§ MR. BOURKE
I wish to ask the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs three Questions, of which I have given him private Notice—The first is, Whether The Times telegram of this morning, stating that General Gordon had sent a telegram to Sir Samuel Baker, giving an account of his position at Khartoum, is authentic; the second Question is, whether the Government can give the House any information 138 with respect to the condition of affairs at Khartoum, Shendy, and Berber; and the third is, whether there is any truth in the report that a European Conference is to take place with respect to the affairs of Egypt?
I will answer the Questions of the right hon. Gentleman to the following effect:—As regards the first Question, we have no textual Report from Sir Evelyn Baring corresponding with the text given in The Times of this morning; but Sir Evelyn Baring has sent us a telegram, which appears to contain a very large part of the substance of, and to be in perfect concurrence with, the text of the telegram referred to. We have no reason to suppose that any part of it is otherwise than correct. With regard to the second Question, the answer I have to give is this—that Shendy is surrounded by hostile tribes. With respect to Berber, we do not know that it is surrounded; but very serious apprehensions prevail there as affecting both that place and the route to Khartoum. With regard to Khartoum itself, the telegram of General Gordon contains important information; and that information is in complete concurrence, so far as the question of Gordon's position is concerned, with what reaches us, and has all along reached us, from Sir Evelyn Baring; the general effect being, according to the expression used, that he is hemmed in—that is to say, that there are bodies of hostile troops in the neighbourhood forming more or less of a chain around it. I draw a distinction between that and the town being surrounded, which would bear technically a very different meaning. The supplies in Khartoum are abundant, and there is no apprehension at all of danger. With regard to the third Question of the right hon. Gentleman, I stated, when I last had the honour of addressing the House on Egypt, that Her Majesty's Government had arrived at an important conclusion for themselves with respect to Egyptian finance, and that the House was very well aware that it was impossible to move a step in that important question without complying with the necessity of communication with other Powers. I have nothing material at present to add to that statement; but as soon as there is any substantive information to be given which would interest 139 the House the Government will take care to give it.
§ MR. BOURKE
One point the right hon. Gentleman has omitted—that is with respect to the massacre which we are told has taken place of persons who attempted to escape from Shendy.
No; but I asked generally as to the state of affairs at Shendy, thinking, of course, the Government would take advantage of the opportunity of stating whether the news of the massacre was true or not.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
I wish to ask the Prime Minister whether the Government are taking any steps whatever to send to General Gordon that help for which, as I understand from the right hon. Gentleman's reply, General Gordon has appealed when he asked whether the millionaires of England and the United States would assist him? Are the Government taking any steps, or making any preparations, to render such assistance?
I think, Sir, the hon. Member must understand that the communication from General Gordon to which we have just referred is a communication of which he has the same knowledge as we have. It is not a communication made to or through us, and I understand it in a sense totally different from that of the hon. Gentleman. General Gordon's testimony is expressed as to the present security of Khartoum, and the plan referred to is one of the many General Gordon is making, and has nothing whatever to do with his security in Khartoum. ["Oh!"] Gentlemen who interrupt me in that way, while answering a Question upon a matter of fact, may have opinions of their own, which they can state; but I state with confidence, and with better means of information than they possess, that it has nothing whatever to do with it. I repeat, upon my responsibility, that we believe it to be beyond all doubt that the plan of General Gordon has nothing whatever to do with the question of his security in Khartoum. With regard to the Question of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Bourke), I limited myself to what he put on the Paper; but my noble Friend will read a telegram which will give whatever information we possess.
§ LORD EDMOND FITZMAURICE
In answer to the Question of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Bourke) in regard to events at or near Shendy, it does appear that a portion of the garrison, with some of the civilian population of Shendy, left that place with the view of escaping, and that they reached a spot, the name of which appears to be Alieh. There the steamer ran aground; and I regret to say, from the latest information received from the Governor of Berber, that it does appear that they were surrounded and massacred there.
§ SIR H. DRUMMOND WOLFF
I beg to ask the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister if he still adheres to the statement he made the other day to the effect that General Gordon is under no inability to leave Khartoum?
I have had no information since that statement in any manner bearing on it, or tending to shake it. I should, perhaps, add to what, I stated, in answer to the right hon. Gentleman opposite, that what we have heard in regard to Berber and Shendy of course indicates an increase in the difficulty of communication along that particular route.
§ MR. ASHMEAD-BARTLETT
May I ask, Sir, whether it is true, as stated by the British Consular Agent at Khartoum, who is also Correspondent of The Times, that there arrived at Berber, on the 10th of April, from Sir Evelyn Baring, an unciphered telegram stating that no English troops would be sent, clearly showing that General Gordon and others faithful to the Government would be thrown over? May I also ask whether General Gordon has notified to the British Government that henceforward he will act on his own judgment and on his own responsibility? Further, I would ask the noble Lord the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, or the Prime Minister, whether the Government will provide arms and transports for a volunteer expedition to relieve General Gordon, if such be sent?
§ LORD EDMOND FITZMAURICE
The Question which the hon. Member has asked me as to the unciphered telegram is the only one that I can answer. The Foreign Office have no information whatever with regard to the arrival of this unciphered telegram.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
I am sorry to trouble the Prime Minister, but I am anxious to know whether the House is to understand that the Government are still of opinion that the position of General Gordon at Khartoum is one of security, and that General Gordon has no need or desire for assistance or help from the English Government?
I am not aware that there was any doubt or ambiguity in the words that I used just now, and likewise on a former occasion. The position of General Gordon is, so far as we know, a position of security; and, in point of fact, it was in a recent telegram that he even used the expression of his being as safe in Khartoum for a couple of months as in Cairo. [An hon. MEMBER: That is dated April l.] No doubt the telegram is dated April 1, and we have some communications from General Gordon since. Here is one of April 8, which you have in the Papers this morning, and which is in complete correspondence with that of April 1. Of course, the question of sending help and assistance to General Gordon will relate to some totally different state of things.
§ MR. ONSLOW
May I ask the Prime Minister whether the Conference which Her Majesty's Government proposed to the Great Powers would have before it only the financial aspect of the Egyptian Question, or general questions relating to the administration of the country?
We have not arrived yet at a state of things in which we can say that a Conference will be held. When anything in the nature of such a conclusion is arrived at, we shall lose no time in communicating it to the House.
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
Does the Government propose to lay any Papers upon the Table with reference to the mission of General Gordon?
§ MR. RITCHIE
I wish to ask how the Prime Minister can reconcile his statement respecting the security of Khartoum with the passage in the telegram from General Gordon to Sir Samuel Baker—If the loyal way in which the troops and townspeople here have held to me under these circumstances of great difficulty were known, 142 and the way in which my lot is involved in theirs, I am sure this appeal would be considered to he fully justified. I should be mean, indeed, if I neglected any step for their safety.
The Question of the hon. Gentleman rather involves matter of argument than of fact; but I again say that I interpret—and I know that I am justified in interpreting—the appeal of General Gordon to have reference to the interest which the loyal population of Khartoum have in the general question of the Soudan; and it is in contemplation of very much more than the mere security, especially the present security, of Khartoum, that General Gordon has sent this message to Sir Samuel Baker. He may be contemplating I know not what in reference to the ultimate safety of Khartoum; but of that I cannot speak. His appeal for assistance has no reference whatever to any danger now over-hanging Khartoum.
§ SIR JOHN HAY
I wish to ask if it is true that Sir Evelyn Baring is coming home; and, if so, who is going to look after British affairs in Egypt in his absence?
In consequence of the burden of Sir Evelyn Baring's duties, an arrangement was made some time ago to send a competent gentleman—Mr. Egerton—to Egypt to assist him. Sir Evelyn Baring will probably leave for England to-day or to-morrow, and in his absence Mr. Egerton will discharge his duties.
§ BARON HENRY DE WORMS
I beg to ask the Prime Minister whether it is a fact that General Gordon has requested the Consular Agent of the Government to leave Khartoum, and has stated that the only means of doing so would be by Equatorial Africa and the. Congo?