HC Deb 16 November 1927 vol 210 cc1004-7

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he can inform the House of the present state of affairs in Hankow as regards the municipal administration of the ex-British concession under the Mixed Chinese and British Council set up by the Chen-O'Malley Agreement, particularly as regards the state of the finances of the area involved, the existence or otherwise of discipline in the police force, the carrying out of the necessary measures of sanitation, and the discharge of the obligations, whether for principal or interest, in respect of the debentures issued by the late British municipality?


A recent report from His Majesty's Consul-General at Hankow shows that, owing largely to the fact that the municipal administration had been forced to accept depreciated currency, its finances had been placed in a precarious situation. From the 3rd August last payment of rates and taxes has been placed on a silver basis, and it is hoped that this measure will help to restore the financial position, but it cannot be pretended that the financial administration of the area has been above reproach.

During the first few weeks of the new administration the efficiency and discipline of the police were unsatisfactory, but in May energetic efforts were made to effect an improvement, and recent official reports do not indicate that either the state of discipline of the police force or the sanitation of the area furnishes substantial ground for complaint. His Majesty's Consul-General has expressed doubts as to the trustworthiness of the police in the present crisis, but his fears have not so far been realised: the Chinese authorities have drafted special police to the district for its protection bringing the total strength of the force up to 300.

As was stated in my replies on the 6th of July last to my hon. Friend and to the hon. Member for Stourbridge (Mr. Wellock), the payment of debenture interest due on the 30th June was made in depreciated currency. On representations being made to Mr. Chen at the time, he accepted in principle the obligation to make payment in silver, and the Director undertook that, on the collection of rates and taxes on this basis, sufficient sums should be deposited in a British bank to ensure payment of debenture interest.


May I ask my right hon. Friend whether it is the case that the municipality of Hankow is practically in a state of bankruptcy; that the concessions are rapidly becoming derelict for want of a proper authority, and will he undertake to set up some effective form of administration in trust for all parties concerned before it is too late?


No. I certainly cannot give an undertaking of that kind in reply to a supplementary question. I have answered as to the state of Hankow according to my present information, which does not wholly bear out the description of my hon. Friend.

10. Mr. LOOKER

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in whom, under the provisions of the Chen-O'Malley Agreement relating to Hankow, the right to appoint and select the director of the municipal bureau is now vested and by whom such appointment has to be confirmed; in whom the right to appoint the executive secretary of the bureau is now vested, and whose direction and supervision such secretary is now subject to; in whom the right to appoint and control the chief of police is now vested; whether the office of director of the bureau is now filled or vacant; and if any existing authority is now recognised by His Majesty's Government as entitled to exercise the powers of selection and appointment, which the Agreement provides shall be exercised by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, and of confirmation, which the Agreement provides shall be exercised by the Nationalist Government?


Article 6 of the Regulations attached to the Hankow Agreement of the 19th February provides that the director shall be appointed by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and his appointment confirmed by the Nationalist Government; in view of the fact that the regime with which the Agreement was concluded has disappeared, it is at present, as was explained in my reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Sir J. Power) on the 8th November, uncertain what authority, if any, can be regarded as competent to exercise these functions. Articles 8 and 12 of the Regulations provide that the executive secretary shall be appointed by the Minister for Foreign Affairs on the nomination of the director and with the approval of the Council and shall be subject to the direction and control of the director; Articles 11 and 12 provide that the chief of police shall be appointed by the director subject to the approval of the Council, and shall be under the control of the director.

As was stated in the reply given to my hon. Friend to which I have already alluded, the director fled on the 26th September and, for the reasons already given, the appointment of a successor has not yet been recognised as in accordance with the Agreement. In the meantime, in accordance with the written request of the outgoing director, the Council is, as an emergency measure, acting as a committee for the exercise of the functions of the director, and on this basis controls and supervises the executive secretary and the chief of police. The question of the right of appointing these officers has not arisen in the present emergency, and I therefore think it undesirable to express any opinion on the subject.


May I ask whether it is not the case that the machinery created by the Hankow Agreement, which gave the Chinese a greater share in municipal affairs, has completely broken down; that there is no existing authority to appoint fresh members, with the result that there is no administration at all as contemplated by the Agreement, and what steps the right hon. Gentleman proposes to take in the circumstances?


I have answered, and I think very fully, my hon. Friend's question, and if he wants to put further questions I must ask him to be good enough to give me notice.

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