HC Deb 29 March 1897 vol 47 cc1574-7
MR. J. DILLON (Mayo, E.)

I beg to ask the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs a Question of which I have given him private notice—whether his attention has been directed to the circumstances under which the Seaforth Highlanders entered Candia on Friday last; whether they were conducted through the town by Turkish bands; whether they were reviewed by the Turkish Governor on the square, where, in the presence of both bodies of troops, the British officer thanked the Turkish Governor for the reception which had been given to the Highlanders; whether the Turkish troops left the square to the strains of the Turkish national air played by the band of the Highlanders; and whether such incidents were calculated to inspire confidence in the minds of the Cretan insurgents? [Opposition cheers.]


Her Majesty's Consul and the British Military Commissioner reported by telegraph, on the 26th inst., that the British troops landed at Candia without incident, and were escorted to the barracks by half a Turkish battalion with a band. Our telegrams contain no information on the other points mentioned in the Question. I may add that I can see nothing improper in a friendly reception being given to the international troops by the garrison of a town which they have come to protect, simply because that garrison happens to be composed of Turks. [Loud Ministerial cheers.]


I beg to ask the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs a Question of which I have given him private notice—whether the Admirals were acting within their instructions in shelling the Cretans at Malaxa on Thursday, when the white flag was raised and the garrison in the act of surrendering, and also in again shelling the Christians at Malaxa on Friday; whether it is within the instructions for the Fleet to aid Turkish operations at night, by means of their search lights—[cries of "Oh!"]—whether it is true—[renewed cries of "Oh!"]—that, although the British Consul and Naval Commanders who rescued the Moslems at Candano and Selinos signed an agreement that these Moslems should not bear arms against the Christians, the Acting Governor General has distributed nearly 3,000 rifles to these men in breach of the agreement; and what steps have been, or are to be, taken to prevent this violation of good faith? [Cheers.]


Perhaps the best answer—although I am afraid it will be rather a long one—which I can make to the hon. Member is to read the facts as telegraphed to us by the British Admiral. [Cheers.] On the 23rd inst. the Admiral telegraphed that the Turkish force in the guard-house near Malaxa, about one and a-half mile from anchorage, was starving, and that the Cretan insurgents refused permission for supplies of food and forage to pass. Three Turks had been killed in sight of the ship while attempting to victual house. An ultimatum had accordingly been sent by the Admirals to the insurgent chief stating that food must be allowed in, or that force would be used to attain that object. On the 25th inst. he telegraphed that the insurgents in large numbers were preventing the revictualling of the blockhouse in spite of the notice of the Admirals to desist. [Nationalist laughter.] The Turkish men-of-war were firing to dislodge them, but if the purpose was not effected the international ships would have to fire. The Admirals had unanimously decided that this step was necessary for the preservation of the blockhouse, which commanded Suda Arsenal. On the same day he telegraphed that the blockhouse had been captured by the insurgents. [Loud cheers from Mr. MACNEILL and other Nationalist Members.] The Admirals had unanimously decided that it was necessary to open fire and drive insurgents from the position which they had captured in opposition to the written protest. Fire was opened by signal from the Italian Admiral and lasted for six minutes. On fire ceasing the insurgents had apparently looted the blockhouse and then burned it. [Renewed cheers from Mr. MACNEILL and Mr. DILLON.] On the 26th the Admiral telegraphed that the evacuation of the blockhouse by the Turks on the day before had been due to two Greek cannon, served by Greek troops—[Nationalist cheers]—being brought into operation against it out of sight of the ships. The water supply had also been destroyed, and the capture of the blockhouse was in direct disobedience to the Admirals' warning sent to the insurgents—[ironical laughter from Mr. MACNEILL]—through the British Consul two days previously. Further, as the position now taken up by the insurgents commanded the arsenal and road to Suda, the Admirals had decided to prevent further encroachment by the fire of the ships. On the 27th the Admiral telegraphed that, owing to the repeated attacks of the insurgents, who now had their cannon on outposts commanding Canea, the Admirals had decided that it would be necessary to treat insurgents as enemies—[cries of "Oh!" and "Shame," from Mr. MACNEILL and other hon. Members]—and to demand more troops from their respective Governments before long in order to afford efficient protection to the town under their charge. [Renewed interruption from Mr. MACNEILL.] The hon. Member might allow me to read my answer without these most unseemly interruptions.[Ministerial cheers and Nationalist laughter.] The further advance of the insurgents must be stopped, great alarm being felt in the town, where famine and disease were already threatening the refugees. On the same day he telegraphed that Colonel Vassos was reported to have received the Admirals' warning and to have replied by ordering the capture of the blockhouse. [Loud cheers from Mr. MACNEILL and other hon. Members.] Three guns had been brought against it on the southern side. On the 28th the Admiral telegraphed that the insurgents were following up their success against the blockhouse by developing an attack upon a strong earthwork fort held by Turks at the back of Suda Point, and that the general situation upon the island was that Colonel Vassos had declared open war against the Great Powers. [Mr. T. M. HEALY: "Bravo, Vassos!" and loud cheers from Mr. MACNEILL.] This is the whole information that, we possess; and I am unable to throw any light upon any of the other points mentioned by the hon. Member.

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

Arising out of that answer, can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the Admirals are acting on their own responsibility, or in obedience to instructions from their Governments in prohibiting the landing of ammunition intended for the Greek troops, whilst allowing the landing of ammunition intended for the Turkish troops?


I cannot say that that Question properly arises out of the answer of the right hon. Gentleman, and therefore notice of it should be given.