HL Deb 19 June 1903 vol 123 cc1414-8

, who had the following notice on the Paper, viz.—"To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether His Majesty's Government propose to take any common or concerted action with other Powers with regard to the new Government of Servia," said: My Lords, the Question which appears in my name has already been answered in another place, but I have left it on the Paper, and propose to put it so as to afford the noble Marquess an opportunity of making a more ample statement, if he thinks fit, than was made in the House of Commons. I do not wish to detain your Lordships at any length in discussing this matter, but I cannot help remarking upon the extraordinary apathy, amounting I might almost say to callousness, with which this most atrocious crime has been received throughout Europe. I cannot but think that if this event had taken place in the neighbouring country of Turkey we should have heard from many a platform and pulpit eloquent denunciations and assertions that such an occurrence could not have been possible in any Christian country. Although the statement has been made by the Provisional Servian Government that— Highly satisfactory despatches have been received from the Governments of London, Paris, Berlin, and Rome, I have very little doubt in my own mind that this is an impudent fabrication on the part of the Provisional Government. But the fact does remain that so far only two protests have been publicly made against this most atrocious crime—one in the message addressed by the Emperor of Austria to the newly elected king, and the other in the communiqué published to-day from the Official Messenger of St. Petersburg, in which the hope is expressed that condign punishment will be inflicted on the perpetrators of these murders. It is, however, extremely difficult to see how this can be carried out, because the new king, it is perfectly evident, can only be the creature of the conspirators who have been the means of securing his election. So far as Servia itself is concerned, the feelings of nobody appear to have been outraged at all. On the contrary, the assassins are glorified as heroes, the National Assembly has passed a vote of thanks to them, and their action has been effusively and solemnly blessed by the clergy. As a matter of fact, this is a crime that does not possess one single redeeming feature—it has no justification of patriotism. We are assured that the country sympathises with the disappearance of the Obrenovitch dynasty, and that popular feeling is in favour of the change which has occurred. Anyone who knows anything about the Balkan States knows perfectly well that popular feeling in the ordinary acceptance of the term is nonexistent, and that it is solely created, formed, and regulated by the set of politicians who happen to be in power, and who control it through the police and the other means at their disposal. This has been nothing but a sordid military conspiracy carried out in an atrocious way, and inspired by sordid motives. It is evidently a purely military conspiracy of the ordinary kind, and it has been carried out by an army which is obviously a much more efficient instrument for effecting a palace revolution than for encountering a neighbouring country on the field of battle. I am the last person who wishes to see sentiment imported into foreign politics. If the Servian people really like to be governed by assassins and conspirators that is their own look-out, and we have no title to interfere, provided British interests are not affected, but I venture to express the opinion that there is something actually revolting in the continuance of ordinary relations with persons responsible for a crime of this nature; and whatever may be the intention of foreign Governments, whether they propose to exact reparation for this crime or not, I trust that His Majesty's Government will take an early opportunity of expressing in the most emphatic manner their abhorrence of this crime, not only because it is a disgrace to civilisation, but because a crime of this kind must re-act in the very worst possible manner far beyond the boundaries of the country in which it has been committed.


My Lords, I can assure the noble Lord that His Majesty's Government do not yield to him in the abhorrence which he has expressed for the events which have lately disgraced the capital of Servia. That abhorrence has not been diminished by any later intelligence which has reached us in regard to those events. I think it would be no exaggeration to say that it would be hard to find a parallel, even in the annals of States which have no pretence to be included amongst civilised communities, for outrages of such a character as those which we are discussing this evening. The noble Lord asked me "whether His Majesty's Government propose to take any common and concerted action with other Powers with regard to the new Government of Servia." I am not quite sure whether I understood him to suggest that it was our duty to concert with other Powers measures of a punitive character directed against the authors of these outrages. My Lords, no proposal of that kind has been made to us, nor, I conceive, could we usefully have made such a proposal to other Powers; but when we pass from that to the question of diplomatic relations, then I am certainly prepared to tell the noble Lord that nothing is further from our thoughts than to maintain what he spoke of as ordinary relations with persons who were implicated in these events. Our action in the matter has already been publicly explained. Our diplomatic relations came to an end with the death of the late King, and they have not been renewed. We had it at first in contemplation to mark our indignation by the immediate withdrawal of our representative, Sir George Bonham, from Belgrade, but we came to the conclusion that it was better, at all events for a time, that Sir George Bonham should remain at his post. We desired that he might be there to watch over British interests and to report to us as to the progress of events; but he was specially instructed, by a telegram which I addressed to him on the 15th inst., that his intercourse with the authorities was to be strictly limited to what is necessary for these purposes, and he was told that he was to be careful to do nothing which might be construed as an official recognition of the Provisional Government, whose freedom from complicity in the Acts of the night of June 10th has not yet been established, or as pledging His Majesty's Government to recognise the authority which may be set up in succession to the dynasty. With regard to the action of other Powers, although there has been no attempt at combined or concerted action, we have taken measures to inform ourselves as to what is intended, and I believe I am correct in saying that three, at least, of the Great Powers—France, Germany, and Italy — are maintaining an attitude corresponding to that which we have maintained. Two other Powers — Russia and Austria — are, we understand, prepared to recognise the new régime; but Russia, at all events, appears to have made it plain that she expected the punishment of the persons concerned in these crimes. I may, perhaps, add, that we have come to the conclusion that it would not be desirable that Sir George Bonham should be at Belgrade when the new reign is inaugurated. We have, therefore, instructed him to leave the capital for a time.


My Lords, I only wish to say that I have heard with great satisfaction the statement of the noble Marquess. It seems to me that it would have been very unfortunate, and not at all in accordance with our position as a great civilised Power, to pass over without some marked comment the terrible tragedy which took place at Belgrade. What the noble Marquess has told us seems to put in a satisfactory way the view which His Majesty's Government very properly took of these events, and which the country will, I am sure, support. It is satisfactory to learn, at all events, that certain of the Great Powers are viewing them in the same way. I hope, therefore, that, though it may not be very strongly marked, it will show the horror which the action of the conspirators has aroused in all the civilised countries of Europe.


My Lords, I wish to say that I have heard with great satisfaction the statement of the noble Marquess, especially the part of it which informed us that Sir George Bonham was not to remain at Belgrade during the investiture of the new Sovereign. That, at any rate, will be a sign of the intense disapprobation and horror felt universally throughout this country at the atrocious deeds perpetrated the other night, and I am pleased that the noble Marquess has placed that view of the case before your Lordships.