A" mandate, on the assumption that Palestine will be art independent sovereign State, and we treat Palestine as a foreign country. Tanganyika is another territory which might have negotiations with both India and Burma, and it is held under a Class "B" mandate, which means that for all time she has to be with us, although she is debarred from giving us a preference. Another mandated territory which I can see might come into negotiation with parts of the Dominions is what used to be called German South-West Africa and which is under mandate "C," under which it is an integral part, for customs and for all purposes, with the Union of South Africa.

We have three classes of mandated territory, all of which might conceivably come into negotiation with India or Burma. If the word "dominions" is used in the widest possible sense—I think the only Statute in which this point is dealt with is in the Import Duties Act, where there is a definition of them as territories to which preferences apply, but so far as I can find out there is no definition of the word in the Bill—we ought to have a definition, in speech, and later, if necessary, as an addition to the Interpretation Clause so that no possible doubt will arise in the future.

4.42 p.m.


The hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Isaac Foot) seemed to think that we are bound by virtue of a pledge given to the Burmans—that if they decided not to come into the Federation, they would not have a form of government inferior to that which they would have had on entering the Federation. We are bound to see that the Burmans have as good a government if they do not enter the Federation as if they do. I am informed by my hon. Friends that had Burma been a member of the old Federation, all negotiations with reference to external affairs, including relations with arty other part of His Majesty's Dominions, would have been in the hands of the Federal Government. Therefore, they would not have been in the hands of the Burmans. If that be so, have we not to consider what is best for the Burmans, and what should be reserved to the Governor as are other matters in the Clause? I do not think anyone with experience of Burma has any doubt as to what is in the best interests of good government in Burma and of the smooth running of that government when it comes to relations or negotiations with other parts of His Majesty's Dominions.

It would be very much better for the Burmans if such negotiations, or whatever they may be, were in the hands of the Governor rather than of Burmese Ministers. What right have we to consider only the literal interpretation of the pledge which was given, so that there might be no accusation of bad faith? I do not think we have to consider that. We have to consider what is the right interpretation of that pledge, and we should undoubtedly be giving a better government to Burma if the Amendment were in than if it were out. These things would be better managed by the Governor than by Burmese Ministers at present, and the Government ought to accept the Amendment. I put that view before the Government. I want them to take a wide view of this matter, and not to consider themselves bound by every dot on the "i" and every cross on every "t" of certain words, and therefore precluded from doing what they think is best. Surely, we ought to do what we think is best in the interests of the Burmese and of Burma itself.

Most critical negotiations are going on at the moment between Abyssinia and Italy. When representatives had to be appointed to a committee of four to consider certain questions it was not two Abyssinians who were put on there, but two people of another nationality. That has a certain bearing on this question. Surely these delicate affairs are better left in the hands of more experienced people than the Burmese themselves. Therefore, I shall support my hon. Friend, in spite of what has been said from the Treasury Bench.

4.46 p.m.


My hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. Williams) raised the question whether the expression "His Majesty's dominions," spelled with a, small "d," includes mandated territories. The answer is that it does not. The effect of the Amendment would be to remove from the scope of the Ministers' duties the important sphere of inter-Imperial relations. If Burmese Ministers desired to arrange some trade agreement in respect of a mandated territory, they would presumably make their agreement with that part of the Empire to which the mandated territory was entrusted. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State has given reasons why it is impossible to accept the Amendment, and I merely rose to refer

to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon.


Does it apply to a protectorate?


I should not like to answer that question off-hand, but I rather think the phrase "His Majesty's dominions" does include protectorates.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Bill."

The House divided: Ayes, 233; Noes, 33

Ropner, Colonel L. Soper, Richard Wardlaw-Mline, Sir John S.
Rosbotham, Sir Thomas Southby, Commander Archibald R. J Warrender, Sir Victor A. G.
Runge, Norah Cecil Spencer, Captain Richard A. Waterhouse, Captain Charles
Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth) Spender-Clay, Rt. Hon. Herbert H. Wait, Major George Steven H.
Rutherford, Sir John Hugo (Liverp'l) Spens, William Patrick White, Henry Graham
Salmon, Sir Isldore Stewart, J. Henderson (File, E.) Williams, Charles (Devon, Torquay)
Samuel, Sir Arthur Michael (F'nham) Stourton, Hon. John J. Williams, Edward John (Ogmore)
Samuel, Rt. Hon. Sir H. (Darwen) Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth, North) Williams, Dr. John H. (Llanelly)
Samuel, M. R. A. (Wds'wth, Putney) Sueter, Bear-Admiral Sir Murray F. Williams, Thomas (York., Don Valley)
Sandys, Duncan Summersby, Charles H. Wllmot, John
Savery, Servington Sutclffle, Harold Wilson, Lt.-Col. Sir Arnold (Hertt'd)
Shaw, Helen B. (Lanark, Bothwell) Tate, Mavis Constance Wlndsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George
Shaw, Captain William T. (Forfar) Thomas, James P. L. (Hereford) Womersley, Sir Walter
Shepperson, Sir Ernest W. Thomson, Sir James D, W. Wood, Sir Murdoch McKenzle (Band)
Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir John Thorne, William James Young, Rt. Hon. Sir Hilton (S'v'noaks)
Smlies, Lieut.-Col. Sir Walter D. Tinker, John Joseph Young, Ernest J. (Middlesbrough, E.)
Smith, Bracewell (Dulwich) Titchfield, Major the Marquess of
Smith, Sir Robert (Ab'd'n & K'dlne.C.) Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement TELLERS FOR THE AYES.
Somervell, Sir Donald Tufnell, Lieut.-Commander R. L. Lieut.-Colonel Sir A. Lambert Ward
Somerville, D. G. (Willesden, East) Ward, Irene Mary Bewick (Wallsend) and Captain Hope.
Allen. Lt.-Col. Sir William (Armagh) Davison, Sir William Henry Nunn, William
Atholl, Duchess of Erskine-Bolst, Capt. C. C. (Blackpool) Oman, Sir Charles William C.
Beaumont, M. W. (Bucks. Aylesbury) Goodman, Colonel Albert W. Peto, Sir Basil E. {Devon, Barnstaple)
Broadbent, Colonel John Hunter, Capt. M. J. (Brigg) Reid, David D. (County Down)
Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Berks.,Newb'y) Keyes, Admiral Sir Roger Somerville, Annesley A (Windsor)
Browne, Captain A. C. Kimball, Lawrence Todd, Lt.-Col. A. J. K. (B'wick-on-T.)
Burnett, John George Knox, Sir Alfred Wayland, Sir William A.
Carver, Major William M. Lennox-Boyd, A. T. Williams, Herbert G. (Croydon, S.)
Churchill, Rt. Hon. Winston Spencer Levy, Thomas Wise, Alfred R.
Cobb, Sir Cyril Macdonald, Capt. P. D. (I. of W.)
Craddock, Sir Reginald Henry Marsden, Commander Arthur TELLERS FOR THE NOES.
Croft, Brigadier-General Sir H. Mellor, Sir J. S. P. Mr. Emmott and Mr. Raikes.