HC Deb 10 March 1942 vol 378 cc930-3
Sir John Wardlaw-Milne by Private Notice

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he is yet in a position to make a statement regarding the treatment of military prisoners and civilians by the Japanese army at Hong Kong after the capitulation?

The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Eden)

Yes, Sir. Out of regard for the feelings of the many relations of the victims, His Majesty's Government have been unwilling to publish any accounts of Japanese atrocities at Hong Kong until these had been confirmed beyond any possibility of doubt. Unfortunately there is no longer room for doubt. His Majesty's Government are now in possession of statement by reliable eye-witnesses who succeeded in escaping from Hong Kong. Their testimony establishes the fact that the Japanese army at Hong Kong perpetrated against their helpless military prisoners and the civil population, without distinction of race or colour, the same kind of barbarities which aroused the horror of the civilised world at the time of the Nanking massacre of 1937.

It is known that 50 officers and men of the British Army were bound hand and foot and then bayoneted to death. It is known that 10 days after the capitulation wounded were still being collected from the hills and the Japanese were refusing permission to bury the dead. It is known that women, both Asiatic and European, were raped and murdered and that one entire Chinese district was declared a brothel, regardless of the status of the inhabitants. All the survivors of the garrison, including Indians, Chinese and Portuguese, have been herded into a camp consisting of wrecked huts without doors, windows, light or sanitation. By the end of January 150 cases of dysentery had occurred in the camp, but no drugs or medical facilities were supplied. The dead had to be buried in a corner of the camp. The Japanese guards are utterly callous, and the repeated requests of General Maltby, the General Officer Commanding, for an interview with the Japanese commander have been curtly refused. This presumably means that the Japanese high command have connived at the conduct of their forces. The Japanese Government stated at the end of February that the numbers of prisoners in Hong Kong were British 5,072, Canadian 1,689, Indian 5,829, others 357, total 10,947.

Most of the European residents, including some who are seriously ill, have been interned and, like the military prisoners, are being given only a little rice and water and occasional scraps of other food. There is some reason to believe that conditions have slightly improved recently, but the Japanese Government have refused their consent to the visit to Hong Kong of a representative of the Protecting Power and no permission has yet been granted for such a visit by the representative of the International Red Cross Committee. They have in fact announced that they require all foreign consuls to withdraw from all the territories they have invaded since the outbreak of war. It is clear that their treatment of prisoners and civilians will not bear independent investigation.

I have no information as to the conditions of our prisoners of war and civilians in Malaya. The only report available is a statement by the Japanese official news agency of 3rd March stating that 77,699 Chinese have been arrested and subjected to what is described as "a severe examination." It is not difficult to imagine what that entails.

It is most painful to have to make such a statement to the House. Two things will be clear from it, to the House, to the country and to the world. The Japanese claim that their forces are animated by a lofty code of chivalry, Bushido, is a nauseating hypocrisy. That is the first thing. The second is that the enemy must be utterly defeated. The House will agree with me that we can best express our sympathy with the victims of these appalling outrages by redoubling our efforts to ensure his utter and overwhelming defeat.

Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne

Arising out of this statement, terrible and horrible as it is, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he will do everything possible to make the facts public, so that the people of this country will really at last know what they are up against and put their backs into the war?

Mr. Eden

Naturally we had to be most careful about the facts before we made this statement. That is the only reason why it has not been made sooner. The Government felt that it would be wrong to make a statement unless they were absolutely convinced of the facts. That being so, in spite of the sufferings of the relatives, we felt it was our duty to make the truth known.

Sir Percy Harris

Will my right hon. Friend make it clear that not only the Emperor, but the Government and the whole Japanese people, are responsible for these atrocities, and not merely the army?

Mr. Eden

Yes, Sir, that is certainly so.

Mr. Lawson

Will special steps be taken by the B.B.C. to let the German and Italian people know how the New Order is working under their new Ally?

Mr. Eden

The widest possible publicity in all languages will be given to these tragic facts.

Captain Sir William Brass

Is Japan member of the League of Nations?

Mr. Eden

No, Sir, she is not.

Captain McEwen

My right hon. Friend said that the Japanese Government have asked for the withdrawal of all foreign consuls from places they have occupied. Does that include German and Italian consuls?

Mr. Eden

I should like to have notice of that.

Sir W. Davison

Has anything been heard of the assurance given by the general in command of the Japanese troops to whom Singapore was surrendered that decent treatment would be extended to those who surrendered and that the rules of Bushido would be carried out?

Mr. Eden

I have said that I have received no definite reports from Malaya, but the Government cannot regard the position as satisfactory until Japan allows the Protecting Power and the International Red Cross to function.

Mr. Bellenger

With reference to my right hon. Friend's answer that the whole of the Japanese nation is responsible, surely the general officer commanding the Japanese is personally responsible and should be held personally responsible by us? Will my right hon. Friend make it perfectly clear that we hold him personally responsible? Does this not show the futility of our capitulation of such a large body of prisoners?

Mr. Eden

Obviously the Japanese general officer commanding is primarily responsible, but the Government are also responsible for not allowing the Protecting Power to do its duty.

Mr. Granville

In view of the fact that General Bennett has arrived in Australia from Singapore, can my right hon. Friend give any information as to whether there is an adequate food supply for prisoners who are in Singapore?