§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I feel some delicacy in putting a Question to the noble Earl the Foreign Secretary; but the Easter Recess is now at hand, and it hardly seems right that the Government should let the House separate without giving, as far as it is possible to give, some indication of the precise state of things in reference to Russia. The Question I would ask the noble Earl—at the same time saying I shall be glad of any information the noble Earl can give us—is, Whether the The Duke of Marlborough 804 Government can foresee the date at which the demarcation of Afghanistan will be commenced; whether it is understood that the Russian troops are to remain in their present positions until the demarcation is concluded; and, if the understanding does exist, whether the Ameer of Afghanistan is a consenting party to it? I venture to ask these Questions because I think that the reticence of Her Majesty's Government, although very intelligible and, to some extent, in consonance with the practice of most Governments in grave situations, has this evil effect—that it is liable to be misunderstood in the East. Things have been said in the other House of Parliament which have thrown some doubt on the steadfastness and staunchness of Her Majesty's Government in this matter, and I should be glad if the language used here were of a character to repel and dissipate any such impression, for we must always remember that we have made it, at a cost of some sacrifice, an essential part of our policy that we should have the friendship and support of Afghanistan. If there be one thing in this matter more certain than another, it is that the slightest indication of flinching on our part will not only cost us the friendship but probably will bring upon us the desertion of Afghanistan.
§ EARL GRANVILLE
My Lords, in answer to the noble Marquess, I have to say that I am not cognizant of anything that has passed in the other House or in this House which indicates any flinching on the part of Her Majesty's Government from the course which they may consider it right to pursue. I have stated on a very recent evening exactly the same thing as has been, I believe, stated in "another place"—that we firmly adhere to the policy which we believe is agreed to by the great political Parties in the State, while, at the same time, we desire to avail ourselves of every means of coming to a settlement honourable and satisfactory to Russia, to India, and to ourselves. I was going to say that I am the more ready to give an answer to the three Questions of the noble Marquess, because I feel bound to do him the justice to acknowledge that he has entirely abstained from pressing Her Majesty's Government with troublesome Questions at a moment of very great complication, 805 of very great delicacy, and of very great importance both to ourselves and to Afghanistan. Therefore, the answer I have to give in regard to the progress of negotiations is that I cannot fix a date because, in reference to a communication which we made to the Russian Government, the Russian Ambassador, whom I saw yesterday, told me that he had been instructed by his Government to acknowledge the receipt of the communication, and that the Russian Government were considering it and would send a reply. As to the second Question of the noble Marquess, I may say that Her Majesty's Government certainly hold that the Russian Government are bound by the assurance which, as I stated a few days ago in this House, they have given us. With regard to the third point, communications have been made to the Ameer from India, and we believe that orders by the Ameer have been given to the Afghan troops, and that they are being obeyed by them at the present moment.
THE DUKE OF ARGYLL
As I have taken some part in former years in discussions upon Afghanistan, I am supposed to have expressed opinions at that time favourable to Russia. I am anxious to say at the present moment that, so far as I understand the situation of affairs, it is now entirely altered from what it was at the time to which I refer. I was then of opinion, and am still, that it was highly inexpedient to remonstrate with Russia upon what were called her advances in Central Asia, which were in reality inevitable. I was always of opinion that up to the point of the possession of Merv that advance was inevitable, and, on the whole, not undesirable. The result of my researches at that time was that Merv was nothing but a nest of robbers, and that there was no possibility of any peace, or of any progress, or of any commerce in Central Asia until the Tekke Turcomans had been subdued by some civilized Power. But from the moment that Russia arrived at Merv and put one step forward towards Herat, the whole political situation became altered. I must express the infinite pleasure with which I have heard the assurance of my noble Friend that Her Majesty's Government will not be accused of any flinching or weakness in this matter, and that they are determined to hold to what they be- 806 lieve to be the policy of this country in regard to Afghanistan, and that they are resolved to support the Afghan Kingdom in the defence, to the utmost extent, of its ancient territory. I should like to ask my noble Friend a Question, although I have given him no Notice of it. I have no desire to put any Question embarrassing to Her Majesty's Government, but will ask this in the hope that he may be able to answer it. Very confident statements were made yesterday in a conspicuous organ of public opinion, The Pall Mall Gazette, setting forth certain alleged facts, which were these—that in the instructions given by the Government to Sir Peter Lumsden for the settlement of the Frontier of Afghanistan, the Penjdeh district was specially mentioned as a part of the debated and debatable ground respecting which negotiations were to take place upon the spot. That was the first statement. The second statement was that since the issue of the Commission, and since it was known to Russia and to Sir Peter Lumsden that this point was part of the debated and debatable land, and was to be the subject of negotiations, the Afghans had violently seized that territory. These statements were made professedly after inquiry from persons who are said to be cognizant of the facts. I may state at once that my own private inquiries have resulted in a positive denial of those facts; and I wish to know from my noble Friend whether he is in a position to say whether these assertions are accurate or not?
§ EARL GRANVILLE
I am very much surprised that my noble Friend and late Colleague should, without giving me any Notice, have asked me a Question of the most complicated character with regard to the instructions given to Sir Peter Lumsden; and I am almost inclined to say to him, "Et tu Brute!" I must really decline, as I have declined to less important Peers in this House, to answer Questions put absolutely without Notice. But, at the same time, I beg your Lordships to remember that this movement of the Afghans to Penjdeh was made before Sir Peter Lumsden arrived.
THE DUKE OF ARGYLL
I have extracted from my noble Friend the very answer which I wished to obtain. I came down to the House determined to ask the Question, and was anxious but 807 was unable to see my noble Friend before the discussion arose, and I did consult my noble Friend at the head of the India Office as to whether he could answer it. I put the Question entirely in the interests of my noble Friend and the Government with the view of eliciting a contradiction of a statement which was injurious to the interests of England. Incidentally, and in spite of the disorder of my Question, my noble Friend has answered it precisely in the manner in which I hoped he would.