HL Deb 25 February 1878 vol 238 cc262-5

gave Notice that on Thursday week, the 7th March, he would call attention to the position in which we were placed with regard to the Treaties of 1856, and, as a matter of form, would move for the production of certain Correspondence on the subject. If the Government should think that that Correspondence could not be produced without detriment to the public service, of course, he would not press for it.


asked the noble Earl the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Whether he had any information as to the atrocities alleged to have been committed in Thessaly by Turkish irregular troops; and, if he had, whether he could say if any steps had been taken to prevent a recurrence of the employment of such troops? He also wished to know upon what understanding with Her Majesty's Government the Greek Government withdrew their troops from Thessaly and the other Greek Provinces of Turkey?


My Lords, I shall be very willing to give your Lordships any information I possess on this subject; but full details will be found in Papers which, I think, in the present state of affairs, there will be no difficulty in laying on the Table within a few days. With regard to the first Question of the noble Lord, the Greek Chargé d'Affaires has communicated reports of outrages stated to have been committed by Albanians and Ghegas in Thessaly after the withdrawal of the Greek troops. Immediately on receiving these reports I instructed Mr. Layard to bring the matter to the notice of the Turkish Government, and to express the earnest desire of Her Majesty's Government that proper steps might be taken to repress disorders in the Greek Provinces of Turkey. Mr. Layard having done so, reported that the Turkish Minister for Foreign Affairs had expressed some doubt as to the reality of the statements made, but had promised to give orders at once by telegraph to the authorities to remove the irregular troops whose conduct had been the principal ground of complaint, and to secure protection to the Christian population. In answer to the second portion of the noble Lord's Question—on what understanding the Greek Government was induced to withdraw their troops from the Turkish Provinces—the best reply I can give is by a brief statement of the facts as they occurred, and as they will be found in the Papers. The Greek troops occupied Turkish territory on the 2nd of February professedly to maintain order and from humane motives. Naturally, the Turkish Government did not view the matter in that light. On the 4th, intelligence reached Athens that the Turkish Fleet was on its way to the Piraeus. On that day, or the day after—I am not sure which—I received a deputation of Greek gentlemen and others interested in Greece, praying that the protection of the British Government should be given to Greece in the event of hostilities on the part of Turkey. Obviously, it was my duty to explain to those gentlemen, that while we were anxious to do whatever might be in our power to put an end to the differences existing between the two Governments, and were ready to interpose if any acts were committed which were not sanctioned by the usages of civilized nations, still it must be borne in mind that the entry of Greek troops into the Turkish Provinces was an act of hostility, and that naturally and inevitably the Turkish Government would take measures to resist that proceeding. On the 5th—the day after the news of the sailing of the Turkish Fleet arrived at Athens—the Greek Chargé d' Affaires communicated a telegram from his Government, stating that the troops had been ordered not to advance any further into Turkish territory, and that if the Great Powers would guarantee the security of the inhabitants of the Greek Provinces of Turkey and protection of their rights, the Greek Government was disposed to order its troops to retire. Of course, we received that communication with satisfaction, and were willing, as far we could, to promise what the Greek Government desired; but it was necessary to have a clear understanding as to what it did desire, lest we should seem to engage ourselves to something more than it was in our power to do. Accordingly, in reply to the communication of the Greek Chargé d' Affaires, he was informed on the 6th of February that Her Majesty's Government did not clearly understand what was intended by a guarantee of the Powers for the security of the inhabitants of the Turkish Provinces; but so far as it might mean that the Government of Great Britain and other Governments should use their influence and their utmost endeavours to prevent the occurrence of disturbances and outrages on the population, Her Majesty's Government would certainly do all in their power within the limits mentioned to secure the inhabitants from lawless violence. They would also, on being informed of the withdrawal of the Greek troops, be ready to communicate with the Porte, and to urge that any hostile measures against Greece should be countermanded. On the day after—the 7th—we heard of the recall of the Greek troops, and in con- sequence of that the cessation of all hostilities. I believe this statement of facts answers the Questions of the noble Lord, but I shall shortly be prepared to lay on the Table the Papers on which my statement is founded, and which contain fuller details.


asked the noble Earl the Prime Minister, Whether he would inform the House what was the diplomatic distinction between a Congress and a Conference?


My Lords, I really cannot explain the difference between a Congress and a Conference, because I do not recognize any difference between them. There is, I know, a common idea abroad that a Congress is a diplomatic Assembly in which the States which compose it are represented by Sovereigns, and a Conference an Assembly in which the States which compose it are represented by Plenipotentiaries; but I do not think myself that there is any foundation for that distinction. There was, for instance, the case of the Congress at Rastadt, which was held at the end of the last century—it was composed of Plenipotentiaries. There are other examples; but I need only recall the most recent instance—the Congress of Paris in 1856, in which the proceedings were carried on, not by the Sovereigns, but by their Plenipotentiaries.