HL Deb 18 July 1845 vol 82 cc656-63
Lord Beaumont

rose to move, in compliance with the Notice he had given, an humble Address to Her Majesty, that she would be graciously pleased to allow to be laid before their Lordships certain Papers and Correspondence regarding the recent events in Syria. His object in moving for these Papers was, that their Lordships might have a continuation of the Papers and Correspondence furnished to the House in 1841, so that the whole subject might be laid before them in so complete a form as to enable them to draw a correct judgment of the great question in the Levant, which for some time threatened to involve Europe in war, and which, he feared, still contained the germs of future disturbance to the peace of Europe, and was the constant cause of jealousy and recrimination between England and France. He did not think that he should be wasting their Lordships' time if he dwelt for a few minutes on the actual state of affairs in Syria, as that question had been the subject of debate on two distinct occasions in the Chamber of Deputies in Paris; and such opinions had been expressed in the course of those debates as would, if acted upon, tend to interrupt any good understanding which might still exist between England and France on the subject; nor did he think the noble Earl would regret the opportunity being offered him of giving some explanation on this question, as the most injurious accusations had been brought against English agents in the East, and no attempt had been made to contradict them in the Chambers in Paris. The Papers furnished in 1841 to the House brought the history of this question down to the period when the Porte, aided by all the great European Powers, except France, had succeeded in recovering from the usurpation of Mahomet Ali the province of Syria, together with the other dependencies in Asia which had been overrun by the arms of its powerful vassal; and it was at that period, or immediately subsequent to it, that the Great Powers signed the Protocol of the 10th of July, and invited France to reunite herself to the European Compact. France accepted the invitation, and signed the Protocol of the 10th of July on the 13th of the same month. From that time, France was considered as having abandoned her isolated position, and agreed to act in concert with the other Powers. If they followed her subsequent conduct, and attended to her present professions, they would see how far she had realized these expectations, or how far she had disappointed the hopes founded on them. On recovering Syria, the Sultan had to consult how he should govern his newly-restored Province. Under the Emir Bechir (its old form of government previous to the Egyptian occupation), civil wars, bloodshed, confusion, and scenes similar to those they now deplored, were familiar. Chief fought against chief, and feudal system and feudal strife were the characteristics of the Lebanon: to such a system of government the Porte ought not to have returned, nor could the European Powers advisedly recommend it. France alone seemed to have desired it, but the Porte resisted, and resisted with success. Defeated in this object, France next demanded a separation of the two people who inhabited the Lebanon; or, to use the words of the Minister of Foreign Affairs in France, instead of a purely Turkish and Mussulman ruled the establishment of nationality in the mountain. In this, and in the subsequent steps of the proceedings, she seemed to have taken the chief part in counselling the Divan, and to have been successful in her recommendations. A separate government was given to the Druse and Maronite people; but, not content with this, France required that even in the mixed districts and villages, the same principle should be carried out, and, consequently, the Druse were to be subject to Druse magistrates, and the Maronite to Maronite magistrates. This was adopted, and each people were to have kaimacans or vekils of their own. France having been the chief party in establishing this form of government, she ought, in reason to have allowed the system to have had a fair trial; but, instead of so doing, she professed to consider the plan as only temporary, and raised hopes and discontent by saying that she expected to obtain more privileges for the Maronites in the mountain. The Porte sought to establish municipal privileges instead of the feudal ones, and to place Lebanon on the same footing as the rest of the Pashalic; but, buoyed up by the conduct of France, and the language of her Minister, the Shahab family hoped to regain the authority they had lost. Intrigue followed intrigue, and a moment's repose was never allowed to the Government of Syria to try fairly the new principle adopted there. Constant outbreaks occurred; but if the Porte had been allowed to act independently, these outbreaks would soon have been suppressed; and if Omar Pasha, who was sent out to replace the Emir Bechir in the mountain, had been allowed to remain, we should have never heard of the war between Druse and Maronite. Unfortunately, the Porte was not allowed to act with a strong hand, and suppress revolt; but in an attempt to give a demi-independence and self-government to the two people who occupied the mountain, old feuds were revived, and the war broke out, which led to the late disgraceful scenes of bloodshed and cruelty. While alluding to the lamentations of France over these bloody scenes, and the indignation and sympathy she tried to excite on the occasion, saying that civilization and common charity imposed on Europe the necessity of interfering to stop such cruel occurences—all of which, by the by, she attributed to the suggestions of the British Consul, and the instructions of the English Government—while alluding to the outcry raised in France on this subject, he (Lord Beaumont) could not refrain from reflecting, that at the very same time, in a province which France claimed as her own, a scene had been enacted which surpassed in horror all the inventions of romances, and which, if we did not know it to be true, we would believe to be the monstrous production of the frenzied imagination of some new and unequalled compiler of horrors. Returning, however, from this digression to the subject immediately before the House, he would briefly recapitulate the events of the last few months. On the 30th of April, the Maronites, urged on by the intrigues of the Shahab family and the promises of France, had invaded the territory of the Druses; the Druses retaliated, and then commenced a species of civil war in the mixed districts, during which the cruelties alluded to had taken place. The Druses got the upper hand, when the Turkish authorities interfered, and an armistice was forced upon the belligerents. Such being the present state of Lebanon, and the renewal of such scenes as had been described being more than probable, it behoved them to consider well what were the conduct and policy of France. From the speeches of M. Guizot, and the debates which had recently taken place in the Chamber of Deputies, he (Lord Beaumont) gathered that it was the intention of France to separate herself from the other Powers in this question, and act singly in the affairs of Syria; she claimed, on the ground of some obsolete Treaties, the exclusive right to protect the Christians of Mount Lebanon—a claim which could not hold good in respect of the Maronites, inasmuch as at the time the supposed Treaties were made, the Maronites were not in communion with Rome. France had already one man of war on the coast, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs declared that orders had been given to two others to join her. If the discontent of the mountaineers was fomented by foreign intrigue, and the insurrection of the Maronites fed by the assistance of France, there could be no hope that the Porte would be able to restore peace in the Lebanon, and put down, with a strong hand, those who dared to break it. For his own part, he (Lord Beaumont) thought it was the duty of this country to strengthen the sovereign power of Turkey, instead of attempting to diminish it in Syria; and he considered the noble Earl called on to do his utmost to persuade France not to act singly in this case, but forego her presumed right of exclusive protection of the Maronites, and join cordially with England in obtaining equal justice to Druse and Maronite, which could only be secured by establishing in full force the supreme authority of the lawful Sovereign of both populations—the Sultan. He felt he had now said enough to justify the Motion for Papers; but he should feel disappointed if the noble Earl, when he acceded to it, should not avail himself of the opportunity of explaining the intentions of Government, and also of contradicting the aspersions cast upon Colonel Rose in the French Chambers. The noble Lord concluded by moving for the Correspondence regarding Syria since 1842.

The Earl of Aberdeen

The Papers to which the noble Lord has referred, were moved for some time ago in the House of Commons. There is, of course, therefore, no objection to their being laid on the Table of your Lordships' House. Being very voluminous, it has required some time to prepare them; they are not yet quite ready; I hope that in the course of a few days they will be; and, when they are ready, I shall be happy to furnish them to the noble Lord and the House. The provinces to which the noble Lord has referred are undoubtedly in a very disturbed state—confusion, bloodshed, and anarchy have prevailed in them for some time past to a lamentable extent. I will not say that I give any credit to that which, however, I must tell the noble Lord, is generally believed in the country itself — that the Turkish Government is the sole cause of the warfare which has been carried on between these two people, the Maronites and the Druses. It is generally believed that the Porte, being unable to govern them with a strong hand, seeks to have the power of doing so by means of setting one against the other, and thus weakening both. Now, I do not believe that. I believe that the confusion that prevails is only the result of Turkish apathy and misrule, which are but too common in many of their provinces, and not to any such diabolical plan as that which is supposed to exist. It is true that the French Government have assumed a general protectorship over all Christians in the Levant, founding their right to do so on old Treaties and capitulations, from, I believe, the time of Francis I. I shall not enter into the question of the right which the French Government may have to exercise this protection; but, at all events, in the present case they must submit to share it with us, inasmuch as we are bound by positive engagement to attend to the condition of the population of this province. Before the expulsion of the Egyptians, the Turkish Government entered into an agreement with Her Majesty's Ambassador, that in the event of the province being recovered, the inhabitants should recover their former privileges, and that their condition should be improved. We are, therefore, bound by an obligation to see that their condition is so far improved as to fulfil the pledge which was offered by the Turkish Government. As for seeing good government established in that or any other province of the Turkish empire, I am not very sanguine. But there may be a spirit of improvement encouraged, and in this case we are under the necessity of seeing that the Turkish Government fulfils its engagement. Otherwise I do not wish to interfere in the details of the government of this province, except where some very flagrant outrage is committed, with which common humanity and a regard for our fellow Christians should call for our immediate intervention. Generally speaking, I fear, it would be a vain attempt, indeed, to establish anything like such a government as would be satisfactory to ourselves and the public in any province; but in this province we are compelled to interest ourselves, in consequence of the engagement into which we have entered. It has happened in this and in other provinces where there are two parties, that one has been supposed to be an English, and the other a French party, and thus we are set in a sort of opposition to each other, quite contrary, as I believe, to the intention of both Governments; for I believe the object of the French Government is precisely that of the English Government, viz., without reference to Maronites or Druses, to see something like order, tranquillity, and peace, established in the country. There is no sort of foundation for the notion which the noble Lord seems to entertain, of the French Government intending to withdraw itself from its alliance in this case with the other Powers. The noble Lord should recollect that the Five Great Powers of Europe are acting together at Constantinople and in the provinces, by their Consuls: and, although in a case of such difficulty, and where there are such various interests, it is possible that a difference of opinion may more or less prevail, as to what may be the best mode of restoring peace to this unhappy country, I should say that, generally, there has been concert between all the Powers respecting the measures which ought to be pursued; and there is no reason to suppose that on the part of France, or of any other Government, there is any wish not to act in concert. I think it is quite unnecessary to occupy your Lordships' time any more on this subject. It appeared to me to be quite unnecessary to refer to the debates in the French Chambers upon the subject. Gentlemen there say what they please, as we take the liberty of doing here. But I do not feel myself bound to answer accusations which were made without any foundation whatever. I have not seen any report of the debate to which the noble Lord has referred, and I am not aware that any authority has been given by the French Government to such accusations; and, therefore, it is quite unnecessary to occupy your Lordships time by adverting to them. But I will say that there have been accusations made against the English Consul General in Syria which are not only most unfounded, but are without even a shadow of foundation; for, although it is generally supposed that England has espoused the cause of the Druses, and France has taken the Maronites under its protection, yet, to show how little truth there is in that opinion, I may mention that, very recently, Colonel Rose, Her Majesty's Consul, having been informed that a body of Maronites were in prison and in danger of losing their lives and property, got up at twelve o'clock at night, mounted his horse, and proceeded on a long and difficult march to the place where these people were confined. He found 600 persons, men, women, and children, and by his exertions and the influence he exercised, at the head of a considerable column, under a burning sun, in a two days' march, he brought them safely to Beyrout, and thus liberated these Maronites from danger in which they were placed. Therefore, your Lordships see that, though other gentlemen may write moving and pathetic despatches, the English Consul General exposed himself to actual fatigue and to some danger in rescuing these persons, who approached him with an appeal requiring his aid as their friend. This is the only feeling upon which I should always wish to see English agents act. While others indulge in eloquent descriptions of the sympathy they felt, yet so long as the English agent did the sufferers real service, I think your Lordships will be satisfied with the comparison which his conduct may bear with any other friendly Power. Such was the manner in which Colonel Rose acted towards the Maronites. And as to supporting the Druses against the Maronites, and encouraging their destruction by the Druses, that must clearly be an absurd imputation, hardly worthy of refutation. But so far from the Druses being protected by us, so far as I am aware of any motive that could influence our conduct, it would be most natural for us to protect the Maronites; they are Christians and Roman Catholics; they are persons who have many claims upon us, and who acted zealously in support of our measures in freeing the country from the Egyptians, whereas the Druses have no claim upon us whatever. Their religion is neither Christian nor Mahomedan; it is some superstition which nobody knows anything about; some say it is the worship of the Golden Calf; but, be that as it may, the others are certainly Christians, and deserving of our sympathy. But our object is to establish justice; that whether Christians or Druses, justice may be administered without partiality, or predilection, or interference with the Turkish Government. I hope we shall never do that which will not be justifiable towards an independent State, as it is our object to obtain the improvement of the condition of the people with as little interference as possible with the sovereign rights of an independent State—a State which, however imperfect may be its government and its condition in many respects, we have an interest in preserving and strengthening by all the means in our power. As there is no objection to produce the Papers, I do not see that it is necessary for me to trouble your Lordships any further.

Lord Beaumont

said, he wished the noble Earl had read the debate in the French Chamber, because he would have seen that M. Guizot did not abandon the principle of acting alone, and was prepared to act in favour of the Maronites; and that there was a difference of opinion between England and France, not as to the object, but as to the remedy. He was, however, glad he had given the noble Earl an opportunity of making the statement which their Lordships had heard.

Motion agreed to.