HL Deb 02 July 1880 vol 253 cc1380-3

in rising to call attention to the Report of Mr. Ormiston on the Harbour of Famagousta, which had been laid on the Table of the House; and to ask, Whether Her Majesty's Government have decided upon the execution of the works proposed? said, that if it was intended to convert the harbour into a military harbour, then there must necessarily be the further expense required for fortifying it. He was not at all satisfied with the tenure upon which we held Cyprus, for it was repugnant to one's ideas of propriety that the Queen of England should hold the Island as a tributary of the Sultan of Turkey. Further, it was not only a serious derogation to our position, but also a serious injury to the people of Cyprus, for we had to contribute to the Sultan £100,000 a-year in respect of Cyprus—that was, that we had, for him, to act as tax-gatherer over the people. We had, it was said, taken the Island as a model to show how well we could govern the country; but the facts were that we were obliged, in order to pay this tribute, to tax every fruit, every crop, every sheep, every goat, and we prevented the gathering of the crops until the taxes had been paid; so that we interfered with the whole industry of the people. We had to do this in order to carry out the mischievous financial policy of Turkey. It would be well that we should consider our position, especially in reference to the expenditure upon the Island. There would be a much larger commerce carried on by the Greeks, Turks, and Armenians if they knew that we were going to remain in possession of the ter- ritory; but in the present uncertain condition of things these people were prevented from making any outlay. They knew that we had handed over the Ionian Islands to Greece; and it was not known that we might not hand over Cyprus to Turkey or to some other country. He thought that, as they had had possession of the Island for two years, the Government ought to be able to state something as to their policy with regard to it. He regretted that the noble Earl the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Earl Granville) was not in the House. He understood there was a plan to hand over the Island to the Secretary of State for the Colonies; but that plan had not yet been fully carried out. The laying of the Report upon the Table would be a good opportunity for such a statement being made. He should be glad to know what the policy of the Government was, or, in other words, what was the intention of the Government with regard to the Report which had been laid on the Table. Perhaps the noble Earl the Secretary of State for the Colonies would give them some information on the subject. The estimated cost of the improvement of the harbour in question was from £270,000 to £350,000, and that would not be sufficient to make it an effective military harbour.


said, that he took great interest in the Island of Cyprus, and had done since the commencement of their occupation of it. He had made some remarks some time ago upon the question, and he still maintained that their occupation was one of the wisest acts ever done by a British Government; but he agreed with the noble Duke (the Duke of Somerset) that the manner in which they now held the Island was most unsatisfactory. Some people said it was a bad bargain; but he (Lord Lilford) did not think so. He should be glad to know from the Government whether they had made any arrangement for discharging the annual payment now made to the Sultan by paying down a lump sum? His own acquaintance with the Island was not that it was exactly a Garden of Eden; but it might be made very productive. What was wanted was irrigation, drainage, and so on; and he had no doubt, with British enterprise, under an intelligent Government, and with money spent upon it, the Island might be made very productive, and in a few years it would be made a rich and flourishing Colony of England. He was glad to hear that the management of the Island was to be handed over to the Colonial Office.


said, in the absence of his noble Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Earl Granville), it fell to him, as presumptive heir to the Island, as he might be called, to reply. He had never had any hesitation in saying that the mode in. which Cyprus was acquired was most unfortunate, and that the tenure by which the Island was held most embarrassing and disagreeable. But if the Island was handed over to the Colonial Office, no opinion that he held on these points would prevent him doing the best he could to render the Island prosperous and a valuable possession—if he might say so, seeing the conditions under which it was held—to this country. Although one might be anxious to make the best of a bad bargain, as he (the Earl of Kimberley) was in this case, yet it was impossible to convert a bad bargain into a good one at will. If this was an ordinary Colony, there might be many modes by which money could be raised for improvements in the Colony, and for the creation of a military harbour; but to embark upon a large expenditure on an uncertain tenure would be a difficult operation, and would require much consideration. The estimate of £350,000 for the works which had been referred to would represent but a small proportion of the sum which it would be necessary to expend in order to construct a great military harbour, because, if they created a harbour in which ships of war were to lie, it would be to the last degree imprudent not to defend it against an enemy, otherwise they might have the place seized and turned against themselves. Therefore, the Report, which had been made by, he believed, a very competent engineer, only touched one portion of the subject. Then, besides the fortifications, there was the healthiness of the position to be considered. If the spot was really an unhealthy one, it would hardly be a desirable place in which to post a garrison; and, on the other hand, without a garrison the harbour would not be safe. It was a question whether Famagousta could be converted into a healthy position; and, if so, at what cost. He was bound to say that the whole subject of Cyprus, whether as regarded their tenure of the Island, or as regarded the possibility of rendering it useful as a great military or naval station, or for any other purpose whatever, seemed to him to be so difficult, and to involve considerations of so various a character, that he hoped their Lordships would excuse him if he did not now pledge himself to the course which should be taken. All he could say was, that his noble Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs had fully before his eyes the difficulties they were placed in with respect to their relations with the Porte, and that, for his own part, if he had to undertake the Administration of the Island, he would give the whole subject his best consideration with a due sense of its importance.


said, it was clear, from the observations of the noble Earl the Secretary of State for the Colonies (the Earl of Kimberley), that that was a very inconvenient occasion on which to enter into a full discussion of the question relating to Cyprus. But when the time came that the noble Earl opposite should have the subject fully under his consideration, if the noble Duke (the Duke of Somerset) should then bring it forward, it would probably be desirable for the Members of the late Government to take part in the discussion. At present, he (Viscount Cranbrook) contented himself with simply reserving their right to take part in such a discussion hereafter.