HC Deb 06 March 1922 vol 151 cc864-6

(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he has any further news as to the position at Hong Kong; whether the Government of Southern China, at present existing at Canton, is officially recognised by the Hong Kong Government, and, if so, whether their relations are friendly, and if it is not recognised, will he consider the advisability of its recognition; will he also say what naval ships are at Hong Kong, and will he state the present strength of the British garrison; and will he resist any recommendation that it should be reduced to half a battalion of British troops in view of the prevailing unrest in the surrounding districts, and the risk to valuable property and to the European population?


A further telegram was received from the Governor of Hong Kong yesterday afternoon. He reports that as the strike has spread to butchers, bakers, domestic servants and others he issued Proclamations on the 25th February prohibiting persons from leaving the Colony without passes (with the object of retaining necessary labour in the Colony) authorising compulsory labour for public purposes, and appropriation of goods and premises, and dealing with other matters necessary to maintain the life of the Colony. He says that matters are proceeding quite reasonably well, but that the strike, owing to intimidation, has become practically general. Domestic servants and also the staff of many firms and some Government servants, such as office messengers, have come out. The engineers guild, including practically all mechanics, are to come out to-day. The printers struck on Saturday. The Governor reports with regret that a large body of strikers came into collision with Indian troops, who fired four shots and killed three men, wounding several others. He adds that there is some hope that the strike will be settled in a day or two, but that statements in the Press to the effect that it has already been settled are premature. I should, however, remark that the Governor's telegram appears to have left Hong Kong at about 3 o'clock (local time) yesterday afternoon, whereas the Press telegrams in this morning's papers announcing a settlement of the shipping strike were apparently dispatched yesterday evening.

The recognition of the Government of Southern China is not a matter for the Government of Hong Kong. The naval force at Hong Kong includes three light cruisers, three sloops, 11 submarines and four river gunboats. The strength of the British garrison is one British battalion (loss one company), one Indian battalion, 700 artillery, of whom 200 are Europeans, and a few Engineers. I can assure my hon. Friend that any question of reducing the British troops to half a battalion would not be considered by His Majesty's Government without full regard to existing conditions in Hong Kong and the neighbourhood.

Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY

Can the right hon. Gentleman say if this policy of conscripting labour has the approval of His Majesty's Government?


I have not sufficient information about what is going on in Hong Kong to be able to give a definite answer at the present time. I should have thought that, judging from the hon. and gallant Member's views in other directions, the policy of conscription of labour would have excited his enthusiasm in Hong Kong as much as it does in Russia.


Did the House understand the right hon. Gentleman aright in saying that he was prohibiting the workers who wore on strike in Hong Kong from leaving that country, and is that in order that they may be forced to take work with the alternative of starvation?


I have only received the telegrams of which I have given a summary to the House. I have not been consulted in any of the measures which have been taken by the Governor to cope with the extraordinarily difficult situation which has arisen. I must await full reports from the Governor before making any statement.


In view of the very peaceable nature of the people, so far as I know them, would the right hon. Gentleman say that these intimidations are the result of Bolshevik propaganda?

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

If the right hon. Gentleman does not approve of this forced labour, will he send an apologist to Moscow?


If any apologist is to be sent to Moscow, I think that we might find a very suitable Ambassador.

Lieut.-Colonel J. WARD

Is the right hon. Gentleman going, as I think he ought, to leave it entirely in the hands of the local people to decide how best to maintain order in the Colony which they govern?


Naturally it is left to the man on the spot to deal with the emergency when it arises, but we do not in any way abrogate the deciding function of the Imperial Government.