HL Deb 30 March 1908 vol 187 cc49-52

My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Lamington I beg to ask the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether His Majesty's Government consider British interests in the country between Baghdad and the Persian frontier are properly safeguarded, and whether anything has recently occurred calculated in the future to prejudice the development of our already predominant interests of trade and commerce in those regions.


My Lords, the Question which my noble friend has placed on the Paper is one on which I confess I have had some little difficulty in placing an exact meaning. I do not quite understand what is aimed at in the Question, and to what it is that I am exactly expected to reply. I am asked, in the first place, whether His Majesty's Government consider that British interests in the country between Baghdad and the Persian frontier are properly safeguarded. I do not want to appear in any way discourteous to Lord Lamington or to my noble friend who has put this Question on his behalf if I follow the terms of the Question closely, and ask them to accept my assurance, on behalf of the Foreign Office, that in our opinion British interests in that country are properly safeguarded, and that nothing has occurred, especially in the short interval whish has taken place since the debate on the Anglo-Russian Convention, to make it necessary for me to add anything to the statement I made on that occasion.

I then pointed out, if I may accept the geographical description in the Question as relating generally to what may be called the frontier of Turkish and Persian possessions in those parts, that there was at that time—and, to a certain extent, there still is—a condition of great unrest, which caused anxiety to His Majesty's Government, owing to the deliberate renewal, by the action of the Turkish authorities themselves, of that dangerous to, and ancient dispute in the neighbourhood to which my noble friend Lord Reay called attention in this House in 1906, and upon which I then made a statement questions are aware, from telegrams from the seat of these troubles published from time to time in the newspapers, that there have been armed collisions in that district, that Turkish troops crossed the frontier and seized districts, including at least one important town within and indeed beyond the long disputed territory. On the whole, I am now able to say that things are on a more satisfactory footing, that the Turkish troops have been withdrawn from certain positions, and that there is some reasonable prospect of the arbitrations and delimitations in those territories, upon which these questions depend for their solution, being allowed to proceed. But then, I am only surmising as to whether that is what the noble Lord who placed this Question on the Paper had in his mind.

In regard to any other possible aspect of questions in that part of the world, I can certainly say that no alterations have been made, for example, as to the number or position of British Consuls or representatives. The only change has been in the greater activity which British and Russian diplomatists have shown in bringing strong pressure to bear on the Turkish Government in order to induce them to limit the unfortunate activity of the Turkish troops on the frontier and to induce the Persian Government not to take greater offence than they would be fully justified in taking at the reckless conduct of the Turkish authorities, and to take the measures indicated by the old Boundary Treaty to push forward the proceedings by which alone these constant disputes can be determined.

As regards the second part of the Question—whether anything has recently occurred calculated in the future to prejudice the development of our already predominant interests of trade and commerce in those regions—I have been told that the noble Lord was anxious to obtain from me, on behalf of the Foreign Office, a contradiction of a report which I understand had reached him, and which I know has been circulated in some quarters, that there are secret Articles in the Anglo-Russian Convention about which Parliament has been told nothing and which contemplate some great changes in that part of the world. Questions in regard to secret Articles are always open to this fatal objection, that we may be told that if we say there are no secret Articles that is because a secret Article, by its very nature, is an Article which cannot be stated in public. It is, however, one thing to convey to Parliament and the public by a statement the contents of a secret Article, and it is another thing to allow or deny, according to circumstances, the existence of a secret Article. A Government might be able, though it would not be a pleasant position, perhaps, to be placed in, to admit of the existence of a secret Article and at the same time to say that, owing to reasons of high policy, its contents could not be communicated. I am not placed in that position at all to-night, because I am able to state, on behalf of the Foreign Office, and. I know the House will accept the assurance, that there are no secret Articles in the Russian Convention, and that Parliament and the public are fully cognisant of the whole of the arrangements made between Russia and this country. I feel that I have only been able to make a rather vague and uncertain answer to the Question on the Paper, but that is because the Question lacks all specific character; and I rather anticipated that when my noble friend opposite, who has had such great experience of these matters, took charge of the Question he would have indicated what the points were upon which information was desired.


I hope I may be permitted to clear my character by saying that I was asked to put the Question only because I was an available Peer.


In that circumstance the noble Lord might have done what I did, and declined to put it.


I am evidently of a more obliging disposition than my noble friend.