HC Deb 25 June 1934 vol 291 cc780-1
43. Lieut. - Commander TUFNELL

asked the First Lord of the Admiralty whether British shipping firms can still obtain the services of armed guards to protect their vessels in Far Eastern waters against pirates; whether the services of such guards have to be paid for; and whether the Government will consider reverting to the original system under which these guards were automatically supplied to vessels without charge?


asked the First Lord of the Admiralty whether his attention has been called to the recent case of piracy on board the British steamer "Shuntien" on the China coast; and whether the Government are now prepared to place armed guards on British passenger vessels engaged in the China coastal trade?

The FIRST LORD of the ADMIRALTY (Sir Bolton Eyres Monsell)

The case of the "Shuntien" was what is commonly known as one of internal piracy, in which pirates disguised as passengers attack the crew during the voyage. To meet such cases, an armed force under the control of the Hong Kong police is maintained at Hong Kong at the cost of the shipping companies and is available for supplying armed guards to merchant ships as necessary. This arrangement, coupled with the adoption of a system of grilles on board, has been in operation since 1930 and has worked satisfactorily. Hitherto, it has been confined to ships trading to southern Chinese waters and has not as yet been extended to ships trading to Northern China, since they have not up to now been subject to this form of attack, but I see no reason why this or some similar arrangement should not be adopted in their case also. Before 1930, as a temporary arrangement pending the introduction of police guards, naval or military guards were supplied. The re-introduction of such guards as a regular arrangement is not considered to be necessary, but the local naval and military authorities are fully alive to the possibility that the provision of such guards may be necessary in special emergencies, and I understand that a military guard has in fact been supplied to a passenger steamer which left Shanghai for northern ports on the 19th June.


In view of the depressed state of our shipping, and the very low profits, if any, which are available, will not the First Lord consider reverting to the practice which was followed prior to 1930, and let British ships which are subject to piracy in Eastern waters have the advantage of an armed guard, without the cost of it having to be met by the shipowners?


If we have automaticaly to supply naval or military guards to these ships it would impose a great strain on our personnel in that area. We only introduced that protection pending the setting up of the police guard. I am quite willing to meet every case that it is in my power to meet, but I cannot promise the hon. Baronet that we can automatically supply armed guards from the naval or military forces.


Does not the service rendered by His Majesty's Ship "Eagle" show the immense value of aerial bombing for police purposes?


It was a very fine example of co-operation between the sea and the air.


Will the right hon. Gentleman consider appointing the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) to organise a crew of passengers disguised as pirates?