§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £38,737, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1915, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Department of His Majesty's Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs." Note.—£30,000 has been voted on account.
EARL of RONALDSHAY
Recent events have once more brought Persia and the adjacent territories into prominence in relation to this country. In view of the speech made by the right hon. Gentleman on the Admiralty contract with the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, I think we are entitled to ask him how we stand in that part of the world, and what is the policy that we at present are pursuing in those regions. I think everybody will always recognise the vital importance to this country, both from a political and a strategical point of view, of the Persian Gulf. I think it has always been recognised that if, for instance, a strong Continental Power were to come down on Mesopotamia or Persia, and establish itself in the neighbourhood of the Persian Gulf, it would constitute a menace on the line of our communication to India and the Far East, and also with Australia and New Zealand. For my part I have always attached the greater importance to 54 our position in the Persian Gulf than even to the question of the Dardanelles. It is quite true that the Dardanelles are on the flank of our line of communications through the Mediterranean, but after all our line of communication through the Mediterranean is not really absolutely essential to us. It would be, I suppose, quite possible, in case of necessity, for us to seal up the Mediterranean; then so long as South Africa remains British the route round the Cape, the line of our communication, would be available. The Persian Gulf, however, is on the flank of both lines of communication, and if. as I have said, any strong Power were to establish itself in the neighbourhood, ii would be a menace to the line of communication between this country and the East, and as such it would, of course he a source of constant and intolerable anxiety. That has always been recognised by everyone who has given any thought whatever to the matter. Whilst that has been recognised, there have always been two schools of thought as to what steps it would be necessary to take in order to preserve our position in that part of the world.
There has been, on the one hand, the school of thought that advocated a "forward policy"; on the other hand, there has been a school of thought that has pursued a policy, described, not always happily, I think, as a policy of "masterly inactivity." The first policy is wholly intelligible. Its advocates have seen Governments or countries like Persia and Turkey wholly unable to resist the policy of peaceful penetration adopted towards them by strong Continental Powers. They have seen these Powers acquiring rights here and concessions there until they have come to occupy positions of paramount influence similar to the position which we now see Russia occupying in Northern Persia. They have come to the conclusion—rightly as it has always seemed to me—that the best way in the long run, and the cheapest way, of preventing these possible hostile agents from penetrating too far towards the Persian Gulf was for us to occupy the ground ourselves by obtaining concessions and strengthening our hands in that quarter, in order that, having interests of our own to protect, we should be in a position to offer a legitimate protest against the encroachment of others. That, as I understand, is the policy known as the policy of the 55 forward school. When the right hon. Gentleman the present Foreign Secretary came to the Foreign Office towards the end of 1905, he very soon showed that that was a policy which did not commend itself to him. The policy of the right hon. Gentleman was the policy of the tortoise. He drew into his shell in the South-Eastern corner of Persia, and the whole burden of his defence, when attacked for accepting so small an area, was that if he did accept a controlling sphere of influence in Persia, he was not in a position to protect interests beyond the frontiers of Sistan and Persian Baluchistan. This is what the right hon. Gentleman had to say with regard to the policy of the forward school, as I have described it, and as to his policy of guarding our interests in the provinces of Persia:—There was a favourable opportunity in 1906 for taking whatever measures we thought necessary by lending money, by obtaining concessions in return for loans in Persia…And the right hon. Gentleman went on to say this:—Now the objection to any policy of that kind is that whatever you gain and whatever you take you have always to push your influence further still to protect what you have recently taken, and while you think all the time you are making yourself safer, you are increasing the burden of your expenditure.That was the right hon. Gentleman's declaration, and he certainly acted up to it. He made what I and a good many others always regarded as an intolerable and very unjustifiable sacrifice in the points which we yielded up in the South of Persia. Previous Foreign Ministers have declared in the most emphatic terms that our position in the South of Persia was one which could not and would not in any circumstances be given up. The right hon. Gentleman swept aside all these declarations, and he admitted for the first time in our history, not merely in a public speech, but in the formal text of a State document, the right of another Power to a position of equality with ourselves in the whole of the provinces of Southern Persia west of Bundar Abbas. That was the right hon. Gentleman's policy. That, at all events, was perfectly clear; there was no ambiguity of any kind about it, and it certainly was the very negation of the forward policy; but, Sir, what do we see now? We see the right hon. Gentleman coming forward now and in the most casual way investing the sum of £2,000,000 sterling of public money within the very zone from which the right hon. Gentleman himself retreated in his 56 agreement with Russia in 1907. My hon. Friend the Member for West Stafford the other day metaphorically wiped his eyes with astonishment on hearing the right hon. Gentleman deal with this matter. The right hon. Gentleman treated it, as I say, in the most careless fashion, and suggested that the protection of these interests was really a matter of secondary importance, and he said that if the worst came to the worst it would be a mere matter of sending a couple of brigades, and that the whole thing is a matter of very little importance. That is all very well, but what becomes of the right hon. Gentleman's argument which he addressed to the Committee with great gravity and solemnity in 1908 when defending the Anglo-Russian Agreement with regard to Persia? I wish the right hon. Gentleman would read the speech he made on that occasion, together with the speech which he made on the occasion of the Anglo-Persian oil contract, and see whether he can reconcile the position he took up in those two speeches. They seem to me to be wholly irreconcilable. Do not let us minimise what the Government really did.
The investment of £2,000,000 in a foreign country is, I think, wholly without precedent. Certainly the case of purchase of shares in the Suez Canal was in no way analogous to the investment of British capital in a country like Persia. I do not think that the loans which the right hon. Gentleman has been making from time to time to the Persian Government, which aggregate between £400,000 and £500,000, are at all analogous to the case of investing money in foreign countries. So far as I know, there is no precedent for that. When the right hon. Gentleman was addressing the House upon the subject the other day it struck me that there might be an explanation of the course which he has taken, and indeed it has been suggested, that there is an explanation, and the explanation suggested is that the Foreign Secretary is not wholly responsible for this procedure, but that the First Lord of the Admiralty is responsible. This venture in oil, it is said, is the child of the genius of the First Lord of the Admiralty and not of the Foreign Secretary. That may be so and it may not. For my part, I do not think that that really is the accurate interpretation of the situation. There is a good deal of evidence to show that the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary has been steadily coming round to the view in the past two years, held by those 57 who advocated what is known as the forward policy. He has, for instance, in the past three years been negotiating with Turkey with a view to establishing British interests at the head of the Persian Gulf. The Bagdad Railway, for instance, as he told us last year, is not to be allowed to proceed south of Bussaro. Then again a company, predominantly British, is to be established for the purpose of the navigation of the Tigris and Shat-et-Arab area, and incidentally I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he is in a position this afternoon to add more to the information he gave me this time last year with regard to the negotiations in connection with these matters. Probably when he comes to reply he will be able to tell us a little more fully than last year what are the full facts of the negotiations which I understand are concluded or practically concluded between himself, the Turkish Government and the German Government in connection with all these matters. Then again the right hon. Gentleman has been asking for a concession for a railway up the Karun Valley. I merely adduce these examples as to the more recent policy of the right hon. Gentleman, because they do seem to me to show that the right hon. Gentleman is not equally so adverse to-day to seeking to strengthen our position in Southern Persia by these concessions as he was in 1907, and I think we are entitled therefore to ask him what is the cause of this change of view. Three years ago the right hon. Gentleman contracted a new agreement with the Japanese Government, and under the terms of that agreement, we are entitled, as I read the agreement, to call upon Japan to come to our assistance in certain eventualities, one of them being described in the text of the agreement in the words:—In the event of any attack being made upon the special interests of our country in the regions of India.Those are the words made use of in the Treaty. The words are rather vague, but I suppose that the Admiralty oil works in Persia would certainly come under the term, "Special interests in the regions of India." I presume if any attack is made on the Admiralty oil works in Persia we shall be entitled to call upon Japan to assist us in protecting them. That is of importance, in view of the fact that the hon. Member for West Staffordshire (Mr. 58 Lloyd) a few days ago seemed to be rather unwilling to admit our ability to protect our interests in that part of the world.
There is a considerable difference between our ability and the Government's willingness to defend our interests there.
EARL of RONALDSHAY
If the hon. Member was only throwing doubt upon the Government's willingness, that is an entirely different matter. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be able to tell us what are the causes which have induced him, clearly as I think, to change his views with regard to our policy in that part of the world. Advocate of a forward policy as I am, it did come as a considerable surprise to me that a Member of this Government should come forward with a policy of investing public money in a country like Persia. I do not believe that even the wildest jingoes amongst the ranks of the forward school ever in their wildest dreams imagined that the Government would sink public money in the soil of Persia. The right hon. Gentleman seems to be out-Heroding Herod. I am tempted to ask if the right hon. Gentleman is among the jingoes. I can almost see the right hon. Gentleman getting up in his place and shouting:—We don't want to fight, but by jingo if we doWe've got the ships, we've got the men, andWe've got the money too.If a little of that spirit does animate the right hon. Gentleman, I wish to raise no objection to it, but on the contrary I congratulate him upon it. I believe it is desirable that we should state more explicitly that we have our interests in that part of the world, and that having those interests we are at all costs prepared to defend them. I do not believe that would be an aggressive policy. You are less likely to invite aggression if you make it clear that you are going to defend your interests and not leave it in doubt, and allow people to say, "they acquired an interest in Persia, but if they were attacked we need not expect any very serious defence of those interests from them." I do not want to attack the right hon. Gentleman in his more recent policy in this part of the world, because I think it is a right policy. As it happened I was myself present at Kasr-i-Shirin in the year 1903, when the first experiment was being made under the terms of that oil concession, and while it is quite true that at the time I pointed out the risk in developing 59 the concession there owing to its proximity to the Turko-Persian frontier, I agree with the policy which obtained that concession. When I was at Bagdad during the early stages of the Bagdad railway concession I urged most strongly the desirability of entering into negotiations with Germany with a view to coming to some arrangement with Germany under which the Southern section of that line, if it was constructed at all, should be constructed under British control. Therefore the policy of the right hon. Gentleman in more recent years has my hearty support. What I am asking for this afternoon is whether he will give us in the first place, a little more information than he has been able to give us in the past as to the provisions of his recently signed Treaty with Turkey, and his understanding with Germany about our position in the Persian Gulf. Secondly, I ask the right hon. Gentleman to say whether I have interpreted correctly the provisions of the Treaty which he made with Japan three years ago. And lastly, will he make it quite clear that having built up and acquired these really very important interests in the South of Persia and Mesopotamia, he is prepared at all costs to defend them.
§ Mr. NOEL BUXTON
It is pleasant in times of considerable international difficulties in many parts of the world to congratulate the Foreign Secretary to-day upon the fact that the matters which are likely to be raised are not questions of haute politique at all, but they are comparatively minor questions not involving matters of great danger. I should like to congratulate my right hon. Friend on the situation in respect to the Balkans, and the progress made in regard to the Bagdad Railway. Foreign countries are occupied with the question of the unallotted land of the world; of decrepit countries whose fate remains unsettled, and that moment when the decrepit countries come to be dealt with is bound to be most dangerous. This question is one which affects the relations of this country and the German Empire, because we are the countries most concerned with the open door. It is a matter of congratulation that there should be good relations with Germany at the very moment when the decadent countries of the old world are the subject of anxiety. History will certainly note that when the remaining Moslem States of Morocco and 60 Persia and Turkey came up for consideration the cool hand of the Foreign Secretary was at the helm.
The most dangerous of those questions are those arising in the decrepit States of the old world much more than of the new world. The Moslem countries are naturally of interest to everybody, and I am sure everyone would like to see those countries prosperous. I should like to see not only Persia, but also Turkey governing a homogeneous country composed of. co-nationals of their own, and from that point of view the world has made progress in the last two years, because Turkey has experienced what Lord Beaconsfield called consolidation, and is in a happier position strategically than when she was attempting to govern European Provinces almost entirely composed of alien people. The Morocco difficulty is happily passed, but we cannot forget that it was a mauvais quart d'heure when the Morocco question came to be finally settled. Persia has come suddenly on the stage in a much more vivid light than before, and we have a sensational phenomenon in the change of attitude of the "Times" newspaper on the Persian question. But whatever the "Times" may say, we must suppose that the strategic dangers and arguments have been very fully considered. A point which, in my humble judgment, has never been fully considered, is that of the interests of the Persian State and polity itself. If that is forgotten we must largely despair of any progress being made by such people as the Persians.
This House is fortunate in having many Members who have a personal acquaintance with Persia, and no doubt some despair is very natural. I think all will admit that the melancholy privilege of bringing her own life to an end has not been accorded to Persia. Outside factors have exercised very large influence in the present unfortunate denouement in Persia. There has been an improved state of relations between the great Powers and with Germany—it was our relations with Germany which perhaps affected my right hon. Friend's view of the Persian question at a critical moment—and in view of this is it not possible that those improved relations make it possible that a new diplomatic attitude altogether may be adopted towards Persia, and that something on the lines of our attitude towards Afghanistan may be adopted, and probably a diplomatic mission, resembling that of Sir Stratford de Red- 61 cliffe, may come to be worth attempting for the revival of some kind of Persian policy, and possibly the removal of the capital from the Russian sphere? Is it not even possible that German co-operation may come to be a very natural thing in regard to Persia, because Germany is the national ally of the policy of the open-door, and the Germans, as all of us who have been in Persia know, have large and increased commercial interests in Persia?
I would like to say a word or two now upon a nearer quarter of the Near East, in regard to the trouble arising in the Balkans. We have been troubled with innumerable questions upon the position of religious communities in the Balkan States. The great feature of life in the Balkans is the fanatical degree to which national emotions arise in that ill-fated part of the world. There is the greatest doubt in regard to the present situation in the Balkans as to whether the fruits of war have been good or bad, but in respect of fundamental human rights and commercial prosperity there is all the difference in the world between the future and the past. It is a temporary evil that the position of the population in the newly acquired districts is one of great difficulty. The minorities are migrating, and that migration is inevitably a painful process. It may be more or less painful according to the feeling prevailing between the Balkan States. It may be a matter for blame and regret that the Balkan Governments are harsh and unsympathetic, but it is not for the great Powers or their subjects to apportion blame when the position of things in the Balkans is so largely the result of the conduct in the past of the great Powers themselves.
There are innumerable difficulties facing the Governments of the Balkan States in according gentle treatment to those minorities. This terrible event we hear to-day recalls what has been the fate of part of the Balkans—an occupation by an Imperial Power, not an autonomous Power at all, and that was the destiny generally expected for the western half of the Balkans. We have seen instead of that an autonomous solution of the Balkan question. Some think that these autonomous States are less civilised and hardly fit for autonomous Government, and that the whole thing is regrettable. Do not let us forget that Austria, with all the modern resources of the civilised, and with a brilliant administrator like Kallay, who was justly praised, adopted the same 62 harsh treatment of minorities. There is no freedom to open schools or practise nationalistic feeling on the part of the minority in Bosnia. There never has been and there is not now, and the Austrian treatment of those minorities has been very like the treatment now being accorded to the minority in Bulgaria, Roumania, Greece, and Servia. I wish to urge that progress has been very great, and that we should not despair, but in this minor matter of the treatment of minorities it is the duty of the Great Powers, if they can, to do something to mitigate the sufferings necessarily entailed in the exchange of populations. My right hon. Friend has, of course—it is no compliment to say so—an unrivalled influence in this matter, and particularly with those Powers, and I would like to thank him very much for what he has said in regard to the recognition of the recent annexations. He has said that the annexations will not be recognised until assurances have been given as to the treatment of minorities. It is very easy for Governments to give these assurances. They may be worth no more than the paper on which they are written, but I hope and feel confident that he will wait until he receives a Report from His Majesty's Consuls that those assurances have been made good before he does afford recognition of the new frontier.
There is another thing I would like to urge him to do. The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Walter Guinness) made a suggestion a few days ago that a Commission representing the Great Powers should be set up to inquire into the treatment of minorities, as a small Commission has been set up to inquire into the treatment of the Greeks in Western Anatolia. I would ask my right hon. Friend to consider whether that might not be done on the European side too. If he should find that is not a feasible thing, it would have great moral effect if he would urge on the Balkan Governments themselves that they should hold a conference upon this question as to whether there might not be some further rights accorded to minorities by mutual consent, and as to whether a man, or a family, who wishes to migrate might not be assisted by a regular system of compensation for the property he leaves behind and is obliged to abandon—whether he might not be assisted in migrating, without misery and penury, to his own country. I venture to think that my right hon. Friend 63 might enormously relieve some of the human suffering in that part of the world without the expenditure of very great trouble to himself, because of the extraordinary influence—which he himself naturally underrates—he has with the ruling men in that part of the world. If it is answered that a criticism of that kind would be hostile and unpleasant, I would say that he has already very severely criticised them, and I do not know that this would be criticising them any more. It is not hostile criticism to do this kind of thing. You see now in Servia perhaps the most maleficent State in this respect but Mr. Passich, the greatest figure in Servian politics, is endeavouring to secure better treatment for the minorities in Servia, and it would enormously strengthen his hands if some expression of opinion, whether public or not, were made by my right hon. Friend in that respect.
The Armenian question is one of much more real first-class policy than this matter of the treatment of minorities in the Balkans. The evils of 1878 are still unsolved in regard to Asiatic Turkey in respect of the Armenians, and it will be gratifying to know if the Foreign Secretary can say where we stand in regard to our relation with Turkey, in connection with which so many interests arise, some purely commercial, some strategic, and some nominally humane, though rarely disconnected from material and political interests as well. Since the Turks recovered Adrianople, of course, it must have been a difficult question to decide whether we should back Turkey, or pose as a good friend of Turkey, or whether we should run the risks of another Power or other Powers posing to the Turks as a greater friend, and getting advantages to our disadvantage. Everyone knows that we have to consider the Bagdad Railway question, and questions which affect our relations with Germany and with Russia, and naturally the view of the India Office about opinion in India has to be considered, but there is a large feeling in this country that the enormous responsibility we have incurred, affecting the condition of the subject population of Turkey, cannot be left out of account, and that our duty, if you like to call it a duty, cannot be ignored in this matter. Whether we think of Canning, or Salisbury, or Gladstone, it is no party issue to interest ourselves in the matter. It is the tradition of both parties. We have for about 120 years, sometimes actively and 64 sometimes negligently, put second the interests of the subject population, particularly of the Armenians.
Our relations with Russia in the seventies made it impossible to allow their liberation, and now everyone recognises that the Balkan War produces a moment when something might be done for the Armenians. Much less could be done after the Turks had recovered themselves to some extent, but it is very happy that the British Government has supported a scheme of reform. We are still in the dark as to what that scheme is. My right hon. Friend the other day, in reply to a question, said that the Armenian Reform scheme was elaborated by the Ambassadors. It certainly would be natural if we and subjects of the other Great Powers were able to know what are the provisions of a scheme which was elaborated by the Ambassadors, but we do not know, and I hope that perhaps to-day we may hear something more about it. There is a feeling on this subject. There are more Liberals perhaps than the Foreign Secretary thinks who are great admirers of the traditions not only of Gladstone but also of Russell, and many Conservatives who are admirers of Canning, and who do think that this kind of question is a subject not only for correct attitude, but for a warm interest, and for the keen throwing of influence upon one side or the other.
There was the other day a very interesting article published by the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds about the condition of Armenia, and he gave some facts which throw a great light on this reform scheme. He described the lawless Kurds, and how it was apparently absurd to suppose that the Turks could do very much with them. I myself the other day met a Russian Consul there who had rescued a man in a carriage who had been subjected to brigandage by some Kurds. He ordered his men to seize these Kurds, but the man in the carriage objected and said, "You must not interfere with the Kurds." He was a Turkish sub-governor himself, yet he thought it an intolerable thing that the Russian Consul should object to a party of wild Kurds robbing the Turkish Prefect himself. Such is the Gilbert and Sullivan state of things in that part of the world. It is not to be supposed that the mere setting up of Commissioners to advise the Turkish Government will do very much. It wants a force with money behind it, and with experience in govern- 65 ing wild countries. It wanted all the wealth and resources of Austria to govern Bosnia; and, though we may hope and pray for success, it is extremely unlikely that this scheme will give any security to the Armenian population in the near future. We may wish it well, but
May I, in conclusion, just recall these facts? The break up of Turkey—their state financially and morally—is possibly not very far off. The Syrian movement is very strong. All this time you have Russia virtually entrenched in North-Western Persia, in Azerbaijan. We used to think it was an intolerable thing to think of abandoning any part of Turkey to Russian influence, because of our need of a friend in case of possible trouble with Russia, but Russia has now turned the flank of that position altogether, and that argument against the further influence of Russia is a thing of the past. We have apparently decided to help Turkey by giving assistance to great armament firms to get concessions of enormous importance, political importance, in Turkey. It is surely a matter for very great doubt whether this is a time to do anything active to prolong the life and prestige of the Turkish Empire. If this scheme fails to produce early results and really essential results, opinion will turn very quickly towards giving a free hand to other Powers. By all means let us give this reform every help, because it is much better if reform can be carried out by the Concert of Europe, but, if the Concert is not in a position to effect reforms, then there will be a feeling to let other Powers which are nearer the scene have a free hand to penetrate, and, if they had a free hand there, commercial and political penetration would very soon bring into those wild parts much more order than there is now. If the scheme does not succeed, it is to that solution opinion will very soon turn.
Sir MARK SYKES
It is very difficult, in dealing with the question of the Persian Gulf, to keep strictly within the limits of order, because when one tries to go over the situation he touches the Admiralty on one side and the India Office on the other, and he cannot but feel that the Colonial Office is somewhere in the offing. It is also very difficult to discuss foreign affairs freely when our home affairs are in such particularly evil plight. I do not go into any detail on that matter, but our situation, which was once the envy of the world, is now its amazement. It is 66 naturally a cause of rejoicing to our enemies and of despair to our friends. If one thinks of the position Lord Palmerston held in Europe, a position which the right hon. Gentleman held until a short time ago, it is difficult not to come to the conclusion that if we go on at the rate we are going on the right hon. Gentleman and his office will be very like a phonograph standing on a dead man's coffin, and it is only on the hypothesis that we compose our affairs that it is worth while discussing what we are going to do abroad. With regard to the Persian question and the subject of the Persian Gulf, there is no necessity to criticise what has happened with respect to the oil concession. That is gone by, with, I think, only eighteen dissentients, and now we are up against it. We need not go into the previous merits of the case. We are facing now a new situation on the Persian Gulf.
It has always been the habit of those who take an interest in foreign affairs to look very solemn, and pull very long faces, and say the Persian Gulf is of great importance, but invariably, in practice, our policy seems to have been somewhat nebulous. As a standing example of our nebulous policy, take the Anglo-Russian Agreement. If that was to do anything, it was to guarantee the integrity of Persia, it was to confine Great Britain and Russia to two definite spheres which they were not to leave on any pretext, or hardly any pretext, and it was to provide a neutral buffer to keep them apart. The Oil Concession, made before the agreement, and the Railway Concession made after the agreement both run athwart all three spheres, while as to the neutral zone, apparently the troops both of Russia and Great Britain have been in it. Now we have to face a new situation, and that is that a portion of a supply vital to this country exists in these regions not actually in the Russian sphere, but in the neutral zone and the British sphere. It is necessary, therefore, that we should have a Persian Gulf policy. I think it was the Duke of Wellington who said that a victory in Asia was always an awkward thing, because you never knew where it was going to lead you, and similarly a retreat may in this case be said to be equally awkward. If we go there, we must stop.
The real dangers and difficulties seem to sum themselves up in three forms: Firstly, that there may be internal troubles where our oil supply is, in which 67 case inevitably we have to have occupation, and if we have occupation, there is the possible hypothesis, which the hon. Member who last spoke looked forward to with great satisfaction, of a complete break-up of the Ottoman Empire. I do not know if it will be very satisfactory to him to know that that will provide us with a German frontier in Mesopotamia. But, on the other hand, we have the possible hypothesis of a break-up of Persia, which would give us a Russian frontier. Great Britain will then be like a stranded whale on a mud bank, with a river hippopotamus on one side and a rhinoceros charging down from the hills straight in front. It may be satisfactory to the hon. Member that our relations with both the animals are cordial, and that neither of them is carniverous, but at the same time one feels that the situation of the whale is not all that one could wish. It is to the question how such a situation can be averted that one should devote one's attention. With regard to the Ottoman Empire, I will not embark on the whole question of spheres of influence. It must be to our interest to maintain the integrity of that Empire as long as possible, and if we are going to interest ourselves in reforms in the Ottoman Empire it should be in the reforms in the provinces of Mossul and Bagdad, through which the railway is going. These two provinces, through no fault of the Ottoman Empire, but through financial exhaustion, seem to be slipping back into the state of anarchy from which they emerged for a period of twenty-five years, and anything we can do to assist the Turkish Government in keeping these provinces sound and well ordered will naturally be our beat policy.
With regard to Persia, the difficulty becomes very complicated. If we want to avoid internal disorder in Persia, and yet maintain the integrity of the Persian Empire, the one thing contradicts the other. If you have disorder, you bring in troops and special gendarmerie to suppress it, and you take away the power of the central Persian Government, while, if you let matters slide, Persian poverty and incompetence are a premium on disorder, and that makes a very difficult proposition indeed. There are certain things we can avoid. We can at least maintain our own prestige, and need not embark on such adventures as sending a Cavalry regiment to Shiraz, a force which had to be 68 escorted to the coast by Swedes and Persians. We should also do well to avoid raising independent local forces under British officers. I think it was suggested in the last Debate that local forces should be raised, and English officers put in command; but, if you do that, on the other side of the border you will get local forces with Russian officers, and you will have the very Russian frontier troubles which you wish to avoid. The other thing we wish to avoid is underestimating any possible difficulty. The right hon. Gentleman spoke lightly of using two Brigades. He may have very excellent military advice, but surely one Division sounds nearer the mark, and, if it is a question of two Brigades or one Division, that number of troops must be added to the present Indian garrison, because the Indian garrison has not hitherto been based on the hypothesis of sending such a force out of India.
Lastly, the root of the whole of our Persian policy seems to me to lie in the question as to how the concession is worked. We are now the predominant partner in a very large concession. The First Lord of the Admiralty has said that roads and police will be a premium on order in that part of the world. But it is not only a question of roads and police. If the unrest is not merely due to the childish nature of a simple people, but has also added to it a sense of economic injustice, then roads and police will not do at all. You have the same sort of troubles in the Caucasus, in Mexico, and in Turkey. It arises not from anything in the people themselves, but from the way in which they are exploited by European concessionaires, who give bribes to a corrupt Government and then proceed to exploit the people. The result is you have corruption, the uneconomic working of the concession, and a condition of unrest, anarchy, and revolution. If anybody will compare the condition of those countries where concessions are ill-worked and the countries where there is a strong Government watching the concessionaires—as in Egypt and Nigeria—I think the two pictures make a very striking contrast. As far as one knows, the Anglo-Persian Oil Company is worked on model lines and is above any reproach of that kind, but as we are the predominant partners it is our business as a nation to a see that these model lines are continued. In the development of Persia a close watch must be kept upon child labour, female labour, 69 wages, and other things, and even in the zones where Great Britain is predominant the question of drugs and drinks which Europeans import and with which they debauch the people must be watched. Moreover, as we are going into this matter it is our duty to keep an eye on other concessionaires and see that they do not exploit the people, and also that—in this instance I believe it has been provided for—the local native communities get a fair share of such profits as they may be entitled to. If we follow such a policy as that, personally I believe that in the neutral and British zones we shall do much to induce an indigenous native civilisation which, no matter what happens, may either become a regenerate Persia or may be the basis of a native State capable of supporting itself forty or fifty years hence—as Holland and Denmark have done.
§ Sir G. SCOTT ROBERTSON
We have just listened to a very interesting speech, with a great part of which I am pretty sure most Members of this House will cordially agree. I propose to take up the attention of the House for a short time with a view to asking questions of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. But reverting for a moment to the Persian oil concession, my principal object in asking about that is to get a reply to a question which I am not sure the Secretary of State can give me. It is a question relating to the defence, if necessary, of the territory in which we have now secured so great an interest, and I particularly want to know if, under any circumstances, the charge for defending these territories, should occasion arise, is to be borne by the Indian taxpayer. I think this question is important because, unless I get some answer to the effect that the Indian taxpayer is not to be looked to to discharge the Bill, the criticism in India will be as severe as I myself think it is just. The Noble Lord who began this Debate, referring to our participation in this Anglo-Persian Oil Company, seemed to infer that it was entirely or mainly in the South-West portion of Persia. Of course we hope and believe that, in the future, it is in our own particular territory and our own particular concession that the great find will be made, but the whole question of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company raises a very interesting question. First of all, I think we all agree that, provided the place can be adequately and properly defended without charge to the Indian taxpayer, the 70 policy is a good and sound one. We should, perhaps, like to see it extended even further, so as to place the Admiralty in a position of greater independence when having to deal with contractors generally. But, apart from that, I think it is interesting also because we must necessarily go on, I trust, with our own railway concession—from Mohamera to Kharremabad. I should like to know from the Secretary of State what position that proposition is in at the present time, if it is any more hopeful than it was a short time ago, if the country is quieter, and what are the general hopes we may have on that point. I should also like to know—but I think, perhaps, that was answered in the questions to-day—about the particular oil concessions in the Chiasurkh district, and what relation, if any, the Anglo-Persian Company has with the Turkish Petroleum Company. It was answered to-day rather shortly in reply to a question, and perhaps some small amplification of that would be very convenient. I understand that the Porte has given a verbal promise, at any rate, that a lease shall be granted to a certain company, and we want to know very much whether we are involved through our relations with the Anglo-Persian Oil Company in any concessions that may be given.
It may be convenient here to make a remark or two upon the position of railways generally in Persia. I think, shortly, it may be said that the trade of India and the trade of Great Britain require north and south railways in Persia—certainly without any break of gauge—or it would involve greater expense in handling and be a hardship on importers generally. And then I think that Indian policy and Indian finance require that we should have no Trans-Persian Railway at all in the British concession of Persia, otherwise, as I think was mentioned by an hon. Member opposite, there must be necessarily a very great increase in the military expenditure in India, other and increased forces must be maintained, and the added expense in the Military Estimates will fall very heavily upon India. Now I should like to ask the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs about the position of Azerbaijan. We hear, and I dare say my right hon. Friend will affirm or deny it, that Russia already has practical control and possession of at least one-third of the whole province, and also that Russia is extending her activities from Azerbaijan to Ispahan, that Russia 71 is protecting many merchants and mullahs in that city, and increasing her influence in this way very greatly. I should like to know in connection with this, and with the oilfields and the general policy if it is the determination of His Majesty's Government to adhere strictly to the Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907, or if there is any idea of altering it or changing it in any way?
The only other special point I should like to ask the Secretary of State about is the desperate position of Persia at the present moment in relation to finance, and what, in his opinion, is going to happen? The Imperial Bank of Persia has refused for the present to cash any more Government drafts, the gendarmerie are only partially paid to May, and seemingly they will not be paid at all very shortly. What does the Government propose to do? Is a fresh loan to be given jointly or singly to the Persian Government; and, if not, how is it possible for them to keep out of their grave difficulties? Supposing the gendarmerie are not paid, of course they will be entirely useless, and then the question undoubtedly will arise whether it will be expedient to organise local military organisations under the command of either Persian or British officers. The difficulty, of course, surrounding officering by British officers has been very well put by the last speaker. If we try to officer these organisations by British officers, it would be very hard too persuade the Russians not to do the same in their own sphere of influence. These are the more important questions, and especially urgent, I think, at the present moment, is the desperate position of Persia, the chaotic state into which it has fallen, and the extreme difficulties it is undergoing for want of money. The Coronation of the new Shah is coming on very shortly, and where the funds are to be obtained to meet all the expenses of the ceremony which will take place then, I cannot imagine. If the Secretary of State has any information to give concerning the Medjliss, the number of members already elected—if there are any elected at all, except, perhaps, to the district of Teheran—I should be very glad if he would let me have that information; and, in conclusion, if he would give us any comprehensive news about Persia itself, its prospects in the near future, how it possibly is to get on, I should be very grateful.
§ Mr. BAIRD
The subject to which the hon. Member who has just sat down has alluded—our position in Persia—is obviously a very difficult one and exceedingly important, and I cannot help thinking that the Conference which is now taking place at the Foreign Office, as I understand, in regard to the New Hebrides, and the fact that that Conference is taking place, offers the hope that, now that we are on good terms with the French and with the Russians, instead of bickering as we used in the past, we shall meet together and endeavour to adjust matters. I am bound to say I do not see much prospect of the Anglo-Russian entente doing any useful work so far as Persia is concerned, but, after all, that is only a portion of the territory to which the entente applies. Nobody is more in favour of the entente than I am, and if as regards one corner of the world it does not happen to work very well, that is no reason for condemning it, but it is rather a reason for endeavouring to readjust it. That is precisely what is taking place—I hope in a most friendly way—with the French with regard to the New Hebrides, because, although not a very large question, it is one that excites a great deal of confusion among a good number of people, and there are legitimate grievances which must be settled one way or the other. The same applies with regard to Persia. I have not the slightest doubt that when the right hon. Gentleman discusses the Persian situation with representatives of the Russian Government here they see eye-to-eye on all points, but if you happen to be travelling in Persia and you find what is the attitude of the subordinate officials of the Russian Government, I do not see it is possible to square their conduct with the conduct of the official representatives of Russia in this country or in Europe. That is an inherent difficulty in all countries of that kind. It certainly was the case when we became on good terms with the French. Long after we were on the best of terms here and in Paris the subordinate officials in far-off countries continued to bicker as they had been accustomed to in the past.
The conditions in Persia are not satisfactory either from the Persian point of view or from the point of view of our own prestige, because when you say to the Persian, "You are better off than you would otherwise be, because you would undoubtedly have been swallowed up by Russia if there had not been an entente," 73 the Persian always replies, "What is there in Northern Persia that is not Russian?" That is an exaggeration. It is not a Russian colony, but I defy anybody to justify, from the point of view of keeping order in Persia, the excessive number of Russian troops which are at present quartered in that country, and I do not see any reason for not being perfectly frank about it. It is a question which we ought to be able to settle with Russia perfectly easily, but it is useless going on pretending black is white and white is black and in not being perfectly frank. The idea that Persian independence has been secured by the entente so far as Northern Persia is concerned has not worked out in practice, and I do hope that it will be possible to revise the understanding—indeed, our commitments in the Gulf will force us to do something of the kind—and that, as there is no earthly reason why a successful understanding should not be arrived at, we should not arrive at it.
Two things in particular are very grave at the present time. One is the wholesale admission into the ranks of Russian-protected subjects, possibly for whom there is no justification whatever, with the result that they escape the payment of taxation. They do not consider themselves amenable to the ordinary law of the country, and their houses form a refuge for any kind of villain who may desire to seek refuge. That is a very undesirable state of affairs. There may be reasons why protection should be accorded to Persian subjects by foreign countries, but to do it on a wholesale scale of that sort is certainly not to the advantage of Persia, and makes it all the more difficult for the Persian Government to carry on the government itself. There is another important question—I fancy I am touching on a good many topics which the right hon. Gentleman will find it difficult from his position to deal with—but, still, I see no reason why one should not address himself to it. Another source of grievance against the Russians is this: The Russian Bank, as is well known there, is advancing money on the land of Persia, and eventually will have to foreclose, with the result that large strips of Persian territory will be owned by this Russian national concern. This is an undesirable state of affairs if the entente is really to be carried into effect, and there is to be the same degree of Persian autonomy and in- 74 dependence in the Northern sphere as we accord in the Southern sphere. These are the facts, and I think they justify the view which I put forward, that it is time that the whole of this entente, so far as it relates to Persia, should be revised. All the more is it necessary because of our commitments in the Anglo-Persian Oil Company.
I do not share the discontent which some of my hon. Friends have expressed with regard to our embarking upon that enterprise. I think, on the contrary, there are many reasons which make it exceedingly desirable that we should embark upon it. First of all, what are the additional obligations which we incur? I can see none. We are on good terms with the people in whose country the oilfields exist. Indeed, they are large shareholders. The Bakhtiari chiefs are large shareholders in the Anglo-Persian oil concern, and it is to their interest, and they know it perfectly well, that the oilfields should be kept open. There is very little danger from the point of view of the natives. There is this further feeling, that it is very important in a concern such as this to keep close watch on the manner in which the business is carried on. Nothing, as anyone who has been there can testify, can be more admirable than the relations which have been built up by the officials of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company with the whole of the surrounding-country. Their doctor is a more famous man in that part of the world than any other living man, and a letter of recommendation from the Anglo-Persian Oil Company would be more useful to anyone who intended to go to Ispahan than from anyone else. Their position is perfectly admirable in the country. So much for that side of the question. There might be trouble' with Russia, but it is our business to keep on good terms with Russia. It is our business, not in the sense of grovelling to Russia, or to anyone else; but to be so strong that we shall be able to maintain an equal intercourse with all the Great Powers, and more especially with the Great Powers which constitute the group with which we are accustomed to act. I do not see that there is any more or any less inducement to keep on good terms with Russia in consequence of this Anglo-Persian deal than there was before.
Then there is the question of getting the oil to this country. I pass over the question whether we want oil or not. 75 Surely we can allow the Admiralty to settle that. If the Admiralty say they want oil, and the oil is of a suitable quality, he will be a very unpatriotic man who will say that they are not to have the oil, because after all in the last resort it is on the Admiralty that we depend to fight our ships and to protect our lives. That part of the question I do not think there is any doubt about. There is the question of getting the oil here. What is the additional obligation imposed thereby? Surely none whatever. The route would be round the Cape and home by the Coast of Africa. If we are not in a position to keep that part of the sea open, it is no use talking about oil or the Empire or anything else, because the game is up. So on several grounds I welcome this understanding with the Anglo-Persian Company, and I welcome it on the further ground that it may bring home to those people who are alarmed the fact that you cannot run an Empire without incurring a certain amount of obligation, and a certain amount of risk. We have been trying on a good many occasions to travel first-class with a third-class ticket. You cannot do that without getting found out sooner or later, and the sooner the country realises that it has a first-class show to run and has to pay a first-class price to do it the more secure we shall be, and the better chance there is for the right hon. Gentleman, or whoever occupies his position, to carry on a really Imperial and dignified policy.
I come to another question in this region about which I am afraid the right hon. Gentleman will not be able to give a satisfactory answer—indeed, there are very few things about which he can give a satisfactory answer—that is in connection with our position in Mesopotamia. From a statement he made only a short time ago it appears that he does not think he will be in a position to publish the agreements which have been reached. That cannot prevent people being extremely nervous as to the nature of those agreements, because so far as they are known by the public, as regards their effect on our position in Mesopotamia, it appears that, having renounced any right to participate in the stretch of the Bagdad Railway which runs from Bagdad to Bussora, we are hopeful of counterbalancing the effect of that railway by developing the navigation of the Tigris. I cannot help thinking that will be very 76 difficult. What is the position? You have 500 miles of river, which is very difficult to navigate, competing against 350 miles of very easily laid railway, and it should not be forgotten that this railway is to be subsidised—at least there is nothing in the concession that I am aware of which makes any difference as regards subsidy between that section and the other section of the railway to the extent of over £600 a kilometre. Further, the river can hardly be used between the middle of June and the middle of January, the very months when there is the greatest amount of export. The wool crop is on the market in May and the grain crop is ripe in June, and obviously if the railway is built it will have the enormous advantage of being able to transport down to the coast both those crops before it is possible to use the river at all.
Then there is another question—I understand that no one makes any secret of it out there—that the principle source of profit to the steamship company is the passenger trade, consisting largely of pilgrims, who are taken, both dead and alive, to the sacred shrines—80,000 alive, and I do not know how many dead. At any rate, large numbers of them go every year, and I believe it is on the transport of these people that the steamship company makes a great part of their profit. That will all go to the railway company. Then there is the question of the inherent difficulties of navigation. You cannot have barges drawing more than 2 ft. 6 ins. on which you can load 200 tons. You cannot run at night, and the experience of many people is that you spend as much time sticking on the mud and trying to get off and consequently steaming, all of which costs money, as you do in getting along the river. If it is suggested that it would be possible to improve the navigation by dredging and so on, I am afraid the right hon. Gentleman will find that a considerable section of the commercial community in Bagdad do not believe very much in the possibility of getting an adequate return on the very heavy expenditure which would be necessary if the river trade is seriously taken up, owing to the fact that the sand banks are for ever shifting, and to make a long story short, there is not the slightest doubt that last autumn the whole of the British commercial community at Bagdad could not believe that we had abandoned the idea of participating predominantly, or at any rate largely, in the last section of the 77 Bagdad Railway, and they certainly would not believe that we contemplated being able satisfactorily to safeguard our interests by relying on the navigation of the Tigris. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be able to say something on the subject, although I do not expect he will, because the agreements, as he says, are in process of being framed, and consequently he will not be in a position to say much on the subject at present. I think it is well worthy of the right hon. Gentleman's consideration, whether the policy which he has pursued, and which I agree was a legacy from his predecessor, in connection with the Bagdad railway, has been a fortunate or a wise one.
Reference has been made to the right hon. Gentleman's great influence. He will not think me disrespectful if I suggest that, great as his influence is in the councils of the Powers of Europe, that influence has been exercised mainly with a view to the maintenance of peace, a magnificent work and a very important work, but although peace undoubtedly is one of our greatest interests, it is not our only interests. I do not mean to say that we should prefer to have war, but peace is not the only interest, and if one criticises the policy of the right hon. Gentleman, the criticism would take the form of the suggestion that he is so engrossed in the larger affairs of high policy, the maintenance particularly of peace, that he is apt to allow particular British interests, which after all are entrusted to his care and which he has to safeguard, to suffer in comparison to those of foreigners who are more vigorously backed up and are more apt to get material benefits than the right hon. Gentleman gets for his fellow countrymen. That is the criticism I would respectfully make of the result of his policy. I agree it is one largely to which he has succeeded, but that is the result of the policy which he has pursued. I think it is regrettable that whereas the position of the individual Englishman is properly stronger there than it has ever been before, and that is saying a great deal, and whereas that is largely due to the fact that owing to other Europeans having shown an interest in the country it has been possible for the natives to institute comparisons which are generally very much in favour of the Englishman, yet so far as doing anything is concerned, it is, I think, perfectly fair to say, that the Englishman does not consider that he is 78 backed up or supported in the same sort of way as the members of other nationalities are. Of course, I know there is the other side of the story, that the English financiers are not supposed to show any great degree of patriotism and so forth, and that when it is a question of getting them to combine to act in the interests of the country very often there is difficulty in getting them to do so. That may be the case, but I hope the right hon. Gentleman will find it possible to back up the material interests which have been built up during many years of sacrifice and hard work in these districts, and that he will not allow other nations to push us out in a field which we have successfully worked, because he is afraid to take a strong line.
§ Mr. THEODORE TAYLOR
I need not make any apology for once again drawing the attention of the House and the Foreign Secretary to the need for the international regulation of the traffic in opium and other dangerous drugs. It has become universally recognised in the medical world in every country that the non-medical use, not only of opium, but of morphine, chloral, veronal, and other similar drugs, has become a formidable peril to the human race, and calls for immediate national and international control. Hence, the proceedings and the results of the third International Conference at The Hague are of the deepest interest to us, as they are to medical men throughout the world, and I invite the right hon. Gentleman kindly to tell us what results have been achieved at that Conference. It would be indeed deplorable if that Conference has separated without all, or, at all events, nearly all, of the forty-six Powers representing all the chief Powers of the world agreeing to the ratification of the Agreement—what is known as the International Opium Convention—that was settled on 23rd January, 1912, at the first Hague Conference. It is five years since this work was first started in the Shanghai Commission at the close of 1909. This was the third Conference of the Great Powers chiefly concerned—the second of all the Great Powers, and the third of the chief Powers concerned—and prior to the meeting of this Conference it was understood that all had consented to ratify except three—Austria-Hungary, Turkey, and Servia. From what I have read in the newspapers it appears that only Servia and Turkey have held out. I have heard rumours that 79 Germany and France also have refused to ratify it. If this should be the case, I admit it would be very serious, but I do hope that we as a nation have no responsibility in giving them, at all events, any excuse for refusing to ratify. I observe the Report of our delegates to the second Hague Conference, dated 1st October, 1913, states:—It would be idle to disguise the fact that the refusal of His Majesty's Government to ratify there and then [last July] was a cause of great disappointment to many of the delegates.What I should like to know now is, What has been the result of this Conference? Has there been any hitch? Had our delegates to send for fresh instructions, and, if so, why? I do believe that it is very desirable to ratify at once. I think all the forty-six Powers, except three or four, have been willing to ratify, and, although they may be very important Powers that are standing out, yet if they are making an excuse of us, even for the smallest semblance of refusal to sign, I do hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to tell us that he will be able to play a nobler, and, perhaps, a more sacrificing part, and ratify.
Mr. T. C. TAYLOR
Not at all. As the hon. Baronet the Member for Central Hull has hinted, now in the absence of this international control, the lives of semi-civilised races are being largely sacrificed. I do not speak of one drug only. The hon. Gentleman opposite will agree that, however excellent opium may be for medical use, the unrestricted use of cocaine, veronal, and drugs produced from opium is very dangerous. But in any case, is it not high time that some action was taken on the result of the Shanghai Commission of 1909, and that the three Hague Conferences should bear their legitimate fruit? Is it not time that we should now ratify the Opium Convention of 23rd January, 1912? Let not the House imagine that this is a matter of opium only or of China only. It deals with many other dangerous drugs known as morphia, cocaine, heroin, and others, and it affects every country on earth where there are human beings to be tempted and ruined by these powerful drugs. The uncontrolled sale and abuse of these drugs constitutes, perhaps, the greatest danger now threatening the human race, and if the hon. Gentleman 80 opposite has any doubt on the matter, I recommend him to read an article which appeared in the "Morning Post," and the stimulating letter written by Dr. Armstrong Jones, who shows what are the enormous evils which result to mind, body, and character, in this country and, of course, in every country where these drugs are obtainable through their uncontrolled sale.
It is our duty, not only to China, but to every other country, to help all we can this beneficent international movement to control the traffic in and use of these dangerous drugs. But surely in the case of China we have very special responsibility! We should never forget that for seventy years past we have been forcing the Chinese Government to permit their subjects to buy our Indian opium, and that we are doing so down to this moment. I earnestly hope that the right hon. Gentleman may tell us that this hateful and wicked compulsion shall now cease. It is over eight years since this House unanimously declared that our Indian opium traffic is "morally indefensible, and called upon His Majesty's Government to put an end to it as speedily as possible." The export of Indian opium to China has now, I suppose, ceased, although it appears that sixty or seventy chests have been imported this year. The compulsion on the Chinese Government to permit its subjects to buy our opium still continues, and the stocks of Indian opium in the hands of dealers in Shanghai and the Treaty Ports, although largely reduced, are still considerable. So far as I know, apart from the pecuniary interest existing in India, the reasons alleged for keeping up our treaty nights—I would say wrongs—in China have been two. In the first place, it has been said that China only wanted to produce opium herself, instead of taking ours; and, secondly, that the opium dealers would lose money on the opium they had already bought from the Indian Government if we did not continue to force a market for them in China. In reply to the first argument, I would ask why, if China were insincere and only wanted to produce her own opium, she should ever have stopped her own people from producing it? Of all the wild and foolish theories that were ever invented to bolster up a bad case, surely that is the wildest and most foolish! Why should China for years fine and imprison her own people and execute her own subjects for producing opium, so 81 that by and by she might be rid of Indian competition and be able to poison her subjects with the productions of China? That surely is a reason of the wildest and most foolish kind! I think in this connection one may quote the words of the late Under-Secretary of State for India (Mr. Montagu). Speaking in this House on 7th May last year, he said:—I would like the House ….. to accept as indisputable that. …. there cannot be the slightest doubt of the earnestness sincerity, steadfast ness, and courage of the Chinese Government and the Chinese people as a whole in ridding themselves of opium. All the evidence points to that conclusion. …. I venture to say, without fear of contra diction, that the history of the world shows few actions in its bravery and thoroughness comparable to the efforts that are now being made by the Chinese people to rid themselves of the drug which is sapping their manhood and destroying their chance of development. …. I say, with all sense of responsibility on this question, that there is no room for cynicism or scepticism, and no work for the scoffer or sneerer. China has shown to the world an example of moral courage rare in the annals of the human race.These are noble words, and they are true. What has happened since the late Under-Secretary for India uttered these words? In July last there was in China an attempted but abortive second revolution suppressed by Yuan Shi-Kai. It was suppressed, but not without much loss of life and money. Then followed the suppression of the new Chinese Parliament, and President Yuan Shi-Kai convened a Conference of notables to frame a new Constitution, which includes a new Parliament, to be elected as soon as the condition of things in China will permit. I express no opinion as to the wisdom or the unwisdom of what the President has done. He is, after all, proceeding very much upon a similar line to that upon which Oliver Cromwell proceeded in this country, with, I believe, equally patriotic but easily mistaken motives.
The best foreign observers on the spot believe that China's welfare is at present safest in the hands of President Yuan. Notwithstanding the black work of the "White Wolf, China-is undoubtedly recovering from the effects of the revolution, or attempted revolution, of the past three years. What has happened in the meantime to the Chinese campaign against opium, and more particularly what has happened to that campaign since last May? In July, when the counter revolution broke out, the hands of the Government were weakened, and President Yuan Shi-Kai's power seemed for a while to be trembling in the balance, but did the anti-opium campaign cease? Not for a minute. It 82 could not do so. There is no pro-opium party in China—the Manchus, Chinese, northerners, southerners, monarchists, republicans, supporters of Yuan Shi-Kai, and supporters of Sun Yat Sen, who on other questions do and will differ, are determined to rid China of this opium curse, and the campaign has gone steadily on. What have been the features of this war against opium? I will read the accounts of some of the burnings which have taken place. I have myself, for a year or two past, made a collection of the actual facts in connection with the burnings and the executions by the Chinese Government, and I have a large body of evidence showing that the Chinese Governments, national and provincial, are still in earnest in putting down the production and consumption of opium. In the city of Kalgan on the 23rd January, 1914, 6,000 ounces of opium, opium pipes and gambling apparatus were laid on a long row of tables, in the presence of thousands of people, and Ho Chung-lien, the local commander, mounted a table and made a speech denouncing the opium traffic, and stating that the Government were determined to put it down. The opium was placed in nine great cauldrons, wood and oil were lighted, and then there were great volumes of smoke and the opium was destroyed. In Chin Kiang, about 3,000 ounces of opium were publicly burned, and in Tientsin 48,000 dollars worth were destroyed. In Nanking, in April, there was a public conference and 15,000 dollars worth destroyed. In the great new central station of Pekin there was burned, on the 14th May last, several thousand ounces of opium which had been smuggled on the railway.
It is quite true that it is a very difficult thing to prevent smuggling. If it is true that in view of the opium traffic that smuggling will go on, one may easily admit it. Already the same thing happens as far off as Turkestan, where only last month 5,000 ounces of opium were publicly burnt, with the local officials and gentry present. In Chengtu, the capital of Szechuan, this very month there was a public burning of opium in front of a police office. In Pekin, on Wednesday, 20th May, outside the Temple of Heaven, there was witnessed by great crowds a great opium burning. Those who know China know what a beautiful sight this is, and that it was used for very different burnings. Very different sacrifices were made there. We know what use the Emperor 83 made of the Temple of Heaven. I have a large number of extracts showing how rigorous the Chinese Government has been in burning the opium. They go further than that; they are still putting their own subjects to death. At Ichang, two men who were found planting poppy were shot for it. At Wenchow, Chekiang, on the big parade ground outside the west gate, a man from an outside district was shot for opium growing. In Kweichow, in April, on the main road between Anshun and Anpingsin, by order of the Anping magistrate, a farmer was shot for persisting in growing poppy for opium.
All this time China is hard up for money. She is sacrificing millions of pounds a year—not millions of taels or dollars—and all hon. Gentlemen who know China well know the income she would get if she would take control of this traffic. But she is punishing her citizens and putting them to death in order to extirpate this great injury to her country. All these things show the stern determination of the Chinese Government to stamp out this curse. No man who knows anything of China can now doubt either her sincerity or her ability to stamp out this terrible curse. Under the arrangement of May, 1911, whereby the British Government promised to release China from buying opium, out of the twenty-two provinces of China, including Manchuria and Turkestan, I believe the Under-Secretary will be able to tell us that we have released fourteen or fifteen provinces. I am not sure about Kwangtung, but I have a list here of the other provinces, although I will not detain the Committee by giving the names. Fourteen or fifteen provinces, some of them most populous, have now been declared, after strict search and impartial investigation by British officials, to be absolutely free from the production of opium.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Mr. Acland)
Kwangtung is still open.
§ Mr. T. C. TAYLOR
That means that fourteen out of twenty-two provinces are free. I am reading Chinese newspapers every day—not in Chinese, of course—and I am trying to keep myself honestly and correctly informed on this topic. My reading shows me clearly that the worst province of all—Kansu—is now practically free from opium growing. Kweichow, a very bad province, which has some half-wild tribes 84 in it, has now almost no opium growing in it, and Kiangsu is already free from it. The defenders of this traffic say, "Yes, that may be very well. Perhaps China has made some efforts to free herself from poppy production, but what about the pecuniary rights of the men in India, the merchants who bought opium on the strength of the British Government compelling a market for them in China?" What was their story eighteen months' ago, as told to us in this House? Were we not told about the enormous sums of money they were going to lose? Of course we are not to inquire into the monopoly profits of the eleven firms who constitute a close ring and have made a close corner in opium on the strength of a very proper decision our Government has come to in the matter. What was their cry at the beginning of last year? They asked us to save them from ruin. They said they only wanted their money back, but they wanted to be saved from loss. I want the Committee to know what has happened since. What was the result of the decision the Government came to last year? It was to close the market in China to all further opium. These gentlemen, who have been pouring doubt all the time upon the bona fides of the Chinese Government, knew perfectly well that they were not telling the truth, for the Chinese Government was in earnest and we could rely on the Chinese Government not to produce any more. What sort of prices have the dealers been getting? On the strength of this decision the ring put up the prices. At Shanghai, wholesale and retail, a roaring trade is being done. In January and February the price went up from 4,000 taels to 6,830 taels per chest. A tael is equal to two rupees. That price is exclusive of the 470 taels per chest duty which we graciously permitted the Chinese Government to charge on her own imports. This opium, which cost in the autumn of 1912 about 5,000 rupees a chest in India, or little over £300 per chest, was selling this year in Shanghai for over £900 per chest. Opium that cost 1,400 rupees a chest in India in 1907 was then sold in China for 900 or 950 taels a chest. A chest which two years ago cost in India 4,000 to 5,000 rupees, is selling in China to-day for 6,000 or 7,000 taels, equal to 12,000 to 14,000 rupees, showing a gross profit of 200 per cent.
That is not all. There is apparently no reason why the dealers should not get what 85 they expect before the last Indian opium chest is disposed of in China, namely, 10,000 taels a chest, or £1,340 for what used to cost less than £100 in India, and has actually cost these gentry £300 or thereabouts. I do not hesitate to say that while the Parliamentary friends of these dealers have been squealing in this House about their losses, the dealers themselves have been making an enormous profit on the opium which was in their hands at the beginning of last year. If this be so, why should we protect this infamous trade any longer? If Shylock has had his pound of flesh, why should we help him to get another pound? Of the 23,000 chests in the Treaty Ports a year ago, probably three-fourths are now sold at a price that would enable the dealers to have the remainder as clear profit, even if we allowed them to take it out of China and sell it elsewhere. Why then should we go on forcing China simply to swell the already inflated profits of a wicked trade? In our own special concessions in Tientsin, Amoy, Foochow, Hankow, and elsewhere, as well as in the settlement of Shanghai, are used as special markets for the wholesale sale of Indian opium to Chinese dealers against the will of their Government and the interest of their people. To the shame of the British good name these places, and particularly Shanghai itself, are converted into wide open shops for the retail sale of Indian opium to the Chinese who cannot buy it over the border in their own territory. The consequence is that these Chinese opium sots who cannot get the opium in Chinese territory have been swarming into Shanghai and have raised the prices of lodging houses and hotels.
With our usual British self-congratulation we are always willing to help people in distress. Six years ago the chairman of the municipal council in Shanghai, Mr. Landale, addressing a meeting of the ratepayers, expressed on behalf of the foreign residents sympathy with the Chinese in their desire to dissipate the opium habit and assured them that the Shanghai foreign community had every desire to assist them. At that time there were only eighty-seven shops licensed by the municipality for the retail sale of opium. How have they shown their willingness to assist the Chinese to get rid of the opium habit? They have steadily increased the number of licensed retail shops in Shanghai from eighty-seven in 1908 to 628 in the year 86 1912, with corresponding additions to the revenue of the municipality. When I put a question on this point to the Foreign Secretary he said he agreed with me that it was a matter of regret. That was his usually moderate language. I call it a scandal. When are we going to put an end to it? There are two sorts of places where this retail trade is going on. The international settlement of Shanghai consists of 500,000 inhabitants, outside the French settlement and the native city. What are we doing there? We have got a wide open opium traffic. I know there is a difficulty there with which I will deal in a moment. Surely we have no kind of excuse for promoting this retail sale of a dangerous and injurious drug in our own concessions, such as Hankow, Amoy, Foochow, Tientsin and other places, where we can do as we like. Therefore, I beg the right hon. Gentleman to give instructions at once that this trade shall cease in those concessions which are under our control.
As to Shanghai itself, we know it has the most curious Government in the world, more curious even than the Government of Egypt, because the territory is Chinese, but is leased to several nations. I believe there are thirteen kinds of Consular law in force there. The governing authority in Shanghai is the municipal council, which is elected by foreigners on a very restricted franchise. When I was in Shanghai seven members out of nine were British subjects, and I believe that is still the case. When I put this matter to the right hon. Gentleman, he, of course, replied that there was some difficulty in putting pressure on these people. But the Foreign Secretary, to his great honour, some years ago at my request put pressure upon them to stop the opium den, that is the opium public-house. The kind of business that is going on now is the retail sale for consumption off the premises. The consumption of opium on the premises was put an end to by gentle and discreet pressure from the right hon. Gentleman five or six years ago. I ask him respectfully to do the same now with regard to this retail traffic. We know that British subjects there expect the protection of the British flag, and we have a right to expect that they will not continue to perpetrate this great wrong on their Chinese neighbours—that is, to sell opium to all and sundry, as they are doing at the present time, and to people who 87 cannot get it in their own country. I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman one or two questions more, and I have done. There has been a movement in Shanghai in favour of the acquiring more territory, in the quarter where foreigners live. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not put any pressure on the Chinese Government to give more territory. I believe there have been some negotiations between us and other foreign powers and the Chinese Government about this matter. I ask the right hon. Gentleman that if anything of that sort is afoot, if there are negotiations going on for the acquisition of more territory to be added to the international settlement in Shanghai, then, before anything of that sort is done, we should at once give up the traffic in opium among Chinese subjects.
Cheap sneers are often levelled at those of us who have long advocated that this traffic should come to a close. It is said that we are guilty of vicarious virtue, but I regret to say that there is no credit either to individuals, or nations, in merely giving up doing wrong. That is all I ask. I do not ask that we should do anything virtuous. I claim for this Government that it has done more than any other Government has done, but I have never claimed that in this matter it has done anything virtuous. [Interruption.] In this particular matter, if the hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir J. D. Rees) had his way, the Government would not have had a scintilla of credit. I have never claimed any virtue for either parties, or persons, or the Government, or the nation. There is no virtue in giving up doing wrong. That is all that I ask, and I ask in the interest of our trade that the Government should give up the opium traffic. I ask it in the interests of future friendly relations with China; I ask it in the interest of Chinese unity and welfare; I ask it in the interests of our better credit with the world at large; I ask it in the interest of our ability in future to advocate causes of peace and righteousness, and freedom, the world over, as we are all proud that the British Government do, and we shall then speak with a stronger voice in the future because we are doing right ourselves. Above all, I ask that the Government will do right to China because it is our simple duty.
Sir GILBERT PARKER
I am going to address myself to a subject in which, like other subjects, the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary may find a little 88 difficulty in giving us full satisfaction. There are circumstances which make that not only possible, but perhaps inevitable. In 1910 I raised the question in this House of the Convention arranged between this country and France with regard to the New Hebrides, and at that time I took upon myself, with others, the position of a prophet. I do not wish to say this afternoon that as a prophet I am particularly successful; at the same time, I do want to point out that everything that was said by the Opposition in 1906 in criticism of the Convention arranged between England and France has been ratified by events. At that time I was one who said that the right hon. Gentleman was placed in a difficult position with regard to the New Hebrides in making the Convention. The difficulty was this, that although at one time we had a preponderating influence in the New Hebrides, France, in 1906, had the preponderating population, the preponderating commerce, the preponderating ownership of land, and preponderating shipping; and, of course, it is almost certain that the country which has preponderance of commerce must inevitably have dominating political influence in the end. Therefore, the bargain entered into by the right hon. Gentleman with France, our friendly neighbour, had its difficulties, as I have said. The difficulties were that France considered that she was giving this country a great concession when she admitted her to consideration of this question of the government of the New Hebrides on the basis of equality. I am willing to admit all that. I believe that the Convention might have been successful, even as it was framed, if it had not been for the inherent weaknesses of the system itself. But what were those weaknesses? We could make Regulations and France could make Regulations for the government of that territory, and yet neither of us had any power to secure good government throughout the whole of the island, and neither of us had any power to secure that similar Regulations would be made by both Governments.
That has been the unfortunate part of the whole position, as it seems to me; and I raise this question to-day, not because I want to enter into a lengthened criticism of the evil results that have followed from a bad system, but because, as a Conference is now sitting, it is only right that this House should understand upon what the Conference is deliberating, and also the people outside this House should be 89 possessed at this moment of the questions and reforms which are demanding the attention of the Conference, arranged after great difficulty by the right hon. Gentleman. I asked the right hon. Gentleman in 1909 a question concerning the Regulations, whether they could be brought into harmony, and, if they could not be brought into harmony, what course either Government would pursue. The right hon. Gentleman said:—There is no definite understanding between His Majesty's Government and the French Government of the nature referred to by the hon. Member, but the Resident Commissioners of the two Governments in the New-Hebrides are in close touch with each other, and as a matter of administrative convenience, assimilate as far as possible the Regulations which they issue. If there were laxity in carrying out joint Regulations on the part of one Government, the other Government would no doubt enter into communications on the subject.I think that every Member of this House will regret that for over eight years we have not had a single Report issued in this House on the administration of affairs in the New Hebrides. I regard this as an extremely serious matter. I can understand that the Foreign Secretary has been in this position, that to have issued the Papers would have been to present a serious indictment of the administration of the New Hebrides, for which we certainly have not been responsible. I recognise that, but I do think, as my hon. Friend for Rugby said previously in the Debate, that it is much better to face it. France is not mealy-mouthed. There has been criticism in France itself concerning the state of affairs in the New Hebrides, concerning the recruiting of women, concerning the recruiting of children, and concerning the maladministration in the Courts. The criticisms have been more severe than ever they have been in this country, because we have not had a criticism in this House at all, on account of their being no administrative Reports to this House, and the whole House has abstained from fear of crippling the hands of the right hon. Gentleman in securing better arrangements with France. Those better arrangements so far have not come. What is the inherent weakness of the system? It is the lack of similarity between the Regulations; and the Courts have to deal with a population of 1,000 white people, and with a population of 100,000 natives. There are Joint Courts for the trial of cases between natives and white men, and National Courts for the trial of non-natives.
There is a joint Naval Commission which has the extraordinary provision in some of 90 its procedure, not to permit either counsel or evidence, and you have natives kept in gaol for eight months before they come up for any trial at all. The right hon. Gentleman, in response to a question of mine that there should be fixed Regulations regarding the age and height of children recruited in the New Hebrides, said that he had himself urged in the strongest possible way that the Regulations should be established by Convention, but he had failed to secure them. He, however, held out every hope that it would immediately be done, because he had the strongest views on the subject. The right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary has always very strong views regarding native labour, and I can imagine that he was quite sincere in what he said then. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman if he thinks that promise has been carried out, when seven years have gone by and he has not yet established a basis concerning the recruiting of children and women. The regulations of the French themselves would not permit women to be recruited without their husbands, but, in fact, they have been recruited without their husbands. What is the fundamental weakness I have spoken of, and which, it is generally agreed, ought to be abolished? I have spoken of the National Courts, where extremely divergent penalties are inflicted for the same crime. In the case of a sub-officer of a ship which was recruiting illegally and without any authority, and a native was shot while escaping in a boat, the man who committed the crime was convicted of common assault and given a year's imprisonment, but was released and given the benefit of the First Offender's Act. The right hon. Gentleman will bear me out when I say that I am certain that if the facts connected with the New Hebrides had been revealed there would have been a great outcry in this country. I am glad there has not been an outcry, because I infinitely prefer that those questions should be set right by conference. I do hope that the reforms which will be established by this conference will be satisfactory. What is the Joint Court of which I spoke for trying natives and white men? It is composed of a Frenchman and an Englishman who do not understand each other's language, of a Spanish judge, a President who understands the languages of the country, and a Dutch Public Prosecutor who also understands the languages of France and of England. I ask 91 is it possible to have any wise and just, even procedure, trial and penalties, with a Court composed as that Court is. I would infinitely rather see a Court composed of an Englishman and a Frenchman, with a Frenchman, if you like, as President, or two Englishmen to one Frenchman if we believe in the entente cordiale, than to see a Court composed as this is with the extraordinary divergencies of penalties. That is a Court from which there is no appeal, but the judgments can be revised by the British Commissioner or the French Commissioner, or wiped out altogether. I do not want to give the evidence that is in my hand concerning these things, and I will only say that I am sure the right hon. Gentleman is anxious for the reform of that Joint Court. I am certain that he will have found that the use of the Naval Commission has long since become impossible. It was established at a time when there was not proper intercommunication between the islands, and it is a relic of what was done by France and England in 1887, and ought to be abolished. There are many proposals for the adjustment of administration there, one of which is that we should acquire the islands altogether by purchase from France. France owns the greater part of the territory; it has twice the population and has 40 or 50 per cent. more shipping, and owns, I think, 50 per cent. more land, and is altogether in a preponderating position, so that an attempt to purchase would be a serious matter, because we would be involved in a new problem of a British minority ruling a French majority, which would be one more problem added to the many we have.
Australia keenly desires that we should possess those islands. She annexed New Guinea without the authority of this country, but this country subsequently assumed the authority. Australia has many interests there which will grow greater and greater as time goes on. If this country thought it wise to purchase the islands from France or to give some other territory in exchange, Australia would pay her large share of the cost of that purchase. The time has come when our growing Dominions, if they are going to intervene, as they have intervened, in our foreign policy, and also to require from us naval protection, and also great consideration in these administrative questions and areas, the time has come when our Oversea Dominions must, with self-respect, 92 help to pay the cost. I do not think that the result of this Conference will be a decision in favour of the purchase of the islands. The difficulties regarding partition are many, because although on the whole the French are in the South and the British in the North, the facts are that the harbours which are and would be of value to us strategically are in the South, and in the case of purchase the French would have the very best of them.
May I submit to the right hon. Gentleman a proposal which I respectfully suggest he should place before the Conference, and, at any rate, I venture to set it before him, and I am convinced that it is serious enough to be worthy of grave consideration by the Conference? It is this: That it would be possible, if partition was not considered advisable or if purchase was not considered advisable, or if exchange of territory was not considered advisable, that you could arrange for what might be called autonomous administration North and South of those islands, under such an agreement as we have now upon the Regulations for the whole of the islands regarding recruiting, regarding liquor selling, regarding the importation of arms, and wherever the authority of either country ran the regulations would be the same. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will see that the only way in which any real administration in reform can come is by assimilation of the Regulations, and by an agreement on the part of France that those Regulations shall be carried out. The proposal I have to make is that there shall be two autonomous districts, French and British, with a Court of Appeal to which any cases can be taken. As it is now, there is no Court of Appeal, and only an autocratic power on the part of the resident Commissioner to revise the judgments of the Joint Court. That position is absurd; there is nothing like it and there has been nothing like it in the British Empire, and I hope there never will be again. After all in Egypt you had your Capitulations which gave the National Courts, but you had one general administration covering the whole of the territory which gave the assurance, if not of just judgments, at any rate of any judgments throughout the whole territory. I can conceive that that, if properly arranged, might be an effective solution of many of the difficulties which arise and exist now. Then there ought to be an understanding at this Conference that in future whatever arrangements are made 93 that administrative Reports issued by both countries so that the people of both countries could understand what the Government was doing in that territory. As it is, we do not know, and I consider it a real reflection upon British administration that such a state of things should exist, and that there should be a violation of the spirit of that Convention in regard to recruiting, particularly of children and women, and also in regard to liquor selling.
I believe that if six or seven years ago when the first breaches of the Convention occurred, if administrative Reports had been issued, matters would net have gone as far as they have gone. They have gone this far, that France, if she did not believe there were abuses would not have consented to this Conference. In consenting to this Conference, I regret that a representative of Australia was not included, although it is satisfactory to find that the Assistant Administrator of the New Hebrides is sitting at the Conference. I do not in all sincerity want Australia when the Conference adjourns or finishes its labours and presents whatever arrangement has been come to, I do not want that there will be on the part of the Australian Government that sharp criticism that existed in 1906 when the working of the Convention was severely criticised. I am not in favour of unduly considering criticisms coming from Australia or elsewhere, but the Government ought not to put itself in the position as it did before, of authorising that criticism upon the ground that the Australasian Government had not been consulted. If they have been consulted in this, and if they are in agreement I shall be only too glad to hear that it is so from the right hon. Gentleman, and I sincerely trust that the outcome of the Conference will be to change the judicial system and abolish the Naval Commission, and I would also have the abolition of the National Court if I could, and, above everything else, complete reform of the joint Court, and some kind of equity in its decisions, judgments, and penalties. The present state of things is that the majority will always control the feeling and the system of justice in a country where they have a preponderating influence commercially, financially, and in population and in trade. I should like to see in those territories France pursuing that enlightened and just government which I am 94 certain France herself, apart from her representatives there, would be only too glad to see established. As it is now you have the administrators at loggerheads, and judges at loggerheads, and judges not understanding the languages, and nobody with any confidence at all regarding the administration, and abuses on. every hand, which I trust this Conference will succeed in abolishing in the interests of that great name and tradition which it has been the glory of this country to possess in ruling our Oversea Dominions and Protectorates.
§ Sir JOSEPH WALTON
I desire in the first place to warmly congratulate Mr. Wilson, the President of the United States of America, and those who have given him their support on the one hand, and the Foreign Secretary and the British Empire on the other hand, on having had passed in America that measure which was necessary to give full effect to the Hay-Paunce-fote Treaty, to ensure for British shipping, in the matter of tolls and otherwise, equal facilities and equal charges, and to pass the shipping not only of this country, but of all other foreign nations on the same terms of absolute equality in every respect with American shipping passing through that great undertaking, the Panama Canal. I can conceive of nothing that could have happened that will more guarantee and cement the feelings of amity and of goodwill between that great English-speaking nation on the other side of the Atlantic and the British Empire than this act of justice, full justice, which has been done by the settling of the question of just terms for the use of the Panama Canal. I hope that as one result of this welcome action, practically voluntarily undertaken on the part of the United States, there will be a much larger response to the invitation to-British traders to show exhibits in the great Exhibition to be held at San Francisco. I am sure that what has been done by the United States, showing that they possess the highest sense of honour of which a nation can boast, will cause those celebrations which are soon to take-place of 100 years' peace between the United States and this country to be entered upon and carried through with more réclame and satisfaction than they would have been under any other circumstances. I have also the pleasure of being able to congratulate the Foreign Secretary on having at last stopped gun running at Muscat. I wish the Government 95 had been equally successful in stopping gun running elsewhere. At any rate, that clanger and difficulty which has for generations been harmful to British interests— the gun running at Muscat—has been put an end to by an arrangement with the French Government. I only hope that that will at no distant date be followed by the stopping of gun running through Jibutil also, because we cannot but regard the toleration of that traffic on the part of the French Government, with whom we have so close an entente, as something which they should not allow to go on.
A good deal has been said to-day of the situation in Persia. For many years I have been interested in questions affecting the Persian Gulf, Persia, and the Bagdad Railway. I certainly regarded the Anglo-Russian Convention as in some respects detrimental to British interests. But as the years go on I recognise more than ever that we have on our shoulders in our world-wide Empire, such enormous responsibilities that, even if we do not get all we want, it is a great advantage to us to establish friendly International relations with a great nation like Russia. I do not begrudge Russia's getting the best of the bargain to a certain extent with Persia. I believe that, at no distant date, I shall be able to congratulate the Foreign Secretary on having carried through arrangements, not only with Germany, but with the Turkish Government in regard to the Bagdad Railway and Mesopotamia, that will not be to the disadvantage of this country. I also feel that the decision to take an interest in the Anglo-Persian Oil Company is, indeed, a wise one on the part of His Majesty's Government. In view of the great importance of maintaining a predominant influence in the Persian Gulf, and in view of its being adjacent to our Indian Empire, I believe that the Government with this huge stake in the Anglo-Persian Oil Company will feel it still more incumbent upon them to maintain our interests and rights in that region. Therefore, not only because we need to secure substantial supplies of oil to prevent the price being forced up against us by combines, and also because the increase of our interest in that region will strengthen the hands of His Majesty's Government in upholding our just rights, I think the step taken by the Government is a wise one. My hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk (Mr. N. Buxton) seemed 96 to prophesy and to desire the breaking up of the Turkish Empire. I do not desire the breaking up of the Turkish Empire.
§ Mr. NOEL BUXTON
May I refresh the memory of my hon. Friend? I did not say anything in that direction. I went out of my way to say that I specially desired to see a prosperous Turkey.
§ Sir J. WALTON
I am glad that my hon. Friend has put that complexion on his statement, because, having regard to the fact that we have in our Empire a larger number of Mahomedans than live in any other Empire under the sun, it is to our interests to uphold in every possible way the maintenance of the independence and integrity of the Turkish Empire, especially of Turkey in Asia. I believe that it is by no means impossible that it will develop a just system of government, and that that Empire will become much stronger than it is to-day. The Balkan question is an extremely difficult one. We were, indeed, horrified and shocked at the dreadful intelligence contained in the paper this morning of the assassination of the Archduke and his Consort. I have travelled through Bosnia and Herzegovina within the last three years, and, gathering as I did the bitter state of feeling on the part of the various races dwelling in those States, and in view of the fact that they were brought under the Government of Austria really by military force—they were then in military occupation—though shocked, I was not so surprised as I would have been had I known the actual condition of feeling in Bosnia towards the Austrian occupation. We have had today one of the most interesting Debates on the Foreign Office Vote to which I have ever had the pleasure of listening in this House—[a Laugh]—the present speaker excepted. The hon. Member opposite who laughed will give me credit for not including myself in that eulogy. At any rate, I can congratulate the Foreign Ministry on having listened to less real complaint and more warm approval as to his conduct of foreign affairs than many foreign Ministers have been able to in this country.
§ Mr. AUBREY HERBERT
Before I enter upon the question that I desire to raise, I should like to say a few words, not of apology, but of explanation. The other day, in a supplementary question, I used some rather strong language, which drew, if I may with deference say so, a 97 very proper reproof from the Chair. The language which I used was really only a modification of St. Paul's indictment of a people, when he said:—
§ Sir J. D. REES
When my hon. Friend quotes Greek, is he in order in ascribing to St. Paul what was written by Aratus?
§ Mr. SWIFT MacNEILL
Is the hon. Member for East Nottingham in order in attributing to Aratus what was written by St. Paul?
§ The CHAIRMAN (Mr. Whitley)
If hon. Members disagree as to the writer, they had better refer to the Library.
§ Mr. A. HERBERT
I hope to be able to produce justification for the words which I used a few days ago. May I repeat one thing that I have said before? It is with very great reluctance that I attack the Greek Government. I feel that it is much simpler to acknowledge what cannot be denied; it is much better and much wiser from the Greek point of view to repudiate all those terrible and regrettable things, and to try to turn over a new page in history and go forward. There is one other word of explanation. I have already asked the indulgence of the House on the question that I desire to raise. It is with very great reluctance that I force myself or my views on the House. I only wish that someone more competent than myself would undertake this task; but it is the misfortune of these people for whom I speak, that I happen to be the only Member of the House who, in recent years, has kept in close touch with them. That being the case, I have no alternative; indeed, one very gladly does what he can for a people that is persecuted and has the hand of every man turned against it. We shall all agree about one thing, and that is the great principle of mercy which we wish to see extended to minorities. Whether the Foreign Secretary will agree to my suggestion is another question. I hope that one argument, at any rate, will not be used to-night. I hope that the present situation in Albania will not be used as an argument for refusing all intervention. That is not a generous argument. I have been against Bulgaria in the past, but I should count myself amongst the meanest of men if. when her power is broken, and 98 the perseverance of years has come to nothing, when the fate of Poland is hanging over the stubborn and forlorn head that she raises against what is apparently her destiny, I took this opportunity of attacking her. On the same ground I ask hon. Members not to attack Albania to-night.
The internal situation is pretty obvious. It is not fairly represented in this country. Prince William is a gallant gentleman who has undertaken an almost impossible task The insurgents are a simple peasantry who have been led away, who have been induced to revolt mainly from outside. I and those who agree with me have always said that it would be better not to intervene in Albania at all unless you gave such conditions as made her existence possible. That was not done. Servia took the towns that she needed in the North. The South has only been given nominally. Of all these Balkan troubles we may say, let the dead bury their dead. Irrevocable things have happened. But, as far as we can, let us prevent the same kind of thing from happening in the future. I wish to give a little evidence with regard to the statements I made the other night. As to my sources of information, I have had telegrams from all classes and all creeds in Albania with regard to persecution. I have had letters from English and American missionaries. I have also heard—though I do not quote this, because the information is not the most recent—from Mr. Bouchier, of the "Times." Last of all, I have heard from phil-Hellenes, who have the welfare of Greece at heart, and their evidence has perhaps, been the worst of all. I will read it briefly. It is dated from Argyrocastro on 18th June, 1914:—The village of Kodra has been used as a slanghte-house where groups of Mussulmans and Albanians werrbrought on different days, and there butchered. The reported massacre in the Christian Church of Kodra (Hormova) was only the last of the series. Here these poor men were shut up and regular Epirote soldiers climbed on the roof of the church, took off some tiles and with their army rifles, fired upon the defenceless people below.….The church we found even now after two months bathed in blood; and there were nearly 100 killed.…….The day before twenty-two were shot, defenceless shepherds: eleven other shepherds were killed some days before by a guerilla band during the Greek occupation. Other graves of groups have been found. The Dutch doctor attached to the gendarmerie exhumed counted, and re-buried 90 odd bodies.….I have a list of 205 names of people killed at Kodra and verified it. We found thirty women and children in the village Hormova and 151 women and 159 children of Hormova in Tepelini. who had lost all their male relatives. We are told many others are being cared for in other villages. Their wailing and death songs and the cries of the children and babes at breast were the most terrible thing I have ever had the horror of witnessing.The Epirus Government admit nearly all the facts: but I am sure that the guilty parties are also higher up. 99 …. Therefore the Greek Government that instructed M. Gennadius in London to deny massacres knew that massacres took place …and it was common knowledge. Out of a force of 400 men 120 immediately deserted.…I have photos to accompany my full report.The last thing I will read is this:—In Argyrocastro there are about 8,000 men, women and children Mussulmans. They refused to leave their homes when ordered to do so. The Government has cannon mounted upon fortress, and intends to bombard at the first moment they deem necessary.The last telegram I will read is this:—13th April, Koritza (Albania). The Andartis (Epirote Holy Battalion) together with regulars of Greek army have burnt all houses in village Kosee; fourteen houses in village Detrine; all houses of Mahomedans in Ogran. Many women, men, children burnt alive.In Colonia district (May 1st), there have been fifty-five houses of Moslem village of Qinam burnt, with massacre and mutilation. In Staria, 120 houses burnt, with massacre, etc. In Leskovik, 2,200 houses burnt and in Frasheri, 150 houses burnt.I will not read the names of these houses, because the figures surprised me. I think there must be an error in the numbers. That is the situation. To my mind that situation was preventable. It might have been possible for England to have done more than she has done. In regard to foreign politics there are two schools of thought. There is one school of thought that has existed from the time of Byron, that believed in Garibaldi, that admired Kossuth, that does its best for small nationalities, and to help weak people. The other school of thought—I will not call it a school of splendid isolation; it is rather a school of iron detachment—it refuses to interfere, refuses to do anything unless our own material interests are concerned. This school is keen after the interest on their investments, whether that interest comes from investments in Putumayo or anywhere else. It seems to me that there should be a via media. Obviously nobody would use an occasion of this sort irresponsibly, or would wish to drag their country into war except for national reasons. It is not for us to bear the sorrows of the world on our shoulder. We need not do it. But we can avert a good deal of pain without even a demonstration of our strength. When the King of Servia and Queen Draga were murdered by the Servians we withdrew our representative from their capital. This is not the case of a King or Queen being murdered. It is the case of poor peasantry, of poor women, of poor children being murdered. What I ask is, Are we not going to take any steps at all? I do not even say that those steps should be hostile to any other 100 Government. I do not for a moment accuse the Greek Government of complicity in these murders. What I do say, of what I do accuse the Greek Government is this—of complicity in the machinery that has produced these results. There was a great deal more than mere connivance in opening the doors of the prison at Janina, and who was it that gave the criminals who were freed the weapons but the Greek Government? Who was it that allowed hundreds of armed Cretans to go about on their fell work: the Greek Government? I do not myself believe that M. Venizelos has been responsible for these things. I think it will be a bad day for the Greeks when his influence is no longer felt. Who is it that year in and year out has been waging the most bitter propaganda: the Greek Government? Who had inside knowledge of everything that has happened: the Greek Government? The people mainly responsible, as the Foreign Secretary said the other day, are the people who are perpetrating these deeds. But there is one man who cannot divest himself of the responsibility, and that is the so-called War Minister to the Epirus Government.
We come now to where we stand ourselves. Before I go into that I would like to just say this, the great strain and anxiety of the Conference is over. I am sure that the Foreign Secretary still has the fullest sympathy with those who are suffering, and the same desire to mitigate as far as possible those sufferings; but I do maintain that from the very fact—or, if you like, the accident—that that Conference was held in this country and that our Foreign Secretary was Chairman of that Conference, we do stand in some relationship of responsibility for those murders which are occurring now. If you endorse a cheque to that amount you admit your responsibility. If you are Chairman of a Committee or of a Conference, and you do not protest against the decision of that Conference, then I think you must be held to have accepted a partial responsibility for what was done. I repeat there was an anxiety that this country should be constituted. We were anxious that the same consideration should be shown to Albanian nationality as to other Balkan nationalities. Unless you are going to give that country a chance, it would have been better not to have constituted it as a nation. It is a cruel experiment. That country has not had a dog's chance. Europe has been like Pharaoh of old. She 101 has hardened her heart and has brought down more than the ten plagues of Egypt upon Albania.
Let me end by saying this: Massacres, brutalities, retaliations — you expected all these things in the Balkan wars. But now it is peace. These Albanians in Epirus have been disarmed. They have not even got the alternative of fighting or flying. They are hemmed in. They are expecting death. I ask the Foreign Secretary to do this one thing which in my opinion—I may be wrong—will go a very long way towards saving a number of lives. When we ask questions in this House about the situation in Epirus it is either denied from the Greek side or we are told that the Foreign Office is officially unaware. Is it not time, if we have any responsibility at all, that we became officially aware of matters? Very little is required to do that. We have only got to send Consuls or British Agents of eight or nine Englishmen, say from here, persons perhaps like myself, a casual Englishman, who have some knowledge of the country. That would not involve you in trouble with any foreign Power or with the Greeks. It would, I think, neither involve trouble for you nor any other Power whatsoever. There would be this fact, that where you have an Englishman set down in a place, be it Asia Minor or the Balkans, or anywhere you like in the East, atrocities are far less likely to occur than when you have not got an Englishman there. I make this final appeal to the right hon. Gentleman. These people out there have got no diplomacy to represent them. They have got no king who can assert authority over them or speak to Europe for them. They have got no money. They are without any means. Like other people in that situation they look to this country for help. I ask the Foreign Secretary for our own honour—so far as that honour is concerned —and the thing could not be in safer hands than it is—and for the sake of humanity, to see if he cannot send an Englishman or Englishmen to make an impartial and true investigation into what has happened in order to prevent future massacres occurring.
§ Mr. SWIFT MacNEILL
I propose for a very few moments to speak. Possibly like the hon. Member who proceeded me, the matter may be more of individual interest, and I imagine that scarcely any one will agree with me; yet I hold my own opinion in the matter and I respectfully 102 submit it to the House. My hon. Friend who spoke from the other side of the House said that this was the most interesting Foreign Office Debate he ever had heard. That may or may not be so, but what I am here to advance is this, that it would be better to look at things as they are, and to take things as they are; and if we are not to know the reality of things it would be better if we had no Debates in this House on foreign policy. Member after Member gets up and says what to the best of his information are the true facts of the case, but none of these hon. Members are furnished with official information as they would be furnished with on any matter of domestic policy. I think it is an amazing thing to see how the House is crowded on matters of naval defence, and to see how this House of Commons allows itself to be treated as a child in matters which are the springs of policy themselves—in matters which create wars, and for which these naval defences are themselves required. It would be immensely better if there were fewer millions spent on the Navy, and there was an open public policy as to our relation with other Powers.
For some years I have been writing and speaking on this matter. I have urged my views wherever I have had two men and a boy to listen to me. I say that the Houses of Parliament so far as foreign policy is concerned are absolutely impotent. Again and again have I written in the Reviews, and have been looked upon as a faddist. But my vindication came on 21st July, 1912, when we were within twenty-four hours of war with Germany of which not one of us knew one word whatever.
§ Mr. SWIFT MacNEILL
My Noble Friend is younger in years than I am, and he recollects the few years that have gone over his head more accurately. This is how the matter stands. The Foreign Secretary will pardon me for repeating the matter so often, like a well-told story. This House of Commons has no power to declare war or to make peace. These prerogatives of the Crown are practically invested in the Ministers, and exercised by them. In foreign affairs they are not responsible. The Ministry of England can declare war to-day without consulting the House of Commons. It could make peace to-morrow without consulting the House of Commons. Perhaps it will be said that is all right, and that the House of 103 Commons has the power of stopping supplies. Yes, but no House of Commons with ordinary patriotic feeling would dream of stopping supplies when that means the maintenance and the protection of soldiers abroad, whatever may be the facts of the war. Therefore, the Cabinet has power to make peace and to declare war; to make this country enter into the very highest and most momentous international transactions, and has a power which it has not in connection with the narrowest turnpike Bill. Can anyone imagine that a Committee of Parliament, such as the Cabinet is, should be able to put the country under the most intense national obligation, and to bind, and irrevocably bind, the lives and destinies and properties of the subject.
This is an old question. So far back as the 19th March, 1886, a Motion was made in this House of Commons that treaties and declarations of war and declarations of peace and all international transactions should have the previous sanction of the House of Commons. That Motion was only rejected by the narrow majority of four. Mr. Bryce, now Lord Bryce, was Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs at that time, and in his "American Commonwealth," written some years afterwards, he referred specially to that Motion. He stated that the time would soon come when the practice of the unlimited power of the English Executive over matters of foreign policy would be curtailed. He was writing that in reference to the American Constitution, and he said that the time would come when English constitutionalists might study with great effect and efficiency the American Constitution, whereby treaties can only be made by the President with the assent of two-thirds of the Senate. And when we hear Mr. Roosevelt hope that the Senate would not agree to such-and-such a treaty, we must remember that we in this House know nothing at all about treaties. We have been talking this afternoon about Persia, but we do not know how many private treaties may be affecting all these transactions. We know nothing. We are treated as children. We are told what is good for us and what we ought to know, and we are to give our hearts and consciences and intellects to the sense carrier, who is to have power over us. That is strong language, but is no more than a plain statement of the case. It is the language used in express terms by Mr. Disraeli. He declared that 104 the power of making peace and war was a prerogative absolutely outside the House of Commons. It was declared by Lord Palmerston that in peace and war that people in this House who said they had a right to interfere did not know the British Constitution. That was again and again urged by statesmen in the last century. See what that leads to.
We have got no power to make a treaty, as I say. We can discuss it afterwards. We have no power to make peace or war, though we have power to stop supplies, which power would not be exercised by any Englishman. See what this secrecy of policy does. It does this, and it does it without the knowledge of anyone that may give a Minister immense personal influence as distinct from ministerial and. official influence. That is an unconstitutional state of things. Anyone who has read Sir Theodore Martin's "Life of Queen Victoria" and looks through the Parliamentary Debates, can see the different influences that have been at work, will know what was due to the personality of the Crown. Then, again, see what effect it has in reference to what is called truth and honour in public affairs. If we had an open policy the Foreign Secretary could not deny there was such a transaction as the Salisbury memorandum on a Tuesday, and allow it to be published broadcast on a Thursday. Such a thing could not occur as occurred in my own recollection, when a Foreign Secretary united in his own person the office of Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister, and placed in this House as Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs his own son, and instructed him not to presume to answer a supplementary question upon foreign affairs until it was revised by him. The question is, ought we to have open and fair dealing in connection with these matters of foreign affairs? Of course, there are always difficulties in the way of the danger to the susceptibilities of Foreign States. Mr. Gladstone relied upon that very strongly. But if he had been alive during the last year or two and heard the questions as to foreign policy and the suggestions from the Opposition Benches, he certainly would have said that difficulty did not arise.
On the 3rd April, 1883, when Mr. Gladstone was Prime Minister, Mr. Jacob Bright moved a Motion that the sanction of the House of Commons should be given before entering into a treaty with any country which wished to annex land adjoining the Congo. Mr. Gladstone said that 105 some years ago he could not have accepted that plea or acknowledged it, but from what occurred in recent times it was necessary that there should be an open policy. And what was it that he was referring to as what occurred in recent times? He was thinking of the policy of 1874 and 1880. The late Leader of the Opposition said that he knew men in the House of Commons to whom foreign policy was as well known as industrial policy. Mr. Gladstone said he would gladly see more openness and publicity in foreign affairs. He was speaking of the various transactions that led to the Berlin Treaty and the North-Western policy in India, and the annexation of Cyprus, and the bringing of Indian troops into Europe, all of which was done by exercise of the prerogative. In the last few years we have been turning our Constitution from an unwritten into a written one. One of the first things that should be done is that publicity and the sanction of the House of Commons should be given to every international transaction before being entered into irrevocably.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Sir Edward Grey)
I cannot, after having been for so many years in friendly official relations with the Foreign Minister of Austro-Hungary, and for so many years in constant communication—always personally of the most friendly nature—with the representative of that great country the Ambassador in London, forbear saying a few words to express my personal sympathy at the tragic loss which that country has suffered. What I say will be very brief, and it is merely a personal touch that I do not like to forego, because I will not anticipate the formal vote proposed on the death of the Archduke Francis Ferdinand and his Consort which will be moved to-morrow, and which will enable the House to express its feelings and give the Prime Minister an opportunity of expressing much more fully the feeling of His Majesty's Government. But, Sir, I was one of those who less than a year ago saw the pleasure that was given here by the visit to the King of the Archduke Francis Ferdinand and his Consort. I saw the pleasure given by that visit. I knew the good will which the Archduke personally expressed towards our country during his visit and the pleasure which he so obviously felt in that visit. That was less than a year ago, and it gives a personal touch to one's feelings. There is 106 another personal touch also which anyone must feel who has been in official relations so long with the Austro-Hungarian Government, and that is the personal touch which comes from reflection on the distress that is caused to the Emperor of Austria in his advanced age by such a blow as this, coming after so many family afflictions. There is no Foreign Minister in Europe who can be to-day without personal feelings of the deepest sincerity with regard to the loss which has befallen the Emperor of Austria. There is not one Foreign Minister in Europe who does not know what great support the life of the Emperor of Austria-Hungary has been, and continues to be, in the cause of the peace of Europe, which is of such paramount interest to us all.
Before I pass to the subjects connected with the Near East which have been raised in this Debate, I would like to say a word upon the question touched on only by one Member, I think, in this Debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley—a question which I was very glad to hear introduced in the House—that is, the question of the Panama tolls. He expressed satisfaction, I think, at the settlement reached. I should like to say one word upon that subject. It is true that a settlement has been reached;, but, while that settlement has been reached, the subject has not been entirely free from misrepresentation, which may have in it the seeds of future mischief, and I think it is due to the President of the United States, and due to ourselves also, that I should, as far as my knowledge goes, clear away some of that misrepresentation. I have seen it stated in some quarters that the settlement which has now been arranged over the Panama tolls was the result of some bargain between the present Government of the United States and His Majesty's Government, or that it was the result of some diplomatic pressure on our part—in other words, that it was the result of finesse or cleverness on our part, either in the matter of bargain or in diplomacy. I should like to say just what are the facts. The House knows from the Papers published the attitude we took up upon this subject originally, and the correspondence which passed in the early stages between ourselves and the Government of the United States. That correspondence passed entirely before President Wilson came into office. Since he came into office I believe no correspondence whatever has passed, and it ought to be recognised that 107 the line he has taken in the United States on this subject has not been taken because it was our view of foreign policy, but because it was his own view. Since he came into office we have left the matter as it was left when the Papers were laid before Parliament previously, and if it be the case that our views and arguments have influenced the opinions of the President of the United States, it has not been because of any arguments we have used since he came into power, or any diplomatic communications between the two Governments since he came into power. It can only have been because of the Papers which were already public property to the whole world before he came into power.
As far as I know, the really great satisfactory feature of the view and action taken by the President of the United States, is that he has done it not to please us specially, not specially even in the interests of good relations between the United States and Great Britain, although I believe that is as dear to his feelings as it is to ours. I do not believe that either of those things has been his special motive. I believe it has been the much greater motive and feeling that any Government—any one of the great civilised Governments which is going to use its influence to make the relations not between two countries, but between all the great civilised and peaceful countries of the world, if the opportunity arises— must never when the occasion arises flinch or quail from interpreting Treaty rights, with whatever country they may have been entered into in a strictly fair spirit. If that be so, the settlement of this question has an influence, and a much greater influence than the relations between the United States and Great Britain. It means that in a question of great policy, of setting an example to the world at a critical moment when you come to the parting of the ways on a question of Treaty rights, the parting of the ways depends upon whether you are going to throw your influence on the side of doing something to establish more firmly civilised and peaceful relations between the Powers, and throw your influence on that scale in diplomacy, or whether you are going, by treaty rights too lightly or too one-sidedly to set back the opportunity between civilised nations of settling dis- 108 putes by peaceful methods. So much I wish to have the opportunity of saying on that point.
I will now pass to the other subjects upon which more time has been spent in the Debate. It is a little difficult to weave them all together in an orderly manner in the texture of a speech, but I will try and take them separately, and make what I have to say about them as orderly and intelligible as possible. I will take first the point dealt with by the Noble Lord, who initiated the Debate (the Earl of Ronaldshay) the question of the oil concession in Persia and its relation to our policy in Persia. The Noble Lord charged me with inconsistency, and to make out his case I do not complain of the way he put his case, but I am going to say that I think he misrepresented one or two of the things I have said or intended to say. I think he made out his case by looking at what I had said originally some years ago about non-interference in Persia. The Noble Lord appears to have looked at the affairs of Persia through one end of the telescope, and then he looks through the other end: at what I said the other day when I followed the First Lord of the Admiralty in the Debate upon the oilfields. I understood the Noble Lord to quote something I had said many years ago, what I described as a policy of masterly inactivity in Persia, and he takes that as meaning that at that time my view was that we should not encourage commercial concessions in the neutral zone. I do not remember that I ever intended to say anything which went as far as that. I remember holding very strongly the view that we ought not to get ourselves in the position of incurring territorial rights and obligations in the neutral zone in Persia. I certainly did not want to extend such rights and obligations, but I surely even at that time must have been conscious that we had some trade in the neutral zone in Persia, and we had then this very oil concession existing given to a British company, but I never intended to convey that we should give all these? things up, without making some effort to work them, or that we should abstain from applying for any concessions such as railway concessions in the South of Persia, or that we should allow those oil concessions, if difficulties arose, to go by the board. I always thought it consistent with that original policy to do what we could to encourage legitimate commercial trade, 109 and that we should encourage the making of railways in the South of Persia, and generally that we should encourage British policy. I wanted to do it without incurring territorial obligations, or, at any rate, more territorial obligations than we could help. I demur altogether to its being said that because I have supported a policy of encouraging railway concessions, or done it in connection with previously existing oil concessions, that therefore I have departed from the policy which was laid down some years ago.
It must be remembered that continually speaker after speaker in the House seemed to forget—or, at least, one would not gather from their speeches that it was present to their minds—the fact that this oil concession existed before the Anglo-Russian Agreement was made, and that it remains to-day exactly as it was then. We have not got a single right in Persia under that oil concession by the transactions between the Admiralty and the Anglo-Persian Oil Company which did not exist before the Anglo-Russian Convention was made. Then the Noble Lord says that I spoke lightly of sending two brigades. I listened to his version and to his recollection of what I said the other day on that point. I was speaking in answer to some criticisms made by the hon. Member for West Saffordshire (Mr. Lloyd) as to the impossibility if need were, however great our need, of protecting this existing oil concession. I demur to its being said that in time of peace it was impossible to protect it against local circumstances. I went on to say that we could not want to protect it against local disturbance or to send two brigades, or send any force whatever, unless certain conditions arose which made it urgently necessary, even at a very short space of time to give that protection. I then proceeded to point out to the House that the statement of the First Lord of the Admiralty made it quite clear that some of those conditions could not arise, that the Admiralty was not in time of war going to be urgently dependent upon this supply, and was not at any moment going to be absolutely dependent upon it, so that it could never be a matter of immediate urgency, and forcing our hand to send troops into the neutral zone to protect the source of supply to the Admiralty.
If I spoke lightly of sending two Brigades it was because I urged upon the House that the conditions which would 110 make it imperative upon us to do so were conditions that could not arise, not that I treated it lightly, but that I thought it exceedingly improbable and, indeed, an impossible matter that we should be forced to do it under the conditions laid down by the First Lord of the Admiralty. If I thought it was likely that we should have to take a step of that kind I should take a more serious view of it. The hon. Member for Bradford asked who would pay the bill. We do not anticipate that any bill will arise, but if it did arise, the circumstances under which it arose would have to be taken into very careful account, and the House would have to be quite clear that no burden was placed upon India if that burden was being incurred, not in the interests of India, but solely in the interests of the supply of oil to the Admiralty. The Noble Lord asked why we were investing two millions of money in a neutral zone. This oil concession is not limited to the neutral zone, but it is a very big concession which extends over a vast amount of territory. It is true it is only being developed in one part of the neutral zone, but it does extend over a vast amount of territory, and what I wanted to bring out the other day is that the most valuable part of this oil concession is not the pipe-line which exists in the oil-fields, but the prospects of the Admiralty going into this concession will make it sure not only that the present development proceeds but that new development is specially directed to places in the British sphere, or at any rate places near the coast, so that the result of the arrangement made by the Admiralty will be not that this oil concession is going to be pushed North in places remote from the coast where there may be all sorts of objection, but at all events the development will be brought South in the first instance, at any rate, in order to secure that the new development would be possible, if not in the British sphere, at any rate within easy reach of the coast so as to make our obligations as slight as possible and make the supply of oil to the Admiralty as sure as possible. No criticism is really fair in this matter which does not take into account the importance and the prospects of the existing developments which now exist.
An hon. Member opposite spoke of the prospects of this concession, and its working being dependent so much upon being conducted on model lines, and that is a most important point. The concession 111 has hitherto been worked on excellent lines, and it has not given any trouble yet, and, indeed, the interests of the Admiralty in the matter will not make any difficulty in that respect, but will rather be an extra guarantee that it will continue on those lines. It is not likely to provoke disturbance, but its tendency will be to make disturbance less likely than in any other part where there is no concession, and where the tribes have not the same interest in seeing their country developed, or where concessions are not worked in such a satisfactory way. The final thing I have to say upon this matter is this: An hon. Member asked me a question about the Anglo-Japanese alliance, but it did not occur to me that the obligations under the Japanese alliance had any bearing on this question, and I have not communicated with Japan on the subject. Had I thought that it was going to increase the obligations of Japan under the alliance I should have thought it necessary to communicate with the Japanese Government in advance. I do not see how it could cast new obligations on the alliance, unless the disturbances in those particular regions was the result of some cause operating over an infinitely greater area than any area in the oil district, and in which the oil-field is a mere incident and not an important part of the trouble at all.
The final thing I have to say is this: I certainly do not want to increase British obligations anywhere, and I have done my best to prevent our incurring territorial obligations. Trade, of course, does imply certain obligations, and one is bound to do his utmost to encourage British trade in all parts of the world. I have endeavoured to fulfil that without incurring territorial obligations. The Noble Lord says, "Is not this an increase of obligations." It is not an increase of imperative obligations, because, under the arrangements which the Admiralty have been making, it is not to be absolutely dependent, nor at any given moment immediately dependent, upon this given supply; and, therefore, it is an obligation which we shall be free to construe as we please at any given moment. Still, I would very much rather, I fully admit, that the Admiralty had been able to make the arrangements inside the British Dominions, but they could not do it. The British Empire was never planned, and the importance of oil was never foreseen; so, even if it had been planned, I doubt 112 whether this omission to secure a first-rate supply of oil in the British Empire would have been remedied. The Admiralty cannot make arrangements within the British Empire. You may say, if you like, and it is fair criticism, "If that is so, it is too great an increase of obligations for the Admiralty to enter into any arrangement for any supply of oil outside the British Empire, and, therefore, it should remain at the mercy of price in times of peace without taking any measures to protect itself in times of war." You may say that, and it is fair criticism, but I do not agree with it, and I am convinced, and the Government who had to consider this thing carefully are convinced, that it was desirable that the Admiralty should make arrangements of this kind to enable it to control prices in times of peace, even if the arrangement had to be made outside the British Empire. If you grant that point, then, may I ask that I may have some reply to the question that I addressed to the House the other day on this matter: "Where else outside the British Dominions could you have incurred fewer obligations and less dangerous commitments than you have in this particular case 2 [An HON. MEMBER: "Egypt."] I am told Egypt is insufficient; that the Admiralty could not have secured its object by arrangements in Egypt.
§ Sir E. GREY
The Noble Lord can address that question to the Admiralty. I cannot answer it offhand, but I am quite certain that they have gone into it, and I am quite certain that no amount of prospecting in Egypt would have disclosed the enormous prospects which have been disclosed by Admiral Slade's inquiry under the Admiralty into the Persian oil concession. Where else could you have done it? There are vast supplies in Russia; there are vast supplies in the United States; I believe there are very big supplies in Roumania; and there are enormous supplies in Mexico. Would not the arguments brought against this particular concession apply with tenfold force against the Admiralty making a deal with the places I have named? Until I get an answer to my question, "Where else could it have been done so satisfactorily and effectively outside the British Dominions? I maintain that it was desir- 113 able and essential, if the Admiralty were to be sure of an economic supply of oil, that it should do something of this kind. Where else could it have been done where the risks would have been less?
§ Sir E. GREY
I think Admiral Slade's Report in the Papers presented to Parliament will show the exact extent of the explorations made by the Admiralty, and there was nothing in existence so assured at that time and with such good prospects that the Admiralty could make the deal in time. They had to make the deal quickly. A year would have been too late. The whole of this Anglo-Persian concession would have gone, and would have fallen into the hands of those opposing the particular deal the Admiralty has made, and the Admiralty would have been at their mercy on the question of price. I do not want to turn the whole of my speech to a debate purely on the oil question. I wanted to restrict myself to the points raised by the Noble Lord. I did not think it fair to pass over those points, and I have dealt with the particular questions which he raised. I would go on to deal with just one or two questions asked me with regard to Persia. My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford (Sir G. Scott Robertson) asked me several definite questions with regard to Persia, and the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. Baird) made a speech on that point. Of course, when one is dealing with Persia, one has to bear in mind that the independence and integrity of Persia means independence and integrity in the sense in which it existed when the Anglo-Russian Convention was made. One hon. Member opposite, I think the hon. Member for Hull (Sir Mark Sykes) said, "Supposing you were to lend British officers to the Persian Government to raise a Persian force to protect trade routes, that would be undesirable, because it would stimulate Russia to have a Persian force under Russian officers in the North." A Persian force under Russian officers existed in the North of Persia at Teheran, at the very capital, before the Anglo-Russian Convention was made.
Of course, we never dreamed of construing the Anglo-Russian Convention to 114 mean that the Persian cossacks under Russian officers were to be put an end to, and that Russian influence, which was already predominant in the North of Persia, the capital of Persia being so near to Russia and so remote from our frontiers or the sea, before the Anglo-Russian Convention was made was going to be abolished by the Convention, nor would it have been fair or in accordance with its spirit to construe it in that sense. What we do desire is that the Anglo-Russian Convention should not be the means of diminishing the independence and integrity of Persia more than it had previously been diminished, and, if events occur which were not foreseen when the Anglo-Russian Convention took place and which apparently lead to the independence and integrity of Persia being infringed in practice if not in name, then those events and the position from time to time should be reviewed by friendly discussion between the British and Russian Governments. I take the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford. He asked me about the Muhamrah Khoramabad Railway. I am afraid the survey has not made much progress lately because the country has been disturbed. I was asked whether the Persian Petroleum Company is quite separate from the Anglo-Persian Oil Company. It is quite separate and has nothing to do with the Anglo-Persian Oil Concession, nor is the Admiralty engaged in that business. The hon. Member then spoke of the position in Azerbaijan where Russian troops are at present. I have always said with regard to the presence of Russian troops, when disturbances exist in Persia which threaten Russian interests or trade, that you could not construe the temporary protection of those trade routes and the preservation and maintenance of order in the country of Russian troops as being inconsistent with the spirit of the Anglo-Russian Agreement; but, as order increases, the Russian Government assures us that these troops will be progressively withdrawn, and lately their numbers have been reduced.
The difficulty, of course, is this: The order in the North of Persia has been in great contrast with the disorder in many other parts of Persia, and there is no doubt that a case can be made out for saying that the presence of Russian troops has contributed to that order, and that the sudden and complete withdrawal of them might lead to disorder in the North 115 of Persia, as there has been in other parts of Persia; but lately, besides the presence of Russian troops, there has been a tendency for the Civil Administration in Azerbaijan to become more and more Russified through, not the deliberate policy of the Russian Government at all, but the action of Russian Consuls in one place or another. Take, for instance, the collection of taxes by Russian officials. These are simple matters of fact, and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford said, Russian influence has increased in that way or in some similar way in Ispahan, which is actually in the Russian sphere, but on the very edge of the Russian sphere, and it would be a very serious matter if that Russian influence, any political as distinct from commercial influence, were to spread from Ispahan into the neutral zone. Ispahan is a place which does influence the neutral zone. An analysis of the position made by the hon. Member for Rugby in his speech was in some respects quite a reasonable analysis of the sort of tendency that has been taking place. He mentioned one or two topics, and I have mentioned this other in connection with the collection of taxes. We have lately brought these facts under review with the Russian Government, and said that it was time we had a friendly discussion with them and took stock of the position, so that we might see exactly what had taken place since the Anglo-Russian Convention was made— taking stock not by way of making complaint of one particular instance here, and another particular instance there, but of the general accumulative effect of many instances and the tendency of that in the last few years. That we have begun to discuss with the Russian Government.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford asked me whether we have proposed any alteration in the Anglo-Russian Convention. No, we have not proposed any alteration in the Anglo-Russian Convention. We have simply proposed to discuss the situation which, in some respects, we think has worked to our disadvantage by the force of events not foreseen when the Anglo-Russian Convention was made. My hon. Friend spoke of the financial situation in Persia. It is undoubtedly a very serious one. The revenue has improved, but the control over expenditure is weak, and the difficulty is to know how you are to secure a better financial situation in Persia generally without having to 116 set up in some way foreign financial control, which again raises the question of the independence and integrity of Persia. The revenue has improved in Persia, but the control over the expenditure exercised by the Persian Government is exceedingly lax, even in those matters over which they have full control, and in which they are not interfered with from outside. It would be a very serious thing if there were a sudden collapse of the gendarmerie under Swedish officers, but we cannot go on lending money to Persia indefinitely. I cannot hold out any hope to my hon. Friend behind me that we shall be able to. lend money for the general necessities of the Persian Government, but the Government has come to a decision that we should be prepared to advance £50,000 more to be allocated for the gendarmerie under Swedish officers in Fars and Karman, to prevent the gendarmerie force collapsing, and to prevent our being confronted with the sudden necessity of proposing other methods for the preservation of order on the trade routes. Half of the £50,000 will come from India; we shall only come to the House for £25,000. India, of course, is very greatly interested in the trade.
§ Sir E. GREY
Yes, it is still on the Customs. So much on the question of Persia—or the points which have been raised in connection with it. I come now to the question of the Bagdad Railway, which was raised by the Noble Lord opposite, who suggested that I had spoken somewhat pessimistically on the subject of the publication of Papers. We certainly do intend to publish Papers, including the text of agreements and covering dispatches, so as to make them intelligible to the House and to everybody who reads them. But they are really hung up at the present moment on one point. We have made various agreements with Turkey; we have made agreements also with Germany separately on the Bagdad Railway question and on some kindred matters. We have also made agreements with Turkey about the Bagdad Railway and kindred matters, and about the Persian Gulf generally. I want to lay these as soon as possible. Although we have signed some of these agreements with Turkey, and have initialled others with Turkey and with Germany so that they are ready for signature, we cannot sign the latter, Turkey 117 cannot sign them, and Germany cannot sign them with us. until Turkey and Germany have completed their own separate negotiations, and it is because those separate negotiations are not yet completed that we have not been able to sign with those two countries separately all the agreements which we wish to lay before Parliament. All I can say is I hope the time is not far distant when we may be able to lay the agreements in extenso, and then I hope it will be found that they make a very complete settlement of many very troublesome questions. I should like to say more about them now, but there is difficulty in talking about them in detail at the present moment. Suppose I deal with one point which we regard as having been settled satisfactorily to this country, and instanced that as showing it is a good agreement as a whole. The result may be that in the other country which is a party to this agreement, whether it be Turkey or whether it be Germany, public opinion may become restless if it looks too favourable to us, while if I have to admit that on one particular detail we have had to make concessions without being able to disclose the whole agreement, then it gives this House an impression we have made an agreement much less favourable to our interests than it really is when judged as a whole.
I cannot add very much to the main lines I laid down the other day, but I may repeat that the agreement we have made with regard to the Bagdad Railway is that, though we do not participate, it stops at Bussora, and by agreement with both Germany and Turkey is not going to be continued beyond Bussora or to the Gulf without some future agreement with us. The securing that the railway stops at Bussora is a most important point, because the original Bagdad Railway concession between Germany and Turkey included the right to go to the Persian Gulf, and that was a subject of great anxiety in this country. It might have ended on the Persian Gulf, and might have developed into something in which we have no interest and no control, and then it might have unsettled the whole position in the Persian Gulf. The arrangement we have made ensures that the railway stops at Bussora, and the position on the Persian Gulf is not going to be unsettled by the Bagdad Railway. We have stipulated for equal rights and equal rates, and two British directors have been admitted so that we can be satisfied that the line over the working of 118 which we have no control, is, so far as the conditions of commerce of all nations are concerned, being worked, not only in. the letter, but in the spirit.
§ Sir J. D. REES
Do these remarks apply to a branch that will probably be made to Khanikin from the Bagdad Railway?
§ Sir E. GREY
I do not like to go into points of detail. I am only stating the general lines of the agreement. Then comes the question of navigation. The navigation to Bagdad has previously been, as far as we have been concerned, in a most unsatisfactory state. Messrs. Lynch had a right—according to the Turks only a limited right—to run a limited number of steamers for navigation purposes. Whatever right the British company had it was limited to that particular purpose, and was the utmost we have been able to make sure of for a very long time; while it was open to the Turkish Government to form a company with any amount of foreign capital they pleased, to run as many steamers as they liked on the river to subsidise them as they liked, and by competition of that sort to run Messrs. Lynch's steamers off the river altogether. Under the new arrangement whatever rights Messrs. Lynch had are preserved, recognised, and assured, and, more than that, we are assured there will be Turkish rights of navigation which will be entrusted to an Ottoman company, in which there will be 50 per cent. of British participation with a casting vote. That assures, and it is in the mutual interest of ourselves and Turkey, that the navigation will be efficiently and adequately conducted, and that the ancient vested interests which we have had for so many years will not in any way be excluded, but will be secured under the new scheme.
It is in the interest of the Turkish Government and of trade generally that there-should be a really good scheme of navigation, and I think the House will be satisfied when the Papers are published, that we have got that. We shall also include an agreement, the conditions of which I cannot state until they have been fully disclosed, by which a Turkish Commission will be formed to keep the Shatt-el-Arab in a satisfactory state for navigation, and finally we get recognition by Turkey of the status quo in the Persian Gulf—the status quo as we have regarded it for years past. I have not wished to obtain any new advantages or undertake new obligations in the Gulf. 119 We have always had our own view of the status quo, and we do not want to see the status quo as understood by the British Government, disturbed or displaced. It was the status quo we laid down originally, but for which we never secured direct recognition. We shall, under this agreement, secure to our mutual advantage a real understanding about the status quo in the Persian Gulf, which will prevent either Turkey or ourselves stirring up trouble. An agreement between Turkey and ourselves as regards the status quo in the Persian Gulf will be obtained, and that in itself is, I think, a great security for the future. The status quo, as we understood it and have acted upon it for many years past, will not be a matter of assertion; it will be one of agreement between ourselves and the Turkish Government.
In return for all these things, when they are completed, and when all the other countries have made the same arrangement which are in an advanced stage with the Turkish Government, we shall increase to 15 per cent. the Turkish Customs Duty. It means a continuance of the old extra 3 per cent. which has been in existence for some years, and an addition which will make the total duty 15 per cent. Other countries have been having separate negotiations with Turkey. Most are in an advanced stage, so are ours also. The Turks have really wanted some increase of revenue, if they are to have a chance of putting their country into a satisfactory condition. We do not desire to prevent that. On the other hand, we could not agree to a 15 per cent. Turkish Customs Duty if the increase of revenue was going, directly or indirectly, to facilitate the making of the Bagdad Railway, and if that were to be continued to a port on the Persian Gulf, and upset the status quo there, without any agreement with us. On that account, therefore, we had to oppose it, and that brought us into diplomatic opposition with Germany. It was a very disagreeable position. It was quite clear that the railway was going to be made, and for us to be in the position of continually opposing the increase of revenue which Turkey really wanted, and doing it because we did not wish to see a German concession there, could only lead to constant friction. But having come to an agreement as to the terms of the Bagdad Railway, which secures British interests from disturbance in the Persian Gulf, we shall be able when the 120 agreements are published, to say to Turkey definitely, "We agree to increase your revenue by Customs; we know that will be necessary; it is not our policy to put obstructions or difficulties in the way of the Bagdad Railway, now that agreement has been come to." I hope, having said so much, I have not disappointed the Noble Lord opposite.
Then I pass, still in the East, to the question of Armenia, which was raised by the hon. Member for Norfolk (Mr. Noel Buxton). There is difficulty about stating definitely the particular power given to the two Inspectors-General. This appointment of two European Inspectors-General has been made by the Turkish Government, but they have not officially informed us of the powers which are to be given to them. As a matter of fact, we have heard a good deal about them, but it would not do for me to lay Papers or explain in full something which is the act of the Turkish Government themselves. The appointments are made by them, and the powers are given by them, and they do not wish it to appear as if it had been done under foreign pressure. The Turkish Government have given the British Inspectors-General full power, but do not want it to appear that it is in any way derogatory to Turkish sovereignty. All I can say is that I know the Inspectors will have power to enable them to control justice, police, and the gendarmerie. The inspectors will have very wide powers, quite sufficient to enable them to realise any reforms which we all hope will be and which the Turkish Government themselves after all that has passed desires should be carried out, and make them effective in the administration of those provinces. The Powers are very wide Powers, and as soon as the Turkish Government makes them known to the world at large there will be no difficulty about making a much fuller statement to the House.
As regards the protection of minorities in Macedonia and the Near East, I can say very little more than I have said. I do not think the mission to Western Anatolia which is accompanying the Turkish inquiry is an analogy. It was not suggested to the Turkish Government by the Powers, but the Powers sent dragomans at the request of the Turkish Government. There is no analogy between that and the International Mission which has been suggested, nor do I think the Powers themselves, at this 121 moment, are prepared to get up an International Mission for that purpose. With regard to Albania, in which the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Aubrey Herbert) speaks with so much natural feeling and interest, he says that we ought to do more than we have done. I have listened to his suggestions, and except in one respect I do not know that we could do more than we have done so far. Who are we to deal with? He himself said that M. Venizelos and the Foreign Minister were not responsible for the occurrences, and were doing their best to control them. I am sure that is true. M. Venizelos and the Foreign Minister are the two people with whom we have to deal in the Greek Government. I am quite convinced it is their desire that these things—some of which are exaggerated, some of which I fear are true—which have been happening lately should be stopped. If they are not stopped, it is not because M. Venizelos and the Foreign Minister have been in any way parties to them, but because they themselves know the difficulty of exercising control.
§ Mr. AUBREY HERBERT
My suggestion was that Consuls should be sent from England, and the fact that they were there would stop anything happening, without any question of appealing to anybody else.
§ Sir E. GREY
I have already said that on all points except one I did not see how we could do no more, and that was the one point to which I was coming. As regards representations to the Greek Government and so forth, we could not do more than we have done. M. Venizelos and the Foreign Minister have real good will in the matter, but the real root difficulty is that the thing is beyond control. There is no responsible Government with which you can deal effectively with regard to it. The difficulty about sending Consuls is this: It was proposed the other day by one or two of the other Powers, or one of them, that an International Mission might go to Durazzo to inquire into the disorders and to carry out an agreement recently come to between the International Mission and these people, but we came to the conclusion that in the present state of things—where the Albanian Government itself is not in a position to exercise any influence or enforce order in the country, where you have no responsible Government to deal with, so that things happen on individual responsibility, and things are done by individuals for which there is 122 no Government to bring to book at the present moment—it would not be safe to send an International Mission without an escort. I should not like to send a British Consul there without an escort. To send a British Consul to the Epirus at the present moment, where there is no Government which we could hold responsible for what takes place, would mean that you must take effective measures to see that the Consul is protected, otherwise it would not be a fair thing to him. To send him with a force would mean to send him in fact with a British escort; in other words, the Epirus is in that state where real influence can only be exercised at the present moment by the use of force. I am opposed, and shall remain opposed, to sending British troops into Albania to use force there. If you send them into very disturbed places it means that they will run the risk, some of them at any rate, of losing their lives, and also of having to take life. I am quite sure that if a British soldier were killed in Albania, or if British soldiers fired on the Albanian people—I do not care what section you take—the House would want a very strict account of how it happened and why it had been done. Therefore we have taken the line that we are not prepared to send British troops into Albania.
On the other hand, if you are not prepared to send troops of your own to use force, you must, of course, stand aside when things are very bad and other Powers take a different view, and you must not object to the measures they propose to take. I can say no more about it than that the state of things is evidently unsatisfactory, whether it be in Durazzo itself, which is supposed to be the seat? of the Albanian Government, or wherever it may be. It is very unsatisfactory, but we cannot find a remedy in the use of force. The most I can say is we are willing that, while we are not prepared to-do things ourselves, we are not going to obstruct the steps other people will take for themselves. As to the question of the New Hebrides, raised by the hon. Member for Gravesend (Sir Gilbert Parker), I cannot go into it at any length. I do not dispute that the state of things has not been at all satisfactory under the working of the Condominium. A Conference is now sitting to try and make things more satisfactory in the future. In order to make things more satisfactory, and to give a guarantee that they will be more satisfactory, it would be essential that certain 123 alerations in the execution of the Condominium should be agreed to at that Conference. Whether those things, which are of vital importance, will be achieved at the Conference or not, I cannot yet say. The obstacles to any other arrangement than that of a Condominium, as the hon. Member himself admits, are almost insuperable or, at any rate, very difficult. At the same time it is exceedingly desirable that the Conference should agree to those things which are essential, and which I think are regarded by reasonable people as essential to secure the better working of the Condominium, and prevent some of the events which have occurred. I sincerely trust they will be able to arrive at an agreement, because the state of things as it is in the New Hebrides cannot continue without some account being laid before Parliament from time to time. If the Conference should come to a satisfactory conclusion, I would be prepared to contend that we had better make a fresh start, and that we need not publish the Reports we received before. If we cannot definitely say that an agreement has been reached—if it is, it will, of course, be laid before the House—and cannot give the House reason to expect that the abuses which have occurred in the past will be prevented under the new arrangements, of course the time will come when we shall have to lay Papers. I do not want that time to come at all, because, when you have a Condominium, and once a party to that Condominium lays Papers and Reports received by them from their agents on the spot giving an unsatisfactory account of affairs, it inevitably leads to bickering and friction between the two Governments. One Government says things are very bad and the other? Government says the state of things is exaggerated, and then there is an argument between them as to who is really to blame in the matter, and so forth, which is bound to make friction between the two Governments without securing the real improvement that we want. I am perfectly prepared to admit there is need for improvement in the administration. More than I have said I cannot very well say until it is apparent what the Conference is going to do.
Sir GILBERT PARKER:
Before the right hon. Gentleman passes from that subject, may I ask if the British Government is in communication with the Australasian Governments or with repre- 124 sentatives of the Australasian Governments as to the proceedings and proposals of the Conference?
§ Sir E. GREY
It is rather difficult for me to reply definitely without referring to the Colonial Office. My belief is that the Australian Government and the New Zealand Government were consulted fully before the Conference met, and that they are to be consulted also at a further stage.
§ Sir E. GREY
I would like to inquire upon that point in order to be quite sure about it. I suppose there will be some stage after the Convention is signed before it is ratified. The first thing we want is to get within sight of agreement; the thing which is really worth having as a real guarantee of agreement. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies has taken every step to keep in touch with the Australasian Governments.
Mr. GEORGE LLOYD
May I suggest that the Dominions should be consulted before signature? The right hon. Gentleman is well aware than once a Treaty is signed it is difficult to get it altered before ratification. It is no good consulting them after it is signed. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will consult them while their representations can be effective.
§ 8.0 P.M.
§ Sir E. GREY
Of course they have been consulted beforehand on various points. I am guarding myself against saying that there is no point which has not already been fully discussed between the Colonial Office and the Australian Government. We may be entitled to sign it without reference to them again. If the hon. Member will put down a question on that point I will give him a more definite and authoritative answer than I can give on the spur of the moment. I cannot sit down without saying a word on the question of opium, about which my hon. Friend behind me (Mr. T. C. Taylor) spoke with so much feeling, and on which we know his feeling is very strong. He asked me a question about the Opium Conference sitting at The Hague. I am in a state of suspended expectation in regard to that. I have received a telegram to say that the Conference has terminated. Whether that is very good news or the reverse—I hope it is very good news—I cannot at present say. It is quite true that some of the Powers, including 125 Germany and France, were, up till a short time ago, raising objections. The Conference having terminated, it may be that those objections have been removed, and that the difficulties have been overcome, and have disappeared. If so, it is good news. Until I get the explanation why it has come rather suddenly to an end, I cannot speak with certainty. I cannot give my hon. Friend more information on that point. He also spoke of the Shanghai municipality, and contended that we had complete control over them. I expressed my own opinion about that in reply to a question put to me the other day. I will say that with regard to other concessions in China which are under our control licences have been stopped—the reverse of the policy which has lately been pursued in the international settlement of Shanghai, and I hope my hon. Friend will take that as a guarantee that as far as our influence goes in the international settlement it would be exercised in the same direction as we have effectively exercised it in the concessions under our control.
§ Mr. T. C. TAYLOR
Does not the right hon. Gentleman remember being the means of stopping the opium dens in Shanghai, and could he not use the same means of getting these opium shops stopped now as he used then?
§ Sir E. GREY
Perhaps my hon. Friend will remind me of the particular means which were taken. I am very glad to think that we did exercise such means, and I will see how far they are applicable in the present case. With regard to the general trade in China, of course, the export from India stopped some time ago. We have done that. We have done more in regard to the opium trade in China than I think eight years ago many people thought it possible any Government could do in so short a time. But it is only fair to remember that the Chinese themselves also have done more. They have made province after province clean. The bargain with them was that as soon as a province was clean, as soon as it had ceased to grow opium, we should agree that it should be closed to the imports from India of opium, however lawfully the Indian opium might otherwise have got into China.
We are now left with the question of these stocks at Shanghai. More Chinese provinces have been closed. I think there are only three left open now in China into which Indian opium goes, though I think 126 there are seven provinces which have not been declared clean. The moment these three provinces are cleaned there can be no question that China will have the right to say that the stocks actually in Shanghai at the present moment must not go into any part of China. Whether we can do something before these three provinces are actually declared clean, I cannot actually say. The stocks have been diminished, and the question whether we could hasten the final settlement with the Chinese Government, and say to them so much has been done, and China is practically clean, that the whole thing should come to an end, is one on which I cannot say anything further at the present moment. If we do that, we shall have to consider the position in regard to stocks bearing in mind all questions with regard to price and profits and so on which my hon. Friend has referred to. The final point with which I have to deal is the large point, but not the new point raised by my hon. Friend (Mr. Swift MacNeill). It is a constitutional point which I cannot very well discuss in a Departmental Debate. He told me some very startling things. He says there were occasions in 1911 when we were within twenty-four hours of war. I do not remember any sleepless nights on my part that year. I admit that there were times of apprehension and difficulty, but that we had come to that imminent point —all I can say is that I am very glad I did not know of it at the time.
§ Mr. SWIFT MacNEILL
My right hon. Friend will remember the very remarkable speech by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
§ Sir E. GREY
That was not within twenty-four hours of war. I admit there were times of difficulty and so forth and times—I do not say of strain—but of anxiety, not as to what would happen in a short time, but what was going to be the diplomatic way out of the whole situation. All I can say is that the worst things were the more glad my hon. Friend ought to be that everything passed off so well all round. We have in the last eight years gone through all sorts of difficult times. Morocco has not been the only question of difficulty, nor the Balkan crisis. There have been other things. We began with great difficulties with Turkey in 1906, and there have been all sorts of difficulties from time to time. Of course it is open to anyone to say that the policy of the 127 Government has caused unnecessary apprehension and anxiety and made these difficulties worse than they were. On the other hand, it is open to anyone, speaking on behalf of the Government, to ask his critics whether they are quite sure that if the Government had done something which they were told they ought to do or had refused to do something which they were criticised for doing, we should have come through as well as we did. I do not think you can get a strong instance in the last few years of the desirability of greater Parliamentary control; but the question of Parliamentary control is, of course, one which raises really a great constitutional question.
I have never personally had a very strong feeling myself about the question of whether treaties when actually signed— treaties of a certain kind—should be submitted to Parliament before they were ratified or not, but it has not been a constitutional practice. It means a great alteration in the Constitution. I have gone out of my way once or twice to say that with regard to certain things which seemed to me of unusual character, such as a general arbitration treaty, I would take care that it was brought before the House for discussion before it was finally concluded, but in doing so, I was departing really from constitutional precedents, and I can only say that if a definite change of that sort in the Constitution is to be made, it is one which must be discussed, not as a purely Departmental matter, but is one which the House and the Government of the day must really discuss on its merits. One thing I am quite aware of. You cannot really turn the House of Commons into an administrative body. Supposing, for instance, you were to form a Committee, and it was to be an administrative body, and no treaty was to be excluded till it had been discussed by that Committee, I think you would put yourself at a great disadvantage as regards other foreign Governments. The moment you try to put administration into the hands of a Committee of the House of Commons you are certainly at a disadvantage with regard to other countries. As to the constitutional question of whether the House should have its say in all treaties before they are ratified, that is a thing which has previously been discussed in the House, and I dare say will be again, but it cannot be taken up simply as a Departmental matter on the Foreign Office Vote.
§ Colonel YATE
I am sure we have all listened with very great pleasure to the review which the right hon. Gentleman has given us of the special questions, ranging over a very wide expanse, and we all congratulate him on the excellent statement he has been able to give us. I listened with great pleasure to what he said of the due consideration which would be given to the merchants who owned the Indian opium at present in stock in China, If any question came up of the disposal of that stock. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Theodore Taylor) told us a great deal about the burning of illicit opium here, and of smuggled opium there, but we ought to remember that this Indian opium in China has never been illicitly imported, nor has it been smuggled. It has been taken to China under treaty, and the Chinese Government are perfectly at liberty to burn it if they so wish, provided they pay the value. I remember saying that to General Chang himself. He apparently wanted to burn the British opium without paying the value of it. I was delighted to hear the Foreign Secretary say that the question of the price to be paid for the opium, if it comes to be disposed of other than by sale, will be considered. Another point he raised was the question of navigation on the Tigris. It seems to me that rather undue importance has been given to this question of the navigation of the Tigris. I cannot help thinking that as time goes on the water will be more and more demanded by the Turkish Government for irrigation, and there will be very little hope of ever having the Tigris fitter for navigation than at present. We shall have less and less water in the river, and less chance of navigation than we have now. I hope the right hon. Gentleman, in getting this Agreement of the rights of navigation of the Tigris, has not given away more than our rights are really worth for that consideration.
The question that the right hon. Gentleman commenced his speech with was the question of the oil concession in Persia. I am entirely in favour of that concession. I support it entirely, and I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on its completion. I believe it will have a tendency to make disturbance less in that part of Persia, to strengthen Persia in that part of her domain, and to uphold her authority and maintain her integrity. Could the right hon. Gentleman tell us, that in this agreement which has been come to, we shall have a distinct guarantee 129 that the money provided by Great Britain will be devoted solely and wholly to the development of the oil wells in Persia, and that we shall have a stipulation in the agreement that this money provided by Great Britain is not to be used for any other purpose of any kind whatsoever outside Persian territory? I trust we shall have an assurance that there will be a stipulation to this effect in the agreement, or that some guarantee will be given by the company that no part of this £2,200,000 is to be spent on any other project than on the development of oil wells from sources which at present exist in Persian territory.
§ Sir E. GREY
That is a question of what is actually in the contract. The hon. and gallant Gentleman must make it the subject of a question. I cannot give a definite answer. I understand that the Admiralty gets control, and will naturally insist on the funds being used to develop those parts of the concession which are most available.
§ Colonel YATE
Cannot the right hon. Gentleman arrange that there should be some stipulation before the agreement comes into force, so that there will be no question about it hereafter? I trust the right hon. Gentleman will take this into consideration and see what can be done, so that no question can be raised of our power to prevent alienation of the fund hereafter.
It being Quarter-past Eight of the clock, and there being Private Business set down by direction of the Chairman of Ways and Means, under Standing Order No. 8, further Proceeding was postponed without Question put.