HC Deb 23 April 1913 vol 52 cc495-8

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Gulland.]


I wish to ask the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs if he can add anything to the news which has been received in regard to events in the Montenegrin field of war; secondly, whether he can assure the House that any step has been agreed upon by the Powers to be taken in the event of Scutari falling in opposition to the wishes of the Powers; and thirdly, whether he can assure us that the House will be consulted before His Majesty's Government concurs in any further steps towards the coercion of Montenegro. Everyone must realise the delicacy of the situation which has arisen out of the fall of Scutari, and every Member of the House must desire in particular to avoid saying a single word which could be offensive to any Power, but everyone will recognise that an entirely new situation has arisen. Up to this moment no complaint whatever has been made in this House in regard to the naval demonstration, and that, I think, for three reasons. Chiefly because it has been universally recognised that the prime interest held in view has been the maintenance of the harmony of the Concert, secondly that the demonstration differed materially from an act of coercion. It was only an indication of the unity of the Powers in their desire, and not an indication that they had decided upon active measures. Thirdly, everyone must have been conscious of the immense debt owing to the Foreign Secretary for his unremitting labours in maintaining the harmony of the Concert, and, particularly in the mind of many Members, a sense of gratification that he has taken the opportunity of working in particular cordiality with the Germanic Powers. But now a very new situation arises out of the unexpected fall of the Fortress, and very strong feeling will inevitably be raised in the country if the action of the Concert takes positive form. Possibly such a feeling might arise as was expressed by Mr. Gladstone in days not so long ago when feeling over the Balkan States took the form of an anti-Austrian feeling. In my view it would be extremely regrettable if such an outburst of sentiment occurred. We must all hope that it will be avoided. It will certainly be now, in view of the new situation, the undiminished desire that the harmony of the concert should be maintained. I think there will be a feeling also that that harmony will be endangered by further positive action. Needless to say there would be a very strong sentiment in the country in opposition to the landing of any British force, but I think also that the concurrence of the Government in granting, let us say, a mandate to Austria to occupy Montenegrin territory with a view to relinquishing Scutari.

Realising the extreme undesirability of saying a word which might possibly be construed as offensive even from the lips of a private Member, I should like to recall the argument that has been used for giving support to the action of the Concert. It is that Austria has been peculiarly loyal under great difficulties during the last six months. There has been a general desire that the wishes of Austria I should be met. She has had to abandon ambitions which she has seriously held in the last quarter of a century, and desires have been attributed to her by the public opinion of Europe—desires which contradicted the national ambitions of the Balkan States—and naturally now, the Powers having committed themselves so far in concert with Austria, there is a feeling, to use the ordinary phrase, that the face of Austria must be saved. But against that I throw out two or three considerations. Firstly, there is the ordinary tradition of diplomacy, that the fait accompli should be recognised, and there will be a general desire that it should be accepted. It might almost be called a cardinal rule that the fait accompli should settle outstanding questions, and that it should not be upset. We have had an illustration of that in recent times. In October the Powers, in the most solemn and portentious way, declared that not one yard of territory would the Balkan States achieve by any amount of victory over Turkey. I think that, in the early days of November, immediately after the battle of Lule Burgas—

Notice taken that forty Members were not present. House counted, and forty Members not being present,

The House was adjourned at Nineteen infinites after Eleven o'clock till to-morrow (Thursday).