HC Deb 27 April 1897 vol 48 cc1131-3
MR. H. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)

I beg to ask the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether any agreement has been come to by the European Concert in regard to the evacuation of Crete by the Turkish troops now in that island; whether, if so, these troops will be allowed, after leaving Crete, to join in active operations of the Turkish forces against Greece; whether, in view of the advantage to the Ottoman Empire of being relieved from defending Crete against the Greek forces, by the Concert having proclaimed the neutrality of that island, it is intended to declare any portion of the Greek kingdom neutral, and to forbid its attack by the Turkish, forces; and, whether the prohibition, in regard to landing provisions in Crete is still operative?


No agreement has been come to for the withdrawal of the Turkish troops from Crete. It is the opinion of the majority of the Powers that the Greek troops should leave first. Moreover, the Admirals reported a short time ago that the deportation of the Turkish, troops was a grave question and must not be hastily conducted, there being 49,000 unprotected Cretan Mohammedans in Candia alone, whom the withdrawal of the Turkish garrison would expose to imminent peril. The conditions in regard to the troops being employed subsequently on either side would no doubt be similar. The Powers have no intention of occupying any portion of Greek territory, and declaring it neutral. The question of the exact method in which the blockade shall be applied as regards provisions is one for the Admirals; but the latest report from, them, dated yesterday, is to the effect that there is no scarcity of food in the interior.


asked whether the right hon. Gentleman could say whether this country was one of the majority?


I would rather give no answer to such a Question as that. ["Hear, hear!"]

MR. F. S. STEVENSON (Suffolk, Eye)

I beg to ask the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether Colonel Vassos and the Cretans have been informed what is the precise extent of Cretan territory which the Powers; regard as neutral ground; and, whether the Powers guarantee that no troops, regular or irregular, shall be allowed to sally forth from that neutral territory for the purpose of attacking Colonel Vassos or the Cretans?


Her Majesty's Government are not aware of the exact terms of the communications that have recently passed between the Admirals and Colonel Vassos, nor to what extent such communications are now possible. At an interview which the Italian Consul had with him on the 20th April, Colonel Vassos stated that he feared great complications might arise, but would do his best to prevent them. The insurgent leaders have unquestionably received full information as to the limits of the military cordon established by the Powers. The object of the latter is that the whole island should be neutral, and the Turkish troops are restrained as far as possible from attacking the Christian Cretans, but as the latter are constantly assailing the positions round the towns occupied by the Powers, and have been supplied either from Greek sources or otherwise with cannon for the purpose, the attempt to obtain a cessation of all hostilities has not hitherto been successful, and measures of resistance are at times necessitated for the safety of the European forces and the population under their protection.


May I ask whether the neutralisation of this territory is carried out by the authority of the Powers, exclusively under the authority of the Sultan, or whether it is against the wishes of the Sultan?


There is no reason whatever to believe that it is contrary to the wishes of the Sultan, but the constitution of the military cordon has undoubtedly been undertaken on their responsibility by the Admirals of the allied Fleets.


Has the sanction of the Sultan been formally obtained?


The entire proceedings of the Powers in Crete are subject to and have received the sanction of the Sultan. [Cheers.]


Are we to understand that a declaration has been made by the Powers that the whole island should be considered neutral, or simply the territory within the military cordon?


I think the lion. Member is confusing two different things. The territory within, the military cordon is under the protection of the Powers exercised by means of their forces. It is the design and the desire of the Powers that in the war between Greece and Turkey the whole island, which they have taken under their protection, should be regarded as neutral.