HL Deb 08 August 1884 vol 292 cc255-7

, who had a Notice on the Paper to ask Her Majesty's Government for some information regarding the Afghan Boundary Commission, said, that the problem which had to be solved in Central Asia had, for a long time, been a matter of very deep interest, coupled with some considerable amount of anxiety, distrust, and fear. The advance of Russia in Central Asia had been of a steady character, and he had seen it stated that she was now within 110 miles of Herat. For the safety of the Indian Empire it was evident that some period should be put to that advance, beyond which it could go no further. He would like to put four Questions to Her Majesty's Government. The first was, whether they had been in direct correspondence with Russia in regard to the boundary line, beyond which Russia should not go; secondly, whether it would be possible for Her Majesty's Government to lay on the Table of the House a map showing the boundary line proposed? Thirdly, he wished to know, supposing a boundary line were drawn, what penalties would attach to the transgression of that line; and, fourthly, he would ask for some information as to the numbers of the escort which was to accompany the Boundary Commission? They were told that it was to consist of 100 Infantry and the same number of Cavalry. It seemed to him that such a force was a very inadequate representation of their interests in the matter. As he had said, the question was one of very great importance; because it was quite certain that Russia could not keep on advancing as she was without at some point coming in contact with British interests, when serious complications would arise; and the object of all good legislation was not merely to legislate for themselves and the present time only, but for those who came after them, and for their benefit.


said, he thought that the noble Lord had adopted a somewhat unusual form of proceeding in placing a Notice on the Paper asking for "some information," which was a vague term. The noble Lord had then proceeded to a still more unusual proceeding—namely, ask four Questions of which no Notice had been given. He should have been perfectly justified in declining to answer the noble Lord without Notice; but he did not wish to shield himself under that plea, although he was not able to give much imformation. As to the first question, his reply was, certainly; Her Majesty's Government had been in correspondence with the Russian Government concerning the North-West frontier of Afghanistan. As to the question of laying a map on the Table of the House as the noble Lord had suggested, the request was so extraordinary as to cause him to smile, for he thought that when they were entering upon negotiations with respect to a frontier, it would be a very unusual proceeding to lay such a map on the Table beforehand, showing what they proposed to do in the matter. Nothing could be more imprudent. As to the third Question, the noble Lord might as well ask what penalty would be enforced for any breach of International Law. It might result in the breaking off of friendly diplomatic relations, war, or other things; but he declined to enter into any discussion of that contingency. As to the force which would accompany the Commissioners, he had to say that the subject had not been finally determined; but he thought it probable that the escort would consist of something like the number to which the noble Lord referred. It would, he thought, be sufficient for the purpose; but the question was still under consideration. The noble Lord had not asked him one Question which he should have been glad he had mentioned. It was, what was the position of affairs generally? They had been in communication both with the Russian Government and with the Ameer, and the Government of India. The Ameer desired and approved the Commission; but communications were still going on. So far, however, the matter had made satisfactory progress.