HC Deb 17 July 1879 vol 248 cc621-3

asked the Secretary of State for War, If any reply has been received from General Roberts, explaining his reasons for dismissing from his head-quarters Mr. M'Pherson, the correspondent of one of the London daily newspapers, and for the appointment by him of one of his own staff to act as correspondent; and, if there is any objection to lay upon the Table of the House the Correspondence relative to this subject?


Sir, in accordance with the promise made to the House, I caused a letter to be written to General Roberts on this subject, and have received from him a reply which, with the permission of the House, I will read—

"Head-quarters, Kurram Column, Camp Kurram, April 18, 1879.

"On Mr. M'Pherson receiving his dismissal from my camp, I gave him to understand that, in the interests of The Standard newspaper, I would appoint some officer in this force to carry on the duties of correspondent until such time as an accredited successor should arrive. My selection for the moment fell upon Captain Pretyman, my aide-de-camp, for the following reasons:—1. At the time of the assault on the Peiwar Kotal, when Mr. M'Pherson was on the sick list and unable to witness the operations, he requested Captain Pretyman to write a telegram and letters to The Standard describing the action of the 2nd of December and subsequent operations. On my consenting to this arrangement Captain Pretyman performed this service for Mr. M'Pherson. The telegram and the two letters appeared in due time in the columns of The Standard, and under the head of 'From our Special Correspondent.' On more than one occasion later on Mr. M'Pherson requested Captain Pretyman to write military letters descriptive of the operations of this column. All of these were written and signed by Captain Pretyman. 2. Mr. Boyle, the special correspondent of The Standard with the Candahar column, had requested Captain Pretyman, with whom he travelled from London to Bombay in October last, to write any military letters descriptive of the operations of the Kurram column which he might feel disposed to send to The Standard. Bearing in mind these facts, I naturally came to the conclusion that Captain Pretyman was the officer especially designated by circumstances to fulfil the duties of correspondent to The Standard during the interim which might elapse before Mr. M'Pherson's successor should arrive. Within 24 hours of my making the offer to Captain Pretyman, Mr. M'Pherson, on leaving the camp, signified to me his wish that another officer—namely, Captain Woodthorpe, R.E.—should take up the duties of correspondent. I immediately sent for that officer and asked him to act, an arrangement which was more acceptable, for obvious reasons, both to myself and to my aide-de-camp. Captain Woodthorpe then sent telegrams and. letters to The Standard until relieved of this duty, very shortly afterwards, by order of his Excellency the Commander-in-Chief. With regard to the military correspondents of other London papers, neither of the officers representing The Times and Daily Telegraph belonged to the Headquarter Staff of the Kurram Column.

" FRED. ROBERTS, M.G., Commanding Kurram Field Force."



said: Sir, I desire to put a Question on this subject to the Secretary of State for War. The hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary of State for India read just now a despatch from the general officer commanding in the Kurram Valley. In that despatch there is an account of a controversy which occurred between the general officer and the correspondent of a daily London paper, and he announced, if I gathered the words of the despatch correctly, that he had appointed as a correspondent of that paper an officer on full pay on his own staff. He further announced that an officer had been appointed from the Candahar column to correspond for a London daily newspaper, and also that he had entertained proposals from the correspondent of this newspaper that a captain of Engineers should be appointed in his place. [" Order, order!"] I am strictly in Order, as I am only quoting from what has been already read, and out of which arises the Question I now wish to address to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Secretary of State for War. I desire, first of all, to ask him, Whether it is consistent with discipline—indeed, whether there is not a positive Order prohibiting officers on full pay from corresponding for the Press; secondly, whether it is true that the commander of the Kurram Valley Force appointed an officer as correspondent; and, thirdly, if this was so, whether the officer was relieved from duty for that purpose, whether there was a sufficiency or redundancy of officers in order to allow of one on full pay and active employment being designated for the additional duty of correspondent for a London daily newspaper?


If the hon. Gentleman will be kind enough to give Notice I shall be happy to answer that Question. He is aware, perhaps, that the officers in the Army are for some purposes entirely under the Indian Government, and I should hardly like to speak of a matter arising out of the Queen's Regulations in that country without having the opportunity of some reference to the India Office to see where our responsibility begins and where it ends.