HC Deb 20 February 1885 vol 294 cc921-3

asked the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, What is the exact position of Sir Peter Lumsden'a Mission in Afghanistan; how soon it is expected that the Russian Envoy will meet Sir Peter Lumsden in order to settle the boundary question; whether Her Majesty's Government can assure the House that there is any reasonable prospect of our Mission being a success; and, whether, considering that the policy of the Mission and the orders sent to Sir Peter Lumsden are directed from the Foreign Office of this country, it is intended that the whole cost of this policy should be borne by the revenues of India?


I have already said that Her Majesty's Government do not consider it advisable to make any statement at present in regard to the negotiations with Russia as to the Afghan Boundary Commission, and I must therefore decline to reply to the hon. Member's first three Questions, as I could not answer them without entering into the history of the negotiations. With regard to the last Question, it has been decided that the expenses of the British portion of the Commission will be borne by India, the boundary question being essentially an Indian one. I may add that no instructions are given by the Foreign Office to Sir Peter Lumsden without previous consultation with the India Office. I am anxious to take this opportunity of making an appeal to the House in regard to Foreign Office Questions. The old practice used to be to give at least two days' clear Notice. The present practice is to put the Questions down on the evening of the day immediately preceding that on which the Question is to be asked, and sometimes very late on that evening. In substance, this amounts to not more than five hours' Notice to the Office, because the Votes do not reach the Office till about 11 o'clock the following day. When there are Morning Sittings it amounts to two hours less. Within that short period the answer, which often requires considerable research, has to be prepared, and also to be submitted to the Secretary of State and frequently to other Cabinet Ministers. The pressure on the Office is consequently very severe, especially at a moment like the present, when the time of the Departments and of the Secretary of State is fully occupied with important business. I therefore trust I may ask hon. Members, as a rule, to give at least one clear day's Notice, subject, of course, to exceptions in such cases as may arise from time to time where shorter Notice might be legitimate. I make this appeal at the desire of the Secretary of State, and I feel sure that hon. Members will not misunderstand the motives which prompt it.