HC Deb 24 May 1880 vol 252 cc332-3

Sir, as I have observed that there is some difference in the reports given in the various newspapers of an answer which I gave to a Question on Friday last, and as the subject is a very important one, I think it is desirable that I should repeat what I said on that occasion, and, with the permission of the House, perhaps I may add one or two words in explanation. I said, in answer, I think, to my hon. Friend the Member for Hull (Mr. Norwood), who asked me what measures the Government were going to take for the purpose of putting an end to the hostilities in Afghanistan, that Lord Ripon had gone out fully acquainted with the views of Her Majesty's Government and the policy which they desired to pursue, so far as they were able to form an opinion up to the present time. I added, I believe, that it was the desire of Her Majesty's Government to bring the military operations to a close, and to effect the retirement of the troops at the earliest possible moment from Afghan territory. That is, I need scarcely say, our anxious desire. The statement, however, is one which cannot be made without certain qualifications. There are considerations of great importance, with regard to the health of the troops, which must be taken into account in determining the time at which their retirement is possible. I may further state that of course regard must be had to any engagements which may have been entered into in the name of Her Majesty, and to which the honour of the country is committed. How far such engagements have been made, and to what extent we are committed, we are not at present in a position definitely to state to the House; but I must say that from the knowledge we do possess it is not probable that it will be possible to effect so early a retirement from Candahar as from Cabul and Northern and Eastern Afghanistan. I may further observe that whenever we may be able to effect this retirement regard must be paid to the protection of those Chiefs and Tribes who have rendered assistance to our troops. It is obvious that a great many of those might be placed in a position of very great danger if our troops were to retire without making adequate arrangements for the protection of those who have extended assistance and goodwill to us. Subject to these qualifications and others which it is not possible for me to state at the present time, I can only say that it is the earnest wish of Her Majesty's Government that the retirement of the troops from Afghanistan should be effected at the earliest possible moment.