HC Deb 07 April 1913 vol 51 cc816-9
2. Mr. BECK

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he has any further information to give to the House as to the coercion of Montenegro by the Great Powers; and whether, before Great Britain is committed to taking part in a policy by which Montenegro is forcibly deprived of territory which she has conquered or may conquer, the Government will give Parliament an opportunity of expressing its views?

3. Mr. ALDEN

asked whether, in the event of the naval demonstration of the Great Powers proving ineffective, it is proposed to sanction any isolated action by Austria-Hungary on land to reinforce the demand for a cessation of the bombardment of Scutari?


May I ask the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he can give the House any further information with regard to Montenegro?


Two of His Majesty's ships, the battleship "King Edward VII." and the cruiser "Dartmouth," have proceeded to the coast of Montenegro to take part in an international naval demonstration. Austrian, French, German, and Italian warships are also there for the same purpose. The British senior naval officer has been instructed to join the senior officers of the international squadron in consultation as to any means which may be practicable to exert pressure on the Montenegrin Government to defer to the decision of the Powers. The landing of naval brigades and field guns or actual bombardment will not be undertaken without further instructions. The attitude of the Russian Government is explained in the following communique:— In view of the fact that the Conference of Ambassadors in London has pronounced a naval demonstration in Montenegrin waters indispensable, Russia, although not herself taking part in the above-mentioned demonstration, has expressed the opinion that the demonstration ought to have an international character, and that French and British ships ought to take part in it. The House will perhaps allow me to offer some explanation of the object of this naval demonstration, and of how and why His Majesty's Government have become a party to it. We are party to it because we are a party with the other Great Powers to an agreement which the naval demonstration is intended to uphold. This agreement is that there should be an autonomous Albania. We willingly became a party to this, for the Albanians are separate in race, in language, and to a great extent in religion. The war which is proceeding against them has long ceased to have any bearing on the war between Turkey and the Allies, or to be a war of liberation. The operations of Montenegro against Scutari are part of a war of conquest, and there is no reason why the same sympathy that was felt for Montenegro or other countries contending for liberty and national existence should not be extended to the Albanian population of Scutari and its district, who are mainly Catholics and Moslem, and who are contending for their lands, their religion, their language, and their lives. For these reasons His Majesty's Government have no hesitation in being parties to the agreement of the Powers about Albania. The agreement between the Powers respecting the frontiers of Albania was reached after a long and laborious diplomatic effort. It was decided that the littoral and Scutari should be Albanian, while Ipek, Prizrend, Dibra, and (after much negotiation) Djakova should be excluded from Albania. This arrangement leaves a large tract of territory to be divided between Servia and Montenegro as the fruits of victory. The making of the agreement was essential for the peace of Europe, and, in my opinion, it was accomplished only just in time to preserve that peace between Great Powers. That the agreement, if disputed, should be upheld by international action remains essential for the continuance of that peace. His Majesty's Government have no direct interest in the details of the agreement, and we should not, in all probability, object to any agreement that commanded the consent of the Powers more directly interested than we are. But, because we believe that the agreement is, in its main lines, in accord with humanity, liberty, and justice, and because we know that the peace of Europe depends upon the maintenance of concord between the Powers most directly interested in this region, we have thought it right, and by becoming a party to the agreement we have undertaken the honourable obligation to take part in the international action now proceeding to uphold it and make it respected.


May I ask the right hon. Gentleman how he can reconcile the attitude of His Majesty's Government with their declaration of neutrality?


As I have already said, what is going on in Albania is not now a war of liberation, but a war of conquest. It has long ceased to have any bearing upon the war between Turkey and the Allies. The Great Powers, having all become parties to an agreement about the frontiers of Albania, we, as one of the parties—and willingly—for reasons I have given, are bound to take part in international action.


I do not propose to enter into a discussion at this time, but I should like to say that at the first opportunity we shall raise this question.


The hon. Member can ask any questions.


Can the right hon. Gentleman inform me whether this House will have any opportunity of discussing this question at an early date?


I think it a matter of very grave doubt whether a discussion of this sort at this particular moment would be in the public interest. If there is a general desire—[HON. MEMBERS: "We are content"]—and if that desire is concurred in by the right hon. Gentleman opposite—[HON. MEMBERS: "No, no"]—I shall be quite prepared to put down the Foreign Office Vote for Thursday. But I would say to my hon. Friends behind me, in all seriousness and with a full sense of responsibility, that while we are far from desiring in any way to burke or to postpone discussion on this subject, I do not think, in view of the enormous and very delicate interests involved, that any great advantage will arise from discussion.


Apart from what the right hon. Gentleman has said, I should myself have considered it in the last degree undesirable to have a discussion at this moment.


Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is a very strong opinion in this country against the action in this matter of His Majesty's Government, and that, though this House may not be in a position to discuss it, it is being discussed in every newspaper in the country and in every other Parliament in Europe?


Before the Foreign Office takes any further action in regard to the blockade of Montenegro will this House have an opportunity to discuss it?


Can an undertaking not be given that before troops or marines are landed this House will have an opportunity of discussing a matter which may easily develop into a European War?


In view of the absurdity of this position, may I now move the Adjournment of the House to discuss this question?


What are the terms of the hon. Member's Motion?


To discuss a matter of urgent public importance, namely, the action of His Majesty's Government in taking part in a naval demonstration against a friendly Power.


The hon. Member asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House in order to call attention to a matter of urgent public importance, namely, the action of His Majesty's Government in taking part in a naval demonstration against Montenegro.

The pleasure of the House not having teen signified, Mr. SPEAKER called on those Members who supported the Motion to rise in their places, and, fewer than forty Members having accordingly risen, the House proceeded to the Business of the Day.