HC Deb 03 September 1886 vol 308 cc1280-9
DR. CAMERON (Glasgow, College)

After many hours spent in recriminations that may not bear much practical fruit, I feel some reluctance to trespass on the time of the House; but the subject I am about to refer to is of importance in the cause of humanity and good government. This evening I asked a Question regarding the administration of law in Upper Burmah, and the Under Secretary of State for India (Sir John Gorst) returned an answer which I am certain, from the well-known disposition of kindliness which he has always displayed towards subject races, could only have been prompted by imperfect information. I desire to call the attention of the House to this subject, and I therefore avail myself of this the sole opportunity afforded me by the discussion on the Address; and I shall say what I have to say as briefly as possible. The hon. and learned Gentleman could not bring himself to believe the statements embodied in my Question. I should have been equally incredulous as to the truth of the allegations on which I founded my query. In January last a report came to this country that the Provost Marshal in Mandalay was an ardent photographer, and had photographed Native prisoners in the moment of being executed. I asked a Question on the subject, and on the day I asked the Question another report was telegraphed home to the effect that the same Provost Marshal had, in order to extort evidence, had a man blindfolded, drawn up a firing party before him, threatened him with execution, but told him that his life would be spared if he disclosed the particulars of some conspiracy he was supposed to be connected with. The Secretary of State for India stated that he could not conceive the possibility of any British officer acting in such a manner, but he did what, under the circumstances, I think, was most creditable of him—he telegraphed to India for information. He not only telegraphed to the Governor General, but went out of his way and telegraphed to the Chief Commissioner in Upper Burmah. The result was that he received a report to the effect that the charge made against the Provost Marshal of having used the threat of execution as a means to extort evidence was well-founded. A few days afterwards the correspondent of The Times telegraphed home that the investigation that had been ordered into the case was a mere farce, that a number of civilians who had witnessed the photographing at the execution had not been called in, and that an attempt was being made to whitewash the Provost Marshal. He stated that the charge of having tried to extort evidence under threat of execution, it had been attempted to explain away; but that it had been officially reported that a man had been sentenced to death, but had been promised his life if he would only reveal what he knew of a certain conspiracy. But that turned out to be untrue, because the Chief Civil Officer said that no sentence of death could have been carried out unless he had given his consent. Further investigation was ordered by the Viceroy, and all the charges made by The Times correspondent, incredible as they appeared, were substantiated. With the news announcing this fact was also sent the information that the Provost Marshal would be reprimanded, and would be deprived of the promotion he had earned. The Governor General did not think that sufficient punishment, and the Secretary of State agreed with his view. The Provost Marshal was court-martialled, and the result has been that he has been publicly reprimanded, and has had to tender his resignation. The statement contained in my recent Question I made from correspondence I received from a gentleman whom I have every reason to believe well-informed, but who desires, for certain reasons, that his name shall not be disclosed. What he says on the subject is this. That at present a very bad state of things prevails in Mandalay— The Deputy Commissioner of Mandalay is a Captain Adamson, late of the Artillery. He has had no legal training, and possesses but little legal knowledge. He has, however, uncontrolled power. His decisions are not subject either to appeal or review. Captain Adamson tries prisoners in secret at his own house. In such circumstances it is an absolute impossibility for prisoners to produce witnesses in their own defence, or to secure a fair trial. Punishments of terrible severity are inflicted by Captain Adamson. I am convinced that I am within the mark in stating that Captain Adamson has within the last three months inflicted on prisoners sentences of transportation or rigorous imprisonment amounting in the aggregate to 3,000 years, besides which several men were shot and innumerable floggings of frightful severity inflicted. I cannot give the exact figures, as the Government refuse all information.

COLONEL KING - HARMAN (Kent, Isle of Thanet)

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but I could not catch the name of the writer of this communication. Would the hon. Member kindly repeat it?


I explained that he gave reasons why he wished his name to remain a secret. If the hon. and gallant Gentleman will be patient for a moment, I will give him another authority, and this time I shall be able mention a name. This informant I have quoted says that such feeling as to maladministration has been excited amongst the inhabitants of Mandalay, that it contributes very much to the disaffection that prevails in Upper Burmah. Since I sent in my Question an hon. Member has called my attention to the fact that, in The Times of the 17th of last month, very similar statements were made. The Times' correspondent sends home a letter in which he states, after having referred to the way in which justice is administered— The discontent caused by such a state of affairs is deep and wide-spread, and extends to all classes. The discontent in Mandalay reacts on the whole of Upper Burmah, and encourages the people to resist to the very last. He goes on to say that a Mr. Miller, who is assistant manager of the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company, having seen a letter of his in The Times of the 19th of May, had sent him a communication, of which he gives an extract. Mr. Miller, who, as I said, is connected with the management of the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company—and here we have a name for the hon. and gallant Member (Colonel King-Harman)—writes as follows:— It was with considerable interest that I read the Mandalay correspondence in the London Times of the 19th ultimo; and though during our mutual stay in Mandalay you and I saw affairs from two entirely different standpoints, I believe that every paragraph of your letter can safely challenge contradiction. He goes on to say that the high-handed and illegal proceedings of the local authorities in Mandalay— Are giving the name of British administration an unsavoury odour in the nostrils of peaceable and law-abiding citizens. After giving a number of cases of oppression and extortion on the part of the police, he refers to the administration of justice in Mandalay, and to the manner in which prisoners are tried and convicted, and he quotes the following case:— As an instance of the nature of the evidence on which suspects are condemned, I give you the following:—An elderly man, father of a large family, and universally respected in the quarter where he resides, is accosted in his own house by two men, who request him to read a document which they have brought. He reads half-way through, and sees that it purports to be a revolutionary message from a rebel Prince. He asks the men to go away and not mix him up with such matters. They leave, and are afterwards arrested with the letter on their persons. On being questioned as to the place where they were at last, they mentioned the name and house of the man who had partly read the letter for them. For this crime—and a European police officer, who was present at his trial, has assured me that such was the head and front of his offending—this man has been condemned to five years' rigorous imprisonment. Mr. Miller adds that he is aware that this sentence Has shaken the faith of a large and influential section in Mandalay in English justice. The Times' correspondent goes on to say— A report has recently obtained wide currency among the Burmese in Mandalay, that prisoners tried before Captain Adamson have been beaten to compel them to give testimony. This report is probably unfounded, but, unfortunately, owing to the manner in which these trials have been conducted, it is impossible to convince the Burmese that the story is false. I forgot to mention, when alluding to the case of the old man who was condemned to five years' imprisonment, that The Times' correspondent, referring to the matter, said— Mr. Miller has assured me that he has ascertained from reliable Burmese witnesses, that it lasted only for the 'chewing of a betel'—i.e., less than five minutes. The House will observe that a previous letter which appeared in The Times was alluded to. Well, I looked it up, and I found that a long list of cases of maladministration of justice was given. He says that at the time the Viceroy visited Mandalay, the people were smiling and contented, and willing to accept British rule; but that soon after they became discontented. He points out that a large portion of Mandalay was burnt down by incendiaries, and that an order was issued that no house should be rebuilt without the consent of the Deputy Commissioner. Of course, this order made the whole town useless, and it must have occupied the whole of the time of the Deputy Commissioner for months to consider applications, and give permission to people to build houses, and for months there must have been this large population without houses, and unable to build them, and, of course, driven to desperate courses and into disloyalty. It must be evident to the Under Secretary of State for India that any maladministration of justice must have the worst possible effect on the Native mind. The Earl of Dufferin is perfectly well aware of that, and one of his most earnest instructions to the authorities at Mandalay was that justice should be administered with scrupulous care. He says, in his Memorandum dated the 25th of February, 1886— … it is our first duty to protect the peaceable inhabitants of the country from injury and wrong. For some time past martial law, which for a short period was the only alternative, has been superseded by the authority of the civil magistrate. He says— I understand that under no circumstances have any penalties been inflicted except at the instance of our civil officers. This rule should be steadily adhered to, and great pains should be taken to administer justice in such a manner as will stand the test of searching public criticism. I ask can the administration of law in Mandalay be said to be fairly conducted if it is such as I have described?—if, as was admitted by the Under Secretary of State (Sir John Gorst), it is conducted in the private house of this gentleman who is not a lawyer, and conducted obviously against the law of the country, seeing that that law gives the right of appeal? Can that be said to be an administration of justice In such a manner as will stand the test of searching public criticism? The Times' correspondent, in one of his letters which I have read since I put my Question, says that if the state of things is so bad in Captain Adamson's Court—which is the best conducted—it must be ten thousand times worse in the others. The men who preside over them have no legal training. In some cases he mentions telegraph clerks have been appointed as Judges. In one case he says—[Cries of "Divide!"] If hon. Members are impatient I can postpone these observations until to-morrow by moving the adjournment of the debate. This is a very important matter, and a quarter of an hour will be much better spent over it than in wrangling like a set of old women over the question of who is to blame for wasting time. As I say, The Times' correspondent declares that this Court of Captain Adamson is by far the best conducted in the country. Again and again he repeats the charge that the trials are conducted illegally, and that they are conducted without the right of appeal which was given by the law which came into operation in February last. He says the Burmese police have been taken over wholesale, and he says that many of them are extremely corrupt; in fact, he gives an instance reported in a Rangoon paper where an officer whose pay was 500 rupees a-month in the course of a few months accumulated 5,000 rupees. The grossest corruption prevails, it is said. I do not state any of these things on my own authority. I know nothing about them. ["Hear, hear!"] I say I know nothing about them; but neither did I know anything personally about the charges which I brought against the Provost Marshal, and yet those charges turned out to be true. I maintain that the authority upon which I bring forward these charges of maladministration of justice is quite as good as that upon which I founded my previous accusations. I do not wish to make any charge against Captain Adamson, of whom I know no more than I do about Colonel Hooper. I do not say that the charges against Captain Adamson are by any means as grave as those I had to bring against the other officer I have mentioned. He is a military man, and it will be admitted that the Military Profession is hardly a good school for judicial training. A man whose experience is confined to procedure in courts martial is likely to bring drumhead procedure with him on to the Bench. I invite the hon. and learned Gentleman to demand information from India on this subject, and to see that it is set forth in such a form as will enable us to test the accuracy of the statements made by the correspondent of The Times, whose name I am not in a position to state. It seems that this officer has to dispose of both civil and criminal cases. Let us know how many men have been tried; how many have been shot; let us know how many have been imprisoned, and what were the terms of imprisonment; how many have been flogged, and the number of lashes given; let us know also if there is any confirmation of the story that an old man was sentenced to five years' imprisonment. I ask the hon. and learned Gentleman not to make a defence of this official, but to telegraph to Mandalay for this information. In times past the hon. and learned Gentle- man has been one of the strongest in advocating justice for Native races; and I ask him to do now what he has so often urged upon those in Office—namely, to ask for information.


Sir, I hope the House and the hon. Member for Glasgow (Dr. Cameron) will forgive me if I make a very short reply to the Question which has been put on this subject. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that not only is Her Majesty's Government willing to make full inquiry as to the administration of criminal justice in Upper Burmah, but that it was making such inquiries for many weeks before this question came forward. I think the hon. Member ought to bear in mind that to reduce a semi-barbarous country, like Burmah, which has been so long under the rule of a Sovereign like Theebaw, to a condition in which justice is satisfactorily administered, is not a very easy task, and one which requires a great deal of forbearance and prudence. In the answer which I gave to the hon. Member at the beginning of the proceedings this evening, I had no intention, and I know there is no intention on the part of Her Majesty's Government, to shrink from any inquiry into the charges that have been made; but I think it only right to state that Captain Adamson is not only a military man, but an officer of 15 years' standing in the Civil Service of the Indian Government, and that I think he ought to be protected against the vague charges made by the hon. Member and in a letter from The Times' correspondent. Captain Adamson, so far from not having had legal training, was for seven years Assistant Magistrate at Rangoon, and for about eight years he served in a similar position in Lower Burmah; he was selected by the Viceroy, over other officers, as the most fit person, from his knowledge of the language and his training in the duties of a Judge, to hold the very important position of Deputy Commissioner at Mandalay, and in that position he has had to exercise very severe criminal jurisdiction. The hon. Member says there was no appeal allowed in Upper Burmah. Well, Sir, there is no right of appeal there. The Times' correspondent says there was the right of appeal; but my information from the Viceroy is, that at that time the Government of Burmah was despotic; that the only law was the will of the Crown, and that there was no appeal from Criminal Courts during the period of transition.


I wish to point out that, in February or March, the Indian Code was extended to Upper Burmah, and that in Lower Burmah the right of appeal exists.


The hon. Member is wrong. Until the 26th of February, the country was governed by the will of the Monarch of this country. On that day it was united by Proclamation to British India; but at the same time a Resolution was passed by the Viceroy of India in Council, under the Act of 33 Vict. c. 3, s. 1, which had the effect of preventing the laws of British India from extending to the newly-acquired country. I am quite aware that The Times' correspondent says that there was the right of appeal; but in that respect, as in many others, his statement is quite inaccurate. I do not wish to follow the hon. Member into the various allegations which he has made, and I will not now test the accuracy of Mr. Miller or of The Times' correspondent; if I were to do so, I might make some observations which might show that their authority is not so great as the hon. Member seems to suppose. But I say that no specific case shall be brought before the Secretary of State for India which shall not be inquired into. With regard to the story which Mr. Miller told, of an old man who was committed to prison for five years, I may say that, at present, until names are given, the Chief Commissioner in Upper Burmah is unable to identify the particular case with any case of which he has record; but the hon. Member must bear in mind that since The Times' correspondent wrote there has been no time to communicate with Mandalay, except by telegraph. Finally, I beg to assure the House that Her Majesty's Government are fully alive to the necessity of making the administration of criminal justice in Upper Burmah above all reproach, of subjecting it to searching criticism, and that no effort will be spared to arrive at the truth.

DR. CLARK (Caithness)

I wish to call the attention of the Lord Advocate (Mr. J. H. A. Macdonald) and the Secretary for Scotland (Mr. A. J. Balfour) to the state of affairs in Scotland.


I point out that the subject is not relevant to the Question before the House.


I should have withdrawn my Motion; but, as I think the promise of the hon. and learned Gentleman, is not sufficiently distinct, I feel it my duty to divide the House upon the Question.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 81; Noes 192: Majority 111.—(Div. List, No. 12.)

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Address."