HL Deb 24 February 1898 vol 53 cc1495-7

My Lords, I beg to ask the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether, with a view to facilitating the operations of the agents of the relief committee who are now distributing supplies to the distressed families in Thessaly, every effort will be made by Her Majesty's Government to secure the early payment of the indemnity due to Turkey from the guaranteed loan in order that the evacuation of Thessaly by the Turkish troops may at once commence and be completed within the period of four weeks stipulated by the Treaty of Peace made between the Sultan and the King of the Hellenes? The announcement that the Treaty of Peace was signed by the Greeks and the Turks was received with very great satisfaction and congratulation by this House, but up to the present time, my Lords, we have heard nothing of the evacuation of Thessaly by the Turkish troops. It was, I believe, understood that the evacuation was to take place within four weeks of the action of Russia and France and England in the matter of guaranteeing the loan, and I think it would be greatly to our advantage if some announcement could be made to the effect that the Powers do not only guarantee the loan, but also the evacuation of Thessaly by the Turkish troops. At present the Thessalian peasants are debarred from returning to their homes, and the Turkish troops are equally debarred from going back to their holdings, and at a season of the year like the present, when it is of the utmost importance that they should be able to do so. It may be said that in a matter of this sort England is hardly called upon to intervene, but remembering that we are one of the guarantors of the loan, I think we should intervene. There are thousands of English people who take the deepest interest in this matter, and who have contributed large sums of money through the Thessalian Relief Committee and the Red Cross Society to alleviate the misery of the victims of the war, and who are anxious that something should be done without delay, for at the present time the efforts of the relief associations are paralysed. It is well known that Lady Egerton, the wife of Her Majesty's Minister at Athens, has been doing a great deal, and has saved the lives of many from absolute starvation in the district of Thessaly. If we could only by some means obtain from the Sultan the withdrawal of his troops now in Thessaly, we should be doing a great service. I read this morning in the StandardThe British and French Ministers have notified the consent of their Governments to the scheme of control and the arrangement with the creditors. According to a telegram from Paris, the Financial Delegates of France, Russia, and Great Britain met recently, in consequence of a request from the Greek Government for the settlement of the Loan question. It is announced to-day that a satisfactory result has been achieved with regard to the guarantee of the Indemnity Loan by those Powers, and that some capitalists in Paris have even taken up a loan of one million sterling, asked for by the Hellenic Government for the regulation of the floating Internal Debt. The news has caused general rejoicing, especially among the Thessalians, who at last see the day of deliverance at hand. If Her Majesty's Ministers can bring this matter before his Imperial Majesty the Sultan, and induce him, now the loan is guaranteed, to withdraw his troops, the greatest service to humanity will arise.


My Lords, I understand the private diplomatic condition of this affair is that Turkey has undertaken to evacuate Thessaly as soon as the loan for the payment of the indemnity has been duly published. Long negotiations have been necessary in order to ascertain and agree upon the particular portions of the Greek revenues which were to be the security for the loan. That having been done, the three Powers to whom the existence of Greece is due—namely, England, Russia, and France—have agreed to guarantee a considerable amount of that loan. But that is a matter of business which has required much discussion and many arrangements, in order to bring the views of the three Powers precisely into harmony and so enable the guarantee to take effect. I believe it is on the very point of taking effect, and I hope that the issue of the loan will be the speedy result. When the loan has been issued and the money is paid, I do not doubt but that the indemnity will be paid to the Sultan at once; but even before that, as soon as the loan is announced and offered on the market, the liability of the Sultan to evacuate Thessaly will have begun. Of course, I am bound to assume that his Imperial Majesty will fulfil the engagement into which he has entered. I heard a word of evil omen drop from the mouth of my noble Friend, which I feel bound to notice as I pass. He not only said that we were guaranteeing the loan, but also that we have guaranteed the execution of the Treaty of Peace. I can assure him that we have done nothing of the kind, and I should be very sorry to be a party to placing any such burden upon this country. Up to the present, though the mechanism has worked very slowly, no real impediment has occurred; and when we have allowed for the proverbial tardiness of the East, we have every reason to believe that a state of things will now very speedily arise when the Sultan will be under the obligation of evacuating the Thessalian plains. I quite agree with the noble Lord that that is a consummation most devoutly to be wished, because I fear that the sufferings of these poor people during the interval—the unavoidable interval—whilst these business matters were being arranged have been something terrible to realise.