HL Deb 29 July 1889 vol 338 cc1537-48

My Lords, there is not much novel matter in the volume of correspondence on Bulgaria, for which I moved last Session. It goes down to December 1887, and covers the election of Prince Ferdinand. It will not, I trust, be thought presumptuous upon my part to refer to it. At the same time, I should have scarcely ventured to bring it before the House unless protracted observation, so far as one can make it in this country, led me to think that a revival of the Eastern Question may be possibly impending. The Blue Book would tend itself to warrant that conclusion. There is in it a speech of Count Kalnoky, which well explains the situation in Bulgaria-Count Kalnoky shows that Prince Ferdinand has not the sanction of the Porte or of the Powers required by the third section of the Treaty of Berlin. The explanation is more serious as coming from an Austrian Minister, who might be thought to look with favour on an Austrian candidate pursuing an election to the Vassal Principality. There is a Despatch from Sir William White, Her Majesty's Ambassador at Constantinople, showing that Russia is inclined to prolong the status which gives her so much right to interfere, and that her Government refuse, when asked by the Sublime Porte, to mention Princes who would have her acquiescence in Bulgaria. There is a Despatch from the noble Marquess the Secretary of State intimating that one party in Bulgaria is eager to declare its independence, by which the Suzerain would be drawn into reprisals; that another party is disposed to recall Prince Alexander, by which a Russian occupation might be easily precipitated. There are despatches from Sir Robert Morier which throw the greatest doubt on the intentions forming at St. Petersburg, and prove at least that the existing status in Bulgaria can hardly ever be accepted there. The pervading essence of the Blue Book—that I may sum it up more generally—is to exhibit frequent insurrections against the provincial regimé, severe punishments inflicted on their leaders, emphatic protests of the Russian Government—which point to future intervention—in their favour. Since 1887, when the Blue Book closes, we know, by less official sources, that a collision between Prince Ferdinand and the Exarch of Bulgaria has happened, and that no less than 60 persons were arrested at the moment of the discord which arose between the civil and religious power. However, we are led to ask for much more recent indications. We have them in Crete, which has before now furnished preludes to more general disturbance, and been metaphorically painted as the stormy petrel of the Eastern Question. We have them in Armenia, to which so much attention was lately called by a noble Earl on the other side (the Earl of Carnarvon) and by a well-known Prelate, who supported him. What more impresses me is that the organs of the Government for weeks have all united in prognosticating Eastern danger. Their opinion seems to be confirmed, although more indirectly than directly, by Continental journals which I need not specify at present. My Lords, whoever goes back only for a minute to the Treaty of Berlin will see the greatest antecedent probability that the Eastern Question would re-open. Two independent nations were created—Servia and Roumania—liable to go to war against the Porte, one of which has done so since. The invasion of Bulgaria by Servia in 1885, on the alleged ground of its disloyalty, was so regarded by the Sultan. Austria established without a given limit, but not in perpetuity, on the territory of the Porte—it may have been a deeply calculating measure—was certain to excite hostility in Russia. Bulgaria, when formed into a Vassal Principality, was inevitably doomed to think of absorbing East Roumelia, which has taken place, and of flinging off the Suzerain, against which the noble Marquess has had occasion to discourage her. At this moment there may be in the midst of Parliament routine and legislative details which absorb us a kind of incredulity as to anything more grave occurring in those regions. But so there was in 1875, when the three Empires entered on commercial treaties with the Vassal Principalities, and when the subject came before your Lordships for discussion. Who thought at that time that the Herzegovinian insurrection was at once to follow, or the Servian War, or the Bulgarian Rebellion? Who thought that the noble Marquess was to be hurried from the India Office to Constantinople in November 1876, or that Russia would cross the Pruth a few months afterwards? She crossed the Pruth in violation of one Treaty and might cross it now in partial execution of another. My Lords, under these circumstances and with this apprehension, measures may suggest themselves, although without more information it is difficult to judge them. It may not be impossible to correct the situation in Bulgaria, either by gaining the assent of all the Powers to Prince Ferdinand, or else by superseding him, or else by the appointment of a Regency, which, according to another passage of the Blue Book, Lord Iddesleigh recommended and M. de Giers, to a great extent, accepted. Last year, in February, I held a Conference to be desirable, and the noble Marquess seemed to coincide with me, if all the Powers could be induced to join it. It is clear they will not do so, and that other methods are essential. At least, until the situation in Bulgaria is altered there cannot be tranquillity for Europe. On this point further knowledge would be valuable. It might be also most important to place the Treaties of 1856 upon a larger basis and a firmer one. They are, in some degree, confused by those which followed in 1871 and 1878, while yet they are in vigour. The most effective—that of April 15th—includes only Prance, Austria, and Great Britain, while from the movement of the world, the inarch of history, it is, in fact, confined to Austria and Great Britain. The security of the country upon the Eastern Question would at least be greater if it was re-enacted in such a way that Germany and Italy, with other Powers, were comprehended in it. But nothing can be urged as yet distinctly on the subject. My Lords, having before now directed your attention to that topic, I cannot but attach the greatest possible importance to the revival of the Ottoman Assemblies which began in 1877, if only upon this ground. When Great Britain is required to defend the Porte, on European as well as Indian grounds, we must invoke the popular opinion of the country. It is one thing to ask the country to make sacrifices for a despotic, another to ask it to make sacrifices for a Constitutional, authority. The Ottoman Assemblies which were overthrown when Russia reached San Stefano, although not similar to ours, were still a check upon the arbitrary power of the Sultan. Sir Henry Layard, who had, as an Ambassador, to Watch their operation, is the unanswered, unrefuted witness to their efficacy. Had they gone on, Armenia might not have required the noble Earl and his most reverend supporter to explain its wrongs or advocate its interests. There is another ground on which they are important, even indispensable. Until they have been fully tried, you cannot meditate a further system on the Bosphorus. Until their capability of effecting objects which our policy has aimed at is disapproved, you cannot enter upon any further changes in the territory of the Sultan. But to revive them at Constantinople against the influence of Russia and the Palace presents a formidable problem and one on which more light might usefully be concentrated. My Lords, it may be urged that measures of this kind, however just, can hardly be pursued when the Foreign Office is so much overloaded as it is at present. We know, indeed, from records of Lord Bolingbroke, of Mr. Canning, and Lord Palmerston that it is in itself a most laborious Department. I have heard the late Lord Clarendon, the last autumn that he held it, remark to a society of gentlemen, when he was going home at night, that he should have to work till about four o'clock in the morning. If anyone could act as First Minister and Secretary of State together, in point of versatility and industry, it would be, perhaps, the noble Marquess. But the year before last he was compelled—it must have been compulsion—to absent himself from Parliament before the Session finished. The burden, therefore, seems to be too great for anyone, if permanent. It may, in moments of particular emergency, be necessary to sustain it. I once contended in the House, when Russia was advancing on Constantinople, that in order to prevent duality and discord, then apparent in the Government, it would be useful for Lord Beaconsfield to join the two functions. I do not say the noble Marquess is not as well qnalified to do so, or repeat the maxim, "Quod licet Jovi, non licet bovi." But three Sessions may be too long a period for an exceptional arrangement, unless on diplomatic grounds it is essential to preserve it. In France it is true that since 1870 and under Louis Philippe the offices have been frequently united. But it would hardly be maintained that, in effect or influence abroad, the result has been entirely successful. My Lords, there are a set of fallacies upon the Eastern Question which it requires the fullest information to disperse, and which are often in the way of policy and action. One is, that Germany and Austria are sufficient for the defence of the Ottoman Empire against Russia, and that the Western Powers may judiciously abandon it. When have Germany and Austria alone been able to defend it? Was it in 1829, or in the Crimean War, or in the recent struggle? Another is, that to command Egypt is sufficient for Great Britain. But the Power which obtains Constantinople must eventually hold Egypt, and close your shorter route to India altogether. Another is, that Great Britain has nothing but security in India to consider, as if she was not a Mediterranean Power while holding Cyprus, Malta, Gibraltar, and as if Russia at Constantinople would not be dangerous to all the Mediterranean Powers put together. Another is, that in order to reform Ottoman abuses you ought to sanction Russian interference. The noble Marquess pointed out the other day that where Great Britain ceases to defend she must cease to admonish. I do not blame those, although unable to concur with them as yet, who look to a Byzantine Empire, which the Duke of Wellington at one time contemplated as a possible arrangement. No doubt it would be easier to secure allies for a Byzantine Empire than a Mahometan dominion. No doubt, as in former ages, there has been a rushing tide of Asia towards Europe; there is now an apparent flood of Europe into Asia. But such a growth is pregnant with incalculable difficulties. It must be ascertained by what race, what individual, and what Army it would have to be directed, organized, sustained; whether Roumania, Servia, Bulgaria, or Greece should be regarded as its genius and its mainspring. It must be ascertained whether it could harmonise, with due consideration for the Asiatic provinces of Turkey. But to uphold Constantinople against aggressive power would seem to be the indispensable preliminary to any further triumph of the Cross over the Crescent. Nor ought these views to be regarded as irrelevant, if it is felt that the Government may soon be called on to fulfil the obligations which the Crimean War enhanced, although it did not actually originate. My Lords, I am conscious of alluding to the subject in a perfunctory manner. But as we may be on the eve of a serious transaction with regard to it, involving multiplied Debates, it is better for men who speak to economise at once the time and patience of their hearers.

Moved, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty for further papers on the aspect of the Eastern Question."—(The Lord Stratheden and Campbell.)


My Lords, the request of the noble Lord is exceedingly legitimate. In fact, before he put his notice down, I had given directions for the preparation of such papers as have not been published within the last two years. I think the last Papers on the subject were published at the close of 1887. Happily, since then affairs in Bulgaria have not been rich in historical events. The Principality has been well governed and progressive, and we have every reason to congratulate its rulers upon the success with which all its affairs have been conducted. There is not, therefore, any great amount of information to give to Parliament in response to the noble Lord's request; but whatever there is, we shall be very glad to give a considerable portion of it. With respect, however, to the matters over which the noble Lord's speech travelled, I do not suppose he anticipated I should follow him. He made an interesting speech, which I have no doubt will be carefully read; but it is open to the noble Lord to speculate on a great number of questions with respect to which those in the service of Her Majesty must abstain from comment. I do not concur with the noble Lord in the somewhat sinister auguries which he draws from the existing state of things. I do not venture on any confident prophecy in any direction. It is impossible, indeed, to say what the state of things in the Balkan peninsula and other parts of the Turkish Empire may be in the future; but I do not think there is now any greater ground for anticipating disturbances than there have been, on the other hand, any very encouraging symptoms of stability and progress. I do not say that the progress of Turkey has been very rapid, but I think it has been sensible. I think there is less disposition on the part of various potentates, great and small, to speculate on the possibility of disturbances in that country. To mention a Power which was referred to in the speech of the noble Lord, I am bound to say that the Government of Russia has observed a very correct attitude, and that nothing has taken place which justifies us in criticising her conduct. On the contrary I think that, judging merely from events, we are entitled to say that the conduct of the Russian Government has fully justified the pacific professions which the Emperor has constantly made. I do not, therefore, wish to endorse the apprehension expressed by the noble Lord, and, if I may be permitted to say so, I do not feel obliged to endorse the predictions made by the noble Lord. I am not sure that the best method of treating the Eastern Question at present is to discuss it. On the whole, my belief is that a country in the position of Bulgaria advances more rapidly to the only healthy and possible settlement—that is to say, the natural growth and development of the strength of all the populations in those regions—in proportion as those who stand outside it abstain from any action or language that would tend to stimulate the unfortunate differences which occasionally arise. I hope, therefore, the noble Lord will excuse me, penetrated with the view as to the advantage of silence in dealing with this question, if I conclude by assuring him that we will give all the information in our power, and expressing the hope, with some degree of confidence, that the dark picture he has drawn of the future will not be justified by the facts.


I think, my Lords, everyone will agree that Russia has, by her acts, justified her pacific professions. No one can be in a better position to judge of the action of Russia than my noble Friend, but at the same time I hope I may be allowed for a very few minutes to point out how very serious is the aspect of matters in Europe to all those who have not the privileges of my noble Friend of possessing private and also official information. Every year that passes by for the last two or three years has witnessed a certain amount of alarm, and justifiable alarm, at the coming months. Our hope is that the coming 12 months will pass over as peaceably as the last 12 months, but the position of affairs, beyond all doubt, is serious. You have, in the first place, alarge, an almost unprecedentedly large, accumulation of troops. The accumulation carried on steadily and systematically along the eastern frontier of Austria is a very marked phenomenon. It is quite fair to say that it is stated on good authority, that that accumulation of troops is in pursuit of an old military policy, carried out for a long time. In Servia you have a military census—you have large armies ordered and supplied, and no one quite knows why or how or from what sources. In the Caucasus you have a very heavy massing of troops. Then, again, it is quite possible to say that with the large armaments of modern days, with armies of three or four millions of men, the movement of 100,000 men ought not to be taken very greatly into account. But still the fact remains that it is so, and it is a serious factor in the situation. We have now 15 millions of armed men in Europe, divided into hostile camps. Almost every man capable of bearing arms is a soldier. But, my Lords, these are not the only causes of apprehension. It is impossible to ignore the international jealousies, rivalries, and ambitions which exist in Eastern Europe. Even within the limits of the dual Monarchy, which is a fair object of political admiration, Croats, Bohemians, and Hungarians are all actuated by diverse feelings and interests. Outside the Austrian Empire you have Servians, Roumanians, Bulgarians, Montenegrins, each of them pursuing a separate policy. Thus, my Lords, the whole political situation is charged with electricity. A single imprudent word, a single unfortunate act, a toast given at a banquet, a King returning from his self-imposed exile, a movement meaning anything or nothing, may be quite enough to set this inflammable matter on fire. And it is most inflammable. You have not only all the elements of conflagration; you have intrigues in actual operation, you have suspicious factions and still more suspicious and unscrupulous partisans. He must have a very short memory indeed who does not remember in recent times a Sovereign Prince being spirited away and placed in a position of absolute danger to his life. And, my Lords, a consideration of these matters does not dispose of the dangerous elements, for amidst all the cross currents of faction you have, in addition, a much, larger volume of nationality with all its-ambitions and aspirations of race—that most powerful feeling which has in our own day made Germany, created Italy, and which has gone a large way to place the United States in their present position. You have, then, these three great dangers—the accumulation of troops, the intrigues and ambitions, and the influence of race; but there is a still greater peril, and it is mainly that which has induced me to say a few words this evening. There is, it seems to me, a still greater peril to the peace of Europe than any one of these three. My noble Friend has stated that whilst Russia on the one hand has justified by her acts the peaceful assurances which she has given, on the other hand the progress of Turkey, though not rapid, was yet, if I caught his words rightly, marked——


Was sensible.


That it was sensible. My noble Friend on his high authority has given us that remarkable assurance. I own that to me it seems that the greatest risk of the present moment is the Turkish Empire and the policy there pursued. You have a Government there which is not only deeply involved in debt, but where the Exchequer is absolutely empty. I believe it is no exaggeration to say that at this moment the Exchequer at the Porte is almost without a penny in it. At the same time, by incapacity, by misgovernment, the Porte seems to me to be provoking, if not justifying, foreign intervention. I ventured to call the attention of your Lordships to the state of things passing in Armenia. I stated then charges of misrule and acts of atrocity which, happily, cannot be alleged against many parts of the world or many Governments. There was no pretence of denying the accuracy of what I said. No one has ventured to do so. It would be impossible to deny those allegations. What is the answer that the Turkish Government has made? First, a manifesto appeared a few days afterwards in the newspapers, professing to come from the Armenian population, thanking the Porte for the reforms which had been made, and expressing themselves in terms of gratitude, as if they were the happiest and best treated of mankind. That was the first answer. What was the second answer? Happily in this country we have a Press which publishes reports to the world from all quarters without fear or favour. There appeared a report in the Times as to these unfortunate events in Armenia. A telegram warned the Turkish Government, and the Turkish Government suppressed the circulation of the Times in Turkey. My Lords, these are the acts by which the Turkish Government take away from their friends all hope of improvement in Turkey, and which inspire their enemies with confidence. These are the ridiculous expedients adopted by Turkey for blinding Europe in regard to matters which Europe knows only too well. I admit that the Turkish Empire has fared badly at the hands of all, whether friends or foes. France has possession of Algiers; Greece is built up entirely upon the ruins of the Turkish Empire; Russia has taken where she wished and everywhere; Austria is in possession of Bosnia; and we ourselves are the masters of Cyprus. Turkey has fared badly all round from friend as from foe, but she has only herself to thank for it. I agree with my noble Friend that reticence may be the duty of professed diplomatists and Foreign Offices; but, at the same time, that does not apply to outside observers, and I hold it to be the duty of those who look on and watch these events to warn Turkey, at least in the gathering difficulties which surround her, that if she trusts to the support of England it must be by a very different policy and by very different means and methods than those which she has hitherto pursued.


said that he had no reason to detain the House with further observations, as Her Majesty's Government were willing to accept the Motion which he offered. He could not but remark, in passing, that the impressive language of the noble Earl who had sat down, so far as it was just, suggested stronger grounds for the revival of the Ottoman Assemblies than could have otherwise been given.

On Question, agreed to.