HL Deb 10 March 1942 vol 122 cc191-4

My Lords, I desire to ask His Majesty's Government whether they are in a position to make any statement as to the treatment by the Japanese of their prisoners of war and of the civilian population in Hong Kong.


My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord for giving me this opportunity. Out of regard for the feelings of many of the relatives 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 statements by reliable eye-witnesses who have succeeded in escaping from Hong Kong, and 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 civilized world at the time of the Nanking massacre of 1937.

It is known that fifty officers and men of the British Army were bound hand and foot and then bayoneted to death. It is known that ten 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, and 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, 3,829; others 357—a total of 10,947. Most of the European residents, including some who were 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 which they have invaded since the outbreak of war. It is clear that their treatment of prisoners and civilians will not bear independent examination.

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 March 3, 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 hyprocrisy. 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.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Viscount and to ask him this question: What steps will His Majesty's Government take to broadcast and disseminate this appalling story not only in this country but throughout the world?


My Lords, it is the intention of His Majesty's Government to take every step to give the fullest publicity to this story.


My Lords, I should like to draw attention to the very lamentable state of affairs which my noble friend has disclosed to your Lordships, and to compare it with what happened in the Russo-Japanese War. At that time, as your Lordships will remember, we were the Allies of Japan, and Japan was at war with Russia. I was then at our Embassy at St. Petersburg, and we undertook to communicate with Tokyo to obtain news of Russian prisoners of war. I should like to say that at that time we had very good reports of the treatment of the prisoners. I think that it is desirable to take note of that in order to contrast their conduct then and their conduct nowadays, and to express the hope that they may revert to more civilized practices than they seem to think desirable at present.


My Lords, I should like to ask the noble Viscount, after the terrible story he has told us, which has moved all your Lordships as it has moved me, whether there is any Red Cross connexion with the Japanese Government in relation to whatever prisoners they may hold.


My Lords, the Japanese Government, I understand, are not actually parties to the Prisoners of War Convention, though they have stated that they will observe its spirit. But we have been in touch with the International Red Cross with a view to trying to get some contact with our people in Hong Kong, and up to now the Japanese have rejected every approach.


My Lords, may I ask a further question? The Russian Government is in diplomatic relations with Japan. The noble Earl opposite has drawn attention to cur action in the Russo-Japanese war in using our good offices in St. Petersburg for the alleviation of the lot of prisoners. Could we not invite the Russian Government to use its good offices in Tokyo to have something done for the sake of these helpless people?


That is a new point to me. Perhaps the noble Lord will allow me to pass it on to the proper quarter.

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