HL Deb 05 May 1879 vol 245 cc1674-83

I rise to ask the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs a Question of which I have given him private Notice. It is, Whether he can state at what time he will lay Papers before the House, or make a statement to explain the progress which has been made in carrying out the provisions of the Treaty of Berlin? The day before yesterday, the 3rd of May, was the date on which, by the Treaty, Roumania, Bulgaria, and Eastern Roumelia were to be evacuated by the Russian troops, and, therefore, marks an important epoch, as this evacuation, possibly for sufficient cause, has not been accomplished. We do not know of any reforms in the Greek Provinces, or of the rectification of the Turco-Greek Frontier, or of the reforms promised in Armenia, or of the completion of the work of the various Frontier Commissioners. It is true that Papers have recently been laid on the Table of the House; but they only come down to February of this year, and these were distributed simultaneously with Nos. 53 and 54 of 1878, and there were at the same time distributed Cretan Papers up to February this year. It is not a satisfactory way of giving information to Parliament to allow these Papers to accumulate in the Foreign Office, and then discharge them in masses of 900 pages upon the House; more partilarly when, as in this case, they do not throw the slightest light on the subjects which have been exciting the attention of the public of Europe during the last three months. The noble Marquess and the Merchant Taylors will, of course, think that I am only actuated by such base motives as the noble Marquess does not think it unbecoming in a Minister of State to ascribe to all who, at the moment, differ from him in their political views; but I trust that your Lordships, and even the noble Marquess's Colleagues, will not consider it unreasonable for me to ask at what time we may expect to have some information on a subject about which we are all anxious.


My Lords, I received this morning a Notice from the noble Earl that he proposed to ask me this Question—namely, when I would make a statement as to the negotiations in progress for carrying out the Provisions of the Treaty? It does not seem at all an unreasonable Question, and it appears to me that I may as well make a statement on the subject now. I am afraid I shall have to ask the indulgence of your Lordships for a few minutes. I have brought the Treaty with me, and I propose to point out with respect to each division of it what has been done and what is the present condition of affairs. The first part of the Treaty provides that Bulgaria shall be an autonomous Principality; shall have a Christian Government and National Militia; that the Prince shall be freely elected by the population; that his election shall be confirmed by the Porte with the assent of the Powers; and that there shall be an Assembly of Notables convoked at Tirnova before the election of the Prince to determine the Constitution of the Principality. With regard to that part of the Treaty, I have to say that all these things have been done. A Prince has been elected—I believe a very good choice—by the people of Bulgaria, and this choice has been freely assented to by all the Powers; and the Constitution of the Principality has been voted by the Chamber. The next part of the Treaty determines the Boundaries of Bulgaria. This is rather a larger business. A Commission has been appointed under the Treaty, which devoted itself for the remaining part of the working season of last year, and has now re-commenced its labours for determining the Boundaries of the Principality. There was some delay and difficulty caused last year owing to the circumstance that, according to ordinary International practice, every decision had to be taken by the unanimity of the Commissioners. I am happy to say that during the present year we have avoided the possibility of any such difficulty, for all the Powers have agreed that all points of controversy that may arise shall be determined by the majority. There has been considerable discussion on a Proviso at the end of the 2nd Article of the Treaty, which says that the Delimitation Commission shall take into consideration the necessity for the Sultan to be able to defend the Balkan Frontiers of Eastern Roumelia. I think it was poor Mehemet Ali who proposed that that should be done—or, at least, he desired it should be done—by drawing a line considerably in advance of the Balkans on the Northern side; but to this mode of solving the difficulty the Powers were generally opposed; and now it has been decided that, as a rule, the watershed shall be taken, but that in all places where that does not seem sufficient to furnish Turkey with the ground necessary for the raising of works of defence, the watershed shall be overstepped and ground taken on the other side. In what cases this shall be done is to be determined by the majority of the Commission. Then, as in the case of all the Principalities, provision has been made in the Treaty for the maintenance of religious liberty in Bulgaria; and that has been scrupulously carried out. It is further provided that the provisional régime is not to last beyond the installation of a Prince, and not to last beyond nine months from the exchange of the ratification of the Treaty. In this respect the Treaty has been faithfully observed. The tribute which that Principality is to pay to the Porte is a matter which, by the Treaty, is to be determined at the close of the first year after the reorganization of the Principality; the time has not yet arrived when that can be carried into effect. There is another provision with regard to Bulgaria which I ought not to pass over—namely, that which provides for the razing of the fortifications by the local Government within one year of the ratification of the Treaty; but though a large portion of the year has elapsed, I believe that the provision has not been carried into effect. I have no precise knowledge on the point, but I do not think that much progress has been made in razing the fortifications, and it is a matter which may have to engage the attention of the Powers; but obviously, until the year has elapsed, it is not a point that can be diplomatically raised.

The next part of the Treaty is that which deals with the much-discussed question of Eastern Roumelia. A Commission has been appointed to carry out its delimitation. The other Articles with respect to that Province provide that a Governor General shall be named by the Porte with the assent of all the Powers, and that he shall hold office for five years. A Governor General has been named by the Porte, and his nomination has been assented to by the Powers. Aleko Pasha—not from any suggestion by us—was freely selected by the Porte as being a Christian; and as being also, from his race and previous associations, likely to be satisfactory to the people whom he was to govern. I have every reason to believe that the nomination will be a satisfactory one to the people of Eastern Roumelia, and the Porte may be trusted to have selected a man who will support its own interests in that Province. Immediately after the ratification of the Treaty a European Commission was formed to elaborate, in accord with the Ottoman Porte, the organization of Eastern Roumelia. That Commission met. The Representatives of England were two Members of Parliament, one a Member of the other House, Sir Henry Drummond Wolff, and the other a Member of your Lordships' House, Lord Donoughmore; and, my Lords, I cannot pass over their names without paying a tribute to the energy and ability with which they have accomplished a most difficult task. They have conducted their labours to a successful issue, though all the decisions had to be taken under what seemed at first sight an almost impossible condition; but still the matter has been brought to a satisfactory conclusion, and the Statute of the Commission now awaits the sanction of the Sultan. That sanction is a formal matter which will be given under the Treaty by an Imperial Firman. I am bound to say that in one respect the Treaty was too sanguine. It laid down that the Commission should finish its work in three months; but there is one thing which even Treaties cannot do, and that is to make deliberative bodies move faster than they can: and, instead of three, the work lasted nine months. However, that is now finished. Article 15 provides that there shall be a native gendarmerie and local militia maintained in Eastern Roumelia; that the officers shall be nominated by the Sultan; and that the religion of the inhabitants shall be respected. These are matters which are provided for in the Statute of the European Commission to which I have already referred. The European Commission, I should say in passing, is also charged by the 19th Article to administer, in concert with the Sublime Porte, the finances of the Province until the completion of the new organization. This task the Commission accordingly undertook, and Lord Donoughmore was one of the sub-Committee to whom the finances of the Province were intrusted. It is a provisional matter, and it has now passed by. Speaking literally and technically, the Treaty has been fulfilled; but, undoubtedly, there were delays against which the Commissioners had repeatedly to protest—delays arising probably from the want of that accuracy in accounts to which European statesmen are accustomed. Then comes the question of the Russian occupation, to which the noble Earl refers, and which is provided for by Article 22. Now, I confess that I do not read that Article in the same manner as the noble Earl. I understood him to say that under that Article the Russians were bound to have withdrawn all their troops out of the Principality and the Province by the 3rd of May. What the Article does say is this—The Corps of Occupation shall be composed of six divisions of Infantry, two of Cavalry, and shall not exceed 50,000 men; and the period of occupation is fixed at nine months from the date of the exchange of the rectification of the Treaty. If evacuation had commenced before the end of the nine months, these Infantry and Cavalry divisions must have been materially diminished, and it is obvious that in that case the provisions of the Treaty would not have been complied with. What the Treaty contemplates is that up to the end of the nine months the Army of Occupation should remain undiminished. Up to the close of the nine months the occupation is to remain in all its entirety; from that date the evacuation is to commence, and is to be carried on, of course, with all reasonable despatch. The occupation authorized by the Treaty is to cease on the 3rd of May, and by the 3rd of August there are to be no troops of the Army of Occupation left on the South or West of the Pruth. That is what I understand to be the provision of the Treaty. Up to this time I have no occasion to believe that the Treaty will not be scrupulously observed in that reading of it, which I believe to be the right one. It is impossible, without a much larger staff of Consuls than we possess, to give accurate information as to the precise movements or numbers of the occupying force; but I have known for some time past of the movements in Bulgaria, and the evacuation has not only commenced, but it is proceeding. The 23rd Article contains an engagement for providing the Island of Crete with an organic Constitution, taking that of 1868 as a basis of the proposed modi- fications. Well, my Lords, that has been done. The Cretan Constitution has been revised in a highly liberal sense. Certainly I think that at the time when this Constitution was passed the inhabitants of the Island not only had reason to be, but were, satisfied with what had been done. I think, on the whole, that under the guidance of the Turkish official whose duty it is to see the Constitution carried out, although I have heard that some disturbances have since broken out in the mountains, a period of tranquillity in the Island has commenced. Then the Article goes on to say that analogous Constitutions, adapted to local requirements, may be introduced into other parts of European Turkey, for which no provision has been made, and the Sublime Porte is to depute separate Commissions for this purpose. But the revision of the Cretan Constitution only received its final sanction in January, and, therefore, the Porte has not been able to arrange for analogous Constitutions; and, consequently, I cannot say that, though these special Commissions have not been set on foot, there has been any breach of the Treaty in this respect. What I believe that the Turkish Government intends is, to use the Constitution elaborated for Eastern Roumelia by the European Commission, as in a great degree a model for these new Constitutions proposed to be provided for the other European Provinces; and I think, if sufficient elasticity be given and no attempt at too hard an identity for all the Provinces of the Empire be insisted upon, this idea is a good one, and I trust the Porte will be enabled to carry it out. This intention naturally explains why no further steps have been carried out; because the Report of the International Commission has only been placed in the Sultan's hands within a few weeks. Article 24 says that in case the Sublime Porte and Greece shall not succeed in coming to an understanding on the rectification of the Frontier indicated in the 13th Protocol of the Congress of Berlin, then the six Great Powers reserve to themselves the liberty of offering their mediation to the two parties for the purpose of facilitating negotiations. The Article is in progress of execution. The French Government has made a proposal to the Powers on this subject of mediation, and I believe that all the Powers have accepted that proposal. Then the Treaty provides that the Provinces of Bosnia and Herzegovina are to be occupied and administered by Austria-Hungary; and I need hardly say that the provision has been fulfilled. With regard to Montenegro, there was for a considerable period some doubt whether that part of the Treaty would be carried into effect. It is very easy for the Porte to say it has ceded certain districts to another Power; but if the inhabitants of those districts are martial and the country is mountainous, and, as far as military operations are concerned, is of an impracticable character, it does not depend entirely on the will of the Porte whether that part of the Treaty is to be carried out. Considering the terrible examples which had been given of what the population were capable, there was at one time sufficient cause for apprehension in the minds of many persons. Your Lordships are, however, aware that Montenegro is now in possession of all the territory that she is entitled to by the Treaty of Berlin. With regard to Servia and Roumania, I need say but little, because no great points of difficulty have arisen. The delimitation required a survey, and that necessarily occupied time. With respect to Roumania, the question as to the fortress of Arab-Tabia remains unsettled. I see no grounds for believing that there will be any great difficulty in the delimitation of Servia. There is every reason to anticipate the settlement in respect of these two Principalities of a question of some interest, though not concerned with the Eastern Question properly so called. The Congress of Berlin determined that religious liberty, to its fullest extent, should be granted by ail the Principalities on which it could impose that condition before their independence should be fully recognized. In Servia, I believe, satisfactory arrangements have been made; and, though a decision has not been absolutely arrived at, the matter had gone far enough to justify the four Western Powers in recognizing the independence of the Principality itself. In Roumania the case is different. The three conterminous Powers, probably considering their interests more important than merely speculative difficulties, immediately recognized the independence of Roumania; but the four Western Powers—England, France, Germany, and Italy—have not yet done so. We have, however, every reason to hope that before long assurances will be given to us that may justify our believing that the Treaty in this respect will be fully and faithfully carried out; and it will be with great satisfaction that we shall welcome Roumania among independent States. With respect to the cessions in Asia, I can say that the part of the line which was to be drawn by agreement between Russia and Turkey has been drawn already, by an agreement come to by Count Schouvaloff and myself at the Congress. It was no part of the Treaty, but it has been printed with it. It was arranged that an English Commissioner should take part in the delimitation of the Southern part of the Boundary. Delimitation has now been commenced, and will, I have no doubt, be carried on with the greatest possible speed. By Article 59, the Czar of Russia declared that henceforth Batoum was to be a free and essentially commercial port. It has certainly been made a free port, but to be an essentially commercial port it must have commerce; and, so far as I know, that result has not yet been obtained. By the 61st Article, the Sublime Porto enters into an engagement with respect to the reforms in these Provinces inhabited by the Armenians.


What reforms?


You must construe it according to the usual meaning of the word. A Commission has been sent into Asia. No doubt, the noble Earl will admit that before reforms are introduced it is better to ascertain what the local needs are, and the local means; and to ascertain these the Porte has issued a Commission, which is now on the spot, to inquire into the question. But until the finance of the Porte is brought to a more satisfactory state, we cannot expect any bonâ fide reform. We know well in this country that there is nothing that costs money like administrative reform; and if there is to be reform in Turkey, I am afraid that its Rulers will not escape the conditions which attach to it in a civilized nation like our own. Certainly, an essential preliminary to reforms is the establishment of such gendarmerie as will give security for life and property; and in order to secure efficiency, so that it will not use its power to plunder or murder those whom it ought to protect, you must pay it well, and in order to pay it well, you must have money to pay it with. The 72nd Article simply consecrates those principles of religious liberty already imported into the Turkish Code; and, as far as our information goes, we have not heard of any Turkish authority who has shown the slightest indication of an intention to disregard the provisions of the Treaty in that respect. Now, my Lords, I have gone through the Treaty of Berlin, section by section, and, so far as I can see, the stipulations with have been entered into between Turkey and the Powers have been, up to this time, scrupulously performed.