§ Colonel YATE
The point I wish to raise to-day is the question of the insecurity of life and property of British subjects in Southern Persia, and I ask the Secretary of State what the Government is going to do to protect them. We have seen for a considerable time our Consuls attacked and our officers murdered, and not one arrest has been made. We have seen our British and Indian merchants robbed time after time and practically ruined, and there must now be claims for some hundreds of thousands of pounds' worth of property carried off and no redress has been given, and not a penny has yet been paid in compensatian. We see the telegraph line constantly destroyed, the in- 1490 sulators shot at and broken, miles of wire and posts carried off, the British and Persian officials engaged in the protection of the line robbed and beaten, and the line interrupted day after day. I would like to emphasise the importance of this telegraph line. It is the Indo-European telegraph line managed by the Government of India, and it is the main communication between England and India. Therefore we are specially responsible for the maintenance of that line and for the keeping of communication intact between East and West. That is why the question is so important at the present day. I have here a list of the outrages committed last year against British subjects in Southern Persia, and I very much doubt whether hon. Members are aware of the extent and seriousness of these outrages. I will mention a few of them which were published in the "Financier" on the 31st of December last:—
The report goes on:—
- "(1) Near Kazerun, Mr. Consul Smart wounded and six sowars killed and eleven wounded.
- (2) Contingent of 39th C.I. Horse attacked south of Dehbeed when en route from Shiraz to Ispahan. An officer and some sowars were said to have been wounded.
- (3) Mr. Fenn, of the Indo-European Telegraph Department, en route from Teheran to Yazd, on duty, stripped of everything and badly mauled.
- (4) Mr. Vice-Consul Moir robbed of everything and badly used.
- (5) Mr. Brookes, travelling with Mr. Moir, met with the same treatment.
- (6) Colonel Williams, robbed of everything and badly used.
- (7) Mr. Donald Carr, carried off into the mountains, kept without food, stripped practically of everything and knocked about.
- (8) Mr. Lemon, Inspector of Indo-European Telegraphs, literally stripped of everything and left naked in the desert (all his camp equipment, the property of the Indian Government, was carried off with the transport animals).
- (9) Mr. Assistant-Superintendent Meriton, of the Indo-European Telegraph Department, carried off prisoner, bag and baggage, and robbed of everything and badly used.
- (10) Lieutenant Bulloch, shot at and wounded and robbed of everything.
- (11) Captain Eckford, killed near Shiraz, and some sowars wounded. This incident is said to be of a serious nature."Immense damage is constantly being done to the telegraph lines—insulators in thousands are destroyed, and in many cases poles are smashed and the wire carried away. Scarcely a day passes on which communication is not interrupted—in some cases the interruption lasts fur days owing to the presence of bands of marauding savage tribesmen along the line of route. Times out of count the line riders have been literally stripped of everything, their horses and tools taken, and themselves kept prisoners for days and ill-treated. The telephone stations have been frequently raided.I only mention these cases because I wish the House to know the terrible state of insecurity and destruction of British property which is going on there. In Northern Persia order is kept by means of some 13,000 Russian troops, but what 1491 have we done in the South. We have sent one regiment of some 400 men of an unfortunate Indian Cavalry regiment to Shiraz. These men are shut up in Shiraz, prisoners in the caravanserai they are quartered in. A Persian caravanserai is a large quadrangular building, as a rule, with stables all round inside the walls. The officers going in and out have all been shot at. The men are not allowed to retaliate, and we have here an example of absolute impotence on the part of the British Government, while the spirit of the Indian soldier is being absolutely destroyed. Do you think the Russians or any other Power would allow their soldiers to be thus insulted with impunity? Would they permit this exhibition of Russian soldiers compelled to sit still and be shot at with impunity in their quarters and not permitted to avenge the insult? Is that the way to maintain the honour and prestige of the Indian Army, an Army which is second to none in the world? Persia herself is absolutely powerless to alter things. We all wish to maintain the power and the independence of Persia, and I say deliberately that it is only England and Russia who are at present doing it. If England and Russia were not in Persia, Persia would be eaten up to-morrow by Afghanistan on the east and by Turkey on the west, and Persia as an independent Power would absolutely cease to exist. Persia has absolutely no army and no power of defence either against Afghanistan on the east, Turkey on the west, the Turkomans on the north, or the Arabs on the south. England and Russia are at present the only defence of Persia, and, were that defence withdrawn, every one of these four would advance and Persia would be done for. I remember years ago sitting by the camp fire one night on the Afghan side of the border and the Afghans detailing to me some acts of arrogance on the part of the Persian border officials. No official can be more arrogant than the Persian, as all who know him can say, so long as his own skin is not in danger, and no one can be more craven when it is. The Afghan said: "If it were not for you and the Russians we would take the whole place to-morrow." And they could do it, too. In fact, as we all know, Urumia, in Western Persia would be in the possession of Turkey to-day had it not been for the Russian troops, and for anyone to talk of Persia 1492 being able to maintain her independence without help is to talk absolute nonsense. I noticed in yesterday's papers a long telegram from India reporting a resolution passed by the All-Indian Moslem League at their conference at Lucknow. I have the resolution here, and I will read the last sentence or two to the House:—The League, in view of the unsettled condition of Persia and the intensity of Moslem feeling in India caused by the atrocities committed by Russian troops, urges upon the British Government the immediate necessity of using its good offices to persuade Russia to evacuate Northern Persia and to leave the Persians to work out their own salvation without foreign intervention.I hope that All-Indian Moslem League men will look at things in Persia from the point of view of practical statesmen. All my sympathies are with the Indian Mahomedans, but we must remember in the first place that it is the very unsettled condition of Persia which they talk about which has brought Russian troops into Persia, and that if they were withdrawn there is nothing to put in their place, and the immediate consequence would be that Northern Persia would also relapse into the same state of anarchy as there is now in Southern Persia. The result would be the practical break-up of the Persian Kingdom. I say to the members of the All-Indian Moslem League, that if they could visit Persia themselves they would realise the facts of the situation and not pass resolutions such as this. I would ask those. Indian Mahomedans to refer to that letter from an Indian Mussulman to the "Indian Pioneer" in June last describing the way in which Indian Mahomedans are treated by their Persian co-religionists. He began his letter:—I am an Indian Mussulman—and he goes on to describe how he had been up to Shiraz on business, and how on his way back he was robbed of everything he possessed and threatened with death. He said:—I was robbed because I was an Indian, and though I repeated the Fathiha and the Kalima, and showed I was a good Mussulman, yet they said I was an enemy, and a subject of the enemy, and took all I possessed. When I said I was a British subject, and threatened them that I would appeal to the Consul Sahib, they laughed in my beard and said that the British did not dare do anything to protect either the lives or the property of their subjects. The day I arrived in Bushire there arrived from Shiraz three Pathans and another Indian Mussulman, who had also been robbed at another place of every anna they possessed.He described very fully what he had gone through, and for the All-Indian Mahomedan League, who want to preserve the kingdom of Persia just as we do, to suppose that the Persians under the present 1493 circumstances can work out their own salvation, as they say in their resolution, without foreign help and support is to imagine an absolute impossibility. Let them put themselves in the place of the writer of that letter, and they will see what it is to be an Indian Mahomedan in Persia. We have had an excellent example lately of what Persia really is in a series of brilliant letters contributed to the "Times" by their Teheran correspondent, who has given us the latest and most trustworthy account that we have yet had. I think the personality of that writer ought to be a testimony to the trustworthiness of the account he has given us. He commenced in the early days of the Persian Revolution as an advocate of the so-called Nationalist party, and he has gone through the mill from the beginning to the end, and is entitled to speak with a knowledge that few possess. I would ask hon. Members to look at his letter published in the "Times" of 7th March, little more than a month ago, and read his description of the Persian aristocracy and the Persian officials. I will only quote five lines:—Intrigue was their only art and lying their most cultivated talent. Their sole inspiring motive was greed, and the embezzlement from a stricken treasury was their principal pursuit.He goes on to describe the peasantry, and, talking of the warriors of Persia, he says:—I am inclined to think that the tribesman is an overrated warrior whose prowess lies in terrorising helpless villagers.I think that is a very good description of the people. This correspondent has shown us that the Persian Government and the Persian officials are utterly corrupt and untrustworthy, and he has shown us that there is no spirit of nationality or patriotism in the country, and that the so-called warriors are mere robbers, with no stomach for a real fight.
§ Colonel YATE
There is a religious fanaticism which is not to be confused with patriotism. I cannot understand the hon. Member reading those letters in any other manner. "Persia," as I read in an excellent article by Mr. Stainton, an ex-telegraph officer in Persia, in the "Financier" of 20th March, "is being killed by sentiment—the sentiment which forbids interference with the internal affairs of another nation in difficulties." If Persia is to be saved, there must be interference. Persia, in the first place, requires a strong and 1494 reliable financial administration. This cannot be secured under Persian administration, and the present temporary arrangements appear to me to be very unsatisfactory. England and Russia are the two Powers who are advancing money to Persia, and they are the two Powers concerned in seeing that money so advanced by them is rightly administered. India shares equally with England in advancing this money, and I can think of no better arrangement than that Russian, English, and Indian representatives should form a financial board for the financial administration of Persia.
As to Southern Persia, in the correspondence connected with the Russian Convention of 1907, mention was made of the special interests possessed by Great Britain in the Persian Gulf, and it especially takes note of the fact that the Russian Government had explicitly acknowledged these interests. These interests are there defined as the preservation of the status quo in the Persian Gulf and the maintenance of British trade. British trade can only be maintained by securing the safety of the trade routes into the interior, and British interests may be said to rest on the security of the Gulf ports and the trade routes leading up from those ports to the commercial marts, such as Shiraz, Ispahan, Yezd, and other centres of trade in Southern Persia. The whole of our special interests in the Gulf depend on those trade routes, and those trade routes are now closed to us. Not only is the caravan mercantile traffic held up, but the unfortunate Britishers shut up in Shiraz are unable to get down to the ports or to leave the country, and the Secretary of State informed us only the other day that it is proposed to withdraw the Indian Cavalry now at Shiraz, and by this means to provide an escort down to the coast for the British subjects now in Shiraz who desire to get away. A telegram from Teheran, in yesterday's paper, states that the Indian Cavalry are to leave Shiraz on 6th April. If their place has been taken by the newly formed Swedish gendarmerie, well and good, but we have no news yet as to how those gendarmerie have progressed on their march south from Teheran. No one more than myself congratulates the Swedish officers on what they have done. They have worked manfully against all odds, and have shown what real good stuff they are made of. I do them all honour, and I hope they may succeed. The Secretary of State has 1495 determined to give them a final trial. Be it so. But if the experiment fails, if this final trial fails, we shall be faced with greater difficulties than ever. I do not know whether the Secretary of State has had his attention called to the letters written from Shiraz by the correspondent of the Indian "Pioneer." He is a man on the spot. By the last mail there is a letter of 8th February, calling special attention to the failure of the Swedish gendarmerie and to the necessity of having British officers who have had experience of raising levies on the Indian frontiers to undertake this work of guarding the trade routes.
That is what I have advocated all through. We are withdrawing our troops and trusting to the Swedish gendarmerie. Failing that gendarmerie the only plan I can see is to lend to Persia a sufficient number of British and Indian Mahomedan officers and non-commissioned officers to enable the Persian Government to raise a Persian force of at least 5,000 levies to guard those trade routes and to maintain the security of the country. I have already worked out and sent to the Secretary of State a scheme for the raising of such a force, and with a picked body of British officers and good complement of Indian Mahomedan officers and non-commissioned officers to train, stiffen, and discipline the force, I see no reason why it should not be possible to turn the Persians into good soldiers, just as we have turned the Egyptians into good soldiers. The Persians are an unpromising material, I acknowledge, as the experience of the Swedish officers have already shown. The only time the gendarmerie went out they were ignominiously beaten back and lost everything they had, and we have the fact staring us in the face at the present moment, that the fresh supply of arms waiting for them at Bushire cannot be taken up country for fear of being captured by the tribes when on the road. The gendarmerie, therefore, are on their final trial. If they succeed, well and good. If they do not succeed, I trust that the Secretary of State will see that to sit still and do nothing will inevitably lead to trouble, and that he will be prepared to take up the scheme for Persian levies that I have suggested without the least delay. If the Swedish gendarmerie fail, the only alternative I can see is to raise those Persian levies under British officers. If they fail to get up the arms from Bushire, or fail to maintain the 1496 trade routes and to secure order, I hope the Secretary of State will take some practical steps to put British officers in charge.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Sir Edward Grey)
I want, before I deal with the points which have been raised by the hon. and gallant Gentleman, to make a further statement to the House than has yet been made on Balkan affairs. I do not propose to enter upon any general review of European affairs or of the European situation. I will leave that where it was left by the Prime Minister at the opening of Parliament; but I want to supplement the statement which he made by stating to the House some further progress which has been made of a favourable nature in Balkan affairs since Parliament opened. It is due to the House that when it is possible for the Government to say anything with regard to Balkan affairs or to give any information, it should be given as soon as we can; and that feeling and the fact that, of course, partial disclosures do appear in the Press from time to time of what is going on between the Powers about Balkan affairs, makes it, I think, not unjustifiable, but necessary and fair to the House, that I should say what I propose to say this afternoon. I would ask the House to bear in mind that the Balkan difficulties, the Balkan question, falls under two heads, and that hitherto the most urgent and important, so far as the Great Powers have been concerned, has not been the war between Turkey and the Allies, important as that is, but it has been the discussion of the most important and urgent task to them, the securing of agreement between the Great Powers themselves on points that might cause, if not settled, serious divisions between the Great Powers.
In other words, important and serious as the war between Turkey and the Allies is, the most urgent thing for the Great Powers has been to secure that the war should be localised, and should not spread, and should not involve any of the Great Powers in disagreement between themselves that might lead to a breach of the peace between themselves. The first heading which I have mentioned has concerned the diplomacy of the Great Powers during the last few weeks. If anybody recalls how in years past there were great apprehensions of what would arise whenever a catastrophe in the Near East did come, or 1497 recalls what has been a commonplace in European diplomacy for years past, I think it will be realised that, now that the task has come, it is creditable to the diplomacy of the Great Powers that they have weathered the storm up to the present time, and that they have, I think, now reached the point when there is every prospect that the storm will be weathered altogether. The Powers started with an assumption which was a great asset on the side of peace. They started with the assumption, which was accepted and acted upon by them all, that none of the Great Powers would make use of the situation to acquire territory for themselves either on the Continent or amongst the islands. That, at any rate, was one asset, with which to start. That being assumed, the greatest point of difficulty and danger was the question of Albania and its delimitation. Before Christmas some progress had been made with that. In the first place, an agreement had been cone to between the Powers that there was to be an autonomous Albania. That in itself, was important, for it was important to have gained an agreement upon that principle. Also before Christmas the Great Powers came to an agreement about the littoral; that is to say, the Adriatic coast. That was another point gained, and another danger removed. There remained to be discussed the inland frontiers of Albania, a matter of great importance, because if Albania were to be too small it could not have a separate existence in future; if, on the other hand, it were to be too large, it would encroach unfairly on the legitimate aspirations and aims of Montenegro, Servia or Greece.
The Great Powers have not hitherto dealt with the Southern frontier of Albania. I would ask the House to distinguish carefully between the South and South-East frontier and the North and North-East frontier, because, though no agreement has yet been reached as regards the Southern frontier, and though there may be differences of opinion on some points which may be troublesome to settle in connection with that, we do not feel—I do not think any of the Great Powers feel—whatever differences of opinion may arise, or whatever trouble there may be in settling the different points on the South or South-East frontier, that there is any question connected with that part of the frontier which is likely to be so much a cause of difference between the Great Powers as to be a 1498 source of danger and anxiety. But on the North and North-Eastern frontier of Albania the matter is different. The difference is that if that had not been settled, undoubtedly questions might have arisen between the Great Powers which would have been a cause not only of anxiety but of danger. The differences were concerned especially with Scutari on the North, and certain other towns on the North or North-East. One by one the Powers virtually came to an agreement on those points, but so long as any one point was outstanding it was understood that any agreement which might have been reached on any of the others was conditional upon an agreement upon the whole. For some time past we have been in this position: that we have seen within sight an agreement between the Powers on the whole of the geographical line of the North and North-East frontier of Albania, provided the one remaining outstanding point could be settled. At the end of last week an agreement was come to on the one outstanding point of the North and North-East frontier. I cannot give the details to the House as to what the geographical line actually is, because it is for the Powers themselves to communicate it in detail in the first place to Servia and Montenegro, who are especially concerned. Until they actually make that communication, and make it public, I cannot go into details, but I think the fact that the last outstanding point which stood in the way of a complete agreement as regards the geographical territorial frontier line of the North and North-East of Albania having been reached at the end of last week is so important, that it ought to be known to the public that the Powers are agreed as to what the line of the North and North-East frontier of Albania is to be.
There are, of course, many other points to be discussed in connection with the question which are points of detail. For instance, it would be essential that there should be some guarantees for the protection of Albanian, Mussulman and Catholic minorities in the territory ceded to Servia and Montenegro. The races, creeds and populations are so intermixed in certain parts of the territory that there ought to be some guarantee of that kind, but the important thing is that there is no longer territorial disagreement between the Powers as to what the geographical line of the frontier should be. One wishes to be very cautions in making forecasts. We have been confronted continually for 1499 weeks past with unforeseen contingencies, and no doubt the appearance of something unforeseen may upset calculations. There remain to be considered those questions connected with the debt, questions connected with commercial considerations, questions connected with the Ægean Isles, but in none of those questions ought there to be found the same anxiety as regards the preservation of peace which did exist until agreement had been come to about the littoral of Albania and the North and North-East Frontier. After the weeks of labour and anxiety that the Powers of Europe have gone through, I think they may well have reached this point that they may be positively grateful that the questions, however troublesome they are, do not involve anxiety. That should be, and I believe must be, one consequence of the progress which has been made. Another consequence which ought to follow is this, that once an announcement has been made to Servia and Montenegro that the Powers have come to an agreement and of their decision, there ought to be a cessation of hostilities in what is in future to be Albania. There ought to be a withdrawal, as soon as possible, from points in that territory which have been occupied by Servia, or Montenegro, and in particular there ought to be a cessation from the attacks upon Scutari itself, because, if the destiny of this place is not to be decided by things like the siege of Scutari, to persist in them means useless slaughter and really amounts to criminal folly. If the siege of Scutari is persisted in when the Powers have decided to take into their own hands what its destiny should be and if the bloodshed which accompanies that siege were to go on—if the place is taken greater bloodshed will follow—the taking of that place would involve a useless, purposeless and criminal amount of suffering, which I am sure would alienate all sympathy in this country.
That is one of the reasons why it is desirable that the fact that the Powers have come to an agreement should be known as soon as possible. If the decision of the Powers is not respected, then I trust that those who dispute it will be confronted not with any separate action on the part of one Power, which may divide the Powers, but with the united pressure of all the Powers. Having come to an agreement, the first step is for the Powers to take collective diplomatic action at Belgrade and Cettinje to announce the decision to which they have come, and to 1500 bring about a cessation of hostilities in the territory to be allotted to Albania. I trust that step is going to be taken without delay, for until it is taken there is a greater risk of untoward incidents, or unsettling or disturbing elements, than I think there will be after the Powers have taken the collective diplomatic step of announcing what their decision is and their agreement. So much with regard to the first head. With regard to the second head, the war between Turkey and the Allies, as has appeared in the Press, the Powers have offered their mediation, and have formulated certain conditions as being in their opinion a reasonable basis of peace. The most important of them is the frontier line. The line which they have suggested is a line from Enos to Midia, a line which I trust will be accepted, because that line, if accepted, will avoid the raising of any questions connected with Constantinople and the Straits, and, of course, connected with Asia Minor. The second point of importance is that the Ægean Islands, the situation of which, or the destiny of some of which at any rate, is a matter of interest to more than one Power, should be left to the decision of the Powers. That, of course, does not apply to Crete, from which Turkey, according to these terms of peace, will unconditionally withdraw all interest.
This is only a mediation of the Powers. I do not mean to say that the Powers have made up their minds to enforce a compulsory arbitration or to impose terms. It is mediation, but what I want to point out is this, that the Powers, having suggested a frontier line in Thrace, have at present, shown every disposition to leave everything west of that line to the decision of the Allies themselves, if Turkey sees fit, with the exception, of course, of Albania, of which I have spoken. The Balkan Allies, if these terms are accepted by Turkey, are assured of an arrangement of the terms of peace—exclusive of such particular questions as Albania—amongthemselves, without the intervention of the Great Powers. But if these terms are not accepted, and if a frontier line is pressed for which raises questions connected with Constantinople and the Straits, or if the war were prolonged until questions were raised in connection with Asia Minor, then it would be certain that in the settlement of the terms of peace one or more of the Powers would be concerned, not as disinterested mediators, but as interested parties. That is why I urge, without using any language of a threatening character, 1501 that it is in the interests, I believe, of both the belligerent parties that the terms of peace which have been put forward as reasonable by the Powers should be accepted as a basis upon which peace should be concluded. After peace is concluded, what we hope for is that Turkey will be left in a position to consolidate and strengthen her possessions in Asia Minor, to develop the country, and to establish good order and good government. If she sets herself to that task, it is one in which I believe she will receive the support and goodwill of all the Powers, and ought to receive it; but if she is to have any chance of success in that task, then it is essential that there should not be imposed upon her in the terms of peace financial burdens which will make it impossible for her to address herself to the task of strengthening her position and developing and establishing order in Asia Minor and the territory left to her, but will, on the contrary, make her task after the war is over a struggle with bankruptcy.
That is not to the interest of the Powers, especially those interested in Asia Minor. They must feel that if, under the terms of peace, financial burdens are imposed upon Turkey for the future which will leave her face to face, after the war is over, with a struggle with bankruptcy, it will be a settlement which, not only will be against the interests of Turkey, but against the interests of those Powers who wish, whatever the result of the war, that Turkey shall, at any rate, be able to make a fresh start when it is over on fair terms. I would say the same in regard to the Balkan States. If they maintain union and friendship between themselves and set to work to organise and develop the territory they acquire after the war is over, then, again, they will need the support and goodwill of Europe, especially financial support—I do not mean the financial support of Governments, but the financial support which Europe can give, and which, undoubtedly, Europe would not give unless the Governments are well disposed. They will need that to develop their territories and to realise the great future they have before them. In both cases, whether it be for Turkey or the Balkan States, I am sure that the shortest and most certain way to secure in the future the support and goodwill of Europe is to make peace as soon as possible and to make it on the terms which have been suggested as reasonable terms.
I say nothing on another point of importance, the differences between 1502 Roumania, and Bulgaria, except that it is a very great relief that these two countries, if unable to settle them by direct negotiation between themselves, should have chosen the course of resort to mediation which is far preferable to the resort to force, and as that mediation is proceeding I make no comment, nor, I think, is it necessary that I should make any comment, on the actual question involved. This much I should like to say, that we all feel in the Government that the House has treated the Government with great confidence through the Balkan crisis. It, of course, makes the sense of responsibility even greater than usual. The fact that through the meeting of Ambassadors London has been made the central point of negotiation between the Great Powers, and the special position in which I have stood with regard to the meetings of Ambassadors, has made reticence on my part essential as far as public statements were concerned. But I hope the House will feel that, in questions of the Balkan crisis so far, we have not abused its confidence by pursuing, in the absence of criticism, any policy of which the House would have disapproved, or sacrificing, as far as things have yet gone, British interests which might have been preserved. British trade, of course, has suffered in the disturbed area where the war is going on, as the trade of every country has suffered, and what diplomatic representations could do to prevent the imposition of double duties and other things of that kind during the progress of the war we have done. Of course you cannot, in the case of a war, prevent altogether disturbance of trade and the loss involved without intervention and departure from the policy of neutrality, which instead of limiting the extent of the war might increase it. Within those limits we have done what we could to minimise disturbance to British trade, but as regards our general policy we have pursued a policy of peace, and we can say, truthfully and without any qualification whatever, that there has been no difficulty inherent to this crisis, which has been increased by our action. There is none that, so far as we could exercise influence, we have not used in order to make things smooth, and we have worked continuously, consistently and single-mindedly to promote agreement between the Great Powers. I do not think for a moment that the largest share of the credit of any results which have been reached hitherto, or of future results which may be reached, is 1503 going to be claimed for the British Government. The chief credit will, of course, be due to those Powers more directly interested than ourselves and whose public opinion therefore has been much more sensitive and suspicious than our own has been. It will be to the moderation, the forbearance, and the patience of the Governments of those particular Powers who are most directly interested and whose public opinion is more sensitive, that the chief credit for any settlement come to must be due. Our policy, as far as our past has gone, has been to make all that task easier and to work for general agreement and peace. If that has the approval of the House, the House will no doubt feel that the forbearance and confidence which it has shown towards the Government have been justified as far as things have yet gone, and I can certainly say that the attitude of the House, and I may add, of the Press and of public opinion in this country generally, has been a great support and help to the Government in pursuing that policy.
I would now deal with the question of Persia, an entirely different matter, and one, I admit, of great importance and also of great difficulty. There is no denying the facts which the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite alleged—the insecurity of life and property in Southern Persia—and he read out a most imposing list of outrages. I wish I had a more satisfactory statement to make than I can make. With regard to the regiment at Shiraz, I think the position of that regiment has been so difficult and so trying that the time has come when it is really a primary consideration to give it relief by withdrawal as soon as possible, and that withdrawal is going to be carried out. That is a thing which stands by itself as something which is due to the regiment. I see no object in its being retained at Shiraz under present circumstances. If we are to have a force in Southern Persia which is really to affect the conditions and be effective for any purpose, it ought to be a much larger force. It is not considerate to keep in Southern Persia a force which cannot really affect the situation and which is kept there in a very trying position.
§ Sir E. GREY
A few hundred. The withdrawal starts early next month. With regard to the actual damage to trade, of 1504 course there has been great damage to trade, but according to the Customs Returns from Southern ports, it is really surprising, when you look into them, how much trade has been going on in one way or another in the South of Persia in spite of the damage which has been done in notorious instances to caravans. The Returns of the Southern Customs ports are much greater than one would have expected to be possible, considering the accounts we have had of disturbance and barefaced robbery on the road. There they are. With regard to Northern Persia, where the hon. and gallant Gentleman said the Russians were keeping order, I think he said with 16,000 troops, it would be an erroneous conclusion to assume that 16,000 troops have preserved order in the whole of Northern Persia. Two roads have been kept open to trade in the North of Persia by the Russian troops, but the other roads in Northern Persia, I believe, have been as disturbed and as unsafe as the Southern roads. Of course, it is open to us, after the list of outrages the hon. and gallant Gentleman has read out, if we like, to make out a case for saying that we at any rate must ourselves take in hand the preservation of order on the Southern roads in the interests of our trade. But I do not think the Russian experience in the North, considering that only two trade routes have been kept open, is altogether a good precedent for us to follow in the South. It clearly means that if you are going to do any good by your own separate individual action in Southern Persia, it is a very large undertaking, which, in however small a way it begins, is certain to lead to very large and undesirable responsibilities. That is why, in spite of all the provocation and disturbance there has been, we have not committed ourselves, and will not commit ourselves now to embark on a policy which may mean the beginning of an occupation of Southern Persia and a partition of Persia. I fully admit all the drawbacks that the hon. and gallant Gentleman has urged to seeing the restoration of order attempted by other means, but formidable as the facts which the hon. and gallant Gentleman put forward were, and unpleasant as they sounded when one listened to them, they are, after all, in my opinion, even when you take them altogether, a far less evil than the unknown, the unforeseen, and the unlimited consequences of sending a large British force into Persia.
1505 So we have pursued, and shall as long as there is the least prospect of its success, the policy which we are pursuing at present. There is in Persia at the present time, as far as personnel is concerned, I believe the best Persian Government that it is possible to obtain. We wish—and the Russian Government has shown its disposition to adopt the same course—to assist that Government with a small advance sufficient, we hope, to enable it to make progress with the restoration of order in the country, to improve its prospects, and give it a chance of raising a larger loan subsequently when the conditions in Persia have improved, not from the Governments or under a Government guarantee, but from independent financiers. We propose to advance £200,000 and the Russians will also advance £200,000 to the present Persian Government for that purpose. The control of M. Mornard I believe to be quite sufficient for dealing with a sum of that amount, advanced not in connection with any great scheme of reorganisation, but in order to deal with administrative arrears and immediate administrative necessities; but I think, when it comes to a large loan, and financiers are approached in connection with a large loan to Persia, undoubtedly they will want to make their own conditions as to the control over the expenditure of the loan and the purposes to which it is to be applied, and I think that ought to be supported if the securing of that condition will induce them to make a loan of a considerable amount to Persia later on. Besides that, we ourselves wish to advance £100,000 specially to Persia to strengthen the gendarmerie and a force to protect the trade routes in the South. That will be administered by the Swedish officers in close consultation with British representatives. The Swedish officers have a very difficult task, and I am very glad the hon. and gallant Gentleman spoke of them in the terms which he did. They have shown great courage and great patience and persistence, and they have made some progress with the gendarmerie—as much progress as we could have expected considering all the difficulties they have had to contend with. It is because we believe they have done their best and we believe they have done well, that we give this support to them as the best means of proving to them that they have the support, the encouragement and goodwill of the British Government in their task.
1506 If all this fails, we must then consider what must be done. The hon. and gallant Gentleman made his suggestion. I do not wish for a moment to say that the prospects are such that it is premature to consider what we might do, but I think it is quite premature to come to any decision, and still more premature to come to announcing a decision as to what we shall do if this fails. We wish to give that scheme or policy a chance of success, and we do not improve that chance by announcing that we have already something in reserve. We want to give it the best chance we can, and until it fails I do not think we ought to come to any decision as to what is to be done. If the situation becomes worse in Persia, no doubt it will become a matter of anxious consideration as to what can or must be done, but at present our object is to preserve the separate existence of Persia, to preserve it through the Persian Government, to do all we can to secure for the Government in Persia, which I believe is being done at the present moment, the best possible personnel, and to get for it the best possible outside assistance and advice, as, for instance, in the case of the Swedish officers. I deprecate the suggestion that this is going absolutely to fail. We intend to exercise unlimited patience, and to devote all our efforts to promote and encourage its success as long as there is a reasonable prospect that in that way success will be assured.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I referred on the opening day of the Session to the position in Persia, for, like everyone else in the House, I was more or less familiar with the facts which my hon. Friend behind me brought to the notice of the right hon. Gentleman, and I shall not say anything on that subject now. I am sure that we all realise, not only the conditions which prevail there, but the difficulties with which the Government are faced. We realise the difficulties, and I think we have shown that we are not prepared to do anything to make these difficulties greater. The position really is, as indeed the speech of the right hon. Gentleman himself shows, extremely unsatisfactory. I think everyone feels that, and I can say for myself, and I think I can speak for the party to which I belong, that we should look with as much distaste as the right hon. Gentleman himself on the necessity of facing anything like the partition of Persia. Our commitments are quite large enough, and if there is any other method, 1507 and as long as there is any hope of a settlement in another direction, then I am sure the Government are right in trying to carry out another policy rather than that of partition. I am sure that is the view of the great majority of my hon. Friends on this side of the House, but as the right hon. Gentleman himself feels there must be a limit to the patience which is shown. Like him I hope that the measures he has taken will be successful, but of course, he and this country must be prepared, in the last resort, not for, I hope, such a drastic step as I have referred to, but for seeing that those outrages are not continued on British traders engaged in legitimate trade in Southern Persia.
The sole reason why I rose is that I thought it necessary to say something in regard to the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman about the situation in the Balkans. I am sure that the House is pleased that he has been able to say so much, and while we are sorry that it is not possible to go further, we are not only gratified by what he has announced, but I think we can congratulate him and the representatives of all the Great Powers that so large a step in the direction of peace has already been made. I quite agree with the division he made as to the two sides of the Balkan question. For us by far the most important question from the point of view of our national interests, was that the Great Powers should not be involved in the difficulties which had arisen in the Near East. That was very difficult, but as the right hon. Gentleman has pointed out, while we can afford to be disinterested—for our interests are scarcely touched at all—the questions which have already arisen do touch interests which for generations have affected the ambitions of at least two of the Great Powers of Europe. It says much for the desire for peace on the part of the Great Powers, and it is a happy augury for the termination of this dispute, that, so far, they have worked in harmony, and so far as we can judge, with the one desire of localising this war, and preventing any general joining in of the Great Powers. It is, I think, a great thing that so much of the delimitation of Albania, as the right hon. Gentleman referred to, has already been arranged—a great thing because that, as we all know, is one of the subjects in which one at least of the Great Powers was keenly interested. I am sure it is something that we have reason to be pleased with that this step 1508 has been taken. Of course, the other difficulty to which the right hon. Gentleman referred is as to what might happen in or near Constantinople, which equally affects the Great Powers, and we can only hope and pray that the war will soon terminate, and terminate in such a way that none of the vast interests which would be involved if these questions were raised shall be brought into the light of day. I hope it will not be long before the right hon. Gentleman will be able to give us this further information, not only that the Great Powers have agreed on the terms in connection with this matter, but that the Allies have accepted these terms. The right hon. Gentleman stated to-day, what I said on the first day of the Session, that this war seemed in many aspects to be especially deplorable, because, as he said, on one side it cannot affect the terms of peace. We all trust, therefore, that it will soon terminate. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman is right in saying that it is in the interest of everyone that Turkey, when the war ends, if it is to have an existence at all—and it must have an existence—should have an existence which is compatible with reasonable strength and reasonable credit, and that it is equally essential that all the Allies should endeavour in peace, as they have in war, to work together, and sink whatever differences there may be among them, and to realise that the great prospect of industrial development—a prospect which I think is immense under peaceful conditions—is only possible if there is good government in all those countries, and that it can only be secured if they act towards each other in a reasonable spirit.
§ The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Asquith)
I have listened, as I am sure all the House have listened, with very great satisfaction and gratification to what the right hon. Gentleman has just said, and I repeat, with perfect sincerity, as stated by my right hon. Friend and colleague a few moments ago, that the Government feel that throughout these very troubled and anxious times, which have now extended for some months, it has been of enormous advantage to the influence of this country, and, therefore, I hope one may say, without undue self-complacency, that in the general settlement of the question the Government have had behind them the united support of the House of Commons and of opinion in this country. I do not think there has ever been a chapter in our foreign policy where there have been so 1509 few discordant notes, or where the Government have had to acknowledge so fully and gratefully, as I do to-day, the patriotic support which the Opposition has given to us. I wish to emphasise, if I may, two points which were made by the right hon. Gentleman. The first is that as regards the questions that have arisen between the Great Powers, while no one will be more disposed than I am to acknowledge the invaluable service which has been rendered, and which I believe is recognised by them all, by my right hon. Friend in presiding over the reunion of the Ambassadors, yet the gratitude of Europe at the assured prospect, for I think it is now assured, that, as between the Great Powers, no serious difficulty is likely to arise, is due to the admirable spirit of forbearance, patience, and self-sacrifice which has been shown by those who are more immediately interested in the issues than we are ourselves. If it had not been for that, if there had not been this loyal spirit of give-and-take on the part of the Great Powers directly concerned, and in immediate contiguity to the local difficulties and problems, I do not suppose that the most skilful and the best conducted diplomacy in the world could have steered the ship, which carries with it really all the fortunes of Europe, through the shoals and rocks it has had to encounter. I am glad the right hon. Gentleman has emphasised this, because it will go forth as a message which has the united authority of all parties in this country, and we feel that to all those Powers an enormous and unspeakable debt of gratitude is due.
The other point, which it is perhaps not less important to emphasise at this moment, is—the right hon. Gentleman made it, and I am only really re-enforcing what he said—that, the conditions being what they are, the further continuance of the war between the combatant Powers is an absolutely purposeless thing. Neither on one side nor the other is there anything to be gained by the prolongation of useless slaughter, and both parties, Turkey on the one side and the allied States on the other, ought to see, and I hope and believe they do see, that they have nothing whatever to gain by the continuance of the strife. Absolute impartiality and equity will characterise whatever decisions the Great Powers may come to in regard to the questions which they have reserved to themselves, and it is equally in the interest of both of the combatant parties that a settlement should be arrived at promptly, 1510 that the useless expenditure of blood and money should cease, and that they should realise on the one hand, in the case of Turkey, that she may still have before her a great future, in which she may, with the possession of the territory to the east of the line which the Great Powers suggest, secure the possession of Constantinople and the adjacent territory there, and, in Asia Minor, the infinite development of good government and material prosperity; and that, on the other hand, the Allies, secured as they will be, subject, as my right hon. Friend has said, to the Constitution of an autonomous Albania, and the decision of the Powers with regard to the Ægean Islands, will have, in the territory west of that line, an enormous addition both to their material and moral resources, and possibilities in the future to which it is not easy to assign any real limit. Under these circumstances, I hope it may go forth to all parties concerned as the considered judgment of the House of Commons, speaking with full authority as the representative of a united British people, that the time, in our opinion, has arrived when this terrible war, with all its catastrophe and devastation and waste, should come to an end.
§ Mr. DILLON
The right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary said that the object of the Government had all along been, and still was, to maintain the separate existence of Persia and to maintain it under a Persian Government. In my opinion and in that of men who know Persia intimately the policy pursued by the two Great Powers alluded to, Russia and England, during the last four or five years has been calculated, I do not say intended, to destroy the separate existence of Persia and to paralyse the Persian Government. This Debate to-day was inaugurated by the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Colonel Yate), who gave us a recital of a number of outrages and drew a terrible picture of the state of disorder in Southern Persia. I say deliberately that the condition of disorder that now exists in Persia is due directly to the policy of the Russian Government and the British Government, which have, during the last five years, persistently paralysed the Persian Government. There is no Government in Persia to-day, and there is no Government because Russia, backed up by England, has destroyed the Government. Then you turn round on this unhappy people and seek to destroy its reputation by reciting 1511 in this House a long catalogue of disorder and crime, which are the direct and inevitable result of the policy which has been pursued by this country towards the Persian Government. Before proceeding to make a few comments upon the extraordinary means by which this Debate was opened, I wish to say a few words upon the withdrawal of the Indian regiment from Shiraz. I asked the right hon. Gentleman to tell me the number of that regiment. He was unable to give me the exact number, but I think I recollect it being stated once as 400. I would seriously ask the right hon. Gentleman what steps he has taken to assure us that the march of these Indian troops through Southern Persia will be a safe proceeding and will not lead to further disorder?
If Southern Persia be in the position which is described by the hon. and gallant Gentleman, the withdrawal of the Indian troops, 400 men, would be a very serious matter. Suppose, in addition to the murder already recorded of one of the officers of this regiment, you have attacks made on this regiment, and other officers and men are killed, will not that be directly due to the condition of things which the right hon. Gentleman referred to, when the British expedition was sent to Shiraz? If it was sent to Shiraz, why is it now being withdrawn? Is the condition of things in Southern Persia so improved that the Indian regiment is no longer required there? As far as I can hear from different sources of information at my disposal, the condition of things in Southern Persia is worse to-day than it was when the Indian regiment was sent there. If the Indian regiment was necessary in Shiraz a year ago, why is it necessary to withdraw it now? I do most urgently press the Government to give the House some information as to what steps they have taken to satisfy themselves that the withdrawal of the Indian regiment from Shiraz would be a peaceable and safe operation. Southern Persia has always been somewhat disorderly, and the roads were never safe. The condition of things now existing is worse than anything that existed for fifty years until Russia and England signed the agreement guaranteeing the independence of Persia. From the date of that agreement things have gone from bad to worse. That condition of things is due in my judgment to the fact that these two guaranteeing Powers have adopted a policy which has com- 1512 pletely paralysed the Persian Government. The Government in Persia, such as it is, consists of the Russian Government, and has no prestige whatever to control its own people. The hon. and gallant Gentleman says in urging upon the Government the policy of British occupation of Southern Persia and the partition of that country—
§ Colonel YATE
I did not say that. I proposed to lend Persia British officers to help her to maintain order.
§ Mr. DILLON
The last British officer you lent her was shot. I presume you intend to take some means to secure their lives and to protect them, and we all know what that means. It may not be specifically said in words, but the whole point of the right hon. Gentleman was clear and unmistakeable, namely, British occupation of Southern Persia and a partition of that country, and I say that the whole policy of the Government is drifting irresistibly in that direction. The right hon. Gentleman at the conclusion of his speech indicated clearly that that was in his own mind. He said that the time had not come to arrive at a final decision, and that he still had hopes that things would mend. I have listened to that speech every year for the last four or five years; but he said that however unwilling the British Government may be, and I quite agree that they are extremely unwilling to occupy Southern Persia, of course in the last resort some strong measure must be taken to put a stop to the present disorders. What prospect is there of any cessation of the present disorders? You have destroyed the Government of Persia, and you are pursuing exactly the same policy which for four years, in spite of the continuous hopes expressed by the Foreign Secretary, have progressively brought Persia from a condition of disorder and chaos to a still lower condition. What hope is there for a change for the better, so long as no change lakes place in the condition of the country? The hon. and gallant Gentleman says, "Look at Northern Persia. There order is maintained by 16,000 Russian troops." I do not see the point of that observation, unless it is to show that there ought to be 16,000 British troops in Southern Persia. It is said that order is maintained in Northern Persia by these Russian troops. I deny that.
I remember the time when the Foreign Secretary seemed to give the countenance 1513 of his great authority to the theory that order was maintained by the Russian troops in Northern Persia, but now he says that the only result is to maintain two roads only, and by English travellers who have recently returned from Northern Persia I am told—and I believe it to be true—that so far from maintaining order in Persia, the Russians have maintained and promoted disorder, apparently in pursuance of the policy of turning Northern Persia into a Russian province. What has been their record? Have we not heard details of the horrors of Tabriz, and if you go off these two main roads you will find that Northern Persia is in a state of disorder just as bad as Southern Persia. That is not all. Take one instance of the policy pursued in Russia by Northern Persia which has been brought under the notice of the House during the last few weeks. The younger brother of the ex-Shah, who has been in rebellion for more than a year, has been within the last six weeks at the dictation of Russia appointed, by the Government against which he has been in rebellion, Governor of one of the most important provinces of the whole of Northern Persia lying on the Caspian Sea, the very province in which his brother, the ex-Shah, would land if he returned, as we all believe he is about to return, to resume the throne of Persia.
What can be said of the Government who deliberately take a rebel in arms against the Persian Government and require that Government under threats to appoint him governor of one of the chief provinces, although the people of that province have threatened to revolt in case he is sent to govern them? The hon. Member when asked the other day what attitude the British Government took towards that policy, replied that they had information that the people of the province were very discontented and might rise in revolt in case this man were sent to govern them, but that the British Government would not interfere in the whole transaction. It is by a continual system of which this is an example that the Russian Government, by the policy of the last four years, have promoted anarchy and disturbance, not only in Northern Persia, but throughout Persia, by paralysing the Persian Government and by rendering any decent government of that country impossible. The hon. and gallant Gentleman alluded to letters which have appeared recently in the "Times" from its Teheran correspondent. I agree entirely that that gentleman is a most competent observer 1514 who is thoroughly acquainted with the conditions in Persia. These letters were extremely interesting, and I have studied them very carefully, but curiously enough I drew a wholly different conclusion from them from that which has been apparently drawn by the hon. and gallant Member. He alluded to the description given by Mr. Moore in these letters of the corruption and dishonesty of the Persian aristocracy and officials.
That is quite true, and I have not the slightest doubt that the account is accurate. It is entirely borne out in the book of Mr. Schuster; in fact, you might put the two descriptions side by side and they tally exactly. But what was the Persian national movement which this Government and the Russian Government have crushed? It was the rising of the Persian people against the corruption of the officials and the aristocracy of Persia, who are, I fully admit, degraded and corrupt, and the people of Persia had risen against that corruption and were making a very gallant effort, naturally in the circumstances, of course, an effort beset with many failings, for every democracy in the history of the world, even in Europe, has had to pass through many failures before it succeeded in establishing a pure Government. The Persian democracy had risen against that system, and these two Powers stepped in and crushed that democracy, and they are endeavouring now to fasten on the necks of the people of Persia that very corrupt system which is condemned by the letters of Mr. Moore. And why? Because these Persian officials and a remnant of the old gang, who surrounded the throne of the ex-Shah, are subservient to Russia and are easily purchased by Foreign Powers. That is the great iniquity of this whole policy that has been practised by this Government, and it is useless for the right hon. Gentleman to talk of the desire of England to maintain an independent Persia when the whole policy of the last five years has been one continuous endeavour to destroy the effort of the Persian people to emancipate themselves from this long and great tyranny. I remember very well that some of us, two or three years ago, spoke in favour of this national movement in Persia. The hon. and gallant Gentleman treated us with great scorn because we thought that any Eastern people could carry out a revolution and get rid of old corruptions. I regard as rather absurd the high and lofty tone 1515 which is adopted by some hon. Gentlemen in regard to these questions. We in Europe did not bring about democratic government in a day; we did not bring it about in one generation; it took many revolutions, many mistakes, and much bloodshed to build up most of the democratic governments of Europe; and all I have ever pleaded for is, whether in the East or the West, wherever it may be, if there is any symptom of a desire on the part of any nation to improve its government, the Great Powers of Europe ought not selfishly to intervene in pursuance of their own interests and their own domination over a people in order to prevent their rising against the corruption of the Government of their country. The hon. and gallant Gentleman said that what we wanted for Persia was a strong and honest financial administration and a loan. This Persian democracy, which has been so sneered at and scoffed at in this House, the moment they got the power recognised—and I think it highly to their credit—that in consequence of their past history they were unable to set up a strong and reliable financial administration. And they did an extraordinary thing—they sent across the Atlantic to America and asked for a loan of an American Official to reorganise their finances. Anybody who takes the trouble to read Mr. Schuster's book will see that it is a most remarkable work on an attempt to revive and improve the government of a country. I am convinced that if Mr. Schuster had been left to carry out his work the Persian Government would have been restored to power, efficiency, and financial soundness.
We find from those carefully edited Blue Books furnished to the House that it was the British Government which suggested to Russia to drive Mr. Schuster out of Persia. Instead of strongly opposing such a policy, it actually turned out that our own Foreign Secretary suggested to the Russian Government that the British Government would have no objection if Mr. Schuster were sent out of Persia. Mr. Schuster was driven out of Persia, and since then, under the agreement between the Russian Government and the British Government, there has been nothing but paralysis and disorder in Persia. There is no force in Persia which can produce the results which the Foreign Secretary still professes to hope for. He and his friends, as they are now, the Russian Government, have destroyed all 1516 power in Persia to produce order and good government. For my part, I cannot understand why the right hon. Gentleman does not honestly face the situation and admit that this policy has but one inevitable goal, to which it is rapidly drifting, and that is the occupation of Southern Persia by England and the division of that country between England and Russia. This question is one to which great attention has been given in the House of Commons for the last few years. In my opinion, if it is rightly considered, it is a far more important question, so far as British interests are concerned, than that of the Balkans. Of course the Balkan question, with its attendant danger to European countries, has driven the Persian question out of the minds of the people of this country for the moment, but immediately European countries are relieved from the danger of European war then the question of Persia will again come into prominence. I submit that there was never a more immoral transaction than the policy of Great Britain and Russia with regard to Persia during the last five years. I wonder whether the people of Great Britain have realised what this partition of Persia means. As surely as you allow Persia to be partitioned, so surely must you set up conscription in this country immediately, because it would be absolutely necessary to double, or certainly to enormously increase the Army of occupation in India.
The moment you have partitioned Persia, the moment you have this railway, which, according to the statement made by Lord Morley in the House of Lords, the English Government are now contemplating as a probable contingency in the near future, the party now clamouring for conscription in this country will have an irresistible claim, and you will have conscription adopted here. It is perfectly ridiculous to go on the assumption that because at this particular moment the people of this country are all enthusiastic for an alliance with Russia—into which I wish most sincerely we had never entered—it will always continue. I look back over the last thirty years in this House and remember that it is only about seven or eight years ago when the feeling against Russia in this country was quite as impassioned as the feeling against another country has recently been. We were continually comparing notes about our Army with the Army schemes and the fleets of Russia. It is not much more than five years' ago when we were within a few hours of a possible outbreak of war with 1517 Russia, and no man can contemplate that our present relations with that country are going to continue for ever. Once you destroy the state of Persia you bring about the Russian occupation of Northern Persia, which indeed is already an accomplished fact. I recollect that for two or three years I put questions to the Foreign Secretary about Persia, in order to ascertain when Russia was going to carry out her pledges and withdraw her troops from Northern Persia. We were told at first that it would be a matter of months, and that they would be withdrawn immediately order was restored. Month after month the Secretary for Foreign Affairs said he had good grounds for believing and hoping that in the near future the Russian troops would be with-drawn. Of course, the Russian troops never have been withdrawn, and it was never intended that they should be withdrawn; on the contrary, their number is being increased, and great camps of Russian troops exist in Northern Persia, and those great routes which are kept open by the Russian occupation are maintained by permanent camps from which Russia has no intention of withdrawing her troops. When you consent to the occupation of Northern Persia, which is by far the most important, the richest, and most valuable part of Persia, you make of that country a Russian dependency, while Southern Persia is brought within the sphere of British influence.
The moment that is done, you will bring this country into a condition which it has never occupied since the Middle Ages, that of being coterminous with a great European military Power, the greatest probably in the whole world, and, the moment you do that, your whole policy of free military service disappears, and you will be obliged to have conscription in this country. What astonishes me in these matters is that the House of Commons allows all the preliminary steps to be taken, and listens to all the statements of the Minister for Foreign Affairs year after year, while it is perfectly manifest that by reason of what is taking place, we are rapidly drifting to a state of matters which will inevitably involve conscription. Supposing, say, in about a fortnight, the Indian troops, when being withdrawn, are set upon and a considerable number killed, what then? Why on earth were they sent there unless there vas some policy in the mind of the Government? The Russian Government has a very clear policy; the only policy the 1518 British Government, so far as we have been able to ascertain in the House of Commons, is to say ditto to the Russian Government, or sometimes make a feeble remonstrance and then back down. Some day, and that very soon, the House of Commons will be faced with a situation in which everybody will be obliged to reluctantly admit that a British expedition to Southern Persia is necessary. If that had been put fairly and frankly as a policy to the House of Commons, I do not think it would have obtained thirty supporters in the whole assembly. But it will be forced upon us as an inevitable consequence of the policy in which the House of Commons has acquiesced. What makes it the more tragic and more dishonest is that the policy has its root in the famous Anglo-Russian Agreement, of which we have heard so much, and the first article of which is that the two Governments mutually contract to defend the integrity and independence of Persia. They have not been maintained, and it is admitted by everybody, that from the day the Anglo-Russian Agreement was signed, the two Governments have never ceased to assail and destroy that independence.
§ Mr. MORRELL
I should like to take this opportunity, in the first place, to congratulate my right hon. Friend on the most welcome statement he has made with regard to the state of affairs in the Balkans. In every quarter of the House that statement was listened to with intense interest. And, in the second place, I would like to make a few remarks upon the question of Persia. I, myself, admit that the situation of Persia just now is a particularly black one. We are all agreed as to that. At the same time I am indeed glad to know that the Secretary of State is not going to listen to the demands which are continually being made upon him, both from that side of the House and in the public Press, that we should at once give up the policy which we have been pursuing to preserve and support as far as we can the existing Government in Persia, and proceed to occupy Southern Persia. I believe a policy of that kind to be utterly disastrous and a mistake. Though I agree with my hon. Friend opposite that the situation looks black at present, I still am one of those who hope, and indeed expect, that my right hon. Friend will be able to carry into effect substantially the policy which he laid down eighteen months ago in this House, and which to some extent has been carried out. I must say that, in 1519 spite of all he has told us to-day, there are still grave grounds for misgiving on some points on which he has not spoken at all. I would like, not in any very critical spirit but simply as one who watches most carefully the affairs of Persia, to ask for some further information on some of the events which have been going on there in the last few months. In the first place, I want to know does he still adhere and does the Government adhere to what they have told us with regard to the ex-Shah? No one can be blind to the fact that all through Persia there are rumours and there are signs of an attempt to get the ex-Shah back, an attempt which, if it succeeded, would mean fresh disorder and fresh bloodshed, and ultimately would probably lead to the occupation of the country and the partition, and finally the destruction, of Persia as a nation.
We were told the other day, in answer to a question, that the Russian Government would deprecate any attempt to get the ex-Shah back. The Russian Government said some time ago they would deprecate any attempt on the part of the ex-Shah to return to Persia, and yet, as we know, he did return under the very eyes of the Russian officials, and was only expelled with great difficulty and with great cost to Persia by the existing Persian Government. Therefore, I do not set much store on the deprecations of the Russian Government, and I would like to know whether the policy of the British Government is still as it was stated in the House of Lords by Lord Morley, and I think also very clearly here by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, namely, that their position is that under no circumstances will they recognise the ex-Shah as Ruler of Persia. I think those are the very words used by Lord Morley in another place. There is another point which has also been referred to by my hon. Friend opposite, and that is the question of Salar-ed-Dowleh. The position, I understand, of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, is that he desires in every way to support the existing Persian Government, and I would like to know if that is so, whether he has yet made any remonstrance to Russia with regard to the action they have taken in this matter of Salar-ed-Dowleh. Here is a man, the brother of the ex-Shah, who only a short time ago was actually in rebellion against the existing Persian Government, and who yet now is being sent against the protests 1520 of Persia, as I understand by the Russian Government, to be Governor of one of the principal provinces in Persia. Surely that is an outrageous proceeding if we are to attempt to preserve the authority of the existing Persian Government. I do think it lies with my right hon. Friend to show us that he has made some protest, at any rate, with regard to this action of Russia.
The only other matter to which I wish to refer is the question of a loan. We are told there is to be a loan of £400,000, being £200,000 each from the Russian and British Governments, and that there is to be an additional £100,000 to be lent by the British Government for separate purposes in Southern Persia. I am very glad that even this small amount is fast going to be carried out. I would like to have some further statement as to whether it is really going to be carried out within a reasonable time, because we have had so many assurances with regard to this question of a loan that one naturally becomes secptical. In the summer of 1911 my right hon. Friend stated in this House that it would be the policy of both the British and Russian Governments to see not merely that there should be a small loan, but that there should be an adequate loan to enable the Persian Government to restore order. That is still being deferred, and we have only these small amounts dribbled out from time to time to the Persian Government for immediate purposes. Lastly, I would like to know is there any prospect of the Constitution being restored? I know people think it almost absurd in the Present condition of Persia to speak of the restoration of the Constitution. I am confident, if my right hon. Friend's policy of preserving the integrity of Persia is to be made good, and if we are to have the checking of corruption, which everyone admits prevails, then it is essential, that in course of time the Constitution should be restored and the Medjliss again summoned. That is the only check we have on the corruption that is now destroying Persia, and it is the only sort of security we have that the Persian Government will to some extent rest on the will of the people. As things are no Persian Government will have real authority with the Persian people until they are able to hold a popular Assembly. Therefore, I do hope we shall have an assurance that the right hon. Gentleman has this in mind, and that he hopes to be able in time to see that the Constitution is restored. We on this side, and I think 1521 everybody who knows the danger to India, support as far as we can the policy which he has laid down to-day, and we are glad to know that he is not going to listen to the demands, the foolish demands, that have been made for the occupation of Southern Persia, but I must say that recent events and the recent action of the Persian Government on the two points I have mentioned have given rise to great anxiety.
§ Mr. MITCHELL-THOMSON
I would not have taken part in this Debate at all were it not for the remarks of the last hon. Member and the hon. Member who preceded him, and I would like to say at once, and I think I can also speak for my hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel Yate) that no such desire for the effective occupation of Persia has ever been expressed by any responsible Member of the Opposition. Some of us may not be quite so hopeful as to the possibilities of the future as the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken, but no one suggests for a moment that at the present time the effective occupation of Persia by British troops would be either desirable or in any way expedient. I am glad that the Foreign Secretary recognises that the present position of affairs is extremely unsatisfactory. We have had British officers and British Consuls and British Vice-Consuls put in positions of the greatest indignity, and British traders have been harassed and the Southern routes closed in some instances for many months. That is obviously a state of affairs which cannot permanently go on. What are you to do? There are three courses to take. May I say that I think the speech of the hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. J. Dillon) was not very helpful. The whole of that speech, as far as I understood it, was devoted to an attack on the Anglo-Russian agreement. That agreement, whatever some of us may have thought of it at the time, is un fait accompli, and you have got to deal with facts as they are. There are only three possible courses. You can either have an effective occupation of Southern Persia, which nobody wants, or you can have an effective reorganisation of the gendarmerie and the maintenance of order by the Persian Government with British help, or you can leave things simply to drift and trust to the establishment of some form of Government in Persia which may be able to exercise effective control. As far as I gathered, that is what the hon. Member for East Mayo would like to see 1522 done. That is not a policy which this House or the Government or this country could possibly consent to. You cannot indulge in a policy of laisser faire unless you take British traders away from Persia, and unless you are going to ask all the Consuls and traders to clear out.
Therefore, I think the only line, unless you are going to be driven into occupation, which at present is unthinkable, and the only hope lies in the effective reorganisation of the gendarmerie. It is extremely desirable that constant and unremitting attention should be given to this subject by the British Government, and that they should lose no opportunity of impressing upon the Persian Government the necessity for making the gendarmerie effective. I have not the slightest thing to say in derogation or in disrespect as to either of the distinguished Swedish officers who are at the head of the reorganisation of the gendarmerie. I believe they are both excellent and admirable officers, and I believe they are accomplishing excellent and admirable work, but, all the same, I cannot help agreeing with my hon. and gallant Friend that the assistance of men who have had practical experience in dealing with Asiatic troops would be a very desirable thing. I do not want the Government to lose sight of that possibility or absolutely to close the door to the lending of British officers or of British non-commissioned officers for the further reorganisation of this force. I hope that the Under-Secretary may be able to give us some further information as to the present difficulty in Bunder Abbas, and whether the recent disturbances of a week ago have been completely got over. It will be remembered that a British survey party was chased into Bunder Abbas, and there was a raid on them. The "Pelorus" landed some men there, and a state of considerable disquiet prevailed in the town. The hon. Gentleman promised when he got further information he would convey it to us, and perhaps it would be convenient for him to do so now. The only other point is as to the loan, which, I understand, is not by the two Governments, but by the British Government. I think £100,000 of that loan is being ear-marked particularly for administrative reforms along the trade routes?
§ Mr. MITCHELL-THOMSON
I am very glad to hear it. I can only hope that 1523 anticipations will be justified. If they are not, we shall be face to face with a very serious position, and I think those hopes are more likely to be justified if the right hon. Gentleman lends an ear to the suggestion that he should not entirely close the door to the employment of British officers in the work of the reorganisation of the gendarmerie, which at present is being carried on by the two Swedish officers.
§ Sir GEORGE SCOTT ROBERTSON
In reference to the remarks of the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Mitchell-Thomson), I think it would be exceedingly unfortunate at the present time to introduce British officers into South Persia with the idea that they should help with the gendarmerie. All that it could possibly lead to would be great rivalry and jealousy between the Swedish and the British officers, and the greatest trouble would inevitably result. I am very sorry indeed to disagree entirely with the hon. Member for Mayo (Mr Dillon) for whom, both for his head and for his heart, I have the greatest respect; but I am convinced that throughout his argument he is quite wrong about Persia, and also about what has been the result of the Anglo-Russian Convention. In my own mind I am sure that that instrument, and that that instrument alone, has preserved the independence of Persia. For 800 miles the Persian Frontier is dominated by Russia. At any moment Russia can close in on either side almost like a pair of scissors. Persia is entirely at Russia's mercy. Russia has not put that pressure on Persia which she might possibly have done in other circumstances, especially, I believe, because she has bound herself by this Treaty not to do so. The advantage which this Treaty has given us during the last few years is, I think, a small triumph of diplomacy. I quite agree with the hon. and gallant Member who opened the Debate as to what would happen if Russia withdrew from the North and we withdrew from the South, and Persia were left to her own devices. You would at once have an invasion such as he suggested, and on the South Frontier you would probably have an invasion, perhaps not at present, but very shortly, of Turks. One of the results of the Balkan War will no doubt be greatly to increase the Turks' power and ambition, which, no longer finding scope in Europe, will be developed 1524 in Asia. You may be quite certain that the Persian Frontier will be in a very dangerous position indeed. That is perhaps the most important point to consider.
I do not agree in the least with the hon. Member in reference to the Medjliss. The Medjliss was quite premature. That is all I say about it. The nation was not prepared for it. It could not be. Look at India. After all these years would we give India a representative institution in any way resembling the Medjliss which was established in Persia? We know that we could not. How can one possibly believe that an institution such as the Medjliss was designed to be could possibly at once take root in a country like Persia? Persia is a very mixed country. The idea that it is one people who claim to be represented is entirely foreign to the fact. In race the Turkish and the Arab portion and the real Persian portion are quite distinct, and they must be treated as such. In the South, for instance, we know that there are practically robber tribes, such as the Bactiari, and so on. How could they possibly be represented effectually, and, at the same time, how could the poor Persian people themselves possibly be protected against them? We know from his book that one of the great difficulties that Mr. Schuster had when the Bactiari came up to help him to send away the ex-Shah was to prevent them from looting the Treasury. Mr. Schuster was a most remarkable man, and he obtained his great power by absolutely unconstitutional methods. He at once put himself in opposition to the Ministers, and relied entirely upon the Medjliss, which had no effective power at all. He himself practically destroyed the authority of the Persian Government. Nevertheless, Mr. Schuster would have done most excellent work if only he could have got the 12,000 gendarmerie that he wanted. He was rapidly approaching the position of a splendid Eastern autocrat. If you trace his career you see that his extraordinary independence, his determination, and his power of accepting responsibility were just those characteristics which we associate with despotic power. From his book alone we know exactly what happened. We know also that at the end it was not Russia that actually discharged Mr. Schuster; it was the Medjliss itself. More than that, his own soldiers, the men who won all his victories for him, deserted him at the last moment.
§ Sir G. SCOTT ROBERTSON
Suppose I say "No." Or suppose I say "Yes." It is of equal value. We do not know. We know what the feeling of the Russians was. They were certainly very hostile to Mr. Schuster, and we know that Mr. Schuster himself excited that hostility. He never even called on any of the Embassies for three months. He detached himself from everything connected with the government of Persia.
I must point out that we are supposed to be criticising what the British Government have done.
§ Sir G. SCOTT ROBERTSON
I admit that I have been led away. I wished to refer especially to the position at Shiraz. I am very much afraid that at Shiraz the experiences that we have had of sending troops into a distant country will be repeated. We have done it many times. Two deadly massacres in Afghanistan do not deter us in the very least. Again we have sent a regiment into South Persia and allowed it to detach itself far from the coast. We hope now, and I think reasonably, that it is not too late to get it away safely. The whole of the gendarmerie are to go down to help it. Our consistency in wrong-doing in certain directions is a very serious matter. At the present moment there are people who want to send a similar force up into Tibet, where it might, at any time, be in a position of very great danger. This is the question I want to ask. It is all very well for our officers or our Consuls to be shot at and wounded, but what is going to happen if a German is shot at and wounded or possibly killed? Who is going to be responsible for that? How are we going to maintain our position if such a catastrophe occurs? That is really the danger we run in South Persia. We are maintaining a position with Russia, and I do not see how under certain circumstances we can hold to that position. There is very great danger indeed. There is one other question which perhaps concerns the bona fides of our Government more than anything else. It is in reference to the position of Salar-ed-Dowleh in the province of Ghilan. It is openly stated that he has been put there entirely by Russian pressure. What is the authority for that? What we know is that a very great friend of his and also of the ex-Shah has been brought back to 1526 a responsible office at Teheran, and the obvious inference is that this is the person responsible for putting Salar-ed-Dowleh, this old rebel prince, in this powerful position. I believe that the appointment has been protested against, and I hope that it will not be maintained. I will say nothing further on the important and interesting question of the Anglo-Russian Convention, except to repeat that I am convinced that it is solely because of that Convention that Persia has been able to maintain her independence. The question is, Will that be sufficient to enable Persia to be independent in the days to come, or will the Convention require to be modified?
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Mr. Acland)
As there are other questions to be raised this evening, I hope the House will allow me to give quite brief answers to the questions which have been asked. First of all, with regard to Bunder Abbas. It is a fact, as I have already indicated, that we have no further information. In this case no news is good news, and I think we have grounds for believing that the improvement in the condition to which I previously referred has been maintained, and that the danger has now ceased. I think when the hon. Member referred to more danger he connected the question of disorder there with the question of whether a regiment should be brought down to Bushire. Bushire is 400 miles away; therefore the two questions are not connected. As to the loan, it is a fact that a separate sum of £100,000, apart altogether from the joint £400,000, is to be advanced for the purpose of protecting the trade routes and for the administration of those routes. We believe that the arrangements, both for that loan and for the £400,000, are practically complete, and that the loan is really on the point of being issued. At any rate, we know of nothing which ought to delay the completion of the arrangements for the loan for anything more than a few days at the most. I do not want on this occasion to add anything to what has been said with regard either to the ex-Shah or to Salar-ed-Dowleh. Statements have been made, and I do not think it necessary to amplify them. As to the Medjliss, our position is that we have matters of greater urgency in Persia than the summoning of the Medjliss. If the Government show a desire again to summon the Medjliss to assist them in their task of restoring order and 1527 establishing a Constitution, they will not receive any sort of discouragement from us in that desire. The leading point in the matter is, as I stated six weeks ago, that, unless you have order, your task will not be helped by the summoning of the Medjliss, and that when you have order established the Medjliss no doubt will be of great assistance in fully establishing constitutional government. As to the policy of withdrawing the regiment from Shiraz, it was definitely stated to us at the time the regiment was sent that there was actual danger to the life of British subjects in the town and suburbs. The regiment was sent in response to representations to that effect; that position being no longer in existence, all our advisers unite in telling us, first of all, that there is not that definite danger to life which existed at the time the regiment was sent, and, secondly, that there is a reasonable prospect that the regiment can be safely withdrawn. Under these circumstances, the necessity for which the regiment was sent no longer existing, and the prospect of its safe withdrawal appearing to be quite favourable—and the position of the regiment at Shiraz having, as already stated, been rather uncomfortable—it seemed to us that the only thing to do was to withdraw the regiment as soon as possible. This accordingly will be done.