HL Deb 23 February 1885 vol 294 cc1004-7

in rising to move— That an humble Address he presented to Her Majesty for papers and correspondence between Her Majesty's Government, Turkey, Italy, and other European Powers relative to the occupation of Massowah by Italian troops, said, that at the present moment they were so much occupied with the critical state of affairs in Egypt and the Soudan that there was a danger of passing over almost in silence what, perhaps, would at other times attract a larger share of attention. But if it were so in the case of that which he had wished to bring under their Lordships' notice in the Motion now before the House, there were not inwanting timations in various quarters of what was taking place on the shores of the Red Sea, and of which he was not aware that any information had been given to their Lordships by Her Majesty's Government. They had recently been informed from other sources that Italian troops had taken possession of and occupied Massowah, a position of some importance on the Western Coast of the Red Sea; and they were further told that additional Italian troops were to be sent there, with artillery and guns for forts which were about to be constructed. It was true that they were not in possession of any official information as to what the object of the occupation of that Egyptian territory might be, or whether it had received any kind of sanction from other European Powers; but it appeared that a protest against it had been made by the Porte, it being a part of the Ottoman Empire. It had also been alleged that the landing of Egyptian troops had been opposed by the Italians, who had forcibly occupied Beilul, near Assab, some distance south of Massowah. The districts of Suakin and Massowah were, he believed, made over by Turkey to Egypt, subject to a tribute, sometime ago; but they no less remained a part of the Ottoman Empire, the integrity of which, as their Lordships were aware, was guaranteed by Treaties. If they for a moment looked to the critical state of affairs in the Soudan, and consequently on the littoral of the Red Sea, the noble Earl opposite would not, he hoped, consider it unreasonable or inopportune to ask for some information on the subject to which he had referred. Words had recently been uttered by the Minister for Foreign Affairs in the Italian Chambers expressing a greater community of interests as now existing between this country and Italy; and it was hardly possible to separate these words entirely from late events, but rather as implying an understanding, or, it might be, tacit consent, on the part of Her Majesty's Government to what had taken place, and which was virtually a violation of Turkish territory and a disregard of Treaties. This was surely not a time for widening the breach between this country and Turkey, which unhappily, by the action of Her Majesty's Government, had been assuming very serious proportions. We had been rending an alliance which tended greatly to strengthen British influence and British interests in the East, and thereby making more and more difficult the present action of England in Egypt, which was resulting in a war that could lead to nothing but bloodshed and massacre. He trusted the noble Earl opposite would be able to inform their Lordships to what extent encouragement or consent had been given by Her Majesty's Government to the occupation of Massowah by Italy, and whether it had been done with the sanction of the Sultan. In conclusion, he begged to move for the Papers in question.

Moved, "That an humble Address he presented to Her Majesty for papers and correspondence between Her Majesty's Government Turkey, Italy, and other European Powers relative to the occupation of Massowah by Italian troops."—(The Earl De La Warr.)


If the noble Earl will not press his Motion to-night, I will undertake to present Papers at the earliest possible moment. In the meanwhile, however, I may state shortly what these Papers will contain. On the 3rd of November the Italian Ambassador inquired whether Her Majesty's Government were in any way opposed to an extension of Italian jurisdiction to the north of their settlement at Assab, so as to include Beilul, in the same way as Raheita had already been included in the south. I assured him that Her Majesty's Government felt no jealousy of the extension of Italian influence over that part of the Red Sea Coast, but would, on the contrary, welcome it. Her Majesty's Government could not, however, undertake to give away that which did not belong to them, and I suggested the desirability of the Italian Government coming to an arrangement with the Porte on the matter. On the 22nd of December Count Nigra inquired in what manner Her Majesty's Government would view a provisional occupation of Zulla by Italian troops. I informed him that the Egyptian Government being unable to continue their hold on all the African littoral of the Red Sea, the ports naturally reverted to the Sultan, whom Her Majesty's Government had advised to retake possession of some of them. If the Italian Government desired to occupy some of these ports, it was a matter between Italy and Turkey. Her Majesty's Government, for their own part, had no objection to raise against the Italian occupation of Zulla, Beilul, or Massowah. On the 10th of January Musurus Pasha referred to the reports current as to the intentions of the Italian Government on the Red Sea, and I stated that it was to be regretted that Turkey had not acted on the suggestions of Her Majesty's Government that she should herself occupy these ports. When the Porte protested subsequently against the Italian occupations, I expressed a strong hope that Turkey and Italy should amicably arrange the matter, but informed the Turkish Ambassador that Her Majesty's Government must disclaim any responsibility, as their advice to the Sultan to occupy the ports had not been acted upon. I also stated to His Excellency that though there was no engagement or special alliance with Italy, we were on terms of warm friendship with that country. Papers will be laid on the Table in due time.

Motion (by leave of the House) withdrawn.