Orders of the Day — STRAITS SETTLEMENTS (REPEAL) BILL [Lords]

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 8th March 1946.

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Photo of Mr Tom Driberg Mr Tom Driberg , Maldon 12:00 am, 8th March 1946

We all regret the reason for the absence of my right hon. Friend the Colonial Secretary, and we congratulate my hon. Friend on deputising for him so persuasively. I cannot claim, like some hon. Members who have spoken today, a lifelong acquaintance with the East, or with Malaya in particular, nor have I been there so recently as my hon. Friend the Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies). But it did so happen that I was in Malaya at a peculiarly interesting moment last September, the moment of liberation. It was extremely encouraging to see the tremendous welcome which the Malayan people gave to our liberating forces under the Supreme Allied Commander. It was like the liberation of Belgium and France all over again. The villagers came running out, carrying baskets of fruit for our troops and kissing their hands. No doubt the reason for that, which surprised some of those who remembered only the military disaster, was the Malayan memory of the quality of the prewar British administration, to which my hon. Friend paid tribute in opening this Debate.

Unfortunately, the situation has undoubtedly deteriorated since last September. The good will is evaporating. That is largely due, as my hon. Friend the Member for Leek said, to economic stress and the food shortage. But, despite the assurance of my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr T. Reid), to whose views on any Colonial matter all of us on this side of the House must give considerable weight, I do not believe that the White Paper policy, as it has been presented, will do anything to restore that good will. Indeed, I believe that it may inflame resentment. May I remind the House that this policy is to a very large extent, part of the Labour Government's heritage from the Coalition Government? This scheme was prepared during the war years. Two things follow from that. First, when it was being prepared there was no consultation with Malays in Malaya, although my hon. Friend assured us that some Malayan civil servants. presumably in Whitehall, had been consulted. Nor was there any consultation with the Chinese; I agree that they also should have beer consulted when a scheme of this magnitude was being prepared. The second fact which follows from the preparation of this scheme during the war years by the Coalition Government was that, necessarily, no account could be taken of developments in Malaya during and since the Japanese occupation, and there, as elsewhere, war has been the locomotive of history. Nor could any account be taken of developments in Britain, where, last July, the British people returned to power a party which, historically and essentially, is anti-Imperialist.

It may well be, and I am prepared to admit, that this scheme for Malayan union will ultimately benefit the Malayan people. It is tidy, and that makes for comfortable administration; but tidiness can be rather soulless. It does justice to the Chinese and Indians, and I agree that justice should be done. But it is not so much the content of the scheme, as the manner in which it is presented, that is objected to. The very language of it reeks of patronage. The references to self-government are even vaguer than anything Queen Victoria said about India in 1858. The whole attitude seems to be, "It is good for you, so you have to take it." This is the paternalism of the heavy father; it is not Socialism. Look at page 3 of White Paper 6724. If hon. Members will look at the top of page 3—it is the language on which I am commenting— there is a paragraph headed: His Majesty to possess jurisdiction in Malay States. And it says: The British Crown must provide the common link which will draw together the communities of Malaya.… There are too many premature "musts" in this White Paper. Can the Malays be blamed if they regard such language as tantamount to the language of annexation? And look again on the back page of the same White Paper, where the directions which were given to Sir Harold MacMichael are again quoted. The hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Gammans) started to read out those directions, and my hon. Friend the Member for Leek, invited him to go on reading further. If he had, I believe, he would have strengthened his case, because the directions to Sir Harold MacMichael say: You will visit Malaya … and invite each Malay Ruler's co-operation in the establishment of an … organisation of Malaya which has been approved by His Majesty's Government and communicated to you Later the directions say: You are authorised … to conclude with each ruler … a formal Agreement by which he will cede full jurisdiction to His Majesty in his State. How it can be argued that there was really full and free consultation and that language of that kind does not constitute a fait accompli, I cannot imagine. The whole idea of the instructions seems to be "Sign—or else …"

My hon. Friend the Member for Swindon defended Sir Harold MacMichael and said there could not have been anything underhand in his actions. I entirely agree. Sir Harold is, of course, a public servant of the highest integrity, and nobody suggests that there was anything underhand in his actions. But I do suggest that the instructions communicated to and through him were too high-handed.

A positive fault in the scheme is the making of citizenship automatic after the 10-year period. I suggest that the Government should consider this again, to see whether they should not make it necessary for people who desire naturalisation to apply for it, in a way comparable with the arrangements in this country. 1 say that because, although 10 years' domicile may seem a reasonably long time, none the less, I believe it is true that after periods even as long as 20, 30 or more years, many Chinese immigrants have returned from Malay to their own homeland. It is true that the Chinese, particularly, have a very strong and loyal attachment to their own homeland. In passing, I might remind my hon. Friend that in the first two years of the Chinese war against Japan, it was the Chinese in Malaya, Indonesia and the South Pacific who subscribed about one-third of the total Chinese war chest for the conduct of that war. They had retained this loyalty. I am not criticising them for it. But I do suggest that they should not, automatically, become citizens of the Union after 10 years.

Some critics of the scheme have compared what may happen in Malaya to the condition of affairs in Palestine. The hon. Gentleman who spoke last referred blood-curdlingly to Palestine. I think there is a certain danger in too facile parallels of this kind, and I do not believe that the situation in Malaya is, or will be, really comparable with that in Palestine. For one thing, both of these substantial immigrant bodies—the Chinese and the Indians—have got their own large homelands in Asia. That, of course, does not apply to the Jewish immigrants in Palestine, and it is one example of the difference between the two situations. It is also undoubtedly true, as the hon. Member for Bury (Mr. W. Fletcher) said, that the different races have lived together in perfect harmony in Malaya in the past, and we hope they will do so again. It is the acute economic crisis and the shortage of food which have aggravated these inter-racial feelings. I do not think too much ought to be made of that.

The matter could really have been dealt with differently. In the archives of the Colonial Office my hon. Friend and his right hon. Friend could have found, not only this scheme, which was, as I say, largely a legacy from their predecessors, but also an extremely thorough and well-informed Memorandum submitted to the Colonial Office by the Malay Society in London on 25th April, 1944 I wonder whether sufficient account was taken of that Memorandum. I have a copy of it which I will be glad to lend to my hon. Friend if, by any chance, the Colonial Office have lost their copy. It is, in some ways, quite a prophetic document. It foresees what was going to happen at the end of the Japanese occupation and on the liberation of Indonesia—at a time, early in 1944, when most members of the British public had never heard the word "Indonesia" mentioned. It says that there is a legitimate fear on the part of the Malays of being "lost in their own country among immigrants of different races, creeds and cultural backgrounds." It also says—and this is a very important point which has, of course, not even been hinted at in the White Paper: Finally, we wish to mention that the ultimate goal after which the Malays in Malaya and Indonesia are striving is for a federation of all Malay lands in South-East Asia in the future. We feel, in this connection that, after this war, British Malaya and Indonesia should have closer relations than have hitherto prevailed. In political outlook, the Malays in Malaya have come more and more under the influence of their brothers in Sumatra and Java. That, I may say, is the ultimate, constructive solution which will, in itself, safeguard the Malays in Malaya from any feeling that they are being swamped by Chinese or Indian immigrants.

There is nothing in the White Paper about economic policy and nothing about these future aspirations with regard to the possibility of a regional federation for the whole of Indonesia. Although it is difficult to speak with certainty, from this distance, of the really representative character of some of the nationalist and political bodies which have sprung up, I do hope that my hon. Friend will be able to tell us that some further consultations will be held. It is worth noticing that the Pan-Malay Congress has just held a four-day congress at Kuala Lumpur, and I have no doubt my hon. Friend will be aware of the resolutions passed by that Congress. Surely, it is possible either for the Governor-General or for a commission to go out there, and to have some real consultation with the, approximately, representative political bodies.

One other point is that during the Japanese occupation, many of the Malays were trained for guerilla resistance. There has been a great deal of publicity for the Chinese Communist guerillas, and some of them did very gallant work; but it is no fault of the Malayan resistance movement that it was not more fully called into action against the Japanese, and that the war suddenly collapsed as the result of the atomic bomb. They feel that, if they were good enough to be trained in guerilla resistance, to fight against the Japanese, they should be, to some extent, consulted in the future arrangements of their country.

I do not want to go back to the status quo, and I am not particularly worried about the Sultans as such, although I realise that they are the religious leaders of their people. The political arrangements of these independent States were backward—or, as my hon. Friend put it, "stagnant"—before the war, and during the Japanese occupation some of the Sultans did have rather dubious records. We must have a forward policy, but it must not be merely imposed. There must be freer consultation than there has been hitherto. I believe that in the long run we are doing the right thing for Malaya, but we are doing it in the wrong way. We cannot talk to colonial or subject or backward peoples, especially the awakening peoples of the East, in the voice of a Whitehall uncle. This scheme has been put across so high-handedly, unimaginatively, and smugly that, in the present circumstances, and as it stands, I am sorry to say that I cannot support it.