HC Deb 14 August 1878 vol 242 cc2004-8

rose to call attention to the sanction given by the Congress to the seizure by Russia of Roumanian territory contrary to the will of the people of that Country, and to the need of securing the real administrative autonomy of the provinces restored to Turkey by guarantees at least equal to those deemed necessary by the Conference at Constantinople. He maintained that a robbery had been committed upon Roumania, and that Her Majesty's Government should not have sanctioned that robbery. It would have been perfectly competent for the Government Representatives at the Congress to have told Russia that the matter was entirely outside their province. What course, he asked, did Russia take previous to the Congress? Under the Treaty made between Russia and Roumania on the 16th of April, 1877, His Imperial Majesty of All the Russias undertook to maintain and to cause to be respected the political rights of the Roumanian State as resulting from internal laws and existing Treaties, and to protect and defend the integrity of Roumania. That agreement having been made, as soon as the war was over, or before it was concluded, Russia announced her intention to seize a portion of that territory which she had guaranteed; and he regretted that Europe should have countenanced it through the Treaty of Berlin. He had always had the idea that this country should endeavour to maintain friendly relations with Russia; but the truth was—and it was well to recognize it—the Russian Government was essentially Oriental in its character, and only kept Treaties as long as they suited its purpose. It was of great importance to Russia that it should be able to say that it was acting on a European mandate in taking possession of Bessarabia. It was also matter for regret that Her Majesty's Government should have restored the provinces South of the Balkans to Turkey without requiring adequate guarantees for their good government. In this respect, Her Majesty's Government, it seemed to him, had altogether departed from the position taken by their Representative at the Conference of Constantinople. The Bulgarians, he knew, were not popular at present; but, from having passed some time among them, he could say that they had many good qualities as a people. Ho maintained that they ought not to be judged by the reports of Sir Austen Layard, which were of a strongly pro-Turkish character. According to trustworthy reports, the so-called Bulgarian atrocities were by no means so serious as our Ambassador at Constantinople had represented them to be. He rejoiced that a good deal had been done for the freedom of North Bulgaria; but he doubted whether it had been done in the best way. The guarantees were not sufficient, in his opinion, and he protested against the intention which seemed to be established of allowing the people to be domineered over by the Turkish troops. It was the duty of the Government to see to that state of things, and they should have secured those ample guarantees which the Powers favoured. With respect to the provinces of Turkey in Europe not included in Eastern Roumelia, what had they to rely upon for the administrative autonomy and good government which had been promised? They had simply to rely upon the provision of the Congress of Berlin, which provided that those provinces should have Constitutions founded upon the model of the Cretan Constitution. He could not help thinking, however, that no more unfortunate model than that of Crete could have been selected. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich had shown what a failure and a farce the Constitution of Crete had been. Believing, as he did, that it was out of the question to expect that the Turks would surrender any territory to the Kingdom of Greece unless they were forced to do so, his view had always been that Her Majesty's Government should have striven to provide for these provinces an effectual administrative autonomy, whereby they might eventually arrive at freedom and independence. It was time that the door was to a certain extent left open, and he trusted that Her Majesty's Government might still deal with this question in the interests of freedom. But it was none the less true that the question of the constitution of these provinces was to be referred to a European Commission, of which the Turcophile Member for Christ-church (Sir H. Drummond Wolff) was a Member; and that fact did not furnish them with any ground for a sanguine hope that liberal treatment would be extended to the Christians. He should be extremely glad to receive an assurance from Her Majesty's Government that they were resolved that the autonomy to be given to those provinces should be real.


thought it was hardly right that the hon. Member for Christchurch should have been attacked on the Opposition side of the House for his Turcophile propensities; because it was to be hoped that in any case he would behave like an English gentleman, and would be prepared to carry out fully the desires of Her Majesty's Government. Therefore, however sincerely his hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy might have spoken in regard to that hon. Gentleman, he (Mr. E. Jenkins) was anxious that it should not be supposed that there was an unanimous feeling of distrust or suspicion on that side of the House in regard to the manner in which the hon. Member for Christchurch would discharge the terribly responsible duties which had been assigned to him. With respect to the retrocession of Bessarabia to Russia, he was bound to say that, looking at the whole facts of the case, he did not see how Her Majesty's Government could have taken any very decided stand on that question. The injustice, if any, which was thereby done was very small indeed. The cession of Bessarabia to Russia was accomplished in 1816, under the Treaty of Bucharest, and it was confirmed by a subsequent Treaty in 1827. From 1816 to 1856, Russia had possession of the whole of Bessarabia; and the object in view in taking in the latter year of this small slice of territory from Russia was simply to drive her back from the Pruth and the Danube. That might have been good policy; but, on the other hand, everyone must feel that it was no unnatural thing that Russia should desire to effect this rectification of her frontier when the opportunity arose. Then came the question of the Treaty between Russia and Roumania for preserving the territory of Roumania. In the Memorandum obtained from the Czar by Colonel Wellesley, it was distinctly stated, if his memory served him right, that the retrocession of Bessarabia was to be one of the conditions of peace. Looking at the matter abstractly, there would not appear from the arrangement entered into by Russia and Roumania at the outset of the war to be anything dishonourable in the desire of Russia to get back this piece of territory which she lost in 1856, and for which Roumania had not shed a single drop of blood.


said, he agreed with the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir George Campbell) that the appointment of the hon. Member for Christchurch (Sir H. Drummond Wolff) might be taken as an intimation that the Government was desirous of favouring Turkey as much as possible. As to Bessarabia, it might be quite natural that Russia should desire to get it back; but she should have done so with the goodwill of the country that possessed it. As it was, Russia had acted dishonourably, and violated the first principles of justice in taking Bessarabia from her Ally.


said, he had given Notice that he should call the attention of the House to the condition of pauper children in Irish workhouses, and make a Motion on the subject; but he was quite willing to postpone it, provided the Chancellor of the Exchequer would engage to keep a House for him to-morrow. He had already put off the question to meet the convenience of the Government.


said, he would do his best to keep a House for the hon. Gentleman.


said, he also had a Notice on the Paper which would take only a very short time. It was on the subject of the Transvaal, and representatives from the Transvaal were now here anxious to have it discussed. He would not bring it forward now, provided the Government engaged to keep a House for him to-morrow.


said, he would be glad to keep a House for the hon. Gentleman to-morrow if it were possible; but it should be understood that the question in which the hon. Member for Clonmel (Mr. A. Moore) was interested should have precedence of the Notice of the hon. Member for Liskeard (Mr. Courtney). It would be very inconvenient not to take the third reading of the Appropriation Bill to-day, as in that case the House could not adjourn on Friday, and Members would be detained a day longer.


gave Notice that he would call the attention of the House to the subject of Afghanistan to-morrow.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read the third time, and passed.