HC Deb 28 February 1881 vol 258 cc1847-9

asked the Secretary of State for India, If he has seen certain letters in the "Daily News," signed "Ignotus," and written by a person purporting to have cognizance of the contents of the Secret Department of the India Office, in which he states as "real facts" that the determination of the late Government up to the date of the Berlin Congress of 1878 was that Afghanistan was to be absorbed into the Indian Empire at any cost, by fair means if possible, by foul if necessary; that, subsequent to the Berlin Conference, The policy of a limitation of the frontier with Russia revived. He (Lord Lytton) was determined, therefore on a war with Shere Ali, which would ultimately have the effect of 'wiping Afghanistan out of the map,' and giving up the frontier of our Indian Empire to the Hindu Kush; and that, in the Secret Department of the India Office, despatches and documents will be found substantiating these charges; whether he would have any objection to state if there are any such documents or despatches in the Secret Department; and, if so, whether they can be laid upon the Table of the House; and, whether he has any reason to believe that the individual writing under the name of "Ignotus" occupies any position of trust and responsibility at the India Office, and thus obtains access to confidential papers?


Sir, I must say I am somewhat surprised that my noble Friend should have thought it necessary to put a Question of this nature on the Paper. I confess that I feel some difficulty as to the mode in which it ought to be answered. The noble Lord appears to have entered into a newspaper controversy with an anonymous antagonist, and not being, I presume, entirely satisfied with the results of that controversy, the noble Lord appeals to me to give him assistance. I have no knowledge of the person who signs himself "Ignotus," and I admit I have no particular anxiety to ascertain who wrote under that signature. It appears to me, from internal evidence, that there is no proof that the person so signing himself has had access to, or cognizance of, the contents of any Papers contained in the Secret Department of the India Office; but I should say, judging from the same evidence, that he has had communication with some person in the India Office, who has, perhaps, been less discreet than he ought to have been in reference to what may have come to his knowledge during the last last three or four years. The noble Lord is aware—as well aware as I am—that although cases of a direct breach of confidence, such as that which took place the other day, when a confidential Paper was communicated to the newspapers, are extremely rare, yet it has been a subject of complaint from time to time that there is more communication and more talk with persons outside the office than there ought to be about matters which ought to be considered as strictly confidential. The noble Lord is aware that a considerable amount of Correspondence has passed on this subject during the last three or four years, which the late Government did not think it expedient to produce, and which, as far as I am aware, it is not at present expedient to produce. If it is undesirable to lay that Correspondence on the Table, it will be equally undesirable that I should attempt to describe the contents of that Correspondence; and, therefore, I am not prepared to lay upon the Table or to give any description of the documents to which the noble Lord refers. The noble Lord will see that the Correspondence refers to statements not made in public or official documents, but in confidential communications. So far as I am aware, there are no Papers I have seen that bear out the statements in the Question of the noble Lord; but it is impossible for me to say what impression some of the facts and statements in those documents may have made on the mind of some other person who may have had access to them. I do not think it is possible for me to give any other answer to the Question.