HC Deb 25 March 1897 vol 47 cc1309-13
MR. J. C. FLYNN (Cork, N.)

I beg to ask the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he can state what definite steps are being taken to bring about the progressive withdrawal of the Turkish troops from Crete, in accordance with the terms of the Identic Note presented by the Great Powers; and whether, with a view to the speedy pacification of Crete, Her Majesty's representative will be instructed to urge upon the Powers the advisability of securing the retirement of the Turkish forces from the island with the greatest dispatch possible?


Her Majesty's Ambassador at Constantinople has been instructed to lose no opportunity of urging the withdrawal of the Turkish troops from Crete; but it is clear that such a step would be greatly facilitated by the withdrawal of the Greek forces from the island, which, according to the terms of the supplementary note addressed to the Porte on March 5th, was to be a preliminary condition of the progressive reduction of the Ottoman forces to which the him. Member refers.


May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether a proposal for the contemporaneous withdrawal of the Turkish and Greek troops from Crete is under the consideration of the Powers?


I cannot answer that Question without notice.


I desire to ask the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs a Question of which I have given him private notice—whether his attention has been called to a letter from Mr. Sandwich, late Consul in Crete, in The Times of to-day, in which the following statements are made:— In the best of seasons Crete does not raise enough grain for the support of its inhabitants, and it is precisely during the few months preceding harvest, which begins at the end of May, that the pinch of scarcity is felt. As, in present circumstances, there seems to be no Power capable of affording protection to unarmed Christians, who are thus shut out from the market towns on the coast, could not vessels carrying only food products be exempted from the blockade, and allowed to land their cargoes in certain creeks, which should be duly notified? Unless some such measure be adopted, the Christian peasantry must perish on their barren mountains—


Order, order! The hon. Member is not in order in reading a letter from a newspaper, and asking whether the rigid, hon. Gentleman's attention has been called to it. If the hon. Gentleman vouches for certain facts, he can ask a Question on them.


I have completed the quotation, and will ask my Question. I wish to know what precaution has the Government taken to secure that the Christian people of Crete shall not be subjected to famine by the blockade, and on what grounds the Government justify the third article of the proclamation of the blockade, which prohibits the landing of provisions for the interior of the island, while it does not restrict the landing of provisions in those parts of the coast where the Mohammedan people are congregated?


I would ask the hon. Gentleman to put the Question on the Paper, and I will be better able to answer him to-morrow.

MR. BRYNMOR JONES (Swansea, Borough)

I beg to ask the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether, under the terms of the notice of blockade of Crete, published in the Supplement to The London Gazette on the 20th March, a British ship carrying a cargo belonging to a British subject, consigned to an agent at a Cretan port, for delivery to a Cretan merchant at a place in the interior of the island, is liable to be visited and searched by a British or Russian war ship and prevented from delivering its cargo at its port of destination in Crete; whether, under the terms of the said notice of blockade, a ship, belonging to a subject of, and registered under the flag of, the United States of America, carrying a cargo belonging to an American subject, consigned in like manner to an agent at a Cretan port for delivery in the interior of the island, is liable to be visited and searched by a British war ship and prevented from delivering its cargo at its port of destination; whether a state of war exists between Great Britain on the one hand and the Kingdom of Greece or the Ottoman Empire on the other hand; if not, under what rules of international or municipal law will the commander of a British or Russian ship be justified in taking the action above suggested; and is the notice of blockade to be construed as limited to merchandise coming within the description of contraband of war?


Ships as described in the Question are liable to be visited and searched by the ships of war of the Great Powers, and to be prevented from delivering their cargoes, if in the opinion of the Admirals such delivery would be calculated to encourage further disorder in the island. No state of war exists between Great Britain and either Greece or Turkey. The blockade of Crete is understood by Her Majesty's Government to be in the nature of a measure of police enforced (with the consent of the Sovereign Power) by the Admirals who have control of the coast, with the object of preventing further fighting in the island. The instructions to the British Admiral are to the effect that be should apply the rules of the blockade in accordance with these principles. The question of contraband of war does not arise.

MR. JOHN MORLEY (Montrose Burghs)

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether there is any objection to laying on the Table the specific orders given to the Admirals as to the blockade? There are precedents, as I understand, for laying such orders on the Table.


Are we to understand that the sanction which was pleaded by the Government for this interference with shipping was the authority of the Sultan?


I said nothing of the kind. The sanction under which the Admirals acted was that of the Great Powers from whom they receive their orders. In reply to the right hon. Gentleman I should be glad if he would kindly put his Question on the Paper.


May I ask the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs which is the sovereign Power he referred to in his answer to my Question?


The hon. and learned Gentleman knows as well as myself that the sovereign Power of Crete is the Sultan. When I said that the consent of the Sultan had been secured I did not say that that was the sanction under which we were acting.


Is there any precedent for such a blockade, which the right hon. Gentleman has described as a police measure?


I should need prolonged study before I could answer that Question. [Laughter and cheers.]


May I, without notice, ask the right hon. Gentleman an easy question [laughter]—whether in this blockade the old principle will be regarded—free ships take free goods?


I am afraid the Question the hon. Member has put does not correspond to his definition of an easy question. I should require time to consider it.


Is not the principle an entirely new one?


Will the right hon. Gentleman answer the last part of the Question of the hon. Member?

MR. REES DAVIES (Pembrokeshire)

May I ask whether the United States consented to the second paragraph of the Question?


Order, order! That is not raised in the Question.


The first sentence of my reply, in which I used the word "ships," referred to the ships spoken of in the first and second paragraphs.

MR. JAMES BRYCE (Aberdeen, S.)

Will it apply to the ships of other countries also?




I beg to ask the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether two British vessels, which started before the blockade, will be forbidden to take on board cargoes of oil on the Cretan coast; whether this stringent application of the law of blockade will, in this instance be relaxed, in accordance with the precedent at the beginning of the Civil War in the United States, when Lord Lyons notified the British Consuls on the 11th May 1861, that neutral vessels would be allowed 15 days to leave port after the actual commencement of the blockade; whether such vessels were with or without cargoes; and whether the cargoes were shipped before or after the commencement of the blockade?


Shipments of oil have been sanctioned by the Admirals at the seven ports occupied by the Great Powers, and permission has been given to the ships of Messrs. Whittall to take on board their cargoes. British merchant ships can communicate with any of the ports above-mentioned.