§ MR. ASHMEAD-BARTLETT
asked the First Lord of the Treasury, If the new agreement between the British and Russian Governments is still in force; whether any advance of the Russian troops has taken place since the date of that agreement; whether this agreement in any way recognises that Penjdeh, Ak-Rabat, and. Zulfagar, are on debatable territory; and, whether he can now, consistently with the public interest, state that 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?
§ LORD EDMOND FITZMAURICE
I believe that there has been no forward movement of Russian troops since the Russian Government agreed that no advance should take place. The agreement does not touch on the question of the ultimate possession of the places mentioned. As I informed the hon. Member yesterday, it would not be in the public interest to make any declaration of the nature suggested by him.
§ MR. ASHMEAD-BARTLETT
asked the Prime Minister whether he could answer the last part of the Question?
§ MR. GIBSON
asked the First Lord of the Treasury, Has the Government yet received any, and, if so, what reply to the telegram of Lord Granville, sent on Saturday to the Russian Government, asking for a confirmation of the Prime Minister's statement on Friday last?
§ SIR H. DRUMMOND WOLFF
asked the First Lord of the Treasury, Whether an answer has been received from the Government of Russia on the subject of the agreement or arrangement, shadowed forth in the Despatch of the 5th of March, from Her Majesty's Ambassador at St. Petersburg, for the governance of the Russian and Afghan forces on the frontiers of Afghanistan; and, if so, whether Her Majesty's Government will lay upon the Table the precise terms of the agreement or arrangement?
The two Questions are very nearly identical in sub- 1440 stance, and I will answer both at once. Under the circumstances stated yesterday to the House, after having consulted Lord Granville on the subject, a telegram was sent to St. Petersburg; and, although it is an exceptional thing to do, I will read the telegram in reply—which arrived late last night—in the exact form in which it will appear in the Papers. It is to this effect—The Russian Minister for Foreign Affairs states that the Russian troops will not advance from the positions now occupied by them, provided the Afghan forces do not advance or attack, or unless in case of some extraordinary reason—such, for instance, as disturbances at Penjdeh. He also states that the strictest orders have been sent to the Russian commander to avoid by every possible means a conflict, or any incitement to a conflict, and that the orders will he repeated.We accept this communication as made in good faith, and, of course, as applicable both sides, to both parties; and acting upon our responsibility in the conduct of what I described as a National and Imperial policy, I and my Colleagues deprecate any pressure for further explanations at this juncture.
§ MR. GIBSON
Are we to understand from the answer of the right hon. Gentleman that Her Majesty's Government reserve to themselves on behalf of the Afghans the same right which the Russian Government retain for themselves of advancing "for some extraordinary reason?" I also wish to ask if the Prime Minister feels himself in a position to say whether this provisional arrangement would at all interfere with the business of the Boundary Commission, and when the Commission may be expected to have completed its work?
With respect to the first part of the Question, I thought I had disposed of it by saying that we accept the arrangement as applicable on both sides. As regards the second point, I think I drew the other day a distinction between the case of a military advance which, however serious in itself, has no bearing whatever on the matter of right—I drew a distinction between that question and the question of right at issue between the two countries, and which, therefore, has been treated by us entirely apart. I accept the arrangement that has been made as fair, and I do not conceive that it can have any effect but that of facilitating the course of the inquiries. With regard to the precise 1441 position of those inquiries, I am correct, I think, in saying that General Lumsden has made very considerable progress in what hitherto was quite unknown in that country—namely, the actual tracing of the frontier; but I would rather not give any information on that point.
asked whether Her Majesty's Government accepted this conditional agreement in satisfaction of their former demand that the Russians should withdraw from the positions they occupied?
§ LORD GEORGE HAMILTON
The Prime Minister has stated that the Russian Government have sent orders to their officer commanding on the frontier. Can he inform us, without prejudice to the public interest, whether the Russian Government are in communication with their officers on the frontier, or how soon the orders sent will reach them?
I cannot state the precise time which it takes for a message from St. Petersburg to reach the Russian Commander; but the communication made to us is perfectly unequivocal and frank—first, upon the point that the strictest orders have been given; and, secondly, upon the point that they will be repeated. I have not the slightest doubt that they will be repeated.
§ BARON HENRY DE WORMS
Is it not a fact that it is over 200 miles from the nearest telegraph station to where the Russian troops now are?
§ MR. ONSLOW
May I ask whether the substance of the agreement or arrangement arrived at with Russia is to the effect that the Russians have determined not to advance into what they consider the proper boundary of Afghanistan; or that they will not advance from the positions they now occupy?
That is disposed of by the words of the telegram I have read. I will repeat them again—"The Russian troops will not advance from the positions now occupied by them."
§ SIR H. DRUMMOND WOLFF
May I ask whether this agreement is to rest merely on the verbal assurance of the Russian Minister to Her Majesty's Ambassador at St. Petersburg, or whether it is to be consigned in any formal way into a diplomatic document?
It is difficult to answer a question of that kind. The reply has come to us by telegraph from St. Petersburg, and I cannot doubt that it is a perfectly authentic statement.
§ MR. E. STANHOPE
asked the First Lord of the Treasury, With reference to the statement of the Government in December last, that a communication had been addressed to the Government of Russia- pressing for the withdrawal of the Russian troops from the position they then occupied beyond Sarakhs, whether any answer has been received to that communication; and, if not, whether it has been withdrawn?
My hon. Friend is substantially quite correct in the reference he makes to what passed on a former occasion, when my noble Friend the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs stated, I think in November, that we had pressed the Russian Government to withdraw from the position which they then occupied beyond Sarakhs. Then he asks "whether any answer has been received to that communication; and, if not, whether it has been withdrawn?" Upon that communication a correspondence ensued, and the Russians declined to withdraw their troops. They gave certain explanations about them, but declined to withdraw them; and they founded their answer upon the belief they entertained that the territory is theirs, and that they claim it as a matter of right. We, of course, had addressed a requisition to them in the belief that it was Afghan territory; but that being the state of the case, as the Russians made a serious claim to be the rightful possessors of the territory, we could do nothing in the matter consistently, I think, either with prudence or with any honourable regard to the interests of peace, except to prosecute measures for bringing about a proper investigation and decision of the claim that had been preferred. It was a presumptive claim, it was repeated by the Russian answer, and then it put us upon another course of procedure; and that being so, undoubtedly there has been—I will not say actually a withdrawal of the requisition—but substantially it comes to the same thing. The application that was made has lapsed from the circumstances of the case, and on account of the contentions that 1443 are raised on the two sides respectively.
§ MR. E. STANHOPE
I understand this communication, addressed to the Russian Government, was to the effect that before Her Majesty's Government would resume negotiations, they should withdraw their troops from the positions they then occupied beyond the boundary. The Russian troops, we are told now, have not been withdrawn, the Russian Government refusing to withdraw them; but Her Majesty's Government have resumed negotiations.
That is a matter I will not trust my memory to answer without a further reference, and perhaps the hon. Gentleman will give Notice of the Question.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
Substantially, as I understand, we made a demand. Have we withdrawn that demand; and are we satisfied with the reasons given why the Russians would not withdraw?
We made a demand unquestionably, as stated by the right hon. Gentleman, in the belief that the territory was Afghan territory. We found that that was the matter in contest—that it was part of the very matter that had to be decided in a regular, pacific, and, I hope, friendly inquiry. That being so, there certainly was no formal act of withdrawal; but substantially the demand was withdrawn.
§ MR. ONSLOW
asked the First Lord of the Treasury, What steps have been taken to inform the Ameer of Afghanistan of the "new agreement" arrived at between England and Russia?
We have no particular information on that subject. All we know is that Sir Peter Lumsden is in constant communication with the Ameer, and we have not the slightest doubt that he has communicated with him in reference to this matter.
I am not aware of that. It would be much more convenient if the hon. Gentleman would kindly address the Departmental Ministers on the subject.
§ MR. ONSLOW
gave Notice that on Thursday he should ask the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether the Government had communicated 1444 the agreement between Russia and Her Majesty's Government to Sir Peter Lumsden with instructions that he should inform the Ameer that such an agreement had been come to?