HL Deb 10 February 1908 vol 183 cc1306-53

Order of the Day read for resuming the adjourned debate on the Motion of the Lord Curzon of Kedleston that an humble Address be presented to His Majesty for Papers respecting the Convention recently concluded with the Russian Government relating to the respective interests of Great Britain and Russia in Persia, Afghanistan, and Thibet.


My Lords, the noble Lord who initiated this discussion on the Convention with Russia is a practised and eloquent speaker, to whom one always listens with pleasure. I have not that advantage. For forty-seven years of my life I have sedulously cultivated the art of holding my peace, even from good words; and I shall not venture on this occasion to do more than address to your Lordships, as briefly as I can, the few observations which have been suggested to me as a result of a rather prolonged official experience.

For many years successive Foreign Secretaries have been attacked for making no serious effort to come to a general understanding with Russia in regard to the policy of the two empires in the various parts of Asia in which they are interested. I do not think that at any time the fault has been with the Government here. The difficulty has been at St. Petersburg, where the dominant political party has been unwilling to fetter itself by positive engagements except on terms that would have been unacceptable to us. They have preferred to let matters slide under the conviction that events were working in their favour, and that they had something to gain, and at all events nothing to lose, by delay. It is only recently that there has been a change in this respect, and whatever criticisms may be passed on the details of the Convention, it is, at all events, satisfactory as an indication that the Russian Government have been led to believe that it is to their advantage as well as to ours that the two countries should endeavour to work in harmony rather than in a condition of constant rivalry and at times of only half-suppressed antagonism.

The Convention is of necessity a compromise, and a compromise is rarely at first sight attractive to either of the parties interested. It cannot ordinarily be attained, as so many people seem to suppose, by generously conceding whatever you think unimportant, while carefully retaining everything to which you attach any real value. As Lord Granville once tersely put it— It is of no use going to market unless you put some eggs in your basket. We have obtained in this Convention positive and permanent engagements in regard to Persia and Afghanistan which the Russian Government have hitherto been unwilling to give except in the form of rather fluid assurances in the course of correspondence and conversations. It is true that these assurances have been frequently repeated, but it is also the fact that the Russian Government have quite candidly stated that they must be regarded as subject to modification under change of circumstances. The mere fact of repeated renewal is an indication of the temporary nature of the assurances. One does not constantly renew a permanent engagement. It stands to reason that we were bound to offer in return similar engagements sufficient to induce the Russian Government to enter willingly into the bargain and to abide by it strictly and unreservedly. The whole value of such an agreement depends on the spirit in which it is observed.

The arrangement with regard to reserved zones of interest in Persia, which has been so sharply criticised, has no doubt been so framed as to offer such an inducement. Some of my colleagues and I once explained to a former Prime Minister the line which, in the opinion of British experts, divided Northern from Southern Persia. He looked at the map and observed— Well, gentlemen, I do not wish to dispute your superior knowledge, but to an uninstructed mind Persia seems to hare a remarkably high waist. That line has not been followed on the present occasion, and most of us may think that the waist of Persia has been put too low.

But there seems to be a good deal of misconception as to the real nature and effect of this part of the Agreement. In the first place, it does not protect either Government from the competition of other countries in any part of Persia. No one is bound by the arrangement except the two parties themselves. In the second place, both Powers have bound themselves to the principle of equal opportunities for the commerce and trade of all nations. There can, therefore, be no question of differential tolls or charges in any concessions obtained from the Persian Government by either of them. Thirdly, all existing con cessions are expressly maintained by Article III. of the Convention, and British subjects and companies already possess several valuable concessions within the Russian zone. Fourthly, although it is true that this country is bound not to oppose Russian applications for concessions within what I may call the neutral zone, the Russian Government are equally bound not to oppose British applications for concessions within that zone. In the event of rival applications the two Governments will be bound to come to an understanding, instead of proceeding on the detestable system of secretly working against each other. The arrangement is, in fact, an expansion of one concluded by the late Lord Salisbury in 1899, with regard to the railway interests of Great Britain and Russia in China. I have never heard complaints that that Agreement had operated disastrously for British railway enterprise in the districts affected by it, and I cannot help thinking that the gloomy anticipations which have been expressed as to the results of the present arrangement ace somewhat exaggerated.

Russian commercial enterprise in the North of Persia has always had a considerable advantage over all competitors from the fact, not only that Russia by her geographical position has the power of exercising great political pressure at Teheran, but that the Russian Government has been always ready to spend large sums of money from the Imperial Treasury in aid of such enterprise. The Russian Government have guaranteed large loans, they have established a bank at Teheran, with the Russian State Bank at its back, and they have spent several hundred thousand pounds on the construction of roads from the Russian frontier and from the Caspian to the capital and into the interior. Such a policy is contrary to our practice and tradition. The Treasury have never been willing to incur pecuniary liability on account of Persia, and it was only with difficulty that they were induced for a few years to obtain from Parliament a very moderate subsidy in support of the steam packet service on the Karun. The Foreign Office has been expected to turn out a full tale of bricks with the most beggarly allowance of straw. We have constantly been abused for apathy and indifference when it really seemed to me surprising that we have managed so well as we have. I do not suppose that our financial policy will be materially altered in that respect, and so long as it is maintained I am not at all sure that British commercial enterprise will suffer seriously by being concentrated on the development of existing concessions, and on such new undertakings as may present themselves in the field still open to it.

It has been asked why the Convention contains no provision recognising the special position and interests of Great Britain in the Persian Gulf. If I may be allowed to speak as an aged official with considerable experience in the preparation of such documents, I should say that this matter was not very suitable for insertion in a Convention. The special interests of Great Britain in the Gulf are matters of fact, but they are not very easy to define, the less so because they seem to me to be always expanding, and definition might be found to operate by way of limitation. I see in Sir Edward Grey's despatch a statement that His Majesty's Government will continue to direct all their efforts to the preservation of the status quo on and in the Gulf. That is an announcement quite suitable in a despatch, and it has a general broad meaning which is quite sufficient. But I do not envy anyone the task of defining accurately the territorial status quo of the shores of the Persian Gulf in a manner that would be acceptable to the parties immediately concerned. I believe it to be incapable of accomplishment. I do not see how the Government could ask Russia to accept as fixed that which is really in a state of flux and development; and experience has shown that engagements by one or two Powers to abstain from certain modes of action or intervention in seas or on coasts which are open of access to other Powers not parties to the arrangement are apt to be very inconvenient and embarrassing.

Well, my Lords, in the presence of so many ex-Viceroys of India, and ex-Governors of Indian Presidencies, your Lordships will not expect me to have the audacity to discourse to you on the subject of Afghanistan. I leave that subject to others better qualified.

In regard to Tibet, I will only say that, however distant the Russian frontier may be from that country, Russia has undoubtedly the means of exercising considerable influence there, not necessarily in a manner conducive to our interests; it is surely a matter of ordinary prudence that we should come to an arrangement to avoid the risk of antagonistic influence in a region where we desire to avoid any necessity for active intervention. The noble Lord has, I think, done a real service in subjecting the critical Convention to critical examination, and eliciting explanations on many points on which explanations were desirable. I may be biassed in favour of my former Department, but after listening to the discussion I do not see much reason to fear that any of the provisions of this Agreement will operate seriously to our detriment.

We are however, I think, agreed that the Agreement should be judged as a whole, and viewed in that light it has great claims to be regarded with favour. It is an endeavour on the part of two Great Western Powers most interested in Asia to put aside small jealousies and suspicions, to come to an agreement on points on which there is danger of conflicting policies, and to work together in the cause of progress and civilisation. It is to this, and not to any previous assurances or to any specific engagements in the Convention that I attribute the fact that the two Powers have been able to adopt a united attitude during the recent disturbances in Persia. If that happy disposition continues it may save both countries much anxiety and expense, and I hope I shall not be considered too romantic if I add that it may largely increase their influence for good. For such objects it is worth while to make considerable sacrifices, and I cannot think that those actually made in the Convention are excessive.


My Lords, I am sure it has given your Lordships great pleasure to listen to the speech which has just been delivered by the noble Lord, whose great knowledge has been placed at the disposal of successive Foreign Secretaries to the great advantage of the country. The weight of opinion, especially of Indian opinion, in this House is so great—it has been illustrated, not merely in this debate, but in the debate initiated by Lord Ampthill last week, in which for the first time, I presume, in the whole history of this Assembly five Members of the House who had filled the office of Viceroy and the ex-Commander-in-Chief in India were heard—that it is difficult to rise and take part in this discussion; and I should certainly have felt absolved from troubling your Lordships even for a few moments to-night had it not been for the speech which was delivered by the noble Lord the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs in the course of the debate on Thursday.

I do not think anybody would be surprised that the Under-Secretary should have entrenched himself as far as he possibly could in replying to the very powerful indictment which was levelled against the Convention, and it was also most natural, I think, that so far as was possible the noble Lord should have relied upon the opinions left on the records of the late Government. In principle, I think every member of the late Government would be ready to give assent to the course which has been taken by the present Government. But in detail I think the noble Lord carried us, or attempted to carry us, a little too far and I am not sure that he would not have had even a stronger position if he had relied more than he did on the general difficulty of concluding such a Convention at all, on which something has just been said by the noble Lord on the cross benches. Any one who discusses this question must do so from the standpoint that in politics, especially in Asia, the great nations are drawing closer together, the opportunities of attack and of collision have become greater in each successive decade, and unquestionably the effects of that change are far-reaching; and, if I may venture to go a step further, I would say that especially is that the case between this country and Russia.

Russia has been for a long time an advancing nation in Asia. On the other hand, it was said with great force on Thursday last that it can be a proud boast that for 150 years we have not taken a strip of territory in Persia, or indeed, in Afghanistan. The Russians, again, regard the marching forward of their outposts as a strength. The tendency of late years on our part has beer: to consolidate that which we have already, and to regard expansion in some cases rather as a weakness than as a strength. I might go a step further and say that, whatever the internal conditions in Russia, money has never been wanting to back what may be thought necessary in regard to extension; while in regard to the Indian Exchequer, every rupee taken away from the growing needs of India in education, in railways, in public works or in sanitation, has had to be accounted for to the House of Commons. Between two nations taking such a very different view of their responsibilities and national interest, it is not difficult to see that to come to any accommodation at all on such a point would not be very easy.

From my own comparatively small experience I can corroborate what fell from the noble Lord. When I went to the Foreign Office in 1898 the mind of the late Lord Salisbury was much set on coming to some arrangement with the Russian Government with regard to Asia; when I left the India Office seven years later, although that wish had been as much if not more in the mind of Lord Lansdowne, I do not think it could be said that we had come within sight of any such agreement. When the noble Lord opposite said practically in terms that if we had attempted any further demands it might have proved fatal to any Agreement at all, I could not help remembering the principle to which Lord Salisbury held very strongly—that in such an Agreement we must keep our eyes solely on what concerns this country, and must not turn too critical an eye on the benefit which might be obtained by some body else, unless that benefit was obtained at our expense. If we could keep that in view, it not inconsiderably clears the issue.

In international matters I would submit that we cannot draw up a commercial balance sheet. I remember, if I may give an illustration, that a gentleman whose estate very lately contributed to the rapacity of the Chancellor of the Exchequer one of the largest sums which has been given in the lifetime of anybody here, once told me how he considered his fortune had been built up, and it had some bearing on this question. He said— If I can make a fair profit, I do not jeopardise it by attempting always to get the highest price. If I insisted on the highest price, I should lose my market, and in half my ventures I should fail. When you have safeguarded your own interest do not trouble yourself if someone else is going to make a profit. I think we may apply that principle to these treaties. With regard to the French Treaty, I do not doubt that if we were closely to scan its various provisions we could find a good deal to say as to who had scored the advantage. But I believe that the feeling of this country and of this House would be at this moment to take the broader view. The French Treaty has cleared our way in one sphere and has cleared the way of the French Government in another, and if there is any balance in favour of one or against the other, it has been more than compensated by the increased good feeling between the two countries, by the cessation of irritating episodes, and by the cordial co-operation of the two countries in other spheres of action.

But even admitting that we may look at this Convention from that standpoint, I think the Under-Secretary carried us too far. Look at the question which he put to us with regard to Persia. Lord Fitzmaurice said, very truly, that there had been previous negotiations, or rather proposals, for they hardly amounted to negotiations, with regard to a strip of territory to be secured to this country in Persia as against foreign enterprise; and from that he proceeded to argue that, a similar boundary having been adopted for that purpose, His Majesty's Government were not making a bad bargain in taking that boundary for the purpose of this Convention. Well, I really think that was straining the analogy.


I also pointed out that when that proposal was made, it was part of a proposal under which a very considerable sum of money would have been advanced, at the cost of this country or of India, to the Persian Government, but that we have obtained it as an arrangement with Russia without any loan transaction at all.


The question is whether that sum of money bore any relation whatever to the concessions which have had to be made to Russia in order to secure similar concessions to ourselves. The noble Lord has really made my argument for me. Let us look at the fact—


The abandonment of that loan to Persia was never brought in as a matter of pounds, shillings and pence, in connection with this Agreement. We have now obtained, as part of this arrangement, a boundary viewed very favourably by the Departmental Committee to which I alluded, and which was originally proposed as part of a series of loan transactions, the abandonment of which as a matter of principle we consider to be a good thing, because the whole of that policy of loan transactions in which Russia and Great Britain competed in Persia has not, we consider, been in any way justified by the results.


As between ourselves and Russia the arrangement proposed was unilateral and not bilateral. We were to obtain something, in consideration of an advance to Persia, which would ensure for us good relations with Persia at the moment. But there was no question then of the concession of any other sphere. There was no question of the trade routes or the loss of trade, there was no question of establishing a more dominant position for any other power at Teheran, still less was there a question of giving a large strip of country over which, it must certainly be argued, there will be a tendency to advance railways which may come to the Gulf. Let us consider the difference between the former and the present situation. The boundary was not the whole of the former proposal; it was the irreducible minimum without which it was not considered by the late Government that it would be well for us to involve ourselves even in a loan for a moderate amount to Persia. But that irreducible minimum is now given to us at a time when seven out of the eleven trade routes, and eleven out of the twelve chief towns, are being handed over to Russian influence, and when, if it is desirable that the Persian Gulf should not be connected with the north by railways, the power of entering any protest against such action has to a large extent passed out of the hands of the British Government. That is a totally different bargain from that which was formerly proposed. The best we can say for the arrangement is that we have paid a heavy sum by way of insurance for what I hope will be future peace and good working with the Russian Government.

Then I turn to Tibet. There have been strong differences of opinion as to the precise value to this country of the trade in Tibet, and also of the sacrifices which might be entailed upon us by it. I do not propose to enter into that discussion to-night. All I will say is this, that considering the differences between the Russian frontier and our own, and considering the commercial interests which I understand have been reserved to us, to put Russia in the future absolutely on a par with this country seems to be a concession susceptible, at all events, to some diplomatic compensation in another quarter. But I look in vain for such a diplomatic compensation in the arrangement regarding Afghanistan. The desire of the Ameer and of his father apparently has been to keep Afghanistan clear of external and international politics, as far as possible. We have joined warmly in the view of His Majesty's Government, that so far as possible Afghanistan should be impervious to outside influences, and so far as the negative part of the Agreement goes, as it effects ourselves, I do not think the noble Lord will find much criticism.

But this self-denying ordinance, whether in the negative or positive part, appears to us to be somewhat one sided. We have guaranteed the integrity of Afghanistan, and how to carry out that guarantee has been the subject of grave consideration by our military experts and statesmen. At this moment we are in a position which must be apparent to the whole world. We are guaranteeing a nation which has none of the usual advantages which are necessary to protect it—there are no railways, no ports, no stores, and scarcely any telegraphs. Under these circumstances, to talk of making Afghanistan a place d'armes is out of the question. But the Russian Government for years have made preparations for carrying on any campaign that might be necessary. If we are bound in such a way that any movement of ours, any attempt to prepare Afghanistan against a common enemy, would be regarded as an unfriendly act, there should have been some reciprocal undertaking from Russia in regard to her Asiatic territories.

The same thing may be said with regard to the commercial agreement. We are to enter into correspondence with Russia if any question arises a to commercial agents. But such a correspondence is not always an easy matter, because commercial and scientific expeditions have been for many years past almost the recognised mode of commencing political relations. Therefore, I cannot help wishing that throughout these negotiations in regard to Afghanistan the statement which the Russian Government have made over and over again and which has been quoted in this country continually—namely, that Afghanistan is outside the sphere of Russian influence—had been hung up in red letters in the Foreign Office as the guiding principle upon which such concessions should be made. However much sympathy noble Lords on this side of the House may have with the general scope of the Convention, we cannot help having doubts and misgivings as to the actual manner in which it has been carried out, though I hope these will not be regarded as proceeding from any lack of patriotism or from any Party considerations.

We recognise the objects of His Majesty's Government as identical with our own. However much we may regret that the Persian Gulf is left outside the scope of the Convention, we take note of the language used by Lord Fitzmaurice as being as firm and direct upon that point as was the well-known utterance of the noble Marquess behind me (Lord Lansdowne), to which we rigidly adhere. We recognise also that in all these details, local feelings and local considerations must to some extent give way to the wider effects of foreign policy, and how necessary it is in concluding a Convention at all to keep our eyes, not merely on the present, but on the future. Perhaps the agreement between the two sides on this question is a greater national asset than any in our foreign policy during the past twenty years. We have had a great increase in our territory, our armaments, and in the solidarity of our Colonies and Empire generally, but I submit that these would have been useless if not accompanied by that putting aside of Party in foreign matters which has been the greatest change within our recollection.

Thirty years ago I remember, while standing on the steps of the Throne, hearing a debate on Afghanistan in which the noble Marquess who sits opposite took part, and in which there was apparently the same bitter feeling existing between the two Parties as prevailed at that time on almost every question of foreign politics in the Near and Par East. I believe that door of difference is closed. We hope it is permanently closed. We realise, even if we cannot agree in all the details, that a great step forward has been taken by this Agreement in the direction of those understandings and alliances which were happily inaugurated by the late Foreign Secretary; and I trust His Majesty's Government will acquit us of any desire to take a narrow view of the Convention if we cannot agree with all the details, just as we acquit them of not having taken a wide view. We fully recognise that they have taken the widest view, even though they have had to make concessions which in some respects we regret; and I believe there is no Party in this country, least of all those who sit on this Bench, who, having regard to the great issues which are at stake in the matter, will not use this Convention to the very best advantage for the national safety and for the security of our Eastern Possessions, hoping that what we have conceded may at least have the effect of binding us more closely to our neighbours, and securing so far the peace of the world.


My Lords, I wish to make a few observations on this very important Treaty. In the first place, a question has been raised with regard to our trade relations with Persia. Our trade relations with Persia have been placed on an absolutely secure footing by the Treaty of 9th February, 1903. By that Treaty we have obtained the same right as the Russians to object to any alteration to our detriment in the Persian tariff. That was a right which we did not possess under the Anglo-Persian Treaty of 1857. Therefore, as regards our trade we are in exactly the same position as Russia, and this Treaty does not alter any facilities or rights we have under existing Treaties. The ordinary trade of the country will continue as at present.

With regard to the line of demarcation of the Russian sphere, as has been pointed out in his speech by the noble Lord who represents the Foreign Office, the line simply acknowledges existing facts. There is no concession made and no advantage gained which is not already, to a certain extent, at all events, possessed by Russia; and the line of demarcation of our sphere gives us what is most essential to our interests. The argument has been used that Russia can extend her railways to the West of Bandar Abbas, but what prevents us, in case Russia is making railways from Teheran either to Yezd or to Ispahan, from obtaining concessions which will link up at Yezd and Ispahan the railways in the South under our control. Obviously the whole question of construction of railways will be one for further negotiation, for further consideration by our Government, by the Russian Government, and by the Persian Government, and in any case the development of the Persian railway system will be to the advantage of Persia. As for the idea that the extension of the Bagdad railway should necessarily be under our control, I do not think that has ever been contemplated. The fact mentioned by my noble friend Lord Fitzmaurice, that the Imperial Bank of Persia approves of the Treaty, seems to me to be very important. I was pleased to hear from the noble Viscount who has just sat down, that with regard to the Persian Gulf, he fully accepts the declaration which was made by the Government, and in that respect there is absolute unanimity of opinion that our position should be maintained. The unsettled state of affairs in Persia indicates the great value of a definite settlement with Russia of our relative spheres of influence and excludes friction at Teheran which has been so mischeivous in the past.

I now approach the question of Afghanistan. The Treaty, in Article I., gives us with regard to Afghanistan an engagement by Russia that it is outside her sphere of influence, that all her political relations shall be conducted through the intermediary of His Majesty's Government, and that Russia will not send any agents into Afghanistan. It has been contended that this is not a concession on the part of Russia because declarations to that effect were often reiterated before. As my noble friend Lord Sanderson has pointed out, the very fact that these declarations were reiterated shows of what advantage it is that at last they have been embodied in such a form in a Treaty that it will not be necessary in future to elicit further declarations on the subject, and it is quite clear that any departure from these pledges by Russia which we need hardly coil-template would constitute a state of things which would absolve us from any obligation we may have undertaken in the Treaty, and would set us completely free in order to deal with the defence of Afghanistan in accordance with our pledges.

Then I come to the provision, in Article III., for the settlement of local questions of a non-political character. Those questions are the result of the conditions on the frontier of Afghanistan and Russia, where cultivation on both sides gives rise to disputes about irrigation, grazing and cattle thieving; and it is clear that these questions can be better dealt with by local officials. The sooner they are settled on the spot the less likelihood there is of further complications arising. Obviously, if they degenerated into something more serious, then the local officials would ask for instructions from the Ameer, who would either send instructions which would settle the dispute or if need be refer to us for assistance in their settlement. The character of the region on the Russo-Afghan frontier is entirely different from that on our frontier, where we have to deal with turbulent tribes and a mountainous district, and where, if difficulties arise, they are generally of a nature which makes it desirable that they should be dealt with by the Ameer; and they are not, as a rule, disputes which can be settled by local officials. There is nothing in the Treaty, however, which prevents the Indian Government from making an arrangement with the Ameer that minor disputes should also be settled by the local officials.

With regard to the question of trade, the tariff of Afghanistan is of rather a primitive nature, and we know that the great impediment to trade consists in the prescriptive right of towns in Afghanistan to levy octroi duties, of which they make considerable use, and it is not likely that those duties will for the present disappear. A certain duty is levied on each camel, and an additional ad valorem duty on the goods carried which varies. Any trade advantages we may obtain will be enjoyed by Russia, and it is obvious that any advantages Russia may obtain will accrue to us. With regard to the admission of commercial agents, the Treaty distinctly says that the Ameer's sovereign rights are safeguarded. Therefore if the Ameer does not wish these agents to be appointed, there are no means under the Treaty to force them on Afghanistan; but if, on the other hand, the Ameer concedes to Russia the introduction of such agents, then under the Treaty we obtain the right to be consulted, and therefore it can only be done under an agreement with us. It seems to me that the Treaty fully safeguards the interests of both the Ameer and of ourselves in the matter. I cannot see that the Ameer has any reason to object to this Treaty, which gives him every security and leaves his sovereign rights untouched; and I cannot conceive how it could have been possible to make the Ameer a third party to the Agreement. It was essential that any negotiations with Russia had to be conducted between the Russian Government and ourselves, and that we could not consult the Ameer, who, under an Agreement which dates from the year 1880, is, as regards his foreign policy, to follow the advice of the British Government, and if ever there was a question in which that advice should be accepted, surely it is in a matter of such vital importance to Afghanistan as an amicable adjustment of our relations with Russia.

Now with, regard to Tibet, it has been asked what interest Russia had in Tibet. I may, perhaps, refer to a Despatch from the noble Marquess the late Foreign Secretary to Sir Charles Scott of 8th April, 1903. In that Despatch Count Benckendorff stated that Russia "regarded Tibet as forming a part of the Chinese Empire, in the integrity of which they took an interest, and he hoped that there was no question of any action on our part in regard to Tibet which might have the effect of raising questions of this kind." Now, if Russia takes an interest in the integrity of China, certainly our interest in the integrity of that country is not less; and if the Treaty establishes with regard to the integrity of China an identical policy between this country and Russia, it may be considered a very great, and I should say, an additional advantage. There is the further question of the Buddhist pilgrims.' There is no doubt that there was a possibility that the pilgrimages might be used for political ends. Such intrigues are, by this Treaty, prohibited, because the Treaty distinctly states that Buddhists may enter into direct relations on strictly religious matters with the Dalai Lama and the other representatives of Budd- hism in Tibet, but that the Governments of Great Britain and Russia engage, as far as they are concerned, not to allow those relations to infringe the stipulations of the present arrangement. Besides, I do not see how it would have been possible for us to interfere with these pilgrims, and it is well-known that Russian policy is identical with our policy, namely, to protect the interests of its subjects in any country to which they may be going.

As to our trade with Tibet, the Treaty distinctly maintains any commercial privileges given to us by former Treaties with Tibet and China, and it secures direct relations between the British commercial agents and the Tibetan authorities. Under Article II. of the Convention between Great Britain and Tibet, of 7th September, 1904, a free right of access is secured to markets at Gyantre and Gartok as well as Yatung, and, in addition to establishing trade marts at the places mentioned, the Tibetan Government undertakes to place no restrictions on the trade by existing routes, and to consider the question of establishing fresh trade marts under similar conditions of development if trade requires it. Therefore it is quite clear, under Article II. of this Treaty that the trade privileges we have under the Treaties with Tibet and with China are perfectly guaranteed, and that the situation remains exactly what it was under those Treaties. It is true that the; Treaty excludes representatives in Lhassa, but that is in accordance with the policy of the late Government. It would clearly not be to our advantage to have a Resident at Lhassa, who would be confronted by the Chinese Amban, and complications might, therefore, arise which are avoided by our dealing direct with China in any negotiations.

As to the declaration with respect to our occupation of the Chumbi Valley, I cannot see that it is derogatory to our dignity. We are, in fact, only repeating a declaration which we had already made, and we are in that respect doing exactly what the Russian Government did in reiterating its declarations about Afghanistan. If it was not derogatory to the dignity of Russia to make these declarations, I do not see how it is derogatory to our dignity that we should simply have reaffirmed a former pledge.

I admit that it is not difficult to criticise this Treaty. Nothing is easier than to say that you could have made a better Treaty, but the question is whether, if we had insisted on more favourable conditions, we should have obtained any Treaty at all; and I venture to ask your Lordships whether the fact of having a Treaty with Russia is not of such importance that the great result which has been attained is well worth any concessions which may have been made. For years statesmen here, and also perhaps in Russia, in a minor degree as was pointed out by Lord Sanderson, have been of opinion that for both countries it was almost imperative to come to some friendly understanding. Those who have been connected in any way with the Government of India know, as the noble Viscount pointed out, what the result was of the constant apprehension of Russian aggressiveness with regard to our policy in India. Therefore we can give a cordial welcome to a situation in which we shall no longer be watching on either side of the frontier with a feeling of rivalry and suspicion whatever is done on the other side of the frontier; and if this Treaty is carried out in the spirit in which it is concluded, it will have a most beneficial influence on Asia, half of which was kept in a state of suspense by this irritating and dangerous friction. Moreover, there is no doubt that the tension which existed in our relations with Russia in regard to Asia had a reflex action of a most detrimental character on international relations in Europe. I think, therefore, that we have every reason to approve of this Treaty which initiates a new era in the conduct of our foreign relations, not only in Asia, but also elsewhere.


My Lords, the speeches we have heard to-night and those we listened to last week have differed very widely as to the merits of this particular Convention, but I do not think that any one has been found to say that His Majesty's Government were not perfectly justified in endeavouring to dispose of outstanding difficulties with Russia by an agreement of some kind. I hope that this practical unanimity may be taken as reflecting the judgment of the country.

It seems to me that the time has undoubtedly come when agreements of this kind are really inevitable, not so much because our policy has changed but because the circumstances of the case have altered. The stronger Powers, partly owing to aggressive tendencies, partly in order to safeguard themselves against remote attack, have advanced, I will not say their frontiers, but the limits of their spheres of activity, until there is very little of the surface of the globe which is not overshadowed by the proximity of some great Power. Their outposts are within sight of each other, and an act of indiscretion on the part of a local agent, a blunder, or a piece of impetuosity on the part of a soldier, may give rise to a conflagration in which the whole civilised world may be involved.

Nor is it less true that the attitude of the weaker communities has changed in recent years; they are better organised, better supplied with information, and, as my noble friend on the cross benches said the other evening, more liable than they were to the impressions of those waves of restlessness that from time to time pass over an Oriental community. It follows that they are better able than they used to be to take advantage of the rivalries of their more powerful neighbours. I do not know anything more unedifying than the competition of two Great Powers for the favour of a weaker Power. Their methods, whether they resort to cajolery, or intimidation, or bribery, are none of them of a very satisfactory or dignified description, and all of them have a feature in common, that they render it easy for the weaker Power which is the object of these attentions, to play a part which has for weak or corrupt Governments a special fascination, the part of tertius gaudens.

I believe, therefore, that the people of this country are ready to welcome any International Agreements which will have the effect on the one hand, of diminishing the prospect of international conflict, and, on the other hand, of relieving their Government from the somewhat sordid and expensive rivalry of which I have just spoken. Most of us will, therefore, be found, for a fairly good Agreement of this kind, willing to pay a liberal price and to make sacrifices on points of secondary importance, and most of us will be ready to regard an arrangement of this kind as a whole and not merely in respect of its effect upon those particular regions in which the contracting Powers are brought into immediate contact.

I pass now to that part of the Convention which has reference to Persia, and let me say that in no part of the world has the rivalry to which I have referred taken a more unedifying form than it has in Persia. The representative of the Foreign Office told us the other evening that he had reason to know that the predecessors of the present Government had for many years past been in favour of some general arrangement with Russia of the kind embodied in this Convention. I believe that is perfectly true, but he must be aware that in those days, although we were willing, the Government of Russia apparently were by no means prepared to come to terms with us. At any rate, I will venture to say this, that this particular arrangement in regard to its different elements is entirely new, and so far as I am aware, entirely unlike any previous proposition entertained by the late Government.

So far as Persia is concerned, this Agreement is based on the division of Persia into three spheres. Now, I do not think anyone will have the courage to say, not even my noble friend had the courage to say, that these spheres are described in a manner favourable to this country. He based his argument rather upon the statement that the spheres were described in a manner corresponding to the existing facts. Now, what are the existing facts? Stated in the broadest way are they not these? Russia has a strong and acknowledged predominance in Northern Persia. My noble friend told the House that in his belief the late Government would have allowed Northern Persia to be within the Russian sphere. That may be true, although we may have something to say as to what is and what is not Northern Persia. Then with regard to Southern Persia, is it not the case that just as Russian influence has been predominant in the north, so has British influence been predominant in the south? The figures given by my noble friend last week, and which I will not recapitulate, established that completely.

Now, does the sphere division as we see it in this Convention at all correspond with the existing facts as I have described them? We have, in the first place, a Russian sphere, which includes a great deal more than Northern Persia, which includes provinces which by no stretching of language can be described as "adjoining or in the neighbourhood of" the Russian frontier. I do not think that can be seriously asserted, and this sphere includes nearly the whole of the principal Persian cities and nearly all the great trade routes. Then we come to the British sphere. Now, I am not going to deny for a moment the strategical value of the British sphere; but from other points of view it compares very unfavourably with the sphere allotted to Russia. But between the two is the neutral sphere in which each of the two Powers is to have a free hand, and in theory no doubt that is an arrangement fair to both parties; but how is it likely to work? Is it not more than probable that Russia, based on her strong position in the northern sphere, holding as she will all the great lines of communication from the north, and the whole of the important cities which are the termini of the trade routes—is it not humanly certain that she will compete with us in the neutral sphere upon terms extremely advantageous to her and extremely disadvantageous to us?

It is quite true that, under this Convention, existing British concessions wherever they are found will be safeguarded. My noble friend on the cross benches has dwelt upon that and has suggested that the stipulation should be sufficient to protect the various important British enterprises which are to be found in different parts of Persia; but although it is quite true that, according to the letter of the Convention we are given a kind of most-favoured-nation treatment, both in the neutral and the Russian sphere, is it not the case that experience has shown that where all the natural advantages are in the hands of another Power, such most-favoured-nation treatment is really of very little value. I hope I may be wrong, but I shall be agreeably disappointed if we do not find that before we are very much older the virtual boundaries of the Russian sphere will extend to the limits of the British sphere, and that the neutral sphere will prove of very little avail to us. Because we must remember that when we are talking of concessions in this matter, we are dealing, not only with commercial concessions, but with concessions of a political character, and we all know the deadly effect with which these hybrid concessions, partly of a commercial and partly of a political character, whether they are for banks, railways, or lines of telegraph—we all know the deadly effect with which they can be used by a Power which is strong on the spot, and which has behind it financial resources greater than our own, which it is able to use, as the noble Viscount behind me pointed out, with a freedom which is not accorded to us under our system of Parliamentary government.

Now just a word in reference to the Persian Gulf. I am sure we listened with satisfaction to my noble friend's announcement that His Majesty's Government stand in regard to this question exactly where we stood before them. I hail that admission with delight. It will proclaim to all concerned that the policy of the late Government in this respect did not represent a passing mood, but was based on the deliberate judgment and opinion of the people of this country. But is my noble friend quite right in thinking that we can wish for no more than the kind of reference to the Persian Gulf which is found in Sir Edward Grey's despatch, with which this correspondence opens? I am anxious to make it clear to your Lordships that my expectations in this matter are not of an exaggerated description. I do not think it would have been possible to insert in this Convention anything like a detailed agreement with the Russian Government in regard to matters connected with the Persian Gulf. It would for example, have been impossible for the two Powers to take upon themselves to deal with the rights of other Powers in the Persian Gulf, but I cannot see why it was impossible for Russia by some distinct acknowledgment to make her own position towards us perfectly clear to all concerned.

Surely, in these cases what usually happens is that notes are exchanged between the representatives of the two Powers. In this case we have no document emanating from the Russian Government. We merely have an announcement that our view of the Gulf question has been clearly represented to and noted by the Russian Government, and an intimation that His Majesty's Government have reason to believe that this question will not give rise to difficulties between the two Governments should developments arise. I am grateful for small mercies. I would much sooner have this than have nothing at all; but, if I am told that it represents the high-water mark of our reasonable expectations, then I respectfully take leave to express my doubt. It seems to me that we are particularly justified in entertaining that feeling, because the whole essence of this Convention is that we are endeavouring to substitute for the obiter dicta of Ministers—for vague assurances given from time to time and sometimes qualified or withdrawn afterwards—a distinct and permanent record of policy of the Governments concerned.

Then, my Lords, as to Afghanistan. Here let me say unreservedly that I welcome heartily the three-fold announcement which the Afghan part of the Convention contains. We have a distinct statement that Afghanistan is admitted by Russia to be outside the sphere of Russian influence, that the political relations of the country are to be conducted through the British Government, and that no Russian agents are to be sent into Afghanistan. To have obtained those admissions is an achievement on which I am ready to congratulate His Majesty's Government. I know it may be said that we have had these principles admitted before by Russian Ministers; that is undoubtedly the case, but those who have followed the history of this question must be aware that we have been constantly told that these various assurances were given with reference to the circumstances of the moment, and that as the circumstances have changed, so the obligatory character and the scope of these assurances must change also. That kind of qualification will be impossible now that we have a contract recorded in a formal document founded upon reciprocal concessions and reciprocal obligations.

My noble friend Lord Midleton called attention to the wording of Article I, which certainly seems to me to require explanation, because, if the second paragraph is taken literally, it does appear to preclude us from allowing the Ameer of Afghanistan to take any measures for the defence of his own country. I feel quite sure that that is not the intention of the clause, and that what is intended is that we should do all in our power to discourage the Afghan Government from organising unprovoked attack upon the Russian frontier. But the ambiguity of the clause as it reads in the English version is much increased by an extraordinary omission in the translation to which I should like to call the attention of the noble Lord opposite. If he will compare the second paragraph of Article I. in the English version— His Britannic Majesty's Government further engage to exercise their influence in Afghanistan only in a pacific sense, and they will not themselves take, nor encourage Afghanistan to take, any measures threatening Russia— with the same paragraph in the French version— Le Gouvernement de Sa Majesté Britannique s'engage, en outre, aà exercer son influence en Afghanistan seulement dans un sens pacifique, et il ne prendra pas lui-même en Afghanistan et n'encouragera pas l'Afghanistan à prendre des mesures menacant la Russie— he will find that whereas in the English version His Majesty's Government engage themselves not to take, nor encourage Afghanistan to take, any measure threatening Russia, in the French version the British Government undertake not themselves to take "in Afghanistan," nor to encourage Afghanistan to take, any measure threatening Russia. The noble Lord will observe the great difference in the sense made by the omission of the words "in Afghanistan." I trust we shall be told why that omission has taken place, and also whether in this case the French or English text is that which is binding upon us.

I wish to say one word in regard to Article II. Article II. is somewhat singularly drawn. It recites our treaty with the Ameer of Afghanistan of the year 1905, and, having recited that treaty, it proceeds to bind us, not to the Ameer of Afghanistan, but to the Russian Government, to observe the terms of the treaty. So far as Russia is concerned that engagement seems to be of a rather superfluous character, because in Article I. we have already declared that we have no intention of changing the political status of Afghanistan, and, as my noble friend pointed out the other evening, these words, on the principle of the greater containing the less, preclude us from annexing or occupying, in contravention of the treaty, any portion of Afghan territory.

But what I suppose to be the real significance of this article of the treaty is, I imagine, to be found in the concluding words of the article. We engage not to annex nor to occupy Afghan territory, but only provided the Ameer fulfils the engagement already contracted by him towards His Britannic Majesty's Government under the above mentioned treaty. I interpret those words to mean that the provisions of the Afghan Treaty remain in force, and that if the Ameer of Afghanistan should fail in meeting his obligations, we are thereupon released not only from our engagement with him, but from our engagement under this Convention to Russia.

A good deal has been said with reference to Article III. of the Convention, and I admit that it deals with a very difficult and delicate point. It is one which came not infrequently under my consideration, and it always seemed to me that it was desirable to make some arrangement for enabling what may be described as petty frontier disputes to be dealt with without the delay and circumlocution involved by a reference of them either to Calcutta or St. Petersburg; but when this matter came before us we always made it clear that in our opinion, before any such arrangement could be come to, it was necessary that there should be some definition of what was and what was not a merely local dispute; that there should be some proper machinery for dealing with those disputes which were of a local character, and above all that it should be a conditio sine qua non in any such arrangement that it had the consent of the Ameer. My noble friend admitted the other evening that the details of this new arrangement would require some elucidation. I do not wish to press for it to-night, but I do hope that the new arrangement, if it is to operate, will be very carefully guarded.

Article IV. lays down the admirable principle that there should be equality of commerce, particularly in Afghanistan. But the principle of equality of opportunity is enforced in a very singular fashion when you come to consider the wording of the Article. The Ameer, under that Article, promises to give Russia any facilities that he gives to us, but he does not promise to give us any facilities which he gives to Russia; and, in the next place, we are made to promise Russia equal opportunity in Afghanistan, where we predominate, but Russia does not promise us any equality of opportunity in those Asiatic regions where she is predominant. A more one-sided application of a sound principle I never came across.

With regard to the Ameer's consent, I thought there was some force in my noble friend's argument that if the whole of this matter had been suspended until such time as the Ameer's consent had been obtained the period of suspense might have been indefinitely prolonged. But I cannot help hoping that the Indian Government have taken some steps, at any rate, for preparing the mind of the Ameer for a transaction of this kind. We know that the Afghan Government are not always easy to lead, and I ask myself what would be the effect upon this Convention, which we are invited to consider as a whole, if the Afghan limb were dropped out altogether, owing to the refusal of the Ameer to give his adherence.

In regard to Tibet we are told that His Majesty's Government have followed in the steps which the late Government laid down for them. Now one word as to those steps. The Tibetan policy of the late Government was perfectly con- sistent; and it has again and again been clearly defined in the Blue-books. It is based on four principles. The first was-that we had no desire ourselves to intrude into Tibet. In the second place, that we had no intention of allowing any one else to intrude into that country. The third principle was that we desired reasonable facilities for our trans-frontier trade, and the fulfilment of the pledges given to us by the Tibetans in 1890, The last principle upon which our policy was founded was this—that owing to our geographical position, and our comparative proximity to Tibet we insisted on maintaining a distinct predominance over the external relations of the Tibetans. To those four propositions we adhered, and we adhered to them, in spite of great provocation, when we were driven by the outrageous conduct of the Tibetans to send an expedition into their country. We demanded reparation for those outrages. When our frontier was violated, we insisted upon a proper settlement of the frontier question. When the pledges given as to the admission of our trade were broken we insisted upon extended trade facilities. When we were ignored and flouted by the Tibetan Government we insisted upon a clause giving us a predominant voice in regard to all that concern the external relations of Tibet. But we never asked for Tibetan territory. We never asked to send agents to Lhasa, nor did we ever ask for the right to interfere in the internal relations of Tibet. That was our policy. This was the policy which we explained with the utmost frankness at the time to the Russian Government, and it is the policy which is embodied in the Tibetan Convention of 1904.

The question I have to ask is whether we may take it that in the view of His Majesty's Government our Agreement with Tibet of September, 1904, remains intact and unaffected by the new Convention with the Russian Government? I hope the answer to tint will be in the affirmative. I should, however, like to call attention to one point in which it seems to me that the Anglo-Russian Convention takes away something from the Convention with Tibet. By Article IX. of the Tibetan Agreement, the Government of Tibet engages that without the previous consent of the British Government no concession for railways, roads, telegraphs, mining or other rights, shall be granted to any foreign Power or the subject of any foreign Power. In the same way no Tibetan revenues, whether in kind or in cash, are to be pledged or assigned to any foreign Power or the subject of any foreign Power. This clause puts a distinct embargo upon Tibetan concessions. It is an embargo which can be raised only by the consent of this country. It is an arrangement which leaves us in a position in which we can raise the embargo or keep it on exactly as we please. Now, if your Lordships will turn to Article IV. of the Anglo-Russian Convention you will find this:— The two high contracting parties engage neither to seek nor to obtain for themselves or their subjects any concession for railways, roads telegraphs, or mines or other rights in Tibet. And in the following article a similar contract is entered into by the two Governments in regard to pledging or assigning any of the Tibetan revenues. I own that at first sight it does seem to me that these two articles imply an absolute prohibition so far as Great Britain and Russia are concerned, a prohibition which prima facie might be held to deprive us of the power of raising the embargo whenever it might suit us to do so, and which pro tanto takes away from this country that position as the tutelary Power upon which we have insisted throughout those negotiations, which is so distinctly recognised in the Tibetan Agreement, and which forms a part of the status quo which, according to the preamble, it is desired to maintain.

I will ask only one other question in regard to Tibet. I see it is stated that orders have been issued for the withdrawal of the British force from the Chumbi Valley. Your Lordships will remember that the British force was to remain in the Chumbi Valley until two things had happened. First, the new trade marts were to be effectively opened for three years; and, secondly, the Tibetan authorities were to comply faithfully with the terms of the Convention of 1904. I shall be glad to have it from His Majesty's Government if it is true that the troops have been ordered to withdraw, that these two conditions have been satisfactorily fulfilled.

I trust that what I have said in regard to the details of this Convention does not go beyond the limit of reasonable criticism, and I am sure that His Majesty's Government would be the last people in the world to desire that they should escape from reasonable criticism. For myself, I fully admit that at some points this Agreement contains stipulations which I regard as of the utmost value. At other points I am bound to say that the balance-seems to me to incline in a marked manner against this country. But a great deal will undoubtedly depend upon the manner in which the Convention is interpreted by the Russian Government. Upon the Russian Government and upon its agents it will depend whether those direct relations which we are now obliged to allow on the Afghan frontier are used for legitimate purposes. Upon them will depend whether the free access which has been given to the Buddhist pilgrims who desire to visit Lhasa is made a pretext for political intrigue. Upon them it will depend whether those British concessions which the Russian Government have bound themselves to maintain in Persia are denied or really receive fair play.

I venture to express my confidence that this Agreement will be loyally and honourably interpreted by the Russian Government. This Convention seems to me to mark the beginning of a new era in our relations with Russia. Let us not forget that it was Russia that sought this Agreement, for until lately we know that she kept us at arm's length. I think we are justified in regarding this as denoting a fundamental change in the Asiatic policy of Russia, and, I hope, a greatly improved disposition towards this country. We have met Russia not only in the case of this Convention, but on other occasions, fairly and straightforwardly. We have done so whether at the moment fortune was smiling or frowning upon her enterprises. Therefore I, for one, am not afraid to say that I am ready to trust Russia to observe this Agreement in a spirit of absolute loyalty. I say that although it contains provisions in regard to which I entertain some misgivings. If it is interpreted in that spirit, then I hope we may look upon it as one which will heal many old sores, which will allay dangerous rivalries, which will draw two great nations closer together, and which will make for what is after all the greatest of all British interests—the interest of international peace.


My Lords, this debate, which, I think, by common consent of the House, would be described as one of extraordinary interest, has been so far conducted entirely by experts. I am sorry to spoil the average which would have been maintained if my noble friend the Leader of the House had been able to be present this evening, but I regret to say that I heard this morning that he is laid up with what, I hope, is not a serious attack of influenza, and that he will, therefore, I am afraid, be unable to be in the House for some days. In these circumstances I must ask the indulgence of noble Lords opposite while I endeavour to reply to the various points which have been raised in the course of the debate.

But before I do so, I hope I may be allowed to take the first opportunity I have had of expressing the pleasure it gives me, both as a political opponent and as a very old personal friend, to see Lord Curzon in the House. It was almost too much to hope that the noble Lord would have been able to take part in the Irish debate on the Address, and it was, therefore, with particular pleasure; that I observed the noble Lord's notice on the Paper dealing with three countries of which he has a greater first-hand knowledge, for we know he has visited two of them and has had political dealings with the third. The noble Lord presented his case, as one would expect, in a manner which was powerful, lucid, and complete, and I, for one, heard his speech with great admiration. If I were to make a criticism on it I should say that, in dealing with the extraordinary mass of detail which he handled, he sometimes seemed to lose sight of the broader aspects of the case; to use a common expression, he sometimes did not quite see the wood for the trees. That was an aspect which was brought out in the speech of the noble Earl who followed him—Lord Cromer—who, with other noble Lords, reminded us that it is important to regard this Agreement as a whole. At the same time, of course, the noble Lord, and any other noble Lord, is fully entitled to draw attention to any detail which seems to him unsatisfactory.

Looking at the matter in its broad aspect, what is the effect on our relations with Russia? I most cordially reecho everything that fell from the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, on that subject. The noble Marquess knows as well as anybody in the House that for ten years past our relations with Russia have been, generally speaking, of a somewhat uncomfortable character, and more than once even threatening. We are glad to know that the carrying out of this Agreement showed, as the noble Marquess has said, a friendly disposition on the part of Russia, and since its conclusion I think it can be said without the slightest hesitation that our relations with that Power are of an infinitely more pleasant character than they were before. The Convention has also been carried through without causing complications in any other part of the world. The noble Lord, Lord Curzon, asked what the opinion of Persia might be supposed to be. We have had no word of protest from Persia on the subject, and it may interest noble Lords to know that a very distinguished Persian statesman within the last few days expressed himself in most favourable terms of the Convention, because he believed that the financial difficulties of Persia had been very largely due to the rivalry between Russia and ourselves in that country, and, although he did not say so, I take it that he meant that the actual effect of that rivalry had been rather to exploit than to develop the resources of Persia.

I could not help thinking that Lord Curzon somewhat under-rated, in the course of his arguments, the actual position which Russia has obtained as regards influence in Persia; and the noble Viscount Lord Midleton, developed what, if I may say so, was a very ingenious argument, to the effect that what I will briefly call the loan transaction might have been carried through, giving us practically all we have at present merely on condition of the loan, and without involving us in any reciprocal obligations to Russia. That may be so, but I should like to ask the noble Viscount, if that had happened, what sort of a position should we have been in to object to Persia's making any independent arrangement with Russia not merely of the present kind, but possibly of a kind more damaging to our interests. That seems to me to answer the point raised by the noble Viscount.

Before this Convention was concluded, what was the position of Russia in relation to Persia? So far as commercial advantages were concerned, noble Lords know that the Trans-Caspian Railway brought Moscow and other great centres of industry into something like immediate relations with Persia. Then Russia, at great expense, had made three very fine roads from her frontier to Teheran and elsewhere. Russia had advanced some three millions sterling by way of loan to the Persian Government. Then, as regards the military position, the Trans-Caspian Railway, of course, consolidated that, and it was further consolidated by the extension of the Caucasian Railway to the Persian frontier. Take another fact—what is called the Cossack Guard. It is called a guard, but it consists of 1,500 Cossacks, led by Russian officers, and it is not merely posted at Teheran, but is distributed in detachments in other parts of the country. All those facts taken together mean a position of great power and influence, and therefore when Lord Curzon seemed to imply, as he appeared to do in the course of his argument, that we were almost in a position to dictate terms to Russia in this matter, he surely was travelling beyond what was justified by the facts of the case.

Then as regards the South—although, as the noble Marquess said, we may have different ideas as to what constitute the North and South of Persia—speaking generally, we have, of course, a paramount position, but, on the other hand, there has been some natural tendency, from the trade development in the North, for Russian trade to extend further South. When the noble Marquess therefore talked of the danger of the neutral zone becoming, as he said, purely Russian, one has to remind him that, after all, we are dealing with more or less accomplished facts, and that if we had attempted to include in the British sphere a part of Persia in which Russian trade was becoming predominant, even supposing that we could prevent the extension of Russian trade, which, after all, by no means followed, we should then have been making an arbitrary and artificial agreement of a kind almost sure to lead to complication and difficulty in the future. To continue as regards the South. Our position in the South is, no doubt, paramount, but it would not now be true to say that Russia has no influence there. Russia, as the noble Lord knows, subsidises a line of steamers to the Gulf, which certainly was not the case when he was travelling in those parts of the world. She has also established Consuls-General at Bushire as well as at Ispahan, and Consuls at Bandar Abbas and various other places in the South.

When we come to this question of the delimitation of spheres, I am inclined to ask my noble friend whether he remembers what the opinion of the Indian Government was on this matter during the time that he was Viceroy. At that time some arrangement of this kind was contemplated as possible, and the Indian Government intimated their opinion of what the sphere was over which Russia exercised a political and commercial influence. That sphere was not the same as this, but in some respects it was a considerably less advantageous one for us than that embodied in the present Agreement. It did not include Ispahan, but it did include the British trade route which the noble Lord mentioned from Khanikin to Teheran.


Is the noble Lord alluding to some Despatch of the Government of India in my day, or to an expression of opinion?


I am alluding to an expression of opinion of the Indian Government.


What form did it take?


I am afraid I must ask the noble Lord to give notice of that Question.


Surely, my Lords, it is hardly fair that the noble Earl, by way of making a point apparently against me, should quote from some expression of opinion which he cannot describe, of the origin of which he is uncertain, and as to which he is not quite certain whether it can properly be attributed to me, but which is alleged to have emanated from the Indian Government during the time of my Viceroyalty.


The expression of opinion emanated from the Indian Government. How far the noble Lord, as Viceroy, was responsible for it I am not in a position to say. But I assume that in respect of this, as of all despatches which emanated from the Indian Government during his time, he would take responsibility. The point I make is this. The noble Lord criticises, as he has a perfect right to do, the line drawn by our Convention. We are prepared to show that the Indian Government at that time favoured, or, at any rate, admitted as a possible line of delimitation, a different line, and one which in some respects was more unfavourable to our interests than that which is now embodied in the Convention. If the noble Lord desires to have that expression of opinion laid on the Table, we shall find no difficulty in doing so.

I will proceed to say what that line did. It included Yezd, over which the noble Lord shed a tear, and it passed through Kerman to a point just north of Seistan. Therefore not only was that sphere larger than that which Russia has now obtained, but it also included a considerable area of the Afghan frontier which is now in its entirety either within the British or the neutral sphere. Of course, the noble Lord is quite entitled to say that that proposition on the part of the Indian Government, if it were a proposition, was made upon the under- standing that the whole of the rest of Persia would fall under our influence, and that therefore this particular line ought not properly to be compared with the line which we have suggested, or, rather, carried into effect, in the Convention, because he would under no circumstances have admitted the principle of a neutral zone, and if his line had been taken we should have obtained a very much larger portion of Persia under our influence than that which we obtain under the existing Agreement. That may be so, but, at the same time we think that the advantage of obtaining, as we have obtained, either a neutrality or an influence along the Afghan frontier very much outweighs considerations of that kind.

But we do not admit that the neutral zone is in itself a disadvantage. There is a tendency sometimes to talk as though this were a partition of Persia. Everyone knows it is not, but language is sometimes used in argument as to the effect upon our commercial position there, as though the partition of Persia were taking place, with the possible results of a partition in the power of injuring trade. As my noble friend Lord Reay pointed out, and as the noble Lord opposite knows perfectly well, our commercial position in Persia does not in substance depend upon this Convention at all, but upon our commercial treaties with that country; and we believe it will be a distinct advantage to have this neutral zone between the two spheres of influence in which the rivalry will be of a purely commercial, and not at all of a political character. The noble Marquess admitted that strategically we had obtained all that he could wish.

On the point of the Persian Gulf, the noble Marquess who has just sat down went so far as to admit that there were very strong reasons for not including any mention of the Persian Gulf in the Convention itself. But the noble Marquess asked whether it might not have been possible to have obtained some definite and authentic declaration from the Russian Government on the subject. As a matter of fact, the Russian Foreign Minister did hand to our Ambassador at St. Petersburg a document explaining that the Russian Government did not deny our especial interests in the Persian Gulf, and a special note of the receipt of that document was taken in the reply to the Russian Foreign Minister. I do not know whether that meets the question of the noble Marquess. Our position in the Persian Gulf is very much that of Russia in the northern parts of the frontier of Persia—it is reserved and regulated by the logic of facts; and whether any further advantage could be obtained by a more formal recognition of that by the Russian Government seems to me to be open to great doubt, having obtained, as we have, the document which I have described.

As regards Afghanistan, I repeat that the advantage to us of having the frontier of that country within the British or neutral sphere is of the greatest possible value. That fact was recognised long ago by Lord Salisbury, who realised what the dangers might be, if the British and Russian frontiers were coterminous on the borders of Afghanistan, in having to deal with any isolated incident of the kind mentioned by the noble Marquess, arising, perhaps, from the imprudence, or even the bad faith, of some subordinate on the spot. It was because of the nonexistence of such a barrier that the Penjdeh incident occurred. I confess, therefore, I do not see how Lord Curzon was able to argue that there was a positive additional danger arising from the arrangements devised under this Agreement. Then the noble Lord went on to say that, after all, this was only the twelfth assurance we had received in relation to Afghanistan, and he could not see that it had much more value than former assurances. That statement has been answered more than once during the debate from both sides of the House. There surely is a very distinct difference between the mere expression of an intention given, as has been said, only while the same condition of things lasted, and a formal instrument drawn up between the Sovereigns and the Governments of Great Britain and Russia.

As the noble Lord knows, difficulties have actually arisen, after several of these declarations have been made, between the Russian Government and ourselves as to the proper interpretation which ought to be put upon those declarations. There was a time, unless I am mistaken, when the Russian Government were not willing to admit that political agents ought to be altogether excluded from Afghanistan. Anything of that kind is now rendered absolutely impossible by the direct veto which is put upon any such interference in the Agreement. Of course, it is open to the noble Lord, or to anyone else, to say that commercial agents may act politically, but how that, under any circumstances, is to be prevented without building a complete wall round the country and denying admission to anybody, it is difficult to see.

Then the noble Marquess asked me one or two questions about the Articles of Agreement with reference to Afghanistan. As regards Article I, the French version, of course, is the one which has to be taken as binding, and if there is any real discrepancy in the English translation the correction will, of course, be made. But I confess I do not see that the sense is otherwise than perfectly clear, as it is obvious that in an Agreement referring to Afghanistan it could only be in Afghanistan that the interference could possibly occur. As to Article II, I take it to be perfectly clear that if the Ameer fails to keep his obligations we are released from ours, and, ipso facto, released from them in relation to Russia in the same way as we are in relation to the Ameer himself. The noble Marquess did not ask me to give him an answer to his question relating to Article III, but the point he raises shall certainly be borne in mind. As regards Article IV, there is no doubt an apparent inequality, but I understand that when the Agreement was being discussed it was not thought worth while to press this point, on the ground that our position in relation to Afghanistan was such that concessions of a kind damaging to us were most unlikely to be given to Russian traders without at any rate our agreement.

Then with regard to Tibet, we are asked how we came to introduce Tibet into this Agreement at all—a country which is so far from Russia and so near to India. That question, I think, has really been answered by Lord Lansdowne. We have only carried out the noble Marquess's policy as explained in the conversation he had with the Russian Ambassador in 1904, and I do not think we have departed from that in any material point. The fact of the Chinese suzerainty over Tibet has never been seriously contested by anybody, and I thought the noble Marquess put it somewhat strongly when he spoke of our influence there as being almost of the nature of another suzerainty. It is perfectly true that our interests in Tibet or in the integrity of Tibet, were of a very special kind, but we have not yet attained, neither have we ever attempted to claim, any joint suzerainty with China over that country. As to the integrity of Tibet, I take it there is no difference of opinion. Mr. Balfour stated in another place that the less we or Russia had to do with Tibet the better, and that, I suppose, is the common opinion of statesmen in this country. But the fact that Russia has been brought into the matter at all was due, as appears from the conversation which the noble Marquess opposite had with Count Benckendorff, to its being part of a larger arrangement affecting our relations with Russia, not only in Asia, but in other parts of the world. That being so, if there was no objection in itself to bringing Tibet into the Agreement with Russia, it was a very good reason for doing so, and I think that, if the Agreement had been carried out by the noble Marquess, the same thing would have occurred.

As regards the pilgrims, Lord Reay explained very clearly that, as a matter of fact, it would be impossible to stop the pilgrimages from the Russian side, and, that being so, it would be futile to attempt to do so by way of agreement. What has happened is that the pilgrimages are placed on a firm footing, and it becomes a duty on the part of Russia to see that they are pilgrimages and not anything else. The noble Marquess opposite has taken some exception to Article IV. I understood the noble Marquess's argument to be that we had agreed with Tibet that no other Power should obtain concessions or in any way interfere in Tibetan matters, and that by joining Russia in a similar declaration we had deprived ourselves of the power of departing from that declaration if we found it necessary to do so. But if, as I believe, the declaration was taken to apply to ourselves just as much as to other countries, I do not see how that point arises. We did not, as I understand, reserve to ourselves the power of entering Tibet to the exclusion of everyone else, and if we exclude ourselves, the mere fact that we agree with Russia to exclude ourselves and Russia does not seem to me to alter the position in the slightest degree. I may say, in reply to the noble Marquess, that it is perfectly true that the Chumbi Valley has been evacuated. It has been evacuated because the conditions for its evacuation have been complied with.

I have made what I fear is a very imperfect attempt to deal with the various points raised in the course of this debate. We believe that this Agreement will stand, as fully as can be expected of any such Agreement, and particularly of one of such a far-reaching kind, detailed examination without its being found possible to pick too many holes in it. We also believe that the Russian Government will loyally carry out its provisions so far as they affect her. We think, therefore, that, considered in its broader aspect, this Agreement will not only tend to the most desirable result of closer amity with Russia, but also achieve what, after all, is the main object of all our diplomacy—the assurance of the peace of Europe, and thereby of the whole civilised world.


My Lords, I must thank the noble Lord for the kindly terms on which he welcomed me to your Lordships' House. I cannot promise him an early intrusion into Irish discussions, although even that is a frontier which I may some day cross. At any rate the noble Lord has provided me with ample material for a short reply in regard to the three countries about which we have been speaking. My Motion in the form in which it was drawn up contained a request for Papers; but understanding from the noble Lord who represents the Foreign Office that His Majesty's Government did not think it desirable to lay any Papers upon this matter, I desisted from that portion of my Motion.

Noble Lords opposite have replied to that act of abstention on my part in a somewhat peculiar and, I venture to think, although I speak without any great experience of this House, in a somewhat irregular manner. Lord Fitzmaurice in the debate the other day quoted at some length from a Paper which appeared to be a Report of a private Committee that sat in the India Office or the Foreign Office during the time I was in India. I do not recollect that Report; nor do I remember the opinion, if any, which I was called upon to give upon it. But the noble Lord quoted it apparently to put me in a difficult position. I submit that the noble Lord ought not to have adopted that course unless the Paper was already on the Table.


I had no wish to put the noble Lord in a difficult position. I only wanted to show that the two lines were practically identical.


The noble Earl has gone even further, because he referred to Papers about the identity of which he was uncertain, and he certainly did quote them in order to put me in a difficult position. His object was to show that while I was in India the Government of India had apparently written a despatch in which they had cither proposed or agreed to a line of demarcation between the Russian and British spheres in Persia.


I had no desire to put the noble Lord in a difficult position. My intention was simply one of self-defence.


I do not know that the noble Lord has been attacked; therefore there was no necessity for his defending himself.


The Government have been attacked.


The noble Earl's object was to show that while I was in India apparently I recom mended a line of demarcation between British and Russian spheres of influence in Persia which disabled me from the position which I took up the other day. I deny that in toto. The noble Earl asked me whether I would accept responsibility for the despatches of the Government of India about Persia. I do, because to the best of my recollection I wrote every one of them myself. I should be very glad indeed if the particular despatch to which the noble Earl alludes, or, indeed, the whole of the despatches which I wrote about Persia while I was in India were laid upon the Table of your Lordships' House. They would show the steady efforts of the Government of India for the affirmation and consolidation of British interests in Persia. As regards the interpretation to be put upon this particular despatch my recollection does not in the least bear out what the noble Earl has said; and I believe that if the despatch were laid upon the Table he would find that a very different impression would be produced.

This debate has produced a number of very interesting and important speeches, but I think I am carrying with me the majority of those who were present on Thursday when I say it has not produced anything in the nature of a reply to the detailed criticism that was passed upon the contents of this treaty. Whenever we have got to close quarters with His Majesty's Government they have taken shelter under the formula that we must not look at the details, but be content to examine the treaty as a whole. They are even ready to admit that they have made a doubtful and perhaps a bad bargain in certain particulars, but they contend that a doubtful and bad bargain is better than no bargain at all. I admit the validity of that contention as far as it goes; but I submit that it is placing rather a considerable draft on our confidence, because it amounts to a claim that we, who know nothing of the negotiations, or of the degree of valour with which the British Government backed up British interests, are bound to accept whatever terms they submit to this country on the simple assurance from them that the result will be more harmonious relations between some other Great Power and ourselves.

It is obvious how immense and dangerous an extension might be given to this plea. We might have some future Government concluding a treaty with France in which they gave up, for instance, the Channel Islands, and they might come here and say: "You must not look at the details, the sum total is that we shall have more harmonious and friendly relations than before." I remember that much the same argument was applied to the cession of Heligoland to Germany, and I cannot say that is an experiment that has been altogether justified in the state of feeling it has produced. Therefore, I do not feel at all inclined to absolve the Government from the duty of answering the criticisms of this treaty point by point.

The fact that so little has been said with regard to the individual clauses of the treaty leads me to think that the task of defence has been found one of great difficulty. May I briefly allude to those points of the criticism directed against the Government which, as it appears to me, have met with no reply at all, or with an unsatisfactory reply? Lord Fizmaurice spent a good deal of time the other day in answering a speech which I did not make. He had evidently studied the views of Professor Vambéry in advance, and imagined that I had used some of his arguments. I am not Professor Vambéry, and I was unfamiliar with his views. That considerable authority, when the fact of the treaty was announced in the newspapers, did most heartily welcome it, but as soon as he saw the terms of the treaty he retracted his approbation and denounced it in rather violent terms.

As regards Persia, one of the points that have been made most strongly from these Benches is that the Russian sphere has been drawn with an elasticity and exaggeration that find no justification in the arguments advanced by the Government; and that it is likely to be inimical to British commercial interests in the future. To that no reply has been vouchsafed except on one point. Lord Fitzmaurice has told us that the trade route from Baghdad, by way of Khanikin, to Teheren, had been included in the Russian sphere because Russia put her foot down and said but for that concession she would not conclude the treaty. Well, that is a very suggestive admission; it rather indicates the spirit in which this treaty was negotiated. One would like to know whether it ever occurred to His Majesty's Government to be in a situation in which it became them to put their foot down and say: "We must have this point conceded or there will be no treaty at all." I very much doubt if the secret records of the Foreign Office contain any mention of an incident of the kind.

The noble Lord said it was only reasonable that this trade route should be handed over to Russia, because when the Germans made their railway from Baghdad to the frontier Russia would desire to make the extension to Teheran. But is not the proposition equally valid that the extension to Banda Abbas should one day be carried forward under British influence? The noble Lord who spoke just now laid much stress on the evidences of Russian interests in the north of Persia; he spoke of roads, of concessions of various descriptions, and of Cossacks—they, by the way, were not bona fide Cossacks, but Persians in Cossack uniform, with a few Russian officers—but none of this evidence of Russian interest has been contested; nor has that part of the treaty handing over the northern part of Persia to Russia met with criticism; where we do feel alarmed is when we leave that sphere and come to the neutral sphere—to the south. Any argument that can be put forward in favour of Russian influence in the north can be more strongly advanced for British influence in the south.

The noble Lord seems to think that the account of the condition of things I gave your Lordships dated from the time when I was in Persia for the first time, fifteen years ago or more. I would not have presumed to have based my statement to your Lordships' House on such ancient, obsolete experience. I was in Persia not five years ago, and I say that, so far from His Majesty's Government recognising facts as they now are as they claim to have done, they have entirely ignored the position that existed at that time. In the whole of Southern Persia British influence was absolutely predominant over the sea; in the ports, on the trade routes that influence predominated, and I cannot understand what reason can be advanced for our exclusion from competition in that part of the neutral zone.

There is one point which has been made more than once, to the effect that British concessionaires will lose nothing by this treaty. Well, I should like to put that to practical test. There is a most important concession in the south of Persia held by a firm, the leading member of which is a Member of the other House, and a supporter of His Majesty's Government. I allude to Mr. Lynch. The route runs from Karum River to Kermanshah, and there is another from Arnaz to Ispahan. On these two routes the firm has spent enormous sums of money, and has been assisted by subsidies from the Home Government and the Indian Government. Under the Agreement these are in the neutral sphere, but the terminus is in the Russian sphere. I would suggest to the noble Lord that he should put the question to Mr. Lynch, one of the supporters of his Government, whether he considers the prospect of the enterprise, to which he has devoted so much money and patriotic energy, is as good now as before the Convention was concluded. I think he will say the prospect is very different.

Upon one point I was glad to hear an explanation. My noble friend and others have been somewhat disquieted at the terms in which the Russian declaration about the Persian Gulf was conveyed. We could not understand why the declaration did not appear with the name of the Russian Minister, but was only included in the form of quotations from conversations. It is gratifying to be told as we were just now by the noble Lord that the assurances were contained in a letter from the Russian Minister to our Foreign Secretary, and I am only surprised that His Majesty's Government did not do us the favour of letting us see the document itself. An argument has been used about the Gulf which I confess I do not understand. What has been said as to the difficulty of making any statement as to our direct interest in the Persian Gulf where other Powers may be said to have interests also has impressed me very considerably. But when the noble Lord and others went on to argue that our position in the Gulf was strengthened by exclusion of mention of the Persian Gulf I confess I could not follow him. I have friends and correspondents on the Persian Gulf, and I am sure if the noble Lord visited that part of the world he would not find a single individual in any responsible position who would say, and I very much doubt if the Government of India would say that our position is strengthened by the omission. I notice that the Russian newspaper Novoe Vremya welcomed the omission of any mention of the Gulf in the treaty on the ground that it might open the way to Russia for the future gratification of her ambitions in that quarter.

And now a word or two in reference to Afghanistan. No attempt of any sort has been made to answer the questions we have addressed to the Government as to the apparent failure to obtain reciprocal right from Russia in respect to trade with the khanates of Khiva and Bokhara, where we have for several years been endeavouring, without success, to obtain concessions. We might have supposed that something would have been said about Chinese Turkestan. What would have been more natural than that we should have recognition from Russia of the rights of our Consul at Kashgar when we were making concessions to Russia; that when we were entering into self-denying ordinances in regard to Tibet we should ask for similar self-denying ordinances from Russia? There were some other points in regard to Afghanistan, but I will not trouble the House with them now.

In regard to Tibet, there has been no attempt whatever to justify the remarkable Article by which we take Russia into consultation about our evacuation of the Chumbi Valley, and the fulfilment or the reverse by the Tibetans of their undertakings with with us. The argument of the noble Earl practically amounts to this: "We have really been carrying out in all loyalty the policy of our predecessors, and it is not for you to object, because we have done nothing more than you would have done yourselves." But can you seriously take that line? I have a series of quotations from conversations between my noble friend and the Russian Ambassador giving more than once the views and intentions of His Majesty's Government, and it is perfectly clear that he did no more than repeat the declaration of intentions made in both Houses. He also more than once repeated the claim that in consequence of our geographical position Great Britain would continue to occupy a tutelary position towards Tibet. That was the claim upon which the action of the late Government and the expedition were based. But has any predominance in Tibet been left to Great Britain by this Convention? The whole point of this part of the Agreement is that Russia is taken into partnership with equal lights to our own. When the noble Earl contends that the late Government, had it remained in office, would have carried out this Agreement, he does an injustice to the late Government which its members have every reason to resent.

The most serious part of this Tibet policy is that disclosed in the speech of the noble Lord when he defined the present policy of His Majesty's Government as a "minimising" policy. That is a diplomatic euphemism for throwing away all the advantages that were gained by the trouble and expenditure of the expedition. I remember in old days that the late Mr. Gladstone once described a retreat of British troops as a strategical movement to the rear, and in this case this minimising policy means that, after having undertaken this great outlay and having been successful, we have replaced China, or rather we have placed her in Tibet in a position she never before enjoyed, and we have left Tibet, with whom we had every prospect of opening friendly relations, to lapse into the condition of monkish superstition and churlish isolation she occupied for so long.

There is one argument on which great stress has been laid outside the House, by the omission of which here I have been much struck, and that is the security of India. There is not one of us who would not hope that the security of our Indian Empire—immeasurably sacred and strategically important as it is—had been fortified and secured by an agreement with Russia. If we could think that, many of us would throw away the doubts with which we have regarded particular parts of this Agreement. But the fact that the Government have made no allusion to that possible result leads me to think that it is one on which they are not inclined to lay overmuch stress themselves. However that may be, I hope that nothing has occurred under this Convention which will induce His Majesty's Government to relax in the smallest degree the efforts to which we are bound for the defence of Indian territory. I hope there will be no reduction of military forces in that country, no reduction by a single rupee in the expenditure to which we are committed for its defence. If favourable results are to ensue from this Convention, I hope that they may be found over the whole sphere of diplomacy.

The noble Lord laid immense stress upon the attitude of friendly and harmonious co-operation which was springing up between Russia and ourselves in consequence of this Agreement in all parts of the world. If that be true, then that attitude between the two Powers ought to be directed to the solution of many questions hitherto at issue between us. Only the day before this debate was opened, I happened to be reading a report of proceedings in another place and I came across this Question and Answer— Mr. Pike Pease asked the Secretary for Foreign Affairs if there were any outstanding cases with regard to compensation for damage or loss incurred by British ships during the Russo-Japanese war. Mr. Rumanian, on behalf of the Foreign Minister, replied: 'My right hon. friend regrets to state that most of these cases are still outstanding. Though His Majesty's Government have repeatedly called attention to the case of the "Knight Commander," and pressed for a reply to their proposal that the matter should be referred to aribtration, no answer has, down to the present time, been received from the Russian Government. His Majesty's Government are also awaiting replies to communications they have addressed to the Imperial Government in regard to the case of the "Calchas," and the claims arising in connection with the detention of the Peninsular and Oriental steamer "Malacca" in the Red Sea. The cases of the "Hipsang," "St. Kilda," "Ikhona," and "Oldhamia" are still pending, in various stages" before the Russian Prize Courts.' It is apparently a very long time that these claims have been outstanding. I venture to say that it would be a most satisfactory test of the relations which His Majesty's Government claim to have set up between the Russian Government and themselves, and a most happy omen for the future, which we all without distinction of party would welcome, if we could have some evidence of the existence of that harmony and co-operation which is the real and sole basis of the treaty concluded by His Majesty's Government.


Does the noble Lord press his Motion?


No, I withdraw it.

Motion (by leave of the House) withdrawn.

House adjourned at twenty-five minutes before Eight o'clock, till To-morrow, half-past Ten o'clock.