HC Deb 22 July 1881 vol 263 cc1618-25

asked the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, If he had received any information with regard to the execution of the sentence passed on Midhat Pasha?


said, that within the last 48 hours they had received no further information from Lord Dufferin on the subject.


said, in view of a telegram of peculiar significance published that morning, and which seemed to point to an almost immediate decision in regard to the sentence passed at the recent State trial in Constantinople, he must plead the urgency and gravity of the case if he trespassed upon the time of the House for a few moments, and would, if neces- sary, conclude with a Motion. The case was, shortly, this—One of the most noted figures in European politics, a statesman of the highest antecedents and reputation—["No!"]—at least, for an Eastern statesman, had been tried in a way notorious to the House, and his life at that moment was trembling in the balance. He did not say that Her Majesty's Government could bring any more pressure to bear on the Porte than they had done with reference to the subject. He was aware of the delicacy and difficulty, probably the impracticability, of any Government putting pressure upon the Sultan, except in the way of friendly intercession, which, so far, had had no effect. He, therefore, now wished to elicit from the House its opinion in reference to the recent trial and the action of the Turkish Government with respect to it; and he had reason to believe that such an expression of opinion would have the best possible effect at Constantinople. Midhat Pasha, after passing a distinguished official career, became Governor of Bulgaria, which he found overrun with brigandage, and in such a state that the revenue could not be collected. In a few months he put down brigandage, caused the revenue to be collected, and, under his rule, Bulgaria became one of the most prosperous Provinces of the Turkish Empire. One of his most persistent opponents was the Russian Ambassador. Midhat was doing everything to revive European confidence in Turkey, and as that did not suit Russian views General Ignatieff became his most persistent enemy, and intrigued against him——


rose to Order. He submitted that the hon. and learned Member was asking the House to give an expression of opinion upon a Motion for Adjournment which was placing the House in a false position; because it was precluded by its own Forms from given an opinion on that subject on a Motion for Adjournment.


said, that, as the House was aware, the only question on which the judgment of the House could be taken on the Motion for Adjournment was whether the House should or should not adjourn.


said, he would make his observations very brief. Subsequently Midhat Pasha became Governor of Bagdad. It was said by some that Midhat Pasha was a poor man, and, therefore, presumably an honest man; by others that he was a rich man, and, therefore, presumably a corrupt man; and he was sorry to say that a very high authority—the Prime Minister—had given expression to the latter opinion in an article he published. This, however, he knew—that though the revenues of the Provinces he governed passed through Midhat Pasha's hands, he returned from each of them a poor man, in one case not having sufficient funds to pay his own and his retinue's travelling expenses, and in another not being possessed of £500. Afterwards he became Grand Vizier, and his famous Constitution elicited from Liberal politicians everywhere praise and admiration, and it was no fault of his that that admirable scheme did not become an Organic Law of Turkey. He failed in his efforts to reform the administration, and to turn corrupt misrule into good government. Subsequently, both in Syria and Smyrna, he carried out the same principles of administrative reform. He was, undoubtedly, a party to the deposition of the Sultan; but it was widely believed that he was no party to his death, if he did not die by suicide. The Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs had admitted that the Report of the Medical Commission was in favour of the opinion that the death was caused by suicide. Dr. Dickson, the physician to the English Embassy at Constantinople, joined in that opinion, and had assured him (Mr. M'Coan) that after the most careful examination of the body he was clearly of opinion that it was a case of suicide. But what happened at the so-called trial? Why, that two of the doctors, who had, as Commissioners, certified that it was a case of suicide—Marco Pasha and Dr. Castro—actually at the trial gave evidence to the effect that, in their opinion, death had been caused by murder. Such evidence was worthy of the tribunal before which it had been given. In a reply to a Question put by him, the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs had stated that the President at the trial had been formerly an employé of the Municipal Police at Constantinople, and he had himself positive knowledge of the corruption of the man when he held a judicial position. He had also evidence, though not so direct, that this same person had continued to be one of the most corrupt judicial functionaries in the service of the Porte; and also evidence, less direct still, that the other members of the Court which tried the State prisoners were of no whit better character. No European community, therefore, would hang a dog upon the finding of such a tribunal. He knew that Her Majesty's Government could not interfere directly, and that an unofficial or indirect appeal on the part of Her Majesty's Ambassador might have no effect; but he was proud to know that no other opinion in Europe could have such an effect on the Porte, or in the Palace, as that of the House of Commons, because it was thoroughly understood there that such opinion reflected that of the country, and so influenced the action of the Government. He begged to move the adjournment of the House, in the hope that such opinion would be expressed on behalf of an innocent, distinguished, and falsely-condemned statesman.


seconded the Motion.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Mr. M'Coan.)


said, he would not follow the last speaker in criticizing the trial that had taken place at Constantinople, a trial which he thought would not be considered satisfactory in this country. He would not make an appeal to the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government to interfere in regard to the trial; but he would remind him that on more than one occasion the interference of the British Government had saved the lives of men who had been condemned to death in Turkey. He trusted that the Premier would see his way to take some steps to bring the influence of Her Majesty's Government to bear upon the Porte, with a view of, at any rate, reducing the sentence passed on Midhat Pasha. He was a man of what was called a very liberal mind, and had discharged his duties in a remarkably impartial manner, and with much enlightenment, considering the difficulties under which he had had to labour. He ventured to suggest that the Premier would be doing a graceful act in using his great influence on behalf of this unfortunate man.


said, it was remarkable to notice the intense interest taken in Turkish Pashas by hon. Gentlemen who had lost no opportunity hitherto of denouncing them. The trial had by no means been so unfair as was represented, and the evidence against most of the accused was very strong. Everyone sympathized with Midhat Pasha, who was a great statesman and patriot, and it would be a most unfortunate thing if the trial resulted in his death. He doubted, however, if there was any danger of that. The present Sultan was a most humane and kindhearted man—and neither Midhat Pasha nor the other two Ministers who were condemned with him were in danger of execution. He thought the question might be safely left to the discretion of Her Majesty's Government without any formal expression of opinion by the House. It would be most unfortunate if any representations were made on behalf of the other condemned Ministers, Mahmoud, Damat, and Nouri Pashas, who were openly corrupt, and were guilty of almost every possible offence against the interests of their country and of civilization. It would be a matter of rejoicing if they could be brought to justice. It would be better if representations were made diplomatically by the Government without the direct interference of the House; and, although the influence of the British Government was much less than it used to be, he had no doubt they would have due effect.


I do not know that much advantage would be gained by a prolongation of the discussion. In answer to the appeals made, especially by the hon. Member for Portsmouth (Sir H. Drummond Wolff), I think I can state very briefly what is a very simple matter—namely, the limits of action laid down for us, and the fact that we have not scrupled to act within them. Those limits were necessarily narrow. I was sorry to hear the hon. Gentleman who made this Motion introduce statements of so pointed a character respecting the individuals who have been called upon to conduct the inquiry. He may be quite warranted in all he says; but it is perfectly impossible that we can know that, and it is perfectly impossible, in justice to those individuals, to go in this House into the circumstances of which he speaks. If the trial be bad, an attempt to re-try the case in an Assembly of this kind, with the view to an ex- pression of opinion on the definitive merits of the case, would likewise be open to much objection. The real state of the case is this—have we a right of intervention in a matter of this kind? Clearly we have none. I use the words "right of intervention." But there are considerations of policy and humanity which have, on various occasions, led to representations, more or less formal, which are in the nature of interference with private affairs; but which are grounded on a sincere and dispassionate anxiety, in the first place, for the general principles of humanity and justice; and, in the second place, for the interests of the great Power in whose counsels you appear to intervene. Unquestionably, though we have no power to pronounce a final sentence on the nature of the proceedings in Constantinople, there has been a public opinion in regard to these proceedings both in Constantinople and Europe generally such as to make us believe that it would be greatly for the interest of the Sultan of Turkey were he moved to pursue a humane and liberal course. Recognizing these facts, we have not scrupled to act upon them. So early as July 4 instructions were sent to Lord Dufferin to use the least obtrusive, but, at the same time, the most confidential, direct, and effective means to make the kind of representations which we desired to be made. Lord Dufferin has, I think, with as much tact and delicacy as are in the possession of any man, and with, at the same time, as much good feeling and zeal, acted readily upon these instructions, and has, to the best of his power, made representations in the general sense I have described. We have no doubt whatever that a lenient and a considerate course will give satisfaction to the enlightened opinion of Europe, and will be greatly for the interests and peace of Turkey. Having said that, I think I had better add no more. I see no advantage in implicating or attempting to pass judgment on anyone. We have stood on the purely general consideration I have described; and I believe the House will be disposed to think, on the general statement I have made, that, without any special merit on our part, we have discharged our duty.


said, he was sure the House had listened with satisfaction to the humane and generous observations of the Prime Minister. He trusted his hon. Friend the Member for Wicklow, having elicited such an expression of opinion, would be content, and not push his Motion to a division. He entirely sympathized with him in the course he had pursued. It was desirable that the British Parliament should have an opportunity of recording its opinion of the very exceptional proceedings under the name of law that had recently taken place at Constantinople. Midhat Pasha was a distinguished Turkish Pasha. He had served his country ably and honourably in the highest offices the Sultan could confer. He had proved himself to be a friend of England and of progressive principles. He (Mr. Cowen) had the privilege of his acquaintance, and he could confirm the high character that the hon. Member for Wicklow had given him. He recognized the delicacy of the position, and he could appreciate the difficulties that the Premier had referred to. To interfere with the action of the Turkish Courts—however they were constituted—might be regarded as trenching upon the freedom of an independent State. If representations were made in a too emphatic way they might be resented by the Sultan, and have the very opposite effect that was designed. This was a possibility which they should all bear in mind, and of which the Government, no doubt, were conscious. They should remember also that it was impossible for the House to review the proceedings of the Constantinople tribunal. They might have their opinions; but they were not, and could not, be informed of all the details. But, still, admitting all this, the English Government had on other occasions interceded with foreign Rulers on behalf of fallen statesmen or popular leaders. There were many instances in history where there had been such friendly interference; and they had, therefore, the warrant of precedent for doing what was now suggested. He trusted that the Government would—with all the energy that they felt themselves justified in using; but, at the same time, with the necessary friendliness—intercede on behalf of Midhat Pasha. The Prime Minister had said that instructions to that effect would be sent to Lord Dufferin, and the House and the country would feel satisfied that any appeal by him would be supported by a man of great ability, high character, and of generous spirit. Having called attention to the subject and made this representation, he would advise that the matter should be allowed to rest in the hands of Her Majesty's Government.


asked leave to withdraw the Motion.


wished to say a word or two. He sympathized with the object of the Motion, because he did not believe in capital punishment for political offences. He was glad to hear the expressions of the Prime Minister; but he thought that while he was making his speech he might have added that it would give him great pleasure if the Sultan would intervene on behalf of several subjects of Her Majesty in Ireland, who were suffering, not for political offences, but merely on suspicion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.