HL Deb 22 March 1911 vol 7 cc573-612

*LORD CURZON OF KEDLESTON rose to call attention to the state of affairs in Persia, the Persian Gulf, and Turkey in Asia, in relation more particularly to the construction of railways and to international agreements; to inquire as to the policy of His Majesty's Government; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am sure that your Lordships will greatly regret, on this occasion as much as on any other, the absence of Lord Lansdowne from this Bench, because he happens to be more conversant with one of the subjects, at any rate, to which it will be my duty to call your Lordships' attention—namely, the Baghdad Railway—than any other member of this House. The object of my Motion is to elicit information from His Majesty's Government on subjects which I think I shall have no difficulty in showing are of great importance to this country. I hope the noble Viscount who is to follow me will pardon me if my remarks to some extent take the form of questions. Those questions will certainly not be asked in any spirit of idle curiosity, but from an honest and legitimate desire to obtain information which is not available to us from other sources, except the Press, the information contained in which, although surprisingly wide, is of course, from the necessities of the case, not invariably accurate.

I am not sure that your Lordships' House has not been rather too sparing in recent years in initiating debates on matters of high politics, more especially in relation to foreign affairs. I do not think we have had a single debate on any aspect of what I may call the Central Asian question since the debate on the Anglo Russian Agreement in the beginning of 1908. Any reluctance that may have been felt on our part to initiate discussion has sprung in part from an honourable desire not to embarrass or to challenge the conduct of affairs by His Majesty's Ministers, and it has also been partly due to the fact that since the unfortunate retirement of Lord Fitzmaurice, who very ably represented the Foreign Office, we have never had a direct representative of the Foreign Office in this House of Parliament. I venture with all respect to say that this is a great inconvenience to your Lordships' House, and that on Constitutional grounds it represents a most undesirable innovation. I believe that within the memory of the oldest of us, and much beyond that, there has never been an occasion on which the Foreign Office has not had a spokesman in this House. No doubt that has been largely due to the fact that the Foreign Secretary has usually been a Peer; but the accident that the present Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs is in the House of Commons—and we do not grudge his presence there—surely ought not to be made a reason for penalising your Lordships' House or for disabling us in any form from that inner knowledge of foreign affairs which can only accrue from the presence of a direct representative of the Foreign Office. I hope that nothing I am saying will be held to involve the smallest disparagement of the services of noble Lords on the Front Bench opposite. We have all of us admired the ability and grasp with which the Leader of this House, Lord Crewe, has on many occasions spoken for Departments not his own—spoken for them with an authority and lucidity that could scarcely have been equalled by a representative of the Department itself; and certainly to-night I am the last to complain, because the spokesman for the Government is to be the noble Viscount opposite, who has a peculiar right from his long tenure of office in connection with India to speak on every one of the subjects I am about to raise. But, after all, no man can speak adequately for an Office without the inner knowledge that is acquired inside it. I submit that as a matter of Constitutional practice your Lordships are entitled as a still equal and co-ordinate branch of the Legislature, whatever may happen in the future, to first-hand information on foreign affairs; and I very much regret that among the Peers whom the Prime Minister sends up to this House and who adorn the Benches opposite there is not to be found an accredited representative of the Foreign Office who can speak to us with the intimate knowledge that presence in the Office alone can give. I do not desire to labour the point, and I hope the noble Viscount will pardon the digression I have made, and which has no reference whatever to himself.

The Notice which I have placed on the Paper is confined to that part of Asia which is commonly called the Middle East, and it raises questions connected with three portions of those territories—Persia the Persian Gulf and Turkey in Asia. In all these regions important events have occurred during the past few years, events which, I think, though apparently separate, are closely connected in their operation and their consequences. In sonic of these events India has been primarily and directly concerned, in others indirectly, but in the majority of cases they have had relation to the sphere of Foreign Affairs.

The first subject to which I venture to allude is the condition of Persia. Persia has been passing through troublous times; she has deposed a Sovereign, and given birth to a Constitution; she has been confronted with financial embarrassments, with internal disorder, and with conditions that have almost threatened disruption of the social and political fabric of the country. These symptoms have naturally been viewed with concern and am sure with sympathetic concern in this country, but in Southern Persia and in South-Eastern Persia; where the interests of our trade are so important and where so much British and Indian capital is sunk, it is not unnatural that that concern should have assumed a more active and more vivid form. The condition of affairs in the southern part of Persia, between Ispahan and the sea, and, indeed, in the whole Hinterland of the Gulf ports in the latter part of 1910 was one scarcely distinguishable from anarchy. The local governments almost ceased to exercise their functions, Governors were besieged in their houses; at one port, Lingah, the town was saved from being sacked only by an appeal being addressed to a British naval force to land on the shore, caravans were attacked, the mails were looted, telegraph wires were cut, trade was paralysed, and bands of lawless tribesmen wandered about the interior doing pretty much what they liked. That in a few words is a fair description of the state of affairs about six months or a year ago.

It was in these circumstances that in October last year His Majesty's Government sent a Note to the Persian Government indicating to them that unless within the space of three months security could be re-established on the trade routes the British Government would be called upon to raise a force of Militia in Persia itself which would be commanded by officers from India, where it is easy to find men who have great experience in that sort of work. At the time this was described in some quarters as a harsh and high-handed proceeding on the part of His Majesty's Government. They were accused of sinister designs on the integrity of Persia and the independence of the Persian Government. I am convinced that such designs were never for a moment entertained. I am confident that the integrity and independence of Persia, which were guaranteed by His Majesty's Government in the Preamble to the Anglo-Russian Agreement of 1907, have no stauncher friends than His Majesty's present Government. I therefore desire to dissociate myself from those attacks. I believe that as friends of Persia His Majesty's Government were anxious only to give a warning to the Persian Government that a continuance of the existing state of affairs was really injurious to the interests of both, and to provide a stimulus to the Persian Government to do for themselves what might otherwise have to be done for them. At the end of three months the condition of affairs was reported to be better and the improvement was held to be sufficient to justify an extension of the probationary period which had been named. I am sure we were all very glad to be acquainted with this news, and the first question that I desire to put to the noble Viscount is this: What is the present state of affairs in Southern Persia; have the trade routes been reopened; has security been re-established; has the Central Government been enabled to vindicate law and order; and is there hope that friendly relations between Persia and His Majesty's Government will continue, and that the alternative threatened will no t have to be carried into execution?

I should like to say for myself, and I am sure that what I say will be echoed on both sides of the House, that we are warmly interested in the success of the new Persian regime. There has just entered into office in Persia in the supremely responsible post of Regent in that country a Statesman who is a personal friend of my own. He was an under-graduate with me at the same college at Oxford, and I know him not merely to possess the highest abilities but to be actuated by the most sincere and lofty patriotism in the interests of his country. I speak of the Nasr-ul-Mulk. He appears to have entered upon his functions there with great courage and under the happiest auspices. I hope he will receive at the hands of His Majesty's Government every support they can properly and legitimately give him, not merely on the personal grounds which I have mentioned, but because we all of us desire that the Constitutional experiment which is being made in Persia—and Constitutions are not born without a painful travail—should be successful, that the Persian kingdom should retain the independence which it has enjoyed for so many centuries, and that not merely our own subjects, in whom, of course, we are chiefly concerned, but the subjects of the Shah himself should enjoy the blessings of peace and order.

The next subject to which I invite your attention is that of the Persian Gulf, and. here I am dealing with what is primarily an Indian subject, because I propose to refer to the arms traffic which has in recent years sprung up with such dangerous scope and with such deplorable results in that region. The Gulf is, of course, the base of operations, but the range of influence of this iniquitous traffic extends right away to the mountain border of India. Your Lordships are probably aware of the great and serious peril that is growing up on that frontier owing to the armament of the tribesmen. W here in the old days when first I went to India they were armed with primitive muskets of their own manufacture or with a small number of superior weapons which they had stolen from our troops across the frontier, they are now equipped with first-class weapons, magazine rifles, for the most part of French or Belgian manufacture, which they obtain by overland communication from the Persian Gulf. I believe that no fewer than 150,000 of these rifles are in the possession of the tribesmen on the British side of the frontier in India. How many are on the Afghan side I would shrink from saying. But I have been told that in 1910 alone as many as 20,000 of the latest magazine rifles and one million rounds of ammunition made their way from the Gulf to the regions to which I have referred. These rifles come from Europe, and the entrepÔt of distribution is the port of Muscat, which is the capital of the protected State of Oman. Under the shelter of Treaties, to which I shall presently refer, swift dhows embark cargoes of these arms in or outside the waters of Muscat. They run before the wind to the opposite coast of the Gulf, and there they land them upon the coast, where bands of confederates are lurking in convenient places to receive them. The caravans disappear into the interior, and the next thing that we hear is that a British soldier or an Indian soldier several hundred miles away has been killed by a bullet from one of these rifles on the frontier of India. It is only recently that this trade has attained to really alarming dimensions, and I cannot help thinking—though in this I am open to correction—that His Majesty's Government must have been rather supine in the earlier stages of the traffic.

More lately, however, and especially during the time the noble Viscount was at the India Office, there has been a great awakening, and I have no words of praise too warm for the systematic and vigorous attempts that have been made by the East India Squadron during the past year to curtail this nefarious traffic. It was in the course of these proceedings that in December last there occurred an incident which resulted, I am sorry to say, in the death of five English marines and sailors and eight wounded. This took place at a small spot named Debai, on that part of the southern shore of the Persian Gulf which is commonly known as the Pirate Coast, a name that bespeaks the occupation of the people before the pax Britannica came on the scene. When I was in India I was called upon to conclude Treaties with all the chiefs on this cast to prevent the import of these arms, and the Sheikh of Debai, where this incident happened, was one of the chiefs who signed those Treaties. I believe what happened was this, that owing to the great difficulty of exporting arms from Muscat the trade was shifted to Debai. Our naval officers hearing that a consignment of arms had been landed there went ashore in order to capture them, and it was then that this unfortunate collision took place. I have heard that an ultimatum was presented to the chief, with which lie complied. But the questions which I should like to put to the noble Viscount are these:(1) Was the Sheikh himself implicated in the business? (2) What was the end of the whole transaction? and (3) Is there any reason to suppose that the Treaties to which I have alluded have been broken anywhere else on that coast? It would he a deplorable thing if there were any breakdown in those arrangements of maritime police which have been successfully enforced by the British Government in these waters for the last fifty years.

There is another pertinent question I should like to ask the noble Viscount. Is he quite satisfied that the ships of the East Indian Squadron are entirely suited for the purposes of the patrol which they have to carry on? My own impression is that we want a special character of vessel, of very swift speed and of very small draught, in order to pursue these dhows running before the wind and to catch them as they shoot into the shallows and creeks of the opposite coast. The ships of the East Indian Squadron that I saw were not, in my opinion, suitable for that task, and I believe any special expenditure that was incurred upon that object would be more than repaid in the great saving of life and in the political results that would ensue.

But before I pass from this subject there is another and bigger question behind—to what is the enormous expan- sion of this illicit traffic due? Every State around the Persian Gulf with the exception of Oman has joined in the prohibition of the arms-trade. The State of Oman alone stands aloof. The Sultan of that State—I know it, because he told me so himself—is willing and anxious to join in the prohibition. But he is precluded from doing so by Treaties, concluded fifty years ago under entirely different circumstances, between himself and France, the United States, and Holland. We may eliminate from our consideration the two latter, because they have nothing now to do with this ease. In the case of France, however, there are French subjects and traders representing considerable commercial interests engaged in this traffic at Muscat, and because of that fact this disastrous state of affairs with the consequences that I have described is permitted to continue.

While I was in India the Government at home did their best to induce the French Government to forego its privileges in this respect. Since then I believe that His Majesty's Government have clone the same, and that there have been more than one international conference upon the matter. I do not know what precise form the negotiations have taken, but I believe they have failed in their result, and I have read that if they received territorial compensation elsewhere the French would be prepared to give way. I should be inclined, if I had any right to do so, to make an appeal to the French Government and to the French nation. I might appeal to them as a nation united by ties of the closest amity to ourselves, an amity to which in recent years we have given convincing proofs of the most loyal attachment. But I think I would prefer to appeal to them, if the appeal is not impertinent, as a nation pre-eminently distinguished for a fine sense of chivalry, humanity, and justice, and as a nation which has exercised a great and permanent moral influence upon mankind, to aid us in putting an end to this traffic. If the French Treaties at Muscat of which I speak were abrogated and the port of Muscat were closed to this traffic, the entire arms trade in the Gulf would collapse to-morrow and the whole of this traffic, so pernicious in its character, so hard in the privations that it imposes upon our sailors, so dangerous in its effects upon the tribesmen hundreds of miles away upon our Indian frontier, would perish at its source. My Lords, is not this a strong case? May we not unreasonably ask the French Government to consider this matter from the wider rather than from the narrower standpoint, and to beg them to defer to those lofty sentiments which have so often inspired their action in public affairs? I say no more upon that point, and I hope that the few remarks I have made will not be distasteful to the members of His Majesty's Government or to the noble Viscount who is to follow me.

Now I pass from these subjects to one which is, perhaps, more likely to interest the great majority of your Lordships' House. I refer to the questions connected with the upper end of the Persian Gulf, about which the noble Viscount has been kind enough to lay upon the Table of the House these abundant and illuminating maps, and more especially I refer, of course, to the Baghdad Railway. I need not ask your Lordships to accompany me into the old days of the history of the Baghdad Railway. We all know that seventy years ago or more this was a project that excited great interest in this country, that it was first projected by English authorities and engineers, and that as lately as 1872, I think, a Committee of the House of Commons, presided over by Sir Stafford Northcote, reported in favour of the construction of such a line. In those days it was regarded as a means of communication with and as a protection for, India. But since then circumstances have changed, and the entire political perspective is now different. It. was about twenty years ago that Germany entered upon that policy of railway construction in Asia Minor which has gradually resulted in every railway in those portions of the Turkish Empire, except the Smyrna Aidin Railway which still remains a British concern, passing into German hands.

The present situation dates from a more recent period, from the year 1903, when a Convention was concluded at Constantinople between the Turkish Government and the Anatolian Railway Company for an extension of the line from Konieh, in the heart of Asia Minor, to Baghdad and Basra and to a port then unnamed on the Persian Gulf. At that time the Unionist Party was inn office and Lord Lansdowne was Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. No Papers on the subject were laid before Parliament; but you will find in the statements that were made by Mr. Balfour in the House of Commons on April 23, 1903, and the still more famous statement made by Lord Lansdowne in this House on May 5, 1903, a full account of the considerations which actuated the policy of His Majesty's Government at that time. It is quite clear that they took up no hostile attitude towards the railway. Their financial cooperation was desired by the promoters, and they entered into communication with the heads of important financial houses on the subject. It appears from what passed that His Majesty's Government did not object in principle to the construction of the line; that they were willing to agree to an increase in the Turkish Customs Tariff which was necessary in order to raise the loans required for the construction of the line; and that they were prepared to consider the question of sending the Indian mails by that route, and also the question of a terminus on the Persian Gulf at Koweit. They decided, however, that if they were to support the line, the whole of it must be under international control, that an equal share must be given to all the Great Powers taking part in respect of capital, materials of construction, and of management when constructed. It was only when, those conditions were not satisfied that His Majesty's Government receded, with much regret I believe, from the negotiations into which they had entered. It will be remembered that their attitude was affected to a great extent by the expressions of public opinion in the Press and elsewhere at that time. As soon as the text of the Convention was published in The Times—it was never laid as a Parliamentary Paper—considerable agitation arose in this country, and for my own part, viewing certain conditions of the Convention into which I will not enter in detail but which related to the construction of ports at different points upon the river and in the Gulf, to the navigation of the rivers, and the control of the line, it was not surprising that in consequence of those conditions a good deal of public feeling was aroused. However that may be, His Majesty's Government decided not to pursue the negotiations. Whether that was a fortunate or unfortunate decision on their part it is not necessary now to discuss. The only pertinent fact, I think, is that in the circumstances it was inevitable, and it was ratified, as far as I know, not only by public opinion, but by all on both sides in politics in this country who were competent to decide. I am not aware that any criticism was directed against the then Government by either side. However, that is a matter of bygone history, and I may pass on to more recent events.

Now, my Lords, what is the present position? As regards railway construction the progress during the past few years has not been great. The line has been carried to a point which you will see on either of these maps called Bulgurlu, a little beyond Eregli in the southern part of Asia Minor, and there it has halted for the past six years; but quite recently an Iradeh has been issued for the extension of the line, and money, I believe, has been found for that work. Any one who has been in that part of the world knows that the construction of the most difficult part of the railway now lies before the promoters. They have the Taurus Range to cross, and other great difficulties to overcome. This is the moment when talk is heard of reviving negotiations. During the last day or two I have read in the newspapers of a fresh transaction which is alleged to have taken place in Constantinople, under which the Baghdad Railway, formerly known as the Anatolian Railway, is alleged to have surrendered its concession for the Gulf section, under certain conditions, in return for the grant of a line from Osmanieh, a place on the map a little south of the Taurus Range—


It is not marked on the map, I am afraid.


In return for the grant of a line from Osmanieh to the important and well-known port of Alexandretta. I do not know whether the information is authentic or the agreement concluded. If it is, all I can say is that it will be of very great advantage to the German company. They will gain access to an important port on the Mediterranean, and as far as I can see the whole of the trade of Mesopotamia which has a westward trend must find its outlet in that port. I do not think I need enter into that question except to ask the noble Viscount if he has any information to give us on the point. What more immediately concerns us is that, if the statements made are correct, the price alleged to be paid for this very notable concession is the surrender of the rights of the company at the Gulf end of the former line. If that is so, the position is very much easier, should it be the desire of His Majesty's Government to enter into a discussion with the Turkish Government or with any one else in regard to that branch of the subject.

The question which any one would naturally ask is—What are British interests in the Baghdad Railway? If we have no substantial interests in the matter, why should we bother ourselves about these transactions in a distant part of the world? The answer is that the interests of the British Government are twofold. In the first place, we have commercial and economic interests in every section of that railway from sea to sea—from the Mediterranean to the Gulf; and, secondly, political, strategic, and Imperial interests in those sections which are in the neighbourhood of the Persian Gulf. As to the first, over almost the whole of the area covered by the. Baghdad Railway British trade is predominant. We have to see, therefore, that British trade should not be subject to any differential treatment in the future. The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs said in the House of Commons the other day that the original Convention contains satisfactory assurances on that point. I am not quite clear as to that. A mere clause in the statutes of the company prohibiting differential rates may be of very little use in itself. It would be comparatively easy to frame a tariff favouring categories of goods which come mainly from Germany, as opposed to goods coming mainly from Great Britain and India. This has been done before in a case known to many of your Lordships, and I believe there are clauses in the cahier des charges of the railway which would permit of preference being given to the goods of one country over goods of another. Therefore I am a little suspicious on the matter, and I mention it in order to say that I hope His Majesty's Government will be alive to this aspect of the case. The money which is required can only be procured by their consent, and I hope that consent will not be given unless they are assured that our commercial interests will be protected over the whole of this area from the hostile and differential treatment which I have described as not impossible.

There is one branch of the projected railway about which I am not altogether happy—the branch -which is to be made from Sadijelt, just north of Baghdad, to Khanikin on the Persian frontier. I know that this concession was part of the original Convention, and that it has always been contemplated that when the railway reached the Persian frontier it should be connected with a line running into Persia itself. That is a matter with which we have a close concern. British goods coming up the Gulf in ships are sent up to Baghdad in boats, and then put on the backs of mules and ponies and carried over the mountains into Persia. This is a British trade amounting to £1,000,000 a year, while the whole trade of the other nations of Europe is not much more than one-tenth of that sum.

What is to happen to that trade in future? I think that up to Busra and up to Baghdad by the river routes it will hold its own. As to what will happen on the middle section between Baghdad and Khanikin I ant not quite certain. But I have a shrewd suspicion that when the Russian railway is complete from Teheran to the frontier, the whole of the trade of northern and central Persia, in so far as it goes down by the customary caravan routes to the southern ports, will be diverted to the new line. If that be so, the prospect for British trade is one which we cannot help regarding with some alarm. I hope His Majesty's Government will keep an open eye on this branch of the question, and will lose no opportunity of securing that fair treatment which the enormous preponderance of our commerce on that route entitles us to demand.

In the debate in the House of Commons on this subject about ten days ago Sir Edward Grey said that if we want to combat this route with advantage British trade ought to make other routes, though he did not specify what they should be, and lie rather blamed Mr. Balfour for not suggesting any alternative. With all respect, I would say it is not for the Opposition to make suggestions. The responsibility lies with His Majesty's Government; they are the custodians of our interests; they alone are thoroughly acquainted with the facts; and it is for them to put pressure on at the point where it is most likely to be successful. I do not want to press the noble Viscount to make any disclosures that might be inconvenient, but I should like to ask whether Sir Edward Grey's statement was merely a platonic enunciation of a general principle or whether it did point to any definite plan that is in the mind of His Majesty's Government?

Your Lordships know well that some years ago there was given to His Majesty's Government an autograph promise from the then Shah of Persia—Nasr-ud-din Shah—that any Russian railway concession in the north of Persia would be balanced by a corresponding British railway concession in the south. That promise has been quoted more than once by Lord Lansdowne in this House, and it has been repeated by successive Persian Governments. It seems to me, therefore, that if a Russian railroad is to be constructed in the north leading down to Khanikin, the time is drawing near for the possible fulfilment of this pledge in the south, and I should like to know that; His Majesty's Government are not losing sight of this question and that when the hour arrives they will not hesitate to take advantage of the opportunity thus created for them; I do not ask for more specific information unless the noble Viscount is disposed to give it.

My Lords, I said just now that our interests in the eastern end of the Baghdad Railway are political and strategic, and the proposition which I would submit is that these considerations start into being the moment we leave Baghdad. It would be a mistake to suppose that our political interests are confined to the Gulf. They are not confined to the Gulf; they are not confined to the region between the Gulf and Busra; they are not confined to the region between Busra and Baghdad; they extend over the whole region right away up to Baghdad. The navigation of the Tigris up to Baghdad has been for scores of years in the hands of a British company, cruelly handicapped, I fear, in recent years, but still holding its own. We have Treaties with the Arab chieftains on the banks of the river not in Turkish territory. Nearly 90 per cent. of the trade that goes up to Baghdad is British and Indian. Large numbers of Indian subjects visit and live at the holy shrines of Kerbela and Nejef, and a constant stream of emigration runs between India and those places. In Baghdad itself we had a Resident 100 years ago—eighty years before the representa- tive of any other foreign Power appeared on the scene. There he has been ever since, with a gunboat and an Indian guard. These evidences, which I might multiply, are sufficient to show that we exercise an influence in this portion of the territory at the end of the Gulf that entitles us to consideration and consultation in any question raised in connection with that end of the Baghdad Railway.

I am not called upon to discuss the Treaty relations that exist between ourselves and the Sheikh of Koweit. As the Viceroy who negotiated that Treaty I might have something to say on the subject, but I will merely say that with all respect to the claims and pretensions of other Powers our position cannot be ignored, and I am sure that His Majesty's Government, from what the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs said the other day, may be relied upon not to surrender the advantages which we enjoy.

Our position in the Gulf, however, depends on very much more than on any Treaties we may have concluded with individual chiefs. It rests upon the unassailable ground of our trade in the Gulf; upon our services there for the last 100 years; upon the capital sunk; upon the naval position we keep up; upon the political predominance which we maintain; and, most of all, upon the fact that the Gulf is part of the maritime frontier of India, and that in the politics of the Gulf are involved the security, integrity, and peace of India itself. This is no new discovery, but an admitted truism accepted by all Parties on both side in both Houses of Parliament. It has been explicitly stated over and over again in both Houses. There was the famous statement of Lord Lansdowne, to which I have referred, in this House; there was the earlier statement by the noble Marquess who sits below me, Lord Salisbury; there have been more than one statement by Sir Edward Grey; and I have here a statement made by the late Sir Charles Dilke which I should like to quote as emanating from a man who disagreed with the views of many of those who sit in this House, but who was an almost unique authority on foreign affairs. Speaking in the House of Commons on April 8, 1903, Sir Charles Dilke said— He hoped that the Government would most steadily maintain not only our privileged but our monopoly-position in the Persian Gulf.…It was vital to our policy. If we should be tempted into introducing any foreign Power to the coast of the Persian Golf so that there they might open up, at the head of the railway, a great naval station, we I should have forced upon us the necessity of making an additional naval expenditure which it would be intolerable to have to face. It was far better to say at once, as we had said, that we would not tolerate the admission of any foreign Power on the Persian Gulf itself. I need not labour the point. It is a foundation principle of British policy that we cannot allow the growth of any rival or predominant political interest in the waters of the Gulf, not because it would affect our local prestige alone, but because it would have influences that would extend for many thousands of miles beyond. I venture to think that the assertion of this principle, even in its most emphatic form, is not, and need not be, antagonistic to the interests of any other Power in that part of the world. I imagine that it would be frankly accepted by Germany, and I have no knowledge that it has ever been disputed by her. I believe it to be compatible with a full and generous recognition of the sovereignty of Turkey in these parts. When we come to the upper end of the Gulf and to the district between Fao and Baghdad, to my mind a strong, prosperous, and independent Turkish Government, able to consolidate its power, to keep in check the unruly tribes on the bank, to guarantee the safety of the waterways, and to develop the immense potential resources of the Delta, is an object that ought to be one not merely of anxious solicitude, but of paramount necessity to a British Government. I can imagine nothing that is more essential to ourselves than a strong Turkish Government in these regions, and I am sure that this House would commend any steps taken to fortify the authority of the Turkish Government in that quarter, and that whether we enter into negotiations with Germany, or, as now seems more probable, with Turkey, there is nothing in our present claims or in our present position that is likely to be detrimental to the successful issue of any such negotiations.

My Lords, quite frankly, if I were to speak this afternoon as an Englishman alone I do not think that I should be anxious to see the Baghdad Railway carried down to the Gulf. It will contain in itself elements of change, of novelty, and possibly of danger. I am not clear that it would benefit our trade; it might conceivably injure it. I have never convinced myself that it is desirable to continue the building of the railway beyond Baghdad, and certainly not beyond Busra, up to which 1 believe, even if a railway be there constructed, the trade will still go in boats. I doubt if the line from Busra to the Gulf, whether to Koweit or to whatever other port, will even pay the interest on the capital that is expended on it. These are my individual opinions for what they may be worth, and I know the country pretty well. But if, in spite of these opinions, the Turkish Government is resolved on the building of the railway in so far as it lies within its own territory, and if the railway can be built, without serious financial risk, then I think His Majesty's Government are entirely entitled and are bound to enter into a discussion with them in a reasonable spirit, with a view, it may be, to arriving at some conclusion.

Sir Edward Grey said in the House of Commons ten days ago that we possess certain advantages in a discussion with Turkey. He pointed out, that the increase of four per cent. in the Customs duties which the Turkish Government are seeking cannot be conceded without our consent. He pointed out the position of vantage which we enjoy at Koweit and the upper end of the Gulf. I agree with all he said, but if anything he understated rather than overstated our position. My belief is that the whole of the Baghdad Railway, from sea to sea, from the Mediterranean to the Gulf, cannot be built without access to the financial markets of Great Britain and. France, and it is only by international co-operation between the various Great Powers concerned that the requisite security for the investment can be obtained. I doubt if it can be financed by any one Power alone, or if remunerative profits can be secured unless more than one Power is taken into co-operation in the matter. There are also great schemes afloat for the development and irrigation of other parts of the country, of Chaldea and of Mesopotamia. Every one of us would like to see these projects translated into effect, but those of us who have travelled there are inclined to wonder, if these works be executed, where the population is to come from to till the ground thus recovered and to revive the vanished glories of the past. Believe me, my Lords, there is a very long furrow to be hoed before the end is in sight. I do not make these remarks in the slightest degree to deprecate or depreciate the scheme, but I do utter them from some slight knowledge of the facts in order to modify the exaggerated anticipations entertained in many quarters and to indicate more strongly than anything else that without British support it is more than doubtful if any of these schemes will see the light of fruition. It is not for me to attempt to indicate methods of construction or control that might have to be adopted if the Gulf section of the line were built. Many plans are discussed in the newspapers. I confess that the proposal of an international system, with its costly board of management and its constant potentialities of friction, is not one that excites my enthusiasm. His Majesty's Government may have their own views about the matter. I do not presume to dictate to them. My own position is simply this, that whatever method of construction of the Gulf section, if it be built, they may favour, I hope they will see that the predominance of our interests is maintained, and that nothing is done to impair or whittle away or derogate from the rights which I have described.

Before I conclude there is one subject about which I shall say little, because I know little, but about which it is impossible to be altogether silent. I allude to the alleged Agreement between Russia and Germany entered upon, if not concluded, at Potsdam in November last. Several versions of this Agreement have appeared in the newspapers. I am quite prepared to believe that they are all in' correct, but we have certain authoritative statements which have been made by the German Chancellor, speaking at Berlin, and by M. Sazonoff. the Russian Minister for Foreign Affairs, speaking at St. Petersburg; and from those utterances I think we are justified in believing, first, that when the German railway from Baghdad reaches Khanikin, on the frontier of Persia, the Russians are prepared to build a railway from Teheran or its neighbourhood down to the frontier to meet it; and secondly, that the Russians have withdrawn the opposition which at one time was strong on their part to the construction of the Baghdad Railway as a whole—both of which, of course, are great advantages to Germany; and, on the other hand, that some recognition has been given by Germany to Russian political, commercial, and strategical predominance in the northern part of Persia, which, of course, would be an equal gain to Russia. It would be idle to deny that this version of affairs, if it be true, has excited some apprehension, and that there are many who have feared that there might be some breach impending in that entente between Russia and ourselves which was the direct object of the Anglo-Russian Agreement concluded by noble Lords opposite a few years ago, and for which, as many of us think, they paid a very high price in that Agreement, but to which, at any rate, nobody can say that this country has not loyally and unflinchingly adhered.

It would be a great relief to us if His Majesty's Government could say, without trenching on forbidden ground, that all that has been done has been done with their full knowledge and sympathy, that our undertaking with Russia has not been in any degree weakened, and that our interests have not suffered and are not likely to suffer. I should be the last to argue that the broad lines of international policy or the grouping of allied Powers are incompatible with friendly arrangements between members of the different groups on subjects that more specially concern themselves. Every such Agreement may be, and ought to be, a link in the international chain of peace, but of course it ought to be subject to the condition that these minor accommodations are carried out with perfect loyalty to the larger issues that are concerned, as I doubt not has been the case in the present instance, and that private interests are never allowed to get the better of public obligations. I do not venture to say more on the point, and I hope that I have not said too much.

There is only one other subject to which I desire to allude, and it is this. In the course of the discussion on all these questions there has again emerged, after long oblivion, the idea of a great trans-Persian line, running either from Trebizond, in the corner of the Black Sea, via Tabriz to Teheran, or from the Caspian Sea to Teheran, and then continuing via Yezd and Kerman in a south-easterly direction towards the eastern frontier. Whenever such a scheme is proposed it fills the imagination of everybody who regards it, because it is part of that great scheme of inter-Continental communication which, in the belief of all of us, will some day be realised. The noble Viscount will agree with me that it is not the shortest line. The shortest line is through Afghanistan, where only a gap of a few hundred miles separates the Russian terminus from our own. He will also agree with me that, owing to circumstances, into which I need not enter, such a line is outside the sphere of practical politics, at all events at present. Nor do I need to enter into an examination of the features of the trans-Persian line. Many important issues are involved in that examination. I am aware that experts entertain most widely different opinions on the subject. I mention it only because I have seen it stated that the Russian Government have intimated their willingness to support the scheme if it is carried out without injuring Russian commercial interests and without imposing fresh burdens upon the Russian Treasury. The second of these "ifs" is a very big "if." I have never been able myself to imagine where the funds are going to come from for these great trans-continental schemes in Persia and elsewhere. Obviously, no company will find the money unless it has a guarantee by some Government. There are only three Governments concerned. The first is the Government of Persia, which is unhappily not in a position to give a guarantee to anybody. The second is the Government of Russia, whose attitude I have already described. The third is the Government of this country, and I confess I do not see the Chancellor of the Exchequer coming down to the House of Commons and addressing a request to Parliament to guarantee Government funds for this line. And, then, another condition has to be satisfied before such an idea is entertained, and that is that there is a sound and stable Government in the country through which the line runs. I will not pursue the subject. I have merely mentioned it to ask the noble Viscount whether the idea is at all seriously entertained, and whether we ought to regard it as occupying any place in the field of international politics at the present time.

My Motion ends with a request for Papers. Really I ought to thank the noble Viscount for having so far anticipated me as to overwhelm us with these admirable and useful maps, but when I talked about Papers I meant something more than maps. The fact is that the Governments in recent years have been rather parsimonious in their distribution of Papers on Asiatic matters. I believe that as regards Persia the last Blue Book we have is Persia No. 1, 1910, which carries events up to the end of 1909. But about the Persian Gulf, so far as I know, we have had nothing at all—nothing about gun-running or the proceedings at Brussels to which I have referred. As regards the Baghdad Railway, we have never had anything. The Convention itself has never been laid before Parliament, and if you want to get it you have to go either to an obsolete copy of The Times or else to the book of some intrepid traveller who has secured it in his journeys and published it as an appendix to his work. When you contrast this dearth of information with the plethora of official Blue Books which used to be showered upon the country in the clays when Russia in Central Asia and Afghanistan were the subjects of popular discussion the contrast is amazing. I really do not know whether it is due to the fact that modern Governments are becoming more indifferent to Parliament, or whether Parliament is becoming more indifferent to its own interests. The fact remains that we have had no Papers on this subject, and I respectfully ask the noble Viscount to present us with all the Papers that he reasonably can. I have wandered over a wide field in the remarks I have had the honour of addressing to your Lordships. I am grateful for the attention you have been kind enough to give to me, and I hope I may receive, as I have no doubt I shall, a satisfactory reply from the noble Viscount on behalf of His Majesty's Government.

Moved, That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty for Papers in relation to the construction of railways and to international agreements in Persia, the Persian Gulf, and Turkey in Asia.—(Lord Curzon of Kedleston.)


My Lords, I will begin by saying how cordially I concur with the noble Lord in regretting the absence of Lord Lansdowne. I regret it on all grounds, but more particularly because Lord Lansdowne is specially conversant with all the particulars of the origin of our dealings in the important matter of the Baghdad Railway. The noble Lord referred very kindly, and not more kindly than justly, to the authority and lucidity with which my noble friend Lord Crewe discusses foreign affairs in this House, and nobody could more deplore his absence to-day than myself.

The noble Lord has taken us on to as important ground as. I think, any member. of your Lordships' House could undertake. People do not yet recognise how enormous are the issues involved, how enormous is the area involved in the questions which-the noble Lord has raised, and nobody in this House has a better right to lead discussions upon these questions than the noble Lord. He has been most part of his life, I should think, closely interested in the whole group of questions that he has dealt with this afternoon, and his knowledge to within six years ago is first-hand and personal knowledge. I do not for a moment dispute his claim that he has discussed all these questions, large and important as they are, in a perfectly honest and legitimate and sincere spirit. We have no possible ground of complaint. I think he was a little ungrateful in his irony about the maps, because really when he last spoke on these issues in 1908 he said how he regretted that there were no maps, and that without maps the discussion was unintelligible. I therefore thought that in providing maps I was meeting the noble Lord's views.

The noble Lord mentioned at the end of his speech what are called the Potsdam negotiations, if that is the right word, between Russia and Germany. Nobody knows better than the noble Lord that for-us at this stage to discuss negotiations between two sovereign independent Powers before those negotiations, so far as we know, have come to a definite conclusion would be to take up a position which no official or responsible person, either in this House or the country, has a right to take. Therefore I have nothing to say about what are called the Potsdam negotiations.

With regard to the subject of trans-Persian railways, any ideas or designs on that subject are far too immature for any sensible or useful or instructive observations to be made upon them. I for one personally should feel very much inclined to follow the noble Lord in his doubts, or more than doubts, as to the workableness of those particular designs. I will follow the noble Lord through the three heads to which he asked our attention. The first is, of course, Persia. In all that lie said as to the present Regent in Persia His Majesty's Government. entirely concur. It is upon his character, in truth, that we lean, and upon which we rest our hopes. His recent exhortations in the Mejliss, his account of what ought to be the public duty of that important body, the line he has taken, and his insistence upon their giving his Minister a stable majority—all those show a man of character, to whose policy we can look for nothing but satisfactory results. The Minister whom he has chosen shares those moderate and practical views, and we may hope, and we do hope, with such confidence as is possible in a country whose condition has been so confused, that from that there may emerge a sufficiently stable condition of affairs.

Then I turn to the question of the southern roads. It is no wonder that the noble Lord called our attention to the condition of those roads, but I believe that if he had been able to follow events as closely as a member of the Government has to do, he would have felt that his picture of the state of things, unsatisfactory as it is, is rather exaggerated.


I limited it to the last six months of 1910, and my information was obtained from official sources.


I know; but to say that the state of things was little short of anarchy is certainly using a phrase far in excess of the facts. The noble Lord has told your Lordships what happened, and I am very glad that he has, as I would have expected, dissociated himself from those who impute that the action we took in October last year was due to a sinister or nefarious design on the independence or integrity of Persia. Of course, I should have expected the noble Lord to keep clear of innuendos of that sort. Though there was not anarchy, the state of things had become very bad. In November the Russian Consul-General at Bushire was attacked while on his way to his post, and the British Consul was also attacked, and on both occasions lives were lost. In May last a representation was made to the Persian Government, but no steps were taken by them, and so it was that in October the Persian Government were informed that if they failed to restore something like order on these roads His Majesty's Government would be compelled to insist on the organisation of a local force for the purpose, to be commanded by officers from the Indian Army, and the expense to be defrayed by a ten per cent. surcharge on certain ditties. After further exchange of Notes the Persian Government in December detailed the measures which they proposed to take. We most cheerfully and willingly, and with perfect confidence in their good faith, agreed to give them another opportunity of fulfilling the obligations which we had imposed upon them, and, in the noble Lord's own phrase, our admonition to the Persian Government was meant to provide them with a stimulus. The noble Lord asks as to the present situation on the southern roads. It was impossible to say, in view of the social conditions that obtained there, that any immediate restoration to order was possible, but it is the fact that the position there is greatly improved; whether that is due, as some say, to the severity of the weather or other causes we do not know, but we are watching with patience and with hope.

Then the noble Lord made reference to Persian railways, and alluded to the Rescript issued by the Shah some years ago. This is a very important document, and when the time comes for practically discussing railway construction in Persia, it will be a very important deliverance. The Shah, in this autograph letter, says— Convey these commands to His Excellency the British Minister Plenipotentiary. Even give him this very autograph in order that lie may keep it and be satisfied that our former promise with regard to the priority of the British Government over others in the construction of a southern railway holds good; and certainly, whenever railway concessions in the north, etc., are given to others immediately a concession for a railway from Teheran to Shuster, or such a one, will be given to the English company; and, of course, then the clauses and conditions will also be examined, in order that it be to our advantage and interest for the benefit of commerce of both parties; and positively no southern railway without consultation with the British Government will be granted to any foreign country. These explicit assurances were once more confirmed in the year 1900

His Majesty's Government cannot conceal from themselves that the question of railway construction in Persia may involve important strategical considerations to which they cannot remain indifferent, but provided that these and obvious commercial considerations can be satisfied by an adequate British participation in any southern railway schemes which may be adopted by the Persian Government, then His Majesty's Government would not construe their preferential rights in any narrow or exclusive spirit.

I turn to the Persian Gulf, which the noble Lord knows a great deal about from personal observation. We cannot realise our services in the Gulf too fully, and there is no harm in reciting them again and again. If by any mischance in negotiations our position in the Persian Gulf is challenged, this is the answer. That position has been described as unique by an eloquent author, who proceeds to say— Although Great Britain has not sought territorial acquisitions in those regions, she has for generations borne burdens there which no other nation has ever undertaken anywhere except in the capacity of sovereign; she has had duty thrust upon her without dominion; she has kept the peace amongst people who are not her subjects; has patrolled, during upwards of two centuries, waters over which she has enjoyed no formal lordship; has kept, in strange ports, au open door through which the traders of every nation might have as free access to distant markets as her own. If Great Britain has become, in any sense, the arbiter and Guardian of the Gulf, it has not been through a restless ambition urging her on to the control of the waste places of the earth, but in obedience to the calls that have been made upon her in the past to enforce peace between warring tribes, to give a free course to trade, to hold back the arm of the marauder and oppressor; to stand between the slave-dealer and his victim. That is our charter. It is a true picture of our historical position. Indeed, it is owing to British enterprise and the expenditure of British life and treasure that the Persian Gulf at this moment is open to the navigation of the world, and to tins cause alone it may be said that the seaborne trade of Mesopotamia owes its very existence. Sir Edward Grey has said in the House of Commons, and I hope it is perfectly understood, that we adhere to the position taken up, and expressed, I think, in this House by Lord Lansdowne in 1903. That at all events ought to be satisfactory to the noble Lord.

The noble Lord next referred to Muscat. Muscat, as your Lordships know, is at the mouth of the Gulf to the west, and is the centre of the arms traffic, the mischievous effects of which to us in India and to people in the Gulf are well known to your Lordships. The noble Lord, after all, put his finger upon the real crux of the situation, though I am not quite sure that he appreciated how great the difficulty is. I think he is in error when he says that it is the French who are the manufacturers of the arms. The French, I think, distribute them; but the quantity of French arms imported is less than that imported by at least three other nations, including one with which we are particularly well acquainted. The noble Lord made a powerful appeal to France to abandon reliance upon the Treaties with the Sultan of Muscat. He made a passionate appeal to France to look at this thing in the light of those great ideas and splendid moral impulses which have enabled France for generations to play so momentous a part in the civilisation of the Western world.

Every word of the noble Lord's appeal will, I am sure, touch the French, but it must be remembered that France has Treaty rights. Can we expect a country to surrender Treaty rights affecting some portion of her own community without getting something in return? My knowledge of international history does not provide me with any case in our immediate times where there has been such a surrender without a quid pro quo. Upon that I will not say more than that we are engaged in pressing upon the attention of the French Government the difficulties which they create for us and for others in the Gulf by maintaining the practices which are permitted under their Treaty rights. I am not sure that, the noble Lord's figures were perfectly accurate. Owing to the despatch of the squadron upon which he commented, the arms traffic of Muscat, which doubled between 1906 and 1908, has fallen in value. Since we set on foot a naval blockade, the value of arms imported into Muscat has fallen from £237,000 in 1908 to £103,000 in 1909, and it will be found to have fallen still further in 1910. The value of the French arms is less than one-tenth of that total. We hope, however, that the French Government will be impressed by the statements which are before them and that good results will follow. As to the question raised by the noble Lord whether the precise type of warship now employed is the right machinery for putting down this traffic, I can express no opinion, but I dare say it is worth considering.

One other word with regard to the Gulf. I certainly quarrel with the use of the word supine. The noble Lord is quite mistaken if he thinks we have been supine with regard to the arms traffic. The noble Lord referred to the incident at Debai. I confess that, considering the great size of the other questions raised by him, this was rather diminutive. The facts are these. The Arabs fired on a party who went to search for arms—a party from one of His Majesty's ships. A general engagement ensued, in which we had five killed and nine wounded, and the enemy thirty-seven wounded. The Sheikh, though invited to meet the British commander and assist in the search, did not reply, and only appeared after trouble had begun. He then took measures to restore quiet. The British Resident and the Admiral at once proceeded to Debai and interviewed the Sheikh. His attitude being unsatisfactory, a written ultimatum was presented to him, and forty-eight hours were given him in which to comply with certain terms. He accepted those terms on December 30, and on January 23 the Government of India reported that the conditions had been carried out. I do not see what place a trivial incident of that kind has in so large a scheme of presentation of Gulf policy as the noble Lord has given us.


It really had a place. The incident at Debai was trivial in itself, but I was concerned to ask whether this rupture of the Treaties prohibiting the importation of arms was an isolated instance at Debai, or whether there was any reason to think that it extended to other parts of the coast, because if so the matter would be serious.


I quite agree that in that case it would be serious. I cannot say with absolute certainty that it is an isolated case, but there was nothing at all, or was not when I left the India Office, to lead us to suppose that there was anything like a general return to piratical and marauding ways in that region.

I come now to the Baghdad Railway. The noble Lord has presented quite truly and forcibly to the House all the elements which make what is called the question of the Baghdad Railway a question of vital importance. I agree with him in extending the view which he invited the House to take of all the operations covered by the name of the Baghdad Railway to the whole area of which the Baghdad Railway when it is made will no doubt be a central artery. There I entirely agree with the noble Lord; but I do not agree with him in his history of our dealings with this question. And let me say, to begin with, that it is no novelty that German interests should desire to find their way down towards the Gulf and Mesopotamia. I dare say the noble Lord knows that General von Moltke was at Biredjik with Turkish forces in 1839, and was then fascinated with the idea of what could be clone on the banks of the Euphrates. That circumstance and the fact that Moltke wrote as he did has exercised a curious effect on the German imagination ever since. At any rate since 1873 the Germans have taken a practical and an increasing part in the construction of railways in Asiatic Turkey. In 1873 the first section of what is now known as the Anatolian Railway was built by a German engineer, von Plessel, to the order of the Turkish Government, and in 1888 it was transferred to a German company. Subsequently—in 1896—that line was extended to Konia. Three years later a concession was granted to a German syndicate for the extension of the line to Baghdad and the Persian Gulf, and after undergoing various modifications this concession for the Baghdad Railway assumed its final shape in 1903.

The noble Lord rather got on to dangerous ground if he is anxious to avoid anything in the nature of a controversy, as I am sure he is, when he referred to the action taken by His Majesty's Government in 1903, when Lord Lansdowne was Foreign Secretary. I think he forgets that whatever extenuation there may be for, as I think, the misjudgment that was made in 1903 when the British Government refused participation in the Baghdad Railway, at all events that action, however you may explain or extenuate it, has not been justified by events. I well remember the activity of certain organs of public opinion at that date, but I do not believe any of those who inspired, as I think, that rather unhappy decision would say to-day that it would not have been far better as events have proved if we had in 1903 accepted, with certain modifications, what we then had a chance of, participation in the Baghdad Railway. I do not say the noble Lord endeavoured to blame us for the difficulties of the position in which any British Government must now find itself in connection with this project. Even at the date when the Baghdad Railway concession was granted the Germans had already secured a certain position, as they were working about 650 miles of railway in Anatolia before they began to get concessions for this larger and more prolonged operation. The noble Lord said the decision at that date on our part was inevitable. I never could understand that. But let it pass. I would not have men- tioned it but for the fact that the noble Lord endeavoured to vindicate Mr.Balfour's Government from a charge which certainly has not been made here. It was this which made it necessary for me to point out that the decision of that day has not been justified by events.

What is the present position? The position as we found it in December, 1905, when we assumed office, was that a concession for the Baghdad Railway to run from Konia to Busra and then to some undetermined point on the Gulf had been granted years before, and that the concession was not merely for the main line but also for many branch lines, of which, perhaps, the most important is the line on which the noble Lord expatiated, from Baghdad to Khanikin on the Turkish frontier. The Germans were in the situation, it is no use denying it, the Germans were in the position of beati possidentes; they held under an international agreement for a number of years. A great deal of nonsense is talked about the possible danger—I do not refer to the ulterior possibilities—to British interests which may be involved some day or other when this railway is completed, and there have been whimsical apprehensions expressed. One is that it will constitute a standing menace to Egypt, the noble Lord did not say that—because the argument is that, by a junction with the Syrian Railway, which is French, with the Hedjaz line, which is Turkish, there would be established uninterrupted communication between the Bosphorus and Western Arabia. That would hardly be an argument to Turkey for abandoning railway construction on her own soil, whereas it overlooks the fact that the Sinai Peninsula intervenes. Another writer has lamented the consequences of the extension of the railway in Mesopotamia, where long-established British commercial interests are so important and still dominant, and a doleful picture was drawn of the fate awaiting the large trade in British and Indian goods, estimated at over a million sterling in value, which finds its way by the Tigris to Baghdad and passes by caravan to Western Persia. The Baghdad Railway may or may not exercise a prejudicial influence on British trade, but the moment to decide that question was the earlier moment before the concession was granted, not after. You cannot get over this plain cardinal fact, that this railway is made on Turkish territory by virtue of an instrument granted by the Turkish Government. You cannot get over that fact, that is what you start from. I see articles in newspapers every day in which it is assumed that we have the right there to do what we please; that is not so; it is not our soil, it is Turkish soil, and the Germans alone are there because the Turkish Government have given them the right to be there. Let us therefore start with a view of the situation from that plain and simple fact.

The noble Lord has referred to the cashier des charges, which I propose to lay before Parliament. It is really a schedule, and it is said it might be worked to our disadvantage. Remarks made by Mr. Balfour in another place pointed in this direction. That, again, is attached to the Convention of 1903, and it does not appear prima facie that the Ottoman Government or the railway company contemplate the manipulation of rates against British goods either on the main line or on the branch to Khanikin. Be that as it may, His Majesty's Government realise as fully as any member of the House can desire that British trade interests in these regions are of real and enormous importance. I go so far with the noble Lord. We believe that they cannot be effectually safeguarded by what I may call the plastic stipulations of a cashier des charges. His Majesty's Government cannot legitimately object to the construction of any railways on Turkish territory, but they cannot directly or indirectly facilitate the construction of those railways if their completion is to alter the existing position in Mesopotamia to the detriment of British interests and to the exclusion of British participation on reasonable terms. It is undeniable that His Majesty's Government are in principle favourable to the construction of railways in Turkey; they appreciate how important this construction is, among other purposes, for the consolidation of the new régime, and the new régime in Constantinople we cordially wish will continue and prosper. If, therefore, we could look forward to a settlement on terms acceptable to this country of the railway question in Mesopotamia, then not only would we use our influence with the Sheikh of Koweit to permit under certain conditions the construction of a terminus at the excellent harbour he possesses, but the principal objection now entertained to an increase in the Turkish Customs duties, which are of course the instrument by which we have a hold upon these affairs, would at once fall to the ground.

Now I come to the various announcements to which the noble Lord referred. Under the 1903 concession the Baghdad Railway Company had acquired a right to build a line from Konia, to some point on the Persian Gulf to be determined hereafter; and under Article 12 of the 1903 Convention the company acquired certain preferential rights in regard to the construction of branches to the Mediterranean on the coast of Syria. Under arrangements now arrived at in Constantinople we understand that the company have renounced their right to the section of the Baghdad Railway between Baghdad and the Persian Gulf and have renounced their right to construct a port at Bussorah, on condition that they receive a certain share in any new company—which presumably, would be a Turkish company—formed to carry out the portion of the 1903 concession which they (the Baghdad Railway) have now renounced. On the other hand, in fulfilment of the terms of the 1903 concession the Baghdad company have come to an arrangement whereby, first, a branch line is to be built from Osmanich on the main line to Alexandretta on the gulf of that name, and have provided that certain revenues are allocated to them in accordance with Article 35 of the original concession of 1903 for the continuance of their main line from El Helif to Baghdad.

The upshot of this arrangement is that within certain limitations the Turkish Government have regained their liberty of action in regard to the section of the Baghdad Railway between Baghdad and the Persian Gulf. Those proposals which they have made to His Majesty's Government are in a very early stage; but we wish it to be clearly understood that His Majesty's Government sincerely desire a settlement that will remove all anxiety as to the important British trade interests concerned and at the same time dissipate the mists of suspicion and distrust that have so often obscured this question; a settlement in short that will remove all apprehension that the Baghdad Railway and its terminus is likely to create diplomatic friction between any of the parties interested. We feel that any arrangement must be one to which Germany must be a consenting party, as the original concession-holders were Germans. That is the present position as affairs stand at the present moment. As noble Lords will understand we cannot without prejudice to negotiations which will naturally follow these proposals, make any more detailed statement. We feel convinced in regard to present arrangements that there is a marked step in a favourable direction, promising development of these various and complicated issues. In further negotiations His Majesty's Government will be animated by the desire to remove all possible cause for international friction and, your Lordships may be very sure, to uphold all the important interests both present and future of this country.

I have detained the House so long that if the noble Lord will excuse me I will not follow him into the minor points he has raised. I for one listened with pleasure to the expression of his own large, well-supported views on the issues of this new chapter opening in the relations between Europe and Asia. Here is no Alexander going from Europe to Asia—it is a very different thing you have to think of; here are great rival international interests, and a great movement more difficult to adjust in all its elements. It is not merely military; the military and strategic aspects are among a whole congeries of elements that go towards the complication of questions of enormous importance both to the political and commercial future of this country, and therefore to the world.

As to the Motion for Papers. I will undertake to lay before the House further correspondence on Persia, the text of the Baghdad Railway Convention of 1903 and the supplementary Convention of 1908, the cahier des charges, and the loan contracts. The noble Lord asked for the Brussels Convention, and I will see whether it can be given.


My Lords, no one can deny how vast., delicate, and intricate are the interests involved in the various questions that have been brought before your Lordships' House by Lord Curzon to-day. On February 7 last I put a Question to the noble Viscount relative to the Potsdam interview. He then said that he was unable to give any information, but I should have thought that by this time it might have been possible to throw some light on the negotiations which took place there.

In opening this debate Lord Curzon drew a picture of the great disorder that has taken place in the southern portion of Persia. On that I rather agree with the noble Viscount opposite that Lord Curzon over-coloured the picture. It must be remembered that in the five months subsequent to last March the trade of the southern ports increased by eighty-six per cent. as a whole, at Mohammerah and Ahwaz as much as 100 per cent., and that even at Bushire there was a twenty-two per cent. increase during those five months, and that is the part of the country most liable to interruption owing to brigandage and general misgovernment. At the present time when any ordinary robbery takes place it is at once put down to the Government. An instance was related to me of the agent of a firm who had embezzled money. A little plan was concocted, and it was represented that the caravan had been robbed, and this again was laid to the charge of the Government. It may be argued that if the country is so weakly governed that these accusations can be made therefore there ought to be some stronger hand to guide their affairs. But how has it come about that there has been this, great misgovernment and disorder in Persia?

The noble Viscount took great credit for the carrying out of the Anglo-Russian Convention, which distinctly stated in the Preamble that the integrity of Persia was to be preserved. But how can you preserve the independence of a country when it has in certain portions been largely garrisoned by foreign troops? Time after time with an empty Exchequer Persia has attempted to get funds for carrying on the administration of the country but has been thwarted in her efforts. The Nationalist Government have not been allowed a free hand to put their affairs on a proper basis. They could not do so without having funds at their command, and these funds have been repeatedly denied them. We now understand that the Russian garrison at Kasvin is to be removed, or possibly only reduced. I understand that about seventy men are still being kept there. I would like to know whether the other garrisons are being removed. Again, the Persian Government in their struggling condition have had their Minister of Finance assassinated, and his murderers were given protection by the Russian Consulate or the Russian Legation and were removed for trial to Russia. We would like to know what has been done with those people. An attempt was made to assassinate the Governor of Ispahan, and his nephew was killed in his efforts to protect him. There, again, the murderers were taken charge of by the Russian Government.

I quote these instances not to make any case against Russia, but to show what frightful odds the Persian Government have had to contend with. How can a Government control their subjects when they are denied the means by which alone good government can be carried on? It is rather hard to accuse the new-born Persian Government of having failed to preserve order in that very difficult country of access in Southern Persia when they have not been given a free hand. I believe honestly that they have done their best, and that if they had only been given a greater command of funds they would have been able to preserve order. It will be remembered that we stated that if we had to take charge of the police force on the Persian Gulf we should demand a surtax of ten per cent. on the Customs duties. I cannot see why the Persian Government themselves should not have been allowed to raise that ten per cent. and administer the country properly. Why should we be so suspicious of their ability to administer properly funds entrusted to them? it is this which makes it so difficult for the Persian Government to carry on their affairs in a proper manner.

I understand from other sources that there is possibly a brighter day dawning for the Persian Government, and that there is a possibility now of their being allowed to obtain loans by which to carry on their administration. I believe they are going to appoint five American advisers to superintend their financial affairs. All these are good auguries for the future of the country, and under the guidance of the Regent I believe there is a possibility of the salvation of Persia. If only they would sink their own petty differences and act up to the doctrines of their own Islamic creed, that no country can be saved except by the action of her own people, I do believe there would be an independent Persia established which would be the best possible bulwark against any friction between Russia and ourselves. On the point of gun-running in the Persian Gulf Lord Curzon made a fine and dignified appeal to the French nation, but the noble Viscount opposite rather let him down when he asked what instance there was, of a country ever giving up an advantage without a quid pro quo.


Giving up Treaty rights.


But if Treaty rights are an infringement of the ordinary laws of civilisation, surely it is not too much to expect one of the foremost civilised countries to co-operate in putting an end to this traffic. The noble Lord referred to Muscat. He might have referred also to Jibuti, which I understand is the very centre of this traffic in the distribution of arms. Time after time we have attempted to negotiate with the French nation on this matter, and I should have thought that this was a very opportune occasion, the entente cordiale being so firmly established, when we might represent to them strongly that the whole of this gun-running traffic should, if possible, be put an end to. Only last week there was an attack on the coast between an armed dhow of our own and a dhow engaged in running arms. That dhow came from Jibuti. There are no Treaty rights there, and there is no reason why, with the assistance of the French nation, an end could not be put to the whole of this trade.

The statement which the noble Viscount made with regard to the Baghdad Railway I regard as very satisfactory. Our chief concern is with the section from Baghdad to the Gulf; and if the German company have now got the branch down to Alexandretta, I should have thought there was every occasion for our now establishing good relations with the Germans in regard to this matter. Our one concern is, as I have said, in respect of the last section from Baghdad to the Gulf. One would like to know the views of His Majesty's Government on this matter, whether they consider that that section should ever be built, or whether our trade would not be benefited at a far less cost by simply improving the navigation of the Tigris. That, at all events for many years to come, would carry all the trade, represented by a million sterling per annum in value, that would go by that route. This seems a favourable opportunity not only to extend friendship with Russia, but also to put our own relations with Germany on a good footing in this matter. If we have a proper share of that last section to the Gulf, I do not think we need ask for any more, except that the extension from Baghdad to Khanikin should be safeguarded so that there are no unfavourable rates by which our trade could be injured. I hope that this debate will put the whole of the questions that have been raised by the noble Lord on a clearer and better footing, and that we shall thereby establish better relations in that part of the world.


My Lords, I do not think it would be quite fitting that we should allow the very important statement which the noble Viscount has made to your Lordships to pass without any comment from those who formed part of the late Government in respect to what they had to do in relation to the matters upon which the noble Viscount dwelt. I speak with a full sense of the great difficulty of dealing with these delicate subjects of foreign policy in public debate, and perhaps it would not have been necessary for me to say a word at all upon the subject but for the fact that the noble Viscount appeared to me to be desirous of defending the very important step in policy which His Majesty's Government are evidently undertaking by throwing a certain responsibility for the situation upon the predecessors of the present Government. There was a sort of covered attack by the noble Viscount upon the attitude which we adopted in respect to the Baghdad—


It was raised by the noble Lord or I should not have mentioned it.


I do not agree with the noble Viscount. My noble friend Lord Curzon spoke, as I thought in very proper terms, of the attitude which we had adopted in respect of the Baghdad Railway in former times. There was no call for the noble Viscount to have brought our conduct into question, unless it be necessary in order to defend his own policy that he should reflect adversely upon ours. I do not desire to treat this subject in any aggressive spirit, but I think it necessary to place upon record what, in fact, the late Government did.

Now what did the late Government do? The noble Viscount, not quite correctly, spoke as if we had refused to come to an arrangement about the Baghdad Railway. That was not an absolutely correct statement of the case, because as a matter of fact the persons who refused to come to an arrangement were the members of the financial groups concerned. Undoubtedly they were in close relations with the then Government all through the negotiations, and the matter we had to decide was whether British interests were properly treated in the arrangements that were proposed on behalf of the German group. That was the question. It was stated by my noble friend Lord Lansdowne at the time, and these are the words he used— What was under our consideration was the possibility of obtaining the substitution for this purely German system of a line of an international character, constructed under guarantees which would have secured permanently its international character, and which would have secured for the commerce of all nations absolutely free and equal treatment from sea to sea. The noble Marquess went on to say— It was also part of the proposals which were ventilated that this country should be given full equality with any other Power in respect of the construction of the line, and in respect of its maintenance and control after it had been constructed. That was the ideal which His Majesty's then Government were favourable to. That was the proposal which was not offered to us, and therefore it was not possible for the then Government to support and, endorse the arrangement which was made.

The noble Viscount thinks that we were wrong in the decision we came to. That is a matter only of historical interest. The noble Viscount may be right, and we may have been wrong. All I say is that we acted according to the best of our ability, and according to what, in our judgment, were the interests of our country. I gather that the noble Viscount and his colleagues do not view the matter from precisely the same point of view. I touch on this subject with great diffidence, but certainly the sort of outline which the noble Viscount gave of the proposals which are under the consideration of the Government did not seem to place our country on a precisely equal footing with that of other countries. He divided, very properly, the Baghdad Railway into two divisions—the Gulf section and the rest. I think it is possible that the sort of arrangement which His Majesty's Government are contemplating is that the greater part of the Baghdad Railway should be made without any positive position being accorded to this country in respect of it, but that in respect of the Gulf section we should hold an important position. Until we have an opportunity of seeing precisely what the terms are it would be most improper to in any way condemn them; but I would ask His Majesty's Government to remember that they do hold a very strong position in this matter—namely the very strong position to which the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in another place has called the attention of the country. They hold the position and the power given to them by the fact that they can refuse or admit the raising of the necessary revenue by the Turkish Government which is essential for the project to be carried out at all. They hold that power as trustees for the country, and I earnestly hope that they will not make terms, or allow terms to be made, adverse to this country whilst they have the power to prevent it. It they do, upon them must rest the responsibility.


My Lords, there are only one or two points in the speech of the noble Viscount to which I may, perhaps, be allowed for one moment to refer. With the general tone and tenor of his speech I have nothing to express except gratification. I agree with him that a new chapter in the history of the East is likely to be opened if events follow the course which he indicated; and if the opening phases of that chapter are pursued in that tone of gravity and of friendly regard for the interests of all the Powers concerned which characterised his speech to-night, then I think we may hope that the solution will be a favourable one.

The points to which I desire for one moment to call attention are these. First, with regard to Persia. The noble Viscount read out verbatim the familiar assurance of the last Shah but one, Nasr-un-din, about concessions to Great Britain for railways in Southern Persia. I imagined that he was going on from that to say either that a concession for a British railway would be applied for, or that, if it was applied for, the project would receive the warm support of His Majesty's Government; but, on the contrary, the noble Viscount proceeded to make—and as it was read I am sure it was a very formal and authorised statement—a declaration to the effect that, provided strategical and commercial considerations can be satisfied by an adequate British participation in any railway schemes of the Persian Government in Southern Persia, His Majesty's Government would not construe their preferential rights in any exclusive spirit. I quite understand that position, but it is an apparent abandonment of the preferential rights which His Majesty's Government enjoy. It is not saying, as Sir Edward Grey rather suggested in the House of Commons, that if the Russians make a railway in Northern Persia we should respond by making an application in respect of Southern Persia. It only says that if the Persian Government make a railway in Southern Persia and that railway does not strategically interfere with our interests, we shall co-operate with them. I hope that will not be interpreted by anybody as in the slightest degree weakening the assurance given us by the Shah, or as disabling us in future from translating that pledge into action should occasion arise.

As to the Persian Gulf, I was glad to hear the noble Viscount adhere with so much emphasis to the statement made by Lord Lansdowne in May, 1903. On the matter of the Muscat Treaty, I agree with the observations made by the noble Lord behind me, Lord Lamington. I put this to the noble Viscount when he speaks about Treaty rights—Does he really contend that the Treaty rights which were contemplated when the Treaty of Muscat was effected cover or justify the sort of traffic which they are now held to extenuate? These are not Treaty rights enjoyed by French subjects in the ordinary sense of the term. When I was in India they were Treaty rights taken advantage of by two persons only, French merchants engaged in this traffic, who were protected by their country because they possessed important commercial interests in France. Are we to be told that in a case of that sort the French Government, as a matter of international practice, cannot give way without receiving territorial compensation in some other part of the world? I earnestly hope that they would be ashamed to ask for it; but, if they do ask for it, I hope His Majesty's Government will not be too generous in meeting them on the matter.

The noble Viscount dealt with the attitude of the late Government with regard to the Baghdad Railway in 1903. I will only say with regard to the new arrangement, the facts of which the noble Viscount put before us, that we shall look with great interest to see exactly what is the share in the new company from Baghdad to the Gulf which is to be claimed by the old German company. The German company affects to surrender its concession in return for the substantial advantages it gets at Alexandretta, but, nevertheless, it is to retain a share in whatever company is formed to construct the line from Baghdad to the Gulf. When the noble Viscount said that His Majesty's Government were prepared, if a solution was proposed satisfactory to this country, to use their influence with the Sheikh of Koweit for the provision of a suitable terminus for the railway at the port of Koweit, I do not think he was saying anything different from the position taken up by Lord Lansdowne in 1903. The Government at that time gave a somewhat similar assurance. I ask His Majesty's Government before they embark upon this project for the extension of the railway to the Gulf to satisfy themselves that the last section from Basra to the Gulf is wanted in the interests of anybody. Is it wanted in the interests of the Turkish Government? Is it wanted in the interests of British trade or of Indian trade? Let His Majesty's Government remember that this section will be an expensive one to construct. For a distance of nearly 100 miles it would cross a desert. Then you get down to Koweit itself. I know the harbour very well, and I know that a good deal of harbour work would be required before the place could be made ready for the accommodation of our ships, and therefore you have a very great outlay laid upon your new company there, every fresh outlay deepening the heavy financial obligations which the Turkish Government have been foolish enough to incur in regard to the earlier sections of the line. And how silly every one would look if, after the line was built, you found goods from India still being transferred into boats, still going up the river to Basra, and very likely on to Baghdad. I suggest the point to His Majesty's Government as one worthy of their consideration. After all, business has a good deal to say in these matters, and I merely warn the Government to look at them from a business point of view. I have now only to thank the noble Viscount for the Papers which he has kindly promised to lay on the Table of the House, and to, withdraw my Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.