HC Deb 16 March 1885 vol 295 cc1244-7

asked the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, What is the date of the new agreement between the British and Russian Governments; whether any-advance of the Russian troops has taken place since the date of that agreement; and, whether this agreement in any way recognizes that Penjdeh, Ak-Rabat, and Zulfagar, are on debateable territory?


asked the First Lord of the Treasury, If he can now state the date of the agreement recently entered into between Her Majesty's Government and the Government of Russia as to the occupation of the position at present taken up by their respective Forces?


My answer to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Portsmouth is this. First of all, I had better remind the House that on Friday I stated— That it had been agreed between Russia and England that no further advances should be sanctioned on either side. I spoke then on the strength of communications from St. Petersburg, and the latest of those to which I referred was a telegram from the British Ambassador at St. Petersburg, dated the 5th of March. On Saturday, in order to obviate any possible misapprehension—that having been a telegram from the British Ambassador—Lord Granville sent to St. Petersburg, to Sir Edward Thornton, a telegram containing the words I have quoted, referring to the assurances that had been exchanged between the two Governments. Earl Granville then desired the British Ambassador to ascertain whether M. de Giers agreed that the assurances referred to constituted an agreement to the effect stated by me. To that telegram I have no doubt we shall shortly have an answer; and, in the meantime, it would, perhaps, be wise of me to go no further than to give the date, which I have done. Then the hon. Member asks me whether the agreement—though the word "agreement" is a little fallacious—arrangement I should prefer to call it—includes the position occupied by the Afghan Forces; and, if so, whether it has received the adhesion of the Ameer? Inasmuch as we cannot command the movements of the Afghan Forces in the same manner as the Emperor of Russia could command his, the expression we used was, that "further advances would not have our sanction." The whole arrangement certainly did, in our intention, include the positions occupied by the Afghan Forces. It was not, however, possible to obtain for it the adhesion of the Ameer, on account of the time it would take; and it was thought desirable that such an arrangement should be put into operation as soon as possible, while it would require a considerable time to communicate with the Ameer in order to obtain his cohesion. What we did was to urge upon the Afghan Forces not to make further advances; and that was the reason why we did not think fit to keep an arrangement of that kind in abeyance till we could communicate with the Ameer.


Are we to understand that until the Government receive an answer from St. Petersburg this agreement does not really exist, or has not been assented to by the Russian Government?


What I stated was that we conceived the arrangement had been assented to on both sides; but that, for fear that some "further advances" might take place owing to some ambiguity, and in order to ascertain that there is an identity of view on the points I have named—although as to that I have no apprehension as far as the substance is concerned—Lord Granville has sent that telegraphic message. I have no doubt that I shall soon be able to communicate the substance of the reply to the House.


said, the right hon. Gentleman had not answered the last two paragraphs of his Question—namely— Whether any advance of the Russian troops had taken place since the date of that agreement; and, whether this agreement in any way recognized that Penjdeh, Ak-Rabat, and Zulfagar were on debateable territory?


said, that he did not think it desirable to reply to the particulars of the hon. Member's Question at that present moment.


asked the right hon. Gentleman whether it would be possible to lay upon the Table the despatch of March 5?


No, Sir; most certainly not. It would be very unusual, and I think most decidedly against the public interest, to pick out a particular telegram in the course of a Correspondence for publication.


asked whether the telegram to St. Petersburg had been sent subsequent to the statement of the Prime Minister?


Yes, Sir; I thought I had said so. My statement was made in this House on Friday, and the telegram was sent on Saturday.


I wish to ask one further Question of the Prime Minister, in regard to his reply to the hon. Member for Portsmouth (Sir H. Drummond Wolff), in order to clear up a point which seems to me to be doubtful. Are we to understand that it is quite clear that it is not open to Russia to depart from the agreement, or rather what now appears to be the unconfirmed arrangement, which has been referred to until the reply to Lord Granville's telegram has been received?


The object of Lord Granville's telegram is not to make a new arrangement. It is simply to insure perfect accuracy as to our understanding of the arrangement which now exists.


gave Notice that tomorrow he would ask the Prime Minister whether his attention had been called to the statement made by the noble Lord the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in the Autumn, that we had requested the Russian Government to withdraw from the positions they had occupied in the neighbourhood of Afghanistan; whether any answer had been received to that communication; and, if the Russians had withdrawn from the positions referred to?