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Volume 152: debated on Tuesday 21 March 1922

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Troop Casualties, Belfast


asked the Secretary of State for War how many soldiers have been killed or wounded during the weeks of rioting in Belfast; what steps the War Department are taking for the protection of these troops; and whether they have called upon the Ulster Government for aid in such measures?

The casualties since the 1st January have been 2 killed and 12 wounded. The military authorities, acting in co-operation with the civil power, have re-inforced the garrison, and are employing all measures which experience shows to be desirable to secure the best possible results. There have been some arrests, but I am not in possession of the particulars.

Is it not a fact that, in spite of the precautions to which this right hon. Gentleman has alluded, the number of murders and incendiary fires have not increased almost weekly in a large degree?

Is it not a fact that Lieutenant Bruce, one of the two soldiers killed, was off duty when he was murdered, and was passing through the streets of a strictly Catholic area?

I really have not the facts to which my hon. Friend refers. The other question put to me is so general that I find a difficulty in replying specifically to it. If the hon. Member will give me any further details, I will do my best to reply.

Rate Collectors


asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies the result of the discussions with the Provisional Government as to the position of rate collectors in Ireland whose collection books were seized by the Irish Republican Army some two years ago, and who were thereby deprived of their fees and earnings; and what arrangements have been made for assessing their pensions or compensation on a fair and equitable basis?

The Provisional Government have undertaken that the officers referred to will be provided for either by the payment of suitable compensation or by suitable re-employment, and they are making inquiry into such cases with a view to early settlement.

Will the right hon. Gentleman confer with the Provisional Government in order to see that compensation is paid to them direct?

Republican Army


asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies why the forces at the disposal of the Provisional Government for the preservation of law and order in Southern Ireland are still described as the Irish Republican Army; and whether he will suggest to the Provisional Government that this description of the forces employed by them for keeping order should be discontinued at the earliest possible moment?

I must refer the hon. and learned Member to my replies to previous questions on this subject, more particularly to my reply to a supplementary question addressed to me by him on the 14th February. The force known as the Irish Republican Army and the force which is being organised by the Provisional Government for the preservation of law and order are, as I have previously explained, not identical; but the Provisional Government, as I understand, from time to time use the so-called Irish Republican Army, in areas where this force acknowledges their authority, to assist them. The latter part of the question does not arise.

Does my right hon. Friend not think that it is extremely undesirable that a Government that is not a Republican Government should utilise forces which describe themselves as Republican?

No, Sir; I think that in all the difficult circumstances prevailing in Ireland the Provisional Government are doing their best.

Boundary Commission


asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether the Government of Ulster and of the Irish Free State will be consulted as to the terms of reference to, and the constitution of, the Boundary Commission to be set up in pursuance of the terms of the provisional Treaty with Southern Ireland; whether the findings of the Commission will be legally binding, even if they involve the transfer to the Free State of substantial areas of Ulster as delimited under the Irish Government Act of 1920; and when it is proposed to set up the Commission?

In reply to the first part of the question, the provisions of Article 12 of the Schedule to the Irish Free State (Agreement) Bill lay down the terms of reference and the constitution of the Commission, and as regards its constitution I would further refer the hon. and gallant Member to the Debate of the 3rd instant, on an Amendment to the Bill moved by the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University. In reply to the second part, I would refer the hon. and gallant Member to the same provisions, which appear to me to be free from ambiguity on this subject. The third part does not arise, unless and until an address is presented to His Majesty as provided in Article 12.

Can the right hon. Gentleman say plainly whether a Commission is going to be set up or not? The right hon. Gentleman has only referred to something that does not give a reply to my question.


(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies if he can make any statement as to the position to-day on the boundaries of Northern Ireland and if he can give the House particulars of the raids by detachments of the Irish Republican Army into Northern Ireland on last Sunday night which resulted in the death of a special constable near Tobermore and Robert Mulligan near Blackwater-town, and the wounding of other persons, and what steps have been taken to prevent further outrages?

I have been in communication with the Provisional Government, the Government of Northern Ireland and with General Macready. I have not yet received details of what has actually taken place in connection with these regrettable occurrences, but the Provisional Government inform me that they have ascertained that no forces from the 26 counties took part in either of the raids referred to. General Macready's Report confirms this. These raids, so far as I am at present informed were organised locally by members of the so-called Irish Republican Army who are resident in the six counties area. I have given the House the best information I have up to the present. Both the authorities I have consulted on this matter, the Provisional Government and General Macready, concur in the news which I have just given. The Provisional Government add that firing across the border is reported to them as having occurred from the Northern side. Following the destruction of bridges by Ulster special constables, apparently, a number of roads have been cratered, and a certain number of bridges have been blown up by the Northern forces with a view, no doubt, to preventing motor-car incursions. The Provisional Government say that they are seeking further information and will report later. The general position on the boundary is undoubtedly one of serious tension. The liaison Commissions are not functioning as they should on either side. Every effort is being made by the officers of those Commissions, but General Macready considered that the newspaper accounts greatly exaggerate the situation. Very highly coloured accounts are current in the papers. The situation is a very disagreeable one, but it really does not justify the alarmist versions which occupied such a large portion of our public prints yesterday. I have not received any answer as yet to my inquiries from the Northern Government.

Has the attention of the right hon. Gentleman been called to a statement, which has been made by one of the Ministers of Northern Ireland, that a state of war exists between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republican Army, and has that view been brought to the attention of the Government?

My attention was called to that statement, but I do not know whether my hon. Friend will wish me to offer any comment on it.

Is it not the view of His Majesty's Government that they should put down outrages of this kind, whether they be committed by local bodies, by republican forces, or by any armed bodies of men?

These outrages occurred within the jurisdiction of the Government of Northern Ireland. The Government of Northern Ireland have had placed at their disposal 13 battalions of infantry up to the present time. They are there for the purpose of assisting them in maintaining the law. In addition to this they have 3,000 constabulary. They have nearly 5,000 armed A specials. They have 20,000 B specials all armed with rifles and they have a further force of C specials behind them. The C specials are not in all cases armed. I have no reason to believe that they will not be able to maintain order in their territory.

Are not these perilous incidents on the frontier largely due to the pogrom against the lives and property of Catholics in Belfast—[HON. MEMBERS: "No!"]—which has now gone on for several weeks without apparently any interference on the part of the Government?

Have His Majesty's Government given instructions to General Macready to help the Ulster people?

Yes, certainly. General Cameron, who is in command of the troops in North East Ireland, is aware that any demand for troops that he can make will be complied with and we are doing everything in our power to assist. Overwhelming force is at the disposal of the Northern Government for the proper purpose of their own defence and maintaining the order in their districts. So far as the question of the hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. O'Connor) is concerned I am bound to say that the conditions which have prevailed during the last few months in Belfast are lamentable in the extreme. Considerably more Catholics have been killed and wounded than Protestants, but I know that Sir James Craig and his Ministers are determined to do everything in their power to try to bring about a peaceful and orderly state of affairs in what you may call the underworld of Belfast.

May I ask the Leader of the House whether he will now afford an opportunity for a discussion on this matter which would give an opportunity of showing the falseness of the suggestions made by the hon. Member for the Scotland Division?

Since responsible Government was given to Northern Ireland I have deprecated questions or arguments affecting the responsibility of that Government.

Is it not a fact that with a frontier of something like two hundred miles it is not possible to speak about overwhelming forces being at the disposal of the Northern Government? Is it not a fact that the only way of stopping this would be by bringing the Free State Government to book for not seeing that these invasions do not take place?

I have answered already that no invasion has taken place. In my opinion, the Free State Government have taken every step that they can to abolish the present state of affairs?

Is it a fact that large forces have been massing on the Southern side?

I am informed that a certain number of men have been collected. There is a difference between collecting and massing. The numbers are not very large. I have telegraphed to the Southern Government pointing out that they are in no danger whatever of a raid into their territory from Northern Ireland. I am confident that in those circumstances a raid would not be tolerated by the Northern Government. I am endeavouring to reassure them in every way.

If the Southern Government deny that these raiders have anything to do with them, where do they get their ammunition?

United Services Fund


asked the Secretary of State for War if the amount of £3,713,000, as stated in the Report of 31st January of the United Services Fund Committee, is the total amount paid to that fund up to the present time?

The Report of the Committee presided over by my hon. Friend the Member for the Ecclesall Division of Sheffield indicates the value of the cash and securities transferred as £3,849,000. The discrepancy between this figure and that quoted in the question appears to be due mainly to differences in the method of valuation of the securities which have been transferred. No further payment has been made up to the present date.

Is it not a fact that £4,049,000 has been given as the amount paid to that fund; and is the right hon. Gentleman aware that three different figures have been given?

Can the right hon. Gentleman make any statement as to when the money will be paid over?

I have answered that question in previous Debates, and I ask my hon. and gallant Friend to look at those answers.

Treatment Of Children, Hong Kong


asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies if he will make an investigation as to whether, under the mui tsai system of Hong Kong, the mui tsai girls of any household do, upon the death of the owner, become the property of concubines in the household, and are disposed of by them for cash, with other elements in the estate of the deceased owner?


asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether the records of the Colonial Office show that mui tsai of Hong Kong, of quite tender years, are frequently compelled to labour over 12 hours a day, and that cases have been established in the open court where these children have been forced to work up to as long as 18 and 20 hours in one day?

The House will recollect that I asked hon. Members to postpone their questions on this subject in order that I might communicate with the Governor of Hong Kong. The recent occurrences in the Colony have unfortunately prevented either the Governor or myself from dealing with this matter as expeditiously as I had hoped, but I have now received a telegram from the Governor stating that his Government in consultation with the societies for the protection and for the abolition of mui tsai will draw up a scheme for the abolition of the system as soon as possible. Both the Government and the societies point out that this process must take some little time. I have directed the issue without delay of a proclamation making it clear to employers and employed that the status of mui tsai as understood in China will not in future be recognised in Hong Kong and in particular that no compulsion of any kind to prevent girls over the age of 12 leaving their adopted parents at any time will be allowed. It has been pointed out to me by the Government and the societies that the issue of this proclamation will involve some risk of exposing a number of girls to the wiles of unscrupulous persons, and that before the girls are encouraged to leave their employers it would be very desirable to have some scheme to provide for their future. It is indeed obvious in view of the numbers involved that it will be beyond the power either of charitable institutions or of the Government to deal adequately with the situation should any large proportion desire to leave their present homes immediately. I have, therefore, instructed the Governor that mui tsai should be warned in the proclamation that until accommodation can be provided for them elsewhere they should not leave the shelter of their present homes except in case of ill treatment and after reference to the Chinese Secretariat, and I have also said that they should be specially warned against the other danger referred to by the Governor. Although it is obvious that an old established custom cannot be altered at a moment's notice, I desire to make it clear that both the Governor and I are determined to effect the abolition of the system at the earliest practicable date, and I have indicated to the Governor that I expect the change to be carried out within a year.

Is it not a fact that in the notification to the mui tsai they are told that if they are entreated they can come out, although there be no accommodation?

What will happen if, during the next 12 months, steps are taken to shift these girls off to Canton? Will attempts be made to retain these girls in Hong Kong until accommodation is provided for them?