HC Deb 07 June 1880 vol 252 cc1341-4

asked the Secretary of State for India, Whether he is able to give the House any further information as to the measures which have been taken by the Government to bring the War in Afghanistan to a conclusion; whether it is intended permanently to maintain a British force in the occupation of Kandahar, or in the districts on the frontier annexed or assigned under the Treaty of Gandamak; and, whether any instructions have been given to the Viceroy upon these points; and, if so, whether they can be laid upon the Table of the House?


asked the Secretary of State for India, Whether he has requested the Indian Government to prepare a Statement showing the cost which will probably be incurred annually after the withdrawal of our troops from Afghanistan, for garrisoning the Frontier and occupying the territory ceded by the Treaty of Gandamak, including transport, relief, &c, as compared with similar Charges in respect of the former Frontier; whether he will communicate such Statement to the House; and whether, in considering the arrangements to be made in regard to Afghanistan, the additional expense, if any, which will be imposed on the Indian Revenue by the acquired territory, will be taken into account?


asked the Secretary of State for India, If he will undertake that, before any orders are given for withdrawing the troops from Candahar, an opportunity will be given to the House of discussing the policy of that step?


Mr. Speaker, to answer the Question of my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough (Sir Harcourt Johnstone) in anything like detail would take up too much of the time of the House; but I am extremely anxious to communicate to the House all that, in my opinion, can be properly communicated at the present moment; and in order to save time, and at the same time not to omit anything which can be properly stated, I have thought it well to draw up a memorandum, which, with the permission of the House, I will read. It is as follows:—"Instructions as full as the case admitted of have been sent to Lord Ripon. I wish that it were possible to lay this despatch upon the Table. I am fully sensible of the forbearance of the House in not pressing for complete information upon the state of affairs in Afghanistan and the measures which the Government propose to take, and I am most anxious to give the House all possible information at the earliest date. But the instructions necessarily relate in great part to negotiations of a very difficult and delicate character, which have now been, or will shortly be, intrusted to Lord Ripon. Information as to what is said here reaches Afghanistan with extraordinary rapidity, and the jealous and suspicious character of the Afghan Chiefs renders it very necessary that no premature or incomplete disclosure of the intentions and proposals of the Government should be made which might tend to embarrass Lord Ripon in the exercise of the discretion which must necessarily be left to him. But I may state that the objects of the Government are mainly two. The first is to bring the actual military operations to a close. The House will have seen with a regret which is fully shared by Her Majesty's Government that, from time to time, expeditions are still undertaken from headquarters, with the object of reducing to submission or of punishing tribes who have assumed a hostile attitude, or have attacked or threatened our communications. So long as our troops remain in the country their supplies and communications must be secured, and whatever measures may be necessary for this purpose must be taken. But it will be Lord Ripon's first object to restrict the area and scope of these operations as much as possible, and to avoid any further collisions with tribes beyond the limits of the positions which we occupy. The next object will be to leave behind us, when the main body of the troops retires, as we hope it may in the autumn, something like a prospect of a settled Government. It is to this object that the negotiations to which I have referred and the instructions to Lord Ripon principally relate, and matters have not yet sufficiently advanced to enable me to give to the House any detailed in forma- tion. With regard to this future settlement, the House is aware that the late Government and Lord Lytton considered that the separation of Candahar from Afghanistan, and the establishment of an independent Government there, under British protection, was a settled and desirable policy. I have said, on a previous occasion, that engagements which have been entered into, and to which the honour of the country is pledged, must be respected; and I am not at present prepared to say that any other arrangement is now possible, even if it were found to be desirable. But the Government certainly does not view with favour or look upon as advantageous any arrangement which would make the permanent occupation of Candahar by a large British Force a necessity. Lord Ripon will examine the question from this point of view. He will form his own judgment as to what is honourably binding on us and politically expedient; but he will not approach the question with any preconceived opinion in favour of a policy which would require a permanent extension of our military liabilities. The same observations apply to the positions on the Frontier occupied under the Treaty of Gandamak. The Government are not satisfied that they add anything to the strength of the Frontier; they appear to involve a very considerable addition to the Frontier Force, which we should regret. Lord Ripon will obtain the best military advice at his disposal on the military question, and on this advice he will act independently. He will consider the question of their retention or abandonment on its merits, political and military, and will not be influenced by the mere fact of their having been acquired and occupied under the Treaty of Gandamak, which must be considered to have ceased to exist." In reply to the Question of the hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire (Mr. E. Stanhope), I think it will be apparent, from what I have said, that no hasty or precipitate action is contemplated in regard to Candahar. I trust it may be possible for the House, before the end of the Session, to discuss this question more fully and completely, and that the hon. Member will then have an opportunity of bringing before the House his views on that subject. With regard to the Question of the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Samuelson), I may state that no such calculation as he asks for has been required from the Government of India, nor do I think it possible to obtain that information in any form that would be useful or satisfactory. The cost of garrisoning the Frontier must, of course, depend on the circumstances under which we retire, and the state of things we leave behind us. The hon. Gentleman will see, from what I have stated, that the question of what is called the "Scientific Frontier" will not escape the attention of the Government; but I do not think any useful purpose would be served by calling for such a Return as he desires, in the present state of affairs.