CEYLON INDEPENDENCE BILL

HANSARD 1803–2005 → 1940s → 1947 → November 1947 → 21 November 1947 → Commons Sitting → ORDERS OF THE DAY

CEYLON INDEPENDENCE BILL

HC Deb 21 November 1947

Vol 444 cc1477-5241477

§Order for Second Reading read.

§11.6 a.m.

I beg to move, “That the Bill be now read a Second time.”

The introduction of this Bill is an important landmark in Colonial history and the occasion of much expectancy in Ceylon. It marks for the people of Ceylon, hitherto a Colonial people inside the Commonwealth of the British Empire, the attainment of Dominion stature, of full self-governing status, and is for us a sign of the mutual confidence and good will which exists between Britain and the people of Ceylon. Britain has, for the past century or so, striven to establish in all her Colonies free self-governing institutions, and to create sound social and economic foundations on which political democracy can safely rest. In more recent years the spirit of nationalism in our overseas territories has grown and spread. It has been our service to help to guide these influences into constructive channels and to assist the peoples concerned to an increasing realisation of responsibility in their own affairs. We have 1478sought to transform our Imperial polity into a co-operation of free peoples.

What we are doing today is to register another fulfilment of our work and purpose, the attainment in the case of Ceylon, following our all-too-modest declarations of policy, of independence and of responsible self-government. Such an achievement warms our own heart and impresses the world with our sincerity and our good faith. Ceylon is a territory which has played an honourable and loyal part in our Colonial history and whose friendship we have always prized. We congratulate her people and her leaders on her constitutional and social progress. We appreciate the quality of her life and the energy of her people. We hope that, in the exercise of her full responsibility inside the Commonwealth, her progress in securing the wellbeing and happiness of her people will continue.

There is little need for me to relate to the House the political evolution of Ceylon during the past 30 years. An admirable account appears in the Soulbury Report on Constitutional Reform, published in September, 1945. It is only necessary for me to mention the work of the Donoughmore Commission and the bold steps taken in the Constitution which emerged from that enquiry. It was an experiment in adult suffrage and in responsible democracy, and it contributed much to the political maturity and drive for effective democracy of the people of Ceylon. The system established by that Constitution worked for 15 years, without serious political trouble, and it stood the strain of a world war. Another Constitution has since come into operation as the result of the Soulbury Commission. May I again pay a tribute to Lord Soulbury and the members of his Commission for the wisdom of their work? The meeting of the new Parliament under that Constitution will be the occasion next week of great rejoicing in Ceylon. Full Cabinet responsibility under a Prime Minister has been established, and the Government is now responsible to a Parliament of two Chambers.

It was in 1945 that His Majesty’s Government declared their sympathy with the desire of the people of Ceylon to advance towards Dominion status and their willingness to co-operate with them in their progress towards that goal. His Majesty’s Government then expressed the 1479hope that in a comparatively short space of time such a status would be evolved. In June of this year I stated to the House that His Majesty’s Government recognised that the people of Ceylon were anxious to see their aim realised as quickly as possible. I pointed out, however, that no change could take place until a new Ceylon Government under their new Constitution was in office and functioning. It was the intention of His Majesty’s Government after that to negotiate certain agreements with the Ceylon Government on terms satisfactory to both so that steps could be taken to confer upon Ceylon fully responsible status within the British Commonwealth of Nations. That development was inevitable because of the political feeling and aspirations of the people of Ceylon and the fast changing political development in the East.

Events outside Ceylon have moved rapidly in the past year or so. India and Burma were offered independence and there grew in Ceylon a desire no less fervent and demanding that full responsibility should be realised by the people of that Colony. Ceylon has consistently co-operated with Britain and has taken pride in her loyalty, her contribution to the war and her ties with the United Kingdom. It was consistent with her whole spirit that she should seek to take control of her own destiny within the framework of the British Commonwealth. The Ceylon election results were made known on 20th September, and her responsible Government promptly negotiated Agreements to provide for continuity in respect of external affairs and defence, matters which vitally concern not only Ceylon and ourselves but the other partners in the Commonwealth, and also for the personal interests of the public servants of the old order. These Agreements were signed on 12th November by the Prime Minister of Ceylon and the Governor of Ceylon, on behalf of His Majesty’s Government, and have been issued in Command Paper 7257. The Defence Agreement provides for mutual assistance for defence against external aggression and protection of essential communications. It also grants His Majesty’s Government the necessary facilities, including the use of naval and air bases, military establishments, etc. His Majesty’s Government will continue to 1480exercise existing control and jurisdiction over our Forces in Ceylon.

The Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Creech Jones)

§

 (Paddington, South) 

While Ceylon agrees that we should have these facilities, suppose Ceylon remains outside any future war. What then is the position about these facilities?

Vice-Admiral Taylor

§

If the Agreement is studied, the hon. and gallant Member will see that the point is covered. The external Affairs Agreement provides that Ceylon shall follow in relation to external affairs generally the principles and practice of other members of the Commonwealth, and a High Commissioner will represent her in London, and the United Kingdom will be represented by a High Commissioner in Ceylon. Other points are covered, such as support for Ceylon in her application for membership of the United Nations Organisation and its agencies; and, if Ceylon so requests, we shall gladly sponsor to other countries Ceylon’s desire for diplomatic representation. The third Agreement is concerned with public officers and provides safeguards in respect of the salary, leave and the pension position” of the officers concerned, those continuing in the Service and those who are already in receipt of pension rights. It provides for compensatory terms to certain classes of other officers, and covers other points concerned with Service needs. The Colonial Service will, of course, continue to provide an opportunity for an officer to continue his career in the Colonial Service if he so desires.

I should also add that, in place of a Governor, there will be a Governor-General who, in the exercise of his powers, authorities and functions will, generally speaking, act in accordance with the constitutional conventions applicable to the exercise of similar powers, authorities and functions in the United Kingdom by His Majesty. I should perhaps also mention that the Government of Ceylon, while able in the future to amend their own Constitution, have felt that the provisions of the existing Constitution safeguarding minorities should be retained. They would obviously not wish to provoke any controversy on these issues in Ceylon. Thus the provision for an Upper House and the provision barring discriminatory legislation will be retained by the Ceylon Government.

1481The 1946 Ceylon Order in Council which embodies the recent constitutional changes will now, in the light of these developments, have to be amended in certain particulars after the passing of this Bill. This Bill is, therefore, designed to confer on Ceylon fully responsible status. In the Agreement on External Affairs the words used are:— … the status of a fully responsible member of the British Commonwealth of Nations, in no way subordinate in any aspect of domestic or external affairs, freely associated and united by common allegiance to the Crown. Further: The Government of Ceylon— is ready— —to adopt and follow the resolutions of past Imperial Conferences. In regard to external affairs generally and in particular to the communication of information and consultation, the Government of the United Kingdom will, in relation to Ceylon, observe the principles and practice now observed by the Members of the Commonwealth, and the Ceylon Government will for its part observe these same principles and practice. The Bill will, therefore, give independence to Ceylon within the British Commonwealth of Nations. Parts of it follow almost verbatim sections of the Statute of Westminster. For instance, Clause I (1) and the first half of Clause 4 (2) and the First Schedule do this, and are, of course, designed to prevent the extension to Ceylon of future Acts of the United Kingdom Parliament and to remove existing limitations of Ceylon’s legislative power. The provision of Clause 4 (1) inter alia enables His Majesty by Order in Council to make adaptations of Acts and other instruments in addition to those made by the Bill in order that all necessary modifications in Acts and other instruments not foreseen may be covered.

The Bill will be examined in Committee, and it is scarcely necessary for me to say more about it. I will only add that with the passing of the Bill, and with the necessary changes made by the Order in Council, the responsibility of myself and the Colonial Office for Ceylon will cease. The Colonial Office will relinquish its task with a heavy heart to the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations because of our long and friendly association with the people of Ceylon and the contribution we in the Colonial Office have tried to make to Ceylon’s political and economic progress. If we have also contributed a roll of distinguished Colonial servants and governors—among whom I 1482include the present Governor, Sir Henry Moore—and men who have served Ceylon and won the affection and esteem of the Ceylon people, Ceylon has in its turn produced distinguished and friendly statesmen, among whom we count today Mr. Senanayake who has played, with his colleagues, so great a part in wisely guiding his country and in securing the present happy development and cementing in firm friendship the peoples of our respective countries.

I feel honoured to have played some limited part in the creation of this Bill. I am sure the House will give it a hearty welcome and will send it on its way, wishing the people of Ceylon all prosperity in the exacting responsibilities their Government have now assumed. There are difficulties ahead for Ceylon. Her political difficulties will not be easy to remove; her economic problems will not yield readily to a solution, but her people have courage and faith in themselves and their destiny; they have loyalty to the Commonwealth and good will towards us. They are determined to take their stand for the ideals and purposes which animate our Commonwealth of free nations. We welcome them because we are confident they will prove themselves a great free democracy in the vicissitudes through which their region of the world is passing.

Mr. Creech Jones

§11.23 a.m.

 (Hornsey) 

It is only two weeks since this House was asked to discuss the Burma Independence Bill. At that time most of my hon. and right hon. Friends on this side of the House felt themselves unable to support the Government. We took that attitude in no party spirit, and certainly with great reluctance. It was because we felt that the constitution which was proposed for Burma, and the conditions which prevail in Burma, would mean that instead of granting independence, we should be condemning the country to anarchy and chaos. However, because we took that attitude then, it is with all the greater pleasure that we feel we can support His Majesty’s Government in the Bill they are laying before the House today. We have one or two points of great principle to raise but, generally speaking, the Bill will meet with our support. This is one of those all too rare occasions when all parties in this House can combine and be united in one of these great evolution- 1483ary processes of the British Commonwealth.

What is happening today with regard to Ceylon represents the work of many Parliaments in this country and many Secretaries of State; in fact, this Bill may be termed the ideal and logical evolution of the British Commonwealth, in that Ceylon from now on is bound to us only by ties of loyalty, affection and enlightened self-interest; because, as I see this Bill, there are no strings attached to this grant of independence. Ceylon, as the right hon. Gentleman has said, has the right to amend her own constitution—a right not even possessed by Canada—and the Defence and External Affairs Agreements can be revoked at any time, so far as I understand them. Therefore, in what we are doing today, we are granting Ceylon complete independence to remain in the Empire or to go outside it as she wishes.

I hope that this Bill, and what lies behind it, will be appreciated not only in this country and in Ceylon, but throughout the world. It is the best possible answer that could be given in the United Nations, or anywhere else, to those countries which are accusing us of imperialism—to Russia, in particular, which is carrying on a most vicious campaign against us at this moment, and in the United States where, though there is no animus against us, there is certainly ignorance. In all my visits to the United States, I have not met one American in a thousand who had heard of the Statute of Westminster, or, certainly, who recognised that it is as much a landmark in our political evolution as the Bill of Rights or Magna Charta.

Ceylon starts off her career as a fully responsible member of the British Commonwealth with many advantages. First, she has a low public debt and a balanced economy, and I think many countries will envy Ceylon in the happy mixture she has of subsistence production and money crops. Ceylon has been fortunate in that she has attracted a large amount of outside capital in the development of rubber and of tea, and I have every confidence that all responsible people in Ceylon will realise the importance of maintaining that capital. There is no commercial agreement attached to this Treaty; I imagine that is because the British interests in Ceylon have confidence in the good sense 1484of responsible Ceylonese. The absence of such an agreement is in marked contrast to what the United States have done with regard to the Philippines. We often hear a lot about what they have done in the Philippines, but they have tied up the Filipinos pretty well not only for defence but also for commerce. We are imposing no limitations whatsoever. I hope that all sections of Ceylon public opinion will realise the advantage of retaining that capital. After all, it is an advantage to any country—it is an advantage to the United Kingdom—if it can attract outside capital, provided it can do so on terms which do not infringe its fundamental independence and on terms which fit in with its general ideas of economic freedom. As long as outside interests in Ceylon are prepared to fulfil that condition, and are prepared to fulfil two other conditions—first, that they pay their rightful share of taxation; secondly, that they become ideal employers—then I hope that the interests in Ceylon will have every confidence to remain there.

The second great advantage which Ceylon has is that she starts off with a highly intelligent and well-educated electorate who have for a number of years been experimenting in a greater and greater degree with the ideal of self-government. What is more, she can call upon a loyal and experienced Civil Service to carry out the wishes of her Government. Her last advantage is that she starts off her career of independence as a Member of the British Commonwealth. A great Dominion statesman said the other day that Membership of the Commonwealth is independence with something added, and not a detraction of sovereign will. Independence without security is a meaningless term, a paper crown, a tinsel sceptre. In the world in which we five, in which power politics prevail, to talk about the independence of a small island like Ceylon, unless she can place some reliance on some outside organisation, is just a meaningless jumble of words. I am afraid that no reliance can yet be placed on the United Nations, and the only world organisation which stands by its members in good times and in bad, in peace as well as in war, is the British Commonwealth. Ceylon starts off her independence with that great, and, I think, essential, condition of independence, namely, that she can rely on the Commonwealth 1485of Nations to defend her, if necessary.

Ceylon faces three great difficulties. The first is the problem inherent in all democracies, including our own, that in the difficult times in which we live the electorate should be capable of understanding the real problems on which they are asked to vote, and of differentiating between the sober realities of statesmanship, and the lush and easy promises made by demagogues. Where democracy has failed throughout the world—and, let us remember, it has failed over a very large part of the New World and of Europe—it has not failed because of a lack of good paper constitutions, but because it has been unable to produce capable leadership and a sense of responsibility on the part of the electorate.

The second danger which Ceylon faces is one which the right hon. Gentleman has not mentioned except very shortly today. It is that Ceylon is not a single racial unit. There are two races in Ceylon, the Sinhalese and the Jaffna Tamils, who are in the northern part of the island, and number 1,500,000, out of a total of 6,500,000. They differ from the Sinhalese in race, language, religion, and, to a large extent, in background. They are extremely capable and intelligent people. I have had a lot to do with them because they played a very large part in the development of Malaya. It was the Jaffna Tamils who came over in large numbers and started the railways and Government services. Where there is a racial minority in the country the danger is that it may become a permanent political minority, and if it does become a permanent political minority, Ceylon’s evolution on a democratic basis is bound to fail.

This imposes on the two peoples of Ceylon a very great responsibility. It imposes on the Sinhalese the responsibility of seeing that they grant fair and, if necessary, rather more than fair, treatment to the minority not only in political power, but also in administrative responsibility, so that that minority is not inevitably driven to regard itself as a permanent political minority. There is also an obligation on the Tamils that they should not ask for more than is reasonable, above all that they do not keep on threatening the country that they will make affiliations with India, nor demand more than their just due. One or two statements I have seen 1486lately about the minority flirting with Communism makes one wonder whether or not they realise the inherent danger which faces them if they go in that direction.

The third danger is a new danger, at least in the last 20 years. It is the danger of Communism itself. I regard Communism no longer as a political or economic creed, I regard it today as predominantly an instrument of Russian foreign policy. I think nothing is more dangerous than to regard it as a form of advance Left-wing politics. If Ceylon allows herself to be dominated by the Communists, then this talk of independence is the most hollow words that have ever been uttered in the world. We have” seen what has happened in Eastern Europe, and if the Tamils, or any other party, take this viper to their bosom, to secure any temporary political advantage, the viper will destroy them, and their hopes of any lasting independence on a democratic basis. Those are the three dangers which I see, and I believe there is a sufficient wealth of experience in Ceylon for their statesmen to see those dangers also.

The three agreements which have been issued with the White Paper are an essential part of the Bill. I think it a fair criticism of the Government that we have not really had enough time to consider those agreements. They have been out for less than a week, and I believe that hon. Members on both sides of the House would have liked a longer time in which to consider them. They could have considered them and written to friends in Ceylon for their comments, or they may have gone out to Ceylon to see for themselves. One of the curious things about this Parliament is that Members go flitting about all over the world, and I think quite rightly so, but why do we not flit about a little more in the Empire, especially when we are making great constitutional changes? We are not responsible for what happens in Bulgaria, but we are responsible for what happens in Ceylon and Burma. It would have been most sensible if some of us could have gone out there to talk about these things with the people. As it is, we are bound to make our comments. I will not say with complete ignorance, but with only our own and our friends’ experience on which to draw. I hope this is the end of this sort of thing, and that if any more changes are to be made in the Commonwealth, the House and the 1487country will be given time to consider them.

I have no comment to make about the Agreement dealing with public officers, except that I am pleased to see that, unlike those in Burma, these officers, whose careers are to be interrupted, are not only to get a proportionate pension, but also some compensatory consideration. We are also to continue with the services of a number of people recruited from this country. I have not much to say about the Agreement on External Affairs. We have promised to sponsor Ceylon’s entry to the United Nations. This gives a chance to the Government to do one of those imaginative things which Governments so seldom do. We have agreed to be responsible for the foreign affairs of Ceylon in those parts of the world in which they do not wish to have direct representation themselves. That, I hope, is not just a temporary thing, but will become a permanent thing. It will only be permanent if we make the people of Ceylon realise that it is in no sense a status of inferiority.

What are the chances of people of Ceylon getting into our Diplomatic Service? They are capable, educated people and we can make this approach to foreign affairs in other parts of the world something permanent. We might go further, and in some parts of Asia, where the interests of Ceylon are greater than those of the United Kingdom, we could ask the Ceylonese to represent the United Kingdom. That would be a nice gesture. We have a chance—shall we take it, or make the people of Ceylon feel that they have a status of inferiority and therefore that it is something which they want to be rid of at the earliest opportunity?

The main point I want to raise is with regard to the Defence Agreement. As the right hon. Gentleman rightly said, this is made not only in the interest of Ceylon or of the United Kingdom, but of the Commonwealth generally. I need not remind the House that Ceylon is a vital and central link in Imperial defence. Therefore, the Defence Agreement must be looked at not only bearing in mind what Ceylon or we want, but what the Commonwealth wants as well. The first question I wish to ask is, “Before this Agreement was drawn up, did Australia and New Zealand see it and agree to it?” I should be quite happy to give way to 1488the right hon. Gentleman if he would like to answer that point. Did Australia and New Zealand come in on this discussion and have they agreed to this Defence Agreement?

Mr. Gammans

§

I think that the hon. Member may assume that it is quite unlikely that we should make an agreement of this kind without consultation with other Members of the British Commonwealth.

Mr. Creech Jones

§

The right hon. Gentleman has not answered my question. I asked whether they had agreed to it. So far as I can see, this is an agreement which is revocable. If the right hon. Gentleman would like to give an answer, I am willing to give way.

Mr. Gammans

There has been the fullest consultation with the Commonwealth in the making of this agreement.

Mr. Creech Jones

That does not answer the point at all. It does not answer whether they have agreed to it. I am sure the House will agree that it would be quite impossible to provide any help to Australia and New Zealand if we could not rely upon the bases in Ceylon.

Mr. Gammans

 (Leyton, West) 

Do I take it from the hon. Gentleman’s observation that, until there has been assent to the agreement on the part of all our Dominions, this agreement should not go forward on behalf of His Majesty’s Government?

Mr. Sorensen

I did not say that at all. What I said was that Ceylon is an essential link in Imperial Defence. The right hon. Gentleman has said it himself. I go further and say that in the long run we cannot bring help to Australia and New Zealand if we cannot rely upon bases in Ceylon. I asked the right hon. Gentleman whether or not Australia and New Zealand agree to the somewhat indefinite terms of this agreement, and he has not said that they do. Therefore, I assume that they have not agreed to it. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies will reply to this point on behalf of the Government. I should have thought that there was a very strong case for having this Defence Agreement for a term of years and not, if I may quote the phrase: “… as may be mutually agreed.” 1489What is the meaning of that phrase or, in the case of military assistance: … as it may be in their mutual interest to provide. I thought that the right hon. Gentleman skimmed over this with great speed and agility. We ought to know what is meant by those two phrases. Does it mean that either side can revoke the agreement at a minute’s notice? Does it mean that if there was an extreme form of government either here or in Ceylon, a form of government that did not in any way represent the fundamental ideas of either country, that this agreement could be revoked at a moment’s notice? That is a very different thing from getting the sort of agreement which the right hon. Gentleman hinted at just now.

Mr. Gammans

 (Harrow, East) 

Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that if there was a definite date at which a reconsideration was to take place, it would make that reconsideration inevitable, whereas this rather indefinite way of dealing with the position is in the best traditions of Commonwealth relations as between members of a family?

Mr. Skinnard

I am not sure about that. The hon. Gentleman said that it would mean it would have to be reconsidered at the end of that time. Of course, it would. Whenever any agreement comes to an end, one has to consider whether to go on with it. Let us see what we are doing. There is a danger here that the whole defence structure of the Commonwealth might disappear overnight. If I am putting a wrong interpretation on it, nothing will give me greater pleasure than to be assured that there is in this Defence Agreement some degree of permanency which does not appear on paper. There is nothing derogatory to complete self-government in a defence agreement regarding bases. We have given to the United States bases in the British West Indies for 99 years, and those islands certainly will have reached complete self-government long before that time is out. The Philippines have given to the United States a lease over 23 bases for a term of 99 years, and in the case of Panama the same kind of thing has been done. What, therefore, is the reason why there has been no defence agreement with a time limit attached to it?

Mr. Gammans

1490

(Mile End) 

Would the hon. Gentleman say that, for example, in the case of the United States and the Philippines, the Philippines were completely free and independent when they made that agreement?

Mr. Piratin

§

They say that they were. The United States claimed that they were. I should think that if the hon. Gentleman, with his Communist background—

Mr. Gammans

§

And Communist foreground.

Mr. Piratin

§

If the hon. Gentleman wants to talk like that, we might hear something about Lithuania, Latvia, Esthonia and other parts of the world.

There is another side to this question of a term of years, if these bases are to be any good. If we are to provide for the effective defence of Ceylon, a lot of money must be spent either in creating bases, or, as in the case of Trincomalee, of modernising them and keeping them modernised. We cannot expect Ceylon to do that. We shall have to bear the cost, or part of it, and I think that Australia or New Zealand will also want to bear part. Can we be expected to put money into bases from which, so far as I can see, we can be given a moment’s notice? There may be good reasons for having an agreement in this form, but we have not been told those reasons today. We want a little more information from the Under-Secretary of State than we have had from the right hon. Gentleman. Here is a chance for a gesture, for an imaginative treatment of common defence. I sincerely hope that we will do our best to get into the Imperial Services, the Army, Navy and Air Force, young Ceylonese. They are a great people with a great history. Let Us make this joint Defence Agreement one of co-operation in the fullest sense of the word, and not something with any taint of inferiority or any sense of impermanence about it.

In conclusion, let me say that all of us in this House wish Ceylon every success in her new status. We believe that, in her people and in her economy, she has all the conditions not only for real independence in the fullest sense of the word, but for a full life for her 1491people. I wonder whether I might make two suggestions, one of them to ourselves and the other to the people of Ceylon? Here we have one of the first Asiatic Dependencies setting off as a fully independent member of the Commonwealth. Would it not be rather appropriate if this House made some gesture to the Ceylon Parliament either by the presentation of a Speaker’s Chair or a Mace, or some definite token of that sort? We did it in the case of Australia and Canada, and now that we are building the new House of Commons they have offered to provide us with visible tokens of their loyalty and good will. I hope we can do something like that. It would be a very nice gesture, which would, I know, be appreciated by the people of Ceylon.

The other thing I want to say is that I am hoping that, at no very distant date, some of us in this House may receive an invitation from Ceylon to be present at one of their early sessions under the new Constitution. It would not only be a pleasing experience for us, but would also be an opportunity for us to express in person what we feel today, that is, a sense of satisfaction in the passing of this Bill, and to express our good will to them in the days that lie ahead.

Mr. Gammans

§11.51 a.m.

(Burslem) 

I rise to congratulate the people of Ceylon in achieving the Dominion status which this Bill, when it becomes an Act, will give to them. During the past few weeks, we have witnessed several momentous legislative Acts which have given to people in the eastern part of the world a different place in the political life of the nations. We witnessed the great transaction when freedom was given to India, and, as the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Gammans) has reminded us, the granting of complete freedom to Burma a few days ago, though that country, to our regret, elected to stay outside the Commonwealth. While we would desire that Ceylon would follow some of our traditions and pursue a happy co-operation in the British Commonwealth, we must make it clear to ourselves and the world generally, that what happens in these places is the affair of the people on the spot. The hon. Member for Hornsey 1492(Mr. Gammans) gave us what seemed to me to be a lecture on the dangers of Communism. I am no Communist, but I do say, as one representative of the people of my country, that the affairs of the people in Ceylon are for the people of Ceylon to decide for themselves, and that, while I would wish that they would continue, as I believe they will, in close co-operation, I do not think they will thank us for advice of that kind.

It seems to me that we might reasonably look for further information in respect of the Defence Forces. I must say that I am rather in the dark about some of these arrangements. The hon. Member for Hornsey expressed his apprehensions about the position of Ceylon as a link in our defence arrangements in the future, and I think he did so quite rightly. He made the point that the White Paper recently issued has not been in our possession sufficiently long for us to give it that considered attention which these matters require, and I hope that the Under-Secretary will give us some more information as to what is involved in this mutual arrangement between Ceylon and ourselves for protection against aggression. We have heard a reference to the Philippines and other parts of the world, and what exercises my mind when we are considering problems of this kind is how other nations outside the British Commonwealth—and I have not only America in mind—regard such arrangements in respect of the new experiment which the world is seeking to complete, that is, some sort of international defence arrangement under the United Nations.

I do not like the parcelling out of different parts of the world in the interests of certain nations, whether it be America, Britain or Russia, or whoever it may be. In that connection, we may see an interesting experiment when we deal with Palestine in a few months time, but this problem of security and administration of different parts of the world is a problem which is exercising the minds of some of the younger Members of the House. Some people fear, for example, that if we seek to stay in Ceylon it may be to protect our own interests there, and that if there was some kind of international arrangement, or an international guarantee of security, there would be less suspicion in that regard. I hope we may hear from the Under-Secretary something more about the arrangements which have 1493been made for the defence of Ceylon. It seems to me that this Bill ought to have the united support of the House, and I congratulate the Government on having introduced it.

Mr. A. Edward Davies

§11.56 a.m.

 (Hythe) 

My hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey (Mr. Gammans) ended his speech on a very happy note in his suggestion that some token should be given, through you, Mr. Speaker, to the Ceylon Parliament when it attains the complete independence which this Bill will give to the island. I thought also that my hon. Friend’s point regarding visits by hon. Members of this House before these big constitutional changes are made was an extremely important one which he put very well. In passing, I thought that the Secretary of State might have taken steps to send some Members from this House to Malta when the new Parliament was opened by His Royal Highness the Duke of Gloucester. Although we may be a little late now, I hope steps will be taken to send a delegation out to both islands soon.

There was in Ceylon a feeling that the Conservative Party were going to oppose this Bill. I must at once declare my own interest in this island in that my wife owns property there. It is a pity that this Bill has come along so quickly, because that illusion—and it is a complete illusion—could have been dispelled very quickly if there had been a little more time. It is certainly not the intention of my hon. Friends, myself or of any Conservatives who wish to speak in this Debate to oppose this Bill in any way. On the contrary, I give it my unqualified support, and I believe that this great Measure does carry Dominion status to the island. I congratulate the Secretary of State on having called the Bill the Ceylon Independence Bill, because that settles, once and for all, the status of Dominion and Commonwealth independence. I would also like to congratulate the new Under-Secretary upon his appointment. I was disappointed in his first speech, and, perhaps, he will be a little more modest in attacking us in future. I say seriously, that it is the duty of all of us to look after the people in the Colonies and to keep party politics outside Imperial or Colonial affairs, as far as that is possible. I agree that it is not always easy.

1494The Sinhalese and the people of Ceylon have had sufficient experience of running their own affairs, and I believe that they can be trusted to show a high standard of efficiency and responsibility. Each case of the Colonies must be judged on its merits. The Secretary of State, of whatever party, has a very difficult problem to solve in carrying out his policy in the state in which Ceylon is in now. The Donoughmore experiment was only fairly successful. Other Colonies may reach this state of independence very gradually, and it will be a very different thing to determine in those countries how the stages are to take place. I believe that this country does not realise what a vast difference there is between the case of Burma and that of Ceylon. Ceylon has law and order established, and the greatest gifts that a Government can give to any people are law, order and peace, whereas Burma, owing to the war, is in a very different state. Ceylon has not been overrun, and is not subject to wholesale dacoity.

I believe that my hon. Friend mentioned the economic position of Ceylon, and here is a point which, perhaps, the next time the right hon. Gentleman goes to U.N.O. he might care to make against some of the critics of this country. If my calculations are correct, the national debt of Ceylon is £30 million, which is equivalent to one year’s income, or, in other words, somewhere about £4 10s. per head of the population. We in this House would be very happy if this country were in a similar position. Again, if my arithmetic is correct, our national debt is in the region of £24,000 million and our national income is, approximately £8,700 million. Therefore our debt is equivalent to, roughly, three years’ income. Put another way, it could be said that every person in this country is born with a debt of £543, whereas, in Ceylon, every person is born with a debt of £4. Perhaps that is a gross exploitation by the British people. I do not think so.

At the moment, Ceylon has a revenue of about £10 million drawn from British tea interests. She has been able to use that money to keep her rubber industry going, but she cannot now compete with Malaya. In view of the increased prices which have recently taken place in rubber, I hope that it will be possible for her to do so in the future. Nevertheless, as the 1495right hon. Gentleman said, the economic future of the island has many difficulties, the chief of which is the large quantity of food which it has to import, and for which it is now paying five times more than before the war. I am sure that, when Mr. Senanayake and Sir Oliver Goonetilleke come here to deal with the extremely difficult problem of the adverse balance of trade with which the new Dominion or Commonwealth is faced, they will receive all the advice and assistance possible from the Secretary of State and all of us.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey, I wish to say very little about the external side of the agreement. I welcome his suggestion that we should have representation of our affairs by other members of the Commonwealth in places where our United Kingdom interests are not very numerous. I think that is an excellent idea. It would not only have a good psychological effect; it might even lead to certain quite reasonable economies.

With regard to defence, I think we need a little more information about the arrangements in that respect, because we in this House are responsible for the expenditure of the money spent on the Services. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey said, it is very difficult to launch out and plan for aerodromes and naval and military installations, if we do not know how long we are going to use them. In spite of that, I would like to have an assurance that the Chiefs of Staff have agreed to this. I am sure they have.

indicated assent.

Mr. Creech Jones

see that the Secretary of State nods his head. In those circumstances, I accept these defence suggestions because, as has been pointed out, if we have a term of years, as has existed in other places, there is always the chance that it will become subject to party politics in the country concerned.

There is another reason—I am now speaking as a soldier—which I think is very important. We cannot have a base for either the Navy or the Air Force if that base is in a territory where the civilian population may prove hostile. I will give the House an example. In Egypt, before the war—I do not think that I am giving away any precious secrets because there has been a war— 1496the General Staff appreciation was that it would require two divisions to hold the Delta. The expeditionary force available at the time to His Majesty’s Government in this country was two divisions. Therefore, we could not possibly have operated from Egypt unless the people of Egypt at that time had been agreeable to our doing so. Quite obviously this country is capable, from a military point of view”, of holding down Ceylon or any small country like that. But that does not make the country concerned into a base. We must rely on the goodwill and commonsense of the people of Ceylon. We want some elucidation about this; we want to have a period indicated. From a military point of view, one cannot secure a base merely by using infantrymen and bayonets. It would be far better to go into the desert and have an air base there.

In this troubled world there can be no question of Ceylon standing by herself from either an economic or a military point of view. She needs the goodwill of India, Australia, New Zealand, and of this country. She also needs the markets which the other members of the Commonwealth can give her. Unless she can sell her tea, rubber and copra, the whole of her economy will collapse. I believe that the present members of the Government of Ceylon have shown great statesmanship. I hope that we shall be careful not to make their task more difficult, but it must be borne in mind that there is this minority to which my hon. Friend referred, and that it will require great statesmanship and tact if a racial minority is not to cause political differences. From my slight business interest in the island, I sincerely believe that this Bill will work and that the vexed question of Commonwealth status has been solved. Therefore, I have no hesitation in saying that I give the Bill my wholehearted support.

Brigadier Mackeson

§12.7 p.m.

§

 (Mile End) 

First of all, I wish to take up one point which the hon. and gallant Member for Hythe (Brigadier Mackeson) made. He worked out a very pretty sum in simple arithmetic of what was the relative wealth of the individual in Ceylon as against the individual in this country, on the basis that the national debt in Ceylon is £30 million, whereas ours is well over £20,000 million. Of 1497course, that argument, apart from being completely hypothetical, is quite stupid. A country’s national debt has to have some relationship to the wealth of the country. It is only because this country is wealthy that we could have a national debt of £20,000 million. Ceylon’s national debt of £30 million may only reflect its poverty. Surely, that is not the way to calculate a country’s wealth. Here are some figures which I think the House ought to have brought to its attention in this Second Reading Debate, which do reveal the country’s economy. In 1944, 157 million rupees were sent from Ceylon to Britain by way of pensions, personal remittances and profits after paying the local Income Tax and E.P.B., and setting aside sums for reinvestment. This sum of 157 million rupees exported to this country was derived from the work of the people of Ceylon, as against a prewar national revenue of 100 million rupees. That is where the country’s wealth goes. Therefore, if we want to know what is the state of the country, that is an example which cannot be refuted.

Mr. Piratin

Would the hon. Gentleman explain how his party intend to maintain the wealth of this country? If such money is not to come here from overseas, how is the standard of living of the working man to be kept up?

Brigadier Mackeson

We are discussing the Ceylon Independence Bill; when we discuss the Great Britain Independence Bill, I will make it quite clear to the hon. and gallant Gentleman how we can retain our independence and stability.

Mr. Piratin

(Bridgwater) 

I hope the hon. Gentleman is not going to forget the amount of British capital that has gone into Ceylon.

Mr. Vernon Bartlett

Certainly not; I am coming to that. I shall not forget the amount of money that has gone into Ceylon, nor will the Ceylonese forget the power which that money represents. I believe that this discussion is making history, for we have had in succession a back bench Tory Member, a back bench Labour Member, and in the case of myself, a back bench Communist Member, all of whom support the Bill. I support the Bill because it goes a certain way—not the whole way—towards achieving the independence of Ceylon. For that reason I wish to make 1498 a few remarks. In the first place, how does the Bill come about? I would like to call the attention of the House to the statement made by the Secretary of State for the Colonies on 18th June in reply to a question by the noble Lord the Member for South Dorset (Viscount Hinching-brooke). He said: It must be appreciated that there are strong political forces in Ceylon which demand some further stage beyond the stage reached in the existing constitution”— that is, the Soulbury Constitution— and the representations have come from Ceylon with the full endorsement of the Governor.”—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th June. 1947; Vol. 438; c. 2017.] I suggest that is the reason why we are now discussing the Second Reading of this Bill. In Ceylon there are strong political forces who want a further degree of independence than was envisaged in the Soulbury Constitution. Therefore, while the Government are to be commended on the extent to which they have gone, the House should be under no delusion about the fact that this step has been taken only because of the political demand in Ceylon.

Mr. Piratin

 (Kilmarnock) 

It is the right step.

Mr. William Ross

I admit it is the right step, but it does not come, in the first place, from the good will of the Government and certainly not of the Tory Party. The people of Ceylon have demanded this independence and have indicated in many ways that this is what they want.

I would like to refer to the effects of British rule and occupation in Ceylon. In that country there are tea, rubber and coconut plantations. An hon. Member opposite has said that a relative of his has some interest in that country, and no doubt it is such an interest. The investing section of the British people have interests of that kind. Only one quarter of the productive land in Ceylon is used for the benefit of the Ceylonese people and three quarters of that land is used for plantations of the kind to which I have referred. Tea, rubber and coconuts are not the basic materials for home consumption in Ceylon. They are produced primarily for export. In fact, only one-sixteenth of the whole production of the country represents the cultivation of rice. This state of affairs has only developed in the last 50 or 60 years. Whereas 50 or 60 1499years ago the Ceylonese people were able to grow their own rice, which as everyone knows is their staple diet, today they have to import from places like Burma a large amount of the rice which they consume, because most of their land is used not for growing rice but for plantations for the benefit of the commercial investments of British interests.

Mr. Piratin

§

Has the hon. Member ever seen a tea plantation? Has he seen what it looks like, and does he know whether rice can be grown on it?

Mr. Ross

§

The hon. Gentleman asks me if I have ever seen a tea plantation. If he means that I should not speak about a tea plantation because I have not seen one, then every hon. Member in this House speaks on subjects which he has no right to discuss. I have as much right to talk about tea plantations as the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Gammans) has to talk about the working class. It will be observed that although, if I may say so with modesty, I am a reasonable expert on Communism, I have not made one reference to that subject, whereas the hon. Member for Hornsey, who knows nothing about it, has spoken about Communism for the best part of his speech. We in this House have to speak about things which we may not have seen, but of which we have read and know something about.

Mr. Piratin

§Mr. Gammans rose—

The hon. Member lost that round, so perhaps he will let me continue. I am speaking of facts, and I am surprised that an hon. Member on these Benches should dispute these widely known facts about cultivation in Ceylon. The industrial development of Ceylon has been restricted; its mineral and other resources have not been developed and, in the main, the industries in that country have been confined to serving in the interests of the plantations. That is the background of the situation, the inheritance left by Tory rule.

I wish to make some observations on the Bill and on the agreements. I would like to know how wide the agreements are. For example, the Colonial Secretary said in the same statement to which I referred a few minutes ago: Agreements will then have to be negotiated on a number of subjects. When such agreements 1500have been concluded on terms satisfactory to His Majesty’s Government and the Ceylon Government, immediate steps will be taken. …”—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th June, 1947; Vol. 438, c. 2015.] I would like to know what are those agreements. Three agreements have been referred to in the White Paper which we received a few days ago. Here may I add my voice to those hon. Members who have stated that it would be better if we had such documents in our hands somewhat earlier? I would like to know whether any other agreements have been reached.

Mr. Piratin

No.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Rees-Williams)

I understand there are no other agreements. I appreciate that Mr. Senanayake signed the agreements on behalf of the Ceylon Government, but I would like to know with whom were those agreements discussed in the first place. Were they ratified, or were they at least discussed in the Ceylon Council? If so, what was the nature of the discussion there and what conclusions were reached on those agreements? What is to be the relationship between the Ceylon Government and the British Military Administration? The Secretary of State said that we would exercise complete control over our Forces in Ceylon. I would like to know whether our Forces will be called upon to deal with any internal problems in that country. I hope the Minister will assure us that they will not, because we have already had such unfortunate experiences. I will not refer to the notorious example of Greece, because that is outside the Colonial aspect, but we might recall what happened last year in Persia, where there was a strike in the oilfields, and two divisions of troops were sent over to Basra on the Iraq side of the river near these oilfields, waiting to go into the Persian oilfields to maintain law and order. I want to know, therefore, whether the troops in Ceylon would be used for such purposes and whether there is any agreement relating to this matter.

The hon. Member for Hornsey raised the question of commercial agreements, and asked for information about the nature of any such agreement, if any, because none is mentioned in the White Paper. I also would like to know whether there is any implicit agreement of a commercial character, and whether the Ceylon Government will have full powers to make 1501their own decisions in this respect, even at the expense of British investments in that country. If Ceylon is to be developed, as we all hope, in the interests of the Ceylonese people, adjustments will have to be made in the economy which obtains there at the moment, and this will affect the interests of certain investors in this country.

I accept the Bill for myself and my party. [Interruption.] It is very important for Ceylon that I accept it. But I cannot really understand what happened, in that it is only about a year ago that the new Constitution was introduced, only recently a general election took place, a new Assembly is gathered together, and now we have these proposals before us. Would it not have been wiser if such an intimation had been made to the Ceylonese people in the first place? We decided in this House last year what kind of a constitution we should impose, and then conferred it on Ceylon. We were the Government and we imposed it. For example, we decided there should be a senate of 30 Members, 15 elected and 15 appointed by the Governor. It is that particular Government today which is negotiating. I have already expressed some of my views on the negotiations, both in favour and against, but it is that Government which is negotiating. Is that Government really the one desired by the people of Ceylon? Has it the full right to negotiate? Would it not have been better the other way round—to have given them complete independence and then let them negotiate these particular agreements which are before us?

Mr. Piratin

I should like to put the hon. Member right. The Constitution now in operation in Ceylon was accepted by the Legislative Council of Ceylon. The Government operating in respect of these agreements is a Government based on the newly elected Parliament of Ceylon. A general election has just taken place. A new Government has been set up, and it is that Government which is negotiating these agreements.

Mr. Creech Jones

What the Secretary of State says is quite right, but the Secretary of State will recall that that Constitution was accepted only as a last resort by part of the representatives in Ceylon 1502 and transitionally, and that there was opposition not only from the Left—

Mr. Piratin

§

The hon. Member’s remarks about the Constitution are not within the scope of the Bill.

Mr. Speaker

§

What I am trying to say is that had we not introduced that Constitution last year the people of Ceylon would have been freer. If we had given them full independence instead, they would have been freer to decide their future.

Mr. Piratin

§

The hon. Member must remember that last week, when we discussed Burma, discussion then of the Constitution of Burma was ruled out of Order; and that, therefore, I must regard discussion of the Constitution of Ceylon as being out of Order in this Debate. Whether it could have been a better Constitution or not has nothing to do with this Bill.

Mr. Speaker

I am certain, however, that the Secretary of State has understood the point, and maybe the Under-Secretary of State will dispose of it.

Mr. Piratin

And be out of Order?

Mr. Gammans

I hope that this Bill will mean that there will be an opportunity for the people of Ceylon to obtain their full independence. I hope that the Government will not heed what was said by the hon. Member for Hornsey, and what was implicit in much of what he said—that we should attempt to interfere further in that country. It is within his right to point out what in his opinion constitutes dangers, political or economic—

Mr. Piratin

As the hon. Member is making a rather dangerous statement, would he quote what I said that suggested that we should interfere in Ceylon?

Mr. Gammans

We are speaking in the British House of Commons, and if a Member of Parliament intimates that there are three dangers in a country which, in a short while, is to have independence, I believe that it is an indication to us, and a tacit request to the Government, to be prepared to face those dangers. I am not going over his points for I would not give the hon Member more publicity than he has achieved for himself. I ask the Government, therefore, not to heed those remarks, but 1503rather to associate themselves with the remarks of my hon Friend the Member for Burslem (Mr. A. Edward Davies), who said that when we take steps of this kind we should give the peoples concerned opportunities of developing their own lives. If they want to progress in a certain way, that is their affair, and we should give them the utmost opportunity and freedom to do so. I hope that this Bill will pass the House quickly, and that it will be accepted as only a first step on the road to Ceylon’s complete independence.

Mr. Piratin

§12.26 p.m.

 (Swindon) 

I regret that I cannot follow the hon. Member for Mile End (Mr. Piratin) as regards either his facts or his deductions from facts. He admitted that he had never seen a tea estate. That is nothing to his discredit. I do not think he has ever seen a coconut estate either. Indeed, he said that only a fourth of the cultivable land of Ceylon was used for the sustenance of the people.

Mr. Thomas Reid

I am sure the hon. Member does not want to misinterpret me. I said that only one-sixteenth of the land was used for rice plantations.

The hon. Member also said a fourth. He mentioned a fourth and a sixteenth. I am very accurate, because I have had a long training in accuracy in administration. Coconuts have a hundred uses. They are used for every possible economic need of the people of Ceylon, and, incidentally, for food. It so happens that the coconut plantations of Ceylon, which are estimated to be nearly 1,000,000 acres in extent, are almost all owned exclusively by Ceylonese. About half the rubber plantations of Ceylon belong to the Ceylonese also, and some of the tea estates belong to them too.

Mr. Reid

How many?

Mr. Piratin

I will not descend to details about the actual amounts, because that is quite irrelevant.

Mr. Reid

If that is so, why mention it?

Mr. Piratin

The hon. Member, as is usual with Communists, is indulging in fiction, and no one need pay the slightest attention 1504to Communist propaganda, because it is never true.

This is an historic occasion. We are dealing with a people who have thousands of years of civilisation behind them. It may not be known to all hon. Members of this House that the Sinhalese language is Sanskrit, and is derived from sources from which our own language comes. The written records of Ceylon are, I think, the oldest in the world. Therefore, we are dealing with a people of a very high civilisation, a people of a very high culture, and a people possessed of a natural dignity. I do not wish to be understood to be saying anything that could be interpreted as being derogatory to the Tamils. They are very proud of their own language, which goes back thousands of years, too. We are dealing with a very cultured people, and people with a sense of humour, and people whom all Europeans like. Ceylon has always called itself the premier Crown Colony, and I think that that claim can be justified. I am not going to cast aspersions on the country in which the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Gammans) is particularly interested, Malaya; but Ceylon was developed by us long before Malaya. Our occupation of Ceylon, has lasted 150 years. During that time we have given Ceylon a splendid administration, and we have developed the country—with the help of the Ceylonese—to an enormous extent.

When such big constitutional changes are taking place, as at present, it is only right to pay a tribute to the Civil Service of Ceylon, the premier service. We have sent out in recent times picked men from our universities, as we have sent them also to India, Malaya, and Hong Kong—not selected on any principle of nepotism, but selected after going through stiff examinations for the higher Civil Service. They have done a splendid job; they have contributed by their knowledge, ability, training, education and, above all, integrity; and they have earned the respect and love of the Ceylonese people. It may not be obvious to people at home, but in these Colonies the premier service, the Civil Service, has an immense say in the shaping of policy. In the case of Ceylon, the European Civil Service never resisted constitutional changes. On the contrary, I know that when the Donoughmore 1505Committee went out some of the recommendations of that Committee came from the Civil Service. That was a most revolutionary change in the history of Colonial administration, because it placed in the hands of the people of the Colony full responsibility in their internal affairs under elected Ministers.

It might interest hon. Members to know that when the Donoughmore Constitution was placed before the Legislative Council of Ceylon the official members of the Council did not vote, and the Constitution was carried by the votes of the unofficial European Members. There is an idea sometimes current in quarters where knowledge of Colonial affairs is very superficial, and where propaganda is not always honest, that the Europeans who go out to the Colonies are dyed-in-the-wool obstructors of progress. In the case of Ceylon, the unofficial members of the Council were responsible for passing the Donoughmore Constitution, because the people themselves, through their elected representatives, were divided, and it was only the unofficial European Members’ votes which carried the Donoughmore Constitution.

In the case of Ceylon, both the Government and the people under the old British Government in Ceylon acted in time; and the Donoughmore Constitution and the previous Constitution, all working in the direction of self-government, were all done in time, with the result that the people were given the blessed boon and burdens of responsibility before the 1939–45 war. The result was that, the Ceylon Government, the Ministers and the people—practically everybody except a few extremists on the Left—were 100 per cent. with us during the war. That was a proof of our statesmanship and of Ceylonese statesmanship. We have now reached the stage when the island is to have Dominion status. This is a remark able occasion, because hitherto Dominion status has only arisen in territories overseas where the ruling population has been white. In this case the Ceylonese people, of their own free will, are coming into the Commonwealth regardless of colour bars. Therefore, this is a most important event in the development of the Commonwealth, and I am perfectly certain they have come in to stay.

The hon. Member for Hornsey referred to the fact that in Ceylon there is a plural 1506society, and said that there were two races. He is not quite correct, for there are several races—Malays, Moors, and Burghers, as well as Sinhalese and Tamils. However, I do not anticipate any trouble. The statesmanship of the Ceylon people is shown by the fact that Mr. Senanayake’s party, which is the biggest party in Ceylon today, is composed of people of different races; there are Malayan, Tamil and Sinhalese Ministers. That party stands for a breach with Communalism, and I think that breach will grow. I do not think there will be any sort of trouble, owing to the fact that there is already a Tamil party; in Mr. Senanayake’s party there are some Tamils and Sinhalese. I know that problem has given immense trouble in India, but in Ceylon the people are far more sensible, and these communal troubles do not go as deep there as they do in India.

The hon. Member for Hornsey also mentioned the question of defence, and asked if the Commonwealth Governments had agreed to the treaty with Ceylon. I think the correct constitutional position is, not that the Commonwealth Governments should agree, but that they should be consulted and have the facts put before them. The correct constitutional position is that His Majesty’s Government in Britain, alone, are responsible for dealing with decisions in this matter.

Mr. Reid

I agree with that. What I was trying to find out was whether the terms of the Defence Agreement, which have no period attached to them, were regarded as satisfactory by the Governments of New Zealand and Australia, who are intimately concerned with them.

Mr. Gammans

I do not know, but I think the Minister is quite correct in not answering that question. It would be incorrect constitutionally for him to answer it. It is quite sufficient, as has been stated, for our Government to place the facts before the Dominion Governments and to leave it at that. No doubt if the Dominion Governments wished to say anything they would have said it.

I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Hornsey in his remarks about the strategic importance of Ceylon. The strategic importance of that island is immense. First of all, there is the 1507magnificent port of Trincomalee which is a naval base; Colombo is one of the great world ports; and apart from that, the position of the island in the Indian Ocean is such that it is a base of enormous importance. The hon. Member said that it affected not merely Ceylon but the Commonwealth. That is perfectly true. Indeed, I would go further and say that it affects the whole world, because peace is indivisible and war is indivisible, and Ceylon is a place of immense importance in world strategy.

I think the hon. Member for Hornsey wanted to have stated in the Treaty that bases in Ceylon would be given to Great Britain. As I understand the agreement, it is this. The present arrangement continues, unless that arrangement is changed by the consent of both parties. The Minister who replies will no doubt say if that is incorrect. I think it is correct. At the present time we have bases in Ceylon—in Trincomalee, together with air fields, and various things of that kind—and, as I understand it, that arrangement continues unless it is changed by the consent of both parties. Apart from that, the Ceylonese are a proud people, and it would have been most unwise for us to have tried to insist in a treaty that they gave us bases. Also, the Ceylonese leaders are highly responsible men, hardheaded and shrewd, and they have no hatred whatever for us, any more than we have for them. I am perfectly certain that in any arrangements which are required for the future the Ceylonese, because they are friendly towards us, because they know they need us, and because they know their island could not defend itself, there will not be the slightest trouble about the joint defence of Ceylon.

As regards the action of the Ceylonese leaders, I know most of them very well, having worked with them in the Legislature, and they are quite different from a great many Colonial leaders. As the hon. Member for Hornsey said, they have been gradually trained, owing to the various constitutional changes which have taken place in Ceylon; they have learned the arts of administration and of politics; they are responsible, level-headed men, and, in my opinion, their statesmanship has been first-class throughout the crisis of recent years. There has never been any violence 1508in Ceylon. They have moved for self-government by constitutional means, and if anyone says that we have imposed anything on Ceylon by force or the like, they are saying what is quite untrue. In spite of the fact that they could not possibly resist our force, we have advanced them gradually to responsible government in internal affairs and to eventual Dominion status, although we could easily have suppressed any resistance they liked to make. The advance to Dominion status in Ceylon has been done on gradual lines; it has advanced by constitutional means, and has been granted generously and in time. It has been a model way of making great changes.

I strongly endorse what the hon. Member for Hornsey said about some symbolic token being given by us to mark this great occasion in the history of Ceylon. It would be an excellent idea if a Speaker’s chair were sent out to commemorate the occasion. Hon. Members may not be aware of the fact that this House has given great assistance to Ceylon in framing her new Constitution. The respected Second Clerk-Assistant at the Table, Major Fellowes, went out some months ago to Ceylon to help them devise parliamentary procedure. I am informed that at the present time he is in Ceylon carrying out the same task. This sort of thing is immensely appreciated by the people in Ceylon. I am certain that they look up to this old House with great admiration and respect, and the fact that we have sent out one of our respected officers to help them will be greatly appreciated.

I have lived a good many years in Ceylon. I know Ceylon very well, and I speak the people’s language. I do not think that any time while I was in Ceylon I ever heard an unkind or discourteous word said to me by the Ceylonese. One receives endless kindness and good will from them. They are a very warmhearted, tolerant people, with a sense of humour, and luckily they are not smitten with the appalling poverty we find in India. Fortunately the island is well watered and has a fairly good climate. It can grow all sorts of crops and the people have never been so poverty stricken as the people in some of the monsoon areas in the East. I am perfectly certain that every person like myself who has known Ceylon will wish the people of the island pros 1509perity and success. I am convinced they will show the world that a people in an island in the Indian Ocean can really work democracy. In conclusion, I would offer my apologies and regrets for having to leave the House, in view of an appointment at 12.30 p.m. which I cannot possibly avoid. I hope that in these circumstances I shall be excused.

Mr. Reid

§12.44 p.m.

§

 (Paddington, South) 

I am sure that the House listened with the greatest interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. T. Reid) which came from a great knowledge of Ceylon and its people. This Bill has met with the approval of both sides of the House. While endorsing what has been said about it, I am very uneasy in regard to this question of defence. Prior to Dominion status being granted to various parts of the British Empire, our country was almost entirely responsible for the defence of the British Empire. With the granting of Dominion status to Australia, Canada, New Zealand and so on, the question of Imperial Defence has been made more and more difficult. It is quite true that the Dominions have always done everything possible to assist in the defence of the Empire, and especially in the last two great wars. As in the case of Ceylon, no unit of the British Empire can stand alone in this matter of defence. We must be united in the matter of defence, and we must be certain, in the event of war, that every single member of the British Empire, or Commonwealth of Nations—I prefer to call it the British Empire—will be united, and that each unit will play its part.

This raises the question of bases, which is of the utmost importance. For centuries, we have been able to maintain the security of the Empire because of the many bases we possessed throughout the world. It has been solely on account of that fact that we have been able to give security to the sea routes vital to this country and to each member of the Empire. If we are unable, with the assistance of the great Dominions, to maintain the security of those trade routes, then the Empire will gradually dissolve, and will be defeated by an aggressor in the future. Ceylon cannot possibly stand alone, any more than any other unit of the British Empire, on this question of defence. Now 1510that India has gone and Ceylon is to have Dominion status, it is of the utmost importance that not only shall we have a base or bases in Ceylon, but that we shall be able to maintain them and keep them up to date, so that it will be certain, in the event of war breaking out, that these bases will be available to be operated and utilised by us.

When Ceylon gets Dominion status, she can, in the event of war breaking out, like all of the other Dominions, remain neutral if she wishes. She need not ipso facto come into the war. Suppose that, in the event of a future war, Ceylon says that she will remain neutral, what will happen to the bases in Ceylon as far as this country and the other units of the Empire are concerned? If we are not able to use them, then any scheme of defence which has been built up on the basis that we can utilise these bases in Ceylon will fall to the ground. It is impossible, in my view—and I have said so before in the House—that the Dominions shall have complete freedom as to whether or not they shall come into any future war. I realise that they have the power to say that they will remain neutral, but if that were done, no effective Imperial Derence could be organised. We must, in order to be able to build up Imperial Defence, know that throughout the Empire we can use such bases as are there, and that is why I am so concerned about this agreement with Ceylon in regard to defence. Surely to goodness, Ceylon would not object to leasing us such bases as are necessary from her. Why should she object? It would be for her benefit, and for the benefit of this country and the remainder of the Empire, as well as the rest of the world that the bases should be there, be up to date and be used by us in the event of war.

It has already been pointed out that the United States have leased bases from us for 99 years in the West Indies. Is that anything which is derogatory to us? In Bermuda, the United States have a great air base leased for 99 years, and she also has similar arrangements with the Philippines because it is necessary for the purposes of defence. Therefore, why should Ceylon object, and why cannot the Government come to an agreement with Ceylon in this matter? The agreement which has been come to is far 1511too illusory. I ask the Colonial Secretary who is to keep the bases in Ceylon up to date. Are we going to do it, or is Ceylon going to do it? What agreement is there on that. Are our forces going to remain in Ceylon, and for how long? There is nothing in the agreement about it, but we must have a specified term, and in order to do that we must have a lease of such bases as are necessary. Only in that way shall we be quite certain that we can utilise the bases in Ceylon which are of the utmost importance in any scheme of defence in the Far East in the event of aggression in the future. Therefore, I beg the Under-Secretary, who is to reply, to enlighten the House in this matter. I ask the Government if they will go further into this matter and see if it is not possible to obtain by agreement a base, or such bases as are necessary, in Ceylon in the matter of Imperial Defence.

Vice-Admiral Taylor

§12.51 p.m.

§

 (Leyton, West) 

I do not propose to follow the hon. and gallant Member along the interesting path of considering our defences overseas as they affect this country, except to say that, although I was glad that the hon. and gallant Member for South Paddington (Vice-Admiral Taylor) offered his good wishes to the Ceylonese people, he seemed to be concerned almost entirely with how the advent of Dominion status to Ceylon would affect this country. I think it would have been more felicitous it he had spent a little time studying the matter from the Ceylonese point of view and how it is going to assist the Ceylonese people. He made some reference to the agreement between this country and America regarding bases in the Caribbean seas. That agreement was freely arrived at in consultation between two equal parties. I do not know whether it is suggested by the hon. and gallant Member that if Ceylon does not agree to the granting of a long lease we shall insist that they do, because if so, it means that we are nullifying the freedom which we have accepted as being a necessity of the Ceylonese people.

Mr. Sorensen

§

If we are giving Ceylon Dominion status, we cannot force that agreement on her. I only trust that negotiations will take place, and that by agreement with Ceylon, we shall get the lease of such bases as are necessary.

Vice-Admiral Taylor

1512

§

I appreciate that, as well as the insistence on the part of the hon. and gallant Gentleman, it must be freely negotiated between Ceylon on the one hand and ourselves on the other. Under those circumstances it seems to me far better to leave the matter where it is—

Mr. Sorensen

§

No.

Vice-Admiral Taylor

§

—because these are delicate matters, in the hands of the Secretary of State and his colleagues in the Cabinet, who will do their utmost along the lines of mutual agreement to reach a conclusion satisfactory to both parties. If there is no conclusion satisfactory to us, what does that mean? We shall have to do without the naval, military and aerial advantage of that particular island and we shall have to devise our defences accordingly. That is the implication of the freedom which we now recognise Ceylon is entitled to enjoy.

Remarks have been made by an hon. Member regarding the necessity of receiving the consent of the other Dominions to this proposal. I could not quite follow what the hon. Member was really trying to suggest. I intervened to ask whether it meant that we could not go forward with this venture until apparently all the Dominions had given their assent. It is our responsibility, in the first place, to recognise the right of Ceylon to Dominion status. It is not the responsibility of the other Dominions. Therefore, I cannot understand why there should be such anxiety as to whether there is assent on the part of the other Dominions. It seems entirely irrelevant. It is certainly encouraging to us all to realise that another Dominion is about to rise to its full stature, and I entirely agree with what the Secretary of State said earlier, that this is an answer to those critics in any part of the world who still allege that we are hypnotised and obsessed by imperialism, and that whatever we do has some ulterior imperial ambition or sinister aim. I am more than content to believe that this act on the part of the Government is the implementation of those principles of freedom which are part of the tradition and policy of the party to which I belong. I cannot see how anyone can criticise it. India and Pakistan have become independent and now Ceylon follows. This could be a great example to the world of the sincerity of the intentions of our Cabinet.

1513I may also say that the Government, in taking this step, have now apparently the support of the Members opposite. We rather miss the intervention of the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) today, who generally gives us an entertaining, romantic exhibition, together with numerous warnings about dreadful possibilities in the future. He is absent on this occasion and so are any of those who agree with his particular sentiments. I wonder whether, if next year the Ceylonese decide to opt out—I do not desire that they should, but I wonder if they will—we shall receive warnings of dreadful happenings and frightful occurrences? That possibility has not yet been reached, but if next year Ceylon did, by its own decision, under the Statute of Westminster, decide to go out of the British Commonwealth, while I should profoundly regret it and would do all that I could in my amateur way to prevent it, we have to face the fact that it would be a free choice and we should not be able to pass any baneful criticism on them.

Reference has been made to the fact that Ceylon is a much happier country than its great neighbours India and Pakistan. That seems to be true, but on the other hand even Ceylon is not free from communal differences. There are differences between the Tamils and the Sinhalese and between the Buddhist faith practised by the majority and the other faiths, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity and a certain amount of Mohammedanism It is encouraging to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. T. Reid) and others say that there is nothing of the bitterness and hostility that prevail elsewhere. Reference was made by the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Gammans) to the existence of Communism inside Ceylon. That apparently exercised him very deeply indeed. It does not exercise me. I am not a Communist and I reject that policy completely, but if it is the decision of the Ceylonese people to approach Communism it is their own decision, and it will counterbalance any tendency to communalism which may exist in that island, for there is one thing to be said for Communism as can be said for Christianity, Socialism and about other secular and religious faiths, that it does cut clean across racial and ethnical divisions. It is all to the good, therefore, 1514that there does exist a movement to counterbalance a tendency on the part of communities to segregate themselves from other communities, often with fatal results.

Mr. Sorensen

Is the hon. Member now eulogising Communism and the practice of Communism and saying that there is nothing the matter with it because it absorbs people of all different races and creeds? Is that his argument?

Vice-Admiral Taylor

I am afraid the hon. and gallant Member has not quite followed the intention of my observations. I have already said that I am not a Communist and that I reject the Communist philosophy as much as I reject the Conservative philosophy; but that whenever any movement, whether it is Conservative, Imperialist, Communist, Socialist, Christian or otherwise arises that cuts through racial divisions it has a counterbalancing tendency. It tends to prevent communities from separating themselves from other communities merely on the ground of ethnological or racial difference. If there is a Communist movement in Ceylon it helps in some measure to prevent the spread of pure communalism which is based upon no ideological or theoretical movement, but upon the fact that members of communities speak the same language or belong to the same race.

Mr. Sorensen

 (Birmingham, King’s Norton) 

As the hon. Member is dealing with this point, would he not agree that, historically, Communism, wherever it has existed, has always created a strong racial movement in opposition to itself, such as Fascism?

Mr. Blackburn

Now we are beginning to tread a rather dangerous path. We shall get a long way from the Bill if we begin to inquire what Communism means.

Mr. Speaker

I was only going to inform the hon. Member who interrupted me that I do not intend to fall into the trap which he has set, because I should be very severely reprimanded. On other occasions we may be able to discuss the matter. I hope most earnestly that the ideas and ideals that move the people of Ceylon are not racial but theoretical. It is a tragic fact in the world at the present time that so many people are aggregating themselves together not on the basis of a common purpose, a common 1515thought or a common need, but because they happen to be born into an allegedly similar race. We have seen where that kind of thing leads us.

On this occasion we seem to be gathered together to bid farewell to Ceylon. I am sure that no hon. Member intends to do so in a patronising manner, or to indulge in exhortations and homilies which suggest that we think of Ceylon rather as an inferior who has been trained by us and is now to have a last word from its elderly mentors. Rather are we agreed that Ceylon is now one with us and is equal with us, and is going out upon a great adventure. She is going to prove to the world that the freedom she enjoys and the life which she is now to develop politically and economically is for her a great opportunity. We trust that Ceylon and this country will remain true and deep friends and will set an example to the world of an association based not upon force, but upon co-operation, mutual regard, common interest and friendship between our two peoples.

Mr. Sorensen

§1.4 p.m.

§

 (Glasgow, Central) 

There can seldom have been a more vivid contrast between two speeches from the benches opposite than that between the speech of the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. T. Reid) and the speech of the hon. Member for Mile End (Mr. Piratin). In the first, we heard what the House always appreciates, the speech of an hon. Member who knew his subject and knew intimately the territory which he was traversing in his speech. In the other, we heard an irresponsible and irrelevant stream of fallacies, produced partly through ignorance and partly for the purpose of stirring up propaganda in that charming island which I also know and to which we all so sincerely wish well. The hon. Member used the usual argument of the one-way flow of money. Whatever small sums may have come out of Ceylon they have been more than counter-balanced by the large sums of money which this country has devoted to the development of Ceylon.

The hon. Member tried, in a spurious way, to indicate that this country had plundered Ceylon in the past. I ask any fair-minded Ceylonese or Britisher whether the position of that island today 1516is superior or inferior to the condition in which we found it 150 years ago. The hon. Member then said that the self-government which is now being granted with the consent of all parties in this House has come about only as the result as a demand from those people, but surely the very fact that the people were vocal enough to unite in making a demand shows the very advance which he claims that we have retarded. Nobody is going to thrust upon a colony self-government before it has asked for it. The fact that this agitation has lasted for so very short a time shows with what good Will the people of this country have met the legitimate Ceylonese view.

One of the forms of bulk purchase which this Government pursue with considerable assiduity is, I am afraid, the bulk purchase of pigs in pokes. There was India, then Burma, and now there is Ceylon, only a relatively small pig, but in a very obscure poke, in my view. By that I do not mean to say that this Measure should not be passed, but that I believe that both the Ceylonese and this Government are trying to see into a very obscure future. Nevertheless, we are all combined to give a blessing to that pig. I want to join in, and to associate myself, with the ceremony of blessing. The situation is obscure, because after the elections so recently held we find that the balance of power is held by a party Which calls itself the Independent Party and whose political views and future actions are probably not even known to themselves. The future, therefore, holds a situation which nobody can clearly foresee at the present time.

A great deal has been said already about the agreements which the Government have negotiated. We have heard a great deal about the agreement on defence and I will not take that matter any further, but I would like to ask the Minister whether there was any agreement upon trading matters. I gather that there was no agreement, and I cannot see why that should be so. There is nothing derogatory in asking that certain conditions as to trade should be part and parcel of the Bill, in order to protect the trade of the people of this country. I have heard hon. Members opposite pretend that we have no responsibility for the trade of the people of this country. Of course we have responsibility to the people of that island, which we have 1517tried to meet in the Bill. We have an equal responsibility to the traders of this country, and there should have been an agreement in order to prevent such things as discrimination. I do not think discrimination will come about in the near future. I have just as much confidence as hon. Gentlemen opposite have in those who are likely to take charge in Ceylon in the near future, but we cannot see very far ahead. The Government have a duty and a responsibility to protect the trade of their nationals. They do it in their nationalisation Bills in Which non-discrimination is incorporated in certain very reasonable Clauses which are inserted in those Bills.

At the risk of offending an hon. Member who has spoken, I propose to give just a little advice, for what that advice may be worth, from an ordinary back bencher to a young and new constitution. Recently, Pandit Nehru stated that the British Empire was fading away. I beg the people of Ceylon to realise that there never was a greater fallacy. People have said that before on many occasions. Napoleon thought we were vulnerable, the Kaiser said we were insignificant and Hitler thought we were decadent; but I can assure them that, as Mark Twain said of his own obituary, the report of our demise has been very greatly exaggerated.

Colonel J. R. H. Hutchison

§

Does the hon. and gallant Gentleman realise that the content of Pandit Nehru’s remark was to suggest not that we were decadent but that to increase our moral stature we had sacrificed our purely imperialistic ideals?

Mr. Sorensen

What he meant and what he said may be at loggerheads one with the other, but I can only read one meaning into the words and that is that the British Empire is fading away. In my ignorance I interpreted the Pandit’s remark in this way, and there may be many others in Ceylon who will interpret it similarly.

Colonel Hutchison

He suggested that the Commonwealth was rising and taking the Empire’s place.

Mr. Sorensen

He ought to have gone on to say that. Obviously he is wrong and the hon. Gentleman is right for shortly afterwards Pandit Nehru accepted Dominion status for Hindustan, and there we have it.

1518

I wish the people of Ceylon to realise how closely their destiny is bound up with the British Commonwealth. Neither in defence nor in trade can they stand alone. It is not often that the kitten brings anything back to the old cat, but in this case Ceylon can bring something to Britain. We are her best market and we can give her the protection without which she would certainly become a prey to many plundering nations in the future. If she has been led to think that there will be any advantage in seceding from the British Commonwealth she will be suffering from a wild hallucination which may cost her dear. I wish this lovely island success. Ceylon is embarking on perilous seas. Children always want to grow up, but grown-up people often wish that they were once again children. Ceylon has grown up now, and I only hope that she finds it a blessed state.

Colonel Hutchison

§1.13 p.m.

 (Chelsea) 

I rise at this seemingly unfashionable hour to add one word on the Defence Agreement and to hope that the Under-Secretary may give us a little amplification. I think it is agreed on all sides that we are quite right in not confining our thoughts to the defence of Ceylon. As the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Gammans) said, we have to remember the vital position of Ceylon with regard to our Imperial air and sea communications, and we have also to remember the slightly different position of Ceylon at the moment. During the last year we have lost the hold we had before—we may now have a different hold because of Dominion status—on the Maldive Islands, the Laccadive Islands, the Andaman Isles and the Nicobars, and there is also a different position in Burma. I feel that when this agreement was considered there may have been three approaches to it. The first may have been, as certain hon. Members have suggested, that there should be a period of years of lease; the second may have been that there should be some warning period before either of the two Powers could break the agreement; and the third was what is in the Bill.

In my opinion the agreement that we have got is right, as it does not make any suggestion that it is not a permanent agreement. In such an agreement between independent Powers, as we shall be, the 1519key words are “in their mutual interests,” which occurs in paragraph 1, and also the words, “mutually agreed” which occur many times. I presume that there will be some sub-agreements because it says: The Government of the United Kingdom may base such naval and air forces and maintain such land forces in Ceylon as may be required for these purposes, and as may be mutually agreed. There will be some sub-agreement on that. It is in the case of the lease of land that we must have some security of tenure so that we know if we are to spend a lot of money that we shall have that land for a particular time. It would be quite ridiculous for us to build a barracks on a certain piece of land and for the Ceylon Government then to decide that they want to build a hospital there; we might want to build an airfield and Ceylon might say that she wants it for a prison or for something else; they may be rather extreme cases, but they serve to illustrate my point. I wish to emphasise the point made by the hon. and gallant Member for Hythe (Brigadier Mackeson), and that is that we cannot maintain a large naval or air base without the good will of the people in that country. Many reasons will come to mind; but one is the question of local labour, which for air and naval bases is most important. Before I sit down may I join in the general support that has been given to the Bill, and add my good wishes to those already expressed?

Commander Noble

§1.17 p.m.

§

I am very glad that there has been general unanimity over this Bill—at all events, in the main—and I trust that nothing I shall say will introduce a discordant note into these most harmonious proceedings and thus upset the hon. and gallant Member for Hythe (Brigadier Mackeson). We are today taking part in a truly historic occasion. This is the first Colonial non-European people to arrive at independence within the Commonwealth, and I feel that the speeches on all sides, with very few exceptions, have shown adequate recognition of the importance that this House attaches to this step in the history of Ceylon. I have been fortunate in having made two visits to Ceylon, and 1520on both occasions I was charmed both by the beauty of the island and by the hospitality and grace of the people. The world will, I am sure, take notice of the type of evolution that is to be found in the British Commonwealth, and among certain nations which have not always had a complete understanding of our ways, I hope that their misunderstandings will be rectified.

The hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Gammans) raised the question of economic interests in Ceylon, particularly of British merchants. That matter was also raised later in the Debate by the hon. and gallant Member for Central Glasgow (Colonel Hutchison). The point is that this question has never been raised; we have had no submissions from any interests whatsoever in Ceylon, and it was stated in the “Financial Times” for the 17th November: Neither the Ceylon Association of London, which represents the bulk of British investors in Ceylon, nor the local British business community, have asked for any safeguards in the coming constitutional changes.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Rees-Williams)

May I interrupt the hon. Gentleman to say that it is largely because of lack of time? If people cannot get Bills and agreements to study, they cannot possibly come to conclusions as to what they want. Will he consider protecting these interests in Ceylon in the Bill as it goes through?

Colonel Hutchison

There has not been a great shortage of time. It is true that the actual Bill has not been long before the House, but this question has been in the air for some considerable time, and if any representations were desired by the people of Ceylon so that any implementation of those representations could be put in the Bill or the agreements, they would have been made long ago. As the local community is perfectly satisfied that there should be no special mention of them—in other words they have perfect faith in the goodwill of the Government of Ceylon—we see no reason why we should take any steps when no steps are desired.

Mr. Rees-Williams

§

I apologise for interrupting again, but the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that the Secretary of State promised that agreements would come up just before or concurrently with the Bill. No doubt relying on those agreements—which any person would have imagined would cover the trading position—voices 1521were still which might otherwise have been vocal.

Colonel Hutchison

That is entirely fallacious; no voices are still if there are interests which the voices desire to protect. Such a declaration of the Secretary of State would have aroused those voices if there were any voices there, and they would very soon have made their representations. However, we feel confident, with the business community, that their interests will be protected in the same way as they always have been by the good will of the Government of Ceylon.

The next point that arose was also made by the hon. Member for Hornsey—lack of time. We must apologise to some extent to the House for this. There has been a very short time, but this has not been our fault; indeed, we have been under great pressure to get this Measure through this House before the Ceylon Parliament meets, which it is due to do on the 25th, and we have been asked by them to get, at all events, the Second Reading through this House. We had hoped to get it through further stages before that date, but that has not been possible. It will be realised that the agreements could not be signed in Ceylon by the Government until the Bill had been presented, so that also has had a concertina effect upon the time available. I would ask hon. Members, therefore, to excuse us for what in fact we could not avoid.

With reference to defence, which was raised by a number of hon. Members from rather different points of view, I quite appreciate the difficulties and doubts of hon. Members because this is an important point. Our aim and that of the Ceylon Government all through these negotiations has been to arrive at a settlement which will carry out the wishes of both parties which are these: that we are both members of a family, and when you are members of a family it is the spirit more than anything else that counts. As the hon. and gallant Member for Hythe said, we felt on balance that it would be quite improper in an agreement between members of a family to put a time limit to this agreement.

Mr. Rees-Williams

The hon. Member said “both parties.” What about Australia and New Zealand? Will he develop that a little?

Mr. Gammans

1522

§

They are all members of the Commonwealth; they are all members of the family, so to speak. We have no time limit agreement with Australia, Canada or New Zealand and, similarly, we do not want any definite time limit agreement with Ceylon.

Mr. Rees-Williams

§

Is it not a fact that we have responsibility, and not the other Dominions?

Mr. Sorensen

§

Yes, we have responsibility because, up till now, this particular country has been the responsibility of the British Parliament and the United Kingdom Government. Another point I would like hon. Members to realise is that the Ceylon Government is as anxious for the protection of the Commonwealth interests as we are. They will not take any action which would in any way cripple or interfere with the general interests of the Commonwealth. If war broke out, I feel certain that Ceylon would be one of the first, or probably the first, to come into any protection of the Commonwealth that might be necessary. It is quite unreal to talk about countries such as have been mentioned because, in those cases, the agreements have been made with foreign countries and, naturally, there had to be a time limit. Every one of the examples mentioned was of an agreement made either by the British Government or by some other Government with a foreign Power. Surely the hon. and gallant Member for South Paddington (Vice-Admiral Taylor) will not suggest that an agreement of this kind could be put on the same basis as an agreement between say, the Philippines and the United States?

Mr. Rees-Williams

§

We and Ceylon, like the United States and this country are also of one family—

Vice-Admiral Taylor

No.

Hon. Members

§

 (Coventry, East) 

indicated dissent.

Mr. Crossman

§

The hon. Member for East Coventry (Mr. Crossman) shakes his head. If we are not one family on the question of peace and war, then the future peace of the world is in a very bad state and cannot be relied upon.

Vice-Admiral Taylor

§

We are all members of one family.

Mr. Sorensen

1523

§

The hon. and gallant Member must not tempt me into indiscretions. I am easily tempted and I might get out of Order. I want to make it quite clear that with this particular part of the Defence Agreement and most of the discussion has been aroused by this part of one agreement we must not see that in isolation. It is part of the general agreement arrived at between the Ceylon Government and ourselves, and therefore it is quite unrealistic to pick it out like a plum from a plum pudding, hold it up, and say, “This is undesirable.” It forms part of the pudding as a whole and, when we take the pudding, we must take all the plums with it and not isolate one.

Mr. Rees-Williams

On that point, may I ask one other question? Presumably, the bases will be kept up in Ceylon and not allowed to go to rack and ruin. Is this country to keep up those bases, or will Ceylon keep them up? They must be kept up, and I imagine Ceylon cannot afford to do so.

Vice-Admiral Taylor

I do not know why we are never taken at our surface value, or any agreement is not taken at surface value. It is quite obvious from the agreement, and it is a fact, that we are going to maintain the bases, and the bases will be kept up. No one has ever suggested anything to the contrary.

Mr. Rees-Williams

The hon. Member said so.

Vice-Admiral Taylor

I say so now, and the agreement says so; at least it says nothing to the contrary. The bases will be kept up, we will keep them up, and everything necessary will be done for the defence of the Commonwealth. This is a mutual agreement between Ceylon and ourselves.

The next point which was raised by the hon. Member for Hornsey is one which was suggested to Mr. Speaker, and with which I would not wish to interfere. We are making a present to Ceylon, as indeed to all legislative councils in the Colonies, of a piece of oak from Westminster Hall, and they will have it made up into whatever form they like. That will be a little gesture on our part to the various Colonial Governments.

Mr. Rees-Williams

I hope this does not exclude a much more elaborate gesture than that. Can we not have the oak made 1524up into a Speaker’s chair and not give a mere piece of firewood?

Mr. Gammans

I cannot answer for Mr. Speaker; I can only say what the Government are doing. As has been mentioned by the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. T. Reid), the Second Clerk-Assistant of this House has gone out, for the second time, and is rendering very valuable service to the Parliament of Ceylon. That is a very fine omen of the close association which will be continued, I am sure, between the Mother of Parliaments, and the Parliament in Colombo. I wish to thank the hon. Member for Swindon for his speech, which derived from great knowledge and experience, and which will give great pleasure to the people of Ceylon.

I commend this Bill to the House. It turns a new page in history, and gives to the Sinhalese people, and other races in Ceylon, the opportunity of making a great contribution, not merely to Commonwealth affairs, but to all matters relating to races in the Orient. In some countries in the Orient affairs are now in a somewhat troubled condition, and I feel that the stability and political wisdom of the people of Ceylon can have a very great effect upon peoples in other countries where that political stability is not at present apparent.

Mr. Rees-Williams

§Question put, and agreed to.

§Bill accordingly read a Second time.

§Bill committed to a committee of the whole House for Monday next.—[Mr. R. J. Taylor.]

https://api.parliament.uk/historic-hansard/commons/1947/nov/21/ceylon-independence-bill

Independent Ceylon (1948–71)

Actual independence for the dominion of Ceylon came on February 4, 1948, when the constitution of 1947 went into effect. The constitution provided for a bicameral legislature with a popularly elected House of Representatives and a Senate that was partly nominated and partly elected indirectly by members of the House of Representatives. A prime minister and his cabinet, chosen from the largest political group in the legislature, held collective responsibility for executive functions. The governor-general, as head of state, represented the British monarch. In matters that the constitution failed to address, the conventions of the United Kingdom were observed.

The UNP had a substantial majority in the legislature and attracted support as it governed. There were, however, some basic weaknesses in the political structure. The consensus that the government represented embraced only a small fraction of the population—the English-educated Westernized elite groups that shared the values on which the structure was founded. To the great mass of Sinhalese- and Tamil-educated residents and unschooled citizens, these values appeared irrelevant and incomprehensible. The continued neglect of local culture as embodied in religion, language, and the arts created a gulf that divided the ruling elite from the ruled. Inevitably, traditionalist and revivalist movements arose to champion local values.

The island’s three export products—tea, rubber, and coconuts—were doing well in world markets, providing some 90 per cent of foreign exchange earnings. Nevertheless, the country began to face economic difficulties. A rapidly increasing population and the free import of consumer goods swiftly ate into earnings from foreign trade. The falling price of Ceylon’s rubber and tea and the increase in the price of imported food added to the acute foreign exchange problem. Additionally, the expanded school system produced a large number of educated persons who could not find employment.

The various factors of political and economic discontent converged after 1955, and a new Sinhalese nationalism was unleashed. It found a spokesman in S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike. In the 1956 elections the UNP was defeated, and Bandaranaike’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) came to power. The new government immediately set about changing the political structure. With the Sinhala Only Bill, it made Sinhalese the sole official language, and it took measures to provide state support for Buddhism and for Sinhalese culture. It also wedded the new nationalism to a form of socialism, in which the state was given a powerful role in economic development and the creation of economic equality.

S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike
S.W.R.D. BandaranaikeS.W.R.D. Bandaranaike.Camera Press/Globe Photos

The period of Sinhalese nationalism was also a time of political instability. The language policy alienated the Tamils, who, under the Federal Party, carried on a bitter opposition. Educational policies angered the small but influential Christian community. Reforms of Buddhist and other cultural practices offended different factions within the Sinhalese community.

Bandaranaike was assassinated in September 1959, and the nationalist movement suffered a setback and languished for want of a leader. After a period of political instability, his widow, Sirimavo Bandaranaike, was persuaded to gather together the fragments of the SLFP. In 1960 she formed a government, thus becoming the first woman in the world to hold the office of prime minister. Continuing the program of Sinhalese nationalism, she implemented policies to nurture and protect local industry and to extend the state sector. Partly in response to pressure from the Buddhist community to reduce the prominence of Christian missions in the country’s educational system, most private schools were nationalized, and state subsidies to any remaining private schools were discontinued.

Sirimavo Bandaranaike
Sirimavo BandaranaikeSirimavo Bandaranaike, 1960.Keystone/FPG

By 1965 the tide of Sinhalese nationalism had begun to recede. Language and religion had become less important as political issues. An economic crisis—caused by increasing unemployment, the rising cost of living, an acute shortage of consumer goods, and the failure of state enterprise in industry and trade—made people look back to the UNP. This party gained the support of minorities, and in 1965 it returned to power under Dudley Shelton Senanayake, who, as the son of Don Stephen Senanayake, had served as prime minister (1952–53) after his father’s death and briefly in 1960. Senanayake’s government enjoyed a five-year term of office, during which it encouraged private enterprise and made an effort to extend agricultural productivity. These measures, while having moderate success, also tended to create inflation and to increase social inequality. The SLFP formed an alliance with Marxist parties and waged a campaign against the government that called for increased state control of the economy. In 1970 this coalition won a landslide victory, and Sirimavo Bandaranaike again became prime minister.

The Bandaranaike government enacted reforms that restricted private enterprise and extended nationalization to embrace various private industries and foreign-owned plantations as well as a large part of the wholesale and distributive trade. Measures aimed at reducing social inequality were enacted, and an ambitious program of land reform was put into effect. Although these reforms benefited the vast majority of the underprivileged, they did nothing to address basic economic problems such as the mounting trade deficit. The educated youth, impatient for radical change, became disillusioned. Their discontent was mobilized by the People’s Liberation Front (Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna; JVP), a group of revolutionary youth who launched an unsuccessful armed rebellion in 1971.

The Republic of Sri Lanka

In a new constitution proclaimed in 1972, Ceylon became the Republic of Sri Lanka, while maintaining its link with the British Commonwealth. The constitution changed the bicameral legislature to a unicameral body and replaced the governor-general (who had been an extension of the British crown) with a president as head of state. Effective executive power, however, remained with the prime minister and cabinet, and all existing restraints on the lawmaking powers of the new unicameral legislature were removed. Buddhism was given “the foremost place,” and Sinhalese again was recognized as the official language.

As Sri Lanka’s economic decline continued, the immense economic power held by the state provided the party in power with the opportunity for patronage, nepotism, and corruption. By 1977 unemployment had risen to about 15 per cent. In July of that year, the SLFP was defeated by a reorganized UNP under the leadership of J.R. Jayawardene, who became prime minister.

The Jayawardene government sought to reverse trends toward state control of the economy by revitalizing the private sector and attracting foreign capital. It also set about writing a new constitution, promulgated in 1978, which renamed the country the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka and introduced a system under which the president remained head of state but was given new executive power as head of government. Although Sinhalese and Tamil were recognized as the national languages, Sinhalese was to be the official language. In 1978 Jayawardene was elected the first president under the new constitution, and Ranasinghe Premadasa, also of the UNP, became prime minister.

Civil war

However, political unrest escalated in the 1980s as groups representing the Tamil minority moved toward organized insurgency. Tamil bases were built up in jungle areas of the northern and eastern parts of the island and increasingly in the southern districts of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, where Tamil groups received official and unofficial support. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)—popularly known as the Tamil Tigers—was the strongest of these, but there were other competing groups, which were sometimes hostile to each other.

The Sri Lankan government responded to the unrest by deploying forces to the north and the east, but the eruption of insurgency inflamed communal passions, and in July 1983 there were extensive organized anti-Tamil riots in Colombo and elsewhere. Sinhalese mobs systematically attacked Tamils and destroyed Tamil property, and the riots forced refugees to move within the island and from Sri Lanka to Tamil Nadu.

Peace accord and discord

The Jayawardene government, facing a simultaneous resurgence of Sinhalese militancy by the JVP, became receptive to initiatives by the Indian government. After prolonged negotiations, an accord signed between India and Sri Lanka on July 29, 1987, offered the Tamils an autonomous integrated province in the northwest within a united Sri Lanka. Later that year, Tamil was recognized as an official language (alongside Sinhalese) by constitutional amendment. Meanwhile, the accord provided for the introduction of an Indian Peace-Keeping Force (IPKF) to enforce the terms of the agreement. However, the Sri Lankan government, the LTTE, and the IPKF disagreed over implementation of the accord, and the LTTE resumed its offensive, this time against the IPKF, which was trying to disarm it.Sinnappah Arasaratnam

In January 1989 Jayawardene retired and was succeeded by Premadasa, who had defeated Sirimavo Bandaranaike in the December 1988 elections. Premadasa negotiated a withdrawal of the IPKF, which was completed in March 1990, and the battle against Tamil insurgency was taken up by the Sri Lankan army. On May 1, 1993, Premadasa was assassinated by a suicide bomber, who allegedly was linked to the LTTE. The prime minister, Dingiri Banda Wijetunga, was appointed acting president. In 1994 Chandrika Kumaratunga, the daughter of S.W.R.D. and Sirimavo Bandaranaike became the country’s first female president. Rebel activity continued, and in 1999 Kumaratunga was injured in an assassination attempt blamed on the LTTE. She won reelection later that year. In 2002 a landmark cease-fire was negotiated between the war-weary LTTE and the government. Within just a few years, however, violence had resumed, and the cease-fire had virtually dissolved.

In addition to struggling with ongoing political unrest in the early 21st century, Sri Lanka was rattled by a tremendous natural disaster. In December 2004 the island was struck by a large tsunami that had been generated by an earthquake centred in the Indian Ocean near Indonesia. The wave killed tens of thousands of people and severely damaged the country’s northern, eastern, and southern coastal areas. Recovery was steady in the eastern and southern zones but was slower in the north because of the ongoing conflict there. Sinnappah ArasaratnamThe Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica

End of the war

Meanwhile, in 2005 Mahinda Rajapaksa, known for his strong stance against the LTTE, was elected president as head of a broad coalition of parties called the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), which had gained a plurality of legislators in parliamentary elections the previous year. The conflict between the Tamil rebels and the government raged on, and in 2006 the LTTE was declared a terrorist organization by the European Union. In January 2008 the government formally abandoned the 2002 cease-fire agreement, and the fighting intensified. Over the following months, the government captured major strongholds of the LTTE. The town of Kilinochchi, the administrative centre of the LTTE, came under government control in January 2009. Government troops continued their advance into LTTE-controlled territory, cornering the remnants of the rebel fighters along the northeast coast by late April. The army launched a final offensive in mid-May and succeeded in overrunning and occupying the rebels’ last stronghold. The LTTE’s leaders (including founder Vellupillai Prabhakaran) were killed during the operation, and the LTTE effectively ceased to exist as an organization. The number of civil-war-related deaths in Sri Lanka since the early 1980s was estimated at between 70,000 and 80,000, with many tens of thousands more displaced by the fighting.

Aftermath and recovery

The government’s victory over the LTTE was highly popular with the country’s Sinhalese voters, and the UPFA won several provincial and local elections during 2009. However, in the January 2010 presidential election, Rajapaksa faced stiff opposition from Sarath Fonseka, the former general who had commanded the Sri Lankan military during the civil war. Rajapaksa won a second term, although the results were challenged by Fonseka. In early February Fonseka was arrested while discussing with members of the opposition the upcoming April parliamentary elections. The charges against him allegedly stemmed from events before his retirement as general. Rajapaksa dissolved Parliament the following day. In the April legislative elections, UPFA candidates won a majority of seats, and in September Parliament voted to amend the constitution to give the president greater powers and also to remove the restriction that a president could serve for only two terms.

Mahinda Rajapakse
Mahinda Rajapakse
Mahinda Rajapakse speaking in Colombo, Sri Lanka, April 2010.Ishara S. Kodikara—AFP/Getty Images
Reconstruction of Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka began to recover from its 26-year civil war during Rajapaksa’s second term. The economy showed sustained growth and reduced poverty levels, though some were concerned about ballooning debt and overreliance on foreign investment, especially from China. The government continued to enjoy the strong support of the country’s large Sinhalese majority, which was reinforced by a string of UPFA victories in provincial council elections in 2012. Rajapaksa’s administration, however, became increasingly associated with strong-arm tactics and other repressive measures against political opponents and various forms of dissent, as he centralized greater power in the executive branch and among his family members. A key development project was an expensive port in his home district of Hambantota, funded by loans from China but which had low returns on investment. In addition, relations with Western countries were strained over allegations of human rights abuses in Sri Lanka and the government’s refusal to allow independent investigations of the military’s treatment of Tamils at the end of the civil war in 2009.

Rajapaksa’s domestic popularity appeared to wane during 2014, as UPFA candidates won by considerably smaller margins in local elections than they had two years earlier. Late in the year he again called for an early presidential election, confident that he would easily win a third term if he held the election ahead of schedule. Unexpectedly, however, one of his cabinet members, Maithripala Sirisena, defected to the opposition and ran against him. Other UPFA members defected as well. In the early January 2015 polling, Sirisena scored an upset victory over Rajapaksa and was sworn in as president.

Sirisena, Maithripala
Sirisena, MaithripalaMaithripala Sirisena in Colombo, Sri Lanka, shortly after his victory on January 8, 2015, presidential election.Eranga Jayawardena/AP Images

In April 2015 Parliament amended the constitution to restore the presidential two-term limit that had been removed in 2010. Having won the most seats in parliamentary elections held on August 17, the UNP formed a six-party coalition government. In June 2016, along with acknowledging that some 65,000 people who had gone missing during the civil war remained unaccounted for, the government approved legislation providing for the issuance of certificates of absence to the families with missing relatives, thereby allowing them to finally settle issues of inheritance, guardianship, and other related matters.

Country in crisis: growing debt, political wrangling, and terror attack

The country’s enormous debt led to a balance-of-payments crisis in 2016. The government arranged a $1.5 billion bailout with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and set out to increase its tax revenue. It continued to have difficulty paying its debt, however, and found itself falling more indebted to China. In 2017 Sri Lanka leased its newly built Hambantota port to China for 99 years, and in 2018 it accepted a $1 billion loan from China to help repay maturing loans.

As the economy struggled to sustain growth amid the debt crisis and as political tensions brewed, Sirisena fired his prime ministerRanil Wickremesinghe, and appointed Rajapaksa in his place in October 2018. Wickremesinghe charged the move as unconstitutional and refused to step down. When it became clear in early November that Rajapaksa did not have Parliament’s support, Sirisena attempted to dissolve Parliament and call for early elections. Days later the move was suspended by the Supreme Court until it could rule on the legality of Sirisena’s action, thus allowing Parliament to convene and pass two votes of no confidence against Rajapaksa. The votes were rejected by Rajapaksa and his allies, and he continued to argue that he was the legitimate prime minister. After the Supreme Court ruled in early December that Sirisena could not dissolve Parliament, Rajapaksa stepped down to avoid further stalemate, and Sirisena reappointed Wickremesinghe.

Months later the country was shaken by its worst violence since the civil war. On April 21, 2019—Easter morning—eight explosions occurred in the vicinity of churches and hotels, leaving hundreds dead and hundreds more wounded. Another blast occurred near a church the next day, while other explosive devices were discovered and neutralized before being detonated. Authorities, who had been warned about the attack about two weeks in advance, identified a little-known Islamist militant group as the orchestrator of the attacks. The manner and sophistication of the attacks, however, suggested involvement from international networks. In the days that followed, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL; also called ISIS) claimed responsibility, though the waning organization offered no evidence of its direct involvement.

As the presidential election approached later that year, Sri Lankans were cognizant of the outgoing government’s ineffectiveness in addressing the debt crisis, its political instability, and its inability to prevent the Easter attacks. For many Sinhalese, Mahinda Rajapaksa and his brother Gotabaya offered a promise of progress, stability, and security. In November Gotabaya was elected to the presidency along ethno-religious lines—he lacked support from Tamil and Muslim voters, who were fearful of restoring to power a family known for its brutality in the civil war. Days after taking office, Gotabaya appointed Mahinda to be prime minister.

As the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic spread throughout the globe in 2020, Sri Lanka reported much lower rates of infection and death than other South Asian countries, thanks to its quick and aggressive action, including an early nationwide lockdown and a high rate of testing. The legislative elections, originally slated for April, were delayed until August. When they were finally held with precautions in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19—voters were asked to bring their own pen with which to mark their ballots, for example—the SLPP, the party of the Rajapaksas, won just under two-thirds of the parliamentary seats. The results allowed the SLPP and its allies to amend the constitution to expand the powers of the presidency. But, while the government saw early success in handling the spread of COVID-19, the outbreak of the so-called Delta variant in 2021 led to a massive surge in cases in May—and again in August.

independent Ceylon (1948–71)

Actual independence for the dominion of Ceylon came on February 4, 1948, when the constitution of 1947 went into effect. The constitution provided for a bicameral legislature with a popularly elected House of Representatives and a Senate that was partly nominated and partly elected indirectly by members of the House of Representatives. A prime minister and his cabinet, chosen from the largest political group in the legislature, held collective responsibility for executive functions. The governor-general, as head of state, represented the British monarch. In matters that the constitution failed to address, the conventions of the United Kingdom were observed.

The UNP had a substantial majority in the legislature and attracted support as it governed. There were, however, some basic weaknesses in the political structure. The consensus that the government represented embraced only a small fraction of the population—the English-educated Westernized elite groups that shared the values on which the structure was founded. To the great mass of Sinhalese- and Tamil-educated residents and unschooled citizens, these values appeared irrelevant and incomprehensible. The continued neglect of local culture as embodied in religion, language, and the arts created a gulf that divided the ruling elite from the ruled. Inevitably, traditionalist and revivalist movements arose to champion local values.

The island’s three export products—tea, rubber, and coconuts—were doing well in world markets, providing some 90 per cent of foreign exchange earnings. Nevertheless, the country began to face economic difficulties. A rapidly increasing population and the free import of consumer goods swiftly ate into earnings from foreign trade. The falling price of Ceylon’s rubber and tea and the increase in the price of imported food added to the acute foreign exchange problem. Additionally, the expanded school system produced a large number of educated persons who could not find employment.

The various factors of political and economic discontent converged after 1955, and a new Sinhalese nationalism was unleashed. It found a spokesman in S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike. In the 1956 elections the UNP was defeated, and Bandaranaike’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) came to power. The new government immediately set about changing the political structure. With the Sinhala Only Bill, it made Sinhalese the sole official language, and it took measures to provide state support for Buddhism and for Sinhalese culture. It also wedded the new nationalism to a form of socialism, in which the state was given a powerful role in economic development and the creation of economic equality.

S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike
S.W.R.D. BandaranaikeS.W.R.D. Bandaranaike.Camera Press/Globe Photos

The period of Sinhalese nationalism was also a time of political instability. The language policy alienated the Tamils, who, under the Federal Party, carried on a bitter opposition. Educational policies angered the small but influential Christian community. Reforms of Buddhist and other cultural practices offended different factions within the Sinhalese community.

Bandaranaike was assassinated in September 1959, and the nationalist movement suffered a setback and languished for want of a leader. After a period of political instability, his widow, Sirimavo Bandaranaike, was persuaded to gather together the fragments of the SLFP. In 1960 she formed a government, thus becoming the first woman in the world to hold the office of prime minister. Continuing the program of Sinhalese nationalism, she implemented policies to nurture and protect local industry and to extend the state sector. Partly in response to pressure from the Buddhist community to reduce the prominence of Christian missions in the country’s educational system, most private schools were nationalized, and state subsidies to any remaining private schools were discontinued.

Sirimavo Bandaranaike
Sirimavo BandaranaikeSirimavo Bandaranaike, 1960.Keystone/FPG

By 1965 the tide of Sinhalese nationalism had begun to recede. Language and religion had become less important as political issues. An economic crisis—caused by increasing unemployment, the rising cost of living, an acute shortage of consumer goods, and the failure of state enterprise in industry and trade—made people look back to the UNP. This party gained the support of minorities, and in 1965 it returned to power under Dudley Shelton Senanayake, who, as the son of Don Stephen Senanayake, had served as prime minister (1952–53) after his father’s death and briefly in 1960. Senanayake’s government enjoyed a five-year term of office, during which it encouraged private enterprise and made an effort to extend agricultural productivity. These measures, while having moderate success, also tended to create inflation and to increase social inequality. The SLFP formed an alliance with Marxist parties and waged a campaign against the government that called for increased state control of the economy. In 1970 this coalition won a landslide victory, and Sirimavo Bandaranaike again became prime minister.

The Bandaranaike government enacted reforms that restricted private enterprise and extended nationalization to embrace various private industries and foreign-owned plantations as well as a large part of the wholesale and distributive trade. Measures aimed at reducing social inequality were enacted, and an ambitious program of land reform was put into effect. Although these reforms benefited the vast majority of the underprivileged, they did nothing to address basic economic problems such as the mounting trade deficit. The educated youth, impatient for radical change, became disillusioned. Their discontent was mobilized by the People’s Liberation Front (Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna; JVP), a group of revolutionary youth who launched an unsuccessful armed rebellion in 1971.

The Republic of Sri Lanka

In a new constitution proclaimed in 1972, Ceylon became the Republic of Sri Lanka, while maintaining its link with the British Commonwealth. The constitution changed the bicameral legislature to a unicameral body and replaced the governor-general (who had been an extension of the British crown) with a president as head of state. Effective executive power, however, remained with the prime minister and cabinet, and all existing restraints on the lawmaking powers of the new unicameral legislature were removed. Buddhism was given “the foremost place,” and Sinhalese again was recognized as the official language.

As Sri Lanka’s economic decline continued, the immense economic power held by the state provided the party in power with the opportunity for patronage, nepotism, and corruption. By 1977 unemployment had risen to about 15 percent. In July of that year the SLFP was defeated by a reorganized UNP under the leadership of J.R. Jayawardene, who became prime minister.

The Jayawardene government sought to reverse trends toward state control of the economy by revitalizing the private sector and attracting foreign capital. It also set about writing a new constitution, promulgated in 1978, which renamed the country the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka and introduced a system under which the president remained head of state but was given new executive power as head of government. Although Sinhalese and Tamil were recognized as the national languages, Sinhalese was to be the official language. In 1978 Jayawardene was elected the first president under the new constitution, and Ranasinghe Premadasa, also of the UNP, became prime minister.

Civil war

However, political unrest escalated in the 1980s as groups representing the Tamil minority moved toward organized insurgency. Tamil bases were built up in jungle areas of the northern and eastern parts of the island and increasingly in the southern districts of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, where Tamil groups received official and unofficial support. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)—popularly known as the Tamil Tigers—was the strongest of these, but there were other competing groups, which were sometimes hostile to each other.

The Sri Lankan government responded to the unrest by deploying forces to the north and the east, but the eruption of insurgency inflamed communal passions, and in July 1983 there were extensive organized anti-Tamil riots in Colombo and elsewhere. Sinhalese mobs systematically attacked Tamils and destroyed Tamil property, and the riots forced refugees to move within the island and from Sri Lanka to Tamil Nadu.

Peace accord and discord

The Jayawardene government, facing a simultaneous resurgence of Sinhalese militancy by the JVP, became receptive to initiatives by the Indian government. After prolonged negotiations, an accord signed between India and Sri Lanka on July 29, 1987, offered the Tamils an autonomous integrated province in the northwest within a united Sri Lanka. Later that year, Tamil was recognized as an official language (alongside Sinhalese) by constitutional amendment. Meanwhile, the accord provided for the introduction of an Indian Peace-Keeping Force (IPKF) to enforce the terms of the agreement. However, the Sri Lankan government, the LTTE, and the IPKF disagreed over implementation of the accord, and the LTTE resumed its offensive, this time against the IPKF, which was trying to disarm it.Sinnappah Arasaratnam

In January 1989 Jayawardene retired and was succeeded by Premadasa, who had defeated Sirimavo Bandaranaike in the December 1988 elections. Premadasa negotiated a withdrawal of the IPKF, which was completed in March 1990, and the battle against Tamil insurgency was taken up by the Sri Lankan army. On May 1, 1993, Premadasa was assassinated by a suicide bomber, who allegedly was linked to the LTTE. The prime minister, Dingiri Banda Wijetunga, was appointed acting president. In 1994 Chandrika Kumaratunga, the daughter of S.W.R.D. and Sirimavo Bandaranaike, became the country’s first female president. Rebel activity continued, and in 1999 Kumaratunga was injured in an assassination attempt blamed on the LTTE. She won reelection later that year. In 2002 a landmark cease-fire was negotiated between the war-weary LTTE and the government. Within just a few years, however, violence had resumed, and the cease-fire had virtually dissolved.

In addition to struggling with ongoing political unrest in the early 21st century, Sri Lanka was rattled by a tremendous natural disaster. In December 2004 the island was struck by a large tsunami that had been generated by an earthquake centred in the Indian Ocean near Indonesia. The wave killed tens of thousands of people and severely damaged the country’s northern, eastern, and southern coastal areas. Recovery was steady in the eastern and southern zones but was slower in the north because of the ongoing conflict there.Sinnappah ArasaratnamThe Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica

End of the war

Meanwhile, in 2005 Mahinda Rajapaksa, known for his strong stance against the LTTE, was elected president as head of a broad coalition of parties called the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), which had gained a plurality of legislators in parliamentary elections the previous year. The conflict between the Tamil rebels and the government raged on, and in 2006 the LTTE was declared a terrorist organization by the European Union. In January 2008 the government formally abandoned the 2002 cease-fire agreement, and the fighting intensified. Over the following months, the government captured the major strongholds of the LTTE. The town of Kilinochchi, the administrative centre of the LTTE, came under government control in January 2009. Government troops continued their advance into LTTE-controlled territory, cornering the remnants of the rebel fighters along the northeast coast by late April. The army launched a final offensive in mid-May and succeeded in overrunning and occupying the rebels’ last stronghold. The LTTE’s leaders (including founder Vellupillai Prabhakaran) were killed during the operation, and the LTTE effectively ceased to exist as an organization. The number of civil-war-related deaths in Sri Lanka since the early 1980s was estimated at between 70,000 and 80,000, with many tens of thousands more displaced by the fighting.

Aftermath and recovery

The government’s victory over the LTTE was highly popular with the country’s Sinhalese voters, and the UPFA won several provincial and local elections during 2009. However, in the January 2010 presidential election, Rajapaksa faced stiff opposition from Sarath Fonseka, the former general who had commanded the Sri Lankan military during the civil war. Rajapaksa won a second term, although the results were challenged by Fonseka. In early February Fonseka was arrested while discussing with members of the opposition the upcoming April parliamentary elections. The charges against him allegedly stemmed from events before his retirement as general. Rajapaksa dissolved Parliament the following day. In the April legislative elections, UPFA candidates won a majority of seats, and in September Parliament voted to amend the constitution to give the president greater powers and also to remove the restriction that a president could serve for only two terms.

Mahinda Rajapakse
Mahinda RajapakseMahinda Rajapakse speaking in Colombo, Sri Lanka, April 2010.Ishara S. Kodikara—AFP/Getty Images
Reconstruction of Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka began to recover from its 26-year civil war during Rajapaksa’s second term. The economy showed sustained growth and reduced poverty levels, though some were concerned about ballooning debt and overreliance on foreign investment, especially from China. The government continued to enjoy the strong support of the country’s large Sinhalese majority, which was reinforced by a string of UPFA victories in provincial council elections in 2012. Rajapaksa’s administration, however, became increasingly associated with strong-arm tactics and other repressive measures against political opponents and various forms of dissent, as he centralized greater power in the executive branch and among his family members. A key development project was an expensive port in his home district of Hambantota, funded by loans from China but which had low returns on investment. In addition, relations with Western countries were strained over allegations of human rights abuses in Sri Lanka and the government’s refusal to allow independent investigations of the military’s treatment of Tamils at the end of the civil war in 2009.

Rajapaksa’s domestic popularity appeared to wane during 2014, as UPFA candidates won by considerably smaller margins in local elections than they had two years earlier. Late in the year he again called for an early presidential election, confident that he would easily win a third term if he held the election ahead of schedule. Unexpectedly, however, one of his cabinet members, Maithripala Sirisena, defected to the opposition and ran against him. Other UPFA members defected as well. In the early January 2015 polling, Sirisena scored an upset victory over Rajapaksa and was sworn in as president.

Sirisena, Maithripala
Sirisena, MaithripalaMaithripala Sirisena in Colombo, Sri Lanka, shortly after his victory on January 8, 2015, presidential election.Eranga Jayawardena/AP Images

In April 2015 Parliament amended the constitution to restore the presidential two-term limit that had been removed in 2010. Having won the most seats in parliamentary elections held on August 17, the UNP formed a six-party coalition government. In June 2016, along with acknowledging that some 65,000 people who had gone missing during the civil war remained unaccounted for, the government approved legislation providing for the issuance of certificates of absence to the families with missing relatives, thereby allowing them to finally settle issues of inheritance, guardianship, and other related matters.

Country in crisis: growing debt, political wrangling, and terror attack

The country’s enormous debt led to a balance-of-payments crisis in 2016. The government arranged a $1.5 billion bailout with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and set out to increase its tax revenue. It continued to have difficulty paying its debt, however, and found itself falling more indebted to China. In 2017 Sri Lanka leased its newly built Hambantota port to China for 99 years, and in 2018 it accepted a $1 billion loan from China to help repay maturing loans.

As the economy struggled to sustain growth amid the debt crisis and as political tensions brewed, Sirisena fired his prime ministerRanil Wickremesinghe, and appointed Rajapaksa in his place in October 2018. Wickremesinghe charged the move as unconstitutional and refused to step down. When it became clear in early November that Rajapaksa did not have Parliament’s support, Sirisena attempted to dissolve Parliament and call for early elections. Days later the move was suspended by the Supreme Court until it could rule on the legality of Sirisena’s action, thus allowing Parliament to convene and pass two votes of no confidence against Rajapaksa. The votes were rejected by Rajapaksa and his allies, and he continued to argue that he was the legitimate prime minister. After the Supreme Court ruled in early December that Sirisena could not dissolve Parliament, Rajapaksa stepped down to avoid further stalemate, and Sirisena reappointed Wickremesinghe.

Months later the country was shaken by its worst violence since the civil war. On April 21, 2019—Easter morning—eight explosions occurred in the vicinity of churches and hotels, leaving hundreds dead and hundreds more wounded. Another blast occurred near a church the next day, while other explosive devices were discovered and neutralized before being detonated. Authorities, who had been warned about the attack about two weeks in advance, identified a little-known Islamist militant group as the orchestrator of the attacks. The manner and sophistication of the attacks, however, suggested involvement from international networks. In the days that followed, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL; also called ISIS) claimed responsibility, though the waning organization offered no evidence of its direct involvement.

As the presidential election approached later that year, Sri Lankans were cognizant of the outgoing government’s ineffectiveness in addressing the debt crisis, its political instability, and its inability to prevent the Easter attacks. For many Sinhalese, Mahinda Rajapaksa and his brother Gotabaya offered a promise of progress, stability, and security. In November Gotabaya was elected to the presidency along ethno-religious lines—he lacked support from Tamil and Muslim voters, who were fearful of restoring to power a family known for its brutality in the civil war. Days after taking office, Gotabaya appointed Mahinda to be prime minister.

As the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic spread throughout the globe in 2020, Sri Lanka reported much lower rates of infection and death than other South Asian countries, thanks to its quick and aggressive action, including an early nationwide lockdown and a high rate of testing. The legislative elections, originally slated for April, were delayed until August. When they were finally held with precautions in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19—voters were asked to bring their own pen with which to mark their ballots, for example—the SLPP, the party of the Rajapaksas, won just under two-thirds of the parliamentary seats. The results allowed the SLPP and its allies to amend the constitution to expand the powers of the presidency. But, while the government saw early success in handling the spread of COVID-19, the outbreak of the so-called Delta variant in 2021 led to a massive surge in cases in May—and again in August.

Meanwhile, in May 2021 the government banned the importation of chemical fertilizers and pesticides but gave little warning to farmers. The sudden change led to a steep decline in crop production and a run on markets, placing further strain on a debt-laden economy already aggravated by the pandemic. The ban was subsequently lifted in November.

https://www.britannica.com/place/Sri-Lanka/Independent-Ceylon-1948-71

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About editor 2669 Articles
Writer and Journalist living in Canada since 1987. Tamil activist.

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