HC Deb 22 February 1946 vol 419 cc1441-3
The Prime Minister (Mr. Attlee)

I promised the House yesterday to make a statement with regard to the occurrences in India. The following is a summary of the incidents as they occurred.

On Monday, 18th February, all ratings except chief petty officers and petty officers in h. M.I.S. Talwar, R.I.N. Signal School, Bombay, refused duty. The ratings demanded that a political leader be allowed to address them and shouted political slogans. On Tuesday, the trouble spread to the Royal Indian Navy Depot (Castle Barracks) Bombay, and to ships in Bombay harbour. Ratings in the streets became rowdy and civil police made arrests of ratings involved in acts of violence. The flag officer, Bombay, received 14 delegates from the mutineers and was presented with a list of demands, including the following: Speedy demobilisation according to age and service groups; disciplinary action against the commanding officer of H.M.I.S. Talwar for alleged improper treatment of ratings; best class of Indian food; Royal Navy scales of pay and family allowance; retention of kit on release; higher gratuity and Treasury pay on release; all demands to be decided in conjunction with a national leader whose name would be communicated.

H.M.I.S. Hooghly at Calcutta, with approximately 120 ratings, staged a "sit-down" mutiny. On Wednesday, 20th February, the situation in Bombay became more serious, 7,000 ratings having joined the mutiny. They attempted to force an entrance into the signal communication office and a number of windows were broken. On Thursday, 21st February, the mutineers were reported to be mainly contained in barracks. but some are in possession of several small ships which are covered by guns. The Governor reported last night that the city had remained calm so far, with little trouble except some natural alarm in areas close to the docks. The Congress Party officially disclaim participation in the mutiny, but Left Wing elements and Communists are trying to work up sympathy and it is anticipated there may be some disturbance before the situation is stabilised. Civilian casualties reported up to last night were 14 injured.

The Governor has maintained close touch with the Service chiefs. General Lockhart, the Commander of the Southern Army, is now General Officer Commanding in Chief, in charge of all the forces in Bombay. The Viceroy and his Council are in the closest touch with the Commander-in-Chief. The mutineers have been told that only unconditional surrender will be accepted. Ample forces are available in Bombay and in Karachi— where there has been some fighting between Royal Indian Navy ratings on one of His Majesty's Indian ships at the quay and the forces on shore. Ships of the Royal Navy, including a cruiser, are proceeding to the scene, and will very shortly arrive.

I know the House will feel deep regret that this should have occurred in the Royal Indian Navy, which did such magnificent service in the war. We earnestly hope that wiser counsels will prevail. Meanwhile order must be restored.

Mr. R. A. Butler

I hope the right hon. Gentleman will realise that we share the views that he has just expressed about the magnificent service of the Royal Indian Navy in the war. I hope the right hon. Gentleman also realises that he will have the support of all of us on this side of the House in backing the authorities on the spot in restoring order and in demanding unconditional surrender of the mutineers.

Mr. Callaghan

May I ask my right hon. Friend whether, after the unconditional surrender, there will be an early investigation into some of the complaints which the men have made, and for which, I suggest, there is considerable justification?

The Prime Minister

Of course, there will be an investigation into the whole of these incidents, but I have made inquiries and I have found that none of these claims had been put forward before these incidents arose.

Mr. Keenan

I would like to emphasise what has been said by the hon. Member for South Cardiff (Mr. Callaghan). I think a lot of this trouble might have been avoided. I hope the fullest investigation will be made and that some of the grievances, real or imaginary, will be thoroughly investigated, and as rapidly as possible

Major Niall Macpherson

Has the Prime Minister any statement to make with regard to the loss of European life?

The Prime Minister

I have no information beyond that which I have given to the House.