HL Deb 19 July 1877 vol 235 cc1491-512

in rising to call attention to the progress of the War between Russia and the Porte; and to move for a copy of any Answer from Her Majesty's Government to the Circular Despatch of the Ottoman Government to its representatives abroad, dated the 25th January, said: My Lords, it will not, I think, be difficult to explain in a few words a change of form which is apparent in the Notice I have given. The despatch from the Ottoman Government of January 25th is one of the most important which late events have drawn out; because it contains, elaborately stated, their reasons for declining the last proposals of the Conference, and, at the same time, a sketch of the alternatives they offered. My impression was, after a good deal of research, that it had never reached us, except by foreign journals; but it now appears in the 15th Paper on the East, long after many things ought to have preceded it. But this is a small matter, so long as the despatch itself is not entirely unnoticed. I am far from urging that the Government were bound to answer it, although I move for any answer they have made. If they have made none, it stands intact as a reply to all the grounds on which the aggressive war against the Porte has been excused.

Having given Notice also to call attention to the progress of the war, the House will possibly allow me to make some further observations, which events, as they move on, might soon render irrelevant. To justify the term aggressive as applied to the part of Russia—a term which some may disapprove—let me take refuge in the reply of the Government to Prince Gortchakoff, dated May 1st. A document more grave, as I think more conclusive, has never left the Foreign Office. It is pointed out, with more or less detail in it, that the Russian declaration violates the Treaty of 1856, and mocks the principle laid down in 1871; that the Porte was not bound to signify its acquiescence in the Protocol; that the pretension of the Czar to represent the views and interests of Europe was altogether inadmissible. One point the reply of the Government omitted, as it was not, perhaps, desirable to lengthen it. It is the fact, as stated by Lord Augustus Loftus in a despatch of April 6th, that Russia insisted on a manifesto from the Porte, after the Protocol had been imparted. Had it been otherwise, the Porte would have been responsible for the manifesto which appeared. But we learn from Lord Augustus Loftus that neither silence nor evasion, nor even verbal statement, was left open. A manifesto seemed to be insisted on, because a pretext for invasion was essential. The manifesto was elicited, and the invasion was commenced. Everyone may thus be led to see that the aggression was unwarrantable; but it requires greater patience to observe that it is much more unwarrantable than those of 1828 and 1853. In 1828, besides other pleas, the Russian Government had certain topics of complaint against the Porte as regards the imperfect execution of a Treaty—namely, that of Bucharest. When the present war began the conduct of the Porte involved no wrong, however shadowy, to Russia. In 1853 the Czar Nicholas was, in some degree, invoked to protect the Greeks against the Latins at Jerusalem. Russia has not been invited to her present task by any creed or interest whatever. The Exarch of Bulgaria never summoned her across the Danube. The Patriarch of Constantinople sends up open prayers for her discomfiture. The plea advanced is no equivalent to such a demand. When a Power has fomented insurrection in another country, and when that country has repressed it with wild, vindictive, or even barbarous severity, the Power which fomented it can have no locus standi of indictment, although other Powers may be qualified to claim one. The final cause of the atrocities cannot be the judge or the avenger of the crimes it has produced. But neither in 1828 nor 1853 could it be said that during the three previous years Russia had combined with other Powers against the Ottoman Empire. She had not then directed the subversive force of the Holy Alliance to any Eastern object. She had not made Commercial Treaties a lever to detach the vassal Principalities from their allegiance. She had not armed, let loose, directed Servia in a rebellious war against the Suzerain whose fortresses had been imprudently entrusted to it. She had not flung the Prince of Montenegro into the Herzegovinian strife, to feed and to extend it. She had not for 10 previous years employed at Constantinople, a diplomatist of great ability, no doubt, and only true to his instructions; but now proved by uncontested documents to have laboured for the gradual dismemberment of the State to which he was accredited. Above all, at neither of those periods was Russia making war against a Constitution recently inaugurated. The just conclusion would therefore be, not only that the step of Russia cannot be defended, but that it assumes a darker hue than those which have immediately preceded it, although among the similar attempts in the last century, which Major Russell has enumerated, some might be found perhaps to rival it in blackness. Since April 24th it has gone on unresisted except so far as the armies of the Porte, the waters of the Danube, together with the insurrection in the Caucasus, have been able to retard it. It is worth while to inquire briefly how far such a position can be deemed a satisfactory one. To maintain that it is not satisfactory implies no strong reflection on Her Majesty's Government. Their attitude may be the same as they described themselves at the beginning of the Session—namely, that of men who, anxious on conviction of their value to uphold the Treaties of 1856, find themselves impeded or discouraged by the faint support they get from some who were more immediately the authors of them. At the same time, we must recall the fact that they are utterly unexecuted, while all the pretexts for neglecting them have long ago been answered. The Proclamation of Neutrality does little to facilitate adherence to them. In point of fact, it favours the belligerent whom they engage us to resist. It was not demanded by neutrality. In 1828, as far as I can learn, there was not such a proclamation. In 1853 there certainly was not, although neutrality continued from July, when Russia crossed the Pruth, down to March, when Great Britain became an actual belligerent. Sir Robert Phillimore explains, in his text book, that a neutral is not bound to make a proclamation of the kind. You gain nothing by it. If it is desired to prevent British subjects mixing in the war, the Foreign Enlistment Act suffices. The proclamation only serves to flatter, where it is a duty to withstand.

Beyond that, if the independence and integrity of the Ottoman Empire are desirable, both are violently outraged. If, as some reasoners contend, it would be better to have a more enlightened, civilized, tenacious Power on the Bosphorus—whether its origin was Athens or Vienna, whether its type was Federative or Imperial, whether it was connected with the Protestant, the Greek, or Latin form of Christianity—their hope is perishing before them. To a solution of the kind, Russian arms, when they succeed, are an inexorable barrier. It will not become a fact; but it will even cease to be a vision.

But as soon as it is seen that the success of Russia would be a blow to Europe, we are forced to own that the Porte is making war for all the nations which abandon her.

However, there is yet a more striking point of view in which the present state of things can hardly be defended. The favourite aspiration of the moment is thrown overboard. The improvement of the races subject to the Porte, when it might have been triumphantly secured, is ruthlessly abandoned. If Treaties were now observed even within narrow limits, and at little hazard or expense, no reform would be impossible. To defend the Porte is to control it. It is not any theory on my part. It stands on record that in 1854 and 1855 Lord Stratford de Redcliffe obtained concessions which at another time could scarcely have been granted, even to a mind so energetic and imperious. If Treaties were now observed, the Ambassador would be capable of anything. He could appoint Viceroys, organize tribunals, regulate finance, establish companies, overrule Grand Viziers, guide assemblies, restore ability to councils, and fling corruption out of Palaces. As things stand, he is placed in a manner utterly deplorable. By long tradition he is forced to use the language which becomes the organ of a defending Power, while that Power is hardly making any preparation to defend. When he advises he is an unauthorized, unwelcome, and importunate disturber. When he does not, he is an empty form and ceremonial nonentity. It is no reproach to him whatever that it should be so. The fault belongs to those who keep the Treaties unfulfilled. The result is incontestable. The British Embassy, which used to be the Mecca of the races no other Mecca lures towards it, is paralyzed, in deference to men who hypocritically clamoured for their benefit, but now throw off the mask which sat so cleverly upon them.

At no period would such a situation be desirable or acceptable. But we are forced to reflect upon the time at which it happens. It happens when the fate of Denmark in 1864, the concessions on the Black Sea in 1870, the sacrifice of public law at Washington more recently—even without reproaching the successive Governments who had to do with these transactions—required to be balanced and redeemed: when national decline in foreign policy at least had reached the lowest point compatible with safety, and when a rare and long-required opportunity is granted, to reestablish on its former height the lowered honour of the Kingdom. Remarks of this kind, without even pretending to do justice to the topic, far less to exhaust it, may yet provoke the question of what should now be done to put an end to a position so derogatory—a question which nothing but official knowledge can dispose of altogether. But without that knowledge one preliminary step might be adverted to. It is that of renouncing a set of improvised, of artificial and untenable opinions, framed, as it were, by order and design to reconcile the country to what would otherwise be viewed as insupportable. One is that Great Britain can depend on Austria for the exertion she is not willing to partake. A less bold interpretation might suggest that the Powers reciprocally paralyze each other, in a mode which happened to two commanders of an Army at the end of the last century— Lord Chatham, with his sabre drawn, Stood waiting for Sir Richard Strahan. Sir Richard, longing to be at 'em, Stood waiting for the Earl of Chatham. The next is that Egypt might indemnify Great Britain for anything which happened on the Dardanelles or Bosphorus, the very bait which more than 20 years ago was prudently rejected. If one point is better settled than another in discussions on the Eastern Question, it is that Egypt will always gravitate to the Power which has Constantinople, and that without such gravitation the Power which has Constantinople would move towards it and appropriate it. But I leave that topic to men who have commanded armies or men who may command them. Another of these idols which darken policy at present, is that Russian aggression has any pre-determined limit. Nothing can be urged in its defence, except that in 1829 Russia did not go beyond Adrianople. But why did she not go further? Count Moltke, the eminent historian of the campaign, has thoroughly explained it. It was not a matter of forbearance or diplomacy. Disease among the troops imposed a limitation on their progress. But of all the fallacies which rage like epidemics in the air, the most pernicious in its natural effects is, that after doing nothing in the war, we shall be able to step in and to control negotiations for a settlement. There is not one example in modern times to justify the fatuous assumption. Not a grain of à priori reason can be offered to defend it. On several occasions its utter folly was illustrated. In 1866, Napoleon III., after neutrality, wished to influence the peace between Austria and Prussia. In spite of all the genius, reputation, and pre-eminence, which at that time he commanded, he had no more voice in the adjustment than the Prince of Monaco. In 1871, many European States were solicitous about the definite arrangements between Germany and France. They were no more heard upon them than the American Republic. There is a further illustration, which, although more distant as to time, comes home to us more forcibly. After the war between Russia and the Porte of 1828ߝ9, the Duke of Wellington and Lord Aberdeen would have given anything to control negotiations. The whole course of their ideas has been brought before the world in a recent volume, by the successor of one of them, so that there is no excuse for overlooking it. These two distinguished men reflected gravely on the Treaty of Adrianople. The despatch of the Earl of Aberdeen might be cited as a masterpiece against it. It does not appear, however, that they were able to revise a comma or to regulate a paragraph in the obnoxious stipulations against which they had protested. Men who look forward to such a power under such conditions, have not learnt the alphabet of international affairs, or cannot draw an inference from the events which recent history might have forced upon their notice.

If these illusions, and some kindred ones I pass over, were removed, sounder principles would vindicate themselves, and proper measures might emerge, without anyone being wanted to explain or recommend them. Their outline cannot be mistaken. The indispensable preliminary must be—in whatever manner we effect it—to regain the confidence and accord of the Sublime Porte itself, without which all operations of an effective nature are prohibited. That bar once removed, such movements appear to be desirable, as would lead to no collision with any European Power, and yet would stifle the designs upon the Bosphorus, which are repudiated in despatches, but to which inaction on our part gives prolonged vitality and irresistible encouragement. The Embassy would then at once recover its authority. The pretexts of the war might be annihilated, not by the violence of Russia, but the counsels of Great Britain. When they were gone, it would be difficult to prevent the Governments of Europe from uniting in remonstrance with St. Petersburg, as they did in 1863, upon another subject. The balance of power might be restored, whether or not the war was quickly put an end to. At all events, the greatest influence would be secured in any Conference at which the ultimate arrangement of the Eastern Question might be handled. As things are now gone on, two alternatives confront us. We are moving either to the verge of a division between the three Powers, such as that which happened at the end of the last century; or to the verge of a conclusion between Russia and the Porte like that of 1833 at Unkiar Skelessi, when Russia gained a special right of entrance to the Dardanelles, and when, on Asiatic soil, the general indignity of Europe was recorded.

My Lords, it would betray a most imperfect estimate of things and men, which could not be excused at such a moment, for anyone to dwell much—however cautiously—on practical suggestions. The difficulty is elsewhere. As to strategic methods of upholding our honour and our interest, the Government, I dare say, might listen three hours a-day without hearing all the persons competent to offer them. The want is not in schemes, but resolution to adopt them in the face of what are deemed to be considerable obstacles. Those obstacles are foreign and domestic. Although it is habitual to contemplate the latter, and to shrink before them, it seems to me they vanish when they are approached.

As to Parliament in one House, the Government have lately had a majority of 130 on the Eastern Question. As to agitation, it is silenced. But the agitation which existed in the Autumn, was an agitation for peremptory interference with the Ottoman Empire. Interference of that kind it has been long ago established has no foundation but defence. It was in point of reason, therefore, an agitation for defence, and cannot render it impossible.

The late Government have been referred to often as an obstacle. If, indeed, the late Government were an united body on the Eastern Question, they might powerfully urge some course they had in view, or intercept with equal force a line they disapproved of. But it is no reproach to them to say they cannot be united on it. Placed as they have been in former times they cannot escape the influence of Lord Palmerston on the one hand, and of their more recent Leader on the other. They are bound by ties of gratitude, of sympathy, and of convention, to listen to authorities so diametrically opposite. Hence, it is fair to judge the wonderful variety of judgment which escapes their Bench upon the subject. When traced to its cause, their oscillation is in some degree a merit. But so long as it prevails, they cannot be a formidable obstacle. But some contend that their former Head, in his detached and separate existence, is invested with that character.

Far be it from me to question the importance of the late Prime Minister upon the Eastern Question. In the eyes of all who analyze its sources, the present war has been created by him. To create an European war, without being at the time the Leader of an Opposition, or a Government, or Party, has hardly ever fallen to the lot of any individual. The achievement is remarkable, however little to be envied. In spite of the activity and energy which it condenses, it maybe shown that he is not so placed as to obstruct with much facility the measures policy requires. More loudly, more conspicuously, and much more frequently than others, he has called out for interference to bring the races subject to the Porte under the protection of Great Britain. He cannot deny that the British Embassy at Constantinople is the only instrument in our hands to further such an object. He cannot deny that it is paralyzed by our inaction. He cannot deny that it would be revived by our efforts. The conclusion rapidly presents itself. The more Great Britain spends in upholding the Sublime Porte against hostilities, the greater her ability to dictate its policy, reform its institutions, vindicate its subjects. If a Vote of £1,000,000 was proposed, the late Prime Minister ought to insist on its being doubled. Where is his escape? Can he refer to Russia as an object of unlimited credulity? Can he refer to Russia as the reforming and regenerating instrument against Mahomedan dominion? He might: but more than 20 years ago he joined in war in order to resist so odious a pretension. These obstacles may therefore be dismissed as wholly insignificant. They cannot weigh upon the counsels of a Government. But with regard to the foreign set, more gravity belongs to them. It cannot be denied that Great Britain nearly finds herself alone—France and Italy, on whom she might have counted, are deemed to be incapable of action. Germany and Austria, since 1874, have been moving in a Russian orbit, although this very war is tending to detach them from it. Let it be granted that to avoid war with Russia is important, although it may not be imperative. Let it be granted that it ought to come, rather than "sooner," "later," and rather than "later," not at all. If you desire to avoid a given form of conflict, it is not inappropriate to ask how you formerly got into it. The biographers of Lord Palmerston have made it wonderfully clear to us. We learn from them that during 1853 two modes of thought were brought into collision at every new juncture within the Cabinet itself. Lord Palmerston, time after time, was constantly suggesting to the Prime Minister proceedings to admonish Russia, the Prime Minister insisting on proceedings to conciliate her. On each occasion which arose, Lord Palmerston desired to act upon her fears, Lord Aberdeen to soothe her pride and count on her forbearance. The Prime Minister, of course, succeeded in determining his Cabinet. He was bound to do so. But yet a bloody war was the result of his miscalculating leniency. It is worth while to reflect whether we are not now advancing to the same rock, over the same waters; of ambiguity, of oscillation and inertness; of efforts to cajole where it is essential to intimidate; and to believe where ten times fortified distrust, yet more than walls or arms, is the security of Empires.

It may be asked, however, whether there is any favourable precedent for acting upon Treaties when Great Britain is not surrounded by allies. To everyone who reflects upon the foreign policy of modern times, a precedent might easily suggest itself. In 1826 Portugal was attacked by bands which started from the Spanish territory. The casus fœderis arose, which binds Great Britain to come forward. If the ingenious mind of Mr. Canning had not been governed by a strict regard for national engagements, it would have been easy to attenuate it. The diplomatic novelties in which the present Session has abounded would have rapidly effaced it. When the Government of that day resolved upon their expedition to the Tagus, it was undertaken in a spirit adverse to the Holy Alliance, while France and Spain were both co-operating with that system. Many Powers might have joined to check the Expedition, while none was certain to support it. It triumphed without bloodshed. Its promptitude was such that the decision of our Government was only known to the inhabitants of Lisbon when they observed the ships, with 10,000 men, advancing to their rescue. It brought immortal credit to its authors. It was followed by repose for nearly 30 years. In all time it was a lesson that prudence and audacity are not incapable of union. It added to the public stock of character authority, prestige of which safety is the offspring; the public stock which now dissolves under our eyes.

On the whole, the foreign obstacles to action, although much graver than the other class, can hardly be considered insurmountable. One fact, which has not in our various discussions been quite sufficiently alluded to, does much to balance and control them both together. It is, that policy and sentiment are so remarkably united in favour of the measures any Government would contemplate. Policy requires the Mediterranean to be guarded against a Power which is shown to be aggressive or unscrupulous. Sentiment demands that the Crimea shall not be turned into an unprofitable charnel house. Policy requires that the European balance should be upheld against hypocrisy and violence. Sentiment insists that those who rode at Balaclava shall not be mocked by the surrender of all the objects which they rode for. Policy exacts the maintenance of Treaties which such men as Lord Palmerston and Lord Clarendon established. Sentiment obliges nations to place their honour above money, since money soon returns, and honour lost is irrecoverable. Policy enjoins that the Egyptian and other routes to India should be open. Sentiment reminds that the co-religionists of Christendom ought not to be left to Ottoman misrule or Muscovite rapacity, and they are left to both so long as this attempt is wholly unresisted. A Minister who acts with policy and sentiment behind him cannot easily be daunted. He may defy the spirit which broke out a year ago and still perplexes our counsels; which first began to traffic on Bulgarian excesses; which then disparaged efforts to relieve them; which then confederated with the guilt which had produced them; which afterwards endeavoured to sow dissension between the late Plenipotentiary and those who had appointed him; which raged and fumed against the Treaties; which, last of all, succeeded in hounding Russia into war; and now, with furious philanthropy, exults in the depopulated villages, the blood-stained territory, and wasted harvests of the country it befriended. At least, it is not too soon to refer to the precedent of 1826, if any good can be derived from it. An eminent authority on that part of the subject is reported to have said that the present war is not directed against India, where tried organization, large resources, and the charm of seldom interrupted victory, might well enable you to grapple with it. Its aim is less remote, its character more menacing. We have waited for the passage of the Danube. We have waited till the Balkans have in some degree been traversed. Shall we wait till Adrianople has been occupied: or till the last defence—the line traced out by Sir John Burgoyne—has been approached? That line is distant from Constantinople only 20 miles. It connects two seas. According to Sir John Burgoyne, 60,000 Asiatic, and 40,000 European troops are wanted to defend it. Of one thing we may be sure, that, when it is approached, gold and iron will be joined in the exertion to surmount it. If that fails, shall we protect Stamboul after the European suburb has been occupied? Or, last of all, shall we hang up our unintelligible interests and shattered Treaties at Gallipoli?

My Lords, there are two paths: the path of preparatory measures without war, and that of war without preparatory measures; the path of honour leading to repose, and that of national reproach, conducting to entanglement, to struggle, possibly disaster. By sending back the Fleet the Government may seem, to have adopted the becoming one. I recognize the circumstance. It is too late for them to quit it. I only venture to remark, that on that path, if they are enchained, they ought to be released; if they stand still, they ought to move; and, if they move, their movement ought to be impelled by the united voice of this House and of the public, in spite of every tool which the aggressor may employ.

The noble Lord concluded by moving for any answer to the Circular despatch of the Ottoman Government to its Representatives abroad, dated January 25th.

Moved that an humble address be presented to Her Majesty for, Copy of any answer from Her Majesty's Government to the circular despatch of the Ottoman Government to its representatives abroad, dated 25th January,—(The Lord Stratheden and Campbell).


My Lords, I think it may be convenient, before the noble Earl the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs rises to reply to my noble Friend, if I make a few observations that occur to me, and give him a few minutes to think over and decide whether the speech which has just been delivered by the noble Lord, is favourable or antagonistic to Her Majesty's Government. Certainly, I have no desire in anything I may say to embarrass the noble Earl or Her Majesty's Government at the present crisis, when they have to deal with a very difficult and complicated question. Before I go to the subject-matter before your Lordships there is one point to which I wish to allude. The noble Lord who has brought this question forward has, I believe, made more Motions on the subject than have all the rest of your Lordships put together. Of this in itself I do not in the least complain, as I do not conceive anything less expedient than that a limit should be placed to the discretion of any Peer in regard to raising discussion in this House on any question which he thinks of public importance and interest. But not only has the noble Lord made so many Motions on this subject—he has also taken a course almost peculiar to himself of almost indefinitely multiplying the Notices of those Motions. The present Motion of the noble Lord was given Notice of, in the first instance, for the 9th of this month; it was postponed to the 12th, afterwards to the 16th, and now it comes before your Lordships on the 19th, without the slightest public or private Notice of the postponement, so far as I am aware. I presume that some communication was made on the subject to the Clerk at the Table, but I certainly have not been aware whether the Motion was to come on or not. It is not convenient for your Lordships who regularly attend the Sittings of this House that such a course should be followed, and certainly it is inconvenient for those noble Lords who come down chiefly to attend debates on important questions. I have no doubt that the inconvenience I complain of was perfectly unintentional on the part of the noble Lord, but it does really seem to imply some want of courtesy and to involve unnecessary loss of time to the noble Lord the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, who at this crisis must otherwise have so much on his hands. Carried to this point, such a course of proceeding amounts to an abuse. With regard to the Question before the House the observations I shall make will be very short. The Eastern Question is one of a very important and complicated character, and one which, if we were to go into it, would require to be gone into at great length and with great consideration. We are now placed in a state of suspense. The Russians have had great reverses in Asia; but, on the other hand, they are advancing in European Turkey, where they have already overcome one if not more of the great difficulties of the campaign—certainly not an easy one when we consider what has to be done. The principal lesson, I think, to be inferred from what they are doing is this—that any nation which, whether impelled by its own private interests, or by sympathy with other populations, or from mixed motives, undertakes to deal alone with those great and important questions in which every country in Europe has directly or indirectly some interest, and claims more or less to have a voice in their settlement—that any nation so acting alone in these circumstances exposes itself to enormous sacrifices which can hardly be compensated by success. The noble Lord who brought this question before your Lordships (Lord Campbell) used some strong expressions with regard to the ambition of Russia; but I am glad that he had the good sense not to advert to what is now a very usual topic—I refer to the horrors alleged to have been committed by the Russian army. I do not know whether these horrors are true or not. No war takes place without a great many unnecessary horrors being committed; and, not unnaturally perhaps, each belligerent is apt to attribute to its opponent the commission of a great many of these horrors. Now, I understand that in this case Her Majesty's Government have received information which comes chiefly from Turkish sources. Independently of the bias which belligerents have in the way of attributing irregularities to their opponents, the feeling of horror at Turkish atrocities has been shown in this country among Liberals by Conservatives and by Her Majesty's Government, has had its influence upon Turkey, which not unnaturally desires to take advantage of that feeling in trying to influence the policy of this country by making the most of her complaints against Russia, and the noble Lord who has just addressed us has acted wisely and discreetly in reserving any observations he may wish to make on the subject until the official Papers are before us as to the truth of the matter. With regard to this strong outcry that has been raised against Russia, I am certainly not inclined to become the defender of Russia—it is not my business to do so; but one thing occurs to me—what is the practical result of the violent speeches which are made here against Russia? Is it not to induce the Turks to rely on that assistance which Her Majesty's Government have told them they will not receive, but to the hope of which, nevertheless, they still cling at this moment? I am afraid, too, that there is an influence exercised in this country in regard to these matters with a view to try and drive Her Majesty's Government from that policy of neutrality which I believe to be our true policy under the circumstances. And with regard to Russia, supposing her victorious, its effect must be to induce her to listen more to the voice of other nations than to that of England. And further, I am afraid that such speeches tend to excite the feelings and prejudices of this country—in some cases very creditable, but which, on the other hand, might tend to drive the Government from that position of neutrality approved of by the country. I believe the only true policy to be observed on this occasion is that of neutrality, which Her Majesty's Government have declared their intention of following. There were certainly rather vague declarations made about protecting "British interests;" but explanations have been made on that subject by a Member of the Government in "another place" which have generally been regarded as satisfactory. An event happened some time ago which created considerable uneasiness in this country—namely, the despatch of our Mediterranean Fleet to Besika Bay. It is not for me to inquire whether those movements of the Mediterranean Fleet are calculated to add to the dignity or strength of this country, or are likely to be of any practical use; but Her Majesty's Government, by the same organ, have given explanations which tended to remove the alarms which existed at the moment in the minds of the people; and if we read the Papers we find that satisfactory assurances have been offered by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to other Governments with regard to the movements of that Fleet. There is one point to which I wish to refer. I am not aware that during the course of this Session Her Majesty's Government have given any countenance to that wild talk which prevails now, and which has persuaded a great many of our foreign friends as well as foreign enemies to believe that we—departing from the statement of the noble Earl the Foreign Secretary that we are strong because we fear nothing and want nothing—that we are departing from our great principle of neutrality:—but there is a feeling abroad that we are meditating all sorts of annexation and additions to that extended Empire over which Her Majesty so happily now rules. I cannot but believe that Her Majesty's Government are fully alive to such schemes not only being contrary to all international morality, but opposed to wise policy, and of the worst possible example to other States. Events abroad may happen—things may be done or announced by Her Majesty's Government at home—which would require immediate and full discussion in Parliament, and I do not complain that any noble Lord should initiate discussion on these things:—but, in the meanwhile, I do not myself see any practical objects to be gained at the present moment by further debates. I hope the House will understand that I make no complaint of any Peer taking a different view. All that I wish to guard against is the notion that if I do not enter into debate on the question that has been raised, and if my Friends behind me take the same course, it is not because we shut our eyes to the great gravity of the present situation and the consequences which may arise, or from any blind indifference as to the policy of Her Majesty's Government.


hoped their Lordships would not let the subject drop without expressing an opinion on the cruelties committed by the Russian troops. A leading Russian organ had attempted to excuse many of these cruelties on the plea of military necessity; but there was no military necessity for such treatment of the women and children. The only object of these cruelties on the part of the Russians was to drive the Turks into acts of retaliation with a view to renew the agitation of last Autumn. He hoped the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs would lay upon the Table the Reports of Her Majesty's Consuls on these cruelties, which were said to have reached the British Embassy at Constantinople. The cruelties lately reported as having been committed on women and children by the Russian Cavalry far exceeded in atrocity anything that had happened in Bulgaria or in Poland, and called for remonstrance and protest by England and the British Government so soon as Her Majesty's Government should have official reports of these massacres of children. They had been told that Russia was coming as a Liberator and to introduce the blessings of Christianity; but the only Gospel teaching which she had as yet carried out was to imitate the exploits of Herod. It was hardly necessary to urge that the British Government had a right of remonstrance, founded upon the Brussels Conference of 1874, to which a British Commissioner had been sent. The grounds of humanity and of Christianity were sufficient to require that these atrocities should not find the voice of England silent. He would ask the Government of Her Majesty the Empress of India to remember that 40,000,000 of Her Majesty's subjects in India would expect their Government to protest against this ruthless slaughter of the wives and children of their co-religionists.


My Lords, if there is one thing connected with the Eastern Question upon which your Lordships seem, to be unanimous, it is the advantage of avoiding any discussion at the present time. I will, therefore, notice very briefly the observations of the noble Lord (Lord Campbell) who, after so many postponements, has at last achieved the delivery of the speech he has so long meditated. My noble Friend asks me to produce the answer of Her Majesty's Government to the Turkish despatch of the 25th of January last. My Lords, to that my reply will be very short. I cannot produce the answer, because there is none. No answer to that despatch was expected or required. My noble Friend has studied it very carefully, and he will therefore be aware—as your Lordships may be—that it was in the nature of a protest against some of the proceedings of the Conference that has just been held at Constantinople. It was a well-written document, as most of the Turkish diplomatic correspondence is, but it did not call for any reply from us. Indeed, it would have been certainly inexpedient, possibly injurious, to have entered into a controversial correspondence upon a matter which had practically b6en settled. We regretted the failure of the Conference; but it would have served no purpose to enter into argument with the Turkish Government to prove that they were wrong in the course they had pursued. My noble Friend, whom I will not follow over the various subjects which he treated, objected, if I understood him right, to the Proclamation of Neutrality which was put forth by Her Majesty's Government. He seemed, from some observations he made, to consider that we were wrong in remaining neutral. [Lord CAMPBELL was understood to dissent.] Then I fail to follow my noble Friend's reasoning. I can quite understand his saying that we ought not to have issued a Proclamation of Neutrality if he thinks that we ought not to have been neutral; but I cannot understand on what ground he contends that although we intended to be neutral, we ought not to have told anyone that we meant to be so, and that it was our duty to have left everybody, both at home and abroad, under a misunderstanding as to the course we really intended to adopt. That is a proceeding for which, I think, neither by the advocates of peace nor by the advocates of war any possible justification could have been found. The noble Lord went on to say that the influence of the British Embassy at Constantinople was paralyzed. That is not my impression, nor do I believe it is that of any European diplomatist. The noble Lord may only wish to imply that we do not possess the same influence with Turkey as if we were fighting on her side, or had promised to fight on her side. If that be all that is meant by my noble Friend, it is perfectly true and obvious; but if the noble Lord means that the British Ambassador at Constantinople does not exercise that influence and enjoy that position there which fairly belongs to a neutral and friendly Power, I am bound to say, in that case, that his information differs from mine. The noble Lord put forward a theory which, although he supported it by many historical precedents, I cannot accept. He said you cannot expect, after the end of a war in which you have been neutral and inactive, to exercise an important influence over its results. Now, I do not much care to argue abstract propositions on this or on any other question; but, if we are to discuss the matter at all, I totally dissent from his view. I cannot conceive a situation in which you can interfere with more influence or effect than at the close of a war when the belligerent Powers are more or less exhausted and worn out by the struggle, while you are still uncommitted to any course and while your own forces are fresh and unbroken. Under such circumstances, we are likely to exercise relatively greater power than if we had taken part in the conflict. The noble Lord then went on to remind us that we need not be afraid of agitation—that we have a majority, and he warned us not to lose it. I am obliged to him for that advice. We have a majority, and we intend to keep it. We do not intend either to fear or to encourage agitation, from whatever side it may come. I do not think that the position in which we stand requires any further definition at this moment. We have held all along language which I think is abundantly clear, and we have announced the policy which we intend to pursue. We were challenged by the Sovereign of Russia to give our opinion on the conduct of Russia when she proclaimed war, and we gave it. We further told the Porte, as long ago as May, 1876, when there was no pressure of popular opinion to influence our conduct, that Turkey was not to expect assistance from England. And since the war broke out, with the view of maintaining a neutrality which should be at once honourable and safe, we have defined what we regard as the British interests involved, and defined them with a fulness and a clearness which, as far as I know and believe, has not been usual on former occasions. We have done that in no unfriendly spirit to Russia; and the Russian Ambassador, when in conversation with him I referred to the statement which we had made of what we conceived to be our interests involved in this quarrel, thanked me for having warned his Government where those "torpedoes" called English interests were. I now come to the remarks of my noble Friend the noble Earl opposite (Earl Granville). He certainly did not in any undue manner censure or criticize the conduct of the Government, and therefore I think I need not waste your Lordships' time in going over the ground which he traversed, except to protest against one statement which he made when he said that those declarations of what we con- ceived to be our "interests" involved were vague in their character. I think they were as distinct and as precise as it is possible for declarations on such a matter under such circumstances to be. I will not go into the question—especially since it has been explained "elsewhere"—of the reason why the Fleet was sent to Besika Bay. It is not the fact, as my noble Friend opposite thinks, that formal assurances have been given to Foreign Powers as to the reasons for which the Fleet was sent to that station. We did not give such assurances simply because they were not called for or required. If there be those who think there must be some sinister object in whatever we do—that we have some deep and secret design in moving the Fleet from one station to another—it is easy for such persons to find out a motive in regard to whatever place we may send it, whether it should be to Alexandria, to Crete, to the Piræus, or to Besika Bay. If it goes to Alexandria, the inference is that we are going to lay hands on Egypt. If to Crete, we wish to keep the Cretan insurgents in order. If to Athens, the object is to intimidate Greece. There is no end to such suspicions, and it is impossible to avoid their being entertained. I cannot myself see that any objection can be made to the station we have selected any more than would equally attach to any other in the eyes of anyone who is bent on looking at the matter invidiously. Besika Bay was a most central and most convenient station in case of disturbances arising in Turkey, and also one from which communication could most easily be maintained with the British Ambassador. My noble Friend who spoke last (Lord Stanley of Alderley) referred to the alleged outrages in Turkey, committed on the Turkish population, I do not say by Russian soldiers, but by persons acting on the Russian side. I draw that distinction because where these excesses are said to have occurred they ought probably to be ascribed, not to the Russian Army, but rather to those who follow the Army and are not subject to military discipline. I do not pretend to determine how far these statements, of which we have lately seen so many in the newspapers, are accurate or not. Speaking as a general rule, I should say—exactly as I did last year— that we must always allow in these cases for a great deal of exaggeration. If we go back to the instance of Bulgaria, the first statement made was that 30,000 persons had been murdered in Bulgaria. The inquiry made at the time on the spot by Mr. Baring reduced the number below 12,000, and subsequent inquiries have shown more and more that those who were supposed to be dead have been coming to life again; that many persons who were at first reckoned among the victims have since been found to have only run away and taken refuge in another place; and I have seen a statement that the number who suffered last year was really much smaller than even the reduced previous calculations gave it—something like 4,000. If that is the case in regard to Bulgaria, it is possible that something of the same kind may apply to these newly-alleged outrages. No doubt those accounts which come from Turkish sources are liable to the imputation of not being impartial: we have, however, some statements from our own Consuls on this subject; and I propose to collect together whatever information we may have on these matters, and to take an early opportunity of laying it on your Lordships' Table. I do not think it necessary to trouble you with any further remarks.


in reply, said, that although he could not ask their Lordships to remain at such an hour, what had fallen from the noble Earl the Secretary of State and the noble Earl who had preceded him in the same Department, imposed on him the necessity of a few words in answer. As to the noble Earl the Secretary of State, he had defended the Proclamation of Neutrality in a manner which implied complete forgetfulness of a maxim the late Sir Robert Peel had prudently laid down and which M. Guizot had recorded—namely, that a Government is often at liberty to act when it is not at liberty to speak of its intentions. Neutrality itself implied nothing but that the time for coming forward had not yet arrived, or that preparation was inadequate. Proclamation of Neutrality was an impediment or an encumbrance, when the support of an ally became imperatively requisite. On what grounds the Proclamation of Neutrality was more essential in this juncture than it had been in 1828 or 1853, or was more incumbent on Great Britain than on other Powers, the noble Earl had not attempted to explain. As to the rather insignificant attack of the noble Earl the late Secretary of State with regard to the postponement of the Motion, on the first occasion he (Lord Campbell) was prevented by indisposition from attending and going on with it, on two others the hour was not one at which their Lordships could be present. As to the further complaint of the noble Earl, that he (Lord Campbell) had brought forward many Motions on the Eastern Question for three years, he was not anxious to defend himself. He had never yet originated a discussion on the topic which had tended to lower that House at home or on the Continent of Europe. Since the Foreign Office had not deemed it right to answer the Ottoman despatch of January 25th, there could be no difficulty in the withdrawal of the Motion.

Motion (by leave of the House) withdrawn.

House adjourned at a quarter past Eight o'clock, till To-morrow, half past Ten o'clock.