HC Deb 11 December 1912 vol 45 cc449-52
45. Sir J. D. REES

asked the Prime Minister whether his attention has been called to a statement made by the First Lord of the Admiralty to the effect that the policy of Great Britain is to promote the happiness of the Bulgarian and Hellenic peoples; and whether this statement at the present juncture has been made with the sanction of the Cabinet?


The policy of Great Britain is to promote the happiness of all the populations concerned or interested.

Sir J. D. REES

Does the right hon. Gentleman think that the fact that his colleagues make different statements does not call for notice, especially in view of the pending peace conference in London?


That is a very mischievous question.

Sir J. D. REES

Is a question necessarily mischievous because it is inconvenient to the Minister?


It is not in the least inconvenient to the Government, but it is most desirable that the country should present a united front——

Sir J. D. REES

So I think.


In regard to this matter. We are equally interested in the happiness of all the populations concerned.

Sir J. D. REES

May I ask the Prime Minister whether it was with that intention——


Order, order!

49. Major STANLEY

asked whether, although this country has no direct interest in the exact form which the redistribution of the conquered territories of European Turkey may take, His Majesty's Government will take steps in the interest of our trade with European Turkey to safeguard those interests by, as far as possible, maintaining the principle of the open door in any settlement which may be arrived at on the completion of the present hostilities, and secure the co-operation of the other European Powers for that purpose?


The hon. Member may rest assured that, in any settlement which may be arrived at in the Balkan Peninsula, commercial interests will not be lost sight of by His Majesty's Government in the discussions that take place with the Powers, and that the principle of the open door will receive all the support that is possible.


I beg to ask the Foreign Secretary if he has any further statement to make in reference to the diplomatic situation arising out of the recent war?


I promised yesterday, in reply to a question put to me respecting the prospective meeting of Ambassadors, to make a full statement on Thursday, but as I am in a position to make that statement on the subject of the meeting of the Ambassadors to-day. I would ask the House to allow me to anticipate what I had intended to say. I would begin by making some reference to a separate matter, the meeting of the delegates of the belligerents.

As the House is aware, the five belligerents are sending their respective delegates to London to negotiate a peace. The King has placed rooms in St. James's Palace at their disposal, and His Majesty's Government will do everything in their power to promote the convenience of the delegates. The choice of London was made by the belligerent States on their own initiative; it was in no way prompted or suggested by us; but we are sure the House will agree that their choice is very agreeable to us and their presence very welcome; and "we believe that they will find the conditions here favourable to the conduct of their negotiations and to the conclusion of peace, which we all earnestly desire to see secured.

The Great Powers who are neutral and signatories of the Treaty of Berlin have now all agreed that their representatives in London should meet together for informal and non-committal consultation. The object will be to facilitate an exchange of views, especially on those points which may most directly affect the interests of any of the Great Powers concerned. These conversations will begin as soon as all the Ambassadors in London have received their instructions from their respective Governments—we hope next week. They will not constitute a Conference; and in this connection I would recall that the first suggestion of a formal Conference came from Monsieur Poincaré, and Paris will therefore, presumably, be the first place to be considered should a formal Conference be found to be opportune and necessary.

At this moment, I do not think that I can with advantage make observations at any length on the European situation. Hopes and anxieties have varied from day to day, and may continue for some time to vary, and it is difficult to say any-tiling without the risk of causing undue pessimism or raising hopes, that might be subsequently disappointed. The relations between the Governments of the Powers are amicable, and the diplomatic situation is favourable, and if there is anxiety, it is lest some untoward and unforeseen incident should occur and cause an unfavourable change in the diplomatic atmosphere. The consultations of the Ambassadors are to be informal and non-committal, and this is, of course, an indication that the Powers are not yet sure that a solution of all difficulties is in sight. On the other hand, the fact that the Powers have all agreed to come to closer quarters in discussion may be taken as evidence that there is no one of them who believes that such solution is impossible or that agreement is not more probable than deadlock. And when once the conversations in London have begun and the representatives of the Powers are in a position to discuss questions with each other round a table, the Powers will by this means be in closer touch, and there should be less danger of any of them drifting apart from the others should unforeseen points of difficulty arise. We trust, therefore, that these conversations may begin as soon as possible.

In the interval I wish to refrain from any further comments of a political nature on the situation; and, indeed, the fact that London is the meeting place for the conversations and for the peace negotiations imposes on His Majesty's Government a special obligation to be reserved in making such comments; but we desired that the House—whose forbearance and restraint all through this time of great interest and delicacy His Majesty's Government most fully recognise—should be informed as soon as the matters to which I have referred were sufficiently definite for this statement to be made.