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Burma (Proclamation)

Volume 389: debated on Wednesday 26 May 1943

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I beg to move,

"That this House approves the continuance in force of the Proclamation issued under Section 139 of the Government of Burma Act, 1935 by the Governor of Burma on 10th December, 1942, a copy of which was presented to this House on 9th February."
The Order before the House gives formal recognition under the provisions of the Burma Act, 1935, for the next 12 months to the de facto conditions under which the government of Burma has been carried on since the Japanese occupation of most of the territory of that country. That is all it does from the legal point of view, but the House might wish me to remind them of the conditions under which that government has been carried on, in the main on Indian territory and also in such fringes of the territory of Burma as have still been under our control. In May last, when the Japanese occupation had covered most of the country, the Governor, Sir Reginald Dorman-Smith, under instructions from home left for India. He had already been preceded there by the Prime Minister, Sir Paw Tun, and by the Finance Minister, Sir Htoon Aung Gyaw. At the same time a large number of other officials, European, Indian, Anglo-Indian, Anglo-Burmese, as well as some of the Burmese officials, also took refuge in India. There was also a very large evacuation of Indian and European residents from Burma. Under these conditions, thanks to the hospitality and assistance of the Viceroy, Sir Reginald Dorman-Smith was enabled to set up his administrative headquarters at Simla and to deal with the immediate tasks confronting him. One of those tasks, and not the least, was to afford such help as could be given to the hundreds of thousands of evacuees scattered all over India who had come from Burma, to arrange for their accommodation and in some cases for their financial relief and for many other problems which confronted them, in all which matters the Government of Burma received the greatest assistance, both from the Central Government of India and the Provincial Governments.

The next task was to conduct, under the general supervision of the military, the administration of those border areas where operations were going on but where, at any rate, some measure of British control could still be exercised. At the same time officials of the Burma Government were detailed to give whatever assistance they could in every way to the military authorities, to help with the task of recovering lost territory, a considerable number of them working as liaison officers, both at central headquarters with the military authorities and with the different military units. Others were detailed to help, on the administrative side, the reorganisation of the Burmese Army, and others will be taking their places as civilian officers under the military as each area of Burma is progressively re-occupied. Then, of course, there is the whole problem of the reconstruction and reorganisation of the civil administration in Burma—problems of roads, railways and many other problems which are being actively studied by the Reconstruction Department which the Government have set up with the assistance of Ministers and other senior officials. That work has gone on continuously since the Government of Burma were set up at Simla.

On the other hand, the constitutional basis of that Government as a Parliamentary Government ceased when it was. no longer possible for the Burma Legislature to meet, and that Legislature was in fact dissolved in August last. One consequence of that was that, constitutionally. Ministers could no longer be Ministers after six months had expired. It therefore became necessary before the expiration of those six months to invoke the powers of Section 139 of the Burma Act, corresponding to Section 93 of the India Act, under which the whole powers of government are vested in the Governor. The Ministers from that moment ceased to be Ministers responsible to the Legislature and became advisers to the Government, though, as a matter of fact, the assistance that they have given throughout and the responsible functions that they continue to enjoy have not been affected. In fact, the whole necessity for the Proclamation in December last arises, out of the provisions of the Burma Act, under which Ministers cannot function without the Legislature.

Otherwise it is merely a formal recognition of the de facto situation which arose consequent on the Japanese occupation of Burma. The Governor's Proclamation, which he was entitled to issue on his own authority once he was convinced that constitutional Parliamentary Government was no longer possible in Burma, runs only for six months unless it has confirmation by Parliament here. It is that confirmation which the present Order gives for the next 12 months.

I do not think this Order should be passed without an expression of opinion from some part of the House about the admirable manner in which under great difficulties the Government of Burma has been carried on during the last year. I should like to take the opportunity of saying in the most public way that gross and inaccurate statements have been made outside this House about the behaviour of the Government of Burma, and especially the Burmese members of it. I should like to take the personal responsibility for saying, having learned the facts from a very high official of that Government, that a number of the Ministers of the Burmese Government showed immense courage, both physical and moral, in supporting the Governor. That courage shown by these hon. and right hon. Gentlemen is a happy augury for the governance of that country in the future. Everyone in every part of the House has read with admiration of the work done by the Burmese troops who are in Burma under General Wingate. They have shown themselves to be great lovers of their country, who are prepared to go to just as great lengths as any of the peoples of the tortured countries in Europe and China to save their country from the Japanese oppressor. This Order arose out of a provision in the Act which was originally passed to deal with quite a different emergency, a political emergency, and it is put forward because there is no other means of doing it. I am not at all sure that some of my words are not slightly out of order, as they relate to the past, but I thought that this Order should not leave the House without an expression from somebody outside the Government, which I am sure represents the views of everyone in this House, of admiration for the Burmese Government and people.

I am glad that a tribute has been paid by the noble Lord to the Burmese people in this difficult hour for their' country. We all heard with great satisfaction the statement of-the Secretary of State that the former Ministers, who by the terms of the Constitution set up by the Burma Act of 1935 are no longer technically Ministers, are continuing still as advisers of the Governor and in effect as Ministers of the Government. I am sure from what he has said that it is evidently the inten- tion of the Government, at the very earliest moment when the situation allows it, to restore constitutional Government to Burma, and I am certain that will be done with the heartiest good will and to the great satisfaction of all quarters of the House.

I should like in a very few words to endorse the remarks of the hon. Member for the Combined English Universities (Mr. Harvey) on the behaviour of the Burmese people and the Burmese Ministers in this present emergency and throughout the whole period of the war. Of all the gross and unwarranted libels that were ever perpetrated against our race none exceeded the stories circulated inside this House and out of this House about what was called "the result of our Imperial spirit." We were told that the Burmese people, like other people, were indifferent to the fate of their country and of their Government under the Japanese invader. What were the facts? Throughout all that long and anxious retreat from Burma to the frontier almost invariably our troops and our Governor had the full cooperation of the Burmese villagers, excepting a mere negligible fraction of them. Throughout that period the constitutional Burmese Ministers accompanied the Governor and have remained with him in India to carry on a nucleus of their Administration, so as to be ready to resume it in Burma the moment conditions allow. Those who have followed the campaign of General Wingate, to which the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) has drawn attention, must have been enormously impressed by these pregnant factors. Throughout almost the whole of those jungle operations he had the co-operation of the Burmese villagers. The House should realise that General Wingate was not going to stay in that country, and they gave that co-operation and that help at the imminent peril of having to pay bitterly, very bitterly, when the Japanese returned. I think we want a justification for our connection with Burma in all these difficult years, when that Administration was built up—circumspice. We find it to-day in the way in which the Burmese people and their elected representatives have co-operated so wholeheartedly with us and are prepared to resume their constitutional Government within the Commonwealth, the moment the invader is expelled.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolved,

"That this House approves the continuance in force of the Proclamation issued under Section 139 of the Government of Burma Act, 1935 by the Governor of Burma on 10th December, 1942, a copy of which was presented to this House on 9th February."