HL Deb 16 June 1842 vol 63 cc1607-9
Lord Howden,

seeing the noble Secretary for Foreign Affairs in his place, wished to ask whether the official reports received from the British consular authorities in Syria agreed with the private, but very authentic accounts obtained by the last Mediterranean mail, describing that country as rapidly sinking into a state of anarchy and disorganization? He did not intend to make any motion on the subject, for he was fully aware that this was not the most convenient time to enter into an examination of a course of policy, involving false promises and mistaken inductions, which he thought had led to the very unsatisfactory condition of a small but important portion of the Turkish dominions. Neither would he take up their Lordships' time by recapitulating a great deal of strange diplomacy, already known from the papers upon the Table, but he would merely say that it was his decided conviction that the influence of Great Britain in the East might be maintained, and her interest protected without a constant manifestation of outward distrust of one power, and of petty and splenetic petulance towards another. He entreated Ministers not to consider the affairs of Syria below their attention. He had been in all parts of that country, and he knew from the temper of that mixed and most heterogenous population, and from the pressure of the only strong hand which could restrain its being taken away, that it would require unceasing care and vigilance to prevent that corner of the Mediterranean from being the cause, if not of war, of serious disquietude. The result might be that complication of interests, jealousies, and apprehensions, the prolific source of heart burnings and irritation, known by the name of an eastern question.

The Earl of Aberdeen

regretted that he had been absent the day before yesterday, when the noble Lord adverted to the subject; had he known that such was the noble Lord's intention he would not have failed to be in his place. The noble Lord desired to be informed whether the official reports from the consular agents of this country in Syria confirmed the statements which the noble Lord had received of anarchy and disorganization in that pro- vince. He thought that the late official advices had certainly less of that character than some time ago. He by no means intended to say that there was not much in the government of Syria—as, indeed, in the governments of the other provinces of the Turkish empire—which called for regret and disapprobation; but, at the same time, it became a very serious question how far Great Britain could interfere, justifiably, with any regard whatever to the independence of the Turkish government He apprehended that when the allies undertook to liberate Syria from the dominion of Mehemet Ali, and to restore it to its lawful monarch, they did not undertake to govern the province for the Sultan, or to do anything incompatible with his sovereignty. But undoubtedly the changes in Syria had been effected partly by promises made by British agents on behalf of the Sultan. This country, therefore, in mere good faith, was called upon to see to the execution of these undertakings. To a certain degree, therefore, interference became inevitable; but he could assure the noble Lord that that interference had taken place not only on the part of this country, but on the part of all the five powers who had taken an interest in the affairs of the East. He was not aware to what the noble Lord had alluded when he employed certain stinging epithets—whether he meant to apply them to one power or to two; but he could state distinctly, that there existed the most entire concert between the five powers who had ministers at Constantinople in the councils they had given to the Turkish government. The British Government would take care not to neglect the great duty which fell upon it, to see that the whole population of Syria, but particularly the Christian population, enjoyed those privileges which had been promised to them under our auspices. The British Government would also take care that the promised relief from taxation was afforded; and in that respect he was bound to say that the Turkish government had fulfilled its undertaking—the relief from taxation had been as great as had been promised. He trusted that the administration of the province would be carried on in future in the same spirit; something had been already done—not all that could be desired, or that which the allies were endeavouring to obtain, but he assured the noble Lord that neither the attention of this Government, nor of the representatives of other powers, had slept with reference to the affairs of Syria. He might rely upon it that all would be accomplished that could be justifiably attempted.

Their Lordships adjourned.