HC Deb 23 February 1897 vol 46 cc982-6

I beg to ask the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether Her Majesty's Government have received any information as to the conduct the Government of Turkey intend to adopt as towards neutral ships during the state of war now existing between Turkey and Greece; and, in particular, whether Her Majesty's Government have reason to believe that Turkey will exercise her right to issue commissions to privateers and her right to capture Greek merchandise in neutral vessels on the high seas; and whether Her Majesty's Government propose to issue any Proclamation of neutrality?


There is no indication that the Turkish Government are intending to take any hostile measures at sea; and, as the Turkish Representative remains at Athens and the Greek Representative at Constantinople, it cannot be said that a, state of war now exists.

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

I beg to ask the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, in view of the fact that the Powers made arrangements to prevent an attack upon Canea, what steps they took to prevent a sally of the Turkish troops from that town for the purpose of attacking the Cretan position?

MR. F. A. CHANNING (Northampton, E.)

Before the right hon. Gentleman answers, I should like to ask him a question of which I have given him private notice—namely, whether it is tree, as stated in the dispatch of Colonel Vassos, that the Turkish troops sallied from Canea to attack the advanced position of the insurgents, or to defend the position held by Turks, and whether this was done by the order or with the approval of the representatives of the Powers?


I only received the private notice of the hon. Gentleman's question two minutes ago. [Ministerial laughter.] With all respect to him and the House, I cannot undertake to answer these intricate questions on so short a notice, and I must ask him kindly to put it on the Paper. With regard to the question on the Paper, we have received no official intimation of any sally of the Turkish troops from Canea.


Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the dispatch of Colonel Vassos was reported in The Times of yesterday?


I have no official information of the dispatch in 'The Times.


I beg to ask the right hon. Gentleman who gave the signal for the bombardment of the Cretan position by the combined fleet of the Powers?


We do not know who gave the signal. The course of procedure was arranged between the admirals of the international squadron, and presumably the senior naval officer, who is the Italian admiral, gave the signal.


Is the Italian Admiral in command of the squadron, including the British ships? [Cheers.]


I am not a naval authority. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will address his question to another quarter. [Laughter.]


I will ask the First Lord of the Admiralty—


Order, order! The hon. Gentleman must put down notice of the Question, if addressed to another Minister.

SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT (Monmouthshire, W.)

On behalf of the hon. Member for Stirling Burghs (Sir HENRY CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN), I beg to ask the First Lord of the Treasury whether he can lay upon the Table the instructions given to the British Admiral in Cretan waters?


It would not be possible under existing circumstances to lay the instructions on the Table of the House. It has never been the practice, so far as I know, to make public the instructions given to military or naval officers on active duty, and the inexpediency of such a course would be greatly augmented in the present case, owing to the fact that we are acting in concert with other Powers, and it is impossible at present to lay on the Table the whole series of Papers bearing on the events in Crete.

MR. THOMAS BAYLEY (Derbyshire, Chesterfield)

Have the Government any official Report from the British Admiral in Cretan waters of what took place on Sunday last?


Does the hon. Gentleman mean telegraphic report?




I think any question such as that of the hon. Member should be put upon the Paper.

SIR E. ASHMEAD-BARTLETT (Sheffield, Ecclesall)

asked whether the Government had confirmation of the statement in The Times of to-day that over 1,100 Mussulmans, including many women and children, had been massacred in cold blood in Sitia, and that 2,500 Mussulmans were besieged at Selinos by Cretan insurgents and were in great peril, and whether the Great Powers proposed to take effective steps to save these unfortunate people from massacre?


There has been no confirmation of the alleged massacre at Sitia, and Her Majesty's Consul reported on the 19th that the fate of the Mussulmans of one village only in that district—whose population must be far inferior in number—remained unknown. Inquiry on the spot was about to be held. With regard to Selino, the following two telegrams, dated February 22nd, have been received from Sir Alfred Biliotti:— Just returned with Russian and Italian Consuls from Selino district, where fight of extermination is carried on between the two sects. Mussulmans in very critical position. 1,700, with 246 soldiers and three mountain guns concentrated at Candamos four hours from sea-shore, where uninterrupted firing is exchanged for the last fortnight. At Spaniaco, an hour from sea, and Selino Castelli, 750 Mussulmans, 242 soldiers, and three mountain guns. Christians refused provisions being sent to Candamos Mussulmans, but consented in writing to suspension of arms during seven days, and free passage to blockaded Mussulmans, provided that soldiers with arms and baggage were also withdrawn together. This declaration is under reserve of non-appearance of Greek troops. Candamos evacuation, which we shall submit to authorities, very dangerous, owing to hatred and extreme distrust of both races, which has increased after massacre by Christian escort of more than 100 Mussulmans from village of Sara-kina, and of 12 Christians at Selino Castelli. We crossed to Candamos and back under Christian fire, although we had notified arrival and shown two white flags. On return to Selino Castelli found Christians firing from fresh positions above, bullets reaching boats. Organised exchange of prisoners. Doctors attended 10 wounded. Italian and Russian colleagues who went with me to Selinos send identic telegrams." (2.) "My Russian and Italian colleagues and I have done our best to calm the Christians with regard to the Cretan Question, giving them to understand that its solution depended exclusively on the Great Powers. This declaration produced a great impression upon the insurgents, but is not sufficient to save from a certain death the 2,000 Mussulmans blockaded in Candamos, nor perhaps the 1,000 at Spaniaco and Selino Castelli, if a Greek ship of war should make her appearance there. From a lengthy interview which we had with the insurgent chiefs, I gathered that the present outbreak of the Christians has not been caused by any serious local reason, but by the belief that horrible massacres had taken place in Canea, and by encouragement received from the presence of Greek ships of war and soldiers in Crete. Notwithstanding that the Greek flag is flying over the Christian camp of Selino, Christians and Mussulmans, last of whom repeatedly declared that they placed all their hopes in Europe, have openly expressed the wish that mixed occupation by the six Powers should be extended to their district as the only means of restoring order. They both stated that 300 troops would be sufficient for the purpose. My Russian and Italian colleagues are telegraphing similar information to their Governments."


asked whether the Government could not authorise the dispatch of 300 troops to save the lives of these unfortunate men, whose lives, it was said, were in the greatest danger?


That is a matter which clearly depends on an agreement between the Powers as to which I could not give an answer at this moment.


said he would repeat the question on Thursday.

*MR. C. J. DARLING (Deptford)

asked the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs whether his attention had been called to a passage in the speech of M. Hanotaux in the French Chamber yesterday, as reported in The Times, in which the French Foreign Minister was reported to have said:— M. Millerand thinks that we should have entered the Dardanelles and seized in his palace the man responsible for so many calamities. Such a proposal was made by one Power at the end of November, 1895, but it was set aside. He wished to ask the Under Secretary whether that proposal was made, by what Power it was made, and who the man was it was proposed to seize?


That is not the question of which my hon. Friend gave me notice. [Opposition cries of "Read!"]


I think I did ask whether England was the Power that made the proposal.


The answer to my hon. Friend's Question is in the negative.


asked, since it was not England, would the right hon. Gentleman state what was the Power that made the proposal referred to?


No, Sir. It is no part of my duty to answer in this House for any Foreign Power. ["Hear!"]