HL Deb 19 February 1884 vol 284 cc1305-6

asked Her Majesty's Government, If there is any confirmation of the news respecting the submission of the Merv Turkomans to Russia; and if there have passed any explanatory communications on the subject of a re-assuring nature; and when Papers on the subject will be submitted to Parliament; and, if such an acquisition of territory in the immediate neighbourhood of Merv be not in direct violation of Treaty obligations to this country on the part of Russia? The noble Lord said, the question of the acquisition of this territory by Russia was one of paramount importance, and as important to this country as the question of Egypt. The subject of the communication between Merv and Herat had been discussed by many persons in many forms and at many times, who had shown the importance of it to our Empire in the East. The facility of communication between the two places was so great that a slight alteration in the road was all that was necessary for the construction of a railway. He would not, however, detain their Lordships with any further remarks on the present occasion.


said, he did not think that was a fitting time (6.15 P.M.) to discuss so important a question. He had been much interested in the question, and had brought it forward more than once in the House of Commons. If he mistook not, it had been said, in a despatch to Prince Gortchakoff, that any occupation of Merv by the Russians would be considered by this country a most serious matter; in fact, he had always understood that the occupation of Merv would approach very nearly to a casus belli. Merv led to Herat, and the occupation of Herat might have very serious results for India.


I cannot agree with the reason given by the noble Lord for not discussing this question—namely, because of the late hour of a quarter past 6. That would not be a valid reason according to my idea; but there is a more important reason why we should not discuss it now. We have this day received despatches on this subject from St. Petersburg, and I have not had time to communicate them either to my noble Friend the Secretary of State for India or to the Prime Minister. It is clear, therefore, that it would be premature to enter into any discussion on the subject at the present moment; but I may say that the news to which the first part of the Question alludes is confirmed.


May I ask whether the matter can be discussed on Thursday?


It will be desirable to allow more than two days to elapse before a discussion is raised. It would be hurrying matters to discuss the subject only two days after the receipt of the despatches.


I confess there is a necessity for a sufficient time to be allowed to consider despatches; but if a long interval must always elapse after the receipt of despatches from St. Petersburg, my experience with regard to Central Asiatic matters shows that the noble Earl would put us off step by step altogether. Although I quite accept his plea for sufficient time, I hope he will allow a serious discussion to take place at an early period on an event of which it is scarcely possible to exaggerate the importance.