THE MARQUESS OF HARTINGTON
Mr. Speaker, I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, If it is in his power to inform the House whether there is any truth in the reports which have been circulated that Her Majesty's Government have received information that Constantinople has been occupied by Russian troops; or that the Russian force is advancing, notwithstanding the Armistice, on Constantinople or Gallipoli?
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
Mr. Speaker, Her Majesty's Government will present to the House immediately some Papers containing the latest information which they have received upon this subject; and I will state briefly to the House what is the substance of those communications. We received yesterday afternoon from Mr. Layard a telegram of the date of February 5, at night, which is to the following effect:—That, notwithstanding the Armistice, the Russians are pushing on towards Constantinople; that the Turkish troops have been compelled to evacuate Silivria, notwithstanding the protest of the Turkish Commander, which the Russian General refused to receive. Silivria, I should say, is a port on the Sea of Marmora. The Russian General declared that, according to his orders, it 1212 was necessary that he should occupy Tchataldja that day. I will refer to the position of Tchataldja presently. That the Porte is in great alarm and cannot understand the Russian proceedings. Representations have again been made to the Grand Duke Nicholas. The Servians have destroyed a place called Vranja, and are advancing on Uskup, which is on the line of railway to Salonica. Five days have elapsed since the signature of the bases of peace and the convention of armistice; but the Protocol has not yet reached the Porte, which is in ignorance of the real terms. Another telegram, dated yesterday and received last night, states that the Russian Government has insisted, as one of the conditions of the Armistice, that the Tchekmedje lines should be abandoned, leaving Constantinople wholly undefended. The Russians have occupied Tchataldja in considerable force. Tchataldja, I ought to mention, is a part of the Turkish lines of defence extending across the Peninsula, of which I understand it is an outpost. It is on the line of railway from Adrianople. The distance from Constantinople, as well as I can judge by the map, is less than 30 miles. Hon. Members will see by a telegram from St. Petersburg, which is included in the Papers to be laid on the Table this evening, that the Grand Duke Nicholas telegraphs from Adrianople, on the 31st of January, that the Porte has accepted the conditions of peace, and the Protocol has been signed; that the Armistice has also been concluded and signed, and orders to suspend all hostilities given. It appears, also, by a telegram from Belgrade of the 4th, that orders had been given by Prince Milan for the suspension of hostilities. I cannot undertake to reconcile that statement with the information given above as to the continued advance of the Servian forces, except that it may be possible the order did not reach them in time. It will be seen by the Papers that the Turks had given orders to suspend operations on or before the 2nd instant. It may be said that the various steps which I have related are being taken, not in contravention, but in pursuance of the conditions of the Armistice. That may be so, because we do not know what conditions there may be in the Armistice of which we are not aware. But it appears that the Porte is equally in ignorance, and is 1213 perplexed at the meaning of these movements. We have in a telegram sent this day asked the Government of Russia to give us some explanations on the subject; and we have called attention to a declaration made by the Emperor of Russia in July last to Colonel Wellesley, to the effect that—His Majesty will not occupy Constantinople for the sake of military honour, hut only if such a step is rendered necessary by the march of events.Considering that the Turkish resistance has ceased, it would not appear that any such necessity can now exist.
§ MR. DILLWYN
Before you leave the Chair, Sir, I should like to ask a Question of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I have not given Notice of it, because I expected a Question would be put on the subject from a more influential quarter. I wish to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Whether he has had his attention called to a telegram which appeared this morning in a very influential paper—the "Daily News"—imputing grave misconduct to the Prime Minister and to Her Majesty's Ambassador at Constantinople? I wish to ask whether it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government to take steps to explain or refute—["No, no!"]—yes, I say, if they can do so, to refute a statement so injurious to the character of the Prime Minister and our Ambassador at Constantinople? ["No!"] This, I think, will be demanded by the country.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
I think a Question like that of the hon. Gentleman, put in such a way and without any Notice, is unusual. My attention has not been peculiarly directed to this telegram of which he speaks; but I certainly did see amongst the various items in The Daily News this morning some anonymous account of a conversation to which, I presume, the hon. Member refers. I did not pay very much attention to it; but I have no doubt that if it is of the character which the hon. Gentleman wishes to bring forward, those to whom it relates will be perfectly ready to give an answer to any Question.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
After the statement just made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I hope the House will allow me to say one word with regard to the course which, in concert 1214 with my noble Friend (the Marquess of Hartington) and others, I think it right to take with regard to my Amendment. The Forms of the House will, of course, not permit me to repeat the objections to the Constitutional and political character of the Vote which induced me to bring for ward that Amendment. I cannot, however, deny that the aspect of affairs in the East is changed by the information which has just been given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which information I take on the authority of the Government. With regard to the Vote of Credit proposed by the Government, we are now, Sir, on the stage of your leaving the Chair. Of course, in Committee of Supply, the Government will state their view as to how the Vote of money is to be applied, and ought to be applied, in the existing state of affairs. I hardly need say that I reserve to myself the fullest freedom of action in Committee; but I must state to the House that I no longer think it my duty to oppose any further obstacle to you, Sir, leaving the Chair. I beg, therefore, to withdraw the Amendment. ["No, no!"]
THE MARQUESS OF HARTINGTON
I wish to say a word as to the resumption of the debate under the new circumstances which have been produced by the statement just made by my right hon. Friend. I apprehend, Sir, that according to the rules of our procedure it will not be in your power to put the Question whether the House will permit my right hon. Friend's Amendment to be withdrawn until the conclusion of the debate which is now in progress upon that Amendment. My hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Rylands) is, I believe, in possession of the House. I have no right and no desire, I can assure him, to dictate what steps he ought to take, or to give a strong opinion on the course which he ought to pursue under these circumstances; but perhaps the House will allow me to state my own opinion that after the statement which has just been made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, it would be for the convenience of the House that the discussion on the Amendment of my right hon. Friend—which he has given Notice it is his intention, with the leave of the House, to withdraw—should not be any further prolonged, and that my hon. Friend (Mr. Rylands) and other hon. Members who desire still to ad- 1215 dress the House on this Amendment should waive their right of doing so, and allow further discussion on the Vote proposed by Her Majesty's Government to take place after the Speaker has left the Chair. It appears to me, speaking with great deference, that that would, on the whole, he the most convenient course to pursue, and I hope it is one which may commend itself to the opinion and to the judgment of my hon. Friend and the House.
§ MR. RYLANDS
I certainly have no hesitation—[Ironical cheers]—in acting in accordance with the suggestion of the noble Lord. I may venture, perhaps, to observe that while with us on this side of the House and our Leaders there has been a disposition, under circumstances which are no doubt of a novel character, and when we are in possession of intelligence, although there may be some question as to its authenticity and accuracy, yet when the noble Lord, in view of that intelligence, and with the object of giving the House a better opportunity of considering the position in which hon. Members are placed on this important question—when the noble Lord recommends that we should not proceed further, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Bradford is willing to withdraw his Amendment—under these circumstances, perhaps, I may be permitted to say with great diffidence to hon. Gentlemen opposite that when this spirit has been manifested by the noble Lord and my right hon. Friend, I do not think a spirit of jeering and levity should be indulged in. The House should have an opportunity of carefully considering the new position in which we are placed.
§ MR. SPEAKER
Any discussion upon the Order of the Day in respect to the Eastern Question will now be premature.