HC Deb 25 January 1886 vol 302 cc314-7

asked the Secretary of State for India, Whether, since the Annexation of Upper Burmah, the control of affairs is under the Chief Commissioner and the Military authorities are amenable to his orders in regard to the treatment of the Burmese; and, whether they exercise any uncontrolled power of life and death under any sort of Martial Law?


asked, whether the prisoners stated to have been shot by order of the Provost Marshal at Mandalay were subjected to any form of trial; and, if so, how and for what offences, and under what law, if any, were they tried?


I imagine that part of the Question of the right hon. and learned Gentleman is of a highly technical and legal nature, and as such he will hardly expect me to answer it without Notice. I can, however, give the House a good deal of information in answer to the Question which the hon. Baronet (Sir George Campbell) has placed upon the Paper, and, perhaps, will also to some extent answer the Questions put to mo the other day by the hon. Member for Glasgow (Dr. Cameron). With regard to the Question on the Paper, the Viceroy informs mo that the original instructions to General Prendergast, who was at the head of the Expedition, and therefore responsible for everything that was done while the military operations were going on, were to this effect—that he and Mr. Commissioner Bernard wore to establish a Civil jurisdiction as soon as the Military authorities could pacify the disturbed districts. Mr. Bernard has telegraphed to the Viceroy— The present state of affairs with reference to the Civil and Military jurisdiction is as follows:—We have English Civil officers and police officers in command in each of the five districts of Mandalay, Minhla, Ningyan, Pagan, and Myingyan. These officers are supported by troops, and they are working through local Woons and Thagyis. Of course, in these districts obviously Civil law prevails— The rest of the country is nominally dominated by the Burmese Supreme Council. I cannot pronounce the Native name for that body. At several points, however — Bhamo, Tagaing, Slwebo, Ava, Upper Chindwin, Lower Chindwin, and Myodaung—we have military detachments stationed, with Civil officers in attendance. At present the country is still under military occupation. Mr. Bernard goes on to say that— The rebels taken in arms on the field are liable to be shot; no one is to be shot or punished by Civil officers otherwise than after trial. In districts nominally under the Burmese Supreme Council sentences of death cannot be carried out by Native officials otherwise than on the responsibility of, and after trial by, the Civil officers who may be nearest the ground. The prisoners punished under martial law by the Provost Marshal or any of the officers do not come under the Civil officer's cognizance while the country is under military occupation. My hope is that in a few weeks' time I may be in a position to post Civil officers, only backed by troops, in the remaining districts of the country. That is all the information I have in my possession with reference to the Question of the hon. Baronet on the Paper. With regard to the Questions asked me on Friday, I am sorry to say that the information in my possession is far from satisfactory. The Viceroy telegraphs to me that it is clear that the Provost Marshal has proceeded in a most unjustifiable manner; at any rate, in one case. That alludes to the case where evidence was sought to be extorted by placing a prisoner apparently under the fire of soldiers. The Viceroy says he has telegraphed to General Prendergast directing that if a primâ facie case is made out against the Provost Marshal on either of the counts mentioned, he and other officers implicated are to be suspended from their functions, and, if proved to be guilty, to be visited with the severest penalty. Mr. Bernard telegraphs from Rangoon to the Viceroy that he is still investigating or asking for information at Mandalay as to the allegations with regard to the Provost Marshal photographing prisoners under execution. With regard to the second point, Mr. Bernard says— It is true that the Provost Marshal did place a man suspected of treasonable correspondence in fear of instant death, in order to induce him to give information which would have criminated two members of the Burmese Durbar. On hearing of this, I pointed out to the Provost Marshal that evidence extorted was valueless, and that it was contrary to all lav"— Lord Randolph Churchill [Cries of "Oh, oh!" from the Home Rulers and cries of "Order!"]—I am giving the House the best information I can— to extort evidence by moral torture. I requested that similar proceedings might not recur. The result of the Viceroy's telegrams would undoubtedly be that the Provost Marshal will be suspended, and the closest and most rigorous investigation will be made into the officer's conduct; and if it should turn out that he had so disgraced the Queen's Army, I make no doubt whatsoever that, in the Viceroy's words, "the most exemplary punishment will be meted out to him."


asked, whether Burmese resisting the conquest of their country were to be treated as rebels—to be treated as rebels taken in arms; and, further, whether, in case of such a jurisdiction being exercised by the Military authorities, the noble Lord would direct some record of these trials to be kept, so that so-called rebels should not be shot without any record?


I imagine that when King Theebaw and the Burmese Army surrendered it was held by the Military authorities that regular military resistance had come to an end. The Military authorities are occupied now in putting down what is called dacoity, which is another word for brigandage. The dacoits are bands of armed men, who did not attack the British troops, but who attacked the Burmese villagers, burnt their houses, and plundered the towns. As long as the country was in military occupation the dacoits would be tried by Martial Law if taken in the field and red-handed; but in districts where the English Civil officer has troops under his command, then I imagine dacoity will be put down by the Civil officer's Court, according to the form of the English law. Records will, of course, be kept of all proceedings of this kind.


I beg to give Notice that I shall take the earliest opportunity of calling attention to this very important question.


asked, whether orders had been given to stop the shooting of prisoners taken in arms in Burmah?


The noble Lord, in his first answer, spoke of "rebels," and in his second answer he spoke of dacoits. I beg to ask whether dacoits and rebels are synonymous terms?


I believe I did not use the word rebels. With regard to the Question of the hon. Member for Roscommon (Mr. O'Kelly), Mr. Bernard telegraphs to the Viceroy in the following words; — Certain pretender had razed villages and committed other crimes. He was captured by Burmese officers, and sent to Mandalay for trial. The pretender admitted the truth of the charges, hut said he was not aiming at the Throne of Mandalay, but at the Throne of one of the Shan States. The trial was conducted by the Burmese Supreme Court, and the prisoner was sentenced to death; but the British authorities had pointed out that if execution were to take place they must have evidence themselves, as they could not execute on the strength of the decision of the Burmese Supreme Court. It was further pointed out that if the facts of the charges were proved, the life of the pretender would be forfeited. Colonel Sladen had agreed to conduct further inquiry personally. I have not heard the result; but I will make further inquiry.


asked, would the noble Lord consider the propriety of laying Papers on the Table on the subject?


I will lay all the information possible on the Table, and as quickly as possible.