HC Deb 20 March 1884 vol 286 cc305-8

asked the Secretary of State for War, Whether his attention has been directed to a paragraph in the London papers of Tuesday, describing the infliction of several dozens of lashes, by order of Admiral Hewett, upon sixteen Egyptian camel-drivers of the Carrier Corps, who accompanied the recent British expedition against Osman Digna; whether this flogging was inflicted upon these Egyptian carriers as a consequence of the sentence of a Court Martial for an offence against Military discipline committed by them during this expedition of Thursday last, or simply by the direction of Admiral Hewett; whether these carriers come under the definition of Sub-section 10 of the 168th Section, Part 5, of the Army Discipline and Regulation Act of 1879, which provides that— All persons, not otherwise subject to Military Law, who are followers of or accompany Her Majesty's troops when employed on active service beyond the seas, shall be subject to Military Law as soldiers; whether, if so, corporal punishment for persons subject to Military Law as soldiers has been abolished by Statute; and, whether he can inform the House under what authority, Statutable or otherwise, these Egyptian carriers were flogged, and the number of lashes they received?


Sir, the Admiralty have received a telegram from Admiral Sir William Hewett on this subject, from which it would appear that the newspaper reports of what took place are somewhat exaggerated. Admiral Hewett reports— Some of the gendarmerie having refuse to work and obey orders, I punished the chief offenders, an immediate example being necessary. I did not consider it amounted to mutiny, and, therefore. I did not think it worth reporting to your Lordships. The remainder of the men obeyed orders, and gave three cheers for the Khedive. Two others, for refusing to obey orders, were to be flogged; and, on arriving at Cairo, an officer was reduced to a lower rank for setting a bad example to his men. Camel-drivers accompanying troops on active service would come under the provisions of the Army Act. In addition to any statutory powers under the Army Act, Sir William Hewett exercises under a commission from the Khedive all the powers of an Egyptian Governor of Suakin under the Egyptian law.


I wish to ask the noble Lord whether camel-drivers do come under the Army Discipline and regulation Act of 1879 as persons subject to military law, and whether there is any difference as regards the power of Admiral Hewett over those persons subject to military law, and over other persons subject to military law; whether, as Admiral Hewett claimed the right, as it appears he did, to flog the camel-drivers, he claims a similar right to flog any other persons in the expedition?


I understand the Question to be whether the camel-drivers come under the operation of the Army Discipline Act? I understand that they would come under that Act.


My point is, whether any persons composing the expedition, and subject to the Army Discipline Act, would come under the Admiral's power to flog with the permission of the Khedive?


I conceive that Admiral Hewett would act at Suakin and in its neighbourhood by the authority of the Khedive as Governor under the Egyptian law.


Am I to understand that Admiral Hewett, under the commission of the Khedive, would have power to flog British soldiers; if not, what difference is there between the case of the camel-drivers, who are subject to the Army Discipline Act, according to the statement of the noble Lord, and the case of any other persons in the expedition who are likewise subject to the Army Discipline Act?


Perhaps the hon. Member will give Notice of this Question?


I should like to ask a Question of the noble Lord, or of the Judge Advocate General, whom I see in his place—Whether it is not a principle of International Law that the Commander-in-Chief of a belligerent force within the lines of an Army exorcises the authority of the nation to which he belongs; whether, therefore, Admiral Hewett has not a right to enforce British law as opposed to Egyptian law within the line's of his Army; and, if so, whether Her Majesty's Government will direct him to administer that British law in such a manner as not to inflict torture?


Perhaps the Judge Advocate General would also be kind enough to say whether flogging in the Army and Navy, both in the field and at home, was not abolished by an Act of this House?


I have no difficulty in answering the Question of my hon. Friend. Flogging has in such cases been abolished by Statute. As to the Question of the hon. and learned Member opposite, it involves a very nice question of International Law, to which I should be sorry to reply offhand; but if my hon. and learned Friend will be kind enough to put it in writing, I will do my best to answer it.


I should like to ask whether, as would appear from the telegram read by the noble Lord, these men were flogged because they refused to cheer the Khedive.


I do not know what inference the hon. and gallant Member may draw from the telegram. That is not the inference I drew from it.


Is it not the case that the punishment of flogging in the Soudan has been abolished by General Gordon, acting under the authority of the Khedive, and that in proof of that abolition he has caused whips and other instruments of torture to be publicly burnt? And can the noble Lord produce the text of any document withdrawing Admiral Hewett from the authority of General Gordon?

[No reply was given to this Question.]