HC Deb 09 June 1904 vol 135 cc1315-24

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £35,771, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1905, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Department of His Majesty's Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs."

MR. BBYCE () Aberdeen, S.

asked whether the Government had been following recent events in Crete, and whether they were satisfied that a policy was being pursued which made for peace among the various elements of the population. He also wished to put a question regarding the troubles which had during the last few weeks broken out again in Armenia and the interior of Asia Minor. In view of those fresh troubles and the grave massacres which had taken place, he thought we could hardly remain silent. He desired to know whether the Under-Secretary could give a little more information than he gave across the Table a few days ago, both with regard to action already taken and the action which the Government, in concert, he hoped, with the other Powers, was prepared to take. Some three or four weeks ago the Turkish troops destroyed a number of villages and slaughtered a large number of people, and when the Grand Vizier was asked for an explanation by Sir Nicholas O'Conor, he gave one of those answers which had been given so regularly that they might almost be lithographed—namely, that, owing to revolutionary movements, troops had been marched into the district and there had been some small conflict, but that now an amnesty would be granted to those who had come in and submitted. These attacks were made upon a comparatively defenceless population, and when the people armed themselves and resisted, then the Turkish forces marched in and slaughtered them. All this happened on a very large scale in 1894, when there was a frightful massacre, defended by the Turks on the ground that they were dealing only with one or two revolutionists. A European Commission was sent out there and the culprits were named, but no punishment followed and no displeasure was ever shown by the Government in regard to the persons who perpetrated these horrors. It was perhaps a plausible view to take that the object of these massacres was to exterminate those districts where the Christians were in a majority and that was the idea present in the minds of those who governed Turkey. On this occasion he was glad to learn that some remonstrances were made by Sir Nicholas O'Conor, and that the representatives of Great Britain and France and Russia appeared to be acting together. He was glad that the Russian representative especially was acting, because it was the resistance of Russia which foiled the efforts of Lord Salisbury in 1896. If the Powers were firm and acted together—and he thought it was not too much to expect that France, Italy, and Great Britain would act together—and if, instead of whispered remonstrances, firm language was used, these things would come to an end. He earnestly hoped that the British Government would take the lead, and that they would be able to tell the House that they did not intend to remain indifferent. He might put his appeal simply on the basis of the amount of human suffering which went on in a country which was subject to such constant suffering and such constant massacres; but he would like to put it also on the ground that this state of things was a constant source of danger, and that they could never tell when there might not be an attempt at revolution on a large scale, which would lead to a deluge of blood. He hoped the Under-Secretary would be able to give them some reassuring statement on the subject.

*MR. LOUIS SINCLAIR () Essex, Romford

said there was one point which he wished to bring to the notice of the House. The noble Lord had said that because a British subject had committed several murders in the Congo Free State this was a difficult moment to remonstrate with that Government He did not agree with the Under-Secretary on that point. He wished to emphasise the fact that it was in the Congo Basin alone that such atrocities were committed with impunity. Another point he wished to mention was that the Treaty of Berlin was so badly conceived that there was no machinery provided therein by which pressure could be brought to bear to secure the carrying out of the objects of the Treaty, which was simply disregarded. His main object in rising was to call attention to the commercial Papers dealing with the functions of the Ministries of Commerce in foreign countries. Although he had asked for these Reports in 1902, it took over a year to produce them. The Reports now in the hands of Members were not comprehensive enough. It would be a matter of interest to the House to know that nearly all other countries had Ministries of Commerce and ours was practically the only country without one. The Report placed in their hands was insufficient and did not go to the root of the inquiry which was asked for, and it did not give a full account of the commercial needs of this country. With regard to Somaliland, he understood that thousands of pounds had been spent upon the purchase of camels, and the transport animals were utterly useless for the purpose, while he understood that a large amount of transport of all kinds was still at Berber. He wished to know whether it was a fact that General Manning was so incompetent that even the officers serving under him were on the point of mutiny.


Order, order! The Consular question cannot be discussed upon this Vote.


said he was only criticising the policy of the Government in trusting for the information which guided the Foreign Office to a gentleman who had not the confidence of his officers. He thought that at the present moment this country was singularly fortunate in having at the head of the Foreign Office statesmen like Lord Lansdowne and his noble friend the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs. The conciliatory tone of this debate showed that they enjoyed the confidence of both sides of the House, but he thought they would have better results if there was only a little more commercial aptitude introduced into the Foreign Office.


Upon questions relating to the Consular service I will reply on the Consular Vote. With regard to a question raised by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland concerning East Africa, the Government do not contemplate any alienation of territory there. It would be premature to lay Papers on the Table before the conditions of the lease, which is all that is contemplated, are determined upon. The hon. Member for King's Lynn complains that the procés verbal of the last meeting of the Sugar Commission is not to be found in the Library, but, as the Committee will Pee, their substance is contained in the covering despatch of Sir Henry Bergne, and the final decision in regard to the surtax has been deferred to a subsequent meeting. I must enter an emphatic protest against the strictures the hon. Member has made on the qualifications and capacity of Sir Henry Bergne. We could not have a better qualified representative, and, as a matter of fact, Sir Henry Bergne is not to blame because unfortunately in his despatch as printed it is stated that the Congress came to a decision that the Russian system did not give rise to a bounty, whereas, in fact, they came to an opposite decision. It is an unfortunate typographical error that crept into the text. The error is not in the written despatch, and if hon. Members will remember the mass of printed Papers that are prepared by the Foreign Office at very short notice, it is not surprising that a trifling error should occasionally occur. [An HON. MEMBER: It is not a trifling error.] It is trifling in the sense that anybody who reads the despatch will see from the context that it is a typographical error. The hon. Member is wrong when he says that foreign countries have been enabled by the Convention to penalise British colonies which export bounty-fed sugar-products. As a matter of fact they do not export, and even if they did the Convention has made no change in this respect. I have also been asked whether the Government intend to take any steps to prevent sugared products which have received a bounty from entering this country.

MR. LOUGH () Islington, W.

You said you would take prompt steps.


If it should be found that any quantity of such products found their way to this country.

MR. WHITLEY () Halifax

asked if other countries had not already put a surtax on our sugared products.


There never was anything to prevent other countries putting on such a tax. The right hon. Gentleman opposite has asked if I can say anything in regard to Crete. He seems to think that there is some chance of disturbances arising there. We have no information to that effect. The only question which has raised any serious difficulty has been that of the Cretan indemnities. The arrangement that has been come to in regard to these indemnities is that, on condition that the Cretans will put aside a sum of 1,000,000f. for the settlement of foreign claims, a sum of 5,000,000f. will be set aside for the satisfaction of the Cretan and Greek claims, and that that sum will be met out of a loan to be raised on the security of a guarantee by the Powers for a prolongation of the surtax which has already been sanctioned until the loan has been paid off. The right hon. Gentleman also asked me whether I could give him any information as to what was going on in Armenia. I do not think he asked me about Macedonia, but perhaps I may anticipate any question on that subject by observing that we have already discussed it three times during the present session, and I am afraid there is nothing to add to the information we have already given to the House. I do not deprecate the raising of the question, because I think it is extremely important that it should be made known that the House of Commons continues to take an interest in the settlement of this problem, but no one will seriously expect that we can announce any startling progress from week to week in regard to the scheme for the re-organisation of the Turkish gendarmerie. In order to carry out a scheme of that kind some time is required for our officers to acquaint themselves with the present conditions of service in the force, with the character of the personnel, and with the nature of the changes which will have to be made. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that our expectations in regard to this re-organisation, so far as our own area is concerned—and that is the only area in regard to which we have any detailed information—have been more than fulfilled. Colonel Fairholme has reported that he and his fellow officers have been received with the greatest cordiality by the Turks and have received all the assistance which they could possibly have expected from all classes of officials. Till now the Civil Assessors have been engaged in elaborating in detail the scheme of civil administrative reforms. I doubt whether the Turkish Government will insist upon putting obstacles in the way of the Civil Assessors if they desire to undertake tours of inspection on their own account, unaccompanied by Turkish officials. With regard to Armenia I can add nothing to what I said on the Motion for adjournment at Whitsuntide.


A great deal has happened since then.


The right hon. Gentleman refers, of course, to the reports which have appeared in the public Press. How far these are based on facts it is impossible for us to judge accurately at the present moment. As far back as February last our Consul at Erzeroum reported a serious condition of unrest in the neighbourhood of Mush and Sassun. We thereupon made representations to the Sultan to abstain from any measures which were likely to produce disturbance. Shortly after that it was suggested that it might be well to invite the assistance of the Armenian Patriarch in placing the Turks in communication with the insurgents. The Sultan accepted that suggestion and the Bishops of Mush and Bitlis were instructed to attempt to confer with the leaders. On two separate occasions they have made the attempt, and on both these occasions the Armenians have rejected their overtures. Apparently the Armenian Patriarch represented from the outset that he thought mediation of that character would be more likely to be successful if the Bishops were accompanied by a Turkish military official. This suggestion was refused and the Armenians at Sassun rejected the proposals made to them on the ground that they did not consider the guarantee for their safe conduct suffiicent. We also suggested that, failing mediation by the Bishops, the task might be committed to our own Consul, in conjunction with the French and Russian representatives. That course was agreed upon after some negotiation with the two Governments. The French Government instructed their representative to proceed to Mash where our representative already was. The Russian representative has been unfortunately detained for some weeks at Tiflis, and has not yet arrived. I am bound to say that if he had arrived I do not think the offer of mediation by the Consuls would have had much prospect of success at the present moment, because the insurgents are dispersed. There was an affray between the Armenian and the Turkish troops in the course of which, according to the Turks, about forty-two Turkish soldiers were killed, and some eleven villages were destroyed. There are at present in the town of Mush 1,000 Armenian refugees, for whom the Turkish Government have sent out relief. I will only say, in conclusion, in regard to the Armenian question, that I must dissent from the view which the right hon. Gentleman always takes on this question. I think that very often the action of the Turkish Government in these matters is very ill-advised, and that when affairs have proceeded to an extremity their conduct is open to far severer strictures. But there is no use in disguising the fact that in these troubles between the Turks and the Armenians there is ground for believing that the Armenians to a certain extent are to blame. No one can doubt—it has been avowed over and over again—that the aims of the revolutionary committees are to make incursions into Turkish territory, to create disturbances, to provoke the Turks to commit atrocities, and then to point to those atrocities as a reason for invoking the intervention of Europe.


Of course we do not know the facts yet about the recent troubles, but that was certainly not the case in 1894. There was no incursion from outside, and the massacre then was entirely wanton on the part of the Turks. That has never been disputed.


I will not dispute what the right hon. Gentleman says if he limits it to Sassun, but it is certainly not the case if he extends that observation to the whole series of atrocities which occurred in those Armenian vilayets which border on Russian territory. But apart altogether from any question of justice to the Turkish Government, knowing what the aims of the revolutionary committees are, I cannot imagine anything more disastrous than that any Member of Parliament, however much he may be actuated by humanitarian sentiments, should allow it to be supposed for a moment that the British Government and the House of Commons are going to allow themselves to be made in this way the catspaw of revolutionary intrigue. The right hon. Gentleman has complained of His Majesty's Government not using language of proper severity. It may be right to employ severe language when the action that is to follow it has been decided on; but I am all against the use of it when it can carry little conviction to those who know the small extent of our personal interests in these regions, and can only mislead the revolutionaries into the belief that the British Government will come to their support. The sufferers are not those who provoke the atrocities, but the unhappy people who are supposed to be in complicity with the movement.


said the hon. Members who had addressed the House in regard to the administration of the Congo had used very strong expressions in denouncing certain acts which were alleged to have occurred there. He thought some of the statements which had been made were superfluous, and that there had been too much protesting altogether. The late Sir Henry Stanley had said that the sentiment which inspired the charges against the Congo was jealousy The Congo had succeeded better than any other State in Africa. The Committee had heard a great deal to-day about the cause of humanity, but he had during his own short political experience heard enough to make him doubt that kind of philanthropic preaching. It was said in regard to the Transvaal when the war commenced that the British did not seek the goldfields or any addition of territory. They now knew what had been the result of that affirmation. The religious motive had been brought on to the carpet in connection with the charges made against the Con o. He had no desire to drag in the odium theologicum, but he wished to point out that Belgium was a Catholic State, and that the charges against he Congo had been formulated in great part by Protestant missionaries of various kinds.

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

Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Monday next.