HL Deb 07 March 1901 vol 90 cc769-74

My Lords, I beg to ask the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what steps are being taken to obtain from the Porte the recognition of the British post office established last year at Salonika; and whether he will undertake that the expenditure sane-tioned for one year in connection with this post office shall be renewed in the event of the Porte still refusing recognition at the expiration of that period. This some what trivial question occupied the atten- tion of the late Government for a considerable time, and has formed the subject of much correspondence and many inquiries both here and in another place. As your Lordships are no doubt aware, owing to the complete incapacity of the Turkish Government to provide a proper postal system, civilised Powers are in the habit of maintaining post offices there for the benefit of their own subjects. These post offices are not established for the purpose of earning a revenue, but in order to administer to the commercial necessities of these foreign communities.

In the town of Salonika British trade interests are still greater than the interests of any other Power. The British commercial community were under a considerable disadvantage for a long time through the absence of postal facilities, but after much trouble, and owing largely to representations from the Embassy at Constantinople and from the various British Chambers of Commerce, in Turkey, the Post Office and the Foreign Office agreed, about a year ago, to the establishment of a British post office at Salonika, which has proved a complete success, and has conferred a great benefit on the British community. Following its usual practice, the Turkish Government refused its recognition of the office. In most cases, whether the Turkish Government grants its recognition or not to a foreign post office is a matter of very small importance, because the majority of these post offices are situated in seaport towns, and all that is necessary is to take the mails on board the vessel. But the case of Salonika is different. The mails are taken by train, and by the simple expedient of refusing to allow the British mails to be carried in the mail bags the Turkish Government have succeeded in making this post office a considerable I expense to the British Government, whereas it would, if we were able to obtain our rights, prove a paying and remunerative concern.

I understand that the cost of the post office is £700 a year, and that the Treasury are disposed to discontinue providing this money. The expenditure is incurred in sending messengers daily to and from the Servian frontier. I do not think it is surprising, under the circumstances, that the Treasury should object to finding the £60 a month which this costs; but before any action is taken on this point I should like to make as strong an appeal as I can to the Foreign Secretary and the Postmaster-General to use their power in order that we may not perform what I can only describe as a somewhat humiliating surrender. I venture to think it is a very unwise procedure to sanction this expenditure for only one year, for that is obviously a, temptation to the Turkish Government to obstruct the working of the office, in the hope that His Majesty's Government will get tired of providing the money. We are not asking from the Turkish Government any particular privilege for ourselves, but only to lie allowed to enjoy the right which is enjoyed by other nations. The French Government and the Austrian Government have for some time maintained post offices in this town for the benefit of their respective communities, but they had at first the same obstruction and difficulties to surmount. What they were able to overcome we ought to be able to overcome.

A promise was actually obtained from the Turkish Foreign Office, in September last, that our request should be complied with. I am not one of those persons who are in favour of what I venture to call the continual bullying of the Turkish Government on all sorts of questions; I go so far as to say that we have damaged our influence, in Turkey by taking up causes with which we, had no immediate concern but I think we ought to use all the pressure we can command to secure their recognition of this post office. We are represented by an Ambassador whose relations with the Porte are, happily, better than those of his predecessor, and I do not see why there should be any difficulty in getting our way on this question. We are not asking for money. There is nothing more difficult than to extract money from the Turkish Government. Neither are we asking for reform, which is equally difficult to secure. We are simply asking for something which we are entitled to, and which other nations enjoy. It is merely a case of insisting upon the fulfilment of a promise which has been made to us, and the granting of a right which has been extended to other nations. This may be described as a trumpery question, but there is an important principle involved. We ought not to submit to what I can only term the, senseless obstruction of the Turkish Government. If the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs will only go so far as to accede to the request contained in my question, I am confident that the result will immediately be seen in the disappearance of this obstruction.


The subject which the noble Lord has brought before your Lordships has engaged the attention of the Foreign Office for some time past, and I do not know that our view of it differs very greatly from that which he has expressed. We came to the conclusion that it was desirable in the interests of our considerable commercial community in Salonika that there should be a, British post office there, and it seemed to us only reasonable that privileges which had already been conceded in that, port to other Powers—France and Austria —should not be denied to us. We thought our case was strengthened owing to the fact that lately another foreign Power—Germany—has been allowed to establish post offices at Beirut, Jerusalem, and Smyrna. The Porte objected to our proposal, and we did not think, under the circumstances, that the objection was founded upon sufficient grounds. But in view of that objection, as a provisional measure we opened a post office in the buildings of the Consular Office at Salonika, and that post office has been open since May of last year. That arrangement, as the noble Lord truly said, was not only an inconvenient but a very expensive one, owing to the fact that the mails have to be carried by messengers from Salonika to the frontier. The expense is about £700 a year.

The noble Lord asked us what steps we have taken in order to deal with this difficulty. I find that in October last a representation was made to the Turkish Ambassador at His Majesty's Court here. That representation was repeated in January of the present year, and at the same time representations were made at Constantinople through the British Am- bassador at that place. I heard a few days ago, in officially, it is true, but from a reliable source, that we might expect a reply to these representations in a few days. That reply has not yet reached us; but since the noble Lord's notice appeared on the Paper I have again mentioned the subject to the Turkish Ambassador and pressed upon him the necessity of putting an end to the procrastination that has already taken place with regard to this subject. That is all the information I can give my noble friend at present.

He also asks us whether we, will undertake that the expenditure sanctioned for one year in connection with this post office shall be renewed in the, event of the Porte declining to comply with our representations, will ask my noble friend to excuse me from discussing the financial arrangements we might make in the hypothetical case of the Porte's continuing to turn a deaf ear to our representations. Those representations will still be urged, and until we learn, which I hope we shall not, that they have been addressed to the Porte in vain, I think it is better not to enter into the question of the financial arrangements that might be, made in case the negotiations should fail.


May I say that in my opinion the noble, Marquess's representations would be very much, strengthened if be would comply with my request, and intimate that he is prepared to continue this payment in the went of the Porte still refusing its recognition of the British post office?


My Lords. I endorse, all that has fallen from my noble friend the Foreign Secretary, and would remind the noble Lord who has raised this question that when the post office, at Salonika was established it was on the distinct understanding that it should be for one year only. That stipulation was made in consequence of the opposition it met with at the hands of the Turkish Government. It is of course quite impossible at the present moment to make any definite statement as to what will be done in the future. This is a question in which the Foreign Office is concerned to a greater extent than the Department over which I preside, as the chief expense—the conveyance of the mails from Salonika to the frontier by messengers—is charged on the Foreign Office Votes. I therefore think my noble friend should leave the matter in the hands of the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and His Majesty's representative at Constantinople, who is doing all in his power to secure the approval of the Sublime Porte to the maintenance of a post office at Salonika. I trust, in the interests of the British in habitants, that he may be successful. If the noble Marquess the Secretary of State sees his way to again approach the Treasury on this matter, I shall, so far as lies in my power, endorse and support any arguments he may put forward in support of the continuance of this post office.

House adjourned at ten minutes before Five of the clock, till To-morrow, half-past Ten of the clock.