HC Deb 04 May 1885 vol 297 cc1508-11

Now, Sir, with regard to the more important question—the Correspondence with Russia—I am glad to say that the impediments which have presented themselves to the friendly prosecution of that Correspondence appear to us to have been removed. The state of the case is this—that the two Governments agree together to provide means for any settlement which may be needful of differences between them arising out of the engagement at Penjdeh, the British Government agreeing with the Government of Russia that they do not desire to see gallant officers on either side put upon their trial. For this purpose they are ready to refer to the judgment of the Sovereign of a friendly State any difference which may be found to exist in regard to the interpretation of the agreement between the two Cabinets of the 16th of March, with a view to the settlement of the matter in a mode consistent with the honour of both States, and they trust that no difficulties will occur as to the details of this reference which in principle is completely agreed upon. The two Governments are prepared, under these circumstances, to resume at once their communications in London on the main points of the line for the delimitation of the Afghan Frontier—I say on the main points of the line, for the details of the line would be examined and traced upon the spot in conformity with the conditions which were provided for in the Commission appointed for that purpose. This negotiation, of which it would be quite premature for me to anticipate the results, will be much facilitated as regards Her Majesty's Government by the more full and exact knowledge which, since the meeting at Rawul Pindi, they have obtained of the views of the Ameer with regard to the points of the Afghan Frontier, and likewise by the valuable topographical information which has reached the India Office. I may also say, on another point of interest, that the Russian Government have expressed their willingness to consider the question as to the removal of the Russian outposts when the Commissioners meet. That, I think, is all I can say. I cannot speak yet with regard to the time of the presentation of the Papers; but if matters proceed as I hope they will, there need be no long delay in their presentation.


May I ask the right hon. Gentleman what is the precise point that is to be referred to the mediation of a friendly Power?


I put down the words which I intended to use. I am anxious to be very accurate on the subject. They are these— To refer to the Sovereign of a friendly State any difference which may be found to exist with regard to the interpretation of the agreement between the two Cabinets of the 16th of March, —that is, the agreement with regard to the advancing or attacking, on the one side, or on the other— with a view to the settlement of the matter in a mode consistent with the honour of both States. I trust that no difficulty may arise.


May I ask whether, under these circumstances, which appear to differ materially from those under which the Prime Minister made his important statement to the House the other night, Her Majesty's Government propose to proceed with the Vote of Credit to-night, and whether the House may not have further time to consider the matter?


No, Sir; this process is still going on, and we must not assume things which have not happened. In consequence of what has happened, our views and expectations have changed; but, in our opinion, we can only ask Parliament to proceed with the Vote.


I beg to ask whether it is not a fact that the determination the Government has come to—to decide the boundaries, to a certain extent, at all events, in London—is not one which hitherto this Government has always resisted, and the Russian Government has always pressed?


No, Sir; the answer to that question will require a more summary mode of expression than the hon. Member appears to expect. I rather think that it was the Russian Government that originally proposed the settlement on the spot. Certainly, since that time, the British Government have been disposed to look for a settlement on this point in London; but a variety of circumstances has happened which my hon. Friend will be better able to appreciate a short time hence, when the Papers are on the Table, which have led us to enter into this agreement, not at all by way of concession to the Russian Government. [Laughter.] With respect to that indication of feeling, I should not be in the least degree ashamed of this agreement, oven if it were a concession, provided it was a good and sound concession. But it is not a concession to the Russian Government. We are entirely of opinion with the Russian Government that, in the state of matters now reached, it was very desirable indeed that the main points in controversy should be settled in London.


begged to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether this new arrangement which had just been submitted to the House implied the abandonment of the whole frontier line which the Joint Commission was appointed last July to delimit; whether Her Majesty's Government had agreed to give up Penjdeh to the Russian Government; whether that was part of the arrangement, either private or public; and whether there was any point fixed from which the Russian outposts would be withdrawn, or to which they would retire?


In due time I have no doubt the desire of the hon. Member will be satisfied. It is really premature to bring forward this matter. I have announced that we are on the point of proceeding to consider the dif- ferent points of a frontier line in London without delay. I hardly think that it would be consistent with the public interest that I should now touch upon those points in reply to the hon. Member.