HC Deb 10 July 1967 vol 750 cc93-7

Lord Balniel (by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement about the border incidents in Hong Kong on Saturday and Sunday, 8th and 9th July.

The Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Herbert W. Bowden)

The incident began when several hundred demonstrators crossed the frontier at Sha Tau Kok at about 11.00 hours on Saturday, 8th July, and attacked the police post there. The demonstrators included members of the People's Militia, a fact which has since been confirmed by the Communist Press in Hong Kong.

The police used teargas and riot guns firing wooden projectiles to disperse the crowd. They then came under fire from several points, including automatic fire from Chinese territory. Five police were killed and 11 wounded. Troops were brought in later to relieve the post and completed this operation successfully without opening fire.

Her Majesty's Chargé d'Affaires in Peking has strongly protested to the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs about this incident, and has made it clear that the Hong Kong authorities, with the full support of Her Majesty's Government, will take all necessary measures to maintain peace and security of Hong Kong.

Lord Balniel

We from these benches would like to express our sympathy with the relatives of those who have been killed in the course of duty in maintaining law and order. Would the right hon. Gentleman agree that this incident really has added a new dimension of gravity to an already exceedingly difficult situation? Would it not be a considerable reassurance to the people of Hong Kong if he could clearly state that it is the Government's intention to maintain the status quo and the integrity of the New Territories?

I should like to ask the Secretary of State a further question on an aspect which he did not mention. Can he say something about water supplies? In view of the fact that supplies to the Hong Kong Colony have been cut off, can we have an assurance that alternative supplies will be made available by the Government?

Mr. Bowden

I am grateful to the hon. Member for his kind words of sympathy for the relatives and friends of people who died in Hong Kong.

The position is a slightly changed one, as he rightly says, in that, for the first time, demonstrators from over the border have been supported by Chinese militia— if not, in fact, the Chinese Army—and one machine gun was used. The Hong Kong police were for a short while forced to stay within their barracks, where they were fired on, but with the arrival of the battalion, which had no need to fire a shot at all, the position was quietened. The dead and wounded were removed.

Continued representations are being made to the Chinese Government for the water to be turned on. As the noble Lord may be aware, this is a notice that has to be given in a certain period of time—I think, four weeks. Adequate notice has been given, but the water has not yet been turned on.

Mr. Rankin

Is my right hon. Friend aware that it would help towards the peace and security which all of us want to see in Hong Kong if he were to instruct the Hong Kong Government now to proceed more speedily with the granting of the new increased wage rates that have been promised to the underpaid textile workers in Hong Kong?

Mr. Bowden

I think that my hon. Friend should not mix two things here—

Mr. Rankin

I am not mixing two things.

Mr. Bowden

One is the genuine desire on the part of workers in Hong Kong, particularly the women and children, to work fewer hours. The Minister of State has already made a statement about this in the House, and Her Majesty's Governor is working on new legislation in this direction. I would not like my hon. Friend or anyone else to assume that these incidents are all based on bad labour relations. They are not. This is Communist activity, either instigated or supported by China, but certainly of a very much bigger nature than is likely to arise from labour disturbances.

Mr. Dodds-Parker

Will the Commonwealth Secretary answer the question put straight to him by my noble Friend the Member for Hertford (Lord Balniel), and give a categorical assurance that we will maintain the status quo in Hong Kong, and ensure the people there a supply of water and food—not only those born there, but those who have sought refuge there?

Mr. Bowden

The food position is very much better. The water position is not good, but we are dealing with it at the present time. I myself had a meeting this morning about it, and the possibilities are that we can meet the emergency water situation until the rains come, which will considerably relieve it. It is then anticipated that we will get the water turned on from the mainland.

We have said on a number of occasions in recent weeks from this Dispatch Box that the Hong Kong Government have our full and complete support in the measures they are taking to maintain public order and their authority there. We are convinced that we must fulfil our full responsibilities and obligations in Hong Kong.

Mr. Dalyell

Are the Government reasonably convinced that there is a direct connection between Peking and the People's Militia?

Mr. Bowden

It is one of the difficulties that one is not able to be absolutely sure about it. I do not want to exacerbate the position. The fact is that on this occasion, while not actually engaged in activities, there was evidence of the Chinese Army in the background which would lead one to believe that if the incident was not instigated from the other side of the border those on the other side were certainly in support of it.

Mr. Fletcher-Cooke

Will the right hon. Gentleman answer directly the question put to him by my noble Friend the Member for Hereford (Lord Balniel)? Will he give a firm assurance that we intend to stay for the full length of our lease, and preserve our status quo there?

Mr. Bowden

I do not think that a reply to a question of that sort at this stage would be at all helpful. We have made it clear on a number of occasions that we will accept our full responsibilities in Hong Kong. We want the Colony to settle down, to live in peace, to get on with its normal trading, and to see an end to these incidents. I do not want to say anything that would make the situation more difficult, because everyone in the House realises that, if there is difficulty of the kind we have seen this weekend in any great measure from the other side of the border, it could be very serious indeed.

Mr. James Davidson

Has the Secretary of State received, or does he expect to receive, a reply to the Government's note to the Communist Chinese Government in Peking?

Mr. Bowden

No, we have not had a reply as yet. We are, however, in touch with our Chargé d'Affaires in Peking and expect within a matter of a day or two, although this is a matter for the Foreign Office rather than for me, to have a reply. But, of course, I cannot anticipate that.

Mr. Paget

To what extent does my right hon. Friend feel that this is action on behalf of the Chinese Government in giving notice to us that they intend to take over Hong Kong? If that is so, how far is it affected by the use of Hong Kong by the Americans, particularly for maintenance purposes and for what, I believe, is their largest consular staff in the world?

Mr. Bowden

I have already said that there is no real evidence that these incidents are instigated from Peking. But, of course, Peking propaganda has been extremely inflamatory for a very long time and it has been in support of the incidents which have occurred in Hong Kong, the island itself and in Kowloon. As to the visits by American naval personnel, it has been said a number of times previously that they go to Hong Kong purely for relaxation and for no other purpose.

Mr. Paget

What about the consular staff?

Mr. Speaker

Order. Mr. Wall. Private Notice Question.