HANSARD 1803–2005 → 1950s → 1957 → July 1957 → 29 July 1957 → Lords Sitting → Prayers

HL Deb 29 July 1957 vol 205 cc231-41 231
§ 3.33 p.m.

§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.

THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR COMMONWEALTH RELATIONS AND LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (THE. EARL OF HOME) My Lords, in moving the Second Reading of the Federation of Malaya Independence Bill, I have it in command from Her Majesty to acquaint the House that Her Majesty places her prerogative and interest, so far as concerns the matters dealt with by the Federation of Malaya Independence Bill, at the disposal of Parliament.
My Lords, this is yet another example—and we have seen a number in recent years—of how the colonial policy of the United Kingdom brings countries to full self-government and to a point where they can assume full responsibility as independent nations in the international field. Malayan independence gives us all a particular satisfaction, as our association has been long and happy and has been guided by mutual consent and working to mutual advantage. The grant of independence to Malaya has presented constitutional problems of a special kind. The Bill had to create a situation in which a new agreement could be made with the nine Rulers of the Malay States; the transfer of Her Majesty’s sovereignty over the Settlements of Malacca and Penang; and the substitution of a new Constitution to replace that which was fixed in 1948.

That full agreement has been reached is I think a testimony to the skill and patience of those who have conducted 232 the preliminary negotiations. This House take particular satisfaction, that it was the noble and learned Lord, Lord Reid, who, with his Commonwealth colleagues, devised a Constitution of sensible checks and balances so that Malays and Chinese and Indians could be satisfied in the highest degree and welded together into a workable Federation. I am sure that this House would like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Reid, on a most remarkable achievement. Our congratulations are due also to the negotiators of both our countries who, in a long series of meetings, have shown great patience and tolerance until the series was ended by the publication of the official agreement in Command Paper 210.

I am not going to attempt to make a long, detailed Second Reading speech on this Bill. That has been done in another place. As I say, it withdraws the existing agreements and provides that a new agreement shall prevail when the new Federal Constitution has been approved by the Federal Legislature and by the States. It provides that Penang and Malacca will enter the Federation as equal partners with the other States, and that their Governors will take their places with the Rulers of the Malay States.

There is another aspect of this Bill which I think will make a special appeal to your Lordships. The Federal Government in Malaya desire that appeals from the Supreme Federal Court should continue to be heard by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. After independence, Her Majesty will no longer be the Fountain of Justice in the Federation. So the Bill provides the necessary machinery for appeals to continue in a way which is compatible with Malaya’s sovereignty. I am sure your Lordships will be glad that it has been found possible to do this, because these appeals to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council are a very valuable link between Commonwealth countries.

So far as Federal citizenship is concerned, I think common sense and common purpose have prevailed. Basic liberties are preserved, which should remove any fears of discrimination which might be held by the Chinese, while so far as United Kingdom citizens are concerned, they will be Commonwealth 233 citizens, as will be citizens of the Malayan Federation. They will enjoy no special privileges but that common status which is enjoyed by all people who are citizens of a Commonwealth country. The House will note, too, with great satisfaction that the Constitution provides for an independent Judiciary and an independent Civil Service. Justice administered without fear or favour and integrity in administration are, as we know, the essence of democratic government, and it is good that this should be enshrined in the Constitution and that the Civil Service and system of law and justice should be well founded.

Parallel with this political evolution, the United Kingdom and Malaya have made a new defence agreement which looks forward into the future when Malaya will be completely independent. As your Lordships know, we have been engaged for a good many years now in fighting together for Malaya’s life against Communist terrorists—not alone, because Australia and New Zealand have been our partners along with the Malayans in this fight. So already the Commonwealth has assumed a ready obligation to protect the rights and freedoms of the Malayan peoples. In future the Commonwealth strategic reserve consisting of United Kingdom and Australian and New Zealard forces will be an essential element in Malaya on Malayan soil, ready to take an effective part in Malaya’s defence.

So, my Lords, with her territory, as we hope, secured from interference from without, with her economic prospects favourable, with the wisdom which her statesmen have shown in building the new political structure on which her independence will rest, Malaya’s future is, we hope, assured. I should like to express on behalf of your Lordships and on behalf of the United Kingdom Government our congratulations to her on taking her place among the free and responsible nations of the world. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a—(The Earl of Home.)

§ 3.39 p.m.

§LORD OGMORE My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Earl, Lord Home, for the short but comprehensive survey he has made of the object of the Bill, and to congratulate all concerned. I 234 hope it will not embarrass the Government to have two congratulations from me in the same afternoon—something which is as rare as it is desirable—but they have, I feel, deserved it on these two occasions, and I congratulate them on this Bill. I congratulate also Their Highnesses the Rulers, the Government of the Federation of Malaya, the Alliance Party and all others who have brought this long process of negotiation to such a satisfactory conclusion.
It is perhaps particularly suitable that the first Prime Minister of this Federation should be Tunku Abdul Rahman. He is a descendant of the Sultan of Kedah who, at the end of the eighteenth century, ceded Penang, which was the first of our settlements in the Far East, to Captain Francis Light of the East India Company. The Sultanate of Kedah in this way has seen the beginning of the British connection but not, I hope, the end of it, because I trust that the connection with this country will be a close and warm one for many centuries to come.

In the last few years, we have had Bills of various constitutional kinds in this House relating to the independence or the constitutional development of a large number of territories—India, Burma, Ceylon, Ghana and now Malaya—as well as, not Bills of independence, but Bills of constitutional development in the case of Rhodesia, Nyasaland, Nigeria, the West Indies and others. Taken together and looked at as a whole, they must, I imagine, strike the unbiased observer as some of the most remarkable phenomena in history: that in this short space of time upwards of 600 million people can have achieved independence with the full support of the imperial Power and with the cordial good will of those who were formerly subject peoples and who have now become independent. I hope that those of our critics in the United Nations and elsewhere will take note of this measure, as they might, but apparently have not, taken note of its predecessors, and I trust that it, and its predecessors, will afford a complete answer to allegations about “colonialism” which far too often we hear in the United Nations and elsewhere and which, both in the time of this Government and in the time of the Administration of my noble friend Lord Attlee, have 235 been somewhat of an embarrassment to our delegates and representatives in the United Nations.

My own association with Malaya goes back nearly thirty years, and it is an indication of how times have changed when I say that between twenty-five and thirty years ago I was for some years the honorary secretary of the Penang branch of the only political organisation permitted in the country. One can see in the multiplicity of Parties now the enormous political activity that goes on and the great change that there has been in a quarter of a century, a greater change in this respect in this area, I imagine, than in almost any other in the world. The people who did more than anything else to stimulate this change were, of course, the Japanese.

There have been various crises since the war, some of which might have been avoided and some of which obviously could not, but eventually the Constitutional Commission. presided over by the noble Lord, Lord Reid. delivered their recommendations, and those constitutional proposals were embodied in a White Paper (Cmd. 210). The noble Lord, Lord Reid, is, as we know, an eminent British jurist, and his colleagues on the Commission were also eminent jurists. There was one rather—I will not say odd, because it was a plan, but one unusual circumstance about this Commission: there was no Malayan of any kind on it. The Malayan people decided that they would have a completely independent Commission drawn from the independent members of the Commonwealth. That, I think, was an indication of the great political maturity of the Malayan people and also of the trust they felt they could show in the independent members of the Commonwealth.

This Report was submitted on February 21. Then a Working Party from Malaya considered it; a delegation came to this country and discussed in this country with the British Government the substance of the Report of the Commission. So far, so good. But in the White Paper which has been prepared and issued to Parliament by the Government, there are two matters to which I should like to draw your Lordships’ attention. First of all, no thanks of 236 any kind are expressed to the noble Lord, Lord Reid, and his Commission—indeed, they are not even mentioned by name. Not even the noble Lord, Lord Reid, is mentioned, which I should have thought was unusual in a case of this kind. Therefore, I was very pleased indeed when the noble Earl, Lord Home, this afternoon properly thanked the noble Lord, Lord Reid, and his Commission, who spent eight months on this task; it was not by any means a week-end task, and sometimes it was in rather a hot climate. They took a lot of trouble over it and received no thanks. There is nothing in the White Paper about it.

My second point is that not only did they receive no thanks, but whoever drafted the White Paper seemed to go out of his way rather to insult them. He used these words: While these discussions on the substance of the Constitution were going on its drafting was being scrutinised in the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel in the United Kingdom with a view to removing ambiguities and inconsistencies and, where necessary, improving its form. Then they go on at a later stage in the White Paper to say: Many of the alterations are merely verbal and in a number of places articles and clauses have been rearranged or recast for purposes of clarity. Considering that the members of this Commission were some of the most eminent jurists in the Commonwealth, I really think it is a bit of a cheek for someone in the Colonial Office to prepare a White Paper which deals with their Report in that fashion. Even if they had not thought it was very clear—and I am not saying it was not, by any means; I have no knowledge—why say it? Why draw the attention of the world to criticise the Commission in this way? It is all on a par with the “ham-handed” fashion of dealing with these matters.

I remember that in the case of Ghana we complained bitterly about what we regarded as insulting language in the Bill, and that was more or less admitted by the Government. I am glad to see that in this Bill they have taken notice of your Lordships’ comments on that occasion and that the wording in this Bill relating to the matters of which we complained in the Ghana Bill, is very different. Therefore I hope that the 237 Colonial Office and whoever is responsible for the drafting—and the Government. because they, of course, are mainly responsible—will take to heart what I am now saying, as they took it to heart in the case of the Bill itself, and in future will not put this, I would say, not only tendentious but really rather insulting language in a White Paper, which has upset some, at least, of the members of the Commission.

This Bill, and the proposed Constitution which we are now considering, is a compromise and I think it should be accepted as such. Any serious attempt to amend it at this stage might have grave consequences. We can all think with the greatest of ease of ways in which it could be amended or altered—there is no question about that—but it has been a difficult matter, in a country such as Malaya, which is roughly the size of England without Wales, and where there are 3,100,000 Malays, 2,500,000 Chinese and 800,000 Indians, to arrive at a Constitution which they all agree to work and which, broadly speaking, will satisfy the aspirations of a large number of them. There are, of course, certain issues such as citizenship, religion, language, the special position of the Malays, the status of Penang and Malacca, which are in themselves full of the possibility of contention; but I would suggest that, on the whole, this is a reasonable settlement for all concerned.

One has to remember that Malaya is the Malays’ only home, and that that does not necessarily apply to any of the other races who occupy the peninsula, or to people who live in it for a shorter or a longer time. We must remember, too, that in this Constitution the Malays are making far greater concessions to people of other races than is normally the practice in other countries. As I say, anyone could argue the issues that arise out of this Constitution—we can argue them separately and at length; but I do not believe that this is the time or the place to do so. I personally (and I am sure I have your Lordships’ support in this), appeal to all the races and to all the peoples in the Federation of Malaya, to help wholeheartedly in the working of the Constitution.

I should like to recall to your Lordships the words of Tunku Abdul 238 Rahman, previously Chief Minister of the Federation before independence, who will be the Prime Minister when the Federation in its new form comes into existence. This is what he said at the Federal Council in Kuala Lumpur this month, when dealing with the Constitution. After saying that he could not recall any other dependent country which had achieved independence in such a cordial and friendly atmosphere, he went on: I believe that we are only now able to stand on the threshold of independence because of the tolerance of our plural community and their friendly atmosphere towards one another and their acceptance of Malaya as an object of their absolute loyalty. According to a newspaper report, the Tunku praised the part played by British people in Malaya, and went on: They have devoted their lives to the advancement of this country. Whatever their faults may have been they have made Malaya the prosperous, happy place it is to-day”. Many speeches were delivered in the Assembly during the day (the report continues). The majority welcomed the constitutional proposals as being a fair and workable compromise, though not ideal. My Lords, there is one note of regret that I have—namely, that the Colonial Development Corporation will not be available to the new Federation, except as an agency. As we have lately had a debate on this question, which, as your Lordships will recollect, was pressed to a Division (we had a considerable amount of support from Back Benchers opposite, though, in most cases it did not materialise in the Lobby), I do not propose to say any more about it to-day. We simply register our protest, so far as the Colonial Development Corporation is concerned, and regret that Malaya which desires the continuance of the help and assistance of the Colonial Development Corporation, is. by the United Kingdom Government action, being deprived of it.

There is only one point of detail to which I should like to refer, and it relates to Clause 2 (4), which brings in as a sort of “joker” Rhodesia and Nyasaland and also Southern Rhodesia. In practically every Bill on any colonial matter that ever comes before your Lordships, however remote from the shores of Central Africa it may be, there is nearly always a reference to Southern Rhodesia. Why Southern Rhodesia, as a sort of “King 239 Charles’s head,” has to appear in almost every Colonial Bill. I do not know—and it has scraped in here, in a Bill dealing with Malaya. We on this side should like to know why Southern Rhodesia appears again in a Bill which deals with Malaya, especially as Southern Rhodesia has always held this rather peculiar position, and as we know that the Prime Minister of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland is a member of the Prime Ministers’ Meeting in London.

There are many problems, social, educational, economic and political, which will face the new Federation, but I do not intend to touch on them, far less deal with them in detail, to-day. But there is one problem to which I would refer, and which may perhaps, if care is not taken, turn out to be the “Achilles’ heel” of the Federation. I am well aware that Ministers in Malaya have given great attention to this particular question, but it is also a matter to which we here should give attention. I should like for the moment to refer to the Report of the Mission of the International Bank to Malaya, in regard to the economic development of Malaya, which was published in September, 1955. This is another of the Reports that I mentioned last week, when we discussed the Tanganyika Agricultural Corporation Bill, as being a remarkable Report such as is rarely read in this country. This Report has been read and studied most carefully in Malaya and it deals with industrial finance, among other things.

As we realise, Malaya is now in a new stage in regard to its development, and it will need to have a good deal of economic and industrial development. Its financial position is, of course, of the greatest importance. This is what the Mission say: The Mission found great difficulty in obtaining any general picture of the availability and character of finance for industrial enterprise. It is predominantly a matter of private transactions which take place within circles of varying degrees of intimacy among the Chinese community. Most Chinese enterprises appear to have begun on a small ‘family’ basis, and to have been built up (where they have been built up on any scale) chiefly by reinvestment of profits. Many of the larger ones are constituted as private companies, and some of these include an element of capital contributed from wider circles. The relatively few European industrial 240 enterprises have mostly been established with overseas capital (even when they are incorporated in Malaya); in only a handful of cases were their shares issued on the Singapore stock market. A little later they say: Except for limited financing by the Colonial Development Corporation and R.P.D.A., there appears to be no institutional source or regular channel for medium- and long-term capital for industry. We might pause there for a moment. I should like to draw your Lordships’ attention to the fact that in this Report of the International Bank the Mission refer to the Colonial Development Corporation as one of the few mechanisms by which institutional finance can be obtained. This is one of the props which, under this Bill, the Government are now removing from Malaya, so there will be one prop less, so far as institutional finance is concerned, after August 31.

Then the Mission go on to say: We believe that new institutional arrangements for industrial finance will become necessary and have suggested elsewhere that the proposed Central Bank give early consideration to this need. Later they say: In more indirect ways than the facilitation of industrial finance, the governments and the Central Bank should be able to help industrial development maintain a steadier course in the face of fluctuations in Malaya’s main export markets. But any violent fluctuations in the price of rubber, and to a lesser extent in the price of tin, are inevitably unsettling for Malayan secondary industries competing with foreign industries; it is hard to prevent industrial wage rates moving to some extent in sympathy with the prevailing rates in the rubber and tin industries, and the competitive position of secondary industries against foreign suppliers tends to shift up and down accordingly. I cannot read the whole passage, for it is too long. I can only suggest to those of your Lordships who are interested in this matter that due consideration should be given to the information on finance and other matters contained in this very valuable Report, which has greatly impressed people in Malaya.

We should proceed to assist them in every way we can, because if the United Kingdom is going to “cut the painter” at this stage and allow Malaya to drift out on an uncharted financial sea, then we are going to put Malaya in far greater difficulties as an independent country than she ever was in as a dependent country. 241 As I mentioned to your Lordships in the debate on the Colonial Development Corporation, there is always a tendency, in the case of dependent countries which are achieving independence, to equate economic prosperity with independence; and if there is no further economic prosperity when they get independence, there is great disappointment and frustration. Far from removing any financial assistance, props and aid from the Malayan Government at this stage, we should therefore be prepared to help them in every way possible, particularly as they have this, as it were, old-fashioned financial structure upon which to build up. In some ways it is a frail structure. It has been strong enough in the past, but we do not know whether it will stand up to modern conditions. At any rate, in my view, it is our duty to assist them with their financial structure in every possible way.

Independence Day is August 31 next, and it will be celebrated at Kuala Lumpur in the presence of His Royal Highness the Duke of Gloucester, Their Highnesses the Rulers, the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor, and others; and we shall celebrate Merdeka (the name which the Malays give to independence) with glad hearts, and no doubt lively heels at times, too, in spite of the heat. We on this side of the House welcome this Bill and the proposed new Constitution. We welcome the new Federation of Malaya as an independent member of the Commonwealth, and we wish it and its peoples, under God, a long, happy and prosperous life.

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