HC Deb 20 January 1942 vol 377 cc198-9
27. Captain Gammans

asked the Secretary of State for War why the policy of "scorched earth" was not adopted when Penang was evacuated; and why, in particular, the radio station, the smelting works at Butterworth, the stocks of tin, petrol and rubber and the barges were not destroyed?

28. Mr. John Dugdale

asked the Secretary of State for War to what extent were the stores of raw materials, including tin, rubber and oil, left undestroyed when British troops evacuated Penang?

89. Captain Plugge

asked the Secretary of State for War why, when the British Forces withdrew from Penang, they left a number of vessels in the harbour in a seaworthy condition, which the Japanese were subsequently able to use for landings on the West coast of Malaya; and why such vessels were not destroyed?

Sir E. Grigg

The "scorched earth" policy was carried out in Penang to the maximum extent that was possible under the circumstances. The garrison was small, and worked under great difficulties; the time available was short; considerable disorganisation had been caused by heavy air attacks; and the necessity for concealing the evacuation made the task of demolition more difficult. As regards the particular points raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hornsey (Captain Gammans), the smelting plant at Butterworth was put out of action and orders given for the destruction of the wireless station. Every effort was made to destroy as much as possible of the stocks of raw materials, and all shipping was removed except for a number of very small craft for which no crews were available. I am satisfied that the local military commander carried out a most difficult task, with the few men available, to the utmost of his ability.

Mr. Leslie Boyce

Were those orders actually carried out?

Sir E. Grigg

To the best of my knowledge, they were.

Sir Percy Harris

Could the hon. Gentleman explain why so few men were available at such a vital spot at a critical period of the war?

Sir E. Grigg

That is part of a very much larger question, and I do not think it could be suitably discussed by Question and Answer across the Floor of the House.

Mr. Bellenger

Were any plans for demolition drawn up by the military authorities prior to the outbreak of the war?

Sir E. Grigg

I must have notice of that Question.

Mr. Shinwell

Was any attempt made by the military authorities to secure the co-operation of the civil authorities, and, if so, to what extent?

Sir E. Grigg

Yes, Sir. Great difficulties were experienced in that.