HL Deb 03 April 1879 vol 245 cc254-8

in asking the Question of Her Majesty's Government of which he had given Notice, with reference to the progress of the negotiations between Turkey and Greece for the rectification of the Frontier, said, he knew that there were not at the present moment sufficient materials before their Lordships to enable them to enter on a full discussion of the subject, nor was his Question intended to provoke one. But it seemed to him that, before their Lordships separated, it would be convenient to ask the noble Marquess the Foreign Secretary whether he was able to give them—oven in the most general terms—some information with regard to the progress of the negotiations between Turkey and Greece. Their Lordships would remember that there was a stipulation in the 13th Protocol of the Treaty of Berlin for the rectification of the Frontier of the two countries. It was provided by the Treaty that the future boundary between Turkey and Greece should be left to be decided by the two countries; but it was suggested that, in the event of their being unable to agree, the Great Powers which were represented at the Congress should offer their mediation in the matter. This was reserved as a right to those Great Powers. Nine months had elapsed since the Treaty of Berlin was executed, and during that period we had had no official information as to the progress of those matters. There was the greatest unanimity on the part of the Plenipotentiaries that Greece should receive some accession of territory. That was proposed, in the first instance, by the Plenipotentiary for France, but it was agreed to by the other Plenipotentiaries. If he remembered rightly, the noble Earl the Prime Minister expressed the opinion that the existing Frontier was a danger and a disaster, not only to Greece, but to Turkey as well; and he expressed a conviction that the Sultan would be induced to accept an equitable solution of the Frontier question. What he now wanted to ask the noble Marquess was, whether he could hold out any hope that an equitable solution of the question was approaching? They had no official information with regard to the matter; but there had been disquieting rumours which did not point to the negotiations proceeding satisfactorily. He had read in one report that the Turks were fortifying positions on the Greek Frontier. Anyone who had watched the course of events in Eastern Europe must feel that if this question was to be settled, it could only be by the resolute guidance of the Great Powers. He therefore hoped that, if Turkey and Greece had not been able to come to terms, Her Majesty's Government would use their endeavours to induce the Sultan to comply with the wish of the Great Powers as expressed at the Congress of Berlin. The noble Marquess then asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Whether he is able to give the House any information with regard to the progress of negotiations between Turkey and Greece for the rectification of their Frontier in accordance with the 13th Protocol of the Berlin Congress; and whether, if those negotiations have not yet resulted in a satisfactory settlement, Her Majesty's Government consider that the time has arrived for the mediation contemplated by section 24. of the Treaty of Berlin?


My Lords, no doubt the noble Marquess is right in saying that negotiations have been going on between Turkey and Greece, in accordance with the Article of the Treaty of Berlin, for several months. He seems to think that a long time has elapsed without a settlement having been arrived at. According to my experience of Oriental negotiations, I should be inclined to differ from him on that point, for I have known matters of far less importance take considerably more time. But whether any equitable solution is at hand or not must, of course, depend very much on the meaning which each party attaches to these words. Turkey, I believe, is prepared to admit that the present Frontier is not satisfactory; but what precise line is to be adopted for the future is a point on which, up to this moment, the two Powers have not been able to agree—and, undoubtedly, at the present time the prospect of a settlement is not very near. It is not possible for me to go into very close details on the subject, because it is at this moment a matter of communication between the Powers, and I might be prejudicing the negotiations if I were to make any public statement going very minutely into the matter. I shall merely say that the attitude of Her Majesty's Government is precisely that which they adopted at Berlin. It is in no respect changed. We continue to advise the Porte; but whether our advice should take the form which the noble Marquess suggests, of "resolute guidance," is a point respecting which I should rather wait for a more clear definition of what is meant by the term before I answer the Question. Advice is one thing; but "resolute guidance" smacks of salt-petre. I am not prepared to say we have arrived at that point yet. I shall only say that our intention is a sincere one to bring about a settlement of this matter; and, in my judgment, the chances of a satisfactory settlement will be greater when the present pressure on another Frontier of Turkey shall have been removed, and that Greece rather than Turkey gains by the delay.


said, he did not see what difficulty there could be in defining what would be an equitable settlement between Turkey and Greece. How was it possible that Her Majesty's Government could expect to see the Treaty of Berlin carried out when, with cruel cynicism and contempt for engagements to which they themselves were more or less a party, they were prepared to see a settlement of the Frontier between Turkey and Greece put off till "the present pressure was removed from another Frontier of Turkey."


I think the noble Marquess could not have exactly heard what I said. I said that Her Majesty's Government now entertain precisely the same opinions which they professed at Berlin.


said, he did not think the explanation of the noble Marquess quite satisfactory. He presumed that at the Congress it was understood that only a reasonable period should be allowed for those results. The question of the rectification of the Turco-Persian Frontier had lasted a quarter of a century; and he believed it was not yet settled. If the noble Marquess meant that the negotiations between Turkey and Greece were to be of the same character and duration, then it would not be too much to say that the Treaty of Berlin would be a mere mockery.


My Lords, Greece has at no time treated the recommendatory intimations in the Treaty of Berlin with regard to its Frontier as at all binding on the Signataries to that Treaty. The noble Marquess who sits on this side of the House (the Marquess of Bath) was not justified in assuming the contrary. All that was intended by the notice given by the Plenipotentiary for France as to what would be the materials of a satisfactory settlement was accepted by the other Powers in that spirit; and nearly at the end of the Congress, when the President wound up the subject which has been noticed to-night in this House, he particularly stated that no Power was bound by the suggestion which had been made by the French Plenipotentiary, and certainly not Turkey. It was a suggestion which was to guide Turkey as to the general feeling of the Signataries to the Treaty. The noble Earl (the Earl of Kimberley) must not suppose that in the nine months which have elapsed nothing has been done. On the contrary, there have been frequent communications, suggestions, and proposals made both to Turkey and to Greece in the spirit of the Treaty of Berlin; and I am not at all prepared to say that there has been any fault on the part of the Government in the matter. There are four or five questions as regards boundaries which are still under discussion, and the noble Earl must know that the settlement of one must, in a certain degree, forward the settlement of another. All I can say is that there has been no extraordinary delay in the negotiations which have occurred on the subject of the Greek Frontier. They have engaged the early and frequent attention of the Signatary Powers. I myself do not take at all a gloomy view of the subject. I think there are modes by which a fair adjustment may be made, by which Greece may obtain that to which, under all the circumstances, she is entitled, and which the Porto may grant without any feeling of humiliation on its part, or without consenting to a settlement injurious to the interests of Turkey.