HC Deb 21 June 1950 vol 476 cc1295-308
Mr. Speaker

There are two statements to be made, by the Secretary of State for the Colonies and the Secretary of State for War. They both relate to Malaya. Perhaps it would be for the convenience of the House to hear them both and then to ask supplementaries. I must leave it to the House, but I make that suggestion.

The Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. James Griffiths)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I should like to inform hon. Members of the salient impressions which I bring back from my tour of Malaya and Singapore. I am indebted to all those responsible for the admirable way in which it was arranged. I was able to meet and talk with people from every section of the community, to see the situation for myself in many different parts of the country, and to discuss with the leaders, official and unofficial, their present and future problems.

The first object of the Secretary of State for War and myself was to see what more could be done towards ending the emergency. We discussed fully with General Briggs, and the civil and military authorities, the plan of operations on which General Briggs has now embarked. It would not be in the public interest for me to give details of this plan, which involves complete co-ordination between the Army, police and the civil administration. But we are convinced it is a realistic and effective plan and our confidence in General Briggs is shared throughout Malaya. I am not going to say how long the plan will take to succeed I must warn the House not to expect quick and spectacular results: the aim is steady and deliberate progress, consolidating the gains at every stage—and that, we are convinced, is the right way. Having seen the difficulties of terrain and communications for myself, I do not underestimate the task: on the other hand, I know it is a task that we can face squarely and confidently.

In saying that, I am encouraged by the undoubted fact that the vast majority of the people in Malaya, of every community, are opposed to the Communists. We have their good-will in this joint battle, to which they are making a great contribution. The terrorist movement has no roots in any legitimate national aspirations—I want to make that clear—and indeed the Malays themselves have sent thousands of men into the security forces to defend their towns and villages.

I do not ignore the fact that threats and intimidation make certain sections of the community fearful to withhold aid from the terrorists or to supply information to the authorities. It is vital in this campaign to cut the terrorists' channels of supply and communication and to improve our own sources of intelligence. That is very largely a problem of providing protection for the civilian population and of bringing scattered communities within the orbit of administration, by such measures as the settlement schemes which are now under way. It is one of the main objectives of the Briggs plan to create the conditions in which effective action to that end will become increasingly possible.

Manpower requirements for the police and civil administration have been reassessed in the light of the Briggs plan, and urgent steps are now being taken to recruit in the United Kingdom nearly 300 police officers within the next few months, as well as additional administrative officers.

I found in the administrations of Malaya and Singapore, as well as among the people everywhere, not only a determination to end the emergency as soon as possible, but also a keen appreciation of the need for developing the resources of the country, for improving the social services and standard of living, and for steady political and constitutional progress. Despite the emergency, plans for social and economic development are being laid which are imaginative and far-sighted. In particular, I welcome the schemes for meeting the vastly increased demands for education both in the Federation and in Singapore, and for the economic development of the rural areas of Malaya.

The Federation of Malaya put to me a request for further financial assistance towards the emergency, in order that those plans should not be hampered. On the understanding that it is the firm intention of the Government of the Federation to implement such a programme of social and economic development, and provided that Malaya herself will take appropriate measures, largely to that end, to increase her revenues to the limit of her own capacity—as I am sure she will—His Majesty's Government will certainly be prepared to give further assistance in this effort by the people of Malaya to destroy Communist banditry in their own country. The amount and form of that help are now under consideration.

In the political sphere, I found on every hand the warmest friendship towards Great Britain and a firm desire that the association between the peoples of Britain and Malaya should be maintained and strengthened. I found also, in the work of the Communities Liaison Committee on constitutional and political problems, in the trade unions, in the Police Force, and in every aspect of everyday life, a most encouraging spirit of co-operation between the various communities. It is for the peoples of Malaya, in their progress towards self-government within the Commonwealth, to build up for themselves a democracy which is firmly rooted in agreement and common loyalty among the communities: and there is good hope that the main lines of constitutional advance in the future will increasingly evolve from such agreement.

I should like to pay tribute to the planters and miners, and all those responsible for the remarkable economic recovery of Malaya since the war: and to acknowledge the great contribution they are making, despite difficulties and dangers, to the economic strength of the Commonwealth. As an old trade unionist, I was also greatly encouraged by the talks I had with trade union representatives in Malaya and Singapore. They reaffirmed to me their unqualified support of the Government in the campaign against the terrorists; and made plain their recognition of the responsible part which they had to play in the democratic development of their country.

I was concerned to find in some quarters that the clear and unequivocal meaning of the statement made by the Prime Minister to the House last March about Great Britain's intentions in Malaya had not been fully appreciated. I took every opportunity of assuring the people of Malaya that we should be at their side not only in winning the emergency but also in building the Malaya of the future.

In conclusion, I should like to express my gratitude for the kindness and hospitality with which I was received everywhere in Malaya and my admiration for all those who are so courageously and resolutely carrying on with their daily task and keeping the economic wheels of the country turning.

Mr. Speaker

Mr. Strachey.

Sir H. Williams

On a point of order. We have just listened to an eight-minute speech. We have all been very interested in what the right hon. Gentleman has had to say, and much of what he has said is debatable. Do not you think that it is rather undesirable that we should have these long speeches when there can be no subsequent Debate?

Mr. Speaker

We have debated Malaya several times. There was a Question down today asking for a statement. I really think that on an important matter like this the Minister should be entitled to make a statement. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] It may even be a long statement. In the House itself there are Supply Days and, if hon. Members wish, they can always debate the statement later.

Sir H. Williams

Are we entitled to debate in this House unless there is a Motion before us?

Mr. Speaker

There is no Motion before the House. We are hearing two statements. Mr. Strachey.

The Secretary of State for War (Mr. Strachey)

Mr. Speaker, with your permission and that of the House, I desire to make a statement on my recent visit to the troops in Malaya and Hong Kong.

The House may rest assured that His Majesty's Government are taking, and will take, the military measures necessary to the restoration of law and order in Malaya. Substantial reinforcements of land and air forces are arriving in Malaya. I wish to emphasise, however, that the problem is not exclusively a military one. General Briggs has put into operation a phased programme under which the efforts of the Army, the police and the civil administration are being carefully co-ordinated.

One of the main objects of this programme is to secure that, when the Army has restored law and order, adequate forces of the police and civil administration are available to ensure that there is no reversion to banditry. General Briggs has recently issued a statement warning public opinion that these operations must take a considerable time before they show their full fruits.

I am glad to be able to tell the House that I found that all units of the British Army in Malaya are showing a most determined spirit. The strain of conducting these most toilsome operations is not a light one, but it is being borne with admirable cheerfulness. I made a practice of asking each of the National Service men with whom I spoke whether he preferred to do his period of National Service in Great Britain or in Malaya. Out of several dozen, all except two replied that they preferred to serve in Malaya.

I have no doubt that Far Eastern Command is today a well-found force in respect of weapons, stores and equipment. Nevertheless, new needs for equipment and new suggestions for weapons are made from time to time in operations of this sort, and we at the War Office are doing our utmost to see that these needs and suggestions are quickly met. The health of the troops is excellent. The medical authorities assure me that, taking one thing with another, the sickness rate was below, rather than above, that of troops in the United Kingdom.

Finally, it is possible to speak with confidence of the result of the operations in Malaya for the following reason. In February, 1948, the Malayan Communist Party decided to undertake an armed uprising. This rising is in no sense a national movement for independence supported by the people of Malaya. On the contrary, over much of Malaya it has been possible for the authorities to arm the civil population on the largest scale without fear of the arms passing into the hands of the Communists. This is surely the acid test of where the sympathies of the majority of the population lie.

British troops serving in Malaya, their relatives and the nation as a whole may therefore rest assured that we are in no sense attempting to suppress a national movement of the Malayan people seeking independence. On the contrary, we are aiding the great majority of the people of Malaya in preventing a small but well-armed and well-organised minority from seizing power in their country.

Mr. Eden

I think the House as a whole will be glad to have these two statements, and would also wish to welcome the two right hon. Gentlemen back from journeys which were certainly not without personal, and perhaps also some political, risk. It is a little difficult to keep in order in this business, but may I ask the Secretary of State for the Colonies to accept that, so far as the financial aspect of the problem is concerned, we consider that a case could be made out for a measure of financial assistance to the authorities in Malaya, in view of the burden which they have to carry, and we shall, therefore, examine that proposition when it is made to us.

May I endorse the right hon. Gentleman's statement that it would be most unwise to expect any early results from the new measures that are being taken? However, it is an occasion which we ought to have in mind. May I also ask the right hon. Gentleman a question on one other point which has occurred to me—whether he would, from this House, send a message after his statement endorsing what he had to say about the planters, and also send a message of confidence in our commanders and troops in the very unwelcome task which they have to discharge?

I would ask the Secretary of State for War to accept that, when I asked the troops whether they liked Malaya, I did not get the same answer as he got, which is perhaps solely due to that inherent sense of discipline which is so strong in the British Army. Whether they like it or not, we all think they are doing their job extremely well, and we would wish to tell them so.

Mr. Walter Fletcher

May I put one question to the Secretary of State for the Colonies in connection with the very important resettlement of squatters scheme which he has mentioned? Is he making quite certain that that proportion which it has been found impossible to absorb into the country can, by means of the powers and ability of the Minister, be sent out of the country, because, otherwise, they will present a very difficult and expensive problem.

I wish to put to the Secretary of State for War two questions? First, to what extent is he satisfied that in every case the most appropriate equipment, particularly the question whether the American type of rifle might not be more appropriate in certain circumstances, owing to the speed with which it can be used, is available, and whether better canvas arrangements are available, because of the quick rotting qualities of canvas, particularly in that climate? Second, to what extent is the right hon. Gentleman coordinating the effort that has to be made against Communism with Indo-China, which proved conclusively during the war that it was the first line of defence of Malaya?

Mr. Griffiths

The resettlement of the squatter population is one of the most urgent problems, and it is also one of the most difficult. It is very difficult to resettle a large number of people in other territories of Malaya, but, in the process of resettlement, the point which the hon. Gentleman has made will certainly be borne in mind. Where there are people who it is thought may be unsafe to settle, urgent steps are being taken to see whether they can be detained or in some way moved out of Malaya.

Mr. Strachey

On the question of armaments, it is perfectly true, as I said in my statement, that suggestions for new arms are made from time to time, and that the suggestion for the American M.2 carbine has been made. I am glad to be able to tell the House that we have been able to arrange that a supply of the American M.2 carbine will go to Malaya in the very near future. I think however that the House would be making a mistake if it attached overwhelming importance to any particular new weapon. The American M.2 might very well prove a very useful weapon, but it is not a decisive element in the campaign.

On the question of canvas, as the hon. Gentleman said, the climate does rot canvas quickly, and it is important that, in the fixed bases, permanent barracks and married quarters of bricks and mortar should be got on with. In Singapore and Kuala Lumpur and in Malaya generally, I was pleased to see the progress that has been made in that respect. It compares favourably with Hong Kong, where, for understandable reasons, the progress is not so good.

May I say to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition that I did not ask the troops whether they liked Malaya. The specific question was to National Service men whether they would rather serve out their time in the United Kingdom on the barrack square here or in Malaya, and it is perfectly true that the great majority of them without hesitation said that, taking one thing with another, they would rather serve in Malaya.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

May I ask the Secretary of State for War if he can give an approximate estimate of the weekly cost of the military measures now being undertaken in Malaya? I do not ask him to give anything which cannot be disclosed for reasons of security, but is not the House entitled to know something of the cost of these military measures? I would also ask the Secretary of State for the Colonies if he visited any of the camps in which 10,000 people are confined; whether he interviewed any of the people; what are the conditions in which they are living, and if it is not possible to release some of these people?

Mr. Griffiths

No, I did not visit any of the camps. It is not possible to release any of them, but what we are now considering is whether it is possible to move some of them out of Malaya.

Mr. Gammans

I desire to ask the Colonial Secretary two questions? First, as a result of his visit to Malaya, is he convinced of the danger of allowing the new government in China to open consulates in Malaya, and, if so, would he be good enough to convey his views to his right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary? My second question is whether he is satisfied that we are getting co-operation from Siam in regard to the people coming from across the frontier and infiltration generally?

Mr. Griffiths

As regards the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question, perhaps he will address that to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. In regard to the second part, there is very good co-operation between us and the authorities in Siam on the frontier.

Mr. Harold Davies

May I ask my right hon. Friend the Colonial Secretary if any effort has been made to find homes for squatters who were peremptorily moved from their sites in Singapore, some of whom had been in Malaya for nearly 30 years? Secondly, while all hon. Members on both sides of the House deprecate terrorism of any kind, may I ask my right hon. Friend if he has made it clear that in no way do we wish to stem the legitimate efforts of Malaya to reach self-government and nationalism and secure freedom from contempt?

Mr. Griffiths

In reply to the first part of the question, I think we should be making a mistake in thinking of these squatters as enemies of the Malayan Government or of ourselves. I saw many of them, and they are very good people indeed. It was a pleasure to see some of the land they had got under cultivation in a very short time, and our endeavour is to resettle them in homes with new land which they can cultivate. We are hoping to proceed in that direction very quickly.

With regard to the second part of the question, I think I made it clear, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made it clear, that we want to help the Malayan people to defeat the bandits, but, equally, that we wish to help them in social development and towards self-government.

Commander Noble

Arising out of his earlier reply, will the Secretary of State say whether there are any items of equipment asked for by the authorities in Malaya which are still outstanding?

Mr. Strachey

From time to time, of course, requests and proposals come in from the Command for new items of equipment, and they are satisfied as soon as those items are available. I suppose that every week there is always some item outstanding, and there is at the present moment.

Mr. Fernyhough

Can my right hon. Friend say whether he is making any arrangement for those boys who express the desire to complete their service in this country to be brought back?

Mr. Strachey

Certainly not, Sir. Naturally, it is not for a Service man to choose the particular field in which he wishes to serve.

Squadron-Leader Burden

In view of the experience of the right hon. Gentleman when questioning National Service men, will the Minister say whether when questioning them he was disguised as a soldier or as the Secretary of State for War?

Mr. Rankin

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War said that the forces against us were small but well organised. Could he give the House any information as to the size of the forces against us? Could he estimate the smallness.

Mr. Strachey

It is impossible to give an exact figure, but it is a few thousand. However, that is not the extent of theopposition, because I think that when they are well organised that is a very important qualification. They are organised by the Malayan Communist Party, and that is a small minority of the entire Malayan population, but it is a fairly well organised network throughout the country.

Mr. Mott-Radclyffe

Arising out of the right hon. Gentleman's original reply about equipment, can he say whether the helicopters and the wireless sets of a certain type, long asked for, have yet arrived?

Mr. Strachey

Yes, Sir. Three helicopters have arrived, and I had a flight in one of them. It is an interesting development, and I think they may prove very useful in the jungle. It is an entirely new development, and they are undergoing development trials out there and have not yet been used to bring wounded men out of the jungle, but it is hoped to find an opportunity of doing that in the near future. I think they may cut down very considerably the time which it takes to get a wounded man to hospital for operation. We have real hopes regarding that.

As to the wireless sets, we are continually receiving proposals for new types. There are no fewer than three types being used there which each have their advantages and disadvantages. It is a very difficult thing to get the ideal wireless set for these very long jungle patrols where the set has to be carried on a man's back.

Sir H. Williams

Will the Secretary of State for the Colonies say whether he studied the article which appeared in the "Sunday Pictorial" while he was away indicating that the white population of Singapore were behaving very badly in the luxury living line instead of giving adequate support to those taking part in the military operation?

Mr. Griffiths

No, Sir, I have not seen the article.

Sir H. Williams

Will the right hon. Gentleman take the opportunity of seeing it?

Mr. Rhys Davies

Is it possible for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies to publicise the appeal made by Mr. Nehru the other day in Singapore to the people of Malaya that force is no remedy for them? Will he also take note of Mr. Nehru's second suggestion that, in due course, British power will have to leave Malaya and that we shall have to grant the Malayans their independence?

Mr. Griffiths

I read Mr. Nehru's statement with great interest, and I hope that what he said about violence being no remedy will reach the Communists.

Captain Duncan

Does the Secretary of State for the Colonies realise the important part which intelligence can play in this war, and, in connection with his appeal for recruits for the police, will he cover India as well where there are a large number of ex-Indian police officers of great experience in this sort of intelligence? In view of the previous question which I put to the Secretary of State for War on the subject of doctors, will the right hon. Gentleman say whether he is satisfied that there is now an adequate number of doctors in Malaya and Hong Kong?

Mr. Griffiths

With regard to the first part of the question, we are indeed very mindful of the fact that the building up of a good intelligence service is the key to success in Malaya, and we recently sent out an expert with Indian experience for that purpose. We shall certainly take advantage of those available when we recruit for the service.

Mr. Profumo

Can the Secretary of State for the Colonies say whether broadcasts from civilian stations are being harnessed to the strategic scheme, and what influence the Commander-in-Chief has in this connection?

Mr. Griffiths

Broadcasting is indeed one of the very important services, and I am taking steps to improve the efficiency of broadcasting and shall be providing assistance from this country to that end.

Mr. Harrison

Could my right hon. Friend give me an indication from where the rebels are receiving their main source of arms?

Mr. Griffiths

So far the view held by all the authorities is that there is no evidence that they are receiving arms from outside. It must be remembered that many arms were left lying about in Malaya at the end of the war.

Colonel Stoddart-Scott

Can the Secretary of State for War say whether the additional medical personnel has arrived, and whether he is satisfied that an adequate service is being provided?

Mr. Strachey

I naturally looked into this matter very carefully. I think that the supply of specialists in Malaya is completely satisfactory. I found no hospital or unit which felt they were short of specialists, although it is true to say that in some cases they are short of general practitioner establishment. For example, the base hospital at Singapore is short of general practitioners in the sense that they are below establishment. There are quite enough practitioners to cope with the work in hand now, and no man is suffering for lack of general practitioner attention. However, I should like to get the number up a bit towards establishment in case the present wonderful health record of the troops does not continue quite as well. That we are attempting to do. The hon. and gallant Gentleman will appreciate the difficulty of getting general practitioners at the moment, but we are sending more out.

Mr. W. Fletcher

On a point of order. I asked the Secretary of State for War a question about Indo-China which he did not answer. Would it be possible for him to say something about that?

Mr. Strachey

I did not have an opportunity of answering it. It is a very wide question, indeed, but it is known that our military authorities and the French military authorities are in touch in the Far East.

Mr. Keeling

Will the Secretary of State for the Colonies at any rate discuss with the Foreign Secretary the question of Chinese consulates in Malaya?

Mr. Griffiths

I have already said that that is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. Of course we discuss these problems together.

Mr. James Hudson

Am I to understand that when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies accepts Mr. Nehru's statement about violence being no remedy as something that should be considered by the Communists, he has made an attempt to bring home that point of view to his colleague the Secretary of State for War?

Mr. David Renton

Can the Secretary of State for War assure the House that the active service capacity of troops in Malaya is not being wasted by too great an insistence upon peace-time paper work and methods of administration, and that the active service alternative will, as far as possible, prevail?

Mr. Strachey

Yes, I think I can give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. I should like to say to my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson), that I, for one, accept the view—and I should have thought it was apparent in my right hon. Friend's statement—that we do not think the use of violence, unavoidable as it is today, is any remedy for this position, and that the final remedy must come by the social, economic and political development of Malaya.

Colonel Gomme-Duncan

Referring to the statement about medical arrangements, can the Secretary of State for War assure the House that medical units in this war area are actually on a mobilised footing, for equipment, establishment and accounting? Are they actually mobilised as medical units?

Mr. Strachey

I could not answer the question technically without notice, because there is no state of war in Malaya formally in the legal sense of the words, but the units, are, I think, thoroughly well found in equipment and thoroughly adequate to their task. One anxiety I felt was to get a rather larger number of general practitioners.