HC Deb 28 June 1906 vol 159 cc1133-6
MR. DILLON (Mayo, E.)

I beg to ask the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, in reference to the recent affray between British officers and Egyptians at Tantah, whether he has yet received any detailed information as to the circumstances which led to the affray; whether any of the natives were killed or injured; if any natives were killed or injured; will the British officers who took part in the affray be tried; whether the pigeons shot on these occasions are tame or wild pigeons; whether pigeon shooting in the neighbourhood of villages is a legal occupation in Egypt; whether in this instance the permission of the head man of the village had been obtained by the officers before they commenced to shoot; what were the special grounds on which the Agent and Consul of Great Britain demanded that the accused Egyptians in this case should be sent for trial before the Special Tribunal: and whether there is any appeal from the Special Tribunal before which the Egyptians are to be tried.


I cannot answer all the details of the hon. Member's Question. I do not know whether any native was killed or injured, but our information is that the British officers, when they were attacked by the natives, gave up their guns and refused to fire in self-defence, and if any natives were killed, it was clearly not by the action of the British officers. When a report appeared in the Press yesterday, I telegraphed to know what the sentences were, and what were the facts established at the trial, saying that it was desirable we should know them before any death sentences were executed. The information I received is as follows:— The sentences were as stated in the Press. With regard to the trial, the prisoners were defended by three of the best known native advocates, who had a full hearing. The Court was unanimous as regards the prisoners found guilty, and the evidence clearly established premeditation and concerted action. Thirty-one of the prisoners were acquitted, and twenty-one were found guilty. The Court expressed its opinion that the British officers had behaved with extreme forbearance and self-restraint. The chief attack took place after they had given up their guns, and was persisted in with great brutality. I am also informed that, in the opinion of Judge Bond and Mr. Hayter, the Acting Judicial Adviser, both members of the Court, the first six prisoners would undoubtedly have been found guilty of murder by a British jury. The Special Court was composed of the Egyptian Minister for Foreign Affairs, who has had several years experience in the Ministry of Justice, and is acting Minister of Justice in the absence of the latter; Mr. Bond, Vice-Presidont of the Native Court of Appeal, whose position is practically that of Lord Chief Justice; Fathig Bey, President of the Cairo Native Court; Mr. Hayter, Acting Judicial Adviser, formerly a Judge in the Soudan; and Colonel Ludlow, officiating Judge Advocate. There is no legal power of interference on the part either of the Egyptian Government or of the British agency with the execution of the decision of the Court, and I am confident that the character of the tribunal is the greatest safeguard possible against a miscarriage of justice.


pointed out that the right hon. Gentleman had not said whether it was legal or illegal to shoot these pigeons in native villages, whether they were the property of the villagers, and whether a native woman was wounded or killed before the officers were attacked.


I understand that no one was wounded or killed before the officers were attacked, but that, after the guns had been given up by the officers, one of the guns was let off and caused injury to, I think, four people, including one woman. But that was not by the officers. With regard to pigeon shooting, I understand that pigeons are never to be shot except with the consent of the headman of the village. In this case the officers arrived in the carriage of the local magnate and assumed that a complete understanding had taken place. As to the future, it is quite clear that, after such a serious accident as this, there should be no more pigeon shooting, and I understand that instructions were given some time ago that it should cease.


asked the right hon. Gentleman whether he would consider the possibility of procuring through Lord Cromer the remission of the floggings that formed part of the sentences in this case.


asked the right hon. Gentleman whether he had any information as to whether the persons sentenced to death had been executed, and, if not, whether, in all the circumstances of the case, it was impossible yet to save their lives [Cries of "Oh,"] inasmuch as the nature of the fracas did not indicate murder in the sense in which we in England understood it.


I have not actually heard whether the death sentences have been carried out, but they were to be executed at two o'clock this afternoon according to Egyptian time. I assume, therefore, that that has already taken place. With regard to the character of the crime, two of the Judges were men with English knowledge as well as experience in Egyptian law, and they stated that, in their opinion, not only four but six of the natives would have been convicted of murder by a British jury. I understand that the sentences of flogging wore to be executed immediately; but, with regard to the general question, I quite sympathise with my hon. friend's feeling, which is shared by a largo number of people, as to the desirability of watching sentences of the kind very closely. I do not know the extent to which flogging is possible under Egyptian law, but I propose to take the opportunity of discussing that when Lord Cromer is in England, with a view to knowing to what extent it is possible, and whether any change is desirable.

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