HC Deb 21 February 1912 vol 34 cc628-95

I beg to move as an Amendment to the Address, to add at the end the words:— But we humbly represent to Your Majesty that the failure of Your Majesty's Government to take effective steps to preserve the integrity and independence of Persia in accordance with the terms of the Anglo-Russian Agreement of 1907 constitutes a grave menace to Your Indian Empire and to the best interests of this Country. The condition of affairs in Persia is causing a good deal of apprehension in different parts of the country; it is also referred to in the Speech from the Throne, as occupying the serious attention of His Majesty's Government. For this reason I have placed on the Paper the Amendment which stands in my name, as I thought that it would afford an early and convenient opportunity to bring the question under the consideration of the House. It will also afford an opportunity to the Foreign Secretary to make a statement early in the Session. May I, before I come to my criticism, respectfully tender my warm congratulations to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs upon the high distinction which has been conferred upon him. I have been a critic of his policy in the past, and I am a critic of certain points of his policy still; but that in no way interferes with my great appreciation, not only of his rare personal qualities, but also of his great sincerity and the high-minded and disinterested motives which have always guided him in public life. Before I come to the actual terms of my Amendment I want to say a general word with regard to the attitude I have taken up in this matter, and I think I may without presumption speak for certain of my hon. Friends on the back benches who have taken the same line. The right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary in a speech which he delivered in Northumberland on 20th January, dealing with his critics, made the following remarks:— There is a certain section, I have no doubt, in the Liberal party, which thinks we do not interfere nearly enough, especially in certain parts of the world. The people who press upon me a different policy from that which is now being pursued, are, it seems to me, people who are really advocating as a Foreign policy the maximum of interference in the affairs of the world at large and the minimum of friendship. 4.0 P.M.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to the enormous weight of work upon him, and said, because of it he was unable to read or listen to the greater part of the criticisms upon his policy. I think it would have been fairer if he had not attributed to us a line of argument which I, and I certainly think my hon. Friends, have never adopted. On the contrary, our plea throughout has been non-interference. All we ask for is that Persia should be allowed to work out her salvation for herself without the interference of other Powers. That has been the point we have urged, not only on this question but on other foreign questions that have come before the House. We have strongly urged that we should not interfere in the internal affairs of another country. When we come to the Anglo-Russian Agreement, I have, in the terms of my Amendment, to complain of the failure of His Majesty's Government to take effective steps to preserve the integrity and independence of Persia. I want, first of all, to consider the various interpretations of the Anglo-Russian Convention, and I want them to examine whether that Convention has in fact been violated, and lastly to consider what the consequences of violation are likely to lead to. May I remind the House that before the Anglo-Russian Agreement was concluded in 1907 there were various engagments which we had made with Russia all through the nineteenth century in which we had agreed to respect the integrity and independence of Persia, in 1834, 1839, 1873, 1888, and there are various expressions, used, such as "to maintain," "respect," and "promote" the independence and integrity of Persia. This further instrument, the Anglo-Russian Convention confirms, this idea still further, but, it having been already made clear that that was our intention, the Persian Government naturally supposed that this Convention that had been made with Russia threatened her independence, and really was a step towards partition. In order to allay the fears which the Persian Government naturally had in consequence of the conclusion of the Anglo-Russian Convention, our Minister at Teheran in September, 1907, made a statement which was handed to the Foreign Minister giving a clear interpretation of the spirit of this Convention. This is an extremely important document; and really it is on this document that we found the greater part of our case. This document was quoted in speeches and in articles and in letters to the Press during the past twelvemonths, and yet on 14th December last, on the Debate which took place in the House, we were told that the Foreign Office had no knowledge of the existence of this document. On that occasion I promised the right hon. Gentleman that I would send him a copy of the document, a Persian copy, to show that we were basing our arguments on something that was authentic. I accordingly forwarded it, and I think now there is no longer the remotest doubt that this document is perfectly authentic, and the translation entirely correct. I want to quote to the House two passages in it:— Sir Edward Grey informs me that he has explained to the Mushíru'l-Mulk that he and M. Isvolsky are completely in accord on two fundamental points. Firstly, neither of the two Powers will interfere in the affairs of Persia unless injury is inflicted on the persons or property of their subjects. Secondly, negotiations arising out of the Ango-Russian Agreement must not violate the integrity and independence of Persia. But it was the concluding passage that was really the most significant. The document went on to say:— From the above statements, you will see how baseless and unfounded are those rumours which have lately prevailed in Persia, concerning the political ambitions of England and Russia in this country. The object of the two Powers in making this 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 interests. The two Powers hope that in the future Persia will be for ever delivered from the fear of foreign intervention, and will thus be perfectly free to manage her own affairs in her own way, whereby advantage will accrue both to herself and to the whole world. Nothing could have reassured the Persian Government more successfully, and nothing could be taken as a clearer interpretation of what our intentions were with regard to the integrity and independence of Persia. That is the first interpretation which I quote of the Anglo-Russian Convention. A few months afterwards, in a Debate in this House in 1908, the late Lord Percy, who was a very close and shrewd student of foreign affairs, speaking from the Front Opposition Bench, expressed his apprehensions as to this Convention. He said he thought it should be made clear as to the character and limits which the two Powers were to exercise in their respective spheres. Practically he foresaw very much what has happened. The Foreign Secretary, in answer to that point of his, replied:— It never entered my head for a moment that that agreement, which confirms the integrity of Persia, could be turned into partition without consultation between the two Powers. At that time the right hon. Gentleman frankly acknowledged that the Anglo-Russian Convention confirmed the integrity and independence of Persia. Before I come to the other interpretations let me just pass to the events which succeeded. There was a revolution in Persia. Persia, like all progressive nations, was making an attempt to throw off the yoke of tyranny and oppression and the misgovernment and autocracy, and was going through the superhuman task of establishing the new form of constitutional government. We Western nations have been through revolutions of that kind, and the Oriental nations are now going through this process. At a moment of that sort there must be grave disorder and bloodshed and very hot feeling between the partisans of the two sides, the old regime and the new regime. Nations that are friendly to the country at that stage will show their friendship best by standing aside and not interfering with the internal affairs of that country. It was at that time that Russia first began to show its activity. After events had become very serious, but constitutional government had by a superhuman effort been established, and Persia was still struggling, and the situation appeared to some people rather hopeless, fresh hope was brought in the person of Mr. Shuster, who was chosen as Treasurer-General of Persia. He was appointed, and he was sent there to rehabilitate the finance and the chaos which prevailed in the financial sphere, and which was responsible for absolute want of stable governmnet. Mr. Shuster went out and began his task, and, as we now know, if he had been given a fair chance there is not the slightest doubt that he would have succeeded in putting Persian finances in order. I have had the privilege of speaking to Mr. Shuster, and of hearing him speak. I expected, from all the accounts we had last year, to find a self-advertising, overbearing man, with impossible views and reckless in speech. On the contrary, I found myself listening to a man who made a most carefully balanced and moderate and temperate statement. He is evidently a fairminded man of high principle. His statement confirmed my very worst suspicion, not only with regard to the attitude of Russia towards Persia, but also with regard to the policy of humiliating doubt and acquiescence adopted by this country throughout. Mr. Shuster, in going out to Persia, acknowledged that he founded his interpretation of the Anglo-Russian Convention on the document which I have just quoted. He said, in his speech:— I made the crass error of taking that Convention at its word; in fact, I could not take it in any other way, since there was little else to be taken. It said, amongst other things, that its object, which, so far as the Persian people are concerned, was the most important part, was to ensure for ever the integrity and independence of the Persian people, and it was principally my sincere belief in the good faith of those who signed and promulgated that document that finally decided me to go to Persia. Mr. Shuster was successful from the beginning, and when the Russians saw there was a chance of a strong Government in Persia they immediately made a set against him. I need not go over the events, which are quite familiar to those who have followed closely the state of affairs in Persia during the last six months. Sufficient to say that Mr. Shuster was hounded out of Persia by the Russians. The two charges finally made against him were that he appointed M. Lecaffre to a certain post, and that he had circulated in Persia a letter which he had written to the "Times" newspaper. All Mr. Shuster did was to transfer M. Lecaffre from one post to another. The charge of circulating the letter was untrue. On those flimsy pretexts Mr. Shuster was hounded out of Persia, and since then a successor has been appointed.—a M. Mornard. Here I would ask a specific question of the right hon. Gentleman. I should like to know, when he replies, whether he will tell us whether M. Mornard's appointment is permanent, whether His Majesty's Government approve of M. Mornard, and whether His Majesty's Government have received from the Minister at Teheran any report as to the past reputation and competence of M. Mornard, and as to whether he is a suitable person for the post of Treasurer-General?

Persia had now submitted to the Russian Government on the two occasions on which ultimatums had been issued, and therefore had grovelled in the dust before Russia. One would have thought, having humiliated herself to that extent, that Russia would have been satisfied. But what is the situation in Persia at this moment? Russian troops are occupying Northern Persia. It is very difficult to say how many there are; some estimate the number at 8,000, others at 14,000. I think the accurate figure is about 11,000. We do not know exactly how many have been withdrawn. I do not believe that any have been withdrawn from Persian territory. I notice that when the Prime Minister referred to this point on the opening day of the Session he hesitated very much to make any definite statement. He said:— The situation at this moment is this, that some, I believe a not inconsiderable number, of the Russian troops have already been withdrawn from Kasvin, and we are given to understand that the withdrawal of the whole is not only in contemplation, but, barring accidents and misadventures, is in process of being carried out."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th February, 1912, col. 31.] We know exactly now the sort of accidents and misadventures which prevent the withdrawal of Russian troops from Persian territory. I do not believe that any have been withdrawn from Persian territory, though some may have been withdrawn from Kasvin. There are rumours that some have been withdrawn in one direction for use in another, where there is a prospect of the ex-Shah again showing some activity. The Foreign Secretary assured us that he would never tolerate the return of the ex-Shah to Persia, but we have no assurance from the Russian Government on that point. At any rate, the Russian Government have given no assurance to the Persian Government on the point. On the contrary, there is much ground for suspicion that the Russians still favour the return of the ex-Shah. Some of his prominent supporters have been appointed to high posts by the Russians, notably one of his notorious partisans, who has been made Commander-in-Chief of a part of the army. In addition to the occupation of Northern Persia, the Mejliss, which showed an extraordinary amount of national spirit when it was confronted with the ultimatum which it refused to accept, has been swept away. Then we have the atrocious act in Tabriz of the hanging by Russians of one of the most prominent spiritual leaders in Persia, which was a grave offence against humanity as well as against justice. We have a strong censorship exercised over the Press; we have the national schools closed down; in fact, all attempts to stand up for freedom, constitutionalism, and patriotism, are being stamped out. This is what we call respecting the integrity and independence of Persia. The Foreign Secretary in one of his recent speeches said that the Russian Government did not intend to maintain a permanent occupation so long as there is tolerable order in that part of Persia, and it is sure that the Persian Government is friendly. It is really pushing diplomatic cynicism very far to suppose that the Persian Government can be friendly at this moment towards the Russian Government. The Russian troops enter Persia, create chaos and confusion, and then that is used as an excuse for their remaining there or for sending more troops into the country. With this state of affairs—an army of occupation, tyranny and oppression in all quarters, the shooting down of irregular troops, the hanging of leaders, and the other matters to which I have referred—I was very much surprised when I read these words in the speech of the Foreign Secretary at Manchester:— That which we hoped to achieve by the Anglo-Russian Agreement has been achieved, and on both sides the Agreement has been absolutely kept. This then is the right hon. Gentleman's interpretation of the Anglo-Russian Convention. I can only say that I still adhere to the interpretation given by our Minister at Teheran. I do not think that the state of affairs which at present exists can be properly described in the language used by the right hon. Gentleman. Russian influence in Persia was damaged and put an end to for the moment by the Persians themselves in their revolution in 1909 when they got rid of the ex-Shah. We made no engagement to build up Russian influence, or to strengthen it in order that it might be, as it now is, far stronger than it was before. But that is what we are doing. I will now take the third interpretation of the Anglo-Russian Agreement, which certainly coincides more with the view of the right hon. Gentleman than the interpretation given by our Minister in 1907. This is the popular Russian interpretation, and it is quoted from a well-known St. Petersburg newspaper, which is in close connection with the Court and the official world:— Whatever may be the ultimate attitude of our diplomacy with regard to other questions, we have at any rate in Persia cast our die, and can no longer with-draw. There we have stepped forward as a Power which claims the extension of its political influence, and will not withdraw its troops until the whole of Northern Persia has become virtually its dependency. Whether Great Britain, or any other Power, likes the idea that the winding up of the Persian question has begun or not, we are bound to stand by the rights which we have acquired by the Convention of 1907. That is the Russian interpretation. I take my stand oh the first interpretation as being the just and right one, and the one that will appeal to any fair-minded British citizen. Taking the interpretation given by our Minister at Teheran, there can be no question that the Convention has been broken. In the matter of treaties there is no half way. Either a treaty is adhered to or it is broken. We cannot have the excuse brought forward that in all other respects the Anglo-Russian Convention has been adhered to, but that in this particular respect it has not. There is a clear-cut line. It is the definition of what integrity and independence mean. If you put before the fair-minded citizens of any country you like the present state of affairs in Persia, and ask whether that is respecting the independence and integrity of that country, I cannot believe there is a single soul living who would say that it is. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman will repudiate the document in which our Minister at Teheran interpreted the Anglo-Russian Convention; but unless he does, he will find it difficult to say that it has been carried out in the spirit. Meanwhile the Russian Government have acted perfectly consistently. Their attitude all along has been consistent, and entirely in accord with what their policy always has been, and always will be. When they entered into the Anglo-Russian Convention they were in very low water. The result of that Convention has been considerably to raise their prestige in the eyes of the world, to set them on their legs again, and at the same time to allow them to go on with their encroachments, disregarding any mild protests that we may have made. Thus, little by little, they are carrying out their policy of expansion. We are not only backing them up by remonstrating with Persia, but we are helping them to establish themselves as a first-class Power. Everything is being done by the Government to help British capital to flow into Russia, for without money Russia would not be able to continue its activity.

The right hon. Gentleman touched on the relations between this country and Russia. He said that they are perfectly good relations. There is no question about that. I have the greatest respect and admiration for the Russian people, and I believe that most of my countrymen have the same feeling. But when the right hon. Gentleman goes on to say that our good relations with Russia are assisted by these absurd visits, I fail to understand what he means. I think it is most disrespectful to the House of Commons to utilise this assembly as a pawn in the diplomatic game. The House of Commons ought not to be used in that way. Apparently the recent visit was got up in the recess in such a way as to keep outside any adverse opinion, and to bolster up once more the Russian Government which no more represents the Russian people—which, indeed, represents them less—than any Government in the world. It is not, I am sure, in that way that good feeling with Russia is going to be established. In yesterday's "Times" I saw that a Joint Note has been presented to the Persian Government. I do not know whether it is to be accompanied by any threat. I suppose it is. I suppose, if the Persian Government do not concede the four points in that Note they will be subjected to further pressure. At all events, all I can see in these four points means a further attack upon the integrity of Persia. Persia is asked to respect the Anglo-Russian Convention. If Sir Cecil Spring Rice's interpretation of that Convention is the correct one, there is no reason why they should not respect it; but if the interpretation of the right hon. Gentleman, or that given by the Russian people or the Russian Press is the right one, then I do not think that the Persian Government ought to respect it. Before I come to the loan, let me say that there appeared yesterday a clear demand for cutting down the present Persian army and establishing in its place an army under the control of Russia. That is, to my mind, a further attack on the independence of Persia. We are now told also of a loan that is to be offered to Persia. I consider that no loan should be accepted by Persia unless it is ratified by the Mejliss; that we ought to stand out for that, and for the reassembly of the Mejliss in order that they may ratify the loan which is offered to them.

The case has so much material that it is very difficult to marshal the facts effectively. I am painfully conscious of not putting the case really with its full force. I would submit to the right hon. Gentleman that this is not just a case of sentimental desire to see justice done. If it were, if we based our arguments upon sentiment, we would still have a very strong case. It is disagreeable, and it is rather worse than disagreeable, for men who have any far-reaching vision, and who realise what the general trend of events in the world is, to see an old civilisation that has given a great deal to humanity and to the world at large, being gradually crushed by two Powers who are bent upon expansion and aggression. We have very strong grounds on which we base our protest. Apart from sentiment—sentiment is only one thing—it is a question of our national honour. Our national honour is at stake. We gave a clear undertaking; we went to the pitch of interpreting at length and of explaining exactly the spirit upon which we entered upon that engagement, and now we are shifting our ground by denying the very document upon which we based our claims to respect the independence and integrity of Persia. Again, apart from honour, it is a question of expediency. It is a question of our commercial advantages in Persia. I hope some of my hon. Friends will put the commercial aspect of the case far more clearly than I possibly can do. There is no doubt that our trade in Persia is being very much damaged, and that the commercial world, who are affected, feel strongly on this point. Again, there is the very important point of strategy. Strategically we are undertaking a very foolish policy. Everyone knows that the most vulnerable point in the defences of our Indian Empire can be approached by an advance through Persia. We know also that our interests in the Persian Gulf are threatened. At the same time the massing of troops on the Turkish frontier which is going on—and nobody knows exactly how many troops there are on the Turkish frontier at Khuy—is a menace to Turkey, and may lead to further complications, in which we shall be very closely involved. There is the consideration of the peace of the world. I consider we are endangering the peace of the world by our policy. If it reaches the point of partition we shall have a long coterminous frontier with Russia, we shall have to ask for more money for armaments, and we shall be in a perpetual state of apprehension in that corner of the globe as to the intentions of further aggression on the part of Russia.

There is no question of fighting Russia. There is no question of hostility. Surely we can persuade Russia to adhere to an engagment without fighting. There is not the remotest desire on the part of Russia to fight us, not even on the part of the Russian Government. All that is required is a little stiffening on our part, some show of determination to see these engagements carried out. It is indeed difficult when one sees that sentiment, honour, justice, expediency, commerce, strategy, and the prestige of this country are all in one balance, to know what it is that the right hon. Gentleman puts in the other balance to outweigh them. I cannot understand. The country at present is puzzled. But I do not want to end on a pessimistic note. I think there may be hope, and I hope sincerely that the right hon. Gentleman, when he makes his statement, will give us grounds for it. I hope myself that the same influence which has operated towards raising our hopes for better relations with Germany can be taken advantage of in this connection. I believe our relations with Germany is at the bottom of this difficulty, as it is at the bottom of so many other difficulties The hope in that direction gives us hope in this. "Democracies," said the right hon. Gentleman in his speech the other day, "seek no quarrel; they desire to avoid quarrel." I was extremely glad to hear him express that view. On the other hand I think that that cannot be said of autocracies. Democracies, and this British democracy of ours more especially, stand for international justice, stand for respect of the rights of other nationalities. It has been the traditional Liberal policy to stand up against tyranny and misgovernment. May I conclude by making a plea that more of the fresh air and light of democratic opinion may be allowed to penetrate into the stuffy darknesses of diplomacy?


Personally I am very sorry, in seconding this Amendment, that it has, by the conventions of this House, to be put in the form of an Amendment that means a want of confidence in the Government. I am sorry to appear in any way to attack the Government which I support, though I disagree from their policy in this particular. I am also sorry, because I am confident were it not that the Resolution is framed in this way—perhaps even in spite of the fact—that this Amendment, if taken to a division by my hon. Friend, would have a very considerable amount of support on this side of the House. The Amendment, as I take it, is not based on any hostility to, or disagreement with, the Anglo-Russian Convention as such. We do not object to the Convention; we accept it as a fact. It is too late to go back upon it. I myself have never criticised it, and do not propose to do so now. What we object to is that the Convention, in our opinion, has not been fully and faithfully carried out. The right hon. Gentleman, the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, in his speech the other day, said that his critics were apt to regard the Convention from the wrong point of view, from a point of view different from, and inconsistent with, that of those who made it. He said we have got out of focus; we looked at the matter in the wrong perspective.

That criticism comes rather remarkably from the right hon. Gentleman. I will tell hon. Members why. The document, the only document, the only official explanation we have ever had, and the only interpretation of this Anglo-Russian Convention was, as my hon. Friend has shown, the document which., until a few days ago, was absolutely unknown to the right hon. Gentleman.


That is entirely wrong. I will deal with that document when I come to speak, but even taking the hon. Member's own view—which I do not admit—it is not the only document. The authorised interpretation is in a document issued by my instructions and set out in the Blue Book.


I am very glad to hear my right hon. Friend say that the document I referred to is not unknown to him. I may say that on 14th December, when it was quoted in this House by, I think, my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, that the right hon. Gentleman got up and said, "My hon. Friend is quoting from a document which I have never seen."


Quite true.


That is what I was attempting to say.


The hon. Gentleman said that the document which he had been quoting, and which I had not heard of before, and of which he has since sent me a copy, was the only official interpretation. I was pointing out that the official interpretation is actually in the Blue Book, and is not that document that he quoted.


Now I understand it. At any rate—I think I am right in putting it now—until a few weeks ago this particular document was unknown to my right hon. Friend.




I would like to go into the history of this document which my right hon. Friend considers as unimportant. It is, at any rate, the principal document, and the principal interpretation, the longest official document, which we have interpreting the Anglo-Russian Convention, and I should have said, the most important.


made an inaudible observation.


Yes, it was made on 4th December, 1907, four days after the Anglo-Russian Convention was signed. It was made on the definite instruction of the Foreign Office here. I say that because it is quite inconceivable that Sir Cecil Spring Rice could have quoted the Foreign Secretary in this document without having first acted on instructions. The document speaks in this manner: "Sir Edward Grey observes" … "both Ministers are entirely in accord as to the policy under the Convention," and so on. Therefore I think we may take it that Sir Cecil Spring Rice shows he was acting under instructions from the Government at home.


He was not acting under instructions from the Government at home. Instructions were sent him on 7th September, 1907, and they are in the Blue Book. These are the only instructions I sent, and these are the only instructions that are authentic.


It is very important to know how it was that Sir Cecil Spring Rice obtained the information that is in this document. He is there quoting from conversations between the right hon. Gentleman and the Persian Minister in London. He not only quotes from these conversations, but he quotes long passages from the Persian Minister, and he must have had some instructions, for surely he would never invent this. There must have been some instructions. On 4th September he made this memorandum of the Persian Foreign Minister, and in a letter which I had from my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs he stated that the document was written in an unofficial form by Sir Cecil Spring Rice for the benefit of the Persian Minister of Foreign Affairs to allay certain apprehensions felt by certain provincial Anjumans. It was made known to them, but it was unofficial. I do not know how the Persian Government was to know that. It appears to be a perfectly official document, but it was made in an unofficial form. On 14th September it was published in the public Press of Persia in full. In January, 1909, it was published in England, and in 1910 it was republished; and in 1911, that is last year, it was quoted in this House, first, by the hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon). It was again quoted in two or three subsequent Debates, and ever since 1909 it is true to say that this document has been referred to in almost every letter written by the Persian Committee to the public Press in regard to Persian affairs.

I go so far as to say that this Memorandum was known to every man in this country who was interested in or had any knowledge of Persian affairs except the right hon. Gentleman. I believe it is the most extraordinary instance of official ignorance that has ever come to my knowledge. In saying that, I, of course, do not make any charge against the right hon. Gentleman. I accept his word. He did not know about it. But I do think it is a very just cause of complaint against those who falied to inform him of the existence of this document, and I think we ought to know how it was that a document which concerned the honour of this country was not communicated to the Foreign Office of this country, and was not communicated to the House of Commons. However it may be as to whether this was official or unofficial, I am sure everyone will agree that, as it was made by the Minister Plenipotentiary in Teheran in the name of Great Britain, we cannot back out of it now—we are bound by it now. As it has not been repudiated for four years, I do not see how the right hon. Gentleman can repudiate it now. But, as a fact, as my hon. Friend has shown, this Memorandum of Sir Cecil Spring Rice contains no new departure whatever. It states the doctrine more clearly, explicitly, and fully than ever before. It states the policy which has been the policy of this country ever since 1834, which has been renewed again and again, and which has been part of the settled policy of this country. I think Lord Curzon said in 1892:— The preservation of the independence and integrity of Persia must be regarded as a cardinal principle of our Imperial credit. We have entered into agreements again and again with Russia upon the subject. My right hon. Friend says that on 7th September he telegraphed to Sir Cecil Spring Rice instructions to make official communication with the Persian Government. In that telegram Sir Cecil Spring Rice was instructed to say that in signing the agreement we had kept the fundamental principle in view that the independence and integrity of Persia should be respected absolutely. That is very much the same as what Sir Cecil Spring Rice stated in the unofficial communication. The only difference was that this was added that it was to be regarded as an unofficial document, but it was published in Persia.


made an observation which was inaudible in the Press Gallery.


The other, at any rate, was published in England on 14th September. This one was not published; therefore the other document was regarded in Persia as the more important document of the two, and it was by the use of that document that Persian opinion has been guided. I think that anyone who reads the Convention and reads that declaration, which has taken two months, and a considerable correspondence between me and the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs before it was established; anyone who reads this document or the Memorandum of Sir Cecil Spring Rice, and asks himself whether the Convention is so interpreted, or has been absolutely kept, can only come to one conclusion. I ask the House to contrast the situation in Persia at the beginning of November last with the situation two months afterwards with the views which are now familiar in the first and second Memorandum. In November last the new Government had been established about two years. It was getting very firmly established, order was being better kept, the finances were recovering under Mr. Shuster, a man whose ability, zeal, and single-mindedness everyone admits, and a man who had entirely gained the confidence of the Persian people. In September the ex-Shah came back and made a fresh attack, and had been repulsed. Everyone who looks at Persian affairs in the beginning of last November will be entitled to consider that the Persian Government was doing well, that Persian independence was more secure than it had been, and the best friends of Persia were entitled to hope that Persian prosperity would grow and that its independence would be finally established. What happened?

5.0 P.M.

There had been a little dispute about the collection of taxes on the property of the brother of the ex-Shah, who recently came to invade Persia. According to the law this property was confiscate. The gendarmerie were sent to confiscate it. A dispute occurred. What did the Russian Government do? They immediately sent an ultimatum asking for an apology and for the withdrawal of the troops. It was complied with after considerable delay. It was not complied with too late because no time limit had been fixed. Then five days from the compliance with that first ultimatum a second was delivered commanding the immediate dismissal of Mr. Shuster, second, a veto upon all official appointments, and third, the payment of an indemnity. That was complied with. The Mejliss had been destroyed by a coup d'état. Then almost within a few days of the compliance with the second ultimatum when Mr. Shuster had been dismissed, disorder broke out almost simultaneously in three different places. The disorder was entirely provoked by the Russian troops in these places, and the reason for thinking that is that the Persians were not sufficiently organised to have broken out simultaneously at three different places at the same time on the same day. At any rate, however that may be, these disorders were followed, as we know, at Tabriz by the most cruel measures of repression. People were executed on the most sacred day of the Persian year, which was an outrage against all civilisation. Sikat-ul-Islam, who was one of the most important figures in modern Persia, corresponding in position to the Archbishop of York, was executed. According to my information, and I have taken great care to inquire and to get reliable information, he was seized and asked to sign a document that would have had the effect of exonerating the Russian Government and incriminating his own countrymen. He refused, and was thereupon flogged and finally hanged in the public market square. If that is true, as I have no reason to doubt it is, it was an outrageous proceeding. I ask the House to remember that between the beginning of November and the middle of January things were going favourably. Persian finances were recovering. In the middle of January the Government were intimidated, the Constitution was destroyed, and two ultimatums were presented. The Shah, who had been driven out of Persia twice, came back, resulting in severe disorder and civil war. Then followed cruelties and outrages upon all those who had taken the part of the people. I have only quoted the case of Sikat-ul-Islam, but he did not stand alone. As everyone knows many other men who had taken no part whatever in the disorders, but who were supporters of the constitutional movement, were taken in hand at Tabriz. Two boys of eighteen and twelve years of age were hanged in the square, and other victims were the editor of a newspaper known as "Shapah Dawn" and most of the staff of the newspaper. All schools were closed and houses were blown up, and the power was handed over to Samad Khan, one of the most abominable ruffians, who was a supporter of the ex-Shah, in order to wreak his vengeance on innocent inhabitants. All that has left an indelible impression on the Persian mind, and we in this country, through our Government, were accomplices, and we are jointly responsible for all that occurred in Northern Persia.

The second ultimatum, out of which all this trouble occurred, was approved by the right hon. Gentleman before it was delivered. Before this, naturally, the Persians looked to England, after Sir Cecil Spring Rice's Memorandum, to stand by them. How do they regard England to-day? No wonder that feeling in Persia and in the Moslem world is strongly against us. I do not think anyone will wonder at this when we remember that we have given Russian action in Persia diplomatic support during the last few months. The speech of the Foreign Secretary in Manchester indicates that there is some chance of Persian independence being respected more than it has been during the last few months, and there is a slight improvement in the situation. I believe this is due largely to public interest taken in Persian affairs in this country by public meetings in London and Manchester, which have strengthened the hands of the right hon. Gentleman in his negotiations with the Russian Government. Public interest in Persia is not confined alone to this country, for meetings have been held in Paris protesting against Russian action. We find Maxim Ghorki, the distinguished Russian writer, protesting as emphatically as any man in this country could do against the action of the Russian Government in Persia. He says:— The Russian Government is creating, by its senseless brutality, a new and irreconcilable enemy in Persia for the Russian people. … The Russian Government now stands out in Europe as the only defender of the principle of the despotic power of the Government over the individual…. It is impossible to believe that Persia will reconcile herself to the enslavement which threatens her. That is the opinion held in Russia by a distinguished writer who is not alone in the opinion he has expressed in regard to the action of the Russian Government in Persia. I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman a few questions as to the improvement of which he spoke in his recent speech. First, as regards the withdrawal of the troops. I notice there is no mention of that matter in the Joint Note which has been presented recently to the Persian Government. What practical steps are being taken to withdraw the 11,000 troops from Persian territory? The troops have been withdrawn from Kazvin, but what of Tabriz? Will the British Government continue to acquiesce in its occupation by Russia? I think the Russian troops ought to be withdrawn gradually from the whole of Persia. I would like to know whether the right hon. Gentleman can give us any information upon that point? In the second place, I wish to ask a question about the pension to the ex-Shah. Everyone knows that the ex-Shah, by returning to Persia, absolutely forfeited his right to any pension whatever. I see now that England and Russia are to compel, or induce, the Persian Government to pay this pension, and I should like to know how much it is going to be? I want to know whether the Foreign Secretary can tell us that under no circumstances and under no conditions will he consent to recognise the ex-Shah again in Persia. In considering the amount of suffering and the amount of money which the ex-Shah's return to Persia has cost that country, I think that undertaking is the least we are entitled to expect. It should be remembered that but for the intervention of England and Russia this man would have been got rid of long ago. The Russian Government merely stated that they would take effective steps to prevent his return, and they have not done so. What is the attitude of the Foreign Secretary with regard to the ex-Shah? I also wish to know whether the appointment of M. Mornard is permanent, and whether the Persian Government have protested against the appointment?

With regard to the indemnity, the right hon. Gentleman stated last December that he would not agree, or at any rate that he had made some protest, against the second ultimatum in regard to the payment of an indemnity by Persia. Does that still hold good, or has the Russian Government waived the claim put forward in the second ultimatum for an indemnity from Persia. I wish to put a question also with regard to the dissolution of the Mejliss. Does he know whether there is any proposal that it should be called together again. I understand that this is the only constitutional means of Government in Persia at the present time. If the right hon. Gentleman is not going to call the Mejliss together again, what proposals do Russia and England make to establish a new Government in Persia. I hope we shall have some answer to these questions. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will make it plain that if the entente between Russia and Great Britain is to continue, it can only continue on a footing different to that which has existed during the last few months, and it can only continue to exist on terms which are more fair to the Persian people and more consonant with the honour of this country.


I feel as a private Member, that it would be difficult to support the Motion that is before the House, no matter how one might sympathise with it in view of the fact that it would be hard to assume actually that the terms of the treaty had been broken. I submit that there is undoubtedly not sufficient evidence at present that the terms of the treaty have been broken at all. The fact that Russian officials and soldiers are in Persia at this moment, or that the Russian officials have punished certain persons in a very severe and, from our point of view, an inhuman manner, is no proof that those punishments were undeserved, and that the occupation was not necessary. Only the future can show whether those punishments were justly inflicted on the people, or whether that occupation has permanently come about. I think the present situation certainly contains the seeds of grave danger in the future, and perhaps in six or seven years from now it may be that if we do not take certain definite action we may have very grave cause for regretting not having taken decisive action at this moment. It is hardly my place to criticise the Foreign Secretary; but perhaps I may be allowed to draw his attention to a certain tendency in our policy not to touch the question of the Baghdad Railway at all. The tendency has been for the Foreign Office almost to ignore that very serious question, which must go side by side with this treaty. At the present moment there remains the one overwhelming fact that two first-class Powers with whom we are on friendly terms, and with whom we always desire to be on friendly terms, are both, necessarily, apparently and inevitably, from an economic point of view, gravitating towards the Persian Gulf. Russia, with her enormous population and enormous resources, must seek an outlet, and she invariably seeks that outlet along what appear to be the lines of least resistance, although they often turn out to be the lines of most resistance. Russia, thrust as she is between two great physical Factors of ice on the North and deserts on the South, must inevitably go towards the nearest warm water by the easiest way she can possibly follow. Wherever a Russian occupation comes I am sure that that occupation must be permanent. When the English go to a place and leave it we generally leave it a bit better governed than it was, with perhaps a few roads; but the people are not changed. On the other hand, when the Russians go to a place, they generally stay for a long time. I believe Palgrave said "that if the English left India to-morrow there would be nothing left behind but some broken soda water bottles to show that we had been there," whereas if the Russians left you would find impressed upon the people something permanent. Consequently, now we have Russians coming into Azerbaijan; indeed, they came there three or four years ago. They are there now, and show no signs of going away. They will probably increase, and I do submit that Russian occupation wherever it comes is a permanent thing. When you have Russians in Azerbaijan, with the enormous influence behind in Russia itself, the way is being made good for the avalanche to slide down eventually to the Persian Gulf. That is one side.

On the other side, there is Germany suffering from her increasing population and from her small seaboard, coming down towards Mesopotamia, if she can possibly do it. The Baghdad Railway is being obstructed by intrigues and odd finance, but it is being built, and within four or five years that line must be built, and we shall then be confronted with the fact that a poor country like India—because, despite all her tinsel and display of wealth, there is always behind the outward display the shadow of the fact that India has great difficulty in meeting her Budgets—will suddenly have to face the concentration of two great Powers at the head of the Persian Gulf: one Power, which has been able to make the sacrifices necessary to build fortifications at Port Arthur, and another Power which has been able to make the sacrifices necessary to build the great German North Sea fleet. After all, these forces, which are suddenly concentrated at the head of the Persian Gulf, may arrive there simultaneously and on good terms of friendship. There need be no rivalry; the Persian Gulf is wide enough for the two. If that occurs, we shall certainly be faced with a very serious military and economic position, because behind it will not only be the independence and force of those two great Powers, but there will be the enormous resources of Mesopotamia itself, a country capable of bearing an enormous population. That will mean enormous financial power just at the top of the Persian Gulf. Opposite, at the other end, you have India in a state of poverty and hardly able at present to meet her military expenses. At present the Government, whatever party is in office, are always prepared to make enormous sacrifices in order to maintain the Navy in sufficient strength to keep the command of the sea; but, supposing the present tension which excites that building of ships in the North Sea dies down, it will be a very difficult thing to approach the English people and ask them to make further enormous sacrifices in order to meet further building which may take place at the head of the Persian Gulf. I submit that may be a very serious question.

I know it may be objected I am looking too far ahead, and that one should not look so far ahead as that, but still I feel on fairly sure ground. One has to remember, first, the gigantic resources of Russia, and the fact that she is inevitably tending down in that direction; secondly, the enormous necessity of Germany for getting places for her people to work and in which to invest her money; and, thirdly, the fact that it is an undeveloped and enormously rich country into which they are both going to come. I therefore submit that the time has come to consider that eventual development very seriously indeed. I submit that it is possible to avert that danger, but we shall have to have a clear understanding with Germany as to our attitude towards the Baghdad Railway. Perhaps I may be allowed to make a suggestion of my own. I have been over the country, and I do hope we shall participate in that railway, and participate to such an extent that we shall have a full say in how it is going to be built from Mosul down to Bussora. With regard to Russia, I hope the time may be taken now to have an understanding with Russia if possible, so that not only shall Russians leave that part of Azerbaijan in which they are in at present, but that even if the Persian Empire goes to pieces, and in its present distribution cannot be held together—I am not sufficiently informed to say whether it can or not—we shall see a strong, independent State established on that part of the northern part of the Persian Gulf which it is absolutely necessary to us should not be under the control of any Foreign Power or of ourselves either.


I do think the House of Commons is entitled to a clear explanation as to the document presented to the Persian Government in September, 1907, by Sir Cecil Spring Rice, which, to my amazement, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs stated in this House the other day, and has repeated here to-night, he never heard of until within the last few months. What is the history of this document? This was an official Note, according to my information, handed by the British Ambassador to the Persian Government under peculiar circumstances, because I understand it was handed by the British Ambassador to the Persian Government in response to a remonstrance of the Persian Government as to the nature of the Anglo-Russian Agreement. When the Anglo-Russian Agreement was made known to the Persian Government the Persian Government immediately remonstrated, and said they could not recognise the right of any neighbouring Powers to enter into such an Agreement, which they took to being tantamount to declaring that their country was to be divided into spheres of influence, and they regarded that as inconsistent with the integrity and independence of their ancient nation.

The British Ambassador, seeing that the condition of public feeling in Persia was extremely disturbed, to case the situation handed this official document to the Persian Government, and, unlike what is usually done in the case of document's of this kind, which are generally kept confidential until published in Blue Books with the consent of the two Governments, it was allowed to be published in order to allay the anxiety of the Persian people. I think I was the first to quote it in this House. After that publication, we are told to-night by the Secretary of State for the Foreign Office that he never heard of this document until about six weeks ago. That is really one of the most astounding things I have ever heard in the House of Commons, and I must say I do think the Persian people are entitled to a declaration from the Foreign Office of this country that the English Government do not repudiate that document. Surely it is more binding on the honour of England than even an ordinary official document, because it was handed, as I have said, to the Persian Government in response to a remonstance from the Persian Government and was communicated to the Persian people at a time of great popular disturbance in order to allay public anxiety. If people suffering so cruelly as the Persian people are now are to be told that a document handed to their Government at a time of stress like that is to be ignored, what will be said throughout the East and throughout the whole world as to the honour of England? I have only one fault with the Amendment. While the Amendment, as I think quite truly, states that "the failure of Your Majesty's Government to take effective steps to preserve the integrity and independence of Persia in accordance with the terms of the Anglo-Russian Agreement of 1907 constitutes a grave menace to Your Indian Empire and to the best interests of this country," there is nothing said about the interests of Persia or the honour of this country, and I think the failure to protect the independence of Persia not only affects the commercial interests of England and the strategic interests of India, but is really a great wound inflicted upon the honour of England, and is also a horrible injury inflicted upon the people of Persia themselves, to whom this country owes considerable obligations. Therefore I should have supported this Amendment far more heartily if it had been worded even more strongly than it is. I wish to point out how the whole treatment of this Persian question illustrates and bears out the complaint often made as to the too great secrecy of diplomacy as practised in modern times. The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs has protested again and again against this charge, but if anyone will go over the history of this Persian question since the Agreement was signed in 1907 I think he will see that charge does lie against the Foreign Office of this country. What has been the history of that question? Papers have been published at long periods, once a year generally, bringing down the history of the question to not later than about six months before the Papers were published. It has been the consistent policy of the Foreign Office to give no information until as far as possible the transactions in regard to which information was given were completely closed. Then, when a Debate is attempted, we are always met with the statement, "Those are closed transactions; it is past history, and it is no use wasting time discussing it."

Then I turn to statements made by the Foreign Secretary himself, statements made in this House and at Manchester the other day. I defy anybody who has made a careful study of this question to read those speeches and to say they give full and frank information as to the situation in connection with the Persian question. If you read them carefully you will find that they are mainly concerned with a broad, general statement of policy and with a defence and explanation of Russian action. In every single speech delivered by the Secretary of State there has been an attempt to justify and explain away the action of Russia in Persia, and anyone who goes in search of detailed information as to the actual facts of the situation there will have to go away entirely disappointed. There are two theories put forward by the Secretary of State which I wish to take this opportunity of repudiating. It is said that but for the interference of Russia in the siege of Tabriz the Nationalists of Persia would have been defeated. There never was a greater misrepresentation than is involved in that statement. As a matter of fact, had it not been for the interference of Russian troops in Teheran the revolution there would have been carried out with hardly any bloodshed. It was entirely due to the action of the Cossacks in Teheran that the revolution was broken up. It is a false representation of the whole course of the movement to say that that was due to the advance of the Russians on Tabriz.

The assumption appears to be that England is under the heel of Russia so far as Russian policy in Persia is concerned. I believe that if England had remonstrated at the beginning, and had asked the Russian Government to observe strictly both the letter and the spirit of the Agreement of 1907, that would have been carried out, but the English Government, so far as we can judge from the public declarations of the Secretary of State, never did so. This Persian difficulty did not begin yesterday; it has been going on for more than half a century, and during the whole of that time Russia has been working steadily to obtain control over affairs in Persia. The Secretary of State says that if the Agreement of 1907 had not been concluded there would have been an infinitely worse condition of affairs in Northern Persia than there is to-day, because Russia would have done as she liked. I entirely differ from that. I do not believe the condition of things in Persia would have been worse if the Agreement had not been signed, and I do believe that England was strong enough to maintain the independence of Persia without any such Agreement. What is the present situation and what is the policy of this Government?

I listened with amazement to the statement of the last speaker when he said that this was not a time of special stress. We are told that a Joint Note has been presented within the last few days by Russia and England to the Persian Government. I think we should have some information from the Secretary of State on this point. The "Times" newspaper, which is exceedingly well-informed on these Foreign Office questions, gave on Tuesday last the main points of this Note, and I put it to any hon. Member of this House, What remains of the independence of a country which is compelled to swallow the terms of a Note of this character? I think it would be better to give up the sham pretence of independent government than to be compelled to maintain a position on such terms as those which are indicated in the Note. What is that position? First, the Government is to be compelled to act in conformity with the principles of the Anglo-Russian Convention, and the only interpretations I can put upon that is that they are to be asked to become the instruments of their own destruction.

The second point raised was the dismissal from the army of the irregulars, and, according to the "Times," they were to be dismissed in order to make way for a reduction of the Russian army. Then there were the arrangements with the ex-Shah for his departure, and there was not a vestige of self-respect or independence remaining to Persia when they had to follow that. I should like to ask as to the honour of England in this matter, because Persia has turned round and England, to her shame, is told that she is a party to this transaction. Is England maintaining the independence and integrity of Persia? I venture to say that every man who has any knowledge of the history of this question will not agree to the Note. I think it would be better for the Persian Government to refuse responsibility in this matter rather than to earn eternal infamy among their fellow countrymen by appending their signatures to such terms. That is not enough. In the "Times" we are informed there was a very gallant attempt, taking all the circumstances into account, to set up a democratic Government. But nobody who has followed the history of this matter can deny that the Government was a vast improvement on any Government that went before. The Mejliss has been broken up under the direct agency of Russia. By a coup de grâce it has been dispersed, and we are told by the "Times" that the revival of the Mejliss is exceedingly unlikely. Is England a party to that? Is the Mejliss not to be recalled, and is the Government to be turned again into an autocracy? The right hon. Gentleman said in the House the other day that he recognised, after the crisis was over, that it was the duty of the Russian and English Governments to set the Government of Persia once more upon its legs, and to keep it there. I do not know any Government in the whole world more disqualified to set the Government of another country on its legs than the Russian Government. If that is what the English Government are engaged upon now, I say they are enemies and not friends of Persian independence. What is to be the constitution of the new Government? Who is to draft that constitution? Is it to be drafted in St. Petersburg? A very nice place for constitutions to be made. If it is to be drafted there, is it to be forced upon the Persian people with the connivance and the support of England? Some of those who have opposed the policy of the Government in this matter have been denounced as enemies of the Russian people, and desirous of sowing enmity between the people of this country and the people of Russia. No, Sir, we are not enemies of the Russian people. I have been all my life a friend and admirer of the Russian people, but I am an enemy of the Russian Government, and I say that the Russian Government, as at present constituted, is an enemy of the Russian people, and that it would be a humiliation and mortification to every true Liberal and Nationalist in this House to see the honour of the British House of Commons dragged in the dust, as I say it was, by that expedition to St. Petersburg. That is not the way to make friends of the Russian people. In spite of all the soft-sawder we read of in the "Daily Telegraph" and "The Times," if we look into the hearts of the people of Russia we shall find we have made no progress in their hearts as distinguished from the bankers, financiers, and officials.

To complete the picture, Persia is going to get a loan. Having wasted all her resources by letting the ex-Shah loose upon her at a time when Mr. Shuster had restored her ability to pay for her own government, having drained the Persian Treasury in the attempt to put down the ex-Shah and his Turkomans, she is to get a loan. I should like to know whether part of that loan is to meet the claims of the ex-Shah, who claims an increased pension and £400,000 to pay off his followers. That loan is to be £200,000, half of which will be lent by this country, according to the "Times," at 7 per cent. We are, apparently, not above making an honest penny out of the distresses of Persia. What a superb specimen of generosity. I took up an influential evening paper the other day, and I read a passage pointing to the generosity of England, who is now coming forward to lend £100,000 to Persia, and then this evening paper goes on to say:— Having lent £100,000 to Persia, he who pays the piper will call the tune. That is the end of the independence of this ancient people, a people who, with all their faults and troubles, have certainly had an illustrious history and contributed greatly to the art, civilisation, and literature of mankind, and it is a disgrace to this country that it should have acted a part in opposing the gallant efforts of this people to reform the government of their country and to set up a system of civilised government.

Colonel YATE

I think the main object of the speeches of the Mover and Seconder of the Amendment was to advocate a policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of Persia. The Mover of the Amendment in various parts of his speech stated that Russian policy in Persia had been strongly consistent, that the result of this had been to raise considerably Russian prestige, and that what was required was a little stiffening on our part. In all those statements I honestly concur. The hon. Member asked that the matter should be considered entirely apart from sentiment. I agree with him. We want to eliminate sentiment altogether. We come here to talk, not as idealists, but as practical men, and we have to look at the matter from a practical standpoint, namely, as to how present affairs in Persia affect ourselves. May I recall to the House what is the actual state of affairs in Persia at the present time, and the difference in the policies pursued in Persia by the two Governments who were parties to the Convention of 1907 since that date. Russia, we see, has insisted upon her interests being thoroughly respected. Her trade has increased, despite all the disturbances in Persia, and her legal claims in all the Persian Courts have been duly respected. The roads throughout Northern Persia have been safe, and have been kept safe, and the result has been that her trade has not only increased but that the transport owners in Southern Persia have shifted their animals largely up to the northern parts of Persia, much to the detriment of British trade. Persian revenues have been increased in Northern Persia by the safety which has been secured by the presence of Russian troops.

Let us compare that with the conditions now prevailing in Southern Persia. Here we see that the roads are absolutely unsafe. We see British goods being robbed time after time. We see that the claims of British merchants, which now amount to thousands and thousands of pounds, have not been adjusted by the Courts, and that in fact nothing whatever has been done in response to those claims. In the south, not only has British trade been reduced to a standstill, but Persian revenues there have also suffered serious losses, while British commerce has been driven out of the country and Russian commerce has taken its place. There is the contrast between the policies of the two countries in Persia. British commerce has not received the protection to which it is lawfully entitled. We see that in Southern Persia there is a state of absolute disorder. The Persian Government is absolutely powerless to restore order without outside help. That cannot be denied by anyone. The independence of Persia at the present moment is a fiction. The Anglo-Russian Convention was entered into to preserve its integrity, and it is to the maintenance of that Convention that the independence and integrity of Persia will be due, if they are to be maintained at all. In my opinion the intervention of the two Powers is to save Persia from being torn to pieces by contending factions; in fact, Russia and Great Britain at this moment, we may safely say, are absolutely protecting Persia against herself. The practical interests of Great Britain in Persia are commercial interests. Not only have all these losses been sustained by British commerce, by robbery and blackmail, but at the present moment there are quantities of goods held up at the various ports which cannot get into the interior because of the lack of security on the roads and the lack of transport. All these things tend to the loss of British merchants; they are going on day by day, and increasing year by year. The Persian Government some years ago refused the offer—you may call it a generous offer—made by the British Government to lend them British officers to organise a corps of road guards. Not only did they refuse that offer, but they ascribed most unworthy motives to the British Government for making it. Since then certain Swedish officers have been appointed to organise the gendarmerie. If that force does take charge of all the southern roads we should give it a fair trial, but if it fails or if it is not ready within a month no further delay should be permitted. I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman opposite to see to it that British and Indian commercial interests in Persia are thoroughly upheld in the way that they ought to be.

6.0 P.M.

Another point was raised by the hon. Members opposite, that is the question of the appointment of a Treasurer-General. It is essential at the present moment that no servant of the Persian Government employed during the late difficulties should be appointed as Treasurer-General. A man new to the scene and absolutely apart from all local politics is essential, in my opinion, to meet the requirements of the case. The appointment of any local man must necessarily mean friction in the future. It is necessary, from the point of view of international politics that both the direction and control of the Treasury and the Mint should be in strictly impartial hands. The interests of British commerce are closely bound up in this question. The Imperial Bank of Persia is the State Bank and is the only bank in Persia with a right to issue notes, and these notes have an enormous circulation all over the country. If there cannot be found any one man to take charge as Treasurer-General, then I think we should ask for the appointment of an independent Treasury Board; but, at all events, let us have a perfectly independent authority established in Persia over the Treasury and the Mint. Then there is the question of railway construction in Persia. We have been told a concession has been applied for for a commercial line of railway up the Karun Valley from Muhamerah to Khuramabad. That railway will benefit the Persians largely, and it is urgently required. I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman when sanction for the railway will be given. It is a concession which is necessary for us and will benefit our commerce, and I trust it will be pushed through. There are other lines projected in Southern Persia, and I see no reason why the concession of these should not be obtained without any further delay. Then, finally, we have the proposal for a trans-Persian railway, and if that railway is ever constructed it is necessary that there should be a clear run for British and Indian goods from India, at any rate to Ispahan. If the Russian and Indian railways are to be joined, and there is to be a break of gauge anywhere, it is a necessity to enable the Indian and British goods to get up to Ispahan, which is the capital of the South of Persia and the great centre of British trade, that these goods should be able to go from India or the Gulf up to Ispahan without any break of gauge. If that break of gauge, or the junction of these two railways should occur anywhere to the east or the south of Ispahan British goods would be put to a great disadvantage as compared with Russian goods, and the only result would be that Russian goods would oust British goods altogether. I trust, therefore, that this question will be carefully kept in mind if the railway ever conies to be a question of practical politics.


The Amendment, which I have great pleasure in supporting, states that, "We humbly represent to His Majesty that the failure of His Majesty's Government to take effective steps to preserve the integrity and independence of Persia." I think the House will agree that the many able speeches that we have heard have completed the case, and that there is no doubt in the minds of any of us as to the independence and integrity of Persia having disappeared for the moment. The Seconder of the Amendment referred to the interest that is being taken in this question in other countries, and he mentioned France. I have recently returned from a visit to Washington, where there is very great interest indeed being taken in this question by Members of the Government as well as throughout the whole breadth of the United States. I think the feeling there is one of sorrow that Great Britain has not maintained her high tradition of supporting a nation struggling for freedom and for nationality, and the fact that her distinguished citizen, Mr. Shuster, was organising the finances has given her a personal interest beyond the broader one of justice and humanity. I had, when in Washington, placed in my hands by the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee a copy of a resolution which was introduced in the House of Representatives, and referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs and ordered to be printed. It was a joint resolution requesting and empowering the President to communicate with Russia and Persia, and to urge them to refer differences between them to the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague. It went on to state that, whereas a serious dispute has broken out between Russia and Persia which under certain circumstances might involve them in war, and the duty is therefore incumbent upon the United States as a contracting party to remind them that the Permanent Court is open, and the performance of such duty may only be regarded as a friendly act, therefore it is resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, that, pursuant to the aforesaid treaty, to which Russia., Persia, and the United States are parties, and in the high interests of peace, the President of the United States be urged, requested and empowered as speedily as possible to communicate with both Russia and Persia, urging them to refer any differences between them to the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague, in accordance with the Convention to which the three nations are parties. I am assured by authorities in Washington that that resolution was only awaiting a time to be brought forward seriously in the House of Representatives and the Senate, when they were convinced that sufficient support would be forthcoming, both from Members here and from other responsible bodies. I believe every hon. Member would certainly be prepared to support any action which the House of Representatives or the Senate might take to urge their President to suggest this means of settling any outstanding differences which may exist between Russia and Persia, and thereby arrive at a satisfactory conclusion of this dispute, if any incentive is required. The first act in this drama was the invasion of Persian territory by Russian troops, and the second is the Anglo-Russian Note. It is of vital importance to Great Britain to maintain an independent State as a buffer for our Indian Empire. It is of the very essence of the highest statesmanship for this country to throw the great weight which she can throw, backed up as I believe by the moral influence of the United States, into the maintenance of the integrity and independence of Persia. As Mr. Gladstone well said on a previous occasion, when there was talk of possible aggression, "there is no barrier" for this purpose "like the breast of free men."

In the Anglo-Russian Note we see really the beginning of a new regime, and it is very pertinent to compare conditions now, when they have got rid of Mr. Shuster, with the state of affairs prior to his departure. The most convincing test of the different state of affairs is the difference in the credit of Persia now as compared with the state of affairs which existed under the regime of Mr. Shuster. I believe, before his departure, there was a proposal on the part of Persia to negotiate a loan. I believe it was to have been a 5 per cent. loan, and was to have been issued to the public at about 96½, and the probable cost to Persia of borrowing at that time would have been about 6 per cent. We all know that under the beneficent influence of the two great Powers which have gone into the pawnbroking business, as it has been described, we are prepared to show what an immense advantage it is to Persia that we should take charge of Persian finances by charging this little State 7 per cent. Here was Persia, before prepared to borrow in the market on negotiations of her own, which would have cost, at the most, 6 per cent., now compelled, almost at the point of the bayonet, to receive a trumpery £200,000 at 7 per cent.

Reference has been made to the effect on our commerce. I agree that that should not influence us or enter into our recognition of justice or humanity, but it is only à propos and right that we should touch on the effect which would have resulted from the success of the earlier financial transactions. Had the original loan gone through, all of us who have had any experience in these matters know that it would have led to a very great increase of trade and commerce, and it would have meant a great influx probably of Manchester goods and other products into Persia. It would have stimulated and developed the trade of Persia. It would have given Persia credit had it been successful, as I believe it would have been, being properly handled by a responsible House, and would have established Persia in the money markets of the world and stimulated and increased the trade of the rest of the world with Persia, all of which would of course have reflected and been reflected upon British trade and industry, and we should have seen as a result of that a great stimulus given to the trade of the Midlands and Manchester, which formerly did a large business with Persia. We see there, as we often see, that what is morally right is very seldom politically wrong. If we start out with the object of being true to our treaty obligations, we are also stimulating and helping our commercial interests.

Allusion was also made to the security for the loan. I should like to ask the Secretary for Foreign Affairs if he is thoroughly convinced as to the absolute security of the loan which he now proposes to advance to Persia. I should also like to ask by what right and under what conditions, and under what statute he can make a loan on behalf of the British Government. Is it not necessary for him to come before Parliament? Can he use public money, even only to the extent of £100,000, and lend it out at seven per cent. to Persia or any other country without coming before the House? If that is the case it seems to me it is well worth the consideration of this House. We should inquire into the ways and means of the Secretary for Foreign Affairs entering on behalf of the Government into such a transaction. If he can do for hundreds of thousands, why not for hundreds of millions? If so, it seems to me that is another argument for more democratic control of foreign affairs, and control over the liabilities which may be incurred if the Foreign Minister has power to enter into such transactions. I feel in respect to this question what no doubt others feel. My hon. Friend the Mover of the Amendment referred to the need of greater democratic control over policy, and I should like to congratulate him on the admirable treatise he recently published on this question. It seems to me the necessity for it is made more apparent every day. We find that our diplomacy is fettered, and that we are crippled and not able to have that control over foreign affairs which we formerly enjoyed, because apparently of the reading into alliances and understandings of something which, I think, the country never anticipated when they were entered into. We find that we are really being dragged at the heels of Russia. It is not in accordance with the spirit of this country to be a partner in such transactions, and I think it is entirely opposed to the spirit of freedom and to the spirit of independence which is, or ought to be, the very life blood of British foreign policy. I cannot better illustrate this than by quoting a statement made by the great Mr. Canning, who admirably described the function of Great Britain's foreign policy in words which seem to me to be just as applicable to-day as when they were uttered three-quarters of a century ago. He said:— The function of England, in fact, in so far as her obligations to Europe were concerned, was to hold the balance between extreme principles, a function for which her constitution pre-eminently fitted her. But for the fulfilment of this function England had been impotent, because she had been entangled in the meshes of a system which hampered her free action. In the atmosphere of the alliance, her initiative had been stifled, because the whole spirit of continental statesmanship was alien to her genius. We are unable to make our voice heard because of certain alliances and understandings, and we cannot, somehow, make our protest of any value, because we are fettered and held down by these alliances, and understandings, which are alien to the spirit of British sentiment and feeling. What is, or what ought to be, the genius of British statesmanship to which Canning referred? Surely the genius of British policy ought to be and is the love of freedom. That, surely, is the genius which he contended was not expressed in Continental countries. We find that the Russian Government is quite away from the Russian people, and is not a lover of freedom in the same way as is the case in countries which have control over their Governments. Therefore it is impossible for the Russian Government to work in harmony with the British Government, which, after all, still is a freedom-loving Government as representing the British people. It is impossible to have a partnership without, sooner or later, in respect of the Agreement, either our having to give way to Russia or Russia having to give way to us. I say it is antagonistic to the spirit of Britain and her policy. That love of freedom which unquestionably has burned in the breast of every Irishman for centuries, that love of freedom which does not belong to any one party, and which found one of its best examples in Mr. Canning in the Tory party, and its highest expression in the immortal Gladstone in the Liberal party—that spirit is not dead to-day in England. I believe it exists in the people of England, and if the lamp of freedom is, perhaps, burning dimly in the hands of those who at present hold it, it does not mean that it does not exist, and that we here are not anxious to see Great Britain resume her former place. It is in the hope that we will even at this late hour revert to our higher traditions, and stand out for justice and humanity to struggling nations, that I make a final appeal to the Government to stop before it is too late, and insist upon a reversal to that higher and nobler position.


I think we all listened with a great deal of interest to the hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment. It was characterised by a great deal of knowledge and moderation, but we on this side looked for some criticism of the British Government, and we looked, also, under the terms of the Amendment for some information in regard to the safety of the British frontier in Southern Persia. We have not heard a word of criticism in regard to the action of the British Government itself, and we have heard scarcely a single word about British commercial or strategical interests. I, for one, rather deplore the fact that debates in this House on Foreign Affairs seem to say very little about British foreign affairs, while they discuss mainly the foreign affairs of other countries. The fact is, that the Mover of the Amendment really dealt with the attitude of Russia wth regard to Persia, and not with the attitude of the Government of this country with regard to Persia. If I read the Amendment aright, the hon. Member means to pass a Vote of Censure on the Agreement of 1907, which probably he supported in this House, while we on this side were criticising its terms. It was clear to many of us that the terms of that Agreement were very faulty. It always seemed to us it was incredible that anyone who had read history could fail to see that Persia is a country of first-class importance. Such at least we might have learned from our history, but as we have to take the 1907 treaty as the basis of argument, I fail to see that any hon. Member opposite could be able to point how Persia would have been one bit better off if the Agreement had not been concluded. From the political, apart from the commercial, point of view Persia is suffering nothing under the Agreement which she would not have suffered in ten-fold greater degree without the Agreement.

If by chance there had been no such Agreement, and Russia had taken the action which the hon. Member imputes to her now, I can quite well conceive of hon. Members coming down to this House and attempting to get our Government to negotiate with Russia to clear out of Northern Persia, while we should not have had a shadow of claim to interfere in the northern part of Persia. Now that we have an Agreement with Russia we can at least ask her to respect that Agreement—that is to say, if Russia and we keep closely to its terms, that Agreement is to the benefit of Persia. I frankly admit at once that the presence of Russian troops in Persia is unsatisfactory. Many Russians will admit that themselves, but I think sometimes we who are deeply interested in the commerce of Southern Persia should be a little more fair when attempting to come to an international agreement. It is of great importance that we should look at the affairs of Northern Persia from the Russian point of view before offering criticism. I believe that Southern Persia is vital to our Eastern policy. We should look at this question from the Russian point of view, and see that they have trade to safeguard in Northern Persia just as we have to do in Southern Persia. If our Manchester trade continues to be hampered for another six months or a year, I wonder if anyone would put difficulties in the way of roads being opened up in Southern Persia. What we have to ask is that the moment order is restored Russia will take her troops out of Persia and not interfere in the political affairs of Northern Persia.

I think certain mistakes have been made on both sides, and I would like to ask the right hon Gentleman whether he really thinks the Government were wise in insisting upon foreign advisers being forced upon the Persian Government. I agree with what was said in another place that the terms on which we forced foreign advisers upon the Government of Persia were terms that practically destroyed the independent character of any Government. I think that is absolutely true. I also think that the compensation question as advanced by Russia was very unfortunate, and I should like to see the Government of this country make it very clear to Persia and to all interested in the Eastern question that we did not associate ourselves with any action that was taken in that aspect of the question. The same was true with regard to the ultimatum, and I very much deplore that we associated ourselves with any advice in regard to the ultimatum, which, after all, was an affair that did not concern our zone in Persia at all. If it did concern anybody, it concerned the northern portion of Persia. Before I close I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman one or two questions, and to deal also with what the hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) said in regard to the Persian loan. I think a little closer knowledge of Persian affairs would have prevented him from making quite such stringent observations on the percentage charged for loans. It is very well known to all who are acquainted with Persian affairs that loans command a higher rate of interest in Persia, Mesopotamia, and certain parts of Turkey than they do in Europe, and that a rate of 6 or 7 per cent. is by no means so high a rate of interest as might easily appear to people unacquainted with the circumstances. The hon. Member for Coventry (Mr. Mason) used two arguments which are mutually destructive. He referred to the very high price of the pawnbroking loan, and at the same time he went on to question the value of the security which we would then get. But one is the answer to the other. If your security is not very good, the price of your loan is likely to be high.


What I meant was that I could not follow from the Anglo-Russian Convention where you would get the security.


I hope I have not misinterpreted the speech of the hon. Member, but if you are going to have an additional charge for the same security it is very possible that the security may not be so good when it has got a second loan on it, and from that point of view it is always possible that a higher rate of interest may have to be charged. However, I hope the terms of the loan, when it is made, will not be so arduous for Persia as some of the previous loans which were made. I should like to ask the Secretary for Foreign Affairs whether we may not have some more information with regard to the scheme generally known as the Trans-Persian Railway scheme. It has transpired that such a scheme is on foot at the present time. It is also said that capital of more than two nations is likely to be employed in that loan. It is said—I do not know whether correctly or not—that a third nation, and perhaps a fourth, will be introduced in the event of that railway being financed. Whether this railway be valuable for Great Britain or whether it is not — and I, for one, very much doubt whether Great Britain would derive much advantage from it in view of the fact that it would curtail our maritime subsidies in favour of land subsidies over countries which are not British countries—however that may be, I would like to know from the right hon. Gentleman does he not think that the introduction of third and fourth Powers into so troubled a zone as the Persian zone is likely to add great friction in Persia at the present time, and that in introducing a scheme of finance we are only likely to get long, protracted and tiresome negotiations of very much the same character as have befallen the Baghdad Railway during the last ten years?

I hope, personally, that this railway will not be made unless it is made in much more favourable conditions than any of those at present suggested. If it is to be made, I believe that it is of the highest importance that the railway should be entirely under dual control, with no third or fourth parties in it; and I hope that the Foreign Secretary may be able to give us some broad light on the matter, which is of such immense importance, and about which we have been left entirely in the dark during the many months over which the negotiations have been going on. I suppose that the hon. Member who moved this Amendment purposely put in the question of Indian defence. Of course, Persia is a vitally important matter as a buffer State to our Indian defence. But India is not defended alone along the Indian frontier. India is defended as much, or nearly as much, in the North Sea as in the Indian Ocean, and if political circumstances at the present time call for an entente, which I heartily welcome and believe to be of vital importance to this country, it is because our Fleet should be free to get to the maritime highways that lead to India; and unless you have an understanding, a triple entente firmly established, no frontier defence in India will make that country safe to us. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give us some information in regard to the Trans-Persian Railway. I personally oppose this Amendment, because I believe that our relations with Russia in Persia, if patiently dealt with, are likely to be fruitful in nothing but good. I believe that Russia will, if we give her time, withdraw her troops and make good her word; but I believe that if this Amendment is sanctioned it will go far to damage the relations so happily instituted between ourselves and Russia after so long a period.


To my mind both the Mover and the Seconder of this Amendment have a distinct fallacy underlying all their argument. That fallacy is that North Persia ever was, say, during the last sixteen or seventeen years, in anything approaching an independent position. North Persia all that time has been absolutely in the grip of Russia, and what I have been very much interested in and should like very much to know, although I am quite sure that my question will not be answered, is how the Foreign Secretary contrived to persuade Russia to enter into the Agreement of 1907—it seems so entirely beneficial to us, while the advantages to her are not at all so apparent? This question has been looked upon almost entirely from the point of view of North Persia. But to get the friendliness and the co-operation of Russia in other parts of Asia was extremely valuable. For instance, if we look upon the North-West Frontier of India, certain parts of which I know personally, some Members of this House may remember a campaign was undertaken in a terrible time of the year, on what one might call a risky occasion, simply because of the absolute necessity there was to get to Hunza before the Russians were able to get there. That really was the reason of all those campaigns along that little frontier, about Chitral and beyond, and one of the great benefits which this Agreement of 1907 has given to us is that it has made those frontiers so that they are now perfectly easy to manage. There are no intrigues. Russian agents do not cross the barrier and we are altogether in a very much better and stronger position than we ever were in before.

As an instance of the extraordinary and overwhelming power of Russia in North Persia—I am not speaking of later years, but of fifteen or twenty years ago—there was always an objection on the part of some officers when offered appointments in South Persia to go there. They felt that there was a terrible depression in always being a prominent actor in a losing game which they were not prepared temperamentally to undertake. Anyone who has read the Blue Books during the last two years on Persia must have been struck with the extraordinary state of chaos and anarchy in that country. I do not think that in history—I am not speaking as an expert on Persia: my knowledge is merely derived from Blue Books—but from reading these Blue Books, I think that there is nothing quite comparable to it in history, except perhaps the break up of the Mogul Empire. All the chaos in South Persia, the terror and confusion, the stoppage of trade, and the rise in prices threatening starvation, are only comparable to that; and however democratic one's feelings, one was tempted to wish that some strong man of high character might come to bring peace to such a distracted country. I think that the Anglo-Russian Treaty is of enormous advantage. It is the only possible hope for the independence of Persia. Granted that the full independence of Persia at the present moment is very doubtful, it certainly is not less so than it has been for fifty years past, and I am more and more convinced that it is on a strict observance on our part of that Agreement that our hopes must rest.

The inference, I suppose, is that we can in some extraordinary way or other than by tactful diplomatic methods induce Russia to do as we wish. It has been mentioned, and I think re-echoed with approval on the opposite side, that a certain stiffening in diplomatic methods might have that effect. I cannot believe that anything is more fallacious than that. Russia is not going to be, and could not possibly be, influenced by any stiffening of tone in diplomatic transactions. I think that her Government in St. Petersburg is bonâ fide anxious to keep her Agreement. We all know the difficulties that there are, and always must be in controlling local subordinates in distant countries. For instance, in North Persia the Russian subordinate has a position of very great prestige and dignity. A very admirably intentioned, well-wishing, able man, in the person of Mr. Shuster, appears on the scene, and inevitably friction occurs. I think myself that if Mr. Shuster had been trained more in diplomatic methods he might have been more conciliatory to Russia, at least he might have understood the position, which was this, that nothing could possibly be done in North Persia unless with the friendly help of Russia itself. I have a great admiration for him. I believe that he is perfectly straightforward, and in a speech of his which I read I was very much attracted by his candour. But I did not quite agree with his peroration when he said something to this effect—at any cost and at any price we should have so and so. Even if you were prepared to go to such an extent how you are going to enforce your opinions there?

I will only end, as I began, by expressing my congratulations to the Foreign Secretary, and my admiration of the fact that he was able at all to enter into this Agreement with Russia. I hope it will be maintained, and I believe by the tact and forbearance which he has shown as representing the Government in all the negotiations, that there is a good prospect of that Agreement being maintained. We are all, in every part of the House, anxious that Persia shall maintain her independence. We all respect her past history, her poetry, her literature, and all the romance that attaches to the very name of that country. I hope most fervently that the result of this Debate will not in any way imperil the excellent position we at present hold in connection with Russia in our joint and avowed determination to maintain the independence of that country.


A very little time ago the House gave me the kind indulgence which I believe it always extends to a new Member on his making his first speech. I was advised by an hon. Member of great Parliamentary experience that before making one's maiden effort it is wise to have at least five speeches prepared in case the ground has already been covered by others. In rising to speak on this occasion I feel that five speeches would have been quite inadequate, because in this Debate it is very difficult indeed, after what has been said, to advance anything new. First of all, perhaps, I may be allowed to say that some time ago I found myself much more in agreement with hon. Members opposite than I do today. I might have felt myself more in agreement with them, but perhaps from very different reasons. I should first like to allude to the peroration of the hon. Member for Stirling, in which he said that it was very essential that more air and light should came into the stuffy office of diplomacy. It seems to me that in every great department of life you need specialists. If those specialists go wrong, one hopes there is a controlling and supervising force. But it is not, I think, advisable to be perpetually on the alert. For instance, one would very much resent it if an engine-driver, carrying out his duty, was controlled or interfered with by people who knew nothing about engine driving. Again, suppose, you take the case of the manufacture of explosives. I think it would be even more unwise to have that under the control of people not thoroughly acquainted with the process. Most of all, in the situation which you have at the present moment, when you have great tension abroad, when you have crisis after crisis, when foreign relations have been strained, then, I think, it is most unwise of all to call people to your counsel who cannot have a thorough and intimate knowledge of the facts. I maintain that it is utterly impossible for us to have a thorough and intimate knowledge of the events that have been happening during the last year, and I look forward to the fulfilment of the promise of the Government to lay that information before us before very long.

But it seems to me that very often the doctrine of hon. Members opposite is that if you do not throw all your cards on the table it means that you are keeping cards up your sleeve. I do not think the two things go together in the very least, and I do not see why they should. The hon. Member on my left made a very vigorous defence of the principle of liberty. He said that we know the conditions of Persia to-day, that it is a country that has been trying to stir itself, and that it has not had the help that it might have expected from the Liberal Government of England. I think it is quite true that we do know the conditions of Persia to-day. If they have not altered since the days when I was there, then those conditions are not quite as admirable as hon. Members on the other side have led us to believe. I would ask the House to look at Persia not only to-day, but to look at it yesterday, and the day before yesterday, and to look at our relations with that country. I think that ever since the Gortschakoff Note, which, if my memory serves me aright, was in 1865, we have been fighting a kind of rearguard action with regard to Persia, and, like all actions of that kind, it has been very unsatisfactory. We have fought in conditions that were very often unprofitable to ourselves. We have fought it with unequal weapons, and, as a consequence, with poor results. I think, remembering all that, and seeing that a great many of those difficulties have now passed away, we must admit that even if our position is qualified, the policy of the Government has not been unsuccessful—this new policy has not been unsuccessful.

If we ask ourselves why those difficulties occurred, I think that the answer is a very obvious one. It is that Persia is the neighbour of Russia; Persia is not and never can be the neighbour of England. She may be the neighbour of British interests and of British possessions, but she can never be the neighbour of the British people as she is the neighbour of the Russian people. I very much question if any Gentleman who know that part of the world do not agree that, supposing His Majesty's Government had adopted a different policy, the disintegration of Persia would have been hurried. Not only would Persia have fallen to pieces earlier, but Russia would have penetrated to Teheran more quickly. And the last part of those consequences would have been that British interest would have suffered more than they have suffered already. I have said that I was not always in favour of the policy of the Government. In those days there were other reasons into which I think it is not necessary to enter tonight, because it would serve no useful purpose. What is said here is reported sometimes with very unnecessary emphasis abroad, and inferences are made from statements in this House that are not always justified. One of the last things I should like to say is this, that if I seem to speak unsympathetically from the point of view of hon. Members opposite, I should be misunderstood by them. I think it is a very fine thing that there is this feeling in the country of a desire that His Majesty's Government should have done more for the integrity and Constitution of Persia. I think that a very creditable thing to our country. I believe that there is a real spirit of chivalry in democracy, and that it is anxious to hold out its hand to any people that strive towards the idea of democracy through the gates of freedom and constitutionalism.

But what I would say, and I would say it really quite impartially—I am not speaking in any way as a party man—that a Constitution in Europe and a Constitution in the East are very different things indeed. The very word itself I think is not understood in many countries in the East. The other day I was reading in a History of Russia that when in Russia they were cheering the heir to the Throne who was supposed to be in favour of reform, they said, "Long live Constantine, and long-live his wife Constitution." I would not say that the Persian people have not risen to a rather higher knowledge, but still one cannot say that as yet they are fully educated, or have any real knowledge of what the constitution means. I will go beyond that. You cannot alter the heart of a man by giving him a political ornament and calling it a constitution. You cannot make the people of Persia any more perfect by giving them a constitution than you can relieve the misery in this country by breaking or suspending the Constitution here. If I may be allowed to say a word or two about the Persians themselves I would say that they are a people who for centuries have lived under what is the worst system of oppression that the world has ever known. They are a people, half of whom are fanatical religionists, and half of whom are extremely apathetic. It is quite impossible to bring home to a people like that what a complicated constitution means, or give them any affection for it. It seems to me that under no circumstances do we mean to fight for the improvement of Persia. Even supposing we did mean to fight we could only do so for one of two reasons. We might do it for the sake of Persia or for our own sake. Supposing we did it for our own sake. What would that mean? It would mean penalising the country by annexing it. We do not want to do that. Supposing we fought for the sake of Persia. What would that mean? It would mean that we should have to guarantee the constitutional experiment, and if we were to give the guarantee, then it would mean occupying the greater part of the country of Persia. I am absolutely certain that there is no hon. Member in this House who advocates so wild and so adventurous a policy as that.


I should like to begin by thanking my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling Burghs, who initiated this Debate, for his courteous reference to myself, and I can say with equal sincerity in regard to him that the purity of his motives in public life and the public spirit which animates the action which he takes is well known to us all. He seemed a little to resent some of the criticisms I have made upon criticisms made upon me in a speech which I delivered to my Constituents last month. My hon. Friend, I think, need not have been so sensitive about those criticisms. I was addressing my Constituents. I have nothing to say to my Constituents that I am not willing the whole world should know, and, therefore, I have not the least objection to speeches being reported. But speeches sometimes have a somewhat personal interest between myself and my Constituents, and therefore have a local rather than a general interest, and in this case the criticisms I was dealing with were certain criticisms on my action which I had seen reported in the local papers in my own Constituency. They were extracts partly from articles which I had not seen before, and I explained that, having seen those extracts, and my Constituents having all read them, that I would deal with them, as I had not time to make research or see the whole of the articles from which they came. It was with those I was dealing. I knew my knowledge was partial. My hon. Friend the Member for Stirling has put on the cap, and I can only say unless he is the author of the extracts which I was criticising at the time he will not feel aggrieved about anything which I said.

7.0 P.M.

I come to matters which have been dealt with in the Debate. First of all, let me take the question of this document given by the British Minister at Teheran. That document was drawn up by the British Minister in an unofficial form. On the face of it you can see that it is in unofficial form. He regarded it as so unofficial that he did not send it home at the time, and that is why I never saw it. A few days after he drew it up, instructions were sent by me from the Foreign Office as to the explanation which was to be given to the Persian Government of the Anglo-Russian Agreement. Those instructions were the official authoritative explanation. They were given some days after that unofficial document. They were accepted by the Persian Government. They were regarded by me as the only authoritative official interpretation for which I was responsible, and I object entirely to that document which has been brought before the House while the official interpretation has been put on one side and entirely disregarded and this unofficial document referred to as the only official interpretation. That is not fair. I do not blame the British Minister for what he did, but I do resent it being supposed that it was done under special instructions as an official document. It is full of quotations from a Russian Foreign Minister, and that I should have had an official document drawn up basing myself on statements made by a Russian Foreign Minister, and that I should have quoted from them without their context, and without communication with the Russian Minister, and have them drawn up as an official document of course is not the case. It was given as an unofficial explanation, and the reason why I object to it being taken as official is this: In substance, in general substance, it does not differ from the official interpretation except in regard to one sentence at the end, which states that their object (the British and Russian Governments) in these friendly negotiations "was not to allow one another to intervene." I believe the British Minister in drawing that up did not intend it to bear the construction which has been put upon it. But the construction which has been put upon it is that we undertook some obligation to guarantee in a way we had not done before the independence and integrity of Persia. That was not the construction which he intended. It is the construction which has been put upon the words, and which it may be contended the words naturally bear. It was not the construction he intended. It was an unofficial document, and it is not the intention or construction that ought to be put on the Anglo-Russian Agreement.

I never regarded that Agreement, and I would not have made it if I had, as an extension of our responsibilities. I regarded it as a limitation of our action rather than an extension, and as a corresponding limitation on Russian action also. It was a mutual agreement limiting the action of the two Governments, the Russian and the English Governments respectively. That was the main object and purpose of the Anglo-Russian Agreement. Tonight what has been discussed in the House? The Anglo-Russian Agreement? Not as a whole. There has not been a word about the Afghanistan part or the Thibet part, and the whole thing hangs together. Have the Articles of it been discussed? Not one of the Articles. Has the Preamble of it been discussed? Yes, partly, but the first part of the Preamble, and the whole discussion, except one or two speeches which have been made and which have not been discussed, the Anglo-Russian Agreement specially, the whole of the attacks made on the Anglo-Russian Agreement have dealt solely with the first paragraph of the Preamble, the one-third part of the Anglo-Russian Agreement. That is what I mean by saying that the focus and perspective is distorted. We must look at the Agreement and at the Articles of the Agreements as a whole. When I said at Manchester the other day what the object of the Anglo-Russian Agreement was, I defined it as having been to secure (I forget now the exact words) that the British and Russian Governments respectively should not disturb their interests and their frontiers in Asia. What I said has been absolutely kept. That was the object to which I referred, and it has been absolutely kept on both sides. The Russian Government have done nothing since that Agreement was made to disturb the Indian frontier, to intrigue so as to make disturbances on the Indian frontier, to push railways towards it, or to do any of those things which they undertook in the Agreement they would not do, and we in the same way have observed it. When I said that it had been absolutely kept it was to that, the main object of the Agreement, I was referring. That is absolutely true.

My hon. Friend says that what has happened under the Anglo-Russian Agreement has damaged us strategically. If any of the Articles of the Agreement had been broken, if Article 2 had been broken, or any of the other Articles, then you would have had a case for saying that strategically our position was worse than it is. Those Articles have not been infringed in any way. The operative parts have not been infringed in any way. How have we been damaged strategically by the Anglo-Russian Agreement? The Indian frontier is not conscious of it. The Indian Government is not conscious of any strategic damage. There is, we are told, Russian influence in Northern Persia. Russian influence was there before the Anglo-Russian Agreement was made. The fact of Russian influence being dominant in Northern Persia is no new thing. It was there before the Anglo-Russian Agreement was made. Anyone who would take the trouble to look again at the speech in which I explained the Anglo-Russian Agreement to the House in 1908 will see that I assumed, as one of the premises on which the Anglo-Russian Agreement had been made, that the Russian influence in the North of Persia was already there and had been there for some twenty years, and that under successive British Governments not one of them had made it their policy or made an effort to prevent Russian influence from being dominant in the North of Persia. It was there before the Anglo-Russian Agreement, and it is there now. The question of whether we are strategically worse off depends on the use which was made of Russian influence in the North of Persia; and Russian influence in the North of Persia, whatever difficulties there may have been with regard to Persian internal affairs, whatever disputes there may have been, that influence has not been used in any way to make the Indian frontier strategically worse. It has not been used as it would have been in the past to prejudice our strategical position. It has not been used in that way, and it is not being so used now. I do not mean to push that so far as to say that it should not be the subject of comment in the House that Russian troops are in Persia and have lately been largely increased in Persia. That, of course, is a matter of comment, and has been dealt with frequently.

The presence of Russian troops in Northern Persia has been due to various causes, into which I need not now enter. The hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) seems to resent my giving any explanation of anything which the Russians do in Northern Persia. Whenever I have given those explanations I have been strongly pressed to protest against something or other, but I have no desire to give explanation if it is not desired that explanations should be given. But I am, of course, bound to explain to the House what the position of Russian troops in Northern Persia is. Russian troops have been sent there owing to various disputes which have arisen, but they have not been sent there, as I have been informed, in order to effect a permanent occupation of the country. They have been sent there at various times during the last few years, and on one occasion, at any rate, they were withdrawn after they had been sent from Kazvin. In July, 1909, after the revolt of the Bakhtiari and Nationalists at Teheran, the Russian Government, in order to guard all nationalities at that time, landed a regiment of Cossacks, a battery, and so forth, which went to Kazvin. In November of that year we were told that 300 of those men were to return to Russia. In December, 1909, 600 or 700 were withdrawn leaving 1,000 there, and on 23rd February last year all those troops were withdrawn from Kazvin except the Consular guard of about fifty or 100 men. That was an instance of troops having been sent and then withdrawn. Anyone who has had experience of the sending of British troops to occupy places temporarily will realise how difficult it is to withdraw when they have been once sent to occupy them. The fact that troops were once sent and withdrawn ought, at any rate, to be noticed in this House as evidence that the sending of Russian troops into Northern Persia has not been from any premeditated design of permanent occupation of the country, but due to causes which we hope will be temporary. Again, troops have been sent to Kazvin. My hon. Friend who initiated the Debate pointed out that Kazvin is the really important place, and that the other place did not threaten Teheran, the capital, nor the heart of Persia, but are comparatively close to the Russian frontier. Kazvin, no doubt, is on the direct route to Teheran. From Kazvin there were some of the troops withdrawn a little time ago, and we understand that the rest are soon to be withdrawn from Kazvin also.

With regard to the other places, such as Tabriz, there is another factor to be borne in mind. The Russian troops are not the only foreign troops in Persia at the present time. There are Turkish troops over the frontier in Persia. They have been there for some time. The contention of the Russian Government has been that the troops are for the purpose of protecting their strategic interests, and nobody can deny that they are justified in putting forward that contention. The Turkish troops began going over the Russian frontier under the old regime as long ago as October, 1905. They have gradually advanced farther and farther, and no doubt, the subsequent presence of Russian troops in Northern Persia may have led to still further advances of Turkish troops and so forth. That is the situation at the present time. Turkish troops have advanced considerably farther in the direction of Tabriz, and Russian troops at some of the places in that region have no doubt been advanced as strategic movements, because the strategical position has been changed to the disadvantage of Russia by the presence of the Turkish troops. That is an element that has to be borne in mind. If the strategical position of Russia is threatened or likely to be prejudiced by the advance of Turkish troops, Russia is perfectly entitled to claim that she must be the judge of her own strategical interests, and of what measures are necessary to protect them. With regard to Persian independence, I noticed one very important admission by my hon. Friend who initiated this Debate. He admitted that there had been Russian influence in Northern Persia before the Anglo-Russian Convention. But he said that the Persian Revolution destroyed that influence. I have been told that from other sources. Does anybody who reads the Anglo-Russian Agreement consider that it would have been really consistent for us to take upon ourselves to support the Persian Government in the destruction of the Russian influence in the North of Persia which existed before the Anglo-Russian Agree- ment was made? When you talk about the independence of Persia, you must bear in mind that it was already conditioned by Russian influence in the North of Persia at that time. Does anybody suppose that we could have worked the Anglo-Russian Agreement in this way—that we should have said to Russia, "The Persian Revolution has destroyed your influence in the North of Persia. You must not attempt to regain that influence, you must not make any move to re-establish the influence you have lost, but we on our side must maintain the absolute security of the Indian frontier, and so forth, which is guaranteed to us by the Anglo-Russian Agreement." You cannot work an agreement in that one-sided way. To say that diplomatic dispatches, representations, and so forth, based on that assumption, should be the ordinary course of events in the North of Persia is absolutely futile. It would put an end to the Anglo-Russian Agreement. That Russian influence in the North of Persia should be destroyed as a consequence of the Anglo-Russian Agreement, and that we should retain all the advantages guaranteed to us in regard to the Indian Frontier is an untenable position.

I now come to the present situation, and I will take some of the points in detail. First of all, the ex-Shah. We ourselves have taken a strong line about the ex-Shah. We have said that we could not recognise him again. It has been very exasperating to us. I base that not on abstract considerations connected with the Persian Government, nor on anything connected with the Russian Government, but on our own interests. The ex-Shah went back into Persia. One consequence of his going back was that the forces—some of the Bakhtian forces, for example—which had been in the habit, though in an irregular way, of keeping order on the southern roads, were withdrawn to resist the ex-Shah. The Persian Government was crippled in its struggle with the ex-Shah, and our trade suffered because the roads were blocked. I regard that as sufficient justification for our saying that we would not recognise the ex-Shah, and that the first object of importance is to get the ex-Shah out of the country. Criticism has been made as to his pension for leaving the country. It will not be the first time in history that a pension has been given not on grounds of merit. He has to be got out of the country. If the Persian Government were strong enough to turn him out by themselves there would be no question of pension or anything else. They would do it. But they are not strong enough to turn him out. How is he to be got out? I sometimes wonder how many people who take a strong line about Persian affairs have really studied the map of Persia. Northern Persia is absolutely out of our reach. We cannot send a force there to turn out the ex-Shah. Are we to go to the Russian Government and ask them to send a force to turn him out? Are we to be pressed at one moment to ask them to withdraw their troops, whom they have sent there to protect their trade routes or any interests which they consider endangered, and at another moment to ask them to send forces into Persia at their own expense to do something which suits our purposes? Of course we cannot. There is no means that I can see of getting the ex-Shah out of Persia unless he is got out on terms. He is out of our reach. I can only say that as far as we are concerned we have done what we could to discourage the ex-Shah by saying we will not recognise him, and a warning has now been given to him through the Russian Consul that his case is hopeless, and that he had better leave the country.

But undoubtedly certain terms have been offered the ex-Shah to leave. In connection with this I had better give the provisions of the loan. I have not the actual Note about the loan. What I have got is a telegram saying that a Joint Note has been handed in on the lines of the telegram which I sent on 2nd February. As soon as I get the exact terms of the Note and the Persian reply, I shall be glad to communicate them to the House. The terms are, roughly, these. There is no threat in them at all. The British and Russian Governments will advance to meet immediate requirements the sum of £200,000 conjointly, the proceeds to be spent under the supervision of the Treasurer-General, and our share of £100,000 to be devoted as much as possible to gendarmérie in the south.


At what rate?


It had to be at an agreed rate of 7 per cent. Somebody has said that the loan is small. Of course it is small. We do not want to undertake loans ourselves, but we want to see trade routes open in the south, and we have limited the loan to the smallest possible amount to meet immediate emergencies, and to enable a start to be made with the preservation of order on the southern roads. It is not intended as a loan to finance the Persian Government as a whole. That we hope will be done by a larger loan through the ordinary financial channels as soon as it can be arranged. This advance is made as an exceptional thing. It is of a very limited amount to meet special emergencies, especially on the southern roads. As the two Governments are sharing in the loan it had to be made at an agreed rate of interest. Some hon. Members have asked me about the security in Persia. The loan to be useful ought to be made quickly, and we have not had time to go into the question of security very closely. But what we have said is that it is to be made on what security is available, and it is to be a first charge on the large loan which we hope Persia will be able to raise soon through the ordinary financial channels when the situation in Persia has improved. It is not a very serious liability in amount, but of course it will have to come before the House.

The next point was to inform the Persian Government that the ex-Shah was requested to leave Persian territory, and that neither he nor his adherents will receive support from the Russian Government or ourselves. The text of the communication has been left to the representatives to draw up. The amount of the pension and the conditions on which it is to be granted are being arranged. The third point was that a general amnesty should be proclaimed, and that when the ex-Shah has left Persia the Russian Government should dismiss their irregular forces. The fourth point is that they should be ready to discuss a scheme for a small army. An hon. Member asked me whether that army is to be under Russian officers. It may be. I have said nothing in the telegram about Russian officers, but it may be that Russian officers will be employed under the Persian Government. That is no new thing. For years, long before the Anglo-Russian Agreement, Persian Consuls at Teheran were under Russian officers. That is one of the evidences of Russian influence in Northern Persia. Never for a moment would the Russian Government consent to see their officers who were employed under the Persian Government dismissed and officers of another nationality substituted for them at Teheran. The fifth point was that the Persian Government should be requested, in a form to be decided on, to engage to conform to the principles of the Anglo-Russian Convention. That is a very necessary provision, because if we and Russia agree that there are certain parts of Persia where we will not push our respective influence it is essential that the Persian Government should not upset that. One of the reasons which gave rise to the difficulties at Teheran was undoubtedly the appointment by the Treasurer-General of a British subject at Tabriz, which is only eighty miles from the Russian frontier, and well within the Russian sphere of influence. If the Persian Government is to continue its business undisturbed it is essential that it should conform to these Articles of the Anglo-Russian Agreement, and that it should not give concessions contrary to the spirit of that Agreement or make appointments of Russians in the British sphere or of British people in the Russian sphere. There is no harm or indignity whatever in asking the Persian Government to conform to that practice, which is stipulated for in the Anglo-Russian Agreement, and which prevents friction and difficulties between the British and Russian Governments. That is the end of the conditions about the small loan.

As to trade. The hon. and gallant Member opposite made the perfectly true criticism that recently our trade has suffered more than Russian trade. That is quite true, because the Russians have themselves sent forces into the North of Persia to control routes. They are engaged in conducting caravans on some of the trade routes of Northern Persia now. We could have done the same in Southern Persia. The Russians would have made no objection to our doing for the trade routes in the South what they have done in the North, and it would have been entirely within our rights. I fully admit that the reason why our trade in the South has been impeded, obstructed, and even blocked to an extent, which has not been the case with Russian trade in the North, is that we have not taken in the South the measures which the Russians have taken in the North. I frankly say that I think we have done right in deciding not to take steps to patrol these trade routes. If we had we should have had to send at least between 1,000 and 2,000 men to begin with. As hon. Members know, what you send at the beginning in a case like this generally turns out to be far too small; but, having sent them, you are told, or you find, that unless you send a considerable number more the whole object for which you sent these men will be sacrificed. Then you are told, further, that you must occupy a certain point or points to secure your object. Having occupied these points, you will find that your occupation is going to be of no use, and that its object will not be attained, unless you occupy some point further in, which, you are told, it is absolutely essential you should occupy. That is the very reason why we have been reluctant to undertake the patrol of roads in Southern Persia.

It would have put on us, and on the Indian Government—because I suppose we should have had to share the expense—an expense that might have been very great, and might have been so great as to exceed, not the profits, but the gross value of the whole of the trade involved. Suppose we had let ourselves in for an occupation of Southern Persia, and to have undertaken the responsibility of providing for order. I admit the trade has suffered. But, on the whole, the Government have, I think rightly, hitherto decided not to send the force into Southern Persia to patrol the roads, but to do all we can to co-operate both with the Persian and the Russian Government in inducing the ex-Shah to leave the country. That will react most favourably on the southern roads. We believe, too, that in securing for Persia a small advance of money to devote to organising a gendarmerie for the southern roads, and in getting Swedish officers employed in organising that force, that we are doing the best we can for Persia. We hope that these measures, inconvenient though the interruption to trade may have been, if they succeed in a few weeks or a few months in restoring order to Southern Persia, will make it clear that the policy we have adopted has in the long run ensured our object with far less expense and far less risk than the occupation of the country.

The hon. Gentleman the Member for Staffordshire asked me to say a word about railways in Persia. I can tell him very little about the Trans-Persian Railway scheme, which is still in this stage: certain financial groups on their own account are making a study of what the prospects of a railway would be, how it could be financed, and so forth. All we have said hitherto is that we are favourable in principle to a railway, provided certain conditions are eventually observed. Till the study of these groups has resulted in showing that some particular scheme is favourable, there is really nothing to report. I think we are right in not opposing railway development in Persia, because sooner or later it must come. Indeed, you have no right simply for your own interest to pursue a policy of opposing railway development. In the long run you will not succeed. I think that our proper policy is not to discourage or to oppose schemes which may be put forward for the development of railways in Persia, but to give such encouragement and support ourselves to secure that if and when a Trans-Persian railway is made, it should be made under conditions as to breadth of gauge and as to routes which are satisfactory to the Indian Government, which is most concerned. We have been in close consultation with the Indian Government as to conditions. They have stipulated for certain primâ facie conditions if and when a group decides that a railway is feasible. I cannot say how much international capital may or may not be involved. That is a stage further ahead. But if and when a railway is pronounced feasible, we shall, of course, review the scheme in the light of the conditions stipulated by the Indian Government, and in consultation with them, with regard to the points I have mentioned.

I was asked one important and definite question with reference to the terms of M. Mornard's appointment as Treasurer-General. The reports I have from our present Minister at Teheran are quite favourable to M. Mornard, and indeed it would be difficult to find anyone else at this moment who has the experience and knowledge of Persian affairs which it is necessary to have to transact the business of the post. I think to attempt, in the present state of affairs, to send anyone there with no knowledge or previous experience of the country would be to set that person a very hard task indeed. I think the experience M. Mornard has had is valuable in the present crisis, and will enable him to take hold of the business. The reports as to M. Mornard personally that we have from our Minister at Teheran is quite favourable. Of course, everything has had to be done in a hurry recently, and the appointment at present is temporary, the question of a definite appointment being kept in suspense.


Can the right hon. Gentleman tell me whether the Persian Government protested against the appointment?


I would ask my hon. Friend to give mc notice of that question. The Persian Government, I think, do not at all grudge the appointment of M. Mornard at the present time, but whether they did at any stage make a protest or not, I cannot say without notice. The appointment, though temporary, may become permanent, and at any rate it is the best that can be done at the present time. I have no reason to suppose that it will turn out other than satisfactory.

Now, generally, if we are to intervene in Persia, we must base our intervention on British interests. It is impossible for us, in different parts of the world, when disputes arise between other countries, to undertake to be the arbiters in those disputes, and pronounce judgment upon their merits. In this case of a dispute between Russia and Persia in the North of Persia, where admittedly we have acquiesced in the establishment of Russian influence in previous years, we cannot undertake — I cannot undertake—to be continually giving accounts of all that happens and pronouncing judgment upon what has taken place. I have not got information, in the first place, and we must, if we are to pursue a policy which is within our compass, a reasonable policy, base our intervention in Persia on British interests. I deprecate the constant attacks that are made in this House as to what has and is taking place in the North of Persia, which are based upon the absolute truth of every statement which is adverse to one side, and which ignores the statements which are adverse to the other side. I am not in a position very often to have any information in regard to some of the statements. Even if I had, I do not consider it is my business to investigate all the circumstances on each side, and then to say exactly what is true. I very often know one side, and some hon. Friend here knows the other side. But what I do deprecate is that everything that is adverse to Russian action should be accepted, and that everything which is evidence of provocation to Russian interests should be ignored. Russia in the North of Persia finds it necessary to take certain measures to protect her trade or her strategic interests. Those are not necessarily a breach of the Anglo-Russian Agreement. Look at the second paragraph of the Preamble, which begins:— Considering that each of the Powers. Great Britain and Russia, has for geographical and economic reasons a special interest in the maintenance of peace and order in certain provinces of Persia.… With a Preamble like that you cannot say for a moment, when either country takes steps to intervene in a particular region in Persia, where it has been admitted by the Preamble to have special interests, and to take action to protect those interests it considers in danger, you cannot consider that as necessarily a breach of the Anglo-Russian Agreement. There are certain things in the Anglo-Russian Agreement which would be a distinct breach, and which would have to be taken up at once. Such a breach of Article 1 or Article 2 of the Agreement is, of course, a thing which would be taken up. A breach of Article 1 by us or a breach of Article 2 by Russia would be taken up at once by one or the other country. In all the criticism which has been offered in this House in respect to the Anglo-Russian Agreement, only once that I remember has there been any reference to the really operative articles of the Agreement or any allegation, at any rate, that any one of these had been broken. When that is the case, when one of these articles is broken, then, of course, strategic influence will be involved and must be protected.


Where do the Persian people come in to this case?


We have never undertaken the responsibility for the Persian people. Are we to make ourselves responsible for people in Central Asia?


If I understand aright, they are to be wiped out. Is that so?


No, no. That is a sort of statement that makes debate impossible. What is, in effect, being pressed upon us in Debate? I am pressed to take up questions on behalf of Persia in the North of Persia, and it amounts to this: that I am, in effect, being asked to prevent Russia from regaining and retaining that influence in Northern Persia which she had before the Anglo-Russian Agreement. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no."] The hon. Gentleman the Member for Stirling Burghs (Mr. Ponsonby) admitted that the Russian influence which existed at the time of the Anglo-Russian Agreement had been destroyed. Russia has to regain and retain that influence, and the criticism passed on me is that I have not prevented it. That is really what it comes to.


All our efforts since the time that Russian influence was damaged in the North have been to help Russia to regain that influence and make it stronger than before.


I have been pressed to protest against certain things, to take action to prevent Russia doing certain things. The effective part of the attack is that I have not prevented Russian influence being regained and retained. I cannot prevent that influence being regained. That comes from the very quarter who, when this Government first came into power, would have been the very first to denounce the Government if they said that previous Governments had acquiesced in Russian influence in the North of Persia, and that we intended to do so no longer and were going to adopt a forward policy. Of course the permanent Russian occupation of Northern Persia and the overthrow of the Persian Government at Teheran would alter the situation; it would greatly offend Mahomedan feeling. The Russian occupation of Teheran and the overthrow of the Persian Government and the substitution for it of Russian Government at Teheran would, no doubt, alter the situation. But Russia, has assured us that is not her intention. In the first place, she has not sent troops to Teheran or attempted to occupy Teheran, and in the next place she has told us that when she sent troops into Persia they were sent for a special purpose, and will be withdrawn when that purpose is served and when the situation admits of it.

Of course I do not say the situation as regards the future is free from difficulty with regard to Persia. It is not a very easy matter to keep the Persian Government on its feet and to get order re-established throughout Persia by Persian resources alone. That is what we wish to see done and what we are trying to do, and that is what, with patience, I think we shall succeed in doing. Without the Anglo-Russian Agreement there would be no chance of anything of the kind. Without the Anglo-Russian Agreement the same jealousy and suspicion of Russian action and British action respectively which existed in past years before the Agreement was made would lead to far worse consequences than at the present time. Whatever Russia has done in the North of Persia has been done with the sole regard to the effect of Persian action on affairs in Persia or her interests, and not for fear we should take advantage of the situation against them. If there had not been that confidence between the two Governments the action would be very much more extensive, because in the old days each Government was working against the other at Teheran, not merely to protect its own interests, but to try and prevent the other taking advantage or supposed advantage of the situation, and if that motive still existed the interference would be on a much greater scale. What should we have done? We should have no security that we should not have found ourselves some day face to face with the fact that Russian influence in the North of Persia had led to concessions for a railway towards our frontier. How should we protect ourselves against that? We should have been driven, not because our own interests required it, but because we were afraid of a change in the situation to our disadvantage to assert our authority in those parts of Persia which it is specially necessary for us to watch in regard to our Indian frontier. Then you would really be on the way to a partition of Persia and a joint frontier.

I trust anything of the kind will be avoided, that there will not be a partition of Persia, that we shall be able to keep intervention in internal Persian affairs within much narrower limits than we could have kept it if there was apprehension either on the Russian side that we were going to work against their interests in Persia, or on our side that they were going to work against us. We shall keep intervention within much narrower limits. If it were a fact that we were working against each other the intervention that would then take place would be very much greater.

It is natural the House should expect Papers. I gave instructions some time ago before the House met, that Papers should be got ready, but it is necessary to send them to Teheran and to send certain parts to St. Petersburg to be examined in the Embassies and Legations there before they can be presented to Parliament. I am having that done as quickly as possible, and Papers which are being prepared will be laid I hope about the middle of next week. They will come down to a certain date, because I shall not be able to have Papers beyond that date by then, but I gave instructions that a further set of Papers should be prepared bringing events down to a later date. As I said in answer to a question the other day, I will have the Papers pushed on as fast as possible, and will have them laid before Parliament down to as late a date as possible.


I intervened in the Debate just now with the remark to which the right hon. Gentleman took exception. I simply asked, "What is to happen to the Persian people." I did not intend it to be controversial. We are a great Power, entering into this Convention to guarantee the integrity of Persia. I look to the Convention, and I do not find the word "guarantee" there at all. I think the words are "respect" the independence of Persia. I do not think we are respecting the independence of Persia at all. When the revolution was going on the Russians intervened very strongly. They did not do so merely to keep a ring, but for their own purposes. The right hon. Gentleman will remember that after the Nationalists captured Tabriz the precaution was taken of seizing the documents in the post office, and, I think, in these documents there was clear evidence of the fact that the Russians had supplied the Shah's troops with rifles and ammunition. The question was brought to the attention of this House, and it was not considered as a contravention of the Anglo-Russian Agreement with regard to Persia. I want to ask a few plain questions. I ask it as one of the men in the street who are supposed to rule this country by their votes. I will put it as low as that if you like. I think the right hon. Gentleman will agree that after all Russia has been very prominent in taking distinct action. She has taken very strong action with regard to the gentleman mentioned very frequently to-night, I mean Mr. Shuster. The right hon. Gentleman himself said that Mr. Shuster did not have sufficient tact, and was tactless in dealing with the circumstances and conditions that existed in Persia.

The Russian officials did not want the intervention of an American clerk, as they called him. The general assumption was that he would not know anything at all about the Anglo-Russian Convention. I think, in the speech which Mr. Shuster delivered in London, he gave evidence to the fact that he is not only an expert financier, but that he is also a lawyer of some repute on international law. This gentleman took every care to try to thoroughly understand the Anglo-Russian Convention and to read the Blue Books in connection with it. He said he went to Persia to try to do a bit of honest work, to try to reconstruct the finances of Persia, and the experts among the Persian people themselves were so struck with his capacity for the work that it was carried almost unanimously afterwards in the Mejliss. I think he even consulted our own Foreign Office, or some of the officials representative of it, with regard to the work he was going to carry out. I do not understand the attitude of our own Foreign Office with regard to the appointment of Major Stokes. Mr. Shuster and the Persian representative Chamber agreed that any reform brought about must be on the basis of financial reform. If they should make the roads safe, if they were going to get the country properly policed, or provide conditions that would make it possible to carry out the full terms of the Convention between ourselves and Russia, it was essential that money should be obtained, and that the finances of the country should be put in proper order. That could not be done unless you had police. The Treasurer-General, in order to put his financial loan into operation, selected Major Stokes, but before appointing him he consulted our own Foreign Office or their representatives. Major Stokes gave up his appointment at the Teheran Legation and went over, I understand, with the full consent and knowledge of our own officials there. Russia again intervened, and as a result the appointment of Major Stokes was cancelled, and he was sent about his business. I suggest that a powerful nation like ourselves should not agree to take up such a position as that. Then followed the entry of the ex-Shah into Persia as a rebel against the existing Government.

8.0 P.M.

One would have thought that the Persian people were perfectly entitled if they caught rebels red-handed, according to all the known laws of any country, to confiscate the property of the rebels. Everyone knows what happened when the ex-Shah went on this filibustering expedition—certainly with the aid of the Russian Government. If my information is correct they aided the ex-Shah, who was supposed to be in restraint at Odessa, point to point until he got landed on the Persian territory. At that time he was a rebel against his own country, and the constitution of the country, and if people went round with him in that rebellion certainly the Government were entitled to confiscate their property. I do not want to go over the whole story, but the sum and substance of it was this. A brother of the ex-Shah's property was under confiscation, and Persian gendarmes were put in to carry out the decree. It is common property that two Vice-Consuls of Russia, in full uniform, tried to provoke the gendarmerie of Persia into some open and violent action. They did not succeed, but they made out a case, and the result was that an ultimatum was sent which insisted upon the dismissal of Mr. Shuster from his position and fourteen of the officials which he took with him from America to reconstitute the finances of the country, and many other matters. I want to know whether we have no concern at all for the people of Persia themselves. It is perfectly true that this Convention is in existence between two great Powers, but I should say that the result is that nothing has been done for the people of Persia; they are to be wiped out of the whole process; and whatever the right hon. Gentleman says to the contrary, it seems inevitable that partition will take place. Encroachment upon the Indian frontier, for instance, by Russia, might mean that you have got to protect 12,000 miles of frontier line in Asia, and this would lead to a large increase in the Army Estimates, and the Indian Government would have to pay their proportion of it. I know you cannot discuss this question without sentiment, and in spite of the fact that there are big commercial questions involved and big questions of diplomacy, I think England ought to be true to its own tradition of trying to assist small nations like the Persian people, who have struggled through centuries of oppression to establish a Constitution in accordance with the trend of things in the world generally, I should have thought we would have had some regard to that sentiment, and not discussed this Convention upon purely technical terms. Apparently, however, that is not to be the case, and I trust, in spite of all these things, that the Persian people will rise to the occasion and still insist, with all the power they possess, on a re-establishment of the Mejliss to start with, and that the old Constitution shall be put into operation again. Along that way lies the line of safety, and until that is done the Anglo-Russian Convention cannot be secure in all its terms as far as this country is concerned. I should think it is in the best interests of our Foreign Office to do what they can in this matter to help the restitution and restoration of the Mejliss and the old Constitution. I am glad this Motion has been brought before the House, if only to give some of us an opportunity of expressing our opinion upon this matter. I confess that I did not like the attitude of the right hon. Gentleman to those of us who have tried to take an interest in this matter. Of course we may be wrong, but we are simply seeking information. I was a member of the Persian Committee, and I am a member of the Persian Society at the present moment. I am simply seeking for information, but the attitude of the right hon. Gentleman towards us seems to resent even the putting of questions.


I think that is a little unfair. If I have given that impression it is an unfortunate manner of mine. I think if the hon. Member will consider the number of questions, including supplementary questions which I have answered, he will realise that if I have given the impression he complains of, it is not because I resent the putting of the questions, but because it would be embarrassing to our policy to answer them, in the difficulties which sometimes arise.


I am delighted to hear that statement. We do not wish to embarrass the right hon. Gentleman, and all we wish is to get proper information in reply to our questions. We claim to be democrats, and we consider it one of the greatest crimes we could be guilty of to allow a small nationality like Persia to be wiped out of existence. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman's convictions are much in the same direction as my own, but if anything can be done by suggestion with regard to the opening of the Mejliss and the restoration of the old Constitution I think in that way lies safety for ourselves, and along these lines we shall find greater security for carrying out the full terms of the existing Convention.


There is one point on which I think another word or two might be said. I am glad to hear from the Foreign Secretary an expression of hope that so much can be done under the present circumstances and can in future be done to support Persian independence. It appears to me that the one thing for us to do now is to consider not what has happened in the past, but the possibilities of the future. The past is full of very regrettable incidents, and the history of the last three years in regard to Persia is not a happy one for any party to think over. It is quite clear, in spite of all that has been said that regarding Persia simply as a buffer state something has been lost. I have heard from Englishmen in Persia that it has been an extremely unpleasant thing for Englishmen to realise the lowering of our prestige in the circles of Europeans who live in Persia. That opinion has not come from the representatives of Radicalism or sentimental people, but from persons whose names would command respect on all sides if I were at liberty to mention them.

Let us turn our attention entirely to the future. The Foreign Secretary regards the entente as having been useful to the welfare of Persia. I have never been opposed to it, and I trust it will be continued, but is there not a distinction to be made here. The entente itself may have done no damage to Persian interests, but in the last two or three years it has amounted to a certain subservience to Russian wishes in regard to Persia. The utility of the entente does not at all disprove the contention that in future it may be possible to do more on account of another entente, or a least a detente, I mean the improvement in regard to Germany. Is it quite certain that the Foreign Office has really made up its mind that it is sincerely anxious for the welfare of Persia as an independent State? After all, it does not stand to reason that we should be pro-Persian in this sense. On what ground should we expect the Foreign Office to be pro-Persian? It is not honeycombed with Nationalist or Radical feeling. It could only be on the ground that Persia is useful to British interests as a buffer State. I think it is possible in the future for the Foreign Secretary to mould the policy of this country in the direction of a more sincere support of Persian independence than has been possible in the past. I think there are in the future possibilities much greater than we have realised in the past. The Persian history of the last three years has been merely a symptom of the Anglo-German situation, in fact it has been a sort of by-product of that situation. That fact has affected our policy in many other parts of the world. It has affected our policy in Turkey—in fact it has quite spoiled our policy towards Turkey from the point of view of British interests. I need not repeat the description given by the hon. Member for South Somerset of those days when demonstrations of the Turkish public took place continually before the British Embassy. What was the reason why we never took advantage of that absolutely unique opportunity in Turkey?


May I remind the hon. Member that we are not now discussing Turkish affairs. This is not a general discussion on the Foreign Office, and the Amendment limits the Debate to Persia.


I wish to make it clear that this has a bearing on the Persian question, because Persia and Turkey have intimate relations. Turkey has an extremely urgent interest in supporting the independence of Persia, and we have not been able, owing to the great International situation, to support Turkey in that policy. What has been the reason for that? In your presence, Mr. Speaker, knowing your interest in the present situation in Turkey, I should speak with embarrassment except for this fact: If there is any reason why we have not been active in Turkey, and supported Turkey in supporting Persia, it is not for want of activity which could have been exercised by His Majesty's Ambassador in Constantinople, but it has been for some greater reason which has profoundly affected our policy towards Persia. As a matter of fact, it has been our view that the primary consideration of our diplomacy has been to win friendship from Russia and other States as against Germany. That difficulty, let us hope, has been removed. Here we are bound to tread on dangerous ground, and we are bound to consider other reasons for backing up Persia. I think everybody realises the value of Persia to England as a buffer State. I would have liked to have asked the Foreign Secretary whether the policy lately pursued has had the support of the Indian Office.


I may say at once, Yes.


I am glad to hear it, because the situation lately has reminded mo of the time when there were very few supporters of the idea of an Anglo-Russian entente. The scorn which was then poured upon the idea reminds mc of the qualms which come over a good many politicians in connection with Persian policy, qualms which suggest that possibly, after all, there may be such a divergence of interest between Great Britain and Russia that a close entente is not really a very statesmanlike thing. Undoubtedly, on the ground of the buffer State policy, we should have been more active in supporting Persia in the last few years. Let us hope we are going to be more active now. There is another consideration which I hope the Foreign Office have in mind. No doubt my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for India has it very much in mind. It is really to the interest of Great Britain to support the independence and welfare of Mahomedan States. There are divergent views held whether it is to our interest, or to the interest of Europe at all, to endeavour to promote the welfare of such States as Turkey or Persia. If there is any Mahomedan State which is clearly worth supporting, it is Persia. You have a fairly homogeneous population, which you have not in the greater part of Turkey, and you have an immensely long and interesting history. After all, great military activity and the possibility of reform in Persia is not perhaps very much more remote than was the possibility oven in Japan some forty years ago. I should say even thirty years ago there were people who would have looked without any misgiving on a move of the Russian Government or of some other Government towards an occupation and domination of Japan. Yet, in spite of that, when the critical moment was passed, Japan became not only a great military Power, but a Power of interest from the ethnological point of view to the whole world.

I trust the question whether Persia does not provide the finest opportunity for the development of a Mahomedan State is being adequately considered by the Foreign Office. There are strong reasons against such a policy, and there is a very influential party which urges, for instance, that this modern feature of a Mahomedan propaganda operating in many parts of the British Empire is a thing which has to be controlled and is somewhat encouraged by the existence of independent Mahomedan States. There are even those who, exaggerating the case, consider the British Government will some day have to consider obtaining possession of the holy places of Mecca itself. There is a very strong party urging in that direction in the Foreign Office and in other offices, and my hope is, our hope throughout this House is, that the Foreign Office will come to the conclusion that those considerations are not the overwhelming ones, and that it is to the interests of our own strategy as well as to the interests of the powers of civilisation at large that Mahomedan States, where they have an opportunity of existence as in Persia, should not be discouraged but should be promoted and assisted. After all, the view that no Mahomedan State is to be encouraged would be Europeanism of a fanatical kind, only paralleled in the days of the Crusade, and there is an enemy there against which the representatives of an English Government will wish to contend I am sure with all their force.

It is a very fair question which is put to us: What more is there to do? The right hon. Gentleman says, "We have done a great deal for the maintenance of Persia's independence, and we shall be able to do more, but," he says, "we could not have done more even if we had been quit of the Anglo-Russian entente." He says we should have done less. May I suggest one way in which definitely we may be able to do more? We have been debarred by our relations with Germany from friendship with Turkey. We have been prevented from encouraging Turkey to take up a strong line in regard to Persia, but undoubtedly, if the Turks are able and are encouraged to take an active line with regard to the independence of Persia, they can exert an influence, and I trust in the future we shall not be hampered from perfect freedom in regard to any encouragement we may give to Turkey in that direction. Subservience to Russian interests prevents us from taking a friendly line towards the Turks, but the time has come when perhaps we shall be freer than we have been in the past. Here is another point where I venture to think the right hon. Gentleman will agree we might have done more and may in the future do more. We shall be freer with regard to arrangements for loans. A great City house has been actively attempting to arrange a big loan for Persia now for two years past, and we, I believe, have not seen fit to actively encourage those negotiations. We have certain connections with the Imperial Bank of Persia, but possibly if we are quite free from any necessity to be very considerate and very tender towards Russian wishes, we shall be able to do more to help the Persian Government to utilise the advantages offered by that great City house.

Clearly, this is not a party matter. Not long ago Lord Curzon made a great utterance, certainly the most Nationalist and Liberal utterance recently made with regard to Persia. He may be regarded on foreign affairs as the spokesman of the Conservative party. It appears he thinks there is a great deal more we might do with regard to Persia. I think probably, though the Foreign Secretary does not say so, he himself thinks there is in the future, now there is an improved situation in the greater international world, much more that can be done. One is obliged to say things which, as the hon. Member for Somerset observed, our Ambassadors and our Ministers may regret, because they are liable to distortion and perversion in foreign countries. But I think a moral may be drawn. All these objections to free speech, which I am extremely conscious of in this House, would be removed if the Government adopted the suggestion of a Foreign Affairs Committee, and that would possibly have mitigated the situation in regard to Germany during the last two or three years and have left us freer in regard to the question of Persia. I should only like to suggest, in conclusion, that the proposal of a Foreign Affairs Committee, such as operates in France, is well worth the consideration of the Government.


I only introduced this Amendment with a view to getting a discussion on this specific question of Persia, and in that way, I think it has been useful. If I do not divide the House it is not because the right hon. Gentleman has satisfied me. I have been deeply disappointed with what he said. There were several points he did not touch upon, notably the re-institution of the Mejliss, and I regret that very much. He said he must regard the Persian question from the point of view of British interests. I maintain that the greatest British interest at the present time is the maintenance of the independence and integrity of Persia. There is no greater interest at present. I had hoped very much the right hon. Gentleman would have taken a still stronger line when he said we had a right to expect that Russia would withdraw her troops. It is a question which is engaging the attention of the whole country, and we shall have to watch events very carefully. I dare say we shall have an opportunity of another Debate, meanwhile I beg to ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question again proposed.

Motion made, and Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—[Mr. Saunders]—put, and agreed to.

Debate to be resumed to-morrow (Thursday).