HC Deb 10 July 1876 vol 230 cc1180-6

I beg to ask the First Lord of the Treasury a Question of which I have given him Private Notice, referring to the accounts of the Turkish atrocities in Bulgaria. Many hon. Members will have read with pain—I may say with horror—the accounts to which I refer, and the Question that I have to put to the right hon. Gentleman is, Whether any reply has been received to the inquiry addressed by the noble Earl the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, which on Monday week he said he would make, as to the outrages which had been perpetrated by the Turkish troops? I wish to ask, whether there has been any reply confirming the statements contained in The Daily News of last Saturday, and also in a letter from Therapia, a suburb of Constantinople, in The Times on the same day, to the effect that a large number of Bulgarian girls had been sold publicly as slaves; and also that a very large number of Bulgarians are now undergoing tortures in prisons; and, whether the right hon. Gentleman is willing to lay on the Table any Papers and De- spatches that Her Majesty's Government may have received relating to this subject?


Mr. Speaker, no reply has been received to the inquiry made by my noble Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs on the subject referred to by the right hon. Gentleman. But it would be impossible that a reply could be received by this time. With regard to the Papers connected with these atrocities in Bulgaria, some communications have been made between the Government and our Ambassador at Constantinople and the Consuls at the seats of disturbance, and all the information we have received upon this subject will be found in the Papers to be laid on the Table in a few days. With respect to the reports of the terrible atrocities to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred, I would still express a hope that when we become better informed—I would express this hope for the sake of human nature itself—when we are thoroughly informed of what has occurred it will be found that the statements are scarcely warranted. The House must recollect that we are in constant communication with our Ambassador at Constantinople. Every day we hear from him. Sir Henry Elliot is not a man to be insensible to such terrible proceedings. On the contrary, he is a stern assertor of humanity, and I know no man who would more firmly and energetically interfere if he were aware of events such as those to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred. We are also represented in the seats of disturbance by gentlemen, as Her Majesty's Consuls, eminent for their abilities and high character—at Belgrade, at Ragusa, at Cettinje, and at other places; we are in constant communication with those gentlemen, and certainly no information of the kind has as yet reached Her Majesty's Government. That there have been proceedings of an atrocious character in Bulgaria I never for a moment doubted. Wars of insurrection are always atrocious. These are wars not carried on by Regular troops—in this case not even by Irregular troops—but by a sort of posse comitatus of an armed population. We know in our own experience that one of our Colonies, an ancient Colony of England—Jamaica—was the scene of transactions and of a panic which always accompanies insur- rection, which no one can look back upon without horror. I cannot doubt that atrocities have been committed in Bulgaria; but that girls were sold into slavery, or that more than 10,000 persons have been imprisoned, I doubt. In fact, I doubt whether there is prison accommodation for so many, or that torture has been practised on a great scale among an Oriental people who seldom, I believe, resort to torture, but generally terminate their connection with culprits in a more expeditious manner. These are circumstances which lead me to hope that in time we may be better informed. I have no doubt there may be much to deplore in what has been done, and we may even become convinced that scenes have occurred which must bring to everyone feelings of the deepest regret. Still, I cannot but cherish a hope that some of the statements—the heart-rending statements—we have heard have not that foundation which some hon. Gentlemen believe they possess. I can only repeat that every effort will be made by Her Majesty's Government, and, as hon. Gentlemen will see when the Papers are before them, has already been made, to impress on the Government of Constantinople that the utmost efforts should be made to mitigate as much as possible the terrible scenes that are now inevitably occurring. When the information arrives I shall not lose a moment in apprising the right hon. Gentleman and the House of what the result may be; but at present I can only repeat that no answer has been received to the inquiry of my noble Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and that it is impossible that an answer should have been received.


I trust that the House will allow me to make one remark. The long letter that appeared in The Daily News was in answer to an inquiry sent from London after the Question which I asked in the House. Doubtless that inquiry was made by telegram, and therefore I would venture to suggest to Her Majesty's Government that there should be telegraphic communication with Sir Henry Elliot without delay. I trust I may be pardoned for making that suggestion, and I also trust that the right hon. Gentleman may be right in supposing that there is exaggeration, yet there may have occurred what is intensely horrible, and would excite indignation in us all. I cannot forget this—["Order, order!"] If I am out of Order, I will conclude with a Motion; but I think it will be most important that we should obtain this information for this reason—that it appears that we could not have a discussion upon the state of the Eastern Question until the middle of next week. Generally speaking, the delay would matter little; but events are marching quickly in the East, and we see in the papers time after time these terrible statements, which to my mind carry a great deal of truth with them. [Cries of "Order" and "Chair!"]


said, the House would allow the right hon. Gentleman every reasonable latitude in explanation, but he was now entering into reasons and arguments, and he was clearly out of Order, unless he was prepared to conclude with a Motion.


Then, Sir, I will put myself in Order by moving the adjournment of the House. I was saying that side by side with these statements we have these facts. In the first place, we cannot have a discussion on the subject for several days. I do not blame the Government for postponing the discussion. I do not doubt that they are doing their utmost to bring out the Papers as soon as possible. I have no doubt that they wish for this discussion as much as we do; but events are marching very quickly in that country, and side by side with these terrible stories—which appear to me to have a great foundation of truth, because they are not merely mentioned in these newspapers, but in others; not only in the Christian newspapers, but in the Turkish papers also—we have constantly statements from Turkey itself, confirmed by information throughout the Continent, that the moral support of Her Majesty's Government is given to a Power which is perpetrating these atrocities. I am not blaming the Government. No doubt they are doing what they can to avoid that impression; but surely it is time now that we should know what is their policy in the future. Our own position is humiliating to the sense of honour of the country, and it is revolting to the consciences of Englishmen that we should be supposed to give our moral support to a Power which has perpetrated these atrocities, unless it be proved to the contrary.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Mr. William Edward Forster.)


I would beg to ask the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government a Question. He told us that he had received no information, though communications had arrived from the Consuls at Belgrade, Ragusa, and Cettinje; but these are not the districts where these alleged atrocities took place. I should like to know whether he has had any information from Philippopolis and Adrianople, where there are Consuls to whom he has made no allusion?


I think it would have been more assuring to the country if the Premier, instead of throwing doubt on these statements which have appeared, had rather treated them as if they contained a great deal of truth. We have heard of atrocities committed on non-combatants at which our blood curdles—atrocities upon women and children; and I do not think it is possible for anyone who has read the journals in which these statements appeared to doubt that there is a great deal of truth in them. At such a time as this I think it is the duty of every European Government to unite in representations to the combatants, and especially to the Turkish Government, to endeavour to get them to conduct the war on more civilized principles. Of course we know that war cannot be fought out with velvet gloves, and a good deal of atrocity must be committed. But I think there is a great deal in the present case perpetrated upon non-combatants, and women and children, that might be avoided if strong representations were made by other Governments.


I am sure that the House will rejoice if the hopes expressed by the Premier can only be realized, when the House is in possession of full information on the subject, but I am afraid there is no chance of their being realized. From all we can gather by a comparison of the newspapers with private information, I am afraid we nave not yet heard the whole of this matter. I have myself heard from private sources that the facts are so horrible that they cannot be recited by an English newspaper; and if that be so, even in the supposition that a tithe of what has been stated should be accurate, would it not be well for the Government to telegraph to Her Majesty's Minister at Constantinople to remonstrate upon these atrocities, and if possible to arrest their further continuance? It seems to me that we are left entirely in doubt as to what has been done by the Government. We do not know whether they have remonstrated or not. We have a magnificent fleet in Besika Bay, and we have a Minister at Constantinople, and are told by The Times and The Daily News all about these facts, and yet we have no information from the Government as to these matters, which are a disgrace to humanity, and which will form one of the bloodiest pages of history.


May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether, looking to the great doubt that is thrown upon the reports that have been made, and the universal sympathy that must be felt for the sufferers, he is prepared to instruct Her Majesty's Minister at Constantinople to send some emissary or other to inquire into the truth of this report?


I have stated, Sir, that all the information we have received will be found in the Papers which will soon be on the Table, and I believe that information is ample. It will then be found that it was not when the subject was first mooted in the House that the attention of Her Majesty's Government was first given to the subject, but that our Ambassador at Constantinople and our Representatives in the disturbed districts had all been instructed to use their utmost influence to prevent the committal of any of these atrocities. I must again repeat, in order to prevent misconception, that I never for a moment wished to deny that there had been atrocities in Bulgaria or the other places mentioned; but when I was asked with regard to the atrocities particularized in some public journals, when my attention was called to them, and when I was asked whether the Government was aware of those atrocities—whether 1,000 Bulgarian girls had been sold as slaves and 10,000 of the population subjected to torture or thrown into prison, with other details of the same kind—when called on to say whether we had received information of such particulars, I felt it my duty to tell the House that we had received no such information. That atrocities have been perpetrated in Bulgaria it will be clear to the House when it has the Papers in its hands; but none of the particulars upon which the Government have lately been challenged have reached us, although in constant communication with Her Majesty's Ambassador, and also not only with the Consuls that I have named, but also those at the places in the Turkish dominions to which the hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Evelyn Ashley) has referred; but in none of these communications have any of these details been mentioned. That is the answer I wish to make to the House, and I do not wish the answer to be misunderstood. I do not deny that atrocities have been committed, and I believe they must be inevitable in insurrectionary wars in such countries; but I have to answer directly the inquiry of the House, represented by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Forster), whether we had not received information of the particular details and horrors mentioned in the various journals to which the right hon. Gentleman referred. My answer is now, as before, that we have received no such information.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.