HC Deb 14 July 1913 vol 55 cc1026-32

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


I rise to make an appeal to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, as representing His Majesty's Government, to take some action, jointly, if possible, with other Powers of Europe, to bring to an end the state of affairs which exists in the Near East. I am sure the House will agree that the right hon. Gentleman occupies a unique position to-day both in this country and in the councils of Europe. He has an influence second to none among foreign ministers, and therefore an appeal made to him is one which I think will not fall upon deaf ears. We know, of course, that there is talk of some mediation on the part of Russia; but, as is well known to anyone acquainted with the Near Eastern problem, Russia is, perhaps, suspect in the sense that she is a great Slav Power. Her interests are naturally bound up with Slav ambitions and desires, and she has rightly attained a great position as the protectress of Slav ambitions and desires. Perhaps for that reason her influence may be suspect of other Powers, Austria, for example, is also a great important Power, but she also is looked askance at by some of the members of the Concert. I think that all will admit that the right hon. Gentleman has a unique position and distinction. He enjoys the confidence of the other Ambassadors, and therefore, any action which he may take cannot in any sense of the word be looked upon as an interested one. We know that since this war has commenced again, there has been practically a fratricidal war, a war between brother and brother, a war between Slav and Slav, and that the hopes of those who looked for an advance of freedom in that part of the world have been dashed to the ground by this wanton slaughter which now seems to continue, and as to which at present there seems to be no end. It may well be asked: "What remedy have you to offer of a practical character that Great Britain might propose on this occasion." It is not for me to suggest or to offer any definite policy, but I might perhaps venture humbly to suggest that there is one method. If Great Britain in conjunction with the other Powers were to impose an armistice or to propose to impose an armistice upon these Allies, I do not believe for a moment that any Power would refuse to support the right hon. Gentleman in that action.

Certainly no people in Europe will refuse to support the Government in taking such action. After all, we are responsible. Great Britain, in particular, is the principal signatory of the Treaty of Berlin, to which all these events can be traced. We were the principal signatories to that treaty, and, therefore, we have a responsibility to those people. It may be argued by some that we had better leave things alone, and allow them to fight it out. May I submit one or two arguments against that policy of drift? It has been well said that peace, perhaps, is the greatest British interest. We are at present enjoying a great boom in trade, great commercial prosperity, and we are suffering from financial stringency. It is well known to those who study these affairs that those two things are more or less connected together, and what is likely to accentuate this stringency more than war. We know already that there is considerable hoarding on the Continent of Europe. Trade is already affected in Germany and the East of Europe as the result of this wanton war and of the possibilities which may take place as the result of its spread. That, I think, is one argument which surely should appeal to many for action at this stage, and, if we desire this boom of commercial prosperity to continue, if we wish the boom in trade to further advance, then every possible effort should be utilised to try and bring this unhappy war to an end. That is one argument which I venture to submit to the House and to the right hon. Gentleman.

Then there is another agreement, and that is our Treaty obligation. We know that just recently we have engaged in a further Treaty—the Treaty of London, and we are told—I do not know how much truth there is in it: perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will be able to give us some information on the point—that Turkey is now about to break through that Treaty—to tear it up as so many other Treaties have been torn up in that part of Europe, and to march her troops through the disputed territory upon Adrianople. Surely it places this House, this country, and this Government in a humiliating position, if we are to have this solemn farce of a Peace Conference and a Treaty drawn up, and if anarchy is to be the result! If chaos is to continue, it is a reflection on our common civilisation and our common humanity.

I would conclude by saying that there is a higher call than that of Treaty obligations, and that is the call of humanity. Those at present engaged in warfare—torn away from the plough and from peaceful industry—know nothing of the ambitions of kings and emperors, and if we are anxious, as I hope we are, to do something to save the peoples of these countries, then I submit we ought to use some effort more than the mere policy of drift to bring this horrible state of conflict to an end. I am told that 50,000 lives have been destroyed since this fratricidal war commenced. I ask the House and I ask the right hon. Gentleman—we believe Great Britain is still a great Power—we have never been so wealthy, we have never been so strong in armaments—so strong in the Councils of Europe—what is our strength worth if we cannot use it in a case like this to bring to an end such a horrible state of affairs? If our civilisation is worth anything, if the culture of Europe is worth anything, why allow these primitive peoples to continue this carnage, this inferno, this slaughter? No material advantage can accrue to Europe, no economical advantage can accrue from it, and I submit it is a reflection on Europe and on this country if we stand silently by while this terrible carnage continues.

This is not a party question. I am happy to think Members on both sides are agreed on this, that there can be no controversy and that behind the Foreign Minister and behind the Government there is a united nation and that they will have the strength of the country in their support in any action they may take. I have already indicated in a vague manner what might be done. The right hon. Gentleman knows better than I do what of a practical character can be done. Peace might be imposed, or an armistice might be imposed on the Allies, or an ultimatum might be issued to the various combatants by the Concert of Europe. I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he will not give us some assurance, something more than mere vague assurances, that the matter is receiving, as I have no doubt it is receiving, his most serious consideration, but that something of a practical character will be done, and that he will hold out some hope that Europe is not incompetent upon an occasion of this sort? When our relations with Germany, France, and Russia are so happy, when we have been entertaining recently the French President, when our Monarch has recently visited the German Monarch and our relations have never been so happy with the Continent of Europe as they are to-day, on an occasion of this sort surely Great Britain is not bankrupt in her policy, and something might be done to bring to an end this horrible condition of affairs in the Near East!


Nobody can say that anybody who paints in strong colours the deplorable situation which is caused by the war in the Balkans at present is using too strong language. One can hardly exaggerate all the painful features which are caused by the war now proceeding between the Balkan States. If fair words could have had any influence upon it I would have been prepared to talk night after night on the subject. Surely if anyone considers what the character of the war is, the passions which accompany it, the appalling risks which those engaged in that war are now running, it must be obvious to them that mere words from the outside Powers are not likely to affect the situation. Indeed, the hon. Member himself seemed aware of that, for he used the expression "impose peace." Who is to impose peace? Am I, or is the Government to come down to this House and ask for a vote of credit to make use of the forces of the Crown to impose peace in the Balkan Peninsula? And, if the House gives us that credit, how are the forces of the Crown going to be used? What are we going to do in the war between Bulgaria and Servia, for instance? The hon. Member began, I think, by ruling out of this matter Russia and Austria because they were two of the interested Powers.


No; I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman. What I meant to convey was that it has been said recently, and it appeared recently, that there would be a single intervention of those two Powers, and that the right hon. Gentleman should take action conjointly with the Concert of Europe, he leading the Concert of Europe.


The Concert of Europe has not to deal with questions of this kind. If the hon. Member will consider the geographical features he will see that the Concert of Europe cannot as a whole deal with matters of this kind in the interior of Europe. It has to appoint some Executive to do it. Though every Power is most anxious to see this war brought to a conclusion, and I may assure the hon. Member that especially those who have to deal with foreign affairs throughout Europe and who are in responsible positions, are at least as anxious as anyone can be, it is exceedingly difficult for the Concert of Europe to be brought to forcible measures to impose peace. Anything that can be done to bring the war to a conclusion by agreement between the Powers I am sure will be done readily. The present situation, as I understand it, is this: Bulgaria has appealed to Russia to secure a cessation of hostilities. Greece and Servia are willing to agree to a cessation of hostilities with conditions on which I am not accurately informed, but which they insist that Bulgaria must accept before they agree to a cessation of hostilities. The hon. Member asked me with regard to the Turkish advance. We have been assured, so far that the Turkish intention is only to occupy territory up to the Enos-Media line, which was agreed upon by the peace signed not by us, as the hon. Member seemed to imply, but by the Balkan States and Turkey the other day. So long as Turkey adheres to that intention and occupies up to the Enos-Media line I do not see that exception can be taken to her action. The frontier has been delimited by an international Commission, and meanwhile it is natural that Bulgarians, on the one side, and Turks, on the other, should respect the frontier line. We trust that Turkey will adhere to that intention, because any advance beyond that line on the part of Turkey would add to the complications which already exist.

There is another matter which remains still of vital importance. That is that the Great Powers should continue to keep in touch with each other and that no one of them should take any action which is likely to cause difficulties in future. That has been the object which we have striven to promote in common with the other Powers ever since the outbreak of the war between Turkey and the Balkan States, and that is the object which we shall continue to pursue. The Great Powers have in the course of the last few months come to certain decisions between themselves, especially about Albania, which have materially contributed to preserve harmony between them. It is of course essential that nothing which happens in the war now proceeding should upset those decisions which have already been come to, and which are a valuable asset on the side of harmony between the parties. There are other matters still to be decided between the Powers to secure complete agreement between them, and these we continue to discuss, and with these I trust we shall make some progress. But the best prospect I can put before the House is that the war now proceeding in the Balkans is so exhausting and so horrible in its features that it should not last long, and that the mere intensity of it should bring it to a conclusion, and we hope that no complication will arise out of it which will make any of the great Powers lose touch with each other or endanger the Concert of Europe. The first business of the Concert of Europe, after all, is to preserve peace and harmony between the component parts. If that were not secured the consequences to Europe would be far more disastrous than anything which has yet occurred. I see every prospect that the Great Powers will continue to remain in touch, and that as they have overcome complications which have hitherto arisen, so they will continue by keeping in touch with each other to overcome complications which may arise in the future. That will be a great point gained if that is so, and for the rest I can only hope that the mere risk which every one of these belligerents is running by the continuance of the war and the horrors which accompany it will bring home to them more forcibly than anything else can do the necessity, in their own interests, of bringing this to a conclusion as soon as possible.

Adjourned at Twenty-five minute after Eleven o'clock.