HC Deb 26 March 1897 vol 47 cc1504-28
SIR E. ASHMEAD-BARTLETT (Sheffield, Ecclesall)

said that the principal points involved in the Eastern Question had of late been very much overlooked. The attention of the House and of the country had been directed to such minor matters as the bombardment which had taken place the other day at Crete, attacks upon the British Admiral, and as to whether the Cretan insurgents had received a certain message or not—all of which were of the most trifling importance in comparison with the great issues at stake. The one great factor of the Eastern Question which had been lost sight of of late was the danger of arousing religious and race fanaticism in the East. For a long period of time reckless and unfounded attacks were made upon the Turkish Government, and every species of insult was addressed to the Sovereign of Turkey. Mussulman fanaticism was thereby aroused, and the result was seen in the terrible deeds which took place in Asia Minor at the close of 1895. In Crete they would see what Christian fanaticism was able to accomplish. Deeds had been done there by fanatical Christians as atrocious as the deeds committed by fanatical Mussulmans in Asia Minor. The whole Moslem population of Crete, with the exception of the few that lived in the towns on the sea coast, had been driven from their homes. Their lands had been taken from them, their houses had been destroyed, and at that moment there were 30,000 Mussulmans in a state almost of starvation in the three seaport towns of Crete to which they had to fly for protection from the Christians. This persecution and enforced exile of the Moslem population of Crete had been accompanied by many horrible scenes of massacre and outrage. Hundreds had been killed, women and children had been outraged, and the whole Moslem population of some of the villages had been burned alive. [Opposition cries of "No, no!"] The hon. and learned Member for Dumfries seemed to regard it as a joke that Mussulmans should be burned alive.

SIR ROBERT REID (Dumfries Burghs)

I beg the hon. Gentleman's pardon. I was smiling at a remark my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton made to me.


apologised to the hon. and learned Member. He had heard no word of sympathy or regret expressed from any Gentleman on the other side with regard to outrages on and massacres of these Cretan Mussulmans. The correspondent of The Standard, who had probably supplied the most interesting information they had received from Crete, writing the other day from Canea, spoke in this way of the Cretan people: There is no race existing within the borders of civilisation so reckless of human life and so dominated by the passion for blood.…It may be opportune to point out to misguided philanthropists that the prostitution of the title of Christian in Crete need not delude anybody with the idea that those who claim it are governed by any of the precepts of Christianity. Any sympathy with these Christians as co-religionists is quite misplaced. They have no religion to speak of and are quite as barbarous as their brethren of the same breed professing Islamism. There were two great factors which were apt to be overlooked by most hon. Members who had dealt with the Eastern Question during the last three years. The first, which was the humanitarian factor, was the horrible danger of letting loose religious and race fanaticism in the East. The second, which was the political factor, was the tremendous danger to British interests of allowing Russia to get possession of Constantinople. There was not the slightest doubt that if that great Power got possession of Constantinople and the Straits our naval supremacy in the Mediterranean would come to an end, and we should lose the power of holding Egypt and the Suez Canal. There would thus, also, be placed in the hands of Russia the whole fighting material of the Ottoman Empire, and our hold upon India would be gravely menaced. There had been, within the last few days, a very deplorable loss of life at Tokat. [An HON. MEMBER: "A series of assassinations," and another HON. MEMBER: "A series of massacres."] He waited to hear what had actually happened before he described the occurrence as a massacre, but if it were proved to have been a massacre, he would so describe and denounce it. Immediately that loss of life occurred the Turkish Government acted. [Cries of "Oh, oh!] He believed that, without the loss of 24 hours, the persons responsible for the Government of this place were dismissed and put under arrest, and a Commission, composed of officials against whom nothing could be said, had been appointed to make a thorough investigation into the whole matter. Instead of hon. Members jeering at the Turkish authorities for having acted as they had, they ought rather to encourage them in that action. Hon. Members, by refusing to credit the Turkish Government with the slightest good motive, were inevitably driving Turkey, either to an absolute alliance and dependence upon Russia, or to such a state of desperation that no one could predict what mischief might happen to those Christians in whom they were interested. For that reason he had always endeavoured in this House and in the country to urge moderation in dealing with and speaking of Turkey. Let the Ambassador at Constantinople be as firm as he pleased in demanding real reforms, but let him be moderate and wise in his representations, and let hon. Gentlemen opposite be wise and moderate in their attacks on the Turkish Government. With regard to the Cretan question, there had probably never been an instance in this country in which a large portion of the public mind had been so completely misled and deluded as in regard to this question. The idea of hon. Gentlemen opposite, and an idea which he believed had a considerable number of followers in the country, but not so many as possibly hon. Gentlemen opposite thought, was that the Cretan Christians were at this time a poor suffering people, and that the Greeks had gone to Crete to defend Cretan liberties. That was the exact opposite of the truth. ["Hear, hear!" and laughter.] The Cretan Christians were not oppressed at the present time, and had not been for some years. They were themselves at present the oppressors and the persecutors. In every insurrection which had taken place in Crete in the last thirty years the Mussulman inhabitants had suffered most, and in the last insurrection three times as many Mussulmans were killed as Christians. The Greeks went to Crete to prevent autonomy, which was secure. [Mr. DILLON: "No, no!"] It had been conceded by the Sultan and guaranteed by the Powers. Hon. Members might not trust the promises of the Turkish Government with regard to a wild district in Asia Minor, where the Powers could not intervene; but with regard to an island like Crete, it was impossible for promises guaranteed by the Powers to be broken.


They were broken.


They were not broken.


They were broken.


said that there was nothing to show that but the statement of the hon. Member, who, on this subject, was capable of stating almost anything. The Cretan Christians were delighted with the pledges given to them, and accepted them cheerfully, but autonomy was the one thing dreaded by Greece, who wanted annexation. Greece was a needy, bankrupt country, and Crete was to be a sort of milch cow. The prospect of autonomy precipitated Greek intervention. Greece sent over agitators and writers, who were common in Greece. Those Greeks who were averse to a severe form of work took either to newspaper writing or to the legal profession, and when those professions failed they went on buccaneering expeditions to Crete. The Austrian Government at this point made a wise proposal to the Powers—that a naval cordon should be placed round the island to keep out the agitators and the arms. That proposal was accepted by all the Powers but Great Britain. [Mr. COURTNEY: "Hear, hear!"] Did that cheer mean that the right hon. Gentleman disapproved of the Austrian Government's suggestion? [Mr. COURTNEY: "Oh, yes."] The right hon. Gentleman must know that now, when all the mischief had been done, a blockade had been established after all. Six months ago that step might have averted all the dangers and bloodshed; but it was prevented by a little splutter of agitation in this country. The conduct of the Turkish Government in regard to Crete had been admirable since last year. [Cries of "No!"] Did anyone deny that? [Cries of "Yes!" and "Certainly."] Matters were promising to settle themselves, when the Greek Government sent soldiers to Crete, and then the trouble and terrible massacres of Mussulman Cretans began. Greece had simply been trying to blackmail Europe, and to extort the concession of annexation from the fear of European war. Crete itself would be more happy under autonomy than under annexation to Greece. But Greece had mustered a large army on the Thessalian frontier and had compelled Turkey to do the same. At any moment some rash act might precipitate a tremendous struggle on the frontier, which might end in European war. Such ambition and greed on the part of Greece was unjustifiable. Most Members would be very glad to know that the Concert of Europe, or the federation of Europe, was still maintained. It was not an ideal arrangement for dealing with burning political questions. Personally he had always much favoured an alliance between England and the Powers with whom our interests coincided, which would enable Great Britain to pursue her just policy with effect, but that policy was practically impossible after the mistakes of the late Radical Government in the East. The attempt of that Government to coerce Turkey in conjunction with Russia and France, two Powers that would not and could not genuinely support our policy in the East, had unfortunately alienated our natural allies in Europe, so that for the moment the restoration of the old understanding, which had so long preserved the equilibrium or power in Europe, was impossible; therefore, in view of the fact that there was great danger of a European war, and above all, in view of the awful miseries which would threaten the populations of south-eastern Europe if once war broke out, probably the Concert was the only means of dealing with the difficult questions that arose. He hoped that hon. Gentlemen who were so ready to encourage Greece in her rash and dangerous attitude had not forgotten what war meant in the south-east of Europe to the helpless populations there. The great war between Germany and France was, so far as non-combatants were concerned, conducted with remarkable humanity, but very different would a war be in the south-east of Europe. Take the case of Macedonia alone, which, in the event of war, would become the cockpit of south-eastern Europe. In Macedonia there were now four Christian races ready and almost longing to fly at each other's throats, and only kept from fighting by the dominating power of the Turks, and Heaven only knew what would happen if the forces of disorder were once let loose. He read the other day in The Daily News a remarkable letter from Athens. It was not a paper he placed reliance on generally, but in reference to recent events in the East its information had been good. The letter contained a most touching and pathetic statement—a terrible statement as to what the spring might bring in that country, in Macedonia, where, on a signal given, five armies would begin to march, and what would be the fate of the helpless population, non-combatants, women and children, was terrible to think of. Therefore, though the Concert of Europe might be a slow and heavy method of dealing with the question, and though its action was beset with difficulties and dangers, yet, as a security against a terrible war, it well deserved support, and he congratulated Her Majesty's Government upon having so far kept the Concert of Europe together. He hoped no menaces front the other side of the House, no threats of agitation, no false, no sham sentiment, would lead Her Majesty's Government to do anything to break up that European accord which, so far as could be seen, was the only means of preventing an outbreak a war in the East.

MR. J. MORLEY (Montrose Burghs)

I do not rise for the purpose of defending the late Radical Government against the criticisms of the hon. Gentleman, who has exercised, as usual, his gift of making foreign affairs attractive and fascinating to those who listen to him. He warns the Government not to listen to what he is pleased to call a little splutter of agitation, and he also wants them, not confining his remarks to the late Government, he warns the Government to listen to himself and on no account to pay attention to the feelings of the rest of the country. Now, I propose to come to a little closer quarters, if I may, with the Government, than the hon. Gentleman has. The hon. Gentleman has said, speaking of the autonomy of Crete, that it was secured, guaranteed, and accepted some considerable time ago.


In August.


Very well; that is a proposition I entirely traverse, and on that particular matter—namely, the autonomy of Crete—I desire to make a few observations. I do not think the Government will be surprised, or can complain, if on an occasion like this, one of the not too numerous occasions the forms and practice of the House allow us for bringing these important matters before the attention of the House, if we take this occasion for inviting the Government to give us some elucidation on some points of their Cretan and Eastern policy which I confess at present I find extremely obscure and difficult to comprehend. I am not going to-night to attempt any rhetoric. I wish to subject the situation to what I hope will be a perfectly cool analysis. I hope we shall not be misled by what the hon. Member has said about the Concert of Europe. I do not wish to embark on that subject to-night, beyond observing that the phrase which the Prime Minister launched the other day about the federation of Europe is, to my mind, a sonorous, but a hollow, misleading phrase. I should not have referred to that but that the hon. Member laid stress upon it. Now let us see how far we are agreed as to the facts and as to the propositions affecting the present situation in Crete. First of all, there will be no difference among us as to this, that it is the intention of the Government, that it is the resolution of Her Majesty's Government, that Crete is to be freed absolutely in its future government from any effective intervention by Turkey. Then there arises, in the next place, the alternatives of annexation to Greece, on the one hand, and what Her Majesty's Government and the Powers call autonomy on the other hand; and Her Majesty's Government have said that, owing to their position and in view of the decision of the Powers, autonomy is the only policy they can consider practicable. But they do not consider in the present state of circumstances that union of the Greeks of the Hellenic Kingdom to the Cretans of Greece is a practicable policy. Lord Salisbury has recommended Greece to remember that the ulterior result of the present circumstances may well be that annexation of Crete to Greece may take place, if desired by the Cretan population. We are assured by the Government that autonomy is the keyword of their present policy. I am afraid that, as far as we have any means of yet knowing, autonomy is nothing more than a word and a phrase. I will call the attention of the Committee to a reply of the Porte, dated March 14, upon this subject. In that dispatch the Sublime Porte say that— the principle of the granting of autonomy to Crete has been admitted, the Imperial Government only reserving to itself to discuss its form and details with the Ambassadors. ["Hear, hear!"] Of course every single Member of the House, not excepting the hon. Member, will recognise that the principle of autonomy is perfectly meaningless, is void of all practical political significance, until we know what is the form and what are the details with which that general principle is to be worked out. Now, where are we? We are at a date not a fortnight from the date of that dispatch, and at that date it is perfectly certain from the language there used that there had not been an effective discussion between the Porte and the six Ambassadors. If the right hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary or the First Lord is able to assure us that an effective discussion has been going on since the 14th March, has gone on to such a point that they can tell us to-night that there is a scheme of autonomy in existence to which the Porte has consented, and as to which the Powers are agreed, I will admit they have made a substantial advance. It is quite true that one of the French Ministers, I think M. Meéline, the other day said "the reégime of autonomy for Crete is in working order." Well, I have not seen the original French, and I do not know therefore what the language of M. Meéline may have been, but if "the reégime of autonomy for Crete is in working order" we shall be very much interested to hear from the representatives of Her Majesty's Government to-night what sort of shape that working order has assumed. The language of the dispatch I have quoted shows that the whole of the form and details of autonomy is left an open question, and that what is going on, if anything is going on, is that performance with which we are only too familiar—six Ambassadors at Constantinople meeting one another day after day and week after week and trying to hit upon some scheme which perhaps the Porte may agree to. So far as we know, I can only repeat that autonomy is a mere word and a mere phrase, and has been clothed with none of the attributes of a real effective constitution. Now let us advance a further step. It is undeniable that the vast majority of the insurgent Cretans have repeatedly declared—they may be right or may be wrong, but we are now dealing with the actual state of things—that they repudiate autonomy as the solution of the present situation. This means that the Cretan insurgents reject the proposals of the Powers, or are prepared to reject the proposals when laid before them.


What is the proof of that?


The hon. Gentleman is the last person who should demand proofs, but the fact is perfectly obvious from the whole attitude of the insurgents towards the Admirals. They are at this moment so little predisposed to accept your proposals that they are at this moment in effective military antagonism to the Powers. [Cheers.]


Will the right hon. Gentleman allow me to explain? The only evidence of the statement he has just made is that some five or six Cretan chiefs, under the influence of Colonel Vassos and his brigade, who are close to Canea, are said to have stated that they were opposed to autonomy. There is no other evidence whatever.


If that be so, it will be a very simple matter indeed—I dare-say the hon. Member would not shrink from undertaking it—to reduce Crete to perfect order. ["Hear, hear!"] It will be no wonder if the Government do not disclose to us the form and details of the scheme, because it is evidently a scheme to be imposed upon the Cretans against their wishes. A more astonishing paradox, I think, has never been seen in modern European politics than the paradox of the present situation. You admit, by every word that any Member of Her Majesty's Government has used, that Crete has got a claim to autonomy—that is to say, to a government which will represent the wishes of her own people, and which the Cretan people will consent to work. The paradox is this—that you are imposing your autonomy upon the Cretans—how? By starving, by blockading, and occasionally by bombarding them. [Laughter.] You are to compel a population who have faith in their own freedom and autonomy to accept a form of government which they tell you they reject. I call that a monstrous paradox. It used to be said in the French Revolution by the lovers of Fraternity, "Soyez mon frère ou je te tue;" and here you are saying to the Cretans, "Unless you agree to govern yourselves as we wish, we will starve, blockade, and bombard you." [Cheers.] I call that a paradox which ingenious Gentlemen who sit opposite will, I dare say, be able to throw some light upon. I want to know from the Government whether this policy of paradox is one for which the fleet of Great Britain is to be employed to carry out? Is it a policy that a British Ministry can be expected to pursue? Lord Salisbury has admitted that the ulterior solution may possibly, and very probably, be annexation; and, therefore, the Government are now, unless they enlighten us, so far as we can judge from appearances, engaged in carrying out a policy which they believe not to be a policy that will ultimately bring peace to Crete, but a policy against their own real conviction, as it is most assuredly a policy against the sympathies and the convictions of the majority of the people of this country. [Cheers and "No, no!"] I do not think that many hon. Members on either side of the House—I do not see why this should be a matter of Party division—[Ministerial cheers]—would like to face their constituents and to say that, while we declare that the Cretans ought to have autonomy and to choose their Government, and because they do not at once accept the form of government the Powers think best for them, we are right in using the British fleet to starve, blockade, and bombard them. Let us go a little further. Let us admit the principle of your policy, which I submit is an extremely difficult thing to do. Will the Under Secretary or the First Lord of the Treasury explain to us how this policy is to be practically carried out? In practice as in principle I declare that I cannot make out how autonomy, which means self-government, can be worked without the co-operation of the people who are to be made antõnomous. You must have the good will and the sympathy and the co-operation of the people. And at the end of your starving, blockading, and bombarding, what is to happen? How far will you have travelled along the road? Let us examine what it means. You must, I suppose, under an autonomous system have institutions—legislative, administrative, representative. But how are, those institutions going to be worked by a people who do not want those institutions, but who want something quite different? That is a plain and practical question which perhaps the Under Secretary will be able to answer. The Cretans will certainly be unlike anyone else whom I have read of if they do not at once set to work, even supposing you had at once reared this system, to overthrow a scheme which they bitterly distrust, and which they will be the first to declare to be wholly repugnant to their deepest sentiments. There is a point, moreover, on which I invite the Government to throw some light in the practical working out of this extraordinary policy of autonomy against the will of the autonomous—the governor. Who is he to be? Is he to be a Turk? I presume not. That would be too great a scandal. Is he to be a Greek? If the governor is to be a Greek you may as well not make two bites of a cherry, but let them have annexation and union at once. Is the governor to be taken from one of the six Powers? Suppose you get a governor from one of the extraneous Powers, who is to keep him in his seat? I presume some foreign military force. A pretty kind of autonomy—[cheers]—to set over them a foreigner by whom they do not want to be governed, and to prop him up by some foreign force! Reference has been made to Bosnia and Herzegovina, and there we have been told what Lord Beaconsfield called the "consolidation of the Turkish Empire" went on—in plain English, a large tract of territory was happily withdrawn from Turkish dominion and was governed with great success and efficiency by Austria. I will take the liberty of pointing out that there is a great difference in the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the situation in Crete to-day. In Bosnia and Herzegovina 19 or 20 years ago there was no outside centre towards which the population of Bosnia and Herzegovina was gravitating. But that is not the case here. Here the Cretan population has got a centre to which it is gravitating—namely, Greece. When the Austrians went into Bosnia and Herzegovina they were welcomed as deliverers. [Ministerial cries of "No."] When you point to the success of the Austrian annexation—I will call it for short—of Bosnia and Herzegovina, you must remember that the people had no strong outside affinities which they were bent on regarding and preserving at all cost. But in Crete there is a kingdom outside to which they have a strong affinity of race, of sentiment, and now of gratitude. The situation is perfectly different. The Austrians were welcomed in Bosnia and Herzegovina because they were deliverers. What you are now doing is to make a kind of war upon the deliverers, and yet you say there is a parallel between this and the Bosnian and Herzegovinian situation. This phrase autonomy deserves, I believe, at this stage in the public discussion to be analysed in a way in which it can only be effectively done in this House. I have spoken of the Governor, and of the fallacy of the parallel with Bosnia and Herzegovina. There was another point which comes to all States and to all individuals—the point of money. ["Hear, hear!"] The British Government are alleged to have made a proposal—I do not think we are officially informed of it—to the Powers to subscribe £10,000 apiece. A sort of subscription list has been opened under the auspices of Her Majesty's Government, and you are to see this extraordinary spectacle. Autonomy is going to be established in the country, but, as a condition antecedent or concurrent with autonomy, a sort of opening up of a subscription list—you are to have a condominium of the six Powers and a condominium subscription to work the autonomy. I do not think a more absurd idea has ever been launched, and I, for one, shall be glad if the Government will be able to say that they never identified themselves with any such proposal. The upshot of it all is this—that you are prolonging an intolerable situation in order to obtain an utterly unworkable and impracticable end. ["Hear, hear!"] The hon. Member spoke of the dangers of conflagration in Macedonia and elsewhere. It is too true that these dangers appear to be coming very near; but, if there is danger of this grand conflagration in Eastern Europe, will it not occur to those who watch things very closely from day to day that it is by the determination of the Powers, the obstinate and, as I think, the unreasonable determination of the Powers, not to allow that union between the Greeks in the kingdom and the Greeks in the island of Crete which the Greeks in the kingdom and the Greeks in the island desire? I invite the Government, if they will be so kind, to answer this question—What are the grounds, stated in plain words, of reason and of policy for the determination about so secondary a matter which can evidently only be persisted in at the risk of jeopardising interests that are not secondary at all, but are essentially of first European magnitude? Every day since this stubborn and unreasonable determination has been arrived at, and has been endeavoured to be carried out, it has been more and more clear that this determination it is which is leading, apparently somewhat rapidly, to what may prove a great danger to European peace. If the Powers had wished to bring about the very crisis which they and all of us have been deploring and dreading the prospect of, this perverse quarrel with Greece is the very means to kindle the flames. As for Crete, we are told that the object of this bombarding and starving was to preserve order in Crete. Read all the accounts of what is going on in Crete! A more desperate and tenacious struggle one has never seen. It is a ludicrous position—it would be ludicrous if it was not so grave—into which the policy of the Powers has brought the Powers. Some people talk of making a golden bridge for the retreat of the Greeks. It looks to me as if a much more desirable thing would be the construction of a golden bridge for the Powers themselves. The difficulties are all due to the fundamental absurdity of imposing upon Crete, in the name of autonomy, some scheme or another which the people of the island refuse to accept. I confess I cannot see that one single step has been taken which is calculated to bring about either of the two things which the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury so tersely described—the freedom of Crete and the peace of Europe. It seems to me that the present situation is as unpromising for freedom in Crete and the peace of Europe as any situation which could possibly be brought about. [Cheers.]


I have listened with extreme surprise to the speech which has just been delivered—surprise partly founded on the matter of the speech, and partly on the occasion on which the right hon. Gentleman has thought fit to deliver it. [Cheers.] The right hon. Gentleman complains of us because, in dealing with an island in a state of disorder which we have not produced, we are not prepared to give to him and his Friends a detailed account of the autonomous constitution under which I hope that island will for many years have a prosperous and flourishing existence.


I never asked for details; but will the right hon. Gentleman tell us that the constitution is ready, and, if so, what it is?


The right hon. Gentleman asks whether we have got a grand new constitution in our pigeon-hole for an island which he knows is in a state of disorder—a state of disorder which we have not produced—an island in which there is a minority of the very existence of which, you would suppose, the right hon. Gentleman has never heard—[cheers]—who are certainly not Cretans by religion or sympathy, but, after all, are human beings—[Cheers]—and the safety of whom and their property, one would think, might have some claim even upon the right hon. Gentleman. Of course, it is obvious to everybody that the folly of coming forward at this moment, with Crete in the condition in which it is, with an elaborately prepared constitution, or even to go through the form of preparing an elaborate constitution till order is restored, is more the policy of speculative theorists than of practical statesmen. The right hon. Gentleman has talked about certain conditions laid down by the Porte with regard to autonomy in Crete. Of this I can assure him, that the Powers who have taken in hand the task of providing for the freedom of Crete will not be bound by the views of anybody but themselves. [Cheers.] That task they have taken in hand, and mean to carry through. The right hon. Gentleman tells us that the Cretans are so strenuously determined against any form of Home Rule that they are prepared to resist to the utmost, by arms and permanently, any attempt to impose upon them that form of government which under other circumstances finds so much favour with the right hon. Gentleman. [Cheers.] He apparently looks forward to a series of years during which, for no other object whatever than to spite the Great Powers, the Cretans are going to misgovern themselves. The right hon. Gentleman speaks of paradoxes, but of all paradoxes ever uttered in this House that is surely the most extraordinary and the most unreasonable. ["Hear, hear!"] The question of Crete is but a fragment of the general policy of the Great Powers of Europe as regards the East of Europe. It cannot be considered in isolation, but it must be considered, and it can only be judged, as part of the greater and more important whole. The right hon. Gentleman says that that policy is one which does not command the approval of the people of this country. The course of an Opposition who believe that the policy of the Government does not command the approval of the country is a plain and obvious one, imposed upon them by all the traditions of English Parliamentary life. [Cheers.] We have had three discussions on this Cretan and European question on Motions for the Adjournment of the House—front the very nature of the case inconclusive discussions. Do not let us add to them a fourth discusion as inconclusive as either of the three predecessors. Let us have this question out. [Cheers.] Let us have done with this niggling criticism—[cheers]—and these paltry questions. The broad outlines of our policy are before the House and the country. The right hon. Gentleman says that the country has already judged. Let him give the House also an opportunity of judging. [Cheers.] I have already told the Leader of the Opposition, whose absence we all regret—["hear, hear!"]—that he had only to ask for a day for a vote of censure, and that day will be given without any delay whatever. [Cheers.] Until that request is made, and until that day is given, I must certainly, so far as I can at all events exercise such authority as I possess, prevent the Opposition hampering the Government in the policy which it is endeavouring to pursue in the East of Europe, without putting before the country in plain and intelligible terms an alternative to that policy. [Cheers.] Let the country choose between the two, and, whichever policy it supports, let that policy be carried out from beginning to end courageously, clearly, and consistently. [Cheers.] One thing I desire, not in the interest of Party or even in the interests of this country itself, but in the interests of Europe and of mankind. It is that whatever policy we support in this country shall have, at all events as far as we can secure it, the approval of the people of this country behind it by the declared vote of their representatives. [Cheers.] I hope the right hon. Gentleman will either screw up his courage to the point of asking for a day for a vote of censure—[cheers]—or that he will abandon this practice of night after night criticising small fragments of the Government policy, without bringing forward an indictment of that policy—an indictment which I can most truly assure him we are only too desirous to see him make, and to which we are prepared at a moment's notice to give what we at all events conceive to be a full and conclusive answer. [Loud cheers.]


felt it his duty to defend the Leaders of the Opposition from the charge that, after so excellent a speech, such a militant speech, as had been made by the right hon. Member for Montrose, he would not propose a vote of censure. He knew perfectly well he would. [Laughter and a voice, "When?"] An hon. Gentleman said "When?" He did not seem to understand that great bodies moved slowly, particularly bodies made up of machinery and a vast number of wheels that had to be brought into harmonious action. [Laughter.] He hoped his right hon. Friend would speedily move a vote of censure from that Bench. They would all be delighted to vote for it on that side. The Leader of the House had invited the Front Bench to move a vote of censure, and he was only sorry that he did not invite him. [Laughter.] If the right hon. Gentleman had thrown that challenge down to him his answer would have been, "Tomorrow." They desired to protest by their voice and votes against what was at present going on. If he could not get a day, he would seize the present opportunity, and he intended to conclude with an Amendment which stood in his name to reduce the salary of Lord Salisbury. [Loud laughter.] It was not at all personal. [Renewed laughter.] It was the only vote left to them. There had been contradictions upon the part of the Leader of that House and the Leader of the House of Lords. One evening a statement was made in the House of Lords, and almost immediately the reverse was stated by the Leader of the House of Commons. ["Hear, hear!"] They were told by the Leader of the other House that if the country wanted to know what was going on, they would do well to refer to the excellent speech of M. Hanotaux in the French Chamber. It appeared that, according to the views a Her Majesty's Government, they had not only no right to discuss these matters in the House of Commons, but also no right to discuss them outside. His right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition made a very excellent speech the other day at Norwich, a speech that was certainly approved of by every Liberal in the country, but what did the President of the Local Government Board say of it? The right hon. Gentleman said:— He owned when he read the speech of Sir William Harcourt at Norwich, he thought it almost an outrage on public decency. [Laughter.] A speech more unworthy of a man in his position or of the occasion, or more calculated to mislead or deceive the English public or more thoroughly intended to embarrass the English Government at a great crisis in its political affairs, was surely never made. [Ministerial cheers.] Hon. Gentlemen opposite cheered those sentiments. Naturally they objected to a speech which embarrassed Her Majesty's Government, but he delighted in that speech because it did embarrass the Government. [Laughter.] It was made with that aim and object. [Cheers.] The Opposition believed that the action of Her Majesty's Government in Crete was to the dishonour of the country, and surely they were simply doing their duty in embarrassing and hindering the Government in that action. ["Hear, hear!"] When Mr. Gladstone denounced the action of the Government in regard to the Bulgarian outrages, and their subsequent action in respect to the Treaty of San Stefano, Conservative newspapers and orators said the thing was indecent. But what did the public say? When there came an election out went the Government bag and baggage—[Laughter]—and Mr. Gladstone was put in their place; and he had no doubt the next General Election would have a similar result. ["Hear, hear!"] It really had came to a pretty pass if those who objected to the English arms being used to defend the integrity of the Turkish Empire against the Cretans and Greece, were to be looked upon as dolts and idiots and indecent persons. [Laughter.] Surely they had a right to their opinions. They knew perfectly well that Armenia had been harried for two years, and its inhabitants massacred by the Sultan, that the Concert of Europe did nothing to prevent it, and at the present moment no scheme of reforms for Armenia had been settled. The Cretans applied to the Powers, and the Powers submitted a scheme of reform for Crete, and yet things in the island were worse than before, because the Sultan seemed to think that the Cretans had offended his dignity by applying to the Powers, and he misgoverned them worse than ever. The Cretans rose and the Greeks, to their honour be it said, sent troops to their aid. The country was in the possession of the Cretans and Greeks, and if the Great Powers had not interfered, at this very moment all connection between Turkey and Crete would probably have ceased. Then and then alone the Powers interfere.


We were there before.


Yes, but they only looked on and did nothing. The first practical action they took was when the Greeks arrived in the island. Then the Powers bombarded the Cretans. [Cheers.] Then came all these Notes to Turkey and Greece. Probably they would not have been told the contents of those Notes by Her Majesty's Government, but other Governments were more, communicative, and the Notes were published in foreign journals. First there was an agreement between Turkey and the Great Powers. The Powers pledged themselves to maintain the integrity of the Turkish Empire in regard to Crete, and in return for that Turkey pledged herself to give autonomy. Then the Governments sent a Note to Greece, saying that unless the Greeks withdrew their ships from Cretan waters, and their men from the island, they would hesitate at no effort of coercion in order to force compliance with their requirements. How did the Government begin their coercion? By the blockade last Sunday. One Greek vessel had already been sunk by the blockading forces. We had landed troops in Crete, and by the blockade the aim and object of the Government was to starve the unhappy people into surrender, the importation of food being prevented. This they were told was a police measure, but it was a police measure unquestionably undertaken in the name of Turkey, because the Great Powers had no right to engage in police measures in Turkish waters. Then there had been another bombardment. It appeared also that our troops aided the Turkish troops in the garrison towns, and allowed them to go out and pillage and ravage the neighbouring villages. They were told in the newspapers that possibly the Government would not blockade the Piræus, but would leave that to other Powers. He did not see that such abstention amounted to much, for if we blockaded the Cretan ports, although we left it to other Powers to blockade the Piræus, our forces would still practically be employed against Crete and Greece. All these things filled with indignation those who had still some regard for the honour of England, and their indignation was intensified by the grounds given by the Government for their action. Two pleas were put forward by the Government in mitigation. One was based on the proposal for autonomy. They were told that the Great Powers were prepared to give autonomy to Crete, but no one had ever yet explained definitely what that autonomy was to be At present it was a case of Quot hominess, tot sententiœ. Upon this subject he doubted whether the Powers were in unison. He could very well imagine that the Russian Government and the German Government entertained very different views in regard to liberty from those which the British Government entertained, or, rather, ought to entertain. The Cretans had already had dire experience of the interference of the Great Powers. They were told that all their troubles were to disappear under the scheme of reforms of last year, but, having found that under that scheme they were worse off than before, they naturally wished to put an end to their connection with the Turkish power once and for all. He had been under the impression during the last two years that any subject of the Sultan who rebelled deserved the sympathy of Englishmen. At any rate, both political parties had said so, and that we should now be engaged in supporting the Turkish Government against the Cretans showed the irony of fate. He would like to know what benefit resulted from the maintenance of the Concert of Europe? The theory of the Concert of Europe was that the Great Powers who signed the Treaty of Paris had in some way made the integrity of the Turkish Power the common law of Europe. But was a treaty of that kind worth anything after it had lasted 40 years? According to Her Majesty's Government, if hostile action were taken by the Concert of Europe to defend the integrity of the Turkish Empire, everyone connected with the Concert was bound to take part. The leading spirits of the Concert of Europe were the three Emperors, and he was not surprised that the three Emperors and the Sultan should be in favour of the divine right of the Sultan and the Emperors. Why should we become the jackals of the three Emperors and the Sultan to take arms against men whom we believed to be absolutely in the right? He believed the policy of the Liberal Party was that, if we could only remain in the Concert of Europe by attacking Crete and Greece and maintaining the integrity of the Turkish Empire, it was our business to retire from the Concert without troubling ourselves in the least as to the consequences. [Opposition cheers and Ministerial laughter.] They were told there would be war all over Europe. But who was going to fight against us if we did not fight against them? ["Hear, hear!" and cheers.] According to the President of the Local Government Board, we were not to retire from the Concert of Europe because it would cause "great and natural resentment" among the Powers of Europe. This was an English Minister! He could understand a Russian or German Minister or a Grand Vizier—[laughter]—uttering such sentiments. Hon. Members opposite who talked so grandly about the power of England called him and his Friends "Little Englanders." But they were the smallest and—if they would forgive him—the most contemptible Little Englanders themselves, because they were so absolutely afraid of the resentment of the Great Powers of Europe that, rather than risk that resentment, they were prepared to do the dirtiest work they could be put to. [Cheers and Ministerial cries of "Oh!"] Yes; it was dirty work. Hon. Members opposite apparently did not approve of it, but Liberals went further, and said it was dirty and disgraceful work for England to do. He had put on the Paper an Amendment to reduce the salary of Lord Salisbury. [Laughter.] This was a Vote on account, therefore they might put the salary to the Suspense Account. It could be restored if Lord Salisbury mended ways and recognised the voice of England which was speaking in many ways. If Lord Salisbury accepted the view of the great majority of his fellow-countrymen, they did not ask him at the present moment to make war for Greece. "Sufficient unto the day was the policy thereof." They only asked him to stay his hand, and refuse to make war any longer against either Cretans struggling to be free or against Greece, which was rightly aiding them. [Cheers.] The hon. Member concluded by moving his Amendment.

MR. T. W. LEGH (Lancashire, Newton)

said hon. Members opposite were unduly exercised over the word "autonomy." They seemed to think the Cretans would not understand what autonomy meant. "Autonomy" was a Greek word—["hear, hear!"]—and if hon. Members opposite could not realise what it meant, it was extremely improbable that the Greeks themselves would fail to do so. Hon. Gentlemen opposite not so long ago advocated autonomy for an island nearer home, and at that time they never succeeded in getting details from them. Then they were told that even if autonomy were granted the Sultan might spoil it by his interference. That was not a probable event, as the Sultan would not retain any power over the island. He hoped his right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Treasury would continue to refuse to give any details as to the scheme of autonomy, as this did not appear to be necessary. He wished to ask the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs why, in view of the action which this country, in common with the rest of Europe, found itself obliged to take, the Greeks were permitted to land these troops in the first instance? ["Hear, hear!"] When he made this inquiry the other day his right hon. Friend replied that the Greeks were able to land them because they were not opposed, and this answer was regarded as clever and humorous. He confessed he failed to see the humour of it, and he thought he was entitled to ask for an answer.

SIR C. DILKE (Gloucester, Forest of Dean)

thought that those of them who held the strongest opinion that the course on which this country was at present engaged was contrary to national honour and national interests had some right to complain of the manner in which this discussion had been left by those responsible for the arrangements of the House. Their own Party were as much to blame as were the Government. He supposed the Government would refuse them any further opportunity of discussing this question if their own Front Bench did not move a Vote of Censure. ["Hear, hear!"] He ventured to say, however, that the vast majority of the Party which sat on that side of the House were not responsible if their Front Bench did refuse to move a Vote of Censure. He supposed the Government intended to closure this Vote. Some of them had been taunted for the convictions which they held, while they had been denied an opportunity of defending themselves. The Under Secretary of State had told the House that for 100 years the Cretans had been asking for autonomy. He denied that statement root and branch. He had watched the affairs of Crete most carefully since 1867, and all through Crete had asked for annexation to Greece, and that was what Crete asked for now. Those of them who held the strongest convictions on this subject, by the action of the leaders on both sides had been denied an opportunity of defending those convictions.


asked whether it was quite necessary that the Government should get this Vote? Surely some further opportunity should be given of discussing the matter.


said that they on that side of the House were quite determined that this matter should be further considered at the earliest possible date. [Ministerial cheers.] In order that there should be an opportunity for further discussion, he begged to move that Progress be reported.


claimed to move "That the Question be now put."

Question put, "That the Question be now put."

The Committee divided:—Ayes, 130; Noes, 48.—(Division List, No. 149.)

Question put accordingly, "That the Item of £22,000, for the Foreign Office, be reduced by £1,666."

The Committee divided:—Ayes, 44; Noes, 128.—(Division List, No. 150.)


claimed, "That the original Question be now put."

Original Question put accordingly.

The Committee divided:—Ayes, 128; Noes, 44.—(Division List, No. 151.)

And, it being after Midnight, the Chairman left the Chair to make his Report to the House.

Resolution to be reported upon Monday next; Committee to sit again upon Monday next.