HC Deb 11 May 1931 vol 252 cc925-57

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £100,180, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1932, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Department of His Majesty's Secretary of State for the Colonies."—[Note.—£49,000 has been voted on account.]


I am most grateful to my friends on these benches who have the opportunity of selecting the subjects for Debate to-day for providing some time for the discussion of a matter of importance and of urgency which has several times been the subject of question and answer in the House, but which, I think, calls for more continuous treatment, and will give an opportunity to the Under-Secretary to make a statement. I am also very grateful to the Government for co-operating, as they have done, in enabling the Debate to take place. The matter to which I should like to call attention is the present condition of the problem which has been recognised for some time past to exist in connection with children in the British Colony of Hong Kong. I think they are called mui-tsai. I will not occupy time by discussing whether technically they should be described by one term or another. The fact is that there are thousands of little girls at Hong Kong who are in homes other than their own, and who are rendering service there under arrangements which they themselves have had nothing to do with making, and under conditions which certainly have sometimes led to the most deplorable circumstances of cruelty. I know it has been contended in some quarters that this system of mui-tsai should not be regarded as in any way analogous to slavery, and indeed some six weeks ago I read a statement by the Colonial Secretary in which he described it—I thought the description rather surprising—as the Chinese system of the adoption of young girls. The first matter I would ask the Minister to consider is whether really that description is justified, and in due course I will ask the Under-Secretary to deal with the point.

It is a system, undoubtedly, which has existed and does exist as an ancient and widespread Chinese custom, and everyone ought to recognise how very difficult it is for our Colonial authorities to get rid of it. Can it be fairly described as a system of adoption? I have made some inquiry and such study as I could, and I believe I am right when I say that those who have studied this subject with attention would be very surprised indeed at the description which Lord Passfield recently gave of it, as a Chinese system of adopting young girls. In the first place, adoption and domestic servitude are not synonymous terms. In the second place, genuine adoption in the East is a very well-known institution, but it is nearly always the adoption of boys for the purpose of perpetuating a family. There is a Cantonese pocket dictionary written in English. The author of it is an English member of the Civil Service in Hong Kong, and, if that dictionary is consulted, you will find that it has for the definition of mui-tsai "equivalent to a girl domestic slave." These mui-tsai, as I understand, are girls. They are not the subject of adoption. They are the object of purchase, and the excuse that these little girls are adopted daughters is sometimes put forward before a magistrate, but it is not an excuse which is accepted by anyone who knows the facts on the spot.

I have been looking through cuttings from Hong Kong newspapers and I find that an English magistrate who had one of these cases before him, and to whom the excuse was offered that the girl was an adopted daughter said—this is from the "South China Morning Post" of 29th July of last year—he always held that there was no such thing as an adopted daughter, and, if he were asked to decide otherwise, he would have to know some reason why a girl had been adopted, and also that she had been treated as a daughter. No one who does what I have done, and reads the two principal Hong Kong newspapers which are printed in English, and which constantly contain references to mui-tsai, can possibly be left in any doubt that the cases which have come to the courts are cases of little children who have been acquired, and treated, it may be, kindly, or it may be unkindly, but acquired as the cheapest of cheap labour. They are often little drudges, entirely at the mercy of those who have paid for them. I am not saying this from any powers of my own, but because I have been doing my best to master, and am in a position to reproduce, the facts as they are reported in Hong Kong. I have quoted one Hong Kong paper, and I will quote another. Just at the very moment when Lord Pass-field was making his statement that this mui-tsai system is merely a Chinese system of adopting children, it happened that the "Hong Kong Daily Press" was writing a leading article on the subject. I will read a passage: It is a curious thing that some English people who know a lot about Hong Kong should have sympathy with this form of slavery. There is no disguising the fact that a mui-tsai is a slave. She is transferred from her natural parents to another family on payment of money, and becomes the property of her purchaser, subject to the ordinary law of the land, and certain conventions about her marriage on reaching a certain age. Under British law the transaction is null and void. The girl so disposed of can return to her parents, and her parents can claim her any time they like. The purchaser acquires no rights whatever. That is the law, but law and social custom do not coincide. Many Chinese families have a mui-tsai, though at the present time it may often be declared that the girl in question is an adopted daughter…. The real as apart from the canting defence of the system is that you can get the services of a young girl (and absolute power over her person) at a dirt cheap rate. It is a good business proposition. We all know the arguments in favour of slavery and every civilised nation rejects them. I have quoted from what, I believe, are the two principal Hong Kong newspapers printed in English, and, in both cases, from quite a recent issue. In fact, I think I can show the Committee that these little girls are frequently the subject of a bill of sale, just as the negro slaves were subject to bills of sale in the 18th century in the West Indies and the Southern States of America. I have here both the original and the translation of such a bill of sale. Here is the Chinese original, and I have done my best to make sure that it is properly translated. I do not suppose that there are many Members in this Committee who could check it, but there it is. I am going to read to the Committee the translation of this document, and we will see whether it is as an adopted daughter or not. I have every name here, and, of course, they are available to the Committee if it is desired. This is a deed of sale entered into at the end of the year 1929 by the parents of a little girl whose name is given, and they say that they are the joint makers of this deed for the sale of our daughter. Being in need of funds, I have consulted with my wife to sell our young daughter …. the little girl's name is given— aged 9, born on the 13th day of 12th moon "— which, I am told, according to our reckoning, is the 21st January, 1921. If there is any Member now sitting in this Committee who has in his own family a child of that age or a grandchild, he will know why some people condemn such an adoption as this. She is sold through the intermediary of an agent, whose name is given—Ho Kwai Tse—to a woman, whose name is given, residing at a particular address in Hong Kong, and the document goes on: who agreed to have her and subsequently paid him the purchase price of 110 dollars Hong Kong currency, including remuneration to the middleman. Anybody who has ever studied the history of slave trading transactions in the century before last knows very well the part that the middleman played. This transaction, it goes on to say, was mutually agreed to and completed in the presence of the three parties. I ask hon. Members to observe who are the three parties, the sellers of the child, the purchaser, and the middleman. But the little girl is not a party to the transaction at all; and it was not for the purpose of settling debts or any other account. The girl was handed over to the purchaser, and the deed goes on: who shall have the right to change her name. In case of any misfortune, each party shall acquiesce in Heaven's decree. Should there be any mystery as to the origin of the girl or she may desert home with her mother, the intermediary is held responsible to search for the girl and restore her to the owner without fail. To avoid any the unreliability of a verbal promise, this deed is made as proof. It is then executed by the parties. That is not, to my knowledge, an isolated transaction. You will observe that it is quite modern in date, because it bears the date of 4th October, 1929. But in reading through the Hong Kong papers of the last year or two, I am in a position to inform the Committee of the sort of price that prevails when you deal with somebody for a little girl of this sort. Here is a case where the price was 141 dollars, another where it was 150 dollars, and another where it was 145 dollars, and a fourth where it was 120 dollars. There is a case in which there were three girls, one sold for 80 dollars, one for 130 dollars, and the third for 150 dollars, and the child parted with for 150 dollars was resold for 300 dollars. Everyone of those cases has happened, as I can show from those papers, within the last two or three years. I would ask the Committee to observe how serious this is if the excuse is to be that this is a mere form of adoption. The price is paid to the so-called seller. The girl gets nothing whatever. There is an intermediary or a middleman, who, apparently, is engaged in the transaction, because I have a second photograph which, translated, says the same thing. No consent from the girl is needed or given, and all these provisions about the rights to change her name and the selling of the poor thing, as you say when selling a horse, with all faults, quite plainly show that the excuse that it is nothing more than an Oriental system of adoption is a very poor excuse indeed.


Has it only happened during the last two or three years?


I am afraid that is not so. It has gone on for a long time. It has been known for a very long time that cases of this sort have been happening, and I wish to make it plain to the Com- mittee that the Colonial Office, not only in the past, but more particularly in the present, have made unquestionably strenuous efforts to improve the matter. The last purpose to which I wish this Debate to be put is merely to hold up officials, who are doing their best, to attack, but I do think that if the real facts were realised by Members in the House of Commons and members of the public in the country, we should do much to strengthen the hands of the authorities who, I am sure, would wish to deal with the matter effectively.

The hon. Gentleman opposite asked if these cases had only happened recently. Not at all. Hong Kong has been a British colony since 1841. It did not happen to be a British colony at the time Wilberforce was alive, but it has been a British colony since 1841. And let it be recognised by everybody how difficult it is when you are dealing with a British Crown Colony very close to China, with a population nine-tenths of which is Chinese, how very difficult it is to eradicate a system which, unquestionably, is based on a very ancient and deep-seated Chinese custom. A number of efforts have been made to do it. In 1923, there was passed an ordinance, a law in Hong Kong called the Female Domestic Servant Ordinance. It was supposed to prohibit any transfer of a mui-tsai to another person henceforth, and therefore it was hoped that in time the thing would die out as the children grew up and passed away from the service.

The Colonial Office has made considerable efforts at different times in the last eight or nine years to bring the system to an end, or, at any rate, to mitigate its worst results. I find it quite impossible—and this is the first point I wish to submit to the hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary—to accept the view which was put forward six weeks ago with authority, that we are dealing here with a mere system of adoption, or, indeed, that what has yet been accomplished is really adequate. Nearly every mail from Hong Kong brings me additional material, and only yesterday there reached my hands a paper from Hong Kong, the "Weekly Press," of 2nd April, which I have here, and which contains a report of a case before the magistrate in the central police court on the previous Tuesday. It is the case of the sale of a child for 63 dollars. The case had come to light because it was alleged she had been ill-treated by her mistress. All this shows that we really are faced with a system, no doubt very deep-seated and difficult to eradicate, which cannot possibly be excused by describing it as a system of adoption. In this particular case, the court fined the woman 150 dollars, or six weeks in default. The child was an unregistered mui-tsai, and the magistrate said the father did not deserve to have the child back, and should consider himself lucky that he was not charged with aiding and abetting. I cannot find in the report what was done with the child.


What is the value of the Hong Kong dollar?


It is about two shillings. I submit, therefore, that it is clearly established by the contents of the Hong Kong papers and these documents which record transactions of sales, that in spite of the efforts made—and I am very glad to acknowledge them—this horrible system still exists. An hon. Member has inquired how far it is novel. It is very far from being novel. A former Chief Justice in Hong Kong, a very distinguished man in the law, 50 years ago denounced the system as involving slavery. When the late Lord Kimberley was Colonial Secretary, he wrote a dispatch which, as far as I am able to trace, did not produce at that time, nor has it since, any very effective results. Public opinion, naturally enough, gets attracted by other things, and there has not been a Debate on this subject in the House of Commons until now for a very long time past. Ten years ago a very determined effort was made to arouse public opinion on this matter by the courageous action of a naval officer and his wife who were out there.

In 1922, when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) was Colonial Secretary, he wrote a despatch, which has been published in the White Paper, declaring he was not at all satisfied that it was possible to justify this system to Parliament, and giving instructions to the Governor there that he expected the system to be abolished within a year. That is why the Female Domestic Service Ordinance was passed, which appeared, on the face of it, to be a very effective document. It declared that no person should thereafter take into his employment any mui-tsai; no person should take into his service any girl, whether mui-tsai or not, under the age of 10 years, and that no transfer of existing mui-tsai from one employer to another was to be permitted.

The instances I have quoted will, I think, satisfy the Committee that most unhappily the situation, as left after 1923, did not clear up the trouble. It is greatly to the credit of those who are now in charge of the Colonial Office that they determined to take more vigorous action. The Ordinance of 1923 contained a third part which made it possible for regulations to be made for the registration of mui-tsai, for keeping the register up-to-date and for securing remuneration—for the little girls are not paid—and for inspection and control. That was the point at which the present Colonial Secretary and the Colonial Office took the matter up. The Colonial Secretary wrote a despatch in August, 1929, addressed to the Governor, in which he called attention to the failure of previous attempts to put an end to the system. I will read two short sentences from Lord Passfield: It now appears that after six years from the passing of the Ordinance, the most that can be said is that there is no reason to believe that the number of mui-tsai in the colony has increased. Later on he says: After making all allowances for the difficulties in bringing the system to an end, which are described at length in your despatches, it is my duty to inform you that public opinion in this country and in the House of Commons will not accept such a result with equanimity, and that I feel myself quite unable to defend a policy of laissez faire in this serious matter. I am sure we must all heartily support the view taken by the Colonial Secretary. He, therefore, directed that this third part of the Ordinance should be brought into force forthwith. It is particularly important—not as a matter of criticism or reproach, but of ascertaining the facts and, if we can, of strengthening the Government's hand—to ascertain how far Lord Passfield's directions have, in fact, been complied with. Let the Committee observe that this is a Crown Colony. It is a spot of earth for which we in this House, and Ministers on that bench are directly responsible. It is not a case, such as you may have in various parts of the world, where you hand over all responsibility to others. We are responsible. Lord Passfield went on to say in his despatch—and particular attention should be paid to these words— You should at once proceed to make Regulations under Section 12 of the Ordinance for the keeping of the Registers, for the remuneration of mui-tsai and for their inspection and control. It must be obvious that mere regulations without a systematic register, and without the homes of the people being to some extent supervised, are very likely to be a dead letter. The Colonial Secretary said further: It will be doubtless necessary for you to appoint additional officers in the Department of the Secretary for Chinese Affairs to carry out the work of registration and inspection. All that seems to me admirably said. The registration of the mui-tsai was accordingly ordered and, as far as I understand, it was to be completed in six months from the beginning of December, 1929, running to 1st May, 1930. For two-thirds of that six months, notwithstanding the regulations, very little seems to have been done, and I see from the first report made by the Governor that in that period down to the beginning of April last less than 300 registrations had taken place out of many thousands. It would certainly appear—and I think there are many indications of it in the White Paper—that at one time some, at any rate, of the officials concerned had no enthusiasm for the remedy proposed. There is one circumstance to which I must call the attention of the Committee. Not the present Governor but the former Governor, shortly after Lord Passfield had given instructions for registration, used this language in a public speech in Hong Kong: I do not myself believe that registration of mui-tsai will, to any great extent, improve their position. It is very unfortunate, at a time when the Colonial Office was directing that this should be done, that that should be the language used by a gentleman then holding the supreme position as representing the Government in that Colony. Of course, it is easy to understand that registration, by itself, would be of very little use if no serious efforts were made to make the registers complete, and if, notwithstanding Lord Passfield's direction, no effective provisions were made for inspection and control. I cannot see how a system of registration in such a place as that is likely to be effective if you merely proclaim it and prosecute someone who breaks the law, but otherwise leave it alone. I have had sent to me a letter, on Colonial Office paper from Downing Street, dated the 8th April of this year, little more than a month ago, in which it is officially stated: With reference to your letter on the subject of mui-tsai, I am directed by Lord Pass-field to inform you that no inspectors or additional police officers have been appointed by the Hong Kong Government with the special duty of seeing that local laws and Regulations on the subject of mui-tsai are carried out. I would ask the Under-Secretary—we desire to support the policy of the Colonial Office in making the law effective—whether that letter is accurate and that it is the case that, notwithstanding that Lord Passfield's own despatch declared that it would be necessary to appoint such officers specially for this purpose, there is no inspectorate. If so, it would appear to be in flat contradiction to the declared intention of the Colonial Office.

That leads me to the last point, and I apologise for having kept the Committee so long. What are the numbers involved? Here, again, I am much surprised to read some of the statements that have been made. It has been more than once said that the number of mui-tsai was something close upon 10,000. In a recent official publication it is suggested that that was a mere guess and that the number that have been registered, which is only 4,117, substantially represent all that there are. If 4,117 little children are subject to conditions of sale, it is quite enough, but those who make that statement do not seem to know where the 10,000 come from. It is not a guess. It is not the exaggeration of some enthusiastic private person. A question was put by the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Ken-worthy) to the Colonial Office in this House, in 1922, when the predecessor of the present Under-Secretary, Lord Irwin, held the position. The statement was then made that the number of mui-tsai was between 8,000 and 9,000. I believe that if the census of Hong Kong had been looked into it would be found that that is in accordance with the number in the census.

More than that, in a White Paper there is a despatch from the Governor enclosing another document and that other document shows that the chairman of the anti-mui-tsai society of Hong-Kong—a society which contains Chinese as well as British citizens, the chairman himself is Chinese—at the annual meeting of the society gave the estimate of 10,000 as about right in 1928. Notwithstanding, we have on the register only 4,017. Why? I would ask the Under-Secretary, if he would be good enough, to tell the Committee. Is there any real, solid reason for supposing that that is the full number, or is the real reason that you are here dealing with people many of whom are ignorant, many of whom cannot read? You are certainly concerning yourself with little children who are quite incapable of acting for themselves. Is it not extremely probable that there are very large numbers of mui-tsai who have not been registered? The Hong Kong papers are full of cases of brutal cruelty, where one finds that the child is not registered and therefore the mistress may be prosecuted. There are quite a number of cases of that sort.

I would urge upon the Colonial Office the great importance of supplementing their excellent decision for registration by a more effective and full inspectorate. I think I have shown that the object I have in view is not merely to blame or to reproach people. One can well understand how extremely difficult it must be to get rid of this system, but it is a system which is a scandal, and a scandal which no British subject can justify, however difficult it may be to deal with it.


Even a Liberal Government!


Any Government. I do not draw any difference between one and another. On a subject like this, on which we feel deeply, there is no question of party. Nothing would give me greater satisfaction, unstinted satisfaction, than to be able to stand up in this House at a later date and to acknowledge, as I would gladly do, that as a result of our discussion to-night some real further improvement had been effected. I must call attention to the fact that when the hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. Campbell) put a supplementary question to the Under-Secretary, basing himself on some information that he had received, the Under-Secretary—I realise that it was a supplementary question—said that he was content with what had been already done. I think it was one of those cases where a supplementary question was answered perhaps a little clumsily. I do not think that the Under-Secretary is content with what has been done. I am quite satisfied that he desires, as we all desire, to use public opinion in this country in support of a very necessary reform.

If the facts are what I have put to the Committee, and I would ask the Committee to observe that every one of them is based either on an official document or on the public newspapers of Hong Kong, it is impossible for the House of Commons to declare itself contented with what has been done. We earnestly desire to assure the Under-Secretary that if the Colonial Office, instead of taking up an attitude of complacency, will insist on more effective measures being taken, they will have the support of the whole House of Commons and widespread public opinion. Here we are dealing with a Crown Colony, and the House of Commons and the Government of the day have the real responsibility. I can well believe that devoted officers out there in the East, living year after year in the midst of these Oriental customs, which come down from a very ancient civilisation, sometimes despair of getting these practices altered. I do not reproach them or blame them, because they are not able to act unaided, but there is an instrument which we can bring to their aid, and that is the view of the House of Commons and the force of public opinion in this country.

The matter may be regarded in a much wider aspect than that. It is had enough to think that in a British Colony there should be some thousands of little children who are the subject of documents such as I have read, but please observe that we are not now living in an age in which this subject is a matter of merely national interest. The new international movement for promoting and securing anti-slavery is as much a movement in which Britain has taken the lead as was the movement in which Britain took the lead 120 or 130 years ago in the time of Wilberforce. It was British statesmen of all parties, the right hon. Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain), the present Foreign Secretary, Lord Cecil and others who took the lead at Geneva. What has happened? An Anti-Slavery Convention has been drawn up and signed by 30 or 40 States, and this autumn, in September, at Geneva it is hoped to be able to establish a permanent bureau in order to review and get control of what remains of slavery in the world.

We Britons have a perfect right to claim that in many respects we have shown a bold lead. Within the last few-years a former Colonial Secretary was instrumental in getitng rid of the remains of slavery in Sierra Leone, and a very distinguished Governor of the province of Burma swept away slavery in the recesses of that great country. We all have in mind the inquiry about Liberia, but if we want to take the first place, and our proper place, as the leaders of opinion we must be prepared to do what we can to stamp out anything which is in conflict with our convictions in places where we are responsible. I am not one who takes any pleasure in making adverse comments about the British administrator. His difficulties are far greater than we sitting here in comfort can realise. I am not seeking to reproach or blame the Colonial Office because it has not been able to secure a great reform at incredible speed, but this is an opportunity, which I greatly value, of asking the House of Commons, and as far as I can public opinion throughout the country, to bring the whole of its power and influence to support the Colonial Office in making a clean sweep of this abominable system.

The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for the COLONIES (Dr. Drummond Shiels)

In the first place I should like to say that I am much obliged to the right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) for his courtesy in suiting my convenience as to the time of raising this matter and for having given me notice of his main points. In view of the many inaccurate statements and misrepresentations which have been made about mui-tsai in Hong Kong, I am glad of an opportunity of dealing with the matter to-night. I agree that it is very important, and I hope to show that we have realised its importance and that my answer to the supplementary question was justified. Some of the statements that have been made have been very embarrassing to some hon. Members whose constituents have been alarmed at what they have been told. A serious injustice has been done to the Hong Kong Government and to the Home Government by the allegations, in speeches and in letters to the Press, that at the present time there is a system of child slavery in Hong Kong and that the Hong Kong Government and the Home Government are tolerant of the system and are taking no effective steps to deal with it. I was glad to hear the right hon. and learned Member say that he believed the Government were doing their best, but, obviously, the right hon. and learned Member is unaware of the actual position in Hong Kong, and of what the Government have done.

It is common ground, as the right hon. and learned Member has told us, that the employment of mui-tsai is an old-established and widespread custom in China and deeply rooted in Chinese family and economic life. Chinese public opinion expects their employers to see that they are married or suitably provided for when they are about 18 years of age, but as the custom meant that young female children were placed as domestic servants in the houses of employers who had paid money for them to their parents or guardians, it was obviously one which was repugnant to British ideas and steps were taken to abolish it in Hong Kong. In February, 1923, an Ordinance called the Female Domestic Service Ordinance was passed. The first part of that Ordinance declared that no rights of property in a female child could be conferred on a third person by payment to the parents or guardians of the child. This point must have been overlooked by those who justify their allegation of slavery in the belief that a right of property in such children is preserved in the statutes of Hong Kong.

The second part of this Ordinance, among other things, provided that no person should hereafter take into his emp- loyment any mui-tsai or transfer any existing mui-tsai from one employer to another. It is clear—and this is a point bearing on the question of the numbers—that the effect of these provisions would be a steady decrease in the numbers of mui-tsai.

These two parts of the Ordinance were put into operation in 1923, but, as the right hon. and learned Member truly says, they were not fully effective in dealing with the problem. That is quite true. Part 3 of the Ordinance, which is really the important part from the point of view of the abolition of the practice as it provides for the registration, inspection and control of mui-tsai, was not put into operation in view of the representations of the then Governor of Hong Kong as to the possible and probable opposition from the Chinese population to it. But when the Labour Government came in my Noble Friend, in August, 1929, directed the Governor of Hong Kong to bring this third part of the Ordinance into operation forthwith. The Governor was further directed to take special care to inform the population generally that this third part of the Ordinance was in force, and that it would not be allowed to be a dead-letter. My Noble Friend further instructed the Governor that Part 2 of the Ordinance should be amended so as to make certain that no mui-tsai should be brought into the Colony—and this again affects the question of present-day numbers. My Noble Friend also intimated that he was not prepared to acquiesce in a mere nominal enforcement of the law, and that any offence was to be made the subject of prosecution without regard to the position of the offender.

In November, 1929, and it will be noticed that this was just after the date of the bill of sale which the right hon. and learned Member mentioned, the Governor-in-Council made regulations under the Ordinance providing for the registration, remuneration and supervision of mui-tsai.


Was there any regulation about inspection?


I am not sure whether there was any specific paragraph in the regulations issued dealing with that matter, but I am coming to the question of inspection in a moment or two. Before going on to say how the law is working out and what has been done under it, I want to point out what it is very important to remember, and that is, the difficulties which the Hong Kong Government have to face in putting into force legislation of this kind. The right hon. Gentleman made some reference to that, but I do not think he quite stated the whole position. We must remember that Hong Kong is a small island off the South-east coast of China, 11 miles long and two to five miles broad. In addition, the British Colony of Hong Kong includes the city of Kowloon and leased territory on the mainland of China of about 345 square miles. The total civil population is about 1,150,000, all except about 30,000 of Chinese race. Of that population about 600,000 are concentrated in the island of Hong Kong, about 300,000 in the city of Kowloon, and over 100,000 live on junks and sampans in the harbour. The ferries running between the island and the mainland transport over 33,000,000 passengers every year, and the daily ebb and flow of population between Hong Kong and China is estimated at about 6,000 each way.

The mui-tsai custom is widespread in the Chinese provinces adjacent to Hong Kong, and the difficulties of bringing home to the large population, mainly illiterate and of a largely changing character, that the Hong Kong Government was determined to stamp out the mui-tsai system were formidable. Nevertheless, by putting all the machinery at the disposal of the Hong Kong Government into operation, and by enlisting the co-operation of the educated and leading members of the Chinese population, a highly creditable measure of success has been achieved. As the right hon. Gentleman said, there were six months from 1st December, 1929, in which all mui-tsai in Hong Kong had to be brought before the authorities and registered. It is true, as the right hon. Gentleman said, that in the first four months, despite the publication of full details in the vernacular Press, fewer than 300 were brought up for registration. Efforts were then redoubled, many thousands of circulars were distributed, the consequences of failure were pointed out, and by the end of the six months 4,183 had been registered; 116 were registered subsequently, bringing the total number registered up to 4,299.

In spite of what the right hon. Gentleman has said, I believe that there are good grounds for believing that registration was practically complete. I shall deal later with the allegation that a large number of mui-tsai have not been registered. The Governor was instructed to furnish a report every six months on the working of the Ordinance. The first report, covering the first period of six months since the completion of registration, is available in the Library of the House, and shows encouraging progress. As regards the slavery allegations, the right hon. Gentleman would not, I think, take the line that a mui-tsai in Hong Kong is now legally in the position of a slave.


I do not think that anyone would take up that position, but on the other hand I believe it would be very poor comfort to be told that because there is a law which makes it impossible that the person is a slave, therefore in fact and practice the position does not correspond to slavery. That is just about as plausible as saying that no one ever drinks intoxicants in America because there is prohibition in that country.

10.0 p.m.


That is so, but if the right hon. Gentleman had allowed me to continue he would have found that I quite understood that point, and that my observation was mainly preliminary to dealing with the point that he has just made. I say that no one could take up the attitude that a mui-tsai is, in the first place, legally in the position of a slave. The status of slavery is illegal in Hong Kong and the Female Domestic Service Ordinance, as I have pointed out, expressly enacts that no employer has any right of ownership or custody over the mui-tsai in his employ. The employer has no remedy if she leaves him, and cannot either get back the mui-tsai or recover any payment which he may have made to the parents or guardians. It is not true either to say that the status of a mui-tsai in Hong Kong is now analogous to or in practice indistinguishable from slavery. The status has been made clear by the Ordinance and regulations to which I have referred. They have been registered; their death, or disappearance or change of address or intended marriage, must be notified to the authorities. They must be paid wages, and it has been broadcast by means of proclamations and pamphlets that any mui-tsai who wishes to leave an employer is free to do so and may report to the Secretary for Chinese Affairs or the nearest police station if she has any difficulty. Mui-tsai, therefore, at present are neither actually nor virtually slaves, and it is inaccurate and unfair to speak of them as such. It is illegal to acquire new mui-tsai by payments to parents or guardians, or to introduce mui-tsai into the colony from abroad.

As regards the numbers of mui-tsai in Hong Kong, the only approximately reliable figures are the estimates made in the census of 1921, namely, 8,653, and the actual figures of registration in 1930, namely, 4,299. It is true that other estimates have been made, and that the chairman of the Anti-Mui-Tsai Society, as the right hon. Gentleman has said, made an estimate of 10,000 in 1928, but the Governor reported that that was merely a guess and was probably much too high. A number of Hong Kong critics, however, have never accepted this statement, and have constantly reiterated the figure of 10,000, have maintained that, as only 4,000 odd were registered, the balance must be still in Hong Kong unregistered, and that registration has therefore been a failure. There is no evidence of this at all. The anticipation that registration would be widely evaded has not been borne out by the facts, and the response of employers to the regulations has been most gratifying. The difference between the census estimate of 1921 and the actual figure of registrations in 1929 shows that the number of mui-tsai in Hong Kong declined by 50 per cent. in that period. That is a large decrease and one might have thought that the critics of the mui-tsai system in Hong Kong would have expressed appreciation of so substantial a reduction, but on the contrary they have merely made it a basis for new and unwarranted attacks and suggestions that the figures are inaccurate.

It is not surprising that the number of mui-tsai in Hong Kong should have declined by 50 per cent. in that period. Part 2 of the Ordinance came into operation in 1923, and as it prohibited any person taking into his employment any new mui-tsai, it must have caused a pro- gressive diminution in the number. Moreover, throughout the period 1921–29 considerable propaganda was carried on against the custom both in Hong Kong and in China and, as the right hon. Gentleman has reminded us, many progressive members of the Chinese community took part in that propaganda, and, undoubtedly, many persons must have been influenced by it to get rid of their mui-tsai. There is no doubt that when registration was enforced a number of employers returned mui-tsai to their relations, in some cases even against the will of the girls and their parents, and in other cases mui-tsai were transferred to the country homes of their employers in China. Such transference was not illegal, and could hardly in any case have been detected and prevented. There was no evidence that any of those girls were sold in China and, in any case, persons could not be prosecuted in Hong Kong for offences committed in China. The Governor's report on the first six months' period since registration shows a reduction in the number from natural causes of 182, which is equivalent to 8 per cent. per annum, and it is clear on that basis that a reduction in numbers of 50 per cent. in eight years is what might be expected. The numbers of mui-tsai in Hong Kong must now steadily diminish until finally they disappear altogether. That is the intention of what has been done by the Hong Kong Government under the direction of my Noble Friend.

As regards inspection and control—a point of which the right hon. Gentleman made a great deal—it must be remembered that legislation of this kind has some similarity to legislation for the protection of children in this country and there are several charitable societies in Hong Kong which receive financial support from the Government and employ inspectors, including lady inspectors. As the right hon. Gentleman seemed to be particularly interested in this question I hope he will be good enough to give me his attention. I was pointing out that we must remember that the practice in this country is very largely that of leaving it to charitable societies to call attention to cases of cruelty to children, and I was saying that there are several charitable societies in Hong Kong which receive financial support from the Government and employ inspectors, including Chinese lady inspectors. These societies bring cases of suspected abuse to the notice of the Government which then takes prompt steps to investigate. Also, the Department of the Secretary for Chinese Affairs, which is the responsible Department, has also been strengthened by the appointment of an additional European officer and a European police inspector is seconded to it for the special work of protecting women and girls.

All police stations report to the Secretariat for Chinese Affairs any cases concerning mui-tsai about which they receive complaints. The Secretary for Chinese Affairs immediately investigates all such reports and also all reports of a similar nature which he receives himself directly, using the European police inspector attached to his department who goes to the premises indicated and brings the parties concerned to see the Secretary for Chinese Affairs. In addition, it is proposed to appoint an inspector solely for mui-tsai inspection. The conditions of such appointment and the selection of a suitable officer are under consideration at present and I can assure the right hon. Gentleman and the Committee that if, in the course of the working out of these arrangements, further facilities for inspection are found to be necessary, they will not be withheld. I also wish to point out that the department dealing with this subject has been quite definitely strengthened in spite of the fact that practically every other department in the Hong Kong Government has suffered serious retrenchment.


Before the hon. Gentleman passes from the subject of inspection, will he tell me whether these inspectors employed by private organisations only inspect cases of reported or suspected abuses, or do they regularly inspect all registered mui-tsai?


They exist for the purpose of the prevention of cruelty to children and they do, I understand, make inspections. I have said that one of the inspectors is a Chinese lady inspector whose business it is to deal with these cases. I think that Members of the Committee will find that there is a considerable amount of inspection and very considerable opportunity for bringing to light any abuses that exist. Prosecutions for bringing unregistered mui-tsai into the colony are brought on every occasion when such cases are discovered. The law is applied with absolute strictness, even though hard cases occur, as when a newcomer calling voluntarily reports to the Secretary for Chinese Affairs that he has brought a mui-tsai into the colony as a member of his household. The number of prosecutions since the closing down of registration to 1st June, 1930, is 28, 13 of which were in connection with mui-tsai newly brought into the colony. The Governor assures us that apart from these cases there is no evidence of evasion of registration. The right hon. and learned Gentleman may be interested to know that we have just received word from the Governor on this subject telling us that he has personally paid a number of surprise visits to houses, taken at random, where registered mui-tsai live, and found all conditions entirely satisfactory.

Now as regards accommodation for mui-tsai who leave their employment, no difficulty has been experienced hitherto in finding all that is necessary. During the past 12 months the Salvation Army has opened a home for this purpose among others, and moreover the Government have contributed a large site on the outskirts of the city on which a new house will be erected by the Po Leung Kuk, a Chinese charitable society, which will be available for these mui-tsai. As regards the payment of wages to mui-tsai, special inquiries have recently been made on this point, and no case for prosecution has been disclosed. Investigations show that in nearly every case more than the minimum prescribed was paid.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman pointed out that there has been some question about the statue of mui-tsai, and I quite agree that some confusion has arisen in speaking of mui-tsai as adopted daughters. The right hon. and learned Gentleman was correct when he said that the status of the mui-tsai has no connection at all with that of an adopted daughter, which is quite distinct. That distinction is quite appreciated in Hong Kong, and the two classes are dealt with by different laws. As the law stands to-day, the onus is placed on the adopter of showing that the girl is a foster-daughter and not a mui-tsai, while the powers of the Secretary for Chinese Affaire with regard to the guardianship of such girls are clearly set out in a different Ordinance altogether, called the Women and Girls Protection Ordinance. The Governor reports that so far there has been nothing to show that the fiction of adoption is being used to evade the obligations imposed by the laws regarding mui-teai, and that there would appear to be at the moment no necessity to take action on that particular ground.

With regard to the bills of sale, to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman referred, I would point out that under the Hong Kong Ordinance of 1923 it is illegal for anyone to take a mui-tsai into his employment or to transfer a mui-tsai to another employer, and any person in Hong Kong who had under such a bill of sale purchased or transferred a mui-tsai in Hong Kong would be prosecuted and heavily punished on discovery. To make evasion still more difficult, in 1929 the Offences Against the Person Ordinance was amended, to make it clear that even entering into such a contract or taking part in any such transaction was in itself a criminal act. That further action covered a possible loophole, and now I think we can say that every loophole for possible evasion of the mui-teai regulations has been closed. Deeds of sale, of course, are still executed in China, and before 1929, before this part of the Ordinance was put into force, at the direction of my Noble Friend, it is true that children procured as a result of such transactions in China could be subsequently imported into Hong Kong. By prohibiting the importation of mui-tsai into Hong Kong by the amending Ordinance of 1929; this possibility of evasion has been stopped.

Persons cannot of course be prosecuted in Hong Kong for offences committed in China, but any attempt to bring into or claim in Hong Kong any rights over children by virtue of such bill of sale, will entail immediate prosecution. No doubt cases of cruelty to children occur in Hong Kong, as in this country, but they are the exception, and every effort is made to have offenders severely dealt with. The Hong Kong Secretary for Chinese affairs interviewed and spoke to 4,000 mui-tsai when they were brought up for registration, and he observed that they were well nourished and contented. We apparently still require a prevention of cruelty to children society in this country, and the recent remarks of an official of that society on the buying and selling of children in this country should prevent our taking a too self-complacent and scathing an attitude to defects elsewhere. I have here a newspaper cutting taken from the "News Chronicle" the other day, which gives a report of a baby having been bought in Winchester for 2s. and then used for begging. I am satisfied that the Hong Kong Government have taken all reasonable steps to carry out the policy of His Majesty's Government in the matter of mui-tsai, and the Chinese community in Hong Kong have complied to a most satisfactory degree with the Government regulations on the subject. It is true, as the right hon. Gentleman pointed out, that the late Governor of Hong Kong, at the time my Noble Friend gave his directions, did not approve of the instructions which we gave on the matter, but surely we are not to be blamed for that, but rather to be commended for not accepting his advice. [Interruption.] I am pointing out that if the Governor was against these instructions—


Recall him, get rid of him!


The new Governor, before going out to take up these duties in Hong Kong, was specially seen by my Noble Friend and myself. We went very carefully into this matter with him and made it very clear what the intention of His Majesty's Government was, and we impressed on him the importance of carrying out the regulations in all thoroughness. He has paid personal surprise visits to mui-tsai homes; he assures us that the regulations are working well, and I, for one, am prepared to believe him. Let us give the present Hong Kong Government encouragement and appreciation of their efforts instead of unsympathetic criticism. Unwarranted attacks have been made on that and the home Government by various persons, who are not in a position to verify the truth of the information which they derive from what are clearly unreliable sources. I suggest therefore that before any in- dividuals or societies accept the widespread assertions about slavery in Hong Kong at the present time, they should take steps to investigate the trustworthiness of their informants. The Labour Government is dead against slavery in all its forms. It has done in this matter of mui-tsai what other Governments failed to do. It has also taken a leading part in the drawing up at Geneva of the new Convention against Forced Labour, and has ratified that Convention for all territories under its control without taking advantage of any modification or restriction whatever. It goes further in this matter than probably, the right hon. Gentleman would be willing to go in that it is against economic slavery, and it is significant that it is the poverty of the parents which is the basis of the mui-tsai system. Even if we cannot have the support of the right hon. Gentleman to deal with the fundamental causes of poverty and their unfortunate consequences we shall hope to have his encouragement and his not unfriendly criticism in the difficulties which arise in the course of this task to which we have put our hand in Hong Kong.


I think my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) has done well to bring this matter before the House of Commons. As long as this House is definitely responsible for certain parts of the British Empire it is only right that we should be satisfied that the Government which is carried out under its auspices should be a Government of which we can approve and should not contain any features which we should regard as repugnant to our notions of what any Government under the Union Jack should be. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the fact that when I was Colonial Secretary it emerged, in the course of a trial at Sierra Leone, that a status of slavery whose existence was suspected by no one in this country, was suspected by no one in the Colonial Office, and, I think, was not suspected even in the Government of Sierra Leone, did, in fact, still exist, and we had to take immediate action to put an end to that position. The situation in Hong Kong, as he very rightly pointed out, was the opposite of that. It is a situation in which no status of slavery has existed ever since Hong Kong has been British territory, as was reaffirmed beyond any possibility of doubt in the Ordinance of 1923, but was concerned with ancient social customs immensely deep-rooted and immensely difficult to deal with. My right hon. Friend, in an interruption in the course of the speech of the Under-Secretary of State, referred to the parallel of Prohibition in the United States, in some ways a very true parallel. We can see there how difficult it is to enforce a law, even though it is supported by the strong moral conviction of a large number of people if it does not appeal to another large part of the community.

That kind of difficulty in Hong Kong was gravely accentuated by the geographical position of Hong Kong and the fact that there is a continual going to and fro by tens of thousands daily between Hong Kong and Canton, which is just up the river, and also by the peculiar circumstances of the years following 1923. They were years of unrest and disturbance all over China, and more particularly in Southern China, and during those years there was a continual and heavy exodus of Chinese refugees into Hong Kong. Under the conditions existing it was almost impossible to ascertain the exact status of the children who came in with those people. The difficulty of ascertaining who were and were not mui-tsai was, however, a small matter compared with the greater problem of knowing what to do with mui-tsai when you had traced them. A very large part came from the mainland of China, and, under the conditions of the time, it was impossible to ascertain where their parents were, if they were still alive, or in a position to keep their children and look after them if they were returned. Of course, the alternative of turning young girls into the streets of Hong Kong was unthinkable. In the circumstances of 1923, it was by no means an unreasonable thing for the Hong Kong Government to feel that the best thing it could do, while watching closely to prevent any ill-treatment or cruelty, was to see whether the mui-tsai population could not be brought to an end in a reasonably short time by preventing the creation of new mui-tsai.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) has emphasised the conditions under which the transfers are made under Chinese custom. Of course, while the transfers are habitually made at a tender age, the mui-tsai, according to Chinese custom, remain with their owners, if I may use that word, up to the age of 18 or 19, when, according to the Chinese custom, it is their duty to endeavour to secure a good marriage for them if they can do so. The mere mention of these facts, with a population of 9,000 mui-tsai, ranging from 18 to 19 years, indicates that half of them must have been of the age of 14 or over, and that every year there would be a considerable diminution, which I think has in fact occurred, and no doubt is desired by Europeans and Chinese who are just as anxious as we are for a speedy reform. It is for these reasons, and in view of the intense strength of Chinese feeling against interference in the affairs of their homes, a feeling which has in fact prevented us dealing with what I regard as a far worse evil, namely, child marriage in India, which made the Government of Hong Kong feel doubtful about putting into force Part III of the 1923 Ordinance. I should like to say that I know of no one who has been a Governor in any of our colonies in recent years who has had more sympathy, based upon profound knowledge and study and true affection for the people with whom he has had to deal, than Sir Cecil Clementi.

I am quite sure that it was no indifference to the welfare of these children and girls, and certainly no bureaucratic unwillingness to take action, but a genuine conviction as to the profound difficulties of the situation and a belief that the best results could be obtained by degrees and by enlisting Chinese opinion on the side of the Government—that that and nothing else was responsible for the counsels of delay in action which weighed with me while I was Colonial Secretary, and which to-day I think have been successfully overcome, but overcome in very large measure because one indispensable factor in the whole situation is gradually being built up. By that I mean the support of educated Chinese opinion. You have to-day what you certainly had not eight or nine years ago—a very large body of Chinese opinion, not only in Hong Kong, but in China, which is recognising that the system is a scandal and ought to be brought to an end, and which as supporting the Government in what they are doing in Hong Kong to-day. It is by appealing to that sentiment, by enlisting it on our side, that I believe that to-day we can feel that, however difficult the situation has been, however serious the obstacles, we have reached a stage where action can be progressively rapid and effective. I unreservedly congratulate the Government on what they have been able to do so far, and I would equally unreservedly join in expressing the hope that their action may be increasingly effective in the future.


I think the Committee owes a deep debt of gratitude to the right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) for his speech to-night on the subject of mui-tsai; but the feeling is, perhaps, mixed with one of profound disappointment that such a speech could have been made after 10 years' Debate almost every year on this subject in the House of Commons. The Under-Secretary began his speech with a reference to inaccurate statements and allegations. I think that every one who is interested in this subject will regret any inaccurate statements or any exaggerations; but the hon. Gentleman was replying to the right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley, and I do not think that the right hon. and learned Member made a single statement in his long speech which was not substantiated and thoroughly well documented. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I am glad to find that I have the approval of hon. Members in regretting that the opening speech of the Under-Secretary should have contained references to inaccurate statements when his speech was a reply to the right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley. The Under-Secretary proceeded to quote continuously from the Ordinance which was passed in 1923; but the very fact that that Ordinance has remained a dead letter, and that Lord Passfield himself two years ago said that it had remained a dead letter for six years, surely, to a certain extent, must rob some of the reply that we have received of its weight and value. Lord Passfield, writing in August, 1926, said: It appears that, after six years from the passing of the Ordinance, the most that can be said is that there is no reason to believe that the number of mui-tsai has increased. Lord Passfield himself was not content with the working of that Ordinance, and everyone knows that it was a dead letter. With regard to the question of inspectors, Lord Passfield says: It will be necessary for you to appoint inspectors, That is to say, that they should be officially appointed by the Government, not that the Government should rely on philanthropic bodies to do this important work. We are, however, assured by the words of the Under-Secretary that now an inspector will be officially appointed, but the fact that Lord Passfield in his letter two years ago gave instructions that the Governor himself should appoint an inspector shows that the inspection has been a dead letter. I think we are justified in asking for a categorical reply. Are mui-tsai sold to-day or not? Do they get wages for the work they are doing or not? The Under-Secretary spoke of the great difficulties. I do not think anyone would wish to make little of those difficulties. Yet he went on to say the employers were now putting no difficulties in their way. It seemed almost as if one statement contradicted the other.

I could not help smiling when we heard that the Governor himself went to inspect the mui-tsais' homes. It was almost as though the Lord Mayor went to inspect factories. I should not think much of a factory manager if he could not throw a little dust in the Lord Mayor's eyes. The fact that the Governor of Hong Kong went to inspect mui-tsais' homes made me think that the inspection was probably not very perfect. I have read the Governor's reports very carefully and what troubles me was that they were so extraordinarily complacent. They said the girls were fairly well treated, but that is not the point. We want to know whether they are virtually slaves or not. Slaves were often well treated. The letters of the Governor refer continually to the fact that they are not so ill treated as some people suppose and that many of them are well treated. I had not made up my mind to take part in this Debate, but it is the complacency of the report that troubles us. We do not deny that a great deal has been done, but we are immoveably persuaded that a great deal more could be done to put an end to this evil


The hon. Lady says what troubled her most was the complacency of the reports. What troubles me most is the complacency of the Under-Secretary. My right hon. Friend's speech was a perfect model of moderation, clarity and accuracy. I have been a long time in the House and I have never heard a better chance given by anyone who spoke on a subject of this kind to a Minister to give an answer of the kind that the majority of the Committee expected him to give. I never saw a more complete failure. I am sorry to speak as strongly as this, but I feel strongly. I had not the slightest intention of taking any part in the Debate when I came into the House, but those who listened to my right hon. Friend's speech, to whatever party they belonged, were moved by his recital of those terrible facts, all the more forcible because they concealed things which he did not mention. They must have felt in their hearts that, whatever may be the moral convictions of the Chinese, whatever may the difficulties of the Governor, whatever may be the feelings of those who know how difficult it is for Governors to act under exceptionally difficult conditions, the feeling of the Committee—I am sure I speak it—is that this thing must stop. Complacent statements by Under-Secretaries will not stop the rising tide of public opinion in this country which has been deeply moved, as I believe the Committee has been to-night, and is determined that mere official answers, such as we have received, will in no way prevent proper, definite, swift action.

What is happening in Hong Kong today? We know that there are thousands of these children living in conditions of slavery. I do not mind if the Under-Secretary gives dozens of official reports from Governors. The real answer is contained in those daily papers. I will read again what the "Hong Kong Daily Press" says. The date is 23rd March, 1931, not more than six weeks ago. It says: It is a curious thing that some English people who know a lot about Hong Kong should have sympathy with this form of slavery. There is no disguising the fact that the mui-tsai is a slave. She is transferred from her natural parents to another family on payment of money, and becomes the property of her purchaser, subject to the ordinary law of the land, and certain conventions about her marriage on reaching a certain age. Under British law the transaction is null and void. As the Under-Secretary of State knows, slavery in a Crown colony is null and void, and there is nothing legal about it. It is the effect that troubles the Committee: A girl so disposed of can return to her parents, and her parents can claim her any time they like, and so on. That is the law. I may have wearied the Committee by repeating the quotation, but it is the essence of the whole case. That is the law, but law and social custom do not coincide. From what is happening in Hong Kong to-day, there is slavery.


There is slavery here, and plenty of it.


It says further: The real as apart from the canting defence of the system is that you can get the services of a young girl (and absolute power over her person) at a dirt cheap rate. It is a good business proposition. That is the fact. We all know it to be the case. Another newspaper practically confirms that view in so many words. I was informed through the "Times" the other day that the Central Government of China made a very fine attempt to abolish the whole of the system in China itself. I know that it is nothing more than a gesture, but it is a very fine one, and shows what is happening in China. What is happening in China may be the first feeble step towards freedom for millions of those slaves, and it will be mutually assisted if the real voice of the Committee and of this House is heard in Hong Kong. I repeat that it is the determination of this Committee, right through the House of Commons, and, I believe, right through the country, that in this Crown colony, which is Britain abroad, the scandal of this form of slavery ought to be stopped.


What about the Black and Tans?


Shut up!


Like you.


I must ask the hon. Member for Kirkdale (Mr. Sandham) to curb his remarks.


We ought to be very grateful to the right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) for having raised this matter to-night, so that we may have an opportunity of discussing it fully, instead of only by way of question and answer. The facts which the right hon. Gentleman has given to the House, and which have not been contradicted in the main by the Under-Secretary, are very enlightening and very disturbing. Those of us who know China and the Chinese will realise that the Chinese, whether rightly or wrongly, are a very conservative race, and that the Governor who, it has been suggested, demurred to the instructions given to him, was doing so from his knowledge of the fact that such an edict was very difficult to bring into force in Chinese territory. He is, as we know, a man who knows the Chinese and the language of the Chinese, and I am sorry that the hon. Lady who made a speech earlier in the Debate rather laughed at the fact of a Governor taking the trouble to go and visit houses where such things take place. It is the custom of the Governor in any Colony or State to pay a visit and see things for himself. That is so with most Colonies and with most Governors. These Governors generally make a practice of learning the language of the country in which they reside, and so their visits are of great effect, and are looked upon sympathetically.


The point of the hon. Lady's speech was not against the Governor making inspections per se, but that they should be regarded as in some way sufficient inspections.


I am within the recollection of the Committee, and I am only suggesting that the hon. Lady was not correct in thinking that such a visit was not appreciated and was of no use, for though the Governor must have his official inspectors, he wants to know for himself exactly what is going on—the more especially as hon. Members like the right hon. Gentleman and others, including myself, have asked questions in the House. The Governor, having issued his instructions, wishes to see that they are properly carried out. I want to emphasise that this is not a political question at all, and the less we talk about politics in a matter of this sort the better. We want to give Hong Kong the united opinion not only of this Parliament, but of this country, and we want Hong Kong to know that we look upon mui-tsai as a scandal which has to be stopped. The Government have, according to the Under-Secretary, taken strong steps to see that their instructions are carried out by the Governor and the authorities in Hong Kong. I am perfectly sure our duty to-day is to strengthen the hands of the Government by saying, speaking for the country, that we intend to see this scandal, as we call it, wiped out, and the sooner the better. A Debate of this description will be passed on to Hong Kong, and they will see that there has not been one Member in this House who has taken exception to the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman, and they will realise that, while we have sympathy for the difficulties of the authorities in Hong Kong, we hold ourselves up as being a people who are against all forms of slavery.

Only this afternoon we had a Debate about another place where there is so-called slavery. It would not be right that while we condemn other parts of the world for slave labour, we should allow such a system to be carried on in one of our own Colonies. I have been very disturbed over the whole affair and have felt that the Government have not been strong enough in their action. The speech of the Under-Secretary had been prepared before he had heard the speech of my right hon. and learned Friend, otherwise it would doubtless have been couched in other terms. We must, however, realise that the Government are as much alive to the difficulty of the position and the necessity of effecting a cure, as any of us. If that is the case, and if the Under-Secretary tells us that the Colonial Secretary is determined that the instructions which he has issued will be carried out in every detail by the authorities in Hong Kong, we can look forward to the not far distant future when the system which we all deplore will come to an end. We are grateful to the right hon. Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) for the interest that he has taken in this matter and for arousing the in- terest of the House. Before the dinner hour the House was almost empty, and we now see it occupied by many hon. Members who are deeply interested in this subject. I sincerely hope that the Under-Secretary will assure us that all the instructions that have been given will be carried out.


One interesting fact that has been made clear in the Debate is that not a single statement made by the right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley has been challenged by the Under-Secretary. In the second place, the Under Secretary has not only accepted the statements of fact but he has condemned them. The unfortunate thing was the tone of his speech. There was an absence of regret. It was the more unfortunate because, although we in this House may be able to assess the exact value of his speech, to-morrow, when it is lead in other parts of the world, the effect will be far different. It would be well if the Under-Secretary would get up and say, in terms, that he condemns no less than anyone else the system of mui-tsai. It is very unfortunate that he should have reflected upon the motives of the right hon. Member for Spen Valley, because that is what he did.


I am surprised at the suggestion which has been made by the hon. Member. I took it as a matter of course that I certainly condemn the mui-tsai system. My Noble Friend has condemned it, and we are doing everything we possibly can to end it.

It being Eleven of the Clock, the CHAIRMAN left the Chair to make his Report to the House.

Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.

The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.

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