HC Deb 05 July 1897 vol 50 cc1118-23

I beg to ask the First Lord of the Treasury whether he will provide facilities fur the discussion of the present critical condition of affairs in Poona?

SIR L. McIVER (Edinburgh, W.)

Before the right hon. Gentleman answers the Question, may I ask him a Question of which I have given him private notice? It is this—whether the Government have received any such information from Bombay as will enable the right hon. Gentleman or the Secretary a State for India, to express an authoritative opinion upon the contents of the memorial relating to the measures adopted for the suppression of the plague which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Banffshire last week in connection with the recent murders in Poona?


Perhaps my hon. Friend will allow me to answer the Question, which will take precedence of that upon the Paper. The House will recollect that on Thursday last the hon. Member for Banffshire put to me a series of Questions, in connection with the Poona murders, upon the contents of a memorial addressed to the Bombay Government as to the methods adopted at Poona for the suppression of the plague. The memorial contained also allegations of gross misconduct against the search parties employed by the Government. The memorial was sent to me by the hon. Baronet the day before he put the Question, and it was unaccompanied by any statement supporting its allegations. I was unable then to express any opinion as to the credibility of its assertions, but I at once telegraphed to Lord Sandhurst asking him to send me a categorical reply to each series of accusations. In the meantime the memorial has been published, no doubt in good faith, by certain newspapers, and strong expressions of opinion have been given in the belief that these allegations and others even stronger by anonymous writers could not in the main be false. I have now a full reply from the Bombay Government, which I will read to the House. [Cheers.] It is of considerable length, but in the circumstances the House will feel that I am justified. ["Hear, hear!"] The reply is divided into several heads, and therefore each will be prefaced by a statement of the allegations to which it refers:— From Governor, Bombay, July 4, 1897. Deccan Subha Memorial, dated May 10, and petition were not received till May 21., by which time the search, lime washing, and disinfecting parties had been discontinued and military camp broken up. Statements in petition grossly misleading. Allegation A:— People are often sent to the plague hospital without a proper medical examination being previously made to satisfy the authorities that the persons removed are suffering from plague. Reply:— People only sent to hospital after careful medical examination, and if showing symptoms indicative of possible plague. Allegation B:— Relatives and neighbours of plague patients, and even passers-by, are at once hurried to the segregation camp, without being allowed time to make proper arrangements for the custody of the property in their houses. Reply:— Greatest care was taken not to remove to segregation camp any but those necessary to keep under observation. Time was allowed for preparation, and one member of household was allowed to stay behind to look after property. Allegation C:— In the inspection of inmates of houses sometimes persons are subjected to the indignity of being forced to remove all the clothes from their bodies in the presence of the members of the search parties and other people. Reply:— I have not yet heard any allegations of indignity being substantiated. I know that genlteness and consideration were shown. [Cheers.] Allegation D:— The native gentlemen who volunteered to accompany search parties, and were appointed by the committee to that duty, are slighted, and their suggestions are disregarded. In support of this we beg that reference may be made to these gentlemen, who, feeling that they are not properly trusted, decline to accompany the search parties. Reply:— Native gentlemen were asked to accompany search parties, and did so to the very end. They were specialty desired to bring to notice all complaints which reached them and to mark down any offending soldier and report to officers. Allegation E:— In the inspection of houses no respect is shown to the religious sentiments of natives. in regard to the sanctity of the kitchen and of rooms where worship is offered. In some cases the idols in the Hindoo temples have been polluted. Reply:— Search parties were instructed to have regard to religious feelings. Possibility of abuse of those feelings minimised by the presence of native gentlemen. Allegation F:— Notwithstanding the injunctions of the committee in that behalf, much mischief is done in regard of property in burning or destroying, though the rules of the committee require that only the bedding and the clothing of the deceased should be burnt. Reply:— Special care was taken to avoid needless destruction of property, and compensation given for property destroyed. Allegation G:— Persons occupying houses are threatened, and in some cases assaulted, When they remonstrate against the procedure followed by the search parties in the matter of forcibly opening locks and destroying property. Reply:— No unnecessary violence was used in entering houses. Allegation H:— In a few cases the modesty of native ladies has not been respected.'' Reply:— I do not believe the possibility of indignity to native women, owing to presence of lady doctors and other ladies with the search parties. ["Hear, hear!"] Allegation I:— Complaints were made to the committee, but the persons injured have failed to obtain redress. The parties injured have no means of finding out the names of the soldiers who misbehave, and who thus bring discredit on the whole body. Reply:— Officers were in plentiful attendance, and it was made known that complaints should be made to them. See also D as to agency employed. English soldiers amounted to little more than one-third of total number, remainder being natives. English soldiers employed mainly for search parties, and their employment certainly not more calculated to cause annoyance than employment of natives, and experience showed for this work the necessity for European agency where procurable. In Poona the only European agency obtainable on a large scale was military. Results show the great efficiency of system adopted. With respect to himself Lord Sandhurst says:— I went to Poona to see about ladies and native gentlemen accompanying search parties; called together leaders of communities and explained what must be done, and that all regard would be paid to religious and other feelings, and asked their aid. I visited Poona twice during operations for inquiry and discussion with Rand and others; never could I find serious complaints substantiated. I kept close touch. hearing from Rand daily. No specific charge of misconduct was made to me during progress of the operations. I give strongest and most emphatic contradiction to the statement, that search parties exceeded instructions and grossly misconducted themselves. [Cheers.] The search parties when at work were under commissioned and non-commissioned officers. One of the ladies, Miss Bernard, having 20 years' experience zenana work, and most sympathetic to natives, authorises me to say that she was much struck by the gentleness of the officers and the control of the soldiers, that the officers impressed on the Men the delicate nature of the duties, that after the first day or two when there was some little apprehension which was easily allayed by the ladies and native gentlemen accompanying the search parties, they were met with cheerfulness; that Rand listened to all complaints and suggestions, and was kind and courteous to all. In Rand the Civil Service loses a most able and devoted officer. From inquiries made from various sources I am convinced that Poona owes gratitude to officers and men, English and natives, for the duties so well and so considerately performed. [Cheers.] I would only wish to add an expression of my own opinion on two matters. I would wish to endorse the high opinion entertained by Lord Sandhurst of the late Mr. Rand and his work ["Hear, hear!"] He was a most capable and promising public servant, who carried out with rare success the terrible trying duty of stamping out the plague in Poona. During the whole time he wits thus engaged he was subject to the most violent personal denunciation and defamation by a certain section of the Press and community. He has fallen a victim in the successful discharge of a great public duty, and I am sure that, under these circumstances, both Members of this House and the Press of this country will exercise great caution before they put into circulation statements calculated to defame his character and work, unless they are personally convinced of the accuracy of any charge they publish. [Cheers.] This caution will, I am sure, be observed also in reference to the more grave charges that, without one iota of evidence, are being made about military officers and their men. As to Lord Sandhurst, he has from the first outbreak of plague personally supervised and controlled the measures of its suppression. Whenever any hitch occurred either at Poona or Bombay he has personally visited the locality, and by his consideration, tact, and forethought reassured and carried with him the natives whom he has met. He emphatically repudiates these charges, and I unhesitatingly endorse his repudiation. [Cheers.] Lord Sandhurst's conduct throughout the whole period of these plague difficulties has been such as to merit and obtain the complete confidence of Her Majesty's Government, and I think I may add of his late political colleagues and associates. [Cheers.]


After what has fallen from my noble Friend, it is only necessary for me to say, in answer to the Question on the Paper, that, in the opinion of the Government, it is both unnecessary and contrary to the public interests that the discussion which the hon. Baronet desires should take place. [Cheers.]

MR. BRYN ROBERTS (Carnarvonshire, Eifion)

asked whether the memorial referred to did not contain specific statements in proof or attempted proof of the different heads of complaint, and whether the reply contained any explicit explanation or denial of those statements?


In no single case has any serious charge of misconduct been substantiated.

MR. JAMES LOWTHER (Kent, Thanet)

asked whether it was true, as reported in certain newspapers, that negotiations had been entered into by the police authorities with the rioters?


did not understand that there was any intention on the part of the Government that any compromise whatever should be come to between the police and the rioters.


asked whether he was to take it that the statement in The Times was in error?


So far as I know, you may take it that it is so.