Chapter 8: The White Paper

The Soulbury Report was published on the 9th October 1945 and the decisions of His Majesty’s Government on the 31st of the same month. Steps were taken to import copies of the Report and to sell them to the public. The White Paper, on the other hand, was reprinted in an unreadable and inaccessible form in a Ceylon Government Gazette Extraordinary. The result is, of course, that many read the Report and few the White Paper. The latter was clearly based on a memorandum submitted to the Cabinet by the Colonial Secretary. Its first nine paragraphs were historical and analytical. The remaining paragraphs, containing the decisions, were as follows:–

  1. His Majesty’s Government are in sympathy with the desire of the people of Ceylon to advance towards Dominion Status and they are anxious to co–operate with them to that end. With this in mind His Majesty’s Government have reached, the conclusion that a Constitution on the general lines proposed by the Soulbury Commission (which also conforms in broad outline, save as regards the Second Chamber, with the constitutional scheme put forward by the Ceylon Ministers themselves) will provide a workable basis for constitutional progress in Ceylon.

Experience of the working of Parliamentary institutions in the British Commonwealth has shown that advance to Dominion Status has been effected by modification of existing constitutions and by the establishment of conventions which have grown up in actual practice.

Legislation such as the Statute of Westminster has been the recognition of constitutional advances already achieved rather than the instrument by which they were secured. It is therefore the hope of His Majesty’s Government that the new constitution will be accepted by the people of Ceylon with a determination so to work it in a comparatively short space of time such Dominion Status will be evolved. The actual length of time occupied by this evolutionary process must depend upon the experience gained under the new constitution by the people of Ceylon.

  1. The main features of the Constitution under which Ceylon will be governed during this period will follow the general lines of the recommendations of the Soulbury Commission, with the following principal modifications:–

(a) Life of the Upper House– The provisions as regards the life of the Upper House will be changed so that one–third of the Membership will retire after two years, and a further third after four years, the arrangements proposed by the Soulbury Commission being followed for their replacement.

(b) Reserved Powers of the Governor. In place of the recommendations of the Soulbury Commission that the Governor shall be empowered to enact special Ordinances dealing with Defence and External Affairs, His Majesty’s Government will retain the power to legislate for Ceylon by Order in Council, and the Governor will be provided by Order in Council to be brought into operation by Proclamation in case of a public emergency with powers to make regulations for purposes such as those specified in the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act, 1939. During the operation of the new Constitution the present title of Governor will not be altered, and the channel of communication between the Government of Ceylon and His Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom will remain as at present through the Governor and the Secretary of State for the Colonies, who will retain his present ministerial responsibility in regard to Ceylon’s affairs.

(c) Breakdown of the Constitution – Any contingency arising in this respect will be covered by the general power of His Majesty’s Government to legislate for Ceylon by Order in Council which will include, if necessary, suspension of the Constitution.

(d) Shipping – The Ceylon Government will be empowered to establish and regulate shipping services, both coastal and overseas, provided that no action is taken without the concurrence of His Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom which may be interpreted as subjecting the shipping of other members of the Commonwealth to differential treatment.

(e) Public Services – The period of exercise of right of retirement of certain classes of officers specified in paragraph 372 (ii) of the Soulbury Report will be reduced from three to two years from the date of the first meeting of Parliament under the new Constitution; and the exercise of the special right of retirement with compensation for loss of career will not extend to officers appointed to the Public Services on agreement for a limited period of years.

  1. In Section 7 of the 1943 Declaration His Majesty’s Government made it clear that acceptance of any constitutional proposals put forward by the Ceylon Ministers would depend upon the subsequent adoption of such proposals by three–quarters of the members of the State Council of Ceylon, excluding the Officers of State and the Presiding Officer. This provision was inserted because the 1943 Declaration contemplated the adoption of a constitution worked out by the Ministers and did not specifically require that they should consult minority interests.

This condition was thus attached in the past to constitutional proposals to be put forward by the Ceylon Ministers and His Majesty’s Government have decided not to insist upon the acceptance of the constitution now proposed by the Soulbury Commission (after full consultation with minority interests), by so large a proportion of the State Council as three–quarters, though they earnestly hope that all those with the future interests of Ceylon at heart will co–operate by giving their support to the new constitution now offered as a foundation upon which may be built the future Dominion of Ceylon. His Majesty’s Government will take into account the views expressed by the State Council and the number of those in the Council who vote in favour of adopting the new constitution.

It will be convenient to study paragraph 12 first, since its interest is primarily historical. As will be seen from Chapter 5 in the dispute over the terms of reference of the Soulbury Commission to the Ministers relied on two main arguments, neither of which was answered by the Secretary of State. The first was that the Ministers gave an interpretation of the Declaration in June 1943 and consistently acted upon it; and not until July 1944 was it suggested that they were wrong. The second, which is relevant here, that since the final draft had to be submitted to the State Council and secure a three–quarters majority, it must be the Ministers’ draft, as agreed by the “commission or conference” and not a draft prepared by the “commission or conference”. Paragraph 12 of the White Paper admits quite blandly the truth of this second contention. The requirement of a three–quarters majority was inserted “because the 1943 Declaration contemplated the adoption of a constitution worked out by the Ministers”; but since the constitution now accepted by His Majesty’s Government was proposed by the Soulbury Commission, it was no longer necessary to insist on a three–quarters majority. The Ministers had faithfully carried out the terms of the Declaration, but a year later the Secretary of State had changed his mind and had decided that the proposed Commission should consult minority interests.  What is not quite clear is why the Secretary of State had changed his mind.  Perhaps it was because, though the Declaration did not specifically require the Ministers to consult minority interests, he thought that the requirement of a three–quarters majority would compel them to do so; or perhaps it was because the Secretary of State (or his local representatives) did not like the unicameral Constitution proposed.  In any case, the Ministers were pleased to be informed that not they but His Majesty’s Government had broken faith.

Paragraph 11 contains important modifications of the Soulbury scheme on lines recommended by Mr Senanayake in London. The most important was the abolition of the Governor’s Ordinance. It is true that a power to legislate by Order in Council was substituted, but a sledge–hammer would not be used to crack a nut and the nut–crackers were taken away. The Governor could have used his powers in any minor matter of dispute; His Majesty’s Government could in practice intervene only in matters of great importance.

Attention was however concentrated on paragraph 10, which contained what the Ministers interpreted as a promise of Dominion Status in a “comparatively short space of time”, contingent on what may be described as good behaviour. The argument that Dominion status came by evolution was woefully weak. If it was valid it applied to Ireland, India and Burma. Still, it was not worth while to argue about it. The fact was evident that the Secretary of State for the Colonies had recommended Dominion status and the Cabinet had decided to procrastinate. The Colonial Office had therefore to provide an argument for procrastination. Mr Senanayake saw that at an auspicious moment he could reopen the whole question.  The next step, obviously, was to secure the approval of the State Council to acceptance of what was offered, to carry out the steps necessary to bring the Constitution into operation, and to watch for the auspicious moment.

The requirement of a three–quarters majority had been waived, but the propaganda value of a large majority would be immense. The absence of Mr G. G. Ponnambalam (who was in England) made it possible even to contemplate unanimity, for the other Ceylon Tamils had not burned their boats as he had done and some of them did not like his version of a bridge very much. The problem of securing a suitable motion was difficult. It had to satisfy Mr Bandaranaike and the more suspicious among the Sinhalese and at the same time to secure the assent of all the minorities. It had to express disappointment and yet accept the White Paper unconditionally so that His Majesty’s Government could not complain that the State Council had hedged. I must have produced a dozen drafts, none of which satisfied me. Then we had a conference at Sir Oliver Goonetilleke’s bungalow at which Mr Ranasinghe produced a promising draft which did not satisfy Mr Senanayake completely. We tried numerous amendments to both his draft and mine. Sir Barclay Nihill had shown Mr Senanayake another draft, and so it was decided to adjourn to his rooms, where we showed our drafts After another hour’s discussion Sir Barclay produced a combination of his draft and Mr Ranasinghe’s which proved acceptable. It was as follows:

This House expresses its disappointment that His Majesty’s Government have deferred the admission of Ceylon to full Dominion Status but in view of the assurance in the White Paper of October 31, 1945, that His Majesty’s Government will cooperate with the people of Ceylon so that such status may be attained by this country in a comparatively short time, this House resolves that the Constitution offered in the said White Paper be accepted during the interim period.

Now was the moment for “the larger patriotism” of which the Ministers had spoken on June 8, 1943. Mr Senanayake and the other Ministers set out to get unanimity if possible but at least 43 votes, one or other of them saw the leaders of the various groups and explained exactly what they were trying to do. This was to be a vote which would have material influence on attainment of Dominion Status. It was agreed that Mr Senanayake, as leader of the Council, should move the motion and that Mr Bandaranaike, as the best debater and the leader of the Sinhala Maha Sabha[1], should second formally so as to be free to speak as soon as opposition showed itself. Mr Senanayake would therefore be followed by Mr George E. de Silva as president of the Ceylon National Congress. Mr A. Mahadeva, as the Tamil Minister, would speak at a convenient opportunity. The night before the debate, November 7, Mr Senanayake had a party at his bungalow to celebrate the occasion. By that time it was clear that the minority would not exceed four – Mr W. Dahanayake[2], the two Indians (Mr I. X. Pereira and Mr K. Natesa Aiyer[3]), and possibly one other. There was still hope of getting all four to vote for the motion.

Mr Senanayake intended his speech to be an appeal to “the larger patriotism” to which all along he had been faithful. He produced a draft which was admirable in sentiment but heavy in substance, and so it was rewritten with a lighter touch. This was read to “the breakdown gang” and Mr Ranasinghe and I touched up. Then Mr Senanayake rehearsed it so that he could change anything which did not suit his manner of speaking. The speech as delivered was as follows:[4]

After an absence of four months, I feel almost as if I were making a maiden speech, Sir. I am happy that my maiden speech should be on a subject so vital to the welfare of this country. I crave the indulgence of the House if it is unworthy of the occasion.

I was invited to London by Colonel Oliver Stanley, but my negotiations were conducted with the new Secretary of State, Mr Hall. I should like at the outset to bear witness to the encouragement which I received from both of them. It has been a weakness in our case that we have had to correspond by telegram. They have not known the depth of our feelings; we have been suspicious of their intentions. Colonel Stanley was Colonial Secretary for most of the war. He was aware of the importance of our co–operation in the war effort; he was anxious to secure our political advancement; in him I am convinced we have a true friend.

Mr Hall – who is, if I may say so, a miner like myself – came fresh to the problems of Ceylon. It was inevitable that he, and the Government of which he was a member, should require time for the consideration of our problems. That he and they approached them with sympathy is proved by the result. For the Declaration which I ask you to accept is better than the Declaration of 1943, better than the Ministers’ draft, and better than the Soulbury Report.

I had a very full and fair hearing, not only from the Secretary of State himself, but also from all the officials concerned with Ceylon in the Colonial Office. I put the case for Lanka in all its strength and with all my force. Possibly there might have been a better advocate; certainly there could not have been a fairer and more patient Judge. I was, I fear, a bit of a nuisance.

The end of the European War had created a host of problems. The General Election produced a change of Government early in my stay. It was no doubt a useful lesson to see the British people exhibit their political maturity, their quiet jubilation over political victory, and their calm acceptance of political defeat. This surely is how democracy ought to be carried on. The people had spoken; one Government moved out and the other moved in; the machine went on turning under entirely new management. Still, every current problem, including our own, had to be thought out afresh. The officials knew the minds of one set of Ministers and knew how they would probably decide; they had first to instruct and then to study the minds of the successors. Then came the end of the Japanese War with a new set of problems, most of them affecting the Colonial Office itself. In this ocean of trouble Ceylon must have seemed but a speck. In spite of these difficulties our problems received priority, and we are indeed very grateful to Mr Hall and His Majesty’s Government for so speeding–up their decisions that we are able in the very first week of our meeting after the recess to consider them.

Before I explain why l recommend that the new proposals be accepted, I must pay a tribute to the Donoughmore Commission. Of the dead, nothing but good should be said, and, unless this motion is rejected, the Donoughmore Constitution is dead. We were not much in love with it, and we could see it die without a murmur. We must not forget though, that it was the Donoughmore Constitution which first gave us a measure of responsibility, which enabled us to show that we were capable of self–government, and which gave us power to tackle some of the social and economic problems of the country. For these things we are most grateful.

The motion which I have the honour and the privilege to propose is the culmination of a long development. For forty years the men of two generations have fought for freedom. Now, freedom is within our grasp. Since the first steps are always the most difficult, our gratitude must be accorded especially to those of the past generation who saw the vision of Free Lanka far off among the hills, who strove to make the first breaches in the bureaucratic wall that surrounded us, and who died ignorant of the fact that before the turn of the century there could be a Ceylonese Government responsible to a Ceylonese Parliament. Their names will always be honoured among us: Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam, the father of the Ceylon National Congress to whom we owe a great deal for our political progress. It is a source of very great pleasure to me to see, seated alongside of me today, the worthy son of that distinguished patriot; Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan, Sir James Peiris, Sir Baron Jayatilaka, Mr E. J. Samarawickrame and, I hope I may add, Mr F. R. Senanayake. To the names of those whose memory we honour, I should like to add among others the names of my colleague, Mr George E. de Silva, the President of the Ceylon National Congress, and my good friend Mr G. A. H. Wille, both of whom I am happy to find present here today. No doubt many of us have made mistakes; no doubt there are episodes that we would rather ignore; no doubt there have been controversies among us; but today, when we see their efforts about to be crowned with success we forget all that and remember only the breadth of their vision, the depth of their feeling, and the height of the ambition for their country which led them, day in and day out, through drought and depressions, through dangers and difficulties, to press on to the distant goal that we are now approaching. It is our duty today to be worthy of their memory.

The history of the present agitation begins with the resolution passed by this House in 1942 demanding Dominion Status. The response was disappointing but the Ministers pressed on and in 1943 secured the Declaration of that year. It did not contain all that we wanted; it contained reservations that we disliked; but it offered us a Constitution framed by ourselves which would have enabled us to take the next step without further constitutional amendment. So long as the Donoughmore Constitution was in operation we were stopped from further advancement. We had to replace it by something which could be developed into Dominion Status.

Let me say at this point that throughout this period the Ministers have had in view one objective, and one objective only, the attainment of the maximum of freedom. Accusations about Sinhalese domination have been bandied about. We can afford to ignore them, for it must be plain to everyone that what we sought was not Sinhalese domination but Ceylonese dominion.

The road to freedom was by no means straight. That we were correct in our procedure is proved by paragraph 12 of the White Paper, and I am glad that His Majesty’s Government has had the courage and the generosity to admit that we were right. We did all that we were asked to do and with a speed which, I think, surprised Whitehall. The procedure was changed not by us but by His Majesty’s Government and the change was due solely to the representations of the minorities. After those representations, His Majesty’s Government felt that the whole question should be examined by a Commission. We protested, as we were bound to do, at what we regarded as a breach of an undertaking, I am convinced, after hearing the case put in London, that the change was due to an excess of caution. It was felt that the minorities should be given every opportunity of proving their case, if they could. They were given every opportunity, and they took it. The Ministers allowed their draft to speak for itself. If the Commission wanted to see anything, we showed it to them, but we gave no evidence. The fact that we gave no evidence has had two excellent results. First, the minorities said what they pleased and how they pleased. The Ministers were relieved of the temptation to retaliate. In this way we were, I hope, able to avoid adding to the bitterness and ill–will that we so correctly prophesied in 1941. If anybody ought to feel aggrieved it was those who were so bitterly attacked; but we do not feel aggrieved because the verdict had been in our favour. Secondly, that verdict is the more impressive because we left our proposals to speak for themselves. No reasonable person can now doubt the honesty of our intentions. We devised a scheme which gave heavy weightage to the minorities; we deliberately protected them against discriminatory legislation; we vested important powers in the Governor–General because we thought that the minorities would regard him as impartial; we decided upon an independent Public Services Commission so as to give an assurance that there should be no communalism in the Public Service. All these have been accepted by the Soulbury Commission and quoted by them as devices to protect the minorities. The accusation of Sinhalese domination has thus been shown to be false. I hope that the verdict will be accepted by all sections of the community, and that we can now go forward with the trust and mutual confidence upon which the welfare of this Island depends. I do not normally speak as a Sinhalese, and I do not think that the Leader of this Council ought to think of himself as a Sinhalese representative; but for once I should like to speak as a Sinhalese and to assert with all the force at my command that the interests of one community are the interests of all. We are one of another, whatever our race or creed. These accusations of rabid communalism were no doubt inevitable, but they hurt because they seemed to us to be so manifestly untrue. The recommendations of the Soulbury Commission show that in the opinion of three eminent and disinterested persons from outside, they were untrue.

I hope that, if I pay my tribute to the members of the Commission, I shall not be thought to be doing so because they approved of our proposals. I am sure that those who gave evidence before them will agree with those who did not that they listened carefully and courteously to every point that was made and tried honestly to ascertain its value and importance. In Lord Soulbury we had that unique combination so characteristic of English politics at its best, a scholar who was also a statesman. In Sir Fredrick Rees we had a scholar who showed that he could master administrative details. Mr Borrows showed us a type badly needed in this country, a Labour leader who came from the people, who knew the people, and who had acquired a vast experience and a ripe judgement in fighting for the people. I am sure that all sections of this House will wish to join in congratulating him on his appointment as Governor of Bengal; Bengal with all her difficult problems is fortunate in having secured the assistance of his wide experience. We have acquired not only a Constitution, but also three friends in Great Britain who will not only follow our progress but who will, when the question arises as it soon will do, help us to attain our goal.

I come now to the proposals themselves. To determine the value of the Declaration of 1945, it is necessary to compare it with the Declaration of 1943. The Declaration of 1943 had merits, but it also had limitations. In very large measure those limitations have been swept away. I would summarize the changes as follows:

First: We have a specific promise of Dominion Status.

Secondly: The limitation of self–government to matters of internal civil administration has been removed.

Thirdly: The dyarchy implicit in the Governor–General’s powers of legislation is swept away.

Fourthly: The Imperial control over defence and external affairs can be made effective only by order in Council and by reservation of Bills.

Fifthly: The Imperial control does not extend to immigration, franchise, tariffs or shipping.

Sixthly: We have gained a power of amending our own Constitution, though subject to reservation.

Of these the first four and partly the fifth were due to my visit to London. The fifth and sixth were claimed by the Ministers and accepted by the Soulbury Report.

The great advantage of the White Paper is that is gives us complete self–government and puts an end to Commissions. If Hon. Members study the White Paper alone they will obtain a false picture. It emphasizes the restrictions and precautions. What they should study is the new Constitution. I have had a new draft prepared and I have compared it with the Constitutions of the Dominions. I can assure the House that there is nothing in it that might not be in the Constitution of a Dominion. In fact, in one respect it goes much further than any Dominion constitution except that of Eire. It provides specifically and positively for responsible government; and this means responsible government in all matters of administration, civil and military, internal and external. The Declaration of 1943 provides for responsible government in matters of internal civil administration. We said in our interpretation that this could not mean that Ceylon Ministers were to be entirely deprived of functions relating to defence and external affairs. Accordingly, we included them among the ministerial functions, but at the same time we had to give legislative functions to the Governor or Governor–General, thus establishing a system of dyarchy. The Soulbury Commission strengthened these provisions by giving the Governor–General additional power to issue orders to Government Servants and levy taxation. They also wanted full power to be reserved to the King–in–Council. In London I urged strongly that dyarchy would not work and that it would break down whenever the Governor–General tried to use his powers. I said that no controls at all were necessary but that if they insisted upon then the only workable scheme was to do as the Soulbury Commission suggested and reserve legislative power to the King–in–Council. His Majesty’s Government have accepted this argument and have swept dyarchy out of the way. This means that all functions of Government are vested in the Parliament and the Government of Ceylon. Unless the King–in–Council steps in, we shall have complete control of our own affairs.

There will be, it is true, the power of the Crown to legislate by Order in Council. The actual provision is in Article 98 of the present Order in Council. That was not in our draft, but it was implicit in the “Sri Lanka” Bill. If that Bill had been assented to, it would not have taken away the power of the King–in–Council to legislate for Sri Lanka; for it would have been only an Ordinance enacted under an Order in Council which itself reserved in Article 98 full power to the King to legislate for Ceylon. No Ordinance could take that power away. It can be taken away only by another Order in Council.

It is true that there is no such provision is any Dominion Constitution, but the House must remember that for legal and historical reasons the Dominion Constitutions, except that of Newfoundland, were in Acts of Parliament. Accordingly, they could be amended only by Act of Parliament. It is, of course, easier to legislate by Order in Council than by Act of Parliament; but owing to the British party system a government can get its legislation through Parliament by using its party majority. Actually, the British Parliament suspended the Constitution of Newfoundland in 1933, it legislated for Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa in 1937, and it amended the Constitution of Canada in 1940. I know that in each case this was done at the request of the Dominion concerned, but I am coming to that point presently. What I am emphasizing is that, in Ceylon, the King–in–Council will be able to legislate. That is the only difference between our new Constitution and that of a Dominion.

While I am on this point, I had better explain the rather obscure reference in the White Paper to the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act of 1939. The Legal Secretary can explain this better than I, but my understanding of it is this. His Majesty’s Government wishes to make certain that if any grave emergency arises in the Island, such as a war or a complete breakdown of civil administration, there will be adequate powers to deal with it. The actual phrase used in the Act is: “the public safety, the defence of the realm, the maintenance of public order and the efficient prosecution of any war in which His Majesty’s Government may be engaged, and for maintaining supplies and services essential to the life of the community.” What is proposed is that a sort of dormant Order in Council shall be passed, which the Governor can bring into operation by Proclamation, and which will then enable him to make Defence Regulations. It is obviously a power to be used in case of grave emergency only, and the possibility of its use during the interim period is remote.

Beside the power to enact Orders in Council for the Island, there will be only one restriction on full self–government in the Constitution. It will be a power to reserve Bills relating to certain classes of matters. There will be six such classes, including Defence, External Affairs, Currency, Extraordinary Measures, Minority Discrimination and Constitutional Amendments. The House will not expect me to give a disquisition on these classes, which have been the subject of much discussion and much careful drafting. I will mention only that, subject to minor qualifications, they do not apply to Immigration, the Franchise, Trade Agreements within the Commonwealth, Tariffs or Shipping. We shall have to watch the drafting very carefully and see that the powers are not abused when they come into operation. What I would like to emphasize is that they are powers only to reserve Bills. Under the Declaration of 1943 the Governor was to have powers of legislation also. Those have been swept away. What is more, it was on our insistence that Immigration, the Franchise, Tariffs, and Shipping were expressly excluded. In relation to Shipping, in fact, the White Paper goes beyond the Minister’s draft.

I would also like to emphasize that these powers of reservation are actually less than those in most of the Dominion Constitutions. In Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, the Governor–General still has power to reserve any Bill whatsoever. In South Africa he had the same power until 1934. Even in the Irish Free State there was such a power until 1937. In New Zealand and the Australian States certain classes of Bills must be reserved; and until the Constitution of Newfoundland was suspended in 1933, the Governor was instructed to reserve eight classes of Bills, including some of those in our list. Further, the present Constitutions of Canada, Australia, and New Zealand authorize the King–in–Council to disallow any legislation. There was a similar power in Newfoundland under its old Constitution and in South Africa before 1934. There will be no such power in the Ceylon Constitutions though, of course, the same result can be achieved under the reserved power to legislate by Order in Council.

These two, the reserved power of legislation and the power to reserve Bills for the Royal Assent, will be the only limitations on complete self–government in our Constitution, and I think I have proved to the House that they are not essentially different from those still in operation in Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The difference will be, if there is a difference, in the extent to which the powers are exercised, These powers exist in the Dominions, but they have fallen into disuse, and in fact it has been agreed at Imperial Conferences that they can be used only at the request of the Dominion Government concerned. This is where the evolutionary theory of the White Paper becomes important. Dominion Status was the product of a slow development. When Lord Durham recommended responsible government for Canada in 1840, he expressly excluded defence, external affairs, trade, immigration and Crown lands. By 1860 self government included trade, immigration and Crown lands. Defence and external affairs were included much more slowly, and it was not until 1919 that the Dominions could be said to be really autonomous in defence and external affairs, and by this time the Dominions had voluntarily raised large Armies and even Navies. With the exception of Canada, they still depend on Great Britain for assistance in their defence. They help Great Britain and Great Britain helps them. It was on such a basis that I requested Dominion Status with an agreement about defence, for it must be obvious to everyone who witnessed Japanese aggression that we are not at present capable of defending ourselves. Besides I knew that if Great Britain maintained Naval and Air bases in Ceylon we should profit considerably from Imperial expenditure. However, Great Britain is not at present prepared to go so far. They have offered us something like Dominion Status of 1914 or the Dominion Status which Newfoundland had before 1933. It is full self–government, internal and external subject to two restrictions.

To get full Dominion Status, four steps are necessary. First, we must make certain that the restrictive powers are not used. They are obviously intended to be used only in exceptional cases. If they are abused, we may rely on any Government of Ceylon to protest, and to protest vigorously. What we have to do is to cause these powers to decay through disuse. We knew that once we had responsible government we could extend it in that way. The House will remember that as long ago as June 1943, we used the phrase “decay through disuse”. Secondly, we must secure admission to Imperial Conferences. I have already asked for this, and I think we should press for it at the next Imperial Conference. We shall be as autonomous as Canada and Australia were in 1911, and, as Newfoundland was in 1930. We have a point of view to express which differs fundamentally from those of the White Dominions, and we should be allowed to express it. Thirdly, Ceylon must be transferred to the Dominions Office. I asked for this in London, but it has been refused. Finally, we must get the Statute of Westminster extended to Ceylon. I asked for this too, though I knew it was a complicated matter, and I did not want self–government held up while it was being discussed and time found for it in the House of Commons.

None of these four steps depends primarily on the people of Ceylon, and in this sense the theory that Dominion Status can come by evolution is a fiction. What the White Paper really means is that if a new Constitution works well and it proves unnecessary to use the restrictive powers, full equality of status will be accorded to us. “His Majesty’s Government”, says the White paper, “are in sympathy with the desire of the people of Ceylon to advance towards Dominion Status, and they are anxious to cooperate with them to that end.” Further, His Majesty’s Government hope “that the new Constitution will be accepted by the people of Ceylon with a determination so to work it that in a comparatively short space of time such Dominion Status will be evolved.”

I did not get all that I asked. I wanted Dominion Status under the Statute of Westminster and I asked that the question of a Second Chamber be left to the new Legislature. What I did get was a great advance on the Declaration of 1943, the Ministers’ draft, and the Soulbury Report. But the question for this House is not whether this offer is all that we deserve or desire. The question is whether to keep the Donoughmore Constitution and start the agitation again from the point that we reached in 1941 or whether to jump nine–tenths of the way and put ourselves in a favourable position to take the last step forward. The fundamental difference between the White Paper and the Donoughmore Constitution is that it does enable us to achieve Dominion Status without a constitutional amendment of any kind and meanwhile gives us complete responsible government. We shall not need another Commission or another Constitution. All we need is a series of decisions by His Majesty’s Government and His Majesty’s Government affirm quite positively that they are anxious to cooperate in our advance towards Dominion Status.

More than three years ago the Cripps offer was made to India and was rejected because it did not go far enough. Can anyone doubt that India would be in a far better position today if it had been accepted? A man should not refuse bread merely because it is not cake.

So far as I can see, the only people against accepting the White Paper are the various Communist parties and the rump of the All–Ceylon Union of Tamils. Of the Communist parties I need say nothing. They agree only in not being able to agree. Nor is there much to be said of the Tamil Congress. They submitted a Constitution which would have given less freedom than the Donoughmore Constitution. They have learned nothing since 1928.

I have no doubt that every Member of this House could improve the White Paper if he were given the opportunity. We are not being asked to amend it. We are asked to accept or reject it. A vote for an amendment is in fact a vote for rejection. I hope, therefore, that every Member of this House who desires our freedom will support the motion, which states emphatically that we want more and which makes it plain that we accept the White Paper for an interim period only.

I would like to appeal especially to my minority Friends. I appeal first to the Europeans. No people in the world are so loyal to their own Government. Their Government has decided, and we are offering to accept the decision. It is true that their own case has been rejected. But my Friends come from a nation of sportsmen accustomed to accept defeat with good–humoured resignation. I saw one of their greatest Prime Ministers accept defeat with a joke on his lips. No man has ever had so great a rebuff after so great a triumph; but there he was on the Front Opposition Bench playing the game as it ought to be played. I have not the slightest doubt that the European Members will follow his excellent example and help us to carry out the policy of His Majesty’s Government.

I appeal secondly to the Indians. In no country in the world have the struggles of the Indian leaders for freedom been followed with such sympathy as in Ceylon. We admire the sacrifices which these leaders have made. The religions of the great mass of our people came from India. The cultural revival in India has been an inspiration to us. There have certainly been difficulties between India and Ceylon, but they were differences between alien Governments and not between free peoples. There is one way to solve those difficulties – to get rid of what Mahatma Gandhi once called “the third party” and to have a free India and a free Ceylon. I am sure that our Indian Friends, who are so anxious for freedom for India, will not obstruct freedom for Ceylon. A vote against this motion is a vote not only for the servitude of Ceylon, but for the servitude of India also, for the problem of India is only the problem of Ceylon on a vaster scale.

I come next to the Burghers. Their future is bound up with the future of the Ceylonese as a whole. In the new Constitution they will find the place to which their energy, their initiative and their high standards of education entitle them. They have only one representative under the Donoughmore Constitution, but he has been in the forefront of the political agitation from the beginning. The Constitution which we are proposing to accept is based on a model which he admires and has studied deeply. I am sure that he will not vote against us.

We all admire the moderation with which the Muslims have stated their case. They did not produce a fictitious story of Sinhalese oppression. All they asked for was adequate representation. We tried to meet their needs in our scheme, and the Soulbury Commission has improved upon it. The Muslims supported the “Sri Lanka” Bill and I am sure they will support this, which is even more favourable to them.

There remain only the Tamils. I would that I could be equally complimentary to their leadership. They have asked for the moon and have received only what we offered without asking. I am sure that their great men of the last generation would have been with us in this great struggle for freedom. For centuries the Sinhalese and the Tamils have lived together in peace and amity. We have been governed by their king and they by ours. I cannot believe that they are solidly behind the reactionary elements which have seized the head–lines. What is the good of six pages of long–winded resolutions at this stage of our history? I put this question bluntly to my Tamil Friends. Do you want to be governed from London or do you want, as Ceylonese, to help govern Ceylon? I appeal to them not to let the ambition of a few politicians stand in the way of the freedom of our dear Lanka. Shall the most ancient of our civilizations sink to the level of dull and dreary negation? We all know and admire their special qualities. They are essential to the welfare of this Island, and I ask them to come over and help us.

The question before the House is whether it wants the White Paper, with its promise of Dominion Status in a comparatively short space of time, or the Donoughmore Constitution and another long period of political agitation. It is not a question of amending or improving. A vote for an amendment is a vote for the Donoughmore Constitution. It is a specific offer to which there are only two answers: Yes and No. We are asked to vote for a composite scheme to which every Member of this Council has contributed. The Soulbury Commissioners have testified to the good work done in this House, which has now lasted ten years. We are offered this new scheme because of the success with which this Council has worked a most difficult Constitution for the past ten years. What impressed His Majesty’s Government was not the details of the Ministers’ scheme but the favourable verdict in the first three chapters of the Soulbury Report. They have said in effect that if we could do so well under the Donoughmore Constitution we could do even better under a Constitution of our own devising. There is no Legislature in the world where the Members have been so actively associated with the social and economic development of the country. The Soulbury Report and the White Paper are a verdict in favour of this Council.

The present proposal is for an interim period. We want Dominion Status in the shortest possible time. To achieve it we must show not only that we have successfully worked the self–government that the White Paper promises, but also that we are fundamentally agreed no matter what may be our politics or our communities. In a short time the Cabinet will demand the fulfilment of the promise in the White Paper. Their hands can be immensely strengthened by this House and now. Every time we ask for a constitutional advance we are met by the argument that we are not agreed. Let us show them we are agreed by accepting this motion with a majority so overwhelming that nobody dares to use the argument against us again. I am not asking for a majority; I am asking for a unanimous vote.

And for what are you being asked to vote? It is a motion to wipe out the Donoughmore Constitution with all its qualifications and limitations and to place the destiny of this country in the hands of its people. It is a motion to end our political subjection and to enable us to devote ourselves to the welfare of the Island freed from these interminable constitutional disputes. A vote for this motion is a vote for Lanka, and it is a pleasure and a privilege to move it.

Mr Speaker, I move that, –

“This House expresses its disappointment that His Majesty’s Government have deferred the admission of Ceylon to full Dominion Status but in view of the assurance contained in the White Paper of October 31, 1945, that His Majesty’s Government will cooperate with the people of Ceylon so that such status may be attained by this country in a comparatively short time, this House resolves that the Constitution offered in the said White Paper be accepted during the interim period.”

Mr George E. de Silva followed with a speech directed mainly to the Ceylon National Congress but including some constitutional material which could not go into Mr Senanayake’s speech without overweighting it. Mr G. A. H. Wille[5], the Burgher Nominated Member and the oldest of the heavy protagonists for constitutional reform, accepted the positive part of the motion without approving the expression of disappointment. Major J. W. Oldfield[6], a European Nominated Member, wanted an assurance about immigration facilities which he had already received privately.

Mr W. Dahanayake, as expected, opposed the motion because he wanted an appeal to the country. Mr Bandaranaike followed with a speech which appealed to the left wing among the Sinhalese and at the same time appealed to the minorities. Mr V. Nalliah[7] said that he would vote for the motion though dissatisfied with what had been obtained; and Mr A. F. Molamure[8] wound up the day’s proceedings. The debate had gone according to plan and in the newspaper next morning it made a brave showing. On the second day the minorities spoke, and for all practical purposes every speech was for the motion, even those of the Indians. The standard of debating was high, the atmosphere exhilarating, and the result never in doubt. The only question was whether Mr Dahanayake would be in a minority of one or whether he would be joined by the two Indians. Their speeches seemed to be for the motion, but something or other – perhaps the presence of the Indian Representative in the gallery – tipped the scale. There voted for the motion 51 and against the motion 3 – Mr Dahanayake and the two Indians. His Majesty’s Government had challenged the Ministers to get 43 votes and they had obtained 51.

[1] Party founded by S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike in the mid 1930s to promote Sinhalese interests.

[2] Wijeyananda Dahanayake, Leftist politician in State Council and later Prime Minister, 1959–60.

[3] Representatives of the Indian community in the State Council till 1947.

[4] State Council Debates, 1945, col. 6918–6931.

[5] Represented the Burgher community in the State Council.

[6] Represented the European community in the State Council.

[7] Vallipuram Nalliah, represented Trincomalee–Batticaloa in the State Council from 1943; later served in the House of Representatives.

[8] Later Sir (Alexander) Francis Molamure, represented Balangoda from 1943; served as the first Speaker of the House of Representatives.

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