HL Deb 24 October 1956 vol 199 cc989-92

3.42 p.m.


With your Lordships' permission I will make a statement on Hong Kong. On the morning of October 10, a non-Communist Chinese national festival, a dispute developed on a Government resettlement estate in Kowloon. The settlement supervisor tried to stop tenants sticking Nationalist paper flags on the walls. Flags may be flown in Hong Kong, but may not be stuck on the walls of Government buildings. A crowd assembled, the resettlement staff were assaulted and their offices wrecked. The police successfully dispersed the crowd.

The same evening, however, fresh crowds assembled and began assaulting both Asians and Europeans and attacking property. apparently incited by criminal elements. By early morning next day order appeared to have been fully restored and bus services were resumed. But later in the morning fresh disturbances were begun at a number of points in Kowloon by mobs who started fires and attacked vehicles, buildings and police patrols. The mobs rapidly dispersed in face of police attacks but quickly reassembled elsewhere to renew the rioting. Troops were therefore called in to cordon off the affected areas and isolate the mobs. They deployed during the afternoon of the 11th, and in the evening a curfew was imposed on Kowloon and both public transport and the ferries between Kowloon and Hong Kong Island were stopped. There were also serious clashes between opposing Chinese factions in a textile factory area, to which police and troops had to be despatched. The major disorders were all suppressed by midnight on October 11. There were minor incidents the next day —chiefly cases of looting—and on October 13 administrative services were resumed in the affected area. On October 16 the curfew was entirely lifted and all troops were withdrawn.

In the course of these disturbances 60 lives were lost and about 400 people were given hospital treatment. Damaged buildings included police posts, resettlement offices, factories, stores and schools. Over 5,000 arrests were made and nearly a quarter of those arrested were found to have previous criminal records. The Government of Hong Kong have begun a rigorous investigation into the origins and course of the riots. Until this investigation is completed I shall not be able to make an authoritative statement on their causes and significance. I should like, on behalf of Her Majesty's Government, to say how deeply we regret these disturbances and to extend our sympathy to all who suffered in them.


My Lords, in thanking the noble Lord for his statement, may I, on behalf of noble Lords on this side, express our sympathy with the innocent people who have suffered as a result of these disturbances? May I ask the noble Lord one question, namely, whether his attention has been drawn to the allegations that the Hong Kong Government did not take due precautions against such a disturbance and did not deal energetically with the situation when in first arose.


My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Lord for what he has said. I would merely say that it is quite untrue that the Hong Kong Government took no steps to anticipate this sort of disturbance. I think the noble Lord knows Hong Kong and will know that there are two national days. The Double Tenth is one of these. At a time like that, every precaution is always taken; and, indeed, the fact that the preliminary riots were so speedily dealt with was in itself, I should have thought, evidence of the readiness of the police to deal with disturbances at what was an obvious moment of danger. I should equally like to deny arty report that may have circulated that the Government of Hong Kong have not throughout taken energetic and, indeed, successful steps to restore law and order in the Colony


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord one question? I do not know from his statement whether all the people who made this shocking trouble are citizens of Hong Kong, in the sense that they are people who are domiciled there and entitled to remain there. If any of them are not so entitled, would the noble Lord assure us that the Governor of Hong Kong has full power, and will not hesitate to use that power, to deport them to whatever place they really belong?


My Lords, as explained to the House, we have not yet received the report of the Government of Hong Kong on the investigation which is now taking place, and therefore I am not in a position to say at this moment whether any and, if any, how many of those responsible for the riots came from elsewhere. I would only add that. so far as I know, all Governors have powers in a case of emergency to deal with those from outside who come and create trouble in any British territory; and the Governor of Hong Kong has the same powers as other Governors.


My Lords, I did not mean persons who just came in in order to make trouble, but people who were sitting inside British territory, although they were not denizens of that territory, and then abused that hospitality.


My Lords, my point has been to some extent covered by the answer just given, but I should like to ask whether there is any evidence so far that these troubles and riots have been inspired from outside the Colony. It may be too early to say yet, but have the Government any indication that these troubles have been inspired from outside the Colony?


My Lords, as I have already said in reply to my noble friend, we have not yet had from the Government of Hong Kong the report on this whole matter, and it would be improper for me to-day to anticipate anything that that report may say. However, I will bear in mind what the noble Lord has said. Obviously that is one of things which we shall look at.