HC Deb 13 May 1881 vol 261 cc477-502

, in rising to call attention to the deficiency of official information respecting recent events in Asia, said, he had intended to ask the Government, If they can explain to the House why, when they fixed on the 24th March for the discussion of their policy in Afghanistan, they failed before that date to supply the House with the necessary documents, since published, giving the Russian official exposition of the meaning of their previous assurances, as well as the objections of the Indian Government to the orders sent them from Downing Street? He apprehended, however, that according to the Forms of the House it would not be competent for him to address to the Government that identical Question; and, therefore, he proposed to put a Question of a different character to the hon. Baronet the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. He would ask, Whether he could supplement the statement which he made on March 24 with information about the advances since made in Central Asia by the Russian Armies; whether the statement that General Skobeleff had been recalled was an accurate statement; and, whether his hon. Friend had any reason to believe that the Russians had been ordered to discontinue their warlike operations? On all questions of this character in a discussion the Government who were in Office had an enormous advantage, as they could produce what Papers they chose and hold back what they chose. If the discussion was likely to prove inconvenient, they had only to say they could not produce such and such documents. Well, on the occasion when his hon. Friend (Mr. E. Stanhope) brought forward his Motion they were entirely in the dark upon two all-important points, and those two points were what were the opinions of the Indian Government upon the orders which they had received from home; and, secondly, what were the intentions of the Russian Government with regard to military operations in Central Asia. They had a pretty strong opinion at the time that the opinions of the Indian Government and of the Council of the Governor General were antagonistic to the orders they received from Downing Street, and they were very anxious to obtain from the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for India an accurate record of what were the opinions of the Indian Government, and they pressed the noble Marquess on that subject; but they could not induce him to afford them information. The Papers from India containing the objections to the orders from Downing Street somehow miscarried, and did not arrive in time for the debate. A debate took place, and a division was arrived at. The Government obtained a majority of 120; and that majority, he thought, gave the Prime Minister the greatest satisfaction, for he on more than one occasion alluded to it. They obtained that majority, and the British troops were ordered to withdraw from Southern Afghanistan. The British troops were still in Southern Afghanistan, and why? Because the Indian Government, although they did not dare to refuse to obey the orders that were sent to them from England, yet felt it so necessary in the interests of the Indian Empire that those orders should not be carried out beyond certain points, that they insisted on occupying Pishin. And Pishin was just as much in Southern Afghanistan as Candahar. The result was that at the present moment our troops in Southern Afghanistan were in a most unfortunate position. There were certain advantages connected with a permanent occupation of Candahar. There were certain advantages also connected with a withdrawal from Candahar. But they had abandoned the advantages of both by occupying Pishin. The advantage of remaining at Candahar was that the presence of British troops would prevent any local insurrection or disturbance. On the other hand, there was the danger that if a local disturbance did take place we might be involved in it. But, by withdrawing to Pishin, they had very much increased the likelihood of a disturbance at Candahar; and if that disturbance took place our troops would be bound to come forward and help our friends to suppress it—unless the Liberal Government came to the resolution that it was better to throw our friends over than run the risk attendant on such an operation. Well, such was the unfortunate position in which we found ourselves. And why were we in that unfortunate position? Simply because the House on the 25th March arrived at the conclusion, in absolute ignorance of the opinions both of the Indian Government and of the Council of the Governor General of India, as well as of the intention of the Russian Government. He thought he might here say that it had been the invariable practice of every Government to produce Papers which were relevant to any question which was to be discussed, especially if it was a Party question, in time for that discussion. It was perfectly clear that no discussion could be thorough if those who discussed it were not in possession of accurate information. The Secretary of State and the Viceroy had a power of enormous magnitude; but when Parliament vested Secretaries of State and Viceroys with that power it laid down certain precautions. It was felt at the time when the Government of India was transferred from the East India Company to the Crown that Indian questions might be more frequently introduced and become matters of Party conflict, and therefore that the House might always be in possession of the opinions of those who were not influenced by Home politics, it was enacted that any despatch, whether written by a Secretary of State at home or by a Viceroy of India, which was laid before their Councils, any opinions the members of those Councils might express should, with the despatch, be laid before Parliament; and by that means, therefore, Parliament would be in possession of the views of Indian officials on any question that might be under discussion. What had happened? On the 25th of March the House had arrived at a most important decision with regard to our Frontier policy in the North-West of India, and late on the night of the 24th despatches were laid on the Table of the House, so that his hon. Friend who had brought forward the Motion relating to Candahar had not had time to read them before he spoke on the subject. A few days after the opinions of certain Members of the Council of India were laid on the Table, and about three days subsequently a number of most important despatches relating to the intentions of Russia with regard to Central Asia were published by the Foreign Office. Now, he found the arguments which had been employed by the Members of the Council of India were entirely in accordance with the views expressed upon that (the Opposition) side of the House, while the despatches from St. Petersburg more than confirmed the darkest insinuations which had been thrown out in regard to the designs of Russia. It was impossible, therefore, to avoid coming to the conclusion that if the House had been in complete possession of the authentic and official information to which he referred, they would hardly have come to the decision at which they had arrived. [A laugh.] Hon. Gentlemen might laugh; but he might mention that when the question as to who was to blame for the delay of the despatches came to be investigated in India, the Deputy Postmaster of Bombay, upon whom the responsibility was sought to be placed, was so affected by the decision that he committed suicide. The noble Lord the Secretary of State for India was asked, in reference to the occupation of Candahar, whether a certain despatch from Sir Donald Stewart represented the views upon the subject entertained by that gallant General at that moment. There had been some doubt upon the point, and therefore the question was asked. There was now, however, in the Blue Book a despatch from Sir Donald Stewart which entirely confirmed almost every argument which had been put forward by his hon. Friend the Member for Mid Lincoln (Mr. E. Stanhope) against the abandonment of Candahar. Yet in the debate the name of Sir Donald Stewart had been paraded by Her Majesty's Government as being in favour of the policy of abandonment. He now came to another and the most startling of all the documents which had since been published. The House was aware that the Russian Government had given the most positive assurances that they had no intention of attacking or going near Merv—one of the most important stations in Central Asia. But when the late Government were defeated at the General Election in the month of April last year, the Russian Government were sharp enough to see that it was possible the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian and his Colleagues might come into Office. What, under those circumstances, did they do? In April they prepared a despatch, which they sent to the Russian Ambassador in this country. The despatch stated, in effect, that they thought the importance of Merv had been very much exaggerated; that they could not pledge themselves to the exact limits within which their military operations would be confined; that they had no desire to push as far as Merv, but that, if they found themselves compelled to do so, they certainly would not contemplate a permanent occupation of the place, and would withdraw from it as soon as possible. He might add that the Russian Government gave to their Ambassador in this country absolute discretion as to the time when he should communicate the contents of the despatch to Her Majesty's Government here. At a later period Earl Granville protested against the despatch; and Lord Dufferin, when informed at St. Petersburg that Russia might occupy Merv, said that, as the late Emperor had given assurances on the subject in the most unequivocal language, he had led his own Government to regard the matter as having been placed beyond doubt, and that he hardly knew in what terms to convey to Lord Granville information to a contrary effect. All the Russian despatches were couched exactly in the same terms, and they showed that no assurances given by the Russian Government were worth the paper they were written upon. The date of the latest of the despatches being the 8th of March, and the day specially fixed by the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister for the discussion of the Motion of the hon. Member for Mid Lincoln being the 24th of March, he wished to know why the despatches had not been laid on the Table of the House before the debate was brought on? He did not for a moment pretend that either the noble Lord the Secretary of State for India or the Under Secretary had deliberately kept back these documents. [A laugh.] Under the circumstances, he thought the noble Lord ought to be very grateful for that statement, because the House had before them the remarkable fact that when the documents were not forthcoming, and he heard that the Motion was coming on, he suggested to the noble Lord that he should have them sent by telegraph. But—"No," said the noble Lord; "I cannot telegraph these documents. They are of too great importance; and to telegraph an abstract of such communications would materially diminish their importance." He could not help thinking that if these documents of great importance had confirmed the views of the noble Lord, he would have been glad to communicate the effect of them by telegraph, and to lay them in that way upon the Table of the House. And, although he did not mean to say that the noble Lord did not telegraph them because they were in conflict with his own views, there was a certain amount of vis inertiœ which the noble Lord allowed to overcome his energy and activity to supply the House with information with which it ought to have been supplied, and which, somehow or other, induced him to take less trouble in the matter than he might have been expected to take. As he had said before, the House were in a position of some little difficulty. They could not discuss the question again, because they were precluded from doing so by the Forms of the House; but, under the circumstances, he thought they had a right to ask for some explanation from Her Majesty's Government. If the Government could, as it seemed to him they must, admit the facts to be as he had stated them, then he did hope that the House would receive some assurance from them that if ever again they made a question a Party question—["Oh!"]—if, above all, they ever made an Indian question a Party question— ["Oh!" and laughter.] Hon. Members opposite laughed; but he believed that it had not hitherto been the practice to make Indian questions Party questions. [Sir WILLIAM HARCOURT: Who made it so?] "Who made it so?" said the Home Secretary. Why, the Prime Minister. It was not a Party question in "another place." ["Oh!"] If it was a Party question, it was a very curious thing that so large a number of Liberal Peers should have voted against their Party. Having been for some years Under Secretary of State for India he knew, and was bound to state, that during the whole of the time he occupied the Office he must gratefully recollect the consideration which the right hon. Gentleman the present Under Secretary (Mr. Grant Duff) always gave to him. But, unfortunately, since the question of the policy to be pursued towards Afghanistan came under discussion many Indian questions, as the House well knew, had been made more or less Party questions. He sincerely hoped that, in the interests of India, they would soon get to the end of Party questions; and all he asked from Her Majesty's Government was an assurance that if they should consider it necessary in future to bring any one particular Indian question before the House, Her Majesty's Government would consider it right to publish all the information they had in their possession in reference to such question, and to take such steps as were necessary to have that information before the House before the question was discussed, and when it might be useful, and not afterwards, when it was more or less useless.


We all, I think, on both sides of the House, appear to have been labouring under a most unfortunate misapprehension in regard to this question of Candahar and Afghanistan. The noble Lord has informed us for the first time to-night that it was the Government who made this question a Party question, and that it was not in the mind of the Opposition to make it a Party question at all. We were under the impression, and it was never contradicted by any Member of the Opposition until this moment, that the Motion of the hon. Member for Mid Lincoln (Mr. E. Stanhope) was a Vote of Censure on Her Majesty's Government. I think the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Devon (Sir Stafford Northcote) put a question to the Prime Minister as to the opportunities which would be given for the discussion of the Motion; and the measures which were taken stamped it and marked it as a deliberate Party Motion—a Party Vote of Censure. Taking it in that light, my right hon. Friend gave the earliest and fullest facilities for its discussion. If we had known what we know now from the noble Lord, that it was not a Party Motion at all, but only an academical discussion of a question that was to be discussed like all other Indian questions, without reference to Party considerations, whatever they might have thought, it might not have been necessary for the Government, at an extremely inconvenient period of the Session, to have devoted the time they did to the discussion of the measure; and it is a pity that the intimation was not made until after the discussion which took up so much of the time of the House. In the course of the discussion on that Motion, which we now learn was not a Party one, the charge which the noble Lord made to-night was insinuated once or twice, and I rose to take the earliest opportunity I could to put the question directly to hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, and to ask them whether they did deliberately believe that I, in the interests of the Government or in the interest of any particular view of the question, had deliberately suppressed, or taken measures for the suppression, of these Minutes of the Members of the Council of India, which were unfavourable to our views? I had no sooner asked the question than it was repudiated, as I thought universally, by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite, and I understood that it was an expression of opinion from Members on the opposite side that no such idea was entertained by them. But now, after several weeks' interval, the noble Lord comes forward and deliberately resuscitates this charge, which I cannot consider as any other than a charge of having deliberately suppressed the despatches. ["No, no!"] Then I certainly cannot understand what it is that the noble Lord does mean. The noble Lord says the Government made a Party question of this, and fixed the 24th of March for its discussion, and he says that the Government named that day and at the same time did not take measures for placing the House in possession of all the information to which it was entitled. Let me just state to the House what are the facts and the dates in regard to this matter. At an early period of the Session several Questions were put to me as to what the answer of the Indian Government was with reference to my despatch on the subject of Candahar. I said that the reply had not been received; but, having communicated with the Government of India by telegraph, I was able subsequently to state that the reply was on its way. That reply was dated the 2nd of February, 1881, and ought to have been received about the end of the month of February. The concluding paragraph of that despatch was as follows:— The Minutes which are being recorded on the subject-matter of this despatch by some of our own honourable Colleagues will be forwarded by the subsequent mail. I assumed, as I think I had a right to do, that the subsequent mail referred to would be the next mail. I could not imagine that when the Government of India agreed to send the despatch that they were likely to delay it beyond the subsequent mail. But in that I was mistaken. In spite of having been informed that the Minutes would come by the mail which followed the reply, sent by the mail on the 2nd of February, none of them were sent until the mail of February 21st; and the Minutes sent by the mail of February 21st were those which miscarried. On the 28th of February, two subsequent Minutes were dispatched, one of them being that of Mr. Rivers Thompson and the other that of Major Baring. Both of these arrived, I think, on the 21st of March, and it was only then that I ascertained that the despatches sent on the 21st of February had miscarried altogether. They had been sent by the previous mail of the 21st of February, but had missed altogether, and would not be forthcoming. I then found that it was of no use waiting for them any longer, and I gave directions at once that all the Papers in our possession should be printed and placed in the hands of Members. I regret exceedingly that they were not in the hands of the hon. Member for Mid Lincoln until a few minutes before he rose to make his speech; but the despatches, which were extremely short, were in hands of hon. Members that evening, and all who cared to read them had an opportunity of doing so before they came to the division next night. These despatches, although not complete until the subsequent mail, did contain the most able and the strongest Minute against the policy of Her Majesty's Government—I mean that of Mr. Rivers Thompson. The noble Lord says that no explanation has been given of the manner in which the despatches miscarried. The noble Lord never asked what became of them, or it could have been afforded to him. The explanation is a very simple one. They did not go to St. Petersburg. By some mistake they were placed in the Bombay Post Office, and they were sent home, not by the mail, but as a parcel, and in that form they were received, I think, at Portsmouth. [Lord GEORGE HAMILTON: Hear, hear!] The noble Lord seems to think the matter extremely amusing; and, indeed, referred lightly to the suicide of the Deputy Postmaster of Bombay, who was held responsible for the mistake. I do not know whether the noble Lord meant to be serious. If not, it was an extremely bad joke. It is the fact, however, that Mr. Row, the Deputy Postmaster at Bombay, was held responsible for the mistake, and it is a fact that Mr. Row, subsequently to the discovery of the blunder, has committed suicide. What happened was perfectly clear, and there is no mystery about it. The noble Lord evidently believes that the Deputy Postmaster was instructed to send these despatches to Portsmouth by parcel instead of by letter, and that he has been made the victim of the machinations of Her Majesty's Government. The noble Lord says that if the opinion of Sir Donald Stewart had been in the hands of Members before the division was taken, it would have had great influence upon the House, and would have altered the result. Now, not one word was said about Sir Donald Stewart's opinion that was not borne out, and more than borne out, by Sir Donald Stewart's subsequent Minute. What did Sir Donald Stewart say in the Minute that did not reach us? He said that he did not consider Candahar as a strategical position, nor was an advocate of its annexation for any purpose, not even if it could be demonstrated, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that our Frontier could be strengthened by such a measure. I stated that Sir Donald Stewart was not an advocate of the retention of Candahar. I fully admit that he states in his opinion that the evils which may result from a change of policy on the part of one Government when it succeeds another are so great that he is of opinion that it is doubtful whether we ought to evacuate Candahar. Sir Donald Stewart's political opinion was that which I have just read, and it was quite as strong as anything that could be attributed to him in the course of debate. The noble Lord, not satisfied with referring to Papers which are not before us, has gone back to Papers which were before the House for weeks before the Motion of the hon. Member for Mid Lincoln came on. He is now complaining that I published Lord Lytton's Minute, and he says that it has nothing whatever to do with the question. It may not have anything to do with the question in his sense—because he does not find it convenient from his view of the question—but it has a great deal to do with the question, as it was discussed, of the value of Candahar in a strategical and political point of view; and when I was placing before the House the opinion of great authorities on this question, I do not see why I should not include the opinion of so great an authority as Lord Lytton in the year 1878. The noble Lord invites me to discuss our present position in Afghanistan, and he says it combines all possible disadvantages with the fewest possible advantages. He says that this has arisen in consequence of the peremptory orders issued by Her Majesty's Government. Well, I can only say that the present position of matters is the one contemplated by Her Majesty's Government at home, and is the one supposed by the Government of India to be the most suitable. We issued instructions of a very precise character as to the abandonment of Candahar. We left it to the Government of India to decide as to the time of our withdrawal from Pishin. With the full assent of Her Majesty's Government, the Government of India have availed themselves, acting upon the best advice and information in their possession, of the discretion given to them, and in the exercise of that discretion have decided to prolong for some time the occupation of Pishin without, in the least degree, deciding what the permanent policy in regard to that place is to be. Pending further instructions from the Government, they are of opinion that our withdrawal from the position we occupy in Southern Afghanistan ought not to be precipitate, that it ought not to be sudden, that it ought not necessarily to be immediately completed. For that purpose, and with that object, bearing that consideration in view, great discretionary power was given to the Government of India. The Government of India has availed itself of that discretion, and I have no reason to believe that the Government of India has been placed in any position of embarrassment whatever by the position we now hold in Southern Afghanistan. The noble Lord has invited me to give assurances that in the case of future debates full information will be given to the House. I cannot undertake to give any assurance that any other course will be taken than has been taken in this matter. We had every reason to suppose that by the day fixed by my right hon. Friend for the discussion of the question the fullest information, and all the information it was possible to obtain, would be in the hands of the House. Some of that information was withheld by an unaccountable accident for which the Government cannot be held responsible, and I think it is rather to be regretted that the noble Lord and his Friends should by this carping attack endeavour to weaken the decision at which the House has already arrived by so large a majority.


said, he thought the noble Lord who had just spoken had very much misunderstood the observations of his noble Friend the Member for Middlesex (Lord George Hamilton), and the spirit in which they were made. When he spoke of this question not having been brought forward until a month after the Afghan debate, the reason for this was very clear. His noble Friend had had no opportunity of bringing it on before. He had placed his Notice on the Paper, and called attention to the subject on the earliest occasion that presented itself. The noble Lord appeared hurt at the observations of his noble Friend with respect to this being or not a Party question. But the meaning of his noble Friend appeared to him perfectly obvious. The Motion, when brought forward, was rejected by a large majority of the House. That decision he perfectly accepted; but he was not without considerable hope that the arguments urged in the course of the debate which took place would even now have a very considerable influence on the policy of the Government. When the Motion was proposed, the Prime Minister at once accepted it as a Motion of Want of Confidence. No doubt, it was a very convenient course for the right hon. Gentleman to take, and he did not complain of his decision. After what had taken place in the House of Lords, it was, he thought, perfectly fair that the Motion should have been accepted in that sense. But anyone who looked at the terms of the Motion would see that it would have been very easy to have treated it in no such sense. However, at that moment it was really not worth while entering into an elaborate discussion as to whether it was proposed in a Party sense or not. All he would say was, that the sooner Indian subjects ceased to be discussed from a Party point of view the better, and he was sure the House would find that, as soon as those sitting near him could get away from subjects connected with India which they were obliged to press upon Her Majesty's Government, they were prepared to assist Her Majesty's Government to the best of their power in dealing with all matters relating to India. The noble Lord seemed to think that his noble Friend had made a charge against him of having deliberately suppressed certain Papers. He certainly had not understood his noble Friend's observations in that sense. What he understood him to say was, that the Government fixed their own day for the debate—namely, the 24th of March—and that they were so careless in obtaining information beforehand that, when the subject came on for discussion, the House was without information that the Government might perfectly well have laid upon the Table of the House. He hoped the noble Lord would not think he was referring to Papers with which he was particularly concerned; he was not referring to the opinions of the Government of India or of the Council of India. For his own part, he must say he thought the noble Lord would have been anxious that those opinions should be before the House. They were, on the whole, very unfavourable to the views of the noble Lord, and, in a certain sense, their absence had been made use of in the course of the debate. But he did think, notwithstanding, that the course adopted by the noble Lord and by the Government, although it might have been perfectly accidental, was most unfair towards Sir Donald Stewart, because throughout the discussion Sir Donald Stewart was being constantly misrepresented. It was urged in various quarters of the House that the opinion of Sir Donald Stewart was in favour of the policy of the Government, while it was urged in others that it was in favour of the policy supported on that side of the House. For his own part, having had an opportunity of reading all the Papers put forward by Sir Donald Stewart, he thought it only fair to say that he had been consistent throughout. He said from the first that, from a military point of view, it was not, in his opinion, of so much importance that Candahar should be occupied by British troops; but that, on political grounds, it would be the basest possible desertion of the people of Candahar that our troops should be withdrawn from it. Now, Sir Donald Stewart was not only the Commander-in-Chief of Her Majesty's Forces in that part of the country, but the officer politically in charge of it; who had lived there for many months, and was the man most qualified to express an opinion upon the question. But that brought him to another point. The noble Lord had said he placed before the House—and, no doubt, he did—the opinions expressed by the Government of India, at the earliest possible date. But he ventured to repeat the complaint made on the occasion of his addressing the House before, as to the famous despatch dated the 2nd of February. That despatch had completely changed the position of affairs with regard to the retention of Pishin and Sibi, and it intimated to this country for the first time that the Government of India objected to the policy that was intended to be imposed on it from home, and desired, for a time at least, that Pishin and Sibi should be occupied by our troops, and had urged some strong contentions in support of that view. That despatch might have been in the hands of hon. Members three weeks before the debate took place; and yet, although it was perfectly well known that they, on that side of the House would, on the 24th March, call attention to the policy of Her Majesty's Government, not only with regard to Candahar but with regard to Southern Afghanistan generally, Her Majesty's Government had thought fit to keep back that despatch of the 2nd of February, and it was not put into his hands until 10 minutes before he rose to open the discussion. He now came to another point, and was glad that the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs had not yet spoken, because his next observations would be specially directed to him. When he addressed the House on the former occasion, the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs immediately followed, and made two statements with reference to the whole subject which had a very considerable effect upon the House, and had, as far as he could judge, actually influenced the course of public opinion on the question. He ventured to call attention to both statements. The first of them arose in this way. He had stated in the course of his remarks that an absolute pledge had been given by Sir Donald Stewart to the people of Candahar that they should never again fall under the dominion of the Ruler of Cabul, and he had further stated that to be a specific pledge given not only to the Ameer Shere Ali, but to the people themselves. What happened then? The Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs got up and quoted a despatch that was not on the Table; but he frankly and fairly stated that the despatch, although not there, had become the property of the House; and he quoted from that despatch and from a diary certain declarations made by Sir Donald Stewart, that it was the object of the Government, if possible, to make the Ameer secure on his Throne, and, as soon as he had been made secure and independent of British assistance, to withdraw from Candahar. He had since seen the diary on which that statement was published, and found that the diary, so far from in any way affecting the statement which he made was a remarkable confirmation of it, because there was the further statement, which the hon. Gentleman did not think it worth while to read to the House, that General Sir Donald Stewart reiterated to the Sirdar that he might rest assured that the government of the whole of Afghanistan would certainly not be vested in future in a single individual. So absolute a confirmation of his statement ought, he thought, to have been laid before the House. Then, there was another point. Upon the occasion to which he had alluded, he urged upon the House the importance which might be attached to Russian intrigues in Afghanistan, and to the Russian advance towards that country. The hon. Gentleman thereupon got up and said, with an air that, at any rate, carried conviction to the Liberal side of the House, that General Skobeleff had been recalled from Central Asia. On a subsequent occasion he had taken the opportunity of asking the hon. Gentleman upon what that statement was founded, and he said it was founded upon information which had reached him, and which had been afterwards confirmed by a despatch from Lord Dufferin. But, upon examination of the despatch, he found that, so far from its being a confirmation, it stated that General Skobeleff had been, at his own request, relieved from his command. And that was what the hon. Gentleman described as being recalled by special order of the Emperor. The hon. Gentleman, therefore, appeared to him to have gone on the merest possible hearsay; and it turned out, two days later, when Lord Dufferin's despatch was received, that his statement was not confirmed. What his noble Friend complained of was that the despatches to which he had drawn attention were in the possession of Her Majesty's Government in sufficient time to be laid upon the Table of the House for the purposes of the debate that took place. But the noble Lord opposite had not even touched upon that subject. It was true that had the Government written to St. Petersburg for leave to publish the despatch, some time must have elapsed; but the telegraph would have brought in two days the fullest possible information with regard to the disposition of the Russian Government upon this question. He thought, in that matter, the Government had not treated them at all fairly. They had kept back, no doubt without any design of deceiving the House, information that ought to have been laid upon the Table; they had fixed the debate for a day that was convenient to themselves, and then witheld the information necessary for full and fair discussion.


said, he did not quite understand whether the charge against the Government was that they had fixed too early a day for the debate, or that it was owing to carelessness on the part of the Government that the latest Papers were not produced in time for the debate. In either case, he was himself present in the House when the Prime Minister was pressed to fix an early day for the debate, and was now quite ready to examine the two statements that had been made with regard to the Indian Minutes and the Foreign Office Papers. The noble Lord who began this debate had been, in his opinion, sufficiently answered by the Secretary of State for India with regard to the Indian Papers; and everybody on that side of the House, he believed, considered the defence of his noble Friend to be complete. With reference to these Papers, there was every reason to believe they would reach this country in time to be printed; but, owing to the error of the unfortunate man, the Sub-Postmaster at Bombay, who had committed suicide, they had not done so. How any charge could be made against the Government, under the circumstances, he really could not understand. The important despatch to which the noble Lord opposite had referred was that of Lord Dufferin, dated the 8th of March. That despatch was received at the Foreign Office on the 14th of March; and the hon. Member who had just spoken had inquired why leave to publish it had not been asked by telegraph? That had been done. It was the practice, whenever a Foreign Office Blue Book was to be laid before the House, and whenever Foreign Governments had to be consulted with regard to publication, to telegraph the numbers of the despatches, and the consent to publish was generally returned in the same way. But there were often in St. Petersburg great difficulties in seeing gentlemen able to give the consent of the Government; and, in the present instance, consent to publish was not received until the day of the debate. The hon. Member opposite made a further inquiry as to why the despatch of the 2nd of February, relating to Pishin, had not been published? The House would see that the last paragraph of the despatch alluded to the Minutes which were on their way home, and it was the wish of Her Majesty's Government to publish both the despatch and the Minutes together. When, however, the Secretary of State for India found that the Minutes had not arrived, the despatch was published without them. The hon. Member who had just spoken had also made one or two remarks personal to himself. He said that in the course of the Candahar debate, in which he followed him, he (Sir Charles W. Dilke) had quoted from a portion of the Candahar diary, and that, after reading the context, he thought it did not bear out the explanation given. The hon. Member argued that the present Government had reversed the policy of their Predecessors with regard to Candahar; but he (Sir Charles W. Dilke) had contended that with regard to Candahar the late Government had no policy. The late Government, he would point out, had never themselves decided what they were going to do with Candahar. He had referred to the matter before; but the noble Lord had never been able to tell him the policy of his Party with regard to that city. Upon this matter he had quoted from the Cabul diary; and when he reminded the noble Lord that he had been unable to designate the line the late Government proposed to take on the question, he would point out that two speakers who had taken part in the debate to which reference had been made, one on the first night, and another on the second, who had been connected with the late Government, took different views to that which the noble Lord himself had taken. He could only refer hon. Members to the diary, which, he maintained, exactly bore out the statement he had made that the late Government had no definite policy with regard to the retention or abandonment of Candahar; and that, as a matter of fact, they were drifting with the stream when they went out of Office. Then a question was put to him as to the recall of General Skobeleff, and it was stated that the reply he had previously given was inaccurate, not being borne out by subsequent published documents. It was said that the General had not been recalled, but had retired of his own wish; but it must be remembered that when it was convenient for the home authorities to "recall" an official, it was usually explained that it was done at that individual's express de- sire. A great many cases of recall could be covered in this manner; and when the presence of a person in a certain place had ceased to be convenient, it was very easy to recall him "at his own wish." The Government had been informed by Her Majesty's Representative at St. Petersburg that General Skobeleff had been "recalled." They had continually asked for confirmations of that statement, and they had from time to time received the same reply, which had been submitted to the House in answer to Questions put by hon. Members. The noble Lord had put three questions to him, and this was one—whether the statement that General Skobeleff had been recalled was correct? His reply was that it was correct. Then the noble Lord asked whether orders had been given by the Russian Government for suspending the advance of the Russian troops in Central Asia? In reply, with regard to the orders given by the Russian Government, he could only state what Her Majesty's Government were informed. He could not say what orders had been given to the Russian forces; but they heard from Her Majesty's Representative at St. Petersburg, as he had twice informed the House, that there had been a stop put to the forward movement of the Russian troops in Central Asia. Therefore, as to what advance the Russian forces had made, he answered that they had made none; that they had, in fact, been falling back since the date of the debate. Before sitting down, he could only repeat the statement made by his noble Friend (the Marquess of Hartington) that there was not the smallest foundation for the assertion, either in connection with the Foreign Office or the Indian Office, that Papers had been kept back at the time of the debate. The Government had been asked to name an early day for the discussion, and before that date they had got together all the Papers they possibly could, and had produced them; and even if the Papers which were ultimately found to be missing had been forthcoming at that time, he did not believe that they would have had any substantial influence upon the debate.


said, the hon. Baronet appeared to think it sufficient excuse for the Government having commenced the debate on the abandonment of Pishin when they did, that they had been urged by the Opposition to name an early day; but he would remind the hon. Baronet that it was impossible for them on that side of the House to know what information the Government were in possession of. When Members of the Opposition pressed the Government for an early day, it was not to be supposed that they wished the Government to bring on the debate before they were able to produce, for the information of their opponents, all the despatches that were at their own disposal. The hon. Baronet who had just sat down began his speech by saying that he really did not understand the charge made against the Government; and the noble Lord who preceded him on that side of the House (the Marquess of Hartington) appeared so to misunderstand the charge as to suppose that it was one of duplicity brought against Her Majesty's present Advisers. They both seemed unable to imagine that there was any middle charge between absolute duplicity on the part of the Government, and absolving the Government altogether from blame in this matter. The case of the Opposition was not that at all. No man on that side of the House believed that the Government intended deliberately to withhold these Papers from the House; but, at the same time, they could not absolve the Ministry from the charge of having so acted that important information which should have been given to the House did not reach them. Let them compare the manner in which the Government had used information, but had not produced it, when it was in their interest to so act, and when it was against them. The hon. Baronet who had just sat down was in possession of certain information with regard to the Cabral diary, to which allusion had been made. He made use of this information, and also referred to a despatch, subsequently laid upon the Table, with regard to General Skobeleff. He had used the despatches which supported his own view; but he had given them no opinion as to the despatch which told against them—information with regard to which he had in his possession. That was the natural thing to do; but let them observe how capable it was of abuse, for if Government allowed themselves to use despatches only that told in favour of themselves, it was certain that they would ignore all those despatches which in any way told against them—and that was exactly what the Government did. He was not touching on the Indian despatches that were kept back by an accident, but the despatch which the Government actually had in the Foreign Office—namely, the Cabul diary which had since been published. The Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, undoubtedly, did make quotations from that diary, which hon. Members sitting opposite to them were unable to answer because they had not the despatch before them; but he had for borne to quote from information which he also had, and which would have told powerfully in favour of his opponents. That alone, he thought, was sufficient justification to his noble Friend for having called attention to this matter. The noble Lord was unable to go into this question in the course of the debate they had had, as he had not been in possession of the materials to enable him to do so; but he had put down his Notice as soon as he could, and had brought on this question on the earliest possible day. The noble Marquess the Secretary of State for India got into a state of virtuous indignation at the supposed accusation from the Front Opposition Bench; but it must be remembered how fond the present Ministry and their Followers when in Opposition were of accusing the late Government of feloniously keeping back information. Well, if the present Opposition ever had an opportunity to make use of a similar accusation there never was one more plausible than the present, because there were two entirely separate sets of despatches, both telling in favour of the Opposition and against the Government, in charge of different Departments, and entirely subjected to different influences, neither of which came into the hands of the Opposition in time for the debate. He made no charge of duplicity; but he did say that if such an event had occurred during the tenure of Office of the late Government, he had not the slightest doubt that hon. Gentlemen opposite would not have been restrained by any similar delicacy. He supposed they would have no opportunity—in fact, they could not possibly have any opportunity—of discussing this question this Session with the full information they had received; but he confessed ho could not agree with his noble Friend who brought this subject forward, when he said that hon. Members opposite would have had their opinions influenced by these documents if they had been forthcoming. It was clear hon. Members on the Ministerial side of the House had formed their decision entirely apart from the documents. Their opinion, in fact, was formed at the time of the General Election. They were influenced by no documents that were then in their hands, and he did not believe they would have been influenced by any documents which had lately been laid on the Table. The only consolation Members of the Opposition had was this—that, apparently, the Government were now being compelled by circumstances not only to go against the policy which they themselves intended to pursue, but to go in favour of that against which they had been able to bring down a majority of 120 votes in this House.


said, that as he had taken as much interest in this matter as any other hon. Gentleman in the House, he should like to be allowed to say a few words. The hon. Baronet the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs said hon. Members on that (the Opposition) side of the House had pressed the Government to fix an early day for the discussion on the Candahar question. Well, that might be so; but did hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House believe that the despatches the Government had at their disposal, or could have had at their disposal, could not have been laid on the Table when that discussion came on? He thought it was the duty of the Under Secretary to have warned the Prime Minister, when the right hon. Gentleman was fixing the day, that certain Papers of great importance could not be produced in time for the debate. The right hon. Gentleman, before the debate came on, should have been enabled to give reasons why it should be adjourned to a future date; but that was not done, and the House received no information of the absence of those Papers either from the Representatives of the Foreign Office or the India Office. He could not conceal from himself that the perusal of those Papers, which were not in their possession at the time of the debate, but which had since been produced, would have influenced many hon. Members on the other side of the House. The noble Lord (the Marquess of Hartington) said the Opposition had made this a Party question; but he was sure the noble Lord would not accuse him of having, at any time, made India a Party question in this House. He thought the whole policy of the retirement from Candahar was part of the policy that the noble Lord sketched out when he was addressing his constituents in North-East Lancashire at the General Election. The noble Lord had been determined to withdraw from Candahar, no matter what happened, and no matter what were the opinions of those now capable of forming a judgment, and had denounced, in no weak language, the policy of the late Government. Well, we had gone from Candahar, and it was only flogging a dead horse to discuss the matter any longer. He would venture humbly to advise the Government with regard to these despatches from India—for it was the first time in his experience that he had known despatches of this kind to be sent by parcel and not by the regular post—that in future they should be sent as all other despatches were transmitted. He did not know whether the noble Marquess had communicated to the Viceroy his displeasure at the course taken by the Assistant Postmaster; but it certainly seemed most extraordinary that these despatches should have come by parcel via Southampton instead of the ordinary method via Brindisi. It was the first time important despatches had come in this way from India, and he hoped it would be the last. It was a most important circumstance, on a question of such vital importance as this before the country, that despatches of great consequence should have been withheld. The Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs said that he had stated, in the course of his speech, with frankness, that General Skobeleff had been recalled. Yes; but why did he say that? He told them, at the same time, or he indicated, that there had been a change of policy on the part of the new Emperor; and he endeavoured to impress on the House that the change of policy was such, that Russia had no intention of advancing on Merv, and that so strong was the intention of the present Emperor not to follow in the footsteps of his Father, that he intended, on the first opportunity, to recall General Skobeleff. Well, he (Mr. Onslow) contended that the despatches before them did not bear out the impression con- veyed to them by the hon. Baronet on that occasion. He (Mr. Onslow) believed that Russia did intend to advance upon Merv, and that at no very distant date. It was said that nothing was to be gained by remaining in Pishin; but he very strongly disagreed with that view. If they were to leave Candahar, it was a great compromise indeed to stop at Pishin; and one of the strongest reasons for that course was, that if in the future they had to advance on Candahar, they would be in a much better position to do so than if they went away altogether beyond the old Frontier. But they were not discussing this matter; and he only wished to impress on the noble Lord, in his responsible position of Secretary of State for India, the necessity, on all future occasions when discussions on Indian matters took place, that he should put before the House all the despatches and all the information he possibly could, and that if he could not give them all the despatches, that he should tell the House why he did not do so.


did not wish the House to misunderstand the position of hon. Members on that (the Opposition) side of the House. No one would for a moment accuse either the noble Marquess or the hon. Baronet of an attempt at a wilful suppression of despatches; but, at the same time, they could not lose sight of the fact that there were some despatches that were not forthcoming, and the Government should not have allowed the discussion to go on in the absence of those despatches. The hon. Baronet should have suggested to the Prime Minister the desirability of postponing the debate until such time as the despatches could be laid on the Table of the House. If that had been done, all this difficulty would not have arisen. He (Colonel Makins) had no intention whatever of bringing any accusation against any Member of the Government; and all he wanted to do was to point out that they had made a mistake in allowing the debate to take place before the production of these despatches.


said, he had heard, with great pleasure, the concluding sentences of the noble Marquess, because they seemed not only to justify the speech of the noble Lord (Lord George Hamilton), but the original Motion on the Candahar question. They now heard, with the utmost satisfaction, that the Government had arrived at no decision whatever as to the withdrawal of troops from Southern Afghanistan.


said, the noble Lord who had just sat down was easily satisfied, if he was satisfied with a statement from the noble Marquess, which was precisely similar to one which he had made before the decision was taken in the very debate to which reference had been made. If anything proved the absolute want of necessity for the bringing on of the present debate, it was the statement of the noble Lord (Lord John Manners) that he was entirely satisfied that the object of the speech of the noble Lord the Member for Middlesex (Lord George Hamilton) had been obtained by eliciting from the Indian Secretary the statement he made in his speech on the Candahar debate. The few observations of the noble Lord who had just sat down proved most conclusively that the time of the House had not been usefully occupied with the present discussion. The noble Lord had been beating the air to obtain from the noble Marquess a statement which he explicitly made a month ago.

Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.

WAYS AND MEANs—considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

(Stamp Duty on Transfers of County Stock.)

(1.) Resolved, That where the justices of any county, liberty, riding, parts, or division of a county, shall be empowered by any Act of Parliament to create "County Stock," the transfers of such stock shall be chargeable with Stamp Duty as if they were transfers of the debenture stock of a company or corporation.

(Stamp Duty on Stock Certificates to Bearer.)

(2.) Resolved, That every "Stock Certificate to Bearer" which shall be issued under the provisions of "The Local Authorities Loans Act, 1875," or of any other Act authorising the creation of debenture stock, county stock, corporation stock, municipal stock, or funded debt, by whatever name known, shall be charged with the Stamp Duty of Seven Shillings and Sixpence, for every full sum of One Hundred Pounds, and also for any fraction less than One Hundred Pounds, or over and above One Hundred Pounds, or a multiple of One Hundred Pounds, of the nominal amount of the stock described in the certificate.

(Duty on Licences for Sale in Railway Carriages.)

Moved to resolve, That there shall be charged and paid upon every Licence for the Sale of Intoxicating Liquors and Tobacco in any carriage used for the conveyance of passengers on any Railway, the Excise Duty of £500.—(Lord Frederick Cavendish.)


inquired, as a matter of form, how hon. Members could obtain information as to Ways and Means?


said, Resolutions of this kind were never given Notice of, he believed; but they would be renewed on Monday, and could then be considered. The present proposal was not an important one; it was simply to provide facilities for refreshment on Pullman cars.


asked whether this tax was to be levied for Revenue, and whether Revenue was expected from it?


replied, that he believed there was one dining car now in use, and the object of the proposal was simply to enable persons dining in that car to obtain a glass of wine.

Resolution agreed to.

Resolutions to be reported upon Monday next.

Committee to sit again upon Monday next.