HC Deb 21 March 1881 vol 259 cc1507-10

asked the Secretary of State for India, Whether, considering the importance of the debate on the subject of Candahar, which has been announced to take place on Thursday, Her Majesty's Government could, on their own responsibility, either make a statement or lay further Papers upon the Table of the House, so as to place the House in full possession of all the facts of the case?


I stated on Friday, in reply to the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, that I would to-day, after communication with the Viceroy of India, endeavour to make some statement on the subject of the position of affairs in Afghanistan; and, having made that communication, I may as well take this opportunity of making a very short statement to the House on the subject. Immediately after the decision had been arrived at not permanently to occupy Candahar, communications were opened by the Government of India with the Ameer Abdurrahman, informing him of the intention of the Government to reconsider the arrangements which had been made for the government of Southern Afghanistan, and expressing the desire of the Viceroy to act in the matter in consultation and concert with him. There was great delay in the transmission of this letter to the Ameer, and the answer of the Ameer was also delayed some time on the road. However, when it was received, we found that the Ameer expressed his gratitude to the Viceroy for the communication which had been made to him, and his strong desire for a personal interview in order to confer with him on the affairs of Afghanistan. That, however, on account of the illness of the Viceroy, and for other reasons, was deemed impracticable at that time. The Ameer, however, had subsequently sent an Envoy, General Ahmed Khan, to Calcutta, to confer principally on Cabal matters. He has had several satisfactory interviews with the Viceroy, and he has returned to Cabal. In the meantime, however, in the month Of January, the Viceroy intimated to Abdurrahman that the British Government would contemplate with satisfaction the restoration of Candahar to Afghanistan, and would agree to the extension of His Highness's authority over that Province, recognizing his Government when established, and generally assisting him, as they did at Cabal, by a limited material help. The Ameer has made the purport of the Viceroy's communication generally known at Cabal, and has accepted the offer. The Viceroy has since informed Abdurrahman that it was necessary that the Cabul troops, with a Governor authorized to receive charge from the British officers, should reach Candahar early in April. The Ameer replied that he was desirous to take charge of Candahar at once; that his troops were all ready, his carriage being the principal difficulty, and that he hoped his forces would reach Candahar about the time named. The latest information received from the Viceroy is to the effect that the Cabal troops have started, or will start shortly, for Candahar, and will reach Candahar early in April, and that all arrangements for our withdrawal are completed. At the same time, measures have been taken at Candahar in preparation for the withdrawal of the British troops; and several of the leading Sirdars at Candahar have written to the Ameer of Cabal tendering their allegiance. That, I think, is all the information which it is possible for me to give to the House at the present moment. The House will see that the position is a somewhat critical one, and that to enter into any further detail would not add very much to the information of the House, while it is possible that mischief might be caused in Afghanistan. I am sorry that it is not in my power to lay any Papers on the Table. The Correspondence is in an extremely incomplete state. That would be so under any circumstances; but it is more incomplete than it otherwise would have been in consequence of the circumstance that, owing to some extraordinary accident or oversight, many of the despatches in the Political Department which ought to have arrived by the last and previous mails have not yet been received. Amongst these are the Minutes by Members of the Council, which I expected to have received three weeks or, at the latest, a fortnight ago, and which I had hoped to be able to lay on the Table of the House. Although the Government of India telegraphed that they were sent, they have not yet reached me. Under these circumstances, I regret that it will not be in my power to lay any further Papers on the Table before the debate on the Motion of the hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire (Mr. E. Stanhope).


The noble Lord will recollect that he promised to lay on the Table Mr. Lyall's Report on Candahar; and perhaps he will inform us whether that is amongst the despatches which have not yet been received. If it has been received, will the noble Lord lay it on the Table?


The noble Lord says there are certain Minutes of Members of the Council which have not yet arrived. Will he have any objection to telegraph to India asking what is the purport of those Minutes?


I would ask whether the whole of the British troops are to be withdrawn from Candahar as soon as the troops of the Ameer of Cabul arrive there?


I would ask whether there has been any communication with Ayoob Khan at Herat with regard to the retention of Candahar?


No communication whatever has been made to Ayoob Khan at Herat with regard to the retention of Candahar. It is not intended that any British troops should permanently occupy Candahar. What will be the precise arrangments for the withdrawal of the troops I am not able at present to say. I have no recollection of having made any reference to the Report of Mr. Lyall at Candahar, or having promised to lay it on the Table. I believe, however, that it has been received, and I will see whether it can be presented before Thursday. I do not think it possible to ask for the substance of the Minutes of Members of the Council by telegraph. Documents of that sort are not generally capable of being abbreviated without losing a great deal of their value.


I beg to ask whether arrangements have been made for the security and protection of those inhabitants of Candahar who have favoured British rule during the last year or two?


I am perfectly aware that that is one of the subjects which have been occupying the attention of the Viceroy and his Government. I am not, however, able to state what the exact arrangements are that have been made for the protection of those persons.