HL Deb 31 July 1845 vol 82 cc1277-84
Lord Beaumont

said, he would proceed to put to the noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Aberdeen) the question of which he had given notice on a former evening. It might be in the re-Collection of their Lordships, that when on a recent occasion, he had brought the affairs of Greece under their notice, and had ventured to state that the conduct of the Government at Athens was such as to call for some advice, if not more active interference, on the part of the Allied Powers, he had been met by the noble Earl with an assertion, that affairs in that quarter were not in so bad a state as had been believed; and that nothing had occurred which was of a serious nature. It might also be in the recollection of the House, that when, on the same occasion, he (Lord Beaumont) alluded to the disorganized state of society in the frontier districts of Greece, on the side of Turkey, and added that a regular system of brigandage was carried on by the subjects of Greece in that quarter, the noble Earl replied, by declaring that there had been only one isolated instance of robbery across the border, and that of so unimportant a character as not to deserve comment. He (Lord Beaumont) knew not if the noble Earl was better informed now, than he seemed to be then; for if he was not, he was sadly behind the rest of Europe in knowledge on this subject. The details of numerous incursions, some of which had been attended with bloody consequences, were well known both in London and Paris; the very names of the parties who headed these marauding bands were known, and many of the cases had been given at length in the German papers. While these events were daily occurring on the frontier, a no less disgraceful system was carried on in the interior; the regular forces had been disbanded, and the safety of the country entrusted to the Palikeri; neither order nor justice were respected in the internal administration of the country, and the peaceful continuation of its foreign relations was hourly endangered by the lawless conduct of the border population. Colletti and the Greek Government had taken no steps to put an end to this disgraceful state of things, unless the proclamation which had been issued might be considered as an exception, wherein the Government call on the population of the frontier districts to form themselves into a militia, for the purpose of suppressing the robbers who infest them—a measure which is more calculated to increase than diminish the evils complained of; for when the lawless character of the mountain population is considered, and the disorganized state of society throughout the country taken into account, the proclamation is neither more nor less than an attempt to put down robbery by giving arms to the robbers themselves. An officer named Valenza, of whose appointment to a command on the frontiers he (Lord Beaumont) had on a former occasion complained, had not been removed or reprimanded; although it was known that the noble Earl himself had objected to that officer's appointment, and even gone so far as to instruct Sir E. Lyons to request his removal. He (Lord Beaumont) hoped the noble Earl would be more explicit on the present, than he was on a former occasion; for his words had been actually construed into a positive approval of the Greek Government, and the noble Earl himself was mentioned as an abettor of Colletti. Different interpretations, it was true, had been given in different quarters of the noble Earl's speech; but the general impression in Athens itself had been, that the Foreign Office here was not inclined to cordially support Sir Edmund Lyons in his remonstrances, and the Greek authorities were consequently induced to look entirely to the French Minister for advice or countenance in their proceedings. Now, he (Lord Beaumont) hoped the noble Earl would lay aside his diplomatic reserve, and see the necessity of distinctly stating his sentiments with regard to the Government of Colletti, and no longer let any doubt be entertained of his opinions on the general condition of public affairs in Greece. It was most foolishly, as well as most wrongly considered abroad, that the interests of France and England were at variance both in Greece and Turkey. Nothing could be more erroneous: the interests of the two countries were essentially the same in both quarters—their object was, or ought to be, identical. England and France alike were deeply interested in preserving the independence, integrity, and due influence of the Ottoman Empire, who was and could be the only safe keeper of the Dardanelles; for should the key of that gate be wrenched from her, and the opening and shutting the Dardanelles and Bosphorus be at the discretion of a northern Power, the trade and possessions of England and France in the Mediterranean would be at the mercy of Russia. In the like manner, our interests and those of France were identically the same in the smaller State of Greece. We were both interested in creating there an independent commercial community, totally unconnected with the great political questions which agitated the rest of Europe—a neutral spot in the Levant for the benefit of trade and commerce, and not an arena on which the rival jealousies of the greater Powers might deploy their political intrigues. Although the two countries required the same course of policy to be pursued for their mutual advantage, the Consuls of England and France in the East were generally at variance; and while a single glance at the map would convince any impartial person, that the objects of the two Governments ought to be the same, political parties in the Levant were invariably split into an English and French faction, This state of things must have been caused by the want of energy on the part of the authorities at home, and the consequent neglect in despatching proper instructions to their representatives abroad. Some portion of this unnatural state of hostility between the Consulates of England and France, might be attributed to a disposition on the part of the French Government to flatter the vanity of some of their servants, who sought to enhance their personal importance by arrogating to themselves the exclusive right to protect the Christians in the East. Now, he (Lord Beaumont) maintained, that the Porte should have the sole government of its own subjects; but should the Sultan, in consequence of the interpretation of some ancient or supposed agreement, delegate to the European Sovereigns authority, in certain cases, over those of his subjects who professed the Catholic faith, England should not allow France, or any other Power, to take a position thereby to the detriment of her interests; or permit the Consuls of these Powers to put themselves in advance of ours, on the plea of enjoying exclusively the privilege of protecting the Christians of a single sect. After a few other observations, the noble Lord concluded by putting the question of which he had given notice—namely, whether the Government had received any information of the state of the frontier between Greece and Turkey? And, if so, whether they had taken any steps to induce the Greek Government to adopt measures to prevent the continuation of the disgraceful state of things known to exist there? Also, whether the Government had not sent instructions to Sir Edmund Lyons, requiring him to demand of the Greek Government the dismissal of an officer or person named Valença; and what reply, if any, had been received to such demand?

The Earl of Aberdeen

I am ready to admit, my Lords, that the peculiarity of our relations with Greece may justify the noble Lord in bringing various matters under the attention of your Lordships in connexion with that country, which, under other circumstances, it would not be desirable to do, neither, indeed, would the noble Lord be justified in so doing. In the first place, this country has, in conjunction with France and Russia, created this State of Greece; we not only created it, but we guaranteed its independence and the integrity of its territories. This, therefore, gives us a right to take such precautions as not to render that guarantee more onerous than it necessarily ought to be. We have also guaranteed the payment of the interest of a loan contracted by the Greek State, which we have been called upon to discharge ourselves for the last two or three years. This, therefore, gives us undoubtedly a right to interfere so far in the internal affairs of this State as to see that we should be released from these obligations as rapidly as possible. And the Greek Government would do well to recollect that, by the provisions of the Treaty, we are enabled to enter into possession of such of the revenues of Greece as we think proper for the repayment of the debt so contracted; and they should consider that this is not a vain formality, but a right, the exercise of which must depend on the good faith of the Greek Government itself, and the endeavours they make to discharge the obligations under which they lie. But the noble Lord must recollect that although this is true, as a consequence of the rela- tions in which we stand towards Greece, it may be carried to such an extent as to leave no shadow of independence whatever in the Government of that country. I am ready to admit that the present state of Greece, in many respects, is such as to give pain to all who wish well to the prosperity and welfare of that State. No doubt outrages have been committed; murders, robberies, and violence of various descriptions have been perpetrated, none of which can be compatible with a government of peace and order. I do not feel, therefore, that we are precluded from giving any such counsel and advice as we may think calculated to remedy these internal disorders; but I do not feel that I am called upon to give any opinion of the Government of Coletti, as required by the noble Lord. He may express any opinion which he may think proper; but it is not my province to give any opinion of the conduct of a Minister of a Foreign and friendly State; I give such advice on the part of Her Majesty's Government as we think likely to be useful; and I hope, notwithstanding what the noble Lord has said, that such advice is not without its salutary effect, With respect to what he said of the excesses committed on the frontier, I must repeat that there have been gross exaggerations on the subject. Unfortunately this frontier is inhabited by a race of men imperfectly civilized; and I am afraid I must admit that, if the Cretans are said to have been always liars, I believe the province of Greece has been always inhabited, more or less, by robbers—and this is a robber population. Unfortunately, the acts of which they are guilty are not regarded in the same manner as they would be by more civilized countries; it is a species of warfare which is looked upon almost with the same respect as legitimate warfare. Now, I do not deny that various outrages have taken place on the Turkish frontier, but that they have been carried to such an extent as has been described I utterly deny. On one or two occasions these small predatory bands have crossed over the boundary, and have been dealt with very properly but very severely by the Turkish troops, and several of them have met with what they richly deserved—the most severe treatment. Some of them have also been put to death by the Turkish troops. But to suppose for a moment that the Greek Government would either support or encourage such proceedings as those for the purpose of carrying on ag- gressions against Turkey, is perfectly incredible. True, they do not repress them, for they have not force sufficient to put them down; but what they are most desirous about, is to remove the overwhelming Turkish force which is assembled on the frontier. But that the Government of Greece, a country without any military force, should endeavour to provoke hostility on the part of the Turkish Empire, is perfectly impossible; and when coupled with the consideration, the declaration of the three protecting Powers of England, France, and Russia, that they would neither tolerate aggression on the part of Turkey on the one hand, nor Greece on the other, if such a notion as that alluded to is entertained by Coletti, or any other Minister in Greece, it would fully qualify him for a place in a lunatic asylum, did any such exist in his country. The noble Lord says that a certain person has been placed in command of the forces on the frontier, who ought not, in the noble Lord's opinion, to be so appointed. It is said that the man alluded to has been remarkable for having taken a conspicuous part in some transactions which occurred four or five years ago, and was mixed up with some excesses which were committed on the Turkish frontier. With respect to this man's appointment to a command also, there is another misrepresentation. I admit that it would have been more desirable not to have employed this man at all; but every one knows the difficulty which all Governments sometimes find in satisfying those parties who have claims upon them. Now, it was thought necessary to give this man an employment; but he is not in the command of any force whatever on the frontier. He is not on the frontier. I understand his command is thirty or forty miles from the frontier. And what is the force which this person commands, who is supposed to inspire terror into the Turkish empire? Why, he commands eighteen men; and they are not soldiers, but a species of local guard—of national and provincial guard. And it so happens—although I agree in the opinion that, considering the notoriety he has acquired, it would have been better not to have employed him at all—but it so happens that he is employed at his own home where he has a small farm, which he occupies and cultivates himself, and which unfortunately happens to be nearer the frontier than could be wished. But that he occupies any post that can excite uneasiness on the part of the Porte, or the friends of the Porte, is really not the fact. I have given such an opinion as I thought I was called upon to give to the Greek Government respecting this person, and other matters connected with the state of the frontier; but I do not think it necessary to state to the noble Lord what these opinions are, or what the result has been. I have taken, and shall continue to take, all such measures as I think prudent and likely to be useful in establishing the tranquillity of Greece; because, after all, it is impossible to conceive that any Government — be it a Government of the worst Ministers possible—should have any interest in promoting a state of confusion, anarchy, and disorder. They may take erroneous means to arrive at the pacification of the country, but that must be their object at last; and, on the part of Her Majesty's Government, I undertake to say, that all such counsels will be given as seem likely to contribute to that result. The noble Lord has said something about English influence at Athens no longer existing, and that French influence is predominant. I am quite surprised that the noble Lord, who knows something of the East himself, should be carried away by these absurd statements. Supposing it is admitted that the Greek Minister is connected intimately with the French Minister, and acts by his advice, what can he do? How can he affect English interests? We have our Treaty with Greece, and that Treaty gives us all the advantages which any State can possess; and is it possible that the Greek Minister could hurt a hair of the head of a British subject, without the most signal redress being executed? What is the meaning of this influence which is spoken of? I say, that influence depends on the acknowledged power and disinterestedness of this Government; that it reposes also on the character of the people with whom they have to deal—the wealth, the probity, and activity of our merchants. And do not ten Englishmen go to Greece for one native of any other State? It is our own fault, then, if they do not derive from their experience of English travellers a better opinion of us than of any other nation. These are the real sources of influence; and I defy M. Coletti or the French Government either, if they wished it, to weaken or destroy English influence in Greece in the only way in which it ought to exist, or in which we ought to desire it to exist. I have not found the slightest diminution of English influence in Greece. Quite the contrary; on every occasion which has arisen, there has been proof that it existed quite as much as we could possibly desire. But, I repeat, it has been the curse of that country, that parties there have endeavoured to create what is called an English party and a French party, or a Russian party; and that they have not thought only of a Greek party, for that is the only party we ought all to unite in supporting. And the Governments do not entertain any such different views of the matter: the whole arises from the over zeal of persons on the spot, and a morbid desire of popularity and of meddling with the affairs of the country. My Lords, I must decline to state more particularly the nature of the advice which I have thought it my duty, on the part of Her Majesty's Government, to give to the Greek Government; but I have before said that, from the situation in which we are placed in relation to Greece, I consider that we are fully justified in that sort of interference which we believe to be necessary for the purposes to which I have alluded.

Lord Beaumont

thought the speech of the noble Lord was more satisfactory than that which he had before delivered on the same subject; and he hoped the consequence would be a happier result, which he confidently anticipated from the firm tone which the noble Lord had assumed.