HC Deb 05 March 1885 vol 295 cc126-9

asked the First Lord of the Treasury, If he could state to the House the precise determination arrived at by Her Majesty's Government regarding the Afghan frontier; what is the present position of Sir P. Lumsden's Mission, and how long it is proposed to keep him on the borders of Afghanistan, I and for what purpose; and, if he can now state the purport of the visit of the Amir to His Excellency the Viceroy; on what basis any understanding respecting the relative positions of England, Russia, I and Afghanistan on the Afghan frontier is to be framed?


asked the First Lord of the Treasury, Whether it may not he highly prejudicial to the maintenance of a good understanding between England and Russia for questions to be asked in this House in relation to Afghanistan at a time when the diplomatic relations between the two Countries are exceeding strained, and when answers to questions are likely to be misinterpreted either as a sign of weakness or a sign of menace?


asked the First Lord of the Treasury, Whether his attention has been called to the important letter from The Times Correspondent with Sir Peter Lumsden's Mission in Afghanistan, which appeared in that paper on the 3rd March, and especially to the following extracts:— I have pointed out the great strategical importance of Pul-i-Khatum, a place which has always been considered Afghan, and beyond the pale of discussion. Another important position is Penjdeh, in the valley of the Murghab. Its inhabitants have always been subject to Afghanistan, and it is occupied by an Afghan garrison. Russia docs not desire the definition of the Afghan frontier, for it will put an end to her successful system of stealthy encroachment. Three years ago the nearest Russian outposts on the road from the Caspian were at Krasnovodsk and Chikishlar, 700 miles from Herat; now they are at Pul-i-Khatum, only 150 miles from Herat. Three years ago the nearest Russian outposts on the road from the Oxus and Mery were at Katra Kurghan, say 500 miles from Herat; now they are at Zotatan, 140 miles from Herat. Nearly all this progress has been made by unopposed encroachments since we evacuated Kandahar; whether it is true that the Russian troops have just occupied Zulfagar, 40 miles south of Pul-i-Khatun, and Penjdeh (all three places being on Afghan territory); and, whether Her Majesty's Ministers intend to protect the absolute integrity of all Afghan territory, including these important positions, from Russian occupation and influence, in accordance with their own pledges and those of the Czar's Government?


What I have to say upon these Questions is this—I will first take the Question of my hon. Friend (Mr. Heneage), and I wish to speak explicity to the House. On the part of Her Majesty's Government I am bound to say that, at the present moment, Questions relating to policy or to future contingencies on the subject of the Afghan Frontier cannot, in our judgment, be answered without prejudice to the public interest. I will state certain reasons why I think that to be plainly the case. The policy to be pursued in relation to the Afghan Frontier has long, in my opinion, been known to be a policy strictly national, having the assent of the country at largo, well known to Parliament, stated in Parliamentary Papers and documents which are before it, and known also to be a policy upon which there is a general—I may say, perhaps, an unanimous—accord. The putting of any Question in relation to this policy and to contingencies in connection with it is, I think, to be deprecated, and I may, perhaps, add that the manner in which answers to these Questions are frequently received in some parts of the House, tends to break down the conviction that this country in regard to the Afghan Frontier is a perfectly united country, and to propagate and foster an opposite and very injurious feeling that there are differences of opinion about it, and that the matter is one of Party contention. Without going into other reasons, I think the House will appreciate that which I have mentioned. I do hope that reserve will be exercised by hon. Gentlemen upon this subject, and that they will not put Questions except as to matters of fact. I may almost venture to say once for all—I do not say with absolutely no exception—that it will be the duty of the Government to confine themselves to matters of fact in dealing with the matter. This is my general answer to my hon. Friend behind me (Mr. Heneage). With reference to the expression he has used, implying that there are strained relations between this country and Russia, it is one which I do not at all desire or think it necessary to adopt. Upen the general grounds of which I have spoken, having regard to the nature of the ease—which is evidently one of the utmost importance—and at the same time considering the circumstances of distance and of doubt as to particular points of detail, and the fact that this is a matter of great delicacy, in which it is much more easy to do mischief than good, I do hope that hon. Members will not press upon me Questions which relate strictly and entirely to matters of policy. That applies to the two Questions of the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Onslow), and also to the Question of the hon. Member for Eye (Mr. Ashmead-Bartlett) as regards the latter part of it. "With regard to the former part, which relates to matters of fact, I believe they are matters upon which full information has already been given in this House. If the hon. Member desires that it should be enlarged as to matters of fact, the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs will be ready to give him any information he desires.


said, he thought it would be desirable that the House and the country should know what was the national policy to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, and whether it was the determination of the Government to abide by it.


said, he did not propose to press his Question; but he would remind the House that when the other day he put the last part of the Question, the right hon. Gentleman had asked him to put it on the Paper.


said, it would be interesting to know whether the Ameer and the majority of the people of Afghanistan cordially endorsed our policy; or, might he ask the right hon. Gentleman, in regard to the policy which he had described as a national policy, "Whether Her Majesty's Government has any good ground for supposing that the views of the Ameer of Afghanistan are cordially shared by the majority of the inhabitants of Afghanistan; and, whether it is the fact that many Afghans have expressed themselves as only too willing to become brethren in arms with the Cossacks?

[No reply.]