HL Deb 25 February 1908 vol 184 cc1519-40

rose to ask the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he was prepared to make a statement with regard to the progress of reforms in Macedonia. The noble Lord said: My Lords, in spite of the commiseration which has been so kindly expressed as regards myself by the Leader of the House, and by his noble relative on the Cross Benches, I can assure your Lordships that I have no intention of delaying you at any length, my sole object being to obtain a full statement of policy from His Majesty's Government. I cannot help, however, remarking upon the changed character of the language which is used in reference to this well-worn subject. On previous occasions, when private individuals like myself have complained that things were not going on in a satisfactory manner in Macedonia, we have always been told that we were inclined to exaggerate the evils of the situation, and that things were really not so bad as we had endeavoured to make out. But I notice a distinct change in the language used this year. The subject had a prominent paragraph in the Speech from the Throne, in which it was stated— The condition of the Christian and Mussulman population in the Macedonian vilayets shows no improvement; the bands of different nationalities continue to pursue a campaign of violence, and the situation gives serious cause for anxiety. That is an assertion which I should think nobody would be prepared to dispute. The next paragraph adds that the Powers were agreed upon the presentation of a scheme for judiciary reform, and that His Majesty's Government had made, or were about to make, proposals to the Sultan, and also to the Great Powers, for the purpose of dealing effectively with the principal causes of disturbance. It is undoubted that the situation as regards the condition of the population has not changed, but remains precisely what it was five or six years ago. Hilmi Pacha, who appears to be the Turkish equivalent for Mr. Birrell, assures everybody that everything is going on in a fairly satisfactory manner, and that if outrages do occur, they must undoubtedly be perpetrated by those who make them the cause of complaint.

We are aware that a collective Note with regard to reform in the Judiciary has been presented, but with what effect we are at present unaware; and we now know that the proposal alluded to in His Majesty's Speech was the proposal that the so - called reformed gendarmerie should be increased to such an extent as to be able to cope with the anarchical conditions which prevail. I venture to express the opinion that, so far as one can judge, this was a perfectly reasonable proposal, although it has been somewhat curtly, if not discourteously, referred to by Baron von Aehrenthal as a proposal of an impracticable nature. As a matter of fact, the so-called reformed gendarmerie have never been able to perform the proper functions of a gendarmerie, which I take to be the protection of harmless populations from malefactors. They have been utilised, if I am not mistaken, chiefly as tax-collectors and as Government messengers, and, owing to various causes, they are not nearly so numerous as was at one time hoped would be the case. I believe they number, roughly, something like 4,000—a totally inadequate force to cope with the sort of work they are expected to do.

As I understand it, the proposal of His Majesty's Government was that the gendarmerie should be largely increased in numbers, and the Turkish Army proportionately reduced. If this were to be carried into effect, it is obvious that the reformed gendarmerie would have to be very largely increased in numbers, because, unless I am very much mistaken, it takes no less than 20,000 regular troops to protect such few railways as exist in, that country; and I think it is only fair to point out that if a reduction is insisted upon in the Turkish force, a corresponding reduction should be required in the case of the neighbouring countries from whom the Turks, possibly not without reason, consider they have something to fear. It is somewhat singular, and, I might add, somewhat ominous, that this proposal of His Majesty's Government does not appear to have received any support from any one of the Powers; and my noble friend Lord Curzon will probably remark with interest that even the conclusion of the Anglo-Russian Convention does not seem to have elicited support for this somewhat modest proposal even from the Russian Government. I think the obvious moral which every one must draw from this is that no Power really feels any genuine sentimental interest with regard to this particular question. As a matter of fact, I believe that, so far as politics are concerned, we are the only sentimental nation in existence. Other nations look upon this question not solely from humanitarian or from sentimental interests, but from the point of view of their own material and political interest.

But what is much more important than the failure of His Majesty's Government is the highly important change, an event of considerable international importance, which has taken place in consequence of the recent action of the Austrian Government. I do not want to speak at length on this point, but one thing is perfectly plain, that this development of Austrian policy has brought the Austro-Russian understanding to an end. The Austrians and the Russians, in this case correctly termed interested Powers, were delegated by Europe in this matter, but this partnership has now come to an end. With regard to the partnership of these Powers, I confess I never was one of those who believed in their altruistic intentions; and I am bound to say I never found anybody, either here or elsewhere, who ever did believe in their disinterested intentions. The only exceptions to the contrary are those noble Lords and Members of Parliament who have to speak for the Foreign Office and some members of the Diplomatic Corps in Constantinople. Whether it was a real or a sham partnership, at all events it lasted ostensibly so long as both parties agreed to do nothing. When, however, one of the parties suddenly discloses the fact that it has been looking after its own interests in addition to what it professed to do, then not only does the partnership suddenly come to an end, but the whole European Concert shows ominous danger of collapsing.

I submit that it is not the slightest use for Baron von Aehrenthal or anybody else to state that the action of the Austrian Government in obtaining this railway concession from the Porte has nothing to do with the so-called reform scheme; and as for the assertion that this is a purely economic and commercial development on the part of Austria, I think that assertion is sufficiently met by the fact that no sooner is it known that the Austrian Government has applied for a railway concession which will put them in direct communication with the Ægean, than we learn that the Russian Government, no doubt with a view to economic and commercial development, is about to press for a concession for a line stretching from the Lower Danube to the Adriatic. That is a sufficient reply to the Austrian assertion that this is purely a matter of economic and commercial concern.

I think there are two inferences which, whatever assertions may be made to the contrary, will be drawn by the world in general as a result of the action of Austria. The first inference is that the Austrian action has had certainly the approval, and possibly the encouragement of the German Government; the second inference—a much more unfriendly inference—which is equally certain to be, drawn, is that this concession has not been obtained from the Turkish Government for nothing; and I think the obvious deduction which we shall draw from the success of this action is that the Austrian Government, in return for what they, have obtained, have undertaken not to put any further inconvenient pressure upon the Turkish Government. It is obvious that the result of Austria's action must be permanently to weaken the force of what is called the European. Concert.

Everything that has been obtained, with regard to the so-called Macedonian scheme of reforms has been obtained by the Powers jointly, although it is only fair to say that German support all along has been of a purely platonic character. What is the position now? It is perfectly clear that although these collective Notes pressing for various reforms may be signed by all the Powers, yet the signature of one Power, possibly of two Powers, is not likely to carry much weight; and I cannot forbear from congratulating the Turkish Government, or the Sultan, or the Porte, or whoever may be responsible for it, upon the remarkable success which has been attained at so small a cost. At the mere trifling cost of giving a concession to survey a railway—a thing which probably was done before—the force of the European Concert has been permanently weakened, and it is quite obvious that a wedge has been driven into it which may reduce its power to a considerable extent.

I venture to sum up these observations by stating what I do not think is an exaggeration, that the result of this action is as follows—the so called Murzsteg programme is practically dead, the European Concert shows signs of something approaching collapse, and, unless I am mistaken—I sincerely trust I am—it looks as if we were about to be left in that position of splendid isolation which, no longer commends itself to anybody in this country. In any case, I venture to think that the turn which events have taken is a justification for my asking for information on the subject from the Government, and I hope my noble friend will be able to give the House a complete statement of policy. At the same time I beg to move for Papers.

Moved, "That a humble Address be presented to His Majesty for Papers with regard to the progress of reforms in Macedonia."—(Lord Newton.)


My Lords, owing to the discussion which has taken place in reference to what I may call the disturbances in Scotland, this discussion upon the far more thorny question of the condition of Macedonia has been postponed to an hour which I feel has placed my noble friend at some disadvantage. In regard to myself, I have to ask the indulgence of the House. I am in the position of having the choice of one of two courses. I might shelter myself under the statement that in all probability will be made in another place, containing a very complete account of the present position of affairs in Macedonia. But, if I were to do that, I think I should be pursuing a course hardly respectful to your Lordship's House, for discussions on foreign affairs have always been regarded, even by the severest critics of this House, as a legitimate and proper sphere for the intervention of your Lordships. So I shall make a statement of a reasonably full description, because I think anything else would at this time be liable to misunderstanding, and, perhaps, be misleading.

I wish that on this occasion I could say something similar to what I said last night in my opening remarks upon the difficult question we then discussed. Last night I was able, with full conviction, to say that, discouraging as many things in the condition of the Congo problem still were, at least we could point to some progress since even the last time when I spoke upon the subject. But I regret that to-night I am not able to give your Lordships any cheerful news in regard to the condition of Macedonia. There are certain broad and general facts to which my noble friend has alluded, and which are not only within his knowledge but within the knowledge of every Member of the House and of the public at large, which indicate that a very critical stage of the question has now been reached, both in regard locally to Macedonia and diplomatically to the Concert of the Powers. That being so, and in order not to take more of the time of your Lordships than I can help, I desire this evening to avoid the mere details of the question as much as possible, and to put before your Lordships certain broad considerations bearing upon the history and the present position of this question as a whole.

I do not desire to travel too far back. I am content to remind your Lordships that after many attempts had been made under the terms of Article 23 of the Treaty of Berlin to relieve the population of Macedonia, in one of which no loss, I am sorry to say, than twenty-seven years ago I was myself concerned, the state of things in Macedonia, owing to the failure of the Powers to induce the Porte to carry out the terms of Article 23, had again become so bad and so great a scandal that all the Powers, in greater or less degree, came to the conclusion, at the time when my noble friend opposite was Secretary of State for Foreign Affair, that some attempt must be made to introduce improvement into these regions, the condition of which was becoming a danger and a scandal to Europe. The proposals which at that time my noble friend formulated, I think I may say with general consent, and which were adopted as the policy of this country, were, broadly speaking, these. I go back to 29th September, 1903. My noble friend then put it on record that it was the opinion of the Government of this country that the true remedy for the troubles in Macedonia was the appointment of a Governor-General, no doubt by the Porte, but with the approval of the Powers, and not removable except with their consent It is no doubt perfectly true that a suggestion of that kind can be traced to an earlier date, but I take 29th September, 1903, as the date when the suggestion hardened into a despatch and was put into the forefront of this great controversy.

There were other and smaller, though no doubt important, reforms also put forward by my noble friend. All these suggestions are to be found in the succession of despatches with which the name of my noble friend is identified. They include proposals for the establishment of a Financial Commission enjoying a certain measure of independence of the Porte, and for the establishment of courts of justice organised on a proper basis and possessing that essential element, a secure tenure for the Judges. In addition, there were proposals constantly put forward by my noble friend for the organisation of a proper gendarmerie outside the control of the Government at Constantinople. These proposals were the subject of discussion among the Powers from the end of 1903 to the end of 1905. The Austrian and the Russian Governments, by the well-known arrangement between them, claimed to be specially interested in the introduction of these reforms, or some of them, into Macedonia, and it was the policy—I think the wise policy—of the late Government of this country, while not completely admitting the right of these two Powers to have an absolute prerogative voice in the matter, to go as far as possible in inviting them to take the lead, as undoubtedly they were more concerned, on account of their geographical position, in the good administration of Macedonia than this country could be said to be.

There was, as usual, a considerable amount of difference of opinion among the Powers, but the ultimate result was that the Concert of Europe, which was, on the whole, successfully maintained, succeeded, after having to use a very considerable amount not only of moral pressure, but of pressure in the form of a naval demonstration, in inducing a reluctant Sultan and an unwilling Porte to consent to the establishment at Salonika of a Financial Commission at the end of 1905, with financial powers set out and defined in the document known as the règlement. It is no doubt perfectly true, and we must not forget it, that jettison had had to be made, before agreement could be maintained and made effective, of much of what the late Government and the people of this country desired to see. The question of the appointment of an independent Governor-General never reached a very prominent place in these discussions; the judicial reform had unwillingly to be abandoned for the moment; and as to the establishment of a gendarmerie and the reduction of Turkish troops—two things which more or less, as my noble friend has truly suggested, hung together—they were only made effective up to a certain point. Nevertheless, there can be no doubt that the règlement, or organic Statute, of 1905, which came into force almost at the same time that there was a change of Government here, did show a very marked stage in advance.

It was the duty of the Government which succeeded that in which my noble friend was Foreign Secretary to do everything in its power to make these limited reforms effective. Here I must say that I am inclined to think that sometimes, not on the part of noble Lords opposite, but of some of my own political friends, there has been a little want of appreciation of the position of the present Government when we came into power. I have sometimes heard language used and seen suggestions made by letter as if it would have been quite a natural course, indeed a right and obvious course, for Sir Edward Grey, directly he arrived at the Foreign Office, to have treated the organic Statute of 1905, as an insufficient and unsatisfactory document, and immediately to have reopened all those questions which had been discussed during 1903–5. Your Lordships are perfectly cognisant of the fact that if Sir Edward Grey had done anything of the kind he would only have thrown away the harvest which the patient diplomacy of my noble friend opposite had reaped, without gaining anything additional himself.

It was our first duty to get everything possible out of the organic Statute of 1905, and the Foreign Office did everything it could in the period immediately following to give reality to the reforms. We did succeed, as I explained to your Lordships a year ago, in obtaining by our own patient diplomacy one very valuable thing, for we made it a condition of the 3 per cent. increase of the Customs that a large proportion of the increased revenue should be paid over to strengthen the Treasury of the Finance Commission at Salonika, and enable them to introduce that sound finance without which proper government is impossible. But we did not succeed, as time progressed, in introducing the improvement in the condition of things which we desired in Macedonia. I am not here this evening to try and apportion blame. Suffice it to say that confusion continued in that country, the bands continued to cut one another's throats and harry villages, and the Turkish Government, notwithstanding the enormous force it continued to maintain in the three vilayets in Macedonia, seemed unable to cope, in an adequate manner, with the difficulties I have described. It is no doubt perfectly true, as Sir Edward Grey has said, that some improvement could be traced some little time ago, but you had no sooner made an admission of that kind than almost immediately, by some strange fatality, you were confronted with fresh outbreaks and fresh horrors, which made you feel that in reality you had not got to the root of the evil.

That being so, the Powers had no choice but again to consider what reforms could be introduced. I think I may say that all the Powers were agreed upon the desirability of introducing judicial reforms by a better organisation of the Courts and by a better choice of Judges; and the two Powers which signed the Mürzsteg Agreement—Austria and Russia—took a special interest in putting forward a scheme bearing on that branch of the subject. On the other hand, while readily co-operating in the attempt to carry out the judicial reforms, we attached, perhaps, even greater importance to the effective reorganisation of the gendarmerie, because what has come out clearly in these long discussions has been that the root evil in Macedonia is that the absence of real authority vested in the gendarmerie, and the unwilling co-operation of the Turkish authorities, have prevented the gendarmerie doing anything effectual. We therefore laid stress on the reduction of the large Turkish Army in Macedonia, and the substitution of a better and rather larger gendarmerie force.

A third question simultaneously arose. The powers of the Civil Agents and of the delegates of the Powers sitting in the Financial Commission, which came into existence in December, 1905, are about to terminate, and the Powers agreed to present a Note to the Porte calling upon the Porte to consent to a further extension of their powers. No sooner was it known that this was contemplated than the Porte made the characteristic and dilatory proposal that it should take back into its own pay and under its own control the officers who in reality represent the Powers on the Financial Commission. I do not think it is necessary for me to tell your Lordships that the Powers unanimously declined to listen to that subtle suggestion, and that, in consequence, no agreement has yet been arrived at on the subject. In regard to the question of judicial reforms there were long and elaborate discussions between the Powers, and practical unanimity was obtained as to the terms of a Note to be presented. The wording of it, of course, had to be carefully considered, and it took a considerable time.

But besides the question of actual agreement in the preparation of the Note there came the question at the last moment as to what might follow supposing such a Note were presented; and here I regret to say there was not that unanimity among the Powers which I wish I could have announced to your Lordships. Some of the Powers were of opinion that the Porte was certain to refuse the Note, and that unless the Powers were agreed upon some strong course to be adopted almost immediately upon the refusal of the Note by the Porte it might be better on the whole to adjourn its presentation. We have been ready for a long time to sign the Note and join in presenting it if the other Powers would do so, but some hesitation arose among them owing to the fact that judicial reform, while certain to meet with resistance from the Porte, is not in itself, perhaps, the remedy most urgently required to stop the outrages and clear the country of the bands, a view with which, as I have said, we have some sympathy ourselves.

I now come to what happened in regard to the gendarmerie. This, as I have already told your Lordships, is the branch of the question to which this country, through its representatives, has attached the greatest importance. We know that a well-organised Judiciary, if given time and properly supported, would do much to introduce law and order; but we believe that a well-organised gendarmerie, under sufficient officers and with sufficient powers, could in reality restore order in Macedonia in a very few weeks. Regarding this question as practical men, we were very anxious to secure the consent of the other Powers to certain proposals in regard to the gendarmerie which we desired to embody in the Note, but I regret to tell your Lordships that we were not able to obtain the consent of the Powers.

I think your Lordships will agree that the logical consequence of the hesitation of some of the Powers on this question is that some other effective proposal should be forthcoming from them without delay. It is not enough to decline the proposals which have been put forward with our full consent, because the situation in Macedonia is urgent and does not admit of delay. Therefore we must hope that the Powers of Europe, who in some degree are responsible for the difficulty which has arisen, will see that upon them now lies a special responsibility to put forward some plan better than that to which they have not been able to consent.


Why not?


I will come to that. Some of the Powers thought that judicial reform was sufficient. Some of the Powers thought that the proposals in regard to the gendarmerie were inopportune, unless we could be quite certain of securing the consent of all the other Powers, and they apprehended we should not. Therefore, for one reason or another, the Powers to whom we appealed were unable to give their consent. The position in which we now stand is this. We are engaged in a controversy with the Porte upon the question of the extension of the powers of the Civil Agents and the delegates on the Financial Commission. With regard to the reorganisation of the gendarmerie, we are not in agreement with the other Powers; and in regard to judicial reform, although we are in complete theoretical agreement with them, we have not yet been able to persuade the Powers that the moment has come when the Note to which I have alluded to can, with advantage, be presented.

Your Lordships will, I think, see that the position is a delicate one, and that it, above all things, requires on the part of those who represent the Foreign Office careful action and careful language. But, my Lords, although the statement I have put before you may be in some respects disappointing to those who had hoped for an early restoration of order in Macedonia, there are, I am glad to say, certain elements in the situation of an encouraging character. To me by far the most encouraging circumstance is that there is no longer a tendency in any Foreign Office in Europe, so far as I know, to minimise the gravity of the condition of things in Macedonia. I remember that in one of our previous debates the noble Lord who introduced it commented upon the language of a Foreign Minister in another country, who rather questioned the gravity of the situation. I think no one who read the speech made the other day by the Foreign Minister of Austria Hungary would, for a single moment, say that he had attempted to underrate or minimise the evils of the situation.

A few years ago those who represent this country were in the position of having to argue with those who, to a certain extent, suggested that this was not a very serious situation, not more serious than it had been for a long time, and who asked why not leave it alone. This country has never taken that view. We have always been conscious of the duties incumbent upon Europe, under Article 23 of the Treaty of Berlin. That treaty replaced these countries under the rule of the Porte, but at the same time, it gave them, under Article 23, the right of having reformed institutions. That Article, like the whole of the treaty, is binding on Europe, and this country has never forgotten the obligations incumbent upon it, difficult as those obligations have been to carry out.

It has been frequently said during the last few days that the Concert of Europe is at an end. Severe language has been used about Austria Hungary in connection with the grant to it by Turkey of a right to survey a railway to Mitrovitza the rail-head of the Salonika Railway. We, as a great commercial nation, have, I need hardly say, viewed railways in the Balkan Peninsula, not only without apprehension, but with benevolent neutrality, because the opening up of communications is one of the surest means of checking barbarism. Therefore, I trust it will be clearly understood that we do not in any way identify ourselves with the rather unjustly severe language, which has been used about Austria-Hungary, more especially in view of the fact that under Article 25 of the Treaty of Berlin, Austria-Hungary has the right to occupy the sanjak of Novi Bazar, and has not only exercised that right hitherto to its full limits for political and domestic reasons of which she was the best judge. In addition, under that Article Austria-Hungary has a special right to keep garrisons and have military and commercial roads in that sanjak, and it would be a narrow and ungenerous interpretation of those rights if, merely because roads were mentioned and not a railway, we questioned the right of Austria in the matter.

On the other hand, it is always unfortunate when the Great Powers are negotiating with a common adversary—and I am obliged to use that term, though reluctantly, in regard to the Ottoman Porte—if one of them gives that adversary the impression that something has occurred to separate one Power from the other; and there can be no doubt, although I absolutely and entirely acquit the Government of Austria-Hungary of any such intention, that in this case the Porte has jumped to the conclusion that there is some serious dissension between that Power and the other signatories of the treaty. That, however, is not the case; it is an exaggeration to imagine that the Concert of Europe has been permanently broken, either by the failure of agreement on the points I have mentioned, or by the application of Austria-Hungary to do that which it has an undoubted right to do.

I shall probably be asked what line the Government intend to recommend the country to adopt in the troubled condition of affairs. The sketch which I have given your Lordships this evening set out with a statement of the views held by my noble friend, the late Foreign Secretary, in regard to the position as a whole, as stated in the despatches of the years 1902–4. We, as a Power, have never once departed from what I may call the high-water mark of my noble friend's proposals. We have had to do our loyal best to carry out the reduced scheme of reform which we found in existence, and which was ail that my noble friend had been able to obtain from the Concert of Europe before he left office. We have also done what we could since then to extend the financial reforms, and to secure their effective financial working, but even in that respect, as I have shown, we have had great difficulties with the Porte. Although my noble friend obtained, and we subsequently obtained still larger, financial guarantees from the Porte for the punctual payment of the sums which it had undertaken to pay to balance the Budget of the Commission sitting at Salonica, the dilatory and un-business like habits of the Porte have still pursued it, and those payments are constantly in arrear. The result is that, in addition to the disorder arising from the bands in Macedonia as a whole, there is the constant financial disorder arising from the irregularity of the payments by the Porte. In one year there was a deficit of nearly 240,000 Turkish pounds; in another year, a further deficit of over 100,000 Turkish pounds; and a total deficit for the period up to which the last account was made up of 342,742 Turkish pounds. That deficit was entirely in respect of payments due by the Porte during the period prior to the increase of the Customs, and large sums are still owing on that account, but I regret to have to add that since then also there have been delays in payment.

The Porte seems to take a malicious pleasure in increasing its own difficulties by weakening its authority by unnecessary expeditions. Enormous sums of money, which could have balanced the Macedonian Budget hundreds of times over, have been wasted by being poured into the horrible war which is now going on in Arabia. The Turkish Government have in cold blood re opened that dangerous question, and there is something also like a condition of warfare on the borders of Persia and Asia Minor and the gravest apprehensions were entertained a fortnight ago on the subject, nor is the condition of Armenia improved. Therefore the condition of the Ottoman Empire as a whole is one which causes us, taken in connection with Macedonia, the gravest anxiety, and for that reason we deem it all the more necessary to ask ourselves whether the time has not come when, in the interests of the Porte itself, in order to lighten its load and enable it to set to work, if it can, upon putting its house as a whole in order, it is desirable that some stronger measures should be taken in Macedonia.

Therefore, it is that we now consider it our duty to look the situation as a whole in the face, and, while not embarking upon any hurried plan or putting forward any definite proposals at this moment, to ask ourselves also whether the time has not come when we must fall back upon the largest of all the proposals put forward by my noble friend at the date from which I have started my historical sketch; that is to say, whether the time has not come when an independent Governor, like the Governor of the Lebanon, should not be appointed, irremovable except at the will of the Powers, with a proper and fixed salary—a man enjoying the confidence of the country, as a whole, and not necessarily a Christian. I wish rather to insist upon that point. In Macedonia, where Christian nationalities are unfortunately so largely occupied in making war on each other, it is perfectly possible that a fair-minded and judicious subject of the Porte, who may not be a Christian, may in some respects be even more eligible than a Christian. Such men have existed, and I have no doubt do exist, though I think there are fewer of them now in the service of the Porte than formerly. I am sure that if my noble friend the Governor-General of India, Lord Minto, were here, he would tell you that the late Reouf Pasha, who commanded the Turkish Army in the late war to the South of the Balkans, was a man of the stamp I mean. But you must also be careful not to exclude the type of man who at Constantinople is sometimes guilty of what our ancestors called "occasional conformity." I mean the Christian who has taken service with the Porte, and for reasons of his own sometimes conforms outwardly to Mahommedanism. There have been men of great ability in the Turkish service of this type, and you do not want to exclude them.

We, at the Foreign Office, regard the appointment of a Governor as being really at the root of the matter. Owing to our failure to persuade the other Powers of the desirability of some of our own suggestions, we are for the moment assuming what I may perhaps call an observant attitude; but owing to the grave condition of the country it is certain that that cannot last for long. What we earnestly hope is that the Powers will feel that as we have not been successful in inducing them to adopt, in regard to the Gendarmerie, our proposals, which are, in our opinion, the essential and prime necessity of the hour, and as we have not been able to agree amongst ourselves as to the desirability of presenting this Note, although we have agreed upon the text, in these circumstances they will feel that the responsibility for the next step lies with them. In due course, and that before long, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs will convey suggestions which he thinks the necessity of the case requires.

I have indicated to your Lordships what it is that we think is at the root of the matter, and as we have simply adopted a proposal already endorsed by my noble friend opposite, I feel that both sides of the House stand on common ground in this matter. We are all engaged in trying to steer our way amidst the rocks of this difficult question—as difficult and intricate as that of the Congo—and I cannot help hoping that the feeling will be general in Europe that the hour has come when this condition of things should be terminated, and when Macedonia should be liberated from the intolerable confusion, trouble, and oppression from which it has suffered so long. Let Europe try to realise what this country is—the seat of the greatest Greek kingdom of old; the fairest province of the later Roman Empire; a country endowed by nature with every advantage of climate, position, and soil; a country which would, under solid and safe government, probably quickly again blossom into that position of prosperity it formerly occupied. But a huge emigration is going on. The people are flying from the land. The harbour of Salonica is silting up, and men are kidnapped in their own honses and carried off by brigands. That, my Lords, is what we desire to urge upon the conscience of the civilised world. We feel that we have done all we can to bring these matters to an end and that every hour and every day which passes over these admitted but unreformed abuses is in itself a terrible commentary on the boasted civilisation of modern Europe.


My Lords, the statement we have heard from my noble friend is one not only of great interest but of great importance, and I certainly am not disposed on the spur of the moment to offer comment or criticism to any great extent upon what my noble friend has said. I do not at all complain of the resume he gave of the policy pursued by the late Government. We always admitted that this country shared with other Powers their responsibility for the lamentable condition into which these Macedonian vilayets have fallen. I lay stress on the word "shared" because I have often heard it urged that upon this country there lay a peculiar burden of responsibility unlike that upon any other country. Now, in my view, this country has done its duty, not only as fully, but much more fully, than the other Powers signatories to the Treaty of Berlin; and I shall always venture to protest against the doctrine that a double dose of responsibility lies at our door. Again, we always urged, and I think rightly, that we should strain every effort in order to preserve the Concert of Europe; that we should—to use a familiar expression—endeavour to squeeze all we could out of that Concert, but that it would be better to take a good deal less than we desired rather than to press for full satisfaction of our demands and thereby imperil the continuation of the Concert. Of course, the result of that policy—we must admit it fully—was that we never got nearly as much as we wanted; but that was inevitable so long as our endeavour was to lead the other Powers rather than to impose our own view. Our high watermark, to use the expression of my noble friend, was to be found in the proposal made by the late Government in 1903—namely, the proposal that we should endeavour to induce the Powers to consent to the appointment of an independent and irremovable Governor, on what is commonly known as the Lebanon principle. That proposal received little, or, indeed, no encouragement at the time, and we had to be content with pressing reforms of other kinds, judicial and financial, and reforms in reference to the gendarmerie. I think it is somewhat too readily assumed that these reforms were scarcely worth the paper they were written on. I shall always continue to believe that, disappointing as the Mürzsteg scheme was, something was accomplished under that scheme which did tend not a little to mitigate the condition of affairs in Macedonia. Although I know Lord Newton entertains a very poor opinion of the motives by which the two mandatory Powers were inspired, it was our business not to look too minutely into motives, but to see what we could obtain from the action of these Powers, to whom the circumstances naturally pointed, on account of their geographical position, as the two Powers best adapted to carry out the mandate of the others.

The present situation is, no doubt, very serious and disquieting. In the first place it seems to be clear that the state of affairs in the Macedonian vilayets is in itself most deplorable. We read constantly of new outrages, one more harrowing than another, and I am afraid that in the Papers to be laid before us we shall have presented a very gloomy picture indeed. Then we come to the recent action of the Austrian Government in obtaining from the Turkish Government a concession for the construction of a railway. I agree with my noble friend that it is very easy to make too much of an occurrence of this kind. Austria-Hungary has, under international agreements, special rights over that particular region where the contemplated railway would be constructed. While I fully admit that, I am bound also to add that one has to look at the impression created in the public mind, and particularly in the public mind on the spot, by such isolated action for its own advantage on the part of one of these two Powers, and I am afraid the impression created has been a very disquieting one.

But what seems most alarming of all is what my noble friend tells us of the attitude and disposition of the Powers with regard to further reforms. I gather from him that as to the renewal of the mandate to the two Powers and the extension of the appointments of the Civil Agents we are engaged in a not very promising wrangle with the Porte. I understand that in regard to the gendarmerie the Powers are by no means at one, and that there is reluctance to adopt proposals which His Majesty's Government—I venture to think rightly—considers indispensable if older is to be restored in the disturbed districts. I quite concur with my noble friend in what he has said that the first condition for material improvement in the Balkan Peninsular is some effective repressive measure to put an end to the disorder and anarchy now prevailing in those regions.

Then I understand my noble friend to say in regard to judicial reforms, to which he gives second place in order of importance, that the Powers, while not disagreeing as to the kind of reforms to be demanded, are hesitating, or are not prepared, to press these demands at the present moment. The situation that has arisen is a very serious one, indeed, and I am not surprised that my noble friend went on to tell us that it is a situation His Majesty's Government cannot accept. I understand it is the intention of His Majesty's Government to press again not only on the Porte, but on the signatory Powers, the appointment of an independent governor, appointed with the consent of the Powers, and not removable except with their consent. In passing, I may say that I think my noble friend is right when he says it is by no means essential that the official to be chosen for these high functions should be a Christian. I would say, "Take the best man you can get, Christian or Mahomedan." I understand that to be the aspiration—if I may so put it—of His Majesty's Government, for I did not gather from what my noble friend said that His Majesty's Government are at the moment seriously pressing upon the Powers the adoption of this proposal. He said, very properly, that His Majesty's Government did not favour any very hurried plan, nor were, indeed, yet prepared to put forward what he called a definite proposal. He said that for the present the Government maintained an observant attitude, and that in due course we might look for the demand for the appointment of an independent governor.

My noble friend spoke of what he called an appeal to Europe in favour of a new departure of the kind described. Now I was very glad to hear that expression, "an appeal to Europe," fall from his lips, for if I may make any suggestion it is this—that we should up to the very last spare no effort to carry the other Powers with us in support of a policy of this kind. But, much as I believe in this policy, I should be very sorry to contemplate an attempt on the part of this country by single-handed action in the Balkan Peninsula to impose any arrangement of the kind upon the Powers. Single-handed action on the part of this country, about which so many people have talked glibly and light heartedly, means, after all, that in the end you may have to send an army of occupation to see to the carrying out of your scheme of reforms. Much as I deplore the long-continued sufferings of the people of Macedonia, I should be very sorry to see this country embark on a single-handed attempt to impose on Europe any arrangement of this kind, however much it might fall in with my own ideas, or with the policy which I have myself at one time or another advocated. I cordially wish success to the efforts which His Majesty's Government are making; and I trust that, by the energy of their arguments and by the appeals which they are making to public feeling not only of this country but of other countries, they may, in the end, succeed in carrying with them the other Powers concerned and in obtaining a scheme of reforms more effectual than any of those which have passed through a kind of experimental stage during the past few years, with, I am bound to say, very disappointing and unsatisfactory results.

On Question, Motion agreed to and carried accordingly.

House adjourned at five minutes past Eight o'clock, till Tomorrow, a quarter past Four o'clock.