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Burma (New Delhi Meeting)

Volume 462: debated on Monday 7 March 1949

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asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement on the conference at New Delhi to discuss the situation in Burma.


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he will make a statement with regard to the Commonwealth Conference recently held in New Delhi to discuss the Burmese situation; and if he will state what decisions were taken to help the Burmese Government.

As the reply is necessarily long, I propose, with permission, to circulate it in HANSARD.

Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that, in view of the fact that we have been told by the Government of Burma that our good offices apparently are not required, no further loans will be given to Burma?

Will my right hon. Friend discuss with the Commonwealth the possibility of giving loans to the Burmese Government to rehabilitate the country so that we can feed South-East Asia and limit the disturbances arising from food shortages there?

As my hon. Friend knows, this was one of the subjects discussed at Delhi, and consideration of the same subject will be continued with the Commonwealth Governments affected and interested.

Is it not a fact that, as part of the Treaty, Burma has already received large loans, and is there not a point where it may become unwise to throw good money after bad?

Will the right hon. Gentleman take cognizance of the fact that, whilst the administration of Burma is a matter for the Government of Burma, the reactions throughout the whole of the Middle East of any failure of that Government may be of incomparable consequence to other populations owing to the closure of this great reservoir of food of which these people are in great need?

That is one of the main points in the anxiety of the Government and one of the main considerations forwarded at the Delhi informal conversations.

Will the right hon. Gentleman read his answer after Questions instead of merely having it printed in HANSARD, because this is a matter of urgent importance?

I would have no objection at all. However, it is a subject upon which I should like guidance from you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker.

It may be that we shall finish Questions early and that there will be time for that to be done by agreement.

At the end of Questions

Would you grant permission, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, for the Minister of State to answer verbally Question 19, in view of its importance?

Is that the wish of the House? If there is any objection it cannot be done. Is there any objection?

Then it cannot be done.

Following is the reply:

During January the Burmese Government made a request to His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom for financial assistance principally in order to meet the anticipated budget deficit for the year 1948–49 and to finance the purchase of the rice crop.

His Majesty's Government considered that the situation concerned other Commonwealth Governments with interests and responsibilities in South-East Asia and accordingly consulted the Governments of Australia, New Zealand, India, Pakistan and Ceylon with a view to joint discussions, to which the Government of Burma raised no objection. It proved possible to hold an informal meeting at New Delhi on 28th February at the invitation of the Prime Minister of India: my hon. Friend, the Secretary for Overseas Trade, represented the United Kingdom, and representatives of Australia, India and Ceylon were present. Mr. Malcolm MacDonald, Commissioner-General in Singapore, also attended.

The meeting unanimously agreed that the surest and quickest way of restoring prosperity in Burma was to end the present communal strife through conciliation. Pandit Nehru, as the Chairman of the meeting, accordingly sent a message in these terms to Thakin Nu, Burmese Prime Minister, to which, I regret to state, the Burmese Government have returned a negative reply.

I should like to emphasise that His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom, like the other Commonwealth Governments concerned, are animated by a spirit of friendship towards the new Burma and a desire to assist in maintaining her unity and integrity.