§ (2.30.) THE PRIME MINISTER AND FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR,) Manchester, E.
formally moved, "That this House do now adjourn until Tuesday, April 21."
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn until Tuesday, 21st April."—(Mr. A. J. Balfour.)
MR. GIBSON BOWLES (Lynn Regis)
said he was glad to see the Prime Minister in his place, because he wished to refer to an answer given by his right hon. friend with reference to the German Anatolian or Baghdad railway and the action of the Government with regard to it. It was said by his right hon. friend that the Anatolian project was not a German one; but he thought there he had made a mistake.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
said he thought he would be able to show from official consular authority that this was undoubtedly a German railway unless its character had recently changed. It was in its conception a German project, and one which as a commercial undertaking was quite unlikely to give any return for the capital embarked in it. The only way of supporting it would be by a Turkish Government guarantee, founded on an increase of Turkish taxation and of the Turkish customs duties which were largely paid by British merchants. If successful it would destroy the existing British railways in Turkey, and therefore it was inadvisable for the Government to give the scheme any sort of encouragement whatever. He did not now propose to trouble the House with the political aspect of the question, although that was extremely important, as one of the chief objections to the project was that at this very moment we were engaged in 1359 negotiations with Russia in regard to coming to an amicable understanding with respect to our respective interests in those regions. That being so he thought it would be peculiarly unfortunate if, during the recess or at any future time, any encouragement should be given towards this projected German railway through Asia Minor. He was going to deal with the matter solely on commercial grounds, and he had the advantage of a consular report by Vice-Consul Sarell which dealt with that very matter, and which, partly owing to the action of the noble Lord the Member for the Cricklade Division, was published in July, 1901. On page 4 of that Report he found the following:—A table is appended showing the relation of British to foreign shipping passing through the Bosphorus. From this it will be seen that whereas in 1893 the United Kingdom accounted for 70 per cent. of the total of steamers clearing in Constantinople, in 1899 only 53 per cent. were under the British flag. Taking the tonnage instead of the number of vessels the figures are 75 and 61 per cent. respectively. The German steamers cleared in 1898, though still only representing an infinitesimal fraction of the total, show nearly twice the percentage shown in 1893.This showed that British trade with Turkey was already decreasing, while that of Germany was increasing, and he submitted therefore that this was not a moment at which we should do anything to increase our disabilities. The right hon. Gentleman in his answer had said that the proposed railway was not German. Surely he could not have read Vice-Consul Sarell's Report. On page 16 the Vice Consul said—After a prolonged struggle between rival groups of financiers the Haidar-Pasha-Ismid line passed into the hands of a group controlled by the Deutsche Bank of Berlin, and it was successively extended through Eskishehr to Angora on the east and Konia on the south, and is now known as the Anatolian railway. A glance at the map will show that it has tapped the district upon which the Smyrna-Aidin line depends for its existence. The position of the Aidin railway will be considered later. From Konia a concession has been promised to the German group for a line through Adana, Marash, Urfa, Mardin, and Mosul to Bagdad, and thence down the valley of the Euphrates to the Persian Gulf. The country has been surveyed and the commercial prospects of the line have also been carefully examined. The conclusion resulting from this investigation is that the line will cost the sum of £20,000,000 to build and that for a long time to come it must be dependent very largely upon Government assistance. The sum required 1360 for the payment of the interest will be £1,000,000 per annum. A great part of the district traversed is very sparsely populated, and much land is consequently quite uncultivated, while the difficulties in the way of travellers, especially natives, in the interior of this country render the prospects of the passenger traffic very poor.He really thought that that report showed conclusively that the railway was German and that the First Lord of the Treasury was under some misapprehension when he said it was not.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
said he had, of course, only the Vice-Consul's report to rely upon, and that said the line was in the hands of a German group. But perhaps his right hon. friend would, in his reply, deal with this point, and explain wherein he was wrong in his belief, derived from Mr. Sarell's report, that this railway was essentially German. On another page he read—It is in Asia Minor that the greatest development of the railway construction has been witnessed during the last ten years, and the fact that the new lines are in foreign hands, while lines formerly in British hands have passed to those of foreigners is a common cause of regret and complaint on the part of British merchants established in this country.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
said he supposed that the right hon. Gentleman by his cheer suggested that it would be best for future lines in Asia Minor to be British. Well, what he wanted to secure was that in regard to these projects there should not be any joint Venezuelan action in Asia Minor, and that we should not be hanging on the skirts of German financiers. The railway, whether built by British or by German capital, was destined to ruin the existing British railways in Turkey, for the Vice-Consul told them—The Smyrna-Aidin Railway is the only line in Turkey which is in British hands. It was the first railway line built in Turkey, and was one of the numerous plans for the regeneration and development of the country which followed the Crimean War. The district it traverses is most fertile, and up to the granting of the concession for the Konia line, and later for the Bagdad line, its power of extension and development seemed unlimited. 1361 It has always been a commercial line, and the traffic receipts show the best possible justification for its existence, while it is universally admitted to be the best built and best managed line in Turkey.With the new extension of the Anatolian line, which followed the acquisition by the German group of the concession, the Anatolian line at once became the rival of the Smyrna lines, and a railway was the result, in which all the political advantage is on the side of the Anatolian Railway Company, while it has to contend with the commercial advantages of Smyrna as an outlet over either Ismid or Haidar Pasha. In the meantime the prospects of the shareholders in the Aidin Railway give cause for anxiety.This was a very serious question. But there came the fact that Turkish railways lived largely, not on their earnings, but on Turkish guarantees and subsidies. As to this, the Vice-Consul said—The system of Government guarantees has undoubtedly gone a very long way towards neutralising the benefit accruing to the country from the opening up of railway communication. The sums guaranteed are charged on the tithes, and this leads to greater severity in their collection, and makes the railways an indirect burden on the taxpayer. In the course of time this will disappear to a considerable extent, but a very long time must elapse before any of the lines, especially in Asiatic Turkey, justify their existence from a commercial point of view, with the single exception of the Smyrna-Aidin line which has no kilometric guarantee.The system which obtained in Turkey was that the Government gave a kilometric guarantee, which had to be drawn from the tithes and the taxes when, as was almost always the case, the railway did not earn from its traffic enough to keep itself. The last extract with which he proposed to trouble the House was to be found on page 22 of the Report, where the figures for the kilometric guarantees granted by the Turkish Government were given. In the year 1887, the length of line open was 4,194 kilometres, the receipts were £1,811,543; and the amount paid under the guarantee £315,716. In 1899 the length had increased to 4,496 kilometres, but the receipts had fallen to £1,303,094, and the Government guarantee had had to be enlarged to £815,399. Thus the longer the line the smaller the receipts and the greater the sum obtained from the Turkish Government which had to obtain it from increased taxation. Clearly these railways 1362 were in an altogether uneconomical, unnatural, false and bad position—bad for themselves, and very bad and dangerous for Turkey, and oppressive for the Turkish people, and the Anatolian Railway would, as Mr. Sarell pointed out, be specially subject to the obnoxious conditions which produced that state of affairs. As he understood the answer of the right hon. Gentleman, there had been negotiations between the British Government on the one side, and the German and French Governments on the other.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
—The subject was referred to in two brief conversations, one with the French and one with the German Ambassador in March, 1902.But since then further communications had taken place.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
The answer of the right hon. Gentleman says—Communications have been and are still going on with British capitalists on the subject.He presumed that these negotiations were between foreign Governments and British capitalists.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
Then there were brief conversations, yet no negotiations, and "no final arrangements have been arrived at." Later on they were 1363 told by the right hon. Gentleman in his answer that two proposals were now under consideration.(1) That British capital and British control are to be on an absolute equality with the capital and control of any other Power, and (2) that in respect to the negotiations which are now going on with the Turkish Government for a new Commercial Treaty … His Majesty's Government should not object to a reasonable increase in the (Turkish Customs) duties.So it was contemplated that the guarantees were to go on increasing while the revenues of the guaranteed railways were to go on diminishing, and that the Customs duties were in consequence to be added to to find the guaranteed sums. That was a serious prospect. These Customs duties in Turkey were very largely paid by British merchants and consequently any increase in them would fall on British trade. They would thus be levying an increased charge on British goods in order to add to the profits of a German railway, so that British capitalists—
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
My written answer is in the hands of the hon. Member and he ought not to misinterpret it.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
I am not misrepresenting the right hon. Gentleman's answer. I am giving my own view of the result of the arrangement. The answer suggested that the Government might be prepared to agree to an increase of the Customs duties, and his object was to show what in his opinion would be the effect on British interests if the scheme adumbrated in the answer were carried out. There was a third suggestion that if the railway should prove to be a success it might be a better route for the mails to India, and that again was a suggestion to deprive English mail carriers of their contracts in order to give them to this railway, which, pending further explanation, he must still regard as German. 1364 The final suggestion made was that His Majesty's Government should assist, not by money, or the promise of money, but by their good offices, in providing a proper terminus at or near Koweyt. He certainly should like some further information on that point. He had never heard so far that it was proposed to run this Anatolian railway so far as Koweyt. Koweyt was especially under our influence, and he had always understood that we got it under our influence in order, among other reasons, to prevent the railway from going there. It was, he believed, either in Turkish territory or in the territory of an independent sheikh or pasha: and he should like to know in what way it was suggested that England should use her friendly offices in order to procure the establishment of a terminus for the railway at or near Koweyt. He ventured to suggest to the Government that it would be both politically and economically a mistake if they were to go out of their way to give any advantage or special countenance to this German railway—if it was a German railway as he still believed it to be—in such a manner as to induce British capitalists to put their money into it. If they left the capitalists alone, he thought they would fight extremely shy of this railway. What he would suggest to His Majesty's Government was that they should leave the British capitalists alone and not extend the light of their countenance to any part of the railway in any of the directions which were suggested to them. He understood that these suggestions were still under consideration, and it was because they were still under consideration that he had ventured to make these few remarks.
§ SIR CHARLES DILKE (Gloucestershire, Forest of Dean)
said he thought his hon. friend was a little ungrateful to the Prime Minister, who had given him so full and explicit an answer to his question—an answer he himself felt to be of a reassuring character. They all knew that Mesopotamia was a blessed word, and he hoped on this occasion it would be a word of peace. They all felt that it was impossible for this country to oppose the introduction of a railway through Mesopotamia. The only wonder 1365 was that the railway was not made forty or fifty years ago instead of being left until now. He confessed that the answer of the Prime Minister to his hon. friend the Member for King's Lynn was of a reassuring rather than of an alarming character, and indicated that the Government had in view those considerations which the House would desire they should have in view. His hon. friend had suggested that the line was a German line, and that any agreement with Germany in regard to it would be in the nature of that Venezuelan agreement which they all looked on with so much dislike, and hoped they would never see repeated. At the time of the Consular Report to which his hon. friend had referred, no doubt the railway was an entirely German scheme. But it was a well-known fact that the German syndicate found great difficulties in their way, and that they approached the Ottoman Bank and British capitalists with a view of enlarging their operations and making an international scheme out of what was a German scheme. What they had to see was that the Government made proper conditions for British trade and for British capital, without whose assistance this line would not be made. He agreed with the hon. Member for King's Lynn in thinking that the suggestion as to an increase of the Turkish Customs was one that ought to be viewed with very strict scrutiny. It was universally the case—not so completely perhaps as in China, but still greatly the case—that an increase of the Turkish Customs might be mainly paid by British trade. There was always some reason to suspect an increase of maritime Customs when arrangements were made with neighbouring powers for a frontier trade which suited them but not us, and undoubtedly the frontier arrangements in the Balkan peninsula had been disastrous to our trade, which was entirely maritime. That was a matter which the Government must therefore most carefully watch. The trump cards we held were, above all, our position in the Persian Gulf. The very fact that, as he understood from the Prime Minister's answer, we had been applied to with a view to Koweyt being given as a terminus for the railway showed that, in spite of what they 1366 had been told, Koweyt continued to be, in the opinion of those who knew, the best terminus for this railway. If that were so, then undoubtedly we held the trump cards in our hands, because Koweyt could not be taken as a terminus without our consent. He hoped that in anything the Government did they would most steadily maintain not only our privileged but our monopoly-position in the Persian Gulf. He heard with great pleasure the words of the noble Lord the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs some time ago as to our absolute insistence on the status quo in the Persian Gulf, which, it appeared to him, was vital to our policy. If we should be tempted into introducing any foreign Power to the coast of the Persian Gulf so that there they might open up, at the head of the railway, a great naval station, we should have forced upon us the necessity of making an additional naval expenditure which it would be intolerable to have to face. It was far better to say at once, as we had said, that we would not tolerate the admission of any foreign Power on the Persian Gulf itself. That being so, while there was reason for watchfulness, he saw no reason for fresh alarm in consequence of the answer given by the Government, which was a very full and, it seemed to him, a fair and on the whole a satisfactory answer.
§ LORD EDMUND FITZMAURICE (Wiltshire, Cricklade)
said the hon. Member for King's Lynn had called attention to a Consular Report, with which he had been good enough to identify his action in that House a few sessions ago. He had long been anxious that, if possible, the Government should make some statement with regard to the negotiations which were believed to be going on with regard to the future development of railway communication in Asia Minor. The speeches to which they had listened showed that it was almost impossible in discussing that question to isolate the commercial from the political aspect, and undoubtedly what interested the public in this question was not so much the rivalry between the companies starting from Smyrna, important as were the commercial aspects of this question. What made the House take a real live interest in it was the feeling that, bound up with the future of this railway, there was probably the future 1367 political control of large regions in Asia Minor, Mesopotamia, and the Persian Gulf. He did not think the Government could have made any fuller statement on this question. They all, of course, realised that it was one of the very greatest importance. He thought the Government had given as full an answer as present circumstances permitted. Let them analyse the effect of that answer. It appeared from the first head, that the Foreign Office were determined that British capital and control were to be on an absolute equality with the capital and control of any other Power. That part of the answer was of great importance, because there had long been a feeling in Turkey, and in Constantinople in particular, that British trade had suffered in those regions; that there had been a certain want of assistance to our trade. In regard to the second head, the question of Turkish Customs was most important to British trade. The old Turkish Customs were more or less favourable to British trade, and, therefore, any alteration was closely watched by the Foreign Office. Under the third and fourth heads of this answer he felt we were touching delicate political ground; we were touching on all those great interests which the mere mention of Koweyt suggested. He did not recollect the noble Lord giving any answer in this House which directly conveyed that any negotiations were going on with Russia with the intention of admitting parity on the part of Russia or any other Power in the Persian Gulf.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
said he did not suggest anything of the sort. What he had suggested was that the noble Lord said negotiations were going on with Russia with a view to arriving at an amicable understanding with her with regard to our interests in Persia and elsewhere.
§ LORD EDMUND FITZMAURICE
thought that was an expression which would include the Persian Gulf. Passing for a moment to the question of our relations with Turkey, he might be perhaps pardoned for saying a few words on a matter closely connected with this subject. We could not consider the position of Turkey in Asia without con- 1368 sidering the position of the Turkish Empire generally. If a great conflict should take place in those regions, any arrangements which might be made by British or German Houses with regard to railways in Asia Minor would assume a new character, and might be rendered abortive as soon as they were made. Therefore he hoped the First Lord of the Treasury would indicate that the position in Macedonia was receiving the close attention of the Government. In those regions things were travelling rapidly, and the greatest strain would soon be placed on our diplomacy. He did not for a moment doubt that our diplomacy would be adequate to the occasion. But the snows were disappearing in the mountains of Albania and Macedonia, which meant that a time of action was approaching. They read in the papers of to-day that there was a grave political crisis in Servia, that the Constitution had been suspended, and they all remembered that it was a crisis in Servia which ushered in the war of 1878. They saw that in Old Servia, which was still nominally Turkish territory, a state of civil war was in existence, and Old Servia was the most dangerous point in the whole of the Balkan Peninsula. The Albanians, too, had risen in such numbers that the other day they actually attacked the town of Monastir, the centre of Turkish government in those regions and the terminus of a newly constructed railway. Lastly, in the neighbourhood of Salonika itself armed bands were roving about, and the bridges of the railway, one by one, were being blown up. Nobody could fail to see that this spring we should be confronted with a state of affairs closely resembling that which heralded the great crisis which ended in the Russo-Turkish war. He quoted a letter he had received from Lord Goschen, in which he said that although twenty-three years had passed since he was Ambassador at the Porte, nevertheless, as far as he could judge, the state of things was absolutely unaltered; in those days he too had to deal with a trouble in Albania, a trouble in Old Servia, and a trouble in Macedonia. It was then possible, though it required a great deal of imagination, to believe that a final appeal to the Turkish Government 1369 would induce them to put their house in order. Did anybody believe that now? The Turkish Government had proclaimed their intention of applying the same scheme of reforms to Albania as to Macedonia; but the thing was a farce. It would have been just as reasonable if two centuries ago British statesmen had announced their intention of proclaiming the British Constitution in the Highlands of Scotland, and had expected everybody in consequence to be happy. He believed it was beyond the power of the Turkish Government to do such a thing. The key to the satisfactory settlement of these regions must be found in the recognition of the claims of the various nationalities, and not in any paper reforms, and the intervention and supervision of the great Powers of Europe would be required before justice could be done to these long-suffering populations.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
, who was imperfectly heard, said: Perhaps I had better deal with the three speeches already delivered to the House rather than wait until other topics are introduced which might carry away the attention of hon. Gentlemen to different fields of controversy. I see the hon. Member for Carnarvon is charged with thunder and lightning, which I understand he is going to discharge at my devoted head at a later stage; and, if that forecast be correct, the House will perhaps allow me to make a further reply, the subject being, I understand, so absolutely alien to the Balkan Peninsula or the Bagdad railway, [An HON. MEMBER: Brewers.] that I should only confuse the House if I were to try to deal with everything at once. The latter part of the noble Lord's speech referred to a topic which has during the whole of my political life, at all events, been an ever-recurring cause of anxiety to European statesmen. Sometimes the question of the administration of the Balkan Peninsula has been acute, and sometimes it has been sub-acute; but never at any time has the condition of the various Christian populations subject to the Porte in that Peninsula been other than the cause, sometimes of preoccupation, sometimes of grave anxiety, on the part of European statesmen. I do not mean to dwell upon the picture the noble Lord has drawn. The noble Lord has painted in very dark colours the existing 1370 condition of affairs in that part of Europe and, dark though those colours are, I do not think he has exaggerated in any way the state of affairs which prevails in Macedonia. The noble Lord asked whether the attention of the British Foreign Office was directed towards the disturbed districts. The noble Lord of course will know what answer I shall return to that question. I am sure he entertains no doubt that it has been and is necessarily a cause of grave anxiety to us. But, as the House is aware, there is one very wide difference between the condition of things now and the condition of things which prevailed at the period with which the noble Lord has compared the present position of affairs in Macedonia. The new aspect of the situation is that Austria and Russia are working cordially together with the view to do what can be done to improve the position of affairs, and to introduce those elementary principles of sound government which, rather than any well balanced constitutional changes, are what is really required to make the lives of Christians of all denominations, as well as of the Moslems of all nationalities, peaceful and tolerable. Those two Powers are, in their own opinion, and in the opinion of His Majesty's Government, the Powers most primarily and directly interested in the condition of the Balkan Peninsula; and I fear that what cannot be done by their cordial and honest co-operation cannot be done at all. I do not believe there is anything that we can do, but what we can do of course we shall do by exercising all the influence of which we are masters, and all the pressure we can command in the same beneficent direction in which Russia and Austria desire to move. But the task is a difficult one for them, and I confess I entertain but feeble hopes that the other signatories to the Treaty of Berlin, anxious as they are to do their best to put an end to the present intolerable state of affairs, will be able to devise any thoroughly satisfactory medicament for the disease which is afflicting that portion of the Turkish Empire.
Now, Sir, I pass from that question to the topic which was first raised by my hon. friend the Member for King's Lynn, and with regard to which we have had interesting and important speeches from the right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean and from the noble 1371 Lord the Member for the Cricklade division. The House will see from the very full answer I have placed on the Paper of the House that these questions raised in connection with the Bagdad railway are under the consideration of His Majesty's Government; and it would be impossible for me really to go further, and to make a statement, or, indeed to offer a conjecture as to the decision the Government will arrive at. Evidently, the matter being under consideration, it is not fit for full treatment in this House. Therefore, all I can say on the subject is to correct certain misconceptions into which my hon. friend has fallen. As I understand the matter, the right hon. Baronet and the noble Lord are not in disagreement with the general principle which underlies the answer which I have placed on the Paper; but my hon. friend, I think, is in a different position. I think he has made some mistakes of fact, and perhaps I shall reassure him if I correct those mistakes of fact. In the first place, my hon. friend sees two objections. One is that in some way or other the German Government is involved; and the second is that we are, to use his own expression, hanging on to the skirts of German financiers. I can assure my hon. friend that neither of these suspicions has the smallest foundation in fact. There is not now, nor has there over been, any question of negotiating with the German Government, or with another Government quite as much interested in this matter as the German Government—namely, the French Government. My hon. friend, in the whole course of his speech never once, I think, mentioned France. Perhaps he thought himself justified in the omission because there is only a passing reference to France in the answer I have placed on the Paper of the House; but if I only made a passing reference to France, it was because I strictly kept myself to the question to which I was engaged in replying, not because I think the rôle of France ought to be less kept in view than the rôle of Germany. As the House is probably aware, the German group of financiers and the French group are entirely agreed in their plans; and I have no doubt whatever that whatever course English financiers may take, and whatever course the English Government may pursue, sooner or later this great undertaking will be carried out. There is no difficulty 1372 in point of money. Whether the English Government assist or do not assist, it is undoubtedly in the power of the British Government to hamper and impede and inconvenience any project of the kind; but that the project will ultimately be carried out, with or without our having a share in it, there is no question whatever. Therefore the point on which His Majesty's Government will ultimately have to decide, and which the House may safely and wisely take into consideration, is whether it is or is not desirable that, if this railway connecting the base of the Mediterranean with the Persian Gulf is to be constructed, British capital and British interests should be as largely represented in it as the capital and interest of any foreign Power. That is exactly the question which will have to be considered and determined. Of course there are collateral considerations—but that is the main one—and to some of these I will address myself. My hon. friend and the right hon. Baronet very properly alluded to that portion of my answer which deals with the proposed raising of the Turkish Customs. That is an aspect of the question which deserves the most careful attention of the Government; but it is a mistake to suppose that the suggestion that the Turkish Customs should be raised was started in connection with this railway. As the House knows, it has long been under discussion, and it will have to be dealt with in negotiating any new treaty with Turkey; and before any assent which we may be induced to give to the raising of the Customs is given, we should, quite apart from the Bagdad railway, require from the Turkish Government a quid pro quo—such, for instance, as alterations as regards sanitary arrangements and in other matters very important to British trade. The right hon. Baronet said that the burden would be met by British trade.
§ SIR CHARLES DILKE
I did not say wholly met, but largely met. Not so largely as in the case of China.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I think our fiscal economy is a little mixed on this question of the alteration of tariffs, because when a tax is put on in this country it is always contended by hon. Members opposite that it is the consumer who pays. I have no doubt that is a 1373 thesis which the right hon. Baronet in dealing, not with the Turkish Customs, but with British finance, has himself promulgated on more than one occasion. Therefore, I do not think he ought to describe the burden of the Turkish Customs as falling necessarily on the British importer. In the first place, the Turkish Customs are now low, and I do not suppose they will, in any rearrangement, be described as high. I think our general taxation in our own protectorates is about 10 per cent., and I am not aware that there is any proposal that will cause the Turkish tariff to rise to 11 per cent.
§ SIR CHARLES DILKE
The point to which I called attention is that in some of these cases more favourable arrangements are made for frontier trade than for maritime trade, and I pointed out that it is with maritime trade that we are so largely concerned.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I was not aware that that was the right hon. Baronet's point. Unquestionably that aspect of the case is one which must engage the attention of the Government. It will be the earnest desire of His Majesty's Government to prevent any preferential treatment to the disadvantage of the British producer. There are three points which ought not to be lost sight of by the House when trying to make up their minds upon this problem in its incomplete state. They have to consider whether it is or is not desirable that what will be undoubtedly the shortest route to India should be entirely in the hands of French and German capitalists to the exclusion of British capitalists. Another question is whether they do or do not think it desirable, that if there is to be a trade opening in the Persian Gulf, it should be within the territories of a Sheik whom we have under our special protection, and with whom we have special treaties, or whether it should be in some other part of the Persian Gulf where we have no such preferential advantage. The House must also have in view a third consideration with regard to a railway which goes through a very rich country, and which I am informed is not likely to be of the financially disastrous character which my hon. friend prophesies, but is rather likely 1374 after a certain period of development to add greatly to the riches of Turkey, and indirectly, I suppose, greatly to the riches of any other country which is ready to take advantage of it. Whether the British producer will be able to take advantage of it is not for me to say; but the House will have to consider whether he is more likely to be able to take advantage of it, if English capital is largely interested, than if it is confined to French and German capital. The House will have to calculate whether it is desirable that this railway should be constructed with French and German capital, and whether it will be prudent to leave the passenger traffic in the hands of those two nations, with whom we are on the most friendly terms, but whose interests may not be identical with our own. My hon. friend represents this as an attempt to help out Germany in her policy. The House must consider whether that is so, or whether it may not be represented in quite a different light as an endeavour to prevent a policy of railway construction in Asia Minor from falling entirely into French or German hands. I should ask any hon. Gentleman who is interested in this subject not to forget that aspect of the question. I have always in the general aspect of our policy, in dealing with these parts of the world, looked forward to bringing in more than one nation rather than to actual partition into separate territories. Whether this is a step in the direction of that general policy may be questioned, and is, I frankly admit, open to doubt. But it is on the whole our interest that countries which certainly we cannot absorb should not, on the other hand, be wholly and absolutely absorbed by either one or two other Powers; and I should have thought that this great international highway had better be in the hands of three great countries than in those of two or one; and, if it is to be in European hands, there is much to be said in favour of its being in the hands partly of this country as well as partly in the hands of France and Germany. The question is, however, not without difficulty. My hon. friend puts the difficulties with great force. The Government intend to give the whole subject their most careful consideration, and I am sure the House will 1375 not ask me to say anything more precise or definite at the present time. I have endeavoured to lay before them some aspects of the case which my hon. friend forgot, although I think the right hon. Baronet and the noble Lord had them present to their minds. I shall leave the question in the condition in which these few words place it. The decision of the Government must be come to with no undue delay. It is impossible to allow the matter to be hung up, but I will not anticipate a decision which has not been arrived at, and of which it is not possible for me at present to give any forecast to the House.
§ MR. WILLIAM REDMOND (Clare, E.)
said he was glad that the noble Lord this afternoon had saved him from the duty he intended to perform in calling attention to the position of affairs in Macedonia, and it would not be necessary for him to say more than one or two words. The noble Lord said quite truly that a great deal of interest had been aroused with reference to the reports from Macedonia and other places in reference to the position of the Christian populations there. The Prime Minister devoted about two minutes of his speech to the position of the populations in those districts which he admitted were as critical as they possibly could be, and he devoted the rest of his speech to the Bagdad Railway. There was a very widespread feeling in this country which would not allow the position of the Christian population of Macedonia and other districts to be dismissed in that way, and there was a strong feeling that the Government should do something more than the Prime Minister had foreshadowed. The right hon. Gentleman admitted that it would be impossible to paint in too dark colours the position of the Christian population in Macedonia, and while admitting that grave position freely, the Prime Minister practically declared that the Government was not in a position to do anything to ease the situation, or to bring peace to those disturbed districts. He said that Russia and Austria were the powers most interested in this matter, and then he made the most astonishing statement that if Russia and Austria were unable to have their reforms carried out nothing 1376 could be done, and the Christian populations were practically to be left to their fate. That would be taken as a direct encouragement to the Government of Turkey to pursue their old policy of doing practically nothing at all. When the right hon. Gentleman said that this country was not in a position to do anything more, he should remember that the Government of this country was supposed to have enormous weight, power, and influence with the Government of Turkey. And what he wanted to ask the noble Lord the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs was what representations His Majesty's Government had made through their Ambassador to the Government of Turkey in reference to the position of affairs in Macedonia and Albania. He had read that the British Ambassador was received cordially by the Sultan, who had promised that order should be restored and that the reforms advocated by Russia and Austria would be carried out. He wished to know if that report was true. Did the Sultan make that statement, and what representations did the British Ambassador make to the Sultan in reference to the situation in Macedonia? He asked the noble Lord to say whether the Government had given their approval to the policy of Russia and Austria in this matter, and he wished to know if no steps would be left untaken to make the Government of Turkey thoroughly understand that this was a matter in which the people of this country were deeply interested and that the position, the lives, and the property of those Christians must be properly safeguarded and protected by the Government of Turkey. He asked a question the other day† with regard to the attack of the Albanians upon Mitrovitza, and the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs replied that the Government had no information tending to show that the Christian inhabitants of Mitrovitza were in any danger.
§ THE UNDER SECRETARY OF STATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Lord CRANBORNE,) Rochester
I said special danger. That is, no more danger than anybody else.† See page 1249.
§ MR. WILLIAM REDMOND
thought it was the business of the Government to know all about this matter. It was a monstrous thing to come to this House like the Prime Minister had done and state that this was a bad state of affairs, but that it was the affair of Austria and Russia, and if those countries could not deal with it, nobody else could. That was a policy which he did not believe would meet with the approval of the country at large. He wished to know whether the statement was true that the British Ambassador had made representations to the Sultan and that he had received satisfactory declarations from the Sultan in regard to this matter.
§ LORD CRANBORNE
The hon. Member has criticised rather severely an answer which I delivered a few days ago in repect of the troubles in Macedonia, and he says that the Foreign Office ought to know more than they do upon this subject.
§ LORD CRANBORNE
The question was in regard to the Albanians who attacked Mitrovitza. I think the hon. Gentleman is really under a misapprehension as to the real state of things. It is not only the Christians but the Mohammedans also who are misgoverned. It is not only the Christians who are in danger of murder and outrage, but the Mohammedans as well, and there is no distinction to be made between one class of the population and the other. His Majesty's Government have always made representations to Turkey with a view to the improvement of the Government of all sections of the population. Those representations have been repeated with a wearisome monotony through many years. The hon. Gentleman asks if we got a favourable reply. If favourable replies would do anything Turkey would have been well governed many years ago. The British Ambassador in Turkey always gets a favourable reply, and I believe the intentions of the Turkish Government are to remedy this state of 1378 things. But the disease from which they are suffering is incompetence.
§ LORD CRANBORNE
I need not dwell upon the state of things there because my hon. friend has already described it to the House, but the hon. Gentleman has asked me what action the Government have taken. We have made frequent representations of late, and the last one was no longer ago than the 31st of March, when, under instructions from the Foreign Office, Sir Nicholas O'Conor impressed upon the Turkish Government the importance of losing no time in sending out European officers to reorganise the gendarmerie. That is the latest representation we have made. In every way we are doing all we can to second the efforts of Austria and Russia with a view to securing the better Government of those provinces. As the hon. Gentleman is aware the British Consuls in Austria and Russia have been instructed to lend what assistance they can by way of suggestions. The Government are considering whether it would be better if British officers could accompany the Turkish troops with a view of giving some guarantee that no excesses are committed.
§ MR. WILLIAM REDMOND
Might I ask the noble Lord whether that very satisfactory arrangement he has referred to has been accepted by the Turkish Government?
§ LORD CRANBORNE
It is now under the consideration of the British Government. I do not know whether there is any other point on which I can enlighten the hon. Gentleman, but I think hon. Members will acquit the Government of any desire to withhold information.