HC Deb 22 September 1948 vol 456 cc888-93
The Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Creech Jones)

I have to state that recent reports from the Acting High Commissioner in Malaya show some improvement in the situation as a result of the firm measures taken by the Government to check the operations of the Communists and bandits. There has been a rapid expansion of the police forces and of the arrangements for protecting life and property. As the House is aware, military reinforcements have been sent, and there has been no delay in sending out the men asked for. Jungle fighters have begun offensive operations. Arms ordered by the Civil authorities have been despatched to Malaya—often by air —within a fortnight from the receipt of the order in this country, and all orders have been fully met, with the exception of certain mobile wireless sets of a type unobtainable in this country, although a number have been obtained from Australia.

In this campaign of intimidation and violence, 186 civilians have been murdered, mainly Chinese who refused to help the terrorists, but including 14 Europeans. Our profound sympathy goes out to the relatives and friends of these innocent victims of the evil and lawless. Some 158 terrorists have been killed and over 200 captured. A large number of persons have been detained for screening under the Emergency Regulations. Quantities of arms have been captured, including a seizure by the Singapore police and the Netherlands East Indies authorities of a large cargo. The activities of the Communists and bandits have been restricted, and the measures taken by the police and military authorities appear to be destroying their offensive and disorganising their operations. But murders still occur, and I can assure the House that there will be no relaxation until this lawlessness has been stopped. The House will view with admiration the splendid fortitude of all peaceable people in Malaya in the face of this trouble.

I am in urgent consultation with the authorities in Malaya to see whether it will be possible to provide cover for losses and damage occasioned by the present disorders, the importance of which, from the point of view of maintaining production and exports in Malaya, I fully appreciate.

The Acting High Commissioner recently reported: Although progress is slow, it is steady. We cannot expect spectacular successes as bandits very rarely expose themselves in numbers. We are still liable to attacks on individual managers and estate buildings, but our defences are greatly improved, and I feel that we are getting on top. A number of matters have been raised in recent Debates, and I hope I can deal with these in the Adjournment Debate on Friday.

Mr. Oliver Stanley

I want only to ask the right hon. Gentleman one question, as I think it is the fact that we shall he permitted to raise this matter on the Adjournment on Friday?

Mr. Speaker

I have given the first hour and a half, at least, to Malaya. I have given two hours for the two subjects of Malaya and the Gold Coast, one and a half hours for Malaya, and half an hour for the Gold Coast.

Mr. Stanley

The only question, therefore, I want to ask is about the insurance cover. Are we to understand from the right hon. Gentleman's statement that the present position is that people are not covered out there by the ordinary policy? If that is the case, is it not very urgent that the Government should immediately substitute protection of their own?

Mr. Creech Jones

There is difficulty, of course, with insurance companies with regard to this matter, and I am at the moment in touch with the Government in Malaya in regard to it.

Mr. Thomas Reid

What proportion of the insurgents are Malays and what proportion are Chinese?

Mr. Creech Jones

They are almost entirely Chinese.

Mr. Gammans

Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that whatever insurance scheme may be brought in will have retrospective effect? Will he also say how he reconciles the statement he made in July, that all necessary arms and equipment asked for had been sent out, with the fact that equipment and extra troops are being sent out now?

Mr. Creech Jones

There is nothing inconsistent in my statement today with the statement I made in July. The statement I made in July confirmed the view that all that had been asked for at that time by the Malayan authorities had been supplied or was being transmitted.

Mr. Gammans

Will the right hon. Gentleman answer the first part of my question—about insurance?

Mr. Creech Jones

In regard to the insurance, the point in regard to retrospection is being considered now.

Mr. Rankin

In view of the fact that there will be a great many people arrested merely on suspicion, will my right hon. Friend assure the House that they will not be detained unduly long, and that where the suspicion is unfounded they will be released immediately?

Mr. Creech Jones

I can give that assurance. A very considerable number of those already detained have been released.

Mr. Pickthorn

When the right hon. Gentleman refers to the insurance companies' difficulty about what they are liable for at this moment, can he shortly explain to the House what that difficulty is, as otherwise there is a risk that blame may be attached to those who are not in any way to blame? Would be kindly explain what is the difficulty here, because it is not publicly plain, I think?

Mr. Creech Jones

The difficulty of the insurance companies refers to the cover provided for in the policy. It is on that point.

Mr. Pickthorn

Whether this is an insurrection or not?

Mr. Ronald Chamberlain

I think that in his statement my right hon. Friend said troops had been despatched within two weeks of the receipt in this country or the order. That is not very clear. When did the order come?

Mr. Creech Jones

I did not say troops had been despatched. I said arms, weapons and supplies asked for had been despatched within a fortnight of the receipt of the order in this country.

General Sir George Jeffreys

Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether the Commander-in-Chief is now satisfied that he has all the forces that he requires? He will remember that when the High Commissioner broadcast just before the last Debate it was stated that the Commander-in-Chief, with certain exceptions, was satisfied with the forces at his disposal. Are there any exceptions still?

Mr. Creech Jones

The requests so far made have been met. It is impossible at this moment to say what further requirements will be asked for?

Mr. Warbey

Can my right hon. Friend say anything about the reported burnings of squatters' huts by Government forces, with consequent suffering for women and children? What is the advantage gained from the use of these measures, which are so contrary to British conceptions of justice?

Mr. Creech Jones

The authorities in Malaya have taken merely preventive measures. Where they have had justifiable suspicion they have tried to clear up the source of the trouble.

Air-Commodore Harvey

Will the right hon. Gentleman say to what extent the illegal traffic of arms to Malaya is taking place, and what is being done to prevent it?

Mr. Creech Jones

The authorities, of course, have been watching this problem and trying to control it for a very long time. The recent seizures are evidence of the efforts they are making, and of the success which is attending their efforts.

Mr. Harold Davies

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the French expected Viet Nam to finish in a few weeks? It has already lasted 15 months. Is he aware that none of these disturbances took place in Malaya until after 13th June in Singapore and 28th June in the Federation, which was after the emergency powers were declared? In view of that fact, is there any possibility of top level negotiations on all sides at the present moment? [An HON. MEMBER: "Who with? Stalin?" I Otherwise, this will be a major war.

Mr. Creech Jones

There is no room for negotiations in this matter at all. This trouble must be rooted out, and all the resources at our disposal to root it out will be employed.

Lieut.-Colonel Sir Walter Smiles

Can the right hon. Gentleman state if the planters who were without weapons now have been issued with them, or on what date he expects that revolvers will be issued to those planters living in lonely places?

Mr. Creech Jones

There has been wide distribution of weapons, but I am not in possession of all the details at the moment. I will communicate with the hon. and gallant Gentleman.

Mr. Sydney Silverman

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the insurance companies have repudiated liability on the grounds that their policies do not cover a state of insurrection, and does he agree that the statement made, I think, by the Acting High Commissioner, that the state of affairs now prevailing in Malaya is one of insurrection?

Mr. Creech Jones

That is a difficult question for me to answer, because it is a matter of legal interpretation, and on this matter there is a difference of views between competent legal advisers.

Mr. Keeling

The right hon. Gentleman has praised the conduct of the inhabitants of Malaya. Can he say anything about the conduct of the British and Gurkha troops, and police and the Royal Air Force?

Mr. Creech Jones

I can only say that all those employed in the service of the Government have behaved with great valour, great courage and decision in coping with the difficulties which have arisen.

Mr. Gallacher

In view of the nature of the statement read out, is it not the case that the fundamental issue is the right of the Malayans to independence and the right to nationalise the tin and rubber industries?

Sir Peter Macdonald

If the Malayan Government now have powers to deport people whom they have found to be illegally in Malaya, have they powers to keep under control all organisations which have not got licence to operate?

Mr. Creech Jones

All such powers are in the possession of the Government under the Emergency Powers Regulations and the general legislation of the country.