HC Deb 27 February 1885 vol 294 cc1612-5

asked the First Lord of the Treasury, Whether, after having "broken the power of the Mahdi at Khartoum," it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government to wholly evacuate the Soudan, or to occupy any, and what, portions of it until "an orderly Government" has been established; and, if evacuation be intended, what, after that has been achieved, will be done with the Suakin and Berber Railway?


The first part of the Question really opens up the subject-matter of the important debate on which we are now engaged. I do not think it would be wise for me, having already had an opportunity of expressing my views, to attempt, within the limits of an answer to a Question, to enter into the subject, the more especially as other Members of the Government will have an opportunity of taking part in the debate. With regard to the latter part of the Question, it refers to an important but comparatively narrow point. Upon that point I will only refer the hon. Member to what was said last night by my right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board, as, in my judgment, a fair, adequate, and recent statement of the views of the Government.


asked the First Lord of the Treasury, Whether, on the 23rd of April 1884, Mr. Wilfrid Blunt addressed to him a letter, in which there occurred the following passage:— Since then I have most opportunely received information which leads me to feel certain that, if properly approached, not only could there he obtained terms from the besiegers of Khartoum, which should include General Gordon's safe return from Khartoum, with such of his companions as might choose to accompany him, hut that a general pacification of the Upper Nile might, at the same time, and by the same means, be effected; whether, this letter having been submitted to the Cabinet, an answer was returned to Mr. Blunt on the 30th of April, in the following terms:— Mr. Gladstone desires me to thank you for your offer to act as mediator in the Soudan, of which, however, Her Majesty's Government are not able to make use, inasmuch as it must already be known throughout that region that they, in common with the Government of Egypt, have no other desire than to promote the evacuation of the country, and the restoration of its liberties; whether, on Christmas Eve 1884, Mr. Blunt, together with the President of the International Peace and Arbitration Association, and an Egyptian gentleman in full possession of the Mahdi's views, called on him, but were refused admittance; and, further, if he can state the reasons for which Her Majesty's Government, knowing Mr. Blunt's intimate experience of the Arab tribes, peremptorily dismissed his proposals, without first examining the proofs and details of the allegations he had made that it was possible, by peaceable means, to deliver General Gordon and his companions from the hands of the Mahdi and his adherents?


I will answer this Question as well as I can, in view of the shortness of Notice that has been given by the hon. Gentleman. I have no doubt that the citations contained in it are correct. As far as I am able to recollect the circumstances of Mr. Blunt's proposed visit on Christmas Eve, a rather unusual method of proceeding was adopted. Instead of conforming to the conditions on which alone Public Business can be carried on by a man in my Office, and writing to make arrangements for an interview, Mr. Blunt telegraphed to me from Chester that he and others were coming to see me upon a subject involving grave difficulty. I thought it was my duty, whatever regret I might feel at the inconvenience those gentlemen had suffered in coming to Chester, to decline to receive this body of gentlemen in my private home, where I would, in a sense, be completely at their mercy with regard to an interview so irregularly arranged. I cannot undertake to state all the reasons which led me to decline the interview. The request, the House will observe, turns upon the citation from the letter of Mr. Blunt. Mr. Blunt, in his letter, said he had received information which led him to feel certain that, if properly approached, certain terms could be obtained from the besiegers of Khartoum. Well, Sir, I consider that the evident meaning of that letter was that the British Government were to go, cap in hand, to the besiegers of Khartoum, with the object of obtaining certain terms from them if they could. I do not think that that would have been a proper attitude for us to adopt. In my letter in answer to Mr. Blunt I stated that it was well known to the tribes that General Gordon had gone to the Soudan with a pacific object, and that those who spoke of the Mahdi's pacific intentions ought obviously to he in a position to give something of a positive substantive character to that statement, and that it was idle to ask the Government to go beyond General Gordon's declarations and assume an attitude of something like supplication. I have not the smallest doubt that Mr. Blunt is a man of most perfect honour, and would not wilfully commit an inaccuracy; but I must remind the House that last year an hour was spent in discussing a disputed account of an interview between Mr. Blunt and my Private Secretary, Mr. Hamilton. I think that, in such circumstances, persons should be very careful as to the certainty of the ground on which they stand; and that if the Government does enter into communication with anyone at all they should do so with very great care. That is all I have to say upon the subject.