§ *EARL PERCY (Kensington, S.)
in moving the following motion: "That this House, while welcoming the principle of an agreement with Russia in regard to Persia, Afghanistan, and Tibet, is of opinion that the terms of the Convention, while involving at several points a material sacrifice of British interests, still leave room for international misunderstandings of a kind which both the contracting Powers desire to avoid," said: I observe that in some quarters it seems to be thought that we have taken an unusual course in putting down a Motion on this subject at all, but if it is an unusual course, at all events, it is not dictated by any hostile sentiments, and the terms of the Motion make it unnecessary for me to explain that if we feel it our duty to criticise some of the provisions of this Convention, such 461 criticism does not imply that we underrate the advantages, either to the cause of international peace or of the solidarity of Western diplomacy upon which Lord Cromer laid stress the other day, of an Agreement between ourselves and Russia; still less does it imply that there would be any reluctance on our part, should we again be entrusted with the conduct of foreign affairs, to carry out in the spirit as well as in the letter, the obligations into which the Government have entered. I think I may go further and say that if this Agreement were the means, as its promoters hope and as we all hope, of removing unfounded suspicions between the two Powers and promoting their friendly co-operation in the Middle East, that is a result which will go far to diminish the disappointment and dispel the anxiety which many of us cannot help feeling at the character and the extent of the concessions which we have been called upon to make. It may be asked what practical purpose is to be served by criticising the details of a Convention which are no longer susceptible of modification. The answer is very simple. It is that, in our opinion, the object which His Majesty's Government had in view is likely to be seriously prejudiced by the ambiguity surrounding some of the most important provisions, and we hope to be fortunate enough on this occasion to elicit from the right hon. Gentleman opposite, explanations of a fuller and more satisfactory character than we were able to obtain in the debate in another place. We are accustomed to congratulate ourselves that questions of foreign policy have ceased to be a subject of Party controversy, but that does not mean that different Governments have ceased to look at problems from different points of view, or that one Government may not and do not, take occasional steps which their predecessors would not have taken, and which they are at perfect liberty to criticise. I will remind hon. Gentlemen opposite that no one exercised that right of criticism more severely than did the late Sir William Harcourt when he led the opposition in the discussion on the first Anglo-Japanese Alliance. What it does mean is that when one Government has taken a new departure, its successors will not attempt, directly or indirectly, 462 to go back on the course of policy to which the nation has been committed. The very fact that each Party in turn is committed to obligations in the contraction of which they were not consulted, not only gives them a right to point out dangers which in their opinion ought to have been foreseen and guarded against, and for the consequences of which, should they unfortunately occur, they, at all events, cannot be held responsible, but it places upon them the public duty of making, if they can, any suggestion which may be the means of preventing misunderstandings in future. That leads me to allude very briefly to the analogy which has been drawn in some quarters, and I think by the right hon. Gentleman himself, in a speech during the recess, at Berwick-on-Tweed, between this Convention and the Anglo-French Agreement concluded by the last Government. For my own part, I confess that I am unable to see any analogy between the two cases at all, excepting in so far as in both an understanding of some kind was arrived at. On the contrary, it seems to me that both the character of the settlement and the methods by which it has been arrived at in this case are the exact antithesis of those by which it was arrived at in the other. When it fell to my lot during the last Parliament to recommend the acceptance of the Anglo-French Agreement to this House, I ventured to say that I did not think you could judge of its value as a whole by merely examining the relative value of the concessions made on either side. On what grounds did I found that claim? That the essential characteristic of the Anglo-French Agreement was that it removed all outstanding differences between the two countries It was a comprehensive attempt, and a successful attempt, to compose the rivalries which had hampered the freedom of action of both Powers in every part of the world, ranging from Newfoundland to West Africa, from West Africa to Egypt, from Egypt to Siam, and from Siam to the now historic New Hebrides. But that is not the case with the present Agreement. Of the difficulties which have arisen in the past between ourselves and the Russian Government in the Near East, Middle East, and Far East, those of the Middle East 463 alone are included in its scope, and this very limitation which has made it impossible for the Government to exchange concessions in one part of the world, against concessions in another, has practically forced them to accept as the basis of their settlement the very arrangement which the authors of the Anglo-French Agreement devoted their utmost ingenuity to avoid. The authors of that Agreement started with the assumption that the most effective, if not only effective, means of preventing a future conflict and clash of interest between the two Powers was to put an end once and for all to anything in the nature of a con-dominion in identical or even contiguous geographical areas, and except in Siam and the New Hebrides where we practically recognised the existing state of things, that result was obtained. We got a free hand, so far as France was concerned, in Newfoundland and Egypt, and France obtained similarly a free hand so far as we were concerned in Morocco. But that principle finds no counterpart in this Convention. On the contrary, it produces an exactly opposite result. In Tibet it introduces and recognises what amounts to an equality of interests which has never been recognised, never in fact been even claimed, before. In Afghanistan it modifies an exclusive interest which we have hitherto always claimed for ourselves, and in Persia it attempts to guard against a future collision of interests, political and commercial, by a purely arbitrary delimitation of territory which I venture to say has no correspondence whatever with any natural boundaries, either political, geographical, or commercial. I do not for a moment pretend that these considerations are fatal to the present Convention, but they are fatal to any analogy between it and the Anglo-French Agreement. The two Agreements must be judged by totally different standards. In the case of the Anglo-French Agreement, the only question which could arise was whether the settlement obtained was worth the price paid for it, but in the present case the far graver question arises whether in fact we have obtained any real or permanent settlement at all. There are people who talk as if the removal of any cause of diplomatic 464 friction between two nations is necessarily a guarantee for the future harmony of their relations. I think that is a superficial view. The whole history of our past relations with Russia goes to show on the contrary that it is perfectly possible to remove temporary causes of difficulty by concessions which so far from conducing to a permanent settlement have led to further and more acute controversies. An Agreement like the Anglo-French Agreement, which leaves each party free to pursue its own policy to a definite and foreseen end is, of course, a guarantee of future harmony, but that is not an advantage which can be claimed for an Agreement which merely facilitates the prosecution of rival policies without, in fact, taking the trouble to inquire whether these policies are reconcileable or not. As regards the part of the Convention which relates to Tibet, I have very little to say. My right hon. friend the Leader of the Opposition in his opening speech on the Address described the policy of the late Government very concisely by saying that the less either we or Russia had to do with Tibet the better for both, and from that point of view I frankly admit I do not think this Convention introduces any change of policy at all. But if the late Government laid stress on their determination to avoid a policy of active intervention, they laid no less stress on their view that the interest which Great Britain had in all that concerned the external policy of Tibet was of a kind to which no other Power could lay claim. That was a point frequently insisted upon by Lord Lansdowne in conversation with the Russian Ambassador and admitted by the Russian Government itself in the oft-quoted phrase that "Tibet did not, under any circumstances come within the purview of Russian policy." It is quite true that the preamble to this part of the Convention contains a platonic affirmation of the special interest which Great Britain has, owing to her geographical proximity, in the external relations of Tibet; but how is that principle carried out? In the Treaty which we ourselves signed with Tibet the Tibetans gave two pledges—first, to grant no concessions to any foreign Power without the previous assent of Great Britain; and, secondly, that whenever that assent 465 was made and whenever those concessions were made to another Power, they should be balanced by corresponding concessions to ourselves. In other words we instituted an embargo on Tibetan action which we, and we alone, had the right to raise at our pleasure. But under this Convention Great Britain and Russia enter into a mutual understanding that neither of them will seek any concessions for themselves or their own subjects. I submit that that means the abandonment by ourselves of the only effective method of asserting the priority of our interest in Tibet; and it also places us in this somewhat awkward dilemma in the future, that either we must permanently insist—which hardly seems a practicable policy—upon the complete sterilisation of Tibet to all foreign enterprise, or else we must allow such enterprises to be carried out exclusively by Powers whose right to interest themselves in Tibet we have expressly denied. I dare say this change of policy is capable of justification, but the right hon. Gentleman will admit that it requires explanation. It seems to me that it throws away the only solid result of the recent Expedition and is calculated to produce an unfortunate impression on those frontier neighbours of India, the Bhutias and Nepalese, who have an intimate concern in all that relates to Tibet and from whose co-operation we derived so much assistance during the recent war. As to Afghanistan, Lord Fitzmaurice admitted frankly that the difficulties which have arisen between ourselves and the Russian Government practically narrowed themselves down to a single issue—namely, the limits within which direct relations between the Russian and Afghan local officials were to be recognised as permissible. Russia has never claimed the right to make direct representations at Cabul, and we have never denied the reasonableness and expediency of some arrangement for the settlement of local disputes without referring them on every occasion to Calcutta. The whole obstacle to arriving at an Agreement with Russia lay partly in the difficulty of finding a satisfactory definition of the questions which were to be regarded as purely local, in contradistinction to those which directly or indirectly 466 involved political issues: and partly in the difficulty of devising satisfactory machinery by which these local negotiations might be conducted. So far as I can see, in regard to neither of those points does the present Convention carry us any further at all. It merely stereotypes the irregular state of things existing at present without affording the slightest clue for a settlement of any misunderstanding to which it may still give rise in the future. The Convention, however, contains one stipulation which I cannot help thinking may lead to embarrassments of a novel character. Hitherto we have always claimed for ourselves a position of complete freedom and independence in our dealings with Afghanistan. Now, I would like to know from His Majesty's Government, in what sense and to what degree they regard that claim as having being modified by the present Convention? There are two changes introduced by this Convention. The treaty obligations contracted between us and the Ameer become from henceforth obligations contracted between ourselves and the Russian Government; and, in the second place, the mode in which we exercise our influence with the Ameer becomes the subject of a separate undertaking with Russia, which seems to imply that she is to have the right to supervise and criticise the manner in which we conduct our relations with and fulfil our obligations to a country which she has repeatedly declared to lie outside her sphere of influence and with which she once more declares in this very Convention that she will have no political relations except through the medium of the British Government. I do not lay stress on the obviously illogical character of such an arrangement. I want to know what it means. We undertake in this Convention that we are only to use our influence in Afghanistan in a pacific manner, and neither to take ourselves nor encourage the Ameer to take any measures which threaten Russia. But Russia undertakes no corresponding obligations on her part. She is to be free to maintain or even to extend the railways built to the Afghan frontier—railways which may have been built primarily for the purposes of defence, but which everyone knows are equally capable of being used for purposes of offence. Is 467 Afghanistan to be debarred from taking similar measures herself? I do not in the least complain that the Government should have placed on record the pacific principles by which our relations with Afghanistan have been governed in the past and by which they will be governed in the future, but I wholly fail to see how the confidential relations which ought to subsist between allies are to continue between ourselves and the Ameer if on every occasion on which he may consult us as to the measures he should adopt for the security of his own dominions, a third party is to have the right to demand an explanation of any advice which we may think it our duty to tender to our ally. Then I come to the commercial provisions. It is surely a remarkable fact that this is the only place in the whole of the Convention in which the two Powers enter into any explicit engagement with regard to the maintenance of free trade. There is no such clause in the Agreement relating to Persia; even in the case of Afghanistan the arrangement is purely one-sided, for Russia gives no undertaking that when concessions are given to her they shall also be extended to Great Britain, nor does she enter into any engagement that she will permit free trade in Turkestan or in her own Central Asian territories. Did the Government during these negotiations make any attempt to obtain these facilities from the Russian Government? If so, on what ground were they refused, and why was it that this solicitude for free trade should have been confined to one country with which we have no commercial treaty at all, and over whose financial policy therefore we have neither the right nor the means of exercising any control? Again, we undertake in Article IV., whenever the development of trade calls for the appointment of commercial agents in Afghanistan, to consult with Russia on the subject. Rut in Article I. Russia undertakes that she will in no circumstances send any agents to Afghanistan. Does Article IV. when it comes into operation, release Russia from her engagement under Article I., or are we to understand that the word "agent" is used in a different sense? Throughout the East, whether an agent 468 is called commercial or political, he would be regarded as the representative of the Government, and from the moment that we permit Russian agents in Afghanistan it is perfectly idle to assert that Afghanistan is any longer outside the sphere of Russian influence. Then I turn to the part of the Convention relating to Persia. Now British interests there may be considered from two points of view. From the commercial point of view all that we require is perfect equality of opportunity; from the strategic point of view we desire to prevent the occupation by any strong military Power of provinces which may form the base of hostile operations either against India or against Afghanistan. How far does this Agreement sub-serve either of those objects? The general nature of the arrangement contemplated is familiar to everybody, and can be described in a few words. From this time forward we are to regard Persia as divided into two portions by a triangular line drawn from Zulfikar on the Russo-Afghan frontier and passing through Yezd and Ispahan to Kasr-i-Shirin on the Turkish border. The whole of the territory north of that line, including both the ancient and modern capitals of Persia, the termini of all the great trade routes, and some of the most fertile and populous provinces, is henceforth reserved exclusively, so far as we are concerned, to the development of Russian industry and Russian influence. South of the line only a comparatively narrow area, consisting mainly of desert, at the south-eastern extremity of Persia within a line going from the Afghan frontier, near Ghazik, through Kerman to Bunder Abbas, is to be regarded as correspondingly reserved for British enterprise, while the whole of the rest of the southern area is, I will not say thrown open, but to be kept open to the unrestricted commercial rivalry of the world in general. I understood from the statement made by the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs in the House of Lords that the Convention is not to be interpreted as introducing any change in regard to free trade, in the ordinary acceptation of the word, as applied to the interchange of commodities, and that British rights 469 in that respect depend, not upon this Convention, but upon our Commercial Treaty with Persia. Those who remember how, not many years ago, our Commercial Treaty with Persia was modified to our detriment under Russian influence, may be excused a passing feeling of regret that this golden opportunity was not taken to come to some understanding both with Russia and Persia for an alteration of the Persian tariff in a direction more favourable to British interests. At all events, I understand that neither party will be allowed, in connection with concessions they obtain in their respective spheres, to secure preferential advantages in the shape of differential tolls and taxes, and any attempt to secure those advantages will be regarded as a breach of the Convention. But the Government will hardly deny that free trade, in the sense of equal opportunities for commercial and industrial enterprise, is completely destroyed by this Convention, Throughout the greater part of Persia the development of the natural resources of the country, of mining enterprise, of the construction of roads and railways, instead of being open to free and equal competition, will become, or may become in future, the monopoly of a single Power, which will be able, if it chooses, without any breach of its Treaty engagements and without imposing any differential tolls or taxes, effectively to divert the course of trade into the channels most favourable to its own interests. How serious such a prospect is from the standpoint of British trade will be realised by any one who takes the trouble to study the position of the trade routes in Persia. Under this Agreement every trade route in which Russian trade is interested, including that from Trebizond to Tabriz, which carries British trade to the value of a quarter of a million a year has been carefully kept in the Russian sphere of influence. In the case of two of the three British trade routes from the south which run from Bushire through Shiraz, and from Mohammerah, through Ahwaz, over the Bakhtiari mountains to Ispahan, we are deprived once and for ever of all chance of improving our facilities of access to our immediate objective 470 by the fact that Ispahan is included in the Russian sphere. It is no answer to say, as Lord Fitzmaurice did the other day, that in any case some further objective like Teheran must have been included in the Russian sphere. The more explicitly and liberally we recognised the right of Russia to complete control over the whole of the trade of Northern Persia the more careful we ought to have been to safeguard British interests in Southern Persia. The third British route, running from Bagdad through Khanikin to Teheran, which carries British trade to the amount of nearly a million a year, and is the most important of all, has been placed from start to finish in the Russian sphere and under the absolute control of our chief commercial competitors, who have not only no interest in developing that line of communication themselves, but cannot do so without doing the very thing they desire to avoid—namely, facilitating the competition of British enterprise with their own trade in the north. The net result from a commercial point of view, is that while the monopoly given to Russia in the north is of great value, both actually and potentially, and while she is given power seriously to cripple our trade in the neutral area, the monopoly reserved to us in the south is of very little value either actually or potentially, while in the neutral area we lose that priority of right which we have hitherto successfully asserted in view of our long established interests in that region before any competitor appeared on the scene. We are told that Article III. carefully safeguards existing British concessions in the neutral area. But those concessions depended for their value on the assumed priority of right which they gave us as pioneers of commerce to be also the agents for carrying out any improved means of communication which might in future supersede them and render them practically valueless. Again the British Government has obtained explicit promises that whenever concessions of a certain kind are given to other Powers in Northern Persia, corresponding concessions will be given to Great Britain in the south. Are we to understand that this phrase about safeguarding existing British concessions in the neutral sphere covers 471 not only British concessions which are actually working, but also those hypothetical rights which have not yet materialised? Why have the British Government adopted this line of demarcation which from a commercial point of view seriously compromises and jeopardises British interests? That it recognises "existing facts" from a commercial standpoint will be asserted by no one who compares the relative amount of British and Russian trade in any of the great markets of the south, while from a geographical standpoint it is hard to explain why the line which follows the great desert as far as Yezd is there deflected instead of following the same natural "divide" as far as Kashan. Then we are told by Lord Fitzmaurice that if we had not assented to this line we might have facilitated arrangements between Russia and Germany for the introduction of the Bagdad Railway to this part of the world. Personally I have never held the view that it is to the interest of this country to offer permanent obstruction to the construction of the Bagdad Railway, provided that we can obtain reasonable conditions in regard to the construction and control of the southern end of it. But supposing it is true that it is our interest permanently to obstruct the construction of the Bagdad Railway, this Agreement makes it possible for Russia and Germany to come to an arrangement for the prolongation of the railway through the neutral area to a point on the Persian Gulf without our having anything to say in the matter. These are not the real reasons for this line of demarcation. The real reason for the course which has been taken was revealed by the Under - Secretary for Foreign Affairs when he stated that if we had refused to accept this line of demarcation we had been given clearly to understand by the Russian Government that we should have no agreement at all. I have just read the life of Sir Henry Drummond Wolff in which he recalls an interview which he had with Prince Dolgorouki in 1888 in which the Prince said that the real obstacle to an agreement between Russia and England in Persia was that wherever British trade flourished, Russian trade failed. In view of that I cannot help thinking it is some- 472 what ominous that the only sphere Russia is willing to recognise as ex-exclusively British is a sphere in which at present Great Britain has no commercial interests whatever. It is obvious that His Majesty's Government originally had in their minds a line of demarcation much more favourable to British commercial interests—a line which would have been open to none of the criticisms which I have urged this afternoon; and that rather than lose the prospect of an agreement altogether they have deliberately abandoned it—I do not say that I blame them—with all its advantages to British commerce in order to secure the advantage of strategic isolation. But have we secured that advantage? I believe that there are authorities who hold that the strategical question is negligible, that Russia would never undertake an invasion of India from that quarter. That view may be perfectly correct, but the presence of a foreign army or a foreign occupation in territories closely adjoining Afghanistan and Baluchistan would constitute a cause of unrest serious in India and anxiety to the Indian Government. Whether the advantage is worth paying this particular price for is another matter. The Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs has alluded in debate to a report of a secret committee, comprising representatives of the Foreign Office and of India, which considered this question during the period of office of the last Government, and quoted from it in order to show that both the last Government and the Indian Government were willing to assent to precisely the same demarcation of British interests in Persia which is embodied in this Convention. The quotation of that confidential document seems to me a most unusual step and a most unfortunate precedent. But in any case, even if the late Government had contemplated the possibility of giving financial assistance to the Persian Government in return for a pledge that no foreign enterprise would be allowed in those provinces which bordered on Afghanistan and Baluchistan, that would be no argument for accepting the same arrangement as a sufficient quid pro quo for abandoning every other interest we have in Persia. The important point is not whether this advantage was 473 worth securing, but whether we have in fact secured it? The answer depends mainly on the use which is to be made of the spheres of influence which the Convention establishes. I notice that the phrase "spheres of influence" has been carefully avoided. Is there in fact anything to prevent their creation? Article I. speaks not merely of "commercial," but of "political" concessions. What meaning is to be attached to "political"? If one or both of the contracting parties were to persuade the Persian Government to give them a lease of the territories in which the Convention recognises that they have a predominant interest in the maintenance of law and order, to entrust them with the machinery of administration, and to allow them to maintain a local garrison, would that be contrary to the provisions of this treaty? If so, it is a pity it was not stated on the face of it. If not, I fail to see how we are to prevent these leased territories—these spheres of influence—from becoming occupied provinces with frontiers practically conterminous, thus depriving us of that advantage of strategic isolation for the sake of which we have surrendered so much. So fatal do I think the policy of leased territories would be if applied to Persia, that, unless it is clearly understood between us and Russia that any attempt to initiate such a policy would be contrary to our pledge to respect the independence and integrity of Persia, it would be far better to have no Agreement at all. In the case of China, diplomacy has not held that there is any inconsistency between the policy of leased territories and the independence and integrity of that country. Fatal as the policy of leased territories has been in China, it would be doubly fatal in the case of Persia. In China the leased territories are comparatively small, limited to the seaboard, widely separated from one another, and they do not interfere with effective control of the Empire by the central Government. In Persia the spheres would extend into the heart of the country, cut across existing units of local and provincial administration; and any attempt to introduce into them methods of administration different from those in force in the neutral area would lead to 474 such anarchy and chaos as would, sooner or later, necessitate foreign intervention. The right hon. Gentleman, in his speech at Berwick-on-Tweed, said the Agreement meant that we were not going in for the forward policy in Persia. I know no sane person who has contemplated such a policy in the sense of the assumption of administrative and territorial responsibilities in Persia. What I am afraid of in connection with the Government's policy is that, unless there has been a clear understanding as to the character and the limits of the influence which the two Powers are at liberty to exercise in their respective spheres, we shall one day find ourselves in the position of having either to resign the exiguous rights we retain in Persia under this Convention or to take the serious step of occupying territory in order to assert those rights effectively. I think I have now touched on all the main points which are left in obscurity by the terms of this Convention. There is only one other but it is a very important one. It is that for any recognition of the paramount position of Great Britain in the Persian Gulf we have to look, not to any clause in the Convention, but to a statement by the Foreign Secretary in a despatch to our Ambassador that satisfactory assurances have been received from the Russian Government that they "do not deny the special interests of Great Britain in the Persian Gulf." I accept the right hon. Gentleman's statement that those assurances are satisfactory, but, if they are satisfactory, I am surprised that they should have been described by him in language which seems to imply rather a grudging admission of a doubtful claim than a frank recognition of an undoubted right. I do not press the right hon. Gentleman with regard to the non-inclusion of any statement with regard to our rights in the Persian Gulf in the Agreement itself, because I think the explanations on that head are perfectly satisfactory, but I do ask why we have not these "assurances" in black and white under the signature of the Russian Government. And we are the more entitled to put that Question because it is gentlemen opposite and not we who have insisted on the superior value of written engagements to verbal 475 assurances. Only one word more. A common argument in favour of this Agreement is that all alternative policies had been tried and failed. We are reminded that the results of the Drummond-Wolff policy of regenerating Persia by means of British capital has been disappointing. But it is that policy which has given Persia her banking facilities, her roads and telegraphs, has opened to commerce her one navigable highway, and in the south at all events has relieved her of the necessity of borrowing the funds she requires on conditions which impede her economic development. I cannot admit that that policy has been a failure. I agree that its results have been disappointing, but why? Not because the rivalry of the two Powers at Teheran prevented her from developing the resources of the country, but because instead of trying to rehabilitate her finances by administrative reform she has chosen to have recourse to loans given on terms which forbade the development of communications and the construction of railways. We are not told whether that prohibition has been withdrawn, but so long as Persia declines to reform her administration it is idle to imagine that the mere signature of a Convention like that now under consideration will do away with the main causes of her stagnation. It has been my duty to make many criticisms of the Convention, not with a view to depreciating it, but in order to enable the right hon. Gentleman to make such explanations as will enable future administration to know what the Government had in view when they framed it. I am not blind to the great advantages which would be obtained from an Agreement which results in hearty and cordial co-operation between ourselves and the Russian Empire. It will facilitate the solution of many other questions in Europe as well as in the East which statesmen on both sides have been afraid to touch in the past for fear of awakening mutual jealousies and suspicions; and in Persia it might be the means at all events of relieving commerce, from anxiety as to the political future of the country. But those results will not be obtained so long as there is any doubt as to the manner in which the two Powers in- 476 terpret the main provisions of this Convention. It is possible, and I hope it is the case, that the right hon. Gentleman has received, in regard to all the points I have mentioned, assurances from the Russian Government as satisfactory as those which he says he has received from them in regard to British interests in the Persian Gulf. If so, we shall be able to congratulate him on having achieved something much more than a solution of some temporary and passing diplomatic difficulties, and not the least of the advantages of this Agreement will be that those Mahomedan races, whose confidence in British good faith and honour is one of the greatest assets of the British Empire, may in future come to look upon it not as a sign that Great Britain has ceased to take any practical interest in their welfare, but, on the contrary, as a crowning proof of the unselfish and disinterested character of her friendship. I beg to move.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House, while welcoming the principle of an Agreement with Russia in regard to Persia, Afghanistan, and Tibet, is of opinion that the terms of the Convention, while involving at several points a material sacrifice of British interests, still leave room for international misunderstandings of a kind which both the contracting Powers desire to avoid."—(Earl Percy.)
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Sir EDWARD GREY,) Northumberland, Berwick
I have nothing to complain of in the tone of the speech of the noble Lord, who has put his points to the House with that clearness and command of languages of which he has a special gift, and there was nothing in the tone, at any rate, of the speech of which one can complain that it was inspired by any partisan feeling or political animus against the Agreement. But when I come to the substance of the speech, it seems to me I detect already two clear and quite distinct views in the minds of the Opposition in regard to this Agreement. The noble Lord, not for the first time in this House, has spoken in a way which seems to separate his view of foreign policy from the view which is held by Lord Lansdowne, and I should 477 say on this occasion that, while Lord Lansdowne, in making criticisms on our Agreement, spoke on the whole in a tone of optimism, the noble Lord, while also making criticisms, spoke in a tone of pessimism. I was quite content with the attitude, which, I suppose, I may call the authoritative attitude of the Opposition, taken up by Lord Lansdowne, because it seems to me that, though he had criticisms to make on the Agreement, though there were things in it which he himself would have wished otherwise, yet he was hopeful that the Agreement would produce large results, so good that the criticisms which might be made upon its details would not in the long run weigh against the good results on the whole. He spoke as one who had good expectations from the Agreement; the noble Lord has spoken rather in the tone of one who wished it had never been made. Well now, let me examine the history of the Agreement and the nature of it, for, after all, my best answer to the noble Lord will be to trace what passed through the mind of the Government in making the Agreement, what their object was, and why they came to make it. The noble Lord complained that the Agreement is not what he says the Anglo-French Agreement was—a comprehensive one; that it does not settle all outstanding questions between the two countries. He says it is ambiguous. There is no agreement which cannot be said to be ambiguous. Even the Anglo-French Agreement still leaves some points under discussion connected with the wording of it on some questions. You cannot avoid some ambiguities, and whether they are important or not depends entirely on the spirit in which the Agreement is worked by the countries which are parties to it. I have never for a moment asked any one to suppose that the proof of whether this Agreement is a good one or not does not remain to be tested by the spirit in which it is worked. Any agreement, however clearly expressed, cannot avoid the charge of ambiguity any more than a Bill drawn by the best draftsman presented to this House has ever averted a charge of ambiguity being brought against it by the Opposition. If it is examined from the point of view of one who wishes to find fault you can find 478 ambiguities in anything. But when the noble Lord says the Agreement is not comprehensive, like the Anglo-French Agreement, I wonder what sort of agreement he would have made with the Russian Government? Would he have made none unless it was a comprehensive one; and if a comprehensive one, how much would it comprehend? Would he have brought European questions into the Agreement? Would he have endeavoured to get all hypothetical and prospective questions which might arise between us and Russia into the Agreement? If he had attempted to do that I venture to say that at the present moment he would have had no Agreement at all. This Agreement, I admit, does not cover by any means every subject of interest between England and Russia; but some agreement of some sort was made necessary by the nature of the case. The conditions in Persia when we came into office made some agreement—or some policy—necessary, or we had the certainty of friction. The noble Lord says the removal of causes of friction is not a guarantee of peace. That, as a general proposition, may be true, but it is equally true that the non-removal of causes of friction is a certain source of quarrel. When the Party opposite handed over the control of affairs His Majesty's present Ministers found a situation in Persia which called for some policy and some decision on their part. A situation had been growing which had been the subject of frequent consideration any time during the last ten years by the Government of the day and the advisers of the Government of the day. There were two possible policies. One was, putting aside the idea of any Agreement at all, to say we would determine to protect our own interests, and decide that if there were Russian encroachments in the north of Persia they would be met by corresponding measures to protect British interests in the south. That undoubtedly must have led us at once to a forward policy. The noble Lord did not advocate a forward policy. He repudiated a forward policy.
§ SIR EDWARD GREY
Yes, Sir; but supposing that events in Persia were such as to invite interference, or supposing that the pressure of political influence was such—and the noble Lord himself admitted it might go far without actually infringing integrity—supposing in these circumstances Russian political influence had been gaining steadily in the north of Persia and the integrity of Persia was becoming more and more precarious, and we had no Agreement, what would our policy have been? Considering present events in Persia I am certain that before now, without some Agreement such as we have, both countries would have been interfering in Persian affairs. The state of affairs has been such that one country or the other would certainly have interfered to prevent the situation being exploited by the other one, and if one interefered then both would have interfered. At any time during the last ten years, if it had been our object to prevent Persia falling under Russian influence, we would have adopted a forward policy to strengthen our own interests in the south. And the opportunity two years ago at any rate was exceedingly favourable. Persia was very weak. Russia was not prepared for a forward policy. There was a favourable opportunity if ever there was one for our not bothering ourselves about any Agreement, but for taking whatever measures we thought necessary by lending money, by obtaining concessions in return for loans, in order to strengthen our hands in the south of Persia. Now the objection to any policy of that kind is that whatever you gain and whatever you take, you have always to push your influence further still to protect what you have recently taken, and while you think all the time that you are making yourself safer, you are increasing the burden of your expenditure. And there is the larger consideration that the policy of no Agreement must, under the present precarious state of things in Persia, have led to friction between Russia and ourselves which would have extended over all the political relations of the two countries. Approaching the matter from that point of view, the Government came to the conclusion not only that the policy of agreement was desirable, but that it was absolutely 480 necessary—if Russia was willing—that that policy should be entered upon without delay. Then if we were to have an Agreement, what would the Agreement be? It is said we have not consulted experts in making the Agreement. Experts have been at work for years past—experts at home and in India—considering what the British position in Persia was and on what lines an Agreement might or should be reached. I am all for making the best use of experts and getting the fullest knowledge from them, but the difficulty is that experts differ, and that experts, who are necessary people to have on the spot, take a somewhat concentrated view, which is a very large and intense view of the interests on the spot, but which is not easily reconcilable with the larger interests elsewhere. There is a tendency, also, for experts to take a more and more intense view of what British interests in those regions are and must be. The noble Lord said that our Agreement had not followed the natural boundaries. Now the question of an Agreement following natural geographical boundaries and those of British influence has been considered before, and years ago it was laid down that if we were to have a British sphere of influence and commerce corresponding to the actual facts of the case which might fairly be claimed to be an exclusive British sphere it would have been one running, roughly, through Khanikin, Kermanshaw, Hamadan, Ispahan, Yezd, Kerman to Seistan. That had been discussed as a possible line of partition on each side on which an Agreement something of the nature of the one now before the House might have been made. It was said that commercially the line would be more favourable than the one which the Government has adopted. I admit it, but from other points of view it was open to very grave objections which were pointed out at the time. Roughly, there were three main objections which were present to the mind of every one. One objection was that it would have placed Teheran, the capital, in the Russian sphere. That is an objection to any arrangement at all. Another objection was that such a line of partition would open a route into Mesopotamia through 481 Persia or Russia, and the third objection was that by taking any such line it would have been difficult to include Seistan in the British sphere, or, at any rate, if included, Russia would have been left within striking distance of Seistan. That last objection was absolutely fatal to any such line of partition. If there had been an Agreement solely for the commercial object, then some such line as that might have been taken, but there would have been no answer to those who pointed out that Seistan lay open to the Russian advance. We should have been rightly accused of having for commercial prospects, which are not nearly so great as the noble Lord alleged, sacrificed what ought to be the main and the first point of any Agreement between us and Russia. Anyone who has studied the question of Agreement between Great Britain and Russia would see that the first point all through in the minds of those who considered it has not been the commercial but the strategical importance of it. It is the strategical position which makes the Agreement desirable and essential; and when you study the strategical position you will find that the key to the whole of it is Seisten. You may go through documents by experts, and you will find again and again that Seistan is the main point of importance, the main point of danger to Indian interests. If Russia were to advance her railways and her influence so as to come into Seistan you would have opened a new land door of advance into India, a new route which was not open now. That point of Seistan has been, in the discussions of Indian frontier questions for some years past, the chief point of anxiety, apprehension, and preoccupation on the part of those who have studied the subject. I might have secured the support of those who have commercial interests in the west of Persia by making a different Agreement; but in securing that support I would have been open to the charge that I had not secured the strategical point of Seistan, which, if not secured, might have at any moment imposed an increased charge on the Indian revenue for extra defence, and which might subsequently become a real danger. The noble Lord desires to know the object of His Majesty's Government in 482 concluding the Agreement. It started from this point of view. In making the Agreement in respect of these regions of Asia strategical considerations with us were paramount. I do not wish to be an alarmist as to the danger of the invasion of India. An invasion of India could never be an easy undertaking. My own personal belief would be, for what it is worth, that if an invasion were to be tried, whoever tried it would spend treasure and life in vain against the gigantic natural rampart which forms the Indian frontier. But that is not everyone's opinion. Even if you hold that opinion, however, the Indian Government, if Russian railways and Russian power advanced nearer and nearer to the more vulnerable points of the Indian frontier, must have suffered from anxiety and apprehension, and must have made larger demands for increased forces in order to prepare for contingencies. You would have had demands made from India which you would have been unable to resist, and which would have led to a large annual increase of expenditure for the purposes of defence. Another line, better commercially, but different from the one we have chosen, would not have served the purpose of securing Seistan and of securing the strategical interests of India. We took as our starting point in the Agreement a line based on strategical considerations, a line which now exists on the map which has been considered before, and upon which expert opinion has placed the highest value as a guarantee for the security of India. It is the line which we have in this Agreement. It is quite true, as the noble Lord said, that the late Government never discussed this particular line as the basis of Agreement with Russia. It was considered on its merits from the strategical point of view, but considered only in connection with the loan to Persia, the object being that Persia should give a guarantee that she would not give any concession to any other Power but ourselves. Persia is very weak. The Persian power to keep her undertakings depends on the support she receives from the person to whom she has given them. In the nature of the case, this must be so. Here we adopted this line from the strategical point of 483 view, and we went, not to the Persian Government, but to the Russian Government; and we have in the Agreement got there an undertaking that they will not seek for any of those concessions or influences which go with these concessions to bring the Russian power into Seistan. It has been the point of apprehension in the minds of experts for many years that Russia might push her concessions, first by telegraphs, and then by railways, down through Seistan, and down that side of Persia, and finally to the sea. This would be a far greater danger than the reaching of the Persian Gulf. In this Agreement the British sphere of influence goes to the mouth of the Persian Gulf. We have a position of advantage at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, but without this Agreement it would not have been the Persian Gulf that would have been the main source of apprehension; it would have been the south coast of Persia. I am not going too far in saying that the main source and cause of apprehension and preoccupation on the part of those who have desired to secure the defence of India has been the danger of Russia pushing into Seistan, and finally reaching the south coast of Persia. Against that, as far as we can guard against anything by an Agreement, we may be regarded as secured by this arrangement. The noble Lord says that there is a gap in the Afghan frontier on the north. Yes, there is a gap on the north. It arises as the result of what happened in the course of the negotiations. It was not very important to us that we should push our line into the corner of Afghanistan and the Russian frontier; but it was important to us that the Russian sphere should not come down along the Afghan frontier. It was on the whole considered convenient between the two spheres that there should be a gap rather than that the two spheres should be actually conterminous. But that is not a gap of strategical importance. It is true that if railways were made on that side it would form a line of advance into Herat. But it is not a position which British troops need occupy to defend. The occupation of Herat would be the beginning of war, but whether that occupation is made by one door or by two doors is a matter which cannot influence the result, and is a 484 matter of no importance. Herat can be approached from the Kush at the present time; and that being so Herat occupies a very different position from Seistan, which is, and, I trust, will always be safe from any foreign approach at all I say that every one who has studied the strategical problem of the advance to the Indian frontier must regard the Agreement we have made with the greatest possible satisfaction and relief. The noble Lord says that we have paid too dear for the strategical advantages we have gained, that our commercial sacrifices are too great.
§ *EARL PERCY
said he asked for an explanation of the spheres of influence. The Convention mentioned the "political" concessions which the Powers might obtain in their respective areas. He wanted to know what was the meaning of "political," and whether it would not be possible to convert these spheres into "leased" territories.
§ SIR EDWARD GREY
It is a hypothetical question which it is impossible to deal with in advance. If the noble Lord means that it might be possible for Russia to acquire anything in the nature of territory in Seistan, I think it would be absolutely impossible. As to the use which will be made of political or commercial influence by each country in their own spheres, and what uses are consistent with the integrity of Persia, of course, that is a question which can be interpreted from time to time as cases arise; but it never entered my head for a moment that an Agreement which confirmed the integrity of Persia can be turned into a partition without consultation between the Governments concerned. But the more the noble Lord puts hypothetical cases as to how influence in one sphere may, by lease of territories or anything of that kind, be converted into an advantage to the country which has that sphere, the more do I point to the fact that Russia is shut off from anything of that kind in regard to Seistan, owing to the strategical advantage gained, and the more do I emphasise what the strategical danger would have been if the Agreement had not been obtained. As to the commercial sacrifices, the Khanikin trade route has been especially singled out as one which we have allowed 485 to be in the Russian sphere. That is the one which would give Russia access to Mesopotamia if she desired. Well, that is not specially a British trade route; it is simply a trade route along which British trade goes in common with the trade of other countries. It is, no doubt, an outlet from Persia into Mesopotamia. Russian trade is considerable in Persia, greater than ours. Anybody who looks at the map will see that if Russia was to have any sphere of interest in the north at all, the greater part of the Khanikan trade route must have gone into the Russian sphere. I would not deprecate Russia having an opportunity of acquiring trade connection with Mesopotamia. It is possible that in the future the Baghdad Railway will be made, and will develop Mesopotamia and Mesopotamian trade; if so, it will only be reasonable that Russia shall not be shut off from access of communication with that territory, if the trade is to develop, as some people think it may. I, for one, am convinced that, if the Baghdad Railway is to be made, and Mesopotamia to be developed, if it is not to be a source of friction, it will be absolutely necessary that countries who commercially are interested and must be interested in that territory should have commercial advantages, and opportunities of communication which will enable them to share in the profits of what will be a great highway of commerce. But, in any case, if Russia was to have no part of the Persian Gulf in her sphere, if she was to have under this Agreement no arrangement with us by which she was to be entitled to acquire a commercial outlet on the Persian Gulf, and if, when looking further north, you found a trade outlet through Persia by land going into Mesopotamia, and said that there must not be any Russian sphere there either, you would have been driving so hard a bargain that you would not have been able to have any bargain at all. Of course, it goes without saying in this Agreement, the whole understanding of which is equal advantages as far as trade is concerned, that there should not be differential advantages on the trade routes between the trade of different countries, whoever has the concessions. But when I am told that, we have thrown 486 away under this Agreement a hundred years of the efforts of diplomacy and trade, I must say I think that a very loose and unfair statement. A hundred years of the efforts of diplomacy and trade!
§ SIR EDWARD GREY
No, but Lord Curzon said it. What have we done in those hundred years? For a great part of those hundred years we were without a competitor in Persia, either commercial or political. We could have done from the south what we pleased. We got concessions for the Imperial Bank of Persia; we had a concession for the navigation of the Karun; we had a concession for the Ahwaz to Teheran road, and another for roads from Ahwaz, which I think has not been practicable, because of the nature of the population which possesses the route. All those we have got, but if that is the result of the last hundred years of the efforts of diplomacy and trade in Persia, what was the result of the next hundred years likely to be without this Agreement? I will ask the House to bear in mind what the change has been in Persia during the last twenty years. There were twenty years ago no Russian Consuls and no Russian trade in Southern Persia; there was no Russian Bank. Now, in the last twenty years, the Trans-Caspian Railway has been developed, three Russian roads have been made to Teheran and Meshed; Russian trade goes to the south and competes; Russian subsidised steamers I run to the Persian Gulf; Russia has Consuls-General at Ispahan and Bushire, Consuls at Bandar-Abbas, Kherman, Hamadan, and Seistan, and she has pushed the telegraph into Seistan, And behind all that there is the military shadow of the Russian forces. Anybody who looks at the map and sees how Russian and Persian territory lies, who takes into account not only what Russia has got in Persia in the way of concessions, and political influence acquired at Teheran, but also the great military forces which she can at any time bring to bear on the Northern Persian frontier, must see how the shadow of Russian influence has been in the last twenty years thrown over the 487 whole of the north of Persia. And more than that, in the last twenty years Russian loans have been made to the Persian Government, secured on the Customs receipts of the whole of Persia, except the Gulf ports; and the Persian Government have come to an Agreement to seek no other loan except from the Russian Government, to grant no other railway concessions for a term of years; and the Persian Customs had come under a foreign control which was not favourable to ourselves. When I consider how the position has changed in the last twenty years, and when I am told that by this Agreement we have thrown away great prospects and great commercial advantages, I say you must take into account the situation with which we had to deal and the starting point from which the Agreement had to be made. I cannot believe that anybody who realises what the situation as regards Persia was when we began to discuss this Agreement can believe that under it we have really sacrificed great commercial prospects which there was any chance of our realising in future years. If you were going to strengthen you influence in Persia, if you were going to say that in the north of Persia you were going to compete for concessions for roads and railways, or whatever you wanted, with Russia, then you must have embarked on a forward policy at once, and used your strength to further it. But the position in Northern Persia has been the result of the British policy of the last twenty years. I am quote willing that this Party should bear its share, but in the last twenty years it has not, at any rate, been a large one. Nor do I instance this in order to bring any charge against other Governments who have deliberately not adopted a forward policy in Persia in past years. I think they were right not to do so. And though I am bound, after the attacks which have been made upon our Agreement, to point out the consequences of the gradual growth of Russian influence in the north of Persia, I do not say that I make any reproach against other Governments for not adopting a forward policy. But I do say this—when you consider what the commercial prospects in Persia were and what the actual situation was with which we had to deal, 488 if you say that by this Agreement we have thrown away a hundred years of the efforts of diplomacy and trade, it is sheer rhetoric. It will be much nearer the truth to say that under this Agreement we have given up nothing that was not gone before. The noble Lord spoke of the damage done to British trade by the fact that the end of a trade route such as the Ispahan is in the Russian sphere. The Russian sphere is not a wall through which nothing is to be passed. Trade that goes by that route will enter Ispahan as before, and Ispahan is not the real terminus; that route goes to Teheran, which must in any circumstances be in the Russian sphere. The noble Lord asked as to reserving existing concessions in the sphere.
§ *EARL PERCY
In the neutral area. One of the Articles of the Convention is that all existing British concessions in the neutral area are maintained. I think that applies to the Russian sphere as well as the neutral area, but the promises we have got from Persia with regard to future concessions relate to the neutral area.
§ SIR EDWARD GREY
I must refer to those. I should like to look at what actually are the Persian engagements before I say how those affect the area. As to the Persian Gulf, what we have from the Russian Government is in writing, and it is quoted, the material part of it textually, in the despatch written to the British Ambassador at St. Petersburg. The noble Lord, I think, admitted that there might be valid reasons for not dealing with the Persian Gulf in an Agreement of this kind. I would rather have the matter left somewhat vague, as it is, and the assurance that Russia does not deny that we have special interests in the Persian Gulf, than I would have any narrow undertaking with regard to fortified posts on the Gulf. Lord Lansdowne used very strong language some time ago to the effect that we should resist with our whole force any fortified posts in the Persian Gulf. That language 489 is very strong, but it is also narrow language, and limited to one particular contingency. I do not myself think of the danger of any Power—especially in view of our own position at the mouth of the Gulf, strengthened as it is by this Agreement—of any Power spending treasure and labour on establishing a fortified place inside the Gulf. If you consider the climate and the position, it seems to me it is out of the question that a fortified place should be established there against a strong naval Power like ourselves holding the mouth of the Gulf. We have great commercial interests in the Persian Gulf, but in recent years, and more particularly looking to the future and the possibility of the Bagdad Railway being constructed, the other side of the Persian Gulf—which is not Persian—seems to me to be more and more important than the Persian side. Nothing we could have put into this Agreement as to the Persian Gulf could possibly have dealt with anything on the Western shore, and year by year it seems to me more and more probable that the developments in Mesopotamia will be far more important before long than on the other side of the Persian Gulf. We are better off with our own Declaration that we have special interests in the Persian Gulf, although I admit, after what I have said, that it must be a matter of grave consideration to this Government what steps should be taken from time to time in view of future developments to safeguard those great commercial interests in the Persian Gulf. Now I come to the subject of Afghanistan, and I welcome the fact that Lord Lansdowne the other day in discussing this Agreement, laid stress upon the three satisfactory assurances which the Russian Government had given. These Russian pledges are embodied for the first time in a binding undertaking between the two Governments, and, as Lord Lansdowne pointed out, they are now given in a form more thorough and satisfactory than anything we had before. Now the noble Lord opposite asked, "Why, considering the fact that Afghanistan is entirely within our sphere of influence, say anything to Russia which gives her any right to have any voice at all in our relations with the Ameer?" The Article to which the noble Lord referred was Article II., under 490 which we declare that we have no intention of interfering in the international government of Afghanistan, and we engage neither to annex nor occupy any portion of Afghan territory, provided the Ameer fulfils the engagements he has already contracted and entered into with His Majesty's Government. The point which I think answers one or two of the noble Lord's Questions is this: In all the discussions that have ever taken place between England and Russia with regard to Afghanistan, they have proceeded upon the assumption, admitted by us as well as by Russia, that Afghanistan is to be in the nature of a "buffer State" between the two Russian and British territories. When we came to discuss this Agreement we found that that was the starting point which we must take in regard to Afghanistan—an admission made by our predecessors. Then it appeared very clearly to us that if Afghanistan is to be a "buffer State," it is not unreasonable that the Russian Government in coming to any arrangement to regard Afghanistan as being out-side their sphere of influence and promising not to send any agent into that country, would naturally expect from us some assurance that we would not, for the purpose of threatening their frontier, change the character of the status of Afghanistan; that we would not annex or take over Afghanistan in such a way that its very war-like population should be organised, and armed by us, and if need be, used by us as an aggressive force against Russia. Russia, naturally, does not fear Afghanistan as a "buffer State," but the matter would be very different if we attempted to adopt a forward policy and annexed Afghanistan We should then have on the Russian frontier a most formidable force at our disposal which we could exercise with great effect. What the Russian Government desired was to safeguard itself, so far as the Agreement could do it against any such intention on our part. We willingly gave a pledge that we had no desire to pursue a forward policy toward Afghanistan. We had no desire to go into it, to annex it, to organise, train, and arm the Afghan Army in order to use it for the purpose of offence against Russia. And, therefore, we willingly gave that undertaking. But at the same time it 491 was absolutely necessary that the Indian Government should not be trammelled in its own relations with the Ameer, and it was expressly guarded that if we were not to interfere with Afghanistan the Ameer must keep the engagements into which he has entered with us. That ought to be a great advantage to the Ameer, because, subject to his keeping his Agreement with us, he has now a binding document that he is not to be interfered with by either of his great neighbours, and we provide him with proof and assurances that we have come to an agreement with Russia which ought to release him from the apprehension which would be natural to any one in his position that someday or other he would be in the invidious position of a small State between two great neighbours who had quarrelled. But with that assumption which underlies this Agreement, that Afghanistan is to remain a "buffer State," it, of course, goes that you cannot put Afghanistan, as regards trade, on the same footing with Russia as with ourselves. The noble Lord asked why did we not get from Russia a corresponding undertaking that she on her side was not going to interfere with our authority in Afghanistan? Russia has given an undertaking that she will not interfere with Afghanistan, that Afghanistan is outside her sphere of influence, and that all her political relations with Afghanistan are to be carried on through the intermediary of His Majesty's Government. Of course, if she were to take threatening measures towards the Afghan Frontier, that would no doubt be a violation of this Agreement. But the noble Lord says: "Why not get from Russia some promise that she would not push her railways and means of communication further towards Afghanistan?" We did consider making some proposal of that sort; but you must remember that the Russian railway communications have already been made, and that any reciprocal undertaking that neither of us would push on railway communications towards our respective frontiers must, therefore, naturally have been more disadvantageous to ourselves than to Russia.
§ *EARL PERCY
Do I understand the right hon. Gentleman to say that 492 the pledge that we will only exercise our influence in Afghanistan in a pacific manner does not preclude the Ameer from taking measures similar to those which Russia has taken? I did not complain that Russia should build railways, but what I said was that I did not understand whether the British Government was to be debarred from giving to the Ameer any advice they thought conducive to his interests.
§ SIR EDWARD GREY
Subject to this Agreement, as long as the Ameer keeps his Agreement with us there is nothing which restricts his action within his own territory. If he were to take aggressive measures towards Russia, Russia would be bound to come to us, and we should be bound to use our influence with the Ameer not to take aggressive measures. But there is nothing in this Agreement to restrict his powers to develop his own railways. Now I come to Tibet. In regard to Tibet the noble Lord said that we had admitted in this Agreement an equality of interests in Tibet. He spoke not only of an equality of interests, but of disinterestedness. He quoted a statement made by the Leader of the Opposition who the other day said that the less either of us had to do with Tibet the better. He said that was a negative statement of policy; but as a matter of fact the final policy of the Party opposite in regard to Tibet has been a negative policy; and we have carried out in this Agreement their intention. We have no desire to annex Tibetan territory, nor to have any political representatives there provided other Powers are under the same disability. That was the policy of the late Government and we have put it into this Agreement. Article IX. about concessions was regarded by the late Government as a self-denying ordinance which was to affect ourselves as well as others. If that is so, this Agreement with Russia in no way weakens our position with regard to Tibet. From the moment of the Tibetan expedition our relations with Tibet have been exceedingly complicated. An Agreement was made with the Tibetans themselves and then subsequently an Agreement was made with China, which in one or two points 493 modified that Agreement, but otherwise maintained it. And therefore, we have now made an Agreement with Russia which is not in conflict with Article I of the governing Treaty with China. Therefore I would say this: that our Agreement with Russia—you may construe it if you like as limiting the construction of the Agreement with Tibet-does not in any way invalidate the actual provisions of the Agreement with China which was made before. If it were really true, as the right hon. Gentleman opposite said, that the less we have to do with Tibet the better, then all I can say is that we have given up nothing which is of any importance. Although Tibet is near to India and far from Russia it has to be borne in mind that the Russian interest in Tibet is a real one. Russia has many Buddhist subjects in Lhassa, and if we had pushed a forward policy in Tibet and had occupied a predominant political influence over the internal affairs of Tibet, we should have been in a position to make trouble with Russian subjects at a distance through our holding the centre. Therefore it was a matter of importance to Russia that we should give some undertaking of this kind, and as to give that undertaking was entirely in accord with the policy laid down by the late Government I do not see why objection is taken to it. There is one more point which has not been raised in this debate, but about which I have been much criticised elsewhere, and about which from time to time I have received many resolutions, and most of them very uncomplimentary ones. I have been told that at a time when Russia was passing through a constitutional crisis, at a time when events were happening internally in Russia which did not meet with the approval of those who addressed me on the subject, that that was not a time to enter into diplomatic negotiations or to make an Agreement with Russia. I should like to say generally that when you are dealing with a great homogeneous nation, foreign interference—an attempt by your foreign policy to exercise pressure on the internal constitutional problem—does nothing but inflame and irritate. It is of no benefit, no help; and sooner or later, generally sooner, it produces a united national resentment against you. If I had adopted any line of that sort; if 494 I had said that this was not a suitable moment to come to an agreement with Russia, observe what would have happened in Persia itself. I have already said that it would have led to interference in Persia. I cannot say that all danger of interference in Persia is now over. With the internal troubles that exist, and with the troubles on the Turkish frontier, no one can say with certainty what will happen. But the danger of interference by ourselves or Russia is greatly diminished; and when I hear it said that Persian interests have suffered, I maintain that that statement is the direct contrary of the truth. I have used the term "British and Russian spheres." I trust that it will be noted and understood that I have used it solely in the sense in which it is used in this Agreement and not in the sense of the political partition of Persia. Under the Agreement we bind ourselves not to seek certain concessions of a certain kind in certain spheres. But these are only British and Russian spheres in a sense which is in no way derogatory to the independence and sovereignty of Persia. But if Persia is to have, as I hope she will, the chance of working out her own constitutional problems, now so serious and difficult, in her own way; if, after years of misgovernment and bad government, she is to come by constitutional means to a better form of government, to a better, stronger, and less corrupt administration, then I say that the chance of doing so without interference, her chance of working out those problems in her own way, has been greatly improved by the Agreement between Russia and ourselves. And if we had come to no agreement what would have been the effect upon Anglo-Russian relations elsewhere? Certainly, at the present time the effect in Persia would have been renewed friction, leading, perhaps, in years hence, to conflict between the two Powers. Anyone who looks back over the last twenty years can recall more than one occasion when the relations between England and Russia were critical; and during the last two or three years those relations have been much improved, to the sensible relief and advantage of both countries. But without some agreement of this kind I do not believe that you could have maintained the equilibrium of relations under the present conditions in Persia. The relations must have got 495 better or worse. Under this Agreement there is every prospect that they will get better. Without it they must have got worse. There comes a turning point in the relations between nations; and if you pass one of these points by it may be long before another presents itself. You cannot command opportunities, and if you neglect or reject one, you may not have it again. I believe that in the last two or three years, after a condition of more or less friction and difficulty, there did arise an opportunity of improving the relations between the two countries, and of turning them into a different channel altogether. If, years hence, there had been continued friction in Persia, with the resulting friction on other questions where the interests of Russia and England directly or indirectly touched; and if, years hence, it had led to conflict—I say that, if then anyone in my place today had made the admission that while in office he had seen an opportunity of turning the thoughts and dispositions of the two countries from distrust and suspicion into friendly channels, and had deliberately refused to take advantage of that opportunity; then, whatever excuse he had given at the time, he would in the long run deserve the severest condemnation. In another place, Lord Lansdowne expressed his belief and confidence that this Agreement, once made, would be faithfully kept. Charges of bad faith have been frequent between ourselves and Russia. We, of course, can always answer those charges against ourselves; but they are made against us as well as by us. I do not believe that they can be substantiated, because our policy has never been false. But I think that sometimes our changes of mood are wanting in policy, and they lead others to think that the blame must be traced to our conduct of foreign affairs. In past years Russia has found in critical moments, wherever she turned, that ours was the deciding influence against her. That, no doubt, produced, not only an absence of good will, but an active belief in the contrary disposition between the two Powers. What, I trust, will happen from this Agreement is that a change is made possible in this direction. I admit that confidence is a plant of slow growth. I do not wish to force it. I could not if I wished, because the degree of friendliness depends, not on the Governments, but on public opinion in 496 both countries. But I do not myself believe that, when once between England and Russia a belief in goodwill is established on both sides, it will be repaid by bad faith on either side. If that be gained, the benefits in the long run—the relief which will come from anxiety and the permanent contribution to peace—will be such that any criticism made upon the Agreement today will be regarded as mere dust in the balance. Again, that establishment of goodwill will in time remove, not only the causes of friction which are dealt with in this Agreement, but other possible causes of friction which might arise elsewhere. Against this, what have we sacrificed? In Afghanistan, I believe, nothing. In Tibet nothing, unless in either country you were in favour of a forward policy, which we undoubtedly were not. If we had been in favour of a forward policy, of course, we have sacrificed a great deal. But if not, we have sacrificed nothing which we wished to gain. In Persia we have sacrificed some possibilities of trading—advantages which, judging by the use made in the past of these opportunities, and judging by the trend of events in the last twenty years were, in my opinion, exceedingly remote. We have put into danger nothing that was not already at hazard; and the vulnerable-part of the Indian frontier by way of approach through Persia—that danger is made as remote as any Agreement can make it. Russia has gained commercial advantages; but I ask anyone who criticises this Agreement to study impartially the situation in Persia in the last twenty years, and then to say whether Russia has gained anything which there was any reasonable prospect of our getting for ourselves. We might have opposed her in Northern Persia. We might have obstructed her. But I do not believe that in the long run we could have prevented the concessions made under this Agreement; and I am quite convinced that the last twenty years show that those things from which we have shut ourselves off under this Agreement are not those which in any reasonable prospect British policy could have attained. Lord Lansdowne initiated this policy, it is not too much to say, for it is not so long ago that the policy of splendid isolation was enunciated from that Bench. It is the policy of making other nations whose interests touch ours feel that our friendship was 497 possible and worth having. We have done our best since we were in office to make other nations with whom Lord Lansdowne had established relations of friendship feel that our friendship was not only worth having but that it could be depended on. I can say with a good conscience that, if our predecessors succeeded us to-morrow, they would find the friendly relations that they established with other Powers, not only not impaired, but strengthened by having stood the test of time and by our handling of them. We have continued that policy and strengthened the belief in our good faith; and it is because we have succeeded in doing that with other Powers that the Russian Government has thought it worth while to enter into this Agreement with us The Agreement has been entered into in that spirit; and the spirit which has made this Agreement possible will, I hope, trust, and believe, make this Agreement a success and a mutual advantage to both England and Russia in external affairs; and I believe at this moment that whoever took our place would find that by this Agreement the position of this country has been strengthened and that by it we have confirmed all that was best in what our predecessors handed over to us, and have materially, and I hope permanently, improved the prospects of peace.
*THE EARL OF RONALDSHAY (Middlesex, Hornsey)
said he had no objection whatever in principle to the Governments of Great Britain and Russia defining in a diplomatic Agreement their spheres of influence in these three countries which were dealt with, provided, of course, that the Agreement was a fair one and of a character likely to be satisfactory to both parties. But what were they to say of the particular Agreement which was under discussion that afternoon? He was bound to look at it as a business arrangement between the two countries, defining their interests in three areas in Asia. He would say a few words first upon the Persian side of the question, because that came first in the three chapters of the Agreement. He noticed that the right hon. Gentleman declared that experts had been at work for many years considering the question of the extent of the interests of the two countries in Persia. It would be in- 498 teresting, he thought, to know who were the experts who were responsible for drawing up the preamble and Article I. of the particular portion of the Agreement which referred to Persia. They were told that in certain provinces of Persia adjoining or in the neighbourhood of the Russian frontier on the one hand, and the frontiers of Afghanistan and Baluchistan on the other, the two countries had certain spheres of influence, were desirous of avoiding all cause of conflict, and had agreed to terms under which the line which limited the Russian sphere of influence was drawn from Kasr-i-Shirin and passed through Ispahan, Yezd, Kahk, and ended at a point on the Persian frontier at the intersection of the Russian and Afghan frontiers. It would be very interesting to know who were the experts who were prepared to state that Ksar-i-Shirin and Yezd were adjoining or in the neighbourhood of the Russian frontier. It appeared that if they were not to suppose, and he could not suppose, that the words of the preamble "adjoining or in the neighbourhood of Russian territory," had been inserted there for the purpose of misleading-public opinion, the only alternative was that the collective intelligence of His Majesty's Government was altogether devoid of a knowledge of the geographical features of a country which, with almost reckless levity and disregard to the consequences, they had set them selves to partition. But he passed from the anomalies of the first paragraph to the actual concessions granted by one Power to the other. They found on the west, that the trade route from the Turkish frontier running to Ksar-i-Shirin and thence through Kerman-shah and Hamadan to Teheran, which had been largely built up by the enterprise of British merchants, and which carried British trade to the extent of about £750,000 a year, was handed over gratuitously to Russia, our chief commercial rivals in that part of Asia. He had travelled over every mile of that route, and having according to the custom of the country, to progress slowly on foot and with baggage mules he had opportunities of studying which nation had commercial and political 499 predominance in that country. From the commercial point of view it was undoubtedly a great sacrifice which had been made by this country, and if they looked at the concession made from the political point of view it was equally serious. His Majesty's Government seemed to be rather proud of having "scotched" the ambition of one Power by bringing another Power into the field of operations. It was quite clear from the words of the tight hon. Gentleman that he attached great importance to putting this territory into the hands of Russia on account of the position which another Power, Germany, had attained in this neighbourhood by the building of the Baghdad railway; but if the Government thought by this somewhat Machiavellian policy of "scotching" the ambition of Germany by introducing Russia they were going to benefit Great Britain they were grievously mistaken.
§ SIR EDWARD GREY
, who was indistinctly heard, was understood to declare that he had never stated that it was the object of this Agreement to interfere with the Baghdad railway or to prejudice German interests. His whole point was that if the Baghdad railway was to be made and Mesopotamia developed it must affect that part of Persia and the Russian means of communication and trade could not be shut out.
*THE EARL OF RONALDSHAY
said he certainly appeared to have misconstrued the words of the right hon. Gentleman, but the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs speaking in another place had said that if the Government had interfered so as to prevent the railway falling into Russian hands, then he thought they would have in all probability gone out of their way to bring another Power into the field against us. He could only put the construction upon those words which he apparently erroneously put upon the words of the Secretary of State. But that was only one concession which we had made at the dictation of Russia. We had also admitted that we no longer were prepared to uphold our position of 500 ascendancy in the provinces of Southern Persia, which only a few years ago a representative of the late Government declared in terms which could not be mistaken, we could not abandon for any cause whatever. We had also placed the southern capital of Persia, Ispahan, under Russia. It was entirely British in its sympathies, and the trade of Great Britain was at least ten times that of Russia, and yet we had placed it in the hands of the northern Power. But it was even more astonishing to find that the Government had admitted the right of Russia to claim the town of Yezd as being within her sphere of influence. He need hardly remind hon. Members that Yezd was the centre of a very important community, the fire worshippers of Persia, who had great sympathy with the great community of Parsees, who formed so large a portion of the population of one part of our own Indian dominions. What had we obtained in return for the sacrifices made in the south and west? We had as our sphere of influence a triangle of territory of about half the size of the Russian sphere and in which, before this Agreement was concluded, the interest of Russia was practically negligeable in quantity. The position of Russia in regard to Seistan in South-Eastern Persia was made a great point of by the Government in defence of their Agreement. He might perhaps be able to throw some light upon that question because he had had the advantage of residing at Seistan himself, when for the first time Russia sought to create particular interests for herself in that particular part of Persia. She inaugurated the movement by the dispatch of a consul to Seistan. That gentleman lived in splendid isolation in a mud hut, in the capital of Seistan, and his regular duties must have been exceedingly light, for he had no Russian trade to foster or encourage and no Russian subjects whose interests he was called upon to protect. Hard upon the heels of this official representing the Russian Government came an individual who he supposed must be described as an unofficial representative in the shape of a vagrant naturalist, who was supposed to be searching for birds, butterflies, and other animalculæ in 501 Persia, but whose real work, he knew beyond dispute, to be the distribution of rifles to the Baluchi chiefs on the borders of Baluchistan. The position of Russia was this, they were able to annoy Great Britain by stirring up discontent among the tribes and to raise the plague bogey, which they did at the time of his visit, and so harass trade with Persia across the frontier. He found nothing in the Agreement in any degree calculated to put an end to this sort of irregular proceedings if Russia should feel called upon at any time to resume it. He found no arrangement to prevent the arrival of consuls and vagrant naturalists in future. The great claim the Government made for their Agreement in this part of Persia was that they had secured immunity from a menace in regard to the construction of a railway which he thought, if they had studied the physical features of the country a little more accurately, they would have realised was in point of fact no menace whatever. Having toiled, as he had done, wearily over the gaunt succession of forbidding mountain ranges, which ran parallel with one another and transversely across the whole of this part of Persia, knowing as he did the profound dislike which Russian engineers entertained for anything in the semblance of a mountain ridge, he could fully appreciate the supreme satisfaction which the diplomatists of Russia must have experienced when they recognised that they had actually succeeded in persuading the authorities of this country that they did harbour some intention of choosing this, the line of greatest resistance, to construct a railway across Persia. It was open, of course, to anyone to tell him that though he might know these places as a traveller he had not that expert engineering knowledge which was necessary to give an opinion of value on this question. He was prepared, therefore, to quote the words of one whose knowledge of the physical geography of the borderland of the Indian Empire would be undisputed—Sir Thomas Holdich—whose name was so honourably associated with the demarcation of so many frontiers of these States on the Indian borderland. Speaking of this particular line of country, he declared 502 that a line from the north through Khorasan to Bunder Abbas—possesses all the disadvantages from an engineering point of view that any line directed across a rough, mountainous country, taking each range in succession at right angles, can possess. The cost would be enormous. The 750 miles of direct measurement from Bunder Abbas via Kerman, Turbat-i-Haideri and Meshed to the Trans-Caspian line, would probably expand to 1,000, and that 1,000 would cost five or six times the amount expended over any 1,000 miles of Russian railway elsewhere in Asia. About three-quarters of it would not only be a mountain line, it would be a mountain line working at the greatest possible disadvantage with but little base for gaining gradient on the hill-sides, and little room to turn round in the intermediate valleys.It was the menace of this practically impossible railway which His Majesty's Government had succeeded in securing them against. He would like to contrast the attitude of the Russian Government when dealing with a true and natural line of railway development in Persia, namely, the line along the mountain valleys and along the plateaux from Teheran via Kermanshah to Baghdad. They took up an attitude of non possumus and said that unless we were prepared to grant them that line, in which they had no interest whatsoever, as far as the southern part of the line was concerned, either political or commercial, we were to have no Agreement at all. It was impossible, of course, to refuse to make some mention of the question of the Persian Gulf. They had been given various reasons by His Majesty's Government for the non-inclusion of the status of Russia and ourselves in the Persian Gulf within the actual limits of the Convention itself. They had been told that other Powers besides Persia were concerned in the Persian Gulf, but he understood that this Convention was merely an Agreement between ourselves and Russia defining our respective interests in that part of Asia. He did not understand that the Government considered it necessary when partitioning Persia to consult the Persian Government as to whether our spheres of interest should be included in the Agreement, and he could not see why, therefore, it was necessary to consult Persia or Turkey in defining our own specific interests in the waters of the Persian Gulf. To sum up the effect of the Agreement with regard to Persia, we had given up the trade route to which 503 he had referred, we had abandoned our position in the southern provinces of Persia, which position a short time ago we had declared in the most emphatic terms we were not prepared to give up, and we had retained in consequence only the naval control in the Persian Gulf, if indeed we had retained that for the future, and naval control, as so able a strategist as Captain Mahan had said, was an imperfect instrument unless it was reinforced and supported by the shores upon which it acted. We had given up a large number of the chief cities in Persia in which the interests of this country were infinitely greater than any interest that Russia had ever had or ever claimed to have in them, and in return for all this we had received as our sphere a triangle of desert and sparsely populated country half the size of the Russian sphere, and, except possibly for strategic reasons, of very little value. It could only be claimed that we had gained anything by the inclusion of the triangle in our sphere of influence on the ground that we had secured immunity from attack upon that side of the Indian Empire, and he failed to see how we had secured any immunity which we did not possess before. Seistan, if war was ever to come, was as much at the mercy of Russia to-day as before the treaty was concluded, and that the position of Seistan would ever become a greater menace to us than it was at present was sufficiently doubtful in view of the physical features of the country. A great point was made by the Government that for the first time in a definite treaty we had the assurance of Russia that Afghanistan was outside her sphere of influence. They must take it from that, that the Government did not attach very great value to the explicit assurances of Russia unless they were contained in the form of a definite treaty. If that was so, he asked them why it was that they were content to accept merely an explicit assurance with regard to the Persian Gulf, whereas they had made such concessions in order to get within the limits of a treaty the assurances which Russia had repeatedly made, eleven or twelve times since she first made them in 1872, that Afghanistan was outside the sphere of her influence. There was another point which was an extremely important 504 one with regard to Afghanistan. He understood that we were practically pledged to take no steps to make preparations to defend Afghanistan in the possible event of any future attack upon that country. At the same time, as had been pointed out, Russia was permitted to continue to make any conceivable preparation which she might consider advisable, not only for defence, but for offence, along the whole length of the frontier of Afghanistan. The Government did not seem to realise that when war came paper Agreements must inevitably go to the wall, and that the whole object of a treaty of this kind should consequently be either to prohibit the Power with whom they were negotiating from making preparations for war on the frontier in time of peace, or, if that was impossible, at any rate to secure for themselves the privilege of preparing defences. It did not seem to have been sufficiently recognised that we were pledged by the most solemn engagements to defend Afghanistan from any attack from without. There were, of course, many minor points open to criticism in the Convention. It seemed to him to be a rather one-sided Agreement when we gave Russia freedom of trade in Afghanistan, but apparently asked for no similar advantages in Turkestan, Bokhara, and Trans-Caspia, which were the possessions of Russia lying along the Afghanistan frontier. There also appeared to be a great deal of doubt with regard to agents, as in one part of the Agreement they were told that Russia pledged herself not to send them into Afghanistan and in another part that if commercial expansion should justify it in the future, the question of sending agents there would be duly considered. The Government had failed to realise that in the Russian service there was no difference between commercial and political agents. If Russia was to be permitted in the future to send commercial agents into Afghanistan, that country would inevitably cease to remain outside the sphere of her influence. In Tibet we, with a long coterminous land frontier, with trade relations extending back over a long period of years between India and that country, with treaties and agreements, with the expedition which had cost no small sum of money and no few lives 505 carried out to enforce those conditions, had placed ourselves upon a mere equality with Russia, the nearest point of whose frontier was not within hundreds of miles of the northern part of the country. There was only one word which could adequately describe the diplomacy which boasted of such an achievement—the word "grotesque." He could not conceive on what ground the Government had admitted that Russia should possess a position of equality with us in that country. If her claim to equality was admitted on the grounds that a large number of her subjects looked to Lhassa as the central point of adoration of their religion, a very large question was opened and a very dangerous precedent set. Were they to understand that in the future, supposing some question in another part of Asia arose, Russia, because she had a vast number of Mahomedan subjects was to be able to claim equality of interest with us in the great centres of Mahomedan religion? Were they to understand that this was to be a precedent for Russia claiming equality of interest in Mecca or other provinces in which Great Britain had interests of paramount importance? This question presented many very serious difficulties for the future. The Chumbi Valley had been singled out as a specific case in which there was definite equality of interest between this country and Russia. He did not peed to remind the House that prior to 1890 a violation of the Indian Frontier Treaty by the Tibetans necessitated the Convention of 1890, and that was followed by the Trade Regulations made in 1893. One of the provisions of that Agreement granted free trade between the two countries for a term at any rate of five years. The Tibetan officials did not attach the same meaning to free trade which he presumed was attached by the members of the Government, because they found one, of those officials in contravention of the Agreement levying a 10 per cent. ad valorem duty on all British and Indian goods which passed through his district. The result of this and of the violation of our frontier by the Tibetans was the despatch of a mission to Lhassa under Colonel Younghusband, the outcome of which they all knew. The point he wished to make was that when next our 506 Agreements with Tibet were travested or our frontier violated by the Tibetans, were we to consult with Russia before we took any steps to secure the carrying out, of our legal rights? That appeared to him to be a position of intolerable humiliation. In the case of the Chumbi Valley, for instance, if the evacuation was not carried out for any particular reason, was it to be the subject of discussion between the two Governments? He wished to know if a similar case arose in the future were we still to be bound to ask the Russian Government's advice in dealing with these questions affecting the frontier? If that were so all that the critic could ask was what in Heaven's name had Russia got to do with the Chumbi Valley or the Indian Frontier? He wished to mention one more absurdity before he resumed his seat. We had bound ourselves by a solemn pledge to the Government of a third Power never to send a representative to Lhassa. It appeared to him to be an unreasonable thing to bind this country to any third Power never to send a representative to the capital of a country which was coterminous with our own for many hundreds of miles. That Agreement could only have been made on the assumption that China always had been, was now, and always would be able to control the action of the Tibetans. The whole teaching of history told them that that was not the case, and that the future would falsify the teaching of the past, he did not believe, judging from certain happenings on the frontier of, China and Tibet which came to his knowledge when travelling through those countries not long ago. If it was found at some future time that China was unable to answer for the Tibetans over whom she held a shadowy suzerainty, what was to be our position now, that this country had bound itself not to deal with the Government of Tibet? He would like to say a word upon two aspects of the Agreement looked at as a whole. He thought His Majesty's Government had not been very successful, either in this House or in another place, in defending the particular Articles of their Convention dealing with those particular countries in regard to which the Agreement was drawn up. They had been repeatedly asked not to look too 507 microscopically at the details of the Agreement, but to consider the value of the Agreement as a whole. If the Agreement was able to bring about that amelioration between the relations of Russia and this country which His Majesty's Government appeared to think it would, he would be inclined to say that even these rash concessions which they had made would not prove in the long run to have been too great. But there were two other aspects to be considered when they looked at the results regarded as a whole which had not been touched upon and had received very little attention. What was going to be the result of this Agreement upon individual enterprise in every corner of the world? He thought it would be admitted that the British Empire in the past had been built up very largely if not almost exclusively by individual action and individual enterprise. Our position in Persia had been built up very largely by the enterprise of Anglo-Indians and British merchants, and when they saw the result of much patient labour and toil, upon which many valuable lives had been spent, dashed to the ground with a single stroke of the quill of an uncomprehending Government, the result would be that of a douche of cold water thrown upon British enterprise not only in those particular districts but in other corners of Asia and the world in general. What was going to be the result of this treaty upon the prestige of Great Britain in Eastern countries and more especially in India itself? Only those who had lived amongst Eastern people could realise what prestige meant to them. It was impossible for anybody who had not been in Eastern countries to realise what the effect would be of what was looked upon as a retreat by Great Britain before Russia upon those people who dwelt upon the borders of the North-West frontier of India. Hon. Members who had had personal experience in India and others who had heard of the extraordinary rapidity with which news of this kind travelled in Eastern countries, independently of the material assistance of telegraphs, the post or railways, who knew how stories of this kind rang round the bazaars of an Eastern city; anybody who knew the North-West frontier 508 of India well knew that the one absorbing topic of conversation in its bazaars-for many years had been the respective power of Russia and Great Britain in that part of Asia. He had laid stress upon that point because it seemed to him that at the present time the peoples of the East were beginning to treat with rather less respect than in the past the prestige of the white man, and knowing that we must continue in the future as we had done in the past to govern India almost exclusively by prestige, he had no hesitation in saying that the result of what would be looked upon as a retreat and the securing of more power by Russia would have a very undesirable effect upon the unruly tribes we were called upon to govern on those frontiers. In criticising this treaty he had taken the view that it was a business arrangement drawn up between two Powers, and holding the views he did after ten years study of these frontier questions, he was bound to criticise somewhat severely particular items in the Agreement. In conclusion, he sincerely hoped that the aspirations which His Majesty's Government held with regard to promoting a better state of feeling, of which this might be the forerunner between the two great countries might see fulfilment in spite of the forebodings which he and others who had studied the question on the spot could not help but feel when they criticised particular details-of the Agreement under discussion.
§ *SIR CHARLES DILKE (Gloucestershire, Forest of Dean)
said the noble Lord who opened the debate was careful to avoid anything so strong as the statement made by the last speaker that British traders had been ruined. It might be so, but he could not say that he was aware of it. He had no doubt that his hon. friend with vast interests in Persia (Mr. Lynch) who would take part in the debate would amplify the statement if it were true. He could find nothing in the Agreement to ruin any enterprise which existed at the present time or which was likely to exist. On the strategic branch of the subject the noble Lord declared that he knew the tribes on the frontier and was convinced that our prestige among the wild tribes would be destroyed by the drawing nearer of Russia under 509 this Agreement. Whatever might be said about the Agreement in other respects, and he himself had great doubt as to the wisdom of the Afghan portion of it, it did not bring Russia nearer. The Afghan part contained some things in regard to which he wished his right hon. friend the Secretary for India to make some explanation when he came to reply. The defence of the Agreement was that it was to be taken as a whole. The defence of it by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs was a strategic defence. The right hon. Gentleman said that we had obtained a great strategic advantage in the. Seistan district. It wolud be cruel of those who were called upon to take part in the debate to think it necessary to go over the whole of the ground covered by the Agreement, and to state what they approved and disapproved. He proposed, therefore, to accept what had been said in another place some days ago, and what had been said that day by the noble Lord the Member for Kensington and the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Foreign Affairs as having put the arguments on both sides before them, and on the whole it appeared to him that a stronger case was made for the Convention than against it, in regard to both its political and its strategic aspects. But he thought that the Afghan portion was full of traps, and it did not appear to have received the same consideration which had been paid to the other parts of the case. As he read that portion, it appeared to depend wholly on the free assent of the Ameer. There was no undertaking on our part that we would use our influence with the Ameer to secure his assent to the Convention. He regarded the whole of that part as wholly beside the mark, inasmuch as we gave nothing by it. The vulnerable point from the strategic point of view in the defence of India was always shifting, and although that made them view the varying policies with misgiving and doubt, it did not necessarily prove that the advocates of the shifting policies were wrong from time to time. Railways might affect the question of strategic weakness at particular points. It was worth remembering the opinions of the great men of the past in regard to frontier policy. Lord Lawrence, who, in regard 510 to one main point was as fierce a jingo as his opponents, said he would make any sacrifice and do anything to keep Russia out of Afghanistan. Herat was in those days the key of India. Three years ago they discussed this subject, and the Leader of the Opposition made an interesting speech which was afterwards reprinted. All interest had then turned to the Turkestan side. If hon. Members would refer to that debate they would find that the strategic advisers had concentrated their vision on Turkestan. The whole argument in regard to the making of railways and the whole case made against the then Prime Minister turned on the importance of the Russian communications on the north, and on the Oxus. It was quite clear that almost all the speakers went on the assumption that that was the vulnerable portion of the frontier. They now turned to Seistan as the weak and vulnerable part. But the Government could not say that their advisers were united upon Seistan being the vulnerable point. Sir Sydenham Clarke, in the new edition of his work on Fortification, had gone most elaborately into this question. According to the Secretary of the Defence Committee of the Cabinet, there had been a great waste of money in fortifying even Quetta, guarding as it did both the Seistan and the Herat—Kandahar lines of attack. They must, therefore, look with some suspicion on the repeated alarms which they heard. As to the difficulty of Russia reaching India, he need not say anything on the present occasion. A foreign writer, who had written the greatest books on Russia, had pointed out with extraordinary vigour the reasons which made so difficult as to be almost impossible a Russian military attack on India. But with regard to Afghanistan, the Agreement was a very wide one to make. It stated in Article V that the present arrangements would only come into force when His Majesty's Government notified to the Russian Government the consent of the Ameer. It was not very well drawn, but he assumed that the words "present arrangements" covered the Afghan part and nothing outside it, and, assuming that to be so, would it be an unfriendly abstention on our part if we failed to secure that consent? The Ameer of Afghanistan 511 stood in a very difficult position. It was not his own opinion that counted altogether. It was public opinion and the opinion of the officials around him, and from the writings of the late Ameer they knew how terrible was the task which was his almost every day, when he had a clear opinion, of making that opinion prevail with the fanatical influences that surrounded him. He did not know whether it was contemplated that his consent should be freely given and whether the Ameer would not receive some of the stipulations with doubt. He freely admitted that the Government were right to conclude a Convention, and that they were right to pay a price, not for strategical considerations, but for the great political advantages this arrangement gave them. The main body of the Persian part and the Tibetan part he left entirely to their judgment. It was the Afghan part alone he wished to consider. It had already been stated by the noble Lord that Article III suggested that there should be designated certain agents and authorities in the frontier provinces to establish direct relations. It was admitted by both parties that these local arrangements were desirable. There had been difficulties in the past with regard to this matter, and if they could be established by common assent it would be better than the present state of things. Still, it was very dangerous ground. On Article IV the Secretary of State's reply to the noble Lord was a little technical. After all, Bokhara was not an integral part of Russia, though it was controlled by Russia. The Secretary of State had described the position of the Ameer as only so far like that of our feudatory princes that we had charge of his foreign relations. The fact that she controlled the foreign relations of Madagascar made Madagascar part of France, politically speaking. Well, Afghanistan was on the border line, and when it was said that the whole basis of the Agreement was equal advantage, so far as trade was concerned, between Russia and this country, it seemed to him to be somewhat inconsistent that there should be no reciprocity. At the top of page 9 of the Agreement it was said:—Any facilities which may have been, or should be hereafter obtained for British and British-Indian trade and traders, should be equally enjoyed by Russian trade and traders.512 He could not think that this Article was one which was really necessary, and it could only be defended upon technical grounds. Then came the words as to the consent of the Ameer. Now, were we going the right way to work to get the consent of the Ameer? Were we not in India taking stops calculated to raise the suspicions of the Ameer? We had never been able to come to terms with him as to the Mohmund frontier where we were making the line through the gorges of the Cabul River. Yet we were surveying a railway under fire right along to the Afghan frontier, for what reason Heaven alone knew. A very unwilling assent was given by the late Government, before it went out of office, to Lord Kitchener's scheme. There was plenty of time to have reversed that assent; but no practical steps had been taken by the Government to do so. Was it an essential part of the arrangement that it depended on the consent of the Ameer? There, he thought, the Government were inconsistent with themselves. The Agreement as to Seistan was based on a statement made in the House that had it not been for this arrangement India might have been placed in great danger. But for Seistan the Secretary of State explained we "must have imposed larger and larger demands on the revenues of India." Indian military expenditure had enormously increased within the last four or five years. The reductions were ridiculously small and only caused by financial rearrangement. The construction of the railway was still going on, and although the stations which had been proposed on the extreme frontier had been abandoned because they were untenable, there had been enormous expense incurred upon the scheme. He had shown his reasons against the Afghanistan portion of the Agreement. The scare, by which some people were deceived when Lord Kitchener's plan was brought in had come to an end. The defence of the plan was that it would counter-chock the increased power of Russia in Central Asia. That scare was without foundation. The whole of the policy was inconsistent with the present policy of the Agreement with Russia. It was said that Russia had increased her strength in Central Asia from nominally 72,000, but actually 60,000 men, to 200,000. There was not a syllable of truth in that at all. The only truth was that Russia was bringing 513 up her cadres to normal strength. This Afghan Agreement was inconsistent with the Kitchener policy of India, and with the present Indian expenditure.
§ SIR H. NORMAN (Wolverhampton, S.)
said that a debate in Parliament on a foreign treaty afforded an opportunity to the Secretary for Foreign Affairs to make an explanation of an international document of great importance. That opportunity had been largely availed of. It would be conceded by all that the noble Lord who had opened the discussion had, as had been said by the Foreign Secretary, spoken in a tone to which nobody could find exception. The speech of the right hon. Gentleman in reply was so thorough and conclusive and its tone was so admirable that one might well agree very little remained to be said. He had taken a very deep interest in this question for many years, and he would confine his remarks to what was within his own knowledge as to Russia and Russian statesmen. He was sure that the words of the Foreign Secretary would find a remarkable echo in the breasts of these statesmen, and that the Press of Russia would confirm it. Hostile criticisms on an accomplished treaty should obviously be confined within narrow limits, and should be made under a very grave sense of responsibility. Particularly should this be the case in regard to an Agreement with Russia, because to make a Convention with the Government of that country was a peculiarly difficult and delicate task. The interests touched upon were so widespread, so many were the national susceptibilities engaged, and the whole question was so complicated by mutual suspicions and jealousies, that it was an obvious duty to approach it with the greatest circumspection. He made that remark because he desired to comment on a speech by Lord Curzon in another place. The Foreign Secretary had spoken of it as mere rhetoric—a reproof with which every student of foreign affairs would surely concur. But still he thought that a further word of protest was needed. Lord Curzon spoke with the greater conspicuousness attaching to him as one who had come back fresh from a position of the greatest responsibility and weight. The noble Lord's speech was of great length; it was announced by himself as one that would be tele- 514 graphed that very day to the East. It was a very bitter attack on the details of the treaty with Russia which could only have the one result, so far as his words could carry weight elsewhere, of damaging the foreign policy of the present Government, and of his own country. In regard to Afghanistan, in the first place, Lord Curzon asked why was not advantage taken while the Ameer visited India to go into the whole of this matter and secure then his consent. It should be recollected that that visit was, at His Highness's own request, kept entirely free from high politics. Lord Curzon must have known that, and therefore it was a curious suggestion to be made by him. Further, Lord Curzon particularly pointed out that while we ought to have considered the Ameer we had deliberately ignored him; and that we had interfered improperly with his internal administration, and had tied his hands. And Lord Curzon added that he hoped the delay of His Highnoss's assent was only due to dilatory oriental methods—otherwise a situation of the greatest inconvenience and anxiety would arise. Lord Curzon could not have for a moment considered what effect his words would have on the oriental mind—especially when it was remembered what demands the Ameer was making on the Indian Government, and what an advantage it would be to the Ameer to have a strong card to play. He expressed the regret which must have been present to the mind of everybody who read that astonishing speech—a speech so capable of misconception and misrepresentation. What did the criticisms of the proposals in the Convention amount to? They were that this Government had conceded too much. In fact all the critics of the Convention—even the noble Lord opposite—had spoken as if the British Government had only to ask for conditions and these would be conceded at once by Russia. It would be impossible more completely to misconceive the situation which the Government had to face when they first came to consider this Convention. As a matter of fact, the Convention only recognised the status quo. He would like, with the permission of the House, to read one brief extract, to show what exactly was our relation to Russia when approaching this Convention, from a book 515 by Mr. Dugald Stuart, a recent traveller in Persia—No railway can at this moment be constructed in Persia; the New Customs Tariff cannot be completed or passed into law until approved by Russia; turnpike tolls—by no means scarce—are all in the hands of Russia; no vehicle can enter Kasvin (on the high road from Europe and the Caspian Sea) without paying toll to a Russian company; the entire country between Julfa (on the Russian eastern frontier) and Tabriz—a distance of 200 miles; and between Tabriz and Teheran—a distance of 400 miles—has quite recently been surveyed by Russian officials with the ostensible purpose of making roads; the entire route between Resht and Anzali on the Caspian Sea (and the direct road from Europe to Teheran) is in the hands of Russian companies, both as regards post carts and post stations; the Shah cannot purchase a rifle without the approval of the resident Cossack General, and as to raising money by a foreign loan or by the granting of concessions for mining or any other purpose known to free agents, it is simply prohibited in accordance with a bushel of protocols, treaties, and conventions between the two high contracting powers. Persia is in everything but name a Russian province.That was the situation that had to be faced. It was not a case of "ask and have," but of saving something from the wreck. Not only was that the existing state of things, but the hold of Russia, the actual and potential hold, was almost overwhelming. With very little railway construction she would be able to pour enormous masses of troops into Persia. Suppose—and it was not an idle supposition, but was in the minds of many at the time—at any time during the Japanese War Russia had patched up an agreement with Japan, and had turned the Manchurian Army under General Kuropatkin, who knew every inch of Central Asia, on to the Persian frontier, and had then demanded concessions of every kind and description from Persia, what would our position have been? We should either have had to give way, or have been faced with the horrors of a land war of a colossal character, into which we should be forced most reluctantly, and from which we should have sought any honourable method of escape. The position of Russia in Persia was so strong that many thoughtful persons had urged the British Government to come to an arrangement with Russia by entirely abandoning our Persian interests. After studying the matter very carefully he had himself come to the conclusion that the best terms we could 516 secure from Russia with regard to-Persia were to permit her to have a commercial port on the Persian Gulf. The action of the Government in this Convention had been to save all they could from the wreck, and Lord Curzon and the noble Lord who had initiated this debate might be reminded that it was the Party to which they belonged that were chiefly responsible for running the ship of our Persian interests on the rocks. By this Convention we had obtained more than we could have hoped for, and, in his opinion, in view of the action of the British Government in past years, almost more than we deserved. With regard to Tibet he could only say that in the view of many who sat on the Ministerial side of the House we were not very much interested in that country. Lord Curzon had spoken of the Agreement as a humiliation. If that was so it was a very small one and it was more than made up for by the effect our action would have in China. China regarded Tibet with a peculiar solicitude and would gratefully appreciate our action in that matter. Even in its details the Convention would stand a very careful scrutiny. All do pended of course upon the way in which it was intended to work, but every treaty and every Convention was in the same position. If there was an earnest desire on the part of the high contracting parties to make it effective it would be effective and most beneficial. If the high contracting parties did not intend that it should be effective then it would be in the same position as all those conventions which were never intended to be effective and would merely be waste of paper and ink. As it stood it commanded the approval of the House. The most striking fact in the East at the present time was that the various peoples were drawing together. There was springing up a peculiar racial spirit, a spirit of national patriotism, in the oriental mind. There was a strong recrudescence of vitality throughout the whole of the East. That spirit was by no means always a spirit fraught with goodwill towards Western civilisation or Western nations. Therefore it was particularly desirable that Western nations at this time should as far as possible abandon their jealousies and also draw near together in sympathy, in view of the grave and growing problems they would have to face in the East. This Convention was what a recent foreign minister 517 would call a Convention of good Europeans. It had drawn two Western nations together in view of gathering difficulties in other parts of the world. All these years we had been backing the wrong horse. In every point of European politics Russia's hand had been against us, and ours, as she would say, had been against Russia. The danger of war with Russia had been one of the regular topics of the newspaper loader-writers for years, and it had been almost taken for granted by diplomatists. Whenever Russia chose she could cause us great anxiety and an enormous amount of expense by moving a few companies of troops up to the Afghan frontier. So long had this been the case that it had become almost a postulate that Russia and England were bound in the nature of things at some time to come to blows—Like rival thunders from opposed poles,Rushing towards the shock that splits the world.That was how Russia and England were regarded by almost every other nation. For many years he had done ail in his power to help forward this understanding, and now that it had come it was a matter for great gratification, both for personal and impersonal reasons. He thanked the Government for this Convention, and he warmly congratulated the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, who by his skill and good fortune had at last accomplished what so many of his predecessors had failed to do.
§ *MR. JOSEPH WALTON (Yorkshire, W.R., Barnsley)
said he had always regarded foreign affairs as a non-party question, and of all questions relating to foreign affairs he thought the question of safeguarding our great Indian Empire by upholding our commercial and political interests in the adjacent country of Persia was most certainly a non-party question. He had listened with great interest to the able speech of the noble Lord in criticism of this Convention, and with if possible deeper interest to the able defence which his right hon. friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs made in favour of the Convention, and he could only regret that the balance of advantages found in the Convention was not greater, so that the task of defending it might have been made easier. Six years ago he made a somewhat extended journey through Persia, and 518 upon his return a debate took place in the House upon his moving an Amendment to the Address. That Amendment was seconded by the noble Lord who had initiated this debate. In that debate the question was treated as a non-party question, and he was bound to say that to-day he was largely in agreement with the Amendment which had been moved by the noble Lord. When he went through Persia six years ago specially to study the political and commercial situation he found that Russian influence was paramount in Northern Persia right from east to west, but that British influence and British trade were greatly in the ascendant throughout Southern Persia from Baluchistan on the one side to the Tigris on the other. The natural and equitable division so far as spheres of interest went in Persia would have been to have conceded to Russia a position of predominance in Northern Persia, but in all equity we should have had conceded to us the recognition of predominant influence throughout the southern portion of that country. Persia lent herself to such a division by her natural situation not on the lines agreed upon, but along the line of those great deserts which stretched through the centre to the ancient capital of Ispahan where the Russians bad hardly a foothold; where they were striving to get a foothold, but where the Governor was most friendly and favourable to England. It was a very great disappointment to him to find that the Ispahan and the Baghdad trade route into Persia were included in the Russian sphere, and he thought it would have been more equitable if these had been placed in the neutral zone. He felt that there was a special responsiblity on a Liberal and Free Trade Government, which objected to protect our markets by imposing tariffs on goods coming into this country, to uphold and extend British markets in every part of the world. Even the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs had been bound to admit that in the matter of the trade and commerce of this country we had got the worst of the bargain in the Convention with Russia with regard to Persia, Whilst the Russians had retained in their own sphere the whole of their trade routes down into Northern Persia, we had only two trade routes out of eleven in our sphere. 519 He was greatly disappointed that the British trade routes were not included in the British sphere. But no one in the House in considering the Convention could fail to consider it in even a still wider aspect. If he felt assured that the Convention would remove all causes of friction between Russia and this country in Persia, Afghanistan, and Tibet, he would welcome it even with the unfavourable trade conditions it contained; but what was the position going to be in Persia? When this question was debated six years ago the Government announced their policy to be the upholding of British influence and trade in Southern Persia. They said we must not allow a railway to be brought down to the Persian Gulf from the North by Russia, and declared that we must maintain our influence paramount in the Persian Gulf which we had policed for the benefit of all nations for over a hundred years. He had hoped that the present Government would have continued that policy in negotiating this Convention, but though they had got rid of the danger that was supposed to exist of Russia building a railway from Seistan to Bunder Abbas on the Persian Gulf, they had left two-thirds of the coast of Persia west of Bunder Abbas in the neutral sphere. The Government had conceded I to Russia an equal right with ourselves to build railways in the neutral sphere, and there foro this Convention appeared to facilitate the construction of a rail way through Northern Persia into the; neutral sphere west of Bunder Abbas and down to the Persian Gulf. How could we enter a word of protest against Germany also building a railway down to the head of the Persian Gulf in face of this arrangement with Russia? What would then become of the paramount influence of this country in the Persian Gulf when Germany on the one hand and Russia on the other were the owners of railways right down to the Persian Gulf? That disposed entirely of the question of our exceptional interest in the Persian Gulf, which seemed to him to become of somewhat small value. Why should we object to those railway systems being brought down to the Persian Gulf? The Government six years ago—and one would have thought that this point would have been more particularly dwelt upon in the debate that day—said that we objected to have a Russian railway down to the Persian Gulf because it would turn the flank of the North-Western frontier of 520 India. We recognised that it would be difficult for large armies to be moved across the mountainous districts of Afghanistan and Baluchistan, but the danger would be infinitely greater if Russia and Germany were in the Persian Gulf with commercial ports which might very soon become naval stations. Might they not then be in a position to endanger our Indian Empire? Our expenditure for military defence would go up far beyond what the right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean had suggested, and very far above the high figure it had already reached. We were the trustees of the Indian nations, and it was our duty to safeguard their position and their interests in India in any Agreement of this sort. It had been said that that was what we had done. Nobody desired more earnestly than he that all the benefits that could be desired should spring from this Convention with Russia. Everybody was agreed as to the wisdom of making entente cordiale arrangements with all the great nations of the world, but they must not shut their eyes to the facts as to whether in the making of them they would remove or perpetuate causes of friction. He would instance the case of Afghanistan. The Ameer had always objected to any foreign agents going into his country, and he absolutely refused to allow any to enter. He remembered going through the Khyber Pass and up to the frontier of Afghanistan, and when he came within half a mile of that frontier he had to return, because he was told that if they went further the party would be fired at. He went six years ago through Baluchistan to the Afghan frontier and the same thing happened. But an hon. Member of this House went to the Afghan frontier and had courage enough to cross it, and the Afghan officials were courteous enough to allow him to enter a fort. The officials, however, became doubtful as to the wisdom of what they had done, and refused to allow him to leave, and he spent some very uncomfortable hours in that fort. But what was the result of all this? The whole of the officials of that fort were put to death by order of the Ameer of Afghanistan. Afghan frontier officials were not allowed to have any negotiations or association with the officials of the neighbouring Power. The Convention began with the declaration on the part of both contracting nations that they would not send any agents to Afghanistan, and yet further on 521 a provision was made under certain conditions to send commercial agents. In the East those who were ostensibly commercial agents were invariably really political agents. There seemed little likelihood of the Ameer agreeing to this part of the Convention. Otherwise, in regard to Afghanistan, they had reason to be well satisfied with the arrangement. The only fear he had was as to friction arising in regard to matters which would have been much better kept out of the Agreement altogether. There was no more fruitful source of friction and of greater danger than these small frontier questions which could be magnified and sometimes turned into causes of wars. With regard to Tibet he had always thought that the Expedition was a blunder and a waste of money. The less we had to do with Tibet the better. I He was not an advocate of the forward policy cither in Persia or in Afghanistan. They had had too much of it in the direction of Afghanistan. Untold millions had been wasted in preparing the North-west frontier for defence where, humanly speaking, it was impossible that it should ever be attacked. Now the scene had shifted further south, and they were told that this triangular sphere in Persia would safeguard the Indian Empire. It was really the sphere which belonged to us years ago and which we had quite unnecessarily handed over some time ago to Persia. The difficulties that we had with Persia at the time of the debate six years ago, included this, that the Russian Government had concluded a commercial treaty with Persia without consultation with us, and had imposed tariffs favourable to the goods which she was in the habit of sending and against those which we sent. In addition to that Russia had debarred Persia from giving railway concessions to any outside party other than to Russia, or from contracting loans except from Russia. He did not find that these three points had boon dealt with and cleared up by the Convention, and he would like to know what provision had been made in regard to our entering in the not distant future into a direct commercial treaty with Persia, and Whether the prohibition of the Persian Government contracting loans with parties other than the Russian Government had been abolished as well as the prohibition in regard to railway construction. He 522 gathered that railway construction was exclusively conceded to us in our sphere, but the worst of it was that commercially considered, the whole of Persia where commercial enterprises were at all likely to be of value, was in the Russian sphere. Commercially speaking, the British sphere had few, if any, commercial possibilities; therefore, as far as British trade and commerce went, he could not but come to the conclusion that we had fared badly, and could only hope that otherwise the Convention would create more friendly feeling with Russia, and that there might grow up between the two nations a mutuality of consultation and of settling difficulties and disputes when they arose, not only in Afghanistan, Persia, and Tibet, but also in Europe and every other part of the world. If that proved to be the case, if it lessened the chance of war and promoted the great cause of peace, humanity, and progress, even though the balance of advantage, commercially at any rate, seemed to be so much against us, we must be glad that the Convention, oven in its present form, had been concluded.
§ MR. ELLIS GRIFFITH (Anglesey)
said he had listened with considerable attention to his hon. friend's speech, and was very anxious to know the conclusion at which he had arrived in regard to the Motion, but noticed that he was somewhat reticent in that respect. The Resolution declared that the House was of opinion that the principle of the Agreement was right. He was glad that lordly and discordant voices had been raised on the point, although one noble Lord had resolved the old opinion that Russia was so untrustworthy that no one with any self-respect would enter into an Agreement with her at all. It was a welcome sign that that argument, with one exception, had been abandoned even on the other side of the House. The second point of the Resolution was that the Agreement involved in several points a material sacrifice of British interests. That was what he had been trying to find some particulars of in the debate. The hon. Member for Hornsey had reminded them of his various journeys. He (Mr. Griffith) also could say that he had been in that part of the world, but with so many exceptions he could hardly expect to be believed when he made an assertion of 523 that kind. To have visited the country seemed to him no great qualification for making a relevant speech on the Resolution, therefore he would not state one way or the other whether he had been there or not. What were the British interests that had been sacrificed? The hon. Member said that six years ago the whole of Northern Persia was under Russian domination; therefore, as far as the Northern part was concerned, we had given Russia nothing more than she enjoyed already. With regard to the Southern portion, there was a neutral zone, and a South Eastern portion called our sphere of influence. What he wanted to point out was that the Convention dealt with concessions and not with trade; trade with Persia was not touched by the Convention. It only touched concessions upon some particular points. When he was there, there was a great concession in British hands, the Imperial Tobacco Regie. It failed, not because of commercial incapacity, but because of Russian intrigue, and although there was a Conservative Government in power they hardly lifted up their hands to save it, and concessions were cancelled. Really, especially when a Conservative Government was in power, they must not make too much of these concessions. They were difficult to obtain, and in the Northern sphere of influence they would be met by Russian intrigue. If he was right in his construction he did not think the trade of the country would be affected in the slightest degree. The Northern trade was already in the hands of Russia, and the Southern trade would not be affected prejudicially by the Agreement. Persia was divided into three portions, and British trade was never to invade the Russian portion, and Russian trade was never to invade ours. It was part of the Convention that there should be equal opportunity for all nations for trade and commerce in Persia.
§ MR. JOSEPH WALTON
We have debarred ourselves in the Russian sphere from undertaking any commercial enterprise.
§ MR. ELLIS GRIFFITH
said it was more important to have read the Convention than to have been to Persia. There had been very few concessions even to British subjects. The trade of this 524 country did not depend so much upon concessions as upon the industry and energy of particular trades employed in commercial affairs. It was true that concessions as such were prohibited to us within this area, but our sphere of influence, which he agreed was far less important commercially than the Northern, was limited to us. But the point was, when entering into a bargain of this kind to see how much they could get. There were heaps more things that they would like to get. The question was how much I they could get, and whether what they got was worth what they had sacrificed in getting it. He was in favour of the principle of an Agreement with Russia. The meaning of a vote of censure was that if one were in the place of the Secretary of State one would have entered into another bargain, getting the same results at a far cheaper price. What had they got? They had given up very little, but as a matter of fact they had very little to give up there. It was not likely that they would ever have had any concession at all under the old state of things, and if they had had a concession, Russia would have seen that, it was cancelled. By this treaty they had got a great security and protection for the Indian frontier. He trusted that the treaty which the Secretary for Foreign Affairs had made himself responsible for would be a monument of amity and peace for many years, if not for generations to come, between this country and Russia. He believed that by this treaty harmony would be substituted for rivalry, and peace for the intrigue which had been going on for so many years. If that result was achieved, or only partially achieved, they would have obtained in return for those alleged concessions in Afghanistan and Tibet, a substantial result of which this country might be proud. He trusted the House would reject the Resolution.
§ *MR. EVELYN CECIL (Aston Manor)
said he took part in the debate because he represented a great commercial constituency, and every Member who did that ought to take a keen interest in the effects of the Convention. He was surprised to hear the hon. Member for Anglesey state that the Convention did not touch trade or commerce. He thought that was an amazing statement to make. If that assertion were true he 525 hardly know why the treaty had been made at all. Did the hon. Member really suggest that none of the Articles of the Convention touched commerce at all; Upon that point he would ask him to consult the hon. Member for Ripon. The preamble of the Convention seemed to hold out great and excellent expectations which were, in fact, only partly fulfilled. They rather suggested that the Government started out with good intentions which they had been unable to realise or fulfil. He could not help wondering whether when they were negotiating the Convention, any point ever arose at which they made up their minds that they would rather have no Convention at all than grant what Russia was insisting upon. But the preamble was at variance with the actual Convention, and looked as if it was outlining a policy which every man could agree to without discussion, but when they looked into the treaty they found that the preamble had been departed from to the advantage of Russia. There must he a limit somewhere, and if too hard terms were being imposed, or two high a price was asked for some of the stipulations, it would have been better to have risked putting off the Agreement and have refused to come to terms at the present time. The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs said the all-important object in mind was the strategical gain in Seistan. The right hon. Baronet, however, scorned to minimise from that point of view the commercial sacrifices which he had really made. He stated that the strategical objects were almost the sole objects, and no doubt he had succeeded in getting Seistan safeguarded. The Opposition had no desire to question its value. He was not, however, quite certain that the right hon. Baronet's strategical objects had been well carried out in one or two other respects, and as regarded the North-west frontier be could not help thinking that it would have been wiser if he could have drawn a line from Zulfikar down to Gazik. They had given up that piece of land, and therefore the neutral ground came close up to the Afghan frontier. He thought it was unfortunate that that particular portion of the frontier should be closely contiguous to the neutral zone and not be entirely under our own control. The right hon. Baronet had said that that portion of land 526 between Gazik and Znlfikar was not important. Surely it must have some importance or else why was it that Russia pressed that it should be given up? What was intended originally to be embodied in the Convention was a line drawn from Zulfikar down to Gazik, and thon southward, and that had been given up in consequence of the demands of Russia. He trusted that the right hon. Gentleman was satisfied that he had got all he thought was necessary strategically, because the commercial sacrifices which he had made elsewhere were very great indeed, and the Convention could be severely criticised from these aspects. To sum up, the Convention showed a much greater tendency to give Russia equality of opportunity than she had shown to us. We had given Russia equality of opportunity in Afghanistan, we had given her more than equality of opportunity as regarded trade routes in Persia, and very nearly equality of control in Tibet. He ventured to think that commercially speaking the Agreement was far from a good one. The loss of the Baghdad, Khanikin, Kasr-i-Shirin trade route, which had already been discussed, was very serious. He was surprised to hear the hon. Member for South Wolverhampton pointing out that the whole of the north of Persia was already in the hands of Russia and that, therefore, they might strike it out as an asset for negotiation. As a matter of fact in Ispahan and Yezd certainly there was a large British trade and much sympathy entertained for the British. In giving up those towns, which were very influential as being the end of the trade routes on the Karun river and from Bushire, and to some extent from Bunder Abbas, they were by no means giving up places which were entirely under Russian control. On the contrary, they were remarkably under our own control, and we were thereby losing entirely the position which we had obtained at some cost in the central portion of Persia. There was nothing in the Convention to prevent Russian railways being extended first to Ispahan and Yezd, and then on to the Persian Gulf, and we were bound not to oppose such railways by Article III. of the Persian part of the Agreement. The immediate effect of the Convention was to give Russia a sphere of influence in Persia of no less 527 than 272,800 square miles of the best portion of Persia; the neutral zone consisted of 217,180 square miles, whereas our own British sphere was only 141,100 square miles. He regretted that owing to the natural trade advantages offered in the Russian sphere, the advantages to this country of the neutral zone were very seriously diminished. The line drawn to divide the spheres through Persia was not a very fortunate one. It need not be a question of custom houses, because there were many other ways of influencing trade be-sides the line of custom houses, especially in Oriental parts. The admission of Russia to the best districts of Persia would be quite effective in securing Russian influence there, and creating an incentive to further encroachments southwards, against which the Convention did not provide. He thought also that the treaty showed a material sacrifice of British interests in respect of some of the provisions relating to Afghanistan. The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs had said that Afghanistan was to be regarded as a buffer state. He did not think that the provisions of the Convention quite carried out that object. He was more particularly uneasy in regard to two or three of the Articles. Article I. of the Convention concerning Afghanistan contained the following—The Russian Government, on their part, declare that they recognise Afghanistan as outside the sphere of Russian influence, and they engage that all their political relations with Afghanistan shall be conducted through the intermediary of His Britannic Majesty's Government; and they further engage not to send any agents into Afghanistan.That seemed to be contradictory to the sense of Article IV., which said—Should the progress of trade establish the necessity for commercial agents, the two Governments will agree as to what measures shall be taken, due regard, of course, being had to the Ameer's sovereign rights.We were not sure after all that Russia would not send any agents into Afghanistan. It was probable that sooner or later trade would develop, and if it did Russia would be entitled to say, "We want agents there, and we want a friendly agreement about it." It was painfully true that agents created influence if they were recognised agents, and perhaps even more if they were unrecognised. That influence was very real indeed in such quarters as Afghanistan. As to 528 the Persian Gulf, he thought there was some risk of a material sacrifice of British interests in that quarter also. He wished that Notes had been exchanged more specifically laying down what were the special interests which Great Britain possessed there. It was all very well to embody in a despatch the fact that the Russian Government did not deny the special commercial interests of Great Britain in the Persian Gulf, but it would have been far better to have in black and white, under proper signatures representing both countries, a clear statement that we had specific interests which Russia willingly accepted rather than vague interests which she appeared grudgingly to admit. There was room left for misunderstandings in the Convention. He would like to emphasise what had been said about the assent of the Ameer of Afghanistan, It had not been alleged that any steps were being taken to secure the assent of the Ameer. He dreaded to think what would be the situation supposing that his assent was not obtained—and it might take months or indeed years to obtain it—because by the Persian portions of the Convention we had given a free hand to Russia in that quarter, while if the Ameer did not consent so far as Afghanistan was concerned, we had no agreement that Russia would not interfere in Afghanistan. This opened out a vista of possibilities on which we might disagree with the Russian Government. Article IV. said—His Britannic Majesty's Government and the Russian Government affirm their adherence to the principle of equality of commercial opportunity in Afghanistan, and they agree that any facilities which may have been, or shall be hereafter obtained for British and British-Indian trade and traders, shall be equally enjoyed by Russian trade and traders.Supposing that special facilities were secured by Russian trade and traders, there was no stipulation there that British trade and traders were to have equal facilities. He would like to know from the Foreign Secretary why we had here deliberately committed ourselves to something which was not equality of opportunity. And perhaps the occasion might have been further improved by endeavouring to get equal opportunity for British traders in the Khiva and Bokhara markets. He was still not quite certain whether the Agreement we made with Tibet in 1904 remained untrammelled in consequence of this Convention 529 with Russia. That Agreement with Tibet was secured at considerable cost to ourselves and redounded to the credit of Sir Francis Younghusband's military and diplomatic skill. In this connection he could not help asking why Russia should have been admitted to have a voice at all in regard to Tibet, which was hundreds of miles from the frontier of Russia. The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs had pointed out with much ability that he thought it was wisest to leave the Persian Gulf out of the Convention. He wished the right hon. Gentleman had thought it equally wise to leave Tibet out of the Convention. They had been asked to judge of the Convention as a whole, and he was quite willing to do so. He wished to be loyal to the Convention which the Government had entered into. He was an immense believer in the continuity of foreign policy. He fully recognised the desire of Foreign Office officials to get out of the way certain chronic difficulties which had stood in the way of international friendship for many years. He wished he was quite certain that the conditions to which we had bound ourselves would not give rise to misunderstandings, and he could not help fearing that in some respects they would. They could not altogether forget what Russian assurances had been in the past. He had no desire to put a stumbling block in the way of the Secretary for Foreign A flairs, but he would remind the House that on February 28th, 1884, Lord Granville wrote to Sir Edward Thornton after the annexation of Merv in the following terms—Baron Mohrenheim was instructed to assure me that the views of the Emperor as regards the relations between the two countries in Central Asia were in no way changed, and that it was His Majesty's desire that these relations should continue to be marked by a spirit of friendly sincerity, and au equitable appreciation of our mutual interests. I told Baron Mohrenheim that … I could not pretend that the news had produce I no effect on our minds. Assurances had constantly been given, not only by the Russian Government, but by the Emperor himself, on the subject of Merv—assurances which seemed to put out of the question, at all events for the present and under existing circumstances, any annexation of Merv… There was some occasion for surprise, when two Governments have for a long time been exchanging communications and explanations upon a subject, if one of them suddenly acted in a sense opposite to its assurances without any previous communication with the Power with whom it had carried on this friendly exchange of ideas.…. I told him that as 530 he had broached the subject, I had thought it fair to let him know that the news had not been received by us with indifference.He could not help feeling that Lord Granville's words might be disagreeably applicable to the future of this settlement, if both parties did not loyally adhere to the spirit of it. Unless they could make sure that the Russian Government would carry out the Convention in the spirit with which he believed our Government had signed it, there might be complications ahead. He was glad to hope that Russia would keep the Convention with loyalty to us. Her change of policy was a welcome sign, and he prayed that the right hon. Gentle-man's efforts might be successful in securing international peace for a long time to come.
§ MR. HART-DAVIES (Hackney, N.)
said it seemed to him to have been very easy for hon. Gentlemen opposite to discover small faults in the Convention considered merely as a commercial treaty. He thought, however, that commercial affairs would protect themselves. The last time he was in the Persian Gulf there was a rumour that Russia had an idea of getting there by means of a strip of land leading down to the Gulf on its western border, but he believed that that was a fable. At all events, our Indian frontier was now secured on the side of Seistan; that being so, and the danger of invasion being averted, he urged the right hon. the Secretary for India to reduce the military expenditure in India, especially on huge fortifications on the North-west frontier. India was a poor country, and he hoped that the Secretary of State for India would put his veto on these fortifications. He was extremely glad, as he believed everyone else was, that the long-extended feud between this country and Russia might now be considered over. He remembered when he was in Russia in the old days the considerable feeling which existed there in regard to our expansion towards Central Asia, just as in this country there was suspicion of Russian expansion in the same regions. He trusted that that nagging feeling had disappeared completely, and that a new era had arisen: in our relations with Russia. This Convention, he believed, would go a long way towards securing peace with Russia, and with the whole world.
§ *SIR J. JARDINE (Roxburghshire)
said that on an occasion like this hon. Members who had been long connected with India ought to have some opportunity of explaining what they thought the effect of the Convention would be on our policy in India, on the feeling and loyalty of the people of India, and the amount of taxation they would have to bear. He would not enter into the give and take, the gain and loss in regard to that part of the Convention which related to the Persian Gulf, or to the Northern part of Persia, where this country had never much chance of profitable trade. Considering the long controversy between Great Britain and Russia, he conceived that the important part of the Convention was its political part, and chiefly in regard to the affairs of India and the 300 millions of our Indian subjects. He would be sorry to cast the slightest suspicion on the good faith of Russia in entering into the Convention, which, he thought, looked at broadly, would largely remove what had burdened the minds of British statesmen and Indian rulers for nearly a century—viz., the Russian bogey. The people of India had been disturbed by wars and rumours of wars, by the fear of invasion of India, leading to four wars with Afghanistan, and on one occasion to the total slaughter of our retreating army. This Convention would form a new departure, and lead to the reduction of that immense military expenditure in India which went on not only in time of war but in times of profound peace. The drain on the Indian tax-payer never ceased. The people of India did not always remember that we protected their country; what they saw and felt was that we taxed them. It was our duty, looking to the matter from a statesmanlike point of view, to consider these feelings of our Indian subjects. As a rule they were adverse to war, and he believed that if our system had allowed of their being consulted, and if we had taken them into our confidence they would have refused to go into the war with Tibet. The people of India would, therefore, be glad to hear that all these peaceful arrangements had been concluded with Russia, and would be greatly satisfied with the speech of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs when they saw it reported in the vernacular Press. Those among them who wished to uphold our Government 532 would be pleased, and this Convention would only be displeasing to those intriguers who desired to injure it. These last would be sorry to hear that the hatchet was being buried between us and the Czar of Russia. Lord Lawrence, great among Indian Viceroys, whose experience embraced a long Indian career, testified at a critical time of our history, that if we wished to keep the people loyal to us in times of stress we ought not to worry them with war taxes. Lord Lawrence, in protesting against war with Afghanistan during Lord Lytton's Viceroyalty, said that it was our duty and our best policy as a matter of statecraft not to keep establishments beyond our Indian frontiers. Further, he said that in governing a large Empire like India, made up of many different nationalities, we ought at all times to be careful to spend the taxes on things that benefited them, things they could see, such as roads, bridges, railways, and canals. Thus we might keep their loyalty by spending money in India, and not by throwing it away beyond the frontier among the wilder tribes. That kind of adventure beyond our own boundaries had a tendency, as Lord Lawrence pointed out, to involve us in war. He might take as an instance, our effort to get a missionary out of Abyssinia. What was the result? The Abyssinian War. He thought that one of the results of this Convention would be that all those who had had Indian experience, and who had shared in however small degree the great burden which rested upon the Government of that country both night and day, would feel great satisfaction that this country had started a policy of friendliness with Russia, and had actually come to terms with her. With such vast interests as this country possessed in Asia, the maintenance of which led to such enormous expenditure even in times of peace, they ought to be grateful that the Government had carried on the peaceful policy as regarded the nations of Europe, a policy started by the Government they succeeded. He said that to the Indian world, and to all those interested in the great cause of peace and humanity, this Convention ought to mark an era in diplomatic arrangements.
§ *MR. REES (Montgomery Boroughs)
, said that while he agreed with the general tenour of the remarks of the 533 last speaker, he did not altogether quite follow him when he congratulated the House upon this pleasant recognition of Russia, inasmuch as they had to realise that so much had already been lost. But he did recognise that it was a fortunate fact that this Agreement should be entered into and agreed that it should be judged as a whole and not in part, and also that the position of Russia in Northern Persia had to a great extent been decided in favour of Russia before this Agreement came under consideration. But of all the speeches which had been delivered, the one that most astonished him was that of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton. He did not know whether he rightly caught the hon. Gentleman's remarks, but if he had ever been to Persia, he was the only person he had ever seen who had visited that country who thought that this country should calmly contemplate Russia having a port upon the Persian Gulf. That statement led him to discount the whole of the hon. Member's speech, or otherwise he should have said that the writer of the book from which he read was very accurate, and that what he said was very correct and very much to the point; because it was the fact that Northern Persia had fallen under the dominion of Russia, and that there everything was past praying for. He remembered some years ago when he went to Southern Persia from India he found it to be a bit of India over again, and just like Sindh; but when he went to Northern Persia he found that it was a bit of Russia over again and just like the Caucasus. But those days had somewhat changed, and when he last visited the country there could be no doubt that the "peaceful penetration," he thought it was called, of Russia southward had been continued to such an extent as very seriously to impair the position which we had acquired in the Persian Gulf. Although we had 80 per cent. of the trade and 90 per cent. of the shipping, it was the fact that within the last few years the Russian position had been considerably strengthened. Had this Agreement been entered into twenty or thirty years ago, it would have been perfectly fair for the present Foreign Secretary to have pressed for a far wider recognition of our position in the Persian 534 Gulf. He thought the flaw in the argument directed against the Agreement was that hon. Gentlemen had been far too ready to accept the position which we did once occupy as that which we occupied now. It was a pity that when we were in the full bloom of prosperity we did not do more than we did, because even during all her hard struggles Russia never relaxed her grasp upon Persia, and we had still to deal with her as a powerful and predominant factor. He believed the reasons given by the Government for not including the Persian Gulf in this instrument were sound, and he thought they were admitted by Lord Lansdowne in another place to be sound, but the point which he wished to make with regard to the Gulf was this. He thought he was right in supposing that one of the main reasons that led to the making of this Convention, and it was obvious that it was so, was that the Russians were in such a position in Khorasan that they could come through Seistan down to the Arabian Sea, which would have been a serious menace to our position in India, and therefore on that ground more than anything else we were compelled to make this instrument. He congratulated the Government on having made a satisfactory arrangement with regard to Seistan and the neighbourhood of Baluchistan, but from the entrance to the Gulf, where we previously had a strong position, right up to the frontier of Turkish Arabia, that coast which was once almost a part of British India would cease to fall within our sphere of influence. He quite understood that that did not mean—he knew enough about it to know that—that we were to give up our trade there or anywhere else. That did not mean the extinction of our activities there, but it did mean this: that the Russians were in an equal position with ourselves to ask for a concession for a railway there down to the Persian Gulf. It seemed to him that if a railway was made down to the Persian Gulf, it was almost as bad as if it were made down to the Arabian Sea, although it was not exactly the same thing, because there was the narrow neck of the Gulf in our sphere. Still, it was a very serious matter that under this Convention the Russians would have as good a chance as ourselves in bringing a railway down to the northern shore of the Gulf. His particular 535 object in rising was to urge upon the Foreign Secretary the necessity of our acting so as to improve the position which we still held. He did not think that any advantage could result from discussion of a treaty already entered into, but he did consider that it was of the greatest importance to see how, that treaty having been entered upon, we stood and what we should do to make our position safe. If we at once applied for concessions for railways in that neutral zone in which our interest up to now had been predominant, Russia would not be able to apply, and they knew how ready she was to do so. If we did not apply for these concessions we might find Russia coming down to the Gulf. Why should not we get the concession and then they could not get it? The Novœ Vremya, a well-informed Russian paper, stated—We have secured our position in Northern Persia without sacrificing our right to find an outlet in the north-western portion of the Persian Gulf.If that represented the Russian opinion, as he was sure it did, he entertained some apprehension in regard to our commercial position in the Gulf, because in the East the fact that the railways of a country went into the hands of a great Power made it difficult for other countries to progress in a commercial way in the same territory. At the same time it was the fact that the Imperial Bank of Persia, whose chairman, Sir Lepel Griffin, and directors were excellent authorities, thought this instrument was satisfactory from the commercial point of view, and Sir George Mackenzie, the head of the great British Indian Steam Navigation Company which carried on our business in, and was the outward and visible sign of British supremacy in, the Gulf, also thought that the Convention should not be opposed from the commercial point of view, as it might be regarded in that respect as satisfactory, if only we now set to work to develop our position. He thought there would only be satisfaction if England and British India proceeded to develop Southern Persia, and opened up the country with roads or railways. But suppose the Government did open up trade roads from the Gulf through their own sphere of influence. If they did that with some guarantee, for what it was worth, from Persia to 536 bear a portion of the cost, and some guarantee from British India that she also would find a small sum, it would be encouraging in every way. As the hon. Member for Ripon would be detrimentally affected by and opposed to this Convention he would suggest to the hon. Member that it might be possible for him to enter into a trade convention with Russia under the terms of which he might be able to dispose of the roads he had constructed to Russia, and by that means get back some of the capital he had expended to use it in Southern Persia. His hon. friend did not apparently think the money could be got back, but if it could the position would not be quite hopeless. His hon. friend must remember that it really was not the fact that because a sphere of influence was placed under one Power, other Powers were debarred from trading within that sphere of influence Anybody who examined the instrument would see that it did not go as far as that. But it was the case that a Power with a particular sphere of influence would be able to turn to the very best possible advantage all the resources of that territory. He felt perfectly certain that the Imperial Bank of Persia and the British India Steam Navigation Company would not regard this Convention as being so disastrous from a commercial point of view as the hon. Member for Ripon. Steps should be taken to obtain concessions to build railways down to the Gulf, and some arrangements made with British India to develop trade routes. It was all very well to say the Russians had done this, that, and the other, but the Russians spend their money. They had put down their money in North Persia, and it was the same there as in other places; where people put down their money they were extremely likely to acquire a good deal of influence. Another subject which this Convention almost touched upon was the Baghdad Railway. When he remembered that Baghdad was full of our Indian fellow-subjects, and that when the railway was built it would be built by Indians; when he remembered that more than 100 years ago the Wali of Baghdad, who was, after the fashion of Turkish viceroys then, verging on independence, appealed to the Government of India for officers to make him independent, and that the Government of India sent those officers, but that 537 the Government of this country, which was usually in such matters wrong, sent them back—when he remembered these things he regretted the action which the Government then took, and the fact that we had no hold upon Baghdad. It had been represented that the action of Russia would bring Germany down to Baghdad, and if that was the case there was all the more reason for our taking every opportunity to get an interest in the line, so that if the whole line could not be inter-nationalised, we might at least have the predominant interest in the section from Baghdad to the Gulf. It was of supreme importance to British India and ourselves that this should be so. As to Tibet he would only say that the noble Lord who moved this Motion was very wise when he said he would say very little on this point; because the Government of which the noble Lord was a member threw away the whole of the results of the Tibet expedition. Nor could it be deemed that the Russians had no interest in Tibet, as this matter could not be measured as Lord Curzon measured it, in miles. Supposing our Indian frontier was only 100 miles from Lhassa and Russia was 1,500 miles, what then? The Russians had a considerable interest, though more remote than our own. With regard to Afghanistan he hoped that what had been said by his right hon. friend the Member for the Forest of Dean would not be taken as a conclusive proof of the failure of Lord Kitchener's scheme. We should await the result of this expedition before arriving at the result.
§ *SIR CHARLES DILKE
said he made no reference to the expedition whatever. He referred to the railway through the Cabul gorge on the other side of the Khyber.
§ *MR. REES
said he thought the right hon. Gentleman had said something as to the cost of Lord Kitchener's scheme, which brought in the expedition, but if he was mistaken he would not proceed with that point. The hon. Member for Roxburghshire had said that as one consequence of this Convention a large and immediate reduction should be made in the Indian Army. He hoped that no such short-sighted and ill-informed policy would be pursued. It was by no means the fact that this Con- 538 vention affected that position or made it less necessary than it was before for us to be "as a strong man armed that keepeth his house safe." No other position could be safe for us in India. No doubt he would hear, too, in the course of the debate a great deal about excessive taxation and all those other things which were rolled off the tongue so easily by those who knew nothing about this matter, and who looked at it through Congress glasses. He wondered if such critics had ever heard of how Russia with one steel thread had maintained a large army in Manchuria, and how much the more easily she could maintain an army on the frontiers of Afghanistan, which was—and it was of no use to disguise the matter—after all practically the British Indian frontier. The interests of the Indian people were to be found only in peace, and peace was only maintained by our being strong enough to make it difficult for any aggressor to break the peace. That was the chief factor in this matter. A strong army was as necessary for the peace of India as a supreme navy was for that of the British Empire throughout the world. The hon. Member was very severe upon the Tibet question, but when he said he spoke for 300,000,000 of the people of India, who were averse to that war, he wondered how the hon. Member had been able to collect into a phonograph, as it were, the opinions of 300,000,000 people of India who had never even heard of the war. It fairly astonished him to hear an hon. Gentleman take upon himself a responsibility of that sort, especially when like his hon. friend he knew something about the country. It did not astonish him when a person who knew nothing about India made a statement of that kind, because the temerity of such people was in exact ratio to their inexperience. The India Office as well as the Foreign Office had great cause to be satisfied with the settlement that had been effected, and no sufficiently conclusive arguments had been brought against it in spite of the fact that had Persia been what it was thought by many to be, it would have been impossible to have defended this Convention, if it dealt with Persia alone. Nobody ever supposed that an invasion of India could take place through Seistan, and he himself doubted very much whether India 539 could be invaded through Afghanistan. No soldier of any repute had ever seriously contemplated an invasion of India through Afghanistan or Baluchistan. It was the other problem, that of a foreign Power acquiring a station on the Arabian Sea or the Persian Gulf and turning the flank of the frontier, which was so embarrassing to the Indian Government, but he believed this Convention, in spite of all its defects, supplied the best available means for solving this difficult problem.
§ *SIR H. COTTON (Nottingham, E.)
said he regarded this Convention with somewhat mingled feelings. He thought portions of it were excellent. For instance, he had nothing but praise for the section which related to Tibet, and he regarded with some complacency those clauses, for substantially they gave effect to the identical position which he had preached in the Press and on the public platform some three or four years ago at a time when he was not supported by any official sympathy. These provisions were the death knell of the policy followed by Lord Curzon when he embarked on that ill-starred expedition, and they would effectually prevent any of his successors from making a similar attempt to invade the most inhospitable and least productive country in the world. The most important point was the repetition of the absolute recognition of the suzerainty of China over Tibet. That was definitely acknowledged when China entered into the arena and when the negotiations were transferred to Pekin. China had won in that contest as to whether her suzerainty should be recognised or not. It had been recognised and it was now re-affirmed by this Convention. He thought the clauses relating to Afghanistan were on the whole very satisfactory. There was a clause, wisely inserted he thought, which recognised the Ameer's Sovereign rights. He was not aware that they had been definitely recognised in any public treaty or similar document before. They were recognised here, and in every other respect he found that the Agreement simply confirmed existing political relations with regard to Afghanistan. Clause 5 said that the present arrangement 540 could only come into force when the Government should have notified to Russia the consent of the Ameer. He trusted there might be no difficulty in obtaining the consent of the Ameer, but it was remarkable that up to date that consent did not seem to have been given. That in itself was a cause of some anxiety. When he came to the Persian portion, he regretted to say his feelings-towards the Convention were less sympathetic. He was delighted to see in the forefront the recognition of, and the determination to respect, the integrity and independence of Persia, but the procedure by which that was to be effected was very strange and almost unprecedented. After stating that as our object the Convention proceeded calmly to slice the country up into three parts, two of which would be under the protection, or at all events within the sphere of influence, of one or other of the high contracting parties, while the intermediary portion was left to either or both of the countries to exploit with the concurrence of the other. Several speakers had contemplated, as quite within a measurable distance of time, the political concessions referred to in these arrangements as being not unlikely to involve the occupation of the territories concerned. He would be sorry to think that, but the terms of these clauses were such as practically to abrogate the integrity and independence of Persia in the areas concerned, and it was the weakest point in the Agreement that while it purported to protect the independence and integrity of the country it adopted definite measures which could only lead to the disintegration of the country and the loss of its independence.
§ *MR. SMEATON (Stirlingshire)
said he could not possibly agree with the remark of the hon. Member for Anglesey that there would be no loss of trade whatever. We had undoubtedly surrendered much of the value of three trade routes into the hands of Russia, and although it might be said that the conditions of our trade would remain practically as they were we had the experience of previous interventions of Russian officials with our commerce in south-eastern Persia, where these 541 officials, with the co-operation of Belgian underlings, managed to embarrass our trade very materially, and that kind of treatment might very well be repeated. Although nominally our openings for commerce were to remain intact, by surrendering the most important route—the Kasr-i-Shirin—Kermanshah route—we had rendered our selves liable to very serious impediments indeed in the furtherance of our trade. This Kasr-i-Shirin route was the highway for all our heavy seaborne goods which come up the Gulf to Basra, thence by river to Baghdad, and thence to Khanikin and Kasr-i-Shirin into Persia. We had given that important route bodily over to Russia—a serious sacrifice it might turn out to he. There were two other trade routes, the Mohammerah and the Bushire routes, and their termini were placed within the Russian sphere. He could not imagine why. It would be just as easy to keep them within the neutral sphere. That was undoubtedly a handicap to our trade. The Russians had from time immemorial always found a means of handicapping and hampering British trade. Of course, from their point of view they were perfectly right. On the opposite side of the account they found that the whole six Russian trade routes from the north, where trade was most brisk, had been kept within the Russian sphere. The case then stood thus. Three of our trade routes had termini within the Russian sphere, one was completely obliterated, and the whole of the six Russian trade routes had been kept within the Russian sphere. That did not sound as if our trade had passed unscathed through the Convention. He hoped that as a counterblast the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Montgomery Boroughs would be borne in mind, that should there be any shadow of a rapprochement between Russia and Germany, as was far from improbable, for the purpose of combining to carry on the Baghdad Railway and projeeting it along the Khanikin—Kasr-i-Shirin line into Persia, we should enter a caveat and endeavour to secure that the building of the line, and the responsibility, and its upkeep, and its administration and working, from the canals 542 above Baghdad right down to the mouth of the Gulf, should be in British hands. That would be only a fair quid pro quo for the sacrifices which we had made, and which he did not deny might perhaps have been worth making for the great end sought to be gained by the Convention. Still we ought to have our quid pro quo. He quite admitted that we had made very considerable sacrifices, but he would not deny that if we obtained the supreme end sought—namely, perfect immunity from that perpetual scaremongering and worry on the Indian frontier I consequent upon the overshadowing of the Russian Colossus—these sacrifices, great as they were, need not count for much. He was prepared fully to endorse every word of the Convention on that condition. But the question was: Had we secured this great object? He believed that the British sphere on the south-east raised an effective barrier against any aggression along the line of Seistan and Kandahar, and no doubt that was of vital importance—if Russia kept to her bargains. But there was a dangerous corner away on the extreme north, to the south of the Russian railway lines. That corner was peopled by three or four tribes—the Usbegs, the Jamshudis and others—who were non-Afghan but they were subjects of the Ameer Although they were his subjects—and we were largely responsible for that—those tribes were notoriously hostile to the Ameer. What would happen in case these tribes caused a rising on the Russian side? What would this country do? Disturbances might arise which would land them in warlike operations. It was a great pity that in this Convention, as a supplementary document, some means were not taken and put on record by which, should such disturbances arise, some authority should be empowered, by agreement of the two contracting Powers and the Ameer, to intervene and settle them. Failing such an arrangement a collision between Afghanistan and Russia might be precipitated and the old nightmare be revived. That was a danger zone to which he desired to call attention. But, after all was said and done, he thought these territorial guarantees for the security of our position on the shores of the Persian Gulf and for the peace of India were, on the whole, 543 very poor substitutes for what he considered was the only safe and permanent guarantee they ought to have, and that did not lie in conventions, but in the great democratic movement now in progress in Russia. They could not expect the Russian people while they were "cribbed, cabined, and confined" under an autocrat, to have the power to dictate the foreign policy of Russia. The people of Russia were now plodding on with great difficulty towards constitutional government, and when once they got hold of the purse strings of the nation they could then restrain the aggressive tendencies of the Czar and his grand dukes by simply refussing the necesary supplies. He hoped the British people and, on opportunity occurring, the British Government would give all the support they could to the great democratic movement now in progress in Russia.
§ MR. LYNCH (Yorkshire, W.R., Ripon)
said he certainly took no pleasure in the ungrateful task of criticising a Government with whose general aims in the spheres of domestic, fiscal, and foreign policy he was in hearty agreement. It had been truly said by a newspaper, which was stalwart in its support of the Government, that one of the greatest assets of the present Government with the public at large was the belief that it could be trusted as much as any Government which had recently held office to guard the interests of the Empire. Certainly in his own constituency this view of the duty of any Liberal Government had constantly been emphasised; and they had always repudiated with warmth the imputation that it formed any part of the Liberal creed to belittle the importance to a nation situated like our own, of those great over-sea interests, upon which our population and the development of OUT national wealth depended, and which were the natural outlet for the energies of our countrymen. But Liberalism had another and a not less important side. Whenever a people were engaged in a struggle for freedom, or in other words, in a struggle after self-realisation, they always felt that England, and especially the Party to which he had the honour to belong, would take their part and sympathise with them, and if circum- 544 stances permitted, convert that sympathy into practical support. The question of British interests as they might be affected by this Convention had been well discussed that evening, and in another place. But very little reference had been made to its effect upon the destinies of the smaller nations which formed the corpus vile of the experiments and dispositions. The question they had to consider had two sides. First, would the Convention benefit, or was it likely to prejudice, our own direct interests, political and commercial, in the countries affected? Secondly, was it framed in the true interests of those countries themselves? He had travelled extensively in Persia and the adjacent countries. He came of a family the members of which, either as servants of the Crown or as private citizens, long resident in the East, had laboured each in their own sphere for three generations to build up the British position in Western Asia. He, as the latest and humblest representative of that family, had done his best to carry forward this task, which kept him in daily touch with Asiatic affairs. As his name had been mentioned more than once, not only in the debate in another place, but also during the progress of this discussion, he should like to state to the House quite frankly the nature of his private interests in those countries. They consisted of internal communications—steamers on the great rivers and roads from the terminal stations on those rivers to the cities of the interior. He had no share, or none worth mentioning, in the export trade of this country to the East, which had passed by a natural process of evolution largely into the hands of native merchants, who had come over to reside in Manchester and other great manufacturing centres, and who consigned the goods they purchased there to their relatives in the East. If as a result of this Convention the export trade of Great Britain and India to Persia, which already amounted to about £2,000,000 a year, and was capable of almost indefinite expansion underwent a considerable shrinkage in favour of Russian trade, then he presumed that these native merchants would migrate from Manchester to Russia, and Russian trade instead of British 545 would flow over communications he had mentioned, which it was true, were specially designed to serve the interests of British commerce, but which, being main arteries of traffic, would be of use to any other Power which might step into our shoes. His friends and he had been concerned in the construction of three roads in Persia. Two of these three roads—namely, those from Kum to Tehran and from Kum to Sultanabad—had been placed from end to end by the two right hon. Gentlemen sitting below him in the Russian sphere of influence. The terminus of the third road across the mountains to Isfahan had been treated in exactly the same way, and yet the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs had stated in the present debate that under this Agreement we had given up nothing which was not gone before, and that we had given up merely trading possibilities. But these were solid assets of British commerce in the country. Let the House mark this. Though existing concessions were safeguarded in the Convention, any further facilities on these routes, as for instance, the laying of a light railway, must, he imagined, be obtained through Russia. Surely, the tendency would be that these British enterprises would in time become Russian, and that he thought would be bad for British and Indian trade. Emphasis had been laid on the fact both in the debate in the House of Lords and in that House, that the Convention had received the approval of the directors of the Imperial Bank of Persia. They might be quite right. From the point of view of finance, they might be fully justified. He would be inclined to share their view so far as any pecuniary interests of his own were concerned. They were no doubt safeguarded by the Convention, but that was not precisely the spirit in which his friends and himself had worked. He could honestly say for himself that he had not touched one single penny, whether in the shape of fees or dividends or anything else, in connection with any of those enterprises in Persia. At the outset he arranged with the Foreign Office, and at the instance of the Foreign Office, that the revenues of the principal road—a road of 270 miles across mountains, which he personally surveyed, and which 546 was constructed under his direction—should be collected and enjoyed by the semi-independent chiefs who ruled over that country. These revenues must now amount to a very considerable sum, as the trade had always been on the increase, and had very often doubled itself in successive years. All or nearly all of this trade, he hoped the House would bear in mind, was British or Indian trade—none of it Russian. He could only say for himself that if he had ever suspected that a Convention of this nature would receive the signature of British Ministers of the Crown, that trade route would never have been built. But to return to the twofold question with which he started, how did the Convention affect direct British interests, and was it framed in the true interests of the smaller nations with which it dealt? Persia was so much the most important subject of the Convention that he would not occupy the time at his disposal by commenting on the provisions concerning Afghanistan and Tibet. He would only say this about those provisions. In all of them there was no equality of stipulation as between ourselves and Russia. Could the Foreign Secretary show them in connection with the provisions relating to Afghanistan and Tibet anything which the Russian Government had conceded to us or given up to us except the undertaking not to break promises which Russia had already given to us not less than eleven times between 1870 and 1900? As regarded Tibet, it seemed to him that the hated yoke of China was still further rivetted upon that country, because by the Convention we agreed with Russia not to have any dealings with Tibet except through the Government of China. And as regarded Afghanistan it could scarcely be pleasing for the Ameer to see a line drawn across his western frontier to the Persian Gulf. But he would go on to Persia, for that was the portion of the Convention which was calculated to cause the gravest results. He would like to ask the House to consider what had been the trend of our policy in Persia. A distance of 2,000 miles separated the western frontier of our Indian Empire from the seaboard of the Mediterranean, and all this expanse of country was still held 547 by neutral and buffer states. It was the existence of these buffer states—Turkey, Persia and Afghanistan—which had enabled us to hold India with comparatively a handful of men. Our task had been to keep these buffer states on their legs, and to prevent them from becoming the prey of the great military Powers of Europe. Many Members of the House would perhaps remember how, when the Russians attempted to break into this series of buffer states through Armenia, Indian troops were called together. We practically announced our readiness to proclaim war, and Russia was prevented from permanently occupying any unit of that territory, which she temporarily occupied during the Russo-Turkish war. Of all these buffer states Persia was obviously the most important, as it was through Persia that the shortest road lay to the Persian Gulf. One great difficulty with all these states had been to keep them on their legs. We had had our difficulties with Turkey and with Persia. We had seen Russian predominance spreading itself: over Persia and Persia being drawn more steadily into the orbit of Russian in-fluence. Suddenly, by a lucky turn of the wheel, circumstances entirely changed. Two things happened—first, the Russians suffered defeat at the hands of the Japanese; secondly, Persia threw off the trammels of her ancient despotism, and made a serious endeavour to range herself on the side of reformed and progressive peoples. A peaceful revolution took place in Persia, and that it was peaceful was largely due to ourselves. Thousands of Persian refugees took shelter in our Legation at Teheran and at the Consulate at Ispahan. A Parliament was called together and still remained the focus of the reform movement. He had taken the trouble to inquire into the seriousness of that movement. He was given to understand by these whom he had always considered to be the best informed both in Persia and in this country that there were serious elements in the reform movement in Persia, and that if Persia was only left to herself with a reasonable chance she might be able to work out her own salvation. That peaceful revolution was proceeding apace when this Convention 548 was signed. The Convention divided Persia into what had been recognised in answers to questions across the floor of the House as spheres of influence. They had been told by right hon. Gentlemen that these spheres of influence might, under certain circumstances, even include the power to Russia to lease a certain portion of her sphere in the same manner that portions of Chinese territory had been leased. It was also, settled under the Convention how the revenues of Persia were to be dealt with as between the British and Russian financiers and that was, he supposed, the reason why British financiers were so well satisfied. It was true that the preamble of the Convention stated that the integrity and independence of Persia were to be respected. But Persians pointed out that similar formulæ had been used in respect to Egypt and Morocco. Could we wonder then that the Persian people were filled with horror at this Convention? Persian opinion was no longer inarticulate as it used to be. There were at present no less than ninety newspapers in Persia and forty-five of these were published in the capital. He would quote the following sentence from the principal daily paper published in Teheran. It said—Although the ostensible purpose of this Convention is to preserve the independence of Persia, yet those versed in political subtleties are well aware that whenever one of the Powers (the great Powers of Europe) has acquired influence, it has done so under cover of just such specious and plausible words. If these two Powers really desire the continuance of Persian sovereignty, there would really have been no need for such a Convention.These were the milder part of the series of articles. A well-informed Persian writer in a letter to Professor Browne, of Cambridge said—The action of England has alienated from her the good opinion and sympathy of all Persians. What the political object of England can be in making for the sake of Russia this great act of renunciation in Persia, only Sir Edward Grey knows. It passes our comprehension. Its immediate effect in Persia is, however, the complete destruction of the friendship which the Persians have entertained for the English.That he thought it was no exaggeration to say, was the opinion of quite nine-tenths of the educated people in Persia—not of the grandees, not of the people who might like to fish in troubled waters, 549 and to make capital out of the rivalry of two great Powers like Russia and England—the nature of which rivalry had been very well described by Lord Lansdowne—but by the leaders of the reform movement. He would give a concrete instance in order to make the House realise what this Convention meant to the Persians. Let them suppose that England was in the throes of a domestic revolution, and that Scotland and Wales were the counterparts of Russia and England. For the purpose of his illustration Scotland and Wales would have a population many times more numerous than that of England, and let thorn suppose that with overwhelming resources the two countries entered into a Convention for the maintenance of peace and order in portions of England which would be described as adjoining or in the neighbourhood of the Scottish or Welsh borders. The Scottish portion would come down to a line to include Liverpool and London, and on the Welsh side the line would run through Shrewsbury to Gloucester. The rest of England, including Birmingham, would be made into a neutral sphere. Then let them suppose that another neighbour, Ireland, were to land 25,000 men in the Scottish sphere—that was the number of the force with which Turkey had invaded Persian territory—and that the Scots were debating whether they should come down and turn the Irish out for the purpose of maintaining law and order. Let them suppose also that our treasury was empty, that we had no fleet, and that we had adopted the most modern ideas and disbanded our army. Such being the situation, we would be asked to work out our own salvation, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland being anxious, forsooth, to maintain our integrity and independence. That was not an exaggerated analogy of what was taking place in Persia. Surely, if there was a moment above all others when it was unwise to discuss spheres of influence it was now, when Persia was in so unhappy a position. After a time, when Persia was in full possession of her own powers of self assertion it might be all right; but at a critical time like the present it was most unwise to place half the country, 550 including the capital and all the centres of the reform movement, within the Russian sphere of influence. Revolutions could not be carried on with kid gloves; and a provision which made Russia the arbiter in so vas an area was tantamount to handing over the Persian reform movement to the tender mercies of a foreign despotism. If both parties had been sincere in their desire to maintain the integrity of Persia a much better and far simpler arrangement could have been made. What could have been more reasonable than that the two Powers should agree that in the critical condition of Persia, and for a definite period, neither would seek any concession without consulting the other; that in the event of Persia be unable to protect their subjects, they should confer as to the steps to be taken; that neither Power shold advance money to Persia without consulting the other, and that they should agree together as to the steps to be taken at Constantinople to prevent the violation of the Persian frontier. At this point the hon. Member suddenly interrupted his speech, having been given to understand that two right hon. Gentle-men desired to address the House.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR (City of London)
The hon. Gentleman had a right to speak on this subject, and I am sorry he cut short his remarks before he came to what I take to be the most interesting aspect of this debate—namely, the effect of the Agreement with Russia on British policy and British interests. I think everybody will admit that the debate to-night has thrown a light upon these questions which the debates in the other House had not succeeded in throwing upon them. The Secretary for Foreign Affairs has given an account of the policy of His Majesty's Government which we could hardly have collected from any study of the speeches of his colleagues in the other House. I do not in the least mean that there was any contradiction between the two, but there was certainly an emphasis on certain aspects of the question given by the right hon. Gentleman that we should never have conjectured from reading the utterances of his colleagues in another place. What does the right hon. Gentleman rest on in defending this 551 Agreement? He rests partly upon a ground in which he has our fullest sympathies, the ground, namely, of producing good relations between two great Powers who are neighbours in many parts of the world, and whose interests touch each other in more than one quarter of the globe. In the second place, he has, apart from those general considerations, rested the weight of his case entirely, or almost entirely, on strategical considerations. His view put shortly is this:—That the strategical gain of the Convention arranged with Russia is so important that the concessions which have had to be given in order that that gain might be secured have been well worth giving. A very able noble friend of mine earlier in the evening, and with an authority which I certainly do not possess of having travelled over the regions concerned, under-rated the value of the strategical gain which the Government have secured by this Convention. I am disposed to take on this particular aspect of the question a more favourable view either than my noble friend or than the right hon. Member for the Forest of Dean. The latter right hon. Gentleman quoted me as having advanced the opinion that the chief strategical danger to which India was exposed was an invasion from the region of the Oxus through the great ranges of the Himalayas. I have not had time to refer to the speech on which the right hon. Gentleman based that view, but I can hardly believe that I said that.
§ SIR CHARLES DILKE
said he had not put it crudely. He said that that seemed predominant with the right hon. Gentleman at that particular moment, on account of railways.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I am afraid I am not in a position to deal with the detailed suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman. But if any members of the present Administration have taken the trouble to read various documents which I left behind in the Defence Committee, they must be well aware that that does not represent any view I ever held. Though invasion from the region of the Oxus and Russian concentration railways on the Oxus undoubtedly are an element of great importance which 552 has to be considered, not less important is the possible danger which may arise to India from invasion through Herat and through Seistan. What is the character of the strategic protection which India now enjoys? It is not, obviously, in the number of troops which the two Powers can relatively command at home. Russia has a more numerous and greater army than Great Britain. The safety of India lies in the fact that before India can be touched any invading force has to go through a region of extraordinary natural difficulty, largely devoid of food, and defended by the most formidable natural bearriers. And so long as we can prevent those difficulties being surmounted in time of peace, so long in time of war we shall be relatively secure. But if we once allow the time of peace to be used to bring railways close up to the critical points of the great strategical bases created near our frontier, so long we shall be permitting that to be done which in time of war will give the masters of the great and numerous legions a very formidable advantage over those who command relatively few. I frankly admit that when the right hon. Gentleman comes down to the House and says categorically, as I understand him to-night, that he has given up what he recognises as great advantages in order that at no future time in a period of peace can a strategical railway be made towards Seistan, or anything be done which should turn Seistan potentially into a basis from which an attack could be made on India, I feel he really has obtained something for this country which has genuine strategic importance. I hope the right hon. Gentleman and the Government will feel that I have done full justice to that aspect of their argument, which I for one am the first to recognise. I do believe that the impossibility which now for ever bars the way of Russia in time of peace of doing anything to make Siestan the base of operations against India is a new and genuine addition to the defences of India. I cannot help wondering, however, whether it was not possible to have obtained that advantage at some less cost than the Government have thought necessary. I do not think the Secretary for Foreign Affairs has fully estimated the amount which he has given in order to obtain that advantage. Let 553 me briefly deal with what the right hon. Gentleman has given in his own opinion, and then the additional amount which he has given in our opinion. When the right hon. Gentleman reproaches my noble friend, who opened the case for us to-night in a speech, the concentrated power of which everybody recognises, with having asked hypothetical questions—after all, it is by asking hypothetical questions that you can really test the value of an arrangement of this kind. You must project yourself into the future, and say: "If this state of things, or that, occurs, shall we have gained or lost?" Only hypothetical questions are the true test and measure by which every diplomatist and statesman must measure arrangement made at the present time. Now consider the case of Tibet. It is quite true, as the right hon. Gentleman said, that nobody on either side of the House desires that we should mix ourselves up with the affairs of Tibet. It is quite true, as the right hon. Gentleman said, that on the first night of the debate in this House I observed that the less any British or Indian Government had to do with the internal affairs of that country the better. But is that a full justification of what the Government have done? I should be inclined to use almost the same language about Afghanistan, and yet nobody would pretend that our interests in Afghanistan are not greater than those possessed by Russia; and yet Tibet, which adjoins our frontier, has been provided for in this Convention as if it adjoined the frontier of Russia. I confess I cannot appreciate the grounds on which that policy is based. Let me put to the right hon. Gentleman just this I hope not unduly hypothetical question. If Tibet ever breaks one of the treaties she has made with us, or Tibetan subjects invade India, are we to be precluded by this Agreement from remedying the evils from which we suffer? Russia cannot suffer from Thibet in that way, because Russia is not in the same position geographically. But if I am 554 right in my reading of this Convention, we have to suffer anything from Tibet while Russia is left to suffer no such injuries, and yet we are precluded from remedy because we have deliberately tied our hands by this conpact with Russia. If I am right in my construction we are absolutely helpless in a case of that kind.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Yes, but if. Tibet does not carry out her treaty, I do not see how we are to make her unless we invade Tibet, and that if I mistake not, we are precluded from doing under this Agreement with Russia.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
If you are going to trust China to carry out Tibet's obligations with us you are trusting to a reed not merely broken, but a reed which has never been anything but broken. If Tibet is to insult us with impunity and our only remedy is to say to China: "Tibet has broken her treaty; see that Tibet carries out her obligations," our remedy is poor indeed. Before this Convention we were behind China. If Tibet refused to carry out a treaty, if China refused to compel Tibet to carry out a treaty, we were there with our power to see that our rights were respected. Let me turn hurriedly to Afghanistan. There are two quite separate aspects to be dealt with—the political and the commercial. We give the Russians power to deal with Afghanistan directly on everything which is local; we refuse to them any power to deal with Afghanistan on all matters which are not local but' which deal with general policy. But there is no definition in the treaty of local and political affairs. If our 555 object be to prevent all cause for controversy and difficulty between us and Russia, have we not left a most fruitful cause of difficulty and controversy by attempting no definition as to what distinguishes a purely local difficulty between the inhabitants on each side of the frontier and those other questions which involve larger issues? The right hon. Gentleman actually contemplates a period when it will be our duty to aid Russia to have commercial agents in Afghanistan. In that event may not a time come when Afghanistan will cease to have any efficiency as a buffer State? If you once allow the Russian commercial agent, who has always been indistinguishable from a Russian political agent, to have free access to all parts of Afghanistan, and contemplate a period when we are to assist the Russians to obtain this diplomatic service, I think the Government have gone rather out of their way to destroy the enormous importance and efficacy of that independent, isolated buffer State which was our great safeguard against political complications on the North-west frontier of India. On the political side there is a point touching Persia on which my noble friend put a question which the Secretary of State did not answer. My noble friend pointed out that in recent diplomacy it had become usual for great European Powers to lease for long periods portions of the territory of countries whose integrity they desired to maintain. If Persian integrity is to be maintained by leasing Persian territory to Russia, it is quite evident that you may have a concentration of Russian forces in parts of Persia, not, indeed, adjacent to Seistan, but adjacent to Herat; and though I do not wish to exaggerate the dangers of an invasion of Afghanistan from the point of view of Herat, I do most emphatically say that invasion would be rendered incomparably easier if Russia were practically master under a lease of a great fragment of Persian territory abutting 556 on the north-western corner of the Afghan kingdom. A word upon the trade concessions we have made. When we turn to trade, surely the case is even worse. The right hon. Gentleman did not, I think, fully appreciate one of the arguments used by my noble friend. My noble friend pointed out that the termination of all the trade routes into Persia was in the Russian sphere of influence; but the full significance of that state of things cannot be appreciated until it is perceived that in order to make a trade route fully effective for trade purposes you must be able to improve communications either by roads or by railways. Neither roads nor railways will ever be made on the termination of these British trade routes, simply because they are British trade routes within the Russian sphere. Russia is a jealous commercial Power. She has a keen appreciation of the value to her of neutral and foreign markets; she will use every legitimate means within her power to prevent any British goods whatever coming within her sphere of influence. If you are dealing with a Power which holds these views and give that Power complete control over the termination of all your trade routes, it is clear that any improvement of those trade routes never will take place within any conceivable historic period. The whole of Russian influence would be used to prevent the improvement of the trade routes by which British imports can rival Russian imports, and as you give them the sole right to make any concession to make roads or railways it is quite obvious that, in so far as any portion of those trade routes runs within the Russian sphere, they will never get beyond the semi-barbaric condition in which Persian civilisation has left them. That is the argument which the right hon. Gentleman has not met, and has not, I think, thoroughly understood. I should have doubted whether the right hon. Gentleman is right when 557 he says there is no power of putting differential tolls or taxes upon British goods; but if he has looked into that matter I do not desire to press him further. I must ask one question about the commercial aspect of the Afghanistan part of the Agreement. I am unable to understand this aspect of the Agreement. Afghanistan is not in any sense a portion of the British Empire, but, as has been pointed out, it has always been admitted to be within the British sphere of influence in a special and peculiar degree. What have we done? We have not merely stipulated that Russia is to have every advantage in Afghanistan that we get for our trade—a quite unnecessary stipulation as far as I can see—but the Government have not been content with giving that equality; they have gone really further, because if the words of the treaty are to be interpreted literally, while we are obliged to give Russia, or to induce the Afghans to give Russia every privilege that they give to us there is no reciprocal or corresponding provision in the treaty.
§ SIR EDWARD GREY
We engage to use our influence with the Ameer to secure that any facilities given to British traders are to be given to Russian traders. The reciprocal obligation would have been that Russia was to use her influence with the Ameer to secure for us that facilities which are given to Russian traders shall be given to British traders. That would be putting them on an equal footing with us. But we look to ourselves with the Ameer. It is our business to secure from the Ameer any concessions which he gives to Russian trade; it is not Russia's business to secure them for us.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I still think after that explanation that the language of the Convention is infelicitous. The words are these—And they agree that any facilities which may have been or shall be hereafter obtained 558 for British and British-Indian trade and trailers, shall be equally enjoyed by Russian trade and traders.There is nothing there about using our influence.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I do not press the matter, because I agree that things will have got to a very strange pass if the Russians have commercial privileges in Afghanistan which we do not possess. But when I come to the next point I do not think, judging from the right hon. Gentleman's speech, that he will have an answer which even he thinks can be satisfactory. Afghanistan, from the very nature of the interruption which the right hon. Gentleman has just made, stands in a perfectly peculiar and special relation to us, as nearly being a part of our Empire as an independent State can be. We promise that every privilege we get in Afghanistan shall be shared by Russia. Russia is not asked to give any corresponding privilege. There is no suggestion that they should offer any corresponding privilege in Central Asia or the parts of their territory which abut and border upon Afghanistan. How on earth is it to be justified? However much we differ on the fiscal questions and how the commercial difficulties of this country are to be met, every human being will agree as to the importance to the manufacturing nations of the world to have neutral markets on which to place their goods. Why on earth we should give up a market which we may control and get nothing in return for it seems to me to be utterly inexplicable. I do not press the point further. I desire to have a full reply from the Secretary for India. I will only sum up by saying that the Government have obtained a real and substantial gain in the arrangements they have made with regard to Seistan, but when I look to what they have given 559 in Tibet, in Afghanistan, and in Persia, while Russia has given absolutely nothing in return except the privilege of making an extremely costly railway which might be a menace to India, it seems to me that, anxious as I am to be on the best terms with the great Powers of Europe, and desirous as I am to have friendly relations with Russia, I cannot regard the Agreement for which the Government are responsible as one in which they have scored a great diplomatic success, although it carries with it substantial advantages, which may, and I hope will, carry in addition some augmentation of that friendly feeling which is the great security of peace and goodwill among those who lead the civilised nations in Western Europe.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR INDIA (Mr. MORLEY,) Montrose Burghs
There are one or two preliminary points that I would like to mention. This Convention is undoubtedly first and foremost an Indian treaty, and I do not believe that Lord Curzon went a step too far when he said the other day that it was, I think, the most momentous instrument that had ever been framed in connection with the great problems of the British position in Asia. After consultation with all those who have expert knowledge and great responsibility for Indian government, my own view is—and it is shared by the rest of the Government—that in reference to this great frontier of Persia, Afghanistan, and Tibet, it is an enormous gain for the great purposes of Indian government that this Convention should have been reached. The right hon. Gentleman has admitted the point made by the Foreign Secretary as to Seistan. The right hon. Gentleman admits that the strategical gain is an enormous one. But he asks us, "What is the cost?" and he fastened upon the Tibet portion of the Agreement. But what did the noble Lord who moved this Motion say about Tibet, speaking to his constituents 560 last November? His words brush away all the argumentation of the right hon. Gentleman—That part of the Convention that refers to Tibet does not call for any comment from me. Whatever may be thought of the policy adopted by the late Government, it was a policy that was very carefully considered, and that was accepted by both sides in Parliament, and the present Convention does very little more than endorse its leading propositions.
§ MR. MORLEY
Why, then, did the noble Lord tell his constituents that he was merely putting the negative aspect of the case, and that there was something positive that would give an entirely different appearance to the facts? I do not think that will do. The noble Lord the Member for Hornsey has referred to our withdrawal from the Chumbi Valley. Has he really satisfied himself as to the specific conditions of our withdrawal from the occupation of the Chumbi? The first was that the indemnity should have been punctually paid in three years; the next was that the trade marts should have been effectively opened: and the third was that the other conditions of the Lhassa Convention should have been fulfilled. How could we have remained in the Chumbi Valley; with what face could we have confronted Russia or any other Power? The three instalments had been paid; the trade marts were effectively opened, though certain further-revised regulations were to be made; and the third condition had been fairly fulfilled. Therefore we were bound, if we were to face Russia or to maintain our own self-respect in Asiatic politics, to come out of the Chumbi, and come out we have. The right hon. Gentleman has talked a great deal about leasing. Does he realise that there is no novelty in the facilities for leasing dealt with at all by the Convention? If it is possible now, it was possible before. That was a 561 point which the right hon. Gentleman dwelt on without really good effect. The real point, from my point of view, and without in the least departing from the view expressed with such eloquence and power by the Foreign Secretary on the European and international aspect of the Convention, but regarding it from the Indian point of view, the Convention is pure gain. Difficulties may arise. They arise in all treaties. There never was a treaty made which did not contain what the right hon. Gentleman complains of in this Convention—ambiguities. They all contain ambiguities. Difficulties may arise in the construction of some clauses of this Convention. That is inevitable. I would like to say a word about the fact of this Motion having been made. I am not a sworn admirer of the proceedings in another place, but I do submit that it was a far better course for the critics, I will not say the assailants, of the Convention in another place to move, or not to move as it happened, for Papers. But the noble Lord has put down on the Paper of this House, and the right hon. Gentleman the leader of what has been a powerful Party has supported, a formal Motion. I do not think anything would terrify those two Gentlemen so much as the carrying of that Motion.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
It is a mere question of procedure. I have not the least desire to press a Motion of this sort on the House. But in another place they can deal with questions of this kind in a looser manner than we can, and, if moving for Papers would do, I would substitute that Motion at once. It was right to discuss the Convention, and all I wanted was to find the most innocuous form of Motion possible. I have not the least desire to divide, and I do not mean to divide the House.
§ MR. MORLEY
I am very pleased to hear the statement of the right hon. Gentleman. He is too responsible to 562 take any action which would seem to disparage this treaty, and, above all, any action which would give a support to those persons and those influences in Russia which are not altogether in love with the treaty. What is vital, and I am glad to think that both in another place and here there is no doubt about if, is that both sides of the House, responsible leaders sitting on that bench and on this, are agreed, and that when Gentlemen opposite come into office they will observe the terms of the treaty.
§ MR. MORLEY
Of course, to us here that is perfectly obvious. We know it; but what is very important is that foreign Powers, who do not understand our procedure as well as we know it ourselves, should see that the fact of an important Member of the Opposition putting down a Motion disparaging the treaty really does not convey any serious consequences as to the future policy of this country. The noble Lord the Member for Hornsey, who has spent ten years, I think he said, amongst Asiatics, said the thing you want above all others is prestige. I put to the noble Lord and to the House this point. Do you think that the prestige of European Powers was furthered by the spectacle which has gone on for so many years in Persia—squalid rivalry between Russia and England about telegraph posts, about loans, and other things? Prestige I cannot imagine a spectacle less calculated to impress those weaker Powers, those backward populations; with the virtues of European prestige. And for my part I think one of the most admirable parts of this Convention is the Persian part. It is quite true that my hon. friend the Member for Ripon has made a case in one or two details. But think what the change is. We now have got Persia herself, weak and rather distracted as she is by constitutional struggles, free from that squalid and mischievous rivalry, and you 563 have these two great European Powers no longer rivals—I had almost called them confederates—in the sterilization of anything like moral progress or material progress in Persia. That is the broad answer that I would make to all those detailed criticisms. When you look at the thing as a whole, when you look at the Persian part of it as a whole, I submit that it is an Agreement that this country may not only be contented with, but proud of. My right hon. friend the Member for the Forest of Dean drew attention to a point about the difference between the words "Convention" and "Agreement."
§ SIR CHARLES DILKE
I said I assumed, in the absence of a reply, that the consent of the Ameer applied to the whole of the five Articles.
§ MR. MORLEY
My right hon. friend spoke of the Ameer, and said the Ameer had his own difficulties. The Government have been blamed because they did not ask the assent of the Ameer during the course of these negotiations, before the negotiations took the form of a signed Convention. It was impossible. Anybody who has had to do with the most humble negotiations knows that it is impossible to foretell what precise terms negotiation may take. We are asked: Why, when the Ameer was in India, did not you take that opportunity of discussing all these proposals with him? The answer to that is most plain. The Ameer made it part of his bargain almost—if I am using Court language—that no politics should be talked when he came into India. And by very specific instructions no politics were talked. But the impression of all those whom he saw in India—and I have read reports from a great many—was that he was a man of great tact, of great sagacity, and, in short, that he had the qualities for a ruler 564 in a difficult situation. I would beg the critics of this Convention not to quarrel with us because there is some delay in the assent which the Ameer is asked to give to this Convention. We are bound to get his assent, and from all I can gather I am confident that within a given time we shall have that assent. The hon. Member for Ripon complained that we could not lay light railways along the roads. But Persia has already promised for a term of years not to give railway concessions to anybody. Therefore my right hon. friend the Foreign Secretary was right when he said we have given up nothing that there was any probability of our getting. The hon. Member spoke of leased ports. There are no leased ports in the Russian sphere.
§ MR. MORLEY
My answer to that is that it is neither more nor less likely than it was before this Convention. I will not detain the House a moment longer. When we consider the admirable language in which Lord Lansdowne, in another place, expressed his hopes and belief in this Convention, and when we take the language used to-night by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, I think His Majesty's Government and the country have reason to congratulate themselves upon this arrangement being made, and the foreign Powers concerned, whether the Ameer or other potentates, may know that what we have undertaken will be faithfully observed and carried out.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.