Malaya; Constitutional Working Committee papers. 33 parts, collected and annotated by Sir Theodore Adams, 1946.
Malaya; Constitutional Working Committee
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- ReferenceGB 102 MS 169519
- Dates of Creation1946
- Name of Creator
- Language of MaterialEnglish
- Physical Description33 parts
Scope and Content
Administrative / Biographical History
The occupation of Malaya by the Japanese during the Second World War gave the British government the opportunity, in 1945, to attempt the creation of a Malayan Union by merging the Malay States, Penang and Malacca into a single British colony. The plan was felt to be beneficial in solving both Malayan problems of rehabilitation and in furthering British colonial policy in the Pacific. It was envisaged that the Union would prepare the region for eventual self-government.
In mid-1943 a Malayan Planning Unit (MPU) was established under General Ralph Hone, supervised by the Colonial Office, to plan civil administration under the military government established in all re-occupied areas and for the future Union. A major problem faced by the MPU was the need to renegotiate the treaties with the Malay rulers in order to create the Union and give the British power to set up a constitution. It was also concerned to protect the interests of non-Malays within the peninsula.
In 1945 the MPU was moved to SEAC HQ and plans for the constitution of the Malayan Union and citizenship were drafted. Sir Harold MacMichael was chosen to prepare a mission to negotiate the new treaties with the Malay rulers and in particular to use the British government's advantage shortly after the liberation of Malay territories to achieve the required concessions. This policy was shaken by the unexpected surrender of the Japanese, which left the British without the advantage of military conquest.
Further problems beset the plan, as the Malayan Peoples Anti-Japanese Army emerged as a serious contender for power. The lack of communications and personnel hampered the British official presence. Malay politics slowly began to re-assert itself with the impact of the Malayan Communist Party and the Malay Nationalist Party. MacMichael headed out to Kuala Lumpur with H. T. Bourdillon and A. T. Newboult and by December 1945 all the rulers had signed treaties.
In January 1946 a White Paper on the Malayan Union was published. It was attacked for depriving the Sultans of their sovereignty; the Malays of their privileges and for the high-handed tactics previously employed by MacMichael. Although only one piece of legislation was required to repeal the previous settlements and bring about the Union, a number of MPs bitterly opposed the idea. Malay antipathy to the proposal had been underestimated and a number of groups came to the fore representing the Malay people, who felt that their rulers had betrayed them with the treaties. In March 1946, at the Pan-Malayan Malay Congress, it was proposed to set up the United Malays National Organisation in order to fight the Union.
The Union came into effect on 1 April 1946, although its inauguration was marred by the last minute withdrawal of the Sultans from the ceremony. Sir Edward Gent, the new Governor, was charged with the task of calming Malay fears but after one month in post was recommending concessions. Following advice from visiting MPs the Secretary of State finally concurred. This led to the question of whether the treaties should be renegotiated prior to the drafting of a new constitution, or whether they should remain as its foundation. It was finally agreed that they should be shelved and in the autumn of 1946 a number of constitutional proposals were agreed by the Constitutional Working Committee of Twelve.
The new proposals aimed at a compromise between safeguarding the special position of Malays and the sovereignty of the Sultans, whilst retaining a strong central government. The proposals were issued to all Malayan communities for consultation, but there were strong disagreements and groups such as the All Malaya Council for Joint Action chose to boycott the consultative process. In July 1947 the Revised Constitutional Proposals were published, the new Federal agreement was signed by the Sultans in January 1948, and the new constitution came into effect on 1 February 1948.
Conditions Governing Access
Accessioned in 1964.
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For permission to publish, please contact Archives & Special Collections, SOAS Library in the first instance