§ Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question proposed [27th November], "That the Foreign Policy of His Majesty's Government be now considered."—[Sir Edward Grey.]
§ Question again proposed. Debate resumed.
§ Sir HENRY NORMAN
The discussion of Foreign Affairs is always a delicate and responsible task. It is perhaps more so to-day because we do so little of it. If we talked more openly about our relations with foreign nations, perhaps what our foreign policy would lose in mystery it might gain in ease. Statesmen and Members of Parliament of a previous generation did not hesitate to discuss openly, both in this House and in their constituencies, this class of political problem with much frankness and freedom. We have rather drifted, I think by our own fault, or rather the fault of us on the Back Benches, into general acceptance of the view that foreign affairs are a kind of holy enclosure, in which only the diplomatic hierarchs may enter, and from which the profane are solemnly warned away. It is a recent development, brought about by our own fault, and one, I think, of doubtful benefit. This does not mean, of course, that actual negotiations with foreign Powers, of grave import and far-reaching con sequences, might profitably be conducted in the full blaze of daily publicity. The complaint of secrecy under such circumstances is wholly unreasonable. The Government could not even buy a piece of land if it were compelled to negotiate in public, and, to compare small but important things with great, such negotiations as have recently been carried to a successful issue by the Board of Trade between the railway companies and the representatives of the railway men could not possibly have been carried to that successful issue if every detail of them had been made public. Still less 2544 does it mean the ingenious suggestion I saw made by an hon. Member of this House that the Foreign Office should issue a weekly bulletin on its relations with foreign Powers—I suppose every Saturday. The Foreign Office acts on the responsibility of the Government. When the country and this House have given their confidence to the Government they entrust to it, among other things, the direction and control of our relations with foreign nations, and safeguarding our interests in foreign affairs. Their control, as I understand it, is limited to general principles and to criticism of the result, and if the result of those negotiations does not meet with the approval of the House and the country, then the only alternative is for them to secure another Government whose conduct would meet with approval. Nobody who has ever had even a glimpse behind the scenes in foreign affairs could suppose the Government could take this House into its confidence at every stage of its negotiations with a foreign Power. This reservation only applies to details of negotiations while in progress. When the result, for good or for ill, is reached, settled, and signed, then I believe it is strictly constitutional that the Government should take the country fully into its confidence, and a demand that the Government should lay Papers on the Table is a legitimate and proper course for this House to take. I trust, therefore, that the Government, without unavoidable delay, will lay Papers on the Table concerning the negotiations with foreign Powers which have recently come to a conclusion. It is stated that the French Government is about to issue a Yellow Book containing some four hundred documents. I trust that our own Government will follow a similar policy and enable us to judge on the course of those negotiations in which we claim so vital an interest.
We much appreciate the willingness and generosity with which the Prime Minister has met our request for an opportunity for a full discussion on Foreign Affairs, and I do not think he has any reason to regret his action. We have tapped the barometer a good deal, and I may say that the tapping of the barometer is a scientifically justifiable thing, for without it you cannot get a correct reading. When it has any result at all, it can only be to show a higher glass. It has been so in this case. The speeches of the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary—in spite of his humorous protests at 2545 Plymouth, I submit that that is the correct and time-honoured short title of his office—and of the German Chancellor, have cleaned the slate, if they have not written anything new upon it. Our friendship with France emerges stronger from the strain to which it has been subjected. Our relations with Germany may now become anything that the two nations may desire to make them, and we are relieved from the loose talk of imminent war. If the situation in Persia is not free from grave anxiety, it is at least less alarming than it was, and we may before this Debate is concluded, have from the Foreign Secretary, in the statement which we understand he proposes to make, some assurance that there is a prospect of a solution not repugnant to our national sentiment. Nothing would be gained, I think, by discussing in detail Persian affairs an hour or two before we are in possession of the new facts.
Moreover, the feeling of this country on the matter has become sufficiently clear. We rejoiced in the Anglo-Russian Agreement of four years ago, because it put an end to a long period of covert and overt hostility between us and Russia; because it ended permanently the question of Afghanistan, which was an ever-recurring occasion of dispute and danger; and because it guaranteed, as we thought, the independence of Persia on lines which, if not wholly satisfactory, were probably the best that could be secured. It has been, therefore, with universal distress that this country has witnessed action by Russia which certainly appears to threaten the independence of the Persian nation, and to evoke dangerous unrest in that part of the Mahomedan world in which we are so deeply concerned. Persia, we know, is in a state of political and administrative chaos. It is even difficult to see how she can evolve a stable government of her own without foreign political aid. Meanwhile British trade—and I may add especially Lancashire trade—is suffering severely. We wholly fail to understand the motives of Russian action, or how it can be reconciled with her treaty obligations, and we shall warmly welcome a statement of our attitude from the Foreign Secretary, so far as that can properly be made to us, and we earnestly hope he may be able to tell us that the Russian assurances, to the effect that her armed occupation of Persia is temporary, and that she strictly adheres to the terms of the Anglo-Russian agreement, which 2546 have reached us from unofficial sources, accurately represent the Russian official view. One other observation only I will make about Persia. It is this. It is obviously an extremely difficult and delicate question; possibly the most difficult and delicate question which the right hon. Gentleman has had to deal with during his tenure of office. I do not understand the attitude of those critics of the Foreign Secretary who have blamed him on the one hand for his willingness to go great lengths in support of one agreement to which we were parties, and on the other hand censure him for not instantly declaring his readiness to go to great lengths in defence of another agreement. The right hon. Gentleman might be excused for thinking that to such critics nothing he could do would be right. If they mean that the Government should at once have declared that it would regard the presence of Russian troops in Persia as a casus belli, they should say so. If they do not mean that, then it is only fair they should remember that our diplomacy has contributed to a peaceful and satisfactory settlement of one grave international situation, and they should be willing to believe, in the absence of facts to the contrary, that the Government is doing its utmost, in the same spirit, to secure an identical solution in the other case. Still less do I understand the action of hon. Gentleman in this House, and gentlemen outside, in cabling to the President of the United States urging him to take action in direct conflict with the policy of our own Government. I cannot help thinking that President Taft, from that message, must have had a curious notion of our British political system.
But all matters of foreign politics are relatively unimportant beside the matter of our relations with the German Empire. On that everything else depends—our social welfare at home and our commerce abroad. Given friendly relations with Germany, there is hardly anything else in the world to cause us anxiety. A war with Germany would plunge both nations into a gulf whose depth no man knows, and of which no man can say how or when we should emerge from it. Happily, all immediate danger is over, and we start with a clean slate, with nothing in the nature of secret treaties written on the dark side of it. The policy and the action of the Government have, as I have said, largely contributed to a solution which appears fairly to have met the demands of both France and Germany and has kept 2547 peace in the world, and it would be only a very grudging spirit which caused us to fail to recognise and appreciate that fact. For my own part, I do not see what other course of action the Government could have pursued. It is true that the Anglo-French Declaration of 1904 professed to safeguard the authority of the Sultan of Morocco, and that the Act of Algeciras two years later reaffirmed the Sultan's sovereignty and declared the principle of the independence of his Empire. But whether we like it or not, there are greater forces in the world than the declarations of great Powers. Morocco is far from being the only example of that. In 1902 we ourselves and Japan mutually recognised the independence and territorial integrity of Korea. Eight years later Japan annexed it. All Europe once guaranteed the integrity of Turkey, and has been looking on at its gradual dismemberment ever since. There are other examples. Morocco is only the latest. Indeed, in view of the lessons of history, I can imagine a country surrounded by great Powers saying to them, "Do anything with me that you will except one thing. In Heaven's name, do not make a treaty guaranteeing my independence!"
Be that as it may, an independent Morocco has gone, and, for my own part, I am thankful. For generations the hideous anarchy and savage misgovernment of a fertile land lying at our very doors were a disgrace to Europe, and I am amazed that the long catalogue of Moroccan horrors and crimes appears to be so completely forgotten. That Morocco should now come under the good government of the country which has transformed the pirate State of Algiers into the French department of to-day is a gain to humanity, and we need shed no tears over the loss of a freedom to rob, to mutilate and to slay. A peaceful solution has been reached, and no possible good purpose can be served by raking over the hot ashes of an extinct controversy. But if the future is to be different from the past, it is imperative for us to try to understand how Germany regards our attitude—to put ourselves in the other man's place, which is always supposed to be a very difficult thing for an Englishman to do. The first fact we must recognise is a very unpleasant one, namely, that public opinion in Germany is to-day more hostile to us than it has ever been before. Sir Frank Lascelles, recently the British Ambassador in Berlin, has said that Anglo-German 2548 relations are worse to-day than he has ever known them. To take one other example among many, a well-known German publicist, Herr Stoffers, who has been for years one of the most prominent and staunch supporters of Anglo-German friendship, wrote these words a month ago:—You know that for years and years I worked hard for the promotion of goodwill and friendship between the two nations.… It is with the greatest regret that I have resolved to give up all further endeavours to promote that end, as of no avail.… Your interference has alienated our two peoples to a degree which, in my eyes, has overstepped the danger zone. The estrangement is irreparable.We have hardly a friend left among the public men of Germany.
May I rise to point out to the hon. Member that Herr Stoffers has gone back upon that statement, and has said that he was suffering at the time from a little temporary despair, and that nothing in the nature of the abandonment of his good efforts would take place.
§ Sir H. NORMAN
I am very much obliged to my hon. Friend for interrupting me. I am sure that what he has said will have been heard with the greatest satisfaction in this House. But it at any rate leaves my point largely unimpaired, that Herr Stoffers and many another German did hold that feeling of temporary despair. Even the German Chancellor himself, the tone of whose speeches about this matter I feel sure every Englishman who has read them must warmly appreciate, has said:—We are living now in an atmosphere of passion such as we have perhaps never before experienced in Germany.I think we may say it is fortunate for the world that Germany had a strong Emperor and a strong Government, otherwise, because of that wave of popular passion and temporary despair, war might have been sweeping over Europe to-day. This is a most grave situation, even making all allowance for the fact, as the German Chancellor himself added, that a good deal of this passion has been brought to boiling point in Germany for party purposes. To what is such a situation due? To answer this question correctly seems to me to be the first step towards improving that situation. I have spent happy and profitable years in Germany. Perhaps as no one else has done so, I may venture for a moment to try to answer that question in some degree. A French pessimist writer once explained his own unhappiness by the remark, "I came too late 2549 into a world too old." The uneasiness of Germany is fundamentally due to a somewhat similar cause. She entered the world as a great and united nation, conscious of her own strength, proud of the proof she had just given of it, so late as to find almost all the best parts of the earth's surface already appropriated by other nations. That is due to no unfriendly influence on our part, but I think we, who have so large a place in the world, can at any rate sympathise with that feeling. Again, Germany is keenly and somewhat bitterly conscious of the fact that whereas since 1870 France has acquired an African Empire, she, the victor, had till now only secured a Colonial foothold here and there of no great value. Again, Germany considers that as, with the mightiest army the world has ever seen, she has not for forty years fired a shot in anger, whilst almost every other great nation has waged war, she has given solid proof of her love of peace, and she deeply regrets being regarded as a Power which is ever ready on slight provocation, or none, to draw the sword against its neighbour. To come down to the controversy of last summer, Germany felt affronted more than most of us imagine by learning, as she believed she did, by such utterances as the curious excursion into naval strategy of the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Captain Faber), that we were actually making preparations to attack her immediately by land and sea. An eminent German whose name, were I at liberty to give it, would carry great weight in this House, said to me only a short time ago, "In England nobody except your army knows what war is. We Germans still remember it, and for us war means that every able-bodied man must be ready to fight, and that there will, in the end, be a death or a cripple in almost every family. It is no light thing to us Germans to be threatened with war, and it will be long before we can forget it." Again, Germany takes it ill that we deliberately left her out of account when we agreed with France about Morocco, but that we menaced her publicly when she proposed to discuss Morocco with France. Proof of the first part she finds in Lord Lansdowne's covering letter in forwarding the Anglo-French Agreement of 1904 to the British Ambassador in Paris. Lord Lansdowne said:—His Majesty's Government have readily admitted that if any Power is to have a predominant influence in Morocco, that Power is France.Proof of the second part Germany finds, of course, in the speech of the Chancellor 2550 of the Exchequer. I wish to make my position perfectly plain. I am not criticising the policy of the British Government. I have already said that in my opinion the Government could not, under all the circumstances, have acted otherwise than as they did. I am only trying, however imperfectly, to set out the German point of view. Further, Germany was the more surprised at our attitude, because she considered that her action was in our commercial interest no less than hers. Again, she points to the facts for her justification. Under the Agreement of 1904 the open door in Morocco was secured for us for only thirty years. By the Franco-German Agreement it is secured for Germany and for ourselves for ever. In every German colony we trade freely. In every French colony our commerce is largely excluded by heavy duties. I am informed, I made inquiries on the point yesterday, and though speaking not with absolute certainty, I believe it to be correct, that a British ship which goes to Hamburg can proceed to German West Africa. A British ship which touches at Marseilles cannot go on to Algiers. Everyone in this country rejoices in the entente, with France, and nobody more than I. It has become a settled part of our policy, and none of us wish to see it weakened. But its existence affords no reason why we should be blind to these other considerations. Finally, Germany is acutely conscious of the economic fact that she must expand or contract in power and wealth—expand in the sense of finding raw materials for her manufactures and markets for her finished goods. There is every reason, it seems to me, on the chess-board of Europe why Germany will not go to war for territorial expansion in Europe, and there is little prospect of her gaining anything by war outside Europe that she could not gain by peaceful diplomacy, provided always that no other great Power blocks the way. But if, wherever Germany might commercially expand, she runs up against some political reason for her exclusion, then, I believe, she will certainly fight, and it is to fight successfully under such circumstances that Germany is building her fleet.
Such, however imperfectly put, are some of the feelings regarding ourselves and our policy which are universally prevalent in Germany to-day. Is there anything in them, I will not say to provoke war, but even to justify hostility between the two countries? We are bound to have Gentian commercial competition, and we, as the greatest commercial competitors in the 2551 world, have no ground whatever to resent it. To be quite frank, may we not say that if we were in Germany's place we should probably have precisely the same feeling that she has to-day? And if there is thus nothing inherently unreasonable or unjust in Germany's attitude, surely it does not bar our way to better relations with her. Of course, I know well there is ground for corresponding complaint on our part. We have had reason to resent her diplomatic action. We had grave reason at the time of the South African War, and we have had other reasons since. We have had reason to regret frequently the use that the German Foreign Office makes of the unofficial German Press. We may just as well speak frankly about these matters. Only within the last few days some German authority has been publishing to the German Press highly coloured accounts of what took place in the secret trial of alleged British spies in Germany, accounts calculated to inflame German opinion against this country. Of course, as Lord Morley said in another place, we are bound to take into consideration the rapid and vast growth of the German navy in our considerations of German policy. But neither is there here anything to bar the way to better things.
It is useless and undignified to keep on complaining that Germany has increased her navy. Germany is a great and independent Power and she will build just as many ships as she thinks necessary in her national interest. That is her affair, not ours. Our affair is to take good care that we build just as many ships as are necessary in our national interest, and, as an undefeated fleet is the condition of our very existence, it is a matter of sheer necessity that our ships should be greater in number and in power than the ships of Germany. Germany is a sensible nation. She must appreciate that point of view precisely as well as we do, and, as a brilliant friend of mine remarked to me a little while ago, Germany is the last nation in the world which ought to be affronted by candour, as it is certainly the last nation to be deceived by cant. I have never thought it a useful or a sensible policy to propose to Germany that we should both reduce our naval programmes, on the condition that our Fleet remains permanently much stronger than that of Germany. The only way by which we can lead Germany to take the step which will relieve both nations of the burden of ever-growing 2552 armaments is to convince her that our Fleet will never be used to prevent her expansion in any direction which is compatible with British interests and British honour. When Germany believes that, she will save herself and us many millions of pounds a year, but not till then, and I am sorry to say I greatly fear that time has not yet come.
In talking of Germany it is very easy, too easy, to be effusive about her, to dwell with enthusiasm upon the wealth of her literature, which has affected the taste and the knowledge of every educated person for a century, and the achievements of her science which touches every commercial process in the world, to envy her education and admire her social organisation, to wonder at her amazing progress. But the time is past when such observations as those will affect our political relations with her. We know well that there is in this country no feeling of hostility towards Germany. The German Emperor has only to appear in the streets of London to know it too. We know that, apart from imports of crude, raw material, like cotton, we do more trade with Germany, and she with us, than cither does with any other Power. We know that the entire British commercial community would warmly welcome improved relations with Germany. We are fully alive to the countless ties of interest and sympathy that unite the two people. But it can serve little purpose to-day to utter vague phrases of that kind, however true. The situation has got beyond what the Chinese call good words. It has got beyond exhibitions and tours and deputations. If there are to be better relations, as we all most earnestly desire, it can only be on the basis of frank speech, and, in view of all that has happened, I think we might, have the courage to be the first to speak frankly. The German Chancellor said, a week ago, thatthe actual development of good relations between our two countries will keep pace with the common desire for peace and friendship only in so far as the British Government is ready to give positive expression in its policy to its anxiety for such relations.Very well; let us give such positive expression. It will probably be charged against us we are yielding to pressure from Germany. Never mind. Let us have the courage, if necessary, to incur that sneer. Let us invite Germany to say, not in obscure metaphors, but in plain words, what it is that she wants and where we stand in the way—what precisely is the place in the sun from which she is excluded by our action? Of one thing, at 2553 any rate, she may be certain, and that is that any Government which did not regard with complacency, and even with goodwill, the expansion of Germany in any direction not threatening a vital British interest, would not have the support of the people of this country behind them. And as soon, as Germany has realised this, then the time will come for her and for us to remember, amid all the efforts and proposals to-day to substitute arbitration for war, that the first man to put forth a reasoned plea for that noble end was a German—the philosopher Kant in his tract entitled "Towards Eternal Peace."
There must be peace between us and Germany. War with her, as the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition so well said, is not inevitable; but can only be the outcome of human folly. Why, war for a generation was said to be "inevitable" between us and France; war for a generation was "inevitable" between us and Russia. We were to have war about Merv, Penjdeh, Fashoda, Siam, Newfoundland, and Venezuela. We look back and smile to-day at all these "inevitable" struggles of the past, and so we must be able to look back in the future in the same spirit to the "inevitable" war with Germany. As we have settled our difficulties with France and Russia, so diplomacy and goodwill should be able also to settle our difficulties with Germany.
Something bigger than diplomacy has already made one alliance between the two nations, namely, the imperative need of both that no open market shall be closed and that every new market shall be open. What folly of either country to attempt to cripple its only ally in securing this condition which is essential to its own prosperity! Our Protectionists are wise to be conscriptionists also, for a system of preferential tariffs throughout the British Empire would be more likely than anything else to cause Germany to draw the sword. Can it be the last word of civilisation that both nations have educated the masses of their people only to hurl them at each other's throats? Cobden once said that bad law comes first to the home of the working man, and so it is true that the spectre of war knocks first and loudest and last at the door of the little home. Germany has for years met her annual deficit by loans. The past political crisis was nearly a financial crisis for her also. She has descended so far as to tax matches and electric lamps. Our own Budgets depend upon 2554 peace, and upon our Budgets depends our social welfare.
There must be peace between us, for, in the memorable words of the Foreign Secretary, the cost of war, or even the preparation for war, will, if unchecked, submerge civilisation. Amid our own unparalleled prosperity, one person in every forty is a pauper, and one person in every sixteen lives in an overcrowded tenement. In our elementary schools, to use the official words, there is "a formidable category of disease and defect." The feeble-minded are allowed to poison our national blood. Urgent problems of education, housing, unemployment, and the Poor Law cry aloud for solution, and the national conscience is awake to the cry. But to deal with these evils will make great demands upon the national wealth, and we cannot deal with them and have war, or even an armed peace, as at present. The cost of a few destroyers a year would solve the problem of the feeble-minded. The cost of a cruiser a year would enable us to deal with our outcast class. The cost of a "Dreadnought" a year would soon pull down our slums. Unless we come to' an agreement with Germany, in a year or two we shall be spending £1,000,000 a week on our Navy alone. We are very near to that now. In a war with Germany—which would not be a duel, but, as the German Chancellor said the other day, probably a world war—£1,000,000,000 would be cast into the sea, and whichever nation was called victor, neither would regain in a century the opportunities it had flung away.
We are looking to-day at another nation, towards which our sentiments transcend mere friendship, pouring out its gallant manhood and its treasure for a possession of doubtful value—a place which is geographically part of the Sahara desert, whose trade routes have been diverted, and whose natural products have been superseded; and our fear, based upon our affection and upon nothing else, is that its hard won and honoured strength among the nations as a civilised and civilising Power of the world, may be drained away, like the Empire of its great ancestors, in those African sands. But we may take precisely the same lesson to ourselves. Unless there is peace between the Governments of Germany and Britain, if this insensate rivalry is pursued to the end, then the best hopes and the highest ideals of our common civilisation will disappear in the waters of the North Sea. "Nothing seems 2555 to me worth doing"—and the words will appeal with peculiar force to the Prime Minister, for they are the words of Jowett, of Balliol:—Nothing seems to me worth doing or leaving undone in foreign politics which does not prevent war.It may be that war will be forced upon us. But let us at least do all that men may do honourably to avoid it. The Prime Minister expressed more than the mind of the Government when he said that our national friendships are not of an exclusive or jealous character. I am sure it is the earnest intention and desire of the whole nation that its forces in foreign affairs should be directed in that spirit and to that end.
§ Lord CHARLES BERESFORD
I have listened very attentively to the most interesting speech of the hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir H. Norman), and with a very great deal of it I am in hearty, sympathy. I was very glad to hear him say that for his part he strongly supported the views of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, because I have always considered that all questions of foreign policy, and, indeed, all questions in which the Navy and Army are concerned, should be regarded as national, and totally devoid of party. I think that in the very difficult position the right hon. Gentleman was in when the slightest want of tact, the slightest want of firmness, and the slightest want of clearness, in the late crisis, might have brought about war, it was deplorable that there was anybody to find fault with what he did on that occasion. He did three things. He secured British interests, he maintained the treaties with foreign Powers, and he did more than that—he secured the peace of Europe. The hon. Gentleman opposite has clearly brought before the House our relative ideas as to Germany. There can be no doubt that it is better to be frank. There is a feeling in Germany of a very acute nature. I might say that the people are nearly at white heat. Why are they in that position? It is because, with regard to the conversations Germany had with Prance, we had to maintain the policy of looking after our own selfish interests. I am entirely in accord with the hon. Member when he says that there is plenty of room for Germany and for us as two great Empires in the world. I am entirely in accord with him that it would be very wrong for us in any way to interfere with the legitimate expansion of a great 2556 Empire like Germany, and I am also in accord with him when he says that we should be open, fair, and frank in our statements as to what we consider imperative to maintain British interests abroad. We should also do as the hon. Gentleman suggested—make it perfectly clear that our life depends upon command of the sea. There is no arrogance in that. There is no boast in that. There is no man in the whole of this country, no matter what his party, who can deny that that is a fact. But we can say that without being rude to Germany. We can make out what is necessary for the defence of the Empire as a whole without bringing in Germany at all. I object to these standards that are being laid down in regard to the building of fleets. These methods are irritating. We should make out—and it is perfectly possible to make out—what is necessary all round for our defence, and merely make public that we consider that necessary for our defence without these irritating comparisons being brought out as to what other countries are doing.
The hon. Gentleman said, clearly and plainly, that what Germany does is Germany's affair, and has nothing whatever to do with us. But our affair is to see that whatever she or any other nation builds, we are never in a comparative position of inferiority with regard to the defence of our Empire as a whole. I do believe it is possible that we can come to some big, bold and clear understanding with Germany as to what we consider necessary for our Imperial defence, independent of what she considers necessary for her interests. I agree with the hon. Member again that war between these two countries would be criminal. It would put back the whole civilisation of the world for a decade. [An HON. MEMBER: "More than that."] My hon. Friend says "More than that," and I agree with him. But what are we going to gain by that? Is there not room for both to live and to have regard to our respective interests without going at each other's throats? I calculated it out once, and brought it before this House, that I believe that if this country went to war with Germany and won, still it would cost us some £1,200,000,000 sterling, and I base my calculations not only on what it would cost us intrinsically for arms, ammunition, ships, and guns, but also on the question of the rate of insurance being prohibitive and our securities going down to zero, at the time when we want them high. Any- 2557 thing that a man can do in this country to stop war he should. But he must never forget the Imperial interests, the safety and honour of his country, which can be attended to without any of those comparisons at all with other countries. They have got the right to carry, out what proceedings they like.
I hope the Foreign Secretary will be able to in some way describe to us what he considers will be necessary for our defence as an Empire as a whole, and leave Germany out of it altogether. Let Germany pursue that policy which she considers right. Whilst speaking on the question of foreign policy, and without making anything in the nature of an attack, we may ask the question—and I hope that the Foreign Secretary will not answer it if it unduly hampers him in any way whatever. But there is a danger ahead. It would be very serious for this country if, during the wars or rumours of wars which are going on at present, the great Mahomedan faith should think we deserted them or did not respect them, or in any way did not sympathise with them in the troubles and the trials they are enduring. I hope the Foreign Secretary will clearly make it public that, though we may not be in a position to interfere—and I hope we shall not interfere—our sympathy with those great nations and that faith is not being ruined. If once they think that, and once there was that breach, it is impossible to say what would happen in our Empire. We are the greatest Mahomedan nation in the world, or the nation to which most Mahomedans owe allegiance. If there is anything in the nature of unrest or doubt of the old British raj, the least we should have to send to India would be 50,000 men, and the least we should have to send to Egypt would be 20,000 men. That is a point of military expediency. But even to do that would at once put into the minds of the Mahomedans that we were sending these men to keep them in order and overrule them. The question is very difficult and will require great tact, but I do not think there is any harm in some of us mentioning that this fact does exist, and our desire that this great fighting race, which at the present moment, both in India and anywhere else, we find good friends, and a most chivalrous lot of people, and depending on us to a great extent, should not for one moment think that we have deserted them in any way in their wars with the different countries by which they are at present attacked.
2558 With regard to France, we are glad to say that we are good friends, and I hope that we shall remain so, but I do not see why, as long as we lay down distinctly what our policy is with regard to the defence of the whole Empire, we should not be friends with all the other nations, adopting a dignified note, and a chivalrous line, without any swaggering, any arrogance or any of those sentences such as irritate nations, such as I noticed in one of the papers the other day—a deplorable remark about Germany, stating that the German Army was inferior to what it was in the old days, and that if it went into action it would have its officers with revolvers behind the men driving them into action. In the first place it is untrue, and even if it was true it was a monstrous thing to say about that nation. Where would we be if the German Press said that our Navy had deteriorated, that the men were cowards, and that the officers had to go behind them with revolvers to make them fight? Why it would make us feel just as the Germans do at present. The fault has not been all on one side. We have been wrong let us say, Germany has been wrong let us say; but let us, if we can, get rid of these irritations, stick to our defence, and try to bring these two nations together for the future. There is plenty of room in the world for both to encircle and expand, and it is the duty of everyone in this House, no matter what party he belongs to, to endeavour to bring about that state of affairs.
§ Mr. ATHERLEY-JONES
During the course of this Debate there have been, especially from hon. Members around me, some more or less well-grounded complaints as to lack of opportunities of informing this House and of considering the general lines of our foreign policy. I am very much disposed to agree with the view which has been expressed, with the greatest moderation that a little amplitude of our powers in respect of foreign policy, a little reversion to the old Parliamentary constitutional practice, might be resorted to by the Foreign Office at the present time. But I think it would be highly ungenerous of us, though we may make these observations, not to recognise that during a period of great anxiety in Europe, and I might say even beyond the confines of Europe, the present Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs has been able, without any injury to our prestige or any impairment of our material resources, to maintain unbroken the peace of this 2559 Empire; and that I think is no light tribute to pay the right hon. Gentleman. I have been for many years past in a very humble way a student of the foreign history of this country and I have listened to this Debate, so far as it has progressed to-night and on the last occasion, with a feeling, which I think was shared by all here, of great satisfaction. Almost every speaker on both sides of this House has declared his strong desire that good relationship should continue to subsist between Great Britain and the German Empire.
Fine words butter no parsnips. These benevolent expressions require to be fortified by diplomatic action. I listened with the greatest interest to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Sir H. Norman), and if I may venture to find a fault with it it would be to say that perhaps it was a little too pessimistic in tone. I do not pretend to have the same opportunities which he has enjoyed of conversations with the people of Germany, but such little as I have enjoyed and do enjoy confirm me in the belief that the German people, the German proletariat, as they have sometimes been called, are not animated with any feeling of animosity or resentment towards this country, and that the feeling of the German middle classes and the German working classes is one of anxious desire to maintain and consolidate friendship with this country. I pass from these general observations to what I conceive to be the real crux of the situation. I do not want to go back to the time of the annexation of Schleswig-Holstein, but during the last Administration, and, I am sorry to say, to a large extent during the present Administration, the attitude of the Foreign Office to the German Empire has been—I will not say one of marked unfriendliness—but one of a lack of conciliation; and if you want to see a tribute to that you can read it in the speeches of the German Chancellor and of the late German Colonial Secretary, and you can read not in what is called the yellow Press, but in the higher class publications of Germany. Look at it historically for one moment. I do not want to go back more than a decade. Not very long ago the German Emperor and the German Government, as is well known, were supporting the laying of a line of railway—I think it was called the Anatolian line—to Bagdad. At first that project met with a cordial welcome from the British Foreign Office. At first the English Government—it 2560 was the late Government—gave it its cordial approbation. To my mind, and that of many who are entitled to speak with far greater authority than I am, that railway, which would have its ultimate result probably in a connection between Turkey and India, would have been of stragetic value to Great Britain. It would have been a check in all probability upon what is now the obvious intention, veiled though it may be, of Russia—which had been shut out from the Mediterranean and from Manchuria—to get access, despite our attempted line—a mere imaginary line—of demarcation, to the Persian Gulf. But our Government suddenly turned round on that scheme. Germany is persevering in her project, and Germany is still carrying it out without any assistance from England and in spite of the disapprobation of England. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] And I have no hesitation in saying that that attitude and that action on the part of Great Britain produced resentment against the German Government and the German people. I am not speaking now without ability to refer to authority in support of what I say.
Now I turn to the Moroccan incident. I do not believe that the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs would for one moment suggest that Germany ever had any territorial designs upon Morocco. There is not a scrap of evidence in support of that idea. All the evidence is to the contrary. If you go back to the year 1880, speaking from memory, there was a distinct assertion on the part of Prince Bismarck that, so far as Germany was concerned, she was desirious that the Republic of France should have a free hand in Morocco. At that time Germany entertained no territorial designs in respect of Morocco. But let us pass on from that phase of the case. Nothing of moment occurred unless I mention en passant the Anglo-Turkish Agreement of 1887. I do not know what took place with respect to that Convention, or what passed between the Foreign Office and the other Powers. The Convention turned out abortive; but there is some reason to believe that during 1887 there was at any rate something in the nature of intercommunication between the Powers with reference to Morocco. At that time we merely sought to secure the neutralisation of Egyptian territory. During that Convention it was recognised, unless one is altogether incorrectly informed, that France should have a free sphere of action, 2561 not recorded in writing but generally recognised, and that the intention expressed by Prince Bismarck should be fulfilled and France given a free hand in Morocco. What took place after that? In 1904 we entered into a Convention with France, whereby we purported, in consideration of our having a free hand in Egypt, that France should have a free hand in Morocco. I really do not see where the consideration passed from France to us. Long anterior to that France had given up all idea of dual control in Egypt. When the Convention of 1887 turned out to be abortive, she recognised the position of England. I do not mean to say that she ever saved to herself resumption of the right to insist on intervention in Egypt, and really she did give up the right.
There was no reason under the sun, because France was no party to the treaties made at that time, why we should have imposed upon ourselves the embarrassing obligation of taking the part of alliance with France in respect of our territorial occupation. From the subterranean passages of diplomacy there has not yet emerged, as far as one can see, any reason for any such undertaking to be given to France. Then what took place? I do not refer to the German Emperor's visit to Tangiers, which was a dramatic incident. The next cardinal point was the Algeciras Treaty in which we definitely committed ourselves to the principle that there was to be no territorial annexation by France. France was not to take up a territorial position of sovereignty, or quasi sovereignty in Morocco. In 1909, Germany recognised France's freedom in Morocco, and con-jointed with her and the other Powers so far as commercial intercourse was concerned. May I ask the right hon. Gentleman this? Can it be disputed that France did assert territorial sovereignty. Can it be disputed that she did by overt acts of sovereign power attempt to assert territorial interest in Morocco? I do not think that can be disputed. What was the result? Germany, by the Algeciras Treaty, had secured to her free access for commercial purposes to Morocco. Germany, in view of France having taken up a position of quasi sovereignty in Morocco, took a certain step. I do not say it was a wise step; if I may respectfully say so, it was an unwise step to send a warship or a gunboat, or whatever it was, to Agadir. In view of what seemed a ludicrous proceeding, but was a dramatic 2562 proceeding, undoubtedly a provocative proceeding, but not a provocative proceeding to us, but a provocative proceeding to France, I ask what should have been the course of English diplomacy then?
We know that in the early days of July a communication was made by the German Government to our Foreign Office. We know that the matter was allowed to remain sub silentio for a period of two or three weeks, and then, coincident and contemporaneous with a conversation, I believe a formal conversation, between our Foreign Office and the German representatives, a speech was made at the Mansion House which I do not think anybody can deny was calculated to have a provocative tendency. I do not want to exaggerate in any way the effect of that speech, but this is what I want to ask, Why, instead of having resort to what I may call retaliatory and provocative measures, was it not possible for our Foreign Office to have said, "We understand your motives; we do not pay regard to flamboyant speeches of individuals or dramatic incidents. We know your intention is not to form a naval base. Obviously it was never the intention to take territorial possession of Southern Morocco. All we believe you desire is to secure the open door in Morocco, and we will help you to that end." I cannot see—and I say it with great respect and great humility—that there was any overt act. The form in which Germany asserted her desire was unwise, was imprudent, but I cannot see that there was any serious diplomatic act on the part of Germany which need have afforded the slightest uneasiness to the people of this country. All I have risen for in this Debate is to say one word, which I believe will be echoed upon the benches opposite and on this side of the House, as to the old traditional policy of distrust which shows itself in so many forms. Is it Tariff Reform—I only mention it by way of illustration—then it is Germany against which the assault is made, although the German tariffs are much lower than British tariffs. It is against that kind of feeling that I protest.
I believe our alliance with the Teutonic people, the people allied to us by race and by religion, to be the true principle of British foreign policy. Although nobody would at all wish to depreciate the advantages of an alliance with the French Republic, at the same time, the whole course of history, from the time of the Tudors to the present time, points to the fact that our true interests are associated with the 2563 Teutonic races of central Europe. Certainly, if one looks to the protection of our Indian Empire, one may say, and may well say, that if aggression may come from certain quarters—if not immediate and direct it will be mediate and indirect—help would be afforded by an alliance and by cordial friendship between Great Britain and Germany. Something has been said about shipbuilding. Whatever may be the reason of that, Germany has no desire for territorial acquisition. Her population is not a colonising population, and I think I am not wrong in saying that over 40 per cent. of the German population are a rural population. German manufacturers find plenty of room for people displaced from the rural districts. Emigration from Germany has decreased, and not increased in recent years. There is no reason whatever to suppose that Germany has any ambition, so far as her fleet is concerned, for a multiplication of naval bases, which would be a disaster to her. She wishes to keep her fleet at home, not for offensive, but for defensive purposes. The policy of provocation which has been pursued for many years past by the Government towards Germany is a policy which is calculated to promote the building of ships and to bring about that very calamity which it is most wished to avoid.
§ Mr. AUBREY HERBERT
I rise with very great diffidence to address the House on this question after so many experts have discussed it. I possibly can claim one advantage over hon. Gentlemen who have spoken on the Persian question in that I have had the advantage of being wrecked in the Persian Gulf, and of recovering from typhoid on the Pearl Islands of the Persian Gulf. In those circumstances one had, of course, a certain amount of time to turn one's attention to local affairs. Of course, it is not necessary to go to the Persian Gulf to know what is done there. We have done a very great deal. We have spent a great deal of money; we have sacrificed a number of lives, we have made the high seas safe, and I think we have set up a standard of positive justice. But there are still one or two things which we have not done. We have never made our position in the Persian Gulf really clear. Our position has always been indefinite in regard to the islands of Bahrein and Muharrak. That is not a good thing for us and not a good thing for the inhabitants of Bahrein, and it is not a good thing for 2564 the people of the Turkish Empire. In regard to these two islands on the west coast, the Sublime Porte has claimed them as an integral part of the Ottoman dominions, but it was insisted by the Government of Teheran that they belonged to Persia. The people of those islands are very versatile, and, in fact, there has been such a confusion of thought in the past as to the status of those islands that one chief, to be on the safe side, flew the British, Ottoman, Persian and Arab flags. His Majesty's Government, while deposing one ruler and setting up another, has not taken the requisite steps to regularise such action. I will not weary the House with the long and turbulent history of the islands. It is sufficient to say that in 1860 we deposed Sheikh Mohammed, and that at the desire of the inhabitants, Her Majesty's Government made Sheikh Isa Ben Ali their ruler. We have recognised, and we have limited, his power, and in 1902 we acknowledged his son, Sheikh Hamid, as his successor. When we come to the people, I may say that their case is not one that is very difficult to dispose of. They are poor people, and all they want—Arab and Persian—is to live in quiet and in peace under whoever the ruler of the island may be. It is one of the very few places where politics are absolutely unknown, and the only form of electioneering they have ever had has been the occasional assassinations of the ruling house. It may be said that this question of Bahrein is not a question of the first importance, but I would maintain this, that a little thorn may produce a very great wound, and that in the case of two countries like England and Turkey the fewer causes of friction you have the better it is both from commercial and Imperial standpoints. I may pass from an indecisive policy at that very remote and extreme end of the Ottoman Empire and I will come back to the decisive policy at the capital, Constantinople, in the government of the Ottoman Empire, and as I rather regret the indecision of the policy in the Persian Gulf, so I am bound to confess it is very difficult entirely to give one's sympathy to the policy of decision with regard to the Ottoman Government at Constantinople, because that policy of indecision, I believe, has been on the whole a regrettable policy.
If I may, I should like very briefly to refer the House to a few of the events of the last three years. It was in 1908 that Turkey made her own Revolution. That was a Revolution that all men had desired, 2565 but that no man had dared to prophecy. It was really one of the great events of the world, and I am not quite sure that even now the full significance of it is understood in this country. The forces that opposed it were very vast. Suddenly in one day it was good-bye to the Arabian Nights, and you had the county council with you. True, the county council was rather a cumbrous machine, but still it was an instrument modern and ready to accommodate itself to modern conditions. But in that whole Revolution I do not think we quite realised how the Middle Ages were fighting with modern times. It was 1908 that was opposing 1500, or perhaps rather earlier. I remember that friends of mine in Constantinople in those days saw one procession that was led by a camel, and at the tail-end of it there went a taxi-cab. When that Revolution occurred, it and the reformed Turkey was welcomed by England as it deserved to be. But the Revolution had not occurred very long when Turkey was punished for having reformed herself by having two great provinces taken from her, and I think from that time onwards I am not exaggerating when I say that the attitude of this Government to a reformed Turkey—if it was not aggressively unsympathetic, was stonily indifferent. That, I think, is the impression of the majority of Englishmen who have lived in Turkey for some time.
It was quite inevitable that the Young Turks should make mistakes when they came into power. It was absolutely to be expected. You cannot create a Constitution in one day, and if you do create a Constitution in a day, you cannot adhere to it, and it was asking very much from men, perhaps, who had not had a great deal of education, but who were patriots, it was asking very much from revolutionaries that they should not only create one miracle, but that they should go on creating miracles every day. It was asking a great deal from revolutionaries, not only that they should overturn by a bloodless revolution, an ancient tyranny, but also that they should be experts in the manipulation of diplomatic and constitutional red tape. From the very beginning I think that it was recognised that the constitution of Turkey was a very great experiment. It was not only a very great experiment, but it was a fine experiment, and an experiment that certainly deserved more sympathy than it got from a Liberal Government. Of course, I know there are many ways of looking at this experiment. I confess my own way is to look at it from 2566 the point of view of British interests. This is an argument one constantly heard out in Turkey. Everything was in a state of flux, nothing was certain. It would have been a very great mistake, it was said, for any country that had the vast and complicated interests that we have in the Ottoman Dominions to take any side very definitely. Exactly, and on that point I am in perfect agreement, but this does seem to me to be the case, too. It may be foolish to rush into an unwise friendship, and it may be wrong to rush into a precipitate cordiality, but it is even more wrong, and I think even more disastrous, to rush into an unwise coldness and precipitate unkindness.
I should like those hon. Members who take opposite views to compare the present day with the day of the ex-Sultan Abdul Hamid. However preponderating in that time our commerce may have been, it is absolutely notorious as to the way in which the interest of Great Britain and Great Britain herself was treated by the Sublime Porte. There was a very acute feeling of dislike for the ex-Sultan Abdul Hamid and his policy in this country, and the ex-Sultan Abdul Hamid, with a sincerity that was very rare in his character, entirely reciprocated that dislike to Great Britain. Two things that we have to bear in mind are that the old Government, where it was possible, thwarted our interests, and the new Government, which came under reform, came relying on the friendship of Great Britain, the greatest of Liberal Powers; and the two things we have to compare are our treatment under the old unreformed Government and our treatment under the new and reformed Government, ab initio, when that Government started. I think that that question answers itself, and I will not labour it any further; but I will say this, that there are again two ways of looking at this question of the constitutional experiment. There are the ways of looking at it from the point of view of success and from the point of view of failure. If it had succeeded, I think, that surely it would have been worth our while, we who have interests in that country that could be almost indefinitely expanded, to have bound ourselves, if not with ties, at all events with professions of friendship for Turkey. Or, again, supposing it had failed, still, I think, that without doing any injury to British interests, without hurting Turkey, without risking anything in Europe, we might have acted by our principles, and have done our best by the men who were engaged in 2567 a very great enterprise. I think that all those efforts would have been worth our while for principle, and I think that all those efforts would have been worth our while for interest. It would have been worth our while to overlook the unusual diplomacy of the Secret Committee. It would have been worth our while to have condoned the blunders we expected they would make, and which they did make.
But I think that perhaps one of the most unfortunate things that could be said about our policy is this, that, supposing the constitution of Turkey had broken down, and it looked as if it would break down, not once, but very often, it would have been possible to say, and there would have been many people to say it, that it had broken down through British lack of sympathy and through British misunderstanding. I should like to give the House just one small experience of my own, that was half-comic and half-tragic, after the declaration of the constitution. I was going through the streets of Constantinople, and I saw a crowd of men cheering. I went up to ask why they were cheering. I found that they were all buying buttons from a man, and the man who was selling the buttons was crying out, "All these buttons are made in England," and the crowd, because at that moment Great Britain stood absolutely first in the estimation of Turkey, was cheering and spending its money in buying up the whole of the stock-in-trade of the man. That is not the kind of thing which you would find inspiring and actuating the Mussulman to-day in Constantinople, but I believe that that spirit might be revived. The opportunity has not yet come, but there are those who believe that it will come before long.
That brings me to one of the last points I would like to make to-night, and that is as to the war between Italy and Turkey, and I should like to repeat what other hon. Members have said, and that is that it would be a disaster and a calamity that one could hardly contemplate if this country lost its old traditional friendship with Italy. I think it is not a calamity that any of us need contemplate for a moment, but, all the same, the situation is about as serious as any situation can be. You have a war that is hateful to Europe and odious to Asia. You have a war that might inflame the Balkan Peninsula from end to end. You have a war that might indeed in Turkey cause the death of thousands of the poor Italian 2568 population who inhabit that country, and I think it is to be written down and said to the credit of the Turks that not an Italian has been touched since that war began. You have all those things. You have a hundred possibilities, so horrible that one can hardly think of them, and in it all you have only two things that are absolutely certain, and that is that Italy is not going to retire from the province of Tripoli, and that the Turks, however much they may want to, cannot at the present moment face the humiliation of making peace. They cannot do it for this reason, that they have to consider the feelings of the Arab population of the Yemen and of Syria, and even in Mesopotamia, and peace at present would mean half a dozen wars as far as Turkey is concerned. Still, one may ask oneself is there any method, any possibility of obtaining peace? At the present moment I think that there are very few people who would be so audacious as to say that there is. But there are a great number of people who believe it might occur, and before long. If Italy is left in possession of Tripoli and Turkey could retire with honour from the fray, then there might be a chance of bringing peace about. But bringing peace about if, as I say, Turkey could retire with honour, and to retire with honour she must have gained something from the struggle.
What is there that she could gain? It seems to me that there is one thing which perhaps she might gain, and it is this, if Europe would consent to give to Turkey what every other civilised Power in the world has got, the right of manipulating and of readjusting her own tariff, then Turkey would not have struggled entirely in vain through this war. The position is absolutely different from that of any other Power except, I think, China—though I may be wrong as to that. She cannot alter her tariff without the consent of Europe. Of course, a certain amount—a normal 11 per cent. of her tariff—is hypothecated to certain purposes. That could not be touched. But it seems to me that, supposing that possibility arose and the Foreign Secretary would act as the champion of peace, his advocacy would surely have weight with some of the friendly Powers in Europe. It is widely believed that those Powers which are governed by other considerations are not entirely averse, perhaps for other motives, to such a policy. Finally, I would appeal, as far as possible, for a very cordial consideration of the whole Turkish question by His 2569 Majesty's Government. I would appeal for that cordial consideration not only from motives of generosity and chivalry, not only from motives of principle, but because His Majesty King George V. rules over millions of Mussulman subjects whose spiritual allegiance turns towards the Sultan of Turkey. The cordiality of our relations with Turkey must always be a matter of the deepest and gravest concern to these people. I thank the House very much indeed for the kindly indulgence it has given to the very maiden effort of a new Member.
§ Mr. HUGH LAW
The extremely brilliant speech to which we have just listened will, I am sure, mark the beginning of a great reputation and a great career in this House. The hon. Gentleman has, if I may say so, not only made that certain, but he has already by his speech performed a great public service in directing the attention of the House to a corner of Europe which, although not very long ago the centre of all political interest, has within recent years become somewhat obscure and forgotten. I must, however, attack the problem of Turkish affairs from a rather different angle and from a different point of view from that of the hon. Gentleman. I must begin by commenting on almost the concluding words of the speech to which we have just listened. It is quite true that His Majesty the King reigns over many millions of Mahomedan subjects, and that in that sense this country is a great Mahomedan power. But I trust that we shall never forget that which was remembered by a statesman of old, that although this is a great Mahomedan power, it is also a great Christian country—a country which both naturally and by actual treaty obligations owes certain duties to the Christian subjects of the Turkish Empire. We have had a very long silence on the subject of Turkish affairs, so far as any official publications and official declarations are concerned. I had occasion to ask the Foreign Secretary a question today with regard to certain matters, in reference to most of which he was not able to state that he had any official information, and in reference to others of which he stated that he had official information contained in Consular reports, but that he did not think it was in the public interest that those papers should be published. I do not think that that is an attitude on the part of the Foreign Office in which this House ought to acquiesce.
It is now some years since we had any official Blue Books on the subject of South-East 2570 Europe. As far as I can ascertain, the last Blue Book was in April, 1908. What does that mean? It means that ever since the new Constitution was established in Turkey, ever since the Revolution in 1908, this House, and the country, have had no official information whatsoever as to how, in practice, the new regime is working out, or with regard to the reforms with which the new rulers of Turkey were very lavish at the beginning of their regime. That attitude of silence and reserve is not at all unnatural. We all, no matter to what party or to what school of thought we belong, desire that the new rulers of Turkey should have a fair field for what everybody recognises was a very difficult task indeed. One desires to give every credit for the very real advance which has been made in the way of greater public order, and in certain other directions over a great part of the Empire. But I think we can push this complacency much too far. I do not think that actions which would have brought down universal condemnation had they occurred during the time of the late Sultan Abdul Hamid, can be allowed to pass in a conspiracy of silence, because the persons responsible happen to call themselves the Liberal or Progressive party. There are many signs that all is not well in European Turkey. The reason why all is not well must be very clear. With all their virtues—and undoubtedly the Young Turkish regime has had many virtues—there is one thing which must have struck people from the beginning as being an essential vice in the mind of the new rulers: I mean, a certain sectarianism narrowly understood. It is quite true that at the beginning of things the Turks on the Committee of Union and Progress had for their colleagues a number, I do not know that they were very many, but at any rate a certain number, of non-Mussulmans, and no doubt the influence of these non-Mussulmans counted for something in the earlier months. One is dependent upon private reports and statements in the Press, because we have no other sources of information, but if those reports are true these elements have now almost entirely disappeared. The policy of those who are dominating Turkey appears to be to suppress, as far as lies in their power, all those evidences of special nationality of separate race, and of separate religion, which are to be found in different parts of European Turkey.
It seems to me that that is a policy with which His Majesty's Government ought not to sympathise, both on humanitarian 2571 grounds and upon national grounds; and I think also on grounds of public policy, because it is a policy which is bound sooner or later to bring about a great catastrophe. See what has happened in Albania. I would suggest to my colleagues that there is a special reason why we should take an interest in the people of Albania. I have it on very high authority that the Albanians have a certain resemblance to the Irish. I have heard the story that when the late Sir Nicholas O'Connor, who was then British Ambassador in Constantinople was about to go on leave, he had an audience with His Majesty the late Sultan, who asked him if he was going to Ireland during the holidays. Sir Nicholas O'Connor replied, "No, Sir; I do not think so. The fact of the matter is, there has been a great deal of trouble in Ireland lately; there has been a lot of cattle-driving." The Sultan asked what cattle-driving might be, and when Sir Nicholas had explained, the Sultan said, "Ah, as I understand, it really amounts to this. It is a question of cattle or men. I préfer men. I have never been able to understand why the English Government could not get on with their Irish subjects, because they seem to be exactly like my Albanian people. I would not quarrel with my Albanians for anything." In that matter the late Sultan seems to me to have been a wiser man than the present rulers of Turkey, because they have certainly driven a great part of that population, which was one of the strongest pillars of the Sultan's power, into actual revolt in some districts, and into a certain sullen mutiny everywhere else. They have done that, I understand, in pursuance of the same motive of policy to which I have referred, that impatience of special privileges and of special nationalities which has been, I think, the vice of the whole Young Turkish regime. It will be said that they have come forward as a civilising agency, and that the Albanians are a difficult people. I have no doubt they are. I have already said that they are very like the Irish. We are told that they wish to build roads and schools. That sounds very plausible indeed. The question is, for what purpose are the roads and schools intended? If the roads were intended to bring about the complete obliteration, as far as it is possible, of the Albanians as a people, and if it were intended to use the schools in order to suppress the Albanian language, I do not 2572 know that it is a policy which, however specious it may be, should engage the sympathy of this House. We in Ireland know a policy with regard to schools that is not very different from that, and we can well understand why it is that such unrest should have come about in Albania.
Then take the case of Macedonia. You have very nearly the same state of affairs. Unfortunately, here, as in Albania, since the withdrawal of the foreign gendarmerie officers, and in the absence of the publication of any Consular reports, we are dependent—it is frankly admitted that it is not our fault—upon private information and upon statements made in the Press. Fortunately, we have very full and interesting information sent us by the foreign correspondents of "The Times" newspaper, and from those reports one can gather that there exists a state of things which is very serious indeed and exceedingly perilous to the peace of Europe. Let us see what it is. At the time of the granting of a Constitution there was an almost complete cessation of the activities of the Bulgarian and other bands operating in Macedonia. The leaders of these bands co-operated to a very large extent with the Young Turkish party in establishing the revolutionary Government, and for a very considerable period Macedonia remained quiet. What happened next? In the first place, unless my information is entirely wrong—I have had it from Constantinople—whilst the elections were going on the Young Turkish party showed themselves in the matter of electoral manipulation not nearly such children as the hon. Member who spoke last would have led us to believe. I understand that they showed themselves extraordinary adepts in the way of manipulating constituencies and electoral returns. The consequence was that although the Constitution gave to the non-Mussulmans subject to the Porte equal privileges, in practice, as I believe in the case in certain American negro states, it was exceedingly difficult for the Christian population to make any effective use of the political rights which were supposed to be bestowed upon them. Partly for that reason, and in view of the general disappointment, you have undoubtedly had things going from bad to worse until the present year—at least, that is what appears from the reports we have had—you have had a great revival of the activity of the bands. You have had a new, or at all events I believe, comparatively new, organisation by—I do not like to say the Government—but certainly 2573 by people in authority, of Turkish bands acting against the Bulgarians and hill risings.
You have had a search, or a pretended search, for arms, carried out in many villages. I gave some instances at Question Time on information supplied to me. These searches have been carried out in many instances with horrors, tortures, floggings, murder, and bastinadoing of a character certainly not less terrible than anything which can be set down to the discredit of the old regime. You have taxation considerably increased, unless I am much mistaken, in order to maintain much greater armed forces, and you have had, as a result of all this, what perhaps is the most extraordinary thing of all, for the first time, the union of Greeks and Bulgarians in common defence against a Government which is being held up by Europe, and which I am bound to say is regarded as a Government of reform. These things, taken together, I think the House must recognise, constitute a very serious state of affairs indeed. What is to be done? I quite agree that in the present state of Europe it would be futile to call for European intervention. I do not suppose that anybody would dream of anything of the kind. But surely this state of things does call for a ceaseless vigilance on the part of the British Foreign Office. If there is any fault to be found with the Foreign Office it is not to be found in this, that it has been too unfriendly and too uncritical of the present ruler of Turkey! I think, however, while we wish the Turks well on the whole, we can carry complacency of that sort a great deal too far.
The Foreign Secretary has told us that while it is for the Foreign Office to exercise vigilance, that we in this House and in the country have no right to have placed in our hands the official information which is in the hands of His Majesty's Government. I know the Foreign Secretary has said, and will probably say again, that it is not in the public interest that this should be done. Of course, that is a plea which is very difficult to resist, but I am bound for my own part to say that I think that that policy of secrecy with regard to affairs of this sort can be, and is being, carried a great deal too far. We have an absolute right no longer to be dependent either upon private information or statements in the Press. We have a right to be informed officially of the true state of affairs in regard to matters which may, and do, involve things of enormous importance to us, which may easily involve, 2574 according as they are determined one way or another, peace or war—it may be a great European war! On the other hand—and this ought never to be forgotten—we have got very solemn treaty obligations. These are no mere formal timings, but are obligations in return for which this country has beforehand received certain very valuable concessions and privileges. Therefore I do press upon the Foreign Office that they ought to take the House into their confidence, and particularly that they ought to publish the Consular reports regarding both Macedonia and Albania which at present are withheld, and which the right hon. Gentleman has admitted he has got. We have a right to have these documents in order that we may really—otherwise I quite agree we cannot—be able to form a sound judgment on matters which are of such enormous importance to us, whether taken from the point of view of British material interests, or from the higher and broader standpoint of the general interests and the rights of humanity.
§ Mr. CRAWSHAY-WILLIAMS
Before turning to foreign affairs, perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for South Somerset (Mr. Aubrey Herbert) will not consider it impertinent on the part of an old schoolfellow to congratulate him on the interesting speech which he has delivered this afternoon. I think he and I both made our maiden speeches at the Oxford Union the same day, and I can say for myself that it is a great pleasure to see him here in this perhaps rather nobler assembly. I feel sure what I say will be re-echoed by all those who heard him speak this afternoon. This is the first time on which I have ventured to intrude in a Debate upon foreign affairs. I do so on this occasion because I have a certain personal acquaintance with one area which has been under discussion. That area is Persia. I shall confine myself entirely to that particular subject. It was my fortune in 1903, by the courtesy of Lord Curzon, to pay a visit to the Persian Gulf. Afterwards I journeyed through Persia. I trust no one will imagine for this reason that I shall claim any authority to dispute with those who, though they have not been in Persia, have very possibly made a greater study of conditions there than I have been able to do. I know the value of a personal visit is very often held too high, and a good many persons, when they visit a certain foreign country, consider themselves able to correct the men on the 2575 spot or to argue with those who have made a very much wider study of the matter than they themselves have done.
I do not wish, and I hope the House will not in any way say I have attempted, to place myself in this category. But I think there is a value in personal acquaintance with foreign lands, for when discussion comes on one is able to see more vividly the events which happen there, to absorb more easily the news which appears in the Press, to retain more tenaciously the facts that have happened in the past, and generally perhaps one may be able to see at once in detail, and with a proper perspective the events which happen. I enter into this Debate with something of mingled feelings. Anyone who has visited Russia as I have, and made the acquaintance of the Russian people, must have conceived a great affection for that people. Another thing: it must be realised that the Russian people themselves, whatever their Government may do, have nothing but affection for the people of this country. They may perhaps occasionally distrust our policy, but they do not distrust our people. I visited Russia at a time when the relations between Britain and Russia might be said to be somewhat strained. I refer to the period of the Russia-Japanese war. I found even then that an Englishman was received everywhere with courtesy, kindness, and even affection. It is not easy perhaps to have any malevolent feelings for people who have entertained you when you have been amongst them.
But the Persian question is of vital interest to ourselves and Persia, and no affection for a country, or a people such as I have described, should ever cloud the reason when a point so vital is involved. This question of Persia is one that is vital to Persia, in the first place because I think it is clearly obvious that the very existence of Persia as a nation is concerned in it. With the question of Persia as a nation are also concerned, I think, our sympathies and honour; our sympathies because we have always had a sympathy for those who like ourselves have a considerable spirit of nationality. I think it would ill become our Foreign Office, certainly a Liberal Foreign Office, to do anything to stifle or overthrow the spirit of nationality in a nation such as Persia. The history of our own nation, the history, and especially perhaps the policy of my own party would strongly urge us not to take that course. 2576 I believe the hon. Member who has just sat down would say, at all events, that we desire to see the principle of nationality developed most fully; and the Prime Minister only last night speaking to a gathering of my fellow countrymen, dilated on the advantages to be derived from a strong spirit of nationality. In this connection, perhaps, I might be forgiven for saying that I feel it is a little unfortunate that during recent years circumstances may have given the impression that in some cases, although we ourselves have done nothing to infringe on the spirit of another nation's nationality, we have been too ready in the matter of holding the clothes, while some big nation has pummelled some little State until they did not possess the same spirit of nationality as they possessed before. In this case of Persia I venture to say our honour is concerned in maintaining the integrity and independence of Persia as a nation. In a Supplementary Declaration which was given by the British Minister at Teheran in September, 1907, the following words occurred:—The object of the two Powers—Russia and England—in making tills Agreement"—that is the Anglo-Russian Agreement—is not in any way to attack, but rather to assure for ever the independence of Persia. Not only do they not wish to have at hand any excuse for intervention, but their object in these friendly negotiations was not to allow one another to intervene on the pretext of safeguarding their own interests.
§ Mr. MORRELL
I shall be very happy to produce the original document in Persian for anyone who wants to see it.
§ 6.0 P.M.
§ Mr. CRAWSHAY-WILLIAMS
This is a declaration which binds us and binds our honour. Not only is it for the sake of Persia that we should regard jealously the independence of that country, but, in my opinion, it is also to our interest to do so. It is almost vital to our interests to see to it that Persia retains a very vigorous independence. In the first place let us think what must happen if Persia does not retain her independence. There are only two courses: absorption or partition. If Persia is absorbed by Russia entirely—which I think is a proposition inconceivable to an English Foreign Office—or if, sooner or later, there comes about the partition of Persia between Russia and England, sooner or later that means an English land frontier co-terminus with a Russia land frontier. Anyone who has 2577 thought of a land frontier in time of war at such a distance co-terminus with the land frontier of one of the great European Powers, must think that it would be a grave mistake. In the second place it would not only affect the actual frontier of the territory. It would affect something which I may describe as sentiment, but which I think plays a powerful part in our future and prospects. The infringement of Persian nationality would be most keenly felt by the great Mahomedan people throughout the world. Our Mahomedan subjects all over the world—in fact, I may say almost all our native subjects all over the world—are looking with very great interest indeed to the experiment which is being tried in Persia of constitutional government; and whatever our views about constitutional government as applied to native races may be, I think we must admit that any stifling or interfering with the experiment would have a very ill effect upon the affection entertained for us by natives throughout our Empire.
There is another element in this question. Nobody can deny that if there was to be any partition of Persia, Germany would not stand by without protest of some kind. Indeed, I think, if anything were done, or if any steps were taken to infringe the independence of Persia to advance our interests or Russian interests, Germany would consider herself involved, and I cannot see what the ultimate consequences would be to European politics.
The question that conies forward now is what is to be done in this rather intricate and difficult position. We are confronted at once with one difficulty. The situation we are discussing is not only delicate, but is at the present moment very obscure. Indeed, in my opinion, the object of this Debate will be very largely to elicit information as to the actual position in Persia and the position we have taken up with regard to the relationship between Persia and Russia. There is another purpose that will be served, and that is a very definite purpose, and it is to ask His Majesty's Government to stand firm by two principles: first, the principle of the independence and integrity of Persia; and, secondly, the principle that constitutional government in Persia shall be given a fair chance. The institution of constitutional government in Persia is, no doubt, an exceedingly difficult task; and it is not our business to make it more difficult. On the other hand, I think it is our business to see that every opportunity and support 2578 is given to the Persians to bring their experiment to a successful conclusion. Coming again to the same document to which I referred before, we indicated, as one of the parties to the Anglo-Russian Agreement, that:—Neither of the two Powers seeks anything from Persia, so that Persia can concentrate all her energies on the settlement of her internal affairs. This Convention between the two European Powers winch have the greatest interests in Persia, based as it is on guarantees of her independence and integrity, can only serve to further and promote Persian interests, for henceforth Persia, aided and assisted by these two powerful neighbouring States, can employ all her powers to internal reform.I think that is a fair statement if it is kept, and I trust it will be kept. It is no doubt a difficult operation to introduce constitutional government into a land like Persia, and no one who has not been there can realise how difficult it is. Many people have asked me, not knowing the condition of Persia, what railways there are there to-day. They do not realise the circumstances of Persia or the difficulties you would have in introducing such a thing as constitutional government. Those who have been there can, I think, realise the difficulties. They have seen the corruption and the lawlessness and what I might almost describe as the savagery of the nation. When I went there I found the Shah never had been in the south; the taxes were all farmed and corruption was rampant and open. The police force was nothing more or less than a body of licensed robbers. You had to pay the police or let them rob you in order to avoid being robbed by anybody else. The offences and the penalties were alike barbarous. You might see hands and ears cut off, or men blown from cannons, and such penalties exist to-day. All this shows what an extremely difficult matter it is to hasten the steps of Persia towards constitutional government. You cannot expect Rome to be built in a day. It is impossible. But it is most necessary that we should encourage the development of constitutional government. One of the advantages would be that henceforth Russia, for instance, would' have to deal not with the Shah, but with the people. It was very much easier to deal with the Shah than with the people in such a way as Russia perhaps would like to deal.
If you have a steady and vigorous constitutional element in any nation it is not so easy to bribe and corrupt and mislead it in such circumstances. It is easier to corrupt one man than many men, and you may be sure among the constitutional 2579 element you will find some who will stand up for their own nation. Therefore from that point of view it is important that Persia should develop a constitutional system of government. As I have said, the Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907 declared that one of the objects of that Convention was to press forward constitutional government. I was one who did not altogether agree with that Convention itself. In the first place, I never could see any great argument in favour of spheres of influence in Persia. I would prefer to see Persia independent without any spheres of influence. I think we receded perhaps rather too far from the line indicated by Sir Mortimer Durand as the line of British and Russian influence, and that we receded from that line with some sacrifice to commercial and strategic conditions. But as the Convention when made declared that one of its objects for which it was made was to help the independence and constitutional development of the position in Persia, let us then see that the Convention is strictly and properly observed. I really believe there is a fear in this country lest while the letter of the Convention may be observed, the spirit of it may be infringed, and I do not think it can be better described than it was described by Lord Curzon in a dispatch in 1899. He said then:—Within the limits of a nominally still existing integrity and independence so many encroachments are possible that, by almost imperceptible degrees, they pass into the realm of constitutional fiction, where they may continue to provide an excuse for the speculations of the jurist long after they have been contemptuously ignored by statesmen.I think that describes somewhat accurately the feeling that is abroad in this country with regard to Persia, and I think it is that feeling which has provoked this Debate upon Persia, and aroused feeling amongst Members of this House. I think those taking part in this Debate are not moved in any way by animosity towards the Government or their policy. I think most sincerely that the Government's desire and policy are the same as the desire and policy of Members of this House, and I think, in conclusion, we may hope we shall not encumber, but rather strengthen, the hands of the Government by showing that there is a real feeling and demand that the independence and integrity of Persia should be fully and strictly maintained.
§ Mr. BAIRD
When listening to the interesting speech of the hon. Member for Blackburn (Sir Henry Norman) and the hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Morrell), I 2580 could not help asking myself the question whether the present international situation is not sufficiently difficult already without being further complicated, and whether the interesting proposal put forward by the hon. Member (Sir Henry Norman)) could possibly fail to increase the difficulties which are already sufficiently great for any Foreign Secretary. These two speeches seem to be devoted mainly to showing what a magnificent country Germany was, and what splendid people the Germans are. It is rather a pity the Germans do not reciprocate that sentiment towards ourselves. Nothing is more interesting than to compare the two speeches made by the two hon. Gentlemen to whom I have referred and the speeches delivered only the other day in the Reichstag. I do not think it is desirable to dwell upon that, especially as I am one who does not wish to accentuate the not very cordial relations subsisting at present. There is this, perhaps, to be said in that regard. A General Election is pending, and at such moments advanced views are advocated by people of more or less responsibility. We saw the Lord Advocate on a number of occasions in this country advocating advanced views, and I think we can discount nine-tenths of what is said about the English people in Germany by attributing it largely to the exigencies of the local situation. That does not alter the fact that if a man loses his temper and says very disagreeable things about you you ought not to endeavour to deal with him until he has recovered his temper and come back to a sane state of mind again. This is not the moment to deal with such speeches. Later on these gentlemen will come to their senses, and then it will be a good day for us and them. If there is to be an understanding with Germany arranged upon conditions such as were adumbrated by the hon. Member (Sir Henry Norman) so that we were to tie ourselves with regard to any policy we may choose to carry out within the British Empire such an understanding would not be acceptable to this country.
§ Sir H. NORMAN
I am not really aware, of any circumstance in which I suggested our policy should tie our hands.
§ Mr. BAIRD
The portion of the hon. Gentleman's speech with which I am dealing was that in which he said that preferential treatment demanded by our Colonies would be something which would induce the Germans to draw the sword. I take it we are entitled to give preferential 2581 treatment to our Colonies whether Germany liked it or not, and if an understanding with Germany could only be arrived at by asking Germany's leave as to the relations which we intend to have with our Colonies then I am not for an understanding with Germany.
§ Sir H. NORMAN
I never suggested that our policy should be tied in any way. I only expressed my own opinion that a system of preferential tariffs throughout the Empire would probably be more likely to affect Germany in a certain way than anything else.
§ Mr. BAIRD
I do not think there is any difference between my representation of the hon. Gentleman's statement and what he now says. I should not like it to be supposed that I am not anxious that our relations with Germany should be improved, but I think it is time that Germany made a shift in that direction, and that when Germany shows any inclination to reciprocate it will be time enough to discuss an understanding with her. At the present time she does not appear to be in the frame of mind to discuss any question at all, and perhaps she will be better when she has got the General Election over. We have heard to-night a lot about Germany and very little about France or Russia. For good or for evil we have thrown in our lot with France and Russia. It is obvious that we cannot take up an isolated position, and we must have an understanding with one of the group of Powers which hold the balance of power. We cannot stand outside one or the other, and our action cannot be independent of the action of the other Powers. You cannot get away from that fact. Of course, it is perfectly impossible that we should have at our disposal the information which the Foreign Secretary has got, a good deal of which he is bound to keep confidential, and without that information we cannot form a correct view of our relations with foreign countries. Not only is it impossible for us to form a sufficiently accurate view of the relations between our own and foreign countries, but we know nothing about the relations between foreign countries themselves, and therefore 2582 our action and policy is bound to depend on our relations between different foreign countries just as much as upon the relations between foreign countries themselves.
While sympathising with the desire of hon. Members to possess more information I do not see how, with safety to the State, it is possible to give the information which they desire. When one has heard the speeches made with regard to foreign affairs dealing with some particular part of the world, one has had the feeling that it is something like a man trying to mend a watch with a pickaxe. Why it is claimed that more information should be given to hon. Members of this House I cannot understand. Reference was made in the last Debate to the Committee system which exists in France, and I think it was referred to by the hon. Member for Leicester. The functions of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Chamber of Deputies are, as far as I know, confined to finance, and I do not see how, in the sense desired by hon. Members, we could have more information in some form or other. We cannot have any more information than the Foreign Secretary in his discretion feels it possible to give in the interests of the country, and to that extent I cannot associate myself with the desire of hon. Members who spoke in the last Debate, expressing the hope that some means would be found for setting up a Committee to deal with foreign affairs. But why should a Committee of this House be privileged over other Members in the matter of foreign affairs? I do not think this House will be prepared to hand over any responsibility of that kind or allow any Committee to see confidential documents which the rest of the House would not have access to.
With regard to the interesting question at present before us, I should like to ask the Secretary of State if he can give us a certain amount of information on one or two points. I realise how unwise it is to touch upon the subject of Persia where events are occurring about which naturally we cannot have full knowledge, but which cannot possibly fail to affect very largely important British interests in Northern Persia. Whether our arrangement with the Russian Government is a good or a bad one, this is not the moment to discuss it. It is an arrangement we entered into, and one under which we have to act, although undoubtedly we gain by having an agreement of some sort. I know the view is widely held that we might have made a better bargain, but we have got 2583 this bargain with Russia with regard to Persia. Events have occurred in Persia, in that particular sphere where we agreed to leave Russia a free hand, and what concerns us seems to me to be that we have large interests in Northern Persia, and our action must be such as to ensure that those interests will be safeguarded. The interests of Persia are exceedingly important, but I have often wondered what action hon. Members think the British Government or the Russian Government could take with a view to securing the integrity and independence of a country which is obviously tumbling to pieces. What do hon. Members expect the Government to do? Do they expect us to fight Russia for the purpose of leaving Persia to stew in its own juice? Do they expect the British Government to take a hand in the occupation of Persia? It is a very easy thing to make patriotic and sentimental speeches about this unfortunate country, but it is desirable that some practical and concrete suggestion should be made with regard to the action which might be taken in this matter, otherwise you do nothing except irritate the Persians and the Russians, and you do no good to ourselves or anybody else. Talk of that kind on this subject, does not advance matters one inch. No doubt the Foreign Secretary will find it convenient to give us a statement in regard to Persia, and perhaps he will let us know what has happened.
The outstanding features seem to be this. The Russians have given us to understand that they have no intention of a permanent occupation of Persia, and it would be perfectly unjustifiable and utterly wrong for us to doubt the word of a nation with whom we have a treaty, and, therefore, it is useless to pursue that topic any further. Perhaps, as a non-official Member, whose words have no importance outside this country, it may be fair to say that common sense would seem to indicate that that would be the line of action Russia would take. Russia, like ourselves, has got as much territory as she desires. She has got a vast connection of subject races of different religions, and she has no desire to add to them or to add to the number of square miles of territory over which she rules. We have not only this assurance from Russia, but common sense would indicate that the policy of a temporary occupation of Persia by Russian troops is one which is likely to be the policy which common sense would dictate 2584 to Russia. There is another question in connection with this Persian affair, and that is the question of the Baghdad Railway, about which we have heard nothing since the month of March. At that time an agreement had been completed by the Baghdad Railway Company with the Turkish Government in accordance with which, if I remember rightly, the company gave up its right to any concession for the construction of that part of the line which connects the Persian Gulf with Baghdad, and in return we received a concession to make a line from Alexandretta to the main line, and the concession for the construction of the line from Baghdad to the Persian Gulf was to be given to a new company to be formed. Our interests lie in the southern part of the railway, not only in the main branch, but, also, we have a very important interest over that part of the line which will run from Sadijeh to Khanikin. In view of the fact that Russia is now taking this very prominent part in the affairs of Northern Persia and the necessity of safeguarding to the full our commercial interests with Northern Persia, and the fact that our trade up to Sadijeh into Russia by Kermanshah is ten times larger than the trade of any other country, I hope the Secretary of State will be able to give us some news with regard to the progress of negotiations respecting the Baghdad Railway.
With regard to the Sadijeh to Khanikin section from Baghdad to the Gulf, I wish to ask a question. I should not like to leave any doubt in the minds of hon. Members whose speeches I have criticised with regard to the reasons for differing with them in regard to the attitude which they have adopted towards Germany. We cannot have it both ways. We have to stick to our friends, and nothing is more remarkable than the speech of the hon. Member for Durham when he said that the territorial aspirations or the territorial position of France in Morocco was no concern of ours. Common sense and common honesty would require us to tell the French that we would see them through the difficulty to the utmost of our power. I do not see how you can treat foreign affairs honourably any different to the manner in which you would treat a matter of honour that applies to private affairs, and unless that view was adopted we fall into the position into which we fell in the '90's, with which hon. Members are familiar. The idea seems to be that, instead of sticking to a bargain, we should be prepared to give up that bargain the 2585 moment it becomes inconvenient. Under the late Foreign Secretary and the present Foreign Secretary that is a policy which has not been pursued, and that is greatly to the credit and honour of this country. I hope that whatever friendship may be formed—and indeed it is desirable that we should have many—they will not be formed at the cost and expense of the friends we already possess.
§ Baron de FOREST
I find myself in the same position as the hon. Member for South Somerset, inasmuch as I am making my maiden speech in this House. Therefore I should like to ask the indulgence of the House if I treat the very serious matter with which we are concerned in a, manner perhaps slightly different from the line which has been adopted by previous speakers. If I do so, I can assure the House that it is only because I firmly believe that as long as these questions of national or international interests are misunderstood, as they are in a great many cases, so long will war between nations be very difficult to prevent. It is perfectly obvious, from the speech which we heard three weeks ago from the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, that this country and Europe were brought, in the course of last summer, on the verge of a war, or, if not on verge of a war actually, at least on the verge of a very strained diplomatic situation which might very easily have led to war, and they were brought to that stage by a struggle between the Governments of France and Germany for political predominance in Morocco. It is perfectly plain—I think the hon. Member for Central Hull (Mr. Mark Sykes), who spoke on the occasion of the first Debate on Foreign Affairs, said the same thing from the opposite benches—that at any moment last summer this country might have found itself drifting into war for a purpose and for a cause which not many people in a thousand would have understood, though thousands, and even millions, of people would have been mobilised to slaughter each other in this and other countries. It seems to me no attempt had been made, either in this country or, as a matter of fact, in other countries, to make it clear what the interests were they were called upon to defend.
There was one sentence in the speech with which the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs opened the Debate which I think has not received as much attention as it deserves, 2586 either from himself or from hon. Members who have followed since. If I remember rightly, the right hon. Gentleman said that a few years hence he thought the estimated balance of gains and losses to France and Germany, as a result of these negotiations, would appear in the minds of diplomatists as a matter of very small importance. I go further, and I think I can say that even to-day, in the minds of a great many people, not only in France and in Germany, but in this country as well, this balance of gains and losses appears to be a matter of considerably small importance. I do not think we quite realise how different is the standard of value of the diplomatic world and that of the great mass of the people. I do not wish to say anything against any particular diplomatist, but I am simply giving an opinion on the matter in general. By habit and by tradition the diplomatist is accustomed to look upon himself as perpetually engaged in a species of contest with the diplomatists of other nations, and it is essentially, if I may call it so, as a game of skill in many cases, that these matters are regarded by some of the persons who are engaged in them. They look to the immediate issue and the next move in the game, and that issue assumes in their minds an importance derived, not from the principles involved in the issue, but from the mere fact that it is an issue. Success in the game becomes an all important matter, and unfortunately, when the game fails as often it does fail, and each side has stale-mated the other side and matters have come to a deadlock between the two countries, well then the financial resources and unfortunately the lives of the people are called upon to achieve a success which the diplomatic methods have failed to secure. Every Member who is in touch with his constituency must realise—I think I may say Members on both sides realise it, concluding from the friendly speech towards Germany which the hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth (Lord C. Beresford) delivered—the growing impatience with which the people at large are beginning to regard this state of things. The democracies are protesting against being made the pawn of the diplomatists, and I think they will soon demand, if they are to continue to run the danger of disastrous wars and to bear the burden of equally disastrous armed peace, that they shall do so only for the sake of some real advantage. They are beginning, I think in all countries, to question if these 2587 matters upon which the contests of the Chancellories of Europe are waged have really the importance which is ascribed to them. They are asking whether victory in these contests profits the nation at all, whether a defeat is in fact an actual loss, and if it all be not for profit but for the mere love of contest whether the game is worth the candle at all.
Take the case of France and Germany in these Morocco negotiations. The result is that France has acquired that political dominance in Morocco which she desired, and Germany has received in compensation certain districts in Central Africa called the French Congo. These are the gains and the losses which in the language of diplomacy are supposed evenly to balance one another. But the question I find uppermost in the minds of my constituents, and which I find uppermost in the minds of a great many persons of every class of the community to whom I spoke last autumn on the Continent, is not whether these gains and losses balance each other, but whether they are in any true sense gains or losses at all. What is the benefit, I have been asked, that the French people are going to receive from the political predominance of France in Morocco, and what is the benefit which the German people at large are going to receive from the extension of German control to the Congo? I admit that the political control of France in Morocco will strengthen and consolidate the military power of France in Northern Africa. It will certainly give France important strategic points of advantage, and it will prevent Germany from occupying those same points. It will, in a word, certainly increase the military strength of the French Republic. But that seems scarcely a gain in itself. We do not to-day regard military strength as worth possessing merely for its own sake, and that a nation should use its military strength merely to gain further military strength, and so on indefinitely, and for no other reason, seems to me a very absurd proposition. If military power can only serve to acquire more military power, it is useless, and not worth exercising. If it has any value at all it must be as a means to an end.
And so, to explain the only conceivable causes which can drive nations to war against one another, we have to turn to those great economic advantages of which we hear so much, and to those economic interests which the people of all countries 2588 are supposed to obtain when their Government extends the area of its territory. There is a vague idea in the minds of many men—and I dare say in the minds of many hon. Members of this Houses—that the acquisition of fresh territory by the State is in itself an addition to the wealth of the citizens of that nation. We say that the French own Algiers, and that Germany, for instance, owns the Cameroons; but, under a system of private property, the great mass of the French people or of the German people have no share or property in those territories. Either the ownership of land and property in those countries remains in the hands of those who possessed it before the political change took place or the new conditions are utilised to secure the transference of property into the hands of other individuals or of groups of individuals. There is no doubt, for instance, that in the case of Morocco concessions will be granted to French syndicates, and that in the case of the Congo, which has passed now under German control, concessions will be granted in the main in the future to German firms; but these syndicates and these firms are in no way the whole or any appreciable portion of the French and of the German people. It is on the face of it preposterous that the prosperity of a whole nation should be imperilled for the sake of a few concessionaires. It is preposterous, and it would be perfectly impossible in any country were it not for the belief which is assiduously circulated and generally accepted, that in some strange manner the interests of a French firm or syndicate are inextricably interwoven with the interests of the whole of the French people, or that a gain to a French concessionaire in some fashion involves a gain to the whole of the French nation.
What are the facts? The nationality of the members of these firms or of these concessionaires may be French or German, but the capital invested in the concessions is entirely international. Their capital is invested not in France or Germany particularly, but in the industries of the world. Not only that, but these concessionaires are financed in nearly every case by banks, and these banks, whether they be French or German in name, are, by virtue of their daily operations, of an absolutely international and cosmopolitan character. If these concessions become companies their shares can be purchased by any individual of any nationality, and he becomes a part owner of the concession. Does any 2589 hon. Member think that if I desired to interest myself in any one of these concessions and to advance the necessary capital my participation would be rejected because I am neither a Frenchman nor a German? Of course it would not, and if it were so, if the French or the German Government had made a provision that no one, except a Frenchman or a German, should become a partner I could, through the good offices of a French or German bank, secure participation in the scheme. Any hon. Member could do that. In short these concessionaires do not as is generally believed belong to any particular nationality. They are entirely international and cosmopolitan; they are concerned with the whole world. In no way does their gain particularly affect the citizens of any one country.
It is said that the object of foreign Governments in seeking to annex fresh territory is not only to enable their country to acquire these concessions, but that it is also because they desire to extend their trade and to extend the area over which their citizens may have the power to buy and sell freely. If that is so, if these Governments really believe that the interests of their fellow citizens would be forwarded, as indeed they would be forwarded, by an extension of the area over which they will be free to buy and sell why do they not abolish their tariff and thereby permit their country to exchange goods freely, not only over a limited area, but over the whole world? They could easily do it. Why do they not? It is, I am afraid, the case of the concession over again. They are not merely seeking the interests of their people, because if they were they would be seeking a universal extension of trade; they are only seeking to acquire a few more privileges for some favoured individuals. These privileges can only be maintained in a very limited area by a sort of monopoly which can be secured through the agency of a Government which can be influenced by those interests. I think the secret of the whole matter is this international desire to extend territory at the expense of other nations. In every country the machinery of the State, the naval and military powers of the State, are employed to secure privileges which are beneficial only to a few, and which in the majority of cases are actually harmful to most of the people, and have to be maintained, first by their money, and then by their lives in the last resort. Everywhere, if you erect privileges, you necessarily create a cause of strife. The interests of the 2590 privileged citizens of one nation clash with the interests of the privileged citizens of another. At once there is an appeal to national prejudice. Each nation is persuaded that its national interests are in danger, and the masses of the people of the two nations, who have really no interest in the quarrel, are hurled at each other's throats for the sake of men they have less in common with than they have with one another, and who only try to exploit them in war as in many cases they exploit them in peace.
A great many people in the constituencies outside and in Europe generally are beginning to realise that this is so. They are beginning to see that these international differences are not between nation and nation, but are between individuals who are only using the nations for their own ends. Certainly outside in the constituencies more people are beginning to realise this than many hon. Members think. In the course of a journey on the Continent recently I found, amongst all classes with whom I spoke, the same unanswerable why? I can assure hon. Members I have myself witnessed in Austria popular rioting caused by the severity of the tariff. I saw in Vienna crowds, including women and children, trampled upon by the cavalry because they were daring to protest against a policy which hon. Members opposite would like to introduce into this country. This is a hopeful sign, paradoxical as it may appear to be. It is a sign of revolt among the people against Protection all over the world. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about Canada?"]; I have not been there recently, but I dare say, if the tariffs were as severe there as in Austria and Germany, the same popular revolt would take place.
Before I conclude, I would direct a humble but most earnest appeal to right hon. Gentlemen who sit on the Front Bench. I think it is really necessary that action should be taken in this matter. Some Government must take the first step, and of all Governments in the world is there any Government so fitted to take the first step as our own Free Trade Government? We on this side are Free Traders, and the very essence of our belief and the very foundation of our policy necessitates the realisation of the fact that there are between consumers and distributors, between producers and workers in all countries, not divergencies of interests, but an absolute community of interests. We repudiate privileges and the seekers of privileges. We adapt our fiscal 2591 policy to the needs of the many and not of a few. We certainly do not intend to plunge into an international quarrel. But now in our foreign policy we do plunge into the game of the concessionaires and of the privilege seekers. We talk the language and use the methods of diplomacy that is entirely foreign to our principles. We boast that our foreign policy is the same as that of the party whose political programme is based on false economic rules and opinions which are entirely opposed to our own, and we so manage our affairs that, as hon. Members know, we are considered in every country in the world to be not the friends of peace but the very reverse. But it is the very opposite. It is an absurdity and against our principles altogether. I would suggest that our course is clear, and that we do not base our foreign policy on the assumption which Protectionist Governments accept, and which we by the very force of being Free Traders should repudiate. We ought to appeal to the people themselves. If the people were taken more into the confidence of the Government they would not be willing much longer to set aside their interests for the sake of a few individuals who happen to be of the same nationality. If the cards were laid on the table I am perfectly certain that this game of international conflict would come to an end, and it is high time that it did. It is much too risky and expensive a game to play to-day. It may win a few privileges here, and it may gain a few concessions there, but it is a game at which the people stand to lose the whole time.
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Mr. SWIFT MacNEILL
I think every Gentleman in the House at the present-moment may congratulate himself on having listened to the speech just delivered. It is the product of a highly gifted and richly stored mind, and, better still, it is full of human sympathy and human kindness. It is almost an impertinence on my part to offer my felicities to the hon. Member, but I think it may be taken as a strong expression from an Irishman that passages in that speech would do no discredit to the best passages of Edmund Burke. I can, in a very much humbler way, but endeavour to emphasise what the hon. Member has said by concrete instances, and by a very short statement of what must be known to everyone who is conversant with public affairs, but what 2592 is sometimes not quite realised. I do not like to write to the Press, or for the magazines, or to speak on the platforms strong views which I do not put forward in the House. I say in the plainest possible terms that after an experience of twenty-five years in this House, and with some little knowledge of political affairs, and some considerable study of political history, that Parliament qua Parliament might as well not exist so far as foreign affairs and foreign relations are concerned under the present system. I know the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary will not accuse me of it, but before I proceed I must take care to say that I am in no way making a personal attack upon him. I regard him as the very best Foreign Secretary who has ever filled that position.
But having regard to the statement recently made, what are we to say in reference to the manner in which foreign affairs under the best and most high-minded statesman of this country are conducted? The hon. Gentleman (Baron de Forest) spoke with a very natural horror at the idea that we were drifting into war last July. He might have said that we were drifting into war quite unknown to ourselves—war with all its horrible responsibilities, war which brings misery and sorrow to every household, war which gives such overwhelming anxiety to all whose friends are in it, as we have all felt in former years—and yet we were going there completely unknown to ourselves, even while Parliament was sitting. Why was not Parliament told? Why were not the people given some stake in the interests affecting themselves? Are they to be treated like children? Are they to be told, without knowledge, what is good for them or not? I say that the occurrences of the 21st July of this year were an object lesson of the futility of the Debates on foreign matters until we have the cards in our hands and until we know where we are. The Foreign Secretary, if the matter were not too serious to be amused over it, might have regarded as intellectual exercises the speeches of hon. Gentlemen on both sides who have spoken on the relations between this country and Persia, between Persia and Russia, and between Great Britain and Germany. They are in the dark; they know nothing whatever about these matters. Until what I have described as the cult of mystery is abolished in the Foreign Office really we are being led blindfold.
2593 Sometimes I think you English people are not so nimble as you might be. You take things too much as they are. You do not inquire whether they are right or wrong. Let me put this to you. According to theory the slightest railway or turnpike Bill may be investigated in every line and syllable by this House, but treaties involving the greatest international obligations—I care not much for them—and treaties involving precious human lives can be signed, sealed and delivered, yet the people who are responsible for them know nothing whatever about them. They are kept in leading strings by superior persons. You would not endure that for a moment in regard to some petty Bill. Why do you endure it in matters which affect your children's children from one generation to another. Let us consider how matters go. My idea is this; that there is a continuity of foreign policy and that foreign policy is deposited in the breasts of a certain distinct caste of statesmen like the Egyptian priests. I remember the late Leader of the Opposition making a strong attack on the Radical party opposite. He had something unpleasant to say about every member of the Cabinet, but he excepted the Foreign Secretary, because the Foreign Secretary was carrying out the policy of Lord Lansdowne, and because there should be no discussion on these things. They were too high and mighty altogether for the poor ordinary man. I do not think so, and I do not believe the people of England think so. I do not think the representatives of the people are just to themselves, or to their constituencies, if they do not see that at least we know, if this country is to go to war, the why and the wherefore of it, and also if this country is to sign treaties.
I ventured at Question Time to-day to put a question as to whether there had been any other secret treaty with France. The Foreign Secretary said there was none. I ventured on a disorderly question, which Mr. Speaker, in his kindness, did not pull me up for. If it was a disorderly question it was an extremely effective one. I thought I would have a shot at the right hon. Gentleman at random. I asked him if there were other secret treaties. He said, "Yes." Why should there be any secret treaties? Why should we be kept in the dark in matters affecting the armaments of Europe or the destinies of our people? It must be realised in all its breadth and depth that we are powerless in regard to foreign policy. Lord Palmerston, one of the 2594 greatest Foreign Ministers of the last century, got up in the House of Commons on 11th July, 1857, and said, in relation to some Persian matter:—I shall never accept it as part of the Constitution that Parliament should be consulted as to the making of peace or as to the declaration of war. That is a high prerogative.It is a high prerogative, exercised by the Crown, on the advice of Ministers responsible to the House of Commons. But those Ministers must tell us why they exercise it, and must give, except in cases of the greatest emergency, a succinct reason for their action. Let us consider how affairs go at the Foreign Office. Can you believe it, that the right hon. Gentleman has been Foreign Secretary for a longer period in the House of Commons than any other Foreign Secretary for over 111 years! Every one of the Foreign Secretaries, with his exception, for over half a century, has been a Member of the House of Lords. Why? I suggest that it was in order to take foreign policy out of the purview of the House of Commons. Can it be believed, that from 1853 until December, 1905, when the right hon. Gentleman became Foreign Secretary, there was not, except for an interval of four years in all that long time, a Foreign Secretary in the House of Commons! Who were the two Foreign Secretaries in the House of Commons? There was Lord John Russell, a son of a duke, who was Foreign Secretary here from 1857 to 1859, and then he went to the House of Lords and took the Foreign Secretaryship along with him. Then there was Lord Stanley, the eldest son of and heir to the Prime Minister, Lord Derby. He remained with us as Foreign Secretary from 1866 to 1868, and then he ascended upwards and took the Foreign Secretaryship along with him.
I have never been in a Cabinet, but I have been twenty-five years in the House of Commons, and I know as well what goes on in the Cabinet as some of the Members. Let us take a Foreign Office Debate on a serious question. Twenty jaded men come in with their own Departmental labours and worries on their shoulders. The Foreign Secretary states his views, and the Prime Minister endorses them, and that is a Cabinet Council on foreign affairs. Lord Palmerston, when Foreign Secretary, ignored both the Prime Minister and the authority of the Crown, but under the late Tory regime there was no check on the Foreign Minister, because the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary were one and indivisible, the great 2595 Lord Salisbury himself. One of my earliest recollections of Parliament was hearing Mr. Gladstone, in 1877, from that Table denouncing the fact that the whole foreign policy of the country was vested in one man. Let us consider how during that regime we regarded foreign affairs in this House. The whole scheme was to keep us from knowledge of affairs affecting us in international policy. There were consequently none of the three Under-Secretaries to Lord Salisbury who was not the son of a peer or the eldest son of a peer. We had Mr. Curzon, we had Mr. St. John Brodrick, and then we had the eldest son of the late Lord Salisbury himself. So that the father was in the House of Lords, the son was in the House of Commons, and the foreign policy was in the breasts of these two great statesmen. Then, for fear there should rise up any persons like my hon. Friends opposite, with an improper and vulgar desire for information, what was done? The three Under-Secretaries were told that so far as supplementary questions on foreign policy were concerned they were not even to have the gift of a child. They were to stand there mute. Why a telephone would have done the thing as well. In February, 1901, a Motion was made for the Adjournment of the House of Commons in order to discuss a question of public importance, namely, the refusal of the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs—the present Lord Salisbury—to answer supplementary questions on foreign affairs. Why was all this? Because they distrusted the people, and because the concessionaires were abroad. I would not expend one drop of the blood of the humblest drummer-boy for the benefit of concessionaires.
Let me come to the question of treaties. We have been discussing at great length the Russian Treaty of 1907. In 1907 the Russian Treaty was made three days after the House of Commons rose. Why? In order not to give us an opportunity of discussing it. The Japanese Treaty was made on 12th August, 1905. The House of Commons rose on 11th August, 1905, so that the Japanese Treaty should not be within their purview at all, but should be the product of the great Lord Lansdowne alone. Its great author retired after his prolonged mental exertion for a rest cure. Parliament was immediately prorogued. It never met again. It was dissolved. I am not preaching any new gospel—it has always been my gospel—but I am building 2596 on another man's foundation. I put a Motion on the Paper of the House, but it was a copy of a Motion which was debated in this House on March 19th, 1886. It was proposed by Mr. Rylands that all treaties should, before their ratification, be laid before Parliament for their assent or refusal. The Motion was debated well and thoroughly. It was lost by the narrow majority of only four votes, and amongst those who voted for it was Mr. John Bright and likewise the right hon. Gentleman the present Father of the House and the present Leader of the Irish party. Mr. Bryce, then Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs, remembered the Motion well and remembered its significance, for in his great book, written in 1886, which Mr. Speaker Peel said was the most delightful treatise he had ever read, the "American Commonwealth," he speaks of the power of the American Commonwealth through their Senate—there must be for the ratification of a treaty by the Senate a majority of two-thirds of the members—with every approval, and then he recollects what occurred in 1886, and he says: "When the time comes, as it probably will, for taking into account the almost unlimited power of the executive in foreign treaties, the American example may well be the subject of reflection and meditation for us." This Japanese Treaty that we spoke about was renewed on 13th July last for ten years, but was considerably modified. It was not shown to the House of Commons until it had been ratified. The reason for its renewal was alleged to be that it was absolutely necessary to have such a modification of the Japanese Treaty in order to get the Anglo-American Alliance ratified and in order to have it on a proper and satisfactory basis. The Japanese Treaty was not shown to us, but the Anglo-American Alliance was, and we were allowed to debate it. Why? Because the same treaty had to be debated in the American Senate and it could not be kept from us by the wise and prudent men on the Treasury Bench.
The right hon. Gentleman will say—it is a good debating point but no real point—that if a Minister was strong enough or perverse enough or wicked enough to go against the sense of the people, he could be dismissed from office, or that supplies could be stopped. As regards the dismissal from office, with the strong party discipline and the affection that we have for the right hon. Gentleman, because the personal factor is very strong, it would be quite useless to attempt it. As regards 2597 the stoppage of supplies, Disraeli laid it down most distinctly, first of all in 1854 at the time of the Crimean War and afterwards in 1864, when this country seemed to be on the brink of war in reference to the Schleswig-Holstein business, that the prerogative of war and the prerogative of making peace were the prerogatives of the Crown. The prerogative of the Crown was a real prerogative and the question of making treaties, of making war and declaring peace, was vested in the Crown, but after the war was over then perhaps they could discuss the conduct of a Minister. Professor Fawcett said, in December, 1878, in reference to the Afghan War, that he would have given anything to have had Parliament assembled before the war began, but that after the war commenced no matter what he thought of it, he could not, as an Englishman, vote for the stoppage of supplies which would have caused disaster to the gallant fellows fighting in the field for a cause of which they were utterly ignorant. Therefore stoppage of supplies and censure on a Ministry is all moonshine. It cannot be done and no one would do it if he could.
This policy of secrecy in the Cabinet is bad for Cabinet Ministers themselves. An instance of it occurred in Lord Salisbury's own Cabinet. Lord Carnarvon and Lord Derby both left the Cabinet because they said they could not, as English gentlemen, participate in a secret raid. They were not allowed for long to give their revelations, but they were able to make explanations to the House, and they drew from Lord Salisbury a very discouraging comparison between them and Titus Oates in giving what he called instalment revelations. This policy of secrecy is bad for the country, it is bad for the honour of the country, and it is bad for the personality of the Foreign Secretary. What must Lord Salisbury's position have been in reference to secret treaties when on 27th May, 1878, in the House of Lords, he got up as Foreign Secretary and denied the very existence of a memorandum which he had to confess the existence of three days afterwards? Therefore, there is no use in secrecy. It is bad for the man and bad for the country. In families they pre generally on bad terms who keep secrets from each other. It is better to have a straightforward, honourable policy—good for the country and good for oneself—than all this hugger mugger policy of mystery and secrecy, so to speak, with such great and mighty issues at stake. I thank the House for hearing me. I do not know how 2598 far I am in these matters as a voice crying in the wilderness, but from my heart of hearts I will ask hon. Gentlemen to press in season and out of season for an open and straightforward foreign policy, and that, above all, no Treaty should be recognised without the distinct sanction of the representatives of the people, voicing their feelings and being able to stand or fall by them.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Sir Edward Grey)
I must ask the indulgence of the House, because I have already exhausted my right of speaking in this Debate. I have been appealed to so often to give information on certain points—and it has been indeed promised to the House that some information should be given about Persia—that I hope the House will give me its indulgence while I make the statement which has been promised. I would ask the House, first of all, in discussing the Persian question, to bear in mind that there is in it much more than the Persian question. It is quite possible, if the Persian question is mismanaged or rashly handled by those who are most concerned with it, either by the Russian Government or by ourselves, that the Persian question may disappear and larger issues of policy may obscure it altogether. It is from that point of view, if the discussion is to be really useful, that the Persian question must be discussed. I do not say it is the only point of view, but a most important point of view which must not be left out of account; and if that point of view is borne in mind the Anglo-Russian Agreement will be put in a proper light. It is being used for the purpose of Debate sometimes now for purposes for which it was never intended. The Anglo-Russian Agreement was, in the first place, an expression of a change of policy. It used to be supposed that the policy of this country and the policy of Russia were opposed to each other—that we opposed the extension of Russian influence or interests everywhere, with the result that Russian and British diplomacy was in opposition everywhere, and the question was constantly recurring between the two countries as to whether their diplomatic opposition might not some day become something more serious.
Now we want to get rid of that, and to substitute for that attitude of mind the attitude of mind that if relations of confidence and friendship were established between the two countries it would be to the mutual advantage of each of them, and 2599 enable them to overcome those occasions of friction between them which, neighbours as they are in Asia, were bound otherwise from time to time to arise. That is how the Anglo-Russian Agreement came into existence. It was never intended by the Anglo-Russian Agreement to destroy or diminish Russian influence in any part of Asia where it had already been obtained. The object of the Anglo-Russian Agreement was not to thrust Russia back, and, of course, not to deprive ourselves of any influence we had at the time in Asia, but to make sure that whatever influence either of us possessed in Asia should never be used to disturb the frontiers of the other country. Russian influence when the Anglo-Russian Agreement was made was already predominant in the north of Persia. The Anglo-Russian Agreement was not intended, and if it had been intended, would have been absolutely useless to destroy that influence which already existed. It was intended to secure that Russian influence in the north of Persia should not be used, as it might have been used, to push railways or concessions, or in any way to disturb our interests. In the same way we, by the Anglo-Russian Agreement, intended to guarantee to the Russian Government that we would not pursue a frontier policy in Asia which would be adverse to their frontier interests. We made a declaration of policy after the Anglo-Russian Agreement was made, the object of which was to assure Persia that it was not the intention of the Anglo-Russian Agreement to threaten Persian independence or to embark on any policy which would partition Persia.
We made that declaration to Persia, because previously there was some reason to suppose that the prevailing feeling in Persia was that its independence and integrity depended upon playing one Power off against another. It was entirely a false idea, because the rivalry of the two Powers was the most dangerous thing for Persia, and it had the further disadvantage of being disagreeable to each other. Certainly by the Anglo-Russian agreement we did not intend to impair the integrity of Persia, and it was no part of the intention to do that, and we made that declaration to the Persian Government. But that is not the declaration which has been quoted in this House. The declaration quoted by my hon. Friend (Mr. Ponsonby), seemed to me to be a quotation from something I 2600 have never seen. It seemed to imply that we had stated that by the Anglo-Russian Agreement we had undertaken the responsibility of protecting the independence and integrity of Persia. That is not what we said officially to the Persian Government. That will be found from the Blue Book published officially to the House. What we said was that the two Governments mutually agree and testify that they sincerely desire not only permanently to establish equal advantage to the industry and commerce of all nations, but also the pacific development of the country. The fundamental principle in view was that the independence and integrity of Persia should be absolutely respected.
§ Mr. PONSONBY
The document quoted by my right hon. Friend just now was a communiqué sent by the British Minister at Teheran to the Persian Minister of Foreign Affairs. I have here a letter from the Persian Minister of Foreign Affairs, giving a copy in Persian of the document, and stating that the translation in question is perfectly accurate.
§ Sir E. GREY
My hon. Friend must supply me with that document. I sent specific instructions that an official communication should be made to the Persian Government, and it has been published. If my hon. Friend will supply me with a copy of the document he has quoted, I will make inquiries as to exactly what it is. I did not intend the Anglo-Russian Agreement to be any extension of our responsibility. By the Anglo-Russian Agreement we have undertaken to guarantee the independence and integrity of Persia, but it did not mean that we were substituting the Caucasus for the Indian frontier. I would not have committed myself to that enormous extension of responsibility, which, I think, would have been disastrous. The object of the agreement was not to interfere with Persian independence, and the hopes we founded upon it were that it would remove the danger to that independence by removing the rivalry between Great Britain and Russia. What has been the course of events since? The Shah's Government in Persia went from bad to worse. A state of chaos arose and there were risings against the Shah's Government. Trade was blocked in the north, and some years ago Russia sent troops to Tabriz to protect their trade interests and to protect Russian interests against disorder.
It is admitted by anybody who followed that particular sending of Russian troops 2601 into Persia at that time, that they did not send them to interfere with the internal politics of Persia. As a matter of fact though that was not intended, the incidental effect of the Russian troops was that the Nationalist cause at Tabriz, which was at that moment in very sore straits, was relieved. The Russians did not send their troops to interfere in the Nationalist cause. Upon that followed a little time afterwards the deposition and expulsion of the Shah. Again, the Russians did not interfere in the internal affairs of Persia. The Shah had been, or was supposed to be, governing in their interest. They had their Russian officers at Teheran in the employment of the Persian Government, which had been the case before the Anglo-Russian Agreement, and continued since. If they had interfered or lifted a finger and used their influence at Teheran, the Shah would never have been expelled. They did not, and they let the Shah be expelled. They played perfectly fair with the Anglo-Russian Agreement in all that, and certainly, looking back to these days, when there was every incentive to interfere, I am quite convinced that, but for the agreement, there would have been much more interference than there was. The effect of the Anglo-Russian Agreement was not to stimulate interference, but to discourage and restrain it.
Since the expulsion of the Shah matters have been exceedingly difficult, and often very unsatisfactory. Lord Morley, speaking in another place the other day, spoke of the difficulties of the Constitutional Government in Persia, and the comparative want of success that had attended it. There have been times, no doubt, when the Nationalists made things exceedingly difficult for the Persian Government—sometimes almost impossible—and more and more in recent years there has been a sort of chaos in Persia, and undoubtedly after the time the Shah was expelled there has been constant friction with Russia, which has culminated in the present crisis. I am not in a position, and I do not think it is necessary for me, to go into the merits of all the particular disputes which have arisen between the Russian and the Persian Governments. We cannot investigate all of them. So long as British interests are not concerned in them, it is almost impossible, and if it were possible I do not know that it would be wise, for us to attempt to pass an opinion upon their merits. What we are concerned with now is the present crisis in Persia, and the three demands which Russia has actually 2602 put forward to the Persian Government in an ultimatum, and what our own position should be in respect of them. I will take the demands one by one. The first demand of the Russian Government is that Mr. Shuster, the Financial Adviser to the Persian Government, should be withdrawn. We have said that we cannot object to that demand, and I will explain to the House why.
A short time ago, to take only a most recent instance, I received news by telegram that Mr. Shuster had appointed three British officials in Persia as Treasury officials in important places. One was at Shiraz, one at Ispahan, and one was at Tabriz. Shiraz, of course, is outside the Russian sphere, and there could be no objection to that. Ispahan is just inside the Russian sphere, and I do not think the appointment of an official there would be acceptable to the Russian Government. But Tabriz is close to the Russian frontier, and as soon as I heard of that, and before the Russian Government had said a word about it, and for all I know before they knew of it, I telegraphed to our Minister at Teheran, and pointed out to him that this sort of thing would not do, that it was absolutely contrary to the spirit of the Anglo-Russian Agreement, and that it would have been contrary to it if we ourselves had instigated those appointments. It was absolutely certain that Russia would object to the appointment of a British official at Tabriz, as we ourselves would have objected to the appointment of a Russian official in a corresponding position. I thought it would not do, and I telegraphed on 6th November to our Minister at Teheran that the appointment of Mr. Lecoffre would surely be displeasing to the Russian Government, and would cause much annoyance to the Government, who might possibly take strong measures to defend their interests. He was told that he should point out to Mr. Shuster the probable consequences if he continued to provoke Russia, and strongly advise him to conciliate the Russian Legation. He was further told that it should be made clear to him that the Russian Government could employ means for the protection of their own interests, which he would be unable to withstand. The appointment of British subjects to administrative posts in the North of Persia was certain to provoke measures by Russia to protect their own interests, and those measures we cannot deprecate consistently with the Anglo-Russian Agreement. That telegram was sent before we 2603 heard anything from the Russian Government at all. It produced no effect whatever. It was met by a non possumus. In face of that, however great Mr. Shuster's abilities, however good his intentions, it is impossible for us to object to the Russian demands which have been put forward concerning him. I quite admit his ability and his good intentions, but you cannot have the spirit or intention of the Anglo-Russian Agreement upset and two great nations embroiled by the action of any individual, however well-intentioned. What advice I could give to avoid this I gave at the earliest possible moment. That advice having failed, I of course have been absolutely powerless to support Mr. Shuster's action. Had I supported him, I should have been supporting him in the appointment of British officials in the Russian sphere, and I should, at any rate, have been breaking the spirit of the Anglo-Russian Agreement.
The second Russian demand is that the Persian Government should in its appointment of foreign advisers consult the British and Russian Legations. These demands are put forward on the responsibility of the Russian Government, but to this second demand we certainly cannot object. It is represented as a great interference with the independence of Persia. Of course it is not an interference with the independence of Persia as it would be an interference with the independence of Persia if the Russian Government were saying that the appointment of Persian officials to the Persian Government must receive the consent of the British and foreign Governments. It does not touch the appointment of Persian officials; it does touch, no doubt, the appointment of foreign officials. Persia is weak and disorganised, and the very fact that she requires foreign advisers shows that her independence is not that same independence which can do without leaning on someone else. She wants foreign advisers because she is weak and disorganised, but with foreign advisers there must always come foreign influence. It happens, of course, to be Russia that is complaining of the appointment of British officials in the Russian sphere. It might have been ourselves who had to complain of the appointment of foreign subjects, of Russia or some great Power, close to the Indian frontier, or the appointment of Russian subjects, we will say, in the southern or the Gulf ports. I think it is 2604 absolutely essential, after what has happened, that the Persian Government, having a perfectly free hand in regard to the appointments of Persians, in the formation of their own Government, should, if they mean to apply for foreign advisers from outside, at any rate consult the British and Russian Legations beforehand to avoid the recurrence of what has lately taken place. But I do say this also, that as foreign advisers are necessary to Persia, neither the British nor the Russian Government ought to put any undue obstacles in the way of Persia obtaining foreign advice which would be efficient and capable. That, I think, follows.
The third Russian demand is that Persia should pay an indemnity. With regard to that I have to observe that at the present moment Persia cannot pay anything, and I do not suppose for a moment that the Russian Government is going to push for prompt payment. But if prompt payment is not pushed for, it is very undesirable that there should be a hanging obligation round the neck of Persia, which would remain like a lever which could be used at any moment. The second thing I have to remark about an indemnity is this, that if Persia is called upon to pay an indemnity to Russia at the present moment it must be adverse to British trade interests. British trade interests have suffered in the South of Persia because the roads have been disturbed and blocked. The roads have been disturbed because there is no proper force to protect them. I trust that a force will be created under the Swedish officers or others who are now in Persia, but you cannot have a force created, or, at any rate, you cannot have it maintained, without money. Persia is very short of money. She cannot at present pay a Russian indemnity or any sort of indemnity without the chances being very seriously impaired of producing order on the southern roads, which is essential to our trade. I have brought these considerations to the notice of the Russian Government. Having put forward their demands, they will insist on those demands being conceded, either in actual practice or in principle; but with regard to the indemnity I have put forward these considerations, and I think it is not impossible that this difficulty will be got over if the Russian demands are complied with in principle, and when they are assured that there is a Persian Government that will not disregard British and special interests in those parts of Persia which specially concern each of us.
2605 As to the future. Of course, no protest can be made until this crisis is over, and the crisis will not be over until the Russian demands have been met. When that is over what should our policy be? It must be a constructive policy with regard to Persia. The appointment of foreign advisers must be facilitated, if the Persian Government wishes for it, where they are necessary. Police and gendarmerie must be facilitated, and, of course, a loan is most important, on proper terms, to the Persian Government. When talking of the independence of Persia people must bear in mind how much the independence of Persia is hampered already by the loans she has previously made. She is not free to borrow as a country which has made no loans hitherto is free. A great many of her best securities are pledged to the Russian or British banks already, and it is absolutely necessary that she should consult the creditors she has already when she is making fresh loans, and that their interests should be safeguarded. But I do hold that it ought to be a cardinal point in the policy of the British and Russian Governments, I do not say actually to lend money themselves to Persia, but to make it easy for Persia to obtain loans. Without that there cannot be any progress.
I have one more point. The return of the ex-Shah would undoubtedly be very prejudicial to the progress of Persia. In the first place, it would give rise to apprehensions that he would pursue a vindictive policy against those who had originally expelled him; and, in the next place, as regards ourselves, I do not think that it would be consistent with our dignity to recognise the ex-Shah if he regained the Throne just after he has disregarded the warnings given to him not to return to Persia. I will tell the House exactly how I have put this to the Russian Government. I put before them these six points. I have said:—1. I recognise that the outcome of the present situation must be to secure a Persian Government that will not disregard the special interests of Great Britain and Russia respectively, and will conform to the principles of the Anglo-Russian Agreement.2. The restoration of the ex-Shah cannot be essential to this object. It will give rise to the apprehension of vindictive measures on his part against those in Persia, who were instrumental in expelling him, and it would not be consistent with our dignity to recognise him now after his recent disregard of warnings given by both Governments not to return. I trust, therefore, the Russian Government will not add to the embarrassments of the situation by allowing his restoration to be the outcome of the present crisis.3. It is most important that Mr. Shuster shall be succeeded without delay by some foreign financial adviser who is acceptable to both Great Britain and Russia.26064. The British and Russian Governments should, when the Russian demands have been conceded, co-operate in facilitating measures such as a loan necessary to prevent chaos and to enable the Persian Government to restore order.5. The exaction of an indemnity by Russia would materially interfere with this object, and I trust the Russian Government will, after the crisis is over, find some way of avoiding this difficulty.6. It is understood that military measures and the occupation of Persian territory by Russia now in progress, are provisional and not permanent and will cease when the Russian demands have been complied with and order in Northern Persia is re-established.I give that to the House as what we have put before the Russian Government as our view. I would like to give to the House what we may take the Russian view to be generally. I take it from what has been published semi-officially in St. Petersburg, because it agrees entirely with the communications I have had with the Russian Government, and it is the most convenient form in which to read it to the House:The Russian troops which are now being concentrated at Kazvin, will not advance until after a lapse of eight days, unless extraordinary events should force the Russian Minister to order them to proceed to Teheran earlier. Russia dispatched these troops only owing to the force of circumstances and, of course, as she has frequently declared without the least intention of violating the integrity or independence of Persia. As soon as Russia's demands have been complied with, the further stay of Russian troops at Kazvin will become superfluous unless attacks should be made upon Russians, or more serious disturbances or other complications should occur. Russian policy in Persia must continue to be based on full agreement and co-operation with Great Britain on the lines and principles of the Anglo-Russian understanding of 1907. Only the maintenance of this understanding will render possible the peaceful and regular development of Persia, so important for the economic and political interests of the two neighbouring States as well as for the establishment of permanent order in Persia itself.With regard to the ex-Shah the Russian Government have told us:The Imperial Government having repeatedly declared that military measures to which it has been forced to have recourse in Persia, have absolutely no connection with Mohammad Ali Shas' aspirations to the Persian Throne, desires to confirm that declaration in the most categorical manner. It would not on any account wish that the intention could possibly be attributed to it of imposing a Sovereign on Persia, and of acting contrary to the principle of non-intervention in the struggle between the ex-Shah and the Persian Government, a principle which it had proclaimed from the beginning. The Russian Government consequently declares that if the ex-Shah were now to take advantage of the presence in Persia of the Russian expeditionary corps to realise his designs, the Russian Government would not recognise him as Sovereign in the country without a previous arrangement with His Majesty's Government.8.0 P.M.
These, at any rate, provide lines of general policy on which I trust we may be able to co-operate in future, because it is essential that the Persian Government should be put on its feet and maintained there. If that cannot be done you will have continual chaos in Persia. Chaos brings outside interference, interference 2607 brings, and sooner or later, very difficult political questions. If Russian frontier and commercial interests in one part and British frontier and commercial interests in another cannot be preserved by Persian authority under the Persian Government, they must either be preserved by Russia or Great Britain respectively, for themselves, or be sacrificed altogether. Either alternative would be most disagreeable and most undesirable, and apart from that we have to bear in mind that Persia is a Mahomedan country neighbouring India, and the last thing we wish to do is to pursue or to be parties to a policy in the neighbourhood of India that would be or have the appearance of being harsh and aggressive towards a Mahomedan country. That interest we have in the matter as well. The only chance, I will not say the only chance, but what is essential to the realisation of the Persian Government keeping order in Persia, and helping it to that end, is undoubtedly co-operation between Russia and England. If they fall apart, if the Persians were put into the position of playing one off against the other, it would be the most fatal thing that could happen to Persia. I think I have said enough to the House to make it clear that, if it is to be co-operation on our part, it must be co-operation on some such policy as I have put forward. We could not co-operate in any harsh or aggressive policy aimed at the destruction of Persian independence. If we co-operate it must be on a constructive policy after the present crisis is over; it must be aimed at putting the Persian house in order in such a way that order may be preserved by the Persian Government in Persia, and that the present occupation, whether by British troops or Russian, may be only temporary. It is our hope that some such policy as that will be made successful. But it is essential that the present crisis should be got over first, and that it should be recognised frankly that Persian independence and Persian Government must be one which takes due account, as the British and Russian Governments themselves take due account, of their respective interests in certain parts of Persia, and that the Persian Government should do all in its power to carry out the spirit of the Anglo-Russian Agreement, by ensuring that those interests, Russian or British, which those two countries have respectively undertaken not to 2608 injure themselves, should not suffer at the hands of the Persian Government either.
I admit the situation is difficult. I do not want to conceal from the House any real difficulties there are, but I do believe that a policy such as I have indicated is the only wise policy for Persia. We have been in close communication with the Persian Government. We do not find in them any difference of view as to what the policy should be after the present crisis is over; and it shall be our object and our ceaseless endeavour to secure that both Governments shall co-operate in a policy which will really be favourable to the Persian Government. So much about Persia. I do not know that I can say much about the other subjects which have been referred to in the Debate. The hon. Member for Blackburn (Sir Henry Norman) introduced the Debate in a speech with the tone of which I think no one can find fault, and which showed a real desire, while upholding the British view, also to understand the views of other Powers. He appealed to me for Papers to be laid on the Moroccan question. I dealt very fully with the Moroccan question the other day. Nothing that I said has been challenged, and nothing has been contradicted. It is therefore unnecessary, as far as my statement of the other day is concerned, that I should lay Papers to support what is unchallenged. The history of what passed is there to be read by everybody who wishes to know it; it is on the Records of the House, and can be seen by everybody who wishes to read it. As to the publication of Papers, the hon. Member said that the French Government were going to have a large publication of Papers. I daresay that will be so; I do not know, but very likely it is so. Of course we must wait to see what Papers are published by the two Governments who are the principals in this matter before we publish any Papers of ours. So far as I am aware the German Government have not published Papers, but the German Foreign Secretary published a statement which, of course, is the counterpart of the speech I made the other day, and that has been before the House. Certainly, in a matter of this kind, we ought to see what Papers those who are principally concerned in the matter publish before we publish Papers which might possibly add to their difficulties, however interesting they might be to the House.
I would make this further comment on the publication of more Papers. The German Chancellor spoke of the clean slate. I have not the actual words here, as I had 2609 not intended to refer to Morocco to-night. But he referred to the clean slate on which there should be lair writing. If I published a great many Papers dealing with those controversial matters of the last two months, is it not possible that we would be taken as beginning to cover the slate with writing relating to past events instead of beginning afresh. Of course, it may be desirable and necessary to publish Papers, but before I commit myself to the publication of any Papers, I think it is worth bearing those considerations in mind. The hon. Member who opened the Debate spoke of the great discouragement felt by the people, both in Germany and here, who are well disposed, and who desire good relations between the two countries. I would do anything I could to remove that discouragement. The hon. Member said the feeling in Germany was not good at the present time. It may be that we must wait for a little time until the atmosphere is more favourable. But, on the other hand, remember that the Moroccan question is out of the way, and, after what the German Chancellor said in his first speech, and what I said in my speech, I say again—if I am to repeat anything I said the other day—that the Moroccan question, if it be settled, ought to smooth the path of diplomacy in the future, and France and Germany having settled the Moroccan question for themselves, we shall be only too delighted to take advantage of anything that smooth path has made possible. This I say also, as I said in my previous speech, and as the Prime Minister said in his speech, that whatever difficulties occur, jealousy of German expansion is not our motive.
I have been asked various questions on various subjects. The hon. Member opposite asked me about the Baghdad Railway. That depends on negotiations with the Turkish Government. Proposals of ours are before the Turkish Government, but as recent events have not been very favourable to the conduct of negotiations there they remain at the present moment. Our proposals are under consideration. One feature of the Debate has been of an interesting character, because of the first speeches which have been made by more than one Member. The hon. Member behind me (Baron de Forest) made a very interesting first speech. He covered a large part of the human field, and I can only say that if he can succeed in affecting public opinion in the direction which he hopes, he will have done a great deal to make Governments 2610 and diplomatists less powerless than they are at the present moment. He seemed to think that diplomacy was at fault. I am not sure that it is not public opinion which is more at fault very often than diplomacy. The hon. Member opposite, the Member for South Somerset (Mr. Aubrey Herbert), contributed a most original and interesting speech as his first effort, and it pleased the House. I will only say about it that it is really not right to state that we were unfriendly to the new regime in Turkey. We did all we could to show friendliness. That was our desire. The hon. Member himself answered by anticipation the hon. Member for West Donegal (Mr. H. Law), who asked for the publication of Papers about events in Turkey. It is quite true that there has been no publication of Papers since the new regime came into power. If we had published Papers about events in Macedonia and Albania at the beginning of the new regime we should have been told that we were not giving the new regime a chance. To publish them at the present moment, while war is going on between Turkey and Italy, would undoubtedly be taken as reflecting upon one of the belligerents. I do not for a moment wish to withhold information from the House, but I cannot publish Papers at the present moment without it being supposed that they were published for a purpose. Here are two countries at war; you publish Papers reflecting on the internal administration of one of them, and can it be supposed that, with those two countries at war, it will not be taken, not in this House, but outside, as meaning that you are taking sides.
There is really no object in publishing Papers unless the state of things is such as to demand and require interference, and unless you must interfere. If we and other great Powers of Europe are not going to intervene in Turkish internal affairs, then the publication of Papers may be a provocation, and will be absolutely useless. It is not that I have any desire to withhold information from the House that I deprecate the publication of Papers; it is because it would undoubtedly be taken that they are published with a purpose, and the effect would only be provocative, irritating, and, it might be thought at the present time, almost unfair to a country which is in great difficulties. There is one thing more for comment in the interesting speech of the hon. Member for South Donegal (Mr. Swift MacNeill), and that is the subject of secrecy. This 2611 is an age of inventions, and perhaps some day something will be invented by which it is possible to publish Papers in the House of Commons which shall not be known elsewhere. I can assure the House that the motive for secrecy in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred is not to withhold information from the House, but is the difficulty of giving information to the House without giving it to the world at large; and the knowledge we give to the world at large may cause difficulties abroad which are unnecessary. The hon. Member for South Donegal really does not do me justice in what he has repeated again and again to the House. He talks about the Anglo-Russian Agreement having been signed three days after Parliament rose. I have given the history of it before. I should like to give it again, but once a thing which is inaccurate in a statement has taken the floor it holds it against the truth for ever after. We had been carrying on negotiations for a long time with Russia. I saw the end of Parliament approaching, and I did my utmost to hurry the negotiations in order that the Agreement might be concluded and laid before Parliament before it rose. We got nearer and nearer to the end of the Session, to the time when Parliament would rise, and I got more and more anxious to conclude it. As far as my recollection goes back, we were within a fortnight or so of the end of Parliament, and that even if the agreement was signed it would certainly not be published until a copy of it had been communicated to the Persian Government. I was told that that must take wrecks, and as a matter of fact, although the hon. Member says it was signed a few days after Parliament concluded, I think he will find it was not published until weeks afterwards.
§ Sir E. GREY
My recollection is that it was published later, but that it was signed soon after. Now, if I had said we will not sign this until we publish it, which would be some weeks after, I should not have been exposed to these complaints, but I was not clever, and I signed the thing at the earliest possible date it could be concluded, knowing that it could not be published for some weeks, and that the actual time of signing it was a matter of 2612 indifference compared with the time of publication. As regards the practice in the House, I have never deprecated discussion in the House. That does not arise from any want of good will on my part, but from the difficulty of House of Commons procedure. Certainly this Government have not been less free in information than its predecessors. The hon. Member has admitted that Lord Cranborne in his time did not answer any supplementary questions. I wonder if the House realises how embarrassing it is sometimes to answer supplementary questions on foreign affairs. It is easy enough, but, as the House knows, everyone of those answers given from this bench by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs is liable to be reported in foreign newspapers and taken there as the deliberate, considered utterance of the British Government, not as something forced from him by question in the House, not as something given impromptu, but as something which was the deliberate, considered and designed utterance of the British Government. It is not surprising that some years ago it was found when there had been a difficulty abroad, although I was not in office at the time, I believe the reason was answers given to supplementary questions, quite natural and harmless in this House, but which gave rise to some misunderstanding abroad. I believe that was the reason why the House was asked to discontinue supplementary questions.
We have never asked the House not to put supplementary questions. I think anyone will find that in the last six years more supplementary questions on foreign affairs have been answered than ever before in the history of the House. And that foreign policy is secret as far as the Government is concerned, and that it is something which is carried on in the dark not only as regards the House but as regards the Cabinet; that is what the hon. Member said, and that is absolutely untrue. The hon. Member said that he had not been in the Cabinet, and that is very obvious I should think. The foreign policy of the Foreign Office is the one Department about the main procedure of which the Cabinet is kept daily informed, and I can only say this, that if I was as well informed about the business of the Departments of all my colleagues as they are about mine, I should be a great deal wiser than I am. I make those comments on what the hon. Member for South Donegal said, but which I frankly say he said 2613 in the most courteous way to mo personally, and in a way which was interesting to the House. I would ask the House to believe that we really do not oppose or desire to stop discussion in the House of Commons, and if there is difficulty in communicating information it is that in foreign affairs you have to consider the effect of what might be published in other countries, how it might be taken, and how it might be understood. And also in a great many cases we are dealing with matters in which we are only one party, and matters which may have been communicated confidentially to us by other Governments, and that were we to embark on a procedure of as much publicity as the hon. Member for South Donegal desires I think we should soon land ourselves in this position, that other Governments would cease to have negotiations with us, and we should have very little to communicate.
§ Mr. PONSONBY
I apologise to the right hon. Gentleman for having interrupted him just now about the statement which was quoted by my hon. Friend. I did so because, in reply to a question on the 5th December, the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs said with regard to communications, "there is nothing of the kind which we know of." I was afraid this particular statement, which has been quoted very frequently both in letters and in articles, might be considered a purely verbal statement which could not be authenticated. On making a more close investigation I find that it was a communication from the British Minister to the Persian Foreign Office, and that the translation which has been quoted is perfectly accurate. It is important because it really does show, unless it is capable of other interpretation, the spirit of the Anglo-Russian Agreement. I listened with very great attention to what the right hon. Gentleman stated with regard to the present situation in Persia, and I must say that I heard several points with considerable disappointment. The spirit of the Anglo-Russian Agreement affects not only our relations with Russia, but also our relations with Persia, and in speaking of the spirit of the Agreement we always seem to be taking into account what Russia thinks and disregarding what Persia feels. For instance, with regard to the question of indemnity, which has been one of the demands of the Russian Government, we are considering our own interests, and as to how they would be damaged in Southern Persia, but I do not 2614 think we consider sufficiently what a preposterous demand it is for Russia to make when the pretext for issuing the ultimatum which Russia has issued is so very slender.
I do not wish to base any of my arguments in regard to Persia on the repudiation of the Anglo-Russian Convention. That exists, and it must be adhered to, but it is to the keeping of the spirit of the Anglo-Russian Agreement, and adhering to the letter of that engagement, that I think we ought to pay more attention. The Russian Government have on several occasions and repeatedly declared that they wished to respect the integrity of the independence of Persia, not only in the Preamble of the Anglo-Russian Convention in 1907, but in the undertakings in July of 1909, when the ex-Shah had been deposed, the Russian Government stated that the fact that a refuge had been accorded to the ex-Shah in no way interfered with their pledge of non-intervention in the internal affairs of Persia. The Russian Government's circular telegram of 3rd July was to this effect:—The Imperial Government, on consideration of the position of affairs has come to the conclusion that the principle of absolute non-interference in the internal affairs of Persia and in the conflict between the Shah and the Persian people must be made now as formerly the basis of its policy in Persia.Reading these assurances of the Russian Government and placing them in contrast to their actions of late, it makes one suspicious as to their intentions in the future. They have given further assurances, but I think we may reasonably doubt whether they intend to carry them out or whether they are able to carry them out. We must remember that when the first ultimatum was issued it was against the wishes of their own accredited representative in Teheran. The Russian Minister did not advise that course being taken, but he was over-ruled, we are told, by the Consul-General in Teheran. We see, therefore, that the Russian Government have not the possible means of carrying out their intentions, even if their intentions are good. But it has been all along the traditional policy of Russia to sow discord in her own territory in order that she may have an opportunity of stepping in when government becomes impossible. What I think the right hon. Gentleman does not take into account sufficiently is the fact that Persia is trying to work out her salvation. We expect Persia, an Oriental nation to which parliamentary government is quite strange, to work out a satisfactory form of government in a very 2615 few years. It is most unreasonable. Not only is it unreasonable, but we are making her task quite impossible by standing guard over her, and by submitting to the Russian interventions whenever Russia thinks fit to intervene in the internal affairs of Persia. Our attitude in Persia is being regarded throughout this country as weak and undignified. We are playing second fiddle to Russia; we are, in diplomatic language, à la remorque of Russia, that is to say, Russia has us in tow, and we seem to be disinclined to assert our own opinion or to assist in any way to carry out in what we believe to be its true spirit, the Anglo-Russian Convention. We have some small crumb of comfort in the fact that we are not to consent to any idea of re-establishing the ex-Shah on the Throne of Persia. But our attitude towards the indemnity seems to me to be very weak. I should have thought that we ought to have protested most strongly against the Russian demand for an indemnity at the present time.
With regard to Mr. Shuster's dismissal, there again I consider that we have adopted a very weak attitude. We have considered Russian ideas; we have considered Russian opinion; we have entirely disregarded the needs of Persia. Everyone will admit that if Mr. Shuster had been allowed a free hand—he is a singularly capable man—he could have placed the Persian finances on a sound footing in a very short time. But he was hampered and interfered with from the first, and, although he may not have been accustomed to diplomatic methods, it was, I consider, a weakness on our part that we did not for the sake of Persia and for the sake of the rehabilitation of Persian finances insist on the maintenance of Mr. Shuster at Teheran. I only hope for the sake of Persia that we shall find a capable and suitable financial adviser who will be able to help Persia in her difficulties. I should like to say a few words about the policy which lies underneath our attitude in Persia. We find ourselves in Persia submitting tamely to the dictation of the Russian Government. The man in the street sees Russian troops being poured into Persia, and understands that we make no protest. He sees Italy seize Tripoli at forty-eight hours' notice, and we make no protest. He hears of French troops entering Fez, and we make no protest. But immediately a German man-of-war goes to 2616 Agadir we are told that we are on the eve of a very great crisis.
What is the policy which makes us act in this peculiar and illogical way? It has an explanation. In all these matters there is one governing principle at the bottom of the whole of our foreign policy, namely, the principle of the balance of power. This principle of the balance of power means a continual adjusting of the scales of the balance, a perpetual interference, the making of ententes and alliances, the watch-of the bargain, always watching to see that our scale of the balance is not tilted up too much. It means a constant tension throughout Europe and throughout the world. It means the rousing of suspicion and jealousy in other countries. This policy of the balance of power is at the root of all our difficulties, and until this policy is gradually abandoned it is hopeless to think that we can get on better terms with Germany. Germany will be placed in the opposite scale, of the balance. We have become accustomed to Naval Debates in this House in which, ship by ship, we hear of the adjusting of the balance of our Fleet against the German Fleet. When we entered upon the entente with France the policy was popular in this country, but when that entente was made too ostentatious it was bound to arouse suspicion and jealousy in other parts of Europe. From that moment that entente with France became a danger rather than an advantage. Since then we have had, roughly speaking, a Triple Entente against the Triple Alliance in the two opposing scales of the balance. Our constant interference in European politics is simply due to the fact that we have to be adjusting those scales. I think the preferable policy is the one which was adopted by Lord Salisbury, the policy of the concert of Europe. That policy, as Lord Salisbury admitted, was rather negative—was slow. He likened it to a steam roller. It effected very little, but it had this advantage: that we were not always in this state of tension. We were not always finding that the balances had to be corrected. If we intervened anywhere, it was with the formal consent of all the other great Powers. If, again, we abstained from intervention, it was with the consent of all the great Powers. I do not see why that state of affairs should not again come to pass. I sincerely hope that a good understanding with Germany may generally lead to a good understanding with the other European Powers. The 2617 expressions which have been uttered in this House in all parts are most encouraging, and ought to be a demonstration to Germany showing the very good feeling towards her that exists in this country. So long as we pursue the policy of the balance of power; so long as we are always thinking of other people in the opposite scale of the balance; so long as we feel obliged to interfere, not in our own interests, but in the interest of other nations—and generally the material and financial interests of other nations—so long shall we find it impossible to create a really peaceful atmosphere in Europe, and in the world.
I should just like to say a word on the subject of secrecy in Foreign Affairs. One always feels—I always feel—when talking about foreign politics or putting a question on them as if I was committing a very fearful indiscretion. I always feel it is improper. I quite understand why, because I appreciate what the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary said at the end of his speech, that nothing could be so embarrassing as a supplementary question upon foreign affairs for the Foreign Minister. I think questions on foreign affairs are a most unsatisfactory way of elucidating information. But it is our only weapon, and we must continue to use it. We tap the source frequently, but we tap it because we are not practically certain that there is not something wrong with the mechanism. We are not sure that the whole motive underlying our foreign politics is one of which we approve. This idea of getting rid of secrecy in foreign affairs is, I think, one that ought to be considered a little more seriously. I have studied a great deal that my hon. Friend the Member for Donegal has written on the subject, which has been a special hobby of his for many years, and it presents itself to me now in a rather fresh aspect.
We find that oven in the last thirty years the countries of the world have been drawn very much more closely together. The means of communication, the electric telegraph, travelling, all bind countries together commercially, socially, and financially that these foreign questions affect so many countries and can, and do, affect the people of those countries. At the same time countries, and specially this country, is under a very democratic form of Government. It appears to me that as our Government gets more democratic it will become more 2618 and more embarrassing for the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in his control of foreign relations. That is a difficulty which has been foreseen would arise when that Debate took place in 1886, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Donegal referred, on a Motion, which was a very strong one, and which was only lost by four votes. Mr. Gladstone spoke on this occasion, and he spoke quite sympathetically, although he said that he must oppose such a Motion. He said:The present system cannot possibly be defended as an ideal system. That is to say, we cannot say that in any instance the maximum of security is afforded to a country against its doing wrong or being betrayed into acts which, whether right or wrong, or acts of which it has no cognisance, and on which it has had no opportunity of bringing its judgment.Constitutional writers have also foreseen this difficulty. Mr. Bagehot says in his book:A great deal of the reticence of diplomacy, I think history shows had better be spoken up. The worst families are those in which the members never speak their minds to one another.We have arrived at this point: this secrecy has become a danger. Secrecy cannot be maintained under modern conditions. It is impossible. It was all very well in the old days when there was not the means of communication that there are now. It was then really possible to maintain secrecy in diplomacy. Then negotiations could be carried on with safety and the outside world left completely in the dark. Secrecy is impossible nowadays. There are leakages in every Chancellery and in the Press bureaus of every capital in Europe. It is these rumours by which we hear only half or a quarter of the truth that make the countries feel uncomfortable. They feel they have a right to know more. I cannot help feeling that there might be opportunities for allowing the country to know more of our foreign policy. I am glad of these two days' Debate on foreign affairs because they will form a precedent which I hope we shall follow in the future. The Motion that is now before the House and the country is one which we shall be able to copy in future years. I hope if any considerable number of Members make a representation to the Foreign Secretary that it is their desire to discuss foreign affairs, that he will do his best to give us the time. Certainly if Members of the House desire to discuss foreign affairs it is the Foreign Secretary himself who should wish to inform us about them.
It is not only interrogatories, it is information that we want, when we are completely 2619 in the dark as to what is happening. We have been accused of wanting to see the cards that the Foreign Secretary holds in his hands. I have never desired anything of the sort. I know perfectly well that foreign affairs must be conducted to a large extent in secret, and that there must be a certain amount of private intercourse between Ministers and Governments, otherwise negotiations would be made impossible. We do not ask to see the cards that the right hon. Gentleman has in his hand. He is playing a game that entails a very high stake, and it is the people of this country who have to pay, if he makes a bad move with their money and their lives. Surely it is not too much to ask that they should know what game it is he is playing; not what his cards are. It seems to me reasonable enough to ask that, and I feel sure that there is nobody, no Minister, no one in this House, who could, were he open and frank with the country, command greater confidence than the present head of the Foreign Office. So long, however, as the country is kept in the dark the people will be suspicious. I know from letters I have received, and from meetings I have addressed, that they feel very strongly on this point at the present time.
If they are fully informed, and if they realise that our real interests are at stake—that national honour is being attacked, or that some real act of aggression against British possessions is contemplated in any way—no one would doubt for a moment that the people would stand shoulder to shoulder to defend their country's welfare. But if it is a matter of some partition of territory in Central Africa, or if it is some financial interest that does not directly concern us, or the tone of some diplomacy which has not been correct, or if it is a matter of some private injury because of some diplomatic tiff, then I feel perfectly certain the people of this country would not consent to plunge themselves into a war which would be as futile as it would cruel and ineffective. That is why I believe this matter of giving opportunity for informing the people, so that the Executive of the day may be kept in accord and in sympathy with the actual source from which they derive their power, I believe that is one which must come more and more to the front. In time to come, when this House has been relieved of the great excess of business which now overloads it, we shall have further opportunities for discussing these important national and 2620 Imperial matters, and those of us who have urged upon the Government and the House that view will not be found to have been very far wrong.
§ Mr. WEDGWOOD
I am sorry that the only criticism of foreign policy to-night from Radicals comes at the dinner-hour, when there is not much chance of making any impression. It has been said that the greatest disaster to a Liberal foreign policy is the presence of a Liberal Ministry in power, because then there is nobody to criticise the policy of the Front Bench from a Liberal point of view. But, however much we may be certain that it is a disaster to the Liberal foreign policy that a Liberal Government should be in power, I am inclined to think there is a worse disaster, and that is to have the present Foreign Secretary, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, for of all the Members of the Cabinet is there one whom we would less like to tackle than the present Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, or to differ from in any possible way? A man who ought to pose as a Machiavelli gets up and tells us in the House that he is not clever. He is a man who was only once in a passion, and that occasion was when he turned round upon us Radicals and, like some Sphinx lashing its tail, called us to task for asking him inconvenient questions at inconvenient times. It is inconvenient to have to attack the Foreign Secretary, but it is necessary that we should say something, because the foreign policy of the Government is not a Liberal foreign policy. It is not merely a continuation, but it is an accentuation of the foreign policy of our predecessors. We have this question of the balance of power raised to a sort of fetish which the whole of the Foreign Office staff and the Foreign Secretary as well worship, and our foreign policy seems to feed the balance of the scales with slices of the Congo or of Morocco. When it is not a question of the balance of power the one other thing that seems to affect our Foreign Office policy is that of material British interest. The pursuit of these two aims—balance of power in Europe and material British interest—was not the Liberal foreign policy, and never has been the Liberal foreign policy until now. It is entirely antagonistic to the tradition of Canning and Palmerston and Gladstone. When the people of this country sent this Government to power in 1906 and again in 1910 it was with the idea of having the old Gladstonian and 2621 Palmerstonian traditions carried out in Liberal foreign policy as well as in Liberal domestic policy.
We do not always want to be interfering in petty details, in tapping the barometer on every particular question to see whether the Foreign Office is moving upon Liberal lines. We know that interference like that would only give annoyance to the Foreign Office, to the Foreign Secretary, and probably annoyance also to foreign countries. But we do think we have a genuine right to say to Liberal Ministers, we expect broad Liberal principles to be followed, and if the Foreign Minister cannot follow those broad Liberal principles then he should explain to us as often as possible why it is he has to take up a different line, and how far he is trying to pursue Liberal lines and not the old Conservative line. I am perfectly certain I speak not only for Liberals, but for a large number of Conservatives, when I say that the majority of Englishmen place the moral results of our foreign policy above the material results, and that they are more anxious for justice between foreign nations and the freedom of foreign nations than they are for commercial treaties or extra concessions in Africa or Asia or Arabia. I am quite certain the British people would rather have the influence of the British Foreign Office directed towards the extension of justice than the extension of territory. This being, as I think it is, the universal opinion of Liberals throughout the country, and the opinion of all that is best in the Conservatism of the country as well, I think it right to ask the Government what they have done in this direction. How have they influenced politics in any corner of the world on Liberal lines? How have they increased the ideas of justice between man and man? How have they increased the principles of freedom among the peoples of the world?
If you look to any part of the world where there have been difficulties in the last six years I think you will find it difficult to lay your finger upon one spot and say, "Here the influence of England was influence in a Liberal direction." Since this Government has come into power a revolution has taken place in Turkey. Every man with a spark of Liberalism in his breast, everyone with a trace of the Gladstonian or Palmerstonian principles in his mind saw in that the signs of a bright future for Turkey. The revolution in Constantinople took place. The counter 2622 revolution and the counter counter revolution took place. When the last revolution took place, and when Abdul Hamid was turned out, to the inordinate joy of every humanitarian throughout the world, the heroes of the hour were the Young Turks, and they were heroes with the British people. Who backed them against Abdul Hamid? There was no race so popular in Turkey as the British race. English influence there was so great that when the Ambassador drove to open the Turkish Chamber he was greeted with cheers throughout the whole length of Constantinople. At that time British influence was such that we could, if we had taken the slightest trouble, have directed the Young Turk party along the line of progress and the path of justice and freedom for the subject races of Turkey. We threw the opportunity away, and now the influence of England with the Young Turks is nothing, and the influence of Germany has been put in its place, and who is to blame? Why, the Foreign Office of England and their staff. When the troubles in Albania came along we saw England impotent, and the Albanians were treated very much as the Armenians were treated ten or fifteen years ago. In Turkey we have done nothing, and we have not influenced politics there one whit in a Liberal direction. If we look at Russia we see the same thing. What have we done for Finland? Finland has lost its autonomy again, and Russia has encroached again upon that autonomy. English influence may have been exercised, but it has done nothing.
If we look to Italy we see the same thing. The Italian people have made a wanton attack upon another portion of Turkish territory which unfortunately sets a precedent which will cause infinite misgivings in the minds of all the small kingdoms and infinite temptation to those big kingdoms and empires anxious to grab more land. Was English influence of any avail to prevent the war between Italy and Turkey? Was English influence exerted? We do not know. We only see the result, and we see that English influence was not used with any effect. Look at Morocco. We have done nothing to prevent France going to Fez and the financial interests of France making war on another quarter of Islam. In the Belgian Congo we have had no result, and now in Persia we see the British influence has not effected anything whatever in a Liberalising direction. If England has had any influence at all in any of these 2623 cases in any quarter of the world, obviously that influence has failed. You may have a perfectly good reason why it should fail. It may have been perfectly impossible to persuade the Young Turks to be liberal, or prevent Russia attacking Persia, or prevent the Persian Government from dissolving into anarchy. It may have been impossible to stop Italy entering upon a land-grabbing war, or prevent France going to Fez, or Russia doing away with autonomy of Finland. What we want to know in regard to these matters is, did the Foreign Office, England, or the English Government make any effort to prevent things going from bad to worse? We are quite willing to accept the position that they were not able to do anything, but we have a horrid suspicion that they did not try, and that they do not believe in a Liberal foreign policy. You cannot point to one spot from China to Peru where the influence of the Liberal Government has made anything better or influenced things in the slightest degree in a Liberal direction.
That is not the only charge. You cannot point to a single Liberal Government in the past which has not done something in this direction. If you go back to the Government of Mr. Gladstone in 1892 or 1880, or to Palmerston and Gladstone in 1860 to 1872, in every case you find the influence of the Government directed towards freedom, and you find on the map of Europe some recording testimony of their work for freedom and liberty and justice. It is only in the case of this Government that you cannot point to anything, except it may be some slight amelioration in the condition of the natives in the centre of Peru. The fact of the matter is, and it has been made ever so much more clear to us, that the Foreign Office itself and the whole traditions of the Foreign Office and its staff are far too aristocratic in tone and illiberal in principle. They are not in touch or in sympathy with Liberalism, they do not want what we want, and therefore we do not get the foreign policy we want. The fact that you have to be worth £400 a year before you can get a position in the Foreign Office, that you have to assure the Government that you have a private income of £400, makes it sure that you are only drawing from the aristocratic and the rich class which is predominantly Conservative in tone. Naturally you have throughout the whole of this particular 2624 Government Department Conservative sympathies which are directed towards perpetuating the old ideas of foreign policy of the previous Conservative Government, and I do not see how there is any hope of the Liberal Governments making the foreign policy liberal as long as they allow the Conservative tendencies of the Foreign Office staff to remain unchanged. It is notorious that there is a very large anti-German feeling in the Foreign Office. The supposed interview between the "Neue Freie Presse" and Sir Fairfax Cartwright did more than anything else to make German feeling bitter against England. We have now been informed that that interview was not a real interview with Sir Fairfax Cartwright. If that is so, good; but how is it that Sir Fairfax Cartwright now finds himself at Vienna? He is a man of notorious anti-German views, who was objected to when he was proposed as Ambassador to Berlin because of his strong anti-German views. Vienna is not the place where you want a man with views anything but friendly to the German Empire and to the German people, of which so large a part live in Austria.
The fact is our Ambassadors conceive themselves only as accredited to the Sovereigns and not as accredited to the peoples in whose countries they live. They only come in touch with the ruling and dominating class. It would be an enormous advantage if they would get in touch with all classes. What has made Germany so powerful in Constantinople is the fact that the German Ambassador has the Young Turks to dinner once a week; he gets in touch with them that way. He is on terms of friendship with them, they come to him in their difficulties, and he advises them. That is a very good way of getting influence in Turkey. It seems to me even in a place like Berlin our Embassy might get into closer touch with the Radicals and the Social Democrats in that country. After all, the best friends of England in Germany are the Radicals and even the Social Democrats. They are the people who stuck by us even in this last tiff. They know, as the working classes in this country know, that there is no real difference between the working classes in any country, that they have their own enemy, and that there are no international jealousies as far as they are concerned. Those are the people with whom I would have our Embassies get into touch. I wonder if Bebel has ever dined at our 2625 Ambassador's table or even if our Ambassador would be permitted to invite him.
The other day there was a cartoon in "Punch" showing the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs seated at a table with cards in his hand, and interfering Radicals looking over his shoulder, and he is supposed to say, "How do you expect I can play the game successfully if I show my cards?" I think that cartoon accurately illustrates the Foreign Office view of diplomacy. They think they are playing a game with cards at which nobody is allowed to look. The game they are playing is a very silly game; it is, as the hon. Member for West Ham (Baron de Forest) showed, simply a game of concession hunters and land grabbers. Russia wants concessions in the North and England in the South of Persia, and the one thing on which the Liberal Government rebelled was the question of Russian concessions in the South of Persia. It is all a question of concession hunters, and not of the peoples at, all. We are tired of that sort of game, and the people of the country are getting tired of it. It is a game which it is not worth anybody's while to play any more, especially now you are getting a little dangerous and near to real war. It is all very well to paint the map of Africa red or blue as long as it does not do any damage or make anybody angry or lead to differences, but, when you are getting into difficulties it is another matter, and it is about time the people of England and Germany insist upon knowing what it is these diplomatists are playing at. They are playing, not a national game, but merely a plutocratic financial game. It is a game, not of national honour, but of national dishonour.
§ Mr. WEDGWOOD
Yes, plunder. The foreign policy of the future is bound, I think, to be conducted on different lines. Internationalism is spreading rapidly, not only the internationalism of capital but the internationalism of labour. Wherever Labour parties are strong, there you have the strongest possible bond of unity between the peoples and the strongest possible opposition to these petty quarrels of petty diplomatists. Finance is becoming international too, and finance also as it becomes international is the strongest bond in favour of peace. We were told, I do not know with what authority, that at the worst moment of tension, between 2626 Germany and France and England, and when they were all going to fight in September, what stopped the war and the war feeling and what showed diplomatists they could not go on, was the fact that there was a run on the German Savings Bank, and £11,000,000 withdrawn in one day. We are no longer agricultural countries dependent upon agriculture, which requires little credit and less capital. We are vast organised industrial countries built up by and dependent entirely upon credit. If you shut up national credit and private credit at the same time, the whole of your economic edifice comes crumbling to the ground, and if there is one thing absolutely certain to shatter private credit in this country it is any war between civilised countries. A slump on the Stock Exchange and an increase in the Bank rate would ensue. There would be the collapse of some bank and the suspension of the Bank Charter Act. All those things coming one after another would destroy the whole basis of industry in this country. You would have hundreds of thousands out of work, food rioting, and murder, and I think the financiers, with their international-interests and their money in every capital and every land, will be about the first to realise the enormous dangers which they as well as other people, the common people who would starve, will run if war comes about; and I think these two influences more than anything else, the internationalism of capital and the internationalism of labour, will do more even than we can do in this House, to drive our diplomatists, to drive even the diplomacy of the Liberal Government, on to more Liberal lines in the future.
§ Mr. BARTON
It is certainly difficult to attempt to criticise a speech which one has so recently heard and which one has had no opportunity of reading, but I must say that the speech of the Foreign Secretary has left me with a feeling of complete disappointment. I understood the Anglo-Russian Agreement was indeed a guarantee of the integrity and the independence of Persia. I venture to think that ninety-nine men out of every hundred in this country thought the same thing, and in order to reassure myself I have since the speech referred to the treaty, which reads thus:—The Governments of Great Britain and Russia, having mutually engaged to respect the integrity and the independence of Persia, and sincerely desiring the preservation of order throughout the country, as well as the establishment of equal advantages for the trade and industry of all other nations …2627 I venture to say that was regarded by the ordinary man as intended to be a guarantee of the nationality of Persia. We all admit that the situation was one of peculiar difficulty. There you had a weak State, with internal disturbances and financial complications, situated between two great Powers. It was inevitable that there should be intervention by one of them, and, under these circumstances, we believe both States were really desirous of maintaining the independence of Persia, and agreed together to do what they could towards that end. I want to say one word tbout Persia in connection with its trade relations, which are of considerable importance to us in Lancashire—of far greater importance than the Board of Trade would indicate—to anyone who did not understand the nature of the trade, because, in point of fact, the larger portion of the English trade with Persia does not go direct to Persia. It goes by way of Turkey, and it appears in our Board of Trade Returns as being British trade. That part of the trade, which is the largest portion, is mainly for the centre and North of Persia, which are within the Russian sphere of influence. What we fear, and fear very strongly, is that Russian domination in Persia will, in the end, mean the loss of that trade. It is possible some arrangement may be made in the nature of an open door, such as has been made in connection with Morocco; but when you have a manufacturing country like Russia in such close proximity as it is to Persia, whatever fiscal arrangements you make it may be taken for granted that the effect of Russian domination in Persia will be that the trade will be captured entirely by Russian traders.
It so happens that the desirability of maintaining the nationality of Persia coincides with the trade interests of this country. I feel exceedingly anxious about the position as revealed to us to-night. What does it mean? There are three leading points affecting Persian nationality. In the first place, we apparently agree to concur in the dismissal of Mr. Shuster. In the second place, there is a complete abrogation of anything in the nature of Persian independence, for the official Persian financial adviser is only to be appointed if first agreed upon by Russia and Great Britain. In the third place, the question of an indemnity was only deferred. It seems to me that all this can only be regarded as a complete triumph for Russia, and I cannot help wondering 2628 that that should be so. I cannot dissociate it from our general foreign policy as it appears to me at the present time. I should like to refer to the speech made by the Foreign Secretary recently in this House. I must frankly confess that, after careful consideration of that speech, I was left—and I speak as a Liberal—in a state of perplexity and disappointment. The two points that stood out most clearly were: firstly, that we had abandoned the former policy of non-intervention in the affairs of other European countries, a policy which the Secretary of State defined as a policy of splendid isolation; and, in the second place, it was made quite clear that we had formed friendships and associations with other European Powers, and that no other friendships could be formed which would in any way interfere with them. With whom are those special Friendships? In the first place, take France. Surely we must ask ourselves what are the commitments of our friends, what are their obligations, and to what extent does our friendship involve using these commitments and obligations? So far as France is concerned—and we need have no hesitation in saying it, because it appears in one of the dispatches which form part of the literature of our recent complications—in one of those dispatches Germany said that although the Moroccan complications had removed one of the difficulties with the French people, it could not be hoped that cordial relations were possible even after that difficulty was removed. It seems clear that friendship with France must inevitably carry with it difficulty in forming friendships with Germany.
Then take our other friend, Russia. We must admit that there is much in her present condition and recent policy which is totally alien to the Liberal policy of this country, so I feel very strongly that the policy of the Government at this present time is not a policy which commends itself to me as a Liberal. I feel, too, very strongly that the splendid isolation of which the Foreign Secretary spoke was, after all, a mere catchword. There never was any such policy pursued in this country. There was a policy of non-intervention, but that was at a time when England was freer to stretch out a helping hand to the oppressed, when it was freer to take an independent course in any of the complications with which it might be surrounded. If we are to have special friends, I am desirous that amongst those the great German Empire 2629 should be included. They are nearest to us in kindred, their thoughts, their literature, their life generally is nearer to that of our country than those of any other Continental power. Our trade relations are close and intimate. In connection with that I noticed some Bills of Exchange the other day proceeding in the first place from India for raw cotton supplied from India to Germany. Germany was unable to give to India what she wanted in its fullest extent, in return for her raw cotton, and, therefore, sent these Bills to us in Manchester and we 6upplied to India, in Germany's discharge, a supply of finished cotton goods. In return for that, Germany supplies to Manchester and Lancashire supplies of sugar and other food materials. Our trade relations are of the closest and of the most beneficial kind, and I do say that any policy which fails to cordially invite the friendship of Germany is a policy of which I am sincerely apprehensive. We have heard something about a clean slate. I want to see something written on that slate, and that something a clear and unqualified indication of German friendship. If the assurances that we have—and I take the assurances that we have as being entirely reliable—that these other friendships are not exclusive in their nature, then I think the time is now ripe to lay aside this old diplomatic attitude, to take occasion by the hand and to make it felt that throughout Europe we are desirous of seeking peace and pursuing it.
§ Mr. WHITEHOUSE
The most experienced Member of this House could not rise to speak on some of the aspects of the questions which have arisen in the course of this Debate without a feeling of great responsibility. There is one school of writers and publicists who, whilst with entire freedom giving expression to their own views, always urge that it is an embarrassment to the Government of the day if we seek to examine the principles which have inspired our relations with other countries—a school of writers who do not hesitate themselves to give expression to views which are repugnant to very many of us. In connection with this question of responsibility, I desire to say this, that to those people the proper time for considering principles of foreign policy never does arise, and although I am conscious of the responsibility attaching to every word which is spoken in this House, yet I also rise to speak with confidence, because I desire only to appeal to principles of 2630 international co-operation and understanding. Therefore nothing that I can say could embarrass any party or any persons, except those who are hostile to such principles.
I think that the plea of secrecy and the plea of reserve in regard to foreign affairs is carried too far. I was struck by the speech that was delivered at an earlier period of this sitting by the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. Baird). I regret that he is not in his place. So far as I understood his remarks, he seems to consider that foreign policy is a matter of so much difficulty and delicacy that none but the professional diplomatists could grapple with it. I remember that a little time ago the same hon. Member went so far as to criticise the present Under-Secretary to the Board of Trade, who was then sitting on these Back Benches, because he had ventured to speak upon a subject of which he was a master, the subject of our policy in Egypt. I was at some loss to understand the attitude taken by the hon. Member for Rugby both to-day and on the former occasion until I remembered that the hon. Member was himself once attached to one of our Embassies. Therefore I take it—I speak without any desire of giving offence—that he spoke with the reserve proper to the expert who felt what a pity it was that the House of Commons should venture to express an opinion in matters which were only the business of the expert. I am glad to feel from the great majority of the speeches that have been delivered to-night that the House generally does not take that view, and I am myself glad of the opportunity to inquire into the causes of the strained relations which have so long unhappily existed between this country and Germany, relations so strained that there has grown up a school of thought in this country which has publicly, on many occasions, proclaimed that war between the two countries is sooner or later inevitable.
I do not believe in this inevitable war. I remember that before this language was used with regard to Germany, the same kind of language was held with regard to other countries. If the House will pardon a personal reminiscence, one of the earliest recollections I have as a small schoolboy of one of my masters is the fact that he used to tell us, day after day, that we were on the brink of war with Russia, and that the sooner it came the better, because Russia was getting stronger every day. He used to make our blood curdle by reminding us that no sooner in this 2631 inevitable war had we defeated one huge battalion than another would be ready to take its place. I come to more recent years. I want to ask this House to remember the kind of relations which existed between this country and France. I hasten to say that in referring to the policy then urged with regard to France and the relations which then existed I am only filled with joy to think that happy relations exist to-day. It will be seen later that I in no way intend to belittle the friendly relations which now happily exist; indeed, if such were my view I should not choose this day to express it, when we all feel deeply the splendid heroism shown by the French sailors on behalf of our own people. But I want the House to remember the kind of feeling that did exist between this country and France for the decade previous to the French Agreement. I will not quote the more sensational Press of that time, but I want to show the public feeling that existed and the official feeling that existed by referring very briefly to the words of "The Times" during that period. I take, for instance, this extract. In January, 1896, "The Times" wrote:—It is, unfortunately, the fact that there exists between ourselves and our French neighbours a considerable number of differences; the history, the traditions and the sentiments of the two people make them, to a great extent, inevitable.And this is the theme recurring in almost every issue of the paper at times. We have frequently fierce protests being made against any curtailment of our own ship-building policy in view of the closeness of the French nation. In November, 1898, "The Times" wrote:—We are not ignorant that preparations, both naval and military, are going on in France. We prefer to draw our own inference, and the inference from the silence and preparations of the French Government is that we ought to be prepared for whatever can happen.But more than this, whilst these attacks were going on towards France, other sentiments were again being expressed with regard to Germany. I quote, for instance, this extract from "The Times" of November 18th, 1898, which was with special reference to a speech which had been delivered by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Joseph Chamberlain), whose absence from this House we all deplore:—Another idea, of which Mr. Chamberlain has been the apostle, is that in spite of keen commercial rivalry and of differences of national temper, fundamental interests and general similarity of aim and ideals ought to place England and Germany side by side in the secular movement of humanity. It is satisfactory to note that the German Press begins to acknowledge that there is something in this ideal. As a matter of 2632 fact, we have no standing disputes with Germany, nor is there any reason why the interests of the two countries should clash with Europe.Then there is this significant passage:—In the Colonial field we have not to complain of a policy of pin-pricks on the part of Germany, whose policy is always more positive and more obviously based upon the legitimate pursuit of solid interests than that of France. We want a measure of masculine friendship based upon mutual respect and proceeding upon the lines of mutual interest and community of aims.This was the spirit of the official and public attitude towards France right up to the eve of the French Agreement. Public feeling responded to this official need, and went so far that we had warlike threats to France cheered by the multitude at public meetings. The situation with regard to France was changed, and very happily changed in a moment by the Anglo-French Agreement, and I, for one, rejoice with all my heart that the relations between the two countries are so friendly and cordial. But I want to ask whether we are content to transfer the enmity exhibited in some quarters towards France to Germany, and are we content for the relations to-day between Germany and England to be similar to the relations which we brought to an end by means of the agreement with France. There is no reason to substitute enmity with Germany because we are now at peace and on terms of friendship with France, yet the fact has emerged—it is common ground to everybody in this nation—that we have been during the last summer perilously near to war. The point I desire to emphasise is that we have been so near to war without there having been any opportunity for public opinion to assert itself or to approve or to disapprove of the policy of our own country, and the policy of Germany which led us nearly to an outbreak of hostilities.
This raises the question with regard to Parliamentary control over foreign affairs. There is very much misunderstanding with regard to our demand in this matter. No one suggests that we are asking that all the delicate details of diplomacy should be conducted in public. We are agreed with those who point out that that is impossible, and, were it possible, would be absurd. What we say is that the House of Commons and the nation should be made acquainted with the broad principles which actuate our foreign policy, and should have an opportunity of criticising and of controlling those broad principles of international policy. The right hon. Gentleman (Sir E. Grey) referred in a recent speech to the diplomatic barometer, and urged us not to tap it too frequently. I 2633 do not think this House at all events attempts frequently to tap the political barometer. It is not that we are anxious to tap it, but we are sometimes anxious that the Government itself should tap it, or at least should ascertain something of the broad feeling in the nation generally, and it should not only be content to be guided by the atmosphere between narrow, official and diplomatic circles. I say that for this reason. The late crisis is now a thing of the past. I think it is not unreasonable that we feel some uneasiness lest when the next matter of difference between this country and Germany arises we may have to pass through a similar crisis. All that I have desired to say in this Debate is to lead up to the expression of this hope that the policy of this nation will be so ordered that we may look forward to the adjustment of potential difficulties without the fear that any acute crisis will arise. I had the privilege of being in Berlin shortly after the Moroccan matter had led to the acute crisis. I had the privilege of meeting representative men in many spheres of life and thought, and although I found most passionate feeling existing in all circles., even in circles the most consistently friendly to this country, I did not find and lack of friendship, any hatred, any enmity to this country. I rather found passionate feeling and indignation that they and their ideals should be so constantly and entirely misunderstood by this nation, and I think it is important to notice the distinction. I submit that we have made a considerable step towards a better understanding when we have realised the fact that the German nation believes itself to be misunderstood and misrepresented by this nation. One of the greatest Members of this House once described war as being a combination and concentration of all the horrors, atrocities, crimes, and sufferings of which human nature is capable. If that great statesman were describing war to-day he would have to add something to this definition, for these words were uttered some sixty years ago. To-day he would have to remind us that in a European war between two such Powers as England and Germany the cost to the victor would be as great as the cost to the vanquished, and he would have to say more than that. He would have to remind us that in the presence of such an upheaval as a European war would mean new forces would arise which would cause, whatever the result of the war, such a rearrangement of 2634 society as we have little, if any, conception of to-day. I believe myself when I consider the degradation, suffering and misery that would be brought upon the democracies of Europe by such a war that this would be the result. We must remember that to-day, with the democracies organised, and properly organised as they are, we could scarcely expect them to remain passive under such sufferings, and to bear such sufferings if they believed that they were brought upon them by the foolishness of their rulers. I venture to say, therefore, that there would be many landmarks removed before we came to the end of the struggle.
It is when I think of the immensity of the problem, and of its issues that I feel justification for rising in this House and pleading that every possible resource of statesmanship may be applied to the cause of international understandings. There are many hopeful features in the present situation. The Secretary for Foreign Affairs has reminded us that the crisis of the summer is past, and that we have a clean slate. There are other satisfactory features in the international situation. There are the frank and candid assurances of the right hon. Gentleman himself that he desires this understanding with Germany, that whilst we shall be loyal to France and to our friendship with France, there is nothing in that friendship which makes friendship with Germany either undesirable or impossible. I value these assurances which come from the right hon. Gentleman in his great position with so much weight, and equally do I value the spirit shown and the assurances given by the German Chancellor in his speeches to the Reichstag—speeches which were delivered under circumstances of almost unique difficulty. I am grateful for the spirit shown in those speeches. Equally hopeful is it to remember that the people of this nation are also entirely friendly in sentiment to the people of Germany as I believe the people of Germany are entirely friendly to this nation. I will, therefore, say that what is now needed is surely that the forces on the side of international understanding should be developed and strengthened. Every candid, warm, and generous speech which is made by a Minister of the Crown in public is a great asset to the cause of international understanding, and every time the sensational Yellow Press of our times on both sides is restrained or its influence undermined by the spread of truth there is a great gain to the cause of international 2635 understanding. Every step that is taken to make our own policy so clear that it can be understood by our own people and by the people of Germany to be a policy not in opposition to their interest, but recognising frankly the interests of the German nation, is a great step in the cause of international peace. By these means, if pursued with all sincerity, we may look forward to the dawn of an ampler day when this great mist will have receded from our view, when the concert of Europe will have become a living reality, and when, instead of contemplating European nations drawing swords against each other, they will stand firmly knit together in defence of a common faith and a common civilisation.
§ Mr. JOHN LYTTELTON
There is much to be said upon that great subject to which so many of the speeches to-night have been devoted, and I think it must have struck anybody who has been listening to the majority of these speeches that there does exist on both sides of this House a very great and unanimous opinion in regard to our future relationship with Germany and the status upon which that relationship rests. There were indeed certain speeches—I can call to mind two—from hon. Members on the opposite side of the House which were devoted more to criticising the past diplomatic action of the Government rather than, in my opinion, going to the whole root of the differences that have arisen. It is not direct diplomatic action that leads to quarrels and leads to war, and this misunderstanding that unfortunately now exists between the people of this country and the people of Germany rests far back and far beyond those points in the diplomatic action of this Government to which particular attention has been drawn. We must go back to public opinion, and it is to public opinion and the action of the people of this country that you must look to find a real reason for these misunderstandings. Not to-day, most certainly not to-day. But no one who studies those memoirs and letters of Sir Robert Morier can fail to find the starting-point of German antagonistic feeling towards this country in the Franco-German War, particularly after Sedan and the Prussian advance on Paris. English opinion was thrown entirely into the scale against Prussia, when Prussia had almost a right to expect that we should support her, or, if not support her, at any rate remain strictly neutral. From that day to this 2636 the misunderstanding has gradually increased, and it has gradually come to the point when undoubtedly a great menace to the peace of the world has existed. We have now got to find some means by which this position can be entirely reversed. We have got to find some way of educating the public opinion of this country in order that a war between these two countries shall be looked upon not as a possibility, but as an absolute impossibility.
To do that I press for the need of some great organisation. We have had certain organised action in the past, particularly with regard to the limitation of armaments. I submit that really the limitation of the armaments of the world does not go down to the root of the questions. It does not reach the foundation upon which quarrels rest. It is not soldiers, guns, or ships, which make international quarrels, but the injustice, the greed, the selfishness, the ambition, and above all the ignorance of mankind, which set armies and navies in motion. If we could tomorrow destroy every ship and dissolve every army corps, it would not and could not insure peace between these two countries, or between any two countries. Rather I should be inclined to think that the opposite would happen, because then humanity would not be trained. We would not have in our armies and navies men of the highest intelligence, still more men of the highest character, trained in those forces. We must look beyond armies and navies, and look to the cause of quarrels in order to look with hope into a future that shall make these quarrels impossible. But I recognise that it can be only in the evolution of education that you can make quarrels between great nations absolutely a thing of the past. It must necessarily be so, because deep down in the hearts of humanity lies the inclination to fight.
In past days—and it may be again in the future we shall find it so—tyranny and oppression were upheld and maintained by force, and it is only by force that such tyranny and such oppression can be abolished. But when we have reached a time in the civilisation of this country when that force shall not be needed to abolish oppression and tyranny, then we shall have advanced in the education of the people, the people of this country and the peoples of the world, towards at any rate some great step in the cause of universal peace. The first step 2637 towards individual agreement is individual confidence, and in the same way the first step in international agreement is international confidence. Ignorance of the motives, ideals, and purposes of those with whom we have to deal is the author not only of armies and navies, but of wars and battles. I urge and press for some organised body, some organised force and feeling that shall stimulate the people of this country into taking some definite action to guide the Government into the most complex paths of international relationship. I may mention the delegation of the Labour party sent to Germany. Anything in that direction which furthers the cause of an understanding between these two Powers, which makes these two great Powers understand one another better, each movement in that direction in its turn serves the purpose not only of showing that the more the people of this country could go across to Germany, and the more we could welcome the German people here, the better would it be for the establishment of good relations between the two nations. The whole of the existing misunderstanding is founded on the lack of knowledge among the two great peoples of each other. It is not easy to advocate a cause of this kind. It is not easy to clearly point out the means by which the goal can be attained. It is most difficult to indicate the course which the Government might possibly take. But I would make three suggestions to them to help on this cause. One suggestion is that they should encourage organised effort in this direction by every means in their power, and that they should take up again the old practice of making public speeches to great audiences in the country, purely and simply on foreign affairs. That used to be done, particularly in the great days of Mr. Gladstone, and I think that the democracy would rather appreciate it if that practice were revived, by whatever Government was in office. It would be of the greatest benefit to this country, and would go far to remove misunderstanding if the Government discouraged the publication of a certain class of Press articles which are not founded on any public opinion in this country, and which can do nothing but harass and embarrass the Government of the day from whichever side it may be drawn.
I said that this line of action is not an easy one to advocate. We can almost see how it may be misrepresented in certain quarters. We can almost be certain it will 2638 be said that our action will be liable to be regarded as being founded upon fear, or that it may be so misunderstood in Germany itself, that it may be taken there purely and simply as fear of the increasing strength of that country. There are certain organs in the Press that would not be above embarrassing the cause which we advocate by such an argument. But we have got to face that possibility, and, after all, if we allowed that possibility to have any constricting influence upon our efforts, we should merely be allowing them to manacle the freedom of our action by the fetters of cowardice as to what other people might think. There are difficulties and there are dangers in this policy which I advocate. There is the danger of over-estimating the value of peace conferences such as have been held in the past. I do not wish in any way to deprecate the value of such conferences, but I cannot help thinking that a conference such as that which has been held can only mould and form public opinion in this country without having any possibility of leading it. These conferences have their value, but far more value will come from such an organised effort as I have referred to, led by people of authority in this country, and backed up by the whole democracy. We have got to form a true judgment of cause and effect, and there is nothing more difficult to accomplish than that in connection with this very complex problem. But this cause to organise peace is worthy of our race, and worthy of its highest representatives. Let us hope that this country may go forward in this effort, not only with true enthusiasm, but with true judgment, that it may preserve the true perspective and realise that the causes of war lie far back of armies and navies in the fundamental qualities of human nature, and that such organised effort will have force and value in proportion as those who direct it preserve a true vision and a serene judgment.
§ Mr. MORRELL
I desire, if I may, to make a few observations upon the interesting speech we heard from the Foreign Secretary. The right hon. Gentleman reminded us that the Persian question is part of a larger question, and, of course, there is no other way to account for the action of the Government except on that supposition. I am sure my right hon. Friend will be the first to admit that no consideration of that kind would weigh for a moment if it was clear that by the action we are taking we are in any way 2639 breaking our engagements with the other Powers and with Persia, or acting in any way dishonourably to the good name of this country, and more especially towards our Mahomedan fellow subjects. The Secretary of State assured us of his anxiety to co-operate with Russia in securing Persian independence and giving them fair play. I must say the events of the last few weeks are rather calculated to cause among the Persian people a good deal of doubt as to his ability to carry out the intentions which he has expressed. He has dealt in his speech only with the actual demands which have been made by Russia upon the Persian Government, and he has given us reasons for the attitude which has been taken by His Majesty's Government in regard to those demands. I want to carry the House still further back to the circumstances out of which this crisis arose. I want to go back to 11th November, when the Russian Government presented what has been called the first ultimatum. At that time there was a dispute between the Russian and Persian Governments with regard to the property of a certain Prince Shua-es-Sultaneh under the protection of Russia. The Russian Government insisted that the Persian Government should withdraw their gendarmes, and should apologise at once to the Russian Legation on pain of the instant introduction of Russian troops. What did the Persian Government do? Remembering the engagements of this country, remembering the declarations which were made over and over again that Persia was to have fair play, they appealed through their Parliament and through their Foreign Minister to the British Government for advice. They gave that advice. They advised them, on 20th November, to comply absolutely with the demands which Russia had made. On 24th November, four days after that advice had been given, the Persian Government did comply with those demands. They complied with the demands, rightly or wrongly that was the impression they had got, that if they did so the Russian troops would be withdrawn. The British Government, I was told by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary in answer to a question, did not give any specific assurances, but they undoubtedly led the Persian Government to believe that if the advice was followed the Russian troops would be withdrawn. The correspondent of "The Times," in a report on 24th November, in relating how the Persian 2640 Government did comply with the demands of Russia, stated:—Mr. Cairns, Director of Taxation, last night with drew Mr. Shuster's gendarmes and handed Shua-es-Sultaneh's property over to officials of the Foreign Office, who were later relieved by the Persian Cossacks. Simultaneously Vossuk-ed-Dowleh, Persian Foreign Minister, went to the "Russian Legation—He said:I come to apologise on behalf of the Persian Government for the unmannerliness of officials towards the Russian Consul-General.Then "The Times" correspondent went on to say:Sir George Barclay, British Minister, assisted the reconciliation—He assumed that the whole thing was over, and the Governments reconciled.by convincing the Persians that the Russian troops would be withdrawn if an acceptable apology were tendered.I want the House to consider what was the position of the Persian people then. They had done exactly what the British Government advised them to do. They had done so, it is quite true, three or four days late according to the view taken by the Foreign Office, but they had carried out those demands within four days of receiving the advice to do so from the Foreign Office. They had been told, or they had been led to believe, that if they did so the Russian troops would be withdrawn, and so, on 24th November, five days after, they received another ultimatum, the second ultimatum, with still more peremptory terms and forty-eight hours' time for compliance, demanding the instant dismissal of Mr. Shuster, demanding a veto on all future appointments, and the payment of an indemnity.
What, again, did the Persian Government do. They did not say, "We refuse to discuss these matters." What they said was, and I hope my hon. Friend will correct me if I am wrong, "This is altogether unreasonable within the time." They asked for time. I asked a question on this point some days ago:Whether the Persian Government stated that they were willing to discuss the terms of the second ultimatum if reasonable time were given.and the answer which I got was—The reply to the third question is that the Persian Government replied in this sense.I want the House to consider what is the position now. Here the Persian Government were faced with a new demand, which they no doubt thought was an unjust one. They said, "We are willing to have an investigation; we are willing to consider the position of Mr. Shuster, but we ask that time shall be given for reasonable 2641 investigation." They appealed to the British Government, I understand, to make some representations to Russia to that effect. What is the answer of the British Governments? How did we treat the extremity this people to whom we were bound by such long ties of friendship and alliance, with Russian troops advancing upon their capital? We said to the Russians, "Go on; we make no objection to the first two of your demands." We said to the Persian Government, "It is all your own fault, because you would employ British subjects in Northern Persia." That, put briefly, was the attitude taken up by the British Government. We cannot say it is one that fills any Englishman who considers it with pride in the honour of his country. We have been told over and over again that it is all the fault of Mr. Shuster, that he has made things impossible. That has been repeated to-day. When it comes to driving out a man, instantly dismissing him at the point of the bayonet, with the approval of the British Government, I should like to know what exactly are the crimes alleged against Mr. Shuster? What is his fault? What has he done? We are told that he has not called at the Russian Legation as often as he ought to have done. Beyond that, what is the exact charge? The charge as stated to-day by the Secretary of State is that he appointed Mr. Leppoc to a position in Northern Persia, to be a collector at Tabriz. What sort of a charge is that?
One might have thought that Mr. Shuster had summoned Mr. Leppoc all the way from England to take charge of the finances at Tabriz. Nothing of the sort. Mr. Leppoc had been employed for years by the Persian Government. He was well recognised as a public servant. All that Mr. Shuster had done—this is the beginning and the end of his offence as publicly narrated; there may be other things which have not been told—was that he transferred Mr. Leppoc, who happened to be a British subject, from one place to another, both in Northern Persia, both in the sphere of Russian influence. Because of that the Persian Capital is to be invaded with our consent; Russian troops are to advance upon Teheran. I must say that a poorer excuse than that for taking away the independence—for that is what it comes to—of a people to whom we are bound was never put forward in this House. Mr. Shuster is an able and honest politician. It would be well if there were more able and honest politicians in the world. 2642 The world would be a far better place than it is. He has the confidence of the Persian Parliament and of the Persian people. They are prepared to face this thing, and stand by him, for they recognise that in the seven months he has been in Persia he has done the best he could for the Persian people, whom he was there to serve. How far are we going in our efforts to drive out Mr. Shuster? Supposing the Medjliss persists in standing by Mr. Shuster and refuse to send him away, and supposing the Russian troops advance upon Teheran, and that they persist in destroying the Medjliss and the Constitution in order to get rid of Mr. Shuster—are we still to give our approval to the Russian Government under those circumstances? I would like to know what is involved in this policy?
With regard to the second demand in this ultimatum, we are told it is nothing to put a veto upon the appointment of foreign advisers, because that has been done in practice before. But there is all the difference in the world between suggesting to the Persian Government that they of their own freewill should come and consult Britain or Russia before making an appointment as they have hitherto done and insisting that no foreign adviser shall be appointed unless the Persian Government get the absolute and formal consent of Great Britain and Russia. Obviously that limits enormously the choice of the Persian Parliament, and makes it exceedingly difficult for them to carry out those internal reforms which we are always protesting we wish to see them do. With regard to the indemnity, we have put forward certain considerations before the Russian Government, but I am not aware that we have asked that the demand for the indemnity shall be withdrawn. The indemnity cannot be paid, because there is no cash to pay it. But everyone knows what a demand for indemnity means. It means that we are to have more concessions, and more concession hunting.
If that is the sort of policy that we are now giving the approval of the British Government to, I do not think it is any wonder that we have indignant protests from Mussulman countries. From Calcutta, Bombay, Constantinople, Egypt, and other places, resolutions are arriving against the course the Government have taken. Some of us think that the most serious part of the affair is the effect that is being made in India by the action of His Majesty's Government in participating—for that is really what is 2643 happening—in an attack on Persian independence. There was a mass meeting held at Bombay in one of the principal mosques there at which a resolution was passed, recording the sense of indignation, alarm, and surprise, of those present at the Russian occupation of Persian territory, and the advance of their troops upon Teheran. That meeting begged "respectfully to ask the British Foreign Office to reconsider the situation, and use their influence in preserving the principle of the integrity of Persia and preventing the Russian advance." I might read numbers of other telegrams, and other protests that we have received at the Persian Committee from India, Constantinople and other parts. We are told, "Oh, but think how much worse we should be without the Anglo-Russian Convention." That Anglo-Russian Convention, it is said, is an instrument for helping Persia. "By protesting against these proceedings you are seeking to destroy the Anglo-Russian Convention!"
I have never been against the Anglo-Russian Convention. I listened to the speeches made at the time, and I thought on the whole, though it might be a bad bargain for this country it was on the whole a good thing we should have a bargain with Russia. It is not we who seek to destroy or wreck the Anglo-Russian Convention; it is the Foreign Office themselves. I am making a protest at a time when the spirit of the Anglo-Russian Convention is being broken. I do not think anyone who reads the words of the Anglo-Russian Convention in which it is stated that Great Britain and Russia mutually engage to respect the integrity and independence of Persia, can contend when they proceed to read of the recent attack by Russia and the presenting of two ultimatums to a defenceless country that that is in form with the Convention. I say if the Anglo-Russian Convention is to be preserved, and I am all for preserving it, if it can be preserved, on lines consistent with the honour of this country, it is time the Foreign Office made clear to the Russian Government that the sort of action taken against Persia in the last few weeks cannot, and must not, be persisted in. If there are grievances against Persia let them be investigated. If the Persian Government behaved wrongly let there be proper investigation. But the recent action of Russia is not fair play, or in conformity with the spirit of the Anglo-Russian 2644 Convention, and I am certain it is not in accordance with the public opinion of this country.
§ Mr. BIGLAND
It it not my intention to follow the argument of the hon. Member who has just sat down, but rather to go back to the beginning of this Debate today, and to refer to some of the remarks made by the hon. Member for Blackburn (Sir Henry Norman). Some of his remarks were very much to the point in reference to the arguments I wish to put before the House. He said at the beginning of his speech that the German and British nations coming together at this particular juncture that they could do anything of themselves, and he went on to say that all other matters compared with that were unimportant. I believe a sense of responsibility has weighed with Members upon both sides of the House in the speeches they made during this Debate. I feel it myself, and I believe anyone could diagnose it directly. I claim to know something of the commercial spirit and the enterprise and competition existing between this country and Germany. Going back to 1870, or, roughly, forty years ago, we know that in the first twenty years after the great war the progress of Germany was presistent and steady; but during the last twenty years the progress of Germany has been terrific, and that progress must have extension. Members upon this side of the House and upon the other recognise that the enormous internal resources and development of Germany must have extension. The hon. Member for Blackburn rightly told us, in my opinion, that in one respect the German people and the British people come alongside one another in that they are the only two peoples who persistently demand the open door in neutral markets. In that way I think there is a point at which we can come alongside and offer to work with the German people in a different sense than has been mooted tonight. It is said that the Germans in their colonies have always given us the open door, and we have always given to Germany the open door, but when we come to consider some of the actions of other nations we regret that they have not seen fit on their side to give to the German people and to us the open door in their colonial dependencies We have only to remember that when we ceded Madagascar to France they practically wrote over that island, "No Lancashire and Yorkshire goods here." The United 2645 States is doing the same thing with regard to the Philippines and with their other possessions, and I apprehend that one point which is causing trouble in the German mind with regard to foreign affairs is that fifteen to twenty years ago they realised the fact that with their trading people the growing tariffs of the world had made them nervous. We have only to remember what happened between Germany and Canada when Canada voluntarily gave to this country a preference, because it increased the nervousness amongst the German people. They resented that preference, and hon. Members know the result of that little contretemps between Germany and Canada, and how finally Canada gave way and met Germany after protesting that she had a right to give a preference to the people of her own Empire. German opinion and German feeling with regard to foreign affairs is that there is one absolute necessity for the German Empire as it exists, and that is open markets in foreign countries.
I do not believe that the navy built by Germany, which has exercised so much argument and so much thought in this country, is intended in any sense to be a menace to this country. I honestly believe that that navy has been built to stand before all the people of the world, and demand when international questions arise that her voice shall be heard with regard to the closing of markets or the resettlement of countries which may change the sovereign power. That, to my mind, is the reason why Germany has developed her navy to the extent she has, because that is an absolute necessity of the German people. They have no vast possessions in assured markets, and they must take up the position that they must make themselves so strong that if China is breaking up her voice will be heard. Germany realised fifteen to twenty years ago that it was no use her making strong representations with regard to the settlement of international affairs in a country 7,000 miles away if she was unable to take any definite action on the ocean, and this building up of her navy means that Germany demands open markets.
I feel that something that was dropped from this side had a good deal to do with that on account of our action in 1903 in developing a policy of Imperial preference, for that increased the nervousness on the part of the people of Germany. I have thought this matter over for years, and I 2646 feel that the time has now come when we and Germany can meet together and talk openly with one another. Perhaps the time has come when the Foreign Secretary may ask ten business men in this House to meet ten business men of the German Parliament, and have a conference together to endeavour to understand the business difficulties between the two nations. There are business difficulties, and there is a feeling that Germany has not treated our Empire in the way we expected. They elect to take from Australia and New Zealand the wool our Colonies have to offer, but they absolutely prohibit the beef and the mutton. Is it not reasonable to think that these German merchants, hoping for great markets in Australia and New Zealand, would show a reasonable spirit in which to take some of the great products of this country? Is it quite fair the German merchant should say to the people of India, "We will take your raw jute, but at no price your gunny bag," and that at the same time their textile manufacturers should have the open market in India? If these things were put by business men to business men I believe that the Germans would reciprocate. The position with regard to this Imperial preference no doubt to-day does actuate the minds of the people in Germany. It makes them nervous, and I do not wonder at it. If we contemplate partially closing to German exporters the markets of 300,000,000 people, I do not wonder at them feeling nervous, and wondering how their trade would be affected if that policy were carried into effect. I am one of those broad-minded traders who would advocate that in any fiscal changes we may make in India we should be quite prepared to say, "We want no preference for Great Britain. We want in these markets just what the German wants—open markets and competition on equal terms." We want the countries who expect open markets within our own Empire to be prepared to give us a reasonably open market in their empire. The trouble arose in the beginning with John Bright and Cobden. When they appealed to the whole world to trade on equal terms, as spokesmen they did not realise they had obtained such a supremacy that the other competitors could not play the game with them on even terms. They should have been prepared to give their competitors a reasonable start in the race, because they were so much better equipped. If I may put a simile to the hon. Gentleman opposite who laughs, I would ask him to suppose 2647 that Hilton perhaps the best amateur player of golf, meets me upon the links, and says, "I will play you a game on even terms for £100." I say, "It Is nonsense. The game is lost before the first stroke is played. You must give me twelve strokes, according to the handicap, and then I will play you." That is the position in which we find ourselves to-day. There are certain countries which may rightly take the scratch place and which must be prepared in the fiscal arrangements with weaker and less developed countries to afford them willingly a start in the race. If we follow that simile a little further, and arrange that the tariff limit of all scratch nations shall be 20 per cent., then we can readily see how, Germany meeting with us in conference, we shall be able to say to Italy, "We can afford to give you a 10 per cent. tariff more than we give ourselves," and we can go to Turkey, to Greece, and to other countries and say, "We are prepared to give you an advantage." It was mentioned to-night that one of the things we could do with Germany was to give Turkey her freedom with regard to her tariffs. It is perfectly true that, internationally, Turkey is not free, and that is one of the things such a business conference might suggest to the Governments of both countries—the possibility of how we could do something to internationally make, peace more assured.
It comes to this finally, that unless we arrive at an international understanding between the great races of the world—between Germany, France, the United States and Great Britain—all causes of war in the future will be a matter of markets. I believe that the wars of the future will have very little to do with territory. The great jealousy between the nations to-day is as to markets, and if we and Germany can come together and talk the matter over as business men and say, "It is imperative to your existence as an industrial people to preserve open markets in all parts of the world; we are willing to give you and ask our sister States to give you the same preference in our markets that they give to Great Britain on one condition, that you give the products of the British Empire the same opportunity in your markets. We are willing to have an understanding with you on the terms that there shall be no jealousy of the British Empire in the future. We, on our part, agree that there shall be no 2648 putting up of preferential tariffs against Germany provided that the German Empire reciprocates in the same reasonable way." If we can come to such an understanding all will be well.
Personally I do not believe that free imports internationally will ever be possible again, I believe a certain limit of tariff is necessary to safeguard the wage earners, and if we, as business men, could come together and say the wage earners limit shall be 10 per cent. or 15 per cent., it may be possible to remove jealousies between nations. From that moment I believe it will be possible to talk about the reduction of armaments. But until we recognise that unanimity or uniformity of the tariff must obtain, there can be no hope of a general reduction. We must have something like equality of tariff. We must have equal opportunity in all markets and in each others markets.
Who cared about Morocco? Germany knew that if France had it entirely her market was closed. It has been said that the reason Germany sent a vessel to Agidir was simply to keep an open market. We have had it stated that the result of that action was that we should have equality of opportunity in Morocco for thirty years and after. I believe, that if we and Germany commercially could come together, we might form ourselves into an international handicap committee, and we could offer to let certain nations come in. As sportsmen we could recognise there are some people we must give a start to. Some of us quite understand we could give a man four yards in a hundred, but if he claimed fourteen, we should refuse to run. That is the position in international markets with regard to commerce. We should be able to give our competitors, and all competitors, a small but certain start in the race. They have been handicapping themselves for the last forty years in a most unsportsmanlike manner, and we call a halt. We say we are going to have a voice on this handicapping committee. Surely our House of Commons, representing all the industries of this great kingdom, should be the handicapping committee. It is for us to say, "If you do not accord to your competitors reasonable opportunities in your markets, then you have no cause to say that if the British Empire gives a preference within its own borders it is actually unjust or unfair to you, if, at the same moment we offer you that same preference on the one condition that you give to the goods of the British 2649 Empire the same opportunities in your market that we give to yours in ours." We should cut away from the Germans the possibility of saying "You have not treated us fairly. This will strain relations to such a point, it will cut off the employment of our own people to such an extent that it will be a serious national menace to us if you follow this line of Imperial preference." Then we say, "It is open to you, if you like, to have the same opportunities in the British Empire market that we claim for ourselves, but you must be willing to take beef from Australia, the gunnybag from India, and the manufactured goods from Lancashire and Yorkshire, and you must be willing to recognise that we are both on the scratch line, and that we mean to play on even terms."
I am not treating this matter lightly. If the Foreign Secretary can see his way to invite such a conference of business men in Germany and business men in England to meet, the first result would, perhaps, be void, but public opinion, engendered along these lines of what is fair between the trader in Germany and the trader in Great Britain, would begin to open the minds of the Germans to the fact that they have in this vast Empire of ours enjoyed opportunities that no other Empire has given to their traders, and I believe it would awake in them some sense of that fairness that is inherent in the minds of all our great traders, merchants, and shipowners, and of the fact that we ask for no preference. The greatest ambition in all our minds is that in all the markets of the world we should enjoy equality of opportunity with others. I believe that the two nations coming together on a purely business basis would do more towards settling public opinion and removing the jealousy which gives cause for war than any other line that we as a community in this House could possibly put before a friendly nation.
§ Mr. ALLEN BAKER
I am unable to follow the last speaker in all his remarks. I am sure we have listened to him with great pleasure on this side of the House, and I heartily agree with his suggestion that a conference of business men, or other representative men if they can be got together, representing the two countries, would be able to come to some agreement or some understanding that would be satisfactory to both sides. I want to say how heartily I endorse the speech that was made by the hon. Member for Droitwich 2650 (Mr. John Lyttelton). That speech, I am sure, is one that will be welcomed in all parts of the country. It is one that will have its effect, I believe, across the Channel as well. The Debate has been characterised by a dignity, a sincerity, and a depth of feeling of friendship to our kindred people in Germany which will have its effect not only in this country and in Germany, but throughout the world. I was very glad indeed to hear the speech of the Noble Lord (Lord Charles Beres-ford) breathing friendliness and kindliness to that great nation which, coming from him as representing that section of our people who are in favour of a large Navy, will be widely appreciated. The Debate falls upon an auspicious occasion. The meeting held a few hours ago in the Caxton Hall to organise a great demonstration a few years hence to celebrate 100 years of peace between the English-speaking peoples is one in which we can all rejoice. It was representative of both political parties and of business, literature, and all grades of thought in the country. It seems to me that the example of America and Canada, who have followed a policy of friendship and got rid of armaments and gunboats on their frontiers, ought to be followed, and I believe it will, by other countries.
I want to refer to the remarkable speeches which have been made by the Foreign Secretary. The first on that memorable night of 13th March, when that proposal of President Taft came to this country and was welcomed by him, sent a thrill of satisfaction and of hope throughout, not only this country, but the civilised world. We felt that by the acceptance of that proposal we had taken a long step towards that to which I believe all civilised, and certainly all Christian nations are looking forward, the time when there shall be an understanding among the peoples of the world, and when our differences will be settled, not by brute force, but by justice, law, and arbitration. We are sorry, of course, that there has not been an immediate ratification of that proposed treaty, but a few weeks ago I had several conversations with the Vice-President of the United States, and he gave me what he said I might take as an assurance that he believed in a very short time that treaty would be ratified by the American Senate. That treaty, ratified by the American Senate, will be the first step in this great understanding between the two peoples. The proposal is that France also should 2651 join. Why should not Germany join as well? I believe the United States have made the proposal to Germany. If that is accepted by France and England I believe Germany will not be slow to follow. This is surely the ideal we ought to have before us. That speech will remain as one of the greatest and most historic pronouncements in connection with the question of international peace made in this or any other Parliament.
I wish to refer to another speech. I am sorry I am not able to speak of it in quite the same enthusiastic way. I refer to the most unfortunate speech that was made at the Mansion House on 21st July. The voice was the voice of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but the hand was the hand of, if not the Foreign Secretary, certainly of the Foreign Office. I think that is the cause of the irritation that is felt and which has such an influence in Germany to-day. I had hoped that in the speech the Foreign Secretary made on the 27th of last month he would have gone a little further than he did, and that he would have said some words of greater warmth and friendliness to Germany which feels so much irritated over the position of matters to-day. It seems to me that, if we are to have the international peace which is desired by the two peoples, it must be by the cordial union of the three greatest Christian Powers, and three greatest nations of the world. We must not only have cordial relations with the United States, but equally cordial relations, and even warm friendship, with the German Empire and with other nations. We have had many evidences of the real strength and friendship that does exist between ourselves and our German cousins. That feeling had been growing for several years, and it had reached the point at which there was such real friendship that when any difference of opinion, or any strain came, and the Germans believed that we were allying ourselves with and standing with those whom they consider to be their natural enemy, they felt that, in the preparation which was made to attack them, we had played false to our professions, and that our friendship was not real. I believe that is the measure of their disappointment and their apparent unfriendliness to-day. I think every step ought to be taken that can be taken to remove the feeling of strain and stress that prevails. I believe that if some proposals were made whereby a conference could be held and 2652 the whole situation talked over and discussed an understanding would be come to and we would find that the interests of Germany and England are identical, that our aims and ideals are the same, that we are not only necessary to each other in the progress of our own commerce and our own development, but that unitedly we are required for the advance and progress and civilisation and Christianity in the world. I hope sincerely that some step may be taken and taken speedily to let our friends in Germany know that the masses of the people in this country are truly friendly to them, and ready to hold out the hand of friendship and meet them in any just ambitions they might have for expansion, and with such an understanding not only will our prosperity in both countries to be continued, but it will be the great step that is wanted for the union of the peoples of the world for peace and for progress.
§ Sir WILLIAM BYLES
As a sincere and loyal supporter of the right hon. Gentleman, I yield to no one in my admiration of the exemplary qualities which he has shown as a public man. He must have observed that he found a friend or two opposite to him to-day, and a general silence from his own side of the House; and I think he must be impressed with the widespread feeling which there is on the benches near where I sit—I will not say of hostility to him and his policy so much as an earnest desire that true Liberalism must permeate the policy of the Foreign Office, and that cordial relations may be established with all the countries of the world, especially with Germany. One of the most striking things in the two days' Debates has been to show what tremendous power rests in the Government of this country, especially in the Foreign Secretary. Some unwise act, some false step may rapidly bring us into war and disaster. The best result I hope for from these two days' debates is that there will be established more intimacy between the House of Commons and the Foreign Office At present they are hardly on speaking terms. The Foreign Secretary, although a Minister of the Crown, must never forget that he can only remain so by leave of the House of Commons.
May I point out to the House that the silence of the Foreign Office, the secrecy of the foreign policy, can never produce confidence, there may be produced indifference. To establish confidence there must be knowledge. We 2653 get on very well in normal times when nothing is happening, and people care nothing, and know nothing about what is going on. But when troubles come, as they lately have, then ignorance only breeds distrust. If the nation is kept in the dark, and then suddenly finds that things are going on, it becomes frightened and suspicious. That is what the Foreign Minister is suffering from now. Human creatures are always afraid of the unknown, and to know is to understand Therefore, let the right hon. Gentleman explain his policy, as he has done to-day, I believe with most beneficial results. Let him explain his policy if he wants, and I have no doubt he does want, the intelligent and moral support of the nation. There is no doubt—I think the Foreign Secretary will not be ignorant of it—that there is an uneasy feeling both in this House and outside it, that the Liberal party is being hustled along into an anti-Liberal policy. I listened the other day to my right hon. Friend's speech, especially to that part of it which referred to the crisis which arose in July. I listened eagerly to his words, but I am bound to say I was disappointed. Warmer words were spoken by the leader of the Opposition shortly afterwards, warmer words were spoken by my Noble Friend Lord Morley in the other House, and again, a few days later by Lord Haldane. Then we have had the reports of the Reichstag debate. Can anyone read the report of that debate and still doubt the imprudence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's speech at the Mansion House.
The unadulterated mischief of that speech, the peril to the world, were such that it was like playing with fire. I could not but think what an infinite blessing words of an opposite character might have produced. Here again bringing out the responsibility of statesmen in such a position. Here we have hundreds and thousands of men and women both in this country and in Germany asking for Anglo-German friendship. All the time these hon. Members, these distinguished statesmen, can reach out the hand, and get it. They can get either friendship or hostility, as easily as Eve got the apple—the apple of discord. They can get it as easily as Noah taking the olive branch from the dove. Lord Haldane said it was only a disposition to misinterpret on either side which led to misunderstanding. That disposition to misinterpret very often arises from interested motives. Encouragement of the national spirit has 2654 been the foundation of the principle of Liberal foreign policy for long, and to many of us it would seem to be cynically disregarded both in Morocco and in Persia. The Moors are a fine and ancient race. Why did we ignore them in all these recent negotiations? Why did we ignore them in order to back up the French monopolist concessionaires? Persia has recently shown manifestations of its national spirit. Lord Curzon in a most eloquent speech, for which I beg leave to thank him, told us of their history, their art, their poetry, and their national aspirations. Why then are we to join Russia in crushing that spirit, crushing it, as it appears to many of us, like a walnut between nutcrackers?
We hear a great deal about the Anglo-Russian Agreement. The more I hear about that agreement the more I am inclined to regard it as an Anglo-Russian entanglement. What we are doing, or at any rate, what we are sanctioning in Persia all results from this lack of understanding with Germany. Mr. Morgan Sinister, whose name has been brought up many times in this Debate, says to-day, in a published letter, a striking letter I think:Well-informed public opinion here (in Persia), realises of course that British foreign policy is dictated by the necessity of keeping both eyes and one ear on our Teutonic friends, and for the sake of humanity in general I sincerely hope that some means may be found to bring about a better state of feeling between Germany and the English people.Do not we all share that sentiment. I would point out that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary stands on the highest pinnacle of fame and power in Europe, and I believe it to be in his power to say things and to do things which would change the atmosphere now dangerously charged with suspicion and distrust, change it slowly perhaps, but change it into a blessed atmosphere of confidence and mutual help. For six years we have had a Government of which we on this side, at any rate, have been proud of, proud as a whole, proud of its individual members, proud of its eloquence, proud of its achievements, and we have supported them with a loyalty of which I think they will not complain. Though a Coalition we have been a solid phalanx in the Division Lobby for six years, which hon. Gentlemen opposite have not been able to break. Is this brilliant chapter of Parliamentary history to be prematurely closed because of foreign relations, because the Government supporters on this side of the House 2655 are so numerous in condemning the foreign policy, because Liberal principles have been departed from in that department of the State, and Liberal traditions and ideals forgotten.
I warn His Majesty's Government seriously but sorrowfully, I can tell them and I speak of what I know, the continued strained relations with Germany, the consequent maintenance of a large and crushing expense to the nation for armaments, and perhaps above all the advance of the Cossack in Persia with our connivance, I warn them that those things are having the effect, and ought to have the effect, of lowering the temperature of Liberalism in this country, of weakening the loyalty of many of their supporters in the House and of lessening the allegiance of many of their strongest followers in the country. The Foreign Secretary knows vastly more than I can possibly know about the affairs we have been discussing. But I can, at any rate, read the signs of the times. As a nonsense writer has said, "I may not be a peacock, but I have eyes." I repeat the warning conscientiously. The Government have made many promises of large home reforms for next year—three great Bills on which they will want all the support and strength we can give them. But they will not have it unless the trend and spirit of their foreign policy is deflected—I will not say reversed. Let there be some cordial and generous words spoken to promote friendly relations with Germany. Let there be, on the other hand, some abatement in the expansion of our menacing armaments. Let there be to Russia some firm words about the pledges we have to maintain. Then, I believe, we may hope for a stronger loyalty and a more united party than the examination of the list in a division on foreign affairs to-day would reveal. I hope my right hon. Friend will not resent the observations that I have felt it my duty to make. I hope he will not say that he has been wounded in the house of his friends. It is the duty of a sincere friend to warn his friend when he thinks he is going wrong.
This Debate has now lasted about fifteen hours, and I have had the privilege and pleasure of sitting through the whole of it. One remarkable fact about this evening's Debate is that we have had nineteen speeches, of which only five have been delivered from the Unionist benches, two from the Irish benches, and no less than twelve by members of the 2656 party to which I belong. That is significant. It shows that we of the Liberal party are most anxious to understand and to express our feelings on foreign affairs, and if at any time the Prime Minister wants to do something to satisfy his own supporters, let him give a day for the discussion of foreign affairs. With regard to the speeches from the benches opposite, with one exception they might just as well have been made from the Liberal side of the House. They were all speeches of which the House might be proud, and with one exception they breathed a feeling of strong friendship towards Germany. They went further, and suggested that our policy was not sufficient in its present form, but that some action should be taken or some new departure made which would inaugurate a new era in our relations with Germany. The one exception that I make in this account of the speeches from the Conservative benches is that of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Rugby (Mr. Baird) He is, I suppose, a distinguished Gentleman, for he has the honour of being the private secretary to the Leader of the Opposition. We all know what extremely important persons Parliamentary private secretaries are. I call attention to his speech because I suppose it breathes the spirit of the Diplomatic Service. He is the one Gentleman in this Debate, so far as I know, that speaks with the experience of that Service.
Well, I understood so, and I do not want to be in the same category as those distinguished statesmen. The Member for Rugby used language which was absolutely indecent in the mouth of anyone who has served His Majesty. Speaking of Germany at the present time he said that we might discount nine-tenths of what was said there because it was being spoken owing to local exigencies. If you want to make friends with another Power do not, if you want to be diplomatic, start by telling them that nine-tenths of what they say you are not willing to believe. He then went on to say: "Perhaps Germany will think better of this when her General Election is over." I venture to say that German statesmen and the German people have a good deal more sense of dignity, and what is right and generous to those on the other side than has the hon. Gentleman the Member for Rugby. Why I take exception to his remarks is that when you get them from 2657 a man who has been brought up in the Diplomatic Service it shows what the Diplomatic Service must be! It is as narrow and as liable to error, if not more liable, than any other department of the public service.
A United States ambassador, an eminent man, once made the remark thatno one ought to be an ambassador who had spent his life in the Diplomatic Service. When he was asked 'Why,' he replied, 'that an ambassador ought to understand the feeling of his country, and the atmosphere and inclinations of the people rather than the narrow groove of the service.'I am inclined to think he was right. The greatest success in our diplomatic body at the present time is undoubtedly Mr. Bryce at Washington. Mr. Bryce, as everyone knows who knows of him either personally or his career, is absolutely free from all the prejudices and absurdities of the Diplomatic Service. I venture earnestly to suggest to the Foreign Secretary that one way in which we might begin a new era in our German relations would be to send as ambassador to Berlin and possibly to Vienna, some distinguished persons whom we previously found out would be acceptable at those capitals. I do not want in any way to suggest that the distinguished ambassadors serving in Berlin and Vienna are not in every way satisfactory, but those ambassadors might be promoted as occasion arises. The very fact that a movement of places among ambassadors was taking place would mark the end of one period which was mournful in its relations leading almost to a breach of the usual and proper relations between the two countries, and would begin a new period. I am sorry my suggestion does not seem to meet with the approval of one hon. Member below the Gangway, but I trust the spirit, at any rate, in which it is made, may meet with his accord. There are many ways in which we might begin a new era in our relations with Germany. One thing that struck me throughout this Debate was the practical unanimity from all sides of the House expressing a desire that something should be done in order to mark a new period in our foreign relations. This was really the striking note in our Debate to-night, and it has been echoed on each side of the House. I took a note of the whole Debate, and I marked no less than ten speakers who have in various ways given expression to the sentiment that something should be done.
As one hon. Member said, "fine words butter no parsnips." That really was the governing note of the Debate, and although 2658 it was rather a long sermon, this text and the application of it has been sufficiently obvious. Let me point out to the Front bench how many ways there are in which something could be done. The Colonial extension of Germany has been mentioned, and in this connection a very interesting speech was made by the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Bigland). During the course of that speech I was very glad to notice the leader of the Opposition came in. I am sure it must have been a very edifying spectacle for him to find how very near a free trader one of his supporters has become. He pointed to Germany's Colonial and national expansion. There are many ways in which this might be achieved. Could we not intimate to Germany that proposals for purchase or exchange of territory might be entertained? Let me point out that suppose the purchase of any territory was contemplated if it was accompanied by a mutual understanding about armaments, it would be a very useful investment for Germany to pay two or three millions a year for a few years, knowing that by so doing it would secure good feeling, and therefore freedom from war and from anxiety about increasing naval expenditure. Then, again, there is the question of coaling stations in different parts of the world. It has been the policy of our country to prevent as far as possible the acquisition of new coaling stations for Germany. I believe that policy to be wrong, and at any rate the opposite policy ought to be seriously considered. Is it not obvious that if the German fleet is able to go all over the world its force will be dispersed, and its danger in the case of any sudden outbreak would be lessened. I think this is a point which ought to be taken into consideration in connection with the words one often hears in Germany, and which now have a national meaning in that country, "Our future lies on the sea." The German Emperor some years ago uttered those words, and that phrase has become in some measure a national motto since then. The future of Germany on the sea can only be accomplished fully, and in the sense that they mean it when their fleet of war vessels is able to go all over the world as freely as a fleet of merchant vessels. I wish to say a word or two about the extremely unfortunate distractions which arise in connection with espionage. There has recently been a trial at Berlin of a British subject for endeavouring to purchase the plans of German battleships, and he has been 2659 sentenced to seven years' penal servitude. In this connection it is well to remember that he was arrested at Hamburg last March, and therefore his offence cannot have had anything to do with the recent crisis. In the course of what appears to be an official statement published at the conclusion of the trial, these words occur:By this trial bands of spies are now rendered harmless, bands which have laboured to obtain military secrets for the English espionage bureau.I do not suppose any hon. Member of this House knows what the espionage bureau is, but this statement was published in every paper in Germany, and so long as these trials for espionage go on so long will a good deal of mistrust, suspicion, and dislike continue in the minds of people in both countries. What the action of the War Office, or the Admiralty, or the Foreign Office is in connection with the information they obtain from abroad I do not know, but I feel certain that if our policy mutually with Germany could be so altered that we should refuse to accept on either side information as to the warlike preparations of other Powers except through proper and recognised sources it would be an additional security for the peace of the world. I might also refer to other opportunities which seem to present themselves for meeting German feeling in this way. There are many ways in which trade and co-operation of work can be forwarded by mutual action by the Legislature of this country. During the present Session we have passed, or we are about to pass, two Bills, one connected with maritime law and another connected with copyright, which will be a distinctly benevolent influence in this direction, but there are many other ways, including the suggestions made by the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Bigland) in connection with our commercial relations which indicate lines on which action taken by us now might begin a new era of relations with Germany, and might lead to the establishment in a much greater sense than ever before of the peace of Europe.
There is in this building a notable picture, one of the most striking historical pictures, I suppose, that was ever painted. I mean the great picture in the Royal Gallery which represents the meeting of Blücher and Wellington after Waterloo. That recalls a great period which ended in 1815, the period of Napoleonic power in Europe. During the whole 2660 of the critical time of the period England and Germany were allies, and our union with the power of Prussia and with German national sentiment was, roughly speaking, the reason the power and the tyranny of Napoleon was brought to nought. That is the story of 1815, and never since that date have we been anything else but friends with Germany. It would indeed be a scandal and a shame and a disgrace to us and to civilisation if the year 1915 did not see us as good friends at least as we were in the year 1815. It ought to be, it might be, and it should be a lasting friendship between this country and Germany.
§ Mr. CHARLES DUNCAN
It would be perhaps as well if some Member of the party to which I happen to belong said at any rate a word in this Debate. So far as we are concerned our attitude is one of confirmed friendship with the German people. I have listened with very great pleasure to some of the speeches to-night, and none gave me greater pleasure than that of the Noble Lord the Member for Portsmouth (Lord C. Beresford). I think he struck the right note in his speech. He gave a pretty straight indication not only to this House, and not only to those on the Front Bench, but to the people outside that whatever may have been his professions, in the Navy at any rate he is a man of peace, and very strongly in favour of peace between this nation and the great nation of Germany. I appreciated the sentiment in the speech of the hon. Member for Hull, and I am glad that men of his type realise, as I am sure he does, the tremendous value of peace between two great trading nations. It was my good fortune a few years ago to pay a visit to Germany in company with some of the members of the party to which I have the honour to belong, and there was one thing that struck me perhaps more than anything else during the course of our visit to several of the large towns in Germany.
In nearly every town and city in Germany we visited we moved amongst all types of people who were in very close touch with English people who had made their homes in Germany, and on all hands we were reminded that the only time the people of Germany and England had been engaged in a war they were on the same side. It has also been my good fortune during my membership of this House to show some German people round this building, and I have noticed the same 2661 kindly feeling and the same expression of sentiment when these people have been drawn to the picture to which the hon. Member alluded. Those who have any knowledge of the German people, those who have visited that country, those who know anything of their industries or of the type of people who inhabit the country sometimes feel, when they come back hero that after all there is very little difference between the German and the English people, and inasmuch as this country has been invaded several times, it accounts for the fact, perhaps, that every type of person to be found in Great Britain has its equivalent in Germany. I believe the German people are a great nation, and that they will be a greater nation still. They constitute a nation which will develop and will develop because they are much of the same temperament, type, ability, patience, and stolidity, as the people of this country. They are men well versed in science and in mechanics, they are blessed with many of the minerals which this country possesses, and they are bound to develop commercially equally with ourselves. It seems to me, therefore, there can be no reason whatever in this world why we should not have an equally good understanding with Germany as we have with Russia and France.
In my confident opinion at any rate the great mass of the people of this country have no quarrel with Germany at all. If there is to be a quarrel it will not be between the people of the two countries. The quarrel will be largely manufactured by those who sit in the seats of the mighty, by those on the Front Benches, and by certain newspapers in this country which are always endeavouring to create friction between our country and some other country. Sometimes it makes me feel that a remedy adopted in China might well be applied to the editors of these newspapers. They seem to lose their heads in writing their articles; it would be no loss if they lost their heads altogether. I believe a good understanding between this country and Germany is essential for the welfare of the whole of the nations of Europe. The people of Germany and those in authority in the German Reichstag have shown willingness to come to a friendly alliance. I trust that the sentiments expressed by the Leader of the Opposition on the last occasion when this question was debated in this House will be shown in a little greater degree by the 2662 Foreign Secretary. A friend of mine from Germany was present listening to that debate, and in the course of conversation subsequently he said: "We have sympathy and warmth from the Leader of the Opposition, but your Foreign Secretary seems to have ice in his blood." I hope a little warmer sentiment may in future be shown to that nation, and that a good understanding will be brought about with Germany at no distant date. It would be good not only for this country, but also for that country, and it will tend to increase goodwill in the world at large.
§ Question put, and agreed to.