§ 16. Sir BASIL PETO
asked the First Lord of the Admiralty whether he can furnish the House with any information in respect to the opinions and recommendations of the Piracy Committee which, under the Governor of Hong Kong, is studying the question of piratical outrages on British ships in Chinese waters?
§ The FIRST LORD of the ADMIRALTY (Mr. A. V. Alexander)
The answer is in the negative. This Committee is a Standing Committee set up to advise the responsible authorities on the subject.
§ 17. Mr. HANNON
asked the First Lord of the Admiralty whether he is aware of the anxiety which prevails in shipping circles, and especially in mercantile marine officers' organisations, following upon his decision to abolish the armed anti-piracy guards on British ships in China; if his decision in the present situation in Eastern waters is definite and final; and, if so, will His Majesty's Government undertake to indemnify owners, 399 officers and men for losses sustained as the result of inadequate protective measures against piracy?
§ 18. Sir B. PETO
asked the First Lord of the Admiralty whether, as yet, a reply has been returned to representations which have been made to him with regard to the proposal to withdraw, as from 1st April, the armed guards from His Majesty's Forces that have recently been supplied to British merchant vessels permanently trading on the China coast; and, if so, will he state the terms of the reply?
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
The Government have informed the companies that they are prepared to sanction a further extension of the provision of regular naval and military guards for a definitely limited period subject to the following provisions:
(1) That the shipping companies before 1st April agree to accept an elaboration of the present scheme under which Indian guards are made available by the Colonial police authorities for the internal protection of shipping.
(2) That any regular guards supplied after 31st March are paid for by the shipping companies in full.
(3) That the whole cost of the elaborated scheme, including that of maintaining guards when not actually employed on board ship, should be borne by the companies in proportion to their requirements.
A meeting was held with the shipping companies on 24th March at which explanations of the above decision were given, and I am still awaiting a reply from the companies.
§ Sir B. PETO
Does the right hon. Gentleman think, in view of the state of civil war that the Foreign Secretary states is imminent, or actually in force in China, it is reasonable to throw on shipping companies the whole cost of the defence of their ships, crews and officers and to withdraw facilities hitherto given in this respect by the Government?
§ Mr. ALEXANDER
The whole position has been explained to the companies. The question of civil war does not closely affect the question of piracy on board these ships. Piracy arises very often 400 from the conditions under which either the crews are enlisted or the passengers are admitted to the ships, and in all the circumstances we feel that the policy adumbrated last year by the late Government, giving notice to withdraw the guard, is sound, and we have gone as far as we can in extending the period for the supply of armed guards on payment.
§ Mr. HANNON
Will the right hon. Gentleman answer the part of my question dealing with indemnity to officers and men and shipowners whose property and lives may be endangered or lost in piratical operations in the China seas?
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this is a new principle that naval guards should be paid for? For example, in the fishing industry we do not have to pay for fishery cruisers.