HC Deb 30 March 1897 vol 48 cc109-13

I beg to ask the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (1) what precau- tions the Government have taken to insure that the Christian peasantry of Crete shall not be subjected to famine by the blockade; and (2) on what grounds the Government justify the 3rd Article of the Proclamation, which forbids the landing of provisions for the interior of the island, while no restriction is placed on the landing of provisions and stores for the use of those cities where the Mahommedan population and the Turkish troops are congregated?

SIR E. ASHMEAD-BARTLETT (Sheffield, Ecclesall)

Before the right hon. Gentleman answers that question, I wish to ask whether the Cretan insurgents, the so-called Christians—[Opposition cries of "Oh!"]—have robbed the Mussulman, population of their lands and their food; and whether a great majority of the Mussulman population in Crete are not at present exiled in the sea-coast towns, and in a state of semi-starvation?


It is true that the Mussulmans from the interior have been obliged to leave their villages and are in occupation of the ports upon the sea coast, and it is true also that in some cases destitution unfortunately prevails amongst them. The Admirals are fully alive to the possible necessities, as regards provisions, of the peaceful inhabitants of Crete, and, subject to the difficulties inherent in the situation, have arranged to distribute certain food supplies where most required.


The right hon. Gentleman has not replied to the second paragraph of the Question.


I did not answer it because the hon. Gentleman has not quoted the 3rd Article of the Proclamation correctly, [Laughter.]

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

I beg to ask the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether the Admirals are acting on their own responsibility, or in obedience to instructions from their respective Governments, in preventing the landing of arms intended for Greeks and Cretans, whilst allowing the landing of arms intended for Turks?


The Admirals are acting in accordance with the authority given to them by their respective Governments to take the measures which they may think expedient for restoring order in Crete. The blockade naturally involves the prohibition of the landing of arms and munitions of war, if, in the opinion of the Admirals, they are likely to be employed for aggressive purposes or to prolong the fighting or disorder. The Admirals must use their discretion in relaxing this prohibition in cases where arms may be required for the defence of the towns under their protection. We have, however, heard of no arms being landed for the Turks.

MR. T. C. H. HEDDERWICK (Wick Burghs)

I beg to ask the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether one Sami Pasha has been permitted by the Great Powers to land armed Turkish troops and ammunition recently in Crete?


Before the right hon. Gentleman answers, I wish to ask whether the presence of the Turkish troops in the seaport towns of Crete is not necessary for the protection of the Mussulman refugees, and also for the safety of the Allied Forces. [Laughter.]


It is a little difficult to answer such a question without notice. In answer to the Question on the Paper, Her Majesty's Consul reported by telegraph on the 27th instant that Vice Admiral Sami Pasha had landed at Canea, with provisions and ammunition, but not, as suggested in the Question, with troops.

MR. HERBERT ROBERTSM (Denbighshire, W.)

I beg to ask the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (1) whether the Government have received from Rear Admiral Harris an official account of the bombardment by the international fleet of the blockhouse at Malaxa; (2) whether, when the fleet opened fire, hostilities between the Cretans and the Turkish troops had ceased, the ruins being crowded with both Cretans and Turks, so that, the bombardment at that time might have resulted in the most serious loss of life; (3) whether the shelling of the position was ordered as a punitive measure, or in ignorance of the real state of affairs at Malaxa at the time; and (4) whether Admiral Harris was fired upon when returning from Akrotiri from a snipe-shooting expedition shortly after the bombardment? In putting the Question, Mr. Roberts said the first two para- graphs were replied to yesterday after he had put his Question down.


I gave to the House yesterday the whole of the information that we have received from the Admiral on this subject. With regard to the last paragraph, Her Majesty's Consul telegraphed on the 29th instant that Admiral Harris, while out shooting near Akrotiri on the 28th, was fired at at close range by the insurgents.


I beg to ask the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether the ambassadors at Constantinople have received a telegram from the Admirals commanding the allied squadrons in Cretan waters stating that in their opinion the Turkish troops must be withdrawn from the island; that the details of the proposed scheme of autonomy should be immediately published, with a declaration that the Governor should be a European; and, if so, whether representations have been made to the Porte by the Powers with a view to carrying out the opinion of the Admirals?


On the 25th instant the Russian Ambassador at Constantinople communicated to his colleagues a telegram from the Russian Admiral in Crete, urging on behalf of the combined Admirals that a European Governor General should be appointed, with full powers and the necessary funds, and that the Porte should be asked gradually to withdraw their troops as the Admirals judged necessary. These recommendations have the entire support of Her Majesty's Government, who have lost no opportunity of urging their importance. They are at the present moment under the consideration of the Powers.

* CAPTAIN PIRIE (Aberdeen, N.)

I beg to ask the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs a question of which I have given him private notice, namely, whether it is the case that the British Admiral in Cretan waters has telegraphed asking for a further dispatch to Crete of an additional battalion of 600 men, and that, if this is correct and the Government intend to comply with the request, whether, as the work to be carried out is entirely dictated by the policy of an English majority in this House, he will urge upon the Government to send an English battalion, and not a Scottish or Irish one—[Ministerial laughter and Opposition cheers]— the national sentiment of the former—that is the English—assimilating better with the proposed action, [Laughter.]


Before the right hon. Gentleman answers that Question, may I ask whether in this respect the Irish army is a separate entity. [Laughter.]


If the hon. and gallant Member will put his Question on the Paper, I will endeavour to answer it. May I say on this point that really the practice of putting Foreign Office Questions by private notice has lately acquired a very considerable and unreasonable latitude— ["hear, hear"]—and I hope the House will support me in declining to encourage, it. [Cheers.]


I beg to apologise to the right hon. Gentleman, but I must say this is the first time I have put a Question after private notice.