HC Deb 01 June 1860 vol 158 cc1895-906

The noble Lord the Foreign Secretary has so many very important questions to answer as to affairs in different parts of the world, that I would have postponed the inquiry which I now wish to address to him had it not been intimated that this would be a convenient opportunity for giving the House some information on the subject to which I am about to call his attention. A question was some time ago asked in this House by the hon. Member for Southwark (Mr. John Locke) with reference to an incident that took place at St. Petersburgh. The statement made was that the Russian Minister for Foreign Affairs had called together the Ministers representing England, France, Austria and Prussia, omitting the representative of the Sultan, and had expressed to them the opinion of the Imperial Government that the time had come when representations ought to be made to the Turkish Government with reference to the condition of the Christian subjects of the Porte, and more particularly with respect to the fulfilment of the promise given by the Sultan for the enforcement of the Hatti-Humayoun in favour of the Christians. When we remember what for a length of years has been the policy of the Russian Government with reference to that subject, and particularly when we recollect that it was a question with regard to it which gave rise to the Russian war, I think that the adoption of such a course as this by the Russian Government is an incident calculated to cause anxiety to all who are watching the course of events abroad. It becomes a matter of still greater moment when we recollect that the interference suggested by Prince Gortschak off is hostile not only to the spirit, but even to the letter of the treaty of peace by which the Russian war was concluded. In reference to a matter of so much gravity it is important that we should know, not in the loose manner in which it was stated some time ago, but precisely and definitively, exactly what the communication of the Russian Government was. I wish to know from the noble Lord exactly the terms in which this communication was made to the Ministers of the Four Powers by Prince Gortsohak off at St. Petersburgh. I should also be glad to know whether that communication has been repeated to him by the representative of the Russian Government in this country, and, if so, whether it was repeated in writing, and what were the exact terms in which it was made. The next point to which I wish to call the attention of the noble Lord is one of not less importance — namely, the course which it is said has been pursued, or is likely to be pursued, by the French Government with reference to the same question. This, I know, is delicate ground, and I will therefore not discuss the question whether it is probable that such a communication would have been made by the Russian Government unless there had been some understanding between the Imperial Courts in the first instance; but I cannot forget that not very long ago Prince Gortschakoff stated that it was possible that engagements—written engagements—might subsist between the Court of France and that of St. Petersburg, but that all that he could undertake to say was, that no English interests were menaced by those engagements. I only allude to this because it marks the extreme importance of our knowing exactly the course which the French Government have pursued, or propose to pursue, with reference to this delicate question. I shall therefore be glad to hear from the noble Lord whether he has had any correspondence with the French Government on the subject, and of what nature that correspondence has been, so far as he feels himself at liberty to communicate it. When a question was asked of the noble Lord with reference to this subject a short time ago by the hon. Member for Southwark, he stated that the Minister for Foreign Affairs at Paris, M. Thouvenel, had expressed an opinion, that if any such representation was made at Constantinople it ought to be made by the Five Powers, and not by Russia alone, as the adoption of the latter course might place that Power in the position which she occupied before the war, of claiming to be the protectress of the Christian subjects of the Porte. I will only remark that I cannot but think that such an interference as that on the part of the Five Powers would be quite as contrary to the spirit and letter of the Treaty of Paris as the original proposition made by Prince Gortschakoff. I wish further to ask the noble Lord whether he has communicated upon this subject with the Courts of Austria and Prussia, and whether he feels himself at liberty to state the views entertained by those Courts upon this question. My next question is the most important of all. It is whether the noble Lord can inform us what answer he has thought it his duty to return to the proposition made by Prince Gortschakoff to the English Government, it is possible that the noble Lord may not think himself at liberty to communicate the exact nature of that answer, and, if so, I should be the last person to press him unduly for it. This, however, I think I may say, that there are two points upon which it is most desirable that the noble Lord should either here or in his despatch express a decided opinion. One is that Prince Gortschakoff suggested, that a re presentation should be made by the Five Powers to the Turkish Government with reference to the policy of the Sultan as to the enforcement of the Haiti Humayoun, is contrary both to the letter and to the spirit of the Treaty of Paris. On another point, also, I should be glad that the noble Lord should express a decided opinion. A proposition has been made that this question should be investigated by the Five Powers through the medium of their consular agents in the East. Now, I know that it was the opinion of the late Government, and is that of those whose experience of Turkish affairs give every weight to their opinion, that no more dangerous course could be adopted than one which would afford encouragement to the consular agents of the European Powers to act in such a manner as would interfere greatly with the prestige of the Turkish authorities in the internal arrangements of Turkey itself. That is the opinion of our representative at Constantinople, and I have good reason to know that he has expressed that opinion in the strongest manner to our consular agents throughout the Turkish Empire; and I should very much regret that the sanction of the noble Lord should be given to any proposition whatever by which the consular agents of the various European powers should be encouraged to make these inquiries as to the condition of the Christian population, and should thus be placed in a position to destroy the prestige of the Turkish authorities, and to interfere with the arrangements of Turkey in a manner which would be conducive neither to our interests nor to those of the Ottoman Empire. There is only one other subject to which I wish to call the noble Lord's attention. There is, I am aware, in the Foreign Office a despatch, written either by Mr. Alison, during the time that he was Chargé d'Affaires at Constantinople, or by Sir H. Bulwer, with reference to the fulfilment of the Hatti Humayoun. In that despatch it is pointed out how far the Hatti Humayoun has been carried out, in what respect it would be beneficial that further advances should be made in that direction, and how some portions would be rather more hostile than favourable to the interests of the Christian population; and there is also in it a statement of the difficulties which the Turkish Government would have to encounter in carrying out the promise which they gave to the Powers in the Treaty of Paris. I should like to know whether the noble Lord will feel himself at liberty to place that most valuable document upon the table of the House along with any other correspondence upon this subject.


I will endeavour to answer the various questions—and they certainly are very various—which have been addressed to me; and, perhaps, if I should omit to answer any of the inquiries which have been made by the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, he will have the goodness to remind me of it before I conclude my observations.

The first question, relating to Persia, was put to mo by my hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Mr. D. Seymour), and is connected with another which was asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Liskeard (Mr. B. Osborne). In the first place, I should say that the story which my hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Mr. D. Seymour) has heard, that there were differences of opinion between Her Majesty's Government and Sir Henry Rawlinson as to the policy to be pursued in Persia, and that in consequence Sir Henry Rawlinson has been recalled, is altogether fabulous. Sir Henry Rawlinson is a very able man, and exceedingly well acquainted with the East. The influence which he exercised in Persia was very considerable, his policy was entirely approved, by Her Majesty's Government, and I was in hopes that he would have continued to discharge the functions of Her Majesty's Minister in Persia. The cause of his return is that to which my hon. Friend the Member for Liskeard (Mr. B. Osborne) alluded. My noble Friend at the head of the Government, on finding that the affairs of Persia had been committed to the Secretary of State for India, inquired of my right hon. Friend (Sir C. Wood) and myself what we thought of that arrangement. We both said that we were ready to abide by his judgment, and either to continue the arrangement as it stood when he took office, or change it. My noble Friend, after taking some time for consideration, said that he thought the chief part of the business in Persia, though there is other business, no doubt, connected with India, was to settle and carry on the relations between Persia and this country and Russia. That certainly is the case so far as my experience goes. Questions do arise between this country and Persia, and between Persia and Russia, and if there is a question between Persia and Russia, the English Minister is asked his opinion upon it; and whenever there is a question between Persia and England, the Russian Minister is consulted. My noble Friend, therefore, came to the decision that it was better that the Persian mission should again be placed under the Foreign Office. I accepted that responsibility, and I was then certainly in hopes that Sir Henry Rawlinson would have remained in charge of that mission. Not long after the intelligence that the change was about to be made had reached Persia, however, a gentleman in the Foreign Office informed me that he had received a private letter from Sir Henry Rawlinson, telling him that as soon as the change was officially announced— and the official announcement had at that time gone out—he should resign his office and come home. I do not know that I should fairly represent his objections if I attempted to do so; but I believe that they turned chiefly upon the difference between the mode of conducting business in the India and in the Foreign Offices, and one of them certainly referred to the greater latitude allowed by the former in giving presents, which had never been permitted by the Foreign Office. After a time, Sir Henry Rawlinson informed me by a private letter that he had sent in his resignation, and at the same time I received his formal resignation of his office. I did not think it was desirable that he should remain in Persia after it was known that he was about to resign, and I, therefore, immediately advised Her Majesty to accept the resignation of Sir Henry Rawlinson, and to appoint in his place a gentleman whom I have never had the good fortune to see, and with whom I have no acquaintance whatever, but a gentleman who has been long in the diplomatic service in the East, whose despatches (when he has been in charge of the Embassy at Constantinople) and Reports I have often had occasion to receive, and whose intelligence I have admired—Mr. Alison. The hon. Gentleman will, therefore, see that Sir Henry Rawlinson has not been recalled—that he sent in his own resignation, and that for reasons which, although satisfactory to his own mind, I cannot but regret, he no longer serves the Queen in Persia. Our Persian policy is easily explained, and it has none of the characteristics attributed to it by the hon. Gentleman. It is to maintain the integrity and independence of Persia, but at the same time to recommend the Persian Government not to make aggressions upon other independent States. To that advice the Persian Envoy here has willingly assented, and the relations between the Shah of Persia and Her Majesty are of the most friendly nature. There is no question which we wish to press upon the Persian Government, or to coerce them about. Our interest is merely to maintain their authority, and to give them such advice when we are asked as may conduce to the maintenance of their independence. There is, however, one point upon which our opinion may perhaps be deemed peculiar. It is natural there should be and from time to time there has been a sort of rivalry between Great Britain and Russia in Persia. The effect of this has been that the supporters of Great Britain have always some story of oppression on the part of Russia, and those who are in favour of the Russian interest are in the habit of going to the Minister and even to the Sovereign, and informing them of some misdeed on the part of Great Britain. I confess I have thought it best to discourage that rivalry, and when I have had occasion to write to St. Petersburg, and to speak to the Russian Minister here I have always said that, provided we found Russia maintaining the independence of Persia, we were quite willing to join with her in giving the same advice; that we had no interest in Persia specially directed against Russia; that our only object was to support the Persian Government, which was always weak, and often threatened with internal dissensions; and that we trusted Russia would act in the same spirit with us. The answers we have received from Russia have tended to show the same disposition, and therefore we have every reason to believe that the course of the Persian Government will in future be more equable than it has sometimes been.

The next two questions relate to China. I am informed that no despatch has been received at the Colonial Office with respect to the trial of Captain Saunders for murder. With regard to the appointment of inspectors, I am inclined to think that the hon. Member for Glasgow supposes that I have given a more distinct and decided approbation of that arrangement than I intended to give. It certainly is a very anomalous system that foreigners should be put in the collection of the revenue of Chirm; but the Earl of Elgin and others have said that there is a great deal of bribery and favouritism in the Chinese Custom-houses, and that the appointment of a few foreign inspectors would tend to put an end to many abuses and give greater confidence to merchants. I have not given to the new system that decided and unqualified approbation which the hon. Member for Glasgow, Mr. Buchanan supposes, but I think it is one which ought to be tried, and that in the meantime we should refrain from approving or condemning the system.

An hon. Gentleman (Mr. D. Fortescue) has asked me some questions with respect to Sicily. He must he aware that the pamphlet which has been published is one to which we can give no authority. It rests entirely upon the responsibility of the gentleman who has put his name to it; but I am sorry to say there are in the Foreign Office reports from our Consuls— two or three in 1857, one which I hold in my hand dated the 24th of July, 1859, and some others—giving an account of cruelties, and even of torture, practised by the police of Sicily. The subject is a very painful one, and I do not wish to go through the delails of it; but there are accounts given by our Consuls of men who have come themselves and stated to our representatives that their wrists had been fastened together, that they had been gagged with an instrument called the "cap of silence," and that they had suffered various other inflictions which may be properly described as torture. I have no doubt that these things, together with other circumstances, have brought Sicily to its present state—a state, let me add, which to those who have known what the Government of the King of the two Sicilies has been for some time past cannot be at all surprising.

I now come to the very important questions which have been asked by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Horsham (Mr. S. FitzGerald). Perhaps the best way of answering those questions will be to give a complete account of what has taken place at St. Petersburg and elsewhere with respect to the affairs of Turkey. The hon. Gentleman has alluded to what took place at the end of May. But before that, at the end of April, the Minister for Foreign Affairs at St. Petersburg, Prince Gortschakoff, informed the Turkish Ambassador at the Court of Russia that the accounts which which were received from the different Christian provinces under the Sultan, especially from Roumelia, Bulgaria, and Bosnia, showed such sufferings and at the same time such exasperation on the part of the Christian subjects of the Porte as might lead to an insurrection, and he added that if an insurrection should take place, and if it should produce massacre on the part of the Turkish troops, the Emperor of Russia would not remain a tranquil spectator of events. The Turkish Ambassador immediately sent an account of this conversation to Constantinople. A few days after that intimation a despatch was written to Paris to the same effect, and on the 5th of May the Ministers of the Five Powers were assembled at the office of Prince Gortschak off, in St. Petersburg. Prince Gortschak off began by making the same statement which he had made to the Turkish Ambassador and written to Paris. After a good deal of discussion three propositions were drawn up by the French Minister in the presence of the meeting, and were so far agreed to that the different Ministers said they would send them to their respective Courts. The first of these propositions was that the present state of the Christian provinces in Turkey had become intolerable; the second, that an inquiry should be made, such inquiry to be conducted by the officers of the Sultan, assisted by the Consuls of the five Powers; and the third, that the Hatti-Humayoun having failed in securing to the Christian subjects of the Porte that toleration and tranquillity which it was intended to produce, it would be necessary to have a new organization for the government of the Christian provinces. Nothing, it will be seen, could be more important than these different propositions. After receiving them we said, with respect to the first, that Her Majesty's Government had not received any such accounts as entitled them to say that the present state of the Christian provinces was intolerable. The House is aware that we can at no time speak with any great approbation of the Government of the Sultan in the interior of his dominions. We can hardly speak of it much more favourably than we can of the government of the King of the Two Sicilies; but, at the same time, we have no accounts showing to us that there has been that which the Government of Russia has from old times always laid peculiar stress upon—misgovernment and oppression, especially as regards the Christian subjects of the Porte. I have not only read carefully the different reports which have been received, but I have conversed with persons who have come from the Christian provinces of Turkey, and who have been engaged in the service of Her Majesty in one capacity or another, and they have invariably said to me that it is impossible to praise or to defend the details of the Turkish Government, but that the Christian subjects of the Porte are not the victims of any peculiar oppression; that their Mahomedan countrymen are quite as great suffererers from the irregularity of the Government. With respect to the third proposition, that of a new organization of the Government of those provinces, we said it was quite impossible we could agree, whether with reference to general principles or with reference to the Treaty of Paris of 1856, to a new organization of the Turkish empire. The House will recollect that the 7th Article of the Treaty of Paris guarantees and respects the integrity and independence of the Turkish empire. The 8th Article declares that if at any time dissension should arise between the Sublime Porte and any one of the Powers who signed the Treaty with respect to the interpretation of its articles, which might threaten a disturbance of pacific relations, neither the Sublime Porte nor that Power should have recourse to arms without endeavouring to obtain the mediation of the other Powers for the purpose of procuring a peaceful settlement of the difference. The 9th Article records that the communication of the Hatti-Humayoun is the spontaneous act of the Sultan, and goes on specially to declare that the contracting Powers acknowledging the importance of that communication record them, understanding that in no case it gives to the Powers the right to interfere collectively or respectively in the relations between the Sultan and his subjects, or in the internal administration of his territory. Now, the treaty being so positive in that respect, nothing but extreme urgency, insurrection, or the determination of a foreign Power, in spite of the treaty, to take the part of the insurgents and make war on the Sultan, would, I think, justify the other Powers of Europe in at all interfering in the internal government of Turkey; but, on the other hand, after such a declaration on the part of so great a Power as Russia, having, as we know, so much influence with the Christian subjects of the Sultan, which not only she does not disavow but has always professed and boasted that she holds, it would not be prudent to remain aloof and say that we do not concern ourselves upon that matter. We, therefore, consulted with other Powers, and at the same time expressed our own opinion that while we could not consent to the first and third proposition, yet it might be proper to make inquiry with respect to the present state and government of the Sultan's Christian provinces; but that that inquiry ought to be made by the government of the Sultan himself. The Austrian Government, in the same spirit, said that their object was to maintain the independence and integrity of Turkey, and, at the same time to procure, by their influence and by that of the other Powers, a remedy for grievances which tend to provoke resistance and insurrection. The answer given by Prussia was not very different, though, not having consuls and agents spread through Turkey, she declared that she required further consideration before expressing her opinion as to the present state of the Christian provinces of Turkey. The Government of France has appealed to us to know what is our opinion on the subject, and M. Thouvenel stated that from his personal knowledge of Turkey he was aware that very great abuses and misgovernment prevailed there, and he thought that remedies might be pointed out which, while they provided securities for the European subjects of the Sultan, would give greater strength and stability to the Turkish Government. The opinion of a man of his ability and experience in Turkish matters must be allowed to have weight in the consideration of any remedies. At the same time he declared that any inquiry that should be made ought to be made with the greatest regard to the authority of the Sultan, and ought not to have the appearance in the slightest degree of impairing or shaking the Sultan's authority. Our opinion with respect to that point is of the same kind. We said that if it appeared to the Sultan that the Consuls or other Agents of the Christian Powers, might participate in the inquiry, we should be ready to take that view, but that if the Sultan, on the other hand, thought they could not participate in the inquiry without diminishing his authority we wore not ready to press a point of that kind upon an independent Sovereign whose authority we wished to maintain and were bound to support. Sir H. Bulwer, whose influence I must say here, by way of parenthesis, has always been exerted with the wish to maintain the authority of the Sultan, and increase the welfare of the people of Turkey, who has always, in my opinion, taken the most judicious means to effect those purposes, and by the mode in which he has given his advice, has obtained great influence with all the Turkish Ministers who have been successively in power, thought it was advisable to have the inquiry, but to have it by means of the Sultan's own officers. There has lately been a change in the Turkish Government. Redschid Pasha, who formerly held the office of Grand Vizier, is reinstated in that position; and the French Minister at Constantinople advised that the Grand Vizier should in person visit Roumelia, Bulgaria, and other places, with full authority from the Sultan to punish those guilty of outrages and establish such remedial measures as might be calculated to remove the evils complained of. In that advice the British and Russian Ambassadors concurred, and we have yesterday and to-day learned that the measure has been adopted; the Turkish Ambassador having communicated the intelligence that the Sultan willingly adopted the advice which has been tendered, and the Turkish Grand Vizier is to exercise those powers without any control or interference on the part of the Representatives of European States. I conclude that, as the Russian Ambassador has assented to the plan, the Prussian Government will very likely be also ready to assent to it. I cannot say what the effect of the proceeding will be, but it is one which preserves unimpaired and undiminished the authority of the Sultan, and likewise gives hope for the future. Of course, no man would be bold enough to say what may be the future course of the Turkish Govern- ment or the future destinies of these Turkish provinces, but I cannot but believe, from all I have observed, that there has been a considerable change of late years and for the better. Sir H. Bulwer declared that since he has known the country there has been a considerable improvement, greater anxiety being shown by the Government for the due execution of justice and the duo observance of all the rules of good administration. Still, he was dissatisfied with the present state of things. Though this proposal of the Russian Government at first appeared to contain in it something derogatory to the authority of the Sublime Porte, yet, as at present arranged, I hope there will be no dissension among the Powers of Europe with respect to it; for if ultimately we have to give advice to the Porte I believe we may do so in such a way as not to offend the just pride of an independent Sovereign, and finally that the advice we give and the remedial measures we suggest will be such as to benefit the population, and promote the stability of I the Sultan's throne.