17. Mr. L'ESTRANGE MALONE
asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he is aware that a petition has been presented to the Governor of Hong Kong by British and Chinese subjects, praying that a declaration may be issued of personal freedom for all mui tsai on their reaching the age of 18 years; and whether, seeing that the Colonial Secretary in 1922 gave instructions to the Governor that the system of mui tsai was to be abolished within 12 months, he is prepared to advise the Governor against issuing a declaration which would retain in bondage the mui tsai until the age of 18 years?
§ 18. Miss WILKINSON
asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he is aware that, in spite of the pledge given to Parliament in 1922 by the then Colonial Secretary that mui tsai slavery in Hong Kong should be abolished in one year, the number of girls in this position has actually increased; and whether he will take action to remove this evil?
§ 20 and 21. Mr. CECIL WILSON
asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies (1) whether the mui tsai in Hong Kong have in the past received weekly wages; if so, what is the amount; whether any proposals have been made to the Governor on the matter; and, if so, what is their nature;
(2) whether, seeing that it is now more than six years since an undertaking was given to this House by the Colonial Secretary that the system known as mui tsai slavery in Hong Kong should be abolished within one year, his attention has been drawn to the fact that the system is still in full operation and that cruelty has increased; and what steps he proposes to take in the matter?
§ Mr. AMERY
In pursuance of the undertaking by the then Secretary of State for Colonies on the 21st of March, 1922, an Ordinance was passed in Hong Kong on the 15th February, 1923, which declared the complete personal freedom of all mui tsai, and their unrestricted right to leave their employers if they so desired, prohibited the taking into employment of any fresh mui tsai after the Ordinance came into effect and made provision for the proper treatment of existing mui 1382 tsai who might continue in the service of their employers. I have recently called for a report on the working of the Ordinance, and I propose to defer any statement on the various points of detail which have been raised until that report is received.
Is it not the fact that the number of these mui tsai has increased from 8,000 to over 10,000 in this period; are they not being sold for money and employed without wages; and is it not time to bring into force legislation to prevent this slavery in the British Empire?
§ Miss LAWRENCE
Has the right hon. Gentleman seen the very alarming statements in the public Press; and will he take steps to contradict those statements?
§ Mr. LOOKER
Is it not the fact that this practice has been prevalent and recognised in China for thousands of years; and that the constant changes of population between the adjoining provinces and Hong Kong results in a great number of these girls coming from Canton and elsewhere, and that the practice is very difficult to check; and is not the real remedy for the difficulty that action should be taken by the Chinese authorities?
Have not some of us been writing every year to the Colonial Office about this, and does the right hon. Gentleman's Department not know about it, since there has been as much discontent regarding it on this side of the House as on the other? Even if it has been going on in China for thousands of years, why should it be continued under British administration, if it is possible to stop it?
§ Mr. AMERY
I communicated with the Governor some time ago. I hope to receive his answer in the course of the next few weeks. With regard to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for South Eastern Essex (Mr. Looker), it is very probable that the large influx of Chinese families from the mainland may have included a considerable number of these girls, described as members of the families.
§ Mr. WILSON
Why has the very specific declaration made in the House in 1922 not been complied with? The then Colonial Secretary said:Both I and the Governor are determined to effect the abolition of the system at the earliest practicable date, and I have indicated to the Governor that I expect the change to be carried out within a year."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2lst March, 1922; col. 215, Volume 152.]Further, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Ordinance of that date provided for the Governor preparing and keeping a register; and has that been done?
§ Mr. AMERY
The promise given by the then Secretary of State was fulfilled, and I have no reason to believe that the authorities of Hong Kong are not carefully watching any case of ill-treatment or any case of a girl who wishes to leave the family with which she is living. Obviously, nothing could be more cruel than to drive these girls out of the families in which they are living when they are, perhaps, separated by many hundreds of miles from their original homes in China.
§ Miss WILKINSON
In reference to the right hon. Gentleman's statement that the Hong Kong authorities are carefully watching this matter, is he 1384 aware that it is not so much a question of ill-treatment as of the system under which these girls are detained?