HC Deb 15 February 1897 vol 46 cc404-9

I beg to ask the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he is able to communicate any further information with regard to the situation at Heraclion?


Our information on Saturday was to the effect that many native Christian families had left Heraclion without hindrance under the protection of the foreign ships of war, that pillaging in the town had ceased, and that British subjects were not molested. Yesterday we heard that the Greek Vice-Consul had embarked and requested the British Vice-Consul to take charge of his archives and to protect Greek subjects.

*SIR EASHMEAD-BARTLETT (Sheffield, Ecclesall)

I beg to ask the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether the Great Powers, in view of the fact that by their action the authority of the Sultan and the Turkish garrison in Crete have been reduced, will at once take effective steps to put an end to slaughter and outrage in that island, and especially to protect the helpless Mussulman population of the interior?


The Great Powers, who are acting in complete harmony, are taking" every step that lies in their power by the intervention of their Consuls, and by the presence and co-operation of the commanders and crews of their ships of war, to check the spread of disorder in Crete; but in the present state of the island it is almost impossible for them to communicate with the interior.


I must ask my light hon. Friend whether we are to understand from his answer that no practical steps are being taken by the Great Powers to protect, in some effectual way, the Mussulman inhabitants of the interior. Are they still being exposed to massacre and outrage as they have been for the last fortnight?


No, Sir; so far as our information goes that statement is not correct. ["Hear, hear!"]

MR. C. J. MONK (Gloucester)

I beg to ask the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs whether he will lay upon the Table or otherwise communicate to the House the note from the Greek Government presented to the, Foreign Office on the 11th inst by the Greek Charged' Affaires, in reference to the action of the Greek Government in respect to Turkey and Crete?


The document in question contains allegations winch will be much disputed, and cannot properly be laid on the Table except in conjunction with other Papers on the same subject.

Mr. H. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)

I beg to ask the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether the Government had, alone or in conjunction with any other Power, announced an intention to interfere in any way with any possible action of the Greek fleet in Cretan waters? The hon. Member, in putting the Question, said perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would also say whether the statement in The Times of that day was correct, that three Powers had agreed to land troops in Crete?


Her Majesty's naval officers have received instructions to take no isolated action. It would not be proper for Her Majesty's Government to publish at this stage the communications that they have had with other Powers without the consent of those Powers. No announcement of their intentions has been made by Her Majesty's Government. ["Hear, hear!"]

Mr. JOHN DILLON (Mayo, E.)

Can the right hon. Gentleman inform the House whether, if any attempt be made to land Greek troops, the British Fleet will interfere?


, No, Sir; that is just one of the questions which I have already stated I cannot answer.


Then I understand the right hon. Gentleman is not prepared to say that orders have not been sent to the English naval or other commanders—[cries of "Oh, oh!" and "Hear, hear!"]—not to interfere if Greek troops do land?


No, Sir; I cannot consent to have any inference drawn one way or the other from my reply. I have made a statement. To that statement and that alone I adhere. [Cheers.]

Mr. JAMES O'KELLY (Roscommon, N.)

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether instructions will be issued to the British Consuls not to permit any British vessels to carry Turkish troops?


Order, order! That does not arise out of the Question on the Paper.

Sir W. HARCOURT (Monmouthshire, W.)

I wish to ask the First Lord of the Treasury (1) whether he is in a position to make any statement of the present position of affairs in Crete—[cheers]—and (2) whether he can lay on the Table Papers relating to the arrangements made by the Powers last summer for reforms in the administration of that island?


May I ask the right hon. Gentleman at the same time to answer a Question which arises out of a telegram in one of the newspapers this morning, which states that the Greek cruiser Miaulis fired on a Turkish transport, and that afterwards the commander of one of the British men-of-war informed the captain of the Miaulis that in future he would use force, if necessary, to prevent any such action? Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether that statement is correct or not?


I am not able to give the hon. Gentleman the information asked for. If he will put it down on the Notice Paper, the Under Secretary will reply to it to-morrow. With regard to the Question put to me by the Leader of the Opposition, I have to say that, in the opinion of the Government, it would not be at all expedient, in the public interest, that at the present moment any statement should be made in regard to the affairs of Crete beyond the statement already made by the Under Secretary, to the effect that Her Majesty's Government are working in most cordial cooperation with the representatives of the other Powers.


That is what we have heard for the last six months. [Opposition cheers.]


And it has been true for the last six months. [Cheers.] With regard to the second Question put to me by the right hon. Gentleman, namely, as to the Papers, it has been the hope of Her Majesty's Government that they would have been able to lay on the Table Papers relating to Crete at a much earlier date, and the delay has been no fault of theirs. My right, hon. Friend informs me that he hopes that within a week he will be able to lay a Blue-book on the subject of Crete on the Table. In that Blue-book will be contained the programme of reforms which was decided upon by the Great Powers last year.


How late will the Papers come down to?


The Papers which will be presented, are the Papers of which I laid a dummy on the Table at the end of the Session of last year—[Opposition laughter]—and therefore the Papers will only come down to that date or about the end of August.


We have been informed that certain arrangements were made by the Great Powers for the reform of the administration of Crete so long ago as last August. As I understand, those arrangements have never been laid before the House in the form of Papers, so that we do not know specifically what those arrangements were. What I desire to say is that we should have now a statement of the arrangements so made with the Powers, and also a statement of the action taken since last August up to the present time.


The Blue-book will contain a full statement of the arrangements agreed upon last August. But the right hon. Gentleman must be aware that the laying of Papers before the House involves considerable delay, owing to reference having to be made to all the various parties and Governments concerned, and therefore the Papers will not contain the narrative of facts up to the present moment.


Will the right hon. Gentleman give a return of the number of men killed and women outraged since these arrangements were made? [Opposition cheers.]


I beg to ask the Under Secretary a question—of which I was fortunate enough to be able to give him private notice—whether he is aware that the Papers which he laid on the Table of the House in dummy, on 10th August last, have not yet been distributed? Is he also aware that that is contrary to the Order of this House of March 20th 1871, which prescribes that Papers should always be so laid on the Table as to insure their speedy delivery amongst Members? Is he aware that in this instance the delivery has not taken place for six; months, and will he undertake—


Order, order! The hon. Member is going beyond the limits of a Question. He is arguing a question of procedure.


May I ask, to conclude my Question, whether he will undertake that obedience shall be paid to the Order of the House?

No answer being returned from the Treasury Bench,


rose, amidst loud Opposition cheers and cries of "Move the adjournment." He said,—May I ask for an answer to my Question? [Renewed Opposition cheers.] I have a right to have one. Mr. Speaker, I gave the right hon. Gentleman notice of this Question, and arranged for an answer. [Opposition cheers.]


I am quite ready to answer the Question, but I understood from Mr. Speaker that it was not in order. I believe the hon. Gentleman's statement as to the Orders of the House is perfectly correct, and that there has in this case been an infringement. But it has been due to very exceptional circumstances, which I would like, in a few words, to explain. This Blue-book contains a narrative of the proceedings up to the end of August. We sent the whole of these Papers out to Crete to Sir Alfred Biliotti, our Consul there, in September, with the request that he would look through them and return them at the earliest date. Owing to the enormous preoccupations of his post during the last few months, he was unable to return them until the second week in January. Our next step was, in accordance with invariable practice, to secure the assent of various foreign Powers, to whom reference has been made. Their replies have come in one after the other, and the assent of the French Government only reached us last week. That concludes the requisites for the final publication of the book. It is in print, and I hope it will be laid before the House, in the course of a week. ["Hear, hear!"]

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