HL Deb 05 May 1903 vol 121 cc1329-54

who had given notice, To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs for information (1) as to the negotiations between His Majesty's Government and the promoters of the Baghdad Railway Company; (2) as to the policy of His Majesty's Government in respect of the interests of this country in the Persian Gulf; and to move for Papers, said: My Lords, the Question that stands in my name was drafted previous to the withdrawal of the Baghdad Railway Scheme. As that scheme has now been withdrawn I do not propose to touch on that portion of my Question, except to say that if there are any Papers which the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs could lay on the Table with reference to that scheme I am sure they would be read with interest by the public. I now pass to the second portion of my Question, which refers to our position in the Persian Gulf, and I hope I shall not be unnecessarily wearying your Lordships if I trace very briefly the history in connection with our position in those parts. It was not until some thirty or forty years ago that really the Persian Gulf had strictly any right to that name. Up till then the major portion of the eastern shore of the Gulf had been largely held by the State of Muscat. Further north there were other petty States. On the western shores the Turkish power was purely nominal, and the British alone really exercised sovereignty, or what are generally conceived to be the prerogatives of sovereignty, in the Persian Gulf. For the last hundred years or so we have discharged administrative duties; we have settled quarrels and disputes between various chiefs in those regions; we have put down piracy and abolished the slave trade; we alone have made any pretence of surveying the Gulf; one of our British companies has put down buoys and beacons, and any communication with the outer world by cable is solely due to the British Government. That is the position in the Persian Gulf. We were really supreme, and our ascendency was, and, I hope, still is, undisputed. In addition, during the course of that period of 100 years we sent out three large expeditions to fight, sometimes Persia, and sometimes other tribes. We had a flotilla of gunboats on the Tigris, and a regiment of British soldiers at Baghdad. Again, we and our British-Indian subjects alone are really traders in the Persian Gulf. We have to maintain establishments, civil and military, at great expense. In fact, our position in the Persian Gulf has only been achieved by the expenditure of large sums of money, stated to be millions, and also at a great cost of life, for it must be remembered that the climate is perhaps the most unhealthy in any part of the world, and has at all times imposed a severe strain on those we have sent to the Gulf.

There must have been some reason for making these huge sacrifices. All this was really done at the initiative, practically, of the Indian Government, and my contention is that consciously, or unconsciously, the administration of India felt that the security of the Persian Gulf was necessary for the proper defence of our Indian Empire. But, unluckily, whilst we maintained that policy, we also allowed, in the one case, Turkish suzerainty to revive, and we also supported the pretensions of Persia against those of the various chiefs, and particularly so in the case of the Chief of Muscat. We therefore allowed these two Powers to come down and claim certain prerogatives, at practically our expense, because they could never have done so if we had not, by our control of the Gulf, enabled them to revive their authority in those districts. It is only about a year ago that a very fair description was given by the noble Viscount the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs of our position in the Gulf, and I will read an extract from his statement. He said— It would be impossible for us, whatever the cause, to abandon what we look upon as our rightful position in Persia. Especially is that true in regard to the Persian Gulf. It is true not only of the Persian Gulf, but of the southern provinces of Persia and those provinces which border on our Indian Empire. Our rights there, and our position of ascendency we cannot abandon. In the Gulf itself our ascendency is not merely a question of theory, but a question of fact. I think nothing can be more explicit, and no better statement could be made, of our position in the Persian Gulf. We should next consider what other Powers have been doing. But I need not trace the acquisition by Russia of Persian provinces south of the Caucasus on the west, nor of her advance in Trans-Caspian lands in the east, nor of her assumption of all control of the Caspian. With in recent yea is, however, we, for the first time, see Russian and French gun-boats coming into the Persian Gulf. Russian, German, and French Consuls have been appointed to various posts. Subsidised Russian steamers now carry on a not lucrative trade in the Persian Gulf, and they are subsidised to a very heavy extent indeed. Russia sends so-called medical missions to Bus hire and Bandar Abbas. Recesses of the coast of the Persian Gulf are examined, presumably with the idea of finding a convenient port; and Arabic leaflets vilifying British power are oftentimes disseminated among the tribes. With regard to what has occurred in Persia itself, the most serious assault made on the independence of Persia is, I suppose, that of the Russian loans. As your Lordships will remember, we refused to take up the loans that Persia asked for. We lost our opportunity. Russia stepped in and has advanced the money. By so doing she has put herself practically in the position of complete ascendency over the Persian Government. She has her, so far as I can see, in the hollow of her hand. The only one factor, perhaps, favourable to our interests in this respect is that these loans are secured upon the Customs of Persia, and, by an agreement made two years previous to the first Russian loan, Persia pledged herself to us that the Customs of Southern Persia, including the Gulf, should not be hypothecated to any foreign Power. But, as I understand it, Russia has only exempted from the action of these loans the ports in the Persian Gulf in the Province of Fars, and, I believe, the town of Mohammera. This is one of the particular cases in which I would ask the noble Marquess whether he could lay any Papers on the Table of the House to explain more clearly the situation.

In 1890 Russia also secured a Protocol giving her power to have full control of any railways that might be built. Here, again, we are saved, to a certain extent, by an earlier understanding that no railways were to be constructed in Southern Persia except with our consent; but I do not think the public are fully enlightened on this point and I would ask the noble Marquess whether he could lay any Papers on the Table with regard to it. In addition to these two-main grounds of ascendency that Russia has acquired, I may also refer to the Persian-Cossack force that exists in Persia, officered entirely by Russian officers, and the commandant of which is under the immediate orders of the Minister for War in Russia. The men of the force are removed from the ordinary jurisdiction of the Persian Government, and there is a special department to inquire into any cases that may arise between them and Persians outside the force. These men, after they have acquired a full knowledge of their duties, are drafted into the country and become the bodyguard of the provincial governors. Russia has also established a bank, which is practically a branch of the Bank of Russia. This Bank, unlike the British Imperial Bank of Persia, which has to pay a subsidy of £5,000 a year, pays no subsidy whatever to the Persian Government. Of course, Russia has built roads. She has the use of telegraphs, whilst we divide with Persia the cost of the upkeep of the telegraph line between Teheran and Meshed, and which Russia uses without any such obligation. One other very important point is that Russia has framed a tariff entirely to suit herself and her own commercial conditions. That tariff has operated most adversely to our trade, particularly our British-Indian trade. In addition to Russia having done her best to hamper a trade that has been opened up from Beluchistan to Seistan, a cordon of plague officials has been doing everything to interfere with the free access of merchandise coming from India, and they have done this in defiance of all customary International usage. Russia crushes every bonâfide effort made for the industrial and material improvement of Persia. Even the extra revenue which has been collected under the new Belgian system, owing to the more business-like methods of the Belgian Customs officials, has been no good to the country of Persia nor to the inhabitants or merchants. This increase of revenue only goes to give improved security for the Russian loan, and anything further goes into the pocket of the Shah for his own individual expenses. The enumeration of these many proofs of Russian enterprise show, what great control she exercises in Persia.

I would now refer to what is the actual trade of Russia with Persia. The statement that we must prevent any foreign Power coming into the Persian Gulf was met with the retort that Russia must have an outlet in the Southern sea. That implies trade compression, but Russia has no trade whatever in Southern Persia. Whatever trade she has even in Northern Persia is due solely to the heavy system of premiums she has originated, and there is no idea of Russia being restricted or hampered in any legitimate trade that is at present in existence. There is no necessity for this so-called outlet for trade, a'though, according to our very excellent policy of allowing Free Trade to the world in any place that we may secure, we should never view with jealousy the establishment by Russia of branches of trade in the Gulf or in Southern Persia. But there is no case to be made out for Russia having her own port in the Persian Gulf. Her only object for an outlet there can be to secure a naval base, and that naval base could only have one object—that of threatening our trade in the Southern Sea. If we allowed a foreign Power to have access to a port in the Persian Gulf it would seriously damage our Imperial interests. First of all, it would certainly be damaging to our prestige in the East. I think that any idea of a foreign Power having a port in the Persian Gulf or in Southern Persia would at once create most serious alarm among all those millions of people that we govern in India, and it would be almost impossible for us to continue to hold large provinces, as we do now, with a mere handful of whites. We should inevitably have to strengthen not only our garrisons, and all those who hold authority in such provinces, but also our Navy. And how would it affect the strategic position? I contend that Persia at the present day and the Persian Gulf practically form a part of the Indian Frontier, and if so it is evident that if we allow a footing to be obtained by a foreign Power that frontier is gone to a very great extent. We have spent millions and we have had countless wars in putting the North-west Frontier of India in a strong defensive position, but if we allow a foreign Power in the Persian Gulf that position is practically turned and we have an enemy outflanking us. The moment we have a foreign Power acting in the Persian Gulf we at once make a great break in that long defensive position that, extending from the English Channel to India and the Far East, includes Gibraltar, Malta, Egypt, Aden. We have there an unrivalled defensive position; but if we allow another Power to plant itself down in the Persian Gulf that position is broken.

It may be argued that in case of war the Suez Canal would be closed to our trade, but even then we would have the enemy on our flank as regards our Indian trade, though, of course, operating at a greater distance. It must be remembered that India is almost equidistant between Australia and South Africa, and does form a practical base to our Colonial Dependencies. In recent years India has sent troops to China, to South Africa, and to Somaliland, and we cannot look upon India, therefore, as a mere separate entity, but must regard it as one of the most important bases we have in our world-wide defensive position. Captain Mahan has stated that— A concession in the Persian Gulf by arrangement or neglect of local commercial interests, which now underlie political and military control, will imperil Great Britain's naval situation in the Further East, her political position in India, her commercial interests in both, and the Imperial tie between herself and Australasia. That is Captain Mahan's summing up of the position if we allow a foreign Power to assert itself in the Persian Gulf or in Southern Persia. There is one other aspect of the case to which Captain Mahan has referred—I mean the commercial aspect of our position in the Persian Gulf. As regards merely our commercial interests I do not imagine for a moment that one would be willing to undertake any serious policy, but I regard it as essential for our political position that we should look after our commercial interests. I do not see how we can maintain naval ascendency in the Gulf, and yet not have certain interests on land. It is certain that naval strength, without a certain amount of territorial control or influence is really a most inferior weapon. But, indeed, our trade in the Gulf is not small, and is absolutely paramount. To all practical purposes no other Power has any trade there at all, except in a slight degree. Mesopotamia, if only there was good government there, would be one of the richest tracts in the world. The Babylonia of ancient history, it was the centre of the world's civilisation. Lord Percy, who has travelled there, has stated that it is one of the future granaries of the world. We cannot, therefore, afford to neglect entirely our interests in those parts.

Although the Government have not supported our commercial interests as largely as one would like, still they cannot be accused of neglecting them altogether. There is one point, however, to which I think attention ought to be turned. I refer to the consular service in those parts. As I understand, the Vice-Consuls in the Persian Gulf are appointed by the Indian Government, and are paid by the Foreign Office, but they do not report to the Minister at Teheran. Then there is a political resident in Bushire, who, I believe, is entirely in the pay of the India Office. Again, at Baghdad, there is a political agent who reports direct to Constantinople, and who is also-in the pay of the India Office. You see, my Lords, it is a very complex system. One matter has been reported to me as being strikingly unjust. These Vice-Consuls in the Gulf, who are appointed by the India Office but paid by the Foreign Office, ought to be promoted to the rank of Consul. For two or three years they have been put down on the Estimates as. receiving £660 a year, but they are only paid £350. This is accounted for by the fact that the Foreign Office will not raise them to the rank of Consul, as they have not been appointed by the Foreign Office. The question did once engage the attention of a House of Commons Committee in 1870. At that time the House of Commons Committee reported that they thought it advisable that all the consular officials should be appointed by the Indian Government, but it has never been carried out, nor has the other recommendation that the £12,000 which the Indian Government pays towards the Legations at Teheran and elsewhere should be decreased, been acted upon. I mention this point because I contend that in a part of the world where our relations are most critical it is highly essential that our Consular service should be thoroughly efficient. As far as I can gather, however, there is jealousy between the two Departments of State—the India Office and the Foreign Office—in this matter, and it is very hard on these Vice-Consuls. They are put to great expense, they have very delicate duties to perform, they are not allowed to trade, as Vice-Consuls are in other parts of the world, and it seems very unjust to these men that they should be deprived of practically half the salary that is due to them. Money that has been voted by Parliament is not paid to them on account of this friction which exists between the two Departments.

I do not propose to refer more to this, except to say, generally, that our traders do complain that they are not given proper security. Take, for instance, the Karun River. When we got powers to navigate that river the Persian Government threw every obstacle in the way of the proper working of the river, and it is only recently that proper facilities have been given to our traders in respect to its navigation. Again, take the Tigris. The Company that are there engaged are only allowed two vessels. They have cargo enough for four or more, but by some old firman they are supposed to be debarred from the right of having more than two vessels on the Tigris. When disputes arise there is no jurisdiction by which these disputes can be settled, except by reference to Teheran, which means considerable delay, if not total obstruction. It seems to me essential that if we are to retain our naval position we must have it based on a proper consideration of what we are doing on the mainland, and whilst I would not wish for a moment that we should acquire a single square yard of Persian or Turkish territory for our own uses, still it is necessary to maintain that we should have full control over all means of communication.

It may be asked whether it is not the cry of the mere alarmist to lay such stress on this question of a naval port being acquired by a foreign Power. I can only point to recent facts and to the activity of Russia in Southern Persia as betokening some determination to acquire access to the coast. We have also very nearly found ourselves with a German system established at Koweyt. We have borne the burden of giving protection and peace in that region, and at least we have the strongest claim to be recognised. One thing we cannot tolerate is, hat by a fictitious status quo we should have our position whittled away until nothing remains but the mere husk of what should be the true strength of our position in Persia. It is no use our always saying we respect the integrity of the country if nothing actually done to maintain the status quo. For instance, Lord Cranborne stated, I think, in February last, that no great changes had taken place during the last twelve months. I could point to three changes that have taken place. In the first place, Russia has made another loan to Persia of about a million; secondly, she has entered into a commercial treaty with Persia and framed that tariff which is so very hostile to our interests. In the third place, Belgian Custom House officials have been appointed to, and are exercising their duties in, the Gulf ports. Are these changes nothing? What security have our people that our position is really going to be maintained? Anyone who reads Lord Curzon's book on Persia, or Mr. Whigham's book, or the remarkable series of articles that have appeared in The Times, must see how seriously at stake are our interests. I admit my views are second-hand, but they are, in addition to the authors I have mentioned, founded on the observations of travellers, traders, correspondents, and even of officials. My fears cannot be represented as imaginary. At the same time I do not wish to accuse the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs of neglecting our interests. From questions that have been asked in the other House I understand that negotiations are at the present time proceeding with Persia and Russia in respect to our position, and I think this ought to be a very favourable time for coming to an understanding with Russia. Russia was hostile to the Baghdad Railway scheme that has been dropped, and therefore it may be assumed that she would be more ready to come into some form of agreement with Us with regard to our respective positions in that part of the world. It must be remembered, too, that we have had no real treaty hitherto with Russia respecting the integrity of Persia. The only understanding ever arrived at was in 1834, when Russia expressed a pious desire that the integrity and independence of Persia should be preserved. But nothing since that date has really been advanced to put Persia in an independent position. I feel so seriously the gravity of the situation that I regret that someone abler than myself has not marshalled the facts, and brought them forward in a way more calculated to bring conviction to your Lordships. I do contend that no shirking responsibility at the present time will do us any good. If we desire the integrity of Persia and to secure our position we must take active steps. The real danger is that by neglect, by mere drifting, by reluctance to face the position, we may get into a situation from which war alone can extricate us. If, having decided what should be our policy, we announce it in a firm declaration, we would be far more likely to preserve ourselves from any such untoward consequence. At present we see Russian activity encroaching on the foreshore of our position, and crumbling away those protections that nature has given us, and perhaps soon, when the very foundations of our position are exposed, then, under circumstances far less favourable to ourselves, we shall be forced to engage in some costly conflict to save a mere remnant of that which now, by frank declaration, supported by a far-seeing, consistent policy, we might save in its entirety. I feel that there should be some decision arrived at by our Statesmen, by our diplomats, by our naval and military experts, by our Indian officials, and, perhaps, by some of our colonies, who are not unconcerned in this matter, as to what is the irreducible minimum that we must demand for the safety of our position.


My Lords, when I first saw the communication from Herr Gwinner, of the Deutsche Bank, which appeared in The Times of April 22nd, I at once concluded that The Times had been hoaxed. For I could not believe that any foreign financier would have dreamt that any portion of the British public would be so foolish as to advance money for the purpose of establishing a naval base belonging to a foreign Power in the Persian Gulf. Although the scheme brought forward for the construction of the Baghdad Railway is at present laid aside, still we shall always have schemes of a kaleidoscopic nature before us until it is constructed. In the last scheme laid before us the money for the railway was to be found by the public of many nations, and their interest was to be paid out of receipts which, for some years, will be problematical, backed by a Turkish guarantee, which is not a first-class security. In these circumstances I doubt very much if capitalists will come forward. But we must bear in mind that at any moment the German Government may come to the conclusion that it is necessary to German interests that the railway should be made, and that they may add a German guarantee to back up that given by Turkey. In that case the money would be found, and the margin of expense that would fall on the German Government would probably not be very great, as it would undoubtedly put severe pressure on Turkey to obtain the payment of its share of the guarantee. Then, again, the capital disbursed in constructing the railway would be largely spent on German steel industries, and on salaries to German engineers and German surveyors. So that even if the railway, as a railway, was a failure, it would not be a total loss to Germany. Besides, Turkey wants railways for concentrating and supplying her troops. She found the use of them in her recent war with Greece. Though I would rather that this railway should not be made, still I think it more than probable that it will eventually be constructed, and if it is built it should be made by us in conjunction with Germany in an amicable manner, so as not to infringe upon our position in the East. We ought to have a proper control over the Baghdad end of the line, and then we could leave Germany a free hand over the western portion of the railway.

If this railway is constructed it is absolutely necessary that the control of the whole of the Persian Gulf be not only claimed by us but acknowledged by others. We have put down piracy in the Gulf for generations, and have, in consequence, a claim on its coasts prior to that of any other European nation. The presence of a naval arsenal in the Persian Gulf in the hands of a great Power would be a menace not only to our trade with India and China, but also to that of Australasia. Before Lord Curzon became Viceroy of India he expressed himself in no doubtful language on this point, when he declared that— He would regard the concession to Russia of a port in the Persian Gulf as a wanton rupture of the status quo, as an international provocation to war, and he would impeach the British Minister who was guilty of such acquiescence as a traitor to his country. Are not these words equally applicable to the cession of a port in the Persian Gulf to any other Power? I would sooner see Russia at Constantinople than I would see a European arsenal on the shores of the Persian Gulf. Since the Crimean War, not only the boundaries of countries, but the distribution of their populations have undergone many changes, and the centres of power and the political weight of nations have been completely altered. Questions connected with the ownership of the shores of the Hellespont and the Bosphorus are now only a secondary consideration to Great Britain and France. They are, however, of primary importance to Austria and Germany. These questions I have ceased to be Anglo-French, and have now become Teutonic. I see no reason why these two countries should not seek to defend their interests by means of Anatolian railways and by building fortified bridges across the Bosphorus if they wish to do so. That is a very different thing from putting themselves in a position to attack us in India. The strategical position will also be affected, not only in the Eastern Seas, but also in the Mediterranean. There is an article in the proposed agreement giving the railway company privileges in connection with railways approaching the Mediterranean between Messina and Tripoli. Thus any men-of-war on friendly terms with the managers, would be able, if in that neighbourhood, to replenish their stores and ammunition, and to complete their personnel from the Persian Gulf as well as from Smyrna and the Bosphorus. A ship short of torpedoes, or with damaged electrical apparatus, would find herself very much nearer to the Persian Gulf than to Portsmouth or Kiel. The Gulf will be about three days rail from Messina or Tripoli.

Then if the Suez Canal, or traffic in the Mediterranean, is interfered with the friendliness of the management may decide the question of the command of the sea; and if military stores are wanted by any Power in Egypt, or in its neighbourhood, it may make all the difference in the world as to which belligerent the managers of the railway might be disposed to favour. From our experience in the Transvaal we know what an important part can be played by a hostile railway. Now we cannot be certain as to how the management will behave, whether as a friend or as an enemy, or with strict neutrality. But if we have a firm hold of the other end of the line, we can, at any rate, make certain that its unfriendliness will not expose us to the risks that I have referred to. It is generally assumed that as Koweyt is ours we can stop the railway by refusing to allow it to be made use of as a terminus. There are, however, other possible termini in the Persian Gulf. If we refuse Koweyt, a claim may be made to make use of the creek of Khor Abdallah. This is not as convenient a place as Koweyt, as it is surrounded by marshes; but the Arabs have learnt how to drain swamps for the purpose of growing date palms. If time and pecuniary encouragement were given to them it would greatly lessen the engineering work that would have to be done when the railway reached Zobeir. There is also what looks like a possible terminus in Persian territory. Khor Musa is a salt-water inlet, and a safe anchorage, but according to the Admiralty charts it has only been partially surveyed. The charts do not show clearly how far the deep water extends, nor how near it is to firm land. For various reasons I am inclined to think that our Hydrographical Department has done its duty, and is in possession of further information that it has not thought proper to publish. I do not know to what extent the questions connected with the Baghdad Railway have been studied by the Naval Intelligence Department. If by any chance that Department is undermanned and has too much of its time taken up by routine duties, I would point out that there are about fifty junior captains on the half-pay list unemployed, and that most of them are fully competent to work out in detail all the nautical, commercial, and strategical problems that may arise in connection with the proposed railway, whether in the Persian Gulf, in the Mediterranean, or in other seas.

In conclusion, I would remark that as we have the advantage of having our foreign affairs in the hands of a former Viceroy of India, and as we also have the advantage of having as Viceroy of India a statesman who has qualified himself for that post by a careful study of the countries that border on our Indian frontiers, I have full confidence that they will come to a right decision in these matters, whether they give any information or not. At the same time, I think that the noble Lord has done right in calling attention to the subject, as the more it is brought before the public from the British point of view, the less likely are we to be asked for impossible concessions by foreign financiers or foreign statesmen, for concessions which neither the interests of Great Britain, the opinions of its inhabitants, or the common sense of our statesmen will permit us to grant.


My Lords, the noble Lord who introduced this subject explained to the House that, for reasons which he gave us, it was not his intention to deal at length with the earlier part of the Notice which he had placed upon the Paper. I shall follow his example, and take up very little of your Lordships' time in referring to it. I am, however, bound to make one or two remarks in consequence of what has fallen from the two noble Lords; and before I do so I wish to point out to the noble Lord who spoke first that he, like a good many other people, is under a misapprehension when he conceives negotiations have been passing between His Majesty's Government and the promoters of the Baghdad Railway Company. There have been no negotiations between His Majesty's Government and the promoters of the Baghdad Railway Company, any more than there have been negotiations between His Majesty's Government and any foreign Government on this subject. What has taken place is this. There were confidential communications—negotiations if you like to call them so—between His Majesty's Government and certain representatives of the great financial houses in this country, with the object of ascertaining whether the conditions upon which this enterprise was being undertaken were of a kind which would permit His Majesty's Government to offer it any encouragement whatever. Those negotiations, as the noble Lord told the House, are no longer in progress.

The noble Lord expressed a hope that I might be able to give to your Lordships some Papers relating to them. To that proposal I must give an unhesitating negative. For that I will give your Lordships reasons which I think you will consider sufficient. In the first place, as these communications are no longer proceeding, it is clearly not necessary that these Papers should be supplied to the noble Lord for any public purpose. If we had been, in his opinion, upon a dangerous incline, likely to lead us to any of those unfortunate results which he so eloquently described, if he had desired to arrest our progress by calling attention to the documents, there might be some reason for requiring their production; but that is not the case. There is another reason, which weighs even more strongly with me. These communications were, as I said just now, of the most confidential character. Now I am under the impression that the occasions upon which the British Government finds itself in such confidential communication with the representatives of that great organism which we are in the habit of describing as the City, are of rare occurrence—probably much rarer in this country than in any other country in the world. But I do say that when those occasions arise, and when those confidential communications take place, it should be on the clearest possible understanding that the confidence which is given and received is respected from beginning to end; and I think we should ill requite the manner in which the gentlemen to whom I have referred have approached this question if we were to-offer any encouragement to the idea that we should lay before Parliament or in any way give to the public the documents, or the purport of the conversations, that passed between us.

There is one other observation which I feel impelled to make on this subject. I make it in fairness to the persons to whom I have just now referred. It is this—that I am deeply convinced that throughout these discussions their object was not only to ascertain from us whether they could expect at our hands any encouragement for the project in which they were interested, but also to ascertain from us whether anything which they were doing or leaving undone was detrimental to the interests of this country. If both those considerations had been present to their minds, and they had had to choose between the two, I unhesitatingly express my view that they would have allowed the latter consideration to prevail. With regard to the enterprise to which reference was made by the two noble Lords I wish to say very little about it; but, as this Notice has been for some time on the Paper, I can scarcely pass it over without any mention at all. Let me, in the first place, remind your Lordships that this scheme for a railway to connect the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf is not a new idea by any means. I do not think I am wrong in saying that for sixty years or more the idea has been familiar to the people of this country. I happened to read the other day an account of a deputation received by Lord Palmerston on the subject. It may interest your Lordships to know that Lord Palmerston expressed himself as follows in regard to it. He said— The Government was fully alive to the importance of the Euphrates route. They had given it support, and would continue to support it: but he could not give an opinion as to a guarantee without reference to his colleagues. Later there was a House of Commons Committee, presided over by Sir Stafford North cote, which reported in favour of a scheme which apparently contemplated an expenditure of ten millions of British money upon it. In its Report the Committee said that amongst the advantages to be expected from the construction of the line were the more rapid transmission of mails, the possession of an alternative and more rapid route for the conveyance of troops, and the great commercial advantage, both to England and India, which the opening up of the route would confer; and the Committee thought it worth the while of the British Government to make an effort to secure those advantages, considering the moderate pecuniary risk which they would incur.


What was the date of that?


1872. Now, my Lords, far be it from me to suggest that because those views prevailed at that time therefore they should be received without question at this moment. But I do suggest that, considering the manner in which this Baghdad Railway project has been received in past years in this country, His Majesty's Government could scarcely on this occasion have afforded to brush contemptuously on one side consideration of the proposals that were made. There was no moment, I believe, in the history of the question, when the British public would have regarded it with feelings of indifference. Now, what was the situation with which His Majesty's Government found themselves confronted? The noble Lord, toward the end of his interesting speech, expressed the opinion that we had very nearly found ourselves with a German system established at Koweyt. That shows how completely the noble Lord has misunderstood the position which His Majesty's Government assumed in regard to this question. What was the situation of fact with which we had to deal? There is in existence a German railway pure and simple, the Anatolian Railway, stretching from a point not far from Constantinople to Konia. That was one fact. The other fact was that a German company had been offered a concession under which it was open to them to extend this German railway from Konia to the Persian Gulf. Now, at no moment did we contemplate, did we ever discuss, the possibility of giving our adhesion, or giving any support whatever, to any project of that kind; and, therefore, when the noble Lord suggests that we contemplated the arrival of a German system at Koweyt he entirely misapprehends the ideas that were present to our mind. What was under our consideration was the possibility of obtaining the substitution for this purely German system of a line of an international character, constructed under guarantees which would have secured permanently its international character, and which would have secured for the commerce of all nations absolutely free and equal treatment from sea to sea. That was a very different proposal, surely, from the proposal to bring a German railway to the Persian Gulf; and it was also part of the proposals which were ventilated, that this country should be given full equality with any other power in respect of the construction of the line and in respect of its maintenance and control after it had been constructed. I therefore do not apologise for setting the noble Lord right on a point with regard to which he, like many other critics, has, I think, fallen into a serious misapprehension. At any rate I suggest to your Lordships that we might have been very severely taken to task if we had absolutely refused to discuss proposals of this nature, which at one time certainly seemed to point to a solution, which, I venture to think, might have been proved to be a prudent and statesmanlike solution of the difficulty.

I do not feel justified in taking up your Lordships' time further with regard to the Baghdad Railway project. I now pass to the closely connected subject of the Persian Gulf. I feel sure that the noble Lord's interest in the Baghdad Railway scheme was because he felt it did closely affect our interests in the Persian Gulf. I do not yield to the noble Lord in the interest which I take in the Persian Gulf, or in the feeling that this country stands, with regard to the navigation of the Persian Gulf, in a position different from that of any other Power. The noble Lord told your Lordships, with absolute truth, that it was owing to British enterprise, to the expenditure of British lives and money, that the Persian Gulf is at this moment open to the navigation of the world. It was our ships that cleared those waters of pirates; it was we who put down the slave trade; it was we who buoyed and beaconed those intricate waters. Well, at this moment, out of a total trade in the Gulf Ports of £3,600,000—the figures are those for 1901; we have none later—£2,300,000 represents the commerce of this country; so that it is clear that up to the present, at all events, we have succeeded in preserving a liberal share of that commerce. But there is no doubt that in the Gulf, as in other parts of Persia, we are feeling very keenly the competition of other Powers. That, I am afraid, is our fate not only in Persian waters; nor can we expect, because we have beer, in the development of commerce throughout the world, the pioneers of that form of civilisation, that we shall always be able to maintain the position of superiority which we at first enjoyed.

The noble Lord asked me for a statement of our policy with regard to the Persian Gulf. I think I can give him one in a few simple words. It seems to me that our policy should be directed in the first place to protect and promote British trade in those waters. In the next place I do not think that he suggests, or that we should suggest, that those efforts should be directed towards the exclusion of the legitimate trade of other Powers. In the third place—I say it without hesitation—we should regard the establishment of a naval base, or of a fortified port, in the Persian Gulf by any other Power as a very grave menace to British interests, and we should certainly resist it with all the means at our disposal. I say that in no minatory spirit, because, so far as I am aware, no proposals are on foot for the establishment of a foreign naval base in the Persian Gulf. I at least have heard of none; and I cannot help thinking that the noble Lord waxed almost unnecessarily warm at the idea of such a foreign intrusion, with which, so far as I am aware, we are not at present threatened. Well, the noble Lord then touched upon a series of points connected with our commercial interests in the Gulf.


As supporting our political position.


It is impossible, to my mind, to dissociate our commercial and our political interests.


I agree.


I will take the navigation of the Karun river. That was opened in 1888. I was in India at the time, and I well remember the satisfaction with which Sir Drummond Wolff's achievement on that occasion in procuring the opening of the river to navigation was regarded both in India and at home. The trade of the Karun, although it has not increased, perhaps, as much as might have been anticipated, has increased considerably; and the lion's share of it is ours. I see that in 1897 the trade was only £26,000, whereas in 1900 it had risen to over £1,000,000. The noble Lord spoke of the difficulties encountered by our traders owing to the Customs arrangements on the Karun. I do not know whether I quite followed what he said on the subject, but I may tell your Lordships that the position is this. We were originally led by the Persian Government to expect that three Customs Houses would be maintained on the Karun, one at Mohammera, the second at Ahwaz, and the third at Shuster. It appears that lately the Persian Customs authorities determined to do away with inland Custom Houses, and consequently two of these were threatened with suppression. Well, persons interested in Persian trade naturally protested. It was a great inconvenience to them that goods destined for one of the upper ports should have to be taken out of the ship's hold at Mohammera and there examined. Representations were made to the Persian Government; and I am glad to say that the result has been that temporary arrangements have been made, or are about to be made, under which our traders will be given Customs facilities at these three ports as was originally intended.

The whole question of our commercial relations with Persia is at this moment engaging our most attentive consideration, and particularly that question of the Customs tariff upon which the noble Lord laid so much stress. The Customs tariff was, as your Lordships will recollect, lately revised; and I think the noble Lord is justified in saying that that revision was not to the interest of British commerce. But I am inclined to think that the apprehensions which were felt on this point were somewhat exaggerated. I was relieved when I read the other day an account of the annual meeting of the Associated Chambers of Commerce, at which a Member of Parliament, Mr. Emmott, made the following statement— The new tariff in regard to cotton goods had been carefully examined by Manchester merchants, who did not think it injured them. It was not preferential as regards Russia, and they did not believe the tariff would turn out to be any higher than previously. That may be a sanguine estimate; but it shows, at any rate, that some of the alarm felt was greater than the circumstances justified. The particular commodity which is most seriously affected by the new tariff is tea, and your Lordships probably know that there is a large trade in tea between India and Persia. But here, again, I find that the Persian tea duties, when examined, are not very much larger than those which are imposed on tea in this country; and therefore I am not sure that we can protest very loudly on that point. Where I think the noble Lord has most right to complain upon this question is as to this point. As matters now stand, all we can demand at the hands of the Persian Government is most-favoured-nation treatment; and that, of course, we have got under the revised tariff. But we all know it is not very difficult so to adjust a tariff that, while it is in appearance equal in its operation with regard to all the Powers concerned, it really in effect discriminates against some of them. And therefore I for one am not satisfied that this country should have to be content merely with most-favoured-nation treatment at the hands of Persia. That matter is the subject of negotiation at this moment; and I have every hope that we shall be able to bring about an arrangement under which, instead of accepting tariff arrangements made between Persia and other Powers without reference to the effect of those arrangements upon us, we should be in a position to have arrangements of our own which will give us the right of insisting that, whenever Persia again attempts to touch her tariff, British interests shall be specially considered.

The noble Lord said a few words with regard to railways in Persia. I believe it is an open secret that a few years ago Persia undertook to defer the construction of any railways at all for a term of years. We were not parties to that arrangement, nor did we contract any obligations under it. The position in which we stand is this—that, whenever railway construction takes place in Persia, we have a right to construct, or procure the construction of railways in the southern part of that country. Persia will then be opened, not only to the capital and enterprise of other countries, but to the capital and enterprise of this country as well; and, though that arrangement may not be recorded in any very formal manner, we are satisfied that it is a binding engagement on the part of the Persian Government, and we should certainly maintain that that is its character. Closely connected with the subject of railways is the subject of roads. As to that, there is a road between Teheran and Sultan bad which was built by the Imperial Bank of Persia—a British institution. There is also a caravan road between Ispahan and Ahwaz, which was built by Messrs. Lynch, a firm who have an honourable reputation for the enterprise they have exhibited in developing trade in Persia. Besides that, there are concessions for the extension of the Teheran-Sultana bad road to the Karun river, and also for joining Kom with Ispahan, and at this moment negotiations are in progress for the speedy construction of one of those two roads. This is a matter of considerable importance, because it will give road communication from the capital to a point on the Karun river, thus bringing Teheran into communication with the Karun navigation.

In the matter of telegraphs, there is a convention, which was entered into last year, under which a British line is being constructed from Teheran to the frontiers of India by the staff of the Indo-European Telegraphs Department under the Government of India. The line will be leased by the Persian Government to the Indo-European Telegraphs Department; it will be maintained by a British director and staff, and 140 miles of it have already been constructed under the conditions I have described I have mentioned these points, which are points of comparative detail, to tht House because I think they show thae British interests have not entirely passed out of existence in Persia, and that some progress has been made in maintaining them during the last few years. The noble Lord dwelt sadly upon the Russian loan to Persia. It is quite true that in 1900 the Persian Government secured a loan of about two millions sterling from the Russian Bank upon conditions of a somewhat onerous and inconvenient character. But I think the noble Lord was in error when he said that was due to the fact that we had refused to make any advance to the Persian Government. On the contrary, it was well known by the Persian Government at that time that we were willing to give them assistance; but for reasons of their own they preferred dealing with the Russian Government, with the result which we know.

The only other point on which I need say a word is the ques- tion of the position of the Consular service in Persia. As to that, I am bound to say that my impression is that the Consular service has for some years past been undermanned in point of numbers, and also insufficiently equipped in point of that special knowledge which members of the Consular service in remote countries like Persia should possess. Both of these aspects of the case have been dealt with, and I am able to tell the noble Lord that a considerable number of additional appointments have been made during the last two years. In 1900 a Vice-Consulate was created at Bandar Abbas. In the same year a Vice-Consulate was created at Seistan, and this post was raised to a Consulate last year. In 1900, again, we sent a Political Agent to reside at Bahrein. In 1902 a Consular Attaché was appointed at Shiraz; the Consulate at Ispahan was raised to a Consulate-General with an increased salary attached to it, and the salary of the Consul-General at Tabriz was also increased. Those are all improvements in the position of the Consular service; and we are at this moment in consultation with the Government of India as to a proposal to raise the Vice-Consulate at Mohammera to a Consulate, to establish a Vice-Consulate at Ahwaz under Mohammera, to raise the native agency at Kermanshah to a Vice-Consulate, and also to establish a Vice-Consulate at Shiraz.

With regard to the other branch of the question—I mean the question of the training of these officers—two proposals are under examination. One is to the effect that a certain number of Persian studentships should be created to form part of the Levant Consular service. The alternative is that we should create a separate Consular service in Persia. Those proposals are being examined; and I hope that before long I shall be able to announce to the noble Lord that we have chosen one or other of these means for giving our Consular representatives in Persia that special knowledge which, under the present system, they have, perhaps, not sufficient opportunities of acquiring. I have said enough, I think, to show that we are not indifferent to the matters which the noble Lord has brought before the House. If there have been changes of late, I believe those changes have been, on the whole, in the direction of the assertion and the protection of British interests. As time goes on I hope that we may he able to make further progress in the same direction, and that, if the noble Lord returns to the charge, as I daresay he will at some future time, I may be able to report to him that we have been able to take still further means in the direction which he has so much at heart.


I have no particular desire to prolong this discussion, but I cannot help commenting upon what seems to me one unsatisfactory feature. My noble friend has raised a most important question, and the condition of these benches testifies to the apathy with which this question is regarded. There are three ex-Viceroys of India who habitually sit on the benches opposite, but not one of them thinks it necessary to say a word on this subject. I desire warmly to congratulate my noble friend on having elicited from the Foreign Secretary a definite statement, not a statement couched in the vague commonplaces to which we are more or less accustomed, but a statement of great and almost historical importance. The Foreign Secretary has put it on record that His Majesty's Government will regard the acquisition of a naval port in the Persian Gulf as a grave menace to this country, and that such action will be resisted to the utmost of our power. I welcome that statement for this reason—that it always appears to me that the besetting sin of British diplomacy is that, first of all, we are not clear in our own minds as to what we want, and, in the second place, we rarely define what our interests are, and it is not therefore surprising that other countries should be unaware of what we consider to be our interests. In this case, however, there can be no mistake. The noble Marquess has made a most important statement, which I venture to think will go a considerable distance to clear the air and prevent many potential difficulties which might have arisen had a vaguer and more unsatisfactory statement been made. At the same time I should like to re-echo the hope which the noble Marquess expressed that the subject may be recurred to, and, when it is recurred to, the audience may be one of a more numerous, and, I think I might almost say, of a more representative character.


The noble Marquess did not answer the point with regard to the case of the Vice-Consuls who were put down in the Estimates as receiving £660 a year, but who only receive £350 because they are not promoted to the position of Consuls.


I shall be very glad to inquire into the matter, but I am not able to give an answer at present.