HL Deb 07 June 1880 vol 252 cc1312-20

My Lords, it is now nearly three years since the administration of Cyprus was handed over to us by the Ottoman Porte, and we are now able to form a judgment as to the manner in which the Anglo-Turkish Convention has operated in regard to that Island. The Island of Cyprus is not the largest or most important Island in Her Majesty's Dominions, yet the financial condition of the Island is probably of as much importance to the inhabitants as the financial condition of England is to your Lordships and the inhabitants of this country. I think, therefore, the people of Cyprus have some right to demand consideration and attention in regard to their interests in Parliament, and the same rights that are enjoyed by any portion of the Dominions of Her Majesty. Several important Papers have been recently laid upon the Table of the House in regard to the Island of Cyprus. At the end of the year 1879, a statement was made of the probable Revenue and Expenditure of the Island for the years 1878–9 and 1879–80; and during the last two months a very important Blue Book has been presented to your Lordships by command of Her Majesty, containing the first annual Report on the position and Revenue of the Island. Your Lordships will recollect that, by the Anglo-Turkish Convention, it was agreed that in future a sum should be paid to Turkey out of the surplus revenue of the Island of Cyprus, which would be equal to the difference between the Revenue and the Expenditure of the Island taken on the average of the last five years preceding the English occupation. Another Article contained in the Appendix to the Convention stipulated for the payment of £5,000, or, rather, it is an Article that was subsequently confirmed by an agreement that had been before the noble Marquess then Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (the Marquess of Salisbury), that a stipulated payment of £5,000 was to be made annually to the Porte in respect to all their rights to the revenue and property arising out of the Crown and State lands. Now, my Lords, looking at the Papers which are before us, I think we are able for the first time to ascertain with tolerable distinctness what is the amount of those payments which are to be made annually to the Porte. If your Lordships will look at the Paper No. 7 for 1878–9—because it is No. 6 that contains the entries of the account, which are entries for 1879–80—your Lordships will see that the payment is estimated at £96,000. I think the further payment of £5,000 had not been taken into consideration at that time; so that, supposing that the same amount is paid, the amount paid to Turkey will be just over £100,000 annually. I have seen the amount stated at a considerably larger figure in the statement that has been made in "another place;" but I cannot help thinking that there must have been a slight over-statement of that matter. As far as I can see from the figures that are given, the payment seems to be as nearly as possible £100,000. Then we come to consider what is the fund out of which those payments are to be made, and, on looking at the Paper which refers to the Revenue of the Island of Cyprus, we find that the total amount of revenue is only £177,000—that is to say, out of that total of £177,000, £77,000 will be all that is left to defray the expenditure of the whole government of the Island, and for making the necessary changes, and the other £100,000 is granted to the Porte. My Lords, under these circumstances, it is only natural to ask in respect of what is that very large payment to the Porte to be made? What duty is there of any sort or kind to be performed by it? Why should the Porte be paid so large an amount of money raised for the support of the government of Cyprus, when it no longer professes to govern Cyprus? It does not profess to administer justice or to protect the lives and the properties of the Cypriotes. On previous occasions, when allusions have been made to this payment to the Porte, we have been told that it was desirable to allow it to the Porte because the revenues of Cyprus were pledged in respect of certain debts; of the Turkish Empire. But the Porte no longer pays any interest on the debts: of the Turkish Empire, and therefore this £100,000 is allowed to the Porte for no good purpose in any way valuable to Cyprus. It is very hard upon them, and the money handed over by us can hardly be described by any other name than that of black mail. Well, my Lords, it is stated in the Appendix to the Convention, that the payment of the revenue over the expenditure was to be duly verified. I should very much like to know in what manner the verification has taken place. On referring to one of these Estimates, it would appear that the verification was made by a comparison of the accounts of Cyprus during the five years that preceeded our Administration, when it was under the Turkish Administration. My Lords, I should say it would be a very interesting thing, quite a curiosity in financial literature, if we could see these Turkish accounts, because we are told in the Papers which are given to us that the Turkish accounts are not very distinct. I must say that it would afford me much gratification if I could see the manner in which the valuation is made up. Taking the small items of information we possess, it certainly appears very doubtful whether the receipts of the Porte were at any time as large as what they were stated to be. For instance, if you look at the Cyprus Papers which refer to the question of the collection of tithes—and your Lordships will bear in mind that the tithes are very important, because of the revenue from them coming to something like £70,000 or £80,000, out of a total of about £177,000—you will find how the tithe farmer meets his obligations to the State. Speaking of the tithes, it says— They are delayed on various pretexts, and reclamations and remissions to revenue are often unjustly obtained through collusion with the local Kaimakans and Malmudirs. Thus, the tithe farmer makes his bargain with the Government when the crops are ripening, recovers his claim directly they are gathered, indefinitely postpones his own obligations to the Government, and often evades them altogether. Although, under his bond, interest is payable on overdue instalments, it is never enforced. An examination of the accounts revealed the existence of considerable arrear claims extending over several years, and, for the most part, irrecoverable now. Practically, the tithe farmer's obligations have never been discharged in the year to which they belonged. Of the collections credited in the year 1876–7, nearly one-half was on account of the claims of prior years, The next reason why I wish to see the accounts is in order to compare their own figures with the accounts of the revenue and expenditure which is made upon the Island. So far as I can ascertain from these Papers, the Turks never spent in Cyprus more than £24,000—that is to say, they claimed to draw from the Island to Constantinople £100,000, and managed it for £24,000. Taking their own statement from these Papers as a statement of fact, it is a very serious thing that we should have undertaken to perpetuate a payment which seems to be acknowledged on all hands to be one of an extortionate character. Then, there is a second payment of £5,000 in respect of the property arising out of Crown land. An arrangement was made that we should pay £5,000 for that, and I should be glad if my noble Friend below me would lay on the Table the Papers showing how that is substantiated. There are a great many people who know the Island of Cyprus well, who contend that the Ottoman Porte had no Crown or State land in Cyprus at all. Now, turn to the question of the revenue on the other side, out of which we have to defray the £100,000 a-year. How is that revenue raised? If your Lordships will look at the account, you will see that the revenue can only be raised at the present time by taxing every department of social life and every department of industry—indeed, the whole system of taxation is as faulty as any system of taxation can well be. In the first place, there is a large amount of taxes raised upon tithes, which, until the English occupation, were farmed out to tithe farmers. Then there is a tax upon salt; then there is a tax upon every description of animal and article useful to agriculturists, such as pigs, sheep, &c.; then there is a very heavy tax upon rent. In point of fact, it is a very difficult thing to point out anything that is not taxed; and, my Lords, not only is this the case, but since Turkey has ceased to raise revenue from Cyprus salt she has excluded it from Asia Minor. That is a complete infraction of the agreement made by her, because Turkey only claimed a largo portion of the payment on account of the revenue derived from salt. As soon, however, as we stipulated to make the payment, Turkey proceeded to exclude the salt from Asia Minor, in consequence of which a large portion of our revenue is altogether done away with. Then, again, my Lords, I wish to know in what kind of coin we make the payment of £100,000 a year to Turkey? It seems to me that Turkey can claim her pound of flesh, but she cannot claim with any kind of justice a single ounce more. At the time Sir Garnet Wolseley was at Cyprus, he found that the taxes were payable partly in carme and partly in depreciated copper coinage, and he set himself vigorously to work and substituted a thoroughly sound coinage; but I should say that the Porte has no right to ask us to pay the revenue of Cyprus to her in the more valuable coinage that we have established. Now what is the result of the Anglo-Turkish Convention since it has been in operation? Well, the result has been that Turkey has left Cyprus, she has handed it over to us to administer; but she has taken away from it all that is valuable, and a great deal of the revenue which in former days she never was successful in drawing from the Island. On the other hand, England has converted herself into a tax - gatherer. With regard to the Anglo-Turkish Convention, in respect to its action on that Island, it would be wrong on my part if it were supposed that I wished to throw any blame upon the British officers who conduct the administration. I think Sir Garnet Wolseley and General Biddulph, and all the officers both military and civil who have been engaged in the administration of Cyprus since its transfer, deserve the most ample recognition for the services they have rendered to the country they were sent to administer; and more especially when we consider that many of them had no experience in civil administration. They did not receive any special fees for it that I know of; but, when they were directed to undertake the administration upon the part of the British Government, they at once proceeded to do so; and I am sure that every one of your Lordships who have read that Blue Book will admit that they have shown the highest qualification for administration. It is true that they have not been able to make any change in the mode of taxation; and they were bound, under the arrangements that were made, to raise from the Island a very large revenue. I think they very wisely declined to make, at the present time, any extensive change in the system of collecting the taxes; while, on the other hand, they have shown themselves able to adapt themselves to the difficulties in which they have been placed. They have had to take counsel of the local assemblies of the Cypriotes, and they have shown that the Turkish law, where well administered, is good, and that the Turkish Judges, when they are properly paid and superintended, are by no means bad Judges; and even that the Zaptieh and Native constabulary are good guardians, when properly paid and well looked after. I think, therefore, it is only due to them that what they have done should be properly recognized. With regard to the financial position of Cyprus, it is almost intolerable, and I do not see how, without great injustice to the Cypriotes, we can continue to make so large a payment as £100,000 a-year to a Government that has done nothing for an Island with which it will never be connected again. On the other hand, we are bound to abide by the Turkish Convention. I can only hope that the Secretary for the Colonies, into whose hands the government of the Island has been transferred, will find some opportunity, and that at no distant date, of commuting this payment to the Porte. I must say that I do not see any reason why the payment should be thrown on the British taxpayers. I think it most unfortunate that at the time the Convention was made we did not make more particular inquiries as to the legitimate claims which the Porte had upon the Island of Cyprus, and as to the reasons which were advanced for it. My Lords, I think it will also be to the interest of the Cypriotes themselves, who, after all, are practically helpless in the matter, and who are far more interested than anyone else. All that we have been able to do since has been to increase the means of the Cypriotes for paying that surplus. Tour Lordships may have noticed in the Papers a speech which was made by the High Commissioner on the Queen's Birthday. He made a statement which, no doubt, was based upon certain and accurate figures, to the effect that during the time of the British occupation the exports and imports into Cyprus have increased from £16,000,000to£77,000,000—that is, more than a four-fold increase since the British occupation. My Lords, in conclusion. I wish to ask, By what means the amount of the excess of revenue over expenditure during the last five years in that Island is "duly verified" in terms of the Anglo-Turkish Convention; what annual payment is found to be due to the Porte; and whether such payment has been made in the coin current at the date of the transfer of the Island to English administration? Also to move for— (1) Copy of a Return of the sums paid by England to the Porte out of Cyprus revenues in the financial years 1878–79 and 1879–80, distinguishing between the amounts paid under Articles III. and IV. of the Annex to the Anglo-Turkish Convention; (2) Copy of the accounts of Cyprus from 1873–74 to 1877–78 as rendered by the Turkish Government, or in lieu thereof a summary of the actual receipts and expenditure of the Porte in Cyprus during that period; (3) a Return of the appropriation of the revenues of Cyprus under the English administration in 1878–79 and 1879–80.


said, that the noble Earl appeared to have been advocating repudiation, and he explained that the money paid to Turkey was not taken from Cyprus, but was a rent due from Great Britain. If, as the noble Earl proposed, the rent of Cyprus were to be paid in the inferior or debased coinage, all the inferior coinage in the Empire that could not otherwise be got rid of would be brought to Cyprus. We were not ourselves free from blame as to coinage, since we had, as was stated in Mr. Dixon's book, introduced a large quantity of English sixpences on taking possession of Cyprus, which coins were looked upon as debased by the Monetary Union.


replied, that their Lordships would see that he could only answer the Question vicariously, as it were. The information which the noble Earl demanded could best be supplied by the noble Marquess opposite (the Marquess of Salisbury), whom he was glad to see in his place. As far, however, as he could learn, the case stood thus. The excess of revenue was verified by examining the accounts of actual receipts and expenditure for the years in question, which were obtained from the Turkish authorities in Cyprus. The annual payment due was found to be 11,121,951 piastres. The payment for 1878–9 was made partly in cäimé, partly in métallique piastres. That for 1879–80 was made in métallique piastres. Both kinds of piastres were current in the Island at the time of the transfer. With regard to the different Returns asked for, the first and second could be given. As to the third, a despatch had been received which would enable them, if the noble Earl required it, to give him that Return in somewhat general terms. It would be better to postpone the Motion for it.


My Lords, I rise in response to the appeal of the noble Earl the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, with respect to the question of accounts, which, I understand, principally disturbs the mind of the noble Earl who has introduced this subject. I believe the noble Earl may confide absolutely in the accuracy of the results which the British Government arrived at in its investigation of the finances of Cyprus. The examination of the accounts for the last five years of Turkish administration in Cyprus was intrusted to the able and eminent gentleman who is now the High Commissioner of the Island. He was a considerable time examining the documents and papers, and he assented to nothing of the truth of which he was no-thoroughly convinced. I think, therefore, that the noble Earl may take it for certain that whatever the Government of Cyprus have consented to pay in connection with the Anglo-Turkish Convention, it was done on the fullest knowledge of the facts of the case. The amount of £100,000, stated to be due from Great Britain to Turkey in connection with Cyprus, is an amount considerably overstated; for, in fact, it has come for this year to a very much smaller sum. I will not go into the general question which the noble Earl has raised with reference to the condition of Cyprus. A little more time is requisite before the effect of our occupation can be seen. I will only ask the noble Earl to take notice of this one consideration, that, admitting, for argument's sake, Turkey did draw £90,000 annually from Cyprus, if the Convention which we have concluded—and the noble Earl finds fault with us for doing so—had not been concluded, Cyprus would still have gone on paying this sum to Turkey. But what have we done? We have not altered the position of Cyprus with regard to the amount which is to be paid; but we have certainly increased the means of Cyprus for paying that sum. Your Lordships may have noticed in the newspapers a report of a speech made by the High Commissioner on the Queen's Birthday in Cyprus. It was then stated, that from well-ascertained and accurate figures during the two years' occupation by England of that Island, the exports and imports had been increased from 16,000,000 to 77,000,000. Since the English occupation there had been an increase of the means from which the Cypriotes could pay the burden laid upon them. Undoubtedly, it would have been more satisfactory to us if we had taken the Island without this burden, and had induced the Turks to sacrifice the £90,000 or the £100,000 which they obtained from it. But we could not do that except by force, and force we were not disposed to use. But our occupation has been a clear advantage to the Cypriotes; as, if we had not concluded the Convention, they would have had to pay the same amount to Turkey, and their means of doing so would have been much smaller.

Motion amended, and agreed to.

Address for— (1.) Copy of Return of the sums paid by England to the Porte out of Cyprus revenues in the financial years 1878–79 and 1879–80, distinguishing between the amounts paid under Articles III. and IV. of the Annex to the Anglo. Turkish Convention; (2.) Copy of the accounts of Cyprus from 1873–74 to 1877–78 as rendered by the Turkish Government, or in lieu thereof a summary of the actual receipts and expenditure of the Porte in Cyprus during that period.—(The Earl of Camperdown.)