§ 2.46 p.m.
THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR INDIA AND BURMA (LORD PETHICKLAWRENCE)
My Lords, I propose at this point in our proceedings, with your Lordships' permission, to make a statement on Burma. On December 20 the Prime Minister informed the House of Commons of the policy of His Majesty's Government with regard to Burma and of the invitation to members of the Burma Executive Council to visit this country. Conversations with the delegation have been proceeding and are now concluded. They covered a wide field. I am glad to say that agreement was reached both as to the methods by which the people of Burma may, as early as possible, determine the future Constitution of their country and as to the transitional arrangements for the government of Burma until the new Constitution comes into force. The agreed conclusions are set out in a Command Paper which will be available this afternoon.
The main features of the agreement are as follows: A Constituent Assembly will be elected in April next, elected by and consisting of Burma nationals only. The machinery of the 1935 Act will be used and the Assembly will therefore be elected by over six million adult voters. It is our intention, as soon as the Constitution has been framed, to bring the necessary legislation before Parliament without delay. During the interim period, which will, we 169 hope, be short, Burma will continue to be governed, as at present, under the emergency provisions of the Act of 1935. The legal powers of the Governor and of the Executive Council cannot be altered without legislation, but it has been agreed that the Interim Government should be conducted generally in the same way as the Interim Government of India. Certain matters, at present formally reserved for the Governor, will in future be brought before the Executive Council. Arrangements have been agreed on the representation of Burma abroad.
With regard to the frontier areas we have given very definite pledges to the peoples of these areas. Ultimate unification of the frontier areas and Burma proper has always been our policy, but, and in this the delegation are in agreement with us, whatever action is taken must be in accordance with their wishes and with their free consent. Arrangements have now been agreed to ascertain the wishes of the frontier people. In this connexion my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Dominion Affairs is visiting Burma and will leave this week. Agreement has also been come to with regard to interim arrangements on finance and also on defence.
These conversations have been conducted in the most friendly and co-operative spirit and His Majesty's Government feel sincere satisfaction that so wide a held should have been covered in so short a time. The conclusions set out in the Command Paper have been fully accepted by the majority of the delegates, but two of the delegates found, at the last moment, that there were certain points on which they did not share the view of the majority. They had no alternative proposals to put forward, but felt unable to sign the conclusions as agreed. His Majesty's Government regret that that should be so, but they have no doubt that these conclusions afford the most practical way of dealing with the problem of Burma and they are confident that they will have the support of the Burmese people.
Burma has suffered greatly in the war. Great steps have been made in rebuilding her shattered economy. It will now he for her own people, her own Government, to complete that process and build a new Burma. It will be for them to decide the 170 future relations with the Commonwealth. We shall welcome them if they decide to remain members of it and we think that will be to their interest; but, in any event, they will carry with them, I believe, the good will and good wishes of this House. His Majesty's Government look forward to a continuation of the present method of consultation and co-operation in order to deal with all future matters which may arise during the transition period.
§ 2.52 p.m.
My Lords, it will clearly be impossible for us to make any comment this afternoon upon the very important statement which has been made by the Secretary of State for India and Burma. We shall need to study the White Paper first. I can assure the Government that we will give it full and early examination, and If am sure that they, on their side, will understand if, after such examination, we feel that it will be useful to have some discussion of it in your Lordships' House.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
My Lords, the fact that an agreement has been reached is in itself a very gratifying circumstance. As to the terms of the agreement, I agree fully with what has been said by the noble Viscount who has just spoken—that it is impossible to express even a tentative opinion until an opportunity has been given for study of the White Paper. I need hardly say that we welcome the very friendly spirit of co-operation that has prevailed through these discussions. I am sure all members of your Lordships' House will most earnestly wish that the same spirit will continue to be shown in the future.