HL Deb 07 December 1911 vol 10 cc677-700

*EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON rose to call attention to the state of affairs in Persia, to inquire as to the policy of His Majesty's Government, and to move for Papers. The noble Earl said: My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition is not present, to-day. Ho had intended to take part in this discussion, but he is prevented by circumstances with which your Lordships are familiar, and which you all deplore. My object in rising is to call attention to the state of affairs in Persia. It is a very anxious and critical situation, and is calculated, I think, to cause serious apprehension in the minds of those who have a regard for Persian independence, and who would like to sec that country, once so mighty and powerful, take its place again among the nations of the world. I hope to obtain some statement of the policy of His Majesty's Government from the noble Viscount opposite. I have, I need hardly say, no indictment to frame against His Majesty's Government. I have not that desire, and oven, if I had, I have not the material for doing so. What I want in the main is to ascertain from the highest quarter what that policy is. I am not clear that His Majesty's Government have a thought-out policy or that they know precisely in what direction they are going.

My first object, therefore, is to enable the noble Viscount, if he desires to do so, to take this opportunity of giving us explanations and information about points which are at present obscure. My next object is to point out certain developments of the present situation which, unless they are foreseen and guarded against, will lead to a position extremely dangerous both to Persia and to ourselves. I have a sort of suspicion from what I read that we are drifting on to dark and perilous rocks in our Persian policy, and it may even happen that Persian independence will vanish while we are discussing by what methods it may best be maintained. I conclude my Question by a Motion for Papers. I believe that the last Papers presented to Parliament were contained in this White Paper which I hold in my hand—Persia, No. 1, 1911. That carries the narrative of events down to December, 1910, or nearly a year ago. I do not desire to press the noble Viscount on the matter, but I need hardly say that if the Secretary of State should find it possible at an early date to lay Papers dealing with what has happened since then, it would be a source of great satisfaction to those of us in both Houses of Parliament who are interested in the matter.

In the remarks I have to make I propose to confine myself to recent events and not to trouble your Lordships with anything in the nature of a retrospect. That would be tedious and really not necessary for the present position. The only incident in the past, and that a very recent past, to which I need refer is the conclusion of the Anglo-Russian Agreement in September, 1907. As we have often been informed, that was a great and momentous event in the history of Asia. It was the starting point, if not the direct cause, of the greater part of what has since happened in Persia, and I expect its consequences will be found to be greater and greater as time goes on. As your Lordships will remember very well, that Agreement related not to Persia only but to all those various spheres in which British and Russian interests come in contact with each other over the entire surface of Asia, and as such that Agreement has been one of the two main pillars of British foreign policy during the last six years, the other, of course, bring the Entente with France in Europe. Over and over again His Majesty's Government have congratulated themselves and the country upon the salutary effects of this Agreement—its effects upon the peace of Asia, upon the security of our Indian frontier, upon the finances of India, and most of all, of course, upon the relations between these two great Powers. I do not demur to those self-congratulations. I think, so far as I have any right to give an opinion on the matter, that on the whole they have been well deserved. Certainly I should be the last to wish to see any reversion to the unhappy state of affairs, the bickerings and squabbling and suspicion, the frontier incidents by over-zealous officials, that used to happen between the two Powers, not in Persia only, but in other parts of Asia, before that date.

But in one respect I differed at the time and still differ profoundly from, I will not say the policy, but the contents of that Agreement. I remember that the noble Viscount, in a debate we had on this matter three and a half years ago, said that in his opinion the Persian part of the Anglo-Russian Agreement was its most admirable part. I held then, and I am afraid I hold still, that it was its least admirable and its worst part; and warmly as I sympathised with the inclusion of Persia in the terms of that Agreement—and I may remark in passing that it was part of the policy and intention of Lord Salisbury, had he remained in power, to come to such an Agreement himself—I held then, and I hold now, that it was a one-sided bargain, unequal and inequitable in its effect on British interests in Persia, and I further held and stated at the time that I was afraid that in Persia it would sow the seeds of certain trouble in the future. I have not altered those views, and I am afraid that there, has been a good deal of confirmation for them in recent events. If you compare the condition of Persia now with what it was before that Agreement was signed, I venture to say that it is immeasurably worse. I am not going to be so unjust as to suggest that this is the consequence of the conclusion of the Anglo-Russian Agreement. What I do say is this: that that Agreement has not arrested the decline of Persia, that in some respects it has actually accelerated it and that at this moment we are confronted with the imminent danger that under the shadow and shelter, so to speak, of that Agreement there may be consummated the very effect which it was the main object of that Agreement to avoid.

As I do not wish to be in the slightest degree unfair to His Majesty's Government, perhaps I may be allowed to read their own definition of what the character and objects of that Agreement were. It is contained in the Despatch in which Sir Edward Grey instructed the then British Minister in Teheran in September, 1907, to place before the Persian Government the instrument which had just been signed. This is what was to be stated by our Minister to the Persian Government— The two States have, in signing the arrangement, steadfastly kept the fundamental principle in view that the independence and integrity of Persia should be respected absolutely. The sole object of the arrangement is the avoidance of any cause of misunderstanding on the ground of Persian affairs between the Contracting Parties. The Shah's Government will be convinced that the Agreement concluded between Russia and Great Britain cannot fail to promote the prosperity, security, and ulterior development of Persia in the most efficacious manner. Of those three objects I am afraid that the second one is the only one which has been attained in any substantial degree. I do believe that the Agreement has been the means of removing much misunderstanding between Russia and ourselves in Persia. Ministers have frequently told us that owing to this Agreement there has been a warmer understanding between the two Powers, that quarrels have been avoided, and that the occupation of parts of Persia by Russia has been avoided. I do not desire to detract from any credit that may be due, to the Agreement in that respect.

But what I would submit to your Lordships is this, that the part played by Persia in the Agreement is also of vital importance to this country, and I am sure your Lordships will agree that the advantages of this Agreement would be dearly purchased if, while we and Russia were complimenting each other upon the degree of harmony that existed between us, Persian independence, which we were told was a fundamental principle of the Treaty, were found to be imperilled, or Persian prosperity, which is here stated to be one of its main objects, were found to have been brought to ruin. I am sure that the authors of the Agreement themselves would admit that the Agreement was concluded not merely with the excellent but selfish object of relieving the strain on our resources and on our respective frontiers, but that it was also concluded in order to give Persia a fair field for building up again her own fortunes, and, to use Sir Edward Grey's words, for promoting the prosperity, security, and ulterior development of that country. Above all, I am certain the Treaty had in view the fundamental principle of the independence and integrity of Persia. But if we look at the present condition of affairs, when we see the north of Persia in the occupation of Russian troops and a Russian force within less than one hundred miles of the capital and threatening to descend upon it, when we see the Persian Government in a state of apparent complete disorganisation, when we see a deposed and banished Monarch hovering on the frontier and threatening Civil war, above all when we read the terms of the ultimatum which has just been presented by Russia to the Persian Government, I am afraid we cannot speak very confidently about the maintenance of the independence and integrity of Persia, and the less we say, perhaps, about its prosperity and security the better.

It may be said that those consequences have been duo in large measure to the weakness and inexperience of the Persian Government itself, to the blunders that have been made by its Ministers, and to the bad advice under which they have acted. I dare say there is a good deal of truth in that. I think the Persian Government, have made some serious mistakes. I think they were guilty of a grave error when they rejected the offer that was made to them by His Majesty's Government two years ago to lend experienced Anglo-Indian officers for training a corps of Gendarmerie to preserve order in the southern part of the country. It may be that their officials have been sometimes tactless and ill-advised, and it may be, too, that in their relations with Russia in the country they may have shown insufficient regard for the susceptibilities or the predominant influence of that great power. That may be. I do not know that it is. But if it is I suspect then: is a good deal to lie said also on the other side. I doubt very much whether the attempt of Persia to build up a Constitional Government for herself has received any overwhelming marks of sympathy or encouragement from Russian subjects in Persia. And when the Persian Government saw, as they did a little while ago, the ex-Shah, of whom they had got, rid and who was interned in Russia under guarantees to prevent his re-entry into Persia, escape there from and return in the thinnest of disguises by means of Russian railways and Russian steamers for hundreds of miles, with arms packed up as mineral waters, to invade the country from which he had been expelled—although I entirely accept the assurance of the Russian Government that they had no connivance in that—it is not much to be wondered at if the Persian Government felt that such steps could not be taken without the complicity, at any rate, of some Russian subordinates in the course of these transactions. That is all I have to say of the past. I do not think it is our business to try and apportion praise or blame.

What we have to deal with is the situation now before us. The condition of affairs I have been describing culminated in the presentation of the first Ultimatum in the opening days of last month. There were two Ultimatums, as your Lordships know, one after the other. The first Ultimatum arose out of a petty matter in which some Persian gendarmes were sent to seize the property of a defaulting Persian subject, who was, as a matter of fact, a brother of the ex-Shah and was engaged with him in his invasion of the country. There occurred a regrettable collision between these gendarmes and some officials sent by the Russian Consul-General who felt that he had an interest in the matter. I do not wish to discuss the merits of the affair. It was a very insignificant matter, and that it was not very serious was, I think, shown by the statement, if true, that the action of the Russian Consul-General was not supported by the Russian Minister. Nevertheless the Russian Government presented an Ultimatum and threatened to send troops into the country. His Majesty's Government, in these circumstances, advised compliance and an apology on the part of the Persian Government. So far as I am at all acquainted with the facts, I think that that advice, though it may have been unpalatable to the Persian Government, was probably wise, and I do not desire to criticise it. But only a few days later, when this cloud had barely rolled by, we read that a second Ultimatum was presented to Persia by Russia, which contained the following terms—I take them from an answer given by the Under-Secretary in the other House— (1) The dismissal of Messrs. Shuster and Lecoffre; (2) an undertaking not to engage in the service of the Persian Government, tiny foreigners without the previous consent of the British and Russian Legations; (3) the payment by Persia of the expenses of the present Russian military expedition. Those are the terms of the Ultimatum. Now a word or two as to its cause and character. The cause is stated to have been the action of Mr. Shuster in circulating in Persia a document drawn up by him, which was published some time ago by The Times in this country, and which contained strong and unpleasant remarks about the policy of Russia in Persia, and also, I may add, about ourselves. I do not know if this statement was officially issued either by Mr. Shuster or the Persian Government to the Press in that country. It has been denied in the newspapers that it was. If it was so circulated I agree that it was a foolish and provocative act. I think there is evidence to show that Mr. Shuster, who is a very fearless and independent man, and who has, I believe, acted throughout with a single and disinterested desire to do his duty to the Government he was serving, has shown an unfortunate lack of acquaintance with diplomatic usage and diplomatic language on occasions, and has sometimes been both impulsive and unwise. These, so far as I can gather, are the facts of the case. Still, my Lords, was the action of Mr. Shuster in circulating this pamphlet, supposing it was true that he did circulate it, really a sufficient excuse for an armed occupation of Persia by a foreign Power? Was not this second Ultimatum, following immediately upon the satisfaction of the first, rather a harsh measure? Was not the term of forty-eight hours grace a very brief period to give to a weak and helpless Power? Were not the whole of these proceedings of a most peremptory and precipitate character?

Now as to our degree of responsibility. The words which I read just now show to your Lordships that one of the leading features of the Ultimatum was a demand that involved future action by the British Legation at Teheran—that is to say, of course, by the British Government. Now, His Majesty's Government cannot wash their hands of all responsibility for this Ultimatum, for we were told by the Undersecretary in the House of Commons only two days ago that the Ultimatum was shown to them before it was sent, and that they expressed the opinion, in reply, that we could not object to the demands respecting Mr. Shuster, to which I do not want further to allude, or to the demand regarding the appointment of foreign advisers. Therefore, in giving that answer we assumed general responsibility for the Ultimatum, because we participated in the demand. We did not present it, but we certainly associated ourselves with it, and we have since confirmed our policy of association by advising the Persian Government to accept it. The only point on which we appear to have made any protest, so far as I know, was that we made representations to Russia about the very harsh and cruel condition that Persia should pay the expenses of the invasion with which she was threatened. I hope that His Majesty's Government are persisting, and persisting successfully, in those representations, and I hope that if troops do enter the country Persia at least will not be called upon in her enfeebled and impoverished condition to pay for them.

What have been the consequences of this Ultimatum? They were what, I think, might have been expected. The Persian Government, which is inspired by very strong national feelings, and which has behind it, so far as I can judge, the support of the great centres of population and all sections of the community in Persia, declined to yield. They felt that a serious blow was being dealt at their independence, and I am afraid that it is not a very consoling thing to us to read in the newspapers that the agitation which is now going on in Persia is especially directed, not at the threatening or invading Power, but at Great Britain, that a boycott of British goods has been proclaimed at Ispahan and Shiraz, that British officials have been parted with, and that great bitterness exists in English banking and commercial circles. Thus it would appear that while Russia has issued the Ultimatum, we seem to have incurred the odium. I cannot think that this testifies to a very happy diplomacy. It throws rather a lurid light upon the halcyon days we were led to expect when the Anglo-Russian Agreement was signed.

There is much more at stake really than the incidents or emotions of a passing crisis. I want your Lordships to be good enough to consider for a moment the terms of this particular demand in the Ultimatum that in future the Persian Government is to appoint no foreign officials without the consent of the British and Russian Governments. When His Majesty's Government assented to this demand, I wonder if they realised what it meant? Under the guise of a perfectly laudable desire to prevent friction between Russia and ourselves, does it not mean a denial, or, at any rate, a serious infringement of Persian Sovereignty? Can it be contended that a Government which is not at liberty to appoint its Civil servants without the consent of other Powers is really an independent Government? I wonder if there is an independent Government in the world on whom such an embargo has ever been placed. Can we reconcile this with the terms and the protestations of the Anglo-Russian Agreement? If His Majesty's Government say that Persian independence has gone, then their position is entirely logical. But supposing they take the position that Persian independence still exists, then it seems to me that to place these fetters upon it is really to practise a policy of self-deception which takes in nobody but yourselves.

Let us see how this particular demand in the Ultimatum will work out in practice. The Persian Government has had the greatest difficulty in obtaining foreign officials for its service. It has applied for Italians and Swedes, and I believe in both cases it has been refused. What, then, will be the consequences? Does it mean that in future only Russian officials are to be appointed in the Russian sphere in order to satisfy the Russians, while British officials only are to be appointed in the British sphere to satisfy ourselves? I am sure the noble Viscount will deny that it has that meaning, but I venture to say that in practice that will be found to be the natural and inevitable consequence. Three years ago I based my main objection to this Agreement on the ground of the startling disparity in size, importance and significance of the two spheres. The noble Viscount is perfectly familiar with the argument. You have as the British sphere a small triangle of territory in the southeast corner of Persia adjacent to the Indian frontier, selected solely for strategical reasons, deficient in commercial importance, possessed of only one considerable city and of only one trade route. The whole of the west, north-west, north centre, and north-east, in fact the great bulk of the country, containing a large population and all its trade, is within the Russian sphere. If the Agreement means, in time, I do not say at once, that Russian officials only are to be appointed where foreign officials are appointed in the Russian sphere, whilst only British officials, less, perhaps, than half a dozen, are to be appointed in the British sphere, you will see what a serious step you are taking towards the certain and ultimate partition of Persia itself.

Whichever way we look at it, we are moving, however unconsciously, however unwittingly, in the direction of partition. When the Agreement was concluded three years ago the Secretary of State, when he was challenged with its probable consequences, was most particular upon this, that it was only economic partition in these spheres—that these were to be spheres in which each of us were not to contest the commercial concessions or occupations of the other Power. So far so good; but now, if this is persisted in, you advance from economic to administrative partition. From administrative partition you must inevitably go on, because these officials must exercise political influence, to political partition, and from political partition you will advance to geographical partition. By this logical and, I am afraid, inevitable advance you will find that you are proceeding on this downward and slippery path towards the very goal which you most of all desire to avoid.

I am sure I need not argue at any length in your Lordships' House the unhappy results that will ensue from any such i partition. Your Lordships know well enough that, if you bring the Russian frontier down into close contact with the British frontier, you do the very thing which for the last hundred years we have been spending money and men in order to avoid. You practically do away with the whole policy of buffer States. You bring your strategical frontier, which you fixed in Seistan and Baluchistan, right into the heart of Persia, a frontier which can only be defended at the cost of a great burden on Indian finances and of an inevitable addition to the Indian Army. I do not believe that there is a single | person in the country who desires that; consummation. I am quite; certain it is i repudiated by every member of His i Majesty's Government; but what I fear is that, all unawares, you are moving, sliding, drifting in the direction which I have described.

I want to say one word about the threatened occupation of Persia by Russian troops. We have been told in another place that the Russian Government have given the most categorical assurances of the temporary and provisional character of their occupation. I entirely accept those assurances. I cannot believe that Russia can seriously want that her troops should be embarked on this campaign. But I must utter this word of caution. Does not experience show to us that temporary and provisional military occupations in weak countries by European Powers tend, by a sort of fatal law, to prolong and perpetuate their own existence? As we all know, we went into Egypt for the first time with an armed force in 1882 with the idea that our occupation was to be purely provisional and that our retirement was to be speedy. Successive Governments laid that down as a principle of their policy for years. And there we are to-day. The chain has gone on lengthening and strengthening ever since, and it is one from which we cannot, even if we would, escape. You find an illustration in Persia itself at the present moment. Three or four years ago the Russians entered into a military occupation of the north and north-west part of the country which was to be purely provisional and temporary. Yet 3,000 soldiers are there now and have been there ever since. Moreover, one must remember that, however sincere and honourable the intentions of the Russian Government may be, there does exist in Russia, and still more among Russian agents and Nationalists in Persia, a very strong party who openly advocate; the partition of Persia by Russia and who are anxious for nothing more than that Russia should find her way down to the Persian Gulf, and you may be certain that that party—whether it is a strong one or not I cannot say—will throw all the obstacles they can in the way of the retirement of the Russian troops. There is this further point. If we may judge from experience elsewhere, is it not the almost invariable case that when an army of occupation is withdrawn it seldom withdraws without exacting some very substantial quid fro quo from the country whose territories it has occupied and which it will not evacuate without consideration? I hope my argument has been clear in bringing us to the point that it is extremely desirable that this military occupation, however provisional it is intended to be, should not take place at all.

The danger is not limited merely to the military occupation. This morning I read a telegram from The Times Correspondent at Teheran commenting on the situation. He says— Russia will probably lie forced to take over the administration and to disband the Mejliss…This would raise a delicate and difficult question with her partner Great Britain, since Russia would thus become responsible for the central government of all Persia. The Entente, to be preserved, must be put on a new basis, and the two Powers must establish either a dual control or separate Protectorates.

My Lords, those words are most serious. I do not know if they have any authority, but they are tremendously, almost appallingly, serious, in their diagnosis of the situation. They imply that the position in Persia is worse than anything I have sketched. They appear to contemplate an assumption by Russia of a share of government, in that country which is wholly incompatible with its independence, or, alternatively, an assump- tion of government by us in conjunction with Russia which I am sure His Majesty's Government and every one of us would I be most loth to undertake. They imply I also that the Entente between Russia and ourselves, which we are anxious to accept as a permanent feature of our policy, can only be maintained by the sacrifice of the principal objects for which it was created.

In this very delicate and troubled situation, may I suggest that the criterion which the British Government and the British people should apply in the matter should be, not merely the stability of European alliances, but the good of Persia itself? Look at the position in that country. During the last four years the I Persian Government have had to create a Parliament, to evolve a Constitution, to suppress rebellion, to depose a tyrant, and to expel him when he returned. They have passed through a long chapter of anarchy and assassinations, they have had two Ultimatums presented to them in a fortnight, and foreign troops are even now within swooping distance of Teheran. In these circumstances, wherein lies the hope of Persia? What is it we can do for Persia itself? The Government are as anxious about this as I am. The hope of Persia at this moment does not lie in any further humiliation of that country, it does not lie in any division of spheres of interest between Great Britain and Russia, and least of all does it lie in any forcible suppression of that spark of nationality which the worst misfortunes and the greatest blunders of the Persian Government have not sufficed to extinguish. It does lie in common action between Great Britain and Russia. That is quite clear. Yes, but it must be common action in which we are loyal, not merely to our Russian allies, but also to our Persian friends. This is not the time to talk of stability or the continuance of the Anglo-Russian Agreement. We must assume that. It is the time to show that that Agreement can be made effective in the interests of Persia itself. I am quite sure we shall not impress them with our desire or ability to come to their assistance if our interpretation of the Agreement is merely that we follow silently and meekly in the footsteps of our allies. By all means let us be loyal to our obligations, but do let us show the Persian Government and people also that we have a definite policy of our own, and that that policy combines the three features for which we have always contended and to which I hope we shall still adhere—firstly, the continued independence of Persia; secondly, the avoidance of partition in any form; and, thirdly, the maintenance, it may be under different conditions—because I think some change will probably be required—but the maintenance, so far as is possible, of Constitutional Government, which, whether it be good or bad at the present moment, docs undoubtedly reflect the sentiments and aspirations of the Persian people as a whole.

Before I conclude, I would like to submit to your Lordships that it is possible, nay, I think it is necessary, to take an even wider view. I have spoken of the obligations which are imposed upon us towards Persia by our old traditional friendship with that country, by the proximity of our frontiers to its frontiers, and by the great stake we have in the commerce, industries, and finances of Persia, arid, of course, by our undertakings under the Anglo-Russian Agreement. Rut I venture to say that we have larger obligations as well. Persia is a Mahomedan State. It was once one of the great and powerful Mahomedan States of the world. Most of those countries seem to have fallen in recent yews upon evil times. Ultimatums, usually with only forty-eight hours' grace, rain upon them like hailstones from heaven. I should like to see England hold up an occasional umbrella against this storm. We cannot lose sight of the tremendous law of interaction in the Mahomedan world. You strike at one part of it and the sort of nervous shock which you set up runs through the whole frame and is very likely perceptible at the other end of the globe. We cannot be insensible to this sort of world-wide commotion. Let me give two illustrations which have a direct bearing on this question. Two days ago I received a telegram of encouragement and benediction from Lucknow, which was once the capital of a Shia Mahomedan dynasty, and is still the centre of a great Shia Mahomedan population. They are watching these happenings in Persia, they feel for their co-religionists in that country, and they want to know what the British Government is doing in the interests of Persia. Directly after I got this telegram there happened to walk into my house an officer who has been serving lately upon the extreme northern frontier of India. Among the small States that are lost in the mighty folds of the Hindu Kushi, one to which he is attached is inhabited by a small Shia population with a Shia chief. He told me that whenever he-went to see this chief, informed by the newspapers and telegrams which actually circulate nowadays even in that part of the world, the first question put to him was, "What is going on in Persia? What is being done, by Great Britain for the Shias in Persia? "These stories are indicative and eloquent. I do not want to exaggerate their importance, but they show the interest that is taken in this question, not in Persia alone, but by the whole of the Mahomedan population in all parts of the world.

There is one thing of which I am convinced, that if, in your policy in Persia, however unwittingly, you appear to connive at the frittering away of Persian independence you will alienate millions of Mahomedans, many of them our fellow-subjects, in the Eastern World. I apologise it I have shown any emotion in drilling with this question, but it is a matter which I have studied at first hand and on which I feel most deeply. I do not think f have said anything with the spirit or essence of which the noble Viscount will disagree. I have made some criticisms which no doubt he will reply to. I appeal to him for some clear intimation, if it can be vouchsafed, of the course the Government are taking, mid, above all, I ask him and his colleagues and the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to use the weight, the power, and the enormous influence of Great Britain in Asia to resuscitate, if it may be, and not to extinguish the poor, the flickering light of Persian independence. I beg to move.

Moved, That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty for Papers relating to the state of affairs in Persia.—(Earl Curzon of Kedleston.)


My Lords, we are all aware that there is no member of this House who can speak upon Persia with such knowledge and experience of all that hangs upon the situation in Persia as the noble Earl. He is quite right when he expects that I shall rind little fault, or I may say none, with the spirit or essence of what he said. All he has said about the reflex influence of any of our transactions in Persia upon our Mahomedan subjects in India and elsewhere is of the highest importance. His Majesty's Government is fully alive to that, and that is one of the guiding elements in their considerations. Then the noble Earl offered some criticisms which were perfectly lawful, but I am not sure that they were well founded. But he was perfectly right, and he did us in the Government no more than justice when he said that lie believed that the good of the people of Persia and the stability of the Government of Persia with which the good of the people was involved, art; as much at heart with us as they are with, himself.

It would be a great wrong if we were to buy the stability of the Anglo-Russian Convention at the price of the unhappiness and the confusion and sterilisation of all reform and progress in Persia. The noble Earl does us no more than justice when he relieves us of any charge of that kind. In a great deal of what he said the noble Earl painted a lurid picture of possibilities that may come as the result of the present situation in Persia—from the policy of Russia on the one hand and ourselves on the other in regard to it. I am sure the noble Earl knows as well as any of us that all the mischiefs and difficulties that confront us to-day in Persia really do not come out of the Anglo-Russian Convention. He knows well that they spring from the nature of the case. Now what was the case? The experiment of Constitutional Government was tried in Persia, and everybody, even those who are most sceptical as to Constitutional Governments working well in Oriental countries, felt that here at all events, in a community like that of Persia, there was a good chance. But let me point out to your Lordships and to those outside Parliament who are full, and naturally full, of uneasiness and misgiving at the transactions which the noble Earl has described, that all those evils are not due to the action of Russia. They arise from the nature of the experiment that is being tried. You could not expect that the Persian Government should make a start in a new and unfamiliar system without being exposed to a great number of difficulties.

And the difficulties—Mr. Shuster, for example—have not been merely difficulties with Russia, not merely excited the resentment of Russia, but they were difficulties connected with the internal play and the working of the Persian Parliament. The Regent has found himself repeatedly face to face with what we should call enormous Parliamentary difficulties. He found himself unable to have a Cabinet capable of any constructive work whatever, sometimes even unable to get a Cabinet of any sort. It did not last for long, but there it was, and the position of Mr. Shuster was constantly one of severe tension with the Mejliss, whose Minister he was or professed to be. Nobody could expect that Persia in starting a new system of government could escape the perils to which all these reforms are liable to be exposed whore new systems founded on new and free principles are all exposed to the risk of extreme men who, whether they are Mahomedan or Christian, are carried away by a foolish logic and want to carry out the principles on which the new system was first started to all sorts of logical conclusions without any regard whatever to qualifying conditions and circumstances. The Persian Mejliss certainly did not escape that difficulty, and that has been one of the main difficulties. Let me point this out to those who are jealous and resentful of the interference of Russia. All the inherent difficulties of carrying on the work of new government in Persia would be a thousandfold increased, multiplied, and aggravated if there was active hostility on the part of Russia. The noble Earl sketched the other day what he would do if he were a Persian Minister. I am certain that what he would do if he were Persian Prime Minister would be to say to his Cabinet, "Of course we must do the best we can to maintain smooth relations with Russia in the north and with England in the south." Every member of your Lordships' House will see that that would be the first maxim of a Minister carrying on a new system in Persia. It would be madness to set up what some idealists in this country seem to think possible—a system which would ignore the existence of Russia and the existence of England.

The noble Earl has not dwelt so much on Mr. Shuster's line of action as I thought perhaps he might have done. Mr. Shuster, everybody now knows, is a man whose zeal, whose ability, and whose single-mindedness are beyond dispute. But the noble Earl will agree, that he has shown a considerable want of tact and that he has done what I venture to say no Persian Prime Minister ought to do—he has ignored altogether the position and indisputable claim of Persia's two great neighbours. He has admitted that he has had every handicap by want of knowledge of the language, the habits, and the feelings of the people of Persia. That, of course, is a tremendous difficulty and naturally ought to have made him very slow and cautions. The noble Earl referred to the letters of Mr. Shuster, and here he assumed that Mr. Shuster was not responsible for their circulation. He has not quite mastered the circumstances. Mr Shuster wrote, as we all know, a long, elaborate communication to The Times throwing great obloquy upon Russia and some upon ourselves. He then had the communication translated into Persian and gave it to a few Persian friends, who asked him if he had any objection to publishing it. He replied, "Of course not. What did I send it to The Times for except for publication?" Is it not obvious that the composition of the document, the deliberate translation of it into Persian, and the parting with it in that way was tantamount to circulation just as much as if lie himself had handed it out of his own door? Let the House remember that Mr. Shuster was a Persian official, and is if to be denied that Russia had serious ground of complaint when she found a Persian official throwing obloquy broadcast upon herself—the official of one Government inveighing against the officials of another? It must be admitted that that at all events was a very serious course. Sir Edward Grey warned Mr. Shuster, through Sir George Barclay, what would follow. This communication was sent to the British Minister at Teheran before the Foreign Secretary here heard of this circulation and before Russia had said a word about it. On November 6 Sir Edward Grey said— The Russian Government are sure to be annoyed by the appointment of Mr. Lecoffre, and it is not unlikely that they will defend their interests by energetic measures, which might even go so far as an occupation of Northern Persia. You should advise Shuster most strongly to do all in his power to conciliate the Russian Legation, and point out the probable, result of continued provocation on his part. He should be made to understand clearly that the Russian Government have it in their power to employ means which would seriously impede the discharge of his duties and which it would be impossible for him to withstand. He must be made to see that the Russians are sure to take measures for the protection of their own interests if administrative posts in their sphere of interest are filled by British subjects, and that His Majesty's Government cannot but deprecate such measures, as it would be contrary to the spirit of the Agreement of 1907. His Majesty's Government are obliged to avoid any displacement of Russian influence by the British in the north, and the Russians are gaining the impression that under cover of minister's administration this is being done. If you set any value on the Anglo-Russian Convention it is quite inevitable and desirable that a Minister here, desirous to observe that Convention both in spirit and letter and valuing it highly, should make that communication to Mr. Shuster, and it shows that our view—the Foreign Secretary's view—of the situation at that moment was thoroughly justified by the facts.

The noble Earl will not think me disrespectful to him if I am rather brief; the time of the House is precious. I will answer one or two of his points and state plainly where His Majesty's Government stand in these matters to-day. With reference to the point as to consultation, the consultation which the Ultimatum requires is to be a joint consultation. Russia and England are both to be consulted. The Ultimatum is only putting into a rather more emphatic form what has hitherto been the practice, and in the thing itself there is nothing whatever unreasonable or damaging to Persia. It does not lower Persia one atom. As to Persia and the Agreement, I would like anybody who attributes all the mischief to the Agreement to make one or two reflections. The noble Earl wound up with rather a vehement denunciation, or description if you like, of military parties, and said that the effect of all these operations would be that inevitably there would be an extension of Russian occupation from the North down to the South. The military party at St. Petersburg, be it great or small, have always said of the Anglo-Russian Convention what they say to-day—"But for the Anglo-Russian Convention we should be in Teheran to-day" It is that Convention which has improved the pacific prospects in Persia. The noble Earl spoke as if Persian independence and integrity had been the main and only object of the Convention. It was the main object, but nobody knows better than the noble Earl that Russia had been in possession of influence in Northern Persia long before.

In framing the Convention no one has supposed and none of its framers intended the suppression and exclusion of Russia from Northern Persia. You could not expel Russia from Northern Persia. The independence of Persia would have been in far greater peril if there had been no Anglo-Russian Agreement. Some people seem to assume that Great Britain is quite free to take an effective part, even a military part. I wonder what they would think if a military expedition from India to Teheran was decided upon from a mistaken policy. Suppose that they were to say that it was our duty to take responsibility for Persian Government. I cannot imagine anything less advantageous either to Persia or, certainly, to ourselves. In what sense can it be pretended that our influence in Persia would have been more effectual if we had not had the Convention? Suppose we had come forward, suppose we did now, as the champion of the unconditional independence of Persia as a sovereign State. This would have; led to an amount of direct responsibility upon England which would be enormous, and we should be responsible for everything that goes on. If you do this you make yourself responsible for the military administration of Persia, a thing which I do not think anybody in England would favour.

I will tell the noble Earl not only what Russia says, but what she undertakes, and it is this understanding which is the basis of our policy to-day. This is what the Russian Government say. Their object is to establish peace and normal relations with the Persian Government and the removal of all elements of discord. To this end the Russian Government propose to make certain further proposals with which we are not acquainted.


Is this a statement from the Russian Government?


No, not exactly, not literatim et verbatim; but it is practically a declaration of their undertaking. That is what it comes to. I take the responsibility of that. It is not their absolute wording. The Russian Government assures us that it has no aim that would violate the integrity and independence of Persia. It assures us categorically, and desires to place on record that such military measures as it has taken in Persian territory are of a purely provisional nature, and it has no intention whatever of infringing the principles of the Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907 as to Persia. That being of the first authenticity and authority is a very important assurance, and justifies us under all the circumstances in framing our policy on the assumption that that was theirs.

As to the indemnity, it is plain that the exaction of an indemnity, whether sooner or later, would inevitably tend to deprive Persia of those very means and resources that would enable her to carry out the reforms which we all in England hope to see accomplished. The hope of His Majesty's Government is that the Russian Government after this crisis is over, will find some way of avoiding the difficulties that arise upon the point of indemnity which is undoubtedly a question of very serious difficulty. With regard to the ex-Shah, our policy is definite and unalterable. Whatever intrigues may have gone on between the ex-Shah and the subordinate agents of the Russian Government, they do not affect the desire, the intention, of the Russian Government not to support the ex-Shah if he should attempt to return to his Throne, and we for our own part have informed the Russian Government that it would be impossible for us under any circumstances whatever to recognise the ex-Shah. His Majesty's Government see no insuperable obstacle to the recognition and acceptance of any other solution which may find favour with the Government of Persia.

I have here a few lines composed by the noble Earl the other day, and I think perhaps the House will be glad to hear what Lord Curzon said on this subject. He says he does not desire to say anything to create difficulty in the present situation, which he is quite aware is a troubled one; that there is much insecurity in Persia and difficulty in collecting revenue, and sporadic warfare going on in places where the rulers are unable to make their authority felt; and the noble Earl goes on to say that he will not admit, that European diplomacy has been a model of statesmanship. He says that he fears it seldom is, but that if the present resources of Persia were inadequate and she could obtain suitable financial assistance elsewhere he would seek that assistance. The first principle of our policy is that we should maintain the spirit and letter of the Anglo-Russian Convention; the second is that we should lose no opportunity by advice or benevolent mediation to ease the situation for the Persian Government; and the third is that if we can assist by legitimate means the Persian Government to meet their financial needs we should not interpose any unreasonable obstacle. If all these things are taken into account, and they can get over the present acute crisis, and if Russia and England do not part company and the spirit of the Agreement is maintained, we have good reason for hoping and believing that before very long we shall see a solution of a situation which is at present full of difficulty, but which is not altogether hopeless or desperate.


My Lords, the noble Viscount opposite seemed to accuse the noble Earl of having attacked the Convention as having been the source of all evil at the present time. I did not understand that to be the noble Earl's view. What I should complain of is that full life and strength were not given to the Convention, and that it was not carried out in a proper spirit. The Convention itself, so far as it referred to the independence and integrity of Persia, is beyond praise. The point is that that independence and integrity have from time to time been attacked. I suppose the noble Viscount will say that that is not the case, but it is very strange that the Persian people themselves and our fellow-subjects in India as well as a great part of the Press that ordinarily supports the noble Viscount and his colleagues do take the view that His Majesty's Government have been very weak in the remonstrances they have made against the invalidation of the Convention. The statement that has been read out here as to the intentions of Russia is most satisfactory, and we earnestly hope that full strength and life will be put into those intentions, and that there will cease to be this policy of attacking and rendering more difficult, the carrying out of the administration of Persia by the new Government. The Convention itself got additional value because soon after it was brought about there came that change of régime in Persia which really ought to have given extra force to the Agreement. I would ask whether we are to take it that there will be no change of policy and no fear of any of the steps being taken which were enumerated by the noble Earl and which would ultimately lead to the partition of Persia with all its disastrous consequences—in fact, that we may safely assume that the Agreement will be the basis of our future policy. I understand that was really the effect of the noble Viscount's statement, and I certainly hope it will be clearly understood that the Convention is going to be carried out in a proper spirit. Amongst the representations that have come from different parts of the East, it would be interesting to know whether His Majesty's Government have received any from Afghanistan.




I understand that there is great fear and dissatisfaction in that country with reference to the events which have taken place. I do think it is very hard on the Persian Government to say that the present state of things has come about by inherent difficulties and not by outside factors. I regard with admiration the efforts made by the people of Persia to set up Constitutional Government, and I believe that if they had not been exposed to these attacks, if they had had a freer hand, they would long since have got their affairs into smooth working order. They started on their new career with two Great Powers on either side of them, with one of those Powers maintaining a garrison in their country; they had no money, and were exposed to the plots and schemes of the ex-ruler trying to regain power; and I do maintain that they were not given that support and sympathy which they had a right to expect from His Majesty's Government. I repeat my great satisfaction at hearing the statement of the attitude of the Russian Government at the present time, and I hope full effect will be given to it.


The noble Viscount has not said anything about Papers.


I am afraid that at present we cannot produce them. Negotiations are going on, and we had better wait. But when a suitable, time arrives we will, of course, lay Papers.


As regards Papers we are, of course, entirely in the hands of His Majesty's Government, and I would not press that matter for a moment. Let me say, my Lords, that I think the hour and a half which we have devoted to the subject of Persia this afternoon has been well spent. We have received from the noble Viscount—I thank him for it—a most clear and explicit and, on the whole, encouraging reply, covering every aspect of the situation. There are points open to criticism, just as my remarks were open to his criticism. But I would rather on the present occasion take note of the seriousness and solemnity of the pledge emanating from the Russian Government, which was read out to us by the noble Viscount. As he said, that was a very important and a very categorical statement. I can only take it to mean that, given favourable circumstances, the Russian troops will not advance to Teheran, that a Russian military occupation will not take place, and that both Governments will address themselves to composing this matter before worse things occur. There was another feature of the Russian declaration to which I listened with great satisfaction—


If the noble Earl will pardon me for a moment, I do not wish it to be supposed, when he speaks of a declaration, that there was any given document. What I read was the expression of the view of the Russian Government, in practically their own language, of the undertaking by which they stand.


I quite understand. I do not want to press it at all beyond what it is, and I fully accept what the noble Viscount has said. But I am very glad, indeed, that this expression of opinion—I will not use the word declaration—contained something about the ex-Shah. Undoubtedly the presence of the ex-Shah on the frontier was a disturbing element, and nothing could be worse for the country than that that person should receive any encouragement whatever. It is the first condition of the independence and pacification of Persia that the ex-Shah should not return, and I am glad to hear that that view of the matter is taken by the Russian Government as well as by His Majesty's Government. I am afraid that the noble Viscount has not quite appreciated-the seriousness of the steps taken with regard to the appointment of officials. The noble Viscount said it was merely consecrating what has been the practice up to the present. If that is so, how has all this trouble arisen? But however that may be, I am glad to receive from the noble Viscount a repudiation of the idea that this joint consultation in future is to be regarded as embodying any diminution of the independent rights of the Persian Government. I think the troubles in Persia have been somewhat unfairly attributed by the noble Viscount to the inherent difficulties of the case and to factors inside the country. That is true to a large extent, but it is not the whole truth. The fact is that Persia has not received that amount of assistance in making her new Constitutional effort that she is entitled to from this country. We have given her only our sympathy, and in some respects not even that, while she has been actively opposed in certain quarters. I am glad, however, to have the admission that Russia and Great Britain are to cooperate not only in removing any serious friction between themselves, but in advancing the interests of Persia, and if they attain that object I have no doubt the clouds will lift and we shall see the dawn of a better day. I beg to withdraw my Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.