HC Deb 14 February 1913 vol 48 cc1462-83
Sir J. D. REES

I desire to raise one or two questions with reference to the Allies and the Turks, and also to refer to China and Persia. I have abstained right through the Session from making a single remark referring to the subject of the Allies and Turkey, and desire only to refer for a moment to the effect produced upon the Mahomedans of India by the manner in which this question has been treated in England. I have no complaint to make against the Foreign Secretary, whom I regard as the Foreign Secretary of this side—as well as of the other—but it is the case that colleagues of the right hon. Gentleman have made most unfortunate statements clearly pointing to extreme sympathy with the Allies against the Turks. I refer more particularly of course to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and also the First Lord of the Admiralty. I should be wanting in the performance of my duty if I did not point out the extremely serious effect on the Mahomedans of India of speeches made, exhibiting the clearest possible partiality with the Allies and the utmost indifference towards the suffering of the Turks, on the part of two of the most highly placed Ministers in the Government. The hon. Member for Bury (Mr. Walter Guinness) has brought before the House, and I also brought before the House, that atrocities are committed by the Balkan Allies or their troops. I do not expect the hon. Gentleman to say anything about them. I believe that to be a wise reticence on that subject while the war is going on, but I am bound to wish, whenever it is referred to, that he would bestow on the Turks some of the sympathy which has been bestowed in such abundant measure, without any proof whatsoever of the truth of the atrocities, whenever they have been alleged to have been committed by the Turks instead of by the Christians in the Balkans. I do not wish to say any more now on the subject.

Another subject to which I must refer, and to which I was permitted to refer on the last Adjournment, since when there has been an extremely disquieting feature, is the opium question. The main facts are well known. It is well known that the Chinese, while refusing to carry out their portion of the agreement with England in not preventing the wholesale cultivation of the poppy, have not allowed the sale in China of the opium of India which they were under engagement to take, and under engagement not in any way to prevent the sale of. The Secretary of State has given me very fair answers. I realise the extreme difficulty of the position in which he is placed, and do not wish to press him too hard. At the same time it has now become almost certain, and I doubt if the hen. Gentleman will deny it, that the central Government in China is acting together with the Yangtse Provinces in preventing the disposal of this opium, which has been sent by agreement and under permit to Shanghai, and upon which British banks have lent large sums of money, millions of money, as it has invariably been a security on which large sums are lent. The holding up of this opium is an exceedingly great loss to British merchants, and that, as I believe is now shown, is not being done by the recalcitrancy of the Southern Provinces against the central Government, but, as I suspected all along, in collusion with the central Government, which it is very hard to believe, is really much concerned with the suppression of the opium habit in China. I had occasion to mention the fact that innocent peasants were executed in China to show a keen desire to stop the use of opium, men who were no more guilty of any offence than Driver Knox for taking a glass, who received the abject apologies of the House of Commons. Men in China, not criminals, have been put to death for the use of opium, which in moderation is harmless, and very often as a medicine is exceedingly beneficial. They have been put to death under certain circumstances, but I do not want to refer to the methods of other governments, and the Foreign Secretary properly objected to doing so. Nor do I think that we ought to interfere in such cases or that the British Government are responsible for atrocities elsewhere. Heaven forbid that I should think so. It is not I who think that; it is Gentlemen sitting opposite who continually put forward that contention. At the same time this dreadful position does arise from the fact that the Government have not been firm in insisting upon the rights of British trade and of the Indian taxpayer under an agreement which I think it is their obvious duty to carry out to the letter. I thoroughly appreciate the extreme difficulties of the position, but I think some firmness is required. I do not agree with the Foreign Secretary that it is premature to discuss whether the arrangements made in 1911 should not be reconsidered. When there is this injustice to British nationals and this great loss to British traders, the time has come to reconsider this engagement. The disquieting fact now is that it is freely alleged, and inquiry in the Yangtse provinces would prove, that the central Government, instead of urging those provinces to carry out the terms of their agreement with Great Britian, are practically in collusion with them in preventing the carrying out of those provisions.

I wish also to refer, in the interests of British trade, to the position in Tibet. Under the agreement made with Tibet we threw away the whole of the advantages of a difficult, expensive, and successful expedition. I am not charging that against hon. Gentlemen opposite; I am afraid it was done when a Conservative Government was in power. Both sides are equally to blame for having thrown away completely the advantages which might have been secured. This is a matter of very great importance at the present moment. Twenty millions pounds of tea are imported every year into Tibet. At present it is China tea—the worst of China tea, stuff pounded together into a brick, mixed up with various coloured substances, which when prepared for drinking makes a concoction like beetroot stew or something of that kind. I want to see Indian tea sent to Tibet. It is a far better quality tea, it is grown nearer to Tibet, it is cheaper in price than China tea, and it would go into the country if the Government would put their backs into carrying out the agreement, which, heaven knows, contains little enough in favour of Great Britain, but the little which is in our favour the Government abstain from carrying out. In consequence of the action of the British Government in regard to the Young husband Expedition, China, which previously was merely a suzerain, became almost sovereign of Tibet. Since China has become a republic, Tibet has again become almost a loose annex of the Chinese Empire, and an opportunity offers of strictly enforcing the trade provisions of our treaty with Tibet, and of seeing that there are no transit duties, no unauthorised interference, no stoppage at posts in the way of giving to British trade, and more particularly to Indian tea, that opportunity which is its due.

I do not wish to go into the terms of the treaty, because no doubt the Under-Secretary will admit that it provides for the free entry of British Trade—Free Trade it is called. Of course there is in Tibet no such thing, but let us have it as near as we can. I would urge that the Anglo-Russian Convention needs amendment in this respect. We require some representative at Lhassa—not necessarily a European to arouse the anti-European feelings of the population of Llamas and 13huddists, but a native agent, such as we long had at the Court of Afghanistan, who was well suited for the duties he had to perform. Article 3 of the Convention of 1907 should be amended in this behalf. Great Britain has declined so far to recognise the existence of the new China Republic. In many parts of the world people are getting on pretty well without the recognition of Great Britain. That is happening in the Congo and in the Chinese Republic. I am afraid that a declaration of that sort does not carry the great weight now that it might have done in the past. However that may be, I submit that if the Foreign Office is not prepared to take what I consider strong and adequate action, it should at least consider the amendment of the Anglo-Russian Convention in the direction I have suggested. While on the subject of Tibet, I would like to ask whether it is a fact that Tibet and Mongolia have executed a treaty, and whether Tibet has the right to initiate treaties with Mongolia under the Treaty of Lhassa? I should think it extremely doubtful. At any rate, the subject is worth a word or two from the hon. Gentleman opposite. Why should the British Government be in a hurry to lend money to China as one of the six nations which are to put the Chinese Republic on its feet, while China is not meeting its wishes in Tibet and in regard to opium, but is openly flouting the agreement made with British India? After the Young husband Expedition the advantages of that expedition were thrown away with both hands in such a way as to convince the Chinese that they can do anything they like with the British, and that therefore it is not necessary to consider their feelings or rights in any matter whatsoever.

I will say no more on that subject, but come to the present condition of affairs in Persia. The hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Morrell) has often addressed the House on this subject, and I believe he will to-day. He is one of those Gentlemen who has that faith that will remove mountains. He still believes in Parliamentary Government; he is really under the impression that it has done good for Persia, and that some hope remains of the regeneration of that unfortunate Empire under the worst system of government that it has ever experienced since the time of Darius and Cyrus and other legendary kings—I will not go back to the time of Jamshid. The present condition of Southern Persia is one of absolute anarchy. Everyone knows it. It is not disputed. We have a small detachment of the Central India Horse at Shiraz. The Foreign Secretary has been extremely careful to point out on many occasions that that force is there, not for the purpose of keeping order, but as a Consular guard. I do not know why we should have been so shy about allowing British troops to keep order in Persia. There would be no order kept in Southern Persia if they had not kept it. Why this shyness when the British Government had landed bluejackets at Lingah and Bushire, on the shores of the Gulf, and when it is perfectly well known that the whole of Southern Persia—very unlike the days when I knew it—is armed to the teeth. Gun-running obtains in the Persian Gulf, and all the freebooters, robbers, and looters who live in Southern Persia are supplied with arms of precision. The whole place is an armed camp.

The Foreign Secretary has been perfectly unable to avenge the death of Captain Eckford, that fine soldier, who was shot down. I will not call it murder, because, of course, it is not murder in that part of the country. They do not think anything of the value of an individual life. All through the East they attach quite a different. value—it may be that they are more right than we are—I cannot say—to the individual life. But it is absolutely necessary, when it is the case of one of our soldiers in uniform on duty in the country who is shot down, that his death should be avenged, and that the population of Southern Persia should know that a British soldier cannot be killed with impunity. I should like to know what the position is as regards putting an end to this state of chaos in Southern Persia. At present £200,000 I believe of our money has been sent into Persia, upon what security I do not know. The "Old Man of the Sea" came from the Persian Gulf. It was there he got upon the neck of Sinbad. In this country the taxpayer has upon his neck the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I confess at a time like this, when in this country our funds are being spent with both hands, when any expenditure is welcome that appears to be popular, without the smallest regard to where it weighs upon the taxpayer, when Votes are brought, as is admitted, illegally into this House so they may be rushed through—if nobody's Parliamentary acumen detects the illegality—in the face of a position like this, anxious as I am to see order in Southern Persia, I would hesitate to spend British money there unless I knew that some proper security for the British taxpayer was being exacted. I would like the hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary to tell us what is the security for the British money already spent—not in keeping order, I am sorry to say, in Southern Persia—if it had kept order there would have been a. return to the British taxpayer. Trade would have been flourishing. Imports would have gone in, exports would have come out. There would have been some return to the British taxpayer.

The whole place is a "no-man's-land," a country where your throat can be cut for 6d., where no caravan is safe. What then is the use of sending British money there? Why are they now going to get another loan, unless indeed the Foreign Office has at last hardened its heart and made up its mind that it will take some effectual steps to keep order in Southern Persia. There are hon. Members in this House, my hon. Friend (Mr. Morrell) is one of them, who complain that Russia keeps troops in Northern Persia. There are people who tell him that that is disagreeable to the Persians. I know the kind of correspondent hon. Members get who take an interest in Persia. They meet a Bakhtiyari chief from Paris on the terrace of the House of Commons. He talks like a Parliamentarian. He is not representative of Persia. The more Parliamentarian he is the less Persian he is. These gentlemen do not represent Persian feeling. The whole Parliamentary revolution, improperly so called, in Persia, has merely been to substitute Bakhtiyari tribal influence for Kajar tribal influence. The Kajar are better than the Bakhtiyari, because they have the glamour of royalty about them, They have sat upon the throne for some generations; they did meet with more obedience, and were able to keep order in Persia in which the Bakhtiyari, since they have been in power, have most signally failed. If we have no order for British trade and no means of carrying it on in Southern Persia for the money we have spent, what is the use of spending more money until the Foreign Office formulates some policy and until we know that the British taxpayer, that patient ass, is going to get something back for the money he has spent in Persia? I do not want to see any expedition go to Southern Persia. I am absolutely certain that must come if the Government do not stop at once the present welter of anarchy. These things will reach such a pass that they will have to send an expedition, and then they will have to occupy Southern Persia in the same way as Russia, more wise than we, and less hampered by their Parliamentary system, have already occupied Northern Persia. I am not anxious to see that done, but I protest it will happen, and I do not think that the hon. Gentleman will deny it.

I urged that the Anglo-Russian Convention needs amendment in respect of Tibet. I wish to make the same submission to the House in regard to Persia. The spheres of influence were drawn for reasons into which I need not go now. The whole British sphere of influence of any value was declared to be neutral. The portion which was of no value, except from a strategical point of view, was allotted to us. The whole area which we have on the shores of the Gulf, we have policed, we have introduced trade and abolished slavery, our ships have been the sole means of communication with the outer world. The captain of a British steamer was greater than the greatest sheikh or shah anywhere about. All that region is called neutral! Unless the Foreign Office promptly occupies that so-called neutral ground with roads and railways or what not, there is the fact that when the Russians have got down to Ispahan, which is the southern point of their sphere of influence, they will never tolerate this anarchy close to their door. They will overflow into the so-called neutral sphere, which is indeed the British sphere by every claim in the world, and that will force either the Russians to take Southern Persia as well as Northern Persia, or we shall be driven as a last resort to do what we now may possibly evade doing, if we adopt something like a firm, consistent policy in regard to Persia. In 1908 I was allowed by the Foreign Secretary to submit to him certain proposals which I drew up in connection with firms most interested in trade on the shores of the Persian Gulf, as to the steps which should be taken to peg out claims and to prevent the admission of others into this sphere. If the hon. Gentleman will some time look into the archives of his office and see if anything was done in regard to that matter, I shall be very grateful to him, and, what is of more importance, so will those great firms interested in Persia who view with a great deal of apprehension the present state of affairs. The only other word I wish to say is this: I would like to know whether it is really the case that at the present moment it is proposed to give £125,000, and, if so, is the British taxpayer to provide the money, and on what security, for the purpose of helping the Swedish gendarmerie, or rather the Swedish officers who work the Persian gendarmerie, in the South? On what terms is this money to be spent? Is the contribution to be made to go into the pockets of the khans and local chiefs, because once the money gets into their pockets it is never likely to get out again, or to be wasted on the preservation of order, which is the last thing that the khans and chiefs of Southern Persia want to see established.

Another question also concerning trade is this: There was a tariff negotiated between Russia and Persia in 1903 which hits British trade rather hard. It was entered into between those two countries without any reference to us. We know that under the Anglo-Russian Convention, which I myself supported, we can go to Russia and say, "We are not fairly treated. Our trade is not fairly treated under that Convention. Give us better terms." Why the Foreign Office does not do that I confess I cannot understand. I think that is another point on which firm action should be taken by the Foreign Office in the interests of British trade. Persian Parliamentary government is absolutely hopeless. If anybody wants to convince himself of this he could not do better than read a book which was written for the purpose of proving it was a success. I mean the book by Mr. Shuster, who if ever a man showed he was unsuited for the position he was placed in, and that the system he tried to work was impossible, has succeeded in doing so in this book, which is a violent philippic against Russia, which displayed so much more concern for their nationals and so much more care for their own trade, and afforded so much greater protection for the Persians in Persia than the British Government. They have had advantages which we lack, but we ought, so far as we can, to try to imitate their handling of a difficult problem rather than to oppose it, as some hon. Members of this House do. The present. position is most dangerous to British prestige. Not only are our own officers and soldiers shot at and insulted with impunity in Persia, but even in Baluchistan and India everyone hears talk about the twisting of the British lion's tail, and it does us no good at all in our Indian Empire.

The Anglo-Russian Convention is out of date; it served a most useful purpose, but it requires amendment both as regards the sphere of influence in Persia and in the other respects which I mentioned as regards Tibet, and I hope the Foreign Secretary, when freed from his more pressing duties, which he is performing to universal satisfaction, will address himself to this matter, which is so important to British prestige. In Persia if we do not move somebody else inevitably will, and then we shall be involved in actual warlike operations in order to maintain the position we now have and which is fast slipping away from us. The Foreign Secretary informed us that a concession had been granted to a Russian syndicate for a railway from Julfa to Tabriz with a conditional option for an extension from Tabriz to Kazvin That I was quite prepared for, as was everybody in the least acquainted with Persian politics, but I confess I should like to have it stated that, at the same time, a concession was arranged for a British railway extension as well. I do not attach so much importance as my hon. Friend the Member for Walton does to the fact that each concession, British and Russian, should be of the same number of miles, but I attach great importance to the fact that when the Persians carry out their engagements with Russia, they should in like manner carry out their arrangements with us. So completely have they carried out their arrangements in Northern Persia that they decided to have the railway made on the Russian gauge. Will the hon. Gentleman tell me what is the position as regards the Mohammerah-Khurramabad line, and will the Foreign Office press for that, seeing that we have had nothing else from Persia except chaos, disorder and plunder of our caravans? Will they at least try to get this concession, and will the hon. Gentleman also inform the House what is the present position of the trans-Persian line? Is that still merely in the hands of the Société d'Etudes in Paris, and does that mean nothing more than that the survey is conducted, and if the survey is conducted, can he say how far the survey has proceeded? I do not find in ordinary sources that information, and I find nothing upon those points as to which considerable public interest is felt.

Whether this line is ever made, whether we shall ever be politically so foolish as to run a wedge into our frontiers and destroy the desert which by the common consent of all soldiers is the best frontier in the world, and substitute for it a railway which is the best possible means of attack in the world, I cannot say. But it is a matter of so much stragetic importance and concern to the British Empire that I think the House should be informed. I should like to know what is the latest. stage of the question. At the present moment we are not. exposed to any attack upon our Indian Frontier. If this railway is made we shall open a way to the introduction of Russian troops and goods into British-Indian markets. I have some excuse for addressing the House on this subject. For at least twenty-five years I had close connection with Persia, and if anyone loves the Persian language I do. I have a great and enduring love of that language and of the people. I deeply deplore the present conditions. I am well aware the Foreign Office is not responsible for them, but I see things going from bad to worse, and I do not see any hope for the real independence of the country, and I hope, at any rate, that some concerted policy, some fairer and firmer treatment will be resorted to before the state of affairs inevitably leads to armed intervention and probably to the permanent occupation of the Southern Province of Persia.


The hon. Member for East Nottingham (Sir J. D. Rees), among his proposals to set the world straight, said that only by a policy of firmness could we hope to extend our trade. That is rather an antiquated policy if firmness means making war on people to make them take our goods. There are places in China where they snake brick tea, but surely they have a perfect right to make their tea in their own way, but the hon. Member objects to that because Assam is very near to Tibet, and the hon. Member wants to force our tea upon Tibet.

Sir J. D. REES

I did not say so.


The hon. Member said firmness if not force.

Sir J. D. REES

Certainly not.

3.0 P.M.


I am glad to hear that the hon. Member does not believe in methods of force, and I assume that he is prepared to apply this principle to the opium trade, and he would not exercise any force to make China take opium. He did suggest that the Grand Llama of Tibet ought to have a representative combining firmness and force, and I think that with the hon. Gentleman's knowledge of languages His Majesty's Government could not really find a better representative than the hon. Gentleman himself. Although this House would be very sorry to lose him, the Grand Llama would derive great benefit from the hon. Gentleman's advice and presence in Tibet. I wish to correct some glaring inaccuracies in the hon. Member's remarks. Just before Christmas he told us that China was doing nothing to put down the opium scourge, and in the same speech he also complained that the Chinese Government are doing too much. May I point out that in China they are cutting off the heads of their own people for consuming and producing something which this country is selling them under the policy of firmness which be advocates. We ought not to force upon another country even a useful article of commerce, let alone an article like opium, which is the ruin of China. The hon. Member told us that China is not in earnest in this matter, and he has thrown doubts upon the bona fides of the Chinese Government in the heroic and unexampled task they have taken in hand of trying to extirpate the consumption and production of opium, which is the curse of their country. I am in constant communication with people of all kinds in China, and there is ample evidence that the Chinese are endeavouring to put down this traffic in the reports of our own Consuls, which, no doubt, the hon. Gentleman opposite has read. During the time of the revolution, and since the revolution, opium production has been put down almost everywhere throughout China in the most drastic manner.

Sir J. D. REES

I do not know of it.


The hon. Gentleman ought to have known the facts before he slandered the Chinese Government in this House.

Sir J. D. REES

I do not believe it.


Within the last six weeks I have met travellers from China, and I met one who has spent ten years out of the last twenty years in China. He spent the whole of the year 1912 going over ten out of the eighteen provinces of China, and he declares, without any doubt, that in regard to opium production in China t here has been a great decrease. This fact is confirmed by the reports of the Chinese Maritime Customs, the secretary of whom has lately stated that there is hardly any opium being grown in many of the provinces of China. Therefore when we are told that the Chinese Government are doing nothing in this matter and are not in earnest, it is a little too much for us to believe. Let me give a recent instance from the China Press of 18th January from Reuter's Pacific Service:— Wenchow, 18th January. The Juian plains and both banks of the river for a distance of forty miles were planted with poppy four weeks ago. Several hundred soldiers, accompanied by the Mayor of Juian and the chief military officer, have traversed the poppy districts and have ordered all the poppy to be destroyed. Last week several houses were burned and others damaged by the military in cases where this order was disobeyed. There is overwhelming evidence from correspondents of English newspapers of all parties in Pekin and Shanghai to show that the Chinese Government is doing its duty in this matter. There is one matter I wish to call the Under-Secretary's attention to. Shanghai mainly consists of an international settlement largely dominated by the British Government, and there is a native settlement. Here the opium policy has been rigidly carried out, and the opium sots are coming from the native city of Shanghai into the international settlement to buy their opium. I ask the Government to put before the municipal council of Shanghai, which is the real governing body, our desire in this matter, so as to assist the native governors and officials who are so loyally attempting to stamp out this traffic. I thank the Government from the bottom of my heart far not carrying out the treaty with China, and for not enforcing by a threat of war, which this House and no British Government ever would resort to, upon the wholesale dealers and provincial officials the free admission of our Indian opium. I want the Government to announce that there will be no more Government opium grown in India and that China shall be released from this terrible bondage on the earliest possible occasion. Until we do that, and tell China that she need take no more opium, we have not done all we can to wipe away from our escutcheon the blackest blot that I believe has ever stained it.


The hon. Member who has just sat down has made a fairly vigorous attack on the system of Parliamentary Government which he says exists in Persia. Of course, he is aware that as a matter of fact at the present time Parliament is suspended, and there is no Parliamentary government. I am inclined to think it is not merely in Persia that the hon. Member objects to Parliamentary government. From the reference he made to Russia and the admirable way in which Russia is able to conduct her affairs, internal and external, I am inclined to suggest that he has a fairly universal objection to Parliamentary institutions. Everyone must admit that the present situation in Persia is extremely unsatisfactory, although during the last few weeks I think there have been signs of some improvement. I only part company with the hon. Member opposite as to the steps we ought to take to remedy matters. The hon. Member, as I understand, asks that we should at once send a British Expedition to occupy Southern Persia and keep order there.

Sir J. D. REES

I did not say so; I deprecated it.


I took down the hon. Member's words. He said, "I do not know why the British Government should be so shy of keeping order in Southern Persia. We have, in fact, undertaken to keep order in Southern Persia, and I suppose in order to do this a considerable British force would be necessary."

Sir J. D. REES

What I said was I thought some steps should be taken in order to prevent the deplorable necessity of an expedition.


The hon. Member does not tell us what steps. If he means that we should do what we can to assist the existing Persian Government in keeping order, then he and I are at one, but I gathered he had some other steps in view, though he did not exactly explain what he meant. I believe there is nothing that would be more fatal to the security of our Empire and our own good name than that we should now be seen to occupy Southern Persia, which certainly a good many of the hon. Member's friends have asked us to do, in the way Russia is occupying Northern Persia. Not only would that be a breach of faith, but it would be a reversal of the policy which generations of British statesmen have tried to carry out, namely, the keeping in existence of an independent Persian kingdom as a buffer state between our Indian Empire and Russia. The hon. Member suggested it was time the Foreign Office should formulate some policy. He does not seem to be aware that the Secretary of State on 14th December, 1911, fourteen months ago, in this House formulated a very definite policy with regard to Persia. It was immediately after Mr. Shuster had been expelled that the Secretary of State came to this House and laid down the lines of a policy which had been agreed upon between this Government and the Russian Government—he called it a constructive policy—for putting the Persian Government on its feet and keeping it there. The main lines of that policy were: In the first place, the Persian Government should recognise the Anglo-Russian Convention, which they have done; in the second place, that the ex-Shah should not be allowed to return or should not be recognised if he attempted to return, and that again has been carried; in the third place, that an adequate loan should be given to the Persian Government to enable it to restore order; and, in the fourth place, that the Russian Expeditionery Force should, as soon as possible, be withdrawn. The words used were to this effect: "It is understood the military measures and the occupation of Northern Persia by Russia now in progress are provisional and not permanent, and will cease when the Russian demands have been complied with, and when order in Northern Persia has been re-established."

There you have the main lines of the policy, which I understood was accepted by both sides of the House as a reasonable policy for the British Government to adopt with regard to Persian affairs. I quite agree that it is not being carried out as fully as we could wish, not entirely owing to the fault of the British Government. With regard to finance, nothing has yet been done to give the Persian Government the adequate loan necessary in order to enable it to restore order. Hon. Members speak as if the present Persians Government and the Persian people had not shown themselves fit for independence. I should like the House to remember how the Persian Government has been treated by Russia and to some extent by thin country. They had in Mr. Shuster, whatever his faults were, a servant whom they entirely trusted, and who was, amid great difficulties, actually getting the Persian finances into a solvent condition. He may have made mistakes, but at any rate he had the full confidence of the Persian Government and the Persian people. Mr. Shuster, for reasons which may have been sufficient to the Russian and British Governments, was expelled at practically twenty-four hours' notice, and since then the Persian finances, as everyone knows, have been to a large extent in confusion. I say it is unfair to lay all the blame upon the Persian Government for the state of chaos and disorder-which has undoubtedly existed, and which to some extent does exist, in some parts of Persia after it has been treated like that, and when no new loan has been given and no satisfactory financial adviser has been appointed to take the place of Mr. Shuster.

I respectfully suggest we should do our best to give the Persian Government a fair chance. We should, in the first place, carry out the pledge which has been given that an adequate loan will be given to enable them to restore order and to keep a sufficient armed force to keep order in Persia. In the second place, if Mr. Monard is not able to give sufficient security for a loan of that sort, a new financial adviser should be appointed who will be-able to restore Persian finances, and thus allow the loan to be carried through. In the third place, it is obvious if the Persian Government is to be put on its feet and maintained there, steps must be taken as soon as possible to withdraw some of the troops which have so long occupied parts of Persia. At the present time there are in Persia 13,000 Russian troops and 1,300 English troops. It is impossible for a Government to have the prestige or authority it ought to have so long as the country it is supposed to govern is occupied, as Persia now is, by foreign troops. I trust His Majesty's Government will continue, as order is restored, to press the Russian Government to carry out their clear undertaking that their troops shall be gradually withdrawn. That seems to me a most important point. It also seems to me clear that if the Persian Government is to have a really firm basis you must have the restoration of the Medjliss. The hon. Member opposite seemed to think that the Persian Parliament was the author of all the evils. My own view is that there has been a good deal more chaos and disturbance since the Nationalist Parliament, the Medjliss was forcibly dissolved than when it was in being eighteen months ago. I believe that as order is restored, one of the first steps should be that the Medjliss should be again summoned. I think it was a very efficient check upon corruption by officials and elsewhere. The Persian Government should not be, as it is now, the mere nominee of the British and Russian Governments. It is true that it has a constitutional basis, but we all know that the constitution has been forcibly suspended by Great Britain and Russia. There may have been reasons for that, but I am quite clear in my own mind, and I hope the Foreign Office will agree with me, that our aim ought to be to see that once again the Constitution in Persia is restored; that as soon as order can be restored the Constitution is restored; that the integrity of Persia shall be absolutely maintained and an independent Government as soon as possible be established in the country.


No one can he more sorry than I am that I have to answer for the Foreign Office this afternoon. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs has a conference with the Ambassadors of the great Powers at the Foreign Office this afternoon, and he very much regrets that this engagement compels him to be elsewhere. He was in the House until a short time ago hoping that this Debate would come on rather earlier, but I think hon. Members who have spoken will see that he could not alter the time of the conference with the Ambassadors, and I hope for the indugence of the House, in taking his place. The hon. Member opposite (Sir J. D. Rees) said at the outset of his speech in dealing with the affair of the Balkans that he thought it would be a good thing that I should say as little about it as possible, and therefore I do not intend to say anything at all; but he did not give me the same advice on the question of opium on which he raised several points as did my hon. Friend behind (Mr. T C. Taylor). I am bound to say that I agree more with regard to the cultivation of opium with my hon. Friend on this side than with the hon. Member who spoke first. There can be very little doubt, both with regard to the suppression of opium smoking and of opium cultivation in China, that a great improvement has taken place since the time when the revolution was going on and when the country was in a state more or less of chaos. I should also like to make this point, which I made on the Christmas Adjournment, that this country really is under no obligation whatever to force any definite or indefinite amount of Indian opium into China. Those who are engaged in the trade must have well known that it could be struck off at any time by a declaration under the treaty by provinces who were free from growing opium and were free from having to import opium, that they were engaged in a highly speculative business of that kind, and that they could not expect that this or any other Government should secure for them good and comfortable bargains for their goods. The question that was raised with regard to Shanghai shall have careful and sympathetic consideration. It is a new point to me, and I cannot make any answer at present beyond that.

With regard to the further point made by my hon. Friend on this side, that we should now at once formulate a proposal to release China from the treaty and that it would be the best thing to do in order to secure the entire suppression of opium growing in China and of the importation of opium from India, I can, of course, make no sort of promise. It is a very serious matter to release a nation which has willingly entered into a treaty obligation from that obligation, and I can only say that. representations have recently been made and have had the careful consideration of the Government, but I cannot state the decision they may come to on that point. With regard to Tibet, I am afraid I shall have to admit it to the House that I am not fully informed on all the points that the hon. Member raised. I did not know the question would be raised have not fully followed all the recent negotiation. I do know that there was a good deal of disturbance and difficulty in one way and another on the frontiers of Tibet and India and Tibet and China. I know also that our Ambassador at Pekin has been firmly impressing upon China that that country ought to carry out strictly all its treaty obligations with regard to Tibet. That matter has not been in any way neglected. It has been fully considered, and I can tell the hon. Member that we are firmly determined to establish our position under our treaty so far as Tibet is concerned. I am not aware of any treaty between Tibet and Mongolia, of any sort of binding character. We never recognised any existing treaty there, and I should be surprised if there was any intention of doing so.

On the subject of Persia, I should like to take this, my first opportunity in the course of debate, of expressing my very great regret, and the regret of the Government, at the loss of Captain Eckford, who was a most gallant, talented and useful officer, and who had before him a career of really great distinction if he had not met with the disastrous end which unfortunately overtook him. That matter is a most serious one. It is essential that there shall be punishment meted out to the bandits who were guilty of the attack on the caravan, of which they mistook Captain Eckford and his men for the escort; but, of course, we have to recognise, in the first place, that winter is not the best time of year in which punitive measures can be most successfully undertaken. We have come to the conclusion that it would be right for us to give the Persian Government a proper opportunity of carrying out themselves the necessary measures of punishment. We do not intend, as at present advised, to send a punitive expedition from England or from India; we do not intend to police the roads ourselves; we do not intend to restore order with our own forces, because we very well know, although you may send a force with only one object, believing you can withdraw it within a few weeks or months, that a process of that kind is almost certain to develop against one's will into a permanent occupation of the country, which is a thing we do not in any way desire. I cannot say that that in all circumstances and in all cases will be the permanent policy of the Government. We do rely on the present Government themselves to carry through the necessary measures to show these bandit tribes that British officers cannot be shot with impunity, and we shall very anxiously await the results of their action in the spring.

That brings me at once to the question of the gendarmerie, which is being commanded by Swedish officers. I should like, if I may, to take this opportunity of saying how very much we recognise the extremely good work these officers have done under very great difficulties. It must be extremely difficult for good European officers, trained under European systems, at once to make a success of training or commanding Persian soldiers in the most difficult task of securing order on the roads, but they have worked most assiduously and earnestly to overcome the great difficulties in their way under Colonel Hjalmarsen, who is responsible, and of Major Siefvert, who is in command on the spot. We are so much impressed with what they have already done that we feel considerable hope that they will be successful, and that under this force order will really be established as soon as it has had a little more time to develop and to acquire the necessary training, cohesion, and trust of itself which the Swedish officers are working very hard to obtain. It is one hopeful thing that the gendarmerie under the Swedish officers is shaping well, and it may, I think, give us some hope of effecting its object. The second hopeful thing with regard to the present condition of Persia is that there has been recently a change of Government, and that a new Cabinet has been established which is far and away more public-spirited and able than any Cabinet which has been seen there for some time. It consists of a selection of men who are devoting their abilities to their task with a single eye to the good of their country. It contains such men as Ala-es-Sultaneh as Prime Minister, Vossuk-ed-Dowleh, Mustanfi-ul-Mamulek, and Motamin-ul-Mulk, and others who have not hitherto taken a prominent part in the affairs they have now consented to undertake. His Majesty's Government, and I think the Government of Russia is in entire agreement with them in the matter, have very considerable hopes of the administration rapidly getting into far better order under this Cabinet than has been possible of late years.

Therefore taking the two things together, the real hopefulness of the development of the gendarmerie on the Southern roads, and the real hopefulness of the new Cabinet which has tackled its work in a way Persia has not experienced for some years past, His Majesty's Government have decided to do two things. First, to advance, the Government undertaking one part, and the Government of India undertaking the other part, a special sum which shall be absolutely ear-marked for the administration of the province of Fars; and, secondly, to join with the Government of Russia in making a separate advance for the general purposes of the Persian Government, the amount which will come before this House in the Estimates for next year being £50,000.


That is the smaller loan.


Yes. The advance with regard to Fars will be paid to the Governor-General, to be expended under careful control, the portion for the gendarmerie being paid out by the Swedish commander. There will be no risk in the direction the hon. Member foresaw there might be if limits of that kind were not made. The larger advance, with an equal amount to be provided by the Russian Government, will be for general purposes. We hope, of course, that the advance for general purposes will be covered by a larger loan, which Persia, we hope, will be able to raise, and we think should be able to raise as soon as order and firm government have been restored. That is, as everyone, whatever views they take, will recognise, the really essential thing in Persia. Once there is order the Government can secure money, or, to put it the other way, if the Government secure money they are likely to secure order, and once they can secure order they will be able to offer proper security for a larger loan, which they can use for the development of the country. The hon. Member opposite said he would like us to revise the Anglo-Russian agreement and to take into it a great space of territory which at present is regarded as a neutral sphere, and to occupy the ground of the neutral sphere on the Persian Gulf. I think he said it should be occupied by concessions, rather than with troops. In that connection I can only say that we have secured an option for a railway from Mohammerah to Khorramabad, and that other matters in connection with the Gulf are now under consideration, while there is no question whatever of any revision of the Anglo-Russian agreement, and I have no hope that we shall do what the hon. Gentleman desires in that direction, he need not be afraid that our predominating interests in the Persian Gulf are being affected or being allowed to fall into the hands of other persons.

He asked a question as to the exact state of the recent railway concessions. On that matter I think I can give him fairly definite information. The Persian Gov- ernment were most willing and anxious to grant a concession to the British company at the same time as the Russian concession for a railway to Tabriz. There was no unwillingness at all on their part, and the delay that occurred, our concession being granted a few days after the Russian concession, was only due to the fact that the application of our company was not in a sufficiently advanced stage to permit of a formal contract being made straight off. The syndicate were not able to give the details of which the Persian Government, quite rightly, wished to be in possession before they issued a definite concession, and therefore ours is only an option. One thing or another will be done. Either the concession will be made or the contract will be given to the company, but whichever it is, it must follow on the survey, which is to be begun at once by the Persian Government in co-operation with the syndicate, and the fact that the representatives of the syndicate in England have made no complaint at all as to what has been done shows, I think, that there has been no backwardness in securing whatever it was right and reasonable to secure practically at the same time as the concession was given for the Russian railway. I have no news at all that M. Monard desires or is likely to retire from his appointment, and in general already, under this new Cabinet, the position seems more established and brighter for the future than it did even under the regime of Mr. Shuster, even in the position which that regime takes in the mind of my hon. Friend. I do not think things were quite as favourable to them or the prospects quite as good as he does, but however great his virtues may have been, I think, even now, although the new Government has only been in office for some weeks, the state of things seems a good deal more promising than it did then.

With regard to the Medjliss, the simplest way to express it is this. It is, of course, quite reasonable and right to say that without a Parliament the Persian Constitution is not properly established. It is right to say there is a connection between the restoration of order and the summoning of a Medjliss, but that connection is not one of cause and effect. We cannot say that summoning the Medjliss would at this stage increase the likelihood of firmer Government being established, but we can say that if firm Government is established that ought to lead to the summoning of a Medjliss, and that under these conditions, when once the Cabinet is really established, the summoning of a Medjliss certainly ought not to be delayed. We hope it will not be, and it ought to be useful under these conditions, but, while the Cabinet is weak, the Medjliss could only do harm. It then presents itself to the tribes in the outlying districts in Persia simply as constituting a divided authority at the centre. Unless and until there is perfect government no good prospect can be held out of assembling a Medjliss. But as soon as there is firm government one hopes that a Medjliss will again be summoned, and that under the Constitution in its complete form Persia will develop as a constitutional country. There is a further question with regard to the withdrawal of the Russian troops. There, again, I can only say what I have already indicated, that the Russian Government agree with us that the present Cabinet gives a greater offer and hope of firm, continuous, good administration than anything that there has recently been in Persia. They are not willing yet to withdraw their troops, but we hope, of course, that when the new Government has shown that the prospects which are entertained are realised, they will be able gradually to withdraw the troops. Nothing that the Russian Government has said to us leads us to any other conclusion. We believe that they are genuinely anxious to lessen the number of troops they have in Persia as soon as the circumstances of the country render it possible. But they must he allowed a little time to judge whether the new Government is sufficiently established to be able to secure order for themselves before the reduction of their troops begins. I think I shall best suit the convenience of the House by not attempting any peroration, but by sitting down.