HL Deb 19 May 1879 vol 246 cc655-64

, in rising to call attention to Article 22 of the Treaty of Berlin, as it relates to the period during which the occupation of Bulgaria and East Roumelia was sanctioned; and to move for the Correspondence between Her Majesty's Government and other Powers on the subject, said; My Lords, in the absence of my noble Friend whose Question stood first (Lord Stanley of Alderley), I am called on to address you. As it may be thought that comments on the 22nd Article in the Treaty of Berlin might have been offered to the House on the 16th of May, I will at once encounter that objection to the Notice. No doubt, the topic was alluded to by those who mixed in the debate, and anyone who rose might feel at liberty to mention it. But in so vast an issue as the merit or demerit of the Government in all their European and Asiatic policy, to fix upon it the attention of the House, would scarcely have been possible. But even if it was possible, according to the view which guides me, the object of the Notice would not have been compassed. My Lords, ever since the Treaty of Berlin, there has been no greater matter of solicitude, to those who reason justly on the Eastern Question, than the existence of a Russian Army beyond the Pruth, the Danube, and the Balkans. It seems to me a version of the Treaty has been sanctioned which, if it goes unchallenged, must tend to prolong the occupation altogether. But it can only be challenged with effect by Notice to call attention to the subject. Whether or not a given statement in the midst of a discussion like that of Friday last goes beyond the House is utterly precarious. But a Notice, however briefly or inadequately handled, must place it upon record, that the interpretation which keeps Russian troops in the Dominion of the Sultan longer than otherwise they would be, is disputed. Besides, other noble Lords may impart to the Notice more effect than I can give it. Before questioning the new interpretation of Article 22, let me mention with what aim it seems to me worth while to question it at present. Of course, the old interpretation cannot be recovered when it has once been given up. No human force, no stretch of virtue at St. Petersburg, or ingenuity in Downing Street, can now deliver East Roumelia and Bulgaria by the 3rd of May. The question now is, whether by August there will be the final exodus over the Pruth for which the Treaty has provided. But the House will readily admit that one encroachment on the Treaty, unless it is an object of remark, remonstrance, criticism, or protest in the Assemblies of the Signatory Powers, is nearly sure to generate another. I now wish to offer a few words on the interpretation of the Article. By learned men it might, no doubt, be debated both ways at such a length as would alarm the Court of Chancery, and keep its judgment in suspense for a considerable period. But my mode of treating it will be a short, even if it is not a convincing, one. Unless analogy is cast aside, the occupation of a territory can only cease when the territory has been quitted, as the occupation of a house can only cease when the occupier leaves it. The occupation of the house would not have ceased, because after the term the occupier began, in one week to pack his library, in a second to move his horses, in a third to get his family in order for departure. Neither the occupation of a house, nor the occupation of a territory, has ceased until the house or territory has thoroughly reverted to the owner. But it is said that anything may be established by analogy. Let me proceed, therefore, to the despatch of the noble Marquess to Consul Pal-grave on the 30th of September. According to the despatch, the new règime in Bulgaria must begin as soon as the nine months are over, because "the provisional Administration is to cease" exactly at that moment. It is clear, therefore, that on the 30th of September, the noble Marquess did not mean a Russian Force after the nine months to linger in that country. The provisional Administration could not cease until the Russian troops had vanished. The same remark applies to East Roumelia; but I do not dwell upon it. It is better to go on with the expressions of the Article. After the nine mouths in East Roumelia and Bulgaria, the closing paragraph allows three months for traversing Roumania. How could the Congress have laid down that three months might be employed in traversing Roumania, unless it held that at the beginning of the three months the other countries would be liberated? If the Russian Armies may be marching within the Ottoman and the Bulgarian Dominions after the nine months, they cannot be during the three months in Moldavia and Wallachia. According to the new interpretation, the Russian Force, as an united whole, should be at once on both sides of the Danube, a feat without a precedent in history. No doubt, in vague terms, the Forces of the Czar have been sometimes referred to as colossal. But to execute the task the new interpretation would assign to them, each individual soldier must stride—over a large and rapid flood—as a colossus. My Lords, the same view may be supported by referring to the Protocols of Berlin. It is there distinctly seen that Count Schouvaloff demanded nine months, in order in that time to evacuate Roumelia and Bulgaria; three months, in order in that time to evacuate the territory which lies beyond the Danube. The definitive Treaty between Russia and the Porte is based on the same principle. But it is unnecessary to refer to it, because there is a quicker mode of reaching a conclusion. No one will deny that the Article may be interpreted against the Russian claim, although he thinks it may be construed also to support it. It was interpreted against the Russian claim by the noble Duke who addressed the House on Friday; by the noble Earl the Lord Warden, who, this day fortnight, first elicited the present doctrine from the Government; by all the journalists of Europe until the noble Marquess spoke on that occasion; by all the most habitual reasoners on Eastern topics, against the noble Marquess since his doctrine was promulgated, which they have certainly repelled, whether or not they have disposed of it. The utmost which the new interpreters can urge is, that the stipulation is ambiguous. Let mo then grant its ambiguity. Here public law steps in at once to rescue us from difficulty. It is the maxim of public law, as well known to Sir Robert Phillimore as Vattel, that where a passage in the Treaty is ambiguous, it is to be construed against the Power which had the most decisive voice in the formation of the Articles; on this ground—that the strongest Power has brought about the ambiguity it ought to have prevented. The mode in which Vattel reasons, in a special chapter on Treaties of Peace, is almost prophetic of the circumstances which surround us. Such Treaties are nearly certain, he considers, to be fraught with ambiguity. But the Power by which a given stipulation is imposed, and not the Power on which it is imposed, must suffer loss from the obscurity. The principle is backed by a tenet of Roman law that damage falls upon the party "Cujus in postestate fuit rem apertius conscribere." Now it is seen clearly, by the Protocols, that the occupation was nothing but a sacrifice to a victorious invader. Neither the Sublime Porte, nor any other Power, aimed at it. It was open to Russia to intimate, in language not to be mis- taken, that until the end of nine months her Armies would not begin a movement of withdrawal. If the new interpretation is correct, the other Powers would have sanctioned it. If they would not have sanctioned it, the new interpretation is erroneous. As this ground is by far the most conclusive, it would not be judicious to add another to it. Ambiguity is not denied, and ambiguity suffices to overthrow the Russian version. My Lords, it does not follow that the Government are an object of severe reproach for an untenable interpretation of the 22nd Article. They may have had to listen during many weeks to every kind of sophistry by which it can be palliated. The Members of an Opposition are not similarly circumstanced. I take no credit to myself for still adhering to the true interpretation. Let me refer a moment to the Papers which I move for. They go to ascertain whether or not the other Signatory Powers at once departed from the ground originally contemplated. Now it is affirmed, with as much gravity as anything we have to trace to unofficial correspondence, that Austria wholly differed from the last conclusion of the Government. It is affirmed by sources which we generally credit, that Count Andrassy has protested against the legal status of the Russian Force after the 3rd of May, except between the Danube and the Pruth, where they may march or rest until the 3rd of August. But we are utterly devoid of all official knowledge as to the line of Austria or any Signatory Power. Should the day ever come when the transactions of the Eastern Question are reviewed, not only to entertain the House, or dazzle its frequenters, or to affect opinion out-of-doors, but to invoke the judgment of your Lordships, it is requisite to know whether, in so grave a measure as that of allowing Russia to begin a movement at the time she ought to have completed it, Great Britain has led or followed other Powers, has been in unison with Austria, or opposed and overruled her. There is nothing, therefore, useless or irrelevant in the correspondence I suggest; nor except in the case that no despatches were exchanged, do I imagine that the Government, or Foreign Office, or the noble Marquees who presides in that Department, will be reluctant to produce them. My Lords, although I have done it already to some extent, it may be prudent to insist again that the object of the Notice is not to dress up a case against Her Majesty's Government, but to contribute, by means of the House and those who may address it, to the deliverance from Russian arms of the important region they are grasping. Some men entitled to respect, both in the House and out of it, are inclined to view that deliverance as easily attainable, indeed, as virtually accomplished. It seems to me they utterly deceive themselves; and neither reflect with care upon the slender means which exist for the attainment of their purpose, nor the urgent motives which may lead the authorities of Russia to defeat it. As to the means, what are they? The German Empire has repeatedly declared its inability, which may be its reluctance, to exert military power at so great a distance. Austria, as it was easy to learn during the autumn at Vienna, has been exhausted by her unexpected struggles in Herzegovina and Bosnia to a degree which greatly lessens her capacity for effort on the Danube. France and Italy, however good their dispositions, however eminent their Leaders, are no more available as restraints upon aggression in the East than San Marino and Monaco. Great Britain—in spite of the announcement we have heard to-night—has still one anxious war to occupy her Forces. But let us turn to Russian motives. By remaining a considerable period between the Danube and the Pruth, or even where she is at present, Russia may impose upon Bulgaria the type most favourable to her objects; ensure the general supremacy of those who represent her at Constantinople; control the Principalities which have been flung into the air without a Suzerain to shelter them, without a Treaty rendering it penal to attack them, and gratify the military interest by which, as yet, her foreign policy is uniformly regulated. It is true that internal difficulties tend to the recall of Armies to the centre. The malevolent assailant of the Czar may, unintentionally, be the liberator of the Balkans. But we know too little to depend on such an agency as likely to outbalance the habitual and traditionary influences we are perfectly acquainted with. Three documents which have been recently presented—the despatch of the noble Marquess on the 26th of January, the lan- guage held by Prince Dondoukoff to Lord Donoughmore, the Report of Surgeon Buckle on the condition of the territory between Adrianople and Philippopolis—reveal objects so wholly inconsistent with the Treaty of Berlin, that nothing but a longer occupation of European Turkey can effect them. At least, prudent men will look back and ask how far their past anticipations have been realized in any given sphere, before depending on a new one. At every stage of this long transaction, the kind of confidence which now prevails has been rebuked and disappointed. When the three Powers declared their intention to negotiate with Servia and Roumania, it was hoped that there was very little in it; that it was nothing but a technical arrangement; that the Eastern Question was not going to be resuscitated. Who would not blush, after the event, at having shared in such fatuity? It was then hoped that the Herzegovinian Insurrection would burn out in its own crater. It was next hoped that the Conference of 1876 would lead to the adjustment of the new commotions which alarmed us. As soon as it collapsed, the impression was that by some other agencies an European war might be prevented. War having begun, the hope was that Constantinople would not be endangered by it. After the Treaty of Berlin, it was hoped that by the 3rd of May there would, not be a Russian soldier in Bulgaria. And now, at the end of these disheartening illusions, it is the fashion to proclaim belief in the complete evacuation by the 3rd of August, as if every previous vision had been systematically realized by the course of history—which disperses and exposes it. But I will not pursue that topic beyond the point which seemed desirable to vindicate the Notice, and move for the Correspondence between Her Majesty's Government and other Powers, on the 22nd Article of the Treaty of Berlin.

Moved, "That the Correspondence between Her Majesty's Government and other Powers on Article 22 of the Treaty of Berlin be laid upon the Table."—(The Lord Stratheden and Campbell.)


My Lords, I am not disposed to contend that the Article of the Treaty which formed the subject of the noble Lord (Lord Campbell's) speech is wholly free from ambiguity. It is our experience in this, and the other House of Parliament, that when there are several clauses in a Bill over which a long battle is fought in Committee, and when that Bill becomes an act of Parliament, it is often found by the Judges that a more technical accuracy in its enactments would have been desirable. Perhaps, something of that kind has occurred in this instance, as the Article in question was the subject of a great deal of discussion in the Congress of Berlin, and, subsequently, on the part of the Commission; but I think the simile the noble Lord used indicates a fallacy lurking in his mind in respect of this matter. He said that a man who was to occupy a house for a certain time was bound to be out of it by the end of the term of occupation; and that, in like manner, as Russia was to occupy those Provinces only for a certain time, she was bound to have evacuated them by that time. There is, however, this difference between the two cases. A man, with all his furniture, can get out of a house in one day; but an Army cannot get out of two Provinces quite so easily, and that is the gist of the controversy. We think that evacuation and occupation are two totally different things. An Army which is evacuating cannot be occupying. Occupation is a technical military term. When an occupation is over, undoubtedly the Army is bound to evacuate with as much expedition as possible. But this matter has been already before this House, and I think before the other House of Parliament, and, without wishing to derogate from its importance, I am not sure that I attach to the difference of time as between the two interpretations, the consequence which appears to be attributed to it by the noble Lord. With respect to the production of Correspondence, I am afraid there is considerable difficulty, and that for the reason that there is none. Speaking from memory, I have never had any written communication on this subject with the Russian Ambassador here, or Her Majesty's Ambassador at St Petersburg. The only Correspondence that I remember on the subject was this—some time in the spring, between the end of February and the beginning of March, Sir Henry Elliot asked me by telegraph what my view on this point was, and I then stated to him what I have stated in your Lord- ships' House. I shall look for the telegrams, and I shall lay them on the Table if I think they can be produced. I suppose the noble Lord will not think it necessary to press his Motion for Papers, when I state that there are only those telegraphic messages.


said, it was curious that there had been no Correspondence on the solution of a doubt on so important a subject, and it was unfortunate that so important an Article had been drawn in a manner which left a doubt as to its proper interpretation. When the doubt arose, was the solution of it left to Russia? The prolongation of occupation would be of no great importance were it not for the nature of the occupation itself. It was of something more than a military character. It had a political character also, and every hour that it was continued it carried with it a source of provocation and danger. No sooner was Prince Batten-berg elected Prince of Bulgaria, than he repaired to Livadia, and virtually accepted the Emperor of Russia as his Suzerain. From that, it might be concluded that the policy of Bulgaria would be that of Russia. The delay in the evacuation was to be regretted; but it was to be hoped that if there had been ambiguity in the past, there would be none in the future.


My Lords, I agree with my noble Friends who hold that the evacuation of these Provinces is a matter of the last importance. Neither am I surprised at the construction which my noble Friend (Lord Campbell) put on Article 22, because I put the same construction on it myself; but I am not one of those who think that Her Majesty's Government ought to have been more strict. If they thought there was a danger of disorder and bloodshed if the evacuation were carried out suddenly—and I think, from published Papers which we have seen, there was such a danger—then it seems to me that they are not to blame. On the contrary, I think they ought to be commended for having adopted a more liberal construction of the terms relating to the evacuation by the Russians, as well as of the clause respecting an occupation of the Balkan fortresses by the Turks. I cannot, therefore, agree in the views of the two noble Lords as to the action of the Government in this matter.


understood, with the greatest satisfaction, the noble Marquess to recognize the ambiguity from which everything followed. He could not accede to the opinion of the noble Marquess, that to evacuate the territory between the Balkans and the Danube by the 3rd of May was practically difficult in the manner he contended. Although it was a military point, and he (Lord Campbell) spoke before some military critics, he would hazard the remark that had the 50,000 men been aligned in the vicinity of the Danube at the beginning of the month, they would have effected the passage of that river by their pontoon bridges, not having any enemy in front of them, with considerable case in four-and-twenty hours. The view of the noble Marquess on this point appeared to him unjust to their commanders. Of course, as the noble Marquess had no despatches to produce, he would not press the Motion. Before sitting down, he must acknowledge the powerful support which his noble Friend who sat upon his right (Lord Houghton)—without which he could not have submitted it with so much advantage to the House—had given to his interpretation of the Treaty.

Motion, by leave of the House, withdrawn.