Chapter 10: Dominion Status

In February, 1947, Mr Senanayake deemed the time opportune for another attempt to secure Dominion Status. The vote on the White Paper had, he knew, caused surprise and delight in London, where so much had been said both inside and outside the Colonial Office about “lack of unanimity” and even communal dissension. If it was true (and in fact it was) that his own stock was high, he was ready to cash in for the benefit of the people. He had reason to suspect that the new Governor Sir Henry Moore, would not oppose, and might even support the last step in constitutional advancement. He felt reasonably certain that the late Secretary of State, Mr George Hall, had recommended Dominion Status in 1945; he believed that his successor Mr Creech Jones, whom he had met and liked in London, would not only make the same recommendation but also would press it with determination. The problem of India, which had apparently been the cause of his partial failure in 1945, was on the way towards a solution. Finally, Sir Oliver Goonetilleke was about to go to England on leave, and if the British Cabinet agreed, immediate negotiations about the necessary consequential measures could take place without Mr Senanayake leaving the Island.

After discussion with “the breakdown gang”, Mr Senanayake addressed a letter to Mr Creech Jones through the Governor, drawing attention to his letter of August 16, 1945 asking whether it was not possible to reopen the question of Dominion Status, and expressing the hope that the Secretary of State would discuss the matter with Sir Oliver Goonetilleke. As Mr Senanayake expected, Sir Henry Moore informed him that he had forwarded the letter with a despatch from himself supporting the plea for Dominion Status. Mr Creech Jones acknowledged receipt of the letter, but there was delay in London, due no doubt to the fact that a Cabinet decision was necessary and that the Cabinet was much occupied by other matters.[1]

Meanwhile political excitement was mounting in Ceylon as the general election approached. Mr Senanayake was not merely Leader of the State Council but also leader of the newly formed United National Party. No doubt he was not insensible of the fact that a favourable decision would strengthen the chances of his party, but he had also to take into consideration, the probability that any decision reached would be misrepresented by other groups for electoral purposes. Before Sir Oliver Goonetilleke left for England he had some discussion (at which I was not present) with Mr Senanayake about the use of the term “Dominion Status”. In Ceylon as in India there was a persistent belief that it connoted a status lower than that of “independence”. All the Dominions except Eire had been colonies. Until 1931 the legal forms still suggested that the Dominions were subordinate to the United Kingdom.[2] Ceremonies and titles are all more important in South East Asia than in Europe. The Crown would appear to many to be not a symbol of cooperation but an emblem of “imperialism”. Politicians had learnt in school debating societies the art of inserting a reference to “British imperialism” in every other sentence. The Ceylon National Congress had a long debate whether its aim was “Dominion Status” or “independence” and had compromised on “freedom”. It seemed to Mr Senanayake that if possible the term “Dominion Status” should be avoided.

In his discussions with the Secretary of State, Sir Oliver Goonetilleke laid great emphasis on this point. Unknown to him, however, opinion in Ceylon was changing as the consequences of Dominion Status to India and Pakistan became evident. There could hardly be anything wrong in a status which Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and the Indian National Congress had accepted. Though independence was a better term if the United Kingdom would accept it, “Dominion status” was less objectionable in June 1947 than it had been four months earlier. The Colonial Office knew nothing of this, but was impressed with Sir Oliver Goonetilleke’s argument because, in truth, the other Dominions too were beginning to dislike the term. It seemed to many outside the British Commonwealth that it carried an implication of dominium, over lordship, or even domination; and accordingly the Government of the United Kingdom had under consideration the question of converting the Dominions Office into the Office of Commonwealth Relations.[3] On the other hand, the idea of using “independence” formally had not yet developed; it was accepted later when India asked for it. The Colonial Office did not wish to convey the idea that the status of Ceylon was to be anything different from that of the older Dominions.

The Secretary of State and Sir Oliver Goonetilleke therefore agreed on the formula “fully responsible status”, a phrase not unlike those used in the correspondence of 1945. This formula was used in the proposal submitted to the United Kingdom Cabinet and was approved by the Cabinet. Mr Senanayake knew from telephone conversations with Sir Oliver that Dominion Status was being proposed, though he did not see the text until it had been approved by the Cabinet. As soon as he saw it he realised that it would be misrepresented in Ceylon as conferring something less than Dominion Status. He therefore sent the following personal telegram to Mr Creech Jones.

I am personally satisfied with text of proposed announcement since I appreciate that it means that once agreements have been made as indicated in paragraph 3 His Majesty’s Government will confer full Dominion status upon Ceylon. I wish to point out however that the phrase “fully responsible status within the British Commonwealth of Nations” in paragraph 3 would probably be both misunderstood and misrepresented as something less than Dominion status. I would therefore be very grateful if you would substitute for the words ‘fully responsible status within the British Commonwealth of Nations’ either ‘full Dominion Status’ or the phrase ‘independence within the British Commonwealth of Nations’.

Mr Creech Jones replied as follows:

I am glad to learn that you are personally satisfied with the terms of the proposed announcement. As regards your suggestion for amendment I appreciate your difficulty but the expression ‘independence within the British Commonwealth of Nations’ would be open to objection that it might be taken to signify same new and unprecedented form of relationship.

On the other hand we have avoided expression ‘Dominion status’ for the following reasons:–

First, it was originally urged on us by Goonetilleke that the expression was not desired in Ceylon and might cause misconceptions there.

Second, it is true that the expression has recently been revived in relation to India but it is not self explanatory and the meaning is not entirely clear in the absence of statutory definitions.

For these reasons I am sure that the phrase we have used is preferable as stating as precisely as possible what was meant by the final stage of constitutional advance for Ceylon foreshadowed in the White Paper of 1945. I do not therefore feel able to amend the announcement but I should have no objection to your making clear at your own discretion to all concerned in Ceylon that the announcement means that, when agreements have been concluded and the necessary legislative action has been taken, Ceylon will enjoy that full degree of self–government within the British Commonwealth of Nations which term ‘Dominion status’ is generally understood to connote. [4]

It was relevant to the situation that the terms of the announcement had already been approved by the Cabinet of the United Kingdom. An amendment would not constitutionally be practicable without another Cabinet decision and already there was ample evidence of the delay which such decisions involved. Mr Senanayake did not wish to hold up the announcement, and the personal telegram seemed to him to be an ample confirmation of the information which he had already received from Sir Oliver Goonetilleke over the telephone.  He therefore accepted the announcement, which was made by the Secretary of State for the Colonies in the House of Commons and by the Governor in the State Council four days later, on June 18, 1947, in the following terms:

  1. In 1945 His Majesty’s Government affirmed their willingness to co–operate with the people of Ceylon in their advance to Dominion Status and expressed the hope that within a comparatively short space of time such a Status would be evolved.
  2. His Majesty’s Government recognize that the people of Ceylon are anxious to see this aim realized as quickly as possible and are eager to know how soon they may expect this to come about.
  3. Elections are new being arranged under the Constitution granted to Ceylon in 1946 and a new Parliament will assemble in October. Clearly no further Constitutional change can take place before a new Ceylon Government is in office and fully functioning. Agreements will then have to be negotiated on a number of subjects. When such agreements have been concluded on terms satisfactory to His Majesty’s Government and the Ceylon Government immediate steps will be taken to amend the Constitution so as to confer upon Ceylon fully responsible status within the British Commonwealth of Nations.
  4. To avoid delay in opening negotiations with the future Ceylon Government His Majesty’s Government have directed that preparatory work should be put in hand for drawing up the heads of the necessary agreements.[5]

In his reply to the Governor’s speech Mr Senanayake used Mr Creech Jones’ phrase without indicating its source. As he anticipated, however, “fully responsible status” was frequently represented as something less than Dominion status, even after the Ceylon Independence Bill was passed. The Secretary of State himself made the situation plain on several occasions, but little attention was paid to his efforts, and indeed he was represented as avoiding “Dominion status” because on one such occasion he used “Dominion stature”. The difficulty was that the announcement of June 18, 1947, became election propaganda. On the one side it was claimed that Mr Senanayake having achieved “freedom” for Ceylon the United National Party should be supported; on the other side it was alleged that Mr Senanayake had sold himself to the “imperialists” and was dressing up a subordinate status as “freedom”. It was therefore not possible for the politicians on either side to approach the documents without preconceived ideas. Every lawyer knows how subjective notions colour a legal interpretation, and most of the propagandists were not lawyers but politicians. Lawyers sometimes admit their mistakes but politicians never can, at least until they write their memoirs; and usually not even then.

Mr Senanayake had assumed in August 1945 that three measures would be necessary to bring Dominion status into operation. First, there would be an Agreement to extend to Ceylon the principles adopted by the Imperial Conferences, particularly the Imperial Conferences of 1926 and 1930, for the regulation of the relations between the United Kingdom and the Dominions. Secondly, a new Constitution, based on the Ministers’ draft, as amended by the Soulbury Commission, but denuded of the limitations required by the Declaration of 1943, would have to be enacted. Thirdly, the provisions of the Statute of Westminster, 1931, would have to be extended to Ceylon by Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. In one respect the situation had altered. The Ministers’ draft, as amended by the Soulbury Report and the White Paper of 1945, had been enacted as the Ceylon (Constitution) Order in Council, 1946. Accordingly, it was now necessary to produce not a new Constitution but an amendment of the existing Constitution removing all provisions inconsistent with Dominion Status. Also, Mr Senanayake was no longer willing to concede all the defence facilities which he had offered in 1945, mainly as an inducement to the United Kingdom to grant full Dominion status forthwith, but partly because in the shadow of the Japanese war the defence problem loomed larger in 1945 than it did in 1947. Subject to these qualifications, the requirements were the same as in 1945. Sir Oliver Goonetilleke was already in London and could negotiate on behalf of Mr Senanayake. Sir Henry Moore left in July to advise the Government of the United Kingdom; and Mr G. C. S. Corea[6], Ceylon Representative in London, was formally associated with the negotiations.

There was some discussion whether the amendments to the Constitution should not be enacted in an Act of the United Kingdom Parliament, or even the whole Constitution as amended be similarly re–enacted. Constitutionally there was no advantage in this course, but Mr Senanayake was very concerned with the problem of misrepresentation: he felt that some sections of opinion in the Island would suggest that full self–government by Order in Council (expanded to full Dominion status by Act of Parliament) would be represented as something less than full self–government by Act of Parliament. On the other hand he did not want any further delay, and accordingly Sir Oliver Goonetilleke was instructed to ask for an Act of Parliament but to accept an Order in Council if there was any chance of an Act of Parliament requiring longer preparation. It was in fact found that a lengthy Act of Parliament would cause delay. The Colonial Office was prepared to take action as soon as the new Ceylon Cabinet had agreed. If an Order in Council was chosen it could be produced by agreement between the Legal Secretary (or Attorney–General) and the legal advisers to the Colonial Office. If an Act of Parliament was required it would have to be prepared by Parliamentary Counsel to the Treasury. The whole Constitution would have to be examined by Parliamentary Counsel and perhaps numerous drafting amendments would be suggested, It would not then be possible to introduce a Bill before Christmas and it would be extremely difficult to get Parliamentary time after Christmas, for then the House of Commons would be preoccupied with financial business. It was therefore agreed to have an Order in Council which was subsequently approved as the Ceylon Independence Order in Council, 1947. Its main principles were accepted by Sir Oliver Goonetilleke in London, though drafting was left until after the Ceylon Cabinet had approved.

Since there seemed to be some doubt in London as to the form which the Agreement should take, Mr Senanayake suggested that I should send a revised version of the draft Agreement submitted in August 1945. This gave Sir Oliver the necessary material for making direct suggestions and, though the actual texts differ considerably, the Agreements eventually signed contain everything for which Mr Senanayake had asked, while Sir Oliver was careful to insist on mutual agreement in respect of such matters as the establishment of bases and the maintenance of forces in Ceylon. The Agreements were in fact agreed by Sir Oliver in draft, though in accordance with diplomatic usage they were described as “Heads of Agreement”.     It was also agreed that the United Kingdom Bill should include the relevant provisions of the Statute of Westminster with such amendments of United Kingdom law as might be necessary.

At this stage developments had to cease, for the general election was in progress in Ceylon and decisions could be taken only by the new Cabinet. As a result of the election Mr Senanayake was appointed Prime Minister and formed a Cabinet in October.[7] The texts of the Agreements and of the United Kingdom Bill, together with a summary of the amending Order in Council, were telegraphed to Ceylon, though it was explained that some technical amendments to the Bill would be required. The Cabinet found the documents satisfactory, but requested that the Bill be entitled “The Ceylon Independence Bill”, Mr Senanayake was authorized to sign the Agreements provided that he satisfied himself about the amendments to the Bill.

Rapid action was now desirable. It was necessary to get the Bill passed in November, or there might be several months delay. It was therefore agreed that the Agreements should be signed as soon as the amendments drafted by Parliamentary Counsel reached Ceylon. Accordingly, a meeting was fixed at Queen’s House on 11th November[8] 1947 at 9 p.m. Those in attendance, besides His Excellency, the Secretary to the Governor and the Private Secretary[9], were Mr Senanayake, Sir Oliver Goonetilleke, Sir Alan Rose (Attorney General), Mr A.G. Ranasinghe, Mr N. W. Atukorale[10] and myself. The telegrams were late in arriving, but when they were examined it was found that they contained merely technical amendments to United Kingdom legislation and had no application to Ceylon. Mr Senanayake at once agreed to sign and the Agreements were signed at about 10.30 p.m. His Excellency then provided the first celebration of Ceylon’s independence.

The signature had to be secret because the Ceylon Independence Bill, which was the most important document, could not be published until it had been introduced into the House of Commons. This was timed for 3 p.m. on November 13, 1947, or 8.30 p.m. Ceylon time. It was therefore agreed that a Sessional Paper should be published in Ceylon that evening, it would contain (1) An explanatory memorandum signed by Mr Senanayake, and including a summary of the constitutional amendments, (2) the Ceylon Independence Bill, and (3) the Agreements. I had warned Sir Oliver Goonetilleke, who was in charge of publicity arrangements, that the White Paper containing the Agreements would not necessarily be published simultaneously with the Bill. This proved to be the case. On the morning of the 13th Mr Senanayake was informed that the White Paper would not be published until the 14th. It thus became necessary to alter the arrangements. After a discussion it was agreed to let the [unclear] for publication on the 14th stand, but to publish the Bill without explanation on the 13th. The Government Press excelled itself. Mr Atukorale gave the Press the document about 11 a.m.; and at 2 p.m. he and I called at the Press to read the proofs as they came off the rollers; at 8.30 p.m. Sir Oliver Goonetilleke held a press conference at which he handed out copies of Sessional Paper XXI of 1947 and gave an explanation of its contents.

This arrangement, though quite unpremeditated, had from the point of view of the Government some advantages. For the whole of the 13th attention was concentrated on the most important document, the Ceylon Independence Bill. Since it was virtually impossible to criticise a Bill which did no more than extend to Ceylon the Statute of Westminster and incorporate consequential amendments, opposition was directed against the existence of “secret” agreements. Thereupon Sir Oliver Goonetilleke summoned another press conference to hand out Sessional Paper XXII of 1947, which contained the Agreements as well as a memorandum covering all the documents. Sir Oliver perhaps blessed his horoscope.

There remained the problem of amending the Constitution, which was mainly the responsibility of Sir Alan Rose as Attorney General. The “advice” had still technically to be given by the Secretary of State for the Colonies, but in substance the decisions had to be taken in Ceylon. Two conferences were summoned by Mr Senanayake at which “the breakdown gang” was reinforced by Dr L. A. Rajapakse[11] (Minister of Justice) and Sir Alan Rose. No particular difficulties arose, and the new Order in Council was approved on December 19, 1947. Further administrative action had to be taken by Sir Charles Collins, and on February 4, 1948, the Ceylon Independence Act, 1947, the Ceylon Independence Order in Council, 1947 and the Agreements came into operation.

Meanwhile it had been thought desirable to secure the approval of the Ceylon Parliament. On the 1st December 1947 the Prime Minister moved the following motion:

That this House rejoices that after many years of subjection to foreign rule the struggle of the people of Ceylon for freedom has culminated in the attainment of independence.

The circumstances were very different from those of November 1945.  The motion was made on behalf of the Government, which had a solid majority.  It would necessarily be opposed by the Opposition, who considered that a “fake independence” was being conferred. An ordinary political debate with the whips on was expected. Mr Senanayake spoke as follows:–

It is with very great pleasure that I move the Motion standing in my name. I believe that there is none in this House, not even among the Hon. Members seated opposite, who will not rejoice at the prospect of achieving once again the freedom of this country. Long and resolutely, through many a change of fortune, did our ancestors hold on to their freedom. But for 442 years the maritime provinces of this Island have been under European occupation. 132 years ago the last bastion of our independence, the Kandyan kingdom, was lost. Now, however, we regain our lost sovereignty. We are no longer a subject race and everyone assembled here, every patriotic citizen has reason to rejoice.

But, Mr Speaker, some of my Friends opposite, some who feel that to be critics of the Government, even at the cost of truth, sense and goodwill, say that they cannot see that we are fully through. Sir, none are so blind as those who will not see. All the relevant documents have now been published or summarised in Sessional Paper XXII of 1947. It should be obvious to anyone who has perused them that our freedom is neither limited nor qualified and we will have no limitations or qualifications except what we, as prudent men, choose to attach to it ourselves. Let me consider some of the statements that have been made. It has been suggested that the Ceylon Independence Bill only camouflages our subjection. When this Bill was published the critics were hard put to it to find even a comma wrong. Some of them, however, said that the Bill did not specifically confer Dominion Status. But, Sir, no Act of Parliament has ever specifically conferred Dominion Status on any country.

Dominion Status is not a legal phrase and, I am advised, is never used by lawyers in formal documents. We asked for all the powers of an independent country within the British Commonwealth, and these the lawyers have given us in this Bill. The Statute of Westminster is generally regarded as a Statute which gives or recognizes all such powers, and all the provisions of that Statute have been incorporated in the Ceylon Independence Bill as they were in the Indian Independence Act.

The critics also say that this Island is not being called the Dominion of Ceylon. They make a point of the fact that the Indian Independence Act set up the Dominions of India and Pakistan.

Sir, there had to be a Dominion of India and a Dominion of Pakistan because the lawyers had to divide British India into two and a descriptive designation had to be assigned to each of the two parts. Our critics surely have overlooked the fact that this Parliament has been given the power to call this Island anything it pleases. If Hon. Members on the other side would wish to call it the Dominion of Ceylon I suggest that they put down a Motion. Indeed, in point of fact, wherever in the law of the United Kingdom it was necessary to distinguish Dominions from Colonies, Ceylon has been included by this Bill among the Dominions.

This Bill gives us all the powers that the United Kingdom Parliament is capable of giving us. It hands Ceylon over to the people of Ceylon. It deprives the British Parliament and the British Government of their power over us. I feel certain that no Hon. Member of this House disagrees with this statement. If my Friends opposite do not like the long title of the Bill, all they have to do is to introduce a Bill to remove the long title, for the Ceylon Independence Act will be part of the law of Ceylon which can be changed by the Parliament of Ceylon, and my Friends have only to secure the requisite majority in the House to realize their wishes. In the meantime, however, I suggest that they use the short title “The Ceylon Independence Act” which is good enough for me.

I suppose that, before I pass on, I should refer to the right of secession, though I have already explained the position fully in Sessional Paper XXII of 1947. There is nothing in the Bill about the right of secession because it is unnecessary. It is not in the Statute of Westminster; nor is it in the Indian Independence Act. An Independent State within the Commonwealth can, if it pleases, become an Independent State outside the Commonwealth. That follows from independence. As a Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs is reported to have said once, “the right to secede is just as much inherent in the constitutional status of a Dominion as the right to suicide is inherent in the personal status of an individual”.

We are within the Commonwealth because of the common law of England and Acts of Parliament of the United Kingdom. If we want to get outside the Commonwealth we must change that part of the law of Ceylon, and this we should be able to do under paragraph 1 of the First Schedule to the Ceylon Independence Act. But we must also remove the preface ‘the King and the Governor–General’ from our Constitution by means of a Constitutional amendment which would require the support of two thirds of the Members of the House of Representatives.

For a lawyer that seems to be an unusually plain statement. It confirms the assertion in my Memorandum that we had the same right to secede as any of the other Dominions.

Hon. Members may have followed with interest the speeches made in the United Kingdom Parliament on the Ceylon Independence Bill. They would, no doubt, have noted the categorical statement on this particular point made by the spokesmen of His Majesty’s Opposition. That statement was not contradicted. Indeed, all Parties in the House of Commons seem to have agreed with it. It cannot indeed be otherwise. So, I would say to such of my Hon. Friends as want to secede, ‘the remedy, gentlemen, is in your own hands’.

Sir, I am happy, and I believe the great majority of Hon. Members of this House are also happy, that we are able to attain our freedom without the long delay inevitable in the passage of legislation for Constitutional amendments through Parliament. The Government of which I am the Head appreciate the action of the Government of the United Kingdom in effecting these amendments by Order in Council. If legislation was proposed in this Parliament, it would have taken months and perhaps years to see it through. The number of the amendments required is very large and every one of them would have had to be debated both in this House and in another place. I am not at all sure that what proved acceptable in this House would have proved equally acceptable in another place. If there was any difference of opinion, the Bill would have to be re–introduced [in] a second Session and debated at length again. Even then the Bill would not have become law for it would have had to be reserved under our present Constitution for Royal Assent. Then perhaps we would have been obliged to begin arguments with the British Government; nor do I know what sort of British Government it would be. Although the circumstance that all Parties in the United Kingdom have agreed with the present proposal leads me to think that it would not have adopted a different attitude from that taken up by the Labour Government of today, yet another Government might not be as helpful as the present one which has done all that we asked it to do, though lawyers still send telegrams to each other about the exact phrasing.

Sir, I have no doubt whatever that we have taken the right course in seeking to get freedom now while the going is good. Then, if anybody wants further Constitutional amendments, let him introduce a Bill which will not have to be reserved.

Our critics really are a little inconsistent. They attack the limitations in our Constitution and then they attack us for getting them removed. Sir, we are not gerrymandering the Constitution to suit the U.N.P. We are rather removing the limitations on our freedom as quickly as the lawyers and the Parliament of the United Kingdom will let us, so that the people of Ceylon may be free to govern themselves as they and they alone deem fit.

Now, Sir, what are the limitations under the present Constitution in respect of internal affairs? You know what they are. If anybody wishes to know how they are being removed, let him look at the preambles to the Defence and External Affairs Agreements.

Dr Perera: Might the Hon. Prime Minister forgive me for the moment? I rise to a point of Order. Under Standing Order 90 a Member of this House is not entitled to read his speech. We recognize the importance of the occasion and as such the Hon. Prime Minister would have liked to read his speech. We do not mind this case being treated as a special one. You will notice that the previous speaker, the Hon. Minister of Finance (Hon. Mr Jayewardene), also had the same indulgence. We do not mind extending that privilege to the Hon. Prime Minister. But may we ask that this will not be treated as a precedent?

Mr Speaker: It is being done with my permission. I was asked permission, and I have granted permission.

The Hon. Mr D.S. Senanayake: I thought it would be an advantage to make a clear statement and do it carefully. I realize the difficulties and inconvenience my good Friend will be put to if, as he did recently, he rushes into print and makes statements that he cannot substantiate.

Mr D. P. R. Gunawardena (Avissawella): The shoe is on the other foot!

Dr Perera: Anyway, let us wait and see.

The Hon. Mr D. S. Senanayake: If anybody wishes to know how the limitations are being removed, let them look at the preambles to the Defence and External Affairs Agreements. They are a shortened form of the famous Balfour Declaration of 1926 which defines “Dominion Status”. They are intended to tell the nations of the world that we have as much right to membership of the United Nations Organization as Canada, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, India and Pakistan.

Let us look at Clause 6 of the External Affairs Agreement which transfers to us the rights and obligations of the United Kingdom in relation to Ceylon. This is the document which gives us full international status, and I am sure that no Hon. Member wishes to vote against that. In the past, the United Kingdom has conducted our foreign policy, without consulting us. In future we shall conduct it ourselves. But from this Agreement we obtain an even greater advantage: We require the United Kingdom to consult us about its own foreign policy. If the Soviet Union or any other country would like to do the same, I am sure that the Cabinet will be happy to agree. It is British policy that affects us most, because by making agreements with other countries they could, if they wanted to, destroy out trade and our security. Suppose, for instance, they give bases in the Maldives or Malaya to somebody not well disposed towards us, where shall we be? Under Clauses I and 2 we get the right to be consulted. Naturally we give them the same right, but we give up nothing else. We formulate our own policy, tell the United Kingdom about it, and if we receive any representations, consider them, but do in the end just as we please. For the United Kingdom will have no power to veto our action.

An Hon. Member opposite is reported to have said that Clause 1 bound us to accept the policy of the Imperial Conferences. No doubt he spoke hurriedly, for the Imperial Conferences have laid down no policy. Each member of the Commonwealth has its own policy. Hon. Members who read their newspapers know that Great Britain and the Dominions often vote on different sides. The Imperial Conferences have agreed on consultation and where possible on cooperation. In view of the Hon. Member’s statement, however, I asked for a precise statement of the rights and obligations under Clauses 1 and 2. The following decision of the Imperial Conference of 1930 summarises the whole position:

(i) Any of His Majesty’s Governments conducting negotiations should inform the other Governments of His Majesty, in case they should be interested, and give them the opportunity of expressing their views if they think that their interests may be affected;

(ii) Any of His Majesty’s Governments on receiving such information should, if it desires to express any views, do so with reasonable promptitude;

(iii) None of His Majesty’s Governments can take any steps which might involve the other Governments of His Majesty in any active obligations without their definite consent.

Is there anything in that statement to which we can possibly object? What it really means is that the External Affairs Department of this Government will receive a constant stream of information from London which it will check carefully to see that our interests are not affected adversely in any way. If they are, the Prime Minister can cable direct to the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom or cable to our High Commissioner to call on the Foreign Secretary and make representations. Naturally we accept the same obligation to send information, but it seems to me that we get 99 per cent of the bargain. This is an Agreement with the United Kingdom because Britain is surrendering power to us. But it does not in any way stop us from making Agreements with other countries inside or outside the Commonwealth. In particular, there is our great and friendly neighbour, the Dominion of India, with whom we ought to collaborate closely. It will be very much easier for us to do so when we know that they are getting the same documents in New Delhi as we are getting in Colombo.

Finally, I move to the subject of Defence. I fear that Hon. Members must begin not merely to think about this subject but also to vote large sums of money. The defence of its country is one of the primary obligations of an independent State, and this is not the sort of world in which small nations can be secure without large and expensive armed forces. We are in a specially dangerous position, because we are in one of the strategic highways of the world. The country which captures Ceylon could dominate the Indian Ocean. Nor is it only a question of protecting ourselves against invasion and air attack. If we had no imports for three months, we should starve, and we have therefore to protect our sea and air communications. I was in charge of food supplies and rice during the war, and I know how much we relied on the British Navy and the British Air Force for our food supplies. Frankly, I cannot accept the responsibility of being Minister of Defence unless I am provided with the means of Defence. And for this purpose, I do not need only an enlarged Ceylon Light Infantry, Ceylon Garrison Artillery, or the Ceylon Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. I require guns and tanks, fighter and bomber aircraft; air–craft–carriers, cruisers, destroyers, escort vessels and submarines, and so on.

Dr Perera: And atom bombs!

The Hon. Mr D.S. Senanayake: We cannot produce any of these armaments in this Island, and if we bought even one–tenth of what we need we should net merely exhaust our sterling balances but also put ourselves under the thumbs of the City of London or Wall Street. I do not think that the Hon. Members opposite would welcome that prospect. I ask Hon. Members to be honest with themselves and their constituents. They know as well as I do that we cannot defend ourselves. What is the good of freedom if it is liable to be destroyed at any moment by any country finds our wealth and strategic position attractive? Let us confess that our freedom depends on somebody or other undertaking to help us defend ourselves. Nor can we afford to pay anybody to defend us. As I look round the countries of the world, I see at the moment only one country with sufficient interest in us to defend us at their expense, and that country, is Great Britain. I have heard that my Hon. Friend the Third Member for Colombo Central said somewhere outside this House that we need not look to any particular country for aid in defending ourselves but rather may rely entirely on the United Nations Organization.

Mr P. G. B. Keuneman (Third Colombo Central): That is not a correct statement of what I said.

The Hon. Mr D. S. Senanayake: That was what was reported. Anyway, I am glad the Hon. Member has not been so silly.

Mr W. Dahanayake (Galle): Reports provided by the Senanayake Press!

The Hon. Mr D. S. Senanayake: But since that argument has been reported, I might as well meet it. Surely, so long as disarmament is not universal, so long as independent sovereign States maintain their own armies, navies and air forces, so long will we too in Ceylon need the aid of such forces to preserve our newly–won sovereignty. We cannot do so unaided.  Therefore the only question for us is whether Britain will help us defend ourselves on terms which we can accept. Fortunately our security is involved in her security. She must keep the Indian Ocean open to her ships and aircraft. These ships and aircraft carry the great mass of supplies which feed and clothe us. Consequently we are in a position to bargain, and I believe we have bargained to good purpose. The Defence Agreements give us what we want. There are no secret agreements or informal undertakings. The details will be settled from time to time by the machinery to be set up by mutual agreement under Clause 4. Hon. Members will see that every Clause provides for Agreement. We shall provide what Defence Forces we can, and Britain will provide them with such training and equipment we require. We shall decide what bases, forces and facilities it will be in our interests to authorize, so that our country may be secure, so that it may be defended against external aggression, so that essential communications may be safeguarded. Indeed, what I fear is not that the United Kingdom will want to base too many forces here, but that they will base too few for our security, as they did in 1942. We escaped then by Providential grace. I would not like that experience repeated.

I need say nothing about the Public Officers’ Agreement, as I do not believe any Member will question its equity.

I would now ask the House to take a view of the whole picture. We are given independence, and every Member of the House knows it. The only doubt in my mind is whether every Hon. Member will have the courage of his personal conviction to admit it.

Sir, what are the requisites of a sovereign, independent, State? Legislative autonomy? We have it. Freedom to order our external relations as we wish? We have it. Freedom to take such measures as we want to ensure our defence and security? We have it.

Sir, the House will forgive me if I end on a personal note. My mind harks back to the time when the feelings and wishes of the people of Ceylon were reckoned as of little account, when the interests of the people of Ceylon were ignored or subordinated to Imperial interests. In recent years the forward march of democracy throughout the world has effected a change of heart, but so far as this country is concerned, this has not been brought about without valiant efforts on our part. The names of a long and distinguished line of unselfish patriots of all races and communities, castes and creeds, who worked devotedly for the common cause of our country comes readily to my mind. George Wall and Charles Ambrose Lorensz, Arunachalam and Ramanathan, James Peiris, D. B. Jayatilaka, F. R. Senanayake, E.J. Samerawickrame, H.J.C. Pereira, E. T. De Silva, C.E. Corea, Francis de Zoysa, W. A. de Silva and M.A. Arulanandan are names of those who are no longer with us, who, if alive would have rejoiced with us, but to whose services in the defence of our rights and liberties we must pay our grateful tribute.

There are many now living in our midst, some of them present in this House today, who must feel, as I do, the utmost happiness in witnessing the realization of our hopes and aspirations, in seeing at long last our beloved country freed from foreign domination.

Important as our other problems are, this, Sir, is the fundamental problem without which all others are incapable of solution. Hon. Members opposite will disagree with me about those other problems, but they surely agree with me that without freedom we can do little. This, Mr Speaker, is freedom, and I ask Hon. Members to join me in rejoicing over the attainment of this freedom. [12]

Mr P. G. B. Keuneman[13], for the Communist Party, replied that they were witnessing not the culmination of the struggle for freedom but of an elaborate process by which Great Britain, particularly British Imperialism, was passing from direct to indirect forms of rule. What Ceylon was getting was not even Dominion status. Neither the British Government nor the Governor used that phrase. “Apparently we are ripe to become a Dominion. Apparently we are on the threshold of becoming a Dominion. Apparently we have all the physical aspects of becoming a Dominion. We are told by Members that we have a Prime Minister worthy of being the Prime Minister of a Dominion, but none of these means that we are a Dominion”. There was no recital in the Ceylon Independence Bill saying that there was equality of status: a recital to an Agreement had no legal validity whatsoever. The recital in the Agreements was certainly a shortened form of the Balfour Declaration but it was a shortened form which had disembowelled all that was stated in the Balfour Declaration. The Agreements did not give the right for an independent policy in Defence and External Affairs. There was no guarantee that British troops would not be used against the people if, for instance, British interests were nationalized. The Ceylon Independence Bill unlike the Indian Independence Act did not confer the power to secede because it did not contain a power to enable the Bill itself to be repealed. Sections 2 and 4 of the Statute of Westminster do not confer the power to secede. Freedom is not only a transfer of political power to the people of the country but also a transfer of power to the masses. The Constitution was to retain all the anti–democratic and reactionary features. “Step by step, a transition from direct to indirect rule has taken place with the connivance of the Government, and it is this process which is today reaching culmination, and not the struggle of the people of this country for freedom and independence”. The people should be allowed to frame their own Constitution instead of merely grafting power on to the trunk of the Soulbury Constitution.

After further debate Dr N. M. Perera[14] moved an amendment so as to make the motion read:

That this House appreciates that after many years of subjection to foreign rule the struggle of the people of Ceylon for freedom has culminated in the attainment of independence within the meaning of the Ceylon Independence Bill, but regrets that the said Bill together with the agreements concluded between the Government of Ceylon and His Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom, deny to the people of Ceylon complete independence

Mr S. J. V. Chelvanayagam[15], for the Tamil Congress moved an amendment so as to make the motion read:

That this House rejoices that the peaceful negotiations between the Governments of Great Britain and Ceylon have culminated in the attainment by Ceylon of fully responsible status within the British Commonwealth of Nations

The former was defeated by 59 votes to 40 and the latter by 58 votes to 41, the main question then being carried unamended by 59 votes to 11. In the Senate a similar motion was carried by 21 votes to 5.

[1] Senanayake’s letter via the Governor on 28 February 1947 to Creech Jones and Moore’s letter on 7 March 1947 supporting Senanayake to Creech Jones can be found in BDEEP, vol. II, documents 381 and 382.

[2] Before the passing of the Statute of Westminster Act 1931 – see footnote 153.

[3] This happened in 1947.

[4] The full texts of Senanayake’s letter via the Governor on 13 June 1947 to Creech Jones and Creech Jones’ reply via the Governor on 14 June 1947 can be found in BDEEP, vol. II, documents 406 and 407.

[5] State Council Debates, 1947, vol. I, col. 2085.

[6] Later Sir (George) Claude (Stanley) Corea, Ceylon Government Representative in London, 1946–48; held key diplomatic posts including Head of Mission in Washington and London after independence.

[7] The U.N.P. won 42 seats of the 98 available and with the support of Independents and other allies were able to command a stable majority in the new House of Representatives, which sat for the first time on 14 October 1947.

[8] IJ states December in the original draft, but it was November 1947.

[9] John Archibald Mulhall, Secretary to the Governor of Ceylon.

[10] C.C.S.; Private Secretary to Senanayake during this period.

[11] Later Sir Lalitha Rajapakse K.C., first Minister of Justice and member of the Senate.

[12] Parliamentary Debates, House of Representatives 1947–48 vol. I, col. 437–448.

[13] Pieter Gerald Bartholomeusz Keuneman, founder member of the Communist Party of Ceylon; later representing Colombo Central in the House of Representatives.

[14] Dr Nanayakkarapathirage Martin Perera, Leader of the L.S.S.P.; member of the State Council; first Leader of the Opposition in the House of Representatives and Member for Ruanwella.

[15] Samuel James Veluppillai Chelvanayakam K.C., Member for Kankesanthurai in the House of Representatives; co–founder of the Illankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi (also known as the Federal Party) which was formed from those who had broken from the All–Ceylon Tamil Congress.

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