Illustrations Note:


RPP1: Sir Ivor Jennings in his robes as Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ceylon (courtesy of Mrs Shirley Watson)


RPP2: The signing ceremony of agreements between the United Kingdom and Ceylon at Queen’s House, Colombo in November 1947 autographed by the following:  Seated left to right: Sir Henry Monck-Mason Moore and D.S. Senanayake.  Standing left to right: J. A. Mulhall, Sir Alan Rose, Sir Oliver Goonetilleke, Dr Ivor Jennings, A.G. Ranasinghe and N.W. Atukorale. (courtesy of Mrs Shirley Watson)


RPP3: Caricature of Jennings by “Collette” (courtesy of Lake House)


RPP4: Sir Oliver Goonetilleke with Sir Ivor and Lady Jennings (courtesy of Lake House)


RPP5: Ceremony at the University of Ceylon.  Left to right: Lord Soulbury, Sir Ivor Jennings, Jawaharlal Nehru and Lester B. Pearson. (courtesy of Lake House)


RPP6: (courtesy of Lake House)


RPP7: Reproduction of letter from D.S. Senanayake to Sir Ivor Jennings. (courtesy of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies,

Appendix IV

Letter from D. S. Senanayake regarding Dominion status to George Hall, Secretary of State for the Colonies, on 16 August 1945

At our meeting on the 9th August, 1945 you were good enough to hand me an advance copy of the Report of the Soulbury Commission and to ask for my observations. I am most grateful for this opportunity of expressing my views before any decision is taken by His Majesty’s Government. I should state frankly, however, that opinion in Ceylon has shifted since the early months of 1944. On the 26th March 1942 the State Council passed a resolution requesting that Dominion Status be conferred on the Island. The Declaration of May 1943 did not go so far, but it would have enabled us to get rid of the Donoughmore Constitution and to place ourselves in an advantageous position for pressing for Dominion status. Accordingly, the ministers accepted the Declaration as interpreted in my statement of the 9th June, 1943. The Ministers’ draft Constitution has, however, been before the public since September 1944 and, with the restrictive clause removed, it has been debated and passed by the State Council as the Sri Lanka Bill. It is now generally agreed that the restrictive clauses are unsatisfactory. Meanwhile, too, His Majesty’s Government has promised full self–government to Burma. There does not seem to be anything in the social or economic conditions, or in the recent history of the two countries, to justify the placing of Ceylon in an inferior position. Accordingly the case that I should like to put before you is the case for Dominion status.

  1. It is the expressed policy of His Majesty’s Government, and especially of His Majesty’s present Government, to enable the peoples of the Commonwealth to achieve self–government. Ceylon is sometimes described as the “premier Colony”, and if there is anything in that description it can mean only that it should be the first to receive self–government. If it is not yet ripe for this status, there must be some reason for it, and we have so far been given no such reason. The statistics quoted in the appendix to the Soulbury Report seem to me to prove our case. We have a population of 6 million; our annual revenue is over 200 million rupees and our trade is nearly a thousand million rupees; we had a surplus of 15 million rupees in 1942–43 and this year we are budgeting for a surplus of 100 millions; over 4,000 ships, amounting to 10 million tons, use our harbours in a normal year; we have over 6,000 schools with nearly 25,000 teachers and more than 850,000 pupils. The Report draws attention to the progress achieved since we assumed some measure of responsibility in 1931, “particularly in the sphere of social improvement, despite the shortcomings of the form of government” (paragraph 100).
  2. A possible reason for the reluctance of the late Government to accord us Dominion status was indicated in a Declaration made in 1941. It referred to proposals for reform “concerning which there has been so little unanimity”. There was little evidence of unanimity in Canada a hundred years ago when self– government was first given; there was no unanimity in South Africa in 1906 when the Liberal Government made its noble gesture; there was little unanimity in India at the time of the offer made by Sir Stafford Cripps; there was no unanimity in Burma when the recent White Paper was issued. Indeed, we might ask whether progress towards democracy in Great Britain was achieved by unanimity. In fact, however, Ceylon has approached nearer to unanimity than any. Not a single Ceylonese voted against the resolution for Dominion status in 1942: the Sri Lanka Bill was passed by 40 votes to 7, and only three Ceylonese were in the minority. This vote, be it remembered, was not merely a vote for Dominion status, it was a vote for a complete Constitution whose main principles have also been accepted by the Soulbury Commission.
  1. The State Council’s resolution of 1942 was inspired by the offer made to India by Sir Stafford Cripps in that year. It is far from my purpose to deprecate that offer: what we hope is that a similar offer will be made to Ceylon. I shall not be thought to disparage our great neighbour if I say that our educational progress has been much greater and our standard of living much higher. We have had partial self–government based on adult franchise for fourteen years. Ceylonese Ministers have had the sole responsibility for finance and have held seven of the ten portfolios of government during a period which included a major depression and a great war. We have taken our full share in the defence of the Island in circumstances of danger as acute as that which threatened Great Britain in 1940. At the end of the Japanese war we take pride in remembering that Ceylon made the first successful resistance to the Japanese advance, and that it was a joint resistance by the Imperial forces and the people of the Island. For over three years the Ceylonese Ministers and the Ceylonese Civil Defence Commissioner have sat in the War Council and shared with the Commander–in–Chief and the Service Commanders the responsibility for defence and the prosecution of the war against Japan. We provided the headquarters and the facilities required by the South–East Asia Command and the East Indies Fleet. We have supplied ninety per cent of the raw rubber available to the United Nations. For a long period we provided all the plumbago required for the manufacture of munitions of war. For years we have negotiated for the purchase and sale to the United Kingdom of our whole output of tea, rubber and copra. Nearly all the members of the public services, including the Financial Secretary, the Auditor–general, many of the Government Agents, and most of the Heads of Departments are Ceylonese. More than half the judges of the Supreme Court, all the judges of inferior courts, and both law officers, are Ceylonese. We have a University with over a thousand students staffed as to 90 per cent by Ceylonese. All the medical officers in the Island are Ceylonese. The Bank of Ceylon, one of our major financial institutions, is wholly controlled by Ceylonese. We have raised a Ceylon Defence Force and a Ceylon Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve with Ceylonese officers. Our Civil Defence Service, 64,000 strong, was raised and controlled by Ceylonese.
  2. The Constitution which we have worked with such success during the past fourteen years was one of the most difficult ever invented. As long ago as 1933 my predecessor, the late Sir Baron Jayatilaka, drew your predecessor’s attention to its many defects and asked that they be removed. The Soulbury Commission says very truly that the Donoughmore Constitution “had little to commend it”. Opinion in Ceylon would entirely agree with this condemnation. I will spare you a survey of its defects, but one must be mentioned particularly because its consequences may be used as an argument against Dominion status. The Soulbury Commission draws attention to the absence of party divisions on social and economic lines. It does not, however, explain why they are absent. The explanation is that such divisions would have been impracticable under the Donoughmore Constitution. We are divided on social and economic issues as strongly as you are in the United Kingdom: but the Donoughmore Constitution has compelled us to have a perpetual Coalition. The Board of Ministers is not selected for the homogeneity of its social and economic opinions. It consists of the seven chairmen of the seven executive committees. When a committee of seven or eight persons meets to elect a chairman the division of opinion is often very close. The result is that the Board of Ministers is a heterogeneous collection of Ministers, often differing widely in opinion and speaking and voting against each other in the State Council. It is as impossible to work on party lines as it was in Great Britain from 1940 to 1945. The essence of the party system, a homogeneous Cabinet responsible to a parliamentary majority, was forbidden by the Constitution itself. I cannot think, therefore, that the absence of this party system can be an argument against giving us complete self–government with a Cabinet system which will allow parties to develop.
  3. Nor can communal divisions be regarded as an argument against Dominion status. They have not prevented the offer of that status to India, where they are much more important. They are in fact less important even than the Soulbury Commission made them, for in large measure they arise out of constitutional discussions. They are of small importance in ordinary political matters, and the Commission shows that a charge of racial discrimination cannot be sustained: but when constitutional advancement is under discussion each community is inspired by its ancestral loyalties to stake out a claim. Accordingly a Commission conducts its investigations in an atmosphere of artificial heat and, though it generally sees the light behind, it cannot but be affected by the atmosphere. We objected to a Commission in 1941 and again in 1944 precisely for that reason. Once the constitutional question is settled, communal questions will cease to be relevant. What is more, they are in themselves an argument for self–government. The Ceylonese as a whole are accustomed to these differences of race, creed, caste and language and know how to avoid offending susceptibilities: the Englishmen who are sent to govern us do not always possess this advantage. The Soulbury Commission has approved our proposals for representation and the Bill in which they were included was passed by 40 votes to 7, more than half of the minority Ceylonese voting with the Sinhalese and only three Ceylonese voting against. We have thus produced a reasonable compromise which promises a Constitution under which, with complete self–government, we could proceed to tackle our social problems.
  4. These social problems are urgent and important. I need do no more than to quote the Soulbury Report:–

“There are not nearly enough schools to accommodate all the children, and a large number of the pupils do not attend long enough to gain any real profit from the instruction” (paragraph 106);

“Housing conditions, water supplies and proper sanitation urgently demand attention. The death–rate remains unduly high and the infant mortality rate in particular is being only slowly reduced”. (paragraph 110);

“The main problem is that of raising the standard of life …” (paragraph 112)

“in the rural areas depression means a lowering of the standard of life of the peasant cultivators, and the only real solution is to be found in the maintenance of agricultural prosperity. This raises questions of technical improvements in cultivation, co–operation in purchasing and marketing, and–since the population is steadily increasing–the reclamation of land” (paragraph 113).

Any Ceylonese could add to the list. Nothing is said, for instance, of the problem of establishing industries, to raise the standard of living and provide for our growing population. So long as we are disrupted by constitutional discussions we cannot deal adequately with these questions. The only solution is to place the whole responsibility fairly and squarely on the shoulders of the representative[s] of the people, as in Great Britain.

  1. 8. The real conflict over constitutional issues is not between the Sinhalese and the minorities but between the Ceylonese and His Majesty’s Government. That conflict arises only because His Majesty’s Government refuses to accord to us the complete self–government which almost every Ceylonese, without distinction of race, caste or creed, believes to be his due. It is a conflict which has been kept wholly within constitutional limits. We have not sought to force British opinion to agree with us. We have endeavoured to persuade by argument and to demonstrate by co–operation that Ceylon might be the first of the tropical Dominions, the first of the oriental peoples to be admitted to complete equality, the first to benefit by that policy of raising dependent people which British parties announce in their election programmes. There has been no rebellion in Ceylon, no non–cooperation movement, and no fifth–column: we were among the peoples who gave full collaboration while Britain was hard–pressed. Ireland obtained Dominion status; India has been promised it; Burma is being offered full self–government within the Commonwealth; but Ceylon gets none of these. The inevitable conclusion would be as unwelcome in Ceylon as in Great Britain.
  2. 9. The Declaration of May 1943 promised internal self–government with restrictions relating to defence and external affairs. Burma, on the other hand, has been promised complete self–government subject to the making of an agreement about defence. We cannot understand why the distinction should be drawn. It surely cannot be said that we have proved less competent or trustworthy than the Burmese during the war against We do not grudge the award to Burma, but we are tempted to ask whether any restrictions would have been imposed on Ceylon if some of the Ceylonese Ministers had assisted the Japanese and a Ceylonese National Army had fought against British troops. We prefer to give an interpretation more creditable to the late Government and to assume that the difference lies in the importance of Ceylon as a base and as a link in the chain of Imperial communications. If this is so, it is our misfortune and not our fault. We are, however, fully aware of the fact. We have not sat in the War Council for three years without learning the implications of Ceylon’s strategic position. We are also aware that it is or may be a position of some danger to ourselves. We should be ready and anxious to give all the assistance and all the facilities that His Majesty’s Government might require provided that we were also given control of our own country. We are at least as anxious as His Majesty’s Government to have the Island properly defended. We know that we cannot defend it alone; on the other hand, we know that it cannot be adequately defended without our assistance. I am ready to pledge my colleagues and the State Council to any reasonable agreement about defence as an integral part of an agreement for Dominion status.
  3. This method would assure Great Britain of a friendly people and a friendly Government, another Dominion, on the sea and air routes to Australia and New Zealand. It would assure Great Britain of naval and air bases that would dominate the Indian Ocean. I submit, with all the earnestness at my command, that the method prescribed by the Declaration of 1943 will not. The limitations imposed by that document were clearly inspired by distrust. In paragraph 357 of its Report the Soulbury Commission makes this plain. It speaks of the possible contingency of the non–co–operation of the Ceylon Government in the defence policies of His Majesty’s Government. In the case of the Dominions, His Majesty’s Government meets that contingency by providing them with full information and consulting them whenever their interests are specially affected. That, I submit, is the only method likely to be effective for securing full collaboration from Ceylon and making use of the facilities which Ceylon offers. The method prescribed by the Declaration will not, unless the same information is provided and there is full consultation. In Part IV of our draft Constitution we tried to provide a system which would work with the least possible friction. The Soulbury Commission has modified it in such a way that not merely friction but even opposition is much more likely to arise. Your advisers will surely tell you that it would be difficult to have two Governments in Ceylon in wartime, the one concerned with defence and the other with civil government. Either you must have collaboration from the civil government or you must treat Ceylon as hostile territory and impose upon it a military occupation. The process of governing by Governor–General’s Ordinance will work only if they dealt with such unimportant matters that nobody thought it worth while to bother about them. In all normal cases a Governor–General’s Ordinance would produce a constitutional crisis of the first magnitude. This would certainly be so under the Soulbury scheme. No responsible Minister would remain in office while a Governor–General was giving orders to subordinates behind their Minister’s back; nor could responsible Ministers retain office while the Governor–General was spending Ceylon funds, raised by them, in order to carry out a policy of which they disapproved.
  4. Our scheme is certainly better than the Soulbury scheme, but the only satisfactory arrangement – satisfactory to either Government – would be one in which the Ceylon Government was collaborating with the Imperial Government. This can be achieved only by making the Ceylon Government fully responsible and entering into an agreement for the provision of mutual assistance in time of war and of such facilities in time of peace as might be required to that end. It would be, in short, a defensive alliance between the United Kingdom and a self–governing Ceylon. If His Majesty’s Government still feels that we cannot be trusted, the simple solution is to give self–government but to provide for the taking over of the administration of the Island in the event of default on our agreement.
  5. It is, however, not legal powers that will be needed, but the full collaboration of a free people. If you provide the freedom, the people will provide the collaboration. In 1906 the new Liberal Government took a much greater risk. They gave complete self–government not to a people which had been helping British troops against a common enemy, but to a people which had been waging war against His Majesty. Ten years later there was a South African “rebel” general in the War Cabinet; and a quarter of a century later the Union of South Africa, under the same rebel general, was an essential link in the communications of the army that marched from Egypt to Berlin. We cannot offer you a rebel general–the experience of South Africa and Burma seems to suggest that it would be easier if we could–but we do suggest that an act of faith and generosity, such as the Liberal Government was inspired to do in 1906, will cement the bonds between our peoples. It will indeed do more. It will add to the powers of the British Commonwealth of Nations. It will place another Dominion in a most important strategic position, half–way between England and Australia. It will complete the triangle in the Indian Ocean. Nor is this all. It will show the dependent peoples all over the Empire that your professions are not mere professions, and that it is possible for a people which, a hundred years ago, was almost completely lacking in educational facilities and was compelled to live on a very low standard of life, to achieve the status of a Dominion within the British Commonwealth of Nations.
  6. I doubt if I have put my case in all its strength. I am oppressed with the difficulty of stating it adequately. The problem of Ceylon is one only of the many problems which will face the Government of which you are a member. For us, however, it is the fundamental problem. Until it is solved we cannot begin to face the many questions that confront us in that other Island, Milton’s “Utmost Isle”. I should welcome an early opportunity to reinforce my argument personally. The Constitution which was submitted to you in February 1944 requires only a little alteration to convert it into a Constitution for a fully self–governing Ceylon. It would be easy for me to have a revised draft prepared and at the same time to incorporate the amendments suggested by the Soulbury Commission. If after discussing the matter with me you agree that it would be worth while, I should be glad to have such a draft prepared. I appreciate that any decision to confer Dominion status on Ceylon would require legislation by Parliament: but if it were decided to consider this question I should not wish to have self–government held up. If, therefore, His Majesty’s Government was not prepared to confer Dominion status on Ceylon without further consideration, I should suggest that our draft Constitution, as amended, be put into operation by Order in Council and the general responsibility transferred to the Dominions Office. While the new constituencies were being delimited, the question of Dominion status could be raised with the Secretary of State for the Dominions.


  1. I turn now to the specific recommendations of the Soulbury Commission.

I have no objection to any of them except as detailed below.

(1) Franchise (Chapter X.) There is no difference of opinion as to the desirability of maintaining adult franchise. The Commission also agrees with the Ministers that the present Order in Council, as interpreted, does not carry out the intention of its framers. The fault, we consider, lay in the drafting as well as in the administration, and I agree with the Commission that the administration should be improved. I do not think it is necessary to discuss the revision of the Elections Order in Council at this stage. We are anxious to get rid of the Donoughmore Constitution as soon as possible, and it is already 18 months since we submitted our scheme. Numerous amendments to the Elections Order, on the lines of S.P. XIV of 1938, are required. I suggest that the first elections be held under the 1931 Order. The matter can then be fully considered by the new Legislature. Nobody, as far as I know, denies that “there is a body of Indians in Ceylon, who, by birth and by long association have so identified themselves with the affairs of this country that their interests are no different from those of the indigenous population” (paragraph 239).

(2) Immigration. (Chapter XI). I see no objection to the proposed power of reservation in respect of British subjects who are normally resident in Ceylon, provided it is in the form proposed in paragraph 236 and not in that proposed in paragraph 242. Also, it should not apply to those who have entered the Island unlawfully, nor to persons who have been lawfully deported.

(3) Representation. (Chapter XIII). I have no objection to the proposal in paragraph 272 provided that it is not carried to extremes. This might be done by prescribing either a minimum or a maximum. In view of the fact that some of the constituencies in the sparsely–populated provinces will be small, I suggest the fixing of a maximum of 75,000 population.

(4) Second chamber (Chapter XIV). The question of the Second Chamber is as highly controversial in Ceylon as it is in Great Britain. The vote on the Sri Lanka Bill showed that there is a majority in the State Council against a Second Chamber and we know that we could never secure a three–quarters majority for a Constitution containing a Second Chamber. We therefore followed the example of Southern Rhodesia. It should perhaps be pointed out that, in addition to Southern Rhodesia, some of the Provinces of Canada and of the States of Australia follow the unicameral system. In view of the State Council vote, it would seem desirable to leave the matter to the new legislature, as we proposed. If, however, a Second Chamber were provided, I should have no objection to the type proposed. With regard to its powers, the precise language of the Parliament Act should be used. In view of the interpretation given to the definition of “Money Bill”, however, it would be desirable to broaden it somewhat so as to bring ordinary taxing Bills, including Bills relating only to customs and excise, within its provisions. The term of office of a Senator seems to me to be far too long. It might involve us having a high proportion of aged Senators. I suggest a term of six–years, one third retiring every two years. There might be difficulty in forming a government (as with the Labour Party in 1924 and 1929) if two Ministers and two Parliamentary Secretaries had to be in the Senate. I suggest four Ministers or Parliamentary Secretaries. (5) First chamber. (Chapter XV). There appears to be some discrepancy between Chapter XV and Chapter XIII. It would, in my view, be undesirable to fix the number of members at 101, for then, on a redistribution some seats would be extinguished, and these might be seats normally filled by minority members. I suggest, therefore, that Articles 13 and 15 of S.P. XIV be allowed to stand. This may be the Commission’s intention, but it is not clear. I also prefer our wording of Article 17. While we anticipate that normally the nominated members would be Europeans and Burghers, we are anxious not to draw racial distinctions, and we hope that (as in 1931 and 1936) Europeans and Burghers will not think themselves precluded from standing as candidates for territorial constituencies, nor such constituencies precluded from electing them. The opportunities will be greater under the new Constitution. This is one of the many cases where the Commission overemphasises communalism. It may be pointed out that constituencies mainly Sinhalese by racial composition have three times elected Europeans. Further, it would be difficult for the courts to interpret “European” and “Burgher”. They are incapable of legal definition.

(6) The executive. (Chapter XVI). I should prefer Article 43 of S.P. XIV to remain as it stands so as to leave the number of Ministers under the control of Parliament. The State Council would not wish to leave the number at the discretion of the Prime Minister, and there might be a tendency to increase the number for party or personal reasons.

(7) The governor–general. (Chapter XVII). I am not sure what is meant by the phrase “discriminatory in character” in clause (ii)(d) of paragraph 332. Any tariff is necessarily discriminatory against overseas producers. If the phrase is intended to cover “differential duties”, as in the present Instructions, I suggest that experience has shown it to be undesirable. In any case it is inconsistent with the Declaration of 1943. I also disagree with clause (vi) of paragraph 332. Article 10. of S.P. XIV requires a two–thirds majority for constitutional amendments and, with the new system of representation, thus provides ample protection for minorities. I see no other reason, why His Majesty’s Government should be concerned with the form of Government in Ceylon. I am unable to agree with the recommendation at the end of paragraph 334. It would prevent the legislature from taking the initiative in reforming an organisation which had become inefficient or corrupt. It is surely enough to require “approval”.

I should be prepared to deny the statement in paragraph 336. The matter was considered by the Conference on the Operation of Dominion Legislation in 1929, and it was agreed that the Dominions should have the powers to legislate extra–territorially. Confusion arises not so much where the express power is given as where only the power to legislate for peace, order and good government is given; for under the latest decisions of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council this includes a power to legislate extra–territorially, but of uncertain extent. This is a lawyer’s point, but we do not want to spend money on litigation.

I have already discussed Defence and External Affairs in general terms. We do not like Part IV of our draft, which seems likely to lead to endless difficulties unless it became a complete dead letter. However, I like the Commission’s version even less.

We had a clear idea as to the manner in which the system would work if His Majesty’s Government insisted on it. The Governor–General would have the necessary powers, but he would exercise them through Ministers, above all through the Prime Minister, who would hold the portfolios of defence and external affairs. His legislative power would enable him to impose the necessary obligations on Ministers. There would, however, be no dyarchy. The provision of funds out of the revenues of the Island would be made by the Ministers and the Legislature, not by the Governor–General. The Ceylon Defence Force and the Ceylon Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve would be provided by Ceylon in agreement with His Majesty’s Government. The officers of the Ceylon Government, including the naval, military and Air Force Officers, would be under the control of Ministers as in Great Britain. The Commission proposes to upset this comparatively simple scheme, and to substitute a complicated scheme which I am not able to follow in some of its details and with which I am quite unable to agree. Apart from my general objections to the whole scheme, I have no objection to a power being reserved to His Majesty in Council for the following purposes:–

(1) To legislate on External Affairs or Defence as defined for the purposes of Governor–General’s Ordinances;
(2) To revoke or amend the Constitution where, owing to the inability of the Governor–General to secure a Government responsible to the House of Representatives, it appears to His Majesty that there has been a break–down of the constitutional machinery.

I accept the former because, if there is to be legislation which is not passed by the Legislature, I would prefer to have it enacted by the King in Council rather than by the Governor–General. I accept the latter because it will enable the Ceylon Ministers to resign if the Governor–General abuses his powers.

I am unable to agree on the following points:–

(i) The removal of the definition of External Affairs (paragraph 337). I should be glad to discuss this definition if it appears unsatisfactory. I should add that the qualification of “External Affairs” for the purposes of reservation is not extended by the Commission to legislation by the Governor–General, who can apparently legislate by Ordinance on any matter excluded from reservation by clause (ii) of paragraph 332. I am quite unable to agree with this enormous extension of the Governor–General’s power.

(ii) The reservation to His Majesty in Council of an unlimited power of constitutional amendment (paragraph 337). The Commission appears to be in error in stating that this is “usual” where powers of self–government are conferred by Order in Council.

(iii) Consultation of officers of the Ceylon Government by the Governor–General behind the backs of their Ministers. (paragraph 341).
(iv) The general power to legislate during wartime or any national emergency other than inability to obtain responsible Ministers (paragraph 351). We have just had experience of war conditions, and I see no reason why self–government should be destroyed in wartime.

(v) The removal of the Ceylon Defence Force and the Ceylon Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve from the definition of “Defence”. (paragraph 353). If His Majesty’s Government wishes to wage war in Ceylon against the wishes of the Legislature, it should provide its own troops, not use Ceylonese forces.
(vi) The imposition of a charge upon Ceylon funds by Ordinance (paragraph 354). I see no purpose in making an agreement for allocating cost unless it is assumed that both sides will carry out the agreement. The Commission does not recommend that Ceylon have the power to compel the people of Great Britain to pay under the agreement.
(vii) The power of the Governor–General to appoint or dismiss officers and to issue instructions to officers (paragraphs 354 and 355).
(viii) The withdrawal of Article 39(4), (paragraph 356). The Commission appears to have misunderstood this clause, and I am quite willing to consider the drafting, provided that the principle (which is correctly stated by the Commission) is retained.

Generally the Commission assumes as it admits in slightly different words (para– graph 357), that the Ministers will not “play the game”. It would be much simpler, I think, if His Majesty’s Government would assume that we are reasonable beings, grant full self–government, and make an agreement about External Affairs and Defence as in Burma. I do not know any reason which leads His Majesty’s Government to suspect that we are less trustworthy than the Burmese.

There are certain other points in this Chapter:–

(a) I am unable to agree that Article 40 (d) is inconsistent with the Declaration (paragraph 338). We understood the Declaration to refer to merchant shipping legislation and to ships registered outside Ceylon. Is there any reason why we should not have our own shipping services?

(b) I do not see any serious objection to allowing the question of reservation to be submitted to the Supreme Court. This would surely be a better solution than the Commission’s solution of having a general election (paragraph 339).

(8) The Public Services. (Chapter XVIII). The Commission appears to me not to realise the difference in the attitude to the public services which will be produced by the removal of the control of the Secretary of State. At present a public officer is responsible to a “foreign” Government. In future he will be responsible to the Ceylon Government. The Commission has also misunderstood the draft Constitution (see paragraph 379). Article 64 is limited in its terms because the powers relating to the public services will be governed by Article 36. I have, however, no other comments to make on this Chapter except on the suggestion in paragraph 383 that the administration of the public services should be transferred to the Ministry of Finance. I suggest that this be left to be decided under Article 44. The analogy drawn with Great Britain breaks down owing to the fact that the Prime Minister, as First Lord of the Treasury, · and the Chancellor of the Exchequer are both Treasury Ministers. We shall presumably have nothing comparable in Ceylon. I should also point out that there have been abuses of Article 88 of the Order in Council of 1931 and that its provisions should be modified. This is a question which I will take up when the question of drafting is raised.


  1. 16. You will see from the above comments that the differences which are likely to be fundamental relate to Defence and External Affairs. I am sure that your advisers will agree that the Commission’s scheme would work in wartime only if we gave full collaboration, in which case these powers would be unnecessary, or if the whole civil government were taken over by the Governor–General or the Commander–in–Chief. It is a scheme which assumes a break–down. Indeed, the break–down may occur immediately, for I doubt if the State Council will accept this scheme. On the other hand, I am sure that the Council would agree to any reasonable scheme for the defence of Ceylon and the security of Imperial communications if it were accompanied by a grant of full self–government leading to Dominion status as soon as the necessary discussions had taken place. The Commission’s scheme is based on distrust of the Ceylonese or, as they call it, the contingency of the “non–cooperation of the Ceylon Government in the Defence policies of His Majesty’s Government.” The way to secure our cooperation is to ask us to cooperate and to give us a Constitution, framed by us, under which we can cooperate. It was not by imposing limitations on the powers of their governments that the cooperation of Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa was obtained. We know how essential is Imperial assistance in defence: but we suggest that our active assistance was also valuable. It happens that these words are being written while the whole Commonwealth, and indeed the whole civilised world, is celebrating the victory over Japan. I hope it will not be forgotten that the orders for the surrender of Japanese troops in Malaya and Burma are being sent from the capital of the last Sinhalese kings, that the fleet which will steam into Singapore steamed out of Trincomalee, and that the aircraft which patrol the skies of Malaya and Sumatra are based on Ceylon. Is it worthwhile to force on us a Constitution which assumes that the cooperation which has been so readily forthcoming during the past five years will in future be replaced by non–cooperation? Is it not better to establish a new Dominion on the sea and air routes to Australia and New Zealand, in an Island which guards the whole Indian Ocean? Burma and Malaya and British North Borneo will be freed, in one sense, in a few days. Will not His Majesty’s Government, in another sense, free Ceylon also? The conversion of Ceylon into a Dominion would show that this was not a war between Imperialist powers anxious to maintain their domination but that, on the side of the United Nations, it was a war to enable all the peoples of the world, including all those which have hitherto been dependent on them, to achieve freedom and self–respect.

Appendix III

Jennings’ Notes on the Soulbury Report

Chapter I Notes

PARAGRAPH 9: It will be noted that the Commission does not subscribe to the popular racial history.  The Sinhalese and the Tamils are separate social groups having distinct religions, languages and other traditions. The languages, not the races, are respectively Aryan and Dravidian. The number of people classified as Sinhalese at the census of 1946 was 4,415,198, while the number classified as Ceylon Tamil was 804, 950.

PARAGRAPH 10: The Ceylon Moors numbered 358,147 in 1946.

PARAGRAPH 11: The number of Roman Catholics in 1946 was 507,418. The total number of Christians was 603, 235.  They were more numerous than the Muslims, who numbered 436, 556. These are final figures.  Those given in the note to paragraph 16 are preliminary figures.

PARAGRAPH 12: The number of Malays was under–estimated. In 1946 it was 24, 837.

PARAGRAPH 14: According to the final Census figures of 1946, the number of low country Sinhalese was 2,902,509 and the number of Kandyan Sinhalese was 1,717, 998. The Kandyans were therefore 37.2 per cent of the Sinhalese.

PARAGRAPH 15: The number of Indian Tamils and Indian Moors in 1946 was 816,213. The number of Europeans, on the other hand, was over–estimated by the Commission. It was 5,418.  Of these, 2843 lived in the Colombo District.

PARAGRAPH 16: A census was taken on March 19, 1946. The preliminary figures showed the following classifications:

Page 190 table

PARAGRAPH 17: This paragraph, so far as it relates to the Sinhalese, is ambiguous. There seems to be no evidence that, literally speaking, caste distinctions are becoming blurred.  If people would speak the truth it would be just as easy to collect statistics of caste as it is to collect statistics of race or religion, because inter–caste marriages appear to be as rare as inter–racial marriages. What the commission probably meant was that the caste distinctions produce fewer consequences among the Sinhalese than among the Tamils. This is because the educated Sinhalese, being mainly Buddhists and Christians, are less inclined than the Tamils to defend caste distinctions, which are not in any way inconsistent with Hinduism and indeed are often considered to be part of the religion. Nevertheless, the educated Sinhalese do maintain caste distinctions for marriage purposes. Also, caste is politically important even among the Sinhalese. The Ministers intended caste to be taken into consideration by the Delimitation Commission and thought of it as included under “community or diversity of interest”. It was taken into consideration wherever it was relevant. Thus, two–member constituencies were created at Ambalangoda–Balapitiya, Kadugannawa, Balangoda, because of caste distinction while the boundaries of several others were fixed so as to produce a concentration of persons of the same caste. It will generally be found that candidates throughout Ceylon belong to the castes which are numerous in the respective constituencies: e.g. there are very few Karawa candidates for constituencies which are mainly Govigama.

PARAGRAPH 18: The views of the Donoughmore Commission on communalism are quoted [see IJ quotes this fully below in his notes on Soulbury Report Chapter II in paragraph 31 below]



Chapter II Notes

PARAGRAPH 22: It is also to be noted that communal representation preceded territorial representation by 77 years, though it was at this stage representation by nomination and not by election. The notion that communal representation was invented by the British in order to “divide and rule” is a fallacy derived from nationalist propaganda, which has no doubt done much good in developing nationalism and diminishing communalism, but which preferred to “blame the British” rather than the social conventions of the Ceylonese. The only way to give representation to “the natives” in 1833 was to nominate important members of the important racial groups.

PARAGRAPH 23: This paragraph does not sufficiently emphasise that until about 1880 the demand for representative government came mainly from the Europeans and the Burghers.

PARAGRAPH 24: It will be seen that in 1910 communal representation by election was introduced, though the educated Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims were formed into one constituency, which thus became almost, but not quite, a territorial constituency.

PARAGRAPH 26: The reforms of 1920 did not give representative government in the technical sense, which requires at least one half of the legislature to be elected, whereas only 16 members out of 37 were elected.

It will be seen that the development of representation followed a pattern:

1802: no representation.

1833: communal representation by nomination.

1910: communal representation both by election and by nomination.

1920: territorial representation added to communal representation by election and by nomination.

1924: territorial representation increased and communal representation diminished.

1931: communal representation by election abolished.

PARAGRAPH 27: In stating the competing claims in this way, the Commission no doubt had “balanced representation” in mind. The [All–Ceylon Tamil] Congress scheme gave not only a territorially elected majority but also a Sinhalese majority. The minority scheme would have enabled the British officials to hold the balance in the event of a colonial division.

PARAGRAPH 28: His Majesty’s Government thus accepted the minority contention that there should be 12 officials. The number of members territorially elected was 23, whereas the Congress had suggested 28 and the minorities 19 (i.e. His Majesty’s Government split the difference).The number communally elected was 6, instead of 11 as suggested by the Congress and the minorities, but the number would be increased to 11 as soon as communal electorates could be provided for Muslims and Indians. The minority request for 3 nominated members in addition was rejected. The result was an uninspiring compromise between the opposing points of view. The Constitution for the first time provided representative government in the technical sense.

PARAGRAPH 30: The paragraphs in which the Donoughmore Commission analysed the situation are worthy of quotation in full:–

“The most striking characteristic of the Ceylon constitution is the divorce of power from responsibility. The unofficial members, who are not responsible for the conduct of public business, enjoy an overwhelming majority in the Legislative Council; the official members, who are so responsible, are in a permanent minority. The official members owe no allegiance to the Council and are irremovable except by the Governor, in whom all executive authority is vested. The unofficial members, though in complete control in the council, are denied the prospect of assuming office themselves, Thus, on a counting of heads, those who have the controlling votes in the Council are not called upon to bear the responsibility for their decisions: those who have to bear the responsibility are without the controlling votes.

A normal requirement of the parliamentary system of government is that the element which supplies the Executive should be able to command a majority in the legislature, or if it cannot do so should give way to its opponents. Judged then by the accepted standards of parliamentary practice, a constitution such as that of Ceylon is a reductio ad absurdum. But it must be remembered that the representative institutions of the world have reached no final or definite form, that conditions wary from country to country and from continent to continent, imposing each in their own sphere special or peculiar limitations on the parliamentary system, and that the history of modern constitutional development is one continuous record of attempts to adjust accepted parliamentary practice to the realistic requirements of social and economic progress. It is no longer enough to criticise a constitution on the debatable grounds of political theory without examining the peculiarities of its environment. If we survey the political field in Ceylon we find that there is a complete absence of any party system among the elected representatives of the people, a consideration which, while a serious handicap to the development of responsible parliamentary institutions, was expected to lessen the embarrassment of a Government called upon to administer the country with a minority in the Legislative Council. Much depended therefore on the manner in which the grant to the elected representatives of a controlling voice in the Council was interpreted. It was true that it transferred the balance of power from a responsible Executive to an irresponsible Legislature, an experiment which could not be without risk; on the other hand the very extent of the power entrusted to them made the elected members in a real sense co–partners in the Government. It was clear that without their active co–operation the Government would be helpless, but it was equally clear that they were as anxious as the official members to promote the good government of the country and would not be likely to withhold that co–operation. The system thus promised a means of educating the unofficial members in the arts of government and the complexities of public business, and of providing them with that training which would enable them in future years to assume responsibility for the administration of the Island. In the meantime the closest and most intimate contact was ensured by the constitution which, by depriving officials and unofficials alike of the power to act independently of each other, was calculated to produce an atmosphere of mutual assistance and goodwill.

It would therefore be too much to say that the constitution could not be worked efficiently under any circumstances; had these expectations been fulfilled there can be no doubt that the results would have been wholly admirable. There was, however, a factor to which too little attention had been paid and which was destined to exercise a far–reaching effect on the situation. The constitution, which could only be smoothly worked on a basis of co–partnership, placed the elected members on the horns of a dilemma. If they acknowledged their co–partnership would they not be regarded as having abandoned their claim to manage their own affairs? If they refused their co–operation would they not lose that education and training in the arts of government which made so strong an appeal to them, and forfeit the confidence which His Majesty’s Government had clearly shown in their moderation and sense of responsibility? For years they had pressed for reforms which would make them masters in their own house, and for the continuance of that pressure they were naturally dependent on public support. To accept an instalment only, even under protest, might weaken their case in public estimation and might even deprive them of the right to continue their campaign which was based largely on the deficiencies of the Government” [Donoughmore Report, pp. 18–22]

PARAGRAPH 31: The case against full responsible government made by the Donoughmore Commission is set out below:–

“There were witnesses, chief among whom were the delegates of the Ceylon National Congress, who indicated that full responsible government, whether or not involving the grant of Dominion status, must be the immediate goal of any constitutional advance in Ceylon; but the fact that the Ceylonese politicians have not yet had an opportunity of showing their executive ability as Ministers in charge of Departments seems to have produced a measure of agreement that some less drastic change as an immediate step will be in the best interests of the ultimate political future of the Island. Had the inhabitants of Ceylon presented greater appearance of unity and corporate spirit, one obstacle to the grant of full responsible government would have been removed. Not only is the population not homogeneous, but the diverse elements of which it is composed distrust and suspect each other. It is almost true to say that the conception of patriotism in Ceylon is as much racial as national, and that the best interests of the country are at times regarded as synonymous with the welfare of a particular section of its people. If the claim for full responsible government be subjected to examination from this standpoint it will be found that its advocates are always to be numbered among those who form the larger communities and who, if freed from external control, would be able to impose their will on all who dissented from them. Those on the other hand who form the minority communities, though united in no other respect, are solid in their opposition to the proposal. A condition precedent to the grant of full responsible government must be the growth of a public opinion which will make that grant acceptable, not only to one section, but to all sections of the people: such a development will only be possible if under a new constitution the members of the larger communities so conduct themselves in the reformed Council as to inspire universal confidence in their desire to harmonise conflicting interests, and to act justly, even at a sacrifice to themselves.

Here we must observe that modern facilities for the acquisition and distribution of exact statistical information have provided a searching test of government. In the face of statistical returns, which speak for themselves, Governments can no longer hope to satisfy their critics by facile protestations and assurances in general terms, and in cases when such returns do not already exist consent must be given sooner or later to their production. The new Council will therefore enter upon its duties with the certain knowledge that the results of its work will necessarily be reflected year by year in the records of the statistician and that it must abide by the verdict to which such records may give rise.

Another consideration, the significance of which will, however, disappear if the recommendations contained later in the Report are adopted, lies in the size of the electorate, which at present numbers some 200,000 or 4 per cent. of the population. The grant of a responsible government to an electorate of these small dimensions would be tantamount to placing an oligarchy in power without any guarantee that the interests of the remainder of the people would be consulted by those in authority. It seems hardly necessary to observe that His Majesty’s government is the trustee not merely of the wealthier and more highly elements in Ceylon but quite as much of the peasant and the coolie, and of all those poorer classes which form the bulk of the population. To hand over the interests of the latter to the unfettered control of the former would be a betrayal of its trust. Yet the full significance of this seems to have escaped the notice of many witnesses who put forward the claim for full responsible government but were opposed to any extension of the franchise.

Attempts were frequently made, by those anxious to meet this argument and to minimise the relative importance of executive experience, to draw analogies from British political history. But these were in no case apposite. For it may be answered to those who urged as a precedent the passing in the interests of an oligarchy of the Reform Bill in 1832 or who pleaded the assumption of office without previous Ministerial experience by the Labour Government in 1924 that the followers of Earl Grey and of Mr Ramsay MacDonald had been well trained in affairs, on the bench or in the counting house, in local government bodies or in Trade Union councils, respectively. That the Ceylonese are in the process of acquiring a keen grasp of public affairs cannot be gainsaid; but their training has had to be undertaken ab initio and the comparatively small part which they have played up to date in the financial and commercial life of the Island has provided no solid basis for their tuition.

On the wider issues of Imperial relationships, including responsibility for the defence of the Island and the security of its inhabitants, we need make no comment here since these are not strictly relevant to a discussion of the form of government best suited to the internal requirements of Ceylon. The general considerations which we have adduced, however, have sufficed to convinced us that the grant of complete responsible government is under present conditions impracticable.

This is a conclusion which we have no doubt will commend itself not only to the minority communities but to a majority of the Sinhalese themselves. But what measures short of full responsible Government can be proposed? It has been very clearly stated by many representative public men in Ceylon and by the spokesmen of various organisations, who gave evidence before us, that anything in the nature of divided responsibility, anything of a “diarchic” character, to use a well–known term, would be doomed to failure. Against this, many other important witnesses, while condemning a system which would involve the division of the budget and so impair the control of the Council over finance, were convinced that a scheme whereby responsibility would be shared between officials and unofficials represented the only practicable step. They foresaw the risks involved in the devolution of undivided responsibility on a body of men who would be without previous experience of high office or even of minor office, in the administration of important public departments. These two opposite points of view were strongly and ably put before us by men of considerable weight in the country.”  [Donoughmore Report, pp. 31–33]

The reasons for the abolition of communal representation were given thus by the Donoughmore Commission:–

“It was generally admitted, even by many communal representatives themselves, that the communal form of appointment to the Legislative Council was a necessary evil and should only continue until conditions of friendliness and acknowledgment of common aims were developed among the different communities. It is our opinion, however, that the very existence of communal representation tends to prevent the development of these relations, and that only by its abolition will it be possible for the various diverse communities to develop together a true national unity.

Communal representation in Ceylon has no great antiquity to commend it, and its introduction into the constitution with good intention has had unfortunate results. As has already been suggested, it tends to keep communities apart and to send communal representatives to the Council with the idea of defending particular interests instead of giving their special contribution to the common weal. We very gladly recognise that most, if not all, of the communal representatives have risen superior to this natural tendency and have shown an interest in matters affecting the general welfare of the Island. We believe, however, that if these same representatives were elected, as we hope they may be, as territorial representatives, they will be able to give a fuller contribution, unhampered by having to be constantly on the watch, fearful of the antagonism or the oppressive action of the other communities.

We might have been encouraged to suggest the retention of some communal representation if there had been evidence of any diminution in the supposed necessity for it. We found however, that not only did those who already had communal seats desire that the number of these should be increased, but also that a number of other communities, religions, castes and special interests not at present represented, came before us claiming that it was necessary for them to have seats in the Legislative Council and that they were as much entitled to this privilege as those who already possessed it. The result was that, so far from the demand being reduced, increased and new claims were put forward which would have made the number of communal seats more than 50, instead of the 10 already existing. Our investigations show that the desire for communal representation tends to grow rather than to die down, and in these circumstances, it being in itself admittedly undesirable, it would seem well to abolish it altogether while the number of seats involved is still comparatively small.

Although communal representation was continued in the last revision of the constitution, a step in the right direction was taken by giving communities a territorial as well as a communal vote. This may have involved an apparent unfairness to the majority communities in that it gave a member of a minority community two and sometimes more votes. It has, however, succeeded in paving the way for the elimination of communal representation altogether, by giving the communal electorates the opportunity of realising the common interest which they possess with their fellow–Ceylonese in the divisions in which they reside. The new conditions will thus be more easily understood and appreciated than would otherwise have been the case.”  [Donoughmore Report, pp. 99–100]

Finally, the reasons for extending the franchise were given as follows:–

“The number of registered voters in 1924 was 204, 997 which is 4 per cent. of the total population of five millions. Even when the number of women and of those below 21 has been deducted from the total population, it will be seen that the franchise is at present exercised by a relatively small number of persons. It was also brought out in the course of evidence that the Rs. 50 per month income qualification ruled out a large number of property less workers whose income was much below that figure. It was a point of interest that the Ceylon National Congress – whose deputation included prominent Sinhalese members of the Legislative Council– while putting forward strong demands for full responsible government expressed themselves as desiring no extension of the present franchise. This view of the Congress, it is understood, was afterwards modified but it was in rather remarkable contrast to that of certain other witnesses who opposed the grant of full responsible government but were in favour of lowering the franchise and were even prepared to give special representation to the lower–paid workers. One of the British members of the Legislative Council went further and advocated manhood suffrage at 25. The leaders of the Tamil (Hindu) community were generally in agreement with the Congress spokesmen in deprecating any further extension of the franchise, and they, too, desired the granting of full responsible government. The Ceylon Labour Union, on the other hand, put forward a strong plea for manhood suffrage, on the ground that very few of its 40,000 members had a vote. It was obvious that the nationalist leaders of Ceylon desired to work full responsible government with an electorate from which the greater proportion of the people were necessarily excluded. They even hinted that a lower franchise would involve a risk of bribery and corruption.

In view of the backward character of social and industrial legislation in Ceylon, which has no provisions for relieving destitution, no workmen’s compensation, only the most elementary of factory regulations, and no control over hours and wages in sweated industries, a good case could be made out for regarding the extension of the franchise as more urgent than any increase of responsible government. When a considerable increase in responsible government is being recommended, therefore, the question of the franchise becomes of first importance.

If we consider how recent is the development of democratic institutions in the East, and the centuries of patriarchal and feudal government in these countries, the attitude of the Sinhalese and Hindu leaders is not altogether surprising. The various social strata have for so long been definitely marked off, the transition from the lower to the higher has been practically impossible, and no one has questioned the supreme right of one or of a few to dominate the lives of the multitude. There are gratifying signs that the rigidity of these social divisions is lessening. Democratic and electoral institutions are being accepted and even demanded, but the modern principle of political equality that goes with them has not yet been fully grasped. In view of the history of Great Britain and other countries, this is not to be wondered at, but, at the same time, we could not recommend a further grant of responsible government unless that government were to be made fully representative of the great body of the people.

The importance of the principle is reinforced by considerations of expediency. We have already indicated our belief that a wider franchise would expedite the passing of such social and industrial legislation as is now in force in every progressive country. We believe also, contrary to some of the views that have been put before us, that corruption and manipulation of the electorate are made more difficult the larger that electorate becomes. In British constitutional history, each extension of the franchise has diminished corruption, until today it may be said to be non–existent. Further, we feel that there is considerable justification for the argument that only by exercising the vote can the political intelligence to use it be developed.”  [Donoughmore Report, pp. 82–84]


Chapter III Notes

PARAGRAPH 36: This paragraph reads somewhat unfairly to the Sinhalese leaders. In most countries “citizens” or “nationals” are defined by law and all such persons possessing the necessary qualifications (age, sex, residence, etc.) are enfranchised. Others i.e. foreigners, are not enfranchised, though there is a procedure by which they can be naturalised and thus secure the franchise. For instance, a person of Spanish origin has no right to vote in France unless he takes the steps necessary to make himself a French citizen, even if he has resided in France for 40 years, speaks French like a Frenchman, has married a French woman, and brings up his children to be French. In Ceylon as in most other parts of the British Commonwealth of Nations, there was no local or territorial nationality: all persons born or naturalised within the Commonwealth were “British subjects”. Thus, if the franchise was based on nationality Englishmen, Indians, Australians, and so on were entitled to the franchise on the same basis as Ceylonese. In fact, the definition of “British subject” was made wider in Ceylon than elsewhere, for it included the subjects of Indian States like Travancore and Cochin, though they were not British subjects by English law. The problem would not arise if the British subjects from overseas were comparatively few, as they are in the United Kingdom: but in parts of the central province and provinces in Uva and Sabaragamuwa they were so numerous as to be able to outvote the Kandyan Sinhalese. Moreover, not all of them were persons who had adopted Ceylon as their home and would make themselves Ceylonese if they could: on the contrary many of them had their families in India and even more intended to retire to India when they have saved enough money to do so. Accordingly, the Sinhalese wanted the franchise limited not to Ceylonese but to British subjects who had an “abiding interest” in the country. It happens that most of the British subjects resident in the Island who would not come within this provision were Indians, but it is wrong to construe this attitude as a prejudice against Indians. Nor need it be cited, as it appears to be in paragraph 37, as an example of communalism. The Sinhalese had not objected to domicile as a test, provided that it was administered properly. They did not want to define “Ceylonese citizens” as persons of Sinhalese or Jaffna Tamil stock.

PARAGRAPH 38:  The correspondence was published as Correspondence regarding the Constitution of Ceylon, cmd. 3419, 1929.

PARAGRAPH 42:  It is not entirely fair to say that the boycott of the election in the Jaffna Peninsula was due to the abolition of communal representation. The Commissioners nowhere pointed out that the system of territorial representation without weightage involved not merely the loss by the minorities of the advantages which they had over the Sinhalese under the previous Constitutions but actually caused them to be under represented. What is more, the boycott was begun by the young Tamils, many of whom objected not merely to the under–representation of the Tamils but also to the very considerable limitations on self–government imposed by the Donoughmore Constitution. They are now older and wiser and know that their action was a mistake: but they need not be branded as communalists. It must be remembered while reading this paragraph and other paragraphs that Englishmen (and even Welshmen like Sir Frederick Rees) often fail to understand communalism because they have no experience of it. It is possible to be both a communalist and a nationalist. This is not to defend communalism, which is unscientific, unreasonable and undesirable.

PARAGRAPH 43:  The reference to a “certain body of opinion” may perhaps suggest a small section of opinion, or even a section of Sinhalese opinion. It is therefore necessary to point out that those of the [N.M.] Perera resolutions which proposed the abolition of the restrictions on self–government were carried unanimously, except that which claimed “the exclusive right of legislation for the peace, order, and good government of the Island” to be “a vested constitutional right of the people of Ceylon”. This excepted motion was carried by 41 votes (34 Sinhalese and 7 minority members) against 4 (three Europeans and one Burgher). One member, a Muslim, declined to vote. Though the Ceylonese were not agreed as to who should govern Ceylon, they were virtually agreed that His Majesty’s Government should not.

PARAGRAPH 44: See State Council Debates, 1932, vol. 2, pp. 1494–1884.

PARAGRAPH 45: It should be remembered that the Board contained five Sinhalese (Sir Baron Jayatilaka and Messrs C. Batuwantudawe, Kannangara, Panabokke and Senanayake), a Muslim (Mr H.M. Macan Marker) and an Indian (Mr P. Sunderam).



Chapter IV Notes

PARAGRAPH 56: There was no boycott in the Jaffna Peninsula. The Pan–Sinhalese Ministry was arranged by getting at least four Sinhalese on each Executive Committee and arranging for whom they were to vote.

PARAGRAPH 57: Without attempting a defence of the Sinhalese leaders, it should be pointed out that one of their objects was to force His Majesty’s Government to assent to a change of the Constitution. Another method would have been non–cooperation, but this would have involved postponing all attempts to improve the social and economic position of the people. The problem was how to force a reform of the Constitution without causing a breakdown.


PARAGRAPH 59: The Ministers’ memorandum was published as Correspondence between the Ministers and the Government regarding the Ceylon Constitution, March–May, 1937, Sessional Paper XI of 1937. It contains a review of the steps taken by the Ministers and the Senate Council since 1931.


PARAGRAPH 60: The comments by Sir Reginald Stubbs have not been published.


PARAGRAPH 65: Sir Andrew Caldecott’s views on representation are worthy of quotation in full:–

“I have made known my opposition to what is called here the ‘Fifty–fifty demand’. This is that seats in the State Council should be apportioned half to ‘the majority community, i.e. the Sinhalese, and half to ‘the minority communities’. I am similarly opposed to a ‘sixty–forty demand’ and to any other form of fractional representation on a race basis. The elected seats must in my opinion continue to be filled on a territorial franchise though (as will emerge later in this despatch) I would gladly see the electoral areas so constituted as to afford a chance of more seats for members of minority communities. It is commonly said that the Donoughmore Constitution has resulted in an enhancement of communalism, but in justice to the Commissioners it must be remembered that (Report, page 102) they recommended 65 elected seats (which would have given greater minority representation) and had nothing to do with subsequent reduction to 50. My reason for opposition to the fifty–fifty demand or to any modification of it is that any concession to the principle of communal representation would perpetuate sectionalism (which I believe to be anathema to thinking people in Ceylon of all races) and preclude the emergence of true political parties on true political issues. To ease the present position by affording a chance of more seats for minority candidates is one thing: to introduce the principle of representation of communities on any mathematical formula is quite another”. (Paragraph 5) [S.P. XXVII of 1938)]

His specific recommendation was that a Committee be appointed “To consider the present electoral areas of the Island and to advise what changes or additions could be reasonably made with a view to affording more chances for the return of candidates belonging to the minority communities and to securing adequate representation of the Kandyan rural interest”. He did not specifically recommend ten extra seats for this purpose, but thought that the committee would find itself able to recommend not more than that number.

It may be pointed out, by way of anticipation, that the Ministers of 1943 and the Soulbury Commission carried out the principle of this recommendation, though on a somewhat larger scale. They provided 101 seats of which 70 were allocated on a population basis, 25 on a basis of area (which meant that they enured mainly to the minorities and the Kandyan rural interest), and 6 to unrepresented groups (i.e. Burghers and Europeans).

PARAGRAPH 66: Sir Andrew Caldecott enumerated the defects of the Executive Committee system as follows (paragraph 13):–

“(a) Administration has become cumbrous and dilatory. The Committee agenda, which I regularly see, are inordinately overloaded, with a result loss of perspective. At the meetings much ado is made about small things, while big questions receive too summary a treatment.

(b)Administration has become centrifugal; each Committee goes its own way without any common direction or control.

Where overlapping is recognized and a matter dealt with by more than one Committee procedure becomes still more cumbrous and dilatory.

(c)The fact that the Ministers owe ministerial office to their having been elected by the Committees as their Chairmen means that they have no common allegiance. Their authority is not original but derivative, and therefore intrinsically weak.

(d) Even though collective responsibility for financial measures has been vested in the Board of Ministers by……….the Order–in–Council the initial preparation of the estimates has been entrusted to the responsibility of the Executive Committees by………..the Statement of Administrative Procedure……….The Board wields the blue pencil but it does not mould the budget.

(e) To summarise this summary there is no determining, coordinating, eliminating, controlling or designing force behind the administrative machine; everything depends upon bargaining and compromise. As a result there can be no fixation and concentration either of policy or of responsibility. “ [S.P. XXVII of 1938)]

PARAGRAPH 72: Almost the whole of State Council Debates (Hansard) 1939, Volume II is given up to the debate. The Commission’s summary again exaggerates the communal aspect. There is no justification for assuming that when Sinhalese speakers asked for a greater measure of self–government for the Ceylonese they did so because the power would fall mainly into the hands of the Sinhalese. When the United Kingdom Government, consisting mostly of Englishmen, makes an agreement with the Ceylon Government, it is not assumed that the Englishmen think only of the benefits to the English and ignore the Scots, the Welsh and the Irish. Nobody suggests that the Ceylonese are as integrated as the people of the United Kingdom or denies that there was some communalism among the Sinhalese, but the Commission’s view was somewhat warped, partly by the novelty (to them) of communalism, and partly by the inevitable bias of the evidence presented to them. The Ministers had regularly and correctly asserted that the visit of a Commission would increase communalism.

PARAGRAPH 73: Mr G. G. Ponnambalam unfortunately spoke at such great length – his speech lasted from March 15, 1939, to the evening of March 21 – that it is not easy to find a quotable extract, but the following passages may help:–

“Self–government is one thing, but a deliberate progression towards self misrule, a deliberate march towards an accession of power to coterie, a clique, a junta, or cabal, is another thing (p. 888)………Self–government is as much our concern………as it is the concern of our Sinhalese brethren. We do definitely anticipate the time when this country would have marched towards and attained self–government within the Empire……..

I look upon Ceylon as a rich mosaic of finely–studded gems. I do not accept this theory of homogeneity, artificial homogeneity, of uniformity, because it does not exist……. We are a composite of different races and nationalities…and the rights of every component part must be accepted and the claims recognised if this country is to march on for the highest good of the greatest number if not of the people as a whole (p. 889)…………

His Excellency the Governor before he deals with the machinery of government disposes of in one line what he has chosen to call the fifty–fifty demand, a crude arithmetical formula. The demand, so far as I am aware…has been for balanced representation, for representation on the basis that no single community should be in a position to out–vote a combination of all the other communities in the Island. This does not necessarily mean a fifty–fifty basis. It might mean more or less. His Excellency must have been aware…that what was contemplated…was not a reversion to communal representation, not a demarcation or reservation of communal seats, not even a reservation of seats in joint electorates for particular interests, but a re–demarcation, a re–delimitation of electoral boundaries…in such a way as to permit members of the minority communities, if they feel so disposed for some time to care to return members belonging to their other communities so that the major community should not be in a position to out–vote the other communities (p. 894)…….”

(Mr Ponnambalam claimed that this demand for balanced representation had been made by the Tamil Maha Jana Sabha in 1921 and by other Tamil bodies at a later date: see pp. 894–897).

“To keep a discontented minority or minorities……, to prevent the return of members representing minority communities is to prevent the minority communities from taking their full and proper share in the government…to keep them…with a feeling of discontent…suspicion…and distrust against the majority community….always on the look–out for something that may be done against the interests of the minorities definitely and perpetually to keep them apart…….I appeal to the leaders of the major communities…to satisfy our demands and remove the misgivings engendered….in the last seven or eight years, and then they will find out whether the minorities would not as in the past be in the vanguard of the national movement (p. 898)……

If the various sections of the people…are to develop the virtues of compromise and cooperation, one condition precedent…is a feeling of inter–dependence, a feeling that any single community by itself will not be able to administer the Government…….Under a balanced scheme of representation, we do not for a moment contemplate ……relegating the Sinhalese to a minority. At the worst, in a Council of 68 members, they would have 34 members……’Thirty–four members belonging to one community united by a common language, united in most cases by a common religion, united by a common culture and a common tradition, as opposed to another 34 members, consisting of a number of thoroughly heterogeneous groups…..I ask you, ‘What have the Sinhalese to fear?’

When we had balanced representation under the last Constitution, had they anything to fear? Was there a single occasion when the minorities joined together to barrack them or to defeat their aims?……. If honestly what is intended is complete unity, if what is wanted in the evolution of a party system…on inter–communal lines, then the condition precedent to that would be the existence of a state of affairs in which one community could not form a communal party and be able to assume power….. The moment there is a balance in the matter of representation, people who think alike on political and economic questions – of all communities – will get together. The diehards, the conservatives, the un–changers will get together. The extremists will get together, and there would also be a centre bloc of fairly progressive people…..But as long as you do not allay the fears of the minorities….you will never get the formation of parties…… (pp. 1004–5).”

PARAGRAPH 79: See Correspondence of the Board of Ministers with the Secretary of State and the Governor, Sessional paper XIII of 1943.

PARAGRAPH 82: The resolution of 26th March 1942 deserves greater prominence. It was the Ministers’ mandate for the demand for Dominion status which eventually they succeeded in obtaining.


Chapter V Notes



PARAGRAPH 84: The words “of course” are intended to justify the argument of the Secretary of State (Sessional Paper XII of 1944, p. 5) that the Declaration of 1943 did not alter the substance of the Declaration of 1941 but merely gave it “greater precision”. The Ministers took an entirely different view of the Declaration of 1943 and their interpretation was not [Missing].

[earlier paragraphs are missing]

This provision would not be peculiar to Ceylon, for it has been in operation in all dominions with responsible government and still is in some. In such territories it has acquired a definite and limited meaning which would have to be applied in Ceylon. Furthermore, if such a provision were inserted in Instructions to the Governor of a self–governing Ceylon its force would be weak compared with its force in the present Instructions. It is applied at present on the advice of Officers of State by a Governor with powers ample enough to put the policy of the British government into operation. In a self–governing Ceylon the Governor would have no advisers save the responsible Ministers, and if he chose to exercise the power to the prejudice of Ceylon, he would run the risk of being unable to find Ministers prepared to work the Constitution as he interpreted it. We think it unlikely that the power would be abused, but if it were we feel sure that the responsible Ministers would know what action to take.

(4) The restrictions in relation to defence and external affairs are in quite another category. We have already mentioned that the Declaration does not assert that defence and external affairs would be withdrawn from the scope of self–government. These subjects would be transferred from the Chief Secretary to the responsible Minister. In respect of certain closely defined matters of defence, however, the Governor would have an independent power of legislation in order to enact any direction from the British Government and he would also be instructed to reserve Bills dealing with any of those matters. In respect of external affairs he would have a similar power of legislation and would be instructed to reserve Bills other than those giving effect to Ceylon’s trade agreements with other parts of the Commonwealth. We appreciate that Ceylon is not yet in a position to defend herself against aggressive powers. On the other hand, we do not believe that the Island can be defended without the assistance of her people. The Declaration acknowledges the valuable contribution which Ceylon has made and is making to the war effort of the British Commonwealth and the United Nations. There is no reason to suppose that it would fail to render a similar contribution n if unfortunately similar circumstances should arrive again. For this reason we do not think that special provisions relating to defence and external relations are necessary. We regret therefore that we are not to be regarded, as Canada and Australia are regarded, as potential allies in any just cause.

(5) Imperial forces were stationed In the Dominions until they were fully prepared to take over the whole burden of their defence. Any Imperial forces stationed in Ceylon would be for our protection as well as for the protection of the Commonwealth as a whole. The legislature would, however, determine what proportion of the cost should be borne by Ceylon. Unless the whole cost were to be met by Great Britain, therefore, the cooperation of the legislature would be necessary. Nor does the Declaration contemplate that the external relations of the Island would be exclusively in the hands of Great Britain. The British Government would have the direction and control, but the initiative would rest with the Government of Ceylon. This would be true of trade agreements with other parts of the Commonwealth and, where any such agreements were concluded by the Government of Ceylon with other parts of the Commonwealth, with the approval of the British Government, the Governor would not be instructed to reserve the Bills giving effect to them. Where it was convenient for Ceylon, to be separately represented, as to New Delhi, there is nothing to prevent such a step being taken. It is essential to remember, too, that international agreements often relate to matters of internal civil administration, which are specifically left by the Declaration to the responsible ministers. In all matters of external relations, therefore, the responsible Government of Ceylon could make its influence felt and its wishes respected. The status of Ceylon would be quite different when a Minister is responsible from what it is now, when external relations are vested in the Chief Secretary.

(6) Even in respect of defence and external relations, therefore, the Declaration marks a definite advance. It does not promise everything for which we have asked. We do not like the qualifications which we have mentioned. We think however that the offer should be accepted in the belief on the one hand that the qualifications are unnecessary and on the other hand that they would decay from disuse as similar qualifications have decayed elsewhere. We also wish to point out that the responsible Government, and that Government alone, will be entitled to speak for Ceylon in the conferences of the British Commonwealth and the Councils of the Nations.

(7) We would add that every matter which is not defence or external affairs can only be regarded as a matter of internal civil administration for example the determination of the composition of the population of Ceylon, protective duties, trade and shipping subject, only as regards trade and shipping, to the reservation considered in paragraph three above.

(8) The acceptance of a Constitution satisfying these conditions is dependent upon its approval by three–quarters of all the Members of the State Council excluding the Officers of State and the Speaker. This is a difficult condition but we believe the State Council possesses the larger patriotism that transcends sectional differences. We propose therefore to draft a Constitution in accordance with the interpretation to the Declaration which we have given in the foregoing paragraphs. If we feel that we can commend it to the country, we shall, in due course, submit it to the State Council in the belief that it will obtain the necessary support. We shall do our best to secure the requisite majority, but not at the expense of the future welfare of Ceylon. We should like to make it plain however that if we fail we shall not stop there.

(9) The Declaration states that the Commission or Conference which will examine whether our draft Constitution satisfies the Declaration cannot meet until victory is achieved. We do not regard this condition as necessarily binding. The war may enter a phase in which consideration of these constitutional problems will become possible earlier. We therefore propose to make the draft with all possible despatch. The undertaking will, however, give us an additional reason for hoping that victory will not be long delayed.

(10) We have given the Declaration the interpretation that we think it is intended to bear and we propose to inform the Secretary of State theft we are proceeding to frame a Constitution in accordance with our interpretation.

It will be seen that it is not correct that the Leader asked that a number of points be elucidated. He stated that this was the Minister’s interpretation of the document and that they proposed to frame a Constitution on that basis. For further correspondence see ibid. pp. 5–6 [most likely this reference is to Sessional Paper XII of 1944]

PARAGRAPH 86: The second sentence reads as if it was a remark by the Ministers: it is however, a comment by the Commission: see paragraph (5) of the Ministers’ statement quoted above.

The suggestion in the last sentence is completely without foundation. The phrase was in my draft and was an attempt to express Mr D.S. Senanayake’s views. The solution of     constitutional difficulties by agreement is, happily, in the British tradition; but British commentators usually fail to realise that the situation is quite different in a dependent country. If British parties do not agree there is chaos, and “the larger patriotism” therefore compels them to agree. But if communal parties in India or Ceylon did not agree the British government prevented chaos. Any group could thus prevent agreement by refusing to compromise. What is more it could always hope to get more from the arbitration of what Gandhi called “the third party”, the British Government, than it could get by compromise. All groups were thus all groups encouraged to resist a compromise, and the more the British Government called for agreement the less likely it was. Mr Senanayake was prepared for any reasonable compromise, but did not believe that Mr Ponnambalam either would or could accept anything less than “balanced representation”. On the other hand, he knew that the Ceylon Tamils were patriotic citizens who, if compelled to take the choice between a reasonable Constitution giving much wider powers and the Donoughmore Constitution would choose the former. He proved to be right. The efforts made by Mr Bandaranaike and others to reach a compromise were fruitless. Mr Ponnambalam continued his opposition to the bitter end. But after the debate on the White Paper all communities except the Indians supported Mr Senanayake’s motion, which was carried by 51 votes to 3. This vote by the Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims, Burgers and Europeans exhibited what Mr Senanayake meant by “the larger patriotism”.

PARAGRAPH 87: It should be added that the Secretary of State did not at this stage indicate that the Ministers had based their discretion on a false interpretation of the Declaration.

PARAGRAPH 88: This particular variation of the Declaration of 1943 was announced in the Minister’s Statement of June 8, 1943: see paragraph (9) quoted above. The Commission no doubt mentioned the point because the Ministers had accused His Majesty’s Government of varying the Declaration. It is not easy to see the reason for the statement in the last sentence of the paragraph.


PARAGRAPH 89: There is no published evidence to support the reference to “a careful assessment”; but the Commissioners had no doubt read the confidential telegrams, which were not available to the Ministers. The curious fact that this statement was first communicated to the Ministers without the sentence referred to in paragraph 90.

PARAGRAPH 91: This paragraph shows how little the Commissioners’ understanding of the political situation. The main obstacle to more complete self–government, in the Ministers’ view, was the Secretary of State. They felt certain of being able to get a three–quarters majority for a reasonable Constitution, provided that it gave a much larger measure of self–government. It is quite untrue that they “knew that the (minorities) would not agree to go as far in the direction of Dominion status as the Ministers desired”. The Jaffna Tamils and the Muslims have always claimed that they were as anxious for Dominion status as the Sinhalese (of Mr Ponnambalam’s statement quoted in the note to paragraph 75). The State Council had voted for Dominion status in 1942, only the Burghers and the Europeans opposing the Ministers followed the procedure which they believed to be laid down in the Declaration: and in fact they thought that this procedure had been laid down because Sir Andrew Caldecott and Sir Robert Drayton appreciated the political situation.

PARAGRAPH 92: The “misunderstanding” is explained, so far as it can be explained on the material available to me, in Part II, Chapter 4 of this book.


PARAGRAPH 93: Mr A. Mahadeva wanted a Royal Commission to determine representation, but agreed on all other points. He has since said that the Ministers were prepared to accept a proposal put forward by him, but the Tamil members of the State Council were not prepared to accept it. His position in his own community was, of course, extremely difficult, since most of the other Tamil representatives were supporting “balanced representation”, on which no compromise was possible.

PARAGRAPH 95: The Ministers’ Draft, with its explanatory memorandum.

PARAGRAPH 97: The inference is correct.

Appendix II

Primary Constitutional Documents used by Jennings for this book


Agreements between the Governor of the United Kingdom and the Government of Ceylon. (Independence of Ceylon, S.P. XXII of 1947).

Caldecott Despatch (Correspondence relating to the Constitution of Ceylon, cmd. 5918, 1936;    and S.P. XXVII of 1938), para. 5.

Ceylon Independence Bill (Independence of Ceylon, S.P.XXII of 1947).

Declaration of 1941 (Correspondence of the Board of Ministers with the Secretary of State and the Governor, S.P.XIII of 1943, Document 10A).

Declaration of 1943 (Reform of the Constitution, S.P.XVII of 1943, Document I).

Dominion Status, announcement of policy by His Majesty’s Government (State Council Debates, 1947, Vol. I, column 2085).

Dominion Status, documents resulting in Independence of Ceylon (S.P.XXII of 1947).

Dominion Status, letter from Mr D.S. Senanayake to the Secretary of State, August 16, 1945.

Dominion Status, speech by the Prime Minister on (Parliamentary Debates, House of Representatives, vol. I, columns 137–47).

Dominion Status, telegrams between Mr D. S. Senanayake and the Secretary of State, July 1947 (Parliamentary Debates, House of Representatives, vol. I, col. 727–728).

Donoughmore Report (Ceylon: Report of the Special Commission on the Constitution, cmd. 3131, 1928),

paragraphs 30 to 37

paragraphs 52 to 57

paragraphs 125 to 128

paragraphs 164 to 167

Independence of Ceylon (S.P.XXII of 1947).

Ministers’ Draft Constitution (S.P.XIV of 1944).

Ministers’ Interpretation of the Declaration of 1943 (Reform of the Constitution, S.P. XVII of 1943, Document 2).

Soulbury Report (Ceylon: Report of the Commission on Constitutional Reform, cmd, 6677, 1945)

Chapters I to VI

paragraphs 254 to 264

paragraphs 265 to 277

paragraphs 280 to 308

White Paper (Statement of Policy on Constitutional Reform, Ceylon Government Gazette Extraordinary No. 9, 480, 1947, paragraphs 10 to 12.)

Appendix I

Principal Office Holders in the United Kingdom and Ceylon, 1940–1948[1]

United Kingdom


Prime Minister                                        

Winston Churchill (Cons) (10 May 1940)

Clement Attlee (Lab) (26 July 1945)

Secretary of State of the Colonies      

Lord Lloyd (Cons) (13 May 1940)

Lord Moyne (Cons) (8 Feb 1941)

Viscount Cranborne (Cons) (22 Feb. 1942)

Oliver Stanley (Cons) (22 Nov 1942)

George Hall (Lab) (3 Aug 1945)

Arthur Creech Jones (Lab) (4 Oct 1946)

Colonial Office Civil Servants

Permanent Under Secretary of State  

Sir Cosmo Parkinson (1937–1940)

Sir George Cater (Feb–May 1940)

Sir Cosmo Parkinson (1940–1942)

Sir George Cater (1942–1947)

Sir Thomas Lloyd (1947–56)

Deputy Under Secretary of State      

Sir John Shuckburgh (1931–1942)

Sir William Battershill (1942–1945)

Sir Arthur Dawe (1945–1947)

Sir Sidney Caine (1947–48) – joint

Sir Charles Jeffries (1947–56) – joint

Assistant Under Secretary of State, Responsible for Eastern Dept. and from April 1943, the Ceylon and Pacific Department

Sir Henry Moore (1938–1939)

Sir Alan Burns (1940)

William Battershill (1941)

G.E.J. Gent (1942–1946)

C.J. Jeffries (1947–1948)

Assistant Secretary, head of the Eastern Dept. and, from Apr 1943, the Ceylon and Pacific Dept.

G.E.J. Gent (1939– 1941)

K.W. Blaxter (1941, acting)

J.J. Paskin (1942–1943)

J.B. Sidebotham (1943–1948)





Sir Andrew Caldecott (16 Oct 1937–17 Oct 1944)

Sir Henry Monck–Mason Moore (3 Dec 1944)

Board of Ministers


The Chief Secretary (ex–officio)


Sir D.B. Jayatilaka (17 Mar 1936–30 Nov 1942)

acting D.S. Senanayake (11 Jan–27 Mar 1936; 7 Dec 1936–12 Jan 1937; 14 Apr– 4 July 1937; 14 Aug 1937–9 Oct 1942)

D.S. Senanayake (2 Dec 1942)

Minister of Home Affairs

Sir D.B. Jayatilaka (17 Mar 1936–30 Nov 1942)

Sir A. Mahadeva (2 Dec 1942)

Minister of Agriculture and Lands

D.S. Senanayake (17 Mar 1936)

Minister of Local Administration

S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike (17 Mar 1936)

Minister of Health

W.A. de Silva (17 Mar 1936–18 Feb 1942)

G.E. de Silva (25 Feb 1942)

Minister of Labour, Industry and Commerce

G.C.S. Corea (17 Mar 1936)

Minister of Education

C.W.W. Kannangara (17 Mar 1936)

Minister of Communication and  Works

J.L. Kotelawala (17 Mar 1936)

Officers of State

Chief Secretary                                        

M.M. Wedderburn (23 Nov 1939–3 Feb 1940)

G.S. Wodeman (3 Feb–4 Mar 1940, acting)

M.M. Wedderburn (4 Mar– 8 Apr 1940)

G.S. Wodeman (8 Apr–30 May 1940, acting)

G.S. Wodeman (30 May–3 Dec 1940)

W.L. Murphy (3–6 Dec 1940, acting)

G.S. Wodeman (6 Dec 1940–7 Apr 1942)

R.H. Drayton (7 Apr–6 July 1942, acting)

R.H. Drayton (6–24 July 1942)

C.H. Collins (24 July–2 Aug 1942, acting)

(Sir) Robert Drayton (2 Aug 1942–17 Oct 1944)

C.H. Collins (17 Oct–3 Dec 1944, acting)

Sir Robert Drayton (3 Dec 1944–13 May 1945)

C.H. Collins (13 May–10 Dec 1945, acting)

Sir Robert Drayton (10 Dec 1945–14 Apr 1946)

Jones (14–21 Apr 1946, acting)

Sir Robert Drayton (21 Apr 1946–1 Apr 1947)

C.H. Collins (from 1 Apr 1947)

Legal Secretary

J.C. Howard (1 Oct 1936–1 Dec 1939)

J.W.R. Illangakoon (1 Dec 1939–10 Feb1940, acting)

R.H. Drayton (10 Feb 1940–9 Apr 1942)

J.M. Fonseka (9 Apr– 23 June 1942, acting)

J.H.B. Nihill (24 June–7 July 1942, acting)

J.H.B. Nihill (7 July 1942–1 Sept 1943)

R.H. Drayton (1–22 Sept 1943)

J.H.B. Nihill (22 Sept 1943–5 Apr 1945)

M.W.H. de Silva (5 Apr–4 Oct 1945, acting)

M.W.H. de Silva (5 Apr–4 Oct 1945, acting)

J.H.B. Nihill (4 Oct 1945–25 Jan 1946)

Nagalingam (25 Jan–6 May 1946, acting)

J.H.B. Nihill (6 May 1946–15 Oct 1947)

A.E.P. Rose (from 15 Oct 1947, acting)

Financial Secretary                                  

H.J. Huxham (2 Oct 1937–22 Apr 1940)

C.H. Collins (22 Apr–6 Dec 1940, acting)

H.J. Huxham (6 Dec 1940–17 Nov 1942)

C.E. Jones (17 Nov 1942–23 Jan 1943, acting)

C.H. Collins (24 Jan–13 July 1943, acting)

H.J. Huxham (13 July 1943– 30 Jan 1945)

C.E. Jones (30 Jan–1 May 1945, acting)

Sir Oliver Goonetilleke (1 May–24 June 1945, acting)

Sir Oliver Goonetilleke (24 June 1945– 8 Jan 1946)

C.E. Jones (8 Jan–13 Apr 1946, acting)

C.J.D. Lanktree (14––21 Apr 1946, acting)

C.E. Jones (21 Apr–5 May 1946, acting)

Sir Oliver Goonetilleke (5 May–11 June 1946)

C.E. Jones (11 June–4 Nov 1946, acting)

Sir Oliver Goonetilleke (4 Nov 1946– 8 March 194 7)

C.E. Jones (from 8 March 1947, acting)

[1] Adapted from K. M. de Silva’s BDEEP volumes.

Chapter 11: Retrospect

Mr Senanayake’s objective was mentioned on May 26, 1943, when “the breakdown gang” first discussed the constitutional problem: it was to achieve Dominion status by peaceful persuasion. The objective was attained in just over four–and–a–half years. The strategy was to accept what was offered if it seemed to lead towards the goal and then to ask for more. The Colonial Office was timid and hesitant but fundamentally well–disposed. It was not prepared to move as fast as the Ceylonese desired because it feared that difficulties would arise. It seems to have exaggerated the communal problem not, as some will say, because of a traditional policy of “divide and rule” but because communalism is not understood in England. If the Ceylonese wanted full self–government or Dominion Status, it was thought, could they not agree on exactly what it was they wanted? There seemed to be opposition from some if not all of the minorities: might this not be because as the Soulbury Commission itself suggested, they were not prepared to go as far in the direction of self–government as the Sinhalese? This attitude explains the overwhelming importance of the debate on the White Paper in November 1945. Not only was the motion carried by the great majority of 51 to 3, but also the debate was conducted in a manner which would have graced the Mother of Parliaments.

Nor was the Colonial office unaware of Mr Senanayake’s strategy. Indeed Sir Andrew Caldecott gave me an exact description of it in its very early stages; and he cannot have failed to explain it to the Secretary of State in his demi–official correspondence. Nevertheless, Mr Senanayake’s proposals were always carefully considered in London and some attempt was made to meet them. Things became much easier after July 1945, when the Secretary of State and his officials learned at first–hand with what manner of a man they were dealing. Inevitably the Governors’ despatches had given a false impression, for they dealt with day–to–day problems as they arose, and in these problems the Ministers often differed from the Governors’ views. Nobody in the administrative branches of the Colonial Office had recent experience of Ceylon; the Secretary of State and his officials until July 1945 were dealing with paper personalities, fictitious persons made up of much reading of speeches and telegrams. After July 1945 Mr Senanayake became a real entity.

The lack of personal contact operated both ways. Not only was the Colonial Office ill–informed on those elements in the situation which not even the skilled pen of Sir Andrew Caldecott could put into writing, but also the Colonial Office as visualised by the Ceylonese politicians was a fiction. Indian propaganda, born of a deep sense of frustration, had created an ogre, “British imperialism”, which bore little resemblance to the truth that British politicians are much like Ceylon politicians and British officials much like Ceylon officials in an elementary principle which like most elementary principles, is difficult to grasp. That British policy is not always as altruistic as it is made out to be is evident enough; that it is a deep–laid and well–executed plot to “exploit subject peoples” is even further from the truth. The simple answer is that neither politicians nor officials are clever enough either to develop such a plan or to execute it. The British Government may be justly accused of many sins, but not of being far–sighted. The Colonial Secretary is one of the lesser lights of the Ministerial team, anxious to shine a little in order that he may move on to a more attractive office, but equally anxious not to have awkward questions raised in Parliament and even more anxious not to lose his seat. Towards colonial peoples he exudes general benevolence like a parson at a Sunday–school treat. He says the right things at what his officials believe to be the right moment, which is usually the exceedingly dull annual debate on the Colonial Office Estimates. The officials themselves are conscientious and hard–working, immersed in files, concerned with the colonies because they got landed in that office long ago, as anxious as their Minister to avoid questions in Parliament, and anxious above all not to make mistakes. They are not clever conspirators but good civil servants.

No doubt this is in itself a justification for self–government as soon as the conditions necessary for reasonable stability have been established: but it also destroys the theory that there was in London a deep–seated conspiracy to establish or retain “imperialist exploitation”. Mr Senanayake himself was affected by this theory, though he was sufficiently open–minded to have doubts about it. Sir Oliver Goonetilleke and I did not accept the theory at all. We believe that if Mr Senanayake put his case cogently and persuasively, and if he was given adequate support by a sufficiently large section of opinion in Ceylon, he would obtain Dominion status sooner or later and possibly sooner than later. The experience proved the correctness of this interpretation. Even when difficulties arose, as over the terms of reference of the Soulbury Commission, I did not feel that I was taking part in a gigantic hoax. In drafting letters and memoranda in the early stages, in fact, I was writing for a particular person, the late Sir Edward Gent, then Assistant Under–Secretary of State in charge of Ceylon and then the High Commissioner in Malaya. He was “Mr Mother Country”; and if he could be persuaded it was probable that His Majesty’s Government would be persuaded.

It was however clear that Sir Edward Gent would rely heavily on the confidential reports received from His Majesty’s local representatives. Until the end of the war there were two of them, the Commander–in–Chief and the Governor. The Commander–in–Chief had a locus standi only so far as constitutional reforms helped towards the war effort. That full collaboration from the Ceylonese Ministers and the State Council could be obtained only if there was some movement in the direction of reform was obvious enough; and if Sir Geoffrey Layton had not seen it for himself, as in fact he did, Sir Oliver Goonetilleke would have drawn attention to the fact. From the moment when Sir Geoffrey set up his command, Sir Oliver set out to make the assistance of the Civil Defence Department essential to him. Sir Geoffrey was little inclined by temperament and training to use the round–about methods of the civil Government. Correct procedure required him to communicate with the Governor, who would instruct the Chief Secretary, who would in turn give the necessary instructions. It was much easier for the Commander–in–Chief to telephone “Goony”[1] off the record and let “Goony” get something done by direct personal contact. The Civil Defence Department thus did all kinds of jobs, off the record, which it had no business to touch. There were no Audit queries because there was no expenditure, and indeed there is no record at all of this more speedy civil government than that controlled by the Secretariat. The unofficial Ceylonese Government was more efficient than the official “British” Government because “Oliver”, unlike Sir Robert Drayton, could telephone “George” or “John” and ask him to get something done quickly as a personal favour. The lesson was not lost on Sir Geoffrey. Nor did he fail to realise that Mr Senanayake was more than Minister for Agriculture and Lands; off the record he was Prime Minister. Sir Geoffrey’s telegrams have not been published; but no doubt they were pungent if not aromatic, and they certainly helped to create a favourable atmosphere in London.[2]

It is much less easy to estimate the influence of Sir Andrew Caldecott as Governor. His relations with Mr Senanayake had been somewhat strained because they had been at issue over many points in Mr Senanayake’s policy both as Minister for Agriculture and Lands and as Leader of the State Council. Intellectually Sir Andrew was far ahead of the whole Board of Ministers and the whole Civil Service, but this added to the remoteness of his office. Moreover, he seemed to rely heavily on Sir Robert Drayton, whose attitude was somewhat ambiguous. As Legal Secretary Sir Robert had been a great success and he seemed to have the qualities required of the chief administrator of the Government; and yet he managed to draw upon himself the suspicions of the Ceylonese Ministers. The office was a most difficult one, for its holder was the principal “policeman” of the Donoughmore Constitution. Antagonism between the Chief Secretary and the Ministers was almost bound to spring up, and it seems probable that an injustice was done him.

The atmosphere changed somewhat with the arrival of Sir Henry Moore. It seemed hazardous to transfer a Governor from Kenya just as the Soulbury Commission was arriving, but Sir Henry was no stranger to the Island, for he had spent the earlier part of his career in the Ceylon Civil Service. It proved easy for him to adapt himself to the changed conditions and in any case the Governor was less important after July 1945 because he was no longer the sole intermediary between Mr Senanayake and the Colonial Office. The personal contact between them had removed many of the sources of misunderstanding and made demi–official correspondence possible. Also, Sir Oliver Goonetilleke had become Financial Secretary and thus had direct approach to the Governor, though the importance of this factor must not be exaggerated, for Sir Robert Drayton had never insisted that the Civil Defence Commissioner communicate with Sir Andrew Caldecott through the Chief Secretary.

The most important elements, however, were the Report of the Soulbury Commission and the personal support of Lord Soulbury. The Report, was in the main, a defence of the State Council and the Board of Ministers. Though drafted within the framework of the Declaration of 1943, it tended towards the removal of the doubts and hesitations, which had inspired the conditions of that document, It suggested that the Colonial Office could safely move rapidly towards complete self–government. Lord Soulbury reinforced that conclusion by his personal advocacy. Mr Creech Jones and Sir Henry Moore both came to the conclusion that the last lap could be covered very quickly, and Mr Senanayake knew in September 1945 that he had won a bloodless battle.

[1] Sir Oliver Goonetilleke.

[2] A selection of these are found in BDEEP.  See for example Layton’s letter on 16 October 1945 on Ceylon’s defence in BDEEP, vol. II, document 307.

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.

Chapter 9: The Constitution of 1946

Mr Senanayake mentioned in his speech on the White Paper that he had a new draft Constitution prepared. It was in fact the eleventh and last edition of the Ministers’ draft and was produced in case it was needed to persuade doubtful votes. It had been made plain from the beginning that the draft was a “complete constitutional scheme” and not a Constitution, for it would require redrafting before it could be enacted. The eleventh edition was forwarded to the Governor by Mr Senanayake so that the draftsman could make what use of it he thought fit. Sir Barclay Nihill invited Mr B. P. Peiris[1], of the Legal Draftsman’s Department, to prepare the formal draft. The basis of the draft was later explained by the Legal Secretary, as follows:

The document purports to reflect faithfully the recommendations of the Soulbury Commission as modified by the decisions of His Majesty’s Government, set out in the White paper published in the Ceylon Government Gazette of October 31, 1945. I have had before me, during drafting, the Ministers’ Scheme and the draft Order in Council prepared by Dr Jennings and forwarded to your Excellency by Mr Senanayake under cover of his letter of November 21, 1945.

As regards form, Your Excellency will notice that I have adopted a different set up to that followed by the Ministers’ Scheme and in Dr Jennings’ draft. The distinction between ‘a day of operation’ and ‘an appointed day’ disappears. Instead, the various parts of the Order will be brought into operation as they are required… In Part IX have been placed all those transitional provisions which will become spent once the new Constitution is in full working order, and this Part appears at the end of the Order. I consider that this set up has advantages over the method previously followed. The Constitution once fully established will not contain in its main Parts provisions which by then will have lost applicability and the disappearance of the terms ‘day of operation’ and ‘appointed day’ will I hope make the Order less difficult to follow particularly to laymen.

Mr Peiris did not, however, merely amend the draft. The Soulbury Commission had approved large parts of the ninth version of the Ministers’ draft and the substance of these parts had necessarily to be inserted: but the foundation of his draft was the Soulbury Report as amended by the White Paper. He therefore made a very full analysis of the Report which became, so to speak, his terms of reference. His first draft was discussed and amended by Sir Robert Drayton and Sir Barclay Nihill at a conference in the Chief Secretary’s Lodge at Nuwara Eliya during Christmas, 1945, and the New Year. I received a copy of the revised version on the 10th January 1946, and raised no less than 88 points, of which many were mere suggestions for improving the drafting. These were discussed at a two–day conference in Temple Trees, at which the Legal Secretary, Mr Peiris, and I were present. A considerable number of minor changes was agreed, but some 30 major points were left for discussion with Mr Senanayake. The second revised draft having been prepared, Mr Senanayake was added to the discussions, and the number of points of disagreement was reduced to 18.

These were discussed at a conference at Queen’s Cottage[2], Nuwara Eliya, at which the Governor, the Chief Secretary, the Legal Secretary and Mr Senanayake were present. I stayed in Mr Senanayake’s bungalow at Nuwara Eliya with his secretary and a clerk. Sir Barclay Nihill was leaving for London with the revised draft almost immediately, but by another happy and fruitful coincidence, Sir Oliver Goonetilleke had already left for discussions with the Board of Trade. What is more, Mr L. M. D. de Silva was appearing before the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council and so was available to advise Sir Oliver on legal questions. My task, therefore, was not only to advise Mr Senanayake on the legal points being raised in Queen’s Cottage, but also to send to Sir Oliver a very frank statement of the matters in dispute so that he could take them up with the Colonial Office.

By this time the draft had been much improved. In preparing the tenth and eleventh editions I had not only inserted the changes required by the Soulbury Commission and the White Paper but also made such incidental amendments as would, I thought, make the Constitution work with less friction and ease the transition. In particular, I provided for the amendment by administrative action of the Legislative Enactments, the Public Service Regulations, the Financial Regulations, and the Standing Orders. These changes were incorporated in the Legal Secretary’s official drafts. The discussions on those drafts had produced a more polished document, but Mr Senanayake desired Sir Oliver Goonetilleke to raise the following points, among others, in London:–

  • He was anxious for some declaration about Dominion Status to be included in the preamble. The tenth and eleventh drafts had contained such a declaration, but it was modified by the Chief Secretary and the Legal Secretary. A slight amendment was approved in Nuwara Eliya, but eventually Sir Oliver Goonetilleke’s suggestion to have the whole paragraph 10 of the White Paper included was adopted. This gave it a more formal status and improved its publicity value.
  • Mr Senanayake wanted the Governor’s discretionary powers to be permissive and not compulsory: e.g. he did not want the Governor to be compelled to reserve Bills of the specified classes but only empowered to do so. What he had in mind was that the powers might become atrophied by disuse, and in fact the new Cabinet might face objections if the Governor used them too often. Sir Oliver was not able to get this accepted.
  • The Chief Secretary took the view that the Soulbury Commission wanted Members of Parliament to be disqualified from election or nomination to the Senate. Mr Senanayake took the view that it did not and that the Prime Minister should be able to get a person transferred to the Senate in order to make him a Minister or to leave a seat vacant for a Minister. Sir Oliver won this point.
  • Mr Senanayake was very insistent that “Defence” and “External affairs” should be defined and a specific provision inserted to prevent Orders in Council imposing charges on the revenue or controlling imports and exports. Our definition of “Defence” was accepted in relation to reservation but not to Orders in Council, and a phrase somewhat less vague than “external affairs” was accepted by the Chief Secretary. Further, charges on the revenue and control of trade were excluded. He thus won five–sixths of this argument.
  • Knowing the difficulties which had arisen in the United Kingdom I was anxious to extend the definition of “Money Bill”. The Chief Secretary and the Legal Secretary, however, felt bound to insert the definition of the Parliament Act, 1911[3]. I therefore advised Sir Oliver to consult Mr E. A. Fellowes, Second Clerk Assistant in the House of Commons. He did so, and this professional advice proved persuasive, the definition of the eleventh draft being incorporated with one slight omission.
  • Mr Senanayake was anxious to prevent the constituencies in each Province being too disproportionate. His proposal for a 15 per cent variation from the normal was not accepted, but the Colonial Office saw the point and reverted particularly to the language of the Ministers’ draft.
  • Mr Senanayake wanted the Governor to have a discretion to refuse a recommendation from the Public Service Commission, and though the Legal Secretary objected the proposal was accepted in London.

A good many changes were made in London, mainly of a drafting order, and the complete draft was not available in Ceylon until the end of April [1946]. Mr Senanayake and Sir Oliver Goonetilleke brought it to Bandarawela, where I was staying, and I read it through late at night.[4] There were minor points on which one might have quarrelled with the draftsman, but on the whole it was a good draft.  As always, the Colonial Office had been more elastic and readier to meet Mr Senanayake’s point of view than the Chief Secretary and the Legal Secretary, and Mr Senanayake went on to Nuwara Eliya after midnight in order that His Excellency might telegraph his acceptance of the draft.

In view of the controversy which has since developed over the disqualification of persons who have served terms of imprisonment [it is] convenient to trace the clause which became section 13(3)(f) of the Constitution. In the Ministers’ draft (Sessional Paper XIV of 1944) there was a disqualification for seven years for a person who had been sentenced to a term of imprisonment of three months or longer for an offence which was not in Chapter VI of the Penal Code (which deals with what are popularly known as political offences). The Soulbury Commission (paragraph 318) disapproved, but its suggestion for replacing it was obscure and I frankly did not know what it meant, in the eleventh draft I excluded any person [who] was serving a sentence of twelve months or more for any offence. The Legal Secretary in his first draft inserted what is in substance the present law, though drafting amendments were made in London. When the draft was examined at our conference at Temple Trees I drew attention to this divergence from my draft, and we examined the paragraph of the Soulbury Report. After some discussion I agreed with the Legal Secretary that his draft was more likely to be correct than mine, chiefly because my interpretation assumed that one sentence of the paragraph was a complete mistake, whereas Sir Barclay’s interpretation gave it a meaning. When Mr Senanayake attended next day, therefore, I mentioned this clause and said that I thought the Legal Secretary’s view was correct. Accordingly, it was never discussed by Mr Senanayake. Nor did anybody in my hearing discuss who would be excluded by it. Indeed I am quite certain that the Legal Secretary did not realise that any specified individual would be disqualified. After the Order in Council was enacted I was present when Sir Barclay was first informed of the allegation, that Dr S.A. Wickremasinghe[5] was disqualified. Sir Barclay said that he did not know whether this was correct, but that he would find out. The allegation that Mr Senanayake had this clause inserted in order to disqualify a political opponent is therefore incorrect. The clause was never discussed by Mr Senanayake but was agreed between the legal advisers as a correct interpretation of the Soulbury Report.

The Order in Council was made on the 15th of May 1946 and published in the Gazette two days later. Mr Senanayake felt that the Colonial Office had played the game with him. It could not go outside the Cabinet decision embodied in the White Paper, but within those limits it was willing to meet his views. It would be both unnecessary and tedious to examine the many variations between Sessional Paper XIV of 1944 and the Order in Council, but they were considerable and, except where specific recommendations had been made by the Soulbury Commission, they had generally resulted in an enlargement of the area of self–government. On the other hand, no attempt was made by Mr Senanayake to whittle down the protection given to minorities. In the eleventh draft I had inserted the provision in the eighth draft (Sessional Paper XIV of 1944) which made the distribution of seats dependent on the last census for the time being, though I pointed out that this would result in a modification of the distribution set out in the memorandum attached to the eighth draft, because the 1946 census figures would be available before the Delimitation Commission was appointed. The Legal Secretary later raised the same point, and it was agreed that Lord Soulbury should be consulted. Lord Soulbury considered, and the Secretary of State concurred, that since expectation had been founded on the distribution set out in the Ministers’ memorandum it would be better to retain the 1931 census as the basis. As soon as the 1946 figures were available I worked out a revised distribution on that basis and shared it [with] Mr Senanayake. Since it showed a higher proportionate representation for the Sinhalese areas, Mr Senanayake agreed that it would be better to leave things as they were and the 1931 basis was accordingly retained.

The administrative action consequential upon the new Constitution took three lines. First, a Delimitation Commission consisting of Messrs L. M. D. De Silva K.C., N. Nadarajah[6] K.C., and C. E. Jansz was set up. It then became necessary to decide whether the existing voting system should operate in multi–member constituencies. If in a two–member constituency each elector had one vote for each of two candidates the arrangement would benefit the majority. If each elector had only one vote minorities would be benefited but a section of the population would be virtually disfranchised. The Board of Ministers therefore decided that each should have two votes which he could cast either for one or for two candidates. This would encourage minorities to concentrate their votes. The new Election Order in Council, which retained the existing franchise but altered the method of voting from the coloured ballot box system to the illustrated ballot–paper system, was drafted accordingly.

Secondly, new registers of electors had to be compiled by the Legal Secretary, and Mr E. R. Sudbury[7], was placed in charge of parliamentary elections. It will be generally agreed that the arrangements were admirable, though it would not seem impossible at subsequent elections to reduce the period of elections.

Finally, Sir Charles Collins[8], was placed in charge of administrative changes and spent some months in England studying the working of the Cabinet system. On his return he produced a memorandum on Cabinet procedure, a draft Proclamation to amend the Legislative Enactments, Public Service Regulations, and Financial Regulations. The amount of work involved was immense and the documents when published fill a very bulky volume. The documents were forwarded to me by Mr Senanayake, but my task was merely to read, check and if necessary criticise. The draft Proclamation was also studied by Mr H. H. Basnayake K.C., the draftsman of the Legislative Enactments. The points of difference were settled at a conference which Sir Charles Collins summoned as Acting Chief Secretary. The new Standing Orders of the Senate and the House of Representatives required expert guidance and Mr E. A. Fellowes came to Ceylon for the purpose.

[1] Bernard Percival Peiris, Legal Draftsman; later Secretary to the Cabinet.

[2] The Governor’s official residence in Nuwara Eliya.

[3] Act of the United Kingdom Parliament, which covered the legislative role of the House of Lords in response to the political crises following the rejection of the Budget of Liberal Chancellor of the Exchequer, Lloyd George, by the House of Lords.  The Act effectively removed the upper house’s ability to veto “Money Bills”.

[4] IJ notes: If he ever reads this, a European who looked like a planter may welcome a belated apology. For greater secrecy, Mr Senanayake and Sir Oliver Goonetilleke came up to my room. I regret to say that we made a great deal of noise over our discussions, and the European, who was trying to sleep next door, came in three times to complain.  He obviously did not recognize my guests, and naturally I did not enlighten him. He was very good tempered about it, and he may like to know that his good temper contributed to the Constitution of Ceylon.”

[5] Dr Sugiswara Abeywardena Wickramasinghe, founder of the Ceylon Communist Party and member of the State Council from 1931; jailed twice for public agitation against the State.

[6] Namasivayam Nadarajah, Ceylon jurist; later Justice of the Supreme Court.

[7] C.C.S.

[8] Sir Charles H. Collins, C.C.S; acted as Chief Secretary and Financial Secretary during 1940s.

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.

Chapter 7: The London Mission

What the Ministers wanted was not the Soulbury Commission but the “commission or conference” promised by the Declaration of 1943. After the correspondence of August, 1944, referred to in Chapter 6 it was necessary to put up with the Soulbury Commission, but it was still possible to have a conference: indeed it was the more necessary because nobody knew what proposals the Commission would make. Mr Senanayake therefore decided that when Sir Oliver Goonetilleke went to London to discuss food he should cast such hints as might be necessary to secure an invitation to Mr Senanayake. Colonel Oliver Stanley was not only willing but glad to find a way out of what promised to be an impasse, and Sir Oliver returned with an assurance that an invitation would be forthcoming.  My arrangements to be in England in the summer of 1945 had already been made, and this particular coincidence was not staged.  Before I left Colombo in March, a little before the Soulbury Commission finished its work in Ceylon, I cabled for my wife’s[1] telephone number in Cambridge – she had just taken lease of another house – and left it with Dr D. M. de Silva so that the Ceylon delegation could communicate with me on its arrival.

Mr Senanayake arrived in London by air on July 13, 1945, accompanied by Mr A.G. Ranasinghe, C.C.S., and Dr D. M. de Silva as co–secretaries. Mr Ranasinghe took over the political side of Mr Senanayake’s work and Dr de Silva the organisation, which was substantial became of the amount of entertaining which Mr Senanayake had to do. It is perhaps necessary to add, in view of misrepresentations in Ceylon, that Mr Senanayake paid the expenses of the mission, which were heavy, out of his own pocket. The mission was installed in Grosvenor House, Park Lane, and I stayed there whenever I was needed.

Mr Senanayake telephoned me in Cambridge soon after his arrival, and I left for London by the next train. We had a conference on procedure, and it was agreed that the first step was to secure an advance copy of the Soulbury Report. As soon as it was available I should go into residence at Grosvenor House so as to draft whatever documents were needed for submission to the Secretary of State. In this connection Mr Senanayake explained that he had no specific instructions from the Ministers. The invitation had been addressed to him personally and he had accepted on that basis, so as not to commit the Ministers. They had, however, warmly welcomed his mission and had passed a resolution wishing him success while at the same time making it plain that they would not necessarily be bound by any agreement that he might reach tentatively. This was a wise precaution because opinion had moved on since May 1943. This point was reinforced in a letter which Dr de Silva brought from Sir Oliver Goonetilleke. It emphasised that political opinion in Ceylon no longer regarded the Declaration of 1943 as adequate. The war was entering its final phase, India and Burma had been offered Dominion status, and the debates on the Sri Lanka Bill had made it politically necessary that Mr Senanayake should obtain more than the “self–government in matters of internal civil administration” provided for in the Declaration by which the Soulbury Commission was bound. Mr Senanayake himself said that, whatever the Commission had recommended, he proposed to ask for full Dominion status.

Mr Senanayake called on Colonel Stanley on the 16th July and secured a promise that an advance copy of the Report would be made available at the end of the month. This was a courtesy call and political questions were not discussed. In fact, Colonel Stanley now drops out of the story, for on the 25th July a general election was held and a Labour majority returned.[2] There was delay in filling the post of Secretary of State for the Colonies, and Mr Senanayake could not see Mr George Hall, the new holder of the office, until the 9th August. On leaving office Colonel Stanley expressed his regret that he would personally not be able to conduct the discussions, for he believed that they could have reached an agreement which was for the mutual benefit of Great Britain and Ceylon. We have no idea of the proposals which Colonel Stanley would have made, but the impressions derived from private conversations do not support the view, widely held in Ceylon, that the change of government was to Ceylon’s advantage. The Labour Government was somewhat reluctant to take early decisions on colonial questions which it had not adequately studied and was apparently apprehensive of the consequences upon India of an agreement with Ceylon. Mr Hall had no proposals and merely asked Mr Senanayake, at the interview on 9th August when a final proof copy of the Report was handed over, to send him a note on the points which he wished to have discussed.

I was informed of this conversation by telephone and went into residence at Grosvenor House on the 11th August.  Dr de Silva’s official diary contains the note: “Dr Jennings has arrived.  The problem of keeping him supplied with cigarettes adds to our troubles”.  The report appeared on first reading to be very favourable. It did not in any way affect Mr Senanayake’s decision to press for Dominion status, but neither did it affect his general policy of accepting anything that was offered provided that it was a genuine advance on the Donoughmore Constitution. We were therefore presented with the difficult task of framing a case for Dominion status which was at the same time an effective criticism of such parts of the Soulbury Report as appeared inconvenient within the framework of the Declaration of 1943. We discussed in detail what points should be raised. Then I was left to myself in Dr de Silva’s room, which I left only for meals until the draft was completed. I did not like my first draft and wrote a second. This was discussed with Ranasinghe and amended: the amended draft was then discussed with Mr Senanayake and both secretaries, and further amended. A typist was lent to us by the Colonial Office, and the letter was signed and delivered to the Secretary of State by hand on the 16th August. The text is given in Appendix II.

Emphasis should be laid on the purpose of this letter. It was essentially an attempt to persuade the Government of the United Kingdom to accept Dominion status. Arguments had to be used which would prove convincing in London. If one is trying to convince other people, one does not tell them that they are blackguards, or even wicked imperialists: one frames the argument in the manner likely to appeal to them. The advantages to the United Kingdom had to be stressed; the advantages to Ceylon had to be mentioned only incidentally. Concessions had to be made in order that the advantages might prove more attractive than the disadvantages. The arguments which might lead to refusal or delay had to be met before they were used; thought had to be given to what the Colonial Office would say in its own memorandum and to state their such case in such a manner as would lead to the conclusion desired by Ceylon. On the other hand, it might be necessary to publish the documents in Ceylon; and though it would be impossible to use the clichés about imperialism, economic exploitation, and so on, which were common place in the State Council, probability of misrepresentation had to be faced. On these matters Ceylon and the United Kingdom spoke different languages and neither understood the other.

What is more, when the document was drafted the chance of obtaining Dominion status was not good. In case the main proposal was not accepted it was necessary to provide for a second argument which would justify as large a departure as possible from the Declaration of 1943.

The Soulbury Commission had just reported, and it was thought that the answer would be that the Ministers’ draft, with the Soulbury Commissions, should be tried for a time. Hence the efforts in Part II of the letter[3] to squeeze a little more out of the Soulbury Report. There was also the problem that if Dominion status was granted there must be considerable delay because Imperial legislation (on the lines of the Ceylon Independence Act, 1947) would be required, and this might not be passed without the concurrence of the Dominions. Mr Senanayake therefore asked for full self–government (i.e. the Sri Lanka Bill) immediately pending discussions with the Dominions and the enactment of legislation. This would enable the constituencies to be delimited, the registers to be compiled and the elections to be held, by which time the Ceylon Independence Act would be passed; Dominion status would then be brought in during 1947. The main plea was for Dominion status, and Mr Senanayake considered that the trump card was Trincomalee. Though there would be a great deal of chatter (as there was in 1947) about providing “bases for imperialism”, every Ceylonese politician who had sat in the war council or had been in Colombo on Easter Sunday, 1942[4], knew how dependent was the Island on defence from overseas.  In A.R.P. Headquarters we had watched Mr F.R.G. Webb[5], working 18 hours a day, convert Colombo Racecourse into an aerodrome in the nick of time; but the aerodrome was useless without the 42 Hurricanes rushed by aircraft carrier from the Middle East. We had received and passed on the message from the Royal Canadian Air Force Catalina off Dondra Head that a “large enemy force” had been sighted on the way to Ceylon; we had stood by all night, knowing that the main part of the East Indian Fleet was in Bombay, that there were fewer than a division of troops in the Island, and that if the Japanese landed we were helpless. Mr Senanayake had rushed back to Colombo as soon as he heard the news and had assisted in building up the Imperial forces during the months following.

On the other hand, he considered that the United Kingdom, South Africa, Australia and perhaps India needed assistance from Ceylon. The offer of 1945 to Burma had been Dominion status with agreements about defence. He asked that Ceylon be offered the same, believing that the request would be cabled to the Commander–in–Chief in Ceylon and that he would support it. The Ministers’ scheme of Governors’ Ordinance was complicated; the Soulbury Report had made it even more complicated and it did not seem likely to work. The letter said very positively that it would not work, an instead offered a collaboration between an independent Ceylon and an independent United Kingdom. Mr Senanayake hoped that the offer would be submitted to the Admiralty, the War Office and the Air Ministry, and he felt certain that the staffs would prefer collaboration through Dominion status to the highly speculative advantages of Governors’ Ordinance. We believed, too, that if Australia and New Zealand were consulted they would support Ceylon.

On the 4th September Mr Senanayake met the Secretary of State, the others present being the Parliamentary Under–Secretary of State (later the Secretary of State) Mr A. Creech–Jones, Mr A.G. Ranasinghe, the Permanent Secretary (Sir George Gater[6]), Mr Edward Gent[7], Mr Sidebotham[8] and Mr Trafford Smith[9]. The Secretary of State apologised for the delay in beginning the discussions. His Majesty’s Government had not reached conclusions on the Soulbury recommendations and he had been empowered only to hear what Mr Senanayake had to say and to elucidate his point of view for a further report to the Cabinet. In the light of these discussions the Cabinet would reach its conclusions. Mr Senanayake’s explanation followed the lines of Part I of his letter[10]. He emphasised that Ceylon had governed itself for over 2500 years and that even in the early stages of the British occupation competent authorities had reported that the Island was ripe for democratic constitutions on the British model. He pointed out that in more recent times they had successfully worked a Constitution which constitutional experts had pronounced to be unworkable. The Declaration of 1943 had been accepted as adequate only in the war conditions then prevailing; those conditions had now changed opinion in Ceylon had hardened in favour of full Dominion status; but if the necessary legislation would involve delay full self–government should be conferred immediately together with agreements on defence and external affairs. Though he admitted that Ceylon must be associated with United Kingdom he emphasised that defence and internal affairs must be regulated by agreement. The Secretary of State replied with the question of Dominion status was a matter of very high policy on which he could not take a decision, but he would submit Mr Senanayake’s views to the Cabinet for sympathetic consideration.

The Secretary of State then suggested that the points in Part II be discussed. He explained that it might be desirable to have these discussed with the officials and their legal advisers at a separate meeting, and this was agreed. Mr Senanayake then explained the various criticisms of the Report contained in the letter. While the Cabinet was discussing Dominion status, two meetings of officials were held, on the 7th and 10th September. Sir George Gater presided, and in addition to those present at the previous meeting Messrs Barclay Nihill, Legal Secretary, and Mr Roberts–Wray[11], Legal Adviser to the Secretary of State attended.

In the meantime I had not been idle, though I had returned to Cambridge after completing the letter of 16th August. Mr Senanayake considered that it would be helpful if he could give the Secretary of State a draft of the proposed Constitution and of the Agreement relating to Defence and External Affairs. I therefore made a thorough revision of the Ministers’ draft, my tenth draft, deleting all provisions inconsistent with complete self–government but inserting such of the Soulbury amendments as Mr Senanayake was prepared to accept. Necessarily it did not include the provisions which would have to be enacted by the Parliament of the United Kingdom, but it recited in the preamble “the intention of His Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom to recommend to the Parliament of the United Kingdom as soon as may be practicable that the status of a Dominion be conferred on the Island of Ceylon”.

The Soulbury Senate was included, but the provisions were to come into operation only after a resolution to that effect had been passed by the House of Representatives. The draft Agreement contained inter alia the following provisions:–

  • The Constitution and the Agreement were to be submitted to the State Council, if agreed by it, would be brought into operation.
  • “The Government of the United Kingdom agrees that the status of Ceylon within the British Commonwealth of Nations is that of a Dominion as defined by the Imperial Conference of 1926[12] in official documents Ceylon shall be referred to as the of Ceylon”.
  • Ceylon was to become a member of the Imperial Conference.[13]
  • Relations with Ceylon were to be the concern of the Dominions Office.[14]
  • The channels of communication with Ceylon were to be the same as for the other Dominions.[15]
  • Mutual representation by High Commissioners.[16]
  • Consultation on shipping, currency, and nationality.
  • Consultation on foreign policy and treaties.
  • The United Kingdom to help Ceylon to become a member of the United Nations Organisation, etc.
  • Ceylon to have its own diplomatic and consular representatives where it so desired, but could use United Kingdom representatives elsewhere.
  • Ports and aerodromes in Ceylon to be open to British warships and aircraft on payment of customary dues.
  • The United Kingdom might maintain in Ceylon such forces as it considered necessary, and Ceylon would assist in the provision of facilities.
  • The United Kingdom would provide equipment and training for the armed forces of Ceylon.
  • Ceylon would pay to the United Kingdom an annual sum of (blank) million rupees – an amount for the defence of the Island.
  • In the event of war the armed forces of Ceylon would be placed at the disposal of the United Kingdom, but not for use outside Ceylon except with Ceylon’s consent.

It will be seen from paragraph (11) to (15) that the proposed agreement was for more favourable to the United Kingdom than the agreements of 1947. Just as in 1945 Ceylon could not accept what it had been willing to accept in 1943, so it could not accept in 1947 what it would have accepted in 1945. Opinion moves on as events occur. These documents were presented to the Secretary of State on the 13th September. On the 17th Mr Senanayake had another conference with him and was informed that the Cabinet was unable to come to a decision owing to the problems arising out of the surrender of Japan and the Conference of Foreign Ministers. Mr Senanayake therefore left England on the 20th September. I followed two days later.

Mr Senanayake was naturally disappointed. He had been very hopeful after his meeting on 4th September. He assumed, and the assumption seems to have been correct, that subsequently the Cabinet did in fact discuss Ceylon but had decided against immediate Dominion status. Postponement of a discussion became necessary because the Secretary of State was asked to submit an alternative proposal involving something less than Dominion status. One possible explanation was that Great Britain wanted to hold on as much as possible. This explanation we rejected; apart from the constitution it seemed clear enough that Mr George Hall had actually recommended Dominion status.  A second possible explanation was the propaganda made by Mr G. G. Ponnambalam, who had come to London at his own expense in spite of discouragement from the Colonial Office, had been more successful than we anticipated.  Anybody who had seen the Soulbury Report would know that “balanced representation” or “fifty–fifty” was dead.  It was of course not possible for Mr Senanayake to disclose that he had seen the Report, but he was anxious to secure the collaboration of the Ceylon Tamils and he knew that Mr Ponnambalam was in principle as anxious for self–government as Mr Senanayake himself.  Accordingly, he did his best to inform Mr Ponnambalam indirectly that the points he was raising with such members of Parliament as would listen were no longer relevant.  In any event, Mr Ponnambalam had no influence in the Colonial Office nor, so far as we could see, among the Cabinet Ministers.

Eventually Mr Senanayake came to the conclusion that the Cabinet did not want to take a final decision about Ceylon until it had solved the problem of India. Independence for India had been an item of the Labour party’s election programme, but it was proving extremely difficult to find an acceptable scheme. Was it possible to confer Dominion status on Ceylon while the Indian problem remained acute? Mr Senanayake hoped that his offer would be so attractive that His Majesty’s Government would accept it as a demonstration to India. The Cabinet, apparently, took a different view, that it was unwise to decide about Ceylon until there was a decision about India.

On his return Ceylon Mr Senanayake gave a general explanation to the Ministers, and after the publication of the Soulbury Report he circulated the texts of all the documents together with a long explanation drafted by Mr Ranasinghe. It was not possible to publish these documents because the Colonial office did not wish it to be disclosed that Mr Senanayake had seen the Soulbury Report in proof. All the portions of the letter of August which did not refer to the Report were, however, published in narrative form and were republished in Ceylon’s Path to Freedom[17].

[1] Helena (later Lady) Jennings (née Konsalik).

[2] The results were declared on 26 July 1945, which gave Labour under Clement Attlee a large majority in the House of Commons with 393 seats to the Conservative’s 197.

[3] See Appendix IV

[4] Ceylon faced significant threats of Japanese invasion during the war, especially after the fall of Singapore in February 1942 and on 2 April that year Colombo harbour was bombed by the Japanese who followed this with air and naval attacks across the island’s eastern coast.

[5] F.R.G. Webb was an Engineer in Government Service.

[6] Sir George Gater, Permanent Under Secretary at the Colonial Office, 1939–47

[7] Later Sir Edward Gent, Assistant Under Secretary at the Colonial Office, 1942–46; Governor of the Malayan Union, 1946–48; High Commissioner of the Federation of Malaya, 1948.

[8] John Sidebotham, Assistant Secretary and Head of the Ceylon and Pacific Department at the Colonial Office, 1943–48.

[9] Trafford Smith, Colonial Office and Secretary to the Soulbury Commission, 1944–45.

[10] See Appendix IV

[11] Later Sir Kenneth Roberts–Wray, Assistant Adviser and then Legal Adviser to the Colonial Office from 1943 and later the Commonwealth Relations Office.

[12] The Balfour Declaration, made at the 1926 Imperial conference, established the principle that the Dominions were ‘autonomous communities within the British Empire, equal in status, in no way subordinate one to another in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs, though united by a common allegiance to the Crown, and freely associated as members of the British Commonwealth of Nations’. This laid the basis for the Statute of Westminster Act 1931.

[13] Joining the other senior self–governing members of the Commonwealth.

[14] As a Dominion relations would be transferred from the Colonial Office and thus perceived and recognised differently as an autonomous state within the Commonwealth.

[15] As a Dominion communication between the Ceylon prime minister and his the UK counterpart, for example, would be made effectively directly rather than through the Governor of Ceylon and Colonial Office, neither of whom were mere postboxes as they reserved the right to comment, amend and even reject communication from the Ceylonese politicians without their approval or consultation while Ceylon remained a Crown Colony.

[16] Commonwealth states are represented diplomatically at each other’s capitals by High Commissioners (and not Ambassadors).

[17] Published by the Ceylon Daily News in 1945.