HL Deb 21 February 1878 vol 238 cc46-57

Order of the Day for the Second Reading, read.


My Lords, in moving the two Bills, the second reading of which I am about to propose to your Lordships, and the object of which is to grant to Her Majesty a sum not exceeding £6,000,000, in addition to the Naval and Military Estimates for the ordinary financial year terminating on the 31st of next month, I do not think that at this time of day, and after all the great events that have so rapidly followed one another during the last few weeks, it is necessary for me to offer any arguments to your Lordships in favour of the necessity of these measures. Every nation in Europe is armed—armed to the teeth. There is scarcely a Government in Europe which has not a Fleet or Squadron at the present time assembled in the Mediterranean; and there is a firm belief among all the European States that in the settlement of affairs which I fain hope will soon occur, the general interests of those nations are concerned. The cause no doubt of this agitation and disturbance is that appalling war which now for nearly a year has ravaged the fairest portions of Eastern Europe, and the conviction that when that war terminates—or, indeed, if it is pursued—the interests and rights of all those communities are concerned; and we find on every hand precautions taken to guard those interests and to assert those rights. My Lords, I do not think it unreasonable that England should take the same course. There is a general feeling now, I am glad to say, that the termination of those terrible calamities is at hand or may be contemplated at least with a probability of its occurrence. On the other hand, it would be an act totally indiscreet were we to assume—considering the great difficulties and complicated arrangements involved in the management of those affairs—that because there is a general desire on the part of the European States to settle those matters in Conference that result will necessarily occur. What I wish to impress upon your Lordships is this—that whatever may occur—whether we may be so fortunate as to contribute to an honourable and durable peace—and I can assure your Lordships that no Government is more ardently and arduously labouring for that result than the Government of Her Majesty—or whether, on the other hand, those efforts may fail and the war may be extended and the area of hostilities oven increased, there seems to be in either of these alternatives 110 doubt of the policy of this country—that she should be in a position to make her word respected, that she should not at this moment have recourse to feeble expression or inefficient action; but that she should by the confidence and liberality of Parliament, do what she thinks necessary to assert a sound policy. My Lords, I do not know that at this moment it is necessary for me to say more. The other House of Parliament sent this Bill up to your Lordships' House supported by an immense majority. I shall only express my own feeling, that whether England enters into Conference or campaign, it is of the utmost importance that she should enter into it with the spirit and influence of a united people.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a" —(The Earl of Beaeonsfield.)


My Lords, in the first place, I wish to acknowledge the calm and temperate manner in which the noble Earl has introduced this subject to the notice of your Lordships. I cannot but feel glad that the tone of the noble Earl's remarks this evening is not what it was on the opening night of the Session, in the debate on the Address. I stated three days ago that, for my own part, I could not concur at the present moment in any Vote of Confidence or Want of Confidence in Her Majesty's Government. With regard to this particular Vote, I deprecated it on the first day of the meeting of Parliament; and, certainly, when it was brought forward in the other House, the reasons adduced in its favour appeared to me to be very conflicting; while there were arguments brought against it which, as I think, were constitutionally and politically just. The noble Earl himself made allusion to the rapidity with which events have occurred within the last few weeks. In the first place, there was a long debate on the Bill in the other House of Par- liament, and that debate was not without incidents. Naturally, Ministerial statements were made in the course of it. Some of those statements I regretted, others I rejoiced at. I thought it a matter of regret that several Ministers, some of whom up to that time had spoken with great moderation and calmness on the Eastern Question, made statements which were not of that character; but, on the contrary, were calculated to provoke that combative spirit and warlike feeling which it is always in the power of the Government of this country, considering the spirit of its population, to arouse, but which, when once evoked, it is very difficult to calm. I think, too, my Lords, that some of the observations then made gave rise to expectations which will not be fulfilled, and that a feeling somewhat of humiliation has been created where, in the nature of things, no humiliation need exist. I quite agree with what the noble Earl has said as to the importance of the Vote given by the other House. It is true that your Lordships have the Constitutional right to reject such a Bill as this; but after a Vote given in its favour by so large a majority of the House of Commons, I am sure your Lordships will on that ground think you ought not to resist, nor to attempt to resist, even for a day, the progress of the Bill through your Lordships' House. Then there have been other circumstances, which, no doubt, were those alluded to by the noble Earl. Events have crowded upon each other with great rapidity. Since the Vote was introduced in the other House of Parliament an armistice has been signed, and an announcement has been made with regard to the conditions of peace. And here I must say that from Papers recently produced, it would appear that the last conditions of peace do not differ very much from the conditions communicated eight or nine months ago. Her Majesty's Government have also taken a most important step—and this measure of extreme gravity was tempered at the time by the assumption that it was accepted by the Turks, and would be followed by the co-operation of the European Powers. Neither of those latter circumstances has occurred. The Fleet has gone into the Straits. I am not now going to argue whether that is a good or a bad measure—certainly it was an exceptional one, and there may have been exceptional circumstances to justify it; but abstractedly it was one that would justify either the Turks or the Russians in making it a casus belli. ["No, no!"] I hear noble Lords opposite say "No, no;" but I entirely maintain my assertion. We may have been guided by regard to our own interests; we may think that in consequence of the steps the Russians were taking we were justified in going into the Turkish waters; but that this step might have been regarded by either of the other Powers as a casus belli, if they thought it right so to regard it, is, I think, a proposition beyond all argument. With regard to the result of that movement, I am considerably relieved by what I have heard this evening from the noble Earl. I am sure that your Lordships will all rejoice that, by judicious concessions on both sides, a condition of things which certainly caused great anxiety has passed away, and we are now in a different position from that which we occupied a few days ago. Such is what we learn from Her Majesty's Government. I certainly have not the slightest intention to offer any opposition to the Vote. The noble Earl says it will strengthen the position of Her Majesty's Government in entering into the negotiations which are about to take place. I sincerely hope it will do so. A great responsibility rests on Her Majesty's Government with regard to European affairs in the negotiations, which, I am glad to hear, will commence at an early period. With respect to those negotiations, one feeling which I certainly had—caused by certain statements to be found in a Blue Book—has been removed by a declaration of the Leader of Her Majesty's Government in the other House. There was an idea that Her Majesty's Government were inclined to try to minimize the advantages to be obtained by the Christians in the Turkish Provinces. I am glad that the Leader of the Government in the other House has distinctly repudiated the idea that such is the policy of the Government, and stated that such a policy would be inconsistent with the traditions of the people of this country. My Lords, I trust Her Majesty's Government will go into the Conference with a policy of their own; but in that policy it is of great importance to have a European concurrence. I think much depends on such a concurrence, and this I have always endeavoured to express in any observations I may have made on the Eastern Question. We ought not to agree to anything we do not think proper. We ought to see that our interests are safely guarded—it being always understood that they are interests which are really important; and I think that in doing this we ought, as much as possible, to secure the cooperation of the whole of Europe in order to arrive at a durable and satisfactory peace. The noble Earl, in answering the Question I put to him, stated the reasons why Her Majesty's Government did not think it advisable that he should himself proceed to Baden-Baden, or wherever else the Conference may be held. I entirely agree with him that the determination arrived at by Her Majesty's Government on this point is a judicious and prudent one. I only hope that Instructions will be given to the Ambassador of this country to avoid trying to minimize the advantages to be derived from the war by the Christian subjects of the Porte. I am not now going into a controversy on the point to which I am about to allude—though I think on Papers recently presented to your Lordships, and especially Paper No. 15—a controversy might be raised as to whether Her Majesty's Government did not lose an opportunity, by not sounding the Porte as to the conditions of peace—whether they would accept them or not—of bringing this war to an end some time ago. The point to which I wish to allude is this—In despatches, in which he referred to the integrity and independence of Turkey, Mr. Layard said that the Turks would not, ought not, and could not accept the terms proposed by Russia. He made this statement in June, and again, I think, in August. He also explained what he himself thought it right to do, while he rather sneered at the inaction of Her Majesty's Government. He said that, although Her Majesty's Government could not at this time hold out any hope of material assistance to the Turks, he thought it his duty to raise their hopes—that Her Majesty's Government at the close of the war would use their influence to obtain the most favourable terms for Turkey. Now, I can quite understand the despatch of the noble Earl, which states that if Turkey entertains the pro- posals that were made, and thinks fit to treat on them, we will exert ourselves to obtain the best possible conditions; but that appears to me to be quite a different thing to making a proposal by which the Turks should have their hopes raised that, at the conclusion of the war, whenever that might happen, Her Majesty's Government would use their influence to obtain the most favourable terms for them. I trust the course Mr. Layard has pursued in this respect did not receive the sanction of Her Majesty's Government. I hope that in going into this Conference Her Majesty's Government will not be a party to abating in the interests of Turkey the advantages which ought to be gained by the Christian subjects of the Porte. I hope they will not go into it fettered by any obligation to Turkey to patch up a state of things which has been condemned by all Europe, and which really led to this war.


said, he was glad to hear the noble Earl (Earl Granville) say that he and those acting with him would not offer any opposition to the passing of this Bill. That was not more than might have been expected, because Party differences should always give way to the desire for the public welfare in any important crisis such as this. He must say, as a Liberal, he heartily desired that all Party differences on this question had been obliterated long ago. He had always been taught that to Party Government, as it existed among us, we owed a great deal that was dear to all Englishmen; it was the best method of Government, and it was the method by means of which Liberal principles had grown up amongst us. But, at the same time, if Government by Party was to be maintained in the face of grave European difficulties, involving complications of the most serious character, it could only be maintained by complete self-sacrifice upon the part of the Opposition. It became imperative in such case, upon individual Members of the Opposition, and especially upon those who might be gifted with great talents, to abstain from doing anything that might embarrass the Government in their foreign policy or render their duties difficult. He had been very sorry indeed to see the opposition offered to the Government in the prosecution of their foreign policy—an opposition which, no doubt, had manifested itself mainly outside the walls of Parliament, but which, in the main, came from Members of Parliament. For the reasons which must be apparent, and which he had briefly mentioned, he thought it the duty of all political Parties to abstain as much as possible from hampering the Government in power when it was engaged in the conduct of delicate and difficult foreign affairs. He had recently returned after a considerable absence abroad, and had endeavoured to make himself acquainted with the condition of affairs, and to understand what was meant by "British interests." He looked in vain for any mention of our interests in Armenia—our interests in Asia Minor seemed to have passed out of view. The other day the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in speaking of the British interests to be considered at the coming Conference, mentioned our trade in the Black Sea, the navigation of the Lower Danube, and the navigation of the Straits, and he said it was necessary that no one Power should be able to close the Straits against the others; and further, he spoke of the Suez Canal. But he said nothing whatever about Armenia. It was true he said nothing about Constantinople; but then the possession of Constantinople involved an interest so obvious and of such magnitude that it was not necessary to mention it. He feared, however, that the omission of all mention of Armenia could not be attributed to the same cause. Indeed, he rather thought our interests were not sufficiently considered in that quarter, and he found himself in the disagreeable position of attaching great importance to what, in the opinion of many more experienced men, appeared to be of little value. At the same time, he found consolation in the fact that Englishmen admittedly capable of forming an opinion on the subject had thought England had decided interests in Armenia, and he should like to know since when she ceased to be interested in that quarter. The great Duke of Wellington, after the Peace of Adrianople, emphatically showed the impolicy of allowing the Russians to establish themselves in Armenia, and pointed out how easily they could resume hostilities when they pleased in the heart of Asia with secure communications by land and sea. Lord Aberdeen, speaking on a former occasion, said the cession of an Asiatic frontier, with naval ports, would not only secure Russia uninterrupted communications in the Black Sea, but would place her in a position so commanding as to enable her to control Asia Minor. In that case Russia would, it was shown, hold the keys of the Persian and Turkish Provinces. It was authorities like these who were of opinion that Russia should not be allowed to establish herself in Armenia. If Russia were allowed to establish herself in Armenia, to retain possession of Kars and other strong places, and hold a safe harbour in the Black Sea, her position would be one fitted to render her very formidable. From Erzeroum to Alexandretta was 450 miles—no doubt 450 miles of a very difficult country, but still a country containing no strong places or fortresses capable of resisting an advancing army. In talking of distances, we ought to remember that, cooped up in a small is land, we thought a great deal of distances. We did not march vast armies great distances overland. Russia did so, and, furthermore, her troops were accustomed to the extremes of heat and cold. If a Russian army was to be moved to a certain point, it would go, though it were bound to march over a road composed of the bodies of their comrades of preceding armies. We should not forget the extraordinary effect of Russian gold in overcoming geographical difficulties, nor the marvellous agility displayed by Russian silver in preparing the way for Russian steel. Russia, they knew, regarded the region of the Tigris and Euphrates with great interest; and in connection with this matter he desired to notice a prevailing opinion that the Euphrates Valley Railway had been reported against by the Committee by whom it was considered. The Committee did not recommend that a large expense should be incurred by the State in creating the line, but they reported very favourably on the route in a commercial and a military sense. No doubt it would effect a great saving in time if it were carried out. Where a short route existed between two points, it would be taken sooner or later, and surely the Euphrates Valley Line would eventually be used as a communication between the West and the East. That railway might be kept by England, or some neutral Power strong enough to do so, in a position in which it should always be open to England and the rest of the world. But, once allow Russia to get the footing which she was now aiming at, and in regard to which she was meeting singularly little opposition, there would be nothing to prevent her spreading herself southward and westward; while the railway, if made, would become a mere Russian monopoly. It would be a strange thing if some atrocities did not occur in Syria—some conflicts between the Druses and Maronites—some outrage to the Greek faith might arise in Jerusalem at a moment opportune to Russia; and in that event he should like to know what would be the feeling of British shareholders in the Suez Canal if they heard that 5,000 Russian troops were placed in that building in Jerusalem, whose appearance must be familiar to many of their Lordships—the Russian Convent, which looked very like a barrack. Russia, in the strong places to-wards which her ambition was bent, would soon establish efficient communications between the sea and the interior, and thus control the whole of Asia Minor, and have Persia at her mercy. England occupied herself very much about the Straits; but in listening to what was said, and reading what was written about the Straits, he was reminded of the Irishman's rope, which had only one end, the other having been cut away. Very little was heard about the Asiatic side; but Russia established there would be paramount in Asia Minor; and he should like to know what Power would have possession of the Dardanelles if Russia were paramount on the Asiatic side? Our prestige in India was not a matter to be lightly dealt with. The Orientals had always thought highly of Kars, and the fall of Kars in the Crimean War had greatly affected the Eastern mind. The Mussulmans knew nothing about the Crimean War, or the fall of Sebastopol, but they knew about the fall of Kars; and, in fact, it was well known that Lord Palmerston, speaking from his place in Parliament, said that it had been the intention of the British Government to prosecute a campaign in Georgia, and drive Russia beyond the Caucasus. To the Mussulman the masters of Kars were the masters of Asia Minor. If Kars belonged to England, or to Turkey in alliance with Eng- land, then England to the Mussulman would be the strongest Power. But if Russia took it, and held it, then Russia would be looked upon as the strongest, and to her the Mussulman would transfer his respect, and, ultimately, might transfer his allegiance also. English interests in India were here very nearly concerned. The question of the shortest future route, by the Euphrates Valley, to India, depended upon whether Russia established herself in Asia or not, as did also the questions whether we could maintain our right of way over the present shortest route, and keep the Straits open for the commerce of all nations. Of course, if India were to be abandoned, that would be another matter altogether. At least, if India were to be abandoned, it would be well that England should know whether—as we were, it appeared, tenants-at-will—we should have what was given to Irish tenants under Mr. Gladstone's Land Act—let us, at any rate, be assured of receiving compensation for unexhausted improvements. He knew that of late those were called alarmists who spoke of Russian designs in the East and in India; and if he were called an alarmist for thinking as he did, he feared he should have to accept the imputation. But then they must also allow that the Duke of Wellington was worse—that he was a crack-brained enthusiast, carried away by vain and unsubstantial fears, for he was apprehensive when Russia was a thousand miles further away from our Indian frontier than she was now, when railways did not exist, when campaigns lasted for years, and England, notoriously a bad beginner, was much more on a par with Foreign Powers. They must be perfectly well aware that, as surely as Russia must collide with England in the East, so surely must she drift into collision with Germany in the Baltic; and if, from dynastic reasons, she was unwilling to act openly in the matter, that would only make her all the more anxious to operate through Austria or England. From a purely commercial and economical point of view, Russia should not be allowed to establish herself there. If she were allowed to, the larger question would arise of having to turn her out of Armenia, and it would be too late to turn and erect barriers against her when she was rolling her legions down the Euphrates Valley. England was alone in this matter. None of the other Powers had the smallest interest in Asia; but, for all that, he did not see why England should be compelled to act alone. England, on the other hand, had comparatively slight interest in Europe. It mattered comparatively little to her interests what was done on the Lower Danube and what came of a large part of European Turkey. Austria was more interested in these considerations, and Germany, also, was interested. If England was to co-operate with Germany and Austria, or both, the price of co-operation should be that they should help us to make such terms as might appear suitable with regard to Armenia. This was an important question, and one that ought to be discussed and spoken about at the present time. They heard a good deal of British interests, but none of them appeared to know exactly what British interests were. He thought it would be to the advantage of the country if they were made aware whether England was supposed to have any interests at all in Asia Minor.


said, he must compliment the noble Earl on his exceedingly able and interesting speech, but would nevertheless have preferred if this matter had remained where the speeches of the noble Earl the Prime Minister and of the Leader of the Opposition had loft it. He thought the announcement that England would be well represented at the coming Conference would have diffused satisfaction throughout the country. It could not be disguised that Russia in this matter had been most bitterly in earnest. She had spent her best blood and treasure for the purpose of tearing into shreds the Treaty of 1856. They knew that, after the sacrifices which Russia had made, it was not to be supposed that she would yield to merely diplomatic language. They knew from Russian despatches which had been for six months in the possession of the Government that Russia was outspoken, and tenacious of her views. They knew they could not meet with diplomatic rose-water the opinions which had been formed by Russian statesmen, and carried out so strictly by Russian arms. They knew, too, that England had interests to defend which were most important to this country. To be prepared was the only way by which they could obtain the position to which they were entitled. They were now to go into Conference, and they should not go with naked hands. They should go in with the might of England at the back of the statesmen who should there represent England. They might depend upon it that by speaking out now we should not offend Russia—it was much more probable that she would respect us for our outspokenness. The more it was known that England was prepared, and would go ready into the Conference, the more likely it was that we should have a peaceful solution of the question; but to go unarmed and unprepared would simply be to court disaster and defeat. He wished, as one that had neither the ties of past official responsibility nor of present official responsibility to bind him, but as merely one of the outside public of England, to say that that outside public had been waiting for those words of encouragement which the noble Earl the Prime Minister had uttered today, and to know that we were to go well prepared into that Congress would be satisfactory to the country.

Motion agreed to; Bill read 2a accordingly; Committee negatived; and Bill to be read 3a To-morrow.


EXCHEQUER BONDS AND BILLS (£6,000,000)—Read 2a (according to Order); Committee negatived; and Bill to be read 3a To-morrow.