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Burma (Temporary Provisions)

Volume 415: debated on Friday 2 November 1945

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11.30 a.m.

I beg to move,

"That the Government of Burma (Temporary Provisions) Order, 1945 (S.R. & O., 1945, No. 1210), dated 28th September 1945, made by His Majesty in Council under the provision in Section 157 (1) of the Government of Burma Act, 1945, a copy of which Order was presented on 17th October 1945, be approved.''
The House knows that as part of the constitutional reform of 1935, Burma became a distinct political unit with a constitution embodied in the Government of Burma Act, 1935, which came into force in April 1937. On the evacuation of Burma by the British forces in May of 1942 the Governor was directed to proceed to India. A number of his Ministers and senior officials, together with a large number of civil servants, found their way also to India. As it had been possible to evacuate some of the main elements, it was decided to keep the Government of Burma in being. Owing, however, to the impossibility of summoning the legislature, the Government could not be carried on in accordance with the Government of Burma Act, and accordingly on 10th Dec.1942 the Governor issued a Proclamation, under Section 139 of the Act taking over full executive and legislative powers. Section 139, I may say shortly, provides that:
"If at any time the Governor is satisfied that a situation has arisen in which the Government of Burma cannot be carried on in accordance with the provisions of this Act, he may by Proclamation—(a) declare that his functions shall, to such extent as may be specified in the Proclamation, be exercised by him in his discretion; (b) assume to himself all or any of the powers vested in or exercisable by any body or authority in Burma;"
It became obvious as time went on, as a result of the Japanese invasion, the long interval of enemy occupation, and active warfare in the territories of Burma, that the country had suffered great damage, not only in the form of material destruction but by the shattering of the foundations of her economic and social life. Until those foundations are restored sufficiently to enable the first essential process to be undertaken—that is, for a general election to be held—it is not possible to re-establish the Burmese Government as it existed in 1941. It is accordingly necessary, so long as the Government of the country cannot be carried on in accordance with the provisions of the 1935 Act, that recourse should continue to be had to the provisions of Section 139 under which, as I have just indicated, the administration is carried on by the Governor in direct responsibility to His Majesty's Government.

As the proclamation issued in December 1942, exhausts its validity in December of this year, Parliament on 15th June through the provisions of the Burma (Temporary Provisions) Act, 1945, prolonged its validity until December of 1948. I may say, however, that as soon as possible a general election will be held and a Government established under the normal constitutional methods. Although the initial period of controlled Government is necessary, His Majesty's Government are conscious that all the functions of Government should not in fact be concentrated in the Governor, but that he should be provided with definite means of obtaining Burmese assistance and advice in discharging them, and should have the power to associate with himself, representatives of Burmese opinion, in both the executive and legislative capacities. This is in accordance with the provision of Section 1 of the 1945 Act. There will, of course, remain his ultimate responsibility to the Secretary of State and Parliament for all decisions taken by the members of both his Executive and Legislative Councils.

In view of the early termination of the war with Japan and the Governor's return —which was originally fixed for 10th October and actually took place on 16th October—His Majesty's Government considered that it would be most desirable that he should be in a position, very soon after his return, to set up an Executive Council, and to invite political leaders, as representative as possible of all sections of opinion, to join it. It was decided that it would be justifiable to proceed with the necessary Order in Council under the provisions in Section 157 (1) of the 1935 Act, which provides that when Parliament is not in session, the Order in Council may, on account of urgency, be made forthwith and shall cease to have effect 28 days from the beginning of the Session unless affirmative resolutions are passed by both Houses of Parliament within that period. Accordingly, the Order in Council was made on September 28th, and provides for the setting up of an Executive Council consisting of not more than 15 members to be appointed by the Governor to aid and advise him in the exercise of his functions, except in so far as they relate to defence, external affairs, and certain other matters which are specified in Section 7 of the 1935 Act. The members of the Executive Council will have definite portfolios, each Councillor being assigned a department. The House will have seen in the Press today that the Governor has in fact formed an Executive Council of 10 members of whom 5 are Burmese,3 are from the indigenous tribes and 2 are officials.

The Order in Council also makes provision for a Legislative Council consisting of not more than 50 members including the members of the Executive Council. The Legislative Council will function in an advisory capacity as a normal legislature so far as circumstances may permit, and the consideration of legislation will be their main business. As regards the choice of members of the Legislative Council, the intention of the Governor is to be largely guided by the advice he may receive from the members of his Executive Council. I would point out that as regards the position of the Legislative Council the object of the Governor will of course be to secure a broad-based representative body. In asking the House to pass this Resolution, I would emphasise that it is the intention of His Majesty's Government to lead Burma to full self-government in the shortest possible time and in an orderly democratic manner.

11.39 a.m.

Before referring to the contents of this Order I should like to make a few comments on its actual machinery. I have to the best of my ability—I must admit that I am not a lawyer—gone through this Order and the Acts to which it refers, as well as the Proclamation, and I must say that I think it is one of the most cumbrous pieces of legislative machinery I have ever come across. It is legislation by reference carried almost to the point of absurdity, and I wonder whether the hon. and learned Gentleman will agree with me that it would be desirable to withdraw the Order issued and reissue it in much simpler terms. Not only is it difficult to understand, but it contains some incongruities which might have awkward consequences.

First, it varies the Proclamation without repealing it. What is going to happen to the rest of the Proclamation? Are we going to be faced with a series of Orders varying the Proclamation as the situation changes, or is the Proclamation to be repealed and something else substituted for it? This Order, it seems to me, more or less rides roughshod through the Proclamation and leaves its tattered remains still in existence. My second point is that I am rather puzzled by the deliberate omission of Section 7 of the principal Act in Section 3 of this Order. I think it is rather dangerous to make deliberate exceptions to certain Sections of Acts unless one is quite clear that that does not imply as well that other Sections are not omitted. Section 7 refers to certain specific functions of the Governor which he exercises in his discretion. It is deliberately excepted under this Order, but Section 8, for example, also refers to certain special responsibilities of the Governor which he may or may not exercise in his own discretion, and I cannot help wondering whether it was wise deliberately to specify Section 7. I should be glad if the hon. and learned Gentleman would consider that.

The Proclamation itself is quite clear in intent. It suspends the Council of Ministers; it suspends the Office of the Advocate-General and his functions, but omits, no doubt intentionally, although I cannot see the reason for it, Sub-section (1) of Section 17, which remains in operation. That means that it is still the law of the land that
"there shall be for Burma a Legislature which shall consist of His Majesty, represented by the Governor, and two Chambers, to be known respectively as the Senate and the House of Representatives.''
It puzzles me to see how that Sub-section can remain in operation after this Draft Order has been made. I wonder if that is an unintentional omission. Apart from that, the Legislature is suspended in toto. Under Section 33—I may say that I really am making these comments in a genuine search for information and I am perfectly ready to be told that they are mistaken—Section 33, so far as I can see, still remains in operation. It is entitled "Extent of laws of Legislature." and says:
"Subject to the provisions of this Act, the Legislature may make laws for the territories of Burma vested in His Majesty or any part thereof,"
and it goes on to specify a list of exceptions about which legislation would not be valid. It seems to me that if this Order is accepted Section 33 should also be suspended. It is not suspended in the Proclamation.

Turning to Section 38, Sub-sections (2) and (3) still remain in force, and I cannot see the point of that. The only other point is that Sub-section (3) of Section 59 still appears to remain in force. It begins:
"The following expenditure shall be expenditure charged on the revenues of Burma."
It includes debt charges to which the Government of Burma is liable and other things, and it seems to me that in the general confusion of the financial situation it might be as well to reconsider that. Finally, the Proclamation suspends the Railway Board and the Public Service Commission. I hope the hon. and learned Gentleman will make a few references to these.

Apart from this rather technical reference to the machinery by which the desires of His Majesty's Government are to be put into force, we on this side of the House—I am authorised to speak for the Opposition—are entirely in agreement with the intention behind this Order. It is, I hope, a happy augury for the new Burma that in this House it is a non-party question and that there are no party differences upon it. I am very much interested that this procedure is to be followed because, in company with a few other Conservative Members in the last Parliament, I was responsible for a short report—we called it "Blue Print for Burma"—in which we recommended precisely this procedure, though we do not flatter ourselves that that has influenced the Government.

The Governor and those associated with him will be faced with tremendous difficulties of an intractable nature, and I am anxious that nothing that is said in the House should add to those difficulties. In unhappy Burma complete material reconstruction is called for, and I think I may add, complete moral reconstruction.

I think we are dealing with that today. I believe this is the message that should go out to Burma from this House: that the British interpretation of democracy expressly is intended to guard against any form of totalitarianism. We do not consider that democracy can be defined as the rights of the majority, but that it is the rights of the minorities. Totalitarianism is a fell disease that has swept over part of Europe and it is sweeping like wildfire over Asia. We shall indeed have betrayed our responsibilities to the people of Burma if we allow any form of totalitarian régime or any form of totalitarian ideology to become dominant in that sorely distracted land. From this side of the House we send a message of warmest good will to Burma. We wish to associate ourselves with the messages recently sent by the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Burma, and with the Governor's recent Proclamations and broadcasts. We say sincerely, may a free Burma flourish in long and happy relationship with the rest of the British Empire.

11.48 a.m.

The hon. Member for Farnham (Mr.Nicholson) referred to "unhappy Burma." That is, of course, true in several senses. Burma has been very severely ravaged and devastated by war, and is in a state of great economic distress. But I think we can claim that in one respect Burma is less unhappy than some of her neighbours. There has, most fortunately, been none of the bloodshed, the clashes and fighting, which have made the situation in French Indo-China and Dutch Indonesia so critical and distressing. We can attribute this to the wisdom of the policy pursued by the British authorities—both by His Majesty's Government at home and by the Commanders on the spot who have interpreted that policy—and, it is only fair to add, to the reasonableness and moderation of the Burmese political Nationalist leaders who came to meet the British representatives. So that, although Burma certainly is economically unhappy, I hope we may look forward to steadily developing peaceful prosperity and full self-government for Burma at the earliest possible moment. I was interested, incidentally, by the hon. Member's definition of democracy as being the protection of rights of minorities. Of course, the rights of minorities must be protected, but I seem to remember hearing the hon. Member's leader, only the other day, quote another good old definition of democracy—"The greatest good of the greatest number." However, let that pass.

It is opportune that this Debate should be taking place today, when, as my hon. and learned Friend has reminded the House, "The Times" and no doubt some other newspapers have published the list of the Executive Council that has been appointed by the Governor of Burma. There are one or two points about the composition of this Executive Council which I should be grateful if my hon. and learned Friend would explain a little further to the House when he winds up the Debate. The Council consists of 10 members. The Order which we are discussing today says that it shall consist of "not more than 15 members." Does that mean, I wonder, that the Governor is expecting in the near future to appoint five more members to that Council, or does it mean that he considers 10 members sufficient for what we hope will be the brief transitional period to self-government? A point which is perhaps worth noting, in passing, is that the 10 members consist of five Burmese, three representatives of the indigenous minorities, and two Britons. I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Farnham that the rights of minorities must be protected, but this is certainly very generous protection; five Burmese to three representatives of the minorities is hardly proportional representation, since the Burmese in fact outnumber the minorities by very many millions.

The actual composition of the Executive Council of 10 members is interesting. The first three names on it are those of Burmese politicians who were members of the Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League. All three of them resigned from the League yesterday, according to the Reuter message, but two of these three had been among the League's nominees for the Executive Council. I wonder whether my hon. and learned Friend can clear up that position for the House. Possibly it is due to the fact that the League made originally rather a strong claim, and asked for 11 seats out of the 15 seats on the Executive Council, and I think also passed a resolution saying that if it could not get 11 seats it would not have any. It may be that these three members of the League resigned in order to be able to accept the Governor's invitation as individuals. It is worth noting that the first two on the list, U Ba On and U Aye, were members of U Saw's party and were politically associated with U Saw, formerly Prime Minister of Burma, who was arrested by us early in the war and has been in confinement ever since because he was found to have been in touch with the Japanese. He was arrested, as hon. Members will remember, on his way back to Burma after a visit to England. Will my hon. and learned Friend say a word or two about the position of U Saw? It is known that U Saw is very much favoured by some of the senior British officials in Burma. He is regarded as a strong man. He is, I think, rather naive politically, he has some dictatorial leanings, and I am not sure that his ideas of public honesty and integrity are any higher than those of some—unfortunately, all too many—of the older generation of Burmese politicians.

One of the curses of Burmese public life in the old days before the war was the very widespread corruption, and I hope that is one of the things that will be improved. Perhaps that is what the hon. Member for Farnham meant when he referred to the necessity for moral regeneration in Burma. One of the most hopeful things about the new, young politicians in Burma, the politicians who have emerged in a way roughly parallel, although not exactly comparable, with what has happened in various countries in Europe—France, Jugo-Slavia and other countries—is that these new, young politicians, whose movement has been born of the resistance to the Japanese, who co-operated with the Fourteenth Army, is that they are absolutely incorruptible—fanatical, perhaps, and ardently nationalist, but honest. After an unhappy preliminary period, when they were confused about the situation and about the intentions of the Japanese, they co-operated wholeheartedly with the Fourteenth Army, and I have myself heard that great and fine soldier, General Slim, pay the highest tribute to the work which was done by what was originally called the Burma National Army and later the Burma Patriotic Forces. It is an absolutely new factor that these young men, whose position in public life has grown out of their resistance to the Japanese, are absolutely honest and incorruptible; and I would add, having met and talked at length with many of them, that they are highly educated politically.

Some of them are of the Left—of the extreme Left, perhaps; others are not. It would be a gross over-simplification to describe the Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League, from which these three Members of the new Council have just resigned, as merely a Left Wing organisation. The fact that it is not so is indicated, for instance, by the adherence to it of the veteran statesman, U Ba Pe. I see that there is one member of U Ba Pe's party on the new Council, U Pu. I do not know very much about him. Perhaps my hon. and learned Friend can tell us something about him. He is, I gather, a very elderly politician. It is, perhaps, surprising that U Ba Pe himself has been omitted, but that may be because he still adheres to the Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League. If my hon. and learned Friend can tell us about U Ba Pe and particularly about U Saw, and what is to be done about him—whether he is to be released and taken back to Burma and perhaps to fill one of the five vacant places on the Council—I should be grateful. I am not sure that it would be a wise move, but I am sure that many of our senior officials in Burma would like to see it done.

The last two names, other than the British Members of the Council, are those of Sir Paw Tun and Sir Htoon Aung Gyaw, who are both very well known Burmese figures and may be described, without any disrespect, as "Governor's men." They will co-operate wholeheartedly with the Governor and can probably be counted on to vote in the Council as the British Members vote. I am sorry to weary the House by going into such detail about this Council, but Burma is a very important part of the world at the moment. The whole of South East Asia is tremendously important and there are great potentialities for good and for evil there. The whole of Eastern and South Eastern Asia could blaze up any day into the most appalling civil war and that, I am sure, hon. Members in all parts of the House want above everything else to avoid.

I would just say, if I may, to the Government and to my hon. and learned Friend, that I hope most earnestly that the composition of this new Council, about which I personally reserve judgement because I do not know enough about the individuals concerned, does not in any way imply the weakening of the good relationships which have existed in the last month or two, since the liberation, between ourselves and the Burmese Nationalist leaders. In particular, I would mention Major-General Aung San, the founder and leader of the Burma Patriotic Forces, who is, in fact, what might be called the Tito of Burma. He is a young man, only about 30 or 31, of great intelligence—great political intelligence as well as military intelligence—and he is undoubtedly—because I have been about Burma in the last month or two and have seen him in various parts of it, and have seen the way the people regard him—the hero of the younger generation in Burma today. It is very important for the peaceful development of Burma towards self-government that we should keep on good terms with Aung San, Than Tun, and the other leaders of the Anti-Fascist People's freedom League, who, as I say, have shown a statemanslike readiness to co-operate with us.

I was fortunate enough to be present at the conferences in Kandy between Admiral Mountbatten and his staff, on the one hand, and Aung San and the Burmese delegates, on the other. These conferences were marked by an extremely conciliatory and sensible spirit. They were primarily concerned with military problems, the incorporation of the Burma Patriotic Forces into the Burma Regular Army and so on, but, of course there were informal political discussions as well. I know that since this conference Aung San and his friends have been doing their utmost to maintain that good will. They have urged their followers throughout Burma to co-operate, for instance, with C.A.S.(B.), that is, the Civil Affairs Service in Burma—which has not always been an easy thing for them to do, for various reasons. They have succeeded in restraining extremists amongst their followers—extreme Nationalists of the kind who so regrettably have not been restrained in Dutch Indonesia. I urge, whether it is in the composition of this Council or in wider spheres, that good relations should, so far as possible, be maintained with Aung San and the Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League.

As I have said, there is one new factor in Burmese political life to-day, since the liberation—the integrity and incorruptibility of these young politicians. The second new factor is that, for the first time, in the Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League we have in Burma a real united front organisation, ranging from the fairly extreme Left to the Moderates—one might almost say the right-wing Moderates, such as U Ba Pe. That is a new factor, because, as my hon. Friend opposite is aware, one of the great handicaps of Burmese politicians in the past was their intense petty sectionalism and jealousy of each other. That has largely been overcome and most of the parties—and most of the indigenous minorities also, I am glad to say—are represented in the Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League.

I, therefore, do urge my hon. and learned Friend, even if he cannot tell the House today, to find out as soon as he can from the Governor what the present reactions of Aung San and the League are to the composition of the Council; what the position is with regard to U Saw; and what is going to be done about the five vacancies on the Council.

12.6 p.m.

Perhaps I may deal with the two points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Mr. Nicholson) in relation to the operation of the proposed Order in Council. I feel that he rather misunderstands the effect of the first Proclamation that was issued in 1942 and which is to be followed by the recent 1945 Proclamation. There are two Sections to which he referred. Section 32 deals with the validity of any proceedings of the Legislature. The Legislature is not operating and no question can arise under Section 32 because the constitution has been suspended.

Section 32 deals with the proceedings of the Legislature, and Section 33 deals with the extent of legislation. My point is that the Legislature under the 1935 Act is not in existence.

My trouble is that in the Proclamation it gives a list. It says:

"The operation of the following provisions of the Act is hereby suspended"
and included in the list are Sections 18 to 32 inclusive and Sections 35 to 37 inclusive, leaving Sections 33 and 34 in suspension.

The fact that the two Sections were not mentioned, does not alter the fact that they depend on the existence and the functioning of the Legislature. That Legislature has not functioned since 1942, and therefore no question could arise as to the operation of any Section which could only operate in the event of the Legislature functioning.

I entirely accept the hon. and learned Gentleman's interpretation of the Proclamation but there exist a number of Sections besides that, which my hon. and learned Friend says will apply equally. I can assure him that there is a real difficulty here.

It is a theoretical point; I really do not think it is a practical point. The Proclamation that operated from 1942 was very similar to the Proclamation of 1945, the only difference being that the Governor, under his powers in Section 139, is authorised to set up an Executive Council and a Legislative Assembly to aid and advise him in carrying out his over-riding functions given to him by Section 139. The whole of the affairs of Burma at the moment are under the direct control and government of the Governor, but the 1945 Proclamation does authorise him to establish these two bodies to assist him.

When the hon. and learned Gentleman says the 1945 "Proclamation," he means this Order. It is not a Proclamation.

A Proclamation has been issued as my hon. Friend knows. My hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg)—

Is the hon. and learned Member leaving my points completely? There are certain other Sections which, in my humble judgment, cause considerable confusion and will he have these looked into?

I will certainly look into the points which my hon. Friend has raised, I rather think he suggested that the Order might be withdrawn, because it does not work in its present form. We do not feel any difficulty but I will certainly have the other points examined. My hon. Friend the Member for Maldon asked, in view of the provision in the Order in Council for an elected Council of 15 members, whether, following the announcement this morning that only ten members were to be appointed, I would say when the Governor was likely to appoint another five. On that, I am afraid, I am not in a position to give any more information than has appeared in the Press this morning. I have no doubt that the Governor has, in his discretion, decided to announce the appointment of ten, but that does not rule out, if he so wishes, the appointment of more additional members up to the limit of 15. My hon. Friend asked me about U Saw, and what was likely to happen to him. I am afraid I am not in a position to give any information with regard to him at the moment. Of course, the House knows that he is not in Burma, and, therefore, the question of his intervention in the political activities of the country does not at the moment arise.

Yes, he is, but his case is under consideration.My hon. Friend asked about U Ba Pe and I am afraid I am not in a position to give any information about him, or any reason why he has not been included in the Governor's Executive Council. My hon. Friend then appealed for good relations with the Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League, the organisation which is headed by General Aung San. I can assure him that there is no reason why good relations should not be maintained with that organisation, but the Governor felt that it was not possible or practicable to meet the demands that they put forward when he was consulting with them as to the form of the Executive Council. At the same time the door is still open and there is no reason whatever why this Anti-Fascist League should not become associated with the Governor in the tasks that lie ahead. I am sure that it is the desire of the Governor that they should assist him and the Executive Council, even if they might not feel able to participate, as members, in the task of reorganising and rehabilitating Burma and preparing for the implementing of the policy of His Majesty's Government. I would like to emphasise that the break between the Governor and the League is not over any question of policy but rather on personalities and offices.

As one who was a member of the Burma Round Table Conference, may I ask whether the hon. and learned Gentleman could bring out the feature of Burma political life which was very prominent in our minds as members of the Conference, namely, that there is, without making criticism of the Burmese, much feeling and resentment between the parties?

That is obviously true as regards the past. It is a little early to say whether this new League to which my hon. Friend referred, will be able to cement the various groups which existed before the war. It is true, as the Noble Lord indicated, that one of the characteristics of Burmese politics prior to 1942 was the fragmentation of parties.

Does the hon. and learned Gentleman think that it is not desirable to have more than two parties?

I was expressing no opinion on the number of parties. On the third point which my hon. Friend referred. I am not in a position to answer to-day, but I will certainly give consideration to it, I would like to say once more that these matters have not arisen over any question of policy, and that the policy of His Majesty's Government remains firmly that we are going to advance, as quickly as possible, in the direction of securing full self-government for Burma at the earliest opportunity.

May I ask the hon. and learned Gentleman a question? He re- ferred to a "break" between the Governor and the League. There has been no actual breaking-off of relations?

12.16 p.m.

I want to ask the hon. and learned Gentleman a question which I am sure will not get an answer. The suggestion was made by an hon. Member on the other side—a Tory Imperialist—that this question of Burma is a non-party question. When I heard that I was immediately suspicious. I want to ask the Under-Secretary if the Government will invite representatives from Yugoslavia, Hungary and Bulgaria to visit Burma, and see that democratic elections are organised and carried through in a democratic manner.

Question put, and agreed to.


"That the Government of Burma (Temporary Provisions) Order, 1945 (S.R. & O., 1945, No. 1210), dated 28th September 1945, made by His Majesty in Council under the provision in Section 157 (1) of the Government of Burma Act, 1945, a copy of which Order was presented on 17th October 1945, be approved."